University of Virginia Library


As Wordsworth and Coleridge's joint collection Lyrical Ballads enters the third century of its age, almost everyone interested agrees that the few extant copies of the 1798 edition having a title-page imprint addressed "BRISTOL" and naming as publisher "T. N. LONGMAN" represent the earliest issued form of this immensely important book, a form succeeded by that of an abundantly surviving issue having an imprint addressed "LONDON" and naming as publisher "J. & A. ARCH." This happy state of agreement quite rightly ignores unsubstantiated nineteenth-century bibliographic reports of an even earlier title-page imprint. Less properly, it neglects carefully reasoned arguments for the existence of such an imprint by a distinguished modern bibliographer, D. F. Foxon. Foxon's proposals are only a part of his indispensable essay "The Printing of Lyrical Ballads, 1798,"[1] but overlooked or not, they make uneasy the historical status of the Bristol-Longman issue of the 1798 Lyrical Ballads, and hold forth the bemusing possibility that somewhere a copy of this book awaits discovery containing a title page earlier than that of the black-tulip Bristol-Longman issue, as a tulip of unexampled blackness. Absolute certainty about the matter is not possible, but a much firmer ground of probability is available. To reach it some preliminary review is necessary, first, of the little that seems more or less clear about the early history of Lyrical Ballads and, second, of Foxon's arguments.