Literary Daybook, March 27

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors

Published March 27, 2002 8:00PM (EST)

Today in fiction

On March 27, Victor Frankenstein leaves London for Edinburgh.
-- "Frankenstein" (1818)
by Mary Shelley

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to

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Today in Literary History
On this day in 1802, William Wordsworth began writing "Intimations of Immortality From Recollections of Early Childhood." The poem contains some of his most well-known lines and ideas -- that "the child is father of the man," that "birth is but a sleep and a forgetting," that "trailing clouds of glory do we come," that early hours of "splendour in the grass" must fade:

"-- But there's a Tree, of many, one,
A single field which I have looked upon,
Both of them speak of something that is gone;
The Pansy at my feet
Doth the same tale repeat:
Whither is fled the visionary gleam?
Where is it now, the glory and the dream?

Having reached this point in the poem -- about quarter-way to its final length -- Wordsworth broke off, not returning to finish until two years later. Some critics reasonably speculate that, having asked some tough questions, Wordsworth had no answer, or ones that intimated something less than immortality to him, and had to wait the two years to get his mood swung round. As critic-biographer Kenneth Johnston recently put it:

"If people left notes saying why they had decided not to commit suicide lying next to the suicide note of their original impulse, we could say that [this poem] combines both macabre genres."

Johnston's controversial book, "The Hidden Wordsworth: Poet, Lover, Rebel, Spy" (1998), conjectures much about Wordsworth's masks and moods, but it is conservative compared to the recent film about Wordsworth and Coleridge, "Pandaemonium." One reviewer said this was "Cliff's Notes on Acid"; another said it should come with a disclaimer aimed at students: "This Film Will Seriously Injure Your Examination Prospects."

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," e-mail Steve King.

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