The Bizarre, Complicated Formula for Literary Fame

Cheerfully Moribund

Cultural Comment
April 17, 2015
The Bizarre, Complicated Formula for Literary Fame
By Joshua Rothman

William Wordsworth died a hundred and sixty-five years ago next week, on April 23, 1850. Why is he still so famous? The obvious answer is that he was a genius. But genius isn’t, in itself, enough to guarantee the sort of lasting, exalted fame that Wordsworth enjoys. Every year, about seventy thousand people visit his home, Dove Cottage, which is maintained by an organization called the Wordsworth Trust. John Dryden was a genius, too—of his role in English poetry, Samuel Johnson said, “He found it brick, and he left it marble”—but very few people visit the prosaically named John Dryden House, which is maintained by the Northamptonshire County Council. Only graduate students read Dryden. Of his fame, we might say that history found it marble, and left it brick.

H. J. Jackson, an emeritus professor…

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