William Wordsworth(7 April 1770 – 23 April 1850)
Wordsworth wrote ―The Preface to the LyricalBallads‖ as an introduction to a book of poemswritten by Wordsworth and Samuel TaylorColeridge.
In ―The Preface,‖Wordsworth set out toexplain the theory behindthe poems to the readingpublic.It became an importantliterary document whichhelped to launch Romantictheory.
Romanticism Involves:• Strong emotions—including those generated by horror and terror• Value of nature and unaffected culture and language—that is, devoid of the artificial influence of education and superficiality• Escape from the grim reality of the changing world through looking to exotic places and the past
The Rights of Man.The French Revolution pushed forward the beliefin the Rights of Man.In a world defined by class, rich/poor, wellborn/lowly born, EQUALITY became important.The idea that all men were good and noble, eventhe roughest people just need the sameopportunities to be as refined as the upper classes.
The French RevolutionThe French Revolution energized Europeans withthe alluring promise that fundamental socialchange could be achieved, and the course ofhumanity radically and permanently altered.
The Declaration of Independence and its assertion that allmen were created equal, had released a defiant energy intothe world, the ramifications of which were manifested inthe French Revolution, and evidenced in the new focus onhumanity, its origins, and the rights of the individual.
Wordsworth became an exuberant supporter of theprogressive ideals promulgated by the FrenchRevolution.He adopted the idea that all people were essentially borngood.
Eventually, The Reignof Terror contradictedthe notion that freedomwas the essentialingredient needed toconfigure a harmonious,egalitarian society.
The Reign of TerrorFrench aristocrats wereslaughtered at the guillotineas mob mentality tookhold.Women and children werenot spared.
Hope in the goodness of man was lost whenpolitical rivalry between the Girodins andJacobeans took hold.Maximillien Robespierreformed The RevolutionaryTribunal with the aim ofputting ―the Enemies ofthe People to death.‖
―Terror is nothing else than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible.― --Robespierre, 1794
The guillotine became aform of state control.Anyone who opposedimportant individuals orpolitical groups wasexecuted.The terror was a dark anddangerous time. Peoplesettled old scores bynaming their enemies astraitors.
The Terror left Wordsworth and other supportersof the new movement disillusioned anddemoralized.The lofty ideals and hope that flourished throughbold defiance of the Ancien Regime (old order) werequickly replaced with disgust and fear (Abrams,Natural Supernaturalism, 328)
“On visionary views would fancy feed /Till hiseye streamed with tears.” –Wordsworth, (―Lines left upon a seat in Yew-tree which stands near the Lake of Estwaite.‖)
In The Prelude, Wordsworth described the promiseof the regeneration of mankind:―France standing on the top of the goldenhours/And human nature seeming born again‖ (X,690-3), only to reveal his disenchantment laterwhen he wrote:―Confusion of opinion, zeal decay’d/And lastly,utter loss of hope itself/And things to hope for‖(XI, 47-8, 5-8).
Return to the NaturalRomantics rejected artificallanguage which had beenadopted by writers andpoets.Wordsworth longed for areturn to simpler forms ofexpression, where the truepassions and emotions ofman were captured.
Wordsworth wrote:―humble and rustic life was generally chosen,because in that condition, the essential passions ofthe heart find a better soil in which they can attaintheir maturity, are less under restraint, and speak aplainer and more emphatic language‖ .
Return to Natural ExpressionThe Enlightenment, with its emphasis on reason andlogic, had influenced poetry which had becomedisinterested in arousing ―essential passions‖ and―unelaborated expressions.‖By adopting stock descriptions of nature, poets weremoving away from fundamental passions, insteadbecoming bound by convention.
In his essay ―Upon Epitaphs‖published in 1880,Wordsworth proclaims, „Ivindicate the rights anddignity of Nature…” (111).In ―Tintern Abbey‖ the poetreveals the resplendent gloryof Nature and its power toevoke strong emotion andintensity of thought:
For I have learnedTo look on nature, not as in the hourOf thoughtless youth, but hearing oftentimesThe still, sad music of humanity,Not harsh or grating, though of ample powerTo chasten and subdue. And I have feltA presence that disturbs me with the joyOf elevated thoughts; a sense sublimeOf something far more deeply interfused,…A motion and a spirit, that impelsAll thinking things, all objects of all thought,And rolls through all things.
Industrial Revolution• With machines and factories came a new way of living. People left their farms and small communitys to move to the city.• They became nameless and faceless workers in grim factories.• The natural landscape was obscured by black clouds of smoke endlessly pumping out of the chimneys.
Nature to Wordsworth was the well-spring ofhuman passion and life. The encroaching changethrust upon the rural landscape threatened todestroy not only the tranquility, but theauthenticity and hope that could only be derivedfrom the natural world.
Wordsworth exhorted: ―Plead for thy peace, thou beautiful romance/Ofnature; and, if human hearts be dead… protestagainst the wrong.‖
ConclusionWordsworth’s sentiments had been formed by theclimate of upheaval in his life time.In particular, the most defining elements were:1. The French Revolution2. The Industrial Revolution
Works CitedAbrams, M. H. Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature.New York: Norton, 1973. Print.---. The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition. London: OxfordUP, 1971. Print.Thompson, E. P. The Romantics: England in a Revolutionary Age. New York: New, 1997.Print.Wordsworth, William. "Preface to the Lyrical Ballads." The Norton Anthology of Theoryand Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2010. Print.
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