Wordsworth, Social Reform Literature, and Politics of the 1790s Essay

Wordsworth, Social Reform Literature, and Politics of the 1790s Essay

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Wordsworth, Social Reform Literature, and Politics of the 1790s

The historical mix of social fictions in England and France at the end of the 1780s greatly impacted the literature of the period. Tom Paine's The Rights of Man (1791) and Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France (1791) were the two most widely read works that spurred a decade long debate on how the nation of England was to be governed and by whom. As a young man during this period, William Wordsworth formed part of the circle of writers who fought for the Republican cause of democracy and its ideals. Similar to the poet William Cowper, Wordsworth's early poetry contributed to a larger framework of social reform literature that the publisher Joseph Johnson promoted throughout his career from the late 1770s until his death in 1809.

Some of Wordsworth's early prose works mark what he was to later reflect upon in his poem, "Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour, 13 July 1798". "Tintern Abbey" reminds Wordsworth's readers of the solitude and "sad perplexity" (61) that its author experiences five years after his dreams of a democratic republic and love for Annette Vallon are dashed by France's Reign of Terror and war with England. He recounts:

Five years have passed; five summers, with the length
Of five long winters! . . . .
. . . And so I dare to hope,
Though changed, no doubt, from what I was when first
I bounded o'er these hills, . . .
Flying from something that he dreads than one
Who sought the thing he loved. (1-2, 66-67, 72-73)[1]

"Tintern" suggests Wordsworth's wish to move beyond the sentiments and views he once held, as reflected in his unpublishe...


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... a friend of Benjamin Franklin, Joseph Priestley, and Horne Tooke; Mary Wollstonecraft listened to Price's occasional political sermons, and was influenced by his view that all people were entitled to equal education. Todd, Janet. Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life. London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2000: 59-61.

4. Edmund Burke. Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), in, Paul Keen, (ed. compiler). Reading (at) the Limit of the Bourgeois Public Sphere. Burnaby: Simon Fraser University Publishing, 1999: 145.

5. Ibid, 147.

6. Tom Paine is referring to William the Conqueror, quoted by E. P. Thompson in, The Making of the English Working Class. Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd., 1963: 94-95.

7. Ibid, 94.

8. Christopher Hill. "The Norman Yoke," in Intellectual Origins of the English Revolution Revisited. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997: 361.

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