Descriptive Sketches (1791–2)

  • John Turner
Part of the Studies in Romanticism book series


Descriptive Sketches is a very different poem from An Evening Walk; it is no local walk but a European tour, composed according to Wordsworth mostly ‘upon the banks of the Loire in the years 1791, 1792’ (PW I:324). It grew directly out of his experience of revolutionary France and its millennial hopes for man; and like so many of the century’s written accounts of Continental tours, it is a comparative study of the different kinds of human life sustained by the political, geographical and cultural conditions of the different countries it describes: France (45–79), Italy (80–175), Switzerland (176–679), Savoy (680–739) and finally France again (740–809). Wordsworth’s aim, however, is to do more than to instruct and delight his educated readership with accounts of foreign manners, history, arts and politics; his aim is to radicalise them. Guerre aux châteaux! Paix aux chaumières! — Descriptive Sketches embraces the force of this revolutionary slogan, albeit with reluctance, and focuses its concern exclusively upon the cottage life of the poor in order to judge the economic and political conditions of the countries they inhabit.


Paradise Lost Foreign Manner Political Writing Subjunctive Mood European Tour 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Carl Woodring, Politics in English Romantic Poetry (Harvard University Press, 1970) p. 85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Monthly Review, vol. XXXII (January 1765) p. 50.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Geoffrey Hartman, Wordsworth’s Poetry 1787–1814 (Yale University Press, 1964) pp. 103, 104.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Donald Wesling, Wordsworth and the Adequacy of Landscape (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970) p. 14.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    John Beer, Wordsworth and the Human Heart (Macmillan, 1978) p. 15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Aldous Huxley, ‘Wordsworth in the Tropics’, in his collection of essays Do What You Will (Chatto & Windus, 1929).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Mary Moorman, William Wordsworth: The Early Years 1770–1803 (Oxford University Press, 1968) pp. 134–7.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    J. F. Turner, ‘“Various Journey, Sad and Slow”: Wordsworth’s “Descriptive Sketches” (1791–2) and the Lure of Pastoral’, Durham University Journal, vol. LXIX no. 1 (December 1976) pp. 38–51.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Paul D. Sheats, The Making of Wordsworth’s Poetry, 1785–1798 (Harvard University Press, 1973) p. 74.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Leslie F. Chard II, Dissenting Republican: Wordsworth’s Early Life and Thought in their Political Context (The Hague: Mouton, 1972) p. 91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Thomas Paine, Rights of Man (Penguin, 1969) p. 136.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    See D. W. Winnicott, Playing and Reality (Penguin, 1974) ch. 7, ‘The Location of Cultural Experience’. The second phrase comes from p. 127.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© John F. Turner 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Turner

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