Wordsworth and the Homelessness of Engines

  • Ted Underwood


William Wordsworth’s response to industrialization fused two conflicting impulses. His assessment of the machines themselves was enthusiastic. “I rejoice,” the Wanderer says in The Excursion, “Measuring the force of those gigantic powers / That, by the thinking mind, have been compelled / To serve the will of feeble-bodied Man” (Ex. 8:204–07). From an aesthetic point of view, moreover, industrial landscape could be as sublime as London or the Thames. In 1812, Wordsworth described “the manufacturing Region” around Birmingham with vivid wonder:

The whole space between W[olverhampton] and Birmingham is scattered over with towns villages and factories of one kind or another. Twenty years ago I passed over this same tract, and could then see in it nothing but disgusting objects; now it appeared to me (considered merely as a spectacle for the eye) very grand and interesting. The immense quantity of building spread over every side suggested the idea of Rocky Country, or an endless City shattered and laid waste by conflagration. The afternoon Sun played nobly upon the huge columns, and on the bodies of smoke that everywhere magnified or half obscured the various objects of the scene. In some spots also from very lofty Pipes like those of glass houses, flames of lively colour licked the air, as restless as the tongues of Dogs, when they are spent with Heat and hard running.1


Kind Nature Natural Force Imaginative Power Industrial Power Lively Colour 
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    William Wordsworth, letter to Dorothy Wordsworth, April 24, 1812, The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth: A Supplement of New Letters, ed. Alan G. Hill (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 44.Google Scholar
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© Ted Underwood 2005

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  • Ted Underwood

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