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Wordsworth and the Homelessness of Engines

  • Ted Underwood

Abstract

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

Keywords

Kind Nature Natural Force Imaginative Power Industrial Power Lively Colour 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    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
  2. 2.
    See for instance Raymond Williams, The Country and the City (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), 127–133.Google Scholar
  3. Also Kurt Heinzelman, The Economics of the Imagination (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1980), 196–233.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    Alison Hickey points out that Wordsworth’s praise of industry in The Excursion has affinities with his theory of language. I am indebted to her insightful discussion of the topic, though I do not share her sense that the Wanderer’s admiration is ironic or insincere. See Alison Hickey, Impure Conceits: Rhetoric and Ideology in Wordsworth’s Excursion (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), 99–101.Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    Wordsworth had many acquaintances and an adequate allowance at Cambridge. Kenneth Johnston, The Hidden Wordsworth: Poet, Lover, Rebel, Spy (New York: W.W. Norton, 1998), 111–119. But social unease is a relative condition; it has more to do with the contrast between one’s own station and others’ than with objective sufficiency of resources. In that relative sense the transition from Hawkshead to Cambridge could have been as disorienting as The Prelude implies: Wordsworth was for the first time surrounded by men who were for the most part his social superiors.Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    Stephen Gill, William Wordsworth: A Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 35.Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    David Simpson, Wordsworth’s Historical Imagination: The Poetry of Displacement (New York: Methuen, 1987), 56–78.Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    Charles Rzepka, “‘A Gift that Complicates Employ’: Poetry and Poverty in ‘Resolution and Independence,’” Studies in Romanticism 28 (1989): 225–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. See also Toby R. Benis, Romanticism on the Road: The Marginal Gains of Wordsworth’s Homeless (New York: St. Martin’s, 2000).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 13.
    David Ricardo, On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, Works and Correspondence, ed. Pierro Sraffa and M. H. Dobb, 10 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1966), 1:75.Google Scholar
  11. 14.
    John Milton, Paradise Lost, ed. Scott Elledge (New York: W.W. Norton, 1975), 281 (12:646–47).Google Scholar
  12. 15.
    Alan Liu, Wordsworth: The Sense of History (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1989), 342.Google Scholar
  13. 16.
    As Philip Connell has pointed out, early-nineteenth-century readers of The Excursion did not seem to hear the irony that critics have recently located in this passage. Connell also persuasively stresses the connection between Wordsworth’s growing enthusiasm for industry after 1809 and his “growing commitment to a rhetoric of patriotism and national solidarity.” Philip Connell, Romanticism, Economics, and the Question of ‘Culture,’ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 168–69.Google Scholar
  14. 17.
    William Wordsworth, The Ruined Cottage and The Pedlar, ed. James Butler (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1979), 73, 273.Google Scholar
  15. 18.
    Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, ed. R. H. Campbell, A. S. Skinner, and W. B. Todd, 2 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), 1:363–64 (II.v.12).Google Scholar
  16. 21.
    Alexander Hamilton, The Reports of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Jacob E. Cooke (New York: Harper, 1964), 121.Google Scholar
  17. 25.
    “I shall never forget Mr. Bolton’s expression to me: ‘I sell here, Sir, what all the world desires to have—POWER.’“ James Boswell, Boswell’s Life of Johnson, ed. G. B. Hill and L. F. Powell, vol. 2 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), 459.Google Scholar
  18. 26.
    Annabel Patterson, “Wordsworth’s Georgic: Genre and Structure in The Excursion,” The Wordsworth Circle 9 (1978): 148, 147, 153.Google Scholar
  19. 32.
    Thomas Carlyle, The Works of Thomas Carlyle, 30 vols. (New York: Scribner’s, 1896), 1:56.Google Scholar
  20. 34.
    John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1911), 176. Compare his similar responses to Douglas squirrels and bears: 96, 138.Google Scholar
  21. 35.
    Henry David Thoreau, Waiden and Resistance to Civil Government, ed. William Rossi and Owen Thomas (New York: W.W. Norton, 1992), 2–3, 203–06.Google Scholar
  22. For an account of Thoreau’s identification with the productive energy revealed in thawing sand and clay, see Eric G. Wilson, The Spiritual History of Ice: Romanticism, Science, and the Imagination (New York: Palgrave, 2003), 54–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 36.
    Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 229–39.Google Scholar

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© Ted Underwood 2005

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  • Ted Underwood

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