The place of popular education in Wordsworth’s social philosophy

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A Thesis Presented to the Faculty of the Department of English University of Southern California

In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts

by John William Brunell August 1950

UMI Number: EP44274

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T h is thesis, w ritten by ......... J O M . . W I L | f I # l - B R U N E L L ......... under the guidance of h.^-3... F a c u lty C om m ittee, and ap p ro ved by a l l its members, has been presented to and accepted by the C o u n cil on G ra d u ate S tudy and Research in p a r t ia l f u l f i l l ­ ment of the requirements f o r the degree of


n„f, August 1950

Faculty Committee

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EDUCATIONAL PHILOSOPHY ......................


THE P R E L U D E ..................................




. . . .


THE YEARS 1793 TO 1798 ........................


THE E X C U R S I O N ................................


LETTER TO FRANCIS WRANGHAM, 1808 .............





THE YEARS l8lO TO 1825





.Y E A R S .................... 109

C O N C L U S I O N ...................................... 121




INTRODUCTION William Wordsworth has been much maligned and mis­ understood for his stand on social problems during the second half of his life.

His critics have found him

especially vulnerable in the field of politics and education where they have contrasted isolated statements and remarks from the time of his youth and from the time of his late maturity to the disadvantage of the latter.

But what

appears to be obvious on the surface is far less apparent under more scrupulous examination: Wordsworth was far too "English" to change an opinion easily. Before one is justified in delineating Wordsworth as a "democrat" or "reactionary," he must take into account the personality of the man.

It was not his nature to favor

the extreme point of view in any controversy and, with the exception of a short and youthful revolutionary period, he adhered to a liberal middle course throughout his life.


was a sage, fascinated by the machinery of human relations and by the spiritual qualities of the human mind.


was not a man In the England of his day who was more aware of the complexity of both organisms, nor was there another man who gave more serious thought to the improvement of his fellow beings. It is the purpose of this thesis to center attention

iv around one aspect of his general philosophy, that of his attitude toward the education of the people, and to trace the course of his convictions on the subject of popular education from the beginning of his mature years to the end of his life.

A good deal will be borrowed from other areas

of his social philosophy in order to show more vividly trends and, occasionally, vicissitudes.

It is hoped that

this study will make some contribution to the school of scholarly opinion that is anxious to rectify the injustice that has been done to the defenseless poet. By "popular" education is meant the education of all the people; by "national" education is meant a governmental system of education to embrace the whole country.


worth distinguished between the education of the upper and lower classes in the matter of content but not in the matter of method— that is to say, he recognized the futility of forcing classical knowledge on all Englishmen without regard to prospects and abilities, but he believed that knowledge, whatever be its quality, is learned more thoroughly through natural experience or, as .he preferred to put it, through nature. The paper is divided into two parts: the first is comprised of three chapters of background material against which the second, a chronological account of correspondency speeches, and miscellaneous remarks, is made more



It will- be noted that there Is a time gap

between the fifth and sixth chapters into which the third A*

chapter, The Prelude, might logically fit, since that poem is a record of reflection in the first years of the nine­ teenth century.

But, as The Prelude is more significant

as the very foundation of his educational philosophy, it was thought wiser to include it as background material. The second and larger part of the paper has taken the historical approach: accompanied by the editorial comment of the writer of the thesis, the poet explains in his own words the social evolution of his mind.

It is

hoped that the reader will agree with the writer in his conclusion that, even as the mind grew with time, it did not fundamentally change in basic principles.



CHAPTER I BACKGROUND OF POPULAR EDUCATION IN ENGLAND Although the history of popular education in England is too vast a subject to be treated adequately in a paper of this sort, a few comments are necessary if the numerous quotations taken from Wordsworth are to be fairly inter­ preted.

The world into which the poet was born and the

world from which he departed were different from each other and immeasurably different from the world of today.


he chose to deliberate upon any controversial matter, Wordsworth spoke in terms of his experience— that is to say, within the bounds of what he knew from reading his predecessors and contemporaries and what he observed in the physical world about him. There is the danger that the reader will make no attempt to transcend the massive barrier of time that stands between Wordsworth and the present and that he will judge the hapless poet on twentieth century standards.


that case, there can be no real understanding of Words­ worth1s social philosophy.

One rather severe critic of

the poet's later years, George McLean Harper, was neverthe­ less careful to point out the difference between worlds separated by one hundred and fifty years:

2 It Is probable that even the most reactionary man now living would be shocked, if he were to awake some morning in the last decade of the l8th century In England, by the oppressiveness of the social atmosphere. The law favoured the owners of property, particularly landed property. It was still bar­ barously severe. The debtor, the poacher, the seditious person, were punished out of all propor­ tion to their offences while political corruption and vice in the upper classes were winked at. Not only was there no systematic provision for enabling the poor to get even an elementary education, but the very idea of their desiring an education was considered dangerous. Dissenters were excluded from the universities, and their participation in politics was restricted.1 Conditions were quite as discouraging, if not actually worse, In the first half of the nineteenth century, for although some gains were made through social legislation, the improvement was offset by an increase in factories and the concomitant enslavement of laborers.

In such a world

a man who would propose a system of national education for England (as Wordsworth did) was one of a radical minority and a man who would recommend caution in the introduction of social reform (as Wordsworth did) was not a reactionary. And yet both in theory and practice popular education was not born of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Long before the birth of Christ, Athenian emigrants to Southern Italy constructed a state-supported educational

1 William Wordsworth. His Life. Works. and Influence (London: John Murray, 1916), II, 15-I0 .

3 system for all citizens.2

And, though by no means the first

of great English educators, in the ninth century King Alfred wrote his famous preface to the Cura Pastoralis which called for the dissemination of knowledge throughout the kingdom and the education of the sons of all freemen. Adamson traces the origins of popular instruction in England back to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries when various towns of the country had grammar schools into which the children of poor people were admitted: The number of children in the mediaeval schools of all kinds, indeed the total number of children who learned to read, whether in school, or elsewhere, was smaller, perhaps very much smaller, than the entire child-population. To that extent the mediaeval schools were exclusive. But poverty was not a bar to admission, except in so far as it necessarily deprives of many opportunities, schooling included. The schools of the period under review served an intellec­ tual rather than a social class; they were the fitting homes of boys endowed with the scholarly type of intelligence.3 Incredible as it may seem for

so early a period in history,

there is a wealth of evidence

to support Adamson in his

contention: Indeed the Lollard author of Peres the Plowmans Grede, writing in the last decade of the fourteenth century, complains that the children of the poor


J. E. G. De Montmorency, State Intervention in English Education (Cambridge: University Press, 1902), p. 2. 3 John William Adamson, A Short History of Education (Cambridge: University Press, 1922), p. 7 6 .

4 made their way to high estate through the schooldoors.^ With the advent of the Renaissance and its lust for knowledge schools were not discouraged, but now the English crown stepped in to regulate the administration of acad­ emies and universities, especially in regard to people who dissented from the Anglican Church.

In the days of Queen

Elizabeth there was an abundance of laws dealing with edu­ cational procedure, which shows beyond a doubt that even then learning was regarded as a national matter.


example, in 1603 all schoolmasters of the realm were licensed; in the reign of Charles II schoolmasters were forced to subscribe to a declaration of conformity to the liturgy of the Church of England. This policy of demanding conformity to the Church of England inevitably had a disrupting effect on the growing English educational system; it stymied the free proliferation of schools on down into the nineteenth century.

De Montmorency calls it a "benighted and heart­

breaking policy": Education could only be given by those who accepted without reservation the tests and tenets of the Church of England as by law established and who were prepared to suffer any indignity that the Legislature and the Bishops might devise. So purely place-men were the



5 schoolmasters of the realm that they were ordered to contribute "with all readiness" to the war chest of Charles I. and were till a late date subjected to a ceaseless and intolerable inquisition into their beliefs and thoughts at the hands of Bishop and Crown alike. The schoolmaster was forbidden by law to think for himself, and indeed the possibility of thought was extinguished by the method of selection employed. The fear of the universal spread of dissent created a dread of free education as plainly at the end of the seven­ teenth century as was the case in the beginning of the fifteenth c e n t u r y . 5 The eighteenth century brought about a revolution in educational theory if not in educational practice.


philosophical thought was dominated by that school of philosophy known as Empiricism.

The contention that know­

ledge comes from experience had far-reaching implications for education. In the seventeenth century John Locke (1632-1704) laid the foundation for the new, liberal attitude toward education.

Since, according to Locke, man has no innate

ideas and all knowledge is derived from experience, one must concentrate on training the senses.

Although Locke

advocated a strict discipline in the educative process, he did not believe, as was customary, that this discipline would in itself improve the ability to learn, but he thought of discipline as the means by which knowledge is acquired. Locke professed the desirability of Ma sound mind in a

^ state Intervention in English Education, pp. 109110.

6 sound body," and he condemned corporal punishment in the educational environment, emphasizing the efficacy of rewards for progress. Education had a diverse group of champions in the eighteenth century.

As a practical economist Adam Smith

(1723-1790) preached the need for educated labor as a national asset.

As a hedonist Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)

stressed the value of physical development and scoffed at the study of languages; he was of the opinion that only those subjects should be taught that are enjoyed.

In ac­

cordance with his famous theory, Robert Maithus (17661834) advocated national education: as more people are educated they will be less inclined to have large families. And, foremost of all, Jean Jacques Rousseau, prose poet of the common man, gave his Emile a commonplace mind so that he could demonstrate what education can do for a mind of that sort.

The nature of Rousseau's rebellion against

established educative procedure is manifest in the follow­ ing statement taken from Adamson: Convinced that the established social order was contrary to Nature, Rousseau makes a general prin­ ciple of the statement, Do the contrary to what is usual, and you will do what is necessary and right. In the face of this principle, many of the conven­ tions of the eighteenth century up-bringing of children, particularly in reference to their clothing and diet, stood impeached, and Rousseau's personal

.7 /T

popularity did much to abolish them. If the eighteenth century day school described by Charles Lamb in 1825 as he recalled childhood experiences was typical of English schools, it is clear that Rousseau and other educator-revolutionaries were not regarded with favor by the autocrats of the classroom: The school-room stands where it did, looking into a discoloured dingy garden in the passage leading from Fetter Lane into Bartlett's Buildings. It is still a Schopl, though the main prop, alasI has fallen so ingloriously; and bears a Latin inscription over the entrance in the Lane, which was unknown in our humbler times. Heaven knows what 'languages' were taught in it then; I am sure that neither my sister nor myself brought any out of it, but a little of our native English. By 'Mathematics', reader, must be understood 'cyphering.' It was in fact a humble dayschool, at which reading and writing were taught to us boys in the morning, and the same slender erudi­ tion was communicated to the girls, our sisters, &c. in the evening. . . . I well remember Bird. He was a squat, corpulent, middle-sized man, with something of the gentleman about him, and that peculiar mild tone— especially while he was inflicting punishment— which is so much more terrible to children than the angriest looks and gestures. Whippings were not frequent; but when they took place, the correction was performed in a private room adjoining, whence we could only hear the plaints, but saw nothing to impress the patient with a veneration for the diffuser graces of rhetoric. . . .* By 1791 Protestant and Catholic dissenters were made free by acts of Parliament to follow the teaching profession

^ Short History of Education, p. 210. 7 Quoted from R. W. King, England From Wordsworth to Dickens (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1929), pp. 203-204.

8 — except at universities and the great schools.

But the

very fact that this final restriction remained in the nineteenth century indicates the bitterness of the quarrel between Church and Dissenter, a cancerous sore that had established itself back in the reign of Queen Anne.


Wordsworth was educated in a time and place that took for granted this persecution of dissenting thought. Curiously, the first half of the eighteenth century did more to foster popular education in practice than the second half.

Beginning about 1670, there was a movement

in favor of mass education that took form in the establish­ ment of charity schools whose first purpose was religious instruction while a secondary object was to enable the poor to earn a livelihood.

In the year 1727 charity schools

existed in every county of England and Wales, 1369 in all, and there were 22,024 boys and 5830 girls enrolled.®


the schools were forced to abide by the principles of Crown and Church, a policy that sowed the seeds of decay, since they were always under suspicion of harboring dis­ senters and Jacobites; by the time of the accession of George III the schools had dropped behind both in numbers and public usefulness. The advent of the Industrial Revolution was inimical

® Adamson, Short History of Education, p. 201.

9 to the creation of popular education: from an early age children were made to work long hours in factories under intolerable conditions which left them little time or strength for schooling. still in evidence.

Even so, the will to learn was

Mrs. Sarah Trimmer, writing in 1801,

declared that every town and most villages had evening schools for people who could not attend in the daytime.^ The names of a few men who did outstanding work in the encouragement of popular education and who receive men­ tion in later chapters might properly be introduced here. Andrew Bell (1753-1832), a clergyman of the Church of England, in 1789 became superintendent of the Madras Male Orphan Asylum, where he applied what came to be known as the Madras method of the mutual instruction of children. He introduced the method into the Protestant charity school of St. Botolph's, Aldgate, and also into certain industrial schools.

There is some question as to whether Bell first

conceived of the pupil-teacher scheme, but he did publicize the system, which in turn created a demand for elementary education throughout the country and made education rela­ tively inexpensive. Joseph Lancaster (1778-1838) vied with Bell for the honor of being named the originator of the ’’Madras system.”

9 Ibid.. p. 231.

10 As a matter of fact, he adopted the method as an expedient when he found that he did not have money enough to hire teachers for his free school.

The main difference between

the schools of the two men was in the attitude extended toward religious instruction: Bell wanted all schools to be under the control of the Established Church; Lancaster insisted upon Christian but undenominational teaching.


Montmorency contends that the lasting good done by Bell and Lancaster was the result of this dispute, the noise of which awakened the country to the problems and need of a national education.10 The record of Henry Brougham is an impressive one. De Montmorency hails his work as an integral part of the history of education throughout the first half of the nineteenth century and, more specifically, of the trend toward ”useful education” : In his fine speech on elementary education in 1820 he had quoted Milton's views on education with respect, and said that "he agreed with one of the wisest men that had ever lived, that to one of the rank to which he alluded, a knowledge of all the languages of the globe could not, in point of utility, be put in com­ petition with an acquaintance with a single mechanical art." These opinions were emphasized in the pamphlet of 1825 where Brougham dwells on the necessity of education for the higher classes. The mechanical arts he strove to bring to the doors of the poorer classes by starting, with the help of Dr. Birbeck, the

10 State Intervention in English Education, p. 208.

11 Mechanics' Institutes. In 1825 he formed the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, in accordance with the idea put forward in his pamphlet— to educate the people by the publication of instructive books at a cheap price.11 The history of social legislation for the ameliora­ tion of the poor has been long and slow.

Until 1878 it

was still lawful to hire a child under nine years of age in a silk mill.

Toward the end of the nineteenth century

provision was finally made for the free education of chil­ dren in elementary schools, and by the opening of the twentieth century the country possessed the apparatus of a complete national educational system administered by local and central authorities, with a Minister of State at the head. William Wordsworth lived in a period of great intel­ lectual and social unrest.

In the years of his life the

vast majority of English children— in spite of the activi­ ties of liberal educators— received little or no formal education.

Public opinion, by and large, was against

advanced educational theory.

In view of what was being

said and done on all sides of him, Wordsworth is more easily exonerated from the charge that he turned reaction­ ary during the later years of his life; indeed, his over­ all attitude toward education was unmistakably liberal.

11 Ibid., pp. 233-3^.

12 But, as later chapters will reveal, although he recognized and admitted the desirability of an educational system for the masses, he was unwilling to embrace the glamorous schemes that were being proposed by many of his intellec­ tual contemporaries.



EDUCATIONAL PHILOSOPHY William Wordsworth has suffered more than his due from critics who have failed to recognize a unity in his philosophy.

James Venable Logan expressed what is prob­

ably a majority point of view when he described Words­ worth' s poetry as being "infused by an abstruse and diffi­ cult philosophy, unsystematically expressed and sometimes contradictory."1

Whether Logan meant this as mere fact or

criticism does not matter; the point to be made is that the statement is misleading in that it is "half" true. Logan would have spoken more accurately had he said that Wordsworth's poetry is infused by an unmistakable philosophical consistency which, however, is not system­ atically expressed and which, therefore, the illusion of being contradictory.

sometimes gives

This is equally true

of his whole social philosophy and, more specifically, of his educational philosophy which will be treated briefly in the pages that immediately follow. If from the very beginning of his career Wordsworth

1 James Venable Logan, Wordsworthian Criticism: A Guide and Bibliography (Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 1947), P. 3.

14 had attempted to knit the entire body of his thought into a neat philosophical system, commencing with strong major premises and proceeding with mathematical precision— ever faithful to the ancient rules of form— he might have been a great philosopher, but he would not have been a great poet.

In that case his poetry would have lacked the charm

that comes of spontaneity and the prescience that comes of inspiration: he might just as well have followed the course of other philosophers and written his work in prose. But Wordsworth chose to be an artist first, then a philosopher.

He wrote as his fancy dictated and as im­

pelled by moments of clairvoyance.

Even so, throughout

his life he was guided by certain basic inner convictions upon which, in the main, he was always elaborating; if he had wanted, he could not have betrayed or contradicted them.

Thus, there is in Wordsworth a marvelous spiritual

unity and consistency of principle that came about of itself and derived from the inflexible part of his tem­ perament and personality. This unity of thought is as evident in his philo­ sophy of education as in any other aspect of his philos­ ophy, but it is not to be exposed by a superficial exam­ ination of his work.

The reader who hurries through The

Prelude or-The—Excurslren will finish the venture with any number of misconceptions and in a general state of

15 confusion.

For example, he will find the poet alternately

praising the solitary and the social life; he will be charmed by the devotion of the poet to the teaching pro­ fession only to be puzzled later by a passage that looks upon the profession with a strange suspicion.

What he

fails to comprehend is that Wordsworth will not be tied to absolutes: happily for his poetry, black and white, right and wrong are relative concepts.

Ultimately, Wordsworth's

philosophy is enriched by this disposition to probe into both sides of an issue, to sing merits and deficiencies with an equal zeal, and to leave the inquiring mind with the equipment necessary for a reasonable conclusion. The educational philosophy of Wordsworth, except where it involves his lifelong mystical devotion to nature, has little of the esoteric; it can be fairly resolved into a few short statements, whereas the evidence available to support the statements might run into a full volume or more.

The simple and unalterable duty of education was to

expand the capacity of each individual to a full enjoyment of life and an acceptance of the responsibilities imposed upon him by society.

As later chapters will show, he

looked upon education as the parent of progress: no lasting good could ever precede the intellectual and moral im­ provement of the people.

Therefore, he pondered long over

the elements of which a sound education is comprised, and

16 The Prelude is largely a result of his preoccupation with this problem. He differed from contemporary educational thinkers in his habit of placing primary emphasis on a single point, one that was of his own creation in the sense that a majority of educators were unaware of it: he was of the opinion that- children are commonly cheated out of the bet­ ter part of their education, that which begins when they are released from the confinement of schoolrooms and parlors and are allowed to commune with nature in the wild, reckless, and spirited way of children.

He believed

nature to be a "teacher" in the real sense of theword moreover,

that she was the best of all teachers.



state of childhood was that in which children are . . . not too wise, Too learned, or too good; but wanton, fresh, And bandied up and down by love and hate; Not unresentful where self-justified; Pierce, moody, patient, venturous, modest, shy; Mad at their sports like withered leaves in winds; Though doing wrong and suffering, and full oft Bending beneath our life's mysterious weight Of pain, and doubt, and fear, yet yielding not In happiness to the happiest upon earth.2 In the broader sense nature, the teacher, was all experience.

Anything that interfered with a child's

2 The Prelude, V, 411-420. All poetic quotations of Wordsworth's work are taken from The Complete Ppetical Works of William Wordsworth (edited by Andrew J. George, Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1932 )*

17 contact with the outer world was both a nuisance and a danger, and it was Wordsworth’s contention that formal education was all too oblivious of this fact. This reliance on nature as the central manipulator of real education was the mainspring of his educational philosophy.

It was born as an instinctive realization in

the time of his own boyhood when he had been freer than are most children to commune with nature.

It was trans­

ferred to the conscious mind during the years when he was gathering and organizing his thoughts into a mature philos­ ophy.

And it stayed with him until the end of his life—

a conviction that was beyond question and which he was quick to defend on every occasion. He divided the education of the child Into two basic elements, nature and tuition, the latter being comprised of all the artificial instruction that stems from the im­ perfect hand of man.

He did not foolishly attempt an

exact appraisal of the two elements, and if In the final analysis he wrote and spoke more enthusiastically of nature than of tuition, it was by way of emphasizing the element that suffered widespread neglect. Tuition, or teachers and books (generally exper­ ienced through the agency of schools), was not at all slighted by his system.

When on occasion he inveighed

against teachers and books, he had in mind bad teachers and

18 bad books.

He knew from experience that teachers and books

were inclined to be dogmatic, smug, and officious and that too often they repressed the imaginative powers of the child who, in his naivety, was Incapable of detecting sham. Wordsworth honestly and rightfully believed that where a child was led by a master who lacked the humility becoming to his profession he had better have been left alone. Although his intention was not to exclude the teacher from the scene of education, he deplored . . . blind Authority, beating with his Staff The Child that might have led him. The Prelude, III, 605-6 06 . Until the end of his life he cherished the memory of a schoolmaster of his youth, William Taylor; he knew, in fact, that as the poet of the common man he was himself a teacher.

His objection was levelled against any teacher

who, consciously or unconsciously, infringed on the sacred relationship between his pupil and nature. Wordsworth trembled at the thought of the classroom tyrant, the egocentric who delights in dominating the personalities of others with his own.

As he intimated in

the famous Letter to Mathetes, 1809, even the comparatively enlightened teacher can be a hazard where humility and docile dispositions exist towards him, . . . endued as he is with the power which personal presence confers; but at the same time [humility and docile dispositions! will be liable to overstep their

19 due bounds, and to degenerate Into passiveness and prostration of mind. This towards him; while, with respect to other living men, nay even to the mighty spirits of past times, there may be associated with such weakness a want of presumption, and a habit of sitting in Judgement where no sentiment ought to have existed but diffidence or veneration.3 The truly good teacher, then, is one who regards himself and acts as the catalyst of a tremendously important human reaction and who reaches out to help when he is unquestionably needed but who stands aside when he is not needed.

William Taylor or “Matthew,” — Thou soul of God's best earthly mould! Thou happy Soul! Matthew, 29-30.

must have been such a man. Five years before he died Wordsworth wrote “The Westmoreland Girl,11 a last testimonial to his regard for benign instruction.

What does the wild girl of the moun­

tains need to temper In her breast, unruly fire, To control the forward impulse And restrain the vague desire? Easily a pious training And a stedfast outward power Would supplant the weeds and cherish In their stead, each opening flower. The Westmoreland Girl, II, 50-5 6.

3 In A. B. Grosart, ed., The Prose Works of William Wordsworth (London: Edward Moxon, Son, and Co., TB7 6 ), I, 325.

20 It did not matter whether this "outward power" was the work of a good mother and father, of the parish minister, of a humble schoolmaster— so long as it was there.

Just as the

child'must not be forced to underindulge his whim in nature, so he must not be encouraged to overindulge it.


speaking, Wordsworth was more concerned with the matter of underindulgence because of a tendency on the part of adults to curb rather than to stimulate any manifestation of spirit or imagination in their children. What he had to say about teachers applied equally to books: both are necessary agents of education; neither is at all depreciated by his "pagan" assertion that One impulse from a vernal wood May teach you more of man, Of moral evil and of good, Than all the sages can. The Tables Turned, 20-2^. The careful use of the qualifying word "may" Implies that communion with nature Is not a magic formula; the full efficacy of nature1s lesson is given the noblest, most receptive mind. Wordsworth smilingly recalled many hours of his youth spent under the spell of books when he might better have been tending his pole and line but, except for meditation in nature, he would not have been able to sug­ gest a finer pastime than that of reading a thrilling narrative in the shade of a great tree on a warm summer


21 day.

When in The Prelude he reviewed his life at Cambridge

University, he admitted squandering time in society that could have been more profitably spent.with his books. It is true then that he scorned the pedantic notion that one need only find the right book to find the right answer.

Moreover, he was keenly aware of the fact that

books, by and large, catered unconsciously to the preju­ dices of the upper classes and that by rendering his ver­ dict in favor of the patron who supported him, the artist was violating the sanctity of truth.

He knew also that

books debase The Many for the pleasure of those Few; Effeminately level down the truth To certain general notions, for the sake Of being understood at once, or else Through want of better knowledge in the heads That framed them; flattering self-conceit with words, That, while they most ambitiously set forth Extrinsic differences, the outward marks Whereby society has parted man From man, neglect the universal heart. The Prelude. XIII, 211-220. While these were his objections to books, he did not maintain a purely negative viewpoint on the subject: he had definite opinions as to the kinds of books that children of all ages should read.

Since he looked upon

the classics as the basis of all serious reading, he advised an undergraduate nephew at Cambridge to confine his attention to

22 . . . ancient classical writers; make yourself master of them; and when you have done that you will come down to us; and then you will be able to judge us according to our deserts.4 But by far the books that were dearest to Wordsworth were books of fancy and adventure, books designed for the fathomless imaginations of small children, books that told about . . . the wishing cap Of Portunatus, and the invisible coat Of Jack the Giant-killer, Robin Hood, And Sabra in the forest with St. George. The Prelude. V, 331-334. He had no affection for the book of facts, facts that in some incomprehensible way were to arm the student in the struggle with life; it was for the "forgers of daring tales" to satisfy "dumb yearnings, hidden appetites," the craving of every child (and adult, for that matter) for an exciting world beyond the realm of reality. In a Letter to a Friend. 1806 Wordsworth tendered some carefully considered advice on the education of a little girl.

He suggested that his friend put the little

girl in the way of acquiring knowledge that is interesting for its own sake and that he give her liberty to "luxuriate in such feelings and images as will feed her mind in silent

4 Christopher Wordsworth, Memoirs of William Wordsworth, Poet-laureate (edited by Henry Reed, Boston: Ticknor, Reed, and Fields, 1851), I, 48-49.

23 pleasure."

What sort of books give both instruction and

pleasure to small children? . . . fairy tales, romances, the best biographies and histories, and such parts of natural history relating to the powers and appearances of the earth and elements, and the habits and structure of animals, as belong to it, not as an art or science, but as a magazine of form and feeling. This kind of knowledge is purely good, a direct antidote to every evil to be apprehended, and food absolutely necessary to preserve the mind of a child like yours from morbid appetites. Fairy tales and romance always occupy the place of dis­ tinction in any list of recommended reading for children constructed by the poet.

On the other hand, he anathema­

tizes . . . minute, remote, or trifling facts in geography, topography, natural history, chronology, &c., or acquisitions in art, or accomplishments which the child makes by rote, and which are quite beyond its age; things of no value in themselves, but as they show cleverness . . .5 Such was Wordsworth's reverence for books of the imagina­ tion. He was not widely -read in the sense that many other poets have been— if what he said of himself is true. twenty-one he wrote disconsolately that his . . . incursions into the fields of modern literature— excepting in our own language three volumes of Tristram Shandy, and two or three

5 in Grosart, ed., Prose Works, 332.



24 papers of the Spectator, half subdued— are absolutely nothing.b And twenty-eight years later, writing to a friend who had a large library, he openly expressed his envy and aston­ ishment that one man should own so many books.

He con­

fessed that his own reading powers were never very great, . . . and now they are diminished, especially by candle light. And as to buying books, I can affirm that on new books I have not spent five shillings for the last 5 years. I include reviews, magazines, Pamphlets, etc., etc. So that there would be an end of Mr. Murray, and Mr. Longman, and Mr. Cadell etc., etc., if nobody had more power or inclination to buy than myself.7 Taken in the proper perspective, books and teachers are but another manifestation of nature and, therefore, are both good and necessary.

But since they have the

human power and inclination to pervert what they touch, a constant vigil must be kept to prevent them from spoil­ ing that which nature has made beautiful.

As the subse­

quent chapters will reveal, Wordsworth recognized a need for popular education in England and, at the same time, a need for restraint in the administration of popular

6 In Ernest De Selincourt, ed., The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth; The Early Years (Oxford; The Clarendon Press, 1935), PP* 55~5&~- To William Mathews, August 13, 1791* 7 In Ernest De Selincourt, ed., The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth; The Middle Years' '(Oxford; The Clarendon Press, 1937)* II, 842. To Francis Wrangham, February 19, l8l9-

25 education.

He had, for example, a genuine respect for the

English farmer and herdsman; he felt that many of these illiterate and semi-literate people were— in his under­ standing of the word--better "educated” than their socalled betters.

If they were to be taken over by legions

of pompous, affected schoolmasters and taught multitudes of facts for which they had no earthly use, national educa­ tion might be the means of converting a contented and productive people into a discontented and frustrated people. It was for this reason that Wordsworth took great pain to distinguish between "nature" and "tuition": he was convinced that until educators were made aware of the broad distinction between the two grand elements of educa­ tion and, even more important, until they were made aware of the limitations of their own province, tuition, their profession would be a positive menace to society.

In a

later period of his life, when the country was alive with the spirit of educational and political reform, he was accused of being obstructionist and reactionary because of his opposition to a galaxy of schemes to improve English education, whereas, for the most part, his objection was directed against a lack of humility on the part of the reformers rather than against the reforms. There is In the Letter to Mathetes, already cited,

26 a relatively short passage that should preface every pub­ lished volume of Wordsworth’s prose and poetry.


answers the very intriguing question which quite naturally arises from an acquaintance with the poet: what, indeed, is "nature” and how does she teach? There never perhaps existed a school-boy, who, having, when he retired to rest, carelessly blown out his candle, and having chanced to notice, as he lay upon his bed in the ensuing darkness, the sullen light which had survived* the extinguished flame, did not, at some time or other, watch that light as if his mind were bound to it by a spell. It fades and revives, gathers to a point, seems as if it would go out in a moment, again recovers its strength, nay becomes brighter than before: it continues to shine with an endurance, which in its apparent weakness is a mystery; it protracts its existence so long, clinging to the power which supports it, that the observer, who had lain down in his bed so easy-minded, becomes sad and melan­ choly; his sympathies are touched; it is to him an intimation and an image of departing human life; the thought comes nearer to him; it is the life of a venerated parent, of a beloved brother or sister, or of an aged domestic, who are gone to the grave, or whose destiny it soon may be thus to linger, thus to hang upon the last point of mortal existence, thus finally to depart and be seen no more. This is nature teaching seriously and sweetly through the affections, melting the heart, and, through that o instinct of tenderness, developing the understanding.


In Grosart, Prose Works, p. 319*

CHAPTER III THE PRELUDE The years during which The Prelude was written (1T99-1805), the period which is commonly accepted to have been the one of great creation, did not in prose or poetry produce a direct affirmation of the need for popular edu­ cation; but it was during these same years that Wordsworth, looking back to his formative period, passed judgment on the relative merits of the formal implements of education— teachers and books— and worked out a balance between the two elements of real education, nature and tuition.


nature, or genuine experience in the external world, is given preferential treatment over planned training in his philosophy, it must not be assumed that the poet had abandoned that faith in human instruction which he inti­ mated in the first half of the decade (1790-1800).1


was now the purpose of the poet to distinguish between nature and tuition, and the very fact that he was suspi­ cious of educational systems and over-zealous instruction gave the area of tuition a unique position in his philos­ ophy: whereas the hand of man was inferior to the divine machinery of nature, nevertheless, it had within its power the machinery of its own institutions. See Chapter IV.

Since in the realm of

28 tuition man was omnipotent,

he must take care not to deform

the God-given sensibilities

of the child.

The need for formal education, therefore, is taken for granted; the need for competent schooling is the watchword.

The whole matter is summed up in three lines

of The Prelude; May books and Nature be their early joyI And knowledge, rightly honoured with that name — Knowledge not purchased by the loss of power. The Prelude, V, 423-425. The Prelude is the "home" of Wordsworth1s educa­ tional philosophy.

It must be thoroughly read, digested,

and assimilated before the scholar can understand and appreciate the diversified remarks that he made on the subject of popular education throughout his long life. The unrepressed enthusiasm and alternate restraint with which he favored the creation of a country-wide educational system was but a reflection of his educational philosophy as a whole.

He looked upon schools as being merely one of

the processes that contribute to a full education.


did not deny the inestimable benefit of a good school for a community and, as the following chapter will show, he fathered what is, perhaps, the most eloquent plea ever extended by any man for a national system of education in England. However, the schools that came under his observation

29 rarely even remotely conformed to his conception of what an ideal school should be and, since he also believed that a school was capable of inflicting irreparable damage on the mind of a child, he would reserve his endorsement of any actual scheme for a system of popular education un­ til education was aware of its own responsibilities and limitations.

By and large, educators had yet to inquire

into the component elements that make up a real education; how, then, could they be expected to administrate a national system for the benefit of the masses? This distrust of schools and their inmates, teachers and books, was not cynical— nor was it condescending. Wordsworth was confident that one day the educational pro­ fession would awake to the perils of enclosing a lively mind within the four somber walls of the kind of schoolhouse where knowledge is gained with loss of power.


where tuition understood and cooperated with her colleague, nature, could education proceed along a normal course. It should not be surprising, therefore, that one of the truly profound aversions of the poet was for the multitude of educational ’'systems” that were being propa­ gandized on the continent and in England.

In his opinion

the very notion that a mere device could appreciably help a child to secure a finer harmony with society and the universe was an appalling absurdity.

Furthermore, he was

30 distressed to note that many of the new systems were rank distortions of the educational theory laid down by Rousseau, for although he was not a confirmed devotee of that great political and educational philosopher, Like Rousseau, Wordsworth was not concerned with making a man of the child as soon as possible; he believed that the child should live the days of childhood for what they are rather than, as in the institutional system, wholly from a regard for what they promise for the future. Like Rousseau, then, and Blake, he recognized the individuality of the period of childhood, and respected it. The child was to be allowed to roam at will in books, but especially in nature, which is the breath of God. There he would experience true life.2 Too many of Rousseau's self-styled apostles lost sight of the doctrine of non-interference and substituted in its stead "regulation."

And, even though a system had for its

purpose the promotion of freedom and self-realization, the very fact that a teacher found it necessary to use a sys­ tem was evidence of a lack of conviction or sincerity. But, for the most part, systems were not content with even minor regulations; they wanted to steer the child away from all of the dangerous shoals of life— experiences, however hazardous, which are normally a part of childhood and from which the great majority of children escape unharmed and better for the struggle.

The teacher

2 A. Charles Babenroth, English Childhood (New York: Columbia University Press, 1922), pp. 348-3^9*

31 would deftly wave the attention of the student away from the wiles of gluttony, sloth, etc., by pointing out the manifest virtues inherent in the opposite qualities.


in itself, was a tragic misapplication of educational principles from the Wordsworth viewpoint.

A moderate,

childish greediness is a positive pleasure that every youngster has a right to experience.

The child who has

been permitted the opportunity to observe the habits of his fellow creatures will, in his own time, conclude that an unproportional greed will not be left -unpunished. But Wordsworth was not afraid that the average "system” would fail in the attainment of the goal it had set for itself; he was afraid that it would succeed.


tried to imagine a perfect child, led along the paths of virtue, oblivious of the pains suffered by children less fortunate than he.

The result of this imaginative exer­

cise was, what is uncommon in Wordsworth, a great satiri­ cal passage.

If he could be fashioned, what would the

model child be like? My drift I fear Is scarcely obvious; but, that common sense May try this modern system by its fruits, Leave let me take to place before her sight A specimen pourtrayed with faithful hand. Full early trained to worship seemliness, This model of a child is never known To mix in quarrels; that were far beneath Its dignity; with gifts he bubbles o'er As generous as a fountain; selfishness

32 May not come near him, nor the little throng Of flitting pleasures tempt him from his path; The wandering beggars propagate his name, Dumb creatures find him tender as a nun, And natural or supernatural fear, Unless it leap upon him in a dream, Touches him not. The Prelude. V, 293-309• This child would be little more than an automaton, a reservoir of precious responses predetermined by the ambitious experimenter.

If it be true that virtue is the

result of the successful struggle against the forces of evil, the model child, scraped of all surface gloss, would be a shallow Prometheus.

Moreover, the most perfect

teacher could not possibly prepare the aspirant for every conceivable contingency.

In the event that he was con­

fronted with a five-legged lion, what, alas, would his reaction beI The model child is wonderfully clever: To enhance the wonder, see How arch his notices, how nice his sense Of the ridiculous; not blind is he To the broad follies of the licensed world, Yet innocent himself withal, though shrewd, And can read lectures upon innocence; A miracle of scientific lore, Ships he can guide across the pathless sea, And tell you all their cunning; he can read The inside of the earth, and spell the stars; He knows the policies of foreign lands; Can string you names of districts, cities, towns, The whole world over, tight as beads of dew Upon a gossamer thread; he sifts, he weighs; All things are put to question; he must live Knowing that he grows wiser every day Or else not live at all, and seeing too

33 Each little drop of wisdom as it falls Into the dimpling cistern of his heart: For this unnatural growth the trainer blame, Pity the tree. The Prelude. V, 309-329Is there an avenue of escape for the little prisoner? Probably not, For, ever as a thought of purer birth Rises to lead him toward a better clime, Some intermeddler still is on the watch To drive him back, and pound him, like a stray, Within the pinfold of his own conceit. Meanwhile old grandame earth is grieved to find The playthings, which her love designed for him, Unthought of: in their woodland beds the flowers Weep, and the river sides are all forlorn. The Prelude. V, 332-3^0. But what provision has been made that the child might feel as well as know? that a child feel!

Indeed, what provision could be made Feeling comes of wondering and suffer­

ing— and of being faced with insoluble problems and yet surviving.

Great feeling is experienced in solitary places

where, because he has nobody to advise him, the sentient person opens his heart to the great truths of the universe. Wordsworth was not eager for his country to embrace a national education catering to the superfluities of a ”system.”

England could not survive as a nation of model

children. One of the remarkable aspects of The Prelude— and the bulk of Wordsworth’s poetry— is the dignity that it accords the common man.

The poet attributed great

34 importance to his acquaintance with the ’’little" people, people whose imaginations had not been throttled by anxious teachers nor extinguished in gloomy classrooms. As achild

he was fascinated by the lonely figure of a

man on the

street or on a country road.

Even then he


. . . into the depth of human souls, Souls that appear to have no depth at all To careless eyes. The Prelude, XIII, 178-180. It was this same insight into souls of common people that convinced him How little those formalities, to which With overweening trust we give The name of Education, have to do With real feeling and just sense. The Prelude, XIII, 169-172. He knew it was by chance of birth that some men rose to feats of great accomplishment while others sat in the background, humble and inarticulate.

Among the latter

were many framed for contemplation, Shy, and unpractised in the strife of phrase; Meek men, whose very souls perhaps would sink Beneath them, summoned to such intercourse: Theirs is the language of the heavens, the power, The thought, the image, and the silent joy: Words are but under-agents in their souls. The Prelude. XIII, 268-273. These men were not to be pitied for their humble circum­ stances; a just God had provided them with ample compensa­ tion: their hearts were fed. The poet considered social intercourse with such

35 men as being highly contributory to his poetic evolution; ironically, he did not spend a word of praise on his learned tutors and professors at Cambridge University. With the exception of his beloved teacher, William Taylor, whom he eulogized on a few occasions,^ specific teachers do not enter into his poetry; nor does he render more than a fleeting description of a schoolroom.

When, in the

first two books of The Prelude, he wrote about "Childhood and Schooltime," he dwelt upon time spent outside, not inside, the schoolhouse,

Hawkshead was dear to his heart

because it had not chained its scholars to a ponderous block of rules and regulations.

Wordsworth did not feel

deeply indebted to schools for his education. One of the few positive values that he was willing to ascribe to his experience with schools was that of being compelled In hardy independence, to stand up Amid conflicting interests, and the shock Of various tempers; to endure and note What was not understood, though known to be; Among the mysteries of love and hate, Honour and shame, looking to right and left, Unchecked by innocence too delicate, And moral notions too intolerant Sympathies too contracted. The Prelude. XIV, 333-3^1.

3 See Chapter II, pp. 18-19.

36 Thus, when he had attained the state of adulthood and found it necessary to compete with men, . . . the step Was easier, the transition more secure, More profitable also; for, the mind Learns from such timely exercise to keep In wholesome separation the two natures, The one that feels, the other that observes. The Prelude. XIV, 342-347. But Wordsworth distinguished between friendly rival­ ry and emulation, the former being to his liking and the latter much to his distaste.

For example, he spoke with


of boat-races with

his playmates across the

placid lake

at Windermere, the

end of each race being an

exotic island, ripe for childish exploration: In such a race So ended, disappointment could be none, Uneasiness, or pain, or jealousy: We rested in the shade, all pleased alike, Conquered and conqueror. Thus the pride of strength, And the vain-glory of superior skill, Were tempered; thus was gradually produced A quiet independence of the heart. The Prelude. II, 65-7 2 . On the other hand, he grieved To see displayed among an eager few, Who in the field of contest persevered, Passions unworthy of youth's generous heart. The Prelude. Ill, 498-500.

By emulation Wordsworth meant "ambition or envious rivalry," a negative connotation that has since left the word. See Chapter XI, pp. 118-119.

37 and this applied equally to contests in the classroom as well as those on the field of sport.

Knowledge acquired

for purposes of display or for an immediate physical reward was knowledge misapplied: Youth should be awed, religiously possessed With a conviction of the power that waits On knowledge, when sincerely sought and prized For its own sake. The Prelude, III, 387-390. His depiction of the classroom scene is not a flattering one: . . . 'tis enough to note That here in dwarf proportions were expressed The limbs of the great world; its eager strifes Collaterally pourtrayed, as in mock fight, A tournament of blows, some hardly dealt Though short of mortal combat; and whate'er Might in this pageant be supposed to hit An artless rustic's notice, this way less, More that way, was not wasted upon m e — And yet the spectacle may well demand A more substantial name, no mimic show, Itself a living part of a live whole, A creek in the vast sea; for, all degrees And shapes of spurious fame and short-lived praise Here sate in state, and fed with daily alms Retainers won away from solid good; And here was Labour, his own bond-slave; Hope, That never set the pains against the prize; Idleness halting with his weary clog, And poor misguided Shame, and witless Fear, And simple Pleasure foraging for Death; Honour misplaced, and Dignity astray; Feuds, factions, flatteries, enmity, and guile, Murmuring submission, and bald government, (The idol weak as the idolater), And Decency and Custom starving Truth, And Blind Authority beating with his staff The child that might have led him. The Prelude. Ill, 579-606.

38 Small wonder that Wordsworth spent his third collegiate vacation on the European continent instead of remaining at the university in the vain quest for "honors.” There is no equivocation in his treatment of mothers as an important part in the education of a child.


lost his own mother at an early age, he was acutely aware of the need of every child for a mother's love and guid­ ance.

Babenroth is not extravagant when he contends that

the poet "would have accepted the old English proverb that a good mother is worth a hundred schoolmasters."^ Wordsworth found the memory of his own mother especially . dear as he recalled how wisely she refrained from thwart­ ing the natural instincts of her children with bothersome and meaningless restrictions.

She did not mistrust the

nature of her children, for she had faith that the same God Who fills the mother’s breast with innocent milk, Doth also for our nobler part provide. The Prelude, V, 272-273And, because of this creed, she was free From anxious fear of error or mishap, And Evil, overweeningly so called; Was not puffed up by false unnatural hopes, Nor selfish with unnecessary cares, Nor with impatience from the season asked More than its timely produce; rather loved The hours for what they are, than from regard Glanced on their promises in restless pride. The Prelude, V, 280-28 7.

5 English Childhood, p. 346.


The prominent Wordsworth theme that there is no substitute for a benevolent mother and a united home receives further attention in a later chapter. 6 The Prelude is a record of reflection on various philosophical matters; the subject of education for the masses is not directly discussed, although there is much to be implied from the poem.

It must not be understood to

conflict with the stirring passage in The Excursion that trumpets for a national education in England: a man who fails to recognize the limitations of his best friend does that friend no great service.

^ See Chapter X, 100.



CHAPTER IV LETTER TO THE BISHOP OF LLANDAFF, 1793 Perhaps the most memorable statement ever Issued by William Wordsworth as to the place education occupies in the lives of men was his first.

At the time he was

impelled to write his famous Letter to the Bishop of Llandaff,^ Wordsworth was preoccupied with the problems of politics.

He had been infected with the revolutionary

spirit of his friends in France, notably Michel Beaupuy, from whom he had reluctantly parted in the fall of the year 1792, and when he subsequently found himself in the midst of his om\ complacent countryment who saw the French struggle as the work of irresponsible men, it was quite natural that

he should be anxious to speak his mind.

had not long

to wait for the opportunity.


On January 15, 1793, Richard Watson, the Bishop of Llandaff, published a sermon entitled "The Wisdom and Goodness of God in Having Made Both Rich and Poor," the content of which was within the spirit of the title. essence, the


sermon (and the appendix attached to it) was

an impassioned plea for the maintenance of

the status quo,

1 Grosart calls it the Apology for the French Revolution.

kl and the fact that it was written by a man who had formerly been distinguished for his liberal opinions provided Wordsworth with the desire to counteract any harm that it was likely to do. A few passages from the appendix to the Bishop’s sermon (with which Wordsworth was directly concerned) should serve to indicate the effect it must have had on the young man who had become so well acquainted and deeply sympathetic with the aspirations of the French: The courts of British justice are impartial and incorrupt; they respect not the persons of men; the poor man's lamb is, in their estimation, as sacred as the monarch's crown; with inflexible integrity they adjudge to every man his own. That the constitution of this country is so perfect as neither to require or admit of any improvement, is a proposition to which I never did or ever can assent; but I think it far too excellent to be amended by peasants and mechanics. I do not mean to speak of peasants and mechanics with any degree of disrespect; X am not so ignorant of the importance, either of the natural or social chain by which all the individuals of the human race are connected together, as to think disrespectfully of any link of i t .2 At the time Wordsworth could not but have writhed at the Bishop's supercilious conception of peasants and mechanics as links in a natural chain of being from where they are


In A. B. Grosart, ed., The Prose Works of William Wordsworth (London: Edward Moxon, Son, and Co., 1876), I, 2b-2&.

42 forced to submit humbly to the sublime judgment of their betters.

George Wilbur Meyer has conjectured, perhaps

with a twinkle in his eye, as to the probable reaction of the young Wordsworth to the first of the preceding state­ ments: Knowing as we do of Wordsworth's distressing personal experience with the British courts, we have no difficulty in understanding why he found himself Impelled to give the Bishop full satisfaction. In his reply Wordsworth took pains to provide the complacent Bishop with some inkling of what there was in England "to complain of on the score of liberty.”3 When engaged in a law suit in an English court with an aristocrat, Lord Lonsdale, the impecunious Wordsworth children had been mercilessly deprived of a large share of their birthright and had come to know of the “rich man's l aw." Wordsworth's reply to the Bishop of Llandaff attempted a point by point expos& of the prelate's sophis­ try and demonstrated that for a young man of twenty-three the writer was capable of an eloquent prose.

As the Letter

clearly Indicates, Wordsworth was for the moment in a very revolutionary frame of mind, a position not uncommon to the young and hopeful but difficult to maintain over a long period of time.

He was, for instance, an advocate of

violence— as a very last resort: 3 Wordsworth's Formative Years (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1 9 4 3 ) , p. 100.

43 WhatI have you so little knowledge of the nature of man as to be ignorant that a time of revolution Is not the season of true Liberty? Alas, the obsti­ nacy and perversion of man is such that she is too often obliged to borrow the very arms of Despotism to overthrow him, and, in order to reign in peace, must establish herself by violence.^ This doctrine of violence, however, was not of the tenuous sort that recommends the use of arms as a preferred means of achieving political liberty.

He was quite aware that


Political virtues are developed at the expense of moral ones; and the sweet emotions of compassion, evidently dangerous when traitors are to be punished, are too often altogether smothered.5 Wordsworth had already arrived at the Junction before which all thoughtful people must pause and deliberate before choosing a road to travel: to what extent is expediency answerable to morality?

For the moment he was Inclined to

favor a temporary lapse of the latter to the advantage of the former— within certain reasonable bounds.

But, for­

tunately for himself and the world, he- lingered long at the crossroad, and when some years later he was again on his way toward the formulation of a lasting' social philosophy, the very thought of mass irresponsibility was repugnant. The Letter to the Bishop of Llandaff was charged with more potent ammunition than the cautious approval of

4 Grosart, Prose Works, I, 6. 5 Ibid.


\ 44 violence.

Wordsworth did not wantonly urge that the sacred

relics of government be handed over immediately to the lower classes.

The Letter is alive with enthusiasm for a

truly republican government administered by the people, but he meant them to be a gradually improved and enlight­ ened people, trained for the responsibilities demanded by self-government; indeed, this might be called the high point in the answer to the cynical Bishop: "It is the province of education," said the earnest young Wordsworth, . . . to rectify the erroneous notions which a habit of oppression, and even of resistance, may have created, and to soften this ferocity of char­ acter, proceeding from a necessary suspension of the mild and social virtues; it belongs to her to create a race of men who, truly free, will look upon their fathers as only enfranchised.6 Thus, as a thoughtful young man, William Wordsworth made his initial stand on the importance of education.


out the rest of his life he had more to say about educa­ tion, some of which when removed from the full context of his philosophy appears to be in opposition to his first statement of conviction.

It might be well to analyze the

above quotation. Something has aleady been said about Wordsworth's belief in the lower classes.^

Now it is seen that he had

6 Ibid. 7 See Chapter III, pp. 33-34.

a genuine confidence in the ultimate value of education, both as a palliative measure to "soften this ferocity of character" and as an agent to refine and improve men to the degree where they might intelligently conduct a repub­ lican form of government.

It is significant to note that

this statement does not deny that the average man is not omniscient nor that it would be unwise to entrust him with the legislature without taking into consideration his abilities.

But, even as he admits a ferocity of character,

Wordsworth lays the blame at the feet of the oppressive forces that are accustomed to abuse their hereditary privi­ lege of governing.

The "beast" is not a beast due to a

glandular disturbance for which there is no cure; he is a beast because he has been chained and beaten for countless ages.

If the whip were taken from the sadistic trainer,

the animal would react quite differently. Even more important to keep in mind is the meaning that Wordsworth attributed to the word "education."


of the opprobrium that has been heaped on the poet on the ground that he turned apostate to his early ideal of general education is the result of an unfortunate semantic misunderstanding.

"Education" for Wordsworth, and he

hastened to explain his understanding of the word at every opportunity, is not the mere formal training derived from

46 O books and in schools;

education is

... . everything that draws out the human being, of which tuition, the teaching of schools, especially, however important, is comparatively an insignificant part.9 Wordsworth wrote these words to his good friend and corres­ pondent, the Reverend Hugh James Rose, in a period of his life that was fraught with bitterness occasioned by the proposed Reform Bill, about which more will be spoken later on, but they were in fact a reiteration of what he had always maintained whenever the subject was brought up. Even as a young revolutionary he was not so blind as to imagine that institutional education alone could "rectify the erroneous notions" and "soften this ferocity of char­ acter.”

From what has already been said about the state

of schools in the eighteenth century and about Wordsworth’s impression of "tuition" as he experienced it during the years of his formal education and recorded it later in The Prelude. there is nothing to infer that the poet had any illusions about the perfectibility of educational procedure. As the aspiring poet of Nature Wordsworth at twenty-three was quite free of the scholastic connotation that accomp­ anies the word "education" in popular usage.

8 See Chapter II. ^ Grosart, Prose Works, I, 3^3*

But, at the same time, it is not unlikely that the Wordsworth of 1793 envisioned a broad, encompassing system of public instruction contributing in no small degree to the improvement of the masses— in the spirit of the impas­ sioned passage of The Excursion which he was to give to the world many years later.

Education and democracy were to

proceed hand in hand, each bestowing her gifts on the other.

Meyer concurs with this opinion as he observes that

. . . Wordsworth already understands that education is the only means by which true liberty can be achieved. The mere destruction or forcible removal from office of the oppressors will not guarantee the disappearance of injustice or the establishment of genuine freedom. Satisfactory social and political progress must be slow and difficult of attainment, but come it will once the canker of monarchical prejudice has been extirpated and the seeds of republican truth planted in its place.10 The Bishop of Llandaff had been profoundly agitated by the prospect of peasants and mechanics amending the Constitution of England.

As he sought to quiet the Bishop’s

fears on this point, Wordsworth drew a sketch of his pro­ posed -union of education and self-government: Setting aside the idea of a peasant or mechanic being a legislator, what vast education is-requisite to enable him to judge amongst his neighbours which is most qualified by his industry and integrity to be intrusted with the care of the interests of him­ self and of his fellow-citizens? But leaving this ground, as governments formed on such a plan proceed in a plain and open manner, their administration

1° Meyer, Wordsworth1s Formative Years, p. 108.

would require much less of what is usually called talents and experience, that is, of disciplined treachery and hoary Machiavelism.11 The gist of the matter is that Wordsworth conceived capable government to be the product of common sense and honest endeavor, in which the traditional ruling class was sadly lacking.

He saw the dispensation of a modest universal

learning as both a cause and a result of his republic: . . . as it would no longer be their interest to keep the mass of the nation in ignorance, a moderate portion of useful knowledge would be ■universally disseminated. If your Lordship has travelled in the democratic cantons of Switzerland, you must have seen the herdsman with the staff in one hand and the book in the other.12 His theme is one of gradual improvement.

The peasant and

mechanic are not to sit in the House of Commons to their own disadvantage, but they are to have something to say about the men who represent them.

The scheme is to be

progressively strengthened as "a moderate portion of use­ ful knowledge” is given the people.

And then Wordsworth

looked back to the fondest experience of his life, that of his walk through the Alps of Switzerland in 1790, and pointed out an example of true democracy at work. There is reason to believe that Wordsworth’s republi­ can faith of this time was supported more by the quiet


Grosart, Prose Works. I, 11. Ibid.

49 sobriety of the Swiss mountaineer than by the blind reck­ lessness of the Parisian.

A country boy himself, chroni­

cally unable to feel comfortable in the city, Wordsworth always favored the peasantry over the proletariat: the Wordsworth republic is one that is activated by a virtuous and enlightened agricultural people.

Arthur Beatty pays

especial attention to the young poet's peculiar way of expressing his democratic spirit in Descriptive Sketches, written by the poet's own account in 1791-92— a year or so before the Letter to the Bishop of Llandaff, 1793: And now, when in 1792-93 Wordsworth was ready to render his new experiences of the Revolution into the harmony of "numerous verse,” a strange thing happened. Instead of expressing his revolutionary faith directly, he wrote Descriptive Sketches, a travel poem of the same pattern as many another one of that barren time; but into it, artificial as it was, he poured all the enthusiasm for democracy and liberty which he had absorbed in France, and when he seeks and finds sub­ stance and form for his poem, he recreates the mountain forms and peoples.^3 Democracy was not at all difficult for the child of nature to accept: He had been nourished in the Cumberland mountains, where all were equal, and became a member of a university which was a real republic of scholars and gentlemen where talents had a career open to them. Thus he took liberty and equality for granted, and

Representative Poems of William Wordsworth (New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1937), PP* xxxviixxxviii.

50 for some time could not realize that he was living among a people who did not possess them.1^ As he was in the habit of identifying himself with rural folk, whom he regarded with the highest respect, he was not stretching his imagination when he looked forward to an enlightened country people, educated to the point where they could use the franchise profitably. The Letter to the Bishop of Llandaff marks the begin' ning of a definable system of educational philosophy in William Wordsworth.

Indeed, the good Bishop’s sermon had

a significant effect that he had not intended, inasmuch as it pricked the skin of a greater man who was smarting at the lack of understanding displayed by the people of his native land for the struggle that was going on across the channel.

Wordsworth was literally forced to gather

together his thoughts and to devise a systematic and com­ pact philosophy. Letter is even more remarkable in view of the fact that by 1793 events in France were not such as would ordinarily strengthen a young man's confidence in the eventual achievement of a working republic.


spoke of his faith in the perfectibility of mankind at a time when there was less justification for it than ever

Ibid., p. xxxiv.

51 before.

His was a minority opinion which people like the

Bishop of Llandaff were apt to smile off as the effusions of a headstrong young man. But for Wordsworth the Letter was something more than an answer to a bishop with whom he happened to be in disagreement.

It established a faith that he kept through­

out the years of his most inspired poetry and, with the exception of a few bitter years when he was upset by the affirmations of supporters of the Reform Bill, he was true to it for the rest of his life.

In the words of Meyer:

Thus Wordsworth gave expression in the Letter to the Bishop of Llandaff not only to a deep enthusiasm for the French Revolution and the republican form of government, but also to a specific criticism of English life and society, confidence in the efficacy of education, and firm faith in the perfectibility of the common man. His criticism of England Wordsworth was soon to make the matter of Guilt and Sorrow, his most bitter and provocative poem. His articles of faith, his confidence in education and the inex­ haustible virtues of the common people— first openly declared in the spring of 1793> when he had more reasons to give up hope for the future and turn pessimist than he was ever to have again— were to become the basic principles of Wordsworth's mature philosophy.15


Meyer, Wordsworth1s Formative Years, p. 109.

CHAPTER V THE YEARS 1793 TO 1798 For four or five years after writing the Letter to the Bishop of Llandaff— perhaps beyond the time that marks the beginning of his collaboration with Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his richest creative period— Wordsworth was busy picking through the impressions that he had accumu­ lated during the years of revolutionary fervor and resolv­ ing from them a calmer and more practicable set of values. The fact that the revolution had turned out badly and that the people of France had failed to satisfy his fondest hopes for them had its effect on the brooding young man. A. J. George has measured the extent of the dilemma in which Wordsworth found himself during this trying period: As a result of the shock he began that intellectual quest to determine the origin, impulses, motives, and obligations which caused such actions; demanding formal proof, he lost those feelings of the heart which had been his safest guides; and at last yielded up moral questions to despair.1 The poet was partially compensated for his temporary loss of the "feelings of the heart," however,

since in this time

of despair he also lost the inclination to indulge

A. J. George, ed., The Complete Poetical Works of William Wordsworth (Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 193277" p. xxxii.

53 indiscriminate feeling. Even though he was not oblivious to the sorry state of affairs in the France of 1793* he was deeply concerned by the preparations of his own country to wage war on France in the same year.

In 179^ he took the trouble to

warn his friend William Mathews that he could not engage in the publication of a literary magazine unless the two men were in a reasonable accord on the political issues of the day: You know perhaps already that I am of that odious class of men called democrats, and of that class I shall forever continue.2 By these solemn words Wordsworth did not mean that he would never abscond from his exact position of the year 1791* 1792, 1793* or 179^* to attempt such an inflexible stand would render the young poet ridiculous.

But he did

mean that he could never be anything but true to his faith in the improvement of his fellow men and that he would devote his art to the implementation of the ideal.


a month later, when he wrote another letter to Mathews in which he elaborated upon the political system he was in the process of formulating, he was no less a democrat than


In Ernest De Selincourt, ed., The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth: The Early Years (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1 9 3 5 ) , pp. 115-11&•

54 he had been at the time of the Llandaff letter: The destruction of those Institutions which I condemn appears to me to be hastening on too rapidly. I recoil from the bare idea of a Revolution.3 He had tempered his belief that, after all peaceful over­ tures had been exhausted, violence has a rightful place in the achievement of a benevolent republic— and it might be mentioned at this point that the alleged apostasy of his later years was a continuation and development of this incubating distrust In precipitate change.

It was to be

expected that by the time he had reached the point where he would "recoil” from the Idea of revolution his faith in natural progress had become proportionally greater, and a far-reaching educational system had become an even more Important asset to his philosophy.

Wordsworth had lived

in a Paris that entertained a multitude of wild-eyed, platitudinous street-corner orators who deluged the people with barrages of meaningless promises and incitements to ac tion: I stared and listened, with a stranger's ears, To Hawkers and Haranguers, hubbub wild! And hissing Factionists with ardent eyes, In knots, or pairs, or single. The Prelude, IX, 57-60.

3 Ibid., p. 120.

55 He knew that the tempting of animal passions had led the French revolution in the wrong direction; he would have been a dunce had

he not recognized this fact as late as the

year 179^*

Wordsworth correctly reasoned, this might


not have happened had the French leaders been content to work slowly, correlating legislative innovation with edu­ cational reform. I severely condemn all inflammatory addresses to the passions of men, even when it is intended to direct those passions to a good purpose. I know that the multitude walk in darkness. I would put into each man's hand a lantern to guide him, and not have him to set out upon his journey depending for illumination on abortive flashes of lightning, or the coruscations of transitory meteors.^ These letters are not evidence of defection from democratic principles; they are evidence of an active mind, rapidly maturing.

One might well breathe a sigh of relief that

Wordsworth understood the discrepancy between the intention and the deed.

A legislative utopia cannot be built upon

a mountain of ignorance; the lantern is the thing. The metamorphosis of Wordsworth from a somewhat visionary revoluationary to a level-headed realist was a gradual process.

By 1795 he could describe a particular

group of farm people with a firm objectivity:

^ Ibid., p. 121.

56 The country people here are wretchedly poor; Ignorant and overwhelmed with every vice that usually attends ignorance in that class, viz. lying and picking and stealing &c &c.5 He could not say that the English farmer was to be seen with a spade in one hand and a book in the other.


grant the day that it would be true, but it most certainly had not come yet. George McLean Harper has been a severe critic of the later, so-called reactionary period of Wordsworth's life; nevertheless, Harper does not belittle the political acumen of the poet during this deeply contemplative period: He found his way, through the least defended approaches, to the inner recesses of human char­ acter. He became like a little child or like a poor beggar, and learned what man is. With the knowledge thus acquired of human needs and passions, he was able to understand better even than Byron or Shelley, the effect of the French Revolution upon the feelings and conduct of men in all classes of society.® Until 1795 Wordsworth was in a state of indecision as to the profession he should follow; although he was partial to a literary life, he was not unaware of the in­ convenience of writing on an empty stomach.

It is not

hard to imagine his state of mind in this period when he

^ In Ernest De Selincourt, ed., The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth: The Later Years (Oxford: The- Clarendon Press, 1939), III, 1334* To William Mathews, October 24, 1795^ William Wordsworth. His Life, Works, and Influence (London: John Murray, 1916), I, 6.

57 was almost penniless, untrained for any of the regular professions and, worst of all, suffering from the disin­ tegration of his revolutionary ideals.

It is the ironical

good fortune of the world that the problem was partly solved by the death of a good man.

Nine hundred pounds

inherited from Raisley Calvert saved him for art.


money alone could not have restored him from the fickle world of politics to a reunion with his true love, nature. And financial security was not the basis for his success in reformulating broken Ideals.

How, then, was the poet

finally persuaded to take up his pen as a profession?


Charles Babenroth provides the obvious answer: After the disillusionment following closely upon England’s declaration of war against Prance which for him still stood for the spirit of freedom, and after his loss of faith in Prance itself because of Revolutionary excesses, he was wooed back to nature and cottage simplicity by D o r o t h y . ' It was the society of his beloved sister that eased the mental pain brought about by what, for him, was unnatural intellectual juggling and that made it possible for him to be reconciled once again with nature.

Together they

settled at Racedown in 1795, where he set about at the task of writing a tragedy The Borderers.

The meeting with

^ English Childhood (New York: Columbia University Press, 1922;, p. 3^5.

58 Coleridge

and the decision of the two men to work

was,perhaps, the final event


needed to settle Wordsworth

to the great work before him.

Just how clearly Wordsworth

recognized the influence of these two people is recorded in many lines of his poetry.

Dorothy, of course, comes

first in the reconciliation with nature: She gave me eyes, she gave me ears; And humble cares, and delicate fears; A heart, the fountain of sweet tears; And love, and thought, and joy. Thd Sparrow *s Nest And Coleridge, to whom the whole of The Prelude is dedi­ cated, aided as an intellectual stimulus.


Coleridge helped Wordsworth to confirm his preference for evolution over revolution.

As they roamed about the

countryside together, the conversation must have again and again touched upon politics.

Coleridge’s own concep­

tion of the place and power of governments in the affairs of mankind is made clear in a letter that he wrote to the Reverend George-Coleridge, April, 1798: It is true that all effects react and become causes, and so it must be in some degree with govern­ ments; but there are other agents which act more powerfully because by a nigher and more continuous agency, and it remains true that governments are more the effect than the cause of that which we- are.”

8 E. H. Coleridge, ed., Letters of Samuel Hartley Coleridge (London: William Heinemann, 1S 9 5 ), I , 241.

59 It follows, then, that a government can rise no higher than the abilities of its people— a theory which is fully consistent with Wordsworth's belief in the need for an educated people.

Change for the better the minds and

manners of the people, if you can, and good government must inevitably follow. In the same letter Coleridge expanded the hypothesis that government is of secondary Importance to moral stability: I regard governments as I regard the abscesses produced by certain fevers— they are necessary consequences of the disease; but yet they are in the wisdom and goodness of Nature, and not only are they physically necessary as effects, but also as causes they are morally necessary in order to prevent the utter dissolution of the patient.9 The chance that Coleridge uttered similar sentiments to Wordsworth on their long walks together is very good; that he had a fortifying effect on the young poet's developing philosophy is certain. The final and irrevocable proof of Wordsworth's victory over the despondency of this period is preserved in that great document of judgment in retrospect, The Prelude, but there is no indication in that poem of a violent reaction and abandonment of former ideals.

9 Ibid.

60 Wordsworth did not join the taunters and scoffers who were saying: "Behold the harvest that we reap Prom, popular government and equality." The Prelude. X, 472-473He was convinced that the principles of popular government and equality had nothing to do with the degeneration of the struggle into bloody revolution.

To him it was evident

that . . . neither these nor aught Of wild belief engrafted on their names By false philosophy had caused the woe, But a terrific reservoir of guilt And ignorance filled up from age to age, That could no longer hold its loathsome charge, But burst and spread in deluge through the land. The Prelude. X, 474r-480. Even after Prance changed her role from "the oppressed" to "the oppressor" and Wordsworth realized that she was doomed, he was not dismayed but instead adhered More firmly to old tenets, and, to prove Their temper, strained them more; and thus, in heat Of contest, did opinions every day Grow into consequence. The Prelude. XI, 217-220. Yet finally, sick and weary with "contrarieties," he gave up hope of finding a political solution to moral questions.

He did not sink, as was the fate of many other

men, to a degrading cynicism; quite the contrary, he took upon himself the task of reconciling disappointing events in Prance with his hope for a brighter future and of

6l reexamining the social structure that man had so far devised.

The faith that he retained in the inherent be­

nignity and perfectibility of man was made firmer through the benevolence of his inspired associates, Dorothy and Coleridge, but it was Nature that dispelled any final doubt: . . . if, in this time Of dereliction and dismay, I yet Despair not of our nature, but retain A more than Roman confidence, a faith That fails not, in all sorrow my support, Ye winds and sounding cataracts I 1tis yours, Ye mountainsI thine, 0 Nature! Thou hast fed My lofty speculations; and in thee, For this uneasy heart of ours, I find A never-failing principle of joy And purest passion. The Prelude. II, 440-451. By 1798 Wordsworth had won the battle with himself and was ready to share with the world through the medium of his poetry the fruit of long meditation.

CHAPTER VI THE EXCURSION Although The Excursion was not published until the year l8l4, parts of the poem had been in the poet’s work­ shop for approximately nineteen years; since Wordsworth labored over the poem for such a long period of time, it cannot be said that any section of it is especially indica­ tive of his conviction of a specific month or year.


Excursion contains the most striking argument for a national education ever written by Wordsworth; most of what he had to say about a national education subsequent to the publication of this poem was in the way of narrowing and defining exactly what he meant by education for all the people.

It is convenient, therefore, to treat The

Excursion before the famous letter written to Francis Wrangham in 1808, even though the poem was published six years later, since the letter discusses particular matters of his educational philosophy within the spirit of the broad manifesto in The Excursion. The first book of The Excursion prepares the reader for the national education proclamation of the ninth book through the reiteration of a sentiment which, for the poet, was something of an obsession:

63 OhI many are the Poets that are sown By Nature; men endowed with highest gifts, The vision and the faculty divine; Yet wanting the accomplishment of verse, (Which, in the docile season of their youth, It was denied them to acquire, through lack Of culture and the inspiring aid of hooks, Or haply by a temper too severe, Or a nice backwardness afraid of shame). The Excursion, I, 77-85Thomas Gray paused with this same thought in a fit of fashionable melancholy, but Wordsworth carried it with him whenever he was inclined to contemplate the duties of the state in providing for the education of its people.


the eighteenth century, the latent capabilities of. un­ trained men was a fascinating thing to ponder over in moments of poetic reverie; for William Wordsworth, it was divine assurance that the day would come when education would activate neglected minds for the betterment of man­ kind. In the eighth book of The Excursion Wordsworth pre­ pared the ground for his argument of the ninth by lamenting the treatment suffered by rural people throughout England at the hands of a government which drove them to the slums of the cities by pre-empting the land which had been their means of livelihood for many centuries.

He admits that

there is little to expect from the crude plough boy: Stiff are his joints; Beneath a cumbrous frock, that to the knees Invests the thriving churl, his legs appear, Fellows to those that lustily upheld

64 The wooden stools for everlasting use, Whereon our fathers sate. And mark his brow Under whose shaggy canopy are set Two eyes— not dim, but of a healthy stare— Wide, sluggish, blank, and ignorant, and strange— Proclaiming boldly that they never drew A look or motion of intelligence. The Excursion. VIII, 402-412. But when the poet proceeds to the causes of this uncouth­ ness, he does not consign the plough boy to a chain of being, where he is to be regretted but accepted; instead he sternly invokes . . . his country’s name, Her equal rights, her churches and her schools-What have they done for him? And, let me ask, For tens of thousands uninformed as he? In brief, what liberty of mind is here? The Excursion, VIII, 429-433. This illustration of a plough boy was taken from the Lake District, where, generally speaking, children were better situated than in most counties of England; therefore, if anything, this unpleasant portrait was conscious under­ statement.

The means for ameliorating the wretched condi­

tion of country people is clearly in the hands of church and state— through the offices of their schools. Finally, in the ninth book of The Excursion Words­ worth delivers his manifesto for the education of all souls of the realm.

This passage is the foundation stone

for his conception of what schools should be and do. did not tamper with it once it had been spoken.


It is a

monument that stands above any of the less optimistic

65 assertions of later years when he was under the influence of momentary political chagrin: 0 for the coming of that glorious time When prizing knowledge as her noblest wealth And best protection, this imperial Realm, While she exacts allegiance, shall admit An obligation, on her part, to teach Them who are born to serve her and obey; Binding herself by statute to secure For all the children whom her soil maintains The rudiments of letters, and inform The mind with moral and religious truth, Both understood and practised. The Excursion. IX, 293-303. A national

education, therefore, is an obligation and must

bebound into the statute books,

whence it will become a

final reality. These are not the words of a dewy-eyed visionary; even as he demands a state system of schools, Wordsworth takes care to limit the duty of the state, which is to teach only "the rudiments of letters"— he does not Intend to nourish a nation of classical scholars.

And as

Wordsworth grew older, he placed an ever-increasing empha­ sis on religious instruction— not of the sort that forces children to memorize and parrot meaningless dogma, but that which establishes moral standards that can be put to everyday use. Wordsworth would rid the nation once and for ever of the shaggy-browed menace that he had depicted in the previous book,

66 — so that none, However destitute, be left to droop By timely culture unsustained; or run Into a wild disorder; -or be forced To drudge through a weary life without the help Of intellectual implements and tools; A savage horde among the civilised, A servile band among the lordly free! The Excursion, IX, 303-310Thus, he still maintains the position established in the Letter to the Bishop of Llandaff: the people are to be taught so that they might be prepared for their destiny, that of taking an active part in government.

But this

passage does more than assert the obligation of the state to teach; it establishes the education of the people to be a sacred right— not a privilege bestowed by a condescend­ ing state, but a right justly demanded by the people: This sacred right, the lisping babe proclaims To be inherent in him, by Heaven's Will, For the protection of his innocence; And the rude boy— who, having overpast The sinless age, by conscience is enrolled, Yet mutinously knits his angry brow, And lifts his wilful hand on mischief bent, Or turns the godlike faculty of speech To impious use— by process indirect Declares his due, while he makes known his need. The Excursion, IX, 311-320. This petition, Wordsworth announces, is not addressed to parents, who have themselves urged it from time to time; like a prayer he means it to ascend to meet the ear of the parental state, Who if indeed she own a mother's heart, And be not most unfeelingly devoid

67 Of gratitude to Providence, will grant The unquestionable good. The Excursion, IX, 328-331. Just how important he considered this plea might be ascertained by his use of the phrase "the unquestionable good"; Wordsworth was not addicted to hyperbole.

On the

matter of a national education there was no place for quibbling debate and drawing room sophistry. The passage is concluded with evidence of a more recent development in his social philosophy,

that of his

conviction that a strong, independent stage is a prime consideration of her people.

"The unquestionable good" can

only be guaranteed by an England,

safe "from interference,

of external force." From a time and place where national literacy and equal educational opportunity approximate fulfillment, Wordsworth's ardent appeal might appear mild and flat; but in Its own time and place the appeal contained the ring of radicalism.

If, by the middle of the first decade of

the nineteenth century, Wordsworth no longer called him­ self nor sounded like a’revolutionary democrat, he was none the less faithful to the ideals that he had claimed at the time of the Revolution.

Indeed, he had changed

but only in his belief that the ideals must be realized at a slow and calculated pace.

Thus, he suggests that England

may "grant at leisure" her system of national education

68 and does away with any possible misconception as to the end being achieved by anything other than peaceful means. Babenroth is mistaken when he says that "By the time he published The Excursion, he had awakened to the need- of popular education"

inasmuch as the statement

implies a much later awakening than was the actual case. The Excursion merely happened to be the poem in which Wordsworth openly demanded what, since the Llandaff letter, he had all along inferred.

But Babenroth is quite right

in his estimate of the p o e m ’s importance: His vision of a system of state education for children marks him as a pioneer poet among those men of letters who appreciated the need of universal education. He appealed to church and. state to realize their responsibilities in the education of children. His extended notice of educational problems, and the obvious sincerity of his intention, must have had an appreciable p effect on the ever-widening circle of his readers.

1 English Childhood (New York: Columbia University Press, 1922), P • 360. 2 Ibid.

CHAPTER VII LETTER TO FRANCIS WRANGHAM, 1808 A letter written to Francis Wrangham, June 5, 1808, provides a clue as to the practical consideration given by Wordsworth to any plan for a national system of educa­ tion.

In his letters Wordsworth is usually relaxed and

relatively informal; he did not intend his correspondence to become the property of the world and, therefore, did not design it to fulfill such a purpose.

Like most human

beings who have the desire to impart the feelings and deliberations of the moment, he was apt to vary an opinion slightly, depending on the mood he was in' when he made it. The letter to Francis Wrangham presents a practical and restrained Wordsworth at work with specific problems of education confined to his own district.

The tone of the

letter is not that of a poet seeking to grasp at transcen­ dental truth but that of a man who is anxious to extend honest opinions on the subject of education to a friend for whom he has great respect. It has been observed that as he grew older Wordsworth put Increasing emphasis on the value of religious and moral instruction for the poor and that he based his con­ clusion on the sane premise that the poor should be fed

70 what they eould usefully assimilate.

Therefore, he was

entirely in accord with Archdeacon Wrangham "in chiefly recommending religious books for the poor," . . . but of many of those which you recommend I can neither speak in praise nor blame, as I have never read them. Yet, as far as my own observation goes, which has been mostly employed upon agricul­ tural persons in thinly-peopled districts, I cannot find that there is much disposition to read among the labouring classes, or much occasion for it.1 When Wordsworth claimed that he had not observed a great inclination on the part of the laboring classes to read, he was presenting an honest and realistic observation. Takbn from the full context the last part of the statement, "or much occasion for it," might be understood to mean that he did not approve of education for agricultural people, but such an interpretation is controverted by the subsequent description of rural life.

While Wordsworth

admitted that manufacturers and persons engaged in seden­ tary occupations had plenty of occasion to read, he pointed out that The labouring man in agriculture generally carries on his work either in solitude, or with his own Family, persons whose minds he is thoroughly acquainted with, and with whom he is under no tempta­ tion to enter into discussion, or to compare opinions.2

In Ernest De Selincourt, ed., The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth: The Middle Years (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1937), I, 222. 2 Ibid.

71 This was not condescension on the part of the poet; it was mere fact, as true today as it was then.

The tiller

of the soil is usually of a more laconic and disinterested temperament than his city brother: He goes home from the field, or the Barn, and within and about his own house he finds a hundred little jobs which furnish him with a change of employment, which is grateful and profitable; then comes supper, and to bed.3 On the Sabbath he goes to church twice during the day, reads the Bible, the mother gives the children a lesson, or a neighbor drops in for a chat.

And then, characteris­

tically, the poet of solitude and quiet reflection remarked that this life is ’'much more intellectual than a careless u observer would suppose," for the man of the fields has moments of affinity with the divine that the more scholar­ ly fellow of the city never knows. Returning to the problem of the moment, which was a library that Wrangham recommended for his community, Wordsworth voiced the opinion that the kind of library suggested would not, . . . from the reasons given above, be of much direct use in any of the agricultural or pastoral districts of Cumberland or Westmorland with which I am acquainted, though almost every person can

3 Ibid., 223. ^ Ibid.

72 read: I mean of general use as to morals or behavior; it might however with individuals do much in awaken­ ing enterprize, calling forth ingenuity, and foster­ ing genius.5 But he went on to endorse the notion that a library might be an asset to his district by observing that if even a very few people of the community were infected with the desire to improve themselves, the library might prove to be a sound investment, and the knowledge absorbed by the few might as a matter of course spread to the many. In answer to Wrangham's request for a statement on education as a national object, Wordsworth evaded the nub of the question by discussing the matter of practical application, which, he opined, would be more difficult than might appear on the surface: . . . I deem any plan of national education in a country like ours most difficult to apply to practice. In Switzerland, or Sweden, or Norway, or Prance, or Spain, or anywhere but Great Britain, it would be comparatively easy. Heaven and Hell are scarcely more different from each other than Sheffield and Manchester, etc. differ from the plains and vallies of Surrey, Essex, Cumberland, or Westmorland. We have mighty Cities and Towns of all sizes, with Villages and Cottages scattered everywhere. We are Mariners, Miners, Manufacturers in tens of thousands; Traders, Husbandmen, everything. What form of dis­ cipline, what Books or doctrines, I will not say would equally suit all these; but which, if happily fitted for one, would not perhaps be an absolute nuisance in another?°

5 Ibid., 224. 6 Ibid., 225-226.

73 Educators of the United States have finally come to the conclusion that the same books and subjects do not have an equal value for all students.

Wordsworth was justifiably

suspicious of the standardization that would result from a national system of education. The poet then examined his own district and re­ ported with approval that the literacy rate was high, but he cautioned Wrangham that nothing romantic could be said about the influence of education upon the district itself: We have, thank heaven, free schools, or schools endowed, almost everywhere; and almost every one can read. But not because we have free or endowed schools, but because our land is, far more than elsewhere, tilled by men who are the owners of it.7 The free schools of his district, therefore, were not the cause but the result of the private ownership of property. . . . and as the population is not over-crowded, and the vices which are quickened and cherished in a crowded population do not therefore prevail, Parents have more ability and inclination to send their Children to School; much more than in manu­ facturing districts, and also, though in a less degree, more than in agricultural ones, where the Tillers are not proprietors.® Wordsworth was not disputing the fact that the schools had a benevolent effect on the continuation of a modest pros­ perity in his neighborhood; in effect he was pointing out,

7 Ibid., 226. 8 Ibid.

7^ and correctly, that schools flourish in districts where people enjoy the self-respect that comes from the owner­ ship of land and that schools were principally the result, rather than the cause, of this happy situation.


earners, on the other hand, whether they work in factories or on the land of other men, are less disposed to send their children to school so long as they can be more profitably employed on machines, and they will commonly resist any suggestion or compulsion to send their children to school.

In a curiously up-to-date fashion, Wordsworth

was using economic analysis to solve a sociological prob' lem. He observed, moreover, that a healthy respect for scholarship is a direct result of the ability of a commu­ nity to educate its children: If in any Family one of the Children should be quicker at his Book, or fonder of it than others, he is often marked out in consequence for the profession of a Clergyman.9 and the families of such children, without abandoning their humble way of living, are benefited by the connection with a dignified profession. His conviction that the upper classes were in need of more exacting educational standards than the lower

9 Ibid., 227-

75 classes appears again in a later letter: . . . begin your education at the top of society; let the head go in the right course and the tail will follow. Then, returning to the subject of a national education, he expressed a lack of confidence in the ability of the government to conduct a national system properly: what is one to expect of . . . a government which for twenty years resisted the abolition of the Slave Trade; and annually de­ bauches the morals of the people by every possible device? holding out the temptation with one hand, and scourging with the other.11 The letter to Francis Wrangham does not at all con­ tradict the broad conviction that a national system of education would be of singular value to the country, but it treats certain subsidiary matters of education with candor and sincerity.

The two points of first importance

to this paper— that a national system would be difficult to establish in England due to diverse people and condi­ tions and that the government was not of a calibre condu­ cive to an intelligent national education— were not offered in a spirit of obstruction but rather for the purpose of singling out natural disadvantages that would have to be reckoned with if ever the nation were seriously disposed to adopt national education. one to avoid unpleasant issues.

Wordsworth was not

As a social philosopher

76 he was a hardheaded realist who sought out the negative aspects of life with a view toward doing something about them.

As the years passed, he became increasingly averse

to rapid change, a tendency which has made- him appear much more reactionary than he actually was.

CHAPTER VIII THE TRACT CONCERNING THE CONVENTION OF CINTRA Although the tract Concerning the Convention of Cintra does not deal specifically with Wordsworth's views on the subject of popular education, it is nonetheless significant for the purposes of this paper since it marks the change that had taken place in his social philosophy in little over a decade.

The tract demonstrates that by

1809 the poet's conception of the proper relation between man and society was entirely altered.

At the time of the

French Revolution Wordsworth believed that man owed his first allegiance to the ideal of his own emancipation; now he believed that man owed first allegiance to the state through whose offices all good must come. For some years Wordsworth had been watching the rise of a tyranny that was unique in the history of the world. The spectre of an iron dictator in the person of Napoleon, obviously bent on the conquest of the civilized world, was now his chief concern.

When he realized that so long as

France had an army in the field his own beloved country was in jeopardy, he no longer opposed English intervention in the affairs of France.

In the day of the French Revo­

lution he thought it a question of time until the common

man would have his victory and set up a truly representa­ tive government; when the Revolution failed to produce such a state, he was forced to shed former illusions; he knew then that all revolutions were deadly farces. But when France turned from internal dissension to a unified and aggressive imperialism, casting a threaten­ ing eye in the direction of English shores, Wordsworth and all Englishmen were forced with an entirely new problem.

The matter is stated quite succinctly by Edith

C . Bathos Wordsworth’s position was clear and intelligible: a nation has the right to choose its own government, but it has no right to force its ideas of government on other nations, even though these ideas may be • better than those which are held by the other nations. Therefore he sympathized intensely with France in the early Revolutionary wars, and, as he afterwards explained in a letter to his friend Losh (December 4, 1821), ’’abandoned France, and her rulers when they abandoned the struggle for liberty, gave them­ selves up to tyranny, and endeavoured to enslave the world.”1 Crane Brinton places the transition from revolutionary enthusiasm to nationalism at an early date: He began to suspect that love of country was natural and instinctive, that it was a part of the mysterious power that was in hills and trees, in rocks and in himself. In this temper he returned to the West Country, to Coleridge and the Lyrical

1 The Later Wordsworth (Cambridge: The University Press, 1933), P. !3-^

79 Ballads, and began a revision of his politics in the mood of the sonnets dedicated to political liberty.2 Brinton goes on to point out "a tenuous thread of unity" in Wordsworth's political philosophy, no matter in what period it is examined: . . . he seeks to make the sentient, the animal, the vital in human life the guide to a social and political state where these most natural elements can find the satisfaction they demand. In youth he sees this state in the democratic republic sug­ gested by French experience. But the French seemed to reject all authority and to throw the individual back on himself to find a standard of conduct, without affording him external aid in forming it.^ Therefore, Wordsworth had to find something that men had in common, an abstraction of a sort that would attract men and discipline their desires: He saw that the Idea of nationality provided this meeting-place for men's minds; and that the modern nation, which imposes a vague but real similarity of thought and habit upon its members, and conceives itself to be a product of the general will, might afford the social restraint upon the individual ^ which had been lost in the decay of the old regime.^ The tract Concerning the Convention of Cintra, written in 1809, was an outspoken condemnation of the English policy that had betrayed the Portuguese to the

2 *The Political Ideas of the English Romanticists (London: Oxford University Press, 1926;, p. 493 Ibid., p. 6 3 . 4 Ibid., p. 64.

80 French invaders.

Although the English had soundly beaten

'the French in battle and had a French army at their mercy, the English high command granted the French an honorable retreat and, to make matters even worse, tacitly permitted the French to sack the helpless Portuguese before the withdrawal.

Since the French invasion of Portugal had

been an open violation of the principle of national sanc­ tity, the easy terms given the French by the English was an humiliating disappointment for Wordsworth and many other sensitive Englishmen. It is characteristic of his open-mindedness that even in the heat of passion he did not choose to lay the blame on the French people; he looked on the French as a . . . needy people, without commerce or manufac­ turers, -unsettled in their minds and debased in their morals by revolutionary practices and habits of welfare; and the youth of the country are rendered desperate by oppression which, leaving no choice in their occupation, discharges them from all responsi­ bility to their own consciences.5 He did not consider the French individually or collectively culpable; rather they were the victims of an unfortunate revolution and.the confused aftermath.

There is nothing

in the tract to imply that, because of the excesses of the

^ William Wordsworth, "Concerning the Convention of Cintra," in A. B. Grosart, ed., The Prose Works of William Wordsworth (London: Edward Moxon, Son, and Co., 1876), 17 93-94.

81 French, he had lost his confidence in the common man.


the contrary, his heart went out to the valiant Portuguese nation—


. . . a people of great courage and worth! Con­ clusions, drawn from intercourse with certain classes of the depraved inhabitants of Lisbon only, and which are true only with respect to them, have been hastily extended to the whole Nation, which has thus unjustly suffered both in our esteem and in that of all Europe. In common with their neighbours the Spaniards, they were making a universal, zealous, and fearless effort and, whatever may be the final issue, the very act of having risen under the pressure and in the face of the most tremendous military power which the earth has ever seen— is itself evidence in their favor, the strongest and most comprehensive which can be given; a transcendent gloryI6 Apart from the exemplary conduct of the Portuguese and Spanish peoples, he had only words of praise for the lower order of men.

In fact, the tract was not intended

for the perusal of the "humbler ranks of society": . . . it is unnecessary: they trust in nature, and are safe. The People of Madrid, and Corunna, and Ferrol, resisted to the last; from an impulse which, in their hearts, was its own justification. The failure was with those who stood higher in the scale.7 Wordsworth goes so far as to anticipate an axiom of Marxian dialectic: in answer to the many who think that, no matter what the form of government, the poor are

6 Ibid., 101. 7 Ibid., 157.

82 inevitably dependent on the rich, he categorically states that, in actuality,

"the laboring man leans less upon O others than any man in the community." And the pride of living in an unsubdued land is more trenchantly felt by the peasant than by the aristocrat: In fact: the peasant, and he who lives by the fair reward of his manual labour, has ordinarily a larger proportion of his gratifications depend­ ent upon these thoughts— than, for the most part, men in other classes have. For he is in his person attached, by stronger roots, to the soil of which he is the growth: his intellectual notices are generally confined within narrower bounds; in him no partial or antipatriotic interests counter­ act the force of those nobler sympathies and antipathies which he has in right of his Country; and lastly the belt or girdle of his mind has never been stretched to utter relaxation by false philos­ ophy, under a conceit of making it sit more easily and gracefully. These sensations are a social inheritance to him: more important, as he is pre­ cluded from luxurious— and those which are usually called refined— enjoyments.9 Neither men nor events had shaken his belief that the hope of any nation lay in the quiet determination of her little people. This tract was the most daring literary venture of Wordsworth's career; by attacking his country's foreign policy at a time when such unrestrained criticism might have meant his arrest and imprisonment, he demonstrated

8 Ibid.f 1559 Ibid., 156.

83 rare courage.

Indeed, he anticipated trouble from the

government: shortly before the tract was to be published, he asked that a particularly strong passage be removed /

and subsequently learned to his dismay that his publisher neglected to do so. The difference between the Letter to the Bishop of Llandaff and the tract Concerning the Convention of Cintra was not one of a declining liberalism but one of a change in emphasis.

Now Wordsworth was challenging the right of

an external state to poach upon the national liberty of a people; that is to say, he had risen to the defense of national liberty rather than individual liberty, the latter being an illusion without the protection of the former. This concept of a strong state, free from outside Influ­ ences, bringing about its reforms within the framework of Its own constitution, no matter how dated and ineffectual, was Wordsworth's answer to the opposite state of affairs— a weak state torn by dissatisfied elements within, an easy prey for adventurous nations from without.

And it was

England that he accused of a record of violations against the national rights of others: In the course of the last thirty years we have seen two wars against Liberty— the American war, and the war against the French people In the early stages of their Revolution. In the latter instance the Emigrants and the Continental Powers and the British did, in all their expectations and in every movement of their efforts, manifest a common

84 ignorance— originating in the same source. And, for what more especially belongs to ourselves at this time, we may affirm— that the same presumptu­ ous irreverence of the principles of justice, and blank insensibility to the affections of human nature, which determined the conduct of our govern­ ment in those two wars against liberty, have con­ tinued to accompany its exertions in the present struggle for liberty, - and have rendered them fruitless.10 This concern for the maintenance of the national liberty of a people has as its first premise a concern for the well-being of the individuals in a society, for . . . without civil liberty, society may possess— diffused through its inner recesses in the minds even of its humblest members— something of dignified enjoyment. But without national independence, this is impossible.H Civil liberty, therefore, thrives on national liberty: a country that is not entirely free in the handling of its own internal policy can never bestow true liberty on its members— so long as its members are yoked to the whims of an outside power.

Wordsworth takes pains to clarify this

essential difference between inbred and outbred oppression; the former . . . does not exclude, from the minds of a people, the feeling of being self-governed; does not,imply (as the latter does, when patiently submitted to) an abandonment of the first duty imposed by the faculty




11 Ibid.. 155.

85 of reason. In reality, where this feeling has no place, a people are not a society, hut a herd.12 The very logical proposition— that national liberty must precede and support civil liberty— did not weaken his conviction that progress and education proceed hand in hand.

A strong stage, able to withstand outside pressure #

and coercion, must have as a bulwark an industrious, vigorous people.

Even as the tract was being printed,

Wordsworth reaffirmed his devotion to the principle of effective education; in a letter to Daniel Stuart, March 26, 1809, he equated the need for ua new course of educa­ tion, which must be preceded by some genuine principles upon which that education should be grounded" with a need for a "thorough reform in Parliament." proudly noted,

"We have," he

"in our language better books than exist in

any other, and in our land better institutions, but the one nobody reads, and the others are fallen into disorder and decay. 1,13 Never before had Wordsworth more reason to wish for an improved English people,

stimulated to high moral

resolution and great deeds by good books and teachers. Now that he had become a nationalist, he had reached the

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid.

86 end of his quest for a social philosophy; he retained the philosophical spirit of the tract until the end of his life. But love of country and allegiance to her constitution was not subservience in Wordsworth, nor was England a mere abstraction in his scheme.

England was a country blessed

with more civilized institutions than any other nation on the face of the earth.

Her strength was the strength of

all the people who lived within her borders, and anything that added to the individuality and moral power of her people made the country as a whole that much more secure. Between 1809 and 1850 Wordsworth pondered over the rela­ tionship between the people and the state, and the conclu­ sions that he reached in regard to that relationship were always based on a proper balance between the two main factors: the well-being of the people and the security of the state.

CHAPTER IX THE YEARS l8lO TO 1825 The second decade of the nineteenth century was a comparatively quiet period of Wordsworth’s life; he was less concerned with public affairs than with his own domestic problems and the publication of his poetry.


his correspondence there are occasional observations on matters of politics, which in the main are significant only as they indicate a gradually growing distrust of the members of Parliament who were already demanding radical reform. When in 1811 a Captain Pasley of the Royal Engineers sent to Wordsworth for comment his book on the subject of military reform, the poet politely commended the captain for his projected innovations but— in the spirit of the Convention of Cintra tract— hastened to add that the country required even more: . . . what is more difficult to give it, - a new course of education, a higher tone or moral feeling, more of the grandeur of the Imaginative faculties, and less of the petty processes of the unfeeling •and purblind understanding, that would manage the concerns of nations in the same calculating spirit with which it would set about building a house.1

1 In Ernest De Selincourt, ed., The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth: The Middle Years (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1937), I, 4307

88 Wordsworth had used the vague expression "a new course of education” in his letter to Daniel Stuart two years before In both instances he neglected to explain what he meant by it.

Two unrelated letters provide the clue. In a letter to Robert Grahame, December 3, 1808,

Wordsworth commented briefly on a trivial dispute between Dr. Andrew Bell and Joseph Lancaster over the right of one or the other to claim the Madras System as his own inven­ tion.

He was inclined to take issue with Grahame in the

matter: There is yet another circumstance in which I differ from you. If Dr. B e l l ’s plan of education be of that importance which it appears to be of, it cannot be a matter of indifference whether he, or Lancaster, have a rightful claim to the invention.2 It *is obvious that Wordsworth was familiar with the plan of education that would make school training accessible and Inexpensive for the masses by providing that the older and more experienced students should be the teachers of the younger.

By "a new course of education'1 he very

probably meant the Madras


But it was not until 1815 that Wordsworth chose to indicate how completely the Madras System had captured his

2 Ibid.. 251. 3 See Chapter I, 9-10.

89 imagination— which is not to say that he did not appre­ ciate the plan until he had occasion to express his enthu­ siasm for it: If you have read my Poem, The Excursion, you will there see what Importance I attach to the Madras System. Next to the art of Printing it is the noblest invention for the improvement of the human species. Our population in this neighbourhood is not sufficient to apply it on a large scale; but great benefit has been derived from it even upon a small one. 4 It should be noted that the above statement was made in the forty-fifth year of his life, long after the time that some people describe as his apostasy from earlier princi­ ples.

The idea of a progressively expanding chain of

students and student-teachers, the former relieving the latter of their duties at an appropriate time so that a school need never suffer from a dearth of teachers, was one to challenge the imagination of a William Wordsworth. He looked upon it as the answer to a dream— that of a literate English people; it is not surprising that he went so far as to rank it next to printing; nor is it surprising that he made it a point to gain the acquaintance of Dr. Bell, with whom he was on amiable terms until the time of that distinguished m a n ’s death in 1832.

^ Letters . . . Middle Years, II, 646. Poole, March 13, 1815.

To Thomas

90 It is clear, then, that through the year 1815 Wordsworth was still a "liberal”— at least in matters of educational thinking.

For the following ten years he was

silent on problems of education.

At the same time he was

quite aware of a wide-spread grumbling, especially on the part of the avant garde among the rising generation of poets, to the effect that he was a traitor to his youth and that he was not to be taken seriously any more. This criticism had for its basis the 'unhidden fact that Wordsworth was not in sympathy with the reform element in Parliament; the suspicion that English institu­ tions were being injudiciously imperilled by advocates of the Reform Bill became something of an obsession with him, especially during the latter part of the 1820’s.

But he

was perfectly sincere in his fears, and he was not the sort of man to be embarrassed into silence when he had the desire to speak his mind. Finally, in 1821 he answered the charges of those who accused him of insincerity and dessication, but he did so in a private letter to James Losh, with no intention of justifying himself nor of appeasing those who sneered at him behind his back.

The statement is typical of

Wordsworth when he Is anxious to express an exact senti­ ment— dignified, eloquent, yet concise:

91 I should think that I had lived to little purpose if my notions on the subject of government had under­ gone no modification: my youth must, in that case, have been without enthusiasm, and my manhood endued with small capability of profiting by reflection.5 When in 179^ Wordsworth pledged himself to the democratic ideal, he did not pledge himself to petrifi­ cation.

He thought of the democrat as one devoted to the

welfare of the common man, and by his own understanding of the word he was still a democrat in 1821, because it was to the interest of every Englishman, rich and poor alike, that reform be admitted with due caution.

And when

Wordsworth opposed the efforts of the self-styled demo-, crats, he did so with the same earnestness and conviction that he had felt in the days of the French Revolution.

^ In Ernest De Selincourt, ed., The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth: The Later Years (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1939), 17 5 ^

CHAPTER X THE YEARS OF THE REFORM BILL Most of the charges against Wordsworth to the effect that he became reactionary in his "later years" are based on statements that he made between his fifty-fifth and sixty-fifth year, that is to say, during the years when he was most disturbed by proposed reforms.

Rather than

defend or condemn him for some of the ungracious things he said during this trying period, one should attempt to understand and to interpret with intelligence the spirit of his "anti-liberalisra." For example, it is unfair to over-simplify the decline of his poetic power, as Harper does, by explaining it as the result of unfortunate political associations: Half of his intellectual life was devoted to politics, and as time passed it became his absorb­ ing interest. But he had chosen a side on which there was little to inspire generous emotions and bold thoughts. His political associates belonged to the past rather than to the present. Moreover, they were fighting a losing battle against the liberal tendencies of the age. They played the ungrateful part of stubborn obstructionists and lamenting prophets. It is no wonder if Wordsworth lost the fire of youth when he submitted himself to such a task in such a company.1

1 George McLean Harper, William Wordsworth. His Life. Works, and Influence (London: John Murray, 1916), II, 3751

93 Beatty, on the other hand, while admitting that Wordsworth suffered a diminution of poetic power in the later years, adds that the process by which it came about is not easily explained.

He disagrees emphatically with those who sug­

gest that the mind of the poet became prematurely senile, . . . for we have an abundance of testimony that he retained a lively interest in the world about him up to the last, and discussed political and social problems intelligently and persuasively.2 But then Beatty falls into the same sort of generalization . of which so many others have been guilty by asserting that "he became conservative and lost interest in those prob­ lems that had absorbed him in his early years, and even vigorously opposed his own early opinions."3 Batho, at the opposite extreme, is too anxious to Justify every last word of Wordsworth*s later years, even though some of his statements do not warrant commendation. Except where she tries to rescue from perdition an obvious­ ly indefensible remark, however, her defense of the poet is laudable.


she places great importance on a

point that cannot be over-emphasized: Wordsworth's disap­ proval of rapid change was not peculiar to the later years

2 Arthur Beatty, ed., Representative Poems (New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1937), P* lxii. 3 Ibid.

alone: He emerged from the long agony of the later Revolution, the Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars with a clear perception that men could not he freed at a stroke without preparation, and that too great haste in bestowing a nominal freedom upon the would lead to one form or another of despotism Within the ten-year period under discussion in this chapter Wordsworth said much to endanger his over-all reputation as a great liberal.

However, it is only fair

to take into consideration that all of what he said and wrote cannot be construed to be the literal opinion of a lifetime nor even of the later years.

When a man feels

that he is cornered by the enemy and is about to be beaten, he is apt to use any weapon at hand to relieve himself from the predicament.

When a writer senses that public

opinion is against him and that all he has fought for is about to be thrown to the winds, he is apt to resort to the extreme statement of his case or, in a word, over­ statement.

As the supporters of the Reform Bill grew

stronger and stronger, Wordsworth struck hard, and after the Bill was passed, his rancor cooled slowly.

But by the

time he entered the last decade of his life, his convales­ cence was assured, and he managed to recover much of his

^ Edith Clara Batho, The Later Wordsworth (Cambridge The University Press, 1933;, P* 128.

95 old objectivity. In 1825 Wordsworth took issue with the London College Committee which was about to found a new college which would make it possible for poor boys to acquire a medical education.

The tone of his letter to Lord

Lonsdale Indicates that he was piqued by what he suspected to be opportunism of a low order.

Thus, he began his

objection with the observation that Mit cannot be doubted that a main motive with the leaders of this and similar institutions is to acquire influence for political pur­ poses.”^

Then, as he inquired into the need for such

institutions, he was unnecessarily sharp and shortsighted: Mr. Brougham mentions, as a strong inducement for founding the proposed college, that it will render medical education so much cheaper. It is clearly cheap enough. We have far more doctors than can find patients to live by; and I cannot see how society will be benefited by swarms of medical practitioners starting up from lower classes in the community than they are now fur­ nished by. The better able the parents are to incur expense, the stronger pledge have we of their children being^-above meanness, and unfeeling and sordid habits. From a time and place in history where health insurance and socialized medicine are growing into the status of

5 Ernest De Selincourt, ed., The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth: The Later Years '(Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1939), I, 207. c Ibid.

96 basic rights, this denunciation of a plan designed to improve the health of Englishmen appears unnatural and even grotesque; yet, in its own time and place, it prob­ ably sounded quite rational.

Certainly, the medical pro­

fession had far less importance to the average man in 1825 than it has today. But, in order to understand more clearly the back­ ground of the above statement, one must try to visualize the Wordsworth of 1825, besieged by political and educa­ tional charlatans, plagued by well-meaning but misguided liberals who would have changed the world in a day.


he read the swarms of agitating pamphlets that were in circulation, followed the last-ditch stand of the Tories as they attempted to subdue their reform-minded colleagues, and sensed that Englishmen were building up to the spirit of revolt, he feared an English version of the French Revolution in which all the sane and firmly established gains of many centuries would be uprooted.

As a result,

he lashed out bitterly at the opposition and permitted his enemies to brand him reactionary, opportunist, and traitor. It is indeed ironical that this man, who in spirit and body was closer to the common man than most contemporary writers,

should have been so ignominiously regarded.

However, much of what Wordsworth had to say about

97 popular education in this period, although tinged with the anti-reform mood, was quite consistent with his life­ long philosophy of education.

Two letters to the Rev­

erend Hugh James Rose, one in December of 1828 and the second probably shortly thereafter, were devoted entirely to the subject of education.

In essence, they reiterate

the favorite theme of the poet that places natural educa­ tion above man-made education, but unfortunately they are rather heavily influenced by his growing chagrin at the course of political events in England.

A few remarks

might better have been left unwritten.

In the first of the two letters Wordsworth reviewed the popular belief that knowledge is good in itself.


an admirer of John Milton he was neither unfamiliar nor unimpressed with the part that knowledge played in the fall of the first sinners, but at the moment he was more concerned with educators such as Mr. Brougham . . . who think that sharpening of intellect and attainment of knowledge are things good in them­ selves, without reference to the circumstances under which the intellect is sharpened, or to the quality of the knowledge acquired. 'Knowledge,1 says Lord Bacon, 'is power,' but surely not less for evil than for good. Lord Bacon spoke like a philosopher, but they who have that maxim in their mouths the oftenest have the least understanding of it.7

7 Ibid., 327 .


Wordsworth did not mean to belittle knowledge; he meant that a certain kind of knowledge is unnecessary and even dangerous for a certain kind of person.

Classical Greek

and Latin are of little or no use to the farmer; where these and like subjects cause him to lose sight of his obligation to the soil, they do unmistakable evil. Therefore, knowledge is power where it renders the student more productive of commodities and susceptible to virtue. In accordance with this conception of specific knowledge for specific people, now he took issue with the Madras System where it neglected the most important aspects of learning, religion and morality, and sought to improve its students by making them scholarly and sophis­ ticated.

By way of example, he recalled a school for

young ladies in the little town of Ambleside, . . . where a party, the leaders of which are young ladies, are determined to set up a school for girls on the Madras system, confidently expecting that these girls will in consequence be less likely to go astray when they grow up to be women.® While he still recognized the superiority of the Madras System over other current methods of teaching, now he questioned the good of smothering with facts people who have no need of them.

8 Ibid.

He yearned for the day of

99 "Shenstone's school-mistress, by her winter fire and in her summer garden-seat" with the implication that she, after all, was an ideal that young ladies might carry in their hearts as women, a symbol of moral stability that modern systems did not have to offer. Christopher Wordsworth has testified to the indis­ putable fact that his brother had a very high estimate of women, and he recalled an occasion when William expressed disapproval of Milton for not allowing his daughters to learn the meaning of the Greek which they read aloud to 9 him. Indeed, there is no evidence to lead one to believe that Wordsworth meant to relegate women to a lower posi­ tion than men, but in conformity with his conviction that all knowledge is not infallibly good for all people, he was averse to educators who would teach girls that for which there was no genuine need.

’’What is the use," he

wanted to know, . . . of. pushing on the education of girls so fast, and mainly by the stimulus of Emulation, who, to say nothing worse of her, is cousin-german to Envy? . . . What are you to do with these girls? what demand is there for the ability that they may have prematurely acquired? Will they not be indis­ posed to bend to any kind of hard labour or drudgery?10

9 Christopher Wordsworth, Memoirs of William Wordsworth, Poet-laureate (Edited by Henry Reed. Boston: Ticknor, Reed, and Fields, 1851), p. 465. 10 Letters . . . The Later Years, I, 327.

100 One of his main objections to the Madras System misapplied was its tendency to "over-educate" young ladies for the sole purpose of display: The old dame did not'affect to make theologians or logicians; but she taught to read; and she practiced the memory, often, no doubt, by rote; but still the faculty was improved: something, perhaps, she explained, and trusted the rest to parents, to masters, and to the pastor of the parish. I am sure as good daughters, as good servants, as good mothers and wives, were brought up at that time as now, when the world is so much less humble-minded.11 He conceived the education of women to be the education of mothers; he noted that superfluous education too often destroys the simplicity and humility in women which is so charming to observe in the state of motherhood. Wordsworth was alarmed at the proliferation of infant schools which were a by-product of the industrial revolution.

His criticism was not of the schools them­

selves but of the separation of mother and child during a period when the guidance of the mother is vital: What more sacred law of nature, for instance, than that the mother should educate her child? yet we felicitate ourselves upon the establish­ ment of infant-schools, which is in direct opposi­ tion to it. Nay, we interfere with the maternal instinct before the child is born, by furnishing, in cases where there is no necessity, the mother with baby-linen for her unborn child.12

11 Ibid., 328. 12 Ibid., 329.

101 The remark about baby-linen is an appropriate illustration of an irate Wordsworth over-stating his case and, in con­ sequence, detracting from the important point. He admitted, but regretted, the need for infant schools in which the children of laboring mothers could be taken care of, but he was repelled by the fallacious reasoning on the part of many people who deemed these schools a good in themselves and who wished . . . that even in the smallest villages, the children of the poor should have what they call 'a good education1 in this way. Now, these people (and no error is at present more common) confound education with tuition.13 Infant schools, like all schools, are liable to the limi­ tations of tuition; the education of small children in such schools is no guarantee of a good education.


compared with the influence of a good mother and whole­ some home environment the educative value of the infant school is, in Wordsworth's opinion, little or nothing at all.

The infant school and the Madras System err when

they attempt to train the intellect "with a view to what the infant or child may perform, without constant refer1-4 ence to what that performance promises for the man."

13 Ibid. 14 Ibid.. 330.

102 Having stated his views on the Madras System and infant schools, he turned to an even more fundamental matter— the advisability of formally educating certain people at all: The wisest of us expect far too much from schoolteaching. One of the most innocent, contented, happy, and, in his sphere, most useful men I know, can neither read nor write.15 He would not have attained this state of bliss, Wordsworth implies, had he been taught that which he neither desired nor needed to know. The remainder of the letter would seem to indicate that he had abandoned any wish for a national education in England.

In all seriousness he questioned the view that

"an infant should learn much which its parents do not know,11 and he suggested that a child who is educated above its parent might ,farrogate a superiority unfavourable to love and o b e d i e n c e . B a t h o passes over this statement with a smile, pointing out that, after all, there is some truth in it and asking her readers to remember that Wordsworth himself recognized that this objection would not be valid after the next generation, and, secondly, that the children of entirely or almost entirely illiterate parents do in fact sometimes

15 Ibid., 331. 16 Ibid.

103 despise their parents.1^ But there Is no need to defend Wordsworth for this rather foolish statement of opinion; it is enough to remember that most of what he said on the subject before and after this letter was of a more profound and kind disposition. He did not think there was much harmony between the schools and homes of his day or that the schools could do much to help a child who lived in a degenerate home, for . . . if the family be thoroughly bad, and the child cannot be removed altogether, how feeble the barrier, how futile the expedient! If the family be of middle character, the children will lose more by separation from domestic cares and reciprocal, duties, than they can possibly gain from captivity with such formal instruction as may be administered. He was critical of schools as they were in fact rather than of schools as they might be, and, being a realist, he was forced to the conclusion that the education of a child in domestic responsibilities was of more importance than the education of a child in the frivolities of contemporary schools. In this dark period of the poet's life it is not surprising to find him partially at odds with the principle of free schooling. oppose it.


He did not, however, categorically

He did remark that too much of the gratuitous

Batho, The Later Wordsworth, p. 217* Letters . . . The Later Years, I, 332.

104 Instruction granted the English people was "indiscriminate1' because the people were prone to overestimate the power of school-teaching as compared to the discipline of life and because they had an unhealthy respect for talent and know­ ledge, however it be put to use.

Again and again his

attack is on those who cannot comprehend the fact that tuition is but a small part of education. At this time Wordsworth felt that it was better for the child if the parent be required to contribute money toward his education, for "a child will soon learn to feel a stronger love and attachment to its parents, when it perceives that they are making sacrifices for its instruc­ tion,"1^ a rather unconvincing argument; but he was also of the opinion that "every one should be able to read, and perhaps (for that is far from being equally apparent) to write."2^

Even so, the education of the child is more

certain of taking a good effect where . . . the parents and connections are possessed of certain property which enables them to procure the instruction for their children, or where, by their frugality and other serious and self-denying habits, they contribute, as fair as they can, to benefit their offspring in this way.2^

^ 20

ibid. id., 333.

21 Ibid.

105 Restated, his argument does not actually oppose the educa­ tion of the poor, but it does favor the education of the child whose parents are forced to pay tuition because the child appreciates the sacrifices being made for him and, presumably, he derives greater benefit from his lessons as the result.

He might have had some difficulty defend­

ing his position in open debate. Toward the end of the long letter to the Reverend Rose he returned to firm ground as he wrote of the horrible poverty into which many Englishmen are born, but he warned that 11they are not to be raised from it by partial and temporary expedient; it is not enough to rush headlong into any new scheme that may be proposed.”^

He blamed

revolutions for unsettling the value of property and labor and, consequently, bringing about ’’misery and privation.” We must bear the sight of this, and endure its pressure, till we have by reflection discovered the cause, and not till then can we hope even to palliate the evil. It is a thousand to one but that the means resorted to will aggravate it.23 It was not the existence of educational institutions that Wordsworth feared but the reliance that people had on them.

It was not Innovation that he feared but the sus­

ceptibility of people to. discard the old for the new


I b i d . . 3 3 ^.

23 Ibid.. 335-

106 before the latter had been properly proved. The letters to the Reverend Hugh James Rose were not very friendly to the concept of popular education. However, the very next letter on the subject should dis­ pel, once and for all, any doubt as to Wordsworth's stand on the issue.

In a letter to his brother, Christopher,

he anxiously explained his true position: My Notes upon education are not to be understood as if I were averse to the people being educated, quite the contrary. My wish was to guard against too high expectations— from that source, and to glance upon some grievous errors. Then, in effect, he summarized the previous letters in a few neat sentences: The more I reflect upon the subject, the more I am convinced that positive instruction, even of a religious character, is much overrated. The educa­ tion of man, and above all, of a Christian, is the education of duty, which Is most forcibly taught by the business and concerns of life, of which, even for children, especially the children of the poor, book-learning is but a small part.25 He had been of the same opinion when, as a young man at Cambridge University, he took his school duties less seriously than many of his fellows and looked to the external world for guidance. same thing in The Prelude.

Ibid., 373-374. 25 Ibid., 461.

He had said very much the The Wanderer took his wisdom

March 15,


April 27, 1830.

107 from the world, not from schools.

Throughout his adult

life Wordsworth held this position; it is the very foun­ dation of his educational philosophy. Wordsworth was a realist.

He took pride in under­

standing and having the confidence of the little people in his district.

He knew that the average man did not

want intellectual refinement, nor did the average man agitate for it.

The blame was to be placed on an

. . . officious disposition on the part of the upper classes to precipitate the tendency of the people towards intellectual culture in a manner subversive of their own happiness, and dangerous to the peace of society.26 Indeed, he felt that there was less occasion for improve­ ment of the poor than for . . . improved education of the middle and upper classes; which ought to begin in our great Public Schools, thence ascend to the Universities (from which the first suggestion, should come), and descend to the very nursery.27 The responsibility for the direction of the nation was on the middle and upper classes; therefore, it was all important that they be well trained.

But there was

always a trace of envy in Wordsworth for the poor inasmuch as they are closest to nature and are not bound to the



27 Ibid.

See Chapter VII, p. 75-

ordeal of public affairs.

If he thought in terms of

social strata and classes, his sympathy was with the humblest, because he himself was a very humble man.

CHAPTER XI THE FINAL YEARS The Reform Bill was passed in 1832, and for some years beyond that eventful date Wordsworth was in a state of depression.

In 1831 he had exhorted an advocate of

the Reform Bill, William Rowan Hamilton, to devote "hours and hours to the study of human nature" and to "mix with society, not in Ireland and Scotland only, but in England; a Fount of Destiny, which if poisoned, away goes all hope of quiet progress in well-doing.1,1

In 1833 he told his

friend Henry Crabb Robinson that "an unbridled Democracy is the worst of all Tyrannies."2

He was all but con­

vinced that the passage of the Reform Bill marked the beginning of England's decline. Parallel with his attitude toward rapid innovation in the field of politics or education was his attitude toward the proposed abolition of slavery in the West Indies.

The sublety with which he expressed his views

on the slavery question in 1833 is a repulse for those

1 Ernest De Selincourt, ed., The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth: The Later Years Toxford: The Clarendon Press, 1939), II, W 7 2 In Edith J. Morley, ed., The Correspondence of Henry Crabb Robinson with the Wordsworth Circle (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1927), I, 233*

110 who maintain that he had long sinee lost his power as a thinker: .Some time ago many persons were anxious to have a bill brought into Parliament to protect inferior animals from'the cruelty of their masters. It has always appeared to me that such a law would not have the effect intended, but would increase the evil. The best surety for an uneducated man behaving with care and kindness to his beast lies in the sense of the uncontrolled property which he possesses in him. Hence a livelier interest, and a more effi­ cient responsibility to his own conscience, than could exist were he made accountable for his con­ duct to law. I mention this simply by way of illustration, for no man can deplore more than I do a state of slavery in itself. I do not only deplore but I abhor it, if it could be got rid of without the introduction of something worse, which I much fear would not be the case with respect to the West Indies, if the question be dealt with in the way many men are so eagerly set upon.3 Just how correct he was in his opinion is known by those familiar with the years immediately following the emanci­ pation of the Negro slaves in the United Statesj something worse did follow and something almost as bad continues down to the present day. Even though Wordsworth was sickened by the thought of slavery in any form, he refused to voice his sentiment in poetry for fear of inciting precipitous action on the part of reformers that would render the condition of the slaves much worse.

Thus, he explained to Mrs. W. P.

^ betters . . . Later Years, II, 648-649. Benjamin Dockray, April 25, (1833’) •


Ill Rawson, who In 1833 asked him for some verses on the subject of slavery that, although he did, in fact, have some appropriate verses, he would not send them to her, for . . . poetry, if good for anything, must appeal forcibly to the imagination and the feelings; but what, at this period, we want above everything, is patient examination and sober Judgement.^ As late as 1835 he still imagined England to be on the brink of revolution; to his friend Edward Moxon he confided that The Radicals and foolish Whigs are driving the nation rapidly to that point, (that) soon, alas! it is likely to be found that power will pass from the audacious and wicked to the more audacious and wicked, and so to the still more and more, till military despotism comes as a q u i e t u s . 5 And so until the end of his life Wordsworth continued to fear the work of reformers.

The last fifteen years, how­

ever, were less strained and bitter than the previous ten; it was as though Wordsworth, knowing that his life must soon draw to an end, consciously mellowed his opinions, realizing that he had lost something of his old objec­ tivity during the "Reform Bill Period." In 1836 he was invited to dedicate a school which

* H S L 650-6 5 1 . 5 ibid.. 7 2 3 .

(?May 1833).

112 was to toe touilt in the village of Bowness, Windermere. Many of the people in his audience were parents whose children were to have the benefit of the new school, and it was to these parents that he directed most of his observations.

The tone of the speech was neither flatter­

ing nor condescending.

Wordsworth took the opportunity

to review convictions that he had always held in regard to the education of youth, gently reminding the parents that, since it would ask no tuition of its students, the school imposed upon them the responsibility to use it well. Since he was aware of a tendency on the part of people to value less that which they are not required to pay for,

he chose to open his address with an ironic

note: The privilege of the school being free will not, I trust, tempt parents to withdraw their children from punctual attendance upon slight and trivial occasions.< Moreover, since free education does not guarantee an educated people, the poet feared that, having begun to

^ See Chapter X, pp. 104-105. ^ In A. B. Grosart, ed., Prose Works of William Wordsworth (London: Edward Moxon, 1876), I, 351* Speech on Laying the Foundation-Stone of the New School in the Village of Bowness, Windermere, 1836.

113 take gratuitous instruction for granted,

the parents and

their children would miss the best that education had to offer— and all would be to no avai-1.

There was an addi­

tional danger that popular education would stir in the people the ambition that leads to discontent and unhappi­ ness.

When he told his audience that

It is in the order of Providence, as we are all aware, that most men end their temporal course pretty much as they began it; nor will the thought­ ful repine at this dispensation.a he was pleading with them to maintain a healthy perspec­ tive and to aspire after those things from which they might derive real benefit.

He was neither insincere nor

necessarily in error when he suggested that there is little to be gained by jumping the barriers of rank. Indeed, his personal preference was for the class of people which, generation after generation, is bound to the menial tasks of the soil, and he could entertain nothing but pity for those of its members who, driven by the desire for better things, ended their lives in city slums.

If popular education were to drive the sons of

farmers away from the land, the good derived from It would be more than offset by the evil. Turning to the teachers in his audience, Wordsworth

114 spoke highly of religious and moral instruction, but he admonished them to take care not to overemphasize "sub­ tile distinctions in points of doctrine . . . and facts in scripture of which a knowledge may be brought out by a catechetical process."^

In his opinion, religious

instruction given without reference to the affections, imagination, and practical duties was worthless; he deplored a disposition on the part of teachers to make clever little parrots of their students, primarily for the benefit of inspectors and chance visitors. Wordsworth would not speak on the subject of "education" without making it clear what he meant by the word.

On this occasion he paused to differentiate between

the words "tuition" and "education," defining the latter as comprehending . . . all those processes and influences, come from whence they may, that conduce to the best development of the bodily powers, and of the moral, intellectual and spiritual faculties which the position of the individual admits o f .10 The people of Bowness,

therefore, were not to consign

their children to the village school under the misappre­ hension that the education of their children was entirely

9 Ibid.. 35^*

10 Ibid., 355.

115 in the hands of that institution.

By far* the most import­

ant aspect of a child's education is that which operates in the home where ... . b y accustoming their children early to the discipline of daily and hourly life, in such offices and employment as the situation of the family requires, and as are suitable to tender years, . . . parents become infinitely the most important tutors of their children, without appearing, or positively meaning to be so.^-1 Thus, even as he dedicated the new school, Wordsworth refused himself the luxury of a panegyric on the blessings to be expected from the new institution; instead, he thought it more important to caution the assembly to look on formal instruction as merely supplementary to the edu­ cational influence of the home. In his seventy-third year Wordsworth sat down to reflect on the advances made in education during the nineteenth century.

He was not satisfied with what he

found: . . . I grieve that so little progress has been made in diminishing the evils deplored, or pro­ moting the benefits of education which the ’Wanderer1 anticipates. As he approached the end of his life, he reverted to the basic principles of his earlier years; the period

11 ISM12 Quoted from Edith Clara Batho, The Later Wordsworth (Cambridge: The University Press, 1933)# P213. Fenwick Notes.

116 when he would ruin a sound argument with a quibble was over.

Now when he looked for a criterion with which to

measure progress in education, he chose the noble mani­ festo that he had published thirty years before in The Excursion.

He lamented the fact that so little had been

done to defer the age when a child could be legally hired into a factory and to regulate the working hours of children.

He blamed the Dissenters for obstructing

legislation which would require employers to provide reli­ gious instruction for children; the Dissenters always fought legislation that catered exclusively to the Church of England.1^ But this final decade of his life was not primarily pessimistic.

In 1845 he wrote a very kind letter to Hugh

Seymour Tremenheere, Inspector of Schools, a man who de­ voted his whole life to the amelioration of the working classes and to the field of education.

After expressing

his gratitude and admiration for the work Tremenheere and his colleagues had done, Wordsworth looked with con­ fidence, to a future in which . . . Generation after Generation will I trust start from a higher point them the preceding one, and the improvement be progressive accordingly. Encouraged by this belief the Inspectors, to whom


See Chapter I for notes on English Dissenters.

117 we already owe so much, will not relax their.efforts, in which all good and wise men will concur. This was not meant to imply that he was entirely in accord with the course education was taking; he could never resist the temptation to reassert the maxim that a vast and valuable part of education is administered by gen­ erally unrecognized factors— thus, the inevitable question: , . . let me ask you, dear Sir, whether throughout the Minutes too little value is not set upon the occupation of Children out of doors, under the di­ rection, or by permission, of their Parents, compara­ tively with what they do or acquire in school? Is not the Knowledge inculcated by the Teacher, or derived under his management, from books, too exclu­ sively dwelt upon, so as almost to put out of sight that which comes, without being sought for, from intercourse with nature and from experience in the actual employments and duties which a child’s situation in the Country however unfavorable, will lead him to or impose upon him?1^ As for the gentleman in M r . Tremenheere1s department who tried to reconcile parents to the expense of education by remarking that the family clothing bill is less for those who keep their children in school, Wordsworth politely professed a dissenting opinion, adding that this came "from one who spent half of his boyhood in running wild 16 among the Mountains." The elderly poet still preferred


Letters . . . Later Years. Ill, 1268.

15 Ibid.. 1268-1269.' 16 Ibid.

118 fairy tales and stories of adventure to arid text books for the same reason that he had held fifty years before: . . . too little attention is paid to books of imagination which are eminently useful in calling forth intellectual power. Me must not only have Knowledge but the means of wielding it, and that is done infinitely more thro1 the imaginative faculty assisting both in the collection and appli­ cation of facts than is generally believed.^7 In The Prelude he had questioned the use of emu1R lation as a stimulant to the acquisition of knowledge;x he expressed the same view in one of the last letters he ever wrote.

To his brother Charles Wordsworth he wrote

a letter commending him for a sermon that he had deliv­ ered to his pupils but taking issue on a single point, that of scholastic emulation, which . . . proves too often closely akin to envy, in spite of the Christian spirit you recommend. My own case is, I am aware, a peculiar one in many respects, but I can sincerely affirm, that I am not indebted to emulation for my attainments whatever they be. I have from my Youth down to this late date cultivated the habit of valuing knowledge for its own sake and for the good that may and ought to come out of it, the unmixed pure good.19 And he added that it was precisely this point that he used to impress upon Dr. Bell, in whose system of

17 Ibid. See Chapter III, pp. 36-37. 19 Letters . . . Later Years, III. 1279. 12, 1846.


119 education emulation was a first tenet. The world is indebted to Thomas Cooper for an anecdote that attests to the remarkable agility of the elderly poet’s mind and that helps confute the too popu­ lar notion that at an early date he lost sight of liberal thought.

In 1846 Cooper visited Wordsworth at his home,

where the conversation of the two men happened upon Chartism: “You were right," (Wordsworth) said, "I have always said the people were right in what they asked; but you went the wrong way to get it.” I almost doubted ray ears--being in the presence of the "Tory" Wordsworth. He read the inquiring expression of my look in a moment,- and Immediately repeated what he had said. "You were quite right: there is nothing unreasonable in your Charter: it is the foolish attempt at physical force for which many of you have been blamable.” Then, according to Cooper, Wordsworth went so far as to make the following prophesy: "The people are sure to have the franchise," he said, with emphasis, "as knowledge increases; but you will not get all you seek at once— and you must never seek it again by physical force," he added, turning to me with a smile: "it will only make you longer about it."20 He had an almost mystical devotion to the concept of progress through knowledge and a profound hatred of violence; in one way or another he was always repeating


Quoted from Batho, The Later Wordsworth, p. 45. Thomas Cooper’s Autobiography.

120 this fundamental truth. At the same time, he was not so impractical as to imagine that knowledge increases of and by itself.


he clearly indicated in his congratulatory letter to the Inspector of Schools, there is the need for the guiding hand of wise men.

He differed from other educational

enthusiasts at every opportunity from his early years to his dying day: as a powerful and benign agent of educa­ tion, nature has no equal.

CHAPTER XII CONCLUSION Those persons who have trouble reconciling the spirit of the later years with the early years of William Wordsworth find comfort in the explanation of Crane Brinton, who in some respects is a very competent Wordsworth critic: Therefore the world is right in its common judgment that Wordsworth in his old age was a reactionary. His mind was in the past. He saw only too clearly the need of authority in his age; but he erred in choosing the obvious, ready­ made system of authority which lay at hand in the eighteenth-century tradition of government. He did not see that the very completeness and fixety of this aristocratic system was in itself a weak­ ness, that it was an authority which had outlived the loyalty that produced it.l Brinton is in error: Wordsworth did not choose the "obvious, ready-made system of authority which lay at hand"; moreover, he perceived the faults of the old sys­ tem as clearly as any Parliamentary liberal of his day. But, being averse to sudden and drastic reform, he chose to fight the reformers and to favor the system as it was, since he was confident that the immediately necessary

Clarence Crane Brinton, The Political Ideas of the English Romanticists (London: Oxford University Press, 1926), p. 64.

122 reform would come about by itself while the beneficial aspects of the old system would be lost unless they were constantly guarded by a healthy opposition. Edith Batho has given the later years of Wordsworth more time and sympathy than has any other critic.


has dispelled a large number of popular myths concerning the old age of the poet.

There is, for instance, the

matter of Wordsworth supporting a social hierarchy: while she does not deny the fact, she explains that he appeared to side with the upper class "because he believed the principle of ’equality1 to be fatal to the well-being and the true dignity of the poor" and because "in siding politically with the Crown and the coronets, he considered himself to be siding with the weaker party in our demo­ cratic days."

But even more relevant is her observation

that "to the end his sympathies were ever with the cottage hearth far more than with the palace."2 Without abandoning a single fundamental principle, he made the transition from a youthful period of idealism to a mature (and more easily sustained) realism: He refused to subscribe to the sentimental creed which takes no account of the actual state of humanity; he refused to believe against all his

2 Edith Clara Batho, The Later Wordsworth (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1933), p. 131.

123 experience that "the people", as long as they remained -untrained and unthinking, were fit to rule themselves; but he was convinced that they were capable of being trained; and his fears were, not that anarchy or tyranny would ulti­ mately triumph, but that impatience on the part of the lovers of freedom would delay the triumph longer than need be.3 Batho might have modified the statement that Wordsworth did not fear the triumph of anarchy or tyranny; an abun­ dance of evidence has already been presented to show that for a short period of his life he feared the disruption of all the sacred gains of the British Empire.

But that was

a relatively short period, and it most certainly did not include the last ten years of his life. Batho interprets his ideal of education as . . . the free development of the whole being, without forcing, interference, or a too patronizing attitude towards "the poor", who are, Wordsworth repeats more than once, not the only people who need to be educated.4 He deplored, and with good reason, the dilletante liberal­ ism that prodded the poor toward the attainment of prizes for which they had no immediate use; he distrusted liberals who thought in terms of noble theories and ab­ stractions but who made no genuine attempt to know the poor as Wordsworth knew and loved them.

3 Ibid., p. 148. ^ Ibid.. p. 217.

And Batho is

12^ correct when she avers that his views on education stood the test of experience "better than those of the founders of Mechanics’ Institutes and Infant Schools etc.: In other respects Wordsworth would probably find more agreement now, after a century of experiment, than among the educational theorists and practi­ tioners of his own time: in his insistence on the dangers of cramming, of expecting too much from school teaching, and of the want of cooperation between the influences of home and s c h o o l . 5 ’’Education for life” is one of the first maxims of recent educational theory.

Educators are busy reorganiz­

ing curriculums to take into consideration individual differences, and increasing emphasis is put upon exper­ iences outside the classroom.

No longer is education

blindly democratic in the sense that it would prepare each and every student for the presidency. measured and appropriate goals set up.

Now abilities are In the present day

Wordsworth's Insistence that people be taught what they can use does not sound reactionary; on the contrary, his doctrine is in step with the most advanced theory.


example, modern psychologists decry the separation of mothers and young children just as Wordsworth shuddered at the lack of concern many of his countrymen had in the face of a deluge of infant schools.

^ Ibid.

And the growing belief that

125 facts are most usefully learned as they are applied in real situations is but another way of stating Wordsworth's ''education in nature" theory. On the other hand, if Wordsworth were alive today he would not be in whole-hearted agreement with the trend of education in the United States where a new cant has arisen around any number of progressive systems.

He would

doubtlessly contend that the best of all systems is useless in the absence of a good teacher and that a too great reliance on method is dangerous where instruction is con­ spicuous for its mediocrity. But, it is just as certain that his eyes would shine in thankfulness and admiration at progress made in the field of popular education.

And he would derive no

little satisfaction from the notion that his own ardent appeal in The Excursion for legislation protecting the rights of children and providing all with the benefits of education at the public expense had contributed something to the reality.


127 King, R. W., England from. Wordsworth to Dickens. York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1929.


Logan, James Venable, Wordsworthian Criticism: A Guide and Bibliography. Columbus: The Ohio State University, 19%7Meyer, G. W., Wordsworth1s Formative Years. University of Michigan Press, 19^3.

Ann Arbor:

Montmorency, J. E. G., State Intervention in English Education. Cambridge: University Press, 1902. Morley, Edith J., editor, The Correspondence of Henry Crabb Robinson with the Wordsworth Circle. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1927. Wordsworth, Christopher, Memoirs of William Wordsworth, Poet-laureate. Edited by Henry Reed. Boston: Ticknor, Reed, and Fields, 1851.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Adamson, John William, A Short History of Education. Cambridge: The University Press, 1922. Babenroth, A. Charles, English Childhood: Wordsworth's Treatment of Childhood in the Light of English Poetry from Prior to Crabbe. New York: Columbia University Press, 1922. Batho, Edith Clara, The Later Wordsworth. University Press, 1933*

Cambridge: The

Beatty, Arthur, editor, Representative Poems of William Wordsworth. New York: Doubleday, Doran and Company, Inc., 1937Brinton, Clarence .Crane, The Political Ideas of the English Romanticists. London: Oxford University Press, 1926. Coleridge, Ernest Hartley, editor, Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. London: W. Heinemann^ 1895• De Selincourt, Ernest, editor, The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth: The Early Years. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1935. _______ , The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth: The Middle Years. 2 vols. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1937. _______ , The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth: The Later Years. 3 vols. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1939. George, A. J., The Complete Poetical Works of William Wordsworth. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1904. Grosart, A. B., editor, Prose Works of William Wordsworth. 3 vols. London: Edward Moxon, 1B 7 6 . Harper, George McLean, William Wordsworth, His Life, Works, and Influence. 2 vols. London: John Murray, 1915.