A Letter to the Bishop of Llandaff … by a Republican (February–March? 1793)

  • John Turner
Part of the Studies in Romanticism book series


Wordsworth was provoked to write his Letter by the well-publicised defection from the revolutionary cause of the liberal bishop Richard Watson. In a piece chiefly remarkable for its poverty of argument and its ostentation of rhetoric, Watson had attacked the regicide, the abolition of the nobility, the forcible sequestration of church property and also the lawless violence with which he believed these measures had been implemented in France. By contrast, he had glamorised the British constitution, whose balanced powers of monarchy, nobility, church and judiciary he declared himself determined to protect against the threats of uneducated, unpropertied ‘peasants and mechanicks’ — for, he wrote, republicanism is ‘the most odious of all tyrannies’, where the people must suffer ‘the tyranny of their equals’.1 Watson’s work, published (appropriately enough) as an appendix to his sermon ‘The Wisdom and Goodness of God, in having made both Rich and Poor’, was shoddy ware indeed, written with the angry sentimentality which is characteristic of defection; and its tone must have aroused Wordsworth as much as its content. His reply, he tells us at once, is written in ‘a republican spirit’ (20), and it has a strong prose coherence which, as it shames Watson, glories in its own capacity for heroic resistance.


Paradise Lost British Constitution Ideological Ground Political Writing Revolutionary Theory 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    The text of Watson’s piece is printed in full, excluding the first paragraph, in The Gentleman’s Magazine, vol. LXIII (July 1793) pp. 633–6. These phrases are from p. 635, p. 633 and p. 633 respectively.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (Everyman, 1910) p. 58.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    John Milton, Areopagitica, ed. K. M. Lea (Oxford University Press, 1973) p. 33.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Ibid., p. 39.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Thomas Paine, Rights of Man (Penguin, 1969) p. 117.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Ibid., p. 97.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Paine, Common Sense; Addressed to the Inhabitants of America (Penguin, 1976) p. 92.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    William Wordsworth, Prose Works, vol. I, p. 103.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Preface to The Borderers, ed. Robert Osborn (Cornell University Press, 1982) p. 65.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    M. H. Abrams, The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition (New York: The Norton Library, 1958) p. 111.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Paine, Common Sense, p. 70.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Leslie Chard II, Dissenting Republican: Wordsworth’s Early Life and Thought in their Political Context (The Hague: Mouton, 1972) pp. 163–4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, in Surveys from Exile (Pelican Marx Library, 1973) pp. 146, 149.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Burke, op. cit., p. 59.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Abrams, op. cit., p. 104, after A. O. Lovejoy.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© John F. Turner 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Turner

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