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Abstract

This is a study of the origins in social and economic history of Golden Age theories during the Industrial Revolution in England: 1750–1850. It deals with the life and work of William Wordsworth (1770–1850) in terms of his beliefs about Old England. His many arguments in favour of rural life and agrarian society in the late eighteenth century are here studied under the general heading of ‘Golden Age theories’. The crux of these theories is the striking contrast offered by the recent or remote past, as a supposed ideal of social life and moral relations, to the conditions of life in the present. This work argues that Wordsworth’s Romantic critique of industrial life and urban society was based upon vanishing views of the Lake District community, in general, and the old ‘statesmen’ system of farming, in particular.1 In consequence, his poetry and prose reveal as much about the changing values, structure and relationships of the old landed order as, say, Romantic art and criticism.

Keywords

Industrial Revolution Lake District Mystical Experience Late Eighteenth Century Rural Life 
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Notes

  1. 2.
    The following books and articles are indispensable to the student of Golden Age theories during the Industrial Revolution: M. D. George, England in Transition (London: Penguin Books, 1953), esp. Chs 1, 2 and 5;Google Scholar
  2. E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1968), esp. Ch. 4, ‘The Free-born Englishman’; idem, ‘Eighteenth-century English Society: Class Struggle without Class?’, SH I (Jan. 1978), pp. 13–165;Google Scholar
  3. C. Hill, ‘The Norman Yoke’, in J. Saville (ed.), Democracy and the Labour Movement (London: Lawrence and Wishart Ltd, 1956), pp. 11–66;Google Scholar
  4. E. J. Hobsbawm, The Age of Revolution 1789–1848 (New York and Toronto: The New American Library, 1962), Ch. 14, ‘The Arts’, pp. 299–326, and Ch. 12, ‘Ideology: Religion’, pp. 271–6;Google Scholar
  5. R. Williams, The Long Revolution (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1961), Part One; and idem, Culture and Society 1780–1950 (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1963), esp. Chs 1, 2 and 3; andGoogle Scholar
  6. H. Perkin, Origins of Modern English Society (London: Ark Paperbacks, 1969), esp. Part Four, ‘The Birth of Class’.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 3.
    Cf. C. Hill, op. cit., pp. 14–15. Cf. N. Hampson, The Enlightenment (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1968), p. 206.Google Scholar
  8. 5.
    H. A. MacDougall, Racial Myth in English History (Montreal: Harvest House/ Hanover and London: University Press of New England, 1982), pp. 56–9.Google Scholar
  9. See too H. Butterfield, The Englishman and his History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1945), pp. 38–40.Google Scholar
  10. 7.
    W. Wordsworth, A Guide Through the District of the Lakes in the North of England, 5th edn (1835), in W. J. B. Owen and J. W. Smyser (eds), The Prose Works of William Wordsworth, Vol. 2 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974), pp. 196–8.Google Scholar
  11. 8.
    C. M. L. Bouch, Prelates and People of the Lake Counties. A History of the Diocese of Carlisle 1133–1933 (Kendal: Titus Wilson And Son Ltd, 1948), p. 21.Google Scholar
  12. 10.
    William Wordsworth to C. J. Fox, letter dated 14 January 1801, in A. G. Hill (ed.), Letters of William Wordsworth. A New Selection (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), pp. 42–3.Google Scholar
  13. 11.
    J. S. Mill, Principles of Political Economy [1848] (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1929), Ch. 6, ‘Of Peasant Proprietors’, pp. 256–7 (incl. n. *).Google Scholar
  14. J. V. Beckett, ‘“The Peasant in England”: a Case of Terminological Confusion’, AHR, 32 (1984), pp. 120–2;Google Scholar
  15. and R. N. Soffer, ‘Attitudes and Allegiances in the Unskilled North, 1830–1850’, IRSH, 10 1965, pp. 445–54.Google Scholar
  16. 12.
    See the following works: G. Slater, The English Peasantry and the Enclosure of Common Fields (New York: Augustus M. Kelly, 1968 reprint [1st edn: London: Archibald Constable and Co. Ltd, 1907]), pp. 257–60;Google Scholar
  17. P. Mantoux, The Industrial Revolution in the Eighteenth Century (rev. and reset by T. S. Ashton) (London: Methuen and Co. Ltd, 1961), p. 136. The effect of Wordsworth’s poetry and prose on the Hammonds is real but diffuse. The same holds true for G. M. Trevelyan, M. D. George and E. P. Thompson.Google Scholar
  18. See: J. L. and B. Hammond, The Bleak Age (rev. edn) (West Drayton: Penguin Books, 1947), passim;Google Scholar
  19. G. M. Trevelyan, English Social History: a Survey of Six Centuries[:] Chaucer to Queen Victoria (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1942), passim; M. D. George, op. cit., passim;Google Scholar
  20. and E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (1968), pp. 242–3 and 378.Google Scholar
  21. 13.
    A. C. Gibson, The Old Man; Or Ravings and Ramblings Round Conistone (Kendal: James Robinson, Fish-Market, 1854), passim;Google Scholar
  22. J. D. Marshall, ‘“Statesmen” in Cumbria: the Vicissitudes of an Expression’, CW2, 72 (1972), pp. 248–73; and J. V. Beckett, op. cit., pp. 113–23.Google Scholar
  23. 14.
    Cf. A. H. Johnson, The Disappearance of the Small Landowner (Oxford University Press, 1910), Ch. 1: ‘England and France Compared. Influence of Land Laws’.Google Scholar
  24. 16.
    A. Briggs, The Age of Improvement 1783–1867 (London: Longman Group Ltd, 1959), p. 40.Google Scholar
  25. 17.
    W. Wordsworth, ‘Near Anio’s stream, I spied a gentle Dove’ (1837), l. 14 in J. O. Hayden (ed.), William Wordsworth. The Poems, Vol. 2 (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1977), p. 854.Google Scholar
  26. Cf. W. Wordsworth, ‘French Revolution As It Appeared to Enthusiasts at its Commencement’ (1809), ll. 32–40, ibid., Vol. 1, p. 637: Now was it that both found, the meek and lofty Did both find, helpers to their heart’s desire, And stuff at hand, plastic as they could wish; Were called upon to exercise their skill, Not in Utopia, subterranean fields, Or some secreted island, Heaven knows where! But in the very world, which is the world Of all of us, — the place where in the end We find our happiness, or not at all!Google Scholar
  27. 20.
    M. Arnold, ‘Wordsworth’, in idem, Essays in Criticism: Second Series (London: Macmillan and Co., 1888), p. 153.Google Scholar
  28. 21.
    Rousseau argued that man ‘is naturally good’ but easily corrupted by the material comforts and machinations of social and political life. He therefore contrasted the simplicity, innocence and freedom of man in ‘the state of nature’ to ‘the secret pretensions’ of the civilised man — for property, power and artificial pleasures. J. J. Rousseau, A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, in idem, The Social Contract and Discourses (tr. and intro. by G. D. H. Cole) (rev. by J. H. Brumfitt and J. C. Hall) (London: J. M. Dent and Sons Ltd, 1973), pp. 27–113. The quotations are taken from pp. 106–8 of the said text.Google Scholar
  29. 22.
    H. Perkin, op. cit.; J. C. D. Clark, English Society 1688–1832: Ideology, Social Structure, and Political Practice During the Ancien Regime (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985); idem, Revolution and Rebellion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986);Google Scholar
  30. A. J. Mayer, The Persistence of the Old Regime: Europe to the Great War (London: Croom Helm, 1981);Google Scholar
  31. and W. D. Rubinstein, Elites and the Wealthy in Modern British History (Sussex: Harvester Press, 1987); and idem, Capitalism, Culture and Decline in Britain 1750–1900 (London and New York: Routledge, 1993).Google Scholar
  32. 23.
    See, for example, Raymond Williams, Culture and Society 1780–1950 (1963), pp. 23–39.Google Scholar
  33. 25.
    G. M. Trevelyan, British History in the Nineteenth Century and After (1782–1919), new edn (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1939), p. 28 incl. n. 1. W. Wordsworth, ‘Home at Grasmere’, (1806), l. 10 in J. O. Hayden, loc. cit., Vol. 1, p. 697.Google Scholar
  34. 26.
    A. V. Dicey, The Statesmanship of Wordsworth: an Essay (London: Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1917), pp. 9–10 and 12–13.Google Scholar
  35. 28.
    W. Wordsworth, The Prelude, or ‘Growth of a Poet’s Mind’ (Text of 1805), 2nd edn (ed. by E. De Selincourt; corrected by S. Gill) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970), Bk 13, ll. 107–10, p. 232.Google Scholar
  36. 30.
    W. Wordsworth, ‘Autobiographical Memoranda’ (comp. Nov. 1847; pub. 1851) in J. O. Hayden, William Wordsworth. Selected Prose (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1988), p. 3.Google Scholar
  37. 31.
    The manor house dated from 1533. R. S. Ferguson, A History of Westmorland (London: Elliot Stock, 1894), p. 285.Google Scholar
  38. 32.
    Charles Howard (1746–1805), the 11th Duke of Norfolk, held a large estate around Greystoke Castle. Cf. Dorothy Wordsworth to Jane Pollard, letter dated late July 1787, in E. De Selincourt (ed.), The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth: the Early Years 1787–1805, 2nd edn (rev. by C. L. Shaver) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967), [=Vol. 1], p. 4. Cf. W. Parson and W. White, History, Directory, and Gazetteer of the Counties of Cumberland and Westmorland, with that Part of the Lake District, Forming the Lordships of Furness and Cartmel, Etc. (Leeds: W. White and Co., 1829), pp. 560–1: the writers record that most of the estates were sold to freehold during 1818. This might have been part of the election contest between the whigs and the tories.Google Scholar
  39. 33.
    S. Gill, William Wordsworth. A Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 429, n. 17.Google Scholar
  40. 37.
    Cf. too C. M. L. Bouch and G. P. Jones, A Short Economic and Social History of the Lake Counties 1500–1830 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1961), p. 271. Between 1739 and 1740, for instance, about four and a half million pounds of tobacco passed through the port of Whitehaven from Virginia. C. M. L. Bouch, op. cit., p. 345.Google Scholar
  41. 39.
    Strictly speaking he was an ‘attorney-at-law, as lawyers of this class were then called and law agent to Sir James Lowther’. William Wordsworth quoted in J. O. Hayden, op. cit., p. 3. He was also Coroner of the Seignory of Millom in the south-west part of Cumberland and the Bailiff and Recorder of the Borough of Cockermouth in the north-west of the county. Amanda M. Ellis, Rebels and Conservatives. Dorothy and William Wordsworth and their Circle (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1967), pp. 10–11. For a brief account of the career and income of Sir James Lowther, see A. Valentine’s The British Establishment, 1760–1784. An Eighteenth-Century Biographical Dictionary (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970), Vol. 2, p. 550.Google Scholar
  42. 40.
    Mary Wordsworth, widow, died 1770. She lived with her eldest son, Richard, at Whitehaven in order to leave the Sockbridge estate as a residence for her youngest son, John. Cf. Charles Robinson quoted by Christopher Wordsworth, op. cit., Vol. 2, p. 523. Cf. too M. Moorman, William Wordsworth. A Biography: the Early Years 1770–1803 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1957) [= Vol. 1], pp. 5–6.Google Scholar
  43. 42.
    M. Moorman, William Wordsworth, a Biography: the Later Years 1803–1850 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965) [= Vol. 2], p. 246: ‘When he had held the post a year he reckoned that, with the necessary deductions, he was making about L.200 by it, but he was not disturbed, and said [that] he found the employment “salutary”, and of consequence in a pecuniary point of view’.Google Scholar
  44. 46.
    Cf. R. Woof, ‘Introduction’ to T. W. Thompson, Wordsworth’s Hawkshead (London: Oxford University Press, 1970), p. xix.Google Scholar
  45. 48.
    W. Parson and W. White, op. cit., p. 11. He was even unfairly listed in the famous radical indictment against ‘Old Corruption’, called The Black Book: or, Corruption Unmasked (1820). See: V. G. Kiernan, ‘Wordsworth and the People’ (1956; rev. 1973) in D. Craig (ed.), Marxists on Literature: an Anthology (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1975), p. 114, n. 102.Google Scholar
  46. 49.
    No doubt the pattern of education, amongst the middle and upper classes, was changing markedly in the eighteenth century with the use of private tutors, and rapidly in the early nineteenth century with the growth of the great public schools — especially in the south of England — but the average gentleman’s son in the Lake District, before the nineteenth century, received his formal education at the local grammar school. F. J. G. Robinson, ‘The Education of an 18th Century Gentleman: George Edward Stanley of Dalegarth and Ponsonby’, CW2, 70 (1970), p. 181.Google Scholar
  47. 52.
    M. H. Friedman, The Making of a Tory Humanist: William Wordsworth and the Idea of Community (New York: Columbia University Press, 1979), passim, esp. the ‘Introduction’, pp. 4–5, Chs 1 and 2, and the ‘Conclusion’ pp. 295–302.Google Scholar
  48. 53.
    W. Salmon, Logic, 2nd edn (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1973), pp. 11 and 96.Google Scholar
  49. 57.
    J. C. D. Clark, English Society 1688–1832 (1985), pp. 64–93, ‘The Survival of Patriarchalism; or, Did the Industrial Revolution Really Happen’, and pp. 93–118, ‘The Social Theory of Elite Hegemony’.Google Scholar
  50. 58.
    Cf. J. Brewer, ‘English Radicalism in the Age of George III’, in J. G. A. Pocock (ed.), Three British Revolutions: 1641, 1688, 1776 (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1980), pp. 345–50.Google Scholar
  51. 59.
    M. Weber, ‘The Sociology of Charismatic Authority’, in H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills (trs and eds), From Max Weber. Essays in Sociology (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1948), pp. 245–52.Google Scholar
  52. 64.
    Cf. H. Davies, William Wordsworth, A Biography (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1980), p. 119. W. Wordsworth, The Excursion — ‘Preface to the Edition of 1814’, in J. O. Hayden, loc. cit., Vol. 2, p. 36.Google Scholar
  53. 66.
    P. L. Berger, Invitation to Sociology. A Humanistic Perspective (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1963), pp. 147–8.Google Scholar
  54. 67.
    V. G. Kiernan, op. cit., pp. 161–206; M. H. Friedman, op. cit.; D. Simpson, Wordsworth’s Historical Imagination. The Poetry of Displacement (New York: Methuen, 1987);Google Scholar
  55. J. Williams, Wordsworth: Romantic Poetry and Revolution Politics (Manchester University Press, 1989);Google Scholar
  56. and J. Lucas, England and Englishness. Ideas of Nationhood in English Poetry 1688–1900 (London: The Hogarth Press, 1990).Google Scholar
  57. 69.
    H. Bloom and L. Trilling (eds), Romantic Poetry and Prose (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), p. 126. The editors, however, wrongly concluded that ‘the facts of Wordsworth’s own mature biography do little to explain his poetic decay’. They surmise instead that a failure to resolve the ‘conflict between [his] questing [poetical] self and adherence to nature may be the [artistic] clue to Wordsworth’s rapid, indeed catastrophic decline after 1807, at the very latest’.Google Scholar
  58. 72.
    F. D. Klingender, Art and the Industrial Revolution (ed. and rev. by A. Elton) (London: Paladin, 1968), pp. 91–104. Two other exceptions are Crane Brinton’s classic essay, The Political Ideas of the English Romanticists (New York: Russell and Russell, Inc., 1962), and Alfred Cobban’s brilliant exposition of the Lake Poets in his book, Edmund Burke and the Revolt against the Eighteenth Century, 2nd edn (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd, 1960).Google Scholar
  59. 77.
    W. Wordsworth, ‘Not in the lucid intervals of life’ (1835), l. 30 in J. O. Hayden, ibid., Vol. 2, p. 783. Idem, ‘To the Utilitarians’ (comp. 1833; pub. 1885), l. 2 in J. O. Hayden, ibid., Vol. 2, p. 744. Wordsworth’s evident ‘despair’ over material progress and science and especially his proto-Christian pessimism about the nature and meaning of man’s spiritual life in a world ‘of low pursuits’ and economic abundance are also revealed in his poems called ‘The Warning’ (comp. 1833; pub. 1835) and ‘Memorials of a Tour in Italy, 1837’ (comp. c. 1840–1; pub. 1842), ibid., Vol. 2, pp. 736 ff. and pp. 839 ff. These poems can be compared usefully, from a social point of view, with the various conclusions of C. G. Jung, in ‘The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man’ (1933), in idem, Modern Man in Search of a Soul (tr. by W. S. Dell and C. F. Bayne) (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1961), pp. 226–54; Vance Packard, in The Hidden Persuaders (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books [orig. pub. 1957], 1960), esp. Ch. 23, ‘The Question of Morality’; and Sidney Pollard, in The Idea of Progress (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1968), Ch. 4, ‘A Digression: Doubters and Pessimists’ and Ch. 5, ‘The Challenge of Progress Today’.Google Scholar
  60. 78.
    F. Stern, The Politics of Cultural Despair. A Study in the Rise of the Germanic Ideology (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1974; originally published in 1961).Google Scholar
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    For a broad definition of ‘populism’ in the period 1789–1914, see: E. J. Hobsbawm, op. cit., pp. 85–6. Cf. too the case of the Mittelstand in pre-war Germany. The independent Mittelstand of peasant proprietors, artisans, small businessmen and shopkeepers has been studied as a model ‘of deeply rooted anti-modernist and illiberal ideas in industrializing Germany’, though its unity as a ‘class’ which stood boldly between organised labour and organised capital has been somewhat exaggerated for the period 1871–1914. See the illuminating article by David Blackbourn, called ‘The Mittelstand in German Society and Politics, 1871–1914’, SH, No. 4 Vol. 7 (1977), pp. 409–33.Google Scholar
  63. 82.
    W. Wordsworth, ‘Stanzas Suggested in a Steamboat off Saint Bees’ Head, on the Coast of Cumberland’ (1835), l. 12 in J. O. Hayden, loc. cit., Vol. 2, p. 749. Idem, ‘Humanity’ (1835), l. 44 in J. O. Hayden, ibid., Vol. 2, p. 690. And idem, The Prelude (1805 Text), Bk 13, ll. 261–4, p. 225. His social argument against the shallow equation of moral and material progress is the first of many such works on the topic in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries — especially by Catholic and Protestant theologians in England, Europe and America. Cf. Sidney Pollard, The Idea of Progress (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1968), p. 198.Google Scholar
  64. 83.
    M. Moorman, op. cit., Vol. 1, p. 503. Cf. G. M. Harper, William Wordsworth: His Life, Works, and Influence (London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, W., 1916), Vol. 1, p. 420.Google Scholar

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© Mark Keay 2001

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