William Wordsworth
Second visit to France, Michel Beaupuy and affair with Annette Vallon.

Scene from the French Revolution
Scene from the French Revolution

1791-2: Second visit to France and affair with Annette Vallon
He visited France again between November 1791 (21) and December 1792 (22). During this second visit he was befriended by Michel Beaupuy, through whom he came to share the ideals of the French Revolution. Whilst in Orléans he had an affair with Annette Vallon (1766-), who bore him a child (christened Caroline) just after he returned to England. He would not see the child until 1802. This 1802 encounter with Annette and Caroline is documented in part in the sonnet It is a beauteous evening calm and free.

February 1791: After having graduated, William left Cambridge and made his way to London. He writes to his friend William Matthews on 17 June: I quitted London about three weeks ago where my time was passed in a strange manner; sometimes whirled about by the vortex of its strenua inertia1, and sometimes thrown by the eddy into a corner of the stream, where I lay in almost motionless indolence.
1. strenua inertia = energetic idleness or masterly inactivity 

May 1791: He quit London to visit his friend Jones in North Wales. Dorothy writes to Jane Pollard on 26 June that he: is now in Wales where I think he seems so happy that it is probable he will remain there all the summer or a great part of it: Who would not be happy enjoying the company of three young ladies in the Vale of Clewyd and without a rival? Jones had five sisters, three of whom were at home during William's visit.

Whilst in Wales, he went on a walking tour of some six weeks around North Wales with Jones, following Thomas Pennant's Tours in Wales. The tour included a nocturnal ascent of Snowdon, a description of which was later included in The Prelude Bk xiii.

He writes to Matthews again from Clwyd on August 3: The truth of the matter is that when in Town I did little, and since I came here I have done nothing, a miserable account!

August 1791:  He returned to London, now pressured by his uncles to resolve his future by agreeing to take a curacy in Harwich which was effectively in the gift of his paternal grandmother"s nephew, 'Jack' Robinson, an MP and member of the government. This he rejected, returning to Cambridge for a while, and then making his way once again to London where his brother Richard Wordsworth was now a working lawyer at Gray's Inn. Richard writes to his uncle, Richard Wordsworth of Whitehaven on 7 November: I found my brother William in London: he is advised to pass the Time previous to the Time of his taking Orders in some retired place in France which will be less expensive and more improving than in England, it is his wish to set off immediately and he would be much obliged if You could advance for him £40 which will support him till next summer.

November 1791: Somewhat surprisingly, his uncles agreed to the arrangement on the condition that he would seek out a retired place, avoiding the excitement and expense of Paris, and begin the study of oriental languages immediately on his return, a study which was designed to take up the time until he was 23 and of age to be ordained. He left for France as soon as he received his £40.

Whilst waiting in Brighton for a boat to take him to France, he presented himself to Charlotte Smith, the poetess, who gave him letters of introduction to some of her friends in Paris and Orléans, including Helen Maria Williams, who had been living in France since July and Orléans since October. The two women were strong supporters of the French revolution. Interestingly, it was to the latter poetess that William's first published poem (The European, March 1787) Sonnet, on seeing Miss Helen Maria Williams weep at a tale of distress was addressed, though, despite the title, he had never in fact met her. Wordsworth retained a high regard for her poetry (see Letter to Alexander Dyce, April 1833). In fact she had left Orléans before William arrived, and they were not to meet until 1820.

Map of north east France
map of north-east and central France

He arrived in Paris on 30 November, where he spent four days, before making his way to Orléans, from whence he writes to his brother, Richard, on 19 December: We are all perfectly quiet here and likely to continue so..

Information about his life at Orléans, and, later, Blois is scanty. He writes to his friend Mathews on 19 May: Since my arrival (in Blois) day after day and week after week has stole insensibly over my head with inconceivable rapidity.. You will naturally expect that writing from a country agitated by the storms of a revolution, my Letter should not be confined merely to us and our friends. But the truth is that in London you have perhaps a better opportunity of being informed to the general concerns of france, than in a petty provincial town in the heart of the kingdom itself.

The date of his move from Orléans to Blois is uncertain, but the reason for the move seems to be Annette Vallon, who was a native of Blois. Some information about his involvement with Annette may be gleaned from his poem Vaudracour and Julia which seems to be an amalgam of his own experiences with Annette and her family, a traditional tale of thwarted love, in the dramatic sometimes maudlin style of poetry of Helen Maria Williams. At all events, it is clear that Annette was pregnant as early as April 1792.

So passed the time, till, whether through effect
Of some unguarded moment that dissolved
Virtuous restraint  -  oh! speak, think it, not!
Deem rather that the fervent youth, who saw
So many bars between his present state
And the dear haven where he wished to be
In honourable wedlock with his Love,
Was in his judgment tempted to decline
To perilous weakness, and entrust his cause
To nature for a happy end of all;
Deem that by such fond hpe the Youth was swayed
And bear with their transgression, when I add
That Julia, wanting yet the name of wife,
Carried about her for a secret grief
The promise of a mother ....

Vaudracour and Julia, lines 55-69

It is, of course, an episode in the life of the future Poet Laureate that, after he had decided he was not going to go back to France to marry Annette, had to be edited out of his life, and, though many letters were written, almost none have survived. However, two plaintive letters from Annette, one to William and one to Dorothy Wordsworth both dated 20 March 1793, were intercepted by the French authorities and turned up in the archives of the Department of Loir-et-Cher around 1920. They detail an ardent and passionate desire for a reunion with William. She writes at length (in all almost 3000 words) about her tears, her desire for his return, and utopic visions of their being reunited. She also writes as if speaking to her daughter, Look, my daughter, here is the convent where your mother was brought up, where I often came with your father, where our hearts melted at the thought of the happy days of innocence of our own childhood. Conserve your innocence as long as possible, my Caroline, if you want to be happy; be always deaf to the cries of passion; never know other feelings than love for your father, your aunt, and your mother. (Legouis, Emile; William Wordsworth and Annette Vallon, J.M.Dent, London and Toronto, 1922, Appendix ii) 

His other formative encounter at Blois was with Captain Michel Beaupuy (1755-96) who, despite being an aristocrat, embraced the ideals of the Revolution and died fighting in the Revolutionary Wars. Wordsworth writes of him in The Prelude, Book 9, lines 302-13:

By birth he ranked
With the most noble, but unto the poor
Among mankind he was in service bound,
As by some tie invisible, oaths professed
To a religious order. Man he loved
As man; and, to the mean and the obscure,
And all the homely in their homely works,
Transferred a courtesy which had no air
Of condescension; but did rather seem
A passion and a gallantry, like that
Which he, a soldier, in his idler day
Had paid to women.

and again, Book 9, lines 509-20:

And when we chanced
One day to meet a hunger-bitten girl,
Who crept along fittingly her languid gait
Unto a heifer's motion, by a cord
Tied to her arm, and picking thus from the lane
Its sustenance, while the girl with pallid hands
Was busy knitting in a heartless mood
Of solitude, and at the sight my friend
In agitation said, "'Tis against that
That we are fighting," I with him believed
That a benignant spirit was abroad
Which might not be withstood.

Michel Beaupuy injured at Chateau Gontier, Vendée uprising Octboer 26, 1793
Michel Beaupuy injured at Chateau Gontier, Vendée uprising Octboer 26, 1793: chromolithograph

He left Blois with his regiment on July 27. Thereafter, he was injured in the Vendée during 1793, became a general in the French Revolutionary army, and died at the Battle of Elz in November 1796.

Events in France began to gather pace: the King fled Paris on June 20, but was held at Varennes and returned on June 25, and, on July 17, the National Guard fired on a demonstration in the Champs de Mars, killing eighteen. The Tuileries, where the King was staying under the protection of the Swiss guard and armed nobles, was stormed on August 10, and the Swiss guard massacred. The King and his family were subsequently imprisoned in the Temple. Provoked by the Duke of Brunswick's ill-advised declaration of intent to re-establish the monarchy in France, between September 2 and 7 inmates of the various prisons in Paris were massacred on the basis that they were, in the main, Royalists and would rise to support an invading army. On September 20, French forces defeated the Prussians at Valmy, and the Prussians retreated. On September 22 the Convention proclaimed the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of the first French Republic, and on December 3 Robespierre called for the execution of the King.

Wordsworth left Blois in October. He passed some time in Paris, probably detained there by problems getting a passport to travel, but on December 22, Dorothy writes from Forncett: William is in London he writes to me regularly, and is a most affectionate brother. This short sentence is all that remains of this letter, which was presumably subject to later censorship by the Wordsworth family, and may well have included interesting detail of what her brother had been doing in France since February.

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