William Wordsworth
1795: Residence in London and Bristol


Somers Town, London
Somers Town, London, showing the Polygon

1795: Residence in London and Bristol
At the end of February 1795 (25), William took up residence in lodgings in Somers Town, London, a few doors away from William Godwin at the Polygon, and came into contact with the circle around the philosopher, a circle which included William Frend, George Dyer, Thomas Holcroft, Basil Montagu, Francis Wrangham, and John and Azariah Pinney, the sons of a rich Bristol merchant and slave-owner, William Pinney. These men were largely supportive of the aims of the French Revolution, but they were certainly not men to inspire William with revolutionary ardour. They were rather middle class intellectuals, armchair philosophers committed in principle to humanitarian goals, who believed in, for example, the perfectability of man through education, the extension of democracy, the natural benevolence of human nature and the aboltition of slavery. But there was certainly nobody here who was going to try to stand up to Pitt and his government apparatus.

Francis Wrangham and Imitations of Juvenal:
He set about writing an imitation of Juvenal's eighth satire with Francis Wrangham, which was continued when he later moved to Racedown in Dorset. Wrangham had recently won the Seaton Prize for poetry at Cambridge for his poem on The Restoration of the Jews. The Juvenal, though clearly intended to be critical of the government, was not the sort of thing that was going to bring people to the barricades, or even out onto the streets. It was more in the way of a witty exposé of the corruption endemic in the aristocratic system, with amusing asides.

 Salisbury Plain: It appears that William was casting round for his subject matter: the publication of The Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches at the beginning of 1793 had been a failure; his Letter to the Bishop of Llandaff  in early 1794 had not found a publisher, partly, no doubt, due to the clampdown on seditious literature and the fear that the Acts passed by Pitt's government inspired in printers generally; and finally his efforts to complete Salisbury Plain during 1794 had been abortive for similar reasons, though it should be added that in this case there was also confusion on the part of the author as to what message he wanted to convey. The central character, the vagrant woman, has come out of the background of the picturesque landscape of the Evening Walk and now stands before us with her own story to tell. We are no longer presented with a picture of human suffering and misery to which we can respond with suitable effusions of tears and sympathy, and then go back to drinking tea. Both the picturesque and the gothic horror treatments (see Fragment of a Gothic Tale) of misery have here been superceded by an attempt not only to display, but also to understand and explain the causes of poverty. It is not certain whether William failed to publish this poem at this time because he could not find a publisher or because he was unsure of the project himself. In the end, he produced three versions of the poem, which probably does indicate some uncertainty in his own mind about what the final form should be. At the end of 1795 (20 November), he writes to Francis Wrangham rather lamely: I have a poem (Salisbury Plain) which I should wish to dispose of provided I could get any thing for it. I recollect reading the first draught of it to you in London. But since I came to Racedown, I have made alterations and additions so material as that it may be looked on almost as another work.

Interestingly, he counsels Wrangham in the same letter: I suppose you were too busy to go on with the Destruction of Babylon. I don't think you have much occasion to regret your having been otherwise employed. The subject is certainly not a bad one, but I cannot help thinking your talents might be more happily employed. Probably Wrangham thought the same about Wordsworth's Salisbury Plain, but was too polished a gentleman to say so directly. Though Wrangham's poem did not win the prize this time, it was nevertheless recommended for publication and published. On the other hand, who has heard of Wrangham now? William goes on to correct some of Wrangham's lines, which probably didn't go down too well either. At the time, it is William surely who would have been considered the junior poet. William himself, of course, knew full well that this was not the case.

Lincoln's Inn Gate
Lincoln's Inn Gate

Basil Montagu:
Basil Montagu was educated at Christ's College, Cambridge. In 1791, he married. He writes: from that moment my father never spoke to me. I lived in lodgings in Cambridge and supported myself by taking pupils... In 1793 my wife died in childbed, two years later I settled in Lincoln's Inn Chambers (London). My child was with me, entrusted to my protection when I was little able to protect myself. By an accident I became acquainted with Wm Wordsworth. We spent some months together. He saw me, with great industry, perplexed and misled by passions wild and strong. In the wreck of my happiness he saw the probable ruin of my infant. He unremittingly, and to me imperceptibly, endeavoured to eradicate my faults and to encourage my good dispositions. I consider having met Wm W the most fortunate event of my life. (autobiographical manuscript, quoted in Ernest de Selincourt's, The Early Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, note p138) Wordsworth appears to have stayed with Montagu at Lincoln's Inn Chambers for some months.

Montagu, who was profoundly influenced by Godwin during this period and even temporarily gave up his law studies, later recounts: The prevalent doctrines were, that man was so benevolent as to wish only the happiness of his fellow-creatures, so intellectual, as to be able readily to discover what was best, and so far above the power of temptation, as never to be drawn by any allurement from the paths of virtue. Gratitude was said to be a vice - marriage an improper restraint - law an imposition - and lawyers aiders of the fraud. (Mackintosh, 1835, vol i, p149)

The port of Bristol
The port of Bristol

John and Azariah Pinney:  Dorothy Wordsworth writes on September 2nd to her friend Jane Marshall (née Pollard): I think I told you that Mr Montague had a little boy, who as you will perceive could not be very well taken care of either in his father's chambers or under the uncertain management of various friends of Mr M with whom he has frequently stayed. He was lamenting this circumstace, and proposed to William to allow £50 a year for his board provided I should approve of the plan, at the same time Wm had the offer of a ready furnished house rent free, with a garden, orchard, and every other convenience. The house was Racedown Lodge, near the south coast of England in Dorset. The house belongs to Mr Pinney, a very rich merchant of Bristol.. William is staying at Bristol, at present, with Mr Pinney and is very much delighted with the whole family, particularly Mr Pinney, the father. With the interest on Raisley Calvert's legacy in addition, Dorothy calculated that they would have enough to live on.

Map of England
Map of England

Continued search for a subject: William writes to Francis Wrangham from Racedown on November 20: I have had a melancholy proof of my procrastinating spirit in having so long deferred writing to you. I have to reproach myself the more with this indolence as it has probably prevented our finishing the imitation of Juvenal, so as to have it out this season. He makes several suggestions for continuing the project, but the Juvenal would never see the light of day. In about May 1796, however, he informs Wrangham: I have been employed lately in writing a tragedy,- the first draught of which is nearly finished. This is The Borderers, a play based on something of a recurring obsession with William, personal guilt for the betrayal of a helpless victim, and based on the scenery of the North of England combined with his experience of the French Revolution. Just as Salisbury Plain had gone far beyond the traditional picturesque view of human suffering, so The Borderers goes beyond the lame intellectual posturing of Godwin and his circle.

 

Poems

Poems written in youth
Lines left on a Seat in a Yew Tree  
  Descriptive Sketches
An Evening Walk 

Poems on the naming of places
Joanna's Rock  

Poems of the Fancy
   The Linnet

Poems of the Imagination
  Lines written above Tintern Abbey
   Night Piece

Miscellaneous Sonnets
   Upon Westminster Bridge
It is a Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free  
   Composed in the Valley near Dover
The Poet's Work  

Poems dedicated to National Independence and Liberty
On the Extinction of the Venetian Republic  

Links to external sites

Recording of The Wanderer

Comprehensive poetry resource

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