The Use of Romanticism and The Enlightenment By Friedrich Engels

In “The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844”, Engels provides an argument for the poor in the biggest industrial cities in England by using Romantic elements such as the sublime, emotional appeal, and human degradation brought upon by industry. We first see the sublime, though applied to technology and not to nature, being experience when Engels writes, “Here hundreds of steamships dart rapidly to and fro. All this is so magnificent and impressive that one is lost in admiration. The traveler has good reason to marvel at England’s greatness even before he steps on English soil” (1101). Here, he is using the sublime to recognize the loss of mental clarity that people experience when they’re confronted with new and impressive feats of technology.  He immediately attacks this loss of mental ability in the next sentence, when he says “It is only later that the traveler appreciates the human suffering which has made all this possible” (1102). Thus begins Engel’s use of Romantic emotional appeal. When he describes the “deplorable” conditions that the poor live in, he is channeling the emotions of the reader rather than the rational thought. This emotion is used still to attribute the conditions to the faculties of industry, and thus, saying that human greediness found so easily in the “capitalists” degrades the poor as well as the wealthy. We find this in the lines, “Are they not all equally interested in the pursuit of happiness? And do they not all aim at happiness by following similar pursuits? Yet they rush past each other as if they had nothing in common…But no where is this selfish egotism so blatantly evident as in the frantic bustle of the great city” (1102). This is a clear depiction of both the poor and the wealthy being declined to selfish animals because of the economy they have built. These lines, however can also be used in an Enlightenment argument, as well.

We see that Engels uses Enlightenment ideals in his argument by the lines previously mentioned because the people rushing by each other are all potentially useful economic bodies for society. Engels argues for connection between individuals so that society as a whole could benefit economically, a strong Enlightenment ideal. We also see an argument of reason when he writes of the strong work ethic of the poor, despite their conditions in the city. Engels writes, “Here, too, can be seen most the strenuous efforts of the proletariat to raise themselves from their degraded situation.” (1106). This is an appeal to the rational idea of earning one’s place in society. We see that the poor are, indeed, struggling to get a place at the table by the same industrious means as the wealthy, but are coming up empty handed. The lines on page 1107, “Indeed no one can blame these helots of modern civilization if their homes are no cleaner than the occasional pigsties which are a feature of these slums” clarify the reasons the poor cannot “raise themselves” out of their conditions. The argument in this sentence is a complex one because it can be seen both as an Enlightenment one, through an appeal to the existence of strong work ethic in a member of society, and a Romantic one, through appeals to the degradation to “pigsties” that humans are placing upon other humans.

Lines Left upon a Seat in a Yew-Tree.

After reading William Wordsworth’s “Lines Left upon a Seat in a Yew-Tree” I noticed several different ways this piece contrasts the enlightenment sensibility. Even by looking at the tittle of this piece you can see that nature is a prevalent theme. The man that Wordsworth writes about is a man who rejected society after it turned his pure heart as he grew up. “He to the world went forth pure in his heart, against the taint of dissolute tongues.” He leaves mankind and takes to the river one that is “great as any sea, and was never heard of more.” Unlike the ideals of the enlightenment he goes to be one with nature. Upon arriving where the river took him he is overwhelmed with it’s beauty as he sheds tears of joy. He embraces it to give peace to his mind and life. This is a direct contradiction to the scientific and systematic way of life that he rejected.
He found solitude and happiness in that, but it did not last long. He began to feel lonely and regretted the idea that he could not experience a relationship with another human being.”Then he would sigh, inly disturbed, to think that others felt what he must never feel.” He grows sadder and sadder, “his eyes streamed with tears,” and he eventually dies alone. This piece is driven by emotion and and the desire for solidarity within Nature.

The Picturesque in Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey: Ruggedness and the Scenery in Parts

The picturesque is partially, but not completely, defined as something that calls out to be painted or drawn. It is a landscape that seems to have hidden depths beneath its surface that call to the poet or the artist, and continues to inspire even after it has been captured in words or paint. So, on one hand, there must be an element of beauty and pleasantness to the picturesque. Yet, there is a clear distinction between the two, and this is roughness or ruggedness (pg. 48, Gilpin). Wordsworth shows many instances of this ruggedness  in his poem about Tintern Abbey, especially at the beginning.

I was struck by his description of the hedge-rows as: “hardly hedge-rows, little lines/ Of sportive wood run wild; these pastoral farms/ Green to the very door; and wreathes of smoke/ Sent up, in silence, from among the trees” (390). If this were a beautiful or charming scene, the hedge-rows would be in good order. There would be a clear air of domestication; the stamp of human presence would be clear. Yet, though these hedge-rows were initially put in along cultivated lines, they are now “little lines/ Of sportive wood run wild.”  The only sign of present humans is the smoke amongst the hedge-rows, but even that is sent up “in silence.”

Thus Wordsworth uses the hedge-rows to signal the slight sagging and the decay of the area as a whole, the worn ruggedness necessary to deem something picturesque. This leads to a second vital element of the picturesque that is seen in Wordsworth’s poem as a whole. According to Gilpin, when we examine picturesque scenery, “we are more commonly employed in analyzing the parts of scenes; which may be exquisitely beautiful, tho unable to produce a whole” (49, Gilpin). Wordsworth readily buys into this. His whole poem directs the reader’s eye from “steep and lofty cliffs,” to “these orchard-tufts,” to “these hedge-rows” (390). He cannot give the whole picture at once with words anymore than an enthusiastic tourist could instantly take in a whole landscape. Even the feelings associated with the landscape must wait their turns; only one detail at a time can be attended to in order to give the haziest glimpse of the whole.

Women Romantic Writers

Since we didn’t get to discuss Charlotte Smith and Dorothy Wordsworth in class today (or last week), I thought I’d post some comments on them here. Please feel free to respond or post on your own if you’d like to discuss.

Charlotte Smith’s “To Melancholy” (1785) embodies all of the features of Romantic landscape poetry that Wordsworth and Coleridge popularized in Lyrical Ballads thirteen years later. It is set in a specific time and place, as indicated by the subtitle “the banks of the Arun [River] October, 1785,” in order to convey the concrete uniqueness of an experience of Nature in mid-Autumn. That subtitle utilizes a convention that Wordsworth and Coleridge would later follow in their poems, the idea being to allow readers to return to the same location and have the same experience, connecting to each other through time and space.

Smith also exemplifies the Romantic notion of Imagination as an active and synthetic faculty of the mind, not a passive mirror held up to the world. Her description of the seasonal landscape, with its “grey mists” that arise from “dim waves,” bears an element of obscurity and fleetingness that suggest supernatural phenomena (line 2). In addition, the “native stream” of the Arun (line 9) seems to contain a national spirit deserving of pity, whose “deep sighs swell the sadden’d wind!” (line 11). She then addresses that spirit directly–“O Melancholy!”–praising its “magic power” to “soothe the pensive visionary mind!” (lines 12, 14). In that way, the natural landscape serves not only as a projection of her inwardly gloomy emotional state, but also binds her with some element of the national spirit of Englishness. It’s that connection with her readers individually and with the nation in general through its native landscape that she expresses a vision of national unity, however distinct from politics.

Anna Laetitia Barbauld’s “Eighteen Hundred and Eleven” (1812) makes a similar appeal for connection based on a notion of Englishness as a natural, inborn essence. Though her poem is overtly political, there are several passages that invoke the names of rivers to suggest the flowing of time as well as geographic connection and “spiritual” (in the sense of national Genius) connection. I am thinking in particular of the stanza on lines 127-156, where various rivers and other landscape features of England and the United States form a network among some of the great British thinkers and leaders throughout its history: King John and the signing of the Magna Carta, sir Isaac Newton and his definitive model of physics (now deposed by Einstein’s relativity), and so on. What’s interesting here, though, is that Barbauld extends the landscape-inhabited-by-national-Genius to Britain’s colonies, where she seems to agree with the Imperial claim that “If westward streams the light that leaves thy [our] shores, / Still from thy [our] lamp the streaming radiance pours” (lines 79-80). The poem is generally anti-Imperial in condemning the injustices of appropriated wealth and the corrupt political and financial practices that they have led to, yet seems positive about the cultural inheritance it bestows on foreign peoples and their lands.

Dorothy Wordsworth’s “Grasmere” (1805) seems the odd member of this trio of women writers. It follows the tradition of picturesque poetry set in the English Lake District, up north near the border with Scotland, prized for its rugged beauty. The landscape is peopled by cottages in a valley, but one in particular catches her fancy. She goes for a walk that takes her off the beaten path, where she finds an unexpected scene. As we’ve discussed all semester, the Romantic quest for rural landscapes has to do with a searching for British identity, specifically away from the cities. It is a response to modernity, the industrial revolution, and unsavory foreign involvements, even though it might not always refer to them directly.

Dorothy’s landscape describes a pastoral setting in a valley that provides protection from harsher elements.

And when the storm comes from the North
It lingers near that pastoral spot,
And, piping through the mossy walls,
It seems delighted with its lot.

And let it take its own delight;
And let it range the pastures bare;
Until it reach that group of trees,
–It may not enter there!

The mild pleasure afforded by her journey and the scenes she describes represent the aesthetic of the beautiful, which is the least represented among the poems we’ve looked at. There is a faith in the ability of “England’s green and pleasant land” not only to provide unexpected wonder, but to protect and endure. I’m not sure we find the same optimism in Smith and Barbauld.

Can we find anything in Dorothy’s poem that seems to mark her as consistent with the other two women writers here? She expresses a connection to Englishness through a connection to the land, but apparently without the skepticism and concern for the damaging effects of Time we find in the other two. Perhaps you have an answer to this, or see some connections I haven’t teased out?