London Labour and the London Poor

Henry Mayhew tells the stories of two children in  “London Labour and the London Poor” and the harsh conditions they faced. In this he uses elements of both the Enlightenment and Romanticism. Enlightenment elements can be seen in the way that Mayhew relays the experiences of the children. He is very detailed and factual showing how they do not think the same way children normally do. On page 1110 he says, ‘I can’t read or write, but I knows how many pennies goes to a shilling, why twelve, of course, but I don’t know how many ha’pence there is, though there’s two to a penny.” All throughout her narration, the girl talks about money and working and she knows them very well but she does not know what a park is. Mayhew highlights this non-childlike knowledge that she has through the sort of mechanical telling of her story. He shows this again with the boy, by including the explanation of the sweeper’s system.

Mayhew also uses elements of Romanticism by using emotional appeal. He shows how poor these children are when the girl says, ‘I don’t have no dinner,’ (1110). She only gets two meals a day and meat only on Sundays. As for the sweepers, they buy a shovel with all their money to shovel snow during the winter. The boy says, ‘It’s awful cold, and gives us chilblains on our feet: but we don’t mind it when we’re working, for we soon gets hot then,’ (1113). These sort of things, as well as their home life and the abuse they suffered, draws on the readers sentimental side and is an element of Romanticism.


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.

Romanticism and Enlightenment in Engels

             In Engels’s “The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844,” he uses elements of both Romanticism and Enlightenment through his tone and detailed descriptions.  To begin, his descriptions draw heavily from Romanticism. He describes Manchester as a “beautiful hilly countryside” where “the land slopes down to the Irish sea, intersected by the charming green valleys of the Ribble, the Irwell,” and other bodies of water (1105). Engels seems to be writing a travel brochure through his praise of nature.  However, he takes the Romantic view one step further by describing what Industry has turned Manchester into. He speaks of a district of Manchester, “Old town,” coming back to the Romantic fascination with the old and ancient, as “a district which is quite obviously given over to the working class” as the residents “make no effort to give their establishments a semblance of cleanliness” (1106). He cries out “Enough of this! All along the Irk slums of this type abound.” He continues on with a negative, emotion evoking portrait of Manchester, juxtaposing it with the earlier praise for its beauty, and thus making a statement on the damage industry has done. His dramatic descriptions of nature and emotional depictions of the slums both represent his Romantic style, and highlight his Romantic ideals through their contrast with each other.

               I addition to his Romantic writing, Engels incorporates a few elements of the Enlightenment as well. In a logical tone, Engels describes in detail the economic situation of the working class.  He says “Capital is the all-important weapon in class war” and makes the conclusion “the poor, having no capital, inevitable bear the consequences of defeat” (1102).  Engels not only discusses class war and capital, two topics discusses by Smith, Marx, and other Enlightenment thinkers, but he also does so with a logical tone.  His rhetoric resembles a “therefore” type of argument resulting in a conclusion drawn of deduction; Because capital is the most important weapon, and poor people don’t have it, poor people lose the war.  Secondly, he continues with his logical reasoning with his observations as a sort of political scientist and economist.  He says “The slums of English towns have much in common- the worst houses in a town being found in the worst districts” (1104).  This statement among others incorporates the simple logical reasoning essential to Enlightenment writing. As is such, Engels implements both the styles of Romanticism and the logic of Enlightenment in his writings of the condition of the working class.

The Enlightenment and Romanticism in ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844’

In The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, Engels is extremely critical of the effects of the Industrial Revolution on the poor and the indifference of the middle and upper classes to their suffering.  His outlook and writing are rooted in both aspects of the Enlightenment and Romanticism.

For one, Engels greatly values “experiencing” the problems and conditions faced by the poor more so than simply reading about them and he is particularly critical of the middle class for isolating the poor and isolating themselves from the poor.  For example, on page 1102 Engels writes, “He can only realise the price that has been paid for all this magnificence after he has tramped the pavements of the main streets of London for some days.”  Romanticism places greater value on direct experience and Engels utilizes this to encourage the individual to actively seek to better understand the plight of the poor.  In a similar manner, Engels appeals to the senses, utilizing the sense of smell in particular to generate sympathy and to encourage an emotional and physical reaction from the reader.  This utilizes the Romantic emphasis on emotion and the senses.  Engels also makes a point to directly criticize the Enlightenment view of the self as having value as an economic unit.  On page 1102 he writes, “Here men regard their fellows not as human beings, but as pawns…everyone exploits his neighbor.”  Romanticism criticized this view of humanity as well, placing greater emphasis on the individual.

At the same time, Engels does employ aspects of the Enlightenment as well.  The clearest example of this is Engels emphasis on reason and his attempts at appealing to one’s sense of reason (so greatly prized by the Enlightenment).  On pages 1106 and 1107, he criticizes the illogical city-planning and construction, describing it as “unplanned” and “chaotic.”  In this way Engels argues that not only has the Industrial Revolution led to the poor’s suffering but that it has not always progressed with attention to reason, overlooking certain areas and leading to serious problems within English society.

The Sublime in Mont Blanc

Percy Shelley’s writing reflects Edmund Burke’s definition of the sublime in a few ways. A common theme of the poem is the infinite, eternal aspects of nature. In line 9, Shelley wrote, “Where waterfalls around it leap for ever, / Where woods and winds contend, and a vast river / Over its rocks ceaselessly bursts and raves.” He went on to write of winds that “come and ever came” in line 22. Edmund Burke does not provide much explanation other than saying that Infinity fills the mind “with a sort of delightful horror” which he also shares is the “truest test of the sublime.” Much of the writing in Mont Blanc reflects this infinite and vast idea of nature. “The fields, the lakes, the forests, and the streams, / Ocean, and all the living things that dwell (84).” Shelley’s writing exaggerates this notion that nature is eternal and infinite, but man is finite; man cannot comprehend infinity, but nature is and always will be infinity.

Mont Blanc.

Percy Bysshe Shelley speaks so romantically of the sublime in Mont Blanc. He speaks of things that are so powerful and strong and writes as though they are dancing.

“In the wild woods, among the mountains lone, where waterfalls around it leap for ever, where woods and winds contend, and a vast river over its rocks ceaselessly bursts and raves” (Shelley  776).

He paints a picture of such a grand scene as though each moving part is working together to demonstrate it’s power and beauty. Some of his description seems to me picturesque in nature, because he speaks so vividly of the color and sounds involved in this place such as the “solemn harmony” and the “earthly rainbows” (777).

When Shelley speaks of nature, he is speaking as I said in the previous paragraph of things that are by design powerful and potentially dangerous. This idea is paralleled with Burke’s idea of the sublime on page 37.

Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the idea of pain and danger… whatever is in any sort terrible… or operates in the manner of analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime… It is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling. I say the strongest emotion because I am satisfied the ideas of pain are much more powerful than those which enter on the part of pleasure.” – Edmund Burke

To me it is the idea that he is at the mercy of all this that surrounds him and yet through this he can more vividly see its beauty. He talks about the “veil of life and death” when he realizes the “unknown omnipotence” of his surroundings (777). He speaks of mankind and about the “frost and the sun scorn of mortal power” (778). These things reaffirm the point Burke makes about the dangerous nature of the sublime.

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Mary Wollstonecraft

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman seems to be both an Enlightenment and a Romantic argument. Just like the French feminist Valentine de Saint-Point (Manifeste de la femme futuriste, 1912) who answered to a misogynistic author, Wollstonecraft quickly responds to Milton’s Paradise Lost to tell him her thoughts about the conditions of women. Thus, the reflection Wollstonecraft is giving us is both based upon her feelings and her reason.

On one hand, she shows the features of the Enlightenment by basing her on reason and on the role of women in the society, that is to say considered as inferior to men. This is, for her, caused by education since men and women aren’t taught the same things, p.292 “I wish to persuade women to endeavor to acquire strength, both of mind and body, and to convince them that the soft phrases, susceptibility of heat (…) are almost synonymous with epithets of weakness”, p.293 “Women are, in fact, so much degraded by mistaken notions of female excellence”. She clearly shows her feminism and tries to make understand people that this, the different educations given, is not normal. Even if she said that she did this not in a good way, her reflection is presented as something organized and logical. We can see that what she says is made with reason p.288 “arguments conclusive”, the repetition of the word “reason/reasoning” p.293, “because intellect will always govern” same page, “facts”, “I reason” p.298. She also often uses “useless/useful”, consequence of the industriousness. Religion takes a huge place too in this book since there is always a reference to God by saying “Providence”, “God”etc. She ends her chapter 2 talking about Him.

On the other hand, there is also a few features of Romanticism, such as the repetition of “nature/natural” in almost every page which is one of the main characteristics of Romanticism, and “mixing with society” p.297. Her arguments are combined with reason and feelings p.296 “led by their senses”, “the emotions” p.303, “feeling, experience” p.303, “sublime” p.301,303, “love”,”passion” and “desire” are also used to express what she thinks about the woman trying to be perfect for her husband, and describes the feelings as something natural since “To endeavor to reason love out of the world, would be to out Quixote Cervantes” that is to say something impossible. That’s why she tries to make understand women not to be this way anymore (1st paragraph). By basing herself on reasoning, she in fact is responding to something she lived, a direct experience. P.297 we can see a mixture of both the Enlightenment and Romanticism “confidently assert that they (women) have been drawn out of their sphere by false refinement, and not by an endeavor to acquire masculine qualities…it may be impossible to convince them that the illegitimate power, which they obtain, by degrading themselves, is a curse, and that they must return to nature and equality”. Here she clearly says that the education they had is no good, and to find a good place is society they must be heard and connected to Nature.

As a conclusion, we can say that Wollstonecraft combines arguments based on characteristics of both the Enlightenment and Romanticism.