Wordsworth, Louis-Philippe, and "England in 1940!"(english Poet William Wordsworth's Views on Post-Napoleonic France)

By Hill, Alan G. | The Modern Language Review, July 2002 | Go to article overview

Wordsworth, Louis-Philippe, and "England in 1940!"(english Poet William Wordsworth's Views on Post-Napoleonic France)


Hill, Alan G., The Modern Language Review


A forgotten pamphlet of 1840, which carries an oblique warning to Wordsworth's countrymen to look to their defences in the uncertain climate of post-Napoleonic France, offers a convenient pretext for exploring the poet's wider views on French politics in his later years, as the restored Bourbon monarchy of 1815 gave way to the Orleanist government of Louis-Philippe, the 'Citizen King', after the July Revolution (1830), and a Bonapartist revival became increasingly possible as French affairs drifted through the 1840s towards the year of revolutions (1848), and the eventual emergence of Louis Napoleon. Wordsworth's unabated interest in French affairs, and his intriguing affinities with Guizot, the French historian and statesman, have never been fully discussed, though they do much to explain his preference for gradual and consensual change in British politics, rather than radical and violent revolution.

No explanation has ever been forthcoming for the appearance of eight of Wordsworth's Poems Dedicated to National Independence and Liberty in the form of the pamphlet England in 1840!, which was circulated in that year without any indication of its purpose and with no acknowledgement by the unknown compiler of the use to which he was putting the poet's works. Neither Wordsworth, nor any member of his circle refers to it, and yet it amounts to an unrecorded intervention in contemporary politics in the name of the poet himself when his reputation was at its height. Furthermore, it can have been made only on the assumption that he would applaud the use to which his poems were being put. England in 1840! therefore deserves to be taken more seriously than its ephemeral nature might at first sight suggest.

The pamphlet is now a collector's piece, and perhaps little more than an oddity while its provenance and raison d'etre remain unexplained. No copy has survived in the British Library or among Wordsworth's papers at Dove Cottage, and only two copies, one at Cornell and another at Swarthmore, were known to George Healey when he compiled his catalogue of The Cornell Wordsworth Collection. More recently, however, a third copy has come to light in John Henry Newman's Library at the Birmingham Oratory, which he presumably acquired in Oxford or London at the height of the Tractarian Movement. As an admirer of Wordsworth's 'high principles and feelings', which (he believed) foreshadowed the more serious tone of early Victorian England, (1) and as a keen student of the Church in France, Newman evidently thought that the pamphlet, slight and amateurish though it looked, was significant enough to add to his permanent collection. Did England in 1840! have a wider circulation, and a more urgent message, than might at first sight appear?

The contents of the pamphlet, the Wordsworthian sonnets evoking the fervent patriotism of a previous era, when Britain opposed the power of Napoleonic France, must be listed in full in Healey's catalogue to bring out the haphazard nature of the whole enterprise:

Fol. (1) 'Another year!--another deadly blow!'; fol. (2) 'England! the time is come when thou should'st wean'; fol. (3) 'This Land we from our fathers had in trust'; fol. (4) 'It was a moral end for which they fought'; fol. (5) [Here pause, the poet] 'Claims at least this praise ...' [The foregoing words in brackets are omitted; the caption 'England in 1840' is to be read as the subject of 'claims'. Added to this sonnet are the last four lines of Wordsworth's 'To Toussaint L'Ouverture'.] fol. (6) 'It is not to be thought of that the Flood'; fol. (7) 'Milton! Thou should'st be living at this hour.'; fol. (8) 'There is a bondage worse, far worse to bear ...'. Fols 1, 4, and 5 contain footnotes. At the foot of each page is printed 'WORDSWORTH'. (2)

The absence of publisher's imprint, title page, or date suggests that the pamphlet was hurriedly assembled sheet by sheet and distributed by hand. …

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