The French Revolution Debate in English Literature and Culture

By Lisa Plummer Crafton | Go to book overview

Arguing Benevolence: Wordsworth, Godwin, and the 1790s

Evan Radcliffe

When Wordsworth describes in The Prelude the "errors" and "reasonings false" ( 10:882-83) 1 that helped lead him into, and deepen, his Revolutionary crisis, he includes among them the philosophy of William Godwin. For Wordsworth, as for many young intellectuals shaken in their support of the French Revolution, Godwin had initially represented a progressive alternative to French revolutionary ideology. In Godwin's philosophy, as set forth in An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice ( 1793), the individual mind makes purely rational moral choices, without reference to any emotional or contractual ties that might compromise its absolute independence; as Wordsworth puts it, for Godwin moral choice depends on "One guide--the light of circumstances, flashed / Upon an independent intellect" ( 10:825-29). Feeling betrayed by both Britain and France, and having what he calls a "young ingenuous mind" ( 10:815), Wordsworth at first sought to justify his allegiances by way of "evidence / . . . of universal application, such / As could not be impeached" ( 10:788-90), and consequently embraced Godwin's approach. Eventually, however, he learned not to trust this austere vision which, "with a resolute mastery shaking off / The accidents of nature, time, and place" ( 10:821-22), "promised to abstract the hopes of man / Out of his feelings" ( 10:807-8)--a vision, that is, which would base ideas of human possibility on the "purer element" ( 10:809) of reason and thus remove it from human contingency. As even Hazlitt, whose politics (unlike Wordsworth's) remained liberal and republican, and who portrayed Godwin sympathetically, said in The Spirit of the Age ( 1825), "in his [ Godwin's] system . . . [m]an was indeed screwed up into a logical machine." 2

But Wordsworth's views and uses of Godwin in The Prelude--even setting aside the vexed relation between the poem's account and the actual events of the 1790s--are more complex than his brief comments in the poem suggest. Although in the poem Wordsworth rejects the radical rationalism, individualism, and utilitarianism of Godwin's thought, he maintains his faith in an ideal of

-59-

Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this book

This book has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this book

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this page

Cited page

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
The French Revolution Debate in English Literature and Culture
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Contributions to the Study of World Literature ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Introduction ix
  • Notes xv
  • Chronology xvii
  • Burke's Perception of Richard Price 1
  • Notes 21
  • Religion and Politics in the Revolution Debate: Burke, Wollstonecraft, Paine 27
  • Notes 38
  • The "Ancient Voices" of Blake's The French Revolution 41
  • Notes 53
  • Arguing Benevolence: Wordsworth, Godwin, and the 1790s 59
  • Notes 76
  • "Great Burke," Thomas Carlyle, and the French Revolution 83
  • Notes 103
  • Politics of the Episteme: The Collapse of the Discourse of General Nature and the Reaction to the French Revolution 107
  • Notes 118
  • Representations of Revolutionary Women in Political Caricature 123
  • Notes 131
  • Postscript: The French Revolution and Romanticism 137
  • Select Bibliography 145
  • Index 149
  • About the Contributors 155
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen
/ 158

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.