Rousseau, Robespierre, and English Romanticism

By Gregory Dart | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
'The virtue of one paramount mind': Wordsworth and
the politics of the Mountain

I

Shortly after returning from France in the spring of 1793, the young William Wordsworth wrote a pamphlet against Richard Watson, the Bishop of Llandaff, for having betrayed the cause of liberty. Formerly a Foxite liberal sympathetic to the Jacobin cause, Watson had publicly renounced his support for the Revolution when he heard of the execution of Louis XVI in January 1793. Suitably enough, therefore, when Wordsworth came to draft his reply, he responded to the bishop in a selfconsciously 'republican spirit', treating English politics as if it were a merely an extension of the French conflict:

Conscious that an enemy lurking in our ranks is ten times more formidable than when drawn out against us, that the unblushing aristocracy of a Maury or a Cazalès is far less dangerous than the insidious mask of patriotism assumed by a La Fayette or a Mirabeau, we thank you for your desertion. 1

During the constitutional period Lafayette and Mirabeau had appeared to be fervent supporters of the cause of freedom, but as the Revolution had progressed, their complicity with the old order had been unmasked. And it was this and other examples of political betrayal which inspired the belligerent Girondin Jacques-Pierre Brissot to call for the mass desertion of traitors during the war crisis of 1792. It is noticeable, therefore, that in charging Llandaff with a similar kind of treachery as that exhibited by Lafayette and Mirabeau the young Wordsworth was not merely attaching himself to the republican cause, he was also showing himself to be highly conversant with the French version of 'the revolutionary plot', inhabiting the Manichaean psychology of Jacobinism, and reproducing its habits of mind.

But what was the exact nature of Wordsworth's youthful republicanism? How, if at all, was it different from the general enthusiasm of many young English radicals for the French Revolutionary cause? And how

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