Essay on William Wordsworth: Painting London

6. William Wordsworth: Painting London

In the nineteenth century, London was the city that posed the greatest challenge to its observers. Nobody had seen anything like it. The growth of London was without precedent; the intensity of its economic life was beyond comparison and its traffic was overwhelming. London was the centre of the largest empire of moderns times and the capital of the technologically most advanced nation. It is not surprising that the Romantics looked with disgust upon this new form of life. But there were exceptions. William Wordsworth for instance, on the morning of his departure from London, was able to write a quiet sonnet called Composed upon Westminster Bridge – London, September 3, 1802. In the summer of that year, in fact, William Wordsworth left London in a very particular mood. The poet and his sister Dorothy were on their way to France, to make final accommodations with his lover Annette Vallon and to see his child Caroline before his marriage to Mary Hutchinson. From the roof of the coach, they were looking at this wonderful sight, the same his sister wrote down in her Journal July 31, 1802, describing the scene seen by her and her brother:

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It was a beautiful morning. The city, St. Paul’s, with the river, and a multitude of little boats, made a most beautiful sight as we crossed Westminster Bridge. The houses were not overhung by their cloud of smoke, and they were spread out endlessly, yet the sun shone so brightly, with such a fierce light; that there was something like the purity of one of nature’s own grand spectacles.1

Wordsworth himself added some details and sometimes during that morning he composed the most beautiful and best known portrait of London2:

Earth has not anything to…

…riting London: The Trace of Urban Text from Blake to Dickens – Vol. 1, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001.Roy Porter, London: A Social History, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1998.Hugh Sykes Davies, The Poets and Their Critics: Blake to Browning – Vol.2, London: Hutchinson Educational, 1943.Boris Ford, Volume 5 of The Pelican Guide to English Literature: From Blake to Byron, London: Penguin Books, 1957.Hirsch E.D, Innocence and Experience: An Introduction to Blake, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1964.E.P. Thomson, Witness Against the Beast – W. Blake and the Moral Law, Cambridge: Cambridge University press, 1993.Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, Durham: Duke University Press, 1993.Harold Bloom, William Wordsworth, New York: Chelsea House Publications, 2009.


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