Study Guide

William Wordsworth Revolution & Romanticism

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Revolution & Romanticism

In 1791, William Wordsworth graduated from Cambridge and traveled to France, which was then in the throes of the French Revolution. When we think of the French Revolution today, we picture guillotine blades, beheadings, and the Reign of Terror. All those things were years away when William Wordsworth arrived in Paris. At the time, the revolution was a truly Romantic political act. No one anticipated how it would later go awry.

Until the Revolution, France had been ruled by a monarchy with absolute power, whose policies wrecked the economy. A frustrated population guided by the values of the Enlightenment sought change. Wordsworth was fascinated by the Republicans, the faction that sought to establish a government headed by a leader of the people's choosing. For an idealistic young European, France was THE place to be. In his long autobiographical poem The Prelude, Wordsworth wrote about that time:

"For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood
Upon our side, us who were strong in love!
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very Heaven! O times,
In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways
Of custom, law, and statute, took at once
The attraction of a country in romance!"
blank" rel="nofollow">Coleridge. Thus began one of the most productive, intense, and unusual three-way friendships in literary history.

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