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Publication date1/01/2015
Host publicationWilliam Wordsworth in Context
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages8
ISBN (electronic)9781139236188
ISBN (print)9781107028418
<mark>Original language</mark>English


William Wordsworth created his greatest literary works in wartime, a martial context that defined his personal and political development and shaped his poetic career. In 1793, the year the poet published his first two volumes of verse, An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches, revolutionary France declared war against England, causing an extraordinary inner turmoil for the republican, pro-Gallic and anti-war writer who ‘felt /The ravage of this most unnatural strife /In my own heart’ (1805 Prelude Book 10, lines 249-51). The fierce global conflict continued for the next twenty-two years on an unprecedented scale and with only two brief breaks in the fighting, the Peace of Amiens of 1801-3, during which Wordsworth returned to France for the first time since his visits of the early 1790s, and the eleven-month cessation following the French emperor Napoleon’s first abdication in April 1814, the year in which the now established poet and Distributor of Stamps for Westmoreland published The Excursion. The war was finally brought to a close by Wellington’s victory over Napoleon at Waterloo in June 1815, a battle Wordsworth marked with a series of sonnets and odes and which he celebrated as the culmination of his own imaginative campaign against the national enemy. As this preliminary account would suggest, Wordsworth’s attitude to the conflict between Britain and France and to the idea of war more generally changed dramatically over time, but throughout the early and middle phases of the poet’s career national combat remained a key subject of his writing and, at times, a personal obsession. The poet directly addressed the war with France in some of his best-known and most highly regarded works, including The Prelude, as well as in a range of lesser-known writings, such as the sonnets he wrote for more than a decade on the specific events of the conflict with France and the extensive prose tract The Convention of Cintra (1809), which he hoped would constitute a major intervention in the conflict. Wordsworth’s consistent and enduring engagement with war in both specific and abstract terms can be seen to have significantly shaped his ideas about the roles of poetry and the poet and to have influenced some of his most important conceptualizations of the imagination itself.

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