Wordsworth and the French Revolution

Wordsworth and the French Revolution: Beaupuy’s Political Lesson in The Prelude Book IX

This paper is yet another attempt to reconstruct Wordsworth's radical past
in the context of the French Revolution. Wordsworth stayed in Blois in the first
half of 1792 experiencing the decisive moments of the Revolution such as the
dethronement of Louis XVI, the September Massacre, and the power struggle
between the Gironde and the Jacobin. Wordsworth's political mentor during this
period was Michel Beaupuy, a military officer sympathetic to the Revolution.
According to The Prelude, Wordsworth is supposed to have become a
republican reformer after a brief but fateful friendship with him. Wordsworth
scholarship has made great efforts to confirm in more objective and reliable
terms Wordsworth's rather confusing and contradictory "poetic" recollection of
his political initiation. Nicholas Roe's Wordsworth and Coleridge: The Radical
Years has been the most vigorous academic effort so far, which however has
failed to offer any decisive "hard" evidence of Wordsworth's political activities
as a republican reformer. With a great respect for Roe's honorable academic
"failure," this paper rereads a few key passages of The Prelude Book IX seeking
for some new insights into Wordsworth's radical years, particularly his political
initiation in the contemporary context of the French Revolution.
Wordsworth's poetic recollections of those years are peculiarly camouflaged
by his powerful rhetoric which is grandiose and hypocritical, repentant and
self-defensive. With reference to the modern historical scholarship on this
period, Wordsworth's sparse recollection of his political lesson from Beaupuy
still reveals that Beaupuy dealt with the most fundamental issues of the
Revolution in a manner most suitable to a naive, unexperienced 22 year-old
Englishman. Therefore, I argue that Wordsworth of 1792 was indeed initiated
into a revolutionary reformism to become as radical as any other English
reformer of those days, which was most decisively confirmed by his political
pamphlet "A Letter to the Bishop of Llandaff" written only a few months after
Wordsworth's discipleship.

Journal of English Studies in Korea 8(2005): 95-130


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