’s London Essay, Research Paper
Both Blake’s “London” and Wordsworth’s “London, 1802″ decry, with intense clarity, the moral decline of England in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century. Although Blake and Wordsworth have selected the same title, each attacks the moral condition of London using a different approach. For instance, Blake immediately begins his condemnation in the first and second lines writing, “I wander thro’ each charter’d street,/ Near where the charter’d Thames does flow”(Blake 39). Blake is forthcoming in his observation that the streets are not merely planned but owned by right of charter. Only man gives charters to indicate ownership, and while the streets should be owned by all, the connotations of “charter’d” indicate that man has been cheated of his inalienable inheritance; he walks the streets by sufferance and not by right. Even more terrible are the implications of “charter’d” when the epithet is applied to the Thames. Individual men may have the right to own streets (although Blake would deny it), because individual men may have constructed the streets; but surely no man or men have the right to own the river, a creation of God. Because the streets and the river are chartered, Blake notices weak and woe-stricken faces everywhere he goes. Wordsworth adopts a different course in “London, 1802.” Rather than initially addressing his criticism toward London in the first and second lines as Blake does, Wordsworth’s strategy circumvents a direct probe into the conventions of men by directing “London, 1802″ toward Milton. In lines one and two, Wordsworth writes, “Milton! thou should’st be living at this hour:/ England hath need of thee”(Wordsworth 199) Immediately the force of Wordsworth’s attack is tempered by introducing Milton, thus turning the object of Wordsworth’s concern, London, into a monologue. This device, although just as effective in relating his frustration, allows the reader to enter Wordsworth’s work more comfortably, that is, to announce the intention of the work and indicate its direction before actually beginning to relate the author’s displeasure at England’s state of affairs. At this point, Wordsworth launches into his political attack writing, “she is a fen/ of stagnant waters,” indicating his displeasure with the system of corruption that is pervading English upper class and nobility and ending in line six, “We are selfish men (199).Wordsworth then pens the reader a prescription in lines seven and eight requesting Milton to “. . . raise us up,” and “. . . give us manners, virtue, freedom, power”(Wordsworth 199). Interestingly enough, virtue, now carrying the feminine connotation of chastity, was, in eighteenth-century England, a sign of moral excellence as in manly strength, courage, and valor. These characteristics of moral firmness of mind are what Wordsworth hopes will be instilled within English society. Wordsworth sees Milton as the sage of a past age and whose “soul was like a star, and dwelt apart,” indicating Milton’s character was not corrupted by society. A man alone, above the “stagnant waters,” able to impart needed wisdom to a waiting London.Blake is similar in his condemnation of society introducing his first curious phrase, “mind-forged manacles”(Blake 39). The key to the poem might well lie in this phrase, and Blake does not intend his reader to pass over it lightly. The phrase catches our attention not only by sense but also by accent. For the first time in the poem, we find three accented syllables in conjunction. Blake is paradoxically both indirect and specific in the use of “mind-forged manacles.” In the first seven lines and in the last eight he gives us the results of the operation of “mind-forged manacles.” Because of them streets and rivers are restricted, owned, possessed by the few and not by the many. Because of them, the principal characteristics of man are not strength and joy, but weakness and woe. Their baleful influence pervades all ranks of society and every man-made law, convention, and institution; neither church nor government is exempt. For Blake, every law is a “ban;” every institution that has been created to help man spiritually or physically has only succeeded in hindering him, in depriving him of liberty, in restricting his freedom.
Having attacked law, convention, church, and state, Blake would seem to have encompassed all “mind-forged manacles,” but in reality he has saved his heaviest artillery for the last target. Blake believes that the most harmful “mind-forged manacle” of all is the convention or institution of marriage. Marriage, which should be a force for good, a haven of love, a source of new life, has become in his eyes a force for evil, a haven of lust, a source of death. The bridal coach has become a hearse; the virginal bride is supplanted by a harlot; the love and affection which should be given to the newborn infant have been curdled into hatred and vilification; and marriage, required by the government, blessed and made a sacrament by the church, is the mind-forged evil.The reader should notice, however, that throughout the intensity of Blake’s complaint one clear fact stands out. He is concerned with the effect of “mind-forged manacles” on all mankind, but feels the greatest despair when he considers their effect on the young, the innocent, the helpless. Under the rule of law, convention, and institution, every infant’s cry is a “cry of fear;” only tears are present when smiles and laughter should be everywhere. The “cry” of the chimney-sweeper “appalls” the church, for the church with all its humanitarian ideals has not prevented the employment of children as chimney-sweepers. And the church is “blackening” in the multiple sense of becoming black physically from the soot which requires the labor of the chimney-sweepers, of becoming black spiritually by permitting children (for only children were small enough) to engage in such a degrading occupation, and it is guilty, therefore, of blackening the souls as well as the bodies of the children.Blake’s preoccupation with the impact on the young of these “mind-forged manacles” leads him, in the last stanza, to temper the harshness of the noun “harlot” with the adjective “youthful.” He is not condemning the harlot for her harlotry; he is, instead, condemning the institution, marriage, which has forced her into her unsavory profession. For without the restrictions which marriage imposes, there would be no necessity for prostitution. Lines 14-15, of course, may have two meanings. The harlot may be cursing a child of her own who is unwanted because it will prove a hindrance in her profession. Also likely, however, is the interpretation that Blake, hearing a harlot curse someone who has denied her advances, feels that her curse is directed against marriage and against the newborn infant who symbolizes the culmination of marriage. Again, it may be that the harlot, whose curse is a protest, is a blight on the self-righteous institution of marriage, from which the conventions of man have excluded her. She, therefore, damns those who have damned her.In the fashion of Blake, Wordsworth too has condemned English conventions but has taken a further step by suggesting a recourse, that of self-help. While Blake does not foresee a future, Wordsworth holds out hope for English mankind.While both Blake and Wordsworth have questioned the conventions of the day, each has been able to impart their dissatisfaction of London in a different manner. Blake has, in a straightforward manner, fastened his opinions to the big barn door of common sense, while Wordsworth has, more circuitously, led the reader through the side entrance of the work.
Abrams, M.H., et al ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 6 ed. vol. 2. New York: W.W. Norton, 1993. Blake, William. London. 1794. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M.H. Abrams. W.W Norton & Company. New York. 1993 p39.. Wordsworth, William. London 1802 1807 The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M.H. Abrams. W.W Norton & Company. New York 1993 p 199.