A. Charles (Adolph Charles) Babenroth.

English childhood; Wordsworth's treatment of childhood in the light of English poetry from Prior to Crabbe online

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Columbia University
New York



Amen Corner, E.C.


30 North Szechuen Road

English Childhood

Wordsworth's Treatment of Childhood
in the Light of English Poetry


Prior to Crabbe


Submitted in Partial Fulfilment of the Requirements

for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, in the

Faculty of Philo>sophy, Columbia University

Nrm fork


Copyright, 1922
By Com'Mhia L'niversitv Press

Printed from type. Published December. 1021;


Mii-WArKi:i:. wis., u. s. a.



t* O «> < t "^ T^


The following essays are based on a dissertation pre-
sented for the doctorate in Columbia University. The aim
has been to present Wordsworth's rather extensive body of
poetry on childhood in its true perspective against the back-
ground of eighteenth-century poetry.

In addition to many detached poems on childhood I have
used innumerable interesting lines imbedded in poems on
subjects remotely or not at all connected with childhood.
Such incidental lines, in addition to their occasional charm,
are essential for an understanding of the attitude of poets
of the eighteenth century toward childhood.

I owe thanks to the Librarian of Columbia University
and to Miss Mudge of the library staff for assistance in
procuring books and manuscripts ; to my wife, for careful
reading of proof; to Professor W. P. Trent and Professor
E. H. Wright, who read several of the essays; and es-
pecially to Professor C. S. Baldwin, who read the entire
manuscript and made constructive suggestions of inesti-
mable value.

The essays had their inception in the English Seminar
conducted by Professor Ashley Horace Thorndike, whose
wide scholarship has been at the same time an inspiration
and an invaluable guide in shaping the discussion of the
large body of material which represents the accumulated
effort of a century on the subject of childhood. To him I
am deeply grateful for countless suggestions, always pa-
tiently and kindly given.

A. C. B.
New York,
November 7, 1922.



Introduction i

I. In Our Infancy 15

II. The Growing Boy 50

III. Children of the Poor 97

IV. Education 161

V. Children's Books 219

VI. William Blake 262

VII. William Wordsworth 299

Index 397



The aim in the following chapters is to study Words-
worth's treatment of childhood in the light of English poetry
from Matthew Prior to George Crabbe. For a true appre-
ciation of Wordsworth's attitude it is essential to know
the place of childhood in the poetry of the eighteenth century.

It is not the intention to review juvenile literature. The
object is not to evaluate poetry composed by children or for
them. No peculiar value is attached to the precocious verse
of Pope, Chatterton, or Wordsworth himself. In fact, un-
less their precocious verse incorporates lines on childhood,
it has no place within the limits of this study.

In the eighteenth century may be observed the beginnings
of many modern conceptions in poetry as well as in politics,
theology, education^ and social welfare. This is especially
true with respect to interest in childhood. In order to'
understand the poet's treatment of childhood in an age of
changing values, it is necessary to take into account various
influences that made themselves felt in the lives and thoughts
of English men and women as well as in English poetry.
Earliest of these is Locke's ^'am^^ Thoughts Concerning
Education, which persists as a moulding force throughout
the century wherever the education of children is discussed.
Shaftesbury's Characteristics is a definite influence from
Thomson to Wordsworth. After the middle of the century
there are traces, often tangible, of ideas which derive from
Rousseau's Emile; and the effects of Revolutionary specu-
lation and social philosophy on the conceptions of Blake


are obvious in liis poems about children. The industrial
revolution, moreover, offered new problems with regard to
child lalx)r, problems akin to those noticed in poetry as
early as John Dyer's The Fleece. The problem, then, is not
merely literary. In so far as poets have touched upon
education and social welfare it will be helpful for an un-
derstanding of their aims to observe the conflict between
old and new forces, and the emergence of modern concep-
tions in the schools and in the attitude of the public toward

Certain themes that are prominent in Wordsworth
emerge faintly at first in the w^ork of minor poets who are
seldom read now except by students of literature. These
igties minor es, in whose poetry there is not often grandeur
or height, indicate more or less clearly the changes that
took place in life and in poetry. The student can not, like
Burns, pass by "hunders nameless" poets and versifiers who
imitated their betters, but who prepared the way at the same
time for inspired poets like Blake and Wordsworth. Their
poetry is vital in a study that reflects forces which ultimate-
ly brought about epoch-making changes in the attitude of
men towards children in the home, in the school, and in

I -

Although no hard-and-fast delimitation of the years that
constitute childhood is necessary for the purpose of this
study, it will be helpful to observe the ages of children as
stated by men of letters themselves. Age is sometimes
specifically noted in the title, as in Prior's To A Child of
Quality (five years old, i/Oj, the author then forty). More
often the poet merely alludes to the child's age, with the
result tliat it is difficult to determine the exact boundaries
set for infancy, childhood, or youth. Cowper's To My


Cousin Anne Bodhani recalls her as no more "Than play-
thing for a nurse" ; she was "A kitten both in size and glee."
While comparing the ages of children in The Excursion
(III, 592-94), Wordsworth states that there was

no wider interval of time
Between their several births than served for one
To establish something of a leader's sway.

The line between infancy and childhood is usually vaguely
suggested, as in The Excursion, by stating that the boy had
"overpast the sinless age." Beattie is not specific in the
prefatory remarks to The Minstrel: his "design was to trace
the progress of a Poetical Genius, born in a rude age, from
the first dawning of fancy and reason till that period at
which he may be supposed capable of appearing in the
world as a Minstrel."

The paragraphs of Isaac Watts in the first half and those
of Rousseau after the middle of the century make it pos-
sible to construct a schedule of ages. For Watts the years
up to four constituted infancy; from four to eight, early
childhood; from eight to twelve, childhood; and after that,
youth. Rousseau carried infancy to the fifth year; child-
hood to the twelfth ; boyhood to the fifteenth ; and youth to
the twentieth year.

In Birth and Education of Genius, James Cawthom ap-
proximates Watts's age of four as closing the period of
infancy :

And Genius now 'twixt three and four,
Phoebus, according to the rule,
Resolved to send his son to school.

Wordsworth, on the other hand, holds closer to Rousseau's
age of five: at the age when Luke carried in his cheeks
"Two steady roses that were five years old," Michael first


made a shepherd's staff for him. Aaron Hill's The Dis-
tinction of Ages had carried the first period up to the seventh
year :

The seven first years of life (man's break of day),
Gleams of short sense, a dawn of thought display.

The ninth year was frequently chosen as the close of
childhood. Swift states in the Modest Proposal'. '1 have
no children hy which I can propose to get a single penny,
the youngest l^eing nine years old." Richardson wrote in
Clarissa Harlowe: "She never was left out of any party of
pleasure after she had passed her ninth year." In one of
the numerous letters in which he shows a true fatherly
tenderness for his son Philip Stanhope, Chesterfield reminds
the boy of his ninth birthday, after which he will no longer
be a child. Wordsworth is less precise in The Prelude. He
speaks of himself as "a child not nine years old," and many
of his recollections cluster about the period between nine
and ten in phrases like "Ere I had told ten birthdays," ''twice
five summers," and "twice five years or less." In Michael
the tenth year marks a period ; at that age, when Luke was
"full ten years old" and was able to stand against the moun-
tain blasts, Michael and his son were companions.

Although it is clear that they were using the word
"childhood" without strict regard for age, there is no real
inconsistency among poets in their notice of these varying
ages as markers of infancy and childhood. Modern child
psychology holds that "childhood is usually considered to
cover the period between infancy and puberty, or, roughly,
between the ages of 3 and 12"; but it also recognizes an
overlapping of jxTiods when tests are applied to determine
physical, emotional, or intellectual development.^ In the

» A Cyclopedia of Education, edited by Paul Monroe, s. v.
"Child Psychology."


lines recalling his boyhood friend, Wordsworth felt free
to change the reading of 1805, "ere he was ten years old", to

This boy was taken from his mates, and died

In childhood, ere he was full twelve years old. ^

While discussing charity children in his History of the
^Poor (1793), Thomas Ruggles seems to suggest that thir-
teen or fourteen was considered the close of childhood, at
which time the boy was expected to go to work. Mickle
refers to this transition in Commodore Johnstone :

As childhood closed, thy ceaseless toils began,
And toils and dangers ripened thee to man.

Transition seems to be indicated by Aaron Hill in The Dis-
tinction of Ages :

When fourteen springs have bloomed his downy cheek.
His soft and blushful meanings learn to speak.

In Ecclesiastical Sonnets (III, 23) Wordsworth gives
solemn expression to his regret that childhood can not be
extended beyond the age of Confirmation.

The Young-ones gathered in from hill and dale,

With holiday delight on every brow:

'Tis past away; far other thoughts prevail;

For they are taking the baptismal Vow

Upon their conscious selves; their own lips speak

The solemn promise. Strongest sinews fail.

And many a blooming, many a lovely, cheek

Under the holy fear of God turns pale;

While on each head his lawn-robed servant lays

An apostolic hand, and with prayer seals

1 See There zcas a Boy (1798), in Knight, Poems of William
Wordsworth, Macmillan, 1896, vol. II, page 58, footnote.


The Covenant. The Omnipotent will raise
Their feeble Souls; and bear with his regrets.
Who, looking round the fair assemblage, feels
That ere the Sun goes down their childhood sets. ^


Although tlie lines of Catullus, Martial, and Horace on
childhood are echoed in English poetry from Ben Jonson
to Pope and Gray, the limits of this study forbid even a
brief survey of childhood as it is noted in the Greek and
Latin literatures. It would, likewise, be impossible to do
justice to memorable passages in the Old and the New
Testament, and to the many beautiful medieval lyrics of
the Virgin and Child, the spirit of which is more or less
faithfully preserved in such anonymous songs of universal
ai)peal to the mother heart as My Sweet Szveeting, or Liilly,
lulla, thou little ti)iy child, and the homely lyric

Fayre niaydyn, who is this barn,
That thou beriste in thyn arme?

Neither does space allow even a glance at childhood as it is
frequently noticed elsewhere in Middle English literature,
for example in the Rrome miracle play Abraham and Isaac,
in Chaucer's penetrating lines, and in the Popular Ballads.

* Compare The Act, The Preservation of the Health and Morals
of Apprentices and Others Employed in Cotton and Other Mills,
and Cotton and Other Factories : June 22, 1802. One hour each
Sunday should be given to teaching the Christian religion, and Con-
firmation should take place between the fourteenth and eighteenth
years. It seems clear that Confirmation has been delayed beyond the
usual age of twelve or fourteen, probably because of industrial
abuses of child labor. Schedule C of the Act, for better regulation
of parish poc)r children within bills of mortality, passed in 1766,
shows that children were at work as early as the age of six. It
specifies: "Where sent if past Six Years of Age, and in what work


It is, however, necessary to glance at the poetn^ of the
seventeenth century. The appeahng child lyrics in the
period from the Earl of Surrey's The Age of Cliildren
Happiest to Henry Vaughan's The Retreate have no paral-
lels at the close of the seventeenth century.

Surrey's pensive mood does not prevent a frankly human
approach to his subject. Sir Philip Sidney's Child-Song
is not colored by moral or theological intentions: Sidney's
attitude toward the infant who can not sleep, although his
mother sings to him, is almost whimsical and, certainly,
human. Nicholas Breton's A Sweet Lullaby with rare
grace and beauty depicts a mother tenderly singing to her
child about the father who "false is fled away." Robert
Greene's Sephestia's Song to Her Child (from Menaphon)
has all the charm, tender humanity, and lilt of Elizabethan
lyrics on childhood.

Much of the charm of these lyrics survives in Jonson's
child poems, which, however, begin to show traces of new
literary methods characteristic of the classicist school.
Although his lyrics reveal a conscious striving for formal
beauty, Jonson is still close to the Elizabethan mood. His
lines On My First Daughter, On My First Son, and An
Epitaph on Salathiel Pavy breathe true parental tenderness.
In these poems the personal attitude allows the expression
of genuine sentiments. The last line of the poem on his
daughter echoes a classical convention, but the father's heart
is in the poem. For so genuine an expression of parental
grief as is found in the lines On My First Son, the reader
of poetry must wait more than one hundred years after
Jonson. ^

1 Compare On the Loss of an Only Son Robert Marquis of Nor-
manhy, by John Sheffield Duke of Buckinghamshire.


Several of Robert Herrick's lyrics combine with the
exquisite form of Jonson's poems a sympathetic insight
not to be found in verse at the close of the century. The
fomi and diction of his Epitaph Upon A Child and Upon A
Child that Dyed recall his master Jonson. A Grace for A
Child is characterized by six)ntaneous simplicity/ Her-
rick's To His Saviour, A Child; A Present, By A Child,
without losing sight of the human child, adds something of
the mystic fervor and spiritual suggestion common in the
most inspired passages on childhood in the seventeenth
centur}'. This element had already appeared in the well
known Burning Babe of Southwell. The most exalted ex-
pression of the mystic longing for childhood days and
moods is found in Henry Vaughan's The Retreate.

Happy those early days when I

Shined in my angel-infancy.

Before I understood this place

Appointed for my second race,

Or taught my soul to fancy aught

But a white, celestial thought;

When yet I had not walked above

A mile or two from my first love,

And looking back — at that short space —

Could see a glimpse of His bright face. . . .

With these immortal lines should be associated the para-
grajih penned by Bishop Earle in his Microcosmographie :
"A child is a man in a small letter. His soul is yet a white
paper unscribbled with observations of the world. . . .

1 Here a little child I stand.
Heaving up my either hand;
Cold as paddocks though they be,
Here I lift them up to thee,
For a bcnizon to fall
On our meat, and on us all. Amen.


He is purely happy, because he knows no evil. . . . Hee
kisses and loves all. And, when the smart of the rod is
past, smiles on his bearer. The elder hee grows hee is a
staire lower from God. Hee is the Christian's example,
and the old man's relapse. The one imitates his pureness,
the other his simplicity. Could hee put off his body with
his little coat, hee had got eternitie without a burthen, and
exchanged but one Heaven for another."

On the one hand lyrics of the Elizabethan age give
frankly human and vigorous expression to themes from
childhood, while on the other the deep insight of Vaughan
and Herrick clothes in tender lines their sense of ''some-
thing more" than physical reality. Childhood in the sense
of the Elizabethan singers and their followers, who in
Vaughan carried interpretation to its highest spiritual pos-
sibilities, disappears from English poetry until in the eigh-
teenth century those sentimental poets who prepared the
way for Wordsworth take up the theme again haltingly.

In Crashaw's Holy Nativity of Our Lord, the shepherds
are named Tityrus and Thyrsis. Milton's On the Morning
of Christ's Nativity contains allusions to Cynthia, Apollo,
and Delphos, and On the Death of a Fair Infant Dying of
a Cough to Jove, Elysian fields, and Olympus. In these
poems the tendency away from direct observation of chil-
dren and toward classical embellishment is as clear as in
Herrick's The Wounded Cupid. This poem reveals those
delightful toyings with the pagan Cupid which were to
dominate classicist complimentary verse ostensibly written
on the theme of childhood.

The education of the age was thoroughly classical. The
poets most studied, quoted, and imitated were those of
Greece and Rome. While exalting the classical standard,
men of letters restricted themselves largely to the methods


employed by Horace and Virgil. In imitating these poets,
they aimed to use subject-matter susceptible of treatment in
the manner which they considered classical.^

Poets of this school seldom show a vital conception of
childhood. Waller felt it necessary to justify his use of
English in the epitaph on the only son of Lord Andover;
and in a poem On English Verse he writes that poets who
seek a lasting reputation must carve in Latin or Greek.
It is hardly to be expected that poetry conceived in such a
mood will reveal a lively appreciation of children. Waller's
approach was artificial when he wrote that in the starry
night fond children cry for "the rich spangles that adorn
the sky." His favorite choice of theme and development
is typically illustrated in St. James Park. Children do
not appear in the one hundred and fifty lines of the poem;
but a thousand cupids ride the billows. The poem repre-
sents a conception in which human childhood can have no
part. The subject is embroidered with classicalities be-
cause the gallant poet is interested in fine compliments.
Only cupids, the spies of Thetis, are of use to him.

Abraham Cowley, who helped prepare the way for Dry-
den, and enjoyed a reading public deep into the eighteenth
century, also reveals tendencies that carried poets away from
the Elizabethan tradition. As his classical attainments are
closely bound up with his school life, he has enshrined
the memory of his teacher, Mr. Jordan, second master at
Westminster. The master's virtues, his great store of
learning, and his simple character are discerned with difficul-

1 In The Complete English Gentleman Defoe satirizes classi-
calities: "Not an author writes a pamphlet, not a poet a copy of
verses, no, not to his mistress, tho she knows nothing of the matter,
but he draws a bill upon Horace or Virgil or some of the old
chiming train, and talks as familiarly of them as if they had been
brought up together."


ty among generalizations and elaborations. The unwilling-
ness of the classicists to treat childhood in terms of common
observation, and their imitation of the style and diction of
Latin literature, are clearly indicated in the artificial Happy
Birth of the Duke, in which the child is the occasion rather
than the subject of the poem. There is a clumsy echo like

Time, which devours
Its own sons, will be glad and proud of yours.

Stilted phrases mar the effusion, which might have been
phrased as a poem of simple, unaffected childhood, for
Cowley, as private secretar}^ to Queen Henrietta Maria
during her exile, was intimately acquainted with those to
whom the poem is addressed.

Dryden's most appealing lines on childhood recall at
times the happy phrasing of Jonson, as in the Pastoral Elegy
on the Death of Amyntas and Death of a Very Young'
Gentleman. His beautiful lines in the latter poem reveal
the growing tendency to treat the child in terms of man-
hood. The custom of magnifying the helpless infant into
the stature of a man, in part explained by the particular
subject, is manifest in certain lines of Britannia Rediviva.

'Toetic diction" is in itself, as an ideal of elegance, un-
favorable to the portrayal of childhood. Addison's Princess
of Wales indicates how childhood serves merely as a point
of departure for strained compliments. The general re-
liance on conventional imagen- is obvious in a poem ad-
dressed to the House of Nassau by John Hughes, who
echoes the same classical parallel Dryden had employed in
his lines to the Stuarts. Addison's Campaign is a typical
illustration of the way childhood was noticed to heighten
effect in panegyrical verse. John Philipps's Blenheim reads
like an unconscious satire of the type. In the passage in


which Philipps depicts infant suffering to heighten the
destructiveness of war, the situation is generahzed and the
hues are crowded with pretentious phrases.

where cities stood,
Well-fenced and numerous, desolation reigns
And emptiness : dismayed, unfed, unhoused,
The widow and the orphan stroll around
The desert wide; with oft retorted eye
They view the gaping walls and poor remains
Of mansions once their own, (now loathsome haunts
Of birds obscene), bewailing loud the loss
Of spouse, or sire, or son, ere manly prime.
Slain in sad conflict, and complain of Fate
As partial and too rigorous, nor find
Where to retire themselves, or whence appease
The afflictive keen desire for food, exposed
To winds and storms and jaws of savage beasts.

f In the mood of the classicists, childhood was a period to
be rapidly passed over. Like Dryden, Pope also employs
the rapid generalized summary of infancy and childhood.^
Until he reaches the state of manhood in his summary. Pope
is not interested in details. The first two lines rapidly
carry the reader over the period of infancy, and the couplet
on childhood is noncommittal as to details.

Pope's Messiah was written in imitation of Virgil's Pol-
Ho. References to infancy are uninspired. In Pope's lines
the child becomes an "auspicious babe" and ''smiling in-
fant" who will play with the "crested basilisk and speckled
snake." It will look with pleasure upon the "green lustre"
of the scales, and will innocently play with the "forky
tongue." Such elaborated accessories are out of harmony

1 The classicists were undoubtedly indebted to a passage in
Horace's Ars Poetica for this. See Roscommon's translation. But
note also the speech of Jaques in As You Like It. — Essay on Man.


witli childhood.^ In fact, Pope was temperamentally not
fitted for the task of phrasing such a situation with Old
Testament simplicity. Homely surroundings were not con-
genial to his powers. "He had been at his best in the
speeches of the Iliad, and groaned heavily over the homely
scenes in Ithaca." Wordsworth cited Pope's Messiah as
an illustration of reprehensible diction.

Certain passages in John Gay's Trivia (1716) reveal a
close approach to realistic observation of childhood. Yet
even here Gay finds it necessary to use the machinery of
classical mythology. He traces the parentage and "secret
rise" of the "sable race" know^n as London bootblacks.
While writing of the "tide wdiose sable streams beneath the
city glide" he elaborates the legend of the goddess Cloacina.
She fell in love with a London streetsweeper and gave birth
to a child who "through various risks, in years improved."
Then follow^s a brief account of the first years in the life of
a London waif, with minute details of Holborn life, w^hich
as far as they go rival in vividness the circumstantial ac-

Online LibraryA. Charles (Adolph Charles) BabenrothEnglish childhood; Wordsworth's treatment of childhood in the light of English poetry from Prior to Crabbe → online text (page 1 of 29)