How are industrialism and the quest for knowledge and discovery during the Romantic period evident in Wordsworth's "The Ruined Cottage" and "Tintern Abbey"?

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In both "The Ruined Cottage" and "Tintern Abbey" the speakers find knowledge and discovery in nature and memory. Both poems also allude to industrialism, though "The Ruined Cottage" does so more directly.

In "The Ruined Cottage" the narrator comes upon a ruined cottage and learns the fate of its inhabitants from his friend Armytage. Armytage tells him the story of Margaret and her husband. The couple lived in the cottage and spun cloth on a loom. While industrialism is not mentioned directly, it is alluded to. We learn of the "hardship of that season" and that suffering was "a common tale." It seems that factory-produced cloth, made cheaply on giant, steam-powered looms, was driving simple cottagers, who did their work by hand, out of business and into poverty. We are not told this directly. We instead learn the following:

’twas now
A time of trouble; shoals of artisans
Were from their daily labour turned away
To hang for bread on parish charity,
They and their wives and children—

We discover late in the poem confirmation that Margaret and her husband's household economy relied on making cloth:

Yet I saw the idle loom
Still in its place.

Because he can no longer earn a living with his loom, Margaret's husband joins the army and is never heard from again. Margaret herself also dies.

We also learn of Margaret's pure and simple love for nature:

Yet still
She loved this wretched spot, nor would for worlds
Have parted hence

Armytage imparts his key discovery to the narrator by asking, "Why should we grieve?" Nature, he has learned, imparts calm. Although the cottagers came to a tragic end, we can remember, as Armytage does, "an image of tranquillity" from the ruined cottage. Therefore, we should view "the sorrow and despair" he has recounted as an "idle dream" and instead be happy:

Be wise and chearful, and no longer read
The forms of things with an unworthy eye.
She sleeps in the calm earth, and peace is here.
I well remember that those very plumes,
Those weeds, and the high spear-grass on that wall,
By mist and silent rain-drops silver’d o’er,
As once I passed did to my heart convey
So still an image of tranquillity,
So calm and still, and looked so beautiful
Amid the uneasy thoughts which filled my mind,
That what we feel of sorrow and despair
From ruin and from change, and all the grief
The passing shews of being leave behind,
Appeared an idle dream that could not live
Where meditation was. I turned away
And walked along my road in happiness.”

In "Tintern Abbey," Wordsworth never alludes directly to industrialism. However, in Philip Shaw's "An Introduction to 'Tintern Abbey,'" Shaw quotes William Gilpin's observations about the area around Tintern Abbey:

In Observations on the River Wye (1782) Gilpin notes that "Many of the furnaces on the banks of the river consume charcoal which is manufactured on the spot, and the smoke (which is frequently seen issuing from the sides of the hills, and spreading its thin veil over a part of them) beautifully breaks their lines, and unites them with the sky."

Wordsworth writes on a similar subject when he says the following:
wreaths of smoke
Sent up, in silence, from among the trees!
Wordsworth speculates that the smoke comes from hermits' cottages, but critics such as Shaw identify the smoke with industrialism, an industrialism Wordsworth deliberately screened out of this pastoral poem.
As in "The Ruined Cottage," in "Tintern Abbey" the narrator finds knowledge and self-discovery in nature and memory. As he returns to the ruins of Tintern Abbey and the natural beauty around it after an absence of five years, he notes he is less ruled by passion in his love of nature than he was as a younger man. Then, he loved natural things for themselves and "had no need of a remoter charm."
As he has matured, however, he has discovered God's presence in nature:
For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue.—And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime ...
Now, measuring himself against the memory of his younger self, he realizes how much more he finds and appreciates the divine in nature.
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
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