What are Blake and Wordsworth saying about a child's point of view versus an adult's? How might the artistic, political, and social trends of the time period influence the beliefs of these two...
What are Blake and Wordsworth saying about a child's point of view versus an adult's? How might the artistic, political, and social trends of the time period influence the beliefs of these two writers? To what extent do you agree or disagree with their ideas?
Blake and Wordsworth maintain that children have an innocence that adults have lost. Wordsworth famously wrote that the "child is the father of the man," meaning that because he is younger, the child is closer to the divine source. Children are born "trailing clouds of glory" from God--they are better reflections of God's goodness than adults. Blake, likewise, wrote his Songs of Innocence from a child's point of view, believing the child has a purity and clarity of vision that gradually is lost through interactions with a corrupt society.
In the 17th century, people widely believed that children were born with a capacity for evil that had to be eradicated. They needed to be trained so as to quash their natural tendencies to selfishness and violence. Their wills needed to be broken. By the 18th century, this concept of the child as evil was contested more and more. As Europeans increasingly had contacts with native people, there developed a growing interest in the "Noble Savage," the person who was considered to be naturally good and pure because he was untouched by a corrupt society. Thinkers increasingly began to believe that evil was not an innate part of the human psyche but a social construction. Philosophers such as John Locke floated the idea that the child was a "tabula rasa" or blank slate who could be molded for good or ill, while Rousseau popularized the idea of the child as innocent. This was also the beginning of the period, especially in the early 19th century, where children came to be seen as a distinct group with its own characteristics rather than as miniature adults.
The Romantic poets, which their interest in primitivism, natural language, and common people, and their rejection of overly rigid civilization and its forms, tended to see in the child a wild, innocent, natural creature, as yet unspoiled by the culture, someone who could move adult hearts and teach them how to live with greater simplicity, innate morality, and joy.
In today's society, we live somewhere in the middle between the two poles of the child as evil and the child as innocent. We definitely see children as different from adults and do our best to protect them from harm and evil influences, but we tend not to invest them with a superior morality to adults.