What is Wordsworth criticizing when he speaks of the church, the military, and writers (altar, sword and pen) in London, 1802?I understand the crux of the poem; however, I am lacking a historical...

What is Wordsworth criticizing when he speaks of the church, the military, and writers (altar, sword and pen) in London, 1802?

I understand the crux of the poem; however, I am lacking a historical context (besides the french and industrial revolutions).  What exactly was it about the church, British military, and writers of his time that he despised?  Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It seems like Wordsworth is criticizing entities that do not embrace the individuality within each person.  The notion of the military, church, and writers that preceded Romanticism's lauding of the individual were collectivizing entities.  They created a state of being where individual identity was forced into a conformist mass.  In Wordsworth's mind, this took away from the authentic and individual experience of the singular narrative of a person.  These entities took from the uniquely distinctive experience of an individual, their appreciation of beauty, and their full immersion in the world.  In Wordsworth's mind, these institutions sought to tell or dictate to the individual how their lives should be lived, and what to do, as opposed to individuals listening to their own voice, following their own passions, and experiencing a life where specific individuals are their own authors of their own narratives.

epollock | Student

Wordsworth’s picture of the whole of England (including London, where the poem was written) verges on its heroic, political past. He views prior institutions as positive models to instruct people on how to act and live. Not only was their societal upheaval, as in your correctly stated events of the French and Industrial Revolutions but also the American Revolution as well.

1802 was also a time of personal upheaval for Wordsworth as he started an affair with a French woman that later bore him a child. Wordsworth was perhaps searching for his "inward happiness" that he himself was never quite satisfied with, and considered himself one of the "selfish men."(6)