«Heyman, Michael Benjamin (1999) Isles of Boshen : Edward Lear's literary nonsense in context. PhD thesis. Copyright and ...»
criminality,"249 Wordsworth glorifies the violence. Contrary to Spiegelman's reading, this butterfly is not wreaking nostalgic revenge on its fonner tyrant, but allowing the adult to look back nostalgically upon a situation grounded in aggression. He recognizes the kinder impulses in the sister Emmeline but nevertheless revels in "our childish plays" (I. 11) of reckless abandon. It is the same "wild" child which Wordsworth shows in "Nutting," though in this case the child himself learns a lesson from his violence. This child is rough and destructive, forcing his way through the woods, and finally in the climactic act of violence, "dragged to earth both branch and bough, with a crash / And merciless ravage... " (11.41-43). The child "exults" in his victory, even though he feels a "sense of pain." The adult poetic voice does not entirely condemn the actions of the child. The moral at the end only expresses a more mature sentiment, which does not reflect or have significance on the actions of the child who helped the adult to arrive at it. The child's actions, their "Past violence, transmuted, becomes a source of unending creativity''250 and in this transfonnation, the actions of the child are exonerated. There is a certain glory in the child who could instigate the action and even have a "sense" of the enonnity of his trespasses.
This admiration for the result of violence is similar to Keats's reaction to a common brawl in a letter to his brother and sister-in-law on 17 March, 1819: ''Though a quarrel in the streets is a thing to be hated, the energies displayed in it are fine.... By a superior being our reasoning[s] may take the same tone--though erroneous they may be fine. ''251 As Keats explains, ugly actions may pass from the condemnable to the commendable when viewed from a different perspective. Wordsworth's poetic voice does not excuse the "bad" actions of the child; on the contrary, as he shows in "Characteristics of a Child three Years Old,"
the child's actions are happily justified by innocence:
249Willard Spiegelman, Wordsworth's Heroes (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press: 1985), p. 59.
2S0Jonathan Wordsworth, William Wordsworth, The Borders o/Vision (Oxford: Oarendon Press, 19~2). p.
73. This is in reference to Wordsworth's 'The Danish Boy."
251 From a serial letter to the George Keatses, in Keats's Letters, II, 80.
Her innocence does not excuse, does not mitigate, but "dignifies" these actions.
Wordsworth gives what are normally called childish transgressions a "dignity" previously unimagined. Rousseau comes the closest to appreciating such qualities, but for him they exist because of an intrinsic lack of formed character, instead of a bounty of positive character attributes. The Romantic child thus would respond favourably to Lear's nonsense, which celebrates joy, and shows an equal glorification of such childlike tendencies of what adults might call "erroneous" behaviour.
The basis of the Romantic tendency to compare children and animals in a positive light, aside from the obvious behavioral similarities, perhaps comes from the idea of the "One Life" which was popular with the younger Wordsworth and Coleridge, and in a different way, Blake. No longer are the worlds of the brute creation and humanity spiritually separated. There is
Or as Coleridge writes, '''Tis God / Diffused through all, that doth make all one whole. ''252 Such sentiments as these, though Wordsworth and Coleridge did not maintain them throughout their careers, are one possible reason for supporting a new kinship not just between animals and children, but also for other traditionally marginalized groups such as the working classes, "savages," or women. Though Blake did not have the same pantheistic or Unitarian leanings, he did envision a unifying force behind creation, which he illustrates quite simply in many of the Songs of Innocence, such as in the Laughing
Song, which describes all creation laughing together:
2S2Religious i\;fusings, 11. 130-31, from Samuel Taylor Colerid~e, Coleridge: p'0etical Works, ed. ~rnest Hartley Coleridge (Oxford: OUP, 1%9).. \11 references to Colendge' s poetry Will be taken from this \"OIUlll~ unless othenvise noted.
The children here come in the middle of a long list of laughing creatures and natural forces, showing their natural place in the midst of a unified creation. As Babenroth states, "Blake... in place of acknowledging a line of demarcation between the child and the natural phenomena of animal life, identifies the child spirit with that of the animal by a perception of the underlying unity that binds all creation. ''253 This unity is most pronounced in the child's domain, the state of innocence, as many of the lyrics demonstrate; the state of experience exposes the alienation between self and other of humanity's fallen state. 254 Though Blake distrusted the natural world, his unified ontological viewpoint had a similar result regarding his concept of the child. In terms of the One Life, the moral worth of the natural world as seen by Wordsworth, and somewhat by the younger Coleridge, adds further dignity to animals, hence making favourable comparisons with children possible.
No longer does a child-animal comparison signify a deprecatory reference to the brute sensation and amorality of blind nature; the unity of all creation ensures that every birdsong is not without its moral connection to the whole.
As there is an abundance of animal imagery in Romantic descriptions of the child, I will briefly give a few examples which I find most representative. It is not surprising that Wordsworth presents us with the most animal references, far more than can be handled here, and in most of them, the comparison goes beyond metaphor. Several of his poems are about children raised in the wild, such as "Ruth" and ''The Idle Shepherd-Boys." The kinship of nature and the child in "Ruth," for example, ends when the child grows up. As a child, "An infant of the wood" (1. 12), she plays an "oaten pipe" in harmony with her surroundings, but as an adult ''That oaten pipe of hers is mute, / Or thrown away" (II. 241showing her alienation from her childhood relationship to nature. Coleridge also uses the motif of the child brought up in the wild in ''The Foster-Mother's Tale," \\'hich describes the progress of "a baby wrapt in mosses, lined / With thistle-beards, and such small locks of wool/As hang on brambles" (11. 24-26) who grows up "most unteachable" 253Babenroth, p. 280.
254Jenijoy La Belle, The Echoing Wood o/Theodore Roethke (Princeton: Princeton l'P, 19"76), pp. 5'-' -8.
except in the ways of nature, and who, still a youth, triumphantly escapes to the savages on the American continent. More frequently in Wordsworth's poetry, the child is directly and favourably compared to animals for far more than their outward behaviour. Reflecting his Rousseauistic inheritance, the young Wordsworth in Tintern Abbey is compared to a roe which "bounded o'er the mountains, by the sides / Of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams, / Wherever nature led... " (11. 69-71). Like an animal, the child is led by nature for his physical and spiritual benefit. The child of ''Three years she grew in sun and shower" is also raised by Nature's caring hand, though not in isolation, as with Ruth. All creatures and elements unite in educating the young Lucy, who "shall be sportive as the fawn / That wild with glee across the lawn / Or up the mountain springs" (11. 13-15). The fawn here is not simply exuberant and "wild," but motivated by "glee," an anthropomorphic description further blurring the human and animal. Such comparisons as these recur frequently in Wordsworth's description of children, erasing the distinctions between them and the animal world. 255 Though Blake's ideological motivation may be somewhat different from Wordsworth's, his portrayal of children is often outwardly similar. In ''The Little Girl Lost," Lyca, a seven-year-old child, is lost in the "desert wild," (1. 21) lured on, it seems, by the "wild birds' song" (1. 16). Even though Lyca is lost in a dangerous desert, she is unafraid, expressing concern only for her parents' sake. She lays down to sleep in the desert and the "beasts of prey," including lions, leopards, and tigers, gather and "gambol" in reverence around her. The animals first undress the child and then take her away to a cave. In ''The Little Girl Found," her parents search for her and finally find the lion, who attacks them but then, after smelling them, realizes that they are Lyca's parents. The lion then appears as a crowned golden spirit and reunites the family in his palace. They live from then onward without fear of "the wolfish howl, / Nor the lions' growl" (11. 51-52).
In this striking poem which deals with complicated issues of sexual maturity, the child instinctively feels secure in what she sees as a natural world no different from herself-
innocent and loving, and her confidence proves to be justified. It is interesting to note that the lioness undresses the girl before taking her away, as if to emphasize, in addition to the sexual undertones, the girl's natural state and association with her protectors. When her parents come in search of her, the lion attacks, though we cannot be sure of his motivation.
While the lion deeply respects a sleeping child, he attacks adults without provocation or
hesitation. The second poem ends almost with a moral, at least for the family involved:
they have seen the benevolence of even the most fearsome beasts and never need fear them.
Throughout these poems, we witness the spiritual kinship of all creation; just as the child is made more animal-like, so the lion reveals his spiritual, and more "human" side, by his regal accoutrements. As Babenroth states, Blake goes beyond the conventional "be kind to animals" children's poem "into a vital dramatization of animal life in tenns of the humanitarian spirit that had begun to pervade all classes of English people... " (p. 286).
This kinship with the animal creation marks many of Blake's other works, including 'The Ry," "On Another's Sorrow," and "Spring." In all cases, the child and animal are favourably combined, showing their spiritual likeness.
In nineteenth-century children's literature such bad behaviour, whether related to the treatment of animals or not, usually has immediate castigatory consequences. This tradition was kept alive in works like Watts's Divine and Moral Songs, which give the dire
consequences for lying in "Against Lying":
In some ways, mid-Victorian children's literature had not gone very far from Watts, who remained popular throughout the period. 256 As Reinstein comments, "most children's novels of the 1830's to 1860's [sic] hold that mischief, far from being amusing, is sinful and the product of a damnable soul. ''257 Even minor behavioural offences may be 256Percy Muir, English Children's Books, p. 58.
257Reinstein, p. 79. Reinstein shows the exce~tions to this rule, in Sinclair's l!olidav House (1839) and Marryaf s Masterman Ready (1841), but such lemency would not become more wldel y acceptable, let alone popular, until the latter half of the century.
considered to have dire practical and spiritual consequences, as Mary Sherwood demonstrates in The History of the Fairchild Family (1818-1847): Augusta Noble, much like Hoffmann's Harriet in Struwwelpeter, bums herself to death, ending her life in sin.
Because "Miss Augusta was brought up without the fear of God, ''258 she disobeys her parents by playing with fire. She is found by the maid, "all in a blaze, from head to footL.. poor Miss Augusta was so dreadfully burnt, that she never spoke afterwards, but died in agonies last night--a warning to all children how they presume to disobey their parents!" (p. 156). Augusta dies with "not one moment for thought or repentance; and it is well known that Lady Noble never taught her any thing concerning God and her Redeemer" (p. 159). For disobedience to parents, the hymn after this episcxle threatens plague and damnation. It concludes with another graphic punishment: ''The ravens shall pick out his eyes, / And eagles eat the same!" (p. 162).
The second half of the nineteenth century did see some change in attitude towards the "wild" child. After the popularity of pioneers like Lear and Sinclair, the later Victorians found acceptable in certain circumstances the approving but usually heavily qualified portrayal of a more "wild" child, particularly in the new boys' adventure stories such as Thomas Mayne Reid's The Rifle Rangers (1850), H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines (1885), and those found in magazines like Boys of England (1866-1874). Other works, like Tom Brown's School Days (1857) did much to display the rough-and-ready quintessential English schoolboy. The male child was allowed to misbehave in the cause of right, adventure, and simply being male. But these stories were for older boys (age difference now being accounted for in the industry of children's books); those for younger children, and girl's books adopted sentimentalized portrayals of children. Girl's stories did find a place for the "wild" child, but for a watered-down, harmless version of that which Lear or the boys' writers portrayed. In girls' books, however, the trend came quite late, in the 1880s, with books like L.T. Meade's The Autocrat of the Nursery or Stella Austin's Stumps (1873). Even in these works bad behaviour would only be tolerated if the children 258Mary Sherwood, The History of the Fairchild Family; or, The Child's,\1anual: Bein~ ~ collection of stories calculaled to shew the importance and effects of a religious eduction, 1818, 2nd editIon (London: J.
lIatchard, 1818), p. 155.