Sunday, February 05, 2006

Things to say, and Wordsworth & co.

Yesterday I felt as if I was the most boring person in the world and could never have anything else to write on this blog, which is pretty pathetic really as I am only writing it for myself -- though if anyone is interested, that's a real bonus. Today, I have lots to say - more to say than there is time, as I have to be out most of today helping my Dad celebrate his 80th birthday . Why is this? Why don't I realise when I'm out of any "outward-looking" thought that I know I'll recover pretty soon? At my age I should be more self-aware, surely, having been the rounds on this millions (literally) of times? Anyway, Malcolm is reading his way through Simon Scharma's History of Britain and has got to vol 3. (Vol 1 covers a huge swathe of time, something like prehistoric to 1485; vol 2 about 400 years and vol 3 about 100 years -- such is history, at least in Scharma's view.) In this bit Malcolm has got to, Scharma is writing about Hazlitt's disgust with Wordsworth and Coleridge for betraying their radical roots. Apparently Wordsworth is supporting the Tory government, producing stamps for Westmoreland (a sinecure) and supporting the rotten borough system/aristocracy. Hazlitt is bereating Wordsworth and Coleridge for these and other henious sins. I had a whole set of reactions to this information. First, I had no idea that W and C changed in this way, as I have rather a romantic view of them (in common with the rest of the world I imagine), so I felt pretty embarrassingly ignorant. This made me want to read Scharma's book, hence I inwardly groaned becuase how the hell can I ever do that (Malcolm has been reading them on and off for what seems like 2 years)? Then I thought about Hazlitt's views, and that what he was describing is human nature. Radicalism and idealism are essentially youthful. We can look around us at politicians and other people in public life who had radical pasts (many leading members of the UK Labour party for example), and see how far they have moved to the opposite view. I guess this process might be more marked in the UK than in the US, as over here you don't have to be rich to get into public life, whereas there it is a pre-requisite. And if you start out rich, I think you are less likely to be a radical youth (more likely a spoiled youth). I digress (as usual). My point is, when people are young, they are "against" the established order, wanting to bring it down to create something better. As they get older, they acquire "responsibilities", children, mortgage, job with pension, etc. They fear that society won't look after them or their family if they get sick and old, etc. So they become what they used to hate, and turn out like Wordsworth, issuing stamps for Westmoreland. Of course, many noble people don't turn out like this. Noam Chomsky, John Pilger and many others remain wonderfully unreconstructed, becoming even more radical (and quite possibly, unrealistic) as they get older and witness more and more of the cruel events that can happen in this world. (All that Hazlitt stuff, I believe without having checked, reflected the upheaval of radical thinking and political extremism that surfaced in England in the light of the French Revolution. Attitudes in England among the "literary and radical thinkers" to events over the channel swung about wildly, especially when the aristocrats' heads began tumbling.) I am naive and ignorant about politics. There is a wonderful collection of media articles on that most excellent and life-affirming site, Perceval Press (in "my favorite sites" on the right), on this type of topic, as well as a thoughtful collection of links to many fascinating sources.