In 1844, the proposed Kendal and Windermere
rail line threatened to violate William Wordsworth's precious lakes district.
He responded with a literary campaign against the line. Wordsworth wrote
poems and letters that were published in the Morning Post to gain
the support of the public and specifically address the members of the Board
of Trade and the House of Commons. In his letters, Wordsworth is:
Clearly representing a minority, he speaks with both a sense of his argument’s limited popular authority, overriding sense of it’s rightness notwithstanding, and a desire to extend this authority as possible into the public sphere” (Mulvihill, 311).In his first letter to the Morning Post published on October 16, 1844, Wordsworth first claimed that there was no need for a rail in close proximity to the Lakes district. He stated that there were no manufacturers, quarries nor a substantial agriculture base to warrant the intrusion. After refuting the need, Wordsworth turned on the main argument for introducing rails into the district:
The projectors have induced many to favor their schemes by declaring that one of their main objects is to place the beauties of the Lake District within easier reach of these who cannot afford to pay for ordinary conveyances (Mulvihill, 148).Wordsworth understands that the corporate faction need only to prove the utility of a rail for it to be taken seriously, he writes “Utilitarianism, serving as a mask for cupidity and gambling speculations” (Mulvihill, 312). Wordsworth responds to this proposal by humbly explaining that members of the working class would not have the capacity to appreciate the “beauty” and “character of seclusion and retirement” that the Lakes District had to offer. He states quite plainly that “a vivid perception of romantic scenery is neither inherent in mankind, nor a necessary consequence of a comprehensive education.” He concludes this letter by stating that bringing many travelers into the district would destroy the beauty they had come to enjoy. He says, “Let then the beauty be undisfigured and the retirement unviolated” (Selincourt,156).
This first letter was not received well; William
was quoted in a letter to a friend responding to the opposition, “They
actually accuse me of desiring to interfere with the innocent enjoyments
of the poor, by preventing this district becoming accessible to them by
a railway” (Mulvihill, 306). Wordsworth’s
second letter to the Morning Post dated December 9, 1844, searches
to explain his position regarding the working class more thoroughly and
carefully. In the very first paragraph he states:
The scope pf the main argument, it will be recollected, was to prove that the perception of what has acquired the name of picturesque and romantic scenery is so far from being intuitive, that it can be produced only by a slow and gradual process of culture.
Wordsworth claims that with the influx of strangers the railway promises could potentially estrange the local poor and wreak moral havoc upon the Lake District, “There cannot be a doubt that the Sabbath day in the towns of Bowness and Ambleside, and other parts of the district, would be subject to much additional desecration” (Selincourt, 155).
The Furness Abby issue gave Wordsworth hope;
he wrote that the antiquity was able to be saved by finding an alternative
around it. This led him to conclude that the Lakes district was just as
worthy of saving:
Sacred as a relic of the devotion of our ancestors deserves to be kept, there are temples of Nature, temples built by the Almighty, which have still higher claim to be left un-violated (Selincourt, 162).The railway will intrude upon this ‘temple’ as Wordsworth sees it. To back his claim that the rail itself will ruin the beauty of the district he draws upon an example of a road that was built on the eastern side of the Lake of Grasmere and of a passage in the Alps. Here he inserts 19 lines of an MS poem that revel in the beauty of a particular pass in the Alps as the poet saw it. Wordsworth then claims that he saw the same path thirty years later and due to the intrusion of a road it was no longer the pristine landscape it once was. Throughout both his letters Wordsworth inserts literary references. This was most likely due to the fact that they related to his line of work. However, he may also have know that many of the people who would read his letters would probably have admired his poetic career and so including this medium in his letters would help to sway them to his side of the opposition, if they are already pre-disposed to identify with poetics.
Wordsworth concludes this final letter with a disclaimer to prevent anyone from claiming that his arguments were based on selfish initiatives:
I have now done with the subject. The time of my life at which I have arrived may, I trust, if nothing else will guard me from the imputation of having written from any selfish interests, or from fear of disturbance which a railway might cause to myself.Again he returns to the issue of the working classes taking excursions to the Lake District. Reverting to a harsh tone he exclaims, “As for holiday pastimes, if a scene is to be chosen suitable to them for persons thronging from a distance, it may be found elsewhere at less cost of every kind” (Selincourt, 166).
Although Wordsworth was not a politician of any sort he was able to gain much fame during his lifetime. He exploited this position during the battle against the Kendal and Windermere line. He was relatively tactful in his communications with the public and was probably successful at gaining support through his literary campaign.