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Commentary on Wordsworth's The Old Cumberland Beggar

Commentary on Wordsworth's The Old Cumberland Beggar - 1...

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1) Wordsworth’s note on “The Old Cumberland Beggar” The old Cumberland Beggar. Observed & with great benefit to my own heart when I was a child—written at Race Down & Alfoxden in my 23d. year. The political economists were about that time beginning their war upon mendicity [ie begging] in all its forms & by implication, if not directly, on Alms-giving also. This heartless process has been carried as far as it can go by the amended poor-law bill, tho' the inhumanity that prevails in this measure is somewhat disguised by the profession that one of its objects is to throw the poor upon the voluntary donations of their neighbours, that is, if rightly interpreted, to force them into a condition [113] between relief in the union poor House & Alms robbed of their Christian grace & spirit, as being forced rather from the benevolent than given by them, while the avaricious & selfish, & all in fact but the humane & charitable, are at liberty to keep all they possess from their distressed brethren. 2) Problems in reading “The Old Cumberland Beggar”: Cleanth Brooks In the Fenwick note on "The Old Cumberland Beggar," Wordsworth tells us that the poem was written in his twenty-eighth year at a time when the "political economists were . . . beginning their war upon mendicity in all its forms, and by implication if not directly, on Almsgiving also." This war upon mendicity Wordsworth calls a "heartless process" and there is, of course, no reason to doubt Wordsworth's fervor in terming it such. Yet to modern ears Wordsworth's own attitude toward the beggar may seem somewhat heartless: he does not want the old beggar shut up within doors; he wants him to be unconfined, able to pursue his usual rounds. He wants him to have the advantages of solitude and, as the last two lines of the poem indicate, to be able to die in the eye of nature "as in the eye of nature he has lived." These are not modern sentiments. That the old man should be allowed to wander on the roads and in various weathers is something that the modern humanitarian feels to be cruel treatment. And indeed, a superficial reading of this poem might very well convey the impression that Wordsworth primarily wanted the beggar to remain, even though to his own discomfort, a kind of picturesque adornment to the countryside or a means for prompting in the people of the countryside moral feelings which otherwise they might not experience. Wordsworth thus may seem to contemplate the beggar as he might a noble stag or any other fine wild animal that ought not be penned up but allowed to live out its own life at large in nature. Wordsworth, to be sure, regards man as nobler than any mere animal, but the argument does take something of this form: like in old stag, the beggar deserves to live out his days unconfined, ind to be allowed to die in his native habitat.
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