What Has Man Made of Man? an Examination of Science, Technology, and Society Through the Works of W. Wordsworth

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The literary Romantic Period was rife with advances in the technological and scientific sectors. On the tail end of the Enlightenment era which ushered in the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the world had become an ever-changing place with the beginnings of the profession that we today call engineering and numerous advances in astronomy and mathematics (Bunch and Hellemans 233). A common theme of W. Wordsworth was that these changes were both harmful to the human nature and alienating to the “common man.”

In order to truly investigate the views of Wordsworth, one must first understand the context of the time period, and in order to do that we must first look to the Enlightenment era and the changes in thinking that it brought about. What is known as the Enlightenment signifies the promotion of rational thinking in the eighteenth century; thinking that endorsed culture and reason, rather than nature or religion, as the grounds for solving problems and conflicts…. Wordsworth struggled with these ideas because he believed that one could only learn what it means to be human through a relationship with nature. (Mason 24) This excerpt from The Cambridge Introduction to William Wordsworth combined with his works “The World is Too Much with Us” and “Lines Written in Early Spring” makes it very simple to see that Wordsworth was very much against the pursuit of science and technology, and believed it to be incredibly harmful to the human race.

Wordsworth was a man who felt that human nature was much more spiritual than the scientific authors of the Enlightenment Age, and as such rejected the idea that life should be spent pursuing logic and reason and instead that nature and relative chaos held the key to what defines humanity. This is particularly evident in “Lines Written in Early Spring”, with its melancholic overtones lamenting “What man has made of man” (Wordsworth 280). Within the poem, he finds himself looking over nature’s beauty and its links to his own human soul, but instead of being able to feel at ease, he instead feels sorrow that many people are ignorant of this feeling.

At no point in “Lines Written in Early Spring” does Wordsworth directly or indirectly mention technology, science, or anything related directly to logic or reasoning, so instead we must look to his notes in the preface from the 1802 version of Lyrical Ballads in order to glean the proper context needed to connect the two. Throughout the preface, Wordsworth makes indirect reference to the Enlightenment era works, and contrasts his own works against them, pointing out his intentions to stir emotions within the reader. He also alludes to his work holding more purpose than the work of many of his contemporaries and predecessors, which would include the writings on logic, reasoning, science, and technology that came from the Enlightenment era. Both of these points together can lead us to believe that anytime Wordsworth is referencing the nature of man, he is providing his ideas as an antithesis to the ideas of the Enlightenment authors (Wordsworth 293-304).

In the final two lines of “Lines Written in Early Spring”, Wordsworth asks the reader “Have I not reason to lament/What man has made of man?” (Wordsworth 280). In some ways this is a rhetorical question, not meant for an answer, but it actually has a hidden question that is answered by the interpretation of the poem, “what has man made of man?” (Wordsworth 280). Ready interprets the poem and the answer as, “Just as we have become disconnected from external nature, we have become alien to the human nature that should connect us to our kind” (225), but it is my belief that the phrase perhaps goes even deeper than this. The unspoken question is actually asked to require the audience to think about the cost of our newfound love of industrial progression. Wordsworth does not necessarily feel as though people are ignorant for being infatuated with the new virtues of science and...
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