Children were severely abused during the 18th century; they were used, by the poor, as a means to money through child labour or prostitution. The industrial revolution saw children working long hours with the extremely dangerous machinery and equipment in the factories. The infant mortality rates were also very high during the 18th century. The romantics saw childhood as the most important period of time in a person’s life where one is closest to nature than he would ever be through his innocence and spirituality.
Wordsworth shows how much one can learn from children through his poem ‘Anecdote for fathers’. The father feels he could not ‘teach the hundredth part’ of what he learns from his child, here we see the Romantic’s beliefs of equality, where the commonly impotent child has actually taught his father, an adult, the lie that is born from love. The use of ‘hundredth’ exemplifies the extent of knowledge that the child has passed on to the father, which is the art of lying born in love and sensitivity.
From this the child has taught the father the innocent, if not pure, form of lying which seems so alien to the brutal and sinful lying in the adult world, Wordsworth seems to highlight this with the extent of the fathers astonishment at his child. The Romantics often pressed upon the children’s closeness to nature, Wordsworth presents the children in Rusting settings.
In ‘The idiot boy’ the constant reference to the ‘moon that shines so bright’ gives the reader a contrast of a romantic and peaceful image against the ‘bustle’ of human activity, also the fact that Johnny is ‘beneath’ and is ‘not more still or mute than he’ shows he is in sync with the moon, and nature. It is also noticeable that Edward, in the ‘Anecdote for fathers’, prefers the rural setting that his family have moved to.
Also, The romantics view of children is made evident in ‘We are seven’, the ‘cottage girl’ described to have a ‘rustic and woodland air’ reflects the Romantic view of children as wild, children of nature and in this there is a suggestion of true ‘beauty’, the fact that this child is a peasant, from the agricultural class shows the Romantics idyllic view of children living in this setting, so close to the all important nature to the extent where they may represent nature on a whole as is noticeable in ‘We are seven’.
The narrator personas in the two poems ‘We are seven’ and ‘Anecdote for fathers’ are shown to be insensitive of children’s feelings. The narrator in ‘We are seven’ is shown to be persistent, saying that her two siblings ‘are dead! ‘, We see the narrator forcing the child to face a different sort of reality, far from her own. His emphatic speech and the fact that he concludes that he was ‘throwing words away’ show that, even till the end of the poem, the adult does not understand that the child is a child and her innocence is something that cannot or should not be taken away.
This is also evident in ‘Anecdote for fathers’, the adult holds the child ‘by the arm’ intimidating the child into giving an answer and his persistence by asking the child ‘five times’ seems to put further pressure on the child even though the father knows the child has lied to keep him happy. This injustice to the child is suggested through out the poem, the father has asked an unfair question to the child, making him feel guilty and obliged to lie, as it was the parents choice to move – not the child’s.
These intimidating figures in the poems reflect real life where adults do look down upon children and do intimidate them, the Romantics insistence upon equality and the importance of childhood meant that these attitudes were highlighted in their poems, forcing the reader to think more deeply about their attitudes to children. The conversational style of the poems gives the reader a feeling of closeness to them. We see that in ‘Anecdote for fathers’ the Narrator is speaking in 1st person narrative, and in ‘The idiot boy’ there is a sense of a fellow villager talking to the reader, highlighted by ‘Oh reader…
‘, this direct relationship between the reader and the poem seems characteristic of Lyrical Ballads and gives idea of a certain intimacy. Also with the use of ‘… dear brother Jim’ in the opening line of ‘We are seven’, Wordsworth reinforces the idea of the poems being artless creations along with the ideas of simple diction – making the poems colloquial texts, they appear to be conversations of everyday members of the British public at that time.
With these characteristics in these poems Wordsworth presents the Romantics beliefs about childhood embedded within every day events making the ideas seem more significant. Wordsworth’s aims to reflect everyday life in his work is further highlighted by the ballad form in ‘We are seven’ and ‘The idiot boy’. The Rhyme and rhyme and rhythm in ‘We are seven’ give pace and support the poem, emphasising the child’s strong character and the frustration that the narrator feels.
The ballad form seems almost mandatory in ‘The idiot boy’ where we see a dramatic scene within ordinary folk, as well as emphasising the narrators feelings, which Wordsworth shows to be strong. As ballads have strong associations with childhood and are often in simple language, the Romantics in the 18th century adopted this form of writing and, in doing so, highlighted the key ideas of childhood, the innocence and connection with nature, in their poems which Wordsworth ahs clearly demonstrated in ‘We are seven’ and ‘The idiot boy’.
Overall, the poems ‘We are seven’, ‘The idiot boy’ and ‘Anecdote for fathers’ reflect the Romantics views of childhood in many ways. We see that Wordsworth presents all the children in these poems to be extremely close to nature and shows that Childish or childlike intuition and instinct, can be superior to adult “wisdom. ” Here the Romantics views on equality, closeness of children to nature, innocence and the importance of childhood shine through in Wordsworth’s poems.
This was a revolutionary view in the 18th century as children or childhood were not seen as significant and were often abused to adults advantage, in these three poems Wordsworth really projects the Romantics view of children out to the public, making them think more carefully about the attitudes and treatment of children.