Despite their differences, each English Romantic writer’s personal experience functioned as a muse for their art at some point, resulting in works that describe observations they made, recall childhood moments, include other writers as either subject or addressee, detail moments of personal discovery and express an appreciation for their surroundings.
In their writing English Romantic authors included observations they made about the world around them. Both of William Blake’s contrasting poems titled “Holy Thursday” reflect his observations of the tradition of poor children marching from charity schools to St. Paul’s Cathedral on Ascension Day. Blake expresses sympathy for the children in both pieces though his participation in the tradition was never beyond that of an observer. The children’s innocence is emphasized in the Songs of Innocence version with reference to “lambs” (86; line 7) and the use phrases such as “white as snow” (86; line 3); Blake’s feeling is again evident in the Songs of Experience version as the children are referred to as “Babes reduced to misery” (90; line 3). Similarly, Blake’s two works “Chimney Sweepers” were inspired by his observance of the regular practice of poor boys being sold by their parents into slavery as chimney workers. In his sonnet “The world is too much with us” William Wordsworth reflects on his first-hand observation of society’s materialism and the need to focus more on the natural and the spiritual. He sadly discerns that people are too concerned with “Getting and spending” (319; line 2), and that they have “given [their] hearts away” (319; line 4).
English Romantic writers sometimes included reflections of their own childhood in their writing as well. Charles Lamb’s essay “Christ’s Hospital Five-and-Thirty Years Ago” recalls his childhood days at Christ’s Hospital boarding school. Narrator Elia presents the life of a young Samuel Coleridge as his own, which is that of a poor, lonely boy. Lamb also describes the students’ harsh living conditions, pranks played such as their keeping a donkey on the roof of the dormitory (498) and of the extreme differences in the teachers’ methods. In “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” Percy Bysshe Shelley briefly refers to his own boyhood attempts at magic: “While yet a boy I sought for ghosts . . . / Hopes of high talk with the departed dead” (767; lines 49, 52). William Wordsworth says that as a man he feels the same way upon sight of a rainbow as he did as a child in “My heart leaps up.” He observes that “The Child is father of the Man” (306; line 7), for what one becomes as an adult depends largely upon what he was as a child.
Immersed in their literary world, the writers often wrote to or about one another. Charles Lamb includes former classmate Samuel Coleridge, in “Christ’s Hospital Five-and-Thirty Years Ago.” Lamb admires Coleridge for remaining friends with classmates, even into adulthood, saying it is “pleasant as it is rare” to find...