Poet as teacher : Wordsworth’s practical and poetic engagement with education
This thesis revisits William Wordsworth’s practical and poetic engagement with education as epitomised in his claim that “Every Great poet is a Teacher: I wish either to be considered as a Teacher, or as nothing.” By situating this claim in the larger contexts of Wordsworth’s writings and Britain’s educational development from the late eighteenth century to the end of the nineteenth century, it argues that Wordsworth advocated a poetic education of receptive and creative imagination as a corrective to the practical education of passive learning and reading, and that his authority as a poet-teacher was confirmed rather than challenged by the wide divergence of his reception in Nineteenth Century Britain. The introduction defines the research topic, argues for Wordsworth’s relevance as a poet-teacher against his dubious reception in contemporary educational institutions, and examines some mistaken notions of him as a poet of nature and childhood. Chapter One investigates Wordsworth’s lifelong critique of contemporary pedagogical theories and practices for their confusion of education with instruction and their neglect of religion. Chapter Two studies Wordsworth’s proposal for an alternative mode of poetic education that relies on nature, books, and religion to foster the individual’s religious imagination, which informed Wordsworth’s vocation as a poet, and underlay the revisions of the educational backgrounds of his major poetic speakers. Chapter Three explores Wordsworth’s endeavours to cultivate readers’ receptive and creative imagination against the prevalent literary taste through differentiating strategies of communication in his poetic theories and short poems written between 1794 and 1815. Chapter Four discusses the educational uses made of Wordsworth’s poetry through studying the representative selections of his poems edited by Victorian educators, so as to reveal the slow, winding, but steady process of his being recognised as a teacher in both practical and poetic senses. The thesis concludes with a reaffirmation of Wordsworth’s authority and relevance as a teacher, both then and now.