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The Immortality Ode: Its Cultural Progeny Author(s): Barbara Garlitz Reviewed work(s): Source: Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 6, No. 4, Nineteenth Century (Autumn, 1966), pp. 639-649 Published by: Rice University Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/449359 . Accessed: 24/04/2012 01:41
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by Her Daughter (New York. In an unpublished study of Wordsworth's influence on the verse of the Oxford movement. Although we willingly acknowledge the enormous shaping influence of philosophers and scientists. Coleridge. The Liberal Movement in English Literature (London. p. the Ode had as powerful an influence on nineteenth-century ideas of childhood as Freud has had on present-day ones. No one can deny the Ode's popularity. Albert Turner in his articles on Thomas Campbell and Hartley Coleridge has shown the Ode's marked influence on their poetry of childhood. "Bronson Alcott. 326. 453. Ralph Waldo Emerson. English Trcaits (1856). 328. in reviews one repeatedly finds such statements as. 1876. 1938). 8 Jan. . p."l In letters. and Darwin. W." or "every passage and every line of it has been received into the poetical heart of this country. in journals. Lectures on Poetry. like Bentham. Again and again the Ode is held up as "the finest poem of the greatest poet within our times. Courthope.The ImmortalityOde: Its CulturalProgeny BARBARA GARLITZ WORDSWORTH'S IMMORTALITY ODE had a far more profound influence on nineteenth-century thought than is generally realized. And yet the Ode was to the first half of the nineteenth century what The Origin of Species was to the last half. Temple Bar (1872). tr."2 How deep a root it took in the national mind has been in part revealed by the many studies of Wordsworth's literary influence. we are reluctant to concede that a poem could have more than a literary effect. 298." or. 1903-4)." as "the high-water mark the intellect has reached in this age. The Complete Works. 1912). II." or "all lovers of Wordsworth know it by heart. it has taken "the deepest root in the national mind. as it is the most famous of his verses. 19 May 1851. ed. Emerson (Boston and New York. In fact. pp. K. 104. Odell Shepard (Boston. in a letter to Henry Reed. V. The Literary History of England (London. Francis (Oxford. 1John Keble. The nineteenth century believed that it was the best poem its century had produced. XXIV." as the "divinest utterance of modern poetry. The Journals. 463-4. Memoir and Letters of Sara Coleridge. 492. Margaret Oliphant. W. J. 1882). E. 1832-41. it is "his best poem. ed. 1874). I. ed. Sara Coleridge. E. 1885).

borrowings from the Ode were 'Albert Turner. 215. XXII (Oct. diss. "Human Life". In 1812 John Wilson writes of the "visions high" that bless "an infant's sleeping eye. To give just a few examples. that the child as a theme in literature is in the main a nineteenth-century innovation. Christopher Cranch. "The Influence of Wordsworth on the Verse of the Oxford Movement. 1934). James Russell Lowell.640 THE IMM O R T A L I T Y ODE Eleanor Doherty concludes that there is not one of the Tractarians who does not reveal that he has read and been deeply influenced by the Ode. Among the thousands upon thousands of poems that were written on the subject of childhood or that refer to childhood. I Remember". finds himself speaking of "the ubiquitous influence" of the Ode on the early Victorians. et passim. 1951). . in fact. perhaps." In 1888 Swinburne declared that "Babes at birth/Wear as raiment round them cast. Eleanor Doherty.." JEGP. there were few that were entirely free of the Ode's influence."4 Among the truly minor poets. Thomas Hood. Tokens left of heaven. 1923). "Olive". diss." unpub. In 1826 Thomas Hood regretted that he was "farther off from heav'n" than when he was a boy." In 1841 Christopher Cranch says that at the beginning of life "our home was near the sea . XXVIII (June 1923). It is. in another unpublished dissertation. 'John Wilson." unpub. Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 1830-1860. (Radcliffe. "To a Sleeping Child". Swinburne." he says./'Heaven was round our infancy'." In 1819 Samuel Rogers refers to the child as moving at first "as in a heaven on earth!" and he then goes on to say that the light the child brings with him dies away so that the child must journey on in growing darkness. Robert Lovelace." PMLA.. the study will in large part concern itself with the Ode's influence. Robert Lovelace. Samuel Rogers. "Wordsworth's Influence on Thomas Campbell. "no poem by Wordsworth so inevitably seized the imagination of the early Victorians as did the Intimations Ode. In 1838 a dying child in a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning has "a vision and a gleam" and sees "celestial places. (Wisconsin. p."3 If anyone ever does a study of nineteenth-century poems about childhood. "Evidently. 538-57. "The Changeling"." In 1847 James Russell Lowell says of his dead child that "the light of the heaven she came from/ Still lingered and gleamed in her hair. "The Ocean". "Isobel's Child". "Wordsworth and the Early Victorians: A Study of his Influence and Reputation. not sufficiently well known that childhood was one of the most popular subjects for poetry in the century and. "I Remember. 253-66 and "Wordsworth and Hartley Coleridge.

and forbid them not to come unto me. The Holy Child (London. Made all around look fair and new. that "Even little infants. Jenner. by the late 1820's theologians were as hotly insisting that "Heaven lies about" children "in their infancy. and its philosophy of childhood a powerful challenge to Calvinism. that appear so innocent and pretty.. 104.BARBARA GARLITZ 641 shameless. 'Suffer little children. and pleading on its behalf. as the Reverend Samuel Spring did in 1783. p. a theologian could hotly insist. Fresh with the glow of Nature's morn As when creation first was born: Nor did its freshness ever fade away. Said the Christian Examiner of Wordsworth in 1850: "A legitimate successor of his spiritual master. meant no sacrilege. it was just that the language and ideas of the Ode had achieved the sanctity of the Bible. 6A. Stephen Jenner. as was common in the eighteenth century. 72. Williams Buchanan in his poem "Baby Grace" says: How strangely the little ones feel their way From the silver edge of the soundless sea Of eternity. B. XLIX (July 1850).5 What is interesting about this poem is that the child who is being described is the Christ child. Into the light of the common day." Christian Examiner. If. you see him with that patriarchal form and benignant countenance calling to childhood."-if this was common in the eighteenth century. 1867). M. . In 1867 another minor poet. By the late 1820's "Heaven lies about us in our infancy" had become another way of saying "of such is the kingdom of heaven. who was a minister. the heaven 5The Reverend Stephen Jenner. In 1862 R. And die into the dull of man's blind day. "Wordsworth the Christian Poet." For the nineteenth century the Ode became a gloss on Jesus's words and Wordsworth himself a second Christ who had come again to teach mankind the proper attitude toward children. gives another child an origin and infancy a la the Ode: The glory whence He came-the sheen Of the bright palace where had been His home ere down to earth He flew.' "6 For the vast majority of nineteenth-century theologians the Ode became another New Testament. are God's little enemies at heart.

" Peterborough Sermons (London. 1924). W. pp. 1872)."9 Although Newman." Christ in Modern Life (London. H. 238-42. pp. Three Sermons to Little Children (Boston. 23-4. "Child Life.642 THE I MMO R T A L I T Y OD E of innocence. p. Greenwood. . Parochial and Plain Sermons (London. 100-1. not precedes. in a sermon on "Child Life. often seems to forget about the doctrine of original sin. W. 67. "Jesus and Little Children. the Reverend F. In the 1830's in a sermon on "The Mind of Little Children. . Furness lamented that the "depraving influences" of the world lure the young "out of the bright heavenly kingdom which lay around their infancy. "Children Taken to Jesus. 1844). 353." Sermons (Boston. Furness." he concludes. "Holy Baptism. p. 1855). The sermon was delivered in the late 1820's. a foretaste of what will be fulfilled in heaven."8 Even John Newman himself when he preached on children echoes the Ode. living blessings which have drifted down to us from the imperial palace of the love of God. Innocentium in which Keble failed to make clear that the holiness of infancy follows. And thus it is. the rite of baptism. P. when they decided to deliver a sermon on childhood (and childhood became a more and more frequent subject of sermons) could not seem to help quoting or echoing the Ode. "that a child is a pledge of immortality." And in the same year. Greenwood. 1783). when he preached about children. The Reverend Stopford Brooke. For example." In 1872 the Reverend Brooke Westcott declared on Holy Innocents' day that "heaven lies about us in our infancy" was affirmed by the fact that "many very precious truths are clearer to children than to men." Discourses (Phil. . he rebuked John Keble for his poems on infants in Lyra." preached that "It is a happy thought that the children who climb upon our knees are fresh from the hand of God." Newman then goes on to assert that "What we were when children is a blessed intimation ." Newman describes the child as a being come "out of the hands of God. 1904). in Keble's poem. 'The Reverend W. 9John Henry Newman. "The Ministry of the Weak. the Reverend Stopford Brooke. in the 1850's the Reverend Mr." as one who seems "not to understand the language of the visible scene."'7 This theologian.. 65. with all lessons and thoughts of Heaven freshly marked upon him." he describes children in gen7The Reverend Samuel Spring. The Reverend F. For example. 275. was typical of many other preachers who. pp. II. The Reverend Brooke Westcott. P.

urged the church to return to the original meaning of the baptismal service. it seems clear that Pusey revitalized the Lutheran interpretation of the baptismal service at least in part because he had been influenced by Wordsworth. as Eleanor Doherty has pointed out in her study of Wordsworth and the Oxford movement. In so doing they were. however. after the mystic grace of baptism. 290-293. When it was originally formulated." The Collected Writings of Thomas De Quincey. as tender gems and full of Heaven! Not in the twilight stars on high. The Ode not only affected theologians' views of child '"Protestantism. That means that the regeneration of baptism was believed to be conditional on later conversion and grace. About 1827 Thomas De Quincey was so certain that the baptismal rite did not work the effect of regeneration that he accused Wordsworth of heterodoxy in that passage of The Excursion in which the Solitary describes baptism as regeneration. it does not seem too much to say that the Ode was partially responsible for the change in the meaning of the baptismal service which.BARBARA GARLITZ 643 eral. at the time. Even when they do remember original sin. all the Tractarians accepted so unquestioningly the ideas about childhood in the Ode that they often seem to forget their belief in a contrary doctrine. 1890). as an effect of Pusey's tracts. did occur. which means that baptism was believed to wash the infant clear of original sin and give him a regenerated character. that the original meaning of the baptismal service had been lost. the baptismal service had what is called a Lutheran bias. was redolent of heaven. Such had been the influence of Calvinism. in numbers 67 to 69 of the Tracts for The Times. The fact was that. committing what seemed to be heterodoxy.10 In 1835 Edward Pusey. ed. arguing that the child. David Masson (Edinburgh. VIII. . For in the 1830's the baptismal service was still given a Calvinist interpretation. and the other Tractarians tend to hurry over the unregenerate state of the child before baptism and dwell on the child's heavenliness after baptism. Pusey. Not in the moist flowers at even See we our God so nigh. Newman. though. not just newly baptized children. Keble. Therefore. Considering the influence of the Ode on the Tractarians.

looking at his two-year-old son sitting on the floor and staring into space. 1885). 80. ed. began looking at children with new eyes. They may well start by observing. if Wordsworth is not quoted. Graves. feel a fresh and more thoughtful delight whenever . 'Heaven lies about us in our infancy'. "Do you not. "Truly has the poet said. XXVIII (Feb. 1841). articles that are very much alike. 80-1. Sir William Rowan Hamilton. The American Notebooks. I. a statement such as. wonders if he is having "Recollections of a preexistence. . Guesses at Truth (London. Stewart (New Haven. leaving on their souls the impress of His signet. "Mrs. ."14 "Julius Hare. see Nathaniel Hawthorne. 108. There is ample evidence to prove that because of Wordsworth the middle and upper classes." Tuckerman said. The parent must thence derive a new sense of the sacredness of children. Life of Sir Rowan Hamilton (Dublin. children "come to us fresh and pure from the hands of the Almighty. Embury." Chambers' Edinburgh Journal. . p. and to yield them more confidently to the influence of Nature. "Anon."11 In 1841 Henry Tuckerman said that he believed Wordsworth had rendered "a high moral service" to mankind by teaching parents to regard their children in a different light. "The Rights of Children.. 1846). II. "Babyolatry. "can scarcely look upon the young with indifference. In 1827 Julius Hare asked." Tuckerman hoped that Wordsworth's "true and feeling chronicles of the 'heaven' that 'lies about us in our infancy"'"would help bring about a revolution in education and child-rearing. VII (Feb. you play with a child?" In 1834 the mathematician. R. since you have read Wordsworth. In 1848 Nathaniel Hawthorne. . "A reader of his poetry. it had a similar effect on laymen. P. "Southern Literary Messenger." Godey's Lady Book. especially parents. 1844). 1932). CXIII (Feb."'3 Or. 97. It is almost unknown that article after article on the "Rights of Children" was published throughout the century. R. 1827). They begin with a Wordsworthian premise and proceed to a Wordsworthian conclusion. Emma C. there is a statement that indicates the writer's belief in the divinity of childhood.12 There can be no doubt that Wordsworth had his share in the revolution that began to occur in the nineteenth century. used to repeat "portions of the Ode on Intimations of Immortality" to his two-months-old son.644 THE IMMORTALI TY ODE nature. 195. 129. and learn to reverence their innocence .

pp. 1892). granted their children freedom. 6See Louisa May Alcott."'15 When the nineteenth century is thoroughly studied." Scribner's Mag." Youth's Companion. they quite logically conclude that it would be a kind of atheism not to grant the child greater liberty. pp. From the first volume "For two typical articles. it will be discovered that there are. notes which he continued to make for the next five years and which fill five volumes and over 1800 pages." Knickerbocker. 1938). "The Journals of Bronson Alcott. 519-23. 1835). he took the Ode so seriously that he tried to prove its theory of the heavenliness of infancy by systematically studying his children from birth on. 463-4. Pontifex. 506. and in large measure doing and learning what she chose to. 110-13. XXXIX (June 1852). delight and liberty. one that would infringe as little as possible on. advise parents to adopt a laissez-faire policy in child-rearing. on Wordsworthian principles. "Recollections of My Childhood. as one writer said quoting the Ode. sternly repressed their children. who was so firm a believer in the child's divinity that he allowed little Louisa May the freedom of the Lady in Comus. Alcott began taking notes on his children's development. see Paul Siogvolk. XII (Aug.BARBARA GARLITZ 645 Because these writers believe that children come fresh from God. In 1835 he discussed the poem with his pupils at the Temple School in Boston and in 1879 at the Concord School of Philosophy he was still defending "the sentiments of the Ode. The writers. Starting on 25 March 1831. Almost as soon as Louisa could walk she was allowed to roam freely about Boston. Record of A School (Boston. 487-91. [Elizabeth Palmer Peabody]. to balance the parents who. One of the most interesting things about these notes is that Alcott's accurate and realistic observations of his children's behavior did not succeed in making him lose his faith in the truth of the Ode. like Mr. "Children's Rights.16 It is fair to attribute the eccentricities of Louisa May's upbringing to the influence of the Ode because there is hardly a man in the century who was more influenced by it than Bronson Alcott. Kate Douglas Wiggin. nine days after the birth of his first child. ones who. therefore. Odell Shepard (Boston. begging for her lunch. . Certainly. "the simple creed of childhood."17Indeed. It became a gospel to him from the time of his acquaintance with it in 1827 until his death. ed.. pp. 242-48. 24 May 1888. sleeping on doorsteps. "The Rights of Children. one such parent was Bronson Aleott.

Barnardo (London. Bernardo & James Marchant. 1Mary Carpenter. reverenced every child as Christ's image. Indeed. "young beings but recently come from the hands of their Maker. 356. that the young child is 'latest from God's hand and nearest unto Him.646 THE IMM ORTALITY ODE through the fifth he continues to quote lovingly from it. 1853). believed that there was always "something beautiful in the little ones . 1From the mss." incorporates the philosophy of the Ode. in spite of such evidence to the contrary." Thomas Barnardo. the first secretary of the London Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. who devoted his life to providing homes and education for thousands of the waifs and strays who used to roam London streets. Memoirs of the Late Dr. Frederic Wolsey Pratt. of Alcott's journals at the Concord Free Public Library. 15. Their Condition and Treatment (London. 103. his first child. . "Child-Songs. It may be as the poet Whittier sings. have we to call children juvenile delinquents. her propensity to hit the younger children. fills one with reverence for childhood. 1913). . p. after having throughout the volumes expatiated on her willfulness. . she asked. What right. "Some Queer Children I Have Met. On the fifth birthday of Anna. p. Yet to do so would be unfair to him. Thomas Barnardo. reasserts his faith on the original nature of man by repeating: Not in entire forgetfulness Nor yet in utter nakedness. for even the men and women who worked with child criminals or with the children in slums had a faith in childhood similar to his." Mrs.'"? Benjamin Waugh. her appetites.. just as he was the favorite poet of most people in the nineteenth century. that 'of such is the Kingdom of Heaven. Mary Carpenter. Alcott. . The Ode then had far more than a literary influence. wrote in one of his hymns for children. Rosa Waugh. But trailing clouds of glory do we come From God-who is our home. Used by permission of Mrs. The Life of Benjamin Waugh (London. 1907). the woman who established the first reformatories in England. p. of whom the Saviour has said. "Shut within the souls of children / Jesus makes His home. and Wordsworth himself was the favorite poet of many of these philanthropists.l8 It would be easy to account for Alcott's indestructible belief in the Ode's philosophy of childhood by remembering that he was one of the most extravagant of the Transcendentalists. Juvenile Delinquents.' "19 Whittier's poem. something that.

When. 20Laurie Magnus."20 I do not want to suggest that Wordsworth alone was responsible for the reverence for childhood that distinguishes the nineteenth century. late in the century. Wordsworth's Ode was in itself a culmination of eighteenth-century attitudes. 1897). And yet. A Primer of Wordsworth (London. They attained the status of facts. "Modern science. Critics then attacked the Ode because it did not conform to the latest facts. When Thackeray said of the twelve-year-old Pendennis that he still had remnants of the innocence "which he had from 'Heaven. which is our home. Rousseau's Emile was published in 1762 and Blake's Songs of Innocence in 1789. Interest in childhood began several decades before the Ode was written. and cherished it had been unaffected by its philosophy of childhood. "discovers the child 'trailing' quite other and more definite qualities than 'clouds of glory' from arboreal quadrumanous ancestors. at the same time. memorized. The first scientific observations of children can be found as early as the late eighteenth century. the breakdown in the belief in original sin and the beginnings of a belief in original innocence can be observed by the mid-eighteenth century. so writers in the nineteenth century spoke of the child's journey from the heaven of infancy to the prison-house of adulthood. the agent that precipitated the nineteenth century's inordinate worship of childhood. 82. it seems to have been the catalyst. .' " but that "the shades of the prison-house" were "closing very fast over him"-when Thackeray said that he was not quoting a poetical fancy of Wordsworth's but was repeating what was believed to be a scientific fact. The ideas in the Ode that the child is fresh from God and still remembers his heavenly home.BARBARA GARLITZ 647 it would have been strange if the many people who read. Just as writers nowadays speak of the child's development from the oral to the genital stage." said one critic. For child worship and the popularity of the Ode went hand in hand. that the aura which surrounds childhood fades into the common light of adulthood. that the child has a wisdom which the man loses-these ideas became the most important and the most common ideas about childhood in the nineteenth century. it was the Wordsworthian view of the child that was challenged. Darwinism began changing man's attitudes toward children. p.

648 THE IM M OR T A L IT Y ODE Perhaps the Ode proved to be the catalyst of child worship because it incorporated an archetypal idea of childhood. in opposition to the new science. and the reactionary and progressive elements in nineteenth-century culture. Conversely. continued to believe in man's divine origin. According to anthropologists. The Ode may have had so powerful an appeal because it drew upon one of man's oldest ideas about children. The idea of the child as having come fresh from God no longer appeals to us. this widespread belief developed from the fact that for eons man did not understand the relationship between sexual intercourse and impregnation and consequently assumed that children owed their origin to some god or spirit. the Ode no longer has a powerful influence. The Ode is frequently compared to Vaughan's "The Retreat" and parallels are found in the Hermetic Books. But if the idea of the heavenliness of infancy could lend support to those who looked backward to an era of a simpler and more primitive faith. of his descent from a spirit world. it could appeal to those who believed in man's natural goodness. is almost universal. and other mystic works. where a belief in the child's preexistence'. If interpreted (as it often was) as a comment on the child's moral nature. to crossbreed with many aspects of the culture. to use a biological term. although we are as much the heirs of the collective unconscious as the nineteenth century and almost as deeply interested in children. For the idea of the heaven of infancy can be blended with one of the most progressive impulses of the nineteenth century-its egalitarianism. Swedenborg. For the idea of the heavenliness of infancy could be utilized by both the secular and religious. Boehme. It has often been pointed out that the ideas about childhood in the Ode and even its very language are not especially original. Paine in The Rights of Man had argued that all men are born equal because parents of no matter what class are merely the agents through which God creates. Parallels can also be found in primitive societies. it could also lend support to those who looked forward to a new era. that is. the picture in the Ode of the child descending from his heavenly home could appeal to those who. And yet at present. that "every child born into the world" derives its existence ultimately . Perhaps it had so great an appeal to the nineteenth century because it was able to blend or.

etc. inadequate education. II. OF BERKELEY UNIVERSITY CALIFORNIA.21The nineteenth century. poor housing.BA RBARA GARLITZ 649 from God. because it believed we are all equally God's children. . 71. '1The Political Writings of Thomas Paine (Boston. strove to insure that no child's heavenly patrimony would be nullified by excessive labor. 1859). It is in accord with nineteenth-century thought to say that most of the century's social reforms were the result of an effort to preserve the heaven that lies about each and every man's infancy.