One cannot simply separate literature and history – especially when discussing the Romantic era. The French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution were such magnanimous events that their effects were felt everywhere in Europe. The French Revolution gave people hope for change, but even when the fight for the lower class’s freedom turned bloody, the Industrial Revolution was still something every country could tangibly put their hands on and pride themselves in, knowing they were producing an age of progress. Out of the push for progress, however, came inhuman demands to meet the ravenous appetite of the growing consumers (Black 20). Europe’s population rapidly poured into the urban city from the rural setting once mass production and factory working made the rural way of life unpractical for many. One Romantic poet, William Blake, highlights the dark reality of harsh treatment brought on by such “progress” in individuals’ lives. In his poems both entitled “The Chimney Sweeper,” Blake paints a haunting image of the pursuit of more efficient work and faster money at the expense of so many young children. In his poem, Blake insists, through the smoky, crackling voice of a child chimneysweeper, that kings, priests, and even the child’s own parents “think they have done [him] no injury…who make up a heaven of [his] misery.” Blake uses his poetry to reveal the personal, gruesome lives of so many people abused and lost along the way of the world’s progress.
Black, Joseph, et al, eds. British Literature: A Historical Overview, Volume B. Canada: Broadview Press, 2010.
“The Chimney Sweeper.” Course Handout. English 3351: British Literature Nineteenth- Century to the Present. Spring 2012.