Essays in Romanticism

Discharged Soldiery: Wordsworth, Cobbett, and Military Corruption in the 1790s

Essays in Romanticism (2014), 21, (1), 35–52.

Abstract

This article contends that Wordsworth’s treatment of the Discharged Soldier is influenced by a scandal that followed the publication of William Cobbett’s pamphlet The Soldier’s Friend (1792). Cobbett publicized the mistreatment of soldiers in the secretive British army, calling particular attention to the embezzlement of troops’ salaries by senior officers. The Soldier’s Friend influenced both texts and protests that addressed military conditions in the 1790s. Wordsworth read contemporary pamphlets and knew the circle of Cobbett’s publisher, Ridgway. The behaviour of Wordsworth’s Discharged Soldier evokes the demoralized soldiery Cobbett depicts: malnourished, poorly clothed, but unwilling to reveal details of his hardship for fear of recrimination under the Mutiny Act. Wordsworth explores these ideas further in The Borderers, in which Rivers has been corrupted by mistreatment in service and poses a threat to society on his return home, where he replicates the abuse he endured.

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Author details

Murray, Chris