At the top of the third column of this page from the Carlisle Journal is a sonnet by William Wordsworth, objecting to a proposed railway linking the Lake District towns of Kendal and Windermere. ‘Is there no nook of England ground secure/ From rash assault?' the sonnet begins, before outlining the natural beauty that the railway would destroy.
How else did Wordsworth register his objections?
By 1844, Wordsworth had been appointed poet Laureate. In October, the same month that this sonnet appeared in the Carlisle Journal, he attempted to use his influence by sending letters and a sonnet to W E Gladstone, then President of the Board of Trade, and to the Morning Post. When he received adverse responses, including a sonnet by R M Milnes, he replied with two open letters in December. Wordsworth collected the material in a pamphlet in January 1845.
Why did Wordsworth object?
The argument for the railway was that it would open the beauty of the Lakes to more people, particularly to those from populous cities such as Manchester, swollen by the Industrial Revolution.
This is the ‘greatest happiness for the greatest number’ argument, associated with contemporary philosophers such as Jeremy Bentham, which the poem calls a ‘false utilitarian lure’. Wordsworth thought that it would not only ruin the landscape, but that the motivation was actually, as he put it in another sonnet, ‘the Thirst of Gold,/That rules o’er Britain like a baneful star.’
Did it work?
No: the railway line was opened in 1847. Visitor numbers to the lakes have continued to increase, partly encouraged by Wordsworth’s descriptions of landscape.