Title

Beggars: Jeremy Bentham Versus William Wordsworth

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2013

Abstract

During the Romantic period (roughly 1789 to 1834), social critics valued poetry as a guide “to the conduct of life and the establishment of moral principles.” John Stuart Mill observed that Jeremy Bentham rejected poetry because poets employed words imaginatively and not solely for “precise logical truth.” Bentham and William Wordsworth disputed the treatment of the poor. Bentham proposed forcing them into houses of industry. Wordsworth, who declared that “man is dear to man... [because] we have all of us one human heart,” celebrated a beggar’s power as a social agent. He reminds villagers of past acts of charity and offers the wretched poor an opportunity to give charity. Barely able to survive herself, one old woman “builds her hope in heaven” by sharing a small handful of meal with the beggar. Although the beggar has no economic value, he does have intrinsic value to the community.