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The Cambridge History of English Romantic Literature
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The Romantic period was one of the most creative, intense and turbulent periods of English literature, an age marked by revolution, reaction and reform in politics, and by the invention of imaginative literature in its distinctively modern form. This History presents an engaging account of six decades of literary production around the turn of the nineteenth century. Reflecting the most up-to-date research, the essays are designed both to provide a narrative of Romantic literature and to offer new and stimulating readings of the key texts. One group of essays addresses the various locations of literary activity – both in England and, as writers developed their interests in travel and foreign cultures, across the world. A second set of essays traces how texts responded to great historical and social change. With a comprehensive bibliography, timeline and index, this volume is an important resource for research and teaching in the field.


‘Fifty years ago, literary studies was awash in big theories of Romanticism, created by the likes of M. H. Abrams, Geoffrey Hartman, and Harold Bloom; two decades later, Marilyn Butler argued that the very label ‘Romantic' was ‘historically unsound'. This collection suggests that no consensus has yet emerged: instead, the best of the essays suggest continuities with periods before and after. Rather than big theories, the contributors present kaleidoscopic snapshots of individual genres (the novel, the ‘new poetry', drama, the ballad, children's literature); larger intellectual currents (John Brewer writes exceptionally well on ‘sentiment and sensibility'); currently fashionable topics (imperialism, publishing history, disciplinarity); and - most interesting - the varying cultures of discrete localities (London, Ireland, Scotland). The result is an excellent book useful … for its summaries of early twenty-first-century thinking about British literary culture from the 1770s to the 1830s.'

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Page 1 of 2

  • 1 - Sentiment and sensibility
    pp 19-44
  • View abstract
    In the eighteenth century the language of feeling, with its key terms of sentiment, sympathy and sensibility, was central to the discussion of man and society, manners, ethics and aesthetics. This chapter shows how sensibility was figured both as a universal human attribute and as the particular feature of modern, late eighteenth-century society. It discusses the ways in which a whole range of genres used sentimentalism to excite sympathy and assess the implications of these strategies for notions of authorship, readership and the public. The chapter focuses on the sensibility in its shifting manifestations between the 1770s, when it first became a generalized object of concern, and the politicized discussion in the French Revolution. Sensationalist philosophers, physiologists and physicians constructed the foundations on which theories of sensibility were built. The authorial, editorial and reading techniques of literary sentimentalism, identified and analysed by critics in the 1750s and 1760s, spread with astonishing swiftness in the third quarter of the century.
  • 2 - Antiquarianism, balladry and the rehabilitation of romance
    pp 45-70
  • View abstract
    The significance of antiquarian activities reaches right into the quiddity of Romantic writing. Antiquarian researches were certainly politically charged, though their implications remained unarticulated beneath a wealth of accumulated data. Ballad collectors were the antiquaries of poetic culture, their 'artifacts' were recovered remnants of ancient poetry, valued initially for their glimpses into the arts, usages and modes of living. Translation of the oral ballads into printed collections opened chasms of classification and interpretation. Possible in theory, distinction between collection, editing, improvement, imitation and forgery, was elusive in practice. 'Authenticity' became an issue when oral performance was consigned to print. The minstrel-bard was a conserving force and a revolutionary one, an embodied figure of poetic imagination integral to the development of Romantic ideology. Historians and antiquarians were already recuperating medieval quest romance for the evidence they provided about life in the past. The malleability of romance forms and their equivocal association opened capacious possibilities to nineteenth-century historical novels.
  • 3 - The Romantics and the political economists
    pp 71-100
  • View abstract
    The field of political economy assumed its initial shape over the course of the eighteenth century in Britain, especially in the work of Adam Smith. The eighteenth-century British political economy, which was a product of the Scottish Enlightenment, and nascent Romanticism emphasized the natural processes that bring humans and their environments into reciprocal relations. The political economy came to have a dreadfully bad odour among the most prominent literary figures of the early nineteenth century. This chapter sketches the development of hostilities, from the outraged reaction through disagreements about the national economy during the Napoleonic War years, and into disputes about the nature of labour, value and happiness. As political economy coalesced in the post-war period around Ricardo's analyses, it increasingly became a kind of life science. Ricardo's Principles of Political Economy and Taxation opens with the question of how a society's wealth is distributed among the three parties involved in its production: labour, capital, and rent.
  • 4 - The problem of periodization: Enlightenment, Romanticism and the fate of system
    pp 101-126
  • View abstract
    History followed the developmental logic of Kant's vision, he argued that his present 'age of enlightenment' would lead to 'an enlightened age', and Romanticism as the next period would realize rather than rejection. The technology of Enlightenment is writing; the tools are the forms that writing assumed in the eighteenth century; the procedures are the characteristic ways those forms mixed. Throughout the eighteenth century, writers maintained a Baconian caution regarding the use of system. The historicizing of Romanticism thus has been, and is, part of the process of historicizing literature, and thus a way of providing a touchstone for all of the volumes of the New Cambridge History. The period played a substantial role in drawing the other lines that have made Romanticism into a recognizable whole: generations, gender and genre. The purpose of embedding system into other forms was to allow its principles to travel into new areas of inquiry.
  • 5 - London in the 1790s
    pp 127-158
  • View abstract
    Caleb Williams, fleeing from Fernando Falkland and his creature, his all-seeing spy Gines, repeatedly determines to conceal himself in London. Throughout the eighteenth century, London had become an increasingly divided city, as those who could afford to do so moved into the squares and wide streets of the West End. By the end of 1792, France, newly declared a republic, was at war with Austria and Prussia, and the movement for parliamentary reform had revived in Britain. Thus for most of the 1790s London was a city divided politically, but the division was as unequal as were the economic, cultural and geographic divisions. In the highest levels of the political world, the breakdown of cordiality between the supporters of Pitt's government and the Foxite Whigs was confirmed in the clubs of St James's Street. The government joined with loyalist opinion in blaming the LCS also for the outrages of 29 October 1795.
  • 6 - Edinburgh and Lowland Scotland
    pp 159-181
  • View abstract
    In the century between David Hume's A Treatise of Human Nature and Thomas Carlyle's The French Revolution Lowland Scotland became one of the advanced centres of European and North Atlantic literary culture. Scotland's entry into modernity followed its dissolution into 'North Britain' at the 1707 Union of Parliaments. The French Revolution marked a turning point in Scotland as in England, although with different dynamics. Scotland's literary eminence declined sharply after the 1830s, despite an influential spate of liberal and radical periodicals encouraged by Reform. The accumulation of urban wealth through colonial trade, agricultural improvement and early industrialization financed the institutions that comprised the republic of letters of the Lowland Scottish Enlightenment. Hugh Blair buttressed his defence of the antiquity of Fingal with the appeal to conjectural history, in an argument that exposed its circular, fictive logic. The most drastic unwriting of Scottish Romanticism occurred, however, in a sequence of works that terminated the post-Enlightenment era of national literature in Edinburgh.
  • 7 - Romantic Ireland: 1750–1845
    pp 182-203
  • View abstract
    The Wild Irish Girl can be seen as ushering in the 'myth of the West' of Ireland that was to preside over Irish Romanticism. The concept of 'the sublime' was one of the most important formative influences on the rise of a new romantic sensibility in the late eighteenth century. The romance of the Enlightenment with the Celtic periphery began perhaps with Toland, for by identifying himself as a pantheist, Nature-worship and spirituality were introduced into the nebulous world of Celticism. A number of factors in the Irish national tale facilitated the introduction of cosmopolitan Europe into the romantic periphery. The gesturing towards alternative futures in evocations of the past suggests that it was not a spent force, a bygone era awaiting the embalming of romantic nostalgia. The future oriented longings of Irish Romanticism owed as much to the unresolved cultural energies of the Jacobite Gaelic Ireland.
  • 8 - France, Germany, America
    pp 204-223
  • View abstract
    Self-consciousness about being English can be traced very early in the national literature. It is often hard to be sure whether the reference is to a political, racial, social or linguistic category, or to some unspoken measure of each. The predominance of France and Germany and eventually of America as the Romantic period's most commonly discussed foreign places does not then reflect any single or self-evident set of historical circumstances. America and its literature were throughout the Romantic period somewhat minor objects of attention in British literary circles. The effort at legitimating a national literary language gave writers and intellectuals an ideal form for a German language. Toward the end of the eighteenth century contemporary German literature began to feature in its own right in British literary circles. For many British readers and critics before about 1820, American culture and literature was merely an accidental extension of an English tradition, they read what we write, their writers are our writers.
  • 9 - The ‘warm south’
    pp 224-245
  • View abstract
    For Britons of the Romantic era, the 'warm south' was many things. It may be an imaginary elsewhere of lemon trees and olive groves; a place of refuge and exile; and a sensuous landscape of desire. This chapter plies between literal and literary geographies, taking both the material aspect of crossings between Britain and the Mediterranean and the myriad of crossings undertaken in the aesthetic realm. The Revolutionary-Napoleonic period left Britain's watery contours untouched, but it drastically redrew the island nation's imaginary geography. Don Juan sustains the Romantic regendering of the 'warm south': in lieu of a myth of Italian poet-fathers, one find an allegory of Britain embracing the south as a virile force. In the poems by Hemans, Wordsworth, Shelley and Byron, sympathy describes an ambit that the human object of sympathy, put differently, the human subject, is entirely obscured. During the Regency period, Histoires des Re' publiques Italiennes, the historiography of Italy itself becomes a work of resistance.
  • 10 - Country matters
    pp 246-270
  • View abstract
    An enormous amount of British Romantic literary production is situated in the countryside, as a setting for narrated action, a scene for poetic meditation, or a place to write. This chapter explores the importance of country matter to the Romantics. 'Country' is, in the vocabulary of cultural geography, the term in which the dialectics of space, place and landscape are most vividly captured. The vast detail and intricacy of the country matter, which has a voluminous literature associated with it, is made intimidating by the limitations of an American perspective on England. In the aftermath of the work of Raymond Williams, John Barrell, Ann Bermingham and numerous other scholars working within a materialist tradition, it has been impossible to view the Romantic picturesque without an awareness of its function as an ideological mystification. The picturesque is a multiply articulated answer to Cobbett's observation. The great longing that haunts the Romantic image of the country is the desire of the past.
  • 11 - Romanticism and the wider world: poetry, travel literature and empire
    pp 271-292
  • View abstract
    This chapter examines travel writers and Romantic poets colluded in building the moral agenda of Britain's second empire, as well as scrutinizing the generic links between travel writing and imaginative literature. Charles Batten's claim that by the end of the eighteenth century travel books were the most widely read division of literature, second only to novels and romances, seems credible. Relations between imperial ideology, the literature of travel, and emergent notions of literary value, were more problematic than is assumed by some post-colonial critics. The chapter focuses on the travel writing in the epistemology of the eighteenth century, particularly in the intellectual crucible of the Scottish Enlightenment, keeping an eye on its subsequent epistemological demotion. One of the most powerful mediators of Scottish stadial thought in the Romantic period was the Edinburgh Whig critic Francis Jeffrey. Wordsworth challenges both his travelogue source and the conventions of the poetic sub-genre to which his poem belongs.
  • 12 - The homes of England
    pp 293-313
  • View abstract
    In the homes of England, Romantic writers struggled to fix the proper boundaries between publicity and privacy. Economic, political and ideological developments underline the antinomies of domestic space in Romantic writing. Wordsworth's depiction of the happy cottage as a sociable site of natural productivity seamlessly integrated with its surrounding environment is rehearsed by Romantic writers. Illuminated by Romanesque windows and adorned with mock-Tudor furniture, medievalized versions of the cottage orne'e participated in a wider Gothic revival in which castles and converted abbeys enjoyed symbolic pride of place. If Northanger Abbey attempts to reclaim the Gothic interior for a new, enclosed form of domesticity, containment is achieved in the stately homes that form the prime locations of Austen's fiction. The resistance of women authors to strict demarcations between public and private realms is noteworthy in Romantic writing. The transition from the open, public domesticity so characteristic of Romantic writing to the cloying, claustrophobic private households of Victorian literature was never total.
  • 13 - Writing, reading and the scenes of war
    pp 314-334
  • View abstract
    To understand how war found its place in British literature in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, one might follow William Cowper's lead when, in The Task he organizes the scene of war around the figure of the post-boy. Cowper's post-boy offers but one example of how a war fought on foreign ground and distant seas came home to England. Wartime creates itself out of continual, daily reading: the facts shift from day to day, from excerpt to excerpt, yielding the sense that no single instalment will deliver the truth and yet every snippet is crucial. Military historians remind us that, for infantrymen and cavalrymen, warfare in the age of Napoleon consisted primarily of the tedium of waiting. Registering the agony of those waiting for news of war, one begin to realize how frequently war's pain is transferred from the body of the soldier to those Coleridge calls 'spectators and non-combatants', from battlefield to home.
  • 14 - Regency London
    pp 335-354
  • View abstract
    The Regency is one of the few periods of British history to survive in popular memory. Regency London endures in cultural transformations because this is a period of in-betweenness in British history. At a national level, the new statistical modes of analysis uncovered accurate information about the city for the first time. A more traditional London appeared through the fashion for watercolours, which reached its height around 1810 when 20,000 visitors attended the Watercolour Society's annual exhibition. The most important components of London's variegated cultural market were journalism, drama, literature, art, shows, lectures and sport. London street life, marked by ceremonies and often by importunate demands for payment from the poor to the more comfortable, remained vital during the first decades of the century. Journalism and the theatre lay at the centre of the London cultural market. Regency journalism was fluid: periodicals opened and closed with bewildering speed, many only producing a few issues.
  • 15 - Rebellion, revolution, reform: the transit of the intellectuals
    pp 355-376
  • View abstract
    In late 1788 Louis XVI called the Estates General to meet in response to increasing agitation for reform. Accounts of the Atlantic democratic revolutions from 1770-1790s are popularly classified as the American rebellion against colonial authority, the French constitutional and republican revolution, and the British struggle for political reform. After 1789, radical intellectuals in Britain eagerly metaphorized the French Revolution as the new 'Glorious Revolution'. In their letters from France in 1789 and 1790, Jefferson writes with visionary idealism and Helen Maria Williams asserts the affective origin of her politics: together they offer one version of the 'Romanticism' of the period. Mary Wollstonecraft and Thomas Paine together brought the French Revolution to Britain in 1790 by strenuously developing the debate about 1688 into an unrestrained pamphlet war. Jefferson and Paine brought the American Revolution to Paris as polemicists and diplomats and rejoiced in the fall of the Bastille.
  • 16 - Changes in the world of publishing
    pp 377-402
  • View abstract
    The term 'publishing', used to denote a discrete and stable commercial practice, dates from the first quarter of the nineteenth century. The years of Romanticism saw the English book trade change from a craft to something that might plausibly be called an industry. By the last quarter of the eighteenth century the British book trade had enjoyed a long period of stability. A considerable proportion of the increase in publishing is accounted for by the expansion of commercial novel publishing. Publishing had always been concentrated in London, indeed, it was virtually a metropolitan monopoly until the mid-eighteenth century. As some firms concentrated on publishing, so others saw new opportunities in the old enterprises of retailing and wholesaling. At the end of the eighteenth century the law, practices and constitution of the book trade had already changed profoundly, and its market had expanded enormously. Printing was undergoing its own industrial revolution.
  • 17 - The new poetries
    pp 403-426
  • View abstract
    Wordsworth went so far as to equate 'all good poetry' with 'the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings'. Lord Byron signatures were legibly classical: dramas set in the old unities of time, place and action; poetry, hewing to traditions of craft. In the poetics of sympathy, the genres turned inward. A poetry of gaps and indirections, of understatements and silences, required a new mode of reading, even a revolution of the kind that Jeffrey's impatience with the Ode intuited but was in no mood of mind to theorize. While Byron was working his new discoveries at home and then abroad, in 1817 a new periodical, Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, launched a serial assault on a new London-suburbanism: 'The Cockney School of Poetry'. If the stories today credit its new poetries with a generative role in the history of English Literature, the old stories keep us alert to what Romantic-era poets and their readers knew, and knew not, as 'new'.
  • 18 - Romanticism and poetic autonomy
    pp 427-450
  • View abstract
    The symbiotic growth of critical and literary self-consciousness is so striking a feature of the Romantic period that many participants and many subsequent commentators have thought it the historical key to understanding Romanticism. The critical dynamic is most conspicuously in play in that commonplace of Romanticism, on whose existence very different schools of interpretation have continued to agree: its insistence on the autonomy of poetry. Poetic autonomy could refer to a distinctive use of language inappropriate in any other discourse. Poetic and critical establishments interacted to the mutual enhancement of each other's authority. The dialectic between poetry and criticism has a continuing relevance. Romantic poetry's radicalism can appear undeniable: fundamentally, this art presents itself as essentially committed to innovation and transformation. The act of criticism or of bringing to reflection is the hallmark of Romantic philosophical activity from Kant to Hegel. The autonomy of poetry advocated by Romanticism was advanced on several fronts.
  • 19 - Transformations of the novel – I
    pp 451-472
  • View abstract
    Walsingham's presence in the fashionable setting gives Robinson a pretext for putting fashion on trial and for assessing, in particular, how the smart set discuss novels. Robinson's virtuous characters have been obliged to vindicate modern books, contemporary novels particularly. Encountering Walsingham's vindication of the Enlightenment purveyed by contemporary writing, one might be persuaded that the novelist was the instrument through which modernity had been and would be made. Entrepreneurs such as James Harrison encouraged their clients to consider their library acquisitions as cultural capital, badges of their refinement and upward social mobility. It was left to the period's Gothic fictions to develop the repertory of stock situations that thereafter would betoken the horrors of reiteration. Otranto and its successors demonstrate how Gothic romance served Romantic-period culture as a site for exploring the more troubling implications of the eighteenth century's invention of the vernacular literary canon.
  • 20 - Transformations of the novel – II
    pp 473-489
  • View abstract
    To witness the reconfiguration of Great Britain into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Joseph Johnson published an anonymous novel titled Castle Rackrent. Morgan represents the way that early nineteenth-century women writers helped to redefine the place of fiction in public discourse and highlighted its active role in the formation of the modern nation. The domestic novels and national tales opened up speculative spaces even as they continued to work inside the political terms of national settlement. Reinventing historical romance as the modern historical novel in Waverley, Walter Scott explicitly built out of the work of female writers from the peripheries, naming Edgeworth, Hamilton and Anne Grant as predecessors in the postscript to his first novel. The Waverley Novels fused romance, theory and scholarship into a potent new narrative synthesis that for the first time articulated a fully historicist vision in fiction.
  • 21 - Theatre, performance and urban spectacle
    pp 490-506
  • View abstract
    The theatre world of the English Romantic period gives phenomenal access to the fantasies and daily realities of a people living through one of the Western world's most revolutionary periods. For the history of literary histories of English Romanticism, theatre has been largely invisible in accounts of its literary and social successes. The short answer to what underlies the nature and experience of late Georgian London theatre is struggles over 'legitimacy'. Illegitimate theatres become successful at encroaching on legitimate dramatic terrain, especially on Shakespeare, that 'respectable' audiences often prefer to attend there. Equally suspect in corroborating the longstanding claim that drama is in decline during this period is the second major ingredient of theatre, actors. Romantic commentary on theatre has been the prized aspect of the period's theatrical activity and has referred to the essays and newspaper reviews written by Romantic writers. Evidence for the power of late-Georgian theatre exists outside the bounds demarcated by legitimate and illegitimate drama.
  • 22 - The epigenesis of genre: new forms from old
    pp 507-526
  • View abstract
    Discarding the 'classical' theory of genre, Friedrich Schlegel wrote provocatively that there is only one genre or as many genres as texts. The cultural discipline subtended by the system of genres was in flux by the Romantic period. This chapter focuses on three generic radicals that are distributed across the formal divisions between prose, poetry and non-fiction prose: extensive genres; intensive genres; and genres-in-progress. The word genre is also connected to 'gender' and 'engendering'. In this period 'epigenesis' gradually replaced 'preformation' as an account of how organisms develop. Epigenesis, as a result, became an account not just of how an organism develops but also of the emergence of new species. The impact of the development of the embryo is evident in Hegel, who worked on both natural history and art. The novelizing other extensive genres allows poetry to be removed from its current esotericism and seen as producing the novel.
  • 23 - The literature of the new sciences
    pp 527-552
  • View abstract
    The period of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, familiar to students of literature as the age of Romanticism, has been named by some historians of science 'the second Scientific Revolution'. This chapter explores the transformation of Enlightenment public science into the more extensive but more fragmented enterprise of the early nineteenth century. It examines the several themes that featured centrally in scientific discourse of the period. Wariness and suspicion undermined the ideals of enlightened public science, of which Priestley had been the best-known spokesman. From the crucible of the 1790s, new forms of public science emerged. The cultivation of a sense of the sublimity of nature provided an aesthetic basis for communicating scientific discoveries to a broad public audience. Central to the new relationship between the sciences and their public audience was a new image of the man of science: the scientific hero.
  • 24 - The making of child readers
    pp 553-578
  • View abstract
    In the absence of 'rational books' designed for children, pupils at Christ's Hospital read chapbooks during recreation hours. For Scargill's schoolboys, chapbooks function rather as social glue, counterbalancing a curriculum of rote memorization and Latin recitation. Romantic writers belonged to the first generations raised on Newbery's books and the self-consciously literary, book-centred and commercial forms of children's writing Newbery inaugurated. Newbery's The Fairing offers highly assorted literary fare: poems, nursery rhymes, cautionary tales, song lyrics, allusions to Henry Fielding, Shakespeare, Edward Young and other Newbery books. An anonymous 1820 London Magazine essay, 'The Literature of the Nursery' echoes Lamb's lament. In the early nineteenth century, the renewed commercialization of children's literature created new anxieties about the propriety of juvenile reading and the status of the book as personal property. Romantic children's literature idealizes mothers, nurses and school-mistresses as agents of literacy. Other Romantic children's books postulated deferral as the precondition, price and psychic reward of literacy.

Page 1 of 2

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