News and Commentary from the British Association for Romantic Studies

Call for Papers: The 46th Wordsworth Summer Conference, 2017

The Call for Papers for the next Wordsworth Summer Conference has now been released. See below for further details, and follow the links for details on how to apply for a bursary/submit an abstract.

The 46th Wordsworth Summer Conference, 2017
Monday 7 August to Thursday 17 August at Rydal Hall, Cumbria

Keynote Lectures, 2017:
Gillian Beer   Matthew Bevis   James Engell
Richard Gravil   Meiko O’Halloran   Nick Halmi
Alexandra Harris  Felicity James
Michael O’Neill
Fiona Robertson   Fiona Stafford
Heidi Thomson   Kasahara Yorimichi

and the link to our bursaries for postgraduate students

Key Features:

    • The conference is in two parts, of five nights each, with a changeover day
    • 7 excursions, 7 fell-walks, and some lower level walks
    • 13 keynote lectures and 30-34 papers
    • Either 4 or 9 full days in Rydal 
    • Excursions to places of Wordsworthian connections or general cultural interest 
    • Up to seventy miles of fell walking

Report from the 19thC Matters public engagement training day at Chawton House Library

Thank you to Jessica Hindes for the following post, reporting from the Nineteenth Century Matters public engagement training day. This event was held at the stunning location of Chawton House Library on 28 January 2017, and was sponsored by BARS and BAVS. You can follow tweets from the event by searching for the hashtag #C19Matters. Jessica is also on twitter (@bleakho).

The Nineteenth Century Matters Training Day on Public Engagement: A Report for BARS

The Nineteenth Century Matters public engagement training day at Chawton House Library offered postgraduate researchers in Romantic and Victorian studies the opportunity to come together in order to consider both the wider purpose of public engagement in academia, and the types of engagement activity they might begin to develop from their own research. With bursaries on offer to researchers without permanent academic employment, the day’s organisers displayed a refreshing awareness of the pressures faced by those coming out of the PhD into a difficult job market. As an early career researcher without institutional affiliation, one of the aspects of the day that I most enjoyed was the chance that it offered to connect with others in the same situation.


Chawton House Library in Hampshire

It was also a delight to attend an event where every one of the papers, panels and activities was so practically useful and so well thought out. The morning began with a talk from Professor Mark Llewellyn, the Director for Research at the AHRC, on ‘Living (in) the Library’, which considered the ways in which academics’ work might be enriched through contact with cultural centres outside of the university (libraries, museums) and which centred on Mark’s own experience as an early career researcher living and working in what is now the Gladstone Library in Hawarden, North Wales. In a highly entertaining paper, Mark raised thought-provoking questions about the ways in which scholars’ work is perceived by those outside the academy, invoking the notion of ‘hospitality’ to describe an approach that starts from an audience’s existing knowledge and beliefs rather than holding them to rigid academic standards from the outset.

As the day developed, Mark’s ideas about meeting an audience in spaces outside the university and his emphasis on the public engagement process as something reciprocal – something that benefits both sides – reappeared in papers from Dr Claire Wood (of the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement) and Professor Holly Furneaux (of Cardiff University). Claire’s paper provided a whistlestop tour through some of the fundamental principles of public engagement best practice, recommending that researchers planning any public engagement activity consider purpose, process and people (audience) as well as prioritising evaluation as a fundamental component of their work. Claire offered links to numerous resources and pointed those attending toward NCCPE’s work in linking researchers with institutions beyond the academy, in particular the MUPI programme which connects university scholars with small museums. Holly’s presentation reflected on a public engagement project undertaken in collaboration with the National Army Museum, for whom she is a research ambassador. Holly had worked with children in schools local to the Museum (and incidentally, to Chawton House) on ‘The Ballad of the Boy Captain’, a story from the Crimean War. Holly made an enthusiastic case for academic public engagement, suggesting that done right, it could shape the direction of research in fruitful and unexpected ways. However, she was also honest about some of the challenges of this work. She pointed to the ‘opportunity cost’ involved in establishing the relationships that underpinned good engagement activity, as well as the real financial cost incurred in making study visits and giving up time to volunteer. Of course, any early career researcher is familiar with the investment of time and often money required to participate in the activities necessary to maintain a strong academic profile, but it was refreshing to hear this addressed so openly here.

Mark Llewellyn

Mark Llewellyn

Other speakers were drawn from the type of non-academic institution suggested as useful partners in undertaking this kind of activity: Professor Gillian Dow, the Executive Director of Chawton House Library (and an academic at Southampton), and Mary Guyatt, the curator at Jane Austen’s House. Gillian spoke about her experiences since joining Chawton House in 2014 and the efforts she has made to bring new audiences into the library, focusing on an exhibition hosted at Chawton in 2016 to mark 200 years since the publication of Emma. As Mark had done earlier in the morning, Gillian offered an amusing insight into some of the difficulties of reaching out to the public alongside her assessment of the many benefits of doing so (with an acknowledgement that working on a popular figure like Jane Austen brings particular challenges of its own). Mary then shared some of her expertise about the ways in which universities and museums can work together, suggesting that this might take the form of less obvious collaborations, such as writing labels for exhibits, or cataloguing parts of collections as well as offering talks or events.

After lunch, participants separated into smaller groups to work with the speakers and experts in attendance on developing public engagement activities from their own research. Although the time limitations meant that ideas could reach only a very early stage at this point, I found the exercises thought-provoking, and my fellow conference-goers full of creative insight. I also appreciated the focus with which Gillian (leading my session) encouraged us to consider the practicalities of what we suggested: where would the money come from? Where would we stage and how publicise our work? As was the case with all of the morning’s talks on the day, the session felt grounded in the reality of today’s humanities research environment, offering concrete suggestions to point the researcher on their way. Alongside the chance to connect to others in a similar position, this was for me the best thing about the whole event: its pragmatic focus on getting things done.

The grounds at Chawton

The grounds at Chawton

The last session of the day offered the opportunity to come back together, to thank those who had offered their expertise throughout, and to express gratitude to the event’s organiser Catherine Han for her hard work in putting on the day. I left Chawton not only with some useful new connections in hand, but with a renewed confidence in my own position within the nineteenth-century studies research environment and (most of all) with a number of positive ideas about my own future practice as an academic in the public sphere.

Jessica Hindes

Some tweets from the day-

Also, you can read the BAVS report here:

CfP: Scrutinising Beauty, MHRA Special Issue

Please see the following Call for Papers below.


Beauty is the only thing that time cannot harm. Philosophies fall away like sand, creeds follow one another, but what is beautiful is a joy for all seasons, a possession for all eternity.

–          Oscar Wilde

Beauty is desired in order to be befouled. Not for its own sake, but for the joy brought by the certainty of profaning it.

–          Georges Bataille

Beauty has many contradictory associations, from ephemerality to permanence, the natural to the artificial. When we attempt to locate the beautiful, notions of ‘conventional’ beauty often conflict with individual assessments of what is beautiful. We are told that beauty is in the eye of the beholder(s), but is beauty only ever a perception, or can it be an intrinsic quality of objects and people? Is it possible to define the nature of the aesthetic experience? Beauty may trigger philosophical or spiritual contemplation, but it can also evoke possessiveness and lust. Historically, beauty has been admired as virtuous and feared as dangerous. Do judgements about beauty do a disservice to their object, or do they elevate it?

This special issue of MHRA Working Papers in the Humanities aims to consider the wealth of ways in which notions of beauty have been expressed, represented, and critiqued across literatures and cultures. From literary depictions of beauty, to those expressed in philosophy, art, architecture, film, photography, and music, this collection of essays will scrutinise the beautiful in its myriad forms, across geographical and temporal boundaries. Responses to the theme might be theoretical (perhaps considering movements such as New Aestheticism or Cultural Materialism), (inter)artistic, or sociological.

We invite proposals covering a range of periods (from the medieval and early-modern to the twenty-first century) and across different national contexts (including French-, Hispanic-, Germanic-, Italian-, Slavonic- and English-speaking cultures). We hope to attract scholars working in a variety of fields (Modern Languages, English Studies, Comparative Literature, Cultural History, Film and Media Studies and Digital Humanities, Performance and Reception History, History of the Book and of Print Culture, and others). Interdisciplinary approaches are particularly welcome.

Topics could include, but are not limited to:

  • Art, aesthetics and ekphrasis
  • Gender and sexuality
  • Youth and aging
  • The role of the senses
  • Class, wealth, and prejudice
  • Inner beauty, morality, and religion
  • Adornment, body modification and fashion
  • The natural world
  • The ‘sublime’
  • Measure, the golden ratio, mathematics
  • Beautiful books, treasure bindings, deluxe editions, book fetishism
  • Ugliness, the ‘grotesque’

We invite proposals for papers of up to 4,000 words in MHRA style, with completed essays to be delivered to the editors by 15 September 2017. Abstracts of no more than 250 words should be sent, accompanied by a short biographical statement on the same page, to by 1 June 2017.

Stephen Copley Research Awards 2017

Please see the notice below from Daniel Cook re. the winners of the Stephen Copley Research Awards 2017.


The BARS Executive Committee has established these bursaries in order to support postgraduate and early-career research within the UK. They are intended to help fund expenses incurred through travel to libraries and archives necessary to the student’s research. As anticipated, this year we received a large number of applications, many of which were of a very high quality indeed. Please do join us in congratulating the very worthy winners. Romanticism is alive and kicking, we’re pleased to say!

  • Alexander Abichou (Durham University)
  • Hadi Baghaei-Abchooyeh (Swansea University)
  • Marianne Brooker (Birkbeck College, London)
  • Rebecca Davies (The Norwegian University of Science and Technology)
  • Lucy Johnson (University of Chester)
  • Robin Mills (University College London)
  • Lauren Joy Nixon (Sheffield University)
  • Brianna E Robertson-Kirkland (University of Glasgow)
  • Paul Stephens (Lincoln College, Oxford)

Once they have completed their research trips each winner will write a brief report on their projects. These will be published on the website and circulated through our social media. For more information about the bursaries, including reports from past winners, please visit our website:


Daniel Cook
Bursaries Officer, BARS
University of Dundee

3 March 2017

BARS Postgraduate Representative – Applications Open Now

Please see below for a call for expressions of interest in the role of postgraduate representative on the BARS Executive.

Supporting postgraduate and early career researchers has always been an important part of the remit of the British Association for Romantic Studies, and we are currently looking for a postgraduate student to come on board to represent our postgraduate members and students in the field more generally.

The postgraduate representative serves for a term of two years (renewable according to the status of their studies), during which they will attend four executive meetings and will have the opportunity to co-organise special postgraduate events at the BARS international conferences. They will also work with the current postgraduate representative, Honor Rieley, to organise the next biennial postgraduate and early career conference, which will be held in 2018.

The position offers valuable experience in conference organisation, together with excellent networking opportunities. Most importantly, it offers the chance to help shape and support the postgraduate community within Romantic studies. The post is unpaid, although travel expenses are met by the Association.

Eligibility: We are especially keen to receive applications from students who expect to have postgraduate status until the summer of 2019. The new representative will officially stand for election at the next international conference, ‘Romantic Improvement’, which takes place in York on 27–30 July 2017.

Please send expressions of interest, together with a one-page CV including a brief description of your research, to the Secretary of the Association, Helen Stark, copying in the President, Ian Haywood. The deadline for expressions of interest is 31 March 2017.

If you would like to discuss the position further, please feel free to get in touch with Honor.

Call for Papers. William Godwin: Forms, Fears, Futures. 24 June 2017

Please see the CfP below for the conference ‘William Godwin: Forms, Fears, Futures’ to be held at Newcastle University on 24 June 2o17. The deadline for abstracts is 15 March 2017.


William Godwin: Forms, Fears, Futures

24 June 2017

Newcastle University

Confirmed plenary speakers: Professor Mark Philp (Warwick) and Dr David O’Shaughnessy (Trinity College Dublin)

Registration fee: £20 (waived for Newcastle staff and students)

Postgraduate bursaries available

Abstracts are invited for a one-day conference and debate on the work of William Godwin, to be hosted by Newcastle University on 24 June 2017.

We aim to foster a spirit of lively discussion and structured debate and to explore the full range of Godwin’s thought, writing, and influence. Abstracts are sought for twenty-minute papers which respond to one of the three panels: Forms, Fears, and Futures.

William Godwin is perhaps today best-known for his 1793 political treatise Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and its Influence on Morals and Happiness, and for the novel which explored the ideas developed in Political Justice, Things as They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams (1794). As a Romantic-period author and figure, however, he is often subsumed within his family circle and the drama of their overlapped personal lives and works.

This event aims instead to place Godwin and his works squarely centre-stage. While we acknowledge the value of reading Godwin as part of a kin- and friendship coterie that included Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron and Thomas Peacock among others, we are interested in what happens when we consider Godwin first and foremost as an author and thinker in his own right. What new perspectives and readings are afforded us? What texts and approaches have been overlooked – or overstudied? What is Godwin’s legacy, and where next for Godwin studies?

The day will be structured as three themed panels, followed by a roundtable led by Professor Matthew Grenby (Newcastle) on the topic ‘the future of Godwin studies’. Each panel will be opened by a plenary address on the panel topic, followed by up to three papers.

We ask that abstracts respond to one of the three panels. Topics might include, but are by no means limited to:


  • Formal experimentation in Godwin’s works
  • Godwin and genre
  • Godwin’s other forms: biography, history, the essay, children’s literature, or drama
  • Familial, social, or national forms


  • Godwin and the Revolutionary decade
  • Godwin’s political thought
  • Domestic, economic, social, or national fears


  • Godwin’s speculative thought
  • Godwin ‘after’ Romanticism
  • Godwin’s reception history
  • Godwin and the idea of the future; Godwin’s utopias/dystopias
  • Godwin and time

Abstracts for twenty-minute papers should be no more than 250 words, should include your name and institutional affiliation and position (if relevant), and should clearly state which panel you wish to be considered for. Please send abstracts to by 15 March 2017.

We have a limited number of postgraduate travel bursaries of £50 available. Bursaries will be offered on the basis of financial requirements; should you wish to be considered for one, please include alongside your abstract a statement of no more than 100 words explaining why you would benefit.

The conference is intended to act as a springboard for an edited collection of essays, to which speakers will be invited to contribute following the event. We are currently in discussion with Palgrave Macmillan.

Conference organisers

Eliza O’Brien (Newcastle), Helen Stark (Queen Mary), and Beatrice Turner (Roehampton)

Book Announcement: Coleridge and Contemplation

Congratulations to Peter Cheyne and his contributors on the forthcoming Coleridge and Contemplation collection, which Peter describes below.  BARS helped to support a workshop that was part of the book’s development process.

Book announcement: Peter Cheyne (ed.), Coleridge and Contemplation, OUP, 2017

A collection of essays on Coleridge’s contemplative philosophy written by philosophers, intellectual historians, and leading literary authorities on Coleridge.


The editor and authors of Coleridge and Contemplation would like to thank BARS for a grant that assisted a workshop at the University of Cambridge English Faculty, 10–11 August, 2015. The workshop enabled contributing authors of Coleridge and Contemplation to present their research so that internal connections within the overall work could be better understood and developed.

Sarah Hutton, Graham Davidson, and Matthew Gibson were present as auditors, providing the authors with keen interrogations and constructive criticism. Further reviews of papers as they developed into book chapters were provided by romanticists Anthony J. Harding and Alan P. R. Gregory, philosopher Stephen Priest, and the two anonymous Coleridge scholars arranged by OUP.

The book is now available for order, and Oxford University Press have provided a 30% discount code, AAFLY6G, which can be used at the OUP webpage for the book. The remainder of this report is a description of the four parts of the book—I. Poetics and Aesthetics; II. Worldviews: Science, Ethics, and Politics; III. Metaphysics; and IV. Philosophy of Religion—and of its foreword by Mary Warnock.



In her discursive foreword Mary Warnock addresses:

  • the search for meaning and truth ‘in poetry [where the] symbolic or interpretative capacity is sharpened and concentrated’;
  • whether or not we should consider Coleridge as a philosopher;
  • how Coleridge’s theory of ‘Ideas’ as objective realities distances his thinking from Kant’s;
  • the related question of whether his recourse to faith constitutes a relinquishment of philosophy, or is ‘a continuation rather than an abandonment of Reason’.


Part I: Poetics and Aesthetics

Jim Mays’ essay follows the ascent from the technical understanding of a poem and its processes, toward a sense of ‘spiritual contemplation’. Slow-reading a short Coleridge poem, ‘First Advent of Love’, written later in life, and representing lifelong concerns, Mays adopts Adorno’s argument that technique is the way art thinks, to describe the kind of meditation involved in both reading and writing the poem. He contrasts this kind of meditation with the different, analytical process involved in Coleridge’s prose writing. He reveals how in ‘First Advent’ feelings adjust through a web of sounds, images, and allusions (to neo-Platonic ideas about love mediated through Renaissance and contemporary German authors). Inquiry into what is most important in the poem involves the matter of how the poem works: a matter of ‘Understanding’. Mays then looks to higher, numinous qualities in the poem that go beyond the understanding, and are properly imaginative in terms of Coleridge’s diagram of the ‘Order of the Mental Powers’, mediating between ‘Understanding’ and ‘Reason’ in terms of enérgeia, the topic of my own essay.

David E. Cooper’s essay, ‘Meditation on the Move’, relates a mode of meditation with walking in natural environments. This mode is identified by drawing on texts from Coleridge, Bashō, Rousseau, and Thoreau. The style of meditation is a spontaneous, supple and responsive mindfulness of the world through which one moves. The connection is noted between this style of meditation, in which Coleridge too engaged, and the ‘rambling’ or ‘wandering’ kind of thinking encouraged by the Daoist master, Zhuangzi. Relevant considerations of why walking in natural environments seems to be especially conducive to such meditation include rhythmic calm, and an ‘unselfing’ whereby, as Coleridge puts, it, ‘individuality is lost’ when immersed in the environments through which one walks. Finally, Cooper argues that meditation on the move is hospitable to certain conceptions of reality. In particular, it encourages a sense of the world as an integral whole that comes to presence for walkers as a mysterious ‘gift’.

James Kirwan examines Coleridge’s analysis of beauty in the ‘Principles of Genial Criticism’ (1814), which aimed to establish a religious dimension to aesthetic experience. Coleridge’s argument is traced through his Kantian account of aesthetic judgement, and his assertion of unity-in-multiplicity as the formal condition of beauty, to his grounding beauty in that which is ‘pre-configured’ to our faculties. Coleridge’s depends on eighteenth-century aesthetic axioms, despite deliberately avoiding explicit reference to such accounts, electing Plotinus instead as a precursor. Coleridge is therefore reluctant, Kirwan suggests, to explain aesthetic experience in purely psychological and, potentially, exclusively naturalistic terms. The appeal to Plotinus’s traditional notion of beauty as the soul’s recognition of its divine origin, grounds aesthetic experience in religion. Concomitantly, in Coleridge’s reassertion of the claims of religion in the wake of the Enlightenment, aesthetic experience as contemplation of the world as it is becomes proof of the existence of the divine.

Kathleen Wheeler reads Dewey’s Art as Experience as steeped in Coleridge, a constant reference throughout this foundational pragmatist aesthetics. Indeed Dewey said he found ‘spiritual emancipation’ in Coleridge’s Aids to Reflection, calling it ‘my first Bible’ (qtd John Beer Aids to Reflection cxxv). Coleridge’s account of perception as active and creative––not passively receptive, gave Dewey profound insight into human experience, and helped him articulate his philosophy of ‘art as experience’ whereby art originates in imaginative ordinary life. For Coleridge, ‘act’ and ‘activity’ ground both mind and matter in the same natural powers of production/ creation: ‘a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I am’. Dewey’s analogy between the error of separating art from ordinary life, and divorcing imaginativeness from ordinary perception shows how memories of prior acts of imaginative perception usurp the place of actual acts, as dead metaphors do in language.

Roger Scruton reflects on Coleridge’s famous fancy–imagination distinction, which inspired Scruton’s own distinction between fantasy and imagination. The continuing relevance of Coleridge’s distinction lies in recognizing imagination as essentially truth-directed. Importantly, we can venture into the unreal with two quite different intentions––to become lost there, or to find ourselves. We can see the unreal world as a place of escape, fulfilling dreams in cost-free ways that set up channels of reward which so often lead to addiction and psychological enslavement (as in pornography). Or, we can see the world of the unreal as an imaginative construct for deeper epistemological purposes, to know through sympathy the varieties of human life, as life that could be ours. Scruton reserves the term ‘imagination’ for this second approach. This imaginary is the unreal called to judgment by the real, in contrast with the pretence of reality in clichéd, sentimental, or kitsch fantasy.


Part II: Worldviews: Science, Ethics, and Politics

David Knight begins the section on Coleridge’s contemplative worldviews, and chronologically follows Coleridge’s lifetime fascination with medicine as its focus shifted from anatomy, the analysis of structures, towards physiology, elucidating the processes of life. He believed that all sciences should progress from a static to a dynamic world-view, making them worthy of contemplation, feeding Reason rather than just understanding. Through Thomas Beddoes in Bristol he met young Humphry Davy, whose dynamical researches on laughing gas and electrochemistry delighted him. Coleridge became a critic of science as well as literature, rejoicing as Davy isolated new metals, cast light on acidity, and invented the miners’ safety lamp. But after 1820 Davy turned haughty, and Coleridge deplored chemists’ empire-building as science became a professional career; while in medicine French materialism threatened the dynamic vitalism of John Hunter that Coleridge and his host James Gillman favoured. Sadly science, once so promising, looked decreasingly suitable for his kind of philosophical contemplation.

Philip Aherne examines Coleridge’s influence in Cambridge through the nineteenth century, especially as it affected the development of a philosophy he opposed, utilitarianism. Aherne accepts Skorupski’s (1993) assessment of Coleridge as an important precursor of British idealism, finding his philosophy a particular blend of German transcendentalism, Platonic creeds, and Christian ethics representing a distinct school in its own terms. His contemporary significance was undoubtedly influential. In 1890, James Martineau argued for Coleridge’s influence in British philosophy through the nineteenth century, claiming that ‘his Platonic gospel has passed in the heart of our generation’ and declared that ‘empirical psychology and utilitarian ethics are the permanent objects of Coleridge’s hostility’. Martineau was extending Mill’s dichotomous paradigm of Bentham versus Coleridge. Aherne, however, questions the stability of this opposition, claiming that Mill’s development of Utilitarian ethics depended on Coleridge’s epistemological distinction between Reason and Understanding.

Kaz Oishi assesses contemplation in Coleridge’s philanthropic thought in the 1810s. Even after his disillusionment with the French Revolution, he remained preoccupied with welfare issues such as destitution and the condition of labourers. His new stance towards national ‘well-being’ emphasizes the contemplative power of the human mind both in religious and secular spheres. Oishi describes how Coleridge developed it in response to Robert Owen’s welfare and educational programmes as manifested in New View of Society (1813). Coleridge’s The Statesman’s Manual (1816) and A Lay Sermon (1817) can be read as a critique of Owen’s secular and empiricist notion of philanthropy. It is also significant that this contemplative ideal of ‘well-being’ serves as an antithesis to the Utilitarian concept of wealth under a laissez-faire economy. Coleridge’s contemplation as ‘a total act of the soul’ distinguishes itself as a unique politico-religious virtue in the context of the 1810s.

Andy Hamilton assesses Coleridge’s place in conservative and liberal traditions of thought. In the decades after his death, Coleridge was regarded as a conservative. Mill saw him as a ‘Tory philosopher’; he viewed Coleridgean conservatism as some have seen Burke’s, as a Second––not Counter––Enlightenment view. Burke does not figure as a conservative in Mill’s discussion. However, late nineteenth-century constructors of an ideology of English conservatism preferred to appeal to Burke’s scepticism about reason, while Coleridge’s philosophical prestige was waning. Coleridge’s affiliation with Continental-style ‘rational conservatism’ is also assessed. Competing conceptions of reason condition his rationalism. The picture is similar when one considers the relation between his conservatism and his radicalism. With every major conservative thinker––Burke, Coleridge, Oakeshott––this question of progressiveness versus conservatism arises.


Part III: Metaphysics

Peter Cheyne’s essay discusses Coleridge’s ‘Order of the Mental Powers’ (OMP) in the context of what he identifies as the energic–energetic distinction. The OMP diagram is used to show Coleridge as a two-levels theorist, with the higher and lower levels capable of participation across a fundamental difference. Coleridge is thus a thinker communicating the dynamics of thought within an overarching concern for the ‘energies of Reason’. The restless, flowing, and challenging quality of his writings is therefore balanced by, and subordinated to, the higher level of intellection that he held as a spiritual conatus straining towards ultimate ends and meaningful values. In this two-level theory, energetic desire, pleasure, psychological forces of association, and the ‘mechanical’ understanding operate more naturally on the lower level, while the higher understanding, imagination, and ‘Positive Reason’ work within the enérgeia of free will in the higher mind.

Dillon Struwig presents Coleridge as a two-levels theorist of the innate powers of mind, arguing that Coleridge distinguishes (1) a transcendental, Kantian sense of the a priori, consisting in the principles of human discursive cognition (comparable to Plato’s dianoia), from (2) a noetic, Platonic a priori, consisting in the principles of intellectual intuition (or ēsis, an intuitive cognition that apprehends ontological, theological, and ethical truths). Drawing on Logic and Opus Maximum, Struwig demonstrates that Coleridge takes Kantian a priori principles to be ‘subjectively real’ principles of cognition dependent upon the cognitive constitution of finite subjects, whereas Platonic a priori principles are for Coleridge ‘objectively real’ principles of cognition (and of being) that are dependent upon ‘the transcendent and unindividual’ reason (i.e. God, ‘the absolute Self, Spirit, or Mind’). This two-levels theory is framed in terms of Coleridge’s Kantian ‘threefold division’ of the human cognitive capacities into sense, understanding, and reason, and their respective a priori operations and contents.

Cristina Flores explores the influence of Cambridge Platonist Ralph Cudworth’s philosophical system on Coleridge’s notion of contemplation. Coleridge studied Cudworth’s True Intellectual System early in his career, from 1795 to 1797, before his acquaintance with German thought. Flores contends that Coleridge’s theory of contemplative experience has an initial basis in the Cambridge Platonist’s ontological and epistemological tenets. Coleridge’s conversation poems, written during his perusal of Cudworth’s magnum opus, lay the groundwork for a metaphysical theory of contemplation. In these, which he called ‘Meditative Poems in Blank Verse’, Coleridge dramatizes meditative experience as he conceived it at this early stage of his career. Flores establishes a comparison between Coleridge’s early view of contemplative experience, and the related ‘Order of the Mental Powers’ in considering the influence of Cudworth’s philosophical tenets in Coleridge’s Platonist foundations.

Douglas Hedley takes as his theme the deep roots in the Platonic tradition of Coleridge’s view of contemplation as the experience of nóēsis, for Plato the highest form of epistēmē, being the knowledge of ‘Ideas’ beyond dianoia (discursive and conceptual understanding). Coleridge’s theory of the symbol only makes sense within this metaphysical-theological context. Plotinus’s decisive contribution within Coleridge’s metaphysics is often overlooked. Contemplation, for Plotinus, is connected to Gift. Contemplation is always a return to the ‘Giving’ of the One (rooted in Plato’s ‘unbegrudging’ Goodness of the demiurge, Timaeus 29), and this process of gift and return is mirrored throughout different levels of reality. Like the Cambridge Platonists before him, Coleridge furnished this contemplative return with a Trinitarian articulation. Coleridge’s own contemplative theology is especially inspired by the revival of neo-Platonism in German idealism.

James Engell concludes the section on metaphysics with a comprehensive and illuminating treatment of Coleridge’s philosophy as it incorporates what Engell sees as a series of processes, beings, and relations that are contemplative and yet, most fundamentally, active. Giving central place to the ‘originating Act of self affirmation’, which has profound implications for Coleridge’s religious views as well as for his philosophic thought, this essay considers Coleridge’s metaphysics and his philosophy of religion as one. Coleridge holds that the Act links philosophy and religion so that they are inseparable. Moreover, his insistence on a series of related acts, on agency, as central to religious and philosophical thought has implications for his emphasis on the Will and the Trinity, as well as for his principle of the Logos and what he calls the ‘Dynamic Philosophy’ and its ‘polar logic’.  In this manner he may be seen as a modified Platonist, yet also something of a pragmatist, and a trinitarian Christian.


Part IV: Philosophy of Religion

Coleridge tells us that religion passes beyond the ken, the horizon, of reason, with faith its continuation. Michael McGhee reflects on Coleridge’s illuminating metaphor of twilight, night, and the starry heavens to see how the experiential forms it draws on can affect our understanding of terms like ‘reason’ and ‘faith’. Tentatively suppressing the face value acceptance of those terms, McGhee concentrates on the metaphor and the experience, to see where they lead without the leash of orthodox doctrine controlling the interpretation. Preserving ‘the Soul steady and concentered in its Trance of inward Adoration’ is the crucial experience. Twilight stealing into darkness and into night suggests progressing stillness, its associated concentration opening up a real prospect, the starry heavens, ordinarily concealed by the light of day and quotidian clamour. McGhee then reflects on Buddhist meditational traditions, where concentration or samadhi is as a condition of awakening, seeing things as they are, and this is associated with ‘compassion’ or karuna.

Noriko Naohara explores Coleridgean contemplation as ‘an inward Beholding having a similar relation to the Intelligible or Spiritual, as sense has to the Material or Phenomenal’. Though the development of his religious thinking involves much conflict between rationalism and faith, Coleridge retained Christian spirituality and this definition of Reason indicates his confidence about the human mind intuiting God as spiritual substance. His idea of language is similar to St Augustine’s, and he thinks that human speech could denote the divine Word as Augustine shows in The Trinity. He suggests that the generative process of human language is guided by the Will longing for redemption by Christ. Reason will return towards God supported by the aspiring Will that would move towards the divine Word, or Reason in its objective sense. His theology is that of waiting on God and it shows us a significant guide to faith in a post-Kantian era.

Suzanne Webster concentrates on Coleridge’s theological reflections, especially those of his final years. She finds in Coleridge’s notebooks and other key works, including the Theory of Life and Aids to Reflection, generally consistent results in his efforts to define, desynonymize, and establish the ‘Order of the Mental Powers’. By 1830, with regard to the human being on earth (or the earthly human ‘Personal Identity’), he had filled out his perception of the order of these powers in the context of what he called the ‘triple Ichheit’. Regarding Coleridge’s thought about the origins of contemplative acts and their processes, Webster’s essay explores the ‘Order of the Mental Powers’ as Coleridge saw them within the contexts of the triple Ichheit. She further explains how this ordering related to Coleridge’s thoughts on God, the hypostases of the Trinity, and the relationships between Will, Reason, and Faith.

Gerald Janzen’s essay, ‘Notebook 55 as Contemplative Coda to Coleridge’s Work and Life’, is fittingly the final essay in the volume. This essay construes Coleridge’s last Notebook (March–April 1834, which he titled, ‘Faith, Prayer, Meditation’) as the coda to his work and life, on analogy with the concluding lines to Biographia Literaria and to Opus Maximum Fragment 2, lines likewise taken as codas to their respective works. Building on Mays’ characterization of Coleridge’s ‘poetry of the affections’, and on his identification of the arc of Coleridge’s life as arising within the bosom of his father’s so-called ‘simple’ faith, navigating ‘strange seas of thought’, and coming home at the end to his own (more complicated) simplicity, Janzen argues that one ‘Clew’ to Notebook 55 as coda to his work and life lies in the place the affections enjoy in Coleridge’s notebooks of 1827–34, whose entries most deeply constitute exercises in contemplation.


Wordsworth in Leeds by Anna Fleming

The post below, originally published on the Wordsworth Trust Blog, describes Anna Fleming’s experiences as a doctoral student at the University of Leeds and the Wordsworth Trust. It follows on from a previous post about her year in Grasmere. Here she discusses her public engagement work in Leeds.

After my blog post reporting my year in Grasmere I return to share my year in Leeds. I am a collaborative doctoral award student which means I am partnered with two institutions: the University of Leeds and the Wordsworth Trust. Unlike 2015, when I was based in Grasmere and I used the archive, did community outreach and museum visitor services, my time in Leeds has been much more oriented towards finishing my thesis. Yet following on from the success of the public engagement project I delivered in Grasmere – where I read Wordsworth’s poetry with a number of different people to assess local attitudes and responses to the poet and his poetry – I decided to set up a similar project in Leeds.

From September to December I worked with two groups: primary school children from Shire Oak School in Headingley and older people from Caring Together in Woodhouse. Despite initial reservations and uncertainties, both groups embraced the poetry with huge enthusiasm. Every Thursday morning I went into Shire Oak School where I read Wordsworth’s poetry with Year 5 (9-10 year olds). The initial challenge was that unlike the children I read with in the Lake District who had all heard of Wordsworth and visited his museum, none of these children had ever heard of him. However, all 28 children responded with great enthusiasm to the poetry sessions and quickly learnt details about the poet’s life, family, and his home in Grasmere. The old language did not prove to be too much of a barrier. As one child cheerfully commented: “I like the old words like ‘ye’, ‘redoubled’, ‘mirth’, ‘jocund’ and ‘din’. You wouldn’t get a poem like this in 2016!” The feedback forms demonstrated how much the enjoyed the sessions: 96% gave positive feedback, with 78% reporting they ‘loved it’. Only 4% found it ‘a bit hard’. Interestingly, by comparison the schools I worked with in the Lake District were slightly less positive: 88% responded positively, and 55% said they ‘loved it’. This is perhaps due to ‘Wordsworth fatigue’ that children in the Lake District may have.

1 Jeff talk

I was surprised when I asked some children what they thought of the poem ‘We Are Seven’ and a boy responded: “I like it because it’s philosophical.” In that poem the narrator (Wordsworth?) meets a little girl who says she is one of seven children, but when she describes her siblings she reveals that two have died, so the narrator argues that she is one of five. The children loved talking about the poem: was the little girl was right to say she was one of seven? Was the narrator right to question her about her family, and insist that she is one of five? When we read ‘Lucy Gray’ a few weeks later, a boy insightfully compared the two poems: “‘We are Seven’ is more philosophical because it was all based around one question where this one is more of a story and its mysterious.”

2 reciting a poem

The other group – of up to 15 older people – met every Monday for eight weeks to read and discuss poems by Wordsworth. The challenge here was that it was a mixed group (some people had dementia), and many people had little interest in poetry, having read none since they went to school forty/fifty/sixty years ago. Yet they quickly found their way in and I was struck by their enthusiasm for learning. They were fascinated by Wordsworth’s life, the Lake District, and even the form and structure of poetry. In return, I also learnt a great deal about history, geography, and individual perspectives on Leeds. They really valued the way that reading poems aloud and discussing them “brings the words to life”. As we talked about the poems, people were invited to share their own ideas, interpretations or experiences that relate to the poems. This created a vibrant group understanding, or as one man phrased it: “We’re getting twelve different perspectives on the same thing.” Many people commented that they hadn’t previously like poetry:

“If you’d asked me just 3 weeks ago to read poetry, I would have thought no, that’s not for me. But since coming here I’ve realised that poems are really interesting.”

After reading ‘Expostulation and Reply’ and ‘The Tables Turned’, we had a stimulating discussion about nature. At first there was a sense of distance: how can we relate to the nature that Wordsworth values when we live in the city? What do we have here that compares to his mountains, lakes, trees and rivers? Yet gradually people began to share their own little patches of nature. One woman in a wheelchair said she likes to watch the sun rise through the trees out of her window and see how the whole sky changes. Another woman who lives in back-to-back terrace transforms her yard by filling it with potted plants and flowers, making ‘a little oasis’ among the brick and tarmac. A third woman talked about two trees that grow near her doctor’s surgery. She sees them at the bus stop, and people talk about them as they change to amazing colours in autumn. Seven weeks later, the same woman commented: “Since coming to the group and reading that poem I’ve been noticing nature everywhere.”

4 older group

After discovering the ways that Wordsworth drew on his community to write poetry, I asked two groups to think about their own neighbourhoods for an exhibition. In response they produced artwork that captures their communities. The older people from Caring Together brought in photographs that represents community for them. These images span from the last few years right up to the end of WWII in 1946. They include pictures of street parties and celebrations, children playing on the streets, or famous Leeds characters such as Woodbine Lizzie (a beggar outside Kirkgate market). The children drew pictures that capture their ideas of community today. Wordsworth’s influence can be seen in the pictures of trees, parks, and walks to school – and more modern times emerge with models of cars, traffic lights, and aeroplanes in Headingley. Group hobbies are also prominent, with many pictures depicting Brownies and sports such as rugby, football, and swimming.

These images are on display in Leeds Central library within the exhibition, ‘Creative Communities: Wordsworth in Leeds’. The exhibition explores the similarities and differences between Wordsworth’s community in Grasmere and communities in Leeds. To do so it displays the pictures from reading group members alongside archive photographs of Grasmere community from the Wordsworth Trust. I selected the Grasmere pictures following an afternoon at the Wordsworth Trust archive. I had wanted to show Grasmere community in Wordsworth’s lifetime. However, it proved difficult to find images of local people before photography (aside from a drawing of the Rushbearing ceremony and a very odd painting of three children with a sheep). Fortunately, the assistant curator, Anna Szilagyi pointed me to the ‘Millennium pictures’, a collection of photographs depicting life in Grasmere over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They were collated and printed for an exhibition by Grasmere history group to celebrate the millennium. They are an evocative collection, and I selected twelve images to be displayed in Leeds.

3 exhibition

The exhibition opening was a great success. It brought together 51 people: the school children, older people from Caring Together, and staff and students from the University of Leeds. The children and older people were hugely excited to see their work on display. Jeff Cowton, curator at the Wordsworth Trust, revealed how keen the children were when he asked the audience: “What was Wordsworth’s sister called?” Immediately 10 hands shot up and an excited murmur went around, “Dorothy!” Library staff commented afterwards, “I can’t believe how enthusiastic they are, and how much they remember about Wordsworth!” As they were leaving, one older person said: “Thank you. It has been a real pleasure.”



Anna Fleming is a final year PhD student with the University of Leeds and the Wordsworth Trust. In 2015 she spent a year based at the Wordsworth Trust, gaining experience in visitor services, curatorial work and outreach activities. She is now based in Leeds where teaches undergraduate students and is finishing her thesis.

The exhibition, Creative Communities: Wordsworth in Leeds is in Leeds Central library until Friday 3rd February 2017. Read more about it here.

Stephen Copley Award Report: Amy Boyington, The Gloucester Archives

The following report from Amy Boyington (University of Cambridge) describes her recent studies at the Gloucester Archives. This research trip was funded by a BARS Stephen Copley Award.

The Stephen Copley Award enabled me to consult a range of eighteenth-century manuscripts located at the Gloucester Archives. The purpose of this research trip was to consult the papers of Elizabeth, Dowager Duchess of Beaufort (1713-99), to investigate whether she commissioned any significant architectural works during her widowhood (1756-1799). Significantly, when her brother Norborne Berkeley died in 1770, Elizabeth inherited Stoke Park (Bristol) which she adopted as her dower House. The manuscripts that I consulted at Gloucester related predominantly to her tenure of Stoke Park (1770-99) and luckily proved to be extremely fruitful.

At Gloucester I consulted accounts, correspondence, bills and disbursements which all supported my hypothesis that Elizabeth was an avid architectural patroness during her widowhood. I discovered evidence that proved that she redecorated her dower house at least three times during her tenure of Stoke, demonstrating that she was conscious of the latest aesthetic trends. She also commissioned a series of architectural improvements to the house ranging from the remodelling of the Dining Room, to the insertion of new water closets, to the refurnishing of the bedchambers and dressing rooms.

Further bills related to her architectural commissions within the gardens and parkland. These included the construction of new entrance lodges which were completed in 1777 and advocated the increasingly popular Gothic style. Such a bold choice in style indicated that Elizabeth was interested in the latest architectural and intellectual movements of the times. Additionally, she also commissioned new greenhouses, ‘cucumber frames’ and estate cottages, as well as spending vast sums on repairing various garden follies, illustrating that her interest in architecture was both functional as well as aesthetic.

My research also uncovered details relating to Elizabeth’s properties in London. Surviving leases, plans, correspondence and bills concerning town houses in Grosvenor Square and Berkeley Square provide a valuable insight into the types of houses that elite widows occupied in the latter eighteenth century. The relationship between Elizabeth’s London house and Stoke Park was a pivotal one and enabled her to enjoy the best of the town and country life. These discoveries will enrich my argument that elite women were regularly involved in architectural patronage.

Surprisingly, until this point, Elizabeth has received little academic investigation. BARS has enabled me to rectify this oversight by providing me with the means to conduct new primary research into the life of this remarkable woman. Elizabeth’s vast fortune, land ownership and status placed her in a privileged position that allowed her to pursue her architectural and aesthetic ambitions. In an age where women were generally subordinate to their male relatives Elizabeth provides a fantastic example of female agency and independence.

To conclude, I wish to heartily thank the British Association for Romantic Studies for enabling me to undertake this research, which would not have been possible otherwise. The conducted research will be used directly in my thesis, bolstering my argument significantly.

Amy is a third year PhD student at the University of Cambridge investigating the extent to which elite women commissioned building schemes in eighteenth-century Britain. She is the co-chair of the Young Georgians, an off-shoot of The Georgian Group, a conservation organisation that aims to protect and save vulnerable 18th century buildings in the UK. She is currently in the process of establishing an East Anglian Country House Partnership, which aims to create a knowledge exchange partnership between Cambridge researchers and the surrounding country houses of East Anglia.

Call for Papers. John Thelwall: Radical Networks and Cultures of Reform 1780-1820

CfP for the Second International Conference of the John Thelwall Society which will be held in Derby in July 2017 (deadline 31 January).

Call for Papers:

John Thelwall: Radical Networks and Cultures of Reform 1780-1820

July 21-23, 2017

For its second international conference, the John Thelwall Society, in collaboration with the University of Derby, invites papers on Thelwall within interlinked regional networks of activism, sociability, dissent and reform in Britain 1780-1820.

Recent years have seen increased interest among scholars and local historians in the“conversable worlds” (Mee) of the Midlands Enlightenment and its groundbreaking intersections of politics and poetry, religion and science, doctors and dissenters, pedagogues and visionaries. As a radical polymath and itinerant lecturer, John Thelwall moved between and spoke to all of them, not only in the Midlands.  From Devon to Wales, Norfolk to Scotland, Ireland to France, Roman history to elocution, he planted the liberty tree by other names, giving voice to hope and binding together scattered communities of reform. At a time of war and repression, in the face of nationalist dogma, Thelwall championed egalitarian connections and transnational solidarities that continue to offer a way forward in our own dark times (Poole).

Representative of these regional intellectual centres, Derby, the conference location, lies at the heart of the Derwent Valley World Heritage Site, a cradle of the Industrial Revolution. The home of visionary scientists and artists, revolutionary inventors and industrialists, outspoken Philosophical and Political Societies, and the Pentrich rebellion (whose 200th anniversary the conference also commemorates), it also hosts the Derby Manuscript, the trove of Thelwall poetry whose discovery draws attention to his importance in radical networks, and theirs to an understanding of his career.The conference will celebrate this discovery through a special exhibition of the manuscript. Other highlights include excursions to sites related to the industrial revolution, Thelwall and notable residents of Derby (including Erasmus Darwin and Joseph Wright), and a radical pub night with songs and toasts in the very room where the Derby Political Society delivered its notorious 1792 Revolution Address. And of course, there will be a lively two-day program of talks, panels and keynote lectures.

The JTS invites proposals for papers or sessions on any aspects of, or relationships between, Thelwall, other radical figures like Paine, and/or reform networks in Derby or elsewhere in Britain. Contributions are welcome from all disciplines and need not focus expressly on Thelwall. Topics might include (but are not limited to):

  • Erasmus Darwin and the Derby Philosophers
  • the Derby MS and/or the relationship of poetry, politics and performance
  • the role of women in radical (and/or scientific, philosophical, artistic) networks
  • the relationship of religious and political dissent
  • Joseph Wright and/or the role of the arts in philosophic/scientific/radical circles
  • The Pentrich Rising
  • Paine and/in Derby
  • Thelwall’s lectures: politics, history, elocution
  • radicalism and reform: continuities and/or schisms 1780-1820
  • Toryism, loyalism, reaction
  • education and the dissenting academies

Please send proposals of no more than 300words to no later than 31stJanuary 2017.