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Anna Mercer

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Wordsworth Annual Lecture 2017: Byron and Wordsworth

Please see below for details of the Wordsworth Annual Lecture 2017, to be held in London on Halloween.

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Byron and Wordsworth: Art and Nature

Tuesday 31 October, 6.00 – 7.00pm

The 2017 London Lecture with Professor Sir Drummond Bone

Wordsworth and Byron fell out in a not very dignified way over politics, and there was heavy co-lateral damage in their opinion of each other’s poetry. But there was a fundamental intellectual difference too. Despite his flirtation with Wordsworthean pantheism at P B Shelley’s behest in 1816, Byron came to believe that moral and existential value could only be human constructs, whereas Wordsworth of course saw these very constructs as the barrier to an existential value inherent in Nature, the perception of which was the necessary ground of moral behaviour. Sir Drummond Bone will use this contrast as a way into reading their poetry, and spend some time specifically on their differing attitudes to city life and the nature of art.

Sir Drummond Bone graduated from Glasgow University, and was a Snell Exhibitioner at Balliol from 1968 to 1972. He is an acknowledged expert on the poetry of Byron and is President of the Scottish Byron Society. He became Professor of English Literature and Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Glasgow, Principal of Royal Holloway and Bedford New College in the University of London, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool, and President of Universities UK. He has been Master of Balliol since 2011. In Trinity Term 2016, he was appointed a Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University.

Following the lecture will be a drinks reception that all are welcome to attend.

Chancellor’s Hall, Senate House, Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HU

To RSVP please contact Hannah Stratton at the Wordsworth Trust on 015394 63520 or email h.stratton@wordsworth.org.uk.

Conference Report: The Shelley Conference 2017

Note from Anna Mercer, BARS Blog Editor:
The Shelley Conference 2017 was a two-day event sponsored by BARS. As the organiser I am very grateful to BARS for the support, and then also to Ana Stevenson for compiling the following detailed report. You can see the full programme including all the parallel sessions here, and I am hoping to work on a published collection of essays, or a special journal issue, of some of the wonderful papers I heard at the conference. The keynote speakers’ talks will be available online very soon. Without further comment from me, please enjoy Ana’s account of this gathering of Shelleyans:

The Shelley Conference 2017. 15-16 September. Institute for English Studies, London.

By Ana Stevenson

Delegates outside the mural dedicated to PBS (Poland Street)

Delegates outside the mural dedicated to PBS (Poland Street)

It took almost the length of Shelley’s lifetime for another event celebrating his life and work to be organised – the last one took place on the bicentennial of his birth, in 1992. For this and other reasons, Anna Mercer was determined to organise this exceptional two-days conference. After realising that most of PBS’s contemporaries enjoy various symposiums, Mercer took it upon herself to side with Harrie Neal and organised The Shelley Conference 2017, celebrating both Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Under the guidance of Kelvin Everest and Michael Rossington, Mercer and Neal welcomed Michael O’Neill, Nora Crook, and many scholars from around the world to present a variety of papers exploring the many aspects of PBS and MWS’s lives, work, and collaboration with one another.

The Senate House, London, opened its doors for The Shelley Conference 2017 for the first time on the 15th of September. With a plethora of fascinating panels, it was a hard task to decide which ones to attend. Luckily Graham Henderson has recorded a few, which will soon be available online for those who wish to watch it [see Graham’s website on PBS here]. The Conference started with a short introduction by the organisers, who briefly talked about the programme and thanked those who made the event possible. They expressed the Shelleys’ importance in Literature and Culture, as well as other aspects that inspired them to design this conference. Mercer closed the introduction speech and started the conference with a beautiful reading of ‘Mutability’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley – a poem that perfectly suited the occasion.

The first plenary, Mary Shelley’s Editing of Percy Bysshe Shelley, was delivered by Professor Nora Crook from Anglia Ruskin University. Crook discussed the misconceptions that the public has of Mary Shelley’s intentions when she edited her husband’s work. From his contemporaries to modern day scholars, many believe that MWS did not do justice to her late husband when editing his posthumous pieces. Some are certain that she aimed to change Shelley’s reputation by omitting ‘shocking’ content against his wishes, when in fact, Shelley himself had discussed this matter with his publisher, hoping that his accessible pieces would help him to regain a degree of attention with readers that would then also appreciate his political work. Mrs Shelley was not the only person responsible for the selection of poems to be published; the publisher decided not to include specific pieces in order to avoid being prosecuted. Although MWS meant well by holding Shelley’s radical pieces back, it is uncertain if this was the right attitude. Delaying PBS’s political material also delayed the readers’ understanding and the progress that its content could trigger. Professor Crook discussed the evidence that MWS was heavily involved in her husband’s work until the day of his death. It is not uncommon to find annotations by her as well as blank spaces left by PBS so that his wife could add her input. It must be taken into consideration that MWS was under pressure while editing the volumes of her late husband’s work, which lead to a few mistakes. However, Crook says that their collaboration did not end with Shelley’s death – in life the Shelleys helped to inspire and edit each other’s poems, after Percy’s death, Mary seeks his memory in order to make decisions.

Amongst the first parallel panels was a section concerning Revisions and Editing. It began with Madeline Callaghan from the University of Sheffield presenting her paper ‘“Sweet visions in solitude”: P. B. Shelley’s Rejected Opening of Laon and Cythna’ which discussed Percy Bysshe Shelley’s preoccupation with eternity through the rejected opening of Laon and Cythna. It explores the limits and possibilities of experiencing, and imaging humanity’s relationship with eternity. Callaghan presented the poem as the ultimate way to express Nature and its powers, and Imagination as a complement to beauty, with Shelley thinking carefully about the responsibilities of the poet, amidst words that can encapsulate dreams, the splendour of the mighty dead, and death without glory. Bysshe Inigo Coffey from the University of Exeter followed Callaghan with a paper focused on PBS’s writing style. ‘Verse Under Erasure: Shelley and the Energies of Cancellation’ was a splendid complement to Crook’s lecture as it explored the difficulty of editing the poet’s manuscripts, which were often filled with doodles, scribbles, cancellations, and other abstract imagery, causing the editing of his work to be a hard task. While some say that rhymes kill the meaning of poetry, Coffey argues that its efforts enhance the English language and doesn’t take the poet away from the poem; it takes him beyond. Shelley can cancel our understanding of the Spencerian stanza and doesn’t allow form to limit his creations. Amanda Blake Davis from the University of Sheffield presented the final paper on this panel. Davis discussed MWS’s editing and framing of Prometheus Unbound, adding to Crook’s plenary as she defended that MWS’s editing did not deprive the reader of the poet’s ideas. She argues that Mary prolongs Shelley’s life as a source of happiness to the reader as her framing of P B Shelley’s works assure that his words will be available to readers and Shelley lovers for years to come.

Before the second parallel panels, attendees were invited to a discussion between Michael Rossington and Nora Crook on Current Editions of PBS’s poetry. Prof Rossington is editing poems for, and coordinating, the fifth and final volume of the Longman Annotated English Poets edition of The Poems of Shelley (Routledge). Shelley is the only English poet who did not have a complete academic edition of his work. Rossington explained that the fifth volume, which contains poems and plays from 1821, is scheduled to appear in 2019. Prof Crook gave a brief presentation about the John Hopkins University Press edition of The Complete Poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Rossington discussed the Longman Annotated English Poets edition (The Poems of Shelley). When asked about having two different collections of the poet’s work being released simultaneously, they affirmed that the many editions of Shelley’s work guarantee him a world of fame.

L-R Anna Mercer, Elizabeth Denlinger, Joanna Harker Shaw

L-R Anna Mercer, Elizabeth Denlinger, Joanna Harker Shaw

Percy and Mary Together was one of the options for the second parallel panels section where the speakers concentrated on breaking the myth that PBS and MWS were no longer collaborating towards the end of his life. Anna Mercer from the University of York and organiser of the event started the panel by presenting evidence of the collaboration between the Shelleys in Italy from 1818 until P B Shelley’s death. While some scholars suggest that Mary was no more than Shelley’s copyist, Mercer explores manuscripts and letters that prove otherwise. Annotations show that Mary contributed with suggestions while editing her husband’s work, and pieces written simultaneously by each author show the inspiration that one drew from the other. Joanna Harker Shaw, who is working on a novel about the Shelleys, used her research to defend the position of the Shelleys as advisors. Shaw claims that the lack of evidence that we have of the couple’s collaboration is due to their physical proximity: when most information was recorded through letters, it is not surprising that sources are limited when it comes to people who lived together. However, that is not to say that such evidence does not exist, as it is clear through Shelley’s letters to MWS’s father, William Godwin, that their collaboration and influence on one another was heavily discussed. Elizabeth Denlinger from New York Public Library closed this panel by defending the importance of manuscripts. The modern public is attracted to the visual aspect of an exhibition, which is why Denlinger finds it essential to make manuscripts available. A piece of history creates a stronger connection to the material shown, resulting in a more significant interest from the spectator, who is more likely to have their attention drawn through an artefact than through a piece of text. A potential reader is more likely to become interested in Shelley’s work by seeing the original document than from being presented with a printed version of that piece in question. These manuscripts are more than the text itself; they reflect the person who has written it, their personality, relationships, and life.

Kelvin Everest delivered the second plenary. In his superb ‘The Heart’s Echoes’, Everest explores the reverberation of Queen Mab through Shelley’s career, the formal complexity and various movements of ‘The Cloud’, and how Shelley’s life echoes itself on his final years. Everest’s plenary granted the perfect conclusion for the first day of this excellent event. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that ‘The Heat’s Echoes’ conveyed Shelley’s true essence, and remained with those who had the privilege of enjoying this outstanding talk.

Kelvin Everest delivers his plenary

Kelvin Everest delivers his plenary

The second day of the Shelley Conference 2017 started with its third section of panels. Rethinking Shelley for Later Generations commenced with Mark Summers’s ‘Reclaiming the Radical Republicanism of P. B. Shelley’ which portrayed the humanist and socialist perception of PBS, who perceived individual freedom as a non-dominant aspect which is not limited to economic conditions and is inclusive of all citizens. Shelley, as a radical and Republican, was against violence and, although inspired by the French Revolution, reproved the lack of control from the reign of terror. Summers was followed by Tom Mole from the University of Edinburgh who has recently published his book What the Victorians Made of Romanticism. In his paper ‘Shelley’s Long Poems in Victorian Anthologies’, Mole explained that anthologies became popular with the working classes (for leisure as well as culture) and made Romantic poems conform to Victorian morals. Editors and publishers had to be careful when publishing Queen Mab due to its radical content; only eleven books show it, and Canto IV is the most printed section of that work. These anthologies were not interested in the entirety of the poems and their structure; they published excerpts of lyrics and natural descriptions extracted from dramatical context. Mole claims that by removing parts of the poem, it diminishes its value. However, shattering a text also inspires those who read it to seek its source, and those who are already familiar with it, to frame the extracted part of the poem. The final speaker, Graham Henderson, explored the meaning of Shelley’s visit to the Alps. When Shelley visited Mont Blanc, he was seeing the mountain for the first time – unlike today, their visual descriptions were limited to word accounts, sketches, and paintings. Due to the Napoleonic wars, that area became almost inaccessible to foreign visitors; therefore Shelley was unlikely to have a personal relation accounting this experience. When S T Coleridge visited Mont Blanc, he expressed that no one could see its sublimity and question the existence of a god, but Shelley’s registration in the hotel proves otherwise. He wrote ‘eimi philanthropos, demokratikos, atheos te’ (I am a lover of mankind, democrat and atheist) – Greek was perceived as an intellectual language, therefore by writing in Greek, Shelley was declaring that his view did not come from ignorance. ‘Philantropos tropos’ was used be Aeschylus to describe Prometheus as a ‘Lover of Humanity’, which Shelley was undoubtedly aware of. In 1816 he became more famous for his declarations on this registration book than for his poetry, but this is not the only entry Shelley left in a registration book. In that year, at the Hotel de Londres Shelley has written ‘lover of humanity, democrat, atheist’, at the Hotel d’Anglaterre the entry says ‘Democrat, great lover of mankind, Atheist’, at Montenvers Shelley writes ‘one and all atheists’, and at Sallanches the poet simply wrote ‘atheist’. Henderson expresses that when Shelley says that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world, he means the delegators of humanity.

Texts Composed in 1816 was one of the last parallel panels. Deborah Stiles from the Dalhousie University brought a variety of booklets from places visited by the Shelleys in order to support her paper ‘Geneva Summer, Dundee Winter: MWS, Seasonality, and Settings in Frankenstein’. During her early teenage years, Mary Shelley was sent to Scotland to live in Dundee with the Baxters. They often visited the port where whaling ships were found, which is later portrayed in Frankenstein. While in Geneva, the cold weather experienced in the year without a summer reminded Mary of the winter she spent in Dundee, which may have awakened her early ideas of the themes found in her first novel. Stiles explains that Mary’s book is very weather-based, having its story set through various seasons which may be perceived as a reflection of various moments when Mary had thoughts that lead to Frankenstein. Carl McKeating from the University of Leeds followed with ‘A City of Death: The Shelleys and “Mont Blanc”’, showing Mont Blanc is a pace of confrontation; it represents glory, but it also has the fame of being a ‘cursed mountain’. Percy Bysshe Shelley describes it as snowy and serene, but also as a city of death, and for Mary, the mountain symbolises hope, but it is also the conveyor of death. The Shelleys’ excursion to Mont Blanc was a safe one led by guides. However, they were aware of the dangers of such place – perhaps they saw an avalanche or received accounts of it. The dangers of Mont Blanc are seen in a metaphysical way in Frankenstein, with humanity as the ultimate prey of the snow. Miriam Sette from the University ‘G. d’Annuzio’ Pescara expresses Mont Blanc’s echoes of text influences from Plato to Blake in her ‘Poetry as Vision: “Mont Blanc” by Shelley’. Percy Bysshe Shelley was a natural organism of Romanticism; ‘a passionate advocate of the platonic world and mutability’. Mont Blanc was not only appreciated for the sublimity of its beauty, but also for what it represented. It is powerful, remote, and unaffected; the top of the mountain remains unaffected no matter what happens in the world below. The speakers debated the humane aspects of the Shelleys’ works, which have been inspired by their personal experience of Mont Blanc, which is often underestimated.

The Conference Dinner

The Conference Dinner, held at Vasco & Piero’s, the building where PBS lived in 1811

The Shelley Conference 2017 concluded with a third plenary by Michael O’Neill from Durham University. In ‘“Pictures” and “Signs”: Creative Thinking in P. B. Shelley’s Prose’, O’Neill expressed Shelley’s commitment to writing poetry as a poet. While ancient as well as contemporary poets inspired him, Shelley’s language is common, not individual. Shelley does not deny his inspiration; ‘Our words are dead, our thoughts are cold and borrowed’. Yet he is not limited to the form – ‘On Life’ is a prose poem with great Philosophical weight, and ‘A Defence of Poetry’ shows a decline from image to sign. It is how Shelley perceives poetry that sets him apart, and his prose is a great proof that soul and imagination are very much relevant in politics. Michael O’Neill presented examples such as ‘An Address to the People on the Death of Princess Charlotte’ where Shelley manipulates the audience through language, and instead of grieving the dead princess, he laments the death of Liberty. ‘Shelley tells us that language is both a veil and a pointer to what lies beyond the veil’. [n.b.: O’Neill’s talk was based on an essay to be published in a forthcoming book by Oxford University Press: Thinking through Style ed. Michael D. Hurley and Marcus Waithe].

So with this extraordinary plenary, The Shelley Conference 2017 came to an end. Two days worth of excellent panels and speakers passed by hastily, however, the success of the conference shows the relevancy of the Shelleys and the demand for such events. This will hopefully mark the start of a new era of conferences and seminars dedicated to explore and discuss the Shelleys and their work. Until another event is confirmed, the public can expect great material from many of the speakers, such as the Longman Annotated English Poets edition of The Poems of Shelley, the John Hopkins University Press edition of The Complete Poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Tom Mole’s What the Victorians Made of Romanticism, and Joanna Harker Shaw’s novel.
– Ana Stevenson

 

Images are the organisers’ own.

Conference website here.

Conference twitter here.

“Frankenreads” – An international celebration of the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s novel

Please see below for an announcement from Prof. Neil Fraistat (University of Maryland). The Frankenstein celebrations next year are likely to be numerous, and this sounds like a particularly exciting international initiative devoted to promoting the iconic and ever-fascinating novel by Mary Shelley.

Image taken from Frankenreads.org

Image taken from Frankenreads.org

Frankenreads

“Dear all,

As you know, the year 2018 marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a seminal literary work that, since its appearance, has influenced millions of people across the globe. Frankenstein is a rare work of fiction in that it appeals to both novice and expert readers alike, readers who represent both the breadth of human diversity and a range of disciplinary interests and backgrounds. It is a work that remains relevant to contemporary cultural debates concerning issues ranging from biomedical technologies and the ethical questions they raise to misperceptions and misrepresentations of the Other and their impact on our shared humanity. Frankenstein sparks imagination and critical thinking about the human experience, and thus it is perhaps no surprise that it is the most widely taught literary text in the USA and the fifth most widely taught book from any discipline.

To commemorate the bicentennial of the novel and also to harness its power to generate and inspire communities of readers, the Keats-Shelley Association of America (K-SAA) in partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities is launching “Frankenreads”: a “Bloomsday”-style, national/international public reading of Frankenstein on October 31, 2018. We hope to:

  • engage an international community, including but not limited to North America, Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia Pacific in related activities centering on the novel;
  • to make this community visible globally as a community through shared branding and social media;
  • to livestream a public reading of Frankenstein to be held in Washington, D.C. for those around the world who are unable to attend one in person;
  • to facilitate bringing regional experts of the novel to such events as lectures, discussions, and film showings held at local libraries and community centers;
  • to hold in the days leading up to Frankenreads an international “Week of Frankenstein,” during which students, teachers, and the public could hold Frankenstein related events and contribute their thoughts, images, and short videos about Frankenstein to a collective blog.

We now invite you now to join our core group of over 40 universities and libraries from 10 countries by involving your university, local library, or community center in participating.

To read more about strategies for hosting an event, see a select list of related resources, and to register your own event, go to our dedicated website: frankenreads.org.

We hope you will be joining us as host or participant!”

 

BARS 2017 Reports: Part II

More reports from BARS 2017! Thank you to the bursary winners who sent these in.

See the storify here, and part one here.

 

Yasser Shams Khan – University of Oxford

This was the first BARS conference I had attended and it was truly a treat! The conference offered a great opportunity to witness the exciting directions the field of Romantic studies was taking. The opening plenary by Catherine Hall on colonial slavery and its impact on the development of many towns around England never thought to have been associated with the abhorrent institution was as good an opening as one could expect, especially since the theme for the conference was Romantic Improvement. It set the tone for the rest of the conference with papers ranging from improvements from laboring class poetry to interrogations into moral and sentimental improvement. Two panels of particular interest to me were those on illegitimate theatres, presented as a tribute to the late Jane Moody. As my work deals with romantic period drama and racial representation, the papers in these panels offered me great insights and I managed to learn a lot. My own paper dealt with the political valence of the trope of the Noble Savage in the various adaptations of Oroonoko across the eighteenth century. I received some really good feedback on my paper which gave me a lot to think about. The conference was very well organised thanks to the tremendous work put in by the organisers and the dedicated student volunteers. Their effort is much appreciated.

Apart from the conference, the city was a joy to walk through with the beautiful sights around the old wall. The streets and the sight of the York Minster was just fabulous on those rare occasions the sun peeked out of the clouds. It was all in all a great experience. I look forward to my next BARS conference.

 

Our conference packs

Our conference packs

 

James M. Morris – Universities of Dundee and Glasgow

Embodying the ethos of the British Association for Romantic Studies as an organisation, the University of York’s BARS 2017 conference managed to combine intellectual rigour with a friendly, relaxed and encouraging atmosphere. With a panoply of papers covering the theme of ‘improvement’ in a broad variety of forms and contexts, delegates were spoilt for choice and, short of being able to be in two places at once, I most definitely missed as many great paper as I managed to hear. Warmly hosted by the conference organisers and supported by a team of knowledgeable and helpful postgraduates, the conference not only provided me with a chance to present on Scott and develop some ideas for the future, but also opened my eyes to entirely new fields of research. As is the case with all of the best conferences, indeed, I spent the days following BARS in a flurry of reading, keen to pursue some of the ideas discussed both in papers and during the all-important coffee, lunch, and wine breaks.

With the musical stylings of Le Strange and Maxim’s, ‘Lyrical (Power) Ballads’ offering an unforgettable soundtrack to the conference, BARS 2017 will not only be, for me, a fond memory, but will also be key in the development of my future work and research. Many thanks to the organisers for providing all delegates with such a great weekend!

 

York Minster on day 1

York Minster on day 1

 

Caitlin Kitchener – University of York 

BARS 2017 was certainly a conference that improved me intellectually. Coming from archaeology rather than a literature background threw me into the proverbial deep end, with my notebook filling up names, theories, and ideas I was previously unaware of. The session I spoke in was particularly enlightening due to the fruitful and stimulating discussion that followed the papers. Alison Morgan’s paper on the songs and poetry of Peterloo was fascinating too and her forthcoming anthology should prove to be a useful and interesting book. Ideas of sound and soundscapes, the role of material culture in constructing spaces and landscapes, where the snuff boxes of Bob the horse may be, and the importance of tunes in poetry and songs of radicalism and protest were all explored. Overall, it was an engaging conference and I am grateful for the bursary that allowed me to experience it and Theresa May’s lyrical ballads.

 

The venue

The venue

 

Alexis Wolf – Birkbeck, University of London

BARS 2017: Romantic Improvement was a truly engaging conference that brought together scholars from across the world. King’s Manor provided a stunning conference venue in the heart of medieval York, and the team from the University of York put together a wonderful event. I’m surely not the only delegate who will forever cherish the memory of Christabel being sung to the tune of ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’. Numerous concurrent panels made selecting one quite difficult, particularly given the wide range of topics in Romanticism included in the programme.

Women’s writing was especially well represented at this year’s conference. The first of two panels on Improvement in Austen’s Novels kicked off this thread, with papers by Joe Morrissey, Emma Clery and Rita Dashwood, all of which suggested nuanced readings of women’s agency in Austen’s fiction. My own paper on forms of improvement across variant versions of Katherine Wilmot’s circulated travelogue manuscripts was situated on a panel with Nick Mason, Sarah Faulkner and Susan Civale. The panel stirred a thought-provoking debate on methodologies for researching and recovering Romantic women’s life writing and biography. An excellent panel on the Leverhulme-funded project on The Lady’s Magazine argued for a new appraisal of the periodical, with Chloe Wigston Smith, Jennie Batchelor and Jenny DiPlacidi all presenting compelling research that resituates The Lady’s Magazine as a community building and intellectually stimulating forum for women readers and writers of the Romantic Period.

Other highlights included a panel on Print Culture and Knowledge, with Anthony Mandal rediscovering gothic networks in the Romantic book trade, Marianne Brooker investigating Coleridge’s fluttering, fugitive knowledge, and Gillian Russell exploring the ephemeral ballooning trail of Sarah Sophia Banks. Nigel Leask’s plenary took us on a hilarious Scottish tour alongside two outlandish pedestrian vagabonds, raising questions about the limits of philosophy and hospitality in Romantic travel literature. The conference dinner at the Merchant Adventurers Hall provided a lovely cap to the proceedings, with Professor Jon Mee stepping in as quiz master for all things York-related.

The BARS conferences continue to offer an exciting range of research while also provide a welcoming space for collegiality among Romanticists. I’m already looking forward to the next meeting in Nottingham in 2019.

 

Christy Edwall (University of Oxford)

‘Romantic Improvements’ was my first international BARS conference and my notebook is filled with the detritus of twenty panels: of James Hogg’s fictional sojourn in South Africa, John Clare’s involvement with the politically significant Beerhouse Act of 1830, and Shelley’s ruinous poetics.  My paper on Clare’s transcriptions of Keats found echoes in Casie LeGette’s paper on the Co-operative Movement’s suggestive reprintings of poems by Southey and Wordsworth – a connection I’ll be sure to follow up. Most fruitful perhaps were the new friendships – cemented at the pub and within earshot of a brilliant combination of Lyrical Ballads, togas, eighties rock, and political satire. After failing dismally at the BARS quiz, held during the conference dinner in the rich-timbered Merchant Adventurer’s Hall, I’ll never forget that it was Frank Churchill’s aunt who lived in Yorkshire. Nor will I lose hope that some enterprising filmmaker will turn Nigel Leask’s pair of philosophical vagabonds travelling through Scotland into the subject of a Michael Winterbottom Trip-like film: green-tinted glasses, disintegrating sailor’s outfits and all! Thanks to all the organisers, to the York Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies, and for the wonderful King’s Manor for hosting the conference.

David Hume and the National Library of Scotland: Copley Report

See below for a report from Rebecca Davies (NTNU, Trondheim, Norway). Rebecca was awarded a BARS Stephen Copley Research Award, and she explains her subsequent research activity here.

Rebecca Davies – Stephen Copley Award Report

I used the award to visit to the National Library of Scotland’s special collections to begin what will eventually be an extensive examination of the letters of David Hume, as part of a broader consideration of his epistemology. This research will be incorporated into my current project on the treatment of ‘genius’ and precocity – or ingenia proecocia – in educational writing of the long eighteenth century. I am interested in how Hume – in his unguarded moments where he is not consciously the philosopher – represents human ‘powers and faculties’, and the nature of knowledge, relative to both childhood education and knowledge acquisition into adulthood. The work carried out in the NLS informs a chapter exploring the treatment of genius, learning and cognition in Enlightenment epistemology, to reassess and relocate Romantic conceptions of creative genius. As Paul Bruno has observed, Hume does not explicitly comment upon genius in the sense of originality and untutored talent in his published works. Consequently, my key focus for this research was whether he engages with the subject, even obliquely, in his private writings, through discussions of reading, education and knowledge acquisition. I was also interested in his conception of education more broadly.

Although, unsurprisingly, the archives did not reveal any letters on the topic that have not been already published by Grieg, it was nevertheless useful to view the contents in an unmediated form, to trace themes of study, intellect, and Hume’s perception of the physical effects of thought and education without an overt chronological and biographical focus. The letters provided some diverse and interesting commentaries regarding Hume’s own education and attitude to knowledge and learning. Although well known, some key examples of this focus on knowledge and learning appear in the famous ‘Letter to an Anonymous Physician’ – where he notes the necessity of forgetting the reasoning of the ancients in order to come to a better understanding of the ‘truth’ – and his discussion of Rousseau’s unlearned ‘genius’, before their infamous feud. The most useful letters for my purpose were more esoteric, such as those addressed to his friend Baron Mure, written in the 1760s, reporting on the suspect pedagogy of the teacher Graffigni at the school Mure’s young sons were attending. Hume is singularly unimpressed by Graffigni’s ‘novel’ methods of teaching Latin, which he claims will not advance the understanding of the young people. In comparison, his letters to and from his nephew’s tutor, Mr Blacklock, demonstrate a harmonious agreement regarding the ideal methods for knowledge acquisition. These letters will form the basis of an examination of the practical application of epistemological theory in pedagogy, specifically relative to notions of ability and understanding in the pupils.

The generosity of the award enabled me to look at MS23151-23153 over the course of five days, and establish the usefulness of investigating this resource further.

Staging Nineteenth-Century Melodrama at the Georgian Theatre Royal

Staging Nineteenth-Century Melodrama at the Georgian Theatre Royal

The Fortress on the Danube is being performed at the Georgian Theatre Royal, Yorkshire, on Friday 25 August, 7.30pm. Director: Sarah Wynne Kordas; Musical Director: Diane Tisdall; Dramaturge: Sarah Burdett. Tickets can be purchased here.

By Sarah Burdett (University of Warwick)
For the past five months, I have been working as a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Warwick on the exciting practice-based research project ‘Staging Napoleonic Theatre’. The project, led by Dr Katherine Astbury, and funded by the AHRC, has involved staging two nineteenth-century French melodramas in translation. Roseliska, a melodrama of 1811, written and performed by French prisoners of war at Portchester Castle, was revived at the site of its original production in July 2017; and La Forteresse du Danube, (translated as The Fortress), by prolific French playwright Guilbert Pixerécourt, initially staged at the Théatre de la Porte Saint-Martin in 1805, is being revived at the Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond, on 25 August 2017. One down, one to go!

 

fortress-advert
As a British theatre historian who has spent the last four years hunched over manuscripts of Georgian play-texts in dark and silent libraries, the experience of bringing these scripts back to life in my role as dramaturge – of furnishing them with the spectacular and aural vibrancy that the written text alone cannot provide – has been both exhilarating and enlightening. Recent Romantic theatre scholarship has stressed the need for the play text to be read alongside its visual, aural and oral elements, in order for its theatrical impact to be adequately comprehended. Nowhere is this statement more true than in relation to the nineteenth-century melodrama, as I have discovered first hand while working on this project.

 
Popularised in both France and Britain in the aftermath of the French Revolution, the melodrama sought to provide entertainment emotionally powerful enough to stimulate the minds of a public traumatised by the recent violence in France. In order to achieve this, the genre fully exploited all that the nineteenth-century theatre, its actors and musicians, had to offer in terms of scenic and musical extravagance. As well as making full use of advancements in technology, which enabled the inclusion in melodramatic performances of explosions formed by fireworks, and naval battles performed on flooded stages, the melodrama’s elaborate spectacle was enhanced by a style of acting that consisted of large and elaborate gestures. In the melodrama, nothing is left concealed. Characters are open books whose emotions are externalised clearly and unambiguously through the use of entirely demonstrative gesticulations, movements, and facial expressions. Bodies do the talking: they tell us what characters are thinking and feeling without the need for monologues. Essentially, the body surpasses the script in terms of emotional expression.

 
The emotional intensity enabled by this expressive style of acting is strongly accentuated by the use of stirring, provocative music. Melodramatic music, provided by an orchestra, plays an integral function in shaping audiences’ responses to the scenes exhibited on stage. Like the actor’s body, music provides another form of non-verbal communication. As well as serving to enable sound effects for occurrences including dramatic storms and battles, music can also anticipate forthcoming events, hark back to previous scenes, magnify a character’s inner thoughts, accentuate externalised feelings, and encourage audiences when to cheer, when to boo, and when to remain silent. Lengthy interludes of instrumental music often accompany moments of high drama within melodramatic performances. Actors move in sync to the orchestra’s music, creating scenes that, while entirely lacking words, and therefore occupying little space in the play text, can last for a good three to four minutes when exhibited on the stage. The melodrama, therefore, becomes an entirely different beast when experienced in the theatre, than it does when confined to the page.

 

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How then do you go about reviving a nineteenth-century melodrama to be staged before a twenty-first century audience? This is the question that myself and the Staging Napoleonic Theatre team continue to grapple with as we approach our performance of The Fortress at the Georgian Theatre Royal. One of the biggest challenges we experienced when staging the first of our two melodramas, Roseliska, was encouraging modern day performers to act in a manner that they considered at first to be grossly over the top. With twenty-first century acting styles being dominated by the influences of Stanislavski and naturalism, it is entirely unsurprising that melodramatic techniques tend not to sit too comfortably with twenty-first century actors. To accommodate this, we have been working with our performers on exercises revolving around mime and tableaux. These were largely inspired by the wonderful collection of essays published in the special edition of Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film (Winter, 2002), edited by Gilli Bush-Bailey and Jackie Bratton, documenting the process of reviving melodramas by nineteenth-century British playwright Jane Scott, as part of the ‘Jane Scott Project’. I drew heavily on Dick McCaw’s essay in this collection, on training actors for melodrama, at the workshop/audition we held at the Georgian Theatre Royal back in June, from which we acquired our Fortress cast.

 

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To kick off the workshop, we had each of our participants describe how there morning had been thus far, in the form of mime. The exercise got participants thinking immediately about how to express themselves physically, using entirely non-verbal signs. Scheduling this as the first activity of the day, and using it as much to introduce participants to one another, as to get them thinking about melodramatic techniques, the exercise also quickly banished any inhibitions that the actors might have held about externalising their feelings in this peculiar manner, in front of a group of strangers. We then moved on to look at how narratives might be formed using freeze frames. Entirely pilfering McCaw’s ‘Every Picture Tells a Story’ exercise, I gave our actors the task of acting out popular nursery rhymes in small groups, using a series of tableaux. These tableaux were then put into motion, creating a fluid sequence of movements. This exercise built on the opening ice-breaker, by encouraging actors to think about how they might go from conveying one very specific emotion/action to another, without allowing the narrative they are creating to become staccato. Fluidity of movement and of emotional expression are crucial skills for melodramatic actors. As I hinted previously, actors are often required to convey an entire series of emotions within the space of a single piece of music. Therefore, the ability to shift swiftly, coherently, and melodiously from one clearly defined pose to another, is a technique that must be mastered.

 

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Accordingly, a lot of our workshop was devoted to musicality. Our musical director, Dr Diane Tisdall, played tunes on her violin from the original Forteresse score, and our actors were tasked with the challenge of responding to these tunes in character. Music was shown to play an incredibly authoritative role in determining the manner in which the actors interpreted the character they were playing. At one point in The Fortress, the lieutenant Olivier is faced with a moral dilemma: should he obey love or duty? While he silently contemplates this choice on stage, orchestral music helps to externalise his feelings. At the workshop, we experimented with changing the pace and tempo of this music. We found that doing so had a profound impact on the way that the role of Olivier was played. When the music was at its slowest, actors tended to play Olivier as a mournful, indecisive, and somewhat self-pitying character, distraught at the prospect of having to make such an unfair decision. When the music was at its fastest however, Olivier was shown to deal quickly with the emotional turmoil caused by the conflict, and to reach a frantic but firm resolution by the time that the music had ceased. This exercise indicated to our actors the collaborative role played by composers, musicians, and performers, in dictating the narrative’s meaning.

 

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We went on to introduce our actors to popular nineteenth-century acting manuals including Henry Siddons’s Practical Illustrations of Rhetorical Gesture, and the anonymously written Thespian Preceptor. These manuals offer visual and verbal descriptions of the ways in which certain emotions were externalised by performers on the nineteenth-century stage. While by no means offering prescriptive guides, the manuals provide valuable insight into the expressiveness of the poses, gestures, and facial expressions conveyed by performers of the time. Reviews of nineteenth-century melodramas printed in contemporary British newspapers, periodicals, diaries and letters have also been shared with performers. One brilliantly fun review of a melodrama staged in London in 1832 pokes fun at an actor’s incessant use of his arms, by comparing them to the sails of a windmill! This review was particularly helpful in assuring our modern day actors that, despite how ostentatious their gestures might feel, they are entirely in keeping with melodramatic extravagance.

 

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This week the Staging Napoleonic Theatre team is up in Richmond, Yorkshire, ahead of our performance of the Fortress at the Georgian Theatre Royal on Friday 25 August. For this performance, we are working with a community cast, many of whom had never heard of Pixerécourt prior to their involvement in the play, but have quickly become experts in the dramatic genre that he pioneered. Following the fantastic reception that Roseliska received when performed at Portchester castle last month, we have discovered that there is definitely still a place for nineteenth-century melodrama on the twenty-first century stage. And what better stage to perform this on, than that of the country’s oldest working Georgian theatre, upon whose boards the likes of Sarah Siddons, Edmund Kean, and William McCready have previously stood? So, if you’re still wondering how one might go about reviving a nineteenth-century melodrama for a twenty-first century audience, come along and see for yourselves! We’d love to hear your thoughts!

BARS 2017 Reports: Part I

Thank you to everyone who came along to our international biennial conference:

 

BARS 2017

Romantic Improvement

The University of York

27-30 July

 

This was the 15th conference of the British Association for Romantic Studies.

Postgraduate bursary winners have been invited to write short reports on their experience as a delegate and/or speaker at the event. Here are the first three – more to follow at a later date.

Enjoy! You can also see the storify of the tweets, and pictures from the event, here.

 

Sarah Faulkner (University of Washington)

I had a wonderful time at BARS–and that wasn’t just because of the discounted ice cream, though that was a serious plus. I really enjoyed the collegiality of the conference, especially between Romanticists at all stages of their career. I felt invited to speak with senior faculty, and found new, wonderful friends among other graduate students. Having just come from the wonderful Austen/Staël conference at Chawton House Library, it was wonderful to reconnect with other Chawton delegates, and to really feel like I was a part of the Romanticist community. I have always felt a bit like an imposter in Romanticism since I study women’s novels rather than male poetry, but this conference changed that feeling for me entirely. The multitude of panels on women’s writing and novels, the generosity of feedback, and most of all the fervent interest expressed by all about each other’s work, made this an exceptional conference.

Sarah is organising JANEFEST 2017 at the University of Washington, in Seattle, WA, USA.

Twitter: @janefest17

Conference Banquet. Via @BARS_official on twitter

Conference Banquet. Via @BARS_official on twitter

Joshua Schouten de Jel (University of Plymouth)

BARS 2017 was my third conference this year (I also presented at Budapest and Brighton). Held at King’s Manor, and nearby to the idyllic Museum Gardens, it was a tremendous setting for what was an absolutely intriguing conference. Topics ranged from ecocriticism, to Leigh Hunt, to war trauma, and the Romantic book trade, but the panel (chaired by Jon Mee) on which I presented was based on William Blake, upon whom I am conducting my PhD at Plymouth University.

Lucy Cogan, from the University of York, gave a paper on prophecy and futurity, concentrating on the Continental Books, primarily America (1793) and Europe (1794). Her fascinating reading of the shadowy female of the Preludiums in conjunction with Oothoon from Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1793) opened up an interesting dialogue between Blake’s works, as well as suggesting the revisionary nature of his mythopoeia. The other presenter, Amadeus Kang-Po Chen from the University of Edinburgh, gave an exciting paper which also concentrated on Oothoon, but drew in the two other characters from Visions of the Daughters of Albion, Bromion and Theotormon. Working through Blake’s erotic resonances within the text, Amadeus’ readings highlighted the similarities between Oothoon and the plants of Erasmus Darwin’s ‘The Loves of the Plants’ (1791). Noting the pictorial representation of Theotormon, it was illuminating to note the asexual nature of his posture (which corresponds to his actions in the narrative), and how such a reading is enlivened by the botanical work of Darwin.

My paper looked at Blake’s millenarianism and traced the internalisation of apocalypse throughout the 1790s and into the latter Prophetic Books. The private and personal nature of Blake’s self-annihilation is always balanced with the outward-looking and inclusive idea of brotherhood, and thus my paper concentrated on the limitations of Orc in contradistinction to the possibilities provided by belief and faith, the driving forces behind Milton’s descent and Albion’s reawakening.

The conference provided an excellent arena in which to share a number of my doctoral findings, and I hope has stimulated further research (especially in Blake!).

Photo by Eugenia Zuroski‏ @zugenia via twitter

Photo by Eugenia Zuroski‏
@zugenia via twitter

Rayna Rossenova (Sofia University)

Let me start a while back: When last September I went on a trip to Lancaster, in one of my outings I met a nice lady, who told me I should definitely go visit York when I got the chance. Little did I know that it would be for an occasion of such a scale.

I was extremely delighted and grateful to be the recipient of one of the bursaries, generously awarded by BARS, the York Georgian Society and Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies. BARS 2017: Romantic Improvement was truly an event which I shall remember and neatly wrap up in a bundle of memories comprised of the inspiring papers I heard and the people I met, along with the sights of the magnificent city of York.

The conference was a true cosmopolitan space which gathered scholars from all over the world. The papers inspired animated conversations in the rooms of King’s Manor, located in the heart of the city. Undoubtedly, these four days were marked by a vibrant and convivial atmosphere where ideas and discussions flourished.

The organisers had thought of everything to make our experience a memorable one. Each day met us with versatile panel sessions offering engaging and thought-provoking papers, followed by comfort and coffee/tea breaks to recharge our batteries and prepare for the next round of talks. I immensely enjoyed the papers in the sessions I attended and the plenary lectures.

Also, there were tours in and out of the city specially arranged for our amusement and a lavish banquet at a medieval house. What more could one possibly want? I only wish I had a “time turner” so I could turn back time at will and be able to hear all those interesting papers being delivered in the parallel panels.

Saturday afternoon offered a delightful trip to the stately Castle Howard, which was mesmerizing in both its interiors and exteriors. The grandeur of the façade was matched by the exquisitely furnished halls and rooms inside the house. Fortunately, the weather was on our side, so we could walk in the open air and enjoy the beautiful gardens and scenery. I would definitely like to re-visit it someday.

Castle Howard

Castle Howard, photo by Rayna

After the lovely trip, the evening promised to be just as exciting. The conference dinner was held in the medieval Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, where we were entertained by Prof Jon Mee who, in his role as quiz compère, challenged us with some brain-racking questions to test our York knowledge over a delicious meal. Sitting in this authentic setting, one could not help but imagine the days of yore when medieval revellers made merry and filled the hall with jubilant glee.

But as all good things must come to an end, so did the conference. I think I can safely say this was yet another year of firsts for me – it was my first BARS conference and my first visit to York. So, I would once again like to thank BARS, the Organisers, and all the delegates for making this conference the tremendous experience it was.

Copley Report: James Beattie by R. J. W. Mills

Please see below for Robin Mills’ report on their 2017 research funded by a BARS Stephen Copley Award.

Stephen Copley Award 2017 Recipient Report – R. J. W. Mills

I am very grateful to have been a recipient of one of the British Association for Romantic Studies’ Stephen Copley Awards for 2017. The funds given to me paid for two research trips to archives in Scotland: one to the University of Aberdeen in April 2017 and one to Edinburgh University in June 2017. During both I conducted research on the extensive manuscript collections relating to the poet and philosopher James Beattie (1735–1803) as part of my ongoing research project to write the first modern scholarly biography of Beattie. The research undertaken has enabled me to flesh out further Beattie’s literary and philosophical activities during the 1760s and early 1770s. As a result, I am hoping to soon make the case that some of the philosophical and poetical writings that emerged out of 1760s Aberdeen was of a very different quality to the ‘philosophy of the human mind’ usually associated with the Aberdeen Enlightenment.

Exploration of the Beattie correspondence in Aberdeen has allowed me to deepen my understanding of the life and work of one of Beattie’s closest friends and philosophical allies, the Aberdeen and then Edinburgh physician and moralist John Gregory (1724–1773). Known to scholars as the author of the wildly popular A Father’s Legacy (1774) and to historians of science as one of the first medical ethicists, Gregory was also the author of another best-selling work, A Comparative View of the State and Faculties of Man (1765), which combined Aberdeen’s famous common sense philosophy with the language of sensibility. My research in Aberdeen has developed the burgeoning picture I have of Gregory as an energetic and pessimistic social commentator who was worried about the effects of luxury and modern sceptical philosophy on the morals of eighteenth-century Britain. Despite Gregory’s status as one of the most important and prominent moralists of his age, there has been little archival work done on his correspondence. What has emerged from my activities in Aberdeen is a picture of Gregory, newly installed in Edinburgh, deeply angered by the ambivalence and complacency with which the Edinburgh literati indulged David Hume. Moreover, Gregory was critical of the failings of abstract rational theology to appeal to the multitude and warned that the development of Methodism was the inevitable consequence of an establishment theology that did not appeal to the heart and senses of the laity.

My work on Gregory will inform my exploration of his discussion of religion and scepticism in Comparative View in an upcoming monograph on the Scottish Enlightenment, but it also helps develop our understanding of James Beattie. The correspondence of the pair suggests that, while the Common Sense philosophy of Aberdeen is usually associated with the rigorous philosophy of Thomas Reid’s An Inquiry into the Human Mind (1764), there was developing within Aberdeen circles a strong belief that modern threats to religion and morals could only be overturned by an appeal to the heart. This has lead me on to other leads – the poetry of Thomas Blacklock, for example – suggesting that the language of heart-felt authenticity amongst many Scottish authors appeared as a direct consequence of Hume’s unnerving sceptical philosophy. This is helpful for me, in terms of my biography, to understand the philosophical and cultural networks in which Beattie was working. I also aim to publish something on this aspect of the Scottish Enlightenment, which has thus far been ignored.

My research on the Beattie papers has also result in an article, for submission to a Romanticism studies journal, about Beattie’s reading of the Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. I have found much evidence in both his papers (in Aberdeen) and correspondence (Aberdeen and Edinburgh) suggesting Beattie was an avid reader of Rousseau, and who both sympathetically identified with Rousseau and his psychological problems and utilised Rousseau’s writings when authoring his own. In particular, Beattie is closely reading Rousseau, and especially the Profession of Faith by the Savoyard Vicar in Emile, while he is composing both his Essay on Truth (1770) and his influential proto-Romantic poem The Minstrel (1771–1774).

Call for Papers: Collage, Montage, Assemblage: Collected and Composite Forms, 1700-Present

Thanks to Freya Gowrley for sending in this exciting new Call for Papers.

 

CfP: Collage, Montage, Assemblage: Collected and Composite Forms, 1700-Present (University of Edinburgh, 18-19 April 2018)

Deadline for abstracts: 1 December 2017

 

This two-day multidisciplinary conference will explore the medium of collage across an unprecedentedly broad chronological range, considering its production and consumption over a period of more than three hundred years. While research on paper collage plays a key role in histories of modern art, particularly of the 1920s and 1930s, its longer history and diverse range of manifestations are often overlooked within art historical scholarship. Though important work is being done on collage at both the level of the individual work and the medium more broadly, this has often overlooked collage’s multitudinous forms and assorted temporal variants. This conference accordingly aims to tackle this oversight by thinking about collage across history, medium, and discipline. Employing an inclusive definition of the term, the conference invites papers discussing a variety of material, literary, and musical forms of collage, including traditional papier collé alongside practices such as writing, making music and commonplacing, and the production of composite objects such as grangerized texts, decoupage, quilts, shellwork, scrapbooks, assemblage, and photomontage.

In so doing, the conference will situate histories of modernist collage in relation to a much broader range of cultural practices, allowing for productive parallels to be drawn between the cultural productions of periods that are often subject to rigid chronological divisions. Reciprocally, the conference will encourage a consideration of collage made in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries against key concepts and methodologies from the study of modernism and postmodernism, such as the objet trouvé or assemblage. From papier collé to the digital age, the conference will highlight collage’s rich history and crucial role in cultural production over the last three hundred years.

We invite contributions from scholars working in the fields of art history, history, music, material culture studies, and literature. We also welcome and encourage papers from practitioners working in any medium whose practice is influenced by collage, assemblage, and/or montage. Potential topics could include, but are not limited to:

 

  • Collage as medium
  • Collage, assemblage, montage: terminologies and categories
  • Defining/redefining collage
  • Making/viewing collage
  • Collage and identity
  • Collage and intention: chance, agency, intentionality
  • Collage and the modern/pre-modern/postmodern
  • Collage in art historical writing/literary criticism
  • Object biographies
  • Collage as political tool
  • Collage in space
  • Collage in the digital age
  • Collage and collaboration
  • Processes: collecting, collating, compiling, combining
  • Collage in/as music
  • Writing/reading collage
  • Collage and geography

 

Please send abstracts of no more than 300 words, and biographies of no more than 100 words, to Cole Collins and Freya Gowrley at collage.assemblage.montage@gmail.com by 1 December 2017.

The conference is supported by Edinburgh College of Art’s Dada and Surrealist Research Group with the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Advance Studies in the Humanities.

For further information, please contact the above email address; check out our website at https://collagemontageassemblage.wordpress.com; or follow us on Twitter for updates @Collage_Conf.

Conference Report: The Second International John Thelwall Society Conference

Here is a fascinating and detailed conference report by Val Derbyshire on a recent BARS-sponsored conference at the University of Derby.

‘Re-staging History: Report from the Second International John Thelwall Society Conference held at the University of Derby, 21-23 July 2017

by

Val Derbyshire, School of English, University of Sheffield

 

This month saw the Second International Conference of the John Thelwall Society, the theme of which was ‘Radical Networks and Cultures of Reform’. The question might be asked: why stage this important international event in Derby? The first panel (‘Origins’) provided the solution. It was here during recent years that world-renowned Thelwall scholar, Judith Thompson, discovered new manuscript material in the Derby Local Studies Library, resulting in a new edition of John Thelwall’s Selected Poetry and Poetics from Palgrave MacMillan.

 

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Professor Judith Thompson from Dalhousie University, Canada, re-enacts the moment she discovered the Thelwall manuscripts at the Derby Local Studies Library.

 

During Mark Young’s[1] opening paper, Mark gave a detailed and informative account of the provenance of the Thelwall manuscript and how – somewhat fortuitously – the discovery had been made only during the last fortnight that it was likely that the manuscripts came into the possession of the library via their purchase of the Bemrose collection during the early part of the twentieth-century.   To compliment Mark’s paper, independent researcher Richard Gravil provided a detailed analysis of the marks and symbols used by Thelwall on his manuscripts and the works of other poets, including Wordsworth’s The Excursion. Thelwall included these within his poetics in order to ensure correct pronunciation. Thelwall was, of course, an elocutionist, as well as a poet, novelist, radical orator and polymath.

After a short coffee break, Friday afternoon concluded with a panel detailing Thelwall’s connections to ‘Nature and Art’, where I then presented my own paper. I am a Doctoral Researcher from the School of English, University of Sheffield, and I spoke on Thelwall’s connections to novelist, poet and writer of works for children, Charlotte Smith (1749-1806) and how the use of artwork within their works demonstrates a convergence of political ideology. Finally, Peter Collinge (University of Keele) presented a fascinating analysis of Joseph Wright of Derby’s portrait of Ellen Morewood and how Wright’s somewhat radical portrayal of this interesting and determined woman exhibits her extraordinary business acumen and resolution.

During the evening, the question of ‘Why Derby?’ was answered once again, when a team of actors re-enacted the 1792 Revolutionary Address originally staged by members of the Derby Political Society. This Society featured illustrious members such as William and Joseph Strutt, Erasmus Darwin, Samuel Fox, William Brookes Johnson, Henry ‘Redhead’ Yorke, Peter Crompton and John Hollis Pigot and demonstrates how Derby was at the centre of the Midlands Enlightenment. The Revolutionary Address was delivered in November 1792 to society members, before members William Brookes Johnson and Henry ‘Redhead’ Yorke travelled to France to deliver the speech on behalf of the society before the National Convention.

 

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Original document of the ‘Revolutionary Address dated 20th November 1792’, delivered at the Derby Political Society in support of the French Revolutionary cause. Reproduced with the kind permission of Mark Young, Librarian, Derby Local Studies Library.

 

The actors delivered a spirited re-enactment of the original events in the authentic setting of the eighteenth-century Old Bell Pub. They also re-enacted other political events including local protests over the sale and enclosure of Nun’s Green Common Land, which also took place in 1792.

 

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The actors who recreated the Radical Pub Night Historical Re-enactment during dress rehearsal at The Old Bell Pub, Derby. Featuring (from left to right): Melanie Hopkins as ‘A Lady of the Town’, Josh Hayes as ‘William Brookes Johnson’ and ‘Tully’, James Naughton as ‘Joseph Strutt/Samuel Crompton’, Jennifer Argent as ‘A Loyal Servant’ and ‘John Thelwall’, Noa McAlistair as ‘Erasmus Darwin’ and ‘Josiah Wedgewood’, Charlie Ayers as ‘A Peasant Girl’ and Kira Barnett as ‘Henry “Redhead” Yorke’ and ‘Lord G. Cavendish’.

  

            This was open to conference delegates but was also a public engagement event which was well-attended by members of the public with an interest in recent research in this area.

 

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‘Radical Pub Night Poster’ promoting this public engagement event. This event was generously funded by WRoCAH/AHRC.

 

I constructed the script, primarily from archival sources held at the Derby Local Studies Library. I also put together the costumes. The audience were particularly struck by the powerful eloquence of the speeches given by these historical figures. The evening concluded with a performance by the poetry of contemporary poet of protest ‘Liz Ferrets’.

 

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Liz sadly died eighteen months ago, and so the performance was given by Maggie, Liz’s mum. It was a touching and entirely appropriate close to the evening, demonstrating how the spirit of social protest is alive and well and is perhaps more necessary than ever in our troubled times.

Saturday morning commenced with the key note address by Professor Jon Mee of the University of York. Jon focussed on ‘Thelwall’s Unheroic’ years which he elucidated as 1801-1806, in his discussion of Thelwall’s networks. This was a fascinating presentation which situated Manchester as the beating heart of scientific and technological innovation during this period. Writers of the time, Jon explained, access a discourse of industrial sublime in delineating Manchester at ‘the heart of [a] vast system, the circulating branches of which spread around it.’ He also provided an insight into what it must have been like to attend Thelwall’s lectures by accessing archival sources such as diaries which recorded the experiences firsthand.

During the next panel, concerned with key Midlands Enlightenment figure Erasmus Darwin, the University of Derby History Department’s Paul Elliott described ‘A Brush with the Doctor’. This absorbing paper presented the experiences of artist Samuel Arnold as he took Darwin’s portrait. Arnold’s recordings of the time provide a real sense of Darwin as both a Lunar Society member, but also of his character as a man.   This was followed by former Emeritus Professor Jonathan Powers (University of Derby) whirlwind tour through the evolutionary optimism and radical politics of Darwin. This was a spellbinding paper which provided masses of information for Darwin scholars.

After a short break for lunch, Judith Thompson gave a wonderful paper presenting her findings in connection with the Derby manuscript. Judith explained how her research and her amazing discovery of the Thelwall manuscripts demonstrates the democratic values of intellectual accessibility embodied by such institutions as the Local Studies Library in Derby.

In the spirit of intellectual accessibility, the conference delegates then proceeded on an excursion to the Library itself to view the wealth of holdings there. Delegates had the opportunity to view the Thelwall manuscripts, along with a host of other rare documents and books, including the original source documents regarding the sale and enclosure of Nun’s Green Common Land, from which the script of the historical re-enactment had been constructed.

 

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Conference delegate David Watkinson holds one of the speeches of ‘Tully’ (played by actor Josh Hayes during the historical re-enactment) protesting against the sale of Nun’s Green common land in Derby. This is one of the valuable documents held in the Derby Local Studies Library and was viewed during a conference excursion there.

 

The day closed with a panel discussing Thelwall’s ‘Legal Trials’. AHRC-funded PhD Student from the University of York, Fiona Milne, presented an absorbing paper concerning the years following Thelwall’s legal trial and how his publications during these years urgently sought to vindicate his character before the tribunal of public opinion.

The second inspirational paper in this panel was presented by David Watkinson, Barrister, who, before retirement, was the joint Head of Garden Court Chambers, which is now one of the largest sets of Barristers’ Chambers in the UK. Since 2004 this has been situated at 57-60 Lincolns Inn Fields, where John Thelwall taught and lived during the years 1813-21. David’s paper provided a detailed analysis of Thelwall’s trial and also speculated how its conduct – and potentially the result – might differ today.

The final paper of the day was presented by Edmund Downey of the University of Lincoln, who provided a wealth of information upon radical publisher of the 1790s, Daniel Isaac Eaton. Edmund’s paper demonstrated the power of the printed word and how the repressive Government at the time were anxious to prevent publishers disseminating this type of material.

To close the day, the conference held a wine reception and optional conference dinner.

 

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Conference delegates mingle at the wine reception which concluded Saturday’s proceedings.

 

Sunday’s itinerary included panels on ‘Local Networks’ and ‘Radical Urban Landscapes’. The conference closed with the Annual General Meeting of the John Thelwall Society. The Society has many events planned for the future, including the unveiling of a new blue plaque on Bedford Street in London. New members are always welcome and information can be found here: http://www.johnthelwall.org/

Conference organisers, Professor Judith Thompson, Professor Paul Elliott, Dr Paul Whickman, Kathryn Hindmarch and myself wish to express their gratitude to BARS for their generous conference subvention which supported this event.

 

[1] Librarian, Local Studies Library.