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News and Commentary from the British Association for Romantic Studies

Anna Mercer

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On This Day in 1817: 28 December, The Immortal Dinner

The ‘On This Day’ series continues with a post by Ana Stevenson to celebrate 200 years since a gathering of remarkable intellects…

 

Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem, 1824 – 1820 by Benjamin Robert Haydon

 

The Immortal Dinner
by Ana Stevenson

Born in 1786, Benjamin Robert Haydon was a history painter who surrounded himself by men whose genius he judged equal to his own. Although Haydon is less well-known today, he was highly regarded as an artist in his own time. In 1804 he entered the Royal Academy Schools in London and exhibited there for the first time at the age of 21. Although this led to recognition and commissions, he did not have a steady income, meaning that he was in constant debt and struggled financially until the end of his life.

In 1817, however, Haydon moved to 22 Lisson Grove, where he was in possession of his own furniture and house-appliances for the first time. He wrote that he had used ‘my own tea cup and saucers. I took up my own knife. I sat on my own chair. It was a new sensation!’.

 

Benjamin Robert Haydon, 1825 portrait by Georgiana Zornlin

 

Fond of social gatherings, his new house also inspired the painter to invite some selected friends to dine at his home during the Christmas period. Haydon had an impact in the Literary world, with William Wordsworth, John Keats, and Leigh Hunt writing verses dedicated to the artist, therefore it is not surprising to find these poets amongst the guests who attended his dinner – except Leigh Hunt, who was excluded due to an argument between the host and Hunt’s wife.

The guestlist for this exceptional evening included Wordsworth, Keats, Charles Lamb, Tom Monkhouse, Joseph Ritchie, a few more of Haydon’s acquaintances, and a man named John Kingston, who invited himself as “a friend of Wordsworth”. Thanks to Haydon’s habit of documenting his life in journals, there is a detailed account of what took place that evening, and the event is known as ‘The Immortal Dinner’.

The party was welcomed by Haydon’s current project, ‘Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem’, which hung over the guests. Wordsworth and Keats are featured in this painting along with other notable figures of the era, a fact that stimulated conversation on the evening. The artist was delighted by the good humour the setting inspired and watched his friends partake in a gleeful discussion. Apart from Kingston, all were to some extent acquainted with one another. Haydon documented in his journal that once they retired for tea, Kingston, whom he forgot to introduce to the party, decided to take upon himself to engage with Wordsworth. He enquired ‘Don’t you think, sir, Milton was a great genius?’. Until this point, Keats was occupied examining Haydon’s books, and Lamb, who had a bit too much to drink and ‘got exceedingly merry and exquisitely witty’, was sat by the fire. When the question was asked, everyone turned their attention to Kingston’s remark.

 

John Keats, c.1822, portrait by William Hilton after Joseph Severn

 

Keats looked at Haydon, Wordsworth looked at Kingston, and Lamb said ‘Pray, sir, did you say Milton was a great genius?’ to which the man replied that he had asked Mr Wordsworth if he were not. Lamb then declared ‘Oh, then you are a silly fellow’. After a brief interruption by Wordsworth, everyone went quiet. Not content, Kingston decided for a second attempt: ‘Don’t you think Newton a great genius?’. At that point Keats hid his face in a book, Haydon could no longer stand it, Wordsworth did not know what was going on, and Lamb got up asking ‘Sir, will you allow me to look at your phrenological development?’. Kingston realised that Wordsworth did not seem to know who he was, therefore, in a third attempt to engage with the poet, he expressed that he had the honour of some correspondence with him, to which Wordsworth could not remember. Kingston seemed to finally give up, but at that point, Lamb was much amused. Haydon describes in his journal Lamb getting up and singing ‘Hey diddle diddle, The cat and the fiddle. Diddle diddle dumpling, my son John,’ while Wordsworth cried ‘My dear Charles!’ trying to stop Lamb, but to no avail.

‘Do let me have another look at that gentleman’s organs.’ Lamb shouted, as Keats and Haydon locked him in a different room while bursting into laughter. After this event, the party tried to console Kingston, who stayed for dinner but no longer attempted to further engage with the guests in the same manner. Peace was seemingly restored; the guests were occupied in their discussions and trying to move on from the incident, but Kingston had lost his dignity and the matter could not be forgotten as Lamb could still be heard calling from the other room: ‘Who is that fellow? Allow me to see his organs once more’.

 

William Wordsworth, 1818, portrait by Richard Carruthers

 

This event was not only immortalised by Haydon’s words, but the fun aspects of a casual event attended by a group of notorious figures from the time remains a topic of great interest until the present day. It is rare to be immersed into situations such as this, which appears to be of little importance to the attendees’ works, but incredibly relevant when it comes to understanding how they interacted with one another on a personal level. The Immortal Dinner truly proved itself to have a longer life than the ones who were present at that evening:

‘Keats made Ritchie promise he would carry his Endymion to the great desert of Sahara and fling it in the midst.

Poor Ritchie went to Africa, and died, as Lamb foresaw, in 1819. Keats died in 1821, at Rome. C. Lamb is gone, joking to the last. Monkhouse is dead, and Wordsworth and I are the only two now living (1841) of that glorious party.’

Two years after Haydon transcribed his account, Wordsworth became Poet Laureate and proceeded to survive the whole party as Haydon took his own life in 1846.

Primary Sources:

Benjamin Robert Haydon’s Autobiography and Letters

CfP: 44th International Byron Conference

 

Improvisation and Mobility

44th International Byron Conference

Ravenna 2-7 July 2018

Call for Papers

 

The Italian Byron Society is pleased to announce the 44th International Byron Conference to be held in Ravenna from 2 to 7 July 2018. Website here.

Byron’s most famous use of the word “mobility” is in Don Juan, Canto 16, stanza XCVII, where he uses it to describe Lady Adeline Amundeville, adding a footnote in which he defines it as “excessive susceptibility of nimmediate impressions”. Since then the word has been taken up by critics and biographers from Thomas Moore and Lady Blessington onwards, to refer to what seems an essential quality of Byron’s personality and poetry (and, particularly in more recent years, politics). The word has sometimes been linked with the notion of improvisation, especially when considering the spontaneity (or apparent spontaneity) of his verse: “I rattle on exactly as I’d talk / With any body in a ride or walk.” (Don Juan, 15, XIX). The conference will welcome 20-minute papers on topics including, but not necessarily limited to:

– formal experimentalism and improvisation

– multiplicity of voices

– hyphenated identities

– genre hybridity

– experience and imagination, fact and fiction

– geographical mobility

– cosmopolitan visions and identities

– political mobility and improvisation

– reinterpretations of Byron’s mobility in later periods

The organisers also welcome prospective delegates to suggest ready-formed panels (of three 20-minute papers) on the following topics: Byron and Ravenna; Byron and Italian politics; Byron and Italian art.

Please send 250-word abstracts for individual papers or ready-formed panels to byronravenna@gmail.com by 1 March 2018.

Information on conference registration and accommodation as well as on the cultural programme of the conference will be posted later on the Conference website.

Conference academic committee:

• Gioia Angeletti

• Shobhana Bhattacharji

• Gregory Dowling

• Olivier Feignier

• Alan Rawes

• Diego Saglia

On This Day in 1817: Keats and Negative Capability, 21-27 December

After a hiatus, ‘On This Day’ continues with a post by Ellen Nicholls (University of Sheffield). Ellen is a third year PhD candidate and Wolfson Scholar, studying under the supervision of Dr Madeleine Callaghan. Her thesis explores the interdependency of pleasure and pain in the poetry and letters of John Keats, thinking about how far Keats uses the poem as an experimental space in which to engage with, advance, and depart from a medical understanding of bodily experience. Alongside her studies, she is also working with the Keats-Shelley Association of America as a Communications Fellow, collaborating with and promoting the many bicentenary celebrations of the Romantics through online media.

We return to this series to celebrate an iconic moment from 1817 which will be familiar to many scholars of Romanticism and readers of Keats. Here Ellen explains the significance of this bicentenary and also discusses the short lyric ‘In Drear-nighted December’.

More ‘On This Day’ posts to follow. If you want to contribute to this series, please contact Anna Mercer (mercerannam@gmail.com).

 

‘Drear-Nighted December’ and the Bicentenary of Keats’s Negative Capability Letter

 

This Christmas marks the bicentenary of Keats’s ‘Negative Capability’ letter. Written roughly between 21-27 December 1817, this important anniversary leads many romantic scholars and enthusiasts to reflect on Keats’s considerable achievements. As this time approaches, I am not only reminded of the astonishing creative energies that Keats displays in his letter, but also drawn to Keats’s attentiveness to the season in which he is writing. Critics are often attuned to the role darkness and mist play in Keats’s conception of negative capability.[1] But very little has been said of how ‘Drear-nighted December’, the month and time of day in which Keats was writing to his brothers Tom and George, informs one of his most famous poetic speculations. December 21 1817 was the winter solstice, and the shorter, darker days of winter, alongside the many indoor festivities that accompanied them, were not far from Keats’s mind while he was writing to his brothers in Teignmouth.

The composition history of this significant letter remains somewhat shrouded in the ‘uncertainties, mysteries, doubts’ (Letters: John Keats I, 193) that it so famously sets forth.[2] The letter survives from a transcript by John Jeffrey; second husband to George’s wife, Georgiana. Hyder Edward Rollins points out Jeffrey’s misdating of the correspondence, a fact that is unsurprising given Keats’s habit of composing letters over fragmented periods of time. But Rollins conjectures that the letter’s main passage on negative capability was ‘very likely’ (Letters: John Keats I, 194) written the night of 26th December, after Charles Brown and Charles Wentworth Dilke accompanied Keats to the Drury Lane Christmas pantomime: Harlequin’s Vision, Or, The Feast of the Statue.

It is Keats’s busy social life throughout the festive period that not only interrupts the letter’s composition, but that is also vital in informing its content. Keats wryly comments upon how he has ‘been out too much lately’ (Letters: John Keats I, 192), describing how he: watched one of his favourite actors, Edmund Kean, in Shakespeare’s Richard III; spent ‘two very pleasant evenings with Dilke’ (Letters: John Keats I, 191-192); viewed Benjamin West’s painting Death on the Pale Horse with Charles Jeremiah Wells— an artistic experience that was central in elaborating his thoughts on the ‘close relationship […] [between] Beauty & Truth’ (Letters: John Keats I, 192) ; ‘dined with Haydon’ (Letters: John Keats I, 192); dined also with Horace Smith, Smith’s two brothers, Thomas Hill, John Kingston, and Edward Du Bois; and, of course, attended the Christmas pantomime with Brown and Dilke.

 

‘Death on the Pale Horse’ by Benjamin West (1817)

 

It is the spirit of conviviality, converse, and merriment that accompanied Keats’s busy social calendar between 21 and 27 December that led him to set out his theory of negative capability. Reflecting upon his walk to and from the Christmas pantomime with his two friends, Keats writes:

I had not a dispute but a disquisition with Dilke, on various subjects; several things dovetailed in mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in Literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously— I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason— Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge (Letters: John Keats I, 193-194).

Keats comically draws attention to the friendly spirit of disagreement, typical of the festive period, which characterised his conversation with Dilke by means of rejecting the term ‘dispute’ in favour of ‘disquisition’. The rigorous discussion and questioning that the verb ‘disquisition’ implies becomes important for understanding ‘what quality’ Keats is attempting to spell out. Keats writes in response to Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria, published the same year that this letter was composed, and in which Coleridge suggests that the poet should aim to reconcile ‘opposite or discordant qualities’ through a synthetic imagination.[3] Entering into dialogue with Coleridge, Keats suggests that reaching after reconciliations and conclusions can lead to the ‘verisimilar’, or that which appears true, but is ultimately fallacious. Instead, negative capability proposes an ability to remain at ease with the ‘uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts’ of contradiction and disagreement, advancing the idea that the poet should have a disquisitional mind that is content with ‘half knowledge’ and in which meaning is neither fixed nor debate shut down. It is with such a dialogic openness of mind that Keats conceives of negative capability. With a characteristically contradictory turn of phrase, Keats highlights how holding ‘several things’ in equipoise within his imagination paradoxically leads his ideas to ‘dovetail’, uniting together to form his important poetic concept. Creativity, for Keats, is not inhibited but enabled by the inherent equivocality of tensions so much so that the ambiguities and indeterminacies of ‘uncertainties, mysteries, doubts’ would become one of the defining features of Keats’s poetic style.

Considering the season in which Keats sat down to write this letter 200 years ago, brings into relief the receptivity of his creative imagination. A mind continually responsive to and informed by his surroundings, encounters, and conversations with friends, the negative capability letter demonstrates the inextricability between Keats’s life, letters, and poetry. It was on another day in December 1817 that Keats wrote and poetically reflected upon the season in the short lyric, ‘In Drear-nighted December’. This winter poem does not contain depictions of friendly converse and companionship that we see in Keats’s negative capability letter, instead presenting harsh and ‘sleety’ (6) images of dismal ‘frozen thawings’ (7). But Keats’s sense that nature might find contentment with its winter condition, with the darkness and dreariness of a season in which life clings on so tentatively, resonates with his thoughts on ‘uncertainties, mysteries, doubts’. As John Barnard writes: ‘The poem reflects Keats’s ideas on “Negative Capability” and “intensity”, which he outlined in his important letter to Tom and George on 21-7 December 1817’.[4] The ‘crystal fretting’ (14) of Keats’s poem is centred on how we might share in nature’s contentment with ‘drear-nighted’ (1) uncertainty without writhing (20) at the ‘passed joy’ (20) of summer’s ‘budding’ (8) stability:

 

I

In a drear-nighted December,

Too happy, happy tree,

Thy branches ne’er remember

Their green felicity:

The north cannot undo them,

With a sleety whistle through them;

Nor frozen thawings glue them

From budding at the prime.

 

II

In a drear-nighted December,

Too happy, happy brook,

Thy bubblings ne’er remember

Apollo’s summer look;

But with a sweet forgetting,

They stay their crystal fretting,

Never, never petting

About the frozen time.

 

III

Ah! would ’t were so with many

A gentle girl and boy!

But were there ever any

Writhed not of passèd joy?

The feel of not to feel it,

When there is none to heal it,

Nor numbèd sense to steal it,

Was never said in rhyme.[5]

 

Keats’s repeated use of the negations ‘Ne’er’ (3), ‘nor’ (7), ‘never’ (15), ‘not’ (20), sets forth the issue under interrogation: namely, how to articulate a feeling as ambiguous as absence and loss. The poem paradoxically draws attention to the sensation of senselessness, or ‘the feel of not to feel it’ (21), presenting the loss of joy not as a ‘numbèd sense’ (23) in which all feeling is annihilated, but an absent presence or painful void that causes one to writhe (20). The poem proposes an inability for ‘rhyme’ (24) or poetic language to contain such an experience, leading Michael O’Neill to argue that the poem is, ‘called into being by the “feel” it is said never to have found words for, “rhyme” stands apart from “feel” by virtue of its failure to rhyme with any lines in the stanza (it rhymes with the final lines of stanzas 1 and 2)’.[6] Poetic language ostensibly fails to meet the demands of negative capability by being unable to capture the uncertain, mysterious, and doubtful sensation of absence. And yet it is at the point where rhyme is said to fail that the potentiality of such uncertainty is evident. The word ‘rhyme’ may not harmonise with any other line ending in the third stanza, but it shares an important formal and semantic relation to the end words of the previous two stanzas: ‘prime’ (8) and ‘time’ (16). The final words of each stanza are aurally incongruous to the other rhyme sounds in each contained section, isolated within the bleak landscape that they both describe and reflect. But they also serve to link each of the stanzas together as a whole by drawing the eye and ear back to the only words that they share a formal relation with in the other stanzas. By linking these three words together through rhyme, the poem’s outlook of winter desolation is both undermined and belied by the suggestion that ‘drear-nighted December’ (1) is the ‘prime’ (8) ‘time’ (16) for engendering thought and sensation within poetic language. That which is dark, obscure, and uncertain becomes a site of frustration and ‘fretting’ (14) that resists the limitations of language, even as it is presented as a location of ‘budding’ (8) potentiality.

Keats may be a poet who is most frequently associated with autumn, but the importance of winter for his poetic thought should not be underestimated. December reminds us of the remarkable achievement of Keats’s letters as the month that both brought into being and embodies his thoughts on negative capability.

– Ellen Nicholls

 

[1] See Keats’s 3rd May 1818 letter to Reynolds in which Keats creates a simile for life as ‘a large Mansion of Many Apartments’ (Letters: John Keats I, 280-281). In his analysis of the letter, Alexander Patterson suggests that darkness and mist do not inhibit, but facilitate thought and imagination. Alexander Patterson, ‘A Greater Luxury’: Keats’s Depictions of Mistiness and Reading, Romanticism, 18 (2012), pp. 260-269 (p. 260).

[2] The Letters of John Keats, 1814-1821, ed. Hyder Edward Rollins, 2 vols. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1958). All subsequent references to the letters will be taken from this edition.

[3] Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Biographia Literaria” (1817) in The Major Works, ed. H. J. Jackson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), pp. 155-482 (p. 319).

[4] See footnotes to ‘In Drear-Nighted December’, John Keats The Complete Poems, ed. John Barnard (London: Penguin Books, 1973), p. 217.

[5] John Keats, ‘In Drear-Nighted December’, John Keats The Complete Poems, ed. John Barnard (London: Penguin Books, 1973), p. 217.

[6] Michael O’Neill, “The Reading of an Ever-Changing Tale”: Keats (I)’ in Romanticism and the Self-Conscious Poem (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 180-209 (p. 182).

The People’s Voice: Scottish Political Poetry, Song and the Franchise, 1832–1918

Please see the following announcement from the BARS Early Career Representative Honor Rieley (University of Glasgow):

Launch Event for The People’s Voice: Scottish Political Poetry, Song and the Franchise, 1832–1918

15 February 2018, Trades Hall of Glasgow

This conference marks the launch of the People’s Voice website, funded by the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland and created by staff at the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde.

This is a free online resource essential for anyone interested in the popular political culture of Scotland in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, containing details of over a thousand poems as well as song recordings, essays and schools resources. On 15 February, we will celebrate the culmination of our work on this project with a programme of international speakers and musical entertainment. Please join us!

Our speakers will include: Florence Boos (University of Iowa), Alison Chapman (University of Victoria, Jon Mee (University of York) and Mike Sanders (University of Manchester).

The conference is free to attend but registration is required. Tickets available here.

Click here to see our website.

Twitter: @PeoplesVoiceSco

Romantic Novels 1818 Seminar Series: Programme and Bursaries

The London and Southeast Romanticism Seminar presents a new series entitled ‘Romantic Novels 1818’.

This exciting bicentenary project includes several academic guest speakers, starting with James Grande (KCL) on 25 February 2018. You can view the full programme here.

A limited number of bursaries are also available. Please see the following announcement from Susan Civale:

Call for Applications – BARS PG/ECR Bursaries – Romantic Novels 1818

Romantic Novels 1818 is pleased to be able to offer a limited number of BARS PG/ECR Bursaries to support postgraduate and early career scholars in attending our seminar series. Six bursaries of £50 each will be available in 2018 for scholars who are currently pursuing postgraduate study or are within five years of the award of the PhD. The BARS PG/ECR bursaries are intended to contribute to the expenses of scholars whose financial resources are limited. Bursary recipients will be asked to write a short blogpost entry on the session for our webpage.

To apply for a bursary, please send your full name, affiliation, stage of study, and contact details, along with a statement of no more than 300 words explaining how your attendance at the session fits in with your research, to Susan Civale and Claire Sheridan at reading1817@gmail.com.

Applications will be accepted until three weeks prior to the date of each seminar. Successful applicants will be notified as soon as possible.

The University of Huddersfield English Literature and Creative Writing PhD Scholarships

Opportunities in Yorkshire for those applying to study for a PhD in Romantic writing. Via Ildiko Csengei.

The University of Huddersfield English Literature and Creative Writing PhD Scholarships

The University of Huddersfield is set in the heart of Bronte country, with good transport links to Shakespeare country, London, and the rest of the UK. English Literature and Creative Writing at Huddersfield has a strong international record of research excellence and is ranked fourth in the UK for the quality of its research publications (REF 2014). This international team has a diverse range of interests including British and American contemporary literature, Renaissance studies, Victorian studies, the Romanticism and the long eighteenth century, philosophy and literature, and the twenty-first century composite novel. Our research staff includes distinguished poets, novelists and script-writers who lead a cohort of creative writers. We are home to the Ted Hughes Network, which promotes the work and life of this important poet and those closely associated with him. We have a close connection with the Huddersfield Literature Festival. The University of Huddersfield’s unique location and excellent transport links make the UK’s vast public and private research resources easily accessible.

We provide our research students with excellent facilities, world-leading researchers as supervisors, and a vibrant research community. The University of Huddersfield has recently been awarded the Higher Education Academy’s Global Teaching Excellence Award 2017. Research students are provided with robust institutional support that includes training in areas designed to enhance employability and research success.

We are offering the PhD scholarships listed below to cover up to 75% of tuition costs for applicants with a record of excellent achievement and a strong research proposal. Additionally, we are happy to supervise strong applicants in any of our research areas.

  • Ted Hughes Network Scholarship: proposals related to the work of the poet Ted Hughes
  • The University of Huddersfield’s Contemporary Poetry Project Scholarship: proposals related to post-war British, Irish, and American poetry, especially the work of Philip Larkin
  • The Lady Anne Clifford Scholarship in Renaissance Women’s Writing: proposals related to women’s writing in the sixteenth and seventeenth century
  • The Canal and Rivers Trust Literature and Travel Scholarship: proposals exploring the intersections between literature and travel in the nineteenth-century
  • The New Pastoral Scholarship: proposals engaging with any form of creative writing that explore aspects of nature writing in contemporary Britain
  • Shakespeare and Renaissance Environmentalism Scholarship: proposals related to representations of nature in the drama of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, or the non-dramatic poetry of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries
  • Eighteenth-century and Romantic Literatures of Feeling Scholarship: proposals related to affect, feeling or sensibility in eighteenth-century or Romantic literature, and the emotions of war
  • The Life-course and Literature Scholarship: proposals with an ageing studies perspective in the study of contemporary literature and culture
  • The Walter Haigh Scholarship in Late-Victorian & Edwardian Literary Studies

We welcome informal inquiries. Please contact the staff member whose research most closely aligns with your area of interest: more details here.

To apply follow the links below. All relevant applications will be considered for one of the scholarships listed above.
English Literature PhD
Creative Writing PhD

 

Further information here.

Conference Report: Writing Romantic Lives at Edge Hill University

Thank you to Oliver Thomas for this report from the BARS-sponsored conference ‘Writing Romantic Lives‘, which took place at Edge Hill University on 25 November 2017.

You can see the conference Twitter feed here.

 

Conference Report: Romanticism Lives!

by Oliver Thomas, MA student at Edge Hill University

 

 

The BARS-sponsored Writing Romantic Lives symposium was aptly titled, as the sterling keynote speech from Dr Felicity James demonstrated. Including fascinating elucidations on her own researches, James succinctly and stylishly laid the groundwork for the event. Our foci were collaboration, autobiography and its myriad forms, and the writing of lives, in the sense of writing the self and writing’s relationship to the (Romantic) Self.

Thus we embarked on our first engaging panel. Marvin Reimann’s presentation, ‘S.T. Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria and the Dynamic Process of Self-knowledge’, expounded on a powerful theme resonant throughout the conference, that the formation of a Self is a fluid concept dependent upon the construction of an ideal state defined against an original state, and the continuous transgression from one to the other. Jérôme Chemin of the Université de Lorraine illuminated this and other metaphysical concepts in his paper ‘From Poetic Experience to Metaphysics’. Chemin clarified the murky relationship between the Biographia Literaria and Coleridge’s better known poetry. The final paper of this panel saw a moving, powerfully personal account from Lilach Bornstein – ‘Christabel in Tel Aviv: A Group Reading Coleridge in Hebrew’ – that furnished those attendant with an appreciation of the analytical nuance offered by fresh eyes working collaboratively.

Lunch is a time to munch and mull over ideas. In the comfort and calm of Edge Hill’s quiet campus, that is exactly what happened. The culinary spread served amply and was enjoyed by all, with the mango and brie parcels bringing surprising delight to this attendee. The real substance of such a lunch, however, is never the food, but the thought, and around the room, much thought bounced and blossomed despite the late autumn darkness outside.

Some of that darkness stole into the conference in the next panel ‘Death and the Self’, chaired by Jo Taylor, and featuring three students from the conference’s physical host for the day, Edge Hill University. Melanie Senior’s paper on ‘Hysteria and the Romantic Woman’ offered an incisive examination how hysteria has been used to marginalise female romantic  writers, simultaneously demonstrating the resistance that authors such as Charlotte Smith and Mary Wollstonecraft performed to overcome this prejudice. Amy Warbuton’s presentation on ‘Gothic Aural Experience in Anne Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho’ followed: Udolpho is a tale ringing with echoes, the misheard, the warped and the restricted.  The focus lay in the ways the Gothic voice contributed to Emily St. Aubert’s degeneration. Anthony Gordon’s ‘A Life Devoted to Killing Death’ demonstrated the critique of attempting to avoid immortality offered by Beddoe’s Death’s Jest-book.  Beddoe’s text exemplifies the struggle against its subject, Death, and the (apparent) futility of the obsession with that struggle, and the danger to the self such an obsession can cause.

Michael Bradshaw, of Worcester University, chaired the next panel, ‘Romantic Connections’. Emilee Morrall examined ‘Personal Reflections in Charlotte’ Smith’s Moral Tales’. Her paper showed how this once marginalised and forgotten Romantic writer could now emerge into the critical limelight. This time it was her children’s tales which were under primary consideration, and Morrall examined minutely Smith’s personal reflections embedded within those works, clarifying them in an analysis that was at once reflective and convincing, and tied in very neatly with the keynote speech and its theme, writing lives (in all the senses that those last two words may be interpreted).

A distinct and challenging personality to a room of academics came next. Corrina Readioff revealed James Lackington, bookseller, as a master self-marketer. His mercurial alterations of his Memoirs of the First Forty-five Years of the Life of James Lackington, Bookseller (there were several editions of this book) demonstrated eloquently the continuous process of self-promotion (and possibly self-fashioning) involved when writing such a memoir.

One effective way of rating the potency of the matter under discussion, is the discussions over coffee had between panels. I’m pleased to say I have seldom drunk a coffee (or tea) so steeped in knowledge, and my hungry student mind had a buffet of brilliant brains to learn from in that room.

The final panel, ‘Novel Approaches’, gave us two speakers who masterfully rounded off the evening’s panel discussions. Adam Neikirk  opened with a short reading from the novel at which he has been working, an effort to write a fictional autobiography in the voice of Coleridge (a kindred concept to the Dead Romantic Interviews competition, another part of the conference) which he described as ‘A novel in “Development Xanadu”’. This kind of literary ventriloquism and mimicry was a theme latent throughout most of the conference that, like Coleridge’s sacred river, burst forth via Adam’s talk. Adam’s endeavours were applauded and more than one attendee pointed out that, while he may be unsatisfied with the unfinished fragment of a novel he had in hand, to publish such, would be most Coleridgian.

On the subject of rivers and mountains, our conference ended with a truly inter-disciplinary, multimedia presentation from Rebekah Musk entitled ‘Beholding Shelley’s Euganean Hills.’ Musk gave a strikingly powerful insight into the imagined and physical world of a poem, and how these qualities relate to one another. Her work was infused with a level of detail and precision that was genuinely engaging and refreshing after the lofty literary and philosophical discussions of the day. In more ways than one, we came back to earth. Rebekah’s primary insight was that the eye of Shelley’s poem presented a composite vision, in which the language, and landscape, shifts and changes while the speaker remains rather still by comparison.

The symposium came to a close with the announcing of the winners of the Dead Romantic Interviews competition and a workshop from Andrew McInnes and Felicity James on academic publishing that was both engaging and insightful. There was a thematic harmony between the Interviews contest and the symposium. Its impact was as international as the conference itself, as the Canadian winner demonstrated well with her video message. The message included a brief reading from her entry which had resurrected the sharp-minded, no-nonsense Mary Shelley, author of that grandest of Gothic Romantic works, Frankenstein. For this observer, the competition synchronised the competitive and the collaborative for, as with many academic endeavours, it engendered a community spirit extending far beyond the winner, as well as enlivening Romantic studies with fresh creative engagements. The competition embodied the three themes within the study of Romanticism the conference set out to discuss; Writing the Self, autobiography and collaboration. Romantic studies, like the monster crafted by Mary Shelley, lives!

– Oliver Thomas

Archive Spotlight: The Royal Irish Academy and Global Connections in Martha Wilmot’s Russian Journals

Today we welcome Dr Pamela Buck to the BARS blog. Pamela is an Associate Professor of English at Sacred Heart University. Her research focuses on British women writers and material culture during the French Revolution and Napoleonic period.  She is currently working on a book project concerning the souvenir as an object of political and cultural exchange in Romantic women’s travel writing. Here she tells us about her research at the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin.

 

Global Connections in Martha Wilmot’s Russian Journals

 

In July 2016, I traveled to Dublin, Ireland to examine the works of Martha Wilmot (1775-1873) in the Wilmot-Dashkova Collection at the library of the Royal Irish Academy.[1]  Wilmot was an Anglo-Irish writer from a well-connected, wealthy family in County Cork.  In 1803, she traveled to Russia after receiving an invitation from Princess Ekaterina Dashkova, who met Wilmot’s father while on a tour of Ireland in 1779-1780.  One of the foremost women of the Russian Enlightenment, Princess Dashkova was instrumental in the coup that had brought Catherine the Great to power.  During Wilmot’s five years in Russia, an intense friendship formed between the two women, and Dashkova often referred to herself as Wilmot’s “Russian mother.”  Wilmot spent her time observing society at the royal courts in St. Petersburg and Moscow as well as at the Princess’ country estate.  She also kept detailed journals and letters of her stay that provide a fascinating look at Russian customs and political life.

 

Portrait of Martha Wilmot (The Russian Journals of Martha and Catherine Wilmot. Edited by Edith Londonderry and H. M. Hyde. London: Macmillan, 1934)

 

Today, about half of Wilmot’s letters and journals exist in print.[2]  In previous research on her published work, I note that she collects a multitude of objects on her journey, including Dashkova’s memoirs, which she published in 1840, a fan belonging to Catherine the Great, snuffboxes, diamonds, imperial portraits, and court costumes.[3]  I argue that she circulates these objects to strengthen Britain’s understanding of Russia and encourage a possible alliance against Napoleon, whose growing empire threatened to subsume Europe.  The goal of my archival project was to learn how Wilmot’s unpublished writing might further document the circulation of material objects between Britain and Russia and show her participation in the emerging global networks of her time.

With the generous help of Assistant Librarian Sophie Evans, I examined three collections of Wilmot’s papers: the six notebooks that comprise the journal of her stay (12 L 17-22), her letters to Ireland (12 L 24), and letters written with her sister Catherine, who visited from 1805-1807 (12 L 29). The manuscripts, which are often silk or clothbound, tied with ribbons, and illustrated with sketches and translations of Russian poems and songs, indicate that she considered them lasting keepsakes and that she hoped they would give her readers a more vivid sense of this relatively unknown culture.  Interestingly, manuscript 12 L 24 consists largely of copies of her work made by her mother, suggesting that it was widely circulated and popular amongst family and friends.  The parts most frequently copied, and likely considered the most engaging or important, were her discussions of the Princess’ lavish gifts, the threat posed by Napoleon’s empire, and Russia’s relations with the East.

 

Silk envelope (By permission of the Royal Irish Academy © RIA)

 

Examining Wilmot’s manuscripts indeed enabled me to understand more fully how the exchange of gifts between her and Dashkova helped facilitate an alliance. For example, in an entry dated December 2, 1803, Wilmot relates how “Today the P gave me a little medal of the statue of Peter the Great” and told her the story of his reign.[4]  An entry of April 4, 1804 recounts the gift of “a snuffbox which belonged to the Princess Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great, Princess Daschkaw’s godmother.”[5]  Connected to prominent Russian leaders, the objects enhance Wilmot’s understanding of the country and its imperial power.  An entry from December 28, 1804 indicates that the Princess desires a mutual alliance when she gives Wilmot a shawl she received from Alexander I in exchange for her English one.[6]  As Katrina O’Loughlin points out, these sentimental items are emblematic of women’s sociability, allowing them to exhibit their feelings for one another.[7]  The journals thus show how the material objects that strengthen Wilmot and Dashkova’s personal friendship reinforce the political ties between their countries as well.

My research on Wilmot’s work also revealed unexpected connections between Britain, Russia, and the East. Russia attempted to bolster its national image by identifying with Western nations such as Britain, but also through its domination of the East.  This too occurred through material culture.  In a July 23, 1803 entry, Wilmot recounts viewing “specimens of the curiosities of different countrys” like India, Turkey, and China at the Princess’ Academy in St. Petersburg.[8]  Confiscated and placed in a museum, these objects indicate the political and cultural power Russia exerted over Eastern countries.  Dashkova also shares such objects with Wilmot, who notes in a January 3, 1806 entry, “The Princess has been rummaging today, and has rooted out a million things, from every quarter of the globe, but particularly from China.  She has given us pagodas, a musical instrument, purse, boxes, etc.”[9]  Giving Chinese objects to Wilmot may be another way in which Dashkova hopes to convince Britain that Russia would prove to be a powerful political ally.  However, the goods may also suggest that Russia could help Britain partake in prosperous trade with the East.  British attempts to establish a trading port in China had been unsuccessful, and they eagerly sought ways to fulfill the consumer demand at home for Eastern luxuries.  Regardless, the collection and exchange of these objects reveal both Russia and Britain’s desires to strengthen their empires and redefine themselves as global nations.

 

Traveling case (By permission of the Royal Irish Academy © RIA)

 

Although virtually unknown in literary studies today, Martha Wilmot’s work makes a significant contribution to our understanding of women writers and their involvement abroad during the Romantic period. The Wilmot-Dashkova Collection also contains Catherine Wilmot’s own journal and letters of her stay in Russia, which provide a more critical view of Russian cultural and political practices, and letters from her 1801-1803 journey to France and Italy, which offer an inside look at Napoleon’s empire.  While Martha Wilmot chose not to publish her journals, her portable writing case, also preserved in the archive, suggests that she considered herself a legitimate travel writer. The collection would appeal to scholars interested in the intersection of gender, politics, and material culture in the Napoleonic period. With its rare insights into relations between East and West, it would also appeal to those with an interest in global Romanticism.

 

– by Pamela Buck

 

[1] I thank Sacred Heart University for supporting this project through a University Research and Creativity Grant.

[2] Martha Wilmot, The Russian Journals of Martha and Catherine Wilmot, eds. Edith Londonderry and H. M. Hyde (London: Macmillan, 1934).

[3] Pamela Buck, “From Russia with Love: Souvenirs and Political Alliance in Martha Wilmot’s The Russian Journals,” in Eighteenth-Century Thing Theory in a Global Context: From Consumerism to Celebrity Culture, eds. Ileana Baird and Christina Ionescu (Basingstoke: Ashgate Publishing, 2013), 133-48.

[4] Martha Wilmot, “Journal of stay in Russia” (12 L 17), 151.

[5] Ibid., (12 L 18), 103.

[6] Ibid., 292.

[7] Katrina O’Loughlin, “‘Your Russian Mother’: Friendship and Global Relations in the Dashkova Archive” (presentation, North American Society for the Study of Romanticism Conference, Tokyo, Japan, June 13-15, 2014).

[8] Martha Wilmot, “Journal of stay in Russia” (12 L 17), 68.

[9] Wilmot, “Journal” (12 L 20), 8.

Archive Spotlight on The Derbyshire Record Office: A Marriage of the Romantic and the Scientific

Thank you to Val Derbyshire (University of Sheffield) for this intriguing and charming account of her experience carrying out research at the Derbyshire Record Office – and the letters she spent time reading there. You can also read Val’s BARS blog report from the Thelwall Conference here.

‘Unrestrained Epistolary Intercourse’: A Marriage of the Romantic and the Scientific

by

Val Derbyshire, PhD Researcher, School of English, University of Sheffield

Mary Ann Flaxman, Detail of portrait of Eleanor Anne Porden, undated.

Mary Ann Flaxman, Detail of portrait of Eleanor Anne Porden, undated.

I first stumbled across the works of Eleanor Anne Porden (1795-1825), Romantic poet and first wife of Arctic explorer, John Franklin (1786-1847) quite by chance whilst working a night shift on an out of hours helpline at Derbyshire County Council.   I quite often used these night shifts – which were invariably quiet – to study for the MA I was completing at the time.  During one shift, I was  researching an assignment on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), and reading Jen Hill’s excellent study from 2008, White Horizon: The Arctic in the Nineteenth-Century British Imagination (New York: University of New York Press, 2008), when I came across Hill’s analysis of Porden’s The Arctic Expeditions: A Poem (1818).  Hill’s research had accessed the personal correspondence between Porden and her fiancé, Franklin, which were held just down the road from where I was sitting, at the Derbyshire Record Office.  Like all good explorers, I decided to follow in Hill’s footsteps and read this correspondence for myself.

It took me a couple of years, however, to get around to it.  Indeed, I was in the middle of my PhD and undertaking a work placement at the University of Derby before I finally viewed the letters for myself.  My brief at the University of Derby was to design a new MLit course for students concerning the long Eighteenth Century.

The focus was to design a course which would permit students to study texts with a ‘distinctly Derby’ theme.  With this in view, I visited the Record Office to transcribe the love letters between Porden and Franklin.  These letters would then feature as part of the students’ course reading.

Derbyshire Record Office, New Street, Matlock – home to a large collection of personal correspondence between Eleanor Anne Porden and John Franklin.

Derbyshire Record Office, New Street, Matlock – home to a large collection of personal correspondence between Eleanor Anne Porden and John Franklin.

The holding is situated at the top of a very steep hill in Matlock, Derbyshire (a town which was visited by both Mary Shelley and her fictional progeny, Victor Frankenstein, although one suspects Shelley probably visited the more picturesque Matlock Bath, dubbed ‘Little Switzerland’ by the locals).

Matlock Bath, dubbed ‘Little Switzerland’ by locals – the more picturesque side of Matlock town and home to a park and pleasure ground which has been in use since the 1780s.

Matlock Bath, dubbed ‘Little Switzerland’ by locals – the more picturesque side of Matlock town and home to a park and pleasure ground which has been in use since the 1780s.

The archive contains an immense number of letters from Porden to literary friends as well as the romantic correspondence between herself and Franklin.  Franklin’s letters alone in this holding number in the hundreds.  With this in view, I focused my research upon the period from 1815 to 1823, which covered Porden’s first meeting with Franklin, her publication of Coeur de Lion (1822), her somewhat surprised receipt of Franklin’s marriage proposal upon his return from his first expedition to the Arctic, the death of her much beloved father, her marriage to Franklin, concluding at the point of her demise in 1825 from tuberculosis which was accelerated by the birth of her daughter (Eleanor Isabella, born 1824).

The letters are immensely rich and rewarding to read.  They contain extracts of original poetry, tinges of regret at the creative projects she left unfinished (which she refers to as ‘a ghost’ which ‘haunt[s]’ her with ‘so many delightful phantoms of other years’[1]), and charts her relationship with her fiancé.  This in itself is a journey worthy of exploration.  Porden travels from a starting point of grief at having just lost her father, surprise at Franklin’s unexpected proposal of marriage, through a peculiar epistolary courtship, which warms as time progresses, but ultimately becomes as cold as the Arctic itself at Franklin’s suggestion that she should relinquish her literary career after their marriage.  Indeed, some of the letters seem to express extreme doubt upon Porden’s behalf that they should proceed with the marriage at all.

The ‘love letters’, if you can term them this, commence upon Franklin’s return from his first fraught voyage to the Arctic.    During this initial exploratory trip, 11 of Franklin’s 20 men died, primarily from starvation, although it is speculated that one may have been murdered, and hints of cannibalism sullied the reputation of the voyage.  Upon Franklin’s return, his first action is to write to Porden from the Hudson’s Bay Ship, Prince of Wales, Atlantic Ocean, ‘at the distance of 600 miles from the Orkney Isles’[2].  Here, in an opening romantic gesture, he informs Porden that he has named some of the Arctic archipelago after her: ‘I can only now say that I have named some islands in the Arctic Sea ‘Porden’ as a tribute of my regard for your family.’[3]

Porden’s response, however, is perhaps not the one Franklin anticipated.  On mourning stationery, with a thick black border, Porden informs that her ‘poor father was laid in his grave just one month ago’, although she thanks him for ‘fixing our names upon the globe [and] shall feel proud to see them figure in the map which will be prefixed to your work.  Proud, less perhaps for my own sake than that of those who are no more.’[4]

Once safely back on terra firma, Franklin wastes little time in proposing marriage, in a meeting in London which Porden describes as ‘exquisitely […] painful’, although she does concede ‘that there is no one else in all my acquaintance, who, if I am any judge of my own feelings, could have spoken to me on the subject you have done, without meeting an instant and positive denial’.[5]  It’s hardly the language of love, and, indeed, once Porden has accepted his proposal, the epistolary courtship proceeds in a strangely formal manner.

However, by the end of December 1822, Porden seems to have embraced her new future and begins to send more informal letters to her fiancé.  Sending him ‘a fine saucy message’, she begs that he will write frequently to her, in order that they may ‘arrive at a more intimate knowledge of each other’s feelings and sentiments from unrestrained epistolary intercourse’.[6]  It becomes, however, a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’, as aspects of Franklin’s character emerge, which, it becomes clear, Porden would really rather not know.  The most pressing of these is his rather patriarchal view that she should relinquish her literary career upon their marriage.

In a very formal and lengthy epistle dated 23rd March 1823, Porden remonstrates with Franklin upon his belief that she should cease writing, informing him that she was ‘asking no favour’ and ‘claiming no concession’ with the continuance of her literary career.  ‘My tastes and habits had been fully known to you from the first moment of our acquaintance’ and I could not have supposed that any man, to whom they were in the slightest degree disagreeable, would ever have thought of addressing me’.[7]  ‘[I]t was the pleasure of Heaven’, she tells him, ‘to bestow those talents on me, and it was my father’s pride to cultivate them to the utmost of his power.  I should therefore be guilty of a double dereliction of duty in abandoning their exercise.’[8]  At the close of this letter, Porden offers Franklin a way out of their engagement:

If on the contrary you find that your imagination has sketched a false portrait of me, that your feelings are changed, or, no matter what the causes, that you have taken a rash and inconsiderate step, do not hesitate to tell me.[9]

Although the tone of subsequent letters fluctuates, it almost seems as if Porden is seeking an exit herself from this moment onwards.  During the ensuing months prior to their marriage, Porden’s letters are suffused with doubt, and the resulting letters question disparities in their religious beliefs, and her sociable nature and many friendships as opposed to his more solitary leanings.

The wedding, however, duly took place in August 1823.   In a final romantic gesture, Porden wore a wedding dress, which had flowers discovered in the Arctic by Franklin and his team, and detailed in the descriptions of his voyages, embroidered upon the hem.  Unfortunately, the gesture was somewhat wasted on Franklin who ‘did not discover the compliment paid […] until it was pointed out to me’.[10]  The incorporation of the flowers, ‘Eutoca, […] Richardsonil and Hoodil’ into the wedding ceremony demonstrates perhaps more than anything how this was a marriage between the Romantic and the Scientific natures of the participants.[11] Porden’s letters are personal, charming and ever seeking a point of connection with her fiancé.  Franklin’s are much less easy to read and are slightly clinical in tone, although there can be no doubt of the ‘sincere esteem’ he entertains for her.[12]   Here, it can be seen how the participants struggle to locate neutral territory and balance the conflicting demands of romance with scientific and literary endeavour.

The archive is voluminous, with the Derbyshire Record Office holding much of Porden’s writings, both personal and professional, as well as Franklin’s huge correspondence.  If researchers have an interest in this, there can be no better place to start an exploration of both the romantic and the scientific than in a small archive at the top of a Matlock hill.

Plate delineating species of Arctic Flowers, some of which would feature upon the hem of Porden’s wedding gown. From John Franklin, Narrative of a Journey to the Shores of the Polar Sea in the Years 1819, 20, 21 and 22 (London: John Murray, 1823).

Plate delineating species of Arctic Flowers, some of which would feature upon the hem of Porden’s wedding gown. From John Franklin, Narrative of a Journey to the Shores of the Polar Sea in the Years 1819, 20, 21 and 22 (London: John Murray, 1823).

 

[1] Eleanor Anne Porden, Letter to Mr.Elliott dated 12th July 1822, held in the Derbyshire Record Office holding number D3311/8-13.

[2] John Franklin, Letter to Eleanor Anne Porden dated 19th October 1822, Derbyshire Record Office holding number D3311/8/3/1-40.

[3] Eleanor Anne Porden, Letter to John Franklin dated 22nd October 1822, Derbyshire Record Office holding number D3311/8/3/1-40.

[4] Eleanor Anne Porden, Letter to John Franklin dated 22nd October 1822, Derbyshire Record Office holding number D3311/8/3/1-40.

[5] Eleanor Anne Porden, Letter to John Franklin dated 5th December 1822, Derbyshire Record Office holding number D3311/8/3/1-40

[6] Eleanor Anne Porden, Letter to John Franklin dated 22nd December 1822, Derbyshire Record Office holding number D311/8/3/1-40.

[7] Eleanor Anne Porden, Letter to John Franklin dated 29th March 1823, Derbyshire Record Office holding number D3311/8/3/1-40.

[8] Eleanor Anne Porden, Letter to John Franklin dated 29th March 1823, Derbyshire Record Office holding number D3311/8/3/1-40.

[9] Eleanor Anne Porden, Letter to John Franklin dated 29th March 1823, Derbyshire Record Office holding number D3311/8/3/1-40.

[10] John Franklin, Letter to John Richardson dated 7th July 1823, Derbyshire Record Office, holding number D3311/12.

[11] John Franklin, Letter to John Richardson dated 7th July 1823, Derbyshire Record Office, holding number D3311/12.

[12] John Franklin, Letter to Eleanor Anne Porden dated 10th July 1823, Derbyshire Record Office, holding number D3311/8/3/1-40.

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.