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Stephen Copley Research Report

Robert Southey’s “Harold; or, The Castle of Morford”—The First Robin Hood Novel

By Stephen Basdeo, Associate Professor at the Richmond American International University (Leeds RIASA).

In August, thanks to a generous BARS Stephen Copley Research Award, between 12–15 August, I was able to visit to visit the Bodleian Library in Oxford to consult Robert Southey’s ‘Harold; or, The Castle of Morford’ (Bodleian MS Misc. Eng. e. 21), written in 1791 and purchased by the Bodleian Library from the famous Bristol booksellers W. George’s Sons in 1895.

The manuscript’s unassuming title obscures its significance somewhat, for this is, as far as I can ascertain, the first attempt by any author to write a novel featuring the legendary English outlaw, Robin Hood, as it predates Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe (1819) by 28 years.

Along with a colleague, Dr Mark Truesdale, I am transcribing and publishing Southey’s unpublished text with Routledge as part of its ‘Outlaws in Literature, History, and Culture’ series, and publication is expected in March 2020. The purpose of my visit, then, was to perform final checks of our transcription, such as making sure we had not misread words (young Southey’s handwriting was not the neatest), for the Routledge edition will reproduce, as far as possible, exactly what was written by Southey 228 years ago.

Bodleian MS Misc Eng e. 21

The manuscript is bound in a maroon binding dating from probably the mid-nineteenth century, with gold embossed title on the spine reading ‘Juvenilia Romances MSS. Southey’. Binding the manuscript in this way has the obvious advantage of keeping all of the leaves together but this has also meant that some words on the margins have been obscured due to the tightness of the binding and the fact that Southey often used the whole page, writing right up to the edges of the leaves. Another issue is that the binders also trimmed the pages at the top, bottom, and sides, meaning some words from the manuscript are forever lost.

Luckily for us, someone in the Victorian era faithfully copied out Southey’s tale in full (presumably before it was bound), which meant that deficiencies in the original manuscript (Bodleian MS Misc Eng e. 21) could be cross-checked with the copy (Bodleian MS Misc Eng e. 114), which was donated by Baroness Paravicini to the library in 1927 — not every eighteenth-century scholar has the luxury of having two manuscripts to check when undertaking similar projects!

Southey’s unpublished tale will be of benefit, not only to Robin Hood scholars, but to the eighteenth-century and Romanticism community at large. In it we find poetry written by Southey which he never published, with some of the poetry, written as it was by a 16 year old boy, preoccupied with women’s ‘charms’:

And oft beneath the glassy wave
Her dainty limbs would hide
And oft above the waves appeared
Her gently heaving breast
That charm alone exposed to view
The waves obscured the rest
Come, Launcelot the nymph exclaimed
Tis now the time for love
For silent is the midnight hour
And pleasant is the grove
With that she leaped from out the wave
Exposing all her charms
Come, Launcelot again she cried
Come riot in my arms (55v–56r)

Southey wrote his novel before his political ‘radicalisation’ in 1794, after meeting with Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Yet in ‘Harold’, we do find that even by the age of 16, Southey had developed a social conscience. For example—and the novel is barely historicised—the Robin Hood considers himself as ‘the overseer of the poor rates’, and delights in levying contributions from the richest in society and redistributing wealth to the humblest class of people (14v). And the forest society of Sherwood is an egalitarian one, where even King Richard, who has ventured back to England in disguise and joined the outlaws, thinks himself neither above nor below any of the other outlaws.

Scholars will not have to wait too long to read Southey’s novel, and I am grateful to the British Association for Romantic Studies for providing me with funding to travel to Oxford and ensure that all of mine and Mark’s transcriptions were correct so we can present scholars with an accurate version of what Southey originally wrote and, if they want to consult Southey’s juvenile tale, not have to make an expensive trip to Oxford themselves.

Dr Stephen Basdeo

20th August 2018

William Blake at BARS

Today on the Blog is a post from Jodie Marley (University of Nottingham). This is the third in a series of reports from the International BARS conference that took place in July 2019. You can also see pictures from the event if you search #BARS2019 on Twitter. She is part of the committee running UoN Romanticism with Amy Wilcockson and Ruby Hawley-Sibbett, at the University of Nottingham. This is a Romanticism reading group who run monthly sessions with invited guest speakers. This Nottingham-based group has members and attendees who from across the UK, and organise a field trip every term to a local Romantic area of interest. For more details – follow @UoNRomanticism or email uonromanticism@nottingham.ac.uk

As I specialise in Blake, it was an absolute delight to experience four Blake panels unfold at BARS 2019. We had one Blake panel per day, which was, to quote Jason Whittaker (University of Lincoln) , ‘utter bliss’.

I presented my paper on day one’s Blake panel on ‘The Fantastical Reception of William Blake’. I spoke on the reception of Blake’s esoteric thought by W. B. Yeats. Jason Whittaker’s paper on Blake discussed Ray Nelson’s Blake’s Progress and Angela Carter’s The Passion of New Eve, and Luke Walker’s (Roehampton University) paper outlined connections between Blake, Dead Man and mid-twentieth-century psychedelia’s interpretations of Romanticism. This panel’s consideration of the expansion of Romanticism’s influence beyond 1790-1830 was particularly useful in broadening Romantic studies’ traditional scope.

Day two’s Blake panel focused on Blake’ art and illustration. Clémence Ardin’s (University of Kent) paper compared Blake’s illustrations of fallen women and angels in the Book of Enoch with Alfred de Vigny’s Eloa ou la soeur des anges. Sharon Choe’s (University of York) paper centred around a close-reading images on the The Book of Urizen plates to discuss Blake’s representations of darkness, the void, creation and destruction. Elli Karampela’s (University of Sheffield) paper discussed ‘The Ghost of a flea’, Blake’s ‘Visionary Heads’ and how we might conceptualise them as Gothic bodies.

Clémence Ardin, Sharon Choe and Elli Karampela on the ‘Fantasising Blake’ panel

Day three’s Blake panel, ‘William Blake’s Hand’, began with Mark Crosby (Kansas State University) and his paper on Blake’s letters and how they illustrated Blake’s (often difficult) journey through the patronage system. Elizabeth Potter’s (University of York) paper, gave an innovative reassessment of approaching Blake’s marginalia, and helped me reassess and realign my current use of Blake’s marginalia. Both Potter and I quoted the same aphorism of Lavater’s (number 532) in our respective papers, an eerie coincidence. The final paper for this panel was Josephine McQuail’s (Tennessee Tech University) on eroticism in the Vala illustrations, and its reception in Blake criticism over the centuries. As in the second Blake panel, there was an emphasis in McQuail’s paper on the importance, the necessity of considering Blake’s images alongside his works, which I find increasingly important as I form my own research about Blake.

Elizabeth Potter giving her paper

I chaired day four’s Blake panel, ‘Blake’s Visionary Imagination’. Tara Lee’s (University of Oxford) spoke on the intersection of the natural and the mechanical in Blake’s particular form of epic. Joshua Schouten de Jel (Plymouth University) discussed selfhood and psychoanalysis in The Book of Thel and Visions of the Daughters of Albion. Finally, with perhaps one of my favourite papers of the conference, Camille Adnot (Paris-Diderot University) spoke on Blake’s Four Zoas, the influence of medieval mappae mundi on Blake’s illustrations, and the question of mapping dreamscapes in Blake’s works.

Camille Adnot presenting her paper

BARS 2019 was fascinating from start to finish. Although the end of the conference left me feeling deflated that four days of exciting conversations had to come to an end, I am, ultimately, excited for the future of my research area and the connections I’ve made within it.

Jodie Marley, University of Nottingham

16th August 2019

BARS 2019 Report

Today on the Blog is a post from Johnny Cammish (University of Nottingham). This is the second in a series of reports from the International BARS conference that took place in July 2019. You can also see pictures from the event if you search #BARS2019 on Twitter. 

The run up to BARS was a busy time for us, as the postgraduate helpers. It was a lot of work that, thankfully, all seems to have come together in the end. Or, at least, that was the impression I got from various grateful delegates who consistently offered thanks and praise throughout the conference.

It was an intense first day; opening with the fantastic plenary by Professor Laura Mandell about some of the digital approaches she’s been working on were an exciting indication of things to come. The first panel I attended was equally fantastic, though of a far more sombre tone. Featuring discussions of ageing, lateness and dementia being wonderfully thought provoking and, with such heavy topics, inevitably very moving. However, the brief quotation of James Montgomery, my own interest, may have somewhat biased me in celebration of this panel.

Montgomery did crop up again later in the day; although this time when I gave my own paper after a somewhat complicated but well-handled panel shift, with the Romantic Radicalism and Romantic Life-writing panels being combined synergistically in a new beast that worked remarkably well. I’ve not had much experience giving papers, but I found the energy and interest in the room genuinely inspiring; questions and comments I’ve received have given me a long list of additional areas for me to investigate, which I am grateful for!

Me presenting my paper

Unsurprisingly, considering my own paper on Montgomery’s radicalism and imprisonment, many of my personal highlights were the papers of a political nature – Olivia Murphy’s discussion of the bizarre difficulties of the Birmingham mob to burn ‘Dr Phlogiston’ was fascinating, and Ian Packer’s paper on Wat Tyler reminded me that I really need to read more on how the older Southey dealt with his more radical youth. That’s not to say that I neglected other panels; I thoroughly enjoyed viewing Scottish Romanticism and Percy Shelley Panels, despite how they demonstrated my own near-criminal neglect of Romantic Drama.

I could, of course, talk about the panels ad infinitum, but I cannot fail to mention the other plenaries. Professor Diego Saglia’s discussion of (potentially) Byron’s skin was fascinating and wonderfully macabre; something I had never even thought of considering before. Professor Jane Stabler’s comparison of Byron to The Office (US)’s Dwight Schrute is forever etched on my brain, Dr Robert Poole’s wonderful discussion of Peterloo highlighted the role of women, and clarified the state of Manchester in 1819 – dispelling a lot of my own misunderstandings. Finally, Professor Sharon Ruston’s discussion of Humphry Davy and his rejection of poetry in favour of science felt like a fitting microcosm of the Humanities side-lining to the Sciences.

The excursion to Newstead was also wonderful; I visit it regularly as I work there part-time, but seeing it full of scholars who know and appreciate Byron and his history was wonderful; and I was pleased with how much enthusiasm everyone had for the Abbey, both as postgraduate helper and as part-time Visitor Assistant. In short, the conference was wonderful, and there is far more to be said than could fit in 500 words. I am glad that many seemed to enjoy it as much as I.

The next BARS conference will be the BARS PG/ECR Conference in 2020. The conference will be held at Keats House, Hampstead, from 12th-13th June. Further details and CfP to follow – for now, save the date!

Johnny Cammish, University of Nottingham

16th August 2019

BARS 2019 Open Call Sessions

The accepted open call sessions for BARS’ 2019 International Conference, themed around Romantic Facts and Fantasies, have now been published on the main conference page on the University of Nottingham website.  Details can be accessed using the links below; abstracts should be sent to the named organiser for consideration.

The deadline for submitting proposals for these sessions is 28th January 2019.  The deadline for the submission of panels and individual papers is 17th December 2018.

Wordsworth Trust Catalyst Fund Appeal

Wordsworth Trust

Most BARS members will be well aware of the amazing work which the Wordsworth Trust does to promote interest in and knowledge of Romantic literature and will need no convincing as to its ongoing value.  The Trust is currently trying to take advantage of a government scheme which will allow it to raise up to a million pounds if it can secure matching donations: this appeal is detailed on its website and in this leaflet.  The deadline for unlocking this funding is July 31st.  Donations made to the Trust during this time will make really substantial contributions to allowing the Trust to sustain its operations, to Romantic studies and to the ongoing profile of the authors we all value.  Please spread this message far and wide – time is ticking.