BARS Blog

BARS Blog

News and Commentary from the British Association for Romantic Studies

Archive for July 2015

Romanticism Exactly 200 Years Ago: On This Day in 1815

Welcome to a new series of posts on the BARS Blog. We have been inspired to create this series following the popularity on Twitter of the ‘OnThisDay’ hashtag, featured by the accounts @1815now and @Wordsworthians. As we reach the bicentenaries of many Romantic events, we want to present a catalogue of #OnThisDay blog posts that relate to events happening exactly 200 years ago. The premise of the blog is to give readers a snapshot of 1815 in 2015 (and on into 2016 and beyond!), relevant to that month or even that particular day. We will welcome contributions to this as 1815 and subsequent years mark many interesting milestones in the history of Romanticism. In the post below on the 28th July, we begin with the Shelleys…

 

28th July 1815 – The First Anniversary of the Shelleys’ Elopement

In July 1815, after a summer tour of Devon, Mary Godwin (the future Mary Shelley) remained in the Clifton area of Bristol while Percy Shelley went to London in search of a house. On the 27th July, Mary (who was pregnant at the time) writes to her lover. What appears to be a simple forlorn love letter actually tells us far more about the Shelleys’ lifestyle and demeanour, in a way that would come to be reflected in their creative writings. Mary writes:

We ought not to be absent any longer indeed we ought not – I am not happy at it – when I retire to my room no sweet Love – after dinner no Shelley – though I have heaps of things very particular to say – in fine either you must come back, or I must come to you directly.

Emphasis here is placed on the things that Mary has ‘to say’: this implies conversations of a personal nature but also intellectual conversations. We know from Mary’s journal and the Shelleys’ other letters that reading aloud to one another and discussing their thoughts on literature and philosophy was important in their relationship. The Shelleys’ shared reading list for 1815 (recorded by Mary in the journal) shows a wide range of works. Under the heading ‘Mary’ are texts such as ‘Paradise Regained’, ‘Spenser’s Fairy Queen’, Godwin’s ‘St. Leon’ and ‘Coleridge’s Poems’. These works in the list, and many more, are carefully marked with an ‘x’ to show ‘S. has read also’ (Percy Shelley). The social nature of this reading project is also evident in notes like ‘Shakespeare’s Play. Part of which Shelley reads aloud’.

William Powell Frith, 'The Lover's Seat: Shelley and Mary Godwin in Old St Pancras Churchyard'

William Powell Frith, ‘The Lover’s Seat: Shelley and Mary Godwin in Old St Pancras Churchyard’

In the 1815 letter Mary uses the pet names ‘Pecksie’ and ‘Maie’. Percy Shelley uses the word ‘Pecksie’ in the manuscript of Frankenstein when he corrects Mary’s mistakes (e.g. her misspelling of ‘enigmatic’). This has been misconstrued as patronising. The letter we are presented with here provides further evidence to counteract any reading of the nickname as mocking: Mary writes, ‘I shall think it un-Pecksie of you’. By referring to Percy as ‘Pecksie’, this letter indicates that the nickname can function for either member of the couple, and is therefore used in an endearing sense, in a reciprocal, equal way, rather than showing Percy Shelley acting condescending.

Mary continues:

Tomorrow is the 28th of July – dearest ought we not to have been together on that day – indeed we ought my love & I shall shed some tears to think we are not – do not be angry dear love – Your Pecksie is a good girl & is quite well now again – except a headach (sic) when she waits so a(n)xiously for her loves letters – dearest best Shelley pray come to me – pray pray do not stay away from me – this is delightful weather and you better we might have a delightful excursion to Tintern Abbey – my dear dear Love – I most earnestly & with tearful eyes beg that I may come to you if you do not like to leave the searches after a house

Mary’s emphasis on the 28th July refers to the fact that this will be the first anniversary of their elopement. That they would choose to recognise this day is demonstrative of their untraditional relationship: as yet unmarried, they choose to remember the anniversary of when they decided to abandon London to travel to the continent, leaving behind the 16-year-old Mary’s disgruntled father William Godwin and the 21-year-old Percy Shelley’s estranged wife, Harriet. But this is a well-known Romantic legend: and that was 1814, not 1815. Exactly 200 years ago from now, in 1815, the Shelleys were back in England, paradoxically settled and unsettled, as Mary’s 1815 letter shows.

These emotional love-letters were typical of the Shelleys’ correspondence in the early years of their relationship. Percy Shelley wrote to Mary in October 1814:

Mary love – we must be united. I will not part from you again after Saturday night. We must devise some scheme. I must return. Your thoughts alone can waken mine to energy. My mind without yours is dead & cold as the dark midnight river when the moon is down. It seems as if you alone could shield me from impurity & vice. If I were absent from you long I should shudder with horror at myself. My understanding becomes undisciplined without you.

Mary is a source of mental stimulation for Shelley: her ‘thoughts’ are what can ‘waken’ his own to energy, he becomes ‘undisciplined’ without her; his ‘mind’ is ‘dead’  in her absence.

Amelia Robertson Hill, 'Percy Bysshe Shelley (1882)', Tate Britain

Amelia Robertson Hill, ‘Percy Bysshe Shelley (1882)’, Tate Britain

The lesser-known letter by Mary from Clifton discussing the Shelleys’ first anniversary of their elopement (exactly 200 years ago in 1815) shows a continuing commitment to each other that is shaped by intellectual inspiration on a reciprocal level. Percy Shelley did find a house in London that year, and on or just before the 4th August (his birthday), the couple took up residence at Bishopsgate, the eastern entrance of Windsor Park, where they remained for the next nine months. Mary would later transfer aspects of this experience to her novel Lodore (1835), where the young married couple Villiers and Ethel experience poverty and separation.

– Anna Mercer (University of York)

CfP: Transforming Topography, British Library, 6th May 2016

Please see below for a Call for Papers for an exciting upcoming conference on new directions in the study of topography, which will take place at the British Library in May next year.  Full details can also be seen on the website of the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, which is sponsoring the event.

Transforming Topography

The British Library, 6th May 2016

 

View of Strowan Bridge

The British Library and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art are delighted to announce a call for papers for an international conference on transforming topography.

The conference will be interdisciplinary in nature, and we invite contributions from art historians, architectural historians, map scholars, historians, cultural geographers, independent researchers, and museum professionals (including early-career) which contribute to current re-definitions of topography. We welcome contributions that engage with specific items from the British Library’s topographical collections and highlight the copious nuances that can be explored within topography, including, but not limited to:

  • Topography versus landscape: topography’s position within registers of pictorial representation.
  • Topography’s boundaries with other forms of knowledge, such as antiquarianism.
  • The role and identity of the artists and writers employed in producing topographical images and texts.
  • Topographic techniques and conventions, repetitions in text and images
  • Patrons and collectors of topographical material: topography as a social and cultural practice, the circulation, use and display of these objects.
  • Topography and the library, museum or gallery.

Topography is an emerging and dynamic field in historical scholarship. The Paul Sandby: Picturing Britain exhibition of 2009/2010 (Nottingham, Edinburgh, London) and subsequent research has sought a redefinition of topography. Rather than seeing topographical art as marginal compared to the landscapes in oils or watercolours by the canon of ‘great artists’ or more imaginative and sublime images, a growing number of scholars are embracing the historical study of images of specific places in their original contexts, sparking a lively debate around nationhood, identity, and cultural value, or what John Barrell describes as ‘the conflict and coexistence of the various…“stakeholders” in the landscape and in its representation’ (Barrell, Edward Pugh of Ruthin, 2013).

The British Library holds the world’s most extensive and important collection of British topographic materials, including George III’s King’s Topographical Collection, currently being re-catalogued. There are hundreds of thousands of images and texts, including unique compilations of prints and drawings, rare first editions, maps, extra-illustrated books, and handwritten notes across the collections: all of which exhibit the broad range of forms and subject matter which topographical material can take. Using the BL’s main online catalogue and typing in ‘George III, views’ will give you a taste of what is available, as will the entry for the British Library in M.W. Barley’s A Guide to British Topographical Collections (1974). The majority of topographic materials are not listed individually, so if you need help finding specific items please contact Alice Rylance-Watson, Research Curator, at Alice.Rylance-Watson@bl.uk.

Please send proposals of no more than 300 words accompanied by a brief biography to: Ella Fleming, Events Manager, events@paul-mellon-centre.ac.uk by 5.00pm on Wednesday 30 September 2015.

Romantic Imprints Announcement Summary

Romantic Imprints image

On Sunday, the 2015 BARS International Conference, Romantic Imprints, wrapped up in Cardiff after four tremendously successful days of scholarship and conviviality.  Jane Moore, Anthony Mandal and the conference team did a phenomenal job for which they were justly acclaimed by over 250 engaged and joyful delegates.  We’ll be publishing, I hope, a lot more about the conference over the next two or three weeks and updating the main site to provide a permanent record to sit alongside the conference’s site, Facebook page and the #2015BARS hashtag on Twitter.  To begin, though, I just wanted to provide an executive summary of some major announcements made at the conference for those who were unable to attend – more details on all of these happenings will follow.

After extensive discussion among the judges, the inaugural BARS First Book Prize was awarded to Orianne Smith for her book Romantic Women Writers, Revolution and Prophecy: Rebellious Daughters, 1786 -1826 (Cambridge University Press, 2013).  During the announcement at the drinks reception on the first night, Professor Emma Clery, chair of the judging panel, stressed the high quality and particular virtues of all the shortlisted books and the health of the field as a whole.  We’ll be publishing the panel’s citations in the coming days.

At the BARS General Meeting, the following Executive was elected for the coming term:

Officers

  • President: Ian Haywood (Roehampton)
  • Vice President: Anthony Mandal (Cardiff)
  • Past President: Nicola Watson (Open University)
  • Treasurer and Membership Secretary: Jane Moore (Cardiff)
  • Secretary: Helen Stark (Edinburgh)

Members

  • BARS Review Editor: Susan Valladares (Oxford)
  • Web Editor: Matthew Sangster (Birmingham)
  • Bursaries and Social Media: Daniel Cook (Dundee)
  • Early Career Representative: Matthew Ward (St Andrews)
  • Postgraduate Representative: Honor Rieley (Oxford)

Co-opted Members

  • Mailbase: Neil Ramsey (New South Wales, Canberra)
  • International Liaison: Susan Oliver (Essex)
  • Conferences and Chawton House Bursary: Gillian Dow (Southampton)
  • Chair of the BARS First Book Prize: Emma Clery (Southampton)
  • Organiser of the 2017 Conference: Jim Watt (York)

The BGM also included announcements of the Association’s next two conferences:

The next BARS Early Career and Postgraduate Conference, Romantic Voices, will take place in June 2016 in Oxford (at TORCH – The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities).  It will be co-organised by Matthew Ward and Honor Rieley, and further details and a full Call for Papers will be issued in the autumn.

The next BARS International Conference will take place in July 2017 at the University of York (specifically, at King’s Manor) and will be based around the theme of ‘Improvement’.  The lead organiser at York will be Jim Watt.  The full Call for Papers will be circulated in 2016.

Five Questions: Maureen McCue on British Romanticism and the Reception of Italian Old Master Art

Maureen McCue - British Romanticism and the Reception of Italian Old Master Arts, 1793-1840

Maureen McCue is a Lecturer in the School of English at Bangor University and can be found on Twitter @maureen_mccue.  Before joining Bangor, she completed her BA at the University of Montana and an MPhil and a PhD at the University of Glasgow.  She has published articles and presented papers on subjects including Samuel Rogers, William Hazlitt, Lord Byron, Italian art and culture, literary tourism and the development of aestheticism.  Many of these figures and themes feature in her first book, British Romanticism and the Reception of Italian Old Master Art, 1793-1840, which was published by Ashgate last November, which is one of the four books on the shortlist for this year’s BARS First Book Prize, and which we discuss below.

1) How did you first become interested in Italian art and its reception in the Romantic period?

I’ve always been fascinated by Italian medieval and Renaissance art as well as classical statues, and as an undergraduate I had a sense that Dante and other Italian authors had deeply influenced Romantic and Modernist writers.  But it was during a seminar with Alison Chapman when I was doing my MPhil at the University of Glasgow and we were discussing the passage in Corinne where Corinne is crowned at the Capitol that I was struck not only with the idea that a writer could invoke or rework earlier literary traditions in a text (such as Petrarch being crowned at the Capitol), but also that an author would pinpoint a specific painting, in this case Domenichino’s Sibyl, as a sort of shorthand to her reader.  My fascination increased when I learned that Staël had commissioned a portrait of herself after the Sibyl, blurring the lines between her text, Domenichino’s work, her character and herself, and that this new portrait then took on its own significance in the public sphere.  I kept coming across references to paintings but it wasn’t until Dorothy McMillan mentioned Napoleon’s campaigns in passing that things clicked into place for me and I decided to pursue the PhD.  Those two aspects – the literary and the political – were two anchors that allowed me to have a rather catholic approach to the sorts of print culture that I included, which I hope reflects the spirit of the age.

2) In your introduction, you write that ‘Part of the reason that Romantic reactions to Italian Renaissance art have thus far not been studied in depth is that traditionally scholarship has emphasized the visionary qualities of Romantic poetry over the visual experience.’  What do you think an emphasis on visual experience adds to our understanding of what’s going on in the literature of the period?

It gives us a more holistic view of both the period and the literature itself.  While there is much pleasure and value to be found in reading a poem or a novel for its own sake, being aware of the visual aspects of a text or the value the period placed on the visual helps us remember that these writers were responding to a world outside of themselves.  It reminds us that on the one hand their writing and the publication of their writing was informed by long-established cultural values (i.e. Italian art is important) and on the other, contemporary market demands (i.e. illustrated books sell better).  Being aware of the period’s visual aspects makes it come alive for us in meaningful ways and can often provide new avenues for exploration.

3) What events led you to pick 1793 as your start date and 1840 as your end date?

While I try to register significant developments earlier in the 18th century, such as the foundation of the Royal Academy in 1768, I chose 1793 as the start date for the study because it was the year the Louvre opened as a public museum, as well as the year Great Britain became involved in the French Revolutionary Wars.  This is a major sea-change in European art culture as it signals the radical idea that art should be available to all, rather than squirreled away in a private chamber.  1840 as an end-point is slightly more arbitrary, but I do have the sense that by 1840 we’re beginning to enter a new phase of art criticism, production and consumption, and that the relationship between (contemporary) visual and verbal texts has shifted.  The Romantic discourse loosened the canon of what was valuable in art and why, and it began to celebrate the Italian primitives in their own right for the first time.  To go beyond the 1830s would thus have changed the nature of the book.  As the 1840s is the decade of John Ruskin’s Modern Painters (1843) and the Pre-Raphaelites (1848), it becomes clear that the Romantic reception of art has sparked a new generation’s imagination and innovation, both in the visual arts and in literature, but that discourse becomes quite different to the one proceeding it.

4) To what extent was the reception of Italian Old Masters in the early nineteenth century a modern print-cultural phenomenon, and to what extent did it build on earlier discourses?

These two aspects really go hand in hand.  In the book, I’ve traced the ways in which an already established discourse regarding the importance of Italian art was modified and distributed to a wider audience via new, contemporary print innovations and culture.  The earlier discourses on art had two main audiences, both of whom had somewhat different needs and purposes for art.  One was the ruling class, whose tradition of the Grand Tour and of connoisseurship was wrapped up in ideas about civic humanism and taste.  The second were artists, most particularly members of the Royal Academy, who used Italian Renaissance art as the gold standard to aspire to, which, if reached, would ensure their dominance over contemporary European art.  Both of these audiences were elite and closed, but the value they placed on understanding and being able to discuss art became available for the first time as a result of contemporary print culture.  Through periodicals, catalogues, engravings and literary texts, reader-viewers were exposed not only to the art works themselves but also the discourse surrounding them.  Furthermore, Italian culture more broadly was such a central topic in so many overlapping arenas – such as new galleries and exhibitions, European politics, dissenting education, and travel and literature – that the print culture which addressed these areas reshaped the dominant discourse on art and made it accessible to a wide audience beyond the confines of the Royal Academy and the aristocracy for the first time.

5) What new projects are you currently working on?

I’m at the start of two new projects at the moment.  My first project is to write a book about William Hazlitt’s art criticism. Hazlitt figures prominently throughout British Romanticism and the Reception of Italian Old Master Art.  While this new project builds on that knowledge, I hope to articulate the ways in which his early philosophy informs his art criticism, or, more specifically, how his art criticism can be seen as an extension of his An Essay on the Principles of Human Action.  I’m especially looking forward to exploring his thoughts on a wide range of art, so that his enjoyment of prints or reproductions will be considered next to his criticism of contemporary British artists or of Titian, for example.  Being able to explore some of his less familiar works, such as his Conversations with Northcote or his Journey to France and Italy, will also help me gauge his influence on later art critics such as Anna Jameson, Edmund Gosse and John Ruskin.

My second project is about the ways in which the circulation of prints and illustrations create new or redefine cultural and social spaces.  This project is very much in its infancy and still feels a bit abstract, but I’m hoping to bring together factual information about prints and illustrations (i.e. how much they cost, what was popular, how people collected and displayed them) with a more nuanced understanding of their cultural and social capital.  I keep two examples at the back of my mind, which together are my North star as I embark on this journey.  One is the scene in Jane Austen’s Persuasion where Anne Elliot meets a thoroughly absorbed Admiral Croft on the street in front of a printshop window.  In addition to including a tirade by the Admiral against the anonymous artists for portraying unrealistic and impractical boats, this encounter both conveys critical information to Anne and allows her to ask some nearly direct questions to the Admiral which she may not have been able to do in a more confined social space.  The second example I keep in mind is the fact that people collected prints such as illustrations and cartoons and kept them in albums.  Often these would be circulated to dinner party guests after the meal.  What I find fascinating however is the fact that if you didn’t have an album you could rent one for the evening.  Clearly the social, cultural and entertainment value of prints are not to be underestimated.  The two examples help me to remember how fully this contemporary cultural phenomenon of the print shaped social dynamics.  It’s obviously still early days for both these projects, but luckily I’m on research leave for the next six months and should gain some traction.

Romantic Imprints Information

BARS 2015

We’re now just days away from the opening of BARS’ 2015 International Conference, Romantic Imprints.  A great deal of additional information on the conference has been released by the organisers over the last few days; this includes the final programme, the abstracts and a reader for the excursion to Tintern Abbey.  All of these can be downloaded from the conference blog.  It’s shaping up to be a great event – look forward to seeing many of you in Cardiff.

Report from ‘Romanticism and the South West’: day conference, 29th June 2015, University of Bristol

Bristol2

Goldney Hall, Bristol

I arrived in Bristol on a rainy Sunday. Fortunately, the summer weather soon returned and by Monday morning on the 29th July I was in the beautiful surroundings of Goldney Hall, Clifton, feeling thoroughly inspired by the talks at the conference on ‘Romanticism and the South West’. It was a day that reminded me just why a non-sentimental evaluation of the significance of place for Romantic authors is so important. As the conference blurb explains:

The South West is sometimes no more than a tableau for Romantic writers, a wild region of myth and mystery, exciting because so different from the urbanity of London. But for other writers the region is essential to their writing, less a concept than an active element in how they thought and wrote.

The day was organised by Ralph Pite and his doctoral students and colleagues. The conference incorporated a wide range of papers on both established and lesser-known connections between the Romantic period and the South West (including Bristol, Devon, Somerset, and South Wales). There was a clear focus throughout on well-researched discoveries of connections, on crucial insights and on the appreciation of the texts written by the authors discussed. There were some fantastic readings of poetry given in detailed context revealing just how important this area of the world was for the Romantics, and still is to the study of Romanticism.

The conference’s legacy is embodied in an exciting new app called ‘Romantic Bristol: Writing the City’. This can be found on Apple’s App Store and downloaded for free (just search ‘Romantic Bristol’). The app features an interactive map of Bristol locations associated with Romanticism. If you allow the app to see your location, the app will also ‘supply GPS data […] to a secure database in the University, that will show users’ pathways through the environment, their choices, preferences and explorations.’ This will allow researchers to ‘study how people choose to walk through a city, with raised awareness of its history and culture but not following a guidebook track’. I’ve already had a go: it’s easy to use and full of detailed information about the city and its links to this period in history.

The first plenary talk at the conference was by Nick Groom, and he discussed the Bristolian writer Thomas Chatterton as a Gothic/Romantic author but not in the traditional sense of Walpole’s Gothic; instead he considered Chatterton in the context of the Gothic of antiquarian political/social history (therefore less the Gothic of medievalist terror). This was an interesting reading of the poetry Chatterton wrote as he began his (albeit very short) poetical career in the West Country before moving to London.

The panel following this considered ‘Landscape and Verse’: Adrian J. Wallbank discussed S T Coleridge’s Kubla Khan and the Valley of Rocks near Lynton, Exmoor. Could this ‘desolate’ landmark have been a vital inspiration for the astounding imagery in that poem, written during Coleridge’s residence in Somerset? Sites like this in the West Country allowed Coleridge to explore his study of science (it being a natural phenomenon) and also his interest in the supernatural. Wallbank’s talk was taken from a chapter that will appear in the forthcoming book Romantic Sustainability. A joint paper by Catherine Boyle and Phil Vellender followed, discussing the materiality of P B Shelley’s verse: in particular his sonnet ‘On Launching Some Bottles Filled with Knowledge into the Bristol Channel’. There were some fascinating close readings here, as after considering the early materialism in Shelley’s poetry (in contrast to his later immateriality), Boyle and Vellender considered the concept of the Romantic sonnet and the links to Leigh Hunt’s writing circle, and Shelley’s experimentation with poetical forms. Sue Edney concluded the panel with a discussion on Chatterton and William Barnes. She considered ‘semantic redundancy’, the purity of language as a suitable medium for classical expression, and the paradox of Romantic ideas of purity and the Gothic. Her talk also included prose from Ruskin and concluded with Coleridge’s stunning lines from ‘Frost at Midnight’, composed of course, at Nether Stowey, a small town less than 40 miles from Bristol, and the birthplace of Lyrical Ballads:

But thou, my babe! shalt wander like a breeze

By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags

Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds,

Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores

And mountain crags: so shalt thou see and hear

The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible

Of that eternal language, which thy God

Utters, who from eternity doth teach

Himself in all, and all things in himself.

Attention to the Gothic and landscape in this panel conjured up the image of the South West as a wild, untameable place, and a definite contrast to London.

Bristol1

The afternoon plenary talk (after an al fresco lunch in the stunning gardens of the venue) was by Tim Fulford. One of his many academic roles is editor of the letters and works of Robert Southey. Entitled ‘Oxygenating Romanticism; or, Humphry Davy goes to Tintern’, this paper considered the eighteenth-century scientific experiments in ‘vital air’ or oxygen and how this corresponds to stimulation as a factor in poetic inspiration: i.e. inspiration revitalises the mind of the poet, and ‘over-stimulation’ and ‘under-stimulation’ were considerations in the progressions of health science. Fulford considered Humphry Davy’s excursion to the Wye and his experiments with a eudiometer. In going to Tintern Abbey, Davy wanted to back up Wordsworth’s enthusiastic nature-worship with objective measures – this would also validate his own poetry. Fulford reminded us that the great Romantic lyric is a creation of the 1790s in the West Country. Coleridge appeared in this paper too: in Wordsworth’s ‘Lines Written a few miles above Tintern Abbey, on revisiting the banks of the Wye during a tour, July 13, 1798’ the poet echoes Coleridge’s ‘Frost at Midnight’ by being soothed in nature, a consequence of being over-stimulated by the city:

                                         And I have felt

A presence that disturbs me with the joy

Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime

Of something far more deeply interfused,

Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,

And the round ocean and the living air,

And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:

A motion and a spirit, that impels

All thinking things, all objects of all thought,

And rolls through all things.

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The two final panels entitled ‘Landmarks’ and ‘The Radical South West’ presented four more fascinating papers. Annika Bautz gave a history of Plymouth Public Library, built in 1811-13. Plymouth’s geographical location produced a need for such an establishment so that people could access key texts. Julia S. Carlson discussed Wordsworth’s ‘The Discharged Soldier’: I found this talk particularly interesting in the way in which it considered Dorothy’s role as a collaborator in 1798 and the start of the Alfoxden journal. Dorothy’s prose response to a place would later initiate Wordsworth’s developments in blank verse. John Williams continued the discussion on Wordsworth with a paper on The Ruined Cottage and the influence of William Crowe, an eccentric public orator at Oxford who wrote ‘Lewesdon Hill’. Crowe’s work referred to areas around Racedown, Dorset that Wordsworth knew well. Kerry Sinanan’s talk on John Stedman’s ‘Tiverton connections’ considered the role of irony and satire in abolitionist and anti-slavery texts, and how this links to Tiverton, a town in Devon, where Stedman eventually settled with his wife and children.

The keynote address was given by Tim Dee: writer and BBC radio producer, editor of The Poetry of Birds (with Simon Armitage) and author of ‘The Running Sky – A Birdwatching Life’. His talk, entitled ‘The Mild, Mild West’, is difficult to sum up because of its range: its content included personal recollections, an ‘album of snapshots’ attempting to capture the concept of ‘Romanticism in the South West’. As Bristol PhD candidate Rachel Murray put it on Twitter:

Dee considered Bristol in a tender and engaging way as the most rurally inflicted of the UK’s major cities. Dee’s work and time spent with Simon Armitage links to Armitage’s own 2015 expedition of the South West Coast Path, documented in his book Walking Away and recently featured on Radio 4’s ‘Book of the Week’.

Coleridge was again the star of the show here, as Dee’s favourite Romantic poet. Coleridge’s ‘The Nightingale’ is the first recorded reference to a nightingale in the West Country – it is not a bird usually found in those parts. Dee has lived in Bristol most of his life, and therefore his talk included comic notes on ‘romantic’ (i.e. personal) love and affection which were very touching and clever, but he also included serious comments on the ephemeral nature of life. Dee placed emphasis on the brilliant effects one can experience if they visit a favourite poet’s former abode – such as Coleridge’s house in Clevedon where he wrote ‘The Eolian Harp’ – and how amazing it feels to be there and be surrounded by the same air as that which the poem was written in. Though Dee’s talk was very broad and touched on so many subjects, it also felt at times like we were tracing a part of Coleridge’s journey through the West Country in the years leading up to the creation of Lyrical Ballads. Dee’s talk included one of my favourite quotes from Coleridge’s notebooks, on the inquisitiveness of his first-born son, Hartley:

Tuesday – Hartley looking out of my study window fixed his eyes steadily & for some time on the opposite prospect, & then said – Will yon Mountains always be?

Overall, the day represented for me a recent focus in academia/Romantic studies on the importance of literary places – by focusing on the South West, this conference took us from Pre-Romanticism and Chatterton to Shelley and Coleridge and beyond. Don’t forget to download the app (‘Romantic Bristol’)!

Anna Mercer, PhD Candidate at the University of York

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Romantic London Website

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Abusing my position as editor here briefly, I’d just like to point readers in the direction of a new digital project I’m working on which puts Richard Horwood’s ‘PLAN of the Cities of LONDON and WESTMINSTER the Borough of SOUTHWARK, and PARTS adjoining Shewing every HOUSE’ (1792-9) into conversation with a series of other Romantic-period works which seek to organise the city.  The site features a detailed, zoomable version of the Plan (from images provided by the British Library) layered over modern digital maps of the city, allowing for comparisons and contrasts.  It currently features annotated versions placing plates from the Microcosm of London (1808-10), plates and text from Modern London (1804) and text from Fores’s New Guide for Foreigners and the 1788 edition of Harris’s List of Covent-Garden Ladies.  The site is very much a work in progress at present – eventually, there’ll be a number of additional functions and several series of more literary annotations – but hopefully what’s there at present will already be of use for scholars working on the Romantic-period metropolis.  If you have any thoughts on the site (or have any problems using it), I’d be very grateful for any ideas or feedback.