Report from the 15th Coleridge Summer Conference (Part II)
Thank you to Jonatan González (@jonatangonzg) for this report from the Coleridge Summer Conference in Bristol. Jonatan is a first-year PhD student at the University of La Rioja researching Anglo-Spanish literary relations and the reception of British Romantic poetry in continental Europe. His thesis examines the afterlife of William Wordsworth in nineteenth and twentieth-century Spain. Part I of the report can be found here.
On Wednesday the conference moved to Goldney Hall, recently featured, as many delegates were quick to point out, in the BBC series Sherlock as the venue for the wedding of John Watson and Mary Morstan. Though no crimes took place here on this occasion, the new location did entail a change in the pace of the conference, with no parallel sessions taking place that morning, and a gala dinner awaiting for us in the evening at Goldney Hall’s own orangery. Jessica Fay opened up the first panel with a top-notch discussion of Sir George Beaumont’s illustrations to The White Doe of Rylstone and the 1815 collected edition of Wordsworth’s poems, arguing that Beaumont provided something more than illustration and that Wordsworth’s poetic responses to his paintings constituted, in turn, a form of ekphrasis. This was followed by Jeff Strabone’s thorough study of Coleridge’s, Southey’s, and William Taylor’s 1790s writings in dactylic hexameter; and Jennifer Jones and her remarkable examination of Wordsworth’s musicality and metrical innovation in his translations of Chaucer, began in the winter of 1801, though revised and published over the course of his lifetime.
In the next panel Kim Wheatley offered an exploration of the extent to which questioning the substantiality of rocks in British Gothic fiction and Romantic poetry is compatible with ecocritical approaches. This was followed by Tom Clucas’s engaging paper on the ways in which Coleridge’s experiences of collaborative publishing in Cambridge and Bristol prior to Lyrical Ballads helped to shape his subsequent expectations of the conversational nature of multiple authorship. Julia Carlson closed the session with a riveting discussion of the poetic configurations of tactility as a mode of knowledge, comparing Thomas Blacklock’s configuration of tactile maps to the formation of mapping and tactility in Wordsworth’s “The Blind Highland Boy” and Coleridge’s poetics of tact in Omniana, Biographia Literaria, and his Notebooks.
A short coffee break and a stroll through the grounds of Goldney Hall were followed by the second keynote speaker of the Coleridge Summer Conference, Jeffrey Cox. His remarkable lecture, “Thinking Rivers: The Flow of Influence, Wordsworth-Coleridge-Shelley”, took on the view of the later poetry of the Lake poets as responding to the so-called “second generation” of romantics, tracking the flow of influence through a series of river poems, including Coleridge’s “Hymn Before Sunrise, in the Vale of Chamouni”, Wordsworth’s The River Duddon, and Shelley’s “Mont Blanc”.
Such an intellectually stimulating morning gave way for a more relaxed afternoon. We were treated to a visit to the site of Thomas Beddoes’s and Humphrey Davy’s infamous Pneumatic Institution, an exciting boat trip around Bristol, as well as an on-board book launch, which prompted several puns that Coleridge himself would have been proud of, including “a book launch on a launch” and “the boat that launched a thousand books”. Following the gala dinner and a poetry reading featuring a considerable number of delegates and a wide spectrum of poems, a group of Coleridgeans opted for an improvised post-banquet cider tasting in The Coronation Tap, and some late-night star gazing back in the grounds of Will’s Hall.
Delegates at the Pneumatic Institution
Coleridgeans at The Coronation Tap
With Thursday came a return to Will’s Hall and the format of parallel sessions. An intense morning packed with papers, it featured, on the one hand, Dometa Brothers’s and Lance Sacknoff’s thorough examination of the influence of Coleridge’s philosophy and poetry upon William Rowan Hamilton’s revolutionary ideas on the approach of algebra as a discipline; followed by Aimee Barbeau’s paper on Coleridge’s and Benedict Anderson’s versions of nationality, grounded on a comprehensive study of Biographia Literaria and On the Constitution of the Church and State. Edmund Downey opened up the other parallel panel with a terrific discussion, grounded on new archival findings of a number of Coleridge’s early poems originally published in reformist publications in the light of the wider context of the 1790s political poetics and the popular press. This set the mood for Katy Beavers’s fantastic paper on the poetical responses to the evils of the Slave Trade in the works of Coleridge, Southey, Hannah More and Anna Barbauld.
The next parallel sessions of the morning featured, firstly, Philip Aherne and a fabulous close reading of James Marsh’s 1829 American edition of Aids to Reflection, published with his accompanying “Preliminary Essay”, and Rev. John McVickar’s 1839 “rival” edition, containing a new “Preliminary Essay” that deliberately supplanted Marsh; followed by Timothy Whelan’s in-depth analysis of the friendship between Coleridge and Joseph Hughes. The panel closed with Lisa Lappin’s stimulating take on the sexual ambivalence of the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. In the other panel, Ali Al Saffar offered a discussion of how Coleridge’s early “pathological dilemma” yielded the unique creative imagination and philosophical depth ascribed to him in the present day; followed by Jacob Risinger’s remarkable examination of the origins and far-reaching implications of Coleridge’s strange position within the studies on Romantic Stoicism; and closed by Peter Cheyne’s enthralling reading of Coleridge’s water-insect as an analogy that depicts the mind both relaxing on the stream of association, and resisting it with foresight, thereby emphasizing the willed dynamic between passivity and action.
In the next session, Adam Walker brought to life Coleridge’s “The Lover’s Resolution” with an examination of its narrative form through three interconnected approaches dealing with the multilayered topographies of the poem; whereas Catherine Ross focused on the remarkable productivity of the Romantics by exploring the ways in which they were taught in school and university to think and work. This was followed by the last keynote speaker of the conference, Margaret Russet. Her extraordinary lecture, “A Vision in a Dream-Machine: ‘Kubla Khan’, Xanadu and Hypertopia”, explored the Coleridgeanism of the Xanadu Project, the first-ever hypertext project, founded in 1960 by Ted Nelson, arguing that it is best understood as the vision of a perfected – hence impossible – literary history.
Thursday’s social programme featured a walk through Leigh Woods National Nature Reserve, the Clifton Suspension Bridge, and Durham Down, once again led by the brilliant and knowledgeable Robin Jarvis. Delegates were able to get some exercise done in this lovely part of Bristol, while getting to know more about the connections of these places with the Coleridge and Southey circle. The last full day of the conference finished with delegates having a late night at the pub, where the intellectual discussion gave way to more informal conversations, pool and foosball battles. Some Coleridgeans even pushed the limits of networking further, once again, with some late-night star gazing back in the college grounds in a pure Romantic style.
Leigh Woods National Nature Reserve
Deven Parker, Daniel Larson, and Grace Rexroth
Though the conference drew to end on Friday afternoon, that morning was still crammed with thought-provoking papers. The first parallel session opened with an introduction by Kerri Andrews and Sarah Crofton to the impressive work completed so far in their current research project, the editing of Hannah More’s 2,000 surviving letters, and a discussion of how their content might inflect our understanding of Coleridge as a Bristol writer in the 1790s; followed by Emma Povall and her remarkable use of the letters and diaries of William Godwin and Coleridge to question whether the latter’s close reading of Godwin’s second novel, St Leon, helped to renew and bring about a time of intimacy to their friendship. In the other parallel panel Jacob Lloyd offered an in-depth discussion of Coleridge’s pantheistic expressions being the result of an attempt to synthesise his reading of Ralph Cudworth with Joseph Priestley’s ideas; followed by Linda R. Reesman’s proposal to expand on critical interpretations of Coleridge’s literary theory and poetic style drawing from an anthropological study on the liminality of a tribal African society.
Delegates then had to chose between Gabriel Cervantes’s comprehensive paper on Coleridge’s critical assessments of Daniel Defoe’s fiction and the particular versions of the Defoe canon he and his contemporaries inherited; and Travis Chi Wing Lau’s thorough analysis of the Pneumatic Institution’s scientific writings alongside the works of Southey and Coleridge to explore how the concept of immunization became radicalized during the Romantic period. In the next session, Ramazan Saral offered a close reading of Coleridge’s “Limbo” and “Time, Real and Imaginary” in relation to his idea of space and time reflecting the alteration between reality and dreams; whereas Emily B. Stanback remarkably delved into the key features of Tom Wedgwood’s metaphysics by exploring his thoughts on the origins of love, sympathy, and vanity. Though not generally considered by scholars of British Romanticism, in a true romantic style Wedgwood did seek to trace the feelings and tendencies of adults to their experiences in childhood. The discussion that ensued paved the way for the final paper of the conference, delivered by Dahlia Porter, and focused on Tom Wedgwood as well, with an eye towards the way in which his experiments with perception influenced Coleridge’s own practice of minute observation and self-experimentation.
Will’s Hall, University of Bristol
After lunch it was time to say goodbye to friends old and new, and everyone departed Will’s Hall, many to begin their summer holidays, whereas others were fearless enough to join on Monday the Wordsworth Summer Conference in the Lake District, thus making it three consecutive weeks of conferencing. That, however, is a different story.
The academic director of the Coleridge Summer Conference, Tim Fulford, and the members of the organizing committee, Kerri Andrews, Michael Gamer, and Joanna Taylor, are to be congratulated and thanked for putting together this impressive five-day conference characterised by the high calibre of papers and the intellectually stimulating discussions that ensued, as well as by a superb balance of scholarly work and a Romantic-related social programme. This is a biannual event, so it will be back in Bristol in two years’ time, though to make the wait more bearable, in April 2017 Tim Fulford and Dahlia Porter will host/organise a Southey conference that is likely to attract a similar crowd of Romanticists.