News and Commentary from the British Association for Romantic Studies

Archive for October 2016

The BARS Review, No. 48 (Autumn 2016)

The Editors are pleased to announce the publication of the 48th number of The BARS Review, the sixth available in full online through the new website.  This number includes thirty reviews covering thirty-five new publications, as well as a special spotlight on works dealing with the Romantic Essayists.  The list of contents below includes links to the html versions of the articles, but all the reviews are also available as pdfs.  If you want to browse through the whole number at your leisure, a pdf compilation of all the reviews is available (this can be downloaded from the main review page or using the link at the foot of the list below).

The BARS Review site as a whole now includes over two hundred reviews of relatively recent publications in the field of Romantic Studies, freely available online both for people interested in particular books and as a searchable corpus that can be used to explore new developments within broader fields.

If you have any comments on the new number, or on the Review in general, we’d be very grateful for any feedback that would allow us to improve the site or the content.

Editor: Susan Valladares (St Hugh’s College, University of Oxford)
General Editors: Ian Haywood (University of Roehampton), Susan Oliver (University of Essex) & Nicola J. Watson (Open University)
Technical Editor: Matthew Sangster (University of Glasgow)

The BARS Review, No 48 (2016)

Table of Contents


Helen E. M. Brooks, Actresses, Gender and the Eighteenth-Century Stage: Playing Women
   Anna Louise Senkiw
Wendy C. Nielsen, Women Warriors in Romantic Drama
   Cecilia Feilla
William D. Brewer, Staging Romantic Chameleons and Imposters and Elizabeth Maddock Dillon, New World Drama: The Performative Commons in the Atlantic World, 1649-1849
   Dana Van Kooy
Jeremy Tambling, Hölderlin and the Poetry of Tragedy: Readings in Sophocles, Shakespeare, Nietzsche and Benjamin
   Chris Murray
Diane Piccitto, Blake’s Drama, Theatre, Performance and Identity in the Illuminated Books and Michael Farrell, Blake and the Methodists
   Mark Crosby
Helen P. Bruder and Tristanne Connolly, eds., Sexy Blake
   Susan Matthews
Monika M. Elbert and Lesley Ginsberg, eds., Romantic Education in Nineteenth-Century American Literature: National and Transatlantic Contexts
   Richard De Ritter
Eva König, The Orphan in Eighteenth-Century Fiction: The Vicissitudes of the Eighteenth-Century Subject
   Laura Peters
Richard Gravil and Daniel Robinson, eds., The Oxford Handbook of William Wordsworth and Jonathan Wordsworth, The Invisible World: Lectures from the Wordsworth Summer Conference and Wordsworth Winter School, selected and ed. Richard Haynes
   Keith Hanley
Alex Broadhead, The Language of Robert Burns: Style, Ideology, and Identity
   Christopher Donaldson
Henry Stead, A Cockney Catullus: The Reception of Catullus in Romantic Britain, 1795-1821
   David Wray
Porscha Fermanis and John Regan, eds., Rethinking British Romantic History, 1779-1845 and Ben Dew and Fiona Price, eds., Historical Writing in Britain 1688-1830: Visions of History
   Alex Broadhead
Emily Rohrbach, Modernity’s Mist: British Romanticism and the Poetics of Anticipation
   Chris Bundock
Alistair Heys, The Anatomy of Bloom: Harold Bloom and the Study of Influence and Anxiety
   Rachel Schulkins
Heather J. Jackson, Those Who Write for Immortality: Romantic Reputations and the Dream of Lasting Fame
   Beatrice Turner
Susan J. Wolfson, Reading John Keats
   Emily Rohrbach
Jacqueline Mulhallen, Percy Bysshe Shelley: Poet and Revolutionary
   Josefina Tuominen-Pope
Franca Dellarossa, Talking Revolution: Edward Rushton’s Rebellious Poetics and Paul Baines, ed., The Collected Writings of Edward Rushton
   Ryan Hanley
Jeffrey N. Cox, Romanticism in the Shadow of War: Literary Culture in the Napoleonic War Years
   Kenneth R. Johnston
Oskar Cox Jensen, Napoleon and British Song, 1797–1822
   Erica Buurman
Ina Ferris, Book-Men, Book Clubs, and the Romantic Literary Sphere
   James M. Morris
Mary O’Connell, Byron and John Murray: A Poet and His Publisher
   Charlotte May
Marie Mulvey-Roberts, ed., Literary Bristol: Writers and the City
   Paul Cheshire
Angela Esterhammer, Diane Piccitto and Patrick Vincent, eds., Romanticism, Rousseau, Switzerland: New Prospects
   Adrian J. Wallbank
Martha C. Nussbaum and Alison L. LaCroix, eds., Subversion and Sympathy: Gender, Law, and the British Novel
   Céline Sabiron
Teresa Barnard, ed., British Women and the Intellectual World in the Long Eighteenth Century
   Joseph Morrissey
Louise Curran, Samuel Richardson and the Art of Letter-Writing
   Rachel Sulich

Spotlight: Romantic Essayists

James Grande, William Cobbett, the Press and Rural England: Radicalism and the Fourth Estate
   Alex Benchimol
Robert Morrison and Daniel S. Roberts, eds., Romanticism and Blackwood’s Magazine: ‘An Unprecedented Phenomenon’
   Meiko O’Halloran
Kevin Gilmartin, William Hazlitt: Political Essayist
   Tristram Wolff

Whole Number

The BARS Review, No. 48 (Autumn 2016) – review compilation
   The BARS Review Editors


Conference Report: Placing Charlotte Smith, Chawton House Library, 14th-16th October 2016

‘Tell my name to distant ages’: Placing Charlotte Smith: Canon, Genre, History, Nation, Globe, held at Chawton House Library, Chawton, UK, 14th-16th October 2016

Val Derbyshire, School of English, University of Sheffield



The conference took place within the beautiful setting of Chawton House Library, Hampshire


Twenty-three innovative research papers, two recitals of original pieces of music, two long-lost ancestors, one new edition of Smith’s Ethelinde, one potential new literary society and one beautiful setting were just some of the elements which comprised the Placing Charlotte Smith conference which took place this weekend (14th to 16th October 2016). From this list alone, one can see the ground-breaking research into the work of this once-lost author which took place at Chawton House Library over this past weekend, and which was generously part-funded by BARS.

Just a peep at the delegate list alone was enough to get Smith scholars everywhere into a state of excitement. Present at Chawton House Library were Professor Stuart Curran from the University of Pennsylvania (and editor of the 1993 edition of The Poems of Charlotte Smith [1]), Professor Loraine Fletcher of the University of Reading (and author of Smith’s most acclaimed biography Charlotte Smith: A Critical Biography [2], not to mention the editor of the Broadview Literary Text editions of Emmeline [3] and Celestina [4]), co-organisers Professor Jacqueline M Labbe (author of numerous works upon Smith, including Writing Romanticism: Charlotte Smith and William Wordsworth, 1784-1807 [5],) Professor Beth Dolan, and a whole host of other senior and emerging scholars with an interest in the works of Charlotte Smith.

Professor Labbe opened the conference by providing a glimpse of a programme from a Charlotte Smith conference in 2006. Since that time, she informed us, more scholars than ever before were studying, writing and publishing papers upon this author. Smith scholarship is demonstrably a burgeoning area of research, and one which now has a global reach, as the international nature of the delegates attending this conference substantiated.

The conference then proceeded with the first panel which considered what must be many students’ first introduction to Smith’s works, the Elegiac Sonnets. Within this panel, Rick Ness from the University of Wisconsin-Madison discussed ‘Apostrophes and Opiates’ in the sonnets. Samuel Rowe from the University of Chicago discussed the dissociative form of the poetic ‘I’, and Mary Ann Myers from Bard Microcollege Holyoke gave an innovative and informative reading of Smith’s sonnets in conjunction with the sonnets of John Thelwall. Notions of patriotism were highlighted in this insightful paper which gave a long overdue consideration of these two Romantic-era authors who speak to each other so well.[6]

The next offering on the conference agenda was Ned Bigham (Viscount Mersey and current owner of Bignor Park, Sussex, Smith’s childhood home). This session comprised the first original piece of music from this conference: Elegiac Sonnets Recital. The music had been performed beautifully by students of the Department of Music from the University of Sheffield and was accompanied by a stunning video of some of the many beautiful locations in the South Downs which inspired both Charlotte Smith and Ned Bigham as artists. Ned also gave some commentary on the raison d’être behind his composition. It was a simply wonderful interlude within the conference and provided a fascinating new interpretive light to the sonnets we know so well.  Ned also introduced a video featuring one of Smith’s ancestors in Australia, who gave a moving account of how her own interest in Charlotte Smith’s life and work had inspired her to take many journeys to the UK to visit Smith’s places.


Bignor Park, Sussex. Once Smith’s childhood home, now home to Ned Bigham, Viscount Mersey and musician.

Bignor Park, Sussex. Once Smith’s childhood home, now home to Ned Bigham, Viscount Mersey and musician.


After lunch, Professor Labbe chaired the session entitled ‘Market and Canon’. First within this session, the delegates heard from Professor Michael Gamer of the University of Pennsylvania, who offered a detailed and revelatory reading of the early editions of the Elegiac Sonnets and how Smith cannily worked the market via the means of subscription publishing. Bethan Roberts from the University of Lancaster gave a fantastically meticulous consideration of Smith’s famous sonnet XLIV ‘Written in the church-yard at Middleton in Sussex’, chronicling later responses to this poem and offering the delegates an enticing view of how artists responded to this most-anthologised of sonnets via a variety of paintings. Finally, Professor Matthew Grenby (Newcastle University) gave a lively elucidation of Smith’s place in the market, looking at just how profitable her books proved to be for her: ‘she was the J. K. Rowling of her day’.

Next, ‘Nature and Art’ were considered in Smith’s works through eco-critical readings of Rural Walks (1795) by Professor Lisa Vargo (University of Saskatchewen), discussions of the issue of museum collections in Conversations Introducing Poetry (1804) by Richard De Ritter (University of Leeds) and a consideration of the picturesque in Smith’s first novel, Emmeline (1788), by myself, Val Derbyshire of the University of Sheffield. My own paper traced the childhood relationship between Charlotte Smith and landscape artist George Smith of Chichester (c. 1714-1776) and how his particular vision of the picturesque seems to inform the backdrops to her first novel.



William Pether, Portrait of George Smith of Chichester (c. 1714-1776), c. 1811. This landscape artist provided drawing lessons to Charlotte Smith whilst she was a child.

William Pether, Portrait of George Smith of Chichester (c. 1714-1776), c. 1811. This landscape artist provided drawing lessons to Charlotte Smith whilst she was a child.


The first day’s action concluded with papers from Emilee Morrall of Liverpool Hope University and Leanne Cane from Northumbria University, with Emilee discussing transitional spaces and Leanne discussing Charlotte Smith’s novels and the eighteenth-century education debate. Both papers were bright and engaging and ensured that the day’s scholarly discussions ended on an informative note.

Conference dinner was held at the Alton House Hotel and was a very enjoyable event. I particularly enjoyed speaking with Ellen Moody who has just completed a new edition of Ethelinde which is available now through Valancourt Books. A new edition of what Professor Labbe terms ‘Smith’s weirdest work’ is long overdue. Having seen a sneak preview of the book, it looks like a very fine tome indeed (and an awful lot of hard work on Ellen’s part – she informed me that she typed it all herself!)


Ellen Moody, editor of the new edition of Smith’s Ethelinde (1789), at lunch on Saturday 15th October 2016.

Ellen Moody, editor of the new edition of Smith’s Ethelinde (1789), at lunch on Saturday 15th October 2016.


Saturday’s panels commenced with Ellen again, providing a wonderfully innovative post-colonial reading of Smith’s works alongside Ahdaf Soueif’s The Map of Love [7] and the poetry of Margaret Atwood. Elizabeth Edwards (University of Wales) followed this by mapping Smith and Wales in the Welsh settings in her novels and her one play, What Is She? Finally, Jane Hodson (University of Sheffield) gave a fascinating insight into a literary-linguistics project she has been involved in, mapping regional dialects in works dating from 1800 to 1836. Jane then discussed Smith’s original use of regional dialect in her Letters of a Solitary Wanderer (1799) and demonstrated how Smith was much ahead of her time in her use of this.

After coffee and home-made lavender shortbread biscuits by the incredibly talented staff of the Chawton House Library, the gothic in Smith’s work was considered, with the question being raised by Jenny McAuley of Queen Mary University of London whether Smith’s most famous novel, The Old Manor House (1793), could have been based on a real-life Hampshire ghost story?

Lunch included a visit from a second member of Charlotte Smith’s family, Sir Eldred Smith-Gordon, a descendant of her son, Lionel. It was wonderful to meet this charming gentleman and also to hear his thoughts upon Professor Dolan’s proposals for forming a new Charlotte Smith society. This idea was discussed over lunch, with insight and advice being provided by Professor Stuart Curran, Professor Emma Clery (University of Southampton) and BSECS Chairman, Professor Matthew Grenby. After this discussion, it was decided that a working group is to be formed to potentially progress the idea further.


Sir Eldred Smith-Gordon, a direct descendant of Lionel Smith (the son of Charlotte Smith and ‘the other chap, who we mustn’t mention’, as Sir Eldred termed it - Smith’s profligate husband, Benjamin).

Sir Eldred Smith-Gordon, a direct descendant of Lionel Smith (the son of Charlotte Smith and ‘the other chap, who we mustn’t mention’, as Sir Eldred termed it – Smith’s profligate husband, Benjamin).


The afternoon concluded with considerations of Desmond and Beachy Head, before the second musical interlude of the conference, ‘The Songs of Beachy Head’, which was held in the evocative setting of St. Nicholas Church, Chawton. Composer Amanda Jacobs performed the magnificent collection of songs which had emerged from a collaboration between herself and Professor Dolan. Amanda provided the music, with mezzo soprano Janet Oates singing the pieces beautifully, and Professor Dolan delivering a lecture to introduce the songs. The lecture was an integral part of this performance, as it provided the role of ‘footnotes’ to the songs (as Professor Dolan pointed out, Beachy Head is Smith’s most heavily footnoted poem). Once more, the original composition provided new insights into Smith’s final poem, which can be a difficult one for readers to get to grips with. As Professor Dolan herself advised the delegates, it was the poem she found the most problematic to interpret. Professor Dolan stated that she hoped to be able to use the songs with her students in forthcoming classes.



Mezzo-Soprano, Janet Oates, and composer and musician Amanda Jacobs, perform ‘The Songs of Beachy Head’ with Professor Beth Dolan providing the ‘footnotes’ in the form of her accompanying lecture.

Mezzo-Soprano Janet Oates and composer and musician Amanda Jacobs perform ‘The Songs of Beachy Head’, with Professor Beth Dolan providing the ‘footnotes’ in the form of her accompanying lecture.


Sunday was the day of the optional excursion which visited many of the places in Smith’s life. Commencing at Smith’s childhood home of Bignor Park, Sussex, the excursion progressed to the grandeur of Petworth House (where Smith enjoyed/endured a somewhat troubled relationship with the third Earl of Egremont, George Wyndham), and concluded with the end of her life, with a visit to St John’s Church, Stoke-next-Guildford, where her memorial plaque remains today.

Within just one weekend, an enormous amount of ground was covered, which will potentially provide innovations in the teaching of Smith’s poetry (with the use of music) and the formation of a new literary society dedicated to her work. In the closing lines of the final poem of Curran’s edition of The Poems of Charlotte Smith, ‘To My Lyre’ [8], Smith appeals to her readers thus:

And as the time ere long must come

When I lie silent in the tomb,

Thou wilt preserve these mournful pages;

For gentle minds will love my verse,

And Pity shall my strains rehearse,

And tell my name to distant ages. [9]

This conference achieved what was arguably Smith’s dying wish, and told her ‘name to distant ages’, in addition to discovering new ways to continue telling her name to ages to come.

Conference organisers Professors Jacqueline Labbe and Elizabeth Dolan and myself are immensely grateful to BARS for their generous support and Chawton House Library for all of their hard work in making this event possible.


[1] Charlotte Smith, The Poems of Charlotte Smith, ed. by Stuart Curran (Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).

[2] Loraine Fletcher, Charlotte Smith: A Critical Biography (Houndsmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001).

[3] Charlotte Smith, Emmeline, the Orphan of the Castle, ed. by Loraine Fletcher (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Literary Texts, 2003).

[4] Charlotte Smith, Celestina, ed. by Loraine Fletcher (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Literary Texts, 2004).

[5] Jacqueline M Labbe, Writing Romanticism: Charlotte Smith and William Wordsworth, 1784-1807 (Houndsmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

[6] The Call for Papers for the Second International John Thelwall Conference is now open. The conference will be held at the University of Derby over the weekend of 21-23 July. If anyone has an interest in submitting an abstract, please contact me on email and I will send you a copy of the CFP.

[7] Ahdaf Soueif, The Map of Love (London: Bloomsbury, 1999).

[8] Smith, The Poems of Charlotte Smith, ed. by Stuart Curran, pp. 310-312.

[9] Smith, The Poems of Charlotte Smith, ed. by Stuart Curran, p. 312.

Call for Contributors: Ancient Egypt in the Modern Imagination

Please see below for a new call for contributors from Ellie Dobson for a collection following on this year’s Tea with the Sphinx conference.

Ancient Egypt in the Modern Imagination


Bonaparte’s invasion of Egypt in 1798 sparked what has come to be known as ‘Egyptomania’, an intense fascination for ancient Egypt that permeated the cultural imagination in the late eighteenth century and beyond. Since this moment, across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, subsequent ‘waves’ of interest in ancient Egypt have seen the history and iconography of this civilisation drawn upon for all varieties of purposes.

The editors seek essays addressing engagements with the culture of ancient Egypt from the late eighteenth century to the present day. From Parisian graveyards decorated with winged solar discs, to tales of mummies’ curses appearing in periodicals and newspapers; glitzy strip-teases of the fin de siècle, to Hollywood blockbusters of the twentieth century; this project aims to unite essays on a variety of aspects of ancient Egypt in the cultural imagination in order to explore and investigate the driving forces behind the fascination that these myriad forms embody.
Potential topics include but are not limited to the following:

  • Factual or fictional literature
  • Travel writing and illustration
  • Memoir
  • Journalism
  • Art
  • Photography
  • Architecture and landscapes
  • Theatre
  • Material culture
  • Popular culture, film, TV, music, fashion
  • Representations of Egyptology
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Religion, spiritualism and occultism
  • Orientalism

Abstracts should be 500 words in length, should emphasise content, argument, sources, and how the existing literature is being built upon, and should be accompanied by four or five keywords. These, along with a short biographical note, should be sent by 16 January 2017 to Completed essays will be expected by 1 May 2017.

Conference Report: Byron and the Romantic World

Please see below for a report by Julia Coole (Keele University) on ‘Byron and the Romantic World’, which BARS helped to support.


Conference Report: Byron and the Romantic World


On Friday 30th September Keele University hosted an undergraduate and postgraduate conference on Byron and Romanticism.  This event developed from an annual conference which was previously hosted by Edge Hill University under the command of Dr Mary Hurst.  This year, in the spirit of collaboration, Edge Hill teamed up with Keele for an inaugural event that sought to encourage undergraduate and postgraduate students from a range of institutions to meet, present, and potentially collaborate on future projects.  As our speakers varied in levels of study between year two undergraduates, to PhD students on continuation, our mission was to provide a warm and insightful glimpse into the academic environment.  This year Keele had the honour of hosting the event, and did so in the beautiful nineteenth-century mansion house, Keele Hall.  The papers themselves were delivered in the appropriate location of the mansion’s Old Library.

Keele Hall, Staffordshire

Keele Hall, Staffordshire


The Old Library, Keele Hall, Staffordshire

The Old Library, Keele Hall, Staffordshire

The first panel consisted of two relatively old hands, Kimberley Braxton (a third-year PhD student from Keele University) and Kirsty Harris (who has just submitted her PhD thesis at Anglia Ruskin University), and was chaired by the renowned Byronist, Professor Bernard Beatty.  Both speakers gave stimulating papers.  Braxton’s handling of the relationship between Byron’s public “Byronic” persona, and the influence of the Byronic hero on the subsequent writing practices of the Brontë siblings, was truly insightful.  Interesting distinctions were made between Emily Brontë’s appropriations of the Byronic hero in Wuthering Heights (1847), and Bramwell’s experimentation with Byronic ideals during the course of his personal life.  Harris followed this paper with a discussion on metamorphosis in Byron’s “shipwreck” narratives, with a close focus on Canto II of Don Juan (1819-1824).  In this paper, Harris discussed Byron’s apparent rejection of the deities which were “intrinsic to classical narratives”, which she argued allowed him to develop the idea of human regeneration and an idea of heroism which was not dictated by the divine.  The question session for this panel was understandably animated, with the questions themselves being skilfully fielded by both speakers.

Kirsty Harris, PhD Candidate, Anglia Ruskin University

Kirsty Harris, PhD Candidate, Anglia Ruskin University

The next session was chaired by Edge Hill’s enigmatic Dr Andrew McInnes.  Daniel Westwood (University of Sheffield) kicked off with an exploration of the monologue in Byron’s Manfred (1817).  Whilst evaluating aspects of monodrama and monologue in Byron’s first adult play, Westwood interrogated the complexities that arose from “a work that is both attuned to the power of the monological and willing to embrace open-endedness.”  With an emphasis on the ambiguity that these tensions present, Westwood sought to develop McGann’s ideas on Byron’s distinctions between lying and cant to show that neither label is quite appropriate for the “level of ambivalence” which surrounds this play.  This paper was followed by two papers from Edge Hill University, both of whom were presented by students in their second year of undergraduate study.  Megan Carney led the charge with a sophisticated analysis of the role of the servant in Gothic literature.  Carney suggested that, through their unique role of simultaneously being and not-being, the agency of the servant is difficult to determine and, as a result, their presence can be compared to that of a ghost which is inextricably bound to a particular place though not active in the events which occur there.  Soraya Atherton concluded this panel with a discussion of exile, with particular focus being placed on the exile of the Shelleys in the early nineteenth century.  Atherton made astute comparisons between different kinds of exile, with a strong distinction being made between the morose ideas of exile demonstrated in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) with the more jubilant exile depicted in Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812-1818) – in the later cantos in particular.

Megan Carney, Undergraduate, Edge Hill University

Megan Carney, Undergraduate, Edge Hill University

After a well-deserved lunch break and a tour of the iconic grounds at Keele Hall, the final panel (chaired by Keele’s own Hannah Scragg) commenced with an undergraduate student from Canterbury Christ Church University, Rosie Jackson-Horn.  Jackson-Horn argued that Byron’s self-fashioned identity, which he took pains to develop throughout his oeuvre, can even be seen through his letters and epistles to his half-sister, Augusta Leigh.  Rather than “merely composing love-poems”, Jackson-Horn demonstrated that these too can be perceived as self-fashioning texts aimed at strengthening Byron’s already distinguished persona.  Master’s student, Susannah Owen (Keele University), continued the theme of identity with a probing paper on the effects of the French Revolution on ideas of national identity.  Moving away from Byron slightly, Owen referenced Benedict Anderson’s renowned Imagined Communities (1983) to discuss the ways in which writers such as Burke, Godwin and Percy Shelley responded to, and commented on, new ideas of community “held together not by a shared monarchical ruler, but through a shared national identity”.  The final paper of the day was presented by Alexander Abichou, who starts a PhD at Durham University this year.  His paper rounded the panel off with a discussion of representations of history in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.  With particular emphasis on the discussion of the appropriation of the Elgin Marbles in Canto II, Abichou discussed Byron’s relationship to history and suggested that, to Byron, this appropriation of the marbles led to an idea of misplaced identity for the Greeks, which Byron attempted to reconcile through his narrative.

Alexander Abichou, PhD Candidate, Durham University

Alexander Abichou, PhD Candidate, Durham University

Our keynote speaker was greatly anticipated: Professor Drummond Bone from the University of Oxford did not disappoint.  As a leading figure in Byron studies, and Romantic studies more generally, we could not have imagined a more appropriate speaker to end our day’s discussion, and were very thankful to Drummond Bone for supporting both our event, and our burgeoning academics.  With a thought-provoking investigation into the impact of women on the English cantos of Don Juan, Drummond Bone provided a passionate and warming talk geared to incite further interest in, and appreciation for, Byron and Romantic studies.

Professor Drummond Bone, University of Oxford

Professor Drummond Bone, University of Oxford


Julia Coole, Keele University

On This Day: 9 October 1816, John Keats and Leigh Hunt

This post continues the ‘On This Day’ series: Francesca Blanch Serrat writes for us on John Keats and Leigh Hunt. Francesca is a pre-doctoral student. She recently graduated in English Studies with a minor in Gender Studies from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. Her areas of research include minor women writers of the eighteenth century and British and French Romanticism. She is on Twitter.

We are always looking for new contributors. If you’d like to write something on literary/historical events in 1817, please contact Thank you to all those who have sent in posts so far – please have a look through the back catalogue of posts for blogs celebrating the bicentenaries of events from 1815-16.


On This Day: John Keats meets Leigh Hunt


1816 was a decisive year in John Keats‘s life. In March, after bringing his apprenticeship to a close, he began working as a surgical dresser at Guy’s Hospital in London, planning to complete the twelve months of training required for Membership of the Royal College of Surgeons. In July, he successfully sat for his examinations and became an apothecary. By December, however, he had decided to abandon his career as a surgeon to focus on his poetic endeavours. Although Keats had already demonstrated an affinity for poetry, (he had written “Imitation of Spencer”, his earliest extant poem, two years before), he had not chosen between his medical career and his literary one up until that moment. The reasons behind that timing might be attributed to a very exciting and stimulating episode in the poet’s life, one that can be argued to have marked a turning point not only in his life but also in the history of literature: Keats began an acquaintance with Leigh Hunt, and was hence introduced into a politically involved and artistically devoted circle of artists and thinkers.

On this day two hundred years ago, Keats wrote to C.C. Clarke:

To C.C. Clarke, 9 October 1816

Wednesday October 9th-

“The busy time has now gone by, and I can now devote any time you may mention to the pleasure of seeing Mr Hunt-‘t will be an Era in my existence– I am anxious to see the Author of the Sonnet to the Sun, for it is no mean gratification to become acquainted with Men who in their admiration of Poetry do not jumble together Shakespeare and Darwin- I have coppied out a sheet or two of Verses which I composed some time ago, and find much to blame worst in them that the best part will go into the fire […]”

It was Keats’s good friend and former schoolmate, Charles Cowden Clarke, to whom this letter is addressed, who introduced him to Leigh Hunt. The Clarkes had been supporters of Hunt since the foundation of his newspaper The Examiner, and he and C.C.Clarke met during Hunt’s stay in gaol, in 1813. C. C. Clarke was the son of the schoolmaster of Clarke’s Academy, Enfield, which Keats attended. From an early age, Keats and Clarke, separated by only eight years, became close friends, and the latter always encouraged the former’s literary endeavours. Clarke was a culturally involved scholar who cultivated friendships with some of the most well-known names of the period: Charles and Mary Lamb, Shelley, Hunt, Coleridge, the Novellos, Godwin and Dickens, among others. Thus, he acted as the link between the young student with poetical aspirations and the literary circle that revolved around Hunt, known as the Cockney School, a derogatory and classist term coined by Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine in a series of articles criticising the non-aristocratic members of the coterie.

by Unknown artist, watercolour on marble, circa 1841-1854

Charles Cowden Clarke

Keats had been an admirer of Hunt since his senior year at school, when he regularly borrowed The Examiner from Clarke. The Examiner was a politically independent weekly newspaper, running from 1808 to 1886, edited by Leigh Hunt and printed by his brother John. The publication included theatre and literary reviews, original poetry, reports on parliamentary proceedings, columns on manners, fashion and even international politics. It was in this newspaper that Hunt established himself as a radical political voice. The Examiner published some of the leading radical voices of the time, such as the poets Charles Lamb, Lord Byron or Percy Shelley, the painter Benjamin Haydon, or the essayist William Hazlitt. In Hunt’s political dissent, Keats found an ideology from which he could draw poetic inspiration. In the words of C.C.Clarke, Hunt’s paper “no doubt laid the foundation of his love of civil and religious liberty” (Recollections of Keats, 123). Although in scholarship Keats’s politics tend to be relegated to a second plane, compared to other writers of the Hunt circle, politics played a significant part in his literary productions and should not be overlooked. Evidence of these political interests are present in his early poems: “On Peace” (a sonnet calling on the European monarchs to support reform after Napoleon’s defeat, 1814) and “Lines written on 29 May The Anniversary of the Restoration of Charles the 2nd” (1814). Both works were very much in line with the style and ideology professed by Hunt. In his biography of the young poet, Robert Gittings argues that, previous to their acquaintance, Hunt was an inspiration to Keats, a model for him to follow: “In search for reassurance, he turned to his intellectual touchstone, The Examiner, and its poet-editor. Here was poetic success which had endured persecution and prison without compromise. Leigh Hunt had done what Keats felt himself failing to do, and kept poetry alive in a workaday world” (Gittings 105:1979). The young poet found in Hunt “not only [a] political exemplar, but [a] model for his poetry” (Gittings 116:1979).

Leigh Hunt

Leigh Hunt

Previous to their meeting, however, Hunt and Keats’s relationship began in April 1816, when Keats sent a poem to The Examiner under the initials J.K. and was published two weeks later. Later that year, Clarke gathered some of Keats’s writing and brought it with him to Hampstead, with the intention of showing it to Hunt. Hunt read the manuscripts and reacted with great enthusiasm, asking Clarke to bring Keats along on his next visit. In Clarke’s own words, their first meeting “stretched into three morning calls”, and Keats was “suddenly made a familiar of the household”. Thus began a close relationship that biographers have recorded in the form of domestic anecdotes that shed light on both authors’ personalities. In Young Romantics, Daisy Hay portrays the Romantics writers as active members of a series of artistic circles, from which they drew both encouragement and insight. Hay emphasises Hunt’s role as the central figure of his circle of artists and friends. He was not only constantly encouraging and supporting young writers, and introducing them to his other artistic connections, but also turned his home into the nucleus of the circle. Hunt’s household, already crammed, would always have a seat to spare for another artist, and Keats is said to have spent evenings that turned into mornings discussing poetry in Hunt’s living room. Hay references a particular evening of literature and music in which Hunt sang and Keats played an unnamed instrument: “leaning against the instrument, one foot raised on his knee and the smoothed back between his hands” (113). Another evening, Hunt made Keats a flower crown and put it on his head, and the young poet did the same for him. Later, when some visitors called on Hunt, he hastily removed the crown, but Keats proudly refused to be decrowned. These reminiscences attest to the level of intimacy established between the two writers, a relationship that would continue flourishing up until the very last and critical moments of Keats’s illness, when the Hunts hosted and took care of a very sick Keats previous to his departure to Rome, where he was to draw his last breath.

John Keats

John Keats

In December 1816, Leigh Hunt published his essay Young Poets, in praise of Byron, Shelley, and Keats. What we now consider the second generation of Romantic Poets, their genius and their essential contribution to Romanticism, had already been recognised by one who knew, encouraged and published each one of them. What Keats described as “an Era in my existence” was prophetic. His relationship with Hunt and the Cockney school contributed to his growth as a poet, and, consequently, may be considered a turning point in his literary production.


Works cited:

Gittings, Robert. John Keats. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1985.

Keats, John. Selected Letters. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Hay, Daisy. Young Romantics. London: Bloomsbury, 2010.


Conference Report: Tea with the Sphinx

Many thanks for Eleanor Dobson and Nichola Tonks for the report below on their ‘Tea with the Sphinx’ conference, which BARS helped to support.

Tea with the Sphinx:
Ancient Egypt & the Modern Imagination

Eleanor Dobson & Nichola Tonks

On 23 and 24 September, we held a conference at the University of Birmingham entitled ‘Tea with the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt and the Modern Imagination’.  It was Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Egypt in 1798 that originally sparked what has come to be known as ‘Egyptomania’, an intense fascination for ancient Egypt that permeated the cultural imagination in the nascent nineteenth century and beyond.  This event, generously supported by BARS, sought to interrogate the ‘waves’ of Egyptomania since this moment, which saw the history and iconography of ancient Egyptian civilisation drawn upon for all varieties of purposes.

The evening before the conference we held a screening of Karl Freund’s The Mummy (1932), a film whose narrative tropes might be considered nineteenth-century in origin.  Jane C. Loudon’s The Mummy!: Or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century (1827) (heavily influenced by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein [1818]) is considered the first modern work to feature a reanimated mummy, presenting an evil Cheops brought back to life by an electric spark.  We might also chart the predecessors of the Egyptologists in The Mummy back to the early nineteenth century: Bonaparte’s expedition involved the production of the multi-volume Description de l’Égypte (1809-1829), and the resultant studies of Egypt’s ancient history and monuments led to the emergence of the scholarly field of Egyptology.

The conference itself was opened by Chris Naunton, whose keynote paper ‘The Popular vs. the Scientific in Egyptology’ emphasised the importance of popularisers over the course of the development of the Egyptological discipline, largely held to have begun at the outset of the nineteenth century.  A number of the papers that followed over the course of the first day spoke to Romantic concerns, tied to a time largely held to be those of Egyptology’s modern origins.  Nichola Tonks’s paper scrutinised tombstones, plans for Egyptian-style burial pyramids and other Egyptianising funerary material culture, bringing to light the ways in which ancient Egypt was woven throughout British burials in the early- to mid-nineteenth century.  Case studies included the burial of Alexander, 10th Duke of Hamilton, who nurtured a passion for Egyptian antiquities, demonstrated (most eccentrically) by his collection of two Egyptian sarcophagi.  One of these was to become the vessel in which Hamilton was buried (his body was mummified by Thomas Pettigrew who is best known for his high-profile of mummy unwrappings in the 1830s).


Louise Ellis-Barrett’s paper addressed archival materials relating to ‘the forgotten Father of Egyptology’, John Gardner Wilkinson, who first arrived in Egypt in 1821 (leaving, on this first of a number of visits, in 1833).  Ellis-Barrett showed a number of rarely-seen sketches and notebooks, proposing that drawings featuring an unknown male figure might be a depiction of Wilkinson himself.


In the afternoon, Nickianne Moody’s paper on girls’ comics tied back to the nineteenth-century material addressed by other speakers earlier in the day.  Moody demonstrated the origins of certain Egyptian tropes in the nineteenth century, including elements of the phantasmagoria popularised by the likes of Étienne-Gaspard Robert, whose projections were often accompanied by Egyptian iconography and material (‘Ægyptiana’).  Moody also identified the connection between showmanship and Egypt as embodied by Giovanni Battista Belzoni, whose Narrative of the Operations and Recent Discoveries within the Pyramids, Temples, Tombs, and Excavations, in Egypt & Nubia (1820) presents the explorer as a hero penetrating particularly Gothic landscapes.


The second day of the conference began with a panel on mummies. Angelia Stienne’s paper explored the transformation of Egyptian mummies from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries at the hands of individuals who shaped and transformed the mummy’s materiality and reception.  Stienne investigated groups of individuals with common backgrounds in the medical and natural sciences who physically engaged with the mummy in the form of medical dissections, autopsies and private and public unrollings.  Her analysis incorporated individuals to whom delegates were introduced on the first day of the conference, such as Thomas Pettigrew.


In the afternoon, Howard Carlton spoke on a number of pseudo-Masonic rites which were developed on the basis of somewhat tenuous connections with ancient Egyptian rituals and supposedly recovered esoteric knowledge, from the mid-eighteenth century onwards.  Early versions of the connection can be seen, Carlton demonstrated, in Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute (1791) and the mysterious, or possibly counterfeit, form of ‘Count Cagliostro’ and his ‘Rite of Egyptian Freemasonry’.  Such neo-Egyptian rituals were initially popular in France and Italy, but subsequently found echoes in British and American circles.  The trend was naturally strengthened by the discoveries of French archaeologists during the Napoleonic Wars and the subsequent decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs by Champollion.  Carlton’s presentation explored the genesis of this phenomenon and sought to interrogate the reasons why the mythology and mysteries of ancient Egypt proved to be of such great and abiding interest to would be ‘seekers after the truth’ in both Europe and America.


The final panel of the conference explored representations of Cleopatra VII Thea Neotera Philopater.  Bridget Sandhoff noted that Cleopatra is one of the most misunderstood but widely-known historical figures; few authentic facts survive about her life, and those facts that do survive provide contradictory reports about the last Ptolemaic ruler.  In Egypt, she was a beloved savior and goddess, but the Romans vilified her as a wanton seductress.  Sandhoff demonstrated that Roman writings dominate history and have tainted Cleopatra’s visual legacy for centuries, exploring the myth of Cleopatra promulgated by the Romans, especially Augustan invective, which has served as the source for most visual depictions of the Egyptian queen.  Through analyzing how Roman notions of Cleopatra have been used over time, paying particular attention to the nineteenth century, Sandhoff proposed that twentieth-century depictions take a more balanced view of Cleopatra than any century prior.  They do, however, fall victim to the Roman characterization of her as a sexually voracious queen, who seduces anyone for her own gain.


The conference was closed by David Gange, whose monograph Dialogues with the Dead: Egyptology in British Culture and Religion, 1822-1922 addresses the close intertwinement of religion and Egyptology from the early nineteenth century to the opening decades of the twentieth.  Gange emphasised the interdisciplinary importance of the event, which brought together scholars from history, art history, literary studies, Egyptology, archaeology and museum studies.  Sharing methodologies and disciplinary insights had been one of the highlights of the conference, as well as the identification of overlaps between approaches that came to light.  What the conference has surely demonstrated is a burgeoning scholarly interest in the reception of ancient Egypt across disciplines, which, if it is encouraged and nurtured, will succeed in uniting these fields in a truly interdisciplinary manner.  It is through this kind of collaboration that we might carve out and define a new field.

For more on ‘Tea with the Sphinx’, visit the conference Twitter account, Storify, or the Histories of Archaeology Network website, where a series of blog posts detailing the conference are being uploaded over the coming weeks.