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Stephen Copley Research Report: Eva-Charlotta Mebius on Robert Mudie and John Abraham Heraud

Unearthing Robert Mudie in the National Library of Scotland and Dundee University Archives

by Eva-Charlotta Mebius

My research trip to Edinburgh and Dundee, generously funded by a BARS Stephen Copley Research Award, was truly a wonderful experience. My thesis, which explores the apocalyptic imagination in literature and art in the long nineteenth century, and literary and artistic networks in London, has led me to the work of several lesser-known writers. One such writer is the prolific and self-taught reformer, historian, novelist, poet, journalist, editor and naturalist Robert Mudie (1780-1842). Born in 1780 in Forfarshire, Scotland, he moved to London at the beginning of the 1820s to continue his career as a writer and journalist.[1] Thus, the goal of this research trip was to gather more information on Robert Mudie’s life and career before he arrived in London.

Robert Mudie was a copious writer, and it has been reported that his oeuvre amounted to over 90 volumes, although it should also be noted that he was no stranger to self-plagiarizing. Tracking down his writings has proved very tricky indeed, especially as he often published his work anonymously.  For example, he used at least one pseudonym, the wonderfully Smolett-esque name of Laurence Langshank.

One new addition to the list, however, thanks to this research trip, was Mudie’s short history of Dundee, Dundee Delineated (1822). It takes its place alongside his other monumental volumes, such as The Modern Athens (1824) on Edinburgh, and his truly extraordinary achievement in the four large volumes on London, Babylon the Great (1825) and A Second Judgement of Babylon the Great (1828), that appeared in several editions throughout the 1820s and 1830s. My forthcoming article in The Dickensian on Charles Dickens and Robert Mudie explores the significance of Robert Mudie’s writing on London, and its potential connection to the Dickensian London of Oliver Twist (1837-39).

My visit to Dundee was very important for my research on the elusive and extraordinary life of Robert Mudie, as well as the works themselves. It was especially exciting to visit the city that informed and inspired much of his early work as a reformer, poet, novelist, and journalist. Mudie spent almost a decade in the city, where he worked as a schoolmaster for many years at Dundee Academy. Moreover, it was in Dundee that his writing career truly began – his poem ‘The Maid of Griban’ was published in 1810 – and it was also here that he wrote his first and only satirical novel Glenfergus (1820), about the Bonclair family and the town of Glenfergus, which at the time was mistaken by some to have been written by Sir Walter Scott. Mudie’s characters were even said by one reviewer in The Scotsman to be in competition with Scott’s creations, and I would argue that the novel, along with much of Mudie’s writing, is still well worth reading.

Due to Mudie’s radical reformist politics and attacks on fellow members of the Town Council, who he accused of corruption in the Dundee Advertiser (edited by R. S. Rintoul, founder of The Spectator), a move to London proved necessary shortly after the publication of his novel. He arrived in London around 1821 where he, like Dickens, began working for the Morning Chronicle. Yet he did return to Scotland on occasion. For example, he was asked to report on George IV’s visit to Edinburgh, published as A Historical Account of His Majesty’s Visit to Scotland (1822).

Another exciting find made in the Dundee University Archives was the first portrait that I had ever seen of this prolific and gifted, but oddly elusive, writer. I have since learned that it is probably based on a famous satirical print ‘The Executive’ (1821), by the Dundee portraitist Henry Harwood (1803-1868), in which Mudie appears.

 

Fig. 1 The Executive, engraving after a painting by Henry Harwood, 1821 (Photo Credit: University of Dundee Fine Art Collections). Robert Mudie can be seen wearing a light-coloured top hat in the middle, sixth from left.

 

Furthermore, in the National Library of Scotland I was finally able to have a look at such gems as Mudie’s early work in his two unsuccessful journals The Independent (1816) and The Caledonian (1821), both of which started in Dundee. I also examined his later book The Complete Governess (1824), on the reform of the education of women, which reveals his strikingly progressive views on education in general, and the education of girls in particular.

During my trip, I was able to conduct some research on other obscure writers that are part of the literary networks that I explore in my thesis. I had the opportunity to peruse some letters written to, and by, the now mostly forgotten editor, writer of Hyper-Miltonic epopeia, distinguished theatre critic, and chastised dramatist John Abraham Heraud (1799-1887). Heraud was another prolific writer, but his two most famous poems were the hyper-Miltonic epics The Descent into Hell (1830), and the antediluvian The Judgement of the Flood (1834). Seemingly, he was one of the more colourful figures in the literary world of London, and by all accounts Heraud had an interesting social circle that included prominent figures such as Thomas Carlyle, Douglas Jerrold, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Charles Dickens. He was also a devout disciple of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he was mentored by Robert Southey, and he corresponded with William Wordsworth.[2]

Thus, I am happy to report that alongside my planned research on Mudie’s early writing, this trip was full of unexpected discoveries. I would also like to take the opportunity to thank the staff of the National Library of Scotland, and the Dundee University Archives. They were all so kind, helpful, welcoming, and I cannot wait to return for more research on ‘Mudieism’ and other matters in the future. Finally, thank you again to BARS for making this research trip possible.

[1] There is some confusion as to what year Mudie was born. Most publications, such as the ODNB, use 1777. However, as I found out on this research trip, in The Mudies of Angus (1959) the authors argue that this is unlikely since he was not baptised until 1780. Arguably, more research is needed on the life of Mudie.

[2] For the curious, I highly recommend his daughter’s, the celebrated actress Edith Heraud, Memoirs of John A. Heraud (1898).