CfP: Voices and Books 1500-1800

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Please see below for a Call for Papers for Voices and Books 1500-1800, a multidisciplinary conference taking place in Newcastle next July.

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July 16th-18th 2015
Newcastle University and City Library, Newcastle
Organiser: Jennifer Richards, Newcastle University, with Helen Stark, Newcastle University

Voices and Books

Keynote Speakers
Heidi Brayman Hackel (University of California, Riverside)
Anne Karpf (London Metropolitan University)
Christopher Marsh (Queen’s University, Belfast) with The Carnival Band
Perry Mills, Director of Edward’s Boys (King Edward VI School, Stratford-upon-Avon)

Although it is often acknowledged that early modern books were routinely read aloud we know relatively little about this. Oral reading is not embedded as an assumption in existing scholarship. On the contrary, over the last two decades it is the studious and usually silent reader, pen in hand, who has been placed centre stage. This conference invites contributions that explore the kind of evidence and research methods that might help us to recover this lost history; that think about how reading / singing aloud relates to other kinds of orality; that recover the civic and / or social life of the performed book in early modern culture; and reflect on how the performance of the scripted word might inform our reading of early modern writing today. We also welcome papers that think through what it might mean to make ‘voice’ central to our textual practice.

We invite proposals (in English) that address the relationship between orality and literacy in any genre in print or manuscript in any European language. The genres might be literary, religious, musical, medical, scientific, or educational. We encourage proposals that recover diverse communities and readers/hearers. We also welcome papers that consider problems of evidence: e.g. manuscript marginalia; print paratexts; visual representations; as well as non-material evidence (voice; gesture). We will be particularly pleased to receive suggestions for presentations that include practical illustrations, performances or demonstrations.

Topics might include, but are not restricted to:
• The sound of print
• The physiology of voicing
• Singing and speaking
• Rhetoric: voice and gesture
• Performance and emotions
• Communities of hearers
• Acoustic reconstructions
• Children’s reading / reading to children

200-word abstracts for 20-minute papers from individuals and panels (3 speakers) to be sent to The DEADLINE for abstracts is: Friday 16th January 2015.

There will be a small number of travel bursaries for postgraduate and early career researchers. If you are interested in applying for support please contact Deadline: May 1st 2015.

For more information on the AHRC Network Voices and Books 1500-1800, co-led by Professor Jennifer Richards (Newcastle) and Professor Richard Wistreich (RCM London), please visit our website:

The Voices & Books Network is supported by the AHRC, Newcastle University, the Royal College of Music, London and NEMA, the National Early Music Association.

Godwin Letters Colloquium and Launch

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BARS members are warmly invited to celebrate the publication of The Letters of William Godwin, Volume II: 1798-1805, edited by Pamela Clemit (Oxford University Press), on Tuesday, 18 November 2014, at Wolfson College, Oxford, 4.30-6.30 p.m.  Colloquium, followed by drinks.  Chair: Nicholas Halmi (Oxford).  Speakers: Mark Philp (Warwick), Jenny McAuley (Oxford), Jon Mee (York), Pamela Clemit (Durham).  No booking required.  ALL WELCOME.

Five Questions: Simon J. White on Romanticism and the Rural Community

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Simon J White - Romanticism and the Rural Community

Simon J. White is currently a Reader in Romantic and Nineteenth-Century Literature at Oxford Brookes University.  He has published numerous articles and book chapters on working-class and labouring-class writers in the Romantic period, focusing most extensively on Robert Bloomfield, the subject of his first monograph and his 2006 co-edited collection (with John Goodridge and Bridget Keegan) Robert Bloomfield: Lyric, Class and the Romantic Canon.  His most recent monograph, Romanticism and the Rural Community, was published by Palgrave in August 2013.  Below, we discuss this book along with his wide-ranging public engagement activities and his new work on representations of magic and witchcraft.

1) How did you come to realise that you wanted to write Romanticism and the Rural Community?

I did my PhD on the poetry of Robert Bloomfield at the University of York.  The project didn’t start out as a study of Bloomfield’s representation of community, but by the end this was the dominant subject of my thesis.  A substantially revised version entitled Robert Bloomfield, Romanticism and the Poetry of Community was published by Ashgate in 2007.  While working on this book, I realised that the proper organisation of rural communities was central to political and social debates at the turn of the eighteenth century, and featured strongly in 1790s political polemic.  It was even a major factor in deliberations about the future direction of Britain’s imperial project in the Indian subcontinent.  The British were concerned that demographic changes were destabilizing small rural communities, and that this in turn was having a detrimental impact upon trade.  The more I read, the more it became apparent that the idea of what rural communities could or should be was central to the vision of many literary (as well as polemical) writers in the period.  As a result I made the decision to produce a more wide-ranging study.  I secured a one-year AHRC Early-Career Fellowship which enabled me to complete my research and write Romanticism and the Rural Community.

2) How did the project develop over the course of the book’s composition?  Were there other aspects to the project beyond the monograph?

During the course of my research it became apparent that for many Romantic-period writers, the social disintegration of small rural communities was not only, or even principally, about class.  Small rural communities displayed a strong sense of mutuality and common identity when made up of different social groups – dependent labouring people, semi-independent cottagers, farmers and landowners – if all believed that they shared a common purpose.  When large numbers of people within rural communities no longer shared a commitment to ‘agri[culture]’ and husbandry, divisions and competing priorities began to emerge.  This breakdown is presaged in the poetry of Bloomfield, George Crabbe and John Clare, but it is most vividly represented in Ebenezer Elliott’s poetry.  For Elliott, writing in the late 1820s, the main source of community breakdown in small rural villages is the rise and sprawl of the middle classes.  The middle classes wanted their villages to be neat and pretty.  As we move into the twentieth century, the demands of the judges in best-kept village competitions would become more important than the demands of farmers and farm labourers.  Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s buddy-cop spoof Hot Fuzz (2007) is about the lengths to which villagers will go in order to secure victory in a best-kept village competition.

I began to make connections between a perceived crisis in rural communities during the Romantic period and the state of rural community life today.  Many of us sense that there is something wrong with modern dormitory villages; few of us would describe them as communities in the old sense of the word.  The middle classes have moved into rural villages in search of the community feeling that they could not find in modern cities, only to recreate the organised and neat segregation of suburbia in the countryside.  In order to investigate these connections, and in partnership with Oxfordshire Rural Community Council, I organised a series of Oxfordshire-focused workshops entitled Rural Community: The Past Shaping the Present Shaping the Future.  The idea was to engage interested stakeholders (representatives of the third sector and local government, and academics from a range of disciplines) in my research, and to stimulate new ways of thinking about rural communities.  The central theme of the workshops was the question – do ideas about what rural communities used to be like still shape policy and practice today, and is this a problem?

3) Your introduction argues against seeing Romantic-period country localities as parts of a ‘homogeneous rural context’ and your chapters pay close attention to the differing social infrastructures of rural communities.  How does the fine-grained appreciation of the complexities and specificities of rural life which your book develops alter our understanding of Romantic-period literature?

My book questions various, still common, assumptions in Romantic studies: that Romantic writers had access to, and celebrated an originary nature (as distinct from a cultivated landscape); that agrarian improvement always had negative consequences for labouring people in the countryside; and that those Romantic writers who demand to be read in relation to the specifics of place are limited.  In fact, by about the first millennium AD, particularly in England, very little of the landscape was untouched by the human hand.  The Romantic distinction between wild and cultivated nature was a myth.  Enclosure had a significant impact in some places (Clare’s Northamptonshire), but not others (William Wordsworth’s Cumberland).  It resulted in improved living conditions for labouring people in some places (Burns’s lowland Scotland), and worse living conditions in others (Bloomfield and Crabbe’s Suffolk).  If we move a hundred miles or so in space or a decade or so in time the physical and social environment can be very different, resulting in a different community dynamic.  Romanticism and the Rural Community reveals that this more nuanced reading of agrarian and social change is displayed in the writing of the period.  My book contends that all Romantic writing about the countryside is rooted in a knowledge and experience of specific places.  It goes on to demonstrate that specifics of time and place in turn influence the representation of community.

4) Your chapters consider both canonical writers (William Wordsworth, Jane Austen, Robert Burns, John Clare) and oft-neglected figures (George Crabbe, Robert Bloomfield, Ebenezer Elliott). How did you settle on these particular writers as the subjects for your arguments about the centrality of rural communities to thought in the period?

I chose these writers because in important works they focus implicitly and sometimes explicitly on questions of community identity and how small rural communities are, or should be structured; politically, socially and economically.  I could have chosen many other writers of the Romantic period who feature rural life or nature more generally in their work, but my project focuses explicitly on the representation of rural community.  I wanted to engage with the complexity of different types of communities, and national and regional investments in community experience and community identity.  My choice of writers and their work enabled me to situate some unjustly neglected writers at the heart of what I argue was one of the major preoccupations of the period, and to produce some revisionary readings of well-known writers.  I believed that I could add substantially to the body of research on Wordsworth in two distinct ways.  Firstly, through my examination of Wordsworth’s response to 1790s political polemic focusing on the rural community in general and the cottager in particular.  Secondly, through my exploration of the way Wordsworth’s ideas about rural community, and how it should be represented in poetry, change from the early 1790s through to The Excursion in 1814.  I was also aware of the long established work on Jane Austen in relation to social change and the landed estate.  But I believed that re-evaluation of this long established research was necessary, particularly in the light of more recent revisionary work on rural history, and my own work on the rural community in 1790s political polemic.

5) What new projects are you currently working on?

I am currently writing a book entitled Witchcraft, Magic and Regionality in Fiction, 1818-1926 (Palgrave, forthcoming 2017).  I am also developing ‘Mapping Stories of Witchcraft and Magic’, a digital resource linked to the book project, but pan-historical in orientation.  This study will explore the role of witchcraft and magic in the construction of distinctive regional identity in fiction during the nineteenth and early-twentieth century.  A considerable amount of work has been done on the representation of witchcraft and magic in early-modern England and Scotland, in particular the witch trials of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  But until recently little work has been done on witchcraft and magic after 1736, when the legislation that had made many magical practices capital offences in England and Scotland was repealed.  But since the millennium, and led by the ground-breaking research of Owen Davies, historians have begun to explore this striking gap in our understanding of the mind-set of ordinary people, and the social-dynamics of local communities throughout Britain during much of the last three hundred years.  It was not until very recently that historians began to study regional variations in magical beliefs and practices during the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.  This new area of research is the starting point for Witchcraft, Magic and Regionality in Fiction, 1818-1926, which will be informed by the growing body of work on regional variations, and by the new (historical) discoveries made during the course of my own research.

The BARS Review

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We’re very glad to announce that the BARS Bulletin & Review has now morphed into a freely-available online journal: The BARS Review.  Please see below for a copy of the notification sent to BARS members by the editorial team.

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Dear BARS members,

You may be wondering why you still haven’t received the next number of the BARS Bulletin & Review; the reason for the delay is that we’ve been busy at work behind the scenes preparing for the Bulletin’s re-launch as The BARS Review, which you can now access via this link:

The BARS Review will, like its predecessor, provide timely and comprehensive coverage of new monographs, essay collections, editions and other works dealing with the literature, history and culture of the Romantic period, broadly conceived. It will be published twice-yearly, in Spring and Autumn numbers.

Unlike the Bulletin, however, The BARS Review will be available online as an open-access journal. This will make the publication accessible to a wider readership and will allow the contents to be indexed, configured, filtered and searched both through the site’s built-in functions and using search engines. Individual reviews can be read and downloaded in html or pdf formats. A pdf compilation of all the reviews in each number can be downloaded for printing or for reading on electronic devices.

Currently, No. 44, the inaugural number of The BARS Review ( and No. 43 of the Bulletin ( are available in full through The BARS Review website. Some older issues of the Bulletin will be added to the archive in the course of time; at present, however, these remain available for download through the main BARS website:

The BARS Review will focus exclusively on reviews, but we look forward to keeping members updated on conferences and other events via our mailing list, website, the BARS Blog (, our Facebook page (!/groups/192798244079736/) and our Twitter account (@BARS_official), which we hope you’ll continue to follow with interest.

New reviewers and recommendations for reviews are always welcome, so please send any expressions of interest to the Editor, Susan Valladares ( We’d also be very grateful for any feedback and suggestions regarding the new format.

We hope that you enjoy reading The BARS Review.

With very best wishes from the editorial team:

Susan Valladares (Editor)
Ian Haywood and Susan Oliver (General Editors)
Matthew Sangster (Technical Editor)

CfP: Military Masculinities in the Long Nineteenth Century

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Please see below for a new Call for Papers on Military Masculinities in the Long Nineteenth Century, for a conference to be held next May at the University of Hull.

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Call for Papers

Military Masculinities in the Long Nineteenth Century
University of Hull, 20th-21st May 2015
Keynotes: Doctor Holly Furneaux and Professor Joanne Bailey

To commemorate the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo and the lasting impact of the Napoleonic Wars upon the history of militarism, submissions are welcomed for ‘Military Masculinities in the Long Nineteenth Century’, an interdisciplinary conference held at the University of Hull on the 20th and 21st May 2015. We welcome papers from scholars across the humanities on the topic of nineteenth-century ‘military’ manliness. The conference will encompass a range of themes relating to notions of gender, war and empire, exploring the ways in which nineteenth-century society responded and reacted to ideas of militarism and mobilised manhood.

Hat Hussar

(Image used with kind permission of the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection,
Brown University Library)

Topics might include (but are certainly not limited to):
• The Napoleonic Wars.
• Victorian war and empire.
• Hero worship.
• Military fashion.
• Returning soldiers.
• Soldiers and families (military fathers, husbands and sons).
• Military hierarchies.
• Men and nursing.
• The revival of chivalry and past manly archetypes.
• Military masculinity in art and music.
• Artistic masculinity during wartime.
• Violent, criminal masculinity.
• Emotion, trauma and the nervous body.
• Physicality and sport.
• Homosociality.

Please send an abstract of 250-300 words for a paper of 20 minutes to either Anna Maria Barry or Emma Butcher[] by 5 January 2015.

We anticipate that the registration fee will be £35, with a discounted price of £20 for postgraduate students. This will include lunch and refreshments on both days.

For further information (programme, registration) please keep checking the conference webpage:
In association with Hull University’s Centre for Nineteenth-Century Studies and Waterloo 200.


Voices and Books at the British Library, 11th November 2014

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Please see below for a notice on the next Voices and Books network event, which includes a number of talks likely to be of interest to Romanticists.  Attendance is free.

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AHRC Network ‘Voices and Books 1500-1800’

Public Workshop

Tuesday 11 November, 2014

Convenor: Dr Arnold Hunt with Professor Jennifer Richards

Location: The Conference Centre at the British Library

How did people read aloud in the past? How do we do that now? And why does it matter that we recover and reflect on this experience? At this workshop we will discuss the many different ways in which the experience of listening to books, past and present, can be recorded and analysed, and the archives we might use, from the British Library’s Sound Archive to The Reading Experience Database. We will also hear and talk with the award-winning poet and radio broadcaster, Professor Sean O’Brien, about writing for listeners.

9.00: Arrival and welcome

9.30: Chris Reid (QMUL): ‘Parliamentary Voices: Speaking and Reporting in the House of Commons, 1750-1800’

10.15: Arnold Hunt (British Library): ‘Reading sermons aloud, 1600-1900’

11.00: Break

11.30: Barbara Ravelhofer (Durham): ‘Speech and Style in Early Modern Drama: lessons from the Shirley Project’

12.30: Buffet Lunch

1.30: Josie Billington (Liverpool): ‘Shared Reading Aloud in Contemporary Practice: The Reader Project’

2.15: Shafquat Towheed (Open University): ‘Recovering readers and listeners 1500-1800 for The Reading Experience Database’

3.00: Break

3.30: Sean O’Brien (Newcastle) will read a selection of his poetry and answer questions about the practice of reading poetry aloud

4.30: Concluding remarks.

This event is free and open to anyone who would like to come. If you are interested in attending, however, please contact the Network Co-ordinator, Dr Helen Stark: (N.B. places may be limited and you will be asked for a deposit, to be returned)

We have bursaries for unsalaried ECRs (within 2 years of PhD) and PhD students; these will cover some of the costs of travel and accommodation for attending the workshop. If you would like this support, please send a short statement about how attendance would benefit your research to the Network Co-ordinator: *DEADLINE FOR BURSARIES FOR THIS WORKSHOP: 5PM ON 31st OCTOBER 2014*

BARS 2015: Romantic Imprints – Call for Papers and Panel Proposals

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Proposals are invited for the 2015 British Association for Romantic Studies international conference which will be held at Cardiff University, Wales (UK) on 16–19 July 2015.  The theme of the interdisciplinary conference is Romantic Imprints, broadly understood to include the various literary, cultural, historical and political manifestations of Romantic print culture across Europe, the Americas and the rest of the world.  Our focus will fall on the ways in which the culture of the period was conscious of itself as functioning within and through, or as opposed to, the medium of print.  The conference location in the Welsh capital provides a special opportunity to foreground the Welsh inflections of Romanticism within the remit of the conference’s wider theme.  The two-hundredth anniversary of Waterloo also brings with it the chance of thinking about how Waterloo was represented within and beyond print.

The confirmed keynote speakers for Romantic Imprints will be John Barrell (Queen Mary, London), James Chandler (Chicago), Claire Connolly (Cork), Peter Garside (Edinburgh) and Devoney Looser (Arizona State).

The conference is open to various forms of format:  we encourage proposals for special open-call sessions and for themed panels of invited speakers as well as individual proposals for the traditional 20-minute paper.  Subjects covered might include:
Nation and print: the British archipelago; cities of print; transatlantic and transnational exchanges; Romantic cosmopolitanism and print; translation; landscape and/in print; Wales and its Romantic contexts; national (especially Welsh) patterns of influence and exchange in the international context.
Producing and consuming print: Romantic readerships; publishers; circu­lating print; legislation, copyright and print; technologies of print; plagiarism, forgery and piracy; popular and subaltern cultures of print; periodicals and journalism; gender and genre; print as new and old, ephemeral and collectable objects; print beyond reading (paper money, cards, etc.); the fate of print as ‘rubbish’.
Intertextual exchanges: politics and print (e.g. revolution and radicalism, war, Napoleon, Waterloo); satire and parody; science and print culture; performance and print; Romantic visual cultures (including art and illustration); representations of print and printing; fashion; adaptation and remediation; the Romantic essay; print and its others – epitaphs, manuscripts, marginalia, etc.; print and imprint as Romantic metaphor or ideology; popular pastimes.
Textual scholarship: editing texts; bibliography and book history; manuscripts, correspondence and diaries; analysis and quantification; digital humanities.
Romantic legacies: physical traces and imprints; architecture; Romantic anti­quarianism; Victorian Romanticism; Romanticism and modernity; Romanticism and new media; Romantic biography; lives in print; Romantic afterlives; celebrity and print; adapting the Romantics (film, art, literature).

Formats for conference proposals:
• Traditional 20-minute paper proposals (250-word abstracts), submitted individually.
• Poster presentations showcasing innovative projects or digital outputs (250-word abstracts), submitted individually.
• Proposals for open-call sessions (350-word descriptions of potential session, outlining its importance and relevance to the conference theme).  Accepted open-call sessions will be advertised on the BARS 2015 conference website.
• Proposals for themed panels of three 20-minute or four 15-minute papers (250-word abstracts for each paper with speakers’ details and an outline of the panel’s rationale from the proposer).

Deadline for open-call and themed panels: 13 October 2014. You will be notified of acceptance by 10 November 2014.  Accepted open-call sessions will be advertised from 1 December 2014.

Deadline for all other submissions: 31 January 2015.  Submissions can comprise proposals for individual papers, poster presentations and submissions to open-call panels (which will be published online from 1 December 2014).  If you are applying to an open-call session, you should include the name of the session on your proposal.

All proposals should include your name, academic affiliation (if any), preferred email address and a biography of 100 words.  Please send proposals and direct enquiries to the BARS 2015 conference organisers, Anthony Mandal and Jane Moore (Cardiff University) at

For the latest updates about the conference, follow us on Twitter @2015BARS.  The conference website will be available shortly.

Preliminary Notice for John Keats: Poet-Physician

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Please see below for a preliminary notice for the second Keats Foundation bicentennial conference, which will take place at Guy’s Hospital next May.

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John Keats: Poet-Physician
A Bicentenary Conference at Guy’s Hospital
1-3 May 2015

Keats Lecture Card

Confirmed Speakers include

Jenny Uglow
(Author of In these Times: Living in Britain through Napoleon’s Wars, 1793-1815)

Druin Burch
(Author of Digging up the Dead: Uncovering the Life and Times of an Extraordinary Surgeon)

Jeffrey Cox
(Author of Romanticism in the Shadow of War: Literary Culture in the Napoleonic War Years)

Damian Walford Davies
(Author of Presences that Disturb: Modalities of Romantic Influence in Twentieth-Century Literature)

R. S. White
(Author of John Keats. A Literary Life)

Guest of Honour: Stuart Curran
(Author of Poetic Form and British Romanticism)

The Keats Foundation is delighted to announce that its second John Keats Bicentenary Conference will be held at Guy’s Hospital, Southwark, London, from Friday 1 May to Sunday 3 May 2015, marking two hundred years since Keats enrolled as a student at the Hospital. The Conference is organised by the Keats Foundation (U. K. Registered Charity 1147589), and follows a successful first bicentenary conference at Keats House, Hampstead. The 2015 Conference themes embrace all aspects of Keats’s medical-poetic career: his writings during the Guy’s Hospital years; the poet-physician and physician-poet; war, disease, medicine and Keats’s poetry; his hospital training and the medical context; Keats’s social circles at Guy’s, fellow poets, biography, and critical reception. The Conference will include lectures, papers, a visit to the Old Operating Theatre at Guy’s Hospital, a tour of Keats’s Southwark, and a reception at the George Inn on the Borough Road – London’s last surviving coaching inn, and surely known to Keats while at Guy’s.

‘John Keats: Poet-Physician’ will keep the registration fee as low as is practically possible. We leave accommodation choices and costs to participants, in the belief that this will be welcome for offering maximum flexibility for all attending. Travel arrangements are likewise a matter for those coming to London. The Call for Papers will be published soon, in early Autumn 2014, to allow delegates as much time as possible for arrangements to be made.

For all enquiries:
Nicholas Roe:
Richard Marggraf Turley:
Sarah Wootton:

Five Questions: James Grande on William Cobbett

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William Cobbett, the Press and Rural England

James Grande currently works at King’s College London as a postdoctoral researcher on the ERC-funded project ‘Music in London, 1800-1851‘.  He completed his undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at Oxford and moved to KCL in 2011 to take up a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship.  He has worked on William Godwin, the literary cultures of London and Norfolk, Dissent, and on a range of other Romantic-period topics, but the central figure in his research is William Cobbett, the subject of his first monograph, William Cobbett, the Press and Rural England, which was published by Palgrave Macmillan in July.  Below, we discuss this book below alongside his co-edited collection The Opinions of William Cobbett, which was published by Ashgate last year.

1) How did you first encounter William Cobbett, and how did you come to decide that you wanted to dedicate your doctoral thesis and (thus far) two books to examining him?

I first came across Cobbett through a special author paper on Hazlitt that I took in the final year of my undergraduate degree.  I read Hazlitt’s ‘Character of Cobbett’ and was intrigued by the way Hazlitt scholars compare their journalism.  Richard Ingrams’s biography of Cobbett had just come out, so I read that, and immersed myself in Cobbett’s enormous published output and the archive of manuscripts at Nuffield College in Oxford.  I was fortunate to hold a doctoral studentship on the Godwin Diary Project, and was originally planning to write a thesis on Cobbett, the Godwin circle, radical life-writing and the public sphere.  But I was well advised that this might be taking on too much, so devoted my doctoral thesis to Cobbett while working as a research assistant on Godwin’s diary.  William Cobbett, the Press and Rural England is a rewritten version of my thesis and The Opinions of William Cobbett is a co-edited selection of his writings aimed at a wider audience, published in 2013 to mark the 250th anniversary of Cobbett’s birth.

2) Your reading of Cobbett’s career in William Cobbett, the Press and Rural England ’emphasizes coherence over contradiction’, seeing it as ‘a serious and sustained attempt to think through a set of ideas that had been crystallized in the pamphlet wars of the 1790s’. How did you come to see these continuities in Cobbett’s thought, and how did you choose the biographical episodes through which you trace the development of his personal ideology?

I was initially attracted to the radical, nineteenth-century Cobbett, but became increasingly convinced that in order to understand the nature of Cobbett’s radicalism we need to go back to the 1790s.  I had read Cobbett’s anti-Jacobin writing, and in particular the pamphlets he wrote in Philadelphia as Peter Porcupine, and for a long time was unsure what to do with it – it was just too reactionary.  But one of the distinguishing features of Cobbett’s career is his unusual evolution from (in crude terms) right to left, and it was his experience as an anti-Jacobin that made him such an effective radical.  In the book, I argue that we should read Cobbett’s ruralism as a response to the revolution controversy and as an eclectic combination of Burke and Paine. There has always been a tendency to view Cobbett as a crude populist who merely reacts to changing circumstances; by contrast, I see his project as the creation of a democratic radicalism that could appeal to ideas of tradition, patriotism and the domestic affections.  This gave him the status memorably described by Hazlitt as ‘a kind of fourth estate in the politics of the country’ – a virtual embodiment of both rural England and the campaign for parliamentary reform.  One of the surprises here was that I came to see Cobbett as much less insular than he often appears. His writing incorporates a broad range of transatlantic influences, and appealed to audiences far beyond a narrow rural constituency.

When it came to selecting particular episodes to focus on, I was guided by the archive I was working with and towards moments in Cobbett’s career that seemed particularly significant and under-researched.  The first chapter presents new evidence for Cobbett’s authorship of The Soldier’s Friend (1792), including a previously neglected letter from the publisher, James Ridgway.  In this letter, Ridgway defends himself from rumours that he had been imprisoned for high treason but concedes that the work had caused ‘greater alarm at its publication than any pamphlet in my memory’ – and Ridgway was one of the publishers of the second part of Rights of Man.  After this foray into radicalism, Cobbett fled to France and then America and the rest of this chapter shows how his myth of rural England developed in the United States.  The next chapter concentrates on the first decade of the 1800s and his strange, sub-Burkean correspondence with William Windham.  I suggest that Cobbett’s move to Hampshire began in imitation of Windham’s patrician independence, but was quickly directed towards more radical ends.  The work Cobbett wrote in Newgate during his imprisonment for seditious libel, Paper Against Gold, is of central importance to the rest of his career.  There has been some excellent recent work on paper money and I have tried to extend this by reading Paper Against Gold alongside Cobbett’s prison letters.  There are chapters on Cobbett’s re-creation of rural England on Long Island, following the 1817 suspension of Habeas Corpus, and his work as press secretary and speechwriter for Queen Caroline during her trial.  There is a chapter on Rural Rides and other major works of the 1820s, Cottage Economy and A History of the Protestant “Reformation” (kept in scare quotes), and the final chapter is on 1830-1 and the relationship as Cobbett saw it between the July Revolution in France and Swing Riots in England.  William IV and the new Whig government tried to make Cobbett a scapegoat for the riots – there are extracts from Rural Rides in the Treasury Solicitor’s archives, with passages that could be construed as seditious marked up – but Cobbett subpoenaed the entire Cabinet as witnesses, conducted his own defence and was sensationally acquitted.  The following year, he completed his providential progress from ‘Ploughboy to a Seat in Parliament’ with his election to the reformed Parliament as an MP for Oldham.  There is a short postscript examining Cobbett’s myriad legacies, for popular journalism, ‘Condition of England’ writing and radical pastoral.

3) Why did you decide to focus particularly on Cobbett as a writer of various kinds of letters?

My doctoral thesis was on ‘William Cobbett’s Correspondence’ and explored the open letter rhetoric of his journalism – often credited with creating the modern leading article – alongside the archive of manuscript letters.  Correspondence is still key to how I read Cobbett.  His arguments are always addressed to specific audiences, from political allies and opponents to groups of ordinary people.  This gives them their brilliant directness (‘Wilberforce, I have you before me in a canting pamphlet’) and invests them with a situatedness that is unmatched in radical writing of the period.  In this respect, Cobbett draws on the epistolary tropes of intimacy, authenticity and spontaneity, as well as the unique place of letters in everyday life.  The book includes many previously unpublished letters from the remarkable archive at Nuffield, assembled by the guild socialist G.D.H. Cole, who edited, collected and wrote an important biography of Cobbett.  These letters tell us a huge amount about how Cobbett worked and on the role of his family – particularly his seven children – in his literary, political and agricultural projects.

Opinions of William Cobbett

4) How did you and your co-editors, John Stevenson and Richard Thomas, choose the pieces which you include in The Opinions of William Cobbett, and are there particular selections from among these which you’d recommend for converting newcomers to his work?

Cobbett published an estimated twenty million words – a figure unrivalled in the history of English letters – so there was plenty to choose from.  We decided on thematic sections, and tried to find passages that would work well as short extracts, present the full range of Cobbett’s opinions and convey his power as a writer.  To Hazlitt, he was ‘one of the best writers in the language’, and even the Attorney General, leading the prosecution in 1831, described him as ‘one of the greatest masters of the English language who has ever composed in it’.  Newcomers to his work might be surprised by the variety of his writing.  So we see Cobbett thundering against ‘Old Corruption’, but there are also moments of Romantic autobiography and sentimental comedy.  For example, one of the longest extracts is a autobiographical passage describing his time as a soldier in New Brunswick and imagining an alternative life in which he had never returned to England and achieved political celebrity.  And one of my personal favourites is a brilliantly funny scene from his anti-Malthusian comedy, Surplus Population.

As one of the reviews pointed out, the selection does not try to present a sanitised version of Cobbett.  His violent prejudices, including his anti-Semitism, cannot be politely ignored.  Linda Colley wrote more than a decade ago that ‘Cobbett’s unfailing concern for the English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh labouring poor, and his work on behalf of adult male suffrage make him – up to a point – a plausible hero for the democratic Left’, and the qualification here is important.  Colley also discusses Cobbett’s enduring legacy for British political journalism and if anything his concerns and style of journalism seem to have even greater relevance today, in the context of the financial crisis, political and press corruption, anxieties about the national debt and the post-devolution debate about national identity and Scottish independence.  However, with the rise of the Tea Party in America and UKIP in Britain, Cobbett’s particular brand of Enlightenment common sense now seems to be almost exclusively the province of the modern right.  There is nothing inevitable here, and I would contest any straightforward comparison, but this does seem to be what has happened.

5) What new projects are you currently pursuing?

John Stevenson and I are editing a volume of essays from a conference on ‘Cobbett at 250’, which will be published next year by Pickering & Chatto and will, incredibly, be the first collection of essays devoted to Cobbett.  I am really excited about the range of topics and contributors, including scholars from Romantic and Victorian literary studies, social and political history and sociology.

My current research is linked to my new post as a research fellow for ‘Music in London, 1800-1851’, directed by Roger Parker and based at King’s College London.  The project is focused on non-elite music and on the social and political meanings that music carried in metropolitan culture.  My own research is on the intersections between music, literature and religious dissent, so this takes me back to the intellectual milieu of the Godwin diary and my earlier postdoctoral research on nineteenth-century nonconformism.  If any BARS members are interested in getting involved with the broader project, there is a website – – with further information and details of upcoming conferences.

Call for Contributors: Romantic Ecocriticism

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Please see below for a call for contributors for a new essay collection on Romantic ecocriticism.

Romantic Ecocriticism:
Origins and Legacies
Dewey W. Hall, Editor
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

Call for Papers

Romantic Ecocriticism invites article-length papers that examine the influence of cultural factors on seminal writers from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. For example, William Wordsworth read Gilbert White’s The Natural History of Selborne; Samuel Taylor Coleridge derived metaphors from the lectures by Humphrey Davy; Mary Shelley derived the basis for Frankenstein from the vitalism debate initiated by John Abernathy and William Lawrence.

Suitable topics might include:

•Scientific culture: natural history (e.g. botany, meteorology, chemistry, geology) or natural philosophy (e.g. materialism, vitalism, electricity, etc.)
• Aesthetic culture: the picturesque, topography, and cartography, especially William Gilpin, Adam Sedgwick, and William Mudge
• Religious culture: natural theology (e.g. divinity and nature), especially William Paley and William Whewell
• Environmental culture: Romantic naturalism, anti-industrialism, and the open space movement leading to the National Trust (e.g. John Ruskin, Charles Dickens, Hardwicke Rawnsley, and Octavia Hill)
• Transatlantic American culture: From Romantic naturalism to American early and modern environmentalists such as Ralph W. Emerson, Henry D. Thoreau, John Muir, Mary Austin, Aldo Leopold, and Rachel Carson
• Ecological culture: Romantic influence upon Arne Naess’s deep ecology movement (e.g. ecosophy, biocentrism, biodiversity, sustainability, etc.)

Submissions must include a title, abstract (200 word limit), CV and bio and, if possible, a draft of a paper (15-25 pages).  These should be sent to by the 31st of October for consideration.