Byron Society PhD bursary

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The Byron Society invites applications for a PhD bursary of £3,000  every year.

Applications are open to new and existing full-time PhD students enrolled at a UK university and working on a thesis addressing any aspect of the life, work and /or influence of the poet Lord Byron. Applications are also welcomed from those studying multiple poets or authors, including Byron.

Each bursary covers just one year, however multiple applications can be made and postgraduates whose research focuses solely on Byron can receive up to three annual bursaries. (Those who study Byron alongside other poets and authors can only be awarded one bursary).

Applications can be made by students with additional sources of funding, but please list these in your application. The applications should also include a summary of the applicant’s academic record, an outline of his / her proposed research and the names of two referees who may be contacted. Please also state what year of study you are in.

Please download and fill out the Application Form at the bottom of this page, and notify your chosen referee that we will be in touch to request a reference. In addition to the questions below, please state what other funding you have been awarded (if any).

Applications should be sent by email to Dr Emily Paterson-Morgan, Director of the Byron Society, at contact@thebyronsociety.com. 

The application process for 2022/2023 is now open, and closes on the 31st of May 2022

Various Byron CFPs and Bursaries

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The Byron Society are organising a number of conferences and sponsored panels in 2022, and offering bursaries. So we have decided to make it easier for you to find this information, by putting it all in one place!

Below are details of upcoming events and application deadlines…

Call For Papers – Byron and Loss

Newstead Abbey Byron Society Annual Conference

23rd-24th April, 2022 at Newstead Abbey

Postponed since 2020, this conference aptly marks the bicentenary of a troubling year plagued by loss. George III had lost his life and, many would argue, George IV lost what little shreds remained of his dignity, pursuing his errant wife with hypocritical vengeance during the so-called Queen Caroline Affair. The monarchy and government had lost the trust of the people, and many of them would have lost their lives had the Cato Street Conspiracy succeeded. Meanwhile Byron, now in the fourth year of his self-imposed exile, was rapidly losing his hair, teeth, famous good looks, and – some might argue – his dignity. It is against this backdrop that he became interested in Italian politics, or rather the loss of political authority and national autonomy.

To mark the year of 1820, and in recognition of the troubling experiences of the past two years, we welcome papers considering the theme of Byron and loss.

More details here. Submissions by 1st February 2022. 

Call for Papers (and bursaries): Snakes and Eagles in 1822

The Byron Society is pleased to announce that it is sponsoring a panel at The Shelley Conference 2022 (#Shelley200) and providing bursaries of £150.00 each for three speakers. 

Charles E. Robinson notably described Shelley and Byron as the ‘snake and eagle wreathed in fight’, lifting and adapting a phrase from Shelley’s The Revolt of Islam. His phrase captures the commonalities and contrasts of these two young poets, both idealistic and embittered by turns, whose close but often fraught friendship developed during a period of astounding personal and poetic productivity.

The friendships, collaborations, and cross-fertilizations which occurred between Percy Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Lord Byron and their peers during this period have proved a source of endless fascination – both in academic scholarship and popular culture. To celebrate this period and commemorate Shelley’s untimely demise, we are  sponsoring a drinks reception at the Shelley Conference 2022 (at Keats House in London) and also inviting proposals for a sponsored panel expanding our understanding of the ways in which Byron and Shelley complemented and undermined each other.

More details here. Submissions by 31st March 2022. 

Call for Papers (and bursaries): Byronic Modes of Rebellion

The Byron Society is pleased to announce that it is sponsoring a panel at the 2022 BARS/NASSR annual conference on the theme Byronic Modes of Rebellion, and providing bursaries of £250.00 each for three speakers.

Rebellion comes in a myriad of forms, from teenage angst and misanthropic brooding to political, sexual and religious forms of resistance.

From his carefully rumpled ‘poetic’ attire and sexual preferences, to his involvement with revolutionary groups in Italy and Greece, Byron was and remains an inherently rebellious figure.

The same is true of his poetry, with its daring new forms and highly contentious treatment of sexual, political and religious themes. The poetry of the early 1820s was steeped in rebellious impulses, from the provocative representations of Christianity in works such as Cain: A Mystery and subversive political polemics embedded in Sardanapalus and Don Juan VIII-IX, to the depictions of actual revolutions in the historic dramas.

A subversive figure in his own era, in the last fifty years Byron and the Byronic hero have become stock figures of defiance and resistance to established norms, from David Bowie’s persona of ‘screaming Lord Byron’ to the fictional superheroes Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark. We are inviting proposals for this sponsored panel around the topic of Byronic modes of rebellion. In recognition of the overall focus of the conference, papers focusing on 20th and 21st century elements are preferred.

More details here. Submissions by 31st March 2022. 

CFP and Student Bursaries

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CALL FOR PAPERS – 15th INTERNATIONAL STUDENT BYRON CONFERENCE

23-28 MAY 2022 , Messolonghi Greece

The Messolonghi Byron Society –Messolonghi Byron Research Center

When originally planned, during the lead-in to the bicentennial commemorations of the Greek War of Independence, the International Student Byron Conference aimed to center on Byron’s involvement in Philhellenism and the Greek Revolution, to which he devoted his fortune and the last year of his life.  But the coronavirus pandemic intervened, and the conference was postponed. Now its academic committee is pleased to announce a rescheduling for May 2022. All participants whose abstracts had previously been accepted and who have indicated their interest in attending the rescheduled event will be eligible to present in May 2022.

Please send abstract proposals by 28 February 2022 to Professor Roderick Beaton (rod.beaton@kcl.ac.uk), Professor Peter Graham (pegraham@vt.edu) and Professor Maria Schoina (schoina@enl.auth.gr) with a copy to Mrs. Rodanthi-Rosa Florou (byronlib@gmail.com).

STUDENT BURSARIES

The Byron Society is pleased to announce we are offering 2 student travel bursaries this year’s conference, for £500 each. Applications will be accepted from any student enrolled at a UK university, who has had a proposal accepted by the Conference Committee.

To apply for one of these bursaries, please send the proposal and proof of acceptance, together with a short bio about you and your studies, to our Director, Dr Emily Paterson Morgan (contact@thebyronsociety.com and emily@p-m.uk.com). Deadline for application: 1st May.

More details of the CFP and Bursaries are available here.

Romanticism Now: We. The Revolution (Polyslash, 2019) between Shelley and Burke: Gamifying the Romantic debate on the French Revolution, Part 2

PART TWO – ‘You are supposed to suffer to make others laugh or grieve’

This is a continuation of We. The Revolution (Polyslash, 2019) between Shelley and Burke: Gamifying the Romantic debate on the French Revolution, Part 1, available here

The gameplay loop of We. The Revolution is based on the player’s balancing of their reputation between four factions in Paris – the ‘common folk’ (an agglomerate category which includes the sans culottes, the enragé, and associated journalists like Jean Paul Marat), the ‘revolutionaries’ (shorthand for reformist intellectuals, including the Jacobins and the Girondins), the ‘aristocracy’ (who only emerge after the execution of Louis XVI, and who encompass ideas associated with the émigré nobles who fled the Terror, as well as providing a framework for considering attitudes lingering from the ancien regime) and, finally, Fidele’s own family, consisting of his father, Aldric, adult son, Bernard, younger son Frederic, and wife Mathilde. The game takes place primarily in the courtroom, with Fidele presiding over cases which combine famous historical trials (Louis XVI & Marie Antoinette, Madame Roland, Charlotte Corday) with fictional examples chosen either to exemplify in-game themes such as fratricide, or to explore the social fallout of the Terror and the revolutionary war (returning soldiers with PTSD, rival merchants accusing one another of counter-revolutionary activity). The player must read witness statements and trial reports for each case, question the witness, and deliver a verdict of (initially) execution, acquittal, or prison – until the Reign of Terror begins in earnest at the start of Act II and Robespierre, in a speech inspired by his famous declaration of 5 February 1794 that ‘Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible; it is therefore an emanation of virtue’ (Robespierre, ‘On the Moral and Political Principles of Domestic Policy’) reduces the player’s agency to either execution or acquittal. The game then also introduces some new mechanics, a board-game inspired movement of pieces around a map of Paris, as Fidele attempts to seize control of its districts from other revolutionary leaders, quash local riots, and evade gangs of Muscadin reactionaries.

Figure 5: A Combat Sequence

Readers familiar with the chronology of the French Revolution will already be noticing some gaps in We. The Revolution’s structure as a historical narrative – Louis XIV’s trial was not presided over by a mere Parisian district court judge, the conservative militia group known as the Muscadins did not rise to prominence until 1794, after the Thermidorian coup against Robespierre, making their presence from the early game paradoxically anachronistic. Other anachronisms and historical liberties trouble the game’s narrative – the murder of Jean Paul Marat (1743-93) does not take place on 13 June 1793, it is delayed until after the death of Robespierre, and its association with the latter’s ‘Purge of the Girondins’ in June of that year is erased. Marat’s assassin, Charlotte Corday (1768-93), does not appear as a sympathiser with the conservative Girondin Revolutionary faction, taking revenge on their behalf against a rival polemicist out of a Plutarch-inspired sense of civic virtue. In place of this we have a very abstracted sense that Corday’s motivations had something to do with feminism and women’s political liberation. The game places the death of Marat right in the middle of its version of the Thermidorian reaction. This time the progress of the Revolution is halted to allow the brother of the protagonist, who was believed dead until this point, to enter the story at the head of an army of disaffected criminals, soldiers, and emigres who fled the terror, until his army is ultimately routed by Napoleon, who only appears extremely briefly at the end of the game, but not in time to save our protagonist, who is murdered by his brother in a rigged game of dice which ends the narrative.

Figure 6: The Arrest of Robespierre

The sequence which is central to the game’s narrative, and articulates most clearly itsessentially Burkean argument that the French Revolution merely represented one more cycle in an unbroken series of episodes of human violence and corruption, is the encounter with The Puppeteer. In the final act, after Fidele is near-fatally stabbed by his wife, he wakes up in a puppeteer’s shop filled with marionettes of the various characters who have populated the game, with his wounds being healed by a mysterious figure called the Puppeteer, who gives the following cryptic metatextual monologue about the player’s actions in the game:

I am the Truth about your unhappiness and the Lie about your greatness. They are both the reasons for your presence in this place. Are you ready to admit that it is my performance, my show? I am the Truth overcoming the Lie that you keep telling yourself. The Lie that you are here for power. For the numerous choices and endings. I have not designed you for that. You are supposed to suffer to make others laugh or grieve.

(‘The Puppeteer’, We. The Revolution, Act III)

The player is then given the option to die, ending the game a few hours early, or keep persisting in the romantic role of heroic defender of Paris at Napoleon’s side, but the effective ending of the game’s narrative with this fourth-wall break constitutes its strongest point of critique. By drawing the player’s attention to the playful nature of the narrative they have just experienced. The game emphasises its own ‘ludic’ qualities, to use the term favoured by game scholars to define games as distinct from other forms of narrative experience. We. The Revolution explicitly alludes to itself as  performance’, highlighting the provisionalness and mediation behind the story it is telling, and the ‘choices and endings’, as a shorthand for player interaction, in which player input effects the outcome of the narrative, an experience which  most people play video games with branching storylines in order to explore, We. The Revolution converts the player into an avatar of historical causation. The ideologies at play in the game’s cast of characters are revealed to be empty and performative, and the player’s own emotional engagement with each trial is hollowed out and rendered simply another stage in movement towards an inevitable conclusion. The historical and fictional elements of the game emerge as parallel case studies in the ultimate futility of interpersonal relationships in the face of historical necessity.

Figure 7: The Puppeteer

As game scholars such as Katherine Isbister have argued, the presence of choice and agency allow the medium a far greater degree of emotional intensity than forms such as film or text with traditionally fixed narratives. As she puts it ‘because each choice results in feedback from the game world…[players are presented with] interesting options that have emotionally resonant outcomes, including feelings such as pride and affection.’ (Isbister, How to Play Video Games, p. 136; How Games Move Us, p. 2) We. The Revolution, with its profoundly nihilistic gameplay loop and shallow characters, does not succeed at creating pride or affection, its emotional tenor is far bleaker, trading on compromise, revulsion, and guilt, but the importance of choice in creating these emotions is just as significant. By the moment of the Puppeteer’s revelation, it is a relief to learn that your actions are essentially meaningless, because they have drawn out only the cruelty the game necessarily caused Fidele to perpetuate.  Digital games have been recognised as having an ‘inherently metaphorical relationship [to] past action by communicating about it through the often-vast abstractions of contemporary gameplay’ (Chapman, ‘Privileging Form over Content’, n.p). What this metaphorical abstraction is conventionally used for in historical games like the Age of Empires or Civilisation series is a privileged perspective, giving the player power and agency over sweeping historical events. In We. The Revolution, the abstraction forces you to consume the meaningless cruelty of the French Revolution as a spectacle, then be chastised for doing so.

Returning to Shelley and Burke, and the question of what the French Revolution reveals about the self, we can see that the promise of the Romantic moment lies, ultimately, in the resonances between a heroic, virtuous, interior self, and the ‘spirit of the age’, mediated by the creative imagination of a poet-legislator. The failure of the French Revolution is tragic because it signifies the over-reaching of the utopian self, not because it evinces any corruption in those ideals themselves. What Burke, and the conservative lineage which followed have always argued is that this was false optimism, and the failure of the Revolution speaks to an essential weakness in human nature. What We. The Revolution does is use procedural rhetoric, the term coined by game studies theorist Ian Bogost to describe the way in which a games system creates an argument, to force the player into a Burkean reading. (Bogost, Persuasive Games, 2008, p. 3) We approach the game with excitement, idealism and, depending on our level of immersion, a sense of empathy, only to have it pared down and ultimately rendered meaningless by the game’s final twist. We do not only have the fragility and cruelty of human nature explained to us by means of historical examples, we experience the deterioration of our own sensibility throughout the game, until we are unable to take refuge in our own feelings of empathy or human warmth as an argument against the games case for counter-revolutionary despair.

Bibliography

Bogost, Ian, Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames, (MIT Press, Cambridge: MA, 2008)

Brown, Marshall, ‘Romanticism and Enlightenment’, in The Cambridge Companion to British Romanticism, ed. Curran, Stuart (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), pp. 25-47

Burke, Edmund, Reflections on the Revolution in France, ed. Mitchell, L.G, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009)

Chapman, Adam, ‘Privileging Form Over Content: Analysing Historical Videogames’, in Play the Past, (2012).

Elshtain, Jean Bethke, ‘Hannah Arendt’s French Revolution’, Salmigondi, 84 (1989)

Isbister, Katherine, ‘Parappa the Rapper: Emotion’ in Payne, Matthew Thomas and Huntemann, Nina B, How to Play Video Games, (New York University Press: New York, 2019), pp.134-140.

How Games Move Us: Emotion by Design, (MIT Press, Cambridge: MA, 2017).

Robespierre, Maximilien, ‘On the Moral and Political Principles of Domestic Policy’, Speech delivered 5 February 1794, in Hassall, Paul, ed. The Internet History Sourcebooks Project, (Fordham NY, 1993-2021)

Shelley, Percy Bysshe, The Major Works, eds. Leader, Zachary, and O’Neill, Michael, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2003)

‘Percy Bysshe Shelley to [a publisher], 13 October [1817]’ in Jones, F. L ed. The letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley,  Volume 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1964). [accessed via Oxford Scholarly Editions Online (2015).

We. The Revolution, (Polyslash, 2019)

Wordsworth, William, The Major Works, ed. Gill, Stephen, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000)

Romanticism Now: We. The Revolution (Polyslash, 2019) between Shelley and Burke: Gamifying the Romantic debate on the French Revolution, Part 1

[Full Spoilers]

This two part blog post (Part 2 available here) by myself is the next in our Romanticism Now series, which hosts discussions of the resonance of Romanticism and the Romantic era in contemporary pop culture. Please approach us with your takes on film and television, music, theatre, video games, memes, or any other aspects of pop culture which reflect a Romantic sensibility. If you would like to submit a piece for the Romanticism Now series, or any of the other BARS Blog series’ please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me, Jack Orchard, here.


I am the Communications Assistant for the British Association of Romantic Studies and the Content Editor for Electronic Enlightenment, my research focuses on reading practices in eighteenth-century correspondence, women’s writing, and the relationship between eighteenth-century texts and contemporary video games.

PART ONE – The Spirit of the Age

Figure 1: An execution scene in We. The Revolution (Polyslash, 2019)

We. The Revolution is a stylish visual melodrama/court room simulator/resource management PC game released in2019 by the Polish developer Polyslash. It traces the career of a fictional Parisian judge, Alexis Fidele through (roughly) the flight of Louis XIV to Varennes, to the Reign of Terror and the Fall of Robespierre, before concluding with a fictional rendering of the Thermidorian reaction. In the following two-part blog, I would like to explore the ways in which its representation of the French Revolution not only asks some of the same questions which the Romantic poets had about the meaning of the event, but uses the genre of the video game to answer them in new and creative ways.

From the first speculations by conservative thinkers like Edmund Burke, through to the present day, the French Revolution has been translated into public consciousness as a battleground for defining human nature. Its legacy stages a conflict between an idealistic vision of human nature – the perfection of human reason articulated by Rousseau and championed by early revolutionary ideologues, against the cynicism of the conservative tradition arguing for the necessity of tradition and structure to ward against humanity’s baser instincts.

The French Revolution as providing a ‘unique…conjuncture of historical and personal factors’ (Dawson, p.52-3) is epitomised by the two lines of poetry which constitute the apparent high-water mark of Romantic revolutionary idealism, William Wordsworth’s famous declaration in The Prelude (1805) that ‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive/ But to be young was very heaven!’ (The Prelude, [1805], X.692-4). However, as P.M.S Dawson has noted ‘this is a retrospective view’ in 1805, heavy with the knowledge that ‘the extravagant promises [of the Revolution] had not been kept’. (Dawson, p.52) For Wordsworth, the first generation of Romantic poets in which he participated, and even more so for the second, epitomised by the more overt politics of Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, the Revolution provided an inescapable provocation to consider the relationship between political identity, poetic creativity, and emotion.

Figure 2: Jacques-Louis David, ‘The Tennis Court Oath’ (1790-94) – a quintessential romanticised image of the early days of the Revolution.

It is Shelley who provides the fullest account of the Romantic reading of the Revolution in his Laon and Cynthia (1817), a symbolic epic in Spenserian stanzas which documents, in his words, the  ‘beau ideal’ of Revolution as a triumph of ‘individual genius’, figured as the transcendence of the individual over ‘antient notions’ (Shelley to [Longman & Co.], 13 October 1817, Oxford Scholarly Editions Online). In the poem’s preface, Shelley encapsulates the question provoked by his subject:

‘Can he who the day before was a trampled slave suddenly become liberal-minded, forbearing, and independent? This is the consequence of the habits of a state of society to be produced by resolute perseverance and indefatigable hope, and long-suffering and long-believing courage, and the systematic efforts of generations of men of intellect and virtue. Such is the lesson which experience teaches now. But, on the first reverses of hope in the progress of French liberty, the sanguine eagerness for good overleapt the solution of these questions, and for a time extinguished itself in the unexpectedness of their result.’

(Percy Bysshe Shelley, ‘Preface’ to Laon and Cynthia [1817], p.132)

Like Wordsworth, with his blending of the joy of youth with the spirit of revolution, Shelley moves between the socio-political and the personal – answering the questions of citizenship by deferring to individual feeling. Marshall Brown has identified the Romantic period in general, and Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound (1820) specifically, with the imagined ‘dawning of a new age and the awakening of a new humanity’ (‘Romanticism and Enlightenment, p.41), with the French Revolution as one of its apexes. Shelley gives this ‘new humanity’ its most utopian articulation in A Defence of Poetry (1821), which argues for the inherent ‘virtue, love, patriotism [and] friendship’ of the poetic vocation. This essay not only contains his famous statement of the political role of the poet, that ‘Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the World’, but also asserts the essential resonance between individual genius and political consciousness:

[Poets] measure the circumference and sound the depths of human nature with a comprehensive and all-penetrating spirit, and they are themselves perhaps the most sincerely astonished at its manifestations; for it is less their spirit than the spirit of the age.

(Percy Bysshe Shelley, A Defence of Poetry, 1821, p.701)
Figure 3: J.J Weerts, The Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat (1880) – The forces of history unleashed by Charlotte Corday’s murder of the Revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat burst violently into frame.

For Shelley, the Revolution’s failure is merely a testament to human despair in the face of historical setbacks, not a reflection of a deeper corruption in human nature which the Revolution merely exemplified. For the other side of the debate, following Edmund Burke, however, this is exactly what the Revolution shows us:

We do not draw the moral lessons we might from history…You would not secure men from tyranny and sedition by rooting out of the mind the principles to which these fraudulent pretexts apply? If you did, you would root out everything that is valuable in the human breast… Wise men will apply their remedies to vices, not to names; to the causes of evil which are permanent, not to the occasional organs by which they act, and the transitory modes in which they appear. Otherwise you will be wise historically, a fool in practice…It is thus with all those who, attending only to the shell and husk of history, think they are waging war with intolerance, pride, and cruelty, whilst, under colour of abhorring the ill principles of antiquated parties, they are authorizing and feeding the same odious vices in different factions, and perhaps in worse.

(Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France [1790], p.141-2)

Like Shelley, Burke, writing in response to the nascent evolution, sees the course of events in France as a reflection of human nature but, not only is this nature ultimately corrupt unless constrained by society, but any attempts to mediate its baser aspects will fall into meaningless cycles of violence. The Burkean conservative reading has been carried into the 20th century as the deep existential horror of the ‘Frankfurt school’, epitomised by Hannah Arendt and Albert Camus, who drew a line from the French Revolution directly to the Holocaust, arguing that it ‘unleashed new possibilities for terror by relocating all human meaning and purpose in historic necessity, in a supposedly inexorable law of historic logic’ (Elshtain, p.205). It is this reading which, I believe, informs the reading of the French Revolution offered by We. The Revolution and, in the second part of this blog, to be shared tomorrow, I will give an outline of the game, and explore the way in which it offers a Burkean refutation to the Romantic reading of Revolution in a means unique to the narrative possibilities of the game genre.

For Part 2 of this post – click here

On This Day in 1821: Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Little-Known Love For Aphorisms

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The BARS ‘On This Day’ Blog series celebrates the 200th anniversary of literary and historical events of the Romantic period. Want to contribute a future post? Get in touch.

In solidarity with the University College Union strikes for pensions and improved working conditions which took place in the first week of December 2021, BARS observed a digital picket line, and out of respect for this, the author and editor of this post agreed to delay its publication from the 3rd of December.

The 3rd of December 2021 is the 200th anniversary of a strange, meandering and gnomic letter from Samuel Taylor Coleridge to his friend Thomas Allsop. Poet and Coleridge scholar Adam Neikirk takes us through this letter to explore the poet’s fascinating and esoteric approach to the aphorism.

Ab Hydromaniâ Hydrophobia: from Water-lust comes Water-dread. But this is a violent metaphor, and disagreeable to boot. Suppose then by some caprice or colic of Nature an Aqueduct split on this side of the Slider or Sluice-gate, the two parts removed some 20 or 30 feet distance from [each] other, and the communication kept up only by a hollow Reed split lengthways, of just enough width and depth to lay one’s finger or at most one’s fist in—the Likeness would be fantastic, to be sure; but still it would be no inapt likeness or emblem of the state of mind, in which I feel myself, as often as I have just received a letter from you.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Collected Letters, V, p.1283

On 3 December, 1821, Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote to his friend Thomas Allsop (1795 – 1880), a businessman who had first heard him lecture in London in 1818. Attempting in his usual long-winded way to express his “state of mind” about receiving a friendly letter, Coleridge begins by invoking, and then dismissing, an aphorism—“Ab Hydromaniâ Hydrophobia,” which neatly summarizes how a person can both enjoy writing letters and also be unable to answer correspondence in a timely fashion, apparently dreading the indulgence. And in a way this sort of opening is precisely emblematic of the Micawberishness which Virginia Woolf attributed to Coleridge in her essay “The Man at the Gate” (from the 1942 collection The Death of the Moth). Why use a ‘violent’ aphorism when something more befuddling, original, and sympathetic will do?

Figure 1: Max Beerbohm, ‘Coleridge Table-Talking’, from The Poet’s Corner (London: Heinemann, 1904)

Coleridge’s reputation, which was active even among his contemporaries, for gentle, highly abstract, and ultimately sleep-inducing conversation, was founded in part on the lectures on literature and philosophy, as well as on the brilliant private talk, which had made of Allsop such a devoted friend: one who was willing to forgive protracted gaps in Coleridge’s correspondence (unlike, say, his wife). As usual, Coleridge is in this opening performing his learnedness and his role as “Sage of Highgate” (he had moved to Highgate in 1816 to live under the care of the physician James Gillman), attempting to improve upon a received witticism. This sense of advancing on something permanent was exactly what the younger generation liked about Coleridge (when they did like him).

It may come as some surprise to the reader, then, to hear Coleridge gushing, in 1821, about his love for aphorisms: those brief turns of phrase, usually sparkling with wit, which we typically associate with thinkers like Coleridge’s contemporary, the French novelist Stendhal (1783 – 1842) and, later, one of Stendhal’s biggest fans, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900). We do not think of Coleridge as a user or coiner of aphorisms. Yet, here he is in his private notebooks, around the time of his letter to Allsop, recounting the way certain linguistic nuggets have allowed him to cultivate his understanding (and his good behavior) in a world full of conflicting accounts of the truth:

I should like to know, whether or how far the delight, I feel & have always felt, in adages or aphorisms of universal or very extensive application, is a general or common feeling with man, or a peculiarity of my own mind. I cannot describe how much pleasure I have derived from “Extremes meet” for instance; or “Treat every thing according to its Nature”, and “Be”! In the last I bring in all inward Rectitude to its Test, in the former all outward Morality to its Rule, and in the first all <problematic> Results to their Solution, and reduce apparent Contraries to correspondent Opposites. How many hostile Tenets has it enabled me to contemplate, as Fragments of the Truth—false only by negation, and mutual exclusion—.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Collected Notebooks, § 4380

Coleridge’s writing is interesting here and gives us a surprisingly wide glimpse into the philosophy of his later thought (a complex area which is still being explored; see, e.g., Murray Evans, Sublime Coleridge (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012); or Jeffrey Barbeau, Coleridge’s Assertion of Religion (Peeters, 2006), which both deal with the unpublished ‘Opus Maximum’ fragments). For one thing, we see his famous syncretism on display in the equation of “hostile Tenets” with “Fragments of the Truth—false only by negation, and mutual exclusion—”. Coleridge is signalling to Allsop that the universality of his approach is vindicated by the cognitive meaning of an aphorism. And what his approach involves is the acceptance of viewpoints which are different from his own: philosophical syncretism which bleeds into the private life. The connections he makes between certain aphorisms and their meaning for the moral or intellectual conduct of the person who follows them parallels the letter to Allsop, when the aphorism on water is unpacked into a kind of living emblem of the writer’s dread and love of composition; and yet it is changed in the unpacking.

Coleridge’s pairing of aphorism to its expanded meaning is oddly sequenced (probably on purpose), so I will make it more explicit:

  • “Extremes meet” :: brings all problematic results to their solution, and reduce apparent contraries to their opposites
  • “Treat every thing according to its Nature” :: is the rule of outward morality
  • “Be!” :: is the test of all inward rectitude
Figure 2: “Extremes Meet” – Instagram Coleridge

Coleridge has attempted—perhaps eye-openingly—to bring the entirety of “problematic results,” of “morality” and “rectitude” under the umbrella of these pithy phrases. His desire, as with Aids to Reflection, which would appear a few years later in 1825, seems to be to make subjects of social debate, especially those bearing on the meaning of religion, simple to the mind; and not only simple but rememberable. This may have been the poet in him at work upon his more philosophical and sociological preoccupations. What Coleridge’s notebook entry reveals is a desire to create permanent and literal “watchwords” for people engaged in social reform (as Allsop himself was). He is even now thinking of his ‘clerisy’: thinking of an educated subset of persons who are prepared to help others navigate through life’s difficult questions. And so imagine the enormous class of social and spiritual questions that can be filed away under the headings of contraries, of outward morality—i.e. the performance of morality—and of “inward rectitude”, the correctness of our own bearing which we feel within us. Can such a vast array of possible questions, of the ‘fear and trembling’ induced by such questions, be situated toward an answer so easily?

The test of all this is whether we think of language as being a universal augment to our understanding. For Coleridge, certain ideas, ‘embodied’ in phrases, are like pieces of code which we may find to be greatly suitable to a huge array of lived experiences, or like skeleton keys which open many different doors. The experience reveals that, on closer examination, these doors have the same style of locking mechanism, for all their outward differences. Coleridge was always—as Tom Marshall argues in Aesthetics, Poetics and Phenomenology in Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020)—trying to find ways not only to show the translucence of ideas within lived experience, but also trying to offer ways for people to quickly and efficiently be able to trace their lived experience to the illuminating presence of a universal idea. His love for aphorisms itself, in his consideration, reflects this possibility: is it a “general or common feeling with man” or “a peculiarity of [his] own mind”? He was to contemplate this style of question often during his later life, and in some ways this puzzling alternative is his most extensive bequeathment to us.

It is even arguable that, for all his reputation for long-windedness, Coleridge was an aphoristic thinker in the traditions of Stendahl, Pascal, and Nietzsche, to name a few. He wrote such complex sentences so that he could arrive at simple truths; or, more importantly, at methods for resolving real social issues into a harmony of understanding on all sides. In our own time we have tended to aphorize him for the sake of social media reductionism (sometimes into total silence!). Coleridge never said “Poetry: the best words in the best order,” but that phrase is a lot snappier than what he really said. Yet, he might not have minded so much having his work compacted in such a way—not the best words in the best order, perhaps, but at least words in an order. After all, there is nothing stopping us from doing the exact opposite.

Adam Neikirk (@tweets4thedead) is a PhD student in Creative Writing currently under examination at the University of Essex. His thesis comprises a verse biography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge together with a critical commentary. Adam’s creative and critical writings have appeared in the Coleridge Bulletin, the Charles Lamb Bulletin, and in Creel: an anthology of creative writing. He is the Communications Officer for the Charles Lamb Society.


Bibliography

Barbeau, Jeffrey. Coleridge’s Assertion of Religion: Essays on the Opus Maximum. Leuven: Peeters, 2006.

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. The Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Volume 5: 1820-1825, edited by Earl Leslie Griggs. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.

—-. The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Volume 4: 1819-1826, edited by Kathleen Coburn. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990.

Evans, Murray. Sublime Coleridge: The Opus Maximum. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Marshall, Tom. Aesthetics, Poetics and Phenomenology in Samuel Taylor Coleridge. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020.

Woolf, Virginia. The Death of the Moth and Other Essays. London: The Hogarth Press, 1942.

Romantic Generations

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The Romantic Studies Association of Australasia (RSAA) is excited to share the line-up for their upcoming online conference Romantic Generations 

8th-11th December

Tune in for sessions showcasing some of the best new research in our region and beyond. Papers will engage the most pressing questions and concerns for our field right now, including the legacies of colonialism, climate change, aesthetic and poetic powers, literature and science, and romantic studies’ relation to Indigenous knowledges. Abstracts, bios, and registration information available via the website.

Keynotes: 

Nikki Hessell, “Songs of (Settler Moves to) Innocence” 

Tobias Menely: “This Curse Upon Everlasting Generations: Towards a Literary History of Reproductive Crisis” 

Olivia Murphy: “Jane Austen for Modern Living”

Miranda Stanyon (ECR keynote): “Generation Xile: Andromache to Auerbach” 

Registration is free! Just join the RSAA. 

Click here to learn more about the event and RSAA.

Introducing Romanticism: A new Routledge Historical Resources product

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Romanticism is an exciting new online platform that brings together the best and most relevant scholarship from Taylor & Francis, its imprints, and its authors.

It is the third offering from the new Routledge Historical Resources online programme that has been created to provide both academics and students with an in-depth research tool for studying the long Nineteenth Century through thematic collections in areas such as Feminism, the History of Economic Thought, Culture and the Arts and Empire, among others.

This resource covers the fascinating subject of British and Irish Romanticism and will focus on the period 1780-1830. It contains an extensive range of primary and secondary resources, including full books, selected chapters, and journal articles, as well as new thematic essays and videos, and subject introductions on its five key structural themes:

·         Critical Concepts

·         Genre

·         History and Politics

·         Culture

·         Modern Critical Approaches

There is a video introduction from the Academic Editors Professor Duncan Wu, Professor John Strachan and Dr Jane Moore in which they introduce the subject of Romanticism and the resource as a whole. The resource also contains an image gallery of photographs and illustrations that can be used in teaching and study.

Our rich metadata at chapter and article level makes searching for the content you need efficient and effective. Users can refine searches by subject, region, period, notable figure and contributor as well as conduct keyword searches.

Click here for more information and a free trial.

Radical Roundtables

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The interdisciplinary nineteenth-century journal, Romance, Revolution and Reform (RRR), warmly invites you to attend Radical Roundtables, a series of virtual discussions on radical nineteenth-century themes, to be held on Wednesday 19th January 2022.

Romanticists may be interested in the following two roundtables in particular:

12.30-1.30pm: From Palmares to Pantisocracy: Unrecognised Models in the Romantic Political Imagination

Speakers:

Dr Valentina Aparicio (Queen Mary)

Rory Edgington (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)

Sarah Copsey Alsader (Kent)

Chair: Professor Stephen Bygrave (Southampton)

You can find out more about the discussion topic and register to attend on Eventbrite here

2-3pm: Radical Working-Class Poetry in the Romantic Period

Speakers: 

Prof Robert Poole (UCLan)

Dr Alison Morgan (Warwick)

Dr Oskar Cox Jensen (UEA)

Chair: John Blackmore (Exeter)

You can find out more about the event and register to attend on Eventbrite here.

We hope to see you there in January!

Midwinter Keats

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The Keats Foundation is delighted to present a short programme of lectures and talks on Zoom, as a trailer for the resumption of events in 2022. The seminar will start at 1500, UK time on 8 January 2022, with the following speakers: 

Dr. Daniel Johnson (University of Notre Dame)

Prof. Greg Kucich (University of Notre Dame)

Prof. Beth Lau (California State University, Long Beach)

Winifred Liu (University of St Andrews)

Prof. Fiona Stafford (University of Oxford)

Prof. Susan Wolfson (Princeton University)

Free tickets are available here.