Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era 9780754657880, 9781315243917

In tracing those deliberate and accidental Romantic echoes that reverberate through the Victorian age into the beginning

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Table of contents :
Half Title
Title Page
Copyright Page
Table of Contents
List of Figures
Notes on Contributors
Introduction: Romanticism and the Victorians
1 A Finer Tone: Victorian Lives of Mrs. Barbauld and Mrs. Shelley
2 ‘Wandering between Two Worlds’: The Victorian Afterlife of Thomas Chatterton
3 Dead Keats: Joseph Severn, John Keats and the Haunting of Victorian Culture
4 ‘The Wind Blows Cold Out of the Inner Shrine of Fear’: Rossetti’s Romantic Keats
5 Rival Cultures: Charles Dickens and the Byronic Legacy
6 ‘Mr Osborne’s Secret’: Elizabeth Gaskell, Wives and Daughters and the Gender of Romanticism
7 ‘Fallen Angels’: Hardy’s Shelleyan Critique in the Final Wessex Novels
8 Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Victorian Versions of Byron and Wollstonecraft: Romantic Genealogies, Self-Defining Memories and the Genesis of Aurora Leigh
9 Wordsworth, Hopkins and the Intercession of Angels
10 ‘Echoes of that Voice’: Romantic Resonances in Victorian Poetic Birdsong
11 ‘Infinite Passion’: Variations on a Romantic Topic in Robert Browning, Emily Brontë, Swinburne, Hopkins, Wilde and Dowson
12 Liberating Boyhood
13 Prometheus Rebound: The Romantic Titan in a Post-Romantic Age
Selected Bibliography
Recommend Papers

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Romantic EchoEs in thE VictoRian ERa

For Lily, andrew Radford In memory of my Grandmother, Mollie ‘Whose light adorned the world ...’ (P.B. Shelley, Alastor) mark sandy

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

Edited by andREw RadfoRd University of Glasgow, UK and maRk sandy Durham University, UK

First published 2008 by Ashgate Publishing Published 2016 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017, USA Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business Copyright © andrew Radford and mark sandy 2008 andrew Radford and mark sandy have asserted their moral right under the copyright, designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the editors of this work. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Romantic echoes in the Victorian era. – (the nineteenth century series) 1. English literature – 19th century – History and criticism 2. Influence (Literary, artistic, etc.) – history – 19th century 3. Romanticism – Great Britain i. Radford, andrew d., 1972– ii. sandy, mark, 1970– 820.9’145 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Romantic echoes in the Victorian era / edited by andrew Radford and mark sandy. p. cm. — (the nineteenth century series) includes bibliographical references and index. isBn 978-0-7546-5788-0 (alk. paper) 1. English literature—19th century—History and criticism. 2. Influence (Literary, artistic, etc.)—history—19th century. 3. Romanticism—Great Britain. i. Radford, andrew. ii. sandy, mark, 1970– PR468.R65R625 2008 820.9’145—dc22

isBn 13: 978-0-7546-5788-0 (hbk)


contents List of Figures Acknowledgements Notes on Contributors introduction: Romanticism and the Victorians Andrew Radford and Mark Sandy 1 a finer tone: Victorian Lives of mrs. Barbauld and mrs. shelley Lisa Vargo

vii viii ix 1 15

2 ‘wandering between two worlds’: the Victorian afterlife of thomas chatterton Julie Crane


3 dead keats: Joseph severn, John keats and the haunting of Victorian culture Andrew Bennett


4 ‘the wind Blows cold out of the inner shrine of fear’: Rossetti’s Romantic keats Sarah Wootton


5 Rival cultures: charles dickens and the Byronic Legacy Vincent Newey 6 ‘mr osborne’s secret’: Elizabeth Gaskell, Wives and Daughters and the Gender of Romanticism James Najarian 7 ‘fallen angels’: hardy’s shelleyan critique in the final wessex novels Andrew Radford 8 Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Victorian Versions of Byron and Wollstonecraft: Romantic Genealogies, Self-Defining Memories and the Genesis of Aurora Leigh Marjorie Stone 9 wordsworth, hopkins and the intercession of angels J.R. Watson 10 ‘Echoes of that Voice’: Romantic Resonances in Victorian Poetic Birdsong Mark Sandy




123 143



Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

11 ‘Infinite Passion’: Variations on a Romantic Topic in Robert Browning, Emily Brontë, swinburne, hopkins, wilde and dowson Michael O’Neill


12 Liberating Boyhood Ve-Yin Tee


13 Prometheus Rebound: the Romantic titan in a Post-Romantic age John Holmes


Selected Bibliography Index

225 231

List of figures 1 dante Gabriel Rossetti, ‘La Belle dame sans merci’ (c. 1855)


2 G. sanders, ‘Lord Byron at 17’ (1807)


3 henry scott tuke, The Bathers (1889)


4 henry scott tuke, August Blue (1894)


5 henry scott tuke, Noonday Heat (1903)


6 henry scott tuke, Noonday Heat (1911)


acknowledgements the editors would like to thank durham University and the University of Glasgow, respectively, for terms of research leave in 2007 that helped to bring this project to its successful completion. they would also like to thank the following for permission to reproduce material: the British museum, London, for permission to reproduce dante Gabriel Rossetti, ‘La Belle dame sans merci’ (c. 1855). Registered number (1910, 1012.2). © the British museum. The Byron Journal for permission to reprint a revised version of Vincent newey, ‘Rival cultures: charles dickens and the Byronic Legacy’, The Byron Journal 32 (2004): 85–100. © The Byron Journal. the Rare Books, special collections, dalhousie Library, canada, for permission to reproduce G. sanders, ‘Lord Byron at the age of 17’. the state hermitage museum, st Petersburg, for permission to reproduce david caspar friedrich, Moonrise (Two Men on the Shore) (1835). © the state hermitage museum, st. Petersburg. the tate Gallery, London, for permission to reproduce henry tuke, August Blue (1894) oil on canvas, 122 cm x 183 cm. © the tate. Every effort has been made to trace or contact all copyright holders of illustrations reproduced in Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era. the editors would be pleased to rectify any omissions brought to their notice at the earliest convenience.

notes on contributors Andrew Bennett is Professor of English at the University of Bristol. amongst his publications are three books on Romantic poetry, all published by cambridge University Press: Keats, Narrative and Audience: The Posthumous Life of Writing (1994), Romantic Poets and the Culture of Posterity (1999), and Wordsworth Writing (2007). his current research includes a book on questions of nescience in Romantic and post-Romantic literature entitled On Literary Ignorance (manchester University Press, forthcoming), and work on the influence of Romanticism in contemporary culture. Julie Crane teaches in the department of English studies at durham University. Her main interests are in fiction and forgery of the eighteenth century, and the development of the novel from the eighteenth to the nineteenth century. John Holmes is a Lecturer in English at the University of Reading. he is the author of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Late Victorian Sonnet-Sequence: Sexuality, Belief and the Self (ashgate, 2005) and of a number of articles on Renaissance and Victorian literature. he is currently writing a book on the poetry of darwinism as part of a Leverhulme Research fellowship on darwinism, poetry and poetics. he is also the treasurer of the British society of Literature and science. James Najarian is an associate Professor of English at Boston college, where he directs the ma program. he is the author of Victorian Keats: Manliness, Sexuality, and Desire (Palgrave-macmillan, 2002), as well as many articles on nineteenthcentury poetry and prose. he is currently at work on two projects; one on keats and the novel in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and another on the conception of the ‘minor poet’. Vincent Newey is Professor Emeritus at the University of Leicester. he has published extensively on the literature and culture of the Romantic and Victorian periods, including Centring the Self: Subjectivity, Society and Reading from Thomas Gray to Thomas Hardy (scolar, 1995), Mortal Pages, Literary Lives: Studies in NineteenthCentury Autobiography (joint editor, ashgate, 1996) and The Scriptures of Charles Dickens: Novels of Ideology, Novels of the Self (ashgate, 2004). he is an editor of The Cowper and Newton Bulletin and The Byron Journal. Michael O’Neill is Professor of English at durham University and a director of the University’s institute of advanced study. he has published widely on shelley, and on other Romantic and twentieth-century poets. his most recent books are


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

The All-Sustaining Air: Romantic Legacies and Renewals in British, American, and Irish Poetry since 1900 (oxford University Press, 2007) and (co-edited with charles mahoney) Romantic Poetry: An Annotated Anthology (Blackwell, 2008). Andrew Radford is a Lecturer in the department of English Literature at the University of Glasgow, scotland. his most recent books are Thomas Hardy and the Survivals of Time (ashgate, 2003) and The Lost Girls: Demeter-Persephone and the Literary Imagination, 1850–1930 (Rodopi, 2007). he is currently completing a reader’s guide to Victorian sensation fiction (under contract with Palgrave-macmillan). Mark Sandy is a senior Lecturer in English studies at durham University. he is author of Poetics of Self and Form in Keats and Shelley (ashgate, 2005) and coeditor (with michael o’neill) of four volumes on Romanticism: Critical Concepts in Cultural and Literary Studies (Routledge, 2006). he has been a contributor of articles on Romantic poetry to Romanticism and The Keats-Shelley Review. most recently, he contributed to a collection of critical essays on Romanticism and Form, ed. alan Rawes (Palgrave, 2007). he is currently researching two projects, one on Romantic legacies in twentieth-century American fiction and, the other, on forms of Romantic grief. Marjorie Stone, Professor of English at dalhousie University, canada, has published Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1995), and articles and essays on the Brownings, tennyson, dickens, Gaskell, and christina Rossetti. she has co-edited Literary Couplings: Writing Couples, Collaborators, and the Construction of Authorship (wisconsin 2006), Elizabeth Barrett Browning: A Bicentenary Issue (Victorian Poetry, 2006), and Elizabeth Barrett Browning: An Annotated, Selected Critical Edition (forthcoming, Broadview). current projects include The Elizabeth Barrett Browning Archives and Nineteenth-Century Literary History, and work as a Volume Editor for The Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (under contract, Pickering and chatto). Ve-Yin Tee is assistant Professor of English at nagoya University of commerce and Business, Japan. he was previously based at the University of york where he completed his PhD in English Literature. His research interests are in the fields of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century poetry and art history. he is currently working on a book based on his doctoral thesis, After the Revolution: Coleridge, Revision and Representation 1793–1818. Lisa Vargo is an associate Professor in the department of English at the University of saskatchewan, specialising in late eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century British poets, especially the Byron-shelley circle and Romantic women writers. she has published articles on Graham Greene, Percy Bysshe shelley, mary shelley, anna Jameson, anna Barbauld, and mary Robinson. she is co-editor with allison muri of an edition of Anna Barbauld’s Poems, 1773 (Romantic circles Electronic Editions) and has published two editions of writings by mary shelley: Lodore (Broadview Press) and Spanish and Portuguese Lives, which is part of mary shelley’s

Notes on Contributors


Literary Lives and Other Writings, General Editor nora crook (Pickering & chatto). her most recent publication is an edition of thomas Love Peacock’s Nightmare Abbey (Broadview Press, 2007). J.R. Watson is Emeritus Professor of English, durham University, where he taught from 1978 to 1999. in retirement he has continued to lecture and write on the topic of literature and religion, and is currently General Editor of a project to provide a replacement for John Julian’s Dictionary of Hymnology (1892, 1907). Sarah Wootton is Lecturer in English studies and deputy director of the Romantic dialogues and Legacies Research Group at durham University. she has published on nineteenth-century art, literature, and the legacy of the Romantic poets. her first book was Consuming Keats: Nineteenth-Century Representations in Art and Literature (Palgrave-macmillan, 2006) and she is currently working on her next book, The Rise of the Byronic Hero in Fiction and on Film (under contract with Palgrave-macmillan).


Romanticism and the Victorians andrew Radford and mark sandy

words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred, and of ourselves and of our origins, in ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.

wallace stevens 1

I Our epigraph identifies a literary moment where modernist poetics self-consciously echoes and is haunted by the spectral figure of Romanticism. Wallace Stevens’s ‘keener sounds’ are suggestive of both those precise verbal allusions and other accidental repetitions that occur within literary works.2 first published in 1935, steven’s close of ‘the idea of order at key west’ recalls keats to delineate those ghostly patterns of indistinct interstices between Romanticism and modernism, and nearly some hundred years earlier, between Romanticism and Victorianism. in 1837 the coronation of Queen Victoria – in spite of the fact that she had ascended to the throne in 1830 – marked for many critics a decisive rupture between the Victorian era and its Romantic antecedents. her coronation became a seminal historical event and convenient shorthand for dividing nineteenth-century cultural sensibilities into two distinct camps. How artificial and fragile this division is can be easily gauged from the other arbitrary historical occurrences (including the passing of the first Reform Bill in 1832 and william wordsworth’s demise on 23 april, 1850) cited as evidence of a rift between Romantic and Victorian sensibility.3 Behind these critical attempts to map the topography of nineteenth-century literature lurks a category error that readily conflates shifts in historical periods with differences in literary wallace stevens, Ideas of Order, in Wallace Stevens: Complete Poems (London: faber, 1984), pp. 117–62. 2 John hollander usefully distinguishes between this double meaning of ‘echo’ which, in a strict literary critical sense, operates at the level of deliberate allusion and, in a less restrictive sense, is an accidental (conscious or unconscious) repetition by a writer. this latter sense of ‘echo’ closely approximates harold Bloom’s conclusion that literary ‘criticism is the art of knowing the hidden roads that go from poem to poem’. see hollander, The Figure of Echo: A Mode of Allusion in Milton and After (Berkeley and Los angeles: University of california Press, 1981), pp. ix–x. see also harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry. 1973 (oxford: oxford University Press, 1975), p. 96. 3 Joel Faflak and Julia M. Wright, Nervous Reactions: Victorian Recollections of Romanticism (albany, new york: state University of new york Press, 2004), p. 2. 1


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genre and form. our timely collection re-evaluates these two keenly contested nineteenth-century cultural fields and reflects a burgeoning concern with issues of periodisation and definition amongst contemporary scholars of this period.4 debates centre on the precise nature of the relationship between Romantic and Victorian literature to provide critics with an opportunity to revisit those Romantic echoes which with ‘keener sounds’ reverberate, through the responses of Victorian men and women of letters, into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Certainly, the careers and writings of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and felicia hemans have done much to disrupt those boundaries marked out by literary histories of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that consolidated conceptions of Romanticism and Victorianism which persist today. One of the most influential of these histories, hugh walker’s exhaustive The Literature of the Victorian Era, is constructed on an explicitly patriarchal and monarchical model of literary succession that overlooks the historical roles played by women poets in the 1820s, ’30s, and ’40s almost entirely by segregating them on the basis of their sex.5 writing in a period that saw the rapid expansion of print culture, the growth of the annuals, and the precipitation of new genres such as the dramatic monologue, those women writers passed over by literary historians after walker speak to the cultural, generic and thematic continuities connecting poetry in the early to the mid-nineteenth century. Literary Modernism may have translated the Romantic figure of the prophetpoet atop a rocky promontory in communion with nature into the existential, angstdriven, isolated writer confined to the garret. But much earlier these Romantic myths of the artist as a solitary genius, sage, and mystical shaman were bequeathed to the Victorians as much as they were reinforced, even initiated, by Victorian editors and biographers who, influenced by their own age of economic and political individualism, contributed significantly to the mythology and hagiography of Romantic authors. Victorian writers developed during a period in which Romantic poetry and walter scott’s transformation of romance were being fashioned and widely distributed. this 4 see andrew Elfenbein, Byron and the Victorians (cambridge: cambridge University Press, 1995); stephen Gill, Wordsworth and the Victorians (oxford: clarendon, 1998); c.c. Barfoot, ed. Victorian Keats and Romantic Carlyle: The Fusions and Confusions of Literary Periods (amsterdam: Rodopi, 1999); Richard cronin, Romantic Victorians: English Literature 1824–1840 (London: macmillan-Palgrave, 2002); kenneth daley, The Rescue of Romanticism: Walter Pater and John Ruskin (athens: ohio University Press, 2001); anthony h. harrison, Victorian Poets and Romantic Poems: Intertextuality and Ideology (charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1992); clyde de L. Ryals, A World of Possibilities: Romantic Irony in Victorian Literature (columbus, oh: ohio state University Press, 1990); donald d. stone, The Romantic Impulse in Victorian Fiction (cambridge, ma: harvard University Press, 1980). See also more recently Joel Faflak and Julia M. Wright, eds, Nervous Reactions. 5 hugh walker, The Literature of the Victorian Era (cambridge: cambridge University Press, 1910). walker describes the period between Romantic “kings of thought” and the “new kings” of the Victorian era (tennyson and Browning) as “the interregnum,” and packs all of the women poets (including EBB) who might call in question such a literary genealogy into a brief section entitled “the “Poetesses” – the seventh and last subsection of a chapter on “the minor Poets: Earlier Period.” we would like to thank marjorie stone for this pertinent observation.



dissemination of a revitalised world of romance propagated a fresh Romantic sense of the author as a hero, an inspired magician, or even divine seer. the literary artist was invariably seen as a human deity, able to summon a new world into existence through the power of imagination. George henry Lewes’s conception of the ‘true artist’ draws upon what he believed was a ‘Romantic’ notion of the creative geniusmagician who trusts the impulses from within, rather than the demands from without.6 ‘this world was never meant for genius!’ contended Edward Bulwer Lytton. ‘to exist, it must create another’.7 But there was also the anxious sense of charlotte Brontë that the possessor of ‘the creative gift owns something of which he is not always master – something that at times strangely wills and works for itself.’8 Our volume traces and reconfigures this desire of Victorian writers to possess, master and discipline the zeitgeist of Romanticism, so that what they conceived of as Romantic bears the stamp of a supposedly more civilised and rational Victorian age. yet all the time there is a neurotic fear that the potentially subversive, ungovernable essence of Romanticism will begin to work independently and possess the Victorian possessor. These negating and affirming concatenations of Romanticism in the Victorian mind are amplified by the literary example of Charles Kingsley’s pseudoautobiographical account of Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet (published in 1850, the same year as wordsworth’s death): they fed, those poems, both my health and my diseases; while they gave me, little of them i could understand, a thousand new notions about scenery and man, a sense of poetic melody and luxuriance as yet utterly unknown. they chimed in with all my discontent, my melancholy, my thirst after any life of action and excitement, however, frivolous, insane, or even worse.9

when alton stumbles upon a used bookstore and surreptitiously begins to read the Romantic secular literature forbidden by his mother, the first literary works he consumes – Childe Harold, Lara and The Corsair – are Byronic compositions at their most Romanticised and have telling positive and negative effects on the boy. that Byron’s poetry feeds both the eponymous protagonist’s ‘health’ and ‘diseases’ measures the ambiguous yet sustained fascination that Romanticism held for many subsequent nineteenth-century intellectuals. its allure is a heady mixture of aspiration and transgression, the ennobling and the subversive, which continues its appeal to the present day. more generally this chance lighting upon Byron’s literary legacy, in Alton Locke, signifies the tangled and conflictual tensions that attended the emerging category of Romanticism in the mid-nineteenth century. this sense of the Byronic sensibility as highly fanciful is in contrast with Byron’s portrait

George henry Lewes, Versatile Victorian: Selected Critical Writings of George Henry Lewes, ed. with intro. Rosemary ashton (Bristol: Bristol classical, 1992), p. 145. 7 Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Zanoni (London: Everyman, 1985), p. 236. 8 charlotte Brontë, Preface to Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights (harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987), p. vi. 9 charles kingsley, Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet: An Autobiography, ed. Elizabeth cripps (oxford: oxford University Press, 1983), p. 31. 6

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in kingsley’s ‘thoughts on shelley and Byron’ (1853).10 in this essay, Byron is a ruthlessly pragmatic, politically savvy patrician; he represents everything that is amorphous, elliptical and seductive about the poetic arts. here, as for many other Victorian writers, the uncomfortable power and irresistible attraction of Romanticism furnishes an imaginative space for a sustained scrutiny of energies that their own modern industrialised civilization tended publicly to deplore, neglect, or even violently suppress. so as kingsley argues elsewhere, in ‘Burns and his school’ (1848), the political and economic concerns of Romantic poetry must be disregarded from any responsible and measured consideration of its intrinsic merit: That we find in [Burns’s] poems no mention whatsoever of the discoveries of steamboats and spinning-jennies, the rise of the great manufacturing cities, the revolution in scottish agriculture, or even in scottish metaphysics. But after all, the history of a nation is the history of the men, and not of the things thereof; and the history of those men is the history of their hearts, and not of their purses, or even of their heads.11

the substance of great Romantic poetry, kingsley maintains, consists not of political polemic or social consciousness, but instead of personal emotions. in particular, working-class poets like Robert Burns were better off trying to improve their literary sensibilities, and leaving political engagement well alone. for the most part, kingsley is determined not to see Burns’s politics as a relevant condition of his artistry. this Victorian act of sanitising scrutiny and reinvention is rarely a carefully controlled performance; the Romantic ghosts conjured up can take over and even inhabit their conjuror. as this set of critical essays demonstrates, the reawakened spirit of a Romantic writer is often heavily freighted with associations which problematise any straightforward image; slyly modifying the trajectory of a narrative; the conventions of a genre; the voice of a poem; or the consciousness of a given mode. II Victorians dramatically revised Romantic aesthetics as much as they redrew Romantic literary lives. these nuanced echoes and rewritings of Romantic lives, reputations and sensibilities proliferate in the mid-nineteenth century. it is evident from the numerous biographies published between 1840 and 1900 that the concept of ‘memoir’ becomes a restraining, neutering device, which permits family members and friends to demonstrate not just scholarly control over the subject matter, but to exert dominion over a potentially ‘unruly’ and contrary subject. to return to kingsley’s response to Romanticism; the poet Percy Bysshe shelley epitomises everything that is wrong with Romantic poetry. Unlike Byron’s supposed and extrovert masculinity, ‘shelley’s nature is utterly womanish. not merely his weak points, but his strong ones, are those of a woman, kingsley writes, ‘tender and pitiful charles kingsley, ‘thoughts on shelley and Byron’ 1853, in The Works of Charles Kingsley, vol. 20 (London: macmillan, 1880–85), pp. 35–8. 11 charles kingsley, ‘Burns and his school.’ 1848, in The Works of Charles Kingsley, vol. 20 (London: macmillan, 1880–85), pp. 127–84. 10



as a woman; and yet, when angry, shrieking, railing, hysterical as a woman’ (p. 47). shelley’s deviance from proper gender categories is constructed as an outward sign of his deeper inward deficiencies. yet for all their omissions, evasions and elisions, Victorian biographical accounts necessarily preserve a powerful sense of a ghostly repetition or echo of what has been exorcised or silenced. while it is vital to consider just how deeply Romanticism is haunted by Victorian revisions, it is just as necessary to acknowledge the startling insights the Victorians had to offer about their immediate antecedents. while matthew arnold, judging writers in terms of their ‘healing power’, wrote off shelley as ‘ineffectual’, and kingsley blamed him for inspiring ‘a spasmodic, vague, extravagant, effeminate, school of poetry’,12 other Victorians saw shelley as the incarnation of thomas carlyle’s hero as poet: he alone among the English Romantics, according to Lewes, was a ‘seer’ offering the ‘Gospel’ of ‘Love and hope’ to the nineteenth century.13 an unavoidable paradox here is that the Romantics to their Victorian ‘inventors’ are seen as both the liberators of the individual imagination and the first to counsel against the excesses of individualism. Jeremy Bentham, for example, no less than Byron (or wordsworth in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads [1798]), expressed dissatisfaction with outworn conventions and provided a philosophical rationale for the release of individualist energies. as far as the Victorians were concerned, no such thing as a homogenous Romantic impulse existed. although the term ‘Romantic’ was not applied to the poets as a group until late in the nineteenth century, the awareness that ‘a revolution in English literature’ (as kingsley called it in 1853 in his ‘thoughts on shelley and Byron’) had taken place was apparent as early as 1831. George macauley, reviewing thomas moore’s biography of Byron, recognised that for all their differences and mutual antipathies wordsworth and Byron were part of the same new literary current, typified by imaginative reverence towards nature and a preoccupation with elliptical introspective mechanisms and singularities of selfhood. ‘what mr. wordsworth had said like a recluse’, stated macauley, ‘Lord Byron said like a man of the world, with less profound feeling, but with more perspicuity, energy, and conciseness.’14 the self-willed Byronic hero and the selfmade industrialist were both indebted to the revolutionary spirit that liberated the individual from the hidebound, humourless dictates of a past that obstructed their earnest attempts at self-realisation. clearly, the Romantic poets differed from each other in crucial respects; and each individual poet presented distinctive aspects to different Victorian admirers and detractors. Victorian writers, artists and intellectuals were repeatedly divided about the exact meaning and function of Romantic ideas and preoccupations. it is, then, hardly surprising that the latter half of the nineteenth century was marked by bitter struggles over the ways in which the concept of Romanticism and its tropes should be claimed charles kingsley, ‘thoughts on shelley and Byron’, p. 360. George henry Lewes, ‘shelley and the Letters of Poets’, Westminster Review 57 (1852): 502–11. 14 George macauley trevelyan, ‘moore’s Life of Lord Byron’, in Critical and Historical Essays, vol. 2 (London: macmillan, 1876), p. 347. 12 13

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or refuted by various cultural, political and ideological programs. Such conflicting Victorian reconstructions are typified by Arnold and Oscar Wilde as mediators of opposing facets of the Byronic legacy. arnold stands at a polarity to wilde’s ‘dandyistic’ position. Arnold’s essay of 1881 on Byron first situates the poet as a lamentable exemplar of indiscipline, where negligence in art is one with lax attitudes and weak-mindedness. to arnold, Byron epitomises ‘vulgarity’ – ‘the moment he reflects, he is a child’15 – and reproduces the line of the tory reviewers’ attacks on John keats and Leigh hunt earlier in the century. yet arnold too comes to take an ambiguous view of Byron. Byronic passages, epitomised by the dying Gladiator in canto iV of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, become Arnoldian touchstones of fine instinct and restorative classic beauty – part of the iconography of a superior liberal humanism. In our own time, both sides of Arnold’s conflicting evaluation of Byron have been justified. focusing on the intellectual exchanges between walter Pater and John Ruskin, the two most prominent Victorian critics of art, gauges the extent to which Romanticism surfaced as an expansive site of disputed meaning. Pater’s championing of sympathy as the utmost moral principle is indebted to Romanticism, but owes its origins as much (if not more so) to shelley’s writings as wordsworth’s own. no where more precisely than in shelley’s A Defence of Poetry (1821; published posthumously 1840 [1839]) is Pater’s brand of aestheticism anticipated. Shelley’s advocacy of the humanizing power of the imagination and the artist as an unorthodox social critic is adopted by, and refracted through, Pater’s own critical responses to scientific empiricism, institutionalized religion, and a stuffy middle-class Victorian morality. through both harmonious and often quarrelsome encounters Romanticism emerged as a site of intense political and cultural conflict. Victorian exchanges with their Romantic inheritors uncovered both ruptures and continuities between the spirit of Romanticism and that of the Victorian era. Ruskin emphasised discontinuities between Victorian and Romantic culture and found Romanticism a troubling, existentially angst-ridden, presence. Alternatively, Pater insisted on the superficial nature of these cultural tensions and on a persistent Romantic spirit that survived through shifting aeons. where Ruskin found cultural disjuncture and a perversely re-imagined Romanticism in the Victorian period, Pater found cultural stability and productive continuities between his own historical moment and former times.16 these antithetical responses to the Romantic behest to Victorian culture are instructive for further reflection on ‘Romanticism’ as an emergent term and its subsequent evaluations. Unlike European Romantic writers, those exponents of British Romanticism never referred to their own literary work or age as ‘Romantic’.17 matthew arnold, ‘Culture and Anarchy’ and Other Writings, in cambridge texts in the history of Political thought (cambridge: cambridge University Press, 1992), p. 227. 16 for a detailed discussion of these contrary reactions of Pater and Ruskin to Romanticism see kenneth daley, The Rescue of Romanticism: Walter Pater and John Ruskin (athens, oh: ohio UP, 2001), p. 6; pp. 2–3. hereafter RR. 17 see david B. Pirie, ‘introduction,’ The Romantic Period. Penguin history of Literature. Vol. 5. Ed. david B. Pirie (harmondsworth: Penguin, 1994), p. vii. hereafter TPR. see also michael o’neill, ‘Preface,’ Romanticism: Critical Concepts in Literary and Cultural 15



Those fiercely contested debates over the Schegels’ distinction between the Classical and Romantic on the continent never sparked such controversy in Britain. in this context, the emergence of British Romanticism was accidental, patchy, and even plodding and literary historians remain uncertain about the precise meaning of this nomenclature in Victorian Britain.18 as a literary taxonomy, the word ‘Romantic’ did not really come into its own until the earlier part of the twentieth century.19 in its fullest sense, the term ‘Romantic’ became associated with a group of visionary, outspoken, dissenting, artists who both sought to understand humanity’s relation to the universe and reform society through the transformative power of the imagination. Even with this more evolved twentiethcentury understanding of the ‘Romantic’ and its attendant ‘Romanticism’, it is clear that there remain important aesthetic and ideological differences between, for instance, the diverse artistry of william Blake, william wordsworth, charlotte smith, Byron, Shelley, Keats, John Clare, and Felicia Hemans. For all of these difficulties with semantics, it is clear that a significant, revolutionary, even modern, literary, artistic, philosophical, and political movement transformed the cultural scene in Britain and on the continent from the 1780s to the early 1830s.20 Victorian thinkers and writers were attuned to the hidden modernity within the discourse and practices of British and European Romanticism. for example, in anticipation of Pater’s own late Romantic preoccupations, the Victorian critic, W.J. Courthope, identified Romanticism’s fascination with the unbridled force of the imagination and subjectivity (as well as the rejection of conventional social values) as distinctive of modern literary traits.21 throughout the nineteenth century, we witness writers trying to position and re-position themselves in relation to the contradictory poles of Romanticism – exemplified by the second hand bookshop episode in kingsley’s Alton Locke – as revitalising restoration and sick contagion. as Victorian authors negotiate these opposing views, they conjecture about recovering those beneficial Romantic elements from its sickening excesses and ascertain whether the Romantic legacy is ‘healthy’ or ‘diseased’. III one of the aims of this present collection is to explore more fully how the legacies of Romanticism were disseminated and modified in Britain during the second half of the nineteenth century; attuned to the knotty, mutually determining relationship between Romantic and Victorian literatures. what transpires as a dominant concern from this relational struggle between the Victorians and so-called ‘Romantics’ is how best to dispose of those literary and cultural remains of Romanticism. alert Studies. 5 vols. Eds michael o’neill and mark sandy (London: Routledge, 2006), p. xxiii. hereafter RCC. 18 these observations are indebted to kenneth daley’s discussion of the reception of madame de staël’s D’Allemagne. see RR, pp. 2–3. 19 see david B. Pirie, TRP, p. vii. 20 see RCC, p. xxiii. 21 kenneth daley examines courthope and Pater and the modern tendencies they identified in Romanticism. See RR, pp. 4–5; pp. 12–13.


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

to the difficulties of navigating this Romantic repository, the essays collected in our volume meditate on the contradictory impulse of Victorian writers that both exorcise and invocate the spirit of Romanticism and its afterlives. these exorcisms and invocations are as much concerned with the spiritual as they are with disposing of those material vestiges of Romanticism bequeathed to the Victorians. what unites the critical essays collected here is a sense that Victorianism is restlessly measuring and defining itself over and against the Romantic, while disclosing a deep fascination for what is lost, forsaken, compromised or vanquished, through these re-workings and re-definitions of Romanticism. Such Victorian reactions, frequently, found themselves possessed by a similar prescient duality intrinsic to the Romanticism that they intentionally and unintentionally defined and distorted, possessed and dispossessed, silenced and echoed. these numerous Victorian evocations of their Romantic literary forefathers equally attest to the lasting effects of Romanticism and its enduring legacies. chapter one, entitled ‘“a finer tone”: Victorian Lives of mrs Barbauld and mrs shelley,’ examines how and why Victorian biographies translated the literary careers and personal lives of anna aikin Barbauld and mary wollstonecraft shelley into shadowy, spectral versions of their former selves. anna Barbauld and mary shelley, as Lisa Vargo observes, both came from prominent families who played decisive roles as public intellectuals well into the nineteenth century; the families became acquainted through the intellectual circle of writers associated with late eighteenthcentury radical publisher Joseph Johnson. for Vargo, the literary careers and afterlives of these two significant women writers reach across the two chronological extremes of Romanticism, as Barbauld’s first writings predate what is usually seen as its beginning, while mary shelley was still writing when Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1830. And in spite of their pedigrees as figures associated with progressive polemic, it is largely through the ‘salvaging’ endeavours of their descendents (including Lucy aikin, anna Letitia Breton, Grace a. Ellis, and anne Thackeray Ritchie) that their careers as women working actively in the field of letters are manufactured to fit more narrowly conceived models of female literary authority and decorum. these often narrow biographical conceptions of the private and public achievements of Barbauld and shelley are interpreted as symptomatic of the wider transformation and reception of the woman writer in a period that spanned approximately a century: from the time of Barbauld’s publication of her Poems in 1773 – a volume that was itself a key progenitor of Romantic writing – to the appearance of mrs. Julian marshall’s 1889 life and letters of mary shelley. Victorian biography serves as a cultural project through which their authorial subjects are moulded into those demure forms that were fashioned to consolidate Victorian notions of propriety, as well as female modesty, and spawned those estranged entities known as ‘mrs. Barbauld’ and ‘mrs. shelley’. this fascination of Victorians with versions of Romantic lives and afterlives forms the subject of our second chapter. Julie crane’s essay, ‘“wandering between two worlds”: the Victorian afterlife of thomas chatterton’, addresses chatterton’s haunting presence in the nineteenth century as one of the symptoms of the vexed relationship between Romanticism and Victorianism. henry wallis’s painting of Chatterton – first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1856 and modelled by the young



George meredith – achieved iconic status for the poet and set the seal on the image of chatterton which, in some sense, had been struggling to manifest itself since the poet’s suicide in 1770. focusing on count fosco, the villain of wilkie collins’s The Woman in White (1860), crane shows how chatterton’s reputation was a target for satirical salvoes. fosco’s cutting remarks tauntingly mock the poet’s appeal to a predominantly female Victorian readership, while the squalor of chatterton’s death in an eighteenth-century garret – read by his detractors as a consequence of and punishment for moral delinquency and literary imposture – had been transfigured into the tranquil, sanitised death of wallis’s portrayal. that this pointed reference to chatterton should feature, crane contends, in a novel by collins obsessed with notions of mistaken identity, impostors, and a snatched inheritance is significantly revealing about Victorian responses to chatterton as an authentic and inauthentic figure of Romanticised mythology. Crane addresses these ghostly ‘appearances’ or echoes of chatterton in Victorian writing, and the myriad generic forms these assume, to investigate the precise nature of how chatterton’s writing and mythic reputation was creatively assimilated and repudiated by dickens, Eliot, Robert Browning and Arnold amongst other influential Victorian writers. chapter three foregrounds the materiality of the interment of John keats and Joseph Severn and shares with the first two essays in our collection an interest in the way that Romantic lives and reputations were decomposed and recomposed by their Victorian inheritors and detractors. andrew Bennett’s essay, ‘dead keats: Joseph severn, John keats, and the haunting of Victorian culture,’ meditates on severn’s life-long and pivotal obsession with the tragedy of the premature physical event of keats’s demise to discover that the nineteenth century finds itself in protracted mourning for Keats more so than any other Romantic figure – including Percy Bysshe Shelley – and haunted by the persistent posthumous existence of keats. fate’s cruel cutting short of keats’s genius in its prime is for severn, and keats’s Victorian biographers that followed in his wake, the acid test of keats’s poetic prescience. keats’s inability to sustain an existence within his own time becomes, for Bennett, an allegory of keats’s anachronistic artistic vision which, like the poet’s absent physical presence, takes on a haunting and enduring significance for Victorian and future generations. sarah wootton discusses in chapter four, ‘“the wind Blows cold out of the inner shrine of fear”: Rossetti’s Romantic keats’, the means by which keats’s life and work found precisely this resonance in the mid nineteenth century through the poet and Pre-Raphaelite artist, dante Gabriel Rossetti. Rossetti’s correspondence with harold Buxton forman and a lesser known Victorian author, thomas hall caine, on the subject of Keats provide a powerful insight into the conflicting artistic tensions that governed Rossetti’s dialogic exchanges with Romanticism. Rossetti’s interpretative response to keats’s biography and poetry, wootton suggests, re-appropriates the popular Victorian image of keats as the over-sensitive, much slighted, and tragically stricken weakling poet, for his Pre-Raphaelite legatee’s own artistic agenda. in the myth of a keats murdered at the hands of harsh reviewers, Rossetti found, partly at least, a vindication for the avoidance of his own reading and viewing public. these issues of posthumous anxiety and troubled re-writing go to the very heart of our next chapter by Vincent newey on ‘Rival cultures: charles dickens and the Byronic Legacy’. newey takes as his point of departure Bulwer Lytton’s

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


identification, in England and the English (1833), of the death of Byron in 1824 as a cultural fault-line between the Romantic period and a more ‘Practical’ dispensation, investigating processes of cultural change in the nineteenth century. Bulwer Lytton’s own Pelham; or, Adventures of a Gentleman (1828) and disraeli’s Venetia (1837) are two novels understood as crystallising the influence of Byron in the years following his death. the earlier of these two novels, Pelham, newey maintains, anticipates dickens’s own mixed response to Byron’s inheritance and the later social concerns of the dickensian novel that found both England’s social structure and institutions wanting. these continuities between dickens and Byron are almost as striking as the discontinuities; dickens’s social consciousness registers the actual present state of affairs in the world whereas Byron as social pariah imagines a future that gauges a profound absence and desire for the transcendent. with differing vantage points outside of – or on – British society both Byron and dickens grieve for and honour humanity’s sadly fallen spiritual and social state. in chapter six, ‘“mr osborne’s secret”: Elizabeth Gaskell, Wives and Daughters, and the Gender of Romanticism’, James najarian reads Elizabeth Gaskell against a current critical tendency to stress her novels’ impassioned social purpose. social concerns were certainly high on Gaskell’s agenda but, for najarian, they are a part of a deeply conflicted program. By recognising Gaskell’s poetic concerns, Najarian re-evaluates her work both as a Victorian novelist and as a post-Romantic writer. what emerges from this critical re-evaluation is a strong sense of how Gaskell subtly remoulds Romantic and post-Romantic assumptions about gender and its role in the creation of literary texts. though perhaps not politically radical and maverick in any conventional sense, given that she questions normative poles of gender only to reinforce them, there is however a case to be made for her poetically revolutionary status. far from assuming a disciple’s role in a line of female poets, in the manner of those writers in anne k. mellor’s Romanticism and Gender,22 Gaskell interpolates herself into the Romantic inheritance by questioning her culture’s contemporary understanding of these poets and the poets’ ‘masculine’ credentials – what she projects as the inverted and volatile ‘effeminate’ stance of a number of Romantic and contemporary poets, including keats, Byron, shelley and tennyson. in Wives and Daughters, her last, unfinished novel, Gaskell eventually centres her attention on the figure of Keats, exploiting biographical and critical consensus about Keats’s gender in her construction of the languorous, effeminate osborne hamley. Gaskell elides the restrictions of her own femininity by adopting a masculine prose style as an alternative to what she saw as an entrapping effete lyricism. Focusing on Hardy’s representations of the Shelleyan poet in his fiction, chapter seven notes – along with previous contributions from crane, newey and najarian – the mixture of fear and fascination, attraction and repulsion with which Victorian novelists invocated the posthumous presence of Romantic writers. in ‘“fallen angels”: hardy’s shelleyan critique in the final wessex novels’, andrew Radford, the present co-editor of this volume, proposes that there is a sustained tension between the admiring references to shelley in hardy’s correspondence, and the excoriating appraisal of sentimental and idealistic forms of Romanticism in 22

anne k. mellor, Romanticism and Gender (new york: Routledge, 1993).



the mature fiction, culminating in the bizarre black farce, The Well-Beloved (1892, 1897). this novel chronicles, according to Radford, how the driving energies of a ‘shelleyan’ poetic are distorted into aimlessly self-indulgent acts, debunking Lewes’s almost messianic fervour (noted earlier) in 1841 that the ‘vital truth shelley everywhere enforced [...] has become the dominant Idea – the philosophy and faith of this age, throughout Europe – it is progression, humanity, perfectibility, civilisation, democracy’.23 Lewes, like many Victorian liberals, stresses shelley’s dual status as a crusading visionary and political radical, who seeks social improvement through an amplification of those empathetic powers of imagination. But Hardy could not endorse this optimistic view. in his last novels the startling ‘shelleyan’ emphasis on a new way of seeing collapses into angel clare’s unproductive introspection, sue Bridehead’s neurasthenic excesses and Pierston’s grotesquely comic confusions of dream and tangible actuality. hardy conveys an increasingly tormented sense in the 1890s that the ‘shelleyan’ revolution, originally incited to liberate human creative and political potencies had, as Radford concludes, become an ignominious byword for perversely antisocial or reckless behaviour. these Victorian constructions of wordsworth, Byron, shelley and keats, were often as varied and complex as the Romanticism they sought to redefine and fashion in their own image. with these Victorian interventions into the reception of Romantic figures and poetics in view, chapter eight reflects on ‘Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Victorian Versions of Byron and wollstonecraft: Romantic Genealogies, selfDefining Memories, and the Genesis of Aurora Leigh’. marjorie stone draws on theories of cognitive psychology to elaborate a theory of ‘self-defining memories’ and their centrality to constructions of past identities and future aspirations. Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s adolescent recollections (and the mid-Victorian contexts of these personal memories) of her encounters with the writings of Byron and wollstonecraft is interpreted in these psychological terms. in spite of Barrett Browning’s admiration for wordsworth’s poetry, stone notes that in her letters of the 1840s, references to Byron predominate. Barrett Browning, in part at least, champions the Byronic at a time when Byron’s poetry had fallen into disfavour. more surprisingly, in light of her youthful enthusiasm for A Vindication of Women’s Rights, wollstonecraft goes unmentioned in Barrett Browning’s correspondence between 1821 and 1842. Browning’s enthusiasm for wollstonecraft did not entirely disappear during this time so much as go underground only to resurface in her letters, written to the novelist mary Russell mitford, between 1842 and 1844. Both Byron and wollstonecraft were significant creative forces behind the composition of Aurora Leigh in which, stone suggests, the psychological challenge and artistic problem of the Byronic was only surmountable because of Browning’s rediscovery of wollstonecraft. chapter nine pinpoints Gerard hopkins’s unexpected admiration for wordsworth’s ‘ode: intimations of immortality’. J.R. watson observes, in ‘wordsworth, hopkins and the intercession of angels’, that hopkins’s priestly vocation and Roman catholicism enabled him to translate wordsworthian neo-Platonism into a moment of saintly intercession. Poetic art and religious prayer, for hopkins, are inseparable 23 George henry Lewes, Versatile Victorian: Selected Critical Writings of George Henry Lewes, p. 254.


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

as inspiration and are only made possible when those who have become saints, after their mortal existences, intercede on the poet’s behalf and permit a glimpse of the divine. in contrast to his celebration of wordsworth’s ode, hopkins regarded swinburne’s poetry as lacking in genuine sentiment, truth, genius, and failing to address subject matter appropriate to the high calling of poetic art. his dedication to the role of Jesuit priest affected hopkins’s moral character almost as profoundly as his literary sensibility, which endeavoured to navigate between wordsworth’s nobler poetry and the inadequacies of swinburne’s poetic subject. wordsworth, watson believes, exemplifies for Hopkins a Coleridgean union of truth and symbol which finds expression in, and through, the poet as a prophetic-visionary. Coleridge’s depiction of the poet as a vates of the old testament, in Lay Sermons, openly draws upon the biblical imagery of Ezekiel’s chariot; an image employed by hopkins to recast the visionary and prophetic aspects of the poet in priestly terms. By concluding with the poetry of hopkins and w.B. yeats, chapter ten, written by mark sandy, the other co-editor of this collection, juxtaposes Romantic and Victorian poems by John clare, charlotte smith, samuel taylor coleridge, thomas hardy, and matthew arnold, to interrogate Victorian responses to the Romantic trope of birdsong. in ‘“Echoes of that Voice”: Romantic Resonances in Victorian Birdsong’, sandy conceives of the existential anxieties at play in Victorian ornithological poetry as exploring a tragic sensibility already charted by those Romantic lyric harmonies that celebrate the aspiration of a poet’s voice to be identical to the mellifluous melody of birdsong. sandy contends that keats’s ‘ode to a nightingale’ has a movement both towards and away from the poet’s unifying identification with the bird. Keats’s nightingale belongs as much to the long-standing emblem of literary tradition, embodied by charlotte smith’s ‘the Return of the nightingale’, as it does have affinities with more naturalistic depictions of nightingales in John Clare’s later ‘To a nightingale’s nest’. keats’s ‘ode’ calls into question the symbiosis between aspirant poet and melodious poet, between literary symbol and actual bird. By recognising how keats’s ‘ode to a nightingale’ articulates the silent tragedy of Philomela that is its source, sandy suggests that Victorian re-workings – motivated by their own existential crises – of the Romantic motif of birdsong is not, as many critics have maintained, a distinctive break with those ideals of Romanticism. instead Victorian poetry offers an ironic extension of a tragic consciousness present in keats which echoes down through the Victorian era and beyond to be faintly heard in the musical lyricism of yeats’s ‘sailing to Byzantium’. In Chapter eleven, ‘“Infinite Passion”: Variations on a Romantic Topic in Robert Browning, Emily Brontë, swinburne, hopkins, wilde, and dowson’, michael o’neill is attuned to the distinctive yet harmonised notes in Romantic writing and philosophy that valorises passion and feeling, and how they find Victorian approval only to be arranged into a startlingly different orchestration. Robert Browning extends shelley’s sceptical mode of poetics to voice the lyric realisation of the impossibility of language to accurately capture the reality of passion and experience. modifying the sources and poetic sensibilities of coleridge and shelley, Emily Brontë’s poetry, o’neill suggests, dramatises and ventriloquises what wordsworth understood as those strange fits of passion to create a poetic self highly sensitised to both visionary potentiality and volitional acts of will. through sappho and the other singers of his



poetry swinburne voices a passion derived from Romantic aspirations toward the otherworldly but one that, ultimately, falls short of endorsing a shelleyan yearning for an unattainable ideal. instead swinburne’s lyrical monologues exist forever in moments of poised and expectant elated anguish. these Victorian explorations of passion and will are embodied, for o’neill, in hopkins’s poetry and its reclamation of the English language as a poetic medium. indebted to his Romantic predecessors, Hopkins interfuses more secularised definitions of passion with his own religious convictions and arrives at a sense of passion that is tantamount to what is understood as experiencing. finally, focusing on the tensions that exist between the ideal and the real and the conflicting – often contradictory – passions they evoke, O’Neill discovers in Ernest dowson and oscar wilde a poetic treatment of passion that fuses together those literary traditions of Romantic and decadent writing. shifting emphasis away from Victorian writers’ negotiations with individual Romantic poets and their work, chapter twelve considers the key role, already noted by sarah wootton in her essay, played by Victorian visual art in these cultural transactions of desire between Victorianism and Romanticism. taking The Bathers (a painting by the lesser known Victorian artist, henry scott tuke) as his starting point, Ve-yin tee reconsiders, in ‘Liberating Boyhood’, the value and meaning of boyhood in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. first exhibited in 1889, tuke’s depiction of young male nudes signpost the historically and culturally contingent conceptions of boyhood with its (socially and sexually) ambiguous status which, Ve-yin tee claims, was further exacerbated by reliance on child labour in the early half of the nineteenth century. Even wordsworth the great poetic advocate of the importance of boyhood, in his ‘ode: intimations of immortality’ and The Prelude, was divided on the issue of the increasing number of children that comprised the labour force. wordsworth, Ve–yin tee demonstrates, objected to children being set to toil in the factories and mills, but saw nothing wrong with child labour in the agricultural industries and open fields of rural communities. these ambivalences surrounding wordsworth’s and coleridge’s valorisation of the Romantic child were subsequently re-invented as the figure of the Victorian boy in tuke’s painting which can be, simultaneously, scrutinised as a condemnation of nineteenth-century child labour and an exemplar of a healthy and well-exercised boy – from his exertions in the mill or factory – for his social peers to emulate. the Romantic child’s sexual androgyny was equally open to exploitation by some Victorian artists and writers that found in the reinvented figure of the Victorian boy a laudable means to bespeak their own unspoken homoerotic desires. Our final chapter concentrates on the redeployment of the specific Romantic figure of Prometheus in response to the altering Victorian political, cultural, and artistic scene. in ‘Prometheus Rebound: the Romantic titan in a Post-Romantic Age’, John Holmes gives specific attention to the 1860s to suggest how Romantic constructions of Prometheus – by Percy and mary shelley, and Byron – were a richly fertile yet profoundly ambivalent symbol suggestive of creative, scientific, political, and spiritual overreaching. these moral ambiguities of the Promethean symbol are somewhat curtailed later by those political and spiritual agendas of writers as diverse as karl marx and Richard hengist horne. such programmatic renderings of the myth of Prometheus were so constraining that those sceptical of Romanticism, like kingsley, were openly satirical and scathing of this central Romantic archetype. for


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

holmes, the 1880s coupled with the rehabilitation of Percy shelley’s reputation saw a renewed interest in the mythological figure of Prometheus from nascent writers (for instance, John addington symonds, Robert Bridges, mark andré Raffalovich and wilfrid scawen Blunt), who sought to distinguish themselves as poets by recourse to earlier Romantic paradigms. when these writers’ own creative aspirations encountered despondency in an apparently post-Romantic climate, they discovered in the deeply ambivalent and transcendent Romantic figure of Prometheus a perfect symbol of their own internal turmoil and existential agony. These various visual and literary representations of Romantic figures and concepts in Victorian culture shaped the inception of Romanticism as a cultural phenomenon well into the twentieth century. these cultural dialogues testify to the strength of Romanticism’s own influential, innate qualities which, even though they were both repudiated and affirmed by their Victorian legatees, ensured that Romanticism materialised as a significant literary and artistic movement. Whether Romanticism’s inheritors acquiesced with or revolted against its aesthetic and political values, their positive or negative reactions to these Romantic concepts enriched and intensified the Victorian artists’ treatment of those personal, artistic, religious, social, and cultural dilemmas that confronted them. Romanticism has been a much debated category ever since the word’s first coinage as a technical term in eighteenth-century Europe. confusion over the terminology and ideology associated with Romanticism is now so acute that in our own time it has come to signal the intractable dilemmas of literary history itself, questioning the rationale and conventional practices behind the periodisation and taxonomy of literature. Renowned for their own taxonomies of knowledge, the Victorians were unable to represent a pointed, coherent and unified Romantic phenomenon and, unwittingly, contributed to the serious semantic and historical instability of Romanticism, which has wider and far-reaching implications for literary classification and historiography. For the Victorians, Romanticism is figured as an arena of questioning, of variation, slippage and fragmentation, of prevalent antitheses: revolutionary and counter-revolutionary, realist and Romantic, bracingly cosmopolitan and fiercely nationalist, democratic and aristocratic, restorationist and utopian, republican and monarchist. this Victorian reception and creation of Romanticism prefigures many of the persistent contradictions that characterise twentieth- and twenty-first-century Anglo-American responses to and exchanges with Romanticism. the longevity of Romanticism’s cultural legacy should not be underestimated. that the remainders of poststructuralism and postmodernism still engage with Romantic modes of writing, aesthetics, philosophy and perception measures acutely the vibrancy of the Romantic impulse, which continues to modify our responses as artists, critics, theorists, and readers in what is often, mistakenly, defined as the post-Romantic era of the twenty-first century.

chapter 1

a finer tone: Victorian Lives of mrs. Barbauld and mrs. shelley Lisa Vargo

keats’s well-known comment about the afterlife, that we ‘shall enjoy ourselves here after by having what we called happiness on Earth repeated in a finer tone and so repeated’, captures the spirit and method of Victorian biographies of the lives of anna aikin Barbauld (1743–1825) and mary wollstonecraft shelley (1797–1851). Both women came from intellectual dissenting families who worked for social reform, and they represent the chronological extremes of Romanticism: Barbauld’s first writings predate what is usually seen as its beginning, while Mary Shelley was still active as a writer when Queen Victoria ascended the throne. in spite of their familial connections with progressive ideas, it was largely through the efforts of their descendents that their writing careers were remodelled to reverberate with the finer tone of Victorian female decorum and a reluctance to publish. this retelling of their lives does not remain in the family, as both women are subjects of biographies by Victorian women writers who are scrutinizing their own place in the world of letters. in so doing, the two Romantic writers are made to echo notions of Victorian propriety in their form as entities known as ‘mrs. Barbauld’ and ‘mrs. shelley’. at the same time some telling discords suggest that female literary authority cannot be so easily written to resonate with a finer tone of passivity. it is helpful to map out the territory for each writer’s biographical treatment, which in the case of anna Barbauld begins with her death. the model for all subsequent lives of Barbauld is provided by the memoir her niece Lucy aikin included with the 1825 Works of A.L. Barbauld, a selection in two volumes of Barbauld’s writings which sets out the family’s desires concerning her posthumous reputation. clara Lucas Balfour’s 1854 ‘a sketch of mrs. Barbauld’ is written by an advocate of advancement for women and part of Working Women of the Last Half Century: The Lesson of Their Lives. A flurry of interest occurred in the 1870s, with the most notable life being another family contribution, anna Letitia Le Breton’s 1874 Memoir of Mrs. Barbauld, in which her great niece adds new information about Barbauld’s marriage and her husband’s mental illness and suicide. Grace a. Ellis’s Life and Letters of Anna Letitia Barbauld, also 1874, appeared just before the Memoir; her 1884 ‘Biographical sketch’ attached to a volume of writings takes advantage of Le Breton’s additions, as do Jerom murch’s Mrs. Barbauld and Her Contemporaries


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

(1877)1 and the 1883 A Book of Sibyls by anne thackeray Ritchie. a.B. Brodribb’s life for the Dictionary of National Biography appeared in 1885. incidents relevant to the life of mary shelley are included in accounts of the life of her husband, poet Percy shelley.2 a starting point for works about mary shelley in her own right is the brief portrait of ‘mrs. shelley’ by Richard horne in A New Spirit of the Age (1844),3 an updated version of william hazlitt’s 1825 Spirit of the Age. the work was attacked for its outspoken judgments and horne ranks mary shelley as belonging in the ‘aristocracy of genius’. according to Emily sunstein, the specific incident that inspired Mary Shelley’s life rewritten in a finer tone was a rector’s initial refusal to bury shelley and her parents in Bournemouth churchyard. thereafter began on the part of sir Percy shelley and his wife, sunstein explains, ‘a beatifying reaction’.4 the family commissioned a sculpture of mary clasping the drowned body of shelley and established a shrine of artifacts in their home. Lady shelley sought to correct the record with her privately printed four-volume collection of letters Shelley and Mary (1882).5 By the time Lady shelley had mobilised her forces, one brief account had already constructed the life of mary shelley to echo the conventional marriage plot so acceptable to Victorian bourgeois ideology: George Gilfillan’s biography for Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine, subsequently collected in A Gallery of Literary Portraits (1845), initiates her diminished role as wife of shelley.6 Eliza Rennie’s 1860 Traits of Character; Being Twenty-Five Years’ Literary and Personal Recollections includes a portrait of her acquaintance with mary shelley. the most sustained work is mrs. Julian (florence) marshall’s two-volume The Life and Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1889), commissioned by Lady shelley to correct attacks directed towards mary shelley’s reputation in connection with the story of the abandonment of Shelley’s first wife in biographies of Percy Shelley by Edward trelawny and by thomas Jefferson hogg.7 Lucy madox Rossetti’s 1 see Jerom murch, Mrs. Barbauld and Her Contemporaries: Sketches of Some Eminent Literary and Scientific Englishwomen (London: Longmans, Green and co., 1877). 2 these include thomas medwin’s The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1847), thomas Jefferson hogg’s The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1858), thomas Love Peacock’s ‘memoirs of shelley’ (1858, 1860), as well as Edward John trelawny’s Recollection of the Last Days of Shelley and Byron (1858, rev. 1878). 3 see R.h. horne, ed., A New Sprit of the Age, second edn, 2 vols (London: smith, Elder and co., 1844). 4 see Emily sunstein, Mary Shelley: Romance and Reality (Boston: Little, Brown, 1989), pp. 385, 389, hereafter MSRR. 5 sunstein suggests that Lady shelley carried these activities to an extreme and ‘insisted that mary shelley had been a saint, claiming, for instance, that a pencil portrait of mary that sir Percy and she had found at casa magni had been worshipped as the Virgin by a local peasant’ (MSRR, p. 395). she describes how ‘Jane made her boudoir into a museum displaying relics, manuscripts, and portraits, an entirely appropriate undertaking if she had not called it ‘the sanctum’ and expected admittees to be church-reverent’ (MSRR, p. 389). 6 See George Gilfillan, ‘Mrs. Shelley’, Modern Literature and Literary Men, Being a Second Gallery of Literary Portraits. 3rd american edn (new york: d. appleton, 1857), pp. 251–63. 7 mrs. Julian (florence) marshall, The Life and Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, 2 vols (London: Richard Bentley, 1889; rpt. new york: haskell house, 1970). hereafter LLMS.

A Finer Tone


Mrs. Shelley. Eminent Women Series (1890) provides a view that somewhat contests the perspective promoted by the shelley family. an entry in the Dictionary of National Biography by a friend of the shelley’s, Richard Garnett, keeper of western manuscripts at the British Library, appeared in 1897. when anna Barbauld died in 1825 at the age of 82, mary shelley was three years a widow and considering how she might support herself and her son through her writing. Barbauld’s family was at work constructing her posthumous legacy. the family especially wished to address two matters: the negative reception of her prophetic millenarian poem Eighteen Hundred and Eleven, published when she was sixty-nine, and a more private family grievance concerning the nature of her marriage. Remembering the hurt that negative reviews of the poem from the conservative tory press caused her aunt, Lucy aikin creates a narrative of a woman who was extraordinarily capable but thoroughly modest, and never self-assertive. as william mccarthy has argued, aikin, herself a writer, was attempting to overcome hostile tory opinion, ‘representing her as a safely, conventionally “feminine” woman, one who knew her place and need not be feared’.8 Barbauld’s life is written by aikin with this script in mind. in her early years her mother is described as directing her education (with her father depicted as having to overcome his scruples to teach her Latin and some Greek) and displaying ‘vigilance’ and ‘instilling into her a double portion of bashfulness and maidenly reserve’.9 in her youth she was ‘possessed of a great beauty’ and of person ‘slender, her complexion exquisitely fair, with the bloom of perfect health; her features were regular and elegant, and her dark blue eyes beamed with the light of wit and fancy’ (WALB 1, pp. ix–x). it is her brother (John aikin the father of Lucy) who makes her overcome her reluctance to publish and it is he who ‘selected, revised, and arranged’ her poems for publication and soon after published Miscellaneous Pieces, in Prose with him. if her writings brought her fame and she ‘might have been expected to proceed with vigour in rearing the superstructure’, she instead married Rochemont Barbauld (WALB 1, pp. xii, xiii, xiv). The marriage to Rochemont Barbauld forms a second significant theme of the dutiful wife, which is intertwined by Lucy aikin with displays of feminine modesty. at the same time, Barbauld’s literary activity can never merely resonate with this script of propriety. if aikin wishes to diminish the accomplishments of Rochemont Barbauld, in so doing she ironically advances those of his wife. after her marriage Barbauld turned down the invitation to run a college for ladies, presented as ‘a monument of her acuteness and good sense’, as well as a sign of her humility (WALB 1, pp. xvi, xvii). and yet the school for boys at Palgrave is a success due to her ‘literary celebrity’ and ‘active participation’ (WALB 1, pp. xxiv, xxv). her brother was said to have felt that ‘her powers were wasted in supineness and or in trivial occupation’ (WALB 1, p. xxxv). a resumption of literary pursuits was motivated by her desire to find ‘solace under the pressure of anxieties and apprehensions of a peculiar and most distressing nature’, brought on by the illness of her husband (WALB 1, p. xliii). william mccarthy, ‘why anna Letitia Barbauld Refused to head a women’s college: new facts, new story’, Nineteenth-Century Contexts 23 (2001): 364–5. 9 Lucy aikin, The Works of Anna Lætitia Barbauld With a Memoir, 2 vols (London, 1825), 1, p. viii, hereafter WALB. 8

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


aikin steers a careful course with respect to how she values her aunt’s writings. aikin names her writings for children, in particular Hymns in Prose for Children, the fairest ‘monument’ of ‘the elevation of her soul and the brightness of her genius’ (WALB 1, p. xxx). when she comes to address her most controversial poem, Eighteen Hundred and Eleven, it is not on the terms of literary merit that Lucy aikin makes a defense. feminine emotion at the mercy of male force means that the poem is the work of ‘a true patriot, a heart which feared because it fondly loved’, while the ‘scorns of the unmanly, the malignant, and the base’ critics made her lay aside her intention of a new edition of her poems (WALB 1, pp. li, lii). In her final years she is described as someone who never displayed pride or envy and was reluctant to believe ill of anyone and never dropped a single friendship (WALB 1, pp. liv, lviii). this loving account provides the authority for Victorian readings of Barbauld whose authors quote generously from aikin’s Memoir while following their own scripts which echo propriety. of particular interest are the biographies of clara Balfour and Grace a. Ellis (later oliver), who present Barbauld as a model worthy of emulation, and in so doing reflect on their own place as women of letters through opposing perspectives on women’s place in society. But as aikin’s own account hints, Barbauld as writer chafes against the frame into which she is put. two incidents provide particular cruxes for interpretation. Barbauld’s refusal to head a college for women is a matter that has been analyzed by william mccarthy as having been somewhat distorted by aikin to serve her purposes of depicting a feminine Barbauld. Because Victorian readers could not put the long letter on the subject aikin quotes in its context as mccarthy has done, Barbauld’s reasons for declining seem puzzling given her own excellent education. Writing from what they feel is sufficient distance, Anna Letitia LeBreton and Anne thackeray Ritchie dismiss the matter as the echo of opinions of an earlier age. LeBreton registers that in these days it is ‘curious to read in mrs. Barbauld’s answer the reasons she gives for declining the offer’.10 anne thackeray Ritchie matter of factly summarises, ‘her arguments seem to have been thought conclusive in those days, and the young ladies’ college was finally transmuted into a school for little boys at Palgrave, in norfolk, and thither the worthy couple transported themselves’.11 clara Balfour and Grace a. Ellis oliver, on the other hand, make use of the incident to advance their opposing perspectives on the place of women. for clara Balfour, who was a writer, public lecturer, and advocate of reform in women’s education, it means coming to her defense. Balfour suggests ‘we may well feel surprised at miss aikin’s doubts and fears as to the wisdom of such a method of instruction. she had importunately sought from her father sound and liberal culture for herself, and yet she either entertained his prejudices against increasing the range of female education, or her diffidence rendered her objection to such a scheme

anna Letitia LeBreton, Memoir of Mrs. Barbauld, Including Letters and Notices of Her Family and Friends (London: George Bell and sons, 1874), p. 46, hereafter MB. 11 anne thackeray Ritchie, A Book of Sibyls (London: smith, Elder, & co., 1883), p. 19. 10

A Finer Tone


insuperable’.12 as neither seems an acceptable explanation, Balfour reasons out the matter: the charming frankness and modesty of this statement are beyond praise. surely the prejudices of society that so often then (may we not add now?) made female education consist in the attainment of mere shewy accomplishments, calculated to make a graceful artiste rather than a good and sensible woman, were at the root of her reluctance to enter upon the work of teaching her own sex. she could have taught principles; society demanded a few brilliant results. she could have improved the mind; society was anxious only as to the manner. the system of getting as much acquirement as will display to advantage, in the shortest possible time, and at the least expense, was then, and is now, the obstacle to all real reform in female education. (SB, pp. 13–14)

in looking at the possibilities allowed women’s education Balfour suggests that things are not so different between late eighteenth-century and mid-nineteenthcentury England. she records her sense of regret and realities, and concludes with an imaginative projection into Barbauld’s mind: ‘it must have been considerations such as these that disinclined Mrs. Barbauld from entering on the very difficult work —difficult because of false theories and inconsistent requirements, and which led her to prefer assisting in the education of boys’ (SB, p. 14). social pressures and not personal conviction made Barbauld reject the project. Barbauld’s action echoes Balfour’s own frustrations in her campaign on behalf of women’s education.13 Grace a. oliver is not bothered by Balfour’s feminist convictions. Rather than use Barbauld as a means to echo present wrongs, the refusal to head a college for women confirms the justness of Oliver’s conservative perspective: ‘She gave them her views on the subject in a letter which contains so much good sense and sound reasoning that her statement is worthy of note as the opinion of one who was an ornament to her age and sex. With some modifications, which a century with its inevitable changes brings, the reasoning is as sound to-day as it was then, and it is worthy of attention as the view of a cultivated woman, and also something of a picture of her own early training’.14 for oliver rightly used reason allows women to recognise that they should not claim a place with men. she echoes this sentiment ten years later as mrs. Grace Ellis: at the present day some of her reasons against a more extended course of learning for women may not be equally cogent; but her statement is worthy of note as the opinion of a finely educated, intelligent, intellectual woman, who was an ornament of her age and sex. On the whole, with slight modifications, her reasoning is as just and sound for the present time as it was then, and is deserving of calm consideration as the view of a clara Lucas Balfour, A Sketch of Mrs. Barbauld. Working Women of the Last Half Century: The Lesson of Their Lives (London: w. & f.G. cash, 1854), pp. 11–12, hereafter SB. 13 see kristin G. doern, ‘Balfour, clara Lucas (1808–78)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 28 Oct 2006]. 14 see Grace a. Ellis oliver, ‘Biographical sketch’. Tales, Poems and Essays. By Anna Letitia Barbauld (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1884), p. xxxiii, hereafter TPE. 12


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era thoroughly educated woman on the subject. Her objections to the plan naturally influenced the advocates of it, and it was abandoned as impractical.15

this expanded statement makes some gesture towards women’s education but pushes harder at the notion that the truly educated women knows better than to enter into areas where she is not suited, and it is Barbauld’s authority that makes those who proposed the college abandon the plan. if Balfour locates the logical inconsistencies in social expectations, Ellis oliver echoes the kinds of contradictions that are presented by her subject, whose own perspective, in spite of Lucy aikin’s suggestions to the contrary, was decidedly more progressive. a second matter is Barbauld’s literary authority, which is subsequently pondered by women who were themselves writers. Balfour and Ellis oliver document Barbauld’s writing career as a matter either sanctioned or hindered by men. But despite their opposing politics, in different respects they make clear that Barbauld is not ultimately subject to male influence. Balfour points out that Barbauld’s brother served as her protector, but ambition did not mean she ignored her own belief in the importance of the role of educator: Her brother, Dr. Aikin, meanwhile was not satisfied that his sister, whose powers of mind were so original and superior, should spend her life in the occupation to which she was devoted, honourable and valuable as that doubtless was. he wished her to contribute more frequently to the poetic literature of her country. it is, perhaps, the most admirable view we can take of the character of the subject of our sketch, that no desire for fame, no consciousness of her great powers, tempted her to neglect the solemn trust confided to her by the parent of her pupils. her time, her talents, during the years that she was engaged in tuition, were all given to the one object. and when it is remembered how absorbing the duties of an instructor are, it is gratifying to know that mrs. Barbauld did her work as work, in real continuous earnestness. (SB, pp. 16–17)

as someone who herself campaigned on its behalf, Balfour suggests that education is a higher calling than writing, and she insists that Barbauld is able to reject her brother’s advice in favour of her own beliefs. Balfour transforms the story of the attacks on Eighteen Hundred and Eleven and her refusal to publish any more poetry into a matter of the victory of firmly held persuasions: ‘This poem exposed its authoress, then an aged woman, to the most severe attacks and cruel animadversions from political opponents. to a mind so constituted as hers, however, undeserved censure, while it might have the power to wound, would never change her principles; she appealed in all her writings to a higher tribunal than human authority or popular applause’ (SB, p. 26). It seems significant that Balfour does not subscribe to the suggestion that Barbauld was cowed by male opinion and emphasises her conviction rather than her reluctance to publish. if Balfour quietly highlights the latent determination in aikin’s account of her aunt, oliver considers how Rochemont hindered her output: ‘one can only revere and admire the more the fortitude and courage, and the true wifely devotion of mrs. 15 Grace a. Ellis, A Memoir of Mrs. Anna Laetitia Barbauld, With Many of Her Letters, 2 vols (Boston: James R. osgood and co, 1874), pp. 56–7, hereafter MAB.

A Finer Tone


Barbauld to her husband. it is no longer a matter of surprise that she did so little literary work after her marriage; the wonder is that she lived so calm and beautiful a life, full of the noblest silence about her cruel lot’ (TPE, p. lxviii). on the other hand the kind of bad treatment she received from male writers was the product of male jealousy: there was a good deal of scurrility written and printed in the letters which come to us from coleridge, Lamb, Godwin and others of that set,–literary men of a certain school. during their lives they were very glad, as we learn, to accept the friendship and hospitality of mrs. Barbauld. Jealousy, or disappointed literary aspirations, often had a part in these gentle personalities, as when Lamb called mrs. inchbald and mrs. Barbauld ‘his bald women,’ nicknamed her Bare bald and the like. (TPE, pp. lxx–lxxi)

Later, when she is mrs. Ellis, oliver repeats aikin’s suggestions about Barbauld’s patriotism and calls the incident a matter of politics that is focused on the personal ‘and wholly unwarranted by the spirit or opinions contained in her poem. she considers the matter in the eyes of professionalism’: ‘the article was neither indicative of good feeling nor literary taste and judgment; being full of personalities, and utterly wanting in discrimination as to mrs. Barbauld’s just and acknowledged claims to respect as a poetess and a literary woman of ability’ (MAB, pp. 274–5). if Ellis makes clear that the poem is ‘wrong’, the severe treatment she received from male critics meant that ‘she laid aside all thoughts of collecting and publishing her works, then long out of print and much sought after, feeling that the day would come when her name would secure respect, and her memory be properly honored; and she left it with perfect confidence “to men’s charitable speeches, to foreign nations and to the next ages”’ (MAB, p. 279). it is ironic that it is not men but her niece and great niece who defend her memory, and it is Ellis herself who presents an edition of Barbauld’s writings to american readers. feminine agency, that quality that her family worked with such diligence to transform so as to echo modesty and submission, is the means by which anna Barbauld receives some sense of legacy in the Victorian period.16 16 Barbauld’s great niece, anna Le Breton draws upon family beliefs to suggest that marriage to Rochemont prevented her from writing: ‘having thus successfully laid the foundation of a literary reputation, she might have gone on to longer and more important works, had not an event, of the greatest consequence in all women’s lives, now taken place which subjected her to new influences, new duties, and station in life’. See MB, p. 41. she suggests that fear and then depression after his suicide kept her from writing and offers a psychological view, that the poem ‘unfortunately reflected too much of the despondency of her own mind, and drew down many severe remarks, notwithstanding the beauty of the verse’ (MB, p. 155), though as a family member she suggests that ‘no one indeed, who loved her, could have wished her to be again exposed to such a shock to her feelings, or such cruel misunderstanding of her sentiments’ (MB, p. 157). LeBreton also offers a view of a supportive woman writer: ‘it is a higher, or at least a rarer commendation to add that no one ever better loved “a sister’s praise,” even that of such sisters as might have been peculiarly regarded in the light of rivals. she was acquainted with almost all the principal female writers of her time, and there was not one whom she failed to mention in terms of admiration, esteem, or affection. to humbler aspirants, who often applied to her for advice or assistance, she was invariably courteous, and often serviceable’ (MB, p. 190).


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

if anna Barbauld married a man her family did not think worthy of her, the details were more or less private during her lifetime; the case of mary shelley proved more complex in that it was well known that she eloped at the age of sixteen with a married man and a subsequent case for the custody of Percy shelley’s children was brought before the courts after the suicide of his first wife. The Aikins famously dissociated themselves from shelley’s family for reasons of propriety. Barbauld’s refusal to visit wollstonecraft after her marriage to Godwin (which made clear she was never mrs. imlay, though the mother of a child with him), was repeated a generation later when Lucy aikin declined to meet mary shelley because of her youthful elopement, though aikin’s nephew declared himself struck by her beauty and manners (MSRR, pp. 18, 338). Betty t. Bennett points out, if Percy shelley was posthumously transformed into a de-politicised ‘ineffectual angel’, mary shelley’s remaking at the hands of her daughter-in-law ‘contributed greatly to the fiction of a reserved woman, content to live in the shadow of P.B. shelley’, while her writings ‘consistently written to advocate social and political reform’ suggest otherwise. Edward John trelawny’s insistence in Records of Shelley, Byron, and the Author that ‘whilst overshadowed by shelley’s greatness her faculties expanded; but when she had lost him they shrank into their natural littleness’ is as Bennett suggests, in keeping with the family’s views after her death to clear shelley of any taint of immorality associated with her youthful elopement with the then-married Percy shelley and is repeated in a gentler way by Richard Garnett is his Dictionary of National Biography entry. 17 alongside the shelley family’s attempts to produce an intellectually timid and orthodox mary shelley are accounts by women seeking to consider her place in the world of letters to make sense of their own activities and convictions, and in this the timid apolitical Victorian lady of a finer tone reverberates with some curiously mixed conflicting impulses. Eliza Rennie, Florence Marshall and Lucy Rossetti create progressively complex portraits of a woman balancing social expectation and intellectual authority. Each account reads mary shelley in a manner that gives voice to personal frustrations, including economic necessity, thwarted accomplishment, and the struggle for independence. Eliza Rennie takes an opportunistic perspective; she emphasises mary shelley’s reticence to justify her own venture into literary biography. the daughter of a clergyman, Rennie made a brief marriage to a man who embezzled her money and turned out to be a bigamist (LGR, p. 93). in Traits of Character (1860) Rennie uses her acquaintance with mary shelley to suggest a deeper and longer friendship than was actually the case. she seems to have met shelley sometime around 1828, but she suggests (without any substantiation) that she knew mary shelley from childhood. if other aspects of her narrative are also open to question, like her insistence that shelley worked as a governess,18 what is interesting is how mary shelley serves Rennie’s purpose in writing. at the beginning of her chapter on shelley she asks, ‘is 17 see Betty t. Bennett, Lives of the Great Romantics: Godwin, Wollstonecraft & Mary Shelley By Their Contemporaries, vol. 3, Mary Shelley (London: Pickering & chatto, 1999), p. x, hereafter LGR. 18 Eliza Rennie, Traits of Character; Being Twenty-Five Years’ Literary and Personal Recollections, 2 vols (London: hurst and Blackett, 1860), 1, p. 106, hereafter TC.

A Finer Tone


it that, in the world-wide fame and colossal genius of the poet-husband, the lesser claims of the wife are merged and forgotten?’ Her answer is a qualified perhaps and she adds ‘i think a partial solution for the circumscribed fame of mrs. shelley as a writer may be traced to her own shrinking and sensitive retiringness of nature’ (TC 1, p. 104). Rennie herself does not seem to be reticent and accordingly she may be seen to making up for this deficiency on Mary Shelley’s behalf. Rennie offers a portrait of a double-faceted mary shelley. one the one hand, she suggests, ‘her undeviating love of truth was ever acted on–never swerved from ... .truth–truth–truth–was the governing principle in all the words she uttered, the thoughts and judgments she expressed’ (TC 1, p. 110). at the same time she traces an extreme reserve on the part of mary shelley with respect to literary authority. shelley is described as ‘almost morbidly averse to the least allusion to herself as an authoress’ (TC 1, p. 113). Rennie sets us a story in which the two women come together: To call on her and find her table covered with all the accessories and unmistakable traces of book-making—such as copy, proofs for correction, &c., &c.,—made her nearly as nervous and unself–possessed as if she had been detected in the commission of some offence against the conventionalities of society, or the code of morality. sometimes, to tease her, i would say—‘well, mary, how much have you written to-day?’ she never condescended to satisfy the enquiry. a pout of the lip and shrug of the shoulder was the only answer elicited. i used to worry her to tell me all about the composition of ‘frankenstein,’ but never obtained aught but meager and unsatisfactory information. i really think she deemed it unwomanly to print and publish; and had it not been for the hard cash which, like so many of her craft, she so often stood in need of, i do not think she would ever have come before the world as an authoress. (TC 1, pp. 113–14)

this portrait of shelley’s literary authority is divided between feminine coquettish gestures of a pout and shrugged shoulder and more ‘unwomanly’ economic necessity. Rennie’s own need for ‘hard cash’ hovers in the background, and she uses her own less retiring nature to present shelley, but she undervalues mary shelley’s authority in insisting she is reluctantly writing for money. she does not reconcile shelley’s love of truth with the sense that it might have inspired her to write. But this would not serve her own purposes as Shelley’s shrinking nature justifies Rennie’s choice to write about her and promote her privileged knowledge of shelley. florence marshall’s writing was not occasioned by economic necessity, yet the tensions she depicts might be seen to echo her own attempts to balance work as a writer, conductor, and composer with marriage.19 the life and letters was commissioned by the shelley family, and if it bears the marks of constraint by the family and by marshall’s middle-class values, there are some intriguing slippages in her account. one striking example is marshall’s insistence that if mary hadn’t married Percy so early she might have achieved more: ‘not only has his name overshadowed her, but the circumstances of her association with him were such as see arthur searle, ‘marshall, Julian (1836–1903)’, oxford dictionary of national Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 28 Oct 2006]. 19

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


to check to a considerable extent her own sources of invention and activity. had that freedom been her lot in which her mother’s destiny shaped itself, her talents must have asserted themselves as not inferior, as in some respects superior, to those of mary wollstonecraft’. marshall might be thinking of her own position when she reflects, ‘As an author Mary Shelley did not accomplish all that was expected of her ... it was in imaginative work that she had aspired to excel, and in which both shelley and Godwin had urged her to persevere, confident that she could achieve a brilliant success’ (LLMS 1, pp. 2–3). Following the examples presented to her by Gilfillan and voiced by the family, marshall believes that only in frankenstein ‘has she left an abiding mark on literature’, but she does not accept that its exceptional status can be attributed to Percy. marshall maintains ‘her powers were very great, her culture very extensive, her ambition very high’ (LLms 2, p. 314). instead it is an early marriage followed by social censoriousness that circumscribes her literary abilities. the closeness of the comment to her own experience suggests that marshall is writing as a Victorian woman aware of the price of the constraints of marriage and respectability. the contention that shelley ‘did not accomplish all that was expected of her’, leads her to ascribe the ‘shrinking and sensitive retiringness of nature’ so commonly elicited by the question to a friend whose account is quoted and who, though unnamed, is Rennie (LLms 2, p. 314). having given the view of a friend, marshall boldly provides her view of the matter: ‘But a true cause lay deeper still, and may afford a clue to more puzzles than this one. what mary Godwin might have become had she remained mary Godwin for six or eight years longer it is impossible now to do more than guess at. But the free growth of her own original nature was checked and a new bent given to it by her early union with shelley’ (LLms 2, p. 316). this comment, carefully contained within so much that is respectful to the shelley family, speaks volumes about the position of middle-class British women in the latter part of the nineteenth century. in recognizing ‘the free growth’ of a woman’s ‘own original nature’, marshall indicates her willingness to see shelley as something more than the self-sacrificing conformist that Marshall herself so willingly promotes on behalf of the shelley family. marshall’s own position prevents her from recognizing that the growth was not as checked and bent out of shape as is thought. yet paradoxically her perspective, as locked as it is within Victorian ideology, allows for a complex reading of Shelley. If it is difficult to read against the biographer’s stated interpretations, doing so unveils the ideological underpinnings of the Victorian finer tone, as well as its potential to undo itself.20 Lucy Rossetti’s Mrs. Shelley is part of a series of biographies of prominent women,21 and like her subject, Rossetti could claim prominence through her own for a more developed exploration of florence marshall’s Life and Letters, see my essay, ‘mrs. Julian t. marshall’s Life and Letters of mary wollstonecraft shelley’, in Nervous Reactions: Victorian Recollections of Romanticism, eds Joel Faflak and Julia M. Wright (albany, ny: state University of new york Press, 2004), pp. 47–64. 21 the ‘Eminent women series’ (all written by women but for the biography of Barrett Browning by John ingram) included lives of George Eliot; Emily Brontë; George sand; mary Lamb; maria Edgeworth; margaret fuller; Elizabeth fry, countess of albany; harriet martineau; mary wollstonecraft Godwin; Rachel, madame Roland, susanna wesley; 20

A Finer Tone


family and that of her husband. she was the daughter of painter ford madox Brown and married the literary editor william michael Rossetti, the brother of christina and dante Gabriel Rossetti. she was a successful painter, though motherhood and ill health forced her to give up art.22 speaking as someone who knows the sort of space that one need claim for oneself Rossetti begins her biography: ‘the daughter of mary wollstonecraft and Godwin, the wife of shelley: here, surely, is eminence by position, for those who care for the progress of humanity and the intellectual development of the race. whether this combination conferred eminence on the daughter and wife as an individual is what we have to enquire’.23 If she fulfills the proscribed Victorian codes of ‘the devoted daughter and mother, and the faithful wife’, at the same time Rossetti makes clear that it is mary shelley’s writings that are ‘the raison-d’être for this biography’ (MS, pp. 238, x). the portrait that is drawn is one of a woman negotiating between expectations of femininity and intellectual independence, which Rossetti characterises as arising from a collision between head and heart. she calls her calm pursuit of intellectual habits ‘the key-note of mary’s character, which, with her sensitive, retiring nature, enabled her to live through the stormy times of her life with equanimity’ (MS, p. 115). she returns to this matter when she suggests after Percy shelley’s death: ‘fortunately for her, her education and her studious habits were a shield against the cold world which she had to encounter, and her accustomed personal economy, which had fitted her to be the worthy companion to her generous husband ... would help her in her present struggle’ (MS, p. 174). mary’s strengths lie in her intellectual abilities which when joined with her retiring nature transform her reticence to a power that enables psychological and economic survival. in invoking the qualities mary shelley drew upon, Rossetti seems aware of the difficulties that beset the woman of letters and this seems what she most admires about mary shelley, who ‘used her powers justly, and drew the line where she was conscious of knowledge; she had real imagination of her own, and used the precious gift justifiably, and thus kept honour and independence, a difficult task for a woman in her position’ (MS, p. xx). she suggests, ‘mary was not of those who can be either bought or sold, and, having the means of subsistence in herself, she could be independent; a letter from her father shows how they were at one on this important subject, and it must have been a great encouragement to her in her loneliness, as she was always diffident of her own powers’ (MS, pp. 175–6). she emphasises this isolation: her life in London, in spite of a few very good friends, often appeared solitary to her; for, as she herself observes, those who produce and give original work to the world require the social contact of their fellow-beings. thus, saddened by the neglect which she experienced, she tried to counteract it by sympathizing with those less fortunate than margaret of angoulême, Queen of navarre; mrs. siddons; madame de staël; hannah more; Elizabeth Barrett Browning; and Jane austen. 22 see angela thirlwell, ‘Rossetti, (Emma) Lucy madox Brown (1843–94)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, may 2005 [, accessed 28 Oct 2006], hereafter MSDNB. 23 see Lucy madox Rossetti, Mrs. Shelley. Eminent Women Series, ed. John h. ingram (London: w.h. allen, 1890), p. 1, hereafter MS.


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era herself; but this, also, is at times a very difficult task to carry out single-handed beyond a certain point. (MS, p. 234)

Rossetti’s account goes beyond that of marshall in appreciating mary shelley’s abilities and strengths. Her account suggests that intellectual and financial freedom is a possibility for women, though also something accompanied by isolation and struggle. for Rossetti mary shelley seems all the more heroic, and embedded in the biography is an implicit critique of society’s indifference to such women, both for their gender and for their unorthodox opinions. An ultimate confirmation of a finer tone is inclusion in the premier Victorian project of biography, the Dictionary of National Biography, initiated in 1882 by George smith with sir Leslie stephen as editor. in the entries for anna Barbauld written by a.a. Brodribb published in 1885, and mary shelley by Richard Garnett published in 1897, the families’ biographical efforts persist. Brodribb lists Lucy aikin, anna Le Breton, and Grace Ellis as his sources, while Garnett suggests, ‘Everything of importance relating to mary shelley may be found in the biography by mrs. Julian marshall, 1889, written with great sympathy and diligence from the family documents’ while Lucy Rossetti’s memoir, dowden’s biography of Percy, and Shelley Memorials receive mention. in following this lead, both accounts rather diminish their subjects’ achievements. Brodribb calls Hymns in Prose for Children her ‘best work’ while Eighteen Hundred and Eleven is ‘written in eloquent but too despondent strains’ though he grants that ‘the readers of her works will readily allow the easy grace of her style and her lofty but not puritanical principles’. Garnett is more dismissive; if Barbauld is described by Brodribb as a ‘poet and miscellaneous writer’, shelley is called an ‘authoress’ and someone who ‘undoubtedly received more than she gave’ in her marriage to Percy shelley.24 the praise while present seems faint; The Last Man ‘though a remarkable book, is in no way apocalyptic, and wants the tremendous scenes which the subject might have suggested’ (MSDNB). the four novels written after her husband’s death are read for their portraits of Byron and Shelley. Exhaustion from writing to send her son to Harrow meant she was ‘unfit to discharge the task which devolved upon her of editing shelley’s works’ and the notes to the edition are ‘slight in comparison with what they might have been, but still invaluable’ (MSDNB). If the lives resound with a finer tone of ‘Mrs. Barbauld’ and ‘mrs. shelley’ and reticence and propriety, these written accounts cannot diminish their achievements as women of letters. it is through reading Victorian women’s biographies that the complexities of their reception and of the place of the women writer in Romantic and Victorian times can be understood as a significant subject.

24 Brodribb, a.a. ‘Barbauld, anna Letitia (1743–1825), poet and miscellaneous writer’. Published 1885. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2005 [, accessed 28 Oct 2006]; Richard Garnett, ‘shelley, mary wollstonecraft (1797–1851), authoress’. Published 1897. see also MSDNB.

chapter 2

‘wandering between two worlds’: the Victorian afterlife of thomas chatterton Julie crane

at the beginning of chatterton’s last and most accomplished Rowley poem ‘an Excelente Balade of charitie,’1 an invitation is extended to the reader to look at a picture. after the setting of the dramatic and evocative opening scene, in which the poor pilgrim, whose ‘miseries of neede’ (WTC i, pp. 645, l, 19) shape the course of the poem, is set into a landscape of gathering storm, the reader is adjured to contemplate his features acutely: Look in his glommed face, his sprighte there scanne; howe woe-be-gone, how withered, forwynd, deade! (22–3)

we do not, however, look at the pilgrim – too many other things are happening. there is the wonderful evocation of storm; everything is atmosphere and shift of light. a whole biography has been subsumed and resolved. the ‘Balade of charitie’ is the last comment upon a life,2 the last voice of a forged identity, and in its very success lies its necessary, its poised art of distancing. its ‘excellence’, that quality so stoutly claimed in its title, is subsumed also into the text: as the supposed discoverer and curator of his antiquities, chatterton was apt to present them to the world with his own accolades laden upon them or around them, but this ‘Excelente Balade’ becomes one with its title with ease and without anxiety. it is an excellent ballad of charity, a ballad of excellent charity, and the ‘gode Prieste thomas Rowley’ (before line 1), hardly necessary as an appendage or apology, can both enter the poem in the form of the good ‘limitoure’ (i, 75) he was alleged to be, and be dissolved within it. still, there remains that adjuration, that invitation, to scrutinise the features of a desperate being, no sooner summoned than dismissed, no sooner realised than all references to chatterton’s text are from The Complete Works of Thomas Chatterton, eds donald s. taylor and Benjamin B. hoover, 2 vols (oxford: oxford University Press, 1971). hereafter WTC. References refer either to volume, page or line numbers. 2 for an alternative view concerning the earlier composition of the poem see donald s. taylor, Thomas Chatterton’s Art: Experiments in Imagined History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978), pp. 155–6; and see also donald s. taylor, ‘the Problems of Rowley chronology and its implications’, Philological Quarterly 46 (1967): 268–76. 1


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

dead – the last adjective, at least, in the list which chatterton accumulates, being easily accessible beside the ‘withered’ and ‘forwynd’ (‘dry’ or ‘sapless’). ‘Glommed’ was one of those words which cast suspicion on the authenticity of Rowley, and was defended by a note by chatterton, as deriving from the saxon word meaning ‘twilight’ – ‘a dark or dubious light; and the modern word gloomy is derived from the saxon glum’ (WTC i, p. 646, n. 18). we are led to think of this description as the poet’s own account of his own state, an early stark description of the branch cut off in its prime – withered at the root, starved of nourishment and dry, dead. we are reminded of Henry Wallis’s use of the first two lines of the concluding Chorus of marlowe’s Dr Faustus as the text accompanying his famous painting ‘the death of chatterton’,3 exhibited at the Royal academy in 1856 and modelled by the young George meredith; and of that whole Romantic habit of accepting literary writing as autobiographical. such an autobiographical reading lends to the lines in the ‘Balade’ the sense of chatterton the pre-Romantic poet preparing for his own portrait; and such an understanding of the poem places it also, of course, at the end of his life, and supposes in the usual Romantic way that his death was suicide and not, as sometimes otherwise supposed, an accident. it is a ballad from a dying poet, then; though, according to these lines, this sudden authorial intrusion, it is a ballad from a poet already nearly dead, who dies before us as we read, in the setting of his own ‘glommed’ landscape, a twilight which is momentarily, literally, his own face, his own self. many years later, francis thompson encountered this face in his own ‘dark or dubious light’, his own twilight landscape of despair. in a situation which peculiarly echoed chatterton’s own, he was deterred by the ghost of chatterton from drinking the final, lethal dose of a quantity of opium he had procured. He was about to drink it under covent Garden arches when the timely appearance of the poet intervened, just as the good ‘limitoure’ in the ‘Balade of charitie’ intervened to allay the desperation of the hapless pilgrim. there was no doubt in thompson’s mind that his saviour was chatterton, though his account of his certainty is paradoxical: ‘i recognized him,’ he told meynell, ‘from the pictures of him’, and he added, ‘besides, i knew that it was he before i saw him.’4 what thompson ‘recognises’ here is what the Romantic poets who succeeded chatterton and preceded thompson had taught him to see; it was an unspoken ‘inheritance’ which needed in a sense no confirmation. The then most recent, most famous and authoritative ‘picture’ of chatterton was that very painting by Henry Wallis, which seems to fix the figure of the boy poet in the Victorian imagination: languid, auburn-haired and refined, with a smartened-up garret and St Paul’s dreaming through an open window, the dead chatterton had arrived for the Victorians with an image which had been struggling to emerge since his suicide in 1770. 3 the lines read as follows: ‘cut is the branch that might have grown full straight, / and burned is apollo’s laurel–bough’. 4 the story was told to w.s. Blunt by wilfrid meynell, and is mentioned in many accounts (though many catholic biographers omit it). see, for example, J.c. Reid, Francis Thompson: Man and Poet (London: Routledge & kegan Paul, 1959), p. 47, quoting Blunt’s My Diaries (1907, rpt. London: secker, 2 vols, 1919–20).

‘Wandering between Two Worlds’


But in thompson’s account of his encounter with the poet, it seems unlikely that this is what he saw or was remembering as a ‘likeness’. Between 1770 and 1856 there had been other ‘pictures’, of varying dubious authenticity, indeed supplying an interesting sideline in forgery to the poet’s own endeavours. Richard holmes, in a compelling essay which takes as its starting point the lines from ‘the Balade of charitie’ advising the reader to ‘look’ into the ‘glommed’ face of the pilgrim, has traced the history of these ‘likenesses’, ending with a tantalising reference to thompson’s vision, and his ‘recognition’ of the poet.5 it is from this essay that, partly, the present account takes its point of departure. for what thompson saw in covent Garden was what all Victorians saw in this spectre, itself the product of a Romantic iconic endeavour; or was at least one of the aspects of chatterton, whose features were infinitely malleable: the poet who was so famously dead, yet also continually available, a warning and an inspiration. Like dickens’s marley, chatterton was dead, to begin with; but not quite dead as a doornail; and with a propensity for wandering as distinct as marley’s own. ‘i recognized him from the pictures of him,’ said thompson; ‘besides, i knew that it was he before i saw him.’ as with all ghosts, the atmosphere of chatterton’s haunting was more vital than any actuality or vividness of feature. a ghost is always willed into being, always comes to a summons from an energy which is ready to receive it. in the ‘glommed’ landscape of such meetings, the detailed ‘pictures’ are unnecessary. thompson’s experience was a matter of simultaneous remembrance and foreknowledge, visiting and being visited, willed creation and passive receptivity. Moreover the ‘pictures’ which he summons as justification of the experience are unlikely to have been wallis’s painting – the plural alone hints at this. he may have known, and have been referring to, those more anguished and austere earlier engravings of chatterton which wallis’s painting had to a degree supplanted in the popular imagined version of him; but also he is recalling that composite ‘picture’ which, together, they signified: that delicate, finely-wrought, willed effort of memory and imagining which goes towards the making of any ghost and any mythical being. the fortunes of the ghostly chatterton had been subject to this vitalising process over the course of the years which separated thomas Rowley and francis thompson’s apparition; and the Victorian imagination inherited a Romantic amalgam of those fortunes. chatterton’s sister collected ‘anecdotes’ which show him to have been a remarkably robust personage – on a Delft cup he was given as a five-year-old he wanted to have painted ‘an angel with a trumpet “to blow his name about”.’6 he said of himself, according to his sister, that ‘he had a work in hand’, – on the subject of his frugality in the matter of eating and drinking – ‘and he must not make himself more stupid than God had made him’.7 in the loving, imaginative iconic re-making of his reputation by the Romantics, such comments were given a terrible 5 Richard holmes, ‘forging the Poet: some Early Pictures of thomas chatterton’, in Thomas Chatterton and Romantic Culture, ed. nick Groom (London: macmillan, 1999), pp. 253–8. 6 E.h.w. meyerstein, A Life of Thomas Chatterton (London: ingpen, 1930), p. 23. 7 meyerstein, A Life of Thomas Chatterton, p. 33.

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


significance, making of their robust pragmatism a heightened luminous figure, remade retrospectively in the light of his death in a holborn garret. nick Groom points out that chatterton is a poet who can seem to have arrived from nowhere, is available to strangeness and spectrality – eating nothing, having no father, leaving no heirs. Even the matter of the trumpet and the angel, says Groom, found its place in the hagiography; for when chatterton went to his rooms in holborn, it was a mrs angell who kept the house, and presumably her voice which ‘trumpeted’ his death ‘up and down holborn’.8 there is, then, on thompson’s part, no ‘scanning of the spirit’ of chatterton through looking into his countenance; but, as for all Victorians, a vital slantedness of vision, a looking around, aslant the being contemplated. But what seems to be an oddly focussed response is a crucial way of understanding a figure who had been made and re-made by his Romantic successors, a way of assimilating an iconic Romantic figure into a Victorian mode. in wilkie collins’s hugely popular novel, The Woman in White, the direct reference to chatterton sits in the midst of ‘the second Epoch’. it is embedded in a long speech by count fosco on the subject of crime: who is the English poet who has won the most universal sympathy – who makes the easiest of all subjects for pathetic writing and pathetic painting? that nice young person who began life with a forgery, and ended it by suicide – your dear, romantic, interesting chatterton.9

this is a succinct biographical account. the contempt expressed by fosco here acknowledges a reputation which has been fixed: Chatterton is safe in the affection of his readers, especially of his female readers, just as the horror of his death in an eighteenth-century garret, to his detractors the outward sign and inevitable end of moral delinquency and literary imposture, has been transformed into the serene, glamorised death of wallis’s painting – for, if thompson saw other, more troubling pictures of chatterton under the arches, there can be little doubt that it was wallis’s painting, exhibited just three years before the publication of The Woman in White, which was the picture behind count fosco’s outburst. moreover, chatterton has been assimilated by a new fashion – the rage for ‘pathos’. But, as Chatterton knew, to take a biography and assimilate it into a fiction is not the ‘easiest of all subjects’ at all: ‘to wryte of a mannis Lyfe’, wrote his poet/priest/ biographer thomas Rowley of his friend and patron william canynge, ‘mote bee enowe to saie of somme he was ybore and deceased odher somme lacketh recytalle [ie others lack recital] as manie notable matteres bee contayned in their Storie [...] (WTC i, p. 228). the more ‘matteres’ in a life, Rowley seems to say, the more danger of that life lacking recital. chatterton writes, perhaps, from the centre of the difficulties inherent in his chosen historicised mode, in which he was caught between biography and chronicle, between an inert ‘lyfe’ and a larger fiction – (the extent to nick Groom, The Forger’s Shadow: How Forgery Changed the Course of Literature (London: Picador, 2002), p. 209. 9 all references to this novel are from wilkie collins, The Woman in White, ed. Julian symons (harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974, rpt. 1984), p. 258. hereafter WW. 8

‘Wandering between Two Worlds’


which he was eventually trapped by the Rowleyan mode is beyond the scope of this essay). But Fosco, speaking of Chatterton, exemplifies a certain inherited Victorian difficulty: how can this life be spoken of or given a ‘recytalle’, that life which was so short in years, so large, indeed unending, in imaginative suggestiveness? a silence greets fosco’s ironic holding-up to ridicule of a settled reputation of the figure of the young poet whom Wordsworth called in ‘Resolution and independence’ ‘the marvellous Boy’.10 or rather – since the chatterton reference comes in the middle of a curious long harangue about the hypocrisy and peculiar temper of the English attitude to crime – it gets swept away by the succeeding energy of the speech. Chatterton sits side by side with profligates, scoundrels, and ‘two poor starving dressmakers’(WW, p. 258), whose differing reactions to poverty are held up for scrutiny – the honest and the dishonest – in a kind of cynical reversal by fosco of hogarth’s apprentices, who reaped the proper rewards of virtue and vice. neither marian halcombe nor her half-sister Lady Glyde spring to the poet’s defence, or admit to spending their evenings reading aloud from ‘aella’ or the ‘Balade of charitie’. chatterton remains the only named criminal in a long speech covering a collection of allegorised villains and dupes. the speech itself even veers away from being addressed to its intended, initial listeners, and ends by being addressed to fosco’s mouse. fosco is one of a range of Victorian characters who maintains, amid all the loquaciousness of the Victorian novel, an alternative mode of speech with small animals; but unlike miss flite or mr Boythorn, he pursues an alternative conversation with his menagerie which is not benevolent. his menagerie is a sinister private world, a means of conveying malign intentions, of working out unsettling ‘transformations’: ‘come here, my jolly little mouse! hey! presto! pass! i transform you, for the time being, into a respectable lady’ (WW, p. 258) – and the mouse is suddenly his intended victim, the ‘mouse’ who by transforming herself from Laura fairlie to Lady Glyde has brought upon herself her own danger, has laid herself open to fosco’s and her husband’s further, more desperate ‘transformation’ – from herself to another, to a mad woman, and an allegedly dead one. In hearing the subterranean, suggestive Chattertonian reference we find the full complexity of the image of the poet evoked: fosco might make chatterton the excuse for a simple harangue which distinguishes between realities – crime and virtue, for instance – but the texture of this novel responds to the subtler workings of the chatterton idea, in its engagement with a personality which has itself been subject to Romantic ‘transformation’, and responds to the doubleness and complication of vision he engendered: the woman in white, anne catherick, is at the beginning of the novel another figure appearing in a summer evening landscape who might be described as ‘woe–be–gone [...] withered [...] forwynd [...] dead’. And when hartright meets her ‘double’, his future wife Laura fairlie, he does not recognise her. what he notes is something missing: mingling with the vivid impression produced by the charm of her fair face and head, her sweet expression, and her winning simplicity of manner, was another impression, which, 10 William Wordsworth: The Major Works, ed. stephen Gill (oxford: oxford University Press, 1984), 43, p. 262.


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era in a shadowy way, suggested to me the idea of something wanting. at one time it seemed like something wanting in her: at another, like something wanting in myself, which hindered me from understanding her as i ought. the impression was always strongest in the most contradictory manner, when she looked at me; or, in other words, when i was most conscious of the harmony and charm of her face, and yet, at the same time, most troubled by the sense of an incompleteness which it was impossible to discover. something wanting, something wanting – and where it was, and what it was, i could not say. (WW, pp. 76–7)

similarly, when marian halcombe scrutinises her sister’s appearance on her return from her marriage tour, it is an indefinable loss which she finds in her features – ‘I miss something when i look at her – something that once belonged to the happy, innocent life of Laura Fairlie, and that I cannot find in Lady Glyde’ (WW, p. 234). such a recognition feeds into the Victorians’ obsession with dual personalities: separated by six months and the mysteries of marriage, Laura fairlie has returned a changed being to the anxious contemplation of her half-sister. the ‘something wanting’ can also be, more terrifyingly, something else – someone else – who can inhabit the being of that loved, known person. Developed in the later fin-de-siècle mode of the double in such characters as dr Jekyll and mr hyde, and in wilde’s Dorian Grey, it is nevertheless found buried in the mid-century novel. The Woman in White is a novel which never quite finds, in a ‘picture’, what it simply expected to find. This is apparent not only in Hartright’s dissatisfaction with his own drawings; on first meeting marian, whom he meets before Laura, he is shocked by the incompleteness of the expected ‘vision’: the easy elegance of every movement of her limbs and body as soon as she began to advance from the far end of the room, set me in a flutter of expectation to see her face clearly. she left the window – and i said to myself, the lady is dark. she moved forward a few steps – and i said to myself, the lady is young. she approached nearer – and i said to myself (with a sense of surprise which words fail me to express), the lady is ugly! (WW, p. 58)

fosco’s reference to chatterton goes nowhere – his actual words are seemingly unheeded; but they gather together a focus and a mood: the reference is a hint and a warning. the villain of the novel summons up a misunderstood temperament, a figure who has been at the mercy of misunderstanding. Robust as the reference is on the surface, its place in the novel at this point has another effect, a ghostly one which suits its echoes and its shadowy warnings: the features of the matter are not contemplated, but a mood is reinforced, a narrative focus accelerated, in a novel whose plot revolves around the idea of mistaken identity, imposters, a snatched inheritance, and a staged ‘death’. the reference to chatterton, silently received and unacknowledged, takes place in a suspension of plot: sir Percival, about to ask his wife to sign the fatal document which would take away her rights, delays matters to attend the tense walking party at which count fosco makes his long harangue about the English criminal. count fosco holds forth in the boat-house. sir Percival broods outside the door, and the day continues to build towards an atmosphere of brooding, of ‘Balade of charitie’ – like weather, summer heaviness and approaching storm:

‘Wandering between Two Worlds’


‘a misty, heavy evening. There was a sense of blight in the air; the flowers were drooping in the garden, and the ground was parched and dewless [...]’ (WW, p. 279). The Woman in White, like Bleak House, is a novel about documents. nick Groom has found the figure of Chatterton in the depiction of Dickens’s willing ‘copier’ of documents, nemo,11 and there, such is the richness and flexibility of Chatterton’s suggestiveness, he will always remain, hovering behind the description of the dead, middle-aged law-writer. in collins’s novel (published in dickens’s periodical, All the Year Round, in 1860, seven years after Bleak House), chatterton is not ‘no-one’ (that designation is more nearly approached in the title of collins’s succeeding novel, No Name), but named by the villain himself in a strange set-piece. however this is misleading; for his real presence is to be found not where he is ostensibly apparent or recalled, but in a shifting field of references and evocations: in the figure of Anne Catherick, in Laura Fairlie, in the wasted figure of Walter Hartright, who is at an early point in the novel depicted as a gaunt, chatterton-like (also thompson-like) figure, and who for a large part of the novel is absent. Fittingly, Hartright is an artist; though – as Chatterton significantly was not – also a lover. Like Chatterton, he lives with a widowed mother and a sister, and is in the frustrating position of an artistic sensibility in an inferior social position to those that employ him. the work he is engaged to do is allied to, but does not reflect deeply, his real artistic concerns – he is an arranger of paraphernalia for mr fairlie as chatterton was for catcott, as Rowley was for canynge; and, like chatterton, he breaks the terms of his employment before it has officially expired, is released with some reluctance, and thereafter becomes, for a large part of the novel, a ghostly wanderer while the plot develops, a memory for marian halcombe and Laura fairlie, until he is resumed into the narrative – is given again his own ‘narrative’, and claims his significance. The figure of Hartright is a conventional one, as even his name suggests. one can find his counterpart in other Victorian novels – in, for instance, the figure of Gilbert markham in anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – and to claim such figures as consciously based on the idea of chatterton would be absurd. But chatterton is a lonely figure who finds his way into plots, into the interstices of suggestiveness, lurking amidst the busyness of the Victorian novelistic imagination, so that in all the largeness of scope and completeness of plot of a Victorian novel, space is made for him, not to dwell for long, but to appear suddenly, and as suddenly to evaporate. hartright, unlike chatterton, has escaped death, as he says, three times (p. 426), has a plot to work out, and a heroine to claim. the Victorian novel has the shaping significance of human love within which to hide the boy-poet become Romantic icon, as he hid in literary endeavour his own lack of human love experience; it has the device of marriage to work towards, a shaping device which, though it acknowledges and accommodates the spectre of the heir-less form of chatterton, also hides him, buries him again beneath suggestive patterning. this Romanticised chatterton remains for the Victorian writer essentially literary and unwed; a foreshortened story within their own longevity; even francis thompson lived, and did not follow the chatterton story to its suicidal end.


Groom, The Forger’s Shadow, pp. 281–6.

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


the malleability of chatterton’s image began, however, in prosaic surroundings. Chatterton’s first adventure in literary imposture was in response to the opening of the new bridge at Bristol. amidst all the interest of this civic attainment, the anonymous ‘ancient’ account which appeared in Felix Farley’s Bristol Journal in october 1768, of the old mayor crossing the old bridge, appealed to the antiquarian passions of the literati of the city, and precipitated chatterton’s prominence in his native town. the episode is described by chatterton’s biographer meyerstein: The newspaper contribution at once attracted notice, and enquiries were made at the office in small street, just round the corner from Lambert’s, for the owner of the pseudonym. the printer could give no information, but after much enquiry it was discovered that ‘the person who brought the copy’ was a youth between fifteen and sixteen named Thomas chatterton, a Redcliff youth descended from sextons of the church. he was threatened – ‘agreeably to his age and appearance’ are croft’s words – as a child, but ‘returned nothing but haughtiness and a refusal to give any account.’ on the application of milder usage he first said, anxious, no doubt, not to have to produce any originals, that he was employed to transcribe certain ancient mss. by a gentleman who had engaged him to write love verses [...] this answer not satisfying the questioners, he said the original of the contribution was found by his father, with many other mss. in a large chest in the upper room over the chapel on the north side of Redcliff church. this, apparently, was vouchsafed after many promises had been held out to him. it is practically certain that George catcott, who took him up three weeks or a month later, was the main party to this scrutiny; the questioners, anyhow, were made thoroughly happy by the last admission.12

if wallis’s painting was the apotheosis of the chatterton myth, then this occasion marks its grubbier beginning. the episode is a landmark in myth-making – chatterton is linked irrevocably to Bristol, to history, and to st mary Redcliff – ‘a Redcliff youth descended from sextons of the church.’ and then a certain decision about his poetry is forced upon him. the questioners reject as unsuitable for their purposes, firstly, silence and complete mystery (‘nothing but haughtiness and a refusal to give any account’), and secondly, the offer of a gentleman who also commissioned love verses. chatterton was thinking, no doubt, of his friend Baker in america, for whom he really did compose love poems;13 and in this offer lies a subtle confession, for by mentioning the transcription of manuscripts and the composing of love poems in the same breath, it is an easy step to guess that the transcriber and the poet are one and the same. But the questioners in the printer’s office did not want a literary gentleman, who would be independent and beyond their control; who could not be bullied, or silenced with shillings. it is beside the point that chatterton was desperate ‘not to have to produce any originals’; since in this desire he and his questioners entirely concurred. what they wanted was an inanimate but inexhaustible source of manuscripts – they wanted what sly dick had already dreamed of in chatterton’s early schoolboy poem – ‘a well stor’d wealthy room’; and at last there it is – ‘in a large chest in the upper room over the chapel on the north side of Redcliff church.’ meyerstein, A Life of Thomas Chatterton, p. 110. see, for instance, the letter to John Baker of 6 march 1769 (WTC i, pp. 156–7) and see also meyerstein, A Life of Thomas Chatterton, pp. 79–81. 12 13

‘Wandering between Two Worlds’


Robert Browning, in his Essay on Chatterton, locates this stage of chatterton’s development – the interest of the Bristol literati roused by the old bridge narrative – as crucial and fatal; the interruption of a process which was diverted into falsehood. the grand, intricate deception of the Rowley manuscripts, which would, left to itself, have formed merely a stage in his development, and would lead to ‘a fresh exertion of the old means to a new and more commensurate end’14 – was interrupted by the necessity for crude deceit, which chatterton left Bristol in an attempt to extricate himself from. the move to London was an attempt to recover truth. Browning, then, a close reader of biographies of chatterton, which regarded him either as a dreaming genius or an immoral fraudster, spawned a new theory; an account of chatterton’s dilemma which located his life within a dramatic debate between intellect and morality. if the Essay is a muscular attempt to evaluate and depict the course of a poetic condition, then chatterton’s idea enters Browning’s poem ‘mr sludge, “the medium”’ in a slightly different way. dramatically, it seems to evoke the incident in the printer’s office in 1768: ‘does the boy blunder, blurt out this, blab that, Break down in the other, as beginners will? all’s candour, all’s considerateness –’no haste! Pause and collect yourself! we understand! that’s the bad memory, or the natural shock, or the unexplained phenomena!’15

sludge’s disgrace is enacted in the america which enjoyed a ferment of enthusiasm for spiritualism, as chatterton’s decisive meeting with the elders of Bristol was set in a city with a similar passion for ‘antiquities’. Browning lodges his poem in the willed, necessary interaction between deceiver and deceived. sludge, desperate to escape, insists upon the intricate details of deceit – the desire on the dupe’s part to keep up appearances, the way in which any doubt is energetically quelled. deceit is about desire, and the making of space for it. Sludge is a strange figure – both a boy, ‘David’, a poor helpless creature beset by his elders and caught out in an act of deception; and a half-grown, seedy, mealymouthed creature caught between man and boy; not tom chatterton but a ‘tom– fool’ (l, 659), not a marvellous boy but a kind of Uriah Heep figure, and like Heep, and all monstrous self-engrossed egoists, horrific in what his very being tells us about the society which produced him. the poem, then, is an attempt to understand a process by which deceit arrives in a personality, takes over a human being and directs, propels and debases any other desire, and the human voice itself. in the evocation of Browning’s chatterton, we sense the great strenuous effort of the Victorian imagination at its most vigorous, its most sympathetic, and simultaneously its most appalled. George Eliot, delineating the life of Bulstrode, is intent on a similar enquiry. The novel form, and the extent and flexibility of Browning’s monologue, Robert Browning, Essay on Chatterton, ed. donald smalley, with a foreword by william c. deVane (cambridge, ma: harvard University Press, 1948), p. 112. 15 Robert Browning, Dramatis Personae, ed. f.B. Pinion (London: collins, 1969), pp. 117, 147–52. 14


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

permits a capaciousness of form within which to investigate such a process, such a sympathetic vision; allowing interiority of focus upon the workings of a mind in the grip of its own imaginings and yet having also to contend with the endless allure and suggestiveness and temptations of the outside world. Browning’s confrontation with chatterton was muscular, robust, a post-Romantic investigation into literary ‘truth’, as well as a subject which fed his own obsession with the inner workings of strange minds, beset by passions and needs for which Browning provided, in his monologues, the privilege of a speech flexible, fully accommodated, given the intent, felt attention of a silent listener; and, in such a poem as The Ring and the Book, the spaciousness of novelistic investigation. when chatterton appears to the Victorians, especially within the novel form, his appearance is often more sinuous than this, less easy to locate. as has been seen with The Woman in White, the moment at which he seems to appear, the moment at which he is summoned by the narrative, is not the moment where we find him, but he dissolves from that moment into a myriad of different locations, voices, possibilities. To the outward, conscious Victorian writer’s mind he was a warning figure – a spectre of ruin, whether to thompson underneath the arches of covent Garden or to Edwin Reardon in Gissing’s New Grub Street, a novel whose plan is consciously to examine the material and economic conditions of the writer, in the same terrain trodden by chatterton only a hundred years before. But he is also more obliquely available – a presence engendered by his art rather than his life – because of the makings of his own gift, the peculiar haunted quality of his art. the appropriation of Rowley by the literati of Bristol encouraged the deepening of a world which was prone to spirits, doubles, apparitions. chatterton’s making of Rowley had now to satisfy both an outer and an inner need: the Rowleyan poetry was peopled with ghosts and spirits, figures either of guile or of need, preparing the ground for their author to merge into his own creation, and become in his turn a troubling, double-edged figure, a figure of ‘dissembled grace’, like his own early fraudster ‘apostate will’ (WTC i, pp. 1–2, i, 54). the civilised, equable relationship between poet and patron enjoyed by Rowley and canynge was the relationship which chatterton did not have with catcott and Barrett. But in a curious way it echoed it. Rowley’s role at canynge’s court was similarly one of negotiation, but one which ended in the perfect completion of a role. Rowley claims kinship with canynge but is also distinct from him; he is the capable collector of documents, absent when great events are being decided, forever roaming the countryside about his business of collecting drawings when canynge’s court is in crisis or disarray. his absence was a necessary contrivance for the great determining crisis of canynge’s life, for it enabled canynge to recall his poet-historian in the form of a letter. king Edward iV, during a feast at the Red Lodge, leaned towards canynge and informed him that he had found him a second wife, of the family of the woodvilles. canynge, determined to avoid the marriage being proposed to him, summons Rowley home – ‘i saied ne moe bethynkeynge ytte a Jeste,’ he writes to Rowley of the unfortunate evening and the king’s ‘offer’, ‘botte i now unkeven ytte ys a trouthe; comme to mee and arede mee for i wylle ne bee wedded for anie kynge’ (WTC i, p. 233). Rowley solved the problem by sending for carpenter, Bishop of worcester; and together they arranged for canynge to take holy orders, and thus to be beyond the

‘Wandering between Two Worlds’


power of the king – ‘i amme safe,’ wrote canynge; ‘an hollie Preeste unnmarriageabil’ (WTC i, p. 233). and the story of william canynge, who was to have two tombs – one as mayor of Bristol beside his wife, and one as dean of westbury – slides to an end, not with political machinations and a worldly marriage (the Rowleyan artistry rejects, in its way, ‘love letters’ as decisively as the questioners in the printer’s office), but with content and solitude and poetry in the college at westbury. for chatterton the resolution could not be so simple. apprenticed to mr Lambert the lawyer in Bristol, he was ‘unmarriageable’ too – at the end of 1769 five years of chaste and servile apprenticeship still stretched ahead of him: during which said time [...] ‘Taverns he shall not frequent, at Dice he shall not play, fornication he shall not commit, matrimony he shall not contract’.16

chatterton’s ‘unmarriageability’, unlike canynge’s, was ordered by the outer, prohibitive world, the laws governing the conduct of all apprentices. the only grand, and also subtle defiance was to break his apprenticeship completely, for by so doing he would become ‘unmarriageable’ indeed, by placing himself altogether beyond any thoughts or strictures about marriage. so chatterton, by breaking his apprenticeship, deftly steered a course between the Bristolian and the Rowleyan voices: between ‘matrimony he shall not contract’ and ‘an hollie Preeste unnmarriageabil’. what seems to be an ordinary defiance – an apprentice breaking his terms – is being gathered into the work as a subtle, directing focus of style. But there it ends. chatterton’s ‘plot’ ends with this ‘unmarriageability’ – in the Rowleyan plot, with canynge’s averted marriage, and the austere triumph of his withdrawal from the world; and in chatterton’s own plot, with his withdrawal by suicide. He is both a perfect and an unfinished Romantic form, both a spectre of ruin and an imposing seer, and he haunted the long meandering Victorian era with his endless suggestiveness. the Victorians responded to the high Romantic iconic treatment of chatterton by wanting two things: both icon and a more troubled, troubling vision, a figure who haunted Victorian narratives with his suggestible ‘pictures’. he cannot be a ‘real’ example, like carlyle’s heroes or macaulay’s great men. he did not reach out, as Goethe’s werther did, from his literary fastness actually to persuade young men to commit suicide. if he is caught by the Victorian imagination, ‘wandering between two worlds’,17 as in arnold’s ‘stanzas from the Grande chartreuse’, it is not only between arnold’s mediaeval and modern; but more between ‘real’ and ‘literary’ worlds, forever compelling the Victorian writer to regard him as now safely unreal, now intriguingly present; most alive when most buried. for the Victorians, whose plots used marriage as a device, for whom in their lives it was often a disaster, who grew to be old men, the pre-Romantic Chatterton became a Romantic figure of disturbing possibilities: both endlessly fecund and self-dividing into different ways and suggestiveness; and a silenced being, unwed, austere – ‘an hollie Preeste unnmarriageabil’. meyerstein, A Life of Thomas Chatterton, p. 63. Arnold: Selected Poems, ed. kenneth allott and intro. Jenni calder (harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971), 85, p. 206. 16 17

chapter 3

dead keats: Joseph severn, John keats and the haunting of Victorian culture andrew Bennett

here in Rome, after this long interval, i am bewildered in trying to reconcile the glowing fame of keats with his cruel death and extinction, for they belong to each other. Joseph severn1 As soon as I begin to be occupied with [Keats’s] MS poems, or with the Life I have written, it forcibly seems to me, against all reason…that he is sitting by my side, his eyes seriously wandering from me to the papers by turns, and watching my doings. charles Brown2

I Joseph severn, the friend of John keats, died in Rome on 3 august 1879 and was buried in the new Protestant cemetery. on 13 february 1882 his remains were exhumed and re-interred next to the grave of keats. a headstone the same shape and size as that of keats’s was erected over severn’s grave, and on it was inscribed a legend that begins by celebrating the life of keats as much as that of severn himself: to the memory of JosEPh sEVERn devoted friend and death-bed companion of John kEats whom he lived to see numbered among

The Immortal Poets of England [...]

1 Joseph severn, annotation to shelley’s Adonais, 7–8; quoted in william sharp, The Life and Letters of Joseph Severn (London: samson Low, marston and co., 1892), p. 249; hereafter LLJS. 2 The Keats Circle: Letters and Papers and More Letters and Poems of the Keats Circle, 2nd edn, ed. hyder Edward Rollins, 2 vols (cambridge, ma: harvard University Press, 1965), 2, p. 99; hereafter KC.

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


since both names – ‘Joseph severn’ and ‘John keats’ – are inscribed in block capitals of equal size, the inscription may be seen to correct the omission of the poet’s name from Keats’s nearby tombstone while at the same time emphasising the significance of keats in the life and after-memory of Joseph severn.3 severn had returned to Rome in 1861 as British consul after twenty years of an undistinguished and increasingly impecunious career as a painter in England. Returning to Rome seems to have given a new lease of life to his sense of the presence of his dead friend, John keats. soon after his return, he published an article recounting his memories of his voyage to italy and his sojourn in Rome with keats in 1820–21, entitled ‘on the Vicissitudes of keats’s fame’.4 writing in 1864 to keats’s first biographer Richard Monckton Milnes, now Lord Houghton, on the prospect of a second edition of the 1848 Life, Letters, and Literary Remains of John Keats, severn declares that he can ‘promise no end of new & interesting matter’ concerning keats, ‘as my memory presents every thing most vividly’ (LM, pp. 507–8). he was also inspired to return to keatsian subjects in his drawings and paintings: over the next few years he painted keats’s grave in moonlight with a shepherd sleeping Endymion-like against the gravestone (c.1861),5 a miniature of keats (1819),6 a picture of ‘keats, shelley & myself when i drew keats picture & shelley read his essay on Poetry’ (1873: see LM, p. 538), a ‘sketch for a memorial of keats’ (1875),7 a life-size portrait of keats (1877: see LM, pp. 87, 552), a picture entitled ‘isabella, or the Pot of Basil’ (1877: see LM, pp. 73, 549), and also in 1877 severn mentions ‘a new picture of mine’ taken from his ‘drawing of keats in death’, involving the ‘10th stanza of Adonais the angel bending over the Poet & the falling tear in his eye’ (LM, p. 552). this renewed pictorial fascination with keats continued until severn’s death: just a few weeks before he died severn was planning a new ‘keats picture’. as his Victorian biographer william sharp has it, ‘one of the latest words on [Severn’s] lips was “Keats”, for to the last he was preoccupied with thoughts of the new picture he wished to paint’, a picture that might also seem to involve selfportraiture, since it was to depict ‘“keats lying calm in death, and a beautiful spirit bending over him”’ (LLJS, pp. 276, 280).8 see Grant f. scott, ed., Joseph Severn: Letters and Memoirs (Burlington, Vt and aldershot: ashgate, 2005), pp. 2–3: this edition hereafter LM. for an account of the reburial of severn see The Times, 16 february 1882, p. 5. 4 Atlantic Monthly (11 april 1863): 401–7. 5 see LM 622, severn’s ‘the Vicissitudes of keats’s fame’, in Jennifer wallace, ed., Lives of the Great Romantics: Keats (London: Pickering & chatto, 1997), p. 255, and LLJS, pp. 125–6. 6 for a reproduction, see sharp, LLJS, title-page; see also LM, p. 63 7 see LM, p. 541 and n.; however, scott also reproduces the sketch on p. 509 and there dates it ‘c.1864’ 8 one impulse behind such paintings, of course, would have been money: as sarah wootton comments, as Pre-Raphaelitism became ‘mainstream’, paintings with keatsian subjects were ‘almost guaranteed a buyer’ and such pictures ‘crowded the walls of late nineteenth-century exhibitions’ (‘Ghostly Visualities: keats and Victorian art’, in sharon Rushton, ed., The Influence and Anxiety of the British Romantics: Spectres of Romanticism [Lewiston: Edward Mellen, 1999], p.170); see also her Consuming Keats: Nineteenth-Century 3

Dead Keats


it was as if his return to Rome had re-kindled severn’s memories of his friend, then, as if on returning to Rome in 1861 he was once again haunted by keats, just as he had been in the months after his friend’s death forty years earlier. Being haunted by keats seems, indeed, to have been central to severn’s experience of that time. his letters of 1821 are insistent on this point: ‘poor keats – i cannot get him out of my head’, severn writes to his mother some time after the poet’s death in the spring of 1821, and ‘never shall out of my heart – never’ (LM, p. 140); ‘then comes keats –’, he writes to william haslam in may of the same year, ‘keats – to my mind i can see his poor face – and his poor still hands and i am no longer master of myself (LM, p. 153); and a few days earlier in may, writing to charles Brown, severn complains that he is ‘still compleatly unnerved when i look upon poor keats’s death – it still hangs upon me like a horrible dream’ (LM, p. 152). as one of his contemporaries remarked of severn in later years, ‘the world to him was but a world that had lost keats. Rome itself, with its innumerable associations, was to him but the grave of keats’.9 keats, in other words, kept coming back to severn, kept returning to him, haunting him, not just in the weeks after the poet’s death but throughout and especially at the end of his long Victorian life. ‘i seem to see keats and fanny Brawne as they were sixty years ago’, he tells william Graham, a few months before his death. ‘and yet he cannot be dead’, Severn continues: ‘How could a dead thing influence one like this?’10 ‘i crave pardon for my bad writing’, he tells henry Buxton forman in 1878, ‘but i have been very much upset & altho ’tis half a century since the disaster [of Keats’s death], yet I feel it most severely’ (LM, p. 555). But such haunting has wider implications. indeed, i want to suggest that through the haunting of Joseph severn, John keats kept returning to, kept haunting, Victorian culture – haunting it like no other poet of the Romantic period, not even that other Representations in Art and Literature (Basingstoke: Palgrave-macmillan, 2006), especially chapter 2. 9 Eric Robertson, ‘a Reminiscence of severn’, Dublin University Review, 96 (reprinted in LLJS, p. 303). compare with samantha matthews, Poetical Remains: Poets’ Graves, Bodies, and Books in the Nineteenth Century (oxford: oxford University Press, 2004), p. 121, on severn’s ‘haunted, almost hallucinatory sense of keats’s presence’ immediately after the poet’s death. keats haunts others, especially his friends, of course. charles Brown, for example, comments in his Life of Keats that now, twenty years after keats’s death ‘his memory is still my chief happiness ... his fame is part of my life’ (KC 2, p. 54), and imagines keats ‘watching my doings’ (KC 2, p. 99: see also the epigraph to the present essay). similarly, in a journal entry for 14 november 1831, Benjamin Robert haydon records encountering a Keatsian revenant – although he firmly denies that it is a ghost: ‘I dreamt last night of dear keats. i thought he appeared to me, and said, “haydon you promised to make a drawing of my head before i died, you did not do it. Paint me now.” i awoke, & saw him as distinctly as if it was his spirit. i am convinced such an impression on common minds would have been mistaken for a Ghost’ (quoted in neville Rogers, ed., Keats, Shelley, and Rome: An Illustrated Miscellany 4th ed. [London: Johnson, 1970], p. 72). 10 william Graham, Last Links with Byron, Shelley, and Keats (London: Leonard smithers, 1898), pp. 115, 118. Graham’s perhaps rather predictable response is to quote shelley’s Adonais: ‘he lives! he wakes! ‘tis death is dead, not he!’ (p. 118). this chapter, on Keats and Severn, was first published as an article in The New Review, vol. 60 (may 1894): 693–706.

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


Romantic poet cut off in his prime, Percy Bysshe shelley. it is not just a question of the fact that along with shelley, keats was the object of sustained literary or poetic mourning throughout the nineteenth century,11 but that that mourning and that memory and memorialising of keats was focussed on an uncanny presence, a haunting sense that the poet was somehow not dead, or if dead only improperly, unreasonably, anachronistically so. this sense of being haunted by keats, i want to suggest, is intimately related to the manner of the poet’s death and in particular to the intimate records of his death provided by Joseph severn. as severn prophetically commented in a letter to charles Brown just a few days before keats died, ‘had he come here alone, he would have plunged into the grave in secret; – we should never have known one syllable about him’: ‘This reflection alone repays me for all I have done’, severn remarks (KC 2, p. 90).12 it is primarily through severn that Victorian culture more generally becomes haunted by keats. Poem after poem written after keats’s death and particularly in the second half of the nineteenth century recalls and responds to keats in ways that in fact necessarily involve Severn. In the first place, poets recall or respond to the gravestone that Joseph Severn was influential in designing – in poems such as Maria Lowell’s ‘The Grave of keats’ (1851), oliver wendell holmes’s ‘after a Lecture on keats’ (1853), sarah whitman’s ‘a Pansy from the Grave of keats’ (1859), alexander anderson’s ‘John keats’ (1873) and ‘in Rome: a Poem in sonnets’ (sonnets 24 and 25) (1875), william scott’s ‘on the inscription, keats’s tombstone’ (c.1875), James t. fields’s ‘on Receiving a Lock of keats’s hair’ (1881), christopher Pearse cranch’s ‘at the Grave of keats’ (1887), Bliss carman’s ‘By the aurelian wall: in memory of John keats’ (1898), francis Burdett money-courts’s ‘keats’ (1898).13 a subcategory of such poems cite keats’s pronouncement to severn about his name being ‘writ in water’ – Percy Bysshe shelley’s ‘fragment on keats who desired that on his tomb Should be Inscribed ...’ (composed in 1821; first published 1839), William Scott’s ‘To the memory of John keats’ (1832), christina Rossetti’s ‘on keats’ (composed 1849), hartley coleridge’s ‘i have written my name on water. the Proposed inscription on the tomb of John keats’ (1851), sarah whitman’s ‘a Pansy from the Grave of keats’ (1859), alexander anderson’s ‘John keats’ (1873), henry wadsworth Longfellow’s ‘keats’ (1875), oscar wilde’s ‘the Grave of keats’ (1877), Richard stoddard’s ‘to the memory of keats’ (c.1880), dante Gabriel Rossetti’s ‘John keats’ (1881), Richard Gilder’s ‘keats’ (c.1885), and s. weir mitchell (a.k.a. silas see matthews’s comment that ‘there are more 19th cent. poems about keats’s and shelley’s graves than those of all other poets combined’ (Poetical Remains, p. 115); and see Jeffrey c. Robinson on his suspicion that ‘no English poet except shakespeare has occasioned as many celebratory and evocative poems as has keats’. see Reception and Poetics in Keats: ‘My Ended Poet’ (Basingstoke: macmillan, 1998), p. 52. 12 compare Jennifer wallace’s comment that ‘severn’s description of keats’s last months in Rome was crucial for keatsian biography’ (wallace, ed., Keats, p. 283); see also Grant f. scott’s ‘writing keats’s Last days: severn, sharp, and Romantic Biography’, Studies in Romanticism 42 (2003): 4, and LM, pp. 4–6. 13 For a consideration of the cultural significance of the grave of Keats in the nineteenth century, see matthews, Poetical Remains, ch. 4. 11

Dead Keats


weir)’s ‘the Grave of keats’ (1891: epigraph).14 and thirdly, poets quote or allude to a line from one of Severn’s letters (first made public by Leigh Hunt in 1828) about keats saying, as he approached death, that he could feel the daisies growing over his grave15 – in poems such as christina Rossetti’s ‘on keats’ (‘Unto him a goodly lot / Hath fallen in fertile ground; there thorns are not, / But his own daisies’ [4–6]), Eliza ogilvy’s ‘Graves’ (1851) (‘i have culled a disc / from those abounding daisies whose firm roots / Anchor within the melting heart of Keats’ [16–18]), Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s ‘John Keats’ (‘Thou whom the daisies glory in growing o’er’ [l.11]), and – most explicitly – John Banister tabb’s ‘at keats’s Grave’ (1897) (‘“i feel the flowers growing over me”’ [1]). in each case, the poet is responding to information or circumstances that can only have come through Joseph severn. the anthologist francis Palgrave makes this association explicit in his poem commemorating the deaths of severn and the perhaps rather less well-known one-time friend of keats, charles Jeremiah wells, in ‘in memory of charles wells and Joseph severn, dying in 1879’ (1879): with the deaths of both men in the same year, Palgrave suggests, ‘the living link that bore / Our souls across the years to [Keats], is not’. The poet and journalist William cox Bennett (1820–1895) even wrote a sonnet (published in 1862) addressed to someone who had met severn, perhaps developing and taking one step further Robert Browning’s lightly (self-)satirical thinking of poetic fame and the illusory magic of acquaintance in ‘memorabilia’ (1855) (‘ah did you once see shelley plain, / and did he stop and speak to you?’). Bennett’s extraordinary and apparently un-ironic poem gives a unique insight into the value afforded connection with an idealised poet, even at third-hand: so you have been with severn, and have heard the tongue that spoke to keats the last farewell, his on whose breast our darling’s dear head fell, when his great life sank from his latest word. sight of that face – what thoughts must it have stirr’d! sound of that voice – what memories must it tell of him who, lapp’d in glory, now sleeps well ’neath Roman violets, where no critics gird. (1–8)16

the grave of keats, with a tombstone designed by severn, then, itself becomes, by mid-century, a place of pilgrimage. and in the later nineteenth century, Bennett’s poem suggests, it is the violets planted over the newly restored grave rather than the 14 the fact that keats had asked for this phrase to be inscribed on his tombstone had been made public as early as april 1821, when Barry cornwall cited it in an obituary in the London Magazine (see wallace, ed., Keats, p. 5); it is then quoted in an unsigned obituary in the New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal for may (G.m. matthews, ed., Keats: The Critical Heritage [London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971], p. 243); and by Leigh Hunt in Lord Byron and Some of His Contemporaries (1828), where hunt also highlights the site of keats’s grave (wallace, ed., Keats, p. 65). 15 for the letter (to John taylor), see LM, p. 138; and see hunt, Lord Byron and Some of His Contemporaries (wallace, ed., Keats, p. 65). 16 w.c. Bennett, Poems (1862) (London: chatto and windus, 1868).


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

original daisies that are valued. this is borne out by a letter to Edmund Gosse of 31 march 1887, in which thomas hardy encloses two pressed violets collected from keats’s grave, in an act of consecration and desecration that may have been by then a rite for visitors to Rome, as milnes suggests in his ‘memoir’ of keats in 1854, when he comments that ‘few strangers of our race omit to visit’ keats’s grave when they visit Rome.17 II despite the fact that keats had died almost sixty years earlier, then, on his return to Rome, severn’s life became phantasmatically entangled with, haunted by, the dead John keats, haunted indeed by the events of a few short years, and especially of a few months, more than half a century earlier. this entanglement of severn’s life with dead keats or with the death of keats, was repeatedly acknowledged by severn himself and re-emphasised and indeed over-emphasised by his late-Victorian biographer, william sharp.18 sharp, indeed, is very frank about the fact that severn is only a subject of biography because of his relationship with keats: ‘there can be little question that the life of Joseph severn is of interest to the present generation’, sharp explains in the Preface to his 1892 biography, ‘on account of his intimate connection’ with keats, the poet who is ‘of all his kindred, the singer who is nearest to our hearts’. sharp cites a remark that severn had made not long before his death to the effect that ‘with a truth that was ever inapplicable to keats, i may say that of all i have done with brush or pen, as artist or man, scarce anything will long outlast me ... yet through my beloved keats i shall be remembered’ (LLJS, p. vi). severn’s life, sharp opines, was ‘coloured and even directed from the outset to the close by the abiding influence’ of Keats, and even his ‘success and happiness’ in life was a result of his friendship with the poet (LLJS, p. vii). as severn comments in his unpublished memoir ‘incidents of my Life’ (parts of which were cited by sharp), ‘the death of 17 Richard monckton milnes, ‘memoir of John keats’, in The Poetical Works of John Keats (London: Edward moxon, 1854), p. xxxvii. for hardy’s letter see The Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy, ed. Richard Little Purdy and michael millgate (oxford: clarendon, 1978–88), 1: p. 163; see also hardy’s 1820 poem recalling the visit to the Protestant cemetery, ‘at the Pyramid of cestius near the Graves of shelley and keats’. and compare a note in Emily tennyson’s Journal for 16 february 1867: ‘a sprig of myrtle for the tomb of keats sent us by mr. clarke’ (Lady Tennyson’s Journal, ed. James A. Hoge [Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1981], p. 258). 18 it should perhaps be said that what is remarkable about Grant scott’s recent edition of the letters and memoirs of severn is that it makes clear the extent to which keats did not haunt his friend for much of his life (particularly during the twenty years that severn spent in England from 1841 to 1861), and that the sense that keats did so is itself something of a late-Victorian construction, culminating in sharp’s 1892 biography of the painter (see LM, pp. 25–6, 35–7). see scott, ‘writing keats’s Last days’, pp. 4–6, on sharp’s ‘peculiarly late-Victorian agenda’ and his ‘mediation’ rather than ‘transcription’ of severn’s manuscripts (p. 6). as scott points out, sharp’s biography of severn appears just at the time when keats’s reputation ‘is once again jeopardised by questions about his moral character’ which ‘powerfully influences Sharp’s selection and alteration of the Severn manuscripts’ (p. 6).

Dead Keats


keats, although he was unknown, and my devoted friendship, had become a kind of passport to the English in Rome, and i soon found myself in the midst of ... the most polished society’ (LLJS, p. 105; see LM, p. 587).19 indeed, severn’s apparently self-sacrificing act of accompanying Keats to Rome and nursing him as he died was seen by himself and by others as an act that would or should receive a certain recompense: in the closing sentence of the Preface to Adonais, shelley famously makes just this point, linking it with the hope that keats’s ghost will indeed haunt severn, whose ‘conduct is a golden augury of the success of his future career – may the unextinguished spirit of his illustrious friend animate the creations of his pencil, and plead against oblivion for his name!’20 along with severn’s letters to friends in England, it was Adonais that helped to make severn’s name as well as keats’s, and it is largely through shelley’s poem that the Romantic myth of the neglected, dying poet is disseminated. in a highly romanticised account of severn’s receipt of shelley’s poem and its preface in a mid-twentieth century biography, sheila Birkenhead emphasises this sense that severn was haunted by keats: Joseph’s eyes were wet with tears when at last he laid down the little book. he could not concentrate on his painting that morning. He had meant to finish off a picture he was painting for sir william drummond, but the phantoms of keats kept rising between his brush and the canvas. He could see Keats’s face when he had first known him – the eager, vital expression – the glowing eyes – the wide, mobile mouth ... . then the face blurred and he saw him again during those last, terrible nights – ghastly white in the flickering candlelight – the hollow look of his eye-sockets where the lids dropped over his enormous eyes, the transparency of his skin, drawn tight over the high cheek-bones and nose.21

on the importance of keats for severn’s later life and career, see sheila Birkenhead, Against Oblivion: The Life of Joseph Severn (London: cassell, 1943), p. 7, and scott’s comments in LM, pp. 1–3, 56–7; see also severn’s repeated frank acknowledgements of the significance of Keats for his life and reputation in letters and memoirs in LM, pp. 183, 262, 269, 298, 338, 373, 414, 535, 543, 545, 587, 592; this is also emphasised by william sharp: see sharp, pp. 121, 148, 164, 165, 202, 203, 250. in this sense, too, severn may be said to have been haunted by keats, who had apparently said to severn some weeks before his death ‘i bequeath to you all the joy and prosperity i have never had’: ‘i do believe that the dear fellow has never ceased to help me’, severn comments (LLJS, p. 202; see also p. 250). severn’s Victorian biographer, the writer and mystic william sharp, asserts that such haunting was indeed the case: ‘it seems’, he says, ‘that the destinies which sometimes seem controllable by human will had hearkened to the solemn bequest of the dying poet’ (LLJS, p. 279). for a decidedly negative view of what severn made of his friendship with keats for the rest of his life, see amy Lowell, John Keats 1 (London: Jonathan Cape, [1925]): pp. 106–7 (Severn, a ‘weak and a vain man’, ‘arrogated to himself a place in keats’s life which he never occupied’); see also B. ifor Evans, ‘keats and Joseph severn: a Re-Estimate with Unpublished Letters’, London Mercury 30:178 (august 1934), pp. 337–49. 20 wallace, ed., Keats, p. 12. according to sharp, severn chalked this declaration on his studio wall in Rome so that it would be constantly in his line of sight (sharp, p. 121); on severn and Adonais, see also LM, pp. 3–4. 21 sheila Birkenhead, Illustrious Friends: The Story of Joseph Severn and his Son Arthur (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1965), p. 76; a slightly different version of this passage was first published in Against Oblivion, pp. 120–21. 19


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

the passage suggests, not least, just how much the reception of keats through indeed to the twentieth century has invested in the ghostly presence of John keats, in the sense that dead keats haunted, not least, the living Joseph severn.22 But i want to suggest that keats’s Victorian inheritance more generally is bound up with a sense of the poet’s ghostly presence. the later-nineteenth century reception of keats, whether sympathetic or antagonistic, may indeed be said to play a significant part in Victorian conceptions of literature or poetry: as william henry marquess comments, keats was ‘part of the late-Victorian consciousness about the poetic calling’.23 Victorian literary history, in the form of the reception of Keats and his continuing influence in the second half of the nineteenth century but also more generally in terms of contemporary conceptions of literature itself, may be said to be bound up with ghosts and, through Joseph severn, with one ghost in particular, the ghost of dead keats. in his 1863 Atlantic Monthly article on keats and his fame, severn suggestively writes of the presence of keats in Rome in the 1860s: ‘here in Rome, as i write’, he comments, ‘i look back through forty years of worldly changes to behold keats’s dear image again in memory’. But what severn goes on to indicate is that this

22 Even in the most recent – and fullest – consideration of Keats’s final days, John Evangelist walsh’s novelistic account Darkling I Listen: The Last Days and Death of John Keats. (new york: st martin’s, 1999), pp. 7–8, there is a scene of keatsian haunting that is, i want to suggest, essentially a form of Victorian (rather than Romantic) haunting. in the Prologue to his book, walsh recalls being in the room in which keats spent his last weeks, in the lodging house on the Piazza di spagna in Rome: ‘in the little bedroom i had spent some minutes leaning on the sill of a window and peering vacantly down on the steps, when a different mood began to take hold of me. it was a subtle sense of detachment, downright peculiar, as if at that moment i existed separate and alone ... . as i stared at the empty corner, almost seeing the bed with its fevered occupant, my altered mood gradually and gently pressed out of mind all sense of the obtruding, intervening decades ...’ By contrast, Jeffrey Robinson complains that after visiting the keats house in hampstead he realises that he ‘did not encounter [Keats’s] spirit, his presence, or even his absence’ (Reception and Poetics in Keats, p. 29, my emphasis) – a complaint that itself also emphasises the essentially Victorian expectation of such a presence or sense of absence. 23 william henry marquess, Lives of the Poet: The First Century of Keats Biography (University Park: Pennsylvania state University Press, 1985), p. 73; compare h.J.c. Grierson’s comment in 1925 that ‘Keats has been, without any exception, the greatest influence in English poetry for a whole century’ (quoted in George h. ford, Keats and the Victorians: A Study of His Influence and Rise to Fame, 1821–1895 [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1944], p. 74); and see Ford’s comments that Keats was ‘the most influential poet of the latter half of the [nineteenth] century’, that by 1895 ‘to deplore Keats was literary heresy’, and that for the Victorians ‘early and late’ keats was ‘an indispensable part of the Zeit-Geist’ (ibid., pp. 94–5, 170, 180). For a more recent consideration of the influence of Keats on nineteenth-century literature, see Robert douglas-fairhurst, Victorian Afterlives: The Shaping of Influence in Nineteenth-Century Literature (oxford: oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 9–20; and see samantha matthews’s comment that the recuperation of the neglected poets keats and shelley from 1830s onwards ‘formed part of an effort to restore poetry to its place at the centre of British cultural life’, and that it ‘influenced the ways in which the Victorians thought about the careers – and the deaths – of their own poets’ (Poetical Remains, p. 2).

Dead Keats


phantasmatic re-presencing of keats is bound up with a sense of the paradox – the impossibility even – of the poet’s truncated life: it seems as if he should be living with me now, inasmuch as i never could understand his strange and contradictory death, his falling away so suddenly from health and strength. he had that fine compactness of person which we regard as the promise of longevity, and no mind was ever more exultant in youthful feeling. I cannot summon a sufficient reason why in one short year he should have been thus cut off, ‘with all his imperfections on his head’. was it that he lived too soon, – that the world he sought was not ready for him?24

the subtly convoluted syntax of ‘it seems as if he should be living with me now’ suggests both that keats is not but should be living now, and that he is in fact – that he seems to be – alive, living now. the sentence seems to attempt to concatenate two contradictory sentences: ‘it seems as if he is living with me now’, and ‘he should be living with me now’. indeed, this uncanny possibility has in fact been muted in the published version of the essay whereas the manuscript declares more firmly ‘That he should be living now even in my imagination (for i certainly have calld up the possibility) in as much as i ...’ (LM, p. 611). moreover, forty years after the event – after the major event of Joseph severn’s life, keats’s death and the one hundred days that he spent nursing his friend in a room above the spanish steps in Rome – severn still can’t quite believe that it happened, and cannot comprehend its meaning, the meaning of the death of John keats, this ‘strange and contradictory’ event. in effect, he can’t quite comprehend that keats is dead. it’s a strange perplexity that severn expresses: people just do die suddenly sometimes, and people, including poets, did often die very swiftly before the discovery of penicillin and other antibiotics, if they contracted tuberculosis. But severn insists on his perplexity – ‘i cannot summon sufficient reason why in one short year he should have been thus cut off’ – as if death needed a reason, needed reasoning beyond the physiological fact of disease.25 But severn’s essay does in fact hint at a reason for the haunting of John keats and for the irrationality, the unreasonableness, of his friend’s death. keats died, severn suggests, because he was living before his time, because he was searching for a world that was ‘not ready for him’. the assertion is a somewhat sly version of the myth – the myth that has by this time been repeatedly refuted in print – that keats was ‘snuffed out by an article’ (as Byron puts it in Don Juan, canto Xi, stanza 60), that he had died because of the vicious attacks on his youthful poetry in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine.26 ‘if he dies’, severn writes to John taylor in december 1820, 24 25

p. 591).

wallace, ed., Keats, pp. 249–50. compare similar comments in severn’s 1857–58 memoir ‘incidents of my Life’ (LM,

see susan J. wolfson, ‘keats Enters history: autopsy, Adonais, and the fame of keats’, in nicholas Roe, ed., Keats and History (cambridge: cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 17–45, on the myth, generated not least by shelley’s Adonais, of keats as a poet martyred by the reviewers; and see sidney colvin, John Keats: His Life, Poetry, Critics and After-Fame, 3rd ed. (London: macmillan, 1925), p. 520, on the idea that ‘it was on the enthusiasm of a band of young cambridge men for Adonais that the fame of keats began to be spread abroad’ in the late 1820s. By 1845, though, severn had changed his mind, having become more fully aware of the significance to Keats of Fanny Brawne: he writes to Milnes 26


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

‘i am witness that he dies of a broken heart and spirit – would that his enemies could see this martyrdom of the most noble-feeling and brightest genius to be found in existence’ (LM, pp. 116–17). severn is recognising what milnes in his memoir refers to as ‘the unaccomplished promise of this wonderful boy’.27 III From the first, then, Keats, dead Keats, is presented to the Victorian public as a poet whose life has been violently truncated.28 as Jeffrey Robinson comments, for the Victorians, ‘Keats is that poet who by definition died young’.29 severn in fact designed the poet’s gravestone to signify just this: the stone, he writes to william haslam in July 1821, is to depict a ‘delicate Greek Lyre with half the strings broken – signifying his Classical Genius – left unfinished by his early death’ (KC 1, p. 252). in his 1848 biography, milnes concludes that ‘all keats’s poems are early productions’ and that there is ‘nothing beyond them but the thought of what he might have been’. and yet it is precisely this ‘thought of what he might have been,’ already present in severn’s account, that tends to dominate the Victorian reception of keats – the sense that in reading this fragment of a poet’s oeuvre we are reading, in our imagination, a completed oeuvre that was never written, as his first biographer makes clear: truncated as is this intellectual life, it is still a substantive whole, and the complete statue, of which such a fragment is revealed to us, stands perhaps solely in the temple of the imagination. there is indeed progress, continual and visible, in the works of keats, but it is towards his own ideal of a poet, not towards any defined and tangible model. All that

that the ‘real tragedy of [Keats’s] death’ was the poet’s ‘anguish’ at ‘the first symptoms of consumption when he was about to be married to a most lovely & accomplished girl’, rather than the ‘idle story of the critique having killed him’ (KC 2, p. 129). the connection between a ‘broken spirit’ and ill health was in fact made by keats’s physician in italy, dr. James clark, who repeatedly commented in letters that keats was likely to die because of his state of mind (see KC 1, pp. 172, 186, 194). 27 milnes, ‘memoir’, p. xl. 28 shelley’s Adonais is no doubt crucial here in presenting keats as a martyr to his art. see, for example, wilde’s (homoeroticised) comments in a letter to milnes from 1877, on standing by keats’s grave and feeling that ‘he too was a martyr ... a Priest of Beauty slain before his time, a lovely sebastian killed by the arrows of a lying and unjust tongue’ (KC 2, p. 358) – a sentiment that recurs verbatim in an article that he published on ‘the tomb of keats’ in the Irish Monthly (July, 1877), and more loosely in a sonnet published as part of the article (‘the youngest of the martyrs here is lain, / fair as sebastian, and as foully slain’ [4–5]) (The Uncollected Oscar Wilde, ed. John Wyse Jackson [London: Fourth Estate, 1995], pp. 44–6). for other poems that focus on the premature nature of keats’s death, see Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh (1856), 1: 1003–19, George calvert, ‘to keats’ (1866), and henry Ellison, ‘the Premature death of keats’, ‘the Early death of keats’, and ‘the Early deaths of Raphael, mozart and keats’ (all 1875). 29 Robinson, Reception and Poetics in Keats, p. 52.

Dead Keats


we can do is to transfer that ideal to ourselves, and to believe that if keats had lived, that is what he would have been.30

‘what he would have been’ is a phrase that indeed reverberates, explicitly or implicitly, through the nineteenth century reception of keats. all we can do, milnes suggests, is to imagine what keats would have been, had he been living now, in 1848. what milnes hints at here is the idea that a proper reading of keats’s work would necessarily involve reading that work as having in fact been completed and reading the poet as living on beyond his death – living, indeed, now, living into middle age, into the middle of the nineteenth century. ‘he never lived to be himself’, declares a later Victorian biographer, sidney colvin, in 1891.31 ‘if one English poet might be recalled to-day from the dead to continue the work which he left unfinished on earth’, comments Robert Bridges in the opening to his introduction to an 1895 edition of keats’s poetry, ‘it is probable that the crown of his country’s desire would be set on the head of John keats, for he was smitten down in his youth’.32 severn’s memoir of keats’s last voyage and his repeated painterly returns to keats and keatsian topics, together suggest the extent to which he, and through him the later nineteenth century, is haunted by John keats or haunted by a certain idea or image of John keats, or suggest at least the way that the reception of keats engages with a certain ghostliness, which is emphasised in Severn and affirms a certain uncanny presence of the poet.33 in a review in The Times of milnes’s Life of Keats – a book much influenced by Severn’s account of the poet’s last days – samuel Phillips remarks that ‘the spirit of keats…at the present moment hovers over the best of our national poesy, and inspires the poetic genius – such as it is – of our unpoetic age’ (KCH, p. 322). a crucial dimension of the logic for such an assertion of haunting typically involves keats’s early death: as the Times reviewer goes on to comment, ‘Had [Keats] lived, he would eventually have towered above his contemporaries’ but ‘dying before he was twenty-six years of age, he took his place at once amongst the examples whom he so passionately loved’ (KCH, p. 322). david masson made almost the same point at the end of an essay on ‘the Life and Poetry of keats’ in Macmillan’s Magazine in 1860: ‘we can hardly be wrong Richard monckton milnes, Life, Letters and Literary Remains of John Keats (London: Edward moxon, 1848), 2: 105. 31 sidney colvin, ed., Letters of John Keats to His Family and Friends (London: macmillan, 1891), pp. xvi. 32 Robert Bridges, ‘a critical introduction to keats’, vol. 4 of the Collected Essays, Papers &c of Robert Bridges, 3rd impression (London: oxford University Press, 1933), p. 77; compare dante Gabriel Rossetti’s wistful fragment in a notebook: ‘could keats but have a day or two on earth / once every year!’ (quoted in ford, Keats and the Victorians, p. 109). 33 the poet, rather than the poetry, was of course often the topic of discussion in Victorian criticism: see thomas meade harwell’s comment that ‘Except for Bridges, arnold, and courthope, and except for Pater, who wrote little about keats, the leading Victorian critics knew more about the poet than about his poetry’ (Keats and the Critics, 1848–1900. [Salzburg: Institut für Englische Sprache und Literatur, 1972], p. 7, hereafter KCH); and see ford’s comment that ‘in the reputation of no other English poet has the question of personality played such a significant role in its development’ (Keats and the Victorians, p. 68). 30

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


in believing that, had keats lived to the ordinary age of man, he would have been one of the greatest of all our poets’ (KCH, p. 383). keats is ‘the greatest of all our poets who have died in early youth’, as d.m. moir put it in Sketches of the Poetical Literature of the Past Half-Century (1851) (KCH, p. 349), and it is this fact of having died in early youth that seems to fascinate Victorian critics and indeed poets. in other words, what intrigues Victorian culture is both the pathos of the early death and the sense that just because of the poet’s youth there is the counter-factual possibility that the death did not happen (it did happen but it might not have), the possibility that keats still lives. ‘had he lived’ is a continual refrain in response to keats in the nineteenth century: keats ‘would have been among the very greatest of us if he had lived’, opined alfred tennyson, for example, in 1883.34 as the twentieth-century historian of keatsian biography william henry marquess comments, what was at first a ‘Romantic interest in original genius cut short’ became, by the latter half of the nineteenth century, a ‘Victorian sentimental legend’.35 what is important about John keats for the later nineteenth century, then, is that he is dead: as Jennifer wallace comments, the ‘most famous act of his life’ was to ‘die (young)’.36 and it is not only a question of his death, indeed, but a question of the fact that he could, in principle, still be alive (he was, after all, born in the same year as thomas carlyle, who died at the age of 85 in 1881, and two years after Joseph severn himself, who died in 1879 at the age of 86). in this regard, keats haunts the second half of the nineteenth century (particularly after the publication of milnes’s Life) as a dead contemporary: the literary response to keats’s poetry, largely directed through the long post-keatsian life of Joseph severn, is necessarily bound up both with the manner of his death and with the simple fact of his being dead and the counter-factual sense that he isn’t in fact dead or that he somehow cannot or should not be dead, that he therefore somehow isn’t, that he lives. this, this unsettling and uncanny haunting by the unreasonably dead poet is, i suggest, a major part of what keats, what dead keats, meant to later nineteenth-century culture, to the culture that, guided not least by Joseph severn, effected his monumentalisation as a canonical – as a necessarily rather than historically or contingently dead – poet.

Quoted in hallam tennyson, Alfred Lord Tennyson: A Memoir By His Son (London: macmillan, 1897), 2, p. 286. 35 marquess, Lives of the Poet, p. 62. 36 wallace, ed., Keats, p. xxviii. 34

chapter 4

‘the wind Blows cold out of the inner shrine of fear’: Rossetti’s Romantic keats sarah wootton

most histories of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) date the beginning of the movement from the moment when dante Gabriel Rossetti saw william holman hunt’s painting of ‘the Eve of st agnes’ at the Royal academy in 1848. in his autobiography, hunt recalls, Rossetti came up to me, repeating with emphasis his praise, and loudly declaring that my picture of “the Eve of st agnes” was the best in the collection. Probably the fact that the subject was taken from keats made him the more unrestrained.1

as G.h. fleming suggests, Rossetti was ‘delighted to see the Eve of st agnes. But for John keats, the two men might never have come together’.2 from this auspicious beginning, echoes of keats’s poetry reverberate through the artwork of the Pre-Raphaelites. yet, in addition to providing the catalyst for the most famous, albeit short-lived, movement in British art, hunt also claimed that ‘the Eve of st agnes’ was the very first visual rendering of Keats’s poetry when, in fact, Rossetti had previously produced a sketch of ‘La Belle dame sans merci’ for the cyclographic society, a precursor to the PRB which included both hunt and millais as members.3 indeed, Julie codell insists that Rossetti was ‘the originator of the idea of using keats as a subject’.4 similarly refuting hunt’s prior claim to keats, arthur Benson claims that it was Rossetti who ‘discovered’ keats at the age of eighteen, two years before the first meeting of the PRB and the publication of Richard Monckton Milnes’s Keats’s influence on the early stages of the movement is recorded in William Holman hunt, Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, 2 vols (new york: ams Press, 1967), 2, pp. 105–7. sections taken from this essay, here reproduced in revised form, are taken from my book, Consuming Keats: Nineteenth-Century Representations in Art and Literature (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2006). 2 G.h. fleming, John Everett Millais: A Biography (London: constable, 1998), p. 40. 3 As Jan Marsh states, Rossetti’s sketch of ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’ was ‘the first surviving criticism sheet, dated march 1848’. see Jan marsh, Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Painter and Poet (London: weidenfeld & nicolson, 1999), p. 41. hereafter RPP. 4 Julie f. codell, ‘Painting keats: Pre-Raphaelite artists Between social transgressions and Painterly conventions’, Victorian Poetry 33 (1995): 341–70, 342. 1


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

biography: ‘At this time [1846] Rossetti’s intellectual ardour was very great. He read shelley and keats with profound admiration’ (p. 12).5 indeed, Rossetti’s interest in Keats intensified as he got older, haunting his work as both a poet and a painter. according to william michael Rossetti, ‘in his last few years, the poetry of keats was more constantly present to my brother’s thoughts than that of anyone else, hardly excepting dante’.6 George milner claims that the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s charismatic leader and spokesman became ‘something of a specialist’ on keats.7 his correspondence with harold Buxton forman, editor of The Poetical and Other Writings of John Keats, displayed such an intimate knowledge of keats’s poetry that it was published privately in a slim volume, while t.J. wise had his fair copy of Rossetti’s sonnet ‘John keats’ bound into a booklet with an elaborate title page and illustrations.8 Part i of this essay will discuss Rossetti’s fascination with this Romantic poet, focusing, in particular, on a little known collection of letters between Rossetti and the Victorian novelist thomas hall caine, in which echoes of a romanticised keats and his poetry predominate. Rossetti’s idée fixe is, however, hardly disinterested. through an idealised portrait of keats’s life and work, which emphasises the virtues of spiritual edification over sensual indulgence, Rossetti’s letters attempt to refashion his own reputation in the wake of the ‘fleshly school’ scandal.9 yet, despite his investment in the subject, Rossetti’s relationship with keats remained, in one crucial respect, oddly unproductive. in stark contrast to his Pre-Raphaelite brothers – for whom Keats provided an inexhaustible fund of inspiration – Rossetti never finished a painting based on keats’s poetry.10 focusing on the act of ekphrasis and those various forms of anxiety associated with this aesthetic affinity, Part II of my essay explores a number of instances where Rossetti attempted, unsuccessfully, to engage creatively with his Romantic inheritance. 5 Rossetti himself recalls that he began reading ‘La Belle dame sans merci’ in his eighteenth year. dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Keats: Criticism and Comment (London: thomas J. wise, 1919), p. 14. william michael Rossetti suggests that his brother was even younger when he became interested in keats, ‘towards 1846 Bailey’s Festus, and from a rather earlier date keats, also ranked with the highest’, while George h. ford dates Rossetti’s ‘discovery’ of keats to the year 1845. see w.m. Rossetti, Dante Gabriel Rossetti as Designer and Writer (London: cassell & company, 1889), p. 7. hereafter DW. see also George h. ford, Keats and the Victorians: A Study of his Influence and Rise to Fame 1821–1895 (London: archon, 1962). hereafter KV. 6 Quoted in ford, KV, p. 93. 7 George milner, ‘on some marginalia made by dante Gabriel Rossetti in a copy of keats’s Poems’, Englische Studien 61 (1929): 211–19, 212. hereafter OSM. 8 see n. 6. wise’s fair copy of Rossetti’s sonnet is housed in the British Library (ashley ms. /3477). 9 Robert Buchanan’s infamous article, ‘the fleshly school of Poetry: mr. d.G. Rossetti’, will be discussed later in this essay. 10 Whereas Rossetti produced only four early sketches and a half-finished oil painting based on keats’s verse, many of the Pre-Raphaelite’s best-known works were inspired by this poet: hunt’s ‘the Eve of st agnes’ (1848) and ‘isabella and the Pot of Basil’ (1867), and millais’s ‘isabella and Lorenzo’ (1849) and ‘the Eve of st agnes’ (1863) are just a few examples.

‘The Wind Blows Cold out of the Inner Shrine of Fear’


I the phase of Rossetti’s career that i am most concerned with in this essay is the ‘last phase’ from about 1876 to 1882.11 in 1879, the 25-year-old thomas hall caine, later to become a best-selling author of Victorian romances, wrote to the artist for the first time, enclosing a lecture he had recently given on the purity of Rossetti’s verse (a quality for which keats is also praised, as will be discussed shortly).12 Rossetti replied, ‘your estimate of the impulses influencing my poetry is such as I should wish it to suggest’, and thereby began an intense correspondence that ceased only when caine moved in with Rossetti during the summer of 1881.13 caine recalls that throughout their correspondence, ‘there was not [...] a single day in which I did not either receive a letter from Rossetti or write to him’, and describes how these letters ‘were sometimes very long, being of six, eight, twelve, and even sixteen pages’.14 the correspondence, which continued unabated for two years, certainly proved copious with approximately one hundred and fifty letters housed in the Manx national heritage Library alone. caine recorded Rossetti as saying, ‘they were among the largest body of literary letters i ever wrote’.15 Rossetti and caine’s mutual rapture over keats’s ‘truly beautiful’ verse resonates through their correspondence (16 february 1880). Practically every letter dwells upon some aspect of the Romantic poet’s ‘flawless gift’ (11 June 1880). One of Caine’s first letters to Rossetti outlines a proposed ‘study of the genius of Keats’; and even after the relevant chapter in Cobwebs of Criticism is complete, he ‘cannot let it drop’ (28 october 1879).16 such sustained interest in a writer is rare for both ‘the last phase’ is a chapter heading in william Gaunt’s The Pre-Raphaelite Tragedy (London: cape, 1965). 12 Vivien allen writes, He [Caine] was introduced to Rossetti’s poetry by a casual acquaintance during a holiday in the Lake district. the Liverpool city council had booked him to give a series of lectures at the Public Library that winter. fired with a proselyte’s enthusiasm, he threw out his original scheme and devoted his lectures to Rossetti’s poetry instead. when they were completed, in march 1879, he rewrote them for publication and sent the magazine [Colburn’s New Monthly Magazine] in which they appeared to Rossetti. Vivien allen, Dear Mr. Rossetti: The Letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Hall Caine 1878–1881 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), pp. 9–10. See also Vivien Allen, Hall Caine: Portrait of a Victorian Romancer (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997). 13 this letter is dated 29 July 1879 and is part of an extensive correspondence housed in the manx national heritage Library on the isle of man. many of the letters between Rossetti and caine have been edited by Vivien allen (see n. 13), but the sections of the correspondence quoted in this essay are, unless otherwise stated, from my own transcripts of the letters and will subsequently be dated in the text. i am most grateful for Vivien allen’s assistance and the help of Roger sims, Librarian archivist at the manx national heritage Library, for allowing me to handle original and unpublished material within the hall caine archive. 14 thomas hall caine, Recollections of Rossetti, 2nd edn (London: cassell and company, 1928), p. 27. hereafter RR. 15 Quoted in allen, Dear Mr. Rossetti, p. 7. 16 thomas hall caine, Cobwebs of Criticism (London: Elliot stock, 1883). 11


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

caine and Rossetti; the former comments on the ‘freak of feverish fancy’ that usually determines his literary preferences (2 august 1879), and william michael Rossetti suggests that his brother’s adoption of poets as an object of temporary adoration was ‘not merely excessive, but a trifle fanciful’.17 whereas most poets were subject to an initial fervour that cooled over time, keats, by contrast, retained his status as the father of the Pre-Raphaelites. the marginalia in Rossetti’s 1868 moxon edition of keats’s poetry reveals his regard for Endymion – ‘a magic toy, fit for the childhood of a divine poet’ – a sentiment repeated to Jane morris and also echoed in one of his notebooks over a decade later.18 Equally, caine praises keats’s poetry for ‘the beautifying influence of its mere existence’ (20 March 1880), an art for art’s sake sentiment taken to its extreme by william morris who literally fashioned this icon into an objét d’ârt: Keats’s appearance in the Kelmscott Press [...] shows how generally admired his poetry had become by the end of the century. the books were not always suitable for reading; the intention was that they should be artefacts in themselves. the beauty of keats’s work was now thought suitable material for fine printing.19

the high Victorian keats had become both precious and delicate. caine pictures ‘keats’s morbid sensitiveness, racked by a word or a look’, and echoes the myth, originated by keats’s contemporaries, that he was ‘snuffed out by an article’ (Don Juan, Xi, 60): ‘labour spurned did more than all else to kill keats in 1821’ (5 april 1880). the enduring image of keats as a victim held a similar fascination for Rossetti, feeding his persecution complex and adding an element of heroism to his own struggles with the critics. Just as Rossetti cocooned himself from what he perceived to be ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’, so he attempts to shield keats from the moral pollutants of society.20 Both correspondents are unified in their desire to sever the Romantic poet from his social context: ‘keats’s surgery was not a leading fact in his life’ (1 april 1880). the opening line of Rossetti’s sonnet ‘John keats’ (first published in Ballads and Sonnets of 1881) locates the poet in London, yet the subject is immediately dislocated by the break at the end of the second line, followed

17 Letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, ed. by oswald doughty and John Robert wahl, iV (oxford: clarendon Press, 1967), p. 1707 n. 2. hereafter LDGR. 18 see milner, OSM, p. 212. Rossetti’s letter to Jane morris is dated 28 January 1880 (doughty and wahl, p. 1704). the artist’s small notebooks are housed in the British Library (ashley ms. /1410(4)), p. 45r. 19 Robert woof and stephen hebron, John Keats (Grasmere: wordsworth trust, 1995), p. 180. the demand for lavishly illustrated volumes of keats’s poetry increased steadily towards the end of the nineteenth century with a number of individual poems published as ornamental keepsakes. see J.R. macGillivray, Keats: A Bibliography and Reference Guide with an Essay on Keats’ Reputation (toronto: toronto University Press, 1949). 20 Hamlet, act 3, scene 1, 60. Rossetti cautioned caine: ‘we will talk of your sonnet book and of everything in the circle but not of outside matters of any kind which i do not entertain at all’ (13 april 1881, original emphasis).

‘The Wind Blows Cold out of the Inner Shrine of Fear’


by ‘strange road’ (2).21 Rossetti’s London, echoing Blake’s, is a non-specific portrait of degradation and innocence cruelly perverted and mocked by experience: the weltering London ways where children weep and girls whom none call maidens laugh, – strange road. (1–2)

in stark contrast, Rossetti then invites the reader to envisage the mythological landscape of keats’s imagination: ‘he inly trode/ the bright castalian brink and Latmos’ steep’ (3–4).22 this creative sanctuary, completely divorced from the demands of everyday life, is considered, by both correspondents, to be a ‘special privilege’ reserved for poets, like keats, who met an early death, thus making possible ‘the lovely sentimentalised image he bequeathed to us of the young Poet’ (28 march 1880). By this point in his afterlife, keats was regarded as a valuable curiosity, a ‘sugar coated tonic-pill’ (KV, p. 114). throughout Rossetti’s correspondence with caine, keats is upheld as a shrine to art and prized for being free from the ‘modern habit [of] treating material as product’ (29 December 1879). Yet, barely a month after this statement, Rossetti refers to ‘an undoubted unprinted sonnet by keats’ and immediately raises the issue of its monetary value: ‘you shd. certainly use that, whether good or bad. He [Keats] stands too high to be harmed by a mere juvenile trifle – and it would help sales immensely’ (27 January, 1880).23 in the spring of 1880, caine informs Rossetti of a number of discoveries made while working on a proposed biography of keats: ‘i appear to have stumbled across a good deal of fresh material out of which capital might be made if required’ (5 april 1880). caine In the first draft of this poem, Rossetti initially selected the word ‘City’ before replacing it with ‘London’. The three drafts and associated notes for ‘John Keats’ reveal the difficulties Rossetti experienced when writing the opening lines. The first two drafts include the phrase ‘hospital beds of moaning pain’, but this direct reference to keats’s medical training was omitted from the third draft. online manuscripts and transcripts of these drafts are available through the Rossetti archive ( i am grateful to Professor Jerome mcGann for his help in deciphering some of Rossetti’s marginalia on these drafts. 22 after reading Rossetti’s sonnet, caine writes: ‘People will say that keats lived in a fairy world of his own inventing and cared little for the sturm und drang of London life’ (31 march 1880). 23 towards the end of his career, Rossetti increasingly associated artistic endeavours with monetary gain; in may 1876, the painter anticipates that his late tribute to keats, ‘Mnemosyne’, will ‘bring grist to the mill’ and attempts to sell the unfinished work to C.E. fry for £500. see Virginia surtees, The Paintings and Drawings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882): A Catalogue Raisonné (oxford: clarendon Press, 1971), p. 156. hereafter PDR. noticeably, an economic discourse encroaches on mcGann’s discussion of Rossetti’s aesthetic. Rossetti ‘promises an art of consuming luxury’, and produces works that ‘are about being expensive’, yet he remains mindful of ‘expenditure’, maintaining a balance between ‘imaginative profusion and waste’. Jerome J. mcGann, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Game that Must be Lost (new haven: yale University Press, 2000), pp. 97, 151, 144. hereafter GML. John Barclay’s essay, ‘consuming artifacts: dante Gabriel Rossetti’s aesthetic Economy’, Victorian Poetry 35 (1997): 1–21, also explores Rossetti’s complex attitude towards aesthetic and commercial exchanges. 21


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

also proposes a lecture on keats to raise money for the poet’s impoverished sister, but Rossetti raises a series of economically related objections; he is anxious to prevent caine from ‘impoverishing your materials for an article’, while still ‘raising as much from it [the lecture] as possible’ (12 March 1880). Rossetti’s solution is for caine to receive ‘a slight compensation’ for his efforts.24 thus, a gallant gesture towards a ‘damsel in distress’ – keats’s sister – is evaluated in terms of financial viability. Rossetti and Caine repeatedly express an appreciation of Keats’s apparent unworldliness at the same time as commodifying the poet for their own personal gain. as both Rossetti and caine evaluate keats’s poetic worth in terms of potential profitability, so Keats’s death from tuberculosis proves to be an integral aspect of the poet’s appeal. for caine, artistic genius harbours a ‘congenital tendency to keats’s awful disease’; instead of lamenting his untimely death, keats’s illness is regarded as a blessing that ‘served in part to keep him pure’ and singled him out for poetic immortality (5 april 1880, 19 January 1880). as shelley light-heartedly wrote to his fellow Romantic poet: ‘this consumption is a disease particularly fond of people who write such good verses as you have done’.25 Rossetti enviously dwells on this privileged status, finding resonances in his own doom-laden life with the ‘tortured’ souls of the Romantic poets. accordingly, caine attributes keatsian characteristics to Rossetti’s final moments: and then in a simple, natural way, but with a certain quiet exaltation reminding me of Keats’s calm confidence, he spoke of holding his place among the English poets after his death. (RR, p. 247)

Caine adapts Rossetti’s persona to fit a romanticised ideal of the poet, thereby preparing his entry into the canon.26 Rossetti’s appreciation of keats’s work is equally determined by a self-serving agenda. in his moxon edition, Rossetti ranked keats’s poems with a system of asterisks, selecting a few for particular praise: ‘the Eve of st agnes’ and ‘ode to a nightingale’ are marked for special consideration, but none surpass ‘La Belle dame

24 another ‘bonus’ that Rossetti tries to engineer on caine’s behalf is an acquaintance with Lord houghton (who initially opposes caine’s proposed lecture, for encroaching on his efforts to gain a pension for Keats’s sister, but is finally appeased): ‘I am extremely glad you have got some recognition from Lord houghton, as he may prove useful in one way or another’ (11 october 1880). Ever the pragmatist, Rossetti even considers that his own letters to caine ‘may perhaps even yet be useful to you’ (quoted in allen, Dear Mr. Rossetti, p. 9). 25 Quoted in william henry marquess, Lives of the Poet: The First Century of Keats Biography (University Park: Pennsylvania state University Press, 1985), p. 63. hereafter LP. for a discussion of nineteenth-century discourses of consumption, see susan sontag, Illness as Metaphor (London: Penguin, 1991) and alan Bewell, Romanticism and Colonial Disease (Baltimore: Johns hopkins University Press, 1999). 26 Jan marsh claims that this process of self-fashioning began at an early age. a selfportrait of Rossetti dated 1847 casts ‘the artist as a young poet in the style of shelley or keats’ (RPP, p. 22).

‘The Wind Blows Cold out of the Inner Shrine of Fear’


sans merci’ and ‘the Eve of st mark’.27 in a letter dated 29 december 1879, Rossetti states, ‘my favourite piece in his [Keats’s] works is La Belle Dame sans Merci’, as it focuses on a trend for ‘choicer’ and ‘simpler’ poetics, while the ‘lovely Eve of st mark – a fragment which seems to me to rank with La Belle dame sans merci’ is also seen as ‘a clear advance in direct simplicity’ (12 march 1880). Rossetti is evidently commenting on the concise form of these poems, but the term ‘simplicity’ is hardly synonymous with his appreciation of the predecessor’s highly-wrought and sensuous style. For Rossetti, Keats’s verse ‘teem[s] with beauty’, yet these commentaries appear to distinguish and value terseness (June 1880). the question must then be asked: why, in marked contrast to his own style, does Rossetti profess to delight in Keats’s supposed artlessness? And, more significantly, why would Rossetti fabricate a fictitious empathy? The answer perhaps lies in a cursory comment on ‘The Blessed Damozel’ by Evelyn Waugh: ‘It is interesting to see him [Rossetti] at this late hour attempting to recapture the simplicity and sweetness of his earliest poem’.28 from this perspective, Rossetti is attempting to reclaim the unpretentious sincerity of early paintings such as ‘the Girlhood of mary Virgin’ and ‘Ecce ancilla domini’, and poems like ‘sudden Light’ and ‘the woodspurge’, which were not produced to meet the demands of patrons or alleviate debt. it is partly for this reason that the artist coveted keats’s eternal youth and caine’s greenness, impressing upon the latter the value of ‘simple English in prose writing and in narrative poetry’ (12 march 1880). ‘English pure and simple’ is a recurrent theme in Rossetti’s letters to caine, and he praises the ‘characteristically English’ verse of Hyperion, in particular, to compensate for insecurities regarding his own nationality (OSM, p. 215). Rossetti’s insistence on simplicity and Englishness was, in part, a response to Robert Buchanan’s infamous article ‘the fleshly school of Poetry’, in which the poet’s ‘foreignness’ is equated with his sensual style.29 naturally, Rossetti was affronted by what he saw as a flagrant misunderstanding of his work and sought to refute accusations that undermined his artistic integrity. he waged a crusade, largely with himself and those closest to him, in which many proxies were employed; milton’s sonnets, for example, become ‘fresh and wholesome’ in the same letter as ‘La Belle dame sans merci’ is deemed to be ‘chaster’ than anything previously written by keats (28 march 1880). these newly prized qualities are, however, at odds with his attempts to visualise Keats’s verse. Rossetti’s final drawing of ‘La Belle Dame’, for

see milner, OSM, pp. 217–18 for an entire list of Rossetti’s ranking system. a system of asterisks was similarly applied to the PRB’s list of immortals in which keats attained the high rank of two stars. 28 Evelyn waugh, Rossetti: His Life and Works (London: duckworth, 1928), p. 208. 29 Robert Buchanan, ‘the fleshly school of Poetry: mr. d.G. Rossetti’, The Contemporary Review 18 (1871): 334–50, in An Anthology of Pre-Raphaelite Writings, ed. Carolyn Hares-Stryker (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), pp. 237–47. Buchanan’s scathing critique denounced the ‘thorough nastiness’ and intellectual inferiority of Rossetti’s poetry (‘Jenny’, in particular, was singled out for its supposed indecency). for a more detailed discussion of this controversial article, see ‘the aesthetic conspiracy’ in J.B. Bullen, The Pre-Raphaelite Body: Fear and Desire in Painting, Poetry, and Criticism (oxford: clarendon Press, 1998), pp. 157–64. 27


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

example, focuses on the ‘sweet moan’ of sexual communion.30 the lovers generate erotic tension through a clasped hand being kissed as their lower bodies are forced together between the saddle and the horse’s head (see figure 1). in addition, Rossetti’s later rendition of keats’s ‘mnemosyne’ represents a tribute to Jane morris with her ubiquitous curls, abundant flesh, wide eyes and full, red mouth. On the rare occasions when Rossetti tried to interact visually with keats, the Romantic poet’s work was easily adapted to the artist’s style. Similarly, Caine celebrates Keats’s ‘youth [which] ran riot with a like wantonness’ to his own, and concedes, in his chapter on keats in Cobwebs of Criticism, ‘it may be true that keats’s mind with its loving yearning after loveliness seemed always to have a look southward’.31 in other words, the Romantic poet’s concern with beauty was in no small part synonymous with sexual desire. such a contrived discourse, praising the virtuous while lingering on the corporeal, suggests narcissistic tendencies.32 for example, at the same time as Rossetti omits a ballad from his 1881 volumes of poetry because ‘it deals trivially with a base amour’ (25 february 1880), he asks Buxton forman to refrain from publishing keats’s poem ‘sharing Eve’s apple’, because its ignoble expression of sexual passion is ‘rather vulgar [...] and gives no idea of his true nature’.33 Rossetti’s estimate of his own writing, which, as we have seen, is partly a reaction to adverse criticism, now governs his appreciation of keats. a further instance of this self-fashioning by proxy is revealed in the artist’s promotion of the ‘frisson of fascinated distaste’ that swept through Victorian readers upon the publication of the fanny Brawne love-letters (LP, p. 61, original emphasis). Rossetti claims to have felt ‘greatly pained by the perusal of the keats-Brawne letters’, yet maintains that the letters should still be ‘obtainable as a literary treasure’, presumably to admit his own private access to the letters while preserving keats’s reputation (9 may 1880). this sanitised image of keats, consisting of nothing but what is ‘pure’ and untainted, echoes Rossetti’s revised view of his own work: ‘i deal with nothing but what is healthy’ (25 october 1880). Rossetti is projecting onto the precursor’s life and work a self-reflexive discourse of artistic wish fulfilment in an attempt to make amends for his own past indulgences. Rossetti became fond of quoting the following line from a hartley coleridge sonnet: ‘if i have sinned in act, i may repent’ (11 april 1880, and 29 march 1881). as planned, Rossetti’s manipulation of the artistic persona laid the foundations for his own posthumous reputation. shortly after the artist’s death, walter Pater wrote a résumé of Rossetti’s work in which he dwells on the ‘perfect sincerity’, ‘wholesome wisdom’ and ‘pure reflection’ of his subject’s poetry.34 caine also assured his readers that Rossetti ‘had been prompted by the highest of spiritual emotions, [...] 30 ‘La Belle dame sans meri’, 20. all references to keats’s poems are taken from John Keats: The Complete Poems, ed. John Barnard, 3rd ed. (London: Penguin, 1988). 31 see caine, Cobwebs of Criticism, pp. 175–80. 32 catherine maxwell discusses Rossetti’s captivation with the narcissus myth in his preparatory work for the unfinished painting ‘Aspecta Medusa’. See ‘‘It Once Should Save as well as kill’: dG Rossetti and the feminine’, in Outsiders Looking In: The Rossettis Then and Now, ed. david clifford and Laurence Roussillon (London: anthem, 2004), pp. 223–36. 33 Letter dated 19 may 1881 in Rossetti, Criticism and Comment, p. 16. 34 The English Poets: The Nineteenth Century: Wordsworth to Rossetti, ed. t.h. ward, 5 vols (London: macmillan, 1891), iV, pp. 633–42.

‘The Wind Blows Cold out of the Inner Shrine of Fear’


the passions of the body were as nothing unless sanctified by the concurrence of the soul’ (RR, p. 11). twentieth-century critics proved equally eager to defend Rossetti’s honour. writing in 1955, desmond maccarthy states: ‘he was not the most sensual but, on the contrary, the most spiritual of love-poets’.35 alicia craig faxon’s more recent study of the artist expresses consternation at the sensualist label applied to Rossetti: ‘he was intensely secular and profoundly spiritual, in many ways a mystic of the imagination, and yet he became the leader of what was dubbed the “fleshly school” of poetry and painting’.36 if Rossetti’s narcissism had such a profound impact on his own posthumous reputation, what are the consequences for his Romantic model? in the correspondence between Rossetti and Caine, Keats undergoes a ritualistic purification in accordance with a revised ideal of the artistic self. keats attains the status of a deity or ‘king’, and his work becomes a Gospel which is read with utter conviction: yet, at the same time, he is never more than a passive conduit for his successor’s artistic agenda.37 however, in his theory of the erotic struggles that underpin European literature, René Girard cautions the active agent who worships the object of desire; within this framework, Rossetti is now subject to ‘the whole gamut of feelings [...] of a religious experience in which terror, anathema, and taboos play an increasing role’.38 Even an accomplished artist can become prey to this spiritual paralysis, and Pater discerns worrying signs of ‘divine mania’, ‘insanity’ and ‘a certain feverishness of soul’ in Rossetti’s poetry. Benson’s comment on Rossetti’s verse is particularly telling in this context: ‘the wind blows cold out of the inner shrine of fear’.39 II so far this essay has concentrated on the Victorian artist’s primacy over the Romantic past, a reversal of the Bloomian hierarchy in which the inheritor now exerts influence over the predecessor. I have examined his numerous objectifications of Keats in Rossetti’s correspondence with caine, tracing the divergent, and often contradictory, discourses imposed upon a receptive subject. Keats is, by turns, sanctified as an icon of beauty and valued as a commercially viable asset. The Romantic poet figures as a mode of exchange, a commodity to invest in, and a literary ideal through which canonicity can be attained. in short, keats is utilised as a sign for the Rossettian persona. However, despite the present’s endeavours to define its immediate literary past, the object retains an enigmatic power that cannot easily be diminished. according to 35 desmond maccarthy, ‘Rossetti and hall caine’, Portraits (London: douglas saunders with macGibbon & kee, 1955), p. 229. 36 alicia craig faxon, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (London: abbeville, 1989), p. 217. hereafter DGR. 37 see milner, OSM, p. 215, for an example of Rossetti’s quasi-religious adoration of keats. 38 René Girard, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structure, trans. yvonne freccero (Baltimore: Johns hopkins University Press, 1965), p. 77. hereafter DDN. 39 arthur c. Benson, Rossetti (London: macmillan, 1904), p. 90. hereafter R.


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

Bakhtin, the self and the other form a symbiotic co-dependency in which the former relies upon the vital stimulus of the latter.40 Likewise, Girard’s protagonists only attain significance by virtue of the object, or beloved, leading him to a conviction in the ‘priority of the other in desire’ (DDN, p. 46). albeit from very different perspectives, both Bakhtin and Girard stress the importance of the other, and it is with this revised approach that i shall be re-examining the relationship between Keats and Rossetti. There are, however, significant differences between the way in which Bakhtin and Girard view the interaction between artist and subject. whereas the former values the strong bond between the self and the other, the latter sets them apart through a discourse of mistrust and hatred: Romantic passion is thus exactly the reverse of what it pretends to be. it is not abandonment to the other but an implacable war waged by two rival vanities. (DDN, p. 108)

Viewing the relationship between Rossetti and keats in the light of Girard’s statement suggests an undeniable friction. yet, despite Rossetti’s self-involved readings of Keats’s life and work, I can identify no antagonistic anxiety of influence, no instance of envy, jealousy or rivalry – collectively forming max scheler’s theory of ‘Ressentiment’ – in Rossetti’s approach to the Romantic forefather.41 Based on the poet’s misreadings of his forefather in the inextricable battle of artistic autonomy, harold Bloom’s theory of literary history posits an oedipal combat that can never be won by the inheritor; he is inevitably paralysed by the strength of the precursor’s originality.42 Exhausted, the poet dies and leaves his legacy on the path of poetic diminishment. this prognosis hardly seems applicable to Rossetti when the worst he seems able to muster is a ‘hyper-criticism’ of keats’s occasional verse (OSM, p. 214). Rossetti’s contrived version of keats’s life and work could be construed as an insidious misreading: equally feasible, however, is a positive oedipal configuration with Keats as the father figure (which is particularly relevant given Rossetti’s quasi-religious worship of the poet). Either way, there is no suppressed anguish or anger that leads the inheritor to slay the symbolic figurehead of power. However, I do not intend to be overly dismissive of Bloom’s theory of influence. the notion of belatedness, ‘the exhaustions of being a late-comer’, is, i believe, integral to the relationship between Rossetti and keats (AI, p. 12). Rossetti considered keats to be the ultimate poetic genius, thereby prompting a premature closure within that medium. Benson paraphrases Rossetti’s prognosis: ‘English poetry was fast reaching the termination of its long and splendid career, and keats represented its final achievement’ (R, p. 80). In addition to financial inducements, Rossetti’s perception of keats’s monumental achievement proved decisive in concentrating his career on painting rather than poetry. yet during the period of the artist’s life i have been examining, Rossetti considered himself to be increasingly unable to make new departures in any artistic medium, ‘finding myself, as I grow older, more 40 for a discussion of Bakhtin’s formative ideas on aesthetics, see deborah J. haynes, Bakhtin and the Visual Arts (cambridge: cambridge University Press, 1995). 41 scheler’s theory is outlined in DDN, pp. 11–14. 42 harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (London: oxford University Press, 1973). hereafter AI.

‘The Wind Blows Cold out of the Inner Shrine of Fear’


than ever at the mercy of my first sources of inspiration’ (LDGR, p. 1815 n. 3). in the spring of 1880, Rossetti confessed to caine that he had let himself become firmly entrenched in ‘the full bitterness of the Shadowed Valley’ (12 March 1880). depression gradually blighted Rossetti’s spirits and he fell prey to what he called the ‘Sloth [that] jaundiced all’ (16 February 1880). faxon’s study of Rossetti emphasises the weariness of his last years, portraying a man tragically dehabilitated by lost loves, depression, drug abuse and the fear that he was artistically past his best. according to faxon, Rossetti failed to complete his large-scale oil painting ‘Mnemosyne’ (derived from the female figure in Book Three of keats’s Hyperion) because ‘he was a seriously ill man [who] surmised that he had not long to live’ (DGR, p. 213). health problems, therefore, prevented Rossetti from finishing this visual rendering of Keats’s poetry. Faxon also suggests that ‘mnemosyne’ was ‘the last major original painting that Rossetti worked on before his death’, yet notes elsewhere that he subsequently saw ‘the daydream’ through to its final stages and extensively reworked the composition after all references to ‘mnemosyne’ had ceased (DGR, p. 210). william michael Rossetti’s tabular listing of his brother’s art works states that ‘mnemosyne’ occupied Rossetti from 1876 to 1880, and lists twelve separate oil paintings commenced during and after that time: as well as ‘the daydream’, these include major pieces such as ‘a Vision of fiametta’, ‘the Blessed damozel (with predella)’ and ‘La donna della finestra’.43 admittedly, Rossetti was unwell during this period (although it is difficult to discern between genuine illness, hypochondria and the effects of completely severing the chloral that fed his addiction) but, as caine argued, ‘his intellect was as powerful as in his best days, and he was just as eager to occupy himself’ (RR, p. 236). marsh imagines how ‘friends may have credited Rossetti with virtually miraculous powers of recovery, seeing how speedily he resumed painting, with a professionalism that belied the weeks of incapacity’, and his siblings similarly disputed that their brother’s final years were spent in constant decline (RPP, p. 456).44 if we accept, then, that Rossetti was productive until the year of his death and correctly situate ‘mnemosyne’ within the chronology of his art works, the question arises as to why the painter abandoned his portrait of the mother of the muses.45 Mnemosyne was the goddess of poetry and painting, providing a fitting tribute to keats, by a man who mastered both verbal and visual mediums. it is, however, the very nature of the work, epitomising a ‘liminal event’ that both affirms kinship and reinforces difference, which suggests a reason for the artist’s procrastination see DW, pp. 288–9. in ‘the house of dante Gabriel Rossetti’ (1892), a brief yet affectionate memoir of her brother’s final years, Christina Rossetti describes the ‘happy days’ spent at the ‘wonderland’ of cheyne walk: ‘Gloom and eccentricity such as have been alleged were at any rate not the sole characteristics of dante Gabriel Rossetti’. Selected Prose of Christina Rossetti, ed. by david a. kent and P.G. stanwood (Basingstoke: macmillan, 1998), pp. 191–3, 192–3. 45 in both Hyperion. A Fragment and The Fall of Hyperion. A Dream, mnemosyne imparts visionary gifts and musical talents onto the male subject. she is ‘an awful Goddess’, ancient and powerful, who empowers the poet: by contrast, in his inability to complete the tribute to mnemosyne, Rossetti displays the weakness that keats’s apollo discards (Hyperion. A Fragment, 46). 43 44


Fig. 1

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

dante Gabriel Rossetti, ‘La Belle dame sans merci’ (c. 1855)

(GML, p. 71).46 within this envisaged conjoining of the arts lies a potent source of anxiety – ‘ekphrastic fear’.47 Rossetti was occupied with ‘mnemosyne’ for four years, albeit intermittently, at a time when he ‘grew increasingly possessed by the idea of the finished and masterful work’, thus revealing the extent to which he grappled with the ‘resistance or counterdesire’ of this artistic union.48 as well as being haunted by the Bloomian spectre of belatedness, the ekphrastic artist is rendered an other to the ‘original’ self. however, when we examine Rossetti’s previous attempts to interpret keats visually, ‘mnemosyne’ does not represent an uncharacteristic instance of painter’s 46 in a notebook used at this time, Rossetti jotted down an idea for a painting of ‘michelangelo Unburying the Laocoön’, a subject also associated with the thorny relationship between art and literature, which was never executed. 47 see ‘Ekphrasis and the other’ in w.J.t. mitchell, Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation (chicago and London: chicago University Press, 1994), pp. 151–81, 154. 48 mcGann, p. 150; mitchell, p. 154. for Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and c.s. Baldwin, ekphrasis is a transgression of artistic boundaries, an ‘amplification rather than progression’. see Lessing, Laocoön, trans. Ellen frothingham (new york: noonday, 1957), and Baldwin, Medieval Rhetoric and Poetic (new york: macmillan, 1924), p. 12.

‘The Wind Blows Cold out of the Inner Shrine of Fear’


paralysis limited to his final years.49 a rough sketch of ‘La Belle dame sans merci’ (c. 1855) represents Rossetti’s fourth attempt to picture keats’s lovers. Virginia surtees states that the previous drawings ‘bear little relation to the subject of keats’s poem’, and expresses her disappointment that they were not amongst the more successful early pen-and-ink sketches (PDR, p. 39). In this final version, the artist alludes to his source through the inclusion of a verse from the poem within the actual composition. incorporating keats’s words within this visual medium produces a somewhat defamiliarising effect that problematises the issue of ekphrasis still further. Even more noteworthy is the stanza chosen to adorn the sketch: i set her on my pacing steed, and nothing else saw all day long, for sidelong would she bend, and sing a faery’s song. (21–4)

Rossetti selects the stanza in which the knight appears most assertive in a poem predominantly concerned with his powerlessness. these lines validate the pictorial representation of a forthright suitor who oppresses his lover. moreover, in terms of the artist’s relation to his literary subject, the depiction of a dominant male emphasises Rossetti’s confident approach to this ekphrastic union with Keats. yet if we regard Rossetti’s knight as a sign of the artist’s creative intent, a personification of his attitude towards this collaboration with the forefather, the lady becomes a more problematic figure. The Belle Dame recoils from the knight’s touch, straining ‘sidelong’ from his advances; she is startled by the physical proximity of her companion as he boldly kisses her hand (23). her reaction undermines Rossetti’s assured masculine empathy with keats’s protagonist. the lady embodies the painter’s fears of being lured, like the knight, into the enticing ‘elfin grot’, which promises a pleasurable interaction with the other but realises only the nightmarish terrors of artistic redundancy (29). Rossetti’s simultaneous responses of attraction and repulsion, as manifest in this pictorial pairing, exemplifies the difficulties associated with an ekphrastic encounter and perhaps explains why his sequence of preparatory sketches did not result in an actual painting. this drawing provides an early example of Rossetti’s contradictory impulses of desire and inhibition when attempting to interact creatively with keats. the problems of this sketch are not, however, limited to psychodynamics: it is also inadequate as a piece of precursory art work. Rossetti was not proficient in drawing animals and the arrangement of his human figures is equally deficient. the hero and heroine appear to belong not only to the different planes of existence in keats’s poem – the ‘real’ and supernatural worlds constructed by the knight’s narrative – but to entirely separate pictures. note the erect posture of the knight awkwardly juxtaposed against the curving lines of the lady, while the wind, which 49 marsh recounts how in the early years of the Brotherhood Rossetti ‘proposed that everyone illustrate keats’s Isabella’ (RPP, p. 42). hunt drew ‘Lorenzo at his desk in the warehouse’ and millais responded with a drawing that would become the preliminary design for his well-known work ‘isabella and Lorenzo’. indicative of his idiosyncratic relationship with keats, Rossetti did not attempt a design.


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

does not touch his hair, blows her tresses into a stream of locks. with regards to artistic awkwardness, John Beer reminds us that ‘one of the most common effects of everyday anxiety is a disturbance of fluency’.50 admittedly, this is just a drawing, a visual arrangement of ideas on paper, but when compared with other sketches of the same period, the difference in quality is unmistakeable. ‘hamlet and ophelia’, for example, is a far more detailed, accomplished and symbolically rich piece, and even its hastily executed understudy is compositionally stronger. Even though Rossetti’s interest in ‘La Belle dame sans merci’ did not diminish, his artistic engagement with the poem ended with this sketch and, as discussed above, a later attempt to portray keats’s ‘mnemosyne’ on canvas was also abandoned. yet, curiously, Rossetti engaged creatively with a host of other writers. for example, the artist turned his design from Browning’s ‘Pippa Passes’ into a watercolour, ‘hist! said kate the Queen’, and an oil entitled ‘two mothers’. his fascination with arthurian legend similarly inspired a number of highly-wrought illustrations for the Moxon Tennyson. However, the two major literary influences on Rossetti’s art were shakespeare and the painter’s namesake, dante. the work of both these writers remained significant to Rossetti throughout his life: one of his earliest pen-and-ink sketches illustrates a scene from As You Like It, while the last literary source that the painter worked from was Othello. Equally, dante’s ill-fated infatuation with Beatrice furnished Rossetti with a poignant discourse, both verbal and visual, to express his own illicit feelings for william morris’s wife. as marsh states, Rossetti adopted the Vita Nuova as ‘his life’s text’, thereby elevating his private intrigues to the status of artistic myth (RPP, p. 520). in the catalogue of his brother’s work, william michael Rossetti labelled 43 major paintings as ‘illustrating dante’ (DW, p. 268). such a productive relationship with dante’s poetry highlights the peculiarity of Rossetti’s artistic engagement, or lack of engagement, with keats. it would seem logical to suggest that the artist’s inhibitions were the result of his ‘overpowering admiration’ for keats’s verse (R, p. 76). however, Rossetti’s kinship with dante was no less formative or significant in the process of defining the Rossettian persona, yet the artist utilised the Vita Nuova for a veritable production line of symbolic female figures and narrative paintings. Admiration for Keats undoubtedly contributed to Rossetti’s artistic paralysis, but this reading alone does not account for the rather specific and acute nature of his uncharacteristic lack of output. To further another explanation, while the historical distance between Rossetti and Dante nullified symptoms of anxiety, lending the artist a degree of licence, keats’s status was newly emerging. the proximity of keats, combined with Rossetti’s active participation in the consolidation of the precursor’s reputation, eroded any chronotopic separation between the Romantic poet and his successor: Rossetti was confronted with the immediacy of his idol and readily immersed himself in the ideal. However, rather than Rossetti’s knowledge of, and affinity with, Keats culminating in an illuminating revelation or eagerly anticipated synthesis with the subject, nearness results in confusion and loss. as Girard suggests,

50 John Beer, Romantic Influences: Contemporary–Victorian–Modern (new york: st. martin’s, 1993), p. 51.

‘The Wind Blows Cold out of the Inner Shrine of Fear’


This desire is a corrosive disease which first attacks the periphery and then spreads toward the center; it is an alienation which grows more complete as the distance between model and disciple diminishes. (DDN, p. 43, original emphasis)

from ‘hand and soul’ onwards, Rossetti’s work sought to form a Romantic bond. this long-awaited union is, however, fraught with difficulty and only serves to reinforce the distance, or what John Barclay refers to as a ‘space of discontent’, between the speaker and his subject (p. 9). Rossetti may attempt to traverse these boundaries, disrupting Bakhtin’s precarious symbiosis, but as keats himself demonstrates in ‘ode on a Grecian Urn’, the sense of estrangement between self and other cannot be lessened even by the poetic act. Barbara Gelpi argues that the author’s neurotic need for intimacy with his subjects gives rise to the ‘negative feelings of fear, anger, hatred, self-pity, and a host of those other “bogeys” which caused Rossetti so much pain’.51 Equally disruptive, in ‘the anxiety of the writing subject’, Lucy newlyn sees the precursor as a two-headed monster paralysing the present-day artist.52 Lurking within poetic empathy is the spectre of recognition, the ghastly reflection of the Self in the Other (a reversal of the egoistic drive to see the other as a projection of the self as outlined in Part 1). as walter Jackson Bate put it, ‘in no other case are you enjoined to admire and at the same time to try, at all costs, not to follow closely what you admire [...] The arts stutter, stagger, pull back into paralysis and indecision before such a conflict of demand’ (original emphasis).53 The pressure to simultaneously ‘kindle and restrain’ the influence of the precursor creates a double burden of anxiety that can ultimately develop into a ‘blockage’ (AWS, p. 623). Even more terrifying, and potentially discrediting, than recognition is the creative spirit’s fear of repetition. the shameful feelings of fraud and deception that arise from repetition inevitably lead to the figurative death of the artist. in his later years, Rossetti was so ‘soaked with keats’ that the prospect of a phantom-like twin mocking his mirror image must have presented a very real possibility (KV, p. 121).54 newlyn also describes an ever-present, murky middle-ground between the present and the past that can prevent creative contact, acting as an unbridgeable gulf which remains genuinely ‘ghostly’ (AWS, p. 622). Perhaps Rossetti’s increasingly frequent periods of paranoia and neurosis towards the end of his life developed out of the knowledge that he had fallen from his chosen path and become lost in this limbo-like state. he required the Romantic precursor to aid him on his quest for pure, sacred beauty in a bid to counter the so-called ‘fleshliness’ of his work and admit his entry into the canon: yet any attempt at keats-based art only reinforced 51 Barbara Gelpi, ‘the feminization of d.G. Rossetti’, The Victorian Experience: The Poets, ed. Richard a. Levine (columbus, oh: ohio University Press, 1982), pp. 94–114, 102. 52 Lucy newlyn, ‘the anxiety of the writing subject’, Studies in Romanticism 35 (1996): 609–28. hereafter AWS. 53 walter Jackson Bate, The Burden of the Past and the English Poet (London: chatto & windus, 1971), pp. 133–4. Quoted in Beer, Romantic Influences, p. 52. 54 Rossetti had a keen eye for detecting Keats’s influence in the work of his siblings. Rossetti feared that lines in christina’s ‘a Royal Princess’ were too reminiscent of keats and similarly cautioned william against over-reliance on this particular poet.


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

his trademark sensuality. Rossetti’s noble intentions – or, rather, his contrived programme of poetic sobriety – were thwarted by the very agency he chose to affect his conversion, thereby cornering the painter in a realm of hesitation and self-doubt. or maybe it is simply the case that Rossetti did not endeavour, in marked contrast to the Bloomian compulsion, to discredit and expel the influence of the forefather, preferring instead the alternate, and more congenial, form of uncritical worship that led to a frustrating impasse between appropriation and admiration. the second part of this essay has dealt with a succession of negative factors, from various manifestations of creative anxiety – including belatedness, recognition and repetition – to physical and mental incapacity, the nature of ekphrastic art, and the intimacy of aesthetic association, which to a greater or lesser extent account for the artist’s lack of visual engagement with his precursor. Rossetti’s relationship with keats is not animated by inspired collaborations or the dramatic drive towards poetic parricide: on the contrary, the present is unable to disengage itself from the past. as ford suggests, ‘the essential thing is that with the spirit of Keats he [Rossetti] had no quarrel whatever’ (KV, p. 95, original emphasis). there is no kenosis, an ‘undoing’ of the ‘precursor’s strength in oneself’, without which, as G. kim Blank argues, ‘we would be too open to influence, and never ourselves’.55 for all the Victorian progeny’s attempts to define and determine the future path of the Romantic forefather, Rossetti remains creatively redundant while keats retains his desirability as a subject and regulates the pretensions of this newcomer.

55 Bloom, AI, pp. 87–8, original emphasis; and G. kim Blank, Wordsworth’s Influence on Shelley: A Study of Poetic Authority (London: macmillan, 1988), p. 20.

chapter 5

Rival cultures: charles dickens and the Byronic Legacy1 Vincent newey

writing in 1833 in England and the English, Edward Bulwer Lytton, lifelong friend of charles dickens, saw the death of Lord Byron in 1824 as marking a historic transition: when Byron passed away, the feeling he had represented craved utterance no more. with a sigh we turned to the actual and practical career of life: we awoke from the morbid, the passionate, the dreaming, ‘the moonlight and the dimness of the mind’, and by a natural reaction addressed ourselves to the active and daily objects which lay before us ... . hence that strong attachment to the Practical, which became so visible a little time after the death of Byron, and which continues ... to characterise the temper of the time.2

shadowing Bulwer’s words is the first Reform act of 1832, whose abolition of rotten boroughs and extension of the franchise to respectable householders and tenant-farmers made manifest the displacement of aristocratic authority by that of the rising middle-class. the leaders of the new, increasingly democratic age are, he tells his readers, not the ‘poets and refiners’, but ‘statesmen and economists’, people like the philosopher of utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham. Bulwer might have added ‘the novelists’, among whom he could count himself, to his list of the ever more influential. My purpose is to consider Dickens’s relation to Byron and in so doing throw light not only upon these two authors but on the process of cultural change in which they were implicated. what discussion there has been of the dickens–Byron relationship takes its line from the attitude of rejection expressed by dickens in one of his letters: ‘it is not the province of a Poet to harp upon his own discontents, or to teach other people that they ought to be discontented. Leave Byron to his gloomy greatness.’3 thus, william R. harvey, in ‘charles dickens and the Byronic hero’, argues – with good reason – that in his fiction Dickens stood opposed to the ‘intense passions and fierce the author and present editors of this collection are indebted to the editors of The Byron Journal for permission to reprint here in expanded and revised form material originally published by them. 2 Edward Bulwer Lytton, England and the English (1833), ed. standish meacham (chicago: University of chicago Press, 1970), p. 286. 3 to s. horrell, 25 november 1840: The Letters of Charles Dickens, ed. madeline house and Graham storey, 11 vols (oxford: clarendon Press, 1965– ), 2, p. 155. 1


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

individualism’ of the type, and to what Edgar Johnson, dickens’s biographer, termed the ‘Byronic mood of futility or the erratic cynicism’ apparent in figures like James steerforth in David Copperfield.4 dickens championed, rather, ‘the meaningfulness of effort’5 – disseminator, we may say, of the Victorian gospel of work and selfreliance, where his counterpart as popular theorist was samuel smiles in his bestselling treatise on Self-Help (1859). Juliet John treads a similar path in the chapter on ‘Byronic Baddies’ in her recent Dickens’s Villains. dickens’s Byronic characters – steerforth, James harthouse in Hard Times, henry Gowan in Little Dorrit, sydney carton in A Tale of Two Cities, and Eugene wrayburn in Our Mutual Friend – represent the kind of ‘Romantic individualism’, involuted, role-playing, self-destructive, antisocial, careless of the external world (excepting, perhaps, the female sex), that dickens ‘despised’, and over against which, either through critique or programmes of redemption, or both, he set ‘models of moral improvement ... [and] communality’.6 without wishing to challenge this reading,7 i shall press for a wider view of dickens’s engagement with Byronic Romanticism, which, though he must forfeit it in favour of an ethos of solid social virtues, held for him a deep fascination. Byronism functions for dickens, not simply as a negative indicator of true fulfilment and value, a ‘bad life’ that defines or in certain cases changes to become a ‘good life’, but as a locus of positive creative attention. in other words, in pondering dickens and Byron we should think of connections as well as departures, and of continuities as well as breaks. this is especially true with regard to an important historical link of which neither harvey nor John shows any inkling, which is that dickens inherits from Byron a sense of the spiritual bankruptcy of the English upper classes and their regime. it is surprising that no one, with the exception of Bernard Beatty in a brief aside,8 has recognised in the London and norman abbey cantos of Don Juan, with the ‘menagerie’ of Lord henry amundeville’s town mansion in ‘Blank–Blank square’ (Xii. 24, Xiii. 25) and ‘the polish’d, smooth and cold’ assembly at his country seat (XIII. 110), the certain basis of dickens’s depiction of the atrophying domain of the deadlocks’ chesney wold in Bleak House and the hard, glittering superficiality of the aptly-named Veneerings and their circle in Our Mutual Friend.9 this satiric Byron predicts the political future rather than epitomises a disappearing imaginative past. 4 william R. harvey, ‘charles dickens and the Byronic hero’, Nineteenth-Century Fiction 24 (1969–70): 305–16 (p. 315); Edgar Johnson, Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph. 2 vols (new york: schuster, 1952), 2, p. 821. 5 Johnson, 2, p. 697. 6 Juliet John, Dickens’s Villains: Melodrama, Character, Popular Culture (oxford: oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 171, 175. 7 my own earlier reading of some of these characters, though from an angle other than that of Byronism, anticipates John’s: see my ‘dickensian decadents’, in michael st John ed., Romancing Decay: Ideas of Decadence in European Culture (aldershot: ashgate, 1999), pp. 64–87. 8 Bernard Beatty, Byron: Don Juan and Other Poems (harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1987), p. 101. 9 References to Don Juan are from Lord Byron: The Complete Poetical Works, ed. Jerome J. mcGann, vol. V (oxford: clarendon Press, 1986), and are given as canto and stanza.

Rival Cultures


an interesting anticipation not only of the theme of a declining aristocracy but the whole pattern of dickens’s responses to Byron, which are mixed and involve both harking back and moving on, exists in one of Bulwer Lytton’s own novels, Pelham (1828), a work drawing directly upon the poet’s appeal and reputation in the years following his death. in Pelham the genre of so-called ‘silver-fork’ fiction is transformed from a medium for vicarious entry into the manners and intrigues of high society to a means of evaluating that society. there is much criticism, for example, of the inverted standards of the English who ‘make business an enjoyment, and enjoyment a business’, and of their ‘falsehood and deceit’, where ‘warmth is always artificial – their cold never’ (66, p. 291).10 the eponymous gentlemanhero does from the inside, under the semblance of being a ‘voluptuary’ (14, p. 46), what the exiled Byron had done from the informed margins in Don Juan and what dickens was to accomplish from the outside. this satire, however, is not the only facet of Byronism embedded in the novel. In the villain, Tyrell, we have a figuring of the worst that could be thought of Byron – the recklessness and immorality of the ‘bold, bad man’, the ‘licentiousness’ of the rake, the ‘unregulated mind’ that thought of men with ‘bitterness’ and of women with ‘the levity of contempt’ (42, p. 166). On the other hand, Lord Glanville, the celebrity, writer and connoisseur of fine art and fine food whom Pelham befriends and saves from false accusations of murder, gives out varied impressions. there is a familiar dark side: like Byron’s manfred he broods in ‘gloom and despondency’ over a ‘past evil’, which turns out to be his illicit love of a young woman and its tragic consequences (47, pp. 184–5). yet at the same time he compels admiration on account of his ‘perfect masculine beauty, at once physical and intellectual’ (46, p. 178), his frankness and detestation of ‘cant’, and his singular works of ‘mingled passion and reflection’ (47, p. 184). Pelham refers to a reductiveness in common reactions to Byron, where gentlemen grow ‘doleful’ over his verses and practise ‘dramatic brown studies’ (47, p. 184; 67. p. 300); but in his own portrait of Glanville Bulwer keeps faith with Byron’s challenging inconsistency – with a kaleidoscope of bad traits and good. But this does not mean that Bulwer proposes any emulation of Lord Glanville. it is in the Bildungsroman of henry Pelham’s progress that he plots the exemplary course, which is towards a liberal-humanist and middle-class ideology of a kind dickens was subsequently to repeat with a more wide-ranging and weightier authority. Glanville withers and dies, a symbolic passing of the old like that assigned to Byron’s demise in England and the English, and Pelham inherits the earth, ending up safely bound ‘in pure and holy love’ to Glanville’s sister, leading a laudable domestic existence ‘quietly, ... among my books’ but ready to step dutifully once more ‘before the world’ (76, p. 373; 86, p. 442). the qualities Pelham will display in the arena of business and politics he has already explained early in his narrative – ‘moral principle’ and ‘good feelings’ (37, p. 148). he aligns goodness with the conquest of egotism and with a developing integrity and concern for others: ‘i ceased to look upon the world as a game one was to play fairly, if possible – but where a little cheating was readily the Right hon. Lord Lytton, Pelham; or, Adventures of a Gentleman (1828). knebworth ed. (London: George Routledge and sons, n.d.). Parenthetical references are to chapter and page. 10


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allowed: i no longer divorced the interests of other men from my own’ (37, p. 148). it is worth remembering the understanding of life as a ‘game’, for it is an attitude that not only the mature Pelham but dickens’s redeemed villains exhibit to transcend. Pelham may well have influenced Dickens; certainly it constitutes a well-defined bridge from one era to another, at once mediating the Byronic legacy and setting new cultural goals. I James steerforth’s links with Byron are less clear-cut than Lord Glanville’s, but are nonetheless real. Peter thorslev, in his general account of the evolution of the Byronic hero in the nineteenth century, highlights the ‘problem of commitment’, the bouts of ‘painful self-consciousness’, and an ego ‘sometimes cynical, and sometimes remorseful’.11 steerforth has all these characteristics. towards serious endeavour he shows a sub-aristocratic hauteur, declaring himself, for instance, ‘bored to death’ with his education (19, p. 346).12 though we never learn how he feels about his ruining of Little Emily, he does, just before it happens, express regret for the shape his life has taken, confessing to david ‘i wish with all my soul i could guide myself better’, and talking of ‘the torment to myself that i have been’ (22, p. 380). whatever his emotions of guilt, however, steerforth cannot hold back in his actions. in a moment of high spirits he formulates his motto as a gentleman of fortune, inexorably driven from within: ‘Ride on! Rough-shod if need be, smooth-shod if that will do, but ride on! Ride on over all obstacles, and win the race!’ (28, p. 488). we know that dickens owned a separate copy of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, as well as an edition of Byron’s complete poems,13 and it may be that in his conception of steerforth’s impassioned fervour he has in mind the imagery of the headlong ‘ride’ at the beginning of canto iii: and the waves bound beneath me as a steed that knows his rider. welcome to their roar! swift be their guidance, wheresoe’er it lead! ... still must i on; for i am as a weed, flung from the rock, on ocean’s foam to sail where’er the surge may sweep, or tempest’s breath prevail. (iii. 2)14

11 Peter L. thorslev, Jr, The Byronic Hero: Types and Prototypes (minneapolis: University of minnesota Press, 1962), pp. 144–5. 12 charles dickens, David Copperfield (1849–50), ed. trevor Blount (harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985). Parenthetical references are to chapter and page in the text. 13 see Paul schlicke, ed., The Oxford Reader’s Companion to Dickens (oxford: oxford University Press, 1999), p. 65. 14 References to Childe Harold are from Complete Poetical Works, ed. mcGann, vol. 3 (oxford: oxford University Press, 1980), and are given as canto and stanza parenthetically in the text.

Rival Cultures


The setting of ocean storm, which is the force that finally engulfs Steerforth, suggests a further interconnection.15 in steerforth the idea of life as a game crystallises into the extreme form of playing for thrills, the gambler’s love of hazard – as david stresses when judging his friend’s seduction of Emily to be all ‘a brilliant game, played for the excitement of the moment’ (21, p. 368). this is clearly a lifestyle, irresponsible and amoral, that the upright david, in the mould of henry Pelham, rises above. yet there is always more to david’s view of steerforth, and to steerforth’s status in the novel, than condemnation and deficit. Both are strikingly ambivalent. David laments Steerforth’s transgressions but his attachment goes beyond questions of right or wrong: ‘you have no best to me, ... and no worst. you are always equally loved, and cherished in my heart’ (29, p. 497). the ties stretch to the time of the present narration, as david’s lost friend materialises in his memory: ‘i ... looked into his room. he was fast asleep, lying, easily, with his head upon his arm, as i had often seen him lie at school’ (29, pp. 497, 498). at school david had gazed at the object of his worship sleeping ‘where he lay in the moonlight, with his handsome face turned up, and his head reclining on his arm’ (6. p. 40), and the same statuesque pose is once more vividly inscribed in the recollection of steerforth’s body washed up on the beach at yarmouth: on that part of it where she and i had looked for shells, two children—on that part of it where some lighter fragments of the old boat, blown down last night, had been scattered by the wind—among the ruins of the home he had wronged—i saw him lying with his head upon his arm, as i had often seen him lie at school. (55, p. 866)

david’s picture of Emily, the girl with whom he was once infatuated, is distant and flat; but not so that of Steerforth, who has power to move him still. The lure of Steerforth for David may be interpreted as homoerotic fixation, and thus as evoking Byron in one specific aspect of his iconic fame, or notoriety. This reading gains support from David’s remark that his friend satisfied ‘that within me that was romantic and dreamy’ (7, p. 146). these same two words, however, return us, by an almost exact repetition, to Bulwer Lytton’s sense of the passing of a whole Zeitgeist. while Bulwer talks of a reorientation of culture in terms applicable to the single life, ‘the practical’ replacing ‘the passionate, the dreaming’, we see within the personal history of David Copperfield a reflection of the general condition. His contemplation of the spectacle of steerforth stretched out on the shore keeps nostalgic watch over Byronic Romantic sensibility, conceding its attractions yet also laying it ceremonially to rest as an active centre of authorial and collective consciousness. the emphasis on the physical is important. Byron was, whatever else, especially in canto iV of Childe Harold, the exponent of aristocratic high culture, of which, as mikhail Bakhtin demonstrates, the ‘classical body’ is a central signifying form, as opposed to the ‘grotesque body’ with its orifices, protuberances and ungainliness, which (as in carnival) is the ‘low’ that may provisionally question but ultimately Later in Childe Harold the ideas of life as a race – the metaphor steerforth has used – and as a sea – journey emerge side by side in a vivid figuring of the career of blind and desperate impulse: ‘The race of life becomes a hopeless flight / To those that walk in darkness: on the sea, / the boldest steer but where their ports invite’ (iii. 70). 15


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

confirms established authority from beneath.16 the persona of Lord Byron himself is interesting in this regard. do the legendary defects, the club foot, obesity and sexual promiscuity, work to impair or to reinforce the impression of nobility? was his swimming of the hellespont, for example, more or less heroic because he could not walk without limping? Be this as it may, the art of Childe Harold iV, both Byron’s and the objects of its attention, upholds, above all through the medium of statuary, a creed of awe and obeisance, an adoration of the distant, the inviolable, the superior – that which stands figuratively as well as often literally on a pedestal. A core example is the Apollo Belvedere, which deifies the ideals of ‘might’ and ‘majesty’, situating them in a transcendent embodiment – class-based and precisely gendered in masculine terms – of a supreme viripotence: or view the Lord of the unerring bow, the God of life, and poesy, and light – ... in his eye and nostril beautiful disdain, and might And majesty, flash their full lightnings by, developing in that one glance the deity. (iV. 161)

‘might’ and ‘majesty’ are through the apollo placed even beyond the exigencies of temporal process, for ‘time himself hath hallowed it, nor laid / one ringlet in the dust’ (IV. 163). in the image of steerforth lying horizontal in the sand the sacrosanct power and beauty are attenuated and have as it were tumbled through forty-five degrees, becoming, not only David’s prostrate idol, but a fallen, though still appealing, hegemony. in dickens command of the social hierarchy is transferred from the upper to the middle class, and this is done in part through his own iconography of embodied and disembodied forms. there is a shift from the claims of pure rank to those of actual merit. agnes, david’s second wife, appears forever ‘pointing upward’, inspiration and moral guide, her husband’s ‘good angel’ where steerforth is his ‘bad angel’ (25, p. 426; 60, pp. 916–17) – while Uriah heep, devious, hubristically self-seeking, sexually predatory, all jerks and ‘snaky undulation[s]’, is the low carnivalesque guarantor of the justness of the presiding order (15, p. 275; 16, p. 290; 25, pp. 431, 437; 39, pp. 644–5). the modelling of preferred values and identity, however, proceeds also through the narrative of david’s inward development, as it had through henry Pelham’s. there is a turning-point when in chapter 58, following the deaths of Steerforth and his first wife Dora, David goes abroad to recover. Parallels with, and probable echoes of, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage iii are again detectable. david talks of his ‘pilgrimage’ and like harold repeats the gentleman’s Grand tour among the ‘abiding places of history and fancy’ (58, p. 886) as an introspective journey. at that great site of Romantic psychodrama, the alps, his discovery of a grand but sympathetic nature in the ‘awful solitudes’ – ‘great nature spoke to me’, ‘i sought out nature, never sought in vain’ (58, pp. 887, 889) – recalls the high rhetoric of Byron’s poem, where the Childe, ‘unfit / ... to herd with Man’, holds converse in 16 see Peter stallybrass and allon white, The Politics and Poetics of Transgression (London: methuen, 1986), pp. 21–2.

Rival Cultures


‘mutual language’ of the soul with the ‘wonder-works’ of nature (iii. 10, 12–13).17 yet, as i have suggested elsewhere,18 Byron materialises for dickens at this point to be displaced in favour of wordsworth, whose Prelude was published in 1850 as David Copperfield was being written. the heroism of apartness and passion is conjured with but put aside: whereas Byron (having during canto iii dropped the persona of harold) renounces the world of men and women – ‘i have not loved the world, nor the world me, – / But let us part fair foes’ (III. 114) – david edges his way back to it, concentrating in his restoration the same movement that unfolds in wordsworth’s autobiography, the path ‘through nature to the Love of human kind’.19 wordsworth pays tribute to dorothy, ‘beloved sister’, for helping him to maintain contact with his ‘true self’ during his breakdown in the aftermath of the french Revolution, for moderating his fondness for ‘that beauty, which ... / hath terror in it’, and for opening his heart to ‘tenderness’ and ‘regard for common things’ (Xi. 333–48; XiV. 232–66). for david likewise the sublime is something to be left behind en route to the beautiful and the humane. ‘i had found sublimity and wonder in the dread heights and precipices ... but as yet, they had taught me nothing else’, he records; but in a valley of picturesque ‘serenity’, sweetened by the distant song of shepherds, he is reclaimed for humankind (58, p. 887). agnes is david’s dorothy, fountain of wisdom and ‘sisterly affection’. she writes to him letters of encouragement, urging him to use his own experiences for the benefit of others: ‘as they [various calamities] had taught me, would i teach others’ (58, p. 888). the ‘human interest’ that had returned to david in the swiss valley becomes the raison d’être of his calling as a writer, of which the novel of David Copperfield is itself an advanced product. this chapter in david’s life, then, takes up the wordsworthian road to maturity and artistic mission, though it does lead subsequently to different ground where the article of faith is wedlock and the home. the marriage of david and agnes is the perfect arrangement combining romantic fulfilment with quotidian prosperity. in dickens, again as in Pelham, the pursuit of the ideal is not only humanized but finally domesticised, and is made indistinct from the practical. Victorian domestic ideology, the bourgeois valorization of the family,20 seems as far from Byron as we can get. nevertheless, it is also true that, short of this end-point, all the constituents of the ethos expressed through david’s education in exile do occur in Childe Harold iii, and in the last analysis it is possible that in deciding his direction, whatever the influence of Wordsworth, Dickens was making choices from within this poem. There is in Byron an accent on learning through suffering, as the childe is addressed as also, david speaks of the ‘wound’ with which he has to strive, of ‘a ruined blank and waste’ around him, and of moving ‘restlessly from place to place’ (58, 885–7), while Byron’s ‘self–exiled’ hero is ‘wrung with the wounds which kill not’, is ‘Restless and worn’, and leaves ‘a sterile track behind’ (iii. 16, 8, 15, 3). 18 newey, The Scriptures of Charles Dickens (Burlington, Vt and aldershot: ashgate, 2004), pp. 151–2. 19 The Prelude 1805, Viii. 288: ed. Ernest de selincourt, 2nd edn rev. helen darbishire (oxford: clarendon Press, 1959). all references are to this edition, and are to the 1850 version of the poem unless otherwise stated and appear parenthetically in the text. 20 see, for a succinct account, E.J. hobsbawm, The Age of Capital 1848–1875 (London: abacus, 1995), pp. 278–83. 17


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

‘sager than in thy fortunes’ (III. 40). there is the picture of the ‘happy’ Rhineland villagers (III. 40–41), counterparts of the Swiss peasants amongst whom David finds peace. the redemptive sway of agnes calls to mind Byron’s simile when he lauds placid nature’s begetting of serenity in the tortured soul: ‘thy soft murmuring / sounds sweet as if a sister’s voice reproved, / that i with stern delights should e’er have been so moved’ (iii. 85). most importantly, there is the saving persistence of love, which lives on in – humanizes – the cold and broken self, for ‘the heart must / Leap kindly back to kindness, though disgust / hath wean’d it from all worldlings’ (iii. 53). these gentler shades of Byron foretell positive ingredients of dickens’s vision of the good life, not least a belief in healthy emotion. in the latter regard, however, a final distinction must be drawn. Dickens sets limits where Byron pushes beyond them. the mention of ‘a sister’s voice’ in the above-quoted passage hints at the poet’s presumed affair with his half-sister augusta, and augusta is surely in mind when he elaborates upon harold’s capacity for love: and there was one soft breast, as hath been said, which unto his was bound by stronger ties than the church links withal; and, though unwed, That love was pure ... (iii. 55)

while dickens in the union of david and agnes produces a template for regulating relationships, Byron champions a morality that exists independently and indeed in spite of convention – ‘That love was pure’. Byron remains the adventurer clothed in ambiguity. though discomforted by his transgression of boundaries, we applaud a sincerity which refuses all disguise, and which finds more general expression near the end of canto iii: i would also deem o’er others’ griefs that some sincerely grieve; that two, or one, are almost what they seem,— that goodness is no name, and happiness no dream. (iii. 114)

the indictment of hypocrisy implied in this looks forward to the proactive scepticism of the last seven cantos of Don Juan, whose critique of the upper classes constitutes Byron’s most pronounced bequest to dickens. there was a change in Byronism itself that beat a track to the more democratic age. II Byron’s anatomizing of the English aristocracy culminates in the norman abbey cantos (Xiii–XVii) depicting Lord henry amundeville, Lady adeline, and the parties they throw at their grand retreat. But there are important preliminaries to this. Juan’s arrival in London in canto Xi occasions from the narrator not only general comments on the mad rush and ultimate futility of political and social life –‘having voted, dined, drank, gamed, and whored, / the family vault receives another lord’ (Xi. 75) – but attacks upon specific aspects of the prevailing system of government and class interest. Reference to the ‘insolence’ and ‘foul corruption’ of officialdom (XI. 40)

Rival Cultures


anticipates the Tite Barnacles and Circumlocution Office of Little Dorrit. the exposé of the endemic subterfuge and mercenary motives of the marriage market in canto Xii (30–38), where money rules and many a ‘poor rich wretch ... / has cause to wish her sire had had male heirs’ (33), points to the plot in the same novel uncovering the ruthless insincerity of high society through the play of the charming but impoverished henry Gowan for the middle-class heiress Pet meagles, a union mrs Gowan, ‘courtly old lady’ and relative of the Barnacles, quietly rejoices in while snobbishly declaring, with a deep irony, that such an alliance ‘never pays’ (2.8, p. 579).21 The first of the gatherings at the Abbey, in Canto XIII (79 ff.), then parades a cross section of the elite, including Parolles ‘the legal bully’, Lord Pyrrho ‘the great freethinker’, the six sweet-talking miss Rawbolds in search of a ‘coronet’, a Reverend who hates the sinner but not the sin, and the proud politician graced ‘with some merit and with more effrontery’. as Bernard Beatty points out, the cutting edge harvests not only the inanities of tory country house life but the affectations of the whig intellectual circle in which Byron had once moved.22 the impression is of an order that is losing its vitality and its way, its functionaries reduced to ‘puppets’ or to one ‘polished horde’ – ‘the Bores and Bored’ (Xiii. 89, 95). similar types, ciphers in a cavalcade of mechanical or empty existence, appear later during the day-long entertainment of ‘Great plenty, much formality, small cheer’ (XVi. 78) laid on for the local community and influential outsiders with an eye to Lord Henry’s re-election to Parliament. the parson whose ‘jokes were sermons and his sermons jokes’ (XVI. 83) exemplifies a vein of triviality and confusion of values running through the whole congress.23 Beatty writes here, justifiably, of Byron’s ‘onslaught’.24 yet there are complications. for one thing, this is Byron’s created world as much as a reaction to objective reality (a point to which we must return); for another, in so far as he is responding to actual circumstance he registers an upside as well as a downside. the amundevilles, whatever their shortcomings, are seriously imposing and belong to what is still a going concern. they attract some hard hits: Lord henry, for example, is said to burrow for votes like an animal, ‘a rat or rabbit’ (XVi. 70), while Lady adeline, to the manner born, weaves a dubious spell, ‘watching, witching, condescending’ (XVi. 95) in search of them. Even here, however, the fault lies not so much in those summoned to play as with the nature of the game itself, where what is at stake is the very being that is dependent on position; a younger son of a noble family, without a place in the house of Lords, Lord henry must claw his way into the commons.25 and there is more to the pair than adeptness in the battle for survival. henry operates 21 charles dickens, Little Dorrit (1857), ed. John holloway (harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985). Parenthetical references are to book, chapter, and page. 22 Beatty, Don Juan and Other Poems, pp. 101–2. 23 Byron is himself writing in direct descent from alexander Pope. compare the account of timon’s villa in Pope’s ‘Epistle to Burlington’, 99–168, where in the chapel ‘Light quirks of music, broken and uneven, / make the soul dance upon a Jig to heav’n’ (143–4). 24 Don Juan and Other Poems, p. 102. 25 see Lord Byron: Don Juan, ed. t.G. steffan, E. steffan and w.w. Pratt (harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986), n. p. 717. the annotation to this edition makes abundantly clear the historical specificity of the London cantos.

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


on a grand ‘patrician’ (Xiii. 34) scale, involved not only in scrambling to maintain authority but also in actively applying it. on the larger stage he is a member of the Privy council, a diplomat, and a patron of the arts, and in the local context a Justice of the Peace. characteristically, Byron’s sympathy goes to the underdog in the passages describing the fate of two poachers ‘caught in ... steel’ and the examination of an unmarried mother about the paternity of her child, as she is left waiting in ‘trembling, patient tribulation’ (XV. 61, 65). all the same, such proceedings effect a necessary regulation of conduct and relations. though tainted by marks of atrophy within the greater caste, by their own ‘cold’ (XiV. 86) imperious grandness, and by excess (significantly of food, which is ingested and soporific, rather than of sex, which is in some degree outgoing), theirs is nevertheless a vigorous exercise of power, to which there is no apparent alternative. contrasting adeline’s ‘vivacious versatility’ (XVi. 97) with the steady depth of the catholic aurora Raby, Beatty says of the former that she ‘is in touch with nothing at all’.26 she is in touch with Lord henry, and he is rooted in a long-standing tradition of service and impressive political success. when it is said of his patriotic demeanour that ‘He gloried in the name of Englishman’ (XVi. 75), with that sceptical hint that he is striking a strategic pose, we are moving towards yet still a long way from the mindless monoculturalism of dickens’s Podsnap in Our Mutual Friend, who, ‘although his business was sustained upon commerce with other countries, considered other countries, with that important reservation, a mistake’ (1.11, p. 174).27 III dickens paints scenes decidedly down the line from these in Don Juan – not incipient decline but terminal decay. whereas the amundevilles had been criticised for trying to ‘improve’ the abbey by making alterations in the modern Gothic style (XVi. 58–9), things at the dedlocks’ chesney wold are falling apart, like the ‘broken arch’ of the parkland bridge on our first visit to this ancient pile in chapter 12 of Bleak House, where we also encounter ‘cold sunshine’, ‘brittle woods’ and a ‘sharp wind’ suggesting a forsaken enclave (12, pp. 181–2).28 Lady dedlock, so long ‘at the centre of the fashionable intelligence’, resembles Lady adeline, having ‘beauty, pride, ambition, insolent resolve’ (2, p. 22), but is ineradicably compromised by the secret of her illegitimate child. though a man of ‘worthy presence’, sir Leicester’s dignity is all on the outside, with his ‘grey hair and whiskers, his fine shirt-frill, ... his blue coat with bright buttons’ (2, p. 22). in his opinions and often his behaviour he is purblind and faintly absurd. he considers the country is ‘gone to pieces’ (12, p. 190), oblivious to the fact that he is himself a cause of and pre-eminently at risk from encroaching dissolution. scorning all classes beneath his own, he is flabbergasted that he should be approached about the future of one of his servants, Don Juan and Other Poems, p. 104. charles dickens, Our Mutual Friend (1864–65), ed. stephen Gill (harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985). Parenthetically references are to book, chapter, and page. 28 charles dickens, Bleak House (1853), ed. nicola Bradbury (harmondsworth: Penguin, 1996). Parenthetical references are to chapter and page. 26 27

Rival Cultures


indeed be approached at all, by Mr Rouncewell the ironmaster; finding his upwardlymobile visitor’s fluid views on ‘station’ ‘incomprehensible’ (28, p. 455), he proves incapable of negotiating with the new industrial interest to which, dickens knows, power is passing. in the background, prominent among the dinner guests that gather at chesney wold, is a chorus of chattering heads, a dying breed preoccupied with the in-fighting of a political establishment whose members are stupendous non-persons named as well in alphabetical as in any other terms – ‘Boodle, coodle, doodle ...’, ‘Buffy, cuffy, duffy ...’ (12, p. 190). To draw upon Byron’s definition of art, this is Dickens’s ‘truth in masquerade’ (Don Juan, Xi. 37), a pretence that veils or embroiders reality and alters how it is perceived, not only chronicling how things go but making change happen. Bleak House builds a myth, or semi-fiction, of degeneration that obliterates all assumptions of aristocratic omnipotence such as are embodied in the apollo Belvedere and is predicated on Byron’s late counter-vision, of which it is a darker version. norman abbey and chesney wold both have ghosts. while the Black friar who still holds out against henry Viii’s edict of Protestant appropriation signals a persistent subterranean life and unresolved contest of cultures, so that ‘Amundeville is lord by day, / But the monk is lord by night’ (XVi, between 40 and 41), the other consists of phantom footsteps prophesying disaster. the atmosphere at chesney wold is thick with impending doom. the gout that sir Leicester has inherited from his forebears figures slow destruction from within, the stroke he suffers on learning of Lady dedlock’s indiscretions, which leaves him ‘invalided, bent, and almost blind’ (66, p. 981), the fact that his time is up. By the close of the novel, the lights have gone out and chesney wold is ‘abandoned to darkness and vacancy’ (66, p. 985). when the beau monde resurfaces in Our Mutual Friend it is different but not improved. Veneering, who entertains and campaigns to get elected to Parliament with every bit as much dedication as Lord henry, has made his fortune (and loses it) through ‘traffic in Shares’ (1.10, p. 159). He is the product of modern money culture, his circle a metropolitan elite. some of the old characters remain, as does the Byronic satiric technique. We have, for example, the flirtatious Lady Tippins, a decrepit version of the duchess of fitz-fulke, fun-loving but too old to enjoy it. There are the non-entities Boots and Brewer whose names conflate them with the lines they are in, along with ‘a member, an Engineer, a Payer-off of the national Debt, ... a Public Office’ (1.2, p. 49). This ‘bran-new’ (1.2, p. 48) line-up of upstarts and left-overs is actually more degraded than anything before. with the Veneerings and the rest it is not lavish food that stands out but the habit of consuming people, as is implied by the musings of the lawyer Lightwood – like henry Pelham a wry commentator from within – upon the inhabitants of a desert island who appeared to be ‘civilized’ because they were ‘eating one another’ (4.17, p. 888). IV though they are thus plainly interlinked in registering and furthering currents of change, however, the more we consider Byron and dickens together the more emphatically do they point in different – even rival – cultural directions. in conclusion

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


we may concentrate on the question of what positive values each upholds in the face of the drift and shortcomings they identify within the established order. we shall find again a Dickens who points forwards and a Byron who points back – but in a configuration that situates the latter’s ‘retrospectiveness’ as by no means limited to his standing as icon of a lost Romanticism or classical nobility. there are in Bleak House two conspicuous ways in which dickens departs from Byron’s treatment of the ruling class. one is that he takes the wider view, making a connection between negligent self-absorption at the top and, at the bottom, the dilapidation of places like tom-all-alone’s and of the crossing-sweeper Jo, who dies from smallpox: dead, your majesty. dead, my lords and gentlemen. dead, Right Reverends and wrong Reverends of every order. dead, men and women, born with heavenly compassion in your hearts. and dying thus around us, every day. (47, p. 734)

this is dickens the indignant reformer, spokesman for ‘compassion’, that fountain of justice that may be understood as in essence a pragmatic instrument of cohesion – or subordination – in capitalist society.29 feeling of another kind then features in a surprising twist to the history of sir Leicester dedlock, who turns into a character in a household drama, regaining respect, not at all for his rank, but for his loyalty towards his disgraced wife. he gives no reproach to the woman he had ‘loved, admired, honoured’ (54, p. 838). this outcome as it were moves the amundeville working partnership into bourgeois territory, returning us to the domestic ideology so basic to dickens’s prescription for individual and collective well-being. as late as Our Mutual Friend, his last completed novel, the ideal of the family, bound by love as well as mutual advantage, is being given extended development in the marriage of John harmon and Bella wilfer, where we have not only the fait accompli, well-to-do, intimate, blessed with a child, but also the process of its making, centring not least in Bella being educated to value people above material possessions – though she comes to have them anyway – and in the detailed course of her transference of (innocent) sexual attachment from her father, the oddly named Rumty, to her husband. these examples indicate something of the range of dickens’s project in shaping a middle-class culture, liberal-humanist, christian in underlying ethics yet largely driven by a secular concern for social policy. the redemption of Byronic types is another thread in the same design. Eugene wrayburn, for instance, is a steerforth claimed from insouciance for respectability and work, marrying the woman he might have seduced and vowing to ‘turn to in earnest’ (4.16, p. 885).30 sydney carton in A Tale of Two Cities is a less straightforward but equally relevant case. of all these characters he is perhaps closest to the Byronic hero, adrift, his heart ‘bleeding’ from ‘deep wounds’ (2.20, p. 238), manically-depressively ‘now in spirits and now in despondency’ (2.5, p. 120), a morbid sufferer whose pillow was ‘wet with wasted

see thomas haskell, ‘capitalism and the origins of the humanitarian sensibility’, American Historical Review 90 (1985): 339–61. 30 see newey, ‘dickensian decadents’, pp. 77–81. 29

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tears’ (2.5, p. 122).31 driven by a daemon within, he is ‘sensible of the blight on him’ and ‘resign[ed] to let it eat him away’ (2.5, p. 122). Yet, like the Childe who can, as we have seen, theoretically espouse sincerity, ‘goodness’ and ‘happiness’ (iii. 94), carton’s mental wilderness has an oasis of constructive desire, for ‘honourable ambition, self denial, and perseverance’ (2.5, p. 121). a baddy desperately wanting to be a goody, he accomplishes his goal by standing in for his double, charles darnay, in an appointment with the guillotine. carton thinks of life as a game and himself as a gambler – ‘I’ll run [the cards] over. I’ll see what I hold’ (3.8, p. 329) – and in this lines up with adventurers like James steerforth; but he is at the very moment of this speech planning a sacrifice such as Steerforth could never contemplate. He differs also, however, from the standard converts, henry Pelham or wrayburn, in that he is redeemed, not through finding a slow route to a better life, Bildungsroman-style, but because he resolves to cut life short. ‘my young way was never the way to age’, he says (3.9, p. 340). his death, though more deliberate, resembles that of Byron himself, an act of heroism in the service of others, a premature end that grants the afterlife of a glowing reputation. dickens recasts the symbolism of the heroic gesture for his own times and their particular needs. Byron’s lasting impression is of course on the grand scale – champion of freedom’s cause. carton, by contrast, will live on in the memory of the closely-knit few – of darnay, his wife (the woman carton had loved but could not have), and their offspring: ‘i see that i hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence’ (3.15, p. 404). as well as this narrowing of focus from the international stage (Byron as idol of the Greeks and half of Europe) to the family group and its line of descent, the episode is a classic manifestation of dickens’s work in secularizing religious motifs and motivation, which is also to say in framing new beliefs as the old faltered. there is something christ-like in dying for others, and indeed carton’s journey to the scaffold resonates with the narrator’s incantation of ‘i am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord’ (3.9, pp. 342–43; 3.15, p. 403). But dickens’s own lesson is in a precise way not christian, and not conventionally devout. the only immortality he truly knows is that of a good name and the influence of good deeds – as Scrooge also famously bears witness when confronted at the graveside with the contrast between his own unfruitful life and that of ‘the loved, revered, and honoured head’, with ‘good deeds springing from the ground, to sow the world with life immortal’.32 this is dickens as exponent of the Religion of humanity, legatee and elaborator of the shift, most conspicuously theorised by Ludwig feuerbach in The Essence of Christianity

31 charles dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859), ed. George woodcock (harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1985). References are to book, chapter, and page. cf. Childe Harold iii. 3: ‘I find / The furrows of long thought, and dried–up tears, / Which, ebbing, leave a sterile track behind’. see also n. 16 above. 32 charles dickens, A Christmas Carol (1843), ed. michael slater (harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985), stave 4, p. 118.


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

(1841), from the principle of ‘God is Love’ to that of ‘Love – for one’s fellow men and women – is God’.33 the Religion of humanity runs wide and deep in dickens’s novels, and yields at times remarkably innovative views on society and its composition. nothing is more radical in his thinking than his plea for social inclusiveness in Our Mutual Friend. we may take as our example Jenny wren, the doll’s dressmaker. as the child of a hopeless alcoholic, Jenny should, according to such contemporary medical authorities as théodule Ribot and henry maudsley, be degenerate, her physical disability – she is a cripple – at one with moral and mental defects.34 But Jenny is among the most percipient and morally stable characters in the book; it is she that sees through Eugene’s advances towards Lizzie – ‘“i think of setting up a doll, miss Jenny.” “you are sure to break it. all children do”’ (2.2, pp. 288–9). more audaciously still, dickens recognises Jenny’s sexuality, which is symbolised in her voluptuous fair hair, and finally rejoices in the promise of her marriage to young sloppy – thus going very much against the grain of contemporary worries about hereditary decline, the risk of which Ribot, for one, anxiously saw as increased by advances in medicine since they ‘sav[ed] the lives of countless weak, deformed, or otherwise ill-constituted creatures that would surely have died in a savage race, or in our own a century or two ago’.35 in Jenny the ‘low’, born, bred and in body, becomes something – someone – to be taken on its – her – own terms and merits rather than as a measure of the ‘higher’ and ‘better’. this is prospective dickens, predicting the consensus of our own epoch. V any full appraisal of the positive values of Don Juan will include the return to pleasure in the final movement of the poem, where warmth is snatched from the sombre ambience of the amundevilles by the duchess of fitz-fulke’s stratagem in invading Juan’s bedroom disguised as the ghost of the Black friar, which restores to us the comedy of erotic adventure that had dominated earlier cantos. in contrast with dickens, however, it is not only this spirit of carpe diem that stands out but its inverse, a reflective preoccupation with a time-honoured spirituality. Neither religious sensibility nor religion itself was for Byron a lost cause, in spite of the scepticism of a work like Cain. what is most evident about the apollo Belvedere in Childe Harold is not the class associations we considered earlier but its divine aura, a ‘ray of immortality’ that tells both of the god himself and of the heaven-sent inspiration 33 The complication that altruism like Carton’s – and for that matter Byron’s in fighting for the Greeks – may be seen as an extension of narcissistic egotism is a point that cannot be pursued here. 34 see théodule a. Ribot, Heredity: A Psychological Study of its Phenomena, Laws, Causes and Consequences (London, 1873) and henry maudsley, Body and Mind: An Inquiry into their Connections and Mutual Influence, Specially in Reference to Mental Disorders (London, 1870). i discuss these in relation to the presentation of Jenny wren in The Scriptures of Charles Dickens, pp. 281–4. 35 Ribot, Heredity, p. 303.

Rival Cultures


of the creative artist in ‘most unearthly mood’ (iV. 162); but the poet-pilgrim comes also in Rome to st Peter’s, ‘holy of holies’, a more conventional site of worship and the sublime, ‘A fit abode wherein appear enshrined / Thy hopes of immortality’ (iV. 155). Pagan or christian, such objects, places and experience exude what we are emphatically told Lord henry amundeville and his world lack – ‘Soul’ (XiV. 71). in Don Juan ‘soul’ is located above all in aurora Raby and the buried life of the abbey with which she is associated. aurora Raby represents not just a different kind of Byronic woman, selfcontained, meditative, a mystery of ‘radiant and grave’, but a whole ‘other’ order of knowledge and being. Lady adeline who has no ‘soul’ can discern none; to her, aurora is but an unprepossessing surface: ‘she marvell’d what he saw in such a baby / as that prim, silent, cold aurora Raby?’ (XV. 49). Byron and his reader already know better: she had something of sublime in eyes which sadly shone, as seraphs’ shine. all youth but with as aspect beyond time, Radiant and grave, as pitying man’s decline, mournful, but mournful of another’s crime, she looked as if she sat by Eden’s door and grieved for those who could return no more. there was awe in the homage that she drew; her spirit seemed as seated on a throne apart from the surrounding world and strong in its own strength, most strange in one so young. (XV. 45, 47)

Beatty, who has written more insightfully than anyone on this sector of the poem, likens the serene, gazing presence to ‘a great portrait or sculpture’.36 aurora Raby is a surpassing triumph of emblematization. Enthroned and revered, immaculate, detached, yet grieving for the distress of fallen humanity, she recalls the madonna, and is thus interrelated through an exact route with the ancient life of the abbey and its environs, where, above the arch of the ruined church, there survives a carving of ‘the virgin mother of the God-born child, / with her son in her blessed arms’ (Xiii. 61). But it is the character of the old ways as much as their outward forms that matters. amidst the abbey’s ‘perplexing waste’ aurora projects an image of the ‘depth’, ‘Space’ and contemplative ‘silen[ce]’ (XVI. 48) which once ruled there and are also still reflected in the ‘lucid lake’ (XV. 57), the ‘huge arch’ (XIII. 63) and other features of the landscape. the amundevilles have no access to the life that theirs has superseded but has not altogether displaced. they are circumscribed by their bustling modernity. Not so Byron. Indeed, if it is Aurora Raby that figures the qualities of the earlier dispensation, it is the poet and his imagination that keep it alive, through her and through intimations of a mysterious survival:


Beatty, Byron’s Don Juan (London: helm, 1985), pp. 137–211 (p. 143).


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era the silenced quire Lie with their hallelujahs quenched like fire. But in the noontide of the moon and when the wind is winged from one point of heaven, there moans a strange unearthly sound, which then is musical, a dying accent driven through the huge arch, which soars and sinks again. some deem it but the distant echo given Back to the night wind by the waterfall and harmonized by the old choral wall. (Xiii. 62–3)

Byron’s poetry is itself a secondary ‘distant echo’ on top of the strange sound arising in the landscape, and comprises at once an elegy for and a retrieval of the ritual once enacted on this spot. the disclaimer – ‘some deem it but ...’ – has a twofold effect. it concedes a necessary rational doubt over the idea of supernatural agency, of heaven keeping up what men have tried to eradicate, but it also underwrites the poet’s own inward sympathy – ‘some’, not altogether he, are the unbelievers – towards the purposes for which the abbey was built, the dialogue twixt heaven and earth of which the chanting of offices was a part and which he, whatever reason might dictate, encourages us to hear, distinctly if tentatively, in the present curious night music. Byron does not hesitate to name the faith on which norman abbey was founded and to which aurora holds fast: she is ‘a catholic too, sincere, austere, / as far as her own gentle heart allow’d, / and deem’d that fallen worship far more dear / Perhaps because ‘twas fallen’ (XV. 46). there runs through the last cantos of Don Juan a contrast between this ‘fallen’ tradition and that of the amundevilles, which is broadly Protestant in its pursuit of worldly success, its rigid morality (at least on the surface), its strict patriarchal arrangements (no female icons here), and its nationalistic bent – though it must also be said that no room is accorded to such salient aspects of Protestantism as the social conscience and soteriological concern (that is, active interest in personal salvation) which are notable centres of creative thinking in dickens. for Byron, as for the Black friar, who is in this respect his double, political victory or defeat meant no certain end to cultural rivalry. neither are they a sure measure of relative worth. it may be that in its valuation of the abbey and aurora’s singular allure Byron’s poetic disposition, far from indicating a dividing line as it did for Bulwer Lytton, forms a staging post, even a starting point, in a current of pro-catholic sentiment in nineteenth-century English literature which, the special case of the convert newman apart, has gone largely unnoted. But that is not a story I can tell or test. My emphasis must finally fall on that larger commitment to ‘soul’, to the realm of the spirit, in Byron of which his responsiveness to the mystique of norman abbey is a part. the stanza on the ethereal music of the deserted quire recalls lines in Childe Harold iV also involving the moon, a gap in the fabric of a ruin, and reciprocity between the energies of imagination and nature, or the supernatural: But when the rising moon begins to climb its topmost arch, and gently pauses there;

Rival Cultures


when the stars twinkle through the loops of time, and the low night breeze waves along the air the garland forest ... when the light shines serene but doth not glare, then in this magic circle raise the dead; heroes have trod this spot—’tis on their dust ye tread. (iV. 144)

the coliseum, like the recesses of the abbey, or the Vatican which is home of the apollo Belvedere, or st Peter’s, is sacred ground where meaning comes by miraculous visitation. the truths that are revealed to Byron in the coliseum, in an extended epiphany focusing upon the figure of the Dying Gladiator, range from the fact of man’s inhumanity to man – ‘Butcher’d to make a Roman holiday’ – to the power of love and pathos of separation, as the gladiator in the midst of the cheering crowd thinks only of his home and family, ‘reck’d not of the life he lost nor prize, / But where his rude hut by the danube lay / There were his young barbarians all at play’ (iV. 141). such moments show a Byron pre-eminently concerned with humankind, and, no less than Don Juan, point the inadequacy of the judgement that would place him in glorious isolation from the kind – Bulwer’s hostage to ‘the morbid, the passionate, the dreaming’. yet Byron’s genius for portraying life symbolically, in a manner akin to and often in imitation of fine art (he is of course interpreting the statue of the Gladiator in the capitoline museum), is anything but plainly ‘practical’ in relation to ‘the active and daily objects ... before us’. if it is of use it is because it draws us above and beyond those objects. Beatty says of aurora and the Ghost that they ‘represent the spiritual resonances and resources that modern English society lacks’;37 and what goes for them goes for the dying Gladiator in a less definite, though still strong, sense of ‘the spiritual’. Like Aurora herself the Byron who created it grieves for yet honours humanity in its fallen condition. his vision, it can be argued, is as much for the future as dickens’s emplacement of serviceable social and cultural attitudes – with the difference that where dickens has helped to determine the state of things, Byron has come to register an absence and fill a need for transcendence. From this point of view, the march of the democratic age has enhanced rather than diminished the importance of Byron’s high classical and religious dimensions.


Don Juan and Other Poems, p. 103.

chapter 6

‘mr osborne’s secret’: Elizabeth Gaskell, Wives and Daughters and the Gender of Romanticism1 James najarian

current readings of Elizabeth Gaskell tend to emphasise her novels’ social aims. social concerns were certainly high on Gaskell’s agenda, but they are a part of a conflicted program. Deirdre d’Albertis has written a rewarding discussion of these ambivalences, and hilary schor has explored Gaskell’s ambitions as a woman novelist.2 But the novelist’s poetic concerns need to be recognised, too. Gaskell can be scrutinised as a post-Romantic author. in Wives and Daughters, her last, unfinished novel, Gaskell manufactures a place for herself in literary history with recourse to the biographical and literary commonplaces about the Romantic poet. she mocks the Romantic line by manipulating conventional assumptions about gender and its role in the creation of texts. Gaskell is hardly politically revolutionary in any conventional sense; she questions normative poles of gender only to reinforce them. she can be seen, however, as poetically revolutionary. far from assuming a disciple’s role in a line of female poets, in the manner of the writers in anne mellor’s ‘feminine Romanticism,’3 Gaskell interpolates herself into the Romantic inheritance by questioning her culture’s contemporary understanding of these poets and the poets’ ‘masculine’ credentials – what she projects as the inverted and unstable ‘effeminate’ stance of a number of Romantic and contemporary poets, including keats, Byron, shelley and tennyson. in Wives and Daughters, Gaskell eventually centers her attention on the figure of Keats, exploiting biographical and critical consensus about Keats’s gender in her construction of the languorous, effeminate osborne hamley.

with thanks to readers of versions of this essay: Edward adams, Rosemarie Bodenheimer, dino franco felluga, and Richard kaye. 2 see deidre d’albertis, Dissembling Fictions: Elizabeth Gaskell and the Victorian Social Text (new york: st martin’s, 1997) and hilary m. schor, Scheherzade in the Marketplace: Elizabeth Gaskell and the Victorian Novel (new york and oxford University Press, 1992). 3 see anne mellor, Romanticism and Gender (new york: Routledge, 1993), pp. 17–31. 1

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


Gaskell’s Romanticism Wives and Daughters describes an intelligent young woman’s maturity in a small provincial town, not unlike Eliot’s later Middlemarch. its protagonist, a motherless girl named molly Gibson, endures her father’s remarriage to an unsympathetic widow and adjusts to a new stepsister. though it creates a vivid portrait of rural society, Wives and Daughters is less concerned with meticulously reproducing county life than it is with positioning itself as a literary work. the most extensive treatments of Gaskell’s literary relationships have noticed her debt to william wordsworth. Both margaret homans and coral Lansbury see Gaskell as his ‘translator.’ Lansbury christens Wives and Daughters ‘a Prelude in prose.’4 for margaret homans, Gaskell examines a pervading nineteenth-century cultural myth – that writing contradicts mothering – by working through her relationship to wordsworth.5 wordsworth’s verse does make an appearance. when Roger takes leave of the Gibsons before he sets out on a long expedition, Gaskell places molly’s reaction in the context of ‘a slumber did my spirit seal’: for a few minutes, her brain seemed in too great a whirl to comprehend anything but that she was being carried on in earth’s diurnal course, with rocks, and stones, and trees, with as little volition on her part as if she were dead. (pp. 417–18)6

the quotation from wordsworth’s poem is quite correct (it is exact) and is not separated from the rest of the text by quotation marks. Gaskell accurately quotes wordsworth and does not set his lines off as quoted material. the passage is not paraphrased, and Gaskell’s interpretation of the line (‘as if she were dead’) does not elucidate or revise the poem but essentially agrees with its representation. Gaskell respectfully references wordsworth here; she is attempting to place her work in relation to his own. ambivalent as her relationship to wordsworth might be, her implied reading of wordsworth is less of a critique than an act of homage. wordsworth becomes for Gaskell something of a measuring-stick with which she can calibrate the poetic, a standard that other writers fail to reach. outside of wordsworth, the novel is studded with disdain for poetic ambition, for poets, and for readers of Romantic poetry. Poetry is misunderstood and misquoted by every one of its followers. Gaskell relishes poking fun at the claims of her more conventionally ‘poetic’ characters; she is more literate by far than any of them. the characters of the novel make reference to poetry only to appear feebly pretentious. 4 see carol Landsbury, Elizabeth Gaskell (Boston: twayne, 1984), p. 104. for Landsbury, molly evidences the ‘moral authority of feeling’, but emotion is necessarily recollected in tranquillity because molly’s sex and class limit her to the narrowest range of choice. 5 margaret homans, Bearing the Word: Language and Experience in the NineteenthCentury Women’s Writing (chicago and London: University of chicago Press, 1986), p. 22. see donald d. stone’s discussion of wordsworth and Gaskell in The Romantic Impulse in Victorian Fiction (cambridge, ma and London: harvard University Press, 1980), pp. 166–72. 6 Elizabeth Gaskell, Wives and Daughters, ed. frank Glover smith (harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986). all quotations from this edition.

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mrs. hamley, the fading mistress of hamley hall, has a passion for poetry that is implicated in her bodily weakness. mrs. hamley had written many a pretty four-versed poem since she lay on her sofa, alternately reading and composing verse. she had a small table by her side on which there were the newest works of poetry and fiction; a pencil and a blotting-book, with loose sheets of blank paper; a vase of flowers always of her husband’s gathering; winter and summer, she had a sweet nosegay every day. her maid brought her a draught of medicine every three hours, with a glass of clear water and a biscuit. (p. 76)

the illness, while not imaginary, does seem imaginative. Gaskell connects the illness to mrs. hamley’s poetic aspirations. mrs. hamley takes poetry and medicine in alternating bits. she writes verse and although Gaskell does not quote any of it, she does give us an idea of the kind of poet that mrs. hamley is. soon after this introduction, mrs. hamley volunteers an invitation to molly with “‘the open arms of her heart”, as she expressed it’ (p. 77). the mixed metaphor that Gaskell cattily draws our attention to (‘as she expressed it’) serves as an example of mrs. hamley’s unskillful metaphor-making ability. the most sympathetic characters in Gaskell’s world know nothing about poetry and take pride in their ignorance. Mr. Gibson’s education was scientific and medical, and he denigrates poetry and poetic figuration. Even before his marriage, Mr. Gibson takes offense at the literary derivation of his future wife’s name: ‘and the worst is, she’s gone and perpetuated her own affected name by having her daughter called after her. cynthia! one thinks of the moon, and the man in the moon with his bundle of faggots. i’m thankful you’re plain molly, child’ (p. 156). mrs. Gibson’s maiden name was hyacinth clare; it is characteristic of her to clumsily abbreviate this name to ‘Cynthia,’ conflating Hyacinthus, the lover of Apollo, with Cynthia, the goddess of the moon. not only is the name, in mr. Gibson’s ears, not ‘English,’ it is far too allusive. at once apollo’s beloved, the moon goddess of Greek mythology, and the loved one of keats’s Endymion, the name seems bound to get its mortal holder into a complicated sexual or romantic scrape. when the ardent apprentice mr. coxe imagines he is in love with the unaware (and underage) molly, and is caught delivering an ardent love letter to her through the assistance of a servant, Gaskell quotes from coxe’s letter as dr. Gibson peruses it: ‘would she not look kindly at him? would she not think of his whose only thought was of her? and so on, with a very proper admixture of violent compliments to her beauty. she was fair, not pale; her eyes were loadstars, her dimples marks of cupid’s finger, &c.’ Gibson, after reading this letter, replaces Shakespeare with Samuel Johnson’s dictionary. mr. coxe’s name is a menace because it contains the term for sexual threat in its pronunciation. and poor coxe has chosen an unfortunate series of terms to express his affection; not only are they limply Petrarchan, they contain a startling line in what is supposed to be a love-letter – that ‘call her fair, not pale,’ taken from coleridge’s Christabel. in Christabel the lines do not so much express christabel’s beauty as emphasise the fragility and imminent danger that she is in from the demonic Geraldine. Gaskell stresses the incompetence with which her characters read poetry: they misquote, quote out of context, and delude themselves. in Gaskell’s narrative of


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

poetic reception a Romantic inheritance is ineffectively adduced by an audience that can no longer comprehend its language. if, as schor, homans, and Lansbury have written, Gaskell seeks to translate Romanticism, she shows in Wives and Daughters why Romanticism might need translation. Keats’s identification in the nineteenth century with effeminacy and sexual deviancy provides a spectacular opportunity for Gaskell to separate herself from the Romantic line. Romanticism’s Social Role in Wives and Daughters, Romantic poetry abets sexual transgression, in part because its readers helplessly misinterpret it. Gaskell often overwrites the threat of transgression in order to implicate both poetry and contemporary understanding of it. the notorious Byron provides ample opportunity. when squire hamley comes up with a quotation of the poet, his wife roundly scolds him: ‘“to make a Roman holiday.” Pope, or somebody else, has a line of poetry like that.’ ‘“to make a Roman holiday,’” – he repeated, pleased with his unusual aptitude at quotation. ‘it’s Byron, and it’s nothing to do with the subject in hand. i’m surprised at your Lord’s quoting Byron – he was a very immoral poet.’ ‘i saw him take his oaths in the house of Lords,’ said Lord cumnor apologetically. ‘well! the less said about him the better,’ said Lady cumnor. (p. 173)

the undereducated squire is referring to an upcoming social event at the cumnor estate. he quotes Byron’s line correctly, even as he ascribes it to Pope, but he obviously has no idea of its context in Childe Harold IV. the ‘Roman holiday’ that Byron refers to is the murderous gladiatorial battle that the poet reconstructs when he visits the coliseum. Byron imagines the thoughts of the dying slave: ... his eyes were with his heart, and that was far away; he reck’d not of the life he lost nor prize But where his rude hut on the danube lay, there were his young barbarians all at play there was there dacian mother – he their sire Butcher’d to make a Roman holiday.7

the squire’s quotation of the line is doubly inappropriate. the line at once describes a brutal Roman pastime and shows how a nuclear family is destroyed by it. Lady cumnor recalls how improper the line is – ‘it’s nothing to do with the subject at hand’ – and implicates Byron’s notorious life in the unsuitability of the line. the poet’s life destabilised traditional bonds even as the ‘Roman holiday’ did and the squire’s quotation of the line threatens to. andrew Elfenbein has noted that Byron’s

7 Reference to Byron: Complete Poetical Works, ed. Jerome mcGann, vol. 3 (oxford: oxford University Press, 1980), canto iV, stanza 141.

‘Mr Osborne’s Secret’


baroque transgressiveness has only piqued readers’ interest.8 Lady cumnor seems to be opposed to the mere mention of the poet or his works. she dares not speak its name, but lets the reader speculate on the considerable variety of Byron’s sexual and social transgressions. through misquotations and suggestions of transgression, Gaskell also indicts the second-hand way in which poetry has entered the culture. mrs. Gibson, clearly the most pretentious character in the book – she is constantly maneuvering to get herself invited to the titled cumnors – makes use of both the Byron and the coleridge quotations other characters have disturbingly repeated. mrs. Gibson puts herself (in reference to her daughter cynthia, who will have none of it) forward as a reader of Byron: ‘her memory for poetry is prodigious. i have heard her repeat the “Prisoner of chillon” from beginning to end’ (p. 307). she offers this recitation of Byron’s work after Lady Cumnor has so helpfully identified his moral instability. Mrs. Gibson will also quote the same line of coleridge that the hapless mr. coxe did when speaking to molly. she calls an ailing molly ‘fair, not pale,’ only reinforcing the incompetence of contemporary readings of the Romantics. (mis)quotation becomes the entree for a judgment about the role of Romantic poetry in English culture. the quotation of Byron and the misquotations of coleridge act as two convenient gates to the novel’s version of literary history. as Gaskell will make clear, these allusions are part of a larger attitude. Gaskell does not only denigrate certain characters with these misquotations and leave others – her ‘good’ characters – unscathed; she shows that even the most intelligent and responsible people in her society have their thoughts undone by vaguely remembered shards of verse. when the athletic and practical Roger hamley leaves for his expedition after cynthia accepts his marriage proposal, he slides into a messy and allusive reverie: ‘..., he called her a star, a flower, a nymph, a witch, an angel, or a mermaid, a nightingale, a siren, as one or another of her attributes rose up before him’ (p. 415). the reader knows that cynthia is never constant in her feelings and will learn long before Roger does that cynthia has been engaged before. this playful interior monologue associates Roger’s delusive love with a virtual anthology of Romantic verse; accessing a selection of common poetic metaphors that suggest, in turn, ‘Bright star,’ Adonais, shelley’s The Witch of Atlas, and keats’s nightingale ode. this mischievous passage of Gaskell’s points out Roger’s cursory misreading. Romantic verse, even for her less comedic characters, is becoming utterly unintelligible. The Gender of Romanticism many of Gaskell’s readers have noticed her ambivalence about social and sexual change: this ambivalence has created a dilemma for those who might have wished she were more socially revolutionary.9 Gaskell instinctively separates genders 8 see andrew Elfenbein, Byron and the Victorians (cambridge and new york: cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 47–64. 9 francoise Basch, for example, sees her as entirely accepting the conventional idea of the woman’s realm. see Basch, Relative Creatures: Victorian Women in Society and the Novel, trans. anthony Russil (new york: schocken, 1974), p. 185.

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


rather than confounds them, and she emphasises the instability of gender inversion unequally. John kucich writes that she is ambivalent about social and sexual change because she finds ‘productive tensions in sexual difference.’10 yet she is much more apt to demean men who have stereotypically feminine traits than women who have any masculine ones. the most ‘masculine’ women in the novel are arguably the commanding Lady cumnor and her daughter Lady harriet. Gaskell does not comment on either lady’s gender role. Gaskell is not concerned with the feminine male or the masculine female, but the effeminate male. osborne does not incorporate traditional female virtues, but faults.11 Gaskell is occupied with a particular mixture of male and female within the male body that she sees as disconcerting and disruptive. the hamley family provides a case study in Gaskell’s psychology of gender. at first, Gaskell introduces the Hamley sons, the elder Osborne and younger Roger, as the family’s promising and less engaging son, respectively. as the novel continues Roger gains in talents, and osborne loses them; osborne fails his examinations and Roger succeeds. Julia m. wright has recently discussed the brothers’ fates as a contest between Roger’s seriousness and osborne’s aestheticism: the outcome has implications for the welfare of the nation.12 yet Gaskell stresses osborne’s indeterminate gender role as the cause of his failure. osborne’s psychology becomes, as the novel progresses, less of an interesting character trait and more and more of a sexual identity. It travels from an identification with the mother to ‘effeminacy’ and finally to hermaphrodism. ‘He was beautiful and languid-looking, almost as frail in appearance as his mother, whom he strongly resembled. this seeming delicacy made him appear older than he was’ (p. 202). ‘osborne ... was what is commonly called “fine”’; delicate almost to effeminacy in dress and manner; careful in small observances. the degeneration of osborne is often observed by his father the squire, who says to his son, ‘when i was a young man i should have been ashamed to have spent as much time at my looking-glass as if i’d been a girl’ (p. 292) and ‘i sometimes think he’s half a woman himself’ (p. 439). osborne’s ambiguous gender role is strangely overdone. the curious presentation of Osborne’s secret marriage seems to question, rather than confirm, his sexual object-choice as well as his gender stance. the strangest aspect of the secret is its over-determination as a transgression of the hamley family’s mores. osborne hamley, the son and heir to his father, has contracted a clandestine marriage with a french serving-maid. osborne summarises the unsuitability of the tie in three words: ‘french, catholic, servant’ (p. 546). why all three? the language used to describe ‘osborne’s secret’ continually hints at a more interesting transgression than actually comes to light. molly tries to work out the difficulty before she accidentally finds it out: John kucich, The Power of Lies: Transgression in Victorian Fiction (ithaca, ny and London: cornell University Press, 1994), p. 123. 11 shirley foster, Victorian Women’s Fiction: Marriage, Freedom, and the Individual (London and sydney: helm, 1985), p. 179. 12 see Julia m. wright, ‘“Growing Pains”: Representing the Romantic in Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters’, in Nervous Reactions: Victorian Recollections of Romanticism, ed. Joel Faflak and Julia m. wright (albany, ny: state University of new york Press, 2004), pp. 163–85. 10

‘Mr Osborne’s Secret’


molly was altogether puzzled by his manners and ways. he spoke of occasional absences from the hall, without exactly saying where he had been. But that was not her idea of the conduct of a married man; who, she imagined, ought to have a house and servants, and pay rent and taxes, and live with his wife. (p. 271)

for molly, osborne’s behavior is a puzzle. his lack of a public wife is related to his failure to set up a household. it hints at something more interesting than a wife’s absence. when molly gets one step closer to knowing about osborne’s secret life – that osborne has incurred large debts – Roger rather overzealously assures her that these debts have nothing to do with ‘vice.’ ‘if my mother ever says anything about that part of the affair, assure her from me that there’s nothing of vice or wrong-doing about it’ (p. 239). Roger’s claims suggest more could be going on than meets the eye. no one has suspected osborne of sexual misconduct – molly certainly does not – and Roger’s disclaimer only makes one wonder what kind of vices could be in the offing. Until Osborne dies and Aimée finally meets his family, the elliptical terms used to describe the marriage are curiously drawn from sexual rather than social transgression. the sin that cannot be named among christians is oddly hinted at in the inability to name the crime. and in the mouths of Roger and his father, the language surrounding misdoing is inflated to a similar pitch: there’s two things you’ve gone and done which put me beside myself, when i think of them; you’ve turned out next door to a dunce at college, when your poor mother thought so much of you – and when you might have pleased and gratified her so if you chose – and, well! i won’t say what the other thing is. ‘tell me, sir,’ said osborne, almost breathless with the idea that his father had discovered his secret marriage; but the father was thinking of the money-lenders, who were calculating how soon osborne would come into the estate. ‘no!’ said the squire. ‘i know what i know; and i’m not going to tell you how i know it.’ (p. 294)

the talk around osborne’s secret – which is early on not a secret to the reader – is strangely and deliberately unstable. osborne is indeed married and will father a son. But his marriage has taken place within a series of hints about both his sexual presentation – Gaskell’s mantra-like repetition of ‘effeminate’ – and his unnamed and unnamable vices. the meanings of effeminacy in the nineteenth century have been discussed at some length in the context of uneven designations of masculinity. as J.G.a. Pocock has noted, ‘effeminacy’ has a long history in western culture’s attempts to define civic and moral responsibility as normative masculinity.13 the effeminate man is a political liability, unable to take up the citizen’s civil and military duties. Linda dowling has explained how the effeminate man in classical republican theory became a symbol of solipsism and civic disengagement.14 Alan Sinfield describes effeminacy as a form of misogyny because the term ‘effeminate’ indicates see J.G.a. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republic Tradition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975). 14 see Linda dowling, Hellenism and Homosexuality in Victorian Oxford (ithaca, ny and London: cornell University Press, 1994), p. 8. 13


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

‘undesirable’ ‘feminine’ qualities – weakness and fatigue – while ‘feminine’ marks ‘desirable’ stereotypical ideals like ‘purity’.15 as several critics have argued, Victorian writers increasingly attempted to stabilise masculine categories because writing is not necessarily manual or manly labor.16 Jeffrey weeks locates the shift to an aggressive masculinity to the 1860s.17 i would quickly dissuade the reader from equating effeminacy with modern homosexuality. most cultural historians assert that the two notions did not correspond until the wilde trials of 1895. 18 yet even one of these critics notes that developments of the terminology will necessarily be overlapping and ‘untidy.’19 Effeminacy can hint at different kinds of sexual transgression at once. andrew Elfenbein has observed that terms that highlight creative originality – like ‘genius’ – can also mark alternative stances of gender.20 Gaskell’s manipulation of osborne’s gender presentation has its uses for an author who wants to separate her own novelistic work from the work of the poet. the charge of effeminacy enables osborne the poet to be identified as a sexual misfit and social threat. His menace to class and nation, which comes to the fore with the revelation of his marriage to a servant foreigner, is already apparent to the eye in his androgynous appearance, sickly body, and ‘effeminate’ deportment. his effeminacy might, to some readers, also hint at other transgressive desires; it becomes an umbrella term for many stances of sexual transgression that heightens the transgressiveness of each because of their proximity.21 at the same time that Gaskell deploys her hints, she also constructs a genetic history for osborne’s condition. the squire is a brusque, uneducated farmer of ancient stock; his wife is fading, gentle and poetic. of their two sons, the heir, osborne, seems to have inherited his mother’s qualities and Roger his father’s. these gender characteristics seem to be the most significant aspect of their respective inheritances. But osborne’s effeminacy is produced by the contemporary in ways that Roger’s 15 See Alan Sinfield, Cultural Politics – Queer Reading (London: Routledge, 1994), p. 15. see also The Wild Century: Effeminacy, Oscar Wilde, and the Queer Moment (new york: columbia University Press, 1994), pp. 69, 92–3. 16 see thais morgan, ‘Victorian Effeminacies,’ in Victorian Sexual Dissidence, ed. Richard dellamora (chicago: University of chicago Press, 1999), pp. 1–5. see also herbert sussman, Victorian Masculinities: Manhood and Masculine Poetics in Early Victorian Literature (cambridge: cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 3. 17 see Jeffrey weeks, Sex, Politics, and Sexuality: The Regulation of Sexuality since 1800 (London: Longman, 1981), p. 40. 18 see Ed cohen, Talk on the Wild Side; Toward a Genealogy of Discourse on Male Sexualities (New York: Routledge, 1993), p. 136. See also Sinfield, Cultural Politics, pp. 15–17. Joseph Bristow follows Sinfield’s dating of the meaning of effeminacy in Effeminate England: Homoerotic Writing After 1885 (new york: columbia University Press, 1995), pp. 15–54. andrew Elfenbein is more sceptical of dating a paradigm change. see also Elfenbein, Romantic Genius: The Prehistory of a Homosexual Mode (new york: columbia University Press, 1999), pp. 10–13. 19 Sinfield, Cultural Politics, p. 14. 20 Elfenbein, Romantic Genius, pp. 17–38. 21 as Linda dowling states, even as effeminacy does not equal ‘homosexuality’ in this period it helps produce it as a category, ‘as an unintended effect of its won discourse’. see dowling, Hellenism and Homosexuality, p. 8.

‘Mr Osborne’s Secret’


masculinity is not. The Squire identifies with Roger (who is named after him) and can reconcile his achievements as a natural historian with his background in farming. moreover, the qualities that the squire sees in Roger and himself and absent in his wife and in osborne are the oldest inheritable characteristics. a single ‘masculine’ personality type can be traced in the hamley family to a time before the norman invasion: ‘now, isn’t it a queer quip of nature,’ continued the squire, turning his honest face toward molly, as if he were going to impart a new idea to her, ‘that i, a hamley of hamley, straight in descent from nobody knows where – the heptarchy, they say – ... here am i, of as good and as old a descent as any man in England, and i doubt that if a stranger, to look at me, would take me for a gentleman, with my red face, great hands and feet, and thick figure, fourteen stone, and never less than twelve even when I was a young man; and there’s osborne, who takes after his mother, who couldn’t tell her great-grandfather from adam, bless her; and osborne has a girl’s delicate face, and a slight make, and hands and feet as small as a lady’s. he takes after madam’s side, who, as i said, can’t tell who was her grandfather. now, Roger is like me, an oaf, and no-one who sees him in the street will ever think that red-brown, big-boned, clumsy chap is of gentle blood.’ (p. 106)

the physical differences between men and women extend to behavior – here we have the macho Roger and the girlish Osborne. The Squire identifies his own ancient character as masculine and feminine as a secondary development. the feminine characteristics of mrs. hamley and the synthesis of character and gender we see in osborne are later developments, even mutations. osborne’s liminal stance seems even later than hers. mrs. hamley and osborne die off rather quickly, and unsurprisingly, as both of them are ‘delicate.’ in osborne, the hamley bloodlines have become fatally weakened and feminised.22 Poet and Patient osborne’s increasingly indeterminate gender stance is complicated by his literary descent. osborne’s sexual inversion delineates his poetic as well as his genetic lateness. i will read the poetry of osborne hamley later in the essay, but here i would like to concentrate on osborne’s life, which Gaskell cleverly uses to mark him not only as an enervated invert but as a certain kind of post-Romantic poet. osborne’s poetic gift is inherently unmanning, a feminine tendency that he seems to have inherited from his mother. His illness is more of a figure for a cultural condition that any diagnosable malady – he pines away, becoming more sexually indeterminate as the illness progresses. as we are introduced to osborne the narrator tells us ‘he was the heir, he was delicate, and he was the clever one of the family’ (p. 120), as if all three characteristics – his descent, his literary cleverness, and his physical delicacy – are different facets of an unnamed characteristic. as the causes of osborne’s illness are outlined, we are given several interlocking diagnoses. we are early introduced 22 for deidre d’albertis, the feeble osborne cannot endure Gaskell’s version of the darwinian universe. d’ albertis, Dissembling Fictions, p. 145.


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

to mr. Gibson’s ideas about the relationship between the emotions and physical illness: ‘Gibson had rather a contempt for demonstrative people, arising from his medical insight into the consequences to health of uncontrolled feeling’ (p. 63). and osborne’s weakness of body in part hails from an inherent mental and moral weakness. this is certainly the popular diagnosis of the illness, even in the mind of the complacent cynthia: ‘... it’s his character that is weak. i’m sure there’s weakness somewhere; but he’s very agreeable’ (p. 270). for dino franco felluga the equation of imagination with poor health is a commonplace in the medical literature of the early nineteenth century.23 the diagnosis of osborne is highly suggestive of mental and moral incongruity: osborne performs his own self-diagnosis: ‘i think it is half fancy’ (p. 543). that is, not only half-imagined, or even connected to his mental state but, half a result of quest to imagine. his imagination does him in. the text gives sundry medical diagnoses as well, but they imply defective affections even in their biology: ‘this mr. mason told me the tutor said that only half of Roger’s success was owing to his mental powers; the other half was owing to his perfect health, which enabled him to work harder and more continuously than most men without suffering ... . now i, being a doctor, trace a good deal of his superiority to the material cause of a thoroughly good constitution, which osborne hasn’t got’ (p. 412). when Gibson explains osborne’s death, he says there was ‘something wrong about the heart’ (p. 608). Gibson is exact; there is something wrong with osborne’s affections, as well as his physical heart. osborne’s genetic condition is also poetic – the disease of the self-consuming poet. and by the mid-nineteenth century, osborne seems to have caught his illness from the reception-history of the Romantic poet. many recent studies have delineated the different social meanings behind the labeling of John keats’s verse and person as ‘effeminate’ by his first hostile reviewers and by writers throughout the century.24 for susan wolfson, keats’s lower-middle class origins and lack of access to the classical tradition triggers attempts to stabilise either gender categories. she writes: ‘Judgments about keats do not simply displace him into the feminine “other,” but suggest, by their very forcefulness, that the otherness against which nineteenthcentury manliness was striving for definition involves a “feminine” sensed within male subjectivity itself ...’25 for marjorie Levinson, the charge of effeminacy results from the idea of excessive female desire and overwrought middle-class ambition.26 23 see dino franco felluga, The Perversity of Poetry: Romantic Ideology and the Popular Male Poet of Genius (albany, ny: state University of new york Press, 2005), pp. 13–32. 24 see James najarian, Victorian Keats: Manliness, Sexuality, and Desire (Basingstoke: Palgrave-macmillan, 2002) and see Richard margraff turley, Keats’s Boyish Imagination (London and new york: Routledge, 2004), pp. 73–103. 25 susan wolfson, ‘feminizing keats,’ in Critical Essays on John Keats, ed. hermione de almedia (Boston: hall, 1990), pp. 317–56, 341. see also her ‘keats and Gender criticism’, in The Persistence of Poetry: Bicentennial Essays on Keats, eds Robert m. Ryan and Ronald a. sharp (amherst: University of massachusetts Press, 1998), pp. 88–108; ‘keats and the manhood of the Poet’, European Romantic Review 6:1 (1995): 1–37. 26 marjorie Levinson, Keats’s Life of Allegory: The Origins of a Style (oxford and new york: Blackwell, 1988), p. 4.

‘Mr Osborne’s Secret’


these associations of the Romantic poet with effeminacy provide a fruitful opportunity for Gaskell to examine a line of male poets without being a man or a poet. Gaskell exploits the connections between keats and gender ambiguity in order to establish herself, a woman novelist, within the lines of Romantic descent. Gaskell elbows her way into this line by questioning the gender stance of the Romantic poets, from Byron through keats and on to tennyson, and, moreover, the effect of their stance on their works’ intelligibility in nineteenth-century culture. in delineating osborne, Elizabeth Gaskell draws upon commonplaces about keats’s transgression of normative gender roles in order to show just how significant her project of novelwriting is. the details of osborne’s condition parody keats criticism and biography. keats’s consumption in the nineteenth century was stylized into languor, because in part it was interpreted as derived from stereotypically ‘female’ sexual passivity. the word that Gaskell uses is ‘languid’. osborne is ‘handsome, elegant, languid in manner and look’ (p. 249). ‘indeed, he had become so ailing and languid of late, that even the squire made only very faint objections to his desire for frequent change of scene’ (p. 392); the ‘languid, careless, dilettante osborne’ (p. 395). he speaks ‘languidly’ (p. 481). he is prevented doing anything by his languor: ‘he had not been there (at the Gibson’s) for a long time, and weather and languor combined had prevented him’ (p. 482). in the judgment of the squire, languor shows osborne’s indeterminate or ‘unmanly’ gender position. ‘He [Osborne] would saunter out on the sunny side of the house in a manner that the squire considered as both indolent and unmanly’ (p. 477). Languor is a vague term: its symptoms related to fatigue, but it gives osborne a strange physical beauty. osborne’s illness makes him handsome in a way that results paradoxically from the apparent decrease of his handsomeness. osborne’s physical beauty is both undermined by his illness and caused by it. the fading quality of his beauty is its essential characteristic; his physical weakness, which we have seen derive from a relation to boundaries of masculine and feminine that Gaskell labels ‘effeminacy’, is at once attractive and destructive even of itself. osborne’s beauty evidences and punishes his liminal gender stance. The Poetry of Osborne Hamley if osborne’s illness – congenital, mental, moral and linguistic – descends from versions of keats’s illness, it is affected by osborne’s poetic origins. Even at the novel’s beginning, Gaskell questions the masculinity of Romantic verse by constructing a sexually ambiguous genealogy for it. mrs. hamley introduces herself to molly through the medium of poetry, and in a few well-placed lines Gaskell hints that osborne’s poetry creates his character and implicitly takes part in the illness that undoes his normative gender stance: ‘But do you like poetry?’ said mrs. hamley, almost interrupting molly. ‘i was sure you did, from your face. have you read this last poem of mrs. hemans? shall i read it aloud to you?’

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


she began. molly was not so much absorbed in listening but that she could glance round the room. the character of the furniture was very much the same as her own ... . when the reading of the poem was ended, mrs. hamley replied to some of molly’s words of admiration, by saying: ‘ah! i think i must read you some of osborne’s poetry some day; under seal of secrecy, remember; but i really fancy they are almost as good as mrs. hemans.’ to be nearly as good as mrs. hemans’ was saying as much to the young ladies of that day, as saying that poetry is nearly as good as tennyson’s would be in this. molly looked up with eager interest. (p. 97)

molly is not much interested in osborne’s verse and takes the opportunity to size up the furniture. to compare osborne’s early verse with felicia hemans and with tennyson at the same time is a nice trick: Gaskell seems to be saying that the two are interchangeable, and is implying both that tennyson and hemans are more closely related than anyone recognises. susan wolfson’s recent reception-history of hemans shows how she embodied the ‘feminine poet’ for the nineteenth century.27 Gaskell implicates the whole poetic line in the feminine. she at once implies that sexual difference hardly matters in poetry, because to say that tennyson is like hemans is to suggest that poets are already feminised. far from constructing a female line of Romanticism, Gaskell questions the gender stance of both the Romantic and postRomantic poet. male poets are, in her eyes, feminised and useless. Gaskell’s view of female poets may be hardly better. the female poet of the novel, mrs. hamley, is not a good one. Gaskell connects osborne’s condition to his writing. Gaskell tells us osborne’s gift is ‘imitative,’ when she lets the reader see a list of his poems in manuscript: he had changed his style since the mrs. hemans’s days. he was essentially imitative in his poetic faculty; and of late he had followed the lead of a popular writer of sonnets. he turned his poems over: they were almost equivalent to an autobiographical passage in his life. arranging them in their order, they came as follows: ‘to aimée, walking with a Little child’ ‘to aimée, singing at her work’ ‘to aimée, turning away from me while i told my Love’ ‘aimée’s confession’ ‘aimée in despair’ ‘the foreign Land in which my aimée dwells’ ‘the wedding Ring’ ‘the wife’ (p. 299)

it is not so important to discover osborne’s model – that ‘popular writer of sonnets’. osborne’s model is intentionally unclear because Gaskell is making greater use of the ‘imitative’ nature of osborne’s poetry. the poems even imitate themselves. with their paucity of subject matter, the poems repeat themselves. their titles are naive – ‘the susan wolfson, ‘felicia hemans and the Revolving doors of Reception’, in Romanticism and Women Poets: Opening the Doors of Reception, eds harriet kramer Linkin and stephen c. Behrendt (Lexington: University Press of kentucky, 1999), pp. 214–41. 27

‘Mr Osborne’s Secret’


foreign Land in which my aimée dwells’ – and the invocation of aimée’s name (‘loved’) makes the act of writing the poems superfluous: ‘To Loved, when I told her of my Love.’ the list and the poetry come to an end when osborne marries aimée: the inventory concludes with ‘the wedding Ring’ and ‘the wife.’ I have said that Gaskell identifies Osborne with the post-Romantic tradition in verse, and implying both by her association of osborne’s verse with hemans’s work and with a tennyson that can be exchanged one-for-one with hemans. But Gaskell is surprisingly precise about osborne’s poetic predicament. Gaskell cleverly lets us know whom osborne is haunted by in an important scene of poetic aspiration. molly is reading a sheaf of his poems in manuscript before she meets its author; he arrives in the house just as she is going over his writing in a secluded room. she took a book of ms poems with her; they were all of osborne hamley’s composition; and his mother had read some of them aloud to her young visitor more than once. molly had asked permission to copy one or two of those which were her greatest favourites; and this quiet summer afternoon she took this copying for her employment, sitting at the pleasant open window, and losing herself in dreamy outlooks into the gardens and woods, quivering in the noon-tide heat. the house was so still, in its silence it might have been the ‘moated grange’; the booming buzz of the blue flies, in the great staircase window, seemed the loudest noise indoors. and there was scarcely a sound out of doors but the humming of bees, in the flower-beds below the window. Distant voices from the far-away fields where they were making hay – the scent of which came in sudden wafts distinct from that of the nearer roses and honey suckle – these merry piping voices just made molly feel the depth of her present silence. she had left off copying, her hand weary with the unusual exertion of so much writing, and she was lazily trying to learn one or two of the poems off by heart. i asked of the wind, but answer made it none, save its accustomed sad and solitary moan – she kept saying to herself, losing her sense of whatever meaning the words had ever had, in the repetition which had become mechanical. suddenly there was the snap of a shutting gate; wheels crackling on the dry gravel, horses’ feet on the drive; a loud cheerful voice in the house, coming up through the open windows, the hall, the passages, the staircase, with unwonted fullness and roundness of tone. the entrance-hall downstairs was paved with diamonds of black and white marble; the low wide staircase that went in short flights round the hall, till you could looks down upon the marble floor from the top storey of the house, was uncarpeted – uncovered. the squire was too proud of his beautifully-joined oaken flooring to cover this staircase up unnecessarily; ... . Then there was an opening and shutting of doors, and only a distant buzz of talking molly began again i asked of the wind, but answer made it none. And this time she had nearly finished learning the poem, when she heard Mrs. Hamley come hastily into her sitting-room that adjoined molly’s bedroom, and burst out into an irrepressible half-hysterical fit of sobbing. (pp. 116–17)

a number of critics have read this passage in fruitful ways, noting the quotation of the situation of tennyson’s ‘mariana’ and her ‘moated grange’ as well the poem’s


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

replication in Gaskell’s text with the flies buzzing in the staircase window.28 i will get to these allusions, which have been chosen i think to show the effect of osborne’s verses on molly. But we might begin with osborne’s own lines, as molly does. they are the only lines of osborne’s that Gaskell provides us. Gaskell has cleverly constructed them to show osborne’s relationship to keats. osborne is not keats’s Bloomian rival; he does not even get to rivalry in his lines: ‘i asked of the wind, but answer made it none,/ save its accustomed sad and solitary moan.’ what does osborne ask the wind? Presumably osborne has asked the wind for poetic inspiration, for the saving breath. But osborne’s lines lament his inability to interpret the wind, which makes for him a sound, but creates no language and composes no particular tune. the wind not only fails to answer osborne, it does not appear to have heard him or even recognise that he is its audience; it simply makes a moan. that sound should not be mistaken for even a rudimentary answer. osborne’s fragment records his failure to write one particular poem. the second line ends not with a period but with a dash. osborne aspires to write a version of keats’s ‘ode to Psyche,’ in which keats demands to take the place of the forest that the winds whistle through. osborne has evidently asked the wind for a sound, but keats makes the sounds himself – if anything, he takes the microphone from Psyche: ‘let me be thy choir and make a moan’: i see, and sing, by my own eyes inspired. so let me be thy choir, and make a moan Upon the midnight hours; ... yes, i will be thy priest, and build a fane in some untrodden region of my mind, where branched thought, new grown with pleasant pain, instead of pines shall murmur in the wind:29

As Paul Fry has put it, Keats ‘invokes [Psyche’s] presence and evokes her absence’.30 By establishing her temple and memorial in the ode, the ode establishes her presence and her absence in the poem. osborne builds no temple, but recounts an event in which the wind’s meaningless sound has nothing to say to him. osborne’s verses are in the past tense, as if this attempt took place some time ago, while keats’s verse claims, and continues to claim, authority as it is read. helen Vendler calls keats’s poem ‘at once an entreaty and a promise,’ but her words seem more apt for a reading of

28 see the discussions in matthew Rowlinson, Tennyson’s Fixations: Psychoanalysis and the Bearing of the Word (chartlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995), pp. 13–21; see homans, Bearing the Word, pp. 253–7; and see also John kucich, The Power of Lies, pp. 129–32. J.a.V. chapple traces Gaskell’s personal opinion of tennyson’s poetry in his ‘Elizabeth Gaskell and tennyson’, The Gaskell Society Newsletter 37 (2004): 2–6. 29 Reference to ‘ode to Psyche’, 435; 50–53, The Poems of John Keats, ed. Jack stillinger (cambridge, ma: Belknap, 1978). all quotations from this edition. 30 Paul fry, The Poet’s Calling in the English Ode (new haven and London: yale University Press, 1980), p. 61.

‘Mr Osborne’s Secret’


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


hamley than they do for keats.31 the ode does not entreat at all. keats takes the role of poet and then tells Psyche that he will be her priest: ‘i see and sing. so let me be’. keats starts singing before he admits that he is singing, so by the time he says ‘so let me be’ it is too late for him to be asking permission. this element of the poem has disturbed contemporary critics like Daniel Watkins, who see him flattering, but also ejecting, Psyche.32 Poor osborne’s verses do record an entreaty, an entreaty with no real reply. furthermore, osborne is in a desperate poetic position; Gaskell makes him end his brief fragment with a quotation of the precursor poet. that ‘solitary moan’ comes directly from the end of a phantasmal moment in Endymion, in which Endymion has had a vision of Venus: when all was darkened, with Etnean throe the earth clos’d – gave a solitary moan – and left him once again in twilight lone. (ii. 585–7)

after his vision, incidentally, Endymion is not left despairing but refreshed. he is aware that visions may return. But osborne is left quoting the visionary keats even as he laments that he will never have a vision. his verses lapse into quotation even as they peevishly complain. Gaskell’s quotation of tennyson must be read in the context of osborne’s keatsianism. for margaret homans, the scene, following her Lacanian model, shows molly’s ‘healthy self-containment and bond to the mother’. But there is another sense in which the quotation of ‘mariana’ and molly’s placement in a ‘mariana’like situation are hardly healthy at all. herbert tucker situates the poem as ‘between nightmare and wish fulfillment’.33 in the context of osborne’s belatedness, the scene reprimands his poem’s meaninglessness and the failure to answer recorded in his lines. Gaskell establishes this scene an allegory of post-Romantic keatsianism. the effect is nightmarish in how it empties molly’s consciousness – not a healthy a sign of anything. the static quotation and repetition of osborne’s verses stop time. For Matthew Rowlinson, Tennyson’s repetition fixates desire.34 it stops action and holds the poet and the poem in a single, unchallengeable space – as if, i would add, one could hold the wandering Endymion in one of his bowers forever. the effect is reproduced here in molly’s entrapment in the poem’s verses, so much so that she seems to repeat the situation of the trapped mariana. Gaskell recognises that tennyson is keats’s heir and uses tennyson’s ‘mariana’ to describe osborne’s verses’ hold on molly. Rowlinson points out that all mariana actually ‘says’ is contained in the refrains. mariana repeats herself, osborne’s poems repeat themselves; and molly repeats osborne’s repetition in the way that mariana repeats herself. helen Vendler, The Ode of John Keats (cambridge, ma and London: Belknap, 1983), p. 61. 32 see daniel watkins, Sexual Power in British Romantic Poetry (Gainesville, fL: University of florida Press, 1996), pp. 117–20. 33 herbert tucker, Tennyson and the Doom of Romanticism (cambridge, ma: harvard University Press, 1987), p. 81. 34 Rowlinson, Tennyson’s Fixations, pp. 68–72. 31

‘Mr Osborne’s Secret’


Gaskell has osborne’s poem work on molly in much the same way that tennyson’s frame works on mariana – to the extent, too, of surrounding her with old voices – the buzz in the pane becomes the buzz of the people she cannot understand. for molly and for mariana the lyric is a space of entrapment. mariana is not given direct access to her projection. for both molly and mariana the poem works as a glass cage. marion shaw says that mariana becomes ‘a male fantasy of female eroticism that the poem embodies’.35 the product of an effeminate poetics seems to limit and entrap the feminine, even as it displays femininity’s stereotypically least ‘pleasant’ characteristics. Gaskell’s Alternative what does Gaskell offer as a substitute for osborne’s belated and static verse, a lyricism that she labels as sexually indeterminate and entrapping? hebert tucker observes, ‘what is missing from a world in which “he cometh not” is, to put it crudely, action’.36 Gaskell seems to agree. kucich notes that poetry seems to be irrelevant to the novel’s plot: the expected marriage plot between osborne and molly, set up at the start with molly’s visit to hamley hall, never materializes. the extent to which molly refers to mariana she is turned into an observed object: the poem imprisons her. But the narrative of the novel itself seems to set her free. only mrs. hamley’s sobs break molly’s repetitious reverie: and these sobs have, in some sense, been ‘caused’ by the poet character in the plot (osborne has failed his examinations and come close to ruining the family financially) and not by the poetry of the character. mrs. hamley’s tears exhibit a far more genuine sorrow than the static melancholy that osborne’s verses dredge up. molly does not seem to be emotionally moved by the poem, but rather stuck in a meaningless linguistic limbo. molly is liberated from poetic stasis by the prose plot. not only does Gaskell question the gender role of the Romantics, she offers prose fiction, and her prose fiction in particular, as the ‘manly’ alternative to the enervating sexual inversion of the second generation of Romantics and its heirs. if osborne’s effeminate poetry entraps its reader in a secondhand, hollow sorrow, only narrative can release her. Gaskell uses traditional markers of gender in order to claim them for herself by questioning how they are related to the sex of their sources. Gaskell supplies the masculine language opposed to poetry in her prose. her option is not poetry at all, but a prose exhortation, manifest most clearly in the letter Roger receives from the trustees that commission his natural history explorations. as Gaskell puts it: it was a manly, feeling, sensible letter, explaining to the old father in very simple language the services which were demanded by the terms of the will to which he and two or three others were trustees ... (p. 410)

35 36

marion shaw, Alfred Lord Tennyson (new york: wheatsheaf, 1988), p. 102. tucker, Tennyson and the Doom of Romanticism, p. 74.

squire hamley, the old father, a representative of masculinity, is the letter’s audience and interlocutor. Gaskell does not provide us with a sample of the letter. its ‘manly, feeling, sensible’ prose must be represented by her own. it is not assigned to a quotation from this letter, as osborne’s poetry is quarantined from the rest of the narrative by the quotation of two of his verses. Gaskell’s own prose stands in for the ‘manly’ prose of the letter in this scheme; it’s far more ‘manly’ than osborne’s entrapping, enervating, secondhand verse. Gaskell is at once innovative and conservative in her uses of terminology. ‘manly’ for Gaskell is a term of praise that describes a language that her prose aspires to; she takes this phrase for herself, and it is an inherently conventionalist notion to think that she must grab it as a radical idea that she can use. Gaskell has manipulated the ‘gender’ of poetry in order to maneuver around Romanticism. she genders poetry and the poet as ‘unmanly’ in order to give prose a distinct advantage. she employs a poetics of gender norms and constructs a role for her own prose.

chapter 7

‘fallen angels’: hardy’s shelleyan critique in the final wessex novels andrew Radford

‘I found from their manner that an extraordinary affinity, or sympathy, entered into their attachment, which somehow took away all flavour of grossness. Their supreme desire is to be together – to share each other’s emotions, and fancies, and dreams.’ ‘Platonic!’ ‘well no. shelleyan would be nearer to it. they remind me of – what are their names – Laon and cythna.’1

I so the staid middle-aged pedant, Phillotson, describes the intense ‘attachment’ that exists between the eponymous protagonist and sue Bridehead in Jude the Obscure (1896). Phillotson’s reference to the lovers in Percy Bysshe shelley’s poem of the same name2 is one of myriad pointed allusions to a poet who was a source of abiding fascination to hardy when he embarked on a literary career in the early 1870s. sue’s ‘extraordinary affinity’ with Jude is set against the repressive rubble of Christminster (high anglican oxford), a haven for discarded ideals, from whose university shelley was expelled in 1811 for publishing a pamphlet entitled The Necessity of Atheism – the very necessity that causes the couple’s alienation from the unsmiling custodians of respectability. the dying Jude regards shelley as ‘the Poet of Liberty’, whose ‘phantom’ he imagines touching the crumbling college archways with spectral fingertips (JO, p. 414). 1 thomas hardy, Jude the Obscure, ed. with intro. Patricia ingham (oxford: world’s classics, 1985), pp. 242–3. hereafter JO. 2 Laon and Cythna was first published in December 1817 before being quickly withdrawn and significantly revised and reissued as The Revolt of Islam in January 1818. the changes made to Laon and Cythna; or The Revolution of the Golden City before its re-issue as The Revolt of Islam, included modifying specific phrases that pertained to the subject of religion and the precise nature of the relationship between the male and female protagonists of the poem (explicitly brother and sister in the original version), as well as the removal of the Preface’s final paragraph, in which Shelley challenged the moral sensibilities of his readership by implying that some ‘actions’ such as incest, ‘were only crimes of convention’.


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

shelley was alone among the English Romantics, according to G.h. Lewes, in being the ‘seer’ offering the ‘Gospel’ of ‘Love and hope’ to the nineteenth century.3 shelley’s dual status as a crusading visionary and a model of progressive radicalism explains why he seemed so appealing to Lewes and other Victorian liberals. But hardy, towards the end of his career as a novelist, could not endorse the confident optimism of this view. sue Bridehead’s ability to recite the rapt rhetoric from Epipsychidion (JO, p. 257) for instance is evidence of a debilitating potential for disorder in her ‘sentiments’ (JO, p. 232) – a failure rationally to regulate conduct by balancing the flighty and fantastical with a clear-sighted view of the restricted possibilities of real life. although hardy considered himself ‘a faithful wordsworthian’, and spoke respectfully of the ‘famous preface to Lyrical Ballads’,4 it was shelley who came to mind when hardy wrote in a letter of 24 January 1897: ‘i have been thinking that of all men dead whom I should like to meet in the Elysian fields I would choose shelley, not only for his unearthly, weird, wild appearance & genius, but for his genuineness, earnestness, & enthusiasms on behalf of the oppressed.’5 J. hillis miller has already noted that ‘hardy’s work is so inhabited by echoes of Shelley [...] that it almost might be defined as, from beginning to end, a large-scale interpretation of shelley, one of the best and strangest we have.’6 hardy is often 3 G.h. Lewes, ‘Percy Bysshe shelley’, Westminster Review 35 (1841): 303–44. see also Lewes, ‘shelley and the Letters of Poets’, Westminster Review 57 (1852): 502–11. in his 1841 essay, Lewes castigated the other Romantic poets for their regressive or unhelpful social tendencies: Byron for his ‘licentiousness and misanthropy’, walter scott for his reactionary espousal of ‘the dead spirit of chivalry’, wordsworth (along with southey and coleridge) for the betrayal of his youthful liberalism and for his retreat into ‘an impossible state of country life or nature’. ‘shelley alone was the poet standing completely on his truth; giving up his life to it, and eternally preaching it’ (311, 319–20). 4 thomas hardy, The Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy, eds Richard L. Purdy and michael millgate, 7 vols (oxford: clarendon Press, 1978–88), V: pp. 192, 253. sir James Barrie, who knew hardy well, at a dinner immediately after his death, speaking of the copy of shelley’s poems that hardy carried in his pocket when a young man, declared, ‘there are a hundred, a thousand, pencil marks [...] that look now like love messages from a young poet of one age to the young poet of a past age. what in human experience can be more stainless? I think Hardy’s first words in the Elysian Fields were, “Which is Shelley?”’ See J.M. Barrie, ‘Barrie Reviews hardy’, Literary Digest 100 (2 february 1929), p. 22. according to Edmund Blunden, hardy kept a portrait of shelley near his chimney-piece at max Gate. see Thomas Hardy (London, 1942), p. 159. hardy’s own Life reveals that he relished to think that, when he and his mother travelled in his boyhood to her sister’s in Hatfield, they had stayed in the room at the cross keys, clerkenwell, which was occupied by shelley when he met mary Godwin there at weekends. they were married at st mildred’s, Bread street, to which hardy took his friend sir George douglas in 1899 to see their signatures in the register. 5 thomas hardy, letter, 24 January 1897. see Letters ii, p. 144. 6 J. hillis miller, The Linguistic Moment: From Wordsworth to Stevens (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985), p. 115. Pinion asserts ‘it is no exaggeration to say that Shelley’s influence on Hardy’s thought and basic outlook was greater than that of any other writer.’ see f.B. Pinion, Thomas Hardy: Art and Thought (London: macmillan, 1977), p. 148. The sheer abundance of quotations from Shelley in Hardy’s first published novel, Desperate Remedies (1871), is often used to support this critical claim. for an early treatment of this topic see Phyllis Bartlett, ‘“seraph of heaven”: a shelleyan dream in hardy’s fiction’,

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viewed as having sought in shelley what every ‘young writer’ craved according to matthew arnold, ‘a hand to guide him through the confusion, a voice to prescribe to him the aim which he should keep in view’.7 what remains peculiarly problematic is how to reconcile Hardy’s avowed admiration for a figure whose non-Christian, scientific cosmology and evolutionary historicism profoundly influenced his thinking, with the systematic and scathing interrogation of ‘shelleyan’ protagonists in the final novels. Sue and Jude are typical ‘Shelleyans’ in Hardy’s fictional scheme not so much because they harbour a zealous desire for revolt and renovation, but because they are variously enthralled within cycles of pernicious illusion that evade or negate altogether the concreteness of genuine engagements with humanity. Hardy’s fiction evinces not only an ambivalent attitude towards Shelley’s energetically inquisitive intelligence but also a mordant response to what he deemed a remnant Romanticism in 1890s culture that was unwilling, or unable, to privilege sober outward perception over the erratic promptings of solipsistic inwardness.8 he conveys an increasingly disenchanted sense that the key metaphysical concern of the Romantic revolution, originally incited to unshackle human creative and political potencies, as well as to bridge the chasm between man and his tangible surroundings, had become in late-Victorian Britain a byword for antisocial behaviour and ‘lawless wants’.9 hardy’s sceptical intertextual dialogue with sentimental and idealistic PMLA 70 (1955): 624–32; and ‘hardy’s shelley’, Keats-Shelley Journal 4 (winter 1955): 15–29. Robert Gittings corrects Bartlett’s account of hardy’s copies of shelley in The Young Thomas Hardy (harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986), p. 337 n. 17. for an overview of hardy’s allusions to shelley see also william Rutland, Thomas Hardy: A Study of His Writings and Their Background (oxford: Blackwell, 1938). individual studies include: Vern B. Lentz and douglas short, ‘hardy, shelley, and the statues’, Victorian Poetry 12 (1974): 370–72; ian ousby, ‘“the convergence of the twain”: hardy’s alteration of Plato’s Parable’, Modern Language Review 77 (1982): 780–96; michael steig, ‘fantasy and mimesis in Literary character: shelley, hardy, and Lawrence’, English Studies in Canada i (2) (1975): 160–71; iris tillman-hill, ‘hardy’s skylark and shelley’s’, Victorian Poetry 10 (1972): 79–83; and G. Glen wickens, ‘Romantic myth and Victorian nature in Desperate Remedies’, English Studies in Canada VIII, 2 (June 1982): 154–73. Although he discusses Shelley’s influence on several Victorian novelists, donald stone does not feature hardy in The Romantic Impulse in Victorian Fiction (cambridge, ma: harvard University Press, 1980). 7 matthew arnold, ‘Preface to Poems, 1853’, The Poetry and Criticism of Matthew Arnold, ed. A. Dwight Culler (Boston: Miffin, 1961), p. 208. 8 kevin Z. moore argues that hardy’s wessex ‘is a literary anthology or fragmented ensemble of specific themes, forms, and figures drawn from the British romantic tradition’. see The Descent of the Imagination: Postromantic Culture in the Later Novels of Thomas Hardy (new york and London: new york University Press, 1990), p. 8. 9 the speaker of Robert Browning’s poem Pauline acknowledges the need for more objective poetic modes than those furnished by the author of Epipsychidion: i’ll look within no more. i have too trusted my own lawless wants, too trusted my vain self, vague intuition – draining soul’s wine alone in the still night. (937–40) see Robert Browning’s Poetry: Authoritative Texts, 2nd ed. Eds James f. Loucks and andrew m. stauffer (new york: norton, 2007).


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forms of Romanticism culminates in the notoriously bizarre generic experiment The Well-Beloved (1892/97), technically Hardy’s final published novel.10 Barbara Shapiro contends that ‘the finest Romantic poetry [...] reveals the efforts of [the narcissistic self] to overcome its angry, self-destructive attachment to [...] itself’.11 The Well-Beloved by contrast scrutinises a flippant and frivolous residual Romanticism profoundly out of touch with the times, fixated upon gratifying itself at whatever cost to communal cohesion. in The Well-Beloved’s alternative endings hardy not only reflects on many of his preceding novels but also administers the last rites to his extraordinary fiction-writing career. This ‘fanciful, tragi-comic, half-allegorical tale of a poor visionary’12 locked in a crystal cabinet of glorifying self-delusion, chronicles hardy’s anguished perception that those Romantic poets, such as shelley, who once warned against ‘the dark idolatry of self’,13 had come to symbolise at the fin de siécle the most predatory and egotistical personal conduct.14 II Hardy first became aware of Shelley as a poet, whom he later called ‘the highestsoaring among our lyrists’,15 through sir francis Palgrave’s Golden Treasury.16 in 10 d.h. Lawrence’s impatient dismissal of the novel as ‘fatuity’ gives some indication of its anomalous and testing qualities. see d.h. Lawrence, Study of Thomas Hardy and Other Essays, ed. with intro. Bruce steele (cambridge: cambridge University Press, 1986), p. 93. hardy himself recognised the extent to which the story strays from the realistic ethic of the Victorian novel and its mimetic techniques. in his Preface to the volume in the 1912 edition, he believed The Well-Beloved differed ‘from all or most others of the series in that the interest aimed at is of an ideal or subjective nature’. 11 Barbara shapiro, The Romantic Mother: Narcissistic Patterns in Romantic Poetry (Baltimore: Johns hopkins University Press, 1983), p. 130. 12 thomas hardy, Letters ii, p. 154. 13 P.B. shelley, Shelley’s Poetry and Prose: The Authoritative Texts, eds donald h. Reiman and neil fraistat (new york: norton, 2002), The Revolt of Islam, Viii, xxii, 3. all subsequent references are to this edition. 14 Robert Browning’s essay on P.B. shelley suggests that while the poet’s ‘passionate, impatient struggles’ were regrettable instances of egotistical behaviour, these outbursts might be excused as the ‘[c]rude convictions of boyhood’ for which ‘all boys have been pardoned. they are growing pains, accompanied by temporary distortion, of the soul’. see Browning, ‘Introductory Essay’ [‘Essay on Shelley’], in The Broadview Anthology of Victorian Poetry and Poetic Theory, eds thomas J. collins and Vivienne J. Rundle (ontario, canada: Broadview Press, 1999), p. 1248, hereafter BVPPT. Browning’s ‘introductory Essay’ to the Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley was published early in 1852 by Edward moxon, Browning’s friend and the publisher of the Bells and Pomegranates (1841–46) series. the letters were found to be spurious before the book was distributed, and it was immediately withdrawn from publication. 15 thomas hardy, Letters 6, p. 101. 16 Even before he left dorset for London in 1862, hardy had been impressed by walter Bagehot’s essay on shelley in his Estimates of 1858 (afterwards entitled Literary Studies). the shelley lyric that he annotated in The Golden Treasury, ‘o world! o Life! o time!’ he later regarded as one of the most accomplished passages in all English poetry.

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1866, hardy purchased a small volume published the year before in ‘the cottage Library’ series at halifax called Queen Mab and Other Poems by Percy B. Shelley. these ‘other poems’ were Alastor, The Revolt of Islam, and Prometheus Unbound. this initiated a lifelong practice of assiduously reading and annotating shelley’s major works. in 1887, the year The Woodlanders was published, Hardy and his first wife Emma had visited Leghorn, which inspired his lyric on ‘shelley’s skylark’, and Rome, where a pilgrimage to the English Protestant cemetery inspired ‘at the Pyramid of cestius: near the Graves of shelley and keats’. it seems likely that hardy, in preparation for The Woodlanders and Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891), had examined the shelley biographies that emerged in the 1880s: John cordy Jeaffreson’s The Real Shelley (1885), Edward dowden’s The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1886), and mrs. Julian marshall’s The Life and Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1889) – all two-volume works and all displaying a number of markings or marginal notes by hardy.17 Arguably the most significant of these works was Dowden’s biography, which Hardy read – though perhaps not for the first time – in 1894.18 hardy had also scrutinised matthew arnold’s critical manipulation of dowden’s Life of Shelley in his 1888 essay entitled ‘shelley’. it is almost certain that if hardy had not read this biography, then arnold’s searching critique would have led him to peruse these volumes. arnold located in dowden’s Life two conflicting perceptions of the poet: a historic shelley as cynical libertine, and a well-intentioned, though hapless idealist to whom arnold responded with sympathetic appreciation. ‘i have read those volumes with the deepest interest, but i regret their publication, and am surprised, i confess, that shelley’s family should have desired or assisted it.’19 arnold had come to know and admire the version of shelley as a ‘rare spirit’ possessing ‘reverent enthusiasm for the great and wise’, the ‘beautiful and ineffectual angel beating his wings in the void’ through the tactful and resolutely protective recollections of t.J. hogg and mary shelley. this image, ‘idealised by tender regret and exalted memory’20 becomes tainted by dowden’s weighty chronicle of the ‘real’ shelley, and makes arnold ‘question whether it was desirable to relate in full the occurrences of shelley’s private life.’21 After finishing Dowden’s biography, Arnold is compelled to reassess his former impression of the poet and attempts to recuperate his tarnished

the Jeaffreson work is generally hostile to shelley and moved hardy at one point to exclaim ‘most unjust’ (Letters 2, p. 401). 18 see thomas hardy, The Literary Notebooks of Thomas Hardy, ed. Lennart a. Björk. 2 vols (new york: new york University Press, 1985), 2, p. 510. 19 matthew arnold, ‘shelley’, in The Last Word: The Complete Prose Works of Matthew Arnold, vol. 11, ed. R.h. super (ann arbor, mi: University of michigan Press, 1977), p. 305. it is arnold’s split view of shelley – shelley the self-deluded and callous sensualist and shelley the ethereal poet who possesses feminine refinement of manner – which informs Hardy’s creation of alec d’Urberville and angel clare in Tess; and to a lesser extent arabella donn and sue Bridehead in Jude the Obscure. 20 matthew arnold, ‘shelley’, p. 306. 21 matthew arnold, ‘shelley’, p. 306. 17


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

ideal.22 for arnold, the ‘angelic’ shelley will subsist ‘with many a scar and stain’ but ‘never again will he have the same pureness’ which he had formerly.23 arnold concludes, ‘Professor dowden’s volumes, which give so much, also afford data for picturing anew the Shelley who delights, as well as for picturing for the first time’ a womanising shelley ‘who, to speak plainly, disgusts’.24 arnold believed that the same impudent daring in the face of constraint that produced great poetry could also find expression in violently heterodox opinions and ‘an inhuman want of humour’.25 for arnold, as for angel clare in Tess of the d’Urbervilles, a profoundly unpalatable truth threatens a consoling illusion; in effect, both would rather muse upon their romance of ineffable beauty than take a full, unblinking look at the worst.26 III hardy’s conception of the immature physician Edred fitzpiers in The Woodlanders probes the two warring sides of shelley’s ego that arnold fashioned in his ethical assessment of Dowden’s biography. Fitzpiers, whose Anglo-Norman name signifies culture and urbanity in its modish antiquity, is both a rakish outsider and a restive intellectual intrigued by recondite lore. Like the ardent youth of shelley’s poem Alastor, fitzpiers believes himself to be ‘conversant with speculations of the sublimest and most perfect natures’.27 however, in striking contrast to the youth of Alastor, fitzpiers is a man of debased feeling, who utilises walter Bagehot’s reductive understanding of shelleyan theory – ‘nothing exists but as it is perceived’28 – to justify a career of heartless philandering. fitzpiers was very much the centre of the narrative Hardy first offered to Macmillan with the possible alternative title Fitzpiers at Hintock. Originally conceived as a more nebulous figure than the dishonest sensation-seeker or ‘third-rate shelley’ that david Lodge labels him,29 fitzpiers’s ‘face was rather soft than stern, charming than grand, pale than flushed [...] Either from his readily appreciative mien, or his reflective manner, his presence bespoke the 22 ‘After reading his book [Dowden’s biography]’, Arnold reflected, ‘one feels sickened forever of the subject of irregular relations’ (p. 322). he continued, ‘it is visible enough that when the passion of love was aroused in shelley (and it was aroused easily) one could not be sure of him, his friends could not trust him’ (p. 323). 23 matthew arnold, ‘shelley’, p. 308. 24 matthew arnold, ‘shelley’, p. 323. 25 matthew arnold, ‘shelley’, p. 323. 26 Browning’s 1852 essay on Shelley conceded that ‘[t]here existed from the beginning [...] certain charges against [Shelley’s] private character and life, which, if substantiated to their whole breadth, would materially disturb, i do not attempt to deny, our reception and enjoyment of his works’ (p. 1248). 27 P.B. shelley, Alastor, ‘Preface’, p. 73. 28 see walter Bagehot’s essay on ‘shelley’ in Literary Studies (London, 1902), i, p. 270. Even before he left dorset for London in 1862, hardy had read Bagehot’s essay on shelley in his Estimates of 1858 (afterwards entitled Literary Studies). 29 david Lodge, ‘introduction’, The Woodlanders. the new wessex Edition (London: macmillan, 1975), p. 16.

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philosopher rather than the dandy’.30 The ‘soft [...] charming [...] pale’ face hints at the superior birth and schooling on which fitzpiers so obviously prides himself. But ‘the classical curve of his mouth’ is ‘not without a looseness in its close’: the fatally magnetic glamour conceals a dilettante humbug. that the narrator has to assure us that fitzpiers’s presence indicates ‘the philosopher rather than the dandy’ is strange, because it insists on the reality of his Platonic aspiration while at the same time implying its profound insecurity. the contradiction in fitzpiers of the roles of shelleyan idealist and the incurable sensual materialist, who is not only imaginatively unfaithful but physically so, makes him a distinct, less moral variation on the type that includes angel clare and The Well-Beloved’s Jocelyn Pierston (there is a kinship in name). fitzpiers struggles to release himself from the material grip of the natural world yet is dragged back by sexual imperatives into a satyrean existence. the primitive urge for licence, of which he is both a reluctant victim and triumphant hierophant, overwhelms his pseudo-scientific ambition to discover by dissection the point at which the ideal impinges upon the real. This fickle visitant from the beau-monde anticipates angel clare in wishing to project himself as an agnostic freethinker disdainful of the hidebound social norms that dictate presumptuously to experience. But in fitzpiers the shelleyan doctrine of the poet’s innate superiority to others by reason of his intense powers of imagination – the physician regards ‘his own personality as one of unbounded possibilities’ (WL, p. 101) – has been totally divorced from the shelleyan conviction that the poet’s imagination will make him feel deeply with humanity and hence enable him to become its benefactor. Fitzpiers simplifies and distorts aspects of Shelley’s poetic and social theory to fortify a self-serving aestheticism of erotic indulgence.31 Exalted by what he thinks are the Platonics of Epipsychidion, he sneers at formalised, traditional marriage to pursue the shadow of the idol of his thought from woman to woman: ‘the love of men like fitzpiers is unquestionably of such quality as to bear division and transference. He had indeed once declared [...] that on one occasion he had noticed himself to be possessed of five distinct infatuations at the same time’ (WL, p. 159). Verses from shelley are requisitioned to express the two ‘infatuations’ he experiences in the course of the novel. when he and Giles winterborne are riding through the woods together at night and fitzpiers is trying to ascertain the identity of Grace melbury, whom he has seen and is attracted by, he ‘rhapsodized to the night’ a whole stanza from ‘the Revolt of islam’ (WL, p. 89).32 fitzpiers tells winterborne that ‘human life thomas hardy, The Woodlanders, ed. with intro. dale kramer (oxford: world’s classics, 1988), p. 78. hereafter WL. 31 Kevin Z. Moore contends that, ‘Giles [Winterborne’s] woodland tale is a critique of wordsworthian pastoralism, while fitzpiers’s story critiques the “decadent” permutation of shelley’s romanticism’. see The Descent of the Imagination, p. 21. 32 fitzpiers exclaims after meeting his future wife Grace: ‘i thought what a lovely creature! the design is for once carried out. nature has at last recovered her lost union with the idea! my thoughts ran in that direction because i had been reading the work of a transcendental philosopher last night; and i dare say it was the dose of idealism that i received from it that made me scarcely able to distinguish between reality and fancy’ (WL, pp. 99–100). for Robert Browning, shelley apprehended ‘what God sees – the Ideas of Plato, seeds of 30


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is a subjective thing’; any other young lady who appeared as she had to him would have inspired him to quote ‘precisely the same lines from shelley about her’ (WL, p. 89). after his marriage to Grace, the ‘idea’ takes fitzpiers to felice charmond, and he murmurs lines from Epipsychidion as he goes ‘[...] towards the lodestar of my one desire, / I flitted, like a dizzy moth’. His trite and adulterous tactic of projecting his aura of ‘desire’ into an evanescent well-beloved, ridicules the very basis of a Romanticism in which the individual redeemed himself from self-centred seclusion by seeing into the life of things – witnessing, according to Robert Browning in his ‘Essay on shelley’, ‘what God sees – the Ideas of Plato, seeds of creation lying burningly on the divine hand’(BVPPT, p. 1244). that fitzpiers’s temperamental bias and airy philosophy minister to a moral and intellectual myopia foreshadows Jocelyn Pierston’s febrile but facile ‘pursuits’ in The Well-Beloved, seeking ‘in vain for a prototype of his conception’.33 IV if fitzpiers is portrayed as a dissolute shelleyan poseur, the tree-planter and cidermaker Giles winterborne is often viewed as the epitome of an ongoing organic vitality in Little Hintock, reminiscent of the figure in Alastor whose blood beats ‘in mystic sympathy / With nature’s ebb and flow’ (my emphasis).34 yet shelley’s poet-narrator only echoes these Romantic sentiments to critique wordsworth’s investment in the interconnected universal trinity of ‘earth, ocean, and air’. hardy’s own wordsworthian allusions in The Woodlanders express a similar shelleyan scepticism about Wordsworth’s Romantic faith in ‘a motion and a spirit [...] that impels / all living things’.35 Endowed with ‘a gentle conjuror’s touch’, winterborne possesses a ‘sort of [Romantic] sympathy between himself and the fir, oak, or beech that he was operating on; so that the roots took hold of the soil in a few days’ (WL, p. 49; my emphasis). he and his co-worker marty south evince a mystical connection with the forest expressed in terms of their shared intuitive apprehension of a secret ‘script’ peculiar to Little hintock.36 creation lying burningly on the divine hand’. however, fitzpiers is led on by ‘the idea’ into serial infidelity. After he has wearied of Grace Melbury he is seen on horseback reciting shelley (Epipsychidion, 219–21) as he rides off for a tryst with felice charmond (WL, p. 23), the lines this time being the same three concerning the ‘dizzy moth’ that hardy had employed as a chapter heading in his early work An Indiscretion in the Life of an Heiress (1878). 33 shelley, Alastor, ‘Preface’, p. 73. 34 shelley, Alastor, 652–3. 35 William Wordsworth: The Major Works, ed. stephen Gill (oxford: oxford University Press, 1984), ‘tintern abbey’, 100–101, p. 134. 36 see wordsworth’s The Prelude for this sense of ‘nature’ as script to be studied. in crossing simplon Pass wordsworth revives the ancient theological concept that God’s creation constitutes a symbol system, a physical revelation parallel to a scriptural one: the rocks that muttered close upon our ears, Black drizzling crags that spake by the wayside as if a voice were in them, the sick sight and giddy prospect of the raving stream,

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the casual glimpses which the ordinary population bestowed upon that wondrous world of sap and leaves called the hintock woods had been with these two, Giles and marty, a clear gaze. They had been possessed of its finer mysteries as of commonplace knowledge; had been able to read its hieroglyphs as ordinary writing; to them the sights and sounds of night [...] amid those dense boughs [...] were simple occurrences whose origin, continuance, and laws they foreknew [...] they had, with the run of the years, mentally collected those remoter signs and symbols which seen in few were of runic obscurity, but all together made an alphabet [...] . The artifices of the seasons were seen by them from the conjuror’s own point of view. (WL, pp. 248–9)

winterborne is endowed with ‘a gentle conjuror’s touch in spreading the roots of each little tree, resulting in a sort of caress, under which the delicate fibres all laid themselves out in their proper directions for growth’ (WL, p. 50). his caress, quite spontaneous and unconscious, is intended to nurture the young trees. the fertile bond presumed to exist between winterborne and what kevin Z. moore describes as ‘the romantic tree of life’37 is a quality for which The Woodlanders creates an almost religious yearning, even as it repeatedly punishes the cider-maker for this affinity. When Winterborne descends from the great elm on which John South is fixated in his last illness, it is like a tree-spirit detaching itself: ‘the tree seemed to shiver, then to heave a sigh: a movement was audible, and winterborne dropped almost noiselessly to the ground’ (WL, p. 73). this link between old south and the tall elm swaying outside his window is a macabre parody of Winterborne’s ‘sympathy between himself and the fir, oak, or beech’: a quasi-mystical correspondence between woodlander and trees has collapsed into debilitating neurosis and harmful superstition. winterborne, acting on fitzpiers’s advice, fells the elm, but when the old man sees the vacant patch of sky left behind he has a fit and dies of shock. The Woodlanders enacts the cutting down of a tree that resonates with myriad symbolic associations in Romantic literature, from Paine’s liberty tree in The Rights of Man (1791), Burke’s tree of tradition in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), wordsworth’s characterisation of Burke as an ‘oak of tradition’ in Book ten of The Prelude, and the ‘magnificent’ oak tree in wordsworth’s 1844 Two Letters Re-printed from ‘The Morning Post’ which depicts a Lake district yeoman with a keen understanding of his spiritual and temporal heritage as a woodlander: ‘Near the house of [the Lake District yeoman] stands a magnificent tree, which a neighbour of the owner advised him to fell for profit’s sake. “Fell it”, exclaimed the yeoman, “I had rather fall down on my knees

the unfettered clouds and region of the heavens, tumult and peace, the darkness and the light – were all like workings of one mind, the features of the same face, blossoms upon one tree; characters of the great apocalypse, the types and symbols of Eternity, Of first, and last, and midst, and without end. (1805 version, VI, 562–72). see The Prelude: A Parallel Text, ed. J.c. maxwell (harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986). 37 kevin Z. moore, The Descent of the Imagination, p. 107.


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

and worship it.”’38 in The Woodlanders, this romanticised perception of the tree as totem is ruthlessly debunked, as is winterborne’s supposed status as a primitive fertility figure in Chapter 28, when he appears out of the valley to Grace Melbury as ‘autumn’s very brother’. he looked and smelt like autumn’s very brother, his face being sunburnt to wheat-colour, his eyes blue as corn-flowers, his sleeves and leggings dyed with fruit stains, his hands clammy with the sweet juice of apples, his hat sprinkled with pips, and everywhere about him that atmosphere of cider which at its first return each season has such an indescribable fascination for those who have been born and bred among the orchards. her heart rose from its late sadness like a released bough; her senses revelled in the sudden lapse back to nature unadorned. the consciousness of having to be genteel because of her husband’s profession, the veneer of artificiality which she had acquired at the fashionable schools, were thrown off, and she became the crude country girl of her latent, early instincts. nature was bountiful, she thought. no sooner had she been cast aside by Edred fitzpiers, than another being, impersonating chivalrous and undiluted manliness, had arisen out of the earth, ready to her hand. this, however, was an excursion of the imagination which she did not wish to encourage, and she said suddenly, to disguise the confused regard which had followed her thoughts, ‘did you meet my husband?’ (WL, p. 156)

winterborne himself is never conscious of reaching a unique harmony with the rhythms governing seasonal change, or that he personifies the earth’s thriving abundance. Even before the perspective is explicitly made that of Grace at ‘her heart rose from its late sadness’, the tone of the passage, whose intoxicating sensuousness is suspiciously keatsian, implies that Grace is indulging ‘an excursion of the imagination’ (my emphasis).39 The Woodlanders undoes the stable and enduring relationship between man and community, and man and nature thematically central to wordsworth’s The Excursion. George meredith regarded wordsworth as ‘the least dangerous of all preceptors to a youthful poet, and one whose sound and sonorous English, reverence for his art, and eternal dealing with the well-heads of nature, can do nothing but good to a young and imaginative mind.’40 the bitterly sardonic echo of wordsworth’s poem in The Woodlanders is deliberate, as is the construction here of ‘imagination’ not as a wholesome sign of social integration or as a means of metaphysical solace but as an index of perceptual aberration to which Grace’s immature mind is repeatedly prone. Hardy exploits the scalding irony that if Grace’s whimsical identification of winterborne with the cider-making process is carried to its logical conclusion, then this figure of natural fruition must surely be at risk of John Barleycorn’s fate, or of 38 william wordsworth, ‘two Letters Re-printed from the morning Post’, in The Prose Works of William Wordsworth, vols 2 and 3, eds w.J.B. owen and Jane worthington smyser (oxford: clarendon Press, 1974), p. 238. 39 see George wotton, Thomas Hardy: Towards a Materialist Criticism (dublin: macmillan, 1985), pp. 55–7; and J. hillis miller, Thomas Hardy: Distance and Desire (cambridge, ma: harvard University Press, 1970), p. 83. 40 George meredith, Westminster Review 68 (october 1857): 589. see also archibald strong’s comparison of meredith and wordsworth in Three Studies in Shelley and an Essay on Nature in Wordsworth and Meredith (London: oxford University Press, 1921), pp. 148–9.

‘Fallen Angels’


being pressed like his own apples. in the autumn rites harvesting is associated with death. hardy implies that we must accept the necessary decline and disappearance of the old year-spirit, and its replacement, achieved by brutal means, by a formidable new force. winterborne should be dislodged – only, of course, the shelleyan dilettante Fitzpiers is grotesquely unfit to be considered Little Hintock’s new nature-spirit. hardy’s acute sense of disaster in The Woodlanders stems from the fact that the treeplanter and cider-maker has not been fertile in his time: winterborne completes the cycle of life without fulfilling his priestly function. His role has been swiftly usurped by Fitzpiers who cannot fulfil it either, as the grim farce involving Old South’s elmtree attests. Both with heartfelt sincerity and stinging irony, hardy draws on the traditions of pastoral elegy in having all nature perform rites of mourning for the death of a god, reminiscent of shelley’s Adonais: ‘the whole wood seemed to be a house of death, pervaded by loss to its uttermost length and breadth. winterborne was gone and the copses seemed to show the want of him; those young trees, so many of which he had planted [...] were [...] sending out their roots in the direction that he had given them with his subtle hand’ (WL, p. 245). in the harsh recognition that Grace stylizes winterborne, and that his status as ‘wood-god’ can only be at best a brittle poetic guise, Hardy charts the death of a potent and beneficent nature spirit whose actuality can no longer be entertained in an ‘imagination’ belittled and betrayed by fitzpiers’s sub-shelleyan follies. in The Woodlanders, hardy is both attuned to shelley’s critique of wordsworth and underscores the shortcomings of the late nineteenth century’s perception of shelley’s own brand of Romantic idealism and personality. V in Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891), fitzpiers’s dual personality splits into antipodal characters. his licentious traits appear at their crudest in alec d’Urberville, who resembles matthew arnold’s conception of the ‘ridiculous and odious’ rake shelley presented by dowden’s biography, while the shelleyan idealism and scholarly pretensions are transmitted to the asexual christian, angel clare. in the formation of clare’s wayward temperament, hardy draws on the resonances of arnold’s construction of a ‘beautiful and lovable’ Shelley of romance: ‘It is [Shelley’s] poetry, above everything else, which for many people establishes that he is an angel.’41 the ‘angelic’ image that arnold perpetuated was fostered by the shelley family and the benign semi-fictionalised reminiscences of Trelawny and Leigh Hunt. On a cursory reading, clare is redolent of the shelley that arnold believed late-Victorian culture should cherish: the courageous idealist with his ‘feminine refinement’ and ‘gracious [...] considerate manners’.42 the hardyan narrator considers clare ‘less Byronic than shelleyan’43 (TD, p. 193) – thin, delicate, light-haired, a sleepwalker and a Platonic idealist. clare ‘could love desperately, but with a love more especially inclined to matthew arnold, ‘shelley’, p. 327. matthew arnold, ‘shelley’, p. 323. 43 thomas hardy, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, eds simon Gatrell and Juliet Grindle (oxford: oxford world’s classics, 1988), p. 193, hereafter TD. 41 42

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


the imaginative and ethereal’; ‘more spiritual, than animal’; ‘singularly free from grossness’ (TD, p. 193). hardy is caustic however about clare’s ‘angelic’ temperament: he appears ‘nebulous, preoccupied, vague [...] one who probably had no very definite aim or concern about his material future’ (TD, p. 119). this is an acerbic elaboration of fitzpiers’s ‘impressionable nature’ and ‘keenly appreciative, modern, unpractical mind’ (WL, p. 17). the implication that clare’s abstraction and idealistic philosophy contributes to a defective morality evokes sir henry taylor’s 1834 judgement that shelley was merely a man of feeling whose purpose it was to lead his callow acolytes to ‘regions where reason [...] is all unknown [...] to seats of anarchy and abstraction, where imagination exercises the shadow of an authority, over a people of phantoms, a land of dreams’.44 that clare prefers ‘sermons in stones to sermons in churches and chapels’ (TD, p. 146) signals a superficial, sentimentalised reading of Wordsworth’s poetic also discernible in Grace melbury’s fey recreation of winterborne as ‘autumn’s very brother’ in The Woodlanders. Clare’s ‘[e]arly association with country solitudes had bred in him an unconquerable, and almost unreasonable, aversion to modern town-life’ (TD, p. 121). he talks patronisingly of tess to his mother as being ‘brimfull of poetry – actualised poetry [...] She lives what paper-poets’ like shelley ‘only write’ (TD, p. 166). this set of qualities leads directly to the idealisation of tess at talbothays as ‘a fresh and virginal daughter of nature’ (TD, p. 124). clare ‘thirsts for intercourse with an intelligence similar to himself’ and ‘images to himself the Being whom he loves’.45 this ‘being’ is tess, but he falls in love with a series of literary, counterfeit ‘images’ of unspoilt innocence that never approximates to her true self. indeed, clare’s casual love-play and decorative rhetoric, enshrining tess in his quasi-pagan pantheon, travesties shelley’s syncretic, mythopoeic imagination: the spectral, half-compounded, aqueous light which pervaded the open mead impressed them with a feeling of isolation, as if they were adam and Eve. at this dim inceptive stage of the day Tess seemed to Clare to exhibit a dignified largeness both of disposition and physique, an almost regnant power – possibly because he knew that at that preternatural time hardly any woman so well-endowed in person as she was likely to be walking within the boundaries of his horizon [...] . The mixed, singular, luminous gloom in which they walked along together to the spot where the cows lay, often made him think of the Resurrection-hour. he little thought that the magdalen might be at his side. whilst all the landscape was in neutral shade, his companion’s face, which was the focus of his eyes, rising above the mist-stratum, seemed to have a sort of phosphorescence upon it. She looked ghostly, as if she were merely a soul at large [...] . It was then [...] that she impressed him most deeply. she was no longer the milkmaid, but a visionary essence of woman – a whole sex condensed into one typical form. he called her artemis, demeter and other fanciful names, half-teasingly – which she did not like because she did not understand them. (TD, pp. 134–5)

Quoted in donald d. stone, The Romantic Impulse in Victorian Fiction (cambridge, ma: harvard University Press, 1980), p. 54. 45 shelley, Alastor, ‘Preface’, p. 73. 44

‘Fallen Angels’


Using the verbal and visual strategies of his modern bourgeois education, clare remodels tess into a specimen of pink-cheeked rustic maidenhood, unable to let her ‘create an identity through differentiation on her terms’.46 moreover, hardy reveals how clare’s reinventions of tess are, one and all, ‘airy children’ of the ‘brain’47 which are ludicrously out of step with the modern moment. VI the grave inadequacies of a ‘disembodied’ shelleyan temperament signalled by Angel Clare’s trivialising dilettantism find their most eccentric expression in Hardy’s The Well-Beloved, serialised in The Illustrated London News from 1 october to 17 december 1892, and radically revised for publication in volume form in march 1897. scholars continue to treat the novel unfavourably,48 but it offers hardy’s most compelling diagnostic comment on the pathology of the tendency towards apotheosis in art and love. The Well-Beloved’s 1897 epigraph, from The Revolt of Islam, (‘one shape of many names’) takes a passage that in shelley expresses the ‘spirit of evil, / one Power of many shapes which none may know’ (i, xxvii: 361–3), and transfers it to specify the phantom beloved projected by the quixotic hero Jocelyn Pierston (spelt Pearston in the 1892 text)49 into the various women he pursues. this epigraph, as Patricia ingham points out, also describes ‘the narrators in hardy’s early novels who try to impose a single ideal of womanliness on all heroines through their Ruskinian generalizations.’50 in seeking a profession for Pierston, hardy went to dowden’s Life of Shelley from which he extracted this note: ‘Sculpture. the ideality of the art of sculpture – each object presenting beauty or passion in an immortal abstraction from all that is temporary & accidental – appealed in a peculiar degree to shelley’s imagination’.51 in accordance with dowden’s analysis of shelley’s tendency, hardy has Pierston win acclaim as a sculptor. Hardy’s intention in defining Shelley’s taste as Pierston’s proclivity is to present the sculptor as ‘an emblem of “pure fancy” in flight from the “Prosaically accurate” wordsworth of “Peter Bell”’.52 Pierston’s ‘flight’ from quotidian dullness into a self-consuming odyssey for the ‘migratory, elusive tom Lloyd, Crises of Realism: Representing Experience in the British Novel, 1816– 1910 (London: associated University Presses, 1997), p. 145. 47 shelley, ‘on Love’, p. 503. 48 H.M. Daleski typifies recent Hardy scholars when he remarks on The Well-Beloved: ‘it is a light – and slight – fantasy’ which ‘has none of the novelist’s customary brilliance and depth and certainly does not engage his obsessions. i think Jude the Obscure should continue to be seen as Hardy’s final statement in the novel.’ See H.M. Daleski, Thomas Hardy and Paradoxes of Love (columbia and London: University of missouri Press, 1997), p. 187. for a more sympathetic account see Patricia ingham, ‘Provisional narratives: hardy’s final trilogy’, Alternative Hardy, ed. Lance st John Butler (London: macmillan, 1991). 49 all references are to thomas hardy, ‘The Pursuit of the Well-Beloved’ and ‘The WellBeloved’, ed. with intro. Patricia ingham (harmondsworth: Penguin, 1997). hereafter WB. 50 Patricia ingham, ‘introduction’, The Well-Beloved, p. xxi. 51 hardy, Literary Notebooks i, p. 69. 52 hardy, Literary Notebooks ii, p. 35. 46

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


idealisation he called his Love’ which has ‘flitted from human shell to human shell an indefinite number of times’ is a wilfully vulgarised version of the lines from Epipsychidion: ‘in many mortal forms i rashly sought / the shadow of that idol of my thought’ (267–8). Pierston’s enterprise to capture in stone one of those ‘female forms, whose gestures beam with mind’ seen ‘by the poet in his Vision of the Golden city of islam’ (1892, WB, p. 50) makes him a descendant of all the ‘fantasts’ and frustrated idealists who populate the psychic terrain of the final novels. Pierston’s tragicomic quest for his ‘goddess’ is best defined by Shelley when he writes that idealism is driven by the need to uncover that ‘invisible and unattainable point to which love tends; and to attain which it urges forth the powers of man to arrest the faintest shadows of that, without the possession of which, there is no rest or respite to the heart over which it rules’.53 Pierston’s chronic inability (or refusal) to recognise ‘the reality of any world outside himself’54 links him with the ‘unpractical lofty-notioned dreamer’ fitzpiers (WL, p. 172), who much prefers ‘the ideal world to the real’ (WL, p. 87). angel clare, though not hedonistic like fitzpiers, is a variation on this type; as is Jude fawley, who regards the epicene sue Bridehead as ‘an ideal character, about whose form he [begins] to weave curious and fantastic day-dreams’ (JO, p. 90). angel clare exacts a particular kind of perfection from the woman of his choice, and to serve this demand he transforms the felt potency of ancient divinities (such as artemis and demeter) into a hackneyed intellectual abstraction.55 Shelley’s definition of the quest is invoked by Matthew Arnold when, in Culture and Anarchy, he describes the ‘character of perfection as culture conceives it’ as ‘not a having and a resting, but a growing and a becoming’. Pierston, an exaggerated parody of clare, is infected with the restlessness of ‘becoming’, rather than the settled rhythm of ‘having’, and uses an archly poeticizing tendency to convert any trace of carnal passion into sterile neo-pagan rhetoric: ‘sometimes at night he dreamt that [the Well-Beloved] was “the wile-weaving Daughter of high Zeus” in person, bent on tormenting him for his sins against her beauty in his art – the implacable aphrodite herself’ (1897, WB, pp. 184–5).56 the ‘faintest shadows’ that dominate Pierston’s consciousness compel him to live a form of existence that can offer him nothing but the dubious pleasures of alienation and self-absorption. The Well-Beloved not only depicts to what ends in unrestrained idealism could lead but also how Pierston’s obsession with ‘the vision in which he embodies his own imaginations’57 lacks the force to engage society in a dialectic of change and renovation, as well as to deliver lasting personal satisfaction to the individual. hardy’s tortured perception of this fact prompted d.h. Lawrence, in his march 1913 review of Georgian Poetry, 1911–1912, to situate his literary precursor, almost venomously, shelley, ‘on Love’, pp. 503–4. ian Gregor, The Great Web: The Form of Hardy’s Major Fiction (London: faber, 1974), p. 151. 55 an earlier title for Tess of the d’Urbervilles was ‘too Late Beloved’. 56 michael millgate contends that Pierston’s ‘repeated invocations of aphrodite under names so various’ implies ‘a possible influence from [Hardy’s] recent reading of Frazer’s The Golden Bough’. see michael millgate, Thomas Hardy: His Career as a Novelist (London: Bodley head, 1971), p. 293. 57 shelley, Alastor, ‘Preface’, p. 73. 53 54

‘Fallen Angels’


among the late-Victorian ‘nihilists, the intellectual, hopeless people’ who epitomise ‘a dream of demolition’58 from which his own generation must awaken. Pearston’s destructive fictions about women are ‘Shelleyan’ (1892, WB, p. 47) in that they depend on the meaningless abstractions of metaphysics, which effectively distances felt experience and signals an unacknowledged desire for mastery over the seductive specimens who typify his mysterious pagan muse. Pierston withdraws into an intensely private domain of reminiscence, repetition and adjournment as if this were an insurance against the inexorable movement towards mortality.59 in both versions of The Well-Beloved, the hero’s deeply introverted sexuality and his commitment to ‘love the shapes / of this phantasmal scene’ who become his ‘purest ministers’60 (Alastor, 696–7), leads to frequent embarrassment. Pierston’s sacrifice in gratification of the sensual appetite that preserves Edred Fitzpiers and destroys alec d’Urberville, has tragicomic results. when ‘the outer brightness’ is brought to bear on Pearston’s narrow, infatuated viewpoint in the 1892 version, the outcome transcends merely impish wit: ‘Nurse,’ [Pearston] said. ‘Let me see you. Why do you always keep behind my head?’ she went to the window, through which the light had only been allowed even now to enter between the blinds. Reaching it, she pulled the blind up a little way, till the outer brightness fell full upon her. an unexpected shock was the result. the face which had been stamped on his mind-sight by the voice, the face of marcia forty years ago, vanished utterly. In its place was a wrinkled crone, with a pointed chin, her figure bowed, her hair as white as snow. to this the once handsome face had been brought by the raspings, chisellings, stewings, bakings, and freezings of forty years. the Juno of that day was the witch of Endor of this. he must have shuddered at the discovery of what time had done, possibly have uttered a slight gasp; at all events, she knew in some way of the shock of his sensitiveness that her skeleton-figure caused him. (1892, WB, pp. 167–8)

Pearston has until now resisted forfeiting control over the suspension of history by letting his idealizing bent fade into the light of common day. when disabused of his ‘visions’ he tries ‘to tear open his wound, and bring eternal night upon this lurid awakening’ (1892, WB, p. 168). Unobscured by fanciful projections, the historic world becomes ‘a dark reality’ whose equivalent term is death.61 the ‘stress of seeing clearly’ (1892, WB, p. 167) is too much for Pearston to bear after spending his entire adult life chasing the chimerical incarnations of solitary desire. as kevin moore proposes, the ‘terrible waste which shelley portrayed in Alastor is depicted once more’ in The Well-Beloved, ‘but with an added increment of [...] futility. What had been noble for shelley’s generation had become pure folly by hardy’s day d.h. Lawrence, ‘Georgian Poetry: 1911–1912’ in Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers of D.H. Lawrence, ed. with intro. Edward d. macdonald (London: heinemann, 1961), p. 250. 59 as annette federico observes, Pierston is ‘an ascetic aesthete: there is a prudishness to his passion’. see Masculine Identity in Hardy and Gissing (London and toronto: associated University Presses, 1991), p. 82. 60 shelley, Alastor, 696–9. 61 shelley, ‘hymn to intellectual Beauty’, 95. 58

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


despite a good deal of cant to the contrary.’62 Pearston and his creator learn that the always fraught if bracing (and in the mature fiction increasingly hazardous) game of indulging the narcissist’s quest has collapsed. hardy’s 1892 conclusion is both a gloriously extravagant and barbed appreciation of this fact. after a botched attempt at drowning himself in a small skiff headed into the turbulent currents of the Race, seeking release in ‘a black and watery depth’ (perhaps the most bizarrely comic reference to Alastor [225] in the 1892 text), Pearston wakens to find himself in bed at his lodgings, being tended by Marcia, with whom he had passed a brief spell of uneasy married life forty years previously. his temporarily impaired sight after the Race debacle was caused by crashing into the side of a lightship (1892, WB, p. 164)!63 hardy exploits with wrenching black humour the incongruity for Pearston between the imperious and radiant ‘Juno’ he remembers and the crumpled, cadaverous ‘witch of Endor’ now confronting him without the benefit of cosmetic aids. Shelley’s playful temporal shifts, in The Triumph of Life, are echoed in Jude the Obscure when ‘Little father time’ ends the eponymous artist’s pursuit (reminiscent of the failed poet-figure’s odyssey in Alastor) after vision and love are both found wanting. for Pierston, time returns as his former sweetheart marcia, whose face now bears the grim ‘chisellings’ and ‘raspings’ of old age. this deliberately enfeebled finale reveals unfeigned contempt for a serial audience in the serial itself by subverting the expected happy ending to Pearston’s unresting search for the ideal feminine in art: his wife passed by the mantelpiece, over which hung an enlarged photograph of avice, that he had brought thither when he left the other house, as the single object which he cared to bring. the contrast of the ancient marcia’s aspect, both with this portrait and with her own fine former self, brought into his brain a sudden sense of the grotesqueness of things ... . An irresistible fit of laughter, so violent as to be an agony, seized upon him, and started in him with such momentum that he could not stop it. he laughed and laughed, till he was almost too weak to draw breath. marcia hobbled up, frightened. ‘what’s the matter?’ she asked; and, turning to a second nurse, ‘he is weak – hysterical.’ ‘o – no, no! i – i – it is too droll – this ending to my would-be romantic history!’ ho-ho-ho! (1892, WB, p. 168)

in shelley’s estimate, desire acquires its peculiar intensity from ‘wanting’; its drive is an effect of dissatisfaction, thus as soon as the ‘want or power is dead’, the individual ‘becomes the living sepulchre of himself’,64 a mere motiveless subjectivity which no longer craves anything, so complete are its disenchantments. Pierston, like Jude fawley, will chase one ‘well-beloved’ after another only to appear finally as moribund matter, as Shelley’s ‘sepulchre’ of the self that has exhausted all of its adventurous brio. the edgy uncertainty of what will happen after Pearston’s moore, The Descent of the Imagination, p. 226. Pearston has no more aptitude for suicide than Jude fawley, who tries to secure for himself a tragic finale by jumping repeatedly on the ice in the middle of a large pond. The ice cracks, but he does not sink. He concludes that he is ‘not a sufficiently dignified person for suicide’ (JO, p. 70) and goes home. 64 shelley, ‘on Love’, p. 504. 62 63

‘Fallen Angels’


hysterical laughter when he sees marcia’s decayed visage is compounded by the immediately following ‘ho-ho-ho!’ from the hardyan narrator himself. his response implies that there can be no sane reaction to Pearston’s solipsistic idealism other than by exercising derisive humour. this is a disconcerting commentary from a presence that has hitherto kept a wry, measured detachment from the hero. his ghastly and uninhibited response to what is effectively a reversal of the fairy-tale resolution (as in ‘the wife of Bath’s tale’ for instance), is a desperate last resort; he sees no other way of coping with the brutal ironies visited upon him in this attenuated present which is little more than an unresounding interval between life and death. this ‘lost Man’ who ‘on visionary views would fancy feed’ finds that ‘his eye streamed with tears’ of mirthless laughter.65 hardy illustrates with amused savagery how the man who disavows his past enthralment to an imaginary ideal has to confront a world now bleached of human value. this conclusion, which consigns Pearston to a limbo of lost joy, remains one of the most powerfully disturbing moments in Hardy’s fiction, and belies the critical charge that the 1892 The Well-Beloved is merely delicate or contrived whimsy. VII In the final chapter of the 1897 Well-Beloved, Jocelyn Pierston is a bachelor who accommodates himself to the mediocre and marries the decrepit and impoverished Marcia out of pity (now by a farcical chance confined to a wheelchair for the nuptials). the acerbic hardyan narrator, who in the 1897 text sedulously maintains his distance from the action, describes how Pierston, having willed the ‘extinction’ of his erotic and aesthetic impulses, occupies himself with philanthropic schemes. arnold’s derogatory epithet for shelley, ‘ineffectual’, is itself derived from shelley’s preface to Prometheus Unbound: ‘whatever talents a person may possess to amuse and instruct others, be they ever so inconsiderable, he is yet bound to exert them; if his attempt be ineffectual, let the punishment of an unaccomplished purpose have been sufficient, let none trouble themselves to heap the dust of oblivion upon his efforts; the pile they raise will betray his grave which might otherwise have been unknown.’66 Pierston is ‘the ineffectual’ and, in shelley’s scheme, his failure of ‘purpose’ is sufficient punishment for his form of striving and for his inability to overcome his enchantments and to live when he is vouchsafed the opportunity. But hardy goes further by showing how Pierston forfeits all ‘talents’, however ‘inconsiderable’, as an artist: his business was, among kindred undertakings which followed the extinction of the wellBeloved and other ideals, to advance a scheme for the closing of the old natural fountains in the street of wells, because of their own possible contamination, and supplying the townlet with water from pipes, a scheme that was carried out at his expense, as is well known. he was also engaged in acquiring some old moss-grown, mullioned Elizabethan

65 66

see wordsworth, ‘Lines Left upon a seat in a yew-tree’, 44–6. shelley, ‘Preface’, Prometheus Unbound, p. 209.

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


cottages, for the purpose of pulling them down because they were damp; which he afterwards did, and built new ones with hollow walls, and full of ventilators. at present he is sometimes mentioned as ‘the late mr. Pierston’ by gourd-like young art-critics and journalists; and his productions are alluded to as those of a man not without genius, whose powers were insufficiently recognised in his lifetime. (1897, WB, p. 336)

hardy derails sentimental expectation by showing marriage as a dispiritingly bleak arrangement induced only by the worldly-minded pragmatism governing Pierston’s retirement. the mournful sobriety of this 1897 ending, making Pierston’s lack of self-awareness far more explicit, is in its own way as stark as the finale of Hardy’s previous published novel, in which the self-scourging narrator lampoons the bathetic hopelessness of Jude fawley’s academic plans. Pierston shows less rational understanding of the nature of things than when he was driven by ‘his shelleyan ‘one-shape-of-many-names’ (1892, WB, p. 47). angel clare is compelled to adjust his imprisoning idealism to the exigencies of the modern moment. Pierston, the most perverse of Hardy’s Shelleyan figures, reveals a catastrophic incapacity fully to acknowledge that, for love to flourish, tangible external reality must sooner or later disperse the impalpable ether of a visionary domain. Pierston’s grave illness in the 1897 version67 prior to his undertaking sweeping social reforms, parodies a stock device in Victorian domestic fiction: to be virtually on one’s deathbed traditionally affords an opportunity for frank self-assessment. hardy explodes this plot-cliché by showing that the ‘cured’ Pierston, formerly plagued with an untiring susceptibility to female grace, now looks forward only to his abject decline as a sculptor. that he should sometimes be referred to ‘by young artcritics and journalists’ as ‘the late mr Pierston’ also veils a symbolic truth. the basic and interlinked components of his temperament – the ‘shelleyan’ responsiveness to elliptical but deep impressions generated in moments of self-absorption, and the capacity to sculpt works of art – are dead. Pierston’s transformation is so extreme that he becomes an unapologetic vandal of historic beauty instead of its diligent custodian. in chapter 1 hardy refers to the Portland stone from which Pierston sculpts as ‘the melancholy ruins of cancelled cycles’. this line from act iV of Prometheus Unbound, part of a cosmic coda sung by Panthea (iV. 288–9) was a favourite of hardy’s – he employs it in Tess also – but Pierston’s demolition work at the close effectively ‘cancels’ out any trace of historic interest that the island might still manifest. Perry meisel misconstrues the philosophy of these ‘improvements’ by remarking that Pierston ‘is at last successful in marrying and in performing practical services to his native community’.68 this reading ignores the fact that the solitary dreamer can no longer dream; he applies himself instead to the dreariest utilitarian enterprise. two of the social schemes Pierston undertakes after renouncing sculpture are specified in unusual detail, and Hardy does not select these examples at random. the symbolism – blocking ‘the old natural fountains’ and constructing new cottages with ‘hollow walls’ – summarises and judges, unflinchingly, the epilogue to the Pierston falls ill with a fever after attending avice ii’s funeral in the drenching rain. Perry meisel, Thomas Hardy: The Return of the Repressed (new haven, ct and London: yale University Press, 1972), p. 163. 67 68

‘Fallen Angels’


protagonist’s idiosyncratic career. Pierston, a man who once sought and welcomed reveries with a relish for being knocked out of kilter by fitful promptings of ‘the visionary gleam’,69 is now a ‘hollow’ man whose former ‘ever-bubbling spring’ (1897, WB, p. 248) of inspiration has evaporated, and sarcastically evokes Alastor in which the poet asks, ‘o stream! / whose source is inaccessibly profound, / whither do thy mysterious waters tend?’70 Pierston is the most extreme of hardy’s shelleyan figures because, in the 1897 text, the sculptor’s aggressively practical projects will effectively devastate a corner of wessex replete with precious anthropological data. in striking contrast to Pierston’s drastic demolition work in the 1897 conclusion is hardy’s prefatory celebration of the ‘peninsula carved by time out of a single stone’, ‘the home’ of a ‘well-nigh distinct people’, with its ‘strange beliefs and singular customs’ bearing the stamp of ‘centuries immemorial’ (1897, WB, p. 3).71 the severity with which Jocelyn Pierston’s frail illusions are exploded in the Well-Beloved signifies perhaps to what extent Hardy himself reacted against the very drives that had nourished his own artistic aspirations in the first place. His analysis of a fastidious, disembodied temperament implies that in later life he found shelley’s theory of love vulnerable to a misreading which ignored the need for calm balanced lucidity of perception, deep emotional ties, and the earthly, as opposed to the heavenly aspects of love. And so in his mature fiction the startling Romantic emphasis on moments of vision that induce heightened consciousness degenerates into angel clare’s unproductive introspection, fitzpiers’s sneering sub-shelleyan fancies and Pierston’s grotesquely comic confusions of reverie and palpable actuality. if shelley could confidently proclaim, in his own era, that poets were ‘mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present’,72 then, in Hardy’s final novels, we witness a confession that the late-Victorian novelist could not help but mirror, and mock, those gigantic shadows which shelley’s reputation and the Romantic past had cast upon the decadent 1890s.

wordsworth, ‘intimations of immortality’, 56. shelley, Alastor, 502–4. 71 though hardy’s Preface reveals an awareness of Victorian geology, it also invites us to consider the link between the isle as a natural piece of sculpture and Jocelyn Pierston’s art, in which his ideal visions are transformed into sculpture using the material of his quarryman father’s Portland stone. 72 shelley, A Defence of Poetry, p. 531. 69 70

chapter 8

Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Victorian Versions of Byron and wollstonecraft: Romantic Genealogies, Self-Defining memories and the Genesis of Aurora Leigh marjorie stone

i was always insane about books & poems–poems of my own, i mean,–& books of everybody else–and i read mary wolstonecraft when i was thirteen: no, twelve! - - and, through the whole course of my childhood, i had a steady indignation against nature who made me a woman, & a determinate resolution to dress up in men’s clothes as soon as ever i was free of the nursery, & go into the world ‘to seek my fortune’. ‘How’, was not decided; but i rather leant towards being poor Lord Byron’s PaGE. —Elizabeth Barrett Browning to mary Russell mitford, 22 July 1842

if Lord Byron was the girlhood idol of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, he competed for her affections with an unlikely partner: mary wollstonecraft. in July 1842, as she was experiencing the creative outpouring that would result in Poems by Elizabeth Barrett Barrett’ (1844), establishing her international fame, she told mary Russell mitford the story of the girl who had read wollstonecraft when she was twelve and dreamed of seeking her fortune as ‘Lord Byron’s PaGE’.1 she was not mis-remembering the impact of reading A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in early adolescence, as i note below, although she may have been older than twelve. my focus here is less on the accuracy of EBB’s recollection at thirty-six of reading wollstonecraft in adolescence, however, than on the cultural, conscious, and unconscious associations that led her to couple the radical vindicator of women’s rights with Lord Byron. what light does this connection cast on the reverberations left in the wake of two of The Brownings’ Correspondence, eds Philip kelley and Ronald hudson (vols 1–8), Philip kelley and scott Lewis (vols 9–14); kelley, Lewis and Edward hagan (vol. 15) (Winfield, KS: Wedgestone Press, 1988), 6, p. 42. Hereafter BC. since Elizabeth Barrett’s maiden name was ‘Elizabeth Barrett Barrett,’ and she first published under her initials, and signed her manuscripts with them before and after her marriage, i use ‘EBB’ to refer to her throughout this essay. throughout i use - - to indicate EBB’s preference for two periods which are similar in grammatic function to a hypen. 1


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

the most transgressive figures of the era we now label Romanticism: figures whom it was impossible for Victorians to recollect in tranquillity? EBB narrated the story of reading wollstonecraft at twelve or thirteen at least three times between 1842 and 1844; she also narrated the Byron’s page anecdote at least twice in 1842, and retold it in her semi-fictitious autobiographical fragment about a girl named Beth, written in the same period (BC 1, pp. 360–62). her reiteration of both memories suggests that they functioned for her as ‘self-defining memories’ in the terms used by cognitive psychologists in our own time: that is, like wordsworth’s ‘spots of time’, they are iterated memories central not only to the reconstruction of an individual’s past identity, but also to the projection of future goals.2 this essay examines both the larger cultural contexts and the immediate personal and psychological contexts in which EBB returned to her intertwined memories of Byron and wollstonecraft in the early 1840s, arguing that together they form a key catalyst for the creative process that gave rise to the genesis of Aurora Leigh (1856). in EBB’s case, this creative process is less akin to the ‘hauntings’ the introduction to this collection emphasises than to an ‘awakening’, following the classic Bildungsroman plot later epitomised by kate chopin’s The Awakening (1899). as such, it speaks to the cultural and psychic connections, both surface and submerged, between the literary periods retrospectively reified as ‘Romantic’ and ‘Victorian’, suggesting how a writer’s Bildung or formation in the early decades of the nineteenth century could drive intrinsic motivation, artistic creation and aesthetic debates in the heart of the era subsumed under what Joseph Bristow aptly terms a misleading ‘monarchical moniker’.3 since 1978, when cora kaplan’s women’s Press edition began the process of recovering Aurora Leigh for late twentieth-century readers, the novelized epic’s intertextual dialogues with other nineteenth-century works have been extensively analysed: including de staël’s Corinne, wordsworth’s Prelude, charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Villette, tennyson’s The Princess, carlyle’s On Heroes and HeroWorship, kingsley’s Alton Locke, and Richard hengist horne’s penny-epic Orion.4 yet there has been no detailed investigation of the roots of Aurora Leigh in the texts of two of the writers who most significantly shaped its author’s formative years. This scholarly gap is surprising for two reasons, particularly in relation to Byron. first, critics have repeatedly cited the passage i begin with, in which EBB simultaneously inscribes her vivid memories of reading wollstonecraft and longing to be ‘Lord Byron’s PaGE’. most notably, the Byron’s page anecdote is integral to dorothy Mermin’s influential 1986 Critical Inquiry article on the ‘damsel’ and the ‘knight’ 2 See ‘Self-Defining Memories’, Chapter 2 in The Remembered Self: Emotion and Memory in Personality, eds Jefferson a. singer and Peter salovey (new york: free, 1993), pp. 9–46. 3 ‘whether “Victorian” Poetry: a Genre and its Period’, Victorian Poetry 42 (2004): 86. 4 see the ‘critical introduction’ to margaret Reynold’s edition of Aurora Leigh (athens, oh: ohio University Press, 1992), and my summary of the criticism on these textual debates in Elizabeth Barrett Browning (Basingstoke: macmillan; new york: st. martin’s, 1995), especially pp. 153, 176–81, 235, n. 13 and n. 18. for scholarship since 1995, see the annual ‘year’s work’ essays in the journal Victorian Poetry.

Browning and Victorian Versions of Byron and Wollstonecraft


division in Victorian women’s poetry, her subsequent analysis of EBB’s writing in Elizabeth Barrett Browning: The Origins of a New Poetry (1989), and her treatment of Byronism in the apprenticeships of several Victorian women writers in Godiva’s Ride.5 second, the genesis of Aurora Leigh in the same period as that associated with the Byron’s page anecdote (although not the direct connection between the two) has also often been pointed out by critics, who generally cite one of two key passages from EBB’s correspondence to support the claim. one of these passages is the poet’s statement to mary mitford on 30 december 1844 about her desire to ‘write a poem of a new class’ like her highly successful 1844 ballad ‘Lady Geraldine’s courtship’ which would deal with ‘this real everyday life of our age’: ‘in a measure – a don Juan, without the mockery & impurity ... & having unity, as a work of art, – & admitting of as much philosophical dreaming & digression ... as i like to use’ (BC 9: p. 304). the other passage is EBB’s similar comment to Robert Browning two months later, on 27 february 1845, concerning her ‘chief intention just now’ of writing ‘a sort of novel-poem – a poem as completely modern as ‘Geraldine’s courtship’, ... meeting face to face & without mask, the humanity of the age’ (BC 10, pp. 102–3). The explicit parallels the first passage points to between EBB’s novel-epic and Byron’s Don Juan have not gone without comment.6 yet, the prevailing view remains that the Victorian poet, like many of her contemporaries, had outgrown her youthful admiration for Byron by the time she wrote her most ambitious work.7 As for Wollstonecraft, while her early influence on EBB has been similarly noted, the possibility that this persisted throughout her 5 ‘the damsel, the knight and the Victorian woman Poet’, Critical Inquiry 13 (autumn, 1986): 64–80, esp. p. 64; Elizabeth Barrett Browning: The Origins of a New Poetry (chicago & London: University of chicago Press, 1989), pp. 10–13; Godiva’s Ride: Women of Letters in England, 1830–1880 (Bloomington & indianapolis: indiana University Press, 1993), pp. 1–12. despite mermin’s illuminating analysis of Byron’s impact on the juvenilia of both EBB and the Brontës, the larger subject of his influence on Victorian women writers still calls for more investigation (for example, in relation to christina Rossetti). 6 in her book on EBB (p. 184), mermin notes some structural and stylistic resemblances between Byron’s novel-in-verse and EBB’s, while sandra Gilbert argues that EBB is rewriting the story of Byron’s incestous relationship with his half-sister augusta Leigh in portraying aurora’s relationship with her cousin Romney Leigh’ (‘from Patria to Matria: Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Risorgimento’, PMLA 99 [1984]: 206). 7 mermin suggests in Elizabeth Barrett Browning (p. 63) that although EBB ‘kept her enthusiasm for Byron longer than other poets did, by 1838 he had slipped somewhat, like Prometheus, in her esteem’. however, in Godiva’s Ride (p. 12), she observes that ‘the Byronic strain went underground and emerged transformed’ in EBB’s later works, a point that my own argument in this essay bears out. Gilbert observes that the girl who had dreamed of ‘running away to become Lord Byron’s page, grew up to become, if not as censorious as her friend carlyle was toward the hero of missolonghi, at least ambivalent toward him’ (p. 206). andrew Elfenbein includes only passing mention of EBB in Byron and the Victorians (cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), perhaps because he classifies her as a ‘semi-canonical’ writer like felicia hemans (p. 249); see also pp. 55, 61, 231, 271, n. 44. James m.w. Borg includes a detailed account of EBB’s youthful Byronism in ‘the fashioning of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh’ (unpublished dissertation, University of illinois, 1979), but he also assumes that EBB expereinced ‘a gradual disillusionment’ with Byron (p. 62).

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


career, that it is coupled with Byron’s, and that it bears its most significant fruit in Aurora Leigh has not been explored.8 family correspondence and EBB’s juvenilia alike attest to the dramatic impact of wollstonecraft and Byron on her adolescent aspirations. Byron is the subject of numerous published and unpublished tributes in her poetry and her correspondence, continuing from her adolescence up to 1844, showing how much she resisted the mid-Victorian reaction against his aesthetic energies, political values and scandalous life. the impact of wollstonecraft follows a very different pattern. at age sixteen or earlier, EBB composed the poem ‘fragment of an ‘“Essay on woman”’, suffused with wollstonecraft’s views on women’s rights, but the author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman then goes unmentioned both in EBB’s poetry and in her letters between 1821 and 1842. This lacuna reflects the cultural ‘forgetting’ that followed the savage attacks on wollstonecraft precipitated by william Godwin’s injudicious publication of the Memoirs of the Author of a Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1798), as well as the ruptures that so often characterise genealogies of women writers, captured in EBB’s own much cited 1845 comment on searching for literary grandmothers: ‘i look everywhere for Grandmothers & see none’ (BC 10, p. 14). The formative influence of Wollstonecraft on EBB’s artistic vision and practice did not disappear, however, so much as go underground, resurfacing in 1842 in her correspondence with the older writer mitford, who had close ties to the circles of both Byron and wollstonecraft. in Godiva’s Ride mermin perceptively observes that for Victorian women writers such as EBB and the Brontës, ‘Byronism was not just a stage to be outgrown: it was a psychological impulsion to be cherished and an artistic problem they had to resolve.’9 as i hope to show, the ‘impulsion’ that EBB derived from Byron was closely associated with the ‘impulsion’ she derived from A Vindication, and it was partly by returning to wollstonecraft that she found a way to resolve the ‘artistic problem’ generated for her as a woman poet by the masculine precedent of Byron’s greatest work. Significantly, while EBB’s first mention of her plan to write the work that would become Aurora Leigh includes an explicit comparison with Byron’s Don Juan, it also appears in a letter to mitford in which she recalls, for the third time in two years, her adolescent experience of reading wollstonecraft’s Rights of Woman. moreover, the contexts in which references to both Romantic writers recur in her letters from 1842 to 1844 indicate that they were associated in her mind with mid-Victorian controversies over the scandalous life of George sand and revelations about the private life of harriet martineau. the connections this essay investigates thus indicate how much EBB’s career and writings, like felicia hemans’ and L.E.L.’s, trouble the border laid down in the literary histories of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that consolidated conceptions of Romanticism and Victorianism still influential today. Three years younger than Tennyson, and six years younger than Browning, EBB in the first half of her career was a true ‘Romantic Victorian’ in Richard cronin’s sense of that

On Wollstonecraft’s influence on the young EBB, see Kay Moser, below. mermin, ‘the fashioning of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh’, Godiva’s Ride, p. 11. 8 9

Browning and Victorian Versions of Byron and Wollstonecraft


term.10 as late as 1843, she viewed Romantic poets as her contemporaries: ‘Byron, coleridge - - how many more? - - were contemporaries of mine without my having approached them near enough to look reverently in their faces ... and young as i was, i cannot get rid of a feeling of deep regret that, so,–it shd. have been’ (BC 7, p. 319). her extended, and still neglected literary history of English poetry in the guise of a review essay (‘the Book of the Poets’) – published in the Athenaeum in 1842 – reveals that she clearly viewed what we now term the Romantic period as the ‘opening’ of a distinct new era (‘the fifth era’) in English poetry. She also characterised its defining features in terms that anticipate later literary histories: associating it with the ballad revival initiated by Robert Burns and Bishop Percy and a ‘visible movement towards nature’, both in literary form and in the celebration of the natural world, led by the ‘poet-hero’ wordsworth.11 In 1842, she seemed to see this fifth era as one that was still unfolding, not as distinct from her own. as she matured, the allusions to Romantic authors that teem through her poetry – wordsworth, Byron, keats, above all, but also hemans, Landon, Blake, shelley and coleridge – continued, but grew increasingly revisionary, rather than reverential, expanding in many instances into intertextual debates.12 her response to Byron follows this pattern, much as her response to wordsworth does.13 in developing a more nuanced and contestatory response to Byron, however, she turned back again to wollstonecraft, linking the two writers who had so intimately shaped her girlhood dreams. Reading Wollstonecraft and Byron: 1821 to 1842 the most direct evidence for wollstonecraft’s impact on EBB’s adolescent formation is found in family letters comprehensively available in The Brownings’ Correspondence. shortly before her aunt Jane’s marriage in 1821 – when EBB was fifteen and being treated for debilitating ‘paroxysms’, ‘pain, and weakness in the back’ – her mother wrote to her, saying she hoped that Jane had ‘no visionary hopes of finding’ her hopes for happiness ‘upon yours & Mrs wolstonecrafts system; if so, ... she will oftener find herself wrong than right: however it may do very well for an old maids singleness of will & c[.] I would not put you out of conceit with it, as Richard cronin, Romantic Victorians: English Literature 1824–1840 (Basingstoke: Palgrave-macmillan, 2002). 11 The Complete Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, eds charlotte Porter and helen a. clarke, 6 vols (1900; new york: ams, 1973), 6, pp. 298–304. all quotations from EBB’s works, with the exception of Aurora Leigh, are from this edition, hereafter CW. 12 on the allusions to Romantic poets and poetry pervading EBB’s works aside from Aurora Leigh, see the ‘introduction’ and the headnotes to individual poems in Elizabeth Barrett Browning: A Selected, Annotated, Critical Edition, eds marjorie stone and Beverly taylor (Peterborough, ontario: Broadview Press, forthcoming). 13 see Bristow, pp. 101–3; stone, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, pp. 109–15; John woolford, ‘Elizabeth Barrett Browning and wordsworth’, SBHC 20 (1993): 48–61; mermin, Elizabeth Barrett Browning: The Origins of a New Poetry, pp. 64–7; helen cooper, Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Woman and Artist (chapel hill: University of north carolina Press, 1988), pp. 37–43; and kathleen Blake, ‘Elizabeth Barrett Browning & wordsworth: the Romantic Poet as woman’, Victorian Poetry 24 (1986): 387–98. 10


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

long as it is yr. intention to belong to the sisterhood.’ If the fifteen-year-old termed a ‘prodigy in intellectual powers and acquirements’ by the attending medical men had expressed a preference for ‘singleness of will’ over matrimony, her anxieties about combining literary aspirations with marriage and motherhood could only have been confirmed by her mother’s next words about the difficulty of writing anything intelligible at all in her letter, because ‘here sits alfred the little on my knee, doing all he can to get the pen into his own hands, ... but he is too sweet to be sent away’ (BC 1, pp. 326, 132). a more substantial result of EBB’s immersion in ‘mrs. wolstonecrafts system’ is her ‘fragment of an ‘“Essay on woman’’’, probably written in the same period as her mother’s letter. writing in the manner of another of her girlhood idols, alexander Pope, EBB explicitly invites comparison with his Essay on Man in her opening stanza: man’s noble powers, the Poets pen sustains; he stands superior in didactic strains. for him, a Pope awoke the living lays, and bade him triumph in immortal bays. tis his, exalted midst the Universe, the lord of nature, & the pride of verse, Unchecked, unvanquished, unsubdued to stand, Pride in his post, and in his eye command. But while we hail him potent, and devine,

shall gentle woman claim no humble line?14 despite her protestations, humility is not the distinguishing trait of this poem. the second stanza evokes the tender figures of ‘Mother, Sister, Wife’, but the remaining five express ‘loftier, more exalted sounds’ (20) as the aspiring young poet seeks to ‘bend to nobler thoughts the British fair!’ and to ‘[f]ound the proud path, where Glory’s breezes fan, / she stands the equal of her master man’ (26–8). she then turns to express her eloquent indignation at male arrogance. should the ‘master man’ pinion ‘the wing, that yearns for glory’s light, / then boast the strength’ of his ‘superior flight?’ she asks. is the ‘trembling partner’ of his lot, who hangs on his steps ‘unheeded, or forgot’, only his ‘to fetter, scorn, disdain, enslave!’ (44–6)? as kay moser observes, the ‘fragment of an ‘“Essay on woman’’’ shows that, at sixteen, EBB had not only ‘adopted many of wollstonecraft’s ideas’, but also drew on phrases from A Vindication (such as ‘the British fair’) in articulating them.15 14 See lines 1–10. The poem was first published by Eleanor Hoag in ‘Fragment of an “Essay on woman”’, Studies in Browning and His Circle 12 (1984): 10–12. in her prefatory ‘note’ (7–9), hoag points out that the ‘paper on which the manuscript is written carries the watermark 1822’ (when Barrett turned sixteen). however, the ms appears to be a fair copy; the poem may have been drafted when EBB was even younger. the text cited here is taken from the forthcoming Broadview edition of EBB’s poetry i have co-edited with Beverly taylor; our transcription of the ms differs at several points from hoag’s. 15 ‘Elizabeth Barrett’s youthful feminism: ‘fragment of ‘an Essay on woman’’’, Studies in Browning and His Circle 12 (1984): 13–26.

Browning and Victorian Versions of Byron and Wollstonecraft


nevertheless, EBB’s ‘fragment of an “Essay on woman”’ does not include any direct mention of wollstonecraft’s name, even though it concludes with a ringing rhetorical question invoking four other women writers. ‘is woman doomed obscure, & lone, to sigh? / comnena, dacier, more, destael, reply!,’ the young poet declares.16 many factors may have contributed to the omission of wollstonecraft (including the difficulties of accommodating the name to the metre), but it also seems telling in light of what margaret kirkham calls ‘the great wollstonecraft scandal of 1798’ following Godwin’s publication of the Memoirs, which revealed details of his wife’s conception of their child before marriage, her earlier relationship with a lover Gilbert imlay, and her suicide attempts. in the decades following this scandal, as kirkham shows and as i more fully elaborate below, it was dangerous for any female writer to couple her name with the name of an ‘unsexed female’ notorious not for her political critique but for her private life.17 in fact, with the exception of ‘fragment of an ‘“Essay on woman’’’ and EBB’s mother’s allusion to ‘mrs wolstonecrafts system,’ references to the radical advocate for women’s rights do not appear in EBB’s juvenilia, published poetry and letters up to 1842. in contrast, Lord Byron is a pervasive presence and a publicly acknowledged precursor in EBB’s letters and poetry in the same period, possibly in part because the ambitious young author aspired, above all, to be a poet like him, not an embattled revolutionary prose polemicist. on her fourteenth birthday in 1820, when The Battle of Marathon, her homeric epic written in the heroic couplets of Pope, was privately printed in 50 copies at the expense of her proud father, Byron was the first figure EBB saluted among her contemporaries in the poem’s ‘Preface’ (CW 1, p. 9). her focus on Byron is even more intense in her late teens and early twenties, although one can also trace the impact of hemans on her debut publication of two poems on Greek liberation in 1821 in the New Monthly Magazine.18 Byron’s death at missolonghi in 1824 inspired several elegiac tributes by EBB: beginning with an unpublished manuscript ‘Lines on the death of Lord Byron’ now in the armstrong Browning Library, followed by the more formal ‘Stanzas on the Death of Lord Byron,’ first published June 30, 1824, in the London Globe and Traveller, and reprinted in a revised form in An Essay on Mind, With Other Poems (1826), EBB’s first formally published collection. the title poem in her 1826 collection furthermore concludes with an extended lament (1185–262) for ‘[t]he pilgrim bard’ (1191) who sacrificed

EBB invokes the historian anna comnena (1083–1148 or thereafter), author of the 15-volume Alexiad; anne Lefevre dacier (1654–1720), a french translator of homer, Sappho, Aristophanes and other classical writers; Hannah More (1745–1833), the prolific English Romantic dramatist, poet, novelist, abolitionist and essayist on morality, politics, universal education and women’s education; and madame de staël (1766–1817), the frenchSwiss woman of letters, champion of women’s rights and author of the fictional work Corinne (1807). on de staël’s special importance to EBB along with wollstonecraft, see below. 17 Jane Austen, Feminism and Fiction (sussex; harvester, nJ: Barnes & noble, 1983), pp. 39–50. 18 ‘Stanzas, Excited by Reflections on the Present State of Greece,’ appeared in May, 1821, under the initials ‘E.B.B.’; ‘thoughts awakened by contemplating a Piece of the Palm which Grows on the summit of the acropolis at athens’ appeared in the July issue. 16


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

his life in the struggle for Greek liberation.19 meanwhile wollstonecraft and other women famous for their intellectual or artistic achievement pass unmentioned in this verse essay praising Byron as the ‘mont Blanc of intellect’(70), and reviewing great philosophic thinkers like Locke, descartes and Berkeley. the Byron who dominates EBB’s youth is not the author of Don Juan, but rather a safely sanitized cultural icon. In his 1819 ‘Reflections before reading Lord Byron’s memoirs’, tom moore observed that all who had felt the ‘spells’ cast by Byron’s ‘master mind’ would ‘burn to know’ when ‘first the light awoke in his young soul’ and ‘if the gleams that broke / from that aurora of his genius, raised / most pain or bliss in those on whom they blazed.’20 these were no doubt burning questions too for the young EBB, as she experienced her ‘fits of Pope–& Byron’ (BC 7, p. 354), nursed high ambitions, and wrote poem after poem (several celebrating the goddess aurora).21 the overt adulation of the scandalous author of Cain and Don Juan is less odd than it seems, James Borg argues. dubbing the young EBB a ‘Byron in Bluestockings’, he comments, ‘from our present vantage, we tend to look back upon Byron ... as an arch-rebel and epitome of the Romantic movement. for the youthful Elizabeth, however, ... Byron was a deeply christian poet ... whose biography, like that of his persona childe harold, revealed a saintly pilgrimage.’22 while Borg overstates the case, the young EBB did perceive Byron as a man of religious feeling. she also saw him as a victim of ‘calumny & malice’, terms she employs in an 1828 letter to the classical scholar hugh stuart Boyd, where she justifies passing over Byron’s ‘errors of faith & his errors of conduct’ two years earlier in An Essay on Mind. ‘Poor Lord Byron was cruelly used, in life and death, by unfeeling relatives, false friends, & open enemies’ – in short by a ‘cold and heartless’ world. ‘He was not by nature cold & heartless – but his affections were turned into bitterness. you know how his wife introduced a medical spy into his room, when he was writing the siege of corinth, in order to obtain proofs of his insanity!!!,’ she explains, adding, ‘i saw hER once!’ before commenting at length upon Byron’s faith: i think that, humanly speaking, Lord Byron’s extraordinary sensibility of heart & mind was his bane ... . Religious knowledge he had none; but every real poet must have natural devotion—& he was a real poet! i think he had more devotional feeling than sir walter scott has! a relative of mine was in st. Peter’s at Rome as Lord Byron entered it,—& saw him throw himself, in a transport of enthusiasm, on the earth before a cross, & kiss the feet of the Crucified. You see—the knowledge was not there—but the feeling was there! (BC 2: pp. 138–9). 19 Byron is also the subject of a third poem in the same volume: ‘stanzas occasioned by a passage in mr. Emerson’s Journal, which states, that on the mention of Lord Byron’s name, captain demetrius, an old Roumeliot, burst into tears.’ 20 cited by James w. Borg, ‘the fashioning of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh’, p. 58. 21 see Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Hitherto Unpublished Poems, ed. h. Buxton forman, 2 vols (Boston: Bibliophile society, 1914), 1, pp. 81, 86, 91, 97. 22 James w. Borg, ‘the fashioning of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh’, pp. 62–4.

Browning and Victorian Versions of Byron and Wollstonecraft


The image of Byron prostrate before the ‘Crucified’ seems to have lingered in the poet’s mind. many years later, in Aurora Leigh, the Protestant aurora sceptically eyes the female faithful worshiping in an italian church – the ‘poor blind souls / that writhe towards heaven along the devil’s trail’ – responding to the rituals of catholicism much as Lucy snowe does in charlotte Brontë’s Villette. then, however, like Lucy confessing to the priest and like Byron ‘on the earth before the cross,’ aurora, ‘foolish in desire’, drops her head on the pavement and prays that God listen to the ‘run and beat’ of ‘this poor, passionate, helpless blood.’23 EBB’s youthful images of Byron reflect the social and familial culture that surrounded her. works like Findens’ Illustrations to the Life and Works of Lord Byron (1833–34) indicate how the celebrity poet was packaged as a lucrative commodity for the upscale literary album market: the same market EBB was later to tap into through her ballads published in 1838, 1839, and 1840 issues of Findens’ Tableaux. the engraving prefacing this volume is taken from the 1807 portrait by G. sanders of a fresh-faced heart-throb, ‘Lord Byron at the age of 17’ (see figure 2), while the illustrations and essays focus on picturesque places made familiar through his works. this is the ‘beardless Byron’ that EBB was later to recall in aurora’s witty remarks on ‘young poets’ who ‘write old’ pouring their enthusiastic but imitative inspiration along ‘the veins of others’ (11. 1012–14; 973–4). as aurora earlier puts it, ‘young men, ay, and maids, / too often sow their wild oats in tame verse, / Before they sit down under their own vine’ (11. 949–51). Byron, of course, drew upon ‘his own vine’ most powerfully in Don Juan, but it seems unlikely that EBB read this work in the 1820s, when it was attacked as a ‘filthy and impious poem’ (Blackwood’s), the worst product of the ‘satanic school’ of poetry (Robert southey in the Preface to his 1821 A Vision of Judgement), or ‘immoral and pernicious’ (the Edinburgh Review).24 the attacks on a ‘work than cannot be perused by the female eye without diffusing a blush on the cheek’ (The Ladies’ Monthly Magazine) were all the more vehement, as moyra haslett points out, because Byron was known to have a particular following among the ladies, and because the often treated story of the libertine don had been very successful in the theatre with working-class and female audiences. Evidently, the don’s story had a secret life in middle-class homes as well. The Literary Chronicle (11 august 1821) observed that Byron’s Don Juan ‘is universally read, much admired, often abused, expelled from reading rooms and book societies, proscribed at boarding-schools, abjured by married men, and read in secret by their wives throughout the whole kingdom.’25 mr. Barrett took particular care that his daughters were not exposed to Byron’s don, as EBB’s later recollections (see below) suggest.

Aurora Leigh, ed. margaret Reynolds, Book 7, pp. 1258–71. see Byron: The Critical Heritage, ed. andrew Rutherford (London: Routledge & kegan Paul; new york: Barnes & noble, 1970), pp. 169, 181, 200. 25 cited by haslett, Byron’s don Juan and the Don Juan Legend (oxford: clarendon Press, 1997), p. 201. on the political subversiveness of the don Juan story, the enormous sale of cheap editions of Byron’s poem among working-class audiences, and the popularity of the don Juan story in the theatre, see haslett, chapter 3. 23 24


Fig. 2

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

G. sanders, ‘Lord Byron at 17’ (1807). courtesy, Rare Books, special collections, dalhousie University, canada.

Even as a young woman protected from the taint of Don Juan, however, EBB was both a more adventurous and a more critical reader of Byron than her father’s interdictions and Borg’s term ‘infatuation’ imply. moreover, in a manuscript notebook now at wellesley college recording her notes on her reading from 1824 to 1826, she criticises Byron in terms that point to the continuing influence of Wollstonecraft. ‘Lord Byron’s works’ top her ‘List of Books i wish to Read’ in this notebook, and in her ‘Remarks on Ld. Byron’s “island’’’ she records that lines 106 to 124 are ‘magnificent’, and lines 130–40 ‘splendid’. Yet nevertheless, she sharply critiques his representation of women:

Browning and Victorian Versions of Byron and Wollstonecraft


the expression where summer years & summer women smile! is rather derogatory to the sex! i never knew that woman was as an animal, or peculiar to the summer season.26

as the young author had asked in her ‘fragment of an ‘“Essay on women’’’, ‘can woman only triumph in the sigh / the smile coquetish, or bewitching eye? ... imperious man! is this alone thy pride t’enslave the heart that lingers at thy side? Smother each flash of intellectual fire, and bid ambition’s noblest throb expire?

‘Go!,’ she asserts to such a man, and love ‘[t]he flattered creature of an idle day! ... teach her a lovely, abject thing, to be! / for such are generous deeds, and worthy thee!’ she turns a similarly critical eye in her notebook on contemporary interpreters of Byron, commenting on sir Egerton Brydges’ ‘Letters on Lord Byron’ that ‘i have not discovered that any new light has crossed Lord Byron’s character, thro’ the medium of these letters. ‘cain’ is i think appreciated justly after consideration: but, after consideration, it must always be appreciated.’27 EBB’s comments about Cain at a time when many regarded it as a blasphemous text indicate why she continued to find Byron a compelling poetic genius despite her reservations about his faith, his morality and his attitude towards ‘the sex’. she also recognised that part of the spell he cast over her may have been due to the influence of one of the sex on him: Madame de Staël, another writer whom she greatly admired, and whose Corinne she considered ‘an immortal book’, deserving ‘to be read three score & ten times.’ ‘Lord Byron hated madme. de staël because she was always prominent in conversation & used to lecture him,’ she observed in 1832 to Boyd; ‘but i believe he estimated her corinne, & i am sure that his writings were the better for his readings ... . & it is no new observation that harold has often spoken with the voice of corinne, & often when he has spoken with the most passion & eloquence’ (BC 3, p. 25). in addition, she was powerfully drawn to the Romantic Prometheanism that figures so strongly in Byron’s and Shelley’s works. while mermin describes the1838 lyrical drama The Seraphim as a ‘a repudiation of Prometheus, Byron, and the idea of heroic rebellion’, Linda Lewis has argued that EBB was not repudiating Romantic Prometheanism so much as refashioning it to accord with her own christian and female understanding of heroism.28 this is a project she continued in A Drama of Exile (1844), as much a revision of Byron’s Cain as it is a gynocentric sequel to milton’s Paradise Lost. however, while Byron Unpublished 1824–26 notebook, wellesley college, pp. 81, 51. i am grateful to the English Poetry collection, wellesley college Library, for permission to examine and cite this noteboook. 27 1824–26 notebook, p. 117. she is even more critical of the comments on Byron in the ‘memoires du madme du Genlis’ (pp. 155–6). 28 see mermin, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, p. 61; and Lewis, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Spiritual Progress: Face to Face With God (columbia and London: University of missouri Press, 1998), pp. 16–48. 26


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

decenters milton’s epic by his focus on the sinner cain and the fallen angel Lucifer, EBB does so through her focus on Eve.29 in 1843, she was amused by Benjamin Robert haydon’s lively accounts of his debates with his sons ‘on the superiority of milton to Byron in the conception of satan,’ and by his description of his visit with his daughter to Byron’s tomb at harrow – ‘as she reads him with such interest’, haydon explained (BC 3, pp. 338, 193). Judging by the evidence of A Drama of Exile, it seems possible that she would have sided with Byron in such a debate herself, and have sympathised as well with the ‘interest’ haydon’s daughter took in her childhood idol. As the Victorian reaction against Byron intensified, EBB repeatedly defended his genius in her letters, and testified to it as well in ‘A Vision of Poets’, the lead poem in Volume ii of her 1844 Poems. here, among the immortal company of ‘king-poets’ (l. 728), Byron appears characterised as ‘sad as grave / and salt as life’ (ll. 412–13). she also clearly distinguished between Byron and hosts of imitators who continued ‘the habit of despondent writing’ his works had ‘rendered current’ (BC 8, p. 15). when Richard hengist horne suggested in 1844 that Lady caroline norton’s poems were like Byron’s but less ‘vindictive’, she quickly replied: ‘do you too call Byron vindictive? – I do not. if he turned upon the dart, it was by the instinct of passion, not by the theory of vengeance,’ misunderstood as he was and ‘crushed’ by ‘false friends & a pattern wife’ (BC 8, pp. 172, 176). Her views of Lady Byron in this instance may have been influenced by haydon’s comments a year earlier on ‘that double X icicle, Lady B___. I only came in contact twice with her’, Haydon explained: ‘The first day, I though[t] Byron a brute – the second day i was convinced she was – a Mathematician’ (BC 7, p. 64). as for the comparison of norton with Byron, EBB asserted to horne, with whom she was collaborating on A New Spirit of the Age, that Byron ‘had more tenderness in one section of his heart, than mrs. norton in all of hers’ (BC 8, p. 176). Elsewhere, in her 1842 review essay, ‘the Book of the Poets’, she commented that Byron too completely identified poetry with ‘one-sided passionateness’: ‘his poems discovered not a heart, but a wound of a heart; not humanity, but disease; not life, but a crisis ... . Byron was a poet through pain’, she added, whereas ‘wordsworth is a feeling man because he is a thoughtful man’ (CW 6, pp. 301–2). for these reasons, she gave the higher crown to wordsworth. nevertheless, although these comments anticipate (and may well have influenced) Matthew Arnold’s later condemnation of Byron in ‘stanzas from the Grand chartreuse’ (1855) for displaying ‘the pageant of his bleeding heart’, her understanding of Byron’s poetical strengths remained more nuanced than that of many Victorians. she was keenly aware that Byron, ‘because he had more than his due fame once – or at least, ... more exclusive fame, - - than was due to him, once, – is now denied his just honours’ (BC 8, p. 216). one extended epistolary exchange with Boyd on wordsworth and Byron provides a particularly illuminating index of EBB’s views of both Romantic poets. on 31 october 1842, she mentioned that the sonnet she had written on haydon’s portrait of wordsworth had (gratifyingly) prompted a letter in response from 29 i discuss her revision of Cain in A Drama of Exile in Elizabeth Barrett Browning, pp. 69–84

Browning and Victorian Versions of Byron and Wollstonecraft


the great poet himself. the occasion led her to comment, ‘wordsworth is a philosophical & christian poet, with depths in his soul to which poor Byron could never reach. do be candid!,’ she added, evidently expecting to provoke her older friend (BC 6, p. 127). Boyd rose to the bait, vehemently declaring it ‘the most glaring, and flagrant injustice’ to rank Wordsworth superior to Byron (BC 6, p. 153). EBB responded in turn by making clear that she did not subscribe to the fashionable mid-Victorian denigration of Byron: i agree with you warmly that the present fashion of decrying Byron as a poet is pitiable or rather contemptible ... you cannot praise Byron as a poet, with warmer words than are always ready for him on my lips: he was a great & wonderful poet – passionate – eloquent – witty – with all powers of swift allusion & sarcasm & satire–full & rapid in the mechanical resources of his art, and capable of sufficient & brilliant conveyance of philosophic thought & argument. in many, in most of these points he is superior beyond all comparison to wordsworth – ... still i am not, in my own view, guilty of inconsistency, when i hold that wordsworth is the greater poet in the proper sense of greatness, the profounder thinker, the nearer to the poetic secrets of nature, more universal, more elevated, more full & consistent in his own poetic individuality, - - & more influential for good upon the literature of his country & age. (BC 6, p. 171).

Even as she captures the differing strengths of both poets and accords the crown to wordsworth, her praise of Byron seems paradoxically ‘warmer’. Self-Defining Memories, 1842–44: Byron’s PAGE and Wollstonecraft’s Re-emergence EBB’s exchange with Boyd in 1842 over wordsworth and Byron is of especial interest because it provokes a retelling of the iterated story about her childhood desire to become Lord Byron’s page. when Boyd acknowledged that she had liberally praised Byron after all, she exclaimed: ‘I, liberal in commending Byron. take out my heart & try it! look at it, & compare it with yours – & answer & tell me if i do not love & admire Byron more warmly than you yourself do ... . why, when i was a little girl (and whatever you may think my tendency is not to cast off my old loves!) i used to think seriously of dressing up like a boy & running away to be Ld. Byron’s page. and I to be praised now for being “liberal” in admitting the merit of his poetry! I !!!! –’ (BC 6, p. 192). The final ‘I !!!!’ – underscored four times, as the note reveals – is unusually heavy emphasis even in EBB’s letters. as her language again makes clear, although she considered wordsworth the greater poet, because ‘profounder’ and ‘more influential for good’, Byron remained closer to her heart and more rooted in her earliest memories. Boyd’s next letter closes the exchange with a pedantic compliment punning on ‘page’: ‘how delightful it would have been, to see the little Page, ... that Page, whose pages were one day to outshine those of her master’ (BC 6, p. 207). EBB told the story of the girl who wanted to be ‘Ld. Byron’s page’ to Boyd on 4 December 1842, less than six months after first narrating it to Mitford, on 22 July 22 1842 – although in telling it to mitford she capitalised the word ‘PaGE’: as


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

if to imply the desire to displace Byron as a poet in the pun that Boyd subsequently makes explicit. It is not surprising that EBB should first share this intimate memory of girlhood fantasies about Byron with the older woman, who had become a kind of literary mentor/mother figure for her by 1842, increasingly displacing Boyd. As a literary woman born in 1787, Mitford had particularly close affiliations with Byron and his generation, both through her friendship with mary cockburn, Byron’s childhood sweetheart (BC 8, p. 28n), and through her friendship and correspondence with william harness, one of Byron’s closest boyhood friends and the person to whom he addressed the first poetical lines he wrote while at Harrow.30 Significantly, however, it is only in the earlier July, 1842, version of the anecdote narrated to mitford, that she couples the memory of her desire to be Byron’s page with her memory of reading wollstonecraft in adolescence. in 1844, frankly discussing George sand’s novels with mitford, EBB observed, ‘you are the only person in the world, to whom i dare to write on these subjects’ (BC 9, p. 169). a similar, though unspoken taboo seems to have governed her comments on wollstonecraft, which appear only in her letters to mitford. a still earlier reference by EBB to her girlhood reading of wollstonecraft in a letter to mitford in march of 1842 may obliquely indicate how this taboo connects to the scandal precipitated by Godwin’s publication of the Memoirs, and also point to mitford’s role in reviving EBB’s memories. as Pam hirsch demonstrates, it was wollstonecraft’s ‘association with the french Revolution which led to her posthumous demonisation as one of ‘‘the furies of hell, in the abused shape of the vilest of women’, as the anti-Jacobin press, capitalizing on the frank revelations of the Memoirs, connected ‘Liberty’ to ‘sexual licence.’31 Like hirsch, kirkham emphasises that the effects of this counter-revolutionary backlash upon ‘the development of feminism in England were profound’: ‘wollstonecraft was now branded as a whore and an aetheist’, and women ‘who dared to show sympathy with her ideas’, like mary hays, were ‘subjected to personal attack.’ other women, such as amelia opie, who had been a ‘close friend, now made public their condemnation.’ a more far-reaching result of the attacks on wollstonecraft, was that, by the 1840s her ‘works had become difficult to obtain – George Eliot seems not to have known that she had written novels,’ kirkham notes. In Hirsch’s words, ‘[f]or a generation at least mary wollstonecraft’s ideas went underground, ... more likely to be invoked by working-class radicals than in middle-class drawing-rooms.’32 the virtual disappearance of wollstonecraft from genealogies of middle-class women writers is 30 caroline m. duncan-Jones, Miss Mitford and Mr Harness: Records of a Friendship (London: s.P.c.k., talbott P, 1955), pp. 14–17. according to the author, a great-great niece of william harness, the friendship between Byron and harness persisted through their cambridge years, although their lives moved in very different directions, as harness took holy orders. Byron wanted to dedicate Childe Harold to harness, but refrained because it might ‘injure him in his profession’. 31 see hirsch, ‘mary wollstonecraft: a Problematic Legacy’. Wollstonecraft’s Daughters: Womanhood in England and France 1780–1920, ed. clarissa campbell orr (manchester: manchester University Press, 1996), pp. 50–51. 32 kirkham, pp. 48–9; hirsch, ‘mary wollstonecraft’, p. 52.

Browning and Victorian Versions of Byron and Wollstonecraft


reflected in EBB’s comment to Mitford, evidently prompted by a question from her, ‘yes – i know mary wolstonecraft. i was a great admirer at thirteen of the Rights of woman. i know too certain letters published under her name: but Godwin’s Life of her i never saw & shd. like much to do so’ (BC 5, p. 282). this is a testimony likely to have further reinforced the intimacy between EBB and mitford. as kirkham observes, almost half a century after the hue and cry over wollstonecraft’s private life, mitford ‘found it impossible to forgive’ amelia opie (who had been a close friend of wollstonecraft’s) for joining the attack on her. in contrast, mitford herself had vigorously defended wollstonecraft as a writer who, ‘married or not married wrote like a modest woman – was a modest woman’.33 the cultural ‘forgetting’ of wollstonecraft’s writing, perhaps mirrored in a form of psychic suppression in EBB herself, may explain why it is not wollstonecraft’s name but de staël’s that is coupled with Byron’s in the haunting prose fragment about a girl named Beth, written in the early 1840s possibly for EBB’s young cousin Lizzie, and drawing on the same powerful early memories of her formative years. ‘Beth intended to be very much in love when she was fifteen’ – in love with a ‘poet’ – and in fact was ‘inclined to believe’ that her lover would be ‘Ld. Byron. / But Beth was a poet herself – and there was the reigning thought’. Beth ‘was also a warrior’, who planned to deliver ‘Greece the glorious.’ But ‘[p]oor Beth had one great misfortune. she was born a woman’ (BC 1, p. 361). in the Beth fragment, EBB replays the intense conflict between her gender and her aspirations she experienced in her adolescence. In the terms I have been using here, Beth’s conflict is between being a page serving Lord Byron (or a page for Lord Byron to write upon), or becoming Lord Byron’s printed ‘PaGE’ – that is, displacing him as a ‘reigning’ poet. the Beth fragment implies that de staël was the young EBB’s primary female role model in determining her ‘reigning thought’ of becoming ‘a poet herself’: ‘now [Beth] despised nearly all the women in the world except Madme. de staël.’ yet the language and sentiments are also reminiscent of wollstonecraft and the ‘indignation against Nature who made [her] a woman’ that A Vindication aroused in EBB in adolescence: ‘one word Beth hated in her soul - - & the word was “feminine”. Beth thanked her gods that she was not & never wd. be feminine. Beth could run rapidly & leap high’ (BC 1, p. 361). together with the linked anecdotes of her recollection of reading wollstonecraft and desiring to be Byron’s page, the Beth fragment reflects an entire cluster of interconnected ‘self-defining’ memories central to EBB’s formation and aspirations as a woman-poet. these vivid memories accompanied the artistic reawakening she experienced in the 1840s, after a life-threatening illness, as she turned away from the male impersonation of her earlier works towards increasingly gynocentric poems in which she spoke boldly in a female voice.34 in The Remembered Self, Jefferson 33 kirkham adds that mitford ‘came from the same social milieu as Jane austen’, but while her ‘youthful gossip’ about austen is often cited, her comments on wollstonecraft are not, just as Austen’s cultural affiliations with Wollstonecraft’s feminism remained largely uninvestigated for almost two centuries (pp. 49, 167–8). 34 see my summary of the many critics who have noted this development (though without noting the importance that EBB’s memories of reading wollstonecraft play in it) in


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

Singer and Peter Salovey describe a self-defining memory as ‘vivid, affectively charged, repetitive, linked to other similar memories, and related to an unresolved theme or enduring concern in a person’s life.’ in such memories, ‘embellishments, false recollections, descriptions provided by others, and multiple events’ may blend into ‘seemingly singular occurrences’, yet ‘these characteristics in no way diminish’ the power of such memories in shaping identity. ‘in fact, the memories that affect us most strongly may be those that provide commentary about expectations that we either have yet to realise or may never hope to realise.’35 much of singer and salovey’s research in cognitive psychology bears out the close connection between life goals and self-defining memories. This connection between past and future is particularly relevant to another retelling by EBB of the ‘spot of time’ in early adolescence that her memory so often returns to, because in this instance it appears in the same letter as her first mention of plans for the work that would become Aurora Leigh. Revealingly, it is Wollstonecraft, not Byron or de Staël, who figures most prominently in this instance, although as EBB details her plans in a subsequent letter, the submerged connection between wollstonecraft and Byron once again re-emerges. writing to mitford on 24 december 1844, apparently forgetting that the subject had come up before in their correspondence, she tells mitford the story of reading A Vindication in adolescence for the third time: ‘mary wolstonecraft! – yes. i used to read mary wolstonecraft, – (the ‘Rights of woman’,) ... when i was twelve years old, & “quite agree with her.” her eloquence & her doctrine were equally dear to me at that time, when i was inconsoleable for not being born a man’ (BC 9, p. 292). this third and last return to her girlhood memory of A Vindication in her correspondence with mitford takes place as they discuss the controversy provoked by the revelations of private life in harriet martineau’s Life in the Sick-Room. it also occurs in a year that had brought a ‘revised and re-edited version of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: With Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects’ (BC 9, p. 294, n. 1). defending martineau’s decision to expose her private life, on the model of Godiva, despite the ‘vile insults & insinuations’ thrown at her, EBB seems to have been recalling the similar attacks on wollstonecraft (BC 9, p. 292).36 A postscript to this letter brings her first mention of the idea of writing ‘a sort of novel-poem’, on the principle of ‘Lady Geraldine’s courtship’ (BC 9, p. 293). EBB then expands upon this idea to mitford a few days later, in the first of the two passages cited in my introduction above, detailing her thoughts of writing a ‘poem of a new class ... a don Juan, without the mockery & impurity’ (BC 9, p. 304). other letters from the same period indicate that Don Juan was much on her mind as she enjoyed the critical success her 1844 Poems brought, began to think about Elizabeth Barrett Browning, pp. 23–7, 34–48, 77–93. 35 Jefferson singer and Peter salovey, The Remembered Self, p. 13. 36 In a letter to Boyd the previous day, EBB describes Martineau as a Godiva figure in terms that might apply equally well to wollstonecraft: ‘she is a very admirable woman–& the most logical intellect of the age, for a woman. on this account it is, that the men throw stones at her, and that many of her own sex throw dirt’ (BC 9, p. 289). see mermin’s Godiva’s Ride for a detailed exploration of the importance of Godiva as a symbolic figure for nineteenthcentury women writers.

Browning and Victorian Versions of Byron and Wollstonecraft


new projects, and discussed some of George sand’s more scandalous novels such as Lelia with mitford. as her 1844 paired sonnets to sand reveal, she wished that the ‘[t]rue genius, but true woman’ who defied her ‘woman’s nature with a manly scorn’ might be ‘purer’ and ‘higher’ in her personal life (CW 2, p. 239). By the 1840s, knowing more about the rumor of scandal surrounding wollstonecraft’s private life than she did at fifteen or sixteen, she may well have wished that the author of A Vindication had been ‘purer’ too. on 30 september 1844, she confessed to mitford that she was troubled by ‘the disgusting tendency’ sand had ‘towards representing the passion of love under its physical aspect’ (BC 9, p. 167). yet her comments connecting sand’s novels to Byron’s Don Juan are not prudish.37 she remarks to mitford that ‘Papa’ knows nothing of madame dudevant,–& i don’t feel inclined to explain her to him. of course if i were to say - - ‘she is a great genius, & no better than she should be, - - and i have read her books & want to write to her,’ – he wd. think i was mad & required his paternal restraint ... i heard him say once that he could not think highly of the modesty of any woman who could read don Juan!! he used to keep a canto of don Juan locked up from wandering eyes,–& does the same at this time, with the heloise–don Juan & the nouvelle heloise being hannah more & wilberforce by the side of certain books that we wot of. (BC 9, p. 166)

EBB’s double exclamation mark seems to indicate that she had read Don Juan by 1844 and found little to bring a blush to her cheek, although i have been able to find no record of her response in her correspondence up to this time.38 Returning to Don Juan on 20 november in the context of a discussion of good and bad books, a subject she was to treat in Aurora Leigh (1: 739–800), she quips that ‘with [her] present experience’ of french novels she ranks Don Juan ‘with the Lives of the saints!’ (BC 9: p. 236). 10 January 1845 brought, like a bolt from the barley sheaves around tennyson’s Tower of Shalott, Robert Browning’s first letter to ‘dear Miss Barrett’ – eleven days after EBB articulated her plan for a ‘poem of a new class’ on the model of Don Juan to mitford. Early in this new correspondence, on 27 february, EBB indicated that she was not a passive damsel confined in a palace of art as she detailed, in the second passage cited in my introduction, her ‘chief intention’ of writing a ‘novel-poem’ as ‘completely modern as “Geraldine’s courtship”, running into the midst of our conventions, & rushing into drawingrooms & the like “where angels fear to tread”’ (BC 10, p. 102). the quotation is from Pope, but Don Juan seems to have been in she does not, like one of her correspondents, thomas westwood, condemn Byron for the fact that his poetry is ‘so seldom clean in its flowing’ (BC 8, p. 131). her analysis of french novels also leads to an interesting distinction between ‘la prude angleterre’, which has its ‘moral advantage’, and the ‘intellectual narrowness’ of ‘la prude d’angleterre’ (BC 9, p. 235) – a type she was later to cast memorably in aurora’s aunt. 38 however one reads her comment to mitford about ‘Papa’s’ censorship of Don Juan, its ironies seem inescapable – ironies that Borg seems to miss entirely in his construction of ‘Elizabeth’ as an earnest evangelical ‘Byron in bluestockings’. he cites this passage and assumes that she is here reaffirming ‘the religious context of Byron’s poetry, by coupling it with the religious reformers more and wilberforce’ (53) – a misreading that invites a double exclamation mark itself!! 37

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


her mind once more as she echoed the terms she had earlier used to mitford, and as she spoke of ‘rushing into drawingrooms & the like.’ in the opening of canto X, Byron satirically teases his readers concerning unrecorded exploits of his hero: ‘far be it from my Muses to presume ... to follow him beyond the drawing-room’ (X. 5). Byron, of course, had bedrooms in mind. at this early point in her correspondence with Browning, however, EBB did not explicitly mention her plan of emulating Don Juan to Browning, possibly because it might not have seemed proper for a lady poet to write openly to a male poet whom she had not yet met of Byron’s verse–novel. Plunged into life, love, motherhood and the high drama of the italian Risorigimento, EBB would take years to mature her ‘chief intention’. in the meantime, she wrote to Browning, evidently persuaded him to renew his youthful ‘affection’ for Byron (BC 13, p. 280), married her poet-lover (fulfilling Beth’s aspiration), and traveled to italy where together they walked ‘in the footsteps of Byron’ (BC 14, p. 62). Both Brownings were ‘as poets, enthusiastic about Lord B,’ as anna Jameson wrote to her friend Lady noel Byron, tactfully implying that her friends may have been less enthusiastic about Byron as a man (BC 14, p. 366). EBB’s poetic enthusiasm did not impede her deepening and more critical engagement with Byron’s precedent, however. although her lyrical epic of a nation’s birth, Casa Guidi Windows (1851) owes much to the example of Byron’s involvement with the struggle for Greek liberation, it also included an incisive critique of the gendered ways in which italy had been cast by male poets – ‘especially Byron’, as mermin notes.39 as for wollstonecraft, her continuing importance to EBB’s maturing perception of gender politics is suggested by another reference to the Romantic advocate for women’s rights: once again in her correspondence with mitford, but this time in the context of discussing a work reflecting the resurgence of what Victorians came to term the ‘woman question’. ‘at last we have caught sight of tennyson’s Princess’, she wrote to mitford in may, 1848, adding, ‘& i may or must profess to be a good deal disappointed. what woman will tell the great poet that mary wolstonecraft herself never dreamt of setting up collegiate states, proctordoms & the rest, - - which is a worn-out plaything in hands of one sex already, & need not be transferred to be proved ridiculous?’40 Both The Princess and Don Juan would figure prominently as texts Aurora Leigh replied to, but Byron’s proved to be the more fundamental precursor text, while the underground influence of Wollstonecraft, together with the examples of other unnamed women writers, shaped its rhetorical strategies and its narrative structure at a still deeper level.41 although EBB did not begin concerted work on her ‘poem of a new class’ until 1853, her aim of refashioning Byron remained central to it. the hybridised form of Aurora Leigh not only recasts the in Elizabeth Barrett Browning: The Origins of a New Poetry, p. 170. The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Mary Russell Mitford 1836–1854, eds Meredith B. Raymond and Mary Rose Sullivan, 3 vols (Winfield, KS: Armstrong Browning Library of Baylor University, the Browning institute, wedgestone Press and wellesley college, 1983), 3, p. 240 41 meredith B. Raymond, ed. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, pp. 159–60, i note some of the parallels between wollstonecraft’s rhetorical strategies in A Vindication and EBB’s in Aurora Leigh. 39 40

Browning and Victorian Versions of Byron and Wollstonecraft


form of Don Juan, with its philosophical digressiveness, its novelization of epic and mock-epic conventions, and its movement through a cosmopolitan succession of modern urban landscapes. EBB also alters Byron’s focus and subject matter, substituting mid-Victorian for Romantic cultural concerns, and contesting both his materialist worldview and masculine perspective, in the latter instance once again drawing on wollstonecraft’s polemical defence of women’s rights. ‘the gilding wears so soon off from her fetter’, Byron sardonically observes in Don Juan that, take ‘any woman’ at ‘thirty’, and ask her ‘if she’d choose ... to have been / female or male? a school-boy or a Queen?’42 as a girl on the threshold of womanhood, EBB read both wollstonecraft’s Vindication and Byron’s Greek romances, and longed to be ‘Byron’s page’. in her thirties and forties, she chose, pace Byron, to be a ‘Queen’ reigning through her art as her namesake Beth had once aspired to do.

42 Lord Byron, Don Juan (XiV. 25), The Complete Poetical Works, ed. Jerome J. mcGann, 8 vols (oxford: clarendon Press, 1986), 5, p. 566.

chapter 9

wordsworth, hopkins and the intercession of angels J.R. watson

hopkins read the poetry of wordsworth with extreme care, and he read all of it. there are not many wordsworthian scholars or readers who would care to comment, as hopkins did, on the poem ‘to——’, written to mary wordsworth in 1824 and published in 1827. few people would even notice it among the poet’s work. it begins: Let other bards of angels sing, Bright suns without a spot; But thou art no such perfect thing: Rejoice that thou art not!1

hopkins used it in a letter to coventry Patmore of 1883, which will be discussed later. at this point in this essay i use it only as evidence of the way in which wordsworth’s poetry was read by him with great care and attention to detail, even extending to such a minor late poem. i shall argue that wordsworth’s poems entered into his thinking at every level, from an appreciation of the natural beauty of the world, to a concern for the failures of society, and to a reflection (as here) on another poet’s work and the character of women. at a deeper level, they were one of the forming influences on his seriousness and his sense of purpose; and it was from Wordsworth that he developed a particular awareness of the poet as striving for perfection, and of the charismatic features of the inspired poet. this awareness of perfection inevitably confirmed his religious aspirations, and became a part of his spiritual sensibility. hopkins was a man possessed. throughout his life he was powerfully engaged with various matters that called urgently for his attention – religion above all, but also nature, language, poetry, music. he responded to such things with a remarkable intensity. To read his letters is to be made aware of what the first sentence of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius called ‘the operations of the mind and heart’ in their most strenuous and most pure form: operations that were not to be deflected from what they saw as the highest and noblest aspirations. the opening sentence of the Exercises is worth quoting in full:

1 William Wordsworth: The Major Works, ed. stephen Gill (oxford: oxford University Press, 1984), 1–4, p. 354. subsequent quotations from this edition.

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


By Spiritual Exercises is understood certain operations of the mind and heart, such as the examination of conscience, meditation, contemplation, mental and vocal prayer, which are employed in order to free the soul from its irregular affections, and so to put it in the way of knowing and embracing the will of God towards it.2

hopkins’s mind and heart were shaped by this. he responded, as newman knew he would, to the strenuous demands of the society of Jesus: ‘the Benedictines would not have suited you’.3 those demands were wonderful to him, but they taxed him severely: his retreat notes and some of the sonnets are evidence of a mind that struggled, even as it sought to come close to the nobility of the Jesuit life and the perception of the glory of God. in the process he became (very properly) unworldly, without being naïve. he became convinced of what he saw as essentially right in religion, in natural beauty, in the use of language, in the conduct of life. he sought perfection, and his vision was intense and pure: sometimes it pursued an idea so ingenuously that it led him away from his fellow-men, as in the lovely dominical sermon on the feeding of the five thousand that he preached at St Beuno’s on 11 March 1877, when ‘people laughed at it prodigiously’ and he had to stop.4 at other times it led him to an ecstasy of joy in the natural world. after his death coventry Patmore wrote to Robert Bridges about him: Gerard hopkins was the only orthodox, and as far as i could see, saintly man in whom religion had absolutely no narrowing effect upon his general opinions and sympathies. a catholic of the most scrupulous strictness, he could nevertheless see the holy spirit in all goodness, truth and beauty; and there was something in all his words and manners which was at once a rebuke and an attraction to all who could aspire to be like him ...5

he also had the most tender sympathy with what he saw as the neglected good, as in his delicately charming letter to canon dixon of 1878, which began one of the great letter-writing exchanges of the nineteenth century.6 at other times it led hopkins into being strict with some of his great dislikes, such as carlyle (‘i hate his principles, i burn most that he worships and worship most that he burns’7); it also made him impatient with what he saw as triviality, especially if it was associated with wasted talent. he thought swinburne’s Poems and Ballads, Third Series (1889) showed ‘a perpetual functioning of genius without truth, feeling, or any adequate matter to be Manresa: Or the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, For General Use (London: Burns, 1860), p. 3. 3 Letter of 14 may 1868, Further Letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins, 2nd edn, ed. claude colleer abbott (London: oxford University Press, 1956), p. 408. 4 The Sermons and Devotional Writings of Gerard Manley Hopkins, ed. christopher devlin (London: oxford University Press, 1959), pp. 227–33. 5 derek Patmore, The Life and Times of Coventry Patmore (London: constable, 1949), p. 189. 6 Letter of 4 June 1878, The Correspondence of Gerard Manley Hopkins with Richard Watson Dixon, ed. claude colleer abbott (London: oxford University Press, 1935), pp. 1–3. 7 Correspondence with Dixon, ed. abbott, p. 99. 2

Wordsworth, Hopkins and the Intercession of Angels


at function on.’8 the high seriousness which this comment represents was one reason why Hopkins admired Wordsworth, although his admiration was not unqualified. it was an admiration that was widely shared, as stephen Gill has pointed out with telling detail in Wordsworth and the Victorians. Gill’s chapter on ‘wordsworth as spiritual Power’ describes the effect of wordsworth on such people as John stuart mill, william hale white, william whewell and f.w. Robertson, the great preacher known as ‘Robertson of Brighton’. wordsworth was known, particularly after Ecclesiastical Sketches (1822), as an anglican: more importantly, however, he was a poet whose work, in Gill’s judicious words, ‘offered not quite a substitute for religion but an alternative realm in which religious sensibilities could operate’.9 he was a poet whose high moral tone allowed many gradations of religious feeling, from the orthodoxy of keble and faber to the radicalism of Robertson and the aspirations of mill. when keble dedicated his lectures as Professor of Poetry at oxford, the Praelectiones: De Poeticae vi Medica of 1844, to william wordsworth, he did so in language that drew attention to wordsworth’s importance as a ‘true philosopher and inspired poet’ but also as a religious and moral exemplar and guide: to wiLLiam woRdswoRth tRUE PhiLosoPhER and insPiREd PoEt who By thE sPEciaL Gift and caLLinG of aLmiGhty God whEthER hE sanG of man oR of natURE faiLEd not to Lift UP mEn’s hEaRts to hoLy thinGs noR EVER cEasEd to chamPion thE caUsE of thE PooR and simPLE and so in PERiLoUs timEs was RaisEd UP to BE a chiEf ministER not onLy of swEEtEst PoEtRy BUt aLso of hiGh and sacREd tRUth

keble’s words were carefully chosen. they included references to wordsworth’s chief preoccupations, the mind of man, ‘my haunt, and the main region of my song’ as the Preface to The Excursion affirmed, and nature, the nurse, the guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul of all my moral being. (‘tintern abbey’, 110–112)

they also drew attention to the subjects of Lyrical Ballads and the Poems in Two Volumes of 1807, the poor and simple who were ‘championed’: simon Lee, martha Ray, Goody Blake, Betty foy, the old man travelling, the Leech Gatherer. and through them can be perceived the criticisms of society and its functioning, with which, as we shall see, hopkins found himself in agreement. these were appropriate references to the main topics of wordsworth’s poetry. But more striking than their cataloguing of subjects is keble’s insistence on the religious The Letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins to Robert Bridges, ed. claude colleer abbott (London: oxford University Press, 1935), p. 304. 9 stephen Gill, Wordsworth and the Victorians (oxford: clarendon Press, 1998), p. 44. 8

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


element of his work, both in its origins and in its outcomes. its origins were from God: wordsworth was an inspired poet ‘by the special gift and calling of almighty God’, and he ‘was raised up’ (the passive indicates that he did not raise himself up). its outcomes were equally religious: wordsworth was a poet who did not fail ‘to lift up men’s hearts to holy things’, and who became ‘a chief minister ... of high and sacred truth’. in the process his poetry, with its concern for the disadvantaged and simple, echoed the concerns of the sermon on the mount: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit ... Blessed are the meek ... Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth’ (Matthew 5: 3, 5; Matthew 6: 20). one would expect such an emphasis from the author of The Christian Year. But there is evidence that keble’s view was widely shared by the Victorians, and that the connection between poetry and the religious life was seen as a natural and normal one. there were those, of course, who were unhappy about the assumptions that underpinned this connection, who thought that the connection between the religious life (especially as found in the nineteenth century) and poetry was problematic. keble’s view of wordsworth may have been in matthew arnold’s sights in his essay on wordsworth of 1879: ‘we must be on our guard against the wordsworthians ... . the wordsworthians are apt to praise him for the wrong things, and to lay far too much stress upon what they call his philosophy ... . his poetry is the reality, his philosophy ... is the illusion.’10 at the same time, in this strangely unquiet essay, arnold writes (quoting Renan) of ‘glory’, and claims it for wordsworth, above all poets since milton. it is in this essay, too, that arnold writes of poetry as ‘nothing less than the most perfect speech of man, that in which he comes nearest to being able to utter the truth.’11 hopkins would have agreed with arnold about the nature of poetry. what is more interesting to examine, however, is his attitude to the poetry/philosophy argument, and his perception of wordsworth’s poetry in relation to the assumptions of keble and the others. he (and arnold) certainly probed more deeply than keble had done in his lapidary rhetoric (used again in the tablet in Grasmere church). in particular, hopkins was aware of the shaping of his own mind through wordsworth’s work, of the older poet’s importance to a religious person who wanted to recognise what hopkins called a ‘spiritual insight into nature’.12 wordsworth showed him how to see the natural world as ‘charged’ with the grandeur of God, loaded with it in every tree and flower and blade of grass. At the same time, he was conscious of shortcomings in wordsworth’s poetry: of places, and quite a lot of them, where it fell short of that perfection that he desired for other poets, as well as for himself. Poetry, like religion, was for perfection: it was the search for that ideal that kept hopkins struggling always to find the exact word, the right metre, the appropriate phrase. As he wrote to Bridges, about the meaning of ‘foil’ in ‘God’s Grandeur’: ‘no other word whatever will give the effect i want’.13 10

148–9. 11

12 13

matthew arnold, ‘wordsworth’, Essays in Criticism, Second Series (1888), pp. 122–62, arnold, ‘wordsworth’, p. 128. Correspondence with Dixon, ed. claude colleer abbott, p. 141. Letters to Bridges, ed. claude colleer abbott, p. 169.

Wordsworth, Hopkins and the Intercession of Angels


Arnold’s essay would have confirmed Hopkins in the recognition of the high and noble achievement of wordsworth’s greatest poetry, while acknowledging at the same time that there were whole sections of it that were less inspired. arnold identified these as his ‘philosophy’; Hopkins described some of Wordsworth’s sonnets as ‘Parnassian’, ‘that is the language and style of poetry mastered and at command but employed without any fresh inspiration’.14 in another letter to dixon he compared one of dixon’s poems to ‘wordsworth’s in the same kind’: ‘his are works of reflection, they are self-conscious, and less spontaneous, but then the philosophy in them explains itself the clearer on that account.’15 this was written in 1881, and looks like an echo of arnold’s essay of 1879: but hopkins was capable of expressing himself more intimately and intensely, more directly perhaps than the urbane arnold, possibly because he was writing a letter to a friend, but also perhaps because he felt differently. the most remarkable example is the response which he had to Lord selborne’s address to the wordsworth society in 1886. selborne, Lord Chancellor and a religious man (as Roundell Palmer, he had published an influential hymn anthology, The Book of Praise, in 1862) had spoken of wordsworth as one who felt for ‘man in all conditions ... common men, men in every condition of life’ and who saw ‘that which was great, that which was divine, that which was beautiful pervading them all’.16 hopkins wrote to dixon, however, stressing something else from the lecture: did you see what Lord selborne lately said? what i suppose grows on people is that wordsworth’s particular grace, his charisma, as theologians say, has been granted in equal measure to so very few men since times was – to Plato and who else? i mean his spiritual insight into nature ...17

at this point we can see why hopkins was haunted by wordsworth, why he lived in wordsworth’s shadow, why his every perception was coloured by a conscious remembrance or a perception that was almost unconscious because it came so naturally to him. wordsworth’s ‘particular grace’, his charisma, was his ability to transcend the ordinary: it was a feature of his poetry that hopkins recognised as spiritual, part of the perception of the world that is given to very few. in identifying it as a ‘particular grace’ hopkins was echoing ‘Resolution and independence’, and wordsworth’s sense that he was, in the middle of his worry and despondency, led to the meeting with the leech-gatherer: now, whether it were by peculiar grace, a leading from above, a something given, yet it befel, that, in this lonely place ...

the moment is an explicit description of what was so often implicit in wordsworth’s poetry, the encounter with the other. this can be human or natural, but it is an intense 14 15 16 17

Correspondence with Dixon, ed. claude colleer abbott, p. 72. Correspondence with Dixon, ed. claude colleer abbott, p. 57. Quoted in Gill, Wordsworth and the Victorians, p. 240. Correspondence with Dixon, ed. claude colleer abbott, p. 141.

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


encounter between the perceiving self and the external world, transforming both the self and the world as it does in the crossing of alps described in The Prelude Book Vi. hopkins speaks of ‘his spiritual insight into nature’, and what he is concerned with is its transfiguring power. Wordsworth continually celebrated that power. He deplored the fact that for Peter Bell a Primrose by a river’s brim a yellow primrose was to him, and it was nothing more.

hopkins followed wordsworth in acknowledging that the glories of nature, and its smallest beauties too, are often unheeded. ‘why do men then now not reck his rod?’ he writes of the grandeur of God; why, in a beautiful place such as Ribblesdale, is man ‘the heir/ To his own selfbent so bound, so tied to his turn’? It is not difficult to see this as the reverse side of hopkins’s great poems about the natural world, such as ‘The Windhover’ and ‘As Kingfishers Catch Fire’. They are in part explained by the letter to dixon about ‘particular grace’, and it is instructive to see how that letter goes on. after ‘i mean his spiritual insight into nature’ it continues: and this they perhaps think is above all the poet’s gift? it is true, if we sort things, so that art is art and philosophy philosophy, it seems rather the philosopher’s than the poet’s: at any rate he had it in a sovereign degree. he had a ‘divine philosophy’ and a lovely gift of verse; but in his work there is nevertheless beaucoup à redire: it is due to the universal fault of our literature, its weakness is rhetoric.18

the letter goes on to criticise The Excursion, in which there was, hopkins thought, ‘a great deal of dullness, superfluity, aimlessness, poverty of plan’. now this is a letter to a friend, and should not be taken as considered critical judgment. But it is clear that hopkins was getting at something in wordsworth’s poetry that was of great importance to his own. Using arnold’s distinction between philosophy and poetry, he identified Wordsworth’s teaching as belonging to the philosophical, but it is a ‘divine philosophy’ (neatly using a phrase from an unexpected source, Dr Faustus). it was using poetry for its proper purpose. The purpose included the quest for a political and social ideal. He identified wordsworth as one of those Romantic-period poets who ‘concerned themselves with great causes, as liberty and religion’ (unlike keats, he thought).19 he told coventry Patmore that his (Patmore’s) poems were ‘a good deed done for the catholic church and another for England, for the British Empire, which now trembles in the balance held by the hand of unwisdom’.20 the ‘now’ of this sentence echoes the ‘this hour’ of wordsworth’s sonnet, ‘London, 1802’: milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour: England hath need of thee: she is a fen of stagnant waters: ... 18 19 20

Correspondence with Dixon, ed. claude colleer abbott, p. 141. Further Letters, ed. claude colleer abbott, p. 386. Further Letters, ed. claude colleer abbott, pp. 366–7.

Wordsworth, Hopkins and the Intercession of Angels


what dismays wordsworth, and this is a feeling that he shares with hopkins, is that England, in its politics, government and society, has fallen short of an ideal. Both poets lament the state of things: hopkins felt that ‘our whole civilisation is dirty, yea filthy, and especially in the north’; for is it not dirty, yea filthy, to pollute the air as Blackburn and Widnes and St. Helen’s are polluted and the water as the thames and the clyde and the irwell are polluted?21

what should be clean is dirty, ‘bleared, smeared with toil’; and wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

what should be noticed goes unregarded. Ribblesdale, the beautiful Lancashire valley, longs for the coming of the kingdom of God into this imperfect world: ‘for the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God’ (Romans 8: 19, quoted in the manuscript). It finds humanity, which should express this longing, too busy. ‘dear and dogged man’ is preoccupied with his life and work – ‘the heir/ to his own selfbent so bound, so tied to his turn’, and he destroys the earth without any thought for it or for his immortal soul. he proceeds to ‘thriftless reave ... bare’ (plunder without saving anything) the ‘rich round world’, caring nothing for his immortal soul (‘and none reck of world after’). as wordsworth had put it, ‘getting and spending, we lay waste our powers’. hopkins read wordsworth’s sonnets very carefully, as his comments on them in the letters and journals make clear. his brilliant early essay, written when he was still an undergraduate, ‘on the origin of Beauty’, portrays the Professor of aesthetics as saying that ‘wordsworth’s sonnets seem to me sometimes to end too casually’.22 Like wordsworth (and milton before him) hopkins practised the demanding italian or Petrarchan form in preference to the English or shakespearian one. But although his comments on the italian form are fascinating,23 and his own practice is both conventional and experimental, the debt to wordsworth and milton is seen in the representations of beauty in nature coupled with the sense of falling short of an ideal. in poetry this falling short results in the ‘Parnassian’ element that hopkins found in wordsworth’s poetry: i believe that when a poet palls on us it is because of his Parnassian. we seem to have found out his secret. now in fact we have not found out more than this, that when he is not inspired and in his flights, his poetry does run in an intelligibly laid down path ... Now judging from my own experience i should say no author palls so much as wordsworth; this is because he writes such ‘an intolerable deal of’ Parnassian.24

Letters to Bridges, ed. claude colleer abbott, p. 299. The Journals and Papers of Gerard Manley Hopkins, eds humphry house and Graham storey (London: oxford University Press, 1959), p. 99. 23 see, for example, the letters to dixon, 12 october 1881 and 29 october 1881: Correspondence with Dixon, ed. claude colleer abbott, pp. 71–2, 85–7. 24 Further Letters, ed. claude colleer abbott, p. 218. 21 22

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


this is from a letter to a.w.m. Baillie written in 1864, when the two were still undergraduates, and while some allowance must be made for youthful over-statement, the condemnation was repeated in a letter to dixon nearly twenty years later. one of dixon’s sonnets had, he thought, ‘a certain stiffness’: as the majority of wordsworth’s have, great sonneteer as he was, but he wrote in ‘Parnassian’, that is the language and style of poetry mastered and at command but employed without any fresh inspiration: ...25

hopkins’s return to wordsworth as his example on two such separate occasions shows how much the older poet’s work affected him. The first is the poem with which this essay began, ‘to --------’, written to mary wordsworth in 1824 and beginning ‘Let other bards of angels sing’. hopkins used it in a letter to coventry Patmore arising from one of Patmore’s cantos in The Angel in the House, ‘the koh–i–noor’ (Book ii, Canto Viii). that canto shows something of the playfulness of love, counterpointed by the aunt’s ‘Go on flattering, Sir; a woman’s like the koh–i–noor, worth just the price that’s put on her.’

Patmore’s poem is full of the dalliance of love, and the woman’s desire to be prized: she desired to know what mind i most approved, Partly to learn what she inquired, Partly to get the praise she loved.

Hopkins evidently had some difficulty with this. It led him into a misjudged discussion of womanly virtue, and the dangers of vanity: in particular how can anyone admire or (except in charity, as the greatest of sins, but in judgment and approval) tolerate vanity in women? is it not the beginning of their saddest and most characteristic fall? What but vanity makes them first publish, then prostitute their charms? ... who can think of the Blessed Virgin and of vanity?

Later in the same letter hopkins quoted the stanza of wordsworth’s poem (‘Rejoice that thou art not!’) as an example of accommodating morality to a convenient standard: ‘these people [those who write in such a way] never saw and had lost the idea of holiness and are no authority’.26 this letter is troubling to most readers because hopkins was reacting in an inappropriate way to Patmore’s poem (it is the letter in which he writes of shakespeare’s Beatrice as ‘impure minded’, adding ‘i do not know that i may not call her a hideous character’). But it serves to illustrate the power of the ideal in hopkins’s thinking: it is a concern for what he sees as perfection. without an idea of 25 26

Correspondence with Dixon, ed. claude colleer abbott, p. 72. Further Letters, ed. claude colleer abbott, pp. 308–9.

Wordsworth, Hopkins and the Intercession of Angels


true goodness, everything becomes relative. for hopkins, one of whose early poems was entitled ‘the habit of Perfection,’ it was found in the object of his devotion: mary immaculate, merely a woman, yet whose presence, power is Great as no goddess’s Was deemèd, dreamèd; who this one work has to do – Let all God’s glory through, ... (‘the Blessed Virgin compared to the air we breathe’, 24–30)

his attitude to human, not perfect, mary wordsworth and to impure Beatrice is of a piece with the religious belief and the psychological need that drove him to join the society of Jesus. it also coloured his criticism of poetry. his letters are full of the ways in which his contemporaries (tennyson, Browning, swinburne) were guilty of falling short of the excellence of which they were (occasionally) capable, or to which they should aspire. he was invariably hard on them, even as he was hard upon himself. on the other hand, his sense of his own failure (shown in his severe self-assessment in the retreat notes of 1888, for example27), and the suffering of the ‘terrible’ sonnets, were balanced by the moments of perfection: the sight of the kestrel in ‘the windhover’, the joy of seeing the bluebell so that he knew ‘the beauty of our Lord by it’,28 the ‘rose–moles all in stipple upon trout that swim’, all the loveliness that he recorded in poetry and in prose. this is shown in the second example of hopkins’s return to wordsworth in formulating a critical, but also a religious, judgment – for the two, in hopkins’s writing, are hard, perhaps impossible, to separate. it was the sense of beauty and perfection, of the loveliness of the world that he had managed to capture for a few moments in poetry, that caused him to react so strongly to dixon’s mild disparagement of the ‘immortality ode’: ‘i do not see that it is particularly good (for wordsworth, or as wordsworth), much less great.’29 hopkins responded with an intense fervour: If the speaker had said that it was one of the dozen or half dozen finest odes of the world i must own that to me there would have seemed no extravagance. there have been in all history a few, a very few men, whom common repute, even where it did not trust them, has treated as having had something happen to them that does not happen to other men, as having seen something, whatever that really was. Plato is the most famous of these. or to put it as it seems to me i must somewhere have written to you or to somebody, human nature in these men saw something, got a shock; wavers in opinion, looking back, whether there was anything in it or no; but is in a tremble ever since. now what wordsworthians mean is ... that in wordsworth when he wrote that ode human nature got another of those shocks, and the tremble of it is spreading. this opinion i do strongly share; i am, ever since i knew the ode, in a tremble.30 27 28 29 30

see, for example, Sermons and Devotional Writings, ed. christopher devlin, p. 262. Journals and Papers, eds humphry house and Graham storey, p. 199. Correspondence with Dixon, ed. claude colleer abbott, p. 145. Correspondence with Dixon, ed. claude colleer abbott, pp. 147–8.

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


the passionate advocacy of the poem is accompanied by an exactitude of description that makes hopkins’s sense of the poem’s greatness entirely convincing. he sets it into the context of a cultural history that goes back to the greatest poet-philosopher of all time, and places it in a select gathering of works that have changed the world. the imagery is that of a cultural earthquake, or a volcanic eruption, after which the landscape will never be the same again. he then applies the imagery to himself: for him the world is no longer the same place after his reading of the ode: he is no longer his usual self, but a man in a tremble, in awe before the poem’s force and beauty, its essential rightness. the importance of the ‘immortality ode’ to hopkins is that it was one of those poems which showed what wordsworth at his greatest was capable of. there was no falling short here. By some power of genius, the poem suddenly was right, perfect, a poem that set him apart from the others and gave him a place among the greatest of world writers. it was also a poem that shook people. hopkins remembered Blake: you know what happened to poor crazy Blake, himself a most poetically electrical subject both active and passive, at his first hearing: when the reader came to ‘The pansy at my feet’ he fell into a hysterical excitement. now commonsense forbid we should take on like these unstrung hysterical creatures: still it was a proof of the power of the shock.31

Blake’s fit was actually caused by his perception of what he saw as Wordsworth’s undue attachment to nature, but, as hopkins says, the important thing was the power of the shock. hopkins’s defence of the poem (he thought it ‘better than anything else I know of Wordsworth’) was based on two things, both of which are significant for his own work. The first is ‘the interest and importance of the matter’ together with Wordsworth’s insight into it. the immortality ode was the opposite of the triviality that hopkins found in Swinburne’s 1889 book, in which there was ‘no adequate matter [for the mind] to be at function on’. It was about the vision of the poet, the loss of that precarious vision, and the replacing of it by something else, equally if not more valuable: in the primal sympathy which having been must ever be; in the soothing thoughts that spring out of human suffering; in the faith that looks through death, in years that bring the philosophic mind.

hopkins would have been touched by the poem’s transference from innocence to experience, the glory of the initial vision and its replacement by something else. this was, after all, following his own pattern of experience, not only from the enchantment of his days as a brilliant undergraduate to the grind of his later work, but also from transition from the joys of st Beuno’s, with its lovely situation looking over the Vale of clwyd, to the work in city parishes. the second reason, however, is 31

Correspondence with Dixon, ed. claude colleer abbott, p. 148.

Wordsworth, Hopkins and the Intercession of Angels


even more important. it concerns the perfect (i use the adjective purposely, because i think that ‘perfect’ was what hopkins was feeling about it) expression that exists in the poem: His powers rose, I hold, with the subject: the execution is so fine. The rhymes are so musically interlaced, the rhythms so happily succeed (surely it is a magical change ‘o joy that in our embers’), the diction throughout is so charged and steeped in beauty and yearning (what a stroke ‘the moon doth with delight’!). it is not a bit of good my going on if, which is so strange in you and disconcerting, you do not feel anything of this.32

the word ‘disconcerting’ is wonderfully chosen. dixon’s failure to appreciate the immortality ode was to hopkins a real disappointment, like the disappointment over his own poetry when the editors of The Month failed to understand what he was doing. Bridges sometimes failed him too, and he was sharp with him over ‘the wreck of the deutschland’. Even worse, perhaps, was the lack of understanding by those who were close to him of the way of life he had chosen. the letters to and from his family at the time of his conversion make distressing reading; and from time to time his letters to Bridges contain sorrowful references to Bridges’s lack of sympathy and understanding for the society of Jesus.33 To find that Dixon, who had welcomed hopkins’s poetry with such insight, and who had such evident respect for ‘christ’s company’, did not share his enthusiasm for wordsworth was indeed strange and uncomfortable for him. But by now he was in full flow, trying to convince Dixon of the greatness of the immortality ode: for my part i shd. think st. George and st. thomas of canterbury wore roses in heaven for England’s sake on the day that ode, not without their intercession, was penned; ...34

the portrait is whimsical, yet not entirely so. the description of the angels wearing English roses in heaven is a delightful way of repeating what has often been said, that there is ‘joy in heaven’ (over a sinner that repents, for example, as in Luke 15:7). and the saints in heaven are local ones, English saints, a reminder of hopkins’s passion for England, ‘whose honour all my heart woos, wife/ to my creating thought’; for him wordsworth’s poem is an essentially English poem, one of which English people can be proud, and English saints too. there is a strong sense of pride in hopkins’s claim for the poem, the pride of the best kind of patriotism: as he says later in the same letter, this poem is what ‘goes to make the greatness of a nation’. But the poem is not just a cause for joy, or a celebration of England’s glory. it is an example of some kind of inspiration that is far above the ordinary. hopkins, the Jesuit priest, knows from whence it comes, for the poem was written ‘not without Correspondence with Dixon, ed. claude colleer abbott, p. 148. hopkins described Bridges’s criticisms of ‘the wreck’ as ‘bilgy’ or ‘bilgewater’ (Letters to Bridges, ed. claude colleer abbot, pp. 50–51) and was cross when Bridges did not like the corpus christi procession on one of the few occasions in which they were in church together. Unfairly, he accused Bridges of cynicism: ‘without earnestness there is nothing sound or beautiful in character and ... a cynical vein coarsens everything in us’ (Letters to Bridges, ed. claude colleer abbot, p. 148). 34 Correspondence with Dixon, ed. claude colleer abbott, p. 148. 32 33


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

their intercession’, the intercession of the two saints with God. it is a claim that only a Roman catholic would have made: it is a parallel to the intercession of the saints in prayer. it also suggests that the ultimate inspiration of the poem is divine. the idea is not original: it is found in milton’s invocation of the holy spirit in Book i of Paradise Lost, although milton, as a reformer and a puritan, relied on the authority of the Bible and not on the intercession of saints. By the time that tennyson wrote the prologue to In Memoriam the invocation to the ‘strong son of God, immortal love’ has become a plea from a human poet to be forgiven and made wise rather than a claim to heavenly inspiration. Both milton and tennyson, however, pray for divine help and wisdom. hopkins took a different path, one that led through the intercession of the saints in light. for all three poets the parallel is with a painter of icons, who prays before beginning work. Like such a painter each sought perfection, in their own work and that of others: for hopkins he found it in some of his own poems, and in the immortality ode. he believed that it came from God, through the intercession of the saints. this is not what sheridan Gilley (referring to keble) called ‘the Victorian churching of Romanticism’, but the Victorian Roman catholic churching of Romanticism.35 it resulted in a poem that was ablaze with more than earthly glory. the exchange with dixon about the ode (it ends ‘may the muses bring you to a better mind. may God almighty, and this without reserve’36) is a remarkable instance of Hopkins’s sense of an affinity with Wordsworth. It is found in his response to nature, to society, to the language of poetry, and to his religious dedication with its search for perfection. But the likeness that he felt goes deeper. when hopkins characterised wordsworth’s poetry as ‘Parnassian’, he was referring to those poems that fell short of an inspired utterance, of his ‘particular grace, his charisma, as theologians say’. in his use of the word charisma hopkins was anticipating max weber’s concept of the charismatic person who is ‘set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional qualities’.37 the charismatic rejects rational economic conduct and becomes a liminal figure. Wordsworth and Hopkins both did this, the one by becoming a poet-prophet and retreating to the Lake district, the other by becoming a Jesuit. in doing so, they sought not retirement from the world but access to an ideal, to a life and an art that embodied the highest aspirations of which the human soul was capable. the miracle is that they found it – not always, not often, but enough for them to share a particular concept of poetry and life, and enough for hopkins to be benignly haunted and inspired by wordsworth throughout his life.

35 see sheridan Gilley, ‘John keble and the Victorian churching of Romanticism’, An Infinite Complexity. Essays in Romanticism, ed. J.R. watson (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1983), pp. 226–39. 36 Correspondence with Dixon, ed. claude colleer abbott, p. 149. 37 max weber, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization, rev. edn, trans. a.R. henderson and t. Parsons intro (new york: oxford University Press, 1947) p. 329.

chapter 10

‘Echoes of that Voice’: Romantic Resonances in Victorian Poetic Birdsong mark sandy

here, where men sit and hear each other groan; where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs, where youth grows pale, and spectre–thin, and dies, where but to think is to be full of sorrow ...

John keats

Philip Roth takes these lines from keats as an epigraph for his recent novella, Everyman, which meditates on those personal and professional disappointments of contemporary life and the inevitability of death itself.1 through a transatlantic poetic tradition of sorrowful hermit thrushes and mockingbirds,2 keats’s ‘ode to a Nightingale’ intensifies Roth’s tragic tenor. His epigraph reminds us how modern keats’s tragic consciousness was with its ability to bespeak our greatest fears to us from some two hundred years ago. Recognising keats’s continued presence in late modernity and early twentieth-century writing complicates assumptions about discontinuities between Romantic and Victorian literature. these critical prejudices are particularly evident in discussions of ornithological poetry, which define Victorian sensibilities as more attuned to the brutal circumstances of the mythological Philomela than were the idealising imagination of their Romantic predecessors. Retracing these inter-textual exchanges between Romantic and Victorian poets questions these definitions of their poetic birds. Darkling Songsters: Hardy, Arnold, and Keats Recent critical responses regard Victorian poetry about birdsong as a decisive corrective to Romantic poetic depictions of birds and birdsong epitomised by keats’s

Philip Roth, Everyman (London: cape, 2006). in particular walt whitman’s ‘out of the cradle Endlessly Rocking’ and ‘when Lilacs Last in the dooryard Bloom’d’. see francis murphy, ed. Walt Whitman: The Complete Poems (harmondsworth: Penguin, 1996). 1 2

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


‘ode to a nightingale’.3 for these critics thomas hardy, in ‘the darkling thrush’, breaks with his Romantic forerunners and rails against the over-romanticised idealisation of keats’s nightingale and shelley’s skylark. in these readings of ‘the darkling thrush’, hardy rejects a romanticised songbird to depict an actual rather than idealised bird and a post-darwinian natural world as obdurate to humanity. his ‘darkling thrush’ sings with ‘joy illimited’ (20) but the listening poet remains ‘unaware’ (32) of any prospect of ‘blessed Hope’ (31), finding no comfort in the ‘frail’ (21) presence of the bird or any spiritual salve in a Romantic conjoining of poet and nature: so little cause for carolings of such ecstatic sound was written on terrestrial things afar or nigh around, that i could think there trembled through his happy good-night air some blessed hope, whereof he knew and i was unaware.4

hardy’s use of ‘darkling’ carries both keats’s association of the invisibility of his nightingale through its total immersion in darkness and matthew arnold’s sense of an encroaching darkness that ‘darkens’ as it spreads (embodied, for example, by the cultural despair arnold symbolises in the ‘darkling plain’5 at the close of ‘dover Beach’ (1867) or those intimations of old age in Blake’s ‘darkening Green’).6 keats’s own sense of ‘darkling’ further complicates these commonplace critical assumptions see charles E. may, ‘hardy’s “darkling thrush”: the “nightingale” Grown old’, Victorian Poetry 11 (1973): 62–5; and see frank doggett, ‘Romanticism’s singing Bird’, Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900 14 (1974): 547–61, hereafter RSB. see francesco marroni, ‘the Poetry of ornithology in keats, Leopardi, and hardy: a dialogic analysis’, Thomas Hardy Journal 14 (1998): 35–44, hereafter TPO. see Lou ann thompson, ‘darkling and Visible: hardy’s Repudiation of Romanticism in “the darkling thrush”, Lamar Journal of Humanities 26 (2001): 39–52; and see fred V. Randel, ‘coleridge and the contentiousness of Romantic nightingales’, Studies in Romanticism 21 (1982): 34–55. for a more recent and alternative account to my own see herbert n. schneidau’s opening chapter on ‘century’s corpse outleant: hardy and modernism’ in Waking Giants: The Presence of the Past in Modernism (new york: oxford University Press, 1991). 4 thomas hardy, Thomas Hardy: The Complete Poems, ed. James Gibson (London: macmillan, 1976), 25–32, p. 150. all quotations from this edition. 5 matthew arnold, The Poems of Matthew Arnold, ed. kenneth allot (London: Longman, 1965), line 35, p. 245, hereafter PMA. all quotations from this edition. 6 francesco marroni distinguishes between these keatsian and arnoldian connotations of ‘darkling’, but does not suggest arnold’s ‘Philomela’ as another possible intertextual reference in hardy’s ‘the darkling thrush’. see TPO, 40–42. michael o’neill discusses the Romantic and miltonic allusions in the closing lines of arnold’s ‘dover Beach’. see o’neill, ‘“the Burden of ourselves”: arnold as a Post-Romantic Poet’, The Yearbook of English Studies 36 (2006): 120–21, hereafter APR. see also william Blake, ‘the Ecchoing Green’, Blake’s Poetry and Designs, eds mary Lynn Johnson and John E. Grant. norton critical authoritative texts (new york and London: norton, 1979), line 30, p. 21. 3

‘Echoes of that Voice’


about Victorian poetic depictions of birdsong as an antidote to Romantic idealism. straining to hear his concealed ‘darkling’, keats as listener declares: darkling i listen; and, for many a time i have been half in love with easeful death, call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme, to take into the air my quiet breath; now more than ever seems it rich to die, to cease upon the midnight with no pain ...7

‘darkling’, for keats, is a word that reverberates with associations of milton’s invocation to light, in Paradise Lost Book iii, where the nightingale ‘sings darkling, and in shadiest covert hid / tunes her nocturnal note.’8 Paul h. fry contends that keats’s ode at every turn careful revises and reverses milton’s invocation to light, substituting a darkling singer for a darkling listener.9 certainly, keats’s previous two stanzas meditate on darkness, the absence of light, loss of sight and poetic vision, and constitute a veiled allusion to milton’s appeal for inward ‘celestial light’ (iii, 51). with the rejection of ‘Bacchus and his pards’ (32), the opening of the fourth stanza might be read as a triumphant testimony of the imagination which, unlike hardy’s ‘the darkling Thrush’, unifies the poet with nature when he declares that: ... on the viewless wings of Poesy, though the dull brain perplexes and retards: already with thee! tender is the night, and haply the Queen-moon is on her throne clustered around by all her starry fays; But here there is no light save what from heaven is with the breezes blown through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways. (my emphasis, 33–40)

keats’s distinction between the ethereal brilliance of the ‘Queen-moon’ (36) and our sublunary sphere in ‘but here there is no light / save what from heaven is with the breezes blown’ (my emphasis, 39–40) operates at two levels.10 On the first, this tragic realisation of existence is initiated by keats’s recollection of milton’s mythological and mournful nightingale that ‘tunes her nocturnal notes’ (iii, 40). at the second level, keats’s use of the repeated homophone ‘here’ and ‘hear’ throughout his ode (particularly, in the line ‘Here, where men sit and hear each other groan’ (24) from

7 John keats, The Poems of John Keats, ed. Jack stillinger (London: heinemann, 1978), 51–6, p. 371. all quotations from this edition. 8 John milton, The Portable Milton, ed. douglas Bush (harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977), iii, 39–40, p. 289. all quotations from this edition. 9 Paul h. fry, The Poet’s Calling in the English Ode (new haven: yale University Press, 1980), pp. 243–4. hereafter, PC. 10 this reading concurs with charles J. Rzepka who equates ‘here there is no light’ with the human world. see Rzepka, The Self as Mind: Vision and Identity in Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Keats (cambridge, ma: harvard University Press, 1986), p. 175.


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

the previous stanza) circumscribes the here and now11 of the leafy bower in which the listener accidentally hears the inviolable voice of the doubly absent presence of the nightingale. the nightingale is concealed from sight whilst its unpremeditated song remains outside of keats’s poetic powers of expression. keats’s miltonic allusion frames an arbitrary encounter with a reality of infernal darkness – the equivalent of milton’s ‘ever–enduring dark’ (Bk iii, 45) – that propels keats in a downward trajectory of imaginary flight. Keats’s Ode undoes the basis of its own ground for being, set within a definite and yet unspecified location (whether Milton’s imaginary shady grove or the actuality of wentworth gardens), and aspiring to express the ineffable song of the nightingale. Behind keats’s virtuoso poetic performance lurks the fear of silence and poetic failure just as behind the highly romanticised images of death as courted lover and the seductive romance landscape of ‘the warm south’ (15), with its erotically inviting ‘purple stainéd mouth’ (18), lies Philomela’s brutal ravishment. Philomela’s story is sublimated in the recast biblical figure of Ruth, who incorporates both an abandoned ariadne and cordelia.12 keats’s ode embraces the painful reality behind the poem’s implicit allusions to Ovid’s Philomela, whose violent disfigurement (so that she could not speak of what had been done to her), informs its encounter with the ultimate darkness and silence of death. the ode’s illusory spatial movement of flight dramatises – in a reversal of Paul de Man’s declaration – Keats’s linguistic predicament as a displaced name for death.13 keats’s elegiac nightingale stands closer in relation to hardy’s ‘the darkling thrush’ and arnold’s ‘Philomela’ than frank doggett admits when he writes of Victorian ornithological poetry that ‘the tenor is set by the myth of Philomela’ and notes how ‘arnold’s bird voice is explicitly that of ovid’s story of the stricken woman expressing sorrow in the wordless poetry of song.’14 keats’s ode captivates the voice of the songbird through tropes of darkness, absence, and silence so that they find, like Philomela’s tapestry, a voiceless medium to articulate the inevitability of their own non-being.15 Hardy’s description of the ‘blast-beruffled plume’ of the thrush (a songbird of the same genus and often mistaken for a nightingale) is indebted to keats’s songbird and arnold’s dishevelled ‘tawny-throated’ nightingale’ from ‘Philomela’: Hark! ah, the nightingale − the tawny-throated! hark, from the moonlit cedar what a burst! What triumph! hark! − what pain! 11 Paul H. Fry notes that Keats’s Ode takes place within an unspecific yet specified location. see PC, p. 246. 12 James O’Rourke examines Keats’s use of these figures further. See O’Rourke, Keats’s Odes and Contemporary Criticism (Gainesville, fL: University Press of florida, 1998), pp. 29–31. 13 Paul de man claims that ‘death is a displaced name for a linguistic predicament.’ see de man, The Rhetoric of Romanticism (new york: columbia University Press, 1984), p. 81. 14 see RSB, p. 558. 15 kenneth allot provides an editorial note on the different versions and features of the Philomela myth. see PMA, p. 347.

‘Echoes of that Voice’


o wanderer from a Grecian shore, still, after many years, in distant lands, still nourishing in thy bewildered brain That wild, unquenched, deep-sunken, old-world [pain] − say, will it never heal? (1–9)

arnold’s nightingale, like hardy’s thrush, registers moral and cultural decline at an individual and collective level without offering any promise of spiritual or physical rejuvenation; absorbed utterly in its ‘deep-sunken, old-world pain’ (8) which tells only of ‘eternal passion! / Eternal pain!’ (31–2). one year earlier arnold, writing in ‘To Marguerite − Continued’, framed the joyful music of the nightingale as a tragic indication of the isolated condition of each of those ‘mortal millions [that] live alone’: and in their glens, on starry nights, the nightingales divinely sing; and lovely notes, from shore to shore, across the sounds and channels pour – oh! then a longing like despair is to their farthest caverns sent ... (9–14)

Arnold’s poetry celebrates the mellifluous ease of the nightingale’s song, but resists its lyrical beauty by lacing its ‘lovely notes’ with ‘a longing like despair’ and epitomises arnold’s own sense of the overly individuated consciousness of modern man.16 such arnoldian ambivalence questions the view that behind hardy’s ironic usage of ‘darkling’ is a straightforward displacement of a Romantic ideal with the tragic realisation of an impending cultural catastrophe. Persuasive as these readings of literary discontinuity are they presume a Victorian swerve away from Romantic optimism and harmony towards a tragic and pessimistic sense of actuality. when, in fact, hardy’s poetic response to the thrush’s song, like arnold’s reaction to Romanticism’s nightingale, is more sophisticated than these readings permit, because the speaker’s inability to discern any sign of comfort ‘written on terrestrial things’ (26) at the poem’s close terminates in a Romantic investment in the possibility of ‘some blessed hope’ (31) and remains a doubly negative presence in ‘the darkling thrush’.17 hardy’s usage of ‘darkling’ does not close down, but keeps open a genuine dialogue between Victorian anxieties over a godless universe and a sceptical Romantic faith in an inexplicable undetected presence of some greater power.

michael o’neill explores this passage from arnold in relation to shelley’s nightingale imagery in A Defence of Poetry and Prometheus Unbound. see APR, pp. 123–4. 17 Tim Armstrong sees Hardy as ‘momentarily express[ing] transcendent longings’. See armstrong, Haunted Hardy: Poetry, History, Memory (London: Palgrave, 2000), p. 49. 16


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

‘Our Sweetest Songs are those that Tell of Saddest Thought’: Tennyson and Shelley Writing fifteen years earlier than Hardy, Alfred Lord Tennyson’s presentation of the nightingale’s song, in The Ancient Sage (1885), provides another conduit for Victorian spiritual despair and Romantic hopeful aspiration: ‘how far through all the bloom and brake that nightingale is heard! what power but the bird’s could make this music in the bird? how summer-bright are yonder skies, and earth as fair in hue! and yet what sign of aught that lies Behind the green and blue? But man to-day is fancy’s fool as man hath ever been. the nameless Power, or Powers, that rule were never heard or seen.’18

these words read by tennyson’s ancient sage recall the opening of shelley’s ‘hymn to intellectual Beauty’, where ‘the unseen Power’19 is only detectable in the universe through its affect on other visible phenomena: ‘Like hues and harmonies of evening, − / Like clouds in starlight widely spread, − / Like memory of music fled, −’ (8–10). tennyson’s ‘nameless Power’ remains beyond language and outside of the phenomenal universe, leaving the sage or poet struggling to lend purpose or meaning to what is, in shelley’s words, ‘aught that for its grace may be / dear, and yet dearer for its mystery’ (12). for tennyson, the nightingale’s song becomes the potential ‘sign of aught that lies / Behind the green and blue’ (25–6) and beyond the follies of the human imagination, but phrasing this hopeful assertion as a question allows the possibility that all faith is ‘fancy’s fool’ (27); especially that which believes in those unheard and unseen ‘nameless Power, or Powers’ (29). the revelatory power of what ‘lies’ beyond is emphasised by the line break but the weight given to this word is powerfully suggestive of the self-deceit involved in such convictions of spiritual faith. yet the lesson that tennyson’s ancient sage extracts from the nightingale episode for his doubting young companion20 recognises the limitations of both rational knowledge and religious faith in the ‘nameless Power’:

18 alfred Lord tennyson, The Poems of Tennyson, 1969, ed. christopher Ricks, vol. 3 (London: Longman, 1987), 19–30, p. 139, hereafter TPT. subsequent quotations from this edition. 19 shelley, P.B. Shelley’s Poetry and Prose: The Authoritative Texts, eds donald h. Reiman and neil fraistat (new york: norton, 2002), 1, p. 93, hereafter SPP. subsequent quotations from this edition. 20 christopher Ricks notes that both in ‘the ancient sage’ and ‘tiresias’ tennyson’s prophet figures refer to their younger companions as ‘sons’ without familial connotations. See Ricks, Tennyson, 1972 (London: macmillan, 1989), pp. 117–18, hereafter T.

‘Echoes of that Voice’


... thou may’st haply learn the nameless hath a voice, By which thou wilt abide, if thou be wise, as if thou knewest, tho’ canst not know; for knowledge is the swallow on the lake that sees and stirs the surface-shadow there But never yet hath dipt into the abysm, the abysm of all abysms, beneath, within the blue of sky and sea, the green of earth, and in a million-millionth of a grain which cleft and cleft again for evermore, and ever vanishing, never vanishes, to me, my son, more mystic than myself, or even than the nameless is to me. (34–46)

conviction of faith demands a plunging into the endless depths of the ‘abysm of all abysms’,21 which forever recedes and never diminishes. this instructive utterance revises the words of shelley’s demogorgon, in Prometheus Unbound, ensuring that the ineffable Power has a voice and ‘deep truth’ with a more tangible existence ‘beneath, within / the blue sky and sea, the green of earth, / and in a million millionth of a grain’ (40–42). No matter how infinitesimally divisible and minute this final image, Tennyson’s lines echo the Demogorgon’s reply to Asia: –if the abysm could vomit forth its secrets: – but a voice is wanting, the deep truth is imageless; for what would it avail to bid thee gaze on the revolving world? what to bid speak fate, time, occasion, chance and change? (2. 4, 114–19)

tennyson endorses and rejects shelley’s sceptical acceptance that ‘the deep truth is imageless’ by embodying the ‘nameless Power’ ‘beneath’ and ‘within’ the physical processes of the universe so that, although ‘nameless’, tennyson’s ‘Power’ is not without an image. So Tennyson’s first association of the absently-present ‘Nameless Power’ with the ‘music’ (22) of the nightingale admits a scepticism advocated by shelley’s assertion that ‘the deep truth is imageless’ and seemingly triumphed over by the ancient sage’s lesson. for tennyson’s ancient sage, the nightingale’s song gives cause to rejoice in the effects of the absent ‘nameless Power’ and permits scepticism about ‘yet what sign of aught that lies / Behind’ (25) its music. in English Idylls and Other Poems, Tennyson entwines the nightingale’s ability to affirm and negate life with the task of the poet and poetry. in ‘the Poet’s song’, tennyson reverses the conventional scenario of the poet overhearing the nightingale singing, dedicating their poem to the songbird, and aspiring to the bird’s musicality. tennyson foregrounds the poet in his title and ends the poem with the nightingale’s response to its chance hearing of the poet’s singing. Removing himself from the bustle of ‘town’ and ‘street’ (‘the Poet’s song’, 2–3), the poet – not the nightingale – secretes himself away: 21

p. 140.

christopher Ricks notes Laotze as a probable source of tennyson’s phrase. see TPT,

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


and he sat him down in a lonely place, and chanted a melody loud and sweet, that made the wild-swan pause in her cloud, and the lark drop down at his feet. The swallow stopt as he hunted the fly, the snake slipt under a spray, the wild hawk stood with the down on his beak, and stared, with his foot on the prey, and the nightingale thought, ‘i have sung many songs, But never a one so gay, for he sings of what the world will be when the years have died away. (5–16)

Tennyson’s secluded figure of the poet, whose song surpasses even that of the nightingale, looks back to Shelley’s reflections on the solitary activities of the poet and the art of poetry. shelley draws an analogy, in A Defence of Poetry, between the isolated, concealed, figure of the poet and a hidden nightingale. Writing with coleridge’s ‘to a nightingale’ and keats’s ‘ode to a nightingale’ in mind, shelley suggests: a poet is a nightingale who sits in darkness, and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds; his auditors are as men entranced by the melody of an unseen musician, who feel that they are moved and softened, yet know not whence or why. (SPP, p. 516)

his comment located keats’s ‘ode to a nightingale’ at the zenith of a Romantic lyric tradition that aligned poetic outpourings with the natural profusion of birdsong. keats’s ode negotiates those tropes of the nightingale as the melancholic bird of mythology and life-giving bird of spring and renewal.22 this critical misperception of keats’s bird as belonging solely to a Romantic company of cheerful nightingales, ironically, finds Romantic precedent. ‘A Nightingale Out of Season’: Coleridge, Smith and Clare shelley’s association of ‘cheer’ with the nightingale, in A Defence of Poetry, reinforces coleridge’s earlier insistence, in ‘the nightingale’, that sorrow is not a natural quality of this songbird, as a decisive rebuttal to the melancholic song of the nightingale found in milton’s Paradise Lost and Il Penseroso:

katherine stimpson notes that keats’s poetic presentation of robins draws on a similarly ambivalent iconography. stimpson argues that keats uses the robin and nightingale as a poetic reversal of the nightingale. for a comprehensive account of the paradoxical associations of nightingales and robins see Beryl Rowland, Birds with Human Souls: A Guide to Bird Symbolism (knoxville: University of tennessee Press, 1978), pp. 105–11, hereafter BHS. see also stimpson, ‘“where Robins hop, and fallen Leaves are sere”: keats’s Robin and the social imagination’, The Keats–Shelley Review 20 (2006): 64, n. 28, 58–68. 22

‘Echoes of that Voice’


and hark! the nightingale begins its song, “most musical, most melancholy” bird! a melancholy bird? oh! idle thought! in nature there is nothing melancholy. (‘the nightingale’)23

Coleridge’s cheerful Romantic inflection is anticipated by Charlotte Smith’s less well-anthologised sonnet of 1791, ‘the Return of the nightingale’, where the bird’s song has entirely restorative effects: 24 with transport, once, sweet bird! i hail’d thy lay, and bade thee welcome to our shades again, to charm the wandering poet’s pensive way and soothe the solitary lover’s pain; But now!—such evils in my lot combine, as shut my languid sense—to hope’s dear voice and thine!25

floating ‘thro’ the green budding thorns that fringe the vale’ (3), the voice of smith’s nightingale is unmistakeably one of physical and spiritual regeneration that ‘tells how benignant heaven revives the earth’ (6). here, as coleridge does in ‘the nightingale’, Smith’s retrospective moment of personal reflection encounters actual birdsong and disentangles the nightingale from the melancholia of miltonic connotations. By apprehending the reality of the nightingale as a part of the natural world, both coleridge and smith only succeed in presenting a different set of established literary conventions to the mournful and anguished bird of miltonic poetic tradition, which instead associates their songbirds with the renewal of the spring. with the touching knowledge of one of nature’s foragers, John clare, in a later poem ‘the nightingale’s nest’, more intimately realises the natural condition of the bird’s habitat: while nightingale to summers life belongs & naked trees & winters nipping wrongs are strangers to her music & her rest her joys are ever green her world is wide –hark there she is as usual lets be hush for in this black thorn clump if rightly guest her curious house is hidden ...26

23 samuel taylor coleridge, The Complete Poems of Coleridge, 1912, ed. E.h. coleridge (oxford: clarendon Press, 1969), 12–15, p. 264. all quotations from this edition. 24 James c. mckusick, ‘Ecology’, Romanticism: An Oxford Guide, ed. nicholas Roe (oxford: Blackwell, 2005), p. 206. 25 charlotte smith, The Poems of Charlotte Smith, ed. stuart curran (new york; oxford: oxford University Press, 1993), 9–14, p. 50. 26 John clare, John Clare: Poems of the Middle Period, eds Eric Robinson, david Powell and P.m.s. dawson, vol. 3 (oxford: clarendon Press, 1998), 38–44, p. 458. all quotations from this edition.

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this emphasis on the visual qualities of the natural objects over transformative imaginative vision anticipates hardy’s poetic treatment of actual landscapes.27 clare’s acutely unpretentious eye for natural observation captures those features of the nightingale and its environs that have given rise to the dual symbolic representations of the bird as an embodiment of life-affirming joy and tragic pain. clare shuns symbolic ornamentation in favour of intricate natural description of the nightingale’s clandestine existence as songster and nurturer, but his celebration of the bird’s contribution to ‘the old wood lands legacy of song’ (93) – whilst still attuned to the cheerful disposition of those songbirds in smith’s ‘the Return of the nightingale’ and coleridge’s ‘the nightingale’ – hints at that long literary tradition which entwines birdsong and poetry as far back as aristophanes. Like coleridge and Smith, the song of Clare’s nightingale delights in ‘joys [that] are ever green’ without any trace of sorrow or winter’s deathly operations, but ‘her curious house’ secreted away by ‘the black thorn clump’ has a tender vulnerability. clare’s inclusion of the natural detail of ‘the black thorn clump’ (and two further descriptions of ‘this fernstrown thorn clump’ [48] and ‘white-thorn stulp’ [54]) enhance a sense of potential violation by recalling the thorny location of the nightingale’s nest which is the source of much the symbolic bird’s iconography of sexual threat, promiscuity, disgrace and death. clare’s poetic gift is to blend these localised and naturalistic details, reminiscent of Gilbert white’s letters and journals,28 into a conscious engagement with nature and literary tradition. for clare, these tensions between mythologised and naturalised nightingale; visual simplicity and poetic vision; informal dialect and formal diction; a specific yet unspecified locale, are reconciled by taking the reader, in ‘the nightingale’s nest’, on a natural history guide (with occasional and knowing sideward glances at the mythical and literary conventions behind keats’s ode) to a pathless trail that both reveals and protects the ‘secret nest’ (53) of nature’s nightingale and her eggs.29 Echoing clare’s scene ‘as hidden as a thought unborn’ (16), tennyson writes of unrealised feeling that ‘a passion yet unborn perhaps / Lay hidden as the music of the moon / sleeps in the plain eggs of the nightingale’ (Aylmer’s Field, 101–3) and shares in clare’s wonder at the mystery of ordinary nature. clare’s interest in the natural habitat of the nightingale is anticipated by Coleridge’s criticism, in ‘The Nightingale’, of those young socialites who find the

hugh haughton explores clare’s fascination with the visual over poetic vision and aligns his treatment of natural objects with hardy’s poetry. see haughton, ‘Progress and Rhyme: “the nightingale’s nest” and Romantic Poetry’, John Clare in Context, eds hugh Haughton, Adam Phillips and Geoffrey Summerfield (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1994), pp. 53–69, hereafter JCC. 28 Gilbert white, The Natural History of Selborne, ed. and intro. Richard mabey (harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977). see also Gilbert white, The Life and Letters of Gilbert White of Selborne, ed. R. holt-white, 2 vols (London: murray, 1901). 29 hugh haughton discusses how clare’s poetry creates a sense of open accessibility and enclosed protectiveness. mark storey contends that clare exceeds keatsian negative capability. see JCC, pp. 59–61. see also storey, The Problem of Poetry in the Romantic Period (London: macmillan, 2000), pp. 135–7. 27

‘Echoes of that Voice’


melodrama of Philomela’s plight more appealing than actually hearing the ‘delicious notes’ (45) of the nightingale floating on the countryside air: ... so his song should make all nature lovelier, and itself Be loved like nature! But ‘twill not be so; and youths and maidens most poetical, who lose the deepening twilights of the spring in ball-rooms and hot theatres, they still full of meek sympathy must heave their sighs o’er Philomela’s pity-pleading strains. (32–9)

Elsewhere in his writings, coleridge forsakes this natural aspect of the nightingale as springtime songster and displays an anguished affinity with those melancholic ‘pitypleading strains’ of the ‘poetical’ rather than natural bird. coleridge’s ambivalence towards the exquisite painful joy of the nightingale – a bird of spiritual recuperation and despair – is evident in his synopsis of Romeo and Juliet as ‘a spring day, gusty and beautiful in the morn, closing like an april evening with the song of the nightingale’.30 Coleridge’s version of Schlegel’s reflection on Romeo and Juliet shares in a sense of spring’s refreshing vibrancy, but quickly turns its attention to the tragedy within shakespeare’s play and ushers in the darkening ‘april evening’ prevailed over by a ‘darkling’ songbird. 31 a nightingale’s vernal joy readily gives way, in coleridge’s thoughts, to tragic occasion. in an epistle version, addressed to sara hutchinson on 4 april 1802, of what became in revised form ‘Dejection: An Ode’, Coleridge closes his rueful reflections on his complex feelings about parenthood with an iconographic image of a tragically ‘poetical’ nightingale: my little children are a Joy, a Love, a good Gift from above! But what is Bliss, that ever calls up woe, and makes it doubly keen? compelling me to feel what well i know, what a most blessed Lot mine might have been! those little angel children (woe is me!) there have been hours, when feeling how they bind and pluck out the wing-feathers of my mind, turning my Error to necessity, i have half-wished, they never had been born. that – seldom; but sad thought they always bring, and like the Poet’s nightingale, i sing my Love-song with my breast against a thorn.32 30 samuel taylor coleridge, Coleridge’s Miscellaneous Criticism, ed. thomas middleton Raynor (London: constable, 1936), n. 2, p. 45. 31 william hazlitt quotes schlegel in translation. see hazlitt, Characters of Shakespear’s (1817), ed. Ernesty Rhys (London: dent, 1906), p. 104. 32 samuel taylor coleridge, Coleridge: Selected Poems, ed. Richard holmes (London: harper-collins, 1996), 271–84, pp. 177, 169–78. all quotations from this edition.

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this is an extraordinary passage and far exceeds the melancholic self-indulgence of the spurned lover, in the opening of coleridge’s ‘the nightingale’, who projects his grief onto the natural beauty of the bird’s song so as to make ‘all gentle sounds tell back the tale / of his own sorrow’ (20–21). coleridge carefully avoids this kind of self-pitying projection onto the natural world. implicit in the image of ‘little angel children’ are those ethereal wings that transform into the practical frustrations of fatherhood which find expression as plucked and fettered thoughts of ‘the wingfeathers of [his] mind’. This image prefigures Coleridge’s final simile which aligns poetic outpourings on the bitter-sweet experience of his children with the tragic nightingale famed for expiring when the beautiful agony of its song is complete. only in this internalised landscape of coleridge’s mind can the speaker’s forlorn ‘love-song’ be substituted for the natural profusions of the nightingale. coleridge’s ornithological conceit in the previous lines falls short of an exquisite transformation of poetic voice into birdsong and forces a separation of poet and nature, art and reality. a separation felt ‘doubly keen’ by the alienating poetic landscapes in arnold and hardy. ‘A Legacy of Song’: Hopkins and Yeats a modernist turn, present in the poetics of Gerard manley hopkins, re-negotiates this isolation of poetic speaker and landscape, symbolic and actual bird, artifice and natural world. Hopkins’s early poetry bears the hallmarks (as exemplified by his narrative poem, The Escorial, and ‘a Vision of the mermaids’) of the high Romantic poetry of keats and tennyson. traces of tennyson’s bereft ‘mariana’33 are detectable in hopkins’s structuring of another early poem, ‘the nightingale’, written mostly as a monologue spoken by the expectant frances, whose lover unbeknown to her has been lost at sea. Given the youth of their authors, the poetic skill with which both ‘mariana’ and ‘the nightingale’ inhabit, so acutely, the female subjectivity of their speakers is surprising. hopkins’s dramatic tension, in ‘the nightingale’, is built around an expected return and an ill-fated sea voyage and, beyond tennyson’s deceived (and possibly self-deceived mariana),34 finds its source of inspiration in Keats’s homesick figure of Ruth and those ‘perilous seas’ (70) of ‘Ode to a Nightingale’.35 Echoing Keats’s final question in the Ode, Hopkins blurs dream and reality when, finally, the forsaken frances’s troubling reverie coincides with actual tragedy harold Bloom regards tennyson’s ‘mariana’ as a ‘hyperbolic version of coleridge’s Dejection and keats’s Nightingale’. see Bloom, Poetry and Repression: Revisionism from Blake to Stevens (new haven and London: yale University Press, 1976), p. 155. 34 Reading against Bloom’s interpretation of tennyson’s ‘mariana’, matthew campbell applauds Tennyson’s imaginative empathy and re-examines Keats’s influence on the early poems. see campbell, Rhythm and Will in Victorian Poetry, cambridge studies in nineteenth century Literature and culture 22 (cambridge: cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 71–85. 35 John kerrigan usefully reminds us that the work of hopkins’s father as a ‘Victorian marine insurer’ would also have acquainted the poet with disasters at sea. see kerrigan, ‘keats, hopkins, and the history of chance’, Keats and History, ed. nicholas Roe (cambridge: cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 293, hereafter NH. 33

‘Echoes of that Voice’


thus frances sighed at home, while Luke made headway in the frothy deep. she listened how the sea-gust shook and then lay back to sleep. while he was washing from on deck she pillowing low her lily neck timed her sad visions with his wreck. (‘the nightingale’)36

hopkins juxtaposes the home comforts of a safe harbour and repose against an open stormy sea and a watery death. frances’s ‘sad visions’ are augured by her chance hearing of a nightingale’s song of which, she remarks, that ‘music must be death’ (39), with all the heightened, but controlled, melodrama of a Pre-Raphaelite heroine,37 who might, with tennyson’s ‘mariana’, repeatedly declare that “i am aweary, aweary, / i would that i were dead” (11–12). keats as Romantic precursor remains ever-present in hopkins’s later verse. Even though hopkins’s mature metrical and syntactical experiments guard against such effeminate poetic sensibilities and sensuousness,38 his later explorations of the relationship between language and world still reflect his close poetic engagement with keats. keats’s sensitivity to the inward and outward life-force of things shapes hopkins’s poetic responsiveness to nature. this inward and outward dynamic, for hopkins, were the instress and inscape of a thing. the inter-play of these divine forces assure that all things possess a unique individual pattern (instress) and are aware of their own discrete individuality through an identification with similar although not identical entities (inscape). hopkins’s clearest poetic statement of this religious conviction occurs in ‘As Kingfishers Catch Fire’: as tumbled over wells rim in roundy wells stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name; Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: deals out that being indoors each one dwells; selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells, crying What I do is me; for that I came. (2–8)

this dizzying display of verbal echoes (found in the word clusters, for instance, of ‘ring’, ‘string’, ‘fling’, the repeated ‘thing’, culminating in ‘crying’; or ‘wells’, ‘tells’, ‘bell’s’, ‘dwells’ and, finally, ‘spells’) dramatise Hopkins’s concept of the outward impulse of inscape and the distinctive inward pattern of instress, as each of 36 Gerard manley hopkins, Gerard Manley Hopkins: The Major Works, ed. catherine Phillips (oxford: oxford University Press, 2002), 50–56, p. 80. all quotations from this edition. 37 Gerald Roberts regards ‘the nightingale’ as affected with ‘Pre-Raphaelite touches’. see Roberts, Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Literary Life (macmillan: London, 1994), p. 17. 38 James najarian argues that hopkins’s ambivalence towards the natural world and sensual experience is ‘structured by the work of keats’. see najarian, Victorian Keats: Manliness, Sexuality, and Desire (London: Palgrave and new york: st martin’s, 2002), pp. 124, 101–24.

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


the ‘stones’ tumbling in the well find sympathetic yet discretely different companion sounds in the ‘string’, ‘bell’ and ‘tongue’.39 hopkins’s dynamic octet sets in play a motion which refutes the stasis of ‘mariana’, where the lack of a ‘stone-cast’ (37) indicates the inaction central to the poetics of tennyson and keats.40 these similarities and differences between hopkins and keats as poets are best illustrated by keats’s opening tableaux to Hyperion which, dominated by the statuary figure of the fallen saturn, lifeless forms and silence, concludes with the naiad who ‘’mid her reeds / Press’d her cold finger closer to her lips’ (I, 13–14). All is in stasis, but what is felt is the discrete (in)stress of being exerted by these entities, especially the pressure (inscape) of saturn ‘quiet as stone’ (i, 4) and the tangible space between the naiad’s stayed digit and sealed lips.41 Lacking the frenetic energy and metaphysical certainties of hopkins’s religious doctrine, keats’s secular ‘chamelion poet’ delights in identifying itself with what it is not in order to recover some sense of a renewed subjectivity. keats emphasises self-dissolution more than hopkins in such moments, but shares with hopkins a belief in an imaginative outward movement to identify with an entity outside of one’s own existence. keats writes of this intimate immediacy of the empathetic imagination, in an early letter to Benjamin Bailey, dated 22 November 1817, it is as ‘if a Sparrow [had] come before my window i take part in its existence and pick about the Gravel’.42 Eight months previously, keats suggests, in a letter to Benjamin haydon, that he knew ‘not a finer image than the comparison of a Poet unable to express his high feelings to a sick eagle looking at the sky!’ (KL 1, p. 122). 43 when hopkins writes, in ‘As Kingfishers Catch Fire’, of his own heart-felt religious and artistic beliefs, he finds, as Keats often did, an avian analogy for these spiritual and imaginative convictions. Influenced, perhaps, by Keats’s fascination with birds and poetic creativity, Hopkins would also have associated the kingfisher with tranquility and John kerrigan provides a more detailed account of hopkins’s metrical and verbal echoes. see NH, pp. 302–3. James Bump reads hopkins’s mature poetry as resistant to keats’s fascination with the ‘preternatural stasis and tranquillity of the plastic arts’. see also Bump, ‘hopkins and keats,’ Victorian Poetry 12 (1974): 37, 33–43. 40 christopher Ricks comments that ‘stone cast’ indicates the absence of human agency. see T, p. 44. 41 John Jones associates the ‘vale of soul-making’ letter with keats’s silently suffering nymph in Hyperion. see Jones, John Keats’s Dream of Truth (London: chatto & windus, 1969), p. 89. Geoffrey h. hartman provides a useful reading of ‘actual stress ... touch, muscular action, and pressure’ in hopkins. see also hartman, The Unmediated Vision: An Interpretation of Wordsworth, Hopkins, Rilke, and Valéry 1954 (new york: harcourt, 1966), p. 55, hereafter UV. 42 John keats, The Letters of John Keats 1814–1821, ed. hyder Rollins, vol. 1 (cambridge, ma: harvard University Press, 1958), p. 186, hereafter KL. all quotations from this edition. 43 david Goellnicht and Polly Robinson suggest that keats’s ornithological imagery was influenced by his medical training. See Goellnicht, The Poet–Physician, Keats and Medical Science (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1984), p. 146. see also Robinson, ‘“Physician to all men”? – The Social Influence of Keats’s Medical Training,’ The Keats– Shelley Review 20 (2006): 33; 32–43. 39

‘Echoes of that Voice’


known that the halcyon exemplified the divine generosity of the creator. Fabled for their ability to make the nests amidst stormy seas which are calmed by benign forces for the incubation period of their eggs, the kingfisher represents a perfect coalescence of Hopkins’s poetic fascination with birds in flight, their song, and the sea.44 in his much celebrated ‘the windhover’, hopkins’s spatially paradoxical description ‘of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding’ (3), as the bird rides on the undulating air currents, conveys the giddy physical disorientation of being buffeted by stormy waves even in the sea’s absence. although the heady and hectic movement of the sonnet (a form much favoured by keats’s poetic apprenticeship) is more akin to shelley’s ‘to a skylark’, hopkins’s lines reverse the scenario of the hidden nightingale in keats’s ode, as hopkins’s falcon is glimpsed in the open skies by an unseen poet-observer: i caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn falcon, in his riding of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding high there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing in his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing, as a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding Rebuffed the big wind. my heart in hiding ... (1–7)

There is nothing here of the measured equilibrium that Tennyson finds in the bird’s aerial display, when he writes ‘as the wind-hover hangs in balance’ (Aylmer’s Field, 321). displacing keats’s stationary tropes, hopkins’s mature poetic diction and form encapsulates instead the dynamism of being from both within and without by fusing interior with exterior, subject with object, and symbol with nature in such a giddying array that his poetic language stretches beyond the tactile world of sense. at the moment that the bird stoops into a dive, hopkins blurs its physical grace and ‘mastery’ (8) into an elemental representation of its inner essence: Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion times told lovelier, more dangerous, o my chevalier! no wonder of it: sheer plod makes plough down sillion shine and blue-beak embers, ah my dear, fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion. (9–14)

this sudden descent recalls the ascent of shelley’s skylark which ‘from the earth thou springest / Like a cloud of fire’ (7–8). A destructive ‘brute’ energy and ‘beauty’ is unleashed, in hopkins’s sestet, as the materiality of the bird as a ‘thing’ of nature is transmogrified into a cascade of ‘fire that breaks from thee’. Hopkins’s stress on ‘buckle’ emphasises its ambivalence, forging both this fiery element to the quintessence of the bird and the self-destructive fire to the unmaking of ‘air, pride, [and] plume’, as the previous skilful elegance of the windhover buckles and breaks 44 The kingfisher or halcyon as an emblem of peace is celebrated by Cicero and Ovid. see BHS, pp. 89–92.


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

(at least from the observer’s perspective) under the very pressure of its own existence to reveal the divine within and christ as the true ‘chevalier’ and saviour. taking their cue from hopkins’s chivalric imagery of ‘daylight’s dauphin’ (1) and ‘chevalier’ (11), critics and editors have variously referred to hopkins’s bird as a windhover, bird of prey, falcon, hawk, and kestrel-hawk,45 all of which suggest that the windhover is associated with those ennobling qualities of magnanimity and grace appropriate to hopkins’s complex matrix of allusion to shakespeare’s Henry V and imagery of accomplished horsemanship, aristocratic huntsman, christian knight, and christ the saviour.46 it is, however, worth noting that the ‘windhover’ or ‘windover’ is defined as ‘a name for the kestrel, from its habit of hovering or hanging in the air with its head to the wind’ (OED) and that the kestrel has a long-established reputation as the least useful and lowliest of hawks in ornithological taxonomies.47 this lowly reputation of the kestrel or windhover parallels the humble, honest, toil of ‘the sheer plod [that] makes plough down sillion’ which is already connected through its ability to ‘shine’ with the coal’s ‘blue-beak embers’ and, by extension, the self-destructive ‘fire’ of the previous tercet. Lowly as the kestrel and plough both are, hopkins appreciates their particularity and recognises their worthiness. he rejoices, firstly, in the kestrel’s own particular discrete pattern of being and, secondly, celebrates its enrichment within the elaborate divine design of the universe.48 no matter how seemingly insignificant everything, Hopkins believes, in ‘the world is charged with the grandeur of God. / It will flame out, like a shining from shook foil’ (‘God’s Grandeur’, 1–2). This ‘flame’ is the same ‘fire’ of the creative-destructive force of the kestrel which, in its own humble way, is still worthy of knightly honour for reminding the onlooker’s ‘heart in hiding’ (7) of Christ’s example of selfless selfsacrifice – implied by the sonnet’s conclusion of ‘fall, gall themselves, gash gold45 these critics include Geoffrey hartman, walter ong, michael sprinker and Emily yoder. see UV, pp. 49–67. see ong, ‘Bird, horse, and cavalier in hopkins’ “windhover”’, Hopkins Quarterly 1 (1974): 61–75. see sprinker, a counterpoint of dissonance, The Aesthetics and Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins (Baltimore: Johns hopkins University Press, 1980). see also yoder, ‘Evil and idolatory in “the windhover,”’ Hopkins Quarterly 2 (1975): 33–46. Editors include Robert Bridges, w.h. Gardener and n.h. mackenzie. see commentary to ‘the windhover’ in The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1967, eds w.h. Gardener and n.h. mackenzie (oxford: oxford University Press, 1970), pp. 266–8. 46 Peter cosgrove’s recent article provides an excellent survey of criticism on hopkins’s ‘the windhover’ and explores, on a theoretical level, the implications of responding to the poem as symbolic or allegorical. see cosgrove, ‘hopkins’s “the windhover”: not ideas about the thing but the thing itself’, Poetics Today 25.3 (2004): 437–64. 47 Beryl Rowland observes that, in medieval times, kestrels were thought of as ineffectual hunters and the lowest of the hawks associated with the peasantry. Rowland also notes the incongruity between hopkins’s choice of imagery and bird in ‘the windhover’. see BHS, p. 59. 48 Bernadette waterman ward argues that hopkins’s presentation of the kestrel draws out ‘larger pattern of divine and human meaning’. Ward also identifies Hopkins’s bird as a kestrel along with thomas P. harrison. see ward, World as Word: Philosophical Theology in Gerard Manley Hopkins (washington: catholic University of america Press, 2002), pp. 96–9. see also harrison, ‘the Birds of Gerard manley hopkins,’ Gerard Manley Hopkins: the windhover, ed. John Pick (columbus, oh: merrill, 1969), pp. 105–8.

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vermillion’ (14) – is the prerequisite to redemption. as the ‘hurl and gliding’ (6) of the kestrel’s prowess in the air trembles into fiery disintegration at the outer reaches of poetic language, we fear, as does w.B. yeats, that ‘the centre cannot hold’ and the falcon (‘the second coming’, 2–3) is outside of our sensory world of perception. In the first poem to appear in The Tower volume, glimmers of hopkins’s poetic diction, for example, in ‘fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings; / Landscape plotted and pieced − fold, fallow, and plough’ (‘Pied Beauty’, 4–5), are caught in yeats’s metre and verbal reversals: that is no country for old men. the young in one another’s arms, birds in the trees, −Those dying generations − at their song, the salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas, Fish, flesh, or fowl, commended all summer long whatever is begotten, born, and dies. caught in that sensual music all neglect monuments of unageing intellect. (‘sailing to Byzantium’, 1– 8)49

yeats inverts the natural yet immortal song of the nightingale to focus on those transient ‘hungry generations’ (‘ode to a nightingale’, 62). Even the song of the love ‘birds in the trees’ provides no real comfort to the young ‘in one another’s arms’ and is part of the relentless natural process of change and degeneration. Physical decay and disintegration, for yeats who eventually writes of, and often from, ‘the foul rag and bone shop of the heart’ (‘the circus animals’ desertion’, 40) does not lead to spiritual rejuvenation. yeats’s condemnation of ireland’s mythological and cultural tradition is levelled at how these ‘monuments of unageing intellect’ go unacknowledged by those who are too ‘caught in that sensual music’ of nature. this tension between transience and a desired and imagined immortality recalls arnold’s dilemma who, torn between hebraic and hellenic culture, writes of wandering ‘between two worlds, one dead, / the other powerless to be born’ (‘stanzas from the Grand chartreuse’, 85–6). for the ‘aged man’ (9) who voyages to Byzantium, his preference is for the enduring realm of art over a sensuously transient life; for the song of the metallic bird rather than the song of those amorous birds. As the ‘holy fire’ (19) in Byzantium consumes the antique traveller’s ‘heart away’ (21), he is transformed from his natural existence of ‘decrepit age’ (The Tower, 3) into a dispassionate work of artifice. Yet neither of these songs, life or art, reality or artifice, are mutually exclusive and the remainder of yeats’s poem complicates what it is to be a creature ‘sick with desire’ (21) translated ‘into the artifice of eternity’ (24): once out of nature i shall never take my bodily form from any natural thing, But such form as Grecian goldsmiths make w.B. yeats, W.B. Yeats: The Major Works, 1997, ed. and intro. Edward Larrissy (oxford: oxford University Press, 2001), 1–8, p. 94, hereafter YMW. all quotations from this edition. 49


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era of hammered gold and gold enamelling to keep a drowsy Emperor awake; or set upon a golden bough to sing to lords and ladies of Byzantium of what is past, or passing, or to come. (25–32)

On first reading, nature would seem to be disconnected from art and yet curiously ‘the bird or golden handiwork’ (‘Byzantium’, 17) of these Grecian goldsmiths, chooses a song that is inextricable from the world of natural process, temporality, desire, and spent passions. at some higher and impersonal level, art and poetry exists outside of ephemeral nature but, if they knew nothing of the contingencies of mortality, desire, and passion, they would remain abstracted to the point of meaninglessness. Poetry, like the mechanical bird’s song, finds its origins and meaning (albeit in a rarefied form) in our temporary experience and existence of limitations and feelings. the impersonality of art is ‘begotten’ in private individual feeling, as yeats recognises at the start of his General Introduction to My Work, ‘a poet writes always of his personal life, in his finest work out of its tragedy, whatever it be, remorse, lost love, or mere loneliness; he never speaks directly as to someone at the breakfast table’. (YMW, p. 379) the subject of ‘lost love’ occasioned a youthful yeats to write ‘the wild swans at coole’ where the representation of the water-fowl, expressive of personal loss, ‘paddle in the cold / companionable streams’ (20–1) and the interrogative mode of the final lines are indebted to Keats’s Nightingale Ode.50 This consumption of the personal into the objectified artifice of the golden bird has been interpreted as a decisive refutation of keats’s nightingale in yeats’s mature poetry.51 But yeats’s conclusion to ‘sailing to Byzantium’ with its ‘drowsy’ though troubled ‘Emperor awake’ casts a self-consciously backward glance (as does the poem’s opening) to the seventh stanza of keats’s ode and sustains an inter-textual dialogue throughout with keats’s central anxieties over art and life, feeling and not feeling, mortality and immortality. yet the ignorance of keats’s nightingale of ‘what thou among the leaves hast never known / the weariness, the fever, and the fret’ (22–3) suggests a qualitative difference between the nightingale’s singing and the song of yeats’s golden bird that sings of eternal change, decay, and transience precisely because the metal creation once knew what it was to be one of ‘those dying generations’. But it is difficulty to determine in any precise sense what it is either keats’s nightingale or yeats’s golden bird really knows or does not know. keats’s nightingale is as much transfigured into an enduring symbol of idealised art and poetic expression as it is implicated in those natural processes and ‘sensual music’ (7) of, what Yeats terms, ‘fish, flesh, or fowl’ (5). By the close of Keats’s Ode, it is the nightingale’s song which is ‘buried deep / in the next valley-glades’ (77–8), as a salient reminder of the fragility of all living things and human artistry. as with keats, the poetic logic of yeats’s ‘sailing to Byzantium’ moves full circle and closes 50 for a full discussion of this and yeats’s avian imagery see Barbara hardy, ‘Verge or Limit: Responses to simple nature’, Yeats Annual 7 (1990): 74; 68–80. 51 david Eggenschwiler differentiates between keats’s nightingale and yeats’s bird to show how the latter refutes the former. see Eggenschwiler, ‘nightingales and Byzantine Birds, something Less than kind’, Modern Language Notes 8 (1971): 188; 186–91.

‘Echoes of that Voice’


with a dreamy wakefulness that hints at the eternal forms ‘of what is past, passing, or to come’ (32) and in its verbal echo of ‘whatever is begotten, born, and dies’ gestures back to the natural and mortal world, teeming with those ‘salmon-falls, [and] the mackerel-crowded seas’ (4) where the poem originates.52 Only in ‘[a]ll the complexities of mire or blood’ (‘Byzantium’, 24) does art begin and is made comprehensible to us, because without wasting generations there is no one to testify to the ‘monuments of unageing intellect’ (8) and the posthumous reputations of their artisans. these early modernist poetic exchanges between yeats and keats further testify to ‘ode to a nightingale’ as a pivotal text for later nineteenth- and twentieth-century responses to the pre-Romantic and Romantic metaphors of birdsong. keats’s ‘ode to a nightingale’ read as an existential meditation embraces the painful reality, known to arnold and hardy, behind the poem’s implicitly silent mythical source of ovid’s Philomela and resonates throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century. Victorian poetics never fully realises a decisive break with Romantic sensibilities, because keats’s nightingale voices precisely the tragic consciousness which the Victorians, like the Romantics before them, struggled to embody in their ornithological poetry. changing conceptions of nature might have caused Victorian avian poetry to turn away from Romanticism’s celebration of the poetic soul of concealed ecstatic songsters to a more direct focus on the physicality of nightingales, thrushes, and windhovers, but this focal shift does not register a straightforward transition from Romantic harmonising ideals to a Victorian condition of individuation, separation and tragedy. coleridge, like arnold, was just as much attuned to the sorrowful mythology and iconography of the nightingale as he was to the natural state of the bird. hopkins was an acute observer of the natural world as was clare or wordsworth, but hopkins’s poetic celebration of the incandescent spirit of the windhover strikes a more shelleyan note. tennyson was not alone in discovering in keats and shelley distinct poetic models for negotiating the anxieties, doubts, loss and tragic realisations of his own era of cultural pessimism and religious despair, through which he found a means to permit the possibility of meaning and value via a perpetual openness to both Romantic aspirations and scepticism. appreciating these complexities of Romantic and post-Romantic avian poetic representation pin-points a cardinal literary moment not of disjuncture but continuity, where, for nietzsche, ‘Dionysus speaks the language of Apollo and Apollo finally speaks the language of dionysus’.53 the Victorian imagination was inescapably captivated by those Romantic apollonian harmonies interfused with the dionysian tragic consciousness of keats’s nightingale. across the intervening centuries, keats’s darkling songster communicates to Yeats’s golden bird a tragically joyful affirmation of the all too natural, and all too profoundly human.

Edward Larrissy expands on this point. see Larrissy, W.B. Yeats. writers and their works (northcote: Plymouth, 1998), p. 63. 53 friedrich nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, ed. walter kaufmann (new york: Random, 1967), p. 130. 52

chapter 11

‘Infinite Passion’: Variations on a Romantic topic in Robert Browning, Emily Brontë, swinburne, hopkins, wilde and dowson michael o’neill

in his note to ‘the thorn’ wordsworth admonishes his readers never to forget that ‘poetry is passion: it is the history or science of feelings’.1 his phrasing reminds us of the fact that Romantic poets not only valorise and exalt ‘feelings’, but also recreate, narrate, and analyse them. in doing so they ride the currents of associationist theories and a new stress on elective affinities, processes of sympathy. The capacity to feel and to feel for others is central to the project of Lyrical Ballads, at the heart of shelley’s poetics in A Defence of Poetry, the proof of imaginative vitality in Byron’s work, and the guarantee of the heart’s affections in keats’s poems. Passion earns a new respect as early as David Hume’s influential A Treatise of Human Nature, where he argues that ‘a passion is an original existence ... and contains not any representative quality, which renders it a copy of any other existence or modification’. For Hume, in quirkily mock-Platonic mood, passion just is, a mode of unarguable being: ‘when i am angry, i am actually possesst with the passion’. from the fact that passion is original and not a copy ‘’tis impossible, therefore, that this passion can be oppos’d by, or be contradictory to truth and reason’.2 wordsworth uses the word ‘passion’ with impassioned force: his obeisance to God after his father’s death so close to his description of waiting for horses may have involved ‘trite reflections of morality’, but it was undertaken with ‘the deepest passion’, as though such ‘passion’ was its own self-validating ground (The Two-Part Prelude, 1. 361, 362). at the same time, for wordsworth ‘the passions that build up our human soul’ were purified and strengthened by being ‘intertwined’ ‘with high

1 Quoted from Romanticism: An Anthology, 3rd edn, ed. duncan wu (oxford: Blackwell, 2006), p. 508. 2 david hume, A Treatise of Human Nature (1739), ed. with an analytical index, L.a. selby-Bigge (1888; oxford: clarendon Press, 1975), p. 415. the OED lists a rich array of meanings for ‘passion’, centred on the idea of a capacity for feeling. the present essay allows for specific meanings to inhere in and emerge from particular poetic contexts.

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


objects, with eternal things’ (The Two-Part Prelude, 1. 134, 133, 136).3 ‘Passions’ are bound up with what wordsworth ennobles as ‘a grandeur in the beatings of the heart’ (The Two-Part Prelude, 1. 141). Burke also gives ‘our passions’ pride of place when reflecting on the progress of the French Revolution; he claims that his ‘melancholy sentiments’ are justified because ‘natural’: ‘in events like these’, he writes, ‘our passions instruct our reason’.4 But lavishing ‘grandeur’ on and discovering naturalness in ‘passion’, Romantic writing prepares itself for deconstructive strategies in its own time and later. what if a ‘passion’ (‘Love’) leads astray, as shelley’s maniac wonders in Julian and Maddalo (line 349)? what if the ‘passions’ are unignorably part of a tumultuously amoral complex of human energies, dangerous as well as benignant, as Byron invites readers of Manfred or Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage to reflect? What if ‘passion’ is inseparable from surrender to illusory enchantment, as keats partly suggests in Lamia, a poem in which it seems that ‘passion’ is injurious to rational disinterestedness and objectivity, and in which Lamia herself knows well ‘that but a moment’s thought is passion’s passing-bell?’ (ii. 39). as the nineteenth century unfolds, the passions take on renewed and particularised polemical urgency, proof in darwin’s The Descent of Man (1871) that human beings had much in common with ‘the higher animals, especially Primates’: ‘all have the same senses, intuitions, and sensations – similar passions, affections, and emotions’.5 darwin’s idea of human ‘grandeur’ differs radically from wordsworth’s, and yet it is the contention of this essay that much Victorian poetry seeks, even in revising Romantic versions of ‘passion’, to echo a sense of their significances. An indication is Swinburne’s comment at the close of his essay on coleridge (1869, revised 1875): ‘the highest lyric work is either passionate or imaginative; of passion coleridge’s has nothing; but for height and perfection of imaginative quality he is the greatest of lyric poets’.6 swinburne may praise coleridge in terms derived from the Romantic poet’s own glorification of the ‘imaginative’; but his approving glance towards the ‘passionate’ suggests the Victorian poet-critic’s own agenda. ‘Infinite passion, and the pain / Of finite hearts that yearn’ (59–60): Robert Browning’s conclusion to ‘two in the campagna’ serves as a deft summary of and response to Percy Shelley’s vision of ‘Infinite passion’ in his Epipsychidion.7 for shelley, the enticing prospect of erotic union with Emily turns out to be the undoing of his poetic voyage: ‘the winged words on which i would aspire / into the height

Romantic poetry is quoted from Romanticism: An Anthology, ed. wu, unless indicated otherwise. 4 Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), ed. conor cruise o’Brien. 1968 (harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978), p. 175. 5 charles darwin, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, intro. James moore and adrian desmond (London: Penguin, 2004), p. 100. 6 ‘coleridge’, in Swinburne as Critic, ed. clyde k. hyder (London: Routledge & kegan Paul, 1972), p. 144, hereafter SC. 7 Browning’s poem is quoted from Victorian Poetry: An Annotated Anthology, ed. francis o’Gorman (oxford: Blackwell, 2004). this anthology is used for quotations from Victorian poets, unless indicated otherwise. 3

‘Infinite Passion’


of Love’s rare Universe, / Are chains of lead around its flight of fire’ (588–90).8 Language proves to be an inadequate vehicle for conception, even though shelley’s couplets more than adequately communicate any such notion of inadequacy. Rhyme neatly points up the inevitable entropy afflicting the poetry’s ‘flight of fire’, causing it, along with the speaker, to ‘expire’ (591). Browning leaves us less with a dizzying sense of language’s inadequacy than with a renewed awareness of how elusively difficult it is to pin down the significance of an experience. ‘Then the good minute goes’ (50), he writes, his shorter lines attuned to the bobbing in and out of the present of communion with another. for isobel armstrong, the poem ‘moves to the problem of subjectivity and agency in a way which requires the reader to go beyond the limits of the speaker’s consciousness’. yet this assertion seems to be made mainly to allow the poem to enter the terrain of ‘the political imagination’, and to permit a quasi-marxian reading of the poem as brilliantly dramatising ‘the discontinuities of the experience of the historicised consciousness’.9 as a result, the full power of the poem to disconcert is annulled even as it allowed. the poet of ‘two in the campagna’, like the Romantics, does not acknowledge a power higher than that of ‘Infinite passion’, however fictitious a construction that may be, or a form of knowledge superior to the mind which is, in shelley’s words in his essay ‘on Life’, ‘employed in now questioning its own nature’ (p. 635). as francis o’Gorman puts it, ‘this meditation on the pattern of human experience subtly encodes a reflection on the kind of knowledge that art offers’.10 Browning certainly engages in self-reflexive exploration: the mind watches itself in the act of having ‘touched a thought, i know, / has tantalized me many times’ (6–7). But ‘the kind of knowledge that art offers’ involves a release from the monitoring vigilance of self-awareness: there is a world outside the mind, the poem’s scurrying, hurrying rhythms of pursuit tell us, just as there is otherness beyond the self. the tantalizing ‘thought’ is there ‘for rhymes / to catch at and let go’ (9–10), and it is in the letting go that the possibility of ‘Infinite passion’ finally comes into view. ‘Go’ and ‘goes’ are crucial verbs in stanzas 10 and 11; in the former, ‘the good minute goes’; in the latter the poet asks, ‘must i go / still like the thistle-ball, no bar, / onward, whenever light winds blow / fixed by no friendly star?’ (52–5), where the run-on lines enact the poet’s sense of being driven ‘onward, whenever light winds blow’. The stanza offers a deheroicised version of the final stanza of shelley’s Adonais. and yet the reader realises that in never being able to catch thought through rhyme, always having to let it ‘go’, Browning’s speaker finally stumbles on a last-minute discernment of ‘Infinite passion’. Passion’s frustration opens up new emotional and cognitive channels. stanza 5 represents an expanding into vistas beyond the mind: ‘the champaign with its endless fleece / Of feathery grasses everywhere! / Silence and passion, joy and peace, / An 8 shelley’s poem is quoted, as are all shelley’s writings, from Percy Bysshe Shelley: The Major Works, eds Zachary Leader and michael o’neill (oxford: oxford University Press, 2003). Page references for prose quotations appear parenthetically in the main text. 9 isobel armstrong, Victorian Poetry: Poetry, Poetics and Politics, 1993 (London: Routledge, 1996), pp. 295, 296, 293. 10 Victorian Poetry, ed. o’Gorman, pp. 204–5.

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


everlasting wash of air – / Rome’s ghost since her decease’ (21–5). against a ‘wash’ of sublime signifiers – ‘endless’, ‘everywhere’, and ‘everlasting’ – Browning daubs the complementary colours of two doublets: ‘silence and passion, joy and peace’. The second coupling involves little sense of difference, but the first, joining ‘Silence and passion’, gives us pause. the words interact by means of connection and contrast. they are connected in that they seem dissolved in the present, sharing a capacity for endurance which is deeply rooted in the etymological origins of ‘passion’ (deriving from the Latin noun, passio, ‘suffering’). they are contrasted in that experience which might have been ‘wild with motion, full of din’, as wallace stevens has it, loses itself now in silence.11 this reading supposes that ‘passion’ alludes to the traces of past passions imprinted in the countryside and air. But the word might also allude to the present passion at work in so lithe and sinuous a way in the poet’s mind. it also means that when, at the close, Browning invokes ‘Infinite passion’, the reader is aware that the elusive noun has been hanging in the poem’s air for several stanzas. true, that present passion operates in a historical as well as personal frame. But the allusion to ‘Rome’s ghost since her decease’ makes of the imperial capital a woman haunting herself. By analogy, the poem’s echoic relationship with poems such as Epipsychidion is pointed up by small-scale compressions of the grand gestures made by the Romantic poet: ‘i would that you were all to me, / you that are just so much, no more’ (36–7) writes itself in the margins of, and at the same time cannot but qualify, the ecstatic trajectory described by shelley’s poem. the nice measurement of the colloquially phrased ‘just so much, no more’ is at a disenchanted remove from the agonised assault on duality in Epipsychidion. there, as Shelley wishes his and Emily’s beings (or the ‘wells’ [568] underlying them) to be ‘confused in passion’s golden purity’ (571), he passes from assertion into a question that initiates a drive, ultimately futile, to banish the word ‘two’ from the lovers’ vocabulary: ‘we shall become the same, we shall be one / spirit within two frames, oh! wherefore two?’ (573–4). shelley readmits otherness in the gracefully dantescan envoi to his poem; but the grace is the more affecting for following the shattered dreams attending his pursuit of unattainable unity. the forward impulsions of the aspiring tenses and enjambed couplets meet the insuperable barrier of the fact that the poet’s longing is destined to remain just that. Browning, in shelley’s wake, avoids the future tense, preferring conditionals, questions, and exclamations. and yet, for all its disenchantment and vexed sense of inevitable failure, caught in its broken syntax, ‘two in the campagna’ leaves us with its own sense of unassailable facts: namely, that there is such a thing as ‘Infinite passion’ and that it is the fate of ‘finite hearts that yearn’ to experience it. The poet’s own yearning upward (46), and the ‘passion’ suspended in the surrounding Campagna, find themselves taking on a generalised status. Victorian poets accommodate, redefine, and rework the Romantic extremes of emotion to which they allude. some decades ago, Patricia m. Ball framed the difference thus: ‘Love is a concept potent enough in Romantic poetry, certainly, wallace stevens, ‘Le monocle de mon oncle’, section iX, quoted from The Palm at the End of the Mind: Selected Poems and a Play by Wallace Stevens, ed. holly stevens (new york: Vintage, 1990). 11

‘Infinite Passion’


but it appears as a vision not as it may be known in the dramatic actuality of a relationship.’ Ball presents her thesis with surgical neatness: ‘if the Romantic poet refuses emotional journeying with another person as his theme, the Victorians not only welcome, they specialise in it’.12 the proposition suggests something of the Romantic obsession with introspection, with, in wordsworth’s phrase, ‘the difference to me’ (the title of Ball’s first chapter, on Wordsworth and Byron). It also draws our attention to the many Victorian poems that explore real or fictive relationships: to list some of Ball’s examples, works such as arnold’s marguerite poems, clough’s Amours de Voyage, meredith’s Modern Love, tennyson’s In Memoriam and Maud, and Patmore’s The Angel in the House. yet it would be wrong to see the Romantics as refusing ‘emotional journeying with another person’; as Ball herself notes, there are occasions where, in Romantic poems, the sheer ‘force of impact’ demands ‘recognition of another sensibility’.13 Emily Brontë uses echoes of Romantic poetry as a point of departure for her visionary explorations and, in so doing, experiments with dramatised voices. in ‘a day dream’, her speaker amalgamates features from coleridge’s ‘the Rime of the ancient mariner’, wordsworth as he appears in ‘Resolution and independence’, and shelley’s veil-obstructed quester.14 indeed, one can plot the progress of this balladic lyric from initial gloom to surprising uplift in terms of a movement from coleridgean despair to shelleyan hope, albeit hope that is doubtful. the poem quickly uncovers the fact that the mood of the speaker is at odds with the warmth and happiness of ‘a summer afternoon’ represented as a ‘marriage-time of may / with her young lover, June’ (3–4). Brontë’s speaker ‘of all the wedding guests, / was only sullen there!’ (11–12), a moment that works in the shadow of coleridge’s famous poem. in alluding to the wedding guest, the poem sets astir a host of associations. yet whereas coleridge feared aloneness, Brontë’s speaker is conscious of colloquy, using a trope, that of personification, that concedes the poetry’s artful manipulations: ‘the very grey rocks, looking on, / asked, “what do you here?”’ (15–16). the colloquial inflection, there, achieved by the omission of the manuscript’s ‘do’ after ‘you’, gives a wry realism to the imagined encounter.15 the ventriloquised voices which rebuke the poet’s ‘fit of peevish woe’ (39) might themselves result from what Wordsworth calls a strange fit of passion.16 they tell the speaker that a more truthful perspective is offered by an embrace of passionate contraries: ‘to thee the world is like a tomb, / a desert’s naked shore; / to us, in unimagined bloom, / it brightens more Patricia m. Ball, The Heart’s Events: The Victorian Poetry of Relationships (London: athlone, 1976), pp. 1, 1–2. 13 Ball, The Heart’s Events, p. 7. 14 for relevant echoes, see Emily Jane Brontë, The Complete Poems, ed. with intro. Janet Gezari (London: Penguin, 1992), pp. 233–4. Brontë’s poems are quoted from this edition, hereafter CP. my sense of Brontë’s relations with Romantic poetry is indebted to Gezari’s annotations. 15 see Gezari, ed. CP, p. 234. 16 see adela Pinch, Strange Fits of Passion: Epistemologies of Emotion, Hume to Austen (stanford, ca: stanford University Press, 1996), for a relevant discussion of wordsworth’s ‘strange fits of Passion’ as a poem that ‘stages a debate over the origins of emotions and their appropriateness to their causes’ (p. 106). 12

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


and more!’ (61–4). ‘Unimagined’, especially when followed by ‘could we lift the veil’ (65), possesses a shelleyan resonance. Recalling the ‘arts, though unimagined, yet to be’ prophesied by Prometheus (Prometheus Unbound, iii. iii. 56), it opens up vistas of hope; it allows for an endless brightening the other side of the grave. yet for all its dialogic interchange, the poem’s representation of passion is inseparable from an evocation of the mind’s inner workings; and Brontë guards herself against extremes of dejection and hope by reminding us explicitly, at the close, of what the poem’s structure has brought unobtrusively into focus: that subjectivity is divided against itself. so, at the close she sententiously tells us: ‘But fancy, still, will sometimes deem / her fond creation true’ (71–2). Elsewhere in Brontë, passion is known only through recall and belatedness, and remains the preserve of internalised memory. in ‘it is too late to call thee now’, the speaker works in the slipstream of wordsworth’s ‘ode: intimations of immortality’.17 wordsworth, it might be argued, discovers the existence of postlapsarian passions – the elegiac feelings produced by the awareness that ‘there hath passed away a glory from the earth’ (18) – in the process of describing feelings of loss. his poem attempts to explain those losses as participating in an existential drama whose subtitle might read, ‘the human heart by which we live’ (203). it forges (the word’s doubleness is relevant) a link between early visionary experiences, which wordsworth calls ‘obstinate questionings / of sense and outward things’ (144–5), and ‘all our seeing’ (155). those early experiences ‘Uphold us, cherish us’ (156). in Brontë’s spare quatrains, the oceanic flow of Wordsworth’s transitions, slumps and rallyings gives way to an X-ray’s clarity. Brontë seems to yield up in stoical resignation the possibility of recovering ‘golden visions’ (8), themselves, it would appear, the product of a deceptive ‘mist’ which ‘half-withdrawn’ (5) means that ‘the barren mountain-side lies bare’ (6). however, allowing the associations of wordsworth’s verb ‘cherish’ to resonate, she asserts finally: ‘Yet ever in my grateful breast / Thy darling shade shall cherished be’ (9–10), replacing the Romantic poet’s ‘first affections’ (151) with a ‘thee’ (1), here renamed as ‘thy darling shade’. again, in ‘to imagination’ Brontë’s mode of being ‘in persistent negotiation with [her] Romantic inheritance’ is to mount a rearguard action against the onslaught of a reductive reality-principle.18 If this rearguard action looks like retreat into wish-fulfilment – ‘So hopeless is the world without; / the world within i doubly prize’ (7–8) –, Brontë’s very phrasing has a trenchant lucidity that shows she knows what she is doing. ‘the world within’ sets itself against ‘the world without’ with emphatic insistence, as though Brontë wanted to pick a fight with ‘Reason’ (19) and draw a line in the sand between the claims of imagination and ‘truth’ (23). throughout, the phrasing cuts its antithesis so keenly it makes us suspect that Brontë is protesting, not too much, but in the interests of a ‘phantom bliss’ (31) without which the full range of human passion is ignored. thus, the poem concludes by paradoxically praising imagination as purveying ‘sweeter hope, when hope despairs!’ (36), phrasing in which one might hear awareness of demogorgon’s protestation of the need to ‘hope, till hope creates / from its own wreck the thing it contemplates’ (Prometheus Unbound, 17 18

see Gezari, ed. CP, pp. 263–4. Victorian Poetry, ed. o’Gorman, p. 220.

‘Infinite Passion’


iV. 573–4). Brontë’s commitment to hope may be more vulnerable than shelley’s, protected as is the latter’s by its sense that creativity consists in the reflexive undoing of all that opposes it. But she is able to imply the suspect authority of her personifications in a poetry that makes us conscious of the role played by the author’s will to assert, as in the antepenultimate line: ‘i welcome thee, Benignant Power’ (34). that active verb implies a summoning up of a ‘Benignant Power’ and suggests that, for her, if not for shelley in A Defence of Poetry, poetry is ‘a power to be exerted according to the determination of the will’ (p. 696). moreover, she claims for imagination the epithet – ‘benignant’ – which wordsworth applies to duty when he writes in ‘ode to duty’, ‘thou dost wear / the Godhead’s most benignant grace’ (49–50).19 at the same time, ‘welcome’ is a passively active word, extending a greeting to a ‘Power’ both created by and sustaining the poetic self. Both in its allusive mode and its verbal texture the poetry dramatises the role of the ‘will’. the volitional blurs into the visionary in one of Brontë’s most powerful poems, ‘the Prisoner (a fragment)’.20 o’Gorman helpfully suggests that the poem’s ‘literary roots are in Byron (The Prisoner of Chillon [1816]) and in Shelley’s preoccupation with imaginative liberty and resistance to tyranny’.21 the links are undeniable. yet the trust in the ‘world within’ demonstrated by the poem outstrips any such commitment in Byron’s poem, a poem that sways subtly between psychological case-study and empathetic monologue. moreover, Brontë reveals a preoccupation with return from creative trance that possesses an unflinching intensity rare even in shelley. the poem uses its technique of colloquy with startling force. in a distilled revision of shelley’s Julian and Maddalo the prisoner’s central speech is surrounded by her captor’s initial scorn and final confession of impotence ‘to work the captive woe’ (62). whereas in shelley’s poem the maniac expresses a ‘wondering selfcompassion’ (290) as he brokenly articulates his conviction of having endured irreparable emotional damage, in Brontë’s lyric the prisoner’s authoritative, sensuous rhythms give access to an eroticised blend of ‘tumult and peace’, in wordsworth’s phrase (The Prelude, 1805, Vi. 568): he comes with western winds, with evening’s wandering airs, with that clear dusk of heaven that brings the thickest stars. Winds take a pensive tone, and stars a tender fire, and visions rise, and change, that kill me with desire. (37–40)

the nearness of the two couplet rhymes along with the play of assonantal and chiming sounds supports the glissade from the ‘coming’ of the ‘he’ – the muse as God-like masterful lover – to the emergence of ‘Visions’. the writing suggests that the ‘he’ is the focal point round which gather more diffused forces (‘wandering winds’ and ‘thickest stars’). seemingly the experience is one attended by pensiveness and 19 Quoted from William Wordsworth, the oxford authors, ed. stephen Gill (1984; oxford: oxford University Press, 1990 rpt. with corrections). 20 My discussion focuses on the version of the poem deriving from that first published in 1846, a version which dispenses with the narrative frame used in a longer manuscript version. for further details, see Gezari, ed. CP, pp. 231–2, 277–8. 21 Victorian Poetry, ed. o’Gorman, p. 223.


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

tenderness (see line 39), until such an impression alters in the final phrase, ‘that kill me with desire’. Emily’s presence in Epipyschidion, experienced as a force ‘killing the sense with passion’ (85), is a possible influence here, but Brontë’s declaration still carries unique power. Emerging unexpectedly from preceding lines, it conveys something close to the self’s present-tense experience of self-annihilation at the hands of ‘desire’. this desire was, the speaker tells us in the next stanza, ‘for nothing known in my maturer years’ (41), yet if there is a momentary gesture here towards the wordsworth who sought to believe that ‘maturer years’ brought ‘abundant recompense’ (‘tintern abbey’, 91) but lamented the loss of a ‘visionary gleam’ (‘ode: intimations of immortality’, 56), Brontë recreates in a present tense, through alexandrines that adjust themselves to ‘unuttered harmony’ (47), her speaker’s quasi-mystical experience: ‘then dawns the invisible; the Unseen its truth reveals; / my outward sense is gone, my inward essence feels’ (49–50). that ‘feels’ is able to chime with ‘reveals’ indicates the high assertion being made for the revelatory capacity which is felt by the speaker’s ‘inward essence’. again, Brontë seems more uncompromising than her Romantic predecessors, able boldly to assert what comes across as an intuition of ultimate being, made possible by poetry and involving direct knowledge of ‘the Unseen’. Like the Romantics, however, Brontë, in relying on ecstatic feeling, is at the mercy of its inevitable ebb; qualification is a subdued but audible energy in the affirmation, ‘Its wings are almost free’ (51; my emphasis), and the way is paved for the descent back into time, the earth, the limits of mortality in a stanza that conveys through its agonised recoil the bliss of self-transcendence: oh, dreadful is the check – intense the agony – when the ear begins to hear, and the eye begins to see; when the pulse begins to throb, the brain to think again, The soul to feel the flesh, and the flesh to feel the chain. (53–6)

Jonathan wordsworth is surely right to argue that the poem was ‘written by someone accustomed not only to mystical experience, but to the in fact more passionate loss of self in creative identification’.22 and yet that ‘passionate loss of self’ communicates most keenly when the poem recounts, in the above stanza, the suffering of return from ‘the Unseen’ to ‘outward sense’. Brontë’s mid-line caesurae are now evocative less of poise and balance than of checked aspiration, thwarted transcendence. the beginnings recorded in the stanza involve only what Blake calls ‘the same dull round’ (wu, p. 175). ‘outward sense’ exacts its revenge as corporeal organs ‘begin’ to function again. the last line’s repetition of ‘feel’ involves no keatsian celebration of flesh and blood. Rather, it betokens a mode of apprehension akin to imprisonment. yet Brontë implies the value of the ‘agony’; like dickinson she likes its look, at some level, since it bears witness to the value of the lost vision which it may bring closer, ‘if it but herald death’ (60). the ‘check’ is ‘dreadful’ because the speaker is flung back into the quotidian, exiled from the ‘Unseen’. 22 Jonathan wordsworth, ‘wordsworth and the Poetry of Emily Brontë’, Brontë Society Transactions 16 (1972), p. 98; quoted in Gezari, ed. CP, p. 232.

‘Infinite Passion’


annihilation of identity as a means of visionary transcendence is Brontë’s proclaimed ideology, even as she situates her poem in a realm where ‘the soul’ must ‘feel the flesh’. For Swinburne, ‘passion’ demands that we respond to it as something about which his ventriloquised singers – sappho and the rest – sing endlessly, so that in ‘anactoria’ sappho can claim that ‘in the light and laughter, in the moan / and music, and in grasp of lip and hand / and shudder of water that makes felt on land / the immeasurable tremor of all the sea, / memories shall mix and metaphors of me’ (210–14). At his finest, one might apply to his work his praise for Byron’s The Vision of Judgment: ‘above all, the balance of thought and passion is admirable’.23 that is, the poetry conducts its assault on traditional moral attitudes with cunning and artifice. the just-quoted lines, like so much of swinburne’s work, seem to take as their point of departure shelley’s eroticised and often synaesthetic category confusions in Epipsychidion.24 at the same time, the delight in paradox recalls Byron. ‘dolores’ uses the same stanza form as Byron’s ‘stanzas to augusta’ even though the female it addresses is an ‘anti-madonna’, idealised only in the sense that she represents an idea of perversion, ‘the delight that consumes the desire, / the desire that outruns the delight’ (109–10).25 These definitions retain yet lose precision, caught up in an alliterative dance that reconfigures difference as sameness. Unlike Shelley, swinburne’s monologues do not reach forward towards an impossible ideal so much as pivot on the same ecstatically anguished point. In ‘Anactoria’ the poetry’s fluid artifice is at the service of the singer’s immersion in her song and those elements out of which came, chief among which are ‘the days and loves wherewith i live’, which Sappho asserts, ‘Shall quicken me with loving, fill with breath, / Save me and serve me, strive for me with death’ (292–4). one way in which swinburne echoes shelley is to fill his own poem with echoing sounds; here they make Sappho’s compulsion to ‘live’ dependent on her ‘loving’, an energy which works to ‘save me and serve me, strive for me with death’, where, again, the refusal to submit to silence prompts the endlessly resourceful linkage of sounds and ideas apparent in the verbs. the wording makes the ‘me’ a product of the various forces that ‘strive for me with death’, even as the control of the writing bears witness to sappho’s presiding presence. ‘Passion’ may not appear in the final roll-call of those forces which Sappho feels ‘save me and serve me’.26 But it is difficult to think of a term more appropriate to the final paragraph’s lyric celebration, which crashes on the ear like an endless series ‘Byron’, SC, p. 45. the formal debt owed by ‘anactoria’ to Epipsychidion is pointed out in The PreRaphaelites and Their Circle, 2nd edn rev., ed. with intro. cecil B. Lang (chicago: University of chicago Press, 1975), p. 523. the view that ‘shelley helped to teach swinburne the need of multiplying “a thousand images of loveliness” is expressed in Jerome J. mcGann, Swinburne: An Experiment in Criticism (chicago: University of chicago Press, 1972), p. 77. 25 ‘dolores’ is quoted from algernon charles swinburne, ‘Poems and Ballads’ and ‘Atalanta in Calydon’, ed. kenneth haynes (London: Penguin, 2000); the term ‘anti-madonna’ is taken from the annotation, p. 352. 26 see anthony h. Johnson, ‘swinburne’s Losses: the Poetics of Passion’, ELH 49 (1982): 690 for the view that ‘the dominant subject of swinburne’s poetry is human passion’ and that, for Byron and swinburne, ‘man’s fallen condition was apparent in the implacable torment he suffered because of physically and psychologically invasive passions’. 23 24

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


of waves; like such waves, seen far out at sea, before beaching themselves on the shore, the seemingly endless couplets mount to the assertion of the singer’s identity: ‘i sappho shall be one with all these things, / with all high things for ever’ (276–7), where ‘all high things’ exalts as it redefines ‘all these things’. And yet the moment is less climax than uncovering of what has always been there. in ‘ave atque Vale’, swinburne elegises Baudelaire in a poem to which tennyson’s phrase for its catullan original, an ‘everlasting farewell’, is applicable.27 the poem does not build towards the view that ‘the one remains, the many change and pass’ (460), as does Adonais, one of its great predecessors. Rather, it circles and broods, tracing affecting and elegant circles round its subject, acknowledging the enforced remoteness wrought by death: ‘thou art far too far for wings of words to follow, / far too far off for thought or any prayer’ (89–90). the lines allow for pursuit, and yet swinburne’s ‘passion’ in the poem is that he is left only with ‘wings of words’. ‘our dreams pursue our dead and do not find’ (95), he writes in an endstopped line which rhymes pointedly with the later adjective ‘blind’ (98). what the poet can experience still is ‘communion of thy song’ (104), and the penultimate stanza celebrates the fleurs du mal which Baudelaire gathered as containing ‘Passions that sprang from sleep and thoughts that started’ (185). for Gerard manley hopkins, ‘passion’ aspires always to the condition of empathy with christ’s ‘passion’. ‘the wreck of the Deutschland’ transmutes any keatsian sensuousness to which it may allude through its alliteratively intense and rhythmically sprung mouthing of the meaning of ‘the dense and the driven Passion, and frightful sweat’ (53). such a meaning is available only through suffering; it flashes forth when ‘blue-bleak embers’ (13), as he puts it in ‘The Windhover’, ‘Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion’ (14). There, the final feminine rhyme triumphs in its goldenness, even if its display is of a mortal beauty irrevocably dyed in a ‘vermillion’ that speaks of blood shed, specifically Christ’s blood shed, through sacrificial suffering. If there is a suppressed and sublimated homoeroticism in hopkins’s language, there is, too, openly and in full concord with a theology and poetics that delight in haeccitas, the ‘thisness’ of particular beings, a stress on what matthew campbell calls ‘a bodily spirituality ... scanned in the sprung rhythm of the verse’.28 hopkins’s poetic triumph is to reclaim the increasingly secular language of ‘passion’ and desire for a poem that embodies as well as articulates the agonising complexities at work in one person’s apprehension of central catholic doctrine. the poem demands, in its acceptance of the need to slug out a way forward, the reader’s active response. it must be read with the heart as well as the eyes and mind, and thus entails a passional participation. so, in stanzas 7 and 8, the opening pronoun in ‘it dates from day / of his going in Galilee’ (49–50) might refer back to ‘the stress felt’ (42) in stanza 6, but it quickly finds ‘The dense and the driven Passion’ as a possible referent. Yet this Passion is not a one-off historical event. Recreated in the verse as intensely physical as well Quoted in Victorian Poetry, ed. o’Gorman, p. 500. matthew campbell, Rhythm and Will in Victorian Poetry. cambridge studies in nineteenth century Literature and culture 22 (cambridge: cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 195. 27 28

‘Infinite Passion’


as a theological doctrine, it turns into a living presence, carried along by the floated phrases – ‘thence the discharge of it, there its swelling to be’ (54) – that depend for their understanding on our grasp of the meaning of ‘it’ and ‘its’, meanings which are not straightforwardly available to us. hopkins purposefully foils our attempt to extract a simple meaning; we must work with him, as the a rhyme swings back into focus in the final line of the stanza, to sense his passionate response to the paradox of Christ’s Passion. That final line, ‘What none would have known of it, only the heart, being hard at bay’ (56), for the first of only two times in the poem (the second is between stanzas 32 and 33), runs into the next stanza. with its dimly grasped intuition of ‘it’, the line crashes into an obscure but revelatory exclamation, ‘is out with it!’ (57). The moment is a crescendo; it triggers a difficult celebration of discovery: ‘Oh, / we lash with the best or worst / word last!’ (57–9). the wording of ‘is out with it’ implies a latent imperative, ‘out with it!’, as though ‘the heart’ at such moments cannot but speak of suffering’s centrality to existence, as though at such moments ‘the dense and the driven Passion’ takes on an incarnational presence. saying ‘yes’ (9) to God’s call to suffering is both ‘the best or worst / word’ with which we ‘lash’ ourselves, a spiritual self-flagellation and a means of lashing ourselves to the mast of religious truth. in an almost high-spirited movement, hopkins then returns to a Keatsian idiom of sensual experience to convey the overpowering, all-filling impact on human beings of admiration for ‘the hero of calvary’ (63): ‘how a lush-kept plush-capped sloe / Will, mouthed to flesh-burst, / Gush! – flush the man, the being with it, sour or sweet, / Brim, in a flash, full!’ (59–62).29 the poetry represents passionate acceptance of God’s rule through vividly gustatory imagery, internal rhyme, and packed, monosyllabic stresses. whether the taste be ‘sour or sweet’, the brimful effect of revelation is held over to the end by the difficultly enjambed lines and the tmesis whereby ‘brimful’ is broken into two separated words.30 ‘the wreck of the Deutschland’ offers its violent rhetoric in the cause of what the poet regards as abidingly certain doctrine. Romantic epiphanies often reveal to the poet an inner imaginative power, states in which, in wordsworth’s phrase, ‘we have had deepest feeling that the mind / is lord and master, and that outward sense / is but the obedient servant of her will’ (The Prelude, 1805, 11. 271–3).31 Behind this assertion is the weight of Protestant insistence on the inner light and the rights of the individual conscience. hopkins tilts against this tradition in the opening lines of his poem, where the feeling of subjection to God’s power will allow only exclamatory for hopkins’s mature judgement of keats, in which he sees keats’s poems as ‘very sensuous’ and ‘sensual’, comments that his ‘genius’ was ‘intense in its quality’ and his ‘feeling for beauty, for perfection intense’, and claims that ‘he had found his way right in his odes’, see a letter of october 1887 to coventry Patmore, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Selected Prose, ed. Gerald Roberts (oxford: oxford University Press, 1980), pp. 153, 154. see also a later letter of may 1888, in which hopkins argues that keats was ‘made to be a thinker, a critic, as much as a singer or artist of words’, p. 159. 30 the lines are helpfully glossed thus by catherine Phillips: ‘man’s repentance and acceptance of God can fill him with a feeling of utter revulsion at his own sinfulness or overwhelming gratitude for forgiveness’, Gerard manley hopkins, Selected Poetry, ed. with intro. and notes catherine Phillips. 1995 (oxford: oxford University Press, 1998), p. 200. 31 Quoted from William Wordsworth, the oxford authors. 29

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


apostrophe: ‘thou mastering me / God! giver of breath and bread; / world’s strand, sway of the sea; / Lord of living and dead’ (1–4). the poem, purposeful in its force, permitting no slackness, intensified to a tautness of rhythm that reaches back to the anglo-saxon ground of the language, unleashes its heterodox religious orthodoxy with defiance. Hopkins is a poet who reclaims the language, much as he wishes to recall England to its former faith, a wish overt in the final prayer that Christ should ‘easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east, / more brightening her, rare-dear Britain, as his reign rolls’ (277–8). there, the linguistic and rhythmic bravura enacts what it describes, a crescendo effect of slowed-down stresses, connecting sounds, and the provocative present-tense of ‘as his reign rolls’ supporting the deeply subversive hope (so far as Protestant Victorian England was concerned) that the catholic faith will be restored in ‘rare-dear Britain’. the hope is expressed on ‘our’ behalf, and a series of genitives implicates christ in all things; he is ‘Our hearts’ charity’s hearth’s fire, our thoughts’ chivalry’s throng’s Lord’ (280), as hopkins rings his own changes on shelley’s wish that his ‘thoughts’ should be scattered ‘as from an unextinguished hearth / ashes and sparks’ (‘ode to the West Wind’, 66–7). Yet from the poem’s first line Hopkins has wrestled with the question of subjectivity; God’s power is known for the self as it is ‘mastered’ by God, even as he is ‘world’s strand’ and ‘Lord of living and dead’. wordsworth’s ‘ode: intimations of immortality’ concludes, as noted earlier, with a grateful reference to ‘the human heart by which we live’ (203), but it also asserts the irreducible privacy of his response to nature: ‘To me the meanest flower that blows can give / Thoughts that do often lie deep for tears’ (205–6). coleridge, more radically, returns to the self in ‘dejection: an ode’: ‘i may not hope from outward forms to win / the passion and the life, whose fountains are within!’ (45–6). ‘the passion’, there, means something close to the capacity for experiencing. hopkins may not believe that the ‘fountains are within’, but he believes intensely that the example of christ’s passion requires an answerable, highly individualised speech, analogous to the response made by the nun, who, in calling on christ, breathed the ‘arch and original Breath’ (194). it is the distinction of ‘the wreck of the Deutschland’ to articulate such an answerable speech, one that dramatises the unique particulars of the poet’s spiritual experience, and places hopkins in a tradition of Romantic subjectivity that he revises radically. if hopkins believes that ‘the poetical language of an age shd. be the current language heightened, to any degree heightened and unlike itself, but not ... an obsolete one’, his idea of ‘current language heightened’ deliberately cancels any shared postwordsworthian notions of what might be ‘current’.32 in its place is a language that insists on miming its meanings, as though poetry were a version of eucharistic transformation, in which the Real Presence of things and thoughts were miraculously transubstantiated. will is present, too, an insistence that there is a Real Presence to be communicated. coleridge, in ‘dejection: an ode’, sees that natural objects are beautiful, but he cannot feel the truth of this perception. the poetry makes of benumbed apathy an affecting protest: ‘and still i gaze, and with how blank an eye! / and those thin clouds above, in flakes and bars, / That give away their motion to the stars’ 32

Letter of august 1879, Hopkins: Selected Prose, p. 80.

‘Infinite Passion’


(30–2). covertly the syntax strive to convert blankness into exclamatory delight, but coleridge’s language is not only deftly but paralysingly self-aware (to the expressive benefit of his poem, it should be said). By contrast, Hopkins’s salute to the stars in stanza 5 of ‘the wreck of the Deutschland’ is both response and summons: ‘i kiss my hand / to the stars, lovely-asunder / starlight, wafting him out of it’ (33–5); ‘lovely–asunder’ is a coinage that recognises and sidesteps the coleridgean impasse, since the poet wafts God ‘out of it’. Lest we miss the role of agency which hopkins enjoins on himself and on poetry, he reiterates the point: ‘kiss my hand to the dappled-with-damson west’ (37). ‘his mystery must be instressed, stressed’ (39), he adds, his key theological term ‘instress’ involving a need for emphasis and a rhyme with the ‘dappled-with-damson west’ that bespeaks the veined variety through which God is manifest. so, hopkins turns the relationship of inner and outer upside down. hopkins meets what is for him the all-explaining, objective fact of the Passion with active eagerness; coleridge endures the knowledge that the ‘passion and the life’ lie within with passive stoicism. this is not to gainsay the evident truth that hopkins values the specialness of individuality; ‘Each mortal thing’, he writes, ‘selves – goes itself; myself it speaks and spells, / crying Whát I do is me: for that I came’ (5, 7–8). francis o’Gorman suggestively connects the sonnet with walter Pater’s question in The Renaissance, ‘what is this song or picture, this engaging personality presented in life or in a book, to me?’, yet hopkins has no time for impressionist egotism.33 of his sonnet “henry Purcell’, a poem fascinated by the ‘distinctive quality’ of Purcell’s ‘genius’, hopkins writes (with some force): ‘my sonnet means “Purcell’s music is none of your d—d subjective rot” (so to speak)’.34 ‘Subjective rot’ is both put aside and at the heart of Wilde’s finest poem, ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’. here, by way of innumerable allusions to the Gospel narrative and to coleridge’s ‘the Rime of the ancient mariner’, wilde depicts the terrible fate of a man condemned to be hanged in terms that convert it into a secular Passion-play. in one searing section wilde uses negation to bring home the prisoner’s predicament. though ‘each man kills the thing he loves’ (53), a bitterly terse comment on human perversity through which the reader hears reverberate the conclusion to Part 2 of Christabel, it is not given to everyone to endure what the condemned man experiences: ‘He [that is, most men] does not pray with lips of clay / for his agony to pass; / nor feel upon his shuddering cheek / the kiss of caiaphas’ (93–6). the echoes of Gospel narrative are evident. But wilde’s latent identification with the condemned man gives the poem added poignancy. At the same time, the poem disciplines ‘subjective rot’, rooting itself in a world of unanswerable, grim brutality that will permit no return to the exotic perversities of ‘the sphinx’ in which, in relation to ‘white ammon’ (85), wilde writes that ‘with your curved archaic smile you watched his passion come and go’ (86).35 Even at the end of this poem, however, Wilde’s speaker rails, ‘leave me to my Crucifix’ (172), felt here to be Victorian Poetry, ed. o’Gorman, p. 536. Quoted from The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, 4th edn rev. and enlarged, eds w.h. Gardner and n.h. mackenzie (London: oxford University Press, 1970), p. 274. 35 Quoted from oscar wilde, Complete Poetry, ed. isobel murray (oxford: oxford University Press, 1997). 33 34


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

only a partial cure for vice since it ‘weeps for every soul in vain’ (174). ‘the Ballad of Reading Gaol’ may be animated by the belief that ‘God’s son died for all’ (498), but wilde’s poem is no exercise in conventional piety. Passion, here, is the revulsion generated by human cruelty and a barbarous prison system, barbarity summed up in the line, ‘they hanged him as a beast is hanged’ (511). it is also a word that describes the reading experience enjoined on us by wilde. ‘the Ballad of Reading Gaol’ forces us to suffer all that is foresuffered by the poem’s clear, unflinching eye, its tolling rhymes, and its insights into fear, sinfulness, and the capacity to inflict and endure suffering. finally, ‘the Ballad of Reading Gaol’ turns its attention from castigating an inhuman penal system to focusing on existential contradiction: ‘the man had killed the thing he loved, / and so he had to die. / and all men kill the thing they love’ (647–9). ‘had to die’ is both accepting (this is the quasi-mosaic rule at work in ethical matters) and embittered (we have found no way of forgiving others or ourselves), while ‘and’ moves with breathtaking speed to a generalisation about ‘all men’. Even without knowledge of wilde’s biography and the ample evidence it gives of an instinct towards self-destruction, one would sense a personal pressure in these lines. in its fascination with the circular complexities of feeling, ‘the Ballad of Reading Gaol’ may not break quite so decisively with Decadence as might at first sight appear.36 wilde’s emphasis on the suffering subjective self, however displaced on to the appalled narrator, ensures that the poem negotiates with the Romantic as well as decadent traditions. among other things, the condemned man is a latter-day if voiceless ancient mariner. it is to dowson, in ‘Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae’, that we must turn for decadence’s most affecting elegy as well as most obdurate vindication. the very title points to a falling away (‘i am not what i was under the reign of the good cynara’ is o’Gorman’s rendering, p. 670) from a former state, of which the poet has ‘forgot much ... gone with the wind’ (13). the poem’s rhythms, stately yet conversational, support a tonal fusion in which it is hard to separate self-disgust from self-justification, continued fascination with the senses, figured by ‘the kisses and the wine’ (3) or ‘the kisses of her bought red mouth’ (9), from fidelity, of sorts, to cynara. John R. Reed suggestively implies that the poem wishes to leave behind ‘the world of passion and roses’ for an ideal, cynara, and yet that the ‘craving for this ideal ... is itself a passion which is unquenchable and essentially doomed to frustration’.37 Especially in his ‘craving for [an] ideal’, Dowson echoes the longings articulated by Romantic poets, particularly shelley in, say, his Alastor or Epipsychidion. at the same time, just as shelley will confuse the realms of the real and the ideal, so too dowson’s poem mingles the two worlds of decadent excess and commitment to an ideal by virtue of the refrain which comes at the end of each of 36 o’Gorman argues that ‘in a single text, the Ballad blew away the decadence of the 1890s ... to insist on human brutality that could not be disguised behind the artifices and masks that fin de siècle aesthetics had privileged’, Victorian Poetry, ed. o’Gorman, pp. 588–9. 37 John R. Reed, ‘Bedlamite and Pierrot: Ernest dowson’s Esthetic of futility’, ELH 35 (1968): 105.

‘Infinite Passion’


the poem’s four stanzas: ‘i have been faithful to thee, cynara! in my fashion’. that ‘in my fashion’, is the wry, self-doubting but also self-assertive key that unlocks the poem’s emotional doors. it links the poet’s current mode of life with a ‘passion’ antithetical to that mode of life but known only as a result of that mode. only through dissipation, regret and self-laceration, the poem implies, can the poet be aware that he was ‘desolate and sick of an old passion’ (4, 10, 16, 22). this line forms the poem’s counter-refrain, twice introduced by ‘and’ (stanzas 1 and 4) and twice by ‘But’ (stanzas 2 and 4), as if to show the chiastic antagonism and affinity between that ‘old passion’ and the poet’s ‘fashion’ of living, a self-fashioning that allows for openness to regret and inner division. in the poem ‘passion’ manages to be both at odds with and intuited by means of sensual experience. the word mediates between experience that is waste and ephemeral, what in another poem, ‘Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat incohare longam’, dowson calls ‘the weeping and the laughter, / Love and desire and hate’ (1–2), and experience that matters, that survives. (in ‘Vita summa brevis’ there is, too, it might be felt, in the end, an affecting want of difference between the two kinds of experience.) And the effect is hauntingly contrary; so, in the final stanza, the syntax suggests that cynara’s shadow falls almost because of the ‘madder music’ and ‘stronger wine’ for which the poet ‘cried’ (19): ‘But when the feast is finished and the lamps expire, / Then falls thy shadow, Cynara! the night is thine; / and i am desolate and sick of an old passion’ (20–2). ‘then’ half-imputes a causal relationship, and even if ‘sick of’ be allowed its modern sense (‘tired of) rather than the meaning presumably intended by dowson (‘made ill by’) the impression remains of an interlacing of moods and states. no one knew more clearly than writers such as wordsworth and shelley that ‘passion’ is often kindled into being by the knowledge of its loss. dowson’s greatest poem reminds us of the gains won by Victorian poets through their resonant engagement with a word and a topic at the heart of their inheritance from Romantic poetry.

chapter 12

Liberating Boyhood Ve-yin tee

henry scott tuke (1858–1929) was a minor Victorian artist whose epithet ‘Painter of youth’ was, according to Emmanuel cooper, ‘well-deserved’. tuke’s largest and most important paintings are of the plein-air male adolescent nude, ‘usually by the sea, swimming, diving, lounging or lying, under a sky of mediterranean blue’.1 tuke’s The Bathers (see figure 3) not only draws us to the three boys; it draws us specifically to their physical forms. It is the buttocks of the boy in the foreground and the one standing that have the greatest definition in terms of line and colour. this evocation of their physiological perfection is echoed in the semi-circular arrangement of the boys and the juxtaposition of the more indistinctly rendered boy in the middle, who conceals that which is so openly flaunted by his two companions. To the observer the obscured figure of the boy indicates that the artist has rejected, emphatically, an indistinct representation of all three boys that would have been more in keeping with the impressionistic seascape. when The Bathers had its first public showing in 1889, it was part of the New English art club exhibition at the marlborough Gallery in Pall mall. tuke’s painting was singled out for the skill of its ‘flesh-painting’ by The Magazine of Art and praised as ‘being particularly fine’. The merit of Tuke’s artistry was also lauded by The Artist: the “Bathers,” by h.s. tuke, is wonderfully full of light and air, and is excellent in tone. three boys on the deck of an old barge form the subject; one is preparing to plunge. it is doubtful if barge decks are often painted this beautiful celadon colour which forms such a perfect contrast with the flesh tones and so perfect a harmony with the colour of the sea. It is also, perhaps, to be wished that that artist had found a plunger of [a] somewhat less boeotian face. however, the whole tableau is one which Pindar might have celebrated and which Pericles would probably have bought.2

this was the reviewer’s lengthiest commentary (lasting some twenty pages) on any painting in that exhibition and was followed by charles kains-Jackson’s eroticised Emmanuel cooper, The Life and Work of Henry Scott Tuke 1858–1929 (London: GmP, 1987), p. 5. see also nicholas Edsall, Toward Stonewall: Homosexuality and Society in the Modern Western World (Virginia: University of Virginia Press, 2003), p. 158; david wainwright and catherine dinn, Henry Scott Tuke 1858–1929: Under Canvas (London: sarema, 1989). on the social context see matthew david cook, London and the Culture of Homosexuality, 1885–1914 (cambridge: cambridge University Press, 2003). 2 ‘critias’ on ‘the Position and Prospects of the new English art club’ in The Artist and Journal of Home Culture 10 (1889): 128. 1

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


Fig. 3

henry scott tuke, The Bathers (1889)

poetic response in the form of a ‘sonnet on a Picture ... in the Present Exhibition of the new English art club’.3 although tuke’s credentials in 1889 were decidedly avant-garde, it was the new English art club that introduced the ‘modern life’ nude on to the English exhibition scene.4 From the 1890s, Tuke became a regular fixture at the Royal Academy exhibitions where he was frequently noticed and commended by the leading London charles kains-Jackson, ‘sonnet on a Picture by h.s. tuke in the Present Exhibition of the new English art club’ in The Artist and Journal of Home Culture 10 (1889): 145. 4 Refer to alison smith’s The Victorian Nude: Sexuality, Morality and Art (manchester: manchester University Press, 1996), p. 3. 3

Liberating Boyhood

Fig. 4


henry scott tuke, August Blue (1894)

art journals. The Times lauded August Blue (see figure 4), in which ‘tuke has again gone back to his sailor boys and his sea’, as ‘one of the most powerful of the many studies of the undraped figure ... to be found’ in the exhibition of 1894.5 in a review of 1896, after asserting how the ‘nude ... flourishes at Burlington House as it has hardly flourished on any previous occasion’, The Academy suddenly noticed the absence of tuke and asked how any canvas of the artist, ‘judging by his publicly exhibited works’, ‘should have fallen below the modest standard of merit exacted by’ the organisers.6 tuke’s brand of ‘naked youths and boys about to bathe’ was seen again soon enough on the walls of Burlington house; though The Athenaeum accused him of being ‘disposed to ride a rather good idea to death’,7 its enthusiasm and that of the other journals was largely undiminished: The Magazine of Art even called The Diver of 1899 ‘the best downright rendering of the male nude in the academy’.8 in a society so notoriously adverse to the display of nudity, tuke somehow prospered. the images of bathing boys were not merely appreciated by art critics, they were ‘snapped up’ – according to Edsall – by public institutions and private collectors.9 By the end of the nineteenth century, there emerged a widespread legitimisation of the public’s visual appreciation of the nude boy so long as he conformed to ‘the 5 6 7 8 9

The Times, 5 may, 1894. claude Phillips, ‘Royal academy i’, The Academy 49 (1896): 389. The Athenaeum, may 27, 1899. m.h. spielmann, ‘the Royal academy ii’, The Magazine of Art 50 (1899): 391. Edsall, Toward Stonewall, p. 159.


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

myth of childhood innocence’. It now seems difficult to envisage public taste as naively viewing ‘the beautiful as both feminine in gender and devoid of sexual associations’ in the 1880s and 1890s, when the erotically charged nudes inspired by french salon painting were entering the art world in force. surely the general public was not still so blissfully ignorant of the possibility of same-sex passion that suffused works such as tuke’s in the aftermath of the Labouchère amendment of 1885 and its implementation during the three trials of oscar wilde.10 Representation of naked models (male and female) posed in the studio, on the sea-shore or in the bedroom, by other painters such theodore Roussel, Philip wilson steer, william orpen and walter sickert were, as alison smith and Julia f. saville have suggested, a key development that influenced a ‘twentieth-century dismissal of the neoclassical nude as ... soft pornography’.11 indeed, for saville, tuke’s ability ‘to achieve broad public acclaim’ rests on an erasure of boyhood sexuality, evoking instead an idyll of unchanging youthful health and strength that managed to engage his middle-class patrons without offending their sense of propriety. What Is a Boy? tuke’s framing of his chosen subject may originate in Romanticism’s idealised children, but his artistic strategies also resonate with Germaine Greer’s recent theorising about what is a boy. Greer devotes an entire chapter to this question in The Boy (2003). Judging by the images she selects, which range across four continents and over two millennia of human history, Greer’s ‘answer’ suggests male subjects as young as four or five, as well as those that would have been in their mid to late twenties. Linguistically, the word could be applied to someone even older, as a term of endearment, or, to denigrate behaviour seen as puerile. distinguishing the various meanings of ‘Boy’, samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language proceeded to recognise ‘Bo´yhood’  ‘the part of life in which we are boys’  as somewhat ‘arbitrary’.12 Greer’s visual assemblage demonstrates the extent to which representations of boyhood do vary according to the chronological and cultural standpoint. instead, however, of asking what a boy is, which seeks something intrinsic, coherent and broadly applicable, perhaps, even something transcendental, it might be pertinent to consider what a boy should be. not only does this make boyhood more readily identifiable, but highlights those chronological and cultural factors which inform the ideological construction of this category. culturally, to be even conscious 10 see michael s. foldy, The Trials of Oscar Wilde: Deviance, Morality, and LateVictorian Society (new haven and London: yale University Press, 1997); christopher craft, Another Kind of Love: Male Homosexual Love in English Discourse, 1850–1920. 11 smith, The Victorian Nude: Sexuality, Morality and Ar, p. 3. see also Julia f. saville, ‘the Romance of Boys Bathing: Poetic Precedents and Respondents to the Paintings of henry scott tuke’, in Victorian Sexual Dissidence, ed. Richard dellamora (chicago: chicago University Press, 1999), p. 253. 12 samuel Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language ... in Four Volumes, 9th edn (London: Longman, 1805).

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of boyhood desires and charms has become suspect with profound implications for contemporary visual arts. in Britain, for instance, Greer deplores our supposed obliviousness to the nudity of Eros at Picadilly circus. she suggests our gazes are averted either because we no longer think of young boys as beautiful or because we do not want to be seen expressing an interest. Greer’s study responds to what she detects as a guilt-fired inhibition by foregrounding a plethora of young male bodies in different stages of undress or suggestiveness.13 her self-conscious positing of a female viewer complicates the issue at stake: what exactly (if any) is this qualitative and dialectical difference between these postures when the appreciative gaze is feminine rather than masculine? tellingly, in The Boy’s closing chapter on the feminine gaze, Greer avoids making even a single pronouncement on the sexual rights of children. instead, Greer’s enterprise rationalises itself as an exercise of female power. in so doing, Greer performs the very elision of boyhood sexuality of which she believes the nineteenth century is guilty. yet the notion that there is a stage of development before which we should be asexual can be found in Rousseau’s Emile, which was first translated into English in 1762. Emile, whom Rousseau imagined himself entrusted with from infancy, and who eventually grew up into a man who thoroughly understood himself and his fellow human beings, betrayed no hint of sexual desire before the age of fifteen. It is not that we are incapable of erotic feelings before then – ‘everyone sees’, as Rousseau had put it, ‘between hot and cold countries ... that ardent temperatures mature earlier than others’, and ‘that puberty and sexual power is always more precocious among [the] educated and civilised’ – but that we should be kept from experiencing them before this age: this is one of the chief causes of physical degeneration in our towns. the young people, prematurely exhausted, remain small, puny and misshapen, they grow old instead of growing up, like a vine forced to bear fruit in spring, which fades and dies before autumn.14

to preserve his imaginary charge from such a fate, Rousseau proposed to bring him up in the country ‘among rude and simple people’. it is a short step between what should be and what is; by the time of Johnson’s Dictionary, it is the very lack of awareness of sex that has come to define the meaning of ‘BOY’: ‘One in the state of adolescence; older than an infant, yet not arrived at puberty or manhood’. a boy who achieves sexual awareness is no longer a boy for he has transgressed into the territory of manhood. 13 ‘at the end of the twentieth century guilty panic about paedophilia completed the criminalization of awareness of the desires and the charms of boys’. see Germaine Greer, The Boy (London: hudson, 2003), p. 10. 14 Rousseau, Emile, p. 177. in fact, there is the suggestion that the longer we can be kept from sexual awareness the better: ‘if the age at which a man becomes conscious of his sex is deferred as much by the effects of education as by the action of nature, it follows that this age may be hastened or retarded according to the way in which the child is brought up; and if the body gains or loses strength in proportion as to its development is accelerated or retarded, it also follows that the more we try to retard it the stronger and more vigorous will the young man be’.

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


Boyhood, Sexuality, and Labour this notion of boyhood as a pre-sexual stage is evident in kains-Jackson’s poetic response to tuke’s painting published in The Artist. with his attention to the detail of ‘the kisses that make red each honest face’ (9), kains-Jackson supposes a boy’s innocence of the carnal as essential to eliciting his sexual consumption and subsequent shedding of his boyhood. transgressing this boundary is subtly suggested as the sonnet looks forward to the end of boyhood innocence in economic rather than sexual terms: so, may these boys know never of a place wherein, to desk or factory a prey, that colour blanches slowly, nature’s grace made pale with life’s incipient decay.

as a narrative, this tangential development is intentionally anticipated by the Petrarchan octave-sestet structure. it also coherently suggests an alternative and equally fecund idea: that a boy should be innocent of labour. with the end of innocence – ostensibly, by work – comes the end of ‘beauty’. tuke’s bathers are beautiful because they are innocent; they are innocent because they are economically and sexually inactive; they are economically and sexually inactive because they are boys. ‘concern for the working boy’ – Greer asserts – ‘did not arise until the nineteenth century’.15 the idea of childhood as a pre-economic stage, which is traceable today in the entrenched attitude against child labour is not, for example, present in Rousseau: would you cultivate your pupil’s intelligence, cultivate the strength it is meant to control. Give his body constant exercise, make it strong and healthy, in order to make him good and wise; let him work, let him do things, let him run and shout, let him be always on the go; make a man of him in strength, and he will soon be a man in reason.16

From around five to fourteen, above all, a boy must be kept active. With Emile, Rousseau principally achieved this through ‘manual work’: he made his student spend two whole days every week as a carpenter’s apprentice.17 it is interesting to compare the portrait of a fulfilled boy in Emile to the vignettes of boys (and girls) doing things produced a generation later by the English Romantic poets. while they unmistakably displayed the same faith in the therapeutic benefits of bucolic life, their children were the most engaged (and the most engaging) in rustic pursuits that were distinctively uneconomic. william wordsworth’s ‘there was a Boy, &c’ of 1800 concerns itself with the regular rounds a young lad used to take amongst the ‘cliffs / and islands of winander’ not – as one might expect – for the purpose of grazing sheep, but to blow ‘mimic hootings to the silent owls / that they might

15 16 17

Greer, The Boy, p. 167. Rousseau, Emile, p. 82. Rousseau, Emile, p. 164.

Liberating Boyhood


answer him’.18 ‘the Blind highland Boy’, which wordsworth published seven years later, celebrates the handicapped protagonist’s attempt to cross Loch Levin in a bathtub.19 English Romanticism radicalised boyhood, from a stage involved with activities that were at best extra-curricular to adulthood (for example, carpentry, running races, and horseback hunting) to activities that no adult would ever perform (for instance, communicating with owls and navigating across a lake in a bathtub). wordsworth’s differentiation between what a child might do from an adult throws into sharp relief the rise of a factory system (already alluded to by kainsJackson’s sonnet), which promoted simple repetitive tasks performed by both adults and children. none of the major Romantic poets – including william Blake, samuel taylor coleridge, charles Lamb, and Robert southey – had anything positive to say about the employment of children under the factory system. The first ever legislation to regulate factory conditions was passed in 1802. in 1818, the tory mP Robert Peel introduced a factory-worker bill, exclusively, for children. notably, coleridge supported the measure, which sought to limit the hours of the child workers in cotton mills to eleven a day. he contributed an article to The Courier, a tory newspaper, in which he assumed a ludicrously favourable pro-mill position: why this mischievous outcry about these helpless children, as they are called? are they not employed for the general advantage? Besides, are they not kept from a state of idlenessthe worst misfortune that can befall the age of infancy, by a healthful and innocent employment? are they not living in warm comfortable rooms, at a temperature of 80 to 90 degrees, into which no drafts of air, so fatal in the production and increase of pulmonary complaints, are admitted? ... what parent, let me ask, whose breast was animated with the tenderest affection, would, for an instant, hesitate, if he had it in his power, to let his children participate in what is not, in fact, labour, but ought rather to be called healthful exercise and recreation? But it is difficult to satisfy the over-scrupulousness of some minds. the advocates of this measure have asserted, that this recreation of fourteen or fifteen hours a day, is, forsooth, excessive!20

coleridge’s caricatured ventriloquism even defended the possibility that millwork was causing children to ‘frequently grow rickety ... and die’ as a necessary means of population control – ‘from the west indies to our own shores ... we hear of nothing, but charitable institutions for relieving the poor and impotent, instead of salutary laws for preventing their multiplication’. the bill passed the house of commons but was stymied in the other house by James maitland, eighth Earl of Lauderdale, who ‘professed himself unable to produce medical witnesses to prove that factory children had excellent health, and that employment in cotton factories tended to promote growth’.21 the question of whether factory work constituted exercise, to which Lord Lauderdale and the majority of mill owners would answer in the affirmative, does 18 william wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads, With Other Poems, 2 vols (London: Longman, 1800), 2, 14–15. 19 william wordsworth, Poems, 2 vols (London: Longman, 1807), 2, 65–78. 20 The Courier, march 31, 1818. 21 highlighted by david Erdman in the Bollingen edition of coleridge’s Essays on His Times, 3 vols (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978), 2, p. 484, n. 2.

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


not seem so hopelessly outlandish in the context of Rousseau and the eighteenth century. to Rousseau ‘work’ had been ‘exercise’, and why should the factories be attacked for child labour when it had long existed in the home? why should work ‘in rooms ... 80 to 90 degrees ... fourteen or fifteen hours a day’ be objectionable for children but not for adults? coleridge’s argument was probably the more bizarre, in its implicit acceptance of an ideology that virtually upheld the child as a different order of humankind. a boy was physically weaker than a man, but he was by no means the inferior. Quite the opposite, actually, if wordsworth is to be believed: our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: trailing clouds of glory do we come from God, who is our home: heaven lies about us in our infancy! shades of the prison-house begin to close Upon the growing Boy, But He beholds the light, and whence it flows, he sees it in his joy; the youth, who daily farther from the East must travel, still is nature’s Priest, and by the vision splendid is on his way attended; at length the man perceives it die away, and fade into the light of common day.22

Existing in a prelapsarian state, a child should be – by Greco-christian standards – innocent of toil. in asserting that factory work was suitable for children because it was ‘not ... labour, but ... healthful exercise and recreation’, coleridge’s pro-mill persona, in The Courier, tacitly accepted this new idea of childhood as a time for what we would eventually understand as play. Child labour as an issue intensified with the advent of the Industrial Revolution.23 christopher hill suggests that the ‘factories shocked philanthropists by bringing it into the public view, and making brutally clear the dependence of the capitalist’s profit on such labour’.24 child labour had long existed, but as it was largely conducted in rural homes on an ad hoc basis – hill implies – it was less noticeable and less noticed. But could this practice really have escaped such close observers of ordinary country life as wordsworth? child labour was not a strong feature either wordsworth, Poems, ii, pp. 150–51. see caroline tuttle, ‘a Revival of the Pessimist View: child Labour and the industrial Revolution’, Research in Economic History 18 (1998): 53–82; see tuttle, Hard Work in Factories and Mines: The Economics of Child Labour during the British Industrial Revolution (Boulder: westview Press, 1999); see Pamela horn, The Victorian Town Child (London: sutton, 1997); see hugh cunningham, The Children of the Poor: Representations of Childhood since the Seventeenth Century (oxford: Blackwell, 1991), pp. 50–83; see also clark nardinelli, Child Labour and the Industrial Revolution (Bloomington, in: indiana University Press, 1990). 24 christopher hill, Reformation to Industrial Revolution (harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969), p. 263. 22 23

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of the tremendously successful Farmer’s Boy (1800) or the Rural Tales (1802) by Robert Bloomfield, who had experience of agricultural employment of children from working as a farmhand. Given that Wordsworth and Bloomfield were advocates of country folk and country living, it is more accurate to say that they did not regard the employment of children in agriculture as presenting any serious difficulty. From the accounts of factory labour, from coleridge, Richard oastler, friedrich Engels, and many others, it is self-evident that the appalling conditions of factory work was the key distinguishing factor in making child labour in the fields and cottages acceptable. there is, however, a further possible reason why the employment of children in the factories might have exercised the pens of these middle-class writers as field- or cottage-based work never did. Capitalism was dependent on the labour of docile working-class men, and the factories threatened this system of middle-class hegemony by putting these men out of work. in an economic system which was competitive at both national and international levels, employers had an incentive to seek cheap labour; and the cheapest was child labour. the textile industry, which was at the forefront of the new factory system and became the prime focus in the early exposures of the evils of mass-congregated wage slavery, consisted overwhelmingly of women and children. By 1816, for example, adult males made up only 18 per cent of the cotton labour force.25 the absurd prediction of coleridge’s pro-mill persona about idle children being infected by a ‘renovated spirit of Luddism’ belies the real cause of machine smashing: angry redundant men. children, whom the new technological advances enabled to operate on an equal footing with men, effectively became in the nineteenth century (rightly or wrongly) a substitute labour force. similarly, to the way abolitionists had insisted on the inherent innocence and beauty of people from lesser-developed societies, the nineteenth-century pioneers of separate rights insisted on the special purity and grace of children. the strategy is the same in both cases; that is, to oppose the employment of slaves and children by signifying how they were, intrinsically, unsuited to work. wilful, often solitary and always outdoors, the Romantic child was the noble savage re-deployed as the very antithesis of the organised and indoor mill hand. this close analogy between abolitionists and campaigners against child labour is underscored by coleridge’s allusion to abolitionism in his satirical article to The Courier, which compared the practice of employing children as factory workers to slavery and established this as a recurrent motif for those vehemently opposed to the factory system. in Slavery in Yorkshire (1835), for example, Richard oastler wrote: [The] horrors of black slavery were bad enoughits history was indeed a bloody onebut ... that monster spared the little ones! it did not work the male adult slaves, with such cruel rigor, as the white slave monster works his youthful victims, the little freeborn English slaves ... we never heard from india that little female blacks were worked from twelve to fourteen hours a day!were never allowed to sit, or to recline their weary bodies ... No human fiend so cowardly as to STRIKE them with his HEAVY FIST, AND kick them with his cLoGGEd fEEt! sleep was never driven from the little infant 25 Peter kirby, Child Labour in Britain, 1750–1870 (Basingstoke: Palgrave-macmillan, 2003), p. 53.

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


slaves at labour, by a BUckEt of coLd and chiLLinG watER, thrown upon their drowsy frames! The STRAP, with nails inserted, to make it cut the flesh, was not applied ... these little black slave children were not liable, when drowsy at their work, to be suddenly seized by the inanimate machine, and to be dashEd LifELEss on thE sPot where they had just laboured!26

noting how factory workers were ‘condemned from their ninth year to their death to live under the sword, physically and mentally’, friedrich Engels averred, in The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845), that the ‘philanthropic tories were right when they gave the operatives the name of white slaves’.27 Engels’s observation highlights the extent to which the nineteenth-century campaign against working children was a tory affair. as a consequence some Leftwing historians, including Peter kirby, have doubted the purely ethical stance that these reformers insisted on maintaining: although philanthropists and humanitarians condemned child labour on moral grounds, they exhibited much less interest in the economic consequences of their proposals upon poor families. the enactment of laws to regulate the employment of children almost always had a depressive effect upon the incomes of poor families but child labour laws never contained provisions to compensate parents for the loss of their children’s earnings.

drawing on Ursula henriques’s account, kirby contends that the tories ‘actually cared little for the plight of child workers but would vote for factory reform ‘as a means of putting a spoke in the manufacturers’ wheel’.28 the new industrialists were whig, whose machines the tory reformers claimed were forcing children to do something fundamentally wrong. Under the ideological banner of the Romantic child, child labour results in the same deleterious consequences that Rousseau associated with premature sex, namely, physical degeneration. this kind of logic underlies coleridge’s parodic reference to millwork causing children to ‘frequently grow rickety ... and die’. it is a line of thought that exists in Engels as well who, in his younger days, had been sympathetic to the tory reformers: the growth of young operatives is stunted, by their work, hundreds of statements testify; among others, cowell gives the weight of 46 youths of 17 years of age, from one sunday school, of whom 26 employed in mills, averaged 104.5 pounds, and 20 not employed in mills, 117.7 pounds. one of the largest manufacturers of manchester, leader of the opposition against the working men, i think Robert hyde Greg himself, said on one occasion that if things went on as at present, the operatives of Lancashire would soon be a race of pigmies. A recruiting officer testified that operatives were little adapted for military service, looked thin and nervous, and were frequently rejected by the surgeons as unfit. In Manchester he could hardly get men of five feet eight inches; they were usually

Richard oastler, Slavery in Yorkshire (Bradford: atkinson, 1835), pp. 3–4. friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England, trans. florence wischnewetzky and rev. Victor kiernan (London: Penguin, 1987), pp. 194–9. hereafter CWC. 28 Ursula henriques, Before the Welfare State: Child Labour and the Organisation of Production in the British Cotton Industry (amsterdam: Rodopi, 1989), p. 60. 26 27

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only five feet six to seven, whereas in the agricultural districts, most of the recruits were five feet eight.29

Generally, in fact, early employment was believed to lead to promiscuity amongst children. as kirby notes, even political radicals like Engels and francis Place thought ‘that the working class and factory workers in particular had no chastity’.30 this perception was promulgated by Tory accounts of factory floor conditions, which recorded the kind of ‘ardent temperatures’ that Rousseau had held to be so conducive to precocious sexual development. tracing the inception and reception of Engels’s The Condition of the Working Class in England will further illuminate the social and cultural climate into which tuke’s The Bathers was first received. Frederick Engels, Arthur Morrison and the Working Class Condition written during the 1840s, and drawing liberally on sources from the 1820s and 1830s, The Condition of the Working Class in England is thoroughly Romantic in perspective. Engels’s famous work was, however, written in German. the book was first translated into English in 1886 and, even then, only for an American audience. it did not become available in England until 1888, when william Reeves imported florence wischnewetzky’s translation. thus, while The Condition of the Working Class in England is Romantic in origin, its impact is Victorian and has a direct bearing on the milieu of tuke’s artistic projects. on 1 march 1885, there appeared an article by Engels for the London Commonweal entitled ‘England in 1845 and in 1885’. Enquiring after ‘the condition of the working class during this period’, he offered several observations: there was temporary improvement even for the great mass. But this improvement always was reduced to the old level by the influx of the great body of the unemployed reserve, by the constant superseding of hands by new machinery, by the immigration of the agricultural population, now, too, more and more superseded by machines. a permanent improvement can be recognized for two ‘protected’ sections only of the working class. Firstly, the factory hands. The fixing by Act of Parliament of their working-day within relatively rational limits has restored their physical constitution and endowed them with a moral superiority, enhanced by their local concentration. they are undoubtedly better off than before 1848 ... secondly, the great trade unions. they are the organisations of those trades in which the labour of grown-up men predominates, or is alone applicable. here the competition neither of women and children nor of machinery has so far weakened their organised strength ... But as to the great mass of working people, the state of misery and insecurity in which they live now is as low as ever, if not lower. the East End of London is an ever-spreading pool of stagnant misery and desolation, of starvation when out of work, and degradation, physical and moral, when in work. and so in all other large towns ... in the smaller towns and in the agricultural districts.

29 30

Engels, CWC, p. 178. kirby, Child Labour in Britain, pp. 100–101.

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


with the exception of the factory worker and the unionised labourer, Engels’ basic contention is unambiguous: there has been no improvement whatsoever in the social circumstances of the working class.31 arthur morrison’s A Child of the Jago (1896), a novel set in the London slums of the 1890s, features scenes of squalor and deprivation that could have been lifted straight out of The Condition of the Working Class in England.32 morrison renders the East End as an atavistic enclave, recording with unflinching rigour how the high levels of juvenile mortality were largely due to deep-seated social problems, such as the overcrowded, insanitary condition of many homes, the effect of a poor diet, the severe lack of clean water, bad drainage, and inadequate personal hygiene.33 where Engels had claimed to be a special ‘witness’ to their ‘struggles’, having spent his ‘leisure-hours almost exclusively to the intercourse with plain working men’,34 morrison was ‘not an occasional visitor, but a familiar and equal friend ... of the East-Ender in all ... degrees’.35 morrison’s subjects were similarly degenerate, and – as with Engels – he lost no opportunity to remind readers of their general lack of size or physical constitution. Bill Leary, for example, was an exception because of his bulk – ‘big men not being common in the Jago’.36 a robber and a feared street fighter, the only man in the novel robust enough to get the better of him was Josh Perrott. Josh was an immigrant however. the son, dicky, born and raised in the Jago, was nothing like the father – the book introduces him as a slight child, by whose size you might have judged his age at five. But his face was of serious and troubled age. one who knew the children of the Jago, and could tell, might have held him eight, or from that to nine.37

there is a striking difference in terms of outlook though, between Engels and morrison. where Engels was preoccupied with the political activism of ‘the great mass’, uppermost for morrison was their criminality.38 the have-nots of the Jago are so ubiquitously on the make that it is almost a misnomer to conceive of them as a see E. hopkins, Childhood Transformed: Working-Class Children in NineteenthCentury England (new york: st. martin’s Press, 1993); see Pamela horn, Children’s Work and Welfare, 1780–1890 (new york: cambridge University Press, 1995); see also Lionel Rose, The Erosion of Childhood: Child Oppression in Britain, 1860–1918 (new york: Routledge, 1991). 32 harry hendrick, Images of Youth: Age, Class, and the Male Youth Problem, 1880– 1920 (oxford: clarendon Press, 1990). 33 see John L. kijinski, ‘Ethnography in the East End: native customs and colonial solutions in A Child of the Jago’, English Literature in Transition 37: 4 (1994): 490–501. 34 Engels, CWC, p. 27. 35 arthur morrison, A Child of the Jago (chicago: academy chicago Publishers, 1995), p. xiii. 36 morrison, A Child of the Jago, p. 47. 37 morrison, A Child of the Jago, p. 4. 38 see kevin R. swafford, ‘translating the slums: the coding of criminality and the Grotesque in arthur morrison’s A Child of the Jago’, Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association 35: 2 (fall 2002): 50–64; see also Richard Benvenuto, ‘the criminal and the Community: Defining tragic structure in A Child of the Jago’, English Literature in Transition 31: 2 (1988): 153–61. 31

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‘working’ class.39 this ontological shift in representation is broadly consistent with that of his contemporaries. for machine smashing and mass rallies were no longer the devil’s work of idle hands, but robbery and murder. four decades were to pass before The Condition of the Working Class in England would finally return to the country that inspired it. It must have been a difficult prospect for Engels in 1885, especially considering the publication in 1867 and imminent translation into English in 1887 of karl marx’s more up to date ‘description of ... the British working class’ in Capital: A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production. through ‘England in 1845 and in 1885’, published the very year before The Condition of the Working Class in England first appeared in English translation, Engels argued that England was still recognisably the society detailed in his book. though the article acknowledged a few of the changes that had taken place, historical differences were probably downplayed in order to support the continued relevance of The Condition of the Working Class in England.40 But Engels was a child of chartism and its failure had dealt a fatal blow to the ability he anticipated in ‘the great mass’ to dictate the future. the improved situation of the ‘grown-up’ factory hand and tradesman were not the gains of class struggle, as the quotation from ‘England in 1845 and in 1885’ might indicate, but the result of economic diversification. Working men in these ‘two ... sectors’ retained their value because boy labour, a key substitute, was being steadily depleted by other competing demands. the boy who wanted to work had a wealth of alternatives; compared to his predecessor ‘of fifty years ago’ – as a contributor to Studies of Boy Life in Our Cities (1904) commented – ‘his working capacity has increased’: as page-boy in the house of the rich, or as errand-boy for the humblest East End shopkeeper, he is equally indispensable; he is numbered among the staff of every office, he does his share of work of every factory that exists. there are many occupations, such as that of telegraph messenger, which are his, and his alone. he is paid of handing coffee and cigars to the club habitué of Pall mall; he is paid for handing rivets to the boilermaker in the docks [etc.]41

as a new and visible phenomenon, predictably, it became a source of acute anxiety for the middle-class. if the essayist worried over how the ‘ease with which situations can be secured at the age of fourteen blinds them to the infinitely greater ease with which they can be lost from the age of seventeen onwards’ – others were concerned about what these workers did (or might be exposed to) in public space, with street

39 see kevin swafford, Class in Late-Victorian Britain: The Narrative Concern with Social Hierarchy and its Representation (youngstown, ny: cambria, 2007), chapter 4. see michael J. childs, ‘Boy Labour in Late Victorian and Edwardian England and the Remaking of the working class’, Journal of Social History 23 (1990): 783–802; see also Pamela horn, Children’s Work and Welfare 1780–1890 (cambridge: cambridge University Press, 1995). 40 the reprinting of ‘England in 1845 and in 1885’ in the ‘Preface’ to the 1892 edition of The Condition of the Working Class is further evidence of its strategic purpose. 41 J.G. cloete, ‘the Boy and his work’, in Studies of Boy Life in Our Cities, ed. E.J. Urwick (London: dent, 1904), p. 102.

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


entertainers and traders attracting accusations of destitution or being portrayed as parasitic or a threat to social order.42 dicky Perrott, the protagonist of A Child of the Jago, became at thirteen a shopkeeper’s ‘errand-boy’. it was the high point of his life, which he quickly lost to return to crime and eventual death at the age of seventeen. as morrison admitted in the ‘Preface’ to the 1897 edition, he wanted to convey his experience of ‘a place in shoreditch, where children were born and reared in circumstances which gave them no reasonable chance of living decent lives: where they were born fore-damned to a criminal or semi-criminal career’. he had done so with the intention of disturbing those who had done nothing, and preferred to do nothing, by way of discharging their responsibility toward the Jago and the people in it. the consciousness of duty neglected is discomforting, and personal comfort is the god of their kind. They firmly believe it to be the sole function of art to minister to their personal comfortas upholstery does. they find it comfortable to shirk consideration of the fate of the Jago children, to shut their eyes to it, to say that all is well and whole world virtuous and happy. and this mental attitude they nickname optimism, and vaunt itexult in it as a quality. so that they cry out at the suggestion that it is no more than a selfish vice; and finding truth where they had looked for the materials of another debauch of self-delusion, they moan aloud: they protest, and they demand as their sacred right that the bitter cup be taken from them.43

morrison is here, of course, taking aim at the notorious self-possession of the ‘bourgeois’. that ‘beautiful thing’ – as Engels acidly elaborated – enabling them to conduct themselves with poise and equanimity right in the midst of the terrible consequences their way of life was bringing to the working class.44 But where this characteristic was, for Engels, an invincible or intractable quality, it was to morrison much more fragile: a ‘mental attitude’ whose maintenance required a steady stream of amenable ‘materials’ like comfortable ‘upholstery’ and comforting ‘art’. this was the psyche that morrison wanted his readers to see in the detractor he cited in the ‘Preface’ who, after accusing him of ‘palpable exaggeration’, assured him ‘that there was no need to describe life as the life in the Jago, because it was already perfectly familiar to everybody’.45 Returning to the essayist in Studies of Boy Life in Our Cities: ‘onE need have no fear of being accused of exaggeration in describing the boy worker in London as ubiquitous’.46 the tory-initiated movement against the employment of children had matured; by the time The Condition of the Working Class in England could be read in England, accounts like it were literally a dime a dozen. in the newspapers of the day, there were the ‘somewhat sensational journalists, who paint in lurid colours pictures ... of what they ... call the “white slaves of England”’.47 the English also had charles dickens, who turned to the pitiable children of the working class for colour 42 43 44 45 46 47

kirby, Child Labour in Britain, p. 69. morrison, A Child of the Jago, pp. xi–x. Engels, CWC, p. 207. morrison, A Child of the Jago, p. xiii. Urwick, Studies of Boy Life in Our Cities, p. 102. Urwick, Studies of Boy Life in Our Cities, p. 133.

Liberating Boyhood


and pathos in his best-selling fiction. Life ‘as the life in Jago’ was ‘perfectly familiar’, at least, as experienced through print, and those who yearned for that ‘bitter cup [to] be taken from them’ would have had much to comfort them in The Bathers of tuke. if they had taken a trip down to the marlborough Gallery on Pall mall in 1889, they would have seen the fine state of England’s youth as a naked truth. As the following verses in The Artist implied, all that was needed to expose this in the “boy life” besieging them outside was a good bath: Upon the wall, of idling boys a row, the grimy barges not more dull than they when sudden in the midst of all their play they strip and plunge into the stream below; changed by a miracle, they rise as though the youth of Greece burst on this latter day, as on their lithe young bodies many a ray of sunlight dallies with its blushing glow.48

the scene depicted by the sonnet deviates considerably from the original to have been directly inspired by The Bathers. there were, in any case, many other paintings employing similar boys-idling-by-the-water motif. Before The Bathers, for example, there was william stott’s Summer’s Day (1886) and John Reinhard weguelin’s ‘naked child on the shore’ The Study of Conchology (1888).49 fred Brown’s Bathing Boys was exhibited in the same year and place as tuke’s work. a year later Burlington House displayed John Swan’s nude ‘of a Neapolitan fisher-boy lying on a rock and piping to the fishes who [sic] leap around him charmed with the sound’.50 at 117 by 92 centimetres, The Bathers was a public painting with a public purpose. the canvases that tuke executed on the subject were to grow even larger through the 1890s. August Blue, for example, at 122 by 183 centimetres, was the same size as his dramatisation of battle-ready sailors in All Hands to the Pumps (1889). for the middle-class mentality that morrison had tried to unsettle with A Child of the Jago, tuke’s artistic subjects may have had a very different appeal to the self-deluded middle-class grandeur which liked indulging, as saville writes, ‘a fantasy of possible heirs to the empire who, even at play, are apprentices in seamanship qualifying to man the vessels of the British Navy and fishing industry’.51 Even the reform-minded morrison, who would have thought of himself as someone cast from a very different mould, might find these images of bathing boys to be a positive thing in line with the health and purity movements that were gathering pace at the time. the soap manufacturer william-hesketh Lever, first Viscount Leverhulme (1851–1925), for instance, collected modern nudes for a gallery located right in the middle of the estate housing his employees ‘to promote an aesthetic of cleanliness and hygiene’.52 finally, of course, there was that portion of the middle48 49 50 51 52

The Artist, 1 september, 1890. The Athenaeum, 19 may, 1888. The Times on ‘“Piping fisher-Boy” (467)’, 13 June 1890. see dellamora, Victorian Sexual Dissidence, p. 269. smith, The Victorian Nude, p. 209.

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


Fig. 5

henry tuke, Noonday Heat (1903)

class to whom tuke’s paintings would have appealed for a reason that could by no means be described as public – that cannot, even in our supposedly liberated age and time, be made public: the market for young boys. that there was a section of the public who were interested in adolescent boys, and that tuke used to accommodate them is not in doubt. one of tuke’s patrons, Leonard duke, requested a ‘no trouser’ version of Noonday Heat (see figure 5) and got it in watercolour (see figure 6).53 tuke secured a loyal following among these men and a few of them boasted a considerable public profile. Kains-Jackson, one of the so-called Uranian poets seeking to ‘depict the love of boys and the loves of boys as the highest and noblest form of love’,54 was also editor of The Artist. another known admirer was John addington symonds, ‘a pre-eminent interpreter for the Victorians of Renaissance history, mediterranean travel, and ... classical antiquity’.55 what remains to be addressed, however, is the remarkable extent to which these works communicate themselves ideologically and commercially to the public. tuke may have owed his success to contemporaries that not only possessed the means and orientation to savour his paintings, but who were also specifically attracted to a certain type of boy. ‘Engels’ – in Victor kiernan’s view – ‘was right in a considerable measure when he spoke of working class and bourgeoisie as having moved apart into ‘two radically dissimilar nations, as unlike as differences of see Emmanuel cooper’s The Life and Work of Henry Scott Tuke, p. 35. Edsall, Toward Stonewall, p. 157. 55 according to Peter holliday’s ‘symonds and the model of ancient Greece’, in John Addington Symonds: Culture and Demon Desire, ed. John Pemble (London: macmillan, 2000), p. 81. 53 54

Liberating Boyhood

Fig. 6


henry tuke, Noonday Heat (1911)

race could make them’.56 The flip side of such alienation is exoticism. It underlies symonds’ affair with a sixteen-year-old Venetian gondolier: ‘had it not been for my abnormal desire’ – the former retrospectively commented in 1889 – ‘i could never have learned to know and appreciate a human being so far removed from me in position, education, national quality and physique’.57 it underlies John Gambril nicholson’s poem, ‘your city cousins’ (1911), which documents the serendipity of a public schoolteacher’s daily commute with crowds of working boys.58 the social standing of tuke’s subjects was not only in his favour, it was a status that he might have conveyed directly through the canvas itself. if tuke’s boy paintings displeased, it was frequently on the account of ‘faces’.59 the ‘plunger’ of The Bathers is a very different boy from the wide-eyed ‘neapolitan’ type that swan and most other artists preferred. though the latter received higher praise from the classical-minded reviewer of The Artist, it did not inspire any erotic poetry. to the middle-class lover of young boys, it was perhaps the ‘boeotian’ – or boys with a face ‘of serious and troubled age’ like the mien of dicky Perrott – who most appealed. Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England, pp. 13–14. John addington symonds, The Memoirs; in Nineteenth-century Writings on Homosexuality: A Sourcebook, ed. chris white (London: Routledge, 1999), p. 335. 58 John Gambril nicholson, A Garland of Ladslove (London: murray, 1911), p. 27. 59 The Athenaeum of 22 June, 1895, found nothing ‘wanting’ in The Swimmer’s Pool of Tuke ‘except more thorough and searching modelling, a more stringent finish, and a good deal more beauty in the faces of the lads’. 56 57


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

if the Victorians inherited a myth of childhood from the Romantics, they also clearly reinvented it for themselves. By exploiting the ambiguities of conventional strategies deployed to understand art and boyhood, tuke furnished his contemporaries with an alternative semantic framework through which to engage with his artistry. that tuke’s mode of representation could be interpreted both in a reformist light (exemplified by those anti-child labour sentiments of Kains-Jackson’s poetic response to tuke’s painting) and as a model of wholesome, clean and healthy living for the working class to emulate, ensured his artworks widespread appeal and commercial success. with tuke’s deliberate framing of his chosen subjects, the aspiring Victorian boy lover could display his predilections in a prominent place for all to see. through Tuke’s subtle infiltration of late nineteenth-century codes of cultural convention to express homoerotic desire, the Romanticised figure of the Child is transmuted, unashamedly, into the Victorian Boy.

chapter 13

Prometheus Rebound: the Romantic titan in a Post-Romantic age John holmes

The literary history of the Prometheus myth is dominated by three episodes. The first is when the oral myth enters the written tradition, in the Theogony and the Works and Days, attributed to hesiod and tentatively dated to the seventh century Bc. the second occurs two centuries later in athens, when the myth receives its fullest extant treatment by a classical writer in Prometheus Bound, attributed to aeschylus. This tragedy dominates and defines this episode, but fragments of other Aeschylean tragedies also feature, alongside aristophanes’s comedy The Birds, Plato’s dialogue Protagoras and Pindar’s eight isthmian ode. the third episode begins over two thousand years later when the German poet Goethe revives the titan, most famously in the ode ‘Prometheus’. Goethe’s interest in the myth establishes it as a point of reference for German thinkers throughout the nineteenth century, including schlegel, marx, nietzsche and freud. it also provides a model for the treatment of Prometheus as a Romantic icon in the work of three young English writers. Between them, Byron’s poem ‘Prometheus’ (1817), mary shelley’s novel Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (1818) and Percy shelley’s lyrical drama Prometheus Unbound (1820) are an extraordinary modern flowering of an ancient myth.1 the Romantics cast a long shadow, back into the past as well as forwards into the future, eclipsing all other post-classical treatments of the Prometheus myth.2 in this essay i will examine what lies under a particular patch of this shadow by illuminating the post-Romantic history of this archetypal Romantic myth. i will begin by discussing how the first generation of Victorians turned the myth from a symbol of religious and political radicalism into a template for christianity and constitutional respectability. i will then look at how, from the 1860s onwards, Prometheus became the focus of a new debate between conservative restraint, tied to arnoldian hellenism, and a fresh drive towards intellectual and political freedom which took Prometheus Unbound as its Bible. finally, i will argue that the most 1 for a recent introduction to the Prometheus myth and its cultural history, see carol dougherty, Prometheus (abingdon: Routledge, 2006). 2 for the most comprehensive survey of post-classical treatments of the myth, see Raymond trousson, Le Thème de Prométhée dans la Littérature Européene, 2nd edn, 2 vols (Geneva: droz, 1976).


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

perceptive and original contributions to the Prometheus myth in the Victorian period, by augusta webster and John addington symonds in particular, resonate not with Percy shelley’s triumphant unbinding of Prometheus but with the more ambivalent representations of the bound titan by Goethe, Byron and mary shelley. Prometheus Victorianised for Goethe, Byron and shelley, Prometheus is a titan in their own image. he is the type of heroic resistance to arbitrary power, embodying the will to freedom in the face of tyranny. this translates, to differing degrees, into political radicalism, social and ethical liberalism, and religious freethinking. inheriting this version of Prometheus, the first generation of Victorians transform him into his opposite. For them, the myth confirms the truth of Christianity and suggests gradual progress under the guidance of an enlightened aristocracy.3 the process by which the Victorians reclaim the myth for themselves, recasting it in their image, is rapid, comprehensive and at times so unselfconscious as to be close to comic. Between 1835 and 1850, Prometheus emerges not only as a Victorian, but as a Victorian cliché – the very epitome of how the twentieth century would imagine ‘the Victorians’ from Bloomsbury to The French Lieutenant’s Woman. the assimilation of Prometheus to christianity reverses shelley’s move of introducing christ’s suffering as one of the titan’s torments. shelley seeks to reclaim christ from the church, incorporating him alongside Zoroaster and others into a complex syncretism of which Prometheus himself is the dominant mythic embodiment.4 in contrast, the Victorians seek to restore what they see as the proper hierarchy of religions, reading Prometheus as an admirable but inevitably lesser shadow of christ himself. as Elizabeth Barrett puts it in the preface to The Seraphim (1838): the Prometheus of aeschylus is avowedly one of the very noblest of human imaginations; and when we measure it with the eternal counsel we know at once and for ever how wide is the difference between man’s ideal and God’s divine!5

in her preface to her own translation of Prometheus Bound (1833), Barrett celebrates aeschylus as a Romantic poet, reading Prometheus, as dorothy mermin has observed, as ‘the Byron of classical mythology, the great rebel for humanity’s sake against tyranny’.6 Five years on, she still admires the titan’s defiance but, like shelley, she admires christ’s forgiveness more. assessing aeschylus’s Prometheus 3 see Richard Jenkyns in The Victorians and Ancient Greece (oxford: Blackwell, 1980), p. 93, and Jennifer wallace, ‘tyranny and translation: shelley’s Unbinding of Prometheus’, Romanticism 1 (1995): 15–33, 29–30. 4 see stuart curran, Shelley’s Annus Mirabilis: The Maturing of an Epic Vision (san marino, ca: huntingdon, 1975), pp. 33–94. 5 The Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning with Two Prose Essays (London: oxford University Press, 1920), p. 78. 6 Barrett Browning (1920), pp. 137–40; dorothy mermin, Elizabeth Barrett Browning: The Origins of a New Poetry (chicago: University of chicago Press, 1989), p. 48.

Prometheus Rebound


by the standard of Christ, Barrett finds him wanting – inevitably, as Aeschylus was ‘born of adam and unrenewed in christ’. at the same time, aeschylus and the other heathen poets – equally inevitably, insofar as they were poets at all, as the ‘gravitation of poetry is upwards’ – reached out towards the divine and ‘felt though they could not discern the God beyond’. where shelley rewrites the myth itself to give Prometheus the christian high ground, having him revoke his own curse before he can be unbound, Barrett re-imagines aeschylus, born after the incarnation, turning to Christ as a fitter subject than Prometheus for his ‘poetic faith’. As her husband Robert Browning would do in his famous essay on shelley, she takes the liberty afforded by aeschylus’s condition to announce a posthumous conversion on his behalf.7 Barrett’s fellow translators and commentators in the 1830s and 1840s reach the same conclusions about the relationship between the Prometheus myth and christian truth, not through a neo-Platonic theory of poetry, as she does, but through an extension of Biblical scholarship. in The Christian Scholar (1849), the tractarian poet isaac williams declares his intention ‘to render the study of the classics subservient to a higher wisdom’. williams’s method is to draw attention to anticipations of christian teaching in classical literature. Like Barrett, he does not expect to find an exact correlation between the classical myth and revealed religion. as he says in his poetic commentary on Prometheus Bound, ‘i would not force such legends of old lore / to square with truths divine’.8 he is therefore willing to accept that the correspondences he has discovered may be merely fortuitous. nonetheless, he speculates that the Prometheus myth in particular may contain a trace of genuine revelation. R.h. horne joins in this typological approach, committing himself more boldly but also more casually to the view that Prometheus is a ‘providential foreshadowing’ of christ.9 J.s. Blackie is more cautious, contenting himself with a moral parallel between the myth and ‘modern christian theology’, both of which, he argues, insist on the ‘duty’ of ‘submission’ to God’s will.10 Bolder commentators, such as George fox, henry alford and G.c. swayne, follow charles Elton, the translator of hesiod, in tracing explicitly the derivation of ‘heathen fable’ from ‘sacred history’.11 Remarking that ‘it is useless to speculate’ on the origin of ‘the sublime conception’ of Prometheus Bound, Swayne immediately defies his own proscription with the observation that ‘some even suppose that its author must have been acquainted with the old hebrew prophets.’12 as early as 1812 Elton argues that this is implausible and that, rather than direct influence, the resemblance between the Hesiodic and the Mosaic cosmogonies must be due to their descent from a common source. following Biblical history to the 7 8 9

p. vii.

Barrett Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, pp. 78, 80. [Isaac Williams], The Christian Scholar (oxford: Parker, 1849), pp. xiii, 159. Richard hengist horne, Prometheus the Fire-Bringer (Edinburgh: douglas, 1864),

10 The Lyrical Dramas of Aeschylus, trans. John stuart Blackie, 2 vols (London: Parker, 1850), 2, p. 7. 11 Hesiod, trans. c.a. Elton, 3rd edn (London: Valpy, 1832), p. xxi. 12 The Prometheus Chained of Aeschylus, trans. G.c. swayne (oxford: macpherson, 1846), p. xii.

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


letter, he concludes that that source can only have been ‘portions of noah’s memory’.13 alford follows more gingerly in Elton’s footsteps, speculating, in a series of overtly hesitant clauses, dotted with halting dashes and colons, that the Eleusinian mysteries may have preserved ‘some primitive tradition [...] descended from the diluvian forefathers of the Grecian race’.14 fox, by comparison, has no hesitation in tracing aeschylus’s play to ‘a purer source’, both historically, in interpreting Prometheus as literally Adam, ‘deified by his posterity, who had renounced the worship of the true God’, with Pandora as Eve and Epimetheus as adam once fallen, and typologically, with Hercules prefiguring the Saviour.15 Regardless of these differences in approach, confidence and interpretation, the early Victorian translators and commentators are agreed that Prometheus Bound is, in swayne’s words, ‘a christian poem, by a Pagan author’.16 as the Victorians co-opted Prometheus into the christian tradition, so they assimilated him to their own constitutional political ideals. where shelley’s Prometheus is a radical, his immediate Victorian successors are more or less liberal conservatives. Whatever their precise political affinities, the post-Romantic generation is agreed that the myth sustains a commitment to paternalism and gradual progress. for Blackie, this necessitates an explicit rejection of shelley’s interpretation.17 derwent coleridge likewise introduces his brother hartley’s fragmentary drama Prometheus, written around 1820 but not published until 1851, with a fraternal denunciation of the alternative version of the myth produced by shelley’s ‘diseased vision’ as ‘vulgar, at once false and obvious’.18 others cite Prometheus Unbound as an exemplary treatment of the myth but neutralise its politics. w.m.w. call’s project in Lyra Hellenica (1842) of translating Prometheus Bound and the homeric hymns and appending a few poems of his own is implicitly shelleyan in itself, and call makes his allegiance explicit by declaring that he hopes his translation of aeschylus will serve ‘the lover of shelley’s genius’ as an adequate introduction to his ‘magnificent’ Prometheus Unbound.19 yet he has no qualms about following his translations with a patriotic poem celebrating the birth of the Prince of wales and idealising Victoria as an emblem of England. Likewise, t.a. Buckley recognises The Remains of Hesiod the Ascraean, trans. charles abraham Elton, 2nd edn (London: Baldwin, 1815), p. lxxiv. 14 henry alford, Chapters on the Poets of Ancient Greece (London: whittaker, 1841), pp. 104–5. 15 The Prometheus of Aeschylus and the Electra of Sophocles, trans. George croker fox (London: harvey, 1835), pp. vi, 73–5, 90. 16 swayne, The Prometheus Chained of Aeschylus, p. xii. for the same debate among current theologians, see Larry kreitzer, Prometheus and Adam: Enduring Symbols of the Human Situation (Lanham, md: University Press of america, 1994); Jan milic Lochman, Christ and Prometheus? A Quest for Theological Identity (Geneva: world council of churches, 1988); and Joseph c. mcLelland, Prometheus Rebound: The Irony of Atheism (waterloo, on: wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1988). 17 Blackie, The Lyrical Dramas of Aeschylus, p. 8. 18 hartley coleridge, Poems, 2 vols, ed. derwent coleridge (London: moxon, 1851), 2, p. 283. 19 w.m.w. call, Lyra Hellenica (cambridge: Grant, 1842), p. vi. 13

Prometheus Rebound


no contradiction between asserting that ‘the legend of Prometheus lives in the poetry of aeschylus and shelley’ and interpreting that legend as symbolic of the struggle between a paternalist ‘old aristocracy’, embodied in the titan who ‘laboured for the benefit of his weaker dependants’, and the decidedly bourgeois Olympian ‘parvenus’.20 Buckley wears his tory politics on his sleeve, and his interpretation seems idiosyncratic, even faintly preposterous. Joseph Brereton puts forward a similar reading of the myth in Prometheus Britannicus; or, John Bull and the Rural Police (1840), where he casts Prometheus as the symbol of England bullishly resisting the new Poor Law, the police and ‘democratic anarchy’.21 But Brereton is a Rugby school-boy writing a comic sketch, not a translator interpreting a famous tragedy for the laity. and yet, when Buckley’s reading is set alongside those of other, less reactionary mid-Victorians it appears less out of step than might be expected. ostensibly, the versions of the myth put forward by Buckley in his translation, horne in his own aeschylean drama Prometheus the Fire-Bringer (conceived around 1850 but only published in 1864) and charles kingsley in his children’s romance The Water-Babies (1862–63) are as different from one another in politics as they are in form. for Buckley, Prometheus is a bastion of tory paternalism, holding out against the bourgeoisie. for horne, he is the patron of technology. for kingsley, it is rather Epimetheus who represents the hard work and good sense that enables technological progress, while Prometheus is the type of the idle prophet or theorist who has ideas aplenty but never brings them to fruition. as they differ in their readings of Prometheus, so they differ in their responses to shelley. where Buckley venerates shelley without admitting their political differences, horne echoes and seems to endorse the preface to Prometheus Unbound by naming Prometheus as the champion of humanity, while kingsley’s rejection of Prometheus in favour of Epimetheus is at the same time an implied rejection of shelley. Underlying all these differences, however, is a marked ideological consensus. for all that their readings of the myth itself seem diametrically opposed, the values promoted by horne and kingsley are remarkably similar. Both identify progress through technology and hard work as humanity’s primary achievement. Like call in his tribute to the Prince of wales, both associate their titans with royalty as they invoke the Prince consort in their retellings, horne directly in his preface, kingsley indirectly in an allusion to the Great Exhibition, with which Epimetheus is identified. Progress is thus tied to paternal sponsorship. similarly, Buckley’s endorsement of paternalism is itself associated with ‘the intellectual ascendancy of mankind over the creation’ and ‘the power of moral progress in opposition to physical strength and conventional resources’. at the same time, Buckley’s distaste for the bourgeoisie, and indeed Brereton’s horror of democracy, are echoed in horne’s elite manner, as he casually name-drops the Prince consort and ‘my old friends Robert Browning, and the Laureate’, and in kingsley’s disparaging reference to ‘the great idol whirligig, which some call Public The Tragedies of Aeschylus, trans. theodore alois Buckley (London: Bohn, 1849), pp. xii, xiv. 21 [Joseph Lloyd Brereton], Prometheus Britannicus; or, John Bull and the Rural Police: A Tragic–Comedy, in One Act (London: tilt, 1840), p. 29. 20


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

opinion’.22 the post-Romantic politics of the Prometheus myth, like its theology, emerges as strikingly consistent in its commitment to paternalism and the monarchy in place of democracy and to gradual progress in place of radical revolution. Prometheus Polarised from the 1830s to the early 1860s, the Victorians put the myth of Prometheus to remarkably consistent use. two new developments within English culture in the 1860s and 1870s would break this uniformity apart. The first was the campaign for hellenism, spearheaded by matthew arnold. the second was the transformation of shelley’s reputation which culminated in the founding of the shelley society in 1886. these two impulses were not intrinsically incompatible. frank turner has characterised arnold’s vision as a ‘radical Victorian humanism’, which sounds like something shelley himself might endorse. But, as turner points out in his rich and insightful book The Greek Heritage in Victorian Britain, when aesthetic critics like walter Pater and John addington symonds took arnold at his word, turning away from christianity and towards the classics for ethical and metaphysical guidance, the orthodox arnoldians reacted by retreating into an ever closer alliance with the church.23 as the aesthetic critics took up the shelleyan cause, the arnoldians responded with a muted version of the mid-Victorian titan. the eminent classical scholar f.a. Paley’s edition of hesiod (1861) and his prose translation of aeschylus (1864) mark the transition from the mid-Victorian christian classicism to the new hellenism. Like williams, Paley had been swept up by the oxford movement. in his introduction to hesiod he duly discusses the parallels with Biblical narratives, taking an interpretative line which on the face of it is not far from Elton’s. insisting repeatedly that the similarities between Genesis and the Theogony are too many and too close to be dismissed as coincidences, he traces them not to direct influence but to a shared tradition dating back to before the Flood, which he accepts as a historical event. But the intellectual framework within which Paley constructs his interpretation differs greatly from that of Elton and his successors. informed by the latest research in philology, comparative mythology, geology and archaeology, Paley insists on human antiquity far outstripping the received Biblical chronology. he therefore takes Genesis not as literal truth but as one record of ‘extremely ancient asiatic traditions’, of which the Theogony is another. no evolutionist, he entertains the possibility that the Theogony, like Genesis, may contain ‘obscure reminiscences relating to the creation of the world’, but he sees this as of ‘archaeological’ not theological interest.24 as Paley’s edition of hesiod illustrates, the new hellenists saw their serious and scholarly attention to the classics as part of the wider enterprise of a secular humanism. for all that he is a christian himself, when it comes to his 22 horne, Prometheus the Fire-Bringer, pp. iii–iv; charles kingsley, The Water Babies: A Fairy Tale for a Landbaby (ware: wordsworth, 1994), p. 177; Buckley, The Tragedies of Aeschylus, p. xii. 23 frank m. turner, The Greek Heritage in Victorian Britain (new haven: yale University Press, 1981), pp. 30–32. 24 The Epics of Hesiod, ed. f.a. Paley (London: whittaker, 1861), pp. xv–xxiii.

Prometheus Rebound


translation of aeschylus, Paley does not believe that Prometheus Bound needs the endorsement of christianity, nor a place in the current political landscape, to make it relevant or valuable. instead, the implicit assertion – for all that this is compromised by the process of translation – is that the text can speak for itself and has value in itself. The five discrete translations of Prometheus Bound which appeared between 1865 and 1870 – two into prose, by Roscoe mongan and John Perkins, and three into verse, by seth watson, augusta webster and c.B. cayley – all follow Paley in largely or wholly resisting the temptation to impose interpretations on the play beyond those arising from their translations themselves. this spate of translations is matched by a more gradual proliferation of original plays in the Greek mode designed to restore the lost tragedies of the original aeschylean trilogy. the existence of this trilogy and its precise contents is still debated, but the dominant view among classical scholars throughout the nineteenth century was that Prometheus Bound was the middle play, proceeded by Prometheus the Fire-Bringer, in which the theft of fire for which the titan was to be punished took place, and followed by Prometheus Unbound. these gaps in the literary record offered an ideal opportunity for poets who, like arnold in Merope or swinburne in Atalanta in Calydon, wanted to try their hand at Greek tragedy. Horne’s attempt to restore the lost first play in Prometheus the Fire-Bringer is repeated by william cox Bennett in Prometheus the Fire-Giver (1877) and by Robert Bridges in Prometheus the Firegiver (1883). at the other end of the trilogy, G.a. simcox’s Prometheus Unbound (1867) is followed by James allan’s somewhat looser Prometheus (1890) and Bernard drew’s Prometheus Delivered (1908). what all these efforts share is their limited ambition. shelley himself had observed that the Greek tragedians ‘by no means conceived themselves bound to adhere to the common interpretation or to imitate in story as in title their rivals and predecessors’.25 for the Victorian hellenists in contrast, imitation is their watchword. originality is eschewed, even repudiated, as their interpretations are firmly circumscribed both by the received narrative of the myth as it appears in the classical sources and by the form and style of Greek tragedy. as Richard Jenkyns remarks, ‘to be Greek was to succeed; it had become an end in itself’.26 while these translators and poets were paying homage to aeschylus, another group of poets and critics, lead by swinburne, symonds and william michael Rossetti, were canonising shelley as, in George saintsbury’s words, ‘one of the greatest lyric poets of the world’.27 writing in 1878 symonds both anticipates arnold’s approach to literature and challenges his judgement when he declares that ‘a genuine liking for Prometheus Unbound may be reckoned the touch-stone of a man’s capacity for understanding lyric poetry’.28 By the 1880s, Prometheus Unbound is being held up as ‘this amazing lyric world’, ‘the supreme English poem of the nineteenth century’

25 The Complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, ed. thomas hutchinson (London: oxford University Press, 1934), pp. 204–5. 26 Jenkyns, The Victorians and Ancient Greece, p. 104. 27 George saintsbury, A History of Nineteenth Century Literature (1780–1900), 8th edn (London: macmillan, 1912), p. 85. 28 John addington symonds, Shelley, 2nd edn (London: macmillan, 1878), p. 124.

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


and ‘the supreme expression of the great humanitarian movement of this century’.29 symonds anticipates that it might one day form one of ‘the sacred songs of universal religion’ and the young w.B. yeats too takes it as his ‘sacred book’.30 alongside their hyperbole, this euphoric school of shelley criticism – dubbed ‘the intense inane’ by sylva norman – tends towards schematic allegorical readings of Prometheus Unbound, narrowing its potential significance and turning it into precisely the kind of didactic poetry for which shelley declares his abhorrence in the preface to that very work.31 Prometheus himself is typically identified in Positivist terms with the human mind, while in the more elaborate readings the play’s other characters too are given their own specific allegorical roles.32 much as the hellenists are untrue to the spirit of aeschylus by imitating him too closely, so the shelleyans are untrue to their master by elevating his poetry into gospel. at the same time, while their readings are reductive, they are at least honest in openly sharing shelley’s commitment to intellectual liberty and the democratic cause. as the shelleyans revive the radical Romantic Prometheus, so the arnoldians increasingly restore his conservative Victorian successor. for Bridges and Edward dowden, both sincere admirers of shelley, the collective eulogy needs to be tempered with a little common sense. writing to Richard watson dixon in 1895, Bridges rejects his own plan to write a commentary on shelley’s drama – and implicitly those commentaries already written by shelleyans such as william Rossetti – because he finds the poem’s ‘philosophical entanglement’ to be ‘hopeless’.33 dowden, who saw in Bridges’s Prometheus the Firegiver ‘a grave, almost a religious beauty’, likewise finds Shelley’s philosophy, as embodied in Prometheus, unconvincing: humanity is no chained titan of indomitable virtue. it is a weak and trembling thing, which yet, through error and weakness, traversed or overcome, may at last grow strong. to represent evil as external—the tyranny of a malignant God or fortune, or as an intellectual error—is to falsify the true conception of human progress. the progress which indeed concerns us is that which consists in working out the beast, and gradually growing to the fulness of the stature of the perfect man.34

The Works of Francis Thompson, ed. wilfred meynell, 3 vols (London: Burns etc, 1913), 3, p. 26; John todhunter, A Study of Shelley (London: kegan Paul, 1880), p. 134; h.s. salt, A Shelley Primer (London: turner, 1887), p. 64. 30 John addington symonds, Essays Speculative and Suggestive, 3rd edn (London: smith, Elder, 1907), p. 394; w.B. yeats, Autobiographies (London: macmillan, 1955), p. 87. 31 sylva norman, Flight of the Skylark: The Development of Shelley’s Reputation (London: Reinhardt, 1954), p. 235. 32 william m. Rossetti, Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound: A Study of Its Meaning and Personages (privately printed for the shelley society, 1886); symonds, Shelley, pp. 122–3; salt, A Shelley Primer, p. 62. 33 The Selected Letters of Robert Bridges with the Correspondence of Robert Bridges and Lionel Muirhead, ed. donald E. stanford, 2 vols (newark: University of delaware Press, 1983–84), 1, p. 298. 34 Edward dowden, New Studies in Literature (London: kegan Paul, 1895), p. 88; and The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley, 2 vols (London: kegan Paul, 1886), 2, pp. 263–4. 29

Prometheus Rebound


this counter-reading of Prometheus put forward in response to the shelleyans is an updated version of that set out by the mid-Victorians in response to shelley himself. for Bridges and dowden, shelley’s understanding of humanity is convoluted, and his version of the Prometheus myth therefore naïve and misguided. instead of radical idealism, they argue, the myth advocates moral and political realism; instead of revolutionary Positivism, it should guide us towards evolutionary social darwinism. as dowden’s comment on Bridges’s play suggests, the christian reading of Prometheus, at its height from the 1830s to the 1850s, is similarly restored in a modified form in the 1880s. The triumph of liberal Anglicanism in the aftermath of darwin and the higher criticism left the typological readings of the earlier Victorian commentators largely redundant. in their place, later Victorian poets use symbolic gestures to identify Prometheus’s cause with christ’s. Ernest myers, who notes in an essay on aeschylus that the Greek-speaking christian fathers saw a parallel between Prometheus and christ, hints at that parallel himself in ‘the Judgment of Prometheus’ (1886) in Prometheus’s prophecy that ‘there shall not fail a prophet in my place, / some hand to bear the torch, new wisdom bringing / wiser than Promethéan’.35 Bridges makes the same move both more unmistakably and with greater sophistication in the second act of Prometheus the Firegiver. myers presents Prometheus’s release directly, attributing it, as in the classical tradition, to his knowledge of the dangers faced by Zeus if he fathers a child on thetis. Prometheus’s foreknowledge of Zeus’s fall in Prometheus Bound is therefore unambiguously identified with this tradition, and his hint at Christ’s incarnation becomes merely another example of his foresight. By focussing on the theft of fire, Bridges can keep the fulfilment of Prometheus’s prophecy, and therefore the prophecy itself, ambiguous, casting it in terms which apply equally well to the supposed overthrow of Zeus within pagan mythology and to the overthrow of paganism itself by christianity. Bridges closes his play with a choral ode in which Prometheus is invoked as ‘our shield from the anger of Zeus’ whose ‘place is prepared in hell’: and a greater than he shall hurl him down from his throne. down, down from his throne! for the god who shall rule mankind from the deathless skies By mercy and truth shall be known, in love and peace shall arise.36

Bridges imagines a supplanting of the many gods of paganism by one god, whose reign is characterised as true. this claim to ‘truth’ is a statement both of belief – where paganism is untrue, christianity is true – and of moral worth. the new regime is one of mercy and crucially love, as opposed to the gross and cruel amorality of the olympian deities at large and the arbitrary tyranny of Zeus in particular, whose ultimate fate recalls that of milton’s satan. Prometheus cannot bring about this 35 Ernest myers, ‘aeschylus’ in Hellenica: A Collection of Essays on Greek Poetry Philosophy History and Religion, ed. Evelyn abbott (London: Rivingtons, 1880), 1–32, p. 29, and The Judgment of Prometheus and Other Poems (London: macmillan, 1886), p. 14. 36 The Poetical Works of Robert Bridges excluding the eight dramas (London: oxford University Press, 1913), pp. 28–9, 47–8.

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


transformation himself, but he can prepare humanity for it and sustain it in its hope. no longer a type of christ himself, he becomes instead a hellenic answer to the hebraic old testament prophets. Prometheus Rebound Bridges’s mask, as he called it, was admired by poets as diverse as Gerard manley hopkins, coventry Patmore (who was sent a copy by hopkins), w.B. yeats (who was lent one by dowden) and Laurence Binyon.37 Read not for originality but for craft, it remains even today a beautiful art-object. the blank verse is poised, versatile and satisfying, the ideas engaging and suggestive without being unduly demanding or challenging. But all told, its potential to engage new readers is limited by its own limited ambition and outlook. in Shelley’s Mythmaking, harold Bloom distinguishes poetry which is purely mythological from poetry which is truly mythopoeic. for Bloom, mythological poetry, is ‘unitraditional’. in its most creative form, the poet ‘utilizes a given mythology but extends its range of significance without violating it in spirit, or even very much in letter’. mythopoeic poetry, in contrast, ‘embodies’ a ‘direct perception of a thou in natural objects or phenomena’. at its most ambitious, the poet has the courage ‘to make his own abstractions’ in which to realise these i–thou relationships, rather than following the received traditions of a given myth.38 the Jungian classicist carl kerényi too distinguishes myths ‘in a living state’ from merely literary accounts, arguing that to be ‘living’ the myth must be concerned with ‘existence’. kerényi is not merely separating the literary from the oral tradition, but rather, like Bloom, distinguishing between literary writers. where Bloom’s distinction is between making new myths and retelling old ones, kerényi’s is between those poets for whom myth is alive and those for whom it is merely a repository of narratives. in effect, kerényi’s distinction underlies Bloom’s, as both characterise the true poets of myth – the mythológoi, in kerényi’s terms – as having a vivid sense of the reality of the myths they relate. in Bloom’s words, the truly mythopoeic poet is ‘not animating what is for him not animate’, but rather experiencing the relationship between himself and the abstract concept or natural phenomenon that he represents directly. where shelley is for Bloom a mythopoeic poet, Bridges is clearly – and merely – a mythological one. kerényi does not consider shelley to be a mythológos so much as a prophet, ‘for he relates not what originally was but what will be’. But Bridges fares no better on his terms either. the

Further Letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins including his Correspondence with Coventry Patmore, ed. claude colleer abbott, 2nd edn (London: oxford University Press, 1956), pp. 296–8; The Correspondence of Robert Bridges and W.B. Yeats, ed. Richard J. finneran (London: macmillan, 1977), pp. 4, 8, 53; Laurence Binyon, ‘mr. Bridges’ “Prometheus” and Poetic drama’, The Dome 2 (1899), pp. 199–206. 38 harold Bloom, Shelley’s Mythmaking (ithaca, ny: cornell University Press, 1969), pp. 5, 8. 37

Prometheus Rebound


very project of completing aeschylus after his own fashion is the act of a literary maker and not the interpreter of a living myth.39 the relation between a myth and ‘existence’ can vary depending on which narrative moment is taken to equate to the present. in kerényi’s reading of aeschylus, it is in the lost third tragedy that ‘the firmly established, definitively ordered world in which we live’ is brought into being.40 the Victorian hellenists who recreate this lost play or, like Bridges, anticipate it with dramatic irony, are committing themselves to this reading. a commitment to shelley likewise forecloses any independent mythmaking, as the resolution of Prometheus Unbound, for all that it takes place in the future rather than the past, appears equally fixed. Those late Victorian poets who would make a living contribution to the myth itself or find new meanings within it would have to return instead to the central image of Prometheus in chains, suffering the wrath of Zeus. in reviving this image, these late Victorians abstract the myth from its narrative, locating it in an eternal present moment. as the manchester preacher w.a. o’conor argues, the power of Prometheus as a symbol lies not in the unbinding itself but in the prospect of unbinding which justifies and makes tolerable his and our suffering. where Bridges equates the release of Prometheus with the incarnation of christ, o’conor rejects ‘the premature substitution of a triumphant for a crucified Christ’, insisting instead that ‘That Prometheus may do his work his bondage must continue’.41 in the 1870s and 1880s, a number of poets follow Goethe and Byron in presenting Prometheus bound as a fitting image for the human condition, either locally, as experienced by particular individuals, or at large. in place of plays and long poems, they opt for shorter lyrics, particularly sonnets, and dramatic monologues. Like the hellenists, most of them add little that is new to the myth. alexander Eager in ‘Prometheus’ (1877) and Eugene Lee-hamilton in ‘Promethean fancies’ (1884) affirm Goethe’s critique of the Olympian gods and by extension, in Lee-Hamilton’s case, of ‘the author of the miscreated world’.42 with characteristic Byronism, egotism and incoherence, wilfrid scawen Blunt in The Love Sonnets of Proteus (1881) casts himself as Prometheus suffering in chains for his refusal to accept his lover’s rejection.43 the last sonnet of mark andré Raffalovich’s sequence ‘the world well Lost’ (1886) is a more artful and original reworking of Byron in which the myth takes on a private significance:

carl kerényi, Prometheus: Archetypal Image of Human Existence, trans. Ralph mannheim (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991), pp. xi, xxiv–xxv; Bloom, Shelley’s Mythmaking, p. 6. 40 kerényi, Prometheus (1991), p. 83. 41 w.a. o’conor, ‘the Prometheus of aeschylus and shelley’, in Manchester Quarterly 1 (1882): 29–45, 30. 42 alexander R. Eager, Prometheus, and Other Poems (dublin: Ponsonby, 1877), pp. 1–4; Eugene Lee-hamilton, Apollo and Marsyas, and Other Poems (London: stock, 1884), pp. 137–8. 43 [Wilfrid Scawen Blunt], The Love Sonnets of Proteus (London: Paul, 1881), pp. 19–20. 39

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


you are to me the secret of my soul and i to you what no man yet has been. I, your Prometheus, fire from heaven stole and for my theft the world’s revenge is keen. what i have done for you no man has done; i have nor begged nor bought a common bliss, But what you are to me you were to none. and i will suffer this, and more than this, and much beyond that more, a martyrdom without the crown of a celestial birth, or any hope of any world to come Exalting most what lowest was on Earth, the passion purest of all out of heaven, the love in hell least easily forgiven.44

Raffalovich’s speaker is Prometheus only to his beloved, not to humanity at large, and only the beloved can know precisely what is meant by the theft of fire in this exclusive context. the closing lines of his sonnet hint at that context itself, however, as the answer to the riddle – which love fits all these descriptions? – is homosexuality, seen through the lenses of late Victorian prejudice, Platonism and christian morality in turn. Raffalovich’s sonnet is an effective treatment of Prometheus within the tradition of the personal lyric. the most effective use of the dramatic monologue to explore and develop the implications of the myth is augusta webster’s ‘an inventor’, from her masterpiece, Portraits (1870). Like Elizabeth Barrett, webster had ‘exhibited her classical credentials’ with her own translation of Prometheus Bound in 1866.45 her poem, however, reverberates not with aeschylus’s version of the myth but with mary shelley’s. webster’s male speaker is an inventor whose wife and children are enduring genteel poverty as he works unsuccessfully at designing a conscious clockwork robot. the parallel with Frankenstein is clear, but where the analogy between frankenstein (or his creature) and Prometheus is a piece of unresolved authorial commentary conveyed through the novel’s subtitle, it is the inventor who likens himself to Prometheus in webster’s poem: oh, if it were but my one self to spend! But to doom them too with me! never a thought Dawns first into the world but is a curse On the rash finder; part of heaven’s fire filched to bestow on men, and for your pay the vulture at your heart.46

mark andré Raffalovich, In Fancy Dress (London: scott, 1886), p. 18. helen cooper, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Woman & Artist (chapel hill, nc: University of north carolina Press, 1988), p. 15. 46 augusta webster, Portraits and Other Poems, ed. christine sutphin (Peterborough, ontario: Broadview, 2000), p. 273. 44 45

Prometheus Rebound


Webster uses the myth of Prometheus to explore a central theme identified in Shelley’s novel by critics such as George Levine, Paul Cantor and Harriet Hustis: the conflict between the creative impulse and the obligations of domestic responsibility.47 the inventor is genuinely concerned about his family, yet he cannot resolve to abandon his aspiration to be the one to snatch the fire of life and instil it in his ‘creature’. Like frankenstein, he sets truth to himself and his mission above his responsibilities to others. the irony lies in the discrepancy between his self-image and his actual achievements. Unlike frankenstein, the inventor is at best a Prometheus manqué. his attempts to create mechanical life have been a string of draining failures. he is therefore being punished before the fact, punished in part by his own delusion. the poem as a whole thus emerges as a critique of the Romantic myth in the spirit of Victorian realism. where shelley in her novel interrogates the wisdom and goodness of the Promethean overreacher, webster asks instead whether the myth of Prometheus is of use in the real world of economics and responsibility. her perspective on Prometheus as a model recalls kingsley’s in The Water-Babies, but she holds up no Epimetheus as a counter-type. instead, like Eliot in Middlemarch and Gissing in New Grub Street, she curses her protagonist and those who depend on him to a life of disappointment haunted by a delusion as to what he might have been. with a twist of the knife which only reveals itself on a second reading, she hints in the first few lines that the inventor himself knows, at least unconsciously, the truth of his own situation, as he complains ‘there’s that flaw again, the petty flaw, / The fretting small impossibility / That has to be made possible’ (p. 272). Like sisyphus, he will forever be attempting to make the impossible possible, something that frankenstein is permitted to achieve, but the inventor, we surmise, never will. For Webster, therefore, Prometheus the thief of fire remains an illusion, a comforting but dangerous myth by which we delude ourselves into believing that we can reach beyond the limits of the world of constraint and necessity within which we are inevitably bound. Both webster and Raffalovich take the myth of Prometheus as an analogy – legitimate or otherwise – for the situations of particular individuals. John addington Symonds, by contrast, takes the figure of the bound Prometheus as a symbol of the wider human condition. in so doing he, alone among the Victorians, radically and decisively reshapes the myth. in his essay on aeschylus and his biography of shelley, symonds takes and indeed sets the direction for the familiar hellenist and shelleyan interpretations. it is in his essay on hesiod – collected, alongside that on aeschylus, in the second series of his Studies of the Greek Poets (1876) – that he first puts forward his own independent reading of the myth. symonds’s starting point, like that of George fox forty years earlier, is the parallel between the Prometheus myth as it appears in hesiod and the fall of man as recounted in Genesis. Unlike 47 George Levine, ‘the ambiguous heritage of Frankenstein’, in The Endurance of Frankenstein: Essays on Mary Shelley’s Novel, eds George Levine and U.C. Knoepflmacher (Berkeley: University of california Press, 1979), pp. 3–30, 13–14; Paul a. cantor, Creature and Creator: Myth-making and English Romanticism (cambridge: cambridge University Press, 1984), p. 113; harriet hustis, ‘Responsible creativity and the “modernity” of mary shelley’s Prometheus’, Studies in English Literature 1500–1900 43 (2003): 845–58, 845.


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

Elizabeth Barrett, symonds does not take the Biblical account to be self-evidently superior. But nor, unlike the arnoldians, does he whitewash the darkness of the Greek vision. instead he reads both myths as ‘crude and early’ – and, he adds, misogynistic – ‘attempts to set forth the primitive mystery of conscience, and to account for the prevalence of pain and death’. the weakness of the Biblical account is that it cannot solve and indeed brings into being the problem of evil, as it depends upon a manichean structure and yet also supposes the omnipotence and righteousness of God. as he writes, ‘the hebrew story does not explain the justice of that omnipotent Being who created man with capacity for error, and exposed him to temptation’. the myth of Prometheus solves this problem by presupposing ‘injustice in the divine government of the world’. if God is not presumed to be good, then the existence of evil and suffering ceases to be a conundrum. and although Prometheus is initially merely a ‘wily gamester’, no more morally admirable than Zeus himself, through his suffering he becomes an emblem of humanity’s ‘stern heroism’ and ‘stoical acceptance’. Prometheus endures because he is assured of his own ultimate release, but that again is arbitrary, ‘the iron will of fate’ and not, as in the Judaeo-christian tradition, the will of a merciful God.48 symonds’s reading of the Prometheus myth is remarkable in that it is overtly postchristian. he sets the Greek and christian myths alongside each other as alternative and equally ‘primitive’ attempts to explain the world-order and the human condition. he allows the Judaeo-christian conception of God ‘aesthetic superiority’ on account of ‘its idealisation of the deity at all costs’, but those costs, he implies, include credibility. But symonds is equally reluctant to accept the view of God ‘lowered to the infamy of a tyrant’ suggested by the Prometheus myth.49 what Prometheus does give him, however, is a model for endurance within an arbitrarily hostile world. in her note on Prometheus Unbound, mary shelley remarks that, according to her husband’s view of human destiny, ‘evil is not inherent in the system of the creation, but an accident that might be expelled’.50 cantor expands on this to suggest that, for Percy shelley, the ‘fundamental human error’ is ‘to see evil, not as something arbitrary or accidental in the universe, but as part of some grand cosmic scheme’.51 symonds agrees, but he does not share shelley’s optimism. instead his reading is starkly darwinian, without the hope of transcending the darwinian order on which dowden depends. Physical and mental suffering, which we call evil, is arbitrary, but it is also fundamental to life as formed by natural selection. there is no cosmic purpose behind suffering, but equally there is no prospect of ending it. in his sonnet sequence Animi Figura (1882), symonds builds up a composite picture of the human condition through a portrait of his own mind. Unlike Bridges, symonds is a genuinely mythopoeic poet. the myths which he deploys inhabited his own unconscious, featuring in dreams, trances and fantasies, and recurring time

48 John addington symonds, Studies of the Greek Poets: Second Series (London: Elder, 1876), pp. 115–17. 49 symonds, Studies of the Greek Poets, p. 117. 50 shelley, The Complete Poetical Works, p. 271. 51 cantor, Creature and Creator, p. 83.

Prometheus Rebound


and again in his writing, both in poetry and prose.52 at the same time, his myths are offered to the reader as alternative and complementary interpretations of the world, rather than as a single ‘cosmic scheme’. in Animi Figura, Prometheus, fused with christ, appears in the last sonnet as the ‘protomartyr’, an emblem of redemption from Satan, who lays claim to ‘this universe submerged in woe’ fifteen sonnets earlier.53 But it is clear that the redemption offered by symonds’s Prometheus is far more qualified than that offered by Shelley’s or Bridges’s. Carol Dougherty notes that Byron likewise ‘offers no alternative to the suffering and endurance that marks the human experience’.54 But where Byron at least gives his readers the emotional satisfaction of defiance, the only prospect Symonds holds out is stoicism. Marlon Ross and stuart sperry have both drawn attention to the fact that shelley’s poem aims to effect a change in its reader. as sperry has argued, shelley’s vision of redemption requires that a change be brought about within human nature, a change which the poem itself must begin to effect.55 for symonds, there is no prospect of changing human nature or the world-order, and insofar as his poem aims to bring about a change it is rather in the realisation of this fact than in the hope of countering it. symonds’s worldview is a new one, so the use he makes of Prometheus in Animi Figura is new too. it remains, nonetheless, within the bounds of the received myth, except insofar as Prometheus features alongside and so inevitably interacts intertextually with other mythic beings in the sequence as a whole. in his earlier poem, ‘Prometheus dead’ (1880), symonds goes further, transforming the narrative of the myth by killing off the titan while he is still bound. Based on a dream of his own, the poem is a dream vision in which the speaker finds himself wandering the frozen cliffs of caucasus.56 Beneath the ice he sees ‘a god’s form without motion / Strained as on a crucifix’ which he recognises as Prometheus, encased in his own frozen tears. He responds with an outpouring of sympathy that is itself a reflection of the comfort that symonds’s speaker gains from the knowledge that Prometheus is still suffering on mankind’s behalf: ah Prometheus! friend and master! dost thou still endure for us thy perpetual disaster on the cliffs of caucasus? shall new creeds and new gods waken hope for men, while thou forsaken still must weep and suffer thus? see The Memoirs of John Addington Symonds, ed. Phyllis Grosskurth (London: hutchinson, 1984), pp. 57–9, 92, 273. 53 John addington symonds, Animi Figura (London: Elder, 1882), pp. 125, 140. 54 dougherty, Prometheus (2006), p. 99. 55 marlon B. Ross, ‘shelley’s wayward dream-Poem: the apprehending Reader in Prometheus Unbound,’ Keats–Shelley Journal 36 (1987): 110–33; stuart m. sperry, Shelley’s Major Verse: The Narrative and Dramatic Poetry (cambridge, ma: harvard University Press, 1988), p. 123. 56 The Letters of John Addington Symonds, eds herbert m schueller and Robert L. Peters, 3 vols (detroit: wayne state University Press, 1967–69), 2, p. 885; John addington symonds and margaret symonds, Our Life in the Swiss Highlands (London: Black, 1892), p. 360. 52

Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era


as in Animi Figura, the survival of Prometheus as a living symbol is a source of moral strength as well as sympathetic pain. again, symonds does not prioritise the ‘new gods’ of christianity over their pagan antecedents, but suggests, much as kerényi would, that the old myths remain true as archetypes regardless of transitory fluctuations in the details of ‘creeds’. In the poem’s closing stanzas, however, this reading of myth is given the lie as the dreamer realises that ‘encased in that cold prison / Lay a mummied mystery’. in death, Prometheus becomes a symbol of all gods, who ‘die and dwindle / with each twirl of clotho’s spindle, / and she spins eternally’.57 Prometheus is transformed by symonds from an emblem of the continued relevance of pagan myth to a symbol of the mortality of all religions, including christianity. symonds re-writes myth to pronounce myth dead, leaving only one mythic figure intact, Clotho, herself a symbol of arbitrary fate and the eternal passage of time. In the final analysis, we must face her on our own, without Prometheus, christ or any other god to stand by us. the voice of Prometheus, ventriloquised by Goethe, echoes down the nineteenth century in the poetry of one generation after another. with each new generation, the note changes. The first reverberation is an inversion, as the radical, non-Christian Prometheus of the younger Romantics becomes the type of paternalist reform and Christian faith for the first Victorians. Both Romantic and Victorian voices echo, muted and dulled, into the next generation, as Prometheus is transformed in turn into an arnoldian ideal and the emblem of freethinking. where for both these camps, Prometheus is more suggestive free than bound, it is paradoxically only by rebinding Prometheus that symonds can free him from the interpretative shackles of midVictorian christianity, conservative hellenism and shelleyan optimism. By killing him, he gives him new meaning and so new life as a symbol. of all the Victorian commentators, translators and poets who wrote and rewrote Prometheus, symonds alone is truly ‘a modern mythológos’.58

John addington symonds, New and Old: A Volume of Verse (London: Elder, 1880), pp. 158–62. 58 kerényi, Prometheus (1991), p. xxv. 57

selected Bibliography allen,Vivien, Hall Caine: Portrait of a Victorian Romancer. Sheffield: Sheffield academic Press, 1997. ———, ed., Dear Mr. Rossetti: The Letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Hall Caine 1878–1881. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000. Barclay, John, ‘consuming artifacts: dante Gabriel Rossetti’s aesthetic Economy’, Victorian Poetry 35 (1997): 1–21. Barfoot, c.c., ed., Victorian Keats and Romantic Carlyle: The Fusions and Confusions of Literary Periods. amsterdam: Rodopi, 1999. Bate, walter Jackson, The Burden of the Past and the English Poet. London: chatto & windus, 1971. Beer, John, Romantic Influences: Contemporary–Victorian–Modern. new york: st. martin’s, 1993. Bennett, Betty t., Lives of the Great Romantics: Godwin, Wollstonecraft & Mary Shelley by Their Contemporaries. vol. 3: Mary Shelley. London: Pickering & chatto, 1999. Bewell, alan, Romanticism and Colonial Disease. Baltimore: Johns hopkins University Press, 1999. Birkenhead, sheila, Against Oblivion: The Life of Joseph Severn. London: cassell, 1943. ———, Illustrious Friends: The Story of Joseph Severn and his Son Arthur. London: hamilton, 1965. Blake, kathleen, ‘Elizabeth Barrett Browning & wordsworth: the Romantic Poet as woman.’ Victorian Poetry 24 (1986): 387–98. Blank, G. kim, Wordsworth’s Influence on Shelley: A Study of Poetic Authority. London: macmillan, 1988. Bloom, harold, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (1973). oxford: oxford University Press, 1975. Bristow, Joseph, Effeminate England: Homoerotic Writing After 1885. new york: columbia University Press, 1995. Bullen, J.B. The Pre-Raphaelite Body: Fear and Desire in Painting, Poetry, and Criticism. oxford: clarendon Press, 1998. Butler, Lance st. John, ed., Alternative Hardy. London: macmillan, 1991. campbell, matthew, Rhythm and Will in Victorian Poetry. cambridge studies in nineteenth-century Literature and culture 22. cambridge: cambridge University Press, 1999. campbell orr, clarissa, ed., Wollstonecraft’s Daughters: Womanhood in England and France 1780–1920. manchester: manchester University Press, 1996. cantor, Paul a. Creature and Creator: Myth-making and English Romanticism. cambridge: cambridge University Press, 1984. clifford, david and Laurence Roussillon, eds, Outsiders Looking In: The Rossettis Then and Now. London: anthem, 2004.


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

codell, Julie f., ‘Painting keats: Pre-Raphaelite artists Between social transgressions and Painterly conventions’, Victorian Poetry 33 (1995): 341–70. cohen, Ed, Talk on the Wild Side; Toward a Genealogy of Discourse on Male Sexualities. new york: Routledge, 1993. cooper, helen, Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Woman and Artist. chapel hill, north carolina: University of north carolina Press, 1988. cronin, Richard, Romantic Victorians: English Literature 1824–1840. London: Palgrave-macmillan, 2002. curran, stuart, Shelley’s Annus Mirabilis: The Maturing of an Epic Vision. san marino, ca: huntingdon, 1975. d’albertis, deidre, Dissembling Fictions: Elizabeth Gaskell and the Victorian Social Text. new york: st martin’s, 1997. daley, kenneth, The Rescue of Romanticism: Walter Pater and John Ruskin. columbus, oh: ohio University Press, 2001. de man, Paul, The Rhetoric of Romanticism. new york: columbia University Press, 1984. dellamora, Richard, ed., Victorian Sexual Dissidence. chicago: University of chicago Press, 1999. dougherty, carol, Prometheus. abingdon: Routledge, 2006. doughty, oswald, A Victorian Romantic: Dante Gabriel Rossetti. London: muller, 1949. douglas-fairhurst, Robert, Victorian Afterlives: The Shaping of Influence in Nineteenth-Century Literature. oxford: oxford University Press, 2002. dowling, Linda, Hellenism and Homosexuality in Victorian Oxford. ithaca, ny and London: cornell University Press, 1994. Edsall, nicholas, Toward Stonewall: Homosexuality and Society in the Modern Western World. Virginia: University of Virginia Press, 2003. Elfenbein, andrew, Byron and the Victorians. cambridge: cambridge University Press, 1995. ———, Romantic Genius: The Prehistory of a Homosexual Mode. new york: columbia University Press, 1999. Faflak, Joel and Julia M Wright, eds, Nervous Reactions: Victorian Recollections of Romanticism. albany, ny: state University of new york Press, 2004. faxon, alicia craig, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. London: abbeville, 1989. felluga, dino franco, The Perversity of Poetry: Romantic Ideology and the Popular Male Poet of Genius. albany, ny: state University of new york Press, 2005. fleming, G.h., John Everett Millais: A Biography. London: constable, 1998. foldy, michael s., The Trials of Oscar Wilde: Deviance, Morality, and Late Victorian Society. new haven and London: yale University Press, 1997. ford, George h., Keats and the Victorians: A Study of His Influence and Rise to Fame 1821–1895. new haven: yale University Press, 1944. foster, shirley, Victorian Women’s Fiction: Marriage, Freedom, and the Individual. London and sydney: helm, 1985. fry, Paul, The Poet’s Calling in the English Ode. new haven and London: yale University Press, 1980. Gaunt, william, The Pre-Raphaelite Tragedy. London: cape, 1965.

Selected Bibliography


Gill, stephen, Wordsworth and the Victorians. oxford: clarendon Press, 1998. Groom, nick, ed., Thomas Chatterton and Romantic Culture. London: macmillan, 1999. ———, The Forger’s Shadow: How Forgery Changed the Course of Literature. London: Picador, 2002. hares-stryker, carolyn, An Anthology of Pre-Raphaelite Writings. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997. harvey, william R., ‘charles dickens and the Byronic hero’, Nineteenth-Century Fiction 24 (1969–70): 305–16. haskell, thomas, ‘capitalism and the origins of the humanitarian sensibility’, American Historical Review 90 (1985): 339–61. haynes, deborah J., Bakhtin and the Visual Arts. cambridge: cambridge University Press, 1995. henriques, Ursula, Before the Welfare State: Child Labour and the Organisation of Production in the British Cotton Industry. amsterdam: Rodopi, 1989. homans, margaret, Bearing the Word: Language and Experience in the NineteenthCentury Women’s Writing. chicago and London: University of chicago Press, 1986. hustis, harriet, ‘Responsible creativity and the “modernity” of mary shelley’s Prometheus’, Studies in English Literature 1500–1900 43 (2003): 845–58. Jenkyns, Richard, The Victorians and Ancient Greece. oxford: Blackwell, 1980. John, Juliet, Dickens’s Villains: Melodrama, Character, Popular Culture. oxford: oxford University Press, 2001. kerényi, carl, Prometheus: Archetypal Image of Human Existence, trans. Ralph mannheim. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991. kirby, Peter, Child Labour in Britain, 1750–1870. Basingstoke: Palgrave-macmillan, 2003. kramer Linkin, harriet and stephen c. Behrendt, eds, Romanticism and Women Poets: Opening the Doors of Reception. Lexington: University Press of kentucky, 1999. kucich, John, The Power of Lies: Transgression in Victorian Fiction. ithaca, ny, and London: cornell University Press, 1994. Landsbury, carol, Elizabeth Gaskell. Boston: twayne, 1984. Levine, Richard a., ed., The Victorian Experience: The Poets. columbus, oh: ohio University Press, 1982. Levinson, marjorie, Keats’s Life of Allegory: The Origins of a Style. oxford and new york: Blackwell, 1988. Lewis, Linda m., Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Spiritual Progress: Face to Face With God. columbia and London: University of missouri Press, 1998. Lloyd, tom, Crises of Realism: Representing Experience in the British Novel, 1816– 1910. London: associated University Presses, 1997. mccarthy, william, ‘why anna Letitia Barbauld Refused to head a women’s college: new facts, new story’, Nineteenth-Century Contexts 23 (2001): 364–5. mcGann, Jerome J., Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Game that Must be Lost. new haven: yale University Press, 2000. macGillivray, J.R., Keats: A Bibliography and Reference Guide with an Essay on Keats’s Reputation. toronto: toronto University Press, 1949.


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

margraff turley, Richard, Keats’s Boyish Imagination. London and new york: Routledge, 2004. marquess, william henry, Lives of the Poet: The First Century of Keats Biography. University Park: Pennsylvania state University Press, 1985. marsh, Jan, Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Painter and Poet. London: nicolson, 1999. marshall, mrs. Julian (florence), The Life and Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. 2 vols. London: Richard Bentley, 1889. Rpt. new york: haskell, 1970. matthews, samantha, Poetical Remains: Poets’ Graves, Bodies, and Books in the Nineteenth Century. oxford: oxford University Press, 2004. mellor, anne, Romanticism and Gender. new york: Routledge, 1993. mermin, dorothy, Elizabeth Barrett Browning: The Origins of a New Poetry. chicago: University of chicago Press, 1989. miller, J. hillis, The Linguistic Moment: From Wordsworth to Stevens. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985. mitchell, w.J.t., Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation. chicago and London: chicago University Press, 1994. moore, kevin Z., The Descent of the Imagination: Postromantic Culture in the Later Novels of Thomas Hardy. new york and London: new york University Press, 1990. murch, Jerom, Mrs. Barbauld and Her Contemporaries: Sketches of Some Eminent Literary and Scientific Englishwomen. London: Longmans, 1877. najarian James, Victorian Keats: Manliness, Sexuality, and Desire. Basingstoke: Palgrave-macmillan, 2002. newey, Vincent, The Scriptures of Charles Dickens. aldershot and Burlington, Vt: ashgate, 2004. newlyn, Lucy, ‘the anxiety of the writing subject’, Studies in Romanticism 35 (1996): 609–28. o’neill, michael and mark sandy, eds. Romanticism: Critical Concepts in Literary and Cultural Studies. 5 vols. London: Routledge, 2006. Pemble, John, John Addington Symonds: Culture and Demon Desire. London: macmillan, 2000. Pinch, adela, Strange Fits of Passion: Epistemologies of Emotion, Hume to Austen. stanford, ca: stanford University Press, 1996. Pirie, david. B. Ed. The Romantic Period. Penguin history of Literature. Vol. 5. harmondsworth: Penguin, 1994. Privateer, Paul michael, Romantic Voices: Identity and Ideology in British Poetry 1789–1850. athens, Ga: University of Georgia Press, 1991. Robinson, Jeffrey c., Reception and Poetics in Keats: ‘My Ended Poet’. Basingstoke: macmillan, 1998. Roe, nicholas, ed., Romanticism: An Oxford Guide. oxford: Blackwell, 2005. ———, ed. Keats and History. cambridge: cambridge University Press, 1995. Rogers, neville, ed., Keats, Shelley, and Rome: An Illustrated Miscellany, 4th edn. London: Johnson, 1970. Rowlinson, matthew, Tennyson’s Fixations: Psychoanalysis and the Bearing of the Word. chartlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995.

Selected Bibliography


Rushton, sharon, ed., The Influence and Anxiety of the British Romantics: Spectres of Romanticism. Lewiston: Edward mellen, 1999. Ryals, clyde de L., A World of Possibilities: Romantic Irony in Victorian Literature. columbus, oh: ohio state University Press, 1990. Ryan, Robert m. and Ronald a. sharp, eds, The Persistence of Poetry: Bicentennial Essays on Keats. amherst: University of massachusetts Press, 1998. st John, michael, ed., Romancing Decay: Ideas of Decadence in European Culture. aldershot and Burlington, Vt: ashgate, 1999. schlicke, Paul, ed., The Oxford Reader’s Companion to Dickens. oxford: oxford University Press, 1999. schor, hilary m., Scheherzade in the Markeplace: Elizabeth Gaskell and the Victorian Novel. new york and oxford: oxford University Press, 1992. scott, Grant f., ed., Joseph Severn: Letters and Memoirs. aldershot and Burlington, Vt: ashgate, 2005. shapiro, Barbara, The Romantic Mother: Narcissistic Patterns in Romantic Poetry. Baltimore: Johns hopkins University Press, 1983. sharp, william, The Life and Letters of Joseph Severn. London: marston, 1892. singer, Jefferson a. and salovey, Peter, The Remembered Self: Emotion and Memory in Personality. new york: free, 1993. smith, alison, The Victorian Nude: Sexuality, Morality and Art. manchester: manchester University Press, 1996. sontag, susan, Illness as Metaphor. harmondsworth: Penguin, 1991. sperry, stuart m., Shelley’s Major Verse: The Narrative and Dramatic Poetry. cambridge, ma: harvard University Press, 1988. stallybrass, Peter and allon white, The Politics and Poetics of Transgression. London: methuen, 1986. stone, donald, The Romantic Impulse in Victorian Fiction. cambridge, ma: harvard University Press, 1980. stone, marjorie, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Basingstoke: macmillan; new york: st martin’s, 1995. sunstein, Emily, Mary Shelley: Romance and Reality. Boston: Little, Brown, 1989. surtees, Virginia, The Paintings and Drawings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828– 1882): A Catalogue Raisonné. oxford: clarendon Press, 1971. sussman, herbert, Victorian Masculinities: Manhood and Masculine Poetics in Early Victorian Literature. cambridge: cambridge University Press, 1995. taylor, donald s., ‘the Problems of Rowley chronology and its implications’, Philological Quarterly 46 (1967): 268–76. ———, Thomas Chatterton’s Art: Experiments in Imagined History. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978. thorslev, Jr, Peter L., The Byronic Hero: Types and Prototypes. minneapolis: University of minnesota Press, 1962. tucker, herbert, Tennyson and the Doom of Romanticism. cambridge, ma: harvard University Press, 1987. turner, frank m., The Greek Heritage in Victorian Britain. new haven: yale University Press, 1981.


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

wallace, Jennifer, ‘tyranny and translation: shelley’s Unbinding of Prometheus’, Romanticism 1 (1995): 15–33. walsh, John Evangelist, Darkling I Listen: The Last Days and Death of John Keats. new york: st martin’s, 1999. watkins, daniel, Sexual Power in British Romantic Poetry. Gainesville, fL: University of florida Press, 1996. weeks, Jeffrey, Sex, Politics, and Sexuality: The Regulation of Sexuality since 1800. London: Longman, 1981. wickens, G. Glen, ‘Romantic myth and Victorian nature in Desperate Remedies’, English Studies in Canada Viii (1982): 154–73. woof, Robert and stephen hebron, John Keats. Grasmere: wordsworth trust, 1995. woolford, John, ‘Elizabeth Barrett Browning and wordsworth’, SBHC 20 (1993): 48–61. wootton, sarah, Consuming Keats: Nineteenth-Century Representations in Art and Literature. Basingstoke: Palgrave-macmillan, 2006.


aeschylus 209, 210, 211, 212, 213, 214, 215, 216, 219, 221 aikin, John 17 aikin, Lucy 8, 15, 18, 20, 21, 26 allan, James 215 allen, Vivien 53 anderson, alexander 42 aristophanes 129, 164, 209 armstrong, isobel 177 armstrong, tim 159 arnold, matthew 5, 6, 9, 12, 37, 49, 105, 107, 108, 113, 116, 119, 134, 146, 147, 148, 155, 156, 158, 159, 166, 171, 173, 179, 209, 214, 215, 216, 222, 224 austen, Jane 25, 129, 137, 179 Bagehot, walter 106, 108 Bailey, Benjamin 168 Baillie, a.w.m. 150 Bakhtin, mikhail 60, 65, 71 Balfour, clara Lucas 15, 18, 19, 20 Barbauld, anna aiken 8, 15–26 Barbauld, Rochemont 17, 20, 21 Barfoot, c.c. 2 Barrie, J.m. 104 Bate, walter Jackson 65 Baudelaire, charles 184 Beatty, Bernard 68, 75, 76, 81, 83 Bennett, Betty t. 22 Bennett, william cox 43, 215 Benson, arthur 51, 59 Bentham, Jeremy 5, 67 Bewell, alan 56 Binyon, Laurence 218 Birkenhead, sheila 45 Blackie, John stuart 211, 212 Blake, kathleen 127 Blake, william 55, 127, 152, 156, 166, 182, 197 The Ecchoing Green 156 London 55 Blank, G. kim 66

Bloom, harold 1, 59, 60, 62, 66, 98, 166, 218, 219 Bloomfield, Robert 199 Blunt, wilfred scawen 14, 28, 219 Brawne, fanny 41, 47, 58 Brereton, Joseph 213 Breton, anna Letitia 8, 15, 18, 21, 26 Bridges, Robert 13, 49, 144, 145, 146, 149, 153, 170, 215, 216, 217, 218, 219, 222, 223 Brodribb, a.B. 16, 26 Brontë, anne 33 The Tenant of Wildfell Hall 33 Brontë, charlotte 3, 124, 125, 126, 131 Brontë, Emily 12, 24, 175, 179, 180, 181, 182, 183 ‘in a day dream’ 179 ‘the Prisoner (a fragment)’ 181–2 ‘to imagination’ 180 Brown, charles 39, 41, 42 Brown, ford madox 25 Browning Elizabeth Barrett 2, 11, 24, 25, 48, 123–41, 210, 211, 220, 222 Aurora Leigh 11, 48, 123–41 ‘fragment of an “Essay on woman”’ 126, 128, 129 Browning, Robert 2, 9, 12, 34, 35, 36, 43, 64, 105, 106, 108, 109, 110, 125, 139 140, 151, 175, 176, 177, 178, 211, 213 Essay on Chatterton 34, 35 Pauline 105 The Ring and the Book 36 Buchanan, Robert ‘the fleshly school of Poetry’ 52, 57 Buckley, t.a. 212, 213 Bullen, J.B. 57 Bulwer-Lytton, Edward 3, 82, 83 England and the English 10, 67, 69 Pelham 10, 69, 70,73 Burke, Edmund 111, 176 Reflections on the Revolution in France 111, 176


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Burns, Robert 4, 127 Byron, Lord George Gordon 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 13, 22, 26, 47, 67–83, 85, 88, 89, 113, 123, 124, 125, 126, 127, 129, 134, 135, 136, 137, 138, 140, 175, 179, 183, 210, 219, 223 Cain 80, 130, 133, 134 Childe Harolde’s Pilgrimage 3, 6, 70, 71, 72, 74, 79, 80, 82, 83, 88, 130, 176 The Corsair 3 Don Juan 47, 54, 68, 69, 74, 75, 76, 77, 80, 81, 82, 83, 125, 126, 130, 131, 132, 138, 139, 140, 141 Lara 3 Manfred 69, 176 The Prisoner of Chillon 89, 181 ‘Prometheus’ 209 The Vision of Judgement 183, 131 caine, thomas hall 9, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 61 call, w.m.w. 212, 213 calvert, George 48 carlyle, thomas 2, 5, 37, 50, 124, 144 carman, Bliss 42 cayley, c.B. 215 chatterton, thomas 8, 9, 27–37 ‘an Excelente Balade of charitie’ 27–32 chopin, kate 124 clare, John 12, 162–4, 173 ‘the nightingale’s nest’ 163, 164 clark, James 48 clough, arthur hugh 179 cockburn, mary 136 codell, Julie 51 coleridge, derwent 212 coleridge, hartley 42, 58, 212 coleridge, samuel taylor 12, 13, 21, 89, 104, 127, 156, 157, 165, 173, 176, 197, 198, 199, 200 Christabel 87, 187 ‘dejection: an ode’ 165, 186 ‘the nightingale’ 162, 163, 164, 165, 166 ‘the Rime of the ancient mariner’ 179, 187 collins, wilkie 8 The Woman in White 9, 30, 31, 32, 33, 36 colvin, sidney 47, 49 cooper, Emmanuel 191

courthope, w.J. 7, 49 cranch, christopher Pearse 42 cronin, Richard 2, 126, 127 daley, kenneth 2 dante, alighieri 64, 178 Vita Nuova 64 darwin, charles 93, 156, 176, 217, 222 de man, Paul 158 de Ryals, clyde L. 2, 228 de selincourt, Ernst 73 de staël, madame 7, 26, 124, 129, 133, 137–8 Corinne 124, 129, 133 D’Allemagne 7 dickens, charles 9, 29, 33, 67–83, 204 Bleak House 33, 68, 76, 77, 78 A Christmas Carol 79 David Copperfield 68, 70, 71, 73 Hard Times 68 Little Dorrit 68, 75 Our Mutual Friend 68, 76, 77, 78, 80 A Tale of Two Cities 68, 78–80 dixon, Richard watson 144–54, 216 doern, kristin G. 19 douglas-fairhurst, Robert 46 dowden, Edward 26, 107, 108, 113, 115, 216, 217, 218, 222 dowling, Linda 91, 92 dowson, Ernest 12, 175, 188, 189 ‘Non sum qualis eram banae sub regno Cynarae’ 188 ‘Vita summa brevis spem nos vetat inchohare’ 189 drew, Bernard 215 duke, Leonard 206 Eager, alexander 219 Edgeworth, maria 24 Eleusinian mysteries 212 Elfenbein, andrew 2, 88, 89, 92, 125 Eliot, George 9, 24, 35, 136 Middlemarch 86, 221 Ellis, Grace a. 8, 15, 18, 19, 20, 21, 26 Ellison, henry 48 Elton, charles 211, 212 Engels, friedrich 199 The Condition of the Working Class in England 199–207 Evans, B. ifor 45 Ezekiel 12

Index Faflak, Joel 1, 2, 24, 90 faxon, alicia craig 59, 61 feuerbach, Ludwig The Essence of Christianity 79–80 fields, James t. 42 fleming, G.h. 51 ford, George h. 46 forman, harold Buxton 9, 41, 52, 58, 130 freud, sigmund 209 fry, Elizabeth 24 fuller, margaret 24 Garnett, Richard 17, 22, 26 Gaskell, Elizabeth 10 Wives and Daughters 10, 85–101 Gaunt, william 53 Gill, stephen 2 Gilder, Richard 42 Gilfillan, George 16, 24 Girard, René 59, 60, 64, 65 Gissing, George 117 New Grub Street 36, 221 Godwin, william 21, 22, 24, 25, 126, 136, 137 Goethe, Johann wolfgang von 37, 209, 210, 219, 224 Gosse, Edmund 44 Graham, william 41 Greer, Germaine 194, 195, 196 Groom, nick 29, 30, 33 hares-stryker, carolyn 57 hardy, thomas 10, 11, 12, 44, 103–21, 155, 166, 173 An Indiscretion in the Life of an Heiress 110 ‘the darkling thrush’ 156, 157, 158, 159, 160, 164 Jude the Obscure 103, 104, 115, 118 Tess of the d’Urbervilles 107, 108, 109, 113, 114, 115, 116, 120, 121 The Well-Beloved 10, 106, 109, 110, 115, 116, 117–21 The Woodlanders 107, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, 116, 121 harness, william 136 harrison, anthony h. 2 harwell, thomas meade 49 haslam, william 41, 48 haydon, Benjamin Robert 41, 134, 168 hays, mary 136


hazlitt, william 16, 165 hemans, felicia 2, 95, 96, 97, 125, 126, 127, 129 hesiod 209, 211, 212, 214, 221 hogg, thomas Jefferson 16, 107 hollander, John 1 holmes, oliver wendell 42 holmes, Richard 29 hopkins, Gerard manley 11, 12, 13, 143–54, 166–71, 173, 175, 184, 185, 186, 187, 218 The Escorial 166 ‘God’s Grandeur’ 146, 170 ‘As Kingfishers Catch Fire’ 48, 167, 168 ‘the nightingale’ 166, 167 ‘a Vision of the mermaids’ 166 ‘the windhover’ 48, 169, 170, 184 ‘the wreck of the Deutschland’ 153, 184–7 holt-white, R. 164 horne, Richard hengist 13, 16, 124, 134, 211, 213, 215 hume, david 175, 179 Treatise of Human Nature 175 hunt, Leigh 6, 43, 113 hunt, william holman 51, 52, 63 hutchinson, sarah 165 imlay, Gilbert 22, 129 ingram, John 24, 25 Jackson, John wyse 48 Jeaffreson, John cordy 107 John, Juliet 68 Johnson, Joseph 8 Johnson, samuel 194, 195 kains-Jackson, charles 191, 192, 196, 197, 206, 208 keats, John 1, 2, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15, 39–50, 51–66, 85, 94, 95, 98, 99, 105, 107, 112, 127, 148, 155, 156, 157, 166, 167, 173, 175, 182, 184, 185, 223 Endymion 54, 87, 99 ‘the Eve of st. agnes’ 56 ‘the Eve of st. mark’ 57 Hyperion 57, 61, 168 ‘La Belle dame sans merci’ 56–7, 63, 64 Lamia 176


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

‘ode to a nightingale’ 12, 56, 89, 155, 156, 157, 158, 162, 164, 166, 169, 172, 173 ‘ode to Psyche’ 98, 99 ‘sharing Eve’s apple’ 58 keble, John 145, 146, 154 kerényi, carl 218, 219, 224 kingsley, charles 3–4, 5, 13 Alton Locke 3, 7, 124, 213, 214 ‘Burns and his school’ 4 ‘thoughts on shelley and Byron’ 4, 5 The Water-Babies 213, 214, 221 kirby, Peter 199, 200, 201 kucich, John 90, 98, 100 Lamb, charles 21, 197 Lamb, mary 24 Landon, Laetitia 127 Laotze 161 Lawrence, d.h. 116, 117 Lee-hamilton, Eugene 219 Lever, william-hesketh 205 Lewes, George henry 3, 5, 11, 104 Lodge, david 108 Lowell, amy 45 Lowell, maria 42 Longfellow, henry wadsworth 42 macGillivray, J.R. 54 maitland, James 197 marlowe, christopher 28 Dr Faustus 28, 148 marquess, william henry 46, 50, 56 Marshall, Mrs. Julian [Florence] 8, 16, 22, 23, 24, 26, 107 martineau, harriet 24, 126, 138 maudsley, henry 80 marx, karl 13, 177, 203, 209 masson, david 49 matthews, samantha 41, 46 mccarthy, william 17 mcGann, Jerome J. 55, 62, 60, 68, 70, 88, 141, 183 medwin, thomas 16 mellor, anne k. 10, 85 meredith, George 9, 28, 112, 179 Modern Love 179 meyerstein, E.h.w. 29, 34, 37 meynell, wilfrid 28 mill, John stuart 145 millais, John Everett 51, 52, 63

miller, J. hillis 104 milner, George 52, 54, 57, 59 milnes, Richard monckton 40, 44, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51 milton, John 57, 148, 149, 157, 156, 163 Il Penseroso 162 Paradise Lost 133, 134, 146, 154, 157, 158, 162, 217 mitchell, s. weir 42 mitford, mary Russell 11, 123, 125, 126, 135, 136, 137, 138, 139, 140 moir, d.m. 50 money-courts, francis Burdett 42 more, hannah 25 morris, Jane 54 morris, william 64 morrison, arthur 201 A Child of the Jago 202–5, murch, Jerom 15 myers, Ernest 217 nardinelli, clark 198 newlyn, Lucy 65, 228 new Poor Law 213 nicholson, John Gambril 207 ‘your city cousins’ 207 nietzsche, friedrich 173, 209 The Birth of Tragedy 173 norman, sylva 216 oastler, Richard 199 Slavery in Yorkshire 199 o’Gorman, francis 176, 177, 180, 181, 184, 187, 188 oliver, Grace a. Ellis 18–21; see also Ellis, Grace a. ong, walter 170 o’Rourke, James 158 ovid 158, 169, 173 Paine, thomas 111 The Rights of Man 111 Palgrave, sir francis 43, 106 The Golden Treasury 106 Paley, f.a. 214, 215 Palmer, Roundell [Lord Selborne] 147 The Book of Praise 147 Patmore, coventry 143–4, 148, 150, 185, 218 The Angel in the House 185 Perkins, John 215 Phillips, adam 164

Index Phillips, catherine 167, 185 Phillips, claude 193 Phillips, samuel 49 Pinch, adela 179 Pinion, f.B. 35, 104 Pratt, w.w. 75 Pocock, J.G.a. 91 Pope, alexander 75, 128, 129, 130, 139 ‘Epistle to Burlington’ 75 Porter, charlotte 127 Purdy, Richard Little 44, 104 Raffalovich, mark andré 14, 219, 220–21 ‘the world well Lost’ 219 Randel, fred V. 156 Reed, John R. 188 Reeves, william 201 Reform [Act] Bill (1832) 1, 67 Reiman, donald h. 106, 160 Rennie, Elizia 16, 22–4 Reid, J.c. 28, Reynolds, margaret 131 Ribot, théodule 80 Ricks, christopher 160–161, 168 Ritchie, anne thackeray 8, 16, 18 A Book of Sibyls 18 Roberts, Gerald 167, 185 Robertson, Eric 41 Roberston, f.w. 145 Robinson, Eric 163 Robinson, Jeffrey c. 42, 46, 48, 228 Robinson, Polly 168 Robinson, mary x Roe, nicholas 47, 163, 166, 228 Roland, madame 24 Rollins, hyder Edward 39, 168 Rossetti, christina x, 42–3, 125 ‘on keats’ 42, 43 Rossetti, dante Gabriel vii, 9, 25, 42, 49, 51–66 ‘Ecce ancilla domini’ 57 ‘the Girlhood of mary Virgin’ 57 ‘John keats’ 42 ‘La Belle dame sans merci’ vii, 51, 62 ‘mnemosyne’ 55, 58, 61 ‘sudden Light’ 57 ‘the woodspurge’ 57 Rossetti, Lucy madox 16, 25, 230 Rossetti, william michael 25, 52, 54, 61, 64, 215–16 Ross, marlon B. 223


Roth, Philip 155 Everyman 155 Rousseau, Jacques 195, 196, 198, 201 Emile 195, 200 Roussillon, Laurence 58, 225 Rowland, Beryl 162, 170 Rowley, thomas 27, 29, 30; see also chatterton, thomas Rowlinson, matthew 98–9, 228 Rundle, Vivienne J. 106 Rutherford, andrew 131 Rutland, william 105 Rzepka, charles J. 157 saintsbury, George 215 salovey, Peter 124, 138, 229 sand, George 24, 126, 136, 139 sanders, G. vii, viii, 131, 132 ‘Lord Byron at 17’ 131, 132 sappho 12, 129, 183–4, searle, arthur 23 severn, Joseph 39–50 scheler, max 60, schlegel, friedrich von 165, 209 schlicke, Paul 70, 229 schneidau, herbert n. 156 scott, Grant f. 40, 42, 44, 45, 229 scott, Lewis 123 scott, walter 2, 104, 130 scott, william 42 ‘on the inscription of keats’s tomb’ 42 ‘to the memory of John keats’ 42 shakespeare, william 42, 64, 87,150, 165, 170 As You Like It 64 Hamlet 54 Othello 64 Romeo and Juliet 165 shapiro, Barbara 106, 209 shaw, marion 100 short, douglas 105 Shelley, Mary [Wollstonecraft] xi, 8, 13, 15–16, 16, 22, 23–4, 24, 25–6, 26, 107, 209, 210, 220–21 Frankenstein 209 The Last Man 26 shelley, Percy Bysshe x, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9–10, 11–13, 16, 22, 25, 26, 31, 40, 40, 42, 43, 45, 47, 52, 56, 66, 87, 103–4, 105–6, 106,107–8, 109–16, 118–21, 127, 133, 156, 159, 160, 161–2, 169,


Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era

173–9, 181, 183, 186, 209–10, 211, 213–17, 222–3 Adonais 89, 113, 177 Alastor 107–8, 110, 114, 116, 117, 118, 121, 188 A Defence of Poetry 160, 181 Epipsychidion 110, 188 ‘hymn to intellectual Beauty’ 117, 160 Laon and Cythna; or the Revolution of the Golden City 103 ‘on Life’ 177 Prometheus Unbound 107, 119, 120,159, 161, 180, 209, 213–16, 219, 223, 230, 209 The Revolt of Islam 103, 106, 107, 109, 113, 115 ‘to a skylark’ 105, 107, 156, 169 The Witch of Atlas 89 Sinfield, Alan 91, 92, 230 singer, Jefferson a. 124, 137–8, 230 simcox, G.a. 215 Prometheus Unbound 215 smith, alison 192, 194, 229 smith, charlotte 7, 12, 162–4 ‘the Return of the nightingale’ 12, 163 smith, George 26 sontag, susan 56, 229 southey, Robert 104, 131, 197 sperry, stuart m. 223, 229 spielmann, m.h. 193 sprinker, michael 170 stallybrass, Peter 72, 229 stauffer, andrew m. 105 steele, Bruce 106 steffan, E. 75 steffan, t.G. 75 steig, michael 105 stephen, Leslie sir 26 stimpson, katherine 162 stillinger, Jack 98, 157 stevens, holly 178 stevens, wallace 1–2, 104, 166n, 178 ‘the idea of order at key west’ 2 Ideas of Order 1 ‘Le monocle de mon oncle’ 178 The Palm at the End of the Mind 178 stoddard, Richard 42 ‘to the memory of keats’ 42 storey, Graham 67, 149, 151 storey, mark 164 stott, william 205

Summer’s Day 205 sullivan, mary Rose 140 Summerfield, Geoffrey 164 sunstein, Emily 16, 229 super, R.h. 107 surtees, Virginia 55, 63, 229 sussman, herbert 92, 229 swafford, kevin R. 202, 203 swan, John 205, 207 swayne, G.c. 211, 212 swinburne, algernon charles 12, 13, 144, 151, 152, 174, 175, 176, 183, 184, 215 ‘anactoria’ 183 Atalanta in Calydon 215 ‘dolores’ 183 Poems and Ballads 144 symonds, John addington 14, 206, 207, 210, 214–16, 221, 222–4 Animi Figura 223–4 taylor, Beverley 127 taylor, donald s. 27 taylor, henry 114 taylor, John 43, 47 tennyson, alfred x, 2, 11, 50, 84, 85, 95, 96–7, 98, 99–100, 124–5, 126, 139, 151, 154, 160–61, 162, 164, 166–8, 169, 173, 179, 184, 193–4, 196, 201, 205–8, 228 The Ancient Sage 160–61 Aylmer’s Field 164, 169 ‘mariana’ 97, 99, 166, 168 Maud 179 In Memoriam 154, 179 The Princess 97, 99–100 tennyson, Emily 44 tennyson, moxon 64 tennyson, hallam 50 thirlwell, angela 25 thompson, francis 28, 29, 30, 33, 36, 216 thompson, Lou ann 156 thorslev, Peter L. 70, 229 tillman-hill, iris 105 todhunter, John 216 trelawny, Edward John 16, 22 Recollections of the Last Days of Byron and Shelley 16, 113 trousson, Raymond 209 tucker, herbert 99–100, 229 tuke, henry scott vii, viii, 13, 191, 208

Index August Blue vii, 193, 205 Noonday Heat [1903] vii, 206 Noonday Heat [1911] vii, 206, 207 turner, frank m. 214, 229 tuttle, caroline 198 Urwick, E.J. 203, 204 Vendler, helen 98, 99 Victoria, Queen 1, 8, 15 wainwright, david 191 wahl, John Robert 54 walker, hugh 2, wallace, Jennifer 40, 42, 43, 45, 47, 50, 210, 229 wallis, henry 8, 28–9, 30, 34 walsh, John Evangelist 46, 229 Darkling I Listen 46 ward, Bernadette waterman 170 ward, t.h. 58 watkins, daniel 99, 230 watson, seth 215 waugh, Evelyn 57 weber, max 154 webster, augusta 210, 215, 220 weeks, Jeffrey 92, 230 weguelin, John Reinhard 205 The Study of Conchology 205 wesley, susanna 24 westwood, thomas 139 whewell, william 145 white, allon 72, 229 white, chris 207 white, Gilbert 164 The Natural History of Selborne, 164 white, william hale 145 whitman, sarah 42 ‘a Pansy from the Grave of keats’ 42 whitman, walt 155 ‘out of the cradle Endlessly Rocking’ 155 ‘when Lilacs Last in the dooryard Bloom’d’ 155 wickens, G. Glen 105, 230 wilberforce, william 139 wilde, oscar 6, 12, 32, 42, 48, 92, 175, 187,188, 194 ‘the Ballad of Reading Gaol’ 187, 188 ‘the Grave of keats’ 42 The Picture of Dorian Gray 32


williams, isaac 211 The Christian Scholar 211 wischnewetzky, florence 200, 201 wise, t.J. 52 wolfson, susan J. 47, 94, 94, 96, wollstonecraft, mary 8, 11, 15, 16, 22, 24–5, 26, 27, 123–33, 136–7, 123–30, 132–41 A Vindication of the Rights of Woman 123, 126, 138 woof, Robert 54, 230 wordsworth, Jonathan 182 wordsworth, mary 150, 151 wordsworth, william 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 11, 13, 31,58, 66, 73, 86,104, 109, 110, 111–14, 115, 119, 124, 127, 134–5, 143, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149–51, 152, 153, 154, 157, 168, 173, 175–6, 179, 180–81,182, 185, 186, 189, 196–7, 197–9 ‘the Blind highland Boy’ 197 Excursion, The 112 ‘Lines Left upon a seat in a yew-tree’ 119 ‘London 1802’ 148 Lyrical Ballads 5, 104, 175, 197 Ode: Intimations of Immortality 152, 180, 182, 186, 198 ‘Peter Bell’ 115 Prelude, The 13, 73, 86, 110, 111, 124, 185 ‘Resolution and independence’ 31, 147 ‘there was a Boy &c’ 196 ‘the thorn’ 175 ‘to——’ 143 The Two Part Prelude 176 wotton, George 112 wright, Julia m. 1–2, 24, 90, 226 wu, duncan 175, 176, 182 yeats, william Butler 12, 166, 171, 172–3, 216, 218 ‘Byzantium’ 172 ‘circus animals’ desertion’ 171 ‘sailing to Byzantium’ 12, 171–2 ‘the second coming’ 171 The Tower 171 ‘the wild swans at coole’ 172 yoder, Emily 170 Zeus 116, 217, 219, 222