Article Publication: “Recasting the Revolution – The Media Debate Between Burke, Wollstonecraft, and Paine

I am happy to report that my article on the French Revolution is available online and will be appearing in the forthcoming edition of European Romantic Review (ERR). For those interested in the subject matter, I have reproduced my abstract below. Please feel free to contact me with any questions, queries, or vehement objections.

Title: Recasting the Revolution: The Media Debate Between Edmund Burke, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Thomas Paine

Abstract: This essay contends that the exchange ignited by Edmund Burke’s 1790 Reflections on the Revolution in France should be seen as an early media debate. Since the late eighteenth-century, the conversation between Burke, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Thomas Paine has been characterized as a type of competition among genres with each writer seeking to control the textual representation of the French Revolution. However, in addition to arguing that certain characteristics of the revolution as well as representations of the revolution make them better suited for some genres than others, each writer also argues that these same characteristics make them better suited for some media than for others. In other words, all three writers’ textual representations mobilize other media in order to make their case. Therefore, addressing the debate in terms of genre and textuality elides the rhetorical role other media – including staged tragedy and history painting – played in the discourse on the revolution. Building on recent interest in media theory, I suggest that tracking medial as well as generic claims allows scholars to more precisely describe the objectives of each thinker, reveals a different “winner,” and provides an answer to the very question posed by each writer – what is the French Revolution?

Yours in Romanticism,

Randall Sessler (

Book Review: Shelley and the Apprehension of Life (2013) by Ross Wilson

ShelleyReview 19 (, an online review site sponsored by Dartmouth University and founded by James Heffernan, just recently posted my new review of Ross Wilson’s Shelley and the Apprehension of Life (2013). For more detailed information about Review 19, including its tremendous service to Trans-Atlantic literary scholarship of the nineteenth century, please click here.

Here is the link for the review.

-Omar F. Miranda


Mary Hays’s The Memoirs of Emma Courtney and Mary Shelley’s Mathilda

In 1796, Mary Hays published The Memoirs of Emma Courtney, a transparently autobiographical account of her unconsummated passion for William Frend and her relationship with William Godwin. A couple of decades later, Godwin’s daughter, Mary Shelley wrote a similarly autobiographical novella called Mathilda which also featured a fictionalized Godwin figure. The appearance of the radical philosopher, hugely important to both these women writers personally and intellectually, is only the first of many similarities between the two works. Both The Memoirs of Emma Courtney and Mathilda feature passionate heroines and are narrated in the first-person by the title characters. Novel and novella alike examine female sexuality, women’s education and the position of women in contemporary society. Both Hays and Shelley offer a radical critique of the limited opportunities for women in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Below is a quick introduction to both works.

The Memoirs of Emma Courtney

The Memoirs of Emma Courtney (1796) is an epistolary novel. The novel opens with the heroine addressing a young man named Augustus Harley. We soon discover that he is the son, and namesake, of the man Emma loves. Much of the book consists of passionate, unanswered love letters from Emma to the older Augustus Harley. Harley is, as I mentioned above, based on a Hays’s real life love, William Frend. In addition to the letters to Harley, the novel also contains several epistles from Emma to an older man, Mr. Francis, based on William Godwin. The letters are philosophical contemplations about the role of women in society. A friend of Mary Wollstoncraft, Hays was a radical and outspoken feminist. Contemporary critics were deeply scandalized by the novel’s treatment of female sexual passion and conservative publications, such as The Anti-Jacobin, labeled the novel revolutionary propaganda.

Plot Summary

After Emma’s mother dies in childbirth, she is sent to live with a loving aunt and uncle. After neglecting her for most of her childhood, Emma’s father demands she visits him once a week. During these visits, her father tries to control her education and dictate her reading. One week, Emma meets Mr. Francis, who soon becomes her friend and mentor. After her father dies, she is sent to live with his brother’s family who treat her poorly. At her uncle’s house, Emma meets Mr. Montague. Montague is quickly infatuated but Emma is uninterested. Soon she meets a lady he lives close by called Mrs. Harley. She falls in love with her son, Augustus Harley. She writes letters to Augustus describing her love for him. He doesn’t really respond. She writes, and writes again. Eventually, she discovers that Augustus is already married and has children. After learning this, Emma agrees to marry Mr. Montague. She has daughter with him. Near the end of the novel, Harley has an accident and is brought to Emma’s house. She tenderly nurses him. Emma, to the shock of Montague’s close friend, is openly passionate towards Augustus. Montague discovers her inappropriate behavior. Some time later, Emma discovers Montague is having an affair with a maid and has impregnated her. Harley dies. In a fit of despair, Montague kills his illegitimate child and commits suicide. Emma adopts Harley’s son, also named Augustus, and devotes her life to him and her daughter with Montague.

Mathilda (or Matilda)

Mary Shelley wrote Mathilda between 1819 and 1820. Shelley, living in Italy, sent the work to her father in England for publication. However, Godwin, horrified by the incest theme, suppressed the story and refused to return the manuscript. Discovered by Elizabeth Nitchie, Mathilda was first published in 1959.

Plot Summary

Mathilda begins with the title character about to die in a lone cottage. She begins to tell the story of her life in a manuscript addressed to a friend called Woodville. After Mathilda’s mother dies in childbirth, her father, destroyed by grief, quits England for continental Europe and leaves Mathilda under his sister’s care in Scotland. On her sixteenth birthday, Mathilda receives a letter from her father, now in London, saying he is on his way to see her. Reunited, Mathilda and her father live a blissful few weeks in each other’s company. When a young, attractive man comes to visit, Mathilda’s father’s behavior changes suddenly. He becomes restless, uneasy and cold. He leaves to Yorkshire and then soon invites Mathilda to join him. They spend several unhappy days together at Yorkshire until Mathilda confronts her father and demands he tells her what is wrong. After refusing at first, he finally relents and admits to loving her more than a father should. Mathilda is horrified. She runs away from him and shuts herself in her room. When she emerges, she finds her father has left and has written her a letter explaining his feelings and his recent behavior. Mathilda tries to catch up to her father. She follows him all the way to sea and then discovers he has committed suicide. Overcome with grief and shock, Mathilda falls ill. When she recovers, she decides to feign her death in order to escape society. Her plan succeeds. She begins life as a hermitess and spends two years in isolation, reading constantly. One day, she meets a poet called Woodville in the woods. He tells her his tragic story: a poor and brilliant poet, he fell in love with rich heiress called Elinor. Just before they were to be married, Elinor fell sick and died. Woodwille and Mathilda become friends. Mathilda never shares her story. Mathilda gets anxious and upset when Woodville doesn’t come to see her regularly. One day, Mathilda prepares laudanum and offers it to Woodville so they can both commit suicide together. Woodville refuses and tells Mathilda she must live. A little while later, Mathilda gets soaked in the rain and falls very ill. The story ends, as it started, with Mathilda on her deathbed composing her memoir.

- Tara K. Menon

Introducing The University of Pennsylvania’s Unbinding Prometheus Project

Message from Artists and Scholars at University of Pennsylvania/ Kelly Writers House: 

“We are writing to inform you about Unbinding Prometheus, a year-long, multi-strand arts and humanities project focusing on Percy Bysshe Shelley’s lyrical drama Prometheus UnboundInspired by a group of scholars’ work at NYU on Prometheus Unbound in performance last year, several programs, hubs, and departments at the University of Pennsylvania, as well as faculty and students from the University of the Arts have joined together to create this project. 

Unbinding Prometheus includes:

* A free seminar series at UPenn throughout August, with contributions from many visiting guest speakers. You are most welcome to attend and, if you wish, propose a short 10-20 minute talk to contribute. Guest speakers, dates, times and room locations will be announced around  July 15th. If you’d like to take part, let us know soon.

* A Meet and Greet, Show and Tell Event at NYPL, August 4th: An opportunity to celebrate Shelley’s birthday with TheUnbinding Prometheus Team and the Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle. Come see the manuscripts and learn more about the project.

* Concert Performance of Prometheus Unbound (Kelly Writers House, UPenn,Sept 18th) This will include the recording, digital archiving and free dissemination of the poem in performance.

*Unbinding Prometheus: A Free, 7 week c-MOOC on Prometheus Unbound, starting November 21st on the new OpenLearning platform. 

*The Promethean Collaborative Digital Initiative: Building a  new home for an evolving multimedia critical edition of Prometheus Unbound.

*Unbinding Prometheus Day Conference: Call for papers coming in late August for a day conference in the late spring of 2015

There are many ways to contribute to our enterprise. Have a look at our Facebook page and our website for more information.  Let’s enter into a discussion about Shelley and Prometheus Unbound. We hope many of you will chose to join our partnership, and help us make Unbinding Prometheus a project worthy of the poet it celebrates.” If interested, please contact

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Hannah More’s The Cheap Repository for Moral and Religious Tracts (1795)

[While doing research on the publication and dissemination of Hannah More’s work on both sides of the Atlantic I stumbled across a short narrative tract that appeared under two different guises on either side of the ocean.]

In 1795, Hannah More launched an ambitious publishing venture called The Cheap Repository for Moral and Religious Tracts. Mores’s mission was to, in her words, “improve the habits and raise the principles of the common people”. In its first year, the Cheap Repository published ‘The Lancashire Collier Girl’. The story is typical of More’s narrative tracts—it follows the trials of a single member of the laboring classes—and tells of a young girl who is taken to work in the mines by her father. Following his sudden death, Mary, the collier girl, continues to labor industriously under difficult conditions in order to earn money to look after her now-mentally ill mother and siblings. As reward for being dutiful and, importantly, acquiescent, Mary earns a place as a servant for a gentleman and his family. A couple of decades later, this story appeared on the other side of the Atlantic under a new name. ‘The Affectionate Daughter’, as it was now called, was first published in America by the American Tract Society (ATS) in New York in 1820 and published again by the American Sunday School Union (ASSU) in Philadelphia in 1825. By the time it had made its way to Philadelphia, the story had been altered significantly. The American version is half as long as its British counterpart and, although the basic plot remains intact, the revisions make for a revealing difference in tone and agenda. Below are a few of the most telling textual edits.

‘The Lancashire Collier Girl’, the English version, begins:

In a small village in Lancashire there live, a few years ago an industrious man and his wife who had six children. The man himself used to work in a neighbouring colliery, while the wife took care of the family took care of the family, attended also to their little farm, and minded the dairy, and when all her other work was done, she used constantly to sit down to spin. The eldest daughter worked with the mother at the spinning wheel, which she learnt to think a very pleasant employment, and she sometimes accompanied her work with a cheerful hymn, or a good moral song, which her parents had taken care to teach her.

‘The Affectionate Daughter’, the American version, begins:

People that work in coal pits are called colliers, and Mary’s father was a collier. While he was at work, his wife took care of the family, and attended to their little farm.

And then later, the English version:

…but then I believe that these very afflictions will be made the means of increasing their trust in God, and prove in the end, (I mean either here or hereafter) to have been entirely designed for their good.

And the American version:

…but then I believe that these very afflictions will be made the means of increasing their trust in God, and of stirring them up to pray more frequently and fervently to him through Jesus Christ, for the gift of his Holy Spirit, the only true Comforter to the afflicted soul, and prove in the end, (I mean either here or hereafter.) to have worked together for their good

And the final paragraph of The English version:

I will now take leave of my readers by remarking, that the little tale which I have been reciting seems to me to hold out the following useful lessons: In the first place, I think it may teach the poor that they can seldom be in any condition of life so low as to prevent their rising to some degree of independence, if they chuse to exert themselves and that there can be no situation whatever so mean, as to forbid the practice of many novel virtues. It may instruct the rich not to turn the poor from their doors, merely on account of first appearances, but rather to examine into their characters, expecting sometimes to find modesty and merit, even in the most exposed situations.

And the final paragraph of the American version:

Hence we see how amply Mary requited her parents for the care of her, in teaching her hymns in early life, and how necessary it is for parents, who would possess dutiful and affectionate children, to train them up in the fear of God.—“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”—Her meek submission to her parent was in cheerful obedience to that command of God, “Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee”

Some of these edits are superficial or merely clarifying—explaining what a collier girl is to the American audience, for example. But others reveal crucial differences between the publication context and ideological aims of the publishers on either side of the Atlantic. The original tract, for example, places heavy emphasis on the behavior of the poor, particularly on how they spend their leisure time. It is, in essence, a conduct manual for the working classes. The American version, on the other hand, is relatively disinterested in managing the behavior and expectations of the poor and far more invested in using the tract primarily as means to evangelize. For the ATS/ASSU, More’s tracts, supplemented by direct references to Christian doctrine, were distributed to spread the word of God, strengthen religious feeling or even convert their readers to Christianity.

Finally, although I have emphasized the differences here, it is worth noting that the tremendous success of Hannah More’s tracts in America is indication of the remarkable similarities between the ideological aims of both sets of publishers. That is, More is so easily and successfully transplanted from London at the close of the eighteenth century to Philadelphia in the early decades of the nineteenth because religious organizations such as the American Tract Society and the American Sunday School Union enthusiastically embraced her evangelical tracts. Not only because they shared her doctrinal beliefs but also because they shared a vision of how to best spread those beliefs. Both More and early American religious publishers strongly believed in the power of reading to convince and even convert. The American publishers wholeheartedly agreed with More’s assertion that, “To teach the poor to read, without providing them with safe books, has always appeared to me a dangerous measure.” And both parties felt it their mission to provide an antidote to the dangerous poison available on the market.

- Tara K. Menon

Hidden in Plain Sight: Relay and the Epistolary Condition of Romantic Imagination

[The following post is excerpted from part of Lauren Neefe's introduction to her dissertation, Romantic Relays: The Epistolary Condition of Imagination in Coleridge, Byron, and Poe. Thank you, Dr. Neefe, for your contribution to and support of NYURRG!]

Foucault begins “What Is an Author?” by declaring the arrival of the author to be “the privileged moment of individualization in the history of ideas, knowledge, literature, philosophy, and the sciences” (101). In English literary history, a crucial moment in this process of individualization is Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s concise definition of the imagination, written in 1815 to conclude chapter 13 of the Biographia Literaria and published in 1817 to close the Biographia’s first volume:

“The IMAGINATION then I consider either as primary, or secondary. The primary IMAGINATION I hold to be the living Power and prime Agent of all human Perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM. The secondary I consider as an echo of the former, co-existing with the conscious will, yet still as identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in degree, and in the mode of its operation. It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to re-create; where this process is rendered impossible, yet still at all events it struggles to idealize and to unify.”

A year later, Coleridge returns to this concept of creative agency in the passage on “Life” he contributed to an essay his friend James Gillman, a physician, planned to submit to the Royal College of Surgeons. The passage clarifies the relevance of the imagination, as “living Power,” to the individualization Foucault aligns with the discursive formation of the author: “I define life as the principle of individuation, or the power which unites a given all into a whole that is presupposed by all its parts.” The “unity in multëity” that is life, Coleridge writes, is “produced ab intra,” from within, “but eminently” (Shorter Works I:500).The describes the pressure that letters, as a material condition of textual iteration, place on the “kind” of agency Coleridge identifies with the imagination, which I take to be the individualized agency Foucault problematizes by positing the “author function.” Trafficking in the discourses of genre and mediation, letters ensure the nonintegration of the Romantic work. In so doing, they trace the variability of identity the self attempts to integrate, or individualize, as a text is created.

A “very judicious letter” in fact occasions this defining moment in English literary history, now the locus classicus of Romantic imagination. Interpolated halfway through chapter 13, the letter from a “friend, whose practical judgement [Coleridge had] had ample reason to estimate and revere” interrupts what it renders the last gasp of an eight-chapter philosophical digression from the author’s reflections on his life (BL I:300). Coleridge cites the letter both to defend the interruption of his discourse and to display the advice it dispenses, which is to keep the chapter’s subject in view and save the rest of the digression’s inquiry for the “great book on the CONSTRUCTIVE PHILOSOPHY, which [he has] promised and announced.” In this way Coleridge can avoid disappointing his readers, who have justifiably expected the “literary life and opinions” he promises in the title as an introduction to a selection of his poems. The effect of the letter, Coleridge declares immediately upon its closing, is the “complete conviction on [his] mind” to “content [himself] for the present with stating the main result of the Chapter” (304). That result is three succinct paragraphs on the imagination, fancy, and an essay he never wrote. The letter thus decisively marks the importance of the definitions that follow, while it bridges the discursive extremes represented by the discussion of Kant’s physics and the distillation of the imagination that immediately follows.

The formal intervention mimes as it masks the material one, moreover, for Coleridge wrote the letter to himself in what I think was an inspired act of self-preservation, undertaken in eleventh-hour desperation in September 1815, weeks after the manuscript was due to the publisher.[1] Not finished and needing an intervention to goad himself to his point (i.e., defining the imagination), Coleridge makes a fact of epistolary fiction’s disruptive technique. He uses the letter to interrupt his mind’s self-defeating narrative and redirect his attention to its desired, now necessary end. The effect is not unlike that of the “person from Porlock” who, as he tells it in the head note to “Kubla Khan,” written contemporaneously with the letter of chapter 13, interrupted Coleridge from his transcription of the few hundred lines he had composed in his opium sleep. The imaginary correspondent deflects the superego in order to allow the ego its due; in Coleridge’s terms, it suspends the infinite productivity of the Primary Imagination in order to tolerate the finitude of the Secondary. In plainest terms, the letter allows the man to get to his point and deliver it.

It is here, where the demands of text and psyche meet, that I depart from the insight of “The Letter as Cutting Edge,” Gayatri Spivak’s important assessment of this textual crux, originally published in 1977 for the special issue of Yale French Studies on literature and psychoanalysis. “Why,” Spivak asked, “should a false disowning (since the letter is by Coleridge after all) of the name of the self as author, a false declaration of the power of another, inhabit the place of the greatest celebration of the self?” (212). In answer, she offers two Lacanian interpretations of the fact, as she too recognizes it, that “Coleridge’s desire for unitary coherence seems constantly to be betrayed by a discourse of division” (215). First, the letter is a stop-gap for the “centerless cycle of equal—infinitely substitutable—truths, each signifying the next and vice versa”; second, it is “the eruption of the Other onto the text of the subject” (216, 218). She then concludes, true to her deconstructive commitments, that the letter is an agent of deferral and postponement: it “halts the fulfillment of the author’s apparent desire to present the complete development of his theory of the Imagination, even as it encourages and promises further writing and reading” (220). This double operation is its “cutting edge,” what makes it an instrument of castration, “both a lack and an enabling,” as Lacan defines it, and therefore the origin of the desire that shapes the boundaries of the self. It is evident already that, short of embracing the castration metaphor, I subscribe to Spivak’s interpretations of the letter’s productive disruption of the writer’s textual and psychic effort; I too prioritize its purpose in enabling Coleridge to go on. The letter allows the man to make his point, as I stated above. And while I accept the letter as a deferral insofar as it “urges [Coleridge] to withdraw the Chapter from the present work, and to reserve it for [his] announced treatises on the Logos or communicative intellect in Man and Deity,” I see no lack here (Coleridge BL I: 302). The letter is not a textual excision; there is no “suppressed,” “missing,” or “original chapter Thirteen” whose absence the letter delimits to render conspicuous (Spivak 211, 220). The chapter “on the imagination, or esemplastic power” has only ever existed with the letter that authorizes the summary conclusion.

I therefore find nothing “false” about Coleridge’s epistolary fiction; it is not “disowning,” dissemblance, insincerity, or inauthenticity. Rather, it is redirection, or, more properly, “relay.” Only by posing as a friend to himself could Coleridge admit self-love with any relish: “The effect [of the Chapter] on my feelings,” the “friend” states, “I cannot better represent, than by supposing myself to have known only our light airy modern chapels of ease, and then for the first time to have been placed, and left alone, in one of our largest Gothic cathedrals in a gusty moonlight night of autumn” (BL I: 301). And by posing as a trusted projection of himself, he could afford the insight to ironize the self-distortions that made his process interminable: the friend recommends deferring the chapter “because imperfectly as I understand the present Chapter, I see clearly that you have done too much, and yet not enough. You have been obliged to omit so many links, from the necessity of compression, that what remains, looks…like the fragments of the winding steps of an old ruined tower” (302–3).Therefore I neither accept Spivak’s description of the letter writer, the “author’s friend,” as “the self split and disguised as the Other” (218). Numerous, yes, but the self cannot split if its unity was only ever imaginary. The letter marks out a space for the author to partition aspects of himself and relay through them to closure. It supplies the channel, or tributary, whereby the variegation of desire finds expression. Thus I deem Coleridge’s “ruse” a tactical rather than symptomatic mechanism of self-regard, its insinuation emblematic of the epistolary condition of Romantic imagination.[2]

-Lauren Neefe

[1] An old schoolmate, John Mathew Gutch, had agreed to finance Coleridge during the preparation of the Biographia Literaria and take charge of its printing (BL xlix).

[2] Here I use tactical with reference to Michel de Certeau’s definition of a “tactic,” as opposed to a “strategy,” in The Practice of Everyday Life: “I call a ‘tactic,’ on the other hand, a calculus which cannot count on a ‘proper’ (a spatial or institutional localization), nor thus on a borderline distinguishing the other as a visible totality. The place of a tactic belongs to the other. A tactic insinuates itself into the other’s place, fragmentarily, without taking it over in its entirety, without being able to keep it at a distance.…The ‘proper’ is a victory of space over time. On the contrary, because it does not have a place, a tactic depends on time—it is always on the watch for opportunities that must be seized ‘on the wing.’” (xix). The epistolary, which is always aware of its dependence on time, is in the Romantic period exemplary of de Certeau’s “tactic,” and we shall see that his expression “on the wing” has an uncanny relevance to the flying rook in “This Lime-tree Bower My Prison,” which provides the conclusion of chapter one, on Coleridge’s Conversation Poems.

“Núns frét nót,” and Neither Should You: Using Technology to Master Prosody

In my research, I stumbled upon an 1807 letter by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s letter to his third son, Derwent. In the letter, the poet expresses great delight that young Derwent is studying Greek and offers the following lines, known as “Metrical Feet,” to explain and model some of the common types of metrical feet. The poem is commonly anthologized and probably lurking in one of your editions of Coleridge’s poetry.

Metrical Feet

Trochee trips from long to short;
From long to long in solemn sort
Slow Spondee stalks; strong foot!, yet ill able
Ever to come up with Dactyl’s trisyllable.
Iambics march from short to long.
With a leap and a bound the swift Anapests throng.
One syllable long, with one short at each side,
Amphibrachys hastes with a stately stride; –
First and last being long, middle short, Amphimacer
Strikes his thundering hoofs like a proud high-bred Racer.
If Derwent be innocent, steady, and wise,
And delight in the things of earth, water, and skies;
Tender warmth at his heart, with these meters to show it,
WIth sound sense in his brains, may make Derwent a poet, –
May crown him with fame, and must win him the love
Of his father on earth and his Father above.
           My dear, dear child!
Could you stand upon Skiddaw, you would not from its whole ridge
See a man who so loves you as your fond S.T. Coleridge.


Encountering this masterful work inspired me to return to my scansion-loving roots. I, like young Derwent, have been brushing up on my spondees and dactyls. If you too would like to examine meter and rhythm, NYURRG strongly recommends visiting . The site offers useful tips, a very thorough glossary of terms, and poems to practice scanning. You can choose how you approach the practice poems. Young Derwents can arrange the poems by difficulty, author, or type (sonnet, ballad, etc).


Yours in the infinite iamb,

Randall Sessler

William Hazlitt: Romantic Lecturer

In my own research, I have come across many instances of Romantic writers attempting to qualify, mask, or obscure their participation in certain genres and media. One medium that is gaining increasing and worthwhile attention is the public lecture. Spheres of Action: Speech and Performance in Romantic Culture (2009), a collection of worthwhile and timely essays edited by Alexander Dick and Angela Esterhammer, opens with a provocative claim by Judith Thompson: “Romanticism has come down to us as an imaginative rather than a performative movement, a movement of mind rather than mouth, as it were; and, like other Romantic ideologies, this bias against speech has coloured not only literary history but the study of language” (1). This claim functions as a type of mission statement for the volume.

In this post, I will attempt to respond to this call and build on the insightful pieces in the collection, most notably Judith Thompson’s essay, by examining William Hazlitt’s attempt to distance himself from his own career as a lecturer.

In his essay, “On the Difference between Writing and Speaking,” which was first published in London Magazine in July 1820 and then again in 1826 in a collection of essays titled The Plain Speaker, Hazlitt claims that “different faculties are required for, and different objects attained by” writing and speaking (140). Hazlitt associates writing with time, re-reading, completion, and comprehensiveness. Speaking, in contrast, demands “bustle,” “animation,” and “a lively flow of animal spirits” (142). The effects of each are different as well. For Hazlitt, speaking “must be done offhand” and its impact is “a single blow” (141). Writing allows the author more time to prepare his work and the reader the chance to return to and “go over the page again, whenever anything new or questionable ‘gives us pause’” (146). Therefore, according to Hazlitt, it should come as no surprise that good orators are not good writers. With the Jacobin orator John Thelwall being the likely target, Hazlitt writes, “The most dashing orator I ever heard is the flattest writer I ever read. In speaking, he was like a volcano vomiting out lava; in writing, he is like a volcano burnt out” (142). Although he is critical of the “dashing orator,” Hazlitt admits to engaging with his work as a listener and a reader.

Unlike the allusion to Thelwall in the “dashing orator” passage, Hazlitt addresses him by name when he discusses “Mr Thelwall’s Tribune” (143). Thelwall started The Tribune in 1795 and it lasted less than a year. There, as Hazlitt points out, Thelwall published many of his speeches. According to Hazlitt, what the “dashing orator” hands “over to the compositor is tame, trite, and tedious” (143). Without the “bustle” and animation of the orator behind them, the speeches, which “appeared so fine,” are seen for what they really are: “worthless” (143). After linking Thelwall with his radical past, Hazlitt addresses, implicitly at least, Thelwall’s elocutionary theories. Immediately after mentioning Thelwall’s Tribune, Hazlitt claims, “What we read is the same: what we hear and see is different – ‘the self-same words, but not to the self-same tune’” (143). For Hazlitt, writing allows for a certain uniformity, a sameness that speaking cannot. Hazlitt makes his case by modifying the exchange between Banquo and Macbeth after the witches’ prophesy that Macbeth will become king. Macbeth asks Banquo whether he heard the same prophecy and Banquo replies, “To the selfsame tune and words” (I.iii.89). Hazlitt, then, claims that through the “vehemence of gesture” and “loudness of voice,” speakers like Thelwall are able to change the “tune” of the words they speak (143). Hazlitt draws Shakespearean comparisons throughout his essay and even compares orators and actors. According to Hazlitt, for speakers like Thelwall, “an impassioned theatrical disclaimer” takes “the place of argument and wit” (143-4).  Ultimately, for Hazlitt, “A popular speaker (such as I have been here describing) is like a vulgar actor off the stage – take away his cue, and he has nothing to say for himself” (144). Without the trappings of delivery and the “intoxication of popular applause,” the orator is “fairly cleared out” (144).

“On the Difference Between Writing and Speaking” reveals Hazlitt’s strong preference for writing, reading, and print. As Thompson points out, Hazlitt associates speech with “bombastic superficiality, immediate but transient gratification, and expedient mob sympathy, in stark contrast to the intellectual depth” and “permanent truth” of writing (22). His comments are especially interesting in light of his own career as a public lecturer. Hazlitt was, arguably, known primarily as a lecturer. An anecdote from his first lecture proves especially illuminating. Unable to find a publisher for his History of English Philosophy, Hazlitt turned to public speaking to reach an audience. In January of 1812, Hazlitt began his speaking career with a series of lectures on English philosophy at the Russel Institution in Great Coran Street, Bloomsbury. Hazlitt lectured on Tuesdays and, although Coleridge was speaking on Mondays and Thursdays, had to compete with the poet’s lectures on Shakespeare and Milton at the London Philosophical Society. Competing with Coleridge for an audience and in dire need of money only added to the pressure Hazlitt felt. Furthermore, right before he was about to begin his first lecture, Hazlitt was given a firm time limit. George Hack, the secretary of the Russel Institution, told his speaker, “You will limit yourself to an hour, won’t you? There’s a good chap. Our lectures never go on longer” (Wu 141). With Charles Lamb and Thelwall in attendance, a nervous Hazlitt quickly read through his prepared notes for what he thought would be a three hour lecture. Many in the audience were unable to hear him at all and wondered whether the lecture series would continue next Tuesday as scheduled.

Therefore, Hazlitt learned much of what he would later claim in “The Difference Between Writing and Speaking” firsthand. Lectures required a different type of skill set than writing and had to be given within time limits dictated by someone else. In a journal entry, his friend Thomas Robinson draws attention to the fact that Hazlitt initially did not understand these differences: “He [Hazlitt] read ill a very sensible book, and, as he seems to have no conception of the difference between a lecture and a book, his lectures cannot possibly be popular, hardly tolerable” (Wu 141). Disappointed by his first performance and aware of the validity of criticisms such as Robinson’s, Hazlitt edited his second lecture and, in the words of Duncan Wu, held a “dress rehearsal” at his friend Basil Montagu’s home (142). Those who attended his second lecture were greeted by a new, confident, and lively speaker. A reviewer for The Times claims the new Hazlitt was “audible, distinct and animated; and the felicity of his expressions very frequently excited applause” (Wu 142). Furthermore, the young Hazlitt cut quite the figure. Handsome and well-dressed, Hazlitt was much “easier on the eyes” than his fellow lecturer Coleridge, who was struggling with an opium addiction and had gained a considerable amount of weight (Wu 237).

Although he was never a showman and considered himself, as a title of a collection of essays suggests, a plain speaker, Hazlitt the lecturer was not as far removed from the “dashing” and animated Thelwall as he claims. Furthermore, shortly after his lecture series concluded, Hazlitt accepted a job as a reporter of parliamentary speeches for the Morning Chronicle. He transcribed speeches in shorthand for publication later the same day. In other words, Hazlitt assumed the very “compositor” role he mentions when discussing Thelwall’s Tribune. Thompson rightly points out that “By distancing good (that is, written) language from the tawdry and turbulent, politicized and commercialized culture of public speech,” Hazlitt and Coleridge “mask their own investment in that culture” and “obscure English Romanticism’s” participation in it (22). As the anecdote and Hazlitt’s own lecture career show, despite this attempt at “distancing,” both he and Coleridge become part of the “culture of public speech.” In fact, the success of Hazlitt’s written works was directly connected to his career as a lecturer. Towards the end of his lectures on philosophy, Hazlitt, with the help of Basil Montagu, printed a “Table of Philosophical Opinions” and distributed them to his lecture subscribers. The short document served both to gauge and ignite interest in the possible publication of the lectures in the form of his History of English Philosophy. Even though he did not find a willing publisher, Hazlitt had learned public lectures could be “a good publicity vehicle” for subsequent publications (Wu 138).

This account of Hazlitt’s lecturing career is far from exhaustive but it does begin to show that scholars should not follow Hazlitt’s lead and attempt to separate his writing and speaking careers.


Works Cited:

Hazlitt, William. “The Difference Between Writing and Speaking.” The Plain Speaker. Ed. Duncan Wu. London: Pickering & Chatto, 1998. 140-160. Print.

Thompson, Judith. “John Thelwall and the Science and Practice of Elocution.” Spheres of Action:Speech and Performance in Romantic Culture. Ed. Alexander Dick and Angela Esterhammer. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2009. 21-45. Print.

Wu, Duncan. William Hazlitt: The First Modern Man. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008.Print.

Yours in Romanticism,
Randall Sessler

Review of Almeida’s Reimagining the Transatlantic, 1780-1890 (2011)

The following book review appeared in the most recent British Association of Romantic Studies (BARS) Bulletin. For more information about the association, including how to become a member and receive their bi-annual publication, please visit:

Joselyn M. Almeida, Reimagining the Transatlantic, 1780–1890. Farnham: Ashgate, 2011. Pp. 294. £66.00. ISBN 9780754669678.

In recent years, the field of transatlantic studies has gained significant momentum. It received special currency, in particular, when it challenged rigid linguistic and political divisions in the academy. It has also remained strong because of its capacious theoretical space for transnational and transcultural critical work. When the term ‘circum-Atlantic’ was introduced thereafter, the term ‘trans-Atlantic’ suddenly seemed delimiting and not altogether inclusive of the Atlantic world’s tri-continental scope. In Reimagining the Transatlantic, 1780-1890, Joselyn M. Almeida returns her readers to this discussion by critiquing the shortcomings of both these terms, in fact. In the process, however, she offers us a new approach. She proposes the pan-Atlantic as a multivalent framework that comprises both the Anglophone and non-Anglophone worlds and disrupts ‘monolingual transatlanticism’ (5). Her work captures the authentic portrayal of the interpenetrating intellectual, cultural, and social forces from 1780-1890.

This is not the first time that Almeida offers an influential and groundbreaking study. In 2010, she edited a collection of essays, Romanticism and the Anglo-Hispanic Imaginary, which considers the multiple political, social, and literary connections between Romantic-era Britain and Spanish America. Underscoring the lack of attention that has been given to this relationship, the book also provides a rich interdisciplinary foundation for what has become an emerging branch of scholarship. Rebecca Cole Heinowitz’s Spanish America and British Romanticism, 1777-1826: Rewriting Conquest, published shortly afterwards, provides an admirable extension of the work begun by the scholars who contributed to Almeida’s collection.

Almeida’s book is equally important and innovative. By reflecting the age’s cross-cultural, fluid interactions, the pan-Atlantic theoretical framework helps us refigure Romantic and Victorian Britain’s relations with Africa and the Americas. It encompasses various discourses and realities, including the practice of slavery and the rhetoric of liberation during the ‘reconfiguration of British power in light of the decline of the Spanish empire’ (11). Almeida helpfully integrates the contributions of translation, as well as movement and transmission, as they intersect with history and literature.

The book’s chapters advance chronologically and span a broad range of authors describing the ‘hybrid networks of culture that arise from multiple encounters across the longitudes of the Atlantic’ (237). Almeida draws from a generic array that includes histories, abolitionist poems, travel narratives, and a novel. Her first chapter begins with a comparison of Robertson’s History of America (1777) with Ottobah Cugoano’s Thoughts and Sentiments (1787) and Francisco Javier Clavijero’s Storia antica del Messico (1780). By including Native American and African slave voices, she considers how imperial critiques brought about discursive reflections on global justice through ‘Pan-Atlantic relationality’ (14). Her second chapter analyzes the distinct liberation movements of abolitionism and Latin American independence through the cases of Toussaint Louverture and Francisco de Miranda, whose efforts helped create an expansive nexus across imperial centers (London and Paris) and ‘peripheries’ (Caracas and St. Domingue) alike. Analyzing the works of José Blanco White and Richard Robert Madden, the third chapter examines the role of translation as a powerful link between British abolitionism and reformist projects in Spanish America. Almeida then examines Charles Darwin’s ‘discovery’ voyage on the H.M.S. Beagle in the fourth chapter, and considers his writings as a transformative contribution for Anglo-Hispanic relations. Darwin’s contributions, she explains, resulted in South America’s transition into a tangible, real phenomenon for the British. Finally, in her concluding chapter, she analyzes the paradoxes of later Victorian Britain’s commercial investments in Latin American slave-holding states.

With this publication, Almeida has offered an elegantly written and important piece of ‘recovery’ criticism. It not only captures the broad and boundary-less space of the Atlantic and the interconnectedness between politics and writing, whether fictional or non-fictional. The book also reconceives, as she explains, the ‘monolingual genealogy of culture’ through the various ethnic, racial, social, and cultural connections provided by her compelling pan-Atlantic conceptualization (238).

Omar F. Miranda
New York University

Jane Taylor’s didactic poetry

Jane Taylor, most famously the author of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” wrote several collections of verse for young children, often in collaboration with her sister Ann. Since little else of her work is widely known, we offer today, for your delectation, a selection from Original Poems for Infant Minds (1806):

“The Pigs”
“Do look at those pigs as they lie in the straw,”
Said Dick to his father, one day:
“They keep eating longer than ever I saw,
What nasty fat gluttons are they

“I see they are feasting,” his father reply’d,
They eat a great deal I allow;
But let us remember, before we deride,
‘Tis the nature, my dear, of a sow.

“But when a great boy, such as you, my dear Dick,
Does nothing but eat all the day,
And keeps sucking good things till he makes himself sick,
What a glutton! indeed, we may say.

“When plumcake and sugar for ever he picks,
And sweetmeats, and comfits, and figs;
Pray let him get rid of his own nasty tricks,
And then he may laugh at the pigs.”

While this poem has an obvious didactic purpose, I find it a strong example of the type of teaching poetry employed not only by the Taylors, but by Anna Barbauld, Hannah More, Charlotte Nooth, and other writers, primarily women, who interested themselves in childhood education. The Romantic period saw the development not only of institutionalized education for the poor, but the development of new systems of education for children, worked out in new primers and collections of poetry and stories aimed at children, with child protagonists, designed for children to read themselves, with larger type and more than the usual white space on the page. In this poem, the child reader is invited to identify with the protagonist, young Dick, as he judges the pigs, and is gently corrected by his father, inviting the child reader to partake of the instruction to Dick. the moral and lesson are made clearly for the child reader. While this type of poetry will never replace Wordsworth’s Prelude in literature classrooms, it does grant us valuable insight into the reading and teaching habits of early nineteenth-century Britain, as well as changes in educational practices of the period.

Veronica Goosey