Deceptive apparitions haunt romantic writing: ignes fatui, 'the viewless snow-mist' noticed by Coleridge in 'Constancy to an Ideal Object', and other dangerous shape-changers, like the fata morgana. The reader trying to understand romanticism often seems in pursuit of similar phenomena - things longed for but never really seen.
Partly the problem lies in the understanding mind itself. Concepts and ideas - those mental constructions Wordsworth deplored because they are the tools by which we 'murder to dissect' - will never seize the romantic experience. Though famous as theorists of things romantic, Kant and Hegel possess enlightened consciousnesses and - as such - have been among our worst guides to the Ding an sich. Far better, if one turns to prose and to Germany, are the less disciplined thoughts of Goethe and Schiller, or Schelling and Schlegel, or the poetical minds of Novalis, Kleist, Hoffmann, and Heine. In face of the romantic experience the brain works best when it is supple (as are Coleridge and Keats), or when it is passionate and unguarded (as are Blake, Shelley, and Byron).
Romanticism's changing forms are figures of imaginative desire; for to be romantic is to exist under the sign of longing:
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?
At its epipsychic core, as in this famous passage, romanticism is doubled and involuted - not so much passion and desire, which one gets in the generous excesses of Burns and Blake, as a second-order quest for desire itself. Indeed, the romantic experience finally suffocates and implodes when it discovers that very bourne from which no romantic traveller ever returned. Some of the most interesting forms of romanticism - I am thinking of Byron's work after 1816, of Keats, and certain poets of the 1820s like Felicia Dorothea Hemans and Laetitia Elizabeth Landon - are most successful when the writers choose to remain in those airless regions, when they choose - it involves a kind of artistic suicide - to reveal and explore the fatal gifts of romantic beauty.
Under such (elusive and transformational) conditions, an anthology of writing from the romantic period may be a better resource for study (and even for understanding) than a more theoretical work. The anthology format opens the doors of one's perception to changes of many kinds. In the case of the romantic period, moreover, such flexibility may be especially helpful because of the philosophic and ideological pretensions of so many romantic writers.
As everyone knows, romanticism involved broad-ranging revisionist moves against many traditional cultural ideas and artistic practices. In negotiating those difficult currents and cross- currents, one discovers this crucial historical fact: that the romantic period and its correspondent breeze, the romantic movement, are not the same thing. They differ, for instance, because the movement continued to mutate - mostly via indominant forms - well after the period as such was over. Tennyson, for example, began as a romantic poet and his work never entirely abandoned its romantic inheritance. None the less, Tennyson deliberately sought to place his writing outside the psychic, social, and stylistic boundaries of his romantic forebears. His effort was successful. This collection ends with "The Place of Art' because that poem, and the volume from which it is taken, represent Tennyson's hail and farewell to romanticism.
The period also falls out of correspondence with the movement because much of the writing during the period - including some of the best work - is not properly speaking "romantic'. This fact, including perhaps its importance, comes immediately home to us if we think of the novelists Scott and Austen or of the poets Coleridge and Crabbe. Scott and Coleridge are dominated by their romanticisms, Austen and Crabbe are not.
When we speak of romantic writing, even within its periodic context, we refer to a body of extremely diverse materials. The historic impossibility of defining the term 'romantic' reflects this diversity. Byron's romanticism - a form that loomed over the practice of nineteenth-century poetry throughout Europe - differs sharply from Wordsworth's and Coleridge's romanticism, which later came to control the way the twentieth-century tended to think about romantic work. Blake's romanticism is yet another thing. Indeed, Blake's special position is fairly well measured by the fact that its proper cultural installation had to await the coming of Pre- Raphaelitism, that unique mixture of late romantic attitudes and early modern gestures.
The romantic movement thus keeps splitting into numerous variant forms. One critical point of departure is the so-called Della Cruscan poetry of sentiment. Launched with The Florence Miscellany (Florence, 1785, privately printed), Della Cruscan writing soon found its way back to England, became a great force in the 1790s, and had a signal influence on later writing as well, especially the work of Keats, Shelley, Byron, and the poets of the 1820s. A distinctly urban project, it was committed to extreme displays of stylistic artifice. (In an important sense, Keats is the greatest representative of the Della Cruscan movement, as the attacks and criticisms of John Wilson Croker, Wordsworth, Byron, and later Matthew Arnold show very well.) The contrast of this work with Burns, and ultimately with the programme of Lake School poetry, is striking - even though, in all these cases, 'sensibility' is an important shared element. And the name of Burns reminds us not merely of the differential which he represents in himself, but of the variety of ways his legacy was taken up.
Important as The Florence Miscellany was, Burns's volume of the following year - Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect - proved an even more crucial literary resource. Signalling the arrival of a major poet, the book displayed features of style and sensibility that would be central to many subsequent romantic practitioners: the power of natural and even primitive cultural formations, a regional orientation, and what Wordsworth would later call a 'language really used by men'. Wordsworth's entire mythology of the 'common life' is already present, in what Schiller would have called a 'naive' form, in Burns's great book. (Needless to say, there is nothing truly 'naive' - in either Schiller's or any other sense - about Burns's volume.)
The satiric and conversational elements in Burns's poems fed other romantic streams, most notably Byron's, just as his investment in the traditions of Scottish song would exert a widespread influence throughout and well beyond the romantic period. In his later work, in fact, Burns was to plunge himself so deeply into those song traditions that his writing seemed at least as much an expression of those traditions as of his own individual identity. In this respect his work appears and is read as a kind of ethnographic expression of Scottish culture.
This view of Burns helps to explain the importance of the work of Sir William Jones to romanticism and the romantic period. Unlike Burns's (dialect, as opposed to his English) poetry, Jones's translations from the Vedic hymns are not written in a romantic style. None the less, these translations - along with Jones's philological writings on Persian and Arabic materials - were a major source of the romantic orientalism that flooded across the period.
Like The Florence Miscellany and Burns's 1786 volume, Jones's poetic translations were first printed outside England - in Calcutta. This apparently odd fact of printing history is not incidental for it signals a distinctive feature of the writing of the period in general: its tendency to break with or to seek places beyond centralized and traditional cultural authorities. Blake's antinomianism, the interest in Scottish, Welsh, and Irish cultural traditions, the cultivation of 'unlearned' writers and popular poetry and song, and the expatriate urgencies of so many of the period's writers: these phenomena exemplify the age's tendency to seek its unity in its diversities, its sameness in its differences.
Jones's translations also locate romanticism's roots in the late eighteenth century's many philological and anthropological projects, and they help to explain the radical connections that hold together such otherwise disparate texts as Blake's The [First] book of Urizen, Coleridge's 'The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere', Byron's The Giaour, and Keat's 'Hyperion'. All are 'philological' constructions, and they connect closely with the various lines of ethnographic translation and imitation which can be traced through the writing of the period. Blake, for example, was as fascinated (and influenced) by Jones's reconstructions of Hindu culture as he was by Iolo Morgannwg's of Welsh bardic and Druid culture. Like Burns's songs and dialect poems, Jones's translations are part of an effort to recover or fabricate some alternative or lost world. Such worlds - we encounter similar ones through Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads and Byron's Eastern tales - were invested with cultural values that could be imagined free of contemporary England's preoccupation with getting and spending. (That these otherworlds were equally reflections of England's bourgeois values cannot be forgotten; as a discourse grounded in metonymy and metaphor, poetry - certainly romantic poetry - generates itself from just those kinds of contradictions.)
Jones's prefatory note to 'A Hymn to Na'ra'yena', which is this collection's opening text, foreshadows a number of important romantic thoughts. We note, among other things, Jones's critique of 'the vulgar notion of material substances', and his related idea that 'the whole Creation [is] rather an energy than a work . . . like a wonderful picture or piece of musick, always varied, yet always uniform; so that all bodies and their qualities exist . . . only as far as they are perceived'. That passage, indeed, might be used as an epigraph for a collection of romantic writing. It defines, as well as any of comparable brevity, salient features of many different romantic styles.
It does not, however, define the features of all or even most of the poetry written and read during the romantic period. In this sense, the non-romantic style of Jones's verse translations is the very feature that makes them so important. For Jones's work is radically self-divided and similar contradictions will play about all the writing of the period. Hazlitt's The Spirit of the Age is a far truer and more comprehensive account of the romantic period than (say) Coleridge's Biographia Literaria precisely because it allows the period's many counter-spirits to appear on something like their own terms. We call the period 'romantic' because the ideological movement of romanticism came to dominance in that epoch. If we do not remember, however, that romanticism achieved its success only through an intense struggle on various fronts - some of them home fronts - we will understand neither romanticism nor the age in which it was born.
The contradictions of the period help to explain why some of its most impressive writing is not romantic writing. So far as poetry is concerned, Crabbe is the central instance. The Borough is a work of such scope and imaginative clarity as to be fitly compared with only the greatest achievements of the age. Literary historians sometimes appear reluctant to acknowledge the importance of Crabbe's work, perhaps because they have been embarrassed to account for it. Most of the (hi)stories we read of the romantic period are romantic (hi)stories, and Crabbe does not easily fit into those romantic narratives. Blake's work has itself been forced to fit only by invoking that familiar trope of romantic ideology, the neglected genius. Though our literary histories do not like to say so, there is an important sense in which Blake is the stranger in the strange land of the romantic period, whereas Crabbe is of that earth, earthy. Once again, Hazlitt's clear-eyed Spirit of the Age - which has nothing to say of Blake, but a great deal (mostly negative) of Crabbe - supplies us with an important historical index to the literature of the period.
Crabbe's work recalls author weakness of our literary memory, which is I think a failure of taste as well. Though the romantic period produced a great many women writers and 'bluestockings', they have almost all been forgotten. Even an explicitly feminist anthology like the recent Norton Anthology of Literature by Women (1985) could find only one poem of the period, from
Dorothy Wordsworth's Journal, to illustrate what women were writing at that time. In fact, the age saw a mob of women (mostly gentlewomen) who wrote, and it was only through a great failure of sensibility that we unlearned how to read their work. Felicia Dorothea Hemans was one of the most widely published and widely read poets of the nineteenth century, and numbers of other women from Ann Yearsley and Laetitia Barbauld to Mary Tighe, Lady Morgan, and Laetitia Elizabeth Landon were regarded as writers of real importance, as they are.
The issue involved here strikes to the heart of the period and its dominant cultural movement, romanticism. Richard Polwhele's The Unsex'd Females (1798, excerpted below) is important partly as an index of a factual historical emergence of great scope: writing by women would become, in the nineteenth century for the first time, a great and distinctive force. This writing often traces itself back to the Della Cruscan movement, the chief object of Polwhele's attack (as it was of the similar attacks by his friends William Gifford [The Baviad, 1791, excerpted below] and Thomas James Mathias [The Pursuits of Literature, 1794]).
These reactionary works are perhaps even more important, however, for the ideology of Woman which they represent in such unmistakable ways. A set of contradictions like all ideologies, this one developed along-side some of the central attitudes of romanticism. Most important here is the commitment to what has been called 'the true voice of feeling', a voice located by all the European romanticisms in a certain concept of The Woman (often displaced into that equivalent romantic form, Nature). Lucy, Sara, Astarte, Asia, Moneta: the figure underwent many transformations, but She repeatedly appears as the inspirational source and end of creative activity. It was this (imaginary) Woman who was equally seen as the ideal locus of children's education, a fact most dramatically (if also most equivocally) represented in Blake's early Songs of Innocence and of Experience.
The actual writing of women, in this context, proves an indispensable resource. To write out of such an imaginary space - and there is no question that most women writers did so - yields a body of work which is radically self-conflicted, far more so than the work (in this frame of reference) of any writing by men. A limited anthology like this one cannot give back the glory in their flower, but I have attempted (at any rate) to include a good selection of the women poets of the period, partly as an inducement to further and deeper reading.
I have also tried through the device of a chronological arrangement of the texts, to break down the extreme domination of an author-centered perception of the poetry. Anthologies of this kind typically organize the poems in groups by author, with a consequent loss, it seems to me, of the general scene and context in which the writers and their work interact.
The chronicle-ordering I have followed here will, I hope, throw many of the old familiar poems into new and interesting relationships. (The strength and genuine originality of Felicia Dorothea Hemans' elegy for Byron, 'The Lost Pleiad', are much more evident when the poem is read - as it was in historical fact - right after the appearance of Byron's Messalonghi. January 22, 1824. On this day I Complete my Thirty-Sixth Year'.) Such an arrangement should also give a better sense of the ebb and flow of poetry in the period, and of types of poetry. Perhaps most of all, the arrangement makes it easier for a reader to see the work as writing that occupied a certain specific context and space of time. As it still does, as it always does.
THE WORKS AND THE TEXTS
My general purpose is to make a fair representation of the work (as well as the kind of work) being read in the period, of the poetry that was in more or less general circulation. This aim brought me to adopt the following rule: to include only those works that had been printed and distributed at the time. The rule of course yields some startling absences: The Prelude most notably, but also Keat's 'On Sitting Down to Read King Lear Once Again', Blake's The Four Zoas, and (a problematic case, because of its printing history) Shelley's 'Epipsychidion'. It has also kept out the splendid early manuscript poems and uncompleted dramatic work of Thomas Lovell Beddoes.
One could as easily imagine - especially for this period - a collection with a completely different emphasis: one, for example, that collected only those works which did not find their way into print, or which were held back from publication by their authors. Such a book would include The Prelude and The Four Zoas and of course many other works which are now so familiar to us. It would also lead one to sift the manuscript archives for writing that kept its privacy, whether by choice or by chance.
Such a collection would doubtless prove, in one sense, a far more 'romantic' body of work than the present volume - even as it would necessarily convey a less reliable experience of the actual scene of reading and writing in the period. In another sense, however, it would supply a diminished experience of the work of the period, and even of romanticism and romantic writing. To the extent that romanticism was a literary and artistic movement, it polemicized a certain kind of art and sensibility for art. The polemic was executed in public and it was widespread. The occasion of Wordswoth's and Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads project (1798-1805) has long stood at the heart of the chronology of English romanticism because of the project's openly revisionist ideas about the nature of poetry and its public functions.
The Preface to Lyrical Ballads is not poetry, but it is a central text for the poetry of the period. Besides the importance of its ideas, the work is an index of the polemical character of the writing scene in general. The period is notable for the intensity of its cultural and aesthetic debates, and similar 'manifestos' were produced by many of the writers whose poems appear in this collection. I deeply regret that space limits have prevented me from including a number of the most interesting of these works. From Yearsley and Burns to Peacock and Macauley and Arthur Henry Hallam, writers addressed the question of poetry and argued fiercely about its cultural role. These disputations are a distinct feature of the writing of the period.
Given such an original context, then, I have tried to avoid making this a prescriptive collection. It has been designed, rather, partly as invitation and partly as argument. Its mild apostasies from the conventional academic rules of earlier collections will, I hope, encourage us to adopt some new perspectives on the work of the period. In this respect the collection will be most successful if it stimulates the reader's impulses to imagine other inclusions and exclusions - different collections that would run, perhaps, at strange diagonals to the present one.
As for the other absences that every reader will notice and deplore, they reflect the pressure of space restrictions, and the consequent necessity of making choices. Excluding The Cenci was a hard decision which reflects the larger problem of romantic drama in general. The length of these works is a serious problem, and they are difficult to excerpt. For that matter, the many poems printed here in abbreviated forms will inevitably seem more impoverished than the editor or the reader would like them to be.
As for the texts of the works in this collection, the general rule has been to choose the first printed version (purged of printer's errors). This editorial posture has meant that one will read here Coleridge's 'The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere' (1798) rather than the more familiar 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' (1816, with the important marginal glosses). On the other hand, the full (seventh edition) text of the The Giaour is printed here, rather than the shorter first edition. The two cases, in fact, illustrate what has guided my choice when I have included a text other than the first printing. That is to say, if the work displays some process of close and continuous evolution, I have chosen the later version in that evolution. (Twenty years separate Coleridge's two texts, but only a few months separate Byron's.)
One final note on the texts. I have not, in general, corrected the texts against earlier manuscript versions. That is to say, original authorized printed versions are only modified against manuscripts when the printed texts are unambiguously in error. Shelley's 'Mont Blanc', for example, appears here as it was first printed, with all its problems of punctuation. On the other hand, corrections from manuscript have been brought into the text of another famous Shelley work, 'The Triumph of Life', because the first printed text derived from the single manuscript Shelley wrote.
The aim, in short, is to print the texts that had been made available to the poets' original audiences. I have therefore normalized only the long (or 'old face') s. In this I am departing from the series' tradition (as I do in a number of other ways, already discussed) because of my desire to preserve some signs of the poems' original context and circumstances. Conventions of punctuation have not changed so drastically during the past two hundred years as to present any serious difficulties of reading. Besides, the modern historical sense of 'period' began to develop strongly in the romantic age, and many romantic poems positively solicit the slight sense of historical distancing that an 'old-fashioned' textual appearance can give. Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere" and Darley's 'It is not beautie I demande' are two well-known instances. So I have stayed close to the original typographical forms. Changes are introduced only when we know that accident, blind contact, or strong necessity interfered with the texts' transmissions.
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