Archive for August 12th, 2014

A scene on a Sevres portrait of 1764: a little girl and her pet parrot (from Dorinda Outram’s intelligent picture book, Panorama of the Enlightenment)

A sonnet by Mary Hays (to sleep, wishing for peace in oblivion):

Ah! let not hope fallacious, airy, wild,
Illusive rays amid the tempest blend!
No more my soul with varied feelings rend,
Soft sensibility—refinement’s child!
May apathy her wand oblivious spread
Steeped in lethean waves, with poppies twined,
And gently bending o’er my languid head,
To long repose beguile a wayward mind.
While keen reflection throbs in every vein,
Thy aid oblivion, vainly I implore!
This heart shall tremble with the sense of pain,
Till death’s cold hand a lasting peace restore.
Ah! say can reason’s feebler power control,
The finer movements of the feeling soul?

Dear friends and readers,

I have been wanting to link in two review-summaries I wrote on a crucial decade of the 1790s but put on Ellen and Jim have a Blog, Two, because I thought its importance demanded I place the text on the blog where I have the most subscribed followers and daily hits & visitors.



There is also an excellent review by John Barrell, “To Stir up the People,” , London Review of Books, 36:2, 23 January 2014, pp. 17-19. Unfortunately it’s behind a pay wall except for the opening where Barrell refreshingly questions the usual presentation of Pitt the younger as having been a great (=worthy) prime minister. I link in his reply to an obdurate comment on his review.

I was hoping to make it part of another review-summary of a book on this era on Pitt the Younger, but have only managed to read Derek Jarrett’s Pitt the Younger, which has the merit of picturing the elitist and corrupt Parliament Pitt ran, his duplicitious politics, and why he seemed to be for reform early in his career as prime minister only adamently to destroy individuals, groups, and what liberties had been understood as allowed to all males under the British regime, putting in place harshly punitive and repressive laws, making sure the courts enforced these, and conducting a war whose purpose was to put back on the French throne the Bourbon regime. Pitt’s aim was to repress any reform of Parliament whatsoever. At one point Garrett describes the gargantuan meals Pitt and his buddies would eat (and drinks drunk) and a subsidence and starvation diet documented during the years of the wars abroad for huge number of people. There seems little about Pitt from the angle that exposes him; some time ago I wrote about David Powell’s spirited and important biography of Charles James Fox, Man of the People, and I can now recommend three more good particular biographies I’m reading just now as a result of Johnston’s book: Winifred E. Courtney’s Young Charles Lamb; Duncan Wu’s William Hazlitt: The First Modern Man, and Johnston’s own The Hidden Wordsworth.

The Declaration of the Rights of Man, 1793: it begins: the purpose of society is the common good. Click on the image to enlarge it.

Also an essay which shows the results of the repression in the 1820s: Gerald Newman’s “Anti-French Propaganda and British Liberal Nationalism in the Early 19th Century: Suggestions towards a General Interpretation,” Victorian Studies, 18:4 (1975):385-418: Newman’s is essay about how anti-French feeling was whipped up into effective hegemonic control as they say and people (not Godwin, but people like him) were tried for sedition and some imprisoned, at risk of hanging; Hannah More (whose didactic pious novel Austen was nagged by Cassandra to read) turns up as someone who in her work overtly would connect Gallicism with sedition. Someone who goes out of her or his way to assert Englishness is showing patriotism to the present order — Austen does this. Newman’s essays puts a different spin on British identity vis-a-vis the French than Linda Colley’s (who seems to take what appears in surface media as the underlying reality). Jarrett’s The begetters of Revolution: England’s Involvement with France, 1759-89, which shows the real state of the continual interaction politically and ideologically between the two groups of people speaking & reading French and English.

Instead I’ll be content to use suggestive pictures of physical, economic and other changes in the era, and point to underlying veins of thought and feeling that produced the revolutionary ideas.

From Rousseau’s Emile: we see Sophie too learning carpentry (to help Emile of course) — it pictures the interests of new education of the era

One could try for a comfortable home, more kinds of clothes were available

At its core this transformation of values coming out throughout the long 18th century was an exploration of the self relativistically. Pope:

    Our depths who fathoms, or our shallows finds,
Quick whirls, and shifting eddies, of our minds?
On human actions reason tho’ you can,
It may be reason, but it is not man:
His principle of action once explore,
That instant ’tis his principle no more.
Like following life through creatures you dissect,
You lose it in the moment you detect …
    Nor will life’s stream for observation stay,
It hurries all too fast to mark their way:
In vain sedate reflections we would make,
When half our knowledge we must snatch, not take.
Oft, in the passions’ wide rotation tost,
Our spring of action to ourselves is lost:
Tir’d, not determin’d, to the last we yield,
And what comes then is master of the field …
(Moral Essay No 1)

Fuseli’s gothic watercolor of Kreimhild (Wagner’s Brunnhilde) seeing the dead Siegfried in a dream

and in a blog intended to emphasize women’s art, end on the little known Susan Evance who lived through this era. Three of her poems:

To Autumn

Mild pensive Autumn! How I love to stray
At thy sweet season through the woody vale;
And when the western orb’s declining ray
Tinges thy varied foliage, hear the gale
Of evening sigh among the lofty trees,
And watch thy mists obscure the mountain’s height;
While sportive swallows, tossing in the breeze,
Collect, preparing for their distant flight.
As lovely Autumn! on thy charms I gaze,
Thy soften’d charms which I so dearly prize,
A thrilling tender melancholy sways
My raptur’d heart, and tears suffuse my eyes.
These feelings, which thy pensive hours employ,
Who would resign for all the world calls joy!

To Melancholy

When wintry tempests agitate the deep,
On some lone rock I love to sit reclin’d;
And view the sea-birds on wild pinions sweep,
And hear the roaring of the stormy wind,
That, rushing thro’ the caves with hollow sound,
Seems like the voices of those viewless forms
Which hover wrapp’d in gloomy mist around,
Directing their course the rolling storms.
Then, Melancholy! Thy sweet power I feel,
For there thine influence reigns o’er all the scene;
Then o’er my heart thy “mystic transports” steal,
And from each trifling thought my bosom wean.
My raptur’d spirit soars on wing sublime
Beyond the narrow bounds of space or time!

Written during a Storm of Wind

Cease your desolating sound,
O ye furious winds! forbear
Every gust that swells around
Chills my shuddering heart with fear.

Ah! the thoughtless time is past
When I mark’d the rapid flight
Of each wildly rushing blast,
With romantic gay delight.

When in sportive frolic dance,
With the gale I skimm’d the plain,
Or would breathlessly advance,
Laughing at its fury vain.

Often too, in graver mood,
I have heard the tempest roll,
While a joy sublimely rude
Has possess’d and charm’d my soul.

But I cannot listen now
To the wild, the dreadful sound;
Sad I see the forest bow,
Mournful mark its groans around.

Fanciful I seem to hear
Ocean roaring in the storm:
And behold the bark appear,
Which contains a Brother’s form.

Hope had pictur’d scenes of joy
When he reach’d his native shore
Should the tempest these destroy!
Winds, in pity blow no more, (wr. 1807; pub. 1808)

In the Keats-Shelley Journal, IV (2006):199-225,”Female Poetic Tradition in the Regency Period: Susan Evance and the Evolution of Sentimentality,” Claire Knowles introduces her as a follower of Charlotte Smith, Mary Hays, Helena Maria Williams. In the above poems, heroine climbs high on a cliff and looks out across a windy wintry rocky landscape; she fears for her brother out at sea. She reminds me of William Lisle Bowles and I see Radcliffe’s poetic vein in her

“Sonnet Written in a Ruinous Abbey:” “I love to watch the last pale glimpse of day … Fancy, thy wildest dreams engage my mind.” Some of her poems present a real self, no wobbly assertions to defend, e.g., her “Sonnet to a Violet,” “Unseen, in wilds where footsteps never trod/Find unadmir’d, unnotic’d …,” and “So the scatter’d flowers of genius rise;/Thesebloom to charm — that, hid — neglected, dies”; and her “Sonnet to the Clouds,” “All desolate and gloomy is my heart./As could I but from this sad earth depart/And wander careless as the roving storms/Amidst your shadowy scenes — born by the wind,/Far would I fly, and leave my woes behind.”

No suspect she. She published Poems, selected for her earliest productions to those of the present year in 1808. Evance is careful to tell little of her private life, so beyond knowing she had a brother in the navy, and evinces socially progressive sentiments, we can glean she knew the author Maria Barton. She later wrote a poem for the princess Charlotte who died so miserably in childbirth, and (according to Knowles) married a Mr Hooper between 1808 and 1818. A line in a poem to Queen Charlotte suggests she had a child or children. So, in contrast to her better-known reformist sentimental female contemporaries, no one has as yet denied she existed; or suggested if she did, she was a sexually promiscuous, nor was she ridiculed or castigated. But then no one mentioned her: by being so careful, she was forgotten.

Francis Towne (1740-1816): The source of the Arveiron (1781) whose work could have illustrated Evance’s poetry


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