Romantic Autobiography in England (The Nineteenth Century Series)

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Romantic Autobiography in England (The Nineteenth Century Series)

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Romantic Autobiography in England

Edited by Eugene Stelzig

Romantic Autobiography in England

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Romantic Autobiography in England

Edited by Eugene Stelzig State University of New York – Geneseo, USA

© The editor and contributors 2009 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the publisher. Eugene Stelzig has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the editor of this work. Published by Ashgate Publishing Limited Ashgate Publishing Company Wey Court East Suite 420 Union Road 101 Cherry Street Farnham Burlington Surrey, GU9 7PT VT 05401-4405 England USA British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Romantic autobiography in England. – (The nineteenth century series) 1. Autobiography 2. Romanticism – England 3. English prose literature – 19th century – History and criticism 4. Authors, English – 19th century – Biography – History and criticism I. Stelzig, Eugene L. 820.9’492 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Romantic autobiography in England / edited by Eugene Stelzig. p. cm. — (The nineteenth century series) Includes index. ISBN 9780754663669 (hbk) ISBN 9780754693963 (ebk) 1. Autobiography. 2. English prose literature—19th century—History and criticism. 3. Authors, English—19th century—Biography—History and criticism. I. Stelzig, Eugene L. PR778.A9R66 2009 820.9’008—dc22 ISBN: 9780754663669 (hbk) ISBN: 9780754693963 (ebk.V)


Contents Notes on Contributors General Editors’ Preface Acknowledgements 1 Introduction: Romantic Autobiography in England: Exploring Its Range and Variety Eugene Stelzig

vii x xi 1

Part 1 The Variety of Women’s Life Writing 2 “My Heart Dissolved in What I Saw”: Displacement of the Autobiographical Self in Dorothy Wordsworth and Gertrude Stein Kari Lokke


3 The Gothic Structure of Mary Robinson’s Memoirs Sharon M. Setzer


4 Vice, Ugly Vice: Memoirs of Mrs Billington from her Birth Susan Levin


5 Writing Lives and Gendering History in Mary Hays’s Female Biography (1803) Miriam L. Wallace 6 Screen Memories and Fictionalized Autobiography: Mary Shelley’s Mathilda and “The Mourner”: Fiction and Autobiographical Theories Diane Long Hoeveler



Part 2 Male Self-Fashioning 7 Wordsworth’s Cliff-Hanger Joshua Wilner


8 De Quincey as Autobiographer Frederick Burwick


9 The Friend of Keats: The Reinvention of Joseph Severn Sue Brown



Romantic Autobiography in England

Part 3 Genres and Modes 10 “I am not what I am”: Staged Presence in Romantic Autobiography Stephen C. Behrendt


11 Ned Ludd and Laboring-Class Autobiography Kevin Binfield


12 Wordsworth and the Ragged Legion; Or, The Lows of High Argument Jasper Cragwall


13 The Intimate Familiar: Essay as Autobiography in Romanticism Christine Chaney




Notes on Contributors Stephen C. Behrendt is University Professor and George Holmes Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Nebraska. He has published widely on Blake, the Shelleys, and on the relations among the arts, as well as on British women writers of the Romantic period. His books include Reading William Blake, Shelley and His Audiences, and Royal Mourning and Regency Culture as well as three collections of poetry (Instrument of the Bones, A Step in the Dark, History). His most recent book is British Women Poets and the Romantic Writing Community (2008). Kevin Binfield is Professor of English and Humanities and Coordinator of Multicultural, Class, and Gender Studies at Murray State University. His recent publications include a book on Writings of the Luddites (2004) and articles on “Luddites et Luddisme” in Tumultes 27 (2006) and “Labor and an Ethic of Variety in The Farmer’s Boy” (in Robert Bloomfield: Lyric, Class, and the Romantic Canon, 2006). Sue Brown is an Independent Scholar who has published on Gladstone in The Gladstonian Turn of Mind (1985) and on Joseph Severn in The Historian and Keats-Shelley Review. Her edition with Grant Scott of New Letters from Charles Brown to Joseph Severn (2007) is online with the University of Maryland Romantic Circles, and her biography of Joseph Severn (Joseph Severn: A Life The Rewards of Friendship) will be published by Oxford University Press in 2009. Frederick Burwick is Professor Emeritus at University of California, Los Angeles and has authored or edited 24 books and over a hundred articles. His research is dedicated to problems of perception, illusion, and delusion in literary representation and theatrical performance. His Poetic Madness and the Romantic Imagination (1996) won the Barricelli Book of the Year Award of the International Conference on Romanticism. He has been named Distinguished Scholar by both the British Academy (1992) and the Keats-Shelley Association (1998). Early in his career he wrote on De Quincey’s theories of style and rhetoric, and more recently he authored Thomas De Quincey: Knowledge and Power (2001). He is also one of the editors of The Works of Thomas De Quincey, 21 vols. (2000–2003). Christine Chaney is Associate Professor of English at Seattle Pacific University specializing in the literature and philosophy of the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Her publications include “The Rhetorical Strategies of ‘Tumultuous Emotions’: Wollstonecraft’s Letters in Sweden” in the Journal of Narrative Theory 34.3 (2004) and “Sweet Dreams” in Pedagogy 4.1 (2004). She has an article on “Aurora Leigh: The Prophet Poet’s Book” forthcoming in a special issue of SEL


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edited by U.C. Knoepflmacher, and has written a book chapter, “Being, Knowing, and Truth: Faith Integration in the Literary Theory Course” for a planned volume on The Word in the English Classroom. Jasper Cragwall is Assistant Professor of English at Loyola University; his recently completed doctoral dissertation at Princeton University on “Lake Methodism” is a study of Romantic and Evangelical enthusiasms at the end of the eighteenth century. A part of it has appeared as “The Shelleys’ Enthusiasm” in Huntingdon Library Quarterly, 68.4 (2005). He is currently at work on an anthology of popular religion in the long eighteenth century that will include John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, as well as prophetic visionaries like Joanna Southcott and Richard Brothers. Diane Long Hoeveler is Professor of English at Marquette University specializing in British Romanticism, Gothicism, and Women’s Literature. She has published books on Gothic Feminism: The Professionalization of Gender from Charlotte Smith to the Brontes (1998) and Romantic Androgyny: The Women Within (1990), co-authored books on Charlotte Bronte (1997) and Historical Dictionary of Feminism (1996, rev. 2004), and co-edited seven more books. She has also authored a large number of articles and book reviews in Romantic and Women’s Studies and has also served as President of the International Conference on Romanticism (2000–2003). Susan Levin is Professor and Chair of the Department of Literature and Communications at Stevens Institute of Technology. In addition to numerous articles on nineteenth-century topics, she has published books on Dorothy Wordsworth and Romanticism (1987) and on The Romantic Art of Confession: Fremy, Soulie, Janin (1998). Her edition of Dorothy Wordsworth in the Longman Cultural Edition series is forthcoming; her current book project is Theatrical Romanticism with an emphasis on women composers and their work. Kari Lokke is Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of California, Davis. She is author of Gerard de Nerval: The Poet as Social Visionary (1987) and Tracing Women’s Romanticism: Gender, History and Transcendence (awarded the Jean-Pierre Barricelli Book of the Year Award for 2005 by the International Conference on Romanticism). She has co-edited Rebellious Hearts: British Women Writers and the French Revolution (2001) with Adriana Craciun. Sharon M. Setzer is Associate Professor of English at North Carolina State University, Raleigh. Her edition of Memoirs of the Late Mrs Robinson is forthcoming from Pickering and Chatto, and her edition of Mary Robinson’s Letters to the Women of England and The Natural Daughter was published by Broadview in 2003. She has also published articles on Robinson in NineteenthCentury Contexts, Criticism, and Philological Quarterly.

Notes on Contributors


Eugene Stelzig is Distinguished Teaching Professor of English at SUNY Geneseo. He is author of All Shades of Consciousness: Wordsworth’s Poetry and the Self in Time (1975), Hermann Hesse’s Fictions of the Self: Autobiography and the Confessional Imagination (1988), and The Romantic Subject in Autobiography: Rousseau and Goethe (2000) as well as of many articles in Romantic and Autobiography studies. He has also served as President of the International Conference on Romanticism (2003–2005) and has recently published Fool’s Gold: Selected Poems of a Decade (2008). Miriam L. Wallace is Associate Professor of British and American Literature at New College, Florida. She has published articles on British Romanticism in Romantic Border Crossings, SVEC: The Tensions of Interdisciplinarity, Romanticism on the Net, and European Romantic Review. Her essay on Mary Hays appeared in Rebellious Hearts: British Women Writers and the French Revolution, and in 2001–2002 she was supported by an NEH College Teacher Grant for her recently completed Revolutionary Subjects in the English Jacobin Novel 1790–1805. She has recently edited Enlightening Romanticism, Romancing the Enlightenment: British Novels from 1750 to 1832 (Ashgate, 2009), and is currently working on a project on the 1780 Gordon Riots tentatively titled Criminal Conversations and Illicit Speech: Dangerous Narrative from 1780–1830. Joshua Wilner is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at City College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is the author of Feeding on Infinity: Reading the Romantic Rhetoric of Internalization (2000) which won the Barricelli Book of the Year Award of the International Conference on Romanticism (of which he also served as President in 2007–2008), and his essays have appeared in Genre, MLN, Diacritics, The Wordsworth Circle, and The Romantic Circle Praxis series. He is currently at work on a study of Wordsworth’s Prelude with the working title Wordsworth and Mandelbrot on the Coast of Britain: Autobiographical Poetics and the Fractal Geometry of Nature.

The Nineteenth Century Series General Editors’ Preface The aim of the series is to reflect, develop and extend the great burgeoning of interest in the nineteenth century that has been an inevitable feature of recent years, as that former epoch has come more sharply into focus as a locus for our understanding not only of the past but of the contours of our modernity. It centres primarily upon major authors and subjects within Romantic and Victorian literature. It also includes studies of other British writers and issues, where these are matters of current debate: for example, biography and autobiography, journalism, periodical literature, travel writing, book production, gender, non-canonical writing. We are dedicated principally to publishing original monographs and symposia; our policy is to embrace a broad scope in chronology, approach and range of concern, and both to recognize and cut innovatively across such parameters as those suggested by the designations ‘Romantic’ and ‘Victorian’. We welcome new ideas and theories, while valuing traditional scholarship. It is hoped that the world which predates yet so forcibly predicts and engages our own will emerge in parts, in the wider sweep, and in the lively streams of disputation and change that are so manifest an aspect of its intellectual, artistic and social landscape. Vincent Newey Joanne Shattock University of Leicester

Acknowledgements I wish to thank Ann Donahue at Ashgate for her encouragement of and patience with this project—and for her warning that editing a collection of essays is “like herding cats.” I am grateful to the English Department at SUNY Geneseo and its Chair, Richard Finkelstein, for supporting this project. I also wish to acknowledge the assistance of Sara Germain, Geneseo English major (2008) for her help in formatting the essays in this volume and preparing the manuscript for submission to the publisher. An earlier version of Diane Hoeveler’s chapter was published in NineteenthCentury Contexts (vol. 27, no. 4, December 2005), and is reprinted with permission of Taylor & Francis. The two brief excerpts from the Percy Shelley manuscript (adds. e. 20, fols. 11r and 13r) in Stephen Behrendt’s chapter are reproduced by permission of the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. Figure 1, N.E. Portion of the Cloister of the Minster from Skelton’s Etchings of the Antiquities of Bristol (ca.1825) is reproduced courtesy of Lilly Library, Duke University.

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Chapter 1

Introduction Romantic Autobiography In England: Exploring Its Range and Variety Eugene Stelzig

I It is generally agreed that the foundational work of modern autobiography is a single volume from the late eighteenth century: Rousseau’s posthumously published Confessions, which by dramatically bringing a secular and self-exhibiting self into the literary limelight, also helped to initiate the culture of celebrity that has become so pervasive in our personality and media driven world. It’s a good thing the Genevan philosopher turned autobiographer was not a literary historian, because the famous opening sentence of his book is surely the most inaccurate statement about the genre on record: “I have resolved on an enterprise which has no precedent, and which, once complete, will have no imitator” (17). The most important predecessor, of course, was the author of the first Confessions, Saint Augustine, though his, nearly a millennium and a half earlier, were God, not selfcentered. And as for imitators, there has been for more than two centuries a deluge of secular confessions appealing to the voyeuristic urges of a large reading public catered to by enterprising publishers—and more recently also of the audience of television talk shows that appeal to its prurient interest in other people’s intimate and preferably shameful self-revelations. Rousseau’s provocative profession of the uniqueness not only of his project but of his self in the opening paragraph of his Confessions is the first major instance of a Romantic rhetoric of originality that by the twenty-first century sounds distinctly shopworn. But his claim that nothing like it has ever been written also betrays an amnesia with respect to predecessors that is enabling, because it seems to open up an uncharted literary and psychological field of self-writing where anything goes: the rules of the road have not yet been established or posted. This confessional amnesia frees the autobiographer from the burden of a literary or generic past: the world lies all before him or her, and the forms and modes of self-writing are there for the taking or the making. Thus a generation after Rousseau, the author of the most canonical of the English Romantic autobiographies, Wordsworth, writes on 1 May 1805, as he is nearing completion of “the Poem on my own life”: “Two Books more will conclude it. It will not be much less than 9,000 lines ... an alarming length! And a thing unprecedented in Literary history that a man should talk so much about himself” (Jonathan Wordsworth 534). Wordsworth repeats Rousseau’s amnesic gesture even as he represses his famous predecessor. And though he

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claims to have written at such length about himself in The Prelude out of “real humility,” this too can be seen as an enabling trope of Romantic autobiography, now in an English and attenuated incarnation. The author of the only book-length study of the genre in England notes in his Preface, “It is a little surprising that there has been no general study of Romantic autobiography, under whatever name, until now” (viii). James Treadwell’s claim is true only with regard to Romantic autobiography in England (see my Romantic Subject), of which his book indeed does provide the first comprehensive examination as an important step toward the utopian goal of “a history of reading, writing, and publishing practices” during the period whose “‘primary [autobiographical] texts’ would occupy only a small part” (9) in the large body of Romantic era autobiographical writing in “the public literary sphere” (ix). The dates in Treadwell’s title (1783–1834) plausibly mark the temporal boundaries of Romantic autobiography in England with the first English translation of Rousseau’s Confessions at one end and Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus at the other. And although Treadwell insists at the outset that he carefully avoided titling his book Romantic Autobiography, “that faded and eroded sign” (vii, ix), by the time he is well under way, he has quietly succumbed to the Siren song of the generic label he initially sought to resist. There really is no need to avoid that label as a convenient umbrella term for a type of writing proliferating in a variety of forms and modes and that became increasingly prominent and popular in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth century in the wake of the sensational success of Rousseau’s book. Romantic Autobiography in England embraces that term as a pragmatic designation as it examines the expanding spectrum and variety of autobiographical writing during the period. To try to rigorously define the meaning or delimit the range of reference and denotation of autobiography during the Romantic era would be futile, for it is everywhere—in the poetry and in the prose, in the male and the female writers, in the canonical and the noncanonical ones. A flexible, highly adaptable, and even metamorphic genre, autobiography has consistently confounded critical attempts to define it; the practice has always been ahead of the theory; it has successfully eluded or slipped any theoretical constructs designed to firmly anchor its meaning and hold it in place. Nearly three decades ago, Paul de Man famously concluded that “attempts at generic definition seem to founder in questions that are both pointless and unanswerable” (68). And James Olney, the founding father of American autobiography criticism, asserted a generation ago that autobiographies are “the most elusive of literary documents,” insisting “that there is no way to bring autobiography to heel as a literary genre with its own proper form, terminology, and observances” (3–4). However, what Laura Marcus has epitomized more recently as “the fundamental problem of the instability or hybridity of autobiography as a genre” (7) should not stop us from using “Romantic autobiography” as a useful descriptive term for the proliferation of self-writing after the turn of the century—so long as we don’t try to boil it down to a semantic essence or endow it with a narrow prescriptive meaning. While de Man’s suggestion that we consider autobiography “not a genre or a mode, but a figure of reading” (70) has heuristic value for studying Romantic era texts,


this exploratory volume is posited on the conception of autobiography as primarily a mode of writing. As I noted in The Romantic Subject in Autobiography, “if not all Romantic writing is autobiography, much of it is certainly confessional and autobiographical” (250). It is during the Romantic period that autobiography emerges from the shadows, and effectively rises above the sub or marginally literary—a utilitarian or practical prose form, as it were—to establish itself as a literary genre laying claim, in its foremost practitioners (Wordsworth, DeQuincey, Byron) to high aesthetic standing. Indeed, as Susan Wolfson has suggested, autobiography is the “quintessential nineteenth-century genre” (1432). And Linda Peterson in her hermeneutic view of the genre (as self-interpretation) during the Victorian period has also concluded that it reaches “full literary status” during that time (28). What might be called the autobiographization of literature is a key component of the culture of Romanticism. It is a striking fact that the word (autobiography) was coined in the later eighteenth century in Germany (as a variant of Selbstbiographie=Self Biography), and that between the posthumous publication of Rousseau’s Confessions (1782–1789) and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1848)—the Bildungsroman whose author cannily exploits the popularity of the genre by subtitling her novel “An Autobiography”—there was a veritable explosion of autobiographical writing, both poetry and prose, in England and on the Continent. What accounts for this outpouring is not easy to determine: there are many factors at work here, not the least of which is the changing situation of the literary marketplace as well as the commercial realities of the publication and consumption of books as these reflect growing rates of literacy and a rising middle class able to purchase these (as opposed to relying on the lending libraries mentioned by Rousseau when writing of his days as an improvident apprentice) and interested in personal narratives of all kinds. In the early nineteenth century the literary quarterlies and reviews also served as the initial venue for the publication of autobiographical writing by leading prose writers like De Quincey, Hazlitt, and Lamb. The causes for the popularity and prevalence of autobiography during the Romantic period are probably overdetermined. As I have observed about its rapid rise in the eighteenth century, “in the philosophic and psychological sphere, it is the function of a post-Cartesian, post-Lockian sense of the subject and of personal identity; in the economic sphere, it is correlated with the rise of the bourgeoisie and of capitalism” (“The Romantic Subject” 223). Indeed, the roots of modern autobiography reach well back before the time Rousseau gave a sensational impetus to it. As Michael Mascuch has argued, as a “cultural practice” the “individualist self—the identity of the egocentric person who ... mythifying himself as his own object, regards himself as his own telos” has its origins in the early modern period (8). It was, however, during the Romantic period that autobiography began to establish itself as a separate and distinct genre, and not simply a version or branch of biography (“self biography”), the prevailing view during the eighteenth century. As an increasingly popular kind of writing it did not gain literary respectability,

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as indicated above, until the middle of the next century. And in England, no matter how prolific, it produced few masterpieces—chiefly The Prelude (which was only published after Wordsworth’s death in 1850) and the Confessions of an English Opium Eater—and even these were not fully canonized until the early twentieth century. But its pervasiveness by the early nineteenth century was such that in 1834 Carlyle writes in Sartor Resartus of “these Autobiographical times of ours” (94) and conservative reviewers attack it as an upstart genre reflective of the leveling tendencies of the age, so that “the commonest order of minds shall be upon a level with the highest” (Treadwell 79). In a splenetic outburst in the Quarterly Review of January 1827, John Gibson Lockhart sneers at “the mania for this garbage of Confessions, and Recollections, and Reminiscences” as “indeed a vile symptom” because the ear of “the Reading Public ... had become as filthily prurient as that of an eaves-dropping lackey” (Treadwell 76). The Edinburgh Magazine’s 1822 article on “Auto-Biography” grounds the appeal of the genre in “the insatiable appetite of the public for every species of Private Memoirs and Correspondence” in the (anthropological) “curiosity with which we scrutinize all the varieties of human nature” (Treadwell 89)—a description that nearly two centuries later still defines the dynamic of the contemporary memoir craze capitalized on by enterprising publishers. As Treadwell suggests of this phenomenon in his review of the periodical literature, “it appears to turn the whole conversational environment where texts circulate into a gigantic whispering gallery of prying eaves-dropping” (80). But the reviewers’ reservations about or repulsion by the surge of autobiography and confession in print are countered by their fascination as consumers of this kind of writing: “Repeatedly, commentators’ sense of transgressed literary decorum comfortably overlaps with their interest or pleasure in watching privacy enter into the arena of publication” (83). As autobiography emerges from the vulgar and the sub—or at best marginal— literary at the turn of the century into a distinctly literary and respectable genre by midcentury, it is also, as Treadwell concludes, “above all a debatable practice,” one that is “unsystematic” with a “variety [that] resists pigeon-holing” (8, 155). Its foremost works and practitioners may not be representative in their sophisticated surplus of self-reflexivity and their literary artistry of the rising tide of the genre, and thus, in Treadwell’s skeptical conclusion, also “do not anchor a tradition of Romantic autobiography” (177). At its best or most aspiring, however, Romantic autobiography is, in Spengemann’s apt formulation, “the prime instrument of Romantic self-knowledge” (77)—a definition that indicates its upper or ideal limit, as opposed to its vulgar or populist base. The aim of this volume is to map the debatable, unsystematic, and hybrid practice of Romantic autobiography in England from a variety of perspectives and in a variety of genres and modes, and by a broad spectrum of practitioners, from the high and the semi to the noncanonical, from the famous to the little known and marginal. This collection is exploratory precisely because the field has not been adequately surveyed and delineated, and because there is still no scholarly consensus about its extent, or even where it begins and ends (either as a period or a genre). Nor is there any


critical consensus or established theoretical paradigm of exactly what Romantic autobiography is, or how it should be defined, construed, sorted out, delimited. This problematic yet influential genre is still up for interpretive grabs, ill-defined and contested, but omnipresent in the nineteenth century. The subtitle of this Introduction—Exploring Its Range—suggests a nonprescriptive attitude of openness to the field it seeks to chart. Nor is this survey intended to be exhaustive or definitive, for there are more practitioners and modes of Romantic self-writing and its discursive and expressive possibilities than are discussed within its pages, or perhaps even dreamt of by its editor and contributors. The unorthodox, eclectic, and innovative spirit informing this exploratory project is in keeping with Anne Mellor’s call, a decade and a half ago (in her discussion of Dorothy Wordsworth), to expand “the generic range of ‘autobiography’ to include all writing that inscribes subjectivity, to diaries, journals, memoirs and letters” (157). This volume does not discuss the full range of life writing invoked by Mellor—for instance, the greater (confessional and reflective) Romantic lyric practiced by Wordsworth, Coleridge, Percy Shelley, among others, or the incredible corpus of letters by many of the major poets of the period, especially Keats and Byron, or the colorful autobiographical narratives of Olaudah Equiano, Leigh Hunt, and Benjamin Robert Haydon. But its contributors cover a broad spectrum of Romantic self-writing in England by both men and women. If there has been an “explosion of interest in Romantic biography” in recent years, as the editors of the recent volume on that genre in this series indicate (Bradley and Rawes xi), such an explosion is even more true of Romantic autobiography. By the early nineteenth century the two genres are distinct if still related, but the latter depends like the former “on a set of assumptions about the self, creativity, time and society that originate in the Romantic period” (xii) and that are inherent in if not explicitly foregrounded in different ways and degrees in the practitioners of Romantic-era autobiography discussed in this collection. II In the wake of revisionary feminist readings of the canon of Western autobiography, it has become something of a truism that the female autobiographical self differs substantially from the male version. If the male autobiographer seeks to represent an autonomous self, as evident in Wordsworth’s Prelude, “in which the poet has attempted to collect the past from its dismembered state into a remembered and transfigured pattern” (Jay 67) and whose sublime and solitary individualism enshrines in a paradigmatic fashion “the inward turn of the self away from the social” (Danahy 15), the female self is more fluid, diffuse, and relational. According to Mary Mason, “the egoistic secular archetype that Rousseau handed down to his Romantic brethren ... finds no echo in women’s writings about their lives,” because “the disclosure of the female self is linked to the identification of some ‘other’” (210). Felicity Nussbaum, however, has suggested that already in eighteenthcentury autobiography the normative “bourgeois gendered self” is destabilized

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by “private writings in diaries and journals” that allow us to hear “oppositional voices” that “subvert an individuated self” that “partakes of the universal essence and transcends the distinctions based on class and gender” (55, 57). By the turn of the century, as evident in Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journals, we encounter a gendered female subject that is dispersed and fragmentary, as opposed to unitary and transcendent. In Kay Cook’s succinct summary, “parataxis describes the form; immersion, the structuring principle; and detail and fragmentation, the narrative strategies” (90). She contrasts William’s “egotistical sublime” self-absorption with Dorothy’s “self that is dispersed, multi-focused, fragmented” (95). The formulation of such gender distinctions with regard to Romantic autobiography is relevant and productive up to a point, so long as they are not narrowly applied or essentialized, in which case they become less than a convenient fiction. We must recognize, for instance, that some of the male writers display traits of a self stereotypically gendered female, as do Keats and Byron in their spirited letters, or (as I have argued in “A Cultural Tourist”) Henry Crabb Robinson does in his effusive journals. Part 1 of this collection examines the variety of women’s self-writing without reducing it to any straightforward gender binary. Kari Lokke poses a fundamental question about Dorothy’s Journals when she asks, “What does one do with an autobiographical text rooted in an effacement of self?” She makes an unusual interpretive move by using a modernist autobiographer’s “meditations on aesthetics and subjectivity as an analytical framework for gaining understanding of Wordsworth’s elusive representation of self.” The points of comparison Lokke draws between Dorothy Wordsworth and Gertrude Stein as autobiographers are suggestive as she links these in many ways very different women writers from two different centuries and cultures “in their avoidance of self-revelation.” Lokke also invokes Schiller’s famous distinction between the naïve and the sentimental poet to focus Stein’s aesthetic-philosophical thinking and Wordsworth’s “conscious effort to remain naїve, to remain unconflicted, undivided against herself”—a choice that also explains her “intense focus on the object” in her Journals and her refusal of “the confessional, self-exploratory mode typical of eighteenth-century autobiographies” (by Rousseau, Goethe, William Wordsworth, Mary Wollstonecraft). If Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journals were private documents of a domestic life lived within the “Wordsworth Circle”—in the service and under the shadow of her poet brother—the next two essays engage notorious figures whose lives were very much the focus of public attention. Sharon Setzer takes the dramatic opening of Mary Robinson’s Memoirs as the leitmotif of the author’s attempt “to identify a meaningful pattern in her life,” one that exemplifies a characteristically Romantic and Wordsworthian preoccupation with ideas of origin. Setzer’s analysis of “the structure of feeling that informs three distinct Bristol spots of time in [Robinson’s] Memoirs” demonstrates how in trying to “shape her own posthumous literary reputation” to counter the scandalous legend of her celebrity life, Robinson is also trying “to create a more traditionally ‘Romantic’ subjectivity,” one in which the gothic setting of her birthplace, “St Augustine’s Cathedral occupies much the


same place in her Memoirs as the River Derwent does in Wordsworth’s Prelude.” Female stardom and sexual scandal by way of the stage and a liaison with the Prince of Wales also figure prominently in Susan Levin’s discussion of Memoirs of Mrs Billington from her Birth, but this time by way of a publisher’s scandalmongering attack on an operatic superstar of the Romantic era. James Ridgway’s collation of biography and autobiography (a collection of letters framed by a slanderous life narrative) in order to vilify the famous soprano demonstrates as well the populist and voyeuristic appeal of autobiography in the period by way of a sexist intervention in “the general controversy surrounding the appearance of women on the operatic stage.” In his defamatory and salacious commentary on the 15 letters written by Billington to her mother, Ridgway “himself becomes an autobiographical presence in the work” and in so doing “generates a pornographic, misogynistic, political tract that tests a range of autobiographical possibilities as it reveals the power structures of romantic theater.” The scandalous intersection of life and writing also defines the career of Mary Hays, as evident in the thinly veiled autobiographical fiction of The Memoirs of Emma Courtney. Miriam Wallace considers Hays’s merger of biography and autobiography in her subsequent work, Female Biography—“a largely unexamined key text”—as an expression of her interest in a new kind of historical writing that “contributes to an examination of the Romantic ‘invention’ of lifewriting” by deploying a “conception of the self as made rather than given” that “as a development of ‘Romantic autobiography’ allows us to identify late century changes to concepts of writing human life experience.” These changes include “a developing late century or ‘Romantic’ emphasis on the powers of imagination and self-projection.” Wallace’s conceptual linking of the two main genres of life writing, biography and autobiography, also ties in nicely with contemporary autobiography critics’ and theorists’ exploration of the connections between these two closely related genres. Imaginative self-projection is also evident in Mary Shelley’s fiction, but “through a glass darkly,” in Diane Long Hoeveler’s characterization of the “conflicted and ambiguous genre of fictionalized autobiography” practiced by Mary. Writing in a different key on what is now the most canonical of the female English Romantic writers, Hoeveler—by way of an updated version of Freud’s concept of screen memories–makes a striking argument that Mary appropriated her husband’s life story “as if it had actually been her own.” What is at work in her intra-psychic confessional narratives, Mathilda and “The Mourner,” is “Mary’s attempts to merge their two lives into a redeemed ... new autobiographical self.” Thus Mary is not only the keeper of her (deceased and idealized) husband’s flame, but is as it were a secret sharer in it. The variety of women’s autobiography in the period is matched by the diverse register(s) of male self-fashioning, canonical as well as noncanonical, that is in different ways and modes the substance of Part II. The most famous, scandalous, and widely read of the Romantic autobiographers was Lord Byron, with his confessional alter ego, the Byronic hero (as we see him in Childe Harold and Manfred) a spectacular pan-European phenomenon. The memoirs he wrote in Italy

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would have been the mother lode of Romantic autobiography as a best-selling genre, had the manuscript not been destroyed by his publisher and literary executors after his death. In collusion with his public, Byron created Byronism, diffusing his sensational confessional persona into the public sphere of print culture. The Romantic male self-fashioners discussed in Part II had nowhere near the meteoric appeal of the confessional Byron who mesmerized his contemporaries, though De Quincey, whose artistic merits were not fully recognized until the twentieth century, gained considerable notoriety in his confessional incarnation as the English Opium Eater. Because it did not appear until after the poet’s death in 1850, the most important of the Romantic autobiographies around which a scholarly industry formed by the middle of the twentieth century, The Prelude, did not figure on the literary horizon in the Romantic era, though it was certainly known and deeply admired by some major figures (especially Coleridge and De Quincey) close to Wordsworth. The poet’s self-reflection (and self-questioning) through the now famous early “spots of time” takes us to the hermeneutic heart of English Romantic autobiography, and in his complexly contextualized post-de Manian analysis, Joshua Wilner examines a single “spot”—the robbing of the bird’s nest—“as exemplifying The Prelude’s narrative art.” As “a literal cliff-hanger,” the nest-robbing scene turns on an object that is “highly overdetermined, simultaneously embodying the literal object of the boy’s quest, a totemic transfiguration of the maternal birth-place to which the child regressively returns, and the embedded core of a self-reflexive narrative structure.” The second most canonical of the male Romantic autobiographies, the Confessions of an English Opium Eater, also involves a complex intermixture of life story and aesthetic shaping. In his magisterial overview of the widely scattered autobiographical writings of De Quincey, Frederick Burwick demonstrates how that visionary dream chronicler is “the first conscientious autobiographer of the interactions between conscious and subconscious experience,” and one who scripted his life not only by way of his addiction to opium, but also his imaginative dependency on Wordsworth and Coleridge. These towering literary mentors and rivals appear in “De Quincey’s ... biographical/autobiographical narrative to reposition himself in an intellectual community in which he found himself marginalized.” Burwick highlights “dependency, lack of control, irretrievable loss” as the autobiographer’s leitmotif, and locates his characteristic combination of pathos and farce in his imaginative evocation of the self as double—of “identity and alterity,” and “idem in alio”—most complexly suggested in his appropriation and transformation of Coleridge’s accounts of his ascent of the Brocken mountain and his visit to the Campo Santo in Pisa. With De Quincey we also touch the experimental limit of Romantic autobiography, as the digressive dream narrator “becomes lost in the labyrinths of space and time” and the “construction of self drifts into confusions of identity and alterity.” If for De Quincey his visionary and opium-induced dream sequences constitute a problematic self-fashioning, for Joseph Severn his status as the friend of Keats


who nursed him so devotedly during the dying poet’s “posthumous existence” in Rome comes to serve as an autobiographical identity tag to be exploited. His epistolary account of Keats’s death made him famous in his own lifetime, but he did not really register as an autobiographer until the recent edition (Ashgate, 2005) by Grant F. Scott of his letters and autobiographical writings. Sue Brown, who has recently completed a biography of Severn, demonstrates that while Severn’s memoirs deal with his own artistic career in Rome and London, the painter rescripted himself and his memories in the last decade of his life to accord with the legend of Severn as “The Friend of Keats” in “an iterative process as others interpreted Severn’s life for their own ends and Severn responded to their expectations.” If the letters Severn wrote as he nursed his dying friend reveal “both Keats and himself in a far more rewarding light than in his later self-conscious re-imaginings,” an interesting issue raised by Brown is the extent to which Severn’s autobiographical self-refashioning is not just an act of opportunism but also a collaborative process in the formation of a literary legend—an issue (of joint authorship) we also see raised in Diane Hoeveler’s essay. The third and final section of this volume considers different modes of Romantic autobiography that also constitute distinct subgenres of the larger category. Autobiography is always a performance—though it may turn out to be a failed one, as in Rousseau’s case, when at the end of Part II of his Confessions his narrative of his reading of them in Paris results in the ambiguous anticlimax of his audience’s utter silence. By way of a probing and wide-ranging exploration of the performative function of autobiography, Stephen Behrendt focuses selectively on instances of “indirect” or “staged” autobiography in the Romantic period as evident in “those authorial comments, revelations, and self-fashionings that are ostensibly incidental to other literary activities.” In looking at these quasi or crypto autobiographical instances of “staged presence” in a range of both famous and obscure Romantic writers, he seeks to raise questions that focus “less upon any single author than upon larger issues concerning genre and Romantic selfpresentation that include self-mythologizing and self-historicizing—as well as self-concealment.” Drawing on contemporary autobiography criticism and interdisciplinary in its wide-angle perspective (which includes the visual arts and the novel), Behrendt’s essay demonstrates impressively “the pervasively performative nature of Romantic-era autobiography.” Unlike Behrendt’s examination of such theatrical and highly artful if indirect self-presentations, Kevin Binfield in his innovative discussion of laboring-class autobiography by way of the legendary “pseudonym, later eponym, ‘Ned Ludd’,” looks at a body of writing that can be read as a collective autobiography but whose narrative “concern for development, extension, crisis, and redemption” is “quite different from the teleological course of most English autobiography.” Rooted as they are in a (social and political) material world as well as a literary one, these “dual residence” eponymous and collective writings “make difficult understanding laboring-class autobiography through the approaches of historians or literary scholars alone.” Binfield seeks to overcome this difficulty by demonstrating how “the Luddite writers had unfolded a collective identity through their material,


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literary, and emotional relationships to other persons, frequently suppressing individual identity beneath relational, collective identity.” The middle-class and privileged young Wordsworth (with his Cambridge education and high literary sensibility and aspirations) would seem to be at a far remove from these working class writers. But as Jasper Cragwall points out in his eyeopening contribution, the “high romantic argument” of the spiritual autobiography in its Wordsworthian form was also the highly disreputable stock-in-trade of itinerant Methodist preachers, and the rhetoric of the poet as an inspired soul and chosen son made The Prelude unpublishable because “it was regally presumptuous in its egotistical sublimity” and constituted “an unforgivable embarrassment for a gentleman at the end of the eighteenth century.” For contemporary readers the egotistical sublimities of The Prelude and “Home at Grasmere” would associate Wordsworth with “the ragged legion” of Methodist enthusiasts, and the inspired language of the 1805 Prelude would align him with “the conceits of the déclassé and the vulgar.” By thus locating Wordsworth’s confessional poetry in the context of the religious controversies of the early nineteenth-century, Cragwall offers a plausible explanation for the poet’s mystifying choice to keep his autobiography “private, if not exactly secret” for half a century. The final essay in Part III of this volume is another contextualized revisionary rereading—in this case of a characteristic and well-known Romantic genre, the familiar essay, which Christine Chaney grounds in Mary Wollstonecraft’s pioneering combination of “personal confession with ideological polemics” in her Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. In the informal and impromptu journalistic essays of Hazlitt and Lamb, the intimate rhetorical stance pioneered by Wollstonecraft became the familiar essay that combined self-narration in the short prose form with a shared context of location and memory in a mode both ethical and rhetorical. In applying the classic (Aristotelian) concept of ethos as well as Michel Beajour’s paradigm of the literary self-portrait and Mikhail Bakhtin’s notion of “the dialogue between self and the other” to the “disparate passages of observation, commentary, and polemics held thematically together through the taxonomy of the self-disclosing essayist,” Chaney offers an illuminating perspective on a distinctive mode of Romantic self-writing. The 13 essays gathered in this volume might be viewed as pieces of a mosaic that add up to a larger picture or portrait of the varied practice(s) of autobiography during the Romantic age in England. Far from exhaustive or definitive, this exploratory collection offers a wide-angle view of the hybrid genre during a particular period and a cultural moment when autobiography had emerged as a significant, separate, popular, and increasingly literary kind of writing. If Romantic Autobiography in England offers food for thought both for scholars of Romanticism and students of life writing and provides as well a stimulus for further reflection and exploration, then its purpose will have been more than fulfilled. In light of the foregrounding in these essays of the range and diversity of English Romantic autobiography from a variety of critical perspectives and scholarly approaches, future work in the field will have to be more critically informed about not only the prolific nature and pervasive presence of life writing during the early nineteenth century but also the



impressive spectrum of modes–journals, essays, letters, travelogues, confessions, prefaces, poems—in which it manifested itself. If it is still too early to seek a global explanation for the plethora and multiplicity of Romantic self writing, this volume can be seen as a necessary step toward getting a critical purchase on the rich recrudescence in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century England of the Moi seul so sensationally announced at the outset of Rousseau’s Confessions. Works Cited Bradley, Arthur and Rawes, Alan, (eds), Romantic Biography. Aldershot and Burlington: Ashgate, 2003. Cook, Kay K. “Self-Neglect in the Canon: Why Don’t We Talk About Romantic Autobiography?” A/B: Autobiography Studies 5.2 (Fall 1990): 88–98. Carlyle, Thomas. Sartor Resartus (ed.), Charles Fredrick Harrod. New York: Odyssey, 1937. Danahy, Martin. A Community of One: Masculine Autobiography and Autonomy in Nineteenth-Century Britain. Albany: SUNY P, 1993. Jay, Paul. Being in the Text: Self-Representation from Wordsworth to Roland Barthes. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1984. Man, Paul de. “Autobiography as De-Facement.” In The Rhetoric of Romanticism. New York: Columbia UP, 1984. 67–81. Marcus, Laura. Auto/Biographical Discourses: Theory, Criticism, Practice. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1994. Mascuch, Michael. Origins of the Individualist Self: Autobiography and SelfIdentity in England, 1591—1791. Cambridge: Polity, 1997. Mason, Mary G. “The Other Voice: Autobiographies of Women Writers.” In Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical, (ed.) James Olney. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1980. 207–35. Mellor, Anne K. Romanticism and Gender. New York: Routledge, 1993. Nussbaum, Felicity. The Autobiographical Subject: Gender and Ideology in Eighteenth-Century England. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1989. Olney, James. “Autobiography and the Cultural Moment: A Thematic, Historical, and Bibliographical Introduction.” In Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical, (ed.) James Olney. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1980. 3–27. Peterson, Linda H. Victorian Autobiography: The Tradition of Self-Interpretation. New Haven: Yale UP, 1986. Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The Confessions. Trans. JM Cohen. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1953. Spengemann, William C. The Forms of Autobiography: Episodes in the History of a Literary Genre. New Haven: Yale UP, 1980. Stelzig, Eugene. “A Cultural Tourist in Romantic Germany: Henry Crabb Robinson as Nineteenth-Century Life Writer.” Biography 28.4 (Fall 2005): 515–33. ———. The Romantic Subject in Autobiography: Rousseau and Goethe. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 2000.


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———. “The Romantic Subject in Autobiography.” In Nonfictional Romantic Prose: Expanding Borders, (eds) Steven P. Sondrup and Virgil Nemoianu. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2004. 223–39. Treadwell, James. Autobiographical Writing and British Literature, 1783–1834. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. Wolfson, Susan. “Our Puny Boundaries: Why the Craving for Carving Up the Nineteenth Century?” PMLA 116.5 (Oct 2001): 1432–41. Wordsworth, William. The Prelude 1799, 1805, 1850, (eds) Jonathan Wordsworth, MH Abrams, Stephen Gill. New York, Norton 1979.

Part 1 The Variety of Women’s Life Writing

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Chapter 2

“My Heart Dissolved in What I Saw”: Displacement of the Autobiographical Self in Dorothy Wordsworth and Gertrude Stein Kari Lokke

The Vale looked very beautiful, in excessive simplicity yet at the same time uncommon obscurity. March 8, 1802

In their refusal of the confessional mode, Dorothy Wordsworth’s Alfoxden and Grasmere Journals have presented a source of both frustration and fascination to autobiographical criticism concerned with the expression and revelation of self. What does one do with an autobiographical text rooted in an effacement of self? The same is true of Gertrude Stein’s displacement of self in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Stein’s own autobiography created through the ventriloquized voice of her companion, Alice B. Toklas. Stein wrote for her partner because, as she puts it, although Toklas was “a pretty good housekeeper and a pretty good gardener and a pretty good needlewoman and a pretty good secretary and a pretty good editor ... [she] found it difficult to add being a pretty good author” (Toklas 251–2). Here Stein seems to parody the assessments commonly made by male “geniuses” like William Wordsworth of their female helpmeets as best limited, by virtue of their gender, to a supportive, domestic role. With this parody of masculine entitlement, Stein anticipates and seeks to defuse and deflect the criticism that she played the role of domineering and egotistical husband to Toklas’s bourgeois housewife. In the case of Dorothy Wordsworth, who faced her brother’s often genuine and unreflective condescension, her Journals reveal creative gifts far beyond those of a “pretty good author.” In this essay, I employ Stein’s writings as critical tools remarkably well suited to Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journals. I consider Dorothy Wordsworth, author of the Alfoxden and Grasmere Journals, as an artist and a poet in her own right, rather than  James E. Breslin offers an incisive discussion of Stein’s challenge to the conventions of autobiography.  Shari Benstock, for example, writes that “The prescribed roles that Gertrude and Alice played with each other indicate that the model for their marriage was a paternal and heterosexual one that duplicated the authority and submission patterns found, for instance, in the relationship of Stein’s own parents (the domineering husband, the submissive wife) or the power structure of her more recent relationship with Leo. ... The routine established after his departure ... effectively made Alice a domestic” (166).

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in her crucial role as primary inspiration, muse, secretary and editor/collaborator for William. As Patricia Comitini has argued, previous Dorothy Wordsworth scholarship has tended to read the Grasmere Journals as a record of what Dorothy Wordsworth “failed to do, of what she helped William to do, or even ... as a covert act of defiance” instead of looking at what she actually accomplished. My hope is that the theoretical self-consciousness and philosophical depth of Stein’s meditations on the relations between selfhood and authorship will help illuminate Dorothy Wordsworth’s unique contribution to Romantic autobiography and nature writing. Romanticists are perhaps most familiar with Dorothy Wordsworth from William’s address to her in Tintern Abbey where he refers to “the shooting lights / Of thy wild eyes.” Thomas De Quincey describes her eyes as “wild and startling,” remarks on her “Gipsy Tan” and asserts that “she was the very wildest (in the sense of the most natural) person I have ever known” (Gittings and Manton 167). Similarly, Harold Bloom, in comparing Stein to Walt Whitman, suggests that Stein’s poetry is a poetry of exuberance, her central trope one of “freedom as wildness” (6). In pairing Dorothy Wordsworth with Gertrude Stein, I am seeking to understand and illuminate this quality of wildness that distinguishes both and that exists in each in tandem with a life of seemingly tame and glorified bourgeois domesticity. Rather than simply comparing the autobiographical works of Wordsworth and Stein, then, I use Stein’s meditations on aesthetics and subjectivity as an analytical framework for gaining understanding of Wordsworth’s elusive representation of self. One might consider the philosophical Stein as the sentimental poet, in Schiller’s sense of the term, who theorizes the naïve that Dorothy Wordsworth more closely approaches and that Stein herself, like William Wordsworth in Tintern Abbey, seeks. By naïve I mean not unconscious, but un-selfconscious like the “Road lass” depicted in a February 1802 Grasmere Journal entry: “She was a beautiful Creature & there was something uncommonly impressive in the lightness & joyousness of her manner. Her business seemed to be all pleasure— pleasure in her own motions—& the man looked at her as if he too was pleased & spoke to her in the same tone in which he spoke to his horses” (69). The naïve poet, Schiller suggests, is not divided against himself by the conflicting pull of mind/body, culture/nature, intellect/feeling to the same degree as the sentimental poet. Wordsworth’s journals pose the critical question of whether the qualities of freedom and wildness Dorothy Wordsworth shares with animals, children and nature can be appreciated without condescension and negative judgment. 

Comitini’s commentary includes the following critics: Alexander, Homans, McGavran and Liu. Comitini rightly points out that Elizabeth Fay, in contrast, acknowledges Dorothy as William’s collaborator, a “poetic chronicler of ‘real scenes’” rather than simply his muse or copyist (320). Susan Levin, in my opinion, is the critic who contributes most to our understanding of Dorothy Wordsworth’s unique artistic accomplishments.  Comitini highlights the ideology of middle–class benevolent womanhood and “familial love, charity and domesticity based on class difference” (309) that informs Wordsworth’s writings. In contrast to Comitini, my reference to the “seemingly tame and glorified domesticity” of the Wordsworth household places the emphasis on the word “seemingly.”

“My Heart Dissolved in What I Saw”


Human Mind and Human Nature: Entity Versus Identity The central distinction in Stein’s aesthetics, developed in the lecture “What are Master-Pieces and Why Are There So Few of Them” and elucidated more fully in The Geographical History of America or the Relation of Human Nature to the Human Mind is that between human mind and human nature, between entity and identity. This distinction correlates to the opposition between the noumenal spirit or thing in itself and the individual self with all its needs and cravings as defined by modern psychology. For Stein, the work of art that outlives its creator and stands the test of time must be an expression of the human mind, not human nature. It may, and usually does, talk about time or politics or psychology but it must not be an expression of them. “Think about how you create if you do create you do not remember yourself as you do create. And yet time and identity is what you tell about as you create only while you create they do not exist” (MasterPieces 154). She quotes Picasso whom, along with Alfred North Whitehead and Stein herself, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas accords the status of genius: “Picasso once remarked I do not care who it is that has or does influence me as long as it is not myself” (Master-Pieces 149). The inability to transcend individual identity dooms artistic endeavor: The second you are you because your little dog knows you you cannot make a master-piece and that is all of that. It is not extremely difficult not to have identity but it is extremely difficult the knowing not having identity. One might say it is impossible but that it is not impossible is proved by the existence of master-pieces which are just that. They are knowing that there is no identity and producing while identity is not (Master-Pieces 153).

God, Mammon and Audience Response For Stein, it is above all else concern with audience response that traps the artist in identity, in the individual ego and its preoccupation with the thoughts and judgments of others. She wrote “What Are Master-Pieces” and The Geographical History in 1936 just after she had gained fame through the enormous success of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and the subsequent American tour of 1934– 1935. Stein’s close friend Thornton Wilder perceives a spiritual dimension in Stein’s effort to remain uncontaminated by fame and fortune: “It has often seemed to me that Miss Stein was engaged in a series of spiritual exercises whose aim was to eliminate during the hours of writing all those whispers into the ear from the outside and inside world where audience dwells” (Bloom 33). In the lecture, “What is English Literature,” from the American tour, Stein raises the “question can one serve god and mammon, and the further question if one can should one” (“English” 32). Mammon for Stein does not necessarily mean commercial success; rather it means writing indirectly, that is, writing with an imagined audience peering over one’s shoulder: “When I say god and mammon concerning the writer writing, I mean that any one can use words to say something. And in using these


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words to say what he has to say he may use those words directly or indirectly. If he uses these words indirectly he says what he intends to have heard by somebody who is to hear and in so doing inevitably he has to serve mammon” (“English” 39). As she wrote in “What are Master-Pieces,” she feared that the effort to please her new-found audience might trap her in a restrictive identity, in a desire to please this audience and give them what they want: “After the audience begins, naturally they create something that is they create you, and so not everything is so important, something is more important than another thing, which was not true when you were you that is when you were not you as your little dog knows you” (“MasterPieces” 156). She also discovered in lecturing that “gradually one ceased to hear what one said one heard what the audience hears one say” (“Master-pieces” 149). In the years 1937–1940, she would go on to write Ida, a novel about the costs of celebrity, whose central character, termed by Stein “a publicity saint,” (Sutherland 154) was based upon Wallace Warfield Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor. Stein clearly identified with her all-American girl, Ida, and with the scandalous Simpson who had at one time lived across the street from Stein in Baltimore. G.F. Mitrano considers Stein’s meditations on “the unresolved opposition between experimental and audience-oriented writing, also referred to as human mind and human nature” (13) as the key to Stein’s unique contribution to Modernism and claims that Stein “belongs to modern culture first and foremost because of the wavering between the internal world of her manuscripts and the external one of publication and social success” (12). This tension between writing for self and writing for others, between private meditation and public communication, between aesthetic ideal and literary marketplace is of course central to the Romantic era which in fact might be said to inaugurate the modernity that Mitrano delineates here. And Dorothy Wordsworth’s struggles with the question of authorship are well known—the twice aborted preparations to publish her 1803 Recollections of a Tour in Scotland and the refusal to publish her 1808 Narrative Concerning George and Sarah Green despite the significant increase in funds publication would have meant for the orphaned Green children. This refusal culminated in the oft-quoted letter to Catherine Clarkson in which Wordsworth states unequivocally: “I should detest the idea of setting myself up as an Author” (Gittings and Manton 188). Less often recognized are the depth and sophistication of Wordsworth’s understanding of the risks and costs of public authorship. As Sarah Zimmerman has convincingly shown, Dorothy Wordsworth offers some of the Romantic period’s “keenest insights” into the liabilities and costs of the lyric’s “focus on the autobiographical speaker” and the exposure to the reading audience resulting from that attention (113). She witnessed firsthand William Wordsworth’s defensive reactions to negative reviews of his work and his concerns for audience appreciation of his work, concluding that if he had not needed the money, he would likely have waited for posthumous publication of his work. Furthermore, her decision not to publish the Green Narrative and her worries about the distorting effects on the Green children of publicizing their tragedy seem reasonable today, when victimization and exploitation by the media is so common.

“My Heart Dissolved in What I Saw”


Dorothy Wordsworth’s answer to these struggles was to refuse publication and the marketplace, but not authorship itself. She participated in founding what Judith Page, following Margaret Ezell’s conception of a “female family of authorship,” has described as a “women’s tradition within the family: recording, transcribing, and sharing journals with family and a larger circle of friends” (67). The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas tells the tale of Stein’s desire simultaneously to participate in a Modernist version of this women’s tradition and to transform it. She begins by writing primarily for Alice and for a circle of friends because her writings are only rarely and reluctantly accepted for publication. Stein keeps careful score in The Autobiography of publishers, fellow authors and friends who have either helped or hindered her professional progress. The Autobiography concludes with Alice’s expression of impatience with the scarcity of “adventurous” (Toklas 242) publishers willing to take a chance on Stein’s work and her subsequent decision to learn the booktrade and to publish Stein’s writings herself. The reward is Stein’s “childish delight amounting almost to ecstasy” (Toklas 243) in seeing Lucy Church Amiably displayed in the windows of all the foreign bookstores in Paris. Dorothy Wordsworth, in the position of Toklas in relation to Stein’s “genius” that is trumpeted so ironically in the opening chapters of the Autobiography (Toklas 5, 14), makes clear both her intended audience and her purpose for the journal in her first entry to the Grasmere Journal, after her brothers have departed for the Hutchinson household. “I resolved to write a journal of the time till W & J return, & set about keeping my resolve because I will not quarrel with myself, & because I shall give Wm Pleasure by it when he comes home again” (1). Critics have focused on Dorothy Wordsworth’s designation of William as her intended audience, on her desire to please him. Equally interesting, however, is her cryptic determination not to quarrel with herself, or as Susan Levin interprets this assertion, “to maintain her own coherency” (20). Wordsworth is engaging in a conscious effort to remain naïve, to remain unconflicted, undivided against herself. One can never know exactly what parts of her are edging toward a fight nor the exact terms of this quarrel because Wordsworth eschews the confessional, self-exploratory mode typical of eighteenth-century autobiographies (Rousseau’s Confessions, Goethe’s Dichtung und Wahrheit or Mary Wollstonecraft’s Letters from Norway, Denmark and Sweden) that is then taken into the nineteenth century and refined in William Wordsworth’s Prelude. The autobiographical self of Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journals is, as my introductory remarks suggested, paradoxically self-effacing or, as Zimmerman writes, reticent (114) and evasive (121). Though it might seem laughable to term such a loquacious author as Stein reticent, even in her most accessible works like The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas she is indeed also highly evasive when it comes to self-analysis or self-revelation. As 

Here Page makes clear her debt to Margaret Ezell’s conception of a “‘female family of authorship,’ a community of women who defined their writing non-professionally and did not aspire to publication” (67). Mary Hutchinson and Dora Wordsworth would go on to join this tradition.

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she makes absolutely clear in her discussion of time at Radcliffe studying with William James, “Gertrude Stein never had subconscious reactions, nor was she a successful subject for automatic writing” (Toklas 79). This refusal of what we now term psychological analysis links the autobiographical styles of Stein and Wordsworth, and is indeed key to their affinities as writers and to the insights into Wordsworth’s Journals offered by Stein’s theoretical writings. In both Stein and Wordsworth, this refusal to explore the self publicly is tied to the sense of “wildness” communicated to the reader by both writers. Wordsworth, who suffered from pre-senile dementia, an Alzheimer’s like condition, throughout the last 20 years of her life, wrote, in a rare and revealing moment of lucidity to her niece Dora in 1838: “They say I must write a letter—and what shall it be? News—news I must seek for news. My own thoughts are a wilderness—‘not pierceable by power of any star’—News then is my resting-place—news! news!” (Gittings and Manton 276). Perhaps one witnesses here the cost of Wordsworth’s refusal to explore the frightening wilderness of selfhood and her substitution of fact for revelation of feeling—a process prevalent in her journals. Furthermore, Stein’s and Wordsworth’s avoidance of overt self-analysis is inseparable from their self-protectiveness in the face of audience expectation and response. Beyond the defensiveness in relation to public criticism or scrutiny evident in both writers, each also had to deal with a judgmental older brother as reader, though one was beloved and desired while the other was scorned and ultimately rejected. In their avoidance of self-revelation, then, both Stein and Wordsworth find a means of avoiding the disciplinary and coercive dimensions of confessional writing as they have been identified by Foucault. William H. Gass traces the development of Stein’s radical style to her struggle simultaneously to mask and to represent her lesbian sexuality. “This desire to gain by artifice a safety from the world—to find a way of thinking without the risks of feeling—is the source of the impulse to abstractness and simplicity in Gertrude Stein ...” (89). Precisely the same might be said of Dorothy Wordsworth’s concreteness and simplicity in The Grasmere Journal, a journal which Susan Levin has eloquently shown to constitute an effort to come to terms with the pain of relinquishing William to his marriage with Mary Hutchinson (Levin 21). The Journals reveal her escape from this pain into the great pleasure she takes in her “love of the object” and her “hypostatizing [of] nature’s individual phenomena”— traits and processes that for Schiller typify the naïve poet (Schiller 102). 

William’s efforts to control or censor Dorothy’s responses are particularly clear in relation to her reactions to Coleridge. On the tenth of November, 1801, for example, she writes “C had a sweet day for his ride—every sight & every sound reminded me of him dear dear fellow—of his many walks to us by day & by night—of all dear things. I was melancholy & could not talk, but at last I eased my heart by weeping—nervous blubbering says William. It is not so—O how many, many reasons have I to be anxious for him” (37).  The gendered power relations embedded in nineteenth-century British confessional literature are made explicit in Confessional Subjects, Susan Bernstein’s Foucauldian reading of Victorian literature.

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Wordsworth’s intense focus on the object can be a source of frustration to the modern reader seeking the confessional subject in these autobiographical writings, a frustration Schiller describes as his initial response to the naïve genius of Shakespeare: “Misled by acquaintance with more recent poets into looking first for the poet in his work, to find his heart, to reflect in unison with him on his subject matter, in short, to observe the object in the subject, it was intolerable to me that here there was no way to lay hold of the poet, and nowhere to confront him” (Schiller 107). In the end the movement away from elucidation of individual psychology, from personal identity and human nature or “imitative emotionalism” (Toklas 119) as Stein calls it, leads both writers to a search for ways to embody the noumenal thing in itself in words. Or, as Gass puts it, to move beyond or to “escape a purely protective language” (95). At times, Stein resorts to the coded expression of her sexuality which has been ingeniously read by critics like Gass, Catherine Stimpson and Lisa Ruddick. One wonders as well whether Dorothy Wordsworth’s frequent journal references to the plight of solitary female figures, both floral and human, vulnerable yet strong, might constitute encoded pleas to her reader William. Yet ultimately each was too honest to find solace in a purely defensive style. When Stein herself declares the gift for “concentrated description” to be the particular strength of English literature and links it to the insular nature of the country, she might very well be talking of Dorothy Wordsworth’s gift in her Journals of capturing the nature and people of her everyday world in pictures devoid of or detached from personal sentiment: “The thing that has made the glory of English literature is description simple concentrated description not of what happened nor what is thought or what is dreamed but what exists and so makes the life the island life the daily island life” (“English” 33). For Stein, this “glory” of English literature lasts from Chaucer to the nineteenth century (with a brief interruption by the Civil War and Milton) when the insular nature of British culture was threatened by empire and English writers then took a defensive posture in relation to readerly judgments of British imperialism: And in order to understand, it must be understood that explaining was invented, naturally invented by those living a daily island life and owning everything else outside. ... and so there was invented explaining and that made nineteenth century English literature what it is. And with explaining went emotional sentimental feeling because of course it had to be explained all the owning had to be told about its being owned about its owning and anybody can see that if island daily life were to continue its daily existing there must be emotional sentimental feeling (“English” 49). 

Jerome McGann traces “Stein’s hypnotic rhythms back to the eighteenth century, when poetic writing began to explore the languages of the ‘feelings’ and the ‘heart’— languages that sought to expand their expressive range by developing their non-semantic and transconceptual resources” (3–4). Clearly Stein herself conceives of her non-semantic use of language in opposition to “the languages of the ‘feelings.’”


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Whatever one thinks of Stein’s essentialist pronouncements on English literary history, they offer fascinating insight into the tension in Wordsworth’s Journals between “concentrated description” of her “daily island life” and the succumbing to her own emotions. Stein, who knew William Wordsworth’s poetry well, places the Lake Poets at a pivotal point in English literature when, she asserts, it began to give itself over to sentiment, to proceed by “phrases,” by parts, instead of through a more organic creative process. For Stein, poetry should never be “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,” even if that emotion is “recollected in tranquillity” (Mellor and Matlak, 580): The lake poets had other ideas, they felt that it was wrong to live by parts of a whole and they tried and they tried they wanted to serve god not mammon, but they too inevitably as they wrote longer and longer live by parts of the whole, because after all mammon and god were interchangeable since in the nineteenth century England lived its daily island life and owned everything outside. ... But it is soothing to write phrases, the sentiment of phrases is a soothing thing and so we all of us always like reading nineteenth-century writing, those of us who like to feel soothed by something that touches feeling (“English” 52).

If there is truth to Stein’s generalizations, then Dorothy Wordsworth’s struggle to depict her daily life objectively while both pleasing William and not succumbing to painful emotion is of interest not just as a personal struggle but also as a collective creative conflict that characterizes the movement from eighteenthto nineteenth–century English art and that G.J. Barker-Benfield has termed the culture of sensibility. “Concentrated Description” In the final section of this essay, I’ll discuss the formal and thematic means employed by Dorothy Wordsworth in her Journals in her effort to “serve god not mammon” as Stein would put it, to achieve “concentrated description” of her daily life rather than depiction of her desires, feelings and fears or the expression of what Stein terms identity or human nature. Because of their fragmentary diary form,  Stein offers a kind of aesthetic manifesto in The Autobiography that also quite accurately describes Dorothy Wordsworth’s descriptive technique in the journals, a technique directly at odds with William Wordsworth’s emphasis upon emotion and powerful feelings as the source of poetry: “Gertrude Stein, in her work, has always been possessed by the intellectual passion for exactitude in the description of inner and outer reality. She has produced a simplification by this concentration, and as a result the destruction of associational emotion in poetry and prose. She knows that beauty, music, decoration, the result of emotion should never be the cause, even events should not be the cause of emotion nor should they be the material of poetry and prose. Nor should emotion itself be the cause of poetry or prose. They should consist of an exact reproduction of either an outer or an inner reality” (211).

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unconventional punctuation dominated by dashes, and often mundane subject matter, Wordsworth’s journals may give the impression of hasty composition. In fact, as Pamela Woof emphasizes, “[t]he writing is not hurried, and many tiny alterations are witness to careful composition” (xix). Though no manuscript version of the Alfoxden Journal is available, the Grasmere notebooks demonstrate “Dorothy’s scrupulous, almost overscrupulous, care, most often for accuracy, but sometimes for effect, and for the sound of her sentences” (xxiv). Recognition of these careful choices in Wordsworth’s style highlights the conscious artistry that proceeds according to her own individually conceived aesthetic. Though Wordsworth does occasionally record unusual auditory events, her Journals are dominated by the eye, which is the primary vehicle of her well developed aesthetic judgment. Coleridge, at the same time that he admires her “simple, ardent, impressive” manners and her “innocent soul,” declares “Her eye watchful in minutest observation of nature—and her taste a perfect electrometer— it bends, protrudes, and draws in, at subtlest beauties and most recondite faults” (Gittings and Manton 65). The striking visual snapshots of nature and portraits of beggars and wanderers she meets are in large part responsible for the subtle power of her journals. Similarly, Frederic Prokosh writes of Stein in his memoir Voices that “She created an eerie sense of living totally in the present and of seeing the life around her in a series of instant visions” (95). Stein makes explicit that it is her “desire to express the rhythm of the visible world” (Toklas 119) that led to her most experimental works—such portraits as “Susie Asado” and “Preciocilla” and, finally, of course to Tender Buttons. In contrast to prevailing trends in Romantic aesthetics, the Modernist Stein privileges sight over hearing as Thornton Wilder makes clear: In the vocabulary of Miss Stein seeing always stands high. She enjoyed repeating that ‘seeing is believing.’ Readers will remark that among these thousands of references to creativity there is no reference to music. ‘Music is for adolescents’ she used to say. The eye is closer to the human mind, the ear to human nature. ... Only once have I heard her concede that music—it was after a hearing of Beethoven’s ‘Archduke Trio’—can occasionally issue from the human mind (Bloom 39–40).

In Wordsworth, scrupulous commitment to depiction of the thing in itself is inseparable from her keen eye. Intense visual apprehension frequently involves a sense of dissolution of self, as if the act of perception stimulates a letting go of personal identity. Thus she writes on the evening of 1 June 1800, “I lay upon the steep of Loughrigg my heart dissolved in what I saw” (6) and again on 21 June of that year, “Grasmere looked so beautiful that my heart was almost melted away” (12). It is the heart—synecdoche for the feeling, compassionate, and empathetic self—that disappears into the landscape in the intensity of aesthetic experience. At moments Wordsworth achieves a kind of absolute, mystical detachment from herself as her feelings, her heart, take on objective reality: “We lay upon the sloping Turf. Earth & sky were so lovely that they melted our very hearts. The sky


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to the north was of a chastened yet rich yellow fading into pale blue & streaked & scattered over with steady islands of purple melting away into shades of pink. It made my heart almost feel like a vision to me” (112). If Stein rejects figures of speech and metaphors in particular altogether, as inevitably outworn and trite, Wordsworth’s preference is for simile over metaphor. Rather than abruptly conflating or blurring distinctions between realms or entities through metaphor, Wordsworth tends instead to make explicit comparisons through simile. If she does blur boundaries, she traces the process of that blurring, often through the use of water imagery or through verbs like the aforementioned “melt” or “dissolve.” The terms of comparison in Wordsworth’s similes are almost always concrete and physical or sensory in nature such that they stimulate mental images rather than psychological or metaphysical associations. She would, I think, have concurred with Stein’s explanation of her famous line “A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose” to a student at the University of Chicago: Can’t you see that when language was new—as it was with Chaucer and Homer— the poet could use the name of a thing and the thing was really there? ... And can’t you see that after hundreds of years had gone by and thousands of poems had been written, he could call on those words and find that they were just worn out literary words? The excitingness of pure being had withdrawn from them; they were just stale literary words. Now the poet has to work in the excitingness of pure being; ... to get back that intensity into the language (Bloom 26).

Stein’s rejection of outworn poetic diction represents a Modernist legacy of Romanticism. Her refusal here of the mechanical adoption of specific forms of language aligns itself with William Wordsworth’s call for a new language of poetry in his “Preface to the Lyrical Ballads” where Wordsworth cuts himself off from “a large portion on phrases and figures of speech which from father to son have long been regarded as the common inheritance of Poets” (Mellor and Matlak 576). Similarly, instead of recapitulating stale, stock figures of speech, Dorothy Wordsworth’s similes contribute materially to the precision of her descriptions such that they do create a sense of excitement and intensify the impression that the objects or people she describes are “really there.” William Wordsworth’s aim for the Lyrical Ballads, as famously elucidated by Coleridge, applies equally to Dorothy’s journals: lifting “the film of familiarity” from the everyday world in order “to excite a feeling analogous to the supernatural, by awakening the mind’s attention from the lethargy of custom, and directing it to the loveliness and wonders of the world before us” (Mellor and Matlak 750). The entries of the first week in the Alfoxden Journal contain references to “the shafts of the trees show[ing] in the light like the columns of a ruin,” (142) “ivy twisting around the oaks like bristling serpents” (142) and exposed tree trunks, “stiff and erect, like black skeletons” (146). In The Grasmere Journal this practice of comparison is often assertively distinguished from associative responses on Wordsworth’s part even when nature is described in anthropomorphic figures of speech. Thus the depiction of “a cropped ash with upright forked branches like the Devil’s horns frightening a guilty conscience” is

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directly followed by the declaration: “We were happy and cheerful when we came home ...” (40). Wordsworth’s striking similes are responsible for some of the most memorable passages that describe the effects of light as it transmutes individual features of sea and landscapes: “The moonshine like herrings in the water” (30) or, “We watched the Crows at a little distance from us become white as silver as they flew in the sunshine, & when they went still further they looked like shapes of water passing over the green fields (87). On Tuesday, 24 November, she recalls “a most impressive sight” from the previous Sunday: “the moon & the moonlight seen through hurrying driving clouds immediately behind the Stone man upon the top of the hill on the Forest side. Every tooth & every edge of Rock was visible, & the Man stood like a Giant watching from the Roof of a lofty Castle. The hill seemed perpendicular from the darkness below it” (41). Wordsworth’s conclusion refuses emotional associations and moralisms, instead simply reinforcing the memorable power of the visual image: “It was a sight that I could call to mind at any time it was so distinct” (41). The portrait of her “favorite Birch tree” from the same journal entry is emblematic of her descriptive procedure: [A]s we were going along we were stopped at once, at the distance perhaps of 50 yards from our favorite Birch tree it was yielding to the gusty wind with all its tender twigs, the sun shone upon it & it glanced in the wind like a flying sunshiny shower—it was a tree in shape with stems & branches but it was like a Spirit of water—The sun went in & it resumed its purplish appearance the twigs still yielding to the wind but not so visibly to us. The other Birch trees that were near it looked bright & chearful—but it was a Creature by its own self among them (40).

The accrual of detail builds to an arrestingly fresh comparison; the tree is “like a flying sunshiny shower.” Once again the element of water is a vehicle of transformation, indeed transfiguration. The result is an almost mystical, epiphanic revelation of the thing in itself—“a Spirit of water,” “a Creature by its own self” among all the other birches. When Wordsworth turns from nature to portraits of the vagrants and beggars who people her Grasmere world, however, her method of dispassionate observation is difficult to sustain and produces markedly different results. The beggars and wanderers passing through Grasmere allow the brutal and frequent intrusion of the world beyond Britain into its “daily island life”: the war with France, the imperial mission of the navy, the slave trade. The entry of 13 November 1800, for example, finds the Wordsworths drinking tea and playing cards with neighbors and eating dinner, after which Wordsworth cryptically adds: “A poor woman from Hawkshead begged—a widow of Grasmere—a merry African from Longtown” (32). The modern reader may be disappointed, I think, even shocked at the lack of overt sympathy expressed for these often tragic figures. As Schiller, an author whose most “classical” works were written under the sign of Empfindsamkeit, writes of the naïve poet, “The dry truth with which he deals with the object


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seems not infrequently like insensitivity” (106). Yet in the end Schiller defends the avoidance of emotionality as a refusal of superficiality, the sign of a superior aesthetic and ethic: “The object possesses [the naïve poet] entirely, his heart does not lie like a tawdry alloy immediately beneath the surface, but like gold waits to be sought in the depths” (106). Such dispassionate observations bear comparison to Stein’s detached, strangely insouciant accounts, in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, of her service, with Toklas, on behalf of the American Fund for French Wounded in World War I. The reader’s expectations of moral outrage or political commentary are met with lighthearted narratives of the challenges presented by “their little ford car” (172) and whimsically matter of fact depictions of the wounded soldiers they “adopt.” Similarly, as Levin observes of Wordsworth, “[t]here is a certain amorality in [Wordsworth’s] writing. Her eye and her words affirm a natural world without categories of fault or truth” (36). To some extent, the same might be said of her social world. On 15 March 1802, for example, she records the horrific details of a “faint and pale” sailor’s tale of life at sea in a reportorial tone: His last voyage was to the Coast of Guinea, he had been on board a slave ship the Captain’s name Maxwell where one man had been killed a Boy put to lodge with the pigs & was half eaten, one Boy set to watch in the hot sun till he dropped down dead. He had been cast away in North America & had traveled 30 days among the Indians where he had been well treated—He had twice swum from a King’s ship in the Night & escaped, he said he would rather be in hell than be pressed. He was now going to wait in England to appear against Captain Maxwell (78–9).

This powerfully resonant nightmare of service in the King’s navy is recounted in a two-hour-long chat by the Wordsworth’s fireside. Without commentary or explicit judgment, Wordsworth concludes the entry by mentioning the sailor’s tale of a neighboring farm woman who had refused to give the young man anything, implicitly contrasting her household’s hospitality with the neighbor’s callousness. Rather than registering an emotional response she draws the following laconic comparison: “He was excessively like my Brother John” (79). For the modern reader this restrained comment is particularly poignant. Though the journal opens with William and John’s departure for the Hutchinson household, John, who had been at sea with the East India Company since 1790, would be lost on a voyage bound for Bengal and China in 1805 and would never again return to Grasmere. Often, however, the poverty, exploitation and oppression inevitably attendant upon late eighteenth-century socio-political upheaval compel defensive, emotional responses that Wordsworth perpetually seeks to contain and control—the responses that for Stein relegate nineteenth-century British literature to the realm of human nature rather than the human mind. In fact, Wordsworth’s inability to keep from “quarreling with herself” in her interactions with the poor and itinerant is responsible for some of the most powerful and distinctive passages of the Grasmere Journal. In response to the sheer number of beggars who approach her, Wordsworth seeks

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to formulate judgments of the worthiness and veracity of their claims as well as to protect herself from draining excesses of generosity and compassion. Thus she allows one old beggar to pass without acknowledging his need: “[We] met an old man who I saw was a beggar by his two bags hanging over his shoulder, but from a half laziness, half indifference & a wanting to try him if he would speak I let him pass. He said nothing, & my heart smote me” (50). Here the same heart that had dissolved into the beauty of nature strikes back and compels her to reach out in charity and recognition of the old man’s humanity. After according him alms, her tribute to that humanity takes the form of a lengthy concrete description of the precise details of the 75 year old’s appearance—garments, shoes, hat, and bags—and history—after a life in the navy, he is now pensionless. Still, to the end, Wordsworth avoids explicit moral, emotional or political commentary. The Friday, 12 February 1802 entry reveals a similar struggle. Wordsworth questions a poor woman’s claim that she needs money because of an injury to her husband, noting, “but she has been used to go a-begging, for she has often come here” (67). She continues, revealing the powerful, lasting and memorable effect of this family’s plight: She is a woman of strong bones with a complexion that has been beautiful, & remained very fresh last year, but now she looks broken, & her little Boy, a pretty little fellow, & whom I have loved for the sake of Basil, looks thin & pale. I observed this to her. Aye she says we have all been ill. ... Our house was unroofed in the storm recently & so we lived in it for more than a week. The Child wears a ragged drab coat & a fur cap, poor little fellow, I think he seems scarcely at all grown since the first time I saw him. ... Poor creatures! (67).

Oddly focusing on her subject’s verbal syntax, yet overcome with sympathy, vacillating between self-reproach and self-defense, she then makes an effort to distance herself from the pain of empathy: “I could not help thinking we are not half thankful enough that we are placed in that condition of life in which we are. We do not so often bless god for this as we wish for this 50£ that 100£ &c &c. We have not, however to reproach ourselves with ever breathing a murmur. This woman’s was but a common case” (67). This generalized assertion of class privilege seems to fail in its effect as the entry soon moves to one of the Journal’s most haunting images of pain and desolation that renders the widespread poverty and need afflicting her community anything but common: The snow still lies white upon the ground. Just at the closing of the Day I heard a cart pass the door, & at the same time the dismal sound of a crying Infant. I went to the window & had enough light to see that a man was driving a cart which seemed not to be very full, & that a woman with an infant in her arms was following close behind & a dog close to her. It was a wild & melancholy sight.—(67).

The entry concludes with Dorothy and William working by candlelight, “with the windows unclosed” until midnight. Boundaries between inner and outer


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worlds, between self and other dissolve as Dorothy works on completing a copy of William’s “The Pedlar.” As Levin notes, this passage is emblematic of Wordsworth’s eschewal of metaphor and her preference for “lateral sequence[s] of associations” rather than narrative units “that can synecdocally represent the whole”: Dorothy provides a description that renders the common quite extraordinary. ... The incident touches the journal writer’s life contiguously rather than being made metaphorically representative of her state. The opposition of Dorothy’s unified home at Grasmere and the itinerant, deracinated existence of the people outside is established through sequence. Writing metonymically, she does not draw the connections typical of metaphoric writing (32–3).

This preference for metonymy over metaphor in the representation of her social world, like the choice of simile in her descriptions of nature, is key to Dorothy Wordsworth’s depiction of community and reflects her willingness to displace her own ego into this world of connections. Beyond her closest personal relationships, her sense of community is a decentered network of associations connected by proximities that present constant challenges to social and aesthetic hierarchies as well as to fixed individual identity. Exchanges of letters and food with neighbors, interactions with servants, household/garden and editorial/copying work, local tales, gossip and readings from canonical literature share the same status in her accounts of daily activities. Much the same can be said of the portrayal of the early twentieth-century avant-garde Parisian community in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas except for the prominent role played by Stein’s records of the responses of editors, publishers, reviewers, patrons, and fellow artists to her work. In Wordsworth’s world, animals and humans often seem to exist on the same plane, as well. In the 1 June 1800 entry in which she describes her heart as dissolved in the landscape surrounding her, lying on the ground she is approached by a young lamb, sounding softly like a “child paddling without shoes” (6). Like Wordsworth herself, the lamb is an observer who seems to study her intently for a long period of time. Similarly, the story of Barbara Wilkinson’s Turtle Dove related to her by Catherine Clarkson unites a dove and a mouse in a tale that is anthropomorphic at the same time that it resists interpretation: Barbara is an old maid. She had 2 Turtle Doves. One of them died the first year I think. The other bird continued to live alone it its cage for nine years, but for one whole year it had a companion & daily visitor, a little mouse that used to come & feed with it, & the Dove would caress it, & cower over it with its wings, & make a loving noise to it. The mouse though it did not testify equal delight in the Dove’s company yet it was at perfect ease. The poor mouse disappeared & the Dove was left solitary till its death. It died of a short sickness & was buried under a tree with funeral ceremony by Barbara & her maiden & one or two others (60).

William has requested that Dorothy preserve this story; local lore is woven into Dorothy’s personal journal as potential material for future public poetry. Most

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amusingly, with the benefit of hindsight from a twenty-first century perspective, the origin of that iconic, stately nineteenth-century poem “Ode on Intimations of Immortality” is linked in a later entry to William’s spreading of dung in the garden: “A divine morning—at Breakfast Wm wrote part of an ode—Mr Olliff sent the Dung & Wm went to work in the garden we sate all day in the Orchard” (82–3). The intriguing diagram of 15 May 1802 which places members of the Wordsworth, Coleridge and Hutchinson families in spatial relation to each other suggests the metonymic possibilities of these personal relationships imagined by Wordsworth in her effort to come to terms with the enormous change in her life represented by William’s impending marriage to Mary Hutchinson. Though the journal continues till January 1803, the conventional narrative of the Grasmere Journal ends with the climactic and convulsively emotional account of William’s marriage on 4 October 1802 which is the longest entry by far in the entire journal. The entry concludes with Dorothy’s welcoming and accepting of Mary into her home and her beloved landscape: “On Friday 8th we baked Bread, & Mary & I walked ... in view of Rydale, the first walk that I had taken with my Sister” (132). And by the time the married couple and sister return home to their Grasmere garden, the rendering of emotion, in keeping with the prevailing practice of the Journal, is deliberately and explicitly excluded: “[F]or my part I cannot describe what I felt, & our dear Mary’s feelings would I dare say not be easy to speak of” (132). Restrained and reticent to the end, Dorothy Wordsworth offers a challenge to the reader accustomed to the surfeit of twenty-first century autobiographical excess. Gertrude Stein’s speculations on human nature and the human mind help illuminate the radical philosophical and aesthetic import of Wordsworth’s challenge to the confessional subject. Works Cited Alexander, Meena. Women in Romanticism. Savage, MD: Barnes and Noble, 1989. Barker-Benfield, G.J. The Culture of Sensibility: Sex and Society in EighteenthCentury Britain. Chicago: Chicago UP, 1992. Benstock, Shari. WOMEN OF THE LEFT BANK: PARIS, 1900–1940 [title in italics]. Austin: U of Texas P, 1986. Bernstein, Susan. Confessional Subjects: Revelations of Gender and Power in Victorian Literature and Culture. Chapel Hill: U of N Carolina P, 1997. Bloom, Harold. Introduction. Gertrude Stein: Modern Critical Views. (Ed.), Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. 1–6. Breslin, James E. “Gertrude Stein and the Problems of Autobiography.” Georgia Review 33:4 (1979): 901–13. Comitini, Patricia. “‘More than Half a Poet’: Vocational Philanthropy in Dorothy Wordsworth’s Grasmere Journals.” European Romantic Review 14:3 (2003): 307–22.


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Gass, William H. “Gertrude Stein: Her Escape from Protective Language.” Fiction and the Figures of Life. New York: Vintage, 1971. 79–96. ______. “Gertrude Stein and the Geography of the Sentence.” The World within the Word. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978. Gittings, Robert & Jo Manton. Dorothy Wordsworth. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1988. Homans, Margaret. Women Writers and Poetic Identity: Dorothy Wordsworth, Emily Brontë and Emily Dickinson. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1980. _______. Bearing the Word: Language and Female Experience in NineteenthCentury Women’s Writing. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1984. Levin, Susan. Dorothy Wordsworth and Romanticism. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1987. Liu, Alan. “On the Autobiographical Present: Dorothy Wordsworth’s Grasmere Journals.” Criticism 26.2 (1984): 115–137. McGavran, James Holt. “Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journals: Putting Herself Down.” The Private Self: Theory and Practice of Women’s Autobiographical Writings. (Ed.), Shari Benstock. Chapel Hill: U of N. Carolina P, 1988. 230–53. Mellor, Anne K. and Richard E. Matlak. British Literature: 1780–1830. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace, 1996. Mitrano, G.F. Gertrude Stein: Woman Without Qualities. Ashgate: Aldershot, 2005. Page, Judith. “Neatly-Penned Memorials: Dora Wordsworth’s Journal of 1828 and the Community of Authorship.” a/b: Autobiography Studies 17 (2002): 65–80. Ruddick, Lisa. Reading Gertrude Stein: Body, Text, Gnosis. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1990. Schiller, Friedrich von. Naïve and Sentimental Poetry and On the Sublime. (Ed. and trans.) Julias Elias. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1966. Stein, Gertrude. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. New York: Vintage, 1933, 1961. ______. The Geographical History of America or the Relation of Human Nature to the Human Mind. Intro. William H. Gass. New York: Vintage, 1973. ______. Writings and Lectures 1909–1945. (Ed.), Patricia Meyerowitz. Baltimore: Penguin, 1967. Stimpson, Catherine R. “The Somagrams of Gertrude Stein.” Poetics Today 6 (1985): 67–80. Sutherland, Donald. Gertrude Stein: A Biography of Her Work. New Haven: Yale UP, 1951. Wilder, Thornton. Introduction to Four in America. Gertrude Stein: Modern Critical Views. 25–46. Wordsworth, Dorothy. The Grasmere and Alfoxden Journals. (Ed. and intro.), Pamela Woof. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002. Zimmerman, Sarah. M. Romanticism, Lyricism, and History. Albany: State U of New York, 1999.

Chapter 3

The Gothic Structure of Mary Robinson’s Memoirs Sharon M. Setzer

Shortly before her death on 26 December 1800, Mary Robinson enjoined her daughter, Maria Elizabeth, to publish the autobiographical narrative that became the centerpiece of Memoirs of the Late Mrs. Robinson. Written by Herself (1801). In her prefatory “Advertisement,” Maria Elizabeth, explains that she is publishing the work to honor “the solemn injunction of a dying parent, and the promise pledged by a child in circumstances so aweful [sic] and affecting.” Maria Elizabeth adds that it is “impossible” for her to “feel indifferent to the vindication of a being so beloved, and ever so lamented, whose real character was little known, and who, in various instances, was the victim of calumny and misrepresentation” (1: ii). With the word vindication, Maria Elizabeth foregrounds a motive for writing that does not rise to the surface of her mother’s text until she interrupts the narrative of her life, after almost 80 pages, to assert, “Indeed the world has mistaken the character of my mind; I have ever been the reverse of volatile and dissipated; I mean not to write my own eulogy; though, with the candid and sensitive mind, I shall I trust succeed in my vindication” (1: 78–9). The charges of volatility and dissipation brought against Robinson date back to the spring of 1780, when she resigned her position as an actress at Drury Lane and assumed a prominent role in the theatre of London scandal as mistress of the 17-year-old Prince of Wales (later George IV). The Prince, by the own admission, had fallen “over head & ears in love” with Robinson on the fateful evening of 3 December 1779, when she played the role of Perdita in a command performance of Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale at Drury Lane. Although their liaison lasted only about a year, Robinson,  The first edition might be characterized as Maria Elizabeth’s four-volume monument to the memory of her “Dear sainted PARENT.” Volumes 3 and 4 (which included previously published newspaper editorials, some “posthumous pieces,” and tributes to Robinson written by her contemporaries) quickly fell by the wayside, however, as subsequent editions of the Memoirs preserved only Robinson’s own first-person narrative and, sometimes, the continuation of that narrative written by a “Friend,” generally assumed to be Maria Elizabeth. Recent biographies suggest that Maria Elizabeth may have had some help from others, such as Robinson’s publisher, Richard Phillips (Byrne 358) and her literary friend Samuel Jackson Pratt (Davenport 75–7).  The Prince made this confession in a letter to his epistolary confidant Mary Hamilton (qtd. in Anson 88). Paula Byrne quotes additional excerpts from the Prince’s unpublished letters, which indicate that he had met Robinson before the command performance (101).


Romantic Autobiography in England / Setzer

Fig. 1 N.E. Portion of the Cloister of the Minster from Skelton’s Etchings of the Antiquities of Bristol (1825) is reproduced courtesy of Lilly Library, Duke University.

The Gothic Structure of Mary Robinson’s Memoirs


to this day, remains fixed in the popular imagination as “Perdita,” the “lost one,” “the Prince’s Mistress.” When she started to write her Memoirs on 14 January 1798, Robinson was not only suffering from paralysis in her legs, physical pain, and the mental exhaustion of trying to earn a living by her pen. She was also obviously still smarting from the “calumny and misrepresentation” that erupted almost 20 years before in the wake of her notorious affair with the Prince of Wales. The breakup inspired a steady stream of newspaper gossip, satirical cartoons, and a variety of anonymously published pamphlets, including Poetical Epistle from Florizel to Perdita: With Perdita’s Answer (1781) and Letters from Perdita to a Certain Israelite, and his Answers to Them (1781). The second pamphlet, which claimed that “Perdita” herself had written the first, also charged that she had “feigned a Passion” for the “Israelite” in 1773, granted him sexual favors, and thereby managed to extend her husband’s credit with the unfortunate money lender who lost both “Principal and Interest” (14, 9). The “Israelite,” identified by Lucile Werkmeister as John “Jew” King, responded to “Perdita’s” first letter by writing, “I thank you for your warm Epistle, and wish it was really as sincere as it appears to be; but I know you volatile and dissembling . .” (18). On 28 March 1781, the Morning Herald reported, Perdita is so much disgusted at the late publication of her letters to the Israelite, that she had since withdrawn to sullen retirement. ... [A]ll her artifices are so unreservedly exposed in it, her various modes of deception discovered, her stratagems and manoeuvers so developed, that in bitterness of resentment she execrates the perfidious wretch who thus damped the career of her dissipation.

According to ongoing newspaper gossip and the salacious anecdotes compiled in the anonymously published Memoirs of Perdita (1784), Robinson quickly resumed her career of dissipation as she entered into liaisons with numerous other men, including the Prince’s friend Lord Malden, the opposition leader Charles James Fox, and the Revolutionary War hero Banastre Tarleton. In a false notice of her The Morning Post carried several reports on Robinson’s health in the month that she started to write her Memoirs. On 25 January, for example, the Post announced: “Mrs. Robinson (to whom the literati of the age have given the title of the English Sappho) is still in a state of health that menaces the most alarming consequences. Her illness is said to proceed from mental irritation, added to the incessant labours of her pen.” In all probability, these reports came from Robinson herself or from someone very close to her.  For other accounts of Robinson’s Memoirs as a corrective to such negative publicity, see the recent biographies by Byrne, Davenport, and Gristwood, as well as the essays by Anne Mellor and Laura Runge.  According to Werkmeister, King published the letters, dated Sept. 29–Nov. 30, 1773, after he “failed to extort a shilling” from Robinson (33). On 30 March 1781, the Morning Chronicle published an exculpatory paragraph, probably written by Robinson herself, claiming that some of the letters were “fabricated out of malevolent slander.”  There is reliable evidence to indicate that these three men were, in fact, Robinson’s lovers. The string of nameless others, however, probably reveals less about Robinson’s secret love-life than her contemporaries’ pornographic powers of invention. 


Romantic Autobiography in England / Setzer

death published on 14 July 1786, the Morning Post reiterated the familiar charges by attributing Robinson’s errors to a “spirit of levity” and a “strong propensity to dissipation.” Robinson’s insistence that she has “ever been the reverse of volatile and dissipated” clearly defines the thematic emphases of the narrative tradition that she is writing against as she begins her own Memoirs with a brief account of St Augustine’s Cathedral in Bristol, the city where she was born. “At this moment,” Robinson writes, “the beautiful Gothic structure ... fills the contemplative mind with melancholy awe” (1: 1). As I will argue, Robinson repeatedly invokes this “Gothic structure” to define the essential characteristics of her own contemplative mind and to prove that she has always had strong propensities to melancholy meditation. Robinson’s disclaimer is particularly telling because it comes immediately after recollections of her frequent visits to Westminster Abbey during the first month of her married life in London: It was to me a soothing and a gratifying scene of meditation.— I have often remained in the gloomy chapels of that sublime fabric, till I became as it were an inhabitant of another world. The dim light of the Gothic windows, the vibration of my footsteps along the lofty aisles, the train of reflections that the scene inspired, were all suited to the temper of my soul: and the melancholy propensities of my earliest infancy seemed to revive with an instinctive energy, which rendered them the leading characteristics of my existence (1: 78–9).

This gothic “scene of meditation” is, in its own way, perhaps, no less theatrical than the “scenes of fashionable folly” that Robinson later depicts as she recalls her visits to the London pleasure gardens of Ranelagh and Vauxhall. Westminster Abbey, however, stands apart from all the other places in London that Robinson mentions precisely because it is a space where memories of her “earliest infancy seemed to revive with an instinctive energy.” The continuity between the past and the present seems to prove that she has always been essentially the same melancholy being, that she has always been the “reverse of volatile and dissipated.” The Westminster Abbey passage, together with Robinson’s immediately following disclaimer, clarifies the structure of feeling that informs three distinct Bristol spots of time in her Memoirs. In the first, Robinson relates her earliest childhood memories of St Augustine’s Cathedral; in the second, she describes her return to the Cathedral in 1773, when she was a teenage bride; in the third, she recalls another return in 1777, after she had become a successful actress. When Robinson revisits the Cathedral in 1773 and 1777, she also revisits her childhood memories, much as she does in Westminster Abbey. The sequence as a whole demonstrates Robinson’s artistic endeavor to identify a meaningful pattern in her life and to define an essential, coherent self, dating back to “earliest infancy.” Like the spots of time in Wordsworth’s Prelude, Robinson’s Bristol spots of time hold a “distinct preeminence” in her memory. They do not have quite the same “renovating virtue,” however. That is, they do not confirm “that the mind / Is lord and master, and that outward sense / Is but the obedient servant of her will” (1805 Prelude 11. 270–72). Instead, they show how Robinson, a self-proclaimed victim

The Gothic Structure of Mary Robinson’s Memoirs


of circumstance and excessive sensibility, tried to renovate her reputation as a woman and to insure her legacy as a poet. As they contribute to both of these ends, the Bristol spots of time combine what Judith Pascoe has called the “two different self-promotional projects” of Robinson’s Memoirs (Mary Robinson 48). The consistency with which Robinson identifies her “real” character with St Augustine’s Cathedral, however, suggests that she may be trying to convince herself as well as others that the melancholy child Mary Darby was, to adapt Wordsworth’s phrase, the mother of the woman who was often called the “celebrated” Mrs. Robinson. As an actress who had played more than 20 different roles at Drury Lane, as a woman who had taken an untold number of different lovers, as a poet who was still publishing under a variety of different pseudonyms, Robinson herself might well have asked, “Who is the real Mary Robinson?” The possibility that she might have had some sense of an essential melancholy Self is generally dismissed by recent critics who emphasize her fluid multiplicity of selves. Judith Pascoe, for example, characterizes Robinson as “a cultural chameleon” who “evoked a heterodox and fluid notion of the self” through “her proliferation of pseudonymous identities” (Romantic Theatricality 1, 3). Eleanor Ty elaborates upon Robinson’s “seemingly various representations of herself” by drawing upon Julia Kristeva’s theory of the “subject in process,” Teresa de Laurentis’s explanation of the female subject “at odds” with language, and Sidonie Smith’s definition of autobiography as “a kind of masquerade” (31, 25). Anne Mellor goes a step further with the assertion that Robinson “consciously created what we now call a ‘postmodernist subjectivity,’ a concept of self as entirely fluid, unstable and performative.” As Mellor goes on to explain, Robinson’s creation of this “postmodernist subjectivity” marked a radical departure from “the coherent, stable, and predictable subjectivity so insistently (and anxiously) promoted by William Wordsworth. ...” (253–4). Although there is much in Robinson’s oeuvre to support such claims, the Bristol spots of time in her Memoirs present compelling evidence of her desire, at life’s end, to create a more traditionally “Romantic” subjectivity, one that reveals an almost Wordsworthian preoccupation with the “inseparably co-relative” notions of “origin” and “tendency” (“Essay upon Epitaphs, I,” Prose 2: 51). II Robinson sets the scene for the melancholy story of her life as she moves from the “venerable minster” to describe the adjacent Minster House where she was born on a “tempestuous night” in November:

 When the adjective celebrated was applied to Robinson, it often functioned as a synonym for infamous rather than illustrious or signaled a mock-heroic play upon the opposing connotations. “A Sketch of the Life of the Celebrated Mrs R-----.” (1782), for example, begins with the blatantly mock-heroic claim: “No woman that ever moved in the Cytherean circle, or wantoned in the pleasures of bon ton, has been more eminent for variety of amours or vicissitudes of fortune, than our heroine” (7).

Romantic Autobiography in England / Setzer


The front faced a small garden, the gates of which opened to the Minster-Green, (now called the College-Green): the west side was bounded by the Cathedral, and the back was supported by the antient cloisters of St Augustine’s monastery. A spot more calculated to inspire the soul with mournful meditation can scarcely be found amidst the monuments of antiquity (1: 2–3).

The gothic gloom thickens as Robinson focuses on one particular chamber “whose dismal and singular construction left no doubt of its having been a part of the original monastery.” As Robinson explains, “It was supported by the mouldering arches of the cloisters; dark, Gothic, and opening on the minster sanctuary, not only by casement windows that shed a dim mid-day gloom, but by a narrow winding staircase, at the foot of which an iron-spiked door led to the long gloomy path of cloistered solitude” (1: 3). Such details, as Henry Barton Baker remarked more than one hundred years ago, make the opening of Robinson’s narrative “as weird and mysterious as anything Mrs Radcliffe could have invented” (536). In recent years, comparisons between Robinson’s Memoirs and gothic fiction have become something of a critical commonplace. If Robinson’s depiction of her birthplace was inflected by the gothic vogue of the 1790s, however, it certainly was not invented. Her depiction, in fact, bears a remarkable resemblance to the image of the Minster House included in Skelton’s Etchings of the Antiquities of Bristol.” Joseph Skelton’s etching (c.1825) shows not only how the house, as Robinson notes, “was bounded by the cathedral,” but also how the back chamber with casement windows was “supported by the mouldering arches of the cloisters.” Although such documentary evidence does not entirely preclude suspicions that Robinson was in some respects fictionalizing her past, it does suggest that the narrative of her childhood may be more firmly grounded in fact that readers have generally assumed. Robinson introduces her earliest childhood memories of St Augustine’s Cathedral to illustrate how “the early propensities of [her] life were tinctured with “romantic and singular characteristics.” She offers the memories as “proofs that As Anne Close emphasizes, Robinson’s Memoirs are not simply capitalizing on the gothic vogue associated with Radcliffe but also continuing the revisionary project of her own gothic novels, such as Hubert de Sevrac (1796). I find nothing in the Bristol spots of time, however, to substantiate Close’s claim that Robinson’s “revision of ... gothic conventions” enables her to write “her own happy ending” (183).  I am grateful to Lee Sorensen of the Lilly Library at Duke University for providing a digital enhancement of Skelton’s etching and grating permission to reproduce it. Although the subtitle of Skelton’s Etchings suggests that he etched all the plates after “original drawings by the late Hugh O’Neill,” Plate 5, labeled “N.E. Portion of the Cloisters of the Cathedral, and back of Minster House,” is after a drawing by John Willis. John Rogan (42) reproduces one of O’Neill’s drawings showing what Robinson called the “modern” front of the Minster House facing the College Green. This drawing and Willis’s drawing of the “ancient” cloisters at the back might be viewed as almost Blakean “companion” pieces, showing two very different perspectives on the same house. 

The Gothic Structure of Mary Robinson’s Memoirs


the mind is never to be diverted from its original bent” (1: 12). In her first proof, Robinson focuses on her response to the “deep tones” of the Cathedral music: The nursery in which I passed my hours of infancy was so near the great aisle of the minster, that the organ, which re-echoed its deep tones, accompanied by the chaunting of the choristers, was distinctly heard both at morning and evening service. I remember with what pleasure I used to listen, and how much I was delighted whenever I was permitted to sit on the winding steps which led from the aisle to the cloisters. I can at this moment recall to memory the sensations I then experienced; the tones that seemed to thrill through my heart, the longing which I felt to unite my feeble voice to the full anthem, and the awful though sublime impression which the church service never failed to make upon my feelings (1: 12–13).

The sensations that Robinson recalls in this passage are very similar to the ones that her contemporary Edward Shiercliff describes, with more explicitly religious terms, in his Bristol and Hotwell Guide. Elaborating upon his claim that the organ in St Augustine’s Cathedral is “a very capital one,” Shiercliff notes, “It is generally remarked, that there is not a church in England where the music of the organ, and the voices of the choristers united, produce such a grand melodious effect, by which the soul being rapt in ecstasies of holy delight, is raised in idea from Earth to Heaven, exulting in the purest adoration of praise and thanksgiving to the divine Creator” (30). While Robinson’s personal narrative corresponds with what is “generally remarked,” it also associates the “singular” propensities of her childhood with the singular reputation of the Cathedral. As the source of Robinson’s first auditory memories, and as a space for exploration just beyond the boundaries of her home, St Augustine’s Cathedral occupies much the same position in her Memoirs as the River Derwent does in Wordsworth’s Prelude. The “deep tones” that sent a “thrill” through Robinson’s heart, however, belong to a very different register than the “ceaseless music” of the “beauteous stream” that “composed” Wordsworth’s “thoughts / To more than infant softness” and gave him “A knowledge, a dim earnest, of the calm / Which Nature breathes among the fields and groves” (1799 Prelude 1. 8–15). Born in the busy city of Bristol, during a storm that followed her “through life” (1: 4), Robinson, by her own account, rarely knew such calm, and that may certainly help to explain why she developed a very different poetic sensibility. Auditory memories are, of course, like other memories, very selective and complex phenomena. While they help authors to identify and re-present the influences that shaped their development as feeling, thinking, and speaking subjects, auditory memories of the distant past are also conjured up and inflected by concerns of the present. The opening lines of the 1799 Prelude, for example, suggest that Wordsworth turned in memory to the “steady cadence” of the Derwent in order to stimulate the flow of his own blank verse. The first pages of Robinson’s Memoirs, on the other hand, suggest that she invoked the “deep tones” of the cathedral sublime in order to revise narratives that routinely placed her within the categories of the profane, the beautiful, and the ephemeral. Her particular


Romantic Autobiography in England / Setzer

recollection of the “longing” that she felt “to unite [her] feeble voice to the full anthem” of the cathedral service is perhaps not only a proof of her nascent religious sensibilities but also an oblique expression of her present longing to participate in what Shelley, in his Defense of Poetry, called “that great poem, which all poets, like the co-operating thoughts of one great mind, have built up since the beginning of the world” (124). Although Robinson herself explicitly mentions no literary aspirations beyond that of obtaining a “decent [financial] independence” (1: 185), Maria Elizabeth reveals that her mother had entertained hopes of recovering her health and composing “a long work upon which she would bestow great pains and time.” As Maria Elizabeth indicates, Robinson herself was acutely aware that “most of her writings ... had been composed in too much haste” to endure as part of the world’s one great poem (2: 161). As she contemplated writing a “long work,” however, Robinson undoubtedly shared Wordsworth’s aspirations to “construct a literary Work that might live.” In his Preface to the 1814 edition of The Excursion, Wordsworth explained that the poem we now know as The Prelude was to have the “same kind of relation” to his projected “long and laborious Work,” The Recluse, as “the ante-chapel has to the body of a gothic church” (Prose 1: 5). Given her past reputation as a promiscuous woman of the town, Robinson might well have been accused of sacrilege had she openly announced that she was using St Augustine’s Cathedral to figure her reclusive tendencies and meditative mind. That, however, is exactly what Robinson does in the opening pages of her Memoirs, without ever once resorting to the rhetorical figures of simile or metaphor. The elements of Robinson’s “real” character evinced by her auditory memories of the Cathedral music become even more pronounced as she recalls her childhood fascination with the cathedral lectern, cast in the form of a large brass eagle with outstretched wings. While her “brothers were playing on the green before the minister,” Robinson recalls, their attendant often “suffered [her] to remain beneath the great eagle which stood in the centre of the aisle, to support the book from which the clergyman read the lessons of the day.” Robinson adds, “nothing could keep me away, even in the coldest seasons, but the stern looks of an old man, ... whose occupations within the sacred precincts were those of a bell-ringer and sexton” (1: 13). In this passage, Robinson is undoubtedly referring to the imposing eagle lectern that was given to St Augustine’s in 1683, by the Reverend George Williamson, a Sub-Dean of the Cathedral.10 As a child, Robinson may not have known that such lecterns, frequently found in the churches of England, were traditional symbols of St John the Evangelist. It seems unlikely, at any rate, that she received such knowledge from the sexton, whom she “named Black John,” owing to “the colour of his beard and complexion.” Robinson’s language now bears all the disturbing overtones of a racial slur. But it also calls attention to an 10 Robert Southey, another native of Bristol, relates the subsequent history of the eagle lectern in his Letters from England, published under the pseudonym of Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella (3: 367–70).

The Gothic Structure of Mary Robinson’s Memoirs


ironic disjunction between the Evangelist, who wrote a Gospel “bearing witness of the Light,” and his forbidding namesake, who would not suffer a little child to rest beneath the eagle. Although Robinson’s fixation upon the eagle in the center aisle of St Augustine’s Cathedral is certainly poignant enough in itself, it becomes an even more striking instance of her “singular” childhood if one compares it to Virginia Woolf’s obsession with her mother, the figure “in the very centre of that great Cathedral space which was childhood” (81). While the remembered space of childhood for Wordsworth and Woolf alike is filled with ecstatic moments of joy as well as moments of fear and pain, all of Robinson’s cathedral memories exemplify the “melancholy propensities” that “tinctured” her life. Although she mentions attending a Bristol academy run by the straight-laced sisters of Hannah More, Robinson suggests that she was a more avid pupil of the Graveyard School popularized by Edward Young, Robert Blair, and James Hervey: As soon as I had learned to read, my great delight was that of learning epitaphs and monumental inscriptions. A story of melancholy interest never failed to excite my attention; and before I was seven years old, I could correctly repeat Pope’s Lines to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady; Mason’s Elegy on the Death of the beautiful countess of Coventry; and many smaller pieces on similar subjects (1: 14).11

One certainly might blame Robinson’s parents for allowing their six-year-old daughter to become so conversant with mournful meditations upon dead women; but one might also wonder if Robinson is remembering her childhood correctly as she refers to works that eerily foreshadow her later status as a beautiful lost woman. Given her express interest in showing that her life was “marked by the progressive evils of a too acute sensibility” ( 1: 12), Robinson might well have felt at liberty to fabricate details that would support her version of the essential “Truth” better that factual details ever could. What is particularly interesting about Robinson’s account of her entrance into the world of textuality, however, is not only the way in which it seems to foreshadow or interpolate the later story of her life. Even more haunting is the way in which it seems to prefigure her death and to hint at her hopes that at least some members of the reading public would take notice. When Robinson writes, “A story of melancholy import never failed to excite my attention,” she is not simply representing her melancholy childhood self, nor is she simply projecting her melancholy adult self back upon her childhood; she is also presenting a fantasy image of the reader of her own Memoirs.


Robinson is referring to Alexander Pope’s 82-line “Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady” (c. 1717) and William Mason’s 108-line “Elegy III: On the Death of a Lady” (1760). The untimely death of Maria, Countess of Coventry (1733–1760), was widely attributed to her use of lead-based make-up. Before her aristocratic marriage, Maria (née Gunning) had been an actress in London.

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III Robinson’s account of her return to Bristol as a teenage bride in 1773 comes immediately after the Westminster Abbey passage and reinforces the association between her “real character” and the melancholy precincts of St Augustine’s Cathedral. Robinson notes in passing that she was “invited daily to feasts of hospitality” in Bristol and warmly received as “the daughter of Mr Darby” and the wife of a young man with “considerable expectations” (1: 80).12 In many other passages of her Memoirs, Robinson dilates upon such moments by recalling the clothes that she wore and the compliments that she received from male and female admirers. When she describes her first return to Bristol, however, Robinson quickly turns from her public identity to dwell at length upon her private identity as a melancholy young wife who nostalgically revisited the scenes of her childhood: The house in which I first opened my eyes to this world of sorrow, the minster, its green, the school-house where I had passed many days, the tomb of my lost relatives in the church of St Augustine, were all visited by me with a sweet and melancholy interest. But the cathedral, the brass eagle in the middle aisle, under which, when an infant, I used to sit and join in the loud anthem or chaunt the morning services, most sensibly attached me. I longed again to occupy my place beneath its expanding wings, and once I went, before the service began, to gratify my inclination (1: 80–81).

In this passage, the brass eagle seems to appeal to Robinson’s imagination as a figure of refuge, offering at least some semblance of the shelter and protection that her husband failed to provide. Having been an almost talismanic object in her childhood, the eagle seems to draw Robinson, as a teenage bride, across the emotional threshold between “a sweet and melancholy interest” in her past and a nostalgic longing to recapture it. The intensity of Robinson’s experience, accentuated by the shift from passive to active voice, becomes more pronounced in the following paragraph as she recalls her response to the cathedral music and the deteriorating condition of the house where she was born: Language cannot describe the sort of sensation which I felt, when I heard the well-known, long-remembered organ flinging its loud peal through the Gothic structure. I hastened to the cloisters. The nursery windows were dim, and shattered; the house was sinking to decay. The mouldering walk was gloomy, and my spirits were depressed beyond description: —I stood alone, rapt in meditation: “Here,” said I “did my infant feet pace to and fro’; here, did I climb the long stone bench, and swiftly measure it, at the peril of my safety. On those 12

As Robinson explains, her husband, Thomas Robinson, represented himself to her family as the nephew and heir of a wealthy Mr Harris in Wales, but he was actually an illegitimate son with most uncertain expectations and apparently uncontrollable appetites for gambling and womanizing (Memoirs 1: 75–6).

The Gothic Structure of Mary Robinson’s Memoirs


dark and winding steps, did I sit and listen to the full-toned organ, the loud anthem, and the bell, which called the parishioners to prayer.” I entered the cathedral once more; I read and re-read the monumental inscriptions: I paused upon the grave of Powel; I dropped a tear on the small square ground tablet which bore the name of Evelyn. Ah! how little has the misjudging world known of what has passed in my mind, even in the apparently gayest moments of my existence! How much have I regretted that ever I was born, even when I have been surrounded with all that could gratify the vanity of woman! (1: 81–2).

Although language, as Robinson indicates, cannot describe the intensity of her feelings in 1773, it does help to convey the consistency of her character. Like a textual chamber of echoes, the paragraph resonates with details from the first Bristol spot of time in Robinson’s Memoirs as well as with the sound of her own voice in 1773. As the self-quotation in the middle of the paragraph re-presents the narrated “I” of 1773 as a narrating “I” meditating upon her childhood, the remembered language bridges the temporal gap between the present moment of writing and the scenes from childhood that have what Wordsworth called a distinctive “self-presence.” To Wordsworth, the gap or “vacancy” sometimes appears so wide that he seems “Two consciousnesses—conscious of [himself] / And of some other being” (1805 Prelude 2. 33–4). For Robinson, however, the passage of time, registered by the deterioration of the house where she was born, seems to confirm her sense of a unified consciousness grounded in the melancholy propensities of her childhood. The fronting of the locative here in Robinson’s selfquotation emphasizes a spatial immediacy that helps to compensate for temporal distance. At the same time, the repetition of the auxiliary verb did imparts an ambiguous emphasis, which invites us to read Robinson’s self-quotation both as an effort to articulate the self-presence of her childhood and as an almost funereal meditation upon the irrecoverable space of her past. If Robinson comes to the realization that her childhood is over in 1773, however, she nevertheless carries the essential melancholy spirit of her childhood with her as she reenters the cathedral and starts to read and re-read the monumental inscriptions, just as she had done when she first learned to read a decade before. Given her yet unrealized aspirations to become an actress, Robinson had particular reason in 1773 to pause at the grave of William Powell (1735–1769), the actor who had played King Lear at Bristol’s Theatre Royal, in the first “dramatic representation” that she had ever seen (Memoirs 1: 16). Robinson might well have read George Coleman’s epitaph for Powell, which begins with lines that pointedly contradict the common association of Bristol with the plight of neglected genius:13

In his Tales and Sketches of Old and New Bristol, Fred Ludlow “reluctantly” admits that “Bristolians as a class are notoriously slow to recognize and appreciate contemporary talent, and when they do, their encouragement is offered in a patronizing, pitying sort of manner” (150). 13


Romantic Autobiography in England / Setzer Bristol! to worth and genius ever just, To thee our Powell’s dear remains we trust ... (qtd. in Heath 59).

Writing from the vantage point of 1798–1800, however, Robinson had no illusions that the first lines of her epitaph would be anything like those inscribed on the monument to Powell. Robinson’s concern for her own posthumous reputation rises to the surface as her second Bristol spot of time ends, much like the Westminster Abbey passage, with a protest against the “misjudging world.” Although readers of Robinson’s Memoirs often feel that she protests too much, her scattered references to misjudgment and misrepresentation underscore the intensity of her desire to claim narrative authority over a life that had already been written numerous times before. IV If Wordsworth had the sense that the world was all before him when he started to compose The Prelude in 1799, Robinson knew that her days were numbered when she began her Memoirs the year before. From the very first pages, Robinson’s narrating “I” infuses the narrated past with intimations of her own mortality. The intimations remain subtle and unobtrusive, however, until Robinson interrupts the story of her life to muse, “Probably these pages will be read, when the hand that writes them moulders in the grave” (1: 121). Later, after mentioning her hopes to “obtain at least a decent independence” by writing, Robinson interrupts her narrative again to exclaim, Alas! how little did I then know either the fatigue or the hazard of mental occupations! How little did I foresee that the day would come, when my health would be impaired, my thoughts perpetually employed, in so destructive a pursuit! At the moment that I write this page I feel in every fibre of my brain the fatal conviction that it is a destroying labour (1: 185).

In such passages, Robinson’s sense of impending death interrupts the story of her life, and her words become almost as haunting as those of Keats’s poem “This Living Hand.” The present impinges upon the narrated past most noticeably and most eerily, however, in the third Bristol spot of time as Robinson recalls her visit to St Augustine’s Cathedral in the spring of 1777, shortly after the death of her infant daughter Sophia. As Robinson explains, the loss “so deeply affected [her] spirits, that [she] was rendered totally incapable of appearing again that season” at Drury Lane. With the permission of the sympathetic manager, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Robinson apparently set out “to visit Bath for the recovery of [her] health.” In Robinson’s narrative, however, Bath, seems to be only a way station on her mental route to Bristol: From Bath I went to Bristol—to Bristol! Why does my pen seem suddenly arrested while I write the word? I know not why, but an undefinable melancholy

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always follows the idea of my native birth-place. I instantly beheld the Gothic structure, the lonely cloisters, the lofty aisles, of the antique minster: for, within a few short paces of its walls, this breast, which has never known one year of happiness, first palpitated on inhaling the air of this bad world! Is it within its consecrated precincts that this heart shall shortly moulder? Heaven only knows, and to its will I bow implicitly (2: 10).

Much like the word Forlorn in Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale,” the word Bristol tolls Robinson back to the present moment of writing and heartache. Robinson seems to be laboring under the accumulated sorrows of a lifetime as she looks back upon her visit to the Cathedral in 1777, back further still to the hour of her birth, and then ahead to the imminent prospect of her death. Yet another layer of time comes into view when she adds, “I transcribe this passage on the twentyninth of March, 1800. I feel my health decaying, my spirit broken. I look back without regret that so many of my days are numbered; and, were it in my power to choose, I would not wish to measure them again” (2: 11).14 In this passage, Robinson reiterates, in more muted tones, the sentiment expressed at the end of her second Bristol spot of time: “How much have I regretted that ever I was born.” What is most striking about the third Bristol spot of time, however, is the way in which the narrated moment of 1777 becomes part of a larger pattern as Robinson envisages her life coming full circle, ending where it began. Maria Elizabeth underscores the significance of this pattern as she recounts her mother’s eagerness to follow the advice of a physician who recommended a visit to the Bristol Hot Wells in the spring of 1800. What “induced” Robinson to embrace the proposal, Maria Elizabeth explains, was not a hope of recovering her health, but “a desire once again to behold her native scenes.” According to Maria Elizabeth, Robinson “wept with melancholy pleasure at the idea of closing her eyes for ever upon a world of vanity and disappointment, in the place in which she had first drawn breath, and terminating her sorrows on the spot which gave her birth: but even this sad solace was denied to her from a want of the pecuniary means for its execution” (2: 152–3).15

14 Although this is the only passage in Robinson’s Memoirs that explicitly references a temporal gap between original composition and transcription, it certainly raises the possibility that other present-tense interruptions in her narrative might have been added as she re-read it and transcribed it on the reverse side of the covers of letters that she had received from subscribers to her 1791 volume of Poems. Her fair copy, now in a private collection, is the only known extant manuscript of her Memoirs. 15 Robinson died in her daughter’s cottage at Old Windsor on 26 December 1800, and she was buried in the churchyard at Old Windsor. According to Maria Elizabeth, “The funeral was attended only by two literary friends, greatly valued by the deceased ... “(Memoirs 2: 164). The two friends are usually identified as William Godwin and Samuel Jackson Pratt (a.k.a. “Peter Pindar”).


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V Maria Elizabeth’s accusatory gesture toward a “noble debtor” who might have alleviated Robinson’s financial distress at the time is only one of many signs that invite us to read her Memoirs in relation to earlier works in which she explicitly identifies Bristol with the fates of Richard Savage and Thomas Chatterton, two literary figures who exemplified the plight of neglected genius in eighteenthcentury England.16 In Robinson’s epistolary novel Angelina (1796), the eponymous heroine’s sister, Louisa Horton, writes, In a few days I shall remove to Bristol, the uncultivated soil of native, but neglected genius! There shall I, in fancy, wander with the shade of Chatterton, and often drop a tear to the memory of ill-fated Savage—the former fled from his home, to perish among strangers; because that home afforded no patron, no kind congenial spirit! The latter, disgusted with the world, shrunk from the storms of adversity, and retired thither, to die, unseen—unpitied! Ungrateful Britain! The tears of neglected Genius will blot the brightest annals of thy glory. ... (1: 263–4).

The eponymous hero of Robinson’s later novel Walsingham (1798) pays similar tributes to the shades of Savage and Chatterton as he approaches Bristol, “that ancient city where commerce pours her treasures into the lap of industry, but where genius has often sought in vain for asylum” (170). After quoting 12 lines from Robinson’s earlier “Monody to the Memory of Chatterton” (1791), Walsingham exclaims, Oh! Chatterton! when fate shall glance over the solitary waste which ages shall mark with the ravages of time, pity shall consecrate the spot where thou art left to perish! while Nature, scorning the monuments of ignorance and wealth, shall crush them to the centre, and consign the names they bore to eternal oblivion (171).

In such passages, Robinson begins to shape her own posthumous literary reputation. Unlike Wordsworth, she does not overcome the specter of Chatterton, “the marvelous Boy,” by pondering the “shape” and “speech” of an aged leechgatherer. Instead, she repeatedly invokes the specter of Chatterton to affirm her own place within the lineage of neglected genius and to haunt the collective conscience of her age. 16 In addition to the works mentioned below, one of Robinson’s “Sylphid” editorials (reprinted in Memoirs 3: 51–7), also mentions Savage and Chatterton as types of neglected genius. Robinson picks up the theme of neglected genius, without any specific reference to Savage or Chatterton, in a number of her other works, including her serialized article on the “Present State ... of the Metropolis of England” (36, 221). Robinson’s preoccupation with the theme adds some wrinkles to Linda Peterson’s analysis of Robinson’s “ambivalences” about “Romantic mythologies of the male artist, with their emphasis on natural genius ...” (36).

The Gothic Structure of Mary Robinson’s Memoirs


In the Bristol spots of time in her Memoirs, Robinson seems to be anticipating the moment when a future poet might feel her ghostly presence in St Augustine’s Cathedral even as she had felt the ghostly presence of Chatterton in Bristol’s St Mary Redcliffe church: Methinks I hear his wand’ring shade complain, While mournful Echo lingers on the strain; Thro’ the lone aisle his restless spirit calls, His phantom glides along the minster’s walls; .............. ..................... Yet shall the Muse, to gentlest sorrow prone, Adopt his cause, and make his griefs her own; Ne’er shall her Chatterton’s neglected name Fade in inglorious dreams of doubtful fame (“Monody to the Memory of Chatterton,” lines 73–82).

When Robinson first published these lines in 1791, she was still a rising star on the literary horizon. Like many other poets of the period, she might have considered a tribute to Chatterton as poetic rite of passage. By the time she came to write her Memoirs, however, Robinson identified with Chatterton as a neglected genius who was consumed by “mental toil.” Fittingly, one of the most moving posthumous tributes that she received, a poem entitled “To the Shade of Mary Robinson,” came from the pen of Charlotte Dacre, the daughter of Robinson’s old nemesis, John “Jew” King.17 For a poet like Dacre, the melancholy Mary Robinson seems to exist as a spiritual reality long after her physical departure from the “cruel world.” For twenty-first-century readers, however, Robinson’s melancholy St Augustine’s self may exist only as a textual effect, built up through her repetition of details, her self-echoes, and her layered memories. One might argue, with some justification, that my analysis exaggerates the textual effect by concentrating on the Bristol spots and passing over a number of other passages in which Robinson fondly recalls her beautiful clothes, her visits to pleasure gardens, her theatrical success, and the flattering notices that she received from the Prince of Wales and others. I believe that such a one-sided emphasis is useful, however, if it helps to clarify how Robinson’s narrative destabilizes the traditional distinction between autobiography, associated with “exemplary fame,” and memoirs, associated with “inglorious notoriety.” As Laura Marcus explains, “the autobiography/memoirs distinction—ostensibly formal and generic—is bound up with a typological distinction between those human beings who are capable of self-reflection and those who are not” (21). While the Bristol spots of time in Robinson’s Memoirs foreground her powers of memory, meditation, and self-reflection, they also suggest that the “sacred precincts” of St Augustine’s Cathedral were just as real to 17 “To the Shade of Mary Robinson” was published in Dacre’s Hours of Solitude (1805). Judith Pascoe elaborates on “the line of influence” between Robinson and Dacre in the Introduction to Mary Robinson: Selected Poems (45–6).


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her, and just as central to her “Romantic” sense of self, as the River Derwent was to Wordsworth. Ultimately, I think, the Bristol spots of time reveal that Robinson’s Memoirs is just as much a poet’s epitaph as Wordsworth’s Prelude is.18 Works Cited Anson, Elizabeth and Florence, (eds), Mary Hamilton, Afterward Mrs John Dickinson at Court and at Home: From Letters and Diaries. 1756–1816. London: John Murray, 1925. Baker, Henry Barton. “’Perdita.’ A Romance.” Temple Bar 51 (1877): 536–48. Byrne, Paula. Perdita: The Literary, Theatrical, Scandalous Life of Mary Robinson. New York: Random House, 2004. Close, Anne. “Mary Robinson and the Gothic.” Gothic Studies 6 (2004): 172–91. Dacre, Charlotte. Hours of Solitude: A Collection of Original Poems, Now First Published. 2 vols London: Hughes and Ridgway, 1805. Davenport, Hester. The Prince’s Mistress: A Life of Mary Robinson. Stroud, England: Sutton, 2004. De Man, Paul. “Time and History in Wordsworth.” Romanticism, (ed.) Cynthia Chase. London: Longman, 1993. 55–77. Gristwood, Sarah. Perdita: Royal Mistress, Writer, Romantic. London: Bantam, 2005. Heath, George. The New History, Survey and Description of the City and Suburbs of Bristol, or Complete Guide, and Informing and Useful Companion for the Residents and Visitants of this Ancient, Extensive and Increasing City, the Hotwells and Clifton. Bristol: W. Matthews, 1794. Letters from Perdita to a Certain Israelite, and His Answers to Them. London: J. Fielding, 1781. Ludlow, Fred. Tales and Sketches of Old and New Bristol. Frome, England: Butler & Tanner, 1800s. Marcus, Laura. Auto/biographical Discourses: Theory, Criticism, Practice. Manchester, England: Manchester UP, 1994. Mellor, Anne. “Mary Robinson and the Scripts of Female Sexuality.” Representations of the Self from the Renaissance to Romanticism, (eds) Patrick Coleman, Jayne Lewis, and Jill Kowalik. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000. 231–59.

18 Paul De Man suggests that we might understand a “characteristic” Wordsworth poem as “the epitaph written by the poet for himself ... even if it obliges us to imagine a tombstone large enough to hold the entire Prelude” (63). Robinson’s case does not require such an enormous stretch of the imagination if we think of her Memoirs as a prose extension of “Penelope’s Epitaph,” which was originally published in her novel Walsingham (56), then inscribed upon her own tomb, and subsequently reprinted in her Memoirs as “Lines by Mrs. Robinson, Now Engraven on her Monument in Old Windsor Church-yard” (2: 166).

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The Memoirs of Perdita: Interspersed with Anecdotes of the Hon. Charles F-X; Lord M---; Col. T---; P—E of W---S; Col. St L---R; Mr S---N, and Many Other Well-Known Characters. London: G. Lister, 1784. Pascoe, Judith. Romantic Theatricality: Gender, Poetry, and Spectatorship. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1997. ———, (ed.) Mary Robinson: Selected Poems. Peterborough, ON: Broadview, 2000. Peterson, Linda H. “Becoming an Author: Mary Robinson’s Memoirs and the Origins of the Woman Artist’s Autobiography.” Re-Visioning Romanticism: British Women Writers, 1776–1837, (eds) Carol Shiner Wilson and Joel Haefner. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1994. 36–50. Poetical Epistle from Florizel to Perdita: With Perdita’s Answer. And a Preliminary Discourse upon the Education of Princes. London: J. Stockdale, 1781. Robinson, Mary. Angelina; a Novel. 3 vols. London: Hookham and Carpenter, 1796. ———. Memoirs of the Late Mrs. Robinson. Written by Herself. With Some Posthumous Pieces. 4 vols London; R. Phillips, 1801. ———. “Present State of the Manners, Society, &. &c. of the Metropolis of England.” The Monthly Magazine 10 (1800): 35–41, 138–40, 218–22, 305–6. ———. Walsingham; or, the Pupil of Nature, (ed.) Julie Shaffer. Peterborough, ON: Broadview, 2003. Rogan, John, (ed.) Bristol Cathedral: History and Architecture. Stroud, England: Tempus, 2000. Runge, Laura. “Mary Robinson’s Memoirs and the Anti-Adultery Campaign of the Late Eighteenth Century.” Modern Philology 101 (2004): 563–86. Shelley, Percy B. A Defense of Poetry. The Complete Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, (eds) Roger Ingpen and Walter E. Peck. 10 vols New York: Gordian, 1965. 7: 109–40. Shiercliff, Edward. The Bristol and Hotwell Guide: Containing an Historical Account of the Ancient and Present State of that Opulent City. 2nd edition. Bristol, England: Bulgin & Rosser, 1793. Skelton, Joseph. Skelton’s Etchings of the Antiquities of Bristol: From Original Sketches by the Late Hugh O’Neill. Oxford?, England: ca. 1830s. “A Sketch of the Life of the Celebrated Mrs R-----.” European Magazine 2 (1782): 7–9. Southey, Robert. Letters from England: By Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish. 3 vols. London: Longman, 1807. Ty, Eleanor. Empowering the Feminine: The Narratives of Mary Robinson, Jane West, and Amelia Opie, 1796–1812. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1998. Werkmeister, Lucyle. A Newspaper History of England, 1792–1793. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1967. Woolf, Virginia. A Sketch of the Past, (ed.) Jeanne Schulkind. 2nd edition San Diego: Harcourt, 1985. Wordsworth, William. The Prelude: 1799, 1805, 1850, (ed.) Jonathan Wordsworth, M.H. Abrams, and Stephen Gill. New York: Norton, 1979. ———. The Prose Works of William Wordsworth, (eds) W.J.B. Owen and Jane Worthington Smyser. 3 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1974.

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Chapter 4

Vice, Ugly Vice: Memoirs of Mrs Billington from her Birth Susan Levin

From Helen of Troy to Hilary Rodham Clinton, powerful, beautiful, betrayed women have been lightning rods for multiple anxieties. As a woman with a voice and sense of performing self so powerful that she posed a phenomenal threat to the accepted moral and sexual categories of her age, Elizabeth Billington defied control. Capitalizing on the popularity of autobiography and of Elizabeth Billington, a superstar of the stage, James Ridgway generates a pornographic, misogynistic, political tract that tests a range of autobiographical possibilities as it reveals the power structures of romantic theater and cultural production. To tell a life story is one way of reducing such a woman to understandable categories. The material James Ridgway presents in Memoirs of Mrs Billington From her Birth, however, shatters the potentially controlling frame of life narrative. An entry from the diary of Franz Joseph Haydn describes the beginning of this phenomenon. “Today, 14th January 1792, the life of Madam Billington was published in print. Her life is exposed in the most shameless detail. ... you couldn’t get a single copy after three o’clock in the afternoon.” What Eugene Stelzig in the introduction to this collection calls the “autobiographization of literature,” found its way into the romantic theatrical community through the appearance of the numerous memoirs written by performers and producers, patrons and publishers. Describing the spectacle of stage and self, these works demonstrate

 The complete entry reads: “Today, 14th January 1792, the life of Madam Billington was published in print. Her life is exposed in the most shameless detail. The publisher is said to have gotten hold of her own letters, and to have offered to return them to her for ten guineas; otherwise he intended to print them publicly. But she didn’t want to spend the ten guineas, and demanded her letters through the courts; she was refused, whereupon she appealed, but in vain; for even though her opponent offered her £500, he nevertheless issued this treasure of hers today, and you couldn’t get a single copy after 3 o’clock in the afternoon. It is said that her character is the worst sort, but that she is a great genius, and all the women hate her because she is so beautiful. N.B. She is said, however, to have written the most scandalous letters, containing accounts of her amours, to her mother. She is said to be an illegitimate child, and it’s even believed that her own supposed father is involved in this affair. Such stories are common in London. The husband provides opportunities for his wife so that he can profit from it, whereby he relieves his ‘brother-in-law’ of ₤1000 Sterling and more” (255).

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the performative nature of autobiography. In them, Elizabeth Billington inevitably makes an appearance. What constitutes a memoir is a much-debated topic, which will only be briefly considered here. Denoted as coming from the latin memoria—“memory”— memoirs are usually considered a subclass of autobiography and as such are expected to follow what Philippe Lejeune calls the “autobiographical pact”—the identification of author, narrator, and principal character. But, library listings for The Memoirs of Mrs Billington include a half-title that states, “The memoirs are spurious.” And indeed, A.O.J. Cockshut’s dictum that in autobiography, “the author and the subject are the same” (216) would appear to hold true for only a small part of the book. Not one, but two first-person accounts generate this text. Here is a memoir that strains the basic subject–author relationship of autobiography. In this work, the term memoir suggests “remembrance of,” thus connecting to many other memoirs of the romantic period: works written to talk about public figures, especially theatrical types. James Boaden, a barrister and playwright, for instance, produced Memoirs of Mrs Inchbald: including her familiar correspondence with the most distinguished persons of her time; to which are added, The massacre; and, A case of conscience / now first published from her autograph copies; edited by James Boaden, Esq.; in two volumes, or Memoirs of Mrs Siddons, interspersed with anecdotes of authors and actors, or Memoirs of the life of John Philip Kemble, esq., including a history of the stage, from the time of Garrick to the present period. If one person tells or helps tell another’s life story, whose memoir is it? How many memoirists can one work contain? The memoiristic relationship that exists between the multiple writers and subjects of

My essay “Dibdin, Kelly, and the Spectacle of Self,” examines two such memoirs and the ways in which they reveal the making of theatrical culture.  In The Romantic Art of Confession, I discuss characteristics associated with different modes of romantic autobiography. Alfred de Musset raises the issue of memoir and “truth” when he writes in an 1836 letter of how his Confession d’un enfant du siècle is “not true enough to be a memoir by any stretch of the imagination and not false enough to be a novel.” Romantic works such as Chateubriand’s Mémoires d’outre-tombe and Alexandre Dumas’s Mémoire de ma vie carry out the notion of the telling of a life story as it relates to the history of a period. Nancy K. Miller—with whom many years ago I as a graduate student had many interesting discussions about my dissertation on romantic confessional writing—uses “the terms autobiography, memoir, and life writing more or less interchangeably” (547) in her essay on our current “Age of the Memoir” in which the term has become so prevalent. In fact, plugging “Memoir” into the Barnes and Noble search engine results in 23,871 titles, although admittedly some entries are multiple. In Appendix A of Reading Autobiography, Smith and Watson describe 52 genres of life narrative. They too emphasize the historical nature of Memoir. “A mode of life narrative that historically situates the subject in a social environment, as either observer or participant; the memoir directs attention more toward the lives and actions of others than to the narrator” (198).

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romantic works also brings up the issue of control. Who exactly has charge of the material and what are the implications of that control for the life recounted?  Another attempt to define Elizabeth Billington, a reply to The Memoirs, also appeared in 1792 and was advertised along with Ridgway’s production in 1791. Haydn writes in his Second London Notebook: “Covent-garden is the National Theatre. I was there on 10th December [1791] and saw an opera called The Woodman. It was the very day on which the life story of Madam Billington, both from the good as well as from the bad sides, was announced; such impertinent enterprises are generally undertaken for [selfish] interests. She sang rather timidly this evening, but very well all the same” (273). The “good” view probably refers to An Answer to the Memoirs of Mrs Billington with the Life and Adventures of RICHARD DALY, ESQ. and an account of the Present State of the Irish Theatre. The work advertises itself as “written by a Gentleman well acquainted with several curious anecdotes of all parties.” Ridgway is characterized as a “scribbling pamphleteer, a griping bookseller” and “obscure vendor of Grub Street pamphlets” (20). Mrs Billington’s life story comes with the commentary that another life story provides. The full title of Ridgway’s work indicates the inclusion of an array of material. Memoirs of Mrs Billington from Her Birth: containing a variety of matters, Ludicrous, Theatrical, Musical, and _______ with copies of several Original Letters, now in the possession of the publisher, Written by Mrs Billington, To Her Mother, the Late Mrs Weichsel: A Dedication; and a Prefatory Address. The work is divided into eight parts. First comes a “Dedication” to George III, described as a man with six virtuous daughters who must realize the importance of feminine virtue. Next is an “Advertisement,” in which Ridgway writes of delaying publication until he could confirm that the letters were authentic. It is now up to Mrs Billington, he states, “to declare upon oath that they are spurious.” A “Prefatory Address” tells how having obtained the material, he brings about its publication despite the legal threats of the Billingtons. In the fourth section, entitled Memoirs of Mrs Billington, Ridgway provides a short biographical account of the “wretch” (xv), focusing on Billington’s work in Ireland and her relationship with Richard Daly, the notorious theater manager, and of her sexual encounters with many other men that leave her “pregnant, diseas’d and deserted”(18). To justify himself, Ridgway presents A Chapter upon Law, at least upon Equity, which the Publisher hopes, will exculpate Boaden’s Memoirs of Mrs Inchbald begins with a discussion of biography, autobiography, “pretended autobiography,” and memoir. Offered one thousand pounds for a four—volume memoir, Mrs Inchbald destroyed the work rather than “give pain.” Having received the papers of a woman “indefatigable in the registry of events,” Boaden will not write a “pretended autobiography” but rather a memoir “to exhibit her as she really was, in all the variety of a singular but interesting life, at once domestic, theatrical, and literary” (I, 1–3). The triad recalls Ridgway’s “Ludicrous, Theatrical, Musical, And___.” Like Ridgway, Boaden is a complicated recounting presence. A corrigendum that appears after the table of contents in volume one tells the reader: “The first sheet had unluckily gone to press before the author decided to expel the first personal pronoun from his Narrative. If I should by chance occur after the first chapter, We shall be happy to see ourselves in his place, by the help of the reader’s pen.” The reader too can participate in the writing of this memoir. 


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him from the Consequences, whatever they may be, of having Published the Memoirs of Mrs Billington. The sixth section contains the letters written to her mother, as Elizabeth attempts to deal with a difficult pregnancy, a hostile husband, and the tribulations of performing. “Upon Vicious Refinement and Moderate Adultery” and a poetic “Fragment found in the Neighbourhood of Poland-Street” conclude the work. The poem can be read as spoken by Billington, Ridgway, or both. The text printed by James Ridgway purports to be based on Billington’s own life-writing and declares on the title page: “Out of thy Own Mouth, will I convict thee.” The phrase from Luke XIX: 22. occurs twice, in an attempt to establish as autobiographical a work in which only 30 of 99 pages are actually the subject’s words: 15 letters written to her mother. The first person pronoun of the epigraph applies, in fact, to Ridgway, who provides his own first-person commentary through the majority of the Memoir. The statement in Luke, coming as it does from the mouth of Jesus, also sets up the indisputable authority of publisher James Ridgway, who himself becomes an autobiographical presence in the work. On the title page, a second epigraph, noted as being from the Preface to Gil Blas, further empowers Ridgway. “Those who know in what a Course of Irregularity many theatrical Performers live, will not charge me with having drawn a Portraiture too glaringly Vicious.” It is Elizabeth Billington, however, who will sell out a print run, and so the memoirs are advertised as hers. Memoir is historical record. What is included in her life story and how it is told raise significant issues about the autobiographical enterprise. What relationship to the reality of Elizabeth Billington’s life does this memoir bear? A brief summary of her life helps clarify the perspective both Billington and Ridgway bring to the work. Her contemporaries, such as Lord Mount Edgcumbe and William Parke provide different possibilities about who she was and how she lived. She may have been born in 1765, 1768 or, (improbably) like Wordsworth and Beethoven, in 1770. Parents of prodigies often declare later birthdates for their children; performers do the same for themselves. Billington’s mother, a singer, and father, an oboist, had long careers at King’s Theatre, Vauxhall. Elizabeth and her brother, a violinist, were considered prodigies, but it was Elizabeth, as both a keyboard and vocal composer and performer, who shone. At 15, she defied her father to elope with her teacher, Thomas Billington, and was faced with supporting herself and her new husband. To find employment, the couple went to Dublin, and performed in Ireland until 1786, engagements that form the main subject of the Ridgway Memoirs. Finally, on 13 February 1786, Billington made her London debut and from then on worked on her voice continually even as she was steadily performing. Her departure for the continent in 1794 may have been owing to the scandal the Memoirs caused or may have reflected her desire for an international career. In fact, the Memoirs had the effect of making her more successful than ever. She triumphantly debuted in Naples in a new opera composed for her by Bianchi, Inez di Castro. Mrs Billington died the next day, but she toured Italy with her brother and became friendly with Josephine Bonaparte. She married a Frenchman, but his brutal treatment sent her back to London, where from 1801 until 1811 she was the reigning diva of the day. Even after formally retiring, she performed for charity and

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for the benefits of her friends. Sometime in 1817 she was reunited with her husband and died the next year, owing—according to rumor—to his physical abuse. Ridgeway’s version presents a talented, sex-crazed virago, enforcing a traditional trope about the sexual immorality of singers, actors, and other professional—especially female—entertainers. He claims to be unsure about her birthdate, but settles on 1765, making her as much of an aging soprano as possible. She was, he reports, “starved or beat into the knowledge of music,” by her “putative” father; Ridgway thus raises the possibility of illegitimacy. Part of his account focuses on Elizabeth as abused child, and hints of incest are frequent. “Her father was detected in attempting an intercourse with his musical offspring, before she could possibly, from her tender years, have had any tendency to vice” (3). Her parents’ limited talents limited their ability to support themselves; in contrast, “Miss Betsy,” as Ridgway affectionately, sarcastically, and condescendingly calls her, is able to support herself “solely by her public performances” (5). Ridgway writes of her childhood performances with her brother and of how when Weichsel and his wife separated, “it was then absolutely necessary to look out for a husband for Miss” (6). By this point in his account, Ridgway has turned references to physical abuse into a series of metaphors that connect musical ability with sexual depravity. A main descriptive device of the Memoir is Ridgway’s transposition of musical, theatrical terms into sexual action. As a child, Ridgway writes, “Miss had such a general turn to music that it was impossible to keep her from attempting to play upon any little flagelet which she could get at, belonging to her male playmates about Vauxhall, and it will hardly be believed what a proficiency she made upon them” (5). So the child’s musical proficiency becomes early nymphomania. A husband becomes a necessity, but that control doesn’t work. Ensnared, James Billington is forced to switch instruments to support his wife’s career. He can no longer perform “ably, and harmoniously” as a “REMARKABLE GOOD TENOR” owing to his wife’s demands. “He attempted a little flute, for the first time, the same day he was married, and again the next morning; but it was so defective in its construction, that his wife insisted he should put it up, and she has never permitted him to perform with it since” (6). In Ridgway’s descriptions, the instrument “flagelet” or “flute” (sometimes spelled “flageolet”) appears frequently to describe Elizabeth Billington’s depravity. Other writers used the instrument to describe Billington’s unique voice. Mount Edgcombe, for instance, writes: “Her voice, though sweet and flexible, was not of that full nature which formed the charm of Banti’s, but was rather a voce di testo, and in its very high tones resembled a flute or flageolet.” This description sought  Mount Edgcombe continues: “Its agility was very great, and every thing she sung was executed in the neatest manner, and with the utmost precision. Her knowledge of music enabled her to give great variety to her embellishments, which, as her taste was good, were always judicious ... With all these great and undisputed excellences something yet was wanting; for she possessed not the feeling to give touching expression, even when she sung with the utmost delicacy and consummate skill. Her face was handsome, and her countenance full of good humour, but it was incapable of change, and she was no actress” (89–90).


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to define the high, coloratura female head voice that was a taste-changing addition to the stage. The heavier sound of the castrati or of female singers like Banti, whom Edgcombe prefers, was more usual. Billington popularized a different kind of singing, bringing audiences to a frenzy with her unique sound and precisely thought-out ornamentation. W.T. Parke, an oboist who frequently played for Mrs Billington and was a close friend, describes her 1786 debut. “At Covent Garden Theatre Mrs Billington, who had been performing with success on the Dublin stage, made her debut on the London boards, on the 13th of February, as Rosetta, in the opera of ‘Love in a Village.’ She sang the songs of Rosetta in a different style to that which the public had been accustomed to hear, and although she had not much experience, she gave them with such sweetness, taste, and brilliancy, that the audience, who were both surprised and delighted, bestowed on her unbounded applause” (I, 63). Ridgway’s account twists this vocal quality. He describes a performance of a song in which the runs go “beyond the compass of any instrument.” She receives great applause because “a clap is contagious; for when one, is given by a friend, the whole audience follow the example” (37). Billington whose “intercourse with different men was by report said to be almost unlimited” (a phrase Ridgway repeats) infects and is infected by applause, music and men. “With every applause she begins a new career of vice” (73). Richard Daly, the Irish theater manager, and a close friend, “A Mr C. of Limerick,” previously identified as Mr Cray, zero in on the young performer as soon as she arrives in Dublin with her husband, father, and brother. Mr Billington is sent off to Liverpool in a storm ostensibly to find missing luggage, “but in reality to favor the introduction of C. to Mrs B—‘s bed chamber” (14). The affair continues with Ridgway’s descriptions providing much theatricality: the husband, father and brother both threaten and abet; possibilities of a duel and horsewhipping arise; Mr C. blabs in taverns and coffee houses; landladies and servants peer through key holes. An extended music– disease metaphor describes a maid whose fondness for “music” (in this case sex and scandal) prompts her to listen at the door as the two play a duet, C being known for his “performances upon a musical instrument ... called a Celestina.” In a long description of the instrument, Ridgway tells how it has been improved by adding “a large END or TOP,” which can be pulled in or out. Mrs Billington keeps it in tune “by a shifting movement, which she applied to the instrument at pleasure.” Hearing a “great crash” the maid rushes into the room to find “her mistress’s piano forte, had given way, by the breaking of one of the jacks. This accident brought upon Mrs Billington a dreadful illness, when after trying every remedy, recommended by the faculty in such cases, she had at last the happiness to experience a perfect cure, by taking some bottles of Velnos’s Vegetable Syrup, prepared by Mrs Swainton, Fri–Street, Soho” (8–10).  This reference points to a pamphlet Ridgway printed by Issac Swainton entitled Letters to a Friend on the Properties and Effects of Velnos’s Vegetable Syrup. Frith Street in Soho was inhabited by artists, political radicals, and foreigners as well as by prostitutes.

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The affair brings destruction and disease. “It was during this period Mrs B. must have been infected with a loathsome-------------by C.” “The same malady” confines C. to his room and “her criminal intercourse with D. took place” (16). The notorious affair with Daly is monitored by Mr Billington and others seeking to ruin the couple by taking legal action against them. Mrs Billington is forced to move “to a miserable room in a miserable place” (22). Somehow, the Billingtons get back together, and in the summer of 1784, a child is born. They leave the infant in Dublin to go on a tour, but the baby “soon after died of the horrid __________ __received from its mother” (22). Relations with Daly begin again, but now move mainly to the theatre itself. The tech. crew makes a hole in the wall to observe “every thing that passed in this small temple of lust and infamy” (23). The summer heat intensifies their passion; Daly takes care to bribe Mr Billington with wine and watches. This “gross misconduct” gives Daly’s wife a “violent illness:” her friends, who have also been Daly’s financial backers, finally force the Billingtons from Ireland. They return to London as “cooing, loving, doves,” and Elizabeth Billington makes her Covent Garden debut. Daly, deserted in Ireland, “appeared in mourning; was dejected, sorrowful, and avoided all business for some days after” (27). The persistent reference to Mrs Billington as a “Syren” complements the idea of a man in mourning after his encounter with her. Perhaps, however, Daly’s depression comes from Elizabeth Billington’s ultimate success in a brutal game of power. She got out with her husband and money, unlike “many unhappy females and performers ... brought to the brink of infamy and poverty by the machinations of Mr D____,” a situation described in Answer to the Memoirs of Mrs Billington (50). Giving a very different version of this situation, the Answer explains “that the actresses, who visit the Irish stage, are more subject to be seduced than seduce” (61). Daly’s apartment in the theatre was a “brothel in the morning” and “a gambling rendezvous in the evening” (53). When actresses wouldn’t cooperate, Daly, through the process of “forfeiture,” took away their assignments and starved “the besieged into compliance” (51). This description of theatre managers in general and Daly in particular recalls Virginia Woolf’s account of Shakespeare’s “wonderfully gifted sister, called Judith” who can only have contact with the  Ridgway, for some reason, dates this debut 1776, which is 10 years earlier than it occurred.  After signing a contract, actors were required to accept parts assigned to them or be fined. They also could be fined for a number of other infractions such as showing up late, “looking through the green curtain,” “playing imperfect” (Answer 43). Should an actress refuse to provide Daly with sexual favors “and reject his infamous addresses, then the prompter receives immediate orders to send the inflexible fair one a set of the most insignificant parts, which she spiritedly refuses—the consequence is, she gets forfeited, receives no money, flies from her engagement, is arrested, thrown into prison, then perhaps is obliged to submit at last to the hated embraces of her prosecuter [sic] to effect her emancipation” (50).


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theatre by becoming pregnant by “Nick Greene the actor-manager” and in despair “killed herself one winter’s night and lies buried at some cross-roads where the omnibuses now stop outside the Elephant and Castle” (48–50). With the truth of the best fiction, Woolf provides the more usual story. Elizabeth Billington, in contrast, does not let Daly or any other man destroy her and her talent. The Answer provides a view of the Irish years to counter Ridgway’s; the letters from Mrs Billington to her mother that Ridgway publishes set out yet another memory. Assuring his readers of the authenticity of his material, Ridgway describes obtaining the letters. Initially, he says, the letters were only part of what was offered. “The Letters of Mrs Billington to her late mother, with a variety of other interesting matter, forming a regular, connected work, were put into my hands some months ago, by a person of whom, at that time, I had no knowledge” (iii). In a convoluted narrative, describing how he concludes that the “Letters had so much the appearance of authenticity,” Ridgway cites the original source as the “executor to Mrs B’s mother.” An Answer to the Memoirs of Mrs Billington, however, provides a different gloss; the source of the letters is not the “executor” of Mrs Weichsel’s estate, but rather her last lover, “a common soldier,” who “made his mistress live, or rather starve upon red herrings, till at last it was too well known, she died of want, and in the utmost penury” (13). According to Ridgway, Billington’s letters reveal the vile daughter, the opposite of the virtuous daughters of George III mentioned in the dedication. They are published with some blanks which the reader can fill “with the exclamation, Dreadful! Dreadful!—” (39). The reader will find in them, Ridgway promises, “expressions shocking to decency, offensive to morality, and detestable to human nature” (34). But these “horrors” alluded to page after page never materialize. As she writes to her mother of children and clothing, of male betrayal and the rigors of performing, Billington expresses the powerful tie of mother and daughter. In the letters, she and her mother—“my only friend,” “my only dear friend,”—are set against a world of male machinations that seeks to destroy them. A young woman, performing in a foreign country, finds herself pregnant by a husband who abuses her, who has forbidden her contact with her mother, and who threatens divorce and ruin. The child, she fantasizes, will reunite the family. Except, perhaps, for the extraordinary musical talent of the letter-writer, the story is not particularly unique. As published, though, the letters are very confusing and appear to reveal the thoughts and actions of a hysterical, self-centered woman. Ridgway asserts, “The Letters will follow in the order they are dated, as far as the dates can be ascertained” (39). But the letter dated 23 March 1784, is printed as letter number four, and the letter of 14 February 1784, is printed as letter number seven. The letter of 1 May (no year) saying she plans to deliver with a midwife, whom she acknowledges is in fact a man, is printed before April (no day, no year) in which she talks about making baby clothes, and making up with her husband: “as soon as the dear babe is born, we shall live together again” (70). On 22 June 1784, with five or six weeks to go and in that time of pregnancy when it seems as if seeing one’s feet while standing will never happen again, she wishes “this

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troublesome time was over, for I am almost tired of myself” (61). The previously printed letter, however is dated 18 July, and hopes in “the next Letter I send will mention my child being born” (58). Whereas Ridgway’s sequence seems calculated to confuse, organizing the letters according to the dates provided and the subjects discussed provides a clear narrative underlain by a statement of female solidarity. On 23 December 1783, the earliest dated letter, Elizabeth turns in desperation to her mother, whom Mr Billington, “that cursed fellow,” has forbidden her to see. Arriving in Dublin, after her husband has refused to let her say goodbye to her mother, she is professionally “much esteemed,” but her husband has left her and is threatening divorce. (42– 3). Finding herself pregnant, she writes in February that “much to my sorrow I am with child; but that I will bear with patience, since I know my dear mother loves me” (53). Her husband breaks into her rooms and strips her of clothing and money; she cries to her mother of being “near five months gone with child, by that unfeeling monster my husband! I have experienced more trouble since in Ireland than you can possibly imagine” (65). Figuring the child will be born the first week of August, she writes in various letters of arranging for the delivery, and of hiring a nurse and also of her hope that “after my child is born that you will ever be with me” (49). During her last month she becomes “uneasy” and asks her mother, whom she has “dreamt of ... every night for this long time” to pray for her (58). There is also the question of baby clothes. She is trying to make them, but is ashamed to admit to anybody but her mother that she doesn’t really understand what to do (70). Mentioned frequently, the problematic layette is part of an ongoing discussion in the letters about clothing, a typical mother-daughter topic. The daughter sends her mother a gown with advice on accessorizing. In another letter, she writes of “the prettiest green gown” she has picked out, although she personally thinks “there are better colours” (67). Finally, the child arrives. “I was brought to bed on Monday of a fine girl, but I am not so happy to say she is perfectly well, for the poor little darling is griped very much, and it grieves me sadly you must imagine” (44). A poignant postscript points further to the complex relationship of mother and daughter. “The child is very much like me; but I dare say you have almost forgot me” (45). The baby is sickly and dies while the Billingtons are touring Ireland, a tragedy that occurs after the time of the letters, but that Ridgway dismisses as the result of Elizabeth’s “disease.” The wish that her mother will come live with her and the baby in Ireland—“I hope after my child is born that you will ever be with me”—(49), and that they can perform together is not fulfilled. Proposing the possibility of a lucrative benefit for her mother in Dublin, she suggests Mrs Weichsell play “Polly to my Mackheath” (51). This genderbending casting establishes a hierarchy in which the daughter overpowers the mother. Indeed, throughout the letters, Billington constantly asserts her power as a performer. The same letter that tells her mother “I am at this time in as much trouble as ever you was in all your life,” confirms “I have a great deal of luck here; I am much esteemed and well beloved” (42–3). Nothing stops her from


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performing. “I am engaged until I am brought to bed” (55). “I may flatter myself I take the lead of singers in this place” (56). “I generally receive applause when I enter the orchestra, which is very seldom done there” (60). “It would give you great pleasure, I make no doubt, for you to hear me applauded very near three minutes after I am off the stage” (61). The opposition of professional success and personal humiliation runs throughout the letters. While her husband is her main source of despair, other men also figure in the letters. Mr Billington’s behavior recalls that of her father. “Not satisfied with the destruction he brought on” his wife, he wants also to ruin his daughter, to “bring me to utter destruction; he is a bad base man, he has used me worse than a dog.” Her brother must turn out the same “by his eternal father’s instructions” (47). And, she fumes, she supports them both. Ridgway italicizes her one brief reference to Richard Daly, which he found particularly offensive. “I think I will make you laugh, when I tell you I cuckold B. with Mr D. the manager, but as to being found in bed with any body is a great falsity” (46). That Billington would raise such a subject in such a way with her mother, when she is “at the time in pregnancy, unquestionably, by her husband” (x) is for Ridgway particularly appalling. His muddling of the sequence of letters blurs the connection established between the two women. His repetition of certain phrases, some taken from the letters, further surrounds Billington with an aura of degeneracy. In describing her spying maid who steals her mail, for instance, Billington refers to her “cursed bitch of a servant” (46). Ridgway has previously repeated the phrase with slight variation: “her maid who she calls a cursed bitch”; “called by her mistress a cursed bitch”; and finally “the cursed musical bitch” (10, 14, 16). Through this kind of repetition, the reader associates Billington with the phrase and applies it to her, a woman who in Waterford is described as hurling “the most scurrilous and abusive invectives, against the truly respectable inhabitants of the city” (22). Ridgway justifies so constructing the Memoir by claiming that he wishes to present vice in general rather than Elizabeth Billington in particular. Describing himself as a man of honor and decency, who has been treacherously treated by those with whom he has tried to deal fairly, Ridgway feels a moral obligation to publish the letters and to expose the “Vice, ugly vice, in all its deformities ... too often countenanced upon the stage” (xv). The memoir becomes a public service. Other possibilities exist, however, as to why Ridgway would publish such a compilation of material. One cynical reason is that he wanted to make money. Scandalous memoirs sold, and Ridgway published his share. Before making the work public, however, attempts would often be made to blackmail the subject into silence, a process he hints at in the first part of the Memoirs. A Ridgway work such as Genuine and Authentic Memoirs of a well-known Woman of Intrigue; containing a great Variety of curious and interesting Anecdotes of several of the first Characters in the fashionable World. In Two Volumes, Written by Herself went through several editions. The SECRET HISTORY of the GREEN ROOMS: Containing the authentic and entertaining Lives of the Actors and Actresses at

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the Theatres Royal of Drury Lane, Covent Garden, and the Hay-Market, another Ridgway production, was also financially rewarding. It may at first glance seem strange that such material came from the press of a radical publisher, a man who produced such works as Philip Withers’s Alfred or A narrative of the daring and illegal measures to suppress a pamphlet intitled, Strictures on the declaration of Horne Tooke, Esq. respecting “Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales,” commonly called Mrs Fitzherbert.: With interesting remarks on a regency; proving, on principles of law and common sense, that a certain illustrious personage is not eligible to the important trust or a speech by Fox in support of Thomas Paine’s “Rights of Man”: The speech of the Right Hon. Charles James Fox: containing the declaration of his principles, respecting the present crisis of public affairs, and a reform in the representation of the people: spoken at the Whig Club of England, December 4, 1792: John Gregory, Esq. Treasurer, Edward Hall, Esq. Secretary. Ridgway’s various publications, on the other hand, may be connected. Many of his works involve important public figures. As a radical, he often explored relationships of political power. Gillian Russell points out how theatrical models shaped parliamentary debate, rituals of protest and mass demonstration, military training, and many other components of romantic life. “The discourse, practice, and images of the theatre pervaded all aspects of the culture” (223). Theatrical works, many of which Ridgway published, helped define what it meant to be British in a time of growing nationalism. Elizabeth Billington lived and worked at the center of theatrical politics. Like many performers, she had access to the most important political figures of the day. Musical events in which professionals and amateurs participated were common. The royal family was filled with talented musicians. Parke describes a typical gathering: The Sunday concerts, for which I was engaged, commenced on the 14th of January, at Lord Hampden’s. Mrs Billington and Signor Rubinelli were the singers, and Cramer led the excellent band of the professional concert. In one of the overtures the Prince of Wales and the Dukes of Gloucester performed. The two former on the violoncello, and the latter on the violin. The company on that occasion, which consisted of the flower of the nobility and gentry of England, amounted to at least 400 persons; and the dresses of both ladies and gentlemen were elegant and splendid (I, 89).

Whether or not it was an actual love affair, Mrs Billington’s connection to the Prince of Wales was strong. In 1806, she brought Mozartian opera to London with a production of “La Clemenza di Tito.” Parke describes the event as “the principal production of the season.” Billington most probably used a score borrowed from the Prince of Wales to mount the production.  Emanuelle Senici provides an interesting study of Billington’s production. Parke’s full description of the event reads: “But the principal production of the season [1806] was Mozart’s grand serious opera, ‘La Clemenza di Tito’ performed for the first time in England


Romantic Autobiography in England / Levin

This production had profound sociological implications. A class struggle was played out in the theatre and in the works produced. As Parke points out, Italian opera was primarily for the upper classes. “Native music in England had now arrived to such a degree of perfection, as to enable the English to vie with the Italian stage; and though the latter had lost none of its attractions amongst the haut-ton, (who, without an Italian opera would be overwhelmed with ennui,) yet the former divided the attention of the public with its foreign rival” (II, 1). Affordable theatre was considered a national right, but theatre managers, concerned with their profits, were ever on the look out for ways to up the price of tickets and increase profits. And, the divas also had to be paid; Elizabeth Billington got the most money of all, a fact Ridgway reports on with disgust. “Some service Mrs Billington has certainly rendered to Covent-Garden Treasure, but one thousand, or twelve hundred pounds, for a season, with one clear benefit, and another upon paying the expenses of the house, is a salary hitherto unheard of” (37). In discussing the Mozart production, Parke also muses that “the high distinction of making known the greatest musical genius of the age to the British public was reserved for an English female” (II, 144). That fact of female assertion may also help explain Ridgway’s actions. According to the Answer, Ridgway and Mrs Weichsel’s lover Mr R__L are “allied foes to any woman” (14) and so conspire to destroy this mother and daughter. But Elizabeth Billington is not just “any woman.” In both its appearance and production, Memoir of Mrs Billington attempts to abuse and humiliate one of the most successful women of her time. A powerful man is to be emulated and envied; a powerful woman is to be feared and destroyed. The general controversy surrounding the appearance of women on the operatic stage in part had to do with the money and prestige they stood to acquire. The men who had hitherto controlled both the women and the stage were not happy to share their power. Almost every appraisal of Billington’s work mentions the care and taste with which she performed. Her kindness and generosity were well-known to her contemporaries. The disconnect between Ridgway’s version of her life and what seems to be its reality is profound. Ridgway’s effort might also be considered in the context of another work of 1792: Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Wollstonecraft too writes about reactions to female sexuality. As a radical, middle-class intellectual, she argues the benefits for both sexes of regarding women as rational rather than sexual beings. Elizabeth Billington, however, defies the attempts of life narrative and social commentary to place on the 27th of March, for Billington’s benefit. In this charming opera Billington, who was ably supported by Braham, made a display of talent rarely witnessed; and the music stamps the composer of it as the greatest musical genius of the age. Mrs Billington, with whom I had lived on terms of friendly intimacy for several years, sent me a ticket, and requested I would witness the first performance of ‘La Clemenza di Tito,’ which I did. I was highly gratified with the refined science, elegant taste, and natural simplicity displayed in this fine production. ‘La Clemenza di Tito’ was the first of Mozart’s operas performed in this country” ( II, 3–4).

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woman into categories in which her power can be understood. Wollstonescraft’s rationality cannot explain her; the scandal Ridgway dished out could not ruin her; the simple fact was that she performed and people loved her. She lived as a woman who sang and triumphed. Works Cited Anon. An Answer to the Memoirs of Mrs Billington. London, 1792. Cockshut, A.O.J. The Art of Autobiography. New Haven: Yale UP, 1984. Landon, H.C. Robbins. The Collected Correspondence and London Notebooks of Joseph Haydn. London: Barrie and Rockliff, 1959. Lejeune, Philippe. Le Pacte autobiographique. Paris: Seuil, 1975. Levin , Susan M. The Romantic Art of Confession. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1998. ———. “Dibdin, Kelly, and the Spectacle of Self.” Nineteenth-Century Prose 28 #2 (2001) 55–74. Miller, Nancy K. “The Entangled Self: Gender Bondage in the Age of Memoir.” PMLA. 122 #2 (2007) 537–48. Mount-Edgcumbe, Lord Richard. Musical reminiscences of an old amateur chiefly respecting the Italian opera in England for 50 years from 1773–1823. London: W. Clarke, 1824. Parke, William. Musical Memoirs. London: H. Colburn and R. Bentley, 1838. Ridgway, James. Memoirs of Mrs Billington, From Her Birth. London: Ridgway, 1792. Russell, Gillian. “Theatre.” An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age, (ed.) Iain McCalman. Oxford: OUP, 2001. 223–31. Senici, Emanuelle, “Adapted to the Modern Stage: La Clemenza di Tito in London.” Cambridge Opera Journal, 7, 1, 1–22, 1995. Smith, Sidonie, and Julia Watson. Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 2001. Woolf Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. New York: Harcourt, 1957.

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Chapter 5

Writing Lives and Gendering History in Mary Hays’s Female Biography (1803) Miriam L. Wallace

Mary Hays, 1760–1843, can arguably be considered a first generation “Romantic” writer and, moreover, one made notorious by the intersection of her life with her writings. Her first novel, The Memoirs of Emma Courtney (1796), famously mined her own letters and romantic disappointment to develop the story of her heroine. Hays was concerned more generally however, from her earliest published work in Letters and Essays (1793), with using biography or personal history as a generic stepping stone to encourage women readers to develop a taste for less personalized “history” and more abstracted “philosophy.” Her encyclopedic work, Female Biography (1803), is an effort to write women’s lives and experiences into history—revising and extending the concepts of history, life-writing, and selfconstruction through narrative. Mary Hays’s Female Biography; or, Memoirs of Illustrious and Celebrated Women, of All Ages and Countries is not precisely “autobiography” in the narrow sense of an identifiable genre of life-writing produced by the writer about him or herself. But, in the sense of “biography” as a more fluid form, still developing in the early 1800s, linking the personal with the historical, and thereby expanding both the content and the kinds of subjects represented in the historical, Hays’s Female Biography remains a largely unexamined key text. 1 Hays fits chronologically with first generation “Romantics”; she was closely affiliated with Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, and more complexly with Robert Southey, the Lambs, the Barbaulds, Charles Lloyd, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Finally, in the more complex matter of whether her writing is properly designated as “Romantic” in its stylistic and thematic characteristics, there is room to argue that the value Hays placed on sensibility and on individual imagination and perception, however balanced by reason and tied to a strong historical sense, does suggest important lines of affiliation both to late eighteenth-century reformist politics and sensibility and to the developing concept of Romanticism. How considering Hays as a Romantic impacts her significance and our understanding of her work is an issue for further debate. 2 See Miriam L. Wallace, “Mary Hays’s ‘Female Philosopher’” for some details. Hays became a familiar figure of attack on the presumption that she had, like her heroine Emma Courtney, offered herself to Frend sexually outside wedlock. Charles Lloyd later spread an account that she had similarly propositioned him (Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge). 3 Gina Luria Walker gives the actual publication date as 1802 and the earliest reviews are published in that year. However, the title page of Female Biography gives 1803, so I follow that convention.


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In Memoirs of Emma Courtney, Hays began by converting her own romantic and philosophical correspondence with William Frend and William Godwin into narrative fiction. This novel reclaimed both the multivoiced correspondence and the personal dynamics of her emotional experiences through narrative structuring, making Hays herself into a “female philosopher.” Hays wrote several other less selfscripting novels—The Victim of Prejudice in 1799, Harry Clinton in 1804—but she also expanded her writing to include “History,” publishing Female Biography in 1803, followed between 1806 and 1821 with a history of England, a history for young readers, and Memoirs of Queens. Despite a critical commonplace that after the 1790s Hays moved away from her radical political concerns into more appropriate “feminine writing” (i.e., educational and didactic literature), it seems particularly significant that Hays continued to press for kinds of historical writing that would appeal to women and to children. Examining Female Biography as part of revising and rewriting the genre of the life-story and of the historical person contributes to an examination of the Romantic “invention” of life-writing that this volume develops. Anne Mellor’s inclusive call to “include all writing that inscribes subjectivity” in the category of autobiography (157) intersects interestingly with Felicity Nussbaum’s concern that we consider autobiographical writing as a “technology of the self” (xi). Many critics, particularly feminist critics, have argued for expanding considerations of autobiographical writing to include “private” works such as letters (like Hays’s), journals (such as Dorothy Wordsworth’s), hybrid self-writing (Hester Lynch Thrale Piozzi’s Thraliana), or even novelistic self-fictionalizations (Emma Courtney). Further, by understanding writing as a way of making the self, bringing it into being and constructing it for oneself and for others, we begin to recognize the ways in which life-writing in all its permutations contributes to a developing sense of the self as made rather than given, constructed rather than innate. Late eighteenth-century radical writers posited a core subject-agent that is innate and rights-bearing, yet also somewhat 4 See my forthcoming book, Revolutionary Subjects in the English “Jacobin” Novel, 1790–1805. 5 Most scholars of autobiography identify the genre in relation to several key critical works; see Phillipe Lejeune, “The Autobiographical Pact;” Jean Starobinski, “The Style of Autobiography;” and William Spengemann, The Forms of Autobiography: Episodes in the History of a Literary Genre. Lejeune provides one conventional source for defining the genre, identifying autobiography as “a retrospective prose narrative produced by a real person concerning his own existence, focusing on his individual life, in particular the development of his personality” (14). Starobinski succinctly calls it “a biography of a person written by himself” (73). As Felicity Nussbaum notes, “[i]mplied with this definition are assumptions of an individuality that is distinct from collective humankind; of the existence of an essence, a personality, which unfolds in the narrative of the past; and of the irrelevance of women’s life writing. … When applied to eighteenth-century autobiographical writings, such definitions can only be used to demonstrate the ways in which the texts fail to measure up to the generic expectations, the ways in which they are only hesitant thrusts and starts toward autonomous and continuous self-fashionings” (4).

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contradictorily conceived of a subject-in-process, formed under pressure of Godwinian “necessity” and experience—including reading. Along these lines, Hays’s work in Female Biography is intended both as a direct intervention in the formation of female selves through active reading, and as constituting a shared identity across national and historical boundaries through a collective vision of “women.” Following her fictionalization of personal letters and emotional experience in Emma Courtney, Hays moved away from transmuting her own life into fiction so directly. On the one hand, she had already used her own youthful romantic experience to produce a novel that received some praise and some censure. However, as many critics have noted, writing one’s life into a public form is particularly complicated for women writers—both conventions and models are somewhat different than those available for male writers, and Hays’s novel was attacked by some reviewers and readers as too transparently an apology for a scandalous life. Hays’s own production of Female Biography shows her familiar with earlier forms of writing female lives; one such form was the scandal memoir, associated with figures such as Charlotte Charke, Delarivere Manley, and Eliza Haywood (Haywood is the only one of these writers to be included in Female Biography). The problem for women of presenting themselves as “public” figures in the classical sense was the likelihood of becoming instead, scandalous ones. Turning from writing one’s life directly to writing more obliquely the lives of women was a canny strategy as well as a financially lucrative move. Hays is concerned in Female Biography to extend the definition of the kinds of lives that are significant and memorable, but also to make her own life and writing significant and memorable. Even more overtly, she aims to inspire women readers in particular to develop a taste for historical writing and thus to see themselves as participating in the making of history. Feminist critics have argued that the conception of the western subject that presumes an individual, coherent subject, defined by a prior internal self is inherently masculine. Some critics continue 6

There are few significant scholarly engagements with Hays’s text. Gina Luria Walker’s The Idea of Being Free: A Mary Hays Reader gives a helpful introduction to Female Biography in addition to some judiciously selected excerpts. Jeanne Wood, in “Alphabetically Arranged: Mary Hays’s Female Biography and the Biographical Dictionary,” concentrates on the reception and organizational format of Hays’s Female Biography. Greg Kucich in “Women’s Historiography and the (Dis)Embodiment of Law,” reads Hays’s entry on Joan of Arc in comparison with other representations of embodied suffering in Yearsley and Benger. 7 Hays’s volumes were reviewed extensively in The European Magazine, 43 (1803): 450–3 and 44 (1803: 41–4, 117–20). Jeanne Wood calls this a “lengthy and remarkably ambivalent review … characterized by the simultaneous approval of Hays’s project in principle and the desire that she might have done things differently” (117). 8 While Eleanor Ty indicates that the work was commissioned by Richard Philips (, Mary Waters claims that it was commissioned by Joseph Johnson (429).


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to argue that such conceptions of “self” stand in tension with a late eighteenthcentury feminine version of subjectivity as more communal and relational (see for example, Heilbrun, Mellor, Stanton, Stelzig). The importance of sentiment and sympathy as constitutive of one’s sense of subjectivity in the later eighteenth century is well documented, and can be understood as leading to many of the attributes that we think of as identifying “Romanticism.” A conception of the self as made rather than given, as made in part through reading and imaginative engagement, and even more importantly as relationally constructed is discernible in Hays’s writing and importantly subtends her project in Female Biography. Reading Female Biography then as a development of “Romantic autobiography” allows us to identify late century changes to concepts of writing human life experience. Mark Salber Phillips in Society and Sentiment: Genres of Historical Writing in Britain, 1740–1820 has explored changes in the generic conventions of historiography in the late eighteenth century that are pertinent here. Phillips identifies a late eighteenth-century interest in the “historicization of everyday life,” as historiography moves beyond a classical emphasis on ideal public lives of notable men. As Phillips has argued in a different context, “if the primacy of public life were to come into question, or if the lines dividing public from private became blurred, the result would be a powerful challenge to the traditional forms of narrative historiography. This, I believe, is precisely what happened in the eighteenth century” (“Reconsiderations on History and Antiquarianism,” 304). Hays is revising and feminizing both an older, classical model of the significant but public “life” and a more recent Humean/Gibbonian model of the national narrative. This encyclopedic work thus offers an important bridge from an Enlightenment emphasis on reason and didactic emulation to a developing emphasis on the powers of imagination and self-projection. As the public life of the polis becomes less distinct from the private life of emotion at the turn of the century, Hays’s Female Biography stands as an overt intervention in expanding the political sphere to include personal life, affect, and female embodiment, and to cast back into history with this reconfiguration. This project could only have been a coherent one after the changes wrought by the French Revolution; Hays seeks not only to change the ways of writing public lives and history, but to teach us to read the past differently. Personal History and Common Readers Hays was originally made infamous in her own day by the scandalous intersection of her life with her writings and by her association with the circle of radical intellectuals who surrounded William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft in the late eighteenth century. Well-known for the value that they set upon rational conversation and the mutual exchange of ideas, this circle of literati intentionally produced a wide range of written genres in their efforts to reach a broad audience. Not only private correspondence, but published letters in periodicals such as The

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Analytical Review and The Monthly Magazine, collections of essays, and both fiction and nonfiction publications show the impact of this intellectual circle and its value for public and conversational self-examination. One concern that surfaces repeatedly in both Mary Wollstonecraft’s and Mary Hays’s writing in the early 1790s is the problem of inducing common readers, particularly women, to read “history”—explicitly imagined as a genre that bridges between the popularity and emotional appeal of fiction and the intellectual seriousness of “philosophy.” Historiography is thus an important issue for these writers, and Hays is particularly invested in revising what counts as historical writing. Hays had been concerned in her first book, Letters and Essays (1793), with the possibility that biography or personal history might serve as a generic stepping stone to encourage women readers to develop a taste for less personalized “history” and more abstracted “philosophy.” Responding to a mother’s question about whether her daughters ought to read fiction such as Sorrows of Young Werther and Clarissa, Hays imagines weaning them from certain kinds of fiction to more intellectually demanding reading: Would it not be easy to lead young persons from these works to the periodical Essays, which are continually interspersed with lively, and entertaining narrations, and where instruction comes in the dress of amusement. From them, the transition to biography would not be difficult; the Life of Petrarch, as translated by Mrs. Dobson, is an interesting and charming work that cannot fail to engage a youthful and sensible heart. ... Wraxhall’s Memoirs of the Kings of France, and Voltaire’s Account of the Reign of Louis the Fourteenth, are also composed in a manner to amuse and instruct, and to generate a taste for historical reading: when the mind expanded, and liberalized by tracing the fate of nations, and the rise and fall of empires, will proceed to studies still more interesting; to philosophical, political, moral, and religious truth (Folger, 299).

Here reading should “delight and instruct” but also lead the reader to a more developed taste for information and intellectual fare. Beginning with novels, Hays posits that young girls can be induced to read periodical literature, moving on to specific works of memoir and biography, and thence to more abstracted and reflective reading in history and the whole range covered by “philosophy.” It is worth noting in passing that periodicals were in many cases, including Hays’s, the first sites for women writers seeking to publish their work and attain a place in the public realm of letters (see Waters). Hays expanded her writing to include “History” explicitly in the early 1800s. She published Female Biography; or, Memoirs of Illustrious and Celebrated Women, of All Ages and Countries, in 6 vols. in 1803, the third volume of Charlotte Smith’s The History of England, from the Earliest Records, to the Peace of Amiens: In a Series of Letters to a Young Lady at School in 1806, Historical Dialogues for Young Persons in three volumes between 1806–08, and Memoirs of Queens, Illustrious and Celebrated in 1821. One could also properly consider


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her obituaries of Wollstonecraft for the Annual Necrology for 1797–1798 and The Monthly Magazine (1797) in this genre. Biography is, as many recent critics have explained, one of the marginal historical genres. On the one hand, biography is rooted in the classical traditions of exemplary public lives or “lives of great men.” On the other hand it runs counter in some ways to the kind of history that represents the stories of nations and attempts to create grands récits out of these accounts. Hays’s use of biography reiterates the tradition of great lives, focusing on notable and exemplary women, but it also importantly revises this tradition by including notorious figures as well as those worthy of emulation (Spongberg, Walker). It is in another kind of tension with the growing value for historical writing associated in particular with David Hume and Edward Gibbon that seeks to trace a kind of national plot that overarches the stories of individual men. Hays is then, invoking classical traditions of telling public lives and claiming that women’s lives may carry the didactic weight of being both public and models for emulation. At the same time, she is also working to create a more cosmopolitan, transnational conception of a specifically gendered form of biography, one that both exceeds a national story and resists at the same time any grand récit that leaves aside female lives and experiences. Female Biography and the Woman Reader Hays’s explains her purpose in writing Female Biography in terms of her aspiration to write specifically for women: My pen has been taken up in the cause, and for the benefit, of my own sex. For their improvement, and to their entertainment, my labours have been devoted. Women, unsophisticated by the pedantry of the schools, read not for dry information, to load their memories with uninteresting facts, or to make a display of vain erudition. … they require pleasure to be mingled with instruction, lively images, the graces of sentiments, and the polish of language. Their understandings are principally accessible through their affections: they delight in minute delineation of character; nor must the truths which impress them be either cold or unadorned. I have at heart the happiness of my sex, and their advancement in the grand scale of rational and social existence (I:iii–iv).

The claim to combine “pleasure” with “instruction” recurs here, as in Hays’s 1793 essay. But more interestingly, Hays alludes to “lively images,” “graces of sentiment” and “polish of language”—revisiting commonplace concerns for the dignity and elegance of historical writing as a genre. She further feminizes these concerns, however, as both a way to appeal to the woman reader and a way to render the project itself a sign of feminine erudition and elegance. Without directly 9 For an account of the significance of the sentimental register in Hume’s history, see Karen O’Brien, Narratives of Enlightenment: Cosmopolitan History from Voltaire to Gibbon.

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writing about herself, Hays is asserting her own standing as an exemplar of the learned lady and the excellent writer of history. Hays reasserts her allegiance to sensibility, stating that women’s “understandings are principally accessible through their affections.” Hays goes on to claim that she has adhered to some of the standards of objectivity already associated with historical writing: “disdaining every species of bigotry, I have endeavoured, in general, to serve the cause of truth and of virtue. Every character has been judged upon its own principles; the reflections … have been such as naturally arose out of the subject; nor have I ever gone out of my way in favour of sects or systems”(I:v). Yet Female Biography remains an overtly interested work, one with designs upon its readers, evident in both Hays’s explicit claims and in the work’s format. Form and Ideology Originally published in six volumes, and reprinted in an American edition in three volumes of 400–500 pages each, Female Biography is an encyclopedic work.10 Entries range in length from a few sentences (Polla Argentaria and Hildigurdis each get two) to longer essays of many pages, ranging to over 100 pages for especially significant figures such as Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, and Catherine the Great.11 The women considered range from a tenth-century sister to the Caliph of Baghdad (Abassa), an African amazon (Egee), from the early British queen Boadicea or from Matoaks (otherwise known as Pocahontas) to Hays’s contemporary, Mme de Roland, executed during the 1793 Terror in Paris. Many are European or classical figures, and many but not all are high-born and connected to ruling families. Queens and Empresses are well represented, martyrs of both Catholic and Protestant history, and women famous either for their infamy (Agrippina the Younger) or for their bravery regardless of political party (Blanche, Lady Arundel who defended her castle in her husband’s absence against the parliamentary army) are included.12 Not surprisingly, following the conventions of male biography, writers and intellectual exemplars figure prominently. Each entry ends with a brief list of sources from which material was drawn, mostly in English or French, so presumably accessible to female readers at least so far as language is concerned. The kinds of sources consulted range from biographical dictionaries to very recent histories to occasionally more 10 It is this American edition to which I have access and to which I refer throughout. For publication details, see Walker 263–4. 11 Hays justifies these three in particular by arguing that “the character of the sovereign is read in the history of his times” (I:v), emphasizing the importance of understanding these women’s lives and characters in order to understand their historical moment—a tradition that both casts back to a classical tradition of examining the characters of public figures, but also to the eighteenth-century sentimentalist taste for humanizing details and philosophical reflection (Phillips, Society and Sentiment 40 and 42). 12 See Appendix 1 for a full listing of the Table of Contents.


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literary works. Robert Southey’s “Joan of Arc” is cited for the entry on Joan d’Arc, and David Hume’s History of England, Plutarch’s Lives, and Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire are all included. Several are of the “Female Worthies” sort: Biographium Femineum, or the Female Worthies, Thomas Gibbon’s Memoirs of Pious Ladies, George Ballard’s Memoirs of British Ladies, La Galerie des Femmes Fortes, Dictionnaire des Femmes Célébrées. She includes at least one work explicitly female-authored: Anne Thicknesse’s Sketch of the Lives and Writings of the Ladies of France, and a few works that are either private manuscripts or accounts written by someone close to the figure (“Letters of Rachel, Lady Russell, from the MS in the Library of Woburn Abbey,” and “Gilpin’s Account of a manuscript life of Mr. Sedgwick [written by himself], secretary to the countess of Pembroke”). Female Biography and the Community of Women It has been argued that Hays’s Female Biography represents an important shift in writing the lives of important or significant women. Gina Luria Walker, for example, explains that “Female Biography was Hays’s attempt to balance male Dissenters’ histories of ‘Great Men’ by attesting to a rich, variegated female past in which women have struggled against all the intolerance that men have, and against men, as well” (Walker 261). Similarly, Mary Spongberg argues that: In Female Biography, Hays moved beyond the polemical and hagiographic depictions that characterised earlier biographical works. She chose to show ‘great women’ as flawed characters subject to human frailty, rather than merely exemplary human beings. … Unlike earlier collections of female biography written by men, which focused on the saintly or the demonic in women, she attempted character sketches that were layered and textured (118).

Spongberg emphasizes Hays’s concern to detail not only exemplary actions, but also those Hays judges infamous or ill-advised. This focus sorts well with an ongoing concern evidenced by Hays to present “mixed” characters in her fiction as both more truthful to human nature and more valuably instructive. In her 1798 essay, “On Novel Writing,” Hays had argued against Dr Johnson’s argument for representing only ideal or clearly vicious characters, rather than mixed ones: In fitting beings for human society, why should we seek to deceive them, by illusive representations of life?—Why should we not rather paint it as it really exists, mingled with imperfection, and discoloured by passion? ... Human nature seems to be at an equal distance from the humiliating descriptions of certain ascetic moralists, and the exaggerated eulogiums of enthusiasts. Gradations, almost imperceptible, of light and shade, must mingle in every true portrait of the human mind. Few persons are either wholly or disinterestedly virtuous or vicious; he who judges of mankind in masses, and praises or censures without discrimination, will foster innumerable prejudices, and be betrayed into perpetual mistakes. ... (180–81).

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Representing such a wide range of women’s lives cost Hays some negative reviews for Female Biography. As Jeanne Wood documents, the extensive review published in the European Magazine from June to August of 1803, “goes so far as to call for a second ‘chaste’ edition of the work in order to correct two central flaws. … Hays’s choice of biographical subjects … [and] Hays’s arrangement of her biographical subjects in alphabetical order” (Wood 118). Both complaints attack Hays’s choice of including women who are morally reprehensible and allowing the inclusion of such figures to taint those of more properly private or domestically admirable women. Despite the disappointment of some modern critics that Hays failed to offer more approving or counter-conventional entries on figures such as Aphra Behn and Eliza Haywood, it seems important to note how disruptive Hays’s including them at all was. Herstory and Female Biography In recent years, particularly in eighteenth-century studies, feminist critics have warned us about the limitations of vision risked by a tradition of “herstory” (Looser; Smith and Watson; Spongberg). Though perhaps necessary in the 1970s and 1980s, when feminists intersected with other movements for “history from below” to correct omissions and reconfigure fields, many critics are now seeking to set histories of women and history written by women into the larger contexts of historiographic debates, the changing public sphere, and the professionalization of women writers and writing itself (Kucich; Looser; Schellenberg). It is important as I and others have argued, to read Hays not only in relation to her more famous and older friend, Mary Wollstonecraft, but also in the larger circle of her colleagues and professional contacts, which included William Godwin, Joseph Johnson, George Robinson, Robert Southey, and others, both male and female. The danger of seeking only for a “women’s tradition” in literary or historiography is that it misrepresents the rich construction of a public sphere of letters that certainly included women-dominated spaces, but also included complex negotiations across gender, class, national identity, religious affiliation, and political conviction. Mary Waters has shown, for instance, that we gain a richer understanding of the mentoring of Hays by Wollstonecraft if we also attend to the connections Hays developed to male publishers through Wollstonecraft’s influence. Jeanne Wood and Elaine Bailey contribute as well by situating Hays in the larger contexts respectively of the “Biographical Dictionary” and of Matilda Betham’s 1804 Biographical Dictionary of the Celebrated Women of Every Age and Country. Significant differences among women may be elided and important cross-gender alliances and influences may be neglected by conceiving “women” as a natural group. That this way of conceptualizing “women” is now both overly-familiar and troubled, should not blind us to the achievement this represents for Hays’s work in the early nineteenth century. Our sense that a trans-historical, cross-cultural and cross-class study of “women” is itself a problematic and limited approach is one outcome of the prior intellectual work of writers like Mary Hays.


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In Female Biography, Hays attempts not only to produce an approachable resource for identifying historically significant women, but she explicitly works against the overt nationalism of many of her sources. Ruth Perry, among others, has suggested that George Ballard’s British Ladies (1752)—one of Hays’s key sources—is itself a “hallmark in the history of feminism” (“Introduction” 13). Hays, however, does revise and rewrite Ballard’s project in several ways that seem significant. First, Hays’s exhaustive work refuses to focus on a single national identity; though British women are prominent, place is given to a much wider range of national and regional identities than in many of her sources. By contrast, Ballard’s work is specifically interested in producing a national history. As Ballard explains: When it is considered how much has been done on the subject [biography of literary figures] by several learned foreigners,13 we may justly be surprized at this neglect among the writers of this nation; more especially, as it is pretty certain, that England hath produced more women famous for literary accomplishments, than any other nation in Europe (iv).

Similarly, the anonymous Biographium Femineum, or the Female Worthies (1766) states overtly in its full title that its purpose is in part national: Biographium fæmineum: The female worthies: or, Memoirs of the Most illustrious ladies, of all ages and nations, who have been Eminently distinguished for their MAGNANIMITY, LEARNING, GENIUS, VIRTUE, PIETY, and other excellent Endowments, conspicuous in all the various Stations and Relations of Life, public and private. Containing (exclusive of Foreigners) The Lives of above Fourscore BRITISH LADIES, who have shone with a peculiar Lustre, and given the noblest Proofs of the most exalted Genius, and superior Worth. Collected from HISTORY, and the most approved Biographers, and brought down to the present Time. (n.p.)

The emphasis in Ballard is on filling a gap by providing a British national biography of literary women in particular. Hays is clearly particularly interested in female literati, and goes out of her way to note ancient women famous for poetry or lettered learning, but she does not restrict herself to British women. The Female Worthies, though more inclusive, also highlights the importance of including British women among the ranks of “worthies” by advertising the inclusion of the lives of some “80 BRITISH LADIES” on the title page. 13 Petruccio Ubaldino, Jacobus a Sancto Carolo, Boccace Betussi, Peter Paul de Ribera, Francis Serdoasti, Augustin della Chiesa, Philip de Bergamo, Scardeoni, Caesar Capacio, Pinto, Hilarion de Costa, meange, Juncker, &c. (Ballard’s Note)

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Secondly, both Ballard and the Female Worthies are organized chronologically, while Hays’s Female Biography is organized alphabetically. Although this does not seem particularly striking to those of us familiar with biographical dictionaries, the juxtaposition is suggestive. By listing her figures alphabetically rather than chronologically, Hays is emphasizing the interconnections among women regardless of their time, nation, or social standing over their place in a linear chronology—this represents a particular approach to the concept of history and life writing (Wood, Bailey). Taken together, Hays’s choice to be as inclusive as possible, to seek out particularly obscure women of all nations and times, and to organize them alphabetically (if idiosyncratically) impacts the reading experience. Self-conscious concern with her reader’s experience, and an overt effort to pitch her work to appeal to women readers is explicit in Hays’s project. Rather than constructing a kind of grand récit of nationalist pride in women’s achievement, her organization induces the reader to read both those entries that are familiar and those that are less so. For instance, a romantically attractive figure such as Mary Queen of Scots (subject of several late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century historical novels by women) is directly followed in the M’s by the biography of Catherine Macaulay Graham, an important intellectual woman and historian from the generation preceding Hays. That familiar British “muse” then runs into a biography of the obscure poet Maeroe (“Maeroe, famed by the ancients for her extraordinary learning, and particularly remembered for a hymn to Neptune” [III:166]). This principle, then, draws the reader onward to encounter the unfamiliar, and to expand beyond the narrow range of interest in one’s own national heroines or areas of historical familiarity. Rather than a narrative of feminine progress or growth, the impression is of an expansive and expanding category of “women” united by a shared gender, rather than by national, religious, political, or marital status. Hays’s effort here is to escape the historical limitations of works that focus solely on European humanists, though these figures are particularly well-represented. Further, Hays states explicitly that she will not include figures from her own time, with the exception of Mme Roland, to whom she gives a good deal of space as a particular case. (This exception is unsurprising in light of Hays’s well-known sympathy with the French Girondin party, the reformist revolutionary party that was obliterated by the Terror, and with whom most British reformists sympathetic to the Revolution and its promises were affiliated.) However, Hays works quite hard to include women from times and places distant from her own. Some of her choices are quite obscure (Proba, known for a poetic version of the New and Old testaments published in 1541); others are more familiar even to the modern reader (Cleopatra, Sappho, Aphra Behn, Eliza Haywood). Hays’s purposes include those common to much later eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century historical writing: didactic instruction—with particular emphasis on emulation of admirable historical figures, and emulation—to elevate and ennoble the minds of her (women) readers. But Female Biography has another purpose more specific to biography: Hays’s biographies invite and instruct the


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reader on sympathetic and reflective reading. In the details of heroic, domestic, or artistic achievement and in the narrator’s reflections and judgments on the subject’s character and actions Hays’s biographies seek both to situate each figure and to enable the reader to develop her own judgments. Hays’s purpose in focusing particularly on women who are first, historically distant from her own time and secondly, imaginatively distant as well (such as those women distant by nation, language and culture from her readers, that is, neither European nor classical), is to construct a transnational and transhistorical community of “women.” Finally then, the larger purpose of Female Biography is to constitute imaginatively this transhistorical and transnational community of women. Biography is notably a historical genre that encourages sympathetic connection and works to diminish the distance of reader from subject (Phillips, Society and Sentiment). Casting even the very obscure and distant figures as like the reader, women, Female Biography seeks to invite not precisely identification, but sympathetic and reflective connection with figures despite differences in nation, time, life experience, and educational advantage. In this emphasis on imaginative projection and connection we see the transition from an earlier eighteenth-century historical model of emulation because of distance to a late century and more sympathetic model of judgment or affiliation despite distance. Rewriting Biography Some patterns can be discerned among the many lives recounted here. To glance at a few, some lives are recounted; 1) To celebrate or teach self-reliance, fortitude, and/or independence of thought (Anne Askew); 2) To celebrate specifically feminine attainments, to celebrate women who under pressure rose above their training or social place, (Hester Chapone, Charlotte Corday); 3) To critique women who appear to have taken on “masculine” tendencies of which Hays disapproves (Christina of Sweden, Agrippina the Younger); 4) To celebrate learned ladies and women of letters, to trace women’s self-education or attainments in literature (Sor Juana, Heloise, Catherine Macaulay). A few entries undercut the concept of “biography” itself in ways that serve Hays’s interest in imagining a larger community of women, particularly of literary or learned women. Entries that serve this purpose include the entry for “Anonymous” in Vol. 2, which seems to prefigure Virginia Woolf’s claim in A Room of One’s Own that “Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman” (49). Completely absent from the Table of Contents, this biography is a curious one. The entry begins dedicated to the “daughter of a Boulognois [sic] gentleman,” locates her historically “in the 13th century,” and then details her education and public acclaim: a “funeral oration in Latin” at 23, a doctorate at 26, a professorial chair at 30 (II.175). This figure unusually remains unnamed, and even more unusually, towards the end of this entry becomes a composite biography: “The same example was, in the same city, renewed in the 14th century, and again in

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the 15th.” Finally the entry ends by casting itself forward: “Also in more modern times, the philosophic chair of Boulogne has been filled with distinction by a woman” (II.175). From the biography of an unnamed woman, located by her city, class, and historical period, we have moved to a repetition in each century of a similar exemplar—a woman who reads Latin, speaks publicly, and is admired for her intellect over her physical beauty. The entry on Lucretia Marinelli makes some of the same moves. The entry begins conventionally: “Lucretia Marinelli, a Venetian lady of wit and talents, published among other works, a production entitled “La noblita & le’eccellezan delle donne, con dissetti & mancomenti de gli huomni” (The Excellent and Nobleness of Women, with the Defects and Fault of men, printed at Venice, 1601) ... Not satisfied with contending for the equality of the sexes, she insisted on the superiority of the female over the male” (II:487). However, here Hays again makes a kind of composite move to point to other works that make similar claims: In Paris, 1673, a work on the same subject was published, ‘On the Equality of the Sexes, a Discourse, physical and moral, wherein is to be seen the Importance of Freeing the Mind from Prejudices.’ The writer of this performance appears to have courted opposition, but, finding no enemy inclined to enter the lists with him, he became the opponent of his own arguments, and, in 1673, published a treatise ‘On the Excellency and Superiority of Man;’ in which he purposely betrayed the cause he affected to espouse, and confirmed, though indirectly, his former opinions. Both of these works were reprinted at Paris, in 1679 (II.488).

Hays then goes on to detail yet other writers and debated attributions of similar works. Here the purposes of individual biography take second place to tracing the history of arguments in favor of women’s intellectual abilities. These two examples of “composite biographies” function as key sites where a concept of a transhistorical and cosmopolitan “community” of women based on the presumption of some kind of shared gender identity is exhibited and structured. Unlike Ballard’s introduction to The Female Worthies, which struggles to argue both that women are equal to men though hampered by their educations and that—when educated—women rise above their male contemporaries, making better mothers than their husbands do fathers (v–vi), Hays leaves such claims out of her introduction. Rather, by detailing the lives of women notable for their bravery or their ruthlessness, their retired piety or their public writing, and tracing the ways in which these lives were shaped by or resisted their specific constraints, Hays suggests first that many women are hampered by inadequate education, secondly that women are remarkable for making much of any advantages available to them, and finally that her readers are ethically bound to build upon those who came before them through both familiarity with their lives and rational judgment about how to understand those lives.14 14 This is close to Carolyn Heilbrun’s call in 1988 for feminism to enable women to evade the dangers of eccentric individualism by turning instead to relational and collective conceptions of their lives (46).


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Hays’s Sources and Citation Unlike her own sources, Hays’s Female Biography includes a list of her sources at the end of the majority of her entries. This serves specific didactic purposes. First, her naming of sources shows both what kinds of sources she had access to, highlighting both her own erudition and the limits of her resources. Walker points out that, besides her use of Ballard, Hays “also made innovative use of private and published works to construct some of her memoirs” (261–2). For instance, Hays mentions M. Auquetil’s Memoirs of Louis XIV, Letters published by Mr Duncombe and Gilpin’s Account of a manuscript life of Mr Sedgwick (written by himself), secretary to the countess of Pembroke. However, most of her women readers could have found such sources as Foxe’s Acts and Monuments, Hume’s History of England, Plutarch’s Morals, Wraxhall’s History of France, or Ballard’s British Ladies. Each biography then frames its subject, highlights what seems significant—particularly learning, belles lettres, particular incidents of bravery or fortitude—and then points the reader toward further reading. Following Hays’s lead, the reader could potentially return to the original sources, but with Hays’s framework firmly in mind, thereby learning both to read more traditional and classical history and also to read it through an explicitly gendered approach. Hays’s efforts in Female Biography thus return us to her original concern in her 1793 Letters and Essays with teaching young women to read more broadly, to read history specifically, and to read in search of self-education and expanding knowledge. Her model of reading as both engaged with reflective judgment and sensibility invites younger readers to imitate her own reading and sorting practices. Even Hays’s tendency to cite or incorporate material from other works remakes it to her own purposes merely by resituating and reformatting it. Biography here is in the service of autobiography in the sense of making a “self” rather than merely recording a pre-existing selfhood. Hays’s project extends conceptions of female life-writing as more associative and multiplicitous in contrast with a unified and transcendent Romantic male autobiography. Autobiography here is the process of self-making through reading and responding sympathetically and with judgment to biography and history, and the self is understood in its relationship to the collective. Though we may be rightly suspicious in 2009 of this kind of transnational, cosmopolitan gendered identity—particularly written from the perspective of a middle class British woman intellectual—in 1803 this was a radical move that predated many of the innovations of women’s history developed by foundational essays of the 1970s and early 1980s. At a moment of strong nationalism and rejection of the idea of the “citizen of the world” as dangerous and “jacobinical,” Hays’s effort to create both a concept of shared femininity and to muster evidence for a long history of lettered and ruling women is a remarkable achievement. Finally then, this encyclopedic work offers an important bridge from an Enlightenment or even classicist emphasis on reason and didactic emulation to a developing late century or “Romantic” emphasis on the powers of imagination and self-projection. As the public life of the polis becomes less easily distinguished

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from the private life of emotion at the turn of the century, Hays’s Female Biography stands as an overt intervention in expanding the political sphere to include personal life, affect, and female embodiment, and to cast back into history itself with this reconfiguration. Works Cited Bailey, Elaine. “Lexicography of the Feminine: Matilda Betham’s Dictionary of Celebrated Women.” Philological Quarterly 83.4 (Fall 2004): 389–414. Ballard, George. Memoirs of several ladies of Great Britain, who have been celebrated for their writings or skill in the learned languages arts and sciences. Oxford, 1752. reprint 1775. Accessed through ECCO. Biographium Femineum, or the Female Worthies. London, 1766. Accessed though ECCO. Coleridge, E.H., (ed.) Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Boston, 1985. Folger Collective on Early Women Critics. Women Critics 1660–1820: An Anthology. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995. Hays, Mary. Female Biography; or, Memoirs of Illustrious and Celebrated Women, of All Ages and Countries. Philadelphia, 1807 (ed.) London, 1803. ———. “On Novel Writing.” Monthly Review 1797: 180–181. Heilbrun, Carolyn G. Writing a Woman’s Life. New York: Ballantine, 1989. Kucich, Greg. “Women’s Historiography and the (Dis)Embodiment of Law: Ann Yearsley, Mary Hays, Elizabeth Benger.” Wordsworth Circle 33.1 (2002 Winter): 3–7. Lejeune, Phillipe. “The Autobiographical Pact.” On Autobiography, (ed.) Paul John Eakin. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1989, 3–30. Looser, Devoney. British Women Writers and the Writing of History, 1670–1820. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2005. Mellor, Anne K. Romanticism and Gender. New York: Routledge, 1993. Nussbaum, Felicity A. The Autobiographical Subject: Gender and Ideology in Eighteenth-Century England. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989. O’Brien, Karen. Narratives of Enlightenment: Cosmopolitan History from Voltaire to Gibbon. Cambridge UP, 1997. Perry, Ruth. “Introduction.” Memoirs of Several Ladies of Great Britain. By George Ballard, (ed.) Ruth Perry. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1985. Philips, Mark Salber. “Reconsiderations on History and Antiquarianism: Arnaldo Momigliano and the Historiography of Eighteenth-Century Britain.” Journal of the History of Ideas 57.2 (1996): 297–316. ———. Society and Sentiment: Genres of Historical Writing in Britain, 1740– 1820. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000. Rajan, Tilottama. “Autonarration and Genotext in Mary Hays’ Memoirs of Emma Courtney.” Studies in Romanticism 32.2 (1993): 149–76. Shellenberg, Betty A. The Professionalization of Women Writers in EighteenthCentury Britain. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005.


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Smith, Sidonie, and Julia Watson. “Introduction: Situating Subjectivity in Women’s Autobiographical Practices.” Women, Autobiography, Theory: A Reader, (eds) Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1998. 3–56. Spongberg, Mary. Writing Women’s History since the Renaissance. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. Stanton, Domna C. “Autogynography: Is the Subject Different?” The Female Autograph: Theory and Practice of Autobiography from the Tenth to the Twentieth Century, (ed.) Domna C. Stanton. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987. Starobinski, Jean. “The Style of Autobiography” in Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical, (ed.) James Olney, Princeton UP, 1980. Stelzig, Eugene. “The Romantic Subject in Autobiography.” Nonfictional Romantic Prose: Expanding Borders, (eds) Steven P. Sondrup and Virgil Nemoianu. Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Co., 2004. 223–39. Walker, Gina Luria. The Idea of Being Free: A Mary Hays Reader. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2006. Wallace, Miriam L. “Mary Hays’s ‘Female Philosopher’: Constructing Revolutionary Subjects in Memoirs of Emma Courtney.” Rebellious Hearts: British Women and the French Revolution, (eds) Adriana Craciun and Kari Lokke. Albany: SUNY Press, 2001. 235–65. Waters, Mary. British Women Writers and the Profession of Literary Criticism, 1789–1832. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Wood, Jeanne. “‘Alphabetically Arranged’: Mary Hays’s Female Biography and the Biographical Dictionary.” Genre 31 (1998): 117–42. Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. New York: Harcourt, (1928) 1989.

Chapter 6

Screen Memories and Fictionalized Autobiography: Mary Shelley’s Mathilda and “The Mourner” Fiction and Autobiographical Theories Diane Long Hoeveler

If exterior space—the stage of the world—is a light, clear space where everyone’s behavior, movements, and motives are in plain sight, interior space is shadowy in its very essence. —Georges Gusdorf (32)

In 1829 Mary Shelley was approached by Edward Trelawny, who was intent on writing a group biography of Byron, Percy Shelley and himself. As Trelawny well knew, Mary’s cooperation with any such project was crucial; Mary, however, was aware of the fact that she had been forbidden to write or collaborate on any writing of Percy’s life as long as his father lived and paid her son’s allowance. “Shelley’s life must be written,” she observed, “I hope one day to do it myself” (Sunstein 297). As Shelley scholars know, she completed only a fragment of her “Life of Shelley” (1823), but I would suggest that throughout certain of her fictions Mary Shelley continued penning her hagiography of her husband, and most noticeably she used the device of appropriated screen memories to present his life as a version of her own. Given the recent research on false memory syndrome, cognitive brain function, and autobiographical theory, it is instructive to use two of Mary Shelley’s most autobiographical fictions as case studies of how memory, guilt, desire, and the appropriation of self-protective screens can become intertwined. Contemporary autobiographical theory (post-1970) has been forced to interrogate what Philippe Lejeune has called the “autobiographical pact,” or the delicate entente between writer and reader that allows readers to believe that the autobiographies they are reading are “true” (44). In this model of understanding autobiography, the author presents the text as a historically accurate version of an individual’s life, using all of the rhetorical devices available to encourage  The history of autobiographical theory is obviously a large and complex field that cannot be summarized easily within the introductory confines of this article. Suffice it to say that Olney credits Gusdorf’s 1956 article as originating contemporary discussions of the genre, while Spengemann makes a rival claim for Hart’s 1970 article. Smith provides the best overview of the history of the field, as well as the most helpful discussion of the recent gendered approaches to the genre, 3–9.


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the reader’s trust in the veracity of the events and accounts presented. Another autobiographical theorist influenced by both structuralism of the 1970s and earlier new criticism, Elizabeth Bruss, asserts that there are fixed “rules” that must “be satisfied by the text and the surrounding context of any work which is to ‘count as’ autobiography” (165). For Bruss these rules concern both questions of referentiality, external contextual issues that validate personal claims to truth (10), as well as forms of speech act or linguistic markers, “certain clues embedded in the language of the text” (19). For earlier theorists like Lejeune and Bruss, the questions that autobiography raised were why would an author adopt an autobiographical stance in the first place? What were his or her intentions in adopting such a posture? And how did the rhetorical devices employed in such a genre enhance or harm the truth claims that the work was making? In another influential theoretical approach to the genre, James Olney has stressed the fluid nature of the autobiographical self; for him, autobiography is “a monument of the self as it is becoming, a metaphor of the self at the summary moment of composition” (35). For Olney, “there is no way to bring autobiography to heel as a literary genre with its own proper form, terminology, and observances” (qtd. Brée 172). In much the same vein, Paul John Eakin has noted that “autobiographical truth is not a fixed but an evolving content in an intricate process of self-discovery and self-creation, [while] the self that is the center of autobiographical narrative is necessarily a fictive structure” (3). For Eakin, all attempts to reconstruct a personal history “express the play of the autobiographical act itself in which the materials of the past are shaped by memory and imagination to serve the needs of present consciousness” (5). Those materials from the past are reconstructed through both narrative conventions as well as what Eakin calls “fundamental structures of consciousness,” a “special, heightened form of that reflexive consciousness which is the distinctive feature of our human nature” (9). But as Sidonie Smith has noted, autobiographical theory traditionally has been predicated on a gender-blind economy, a massive androcentric bias that assumes patriarchal and masculinist narratives as normative. Instead, one of Smith’s approaches to the genre argues that women’s autobiographies reveal a “doubled subjectivity—the autobiographer as protagonist of her story and the autobiographer as narrator” (17), certainly a method that describes Mary Shelley’s fictionalized presentations of her life story. In another theoretical move, Smith argues for the importance of reading the female–authored autobiography for its moments of desire: in the act of writing her tale “the autobiographer confronts personally her culture’s stories of male and female desire, insinuating the lines of her story through the lines of the patriarchal story that has been autobiography” (19). And the “patriarchal story” that emerges in Shelley’s fiction is, as we know, the well-known narrative of her family romance, first with her father and then with her husband. Women’s autobiographies, apart from an emphasis on the personal, private, and quotidian, also typically employ a fluid, circular, concentric structural pattern and a rhetoric of seduction (Brée 172), and certainly we can see in the repetitive arc of Shelley’s fictions the need to retell the tale of both seducing and being seduced.

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More recently, Leigh Gilmore has argued that autobiography has very distinct “limits” when it comes to revealing the trauma narrative: “trauma is beyond language in some crucial way … Yet at the same time language about trauma is theorized as an impossibility, language is pressed forward as that which can heal the survivor of trauma … Autobiography’s paradox is foregrounded so explicitly that the self-representation of trauma confronts itself as a theoretical impossibility” (6; 8). What Gilmore calls the “languages of trauma” (7) include both public and private discourses: the legal testimony suitable to a courtroom trial (public witness to the trauma) as well as recourse to flashbacks, nightmares, and emotional flooding in the text (private and largely unconscious representations of the unresolved residue of the trauma). Clearly, in Mary Shelley’s case it is no coincidence that dreams and emotional outbursts recur at moments of desire in the texts, while “The Mourner” is told in the style of a post–mortem flashback. Mary Shelley’s fictions have stood as a test case for contemporary feminist critics who have struggled with one primary dilemma: reading the fiction as art or viewing it as veiled autobiography, and therefore, supposedly, of a lesser artistic value. As Paul de Man notes in “Autobiography as De-Facement,” autobiography does not and cannot “reveal reliable self-knowledge; [instead] it demonstrates in a striking way the impossibility of closure and of totalization (that is the impossibility of coming into being) of all textual systems made up of tropological substitutions” (922). For de Man, the notion of a coherent and individual subjectivity that can be successfully related to a reader is itself a fiction, a construction resting on false assumptions about authorial transparency and ontological totalization. More recently, Graham Allen has advocated the need to go beyond “biographism” in order to explain Mary’s particular use of autobiography and intertextuality: “Mathilda elides the traditional distinctions between autobiography and biography itself, [while] biographical approaches to her work are haunted by the traces of a patriarchal logic which collapses women’s writing into the ‘person’ presumed to stand uncomplicatedly behind that writing” (170). There is no question that there are autobiographical elements in virtually everything Mary Shelley wrote, but I would like to complicate exactly how we understand those autobiographical elements by introducing Freud’s notion of the screen memory, and then proposing my own revision of his concept—the appropriation of the memories of an idealized other by the self in an attempt to depict a new, “composite” autobiographical self. A Freudian understanding of memory as a screen-discourse is crucial in analyzing Mary’s odd fictional portrayals of herself and her husband or, more accurately, of her husband as an idealized version of herself. Freud has described the mnemic trace as the product of two opposing forces: the conflict between the need to provide a record of a past experience and the psyche’s resistance to record Shelley’s Mathilda is enjoying a fair amount of critical attention, although “The Mourner” has received much less attention. For analyses of the autobiographical basis of Mathilda, see Hoeveler (1998), Allen, Himes, Gillingham, Garrett, Bernardo, and Clemit. For “The Mourner,” see McKeever (1999). 


Romantic Autobiography in England / Hoeveler

that memory. What Freud calls a “screen memory” is not a record of what actually happened in the past, but instead can be more accurately described as a history of the event’s remembrance and re-remembrance. We repeat and erase an experience in our minds, or we write it and then rewrite it, or we continuously remember and forget the same experience in our minds, so that we ourselves are not sure what happened or what we think, remember, or imagine may have happened. As Freud has noted, screen memories may be actual memories or imagined fantasies constructed later in life to explain ambivalence, rejection, or the frustration of some childhood desire: “A ‘screen memory’ [is] one which owes its value as a memory not to its own content but to the relation existing between that content and some other, that has been suppressed” (126). Relying on Freud’s understanding of the screen memory, William Maxwell observes: “what we, or at any rate what I, refer to confidently as memory— meaning a moment, a scene, a fact that has been subjected to a fixative and thereby rescued from oblivion—is really a form of story-telling that goes on continually in the mind and often changes with the telling” (27). The nature of memory, and, more specifically what Frances Ferguson has called “romantic memory,” relies on just such shifting notions of the interplay between individual actions, agency, consequences, and morality. As Ferguson notes, “what is at issue [in romantic memory] is not the possibility that other people will judge differently from the way in which one judges oneself. It is, rather, that the impact of one’s actions on other people comes to cause one to reevaluate what one’s actions were” (523). All of this reminds us that in a fiction by Mary Shelley there is a good deal of repression; we are often not quite sure what the narrative voice thinks about the characters’ actions or even why her characters have done what they claim to have done. More specifically, I would propose that what has been repressed in Mary Shelley’s fiction is her deeply troubling attraction to and dependence on a variety of male figures who consistently failed her. The male romantic poets (whose work Shelley knew well) had quite publicly denounced the power of the father in his capacity to oppress and tyrannize. In order to supplant the father, to displace and deny him, the male romantics transformed him most frequently into a sibling-hero figure who mirrors as closely as possible the composite idealization of the brother/ lover (think Blake’s Orc, Percy Shelley’s Prometheus, or Byron’s Manfred). Mary Shelley on the contrary was not compelled to destroy either father or lover, as both had performed those disillusioning tasks themselves in the course of her life with them. But the literary and personal pursuit of her adult life became the need to find a screen to block the view of both men as failures, and thereby to restore the memory of infantile love for the idealized father and his substitute, the husband. As Freud has noted, screen memories function by positioning a substitute memory in the place of the original memory. Such a move allowed Mary Shelley to distance and repress her ambivalence toward her father until adulthood, when the facade of her screen memories began to crumble and she began furiously idealizing the father’s substitute, Percy. But, in the recuperative psychic acts of projection and introjection, Mary consistently portrayed Percy’s memories of childhood abuse and victimization

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rather than her own, and she did so in a manner that bespeaks the appropriation of his life’s story as if it had actually been her own. This strong need to reconstruct Percy, his youth and his early marriage and rejection of Harriet, all reveal Mary’s attempts to merge their two lives into a redeemed self, a new autobiographical self that actually is a living out of Percy’s cry in Epipyschidion: ‘We shall become the same, we shall be one Spirit within two frames, oh! Wherefore two? One passion in twin-hearts, which grows and grew, Till like two meteors of expanding flame, Those spheres instinct with it become the same, Touch, mingle, are transfigured; ever still Burning, yet ever inconsumable’ (ll. 573–80).

Percy wrote these lines with another woman, Emilia Viviani, in mind, but Emilia did not live to write fiction about her erstwhile suitor. Mary did. In reconstructing the life and memories of Percy Shelley, Mary seizes the idealized poetic construction and makes of him a male Shelleyan epipsyche, a split-off masculine component of her traumatized mind. Mathilda I mean, if I find myself way off into an improbable tale, imagining it or telling it, then I can guess that something horrible has happened to me and that I can’t bear to think about it. Wait a minute, I said, considering for the first time, do you think this is how storytelling came into being? That the story is only a mask for the truth? —Alice Walker, Possessing the Secret of Joy (130)

Written two years after Frankenstein and not published until 1959, Mathilda is one of those lost fictions that surfaces more than a century later and suggests new possibilities and openings for understanding a writer’s career. A novella about a father’s incestuous love for his daughter, his suicide, and the daughter’s decline into melancholia and a suicidal early death, Mathilda was written out of intense ambivalence toward both Godwin and Percy by a young woman who had seen both her father and her husband disappoint her and three of her own young children die by the time she was 22. Mathilda can be read on several levels as a working out of Mary Shelley’s own family romance turned nightmare. The worm at the core of Mary Shelley’s version, however, consists of her own displaced and elided incestuous desires, concealed from her consciousness by the use of the characters in Mathilda who function as embodied screen–memories, fictively blocking her  I have discussed the psychodynamics of narcissism, solipsism, and introjection in my Romantic Androgyny: The Women Within (1990). What I and other critics have called the colonization or the “cannibalization of the feminine” with regard to the male canonical Romantic poets can also be seen to some extent in Mary Shelley’s appropriation of Percy’s memories.


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from viewing her own parents as objects of desire. Her favorite childhood sport is to “form affections and intimacies with the aerial creations of my own brain” and to “cling to the memory of my parents; my mother I should never see, she was dead: but the idea of my unhappy, wandering father was the idol of my imagination.” Gazing longingly at the miniature of her father, Mathilda amuses herself with the fantasy that “disguised like a boy I would seek my father through the world. My imagination hung upon the scene of recognition; his miniature, which I should continually wear exposed on my breast, would be the means and I imagined the moment to my mind a thousand and a thousand times” (159). Mathilda imagines herself searching for her father disguised as a boy, and we could say that such is the case because boys during this period were more likely to travel with their fathers than girls were, but we could also recognize here the desire of a girl to change her sex so that she will be more acceptable to the father. When Mathilda imagines her reunion with her father it occurs sometimes in a desert, sometimes in a populous city, sometimes at a ball, sometimes on a boat—and the boat will resurface again in “The Mourner.” He always speaks first and always his words are exactly the same: “‘My daughter, I love thee!’” (159). The location—sometimes empty, sometimes crowded—suggests that the core of the incestuous fantasy for the child concerns numbers; that is, when she imagines the reunion she refigures it as a denial of the reality of encroaching others in what is for her essentially an idealized and exclusive dyadic relationship. For Mathilda, any competition for the father is fearful and needs to be eliminated. The father reappears only when Mathilda is 16 and at the height of her youthful beauty. and with her mother safely dead and no siblings as rivals, Mathilda has no competition. When her father magically appears in a forest to claim her, she is clad in a symbolically virginal white frock. Mathilda reads at this and other points as an embarrassingly personal seduction fantasy. We have here Mary Shelley’s attempt to rewrite her life as if her father had not remarried and had a favorite son named William. Mathilda puts her education to good use, however, and immediately begins resorting to literary displacements in order to explain how she feels about her father. These analogies are not particularly promising, for very quickly Mathilda compares herself to Oedipus, Psyche, and the Biblical David. The transformation in associations and mythic archetypes suggests that Mathilda sees herself alternately as male or female, sometimes victimizer and sometimes victim of forces beyond her control. All of these mythic characters, however, have two traits in common: they were all wounded and traumatized repeatedly and yet all used their special talents to do battle against a potent and threatening familial figure or figures. All  Rajan’s insightful study of melancholy in Mathilda makes the very useful observation: “But if Mathilda is not fiction, it is also not autobiography, since its deliberate disfiguration of Mary Shelley’s relationship with Godwin achieves its effect by occupying an uncertain space between the literal and the figural” (48). On the specific use of the incestuous content of Mathilda, also see Chatterjee, McKeever, Edelman-Young, Harpold and Kelly.

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of these literary allusions also recall what Freud in Beyond the Pleasure Principle called the compulsion to repeat due to the fact that the patient can never remember “the whole of what is repressed in him” [sic], so “[h]e is obliged to repeat the repressed material as a contemporary experience instead of, as the physician would prefer to see, remembering it as something belonging to the past” (602; his emphases). We can recall further that in Beyond the Pleasure Principle Freud asked where the psychic core of trauma was located. He posed the question by asking if trauma should be understood as the direct and immediate brush with death or is trauma the experience of surviving that near-fatal disaster and yet forced to relive it repeatedly in dreams and painful memories: What psycho-analysis reveals in the transference phenomena of neurotics can also be observed in the lives of some normal people. The impression they give is of being pursued by a malignant fate or possessed by some ‘daemonic’ power; but psycho-analysis has always taken the view that their fate is for the most part arranged by themselves and determined by early infantile influences (604).

In a similar vein, Cathy Caruth has noted that “in the oscillation between the crisis of death and the crisis of life” we get “a kind of double-telling,” a narrative that exists “between the story of the unbearable nature of an event and the story of the unbearable nature of its survival” (7). In Mathilda’s case she conceals the initial wound—the mother’s death and her own guilty survival—only to have that original lack, the primordial trauma, reactivated when her father loves and then deserts her. The novella is, in fact, structured so that readers think that incestuous and perverse love of father for daughter is the hidden core of the work, but I would suggest instead that hate is the actual subject of this novella. When Mathilda tries to uncover her father’s secret, she asks him: “‘Am I the cause of your grief?’” (171), and he blurts out, “‘Yes, you are the sole, the agonizing cause of all I suffer, of all I must suffer until I die. Now, beware! Be silent! Do not urge me to your destruction ... beware!’” (172). The syntax here is revealing, for it suggests a blaming of the victim. Mathilda causes her own destruction, the father suggests, by being the object of his desire. When confronted with the truth of his ambivalence, the father initially concedes: “‘Yes, yes, I hate you! You are my bane, my poison, my disgust!’” But this lie is immediately retracted when he blurts out, “‘Oh! No! ... you are none of all these; you are my light, my only one, my life—My daughter, I love you!’” (173). The text has moved inexorably to this moment of climax, this confession of unnatural and incestuous passion. But the confession of love follows within a few breaths from an outburst of hatred. Mathilda’s immediate response is to sink to the ground, “covering my face and almost dead with excess of sickness and fear: a cold perspiration covered my forehead and I shivered in every limb” (173). The nausea that attacks her here is repeated at the end of the text as she waits to die from a self-induced fever. The illness from which she truly suffers and has suffered throughout the novella, however, is hatred toward her father and


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guilt for that hatred. His early desertion and long absence are never forgiven. His eccentricity, his jealousy of the vague suitor, his “strangeness”—all of these are repeated or elided so consistently that we can only conclude that Mathilda hates her father and longs to escape with an idealized and phantom figure, some sort of composite of the idealized poet Woodville and the memory of the dead mother. On the night of his confession Mathilda has a particularly unpleasant dream about her father. Like most textual dreams, this one is an over-determined warning and foreshadowing of what lies in the future for the heroine. In her ominously foreshadowing dream Mathilda finds her father “deadly pale, and clothed in flowing garments of white. Suddenly he started up and fled from me” (176). The chase ensues, with Mathilda vaguely aware that her father means to kill himself unless she can rescue him first. Just as she reaches him and catches a part of his robe, he leaps off a cliff to his death. Recall that Mathilda first met her father in a wood clothed in a flowing white garment, and notice now that the powerdynamic between them has shifted. Now it is the father who is dressed in white, less a virgin than a sacrificial victim. Now it is in the daughter’s power to give life and happiness. The apprehension and resentment that the child feels at her powerlessness to win and keep the father’s affections has turned into the opposite emotion. Now it is the child who can doom the father with her rejection of him. There is guilt and sorrow in the dream, but ultimately there is also anger and revenge: a wish–fulfillment that appears to say, “Daddy, don’t you see that you are dying.” The wages of the father’s earlier desertion of the child are death now by that child’s very hands. And so the need to write arises out of the gap between the experience of a trauma and our ability to work through and out of it. In the act of writing a literary text we transform the trauma, but we never process it to the point that the trauma can or ever will disappear. The residue of trauma as the origin of a literary work persists in repeated imagery patterns that we begin to recognize as the residue of excessive, obsessive, delusional, hyperbolic, indeed, hysterical emotions. As incest is not the most acceptable of desires or practices, Mathilda must shield herself from recognizing this desire in either herself or her father; she must, in short, find a screen to block the unpleasant view, the realization of her own frustrated desire for the father. As Freud has noted, screen memories function by positioning a substitute memory (for instance, the banished suitor) in the place of the original memory (love for her father). Such a move allows Mathilda to distance and successfully repress her incestuous desires until the crisis of her father’s confession, when the facade of this screen memory begins to crumble and in response she reacts in desperation, in full-blown anger, even frenzy. Mathilda’s fate will mirror her father’s very shortly, as she will seek her own suicide rather than live with the guilty knowledge that she caused her father’s death. Her aborted romance with the poet Woodville (a slightly veiled portrait of Percy) cannot be consummated, and Mathilda will choose thanatos over eros, a victim of the pull of claustrophobic, patriarchal love.

Screen Memories and Fictionalized Autobiography


“The Mourner” And in Melodious Accents I Will sit me down & Cry, I, I. —William Blake

Mary Shelley chose to write a shorter version of the Mathilda narrative when she penned “The Mourner” in 1829, exactly 10 years later. Forced by Trelawny’s request to recall her early years with Percy, the traumatic autumn of 1816 when both Fanny Imlay and then Harriet Shelley committed suicide, forced to recall the deaths of her children, and her father’s continuous financial frustrations, about which she could do nothing, Mary writes one more time a fictionalized version of herself, Percy, and her father as victims of forces beyond their control. Like Mathilda, “The Mourner” is presented as an extended suicide note to a substitute suitor, substitute, that is, for the father. But “The Mourner”’s heroine is now a split woman, going by the names of Clarice Eversham or Ellen Burnet, the former her pre-parricide identity and the latter her post-parricide self. The suitor-figure is also split between Lewis Elmore and Horace Neville, who is a later manifestation of the Woodville character from Mathilda. But the most uncanny and revealing moment in the text occurs when Neville relates to Ellen his childhood memories: “I was sent to Eton at 11 years of age. I will not dwell upon my sufferings there … I was a fag to a hard taskmaster … Speak of West Indian slavery! My tender years of aristocratic childhood were yielded up to a capricious, unrelenting, cruel bondage, far beyond the measured despotism of Jamaica” (86). After this bit of hyperbole, Neville goes on to relate the final indignity, occurring when he was 13: “my tyrant, I will give him no other name, issued a command, in the wantonness of power, for me to destroy a poor little bullfinch I had tamed and caged. I refused, he seized my pet, wrung its neck, threw it at my feet, and, with a laugh of derision, quitted the room” (86). I would claim that when Neville relates this childhood trauma to Clarice he actually recalls before her eyes the memory of the death of her father, that is, hearing his tale reactivates her own earlier traumatic and guilty loss of her father. This traumatic incident, so extended and detailed and concerned not with the heroine’s childhood, about which we learn very little, but about Neville’s, can be identified as an appropriated screen memory. It is, of course, a virtual restatement of Percy’s time at Eton College, which he attended from the ages of 12 to 18. Refusing to valet for his fagmaster Matthews, Shelley was taunted, bullied, tortured by all accounts, and he no doubt suffered for the rest of his life from his treatment there (Holmes 19). But the real-life Percy could give as good as he got. In 1825 Mary recalled: “I have often heard our Shelley relate the story of stabbing an upper boy with a fork. He always described it, in my hearing, as an almost involuntary act, done on the spur of anguish, and that he made the stab as the boy was going out of the room” (Holmes 20). The attempt to present Percy as the innocent, traumatized victim of oppression—rather than the fork wielding aggressor that he frequently was—is a crucial component of Mary’s hagiography of Percy, but it is also central


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to her own attempt to present herself as the innocent victim, not the sultry seducer who stole a married man away from his pregnant, teenage bride by reclining on her mother’s grave. The use of Percy’s memories here as appropriated screen-memories for the authorial consciousness recalls not simply Freud’s approach to the subject, but also that of Ian Hacking, a philosopher who has written about false-memory syndrome. Mary’s use of Percy’s childhood abuse is similar to what Hacking has called “memoro-politics, a politics of the secret, of the forgotten event that can be turned, if only by strange flashbacks, into something monumental” (214). For Hacking, the notion of trauma took on new meaning with Jean-Martin Charcot’s diagnostic work on hysteria during the late 1870s in France, when for the first time trauma began to refer to spiritual, psychic, or mental injuries. It was only when memory came to be considered the core of individual consciousness that trauma could be viewed as a “wound to the soul” (4). But if memory was now established as the repository of an individual and unique identity, it was also the locus of trauma, the place where individuals were wounded and damaged. Mary Shelley’s story attempts to address this bifurcation in creating a split–heroine, the earlier, strong and beautiful Clarice, the later unhappy and isolated Ellen. The oscillation between these two women is an instructive early study in how hysteria rewrites trauma on the female psyche. “The Mourner” was written ten years after Percy’s death, while Mathilda was written while Percy still lived. Such a simple observation of historical fact is necessary in order to explain the psychic work that each fiction attempts to accomplish. In the earlier work, the father is the object of intense ambivalence, both loved and hated by the autobiographical consciousness (“Mathilda”) forming the tale. In the latter work, the psychic energy is invested in the suitor–figure, split as he is between two men. “The Mourner” depicts a highly filtered, constructed heroine in that she does not tell the tale of her life herself; rather it is told by Neville to Elmore, who was once the heroine’s fiancé. Elmore himself functions later in the tale as a narrator, filling in Clarice’s earlier life as the adored daughter of Lord Eversham, and surely his name hints at the father’s feet of clay (“always a fraud”). After escaping his abusive school environment, Neville throws himself at the feet of Ellen, who now functions as his instructress: I visited my disguised nymph. I no longer associated with my schoolfellows; their diversions, their pursuits, appeared vulgar and stupid to me … [Ellen’s] profound, her intense melancholy, sister to despair—her serious, sad discourse—her mind, estranged from all worldly concerns, forbade that; but there was an enchantment in her sorrow, as fascination in her converse, that lifted me above common existence; she created a magic circle, which I entered as holy ground (88).

In addition to rewriting the psychic dynamics of Percy’s Epipyschidion, Mary also seems here to be reconstructing the situation in Percy’s Alastor, this time positioning a young male at the feet of a melancholy, damaged woman, not some phantom of his adolescent imagination. But the bucolic interlude in the woods

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comes to an unpleasant pass when Ellen invites Neville to drink poison with her, just as Mathilda offered the same beverage to Woodville. In this version of the aborted suicide pact, Ellen “prepared the mortal beverage; it was on the table before her when I entered; she did not deny its nature, she did not attempt to justify herself; she only besought me not to hate her and to sooth by my kindness her last moments.—‘I cannot live!’ was all her explanation, all her excuse” (89). And just as Woodville refused to drink the poison with Mathilda, stating “‘I have a mother whose support and hope I am’” (203), so does Neville say almost exactly the same thing: “‘I cannot die, for I have a mother—a father’” (90). Clearly, the memory of being motherless, and the desire to die to join the dead mother—or to force the father to join the dead mother—was a script that the narrative voice continued to reconstruct. The dramatic action of “The Mourner” culminates on a burning ship when Clarice refuses to leave her father on the deck and join the other women and children in partially filled lifeboats. Although she is warned by the ship’s captain that she will ultimately cost her father his life, she stubbornly remains with him until, of course, there is only one seat left on the final boat. In order to force his daughter onto that last boat, Lord Eversham leaps into the ocean and Clarice sees her father drown before her eyes. She also sees the ship’s captain and last passengers curse her as a “parricide” and it is this curse that she is never able to overcome. Like Mathilda’s assumption of nun-like garb and an isolated existence after her father’s suicide, Clarice now recasts her identity as “Ellen Burnet” and she goes into hiding in the Windsor countryside where she is discovered and befriended by Neville, the Shelleyan avatar. Only when he sees her miniature in the possession of his friend Elmore does he hear her history and understand her identity as a recluse, unable to forgive herself for her father’s death. Thinking that he can provide a happy ending for the morose Ellen and the unhappy Elmore, Neville rushes to Ellen’s cottage just too late to reunite her with her lost love. Neville arrives to find that Ellen has killed herself with the poison that she earlier tried to offer to him. She has left behind a suicide note, explaining her actions: Describe your poor Ellen to him, and he will speedily see that she died on the waves of the murderous Atlantic. Ellen had nothing in common with her, save love for, and interest in him. Tell him, it had been well for him, perhaps, to have united himself to the child of prosperity, the nursling of deep love; but it had been destruction, even could he have meditated such an act, to wed the parricid—. I will not write that word (98).

Both tales, then, hinge on issues of parricide, frustrated suitors, dead mothers, and guilty and yet blameless heroines. What we might recognize as the narrative of the psychically dominant Mary Shelley emerges in both these tales, as well as a number of her other works, and I would claim that this is a saga filled with a fair amount of anger, paranoia, guilt, self-justifications, and finally escapism. It is not a story that inspires confidence in its narrative voice, but it is a tale that reveals how the mind will seek to find various means over the period of several years to

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redress old wounds. The talking-cure that is the fiction finally does not provide the salvation that the authorial consciousness desires. Shelley concludes this version of the Mathilda narrative no closer to “closure” on her relationship with Percy and Godwin than she had been 10 years previously. Appropriated Screen Memories as Defenses To seduce is to die as reality and reconstitute oneself as illusion. It is to be taken in by one’s own illusion and to move in an enchanted world. —Jean Baudrillard, Seduction (69)

As we have seen, a screen memory functions as a blocking agent, protecting the psyche from confronting a more painful memory that would damage or hurt the self. In an affirmative nod to Freud, the contemporary psychologist Arnold Ludwig has recently observed that throughout psychotherapy, the patient deals with the conflict between what is true but hard to describe—that is, the pure memory—and what is describable but partly untrue—that is, the screen memory. The very attempt to translate the original memory destroys it because the words, as they are chosen, likely misrepresent the image, and because the translation, no matter how good, replaces the original (156).

In Mathilda, Mary constructs the memory of a banished and rejected suitor and in doing so she revises her own traumatic courtship of Percy as well as by Percy. 

Contemporary psychologists have extensively studied the role of narrative and memory in the formation of identity, the leading theorist of “life story” narratives being Dan McAdams. Cognitive studies of memory as well as the dynamics of the so-called false memory syndrome are suggested throughout this article, but the masses of research materials on these topics, as well as narrative psychology as a discipline, are simply larger and more complex than the confines of this essay will allow. Briefly, the contemporary psychologist Gazzaniga’s work has attempted to locate the memory function in something he calls the “interpreter” in the brain: “The left hemisphere is built to interpret data the brain has already processed. Yes, there is a special device in the left brain [within the hippocampus], which I call the interpreter, that carries out one more activity upon completion of zillions of automatic brain processes. The interpreter, the last device in the information chain in our brain, reconstructs the brain events and in doing so makes telling errors of perception, memory, and judgment. The clue to how we are built is buried not just in our marvelously robust capacity for these functions, but also in the errors that are frequently made during reconstruction. Biography is fiction. Autobiography is hopelessly inventive” (2). False memory syndrome, or the false belief that one was abused as a child, has become the latest focus of attention in memory studies. An extremely contentious and controversial topic, false memory syndrome is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association, nor is it listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (1994). Briefly, Loftus has claimed that memories can never be retrieved in any intact or reliable form, while Terr has taken the opposite position.

Screen Memories and Fictionalized Autobiography


In this version of her ur-narrative, the heroine is oblivious to the suitor and it is the father who reacts with hysteria and eventually a confession of his unnatural, incestuous desires. The key to understanding Shelley’s use of screen memories can be located in the need to uncover the wound that each text explores, partially seen but also partially screened from view. In Mathilda it is the issue of courtship by an interloper, but is the interloper suitor meant as a screen for Percy or Mary? I would contend that both texts present a split suitor because in some way the two faces of the courtship are both Mary and Percy. In other words, just as Percy wooed Mary away from her father, so did Mary woo Percy away from Harriet. The screen being erected here also protects Mary from viewing herself; it blocks out her identity as a husband-stealing adulteress. In “The Mourner” the wound being screened from view is the nature and identity of Neville, who is presented not as an aggressor but as the innocent victim of unjust persecution. The crux of Mary’s autobiographical dilemma is that she needs to recreate Percy, Godwin and herself in order to reinvent and sanitize her own personal history. If, as de Man observes, all autobiography is ultimately fictional because of its need to resort to tropological constructions, then Mary’s use of split characters and appropriated screen memories paradoxically serves her agenda. In Mathilda the father becomes a ravening monster and the suitor an innocent, passive pawn, not an active or adulterous seducer. In “The Mourner” roughly the same strategy is followed, and Percy is presented as a misunderstood victim, while the heroine is not a parricide by choice, but only because of an accident caused by her intense love and irrational devotion to her father. In other words, in both texts the father-figure is blamed while the heroine and her splitsuitor are absolved of any wrongdoing. And what is one to make of the repeated trope of suicide in both texts? In Mathilda the heroine seeks her suicidal death in a rain shower and wet grass, while in “The Mourner” a drowning kills the father with his daughter a helpless witness to his demise. Percy Shelley’s death by water is certainly recalled in the latter work, but so is Harriet Shelley’s 1816 suicide in the Serpentine and even Mary Wollstonecraft’s own failed suicide attempt. Fanny Imlay, Mary’s half-sister, killed herself two months before Harriet Shelley did by drinking laudanum in a dingy hotel room, a scene almost directly out of both texts. It is unusual to say the least that Mary would continue to revisit the scenes of the crime so to speak. It would be more likely that she would instead attempt to screen herself from the memory of water and suicide by laudanum with all their traumatic associations. But, in fact, she consistently places her characters in watery or poisonous graves. The heroine of Valperga (1823), Euthanasia, dies by drowning and in The Last Man ((1826), the heroine Perdita attaches herself as so much wet baggage to a cargo ship being sent to her estranged husband Lord Raymond, suicide note attached. And we can also recall the watery deaths that William Godwin gave Mary Macneil’s family in Fleetwood (1805). Mary herself put forward the theory that there was an uncanny resemblance between the death by drowning scene in Valperga, written shortly before her husband’s death, to the death of Percy at sea, when she wrote to her friend Maria


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Gisborne, “But it seems to me that in what I have hitherto written I have done nothing but prophecy what has arrived to. Mathilda foretells even many small circumstances most truly & whole of it is a monument of what now is” (Letters 336). Critics have seized on this statement and used it to argue that there is no point in using the fiction to understand the life of Mary Shelley. As Gillingham states, Shelley’s letter should serve “as a reminder of the inadequacy and instability of the figures by which we understand both the life and its renderings” (261). But such a reading of Shelley’s letter merely privileges her attempt at screening from view the actual “figures” that had motivated the death scenes. Mary wanted to place before the public eye the figure of the dead poet Shelley, a death for which she could not be held responsible in any way. What Mary most specifically needed to have blocked from view were the dead bodies of Harriet and Fanny, the actual women whose fates were inextricably bound up in the Shelley saga she was reenacting in her fictions. By fictively subjecting versions of herself to a watery or poisoned fate, Mary actually screens from view her own guilt for Harriet’s suicide, as well as Fanny’s. In being the legitimate daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley earned her status as Godwin’s “real” daughter and Percy’s “real” wife and soul mate. The fictional evidence suggests that in some way Mary plagued herself with thoughts of guilt that she had purchased both of these roles at the expense of other women and it is the memories of these women—as well as the father and husband—that she screens from view in both of her most fictional autobiographies. Fantasies, appropriation, memory, guilt, and desire—such is the raw material of all writing, and autobiographies certainly have been no exception. When trauma enters the linguistic domain, however, the narrative consciousness frequently splits into what Janice Haaken calls a “dual consciousness”: the “disassociated memories are preserved in an alter ego state, or latent state of consciousness, through an amnesic barrier protecting one part of the personality from knowledge of the abuse” (354). In this model, all memories are always screen-memories, partially hidden from view because to confront the past fully and truthfully can only be a source of overwhelming pain. Mary Shelley chose to confront her past fantasies as well as memories through a glass darkly, through what I would label the conflicted and ambiguous genre of fictionalized autobiography. Works Cited Allen, Graham. “Beyond Biographicism: Mary Shelley’s Mathilda, Intertextuality, and the Wandering Subject.” Romanticism 3 (1997), 170–84. Baudrillard, Jean. Seduction. Trans. Brian Singer. New York: St Martin’s Press, 1990. Bernardo, Susan M. “Seductive Confession in Mary Shelley’s Mathilda.” In Gender Reconstructions: Pornography and Perversions in Literature and Culture. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2002. 42–52.

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Brée, Germaine. “Autogynography.” In Studies in Autobiography, (ed.) James Olney. New York: Oxford UP, 1988. 171–9. Bruss, Elizabeth. Autobiographical Acts: The Changing Situation of a Literary Genre. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1976. Caruth, Cathy. Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1996. Chatterjee, Ranita. “Mathilda: Mary Shelley, William Godwin, and the Ideologies of Incest.” In Iconoclastic Departures: Mary Shelley after Frankenstein, (eds) Syndy M. Conger, et al. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1997. 130–49. Clemit, Pamela. “From The Fields of Fancy to Mathilda: Mary Shelley’s Changing Conception of her Novella.” Romanticism 3 (1997), 152–69. Eakin, Paul John. Fictions in Autobiography: Studies in the Art of Self-Invention. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1985. Edelman-Young, Diana. “’Kingdome of Shadows’: Intimations of Desire in Mary Shelley’s Mathilda.” Keats-Shelley Journal 41 (2002), 116–44. Ferguson, Frances. “Romantic Memory.” Studies in Romanticism 35 (1996), 509–33. Freud, Sigmund. “Beyond the Pleasure Principle.” In The Freud Reader, (ed.) Peter Gay. New York: Norton, 1989. Pp. 594–626. ———. “Screen Memories.” In The Freud Reader, (ed.) Peter Gay. New York: Norton, 1989. 117–26. Garrett, Margaret Davenport. “Writing and Re-writing Incest in Mary Shelley’s Mathilda.” Keats-Shelley Journal 45 (1996), 44–60. Gazzaniga, Michael S. The Mind’s Past. Berkeley: U of California P, 1998. Gillingham, Lauren. “Romancing Experience: The Seduction of Mary Shelley’s Mathilda.” Studies in Romanticism 42 (2003), 251–65. Gilmore, Leigh. The Limits of Autobiography: Trauma and Testimony. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2001. Gusdorf, Georges. “Conditions et limites de l’autobiographie.” In Formen der Selbstdarstellung. Berlin: Duncker, 1956. Rpt. “Conditions and Limits of Autobiography,” trans. James Olney. In Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical, (ed.) James Olney. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1980. Pp. 28–48. Haaken, Janice. “The Recovery of Memory, Fantasy, and Desire in Women’s Trauma Stories: Feminist Approaches to Sexual Abuse and Psychotherapy.” In Women, Autobiography, Theory: A Reader (ed.) Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1998. 352–61. Hacking, Ian. Rewriting the Soul: Multiple Personality and Memory. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1995. Harpold, Terence. “’Did you get Mathilda from Papa?’: Seduction Phantasy and the Circulation of Mary Shelley’s Mathilda.” Studies in Romanticism 28 (1987), 49–67. Hart, Francis R. “Notes for an Anatomy of Modern Autobiography.” New Literary History 1 (1970), 485–511.


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Himes, Audra. “’Knew Shame, and Knew Desire’: Ambivalence as Structure in Mary Shelley’s Mathilda.” In Iconoclastic Departures: Mary Shelley After Frankenstein, (eds) Syndy M. Conger, et al. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1997. 115–29. Hoeveler, Diane Long. Gothic Feminism: The Professionalization of Gender from Charlotte Smith to the Brontes. University Park: Penn State Press, 1998. ———. Romantic Androgyny: The Women Within. University Park: Penn State Press, 1990. Holmes, Richard. Shelley: The Pursuit. New York: Penguin, 1974. Kelly, Gary. “The Politics of Autobiography in Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley.” In Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley: Writing Lives, (eds) Halen M. Buss, D.L. McDonald and Anne McWhir. Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2001. 19–30. Lejeune, Philippe. Le Pacte Autobiographique. Paris: Seuil, 1975. Loftus, Elizabeth F. The Myth of Repressed Memory. New York: St Martin’s P, 1994. Ludwig, Arnold. How Do We Know Who We Are? A Biography of the Self. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997. McAdams, D.P. The Stories We Live By. New York: Morrow, 1993. McKeever, Kerry Ellen. “Naming the Daughter’s Suffering: Melancholia in Mary Shelley’s Mathilda.” Essays in Literature 23 (1996), 190–205. ———. “Writing and Melancholia: Saving the Self in Mary Shelley’s ‘The Mourner.’” Romanticism on the Net 14 May 1999 [ ~scat0385/mourner.html] Man de, Paul. “Autobiography as De-Facement.” Modern Language Notes 94 (1979), 919–30. Maxwell, William. So Long, See You Tomorrow. New York: Knopf, 1980. Olney, James. Metaphors of Self: The Meaning of Autobiography. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1972. Rajan, Tilottama. “Mary Shelley’s Mathilda: Melancholy and the Political Economy of Romanticism.” Studies in the Novel 26 (1994), 43–68. Shelley, Mary. The Letters of Mary Shelley, (ed.) Betty Bennett. Vol. 1. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1980. ———. Life of Shelley [Fragment]. (1823). Mary Shelley’s Literary Lives and Other Writings, (eds) Pamela Clemit and A.A. Markley. London: Pickering and Chatto, 2002. Vol. 4; 220–26. ———. Mathilda. In Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary and Maria, and Mary Shelley, Mathilda, (ed.) Janet Todd. London: Penguin, 1992. All quotations from the novella will be from this text, with page numbers in parentheses. ———. “The Mourner.” In Mary Shelley: Collected Tales and Stories, (ed.) Charles E. Robinson. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1976. 81–99. All quotations from “The Mourner” are taken from this edition, with page numbers in parentheses. Shelley, Percy. Epipsychidion. In Shelley’s Poetry and Prose, (eds) Donald Reiman and Sharon Powers. New York: Norton, 1977.

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Smith, Sidonie. A Poetics of Women’s Autobiography: Marginality and the Fictions of Self-Representations. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1987. Spengemann, William C. The Forms of Autobiography: Episodes in the History of a Literary Genre. New Haven: Yale UP, 1980. Sunstein, Emily. Mary Shelley: Romance and Reality. Boston: Little Brown, 1989. Terr, Lenore. Unchained Memories: True Stories of Traumatic Memories Lost and Found. New York: Basic Books, 1994. Walker, Alice. Possessing the Secret of Joy. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Javonovich, 1992.

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Part 2 Male Self-Fashioning

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Chapter 7

Wordsworth’s Cliff-Hanger Joshua Wilner

When Matthew Arnold undertook to publish a selection of Wordsworth’s poetry in 1879, he was guided by a concern for the poet’s diminished reputation and a belief that the weighty corpus of his poetry needed to be rescued from itself if it was to be rescued from undue neglect. “He is not fully recognized at home; he is not recognized at all abroad” (x), Arnold lamented, and then went on to propose his remedy: “To be recognized far and wide as a great poet, to be possible and receivable as a classic, Wordsworth needs to be relieved of a great deal of the poetical baggage which now encumbers him”—starting with his “poems of greatest bulk” (xx). Accordingly, Arnold’s distillation of Wordsworth’s “best work” included only part of the first book of The Excursion—the story of Margaret—and nothing at all of The Prelude except for those few passages that Wordsworth had himself published as short poems. The trend of critical opinion through the twentieth century to the present has, of course, amply vindicated Arnold’s belief that “Wordsworth’s name deserves to stand, and will finally stand” next to those of Milton and Shakespeare (x). Indeed, matters may have gotten out of hand if we accept Stephen Gill’s assessment that “Wordsworth is now enshrined as one of the greatest poets of the English tradition, Shakespeare, of course, being the other” (Landmarks 105). But this result has not come about in the way that Arnold anticipated. True, The Excursion still tends to be treated as excess baggage and Wordsworth’s late work in general remains largely unread, also in keeping with Arnold’s editorial program. On the other hand, there can be little doubt that Ernest de Selincourt’s 1926 publication of the 1805 text of The Prelude together with the 1850 text in a facing page critical edition proved crucial to the process of making Wordsworth “possible and receivable as a classic” for a latter-day readership. Already in 1930, Herbert Read could assert in his critical-biographical study, “The Prelude is a great poem; upon its greatness we base the claim of Wordsworth to be considered as one of our major poets” (13), a statement for which one would be hard-pressed to find an equivalent in earlier commentary. Today, by contrast, it requires a measure of historical perspective  For the role of the de Selincourt Prelude in shaping Wordsworth reception, see Gill, Prelude 102.  This is not to say that The Prelude was not admired by many readers or that Wordsworth was not a revered figure in England in the latter half of the nineteenth century. But as Gill notes in his introduction to Wordsworth and the Victorians, “The Victorian sense of what constituted Wordsworth was different from ours … The Excursion was regarded as Wordsworth’s great work” (Victorians 2). Gill essentially agrees with Arnold that there was


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just to recognize that Read was actually arguing a case that he felt needed arguing and not simply intoning critical platitudes, so much do we now take for granted the centrality of The Prelude to our understanding of Wordsworth and the centrality of Wordsworth to our understanding of Romanticism and Romantic autobiography— at least within the context of English studies. We do well to remember, however, that Wordsworth’s own attitude toward The Prelude was complexly equivocal. On the one hand, by the poet’s own wellknown account in his preface to The Excursion, he had only undertaken “to record, in verse, the origin and progress of his own powers” in order to see whether he was “qualified” to “construct a literary Work that might live”—by which he meant not The Prelude but “a philosophical poem, containing views of Man, Nature and Society; and to be entitled, The Recluse” (Excursion 2). If for today’s readers, and in part because of Wordsworth’s example, autobiography is an entirely normative literary form, for Wordsworth it was “a thing unprecedented in Literary history that a man should talk so much about himself,” and the expression, as he confessed in a letter of 1805 to George Beaumont, of a “defect” in his writings which he had been unable to remedy: “The fault lies too deep, and is in the first conception” (Letters I, 586–7). “[I]t seems a frightful deal to say about one’s self,” he had written the year before in somewhat less somber tones to Richard Sharp, “and of course will never be published (during my lifetime, I mean), till another work has been written and published, of sufficient importance to justify me in giving my own history to the world” (Letters I, 470). Moreover, the conclusion to The Prelude itself, addressed in the first instance to Coleridge, articulates a similar concern: Whether to me shall be allotted life, And with life power to accomplish aught of worth Sufficient to excuse me in men’s sight For having given this record of myself, Is all uncertain … (1805, XIII, 386–90).

On the other hand, the same passage goes on to appeal to Coleridge as one, “at least,” for whom “the history of a poet’s mind/Is labour not unworthy of regard: To thee the work shall justify itself” (1805, XIII, 407–10). In a related way, Wordsworth repeatedly stipulated that The Prelude would be published only after “a long period” following the poet’s death “during which … his visibility as an intellectual presence had faded,” but on the other hand emphasizes that during this same period the poet was being “energetically marketed” (206). In Gill’s analysis, Arnold’s preface sought to recover a canonical Wordsworth from his commodified monument: “It demolished the gigantic monolith that was Wordsworth and constructed from the pieces a new one of manageable size” (109).  See Eugene Stelzig’s comments in the Introduction to this volume.  Also cited by Stelzig in his Introduction. The claim of course notably overlooks Rousseau, at a minimum, at the same time that it echoes Rousseau’s claim to have undertaken an enterprise “without precedent,” as Stelzig notes. Is it possible that Wordsworth did not view The Confessions as forming part of literary history?

Wordsworth’s Cliff-Hanger


he had completed the greater work to which it was subsidiary or, failing that, upon his death. The double stipulation appears both in the letter to Sharp quoted above and in a letter to De Quincey of the same period: “This Poem will not be published these many years, and never during my lifetime, till I have finished a larger and more important work to which it is tributary” (Letters I, 454). Had Wordsworth indeed felt that the self-preoccupations of The Prelude could only be “excuse(d) … in men’s sight” by completion of The Recluse why, explicitly and from the outset, provide for its posthumous publication at all? That repeated provision bespeaks, I would suggest, not only Wordsworth’s understandable uncertainties about the ultimate fate of The Recluse but an intimation and even a latent willing of The Prelude’s effective finality, a finality whose structure would paradoxically preclude completion of the greater work The Prelude was nonetheless meant to prepare for. Indeed, there is a very concrete sense in which the writing of The Prelude may be said to have depended on Wordsworth’s anxieties about The Recluse as its condition of possibility. As is well known, the Goslar notebook entries of late 1798 (“Manuscript JJ”) which furnish much of the embryonic material out of which The Prelude was progressively elaborated turn around the repeated question, “Was it for this?,” with which Wordsworth both chides himself for his failure to make progress with The Recluse and seeks to elicit from the memory of childhood experiences the evidence that Nature had shaped him for that task. To take only the first of these questions: was it for this That one, the fairest of all rivers, loved To blend his murmurs with my nurse’s song, And from his alder shades and rocky falls, And from his fords and shallows, sent a voice To intertwine my dreams. For this didst thou, O Derwent, travelling over the green plains Near my sweetbirth-place, didst thou, beauteous stream, Give ceaseless music to the night and day, Which with its steady cadence tempering Our human waywardness, composed my thoughts To more than infant softness, giving me Amid the fretful tenements of man A knowledge, a dim earnest, of the calm That nature breathes among her woodland haunts (MS JJ 1–15).  For a detailed review of the earliest textual history, see Stephen Parrish’s introduction to his edition of the The Prelude: 1798–1799. Along with other materials, Parrish provides a facsimile (and clarifying transcriptions) of MS JJ.  It should be noted that MS JJ is characteristically underpunctuated and eschews the use of question marks where they would normally be called for. My punctuation follows the holograph. Most editors, relying on Dorothy Wordsworth’s manuscript of the “Two-Part Prelude,” supply question marks where I have indicated periods, so there is some variability with regard to the second sentence (ending in “haunts”).


Romantic Autobiography in England / Wilner

As Susan Wolfson in particular has discussed in detail in The Questioning Presence (146–9), though grammatically the lines are interrogative, it is evident that semantically they modulate between question and affirmation; indeed, in the original manuscript, which is characteristically underpunctuated, it is impossible to say on grammatical grounds alone whether the second sentence (beginning with “For this didst thou”) is a question or a statement. Moreover, the modulation, whether conscious or not, clearly bears an intimate relationship to the blending of voices and dreams it evokes. The lines thus offer a preliminary suggestion, and at the level of the sentence, of how the language, the music, of The Prelude might be said to have been produced out of, as its very stoff, the self-questionings to which the project of The Recluse gave rise. The question thus arises whether it is possible to develop an understanding of The Prelude as a whole which fully takes into account what I have called its effective finality. For such an understanding, The Prelude’s posthumous publication would become a constitutive element of its structure of meaning (system of purposes), the entirety of the text a mark registering the poet’s failure—and his granting of that failure—to complete the larger poetic task whose realization would have, by contrast, confirmed and justified The Prelude’s significance as a preparatory labor of self-consolidation. If such a system of purposes seems too complex to be plausible, one might recall how often the significance of specific incidents in the poem emerges only out of a thwarting or suspension of expectation; or the “somewhat devious scenario,” as de Man styles it (“Phenomenality” 86) by which, in Kant’s analysis, sublimity is the precipitate of the failure of the imagination in its effort to apprehend the “absolutely great.” I propose to explore this possibility through a detailed consideration of what is variously referred to as the “nest-robbing” or “bird-nesting” or “raven’s-nest” episode of Book I of The Prelude. Perhaps because of its comparative brevity and decidedly enigmatic quality (“a passage whose power and significance is inexplicable,” wrote Helen Darbishire—admiringly, it should be emphasized—in 1926 in reviewing the new de Selincourt edition [83]), the episode has, for the most part, attracted less sustained critical attention than many of the other “spots of time,” the most significant exception to this generalization being de Man’s discussion of the passage in “Time and History in Wordsworth” in the context of a reading of “There was a Boy” (78–81) (and then more briefly though in similar terms in “Phenomenality and Materiality in Kant” [81]), to which we will return. Certain details of the textual history, however, make it of special interest from the point of view we are considering. In particular, it appears to have been, as Jonathan Wordsworth has observed, the “[f]irst written of the great childhood episodes of The Prelude” (Penguin Prelude 541n). Correlatively, in this early manuscript version, the verse-paragraph performs a pivotal function in relation to the pattern of repeated self-interrogation we have been considering, providing the transition from a fifth (and penultimate) iteration of the “Was it for this?” formula—  Timothy Bahti offers a detailed reading of the passage as allegorizing the dependence of the (seeming) constitution of a “proper” self on an “improper” act of appropriation/ figuration in “Wordsworth’s Rhetorical Theft” (107–10).

Wordsworth’s Cliff-Hanger


For this in springtime, when on southern banks The shining sun had from his knot of leaves Decoyed the primrose flower, and when the vales And woods were warm, was I a rover then In the high places, on the lonely peaks, Among the mountains and the winds? (MS JJ 30–36).

—to an emphatically declarative, even declamatory mode: Though mean And though inglorious, were my views, the end Was not ignoble. Oh, when I have hung … (MS JJ 36–8).

As is evident from a comparison with later versions of the passage (beginning with the “Two-Part Prelude” of 1799), only the most minor of revisions, the alteration of “For this in springtime ” to “Nor less in springtime,” was necessary to change the opening question into a narrative affirmation, again indicating how closely the modes were intertwined to begin with. Furthermore, the terminating expressions of wonder (“With what strange utterance … ! ... and with what motion … !), while hyperbolically intensifying the affirmative note, also resonate with interrogative overtones (“With what strange utterance? … and with what motion?”) as a number of commentators have observed. That the passage as a whole turns on the enactment of an identification between the recollected scene and what is taking place on the plane of enunciation—i.e., the present of narration—is especially clear from the anacoluthon that introduces the cliff-hanging scene itself (“Time and History” 79): “Oh! When I have hung/Above the raven’s nest … ” As de Man first recognized, both the dramatic situation and the language with which it is evoked should remind one of the lines from “There was a Boy”— . … while he hung Listening, a gentle shock of mild surprize Has carried far into his heart the voice Of mountain torrents (1805 V 406–9).

 Cf. John Woolford’s observation that “The revised reading ‘Nor less’ begins to expand the rhetorical format beyond its original boundaries by concentrating the syntax on the memory itself rather than its rhetorical function” (37). The revision is visible in MS JJ, with “For this” struck through and “Nor less” written above it on the line. Parrish speculates that Wordsworth made the change when he decided to place the woodcock-snaring episode before the nest-robbing episode (The Prelude 1798–1799 113n).  Wolfson’s nice observation that “(t)he whole sentence hums with latent interrogation” (158) sorts with my own sense of a resonance of grammatical modes. Jonathan Wordsworth finds that “the force of the poetry persuades one to read the final line more as a question than as an exclamation, as if it were implying that the sky was indeed not a sky of earth, the clouds might truly be moved by some other-worldly power” (Borders 41).

Romantic Autobiography in England / Wilner


—as well as of Wordsworth’s analysis in his preface to the 1815 edition of his poems of the metaphorical use of “pendere” and “hangs” in passages from Virgil, Shakespeare and especially Milton (who “dares to represent” a fleet of ships as “hanging in the clouds”) as involving exemplary “exertion[s] of the faculty which I denominate imagination” (Prose III, 31). We will return to the Shakespeare reference later; for the moment, what I would emphasize is that the especially “daring” element in Wordsworth’s own use of language at this point is not—at least not obviously—the word “hung,” which functions literally, but rather the collapse of past and present into an agrammatical present perfect: “Oh! When I have hung” (the same peculiar tense formation, “has carried far into his heart” occurring in close connection with “hung” in “There was a boy”). Indeed, since Wordsworth’s exclamation violates, or at the very least, unsettles the limits of grammatical convention, it touches more intimately on the underlying “deep grammar” of temporal order and logical subordination than does Milton’s lexical trope. A fuller consideration of the passage, then, and what it may reveal about Wordsworth’s autobiographical undertaking as a whole, should both elucidate the significance of the dramatic situation—the scene of “hanging”—as a figural pattern (a task which de Man’s remarks in “Time and History in Wordsworth” go a long way toward addressing), and provide some account of the relationship between the figural pattern and the pattern of grammatical disturbance. Both of these questions can be pursued, first of all, by placing the very specific moment on which we have been focusing within a broader narrative and biographical context. Together with the woodcock-snaring episode, which it leads to in Manuscript JJ and immediately follows in subsequent versions, the nest-robbing episode takes us from Wordsworth’s infancy and early childhood in Cockermouth, his birthplace, to his boyhood years in Hawkshead, the “Vale to which erelong/[he] was transplanted” (1805, I, 308–9) at age eight, following the death of his mother. Here, Wordsworth finds himself “let loose/ For sports of wider range” (1850 I 305–6)10 that become the means through which “Presences in Nature,” “Haunting me thus among my boyish sports/[ … ]/Impressed upon all forms the characters/ Of danger and desire” (1805, I, 495; 497–8). Obviously one could point to any number of passages written around the same time as the nest-robbing episode that illustrate this theme. One thinks in particular of “Nutting” (originally intended for inclusion in The Prelude), “There was a Boy” the Skating episode, and the Boat-stealing episode—with the latter in something of a class of its own, in part because it is not a Hawkshead memory. But that the theme was originally formulated in particularly close connection to the nestrobbing and woodcock-snaring episodes is clear from MS JJ, in the third verse paragraph of which Wordsworth hails a long list of genii loci (“ye beings of the hills … ye that walk the woods and open heaths … ye spirits of the springs … ye that have your voices in the clouds … ye that are familiars of the lakes and 10

In developing my analysis, I have sometimes quoted from the manuscript JJ, more often from the thirteen-book Prelude of 1805, and in a few instances from the fourteenbook Prelude of 1850, according as one or the other text gives salience to a particular point. In doing so, I have tried not to ignore potentially significant differences of meaning.

Wordsworth’s Cliff-Hanger


standing pools” [ll, 47–62]) for having ministered to him “by the agency of boyish sports.” This extended apostrophe, which mirrors and transforms the apostrophe to the Derwent of the first verse paragraph, is poised between the nest-robbing and woodcock-snaring narratives, the second and fourth verse paragraphs respectively. That in both episodes the young Wordsworth casts himself in the melodramatic role of a solitary rogue adventurer—“rover,”11 “plunderer,” or “fell destroyer” (1805, I, 318)—who “range[s] the open heights” (1850, I, 311) in quest of his prey needs to be considered in the context of Wordsworth’s concern at this point with the conjunction of “boyish sport” and a more potent “agency.” In each case, the poet figures his boyhood self as playing with destructive assertions of independence and power, not unlike Shakespeare’s boys (and gods) who “kill … for their sport” (and that Wordsworth is thinking of Shakespeare in the nest-robbing episode will become clear). On a more prosaic note, but one no less relevant, both “sports” enlist the violent energies of boyhood play in the service of a money economy since, in the one case, Wordsworth is snaring woodcocks not as game but as commodities destined for the London markets (Penguin Prelude 543n), while in the other case he is looking to claim a reward from the parish for evidence that he had plundered the nest and thus disrupted the propagation of a bird that preyed on the flocks in the valleys. We know this not only from the researches of Wordsworth scholars but from Wordsworth himself, who, in a striking passage from the Guide to the Lakes about the ravens of the Lake District cited by T.W. Thompson in Wordsworth’s Hawkshead (222), remarks: This carnivorous fowl is a great enemy to the lambs of these solitudes; I recollect frequently seeing, when a boy, bunches of unfledged ravens suspended from the churchyard gates of H--, for which a reward of so much a head was given to the adventurous destroyer (Prose II, 246).

The passage already tells us more than we want to know about the exact nature of the boy’s “ignoble object.”12 But more than that, it provides a fantasmatic 11

“Rover,” the first of the three self-characterizations, and soon revised to “plunderer” appears to represent a confluence of two currents of usage, one having to do with robbing or marauding (as in the identification of pirates as “sea-rovers”) and the other with target practice: The OED gives as its first definition of “rove”: “To shoot with arrows at a mark selected at pleasure or at random, and not of any fixed distance,” a sense now obsolete, but from which the identification of “roving” with straying or wandering from a fixed mark appears to derive, as in Milton’s line, “But from that mark how far they roave we see.” It seems likely that traces of both valences were at work in Wordsworth’s original choice of the term—and for that matter, survive in contemporary usage. 12 There is in fact some difference in scholarly emphasis as to the exact object of the boy’s “plunder.” According to Kenneth Johnston, the aim was to “find and destroy ravens’ nests and eggs” (45), while Jonathan Wordsworth specifies that “the boy’s ‘inglorious’ purpose was to claim the bounty paid by the parish to those who destroyed their nests” (Penguin Prelude 559–60n).


Romantic Autobiography in England / Wilner

rescrambling of many of the elements that go to make up the earlier story, beginning with the setting of the entire scene within “these solitudes.” More specifically, the reference to the “adventurous destroyer” unmistakably recalls Wordsworth’s earlier self-characterization as a “rover,” “plunderer,” and “fell destroyer” while detaching those designations from their self-referential function, which is instead transferred to the writer’s description of himself as a young and evidently innocent observer: “I recollect frequently seeing, when a boy … ”. The uncanny image of “bunches of unfledged ravens” (at once related to the “the lambs of these solitudes” and to “the carnivorous fowl” that is their “great enemy”) “suspended from the churchyard gates of H—”(my emphasis) transposes the boy “Suspended by the blast which blew amain” who executes the deed and the victims—or trophies—of its execution. The peculiar insistence with which Wordsworth mocks the petty violence of the governing principle of equivalence, “a reward of so much a head,” recalls the earlier moment of express self-condemnation, “though mean my object and ignoble.” More peculiar still, though, is the way in which the terms of that equivalence are played out in the truncation of the name itself, “Hawkshead,” and its replacement by the symbolic, and in context less awkward, capital “H—.” While this particular flourish has no specific correlative in the earlier text that I can see, it strongly suggests a connection in Wordsworth’s imagination—conscious or unconscious, but in either case mediated by a play of the signifier—between the “vale to which erelong I was transplanted” and the raven’s nest he plunders.13 Let us return now to the 1805 version of the opening section of the passage with these various considerations in mind: Nor less in springtime, when on southern banks The shining sun had from his knot of leaves Decoyed the primrose flower, and when the vales And woods were warm, was I a plunderer then In the high places, on the lonesome peaks Where’er among the mountains and the winds The mother-bird had built her lodge. Though Mean my object and ignoble, yet the end Was not ignoble. (1805, I, 333–9).

Both “plunderer,” as previously noted, and “Where’er/The mother-bird had built her lodge” are 1805 revisions, and together they are calculated to bring out what Ellis calls “the predatory element in the boy’s vigour” (41) and to identify its target. Especially if we juxtapose “Where’er … the mother-bird had built her lodge” with another addition of 1805, this time to the end of the verse-paragraph recalling Wordsworth’s earliest years in Cockermouth— as if I had been born On Indian plains and from my mother’s hut Had run abroad in wantonness to sport. (1805, I, 301–3). 13 Those interested may wish to examine Magritte’s 1962 painting, “Le Domaine d’Arnheim.”

Wordsworth’s Cliff-Hanger


—the symbolic significance of the nest “among the mountains and the winds” emerges strongly. Mother-bird (both absent and predatory), aerial nest, and “unfledged raven” (not named as such but implicated in the overdetermined reference to the boy’s “mean object”) appear as totemic transfigurations of the original configuration of mother, child and sheltering structure (itself in a supplementary relation to the maternal body). The familiar place of origin is removed to a zone of hyperbolic remoteness, at once more guarded, more exposed, and more charged with “danger and desire,” a spectral birthplace to which the boy would return as plunderer in order to actively and from a position of mastery enact a severance which has in fact already been brought about by the mother’s death. That is, the unfledged raven that the boy takes from its nest represents an earlier version of himself from which he seeks to differentiate himself by placing it under his destructive control. Thus far I have sought to elucidate the significance of the nest-robbing episode by considering it in the context of the The Prelude’s early textual history and some of what we know, whether from the The Prelude itself or from other sources, about Wordsworth’s early years. In drawing out a specific psychological subtext, my orientation has necessarily been thematic, but my main concern is less with this thematic material per se than with the transferential structure of substitutions, displacements and condensations which organize it. This structure both informs and is specifically exceeded by the remarkable narrative choreography of the nest-robbing episode, its disequilibriating performance of “the autobiographical moment,”14 as that performance passes through a scene of precariously arrested movement, a scene framed in the suspended dependent clause that extends from “Oh, when I have hung/Above the raven’s nest” to “oh, at that time/While on the perilous ridge I hung alone.” I began by asking about the significance of this scene both as a figural pattern and a region of grammatical disturbance. I now return to that question as part of a more expanded consideration of the nest-robbing episode as exemplifying The Prelude’s narrative art. Considered as an elementary narrative unit, the recounting of a single event that is then articulated with other units into a complex narrative structure (in the case of The Prelude, a structure whose complexity grows exponentially as we 14

I refer of course to de Man’s description of “the autobiographical moment … as an alignment between the two subjects involved in the process of reading in which they determine each other by mutual reflexive substitution. The structure implies differentiation as well as similarity, since both depend on a substitutive exchange that constitutes the subject. This specular subject is interiorized in a text in which the author declares himself the subject of his own understanding” (“Autobiography as De-Facement” 70). It may be useful to point out that de Man’s definition appears to recast as a textual encounter Hegel’s analysis of “the process of self-consciousness” (in the opening pages of the “Lordship and Bondage” section of The Phenomenology of Mind) as the “double process of two selfconsciousnesses” in which “[t]hey recognize themselves as mutually recognizing one another” (230–31). De Man spoke of The Phenomenology as “having the structure of an autobiography.”


Romantic Autobiography in England / Wilner

move from MS JJ of 1798 to the “Two-Part Prelude” of 1799 to the “Five-Book Prelude” of 180415 to the thirteen-book version of 1805, while always conceived, in principle, as in turn fitting into the still higher-order complexity of The Recluse), the nest-robbing episode is notable, even by Wordsworth’s standards, for the sheer minimalism of the plotted action. Compared, for example, with its companion piece, the woodcock-snaring episode, it lacks the most basic of dramatic articulations: a mounting action (“On the heights/Scudding away from snare to snare/I plied my anxious visitation … ” [1805, 1, 318–9]); a climactic event or deed that serves as a turning point (“Sometimes it befell/In these night wanderings that a strong desire/ O’erpowered my better reason, and the bird/Which was the captive of another’s toils/Became my prey” [1805, I, 324–8]); and an aftermath (“and when the deed was done/I heard among the solitary hills/Low breathings coming after me” [1805, I, 328–30]). Similar comparisons could be made with virtually all of the other major spots of time. What we have rather in the nest-robbing scene is a single, strongly foregrounded scene of high drama; not a climactic event, though, but an acute interval of suspense, a literal cliff-hanger. In this regard, as de Man recognized, it resembles most closely the suspended anticlimax (“that silence while he hung listening”) of “There was a boy,” though here too there are important structural differences: “There was a boy” is again a much more articulated narrative, while in the nest-robbing passage, as indicated, the interval of suspense materializes, as it were, in an actual physical predicament. This is not to say that the episode doesn’t build toward the pitched immediacy of its critical scene. The succession of settings, vale, heights, perilous ridge, implicitly tracks the stages in an unfolding childhood drama, a drama played out on a spring day in Hawkshead, but symbolically compressing the history of Wordsworth’s childhood to this point, from Cockermouth to Hawkshead. But the sense of dramatic development, of deliberate progression towards a moment of crisis, has at least as much to do with the staging of the process of recollection itself as with the tracking in memory of a plotted action. Here it may be useful to recall Wordsworth’s famous description in the “Preface to Lyrical Ballads” of the “mood” in which “successful composition generally begins, and … is carried on”: I have said that Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity: the emotion is contemplated till by a species of re-action the tranquillity disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind (Prose I, 149) (my emphasis).

It is easy to read this passage as describing the retrieval of an emotion belonging to the past as a present experience, the release into present consciousness of a powerful feeling stored up in memory, as in a container. But this is not quite what 15 For somewhat differing views of the textual history of the so-called “Five-Book Prelude,” see especially Jonathan Wordsworth’s article, “The Five-Book Prelude of Early Spring 1804,” Duncan Wu’s introduction to his (necessarily speculative) editorial reconstruction of a complete version, The Five-Book Prelude, and Mark. L. Reed’s introduction to the Cornell edition of The Thirteen-Book Prelude (in particular, pp. 11–19).

Wordsworth’s Cliff-Hanger


Wordsworth says. For the emotion that “is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind” is not the same as but rather one “kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation.” While “kindred” is deliberately vague about the precise nature of the relationship between past and present emotion, it clearly points to a difference between the emotion “produced” and the “emotion recollected.” In a similar way, Wordsworth had earlier emphasized the poet’s disposition to be affected more than other men by absent things as if they were present; an ability of conjuring up in himself passions, which are indeed far from being the same as those produced by real events, yet … do more nearly resemble the passions produced by real events, than any thing which, from the motions of their own minds merely, other men are accustomed to feel in themselves (Prose I, 138) (my emphasis).

Particularly when these two passages are read in light of one another, the movement Wordsworth describes from “emotion recollected in tranquillity” to “the spontaneous overflow of emotion” (two formulas usually cited in isolation from one another, thereby circumventing the question of how exactly Wordsworth connects them) may be seen to involve not so much the transfer of some content, feeling or event, from past to present, as an overflowing or collapse of the boundary distinguishing present from past, the production then of a structure of event or feeling for which the disturbance of narrative sequence would be constitutive. If we return to the question of how Wordsworth “stages” his recollection of the nest-robbing episode bearing in mind these more general remarks about how the process of composition “begins … and is carried on,” it becomes significant that the first few lines of the passage (rarely commented on) present the panorama of a spring landscape stirring into life under the gentle influence of the “shining sun,” but delay, while preparing for, the introduction of the autobiographical “I.” Rather that function is divided into two focal images: on the one hand, the detail of the primrose flower lured into emergence from the shelter of its knot of leaves, a synecdoche embodying, and re-marking (since the primrose is an indicator not simply of spring but of early spring, the spring of spring) the seasonal transformation of the landscape as a whole, but also a pastoral counterpart for the growing child; on the other hand, the shining sun, which illuminates and calls the scene back into life from an Apollonian distance. Thus, the passage frames as a relationship between sun and warming landscape the poet’s own “tranquil contemplation” not so much of a specific moment in time as of a more generalized threshold condition that reflects his own. Following on this aesthetically distanced picturing of the incipient season (rhetorically, a dilation of the basic temporal indication, “in springtime”), the brusque pivotal clause, “Was I a plunderer then/In the high places,” appears as an emphatic reassertion of the self-referential function, collapsing the pairing of primrose and shining sun into the single, conflict-charged, figure of the narrator as boy-plunderer, at once earthbound and in movement on high (“among the mountains and the winds”). At this moment, the child becomes a surrogate for


Romantic Autobiography in England / Wilner

the adult poet as the writer’s quest to find and retrieve from personal memory an event of poetic significance—whatever that may mean—aligns itself with the boy’s avid pursuit of prey. The medium through which this identification is both promoted and disavowed is the language of heroic agency as it attaches on the one hand to the young Wordsworth’s “boyish sports” and on the other hand to the epic ambitions of the poet. Especially when we recall that Wordsworth sets out in MS JJ from an extended apostrophe to the river Derwent, the closed circuit of an I-Thou relationship to his place of origin, the movement of the first sentence of the nest-robbing episode may be seen to recapitulate in particularly condensed fashion the shift from pastoral to a more heroic mode of narrative, whether we think in terms of quest-romance or in terms of epic, which The Prelude is continually undertaking and undermining anew and which, if we consider it as taking leave of Lyrical Ballads and preparing for The Recluse, would define the function of the poem as a whole. The heroic intensification notwithstanding, however, Wordsworth has not yet recounted something that he did or that happened to him, but only moved towards that narrative act, setting the stage and introducing himself as dramatis persona: “was I a plunderer” asserts an identity—indeed, it is, an unstably ironic boast of prowess—but is not yet the narration of an event. Significantly, at the point where the action itself, the plundering of the nest could be narrated—as the parallel act of violent appropriation is narrated in the woodcock-snaring episode, or “Nutting,” or the boat-stealing episode—instead Wordsworth passes a judgment which implicitly identifies in more specific terms without actually recounting his action and then effectively reorients the narrative movement towards a different kind of culmination, a different “end”: Though mean My object and inglorious, yet the end Was not ignoble.

Exactly what Wordsworth means by “my object” (an 1805 revision of “my views” in MS JJ) is open to some interpretation, as we have seen: should we say that his “object” is to despoil the nest of its eggs, or of its “unfledged ravens,” or simply to destroy it, or “to collect a reward from the Parish”? To these denotative possibilities, we should add the fact that the phrase “mean object” may connote the smallness or “meanness” of the “object” of plunder itself: the egg, the chick, the nest, or for that matter the boyhood self who is the “mean object” of the poet’s autobiographical narrative. Each of these interpretations or associations has its own plausibility and particular ramifications. What I would emphasize, first of all, however, is that the very multiplicity of warranted, though potentially conflicting, “meanings” is an indication of just how charged and unstable an act of linguistic control is involved in the choice of that particular piece of language, that wordobject; and second that this gesture of control completes on a linguistic plane the violent act of self-differentiation and re-appropriation that it is in the process of disavowing.

Wordsworth’s Cliff-Hanger


The exclamation, “Oh! When I have hung/Above the raven’s nest,” which opens the long culminating sentence clearly brings into view the target of the “plunderer’s” quest, particularly as the specificity of “the raven’s nest” supplants the indefiniteness and circumlocution of “where’er the Mother Bird/had built her lodge,” while bringing the boy and his target together in the same pictured moment. From the perspective of the autobiographical narrator and his implied addressee, “the raven’s nest” figures as the indicator that the narrative has arrived at its own temporal core, its presentation of a scene—in the sense of a localized dramatic action—that itself lies nested within a succession of narrative frames, whether we consider that hierarchy of structures a function of Wordsworth’s narrative art (here working with only the most common and rudimentary of narrative protocols) or a reflection of how his memory (memory in general?) is organized and works. The figure of the raven’s nest is thus, like the word “object,” highly overdetermined, simultaneously embodying the literal object of the boy’s quest, a totemic transfiguration of the maternal birth-place to which the child regressively returns, and the embedded core of a self-reflexive narrative structure. This overdetemined target only comes into focus, however, insofar as it is dislodged from a position of structural centrality by the exclamation which introduces it: “Oh! when I have hung/above the raven’s nest.” The climactic moment of identification signaled by the collapse of the present moment of enunciation and the past moment of recollected action into the agrammaticality (in context) of “when I have hung,” foregrounds an entirely different kind of narrative event, one which leaves the narrative sequence indefinitely suspended rather than articulated around a defining moment.16 The sheer physical action of clinging to the cliff-face, “shouldering the naked crag,” is momentarily isolated as a self-sustaining (if “illsustained”) end in itself, while the goal toward which that action had moved of plundering the raven’s nest is literally consigned to a lower, peripheral position. The interval of suspension which Wordsworth’s story thus unexpectedly isolates is distinctly framed by the parallel exclamations, “Oh, when I have hung/ Above the raven’s nest,” and then “oh, at that time/While on the perilous ridge I hung alone,” so that the suspended syntax of the lengthy clause— … Oh, when I have hung Above the raven’s nest, by knots of grass And half-inch fissures in the slippery rock But ill sustained, and almost (as it seemed) Suspended by the blast which blew amain Shouldering the naked crag, oh, at that time While on the perilous ridge I hung alone … (1805, I, 341–7).


It is in fact difficult to say with any confidence whether the cliff-hanging scene is taking place before or after the plundering of the nest. Bahti and Ellis assume the latter; I am inclined to assume the former. But is not the more important point that the scene can’t be clearly positioned with reference to the act?


Romantic Autobiography in England / Wilner

—in some manner “repeats his hanging and sustains itself,” as Timothy Bahti discussed. In elaborating this point, Bahti goes on to describe how “the ‘Oh! when’ [is] haltingly prolonged so that a point in time stretches into the duration of ‘Oh! at that time/While’” (108). But this is not quite what is going on, since the slide from “when I have hung” to the simple past of “while … I hung alone” leaves the grammatical dissonance of the first clause unresolved and thus, in drawing out the narrative, also leaves a zone of grammatical indeterminacy. Hartman has aptly remarked on the “curious verse-music” (192) of the passage, which he also connects with the simile that opens the verse-paragraph immediately following the nest-robbing episode (although he only cites its first line and a half): The mind of man is framed even like the breath And harmony of music; there is a dark Invisible workmanship that reconciles Discordant elements, and makes them move In one society. (1805 I, 351–5).

While that “curious verse-music” is of course fashioned of many elements, its appearance is also, I would argue, connected with the infiltration of an otherwise markedly hypotactic grammatical construction by this pervasive indeterminacy (not unrelated to the indistinct fluctuation of grammatical modes we discussed earlier as accompanying Wordsworth’s opening evocation of the Derwent’s “ceaseless music”). The radical foregrounding of the scene, with the flattened juxtaposition of exposed “I” and “naked crag” virtually eliminating any visual perspective, works in conjunction with the collapse or compression of temporal perspective: As the boy presses unsteadily against the cliff-face (the urgency of that pressure registered especially in the participle “shouldering,” the “shoulder” of the one pressed into the “shoulder” of the other), so the poet’s language at this point adheres tenuously to the scene it is evoking; almost as though the page itself were merging imaginatively with the cliff-face; words and clusters of words turning into the “knots of grass” that threaten to break off in the hand that grasps them, the lines of iambic pentameter the “half-inch fissures in the slippery rock” on which the poet barely keeps his “footing.” This linguistic clinging to a remembered experience of clinging in turn merges with the more archaic memory of an infantile clinging to the maternal body, the regressive movement toward attachment countering the violent movement towards separation and a stabilizing identification with the symbolic law.17 17 It should be noted that the threat to which this regression responds is one posed by the imaginative power of the child’s own wishes. What is sought is not so much the comfort of the maternal body as its impervious resistance to infantile assault. One recalls the famous Fenwick note: “I was often unable to think of external things as having external existence, and I communed with all that I saw as something not apart from, but inherent in, my own immaterial nature. Many times while going to school have I grasped at a wall or tree to

Wordsworth’s Cliff-Hanger


Yet there is also a peculiar quality of theatricality that attaches to these lines. That air of theatricality may be ascribed in part to the exclamatory mode of the passage, but also derives, I would suggest, from the lurking presence of a famous speech from Shakespeare. In the passage from the 1815 Preface referred to earlier, Wordsworth cites a passage from King Lear as his second example: “half way down/ Hangs one who gathers samphire” is the well-known expression delineating an ordinary image upon the cliffs of Dover. The lines are of course part of Edgar’s vertiginous evocation of the view from Dover in a speech (4.6.11–24) which, playing with the absurdity of dramatic suspense, is meant to bring his blinded father—and the audience along with him—to the cliff’s imaginative brink, so that Gloucester can exorcise by “jumping” his wish to commit suicide and the shame that fuels it. Beyond the appositeness of the image—a figure hanging perilously to gather something on a cliff-face (the “ordinary image” of, in Edgar’s words, a “dreadful trade!”)—there would seem to be additional traces of Edgar’s speech, particularly the phrase, “half-inch fissures,” as it echoes both “half way down” and more obliquely Edgar’s ensuing reference to “the fishermen, that walk upon the beach” (my emphasis). I would thus suggest that Wordsworth is unconsciously inscribing himself into the figure of the samphire-gatherer in Edgar’s speech, and thus situating his autobiographical narrative within a linguistic matrix that is, structurally, the sheerest of rhetorical performances. Interrupting or transfiguring the episode’s ambivalent movement towards the epic or heroic and Wordsworth’s corresponding understanding of his autobiographical project as a process of poetic self-consolidation in preparation for work of epic scope, the passage instead exposes the precarious stability of a subject that only comes into being as the function of a recursive structure of self-dramatization. This is by no means a simply negative or threatening moment though, however unsettling of the project of autobiographical self-constitution. For the true wonder of the passage is that it does not end here, but discovers within the precariousness of its situation new reaches of apprehension. Just as the scene of suspension emerges from the interaction between the cliff-face as resistant ground and the arrested movement of the human figure that traverses its surface, so now the “strange utterance” of the wind is produced out of the interaction between the arrested body and the rush of the “loud dry wind” that blows “through my ears.” For while seeming to come from a distance, the “strange utterance” would in fact be propagated from within the recesses of the ear, like the “sound of the sea” one hears when one holds a shell to one’s ear, and which in the dream passage of Book V Wordsworth describes as another kind of “strange utterance”: “An ode in passion uttered” (97) “in an unknown tongue,/Which yet I understood” (94–5). Thus the prepositional uncertainties of “With what strange utterance did the loud dry wind/Blow through my ears!” as the phrase oscillates between identifying recall myself from this abyss of idealism to the reality. At that time I was afraid of such processes. In later periods of life I have deplored, as we have all reason to do, a subjugation of an opposite character” (Poetical Works IV 463n).

Romantic Autobiography in England / Wilner


the suspended ear as a locus of perception or, more strangely, as the instrumental channel through which the wind blows, generating utterance. That what is heard is named not simply as sound, but “utterance” signals that the boy’s awareness is becoming oriented toward a different form of relationship, as when the Boy of Winander hears, as he “hangs listening,” the “voice of mountain torrents.” In either case, it would be a mistake to read the figure of “utterance” in the one case and “voice” in the other as an anthropomorphism. The function of these figures is to displace subjectivity from its orientation towards itself as center, not to posit a center of subjectivity in the physical world. Of this moment, de Man writes in “Time and History in Wordsworth”: At the moment when the analogical correspondence with nature no longer asserts itself, we discover that the earth under our feet is not the stable base in which we can believe ourselves to be anchored … [I]instead of being centered on the earth, we are suddenly related to a sky that has its own movements, alien to those of earth and its creatures (78).18

De Man is here still writing about “There was a Boy,” but it is clear that his reading is already strongly shaped by the last lines of the nest-robbing episode: “The sky seemed not a sky/Of earth—and with what motion moved the clouds.” In particular, the statement that “we are suddenly related to a sky that has its own movements” (my emphasis) seems powerfully apt. I would only add one proviso. If “the sky seem(s) not a sky of earth” this is because there is no visual horizon joining sky and ground, only unbound space. But the horizontal plane of the ground has not so much disappeared as rotated. On the one side, open sky, on the other, solid cliff, between them, “ill sustain’d,” an isolated human figure. The language of Wordsworth’s Prelude never relinquishes its commitment to the perilous immediacy of that experiential ground. Works Cited Arnold, Matthew. Poems of Wordsworth; Chosen and Edited by Matthew Arnold. London: Macmillan, 1880. Bahti, Timothy. “Wordsworth’s Rhetorical Theft.” Romanticism and Language, (ed.) Arden Reed. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1984. 86–166. Darbishire, H. “Wordsworth’s ‘Prelude’.” Nineteenth Century and After 1926: 718–31. Rpt. in Wordsworth: The Prelude; a casebook, (ed.) by W.J. Harvey and Richard Gravil, London: Macmillan, 1972. 18 The related passage in “Phenomenality and Materiality in Kant” reads: “ … the sky is here originally conceived as a roof or vault that shelters us, by anchoring us in the world, standing on a horizontal plane, under the sky, reassuringly stabilized by the weight of our own gravity. But if the sky separates from the earth and is no longer, in Wordsworth’s terms, a sky of earth, we lose all feeling of stability and start to fall, so to speak, skyward, away from gravity”(81).

Wordsworth’s Cliff-Hanger


De Man, Paul. “Autobiography as De-Facement,” in The Rhetoric of Romanticism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984. ———. “Phenomenality and Materiality in Kant,” in Aesthetic Ideology, (ed.) Andrzej Warminski. Theory and History of Literature. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996. 70–90. ———. “Time and History in Wordsworth,” in Romanticism and Contemporary Criticism: The Gauss Seminar and Other Papers, (eds) E.S. Burt, Kevin Newmark and Andrzej Warminski. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993. 74–94. Ellis, David. Wordsworth, Freud, and the Spots of Time: Interpretation in the Prelude. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985. Gill, Stephen Charles. William Wordsworth, the Prelude. Landmarks of World Literature. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991. ———. Wordsworth and the Victorians. Oxford; New York: Clarendon Press; Oxford University Press, 1998. Hartman, Geoffrey H. “Words, Wish, Worth: Wordsworth,” in Deconstruction and Criticism, (ed.) Harold Bloom. New York: Seabury Press, 1979. 177–216. Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. The Phenomenology of Mind, (trans) J.B. Baillie. New York: Harper & Row, 1967. Johnston, Kenneth R. The Hidden Wordsworth: Poet, Lover, Rebel, Spy. New York: W.W. Norton, 1998. Read, Herbert Edward. Wordsworth. London: J. Cape, 1930. Thompson, Thomas William. Wordsworth’s Hawkshead, (ed.) Robert Woof. London, New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970. Wolfson, Susan J. The Questioning Presence: Wordsworth, Keats, and the Interrogative Mode in Romantic Poetry. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1986. Woolford, John. “Wordsworth Agonistes.” Essays in Criticism. 31.1 (1981): 27–40. Wordsworth, Jonathan. “The Five-Book Prelude of Early Spring 1804.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 76 (1977): 1–25. ———. William Wordsworth: The Borders of Vision. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982. Wordsworth, William. The Excursion. The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth, (eds) Ernest de Selincourt and Helen Darbishire. Vol. 5. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1949. ———. The Five-Book Prelude, (ed.) Duncan Wu. Oxford; Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 1997. ———. The Fourteen-Book Prelude, (ed.) W.J.B. Owen. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985. ———. The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth: The Early Years 1787– 1805, (ed.) Ernest de Selincourt; revised by Chester L. Shaver. 2nd edition. Vol. I. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1967. ———. Poetical Works, (eds) Ernest de Selincourt and Helen Darbishire. 5 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1947.


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———. The Prelude: The Four Texts (1798, 1799, 1805, 1850). Penguin Classics, (ed.) Jonathan Wordsworth. London; New York: Penguin Books, 1995. ———. The Prelude, 1798–1799, (ed.) Stephen Parrish. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1977. ———. The Prose Works of William Wordsworth, (eds) W.J.B. Owen and Jane Worthington Smyser. 3 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974. ———. The Thirteen-Book Prelude, (ed.) Mark L. Reed. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991.

Chapter 8

De Quincey as Autobiographer Frederick Burwick

In spite of its nominal kinship with biography, autobiography always drifted away from that model as genre in order to plunder its own unique subjective recesses. In his explorations of childhood memories and their emergence in the adult dreams and nightmares of his opium addiction, Thomas De Quincey drifted further than most autobiographers from recognizable landmarks of experiences in day-to-day life. For this reason his biographers have had to rely extensively on his letters and other documents in order to construct a stable chronological scaffolding to frame and hold together his reveries and recollections (Stull 7–9). The most influential models for his autobiographical writings were Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria and William Wordsworth’s Prelude, both of which narrated the Growth of the Mind. De Quincey referred often to the passages from the Prelude in which Wordsworth told of the “fair seed-time” of childhood, schoolboy and student years, and the vicissitudes of the city. Although De Quincey revisited and revised his accounts of childhood years again and again, he also traced other loci of formative experience. There are two pertinent chronologies of De Quincey’s autobiographical endeavors. One is the chronology of the periods of his life that he chose to write about. These are the narratives of the nursery and early childhood, of the death of his sisters; of the schoolboy days at Manchester Grammar School, games with brother Pink, and the battle with the factory boys; his vacation in Ireland and his experiences as a runaway in London; his university studies at Worcester College, Oxford; his reading of Wordsworth and Coleridge and his visit to Nether Stowey; and his move to Grasmere to be close to the poets. The other is the chronology of telling and retelling his life story, the revisions or reinterpretations that can be tracked through six distinct periods: the first three include the Confessions of 1821–1822; the Autobiography of 1834–1838; the Suspiria of 1845 and the Mail-Coach of 1849; the second three involve the rewriting of the first three in the Sketches from Childhood of 1850–1852; the Autobiographical Sketches of 1853–1854; and the expanded version of the Confessions of 1856.  Although the Prelude was not published until 1850, De Quincey had read it in manuscript and may well have prepared his own copy. Lindop, The Opium-Eater, pp. 118, 187, 250, 331–2.  Works of Thomas De Quincey (2000–2003), vol. 2 ‘Confessions of an English Opium-Eater [Part I]’, London Magazine (1821); ‘Notice to the Reader’, London Magazine (1821); ‘Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, Part II’ London Magazine (1821); ‘Letter from the English Opium-Eater’, London Magazine (1821); ‘Appendix’ to the ‘Confessions’


Romantic Autobiography in England / Burwick

De Quincey was 74 years of age when he died in 1859. His career as a writer did not actively commence until his awkward beginnings as an editor for the Westmorland Gazette at the age of 34. From the years 1818 to 1856 there were periods of astonishing productivity, periods of stoic endurance in which he maintained, even in poverty and ill health, a steady output of journal articles on a wide array of historical, political, and literary topics. But there were also lost years, periods of silence attributed to his opium addiction. Even granting that his autobiographical writings were episodic rather than comprehensive, they extrapolate from fewer than 24 years of his life. It is acknowledged, of course, that human beings spend a third of their lives asleep. That third is ignored by most biographers and autobiographers alike. De Quincey may tell little of his waking experiences, but he tells grandly of his dreams. Literary dreams, of course, are a fictional genre, probably bearing little resemblance to what might actually have played out in the mental imagery of the sleeper. De Quincey nevertheless sought to retain the striking and recurrent images of his dreams and deserves credit as the first conscientious autobiographer of the interactions between conscious and subconscious experience. De Quincey wrote three very different kinds of autobiography. One kind recollected his nursery and early school years (Sketch from Childhood, 1852–1853); another emphasized his dependency on opium (Confessions, 1821; Suspiria de Profundis, 1845); a third concerned his dependency on Wordsworth and Coleridge (the Autobiographic Sketches of 1834–1838 and 1851–1854). The third, with its interweaving of biography and autobiography, is useful in elucidating the other two. Writing for Tait’s Magazine in the mid–1830’s, the second period of his autobiographical endeavor, De Quincey produced “Sketches of Life and Manners; from the Autobiography of an English Opium-Eater.” Although clearly identifying himself as the author of the controversial Confessions, De Quincey here reveals a different sort of dependency. Not his dependency on opium, which he had earlier (1822); Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1856); ‘Confessions of an English OpiumEater, 1821’ [Part I]: a manuscript transcript; ‘Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, 1821’ [Part II]: two discarded fragments. Vol. 10, ‘Sketches of Life and Manners; from the Autobiography of an English Opium-Eater’ including ‘The Irish Rebellion’, ‘Travelling in England Thirty Years Ago: from the Autobiography of an English Opium-Eater’, ‘Literary Connexions or Acquaintances’, Tait’s Magazine (1834–1838); ‘Autobiography of an English Opium-Eater: Recollections of Charles Lamb, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Tait’s Magazine (1834–1838); selected manuscript transcripts. Vol. 15, ‘Suspiria De Profundis: Being a Sequel to the Confessions of an English Opium-Eater’, Blackwood’s Magazine (1845). Vol. 16, ‘The English Mail-Coach, or the Glory of Motion’, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine (1849); ‘The Vision of Sudden Death’, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine (1849). Vol. 17 ‘Introductory letter and first part of A Sketch From Childhood’, Hogg’s Instructor (1851); ‘A Sketch From Childhood No. II’, Hogg’s Instructor (1851); ‘A Sketch From Childhood No. III’, Hogg’s Instructor (1852); ‘A Sketch From Childhood No. IV’, Hogg’s Instructor (1852); ‘A Sketch From Childhood No. V’, Hogg’s Instructor (1852); ‘A Sketch From Childhood No. VI’, Hogg’s Instructor (1852); ‘A Sketch From Childhood No. VII’, Hogg’s Instructor (1852). Vol. 19 Autobiographical Sketches (1853); Autobiographical Sketches (1854).

De Quincey as Autobiographer


declared was the true author of his autobiography (2:74), but rather his dependency on his literary acquaintances became the dominant concern of his narrative. Constructing his autobiography out of biographical anecdotes of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Lamb, De Quincey used biographical/ autobiographical narrative to reposition himself in an intellectual community in which he found himself marginalized. It was this period of his career, and this strategy of merging the biographical and autobiographical, to which De Quincey returned in revising the narrative as the Sketches from Childhood (1850–1852) and Autobiographical Sketches (1853–1854). Long before Marcel Proust explored the labyrinths of memory for the traces of “temps perdu,” De Quincey transformed persistent but shadowy recollections of the past into major tropes of loss. In the Confessions he tells the haunting story of visiting his dead sister Jane prior to her funeral (2:172); 24 years later in the Suspiria the death of his sister Jane is related more amply, adding, too, the account of the death of his second elder sister Elizabeth (15:137–47); and yet again in the Sketches from Childhood (17:71–2). The loss of his two sisters prefigures numerous accounts of young girls who provide him care and protection only to vanish forever from his life and to linger only in memories and dreams. Among the boyhood adventures with his Brother Pink were the stone-throwing battles against the factory boys of Oxford Street Bridge, Manchester. De Quincey recalls being taken prisoner under the guard of the young girls of the neighbourhood, who kissed and caressed their captive and shielded him from the aggressive boys (17:95–7). A more poignant narrative of being protected and shielded by a young girl is the account of Ann of Oxford Street, a child prostitute of London, who rescued the 17-year-old runaway boy and shared with him her food and shelter. Like his lost sisters, Ann too disappears into a realm of shadows, never to be found again (2:24–7, 35–6). Even “the immortal druggist” of Oxford Street who first supplied him with opium seems “to have evanesced, or evaporated” (2:42). Themes of dependency, lack of control, irretrievable loss are reiterated again and again as autobiographical leitmotif. Akin to “the same power of endless growth and self-reproduction” experienced in his opium dreams, De Quincey described in the Confessions Piranesi’s engravings of the prisons, Il Carceri, in which Piranesi himself appeared helplessly trapped amidst the vast architecture: Creeping along the sides of the walls, you perceived a staircase; and upon this, groping his way upwards, was Piranesi himself: follow the stairs a little farther, and you perceive them reaching an abrupt termination, without any balustrade, and allowing no step onwards to him who should reach the extremity, except into the depths below. Whatever is to become of poor Piranesi, you suppose, at least, that his labours must now in some way terminate here ... But raise your eyes, and behold a second flight of stairs still higher: on which again Piranesi is perceived, by this time standing on the very brink of the abyss. Again elevate your eye, and a still more aerial flight of stairs is beheld; and again is poor Piranesi busy on his aspiring labours: and so on, until the unfinished stairs and Piranesi both are lost in the upper gloom of the hall (2:258–9).


Romantic Autobiography in England / Burwick

This description is doubly telling, not simply because De Quincey recognized the architecture of his own opium dreams in Piranesi’s projections of himself as a lost wanderer amidst the impossibly huge dungeons, but also because the description itself is borrowed, a dependency on another’s visions in order to articulate his own. Even in this borrowing there is a further doubleness, for it is not Piranesi recording “the scenery of his own visions during a delirium of fever” that is recounted here. Rather, it is Coleridge recalling and recounting the engravings which De Quincey had never seen. While he and Coleridge were looking through the folio of Piranesi’s engravings of The Antiquities of Rome, Coleridge described for him Piranesi’s Il Carceri. Immediately, De Quincey said, he could visualize the unseen works and recognize in them the dark recesses of his own opium dreams. Somewhere between Coleridge’s recollection of the engravings and De Quincey’s “memory of Coleridge’s account” a significant feature has intruded which is not verifiable by an inspection of the actual plates. De Quincey (or was it Coleridge?) has described multiple replications within each plate of a wandering figure, each a miniature self-portrait of Piranesi himself, the artist imprisoned in his own nightmare dungeons. As apt images of his opium dreams, not just the vast dungeons but also the helpless entrapment are the telling features. In the “Introduction to the Pains of Opium,” De Quincey tells of a visitor to Dove Cottage in 1813, the year in which he chose to admit himself to be “a confirmed opium-eater.” The visitor was a Malay, to whom De Quincey presented a piece of opium, in “quantity … enough to kill three dragoons and their horses.” The Malay promptly swallowed the portion in a mouthful. With no subsequent report of “any Malay being found dead,” De Quincey solaced himself with the thought that the man may have been used to the drug and the dose may have eased the pain of his journey (2:56–8). The Malay may have left Grasmere, may indeed have made it the 40 miles to port and off to sea, but he does not depart from De Quincey’s dreams. Five years later, in an episode dated May 1818, he recorded that “the Malay has been a fearful enemy for months.” Not simply entrapped, the Self is pursued and persecuted by a tormenting Other. The Malay personifies both the mystery of the Orient and the thrall of its Opium; the dreamer is transported through its ancient realms, exposed to wild exoticism and cruelty (2:70–71). The Malay of the Confessions speaks an unknown tongue and persecutes the dreamer’s wanderings through the endless eons of Oriental empires. In the Suspiria the persecuting Malay is transformed and given voice as the Dark Interpreter, not an Oriental Other, but a cynical Alter Ego who derisively scorns all memories that the dreamer attempts to honor and cherish. The tender sentiment of “The Afflictions of Childhood” (15:136–51) is abruptly followed with mockery: “‘But you forgot her,’ says the Cynic, ‘you happened one day to forget this sister of yours?’” (15:152). The author protests. The Cynic is wrong. The sister is not gone and forgotten. Her memory haunts, and will continue to haunt, the dark caverns of the mind.  Burwick, De Quincey: Knowledge and Power, pp. 138–40. See also: Perry, “Piranesi’s Prison.”

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“I become,” De Quincey declares, “a distinguished compositor in the darkness” (15:153). Yet he has no control over the composition. Even in the Confessions De Quincey had established a pattern of playing his own cynic, undermining his overtures of self-indulgence and self-aggrandizement (North 61–70): “I have a very reprehensible way of jesting at times in the midst of my own misery” (2:43). In the waking light of day, persecuting beasts, whether hyenas or crocodiles, become absurd in their very displacement, but in dark night of the nightmare, they are creatures of pure terror in their pursuit of the dreamer as defenseless victim. A kindred mode of self-distancing occurs in the deliberately scientific guise with which he shifts the pathology of addiction into a medical record of dosages (Wilner 493–503, Ziegler 1531–37). In the authorial task of translating dream-images into words, De Quincey showed a remarkable power of rhetorical evocation (Platzner 605–17), yet he would still allow the sublime to lapse into the ridiculous, and the grandeur to give way to the absurdities of his own fantasies. As an autobiographer, he was clever enough to arm self-representation with satire (Butler 209–25). As often happened in stage exhibitions of Gothic terror, as in James Robertson Planché’s The Vampire (1820), the most frightening scenes gave way to comic antics. As he demonstrates in his installments on “Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts,” De Quincey knew this art of juxtaposition, and he used it often in the Confessions, Suspiria, and The English Mail-Coach. In this sense, even his inquiry into dramatic effect, “On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth,” has autobiographical resonance. Nightmare visions give way to self-ridicule and selfchastisement; the dreamer is exposed as the clown in a farce rather than as a hero in an epic (Rzepka, “Farce and Self-Representation” 14–20). Throughout his career as journalist, De Quincey put forth ample evidence of his command of Greek and Latin (2:127–8), his vast reading in history, philosophy, and literature (2:10, 95), his command of Kant’s Transcendentalism (2:52) and Ricardo’s Economic Theory (2:64–5). To the accounts of his schooling in his autobiographical writings, he also indicates his intellectual superiority to his guardians (17:118–24) and to those who were tutoring him (2:130–131). Yet he also describes his own inability to command and direct his learning. Instead of exemplifying De Quincey’s oft-repeated dicta of “knowledge and power” (Burwick, De Quincey: Knowledge and Power 1–24), his knowledge seemed to exercise its own recalcitrant power, asserting itself in digression upon digression, no more controllable than the imagery that taunted him in dreams. As a result, De Quincey found himself pitted against an indwelling alterity: the Malay of his own addiction, the Dark Interpreter of his own cynical self-chastisement. At the close of the Confessions, De Quincey identifies the presence of this Other who takes command of the narrative: The interest of the judicious reader will not attach itself chiefly to the subject of the fascinating spells, but to the fascinating power. Not the opium-eater, but the opium, is the true hero of the tale, and the legitimate centre on which the interest revolves. The object was to display the marvellous agency of opium, whether for pleasure or for pain; if that is done, the action of the piece has closed (2:74).


Romantic Autobiography in England / Burwick

It may be said of all autobiography that there is a double self, the author and the character created in the narrative. But De Quincey evokes something very different at work in “the subject of the fascinating spells,” for the spells have yet another author in “the marvellous agency of opium.” De Quincey is a mere spectator of events in his own life over which he can exercise no abiding control. De Quincey often described himself conscious of powerful mental energy even while struggling against paralyzed immobility. Time and space in his dreams seemed to expand. The historical sweep of eons seemed to pass even in the brief moments he struggled to rise from his couch; mere seconds would swell ponderously and extend into infinity (2:66–7). Among the dream-visions, where the excruciating expansion of time is a dominant motif, one may cite that glimpse of infinitude in the bravura piece, translated in his “Analects from Richter”(4:59–63), and later appended to the essay on Lord Rosse’s Telescope. In a dream vision, the hapless, helpless narrator is carried by an archangel through vast ranges of the Infinite. Weary of the “persecutions of the Infinite,” and seeing no end to the journey, the traveler begs his angelic guide to let him lie down in his grave. ‘End there is none?’ the Angel solemnly demanded. ‘And is this the sorrow that kills you?’ But no voice answered, that he might answer himself. Then the Angel threw up his glorious hands to the heaven of heavens, saying, ‘End there is none to the Universe of God? Lo! also there is no beginning’ (15:417).

Time and space are too vast to be endured by mortal perception. “The spirit of man,” the dreamer cries out, “aches under this infinity.” Associated with the agony of limitless time and space is the agony of absolute confinement in the “frozen moment.” The one evokes the other as inexorably as the image of Fanny of the Bath road calls forth crocodiles and basilisks (16:420–22), as ineluctably as the galloping mail-coach is transfixed upon a sculptured sundial or among prophetic emblems upon a shield (16:446–7). To describe the mimetic process whereby the author attempts to represent the images of childhood, De Quincey invites the reader to ascend with him the Brocken in North Germany. Of all the Coleridgean moments that De Quincey has appropriated into his own prose, this one is the most hauntingly complex. Its Coleridgean character is doubly marked: in recounting the ascent that Coleridge once made; and again in interpreting the symbol as idem in alio (Burwick, Mimesis 45–76). The relation of the self and the spectre, identity and alterity, is at once the present consciousness and the phantom of the mind (be it memory or imagination), but also the encounter between the self and the Dark Interpreter, the “reflex of my inner nature” (15:184). This “alien” intruder, De Quincey confides, will become all the more threatening “in a further stage of my opium experience” (15:185).  Rzepka, “The Body, the Book,” pp. 141–50; see also: Young, “‘The True Hero of the Tale’,” pp. 54–71; Porter, “The Double Self,” pp. 86–9.  Jean Paul [Richter], Werke, 2:268–71; Burwick, “The Dream-Visions of Jean Paul and Thomas De Quincey” (1968).

De Quincey as Autobiographer


De Quincey had never climbed the Brocken, but Coleridge had. The situation, then, is similar to visual conjuring by which Coleridge guided De Quincey through an absent book of Piranesi’s engravings. Here De Quincey ascends the mountain that he might have hoped to ascend, but did not. He then tells of the famous Spectre of the Brocken, the illusion that Coleridge had hoped to see, but did not. To conjure the image of the absent phantom, De Quincey relies on the account in Sir David Brewster’s Natural Magic (128–31). This recollection of someone else’s experience, supplemented by still another person’s experience, is not inappropriate to the case that De Quincey wants to make about the otherness of one’s own experiences. To introduce “Dream-Echoes” of remote childhood, he presents this narration as “a real ascent of the Brocken” to be distinguished from the “spiritualizing haze which belongs ... to the action of dreams, and to the transfigurings worked upon troubled remembrances by retrospects so vast as 50 years.” Coleridge’s experience is more “real,” and perhaps less “other,” than his own “troubled remembrances.” De Quincey records the date of Coleridge’s ascent, Whitsunday 1799. Coleridge might well have made some connection between the Spectre, had he but seen it, and the special observance of the Trinity on that particular day. De Quincey, for his part, did not neglect due reverence. When he makes the sign of the cross, the phantom repeats the gesture, not spontaneously but with “the air of one who acts reluctantly or evasively.” Cast by the rising sun onto the clouds on the opposite peak, the illusion is no more obedient than the images in De Quincey’s “spiritualizing haze.” As Brewster explains, its appearance and movement is also affected by atmospheric refraction. Thus De Quincey blames the reluctance of his giant alter-ego on “driving April showers” which “perplex the images.” His prayer, true to his formulation of the idem in alio, describes the phantom, not as external apparition but as engendered in his own perception: lo! I thy servant, with this dark phantom, whom for one hour on this thy festival of Pentecost I make my servant, render thee united worship in this thy recovered temple (15:184).

The imaginary servant then plucks a blossom, kneels before the altar, and raises his right hand to God. “Dumb he is,” De Quincey concludes, “but sometimes the dumb serve God acceptably.” This “real ascent of the Brocken,” composed of borrowed details about an optical phenomenon, is the symbol De Quincey has chosen to represent how his mind beholds “the solemn remembrances that lie hidden below.” It is a symbol both of and about sameness in difference:  Coleridge made the trip twice: first on Monday, 13 May 1799; second ascent on Sunday, 24 June 1799. On the first occasion, he and his friend left Göttingen on Saturday, 11 May, and arrived on top of the Brocken on 13 May, missing by one day the planned arrival on Whitsunday. For Coleridge’s account of the first and second ascent, see Collected Notebooks 412 and 447; see also his letter to Mrs Coleridge, Friday, 17 May 1799; Collected Letters 1:504.


Romantic Autobiography in England / Burwick The half-sportive interlusory revealings of the symbolic tend to the same effect. One part of the effect from the symbolic is dependent on the great catholic principle of the Idem in alio. The symbol restores the theme, but under new combinations of form or colouring; gives back, but changes; restores, but idealises (19:18–19).

The image of the self is no less elusive an apparition: a shadow engulfed in shadows, a self transformed by otherness. The autobiographer seeks to retrieve, idem in alio, the phantom images of perception, memory, and imagination. Yet the very retrieval is problematized, for it is a wayward and disobedient servant. The Spectre, the shadow of the self, is the undisciplined alter-ego of the narrative. The dream imagery of the Campo Santo at the conclusion of the “Dream Fugue” from The English Mail Coach may again derive from conversations with Coleridge. Similar to that occasion when Coleridge described for him the vast architecture of Piranesi’s Il Carceri, Coleridge also told him of his tour through Italy in 1805–1806. Twice Coleridge had visited the Campo Santo of Pisa. The fresco depicting The Triumph of Death impressed him with its stark and powerful images. Describing the fresco in one of his lectures, Coleridge emphasized how it visually dramatized the effect of the appearance of Death on all men—different groups of men— men of business—men of pleasure—huntsmen—all flying in different directions while the dreadful Goddess descending with a kind of air-chilling white with her wings expanded and the extremities of the wings compressed into talons and the only group in which there appeared anything like welcoming her was a group of beggars (Philosophical Lectures 167–8).

Although the power he attributes to the fresco may well reside in its invitation to the beholder to stand among the “different groups of men” who witness the descent of “the dreadful Goddess,” Coleridge here avoids the implication of ekphrastic entrapment and maintains a position safely out of the reach of the deadly talons. But he has clearly recognized the threat of entrapment, if we trust De Quincey’s “memory of Coleridge’s account,” in his description of Piranesi imprisoned in his own nightmare dungeons (2:68). Not only the same vast architecture, De Quincey says, but the same “endless growth and self-reproduction” were experienced in his own opium dreams. Unlike Coleridge’s aloof description of the fresco at Campo Santo, De Quincey reproduces its imagery with himself caught in the very midst. Indeed, entrapment is the explicit and characteristic feature of his ekphrasis: like Piranesi clambering the dungeon walls, De Quincey has entombed himself upon the sculptured sundial, among the heraldic emblems of the shield, and in the final confrontation with the statue of the Dying Trumpeter. Although he had not yet in the Confessions begun to leverage autobiography against biography, there is significant name–dropping as well as abundant use of literary allusion. He procures status with references to his boyhood friendship with the Earl of Altamont (2:29, 32), and he establishes a broad belletristic learning with

De Quincey as Autobiographer


quotations from Shakespeare and Milton. Even more frequent are the allusions to Wordsworth’s poetry. As already mentioned, he establishes his personal familiarity with Coleridge and Wordsworth. Later, in the series for Tait’s Magazine, he tells of his early admiration for Wordsworth (10:145–6) and for Coleridge (10:239–40), his first meeting with them (10:294–305). Telling of his move to Grasmere, De Quincey relates the ensuing acquaintance with Wordsworth (11:111–20), and the trajectory from veneration to disappointment. (11:62–4). His negative comments, to be sure, are directed toward the poet, not the poetry. Wordsworth was not the man he pretended to be in his poetry, not the generous friend to the common man; he was, rather, an arrogant, self-centered recluse. In De Quincey’s estimation “the love of nature” had failed to lead the poet “to the love of mankind.” De Quincey, who knew the yet unpublished Prelude, considered the boy of Books I and II to be an egotistic fiction: “I do not conceive that Wordsworth could have been an amiable boy; he was austere and unsocial, I have reason to think, in his habits; not generous; and, above all, not self-denying.” The case of conscience to be weighed is whether Wordsworth ever reciprocated an act of kindness or generosity. De Quincey twice declared that his own testimony on the matter of Wordsworth’s want of gratitude would be corroborated by John Wilson: that to neither of us, though, at all periods of our lives, treating him with the deep respect which is his due, and, in our earlier years, with a more than filial devotion,—nay, with a blind loyalty of homage, which had in it, at that time, something of the spirit of martyrdom, which, for his sake, courted even reproach and contumely; yet to neither of us has Wordsworth made those returns of friendship and kindness which most firmly I maintain that we were entitled to have challenged (11:62; cf. 11:255).

In consequence, while his admiration for the poet continued unabated, his love for the man gradually deteriorated. De Quincey confesses a long smoldering resentment: More by far in sorrow than in anger—sorrow that points to recollections too deep and too personal for a transient notice—I acknowledge myself to have been long alienated from Wordsworth; sometimes even I feel a rising emotion of hostility—nay, something, I fear, too nearly akin to vindictive hatred (11:62).

Weighing his own dedication to defending Wordsworth’s literary achievement against Wordsworth’s ingratitude and disregard for his efforts, De Quincey assumes for himself a broader more reliant sensibility. According to John Jordan, De Quincey was driven to his “scandal-mongering” by the financial need to market his essays. Scandal sells (Jordan 336–45). The problem with Jordan’s excuse for the hostile denigration of Wordsworth and Coleridge is that De Quincey was assured of a secure market for the series in  For a thorough review of allusions, quotations, references, see Schwartz, “Study and Comparative Analysis.”


Romantic Autobiography in England / Burwick

Tait’s Magazine. A more tenable explanation is forwarded by Margaret Russet, who argues that in his series of Autobiographical Sketches, De Quincey achieved his goal of canon–formation by presenting himself, not as obedient devotee, but as abused servant, disaffected disciple, and finally as rebellious renegade (Russett 178–222). That rebellion leads the once dependent critic to cast the poet in a corresponding role of dependency. De Quincey’s Wordsworth is not a poet formally complete and accessible, but rather a poet dependent upon an interpreter. Whether he recognizes it or not, Wordsworth needs De Quincey. Jordan excerpts a few of the many passages in which De Quincey asserts his loyal support. He stood by Wordsworth when “the finger of scorn was pointed at Mr. Wordsworth from every journal in the land.” He opposed Jeffrey for his misreading of “There was a Boy” (11:75). His argument, then, was that Wordsworth was neglected and calumniated, and that he, De Quincey, was the sole reader to recognize and champion Wordsworth’s genius. In his continuation of the series, “Sketches of Life and Manners: from the Autobiography of an English-Opium Eater” in Tait’s Magazine (January 1840), De Quincey describes the “Society of the Lakes.” He attempted “to illustrate the abject condition of worldly opinion in which Wordsworth then lived,” and to present “striking proof of the slight hold which Wordsworth, &c. had upon the public esteem”(11:190). Autobiography thus provides De Quincey the opportunity to recenter himself in the society in which he had been marginalized (Roberts 52–65). In declaring that Wordsworth had no place, no fame, no recognition in this society, De Quincey endeavored to usurp that recognition for himself. As biographer of Coleridge, De Quincey assumed a rather different stance, claiming for himself honesty and integrity in being forthright about his addiction, and more importantly about his delvings into German philosophy and literature. He preserved the stories of his relationship with Coleridge from 1807 to 1810, yet he also turned some of that narrative into accusations of plagiarism and opium– addiction. As literary critic, De Quincey appropriated from Coleridge such key terms “subconscious” and “idem in alio.” As journalist, he included among his essay topics many adumbrations on Coleridgean themes. Finally, as specialist in the genre of dream–visions, De Quincey absorbed Coleridge’s imagery into the very process of dreaming. Indeed, Coleridge seems to have been assimilated as De Quinceyan alter ego when De Quincey reenacted Coleridge’s ascent of the

 On De Quincey’s defense of “There was a Boy,” see Russet, De Quincey’s Romanticism, p. 242.  Tait’s Magazine for January, 1839, carried an essay entitled “Lake Reminiscences: No. I. William Wordsworth.” Wordsworth was also the subject of Nos. II and III in February and April; No. IV, in July, was “William Wordsworth and Robert Southey”; and No. V, in August, “Southey, Wordsworth, and Coleridge.” Articles on the lesser celebrities of the Lakes (Lloyd, Wilson, and others) appeared in 1840, often with references to the Wordsworths.

De Quincey as Autobiographer


Brocken in Suspiria de Profundis and again when he concluded the Dream Fugue in The English Mail Coach by galloping into the Campo Santo. “He whose talk is of oxen, will probably dream of oxen,” De Quincey declared at the opening of the Confessions (2:12), adapting his phrase from Ecclesiasticus 38:5. That truth may have been more profound, more poignant as autobiographical revelation, than De Quincey himself realized. His dreams of being lost, helpless, sapped of will and the ability to cope, were not merely dreams but the symptoms of the opium addiction that held him in thrall throughout his literary career. He anchored his autobiography in a series of Wordsworthian recollections, augmented with Coleridgean visions. From Coleridge’s description of Piranesi’s Il Carceri in the Confessions, he continued with a reenactment of Coleridge’s ascent of the Brocken reenacted in Suspiria de Profundis, and culminated with Coleridge’s account of the Campo Santo in Pisa revisited as the finale to the Dream Fugue in The English Mail Coach. As autobiographer De Quincey abrogated the authorship of his life story to opium and opium dreams, and to Wordsworth and Coleridge, the idols of his imagination and the influential rivals of his literary aspirations. His narrative becomes entangled in digressions just as the dreamer of his visions becomes lost in the labyrinths of space and time. His prose is woven of literary allusions and grand rhetorical flourishes; his construction of self drifts into confusions of identity and alterity. “Nothing makes such dreary and monotonous reading,” he wrote in response to James Hogg’s request that he write an autobiography, “as the old hackneyed roll-call, chronologically arrayed, of inevitable facts in a man’s life” (17:69). De Quincey proposed an alternative to conventional autobiography: “to detach some single chapter from the experiences of childhood” and draw from them “the deep impressions under which my childish sensibilities expanded” (17:70; Shilstone 20–34). The plan does indeed sound as if it had been modelled on aWordsworthian exposition of “fair seed-time.” Works Cited Brewster, Sir David Natural Magic: addressed to Sir Walter Scott, Bart. London: John Murray, 1832. Burwick, Frederick. Mimesis and its Romantic Reflections. University Park PA: Penn State University Press, 2001. ———. Thomas De Quincey: Knowledge and Power. London: Palgrave, 2001. ———. “The Dream-Visions of Jean Paul and Thomas De Quincey,” Comparative Literature, 20, no. 1 (Winter, 1968): 1–26. Butler, Marilyn. “Satire and the Images of Self in the Romantic Period: The Long Tradition of Hazlitt’s Liber Amoris.” English Satire and the Satiric Tradition, (ed.) Claude Rawson; Introd. Alvin Kernan. Oxford: Blackwell, 1984. pp. 209–25. Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Philosophical Lectures of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, (ed.) Kathleen Coburn. London: Pilot Press, 1949.


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———. Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. 6 vols, (ed.) Earl Leslie Griggs. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965–71. ———. The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Text, 5 vols, Notes 5 vols, (ed.) Kathleen Coburn (assisted in vol. 4 by M. Christensen, vol. 5 by A.J. Harding). Princeton: Bollingen Press, 1957–2002. De Quincey, Thomas. The Works of Thomas De Quincey, 21 vols, (eds) Grevel Lindop, with Edmund Baxter, Frederick Burwick, Alina Clej, Robert Morrison, Julian North, Daniel Sanjiv Roberts, Laura Roman, Barry Symonds and John Whale. London: Pickering and Chatto, 2000–2003. Jordan, John E. De Quincey to Wordsworth. A Biography of a Relationship. Berkeley: University of California, 1963. Levin, Susan M. The Romantic Art of Confession. De Quincey, Musset, Sand, Lamb, Hogg, Frémy, Soulié, Janin. Columbia SC: Camden House, 1998. Lindop, Grevel. The Opium-Eater: a Life of Thomas De Quincey. London: J.M. Dent, 1981. North, Julian. “Autobiography as Self-Indulgence: De Quincey and His Reviewers.” Mortal Pages, Literary Lives: Studies in Nineteenth-Century Autobiography, (eds) Newey, Vincent; Shaw, Philip; Hants, Eng.: Scolar, 1996. 61–70. Perry, Curtis. “Piranesi’s Prison: Thomas De Quincey and the Failure of Autobiography.” SEL: Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900, vol. 33, no. 4, 809–24, Fall 1993. Pireddu, Nicoletta. “‘Portable Ecstasies’: The Rhetoric of Opium in De Quincey’s Autobiography.” Etudes Anglaises: Grande-Bretagne, Etats-Unis, vol. 48, no. 3, pp. 268–75, Summer 1995. Platzner, Robert L. “De Quincey and the Dilemma of Romantic Autobiography.” Dalhousie Review, vol. 61, no. 4, pp. 605–17, Winter 1981. Porter, Roger J. “The Double Self: Autobiography and Literary Form in Gibbon, De Quincey, Gosse, and Edwin Muir.” Dissertation Yale University. 1967. [Richter], Jean Paul. Werke, 6 vols, (eds) Walter Höllerer, Gustav Lohmann, Norbert Miller (Munich: Hanser Verlag, 1959–63). Roberts, Daniel. “Autobiography as Identity: The Case of Thomas De Quincey.” Aligarh Critical Miscellany, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 52–65, 1991. Russet, Margaret. De Quincey’s Romanticism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Rzepka, Charles J. “The Body, the Book, and ‘The True Hero of the Tale’: De Quincey’s 1821 Confessions and Romantic Autobiography as Cultural Artifact,” Studies in Autobiography, (ed.) Olney, James. New York: Oxford UP, 1988. pp. 141–50. ———. “Farce and Self-Representation in De Quincey’s Confessions.” A/B: Auto/Biography Studies, vol. 2, no. 4, pp. 14–20, Winter 1986. Schneider, Matthew. Original Ambivalence: Autobiography and Violence in Thomas de Quincey. New York: Peter Lang, 1995. Schwartz, Mona. “A Study and Comparative Analysis of the Materials Which Constitute the Autobiography of Thomas De Quincey” Dissertation. New York University, 1980.

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Shilstone, Frederick W. “Autobiography as ‘Involute’: De Quincey on the Therapies of Memory.” South Atlantic Review, vol. 48, no. 1, pp. 20–34, Winter 1983. Stull, Heidi I. The Evolution of the Autobiography from 1770–1850. New York: Peter Lang, 1985. Wilner, Joshua. “Autobiography and Addiction: The Case of De Quincey.” Genre: Forms of Discourse and Culture, vol. 14, no. 4, pp. 493–503, Winter 1981. Young, Michael Cochise. “‘The True Hero of the Tale’: De Quincey’s Confessions and Affective Autobiographical Theory.” Thomas De Quincey: Bicentenary Studies, (ed.) Snyder, Robert Lance. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1985. pp. 54–71. Zieger, Susan. “Pioneers of Inner Space: Drug Autobiography and Manifest Destiny.” PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, vol. 122, no. 5 (Fall 2007) pp. 1531–47.

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Chapter 9

The Friend of Keats: The Reinvention of Joseph Severn Sue Brown

Joseph Severn was obliged to reinvent himself more than once in his long life. His principal calling as an artist ended in relative failure as did his subsequent career as British Consul in Rome. As “The Friend of Keats,” however, he found increasing success, attracting in his later years a steady stream of visitors in Rome, anxious to hear at first hand the truth about Keats’s last days. In response to the expectations of his admirers, Severn re-imagined his past, recreating himself not as the friend he had been but as the friend his public liked to think he would have been. In a sense, Severn’s autobiography was written by others, with Severn as an increasingly willing accomplice. Artificial and misleading though the construct was, its foundation remained secure. It lay in the most uncharacteristic but also the most revealing letters he ever wrote from Rome in the winter of 1820–1821 to Keats’s circle of friends in London. Before considering the way in which Severn’s reputation as the preeminent friend of Keats emerged, it is worth briefly considering his avowedly autobiographical writings. He wrote two sets of reminiscences about himself: the unfinished “Incidents of My Life” (1857–1858) and “My Tedious Life” (1873); as well as four about Keats, including “On the Vicissitudes of Keats’s Fame” (finished in 1861). Only the last, which covers Keats’s time in Rome and also offers an idiosyncratic collection of examples of the wayward course of the poet’s posthumous fame, was published in Severn’s lifetime. William Sharp, however, Severn’s first biographer, extracted parts of “Incidents” and “My Tedious Life”, reproducing them in Life and Letters of Joseph Severn in lackadaisical or deliberately touched-up versions. Severn liked to keep busy. When he was not painting he wrote, producing his reminiscences at times in his life when his previously successful careers as artist and diplomat were failing. In 1857, for example, he turned to writing after a fine painting, The Deserted Village, on which he had laboured for two years, went unnoticed at the Royal Academy annual exhibition. Similarly, in the summer of 1873 he was taking the cure in Tolfa as he nursed his wounded spirits in the aftermath of his enforced retirement from the consular service. It was not just that  The first draft of this article, initially entitled “On the Adversities of Keats’s Fame” is printed in full in Scott (ed.), 610–22.  For a groundbreaking consideration of Sharp’s many emendations and their effect on the reputations of both Keats and Severn, see Scott (12–15).


Romantic Autobiography in England / Brown

he lacked things to do, however: Severn always believed in the inspiriting effect of writing. As a letter writer, he consciously talked up the good news. Vague mention of commissions was transformed into firm orders; polite compliments evolved into salutes to his genius; and, always, especially in his letters to his wife, he overestimated his potential earnings as an artist. As Severn saw it, it was not only the letter writer who was to be cheered by the act of writing but the reader too. “Incidents” is penned in the same buoyant spirit as his letters, with Severn setting out to rebuild his confidence by recalling earlier successes. Though it has some elements of the Bildungsroman, Severn’s autobiographical presentation is not an account of his intellectual or spiritual development. He does not ponder roads not taken and avoids contemplating gloomy things—above all, death. His life from early childhood was touched at critical points by the deaths of friends and family and some close shaves of his own, but death was not a subject Severn ever chose to dwell on, other than to draw the comforting moral that Providence had preserved him for a purpose. Nor was he a man for conscious self-examination. Introspection quickly turned to depression: Severn recognized the danger and avoided the exercise. The closest models for his first set of reminiscences were, rather, the standard lives of the great artists and the picaresque novel. So, Severn writes of his early struggles against the odds; parental opposition to his determination to become an artist; the jealousy of his contemporaries in the RA Schools; the malice of his enemies in London and Rome; and his success in defeating them. Here is an externalised account of the East End adventurer, indomitably making his way abroad, and getting the better of his foes. “Incidents” is loosely organized and, as was the way with Severn’s genial conversation, full of digressions and asides. “My Tedious Life” is a tauter, better-written work which starts with a surprisingly didactic purpose. Like the writer of the then popular confessional spiritual autobiography, Severn explained that he had embarked on the story of his life in the hope that it might prove instructive to the young man of promise: As my life has been a dull long blank without the least interest except its length of 80 years & as I am now in these mountains passing a tedious time … It occurs to me to take this blank waste of my long life & make fun of it … so will I try & be spicy, picant and palatable against myself … I may laugh at my follies and feel shame at my vanities & altho’ I could not do it myself for myself yet some lucky wight born with a genius like mine may thro’ me turn it to account by seeing what I have so ill done or not done at all & so turn away from it & look at the back of my looking glass (Scott 625).

Irony and self-criticism were never Severn’s natural suits, however. He was too much of a salesman for that. He did not sustain his declared object for more than a few pages. Far from telling a moralizing tale of setbacks and unfulfilled promise, Severn quickly reverted to his usual exuberant style, concentrating on his successes, re-imagining encounters with famous men, and frequently muddling his chronology, to produce an engaging story of a far from tedious life, written in apparent innocence. But though Severn mixed up the sequence of events in Keats’s last months in Rome, he included in his memoir a number of evocative

The Friend of Keats


incidents of this period not found elsewhere. William Sharp later recycled some of them, bringing these revealing accounts of Keats’s state of mind in Rome into wide circulation for the first time, and influencing more than a century of writing about Keats’s death. Sharp’s biography concentrated on Severn’s friendship with Keats and concern to see his friend posthumously valued at his true worth. Severn’s artistic career, which sustained him and his family for over 30 years, was dealt with relatively briefly, while his 11 years as British Consul in Rome were covered in a handful of pages. By re-writing the inexpert, discursive prose of Severn’s memoirs, Sharp did him a disservice. His embellishment, for example, of Severn’s admittedly rather fanciful account in 1846 of the composition of the “Bright Star” sonnet, would make Severn the butt of scholarly denigration in the twentieth century as a lightweight, self-serving participant in tragic events beyond his ken. Robert Gittings, perhaps the most brilliant of all Keats’s biographers, offers an example: “Severn, on matters of fact, was almost completely unreliable … There could not be a less competent witness to what Keats did or said on this last landing on English soil” (83). More recently, Michio Sugano has extended the attack, relying not only on Gittings, but Severn’s fiercest critic, Amy Lowell, as she elbows the despised Severn aside in her determination to stand close to Keats. In his own lifetime, by contrast, Severn’s standing as the “The Friend of Keats” and a model of noble male companionship was increasingly secure. Its construction was an iterative process as others interpreted Severn’s life for their own ends and Severn responded to their expectations. The culmination of the process came in his re-burial, on the insistence of his admirers, in the same enclosure as Keats beneath a headstone which supplies the name so conspicuously missing from the poet’s tombstone, as well as a long record of his own achievements. “With their matching tombs, Keats and Severn … became the nineteenth century’s most famous male couple,” as James Najarbian has recently written (51). This confirmation of Severn’s status as the friend of Keats might have surprised the poet. Though Severn was almost the longest-standing member of the Keats Circle, he was not, until the last months of Keats’s life, among his closest friends, and even then, only by default. Until they set out together for Italy, the Keats-Severn friendship was relaxed and untroubled, a sign of its lack of intimacy by comparison with Keats’s more difficult relations, at one time or another, with Benjamin Bailey, John Hamilton Reynolds, Charles Wentworth Dilke, Charles Brown and, of course, Fanny Brawne. Occasional though the friendship was, Keats enjoyed Severn’s way of idolizing him and there was much that he could pick up from Severn about  W.H. Marquess has the most incisive comment on Lowell’s almost comically intolerant attitude towards Severn: “if [Severn] later took pride in his somewhat mistaken celebrity as Keats’s great friend, it proves only that he was human, not that he was a selfaggrandizing leech” (101).  Najarbian’s focus on the association between Keatsianism and illicit sexuality in the nineteenth century opens up thought-provoking new perspectives. His reliance on Sharp’s biography and W.S. Graham’s fraudulent memoir of Severn, however, leads to some errors of fact, particularly over the circumstances of Severn’s reburial next to Keats.


Romantic Autobiography in England / Brown

the visual arts and music in a more accessible way than the strenuous Haydon and all-too-clever Hunt allowed. Keats applauded Severn’s triumph at the RA in December 1819 when he won the Gold Medal for Painting, but, in his last troubled months in London, did not seek him out. As Severn was ready to admit at the time, it was simply the conjunction of mutual self-interest which brought the two together as travelling companions in September 1820. No one else was available to go with Keats, while Severn, on his part, lacked the confidence to go to Rome on his own, although a period of study there was the obvious next step in his artistic career. But with Severn, at least, sympathy and self-interest coalesced. Not only did he see himself becoming a great artist in the art capital of the world, he also looked forward to furthering Keats’s recovery in a warmer climate and securing a place at the heart of the Keats Circle when the two of them returned in triumph to London. The reality was far different as Keats rapidly declined in Rome and Severn faced an ordeal for which he was unprepared and, by temperament, ill-equipped. At the time, it did not occur to him that he was finding his ultimate fame in a painful, unexpected place. The most that he could say for himself as he lamented Keats’s distance from his closest friends and enumerated his own failings as a nurse was: “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” (KC, ii, 90). It was Leigh Hunt who first discerned Severn’s mature identity as the devoted deathbed companion, writing to him as Keats lay dying, “whether our friend dies or not, it will not be among the least lofty of our recollections by-and-by, that you helped to smooth the sick-bed of so fine a being” (Milnes 224). This was consolation intended for private consumption. Shelley’s tribute to Severn published in his Preface to Adonais late in 1821 was, by contrast, the first of the public building blocks in the construction of “The Friend of Keats” edifice. Susan Wolfson has brilliantly dissected Shelley’s own self-interest in promulgating the image of Keats as victim. Adonais. An Elegy on the Death of John Keats was composed before its author knew anything of the circumstances of its subject’s death. Though Shelley made efforts to get information on Keats’s last months in Rome, he made clear that his primary interest lay in discovering “the impact of the Quarterly Review in exciting the disease by which he perished”(23). An opportune letter from a self-important, unreliable intermediary in Rome, the Rev “Colonel” Robert Finch, was grist to the mill. Finch, who had never known Keats, talked to Severn in one of his more self-pitying moods and was, as a result, able to send Shelley’s friends, the Gisbournes, a ponderously melodramatic account of Keats’s last days, contrasting his appalling state of mind with the kindness of his unselfish companion. Shelley seized on the letter to drive home the attack in his Preface on the villainous critics who had “hooted” Keats “from the stage of life,” by highlighting the contrasting figure of the man of virtue who had stayed by Keats to the end: “Mr Severn, a young artist of the highest promise, who, I have been informed, ‘almost risked his own life, and sacrificed every prospect to unwearied attendance upon his dying friend’.”

The Friend of Keats


Though Adonais was designed for “elite consumption” (Wolfson 33), it brought a regular flow of Keats and Shelley admirers to Severn’s door in Rome and helped turn him into the best-known of Keats’s associates. Severn was responsible for creating Keats’s tombstone, served as the keeper of his grave in Rome, delighted in talking to visitors about his increasingly illustrious friend, and, as a result of his growing success as an artist, became the most prominent member of what was left of the Keats Circle. Though it has been well-said that “Keats’s surviving comrades competed amongst themselves to claim the role of his best friend” (Najarbian 45), Severn was an exception. For as long as Charles Brown was alive, he never staked a claim of his own. He knew well enough from his experience in Rome with Keats that the position belonged to Brown, and deferred to his judgment in almost everything affecting Keats’s posthumous reputation. Perhaps, because he had failed to answer Keats’s call to be with him, Brown, for his part, accorded Severn the special status due to the deathbed companion. As a result, Severn and Brown were the only two members of the Keats Circle to sustain a close, supportive relationship in the years after Keats’s death. When Brown, who had determinedly seen off all other aspirants to the task, finally settled in the late 1830s to writing what he called a “Life of Keats,” Severn was the only friend, apart from himself, whose name he admitted to his text (KC, ii, 52–97). Brown had his reasons, however, for highlighting Severn’s devotion to Keats in the final months in Rome. One third of the “Life” consisted of the letters Severn had written him recording Keats’s last emotional and physical agonies. Brown had come round to Shelley’s view that Keats was the victim of the critics. Severn’s memorable accounts of his sufferings rammed home the point. Muddled though he was on many things, Severn was always adamant that it was not the critics who drove Keats to an early grave but tuberculosis and the agonizing frustrations of his incomplete relationship with Fanny Brawne. When Brown, on the point of emigrating to New Zealand, handed over his “Life” to Richard Monckton Milnes to see it through to publication, Severn immediately recognized that it would not do. He quickly became Milnes’s principal collaborator in encouraging members of the Keats Circle to supply the biographer with memories which would recall Keats’s vibrancy and freshness of spirit as a young man, “working up Brown’s material as dismal & cool colours to set off the bright& gay” (Scott 413). Severn also sent Milnes two sets of his own reminiscences of Keats, which mostly concentrated on the earlier days of their friendship, and a collection of Keats’s puns (KC, ii, 129–33 and 134–8). Anxious though Severn was to overlay the image of the victimized “milk and water” poet with that of the high-spirited, engaging friend he had relished before illness set in, Severn knew that Milnes would also be publishing the letters from him which Brown had included in his “Life.” He even arranged for Milnes to see the letters he had written at the same painful period to William Haslam. Coventry Patmore who had the job of copying them out for Milnes found them “frightful 

For an analysis of the friendship see the introduction to Scott and Brown (eds).


Romantic Autobiography in England / Brown

… I leave off copying them with much the same impression as I awoke with, last night, after a very dreadful nightmare” (KC, ii, 205). Severn was well aware of the impact they would have. In giving Milnes a free hand in editing them, however, he was concerned not with their substance, but their style. He twice asked Milnes to polish up the letters: “as they were written in such distress of mind any inaccuracy of language I should be glad to have corrected” (159). Milnes changed both substance and style, omitting some of the details of Keats’s physical deterioration, reducing almost to an aside Severn’s account of Keats’s determination to commit suicide in Rome, and disguising his ultimate spiritual desolation. Just as he cleaned up Keats’s own punctuation, so “losing the sense of a young mind hurrying from thought to thought, reckless of errors” (Marquess 53), so too Milnes smoothed out Severn’s jerky idiosyncratic prose. In the process he succeeded in elevating the deathbed scene and distancing it from the clutter of domestic anxieties which is such a telling feature of the originals. By intention or neglect, Milnes also omitted one of Severn’s most vivid presentations of himself as Keats’s nurse: “Oh! He will mourn over every circumstance to me whilst I cool his burning forehead—until I tremble through every vein—concealing my tears from his staring glassy eyes” (KC, ii, 88). Contrariwise, however, he did include Severn’s confession to Haslam, the friend with whom he was always frankest, that his motives in setting out for Rome with Keats were far from selfless: “I made sure of his recovery when we set out. I was selfish: I thought of his value to me; I made my own public success to depend on his candour to me” (Milnes 219). Milnes was not out to denigrate Severn, however, but to sanctify him. The only substantial re-writing he undertook was designed to point up the eloquence of a moving but sometimes incoherent passage in the letter Severn wrote to Haslam the day before Keats died. As re-worked by Milnes, it reads, Poor Keats has me ever by him, and shadows out the form of one solitary friend: he opens his eyes in great doubt and horror, but when they fall upon me, they close gently, open quietly and close again, till he sinks to sleep. This thought alone would keep me by him till he dies: and why did I say I was losing my time? The advantages I have gained by knowing John Keats are double and treble any I could have won by any other occupation (222).

Here was a memorable image of nurse and patient and the trials and rewards of devoted friendship. When Severn’s reburial next to Keats was planned in 1882 and Walter, his eldest son, consulted widely on a suitable epitaph, one of the suggestions that came to him was that part of this passage should be carved on the tombstone. As well as including many of Severn’s letters, which spoke for themselves, Milnes also followed Shelley in ascribing the highest of motives to Severn’s “holy work of friendship and charity.” “Entirely regardless of his future prospects, and  Marquess sees this differently: “Severn twice encouraged Milnes to edit out any material he found troubling” ( 51).  The original which is differently punctuated is in Scott (ed.), 120–24.

The Friend of Keats


ready to abandon all the advantages of the position he had won Mr Severn at once offered to accompany Keats to Italy … Such a companionship … was everything to Keats,” Milnes wrote (223, 209). Others elaborated, like the fashionable preacher, Stopford Brooke, who delivered a sermon on the friendship of Keats and Severn in 1873, or William Rossetti who reproduced Severn’s letters in 1887 in his Life of Keats without commentary, not daring to intrude on “this image of a sacred death and sacred friendship” (63). The odour of sanctity wafted powerfully over the Keats-Severn friendship before the cynics got to work on it in the 1920s. In part, it was Severn’s own creation. His brief but famous description of Keats’s last hours, which Milnes had the good sense not to tamper with, “echoes,” as Jennifer Williams has written, “the sacrificial martyrdom of the traditional pieta” (144). But Keats’s early death was also, as Andrew Bennett has argued, an essential part of his posthumous fame. Haloed by association with the final sufferings of the poet of unmatched promise cruelly cut down, was the friend who had stood by him, ameliorating his sufferings. Even a man less vain than Severn could not have been unaffected by his canonization. It did, however, oblige him to rearrange his past to live up to the image others had created for him. He was, for example, conscious that his apparently spur-of–the-moment decision to accompany his dying friend to Rome might appear to lack the dedication expected of the man now revered as the friend of Keats. Nor had his early reminiscences of Keats placed him centre-stage, though that was where his admirers would have expected to find him at key moments in the poet’s life. The succession of cultivated visitors in the 1860s and 1870s to his vast but dusty apartment in the Palazzo Poli overlooking the Trevi Fountain, brought their own assumptions about the persistent nobility of his friendship with Keats. So memorable were these set-piece occasions that several wrote down accounts of what they had heard from the man who 50 years before had held the dying Keats in his arms. Much that Severn told them was wrong or misleading, if not deliberately so. He was biddable. By temperament and circumstance he was also a huckster. In his last years he had pretty well persuaded himself, as well as his interlocutors, of the legendary character of his friendship with Keats. In 1877 he got the opportunity to standardize and propagate this re-imagined relationship. Harry Buxton Forman, a senior official in the Post Office, and determined editor of Shelley and later Keats (as well as a skilled literary fraudster), sought his help in the publication of Keats’s love letters to Fanny Brawne. Despite his reputation for unreliability, Severn was reasonably clear in his recollections of facts about life in Hampstead and Rome 60 years before. His description of key incidents in his friendship with Keats, by contrast, showed how far by then his memory had diverged from reality. An inquiry about the speed with which Keats had recovered from his first attack, for example, produced a sentimental flight of fancy as Severn rethought the early months of 1820, suggesting that not only was his decision to go to Italy with Keats long pre-meditated, but also that, in response to it, Keats was inspired to write perhaps his most famous poem:  For a discussion of Severn’s late falsifications see my forthcoming biography The Rewards of Friendship: A Life of Joseph Severn.


Romantic Autobiography in England / Brown “We talked of his going to Italy,” Severn wrote to Forman, “& as he was to go alone I then thought over in silence how I could possibly accompany him, & the day after I had made up my mind & told him—he was released from the very painful idea of dying alone although he could not express it, but I saw the effect on [his] countenance—He arose from his bed during the weekend Mr Brown showed me the Ode to the Nightingale which had been written and put among the books” (Forman 11).

This was taking to extremes a process Severn had begun in the 1840s. Then he had read Brown’s memorable passage in his “Life of Keats,” describing the night when Keats, returning late and chilled to Hampstead, coughed up arterial blood, which he immediately recognized as his death warrant. In describing the scene to Monckton Milnes, Severn managed to insert himself into it, transposing the incident to the following morning and depicting both he and Brown shuddering together over the awful portent (KC, ii, 130). Severn also had his own, more prosaic, alternative account to Brown’s of the composition of the “Ode to a Nightingale,” remembering going in search of the poet after a convivial evening at the Spaniard’s Inn and finding him on Hampstead Heath listening to a nightingale singing. He even painted a picture of the imagined scene.  Severn’s visitors to Rome enjoyed stories of this kind. Forman was more discriminating and kept the old man’s more egregious inventions out of his introduction to Letters of John Keats to Fanny Brawne. Even so, his lengthy Dedication, addressed to Severn, came close to setting up the painter of “the beautiful countenance seen, as you of all men living saw it, in its final agony” as Saint John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” at Keats’s Calvary. The publication of Keats’s love letters was one of the three great late-Victorian literary scandals raising questions about the right to reveal an artist’s most intimate thoughts. For Severn it was a more personal shock. Though there is much that is touching and funny in Keats’s letters to Fanny Brawne, there are also raw passages of neediness and ugly suspicion which took Severn back to those dark days in the winter of 1820 which he had taught himself to forget. The authentic voice of Keats cut through the accumulated patina of Severn’s sentimentalized, self-important memories. He fretted over the letters so much that he suffered a stroke from which he never fully recovered before his death the following year. His grief was a private one. Associated though he was with a publication that shocked many of Keats’s admirers, Severn’s standing as the selfless deathbed companion was not affected. On his own death there was outrage that he had not been buried next to Keats in the old part of the Protestant Cemetery. Three years later he was re-interred there in a ceremony celebrating a friendship to rival that of Hector and Pylades or David and Jonathan. Only in the following century did

 It now hangs in Keats House Hampstead. Though a favourite with young visitors it is not one of Severn’s best works. Severn’s account of the composition of the “Ode” as retailed by his youngest brother, Charles, is in Sharp, pp. 39–40.

The Friend of Keats


the inevitable re-evaluation begin as Severn’s reinventions of his friendship with Keats and fallibilities as a witness were exposed. Against this background, it may seem surprising that, for all the complaints of Severn’s unreliability, the integrity of his letters from Rome in the winter of 1820 has scarcely been questioned. This is despite the fact that, apart from three extracts from business-like letters written by Keats’s doctor, Clark, there is no corroboration of Severn’s accounts of Keats’s final days. Not only that, but in the days immediately before Keats’s death, Severn was writing in a very different vein to his youngest sister Maria. First published in 1934 by B. Ifor Evans in an article reassessing the Keats-Severn friendship in negative terms, this long letter comes as a shock.10 Begun on 21 January 1821 and not finished until 20 February, this is, nonetheless, Severn at his most characteristic. He is, he says, in good health though he misses his family; his picture is coming on well and he seems sure of winning the RA traveling fellowship; he has “shared a pipe and a pot” with “the Marquess Canova”; he is planning a series of paintings on important scenes from English history inspired by the Raphaels in the Stanza; the weather is glorious and the local food delicious; he has learnt how to boss the natives around: and then he fills up his page with a racy account of the adventurous sea voyage to Italy. Keats is scarcely mentioned for, as he says, “I am writing to keep up my spirits—therefore I must not write of this.” Just three days before Keats’s death, however, he does reassure his family: “poor Keats can not last but a few days more I am now quite reconciled to his state—yet I fear I shall feel the miss of him—but here everyone is kind so that I should not feel it” (Scott 125, 130). However exhausted, Severn could still conjure up the energy to calculate his effects when writing to his family. His father had vehemently opposed his journey to Italy, knocking him down in a drunken rage on the night Severn came to say goodbye to his family. Severn says nothing of that in his letter. He does, however, try to convince his family that his decision to go to Rome was the right one and that he is now embarked on the great artistic career he had always told them would be his. Isolated and afraid in a miserable situation, Severn needed a safety valve: writing to his sister he could be himself, optimistic, ambitious and high-spirited. Even he, however, recognized that he had overdone it, apologizing to Haslam two days later, “I have at times written a favourable letter to my sister—you will see that is best” (135). Of the rest of his letters from Rome, only one comes close to the letter to Maria in terms of conscious calculation. On 11 January 1821, Severn wrote to Mrs Brawne, Fanny’s mother. “I said that the first good news I had should be for the kind Mrs Brawn” he began. But his “good news” was no more than that Keats’s acceptance that he was dying had left him “in a state of peace”; “He remains quiet & submissive under his heavy fate Now if anything will recover him it is this absence of himself” (KC, i, 189). This kind-hearted attempt to manipulate 10 Severn to Maria Severn, 21 January, 11, 14, 19, 20 February, 1821 is more accurately transcribed in Scott (ed.), 124–30.


Romantic Autobiography in England / Brown

bad news into good did not mislead Fanny Brawne; “I am sure nothing during his long illness has hurt me so much as to hear he was resigned to die” she confided to Keats’s sister, Fanny (Edgecumbe 15). Severn’s other letters from this period are different. Those which survive are to John Taylor, Keats’s publisher, William Haslam, the mutual friend who had first suggested that Keats and Severn should travel together, and Charles Brown, the friend Keats would have preferred to have with him in Rome. All were anxiously copied and circulated within the Keats Circle as Severn responded to the charge Haslam had given him to report accurately on the state of Keats’s mental and physical health. Though he pitches the tone of his reports to suit his varied audience—chatty and domestic with Mrs Brawne, more measured with Taylor, frank with Brown especially about Keats, and at his most personal and vulnerable with Haslam—these letters, unlike the many hundreds of others he was to write, are not crafted attempts at self-presentation. As he later, half-apologetically, described them to Milnes, they were “spontaneous” letters (KC, ii, 159). Including two written from Naples and two immediately after Keats’s death, there are just 11 surviving letters in which Severn sought to encapsulate the experience of four agonizing months, while his description of the seven hours in which he held the dying Keats in his arms, takes only 15 lines. Inevitably he was selective, reporting not just on the symptoms of Keats’s declining health but also picking out what he saw as indicative examples of Keats’s doings and sayings. We cannot know what Severn chose not to tell. A different witness would have reported things that Severn thought unimportant. Had Charles Brown, for example, been with Keats, there would, no doubt, have been more about Keats’s anger and the naming of his enemies. Possibly, too, Brown would have said less about himself than Severn does. Part of the power of Severn’s letters comes from the fact that he offers a double portrait. Nothing could be further from W.M. Rossetti’s awed description of Severn’s “self-oblivious friendship” (54). What Severn shows us is not just Keats the young poet dying in utmost misery, half-starved, choking for breath, weakened by frequent bleeding and deprived of any sedatives; but also his nurse, perplexed by his multitude of responsibilities, doing his best to keep going, overwrought and far from home. Keats’s final physical and emotional sufferings in the Piazza di Spagna, as he condemned himself to perpetual anonymity, are almost too painful to contemplate. It is the presence of the desperate, fallible young man beside him which makes the scene accessible to most readers: What enrages me most is making a fire I blow—blow—for an hour—the smoke comes fuming out—my kettle falls over on the burning sticks—no stove—Keats calling me to be with him—the fire catching my hands & the door bell ringing— all these to me quite unused and not at all capable (KC i, 189).

It is not a heroic picture, and the preponderance of domestic concerns enraged Mrs Isabella Jones, an old flame of Keats, who tore into “Mr Egoist’s Productions”

The Friend of Keats


as she searched in vain for an elevated deathbed scene (Scott 149). But it is immediately recognizable for anyone who has nursed a seriously ill patient. At this early stage in his life Severn was not out to depict the nobility of his devotion to Keats. He is at his most revealing because he is at his least calculating. One attribute he could not conceal, however: his essential kindness. It shows not just in his description of himself but in his portrait of Keats. Severn reports very little of what Keats said in his anger or bitterness, real though they were. He does, however, choose to pass on to the friends in London examples of Keats kindness even in extremis. There is his concern for Severn’s artistic career in Rome and anxiety that he is holding him back from getting on with his picture for the RA; his delight at the contacts Severn makes in Rome; and his willingness to go along with an outside nurse, despite his dislike of strangers, so as to allow Severn time to himself. Above all, there is Severn’s touching account of Keats counseling him in preparation for his own death: he told [me] not to trouble for he did not think he should be convulsed—he said—‘did you ever see anyone die’ no—‘well then I pity you poor Severn— what trouble and danger you have got into for me—now you must be firm for it will not last long’ (Scott 137).

This was the Keats his friends recognized and cherished, the man who as Reynolds wrote was “the sincerest Friend—the most loveable associate,—the deepest listener to the griefs & disappointments of all around him, ‘that ever lived in the tide of times’ ”(KC, ii, 274). The generosity of Keats’s deathbed concerns became an essential part of his legend. So movingly do they speak to us, that we have to remind ourselves, as Jennifer Michael has pointed out, that “the words of Keats we remember … are actually Severn’s” (52). Writing in the middle of the night, jotting his thoughts down pell-mell, too tired and frightened to shape them, Severn reveals both Keats and himself in a far more rewarding light than in his later selfconscious re-imaginings. Unwittingly, he was building a secure foundation for that much-loved Victorian edifice “The Friend of Keats.” For once in his lifetime Severn was utterly reliable. Note: I am, as always, indebted to Grant Scott for his careful reading of an earlier version of this article, and many helpful suggestions. Works Cited Bennett, Andrew. Romantic Poets and the Culture of Posterity. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999. Edgecumbe, F., (ed.) Letters of Fanny Brawne to Fanny Keats, 1820–1824. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1937. Evans, B. Ifor. “Keats and Joseph Severn: A Re-Estimate with Unpublished Letters.” London Mercury 30 (August 1934).


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Forman, M.B., (ed.) John Keats: Letters of Joseph Severn to H. Buxton Forman. Oxford: privately printed, 1933. Gittings, Robert. The Mask of Keats: A Study of Problems. London: William Heinemann, 1956. Marquess, W.H. Lives of the Poet: The First Century of Keats Biography. College Park: Pennsylvania UP, 1985. Michael, Jennifer Davis. “Pectoriloquy: The Narrative of Consumption in the Letters of Keats.” European Romantic Review 6.1 (1995): 38–56. Milnes, Richard Monckton. Life, Letters and Literary Remains of John Keats. London: Everyman, 1969. Najarbian, James. Victorian Keats: Manliness, Sexuality, and Desire. Basingstoke: Palgrave 2002. Rollins, H.E., (ed.) The Keats Circle: Letters and Papers 1816–1878 (Cambridge MA: Harvard UP, 1948. Rossetti, W.H. Life of John Keats. London: Walter Scott, 1887. Severn, Joseph, “On the Viccissitudes of Keats’s Fame.” Atlantic Monthly 11 (April 1863): 401–7. ———. “Letter on the Composition of Keats’s `Bright Star’ Sonnet”. Union Magazine 1 (February 1846): 157. Scott, Grant. “Writing Keats’s Last Days.” Studies in Romanticism (2003): 3–26. ———. (ed.) Joseph Severn: Letters and Memoirs. Aldershot and Burlington: Ashgate, 2005. ———. and Sue Brown, (eds) New Letters from Charles Brown to Joseph Severn. Romantic Circles (online journal). University of Maryland, 2007. Sharp, William. The Life and Letters of Joseph Severn. London: Sampson, Low, Marston, 1892. Sugano, Michio. “Was ‘Keats’s Last Sonnet’ Really Written on Board the Maria Crowther?” Studies in Romanticism 34. 3 (1995): 413–40. Wallace, Jennifer. “Keats’s Frailty: The Body and Biography.” In Arthur Bradley and Alan Rawes, (eds) Romantic Biography. Aldershot and Burlington: Ashgate, 2003. 139–51. Wolfson, Susan J. “Keats Enters History.” In Nicholas Roe, (ed.) Keats and History: Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995. 17–45.

Part 3 Genres and Modes

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Chapter 10

“I am not what I am”: Staged Presence in Romantic Autobiography Stephen C. Behrendt

In 1973 the American popular singer Carly Simon released a recording called “You’re So Vain”; its lyrics chronicled the errant ways of an unnamed egotistical, unprincipled womanizer whose high-profile misadventures included jetting to Nova Scotia to watch a total eclipse of the sun and spending questionable time with the wife of his best friend. So self-absorbed is the man that, as the refrain says “You probably think this song is about you, don’t you? Don’t you?” Not surprisingly, the press had a field day with the song, and more than three decades later, continued speculation has still not established the identity of the object of Simon’s scorn, although the leading candidates have always been Warren Beatty (with whom she had had a relationship), Mick Jagger (the Rolling Stone who sang with her on the recording), and James Taylor, whom she had recently married. Simon herself has repeatedly refused to identify any one man as her subject, claiming that the figure was a composite of men she had known. I begin with this anecdote to raise a question that I shall explore in this essay: what are we to make of the seemingly autobiographical references that authors (and artists) make in the process of literary (and artistic) activities that are not themselves primarily autobiographical in nature? I am thinking here of those instances of “incidental” autobiography that occur essentially as “asides” (in the theatrical sense) within works that would seem to be occupied with matters far removed from revealing the author’s own person. How much importance do we attach to the author’s implied or asserted presence in, and attitude toward, his or her material when we assess both the “intentional” autobiography (i.e., the traditional, straightforward autobiography or memoir) and the “indirect” or “staged” autobiography (i.e., those authorial comments, revelations, and selffashionings that are ostensibly incidental to other literary activities)? Perhaps more important, how much does the author intend us to do so, and how do we know? To begin to answer this question, we must first consider the nature of autobiographical writing itself, a topic that has over the past several decades generated a remarkable quantity of scholarship, some of it literary-historical, some of it theoretical, and some of it essentially biographical in nature. And we must consider in the process the protocols of reading that govern the ways in which we process what we regard as autobiographical discourse. In theatre practice there is an expression—“stage presence”—that refers to the projected or manifested onstage dramatic, emotional, and psychological stature conveyed by the actor. Sometimes this stage presence involves simply how the


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individual actor—or actress—occupies the physical space and time of the playing area of the stage in relation to other actors: how she or he dominates a scene through the director’s blocking of the scene, for example, or through his or her physical appearance, voice, or gestures. At other times, most particularly when the actor or actress is a celebrity—a “star”—it also involves the public magnetism of his or her presence, taking the role and identity of a character in the drama while everyone in the theatre is well aware that it is not Macbeth or Hedda Gabler on the stage but rather Laurence Olivier or Maggie Smith. In the discussion that follows, I want to play on the notion of stage presence in autobiographical and pseudo-autobiographical writing. I shall propose that especially in those instances of what I call “incidental autobiography” we witness the “staged presence” (with the “d” conspicuously added) of an ostensibly autobiographical, self-revealing subject in the text. I shall focus less upon any single author than upon larger issues concerning genre and Romantic self-presentation that include self-mythologizing and self-historicizing—as well as self-concealment—that are involved in a range of literary (and extra-literary) performances, whether those performances are intentionally or ostensibly unintentionally autobiographical in nature. As the case of “You’re So Vain” nicely illustrates, we need to be careful about how we interpret these staged presences. For example, if we decide that Carly Simon’s song refers to Warren Beatty (to choose one option), then we need to decide about other things as well. Because every event, every behavior, every attitude described in the song will have to be assigned to Warren Beatty, we will inevitably need to ascribe things to him about which we may have no other evidence but the song’s lyrics and the rhetorical force of the repeated challenges to his vanity. In for a penny, in for a pound, in other words. But does it also follow that we must, as a consequence—or perhaps as the enabling condition—decide too that the song’s narrator is in fact Carly Simon herself? If so, then we must necessarily also read into what she says (sings), a set of conclusions that the lyrics lead us to draw about her, factoring in along the way what we already know about her as a public figure, an entertainer, and a woman who has been involved with (in this hypothesis) Warren Beatty. What we know about these matters outside the account the lyrics supply helps us determine how much credence we wish to give to the song’s claims, as well as the extent to which we may decide to attribute its criticisms to personal bias. If, on the other hand, we do not choose to identify the song’s voice as Carly Simon’s, then whose voice is it? Now the question becomes one of authority. If we are uncertain of the speaker’s identity, then we are doubly uncertain about the information being presented, including the identity of the song’s subject. Paradoxically, whichever choice we make, we are left largely becalmed on a sea of doubts and uncertainties. Because each of us is drawn instinctively to stories—to narrativity—we naturally look for the “story” in every phenomenon we encounter, and when no such “story” seems to be obvious (or when the phenomenon gives us, like Keats’s Grecian Urn, insufficient or contradictory information to let us extract a story) we tend to create a story of our own to fill the bill.

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James Treadwell suggests that Romantic era autobiographical writing existed in a sort of no-person’s-land when it came to literary genre (Treadwell). Like the novel a century earlier, autobiography was by 1800 a form (or vehicle) of discourse in search of a genre: it had not yet acquired the author-reader protocols or the literary conventions that define and distinguish other, more established genres. From the first, autobiographical writing involved a seemingly insuperable difficulty of definition: if it was “history,” or an objective record of lives, then it could not (apparently) also be “art,” or a filtered and aesthetically mediated construct resembling a “life” without actually being one. Already in 1813, Treadwell points out, James Stanfield had questioned the extent to which autobiographical writing could attain the supposed standard of credibility because, as Stanfield put it, “there is an unavoidable suspicion attendant on self-biography” (Stanfield 34). For Treadwell, Stanfield’s point is that “the autobiographical act itself undermines its pretensions to veracity,” so that “it is not what it seems” (Treadwell 24). Hence the identical words of Shakespeare’s Iago and Viola, “I am not what I am” (Othello I. i, 65; Twelfth Night III. i, 107) which are spoken in wholly different moral and dramatic circumstances, are particularly apropos of autobiographical writing. Usually taken to mean “I am not what I appear to be,” their words may also be construed as an enigma—“no matter what you think I am, I am not that”—that cannot be resolved logically, no matter how one juggles words or sense, rather in the manner of Magritte’s famous painting, This is not a pipe, which depicts a curved pipe above that verbal inscription. Authors of autobiographies apparently believe that their lives are not just of interest to others, but that they are of uncommon or even exceptional interest. What else, after all, could lead one to publish these accounts? Eugene Stelzig has identified the three prototypical approaches to Romantic era autobiographical writing in the works of Rousseau, Goethe, and Wordsworth (Stelzig 1–23). Rousseau’s Confessions (1779, published 1782) provides a model of the writer whose production is, as the title indicates, meant to be perceived as a confession, a candid and impressionistically organized outpouring of information about the formation and development of the author’s sensibilities. With From My Life: Poetry and Truth (1811–33) Goethe promulgated a more deliberately “artful” variety of autobiography, a carefully arranged (or staged) presentation whose narrative structure is that of the life of a “hero.” In electing to compose The Prelude (1799–1805, published 1850) as a book-length poem, Wordsworth took the matter further, offering his readers (posthumously) a still more aesthetically formalized document that interestingly responds to Milton’s suggestion in An Apology for Smectymnuus (1642) that “he who would not be frustrate of his hope to write well hereafter in laudable things, ought himself to be a true poem, that is, a composition and pattern of the best and honorablest things” (Milton 694). Even so, in composing his poem about the growth of a poet’s mind (his own), Wordsworth adopted the rhetorical form of the verse letter, addressing the poem to Coleridge as his ideal “listener,” in the process conflating the very different genres of the verse epistle and the blank-verse epic, and in the process bearing out James Olney’s


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contention that autobiographical writing is always characterized by the invention of new forms—or at least the radical revision and redeployment of existing ones. Autobiography, Olney writes, “refuses, simply, to be a literary genre like any other” (Olney 25). These literary productions, then, are at heart virtuoso pieces in which the composer sets out to demonstrate both his versatility and his artistry, even when claiming to be providing a candid and unaffected self-portrait. Indeed, there is much of the theatrical—the performative—about early autobiography. The most famous (or notorious) early example, Rousseau’s Confessions (1782; Eng. trans. 1783), after all, announces in its first sentence that its author has “entered on a performance which is without example” (my emphases). While most commentators focus upon Rousseau’s claim to the uniqueness of his enterprise, I believe that its declared nature as a performance bears scrutiny, less for the Confessions itself as for what it implies about the pervasively performative nature of Romantic era autobiography. Moreover, it reminds us of the brilliantly performative nature of Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, the supposed “autobiography” of a wholly fictitious character, published when Rousseau was composing the Confessions. Georges Gusdorf famously wrote that autobiography is “the mirror in which the individual reflects his own image” (Gusdorf 33), a formulation that seems to exclude the very real possibility that the individual and the self-image as portrayed in autobiographical writing may not coincide nearly so neatly. Indeed, authors of autobiographies often have a very large investment in not reflecting their own image, or at the very least in refashioning that image in extraordinarily self-serving ways. It is probably more accurate to say that, if anything, the mirror is rather like the one in Sleeping Beauty, in which the image is sometimes a “true” one and at other times a “reflection” of the image that the subject wishes to project to the world or thinks she or he is already projecting. Byron’s works offer an obvious case of that variety of “indirect” or “staged” autobiography that so effectively melds personal revelation with fictionalizing as to render the one often indistinguishable from the other. Likewise, scholars continue to puzzle over Shelley’s self-staging in both his poems and the prefatory statements that accompany them when they attempt to determine whether Shelley is in fact writing about himself or not (e.g., the famous “frail form” in Adonais or Julian in Julian and Maddalo). The notorious pleading prefaces to Charlotte Smith’s novels further illustrate how an author stages an authorial presence and persona for a reading audience that is permitted to “see” the author almost exclusively in terms of what that author seems to present for inspection. But if incidental autobiographical statements muddy the water so badly for us, then how do we proceed when a very public woman like Melesina Trench publishes both her genuinely affecting poem about her young daughter’s death (Trench) and the

 Shari Benstock takes issue with Gusdorf on this point as well, arguing that autobiographical writers are not necessarily committed to presenting “a cohesive self over time” (Benstock 15).

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very personal comments that bracket that poem and that appear both together with it, and in, or accompanying, other things she published? Virtually every study of Romantic era autobiographical writing cites James Olney’s famous declaration that when it comes to defining “autobiography,” “everyone knows what autobiography is, but no two observers, no matter how assured they may be, are in agreement” (Olney 7). But as Stelzig helpfully reminds us, one of the most vexed issues in studies of autobiographical writing involves “the generic boundary line between autobiography and fiction and the richly complex and mutually determining relationship, since at least the eighteenth century, between the kinds of narrative modes employed by autobiographers and novelists” (Stelzig 7–8). Jerome Bruner argues that “autobiography is an extension of fiction, rather than the reverse,” because “the shape of life comes from the imagination rather than from experience” (Bruner 55). For Bruner and others, autobiographical writing is the record of an attempt to impose order or pattern upon one’s unruly life experience. But if this is the case, then one may reasonably ask what separates— at least at the level of rhetoric and representation—the confessional writing in Rousseau’s Confessions from the no less confessional self-representations in The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy? That is, aside from the fact that we know that the former narrative was composed by an actual person and the latter is a fictionalized account of an equally fictional narrator, what is there in the texts themselves to tell us that one is “made up” and the other is not? Or, perhaps more troubling, what is there to establish how much of each work is essentially “made up”? Paul Jay resolves the matter with a dismissive wave of the theoretical hand, asserting confidently that “the attempt to differentiate between autobiography and fictional autobiography is finally pointless” (Jay 16). Such confidence, while it may be reassuring in the short term, is nevertheless of only limited value to all but the most postmodern of us, for it seems to dismiss a central problem—perhaps the central problem—in autobiographical writing with the breezy claim that it really doesn’t matter. But it does matter. We all look for both authority and authenticity in reports of all sorts that are presented to us, whether in the public media—print or electronic— or in “private” communications like letters and conversations. Moreover, practical life experience teaches us that authority and authenticity are inextricably linked: we “believe” in proportion to the extent to which we account our source credible and reliable. The very fact that an aggrieved party in any argument typically demands to tell her or his “side of the story” reminds us that there is never only one “story” but rather a multiplicity of stories that account for the same phenomena from often widely differing perspectives. Ferreting out the “truth” from these many accounts involves acknowledging immediately that the difficultly lies not in the fact that the “truth” is ambivalent but rather that it is firmly polyvalent. So, too, is autobiographical writing, as I hope to demonstrate in what follows. In a recent article in The Writer’s Chronicle Rachel Graves explains the complexities faced by authors who are trying to write nonfictional accounts of public figures who are little inclined to help and who consequently impede them in


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one way or another. “They grant some access,” Graves writes,” but never enough; they pretend to cooperate and then mislead the writer; they are available as public figures but unwilling to share their private lives” (Graves 15). Tellingly, Graves’s article is titled “Liars, Manipulators, Evaders.” The title is remarkably appropriate for the present occasion, for autobiographical writing, too, is replete with all three, often in maddening combination. I raise this point because in a related discussion about journalism and biography, Janet Malcolm makes the emphatic point that “[w]hat gives journalism its authenticity and vitality is the tension between the subject’s blind self-absorption and the journalist’s skepticism. Journalists who swallow the subject’s account whole and publish it are not journalists but publicists” (Malcolm 144). We need only substitute ourselves as readers for “the journalist” in Malcolm’s formulation to appreciate the sort of dilemma that is posed to us at every turn by autobiographical writing. The autobiographer, like any tale-teller, tells her or his side of the story and asks us to accept that it is the only side of the story—or at least the only credible side. And here is where the matter of authenticity enters the picture. Academics learn from their earliest experiences as undergraduates that a substantial part of any persuasive writing consists of what we call (in loaded language) the background, foundation, or underpinnings: it is the texture of factual evidence, often heavily documented and footnoted, that establishes that the writer has done her or his homework and may therefore be believed. That this material is both foundational and contextual (hence “background”) legitimizes what follows in the author’s discussion, lending authority. Authenticity is a slightly different matter, though. While one may garner authority for one’s arguments by knowledgeably citing a range of more established authorities, authenticity arises, for most readers, from their sense that the author has “been there, done that,” to use a currently fashionable phrase. That is, authenticity has to do with the firsthandedness of the account, with the reader’s (or listener’s) conviction that the author can legitimately base her or his account to a significant extent on the fact of having been present at the events being described. With autobiographical writing, of course, this should be a given, and this is why it becomes so interesting to observe authors insisting nevertheless on buttressing their accounts with details designed to create or enhance this particular sort of authenticity, even at the very time that they may well be doing their best to lie to, evade, and otherwise manipulate their audience. The sense of authenticity that comes with a credible authorial presence in the tale can be created in many ways. Most obvious is the strategy that Rousseau employs in the Confessions, where from literally the first sentence he insists upon the deeply personal and individualized nature of the narrative that follows. In this model, the tale’s external details may become almost subsidiary to the revelation of authorial character. In the visual arts, the analogue is the formal self-portrait of the artist, like those famous eighteenth-century images of William Hogarth, Benjamin West, Joshua Reynolds, and James Barry. Visual works of this sort present a likeness of the artist, but that likeness is mediated through the artist’s “vision,”

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which determines how he or she chooses to contextualize that image through everything from design principles and color choices to significant iconography intended to manipulate the viewer’s perception, cognition, and interpretation of the image. At the other end of the spectrum, the authorial presence can come as surprise, as happens in remarkable fashion in A Christmas Carol, where the presence of the first-person narrator introduced in the opening pages gradually recedes and the tale of Scrooge and company takes center stage. And then in “Stave II: The First of the Three Spirits” comes this passage in which the first spirit intrudes upon Scrooge’s uneasy rest: The curtains of his bed were drawn aside, I tell you, by a hand. Not the curtains at his feet, nor the curtains at his back, but those to which his face was addressed. The curtains of his bed were drawn aside; and Scrooge, starting up into a halfrecumbent attitude, found himself face to face with the unearthly visitor who drew them: as close to it as I am now to you, and I am standing in the spirit at your elbow. (Dickens 61)

This is a startling passage, even for Dickens, who was a master of dramatic theatricality. For not only does the first-person narrator suddenly reassert himself in a way that happens at no other point in the tale, but in doing so he suddenly raises for the reader the heretofore unconsidered question of just who (and what) the narrator actually is. The final part of the passage, following the colon, astonishes precisely because it intrudes the narrator’s presence into our physical space, into the time and space occupied by the reader. In other words, Dickens violates the implied boundary of the narrative proscenium stage and interacts with the reader as an inherent part of the fiction’s aesthetic. Something comparable—and equally unsettling—occurs in Joshua Reynolds’s brilliant early Self-portrait Shading the Eyes (c. 1747), in which the artist looks directly and intently at the viewer while shading his eyes against a bright light source that is implied to be in the viewer’s physical space. It should come as no surprise that, as many scholars have observed, the rise of the formal autobiography (and to a lesser extent of autobiographical writing generally) in Europe largely coincided with the rise of the novel, for the two genres share many stylistic and thematic concerns. But it has been less observed that what I have referred to as the “polyvalence” of later eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century autobiographical writing has significant parallels in the visual arts and the theatre of those same periods. The visual sleight-of-hand we observe in a painting like Reynolds’s self-portrait is less the exception to a rule of protocol than it might at first seem to be. For one thing, the eighteenth century marked the high-water mark in Britain of grand-style history painting, the demanding genre that is in many respects analogous to the epic in literature and that produced some spectacular popular failures. The brilliant Irish painter James Barry, for example: 

The painting is reproduced in Penny, p. 73; it is discussed on pp. 175–6.


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the brilliance of his massive murals for the walls of the Great Room of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (1777–84) did not prevent his ending his life in poverty and disrepute. More significant for us was Benjamin Robert Haydon, the eccentric idealist history painter who authored both an autobiography and an extensive set of journals. The Autobiography is famous both as an artistic manifesto and as a carefully staged exercise in selfjustification undertaken in the face of the consistent failure of his monumental works to generate either the fame or the fortune Haydon sought. Like other history painters who were their predecessors and contemporaries, Barry and Haydon introduced into their pictures the likenesses of actual figures, living and dead (including themselves), along with imaginary or mythical figures: Haydon’s Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem (1814–1820), for example, includes the images of Wordsworth and Keats. Eighteenth-century history painters counted upon their audiences to recognize in classical or historical subjects direct parallels to or commentaries upon current events and individuals. But introducing contemporary portraits into historical subjects was a demonstration of bravura intended both to delight and to engage the viewer while advertising the painter’s versatility and inventiveness in the process. This practice is not quite the same as painters including their own likenesses in pictures on various subjects. While introducing their (usually small) self-portraits into larger works constituted a sort of “signature” for artists as early as the Renaissance, by the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it had begun to take on a different sort of referentiality, as in the case of the many images in which Hogarth depicts himself. Ronald Paulson, who has examined Hogarth’s visual self-representations extensively, reminds us that in addition to the many visual records of himself (including the witty images of the pug that serves as surrogate for him) to be found in his graphic works, Hogarth also kept notes and drafts intended for an autobiography (Paulson 188). This autobiographical impulse is important; Hogarth’s presence in a famous painting like The Gates of Calais, or, The Roast Beef of Old England (1748–49), where the artist appears in profile at the left background, busily sketching, Paulson argues, injects a constellation of only partially covert references to Hogarth’s personal life that reflect the strong paranoia that characterizes much of Hogarth’s later work (Paulson 193). In a rich reciprocity, the scene gains signification from Hogarth’s “presence” in it, even as our impression of Hogarth himself is altered in light of the scene’s visual evidence. Such gestures in the direction of visual autobiography are, however, less important in themselves than is the earnest playfulness that they demonstrate, a playfulness that finds an analogue in literary works like Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, with its deliberate multistability, and Blake’s satirical An Island in the Moon, which defies classification in terms of genre. All such efforts, in whichever artistic medium, are designed to increase the level of the audience’s engagement with the work by forcing the perceiver to forego the typical passive perusal of the work and enter into the intellectual, psychological, and aesthetic puzzles that the work poses. In this respect, the presence in visual images of persons and places drawn from obviously different historical moments and scenes functions to create both

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a universality of experience and a sense of the local and the familiar, much as we see before us when Pieter Breughel situates the Numbering at Bethlehem (1566) in a clearly Netherlandish winter setting. From apparent difference and logical disjunction the viewer proceeds to an intellectual and conceptual common ground with the artist. The idea is of course to lend credence to the essence (as opposed to the “fact”) of what is being depicted—the story of the story, as it were—by framing it in terms that reflect the life experiences of the presumed viewers. Blake’s prophetic writings share many of these features, including the characteristic way they assemble within individual moments of narration (or perception) an array of historical and mythical characters drawn from all periods (including the contemporary) and from all geographical locales. All time, place, and space becomes concurrent and instantaneous within the mental moment in which the artist fulfills the visionary civic duty that Blake describes in Jerusalem: Trembling I sit day and night, my friends are astonish’d at me. Yet they forgive my wanderings, I rest not from my great task! To open the Eternal Worlds, to open the immortal Eyes Of Man inwards into the Worlds of Thought: into Eternity Ever expanding in the Bosom of God, the Human Imagination. (Jerusalem 5.16–20)

This “I” is Blake, writing as himself and observed by his mortal friends in the temporal world of London, even as he weaves himself into the complex visionary tale that Jerusalem tells, a tale that insistently conflates disparate times, places, and characters and forces its reader constantly to adjust, revise, and reformulate her or his understanding of the “truth” of the separate sides of the story being told both by Blake and by the various characters whose voices the epic records. The recurrent eruptions of Blake’s “own” voice in the poem act to establish both authority and authenticity in the ways I discussed earlier, by grounding sufficient portions of the narrative in local and recognizable detail to lend credence to the rest of the narrator’s tale. Blake pursues this strategy even more deliberately in Milton, the epic that preceded Jerusalem. There he takes pains to convince us that when Milton commenced his epic journey to the “underworld” of the mortal world (what Blake calls the “Vegetable World”) he had left two centuries earlier he descended into Blake’s presence at Felpham, where Blake was living in uneasy proximity to his annoying but well-meaning patron William Hayley. As Blake describes this event symbolically, Milton entered his foot in the form of a falling star, an event that Blake depicts visually in a full-page illuminated design (plate 29) and in a reversed image (plate 33). Blake explains how all this had come to pass: ... when Los joind with me he took me in his firy [sic] whirlwind My Vegetated portion was hurried from Lambeths shades He set me down in Felphams Vale & prepard a beautiful Cottage for me that in three years I might write all these Visions. (Milton 36.21–4)


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There in “Felpham’s Vale” Blake was visited not just by the stellar Milton but also by Los, the Poetic Genius who inspires Blake’s song, and by Ololon, the spiritual form of Milton’s “Sixfold Emanation.” Indeed, Blake describes how Ololon appeared “in my Garden / Before my Cottage,” adding that he invited her into his cottage so that she might comfort his own “Shadow of Delight” (his wife Catherine) who was “sick with fatigue” (Milton, plate 36). Immediately following these lines, in the bottom third of the illuminated page, Blake depicts himself walking on the path outside his cottage as Ololon descends toward him. To cement the authenticity of this visual account, he adds an inscription beneath the cottage: “Blake’s Cottage at Felpham” (Milton, plate 36). My point here is not that Blake is writing autobiography, spiritual or otherwise; like Jerusalem, Milton is a prophetic poem in which the narrator participates in his tale as do prototypical narrators like John in Revelation and Dante in The Divine Comedy. But temporalizing autobiographical touches like the physical details of Blake’s life and environment—underscored by visual cues like the image of Blake’s cottage—function to create at least a semblance of authenticity that is intended to convince the reader of the poem’s “truth.” In composing a tale in which the narrator’s self—not as a mere narrative persona but as a credible authority with an in situ knowledge of the events—Blake fashions a narrative whose structural integrity “exemplifies the personal authority of its creator” and reveals the subject “as a person with a peculiar consciousness of self,” as Michael Mascuch puts it (29−30). Thus Blake writes in Jerusalem that “I write in South Molton Street, what I both see and hear / In regions of humanity, in London[’]s opening streets” (Jerusalem, plate 34, ll. 42−3), and he does so because “I see the Past, Present & Future, existing all at once / Before me” (Jerusalem, plate 15, ll. 8−9). In his role—his “staged presence”—as an inspired bard, Blake fulfills what he demanded when he elaborated upon Admiral Nelson’s famous words in his Descriptive Catalogue of 1809: “England expects that every man should do his duty, in Arts, as well as in Arms, or in the Senate” (Blake 549). When we come to later Romantics like Byron and Shelley we encounter a different sort of complication. Unlike Blake, who explicitly introduces himself into the prophecies in his own person, Byron notoriously insinuated his presence in virtually everything he wrote, producing a polyvalency that compels his readers— then as now—to try to disentangle the obviously “authentic” from the patently fictional. That Byron willingly—one might almost say gleefully—participated in the game is evident from transparent subterfuges like changing the title of Childe Burun’s Pilgrimage to Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, as if this was somehow disavowing or otherwise masking the poem’s autobiographical texture. If it was a literary parlor game among Byron’s contemporary readers to debate what was “true” and what was not in his poems and dramas (or in his mistress Lady Caroline Lamb’s Glenarvon [1816]), it has proven to be no less so among earnest academics  Mascuch notes his debt to the theoretical discussions of Elizabeth W. Bruss (Bruss).

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in our own time, who often appear almost genetically unable to engage in the sort of playfulness that the nihilistic Byron everywhere cultivates. Does it matter, finally, within the dramatic or the rhetorical framework of Byron’s poems whether any or all of the textual details are “autobiographical” (and therefore “true”) in the strictest sense? It does if we are looking for pure “confession,” but how many artists of any substance play the game by such simple rules? We are well guided by the anecdote about Oscar Wilde. Asked by an acquaintance whether it was true that he had walked in Hyde Park carrying a green carnation, Wilde supposedly remarked that it was unimportant whether he had done so or not: what mattered was that people believed that he had done so. The works of Percy Bysshe Shelley present us with a different sort of staged presence. Perhaps the most famous example of the tendency to read Shelley into his texts involves the wraith-like mourner who appears midway through Adonais, Shelley’s great elegy on the death of John Keats and the fate of visionary artists and thinkers generally in the modern materialist bourgeois culture. Even standard editions of Shelley’s works routinely identify this “one frail Form” with Shelley himself. Supporting hints are everywhere in the text, of course, from the declaration that the figure is “companionless” (l. 272) and “Actæon-like” (l. 276) to the description of him as both self-tormented and “neglected and apart” (l. 296). But to insist that this figure is Shelley himself rather than a universalizing image of the spurned prophetic poet generally is to limit both the power and the scope of the figure’s function in the poem. He is the languishing idealist, certainly, selfconsumed because he cannot abandon the unshakable commitment to the public welfare that compels him to give voice to unpopular opinions and that therefore costs him both poetic fame and social acceptance, or community. But it is worth remembering that when he drafted the preface to his poem Shelley originally included a very personal statement about precisely these matters, specifically as they applied to him personally. There, in a passage bristling with multiple cancellations, overwritings, and revisions, Shelley lamented the personal cost of having “dared & invited censure” in writing “neither for profit nor for fame” but as an expression of “the ardent & unbounded love I [felt] cherished for my kind” (Shelley Bodleian MS fol. 11r). This paragraph of the draft contains the greatest number of in-process revisions and also the greatest visual evidence of Shelley’s agitation as he composed, but in the midst of it comes, suddenly and poignantly, a sentence completely devoid of alterations: “I desire to be left in peace” (Shelley Bodleian MS fol. 13r). Shelley subsequently omitted this entire section from the preface to Adonais, a gesture that indicates his desire not to make the poem about him, directly or even incidentally, but to make it an elegy on the grim fate of the poet as a civic and spiritual advocate hemmed in by the grinding materialism of the emerging industrialized Britain. Shelley fills his poem with enough topical  See, for instance, Shelley’s Poetry and Prose, p. 419, where the footnote to the phrase reads: “I. e., Shelley.” Quotations (and line numbers) from Shelley’s poems are from this edition.


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references to Keats and Robert Southey (whom he believed to be the author of the Quarterly Review’s savage review of Keats’s poetry that some believed had hastened Keats’s death) to enable readers to read contemporary circumstances into the poem; but he reduces or softens the details that we might think of as “autobiographical” in order to reduce his own presence there. As in the case of the Carly Simon song with which I began this discussion, in Adonais it does matter, finally, to the overall “meaning” of the poem whether we locate Shelley himself in the poem or not, for how we resolve that question impacts how we read everything else in terms of assumed authorial (and autobiographical), narratorial bias. Nor is this the only instance of such game-playing on Shelley’s part; Julian and Maddalo (composed in 1819 but not published until 1824, following Shelley’s death) is usually regarded as a thinly-disguised dialogue between Shelley (Julian) and Byron (Maddalo). It is that, of course, but like Adonais, it is also more, and how much more can get lost when we demand that the text function narrowly as autobiographical writing. The poem contrasts two world-views, using the unfortunate fate of a confined maniac (based on Tasso) to focus the opposing views of the idealistic Julian and the pessimistic Maddalo. The poem is essentially a skeptical debate, narrated (and therefore “colored” or “slanted”) by Julian, examining the resiliency of the human spirit in the face of traumatic personal anguish. The two men use the maniac’s situation to demonstrate the validity of their opposing philosophical arguments, but when they travel to see and hear the maniac in situ the jolting experience forces them to abandon the abstract for the real and immediate, with the result that both are sufficiently shaken that they largely abandon their argument. Leaving matters thus unresolved, Julian leaves and only returns years later, by which time Maddalo has himself departed for Armenia, leaving behind his daughter, who conducts a final interview with Julian, during which Maddalo’s daughter tells Julian how the maniac’s history concluded. In a calculated rebuff to the curious reader, Julian seals the mystery without revealing its resolution: “I urged and questioned still, she told me how / All happened—but the cold world shall not know” (ll. 616–17). This conclusion denies the expected closure, forcibly reminding the reader that it is always the narrator who controls how the details of any tale are released—and even if they are released at all. In this case, Julian unilaterally decides to deny the reader the information that might at least permit the reader to “resolve” the maniac’s fate; this assigns the poem’s ending a heightened irresolution. Like a musical composition that concludes on an unresolved seventh, the poem denies readers the closure that their habits of reading lead them quite naturally to expect. But Shelley muddles his poem’s ostensibly autobiographical framework right from the start, for its preface describes Maddalo and Julian in ways that tempt us to read them as Byron and Shelley even as the descriptions suggest that we ought not to do so. Most notably, Shelley’s description of Julian becomes increasingly ironic, culminating with these words: “Julian, in spite of his heterodox opinions, is conjectured by his friends to possess some good qualities. How far this is possible, the pious reader will determine. Julian is rather serious” (p. 121). Expressions

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like “conjectured by his friends,” “the pious reader” and “rather serious” are rhetorically multistable, suggesting that they may—and should—be taken in more ways than one. Like the familiar graphic image that represents both two human profiles facing one another and an elaborate goblet or urn, depending upon what we choose to “see” as foreground or background, Shelley’s language oscillates between alternative poles of signification, destabilizing not just the preface but indeed the entire poem that follows. It may seem that I have moved rather far afield from my original argument, but I have done so to further complicate the already complicated boundary that we are accustomed to try to recognize between “fiction” (or that which is “made up”) and (auto)biography, which is typically assumed to constitute “history” and therefore “fact.” It is probably inevitable that we “read into” first-person works of fiction (whether poetry or prose) the biographical circumstances of their authors, in part because our culture characteristically invests first-person narratives with an inordinate presumption of veracity, especially when these narratives come to us in print. And even third-person narratives (like Charlotte Smith’s novels or Shelley’s Alastor) take on the coloring of “truth” when they seem closely to embody things that we know about their creators’ lives. And yet we do not mistake Tristram Shandy for the “life” (and opinions) of Laurence Sterne. Or do we? Sterne’s great novel is famously performative, from its rhetorical and stylistic bravura to its typographical quirks and tricks, its blank or marbled pages, and its stunning logical conundrums, like the remarkable moment when Tristram informs us at the top of one right-hand page that he has just torn out 10 pages of text because they displeased him, a declaration that is “proven” by the fact that there is a 10-page gap between the page numbers printed on the two facing pages. No matter how we try to interpret the physical evidence of the text, we cannot make Tristram’s statement “true” in any empirical sense. So, too, are we returned to impasse with much that purports to be straightforwardly autobiographical. Moreover, if we think we have much to deal with when we know a great deal about an author—a Rousseau, a Goethe, a Byron, a Shelley—we may find ourselves in even greater difficulties when it comes to an author about whom we know very little indeed. I offer, as a final example, the case of Mariann Dark, an obscure British poet whose only publication seems to have been an 1818 volume called Sonnets and Other Poems (Dark). The daughter of a Wiltshire farmer, Henry Stiles, she seems to have been the youngest of five surviving children (a sixth died in infancy), all of whom lived until midcentury. Her father’s death and burial in Bremhill, Wiltshire, in January 1817, which she recounts in an introductory memoir, are verifiable facts. So too are particular locales like Bremhill, Bowood, Penhills, Calne, and Whitley which she recalls from residences or visits. When Dark tells us in the first sonnet (pp. 25−6) that it was in the church-yard at Bremhill that she learned from the family friend (and influential author of sonnets) William Lisle Bowles to lose her fear of death, we can intuit that this experience was associated with her father’s funeral, over which Bowles presided. But was it a sermon (which would have been preached

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in the church rather than at the graveside) that instructed Dark? Or was it some subsequent graveside interment remarks? Or was it, alternatively, a private conversation with Bowles? The more specific is the substantiating detail for which we search, the harder it is to find it. Like Sterne, who always has more that he needs to tell us before he can tell us, accurately enough, what it is he wants to tell us, so does Dark (and countless others) tell us both much and little. This inherent instability is undoubtedly what James Treadwell has in mind when he writes that what distinguishes autobiographical writing is not any definable set of formal characteristics but rather “a particular way of deceiving the reader (or, more charitably, a particular imbalance in the relation between author and public).” Similarly, when Dark explains that her Sonnet XXXVI was “composed during illness” (p. 75), how much do we need (or want) to know about the particulars of that illness in order to “understand” her sonnet? What is the nature of her “pale disease and pain” (l. 5), and why (and how) are her symptoms relieved by hearing (or reading) “the beautiful introductory stanzas to the ‘Lady of the Lake’” (note, p. 75)? Is Scott’s verse efficacious only when Dark is ill, then? Or only when she is afflicted by these particular symptoms? The very next poem in the collection is inscribed “Night Scene, Oct. 1813,” which suggests a significant particularity that is not in fact borne out by the poem’s text, which describes a spiritually uplifting sunset that could presumably have occurred with just as profound an effect in April of 1814 or July of 1816. Like Wordsworth’s famous sonnet on Westminster Bridge, which was in fact not composed on 3 September 1803, its title notwithstanding, Dark’s sonnet involves a dating that pointedly suggests signification without following through and delivering it. Or at least not in any way that we as readers are able to determine. In other words, like Wordsworth’s deliberately misleading date-specific title, Dark’s apparent specificity belongs more to the poem as performance than it does to the poem as historical record, as “autobiography.” It “places” the poem in a way that invites us to work out a personal (and thus biographical) relationship between the date and the events the sonnet describes, and thus to seem to “know” Dark better. This gesturing in the direction of signification without finally attributing it is apparent in Dark’s concluding poem, whose full title is “On the Birth of My Sister’s Little Girl, Three Days after the Funeral of Her Grandfather.” Its seeming familial and chronological specificity notwithstanding, the poem provides neither the relevant dates and places nor the names of any of the participants. Of course, a poem of this sort (which is a spiritual meditation on life, death, and continuity under the hope of the eternal life granted by a benevolent God) requires neither names nor dates to back up its universal spiritual message. The specificity of the title, therefore, is yet another gesture in the direction of the “authenticity” I have stressed throughout this discussion. What is “autobiographical” about this concluding poem is, paradoxically, also what is universal: the “local” experience of Dark’s family circle provides the microcosmic illustration of a universal pattern of human 

Treadwell, p. 30.

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experience. Like so much of autobiographical writing, the author’s disclosures about her life, experiences, and thoughts help us better and more completely to see and assess our own within the broad context of human experience. Because we know so little about her, Mariann Dark provides a useful test of our responses to autobiographical writing, and the results of the test are unsettling because they are so destabilizing. Even the brief glimpse of Dark and her writing contained in the preceding paragraphs demonstrates that autobiographical writing— whether deliberate or incidental—is never wholly candid or straightforward. The self-reflectivity of all such writing is inherently performative, undertaken always with an eye on an intended reader, listener, or viewer upon whom the author or artist has definite designs. In this insistent performativity lie the sources of autobiographical discourse’s inherent polyvalence, its dramatic multistability, as well as its clear effectiveness as a vehicle for engaging its audience on multiple levels. In the second of two poems in which she considers her relation to the famous Charlotte Smith, whose Elegiac Sonnets, first published in 1784, had largely resurrected the sonnet in English, Dark lamented her fate as one of those writers who work in obscurity and then vanish without a trace: “I strike the lyre unknown! My very name / Will soon be blotted from this wretched earth” (p. 43). And yet, in the perennial paradox of autobiographical discourse, her poem (and her little volume) preserves her name even as it provides a record of her life, a “staged presence” of an actual woman whose experience is thus brought nearer to our own (and ours to hers) through the mediating agency of her text. Ultimately, this capacity to bridge the gulf of time, place, and circumstance that separates readers from the authors of autobiographical writing may well constitute the genre’s defining characteristic, both in the Romantic era and afterward. Works Cited Benstock, Shari. “Authorizing the Autobiographical,” (ed.) Shari Benstock, The Private Self. 10–33. ———. (ed.) The Private Self: Theory and Practice of Women’s Autobiographical Writings. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1988. Blake, William. The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, Revised Edition, Ed. David V. Erdman. Berkeley: U of California P, 1982. Bruner, Jerome. “The Autobiographical Process,” (ed.) Robert Folkenflik, The Culture of Autobiography. 38–56. Bruss, Elizabeth W. Autobiographical Acts: The Changing Situation of a Literary Genre. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1980. Dark, Mariann. Sonnets and Other Poems. London, 1818. Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol (1834), (ed.) Richard Kelly. Peterborough, ONT: Broadview P, 2003. Folkenflik, Robert, (ed.) The Culture of Autobiography: Constructions of SelfRepresentation. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1993. Graves, Rachel. “Liars, Manipulators, Evaders.” The Writer’s Chronicle 40.1 (September 2007): 15–22.


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Gusdorf, Georges. “Conditions and Limits of Autobiography,” (ed.) James Olney, Autobiography. 28–48. Jay, Paul. Being in the Text: Self-Representation from Wordsworth to Roland Barthes. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1984. Malcolm, Janet. The Journalist and the Murderer. New York: Vintage, 1990. Mascuch, Michael. Origins of the Individualist Self: Autobiography and SelfIdentity in England, 1591–1791. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1996. Milton, John. An Apology for Smectymnuus. John Milton: Complete Poems and Major Prose, (ed.) Merritt Y. Hughes. New York: Odyssey P, 1957. Olney, James. “Autobiography and the Cultural Moment: A Thematic, Historical, and Bibliographical Introduction,” (ed.) James Olney, Autobiography. 3–27. ———. (ed.) Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1980. Paulson, Ronald. “Hogarth’s Self-Representations,” (ed.) Robert Folkenflik, The Culture of Autobiography. 188–214. Penny, Nicholas, (ed.) Reynolds. London: Royal Academy of Art and Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1986. Shelley, Percy Bysshe. Bodleian MS. Shelley adds. e. 20, fols. 11r and 13r; transcribed by the author and cited with permission of the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. ———. Shelley’s Poetry and Prose. 2nd edition, (eds) Donald H. Reiman and Neil Fraistat. New York: W. W. Norton, 2002. Stanfield, James. An Essay on the Study and Composition of Biography. Sunderland, 1813. Stelzig, Eugene L. The Romantic Subject in Autobiography: Rousseau and Goethe. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 2000. Treadwell, James. Autobiographical Writing and British Literature, 1783–1834. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. Trench, Melesina. “On the Loss of Elizabeth Melesina Trench, an Only Daughter, In her fifth year.” Campaspe, an Historical Tale; and Other Poems. Southampton, 1815; a “hybrid” copy in the New York Public Library containing pages printed after 1815.

Chapter 11

Ned Ludd and Laboring-Class Autobiography Kevin Binfield

When Ned Ludd announced his arrival upon the scene of industrial protest in Nottinghamshire in an 8 November 1811 letter threatening to destroy stocking frames owned by Edward Hollingsworth of Bulwell, he began a record of the life of a movement that came to be named after him and identified with him: Mr H[illegible] at Bullwell Sr, Sir if you do not pull don the Frames or stop pay [in] Goods onely for work extra work or m[ake] in Full fashon my Companey will [vi]sit yr machines for execution agai[nst] [y]ou—Mr Bolton the Forfeit—I visitd him— Ned Lu[d] Kings [illegible] (Binfield 74).

This essay is an experiment in understanding the life of the Luddite movement through the words written by those participating in it, laborers in the framework knitting trade who adopted a common identity through the pseudonym, later eponym, “Ned Ludd.” The Luddite writers did not intend to produce an autobiography of Ned Ludd when they began to write threatening letters, proclamations, verses, and satires in protest against the wage, hiring, and manufacturing practices in the framework knitting trade. Nevertheless, their writings might be read as chapters in the life-story of the eponym through which the movement expressed itself and upon which the movement was structured. Treating Luddite writing as laboring-class autobiography requires a suspension of assumptions about autobiography, and the most important assumption that must be suspended is the existence of a framework knitter named Ned Ludd. No Ned Ludd identifiable in the Leicestershire parish records lent his name to the act of breaking machinery during an outburst against his master in 1779, as the earliest 

I will use the word “movement” to describe what might otherwise be called “risings” because I wish to emphasize the course, both temporal and geographic, that Luddism took from 1811 to 1817. I also intend by my use of the word “movement” to suggest the existence of something similar to a narrative of development amenable to study as autobiography.


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historian of Luddism suggested (Nottingham Review 20 December 1811). No individual General Ludd coordinated Luddite activity across the Midlands and North, or even within specific locales. No single writer signed the name “Ned Ludd” to all of the documents that bear that name. The existence of a single, historical person named “Ned Ludd” would not help us to understand Luddism, which was the collective expression, condensed into a singular vocabulary, of trade and community grievances and the will to redress them. Laboring-class autobiographies were rare but not absent during the Romantic period, and a survey of their range provides a background for understanding how Luddite texts might be read autobiographically. In The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated Critical Bibliography, John Burnett, David Vincent, and David Mayall count only 38 laboring-class autobiographies published prior to 1830; in comparison, 50 were published between 1850 and 1859. Those autobiographies and others not catalogued in the Bibliography diverge generally along two lines—those that are purpose-written and those that are incidental to other purposes. By “purpose-written,” I mean those autobiographies that appear as complete texts with the primary intent to tell or reflect upon the author’s lifestory unrelated to other purposes, rather than as ancillary portions of larger works by the author. Edward Anderson’s The Sailor; A Poem. Description of His Going to Sea, through Various Scenes of Life, Being Shipwreck’d: Taken Prisoner: And afterwards Safely Returning to His Family, Who Had Not Heard of Him for Several Years: With Observations on the Town of Liverpool, published in 1792 as a poem of 36 pages, is probably the first purpose-written laboring-class autobiography of the Romantic period. Written entirely in verse, it shares with prose autobiographies, as well as with the genre’s putative origins in Augustine’s Confessions, a reflective religious thread that joins episodes of labor and vice together as a conversion narrative. The conversion narrative is a recurring form among laboring-class autobiographers, who vary it as their circumstances warrant or join it to other forms. James M’Kaen’s The Life of James M’Kaen, Shoemaker in Glasgow, Who Was executed at the Cross of Glasgow, on Wednesday the 25th Jan. 1797. For the Murder and Robbery of James Buchanan, the Lanark Carrier went into at least three editions in 1797. M’Kaen’s Life falls cleanly into the genre of gallows confession, complete with professions of regret and a testimony of conversion to Christianity. Other laboring-class life-stories follow the general form of the criminal autobiography, such as Mary Saxby’s (1806) Memoirs of a Female Vagrant, Written by Herself, with Illustrations, an account of abuse, running-away, crime, and religious conversion. Many laboring-class autobiographies of the Romantic period are written in passing, incidental to other matters. Several of them appear in published volumes of verse, not only as paratext but also within poems. Christian Milne, in her 1805  One Edward Ludd of Gloucestershire married an Elizabeth Powell in Bourton-onthe-Hill, in 1769 (Gloucestershire Archives, M–2716–1); however, there is no evidence that he was a framework knitter.

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Simple Poems on Simple Subjects, sketched her life—on the title page (“Wife of a Journeyman Ship-Carpenter in Footdee, Aberdeen”), in her 14-page “Preface,” and in several of her poems. The autobiographical passages in her volume rival the purpose-written autobiographies in comprehensiveness and detail. She also told her story to, and through, Elizabeth Isabella Spence, whose Letters from the North Highlands, during the Summer 1816 contains Milne’s own account of her life to 1816 (Spence 57–67). Milne is atypical among laboring-class poets in her desire to relate the particulars of her material as well as her literary life. Elizabeth Hands’s 1789 The Death of Amnon. A Poem. With an Appendix: Containing Pastorals, and Other Poetical Pieces is more typical. Her dedication and two of her poems, “A Poem on the Supposition of an Advertisement appearing in a Morning Paper, of the Publication of a Volume of Poems, by a Servant Maid” and “A Poem on the Supposition of the Book having been published and read,” hint at her perception of the conditions under which she wrote and within which her book was received, but the details of the kind of labor associated with her station as a servant are conveyed only as having happened in the background of the activities of leisureclass men and women: “The tea things remov’d, and the tea-table gone, / The cardtables brought, and the cards laid thereon, / The ladies ambitious for each other’s crown, / Like courtiers contending for honours sat down” (lines 59–62). She is not entirely self-effacing but would rather, it seems, let herself be understood through her literary relationships—that is, through the dedication to the minor dramatist, Bertie Greatheed, through a poem on her own literary tastes, and through a list of over 1100 subscribers. Another detailed early example of a life-story embedded within a volume of poetry, Specimens of the Poetry of Joseph Blacket: With an Account of His Life, and Some Introductory Observations, by Mr Pratt, contains a brief autobiographical letter that sketches out basic details in Blacket’s life and a short account of his reading and writing (Blacket 13–17). A more widely known literary autobiography of this sort is the “Memoir of the Life of James Hogg” in Hogg’s The Mountain Bard; Consisting of Ballads and Songs, founded on Facts and Legendary Tales. By James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd. Hogg traces his development as a writer and pays less attention to stories of his poverty and his laboring life (Hogg i– xxiii). Similarly, Mary Peach Collier, a Derbyshire domestic servant whose Poetic Effusions went into four editions between 1823 and 1851, mentions only briefly her material circumstances, preferring, like Blacket and Hogg, to use her “Preface” to detail her literary development (Collier [1823] n. p.). Many laboring-class poets chose not to tell their life-stories, either leaving the task to editors or remaining silent altogether. Susanna Pearson, the Yorkshire poet and novelist, includes nothing of her own life in her 1790 Poems, Dedicated, by Permission, to the Right Honourable the Countess Fitzwilliam, her 1794 novel The Medallion, or her 1800 Poems on Various Subjects. The utter absence of autobiography from Pearson’s volumes has led scholars such as J.R. de J. Jackson to assume that the poet Susanna Pearson is identical with the Ipswich essayist of the same name, whose 1827 Essays and Letters and whose husband’s 1829

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Memoirs of the Life and Character of Mrs S. Pearson relate a history beginning with Mrs Pearson’s 1779 birth (Jackson 253). Charlotte Richardson, the York poet, permitted her editor and promoter, Catherine Cappe, to present her story to the public. Some of Richardson’s poems and the title to her 1809 volume, Poems: Chiefly Composed during the Pressure of Severe Illness, sketch her life through her own words, but most of Richardson’s life-story is told by Cappe. Sarah Newman, whose 1811 Poems, on Subjects Connected with Scripture was ushered into print by Elijah Waring, left the telling of her life-story entirely to Waring. Anonymous laboring-class autobiographies are neither clearly self-effacing nor self-revealing. One such autobiography is the 1793 Memoirs of a Printer’s Devil; Interspersed with Pleasing Recollections, Local Descriptions, and Anecdotes, published in Gainesborough for “The Author.” The volume details the author’s personal life, family life, and his education. The author provides his birthdate and accounts of the towns in which he lived; however, he hides his identity and, beyond praise of the printing trade, avoids much discussion of his work-life. What I refer to in this essay as the autobiography of Ned Ludd resembles the incidental autobiographies of the laboring-class poets as well as the problematic Memoirs of a Printer’s Devil in revealing a life-story within the shadows of anonymity, but even in a genre liable, as Elizabeth Grubgeld points out, to “destabilizations of the subject” (Grubgeld 39), the case of Ned Ludd is fascinatingly tenuous. Like the self-revealing Christian Milne, the self-effacing Sarah Newman, and the anonymous “Printer’s Devil,” the Luddite writers, especially those who signed their writings in one of the forms of the name “Ludd,” work to construct “subject positions” of the sort described by Felicity Nussbaum and Grubgeld in their works on autobiography (Nussbaum 36; Grubgeld 2, 38–9). Each of the laboring-class writers experienced the tenuous—or, to use Grubgeld’s word, “tentative”—character of their subject positions (Grubgeld 38); however, the Luddite writers recognized that even their fiction, the pseudonym-turnedeponym “Ned Ludd,” was material, collective, and, by intention, deceptive and temporary. Most of the laboring-class autobiographers insist upon their residence in a literary as well as (or sometimes in preference to) a material world, and that dual residence makes difficult understanding laboring-class autobiography through the approaches of historians or literary scholars alone. The academic study of laboring-class autobiography began among social historians, particularly Burnett and Vincent. Those historians place a high value on the truthfulness and accuracy of the autobiographies. In Bread, Knowledge and Freedom, the landmark 

Were the information accurate and correctly applied, Susanna Pearson would have been 11 years old when she published her 1790 Poems, and she might have been married.  Although the Memoirs are purpose-written, they contain two “Odes on Printing” (iv–vii).  Those forms include “Ned Ludd,” “Edward Ludd,” “Captain Ludd,” “General Ludd,” “General Ludd Junior,” “General Ludd Senior,” and, once “King Ludd.”

Ned Ludd and Laboring-Class Autobiography


study of laboring-class autobiography, Vincent distinguishes between “genuine autobiographies” (“life-histories”) and other types of writing, such as biographies and fictional autobiographies. Vincent discounts fictional autobiographies and autobiographies that contain fictional elements (1-2, 5). “The pursuit of knowledge” is a special focus of Vincent’s work, and he studies it through the autobiographies by tracing individual endeavors to gain “useful knowledge” and attain thereby an individual version of a class consciousness: “[T]he pursuit of knowledge provided the weapons for defeating the irrational forces which imprisoned the minds of the labouring population” (Vincent 168). Even though the Luddite story conveys material concerns, its fictional nature diminishes its usefulness to historians such as Vincent. In The Forms of Autobiography, literary scholar William Spengemann is willing to “reject the distinction between fact and fiction in autobiography” and to argue for a more fluid relationship between truth and “self-knowledge” (119, 75). Spengemann ascribes special value to the “condition of self-possession and knowledge which Augustine had made the goal of autobiography” (75). Its aims, he asserts, in his chapter on William Wordsworth’s The Prelude, are “the reconciliation of protagonist and narrator, of unique experience and comprehensive knowledge, of true being and true consanguinity, or temporal action and eternal form” (76). Spengemann’s approach, beginning with Augustine’s conversion narrative and based largely on formalist values such as “reconciliation,” has guided much scholarship on autobiography toward analysis of the non-material aspects of self-writing, and his approach explains many of the elements found in those laboring-class narratives of conversion and confession; however, the concept of “self-possession” assumes a single, integral self of the sort that is more foundational than constructed and difficult to apply to a fictional, collective figure such as Ludd. Furthermore, Spengemann treats authors who had leisure for reflection—circumstances unavailable to most laboring-class authors. In A Community of One: Masculine Autobiography and Autonomy in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Martin Danahay approves Spengemann’s assertion that autobiography’s “ultimate and principal referent is the otherwise ungraspable self” (Spengemann 121). Danahay writes, “Spengemann’s definition ... makes any text that attempts to construct an ‘otherwise ungraspable self’ in the metaphorical mirror of the text an autobiography” (14). Danahay rightly links autobiography with autonomy; however, he mistakenly defines autonomy as “self-naming” (11). The word “autonomy” has its origins in the Greek auto “self” and nomos “law.” Despite Danahay’s error—that is, regardless of whether it was a willful misreading or an incorrect extension of the Greek root onoma “name,” as found in the word onomastics, “the study of naming”—both his speculative etymology and the proper etymology provoke useful thoughts on the relationship between ideals of self-naming and self-governing among the Luddite writers. Shirley Neuman’s 1992 article, “Autobiography: From Different Poetics to a Poetics of Differences,” similarly concerned with the non-material, proposes a way of reading autobiography that recognizes “a dialectic between ... the subject


Romantic Autobiography in England / Binfield

as acted upon and produced by social discourse and the subject as acting to change social discourse and, therefore, its own subject position” (223). For Neuman, autobiography is less inwardly orientated than socially negotiated, but her approach does not account well for the material realities underlying or explicitly treated by much laboring-class autobiography. Other scholars, both in history and literature, are more willing to challenge the boundaries between material fact and rhetorical play. Social historian Katrina Navickas acknowledges not only the power of collective self-narrating but also the “fine line between reality and truth” in what she calls the “mythology of Luddism” (287, 295). In The Autobiographical Subject, Felicity Nussbaum attempts to strike a balance between discursive and material exigencies. She describes a “subject” as an “individual being,” subject, of course, to the control and influence of others within a system of power relations, but an “individual being” nevertheless (xi). Nussbaum’s use of the word “being,” distinct from the abstraction “subject,” indicates an appreciation of the material existence of the autobiographer, an appreciation that is even more important in the study of laboring-class autobiography. Even though Ludd constructed himself through an abstraction, a figure of speech, his grievances were material, his targets were material, and his remedy was material. These approaches from two different fields bound a space between fiction, literary play, material truth, and collective narration within which Ned Ludd’s story might be read. Many of the laboring-class autobiographies, such as the anonymous Memoirs of a Printer’s Devil, do not dwell much upon the material laboring lives of the authors, and a few reduce authorship, intentionally or not, through such devices as anonymity or the form of the conversion narrative to what Neuman might justly call a “subject position.” Anonymity is one problem in considering a Luddite autobiography, but the problem is not insurmountable. In fact, the Luddite writers’ anonymy (that is, their deliberate obscuring of identity, in this case through pseudonymy) ensures that Ned Ludd holds more than a subject position. Pressing material considerations dictated the Luddite need for anonymity, and, as E.P. Thompson points out in “The Crime of Anonymity,” anonymous letters offer “the common sense of injustice of the poor as a whole” and “attempt to present not the personal but the collective grievance” (273). In the hands of the Luddite writers, the eponym “Ned Ludd” functions as much as a social materiality as a social discourse. Ned Ludd is a collective figure, but he is not comprehensive. Ned Ludd is not every Luddite. Diverse Luddites conveyed orders to Ned Ludd, passed his orders to others, wrote on his behalf, executed his orders, or celebrated his successes. Collectively, some Luddites voted upon courses of action and charged Ned Ludd with their execution. His separate existence is variable and fluid, but separateness, or distinctness, from other Luddites is a recurring, even defining, feature. The framework knitters long had a body of constitutive texts that included 1657 and 1663 Charters as well as a series of letter books, membership rolls, petitions, and negotiations with employers. They already were a collective entity with a

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documentary and documented history of their own, and for these reasons those framework knitters, like Gravenor Henson, who took legal action against offending employers, negotiated publicly with the knitting firms and sought Parliamentary relief, named themselves the “Nottingham Committee” but have since been called the “constitutional section” (Thompson, Working Class 536, 540). The reasons that a large number of them decided to depart from the constitutionalists remain unclear, as Navickas points out (283). I believe that the disaffected framework knitters who stepped off of the strictly constitutionalist path toward relief did so because they realized that presenting themselves as a trade company, society, or association suggested in that very constitution the possibility of severability—that is, the possibility for employers to rend asunder, through reduction of wage rates and the introduction of unapprenticed workers, those entities that remained, despite their singular form, collections of persons. A single name, a personal name, made that severability more difficult and incidentally transformed a documented history into a type of autobiography. Luddism is frequently referred to as an eponymous movement. Elsewhere, I have argued that the feature of Luddism that differentiates it from other labor protest movements is a “single, forceful act of naming—the creation and appropriation of the eponym Ned Ludd” (Binfield 18). Eponymy is at the center of this essay and at the center of Luddite naming. In her 1991 essay, “The Politics of Eponymy,” Valerie Alia considers eponyms in relationship to anonyms and pseudonyms. Alia distinguishes between two types of eponyms—commemorative and protective. The commemorative eponym celebrates those “scholars or scientists through [naming] theories, discoveries, inventions, fields, or movements” after them (Alia 61). What Alia calls the protective eponym uses a name as “a collective anonym— a name which links a group of individuals by allowing them to remain individually anonymous” (Alia 58). Thompson, too, points to the collective character of anonymous threatening letters in his essay, “The Crime of Anonymity.” Alia’s insight is in her linking eponymy to anonymy; however, I believe that her linking is flawed. Alia writes, “It is important to note that the protective eponym is not a pseudonym, although it might look like one at first glance” (Alia 59). In this, she is correct, but she neglects to point out that pseudonyms are largely under the control of the original writer; in contrast, eponyms become eponyms only after something else becomes eponymous. The writer of a pseudonym seldom creates the eponym unaided. The construction of the linguistic device is partly out of the hands of those who began its construction. During the Romantic period, the creation of eponymous Foxites, Huntites, Hampdenites, and Owenites was largely in the control of the audiences for writings generated by the movements. Nottinghamshire machine-breakers began the construction of the eponym not by envisioning an eponym but by constructing  Fumio Hozumi goes so far as to write that the Luddites can be classified as Luddites for no other reason than that they, in unison, acted under the name of “Ned Ludd” (Hozumi 12).

Romantic Autobiography in England / Binfield


a pseudonym—Ned Ludd. The machine-breakers’ pseudonym, however, differs from pseudonyms with which most readers are more familiar in that it was not the pen-name of a single writer, such as William Cobbett’s “Peter Porcupine”; instead, the pseudonym was shared among several, perhaps many, writers. The multiplicity or collectivity evident in the Nottinghamshire machine-breakers’ writing suggested to Charles Sutton, editor of the Nottingham Review, that a real collective identity existed among the machine-breakers. Regardless of the cause, in an article of 20 December 1811, Sutton transformed a collective pseudonym into an eponym when he first used the word “Luddites,” thereby establishing “Ned Ludd” as an eponym and setting into motion a wide usage by journalists, authorities, and, most surprisingly, the Luddites themselves, who began to treat their collective narrative as the life-story of Ludd. When the pseudonym “Ned Ludd” first appeared on threatening letters in November 1811, it operated within at least two rhetorical modes. Most obviously, it created an anonymity—that is, it hid or obscured the name and identity of the writer. It also hinted, through anonymity, at a threatening Luddite omnipresence. One Luddite writes in an April 1812 poem, “For Ned’s Every where, / To both see and hear” (Binfield 130). As the pseudonym became a widely-spread eponym, it concentrated the perspectives of protesters, authorities, masters, and observers. In its public aspect, it took on a life of its own. From November 1811 to early 1812, Ned Ludd created and related his own narrative among texts considered collectively: he was promoted from captain to general (Binfield 72–3, 98–100), moved from the Midlands to the North (Binfield 208), recruited to his cause a near relation named “Eliza” (Binfield 179), gathered an administrative staff and an officer corps (Binfield 125–6), and had a son, Ned Ludd, Junior (Binfield 224). By 1814, he revived his career, reflected upon his erstwhile silence and inactivity, and philosophized upon his son’s brutal actions in the war in America (Binfield 151–2). Narrative is evident even in individual Luddite texts, and that narrative character serves a prospective function that differs significantly from autobiography’s typical reflective function; nevertheless, the prospective narrative introduces a new possibility for reading texts that might be considered as autobiography. One such narrative, “General Ludd’s Triumph,” frames the Luddite movement with a description of its inception and speculation on its conclusion. The inception is eponymic, concentrated on the figure of Ludd: Chant no more your old rhymes about bold Robin Hood, His feats I but little admire I will sing the Atchievements of General Ludd 

Referring to Luddite self-naming as the construction of an autonym would be convenient; however, misappropriating the term autonym from biology is unnecessary in this context. The Luddites did name themselves but only through the creation of the single name “Ned Ludd,” not the collective name “Luddites” given to them by Charles Sutton in the 20 December 1811 Nottingham Review.

Ned Ludd and Laboring-Class Autobiography


Now the Hero of Nottinghamshire Brave Ludd was to measures of violence unused Till his sufferings became so severe That at last to defend his own Interest he rous’d And for the great work did prepare[.] (Binfield 98)

Ludd does not sing his own praises here; instead, a Luddite sings the praises of the eponymous movement. It bears repeating that any Luddite could be Ned Ludd at any moment. The point is substantiated by a prospective concluding stanza: Let the wise and the great lend their aid and advice Nor e’er their assistance withdraw Till full fashioned work at the old fashioned price Is established by Custom and Law Then the Trade when this arduous contest is o’er Shall raise in full splendour its head And colting and cutting and squaring no more Shall deprive honest workmen of bread. (Binfield 99–100)

The end of the movement is foreseen, and the path toward its end is prescribed. With the assistance of “the wise and the great,” “the Trade” will establish a just laboring environment. Notice that Ned Ludd is absent from the conclusion; “the Trade” has taken his place or has absorbed him back into its ranks. No piece of Luddite writing makes clearer the precise relationship between the life of the eponym and the existence of the eponymous collective. The collected narrative by members of a group that operated and wrote under the name “Ludd” suggests the possibility of reading that narrative as autobiography, but concerns within the Luddite writings for authenticity and lineage also point to the usefulness of considering that body of texts as autobiographical. The Luddite writers distinguished between authentic and inauthentic tales of Ned Ludd and betrayed their desire for a pure, authorized version of Ludd’s story. In a 24 April 1812 letter, Thomas Large, who frequently refers to the framebreakers as “the Sherwood lads,” writes from London to Thomas Roper in Nottingham: heris is a shopman, Romanis cheapside, has got such tales about Ned Ludd, stuck in is window, and two stocking frames at work close to the shop door a large drawer full of guineas, half guineas, and seven shilling pieces in the window, all to attract notice, and he sells the damed’ist Rubbish of Framework goods we ever saw in our Lives, he’s got Long armed Cotton gloves, selvages, marked to sell at sixpence per pair, single press, cut up, &c, shot down at his door, And shoveled in, the same as you shovel in coals at Nottm., his window is also full of songs about the amazing cheapness of his goods considering the price of Labour &c. (Binfield 128)

Large’s complaint about “such tales about Ned Ludd” is a matter of authenticity, grounded in material complaints about the prices and quality of the goods. The shopman sells not only inauthentic goods (“single press, cut up”) but also


Romantic Autobiography in England / Binfield

inauthentic tales of Ned Ludd (marked in Large’s language by the dismissive “such”). Furthermore, the shopman is not part of the Luddite collective; in fact, he is its adversary, incapable of making any claim to be part of the Luddite persona: “Thus is this Villain, trading in the Trash / That was the cause of many a dreadful Smash” (Binfield 128). The care that the Luddites took to ensure an authenticity in the life-story of Ned Ludd was echoed in their care to ensure the authenticity of Luddite motives. On 7 February 1812, the Nottingham Review published a letter from “GENERAL LUD” enclosing items stolen by men who accompanied Luddites in a raid at Clifton. In explaining the circumstances and apologizing for the theft, “GENERAL LUD” presses the distinction between true Luddites and “villinds” who capitalize upon Luddite activity: The Men that had the things weir entire strangers to my horders or they Never dworst not have tuch’d one thinck but they have been punished for their vileny for one of them have been hangd for 3 Menet and then Let down agane I ham a friend of the pore and Distrest and a enemy to the opressers thron. (Binfield 101–2)

The Luddite concern with authenticity extends to their establishing a Luddite lineage and creating a patronym. Ned Ludd’s parentage was not addressed until later in the movement of Luddite language from Nottinghamshire to the West Riding. With the movement to the woolen districts, Ludd divided into father and son through a 1 May 1812 letter from “General Ludd Sener” in Nottingham to “General Ludd Juner” in Huddersfield. In that letter, “Peter Plush” conveys the senior Ludd’s congratulations for successful attacks upon various gig mills in the Spen and Colne valleys, his sympathy over the deaths of two Luddites during the raid on Rawfolds Mill, and his thoughts on the political situation: I am futher otherised to say that it is the opinion of our general and men that as long as that blackgard, drunken whoreing fellow called Prince Regent and his servants have any thing to do with government that nothing but distres will befole us there foot stooles. I am further desired to say that it is expected that you will remember that you are mad of the same stuf as Gorg Gwelps Juner and corn and wine are sent for you as wel as him. (Binfield 224)

This letter creates an opposition between the Prince Regent, labeled through his patronymic as “Gorg Gwelps Juner,” and “General Ludd Juner,” son of the Nottingham general. Grubgeld considers the patronym as an autobiographical device (a “genealogical mandate”) in Anglo-Irish Autobiography. Whereas “family descent often provides the organizational structure for at least one chapter, if not the entire book,” in autobiography, the representation of lineage “affixes the speaker to a history outside the text” (Grubgeld 5). In the “Peter Plush” installment of the  “Smash” refers to the breaking of machinery used to produce “single press, cut up” articles.

Ned Ludd and Laboring-Class Autobiography


life-story of Ned Ludd, patronymy demonstrates the collective, joined character of the Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire protesters under the family name “Ludd” while creating an adversary, the Guelph family line, responsible for the material suffering in the Midlands and North. The theme of parentage found its way back into the language of Nottinghamshire Luddism in 1814. A 5 October 1814 letter to the editor of the Nottingham Review from General Ludd at “Ludd Hall” refers satirically to the past deliquency of his “eldest son, Ned,” and Ned’s amending his behavior by committing similar and worse atrocities on behalf of the Crown in the war against America: I assure you, Mr. Editor, I scarcely know how to keep my feeling within bounds, for while all our former and united efforts in breaking frames, &c, were commented upon with some severity, and in a way which cast an odium upon my character and that of my family, I now find the scales are turned, and our enemies are converted into friends; they sing a new tune to an old song, and the mighty deeds of my son are trumpeted forth in every loyal paper in the kingdom. My son is not now confined to the breaking a few frames, having the sanction of government, he can now not only wield his great hammer to break printing presses and types, but he has a license to set fire to places and property which he deems obnoxious, and now and then even a little private pillage is winked at. (Binfield 151)

The letter is not a brief on human rights abuses in the War of 1812. The primary purpose of establishing familial descent is to point out the ridiculous persecution of frame-breakers in light of the atrocities committed with Crown approval. A secondary purpose is to signal the desirability of a reconciliation and to demonstrate that the adversarial relationship between the Luddite community and the rest of Britain (including its government, its soldiers, its loyalists) is not necessary and might be overcome. The course taken by the Luddite patronym reflects a concern for development, extension, crisis, and redemption, but the course is quite different from the teleological course of most English autobiography, and the reconciliation is not quite the same as the confessional type at the center of Spengemann’s work. The difference derives from the collective function of the array of Luddite texts, the real-time nature of Luddite self-writing, and the Luddite narrative’s historically precise unfolding. The character of Ludd will dissolve when there is no longer any cause for his name to be signed to letters protesting against economic injustice, and as the character dissolves the individuals constituting the Luddite collective will return to their roles as loyal British citizens. Not all Luddite texts were signed “Ludd,” and a special problem exists in determining the roles played by those texts. The earliest and probably most wellknown is the November 1811 “Declaration” signed by “Thos Death.” The full title is “Declaration; Extraordinary. Justice. Death, or Revenge,” and it is addressed “To our well-beloved Brother, and Captain in Chief, Edward Ludd.” Although the “Declaration” is signed “Thos Death,” the signatory writes to Ludd on behalf of a collective: “Whereas it hath been represented to us: the General Agitators,


Romantic Autobiography in England / Binfield

for the Northern Counties, assembled to redress the Grievances of the Operative Mechanics.” The collective has been presented with evidence that “Charles Lacy, of the Town of Nottingham, British Lace Manufacturer, has been guilty of divers fraudulent, and oppressiv, Acts—whereby he has reduced to poverty and Misery Seven Hundred of our beloved Brethren” and by those means “has obtain’d the Sum of Fifteen Thousand Pounds, whereby he has ruine’d the Cotton-Lace Trade, and consequently our worthy and wellbelov’d Brethren; whose support and comfort depended on the continuance of that manufacture.” Lacy’s motives are adjudged by the collective and described by the author as “the most diabolical ... namely, to gain riches by the misery of his fellow creatures.” The collective issues a “command” that Ludd “employ” a “party” of men to “inflict the Punishment of Death” on Lacy (Binfield 72–3). The three-way relationship between the putative individual author, the collective, and the collective’s projected image is clear in the “Declaration.” The individual author, “Thos Death,” is a participant in a communal process in which Ludd and other “General Agitators” also take part. Furthermore, the democratic implications of Ludd’s being an executive expression of a collective determination divide the Luddite community into will and action, tied to individual personality. Each putative author, each pseudonym, like “Thos Death,” could be Ludd. More precisely, each putative author is one expression of a face of the Luddite collective, whether that author signs “Thos Death” or “Ned Ludd.” Each author tells another portion of the life-story of the collective, which projects the face of Ned Ludd. The collective expression is even clearer in a 1 January 1812 document, “By the Frameworck Knitters A Declaration,” which recounts the origins of the collective in a Charter granted in 1663 “by our late Sovereign Lord Charles the Seacond.” The document details the powers granted by Charles to the Worshipful Company of Framework Knitters to investigate, quell, and punish violations of the trade’s rules and regulations. Plural nouns and first-person plural pronouns predominate—“frameworck knitters,” “worckmen,” “friends and Neighbours,” “Frame brakers,” “our late Sovereign,” “we,” “Our Trade”—and the concerns are collective. Nevertheless, the first-person singular, “I,” appears prominently toward the end of the document in those parts that have to do with the power, will, and means to redress grievances: “I Do hereby offer a reward of 1000 pound to any Pirson that will give any Information at my Office.” The document concludes, “Given under my hand this first day of January in one thousand Eight Hundred an Twelve / NED LUD’S OFFICE / Sherwood Forrest / God protect the Trade” (Binfield 90–91). In Spengemann’s terms, a form of self-knowledge has emerged; in Danahay’s terms, the writing has developed a vision of autonomy (self-regulation rather than self-naming), “a community of one.” In the document, Ned Ludd is as much an “office” as an individual, but the singular expression identifies clearly the office and the force of will. The singular expression of Luddite will emerged over a short time—much shorter than the time accounted for in ordinary theories of autobiography, which require some element of and time for reflection. The reflective demeanor that

Ned Ludd and Laboring-Class Autobiography


characterizes much autobiography is not the prevailing element in Luddite writing until after the first wave of Midlands Luddism had passed; however, reflection shapes a number of later Luddite texts, especially those from 1814 and 1817. By 1816, Ned Ludd was signing his letters from Leicestershire and had in June sent letters threatening employers in Hinckley with punishment unless they cease abating their employees’ wages. Attacks that month on frames owned by Needham and Bray in Hinckley and John Heathcoat’s mill at Loughborough were the last acts of violence by the Luddites. The end of Luddism and of Ned Ludd as the expression of a collective sense came on the gallows at Leicester on 17 April 1817, when the men convicted for the 28 June 1816 attack on John Heathcoat’s mill at Loughborough were hanged. No autobiographer can detail his or her own death, although the genre of gallows confession provides some self-recording of the end of one’s life. Such confessions and reflections detail the final moments of Ned Ludd and demonstrate that the end was neither the result of a cessation of the causes of protest nor the suppression of the movement by the authorities; instead, the end was the dissolution of the collective. The story of the Loughborough raid is told by Nottingham Review editor Charles Sutton in Reports of the Trial of James Towle, at Leicester, August 10, 1816, for Shooting at John Asher. (See also Bailey 116–20). In January 1817 John Blackburn, a Nottingham framework knitter involved in the Loughborough raid, was apprehended while poaching on the estate of Lord Middleton. In exchange for immunity from prosecution, Blackburn named several Luddites who participated in the raid. Six of them were convicted and executed at Leicester. Their last letters to their families are more confessions than life-stories; nevertheless, for their reflective qualities, they can be read as a concluding chapter in the Luddite autobiography. In Some Particulars of the Conduct and of the Execution of Savidge and Others, Sutton published the letters of the convicted men. He notes in his introduction that after their conviction the men “betook themselves to serious reflection, and to the use of those means best calculated to prepare them for their awful exit” (Sutton, Some Particulars 3). The historians of laboring-class autobiography would perhaps prefer a material description of circumstances and events, but I find that “reflection” rather than narrative is a fitting conclusion, one consistent with the craft of Luddite self-writing. The turning inward of at least some of the convicted Luddites is not, however, as pronounced as the “self-reflexive exercise” that Danahay describes in Wordsworth’s The Prelude: “Wordsworth’s sense of himself, then, depends upon a contrast between his consciousness and its social setting. His individuality is asserted by a deliberate rejection of the social context and a rechanneling of his energies into internal meditation. Wordsworth here enacts the displacement of the social to which McGann has referred” (Danahay 55). Even though William Towle laments in a letter to his father, “O that I had kept better company,” he maintains solidarity with “my fellow prisoners” (Binfield 157). Towle’s maintaining solidarity with his “fellow prisoners” while lamenting the company that he has kept reveals a complexity in Luddite thinking. That

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complexity can be understood by reading Thomas Savidge’s 7 April 1817 letter to his father. Savidge writes, “I acknowledge being at Loughborough,” and he never denies his involvement in the breaking of Heathcoat’s frames; however, he heatedly denies any role in the shooting of the guard, Asher: “I am as innocent of the crime as a child unborn; and this I solemnly declare, that I never embrued my hands in the blood of my fellow-creature, nor ever thought of committing such as act” (Binfield 158). Like Towle, Savidge, in his own reflection, divides his Luddite experience into two parts as he incriminates himself on one account but refutes the charges for which he is convicted and sentenced to hang. Specifically, he admits to his being a member of the collective that destroyed Heathcoat’s mill, but he denies being “a procurator to the Luddites” and the individual crime of having shot John Asher. During the raid, some member of that collective parted company with its ideals, ideals that had prevented all but one previous act of personal violence (the attempted murder of William Trentham in 1812) over five years of Midlands Luddism. In writing, Savidge remains part of the collective that had expressed itself in the form of Ned Ludd, but in reflecting upon his Luddite experience, Savidge attempts to create a distance between himself and the actions of one individual Luddite. In doing so, he rejects the principle that any single Luddite could be at any time Ned Ludd. That principle had shaped Luddite writing and led to the individual expression, through single writers, of a collective will in signing “Ned Ludd” to letters and proclamations. The reflections of Towle, Savidge, and the other men convicted for the Loughborough raid enact the failure of Luddism. Spengemann places great value on the role of reconciliation in autobiographical reflection, and reconciliation could have appeared in any number of ways in the reflections of the convicted men. It did not. Each of their reflections pose a pivotal question: “Am I now what I have believed myself to be?” For the Luddites, their answers to that question determine whether Luddism and Ned Ludd exist. Clearly, at one point, Ludd did exist, as we see in Towle’s expression of solidarity and Savidge’s refusal to deny his membership; however, each Luddite who failed the other members of the collective, as at Loughborough through the shooting of Asher, withdrew a breath from the collective body. Ned Ludd died before Savidge and his cohorts did at Leicester Gaol. The cause of death was a combination of the withdrawals from the collective Luddite body of two of its previous members—the man who shot Asher at Loughborough and the informant John Blackburn—and the transformation in the mode of reflection that the withdrawals precipitated. In 1814, General Ludd’s reflection in the 

Savidge does not deny his membership in the Luddite collective, but rather denies having been “a procurator” within that collective. Furthermore, he denies acquaintance with one of the other individual Luddites, Joshua Mitchell, convicted along with him (Binfield 158).

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Nottingham Review had been satirical but still committed to a Luddite movement and defensive of Luddite goals and past actions; Ludd expressed regret but shared the goals and guilt of his son, who manifested Luddite action. The reflections of the Loughborough convicts, however, led, through a division between those Luddites and the men who had betrayed their cause, to regret. Like a large number of the laboring-class autobiographers, the Luddite writers had unfolded a collective identity through their material, literary, and emotional relationships to other persons, frequently suppressing individual identity beneath relational, collective identity. Nevertheless, Ludd died when individual Luddites reflected in their own narratives that they, guilty of collective actions other than those for which they were to hang, would die for the crime of one other member of that collective. The prospective conclusion, a dissolving of the eponym upon realization of the movement’s goals, was, like the figure of Ludd, illusory. In the end, the community of one Ned Ludd was an unsustainable fiction. Works Cited Alia, Valerie. “The Politics of Eponymy: Power, Protection, Classification, Commemoration.” Onomastica Canadiana 73.2 (1991): 57–66. Anderson, Edward. The Sailor; A Poem. Description of His Going to Sea, through Various Scenes of Life, Being Shipwreck’d: Taken Prisoner: And afterwards Safely Returning to His Family, Who Had Not Heard of Him for Several Years: With Observations on the Town of Liverpool. Workington: 1792. Anon. Memoirs of a Printer’s Devil; Interspersed with Pleasing Recollections, Local Descriptions, and Anecdotes. Gainesborough: 1793. Bailey, Brian. The Luddite Rebellion. New York: New York University Press, 1998. Binfield, Kevin, (ed.) Writings of the Luddites. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004. Blacket, Joseph. Specimens of the Poetry of Joseph Blacket: With an Account of His Life, and Some Introductory Observations, by Mr Pratt. London: 1809. Bloomfield, Robert. The Farmer’s Boy; A Rural Poem, in Four Books. London: Vernor and Hood, 1800. Burnett, James, David Vincent, and David Mayall, (eds) The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography. 3 vols Brighton: The Harvester Press, 1984. Vol. 1. Collier, Mary Peach. Poetic Effusions. Derby: 1823. Danahay, Martin. A Community of One: Masculine Autobiography and Autonomy in Nineteenth-Century Britain. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993. Grubgeld, Elizabeth. Anglo-Irish Autobiography: Class, Gender, and the Forms of Narrative. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2004. Hands, Elizabeth. The Death of Amnon. A Poem. With an Appendix: Containing Pastorals, and Other Poetical Pieces. Coventry: N. Rollason, 1789.


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Hogg, James. The Mountain Bard; Consisting of Ballads and Songs, founded on Facts and Legendary Tales. By James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd. Edinburgh: Arch, Constable and Company; London: John Murray, 1807. Hozumi, Fumio. “Some Notes on the Luddites.” Kyoto University Economic Review 26.2 (October 1956): 10–38. Jackson, J.R. de J. Romantic Poetry by Women: A Bibliography, 1770–1835. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993. M’Kaen, James. The Life of James M’Kaen, Shoemaker in Glasgow, Who Was executed at the Cross of Glasgow, on Wednesday the 25th Janu. 1797. For the Murder and Robbery of James Buchanan, the Lanark Carrier. Third Edition. Glasgow: Brash and Reid, 1797. Milne, Christian. Simple Poems on Simple Subjects. Aberdeen: J. Chalmers, 1805. Navickas, Katrina. “The Search for General Ludd’: The Mythology of Luddism.” Social History 30.3 (August 2005): 281–95. Neuman, Shirley. “Autobiography: From Different Poetics to a Poetics of Differences.” Essays on Life Writing: From Genre to Critical Practice, (ed.) Marlene Kadar. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992. 213–30. Newman, Sarah. Poems on Subjects Connected with Scripture. Alton: W. Pinnock, 1811. Nottingham Review. Nussbaum, Felicity. The Autobiographical Subject: Gender and Ideology in Eighteenth-Century England. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989. Pearson, George. Memoirs of the Life and Character of Mrs S. Pearson ... With a Selection of Letters from Her Spiritual Correspondence. Ipswich: S.H. Cowell, 1829. Pearson, Susanna. Essays and Letters, Presented to the Church of Christ. Second edition. Ipswich: S.H. Cowell, 1827. ———. The Medallion. 3 vols London: Robinson, 1794. ———. Poems, Dedicated by Permission, to the Right Honourable the Countess Fitzwilliam. Sheffield: J. Gales, 1790. ———. Poems on Various Subjects. London: J. Rivington, T. Hurst, and Chapell, 1800. Richardson, Charlotte. Poems: Chiefly Composed during the Pressure of Severe Illness. York: J. Johnson, 1809. Saxby, Mary. Memoirs of a Female Vagrant, Written by Herself, with Illustrations, (ed.) Samuel Greatheed. London: J. Burditt, 1806. Spence, Elizabeth Isabella. Letters from the North Highlands, during the Summer 1816. London: Printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1817. Spengemann, William. The Forms of Autobiography: Episodes in the History of a Literary Genre. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1980. Sutton, Charles. Reports of the Trial of James Towle, at Leicester, August 10, 1816, for Shooting at John Asher. Nottingham: Sutton, 1817.

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———. Particulars of the Conduct and of the Execution of Savidge and Others. Nottingham: Sutton, 1817. Thompson, E.P. “The Crime of Anonymity.” Albion’s Fatal Tree: Crime and Society in Eighteenth-Century England, (eds) Douglas Hay, et al. New York: Pantheon, 1975. 255–344. ———. The Making of the English Working Class. New York: Vintage, 1966. Vincent, David. Bread, Knowledge and Freedom: A Study of Nineteenth-Century Working Class Autobiography. London and New York: Methuen, 1981.

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Chapter 12

Wordsworth and the Ragged Legion; Or, The Lows of High Argument Jasper Cragwall

My subject isn’t The Prelude, but rather its absence: the half-century in which Wordsworth’s spiritual autobiography was kept private, if not exactly secret. For Wordsworth’s biographers, his self-silencing remains “one of the most puzzling phenomena … of literary history,” though there’s no shortage of explanations (Gill 230). Perhaps The Prelude was a welcome, lifelong distraction from the enduring failure of The Recluse; belated publication in 1850 was certainly meant as a bequest in verse to the surviving family, an end–run around unsympathetic copyright laws. But if the reasons behind the delay may have been quietly domestic, they quickly took on an outsized, heroic significance. Both The Prelude and its suppression were made “phenomena of literary history” from the very beginning, when Wordsworth rationalized his decision not to publish the poem, conceding to Sir George Beaumont in 1805 that it was “a thing unprecedented in literary history that a man should talk so much about himself” (Early Years 586). There may well be self-deprecating irony in this ritualistically conventional invocation of things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhyme; after all, the similar claim opening Rousseau’s Confessions is, as Eugene Stelzig has argued, at once “the most inaccurate,” and the most typical, “statement about the genre on record” (1). Loyal editors such as Ernest de Selincourt, however, haven’t heard much droll qualification in Wordsworth’s excuse; instead, it’s been expanded it into a full-throated apologia for the poet’s admirable diffidence: the “high hopes in the poetic future that lay before him, and the spiritual history on which those hopes were founded … could not, without arrogance, be proclaimed to the world before he had given some solid earnest of their fulfillment” (de Selincourt, Prelude xvi). Even “without arrogance,” this is majesty cloaked as modesty. Wordsworth’s gentlemanly discretion screens his titanic genius, his polite respectability and imaginative supremacy each confirming the other. The “high romantic argument” of The Prelude—in which, as M.H. Abrams has suggested, Wordsworth cast himself as a “philosopher-seer and poet-prophet, an elected spokesman for the Western tradition”—is framed as a nexus of material and metaphysical privilege too exalted for the marketplace, a grandeur that needed five decades in which to soften (12). But this explanation also mystifies the cultural history of prophecy, vision, and rapturous election in an England wracked by religious enthusiasm. If the image of a poet as “a chosen son / … with holy powers / And faculties” is rhetorically intoxicating, it was also socially toxic in the years in which it was first conceived (1805 Prelude, 3:82–4). The excessively “high argument” of The Prelude was not


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unpublished because it was regally presumptuous in its egotistical sublimity: such discourse, as well as the genre of spiritual autobiography itself, was an unforgivable embarrassment for a gentleman at the end of the eighteenth century. The postures that are now Wordsworth’s most familiar and distinguished—that he was, “else sinning greatly—/ A dedicated spirit”—were hardly proprietary to him (1805 Prelude, 4: 344–5). They belonged, far more visibly, to the itinerant army of Methodist preachers who were rousing England’s poorest and most disaffected into an evangelical insurgency that numbered in the tens of thousands. Here, it seemed, was the theological wing of the Jacobins, and a gentleman observer snarled in 1803 that the Methodists “are, literally and precisely speaking, an Ecclesiastical Corresponding Society,” in the business of sanctifying the seditions of the radical London Corresponding Society (Clark 487). In the quarter century following 1789, “the Methodist preachers,” Bernard Semmel has argued, “seemed to be keeping pace with the successes of the French armies, extending their sway over their own revolution” (124). The Methodists “looked alarmingly like the harbingers of a second and perhaps more proletarian puritan revolution,” as John Walsh has contended, and they haunted the nightmares of Establishment with the specter of The World Turned Upside Down by principles both freshly Gallic and anciently English (218). Like the spiritual redressers of the Good Old Cause, the Methodists did not ordain, they anointed their “Inspired Ministers,” “dedicated spirits” as Wordsworth might call them, or, as their enemies did call them, “WESLEY’S ragged legion of preaching barbers, cobblers, tinkers, scavengers, draymen, and chimney-sweepers” (Hill 21). Reading like a cast of characters from the Songs of Innocence and Experience, this encyclopedia of vulgarity, argued an Anglican parson in 1795, “misapplies words and terms” from the Apostolic “condition of the first Christians,” “terms applied in the primitive ages, such as saints, elect, chosen generation, &c”—terms that form the core of The Prelude and much of Wordsworth’s perennially unpublished, and unpublishable, autobiographical verse (Croft iii). These men (and sometimes women) leveraged their sainted, chosen election as justification for preaching without licenses, without serious educations, and, not infrequently, without much literacy. Had they been made public, Wordsworth’s “dispositions, mine / Through grace of heaven” (1805 Prelude, 6:188–9), would have sounded very much like the assaults of the “saints” and “elect” on polite Anglicanism, which, as Bishop Warburton had emphasized, was built on “a most important Doctrine, viz. the cessation of the miraculous operations of the Holy Spirit after the establishment of the Christian faith” (76). “High argument” would scarcely legitimate a Laureate regnant or aspirant—these were, in the years in which The Prelude was written, the conceits of the déclassé and the vulgar, those without social capital or formal training, condemned by the anonymous author of The Ruin of Methodism as a typically “stupid, illiterate, selfish METHODIST who without a knowledge even of English, much less of Greek and Hebrew, pretends to explain sacred things, and has the impudence to prate of his BELIEF; I believe, says he, this, and I believe that; but COMMONSENSE says, he believes in nothing but himself” (139). As

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the Bishop of Bristol had warned earlier in the eighteenth century, the kind of providential narrative at the heart of both the unpublished Prelude, as well as the vast collection of Methodist spiritual autobiographies which were published, should mortify any gentleman: Mr. Whitefield says in his Journal, “There are promises still to be fulfilled in me.” Sir, the pretending to extraordinary revelations and gifts of the Holy Ghost is a horrid thing, a very horrid thing! (Wesley, “Conversation with the Bishop of Bristol,” in Works 13:500)

Hierophantic gifts were, at the turn of the nineteenth century, the credentials of men and women who had no others to offer. The foundational contradiction of “high romantic argument” is that while it has come to define Wordsworth’s canonical reputation, it was outrageously inappropriate to—indeed, it was usually cast as the direct antagonist of—the polite culture to which Wordsworth certainly belonged. There is also some irony that, since the 1980s, romantic studies have subjected these rhetorics of spiritual transcendence to a withering critique as forms of false consciousness, bourgeois privilege and the “denial of history”: at the dawn of the nineteenth century, they were taken as slogans of resistance, rebellion, and class warfare. Moreover, the few years between the Revolution and Waterloo, which saw Britain prosecute a global war, brutally annex Ireland, transform Australia into a prison, and greet the specter of universal starvation with Malthusian complacency, had deeper wells of bad faith than its verse. If anything, “inspired transcendence”—which the Rev. George Croft called “a leveling Principle in Religion,” a lethal threat “to the King and Constitution” (49)—was the most (and after the destruction of Paineite radicalism, perhaps the last and only) viable form of protest against the ruling order. Even so, classic Historicist critiques have tremendous value: Wordsworth, after all, dutifully ratified respectable hegemony in most of his published prose, promoting a model of a poet as a disciplined, professional gentleman, not unlike “a lawyer, a physician, a mariner, an astronomer, or a natural philosopher” (Prose Works 1:139). But it’s also important to observe—and to historicize the observation— that gentry status, and the manmade credentials which might confirm it, vanish entirely in The Prelude. Its “Wordsworth” is a man extraordinarily called, blessed by the special interventions of Providence, and rejoicing in—if at times troubled by—the terms of his own election. The model here is neither lawyer nor physician, but field preacher: To the open fields I told A prophesy; poetic numbers came Spontaneously, and clothed in priestly robe My spirit, thus singled out, as it might seem, For holy services. (1805 Prelude, 1: 59–63)

In much of the time that The Prelude was hidden, these lines were not abstractions of class privilege, but fighting words, used to rupture the bond between parish and


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parson, thereby annihilating the most powerful formation of state power with terrifying, seemingly ineluctable success. Authority never recognized such declarations as consonant with its interests; according to the field preacher Christopher Hopper, maintaining that one was clothed in priestly robe spontaneously—rather than through the lengthy and rigorously monitored ordination processes of Oxbridge—was quite enough to get one exposed to “dirt, rotten eggs, brickbats, stones, and cudgels,” with “the common cry in town and country, ‘Press them for soldiers; send them on board a man-of-war; transport them; beat them; stone them; send them to prison, or knock out their brains and dispatch them all at once; for there is no law for them’” (Wesley’s Veterans 1: 121). In its least temperate—and, not coincidentally, most delayed—formations, the fearful symmetry between “high romantic” and “low Methodist” argument would have ungentlemanned Wordsworth, crippling a reputation that was, for most of his life, uneasily fragile. Even the most extreme Wesleyan models can barely match the intensity of some of Wordsworth’s private claims; Home at Grasmere, muffled in the closet until 1888, smolders with a ferocity far beyond that of most Ranters. Its Poet is a man raised beyond all registers of human comprehension, catapulted beyond Miltonic, even Biblical canon, and into titanic and frankly blasphemous uniqueness: What Being, therefore, since the birth of Man Had ever more abundant cause to speak Thanks … The boon is absolute; surpassing grace To me hath been vouchsafed; among the bowers Of blissful Eden this was neither given Nor could be given. (Home At Grasmere, MS. B: 117–25)

But even without the evidence of Grasmere or The Prelude, Wordsworth’s sympathy with religious enthusiasm was uncomfortably legible to his contemporaries. When John Gibson Lockhart pilloried “the Lake Methodists,” at war with “The Established Church of Poetry,” he gave name to a growing consensus of the Lakers as men whose eagerness for poetical experimentation had led them to dabble in heretical discourses, betraying their class interests in a hunt for rhetorical excitement (Blackwood’s February 1824, 208). It’s telling that Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine and the Edinburgh Review, normally antagonists, both regarded the “new poetry” of feeling as dangerously energized by religious and political dissent. Blackwood’s accused Wordsworth of versifying a “volume of sermons” on social revolution, in which “the lower and coarser feelings, stirred up into activity, lose their subordination and rise up” (December 1818, 258), while Francis Jeffrey’s Edinburgh Review launched a decade of assaults on the rising “sect” of poets, “dissenters from the established system” (October 1802, 63), whose poetry was suffused with “the mystical verbiage of the Methodist pulpit” (November 1814, 4). When Wordsworth attempted publicly to elide the gap between enthusiasm and respectability, his answers frequently advertised their own fancifulness—most

Wordsworth and the Ragged Legion; Or, The Lows of High Argument


notably in the fairytale that closes The Excursion, in which the itinerant Wanderer, (read by Jeffrey as a transparently Methodistical figure, a “moral teacher … willfully debased … by a low occupation” [November 1814, 30]), sits down for tea with his dear friend the Anglican parson: such men were more likely to trade blows than pleasantries. In the end, the poet revised much of what he could not resolve, and the versions of The Prelude and The Excursion that he left at his death—long after the enthusiastic foments earlier in the century had died down, and long after Wordsworth and his heirs had eliminated his worst indulgences— were profoundly different from their earlier incarnations. But Wordsworth’s textual and political shifts were never towards pietism or spirituality—they were shifts between two politically divergent, but equally “spiritual,” discourses. As we shall see, Wordsworth did not become more religious in his revisions; his rhetoric became less enthusiastic, and more establishmentarian, but these should both be understood as religious categories. Such categories mattered immensely to late eighteenth–century England, where religion literally ruled. Wordsworth’s self–sacralizing figures were drawn from a cultural maelstrom—the manner in which priests were fashioned, maintained, and heeded was of national importance, for, as W.R. Ward has argued, “the legal dependence of the Church upon the state disguised a real dependence of a weak state upon networks of informal influence including those of the Church” (237). This was probably still a Confessional State, so politics meant parsons, and if the enthusiastic and the inspired threatened the authority of those parsons, they weakened the central pillar of the Constitution, which signified not a codification of rights but the union of Church and State. The Church of England was, as J.C.D. Clark has suggested, an omnipresent and highly effective bureaucratic wing of the English Government: The agency of the State which confronted Everyman in his everyday life was not Parliament, reaching out as a machinery of representative democracy: general elections were infrequent, seats often uncontested, the franchise was restricted, and access to MPs minimal for most electors. The ubiquitous agency of the State was the Church, quartering the land not into five hundred constituencies but into ten thousand parishes, impinging on the daily concerns of the great majority, supporting its black-coated army of a clerical intelligentsia, bidding for a monopoly of education, piety, and political acceptability … The critique of those most disaffected from their society was centrally aimed against what society’s hegemonic framework defined as basic to its political ideology: Trinitarian Christianity, as interpreted within the ecclesiology of the Church of England. Consequently, the main attack was against the Church’s established status, and against its creed. (320–21)

This helps us appreciate the gravity of the political problem posed by enthusiastic preaching—the thousands of Methodist itinerants, roaming and wandering the countryside, ironized the neat borders and logics of the parish, upon which the entire order of England was built. By shouting down parsons and stealing whole congregations with their electric and spontaneous sermons, the Wesleyans silenced, or at least contested, the main organs of polite ideology.


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But the ragged legion made this social problem into a literary problem, at least for poetry like Wordsworth’s, which was built, or has come to be seen as being built, on discourses of “Inspiration.” Under the pressure of a mob of Methodists making claims about—or more usually, making moans and screams about—influxes of the Divine Spirit, “Inspiration” was one of the most potent, and dangerous, political signifiers of the “romantic” period; it certainly was not confined to discussions of “the vatic” in the classical and modern canons, or to an aesthetic of “the imagination.” “Inspiration,” or at least the type of person who talked about his or her “Inspiration,” was precipitating a crisis in national security, debated nearly as frequently in Parliament as in literary journals. A Yorkshire parson rehearsed his fears in 1799, a year after Lyrical Ballads: In these days of Fanaticism, it highly imports the members of the Established Church of this Kingdom to have right notions respecting inspiration; because the better they are grounded in the truth concerning it, the better they will be secured against the seduction of those fanatical Preachers, who want to persuade the world, and who too often succeed in persuading weak minds, that they are more inspired than the Ministers of the National Church. (Entwisle 6)

And “in these days of Fanaticism,” the Anglican clergy cast themselves, and, especially, their long, strenuous, and highly professionalized clerical apprenticeships, as the bulwark against Inspiration and the Inspired. The Church of England had crystallized around a fetishization of social rather than divine authority, political rather than spiritual hierarchy, and university degrees rather than raw ability; in many ways, normative Anglicanism was more committed than any rebellious poet to naturalizing the supernatural. Inverting the old Horatian logic, a proper man of God was made, not born, and he needed to be carefully sanctioned, tested, and recognized, while his person was screened by classical requirements. As the Rev. George Croft argued in 1795, He, who sustains any public function, ought to undergo examination, and be delegated by proper authority. Considered as a profession only, the clerical should be guarded from intrusion by its own members, as the other two learned professions are, to a certain degree. (33)

Croft possessed a formidable number of prestigious livings—he announced himself the “Late fellow of University College, Vicar of Arncliffe in Yorkshire, Lecturer of St Martin’s in Birmingham, and Chaplain to the Earl of Elgin”—and he did his best to represent a danger to his personal income as a danger to the entire Nation: “to commission men notoriously illiterate, under the idea of being divinely inspired, as preachers of the word of God, is a notorious offence, not only against God, but against the general order of society” (33). From the distant remove of the late 1870s, Matthew Arnold was able to meditate on the “peculiar importance … of inspiration” to Wordsworth, and comfort Victorian piety with an assurance that “no poet, perhaps, is so evidently filled with a new and sacred energy when the inspiration is upon him” (9: 51). But the England

Wordsworth and the Ragged Legion; Or, The Lows of High Argument


in which The Prelude was written—rather than published—was far less sure of the “sacred energy” of “inspiration”; in 1795, the Memoirs of Pretended Prophets abominated the “confident, I had almost said blasphemous manner, many lay claim to inspiration. They speak as if they were the organs of the Supreme Being” (iv). Bishop Horsley sounded the tocsin in 1800, suggesting with a straight face that the enthusiastic emergency facing the Anglican Church was a more serious threat to Christianity than either Nero or the Papal Anti-Christs had been: No crisis, at any period of time since the moment of our Lord’s departure from the earth, has more demanded, than the present, the vigilant attention of the Clergy of all ranks and orders, from the Prelate to the Village-Curate, to the duties of the weighty charge, to which we are called. (3)

At the turn of the century, most claims for the transcendence of historical-political reality were tacit admissions of weakness, rather than “romantic” privilege, within it. From the early 1780s onward, the actually published declarations of inspiration and material evasion—such as that of the Methodist Christopher Hopper, who declared “I was no longer of the world”—issued almost universally from the margins of English society, and were part of the revolutionary program of “those illiterate preachers who so exceedingly disturbed the world” (Wesley’s Veterans 1: 119, 122). In 1790, the Methodist George Shadford gave the classic argument for a Pentecostal authority that annihilated earthly—meaning, polite—power: “I did not suppose he had very learned abilities, or that he had studied either at Oxford or Cambridge; but something struck me, ‘This is the Gift of God, this is the Gift of God’” (Wesley’s Veterans 2: 175). John Wesley, the leader of the Methodists, would die a year later in 1791, but during his lifetime, he had sneered away the professionalizing system of the Established clergy. Certainly the practice and the direction of the Apostle Paul was to prove a man before he was ordained at all … Proved? How? By setting them to construe a sentence of Greek? And asking them a few commonplace questions? O amazing proof of a minister of Christ! (“A Caution Against Bigotry,” in Sermons 4:75)

Even though Wesley always wore the clothing of an ordained Anglican minister (which he was), his real authority sprang from his flashing eyes and floating hair— and his audiences could not choose but hear. His followers thought his words and body were enchanted; he was reputed to speak in tongues for those Welsh and Scottish congregations who did not understand English, while his form was able to halt, with only its supernatural beauty, any assault. Robert Southey grudgingly admitted that Wesley was a vision of Orpheus reincarnate, drawing tears from stony hearts, while “even frenzy was rebuked before him” in anecdotes where the preacher calmed madhouse riots with a word, rabid dogs with a glance (Life of Wesley 1:198). Accused of both witchcraft and mesmerism, Wesley’s explanation was simpler, grander, and rather Wordsworthian: “The Spirit is upon me, because he hath anointed me” (Southey, Life of Wesley 1: 218).


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The high arguments of both Wesley and Wordsworth insisted on their own Providential uniqueness: Wordsworth’s claim to exceed every “Being, since the birth of man” in his “surpassing grace” is rivaled only by the coins that Wesley had minted, which announced him the “brand plucked out of the burning” by the Hand of God, to warm Englishmen’s hearts. Yet such claims were hardly unique— and, as the lapsed Methodist James Lackington recalled in his 1791 parody of a spiritual autobiography, more often than not such claims were palpably ridiculous to men of good sense. This puts me in mind of one of these pious brethren in Petticoat-lane, who wrote in his shop-window, “Rumps and Burs sold here, and Baked Sheep’s heads will be continued every night, if the Lord permit.” The Lord had no objection, so Rumps, Burs, and Baked Sheeps-heads were sold there a long time … I also saw in a village near Plymouth in Devonshire, “Roger Tuttel, by God’s grace and mercy, kills rats, moles, and all sorts of vermin and venomous creatures.” (183–4)

This is the company that Wordsworth’s consecrationalist tropes kept, or rather, were kept from in the years in which The Prelude was written and hidden. So many men continued to declare themselves “inspired, anointed, and elect” between 1800 and 1820 that they were swamping the Justices of the Peace, who give us a demographic arithmetic for the “romantic imagination”: One magistrate in the county of Middlesex licensed fourteen hundred preachers in the course of five years. Of six-and-thirty persons who obtained licenses at one sessions, six spelled ‘ministers of the gospel’ in six different ways, and seven signed their mark! One fellow, who applied for a license, being asked if he could read, replied, ‘Mother reads, and I ’spounds and ’splains.’ (Southey, Life of Wesley, 2: 388)

As the anti-Methodist screed The Expounder Expounded—perhaps it should have been The ’Spounder ’Splained—grumbled, it was impossible to maintain the dignity of the sacerdotal profession in the face of these “inspired fellows”: they “are well known to be the most senseless and illiteral Part of the human Species” (2). “Senseless” and “illiteral—”: in what might be a brilliant pun, or a particularly Freudian printer’s slip, The Expounder Expounded dramatizes the conjunction between ignorance and metaphoricity peculiar to the long eighteenth century. The ragged legion of “inspired fellows” was not illiterate but “illiteral,” a portmanteau packing together the social vulgarity of the enthusiast and the metaphysical transcendence of “high argument.” Certainly the small amount of “high argument” that Wordsworth did publish, most notably “The Prospectus” to The Recluse, was received in precisely these terms: at once strained in its rhetorical elevations, and humiliated in its political associations. As Jeffrey thundered in the Edinburgh, the disgustingly “methodistical cant” of The Excursion—what “The Prospectus” styled as “noble raptures,” “secure from all malevolent effect / Of those mutations” of time, place, and history—would “never do” (November 1814, 1).

Wordsworth and the Ragged Legion; Or, The Lows of High Argument


The Excursion was a frantic “tissue of moral and devotional ravings” (November 1814, 4), stitched together out of the iconic paradoxes of Methodism, which Bishop Lavington had deplored back in 1749 as “sanctify’d singularities, low fooleries, and high pretensions” (The Enthusiasm of Methodists, “Preface”), and which Wordsworth was expanding into a system of vulgarized poetics, where “all sorts of commonplace notions and expressions are sanctified in his eyes, by the sublime ends for which they are employed; and the mystical verbiage of the Methodist pulpit is repeated, till the speaker entertains no doubt that he is the elected organ of divine truth and persuasion” (Edinburgh Review November 1814, 4). Wordsworth had become so deranged in sanctifying the commonplace that, in what Jeffrey thought an unpardonable sin against religious and social orthodoxy, he had entrusted his entire theopolitical system to an itinerant: Why should Mr Wordsworth have made his hero a superannuated Pedlar? What but the most wretched and provoking perversity of taste and judgment, could induce any one to place his chosen advocate of wisdom and virtue in so absurd and fantastic a condition? Did Mr Wordsworth really imagine, that his favourite doctrines were likely to gain any thing in point of effect or authority by being put into the mouth of a person accustomed to higgle about tape, or brass sleevebuttons? (November 1814, 29–30)

The Excursion was a tentative toe in the waters of reception for “high argument,” and Wordsworth was demonstrably stung by Jeffrey’s barbs. An 1814 footnote that labeled the Wanderer as “strongly disposed to enthusiasm poetical and religious” was quickly excised from all later versions; it has not been restored, even as a variant, in modern scholarly editions (1814 Excursion 425; cf. Poetical Works, 5: 411–12). Moreover, the reaction of the Edinburgh to the conjunction—damnable enough even when Wordsworth projected it onto an epiphenomenal figure—of enthusiasms “poetical and religious,” may have made publishing The Prelude finally unthinkable in the poet’s lifetime. Had he owned such discourse in his voice, undisguised by dramatic figuration, Wordsworth would have appeared, (or could have been made to appear by Jeffrey), entirely conscripted by the Methodist empire of spiritual autobiography that had arisen in the years in which The Prelude was written. The autobiographical genre was, for most of the eighteenth century, eminently unrespectable; even as late as 1827, the Quarterly could flatly declare that “few great men—none of the very highest order—have chosen to paint otherwise than indirectly, and through the shadows of imaginary forms, the secret workings of their own minds; nor is it likely that genius will ever be found altogether divested of this proud modesty” (149). But if the genre was disdained by “great men,” it positively flourished among the help, and Lavington, the midcentury Bishop of Exeter, was forced to concede a vast catalogue of life-writing to the Methodistical monopolists: But it may be reckon’d a happy Circumstance, that we have the most shining parts of the Lives, Characters, Sentiments and Actions of the Methodists from themselves, and that too by a sanction from Heaven. They have, if they may be


Romantic Autobiography in England / Cragwall credited; been so pressed in Spirit, receiv’d such Divine directions, to preach and print, and God has given them such favour in the Eyes of the Printer;— that the Press has cramm’d the Public with their Journals, Letters, and other Works—even to a Surfeit. (“Preface,” unpaged)

This enthusiastic “Surfeit,” according to Lavington, was the junk food of the literary marketplace, of dubious nutritional value and available in portions ample enough that few consumers had much room left for more wholesome treatises. John Wesley alone dwarfed any and all reputable competition: his Primitive Physic was, after the Bible, the best-selling book in English well into the nineteenth century, and his Journal, published serially from 1738 to 1789, dominated the British market, selling between 80,000 and 180,000 copies (Journal and Diaries 41). In confessing that to “candid, reasonable men I am not afraid to lay open what have been the inmost thoughts of my heart,” Wesley had opened a floodgate of emotional and spiritual self-disclosure that—much to the horror of polite culture—had only intensified by the end of the century (Sermons 1: 104–5). Joanna Southcott’s autobiographical prophecies and visions, loathed by Southey as a “rhapsody of texts, vulgar dreams and vulgar interpretations, vulgar types and vulgar applications: the vilest string of words in the vilest doggerel verse, which has no other connection than what the vilest rhymes have suggested,” had a circulation measured in the hundreds of thousands for the first two decades of the nineteenth century (Letters from England 437). The Methodist Connexion itself settled on a formal “programme of periodical publication of religious autobiography from 1778 to 1811, as lives and portraits of lay Methodist itinerants appeared in successive issues of the Arminian Magazine (and its successor after 1798, the Methodist Magazine),” while the Calvinists provided a host of competing publications, giving the lives of their own preachers (Hindmarsh 234). The combined crush led James Lackington, whose firm would later publish Frankenstein, to begin his tonguein-cheek “life” by weighing the monstrous “multitude of memoirs under which the press has groaned” (xv). Each “Life” followed a familiar pattern, presenting a record of the preacher’s growth, through the palpable ministry of the Holy Spirit, from reprobate sinner into warfaring Christian, carefully “examin[ing] how far Nature”—though the Wesleyans would prefer the word “Providence”—“and Education had qualified him for such employment” (Prose Works 3: 5). To be asked to write one of these autobiographies was a final reward for an itinerant, as John Telford reflected in 1898: “For a Methodist a place in the Magazine was something like a niche in the Abbey for a statesman or a poet” (326–7). But this kind of self-confirmatory autobiography was likely to get a gentleman poet ejected from Westminster. Even a sometime supporter of Wordsworth like Blackwood’s might have been forced to rethink its praise, had his spiritual life been made public—it had already sourly noted “the aversion of men of cultivated taste to evangelical religion” and its life-writings (June 1819, 464). Such distaste had posthumously annihilated William Cowper’s reputation. When his Memoirs were published in 1816, the periodicals collectively recoiled from the disgusting spectacle of his addiction to the myopia of Methodist autobiography. “We do not

Wordsworth and the Ragged Legion; Or, The Lows of High Argument


like to be carried back to all the particulars … When they are pressed once more upon our notice, they have a tendency … to detract somewhat from our respect,” huffed the Quarterly, while the Monthly Review’s diagnosis was even harsher: “The secret sufferings of the gifted but most unhappy subject … were detailed with a minuteness, which nothing but the unsocial and indelicate taste of methodism could for one instance have endured” (Elfenbein 82). Methodistical autobiography, busily testifying to the omnipresence of both Providence and human suffering, had a doctrinally distorted sense of proportion: since all things were equally worthy of record, Wesley’s Journal had reached one million words, while the diary of Howell Harris sprawled to an improbable 284 volumes. This species of minute particularism, Jeffrey warned, had already infected The Excursion—its prolixity was due to its “moral and religious enthusiasm,” which, “though undoubtedly poetical emotions, are at the same time but dangerous inspirers of poetry; nothing being so apt to run into interminable dullness or mellifluous extravagance, without giving the unfortunate author the slightest intimation of his danger” (November 1814, 4). Jeffrey feigned horror at the prospect of the Methodistical extravagances in the “history of the author’s mind” promised by The Excursion, as the 440 page “quarto now before us” contained “an account of one of his youthful rambles in the vales of Cumberland, and occupies precisely the period of three days; so that, by the use of a very powerful calculus, some estimate may be formed of the probable extent of the entire biography” (November 1814, 4). Wordsworth would never seriously shorten The Prelude, but much of its restlessness, both in its initial incarnation, and in its sustained revision, springs from his lifelong struggle with the enthusiasm that made the poem at once rhetorically arresting and culturally unacceptable. Whether prophecy be madness, and whether it were possible to credential a prophet unenthusiastically, are obsessive questions in The Prelude. When it finally appeared, the poem’s answer had become a resounding no: most of the intensely mystical formations— egregious evidences of the “promises” to be incarnated in Wordsworth, raptures from Pentecostal gifts, and proclamations of election—were significantly muted, and in some cases, eliminated altogether. There is nothing more pious about The Prelude as it stood in 1850, and its revisions do not easily testify to a deepening spiritual faith. They do, however, very frequently recoil from the white–hot zeal of evangelical “inspiration,” into the coolly establishmentarian tones of the Anglican Church. Methodism sang its songs of inspiration and prophecy in the fields, and Wordsworth’s corrections carefully follow the pattern set by the changes to Book First, in which the “corresponding mild creative breeze” is transformed out of the raw naturalism of the “power” of the “storm” and the “vernal promises” of “The holy life of music and verse,” into the utterly high-church image of “punctual service high, / Matins and vespers, of harmonious verse!” (1805 Prelude, 1: 43– 54; 1850 Prelude, 1: 44–5). Wordsworth relied increasingly on ostentatiously churchy figures to neutralize the theopolitical unorthodoxy that might be imputed to his verse. In the 1810s, Parliament was alarmed by censuses that showed the irregular houses of Dissenting


Romantic Autobiography in England / Cragwall

worship superseding the cathedrals of Anglicanism—yet Wordsworth opened The Excursion with a comfortingly massive and immovable image, proudly and publicly envisioning his poetry as a structure of scrupulous loyalty: The preparatory poem is biographical, and conducts the history of the Author’s mind to the point when he was emboldened to hope that his faculties were sufficiently mature for entering upon the arduous labour which he had proposed to himself; and the two Works have the same kind of relation to each other, if he may so express himself, as the ante-chapel has to the body of a gothic church. Continuing this allusion, he may be permitted to add, that his minor Pieces, which have been long before the Public, when they shall be properly arranged, will be found by the attentive reader to have such a connection with the main Work as may give them claim to be likened to the little cells, oratories, and sepulchral recesses, ordinarily included in those edifices. (Prose Works 3: 5–6)

Here, despite Jeffrey’s harping, is an architecture of perfect service to the national church, whose stability Wordsworth prays will not be “madly overturned” by “the blinder rage/ Of bigot zeal” (Excursion, 6: 33–4). The “spiritual Fabric” of England’s only and fully Anglican “Church” was “Founded in truth,” and the opening of Book Six of The Excursion reverently and solemnly worships the Church of England, “In beauty of Holiness, with order’d pomp, / Decent and unreproved” (6: 8–12). But Wordsworth’s greatest affection is reserved for his local church, not the National—the humble yet “reverend Pile, / With bold projections and recesses deep” in Grasmere (8: 461–2). Yet in the end, the Edinburgh Review was not wrong in its reading. It is, ironically, this last and quietest church that is the most conflicted, recreating within itself all the contests between establishment and enthusiasm that The Excursion worked to resolve, or at least paper over. Wordsworth would remark privately to Christopher Wordsworth that “the Church, as already noticed, is that of Grasmere,” yet even here lurks an enthusiastic presence: The interior of it has been improved lately—made warmer by under-drawing the roof and raising the floor, but the rude and antique majesty of its former appearance has been impaired by the painting of the rafters; and the oak benches, with a simple rail at the back dividing them from each other, have given way to seats that have more the appearance of pews. It is remarkable that, excepting only the pew belonging to Rydal Hall, that to Rydal Mount, the one to the Parsonage, and I believe another, the men and women still continue, as used to be the custom in Wales, to sit separate from each other. Is this practice as old as the Reformation? And when and how did it originate? In the Jewish synagogues and in Lady Huntingdon’s Chapels the sexes are divided in the same way. (Poetical Works 5: 443)

Smuggled in among the abandoned customs of the Welsh, the old practices of the Reformation, and the long history of the Jewish synagogues are the very recent, and very contentious chapels of Lady Huntingdon’s Connexion, the division of the Methodist movement directed by George Whitefield. Here what would prove

Wordsworth and the Ragged Legion; Or, The Lows of High Argument


to be a familiar, conflicted practice in Wordsworth’s verse asserts itself—while The Excursion testifies loudly and frequently to Wordsworth’s uncompromising support for the Church of England, his private, long unpublished recollections affectionately dote on this hidden chapel, which verges on the enthusiastic in its organization and practice. Yet even Wordsworth’s admiration is ambiguous, as he keeps himself politely removed from the popular energies that otherwise fill the church: it is only the pews unaffiliated with the Wordsworth family, or the handful of other gentry, who are tainted with the possible Methodism of separated genders. The need to discriminate Establishment from Enthusiasm, both in Wordsworth’s poetry and in the nation at large, would fade as the nineteenth century wore on. Dissent had won its war for acceptance, and rose, as Deryck Lovegrove has argued, “from contemptible insignificance to the full flower of Victorian Nonconformity,” providing England with a new set of religious norms (14). Jeffrey’s campaign against Methodistical excess was gradually abandoned, and Wordsworth’s press went from friendly to fetishistic, as Blackwood’s found in “his most felicitous poetry” a second Scripture, rivaling “the most touching and beautiful passages in the Sacred Page” (July 1818, 371). By midcentury, Wordsworth was appreciated as an unproblematically religious poet, who could, in Matthew Arnold’s words, redeem from “this iron time” the broken spirits of his flock, like Wesley before him, with only the “healing power” of his “soothing voice” (“Memorial Verses,” ll. 35–63). Despite its revisions, The Prelude may have changed less than its England—and it is the poem’s richest irony to have been greeted at its Victorian publication in precisely the terms that would have been its Regency humiliation, as F.D. Maurice heard in it “the dying utterance of the half century we have just passed through, the expression—the English expression at least—of all that self– building process in which, according to their different schemes and principles, Byron, Goethe, Wordsworth, the Evangelicals (Protestant and Romanist), were all engaged.” Works Cited Abrams, M.H. Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature. New York: Norton, 1971. Arnold, Matthew. The Complete Prose Works of Matthew Arnold, (ed.) R.H. Super. 11 Volumes. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1960. Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine 16 (July 1818), 369–81. “Essays on the Lake School of Poetry, No. I. Wordsworth’s White Doe of Rylstone.” ———. 21 (December 1818), 257–63. “Essays on the Lake School of Poetry, No. II. On the Habits of Thought inculcated by Wordsworth.” ———. 27 (July 1819), 462–8. “Chalmer’s Sermons.” ———. 85 (February 1824), 208–19. “Southey’s Life of Wesley.” Clark, J.C.D. English Society 1660–1832: Religion, Ideology and Politics during the Ancient Regime. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.


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Croft, George. Thoughts Concerning the Methodists and the Established Clergy. London: F. and C. Rivington, 1795. Cuming, G.J. and Derek Baker, (eds) Studies in Church History 8: Popular Belief and Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972. The Edinburgh Review, or Critical Journal 1 (October 1802), 63–83. “Southey’s Thalaba, the Destroyer.” ———. 47 (November 1814), 1–30. “Wordsworth’s Excursion.” Elfenbein, Andrew. Romantic Genius: The Prehistory of a Homosexual Role. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999. Entwisle, Joseph. A Letter to the Author of An Anonymous Treatise on Inspiration, Lately Printed at York. York: Thomas Wilson and Robert Spence, 1799. The Expounder Expounded, by R—ph J—ps—n. London: T. Payne, 1740. Gentleman’s Magazine 34 (1850), 468. “Wordsworth’s Autobiographical Poem.” Gill, Stephen. William Wordsworth: A Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989. Hill, Rowland. Imposture Detected, and the Dead Vindicated: in a letter to a friend. Containing some gentle strictures on the false and libellous harangue, lately delivered by Mr John Wesley. London: T. Vallance, 1777. Hindmarsh, D. Bruce. The Evangelical Conversion Narrative: Spiritual Autobiography in Early Modern England. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. Horsley, Samuel. The Charge to the Clergy of His Diocese. London: James Robson, 1800. Lackington, James. Memoirs of the First Forty-Five Years of the Life of James Lackington. London: Lackington, 1791. [Lavington, George]. The Enthusiasm of Methodists and Papists, Compar’d. London: J. and P. Knapton, 1749. Lovegrove, Deryck W. Established Church, Sectarian People: Itinerancy and the transformation of English Dissent, 1780–1830. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988. Memoirs of Pretended Prophets, By a Clergyman. London: J. Johnson, 1795. The Quarterly Review 70 (January, 1827), 148–65. “Autobiography.” The Ruin of Methodism. By—It does not signify who. London: J. Dodsley, 1777. Semmel, Bernard. The Methodist Revolution. New York: Basic Books, 1973. Southey, Robert. Letters from England, (ed.) Jack Simmons. London: The Cresset Press, 1951. ———. The Life of Wesley and the Rise and Progress of Methodism, in Two Volumes [London, 1820]. New York: William Gilley, 1820. Stelzig, Eugene. “Romantic Autobiography in England: Exploring its Range and Variety,” in Romantic Autobiography in England, (ed.) Eugene Stelzig. Aldershot and Burlington: Ashgate, 2009. Telford, John. The Life of John Wesley. New York: Eaton & Maine, 1898. Walsh, John. “Methodism and the Mob in the Eighteenth Century,” in Studies in Church History 8. 213–27.

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[Warburton, William]. The Doctrine of Grace: or, the Office and Operations of the Holy Spirit Vindicated from the Insults of Infidelity, and the Abuses of Fanaticism. London: A. Millar and J. and R. Tonson, 1753. Ward, W.R. “The Religion of the People and the Problem of Control, 1790–1830,” in Studies in Church History 8. 237–57. Wesley, John. “Conversation with the Bishop of Bristol.” In The Works of the Rev. John Wesley. 13 vols. London: William Nichols, 1872. ———. Journal and Diaries I (1735–1738), (eds) W. Reginald Ward and Richard P. Heitzenrater. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1988. ———. Sermons I: 1–33 [1746-60], (ed.) Albert C. Outler. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1984. ———. Sermons IV: 115–51 [1789-1792; MS. Sermons, 1725–1741], (ed.) Albert C. Outler. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1987. Wesley’s Veterans: Lives of Early Methodist Preachers Told By Themselves. With additions and annotations by Rev. John Telford. 7 vols. London: Robert Culley, 1912–14. Wordsworth, William. The Excursion, Being a Portion of The Recluse, A Poem. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1814. ———. Home at Grasmere, (ed.) Beth Darlington. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977. ———. The Prelude (Text of 1805), (ed.) Ernest de Selincourt, rev. Helen Darbishire. London: Oxford University Press, 1969. ———. The Fourteen-Book “Prelude,” (ed.) W.J.B. Owen. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985. ———. The Thirteen-Book “Prelude.” (ed.) Mark. L. Reed. 2 vols. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991. ———. The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth, (eds) Ernest de Selincourt and Helen Darbishire. 5 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969. ———. The Prose Works of William Wordsworth, (eds) W.J.B. Owen and Jane Worthington Smyser. 3 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974. Wordsworth, William, and Dorothy Wordsworth. The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth: The Early Years, 1787–1805, (ed.) Ernest de Selincourt, rev. Chester L. Shaver. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967.

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Chapter 13

The Intimate Familiar: Essay as Autobiography in Romanticism Christine Chaney

“There is not a more perplexing affair in life to me than to set about telling anyone who I am—for there is scarce anybody I cannot give a better account of than myself.” —Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental Journey “Life, what art thou? Where goes this breath? This I, so much alive? … Surely something resides in this heart that is not perishable—and life is more than a dream.” —Mary Wollstonecraft, Letters in Sweden

When Mary Wollstonecraft wrote her popular travel memoir in 1796, entitled Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, she could not have known that this short essayistic text would become a foundational document in re-making our understanding of the range of Romantic self-writing. How could she? Alone with only her infant child and one servant, setting out on a dangerous mission on behalf of her faithless American lover Gilbert Imlay, and traveling for “eleven days of weariness on board a vessel not intended for the accommodation of passengers” (63), she could not have foreseen that her planned reporting of this unusual journey would come to exemplify quintessential elements of the self in texts that are just now being explored. But unlike her continental contemporary Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Wollstonecraft accomplished her autobiographical task not because she overtly attempted such writing but because she didn’t. The “found object” of her short essays about herself in the midst of a solitary and lonely journey to Scandinavia is an authentic register of narrative subjectivity because it recorded, unbidden, the dialogic nature of her selfhood as it unfolded in the midst of that task in that time and place. The Letters in Sweden incarnate, as it were, Wollstonecraft’s inner self-making address as it shows her gaining knowledge and insight (as well as frustration and anguish) through a process of self-interlocution and confession, all in the midst of a patchwork of prosaic travel details. In this way, Wollstonecraft’s text is an exemplar of what Michel Beaujour calls “the literary self-portrait.” In a similar way, William Hazlitt’s position as another under-examined Romantic-era writer has masked his importance as a major literary self-portraitist in the Romantic period. Hazlitt grounds his journalistic “familiar” essays with insightful and compelling arguments about politics, literature, and the social world within a framework of fragmentary self-disclosure and self-interlocution in much


Romantic Autobiography in England / Chaney

the same way Wollstonecraft does, although organized in a taxonomy of genre and self that is profoundly different in shape than hers because his essays are uniquely linked to the individuality of each author. The self Hazlitt paints in his essays combines honest and sometimes even embarrassing personal confession along with a ferocious and principled commitment to the radical politics of his day. Hazlitt advances the emerging literary self-portrait genre by repeatedly gathering these essayistic elements into whole books whose organization is largely topical or thematic; indeed by the end of his career that was nearly his sole publication medium. In this sense, then, Hazlitt’s “bundled” essays are self-portraiture because they operate not with autobiography’s locked-down and backwardlooking self-reference but rather according to an open-ended and future-oriented framework of the self-portrait’s “cross-references, anaphoras, superimpositions, or correspondences among homologous and substitutable elements” (Beaujour 3). Indeed Annette Cafarelli calls most everything Hazlitt wrote as some form of “essay sequences as collective narratives” (113). It is useful to remember, too, that Hazlitt knew and admired Mary Wollstonecraft personally, having met her in London through his friendships with Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Wollstonecraft’s future husband William Godwin. Therefore it is also reasonable to assume that Hazlitt knew her most popular and widely read book, Letters in Sweden, since Richard Holmes has so ably documented its wide and deep reach both in her lifetime and even through the Victorian era. Hazlitt’s close friend and fellow essayist Charles Lamb should also be seen with new critical eyes as a literary self-portraitist of the first importance. Lamb’s essays, primarily written from the perspective of his fictional, autobiographical double “Elia,” combine self-disclosure, cultural commentary, and wit in yet another unique taxonomy of selfhood. This doubled narrative stance provides Lamb with the ability to shift perspectives both inside and outside of the “present” moment of his essays, to be in both places at the same time, particularly because his readers were well aware of the joke. It also provides Lamb with ironic distance from his own self-confession: “I remember L. at school; and can well recollect that he had some peculiar advantages, which I and others of his schoolfellows had not” (28–9). Yet Lamb can himself offer a “posthumous” critique of Elia which, of course, also serves as a near-exact description of Lamb himself: My late friend was in many respects a singular character. Those who did not like him, hated him; and some, who once liked him, afterwards became his bitterest haters. The truth is, he gave himself too little concern what he uttered and in whose presence. He observed neither time nor place, and e’en out with what came uppermost … Few understood him; and I am not certain that at all times he quite understood himself. He too much affected that dangerous figure —irony. (135)  See Holmes’s introduction to the 1987 Penguin edition of Wollstonecraft’s Short Residence in Sweden.  In fact, I have recently come to see likenesses between the friendship and cultural personae of William Hazlitt and Charles Lamb as somewhat akin to the contemporary American comedians and cultural commentators Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

The Intimate Familiar


The frisson of Lamb/Elia’s simultaneous presence and absence along with the shifts in time, place, and memory combine to make his essays another distinctive form of literary self-portrait, joined together by the thematic taxonomy of Lamb’s life narration. Yet most importantly, each of these authors’ works under consideration here is fundamentally based on patterns of speech and the informalities of personal interaction. The familiar languages of Lamb’s, Wollstonecraft’s, and Hazlitt’s essays all include internal address to their personal circle of friends (such as “S.T.C.,” to whom Lamb says it is safe to loan books, or simply Wollstonecraft’s unnamed “you, my friend”) that simultaneously make the reader an “intimate” of these literate, insightful, and often witty observers of contemporary life. In addition, the essays themselves are directly “familiar” in their address to readers by rejecting formal generic norms and instead adopting the tone and style more akin to personal letters than learned disquisitions. Thus, for example, Lamb/Elia chats amiably about “ears” or “All Fool’s Day” in such a way that readers can practically see the chairs gathered around and smell the fire burning: The compliments of the season to my worthy masters, and a merry first of April to us all! Many happy returns of this day to you—and you—and you, Sir—nay, never frown, man, nor put a long face upon the matter. Do we not know one another? What need of ceremony among friends? We have all a touch of that same—you understand me—a speck of the motley. Beshrew the man who on such a day as this, the general festival, should affect to stand aloof. I am none of those sneakers. I am free of the corporation, and care not who knows it. He that meets me in the forest to-day, shall meet with no wise-acre, I can tell him. Stultus sum. (95)

Indeed, Jonathan Wordsworth’s 1991 introduction to Lamb’s works says that reading these essays “is to be part of a conversation that never ceases to delight.” He even spends some time imagining, through their writings, which Romantic writers we could best “share our meals and our good-nights” with (vi). (Lamb fares well although Hazlitt appears to him “discomfortably clever.”) This emphasis on personal intimacy and familiar address to readers is central to my argument in favor of seeing these short essayistic texts as autobiography for two reasons. First, this “friend-like” relationship between author and reader enacts in text much the same process that actual friends share in coming “to know” each other through a dialogic process of self-revelation through the medium of talk and shared stories. Secondly, because (as with real-life friendships) each person makes judgments about the character of the speaker as he or she listens to their self-reporting—choosing to make, deepen, or question the connection based on ethical judgments about the values of their possible friend—this is a rhetorical relationship, as well. Indeed Aristotle’s very definition of the ethos or “ethical” argument is one that relies solely on the character of the speaker to warrant its claims. Edward Corbett in his classic text on rhetoric provides an even fuller description of the way the ethos speaker gains authority:


Romantic Autobiography in England / Chaney The ethical appeal is exerted, according to Aristotle, when the speech itself impresses the audience that the speaker is a man of sound sense (phronesis), high moral character (arete), and benevolence (eunoia). Notice that it is the speech itself which must create this impression. Thus a man [or woman] wholly unknown to his audience ... could by his words alone inspire this kind of confidence ... In the last analysis ... it is the discourse itself which must establish or maintain the ethical appeal. ... (93–4, his emphasis)

In particular, it is thought that this style of argument is best used for decisionmaking and dialogue, when “we deal with matters about which absolute certainty is impossible and opinions are divided” (Corbett 93). Cicero is another classical writer who strongly emphasized the effectiveness and importance of what he calls “the good man speaking” (99). Therefore, this “good man—or woman—speaking” both defines the literary self-portrait and also explains its rhetorical effectiveness. When we “deal with matters about which absolute certainty is impossible” such as the major questions in life or faith or personal beliefs, and especially those about which “opinions are divided,” such as those in politics or culture, we rely completely on our judgments about the character of the speaker in order to enter into our own dialogue or decision-making. This definition therefore also accounts for the passionate and even violent personal reactions that these essayists evinced in their readers, especially those conservative critics who violently disagreed with especially Hazlitt’s and Wollstonecrafts’ advocacy of liberty, education, and equality. The stakes are high. We as readers come “to know” these writers and their “character” persuades us— at the deepest levels of ethical and value-laden judgment—that their way of seeing the world is the right one. A closer look at Wollstonecraft’s Letters in Sweden begins to show how this autobiographical and rhetorical process works. One thing readers have loved about both Wollstonecraft and her Letters—even from the time of its first publication—is the intimacy she invites with her readers, the impression that we really are seeing into her thoughts as they happen during her travels in Scandinavia. This heartfelt, “to the minute” style of writing serves many rhetorical ends, not the least of which is the impression it gives that her testimony is not shaped by any planning or foreknowledge of its effects, no manipulative desire to coerce her readers emotionally—and is therefore more to be relied on as truthful. As Richard Holmes writes, Wollstonecraft’s text is “urgen[t] in its testament, swiftly composed at [a] time of grief, when many of the barriers of reticence were down” (16). These are seen to be her “real” feelings and impressions as she moves about the northern landscapes of Scandinavia. Wollstonecraft sets up this expectation from the very first when she states in the Advertisement to the text that she “could not avoid being continually the first person—‘the little hero of each tale’” who “could not give a just description of what I saw, but by relating the effect different objects had produced on my mind and feelings, whilst the impression was still fresh” (62). She tells her readers that she attempted to give more polish and shape to her original travel journal or “letters” but discovered that “in proportion as I arranged my thoughts, my letter[s] ... became stiff and affected: I, therefore, determined to let my remarks and reflections flow unrestrained ... ” (62).

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In this way, Wollstonecraft makes a strong argument in the Advertisement for her readers to take assurance that her writing has not been shaped or “arranged” and that her claims are as sincere and authentic as she herself felt them at the time of her travels. She not only tells why such assurance can be taken (even when she tried to edit or arrange her writing, it was not successful) but apologizes for the attendant “fault” of so much “un-arranged” writing which cannot separate the scenery from the self which perceives it (the “little hero of each tale”). Since autobiographical writing is, in some ways, a version of the personal testimony, the speaker’s claims for her reliability and authenticity are given as grounds to warrant the further claims and conclusions she will draw. A judgment is required of the reader, since nothing besides her own identity and the claims she makes for herself can be offered as the basis for all that is found within the argument. In this case, such a premise is even more striking because Wollstonecraft has claimed from the very outset that all she has to relate about Sweden, Norway, and Denmark will be intimately bound up with her own selfhood, what she herself was thinking and feeling as she traveled. As she says, “my readers alone can judge─and I give them leave to shut the book, if they do not wish to become better acquainted with me” (62). However, where Wollstonecraft has only made implicit claims for her authority as speaker based on her truthfulness and her status as an “authority” on what she alone has seen and experienced, she makes only one explicit argument for winning authority as a convincing speaker here, and that is whether or not she can acquire the reader’s “affection”: A person has a right, I have sometimes thought, when amused by a witty or interesting egotist, to talk of himself when he can win our attention by acquiring our affection. (62)

Wollstonecraft’s rhetorical enterprise now moves beyond rationalism alone, with its reliance on the logic of warranted claims and factual proofs, and joins with both the eighteenth-century thread of sentimentalism as well as the even more deeply rooted tradition of Aristotelian rhetoric. Wollstonecraft insists that we as readers incorporate our “feelings” or “sentiments” as equally important markers of the worth of her character and grant her the ability to speak out of our “affection” for her as readers, the way we would speak to a friend or a “witty or interesting egotist.” The very success of her enterprise in creating such affection is part of the historical record. The Letters in Sweden still have the ability to make even twenty-first century readers admire their courageous author. Wollstonecraft’s text demonstrates “the extraordinary skill with which she transformed a prosaic business venture into a poetic revelation of her character and philosophy” (26). But we must not lose sight of the fact that her authority as speaker will be rooted, she says, as much in her “character” being worthy of our “affection” as in its status as a person of “probity,” which is one of the terms Aristotle used to define the ethos speaker.


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The intimacy of this rhetorical stance is both affective and convincing. Wollstonecraft pioneered new ways of combining this personal confession with ideological polemics so that her testimony of self becomes both the warrant and the grounds of her arguments about self, society, and futurity. Specifically, the rhetoric of the Letters in Sweden takes the premise of the ethical argument to its logical conclusion. Rather than simply arguing from the position of a knowledgeable and rational speaker alone, as she did in the two Vindications, or as a fictional alter ego called “Mary” or “Maria,” as she did in her novels, in the Letters she herself emerges as the autobiographical “I” of a narrative that is profoundly confessional in its very structure. She speaks here as the self who stands behind all those other partial incarnations of her subjectivity and offers her own “real” life as the ultimate proof of her theories about the importance of education, genius, and independence for women. She models the female “rational creature” of her polemical Vindications from the moment she hits the beach at Gothenburg and combines the powerful discourse of her self-narration with the ideological persuasiveness of an ethical appeal. This important and influential rhetorical stance continued to grow and develop in the generation immediately following Wollstonecraft’s, especially in the “familiar essays” of Hazlitt and Lamb as well as in the poetry and prose of Wordsworth and Coleridge. For now, though, it is important to emphasize that Wollstonecraft was one of the first to combine self-disclosure and rhetoric in just this particular way. It is also useful to remember that the Letters in Sweden differ significantly from the male autobiographers who preceded her to whom her writing is often compared. Hers is not Sterne’s self-seeking Sentimental Journey nor is it Rousseau’s selfjustifying Reveries or Confessions. Both authors are important precursors but Wollstonecraft’s text is so significantly different in its autobiographicality that to link her writing with theirs is to misread the rhetorical strategies of her “turbulent emotions” in this public text. Rather, these outward-looking and persuasive forms of life-writing are better seen as self-portraits as outlined in depth by Michel Beaujour in his 1991 work Poetics of the Literary Self-Portrait. In that text, Beaujour takes up several points of disagreement with Philippe Lejeune’s influential definition of autobiography as a “retrospective prose narrative written by a real person concerning his own existence, where the focus is his individual life, in particular the story of his personality” (4). Beaujour argues instead that there is, in fact, a separate genre distinct from autobiography which he calls the “literary self-portrait.” These narratives make no attempt to follow a teleological or chronological narrative and can be likened more to meditations than to traditional autobiography, particularly in their organization around thematic or dialectical discourses: “The absence of a continuous narrative in the self-portrait distinguishes it from autobiography. So does its subordination of narration to a logical deployment, a collation or  See Chaney, “The Rhetorical Strategies of ‘Turbulent Emotions:’ Wollstonecraft’s Letters in Sweden.” JNT: Journal of Narrative Theory, vol. 34, no. 3, Fall 2004.

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patching together, of elements under a head that, for the time being, we will call the ‘thematic’” (2). This development leads Beaujour to posit a first important point—that there is an opposition between “the narrative and the analogical,” as in autobiography, and “the metaphorical or the poetic,” as in the self-portrait: This genre attempt(s) to create coherence through a system of cross-references, anaphoras, superimpositions, or correspondences among homologous and substitutable elements, in such a way as to give the appearance of discontinuity, of anachronistic juxtaposition, or montage, as opposed to the syntagmatic of a narration. ... the totalization of the self-portrait is not given beforehand; new homologous elements can be added to the paradigm, whereas the temporal closure of autobiography is implicit in the initial choice of a curriculum vitae. (3)

This text’s elements are “homologous” and “substitutable” and the self which writes them creates associations and linkages through “superimpositions” and “cross-references,” overlaying elements of life and text with each other and then returning to them later, replacing them as the “paradigm” of life and text changes and takes on new elements. This “poetic” form generates meaning both through the juxtaposition of elements, where the very connection between elements is telling, and through the changing forms of the elements themselves. The unique connections and linkages which create the coherence of the selfportrait are said by Beaujour to be the “taxonomy” of selfhood. The system of associations and analogies that are generated in each life text are necessarily always unique to the individuality of that self. This idea leads then to the second important aspect of Beaujour’s definition, the lack of temporal closure in the self-portrait. In literary texts of self which are non-linear or non-teleological, time’s formal markers are often the most obvious evidence of the dramatic difference between the “still living” self-portrait and the retrospective, “epitaph”-like quality of the autobiography (in which temporal closure is a generic given). The embodiment of time in the self-portrait tends to be synchronous rather than diachronous and is particularly found in passages of narrative, in both novels and life writing, where memory and recollection are foregrounded. Wollstonecraft’s Letters in Sweden embody and instantiate the several ideological and philosophical threads which inform the literary self-portrait. Specifically, this short narrative weaves a complex interrelationship between a confessional discourse of selfhood, a heightened and affective discourse of the sublime in nature, and an ideological rhetoric of political and cultural change. By offering readers a view into the inner voice of her own self-dialogue and combining a recurring motif of personal confession with a factual and straightforward narrative of places and natural sights, Wollstonecraft links ideology and rhetorical authority in the site of her literal body in a way that grounds an entirely different and lesser-known tradition of writing the self. Wollstonecraft gains authority for her writing by inviting readers to an “intimacy” with her that simultaneously prompts personal and affectionate responses in her readers while also grounding


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her rhetorical authority in the trustworthy and admirable characteristics she exhibits along the way. And the confessional self-disclosure which gains her so much love and “affection” from outside readers is not rhetorical power gained for the closed circle of self-justification, as with Rousseau or Wordsworth. Rather, it is affection and rhetorical authority gained in the cause of promoting what she sees as right ways of judging society and women’s roles within it and by way of seeing selfhood as a communal, confessional project. We can see an example of this multi-layered autobiographical discourse in one of the Letters’ most famous passages. In this episode, Wollstonecraft overlays the experience of seeing “noble forests” and the sublime waterfall at Frederikstad with her own search for meaning in life. As she writes: Reaching the cascade, or rather cataract, the roaring of which had a long time announced its vicinity, my soul was hurried by the falls into a new train of reflections. The impetuous dashing of the rebounding torrent from the dark cavities which mocked the exploring eye, produced an equal activity in my mind: my thoughts darted from earth to heaven, and I asked myself why I was chained to life and its misery? Still the tumultuous emotions this sublime object excited, were pleasurable; and, viewing it, my soul rose, with renewed dignity, above its cares—grasping at immortality—it seemed as impossible to stop the current of my thoughts, as of the always varying, still the same, torrent before me—I stretched out my hand to eternity, bounding over the dark speck of life to come. (152–3)

Within the three sentences of that grammatically complex passage, heightened by its dashes and subordinate clauses, we can see the recurrent shape of the Wollstonecraftian discourse of self. She binds the rhetorical authority we grant her through her descriptions of concrete physical places and attaches it to the related flights of her interior vision which are less easy to represent visually, yet equally compelling. In this way, Wollstonecraft takes great strides in developing the language of portraying states of mind in literature. She combines, several years before her acquaintances Wordsworth or Coleridge, a confessional disclosure of her thoughts and feelings along with the external sight or physical object which prompted them, thereby joining the natural world and consciousness in text. This is writing that bears a much stronger resemblance to poetry than to linear narrative with its use of fragmentary sentences, imagistic description, and the heightened language of intense feeling. And it is a linguistic pattern repeated throughout the Letters—a joining-together, through the taxonomy of her own subjectivity, of disparate passages of observation, comment, and polemics alongside intense confession, passion and sorrow. As we have seen, this associative and non-linear practice is the defining characteristic of the literary self-portrait with far more kinship to poetry than to traditional autobiography. I argue that such texts in fact more closely resemble “true memory-thinking” because they reject an artificial generic linearity and teleology for the gaps, spaces, and images of time embodied in a text and a life lived and remembered within it.

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A reader may pick up the Letters to find out more about Scandinavia but will leave knowing more about Mary Wollstonecraft. Indeed, the historical record shows us that readers from her time to ours have had remarkably similar reactions to the Letters in Sweden in just such a way. We feel that we “know” Wollstonecraft, at least in some partial way, through the process of reading her text and we come to admire her courage and warm heart. Per Nyström, the amateur historian and former mayor in Norway who did much research on Wollstonecraft’s travels, has said of her: “Little did I imagine then that my researches would lead ... to a meeting with one of the boldest and warmest personalities of the time.” William Godwin even claimed that “if ever there was a book calculated to make a man in love with its author, this appears to me to be the book” (249). Since he did love and marry Wollstonecraft, we can assume the calculation was correct. However, it was no “calculation” on her part which prompts this reaction in readers—indeed quite the opposite. By exhibiting her worthy “character” in the midst of the difficulties of her journey, she gains rhetorical authority for another of this text’s purposes— persuasion in service of her passionate belief in the need for social justice and change. Wollstonecraft’s text re-makes the rhetoric of ethos in this case because she redefines what constitutes authorizing “character.” Rather than the disingenuousness of Edmund Burke’s famous use of the ethos style in his Reflections on the Revolution in France—an argument that must be called as much emotional as ethical—Wollstonecraft instead chooses to ground her speaking authority on an authentic discourse of selfhood, a literary self-portrait, with all its “stutters and gaps.” She argues in the Letters in Sweden for the rights of women, equality within families and nations, and an authentic understanding of love by embedding her arguments within a real dialogue of her own life’s journey, full of selfquestioning and confessing. Instead of Burke’s smooth and patriarchal “rational man,” Wollstonecraft offers us her “real self” to ground her claims and grant her authority. She tells us from the very outset that all she has to relate about Sweden, Norway, and Denmark will be intimately bound up with her own selfhood. And as she says, “my readers alone can judge—and I give them leave to shut the book, if they do not wish to become better acquainted with me” (62). By becoming “better acquainted” with this text, however, we can see how two Romantic inheritors of this discourse of selfhood—William Hazlitt and Charles Lamb—both extended and re-fashioned it. In a similar way, the relationship between self-portrait and the short prose form such as the familiar essay is an important one because the definition of the former so closely describes the latter—disparate passages of observation, commentary, and polemics held thematically together through the taxonomy of the self-disclosing essayist. William Hazlitt’s brilliant essays are a perfect example Found in the preface to Mary Wollstonecraft’s Scandinavian Journey, 1980. Indeed Corbett uses Burke’s French Revolution text as his exact model of an argument based on an appeal to the emotions.  


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of this connection. As he himself noted in “On the Causes of Popular Opinion,” his essays are “the thoughts of a metaphysician expressed by a painter. They are subtle and difficult problems translated into hieroglyphics.” This kind of painterly ‘coding’ of the referential metaphors of language into the metaphors of image and ideogram gives one indication of how closely Hazlitt saw essay-writing in the same metaphorical frame as self-portraiture. Two of Hazlitt’s best-known familiar essays, “The Fight” and “My First Acquaintance with Poets,” show us some examples of how this taxonomy of self functions in his case. In the picaresque essay “The Fight,” first published in The New Monthly Magazine in February 1823, Hazlitt self-consciously places himself somewhere in the narrative structure of a Fielding novel or a print by Hogarth. By doing so he invites into his essay the implications that come with those resonant literary narratives. Hazlitt here paints himself as one whose opinions and behaviors reflect an early-nineteenth-century, nationalistic ideology of the “true” Englishman—he is a man who knows his wit, his drink, and his boxers— and, as such, gains affection and respect from the “intimate familiars” the essay addresses, the male, urban readers of The New Monthly Magazine. Hazlitt gains rhetorical authority through his display of both masculine character and wit in this countryside adventure so that when he admonishes “the Gas-man” (boxer Thomas Hickman) for too much bragging, saying that it “was not manly, ‘twas not fighterlike … The best men were always the best behaved” (120), Hazlitt has earned his moralizing. As he relates the tale: Our present business was to get beds and a supper at inn; but this was no easy task. … A tall English yeoman … was making such a prodigious noise about rent and taxes … The first thing I heard him say was to a shuffling fellow who wanted to be off a bet for a shilling glass of brandy and water—‘Confound it, man, don’t be insipid!’ Thinks I, that is a good phrase. It was a good omen. He kept it up so all night, nor flinched with the approach of morning. He was a fine fellow, with sense, wit, and spirit, a hearty body and a joyous mind, free-spoken, frank, convivial—one of that true English breed that went with Harry the Fifth to the siege of Harfleur … He made mince-meat of a drunken, stupid, redfaced, quarrelsome, frowsy farmer, whose nose ‘he moralized into a thousand similes,’ making it out a firebrand like Bardolph’s … Hogarth, Shakespeare, and Nature, were just enough for him (indeed for any man) to know. … I said … You have kept me alive tonight … I don’t know what I should have done without you. (118)

After inviting the reader to share in this intimate comradeship of the boisterous inn and its fellows, gaining the affection of that ‘friendship’ and a share in the outward good company, Hazlitt then moves to invite the reader to a further intimacy with his private thoughts. As the fight itself approaches, Hazlitt meditates on the fleeting nature of these happy moments: For it was now noon, and we had an hour to wait. This is the trying time. It is then when the heart sickens, as you think what the two champions are about,

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and how short a time will determine their fate. After the first blow is struck, there is no opportunity for nervous apprehensions; you are swallowed up in the immediate interest of the scene—but ‘Between the acting of a dreadful thing And the first motion, all the interim is Like a phantasma, or a hideous dream.’ ‘So,’ I thought, ‘my fairest hopes have faded from my sight!—so will the Gasman’s glory, or that of his adversary, vanish in an hour.’ (121)

And then Hazlitt turns back to his boxing story. But in that fragmentary scene, we see once again the outlines of the literary self-portrait. Here is a partial evocation of memory—his own lost lover Sarah Walker, “fairest hopes,” now “faded from his sight”—together with a vivid rendering of a present-day and real-life scene, held together with the literary framework of Shakespeare’s language and imagery—this time from Julius Caesar. Past, present, and future are all present in this single moment, held together by the taxonomy of the self-portraitist who paints the scene. As with Wollstonecraft’s Letters, the artificial generic linearity and teleology of self-announced autobiography have been set aside for the gaps, spaces, and images of time embodied in a text and a life lived and remembered within it. This is literary self-portraiture painted, though, as pointillism. Hazlitt gives us only rare glimpses and small moments of confession and insight in each individual essay. A larger self-portrait emerges from the essays taken in their book form, the “collective narrative” of his self-confession. The Spirit of the Age and The Plain Speaker and Round Table, etc., are the wider canvases from which Hazlitt’s life in writing takes on a more complete picture. However, in “My First Acquaintance With Poets,” Hazlitt takes a more overt approach toward autobiography. He opens directly with his own family genealogy (“My father was a Dissenting Minister at W-m in Shropshire”) and before the end of the first paragraph has painted a moving portrait of himself as an awkward youth galvanized into life and thought—and speech, much like Frankenstein’s creature—by the brilliance of his first encounter with Coleridge: I was stunned, startled with it, as from deep sleep; but I had no notion then that I should ever be able to express my admiration to others in motley imagery or quaint allusion, till the light of his genius shone in my soul, like the sun’s rays glittering in the puddles of the road. I was at that time dumb, inarticulate, helpless, like a worm by the wayside, crushed, bleeding, lifeless; but now, bursting from the deadly bands that bound them. … my ideas float on winged words, and as they expand their plumes, catch the golden light of other years. My soul has indeed remained in its original bondage, dark, obscure, with longings infinite and unsatisfied; my heart, shut up in the prison-house of this rude clay, has never found, nor will it ever find, a heart to speak to; but that my understanding also did not remain dumb and brutish, or at length found a language to express itself, I owe to Coleridge.


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This is discourse of both the heart and soul, framed by the language of emotion and sentiment remarkably similar to the Frederikstad passage from Wollstonecraft’s Letters quoted above. Hazlitt’s soul is “in bondage … with longings infinite and unsatisfied” and his heart, “shut up in the prison-house of this rude clay” will never find an answering, loving heart. In fact, all that he has is his speech and his “understanding” as consolation in this life. In this single page, he has gone from the fixed narrative of his beloved father’s life, location, and vocation to the unhinged and fragmentary gaps of his own misunderstood self all bound up in the context of Coleridge’s first coming to preach in Shropshire in 1798. The rest of the essay is an intertwined self-portrait of Hazlitt’s continuing confession of particular life events that simultaneously idealizes and criticizes both himself and his famous friends, both his own life and its relationship to the contemporary world and eternity. As Cafarelli puts it, “[T]he vision of a Christ-like Coleridge Hazlitt saw in his youth … is canceled by the reality he now perceives with un-idealizing eyes. A countertext of portraiture is at work throughout” (138). In fact, the very fragmentary or incidental nature of Hazlitt’s self-disclosure in these essays is another marker of the narrative structures of literary self-portrait— indeed Michel Beaujour argues that no one can ever intend to write one. Instead he says that self-portraitists lose the ability to write as soon as they become aware of the nature of their writing. It must be writing that begins with another purpose and becomes a “found object” of selfhood in the process of its very writing: “A kind of misprision or compromise, a shuttling back and forth between generality and particularity; the self-portraitist never has a clear notion of where he is going, of what he is doing” (5). However, the self-portraitist does have boundaries. The writer speaks to and situates his or her own writing within the culture that provides a framework of opposing discourses. The writer may have no idea where he or she is going “but [the] cultural tradition is aware of it for him: his culture provides him with the ready-made categories that enable him to classify the fragments of his discourse, his memories, his fantasies” (4–5). Note that these “fragments” of the self involve not only its history or “memories” and “discourse” but “fantasies” as well—whether they are Shakespeare’s plays, a teenager’s idealized vision of Coleridge, or the fantasy of a faithless lover’s return. All the aspects of a self’s inner and outer discourse, both historical and imaginative, are ready for location in the montage of the self-portrait. In self-portrait, the author reworks “these unprocessed givens” of life and “arranges them under headings only to connect them haphazardly according to the imperatives of a personal taxonomy whose configuration and reasons often elude him” (5). Even though “he is as blind as Oedipus when he keeps on equating his writing with his freedom, his self, his unique utterance ... the self-portraitist sees in those headings a referential virtuality bound up with the ‘mimesis of the self’” (5). The self-portraitist constructs life in text without knowing why or how the life should be so structured—the montage is joined together without the self’s omniscient control or overt textual mastery, unlike traditional autobiography. The complete “configuration” of that self remains mysterious—all the pieces which

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make up the patchwork are finally beyond totalization—but the “headings” under which the self makes connections provide at least a point of reference for understanding that self’s textual representation. We cannot know any self completely, least of all our own selves, as Sterne reminds us. But we can know where our selfhood makes its links and associations. We can sketch an outline of the shape of our interests, history, and concerns and in so doing capture in text what is authentic to our own self-representation, both for ourselves and for the listening and completing other who stands outside. For Charles Lamb, the “textual representation” of himself—his “mimesis of self”—comes into being with the character of Elia while the essays themselves provide the “headings” of his “referential virtuality.” Locations and memories of the city of London, particular commentary on his physical body (his “ears” and his stutterings, for example), along with various essays that explore his relationships with friends and family are the most prevalent thematic frameworks in these works. Unlike Hazlitt, for whom self-revelation comes mostly in small doses and primarily as it intertwines with his philosophical and cultural inquiries, Lamb regularly and cheerfully speaks of his life and family in more frequent and less-weighty ways, making over his brother James and sister Mary into Elia’s “cousins” James and “Bridget.” Lamb seems more content to simply tell stories. For example, brother James takes on a wittily Shandean character in the essay “My Relations” and Mary (or “Bridget”) emerges as the dear companion of Elia’s life, as a “cousin” and housekeeper in “Mackery End, in Hertfordshire.” However it is essays like “Grace Before Meat” that best exemplify the more complicated and self-confessing portraiture of Lamb’s writings. Lamb here combines an inquiry into a social norm that has gone unexamined with a representation of his own experience within that problematic norm. However, unlike Hazlitt, Lamb shapes the entire discourse with an ironic wit that also advances his rhetorical ends. Humor is a well-known road to a reader’s heart, mind, and convictions, especially when part of the humor depends upon the incongruousness of the doubled-nature of the narration. Lamb uses humor frequently as part of both the affective and rhetorical nature of his self-portrait: The custom of saying grace at meals had, probably, its origin in the early times of the world, and the hunter-state of man, when dinners were precarious things, and a full meal was something more than a common blessing! when a belly-full was a wind-fall and looked like a special providence. … I own that I am disposed to say grace upon 20 other occasions in the course of the day besides my dinner. I want a form for setting out upon a pleasant walk, for a moonlight ramble, for a friendly meeting, or a solved problem. Why have we none for books, those spiritual repasts—a grace before Milton—a grace before Shakespeare—a devotional exercise proper to be said before reading the Fairy Queen?—. … The form, then, of the benediction before eating has its beauty  The exception to this rule is, of course, Hazlitt’s Liber Amoris, which is almost completely self-confessing and self-abasing, even with its thinly-veiled fictionalizing.


Romantic Autobiography in England / Chaney at a poor man’s table, or at the simple and unprovocative repast of children. It is here that grace becomes exceedingly graceful. … A short form upon these occasions is felt to want reverence; a long one, I am afraid, cannot escape the charge of impertinence. I do not quite approve of the epigrammatic conciseness with which that equivocal wag (but my pleasant school-fellow) C.V.L., when importuned for a grace, used to inquire, first slyly leering down the table, “Is there no clergyman here?”—significantly adding, “Thank G--.” (130, 137)

Lamb presents himself here as the “C.V.L.” who is both “equivocal wag” and also “pleasant school-fellow,” the one who gives a sly leer before making the doublelayered and ironic witticism that simultaneously provides grace at the table and critiques the requirement that makes them do it—that is, “Thank God.” This is the literary self-portrait of man “inclined to jest” and therefore prone to causing “haters.” Finally, it is in the “posthumous” essay announcing Elia’s end that allows Lamb the clearest self-portrait of all, an essay that is itself a representation by the author of a character that has stood in for the author—and the most significant textual representation of the “cross-references and anaphoras” of his taxonomy of self: … .a two years’ and a half existence has been a tolerable duration for a phantom. I am now at liberty to confess, that much which I have heard objected to my late friend’s writings was well founded. … Egotistical they have been pronounced by some who did not know, that what he tells us, as of himself, was often true only (historically) of another; as in a former Essay (to save many instances)—where under the first person (his favourite figure) he shadows forth the forlorn estate of a country boy placed at a London school, far from his friends and connections— in direct opposition to his own early history. If it be egotism to imply and twine with his own identity the griefs and affections of another—making himself many, or reducing many unto himself—then is the skillful novelist, who all along brings in his hero or heroine, speaking of themselves, the greatest egotist of all; who yet has never, therefore, been accused of that narrowness. And how shall the intenser dramatist escape being faulty, who, doubtless under cover of passion uttered by another, oftentimes gives blameless vent to his most inward feelings, and expresses his own story modestly? … His intimados, to confess a truth, were in the world’s eye a ragged regiment. He found them floating on the surface of society; and the colour, or something else, in the weed pleased him. The burrs stuck to him—but they were good and loving burrs for all that. He never greatly cared for what are called good people.

Once again we see clearly how the forms of literature have shaped the selfrevelation of the self-portrait—in this case, Lamb explicitly arguing for the truth-telling of fictive forms such as the novel, the drama, and the essayistic selfportrait. To “imply and twine with his own identity the griefs and affections of another” thereby “making himself many, or reducing many unto himself” is neither

The Intimate Familiar


objectionable nor egotistical, he claims. It is the very stuff of life, both inwardly as it is lived and outwardly in the “mimesis of self” which this textual representation, the literary self-portrait, takes forward into the world. This consubstantial relationship between “inner” and “outer” dialogue is an important one for the study of life narrative since the textual relationship between inner thoughts, memories, dreams, and ideas about oneself and their outer manifestation in speech, act, and text is foundational in these texts. Mikhail Bakhtin spends time in several of his most important writings talking about the link between self and other—the necessary and dialogic relationship that makes all selves and all consciousnesses the product of shared and multiple voices. The dialogue between self and other and the “answerability” that comes with the ability to participate in such a conversation are central to Bakhtin’s thinking. “The word,” he writes, “is half someone else’s” and as such retains the intentionality and ideology of that someone while it also becomes incorporated into the selfmaking voice of the other. Bakhtin calls this relationship between inner and outer discourse another word for “answerability”:—that which points beyond its own bounds—and implies both “responsibility” in the ethical sense and “the ability to respond,” to literally speak. For Mary Wollstonecraft’s plaintive question—“Life, what art thou? Where goes this breath? this I, so much alive? ”—is addressed not just to her ostensible reader Gilbert Imlay (and, by extension, to us) but to her own self-making, narrative voice. By understanding the nature of “embodied thought” in language this way, by understanding the nature of the “speaking person” who incarnates inner discourse and ideology in all texts, we can bring together all these related threads—that is, that there is at work in these “literary self-portraits” an ethical and persuasive discourse which both embodies the self/other paradigm in text and which invites the responding discourse of an active and acting other: its reader. Works Cited Bakhtin, Mikhail. Art and Answerability: Early Philosophical Essays, (eds) Michael Holquist and Vadim Liapunov. Austin: U of Texas P, 1990. ———. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, (ed.) Michael Holquist. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: U of Texas P, 1981. Beaujour, Michel. Poetics of the Literary Self-Portrait. Trans. Yara Milos. New York and London: New York UP, 1991. Cafarelli, Annette Wheeler. Prose in the Age of Poets: Romanticism and Biographical Narrative from Johnson to De Quincey. Philadelphia: U of Penn P, 1990. Chaney, Christine. “The Rhetorical Strategies of ‘Turbulent Emotions:’ Wollstonecraft’s Letters in Sweden.” JNT: Journal of Narrative Theory 34.3 (2004): 277–303. Hazlitt, William. Selected Writings, (ed.) Jon Cook. Oxford UP, 1998. Lamb, Charles. Complete Works and Letters of Charles Lamb. New York: Modern Library, 1935.


Romantic Autobiography in England / Chaney

———. Elia, (ed.) Jonathan Wordsworth. Oxford: Woodstock Books, 1991. ———. The Essays of Elia, (ed.) Alfred Ainger. London: Macmillan and Co., 1921. Lejeune, Philippe. On Autobiography, (ed.) Paul John Eakin. Trans. Katherine Leary. Vol. 52. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1989. Nystrom, Per. Mary Wollstonecraft’s Scandinavian Journey. Trans. George R. Otter. Vol. 17. Goteborg: Kungl. Vetenskaps—och Vitterhets-Samhallet, 1980. Wollstonecraft, Mary and William Godwin. A Short Residence in Sweden and Memoirs of the Author of The Rights of Woman, (ed.) Richard Holmes. 1796 edition. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. 1987.

Index Agrippina the Younger, 69, 74 Alighieri, Dante, The Divine Comedy, 154 Altamount, Earl of, 124 American Fund for French Wounded, 26 American Psychiatric Association, 90n5 Analytical Review, The, 66–7 Anderson Edward, The Sailor; A Poem. Description of His Going to Sea, through Various Scenes of Life, Being Shipwreck’d: Taken Prisoner: And afterwards Safely Returning to His Family, Who Had Not Heard of Him for Several Years: With Observations on the Town of Liverpool, 162 Anglican Church. see Church of England Ann of Oxford Street, 119 Annual Necrology for 1797–1798, 68 Anonymous An Answer to the Memoirs of Mrs Billington with the Life and Adventures of RICHARD DALY, ESQ, 51, 55–6, 60 Biographium Femineum, or the Female Worthies, 70, 72–3 “General Ludd’s Triumph,” 168–9 Memoirs of Pretended Prophets, 185 Memoirs of a Printer’s Devil; Interspersed with Pleasing Recollections, Local Descriptions, and Anecdotes, 164, 164n3, 166 “Odes on Printing,” 164n3 Poetical Epistle from Florizel to Perdita: With Perdita’s Answer, 33 Ruin of Methodism, The, 180 Aphra Behn, 73 Aristotle, 197–9 Arminian Magazine, 188 Arnold, Matthew, 99, 100n2, 184, 190 Asher, John, 172, 172n9 Askew, Anne, 74

Bailey, Benjamin, 133 Baker, Henry Barton, 36 Ballard, George, 76 Dictionnaire des Femmes Célébrées, 70 Introduction to The Female Worthies, 75 La Galerie des Femmes Fortes, 70 Memoirs of British Ladies, 70, 72, 73, 76 Barry, James, 150, 151 murals for Great Room of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, 152 Baudrillard, Jean, Seduction, 90 Beatty, Warren, 145–6 Beaumont, George, 100, 179 Beethoven, Ludwig van, 52 Behn, Aphra, 71 Behrendt, Stephen C., 145–60 Betham, Matilda, Biographical Dictionary of the Celebrated Women of Every Age and Country, 71 Bianchi, Francesco, Inez di Castro (opera), 52 Bildungsroman, 3, 132 Billington, Elizabeth, 7, 49–52, 53n5, 54–7, 59, 59n9, 60, 60n9 letters of, 56–8 Memoirs of Mrs Billington from her Birth, 49–62 Billington, James, 52 Billington, Thomas, 52 Binfield, Kevin, 161–78 Bishop of Bristol, 181 Blackburn, John, 172 Blacket, Joseph, Specimens of the Poetry of Joseph Blacket: With an Account of His Life, and Some Introductory Observations, by Mr. Pratt, 163 Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, 118n2, 182, 188, 190 Blackwood’s Magazine, 118n2 Blair, Robert, 39


Romantic Autobiography in England

Blake, William, 36n9, 82, 87 Blake’s Cottage at Felpham, 154 “Felpham’s Vale,” 153 Island in the Moon, An, 152 Jerusalem, 152, 154 Milton, 152, 154 prophetic writings, 152 Songs of Innocence and Experience, 180 Blanche, Lady Arundel, 69 Boaden, James, Memoirs of Mrs Inchbald, 50 Bonaparte, Josephine, 52 Bowles, William Lisle, 157, 158 Brawne, Fanny, 133, 135, 137, 139, 140 Breughel, Pieter, Numbering at Bethlehem (painting), 152 Brewster, Sir David, Natural Magic, 123 Bronte, Charlotte, Jane Eyre, 3 Brooke, Stopford, 137 Brown, Charles, 133, 140 “Life of Keats,” 135, 138 Brown, Sue, 131–44 Burke, Edmund, Reflections on the Revolution in France, 203, 203n5 Burwick, Frederick, 117–30 “By the Framework Knitters: A Declaration,” 172 Byron, George Gordon, 3, 5–8, 79, 82, 148, 155–7, 190 Childe Burun’s Pilgrimage. see Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, 7, 154 Manfred, 7 memoirs written in Italy, 7 Calvinists, 188 Cappe, Catherine, 164 Carlyle, Thomas, Sartor Resartus, 2, 4 Catherine the Great, 69 Chaney, Christine, 195–210 Chapone, Hester, 74 Charke, Charlotte, 65 Chateaubriand, François-René de, Mémoires d’outre-tombe, 50n3 Chatterton, Thomas, 44, 44n16, 45 Chaucer, Geoffrey, 21 Christina of Sweden, 74 Church of England, 180, 183–5, 189–90 Cicero, 198

Civil War, U.S., 21 Clarkson, Catherine, 18, 28 Cleopatra, 73 Clinton, Hillary Rodham, 49 Cobbett, William, “Peter Porcupine’, 168 Colbert, Stephen, 196n2 Coleman, George, 41 Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, 5, 8, 20n6, 23–4, 63n1, 100, 118, 118n2, 119–20, 122–3, 125–6, 126n8, 127, 196, 200, 202, 205–6 Biographia Literaria, 117 Collected Letters, 123n6 Collected Notebooks, 123n6 Philosophical Lectures, 124 Coleridge family, diagram of, 29 Collier, Mary Peach, Poetic Effusions, 163 Corbett, Edward, 197, 203n5 Corday, Charlotte, 74 Cowper, William, Memoirs, 188 Cragwall, Jaspar, 179–94 Croft, Rev. George, 181, 184 Dacre, Charlotte Hours of Solitude, 45n17 Introduction to Mary Robinson: Selected Poems, 45n17 “To the Shade of Mary Robinson,” 45, 45n17 Daly, Richard, 51, 54–5, 55n7, 58 Dark, Mariann, 158–9 “On the Birth of My Sister’s Little Girl, Three Days after the Funeral of Her Grandfather” 158 Sonnets and Other Poems, 157 David, 84, 138 De Quincey, Elizabeth, 119 De Quincey, Pink, 119 De Quincey, Thomas, 3, 8, 16, 101, 117n1, 118, 119–30 ‘A Sketch from Childhood,’ 118n2 “Afflictions of Childhood, The,” 120 “Analects from Richter,” 122 Autobiographical Sketches, 117, 118n2, 119, 126 Autobiography, 117 “Autobiography of an English OpiumEater: Recollections of Charles Lamb, Samuel Taylor Coleridge,” 118n2

Index Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, 4, 8, 117, 117n1, 118–21, 124, 127 “Dream-Echoes,” 123 English Mail-Coach, or the Glory of Motion, 117, 118n2, 121, 124, 127 “Farce and Self-Representation,” 121 Hogg’s Instructor, 118n2 “Introduction to the Pains of Opium,” 120 “Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts,” 121 “On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth,” 121 Sketches from Childhood, 117–19 “Sketches of Life and Manners; from the Autobiography of an English Opium Eater,” 118, 118n2, 126 “Society of the Lakes,” 126 Suspiria de Profundis: Being a Sequel to the Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, 117–18, 118n2, 119–21, 127 “There was a Boy,” 126n8 de Selincourt, Ernest, 99, 99n1, 179 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 90n5 Dickens, Charles, A Christmas Carol, 151 Dilke, Charles Wentworth, 133 Dumas, Alexandre, Mémoires de ma vie, 50n3 East India Company, 26 Ecclesiastical Corresponding Society, 180 Edinburgh Magazine, 4 Edinburgh Review, 182, 186–7, 190 Elizabeth I, Queen, 69 Enlightenment, 66 Equiano, Olaudah, 5 Espriella, Don Manuel Alvarez (pseudonym of Robert Southey). see Robert Southey European Magazine, The, 65n7, 71 “Sketch of the Life of the Celebrated Mrs. R-----, A,” 35n7 Evangelicals, the (Protestant and Romanist), 190 Evans, B. Ifor, 139 “Female Worthies,” 70 Fielding, Henry, 204 Finch, Robert, 134


Forman, Harry Buxton, 137 Introduction to Letters of John Keats to Fanny Brawne, 138 Fox, Charles James, 33, 33n6 Foxe, John, Acts and Monuments, 76 Foxites, 167 framework knitters, 161–6, 172 1663 Charters, 161–7 French Revolution, 66, 180, 181 Frend, William, 64 Freud, Sigmund, 7, 81–2, 88, 90, 186 Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 85 Gabler, Hedda, 146 Gainsborough, Thomas, 164 Gibbon, Edward, 68 Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 70 Gibbon, Thomas, Memoirs of Pious Ladies, 70 Girondin party (France), 73 Gisborne, Maria, 91–2 Godwin, William, 43n15, 63n1, 64–6, 71, 83, 84n4, 90, 92, 196, 203 Fleetwood, 91 Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, 6, 157, 190 From My Life: Poetry and Truth, 19, 147 Sorrows of Young Werther, 67 Gospel, 39 Graham, Catherine Macaulay, 73 Graham, W.S., 133n4 grand récit, 68, 73 Grasmere, 28, 117, 120, 125 Graveyard School, 39 Greatheed, Bertie, 163 Greene, Nick, 56 Guelph family, 171 Gusdorf, Georges, 79–93, 79n1 Hamilton, Mary, Memoirs of Mrs Billington from her Birth, 31n2 Hands, Elizabeth Death of Amnon. A Poem. With an Appendix: Containing Pastorals, and Other Poetical Pieces, 163 “Poem on the Supposition of an Advertisement appearing in a Morning Paper, of the Publication of a Volume of Poems, by a Servant Maid,” 163


Romantic Autobiography in England

“Poem on the Supposition of the Book having been published and read,” 163 Harris, Howell, 40n12 diary of, 189 Haslam, William, 135–6, 139–40 Haydn, Franz Joseph, 64 diary of, 49, 49n1 Second London Notebook, 51 Haydon, Benjamin Robert, 5, 134 Autobiography, 152 Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem (painting), 152 Hayley, William, 152 Hays, Mary, 63, 63n1, 63n2, 64–5, 65n7, 65n8, 69–78, 69n11 Emma Courtney, 64, 65 Female Biography; or, Memoirs of Illustrious and Celebrated Women, 63, 63n3, 64–5, 65n6, 66–78 Harry Clinton, 64 history and, 64 Letters and Essays, 63, 67, 76 Memoirs of Emma Courtney, The, 7, 63–4 Memoirs of Queens, 64 “On Novel Writing,” 70 Victim of Prejudice, The, 64 Haywood, Eliza, 65, 71, 73 Hazlitt, William, 3, 10, 196, 196n2, 198, 203, 205, 207 essays of, 195, 197, 200 “Fight, The,” 204 Liber Amoris, 207n6 “My First Acquaintance with Poets,” 204–5 “On the Causes of Popular Opinion,” 204 Plain Speaker, The, 205 Round Table, 205 Spirit of the Age, The, 205 Heathcoat, John, 172 Hector, 138 Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, The Phenomenology of Mind, 107n14 Helen of Troy, 49 Henson, Gravenor, 167 Hervey, James, 39 Hoeveler, Diane Long, 79–98 Hogarth, William, 150, 204 Gates of Calais, or, The Roast Beef of Old England, The (painting), 152

visual self-representation, 152 Hogg, James, 127 “Memoir of the Life of James Hogg,” 163 Mountain Bard, The: Consisting of Ballads and Songs, founded on Facts and Legendary Tales. By James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, 163 Hollingsworth, Edward, 161 Holmes, Richard, 198 Hopper, Christopher, 182, 185 Horsley, Bishop, 185 Hume, David, 68, 68n9 History of England, 70, 76 Hunt, Leigh, 5, 134 Huntites, 167 Hutchinson, Mary, 19n5, 20, 29 Hutchinson family, 19, 26, 29 Imlay, Fanny, 87, 91, 92 Imlay, Gilbert, 195, 209 Jacobins, 180 Jagger, Mick, 145 James, William, 20 Jeffrey, Francis, 182, 186, 189–90 Joan of Arc, 65n6, 70 John the Evangelist, 39 Johnson, Joseph, 65n8, 71 Johnson, Samuel (Dr.), 70 Jonathan, 138 Jones, Isabella, 140 Jordan, John, 125 Kant, Immanuel, 121 Keats, Fanny, 140 Keats, John, 5–6, 8–9, 131, 131n2, 132–3, 133n4, 134–42, 152, 155–6 “Bright Star” sonnet, 133 friendship with Severn, 131–44 Grecian Urn, 146 love letters to Fanny Brawne, 137 “Ode to a Nightingale,” 43, 138, 138n9 “This Living Hand,” 42 Keats Circle, 134, 135, 140 King, John, 33, 33n5, 45 Letters from Perdita to a Certain Israelite, and his Answers to Them, 33 Lackington, James, 186, 188



Lacy, Charles, 172 Lady Huntingdon’s Connexion, 190 Lamb, Caroline, Glenarvon, 154 Lamb, Charles, 3, 10, 119, 196n2, 197, 203, 207 “Elia,” 196 essays of, 197, 200 “Grace Before Meat,” 207 Lamb, James, 207 Lamb, Mary, 207 Large, Thomas, 169 Lavington, Bishop, 188 “Preface” to The Enthusiasm of Methodists, 187 LeSage, Alain René, Gil Blas (L’Histoire de Gil Blas de Santillane), 52 Levin, Susan, 49–62 Lloyd, Charles, 63n1 Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 63n2 Lockhart, John Gibson, 4, 182 Lokke, Kari, 15–30 London Corresponding Society, 180 London Magazine, 117n2 Louis XIV, M. Auquetil’s Memoirs, 76 Lowell, Amy, 133, 133n3 Ludd, Edward, 162n2 Ludd, Ned, 9, 161–7, 167n6, 168, 168n7, 169–78 “Declaration” of Nov. 1811 signed by “Thos Death,” 171 Luddism. see Luddites Luddite writing, 164n5, 168n6 as laboring-class autobiography, 161 Luddites, 161, 161n1, 162, 165–7, 167n6, 168n7, 170–72, 172n9, 173 Luke, 52

Matoaks (Pocahontas), 69 Methodism. see Methodist movement Methodist Connexion, 188 Methodist Magazine, 188 Methodist movement, 187, 189–90 Methodists, 180, 185 lives and portraits of lay itinerant ministers, 10, 179–94 Milne, Christian, 164 Simple Poems on Simple Subjects, 162–3 Wife of a Journeyman Ship-Carpenter in Footdee, Aberdeen,” 163 Milnes, Richard Monckton, 135–6, 136n6, 138, 140 Milton, John, 21, 99, 104, 125 Apology for Smectymnuus, 147 Minster House, 36, 36n9 Mitchell, Joshua, 172n9 M’Kaen, James, The Life of James M’Kaen, Shoemaker in Glasgow, Who Was executed at the Cross of Glasgow, on Wednesday the 25th Jan. 1797. For the Murder and Robbery of James Buchanan, the Lanark Carrier, 162 Monthly Magazine, The, 67–8 Monthly Review, 189 More, Hannah, 39 Morning Chronicle, 33n5 Morning Herald, 33 Morning Post, 33n3, 34 Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus, “La Clemenza di Tito” (opera), 59, 59n9, 60, 60n9 Musset, Alfred de, Confession d’un enfant du siècle, 50n3

Magritte, René “Le Domaine d’Arnheim” (painting), 106n13 This is not a pipe (painting), 147 Manley, Delarivere, 65 Marcus, Laura, 2 Maria, Countess of Coventry (née Gunning), 39n11 Marinelli, Lucretia, 75 Mary Queen of Scots, 69, 73 Mason, William, “Elegy III: On the Death of a Lady,” 39, 39n11

Nelson, Admiral, Descriptive Catalogue, 154 Nero, 185 Nether Stowey, 117 New Monthly Magazine, The, 204 Newman, Sarah, 164 Poems, on Subjects Connected with Scripture, 164 “Nottingham Committee,” 167 Nottingham Review, 168, 168n7, 170–73 Oedipus, 84, 206 Olivier, Lawrence, 146


Romantic Autobiography in England

Olney, James, 2, 149 O’Neill, Hugh, 36n9 Orpheus, 185 Owenites, 167 Paine, Thomas, “Rights of Man,” 59 Parke, William, 52, 54 Patmore, Coventry, 135 Pearson, George, Memoirs of the Life and Character of Mrs S. Pearson, 164 Pearson, Susanna, 164n3 Medallion, The, 163 Poems, Dedicated, by Permission, to the Right Honourable the Countess Fitzwilliam, 163 Poems on Various Subjects, 163 Pearson, Susanna (Ipswich essayist), Essays and Letters, 163 Phillips, Richard, 31n1, 65n8 Picasso, Pablo, 17 Piozzi, Hester Lynch Thrale, Thraliana, 64 Piranesi, Giovanni Battista, 123 Antiquities of Rome, The (engravings), 120 Il Carceri, 119, 120, 124 Triumph of Death, The, 124 Planché, James Robertson, Vampire, 121 Plutarch Lives, 70 Morals, 76 Pocahontas. see Matoaks (Pocahontas) Pope, Alexander, “Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady,” 39, 39n11 Powell, William, 41, 42 Pratt, Samuel Jackson, 31n1, 43n15 Prince of Wales, 7, 31, 31n2, 33, 45, 59 Proba, 73 Proust, Marcel, 119 Psyche, 84 Pylades, 138 Quarterly Review, 4, 187, 189 Raphaels, 139 Read, Herbert, 99, 100 Reformation, 190 Reign of Terror, The, 69, 73 Renaissance, 152 Revelation, 154

Revolutionary War, 33 Reynolds, John Hamilton, 133, 141 Reynolds, Joshua, 150 Self-portrait Shading the Eyes (painting), 151, 151n2 Ricardo, David, Economic Theory, 121 Richardson, Charlotte, Poems: Chiefly Composed during the Pressure of Severe Illness, 164 Richardson, Samuel, Clarissa, 67 Ridgway, James, 7, 52, 55n7, 56–9, 60n9 A Chapter upon Law, at least upon Equity, which the Publisher hopes, will exculpate him from the Consequences ... of having Published the Memoirs of Mrs. Billington, 51–2 Genuine and Authentic Memoirs of a well-known Woman of Intrique, 58 Memoirs of Mrs Billington from her Birth, 7, 35, 49–52, 54, 58, 60 The SECRET HISTORY of the GREEN ROOMS: containing the authentic and entertaining Lives of the Actors and Actresses at the Theatres Royal of Drury Lane, Covent Garden and the Hay-Market, 58–9 Robinson, George, 71 Robinson, Henry Crabb, 6 Robinson, Maria Elizabeth, 31n1, 31n2, 33, 33n5, 33n6, 38, 43, 43n15, 44 Memoirs of the Late Mrs. Robinson. Written by Herself, 31 Robinson, Mary, 31–5, 35n7, 36–43, 43n15, 44–8 Angelina, 44 Hubert de Sevrac, 36n8 “Lines by Mrs. Robinson, Now Engraven on her Monument in Old Windsor Church-Yard,” 46n18 Memoirs, 6–7, 31, 31n1, 33n3, 33n4, 34–6, 36n8, 37–9, 40n12, 41–3, 43n14, 44, 44n16, 45–6, 46n18, 47–8 “Monody to the Memory of Chatterton,” 44–5 “Penelope’s Epitaph,” 46n18 Perdita: Memoirs of Mary Robinson, The, 33 Poems, 43n14

Index “Present State ... of the Metropolis of England,” 44n16 “Sylphid” editorials, 44n16 Walsingham, 44, 46n18 Robinson, Sophia, 42 Robinson, Thomas, 40n12 Roland, Mme de, 69, 73 Roper, Thomas, 169 Rossetti, William, Life of Keats, 137, 140 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 3, 5–6, 157, 195, 201 Confessions, 1–3, 9, 11, 19, 100n4, 147–9, 179, 200 Reveries, 200 Royal Academy, 131, 141 Royal Theater, 41 St Augustine, 165 Confessions, 1, 162 Saint John, 138 St John the Evangelist, 38 Sappho, 73 Savage, Richard, 44, 44n16 Savidge, Thomas, 172, 172n9 Saxby, Mary, Memoirs of a Female Vagrant, Written by Herself, with Illustrations, 162 Schiller, Friedrich, 6, 16, 20–21, 25–6 self-portraits, literary, 10, 148, 195, 197–8, 200, 202–4, 208–9 self-portraits, visual arts, 150, 152 Setzer, Sharon M., 31–48 Severn, Charles, 138n9 Severn, Joseph, 8–131, 131n2, 133, 133n3, 134–6, 136n6, 137, 137n8, 138, 138n9, 139, 139n10, 140–44 autobiography, 131 Deserted Village (painting), 131 as “Friend of Keats,” 131–42 “Incidents of My Life,” 131, 132 letters, 138–40 “My Tedious Life,” 131, 132 “On the Adversities of Keats’s Fame,” 131n1 “On the Vicissitudes of Keats’s Fame,” 131, 131n1 Severn, Maria, 139, 139n10 Severn, Walter, 136 Shadford, George, 185 Shakespeare, William, 21, 55, 99, 104–5, 125


Julius Caesar, 205 King Lear, 41, 113 Macbeth, 146 Othello, 147 Twelfth Night, 147 Winter’s Tale, 31 Sharp, Richard, 100 Sharp, William, 131n2, 133, 133n4 Life and Letters of Joseph Severn, 131 Shelley, Harriet, 87, 91–2 Shelley, Mary, 7, 79–98, 83n3, 155n4 Frankenstein, 83, 188 Last Man, The, 91 Letters and Essays, 92 “Life of Shelley,” 79 Mathilda, 7, 79–81, 81n2, 82–4, 84n4, 85–98 “Mourner, The,” 7, 79–81, 81n2, 82–98 Valperga, 91 Shelley, Percy Bysshe, 5, 79, 82–3, 83n3, 87, 90–91, 136, 154 Adonais. An Elegy on the Death of John Keats, 134–5, 148, 155 Alastor, 157 Defense of Poetry, 38 Epipyschidion, 83, 88 Julian and Maddalo, 148, 156 Preface to Adonais, 134 Sheridan, Richard Brinsley, 42 Shiercliff, Edward, Bristol and Hotwell Guide, 37 Simon, Carly, “You’re So Vain” (song), 145–6 Simpson, Wallace Warfield (Duchess of Windsor), 18 Skelton, Joseph, 36, 36n9 Skelton’s Etchings of the Antiquities of Bristol, 32, 36, 36n9 Sleeping Beauty, 148 Smith, Charlotte, 148 Elegiac Sonnets, 159 The History of England, from the Earliest Records, to the Peace of Amiens: In a Series of Letters to a Young Lady at School, 67 Memoirs of Queens, Illustrious and Celebrated, 67 novels, 157 Smith, Maggie, 146 Southcott, Joanna, 188


Romantic Autobiography in England

Southey, Robert, 63n1, 71, 126n8, 156, 185 “Joan of Arc,” 70 Letters from England, 38n10, 188 Life of Wesley, 185 Spence, Elizabeth Isabella, Letters from the North Highlands, during the Summer 1816, 163 Stanfield, James, 147 Stein, Gertrude, 6, 15, 15n1, 15n2, 16–20, 21n8, 22–30 American tour of 1934–35, 17 Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, The, 15, 17, 19–21, 22n9, 23, 26, 28 Geographical History of America or the Relation of Human Nature to the Human Mind, The, 17 Ida, 18 Lucy Church Amiably, 19 “Preciocilla,” 23 “Susie Asado,” 23 Tender Buttons, 23 “What are Master-Pieces and Why Are There So Few of Them,” 17–18 “What is English Literature,” 18, 21–2 Stein, Leo, 15n2 Stelzig, Eugene, 1–15, 49, 100n4–5, 147, 180 Sterne, Laurence, 207 The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, 148–9, 152, 157 Sentimental Journey, 200 Stewart, Jon, 196n2 Stiles, Henry, 157 Sutton, Charles, 168, 168n7 Reports of the Trial of James Towle, at Leicester, August 10, 1816, for Shooting at John Asher, 172 Some Particulars of the Conduct and of the Execution of Savidge and Others, 172 Swainton, Isaac, 54 Letters to a Friend on the Properties and Effects of Velnos’s Vegetable Syrup, 54n6 Tait’s Magazine, 118n2, 125–6, 126n8 Tarleton, Banastre, 33, 33n6 Taylor, James, 145 Taylor, John, 140 Telford, John, 188

Wesley’s Veterans: Lives of early Methodist Preachers told by themselves, 182, 185 theories, autobiographical, 79–98 Thicknesse, Anne, Sketch of the Lives and Writings of the Ladies of France, 70 Toklas, Alice B., 15n2, 19, 26 Towle, William, 172 Transcendentalism, 121 Treadwell, James, 2, 4, 147, 158 Trelawny, Edward, 79, 87 Trench, Melesina, 148 Virgil, 104 Viviani, Emilia, 83 Walker, Alice, Possessing the Secret of Joy, 83 Wallace, Miriam, 63–78 Walsh, John, 180 War of 1812, 171 Warburton, Bishop, 180 Waring, Elijah, 164 Waterloo, 181 Weichsel, Mrs., 52, 57 Wesley, John, 180, 185–6, 190 “Caution Against Bigotry, A,” 185 “Conversation with the Bishop of Bristol,” 181 Journal, 188–9 Primitive Physic, 188 Sermons, 185, 188 Works, 181 Wesleyans, 183. see also Methodists West, Benjamin, 150 Westmoreland Gazette, 118 Whitefield, George, 190 Whitehead, Alfred North, 17 Whitman, Walt, 16 Wilde, Oscar, 155 Wilder, Thornton, 17, 23 Wilkinson, Barbara, Turtle Dove, 28 Williamson, Rev. George, 38 Willis, John, 36n9 Wilner, Joshua, 99–116 Withers, Philip, Alfred or A narrative of the daring and illegal measures to suppress a pamphlet intitled, Strictures on the declaration of

Index Horne Tooke, Esq. respecting “Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales,” commonly called Mrs Fitzherbert.: With interesting remarks on a regency; proving, on principles of law and common sense, that a certain illustrious personage is not eligible to the important trust, 59 Wollstonecraft, Mary, 6, 63n1, 66–8, 71, 91–2, 197, 199–201, 203n4, 209 Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, 10, 19, 195–6, 198, 200–201, 203, 205–6 Vindication of the Rights of Woman, A, 60, 200 Woodman, The (opera), 51 Woolf, Virginia, 39, 55 A Room of One’s Own, 74 Wordsworth, Christopher, 190 Wordsworth, Dora, 19n5, 20 Wordsworth, Dorothy, 5–6, 15–16, 16n3, 16n4, 19–20, 20n6, 21–2, 22n9, 23–30, 64, 101n6 address to in “Tintern Abbey” by William Wordsworth, 16 Alfoxden Journal, 15, 23, 24 Grasmere Journals, 15–16, 19–20, 23–6, 29 Journals, 6, 15, 19–27 letter to Catherine Clarkson, 18 Narrative Concerning George and Sara Green, 18 Recollections of a Tour in Scotland, 18 Wordsworth, John, 26 Wordsworth, Jonathan, 102, 103n9, 105n12, 197


Wordsworth, William, 1, 3, 5–6, 15–16, 16n3, 18–20, 20n6, 22, 22n9, 25–7, 35, 39, 46, 46n18, 52, 99n1, 100–116, 118, 118n2, 119, 126, 126n8, 127, 152, 179–93, 200, 202 “Essay upon Epitaphs,” 35 Excursion, The, 38, 99, 99n2, 100, 183, 187, 189–90 Guide to the Lakes, 105 Home at Grasmere, 10, 182 Lyrical Ballads, 24, 110, 184 “Ode on Intimations of Immortality,” 29 “Pedlar, The,” 28 “Preface to Lyrical Ballads,” 24, 108 Prelude, The, 2, 4–5, 8, 10, 19, 34, 37–8, 41–2, 46, 46n18, 99, 99n2, 100–101, 101n5, 101n6, 102–4, 104n10, 105, 105n12, 106–8, 108n14, 110, 111n16, 112–13, 117, 117n1, 125, 147, 165, 172, 179–83, 185–7, 189–90 Prose Works, 35, 38, 181 “Prospectus” to The Recluse, 186 Recluse, The, 38, 100, 101, 102, 108, 110, 179 self-characterizations, 105n11, 106 sonnet on Westminster Bridge, 158 “Tintern Abbey,” 16 “Two-Part Prelude,” 103 Wordsworth Circle, 6 Wordsworth family, diagram of, 29 World War I, 26 Wraxhall, History of France, 76 Yorkshire protestors, 171 Young, Edward, 39