Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet's Body (The Nineteenth Century)

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Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet's Body (The Nineteenth Century)

ROMANTICISM, MEDICINE, AND THE POET’S BODY To my parents Bob and Shirley, for the “vital principles.” Romanticism, M

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To my parents Bob and Shirley, for the “vital principles.”

Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

JAMES ROBERT ALLARD Brock University, Canada

© James Robert Allard 2007 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. James Robert Allard has asserted his moral right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work. Published by Ashgate Publishing Limited Gower House Croft Road Aldershot Hampshire GU11 3HR England

Ashgate Publishing Company Suite 420 101 Cherry Street Burlington, VT 05401-4405 USA

Ashgate website: British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Allard, James Robert Romanticism, medicine, and the poet’s body. - (The nineteenth century) 1. Keats, John, 1795-1821 – Knowledge – Medicine 2. Thelwall, John, 1764-1834 – Knowledge – Medicine 3. Beddoes, Thomas Lovell, 1803-1849 – Knowledge – Medicine 4. English literature – 19th century – History and criticism 5. Medicine in literature 6. Literature and medicine – England – History – 19th century 7. Physicians as authors – England 8. Romanticsm – Great Britain I. Title 820.9’3561 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Allard, James Robert. Romanticism, medicine, and the poet’s body / by James Robert Allard. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references. ISBN 978-0-7546-5891-7 (alk. paper) 1. English literature—19th century—History and criticism. 2. Medicine in literature. 3. Literature and medicine—England—History—19th century. 4. Keats, John, 1795-1821— Knowledge—Medicine. 5. Thelwall, John, 1764-1834—Knowledge—Medicine. 6. Beddoes, Thomas Lovell, 1803-1849—Knowledge—Medicine. 7. Physicians as authors—England. 8. Romanticism—Great Britain. I. Title. PR468.M42A45 2007 820.9’3561—dc22 2007013885 ISBN: 978-0-7546-5891-7 Printed and bound in Great Britain by MPG Books Ltd, Bodmin, Cornwall.

Contents General Editors’ Preface Acknowledgements Introduction: Bodytalk

vi vii 1


Romantic(izing) Bodies


Body Conscious: Vitalities, Corporealities, and the Anatomies of Romantic Medicine



“Flesh and Blood”: Wordsworth, Baillie, and the Romantic Body



Embodying Romanticism(s)


“Great Vital Organs”: Thelwall’s The Peripatetic, Radical Materialism, and the Body Politic



“Shap’d and Palpable”: Keats and the Poet’s Body



“The Body’s Laws”: Flesh, Souls, and Transgression in Beddoes’s Death’s Jest-Book




Apollo’s Poets


Works Cited Index

145 161

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 Parts of Chapter Three appeared as “John Thelwall and the Politics of Medicine” in European Romantic Review (volume 15, number 1, March 2004, pages 73-87); thanks to the editors and to Taylor and Francis for permission to include that material here. Thanks also to the Wellcome Library for permission to reproduce Plate 4, “Second Stage of Dissection: Torso” from Charles Bell’s A System of Dissections, Explaining the Anatomy of the Human Body (1798-1800) on the front cover. The University of Waterloo, the Ontario Graduate Scholarship Program, the Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada, the Humanities Research Institute at Brock University, and the Office of Research Services at Brock all provided funding toward the completion of this project; my thanks to all of them. Many thanks go to those who helped bring this project to life in its earliest stages: Katherine Acheson, Richard Holmes, and especially Steven Bruhm offered thoughtful comments on earlier drafts. Joel Faflak continues to provide an extraordinary perceptiveness and a level of encouragement that I hope one day to be able to offer in return. I’m not sure any acknowledgement can do justice to Julia Wright. Whatever value this work may have has been nurtured by her astonishing gifts as a scholar and mentor; whatever gifts I hope to possess as a scholar and mentor will have been, if not inherited, then certainly molded by her on-going sharpness of insight and generosity of spirit. Any faults, of course, remain my own. I have benefitted immeasurably from the faculty, staff, and students at the schools with which I’ve been involved, and, among those mentioned elsewhere in these acknowledgements, I wish to thank Dominick Grace (now at Brescia College), Karl Jirgens (now at the University of Windsor), Robert D’Amato, and John Abbott, at Algoma University College; Dennis Denisoff (now at Ryerson University), Randy Harris, Jason Haslam (now at Dalhousie University), Michael Higgins, Jackie Macpherson, Kevin McGuirk, Neil Randall, Glenn Stillar, Margaret Towell, and Mark Wallin at the University of Waterloo; Alan Bewell at the University of Toronto; and Rob Alexander, Tim Conley, Martin Danahay, Neta Gordon, Rosemary Hale, Ann Howey, John Lye, Mathew Martin, Angela Mills, Jackie Rea, Marilyn Rose, Janet Sackfie, John Sainsbury, Elizabeth Sauer, Barbara Seeber, and Susan Spearey at Brock University. From my first days as a graduate student I have been welcomed by the community of Romantic scholars; a more generous, interested, rigorous, and supportive community would be difficult to find. I want here to name just a few of those who made direct contributions to this project (sometimes without knowing it): David Clark, Jeffrey Cox, Alex Dick, Angela Esterhammer, Michelle Faubert, Michael Gamer, George Grinnell, Greg Kucich, Beth Lau, Mark Lussier, Tilar Mazzeo, Peter Melville, Tilottama Rajan, Nicholas Roe, Charles Rzepka, Michael Scrivener, Charles Snodgrass, Judith Thompson, Dan White, and Paul Youngquist. To you, and to all of those I missed, my thanks. Vincent Newey, Joanne Shattock, and especially Ann Donahue at Ashgate also deserve special mention.


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

Finally, while professional debts can (at least most of the time) be recognized, personal ones are both harder to acknowledge and still harder to repay. I count my debts to Evelyn Schoahs, my tenth-grade English teacher who passed away just as I was beginning to write the dissertation that became this book, as among the most profound. My family has always been a constant source of support and inspiration: my parents Bob and Shirley; my brother Mike, his wife Nicole, and my niece and goddaughter Lauren; my parents-in-law Franca and Armando and brother-in-law Luca. To all of you my love and thanks. Finally, last only because she’s first, I thank Adriana. It’s no exaggeration to say that she made the completion of this project possible, not least because she reminds me every day in both word and action— sometimes with anxious concern, often with not-so-feigned exasperation, always with love—that I have a life outside of the library and away from the computer . . . a life I hold to be all the more precious because it’s spent with her. Ti amo, bella.


Bodytalk We are the beneficiaries and victims of a grammatocentric culture—not, however, everyone who has learned to read and write. We are the privileged few who have had access to the specialized forms of training, the canonical texts and paradigms, the professional and disciplinary norms, commitments, organization, and practices, that enable us to participate in what Stanley Fish calls “interpretive communities,” and what it would be more realistic to call interpretive elites. Interpretive elites are those who control the production, authorization, interpretation, and rewriting of the paradigms that guide practice in all fields—not only in the academic disciplines, not only in law, medicine, and scientific research, but also in bureaucratic administration, business, finance, and so on—wherever methods of recruitment and standards of technical competence are based in the mastery of a corpus of texts. (Berger 148)

This is a study of the body at the crux of literary Romanticism and medical discourse. The relation between these two fields has received much attention in recent years: the continuing emphasis on historicist revisions in Romantic Studies, especially in relation to science in general and medicine in particular;1 a re-framed interest in organicism and sensibility relative to these revisions;2 and, more generally, the emergence of “Body Studies” as an interdisciplinary (even, to borrow from G.S. Rousseau, a “postdisciplinary”3) “field” of inquiry particularly germane to the years comprising what has been called “The Romantic Century”4 (1750–1850) have all contributed to a greater appreciation of the degree of interpenetration in literature and medicine, in literary- and medical-historical study. More specifically, we have learned much about the heightened anxieties concerning “infection” and “identity” 1 For examples of major studies that have helped to shape my own thinking, see Cunningham and Jardine; De Almeida; Logan; Bewell, Romanticism; A. Richardson, British; Youngquist, Monstrosities; and Heringman. 2 The essays in Cunningham and Jardine treat both organicism and sensibility extensively. For other studies of organicism at least partially indebted to science studies, see Eichner; Wilkie; L. Brown; and Neubauer. For similar studies of sensibility, see Rousseau, “Nerves”; Todd; Ellis; and McGann, Poetics. 3 See especially Enlightenment Borders ix–xv. Body Studies remains a purposefully ill-defined field, if it can be regarded as a “field” at all, and the texts that comprise it are as diverse as they are numerous. My engagements with it derive largely from the work of Michel Foucault and Roy Porter, but, for a sense of the possible scope of the field, see the surveys offered in Gallagher and Laqueur; Porter, “History”; Welton, Body and Flesh; Lakoff and Johnson; Welton, Body; Holliday and Hassard; and Fraser and Greco. 4 The idea of a “Romantic Century” remains a contentious one; for a recent survey of the debates, see Wolfson, “50-50” which serves as the introduction to “The Romantic Century: A Forum,” a special issue of European Romantic Review.

Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body


in relation to questions of empire,5 the increasing professionalization of medicine,6 and the use of medical images and vocabularies in literary texts,7 all of which serve to reframe the terms of the on-going debate in Western culture about the relation between mind and body and mark what we might identify as an epistemic shift in the ways we experience and theorize our embodied selves. Such work usefully interrogates the division of knowledge and periodicity in “Medicine” and “Literature” even as it increases our understandings of both. Similarly, these interrogations often force amendments to the accepted depictions of the “emergence” and “legacy” of Romanticism as they continue to reveal the endless intertextuality that constitutes all forms of cultural expression and exchange. But while studies of medicine, literature, and the multiplicity of ways in which they overlap in the Romantic Century continue to revise and even re-introduce fundamental aspects of the age-old and perpetually vexed question of the relation between mind and body, what remains to be explored in detail are Romantic notions about the human body itself, about the body as “field” and “product” of Romantic medicine and as “object” and “subject” of Romantic literature. My study begins with a deceptively straightforward but clearly problematic question: what did literary and medical authors of this period mean when they used the word “body”? More problematically still, how did those who participated in both discursive fields negotiate competing vocabularies and possible definitions? Traditional and still influential constructions of a monolithic “Romanticism” and readings of (usually canonical) Romantic literary texts stress the degree to which they reflect a break with neoclassical thinking and an overwhelming concern with “the elimination [. . .] of the conditions of the given world” to establish a poetics of “neither objects nor actions, but of the fluid feelings of the poet himself” (Abrams 47–8). But even as such traditional readings—featuring what Northrop Frye identifies as an “imaginative revolution” (15) and Harold Bloom calls “internalization” (“Internalization” 11)—emphasize the prominence of the metaphysical, they still acknowledge “the underlying physical analogy” (Abrams 47) inherent in a poetry enabled by “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” (Wordsworth, “Preface” 744): the poet as container, as “Aeolian Harp,” or as embodied presence.8 More recent work in Romantic Studies, particularly in relation to women writers, continues to For example, see Lee; Bewell, Romanticism; and Lee and Fulford. The literature of the history and sociology of medicine during this period is immense; for works that I have found particularly useful, see Waddington; Bynum and Porter, William; French and Wear; Bynum, Lock, and Porter; Bynum and Porter, Companion; Wear, “Medicine”; Porter, “Eighteenth,” Greatest, and Bodies; Duffin; and Lane. 7 There are numerous such studies, and those dealing with the authors and texts under consideration here will be discussed in the relevant chapters, but see especially Goellnicht, Poet-Physician and Logan for two works that have influenced my own. 5 6

8 More than either Abrams or Bloom, Frye acknowledges that “Romantic writers, both philosophical and literary, were deeply interested in contemporary science, and made heroic efforts to unify the humanistic and scientific perspectives, usually on some basis of a philosophy of organicism” (15). Still, Frye clearly relegates the material body in Romantic texts to a subordinate position in the mind-body formulation, particularly when he observes that “the



complicate what William Galperin sees as the conflict between the “visionary” and the “visible”9 in an effort to question the apparent dominance of the immaterial, the infinite, and the ideal. Furthermore, of central concern to many of the poets who have helped to shape later readings of Romanticism, particularly William Wordsworth and Percy Bysshe Shelley, was the role of the poet and poetry in relation to a literary marketplace that seemed to favor and be overrun by “frantic novels, sickly and stupid German Tragedies, and deluges of idle and extravagant stories in verse” (Wordsworth, “Preface” 747). In particular, Wordsworth’s “Preface” to Lyrical Ballads and Shelley’s Defense of Poetry both explicitly emphasize the potentially important social role of the poet and poetry—a role, they remind us, that poets have always played and thus should continue to play.10 In one of the most famous and frequently cited passages in the “Preface,” Wordsworth writes: all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; but though this be true, Poems to which any value can be attached were never produced on any variety of subjects but by a man who being possessed of more than usual organic sensibility had also thought long and deeply. For our continued influxes of feeling are modified and directed by our thoughts, which are indeed the representatives of all our past feelings; and as by contemplating the relation of these general representatives to each other, we discover what is really important to men, so by the repetition and continuance of this act feelings connected with important subjects will be nourished, till at length, if we be originally possessed of much sensibility, such habits of mind will be produced that by obeying blindly and mechanically the impulses of those habits we shall describe objects and utter sentiments of such a nature and in such connection with each other, that the understanding of the being to whom we address ourselves, if he be in a healthful state of association, must necessarily be in some degree enlightened, his taste exalted, and his affections ameliorated. (744–5; emphasis added)

For Wordsworth, poetry serves in a therapeutic role, and the poet, “a man [. . .] possessed of more than usual organic sensibility,” is the figure best able to direct it.11 Similarly, Shelley claims that

scientific vision of nature was inexorably splitting away from the poetic and existential vision of Romantic mythology” (15). 9 Galperin states that his thesis “is somewhat simple but also problematic: that a visible world—accessible to the material, bodily condition of sight and thus prior to idealization—is manifest in certain texts [. . .] of the British romantic period” (19). He goes on to argue that this claim is “problematic [. . .] for its reversal of the imaginative iconoclasm—that is, the fear of both visual images and the material world such images admit—endemic to romantic poetics” (19). For other, similar engagements, see Bruhm, Morton, and Oerlemans. 10 Shelley, in particular, writes that “poetry is connate with the origin of man” (480), and “Poets, according to the circumstances of the age and nation in which they appeared, were called in the earlier epochs of the world legislators and prophets” (482). 11 Chapter Two will treat Wordsworth’s “Preface” in more detail, but see Youngquist’s “Lyrical Bodies” and the revised version of that essay included as part of Chapter Two in Monstrosities, for a recent and eloquent treatment of these and related issues.


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body Poets [. . .] are not only the authors of language and of music, of the dance and architecture and statuary and painting: they are the institutors of laws, and the founders of civil society and the inventors of the arts of life and the teachers, who draw into a certain propinquity with the beautiful and the true that partial apprehension of the agencies of the invisible world which is called religion. (Defense 482)

In both cases, “poets” are not necessarily those who write poetry (which itself is not necessarily a particular genre of writing) but those who claim for themselves an active social role in terms of politics and, most importantly, healing and “the arts of life”;12 John Thelwall and Thomas Lovell Beddoes, two of the three figures at the core of this study, as we will see, are thus poets in that they expressly occupy this position, even if the works I treat here are a novel and a play, respectively. Moreover, poetry is also characterized as a materialized activity, as the work of embodied poets that has clear bodily effects. Thus, by treating the relation between medicine and poetry as personified in the figure of the Poet-Physician, I draw on and underline a set of concerns to which the poets of the period were very much alive. While Romantic poets emphasized the social, political, and therapeutic role of poets and poetry in part as a response to anxieties fostered by the changing nature of the literary marketplace and popular reading tastes, we witness a similar situation in medicine. As we enter what Michel Foucault calls “the age of Bichat” (Birth 122),13 we encounter a renewed emphasis on the fundamental importance of anatomical and physiological study, the emergence of the modern surgeon as the ultimate achievement of Western medicine, and the proliferation of legislation designed to establish the body (defining it, healing it, even “seeing” it) as the province solely of scientific medicine and those trained in its sanctioned institutions and authorized ideologies. Foucault describes the means and ends of what I term medicine’s “rhetoric of legitimacy”: Medicine, as a general technique of health even more than as a service to the sick or an art of cures, assumes an increasingly important place in the administrative system and the machinery of power, a role which is constantly widened and strengthened throughout the eighteenth century. [. . .] A “medico-administrative” knowledge begins to develop concerning society, its health and sickness, its conditions of life, housing and habits, which serves as the basic core for the “social economy” and sociology of the nineteenth century. (“Politics” 176)

However, “medicine could gain access to that which founded it scientifically only by circumventing, slowly and prudently, one major obstacle, the opposition of religion, morality, and stubborn prejudice to the opening up of corpses” (Birth 124). As the struggle for power—depicted here as a struggle between medicine and religion— was waged, the material bodies of the population became both the site and ultimately the prize; that is, “Christianized” and “politicized” bodies defined and discussed in the vocabularies of those institutions were redefined in the vocabulary of scientific medicine to produce a “medicalized” body that seemed to erase the process of its 12 On Shelley’s engagements with these issues, see Morton and especially Ruston. 13 The work of Marie François Xavier Bichat (1771–1802) in medical theory, surgery, and pedagogy reveals and provokes, for Foucault and others, a major epistemic shift.



production, stand as the body, and effectively mark medicine as perhaps the most dominant authority on bodily matters in the “administrative system.” A related and equally significant stimulus driving the materialization of a “medicine of organs, sites, causes” that opens up “the tangible space of the body” is the perception that the body is “an opaque mass in which secrets, invisible lesions, and the very mystery of origins lie hidden” (Foucault, Birth 122; emphasis added). But while concerted efforts to construct a clearly scientific medicine that dealt with the materiality of the body serve to further advance medicine’s claims for legitimacy, they also betray medicine’s anxieties concerning the immaterialities that it could not make visible: the origin, definition, and meaning of life itself, or what was often called “the vital principle.” Numerous answers to the vital principle “questions” (what is life? where does it come from? and so on) were posited throughout the period, ranging from spiritual essence to oxygen to blood, but all answers were derived from an observation of bodily effects: a lack of air caused death, the loss of blood caused illness and possibly death, and so on. The turn to a “medicine of organs, sites, and causes” thus can be seen as both a radical shift in medical theory and pedagogy and the next logical step in the continuing struggle to find the origin and meaning of life. Both poetry and medicine, then, treat the material body as key. As a number of authors of the day stressed, the writing subject is an embodied one and, for the authors considered here, tacitly male, and poetry can have clearly material effects, while medicine claims to study the material body in an effort to know the immaterial even as such study continues to reveal and is hampered by the complexities of the material. I argue in this study that the means and ends of both medicine and poetry become most visible when we examine the figures who occupy the space at which these two discursive fields overlap, for the lives, writings, and critical heritages of these figures embody the complexities and possibilities, the anxiety and the promise, of the interconnections between poetry and medicine. In particular, John Thelwall (1764–1834), John Keats (1795–1821), and Thomas Lovell Beddoes (1803–1849) all received formal medical training exploring the materialities of existence, participated in a literary culture that celebrated the imaginative possibilities of that existence, and expressly, if often apprehensively, addressed the problems manifested by their interconnections. Furthermore, each of these figures substantiates different aspects of the issues and questions associated with the shifting position and treatment of the body in poetry, medicine, and the relation between the two. My goal is neither to explore the influence of Romantic-Century medical education and theories on these poets and their texts (although a brief survey of Romantic medicine’s history will be a key component of my study for other reasons), nor to reveal the presence of poetic tropes and influences in medical texts, but to theorize an interrelation between poetry and medicine that constitutes and is constituted by contemporary notions—and the concomitant representations—of the body. It is important to note here that the medical texts of the period almost always implicitly assume that “the body” they define, discuss, and even treat is male; it was not until the turn of the century that a drawing of a woman’s skeleton appeared in anatomical handbooks expressly identified as a

Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body


woman’s skeleton.14 Although Science Studies has often emphasized the gendered nature of scientific study (perhaps medical study especially),15 the medical theories and practices I discuss here in most detail, such as vitality and surgery, are not specifically gendered in the texts I examine. While gender is a provocative area of enquiry for the literary texts considered here, the medical theories’ emphases lead me to other questions. Thus, I seek to explore two forms of hybridity: the medicalized body with the poetic body, and the writing subject struggling to choose between or unify medical and poetic aspirations. In the cases of Thelwall, Keats, and Beddoes, the construction of a figure we can identify as a “Poet-Physician,” at once a representation of the body at the intersection of medicine and poetry and a portrayal of a subject contending with that very intersection, is a prominent feature of their texts that effectively manifests both forms of hybridity. By examining major texts by each of these authors—The Peripatetic, “Hyperion: A Fragment” and “The Fall of Hyperion: A Dream,” and Death’s Jest-Book, respectively—attending in particular to the medically framed treatments of the bodies of the texts’ protagonists and how those protagonists in turn treat the bodies of others, I seek to shed light on the various ways that the intersecting of medical and poetic writing and authority enabled, disabled, constrained, and generally complicated the vocabularies and modes of bodily representation in the first half of the nineteenth century. Body Talk The body, as constructed via its definitions, processes, and representations, thus stands at the center of this study. As Catherine Gallagher and Thomas Laqueur point out, “[s]cholars have only recently discovered that the human body itself has a history” (vii), but they and other philosophers, social historians, and critical theorists of all stripes remind us that the body resists theorizing, that “The History of the Body” is always “the history of the body in”: Roy Porter identifies “numerous stimuli” that have prompted such a position in efforts to “resurrect the body,” including, among numerous others, Marxism, Pop Culture Studies, Cultural Anthropology, Medical Sociology, Academic Feminism, and Historical Demography (“History” 207). As Porter points out, we cannot “toss all these ingredients mindlessly together into a scholarly mixing-bowl and find a history of the body automatically emerging as a perfect dish” (207). Studies that propose to treat the “history of the body in,” then, are obviously preferable to studies which “assume that the human body has timelessly existed as an unproblematic natural object with universal needs and wants, variously affected by culture and society,” since this position would “give the old mind/body dualism a new lease of life by attempting to study the (‘biological’) history of the body independently of (‘cultural’) considerations of experience and expression in language and ideology” (208). Following Porter, who is particularly concerned with the institutions of medicine and the medicalized body, I attend to the terms and

14 See Schiebinger. 15 See Jordanova.



gestures in competing discourses about bodies, to explore the medical institutions that were responsible for developing and disseminating those discourses, and to read the writings produced in and around those institutions that sought to construct and disseminate independent “master narratives.” Porter illuminates how the competing master narratives within the field of medicine—for example, the various factions within the vitality debates that offered rival definitions of life and assigned varying importance to the body even as the body remained part of their overall systems— point to the anxieties that at once help to foster and hinder medical study and the institutionalization of medicine. Foucault, who is more concerned with how those anxieties are manifested and mobilized, illustrates how medicine deploys them in an effort to discipline the body and establish it as a distinctly medical subject: “This new structure is indicated [. . .] by the minute but decisive change, whereby the question: ‘What is the matter with you?’, with which the eighteenth-century dialogue between doctor and patient began [. . .], was replaced by that other question: ‘Where does it hurt?’, in which we recognize the operation of the clinic and the principle of its entire discourse” (Birth xviii). By taking diagnostic power away from the ill or wounded (the patient cannot describe the pain but can only point to where he or she thinks it is), the growing medical establishment not only constructs the ill or wounded as a subject of medicine (thus limiting the power to define “health” and “sickness” to the medical establishment) but also stakes its claim over the body experiencing illness or pain. For the general public, then, medical professionals occupy and increasingly powerful position in society at large and within individual lives; more to the point, one’s “own” body seems to become less one’s own with each medicalscientific advance and medical-juridical proceeding. Both Porter and Foucault thus offer complementary ways to treat the institutions that were responsible—or at least claimed responsibility—for treating bodies and defining the terms under which they could be studied and discussed. At the same time, though, I want to examine the body over which these institutions were seeking authority—what they knew about it, how that knowledge was made or found, what this knowledge and modes of knowing did to the experience of the lived reality of the material body. But how exactly can we begin to talk about “the lived reality of the material body” when our “talking” necessarily reduces “the body” to “the body in”? This question has often been asked in recent years, prompted by anxious efforts, in Judith Butler’s words, to “retrieve the body from what is often characterized as the linguistic idealism of poststructuralism” (27). Porter, for example, warns that while “we must look at the body as it has been experienced and expressed within particular cultural systems, both private and public, which themselves have changed over time,” we must be wary of “attempts [. . .] to construe the history of the body essentially as the explication of its ‘representations’ in ‘discourse’” (“History” 208). Butler notes that the “body posited as prior to the sign, is always posited or signified as prior. This signification produces as an effect of its own procedure the very body that it nevertheless and simultaneously claims to discover as that which precedes its own action” (30). Yet Butler, too, remains suspicious of outwardly unproblematic assertions, like Foucault’s, that the history of the body is only the history of its perceptions, that the body is wholly socially or linguistically


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

constructed. Butler’s notion of the performative underscores her own engagements with such notions, but she does not say that the materiality of bodies is simply and only a linguistic effect which is reducible to a set of signifiers. Such a distinction overlooks the materiality of the signifier itself. Such an account also fails to understand materiality as that which is bound up with signification from the start; to think through the indissolubility of materiality and signification is no easy matter. To posit by way of language a materiality outside of language is still to posit that materiality, and that materiality so posited will retain that positing as its constitutive condition. (30)

In effect, to try to “retrieve” an a priori body is to suggest that there can be knowing prior to the modes of knowing; in this case, to examine the emergence of the medical institution and the medicalization of the body is to suggest that there was a stable body for medicine to see, know, and claim prior the acts of seeing, knowing, and claiming. Conversely, to treat only representations and other discursive constructs of the body, medical or otherwise, is, at best, to gloss over and, at worst, ignore the lived reality of the material body that seems both to exist prior to any discursive act and to be materialized in (or consumed by) such acts. As I have already suggested, in the literature and medicine of the Romantic Century we encounter two fields each attempting to construct master narratives that posit interested versions of the material body as a way to counter or complicate the body narratives of theology, law, and earlier aesthetics and poetics. On the one hand, poetry’s perceived need to establish itself as an embodied activity implies that the body is in some ways a fiction that can be revised or even erased; on the other hand, medicine’s renewed (if still conflicted) emphasis on the fundamental importance of anatomical knowledge (itself, of course, a particular kind of knowledge that, in Butler’s terms, seems to take anatomy as “a sign of irreducibility” [28]) implies that the material self is the only self and that the immaterial self is a fiction promulgated by rival fields. In both cases, however, just as the body is characterized at least partially as the “product” of a particular kind of discursive mastery, the inability of the narratives to “contain” the body in language also suggest that the body is a “product” of discursive failure: the insistent visible body in and of poetic texts and the stubborn invisibilities of the body in medical texts attest to the difficulties of asserting the dominance of either materiality or immateriality.16 The core problems 16 The claims that the self, embodied or otherwise, is either “born in language” or that which is uncontainable by language, seem indebted to Lacanian or post-Lacanian psychoanalysis, and, indeed much work in Body Studies (particularly the founding work of Julia Kristeva, Luce Irigaray, and Butler) stands as an explicit engagement with or direct response to the body in psychoanalysis (see, for example, MacConnell and Zakarin; Sadoff; and Zita). However, my frame and goal are historical, and despite my occasional appeals to texts and theorists in psychoanalytic traditions (especially Butler), my reading of the culturalhistorical relations between poetry and medicine, the texts and institutions that manifest those relations, and the implications of those manifestations for bodies and their representations make a direct engagement with psychoanalysis somewhat beyond the scope of this study. Still, in charting some of the changes in the treatment of the body in language, medical theory, and especially mind-body constructions, we might see the construction of the Poet-Physician,



that have propelled much of contemporary Body Studies, the circularities of constructivism and the problematic assumptions of materialism, are thus prominent and explicit features of Romantic-Century treatments of the body. But as scholars focusing on the body make abundantly clear, these very complexities only serve to underscore the rewards that greater attention to the body can offer what Porter, perhaps ironically, identifies as “other, more prestigious, branches of scholarship” (“History” 226), such as literary criticism and social history. For my purposes, I argue that attending to the terms and arenas in which these problems were discussed can reveal a great deal not only about the body in the medicine and poetry of the Romantic Century but also about the interrelations between poetry and medicine. Specifically, examining the medicalized body in the poetic text illuminates many of the broader cultural questions and anxieties associated with the process of medicalization as the poetic text offers an important space for critique; similarly, the poeticization of the medical body—what we might see as medicine’s own anxious self-examinations and representations—serves to foreground the process of medicine’s rhetoric of legitimacy. The primary anxiety on both sides of the divide is precisely the same: whose body is it? Moreover, exploring these issues at a time when the hegemonic medical establishment we recognize today was coming into being can also reveal a great deal about the body—its definitions, representations, and treatments—in our own time and place, when the legacies of the Romantic Century, poetic and medical, are still tangibly felt. So, to embody the productive complexities of “body talk” while at the same time allowing me to talk through them, I adapt a suggestion offered by Francis Barker: However necessary it may be to isolate the body for analytic purposes, the body in question is not a hypostatized object, still less a simple biological mechanism of given desires and needs acted on externally by controls and enticements, but a relation in a system of liaisons which are material, discursive, psychic, sexual, but without stop or center. It would be better to speak of a certain “bodiliness” than of “the body.”17 (10)

This study is, in part, an attempt to explore “bodiliness” in Romantic texts. At the same time, however, I also want to explore the manifold treatments of such bodiliness; that is, not only do I want to trace knowledge of bodies, I also want to account for how they developed that knowledge as bodies. Together, these two aims point to the two forms of hybridity (the medical-poetic body and the interrelation between poetry and medicine) I discussed earlier, and, to maintain an emphasis on both forms without artificially isolating them, I attend to the persistent sense of what I call the pervasive “body consciousness” of the texts I consider, medical and poetic, and the subsequent interpretations of those texts. Body consciousness is, at once, an the embodied consciousness, as part of a pre-history of psychoanalysis; see, for example, McDayter. 17 I should point out here that Porter criticizes Barker’s text as a synecdochic

example of “the gay abandonment of empiricism for theory and hermeneutics” which derives its positions from “decontextualized extrapolations, derived from uncritical use of unrepresentative bodies of evidence” (“History” 208).


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

awareness of oneself and others as physical, embodied beings (a consciousness of bodies) and an awareness that such perception happens through the body (a bodily consciousness). I therefore place my central figures in the context of their relation to both medicine and poetry to show that, for them, the body is not simply either a “biological mechanism” or an aesthetic metaphor but both simultaneously and indivisibly: a product and producer of language, knowledge, and authority both effecting and affected by a new body consciousness. The texts I examine here display a body consciousness resulting from the materialization of a medicalized body (if through representation) in the poetic text as part of a conscious struggle with the affinities and discrepancies generated by the interpenetration of medicine and poetry. Body consciousness is further developed and complicated by the fact that it is most prominently incarnated and discussed by the figure I call the “Poet-Physician.” The phrase “poet-physician” is often used adjectivally to refer to a host of individuals, including Tobias Smollett (1721–1771), Mark Akenside (1721–1770), and Oliver Goldsmith (1730–1774), who studied and, in some cases, practiced medicine and wrote imaginative literature.18 While the works of these individuals sometimes feature characterizations of medical men and discussions of medicine in general, they rarely offer a sustained and conscious effort to theorize an interrelation between poetry and medicine.19 This adjectival use can be and often is applied to the three central figures of this study, but the term as I use it here needs some unpacking. I take the term initially from Donald Goellnicht, who identifies Keats as a Poet-Physician because of the degree to which his medical studies influenced his thinking about poetry and the degree to which medical ideas and terminology emerged in the poetry itself, an argument that would, in turn, influence the development of what De Almeida calls “Apollo’s Poet” and Nicholas Roe calls the “Pharmacopolitical Poet.” Goellnicht does theorize an interrelation between poetry and medicine, but his important work is primarily concerned with exploring the medical contexts for Keats’s work—the theory and practice as it was known and taught at Guy’s—and with cataloguing the appearance of medical terms and images in the works themselves. I adapt “PoetPhysician” as a central term because it encompasses commitments to both fields into one identity without claiming explicit preference for one or the other while acknowledging my central figures’ expressed commitment to unite the two. “Apollo’s Poet,” though invoked as part of my concluding coda, also recognizes allegiances to both poetry and medicine (following the ancient depiction of Apollo as god of both), 18 Smollett worked as an assistant to a Naval surgeon before taking an MD at Edinburgh; Akenside earned his MD from Edinburgh before being made physician to the Queen; Goldsmith studied medicine at Edinburgh, Leyden, and Trinity College. 19 Karina Williamson alerts us to “Akenside’s role as one of the key players in the eighteenth-century struggle to accommodate the discourse of new science to the discourse of poetry” (51). But the Romantic Poet-Physician as described here struggles not to accommodate medical discourse to poetic discourse, but to theorize an interrelation in which neither is nor can be made to accommodate the other but both are recognized as inseparably linked. Furthermore, Akenside’s struggle predates the more self-conscious debates concerning the authorization of medicine’s claims over the body that would peak around the turn of the nineteenth century, and thus he remains just outside the scope of my study.



but it also ascribes a certain problematic dominance to poetry—problematic because it fosters long-received though recently challenged critical opinion that medicine, especially for Keats, was an interesting but ultimately insignificant component of the poet’s work. Similarly, the term “Pharmacopolitical Poet” stresses the political motivations and consequences that accompany a commitment to uniting poetry and medicine; while I do explore the political efficacy of theorizing and performing such a commitment, particularly in my discussion of the dissenting politics of Thelwall, my primary concern is not with the political. Thus, the notion of a “PoetPhysician,” in addition to maintaining its descriptive function, affirms the sense of a strong commitment to poetry and medicine and poetic and medical authority and also allows for the recognition of the political possibilities of a manifest interest in poetry and (or as) medicine but nevertheless keeps a body-conscious sense of their interconnections front and center. However, “Poet-Physician” does present certain difficulties, since “physician” is an historically specific term for a select group of medical practitioners, as we will see below, and of my central figures only Beddoes can properly be called a physician; Thelwall and Keats never trained to be physicians or for the designation “MD.” But all three figures do express a desire to unite poetry and medicine, the poet and the physician, the poetic body and the medical body, through their discussions and treatments of body consciousness. The Poet-Physician fosters a sense of harmony— between one’s own body and mind, and also between oneself and others—and as such draws in the traditional idea of the poet-as-healer, a tradition familiar to readers of Wordsworth and his many supporters: Paul Youngquist notes that “[t]here’s a long tradition that takes Wordsworth for a [. . .] healer of men’s minds. But what about their bodies?” (152; emphasis added). This last question, which Youngquist examines in some detail in relation to what he calls “Wordsworth’s Physiological Aesthetics,” drives the investigations that I undertake here, for, in the same ways that our understandings of such familiar ideas as sensibility, organicism, and even identity are being revised in the wake of historicist and materialist investigations, so, too, I argue here, must our ideas of poetry and its relation to healing be revised in the wake of our investigations of the body and its various histories—here, the treatment of the body in the works and theories that medically trained poets of the Romantic Century read and espoused. The Romantic Poet-Physician Detailed, scientific anatomical knowledge derived from careful first-hand observation and incessant practice; a sensibility that fosters both a concern for the suffering of others and an increased sense of self-awareness; a rhetorical and discursive mastery that promotes simultaneously the acquisition and dissemination of the knowledge and authority required to legitimate that authority—these are the desired characteristics of professionals trained at the state-of-the-art medical facilities in London and throughout Western Europe by the end of the Romantic Century (detailed in Chapter One), characteristics that, taken together, already constitute a complex body consciousness. However, we can easily see that the development of


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

these characteristics needs more than just medical training and that other “fields” upheld similar attributes as the key features of their members. As I suggested at the outset, Romantic poetics advocated the development of similar characteristics in poets: from Wordsworth’s “man speaking to men” who should “keep the Reader in the company of flesh and blood” (“Preface” 744) to Shelley’s “instrument over which a series of external and internal impressions are driven” which promotes harmony when the “body has [. . .] become too unwieldy for that which animates it” (Defence 480, 503), poets and poetry theorized and manifested a similar body consciousness. But, again, rather than arguing that poets were “importing” medical notions of the body into their works or that medical practitioners and instructors were adapting certain elements from poetry, I want to point to how we can theorize a perception and experience of the body at the points of intersection between poetry and medicine fostered by a desire to engage with growing cultural anxieties about the body, particularly in terms of proprietorship, that both fields amplify and utilize. More importantly, by paying attention to those figures who occupied most explicitly the spaces marked by those intersections, we can most readily see how those very anxieties were manifested at key moments in the Romantic Century and, in some cases, how they continue to be manifested today. With even a cursory glance at some of the major figures of the period, we can quite easily see just how many of them occupy those intersectional spaces, and thus some explanation of the criteria I used to single out specific individuals for detailed study is in order. My choices were guided by two main criteria. First, the figures had to have engaged in some degree of “formal medical study,” which I defined as an extended term as a registered student at a recognized medical school. Thus, Wordsworth and Shelley, despite their complexly embodied poetics and their informal if substantial engagements with science, must remain on the margins in the sustained treatment of the Romantic Poet-Physician in Part Two of this study. An explicit engagement with Coleridge, for the same reason, is outside of my scope, though his shadow does loom quite large at times: Roe reminds us that the “charge that Coleridge was uninterested in or even hostile to science [. . .] distracts attention from [his] keen engagement with and excited response to the scientific achievements of English dissenters” (Samuel vii–viii). Nevertheless, Coleridge’s studies, however thorough, were informal. Joanna Baillie (1762–1851), too, stands at the intersection of poetry and medicine, but does not meet this first criteria: she was part of one of the greatest medical families in English history as the niece of John Hunter and sister of Matthew Baillie (1761–1823)—who wrote the important Morbid Anatomy of Some of the Most Important Parts of the Human Body (1793), treated Byron’s disability, and served as physician extraordinary to George III—but she herself did not study medicine. (However, Baillie’s important “Introductory Discourses” to Plays on the Passions is a crucial text in the formation of Romantic body consciousness as I describe it here and, together with Wordsworth’s “Preface” to Lyrical Ballads and for reasons that I will outline below, is therefore the subject of Chapter Two.) Of course, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) is likely the first text of the period we think of in relation to medicine, imaginative writing, and the body, but Shelley did not—indeed, like Baillie, as a woman could not—attend medical school, though I will return to her novel briefly in



my concluding coda. My second criterion was that the figures must have explicitly addressed the interconnections between poetry and medicine. Many of the medical figures mentioned in these pages wrote imaginative literature, but few did so as more than a hobby. However, Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802) was obviously well-educated in a medical institution and wrote poetry that, as Desmond King-Hele reminds us, was far more popular than many scholars tend to think;20 however, Darwin did not theorize an interrelation between poetry and medicine or, more importantly, posit a Poet-Physician figure as directly as did the figures I ultimately chose. The figures I have chosen to examine in detail here all meet both of these criteria. All three trained at some of the best medical education institutions in Europe. Thelwall, though apparently never intending to become a medical professional, attended lectures at Guy’s from 1791 to 1793; his proficiency as a student of anatomy, as well as his growing reputation as an orator, earned him a spot as a guest lecturer in 1793. Keats was among the first in British history to become a licensed apothecary in 1815 and began but did not complete surgical training in 1816 at Guy’s under (among others) Sir Astley Cooper, one of the most important surgeons, anatomists, and instructors of the era. Beddoes, following in the footsteps his father Thomas Beddoes, began his medical education at Oxford in 1824, completed the bulk of his training at Göttingen beginning in 1825, and received his MD from Würzburg in 1831. Furthermore, all three participated in the celebration of the imagination so prevalent throughout contemporary writings and at the same time engaged with the interpenetration of poetry and medicine through an anxious body consciousness incarnated in the Poet-Physician. In addition to meeting the basic criteria, these figures also share an interest (though in varying degrees of intensity) with “radical” politics: Thelwall is most often discussed as one of the most vocal members of the largest radical organization of the period, the London Corresponding Society; Keats was first thrust into the spotlight as a member of Leigh Hunt’s “Cockney School” of poetry and politics, especially after being featured prominently in Hunt’s Examiner; and Beddoes spent most of his twenty-five years on the continent moving from city to city in Germany and Switzerland to avoid trouble with various authorities because of his commitment to radical causes. Such radical sympathies are often associated with Romantic-Century medical education, and many of the faculty members at Guy’s were members of or at least sympathetic to groups such as the London Corresponding Society, suggesting an intriguing relationship between medical education and dissent.21 But while I have chosen to focus on these three figures, I want to resist the temptation to claim that they are “unique” in their treatments of poetry and medicine. On the contrary, I chose the core authors and texts for this study precisely because they can be seen as entirely conventional in representing key elements or moments of the ongoing struggle for the body, as clearly manifesting what were widespread anxieties about the changing nature of medical authority and 20 See King-Hele, Letters vii–viii. Among Darwin’s most popular texts were the poem The Botanic Garden (1791) and the two-volume prose narrative Zoonomia; or, The Laws of Organic Life (1794–6). 21 On the link between medical education and dissent, see Roe, John Keats 160–81 and Fulford.


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

of treatments of the relation between mind and body—Thelwall in terms of reform and the body politic, Keats in terms of authority and identity, and Beddoes in terms of life and death. The chapters of this study are organized into two sections, the first of which, “Romantic(izing) Bodies,” treats the medical and poetical contexts of the study in as much isolation from each other as possible so as to see the ways in which these anxieties were manifested and addressed across the period in a variety of texts and contexts. Chapter One provides a general survey of some of the Romantic Century’s key medical theories, practices, and texts relating specifically to the body. By no means do I suggest that this is a complete history; instead, my concern is with three specific developments—the growing emphasis on the relevance and importance of scientific anatomy in medical theory and practice, the growth of a “social medicine” grounded in a thorough belief in the centrality of scientific anatomy, and the rise of surgery and the figure of the surgeon thoroughly trained in anatomy as the ultimate expression of Western medicine—that, taken together, serve both to trace the changing fortunes of the body in Romantic-Century medicine and to illustrate some of the key concerns within and without medical circles that informed medicine’s engagements in a rhetoric of legitimacy. Following this introductory chapter’s brief discussion of “the body in theory,” I read the works of brothers William Hunter (1718–1783) and John Hunter (1728–1793), the surgeon-anatomists who were among the most influential researchers and teachers of the eighteenth century, in conjunction with the theoretical treatises of the famous physicians William Cullen (1712–1790) and John Brown (1735–1787), to illuminate some of the more contentious debates in what we can characterize as the struggle for the body. Next, I examine the development of what came to be known as “social medicine,” particularly as articulated in the works of Thomas Beddoes (1760–1808), to see how the debates provoked concerned efforts to reform medicine that often only intensified the struggle for the body. I then turn my attention to the texts, practices, and pedagogies at what was widely considered the most prestigious medical training facility in all of Europe, the United Guy’s and St. Thomas’s Hospitals in London (often called The Guy’s School, or simply Guy’s). In particular, I read the lecture material and essays of Astley Cooper (1768–1841), perhaps the most eminent surgeon and teacher of the period, as paradigmatic of the ways in which the on-going struggle for the body affected how it was represented and taught (a struggle which established a cycle of representation and meta-representation that would continue throughout much of the nineteenth century). Once again, my aim here is not to provide a complete overview of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century medical history, a detailed explanation for the changing role of the surgeon in the hierarchy of medical professionals, or an argument for an expressly “Romantic” medicine,22 though nods to each will be part of the overall shape of my argument throughout; rather, my aim is to reveal the ways in which treatments of the material body form and inform many of the changes in medical theory, practice, and pedagogy and to elucidate the various discursive maneuvers in medicine that help to constitute the figure of the Poet-Physician.

22 On the notion of “Romantic Medicine,” see Rosen and De Almeida.



Following this discussion of the medical battlefields, in Chapter Two I turn my attention to the poetic ones by examining Wordsworth’s “Preface” to Lyrical Ballads and Baillie’s “Introductory Discourse” to Plays on the Passions. In general, this chapter serves a similar sort of “contextualizing” function as the first, attending as it does to two foundational texts in the development of literary Romanticism and later treatments of it. To open the first volume of her ultimately three-volume Plays on the Passions, Baillie offers an “Introductory Discourse” not simply as a preface but as an explanation that both the plays and the introduction itself “are part of an extensive design” (1:1). Baillie’s text is often read with or against Wordsworth’s equally crucial “Preface” to the Lyrical Ballads which similarly offers “a systematic defence of the theory, upon which the poems were written” (742). Both texts, to paraphrase Wordsworth, seek to offer a picture of men “as they really are,” working to keep us “in the company of flesh and blood” (742), and each text reveals a particular frustration with the relation between language and that flesh and blood that is, I argue, a crucial constitutive element of both literary Romanticism and subsequent Romantic Studies. By attending to Wordsworth’s and Baillie’s efforts to develop a vocabulary to talk about the body and their (in some important ways ultimately failed) struggles to embody their respective theories, we can see the problems that at once make such struggles necessary even as they are revealed as all but impossible to win. At the same time, closer attention to their statements concerning why and especially how these theories ought to function helps to lay the foundation for our engagements with the figure of the Poet-Physician in the second section of this study. Chapter Three opens that second section, “Embodying Romanticism(s),” by treating the case of law student, orator, political theorist, novelist, poet, selfproclaimed professor of elocution, and one-time medical student John Thelwall. Though more widely known today as one of the chief theorists and spokesmen for the dissenting London Corresponding Society, in 1791 Thelwall began a two-year stint as a student at Guy’s, where he attended (among other courses) the anatomy and physiology lectures of Henry Cline. In 1793, Thelwall garnered an invitation to give a lecture before the Physical Society. The title of the lecture gives some clue as to its place in contemporary medicine and its impact on the listening (and later reading) audience: An Essay Towards a Definition of Animal Vitality; Read at the Theatre, Guy’s Hospital, January 26, 1793; In Which Several of the Opinions of the Celebrated John Hunter are Examined and Controverted (1793; hereafter, Animal Vitality). Thelwall dissects Hunter’s argument concerning the vitality of the blood, and asks “Whether life itself is to be considered as a distinct and positive essence” that is somehow added to the body, “or simply, as the result of a particular harmony and correspondence of the whole, or aggregate combination, preserved and acted upon by a particular stimulus?” (Animal Vitality 19). By rejecting the possibility of an immaterial “vital essence” and arguing instead that life and health depended on the “perfect harmony” of the frame itself, Thelwall establishes the foundation of his more influential and widely known political texts in which the body politic is considered to operate as similar terms. Furthermore, the published version of Animal Vitality contains an advertisement for a work-in-progress entitled The Peripatetic; or, Sketches of the Heart, Nature and Society; In a Series of Politico-Sentimental Journals, In Verse and Prose of the Eccentric Excursions of Sylvanus Theophrastus,


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

Supposed to be Written by Himself (1793; hereafter, The Peripatetic), which was published later that same year. As the subtitle indicates, the text participates in the literary traditions of sensibility and sentimentality and adapts those traditions to reflect the author’s particular reformists beliefs. In this text, Thelwall casts his narrator Sylvanus as the “Peripatetic Philosopher,” his version of the Poet-Physician, who is, at once, metonymically associated with the body politic and figured as the healer of that national body. Accordingly, I read The Peripatetic as a dramatization of the principles established in Animal Vitality and some of his more influential political writings, and as Thelwall’s most sustained and explicit treatment of the interpenetration of poetry and medicine. Chapter Four considers the example of John Keats, who is most often placed in a synecdochic relation with Romantic poetry and medicine. The facts of Keats’s medical training—a five-year apprenticeship followed by more formal training at Guy’s where he was part of the first group in history to earn the LSA—speak to the medical-historical interest in his biography and have also prompted various explorations of the influence of that training on his poetry. But, rather than discuss “influence,” in this chapter I examine Keats’s treatment of medical and poetic authority in terms of his depictions of the bodies of his poetic figures and how he and his body, in turn, were treated in relation to that authority by critics from his day to our own. The Hyperion poems, “Hyperion: A Fragment” and “The Fall of Hyperion: A Dream,” stand as Keats’s most sustained engagements with the nature of authority and the clearest manifestations of body consciousness in his writings: the body of the Poet-Dreamer in the first canto of “The Fall” is characterized as his greatest weakness but emerges as his greatest asset; Hyperion’s position as “earth-born / And sky-engendered” (“Hyperion” 1.309-10), his conscious participation in both the imaginative and material realms, ensures his status as the “brightest” (1.309) and the one capable of healing and leading the fallen Titans; and the emergence of Apollo as god of poetry and of medicine as the newest and most powerful member of the pantheon—all of these elements attest to the poems’ body consciousness and reveal Keats’s complex attitude towards authority. In different ways, the Poet-Dreamer, Hyperion, and even Keats himself emerge as variant manifestations of the PoetPhysician, the “humanist, physician to all men” (“The Fall” 1.190). But, perhaps more importantly, the language of medicine consistently recurs both as part of an assault on Keats as the embodiment of the degenerate “Cockney School” of Leigh Hunt and as part of the effort to construct Keats as the young, too-sensible genius shattered by ill-health and poor critical treatment. As I read the Hyperion poems and readings of the author of those poems, I show how both Keats and his commentators, friendly and otherwise, anxiously if often implicitly return to medicine and adopt its terminologies in an effort to confront various anxieties about the ever-expanding nature of medical authority and increasingly scientific and, therefore, somehow alien depictions of “our” bodies. By 1825, when Thomas Lovell Beddoes began writing what would become his most famous work, Death’s Jest-Book; or, The Fool’s Tragedy (1850), the subject of Chapter Five, the authority of the medical establishment was rapidly reaching its peak. Beddoes is almost literally the child of the union between medicine and literature: his father was Thomas Beddoes, and his mother was Anna Maria Beddoes, sister of



Maria Edgeworth.23 As the only one of the three main figures I study who earned the MD, who won a continent-wide reputation as an anatomist, and who made the formal study of medicine a life-long pursuit, his participation in that establishment was the most extensive and, paradoxically, the most problematic: Beddoes’s letters reveal that he was never entirely convinced that medical authority was as credible as it claimed to be. At the same time, Beddoes enjoyed early success as a poet and playwright, but, upon leaving England for Germany, he seemed consciously to leave literary pursuits for medical ones, and his letters continuously reveal the conflict between his desire for literary fame and his belief that such fame would always be out of reach. In both cases, in medicine and in literature, Beddoes repeatedly asked questions about the nature of life and death: his extensive work in anatomy is often considered as an obsessive and ultimately failed attempt to unlock the secrets of mortality, and the almost thirty years he spent revising his master work (which would not be published until a year after his suicide) are often seen as an effort to deal with that failure. Thus, more self-consciously but, at the same time, more apprehensively than either Thelwall or Keats, Beddoes theorized an interrelation between poetry and medicine focused on a treatment of the body that was designed to assist him in his efforts to find the answers to life and death. In Death’s Jest-Book, which we can see as the tortured record of that pursuit initially drafted during his tenure as a medical student at Göttingen and Würtzburg, Beddoes embodies the figure of “Death’s Fool,” his version of the Poet-Physician, who seeks simultaneously to become both master and slave of Death, whose vexed relation to his body—at once, a source of material strength that the immaterial Death cannot enjoy and a weakness that cannot be overcome—manifests most clearly the anxieties and, in some cases, the advantages associated with asking metaphysical questions concerning the nature of life and death in a time and place increasingly dominated by the physical sciences. I conclude with a brief coda entitled “Apollo’s Poets,” in which I suggest some of the ways in which more careful study of notions of the body during the Romantic Century can contribute to our understandings not only of Romantic medicine and poetry but also education, science, philosophy, and cultural history. More importantly still, by recognizing that “the body” was a contested notion even within medicine, and that those contests both mirror and magnify contemporary anxieties, we can begin to see how those same concerns continue to be manifest in our contemporary readings of Romanticism and our sense of an embodied existence at the beginning of the twenty-first century. As debates over euthanasia, cloning, stem-cell research, and so on continue to rage, perhaps greater attention to treatments of the body in an era when the medical establishment as we know it today was most forcefully asserting its authority over that body will help us to better understand the uneasiness prompting those debates.

23 Beddoes’s friend Revell Phillips told Kelsall that “None of the Edgeworths (his relations) except ‘old Maria’ as he called her [. . .] were to his taste” (Donner, Browning Box 45).

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I Romantic(izing) Bodies The academy has long been complicit in the invisibilising of certain bodies, despite the body’s current centre-staging in much intellectual work. Critiques of the production of disembodied knowledge are matched by calls to make visible the pedagogic body in order, to use bell hooks’ evocative phrase, that we might teach to transgress. But making visible the previously invisible is no simple matter: visibility may mean exposure, may mean spoiled identity. Perhaps there are those who would choose not to have their bodies rendered visible, and thus brought into discourse (whether this is done by those who would curtail, or even those who seek to emancipate such bodies). (Holliday and Hassard 4)

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Chapter 1

Body Conscious Vitalities, Corporealities, and the Anatomies of Romantic Medicine

In our study of Anatomy there is a masse of mysterious Philosophy, and such as reduced the very Heathens to Divinitie; yet amongst all those rare discoveries, and curious pieces I finde in the fabricke of man, I doe not so much content my selfe as in that I finde not, that is, no Organ or instrument for the rationall soule; for in the braine, which we tearme the seate of reason, there is not any thing of moment more than I can discover in the cranie of a beast: and this is a sensible and not inconsiderable argument of the inorganity of the soule, at least in that sense we usually so receive it. Thus are we men, and we know not how; there is something in us, that can be without us, and will be after us, though it is strange that it hath no history, what it was before us, nor can tell how it entered us. (Browne 47)

As Roy Porter reminds us, “Our sense of self presupposes an understanding of our bodies. But how do we know them?” (Flesh 44). In many ways, that question is the driving force behind this study and the texts and contexts I examine in it. In one sense, in Porter’s words, “We think we know them instinctively, we speak of ‘our bodies, ourselves’; the original meaning of ‘autopsy’ is to look into one’s self” (44). But we are forced to remember, perhaps especially when we are sick or in pain, “that we cannot see or, mostly, even feel what is going on inside the skin envelope” (44). In the end, “To a large degree our sense of our bodies, and what happens in and to them, is not first-hand but mediated through maps and expectations derived from the culture at large” (44–5). Medicine, of course, seems to have cornered the market when it comes to such map-making, but buried in that “of course” is a long and arduous history, the process of which I identified earlier as the “rhetoric of legitimacy.” And though there have been maps since at least Ancient Greece that have exerted an enormous influence on all later efforts to draw and redraw them, the map of the modern Western body is, I argue, a product of the Enlightenment, when anatomy—that is, both the formal study of the body and the body itself—was recast as a scientific discipline that became the new subject and object of medical inquiry. But the process was a far from smooth one, and the impact and fallout of the various debates continue to echo loudly in our own day. To be sure, I can only outline that process and highlight some key moments of it in relation to the question of the body at the intersection of medicine and literature in the Romantic Century. Thus, as I argue here in preparation for my extended discussions of the body-conscious PoetPhysician, the notions of health and healing, even life and death, as manifested in poetic texts often rely on a number of very specific notions about the body that were


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

increasingly dominated by the medical theories, practices, and vocabularies born from and forever marked by extensive, sometimes even violent, debate as part of the insistent rhetoric of legitimacy. To understand the potential of an embodied, bodyconscious, Romantic Poet-Physician, we must first try to understand how and what that figure learned about the body itself. Anatomies of Sensibility It is well established that, by the beginning of the Romantic Century, medical practitioners were divided into three hierarchically arranged groups: physicians were at the top, followed by surgeons and apothecaries.1 While in practice there was a great deal of fluidity, these divisions would remain officially intact throughout the period, at least until the 1858 Medical Act established a medical register that unified a “medical profession” in which the internal divisions between physician, surgeon, and apothecary were less important than the fact that all practitioners had to be legally licensed to practice. In many ways, any discussion of medicine during this period must be a discussion of the various arguments for and resistances to such legislation,2 but here I want to explore some of the central debates of the early part of the period that simultaneously recall age-old questions about the body and establish the new (or at least revised) terms and battle-lines for the controversies to come. In particular, the role of anatomy in medical theory and practice remained a vexed question. On the one hand, many of the figures we now associate with eighteenth century medicine, such as the Hunter brothers,3 were primarily anatomists, and anatomical studies experienced a growth and popularity unlike ever before: in his mid-1760s surgical lectures, William notes that “[i]t is almost needless to speak of the Usefulness of Anatomy in this Age, when it is become so fashionable a part of Education, that Gentlemen of all the learned Professions, seem to study this useful Science, & it is no Wonder, since nothing can give more pleasing Ideas than the knowledge of Oneself”(4).4 On the other hand, pre-eminent physicians such as Cullen and Brown disputed the importance of anatomical knowledge in medicine, and focused instead on developing competing universal theoretical systems of health and disease that treated the body as part of a complex system but relegated 1 The Royal College of Physicians was chartered in 1518 and was the most prestigious of the medical bodies; see Clark. The Company of Surgeons was formed in 1745 when it seceded from the Company of Barber-Surgeons (itself formed in 1540), and the Royal College of Surgeons of London was formally chartered in 1800; see Cope. The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries was chartered in 1617 when it separated from the Royal College of Physicians; see Holloway and S. Lawrence. On the status of the three bodies at the turn of the nineteenth century, see Waddington. 2 Discussion of the 1858 Medical Act is beyond the scope of my study, but see C. Lawrence 55–7; Gelfand; Porter, Greatest 354–6; and Lane 29–30. 3 To avoid confusion, I refer hereafter to the Hunters by their given names. 4 The text I quote from here is transcription of Hunter’s lecture in the hand of one of his students in the mid-1760s (the MS contains no exact date other than ‘176-’ in the catalogue entry).

Body Conscious


the formal study of anatomy to the background; in fact, as late as the early 1790s, French physician Louis-Sébastian Mercier (1740–1814) opined that “Anatomy [. . .] has yet not supplied medicine with any truly important observations. One may scrupulously examine a corpse, yet the necessities on which life depends escape one[. . . .] Anatomy may cure a sword wound, but will prove powerless when the invisible dart of a particular miasma has penetrated beneath our skin” (97).5 In both cases, whether thrust into the foreground or conspicuously absent, study of the body and the body itself occupy central if contested places in the rhetoric and practices of medicine. I am less interested in discussing the specifics of the texts—developments in anatomical knowledge and medical theory—than I am in examining the various arguments for and against anatomy as the foundation of scientific medicine, for in those arguments we can most clearly see the halting process of medicine’s rhetoric of legitimacy, the body’s place in the debates and quest for the “vital principle,” and, most importantly, the complex attitudes about the body, its representations, and those who studied it. The emphasis on anatomy was not new: Porter demonstrates that a “medicine that seriously and systematically investigated the stuff of bodies” has its roots in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (Greatest 8).6 However, Porter goes on to show that even after almost three centuries anatomical study did not “enjoy universal approval: protests in Britain around 1800 about body-snatching and later antivivisectionist lobbies show how sceptical public opinion remained about the activities of anatomists and physicians, and suspicion has continued to run high” (8).7 It is precisely the degree of heightened skepticism and anxious suspicion that attests to the increasingly substantial, if contentious, role of anatomy in medical practice. Throughout the eighteenth century, Edinburgh was one of the most important centers of medical research and instruction and, not surprisingly, the center of much controversy, largely because it was particularly well known for its work in anatomy. Practitioners trained in the Edinburgh traditions would establish similar institutions throughout Europe; for example, upon recognizing the rising importance of Edinburgh and desiring to establish a legacy in his German homeland, George I provided the necessary 5 Such a perception was not confined to medical circles: Byron, suffering the effects of fever, wrote, “I have not yet taken any physician—because though I think they may relieve in Chronic disorders such as Gout and the like &c. &c. &c. (though they can’t cure them) just as Surgeons are necessary to set bones—and tend wounds—yet I think fevers quite out of their reach—& remediable only by diet and Nature” (Letters 6: 239–40). 6 Porter points out that “[t]he centrality of anatomy to medicine’s project was proclaimed in the Renaissance and became the foundation stone for the later edifice of scientific medicine: physiological experimentation, pathology, microscopy, biochemistry and all the other later specialisms, to say nothing of invasive surgery” (Greatest 8). On the history of anatomy up to the beginning of the Romantic Century, see Peachey 1–52; French; Wear; Porter, “Eighteenth” 384–401; Sawday; Cunningham; Carlino; and Duffin 11–40. 7 The culture of “body-snatching” and treatments of what were known as “resurrection men” has excited much study, not only for the sensationalism of the subject matter but also because of the impact the practice would have on the development of an authorized medical profession. On the culture of body-snatching, see B. Cooper 1: 334–60; R. Richardson, Death and ‘‘Trading’’; Marshall; and Porter, Bodies 219–22.


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

finances and royal mandates to establish a similarly structured medical faculty at the University of Göttingen, where Thomas Lovell Beddoes would receive the bulk of his medical training.8 The cornerstone of Edinburgh medicine was its emphasis on the “scientific” approach to research and instruction championed by Francis Bacon (1561–1625); in other words, inductive theories generated from rhetorical defenses or repudiations of past theories gave way to deductive theories nurtured by empiricism, experimentation, and hands-on practice in the laboratory and dissection theater. At the center of Edinburgh’s galaxy of stars were the Hunter brothers: William, whose “pioneering of the private anatomy school was a key development in the reshaping of British medical education” (Bynum and Porter, William 2), and John, the “leading surgeon-physiologist of his age” who “amassed a huge series of anatomical and biological specimens, about 13,000 of which became the basis of the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons” (Porter, “Eighteenth” 439). However, despite their preeminence as researchers and teachers of generations of medical practitioners, their influence is at once both less tangible and far greater than their reputations would suggest. John, in particular, is credited with “demonstrating the Baconian union of hand and head, of manual and mental labour, thanks to which surgery was said to be ennobled into science” (Porter, “Eighteenth” 374). The significance of such a shift cannot be overstressed: “whenever nineteenth-century surgeons felt the need to vindicate their craft, demonstrating its scientific nature, its character as progressive knowledge, its supreme human importance, they invoked John Hunter as founding father and patron saint” (Bynum and Porter, William 1).9 In other words, the Hunter’s empirical, scientific work on the body and its structures not only helped to change the structure of the medical hierarchy and the mode of medical education but it also changed the face of medicine itself by re-introducing the material body—of both the patient and the practitioner—into medical theory and practice, grounding them in a scientific materialism and empiricism that would dominate medical thinking from their day to our own. Such stress on empiricism also informed the way the Hunters taught: a student in late 1780s noted that John “used generally to commence by stating that it was his intention [. . .] to give only the results of his own observation and experience, because the opinions of others might be found in their works” (J. Hunter 1: 207).10 It is important to note that only the “opinions” of others are found in texts, for the role of text remains a source of some debate in the Hunters’ works. William, for example, makes a clear distinction between anatomy (the study of bodily structures) and physiology (the study of the functions of those structures), even as he suggests that demonstrators often need to presuppose certain physiological facts in order to discuss anatomy, and, in such cases, they can either make a brief digression concerning a particular organ’s or tissue’s function or report “the Opinions of 8 On the creation and importance of the medical school at Göttingen, see GeyerKordesch. 9 See also Gross; Peachey; Kobler; and Jacyna. 10 The lectures reprinted in J. Hunter are “printed from a very full and accurate copy, taken in short-hand by Mr. Nathaniel Rumsey,” of lectures “delivered in the years 1786 and 1787 (1:201)”.

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Authors, leaving every one to judge for themselves”; this may not, he concedes, be the best way to learn, but “when a man is an Anatomist he may easily improve his Physiology by reading Books” (W. Hunter 11). In short, William is adamant in his belief that students of anatomy should not read or even be exposed to such texts until they have completed a dissection and seen the parts for themselves, and, furthermore, he apparently refused even to allow his students to take notes during their first anatomy course.11 Similar, perhaps apocryphal stories are told of John: “he would say to any of the pupils whom he saw taking notes, ‘You had better not write down that observation, for very likely I shall think different next year’”(Paget 106). Nevertheless, in addition to the physical manifestations of their extensive work in elevating anatomy and surgery “from manual craft to scientific discipline” (Porter, Bodies 176)—such as the still-important Hunterian Museum and the dozens of fundamental texts12—the Hunters (particularly John) were instrumental in training many of the most prominent medical researchers, teachers, and practitioners of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, including Edward Jenner (1749– 1823), John Abernethy (1764–1831), and Astley Cooper. Thus, direct empirical knowledge of the body unmediated by text—at least, unmediated by texts other than those written by the Hunters—serves as the foundation for the Hunters’s research and teaching, and, more importantly, for the generations of individuals they would instruct and inspire. However, despite their emphasis on hands-on anatomical study, they remain aware that there are several problems. Some of these, like the problems suggested by the stories of John “recanting” certain notions in the wake of further study, are natural to any pursuit based in diligent empiricism, but others seem unique to anatomy: “The Aversion to dead Bodies has been the chief objection to this Study, for there are many even now, who can’t look upon an Human Dissection for the first time, without Horrour, But a little Use soon gets the Better of this” (W. Hunter 4). But more problematic than the initial discomfort of students was the growing tide of public distress directed at anatomists and surgeons, for, despite the emphasis on the scientific nature of such empirical work and the reiteration of the potential benefits it could offer to medicine, attitudes toward the body and, by extension, those who studied it so closely were still often dominated by centuries of religious and folk belief. These fears were most manifest and further confirmed by the growing demand for anatomical subjects as part of the work conducted and advocated by the Hunters. In previous times, the bodies of executed criminals were often turned over to anatomists for dissection, which itself was considered part of the punishment (French, “Anatomical” 99)—attesting to the still-prevailing attitudes towards dissection. A graphic work such as “The Rewards of Cruelty” (1750–1751) by William Hogarth (1697–1764) illustrate the problem 11 This is not to say that the Hunters completely ignore the role of text in medical studies; in fact, while stressing “no books for the young anatomist until he sees the parts for himself,” William advises that he should read everything else so that “he knows everything but Anatomy” (11). 12 In addition to the core texts discussed here, see John’s Natural History of the Human Teeth (1771), Observations on Certain Parts of the Animal Oeconomy (1786), On Venereal Disease (1786), and Treatise on the Blood, Inflammation and Gun-Shot Wounds (1794), and William’s Treatise on the Gravid Human Uterus (1774).


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

that this practice would create for scientific anatomists: it depicts the dissection of an executed criminal with a surgeon serving as President and overlooking the proceedings, leading Porter to ask, “upon what is the President—or Hogarth—sitting in judgement: the felon or the business of anatomy?” (Bodies 50), and “was this not medical dissection but brutality writ large and given an official blessing?” (219).13 In other words, linking anatomical subjects with criminals called the character and motivation of anatomists into question. Moreover, by the latter half of the eighteenth century, demand for bodies outstripped supply, creating a problem that “resurrection men,” or body-snatchers, helped to solve, and the numerous bodies of England’s poor constituted the most readily available source. Porter observes that “[t]he frequently staged ‘Tyburn riot’ [action against the public executions held at Tyburn] against the surgeons shows the deep and fierce resistance of common people to having their deceased comrades carted off to Surgeons’ Hall and subjected to the profanations of the dissectors” (Bodies 219).14 “Mary’s Ghost, A Pathetic Ballad” (1827), by Thomas Hood (1799–1845), speaks to these very fears. The ghost of the recently deceased Mary addresses her fiancé William: The body-snatchers they have come, And made a snatch at me; It’s very bad those kind of men Won’t let a body be! [. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .] The arm that used to take your arm Is took to Dr. Vyse; And both my legs are gone to walk The hospital at Guy’s. [. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ] I can’t tell where my head is gone, But Doctor Carpue can: As for my trunk, it’s all packed up To go by Pickford’s van. [. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .] The cock it crows—I must be gone! My William we must part! And I”ll be your’s in death altho’ Sir Astley has my heart. (13–16, 21–4, 33–6, 41–4)

Thus, while we can see how a renewed emphasis on anatomy in the tradition of Baconian empiricism assisted attempts to establish medicine as a legitimate and authorized science, such explicit connections between resurrection men and surgeon-

13 The caption at the bottom of the plate reads: “Behold the Villain’s dire disgrace! / Not Death itself can end. / He finds no peaceful Burial Place; / His breathless Corse, no friend. / Torn from the Root, that wicked Tongue, / Which daily swore and curst! / Those Eyeballs from their Sockets wrung, / That glow’d with lawless Lust! / His Heart expos’d to prying Eyes, / To Pity has no Claim: / But dreadful from his Bones shall rise, / His Monument of Shame.” See Paulson, Plate 94. 14 On Tyburn, see Linebaugh.

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anatomists, between criminality and anatomy, between brutality and dissection, also reveal the degree to which anatomy threatened such attempts. In addition to these external pressures, other branches of medical study were not yet convinced of the importance or rewards of anatomy. Even the Hunters themselves, while ceaselessly stressing the fundamental importance of anatomical study, were unwilling to claim that such study held the key to unlocking the mysteries of life. William notes that he follows Hippocrates in claiming that “to attain any knowledge in Physick, it is first necessary to be grounded in Anatomy”; however, he cautions practitioners against relying too heavily on anatomical knowledge to prevent the belief that “We might trace the first Springs of Life and Health, and thereby discover the Cause, or even the Seeds of Diseases and [so] be able to conquer them in their very Infancy [. . .] for our Faculties seem confined to certain Limits, beyond which we cannot extend them” (5). Similarly, John argues that medical men need to know the body’s constituent parts and how they work together, but he also intimates that even the most detailed anatomical knowledge lacks something crucial: These materials may now be considered in a mechanical point of view, like the component parts of a machine, each of which has its destined use and own peculiarity of form. These are united with each other to form parts, the whole forming organs of various kinds to produce the mechanical effects required. These organs, again, united according to certain established rules, form animals. This compounding of animal matter is what should be understood by organization. Now if this idea of organization is just, organization and life are two different things; for, according to this definition, a dead body is as much organized as a living one, for in the dead body the same mechanism exists as in the living one. (1: 241–2)

In other words, anatomy could identify the parts and explain their use and interrelations; it could even assist when certain parts were not functioning appropriately (when, for example, surgeons were called upon to fix wounds), but it could not account for the differences between life and death. In many ways, this “failure” only served to reinscribe the body’s subordinate position in the traditional mind-body hierarchy; however, as I turn my attention to some of the Hunters’s contemporaries who sought most explicitly to maintain that hierarchy, we will see that the growing importance of anatomy actually served to trouble it more than even the Hunters would realize. Unlike William, John did engage with the “vital principle” question, arguing that the blood is alive (1:232)—a position that seems more indebted to Galen’s ancient theory of the humors than to scientific anatomy—but this theory was never as widely influential as his works in anatomy and surgery, and his claim for the blood’s vitality was, for the most part, made in an effort to further his claims concerning the “perfect harmony” (1:232) of the material body. In my discussion of Thelwall in Chapter Three, I will return to John’s vitality theory, but here I want to suggest that this apparent “gap” in anatomical study—its inability to account for life and disease in any systematic way—prompted many of the reactionary comments from figures such as Cullen and Brown. At roughly the same time as the Hunters were reaching the peak of their influence, John Brown was lecturing on medicine and told his students to


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body learn what is necessary from anatomy, [but to] waste no time in superfluous study in it; peruse the works of the illustrious Morgagni; dissect subjects; distinguish remaining effects from causes that have passed away; examine diligently very many bodies of persons who have been hanged, or have died of wounds, and are otherwise found: compare these diligently with the bodies of those who have died by lingering and often repeated disease; compare every particular with every other, the whole with the whole; guard against the rashness of forming opinions, and, if you can, you will be among a very few, who have ever been able to do so; never expect to discover the cause of disease in dead bodies; be circumspect in forming a judgement. (1: 42)

Giovanni Battista Morgagni (1682–1771) initiated the practice of morbid anatomy which held that diseases could be understood and, by extension, eventually eradicated by engaging in post-mortem dissections to see what effect disease had on various parts of the body, and his work in the field is widely considered by medical historians as evidence of “the New Philosophy’s confidence in structural/functional correlations and in the value of anatomical and physiological evidence” (Porter, “Eighteenth” 375). Brown’s appeal to Morgagni and his position that anatomy was largely “superfluous” are important for two reasons. First, Brown exhorts his students to read before dissecting, suggesting that a mastery of texts and a knowledge of proven authority is more important than (at the very least a crucial first stage of) a mastery of practical skills; second, he downplays anatomy at the same time as he urges repeated dissections and extensive work in comparative (human) anatomy. This paradoxical appeal to the textual authority of Morgagni, who was famous for practical works, and the demand for systematic practical work that avoids system points to one of the central questions in eighteenth-century medicine. As William Cullen put it, “Whether the Practice of Physic should admit of reasoning, or be entirely rested upon experience, has long been and may still be a matter of dispute” (First x). Ultimately, Cullen and Brown both advocate extensive empirical work framed by a supporting theory, a position remarkably similar to that held by the Hunters, even as both Cullen and Brown continued to consign anatomy to the position of an “auxiliary” pursuit. However, as we look more closely at the central tenets of the theories of health and disease offered by both Cullen and Brown—which competed for attention throughout the latter half of the eighteenth century—we can see how far from auxiliary anatomy actually was. Cullen’s First Lines in the Practice of Physic, “one of the most influential medical books of the century” (Bynum 346), is the product of his having seen “the necessity of bringing order into a vast range of clinical observations through taxonomy. His own nosology [the science of classifying diseases] reduced the number of disease classes to four” (346). Prior to Cullen, Dutch physician Herman Boerhaave (1668–1738) developed a dominant nosology based soundly in the familiar Galenic or humoral theory,15 and his “theory” was actually a complicated series of experimental observations that had little if any systematic order. Cullen’s work de-emphasized Galenic medicine in favor of a new emphasis on the central 15 Galen (129–216?) is perhaps most familiar for his discussions of the four humors, but his impact on the history of medicine is immense: Porter suggests that Galen held “dominion over medicine for more than a millennium” largely because “[m]ore of his opus survived than of any other ancient writer” (Greatest 73).

Body Conscious


nervous system, which itself attests to the crucial if muted role of anatomy in his thought.16 Cullen opens his text with a defence and justification: I soon found that my doctrines were taken notice of as new and peculiar to myself, and were accordingly severely criticised by those who, having long before been trained up in the system of Boerhaave, had continued to think that that system neither required any change, nor admitted of any amendment. I found at the same time, that my doctrines were frequently criticised by persons who either had not been informed of them correctly, or who seemed not to understood them fully; and therefore as soon as I was employed to teach a more complete System of the Practice of Physic, I judged it necessary to publish a Text book, not only for the benefit of my hearers, but that I might also have an opportunity of obtaining the opinion of the Public more at large, and thereby be enabled either to vindicate my doctrines, or be taught to correct them. (First ix)

The system he offered was based on his “new and peculiar” physiology, which he defined as “the conditions of the body and of the mind necessary to life and health” (Institutions 7), and as we can see in the passage here, his physiology was indebted at least as much to rhetoric as it was to experimental observation. Cullen’s appeal to both body and mind is emphasized by his repeated use of terms such as “sensibility,” “sensible,” and the like, terms that Janet Todd reminds us “were at home in the scientific or epistemological treatise and in the familiar letter” (6). Such an implicit appeal to sensibility becomes explicit in his discussion of “excitement,” as, following an extended discussion of the importance of knowing the central nervous system, Cullen writes, From what is now said of the excitement and collapse of the brain, it will appear, that we suppose LIFE, so far as it is corporeal, to consist in the excitement of the nervous system, and especially of the brain, which unites the different parts, and forms them into a whole. But, as certain other functions of the body are necessary to the support of this excitement, we thence learn, that the causes of death may be of two kinds; one that acts directly on the nervous system, destroying its excitement; and another that indirectly produces the same effect, by destroying the organs and functions necessary to its support. (Institutions 101–2)

The notion of sensibility that emerges here in the guise of “excitement” is suggestive. Christopher Lawrence shows that “By the mid-18th century the nervous system had come to dominate Edinburgh physiology,” and that “the upshot of these conceptual shifts was a move from a Cartesian dualism to monism, with the nervous system itself as the bridge which possessed attributes of both mind and body” (“Nervous” 24–5). While Cullen may appear to maintain a clear mind-body hierarchy—life is something distinct from the body it animates, and the mind is the governing ghost in the machine—he also complicates the hierarchy by claiming that the body supports excitement as much as it is itself supported. Furthermore, the fact that his nosology is grounded in physiology, in a “hard” science of the body, even if it is prompted by a desire to “correct” the theoretical aporias of Boerhaave, establishes, at least 16 On the emphasis on neurophysiology, see C. Lawrence, “Nervous” and A. Richardson, British.


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

implicitly, the centrality of the body in medicine, in the field populated by physicians who were most clearly identified with the maintenance and recovery of health in the popular imagination. Cullen’s systematized nosology would dominate medical thinking for the remainder of the eighteenth century; in fact, the standard medical text, The Edinburgh Practice of Physic, Surgery, and Midwifery, was based primarily on Cullen’s work and promised, according to its subtitle, “An Abstract of the Theory of Medicine, and the Nosology of Dr. Cullen.” But, just as the status of the Hunters prompted internal division, so, too, did the prominence of Cullen. The most direct challenge came from Cullen’s one-time pupil John Brown, particularly in his widely known Elements of Medicine.17 Brown also based his theory on a revision in physiological thinking about the nervous system as a repudiation of Galenic medicine, and he also appealed to both mind and body: “By the word ‘body’ is meant both the body simply so called, and also as endued with an intellectual part, a part appropriated to passion and emotion, or to the soul” (1:3). However, “[r]ather than creating new nosological schemes, Brown sought the underlying unities in all disease processes. He believed diseases could be recognized by their fruits, not their roots. [. . .] The Brown (Brunonian) system relegated nosology to a minor role and made the difference between health and disease a quantitative rather than a qualitative matter” (Bynum 347). For Brown, there was only one disease, and, while that disease might manifest itself in different forms, it had only one root cause: Excitement, the effect of the exciting powers, the true cause of life, is, within certain boundaries produced in a degree proportioned to the degree of stimulus. The degree of stimulus, when moderate, produces health; in a higher degree it gives occasion to diseases of excessive stimulus; in a lower degree, or ultimately low, it induces those that depend upon a deficiency of stimulus, or debility. And, as what has been mentioned, is the cause both of diseases and perfect health; so that which restores the morbid to the healthy state, is a diminution of excitement in the case of diseases of excessive stimulus, and an encrease of the same excitement for the removal of diseases of debility. (1:9)

As Youngquist summarizes, “Stimuli produce excitement and excitement is life; too much or too little and you fall ill” (“Lyrical” 155). What is perhaps most interesting about Brown’s claims here is that while the source of excitability may be either material or immaterial, either physical, intellectual, or emotional, the stimuli always affect the body. Unlike Cullen’s theory, which emphasized the source of disease that may or may not be “bodily,” Brown’s theory, which attends to the “fruits” of disease, foregrounds the body. Brown’s work would have a tremendous, if shortlived, impact, particularly on the continent, where his ideas would prove crucial to the development of Naturphilosophie and organicism.18 In other words, we might see 17 Originally published in Latin in 1780 as Elementa Medicinæ Brunonis, the text was translated by Brown himself, edited by Thomas Beddoes, and republished as Elements of Medicine in 1795. 18 The critical literature on Naturphilosophie is massive, particular when we take into account scholarly efforts to explore Coleridge’s interest in the subject; in addition to extensive discussions of Brown and Naturphilosophie in his letters and notebooks, in 1816 he

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Brown’s theory as at once a medical “explanation” of sensibility and an inauguration of medicalized sensibility: while the literature of sensibility, in Jerome McGann’s words, “emphasized the mind in the body” (7), and thus seemed to inscribe a certain dominance to mind, it also, as Brown’s work makes clear, places special stress on the body, simultaneously simplifying and complicating the hierarchy. Thomas Beddoes saw this reliance on sensibility as Brown’s greatest strength: “Brown, avoiding all useless disquisition concerning the cause of vitality, confines himself to the phænomena, which this great moving principle in nature may be observed to produce” (“Observations” 1: xciii). In Brown’s explanation of why he did not pursue causes, we see echoes of the Hunters’s emphasis on empiricism and another crucial element of medicine’s rhetoric of legitimacy: We know not what excitability is, or in what manner it is affected by the exciting powers. But, whatever it be, either a certain quantity, or a certain energy of it, is assigned to every being upon commencement of its living state. [. . .] It is partly owing to the uncertain nature of the subject, partly to the poverty of common language, and likewise to the novelty of this doctrine, that the phrases of the excitability being abundant, encreased, accumulated, superfluous; or weak, not well enough sustained, not well enough exercised, or deficient in energy, when enough of stimulus has not been applied; sometimes tired, fatigued, worn out, languid, exhausted or consumed, when the stimulus has operated in a violent degree; or being at other times in vigour, or reduced to one half, when the stimulus has neither been applied in excess nor defect, will be employed in different parts of this ensuing work. Both upon this, and every other subject we must abide by facts; and carefully avoid the slippery question about causes, as being in general incomprehensible, and as having ever proved a venomous snake to philosophy. (1: 4–5)

The cause and source of vitality must be left to the philosophers and theologians (and even for them it is a “venomous snake”), but the care of bodies, the healing of sickness, belongs to those who know the facts. Furthermore, part of knowing the facts means knowing the vocabularies: Brown illustrates the degree to which knowledge of the body—and power over it—was rhetorical. In the same way that the Hunters demanded a thorough reading of the body, Brown wants practitioners to speak what they read, as his deep concern with the language of diagnosis and explanation indicates. As Foucault points out, “[t]he clinical gaze has the paradoxical ability to learn a language as soon as it perceives a spectacle” (Birth 108). For this reason more than any other, Beddoes claimed that the works of John Hunter and John Brown “may be regarded as the foundation of a new science, not less generally interesting than any of the preceding” (“Observations” 1: lxxxiii). Thus, in both Brown and Cullen, the body assumes a prominent if troubled position. And despite both the emergence of anatomy and physiology as sciences more than simply auxiliary to medical study and the immense influence of the Hunters on several generations of practitioners throughout Europe, the exact place of the body in attempts to delineate the categories of health and sickness, life and death,

wrote a brief tract that, in 1848, was given the title “Hints Towards the Formation of a More Comprehensive Theory of Life” (see Shorter 1: 481–557). On Naturphilosophie, see Morgan; on organicism, see Schaffer.


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

remains, at best, ambiguous. For the Hunters, the body is the source of (almost) all answers to the questions of life and death, and detailed, empirical knowledge of the body was the foundation of all medical wisdom. For Cullen and Brown, despite their differences, the body could be known and, more importantly, controlled by the development of a thorough, systematic theory of disease, of which the body was a crucial part. In all cases, the body assumes a prominent role in medicine’s various internal struggles and its ongoing struggle to claim widespread authority and public legitimacy. Thomas Beddoes and the Body in “Social Medicine” Reading the works of the Hunters, Cullen, and Brown can help us to see the conflicting notions of the body and its place in medicine that were circulating in the latter half of the eighteenth century. They can also help us to see the internal debates that were shaping both medicine and the treatments of the body over which it sought control, particularly amongst the physicians who were arguing with each other at the same time as they were defending their ground against the incursion of the surgeonanatomists. Just as Cullen’s work was written as a way to “correct” the dominance of Boerhaave, Brown’s Elements was also written as a challenge to Cullen; Beddoes points out that “hints thrown out by Cullen, were the feed from which Brown raised his doctrines” (“Observations” 1:cviii). However, such challenges to previous or current authorities were often quite literal and personal. The Edinburgh Practice offered this opinion in 1803: “Though dignified by its admirers with the title of a system, it will be obvious to the discerning reader, that there are many chasms in [Brown’s theory], in common with all other medical systems; and many errors, the correction of which will require much time and observations, if even the fundamental principles of it should be admitted” (1:77; emphasis added). The text takes issue especially with Brown’s notion of excitability—which, we are told, he only developed after Cullen made it “fashionable” (1:79)19—not because of any particular inherent fault in the idea itself but because it contradicts received theory: The common opinion respecting life, or the vital principle in animals and vegetables, is, that it is entirely distinct from the organization of the body in which it resides; that it is a separate, independent principle, added to the body in some early period of its existence, and which there continues unchangeable, and then leaves it at a late period, when it finds the habitation no longer tenable. Dr. Brown, on the contrary, considers life as an assemblage of actions or effects, which take place in the body in consequence of a certain predisposition and exciting causes; and that the state or quantum of the vital principle, or energy of the system, is perpetually varying. (1:78)

Aside from the competing claims concerning the importance of the body here—one that maintains a Cartesian dualism and one that challenges it—this passage also manifests a certain contempt for Brown simply because he is not in agreement with 19 Beddoes disputes this claim: “His [Cullen’s] idea of excitement has [. . .] nothing in common with that of Brown; and, on comparison, I am persuaded it will appear that Brown was very little indebted to the physiology of his master” (“Observations” 1: cix).

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“common” opinion furthermore, the text proclaims, with thinly veiled disdain, that Brown should not be taken seriously because “medicine does not admit of so much simplicity” (Edinburgh 1:77). Whatever contributions Brown’s work might potentially offer to medicine, the text implies, its failure to make those claims correctly and its contrariness render them insignificant. By the 1790s, the debates over the role of anatomy and the search for vitality had grown quite fierce; at its most extreme, troops were brought in to suppress riots at Göttingen in 1802 that had erupted over debates focused on Brown’s Elements and its doctrines (Youngquist, “Lyrical” 154). Furthermore, as we have already seen in poems like Hood’s “Mary’s Ghost,” the fallout from the debates over anatomy was beginning to impact public perception of medicine and its practitioners, effectively challenging medicine’s efforts to be perceived as “scientific” and therefore rightfully authorized to establish and maintain the prominence of a newly medicalized body. Calls for reform in both the practice and pedagogy of medicine, particularly from apothecaries and surgeons, were loud and frequent, but Thomas Beddoes, an Oxford- and Edinburgh-trained physician, was perhaps the most vocal.20 As Porter notes, Beddoes saw that “Doctors made people sick [. . .] both thanks to their gross ineptitude, malpractice, and unsafe therapeutics, but also because it was the medical profession that “trained” people to be conventional patients” (Doctor 4). For Beddoes, then, reformers had to work on two fronts: how medicine was taught and learned, and how it was practiced in public view. In both cases, Beddoes identifies the body as the site and prize of all reform efforts, and he repeatedly advocates sustained, hands-on anatomical study as the only way, first, that practitioners would ever be able to carry out their role—their duty—as healers, and, second, that the professions would ever be accepted as the “true” gatekeepers of bodily knowledge. But while “reform” is the word Beddoes uses and the word his commentators use when describing his efforts, we should remember to inflect that word carefully here: Beddoes is less concerned with reform in the sense of revising centuries of practice or of breaking bad habits than he is with molding a future in the making. In this section, I attend specifically to the ways in which Beddoes foregrounds anatomy in his calls for this brand of reform, rather than to the role of anatomy in his own substantial writings, and to his comments on how to shape the public’s perception of medicine particularly in terms of its treatment of bodies, rather than the more amorphous categories of “health” and “sickness.” Of particular concern for Beddoes was the growing tendency of medicine to construct itself as seemingly “disembodied,” as a set of rigid clinical practices that, on one hand, treated patients as machine-like test-subjects, and, on the other, depicted practitioners as unfeeling, machine-like automata. Indeed, the language of machinery, as we have already seen, often dominated medical discourse at least partially as a result of the emphasis on a scientific medicine that considered objectivity as its chief mode and highest goal. Beddoes suggested that “Perhaps it might be serviceable to mankind, if medical practitioners, attentive to the progress of science, and capable of combining ideas, were from time to time to be seized by those diseases for which remedies are still wanting” (Observations 6). The suggestion is only partially in 20 On Beddoes, see Zall and Levere.


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

jest, for he proposes that medical researches are more likely to pursue studies of maladies that they themselves suffer and also that medical men should suffer so that they better understand the position of the patients they treat. The belief that medical men should be subject to their own practices is part of the subject of “The Surgeon’s Warning” (1796), by Robert Southey (1774–1843), which also points to the anxieties associated with anatomy. A surgeon laments, All kinds of carcases I have cut up, And now my turn will be; But, brothers, I took care of you, So pray take care of me. I have made candles of dead men’s fat, The Sextons have been my slaves, I have bottled babes unborn, and dried Hearts and livers from rifled graves. And my Prentices now will surely come And carve me bone from bone, And I who have rifled the dead man’s grave Shall never have rest in my own. Bury me in lead when I am dead, My brethren, I entreat, And see the coffin weigh’d, I beg, Lest the plumber should be a cheat. (29–40)

In the end, the surgeon’s body is snatched—“they carved him bone from bone” (166)—and the fact that the victim is a surgeon is at once a victory for the people (their torturer is tortured) and a reminder to the surgeon’s colleagues that they are men before they are medical men. Part of Beddoes’s task, then, is to revise public perceptions of medical men and medical practice, particularly since the new model of practice and practitioner relied so heavily on how they were regarded in the public sphere. However, circulating the depiction of the medical practitioner as a “sensible,” learned scientist with the keys, tools, and vocabularies necessary to promote health would only work if the depiction were accurate, for perceptions of practitioners as unnecessarily cruel, money-hungry, untrained, and in constant disagreement were too deeply imprinted on patients” minds to be easily overcome. Reform had to work from the inside out, so the internal debates had to be dealt with if external, public concerns were to be allayed, and Beddoes began by calling for reforms in medical education. According to the Edinburgh model, physicians had to complete three years of training, a time that Beddoes considered far too brief: “Any lad will enter on the practice of physic as soon as he can but scrawl the cabalistic signs for ounce, dram, and scruple, and knows about how much jalap is to be given to purge, how much chalk to bind, or laudanum to compose; and whatever it may cost the sick, he will take his chance for the benefit of the proverb—practice makes perfect” (Letter 21). As with Brown, Beddoes considers linguistic mastery a necessary component of medical education

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and practice, and he declares that at least six years of training should be required. Unlike the Hunters, and even Brown and Cullen, Beddoes urged that voracious reading of medical texts should be part of a medical education: he argued that six years would allow sufficient time for students to read “from 500 to 800” medical texts (Letter 72). Such extensive reading would help “to confer upon medical graduates the intellectual eminence accorded by a liberal education,” and “[o]nce medicine was peopled [. . .] by practitioners of high intellectual calibre, displaying the accompanying ethos of medico-scientific authority, independent clinical judgement and honest practice could reassert themselves” (Porter, Doctor 150). Still, regardless of the importance conferred upon reading authorities, proper medical education also required more practical work, and Beddoes seems to have reserved his greatest reformist energies for confronting both internal and external resistance to anatomy. In what is arguably his most explicitly reformist text, A Letter [. . .] on the Causes and Removal of the Prevailing Discontents, Imperfections, and Abuses, in Medicine (1808)—which carries the epigraph, “Take physic, PHYSIC!”— Beddoes repeatedly asks why Edinburgh physicians resist extending the training for physicians from three years to five or six: Let any one of them number on his fingers the sciences auxiliary to medicine; let him consider the extent of simple anatomy; the immensity and difficulty of morbid anatomy; let him compute the time requisite after these and other preliminary studies, to observe over and over again in nature the species and subspecies of disease (leaving the more uncommon out of the question) and to acquire sufficient readiness in distinguishing their nature and degree, in familiarizing himself with contingencies, and in selecting, among many remedies that may offer as almost equally promising, the one best suited to the case. (Letter 21–2)

Anatomy, “simple” and “morbid,” perhaps ironically identified as “sciences auxiliary to medicine,” is at the top of Beddoes’s list of the required skills and knowledge physicians must possess. Following this proclamation, Beddoes offers a comprehensive six-year plan of study for all physicians. The centrality of anatomy to Beddoes’s proposed system of medical education is underscored by his insistence that serious anatomical (and later surgical) instruction, including extensive periods in the dissection theater, should be core elements of the first four of the five to six years of mandatory formal training. Furthermore, while students should practice dissections during every term, the fifth and sixth years should be devoted primarily to “close attendance on hospitals” (59), further developing their first-hand knowledge of the body and sickness, but also developing their abilities to conduct themselves with patients by fostering a proper bed-side manner—proper in this context meaning authoritative, self-aware, and commanding even more than reassuring and sympathetic. Beddoes concludes his six-year plan by reiterating that he embeds “the foundation of medical education in the most exact mechanical and vital acquaintance with the human frame” (Letter 59). While emphasizing anatomical study for physicians, Beddoes also clearly demarcates the boundaries and territories of medical practice. Following his justification for extending training time, Beddoes reminds his reader “that the physician cannot safely be without precise information concerning the principles


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

of certain acts which he is not to practice; I need not name pharmacy, midwifery, surgery” (Letter 22). Compartmentalizing medical practice in such a manner does seem to contradict Beddoes’s demand that all would-be practitioners engage in intensive study of “sciences auxiliary to medicine.” However, this statement rests on two crucial assumptions. First, Beddoes does not necessarily construct pharmacy, midwifery, and surgery as “lesser” practices, but as practices that demand more specialized forms of knowledge and, thus, training. Physicians require their own, somewhat ironic, form of specialized training as “generalists” to “acquire sufficient readiness” to deal with any eventuality; in other words, all medical practices may fall under the “jurisdiction” of a particular specialization, but all practitioners, regardless of speciality, must begin from the same base of anatomical knowledge—a position that has continued to inform all medical practice and pedagogy to our own day. Second, Beddoes also seems to acknowledge implicitly the resistance such a claim is likely to meet from his fellow physicians: just as Beddoes suggests that there are “certain acts which [the physician] is not to practice,” he also seems to suggest that the physician serves a sort of “overseer” function in the medical community. The Edinburgh Practice makes a similar point: The union of the different branches of medical practice in the present work, may appear to demand some apology; but when it is considered that the bulk of the profession (taking the profession collectively) are in the habit of practising all at the same time; that this is universally the case in the ARMY and NAVY; that no medical man should be ignorant of that branch which he does not practise; and lastly, that the peculiar nature of some diseases renders it impossible to decide which of the branches it properly belongs to; we apprehend little can be objected to this part of our scheme. (1:vii)

For his part, Beddoes points to the widely respected scientific achievements of figures like the Hunters in elevating the hands-on work of anatomy to a position of respect—or at least tolerance—in the minds of physicians: “I am glad to be able to name Mr. Hunter, because the example shews that the most accurate visual and tactual ideas do not necessarily create that grossness of mind which incapacitates for refined speculation” (Letter 61). Thus, by reemphasizing the status of anatomy as a science, Beddoes is able to argue effectively for its inclusion in a physician’s training at the same time as he emphasizes the time-consuming, painstaking difficulties involved in learning the sciences that grant anatomy a certain power and mystique in the popular imagination. Ultimately, while Beddoes is intent on reforming medical practices and pedagogy, he is equally intent on assisting medicine’s rhetoric of legitimacy and ensuring its status as the sole authority on bodily matters: by making anatomy the site of his and, by extension, medicine’s struggle, he effectively establishes the medicalized body as the prize. Beddoes, then, argues that the very character of medical men had to be reformed: intense, six-year programs of study to ensure a base of knowledge; voracious reading designed at least in part to promote the appearance of scholarly and gentleman-like practitioners; and extensive work in the dissecting theaters and hospital wards to enhance practical attainment and a proper “bedside manner” all helped to construct a scientific and authoritative medical practitioner. Another famous reformer William Buchan (1729–1805) had made similar arguments against the burgeoning medical

Body Conscious


establishment as it was then constructed; his Domestic Medicine; or, A Treatise on the Prevention and Cure of Diseases by Regimen and Simple Medicine (1769) was an immensely popular text that exhorted people to eschew medical practitioners altogether and take control of their own bodies and health. Beddoes, too, believed that people should assume greater responsibility for their own health, but, in his view, the people needed to be educated by the medical professions in order to fulfill such responsibility and, more importantly, to assist the medical professions in their efforts. The first step, as Beddoes saw it, was the provision of adequate public health education based on the tenets of scientific medicine in the form of accessible flyers, pamphlets, and other cheaply produced and obtainable texts: “It must be their [the texts’] aim to make fully sensible the mischiefs arising from systematic irregularity; from injudicious management after exposure to the inclemencies of weather, and from other innumerable ordinary errors of individual conduct. They must explain the origin and conduct, much more minutely than the treatment of disease” (Hygëia 2:92). But in addition to helping people to deal with the ill effects of bad weather, Beddoes’s plan was also designed to ensure that they became effective patients: passive enough to be examined and made visible and accountable to medical science—to submit to medical authority—but active enough to follow medical advice, which itself further reifies medical authority. Furthermore, Beddoes held that those appropriately schooled in scientific medicine should “[teach] children accurately to distinguish the parts of the body” (Hygëia 2:46) for in “[t]he ignorant of all denominations, and the poor and the young among the rest, we perpetually find unable to fix, with any tolerable accuracy, the seat of their maladies. Hence arises one great difficulty in their treatment” (2:47). While people were to claim responsibility for their own bodies and health, they were to do so under the terms and conditions authorized by the medical establishment. As a reformer in these terms, then, Beddoes serves as a sort of bridge between the surgeon-anatomists like the Hunters and the physicians like Cullen and Brown. Of course, Beddoes does, in many ways, only foreground some claims that were already being made by other physicians, even those who did not champion anatomy or urge reform to the same extent, as evidenced by the claims of The Edinburgh Practice. However, what we begin to see most clearly in Beddoes, largely because of his manifold disagreements with Edinburgh, is the degree to which medicine relied on an authority derived from careful study of the body in order to stake its claim as the sole proprietor of the body and health. Furthermore, we also begin to see more clearly the degree to which that bodily and embodied authority was based in rhetorical and discursive mastery: the authority of medicine rested less on the public approval of dominant medical theories (which were becoming increasingly unavailable and, in many cases, unintelligible to a general reading public) than on public perceptions of the practitioner as the embodiment of medicine. As I turn my attention to the increasing medical and social importance of the surgeon, the figure who would become (and still is) the ultimate embodiment of Western medical achievement, we can see how reform efforts like Beddoes’s not only helped to foster this movement but also helped to initiate other changes, especially the proliferation of legislation that would, in turn, further strengthen medicine’s authority over the body.


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

The Guy’s School, Astley Cooper, and the Rise of Surgery At the turn of the nineteenth century, and for several decades thereafter, in this climate of reformation and resistance, amidst a host of competing claims concerning both the position of the body in medicine and the role of those who studied it most explicitly, the Guy’s School emerged as one of the premier medical research and teaching facilities in Europe.21 The faculty and staff at Guy’s from the early 1790s to the mid 1810s—probably the time of the greatest agitation in the professionalization of medicine and the time encompassing both Thelwall’s and Keats’s tenure at the school—included the surgeon-anatomists Cooper, Benjamin Travers (1783–1858), and Henry Cline (1750–1827), and the physicians William Babington (1756–1833), and James Cholmeley (1777–1837), among a legion of others who would have significant impact on the practices, theories, and professionalization of all aspects of medicine.22 Of particular interest here is Cooper, who was widely considered one of the most accomplished surgeon-anatomists and medical instructors of the day.23 After completing his studies at Edinburgh, where the theories and methods of John Hunter still reigned, Cooper became lecturer on anatomy at Guy’s in 1793 and Surgeon (that is, chief practitioner and Professor) in 1800. In his time at Guy’s, Cooper produced an enormous body of writing, including his Lectures on the Principles and Practices of Surgery and his Surgical Essays (co-authored with Travers, his former student and then counterpart as Surgeon at St. Thomas’s) which reveal the degree to which he focused on training students how to see and be seen as scientific surgeon-anatomists at the same time as he was providing the requisite practical and theoretical information on the topics at hand. Moreover, in these texts, Cooper acknowledges the importance of the reform efforts of figures such as Beddoes, praises the development of legislation designed to improve teaching and practice, and urges continuing reform, particularly with an eye towards reaffirming the fundamental significance of anatomy and the role of the surgeon.24 More than any other element of Hunter’s philosophies, Cooper embraced the absolute necessity of thorough and detailed hands-on practice and first-hand learning: “In surgical science hypothesis should be entirely discarded, and sound theory, derived from actual observation and experience, alone encouraged” (Lectures 1). And Cooper practiced what he preached: he was “held in his esteem by the students for his abilities as a surgeon and anatomist, and also for the practicality of his lectures which where based on ‘his own personal work and knowledge’” (Roe, John 170). His “personal work and knowledge” was extensive, as from his earliest days at Edinburgh he was found “devoting himself with the most earnest activity to the acquisition of a knowledge of anatomy,—one of the most valuable departments of study to which the younger student can devote himself, and without a thorough knowledge of which, professional practice, whether in the hands of 21 On the history and importance of The Guy’s School, see Wilks and Bettany. 22 Most studies of the medical history of this period deal with at least some of these figures, but see especially Wilks and Bettany. 23 On Cooper’s background and influence, see B. Cooper. 24 On the rise of the surgeon, see Temkin and Mazumdar.

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the surgeon or physician, can be little better than mere empiricism” (B. Cooper 1: 117–18). He engaged in surgical study and practice with equal intensity, and his particular strength, according to his nephew, biographer, and sometime colleague Bransby Blake Cooper, was shunning theory and system in favor of “Close and accurate observation, correct and forcible description, and an unwearied industry in the pursuit of discovery” (1: 231). These personal attributes, derived at least in part from his adherence to the teachings of Hunter, informed his teaching as well. As he opens his “Introductory Lecture,” Cooper tells his students that Surgery is usually divided into the principles and practice. The first are learned from observations on the living when diseased, by dissection of the dead, and by experiments on living animals. [. . .] A man who has seen much of morbid preparations [that is, parts as dissected by others] possesses great advantages; but his anatomical knowledge cannot be perfect unless he has frequently seen and assisted in the dissection of the human body. (Lectures 1)

Thus, even in learning the principles or the theories, hands-on work is crucial. Cooper similarly nurtures a certain distrust of textual accounts of medical knowledge: Neither the transactions of societies, nor the periodical journals, can be expected to afford space for the details of Hospital practice: seldom the narration of occurrences in one branch of the profession is interesting to more than one class of readers, and especially, such a narration as includes more of the common than the rare; for it is neither in the contemplation nor desire of the Editors to promulgate marvellous cases. (Surgical xi)

Cooper does not forbid reading, for “[r]eading will be found extremely useful, when it is select; but I would not recommend works to young students which lay down systems for their guidance; such a plan of reading is bad” (Lectures 6). At the same time, though, Cooper also followed Hunter (and Beddoes) in claiming that students should venture to become “well-rounded,” that, while they should not put too much faith in the ability of medical texts to make them better practitioners, they should try to become generally well-educated. A general education, in Cooper’s view, included the study of all fields of medicine. In his “Introductory Lecture,” Cooper claims, To the Company of Apothecaries society is much indebted, as to them we owe the Act which makes a certain course of education indispensable to medical students. In the metropolis, surgeons, of course, are highly respected, but not equally so in the country, for there the practitioner is obliged to inspect the preparation of his medicines, and, necessarily, must be often in his shop. But general education, so essential to our profession in particular, is making rapid and desirable advances, whilst ignorance flies fast before it. (Lectures 6)

Cooper here refers to the 1815 Apothecaries Act which stipulated that “all apothecaries (in effect, general practitioners) must henceforth possess the Licence of the Society of Apothecaries (LSA)” (Porter, Greatest 316).25 From Cooper’s perspective, 25 To obtain the LSA, “candidates were required to attend lectures on anatomy, botany, chemistry, materia medica, and the theory and practice of physic, and also undertake


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increasing legislation was fundamental to the advancement of medicine, not only because it effectively established certain standards of education, but also because the publicity of such legislation meant that at least some of the inner-working of medicine would be seen—note the reference to the respect accorded to the country practitioner because he “must be often in his shop”—and such visibility would serve the purposes of the rhetoric of legitimacy.26 We saw Brown and Beddoes make similar claims for a breadth of knowledge (even if they did place different stress on exactly what and how much one should know), but, in Cooper, the point seems slightly different: The study of medicine is important to the surgeon: he should be able to prescribe with certainty—should well understand the great influence of local disease on the constitution, as well as the origin of local disease from constitutional derangement. Without such knowledge, he knows but half his duty. On the other hand, a mere physician cannot be a good judge of surgical cases; and notwithstanding my respect for the physicians of Guy’s Hospital, I would not hold my situation in that establishment, unless I had the right of prescribing for my surgical patients. [. . .] That a physician should not interfere with patients of this description is therefore evident; but I do not mean to say that one profession is to be upheld at the expense of the other: far from it, indeed they should mutually assist in the great duty of preserving human existence. (Lectures 5)

Here we clearly witness the rising importance of surgery in early nineteenthcentury medicine which effectively marks the beginning of the end of the traditional physician-surgeon-apothecary hierarchy. Furthermore, even more so than in the Hunters’s works, we can see that anatomical knowledge as embodied in the surgeon, once marked as the territory of craftsmen, is now fully established as the foundation of all medical knowledge. The authority of the medical professional was an authority over the body more than it was over a corpus of texts or a theoretical system: the duty of the newly minted medical professional was not simply curing disease, but “preserving human existence” itself. But while Beddoes claims that maintaining such a learned, authoritative persona would help the practitioner to appear gentlemanly and polished, Cooper holds that all appearances fall to pieces the moment a patient fully grasps what the surgeon’s job actually is—particularly before modern anaesthetics were developed in the 1840s.27 Surgeons were often encouraged to visit slaughterhouses and perform vivisections on animals not only to develop a better understanding of how to maintain the vitality of a living being during an operation but also to become accustomed to hearing and seeing the pain and anguish experienced by surgical patients (B. Cooper 1:143–5). To be an effective surgeon, Cooper suggests, requires more than a learned persona, skill, six month’s hospital bedside work” (Porter, Greatest 316–17); see also Holloway and S. Lawrence. 26 The Apothecaries Act is significant for another reason: at no time during the process of proposing the bill, debating its wording, writing the act, and enacting it was the government involved. George Clark notes that it “was the last major medical measure passed by the same primitive procedure which had sufficed from Henry VIII’s time onwards. No government department had anything to do with it” (2: 650). 27 On the development of anaesthesia, see Cartwright and Porter, Greatest 364–8.

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or even anatomical knowledge; a good surgeon must display “neatness in application of his remedies,” “gentleness of manner,” and, “the quality which is considered of the highest order in surgical operations [. . .] self-possession” (Lectures 2). In other words, surgeons must exhibit but effectively control an extreme sensibility that manifests itself as a kind of body consciousness: the head must always direct the hand, or otherwise the operator is unfit to discover an effectual remedy for the unforeseen accidents which may occur in his practice. Without this quality a man may do well enough in ordinary cases, but can do little on sudden emergencies; it inspires confidence, and almost insures the success of the operation. These qualities forward the interests of professional men, whilst they diminish the sufferings of human nature. Patients generally form an opinion of a surgeon’s ability by his manner: if he be of a dry, morose turn, he is apt to alarm not only the patient, but his whole family; whereas, he who speaks kindly to them, and asks for particular information, is supposed to have more knowledge, and receives more respect. (Lectures 2)

Thus, self-possession assists in the successful completion of procedures, and it crucially reinforces the authority of the practitioner. If a surgeon can control his own body, then he is capable, and given the requisite authority, to take control of others. Cooper further emphasizes that such a body consciousness beginning in a sense of self-possession is as necessary in the laboratory, the classroom, and the dissecting theater as it is in the operating room. Practitioners must at all times be aware that they have a duty and that the necessity of seemingly endless hours of training and practice are part of that duty: The variety which of necessity occurs in the practice of the Surgeons—the facility afforded to them in their respective plans of treatment—the opportunities of improving the practice of Medical Surgery—of observing the results, general and comparative, of Operations of every description—and especially of prosecuting inquiries into Morbid Anatomy, by prompt examination of the dead body, and of parts removed by operation— are advantages which while they afford ample compensation for the labours of clinical research, would allow no pretext for indifference in those, who, conscious of their value, were not influenced by an ardent desire to improve and impart them. (Surgical ix–x)

This notion that any anatomical research or surgical operation should be undertaken with an eye towards improving the science and increasing the store of knowledge is a fundamental point in Cooper’s lectures. After relating a series of stories in which a lack of anatomical knowledge caused or came near to causing the death of a patient, Cooper states, “I bring forward these examples to impress upon your minds that an imperative necessity exists for making yourselves well acquainted with anatomical science; without which you cannot conscientiously discharge your duty to society; and it is upon this that you must lay the foundation for your future advancement” (Lectures 4). Thus, surgeons have a duty to society as a whole, to the body politic, rather than simply to the patients and bodies immediately under their care, and only a thorough knowledge of anatomy will allow them to begin to fulfill that duty. For this reason, Cooper was one of the many individuals who argued that developing legislation that ensured the necessary supply of anatomical subjects was crucial. Only when the obtaining of bodies was free from criminal taint and when dissection


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

was constructed as purely scientific and not punitive could practitioners be truly equipped to carry out their duty. Thus, the 1832 Anatomy Act “awarded the medical profession rights to ‘unclaimed bodies’—in effect, paupers without family dying in workhouses and hospitals” (Porter, Greatest 318).28 The Act was not without problems: “Dissection, the final stigma of criminality, of the outcast, was transferred to the pauper” (Lawrence 39; R. Richardson, Death). However, like the Apothecaries Act that legislated some aspects of training, the Anatomy Act, in granting medicine certain legal authority over the bodies of the nation’s poor, served to materialize medicine’s claim to authority over the body in general. Bodies at Work The success and celebrity of surgeons like Cooper and his contemporaries at Guy’s, all of whom were trained in the Hunterian tradition, operated at a time when the internal debates between figures like Cullen and Brown prompted calls for reform from figures such as Beddoes, claimed the inseparability of the various sorts of medical practice, and enjoyed the fruits of increasing legislation, illustrate the extent to which scientific anatomy had become the center of medical thought. Furthermore, in tracing the changing fortunes of anatomy throughout the Romantic Century, we can see how some of the key features of medicine’s rhetoric of legitimacy were focused on asserting medical control over the body and on changing popular perceptions of that control in order to make such assertions possible. By the end of the Romantic Century, when the advent of the 1858 Medical Act was accompanied by the publication of the now famous Gray’s Anatomy, Descriptive and Applied (1858) by Henry Gray (1827–1861),29 the medical establishment had become one of the most dominant institutions of the cultural landscape. More to the point, the medical professional, the embodiment of that institution, personified authority, intellectual achievement, and a kind of absolute power that few other figures would enjoy. As I begin to explore the possibilities and problems associated with the Poet-Physician in the second section of this study, we must remember that just as they were training to be part of a long tradition of healing the body, they were also training to become part of this new tradition of embodying power and authority.

28 See B. Cooper 1: 157–64; R. Richardson, Death and ‘‘Trading’’; and C. Lawrence 39–41. 29 Updated versions of this standard text are still in print and in use today. According to the website of the medical text publisher RamEx Ars Medica, their 39th edition of Gray’s Anatomy—a multi-media extravaganza complete with a newly updated and interactive CD-ROM, optional student flashcards, on-line support and expansion packs, and Spanish translations—hit shelves in late 2004.

Chapter 2

“Flesh and Blood” Wordsworth, Baillie, and the Romantic Body

One of the basic illusions of Romantic Ideology is that only a poet and his works can transcend a corrupting appropriation by “the world” of politics and money. Romantic poetry “argues” this (and other) illusions repeatedly, and in the process it “suffers” the contradictions of its own illusions and the arguments it makes for them. The readers of such works can benefit from them by turning this experiential and aesthetic level of understanding into a self-conscious and critical one. (McGann, Romantic 13)

Romantic-era literary texts, I think we can easily recognize, are littered with bodies. From the hypersensible bodies of the various versions of the “Poet” in the traditional, canonical “Greater Romantic Lyric”; to the equally, if sometimes differently, hypersensible bodies of the speakers and personae in much writing by women in the period; to the various embodiments of “otherness” in treatments of, for example, empire and nation; to the threatened and threatening bodies of Gothic villains, heroes, and heroines; to that most famous of all Romantic bodies, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s monster—the problems and possibilities associated with bodies and bodily display have long been part of what Jerome McGann called the “Romantic Ideology.” However, taking a cue from McGann, it is perhaps precisely the omnipresence and variety of bodies in the writings of the period that sometimes make it difficult to talk about them or even really see them: they are so prevalent and so obvious that we as readers often look past the seemingly too-simple fact of their presence to treat the why and the how of it. Thus, we find gendered bodies, raced bodies, classed bodies, nationed bodies, “abnormal” bodies, classical bodies, broken bodies, and the list could continue to a length and diversity we can easily imagine, an effective dramatization of Roy Porter’s contention that to talk about the body is to talk about the body in. In many of these cases, of course, the body is not in and of itself the primary or often even secondary focus but a stage on which we can see various dramas play out or a site at which we can direct particular critical vocabularies, and the body in is thus precisely the point. But the facts, first, that bodies are so readily available and, second, that they are so varied and various as to allow for such diverse engagements, in both the literary texts themselves and in decades of subsequent critical response, demand careful scrutiny both so that the point of our readings of bodies (exploring concerns with issues of gender, race, and class, for example) acquire even greater nuance and depth and so that we avoid any potential danger posed, to invoke McGann once more, “by an uncritical absorption in Romanticism’s own self-representation” (1). Thus, while it may not have always been a primary concern, serving instead as a means to various ends, the subject of bodies, of bodiliness in one form or


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another, has long played a significant role in much critical and theoretical work in Romantic Studies. My purpose in this chapter is not, therefore, to suggest that there is a critical “hole” that needs filling but to suggest that we need to take something of a step back and examine the notions of bodiliness that permeate Romantic-era texts and that have consequently served as the foundation for so much later work. To these ends, I focus on two foundational texts in the development of literary Romanticism, William Wordsworth’s “Preface” to the Lyrical Ballads and Joanna Baillie’s “Introductory Discourse” to the A Series of Plays: In Which it is Attempted to Delineate the Stronger Passions of the Mind (hereafter Plays on the Passions), texts initially published within two years of each other.1 The place of Wordsworth’s “Preface” in the formation of literary Romanticism and later Romantic Studies, for better or for worse, hardly needs rehashing here, and Baillie’s text is increasingly identified as essential in the formation and dissemination of Romantic “sensibilities,” as a sustained engagement with Romantic “antitheatricality,” and as an important document in the history and theory of nineteenth-century drama, among other things.2 Both texts offer extensive theoretical discussions of how and what their respective works are trying to achieve: Wordsworth claims that his “Preface” offers “a systematic defence of the theory, upon which the poems were written” (742), while Baillie states that the “Introductory Discourse” is not simply a preface but an explanation that both it and the plays themselves “are part of an extensive design” (1: 1). The theory and design of both texts revolves around, in Wordsworth’s words, “a natural delineation of human passions” (739), a phrase that has clear resonances with Baillie’s title. Furthermore, in so insistently championing an examination of the passions in terms of “nature” and the “common,” Wordsworth and Baillie both admit a frustration with the contemporary state of the literary arts; as William Brewer points out, while Wordsworth may be “more indignant against the ‘frantic novels, sickly and stupid German Tragedies, and deluges of idle and extravagant stories in verse’” (Brewer 37), Baillie likewise bemoans the lack of skill of the “romance writers, [. .] tale writers and novel writers” who have “not been very skilful in their delineations of nature” (Baillie 1: 18). As their prefatory statements indicate, each seeks to offer a corrective or alternative to the faults of contemporary literary productions in the form of wide-ranging collections, the Lyrical Ballads and the Plays on the Passions, that promise to put their respective and closely related theories into practice—though their ability to live up to that promise remains a point of critical contention. It comes as no surprise, of course, given this degree of similarity, that these two texts are often read with or against each other, and often, in the shadow of Robert Mayo’s observations of “The Contemporaneity of the Lyrical Ballads,” in an effort

1 References to Wordsworth’s “Preface” are to the page numbers of the 1800 version (with 1802 additions and revisions) as printed in The Cornell Wordsworth edition; references to Baillie’s “Introductory Discourse” and other prefatory material are to volume and page numbers of the 1821 “new edition” of the three-volume collected plays. 2 Ken Bugajski’s “Joanna Baillie: An Annotated Bibliography” remains an enormously useful resource for anyone interested in Baillie, and Burroughs’s Closet Stages provides the most sustained treatment of Baillie’s place in the history of theater and literary criticism.

“Flesh and Blood”


to assert the primacy of one over the other.3My aim in this chapter, however, is neither to read the Baillie and Wordsworth texts against each other nor to debate which “reads” which but, building on their status as influential historical statements and core documents in our understandings of that history, to show, first, how both reveal the degree to which “body consciousness” and a persistent sense of bodiliness pervades the writings of the period and, second, how both actively participate in the process of foregrounding the body and questioning (if not clearly articulating) notions of authority concerning it as they work towards a vocabulary to talk about it. But while their status as core critical documents is an essential part of my decision to focus on them here, equally essential is the fact that their “‘originality’ lay less in any innovations [they] attempted than in the freshness and intensity with which [they] developed already familiar conventions” (Parrish 85; emphasis added).4 Part of what I want to do here is to show that their treatment of bodies is not unique but, despite their claims to originality and experimentation, entirely in keeping with their shared cultural moment and that they were thus both exploring and, in some ways, depending on anxieties that would have been shared by their audiences. In these terms, both texts, to paraphrase Wordsworth, seek to offer a picture of men as they really are, simultaneously promising and proposing to keep us “in the company of flesh and blood” (747), and each text reveals a particular frustration with the relation between language and that flesh and blood that is at once, I argue, a crucial constitutive element of both literary Romanticism and subsequent Romantic Studies and indicative of a more general concern. The framework in which I read these texts attends to the ways and means of their bodiliness and its attendant frustrations, but as tempting as it may be to read Wordsworth’s and Baillie’s texts here in terms of their possible relation to contemporary medical thinking, and thus build on some important recent work,5 I want instead to resist that temptation. To invoke Porter once again, if to talk about the body is always to talk about the body in, then we might consider that we are already at something of a disadvantage when we make such pairings, however intriguing and indeed productive they may be; my aim here is to try to allow (to the extent possible) Wordsworth and Baillie to set their own terms, simply to attend to their concern with bodiliness and their pronounced body consciousness without pursuing why they manifest such a concern. Such a separation is, of course, problematic and, as we will see, more than a little artificial, particularly

3 For treatments of the relation between the “Introductory Discourse” and the “Preface” that also usefully summarize the history of the debate, see especially Brewer and Yudin. 4 Parrish treats Wordsworth specifically here, but his comments apply just as easily to Baillie, and not only because of the by-now familiar treatments of the contentious connections between their prefatory texts. While Baillie argues, on the one hand, that her plan “has nothing exactly similar to it on any language” (1: 1), she suggests, on the other, that her project is in part inspired by and an effort to re-introduce “the excellence of our great national Dramatist” Shakespeare (1:25n), and she therefore walks the innovation/convention line perhaps as uneasily as does Wordsworth. 5 On Wordsworth and medicine, see essays by Beyette; Roe, “Atmospheric”; Youngquist, “Lyrical”; Youngquist, Monstrosities 29–37; Wallen 14–30; Estor; and Robert. On Baillie and medicine, see Dwyer; Gilbert; Purinton; and Forbes.


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when we remember Wordsworth’s life-long interest in science6 and Baillie’s familial connections. My point is not to ignore the medical in what follows but to see it as part of a broader sense of bodiliness in Wordsworth and Baillie, as one of many indications that the body occupies a far greater place in their works and critical legacies than we have perhaps thus far appreciated. In the end, I want to show that anxieties surrounding the body, its definitions, its representations, and its changing fortunes were widespread and not confined to medical or scientific circles; that such rapid changes in both the perception of the body and bodily perception prompted a reevaluation of the vocabularies of perception; and that the problems surrounding the search for such vocabularies themselves prompted further anxiety. In attending to these concerns in Wordsworth and Baillie, without a direct appeal to medicine, we can begin to get a sense of just how pervasive and complex such anxieties were— and continue to be. Wordsworth: Poetry, Incorporated I began earlier to trace the outline of a reading of Wordsworth’s “Preface” in terms of its betrayal of—perhaps commitment to—a sense of bodiliness in its foregrounding of an embodied Poet. I want here, first, to develop that reading in greater detail and, second, to suggest how Wordsworth himself engaged with the still-frustrating problems that attend any attempt to see and talk about the material body. If we can see that Wordsworth’s “man [. . .] of more than usual organic sensibility” (“Preface” 744) stands as both the means and end of his poetic project, and that “to follow the fluxes and refluxes of the mind when agitated by the great and simple affections of our nature” (745) Wordsworth proposed to bring this Poet into contact with various embodiments of the “low and rustic life” (743), then we can also see that greater attention to the notions of body, bodiliness, and embodiment as deployed in the “Preface” can reveal just as much about the poetic theories and practices Wordsworth advocates as it can about contemporary poetic or popular notions of the material body. At the same time, by considering how Wordsworth plans to engage in such a project, how he proposes both to bring those several bodies into contact and to follow the fluxes and refluxes that flow between them, in short how he theorizes and develops a vocabulary to talk about bodies and their interstitial spaces, we can come to a greater understanding of literary Romanticism’s notions of bodiliness, how those notions manifest in various forms and contexts in the period, and, perhaps most crucially, how those manifestations continue to serve as the often unacknowledged (at least underacknowledged) foundations for much work in Romantic Studies. I should say here, as a framing gesture and an apology, that part of my plan for this section involves extensive though necessarily strategic quotation from Wordsworth’s text. Our familiarity with the “Preface” as a central text of literary Romanticism and as a significant moment in the history of Western literary and critical theory might seem to make this degree of quotation unnecessary, even burdensome. But, 6 Treatments of Wordsworth’s interests in science, especially the health sciences, are scattered throughout the numerous biographical studies, but see Bewell, Wordsworth; Youngquist, “Lyrical”; Estor; and Roberts.

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as Paul Youngquist notes, for a great many readers, what he calls “Wordsworth’s physiological aesthetics is at odds with his more familiarly Romantic commitments to nature, mind and their ennobling interchange” (“Lyrical” 158), so revisiting the language of this familiar text, not just the specific references to bodies and bodily effects (which are numerous) but the larger context in which these references occur, is a necessary step. In doing so, I build on Alan Richardson’s recent efforts “to bring out a materialist tendency in Wordsworth’s thinking and elicit a biological register in his writing” (British 69), although, veering slightly away from Richardson, I do not here attribute this tendency and register to any commitment to a “science of feeling” but rather to a more general, even abstract, concern with body consciousness. Take, for example, Wordsworth’s answer to the question “What is a Poet?”: He is a man speaking to men; a man, it is true, endued with more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm and tenderness, who has a greater knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive soul, than are supposed to be common among mankind; a man pleased with his own passions and volitions, and who rejoices more than other men in the spirit of life that is in him; delighting to contemplate similar volitions and passions as manifested in the goings-on of the Universe, and habitually impelled to create them where he does not find them. To these qualities he has added a 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 (especially in those parts of the general sympathy which are pleasing and delightful) 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; whence, and from practice, he has acquired a greater readiness and power in expressing what he thinks and feels, and especially those thoughts and feelings which, by his own choice, or from the structure of his own mind, arise in him without immediate external excitement. (751)

In the emphasis on sensibility, comprehension, even creation from within, Wordsworth further elaborates on his depiction of an embodied poet, a material man who engages in the related physical acts of speaking to other men and expressing what he thinks and feels. Such a foregrounding of the bodies of these figures, those speaking and those hearing, and the dramatic possibilities of such an encounter anticipate what we will see in the “Introductory Discourses,” where Baillie emphasizes the fact that characters on a stage must speak for themselves; there as here, the focus is on the bodies in the act of speaking and hearing, not necessarily on what is spoken or heard. At the same time, in putting the body of the Poet on display, effectively revealing a consciousness of bodies, and emphasizing the Poet’s perhaps excessive sensibility, Wordsworth begins to catalogue the means and ends of a knowing through bodies, a sort of materialist epistemology that is simultaneously in keeping with contemporary materialist philosophies and in some ways at odds with traditional versions of literary Romanticism (and readings of Wordsworth) that highlight transcendence and the (disembodied) imagination. Capable of being “affected more than other men by absent things as if they were present,” the Poet renders sensible for himself that which is absent, imaginary, abstract, or immaterial, and in that sensibility renders it knowable and communicable. Moreover, not only is the Poet willing and able to


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

“rejoice more than other men in the spirit of life that is in him”—“the spirit of life” a phrase that clearly resonates with contemporary vitality debates, as we will see in the next chapter—but he is also willing and able “to contemplate similar volitions and passions as manifested in the goings-on of the Universe” and “impelled to create them where he does not find them.” This creation then makes it possible for “other men” to likewise feel and know “the passions produced by real events” that they could not experience first-hand for themselves, and while these passions are “far from being the same as those produced by real events,” they are much closer to the real thing “than any thing which, from the motions of their own minds merely, other men are accustomed to feel in themselves,” and this sense of proximity is a fundamental element, as we will shortly see, of Wordsworth’s treatment of bodies. In other words, Wordsworth’s Poet is able to affect materially bodies other than his own—an ageold idea, of course; one that has its roots in the characterization of Apollo as god of poetry and medicine (an idea to which we will return in the discussion of Keats), but one that we need to recognize here as a fundamental element of Wordsworth’s poetics. As Youngquist convincingly shows, this aspect of Wordsworth’s theory may owe a great deal to John Brown and his notion of excitability: though Wordsworth may ultimately refuse “the tragic implications of a physiological aesthetics,” that poetry is not necessarily life-affirming even as it is life-affecting, he does rely on “the possibility that his poems still work upon the flesh, that even as mild stimulants they enhance the feeling of life” (“Lyrical” 160). These words are Wordsworth’s, but could easily be Brown’s: The end of Poetry is to produce excitement in coexistence with an overbalance of pleasure. Now, by the supposition, excitement is an unusual and irregular state of the mind; ideas and feelings do not in that state succeed each other in accustomed order. But if the words by which this excitement is produced are in themselves powerful, or the images and feelings have an undue proportion of pain connected with them, there is some danger that the excitement may be carried beyond its proper bounds. Now the co-presence of something regular, something to which the mind has been accustomed when in an unexcited or a less excited state, cannot but have great efficacy in tempering and restraining the passion by an intertexture of ordinary feeling. (755)

Later in the “Preface,” when further elaborating this point in a brief discussion of “Goody Blake and Harry Gill: A True Story”—a story, we should note, that Wordsworth adapts from an early 1798 reading of Erasmus Darwin’s popular medical text Zoonomia (1794–6)7—he uses the example offered by the story to reiterate his wish “to draw attention to the truth that the power of the human imagination is sufficient to produce such changes even in our physical nature as might almost appear miraculous. The truth is an important one; the fact [of the result of Goody Blake’s encounter with Harry Gill] (for it is a fact) is a valuable illustration of it” (757). The Poet, as the proper embodiment of this imaginative power, is charged, perhaps burdened, with the production and management of such changes that he first must manifest with his own body consciousness. 7 On Wordsworth and Darwin’s Zoonomia, see Hassler; Matlak; and King-Hele, “Disenchanted.”

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The embodied Poet thus stands at the center of Wordsworth’s poetic theory, and part of the work of the Poet, enabled by his embodiment, involves the bodies of “other men,” among whom we can count readers—or hearers, as “Goody Blake and Harry Gill” demonstrates. Throughout the “Preface,” we are also frequently reminded of the numerous other bodies that populate the Lyrical Ballads: the Female Vagrant, Simon Lee, the seven siblings, the Mad Mother, the Idiot Boy, the Traveling Old Man, the Forsaken Indian Woman, the Convict, to name some the titular characters of Wordsworth’s contributions to the collection. The seeming variety of these bodies—male and female, young and old, foreign and domestic—is, to some degree at least, belied by the fact that they are almost all equally problematic, often broken or incomplete bodies, whether mad, unhealthy, injured, or even dead, and in those terms are to be carefully distinguished from the “proper” body of the poet. But these problems and the questions and interpretive possibilities they raise should not overshadow the fact of the persistent presence of bodies, broken or whole, proper or improper. As Wordsworth begins to discuss the characters who inhabit his poems, he highlights only their bodiliness and not the problems that attend it, particularly in the passage from which I take the title of this chapter where he addresses the “style” of the poems rather than “the subjects and aim”: Except in a very few instances the Reader will find no personifications of abstract ideas in these volumes, not that I mean to censure such personifications: they may be well fitted for certain sorts of composition, but in these Poems I propose to myself to imitate, and, as far as possible, to adopt the very language of men, and I do not find that such personifications make any regular or natural part of that language. I wish to keep my Reader in the company of flesh and blood, persuaded that by so doing I shall interest him. (747)

Bodies, it would seem, are common ground and offer both Poet and reader something familiar, not (or not only) because Wordsworth makes them so but because for the audience they are already points of interest. (We should be reminded here of Wordsworth’s appeal to the need for “something regular, something to which the mind has been accustomed” to counter the over-exciting potential of words.) In this sense, bodies are both the means and ends of the work of Wordsworthian poetics: in exploring a body consciousness, in both its senses, the Poet has to embody a process that is then manifested in the bodies of his audience through the various bodies that populate his poems. The “company” of flesh and blood is thus as much a sense of collectivity and community as it is a sense of companionship and familiarity, and, in all cases, the presence of bodies remains a crucial element of this process, for while Wordsworth may want to focus his attention on what happens between these bodies, he, like so many later readers, depends on the simple fact of their embodied presence. Of course, here we face one of the problems at the core of any discussion of the body, the driving frustration behind much contemporary work in Body Studies: there are no bodies here, no material flesh and blood, only writing or speaking about them. And, as Wordsworth points out, the acts of writing and speaking can obscure that which we want to write and speak about; the “personification of abstract ideas,” for example, would all but obliterate the very ideas he wants to express. Despite making the body and notions of embodiment so central to his discussion of poetry,


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

Wordsworth finds that he has trouble getting to that body, for the flesh and blood can only be approached, indeed only approximated, in the “language of men,” the Body Studies version of a Derridean deferral, as I discussed in this study’s introduction. But such a deferral does not negate the idea that there can be a particular and productive relation between language and bodies, as Wordsworth begins to reveal when discussing “those parts of composition where the Poet speaks through the mouths of his characters”: “there are few persons, of good sense, who would not allow that the dramatic parts of composition are defective, in proportion as they deviate from the real language of nature, and are coloured by a diction of the Poet’s own, either peculiar to him as an individual Poet, or belonging simply to Poets in general, to a body of men, who, from the circumstances of their compositions being in metre, it is expected will employ a particular language” (753).8 Language in and of itself is not necessarily a problem, as some types of language, it would seem, are better than others when the subject of conversation or object of study is the body. More to the point, Wordsworth suggests that one can in fact get to the body, that the deferral is not endless but has a logical terminus in “nature,” in the “Low and rustic life” where “the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which they can attain their maturity” (743), which itself can be reached by a careful appeal to “the real language of nature” and an avoidance of “what is usually called poetic diction” (747). However successful Wordsworth may or may not have been in his efforts to speak that language, the fact that he acknowledges—or creates—the possibility that such a language does exist, one that will end the deferral and supply a vocabulary that will let us finally get to the body, reveals simultaneously the kind of anxiety that prompts the effort to find such a language and the degree to which that anxiety is signified by the possible failure of that language to achieve its goal. But despite whatever problems may emerge from Wordsworth’s claim on behalf of “the real language of nature,” we still need to consider carefully the nature of that language as Wordsworth describes and plans to deploy it. In the reference to “metre,” for instance, Wordsworth indicates an important gesture in his treatment of the relation between language and bodies, one that emerges from his ongoing revisions to his definition of the word “poetry.” Wordsworth anticipates dissent from his assertion that there can be “no essential difference between the language of prose and metrical composition” (749), and that the use of metre alone does not, on the one hand, disqualify the “naturalness” of the language or, on the other, automatically make the language poetry: We are fond of tracing the resemblance between Poetry and Painting, and, accordingly, we call them Sisters: but where shall we find bonds of connections sufficiently strict to typify the affinity betwixt metrical and prose compositions? They both speak by and to the same organs; the bodies in which both of them are clothed may be said to be of the same 8 Wordsworth offers a specific example of such a defect in his “Note to Ancient Mariner,” attached to that poem in the 1800 version of the Lyrical Ballads. He notes that the first of the poem’s “great defects” is “that the principal person has no distinct character, either in his profession of mariner, or as a human being who having been so long under the control of supernatural impressions might be supposed himself to partake of something supernatural” (qtd. in Brett and Jones 276–7).

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substance, their affections are kindred and almost identical, not necessarily differing even in degree; Poetry sheds no tears “such as Angels weep,” but natural and human tears; she can boast of no celestial Ichor that distinguishes her vital juices from those of prose; the same human blood circulates through the veins of them both. (749–50)

Keeping readers in the company of flesh and blood, then, is to keep them in the company of a specific kind of language, the “blood” that flows through the veins of prose and verse, perhaps even conversation and the textual communities of the body politic. In employing this physiological metaphor, and in this passage the shadow of his interest and reading in medical theory looms larger than almost anywhere else, Wordsworth at once reaffirms a relation between language and the body and begins to point with greater urgency to the nature of his “real language of nature” by saying what it is not. Of course, in the need for such a negative definition—the language he means and needs is not necessarily located solely in either verse or prose, preventing an appeal to a process of elimination—Wordsworth further displays the frustration that attends any effort to speak about the body. (It is telling, I think, and firmly underlines the argument of this book, that we see a clear if implicit appeal to medicine at this particularly crucial point.) But in so forcefully reaffirming at least the need for such a language, Wordsworth again focuses our attention squarely on the complex body consciousness that his poetics offers and demands. And it is in these terms and for this reason that Wordsworth enacts his appeal to a poetry grounded in the “real language of nature,” which, ironically enough, seems bothered by the same kind of deferral as the very body it tries to reach: The language too of these men is adopted (purified indeed from what appear to be its real defects, from all lasting and rational causes of dislike or disgust) because such men hourly communicate with the best objects from which the best part of language is originally derived; and because, from their rank in society and the sameness and narrow circle of their intercourse, being less under the action of social vanity they convey their feelings and notions in simple and unelaborated expressions. Accordingly such a language arising out of repeated experience and regular feelings is a more permanent and a far more philosophical language than that which is frequently substituted for it by Poets, who think that they are conferring honour upon themselves and their art in proportion as they separate themselves from the sympathies of men, and indulge in arbitrary and capricious habits of expression in order to furnish food for fickle tastes and fickle appetites of their own creation. (744)

Poetry thus grounded in the “real language of nature,” emerging from and speaking to the “flesh and blood,” becomes the very body it is trying to reach, achieving in the process a status “more permanent,” more tangible and substantial, more deeply embodied and endued with a sense of body consciousness, than other types of poetry, even other types of language. Still, the twin facts that Wordsworth must “purify” that language and can only hope “to imitate, and, as far as possible, to adopt” it betray most acutely the anxieties that prompt the search for and championing of it in the first place. For regardless of Wordsworth’s faith in such a poetry’s ability not just to represent effectively but effectively to become the “flesh and blood” at the heart of his poetics, the ultimate success of that process remains a crucial question and as evident in Wordsworth’s


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own texts as in subsequent responses to them. In his most impassioned praise for the power of poetry we can also perhaps hear a sense of desperation, that poetry must be able to do what he claims it can, that it constitutes a last resort: Aristotle, I have been told, hath said, that Poetry is the most philosophic of all writing: it is so: its object is truth, not individual and local, but general, and operative; not standing upon external testimony, but carried alive into the heart by passion; truth which is its own testimony, which gives strength and divinity to the tribunal to which it appeals, and receives them from the same tribunal. Poetry is the image of man and nature. The obstacles which stand in the way of the fidelity of the Biographer and Historian, and of their consequent utility, are incalculably greater than those which are to be encountered by the Poet who has an adequate notion of the dignity of his art. The Poet writes under one restriction only, namely, that of the necessity of giving immediate pleasure to a human Being possessed of that information which may be expected from him, not as a lawyer, a physician, a mariner, as astronomer or a natural philosopher, but as a Man. Except this one restriction, there is no object standing between the Poet and the image of things; between this, and the Biographer or Historian there are a thousand. (751–2)

Though Wordsworth may protest too much, we can see that poets, like medical professionals, seek to claim the body as their own and posit a particular kind of authority that enables and legitimates that claim. And as we have already seen, and will see with an equal vehemence if a different focus in Baillie, the perceived need to make such claims at all bespeaks a broader cultural anxiety that literary texts can make manifest for reading audiences contemporary and historical. Baillie’s Operating Theater If Wordsworth thus famously if problematically plans to alleviate (from our perspective perhaps magnify) the frustration that attends efforts to keep a reader in the company of flesh and blood through his appeal to the “natural” or common language of men as it is really used, then Baillie sees language of any kind, common or otherwise, as a significant part of the problem: “in communicating our ideas of the character of others,” she writes, “we are often called upon to support them with more expence of reasoning than we can well afford” (1:4). In short, as she says more than once, words often get in the way. Baillie then proposes that the drama, the stage, is a more appropriate way to keep us in the company of flesh and blood, for “the characters of the drama must speak directly for themselves” (1:23–4). Of course, even the drama (especially gothic melodrama and other spectacular productions that in part prompt both Wordsworth’s and Baillie’s desire to offer an alternative or corrective) is not without its frustrations, and Baillie recognizes that in artificial dramatic “situations of eminence and danger, in which few of us have any chance of being called upon to act” (1:41), we have little chance of recognizing ourselves and seeing man as he really is. “But,” she continues, in opening to us the heart of man under the influence of those passions to which all are liable, this is not the case. Those strong passions that, with small assistance from outward circumstances, work their way in the heart, till they become the tyrannical masters of it,

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carry on a similar operation in the breast of the Monarch, and the man of low degree. It exhibits to us the mind of man in that state when we are most curious to look into it, and is equally interesting to us all. (1:41)

The theater, then, offers the possibility of bodily display—“opening to us the heart of man”—“with small assistance from [the] outward circumstances” of the materiality of the theater space itself, both working together to exhibit the body to audience members “most curious to look” and who also physically share the theater space. In effect, Baillie describes an “operating theater” that depends as much on the physical presence of an audience as it does on the physicality of the actors to effect its operations. In this brief and admittedly interested sketch of the impetus and plan of the “Introductory Discourse,” we can see the degree to which Baillie quite literally, perhaps even more so than does Wordsworth, concerns herself with flesh and blood, with the body. While critics often acknowledge, in the words of Aileen Forbes, that in opposition to what we sometimes call the “mental theater” of Romantic drama, Baillie “deploys rather than suppresses the body” (32), we have yet to pay careful enough critical attention to the notion of body she deploys, or even to the simple fact that Baillie’s dramatic theory, her expressed concern with the bodiliness of the theater space, and later readings that theorize the interrelation between the two are all built on that body. Much recent and important critical work does take her bodily concerns as a starting point, but, perhaps following Baillie’s own lead, the body is displayed or discussed as a means to an end rather than as an end in itself. But, again, the ease with which the body can become the foundation in these terms makes the kind of step back I suggest we take here—that is, here in this discussion of Baillie and more generally, as I have already suggested, in our readings of other key Romantic-era texts—so necessary and generative, and the simplicity of what I want to discuss here perhaps makes discussing it all the more worthwhile. As Baillie says in a later letter to Walter Scott, “I am going to write to you on a subject I really believe you care very little about; nevertheless as you are made of flesh & blood like the rest of us, it must needs be that you have some little curiosity regarding it” (Collected Letters 1:278). For Baillie, as for Wordsworth, and so many other figures of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, our physical selves, our bodies, provide both a site and a subject for further inquiry and exploration. But, as we can anticipate, despite its centrality, the body, even when literally present in the communal space of theater, presents difficulties and fosters anxieties that at once enable and virtually cripple those who rely on that centrality. I want to attend here to Baillie’s treatment of bodies in the “Introductory Discourse” in three broad and overlapping directions: how she talks about the bodies of her characters as manifested in the bodies of the actors, about the relation of these to the bodies of audience members, and about the collective body, perhaps body politic, incarnated in the communal space of the theater. Rather than read Baillie’s efforts to delineate the stronger passions of the mind in that particular communal space as a kind of psycho-social investigation, or series of disciplinary gestures, or


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effort to stage the state, as much recent and important scholarship has done,9 I seek here to examine how Baillie proposes to embody that investigation and manifest its lessons. As I have already suggested, and despite my use of the phrase “operating theater,” I resist the temptation to read Baillie’s treatment of bodies explicitly through or in conjunction with medical writings, including those of her brother Matthew Baillie, physician to the King and author of the important The Morbid Anatomy of Some of the Most Important Parts of the Human Body (1793). I do, however, agree with Peter Duthie’s assessment that “[g]rowing up around medical luminaries [. . .] must surely have inspired Baillie to examine the intricate living and thinking processes of the world” (20), and I often see in Baillie’s project as outlined in the “Introductory Discourses” something akin to a living, even vivisection-like version of her brother’s attempt to “become acquainted with the changes produced in the structure of parts from diseased actions [. . .] to make some progress towards a knowledge of the actions themselves” (M. Baillie 67).10 However, my goal here is less to see what Baillie does with her theater bodies than to acknowledge and attend to the facts of their presence, and my phrase “operating theater,” in addition to picking up on language Baillie herself uses in the passage I cite above (her claim that in the theater we see “opening to us the heart of man”), serves to foreground the body Baillie articulates as displayed and displaying, as viewed and viewing, in the physical space of the theater. By attending to the language of Baillie’s insistence that her plays be staged, to her discussion of the relation between spectator and spectacle, and to her treatment of the physical space in which that relation is meant to occur, that articulation becomes most vivid. I begin, then, with Baillie’s much repeated, and much discussed, insistence that her plays are meant for the stage and not the closet, perhaps more accurately that they are meant to be performed and viewed rather then simply read, since so much recent work (on Baillie and others) has usefully interrogated the stage-closet distinction.11 At the heart of Baillie’s insistence is the emphasis on stage over page, on the problematics of display, such a commonplace in the “Introductory Discourse,” the letters, and critical response that it is often glossed over. Here’s part of one of the most frequently cited passages in Baillie’s text: “Our desire to know what men are in the closet as well as the field, by the blazing hearth, and at the social board, as well as in the council and the throne, is very imperfectly gratified by real history; romance writers, therefore, stepped boldly forth to supply the deficiency; and tale writers, and novel writers, of many descriptions, followed after” (1:18). But however great the 9 For treatments of Baillie’s theory not otherwise mentioned in this chapter, and readings of that theory in practice in various plays, see Dowd; Friedman-Romell; Gamer; and the essays in Crochunis. 10 For the most sustained treatments of Baillie’s work, especially the “Introductory Discourse,” in relation to medicine and the work of Baillie’s brother, see Dwyer; Burwick, “Joanna”; and A. Richardson, “Neural.” For readings of individual plays in this context, see Purinton and Gilbert. 11 Burroughs’s Closet Stages is the best and most comprehensive treatment of Baillie in these and so many other terms; Burroughs’s discussion of Baillie’s treatment of “the private sphere [as] inherently theatrical” (12), and how such an idea can be fruitfully deployed by the playwrights and critics who follow, is especially important here.

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supply offered by such imaginative works, as opposed to “real” works of history, they, too, can appeal only to the resources of words, “those great betrayers of the feigned and adopted” (1:23). Contrary to Wordsworth’s faith in the existence of and poetry’s ability at the very least to mimic a “real language of nature,” Baillie argues instead that “No richness of invention, harmony of language, nor grandeur of sentiment will supply the place of faithfully delineated nature” (1: 23). Invention, language, and sentiment are surely to be found on the stage and continue to form an integral part of Baillie’s theory of the drama; Peter Duthie, for example, usefully points out that although “Baillie’s sensibilities lay with the poetic word [that she emphasized the use of soliloquy over pantomime and other such melodramatic spectacles], yet she wrote for a diversion-seeking audience that was powerfully drawn to the image” (42). That “image,” the sensual element Baillie most emphasizes is the material body—to this point the actors who embody the characters who “must speak [. .] for themselves”: “Under the influence of every passion, humour, and impression; in the artificial veilings of hypocrisy and ceremony, in the openness of freedom and confidence, and in the lonely hour of meditation, they speak” (1: 23–4). In novels, tales, and other works of romance (and, perhaps, in the Wordsworthian lyrical ballad) Baillie tells us, however language is used, employing whatever “richness of invention,” the emphasis must be on the words, but in dramatic works performed on the stage in front of an audience the emphasis is on the act of speaking itself, whatever is being spoken. Even when Baillie talks at length about what is being spoken, about the exhibition of the passions, her emphasis is on physical manifestation, on the how of manifesting rather than the what: “The Drama improves us by the knowledge we acquire of our own minds, from the natural desire we have to look into the thoughts, and observe the behaviour of others. Tragedy brings to our view men placed in those elevated situations, exposed to those great trials, and engaged in those extraordinary transactions, in which few of us are called upon to act” (1:36). At issue here are the acts of looking, observing, exposing, and ultimately displaying, in effect the simple fact that there is something to see and someone to see it. And as these passages frequently indicate, Baillie is keenly aware of what she often calls an audience’s “natural desire” to look, to attend to what is displayed, and here again she draws attention to what she sees as the limitations of the page. When we encounter heroes, for example, who usually enjoy (if that can be the correct term in this context) the most words, about him in a text and from him on stage, the problem emerges: “Let us,” Baillie proposes, “in good earnest believe that a man is capable of achieving all that human courage can achieve, and we will suffer him to talk of impossibilities. Amidst all their pomp of words [. .] our admiration of such heroes is readily excited, [. . .] but how stands our sympathy affected?” (1:33n). Sympathy, of course, and as I discussed in the previous chapter, is a loaded term for writers of this period, one that invokes a variety of discourses from medicine to moral philosophy to the literature of sensibility, and numerous critics have worked to unpack Baillie’s frequent use of this term. Aileen Forbes, in particular, details Baillie’s development of “sympathetic curiosity,” illustrating how Baillie unfolds a complex theory of the interrelation between theater and sympathy: “Involuntary expressive behaviour, the unmediated expression of emotion, produces a public curiosity that for Baillie manifests the


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genesis of drama” (38). Particularly in the “unmediated” sense, when “involuntary” passion emerges to create a spectacle, we see the foregrounding of both the body doing the expressing and a body indulging its curiosity. Baillie’s most poignant example of how sympathetic curiosity works is in her discussion of stage treatments of war: Neither the descriptions of war, the sound of the trumpet, the clanging of arms, the combat of heroes, nor the death of the mighty, will interest our minds like the fall of the feeble stranger, who simply expresses the anguish of his soul, at the thoughts of that far-distant home which he must never return to again, and closes his eyes, amongst the ignoble and forgotten [. .] How often will some simple picture of this kind be all that remains upon our minds of the terrifick and magnificent battle, whose descriptions we have read with admiration! (1: 21)

The display of the body of that one feeble stranger with his eyes closed is, for Baillie, why stage trumps page every time, for such a display only works if it is visible, if it is manifested as more than “descriptions.” Again, near the end of the text, Baillie restates her preference for performance over text, but the terms have subtly shifted: “To have received approbation from an audience of my countrymen, would have been more pleasing to me than any other praise. A few tears from the simple and young would have been, in my eyes, pearls of great price [. .] I should, therefore, have been better pleased to have introduced [the plays] to the world from the stage than from the press” (1: 65). The emphasis on performance draws attention not just to an interaction between actor and audience but to the physical presence of the audience, for the bodily display Baillie foregrounds to effect her delineation of the passions depends on that display being viewed, not simply imagined. In effect, in the theater space, the bodies of actors and audience members, themselves “spaces” within the theater, are both anatomized and anatomizing in that the activities on the stage, the bodily work of the actors, elicit bodily responses from the audience. Clearly, though, the kinds of display effected on stage do not necessarily elicit similar displays in spectators: “In examining others we know ourselves. With limbs untorn, with head unsmitten, with senses unimpaired by despair, we know what we ourselves might have been on the rack, on the scaffold, and in the most afflicting circumstances of distress” (1:11–12). Simple cringing or eye-widening, apparently, thankfully, is enough of an audience response. But, whether echoing or foreshadowing the complaints of Wordsworth and others who express distaste for increasingly fantastic stage spectacle, Baillie suggests that a body-conscious drama, one that works to foreground both the bodies of the actors and those of audience members, need not rely on excessive spectacle, and audience response can be as simple as rapt attention: “It is not merely under the violent agitations of passion, that man so rouses and interests us; even the smallest indications of an unquiet mind, the restless eye, the muttering lip, the half-checked exclamation, and the hasty start, will set our attention as anxiously upon the watch, as the first distant flashes of a gathering storm” (1:10). Bodily display, even of the slightest and least spectacular kind, simultaneously depends on and elicits bodily responses from the audience. It is frequently on these terms that critics begin their examinations of the “whys” of Baillie’s body consciousness, on the interrelation of actors and audience members,

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for, as Baillie maintains, “The theater is a school in which much good or evil may be learned” (1:57). The stress here is on the theater, the physical space in which these lessons may be learned, and though much recent work rightly and brilliantly treats the lessons, my concern is that we attend to Baillie’s insistence on this space and the bodies it houses. It comes as no surprise, then, that Baillie pays a great deal of attention to the theater itself, to the physical space in which her various operations are to take place, particularly in the introductory notes to succeeding volumes of her series of plays. Recent scholars have begun to attend with increasing interest to Baillie’s notes on the theater space; Beth H. Friedman-Romell, for example, urges more “sustained analysis of actual performances” (153), and such analysis requires, I would argue, a concern with the physical space of the theater as much as it requires a greater awareness of “the importance managerial control and state censorship played in [. .] productions” (153).12 Among the features Baillie discusses, particularly in a brief note “To the Reader” at the start of the third volume of the Plays on the Passions, are improvements in the mechanics of lighting, procedures for blocking, and changes to the size and seating capacities of theaters: according to Baillie, stages had become too big, decreasing the intimacy of the theater experience. In almost every case, we see that Baillie’s concerns with the physical space of the theater, while also proposing ways, in Duthie’s words, “to improve the illusion of the theater” (42), are also designed to foreground the body in the theater space, to make it more visible. Even in the largest theater, Baillie tells us, where few [. .] can get near enough to distinguish the expression of face, or the minuter parts of a criminal’s behaviour, yet from a considerable distance will they eagerly mark whether he steps firmly; whether the motions of his body denote agitation or calmness; and if the wind does but ruffle his garment, they will, even from that change upon the outline of his distant figure, read some expression connected with his dreadful situation. (1: 5–6)

A concern with audience members’ proximity to the stage is yet another example of Baillie’s pervasive body consciousness: the firm steps and bodily motions of the actors are not the only building blocks of the spectacle, but the audience’s ability to witness those steps and motions are equally important in establishing and making fully functional Baillie’s operating theater. And thus we circle back to Baillie’s insistence that her plays be played. “My great desire,” she wrote to Walter Scott, is that my plays should become common acting plays. I know well that when pieces are publish”d without being acted, it is supposed they are only fit for the closet. I therefore wish that the remainder of my works should remain in manuscript to be brought out upon the stage after my death, when other Managers, the circumstances of the stage, and the disposition of the public towards me shall be more favourable. (Collected Letters 1:277)

As Ellen Donkin, in particular, has shown, Baillie experienced various difficulties putting theory into practice, as reviewers, theater owners, actors, even perhaps her 12 See also Cox, “Staging.”


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own frustrations often got in the way of the move from page to stage. Thus, reading the texts of the plays for evidence of how exactly Baillie planned to put the principles of the “Introductory Discourse” into practice is perhaps not as helpful as it might be. And we are left with the fact that of the twenty-seven plays she wrote only seven were staged during her lifetime, and only one, De Monfort, enjoyed any kind of success by the usual measures. We may, of course, need to take her insistence as perhaps protesting just a little too much, as a reaction against the economic and power structures of the theater business as much as a theoretical position, since it seems that Baillie’s materialist theory of the drama came in frequent conflict with the material conditions of the theater. Furthermore, we should bear in mind her suggestion to William Sotheby that she, “had gone on for a long time publishing under the rebuke of the Edinr Reviewer and when I had publish’d last, at the time I announced my intention of publishing no more, I believed that he would for the future [. .] be less rather than more severe” (Collected Letters 1:197). Text, apparently, offers the possibility of a kind of criticism for which Baillie was unprepared or refused to help facilitate. But they were published, over several years, and in three volumes. Our hesitation to accept her insistence at face value, perhaps to read her desire for the stage uncritically, is further provoked in what sometimes seem to be humorous asides on the nature of fame: she says, for example, to Walter Scott that “Popularity has become a drug with you; and I wish you could transfer all that you have over & above what pleases you to a certain friend of yours, who loves it with all her heart. I never was better pleased than upon hearing that De Monfort was acted at a county fair, in a great waggon along side of the wild beasts” (Collected Letters 1:275). The potential for immediate, even passionate, reaction to a performance, the possibility of an operating theater, surely play at least some part in feeding Baillie’s desire for the stage. But, in the end, whatever we may see as the motivation for insisting so frequently and so vehemently that her plays be played, the insistence itself demands careful attention. Forbes argues that “what the playwright finally offers in the Introductory Discourse is a theory of the human emotions,” that in Baillie we encounter a “protopsychoanalytic theater,” emphasizing “the peculiar and outward manifestations of inner dis-ease” (33). An appreciation of not just the peculiarity but also perhaps the too-familiar to be readily seen ubiquity of the outward manifestations, of the body, in Baillie’s “Introductory Discourse”—and, by extension, the community of playwrights and theater-goers she influenced and scholars she provoked—will help to ensure that we can see the full scope and impact of her treatment of the passions. And, ultimately, greater attention to the bodiliness, to the body consciousness, to the pervasive if often anxious concern with the physical self and the material world it inhabits so prevalent in Romantic-era writing, dramatic or otherwise, offers the possibility of greater understandings of that self and its world, and can even further nuance our historical and critical treatments of them.

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Romantic(izing) Bodies Thinking about and through the body thus offers both Wordsworth and Baillie a foundation for their respective and deeply influential theories, even as the body seems repeatedly to hinder efforts to put those theories into practice. But for all of these concomitant difficulties, the simple fact of the not-so-simple presence of at least a concern for bodies has engendered and productively complicated more than two centuries of critical work and aesthetic influence. That both of these texts serve prefatory functions, revealing and exhorting a preparation to discuss their particular versions of body consciousness and working to provide the terms of that discussion before it takes place, suggests, at once, the anxieties and the possibilities that contribute to and emerge from the discussion itself. Just as the emergence and rapid if sometimes difficult rise of a scientific medicine shaped and continues to shape our own sense of our relation to our bodies, the emergence and equally rapid and difficult rise of what we might see as a reactionary poetics also played a significant role in that process. In reading key moments in the medical and poetic narratives of the body, in recognizing the means and ends of such narratives, and in seeing how such narratives already interpenetrate and interact—say, in Cooper’s insistence on extensive and broad reading, and in Wordsworth’s and Baillie’s use of medically inflected language—we can begin to see the relevance of more sustained attention to the process and set of concerns as they initially took shape in the forms we would recognize today. What happens, though, when we attend to the treatment of these and related concerns in texts by figures who inhabit the space where poetry and medicine overlap, at the time when those concerns were taking shape in their contemporary forms? And, even further, what happens when we begin with the assumption that these figures are often as invested in the ways of means of medicine’s rhetoric of legitimacy as they are in poetry’s claims to a similar if competing kind of legitimacy? To be sure, we can see the degree of interpenetration in these texts by Baillie and Wordsworth, both of whom reveal particular commitments to notions of embodiment that we can read as invoking, if perhaps in an abstract and not entirely self-conscious way, the ideas and even the very language of medicine in their poetic statements and treatments of a body consciousness. Moreover, as I have tried to stress throughout this chapter, in recognizing the influence of these important texts from their day to our own, we can begin to see just how pervasive and various were the concerns that accompanied such competitions for the body and, of course, the concerns and anxieties that prompted such competitions in the first place. But, as I turn to the second section of this study, and engage with three figures with expressed and formal connections to both medicine and poetry, both the anxieties and competitions are thrown into even sharper relief. For even as Thelwall, Keats, and Beddoes effectively employ and champion an even more intense body consciousness than either Wordsworth or Baillie, they often betray an even greater sense of frustration in their efforts to verbalize and enact it, a frustration made most manifest for them, and most visible for us, at those points where medicine and poetry intersect most clearly.

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II Embodying Romanticism(s) No less, I trust, To them I may have owed another gift, Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood In which the burden of the mystery, In which the heavy and the weary weight Of all this unintelligible world Is lightened—that serene and blessed mood In which the affections gently lead us on Until the breath of this corporeal frame And even the motion of our human blood Almost suspended, we are laid asleep In body, and become a living soul, While with an eye made quiet by the power Of harmony and the deep power of joy, We see into the life of things. (Wordsworth, “Tintern Abbey” 36–50)

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Chapter 3

“Great Vital Organs” Thelwall’s The Peripatetic, Radical Materialism, and the Body Politic

What is the state of your body? (Coleridge, Collected 1: 254)

Until recently, John Thelwall was at best a marginal figure in studies of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, but this marginality was the result of a peculiar paradox. On one hand, as one turn-of-the-twentieth-century historian observed, “History has ignored him, or has lost the memory of his name” (Cestre 13), while, on the other, as one of Thelwall’s contemporaries noted, his “history is known to all who care to inform themselves of the personal occurrences of this eventful period” (Robinson 1:37). A few historians have recognized the scope and scale of Thelwall’s activity and influence and have discussed his work as one of the most vocal proponents of parliamentary reform, universal manhood suffrage, freedom of assembly, and the rights of the working classes in the 1790s, and literary critics have often treated him as a marginal figure closely associated with Wordsworth and Coleridge. More recently, however, both literary and historical scholars have begun to pay greater attention to Thelwall and his voluminous writings, thanks largely to E.P. Thompson, who treats Thelwall almost as a protagonist in The Making of the English Working Class.1 Of increasing interest for all have been Thelwall’s relationships with contemporary medical circles, his contributions to medical theory, and, most importantly, his conscious theorizing of an interpenetration between medicine, poetry, and politics. When Thelwall wrote The Natural and Constitutional Right of Britons to Annual Parliaments, Universal Suffrage, and the Freedom of Popular Association (1795; hereafter, The Right of Britons), the text of the defence he had intended to speak at his 1794 trial for treason, he included this warning: “Yes, Gentlemen, you, the Jurors of Britain, are the soul—the vital spirit of what yet remains of British Liberty. And should you (overawed by power, or misled by prejudice) be rendered instrumental to this encroaching system of terror and oppression it were indeed a suicide of the

1 For historical studies of Thelwall and or studies of the 1790s that deal with Thelwall, see Cestre; Sprague; E.P. Thompson, Making, “Disenchantment,” and “Hunting”; and Hampsher-Monk. For literary studies, see Eagleston; Roe, “Coleridge,” “Who,” and Wordsworth; McCann, “Politico-Sentimentality”; Scrivener, “John Thelwall and the Press,” “John Thelwall’s Political,” “Rhetoric,” and Seditious; and J. Thompson, “Autumnal,” “Voice,” and Peripatetic.


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worst description” (19).2 The Right of Britons offers a rhetorically brilliant defence in the accepted terms of 1790s legal discourse, terms with which Thelwall became familiar during his time as an apprentice law clerk.3 Thelwall’s mastery of legal discourse points to his use of contemporary medical theory to construct a rhetoric of political legitimacy within the text, one which centers on debates concerning the “vital principle.” These debates, as I have already discussed, were waged throughout the latter half of the eighteenth century, and Thelwall participated in them as a medical student in the early 1790s and in An Essay Towards a Definition of Animal Vitality, the text of a lecture he gave at the end of his tenure as a student. By invoking “the vital spirit” in his defence, Thelwall alludes to Animal Vitality and links his engagements with both medicine and reform, providing a medical explanation of his “treason” that often supersedes the legal. Furthermore, by constructing the nation as a body on the verge of suicide and identifying himself as one able to prevent that suicide (or, more specifically, as one able to tell others how to prevent that suicide), Thelwall suggests that his continued freedom and efforts for reform are vital to the nation’s survival. Of course, such constructions appear frequently in the political writings of the 1790s, particularly those that respond explicitly to the French Revolution.4 Edmund Burke, for example, characterizes revolution as an unnecessary incursion into the organic body politic: “If it be a panacea, we do not want it. We know the consequences of unnecessary physic. If it be a plague; it is such a plague, that the precautions of the most severe quarantine ought to be established against it” (Reflections 140). Mary Wollstonecraft offers a third medical metaphor: “Thus had France grown up, and sickened on the corruption of a state diseased. But, as in medicine there is a species of complaint in the bowels which works its own cure, and, leaving the body healthy, gives an invigorated tone to the system, so there is in politics” (235). Burke and Wollstonecraft both deploy medical terminology in their treatments of the Revolution, but where they differ most in terms of their use of the “body politic” metaphor is in their treatment of what Michael Scrivener calls the figure of “political physician” (“John Thelwall and the Press” 123): Burke demands active intervention—either an explicit refusal or a strict quarantine, both of which require activity on the part of the British government and people—to preserve the health of the body politic, while Wollstonecraft emphasizes its self-regulating potential.5 Somewhere between these two extremes is Thelwall, whose direct involvement 2 I refer to this text as The Right of Britons in the body of my text and as Natural in parenthetical citations. On the arrest and trial of the reformists, see J. Thelwall, Poems Chiefly xxvii–xxx; C. Thelwall 112–42; Collins 122–5; Thale xvii–xviii; Roe, Wordsworth 187–90; Claeys xxi–xxiv; and Barrell 119–142. 3 On Thelwall’s work as a law clerk, see J. Thelwall, Poems Chiefly xv–xviii; C. Thelwall 21–8; and Claeys xiv–xv. 4 The strategic use of the “body politic” and related metaphors has a long tradition in British literature and politics; on different aspects of the backgrounds and contexts of these figures, I have found Hale, Harris, and Scholz useful. For studies that focus on the 1790s, see Bruhm 94–119 and de Baecque. 5 On Burke’s use of the “body politic” metaphor, see Love; on Wollstonecraft’s, see Poston.

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with contemporary medicine has an immediate relevance to his political writings both in terms of how he deploys these familiar metaphors and how he reads others’ use of them. Moreover, the invocation of “the vital spirit” in The Right of Britons marks the beginning of a matrix of metaphors combining medicine and politics that Thelwall would further develop in his lectures published as The Tribune, in his most famous and influential political work The Rights of Nature, Against the Usurpation of Establishments (1796; hereafter, The Rights of Nature), and especially in The Peripatetic,6 which can be read as his most extensive engagement with the selfconscious interpenetration of poetry, medicine, and politics. In this chapter, then, I examine Thelwall in the context of his involvement with contemporary medical circles, paying particular attention to his own small but important contribution to medical literature, before moving on to an examination of some of his political writings through the lens of his work in medical theory, and, finally, a detailed examination of the insistent body consciousness—made manifest in extended discussions of sensibility in terms both medical and political—in The Peripatetic. The Peripatetic, even more so than the political writings, manifests the double hybrid of the medical body in the poetic text and the interpenetration between poetry and medicine. In the text’s protagonist Sylvanus Theophrastus we encounter the embodiment of the Peripatetic Philosopher, Thelwall’s rendering of the body conscious Poet-Physician. What we see most clearly in the Peripatetic Philosopher is a figure at once standing as a synecdoche for the body politic (the fortunes and misfortunes of Sylvanus’s body incarnate those of the nation’s body) but also a figure claiming to stand as the most effective healer of the body politic. Thelwall would adopt a similar stance for himself in the political texts, but the pressing concerns that necessitated many of those writings, particularly the need to defend himself against treason charges, in some ways precluded extensive self-reflection on the problems and promises of such a position. But by reading The Peripatetic as the poetic manifestation of that position, that is, in the light of his explicit interweaving of medicine and politics, we can perhaps most clearly see the body consciousness of Thelwall’s reformist efforts and concerns. In his discussion of the health of the nation, Foucault observes that “the first task of the doctor is [. . .] political: the struggle against disease must begin with a war against bad government. Man will be totally and definitively cured only if he is first liberated” (Birth 33). Thelwall agrees, but he also suggests, I argue, that the struggle against bad government must begin with a war against disease, and that man will be liberated only if he is cured. Radical Materialism The details of Thelwall’s engagements with contemporary medicine have been well-documented.7 A relentless self-educator, and living in “the neighbourhood of Guy’s and St. Thomas Hospitals” (J. Thelwall, Poems Chiefly xx), Thelwall attended 6 All references to The Peripatetic are to Judith Thompson’s critical edition. 7 For contemporary accounts of Thelwall’s tenure at Guy’s, see J. Thelwall, Poems Chiefly xx–xxiii; C. Thelwall 79–106; and B. Cooper 1:236–52. For later accounts, see Claeys xvi–xvii and Roe, John 175–81 and “Atmospheric” 185–202.

Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body


lectures in anatomy and physiology at The Guy’s School from 1791 to 1793, though he never intended to enter any of the medical professions, claiming that he “attended to the science only as a matter of entertaining curiosity” (Animal Vitality 1). By 1793, he had already earned a reputation as an orator and reformist, and this reputation together with his success and popularity at Guy’s led to an invitation from the Physical Society to give a lecture at one of their monthly meetings.8 On 26 January 1793, Thelwall offered Animal Vitality in which he sought to challenge the vitality theory offered by John Hunter, then recognized as virtually the patron saint of Guy’s. Later in 1793 he published the lecture, dedicated to Cline, and included in a footnote—in which he (perhaps justifiably) boasts that “The Essay was discussed for six successive nights to a theatre particularly thronged” (iv)—a letter from the Physical Society’s Secretary George Johnson co-signed by its President J. Haighton: SIR, I AM desired, by the Members of the PHYSICAL SOCIETY, to return you their most sincere Thanks for your excellent and very valuable Essay, towards a Definition of Animal Vitality, the Abilities you displayed during the discussion, and the instruction which this institution has received from your Assistance in the debates. (Animal Vitality iv)

While his involvement with medical circles is somewhat more peripheral than that of either Keats or Beddoes, Thelwall is the only one of the group who produced a specifically “medical text,” a text written to be presented to a medical institution for members of medical professions. In this section, I read the Animal Vitality essay first as a medical text, as evidence of Thelwall’s engagements with and contributions to medical theory. In particular, I want to show how his involvement in the “vital principle” debate relied on a very specific notion of embodiment, one that was clearly paralleled to his ideas as a reformist. Therefore, I also begin to explore the connections between Thelwall’s medicine and his politics, connections I will elucidate more fully in the following section. Thelwall begins Animal Vitality by proposing to “bow with respect to superior judgements” while at the same time claiming “the prerogative of exercising [his] own” (9). He acknowledges the immensity of his goal: “Egypt, Greece and Rome are, it is true, against me:—the ancients and the moderns—Aristotle and Plato, Plutarch, Moses, and John Hunter; and yet against this host of giants I presume to lift my pigmy lance, and brave the unequal combat” (9). The bulk of the essay is a detailed interrogation of the terms and arguments of these authorities and of the idea of authority itself. In thus constructing his essay as a series of refutations of past authorities rather than as a theory based on direct observation and study of the body, Thelwall establishes the body and, by extension, life as textual phenomena. He notes that the nature of the study of anatomy and physiology often requires practitioners to “wander in the realm of conjecture” and that “Analogy [. . .] is often called upon to supply the place of Demonstration” (4). Anatomical and physiological “knowledge” 8 Thelwall notes in his letter of dedication that he was personally invited by Cline, Cooper, and the President of the Physical Society J. Haighton.

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therefore, is the result of the best analogy, the best argument, rather than the best physical evidence. Thelwall is aware that the present audience may not excuse him “from the execution of a task to which the nature of [his] pursuits must necessarily render [him] so inadequate” (1) and that his “Theory will no doubt be found, in many respects, defective, from the want of more general information in the sciences of Anatomy and Physiology” (2). But he reminds his audience that “reason is the greatest authority of all” and he admonishes them that “when systems clash, and demonstrations are not to be had, we ought not to consider who is the author of this, or who of that opinion, but which it is that involves the fewest absurdities, or is best supported by analogy, and the correspondence of the general laws of Nature” (4). Thelwall, therefore, promises to base his argument solely on the carefully reasoned refutation of texts and theories, a task made easy for him by the Physical Society’s expectation of his oratorical genius, the fulfilment of which is made evident in their praise for “the Abilities [he] displayed” during the lecture. As Thelwall begins, he notes that at the core of most ancient theories of vitality are two ideas: first, that man is divided into three parts—body, mind, and soul—the roots of which he traces back to the Egyptians (11–12); and, second, that life is linked to the blood, an idea he traces back to “the ages of barbarism and violence” when “the fatal consequences that result to the animal frame, from the spilling of this important fluid, must have been frequently observed” (13). The first, while it “has certainly beauty and ingenuity to recommend it to our imaginations” is “unfounded in experimental enquiry, and unsupported by facts or observations” (11), and, as such, could be easily disproved by anyone who took the time, were it not for the fact that “St. Paul, (who derived much of his inspiration from the ancient poets and philosophers) has given it the sanction of his authority” (11). The authority of Christianity has ruled science, and theories have been designed to fit the “facts” of Christian doctrine instead of derived from careful reasoning and observation; this, in Thelwall’s formulation, is not scientific theory but superstition, consolidated into dogma and perpetuated out of fear and ignorance. Calling the authority of religion into question, as we have seen, was part of medicine’s rhetoric of legitimacy, and Thelwall’s efforts to argue against that authority here constitute one of the clearest expressions of that aspect of the process that we will see. Moreover, Thelwall repeatedly returns to the authority of ancient institutions, particularly the Catholic Church, a move that has obvious roots in his position on the French Revolution. As Seamus Deane has shown, British critics of the Revolution often regarded it as a direct attack on Christianity in general and the French Catholic Church in particular, thus associating Catholicism with Conservatism, while supporters of the Revolution regarded the Church as an institution itself in need of renovation.9 Invoking St. Paul as a personification of Catholicism in this particular case, though, suggests that contemporary theories of life or the “vital principle” are the products of centuries of dogmatic thinking perpetuated and dominated by tyrannical institutions and

9 Deane writes, “English opposition to the French Revolution [. . .] was marked by the view that the Revolution was a crusade against Christianity itself and that the émigrés, especially the clergy, were the direct victims of it” (23).


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

authorities, not the result of systematic scientific enquiry or, more crucially, carefully reasoned argument. This institutional authority is most evident in the Galenic theory that posits the blood as the locus of life, and the problem of authority is illustrated most clearly in that this theory, which Thelwall refers to as a “doctrine,” would have long been abandoned had it not received the direct sanction of the great Jewish Law-giver (or whoever was the author of the Five Books of Sacred History generally ascribed to him) in the following, among a variety of tests of a similar nature—“For it is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is the life thereof: therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat of the blood of no manner of flesh: for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof; whosoever eateth it shall be cut off”10 (13–14).

To counter that authority, or at least draw attention to the need for reassessment, Thelwall suggests that despite the “poetic hyperbole“ caused by “divine inspiration” this passage is “merely illustrative of the simple mandate, that the Jews should not eat of the blood of animals,” and only the over-zealousness of Moses’s desire for “mystical allegory, and metaphorical elucidation” led to his “opinion [. . .] that the blood is absolutely the Vital Principle” (14–15). In other words, “the blood of life” may be inspired poetry, but it is not science, and medical science, according to Thelwall, particularly as practiced by Hunter and his followers, has unquestioningly adopted this theory. As Thelwall moves from “the cursory observation of the Jewish Law-giver [to] the more elaborate and practical researches of the British Anatomical Philosopher” he laments that “so great an authority as John Hunter” continues to preach at least a version of this mystical and out-moded theory (17). However, Thelwall does not dismiss the entirety of Hunter’s theory. He notes that some aspects of it, especially the notion of specific organization, are to remain not only unchallenged but actively defended. However, he is “now examining the doctrine only of the Vitality of the Blood” for Hunter argues from the simple assertion that “the blood is endowed with a principle of life, in itself, equally with the solid parts” and that “Blood is not only alive itself, but also, by circulation through every part of the body, becomes the means of, and carries Life to, the other parts” (18–20).11 Thelwall agrees that blood “is the agent by which the vitality is 10 For the Biblical source of this quotation, see Lev. 17.14. 11 Hunter frequently argued variations on this claim; see especially J. Hunter (3: 103– 40). However, while Thelwall was obviously familiar with the theories of Hunter, he makes a confession in the dedication to Animal Vitality: It is an act of justice done to the celebrated Lecturer on Comparative Anatomy, to confess, that I never was personally at his Lectures; and that, except in the instance where I have mentioned the authority of the Encyc. Brit. my quotations are taken from the manuscript copy belonging to a very ingenious pupil, who, a few years ago, was a constant and diligent attendant. (iii) As I have been unable to discern the identity of the “very ingenious pupil” and, thus, the MS source of Thelwall’s quotations, I quote Thelwall’s own quotations of Hunter.

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communicated to the respective parts” and “that the blood [. . .] is the appropriate medium, by which alone the stimuli necessary for the production and sustainment of Life can be absorbed and properly diffused through the organized frame” (20). The idea of “the organized frame,” as we will see, would become a central tenet of Thelwall’s theory, but there the similarity ends: he cannot agree with the claim that the blood is alive, and neither, he continues, can Hunter agree with his own claim, “for he acknowledges, that ‘Before blood is capable of giving life,’” (in other words, according to his own theory, before it is alive), ‘“it must have circulated through the lungs, where it undergoes some essential change[’]” (20–21). In this claim, Thelwall observes the same kind of dogmatic thinking he observed in the ancients: “It is obvious to remark, that if the blood is not in its state of ‘vivification’ till it has passed through the lungs, Vitality cannot be the property of the blood itself, but only a consequence of some action, or superaddition, acquired in its passage through that organ” (21). While Thelwall concedes that “the Lecturer does not go the whole length with Moses, [. . .] saying that the blood of the animal is the life thereof” (23), he attacks Hunter’s assertion that life is superadded to matter and not inherent in matter itself. More importantly, though, rather than challenging Hunter on purely medical grounds, Thelwall attacks his logic and rhetoric. After working his way through these points, Thelwall identifies Hunter’s ultimate definition of life: “Life,” says he, “does not consist in any modification of matter: it either is something superadded to matter, or else it consists in a peculiar arrangement of certain fine particles of matter, which, being thus disposed, acquire the properties of Life” (34). To Thelwall, who seeks to make an argument based on the “simple principles of materialism” (13), a “peculiar arrangement of certain fine particles of matter” that is not a “modification” is “completely incomprehensible” not just in theory but even as an argument.12 But Thelwall’s main contention is with Hunter’s first point, that life may be something superadded to matter: what is this something that is not matter?—Is it Spirit? I certainly do not think it the part of the philosopher absolutely to deny the existence of every thing that he cannot demonstrate; but, as contradictions are not admitted, I must, for my own part, maintain, that if there is any such thing entering into the animal composition (though our senses have never yet been capable of taking cognizance of it) as Spirit, however subtile, however refined, must still be material: and then, indeed, the absurdity vanishes—because that more subtile matter can act upon that which is more gross and inert, we have sufficient evidence in the action of air, and of the electrical fluid. (35–6)

Any mention of spirit, soul, or “vital principle,” Thelwall concludes, is a reference to this decidedly material electrical fluid. Stated simply, “this something superadded to matter, can only be a more refined species of matter added to that which is more gross” (37). The stroke of genius, however, is not in the theory itself (for there were 12 Thelwall writes, “What is the fineness of these particles of matter, but a modification of matter?—What is the peculiar arrangement—what the disposition of these particles, but a modification of matter? In short, is not this telling us, in other words, that Life positively is not a modification of matter, but that yet, perhaps, it is a modification of matter?” (34).


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

others, as Philip F. Rehbock shows, making similar materialist arguments) but in the way Thelwall makes his case. He does not have to “prove” his own theory on medical grounds; he has already had it granted to him that anatomists may argue by analogy and therefore has only to identify flaws in Hunter’s argument or terminology and demonstrate their rhetorical gaps. Thelwall concludes with his own definition of life, one that relies heavily on the assertion that the body must have achieved a state of organization and harmony, and one that relies just as heavily on the Physical Society’s willingness to concede his rhetorical skill: Life then, in the animal, we will say is that state of action, by which the functions, or any of the functions of the animal, are carried on. This definition, it is true, neither points out how the action is supposed to be induced, nor the state of the animal previous to the induction: I proceed, therefore, to add, that, previous to the existence of life, the body must have attained a SPECIFIC ORGANIZATION; and that Life, or, in other terms, the Vital Action, is induced by the application of proper stimuli: thus, then, life in the animal is that state of action (induced by specific stimuli upon matter specifically organized), by which the animal functions, or any of them, are carried on. (38)

Here we see Thelwall employing all of the rhetorical tools at his disposal, phrasing, re-phrasing, hedging, and honing his argument to a simple but elegant conclusion that is at once obvious and subtle, simple and complex. The concepts most crucial to Thelwall’s theory—specific organization, specific stimuli, and action—are, as we will see, flexible, portable, and, most importantly, enormously difficult to argue against, perhaps because they are so highly generalized. For these reasons, more than because they illustrate some important “truth” about life and vitality, these ideas would soon become the core ideas of Thelwall’s political writings as well. Physician to the Body Politic Nicholas Roe argues that Thelwall’s foray into anatomy and physiology served as “a coherent philosophical justification of [his] political agenda as a reformist” an argument based on Thelwall’s invocation of an “electrical fluid”: The recent discovery of electricity afforded sure evidence that knowledge was progressive: the “researches of the philosopher” were apparently uncovering the material “principles” of life itself. On these grounds Thelwall, like his friend William Godwin, could argue that human beings were perfectible, and that the manifold improvements promised by scientific advances and political revolutions meant that a secular millennium was at hand.13 (John 178–9) 13 Godwin discusses the notion of perfectibility at length in Enquiry Concerning Political Justice: By perfectible, it is not meant that he is capable of being brought to perfection. But the word seems sufficiently adapted to express the faculty of being continually made better and receiving perpetual improvement; and in this sense it is here to be understood. The term perfectible, thus explained, not only does not imply the capacity of being brought to perfection, but stands in express opposition to it. If we could arrive at perfection, there

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More generally, Rehbock observes that the “vital principle” debate was already deeply political: “Immanentism,” or the type of materialist theory Thelwall espouses, “was inimical to morality and thus tantamount to Jacobinism” while Transcendentalism, or the theory of superaddition, maintained “the authoritarianism and corruption of the traditional structures of power and belief” (156). To be sure, Thelwall’s materialist theory is deeply influenced by his political and philosophical ideas, and the connection between Thelwall’s medical and political writing is a clear one, but I want to argue in this section that medicine offered more than a “philosophical justification” for his reformist agenda, that the connections were more fluid than a hierarchical justification would allow. By attending to the medical terminology in Thelwall’s political writings and, more generally, to the use of such terminology in the works of the writers he was engaging, I seek to demonstrate that the interdependence of the medical and the political as conceived in the 1790s provided Thelwall with a prescription for political action at once emerging from and contributing to the development of contemporary theories of life and health. Not surprisingly, and as I have already suggested, medicine most often emerges in Thelwall’s political writings as a series of familiar metaphors: the nation as organic body, the political figure as physician to the body politic, ideas contrary to those of the writer or speaker as diseases. That Thelwall employs these metaphors comes as no surprise; the fact that he was actively engaging in debates about reform and revolution may lead us to conclude that he was adopting the period’s most charged rhetorical figures, modifying and challenging the terms and images that were in frequent circulation. And, of course, he was. But if we read Thelwall’s use of these metaphors through Animal Vitality and in the context of his involvement with contemporary medicine, then the image of a political physician tending to the wounded and infected body politic seems to acquire a power it lacks in the writings of other figures. Of all the ideas Thelwall articulates in Animal Vitality, the interrelated notions of “perfect harmony” and “specific organization” seem most readily adaptable to the world of politics and political debate, and they are most often expressed in terms of the reformist agenda. In perhaps their most frequent manifestation, these ideas emerge as a way to articulate the need for reformers to exhibit unity of purpose and action. In The Right of Britons, for example, Thelwall observes, “We have been petitioning, in separate bodies for 30 or 40 years, and are none the nearer. [. . .] Let us try what can be done by the force of collective opinion” (39). Similarly, in The Rights of Nature, in a dangerously treasonous passage, Thelwall warns that “no man can pull down a government. But, when not a Man but a People, wills a would be an end to our improvement. There is however one thing of great importance that it does imply: every perfection or excellence that human beings are competent to conceive, human beings unless in cases that are palpably and unequivocally excluded by the structure of their frame, are competent to attain. (58–9, emphasis mine) Roe makes a similar argument—that Thelwall studied medicine for political reasons—in “Atmospheric” (91), where he refers to a comment made by Astley Cooper’s biographer: “[Thelwall] never intended to follow medicine as a profession; his object, therefore, in attending these lectures, was probably merely to accumulate information to substantiate his peculiar tenets of materialism, to which, by an ill-directed mind, the study of physiology and anatomy might easily be rendered subservient” (B. Cooper 1: 236–7).


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

grand renovation, to feel the will is also to be conscious of the power: and, when the will and the power cooperate, sophists may string syllogisms, like beads upon a rosary; but while they are reasoning, the thing is done” (430). Once again, Thelwall links sophistry and the “rosary” recalling his contempt for blind obedience to the doctrines of St. Paul and, by association, the “Jewish law-giver” Furthermore, by linking specific organization with political activity, Thelwall emphasizes the sense of body consciousness that seems to pervade his writings: not only an awareness of himself as a physical, embodied being subject to certain laws and a vision of the nation as existing by those same laws, but a conception of politics as embodied action requiring an awareness of and sensitivity to what it means to be embodied in order to be politically effective. Of course, there are many forms of organization, only some of which result in the “perfect harmony” so crucial to Thelwall’s definition of life and the body consciousness so necessary for political effectiveness. In some cases, Thelwall appears willing to moderate some of his radical views in order to foster harmony and consciousness. Discussing the plight of the working classes in Britain, perhaps his greatest cause, Thelwall, unlike many of his fellow reformists, does not characterize disparities of wealth and status as unequivocal evils: The fact is, that the hideous accumulation of capital in a few hands, like all diseases not absolutely mortal, carries, in its own enormity, the seeds of cure. Man is, by his very nature, social and communicative—proud to display the little knowledge he possesses, and eager, as opportunity presents, to encrease his store. Whatever presses men together, therefore, though it may generate some vices, is favourable to the diffusion of knowledge, and ultimately promotive of human liberty. (Rights 400)

Thelwall again implies that organization, “press[ing] men together” is necessary for reform but, more crucially, is also a biological necessity for the continued existence of the body politic. He also seems to echo Wollstonecraft’s emphasis on the body’s self-regulating potential in his observation that every disease “carries [. . .] the seeds of cure.” However, not all unifying forces are created equal, and Thelwall is quick in almost all his works to identify war as an event that brings people together but for all the wrong reasons and with all the wrong results; for war not only maims and eliminates the bodies of the nation’s poor, who are called upon to fight, but it consequently causes disharmony in the body politic.14 Backward-looking ideologues, like Burke and William Pitt, both frequent targets of Thelwall’s ire, make the Machiavellian argument that war is an extension of politics and necessary to maintain some kind of international balance; in a sense, they suggest that because war, at least in theory, prevents any one nation from amassing too much power it allows for the possibility of perfect harmony in the international body politic. To Thelwall, however, aware of class disparities and conscious that international solutions often require disharmonizing national concessions, this argument makes little sense: “As for the reciprocations existing between nations ‘in the course of long and bloody wars’,—it is of little consequence, I imagine, to the poor wretches 14 Thelwall makes this argument frequently throughout the essays in The Tribune (see especially 2: 1–146); some of these articles are reprinted in Claeys 138–81.

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who bleed, and starve, in these detestable struggles, whether the enlightened few, for whose advantage they perish, are sincere in their animosities, or ‘do but murder in jest!’ (Rights 443). While war may appear to bring a nation together, it is ultimately divisive and leads to fatal imbalances in the body politic. Only when the body is in perfect harmony can it exist in a state of liberty, or even exist at all: “thus only can they really become a community, or body politic: for where one part tramples, with rude and brutal insolence upon another, it is not a body politic, but a state of unequal man” (Rights 461). Thus, perfect harmony is not only fundamental to reform but crucial to the health and life of the nation itself. In a brilliant rhetorical manouevre, cast primarily as an argument for freedom of assembly, Thelwall links the necessity of reform to the maintenance of the status quo in terms of the perfect harmony of the body politic: For as the Royal Power is concentrated in a single person, girt and surrounded by Ministers of his own appointment; and as the aristocratic body is also intimately encorporated, if the people are not permitted to associate and knit themselves together for the vindication of their rights, how shall they frustrate attempts which will inevitably be made against their liberties? The scattered million, however unanimous in feeling, is but chaff in the whirlwind. It must be pressed together to have any weight. Deny them the right of association, and a handful of powerful individuals, united by the common ties of interest, and grasping the wealth of the Nation, may easily persevere in projects hostile to the wishes, and ruinous to the interests of mankind; and in the very midst of this execrated career, exult in apparent popularity. (Natural 46)

In effect, only when popular association is allowed and encouraged, when the voices of reform and of the working classes are allowed to be united and heard, not instead of but in addition to the voices of the rest of the nation, can the present government innoculate the body politic against threats both foreign and domestic. The relation of the maintenance of the perfect harmony of the body politic to the maintenance of political power is manifested most subtly and powerfully in Thelwall’s self-construction as what Scrivener calls the “political physician” who will administer to the body’s diseases, for the “ambiguity of the diseased body/ political physician metaphor can be inflected to emphasize the need for external assistance from the physician or the self-maintaining organicism of the body” (“John Thelwall” 123). It is in this ambiguity that Thelwall’s metaphors acquire their distinct nuance, particularly when Thelwall takes issue with Burke’s claims to be the political physician. Registering his disgust at the failure of the courts to convict Thelwall and the other leaders of the LCS who were arrested in 1794, Burke states, Whilst the distempers of a relaxed fibre prognosticate and prepare all the morbid force of convulsion in the body of the State the steadiness of the physician is overpowered by the very aspect of the disease. The doctor of the Constitution, pretending to under-rate what he is not able to contend with, shrinks from his own operation. He doubts and questions the salutary but critical terrors of the cautery and the knife.15 (First 198) 15 Burke makes a similar claim in the Reflections: “But the physician of the state, who, not satisfied with the cure of distempers, undertakes to regenerate Constitutions, ought to shew uncommon powers” (219).


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

Thelwall responds not by refuting Burke’s political position but by attacking his misunderstanding of medicine: “Having exhausted his stock of Newgate wit, the metaphorical Proteus now turns his hand to medicine and surgery, and cures low fevers with amputation and the caustic. It must be confessed, however, that his language is sufficiently scientific” (Rights 418). In a later passage, Thelwall again returns to what he sees as Burke’s extremism in medical terms by recasting Burke’s claims in such a way as to make them appear medically incompetent: “The ordinary physic of the state cannot cure the disease; even extraordinary potions have been administered without effect; and as soon as the body politic [. . .] can be properly prepared for the operation, recourse must be had to ‘the cautery and the knife’” (Rights 433–4). In effect, Burke’s claims to political authority, to be “doctor of the Constitution,” are undermined by his inability to diagnose and cure the body politic: just as Thelwall attacked Hunter at the level of rhetoric, where their abilities were at least equal if not slanted in Thelwall’s favor, he here attacks Burke at the level of medical knowledge for the very same reasons. But while Thelwall is often willing to engage in these pseudo-medical debates with figures he sees (or constructs) as pretending to medical knowledge, he more frequently uses his medical knowledge to establish himself as political physician, and in The Right of Britons this distinction is made most clearly. The arrest and imprisonment of the reformists, Thelwall suggests, did more to hurt the nation than the reformers: “Inflammatory speeches [. . . and] calumniating pamphlets [. . .] have been incessantly employed to poison the public mind against myself and my fellowsufferers, during a time when it was impossible for us to administer an antidote” (6). More than simply preventing Thelwall from administering an antidote against the poison of propaganda and ad hominem attacks, the imprisonment and silencing of the reformers upsets the “perfect harmony” of the body politic. The absence of the “antidote” of a dissenting voice in the presence of the “poison” of a static parliamentary voice creates a fatal imbalance in the system, and, by not allowing Thelwall to provide “specific stimuli”—specifically organized matter requiring specific stimulation to achieve and maintain life—the government threatens the vitality of the national body: once again, Thelwall demonstrates the need for both voices, not the abolition of one in favor of the other. As we have already seen, Thelwall often seems to moderate his radical views to achieve a greater harmony in the body politic, and he here demonstrates how such moderation helps to maintain balance and harmony and therefore ensure the survival of the nation. In one of the most poignant expressions of his desire to “heal” the nation at the expense of his own political agenda (which indicates, of course, that such “healing” and his agenda are intimately connected), Thelwall suggests that finding a solution to the pressing food shortages would be a major step towards ending the current political upheavals. In John Gilpin’s Ghost, a poem dedicated to “Treason-Hunters” he notes that [. . .] bellies full, as doctors know, Dispose us men to sleep, While gnawing hunger oft is found The eyes agog to keep. (2)

Great Vital Organs


Most interesting in this passage, aside from its reference to what “doctors know,” is Thelwall’s claim that citizens’ health is not only good for the “constitution” of the nation but also politically expedient for those in power who wish to remain so: the restless, increasingly agitated, and ever-growing mass of people in England’s industrial centers, plagued by food shortages, with “eyes agog“ at the inability— or, worse, unwillingness—of their nations’ leaders to remedy the situation, will be “Dispose[d . . .] to sleep” with “bellies full.” While Thelwall suggests that his solution is for the “good of the nation,” and it is easy to see that Thelwall was a passionate defender of the poor, the disenfranchised, and the malnourished, it is just as easy to see that Thelwall’s rhetoric here is designed, perhaps more than anything else, to establish him as champion of the people, as healer of the body politic, as the true political physician. But despite the extent to which that characterization emerges in the political writings, Thelwall argues that no theory is worth anything, and no characterization— however materially embodied—can ever be truly effective if it has not been disseminated to all levels of a population: “‘Science is not a science until revealed’, is a maxim not more trite than true: and certain it is, that knowledge cannot operate, to any beneficial purpose, or produce a general civilization of society till it becomes pretty generally diffused”’ (Rights 486). The Peripatetic, to which I now turn my attention, seems to have been the intended vehicle by which Thelwall’s radical materialism were to have become “pretty generally diffused.” More specifically, Thelwall casts the figure of the Peripatetic Philosopher, his version of the PoetPhysician, as the most effective political physician. Thelwall, in Kenneth Johnston’s words, becomes the “literal embodiment of the Peripatetic” (Hidden 523) in his traveling lectures, but The Peripatetic provides a model by which all people can become the embodiment of his radical materialist principles and engage in embodied political action. In the end, however, while all people can live by these principles, incorporating into a harmonious body politic, only the Peripatetic Philosopher, specifically Thelwall himself, is capable of acting as the political physician. The Peripatetic The Peripatetic was published in the same year as Animal Vitality, and each text contains an advertisement for the other, establishing at least a coincidental link between the two. More important, though, are the explicit links Thelwall, through his narrator Sylvanus Theophrastus, makes between the activities of the Peripatetic Philosopher and bodily health. “Perhaps nothing is more common than to bewail the shortness of life,” Sylvanus contends in the opening lines, “unless it be to mispend the little time we are permitted to enjoy” (75). He goes on to suggest that “men of letters are particularly negligent of this proper distribution of their time” (76): Neglectful of the invigorating and inspiring breath of Morn, they but too frequently refer their studies to the protracted hour which the most unequivocal symptoms assure us was designed for refreshing slumber; and idly boast of trimming the nocturnal lamp of Wisdom, without reflecting that Wisdom’s truest lamp is that which, untrimmed and


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body inexhaustible, burns, from day to day, and from year to year, at once to assist, and to illustrate the researches of the philosophic student[.] (76)

Sylvanus admits that he is guilty of such “imprudent practice” (76), and resolves to venture on a “pedestrian expedition, in quest of health and recreation” (78). Furthermore, since a “peripatetic” is a walking teacher, education—with Sylvanus as both student and teacher—would seem to be another goal of the expedition. As Thelwall observes elsewhere, “the consecutive exercise of mind and body impart reciprocal vigour and activity to both” (Poetical 76). So, too, for the body politic: though The Rights of Nature would not be published for three more years, both Judith Thompson and Andrew McCann regard The Peripatetic as something of a fictional expression of its principles. In the preface to Poems Written in Close Confinement, Thelwall calls the contents “transcripts of the heart, rather than flights of the imagination;—rather intended to rouse the patriotic feeling, than calculated to amuse the admirer of poetical enthusiasm” (ii); conversely, Thelwall claims elsewhere that “[i]t is The Man, and not the Politician, that is here delineated. The disciple of the Muses; not the Lecturer and Leader of Popular Societies now no more” (Poems Chiefly I). While such claims and disclaimers are always suspect, perhaps especially when they come from a figure like Thelwall, the fact that he includes them is noteworthy, for the claims and disclaimers that open The Peripatetic are significantly different. He offers “[o]ne word on the subject of his politics:” “These, he is aware, will, at least, appear for the present, to be unpopular; and many of his friends, who could not dive into his heart, and see how deeply they are engraven would have persuaded him to omit them entirely” (72). Furthermore, “the subject of our political abuses is so interwoven with the scenes of distress so perpetually recurring to the feeling observer, that it were impossible to be silent in this respect, without suppressing almost every reflection that ought to awaken the tender sympathies of the soul” (73). Thus, the observations of The Peripatetic are both “transcripts of the heart” and “flights of the imagination” the work of “the Man” and “the Politician,” but, most importantly, the work of “the feeling observer” who finds it “impossible to be silent.” The text is framed as a “Series of Politico-Sentimental Journals,” connected by the presence of Sylvanus and his companions Ambulator and Arisor; Thelwall also points out that the text is framed loosely around the “history of Belmour and Sophia [. . . which] will be found to extend itself through the three volumes” (72). The Belmour-Sophia story is a familiar one: lovers driven apart, ostensibly by class differences; questing to find each other through numerous difficulties; despairing of ever doing so by a decree of fate; reuniting because of constancy, purity of heart, and good fortune. Throughout the excursions, and especially in those passages that deal explicitly with the Belmour and Sophia story—in every sense of the term a generic sentimental tale—the characters discuss, witness, and experience various episodes that demand some kind of sensible response. In these scenes, which Thelwall casts in the terms of his radical materialism, Thelwall foregrounds the figure of Sylvanus, simultaneously substituting his body for the body politic and establishing him as the Peripatetic Philosopher. As Janet Todd points out, sensibility offers “a kind of pedagogy of seeing and of the physical reaction that this seeing

Great Vital Organs


should produce” (4); in Thelwall’s formulation, sensibility offers both an ontology and an epistemology authorized by reason, a way of being in the world and a way of gathering and disseminating knowledge all in accordance with the principles of democratic reform. The generic status of The Peripatetic, particularly its relation to the traditions of sensibility, has been the most discussed characteristic in its scant critical history.16 The preface declares that the “local nature of many of [the text’s] allusions” and the fact that it does not seem to have “the refuge of a single precedent, behind which its irregularities may be sheltered” (72) may cause readers some problems or at least generate negative criticism. In response, though, Thelwall claims to be willing to accept such negative criticism for the sake of his art: “To the charge of singularity, however, he will not be very reluctant to submit especially, if he should be considered as having, in any measure, effected his design of uniting the different advantages of the novel, the sentimental journal, and the miscellaneous collection of essays and poetical effusions” (72). Judith Thompson argues that The Peripatetic also engages with the conversation poem,17 and while it cannot properly be considered a conversation poem itself, it does exhibit some of the qualities of the genre and thus foregrounds the physical presence of the narrator. This foregrounding is precisely what is most important about the text’s generic status in terms of the argument I present here: Thelwall’s engagement with each genre seems to put the body of Sylvanus on display. Throughout the text, Sylvanus encounters numerous other characters, and, in almost every case, a detailed description of the physical appearance and health of the character initiates the discussion, digression, or conversational exchange. In the opening passages of his excursion, for example, Sylvanus encounters “two idle fellows lying along among the grass, without any apparent occupation or subject of amusement” (84). As he draws closer, he grows “apprehensive of two such illlooking fellows” (85), and “the scar still conspicuous on [his] head, the remembrance of former ill-usage, might justify the palpitation” (85). Sylvanus then digresses to tell the story of the scar, inflicted when he encountered an “impudent fellow, whose mimic lameness, and sailor-like appearance, [had] frequently been of no small use to him, [. . . and] who had more regard than [Sylvanus] for the trade of war” (85). Sylvanus again digresses—all of this while walking towards the first two men—to tell of another encounter with “a labouring man, in tolerably decent attire” (86) who, while begging, carried an “implement of rustic labour” (87). Recognizing the potential danger in this situation, Sylvanus observes, “How quickly [. . .] laying one hand upon [his] breast, and pointing with the other to the earth, might the sharp prongs of that implement level the proud distinction between this moving and this insensate clay” 16 The most sustained critical discussion of the text’s generic status is J. Thompson, “Voice” and the introduction to her critical edition, but, see also K. Johnston, Hidden 523. 17 See “Autumnal.” Thompson claims that Thelwall’s “To the Infant Hampden” and “Maria: A Fragment,” both in Poems Chiefly Written in Retirement, are part of an extended “conversation” with Coleridge, whose “Frost at Midnight” is “actually directed at Thelwall, and takes the form of a sustained dialogue with these and other of Thelwall’s poems of late 1797, a dialogue about the forms and effects of political repression, the ideology of retirement and the relative values of private and public speaking, in which Thelwall acts as a foil for Coleridge’s own beliefs and anxieties” (429).


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

(87). Such encounters and digressions are ubiquitous: the figures—gypsies, slaves, laboring families, children—are almost always, like those in the Lyrical Ballads, poor, often alone, sometimes disabled. In each case, Sylvanus’s reaction to them is what is most clearly in the foreground. To be sure, Sylvanus, like Thelwall, is deeply concerned with the plight of the poor, the destitute, and the wounded, and such encounters and digressions are present for their own sake. By substituting Sylvanus for the nation—linking “this moving” with “this insensate clay”—Thelwall is not only able to create sympathy for those encountered, sympathy that should be felt by the body politic, but he also establishes sensibility as a fundamental characteristic of both the healthy body and the healthy body politic. Thus, the by-now familiar argument for the constitution of the healthy body is again articulated. The clearest and most obvious expression of this argument in The Peripatetic appears near the middle of the first volume in a section entitled “A Digression for the Anatomists.” At the end of the preceding section, a description of an old church in Deptford, Sylvanus notes that the face of the church is adorned with “finely executed sculptures of human skulls [. . .] executed with the most beautiful and anatomical accuracy” (145). He then opens his “Digression” with the suggestion that some of his more delicate readers—especially “the fine ladies and the petit maitres” (145)—will not share his appreciation for the beauty of the human skull. “For me,” he observes, “the terrors and prejudices inculcated by that venerable old lady, my grandmother, are all (like herself) forgotten; the calm philosophy,—or, as Mr. Gibbon expresses it, the ‘cold barbarity, of the anatomist,’ has succeeded in my mind; and the various operations of Nature present nothing but beauty to my senses;—command my reflections, and awaken my admiration” (145).18 However, such appreciation is not merely derived from joy in aesthetic beauty or his love for humanity, but is made possible largely because of his studies in anatomy and physiology: But, if bold Science her assistance lend— If to her deep recesses we descend— If there the tome mysterious we explore, Of Nature’s genuine theologic lore, What wider fields of wisdom and delight Unfold their beauties to our ravish”d sight! Thro’ which, with reverent wonder, we pursue Creation’s course, and Heaven’s own footsteps view! (146)

18 This same argument against superstition and ignorance emerges much more vehemently in a later passage: But when Ignorance once sets herself seriously about believing, there is nothing so gross, so palpably contradictory to the very evidence of her senses, that she cannot digest—or, at least, which she cannot make shift to swallow. And when once she has got it quietly down, no matter of what ingredients it is composed; her constitution is not squeamish; nor has Reason a menstruum in her whole materia medica can remove it again from the over-loaded stomach. (240)

Great Vital Organs


Nowhere is this “reverent wonder” more readily or more powerfully attained than “with respect to the form and organization of man; the sublimest of all the works of creation with which our senses can have any intercourse; and offering to the student of nature the most awful, and the most beautiful objects of meditation that can possibly amuse his imagination, or employ his serious thoughts” (146). The remainder of this digression, one of the lengthiest in the text, recaps his argument from Animal Vitality, arguing for the materialist definition of life and, of course, perfect harmony. The notion of “perfect harmony” is, not surprisingly, a constant in the text. In addition to the numerous digressions on the wounded and disabled, thus unharmonious, bodies, and despite the somewhat solitary pursuit of Sylvanus, the introspectiveness of many of his observations and the ideal of solitude he espouses throughout his travels, one of the greatest lessons of The Peripatetic is that “power resides in the whole body of the people”: “while [Julian, one of the many characters Sylvanus encounters along the way] pointed out to us the beauties he had so often admired, our hearts, sympathizing in all his pleasures, furnished an argument too forcible for all the sophisticated philosophers in the world to have perverted, that man is by nature a social, not a solitary animal” (338). Sylvanus makes a similar claim earlier when he observes that “Solitary pleasures have a tendency to beget a hard insensibility, a selfishness of heart, for which no degree of independency is sufficient compensation” (289). I will discuss this invocation of sensibility in more detail below, but, at this point, it is enough to note that Sylvanus, with his perpetual accumulation of peripatetic partners, articulates the doctrine of perfect harmony in terms both medical and political. With all of this detailed focus on the embodied presence of the Peripatetic Philosopher and the perfect harmony of the “great vital organs” of the body politic, Thelwall establishes his argument in favor of embodied political action. Towards the end of the first volume, Sylvanus suggests that such direct involvement may not always be pleasant, but it is necessary: So agreeable is it, frequently, to contemplate at a distance what, when immediately present, it is so painful to endure. A fortunate—or, not to speak so unthankfully of the dispensations of the First Cause of all, a benevolent construction this of the human constitution, by which our pains, our disappointments, and our misfortunes, when the hour of sufferance is passed away, and we are enabled to contemplate then this from some distant happy eminence, become the sources of our amusement and delight. (163)

We can read this passage both as a condemnation of members of the privileged classes and of national leaders who are unconscious of and insensible to the lives and health of the poor of the nation, and as a condemnation of those politics theorists, even on the side of reform (perhaps Godwin, in particular), who remain only theorists, writing “quarto volumes” but refusing to involve themselves in direct political action. Under the principles of radical materialism, such a refusal denies the basic principles of existence: later in the text, Sylvanus asks, “Is it not strange, that beings who have blood that circulates, and nerves that feel, should ever aspire to forget their materiality, and regulate their passions and conduct by the pure dictates of immaterial essence?—or rather by the wild eccentric ideas which their heated


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

imaginations have conceived of the spiritual natures of a better world?” (319). By even “aspir[ing] to forget their materiality,” as Animal Vitality makes clear, they cease to be human. Furthermore, Sylvanus argues that for the sensible being, especially the Peripatetic Philosopher, even theory has a material existence. During one particularly wrenching scene with Belmour, Sylvanus observes that “the pang I feel within my swelling breast, even now that I am relating the circumstance, would persuade me that memory and reflection are something more than impassive vacancy—or immaterial suggestion:—that they dwell in the vital essence of the blood, and are modifications of that susceptible organization, without which the breath that gives life were nothing” (255). This passage is almost verbatim from Animal Vitality, further solidifying the identification of politics and medicine manifested as sensibility, for sensibility has remained a constant, if often implicit, feature of all of Sylvanus’s encounters and digressions. As he argues early in the second volume, “philosophy and sensibility are by no means so inconsistent as the ignorant and the unfeeling would persuade us” (182); as we have seen in both his medical and political writings, Thelwall clearly identifies reason (philosophy) with sensibility and ignorance (blind obedience) with insensibility. What remains is to establish the relationship between the kind of sensibility Sylvanus displays in terms of his identity as Peripatetic Philosopher. While it is entirely possible, in fact necessary, for the body politic as a whole, as well as the individuals who constitute that body, to be sensible, Sylvanus, like Thelwall, occupies a unique position: as Peripatetic Philosopher, Sylvanus is responsible for maintaining and adjusting the nation’s sensibility. The tale of how he came to occupy—or assume—that position recalls passages in both Animal Vitality and his political writings: Struggling (with no other assured advantage, than a keen taste for poetry, and a big ambitious heart) to attain the arduous heights of literary reputation, in spite of all the impediments with which neglect, obscurity, and misfortune could shackle an aspiring mind; and fluctuating in painful suspense between doubt and presumption—so natural to a secluded votary of the muses, to whom the advantages of literary acquaintance never had been known—my anxious heart could not but receive some consolation, when (embellished with all the charms of sentiment and description) I traced in the youthful manners and dispositions of Edwin [in James Beattie’s The Minstrel], the faithful delineation of my own boyish years; and beheld, as in a mirror, the reflection of those features that so evidently marked my own eccentric mind. (118–19)

In short, the Peripatetic Philosopher, like the “anatomical philosopher” and the reformer, is characterized by the ability to read the body politic and, most crucially, to write or speak its cure: “Nor was it ‘till frequent opportunities of contemplating, with enamoured eye, the varied beauties of creation, in my eccentric rambles, and indulging the poetical studies to which they conducted, had soothed and meliorated my heart, that the blossoms of sensibility began to unfold themselves, and I awakened to a sympathetic feeling for every sentient tennant of this many-peopled sphere” (121). The free-thinking scientist of Animal Vitality, the reformer of the political writings, the embodied Peripatetic Philosopher: what marks each of these figures

Great Vital Organs


is their facility with language, their reliance on reason, their sensibility, and their ability to bring these characteristics to bear on the bodies of people and of nations. Sensibility thus emerges in the text as a fundamental characteristic of the Peripatetic Philosopher, but it is also predictably a vital characteristic of the human. In one of his many rants against inequality and unearned privilege, Sylvanus argues that the term “Gentleman” is “the title with which we perversely dignify every two legged being whom fortune has elevated above the common feelings of humanity” (135). The “imperious lord,” we are told, “envies the poor peasant (by the sweat of whose brow he eats) even the wretched offal of his own industry” (135–6).19 When he comes across a stretch of land currently inhabited by poor farming families that the local lord is preparing to clear, Sylvanus suggests that “his tender feelings cannot endure the sight of such wretchedness; and he finds extermination less expensive than relief” (136). Alternately too sensible and not sensible enough, the privileged classes are thus unfit to lead the nation. When Sylvanus exclaims that the lack of basic humanity, of sensibility, of those in power is responsible for the plight of the poor, Ambulator argues that “The system, my friend! the system is alone to blame, which throws every advantage into the hands of the wealthy few, at the expense of the entire depression of the many. This it is that causes the distress: and the humanity of sending our fellow-creatures to graze in herds upon sheep-turnips is but the secondary effect” (140). Despite their minor difference of opinion, manifested as disagreement over the agent of the infection, the end result is the same: the nation is diseased, and the status of the nation’s poor is the most visible symptom. As Sylvanus laments, “And in the age of sentiment, too!—Tasteless depravity!” (137). This explicit invocation of “the age of sentiment” indicates that the text participates in the tradition of sensibility and sentimentality, but that participation is marked by some important discrepancies. In his subtitle, Thelwall envisions the text unfolding as a “Series of Politico-Sentimental Journals,” further establishing the link between politics and sensibility so clear throughout his writings. Furthermore, the preface identifies the writings of Lawrence Sterne, particularly A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy (1768), as an important influence. Thelwall proceeds to point out that “if the reader should look for any farther imitation of that truly singular writer, it is but fair to apprise him that he will be disappointed” (71). A significant difference, though perhaps not of the sort Thelwall mentions here, is the clear medical basis for sensibility in Thelwall’s text and, of course, the connection between medicine and politics. The relationship between sensibility and the body is commonplace in A Sentimental Journey, as it is in much of the literature of sensibility. Yorick is able to “read” the sensible body just as his body is able to speak: in an early passage, for example, he states that the “pulsations of the arteries along my fingers pressing across hers, told her what was passing within me” (33). In Thelwall’s text, however, such sensibility needs to be examined and understood,

19 This is a common theme in Thelwall’s political lectures. For example, in The Tribune, in a passage of special interest to the argument I make here, Thelwall claims, “From them [the people, especially the poor], also, you receive your gilded coaches, that engender your proud diseases both of mind and body” (2:102).


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

to be diagnosed so as to be corrected or recreated, not simply experienced. Upon hearing “a slow and tremulous voice” (236), Sylvanus asks, Tell me, ye exquisite powers of nature, who attune the finer nerves to mournful sympathy!— why did my heart vibrate, and my pulse beat in solemn unison to the melting cadence?— Why was my breath suspended, and my foot rivetted to the consecrated turf?—And by what mysterious mechanism did the unconscious tear steal down my cheek responsive to the tremulous note?—Here was no selfish retrospect: no anticipation of correspondent suffering.—Ye Sceptics! there was none.—I had not seen the mourner—I knew not the complexion of her woes—Desire and Apprehension stood equally aloof.—And yet I pitied—and I wept! (236–7)

For the Peripatetic Philosopher, as for the anatomical philosopher, the actual witnessing of such a scene is not necessary for him to comprehend, diagnose, and sympathize with—if not cure—the suffering. On the contrary, like experimental examinations of anatomy and physiology, witnessing the event might be misleading: the Peripatetic Philosopher requires but the “voice,” both his own and that of the sufferer, to effect his cure. Thelwall seemed to be aware that sensibility was experiencing something of a cultural redefinition, in which the sensible man was regarded as effeminate and ineffectual.20 However, when Sylvanus hears Belmour’s story, seeks to offer comfort as a friend and kindred spirit, and experiences extreme sensibility, he offers one of the texts many “digressions”: the philosopher, if Cynics and Stoics alone are to be dignified with the title, might have indulged, in full latitude, the triumph of his superior wisdom over a scene of effeminacy, where the form, perhaps, he would have said, of manhood was all that remained among us. I am, for my own part, however, of a different opinion[.] I cannot see why the finest susceptibilities of nature should be considered as unworthy of those who boast the highest order of natural intellect—or why Reason, which is only the aggregate of sensation, collected and exhibited in one lucid focus, should think she shews her own strength and dignity by degrading the feelings, without which she never could have existed, or by stifling them when they presume to rise. (255–6)

Throughout his writings, Thelwall has identified “those who boast the highest order of natural intellect,” those who have the greatest claim to “Reason,” as free-thinking scientists, reformers, and others who are unwilling to pay homage to any authority that relies on obedience, superstition, and dogma; “Cynics and Stoics” who remain insensible or who refuse to admit the vital necessity of a sensible and harmonious body politic are, therefore, allied with Hunter, Burke, and others who continue to bow to “the Pope and his Cardinals.” Here, the Peripatetic Philosopher is cast as the figure who best embodies all of principles of the radical materialist position. In the final scene of the text, we witness Belmour’s apparent death. The group happens upon Belmour’s insensible body and takes him to the nearest cottage. Hopeless of ever finding his lover and combating the prejudices of her family, Belmour claims, “there is something here [laying his hand upon his heart] more 20 See, for example, McGann, Poetics 7–8.

Great Vital Organs


infallible than all the symptoms which technical skill can discover, which assures me I shall not survive” (374–5). Sylvanus again digresses, this time to discuss what he calls “an incident so absurd”: “The reader acquainted with the English law, will remember a provision [. . .] that in cases of violent or sudden death, the body shall not be removed from the spot where the accident has happened, till after the coroner’s inquest shall have sat” (367). Following this passage is a lengthy and scathing attack against the inhumanity and insensibility of the law in general, but particularly this law which claims that “no man can die without permission from the faculty” (367). Refusing to allow the coroner access to the body, Sylvanus, who had suspected that the “ghost” the villagers feared and of whom he learned when he entered the village, was, in fact, Sophia, reunites the two. Here the text ends, with only a brief note and final lesson in the politics of sensibility from the Peripatetic Philosopher: “But I will not detain the reader with a further detail of circumstances, which, if he has a heart, will suggest themselves without recital, and which, if he has not, he will not understand. Suffice to say, that the health of Belmour, and the cheerfulness of his Sophia, were rapidly restored” (386). Neither medicine nor law separately but only both united seamlessly in the body-conscious Peripatetic Philosopher can effect such a restoration. Professor of Elocution During the final years of his life, largely forgotten by the “great body of the people” he had made it his life’s work to assist, Thelwall retired to the country and worked as a self-proclaimed Professor of Elocution.21 Many of his contemporaries found this turn of events somewhat amusing; Southey, for example, marveled, He is thriving upon Lectures on Elocution, actually thriving. We live in an odd world. They were going to hang and murder him for every intelligible Jacobinism and now when he rigamarolls them with a barrage of what he does not understand himself it is Oh Rare John Thelwall, and they give him three and six pence a piece, but he is an honest fellow. I have a great respect for him, and never yet suffered an Aristocrat to wag his tongue against him in my presence without giving him a set down. (New 1: 336)

This mockery (if gentle) mixed with respect (if begrudging) would take something of a sinister turn in a letter Southey wrote less than a month later: We have had John Thelwall here on his way to Edinburgh. He is on a course of Lectures on Elocution. I know not which be the more amusing his marvelous ignorance, or his still more marvelous vanity. However my gentleman drives his own gig, gets money and is very happy, and as he is a honest-hearted fellow at the bottom, I am heartily glad the world goes well with him. Not but the man is the worse for the deterioration of his pursuits. They are now wholly self-centering and unconnected with the exertion of any one virtue or with any one good hope. It would probably have been better for him in the next world

21 On Thelwall’s work in elocution and speech pathology, see McCann, “Romantic” and R. Thelwall.


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body had John been hanged in 1794—but not believing in another world John is exceedingly well satisfied to have been left in this. (1: 337–8)

Despite the pity and ridicule in Southey’s tone, Thelwall would indeed agree with his final assessment. As he wrote in The Tribune, “Citizens, I am no adept in theological questions. I do not pretend to speculate either upon the world above or that below. I am satisfied with the sphere I move in. I am sure I can do no benefit in any other” (2: 156). As we have seen, the public and political sphere he moves in is dominated largely by body language and the language of bodies; thus, while the context might have been different, his message as a Professor of Elocution was the same. As preface to his volume, The Trident of Albion (1805), Thelwall includes a sampling of his “Introductory Discourse on the Nature and Objects of Elocutionary Science” in which he refers to oratory as “the complicated and vital existence, resulting from the perfect harmony and cooperation” (6) of eloquence and elocution. Most importantly, he emphatically states that any study of elocution must begin with “Physiology;— that is to say, [. . .] the Anatomical structure of the Elocutionary organs, and the laws of Physical Necessity by which their actions are regulated and circumscribed” (12). This statement recalls one of his most impassioned speeches: But lift up your voices, ye artificers, ye mechanics, ye manufacturers of the land! ye genuine props and pillars of the nation! Be not amused with pretended treaties: for what is peace, but war, to you, while ye drudge in servile misery for inadequate rewards, and your families pine in want and ignorance? Wear not your lungs with sighs and sullen murmurs—let not only the nocturnal phantom, but the living body of your complaints appear before your oppressors. (Rights 404)

Responding to public ridicule occasioned by his publication of a collection of poems, Thelwall revealed the depth and vigor of his continuing commitment to the radical materialist principles he had spent a lifetime advocating: During the last seven years of my life, it is true, I have abjured all politics:—from my soul I have abjured them. I am wedded—enthusiastically wedded, to a very different pursuit. But have I shifted sides, like a common prize fighter? Have I withdrawn myself from one party, only to display my violence for another? or to excite, or keep alive, a spirit of division and persecution, when the exigencies of the times are crying aloud for an emulous and affectionate unanimity[?] (Letter 45)

As a Professor of Elocution, most often teaching poor, working-class children with speech impediments, Thelwall sought to foster that “crying aloud,” to encourage and facilitate the body conscious voices of the next generation, and he relied on both his celebrity and his continued faith in the principles of radical materialism to realize this goal. But we must remember that Thelwall, while sincere, was rarely altruistic or overly self-deprecating. Near the conclusion of The Rights of Nature, Thelwall states that “As man, I am a rational being; and I must think and speak. Circumstances—if I may adopt the language of Mr. B[urke] on this occasion—have made me (also) a public

Great Vital Organs


creature, as such I must exist, or not at all” (495). When he published Poems Written in Close Confinement in 1795, he began with an epigram from Milton’s Comus: Fool, do not boast: Thou canst not touch the freedom of my mind [. . .] altho’ this corporal rind Thou hast immanacl’d. (1.662–5)

These lines are spoken by the “Lady” as she attempts to defend herself against Comus’s attempts to rape her, and the lines reflect the defiant claims of one seemingly powerless against an apparently overwhelming force. The threat Thelwall faces (imprisonment) is clearly different from the sexual threat the Lady faces, but the powerful claim from the apparently powerless still strikes a concordant note. But more than the context in which the quotation was found, Thelwall makes his point in the words of Milton, and the invocation of Milton throughout the Romantic Century carried tremendous political and cultural significance. On the one hand, he was a symbol of radicalism, and, on the other, he was a symbol of “pure” Englishness and of England itself.22 But more than simply invoking these traditions, by casting himself as the teacher of and speaker for the nation’s poor, as a “public creature,” and as a martyr, Thelwall effectively casts himself in the role that Romantic Century writers often cast Milton: as both healer to the body politic and the embodiment of the nation. While Thelwall’s reformist goals may never have materialized as completely as he wished them to, in his more personal, perhaps more self-aggrandizing goal to be recognized as a Miltonic figure, as a body-conscious Peripatetic Philosopher, he seems to have achieved a measure of success. Immediately following his acquittal at his 1794 trial for treason, Thelwall stood before the Lord Chief Baron Macdonald, who offered this advice: And permit to say, now you are acquitted in that most reputable of manners, by the verdict of an attentive Jury, I wish you, I give it to you as a piece of advice, to avoid rashness, even in the pursuit of objects that may appear to you to be good; and that you would profit by what had now passed, and leave the Constitution of the country whole and well as it stands at present. (Natural 63).

The judge, in his admonition to “leave the Constitution of the country whole and well,” seems to legitimize Thelwall’s claims to be the nation’s healer, for it is precisely the “Constitution” of the nation, in all senses, its wholeness and its wellness, that most concerned Thelwall.

22 On Romantic responses to and “uses” of Milton, see Wittreich and Trott.

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Chapter 4

“Shap’d and Palpable” Keats and the Poet’s Body

John Keats was handsome, indeed his face might be termed intellectually beautiful; it expressed more poetry than even his poetry does, beautiful as it is, with all its faults, and these are not few [. . .] There was a lustre in his look which gave you the idea of a mind of exquisite refinement, and high imagination; yet, to an observing eye, the seeds of early death were sown there; it was impossible to look at him, and think him long-lived. Jeremy Taylor says, in one of his admirable sermons, that “there are but few persons upon whose foreheads every man can read the sentence of death, written in the lines of a lingering sickness;” but on his forehead it was written sufficiently palpable for some to read it as they ran. (Barry Cornwall [B.W. Proctor] qtd. in Matthews 256)

From before his death from tuberculosis on 23 February 1821 to our own day, Keats has been cast, sometimes explicitly but most often implicitly, in a synecdochic relationship with early nineteenth-century poetry and medicine. The facts of his medical education, especially that he was among the first group to qualify as an apothecary following the 1815 Apothecaries Act, have ensured that Keats would attract medical and literary historical interest; studies have appeared in such unlikely places as the Journal of the American Medical Association, the Canadian Bulletin of Medical History, and the World Journal of Surgery.1 Similarly, the facts of his experiences with tuberculosis, available through the medically aware record of the progress of the illness and its futile treatments found in his letters and in those of his coterie, have fostered similar interest. Walter A. Wells insists that “[i]t was to be expected that medical men would be interested in the health history of the poet Keats, and this for two reasons; prolonged and serious illness was a conspicuous feature of his life, and even more important, Keats was himself a man of medicine” (8). Practicing physicians of the first half of the twentieth century, such as William Hale-White and Wells, often bemoan the “misinformed” treatment of the illness in an effort to simultaneously revise prevailing views concerning Keats’s death and reaffirm their readers’ faith in the authority of contemporary (that is, twentiethcentury) medicine. Hale-White spends several pages countering the claims of Keats’s circle and attending physicians that all Keats had was a sore throat and an active imagination.2 He concludes, “[i]t almost takes one’s breath away to read of such an opinion in the case of a patient who had recently had severe bleeding from 1 See, respectively, Gittings, “John” ; Goellnicht, “Keats” ; and Carter. 2 Keats seems to have held a similar opinion—or, at least, he accepted that such was the opinion of others. He wrote to Fanny Brawne on 21 April 1820, less than a year before his death, “[t]he Doctor assures me that there is nothing the matter with me except nervous


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

the lungs” (54). Wells also provides a retrospective diagnosis based on “established pathological facts” but, in his case, to demonstrate that “Keats was hit by severe illness before he was hit by the critics” in opposition to claims that he was killed by the reviews (156). He later asks rhetorically, “[i]s it not incredible that [Dr. Clark, one of Keats’s London physicians], possessed, like his predecessors, of a reputation for special skill in the knowledge and treatment of diseases of the lungs, should not have recognized at the first visit that his patient was undoubtedly a far-advanced subject of pulmonary consumption?” (209). Such incredulity seems purposely to ignore changes in the state of medical knowledge in the years between 1819 and the mid-twentieth century so as to suggest that Clark, as a physician, should have known the nature of the illness but for whatever reason chose to ignore the (to Hale-White and Wells) clear and (to the “ properly” trained eye) obvious symptoms. At stake in such statements are not the biographical facts of Keats’s life and death but the authority of the Western medical establishment over the categories of health and disease, life and death, questions that Keats himself treats extensively in both his letters and major poems. Keats’s connections with contemporary medicine have been the subject of much critical debate: early studies of “Keats and Medicine” focused on his medical training, or, more specifically, the influence of that training on his poetry, and these studies often maintain a distinction between poetry and medicine, describing, in some cases, a poetry tinged with medical knowledge and articulating, in others, a sort of birth of poetry from the spirit of medicine. In either case, Keats consciously “chose” poetry over medicine. In recent years, counter-responses to Hale-White’s unsupported claim that “[i]t is clear that his medical studies influenced his writing so little as to be negligible” (Keats 93) have been numerous and thorough, especially in works by Donald Goellnicht and Hermione De Almeida, which have laid the groundwork for much work in Romantic medicine, Keats’s studies, and the interpenetration of poetry and medicine. Building on this important work, I want to demonstrate here that Keats’s engagements with contemporary medicine were marked by his own anxious concerns with the changing nature of medical authority, even as he theorized an interrelation between poetry and medicine that relied on the very authority he was questioning. Furthermore, by attending to the treatment of bodies in some of Keats’s works and to the treatments of Keats’s own body in both his writings and the writings of others—all of which are characterized by their (sometimes implicit) indebtedness to contemporary medical thinking—we can begin to understand more clearly just how contentious was the changing nature of medical authority over the body and how pervasive were the related anxieties. In this chapter, then, I seek less to explore the influence of his medical training on his writings than to examine, first, how he both manifested, critiqued, and employed the anxieties associated with the body and medicine, and, second, the implicit influence that an awareness of that medical context and its accompanying body consciousness had on contemporary readings of his work and on constructions

irritability and a general weakness of the whole system which has proceeded from my anxiety of mind of late years and the too great excitement of poetry” (Letters 2: 287).

“Shap’d and Palpable”


of “the public John Keats.”3 First, I want to re-examine some important aspects of Keats’s medical school days, particularly what he had to say concerning his “ fitness” for work in medicine and the relationship between poetry and medicine. Then, using Keats’s words as a starting point, I attend to the many ways that both the private texts circulated among his inner circle and the public texts circulated in the magazines and journals reflected attitudes concerning the medical professions (and the development and emergence of “professionalization” itself), particularly as embodied in Keats in his training as an apothecary and his ambivalence about returning to Guy’s to train as a surgeon. Next I read the two fragmentary epics, “Hyperion: A Fragment” and “The Fall of Hyperion: A Dream”4 as “responses” to such attitudes, as poems about the nature of medical and poetic authority and the ever-changing status of the body in the continuing struggle to assert and maintain that authority. Finally, by way of a conclusion, I turn to some of the public and private reactions to Keats’s death to illustrate how appeals to the medical context, broadly construed, dominated the portrait of the Post-Romantic “Keats” as the poet of sensuality and the embodiment of Romantic sensibility. Keats and The Guy’s School The facts of Keats’s medical training have long been established, despite some continuing debate concerning the precise dates: he was apprenticed to the Edmonton apothecary-surgeon Thomas Hammond in either mid-1810 or early 1811; began almost two years of more formal training at Guy’s in 1815, training that included “walking the wards” or doing clinical rounds and serving as a surgeon’s dresser or surgical assistant; received his “Certificate to Practice as an Apothecary” on 25 July 1816; and spent several months more at Guy’s training as a surgeon and serving as a fully qualified dresser before finally leaving his studies in March 1817, the same month his first volume of poetry was published.5 His course load, as reconstructed by Goellnicht and De Almeida, included two courses in chemistry taught by William 3 I take the phrase from Kandl, who shows how “Keats entered the public sphere as a state-of-the-art(s) weapon in the Examiner’s arsenal” (91). 4 Unless otherwise noted, all references to Keats’s poems are to canto and line number, as appropriate, in the Stillinger edition, and all references to Keats’s letters are to volume and page number in the Rollins edition. Furthermore, “Hyperion: A Fragment” will be abbreviated as “Hyperion” in the body of my text and as H in parenthetical citations, while “The Fall of Hyperion: A Dream” will be referred to as “The Fall” and FH, as appropriate. 5 Accounts of Keats’s medical training are numerous and variously detailed; all of the biographies deal with it, and many specialized studies offer at least partial discussions. For the most part, I have relied on Goellnicht and De Almeida—to date the most thorough considerations—for the dates and other biographical details. For (roughly) contemporary accounts of Keats’s time at Guy’s, see the March 1847 letter from Henry Stephens to G.F. Mathew (Rollins 2: 206–14); C.C. Clarke 125–32; and C.A. Brown 41–3. For later and, in some cases, more specialized accounts, from both literary and medical historians and scholars, see Wilks and Bettany 432–3; Colvin, Keats 11–17 and John 27–43; Hale-White “ Keats” and Keats 8–43; Hewlett 31–44; Wells 46–99; W. Bate 42–67; Bush 21–40; Gittings, John 56–117 and “John” ; Ward 21–65; Carter; Motion 45–132; and Roe, John 160–73.


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

Babington, Alexander Marcet, and William Allen; one course in general medical practice taught by Babington and James Curry; one course in materia medica and medical theory taught by Curry and Henry James Cholmeley; one course in botany taught by William Salisbury; and one course in anatomy and surgical operations taught by Astley Cooper—all this in addition to his attendance at dissections and anatomical demonstrations, and, of course, private study. These details, together with an examination of the only surviving notebook in Keats’s hand from these medical-school days, serve to illuminate two important points that critics such as Goellnicht and De Almeida have taken great pains to bring to light. First, the medical education Keats experienced was arguably the most advanced, most thorough, and most rigorous of its day; the multiple courses in chemistry, taught by some of the most accomplished chemists of the day, illustrate the degree to which cutting-edge science was made part of his training, and courses in “medical practice,” coupled with extensive time in the wards and the dissecting theater with such luminaries as Cooper, illustrate the degree to which trainees were expected to engage in practical work instead of reading even the most up-to-date theoretical treatises. Second, the time and energy Keats devoted to medical study, reflected in his careful and thorough notes, attests to the difficulty in describing Keats as a disinterested or distracted medical student, as one who wanted to be a poet but was “forced,” either by circumstances or family, to enter a “respectable” profession.6 This is not to deny, however, that poetry and the desire to be known as a poet were ever far from Keats’s mind. Contemporary accounts reveal that he was an avid reader of poetry throughout his tenure at Guy’s; Charles Cowden Clarke, for example, writes that “[i]n the latter part of the time [. . .] that he remained at school, he occupied the hours during meals reading. [. . .] He must in those last months have exhausted the school library” (123). Keats’s earliest known poem, “Imitation of Spenser,” further attests to his avid reading. More importantly, some of his earliest poems were written while he was a student, and the appearance of Poems in March 1817 suggests that Keats spent much of his time at Guy’s writing and revising for publication. It comes as little surprise, then, that some readers and biographers would suggest that Keats “had no real interest in the profession he was sedulously pursuing” (Milnes 1: 15). But regardless of such negative assessments of Keats’s commitment to medicine, identifying a complex relationship between poetry and medicine in Keats’s works— notwithstanding the often clear hierarchy that places the former well above the latter—has been fairly commonplace: we need only recall the assertion in “The Fall” that “a poet is a sage; / A humanist, physician to all men” (1.189–90), a passage to which I will return below, or the numerous variations in the letters of the expression of his desire to do “the world some good” (1: 387). The characterizations of poet and “physician” underline Keats’s explicit linking of poetry and medicine in the embodied figure of the Poet-Physician, and, of course, this idea is not new in Keats 6 Gittings points out that the “legend that his choice was forced on him is widespread, and perhaps was fostered by some of his own remarks” (John 60). Though most critics now accept that Keats chose medicine on his own, I want to suggest that the persistence of the idea that Keats “left” medicine for poetry fosters the (mis)perception of him as an uninterested medical student.

“Shap’d and Palpable”


criticism: De Almeida reminds us that “Readers of Keats usually assume that he derived his belief in the poet as physician from Wordsworth’s concept, derived in turn from Naturphilosophie, that poetry medicines the mind,” though she maintains that the idea may have come to him first from “the ethical teachings and practice of Romantic medicine” (38). Regardless of exactly where or when Keats first became attracted to the idea, I want to underscore De Almeida’s reminder that the idea of the Poet-Physician was far from novel because fully acknowledging the antiquarian and literary historical contexts of the idea is crucial to our understanding of Keats’s uses of it. Numerous critics, and Keats himself, recognize that Apollo’s identity as god of poetry and of medicine attests to the fact that the two fields have often been considered related. Lemprière’s Classical Dictionary (1788), a text Keats knew well,7 states that “Apollo was the god of all the fine arts, of medicine, music, poetry, and eloquence, of all which he was deemed the inventor” (61). Thus, Keats’s invocations of Apollo draw, at least in part, on all of these associations. A number of critics, such as Michael E. Holstein, building on Keats’s expressed ambition to do “the world some good,” suggest that “Keats’s role as a poet-healer was the culmination of his quest for a poetic identity adequate to his idealized ambitions for himself and his poetry” (33–4). However, De Almeida is quick to point out that “any declared and lifelong commitment like that of Keats to the myth would therefore have to encompass the manifold associations of Apollo’s power” (17): Lemprière also states that Apollo “was the deity who, according to the notions of the ancients, inflicted plagues” (61). In other words, more than just the god of health and life, Apollo was also the keeper of sickness and death. Furthermore, remembering that Apollo is both “inventor” and “inflictor,” Keats characterizes the Poet-Physician as an active agent of divinity, not the passive recipient of inspiration. In the “Ode to Apollo,” for example, we are told how “Homer with his nervous arms / Strikes the twanging harp of war” (7–8), how Shakespeare “wave[s] his hand, / And quickly forward spring / The Passions” (24–5), and how “when [Apollo] joinest with the Nine, / And all the powers of song combine,” “The dying tones [. . .] receive their heavenly birth” (42– 4, 45–7). While Apollo’s identity as god of medicine may only be implied here, even supplied retroactively by our knowledge of the myth, we can begin to see how Keats articulates a sort of poetic line of succession from Apollo to Homer to Shakespeare to, presumably, himself and, further, establishes the Poet-Physician as creator and “author” in the largest sense. Perhaps even more interesting in these terms is the only surviving record from Keats’s days at Guy’s, reprinted and published in the 1930s as Keats’ Anatomical and Physiological Notebook. The text has hardly been neglected: twentieth-century critics interested in Keats and medicine have read it in conjunction with the more complete notes of Keats’s fellow student Joshua Waddington and Cooper’s lecture notes in an attempt to reconstruct the lectures and, therefore, Keats’s knowledge of anatomy and physiology.8 Goellnicht’s reading has perhaps been the most thorough, 7 Charles Cowden Clarke says that at the Enfield School Keats found a copy of Lemprière’s text, “which he appeared to learn” (124). 8 Probably the most extended discussion (excepting those by Goellnicht and De Almeida) is in the first chapter of Sperry, which treats Keats’s various uses of the term “sensations.”


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

and I follow Goellnicht in assuming that the “fact that this notebook [. . .] is the only one that has survived from Keats’s days as a medical student may suggest that this subject held a particular interest for him,” despite the fact that “there is less evidence of anatomical and physiological knowledge in the poetry and letters than there is of chemical or, in a more general way, pathological knowledge” (Poet-Physician 120). One of the interesting features of the notebook—and, by extension, of the lectures to which the notes refer—is that anatomical definitions and physiological descriptions are frequently paired with discussions of surgical technique, even though they were, in fact, separate courses. This may not be entirely surprising, since Cooper, as I discussed earlier, refused to see the work of anatomy, surgery, even internal medicine and pharmacy as separate and distinct bodies of knowledge, and such a blurring of disciplinary distinctions further reveals the degree to which the body, as figured by anatomy and surgery, is constructed as a problem with multiple—but still medical—solutions. Keats was keenly aware of this revisioning. At one point in Keats’s notes, in a description of the cardio-pulmonary system and its problems, we find this comment on the role of the surgeon: “In [. . .] cases where the Surgeon would assist Nature by making small punctures [. . . he] should exercise his Judgement in ascertaining whether he shall accelerate mortification by puncturing” (51; emphasis added). In his recognition that the Surgeon can “assist Nature,” Keats alludes to the active, if subordinate, role of the surgeon in healing and curing. Keats also seems to be at least implicitly aware that the surgeon and anatomist are actively engaged in making knowledge rather than simply passively receiving it by careful recording of observation, that the activity of the anatomist is as much about inscribing as it is about describing. This activity, then, is a manifestation of the surgeon-anatomist’s power. In one particularly telling passage from the notebook, again discussing the cardio-pulmonary system, he writes, “The Absorbent Vessels are extremely thin, yet anatomists have given them two Coats” (45; emphasis added). But perhaps more important than the anatomist’s knowledge-making activities, the notebook also demands activity on the part of the surgeon that goes well beyond the physical acts required by operations. For example, in a discussion of skeletal anatomy, Keats writes, “Sometimes an elevation of the Os Occipitis extending as far as the Sutura Lambdoidalis which gives the Junction with the Ossa Parietalia the appearance of a depression. Surgeons have been deceived by this variation and have trephined to their sorrow” (29).9 In effect, the work of anatomy and surgery demands active physical, intellectual, and perceptual engagement, and whether these are verbatim transcriptions of Cooper’s words or Keats’s paraphrase, the surgeon and anatomist are clearly identified as active agents in both the regulation of health and the construction and dissemination of knowledge. What I want to suggest is the absolute centrality of the figure of the poet and the figure of the physician: rather than potentially vague, generalized ideas about poetry and aesthetics, about health and healing, at the center of Keats’s writings is the embodied Poet-Physician, sometimes identified as Apollo, sometimes as someone or something else, and sometimes even Keats himself. In some ways the emergence of 9 “Trephined” refers to the use of a trephine, a cylindrical saw with a guiding center pin used to remove parts of the skull.

“Shap’d and Palpable”


Apollo in Book Three of “Hyperion” (particularly in light of the repeated invocations of Apollo throughout Keats’s writings) would seem to signal the emergence of the ultimate Poet-Physician; he is, after all, the god of Poetry and Medicine. But it is precisely his godhood that disqualifies him from a more sustained treatment here: whereas Apollo is clearly identified as a new god, Hyperion occupies the conflicted space between godhood and manhood, between the “old” god Saturn and the new god Apollo, and his occupation of that intermediate space is of central importance to the Poet-Physician as I describe him here. The occupation of that middle space complicates the relation between Hyperion’s body and mind, his mortality and his immortality, and helps to foster both the sensibility and the quest for power that in large measure constitute the Poet-Physician. At a time when the authority of both the medical establishment and poetry were undergoing drastic change, Keats’s treatment of the medicinal qualities of poetry and of the poetic qualities of medicine, coupled with his personification of the Poet-Physician as a dynamic, almost all-powerful force, would help to illuminate those changes. “Young Sangrado”: The Uses and Abuses of Medical Authority Despite the clear interconnections between poetry and medicine, evident in even his earliest work, identifying a coherent theory of the interrelation between the two in Keats’s work has never been easy for a number of reasons. For the most part, Keats’s comments about the time he spent at Guy’s, when the interconnections between poetry and medicine were perhaps at their most explicit, are later recollections and disappointed admissions that he may have to abandon poetry and return to his studies. Even the comments he makes about his experiences while they are happening are little more than vague references to “The busy time [. . .] just gone by” (Letters 1: 113). One of the few statements he made appears in “To George Felton Mathew” where, immediately a following a passage in which he praises the glories of poetry, Keats remarks that far different cares Beckon me sternly from soft “Lydian airs,” And hold my faculties so long in thrall, That I am oft in doubt whether at all I shall see again Phœbus in the morning[.] (17–21)

“[F]ar different cares” is generally accepted as a reference to his medical studies and duties in the wards of Guy’s Hospital, and this has often been seen as an indication of Keats’s lack of commitment to medicine and desire to commit himself to poetry. Similarly, in a letter to his brothers shortly after leaving Guy’s, Keats writes of his arrival in Southampton, where he encountered a “Doctor’s Shop—However after having had my fill of these I popped my Head out just as it began to Dawn” (1: 128). Much has been made of the fact that Keats sometimes considered returning to medicine, either to continue studying to become a physician or to take a position as a ship’s surgeon (Keats, Letters 2: 70, 112–14). But mention of this possible “return” also poses problems for it is usually punctuated by the hint that he may no longer


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

be suited to the practice of medicine. To complicate matters even further, Keats promised that he would return to medicine if his third volume, Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems (1820), did not secure his reputation as a poet: “This shall be my last trial; not succeeding, I shall try what I can do in the Apothecary line” (2: 298). In other words, Keats suggests that in some ways medicine and poetry are not at all related activities but separate and distinct enterprises that demand the abandonment of one for success in the other. Consequently, the contradictions that abound in Keats’s comments illustrate the difficulty of articulating his position concerning the interconnections between poetry and medicine, but these same contradictions made it possible for some contemporaries to appeal to medicine in their efforts to defend, exploit, and control the public “Keats.” His supporters, for example, draw on both his apparent lack of commitment and what they construct as his lack of constitutional fitness. For the most part, hagiographers such as Charles Armitage Brown tend to de-emphasize his medical school days, but their individual reasons for doing so are often quite different. Clarke suggested that Keats was intellectually suited for the practice of medicine—a mind like his could do anything, Clarke seems to want us to believe—but that his true calling was poetry. In a long passage that deserves full quotation here, Clarke recounts a conversation he had with Keats concerning his medical school days: I alluded to his position at St. Thomas’s Hospital, coasting and reconnoitring, as it were, for the purpose of discovering what progress he was making in his profession: which I had taken for granted had been his own selection, and not one chosen for him. The total absorption, therefore, of every other mood of his mind than that of imaginative composition, which had now evidently encompassed him, induced me, from a kind motive, to inquire what was his bias of action for the future; and with that transparent candour which formed the mainspring of his rule of conduct, he at once made no secret of his inability to sympathize with the science of anatomy, as a main pursuit in life; for one of the expressions that he used, in describing his unfitness for its mastery, was perfectly characteristic. He said, in illustration of his argument, “The other day, for instance, during the lecture, there came a sunbeam into the room, and with it a whole troop of creatures floating in the ray; and I was off with them to Oberon and fairyland.” And yet, with all his self-styled unfitness for the pursuit, I was afterwards informed that at his subsequent examination he displayed an amount of acquirement which surprised his fellow-students, who had scarcely any other association with him than that of a cheerful, crotchety rhymester. He once talked with me, upon my complaining of stomachic derangement, with a remarkable decision of opinion, describing the functions and actions of the organ with the clearness and, as I presume, technical precision of an adult practitioner; casually illustrating the comment, in his characteristic way, with poetical imagery: the stomach, he said, being like a brood of callow nestlings (opening his capacious mouth) yearning and gaping for sustenance; and, indeed, he merely exemplified what should be, if possible, the “stock in trade” of every poet, viz., to know all that is to be known, “in the heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth.” (131–2)

Though Clarke clearly emphasizes Keats’s identity as a poet, he is somewhat unique in suggesting that Keats was at all suited to medicine. More common is the suggestion made by Brown, who writes that Keats “was unfit to perform a surgical operation” (43). Brown reports that Keats told him, “My last operation [. . .] was the opening of

“Shap’d and Palpable”


a man’s temporal artery. I did it with the utmost nicety; but, reflecting on what passed through my mind at the time, my dexterity seemed a miracle, and I never took up the lancet again” (43). This squeamishness, which is often cast as the extreme sensibility and sensitivity that made him a genius, is frequently cited as the reason Keats left medicine; Brown, for example, states that “he was unfit to perform a surgical operation” because of an “overwrought apprehension of every possible chance of doing evil in the wrong direction of the instrument” (43). This may, of course, be the case, and, after reading of the accounts of the horrors Keats would have witnessed while walking the wards, some of which I discussed in relation to Cooper and surgery, we can fairly easily accept the notion that there are those who are constitutionally unsuited to the practice of medicine, especially surgery, but I think there is more to these comments than sympathy for a sensitive soul. Keats’s supporters seem to need him to be ill-suited to the work of an apothecary. On the one hand, Brown’s and Clarke’s comments seem to allude, if only implicitly, to Hunt’s statement that “for apothecaries in general, we must confess we have no sort of regard” (“Apothecaries” 562) at the same time as they hint at a squeamishness of their own. The idea of the young, fragile, faint Keats performing even the most routine operation prompts quick agreement with his decision to put down the lancet. Moreover, the continued, anxious focus on his “constitution” and morbid fascination with the image of Keats practicing medicine rather than just talking about it all point to concerns greater than correcting the biography of a dead-too-soon poetic genius. On the other hand, to his more sympathetic reviewers and biographers, Keats’s identity as an apothecary seems to compete with his identity as a poet. The idea that the young, delicate, sensitive poet once walked the wards, witnessed the suffering of those who experienced early nineteenth-century surgical techniques, bled patients, set bones, pulled teeth, and so on runs counter to the image of one mortally wounded (literally and metaphorically) by the words of reviewers, an image that may have been contested even in its own day but one that was nevertheless crucial in the construction of a public “Keats.” Perhaps, to paraphrase Cox, by divorcing the realms of poetry and medicine (or, at least, by dismissing or glossing Keats’s associations with the medical sphere), contemporary supporters and later admirers sought to rescue or redeem “Keats the Poet” from the ignominy of inclusion in the Cockney School: by distinguishing Keats-the-medical-student from Keats-the-Poet, supporters could at once dismiss the desires of his harshest reviewers that Keats return “to the shops” and gloss over his urban upbringing and education.10 For, just as Keats’s supporters would have us believe that he was, in Brown’s words, “ born to be a poet” (41) and left medicine for his true calling, his detractors would have us remember that he was an apothecary

10 Cox argues convincingly that later readers often sought to distinguish Keats from Hunt and other political figures and events of the day in an effort to preserve (perhaps create) his reputation as a (solely) poetic genius; see “Keats” and Poetry. Even some of Keats’s contemporaries made such claims: Wordsworth, in a 16 January 1820 letter to Benjamin Haydon, wrote, “How is Keates, he is a youth of promise too great for the sorry company he keeps” (Wordsworth, Letters 2: 578).


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

first—not only not a poet, but a member of what was perceived to be the lowest of the medical orders. We may see such comments as betraying a degree of elitism, and to an extent they are. But they also begin to illustrate some of the broader cultural anxieties associated with the changing nature of medical authority, and this is nowhere more clear than in the fourth installment of the “Cockney School of the Poetry” series in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine.11 Z refers to the ideas of the Cockney School as a “disease of [. . .] human understanding” (519) and proceeds to weave poetry and medicine together in his familiar attack on Keats: This young man appears to have received from nature talents of an excellent, perhaps even of a superior order—talents which, devoted to the purposes of any useful profession, must have rendered him a respectable, if not an eminent citizen. His friends, we understand, destined him to a career in medicine, and he was bound some years ago to a worthy apothecary in town. But all has been undone by a sudden attack of the malady to which we have alluded. Whether Mr John had been sent home with a diuretic or composing draught to some patient far gone in the poetical mania, we have not heard. This much is certain, that he has caught the infection, and that thoroughly. For some time we were in hopes, that he might get off with a violent fit or two; but of late, the symptoms are terrible. (519)

Roe reads in Z’s “hostile preoccupation” with Keats and medicine an invocation of “the politics of medicine in the revolutionary period after 1789” (John 163, 169), and such an invocation is clearly part of Z’s abuse. Roe does suggest in passing that “Z’s attack was directed more broadly at the new professionalism of medicine, codified by the [Apothecaries] Act, and the enhanced social status which was thus acquired by medical practitioners” (162), and it is this feature of Z’s remarks that I want to emphasize. Z’s attack reveals an ill-concealed contempt for apothecaries in this passage, as a profession perhaps “respectable” but certainly not “eminent.” More to the point, though, Z seems to draw on the poet-as-physician tradition in order to make his criticisms even more pointed, for, as Z’s concluding comments reveal, it is not just Keats’s short-comings as a poet that are at issue: “It is a better and wiser thing to be a starved apothecary than a starved poet; so back to the shop Mr John, back to ‘plasters, pills, and ointment boxes,’ &c. But, for Heaven’s sake, young Sangrado, be a little more sparing of extenuatives and soporifics in your practice than you have been in your poetry” (524). When Z refers to Keats as “Sangrado,” he does more than simply suggest that Keats give up poetry and resume his work as an apothecary. The term “sangrado” comes into English from Tobias Smollett’s translation of Alain-Réne Le Sage’s immensely popular The Adventures of Gil Blas of Santillane (1748).12 In the novel, Dr. Sangrado is a particularly inept physician who prescribes bleeding and the drinking of hot water as cures for every conceivable ailment. The OED, therefore, defines “sangrado” as “a doctor given to bleeding, or 11 The eight-part series was co-authored by Blackwood’s editors John Gibson Lockhart and John Wilson under the pseudonym Z, and I use the pseudonym here when referring to the author(s) of the articles. On Z’s essay as an attack aimed at Hunt and the Cockneys serving effectively to identify Keats as a member of that circle, see Wheatley and Roe, John (10-11). 12 Roe also points out the allusion to Le Sage’s text (John 161n).

“Shap’d and Palpable”


an ignorant pretender to medical knowledge.” Thus, Z not only attacks Keats as a bad poet, but he also suggests that Keats, as a “starved apothecary,” is little more than a quack. Far from being “physician to all men,” Z would have us believe that Keats not only carries “the disease of human understanding” but spreads it throughout the reading public with his “poetical mania.” As Roe points out, medical metaphors appear frequently during times of social and political stress “to denote and stigmatize the deviant, the disenfranchised, the alienated,” and “Z’s pathological account of Keats’s poetry as a “malady,” an “infection,” “a violent fit,” a “disease,” exactly conformed to this pattern while highlighting—with “sorrow”—the particularly distressing case of an apprentice healer who had succumbed to infection and become the transmitter of sickness” (John 20). Roe’s point that the matrix of labels and preconceptions that accompanied “medicine” at this time were charged with political significance is persuasive and well-made—Porter, too, among a number of social historians of medicine, repeatedly acknowledges the politics of early nineteenth-century medical education on this larger scale—and I in no way want to suggest that we can ignore the political implications of Z’s “pathological account.” But I do want to emphasize that Z’s comments offer at least a partial window into contemporary attitudes about the changing nature of the medical professions and medical authority. While Z does seem to regard apothecaries with contempt, I also read in his remarks a thinly veiled anxiety: Z implies that while Keats apparently has talent enough to be a decent apothecary, his poetic and political “infections” prevent him from giving his studies the attention they demand. If Keats were only “devoted to the purposes” of improving his “natural talents [which are] of an excellent, perhaps even of a superior order,” he might be of some use in “the shop.” As things stand, however, Z does not seem convinced that Keats is devoted enough, that he might not be able to properly administer “extenuatives and soporifics.” Thus, more than either attempting to further smear Keats’s reputation as a poet or drawing attention to his relatively low position in the medical hierarchy, Z’s comments betray a broader cultural anxiety concerning the public’s position in relation to a scientific medicine it was not prepared to understand and a medical authority it was ill-equipped to confront. The appeal to Keats’s identity as an apothecary-in-training depends upon a public that will recognize both the elitism that relegates Keats to a position even lower on the social ladder than he already occupies and the anxiety that this lower-class, unfocussed medical practitioner may soon have power over them. Furthermore, Z’s attempts to claim some kind of proprietorship over Keats’s body by ascribing to it an “infection,” an infection he sees in all members of the Cockney School, is as much a reaction against similar proprietary claims made by the growing medical establishment as it is a metaphor for “healthy” and “unhealthy” poetic and political ideas. In short, from just this small sampling of the voluminous contemporary commentary, we can see the degree to which appeals to medicine figured in constructions of the public “Keats.” On the one hand, Keats’s supporters describe a deeply sensitive poetic genius who, perhaps, could have been a medical genius had his constitution permitted it and his mind not already been set to achieving poetic greatness. At the same time, these same supporters distance Keats from his medical school days either to establish firmly his identity as a poet (as opposed to anything


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

else) or to distance him from inclusion in the lowest of the medical professions. On the other hand, Keats’s attackers portray a young, perhaps lazy poetaster who might have made some kind of contribution to society had he only set his mind to his studies with the zeal they required but who, ultimately, was doomed to fail at both poetry and medicine. In both cases, commentators reveal certain anxieties about the nature of medical authority: to Clarke and Brown, medical men are (maybe need to be) unfeeling, insensible, driven individuals who wage war with illness and disease regardless of any human cost, while, to Z, they are (or should be) highly trained individuals who must maintain an intense focus on their studies and deepest concern for their work. Moreover, Clarke and Brown and Z all construct the poet as one who is excessively feeling and overly sensible, and while Clarke and Brown belabor Keats’s excesses in an effort to construct him as a poet unsuited to medicine, Z claims that those excesses mark him as unfit for either. In each case, and despite Z’s metaphorical associations, poetry and medicine are regarded as separate and distinct fields, each with its own rules, standards, and practices. In my reading of the Hyperion poems, to which I now turn, where Keats provides perhaps his clearest depiction of the Poet-Physician and most detailed discussions of the interconnections between poetry and medicine, I suggest that such clarity and detail emerge, at least in part, as extended commentary on the nature of medical and poetic authority as an implicit response to these sorts of prevailing attitudes. Keats may not have been explicitly responding to Z’s attack, but he was, I want to argue here, responding to the kinds of attitudes that provoked the underlying anxieties in Z’s, and even Brown’s and Clarke’s, comments. While Keats himself may not have been entirely convinced by medicine’s rhetoric of legitimacy, as evidenced by his perceived need for a Poet-Physician, he does suggest that the relationship between the two fields is far more complex and far less hierarchical—perhaps far more concerned with authority and identity and far less concerned with health and healing—than some of his contemporaries, poetic and medical, would like to believe. “Physician to all men”: “(The Fall of) Hyperion” Readings of “Hyperion” and “The Fall” often suggest that the fragments are about the nature of identity, especially in relation to (particularly poetic) authority and authorization.13 Joel Faflak contends that early twentieth-century readers of the poems saw them as part of a “larger canonical or authorial narrative,” while later “readers address the poems” tentative identities through the economy of a loss of (textual) omnipotence that either explicitly or implicitly falls under the rubric of psychoanalysis” (304). Michael O’Neill submits that the Hyperion poems “bear witness to a paradox with which Keats’s poetry confronts his readers: it shapes a verbal world which the senses can authenticate, yet it is often concerned with itself, with the desire to be a poet, or with inquiries into poetry” (152). In both cases,

13 For useful summaries of criticism dealing with issues relating to authority in the Hyperion poems, see Hartman and Kissane.

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notions of embodiment that the texts simultaneously enact and complicate, and that I will discuss in detail in this section, hover just below the surface: Faflak’s mention of “a loss of (textual) omnipotence” alludes to what De Almeida refers to as the “devolution” of the poems’ central characters into “brute mortal matter” (276), while O’Neill’s characterization of the poems’ complex interweaving of sensuality and self-consciousness as “a paradox” draws attention to one of the distinguishing features of the Poet-Physician. Keats himself suggested that in the Hyperion poems he was embarking on a project that would actively work to establish the authority and identity of the Poet-Physician at the same time as he was exploring the very possibility of such an identity and authority. In one of the most famous of Keats’s letters, written to Richard Woodhouse while preparations for “Hyperion” were underway, Keats discusses the relations between poetry and identity: As to the poetical Character itself, [. . .] it is not itself—it has no self—it is every thing and nothing—It has no character—it enjoys light and shade; it lives in gusto, be it foul or fair, high or low, rich or poor, mean or elevated—It has as much delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen. What shocks the virtuous philosop[h]er, delights the camelion Poet. It does no harm from its relish of the dark side of things any more than from its taste for the bright one; because they both end in speculation. A Poet is the most unpoetical of any thing in existence; because he has no Identity—he is continually in for—and filling some other Body—The Sun, the Moon, the Sea and Men and Women who are creatures of impulse are poetical and have about them an unchangeable attribute—the poet has none; no identity—he is certainly the most unpoetical of all God’s Creatures. (1: 386–7)

Readers often see in this passage the invocation of “negative capability,” since the fact that the poet “has no identity” while at the same time he “is continually in for— and filling some other Body” recalls the ability to be “in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason” (Keats, Letters 1: 193). De Almeida suggests, however, that the notion that the Poet has “no character” does not mean the Poet is “empty of life or perceiving consciousness” (290); on the contrary, Keats “conceived of this artistic self’s power as an adaptive receptivity or sympathetic force born of the artist’s vital ability to imagine other life fully and comprehensively” (290). Such imaginative sympathy is, as I have already argued, a central characteristic of the Poet-Physician: the fact that the Poet-Physician stands both as an embodied entity capable of experiencing loss, pain, and death, and as part of a realm of virtually infinite imaginative possibilities makes it possible, perhaps necessary, for him to maintain the kind of heightened sensibility necessary to alleviate both embodied and “ imagined” suffering in others (but incapable of performing invasive surgery). My reading of the Hyperion poems in this section thus follows critical tradition in suggesting that they actively explore the nature of identity and authority, but here I want to explore specifically the ways that the texts invoke conceptions of medical and scientific authority, most especially as that authority is embodied in Hyperion in “Hyperion” and the Poet in “The Fall.”14 By attending 14 While the textual histories of the fragments are outside the scope of my study, I am aware that the relationship between them—even their status as “fragments” —remains problematic, especially in relation to the questions of authority I want to raise here. For


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

particularly to medicine here, I do not suggest that the texts are more concerned with medical than poetic authority, or even that they are concerned with medical in addition to poetic authority, but that, for Keats, the interconnections between the two were more pervasive and more productive than such characterizations would allow. As Goellnicht and De Almeida (among others) have shown, the influence of Keats’s medical training pervades nearly all of his writings; in particular, Keats often played with the metaphorical possibilities of chemistry and botany in his depictions of the origins and effects of poetry and inspiration. But the manifestations of medical knowledge are often much more explicit than such potentially metaphorical displays, particular in the Hyperion poems. For example, one of the earliest images in “Hyperion” describes, on a grand mythopoetic scale, what must have been a familiar sight to Keats while at Guy’s: One hand she press’d upon that aching spot Where beats the human heart, as if just there, Though an immortal, she felt cruel pain: The other upon Saturn’s bended neck She laid, and to the level of his ear Leaning with parted lips, some words she spake In solemn tenour and deep organ tone[.] (H 1.42–8)

The image of Thea attending to Saturn as a doctor would a patient—checking his pulse and heartbeat, speaking soothing words—establishes one of the central motifs of the two fragments: the intervention of one embodied figure to diagnose and perhaps alleviate the suffering of another. Similarly, as “Hyperion” opens (and, in “The Fall,” as the Poet sees Moneta’s story unfold), we encounter similar clinical descriptions of the bodies of Saturn and the fallen Titans. Saturn, for example, is described as lying “Upon the sodden ground, / His old right hand lay nerveless, listless, dead, / Unsceptred,” with “his realmless eyes [. . .] closed” (H 1.17–19). Saturn’s “nerveless” hand is in direct contrast to Endymion’s “nervy knees” (Endymion 1.174), where “nervy,” Goellnicht reminds us, “means ‘sinewy, muscular,’ even ‘vigorous’” (Poet-Physician 145). Variations on these terms, often paired with the even more overdetermined term “sensation,” appear frequently in both Keats’s letters and his Anatomical and Physiological Notebook. The first extended description of the Titans provides even greater detail: All were not assembled: Some chain’d in torture, and some wandering. Cœrus, and Gyges, and Briareüs, Typhon, and Dolor, and Porphyrion, With many more, the brawniest in assault, Were pent in regions of laborious breath; my purposes, while claiming that both texts engage medical discourse and foreground the Poet-Physician, I treat the poems as distinct texts, though I do occasionally allude to the connections between the two (especially in terms of the depiction of Saturn). For discussions of “fragmentation” and “revision” in relation to the Hyperion poems, see Levinson and J. Bate.

“Shap’d and Palpable”


Dungeon’d in opaque element, to keep Their clenched teeth still clench’d, and all their limbs Lock’d up like veins of metal, crampt and screw’d; Without a motion, save of their big hearts Heaving in pain, and horribly convuls’d With sanguine feverous boiling gurge of pulse. (H 2.17–28)

To be sure, such scenes do enjoy a degree of poetic license—particularly here, as this passage draws heavily on the description of the battle in Heaven in Book Six of Paradise Lost15—but the careful descriptions of bodies in pain, the use of such medical terminology as “nerveless,” and even the framing of a sort of clinical tableau, all indicate that medicine has a literal presence in the text. But while the poems can thus at least partially be read in relation to Keats’s experiences with medicine, the constant and complex interweaving of medicine and poetry throughout the fragments demands that all readings remain alive to the multiple modes and personifications of authority manifested in the texts. In the case of Thea’s apparently clinical approach to the fallen Saturn, for example, we must remember that her “treatment” includes the speaking of “some words [. . .] / In solemn tenour and deep organ tone.” The authority required to attend to this patient includes discursive authority. Moreover, the relatively explicit use of medical terminology in the initial descriptions of Saturn and the Titans is marked by literary allusion, for Allott suggests that Keats may have adapted some of the lines describing Saturn from Paradise Lost, specifically the description of the Messiah’s entrance into the battle against the rebel angels: Messiah arrived “Grasping ten thousand Thunders, which he sent / Before him, such as in their Souls infix’d / Plagues,” which left the rebels “Exhausted, spiritless, afflicted, fall’n” (6.836–8, 852).16 The Messiah, like Apollo, as bringer of “Plagues,” maintains power over death and sickness as well as over life and health. I will return to the link between Messiah, Apollo, and the PoetPhysician below; for the moment, I want simply to draw attention to the ways that medicine and poetry are interwoven throughout and, perhaps more importantly, to the professed need to affect both medical and poetic authority to alleviate suffering on any scale. This necessity is made clear from the start, notably in Thea’s approach to Saturn. Despite her tremendous power—she “would have ta’ en / Achilles by the hair and bent his neck” (H 1.28–9)—the words she speaks express her absolute helplessness: Saturn, look up!—though wherefore, poor old King? I have no comfort for thee, no not one: I cannot say, “O wherefore sleepest thou?” For heaven is parted from thee, and the earth Knows thee not, thus afflicted, for a God; And ocean too, with all its solemn noise, Has from thy sceptre pass’d; and all the air Is emptied of thine hoary majesty. (H 1.52–9) 15 See Paradise Lost 6.327–53. 16 See Allott 387n. For the most thorough discussion of Keats’s readings of and debts to Milton, see Lau.


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

Regardless of her desire to help Saturn, to undo the “monstrous truth” (H 1.65) of his fall, her efforts are for naught: “So these words came and went; the while in tears / She touch’d her fair large forehead to the ground” (H 1.79–80). While Thea may have authority of one sort in abundance, she lacks the necessary poetic authority to be effective. But what is perhaps most interesting about Thea’ s lament is that her helplessness stems in large measure from the nature of Saturn’ s condition rather than from any inadequacies of her own. In her assertion that “heaven is parted from [him], and the earth / Knows [him] not,” Thea intimates that Saturn’ s affliction is one of identity, and, thus, one that the kind of authority she possesses has no power to heal. Saturn amplifies Thea’s remarks when he observes, I am gone Away from my own bosom: I have left My strong identity, my real self, Somewhere between the throne, and where I sit Here on this spot of earth. (H 1.112–16)

Unlike Thea, Saturn knows how to heal this particular “wound”—at the very least, he understands how and why he is wounded—but, like Thea, he is powerless to effect the cure: Search, Thea, search! and tell me, if thou seest A certain shape or shadow, making way With wings or chariot fierce to repossess A heaven he lost erewhile: it must—it must Be of ripe progress—Saturn must be King. [. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .] Thea! Thea! Thea! where is Saturn? (H 1.121–5, 134)

Allott reads these lines as expressive of Keats’s claims that the true poet has no identity: “Titans are men of identity and power. Their successors, the Olympians, whose qualities are epitomized in Apollo, have no identity and express [Keats’s] idea of the poetical character” (403n). While we can say with some certainty, as numerous critics have, that the problem facing Saturn and the other Titans is a clear lack of identity, Keats’s conception of the “poetical character,” as De Almeida points out, suggests not that it has no identity but that it embodies a particular kind of sensibility that allows it to assume other forms or at least maintain an imaginative sympathy with them. But Allott’s point about the nature of the Titans’ identity is important: unlike the Poet-Physician, the Titans cannot exist without a fixed identity, and the loss of such fixity leads to the kind of sickness they experience at the beginning of the poem. De Almeida persuasively argues that such passages reveal a devaluing of the life of the body in favor of the life of the mind: “Saturn is perceptually deformed. Correct in conceiving of himself and his fellow “gods” as immortal matter, his perception of this matter as single and indistinguishable eternal power nevertheless reveals them all to be ‘decrepit things’ devolving into brute mortal matter” (275). Similarly, De Almeida suggests that in the Titans we witness a parallel “devolution”:

“Shap’d and Palpable”


“We are to read the Titans’ sudden manifestation of mortal emotion as yet another sign of the devolution from godly to lesser, and perhaps human form” (276). Alan Bewell argues that what is “arresting about the poetic fragment is that its imaginative center is not Apollo, but the sick Titans,” despite the fact that Apollo is the “healthy voice of authority” (169). While the Titans do hold an important position in the poem and, further, while Apollo’s emergence at the end is climactic, I maintain that Hyperion stands literally and metaphorically at the poem’s “imaginative center.” In this case, the body-conscious Poet-Physician Hyperion stands between the sick Titans and the emergent Apollo—the Titans who have lost their identity and Apollo who has “found” his. However, the characterization of “brute mortal matter” and the suggestion that sickness is at the center of the poems do not apply only to the sick and fallen Titans. In Moneta’s first speech to the Poet in “The Fall,” we encounter the most explicit commentary on the nature of embodied existence: If thou canst not ascend These steps, die on that marble where thou art. Thy flesh, near cousin to the common dust, Will parch for lack of nutriment—thy bones Will wither in few years, and vanish so That nor the quickest eye could fin a grain Of what thou now art on that pavement cold. The sands of thy short life are spent this hour, And no hand in the universe can turn Thy hour glass, if these gummed leaves be burnt Ere thou canst mount up these immortal steps. (FH 1.107–17)

Moneta points to the Poet’s susceptibility to illness and disease: the flesh is weak and dependent upon a great many things simply to survive, and the Poet, as a “dreamer,” is dominated by “fever” (FH 1.169) since dreams and the need to dream “venoms all his days” (FH 1.175). As both De Almeida’s and Bewell’s comments suggest, embodied figures, specifically sick and diseased embodied figures, occupy the center of the fragments, and, in both cases, this focus on bodies serves to establish a clear mind-body connection. To be sure, and as the opening passages of “The Fall” reveal, some of the language of the Hyperion poems does suggest a denigration of the body and a clear hierarchy, but in the figures of the Poet and Hyperion we see something quite different. The Poet, for example, acknowledges the truth of Moneta’s claims regarding the state of his body, particularly when he begins his journey up her “immortal steps”: suddenly a palsied chill Struck from the paved level up my limbs, And was ascending quick to put cold grasp Upon those streams that pulse beside the throat: I shriek’d; and the sharp anguish of my shriek Stung my own ears—I strove hard to escape The numbness; stove to gain the lowest step. Slow, heavy, deadly was my pace: the cold


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body Grew stifling, suffocating, at the heart; And when I clasp’d my hands I felt them not. (FH 1.122–31)

The Poet does manage to mount the steps, according to Moneta, because he is one of “those to whom the miseries of the world / Are misery, and will not let them rest” (FH 1. 148–9). In the conversation that follows, however, the Poet adopts the same medically charged language and bends it to his own purpose. Moneta continues to attack the Poet’s various physical weaknesses, suggesting that his weaknesses are magnified because of his misplaced imaginative sympathies: true poets, she suggests, “seek no wonder but the human face; / No music but a happy-noted voice,” while the Poet, as a “dreamer weak,” seeks also to be in Moneta’s imaginative realm and thus bears “more woe than all his sins deserve” (FH 1.163–4, 162, 176). The Poet, in response, suggests that his susceptibility to sickness and disease engenders his ability to experience imaginative sympathy with the suffering of others and is thus his greatest strength: That I am favored for unworthiness, By such propitious parley medicin’d In sickness not ignoble, I rejoice, Aye, and could weep for love of such award. (FH 182–5)

Allott argues that Keats “modifies the conception of the dreamer’s sickness expressed in the preceding lines [. . .]; it is ‘not ignoble’ since it is incurred through insight into suffering, which brings its own spiritual and imaginative rewards” (669n). The Poet’s “insight into suffering,” an insight that Moneta, like Thea, cannot share, is made possible by the fact that he can access both “the human face” and the imaginative realm, by his ability to fill “some other Body.” In other words, because the Poet bridges the “space between” bodies or even bodies and minds he can lay claim to the title of “physician to all men” (FH 1.190). The opening sequence of “The Fall,” where the visionary framework serves to foreground the Poet-Physician in the figure of the Poet, offers perhaps the clearest commentary on this notion of bridging the “space between” and the importance of such a bridging for the conception of the Poet-Physician, but it becomes most manifest in the figure of Hyperion himself. While the Poet establishes the possibility, the necessity, of an embodied Poet-Physician who “has no identity” and “is continually in for—and filling some other Body,” the emergence of Hyperion ultimately substantiates that possibility. Hyperion” s identity, even more clearly than the Poet’s, is precisely in that “Somewhere between” where Saturn’s identity was lost. Cœlus, the father of the titans, identifies Hyperion as the “brightest of my children dear, earth-born / And sky-engendered” (H 1.309–10) and claims, Divine ye were created, and divine In sad demeanour, solemn, undisturb’ d, Unruffled, like high Gods, ye liv’ d and ruled: Now I behold in you fear, hope, and wrath; Actions of rage and passion; even as I see them, on the mortal world beneath,

“Shap’d and Palpable”


In men who die.—This is the grief, O Son! Sad sign of ruin, sudden dismay, and fall! Yet do thou strive; as thou art capable, As thou canst move about, an evident God; And canst oppose to each malignant hour Ethereal presence:—I am but a voice; My life is but the life of winds and tides, No more than winds and tides can I avail:— But thou canst. (H 1.329–43)

Hyperion, as one “earth-born / And sky-engendered,” as “an evident God,” and as “Ethereal presence,” bridges the space between earth and sky as the embodiment of imaginative sympathy, and his identity, while certainly constituted by the two, is not dependent on either. In effect, in Hyperion we encounter the double hybrid of the medicalized body in the poetic text and the unification of medical and poetic authority focused on the embodied Poet-Physician. Hyperion declares his identity as the personification of the Poet-Physician in his initial reaction to the sight of his fellow Titans, a reaction that recalls the notion of excitability that we saw in John Brown: But one of the whole mammoth-brood still kept His sov’ reignty, and rule, and majesty;— Blazing Hyperion on his orbed fire Still sat, still snuff, d the incense, teeming up From man to the sun’ s God; yet unsecure: For as among us mortals omens drear Fright and perplex, so also shuddered he— Not at dog’ s howl, or gloom-bird’ s hated screech, Or the familiar visiting of one Upon the first toll of his passing-bell, Or prophesyings of the midnight lamp; But horrors, portion’ d to a giant nerve, Oft made Hyperion ache. (H 1.164–76)

Such passages abound in the fragments, and here we see a prime example of the sort of “paradox,” slightly different from that described by O’Neill, that distinguishes the Poet-Physician: on the one hand, Hyperion maintains “His sov’ reignty, and rule, and majesty,” but, on the other, he experiences “horrors, portion’ d to a giant nerve.” This paradox recollects Moneta’s disdain for the dreamer who magnifies his own pain by taking on the pain of others, but, even more clearly than the Poet, Hyperion’s “ability” to imaginatively sympathize with others seems to be a necessary condition of his existence. During the Titan’s council, Enceladus makes a clear distinction between Hyperion and the rest of Titans, and, while he does so to rally the Titans to war, his words further clarify Hyperion’s identity as Poet-Physician: The days of peace and slumberous calm are fled; Those days, all innocent of scathing war, When all the fair Existence of heaven Came open-eyed to guess what we would speak:— That was before our brows were taught to frown,


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body Before our lips knew else but solemn sounds; That was before we knew the winged thing, Victory, might be lost, or might be won. And be ye mindful that Hyperion, Our brightest brother, still is undisgraced— Hyperion, lo! his radiance is here! (H 2.335–45)

The fallen and defeated Enceladus speaks “while still upon his arm / He lean’ d; not rising, from supreme contempt” (H 2.307–8), but the unfallen, “undisgraced” Hyperion appears and we see “Regal his shape majestic, a vast shade / In midst of his own brightness” (H 2.372-73) but with “his hands contemplative / [. . .] press’ d together” (H 2.377-78). Furthermore, Hyperion continues to manifest imaginative sympathy as he utters “Sighs [. . .] as mournful as that Memnon’s harp” (H 2.376), and Hyperion needs to adjust to the new, fallen realm Enceladus describes, since Hyperion was always part of both realms as one “earth born / And sky-engendered”: for Hyperion, even more so than for the Poet, the ability to experience embodied suffering on his own and a persistent, imaginative sympathy for the suffering of others are not simply sources of strength but necessary conditions of his continued existence. In both Hyperion and the Poet, then, we see slightly different manifestations of the Poet-Physician that share one crucial similarity vital to that figure: both preserve the sense of body consciousness absolutely essential to the identity, authority, and existence of the Poet-Physician, for that body consciousness is the precondition for imaginative sympathy. This prerequisite is most evident than in the implicit responses to Moneta’s characterization of the Poet’s physicality as a weakness. Effecting a reversal similar to that which we saw in nineteenth-century reactions to Keats’s identity as a medical student, the Poet characterizes Moneta’s (and, by extension, Saturn’s and his brood’s) resistance or immunity to bodily frailties as a sort of lack: throughout his conversation with Moneta, the Poet refers to her as a “veiled shadow” (FH 1.141), “shade” (FH 1.155), “Majestic Shadow” (FH 1.187), and “Shade of Memory” (FH 1.282). Moneta, in other words, like Cœlus, is “but a voice” (H 1.340) who has neither body nor ability to sympathize. This may have been a source of strength in the pre-Fall realm of Moneta and the Titans, as Enceladus seems to suggest, but, in the post-Fall realm, where imaginative sympathy depends upon the material body for its manifestation, the lack of body consciousness is the ultimate weakness. Furthermore, when the Poet finally sees Moneta’s “face,” he describes it as marked by “an immortal sickness which kills not”: “It works a constant change, which happy death / Can put no end to; deathwards progressing / To no death was that visage” (FH 1.257–61). In a passage reminiscent of Thea’s approach to Saturn, the Poet sees her and remarks, I had not words to answer; for my tongue, Useless, could find about its roofed home No syllable of a fit majesty To make rejoinder to Moneta’s mourn. (FH 1. 228–31)

“Shap’d and Palpable”


While he remains at somewhat of a loss in the face of suffering on such a scale, the Poet, and, I maintain, Hyperion, “hast felt / What ’tis to die and live again before / [his] fated hour” (FH 1.141–3) and thus not only can experience the pain of death but has done so already. Despite the similarities that I have been stressing throughout, there are some differences between the two versions of the Poet-Physician that are instructive. On one hand, Hyperion shares his divinity with the rest of the Titans, and therefore his bodiliness is recognized (at least by Cœlus and Enceladus) as a difference that marks a strength; this strength allows him, unlike the rest of the Titans, especially Saturn, not only to maintain his identity and his authority as the “brightest brother”—that is, he is still recognized as at least partially divine—but to further substantiate the very authority that allows him to author his identity. Hyperion’s divinity accords him some authority almost automatically, while his body consciousness grants him access to an authority that the other cannot enjoy. On the other hand, the Poet shares nothing with Moneta, and must face her contempt; rather than achieving the necessary authority, the Poet laments (in words carefully reminiscent of Saturn’s), “That I am [no ‘physician to all men’] I feel, as vultures feel / They are no birds when eagles are abroad. / What am I then?” (FH 1.191–3). When Moneta refuses, on whatever grounds, to recognize the Poet’s authority and identity as a poet, and as the Poet remains seemingly incapable of sympathizing with her plight, his authority and identity are called into question. Once again, we see imaginative sympathy as a fundamental characteristic of the Poet-Physician, and it would thus seem that one of the side-effects of the ability to feel imaginative sympathy is the need for the Poet-Physician to share the authority to author his identity with the sufferer, for without suffering, particularly the suffering of others, he cannot exercise imaginative sympathy. Ultimately, it is in this particularly complicated position that we find Keats himself: simultaneously caught between his desire to author himself as a PoetPhysician and the recognition that such authority must be shared, and between Clarke’s and Brown’s contention that he was too sympathetic and Z’s contention that he was not sympathetic enough, placing him “between” the Poet, powerless in the face of massive suffering, and Hyperion, voiceless amongst his peers. I am not suggesting here that we see Hyperion or the Poet as manifestations of Keats, but that we recognize in the Hyperion poems a response to the attempts of Keats’s contemporaries to “author” his identity and a manifesto of his own identity as PoetPhysician. In other words, while Keats is treated as a “patient” by his contemporaries, he effectively makes them patients but, at the same time, complicates such a construction so as to suggest that both sides are necessarily engaged in a process of imaginative sympathy: only when we recognize the suffering, the very identity, of others can our own be recognized. Furthermore, I want to suggest that both attempts to claim the authority to author identity, those from the “outside” and those by Keats, depend upon questions of body consciousness. Whether in claims about his constitution, in claims about his supposed “infection,” or in demands that the PoetPhysician be an embodied figure experiencing imaginative sympathy in the form of physical suffering, the issues of authority and identity center upon the “issue” of the poet’s body. What is perhaps most interesting about Keats’s desire to link medicine


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

and poetry together in an embodied Poet-Physician, not only in itself but also in the face of those who would co-opt that identity, is his recognition that such an identity requires a co-author, that a Poet-Physician is identified most clearly in his active engagement with a “reader-patient.” In any case, it is clear that negotiating the “space between” poetry and medicine in Keats, his works, and in responses to both remains a deeply complex process, not least because of the difficulties Keats himself wrestled with and cultivated. Keats’s “Posthumous Life” It comes as no surprise, then, that public reaction to Keats’s final works and later recollections and constructions of “Keats” would experience similar difficulties as readers tried to negotiate their own role in that process. The 1 May 1821 obituary in the New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal, for example, invokes the language of sensibility not only to explain, perhaps excuse, the fact that “his taste [leaned] towards an extravagance which maturer years would no doubt have corrected,” but to identify Keats as a poet and genius: “The temperament and feeling of the poet, which is always ‘much nearer allied to melancholy than to jollity or mirth,’ seem to have been the heritage of Keats: the deep susceptibility to external beauty, the intense vividness of mental impressions, and the rich colouring of thought, which are seen in genius, were all his” (qtd. in Matthews 243). A review of Shelley’s Adonais later that year, in the Literary Gazette and Journal of Belles Lettres on 8 December, uses the same language to describe the death of the “foolish young man” which had “been accelerated by the discarding [of] his neckcloth, a practice of the cockney poets”: But death, even the death of the radically presumptuous prolifigate, is a serious thing; and as we believe that Keats was made presumptuous chiefly by the treacherous puffing of his cockney fellow gossips, and prolifigate in his poems merely to make them saleable, we regret that he did not live long enough to acquire common sense, and abjure the pestilent and perfidious gang who betrayed his weakness to the grave, and are now panegyrising his memory into contempt. (qtd. in Matthews 245–6)

In both cases, the authors talk about his body and its perplexing relation to the bodies around him—the Literary Gazette implies a certain bodiliness when it claims to have wanted Keats to “abjure the pestilent” Cockneys—but whether that relation is a strength or a weakness remains unclear, for the obituary’s praise of Keats’s sensibility is marked by the recognition that it led to “extravagance,” and the review’s condemnation of Keats’s “weakness” is marked by an acknowledgment of the strength of his sensibility. Two of the most famous and edifying of the responses to Keats—I might say creations of “Keats”—were written very shortly after his death by two of his most famous contemporaries, Shelley and Byron. Shelley was one of the first to revise the myth of “Keats” into the form we recognize today. In the preface to Adonais, Shelley states with conviction,

“Shap’d and Palpable”


The savage criticism on his Endymion, which appeared in the Quarterly Review, produces the most violent effect on his susceptible mind; the agitation thus originated ended in the rupture of a blood-vessel in the lungs; a rapid consumption ensued, and the succeeding acknowledgments from more candid critics of the true greatness of his powers, were ineffectual to heal the wound thus wantonly inflicted. (391)

Byron, too, commented on the very public wars in the magazines and journals, especially the remarks in the Quarterly Review, but he gave a less-forgiving account in Don Juan: John Keats, who was killed off by one critique, Just as he really promised something great, If not intelligible,—and without Greek Contrived to talk about the Gods of late, Much as they might have been supposed to speak. Poor fellow! His was an untoward fate:— ’Tis strange the mind, that very fiery particle, Should let itself be snuffed out by an Article. (11.60.473–80)

The sensibility that both Z and Keats’s closest friends once used primarily to characterize Keats as unfit for the practice of medicine is now used almost exclusively to characterize a young “genius” who promised, if he did not already provide, “something great.” What we see, then, both in the decades immediately following Keats’s death and up to our own day, is a repeated invocation of what we can broadly call a medical context in later readings of “John Keats,” the poet and the poetry. From early supporting and attacking claims about the ultimately fatal nature of Keats’s extreme sensibility to later revisions of the contexts of his reception, commentators repeatedly, if sometimes implicitly, return to the subject of medicine and the changing nature of medical authority. To return to my starting point, in many ways it is important, even necessary, that studies of intersections between “Romanticism” and “Medicine” center on Keats. The clear interdependence of poetry and medicine in the works, the medical-historical significance of his tenure at Guy’s, the biographical importance of “medicine” in both his early and later life, and the uses and abuses of medical ideas and authorities in contemporary and subsequent readings of him and his works—in the conjunction of these elements in one particular time and place and the personification of these elements in Keats we find not only a prime example of the Poet-Physician but, more importantly, the embodiment of the possibilities and hazards of a “Romantic Medicine.” The vital work that has been done on Keats and medicine has provided crucial information about the medical and scientific contexts of the early years of the nineteenth century, about the influence of Keats’s medical training on his ways of seeing and writing, about his attitudes towards the idea of a Poet-Physician. Similarly, the work of critics interested in recovering aspects of the larger socio-political context of the “culture of dissent” has clearly demonstrated that “Keats” was a product of his times as much as he was part of them. However, despite the continuing importance of such work, readers have been so concerned with simultaneously revising and “ recovering” the image of Keats that some of the nuances of that image have been glossed over, and the “Keats” that has emerged from these studies is as much (if not more) a product of twentieth-century theoretical interests as of early nineteenth-century contexts.


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

Such claims can, of course, be made about virtually every critical enterprise; readers cannot “read themselves out” of a work. But the focus and the undeniable strength and influence of those studies has, in some ways, established the tone and terms of the discussion so firmly that we have not yet fully appreciated even their own complexities. Keats’s experiences with medicine were as deeply marked by his inclusion (voluntary or involuntary) in particular circles as were his experiences with publishers, editors, and reviewers. Hammond and the instructors, students, and patients at Guy’s do not just represent another coterie with which Keats was involved or sphere of influence that affected the way he thought but a coterie and sphere that were themselves shaped by other coteries and spheres. Furthermore, Keats’s readings in and commitment to literary traditions surely helped to shape his notions about medicine and medical men just as they helped to shape his notions of poets and poetry. The fact that the “Ode to Apollo” invokes Shakespeare as shaper and even healer as easily as it does Apollo, and the fact that the epistle “To George Felton Mathew” invokes Chatterton when discussing how “to flap away each sting / Thrown by the pitiless world” (65–6), signal the degree to which Keats brought certain ideas about poetry and the figure of the poet to his medical studies. Thus, rather than seeing only the influence of his medical knowledge on his poetry (an area of inquiry that will, nevertheless, continue to be of great importance), I want to suggest that we also need to recognize that Romantic medicine is more than a context in which we can read Keats’s life and poetry or set of ideas that emerge in the texts: it is also a crucial feature—an idea, a tool, a weapon—in the on-going struggle to come to terms with the idea of a public “Keats.” And, in closing, I am reminded of Severn’s remark to Haslam in the last hours of Keats’s life: following a detailed description of the symptoms of the illness, Severn wrote, “Keats sees all this—his knowledge of anatomy makes it tenfold worse at every change—every way he is unfortunate” (Keats, Letters 2: 370).

Chapter 5

“The Body’s Laws” Flesh, Souls, and Transgression in Thomas Lovell Beddoes’s Death’s Jest-Book

O, who shall me deliver whole From bonds of this tyrannic soul? Which, stretched upright, impales me so That mine own precipice I go; And warms and moves this needless frame (A fever could but do the same), And, wanting where its spite to try, Has made me live to let me die. A body that could never rest Since this ill spirit it possessed. (Marvell 11–20)

These lines from Andrew Marvell’s “A Dialogue Between the Soul and Body” stand as a response to the soul’s complaint that the body is a “dungeon” that “enslaved” the soul with “fettered [. . .] feet,” “manacled [. . .] hands,” and “chains / Of nerves, and arteries, and veins” (1–10). The response, while still elevating the soul to a position of authority as a tyrant, and maintaining the belief that possession of a soul is the reason humanity stands “upright,” intimates that the body does not need the soul in the same way that the soul needs the body: a “fever”—the sign of illness—could just as effectively warm and move the “needless” (in the sense of “not-needing”) frame. Similarly, the idea that the body became “restless” or animated once it “possessed” a soul implies that the soul also needed the body to itself be animated, which, compounded with the link between the soul and sickness, suggests that death is a function of the soul, and not necessarily a failing on the part of the body, a contention further supported by the body’s suggestion that the soul only “made me live to let me die.” Interestingly enough, commentators often submit that a number of elements, including the irregular fourteen-line final stanza, the inconclusive ending, and, most importantly, the fact that the body has the last word, imply that the poem is a fragment and that, had it been completed, the traditional soul-body hierarchy would hold.1 It hardly needs saying, of course, that Marvell was not the first to posit such a notion 1 The editors of the collected Marvell, for example, suggest that the “poem may originally have continued through several more ten-line stanzas, of which only the last four lines of the poem in its present condition survive” (Mangoliouth, Legouis, and Duncan-Jones 249).


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

or to suggest ways in which the soul-body hierarchy could be complicated: in this instance, critics have traced a number of possible source texts, dating from the twelfth century, and have shown that this poem probably owes a major if unacknowledged debt to James Howell’s The Vision; or, A Dialogue Between the Soul and the Bodie (1651–2).2 The indebtedness of Marvell’s text to these others perhaps suggests that his engaging with such questions may be more of a poetic exercise than a full-scale attempt to complicate the soul-body relationship. I invoke Marvell’s poem as a way to begin and frame my discussion of Thomas Lovell Beddoes for a number of reasons, all relating more to how it complicates the soul-body relationship than to why.3 First, both Marvell and Beddoes betray a sense of conflict with their perceived places in their respective cultural moments and their roles in discussions of the relation between body and soul: both are simultaneously deeply indebted to traditions from which they draw but suspicious of them. Second, both formulate their meditations as dialogue, Marvell in a single “conversation” and Beddoes in a dramatic work he intended for the stage. Much like The Peripatetic, which repeatedly draws our attention to the physical presence of the embodied Peripatetic Philosopher, and the Hyperion poems, which employ dramatic elements such as tableaux and dialogue, Marvell’s and Beddoes’s texts—in presupposing the physical presence of the central participants—foreground the materiality of both speaker and audience. However, foregrounding the material does not eradicate the immaterial but rather marks a shift in focus that serves to emphasize both; in other words, the insistent bodiliness in these texts almost protests too much. Finally, and related to the treatment of materiality and immateriality, both texts display an insistent concern with death—Marvell’s in its concern with “endur[ing] / Diseases” (27–8) and living “to [. . .] die”; Beddoes’s as an extended meditation on the nature of mortality that would occupy him for nearly half his life. Thus, we can see continuities between Marvell and Beddoes, continuities that are as instructive as they are problematic. But the similarities run deeper than choice of subject matter: Lytton Strachey suggests that Beddoes’s “greatest misfortune was that he was born at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and not at the end of the sixteenth” (237–8). Strachey was not alone in his assessment; Horace Gregory points out that among even the most judicious readers the “temptation to view [Beddoes] as a belated Elizabethan has not been resisted” (82). However, when Daniel Watkins discusses Beddoes’s The Brides’ Tragedy (1822), a text he likens to Matthew Lewis’s The Monk: A Romance (1796) and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein in that it was “a work produced within and shaped by the Romantic historical situation itself,” he contends that Beddoes was a “product and expression of the Romantic historical moment” (“Tied” 111). In similar terms, Ian Jack refers to Beddoes as “a 2 Perhaps more fundamentally, critics, including the editors of the collected Marvell, frequently note that the first two lines—“O who shall from this dungeon raise / A soul enslaved so many ways?”—paraphrase St. Paul’s words to the Romans: “O wretched man that I am! who should deliver me from the body of this death” (Rom. 7.24). 3 Unless otherwise noted, all references to Beddoes’s works are to the Donner edition, parenthetically cited as Works where necessary. Letters and other prose texts are cited by page number; poems by line number; and Death’s Jest-Book by act, scene, and line number.

“The Body’s Laws”


sort of Frankenstein, a sombre and impressive manifestation of the Zeitgeist who seems necessary to complete the literary scene of his age” (139), a phrase echoed by Northrop Frye who says that Beddoes “should have been the bridge between Keats and the early Tennyson” (52).4 In almost all cases, the conflicting opinions seem to rest on the incongruities occasioned by Beddoes’s engagements with forwardlooking scientific medicine and his appeals to the philosophies and questions of previous times. These conflicting views are neatly summarized by Susan Wolfson and Peter Manning who submit that Beddoes is at once the last Elizabethan, a Jacobean scion, an eighteenth-century graveyard poet resurrected in the Romantic age, an original interpreter of the English-German vogue of “Gothic” terror, the dark rearguard of second-generation Romanticism, a soul-mate of Baudelaire and Poe, the first modernist and, with his comic grotesqueries, a precursor of the twentieth-century theater of the absurd. (251)

Explicit mention of Beddoes’s identity as a man of medicine, usually the first thing we are told about him, remains absent from the list, even though Michael Bradshaw suggests that, “[w]ith the human body and its display being the locus of so much contemporary critical theory, it seems likely that it will be the anatomical Beddoes who predominates in the immediate future” (9). Still, to assert that Beddoes evokes particular types of critical and theoretical responses (as Bradshaw rightly does), to want to distinguish between the Poet Beddoes and the “anatomical Beddoes,” is not necessarily to assert that we can. Eleanor Wilner argues that “the desire to rescue Beddoes from his undeserved obscurity and to explore his vision at length stems from his precocious modernity, his manifestly powerful poetic voice, and the way his despairing and demonic vision offers the negative image of a century whose contradictions he suffered and articulated at a time when they remained hidden to most men” (73). Marilyn Gaull incisively remarks that to the “macabre, self-indulgent poetry” of the graveyard and Jacobean stage “Beddoes brought the secular, scientific, and skeptical attitudes that had developed in the intervening years” (107) in order to embody certain differences and “give the literature of this age an idiosyncrasy & spirit of its own” (Beddoes, Works 595). Thus, attending to Beddoes’s treatment of the metaphysical questions of earlier days in the terms of the increasing dominance of the physical sciences can tell us as much about the turn to the physical (especially the biological) sciences in those intervening years as it does about the points on either side of that turn. In this chapter, then, I explore the differences Gaull recognizes, differences thrown into sharper relief precisely because of the shocking continuities, and to explore the contradictions Wilner identifies, contradictions made most manifest in Beddoes’s desire to integrate Apollo who had “been barbarously separated by the moderns” (Works 611). After detailing some important aspects of Beddoes’s medical training and exploring his expressed obsession with reestablishing a connection 4 Frye suggests that Beddoes should have assumed that important role in literary history but did not because Death’s Jest-Book was never published; instead, “he had become a somewhat peripheral figure in English literature by the time of his death” (52) and became more peripheral in the years thereafter.


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

between poetry and medicine (figured as an act of surgery on Apollo himself), I will engage with his magnum opus Death’s Jest-Book. My reading of the play attends in particular to Beddoes’s curious, tripled version of the Poet-Physician, which he calls “Death’s Fool,” as manifested in the fool Mandrake and the brothers Wolfram and Isbrand—respectively a very much alive fool who believes himself to be dead, a resurrected and embodied “ghost,” and an over-reaching spirit desperate to be “more than men” (4.4.193). My ultimate goal, however, is neither to recuperate Beddoes for Romantic Studies nor to claim that he is unique; rather, I want to suggest that in Beddoes we witness a synthesis of a vision of the body epitomized in Marvell (uneasy with its apparent necessity but unable to ignore it) and nineteenth-century medical culture’s treatment of the soul (uneasy with the notion of its existence yet unable to deny the possibility) framed as a Poet-Physician’s meditation on the nature of death. Unlike both Thelwall’s concerns with dismissing an immaterial vital essence and Keats’s concerns with questions of authority, Beddoes’s concern is with asserting that poetic and medical authority have not been authoritative enough, largely because they have not presented a unified front. Further unlike Thelwall’s and Keats’s versions of the Poet-Physician, Beddoes’s remains in disharmony, unable to bridge the “space between,” and ultimately fails to unite poetry and medicine, body and soul, in its search for answers about life and death. In effect, in Beddoes, we witness a return to earlier metaphysical inquiries heavily marked by his extensive and rigorous training in state-of-the-art medical theories, technologies, and practices resulting in an inability either to reconcile the two or assert one over the other. However, in manifesting those contradictions in a fragmented, incomplete text, Beddoes may have succeeded in ways that Thelwall and Keats could not. Strachey claims that “[t]he central idea of Death’s Jest-Book—the resurrection of a ghost— fails to be truly effective, because it is difficult to see any clear distinction between the phantom and the rest of the characters” (258). But perhaps what makes the piece fail as a drama ensures its success as a philosophical discussion of the nature of life and death, the soul and the body, and its persistent relevance as a key text at the intersection of medicine and poetry. “Deep & Thorough Medical Studies” Of the literary figures I examine as part of this study, Beddoes was the most thoroughly trained and the most dedicated to medical study. The major biographical details of his days as a medical student are easily summarized.5 However, medical study was a life-long activity, even after the “formal” and structured aspects of earning degrees, and, almost more so than in treatments of Keats, commentators sometimes confine their treatments of Beddoes and medicine to the period between 1825 and 1831, a gesture that at times blurs the significance of medical thought and study in all 5 The biographical details of Beddoes’s formal medical studies provided here are drawn primarily from the standard biography, Donner’s Thomas Lovell Beddoes, and from the chronological table included in Works lvii-lxiv. For other studies that include discussions of these details, see Snow 59–98; Lundin, “T.L. Beddoes at Pembroke College” and “T.L. Beddoes at Göttingen”; Moylan; and Bradshaw.

“The Body’s Laws”


aspects of his life and writings. Similarly, while his commitment to medicine is often cast as his abandonment of literary pursuits, he would continue to read and write (though not publish) throughout his life. In this section, while I do want to catalogue the important dates and milestones of both his formal medical training and literary production, I also want to suggest both how dominant medical thinking and abiding informal study were in Beddoes’s later years and how deeply entwined they were with his continuing poetic development. Unlike Thelwall, who spent only a few brief years as a medical student, and even unlike Keats, whose preoccupation with medicine was marked by a sense that a “return” to formal study and practice would signal his failure as a poet, Beddoes displays a determined commitment to medicine and the advancement of medical science. In 1820, Beddoes entered Pembroke College, Oxford, which his father had also attended, but his early university days were devoted mostly to literary studies and pursuits. Letters from this period repeatedly attest to his enduring interest in reading “old plays in the Brit: Museum” (592) on top of his steady diet of Shakespeare, Marlowe, Webster, and the like.6 In addition to his voracious reading, he also published a short collection entitled The Improvisatore in 1821 and the play The Brides’ Tragedy in 1822, and he wrote or started to write numerous other texts, including the plays The Last Man, Love’s Arrow Poisoned, Torrismond, and The Second Brother over the next two years.7 Furthermore, letters from his Oxford days reveal relationships with some of the brightest literary stars of the day, especially Mary Shelley, with whom he visited in April 1824, when he met James Hogg and William Godwin.8 While on the continent, Beddoes frequently asked after new publications by Shelley, and he expressed particular interest in the publication of The Last Man (1826). Beddoes’s letters are loaded with references to and critiques of the books he was reading, and Kelsall declares that Beddoes “had a high standard of excellence—appreciated Wordsworth & Shelley (especially the Cenci)—but attached his homage entirely, I think, but to one great name—Shakespeare” (qtd. in Donner, Browning 27), further attesting to his particular interest in drama. But regardless of his precocious literary output and growing reputation as a poet and playwright, and in contrast to what we will see as his extreme diligence as a student in Germany, Beddoes was hardly a model student: he was frequently absent for extended periods and left while sitting his examination for the BA in 1824, though

6 References to these and other Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights are scattered throughout the letters, but see Nickerson for a list of texts Beddoes read in the Bodleian Library. 7 Even before entering Oxford, at the age of 15, Beddoes wrote (but did not publish) the prose narrative Sarconi; or, The Mysterious Cave (1818). 8 For Beddoes’s brief mention of this meeting, see Works 585. Beddoes’s relationship with Mary Shelley was apparently initiated in early 1824 when he, Procter, and Kelsall approached her about the possibility of publishing a posthumous collection of Percy Shelley’s poems: they offered to fund the publication of 250 copies, and she accepted (see M. Shelley, Letters 1: 386 and Beddoes, Works 578–9). Later that year, The Posthumous Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley was published, and she sent Beddoes a personalized copy; see M. Shelley, Letters (1: 424).


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

he would eventually return to Oxford and complete the degree in 1825 and would return again in 1828, from Göttingen, to take an MA. Three aspects of his time at Oxford, aside from his seemingly ceaseless reading and writing, are important for my purposes here. First, in early 1823 he met Thomas Forbes Kelsall, one of his most frequent correspondents during the remainder of Beddoes’s life on the continent, and the person most directly responsible for preserving many of the texts and manuscripts we have today.9 Second, while at Oxford Beddoes began to engage in the radical political activity that he would continue for the rest of his life.10 Third, while it is true that Beddoes began his medical studies in earnest in 1825 at Göttingen, Lundin reminds us that his “medical education actually begins at Oxford, where an old registry in the Pembroke College Library shows that he borrowed a seventeenth century anatomical text written by John Browne (Myographia Nova) at the end of his second year, and where, during his last term, he attended lectures on comparative anatomy” (“T.L. Beddoes at Göttingen” 490n).11 His relationship with Kelsall, his radicalism, and specific interest in anatomy as an introduction to medicine would all have clear implications for Death’s Jest-Book, which, as we will see, also had its genesis at Pembroke College. A few months after completing his studies at Oxford, Beddoes left for the continent to commence medical studies in earnest at the university in Göttingen, and, except for a few short visits to England, he would remain on the continent for the rest of his life—though rarely in one place for long. In a similar (if reversed) gesture as that which we witnessed in constructions of Keats, some of his biographers and critical commentators suggest that his journey to Germany and his “turn to” medicine was somehow a “turning away” from poetry—and from England. Christopher Ricks states that Beddoes was “[s]elf-exiled to Germany” (135), while Wilner declares that, “[t]urning against his own early poetic bent, Beddoes left England after his undergraduate days to become a graduate student of anatomy in Germany [. . .] though he secretly remained a poet” (74, emphasis mine). Royall Snow makes the division even sharper: “In London Beddoes was received on equal terms as an extremely promising young poet by such people as Procter, Darley, and Mrs Shelley[. . . .] In Germany the emphasis was quite the contrary: he was known as an able young anatomist, and his dissections were of far more consequence than his sonnets” (60–61).12 As with Keats, Beddoes’s own letters contribute to such assessments. By the fall of 1825, when he had arrived in Germany, Beddoes writes, “I am preparing for deep & thorough medical studies: for I find literary wishes fading

9 R. Snow, for example, holds that, “[w]hen Beddoes died, he had destroyed all his manuscripts save three versions of his last play, Death’s Jest-Book. It was Kelsall who preserved the rest” (26). 10 On Beddoes’s radicalism, see Burwick, “Anatomy.” 11 Browne (1642–1700?) studied surgery at St Thomas’s Hospital; his Myographia Nova; or a Graphical Description of All the Muscles in the Human Body was published in 1684. For more on Beddoes’s early medical studies at Oxford, see Lundin, “T.L. Beddoes at Pembroke College.” 12 George Darley (1795–1846), poet, mathematician, and editor of the London Magazine, favorably reviewed The Brides’ Tragedy in 1823.

“The Body’s Laws”


pretty fast—however, I have written two acts of an affair wh, if ever consummated, will be tolerably decent” (607). And deep and thorough those studies were. A letter he wrote to Kelsall just a few months after his arrival in Germany attests to his commitment to medical study, and to the interdependence of medical study and literary practice: Up at 5, Anatomical reading till 6—translation from English into German till 7—Prepare for Blumenbach’s lecture on comp. Anaty & breakfast till 8—Blumenbach’s lecture till 9—Stromeyer’s lecture on Chemistry till 10. 10 to ½ p. 12, Practical Zootomy—½ p. 12 to 1 English into German or German literary reading with a pipe—1 to 2 Anatomical lecture. 2 to 3 anatomical reading. 3 to 4 Osteology. 4 to 5 Lecture in German language. 5 to 6 dinner and light reading Zootomy, Chem. or Anaty. 6 to 7, this hour is very often wasted in a visit, sometimes Anatomical reading till 8. Then coffee and read Greek till 10. 10 to 11, write a little Death’s Jest Book wh is a horrible waste of time, but one must now & then throw away the dregs of the day; read Latin sometimes or even continue the Anatomy—and at 11 go to bed. (608–9)

Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752–1840), though sometimes regarded as one of the most celebrated figures in the history of medicine and science, is, of course, also regarded as the founder of modern medical racism: his On the Natural Varieties of Humankind (1775) divides humans into four racial varieties based on his study “of the human body and its members, whether occasioned by climate, or mode of life, or diverse unions, or finally, by artificial means” (129).13 Blumenbach’s teachings may have influenced Beddoes’s depiction of Ziba, the African slave and mystic in Death’s Jest-Book; however, aside from a handful of brief references such as the one in the passage cited here, Beddoes does not mention or discuss in any detail his debt to or opinion of Blumenbach’s theories. But, more to the point here, the passage does reveal that Beddoes did not intend to limit his studies to the requirements of a degree at Göttingen; he told Kelsall that he would “probably visit Berlin, Leipzig, Vienna, some of the Italian universities, & finally Paris; for I intend to devote 8 or 10 years to these studies, combined with the languages necessary and a slender thread of practical literature. You see I will not fail of being something, by not exercising what talent I have” (610). After admitting that such devotion to a pursuit marks him as somewhat “alone in the world, & likely to remain so,” he suggests that loneliness only serves to ensure that he “occupy that part of the brain wh should be employed in imaginative attachments, in the pursuit of immaterial & unchanging good” (610). However, while scientific study clearly commanded the bulk of his attention, it is important to note that work on Death’s Jest-Book never stopped (though he did put it aside for roughly a year between 1826 and 1827) and that the progress of both poem and scientific study went hand in hand. He would remain at Göttingen until 1829 when he would enter the university at Würzburg, which had “the foremost medical faculty in Germany” (Donner, “Notes” 768), and, ultimately, he received his MD from Würzburg in 1831. While there is 13 Coleridge attended Blumenbach’s lectures in Göttingen in 1799 and became a close friend; references to Blumenbach and his theories abound in Coleridge’s letters and notebooks. “stromeyer” in the passage is Freidrich Stromeyer (1776–1835), who was Professor of Medicine and in charge of all apothecaries in Hanover.


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

some debate as to whether he actually practiced medicine—he claimed to “have taken an M.D. at Wurzburg” but to have had no “desire to make use of the title” (656)—it is almost universally acknowledged that he was an anatomist of the first rank. In fact, Beddoes spent some time lecturing at Würzburg, Zürich, and possibly Berlin, and the medical faculty at the university in Zürich thought so highly of his skills that they offered to make him Professor of Comparative Anatomy in 1835; however, he was finally denied the position by the “board of education” on the basis of a “very reasonable regulation [which] requires that every Professor of the University shall have either published some scientific work or officiated some where as teacher” (Beddoes, Works 658–9).14 But as with his reluctance to “make use” of his MD and serve as a physician and despite his continuing interest in anatomical and physiological study, Beddoes does not seem to have welcomed the possibility of a professorship: he states that while the board at Zürich was “naturally disinclined to transgress” the regulations regarding Professors, he was equally disinclined “to write, having nothing new to communicate, or to have the trouble of lecturing without a collection of specimens would be to no purpose and, indeed, impracticable” (659). Furthermore, two years later he told Kelsall that he “narrowly escaped becoming professor of comparative Anaty in the U. of Zürich” (665). But as with his claims to abandon literature, Beddoes’s claims to have no desire to write a medical treatise are undermined in his letters. In 1827, for example, he told Kelsall that his “next publication [would] probably be a dissertation in Organic Expansion; or an inquiry into the laws of the Growth & Restoration in organized matter” (629). He further maintained that he was preparing a translation into English of a work-in-progress entitled “schoenlein’s Natural History of the Diseases of Europeans” (657) in 1834 and was nearly finished translating into German “Grainger’s book on the Spinal Cord” (667) in 1838.15 But whether because of more immediate engagements with contemporary science or failed literary aspirations born of “obscurity” on the continent, Beddoes’s letters reveal something of a crisis of faith that centers around his work as anatomist but also involves his poetry, a crisis that both drives and questions the efficacy of his work. Even shortly after his arrival at Göttingen, within the first few months of determined medical study, Beddoes told Kelsall: At present Anatomy, anatomy, anatomy, of man, dog, & bird, occupy so much of my time that you must pardon me for being very dull; my head is full of the origin and insertion of 14 Donner tells us that Beddoes completed a thesis at Würzburg, “according to the procedure then usual in German universities,” but it was “a mere formality,” and he “did not publish a dissertation” (Works 771). 15 Johann Lukas Schönlein (1793–1864), Professor of Medicine at Würzburg and Berlin and Physician to the King between 1839 and 1859, was Beddoes’s closest advisor. As with the proposed text on organic expansion, we have no evidence that Beddoes ever completed this translation. Richard Dugard Grainger (1801–1865), anatomist, physiologist, and lecturer at St Thomas’s Hospital, published Observations on the Structure and Functions of the Spinal Cord in 1837. Beddoes’s letters indicate that he had trouble finding a publisher for the proposed translation and that it was never published; Donner hints that the translation was never completed, and no manuscript exists to refute the claim (Works 773).

“The Body’s Laws”


muscles & such names as trachelo-mastoideus, Cerato-chondroglossus & Bucco-pterygomylogenio-cerato-chondro-cricco-thyreo-syndesmo-pharyngeus. But this beginning is the worst part of the science, which after all is a most important and most interesting one; I am determined never to listen to any metaphysician who is not both anatomist & physiologist of the first rank. (612; emphasis added)

This determination reflects neither an increased faith in the biological sciences nor a decreased faith in metaphysics, but a recognition that any question, let alone any answer, on the nature of death must acknowledge both—not discreetly, as two questions to elicit a connecting answer or as one question with two “aspects,” but as one all-consuming commitment to know that refuses to discount any possibility or take any position on faith alone. This difficult to articulate but crucial to recognize distinction is expressed in an important and often-cited letter to Kelsall in 1827: I am now already so thoroughly penetrated with the conviction of the absurdity & unsatisfactory nature of human life that I search with avidity for every shadow of a proof or probability of an after-existence, both in the material & immaterial nature of man. Those people, perhaps they are few, are greatly to be envied who believe, honestly and from conviction, in the Xtian doctrines: but really in the New T. it is difficult to scrape together hints for a doctrine of immortality. Man appears to have found out this secret for himself, & it is certainly the best part of all religion and philosophy, the only truth worth demonstrating: an anxious question full of hope & fear & promise, for wh Nature appears to have appointed one solution—Death. In times of revolution & business, and even now, the man who can lay much value in the society, praise, or glory of his fellows, may forget, and he who is of a callous phlegmatic constitution may never find the dreadful importance of the doubt. I am haunted for ever by it; & what but an after life can satisfy the claims of the oppressed on nature, satiate endless & admirable love & humanity, & quench the greediness of the spirit for existence[.] (629–30)

It is important to recognize that Beddoes seeks after “every shadow of proof,” and this frenzied proclamation follows his assertion that his “next publication will probably be a dissertation in Organic Expansion; or an inquiry into the laws of the Growth & Restoration in organized matter” (629). In other words, Beddoes was engaged in the same quest as Thelwall and so many other of the anatomists of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries to find the essence of life itself. For Beddoes, however, that essence lay in death—not in “organized matter,” as in Thelwall, and not in the conjunction of soul and body, as in Keats; but in the moment of disjunction, at the moment of death, when both our mortality and immortality are most called into question and most visibly apparent. This concern with death leads Beddoes to a concern with the after-life, and what distinguishes Beddoes from earlier treatments of the soul and its after-life is the expressed belief, first, that scientific anatomy could provide the key to the mysteries of life and death, and, second, that “uniting Apollo,” exploring the interconnections between poetry and medicine, could provide answers. Some critics suggest that his obsession with death serves as an indication of his “unsuccessful attempts to discover physiological evidence for a doctrine of immortality” (Lundin 484). Beddoes’s letters and Death’s Jest-Book display a frustration with anatomical and physiological study by themselves, but to suggest that his meditations on death arose


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

from a lack of success in such study is to suggest that such study did not continue to play a vital role in his investigations. In his determination “never to listen to any metaphysician who is not both anatomist & physiologist of the first rank” (612) in terms of his obsession with the nature of death and the afterlife, we can perhaps see the plan for Death’s Jest-Book, the text that would be both the means and the end of his quest. Thus, while Beddoes had his title over a year before he wrote this letter and had started planning if not writing while at Oxford what would become his life’s work,16 his expressed belief here that the physical and the metaphysical could not be separated while he was engaged in intense medical study serves as perhaps the best introduction to the character of “Death’s Fool” and the frustration that would plague his questioning for the rest of his life. “I Owe This Wisdom to Anatomy”: Uniting Apollo But before turning to the play itself, I want first to explore Beddoes’s detailed discussions of the relationship between poetry (especially dramatic poetry) and medicine (especially anatomy), for, even more so than the other two incarnations of the Poet-Physician discussed in this study, Beddoes extensively and self-consciously developed a comprehensive theory based on that relationship that he then used to construct the figure of “Death’s Fool.” In particular, I want to attend to the perplexing but crucial role and position of the body and what Beddoes would call “the body’s laws” (3.3.692) in his treatment of immortality. In closing one of the most important of his letters, in which he details his life as a student, Beddoes offers Kelsall an apology for “having scribbled a letter so full of myself but [. . .] I think you require some explanation of my way of studying medicine” (610). Exploring the ebb and flow of that explanation forms the greater part of the subject of this section, for it is in that explanation that we can see most clearly what drove his medical studies and what led him to apparently “expand” his researches. In the letter’s conclusion, Beddoes encapsulates his explanation in one of his most famous statements: ‘shame on you for having anticipated a regular M.D. to arise out of my ashes after reduction in the crucible of German philosophy! Apollo has been barbarously separated by the moderns: I would endeavour to unite him” (610–11). To “unite” Apollo, or to merge the spheres of medicine and poetry, Beddoes developed a theory of the drama that Moylan calls “therapeutic theater” because of its explicit efforts to heal the disjunction between body and soul and unite medicine and poetry. To examine the possibilities of a therapeutic theater, we need first to look at Beddoes’s views on drama. As we have already seen, he always had something more than an appreciation for it, especially the works of Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights, but, with the possible exception of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s The Cenci, he took a fairly dim view of the works of his contemporaries. But his affinity for the works of the Elizabethans and Jacobeans does not lead him to demand a return to the past:

16 He first mentions the idea for the play and its title in his last letter from Oxford (Works 604).

“The Body’s Laws”


I am convinced the man who is to awaken the drama must be a bold trampling fellow— no creeper into worm-holes—no reviser even—however good. These reanimations are vampire-cold. Such ghosts as Marloe, Webster & c are better dramatists, better poets, I dare say, than any contemporary of ours—but they are ghosts—the worm is in their pages—& we want to see something that our great-grandsires did not know. With the greatest reverence for all the antiquities of the drama, I still think that we had better beget than revive—attempt to give the literature of our age an idiosyncrasy & spirit of its own, & only raise a ghost to gaze on, not to live with—just now the drama is a haunted ruin. (595)

Thus, Beddoes advocates neither a revival of the past nor a revision of the present, but the creation of a new drama that both produces and is produced by the new age. Gaull points out that this passage is “more widely quoted by literary historians than any of his plays” (105), sometimes to emphasize negative claims about early nineteenth-century drama, sometimes to undermine claims that Beddoes is “the last Elizabethan.” For my part, I want to emphasize Beddoes’s opinion that his contemporaries “had better beget than revive”: the drama is an embodied genre, one that needs more than the ghosts of the past to reanimate contemporary “corpses.” Both a new body and a new “spirit”—aware of the past, born in the present, looking to the future—are fundamental to any effort to explore the differences, contradictions, and idiosyncrasies of the new age. But what will the newly begotten drama look like? For the answer, we need to turn our attention to the famous letter to Kelsall, to Beddoes’s explanation of the hows and whys of his medical studies. The letter opens with Beddoes relating his hectic daily schedule as a student at Göttingen (quoted and discussed in the previous section). He proceeds to tell Kelsall that he includes the schedule as part of a confession: “I have lost much, if not all, of my ambition to become poetically distinguished: & I do NOT think with Wordsworth that a man may dedicate himself entirely, or even in great part, to the cultivation of that part of literature, unless he possesses far greater powers of imagination &c than even W. himself, and, (I need not add) ergo, than I do” (609). Nevertheless, Beddoes assures Kelsall that he will not “become at any time a bare & barren man of science, such as are so abundant, & so appallingly ignorant on this side of Chemistry or Anatomy” (609). With that in mind, and despite his claims to have lost literary ambition, Beddoes still refers to himself as a “dramatist,” and, “even as a dramatist,” I cannot help thinking that the study of anatomy, physiol-, psych-, and anthro-pology applied to and illustrated by history, biography and works of the imagination is that which is most likely to assist in producing correct and masterly delineations of the passions; great light would be thrown on Shakespeare by the commentaries of one so educated. The studies of the dramatist and the physician are closely, almost inseparably allied; the application alone is different [. . . .] The science of psychology, and of mental varieties, has long been used by physicians [. . .] for the investigation & removal of the immaterial causes of disease; it still remains for someone to exhibit the sum of his experience in mental pathology & therapeutics, not in a cold technical dead description, but a living


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body semiotical display, a series of anthropological experiments, developed for the purpose of ascertaining some important psychical principle—i.e., a tragedy.17 (609)

Commentators point out that the OED provides one definition of ‘semiotical” as “the branch of medicine relating to the interpretation of symptoms,” citing Beddoes’s use of it here as the fourth and last example (Moylan 183; Bradshaw 98n). Moylan argues that while “we can only infer what Beddoes meant by the term,” we must remember that the “clinical approach he studied at Göttingen was developed by Xavier Bichat” (183), an approach, as we have already seen, similar to that taught at Guy’s: Whereas before the development of clinical science the physician was once confined to interpreting the outward manifestations of pathology, such as skin discoloration or fever, he now used the stethoscope or other new diagnostic advances to infer the presence of pathology within the organic space of the body. In dissection, the clinician cut and peeled away tissue to reach the specific sites of disease. Pathology, histology [the study of the microscopic anatomy of tissue], anatomy and clinical diagnostics all shifted medicine to an understanding of disease processes in the depth of the body. (183)

In short, the new drama served to anatomize contemporary anxieties about the body and the nature of life and death, as well as, perhaps more importantly, the medical establishment’s responses to those anxieties by turning the theater into an operating theater where all participants engaged in the work of “peel[ing] away tissues” to reach the heart of social and cultural concerns. Such a construction both employs the terms and tools of medicine and calls them into question by using them in plain sight. But whereas Moylan emphasizes the therapeutic and diagnostic aspects of Beddoes’s theory of drama—what “therapeutic theater” is supposed to do—I want to emphasize the figure of “Death’s Fool” who embodies both doctor and patient, operator and operated-on. For the moment, it is enough to recognize the corpus of Death’s Jest-Book as both discussion and embodiment of therapeutic theater.18 If writing plays is frequently figured as the work of anatomy or of surgery, as “peeling away tissues,” in Beddoes’s writings, then plays themselves become bodies to be anatomized or operated on. Shortly after the critical success of The Brides’ Tragedy, Beddoes began work on four plays that he would never complete. After telling Kelsall that he had “finished the first act of a play” (likely Torrismond) and that Procter had liked “that fool The last man,” Beddoes declares, “I shall go on with neither; there are now three first acts in my drawer: when I have got two more I shall stitch them together” (580; emphasis added), probably referring to The Second 17 The claim that this new drama in which the work of the dramatist and physician are linked to produce the “correct and masterly delineations of the passions” recalls Joanna Baillie’s assertion in the “Introductory Discourse” that “[t]he theatre is a school in which much good or evil may be learned” (1: 57). However, I can find no references to Baillie in Beddoes’s extant works. 18 Moylan reminds us that such a theory of the drama, which considered it the work of the author to peel “away the tissue of social and personal life to reveal hidden sickness,” was held by others like John Donne and Robert Burton (both of whom had measurable influence on Beddoes), but that Beddoes’s vision is marked by “an insistence that clinical anatomy is directly relevant to drama” (183–4).

“The Body’s Laws”


Brother. Even his demand that his contemporaries should “better beget than revive” figures the drama as a body subject to anatomization. But such depictions of the drama as a body and dramatizing as anatomizing become more persistent when he begins Death’s Jest-Book. Thus, it is no mere coincidence that the first mention of the play in the letters occurs at almost the same moment that Beddoes was achieving notoriety at Oxford as a (somewhat scandalous) poet, studying comparative anatomy, and deciding to go to Göttingen: he claims to be “thinking of a very Gothic-styled tragedy, for wh [he had] a jewel of a name—DEATH’s JESTBOOK” (604). In the next surviving letter (in which Beddoes refers to himself in the third person), written from Hamburg almost immediately upon arrival from London, Beddoes solidifies the connections: “by the end of this week, mein Herr Thomas will probably be a Dr. of the university of Göttingen,” and “he will return to England with a somewhat quaint and unintelligible tragedy, which will set all critical pens nib upwards à la fretful porcupine” (605). Within a year of his arrival, Beddoes wrote this passage in a curious letter to Kelsall: You’d be quite delighted to see how I disguise myself here: no human being wd imagine that I was anything but the most stoical, prosaic, dull anatomist: [. . .] and to tell you truly I begin to prefer Anatomy &c to poetry, I mean to my own, & practically; besides I never cd have been the real thing as a writer: there shall be no more accurate physiologist & dissector. (618)

Later in the same letter, Beddoes reiterates this point with one crucial twist: “Ask me about poets? &c, talk of Anatomists & I’ll tell you something: I have left off reading Parnassian foolery: I can bear a satire still tho’ and write one, as Jest-book will show” (619). Satire, then, more than tragedy—which could be considered “Parnassian foolery”—is the proper mode of the new drama, Moylan’s “therapeutic theater.” In effect, in referring to the play as a satire (though he did not clearly indicate what he planned to satirize), Beddoes identifies Death’s Jest-Book as the substantiation of his claims about the new drama. Similarly, while he continuously repeats his statements about his desire to achieve success as a playwright, Beddoes believes himself “essentially unpoetical in character, habits & ways of thinking,” claiming that “nothing but the desperate hunger for distinction, so common to young gentlemen at the Univy, ever set [him] upon rhyming” (636). In writing Death’s Jest-Book, however, he aims not for distinction but to beget the new drama, to be an “accurate physiologist & dissector” of both medical treatments of death and the body and the cultural anxieties concerning them. Thus, like Keats’s expressed desire to do the world some good (and a step beyond Keats’s promise to try medicine later),19 Beddoes commits himself to “persevere in [his] preference of Apollo’s pill box to his lyre,” to choose “Göttingen instead of Grub street” (636), even as he blurs the distinction between the two by developing a theory of drama he seeks to unite Apollo rather than choose between his pill box or his lyre. 19 Beddoes’s words echo Keats’s: “These are my real and good reasons for having at last rendered myself up to the study of a reputable profession, in which the desire of being useful may at least excuse me, altho’ I may be unequal to the attempt to become a master in it” (637).


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

Thus, Death’s Jest-Book is the new drama: an extended meditation in the nature of death, both an invocation of the united Apollo and the means by which that unification is to take place. But perhaps even more often than to these statements in the letters, commentators turn to the famous verse epistle to Procter, written from Göttingen in March 1826, in framing their readings of Death’s Jest-Book, and I do likewise here. Beddoes opens the piece with a mild mocking note, alluding to his being “a truant from the odd old bones / And winds of flesh [. . . which] / Have housed man’s soul” (“Another Letter to the Same” 1–4). He then moves on to reprove those who “write their simpering sonnets [. . .] / And walk on Sundays in Parnassus” park” (23–4) only to “feed and fear some asinine Review” (38). He, however, claims to have been “Freed from the slavery of [his] ruling spright / Anatomy the grim”—to have left the strictures of anatomy proper—so as to write “a new story” (44–6), a story that will marry “Despair” and “mirth” (47), “enmities and loves” (49), “Triumphs and horrors” (50). But Beddoes asks, who is the conductor of the song at the “weddingbanquet,” “he who fills the cups and makes the jest, / [. . .] Who’s he” (48–55)? As he answers his own question, we see the first clear depiction of Beddoes’s version of the Poet-Physician: I’ve dug him up and decked him trim And made a mock, a fool, a slave of him Who was the planet’s tyrant: dotard Death: Man’s hate and dread: not with a stoical breath To meet him like Augustus standing up, Nor with grave saws to season the cold cup Like the philosopher, not yet to hail His coming with a verse or jesting tale As Adrian did and More: but of his night, His moony ghostliness and silent might To rob him, to uncypress him I’ the light To unmask all his secrets; make him play Momus o’er wine by torchlight is the way To conquer him and kill; and from the day Spurned, hissed and hooted send him back again An unmask’d braggart to his bankrupt den. For death is more “a jest” than Life: you see Contempt grows quick from familiarity, I owe this wisdom to Anatomy. (55–73)

Bradshaw points out that, “like ‘quick’ in the preceding line, ‘Anatomy’ is a pun, doubly referring to the formal discipline Anatomy and to the stark reality of the human skeleton itself. It is evident that Beddoes is describing the derivation of ‘wisdom,’ in particular truths about the nature of life and death, from a dissected corpse” (93). While his claim to be free from the ‘slavery” of anatomy most likely refers to his having some time to write—that is, to be free from study at least for a while—I think we also need to see the same pun operating there: freed from the slavery of the disciplinary requirements of anatomy but choosing to marry its “wisdom” with the wisdom of verse, not (or not only) “to hail / His coming” but to “unmask all his secrets.” Despite the arrogance he demonstrates here in a poetic persona, which

“The Body’s Laws”


suggests that he can make “a mock, a fool, a slave” of death (an arrogance which Harold Bloom suggests is intentionally ironic [“Thomas” 441]), Beddoes articulates both the plan for and central difficulty of Death’s Jest-Book: to embody “Death’s Fool,” at once servant and master of Death itself. Between Corpus and Corpse: Death’s Jest-Book With such demands and expectations placed upon it, then, in some ways the play seems to have been doomed to fail from the start. The first draft of the play would take him almost four years to write, and he would spend the remainder of his life, from 1829 to 1849, revising that draft and leaving us with three versions of the play and at least 20 extraneous fragments upon his death.20 Virtually everything he wrote after 1825 was in some way connected to it, prompting numerous displays of frustration: he calls it a “quaint and unintelligible tragedy” (605), “a horrible waste of time” (609), “never-ending” (616), ‘stillborn” (659), “a strange conglomerate” (676). But he still says that he does “not intend to publish or republish anything of an earlier date (except D.J.B.)” (662). In one of the letters included in The Browning Box, Kelsall refers to the play as Beddoes’s “magnum opus” and offers what amounts to an apology: “He wrote [. . .] with no special philosophic aim [. . . .] He merely poured out the thoughts and fancies with which his mind incessantly teemed without reference to other results than what a great dramatist has in view—’to purge the mind by pity and terror’, is that not the Aristotelian definition of the highest tragedy?” (84). Kelsall’s apology stems in part from the fact that he and others like him disagreed with Beddoes’s intention to produce Death’s Jest-Book for the stage. Upon receiving Kelsall’s commentary on the first draft of the play, Beddoes responded, “You are, I think, disinclined to the stage: now I confess that I think this is the highest aim of the dramatist, & I should be very desirous to get on it” (638). In other words, Beddoes desired his word to be made flesh, to embody the drama in performance, and to include a participatory audience as part of the equation. I begin with this brief look at the play’s tortured history as a way to illuminate the difficulties Beddoes experienced in producing his magnum opus but also the difficulties he encountered in trying to answer the questions he posed in the play. In 1827, Beddoes told Kelsall of the play’s story and of his progress in bringing that story to life: I have a pretty good deal in fragments which I want to cement together and make a play of—among them is the last Man. They will all go into the Jest book—or the Fool’s Tragedy—the historical nucleus of which is an isolated and rather disputed fact, that Duke Boleslaus of Münsterberg in Silesia was killed by his court fool A.D. 1377, but that is the least important part of the whole fable. I have dead game in great quantities, but when or how it will be finished Æscalapius alone knows. (636)

20 Donner’s text, the one I use here, is a variorum edition of the first draft (largely fragmentary), the “α” version (first fair copy completed in 1828–29), the “β” version (prepared for the press in 1829), and the “γ” version (an enlarged Act 1, completed between 1838 and 1844). For an extensive textual history, see Donner, Works xxxi–xxxviii.


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

Notice again the suggestion that he will “cement together” the pieces and especially the invocation of Æscalapius, Apollo’s son and a physician, as the one who governs the play. Again, my discussion of the play focuses on the development of the multiple “Death’s Fools,” and the fact that Beddoes deploys multiple versions at once attests to his desire to explore the questions and their complexity thoroughly. While I will range across the entirety of the play, I will primarily examine two scenes: the resurrection of Wolfram, which comprises the literal and metaphorical center of the play, and the final failed rebellion of Isbrand, which serves as its conclusion. In each case, we encounter varying degrees of emphasis on the body of “Death’s Fool,” from the possibility that the body does not exist, to the possibility that it alone exists, and to the possibility that the body exists to be overcome. However, the always insistent body consciousness of his character presents Beddoes with anxieties, contradictions, and potentialities that are as complicating as they are productive. The play opens with a speech by the fool Homunculus Mandrake, identified as a “zany,” an apothecary, and a “student in the black arts” (1.1.16), though there is little distinction made between apothecary and necromancer. Mandrake remains part of the action only until the end of Act 3, Scene 3, the resurrection scene, but his role remains crucial throughout. I begin with him, for, because he is clearly identified as the fool from the start—a role crucial to so many of the Elizabethan and Jacobean revenge tragedies that Beddoes read as inspiration21—and remains true to his role. He serves as the voice of “mock-logic, presenting plausible arguments and pseudosyllogisms and paradoxes” (Frye 70) while offering a metacommentary on the nature of life and death, on the relation between body and soul. Furthermore, and again following tradition, part of his role is to act as comic relief: his first significant act in the play is to create a potion of invisibility, “a dangerous and wicked butter [that] hath so worked upon priests’ humanity, great men’s wisdom, and poet’s immortality, that when death hath anointed us with it, Posterity shall hold all these things for fables” (1.4.27–30). After making the potion, Mandrake accidentally drops the pot on his head, prompting Isbrand and his fellow revelers to play a “game of blind man’s bluff” (2.1.79) and act as if Mandrake was dead: MANDRAKE. Sweetheart Kate, and friends all: I am not dead nor gone, where are your eyes? I am here. KATE. O mercy! there is haunting here; did you not hear his voice? BOY. Aye, so spake Master, but he is departed, and here is no one. MANDRAKE. Good folks don”t pretend any more that you don’t see me. O Lord, I am half frightened already into the belief that I am vanished. Reasonable folks! I stand here in the corner, by the rack of plates. (2.1.88–97)

Out of fear and frustration, Mandrake starts striking at the revelers until they are forced to acknowledge his presence and strike back, but Kate asks, “Art thou material, villain?” (2.1.132), and they persist in the joke. Mandrake responds, “O gentle people! I confess. I will be invisible if you will leave off seeing where to put your blows in;—immaterial to keep my bones whole, and inaudible if you will hear my petition. I am no Mandrake, I am nothing” (2.1.135–38). Mandrake then 21 On the figure of the fool, see Billington.

“The Body’s Laws”


departs thinking he is dead, and his remaining speeches serve as (often humourous) deliberations about what it means to be dead. But while we can easily see the comical function of Mandrake, the logic, even “mock-logic,” he offers remains suspect because of his complete lack of awareness. Nevertheless, he does provide a lens through which to view the attitude and actions of Wolfram and Isbrand, because he is also a kind of “Death’s Fool”—both fooled by death and its voice. His very name is suggestive on this point: “Homunculus” refers to the Jewish mystical notion of “a tiny anthropoid generated during the process of putrefaction of human semen and menstrual blood” (Idel 185),22 while “Mandrake” refers to the poisonous plant so named because its roots were thought to resemble the human body and imitate a human scream when pulled from the ground.23 Recognizing Mandrake as a “mimicked” human being created from death is crucial to our understanding of his treatments of death and the body. I want to look here at two of Mandrake’s key speeches, both of which take place at the tomb of the slain Wolfram, a place Mandrake identifies as “Refuge” and “home” (2.2.67). When we next encounter him, he begins to accept his “death” and proceeds to describe the process of that acceptance: Well, what is, is, and what is not, is not; and I am not what I was—for I am what I was not; I am no more I, for I am no more: I am no matter, being out of all trouble, and nobody at all, but poor Mandrake’s pure essence. And how came I to this pass? Marry, I must either have been very sound asleep when I died, or else I died by mistake, for I am sure I never intended it: or else this being dead is a quite insignificant habit when one’s used to it: ‘tis much easier than being alive, now I think on it: only think of the trouble one had to keep up life. One must breathe, and pass round the blood and digest and let hair, and nails, and bone and flesh grow. (2.2.69–80)

In death, in the separation of soul and body (“I am no matter”), Mandrake loses his identity (“I am no more I”) and even as he continues as “pure essence.” Far from reveling in his apparent “escape” from the flesh, Mandrake mourns its loss, as he is now “nobody at all, but poor Mandrake’s pure essence.” Furthermore, his death is something over which he should have had more control: he neither remembers it nor intended it and thus questions its actuality. But his inability to remember dying may have something to do with the fact that death appears to be an “insignificant habit,” something we do not need to think about and, consequently, something easier than life which is a matter of active will. Most importantly, he constructs, first, death as an escape from the body and, second, the living body, unlike the “dead” soul, as something requiring an act of will—in other words, body consciousness—in order to function properly and maintain its existence. When Isbrand finally grows frustrated, he commands Mandrake to lie “on [his] bier, and be buried” (2.2.117), and Mandrake replies, ‘shall I submit to be a body again? No, I am above being buried” (2.2.118–19). Of course, the fact that he is not dead, or simply does not know 22 “Homonculus” was also both a common alchemical term and a term for fetus, but Beddoes includes a note at the end of the play in which he claims that many of his sources for the play were texts of Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah. 23 On the Mandrake, see C. Thompson.


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

what death is, casts his comments in a humorous light, but we can see in this passage many of the important aspects of “Death’s Fool” that will become amplified in the depictions of Wolfram and Isbrand, especially the treatment of the body at the nexus of life and death. Such treatment is magnified in what is perhaps Mandrake’s most important speech, which opens the resurrection scene. In some respects this speech is identical to the first, but there are some important differences. Once again, Mandrake muses on the “ease” of death, but this time he discusses that ease not as a function of not having a body to fret over but as a result of death not being real: After all being dead’s not so uncomfortable when one’s got into the knack of it. There’s nothing to do, no taxes to pay, nor any quarrelling about the score for ale. And yet I begin shrewdly to suspect that death’s all a take-in: as soon as gentlemen have gained some 70 years of experience they begin to be weary of the common drudgery of the world, lay themselves down, hold their breath, close their eyes and are announced as having entered into the fictitious condition by means of epitaphs and effigies. But, good living people, don’t be deceived any more: It is only a cunning invention to avoid paying poor rates and the reviewers. They live all jollily underground and sneak about a little in the night air to hear the news and laugh at their poor innocent great-grandchildren, who take them for goblins, and tremble for fear of death, which is at best only a ridiculous game at hideand-seek. That is my conviction, and I am quite impartial being in the secret, but I will only keep away from the living till I have met with a few of these gentle would-be dead, who are shy enough, and am become initiated into their secrets, and then I will write to the newspapers, turn King’s evidence and discover the whole import and secret, become more renowned than Columbus, though sure to be opposed by the doctors and undertakers whose invention the whole most extravagant idea seems to be. (3.3.1–22)

Death, here, is identified as a textual construct substantiated by “epitaphs” and as a theatrical farce effected by performance and “effigies,” as something invented and maintained by those who have something to gain from it—especially “doctors and undertakers” but also the dead themselves, who can choose to “die” when they “begin to be weary of the common drudgery of the world.” Furthermore, death, like life, is here figured as an act of will: Mandrake describes how to act dead just as he has already described how to act alive. Even Mandrake himself recognizes that he has something to gain from death, even if his gains rest on his revealing the secret and risking opposition: in revealing the secret that death is a textual construct, created “by means of epitaphs and effigies,” in texts and performances of his own (in the act of writing to the newspapers), Mandrake will not only acquire fame but he will also acquire mastery over death itself. When asked, “Art dead?” he replies, “I am, I am; I have been so all my life” (2.2.135–6). In all cases, the treatment of the body remains crucial if somewhat ambiguous: how the body is perceived and, thus, its place in the categories of life and death continues to be a “product” of discursive mastery even as it remains the agent of that mastery. Thus, when Beddoes tells Kelsall, “I sometimes wish to devote myself exclusively to the study of anatomy & physiology in science, of languages, and dramatic poetry, and have nothing to hinder me, except—unsteadiness and indolence” (648), he recognizes that to be a master of death is not only to be master of anatomical science but also of discourse

“The Body’s Laws”


and performance. As we will see in both Wolfram and Isbrand, different approaches to the question of language in relation to the body will yield different treatments of that body. Mandrake’s long digression on death’s falsity serves as the opening of the play’s longest single scene, the events leading up to the resurrection of Wolfram and the beginnings of Isbrand’s plot to overthrow Duke Melveric. Wolfram was killed by Melveric in the first act, but not before they promised, in blood-writing, “that who died first / Should, on death’s holidays, revisit him / Who still dwelt in the flesh” (2.4.47–50). Upon hearing of Wolfram’s death, his beloved Sibylla—whom Melveric also loves, providing the reason for Wolfram’s murder—begins to die slowly of grief, and Melveric (believing she is dead) spirals into a grief of his own. His grief leads him to contemplate digging for the “treasure” of her “soul and body” in her grave (3.3.184–5). One of the Duke’s attendants, who opines that “this breaking through the walls, that sever / The quick and cold, led never yet to good” (3.3.198–9), tries to placate the Duke by telling him that his beloved, that “oversouled creation,” is now “Pure from all earth” (3.3.221–3), provoking the Duke to cry, Fool, thou say’st a lesson Out of some philosophic pedant’s book. I loved no desolate soul: she was a woman, Whose spirit I knew only through those limbs, Those tender members thou dost dare despise; By whose exhaustless beauty, infinite love, Trackless expression only, I did learn That there was aught yet viewless and eternal; Since they could come from such alone. (3.3.225–33)

Aside from an expression of selfish grief, the Duke implies that the identity of his beloved is at least mediated by, if not entirely dependent upon, her body. The gendered implications of the Duke’s speech—she was not a soul; ‘she was a woman”—give way here to the suggestion that immortality, literal and figurative, are only possible and made visible in mortality. Bradshaw offers a useful paraphrase that focuses on the Duke’s treatment of Sibylla’s body: “The body is all we have by which to measure and properly know another, and yet the body itself had “exhaustless”, “infinite” and “trackless” attributes; it is at once a finite entity that may be grasped, in both senses, and reflection of the limitlessness and perfection of the soul” (139). The paradox that informs the body’s relation to the soul here—that it incarnates mortality and immorality—is further emphasized with the appearance of Ziba, a “man of Afric” bought “from an Arab” (3.1.40), who is skilled in the arts of necromancy. Earlier in the play, we learned that Ziba hath skill in language; And knowledge is in him root, flower, and fruit, A palm with winged imagination in it, Whose roots stretch even underneath the grave, And on them hangs a lamp of magic science In his soul’s deepest mine, where folded thoughts Lie sleeping on the tombs of magi dead[.] (3.1.42–8)


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

The depiction of Ziba, as I have already suggested, may be in part influenced by the racial theories of Blumenbach: not only are Africans characterized as physically distinct from Europeans—“The appearance of the Ethiopians is so well known that it would be superfluous to say much on that point” (Blumenbach 123)—but they are also marked as distinct in terms of linguistic differences “which are sometimes to be found in the very organs of speech” (125). Ziba is identified throughout the text as one who has access to a “skill in language,” and that skill might thus be regarded as connected to his bodily difference. As we have already seen, “skill in language” is crucial in mastering life and death, but, despite his recognition that Ziba has such skill and is expert in necromancy, the Duke here does not connect that skill with the possibility of life after death, largely because of his belief that the end of the body marks the end of identity. He exclaims, He who dares think that words of human speech, A chalky ring with monstrous figures in it, Or smoky flames can draw the distant souls Of those, whose bones and monuments are dust, Must shudder at the restless, broken death, Which he himself in age shall fall into. (3.3.404–9)

He knew Sibylla as an embodied being; the soul is an entity unto itself which she had but which is not her self; he will not disrupt the “life” of the soul, even if it were possible, because it will not solve his problem. As the Duke, Isbrand, and Ziba debate these points, we encounter one of the play’s most difficult and frequently discussed passages. Ziba describes a scene in which “A magic scholar” caused a dead plant to regrow “Out of the gloomy deathbed of the blossom” after a bird had used its “bill to select a grain” (3.3.423–38), and asks, “Is it not easier to raise a man, / Whose soul strives upward ever[?]” (3.3.439–40). According to Ziba, and, as we have seen, according to Mandrake, life is an act of will, and what separates the dead from the living is the strength of will necessary to unite body and soul, here characterized as a ‘striv[ing] upward.” But life depends on the body even more than it does on will or the soul. The Duke claims that the magic was faked: “The herb was born anew out of a seed, / Not raised out of a bony skeleton. / What tree is man the seed of?” (3.3.444–6). Ziba’s response has been the subject of much critical debate: Of a ghost; Of his night-coming, tempest-waved phantom: And even as there is a round dry grain In a plant’s skeleton, which being buried Can raise the herb’s green body up again; So is there such in a man, a seed-shaped bone, Aldabaron, called by the Hebrews Luz, Which, being laid into the ground, will bear After three thousand years the grass of flesh, The bloody, soul-possessed weed called man. (3.3.445–54)

“The Body’s Laws”


Within the body we can find the seed not only of life but of identity itself: in “Aldabaron” is the complete “soul-possessed weed called man.” The reference to the bone “Luz” here has been the subject of a great deal of critical attention, particularly because Beddoes includes an extensive note at the end of the play in which he provides the etymology of the term and the history of the idea from various “rabbinical writings,” “passages in the Talmud,” and “Old anatomists [such] as Bartholinus, Vesalius, &c.” (Works 487–8). Ultimately, Luz is associated with the Jewish Golem and the homunculus which had various manifestations in the literary and mystical traditions: “some of them were simple automata, others were speaking statues, and only a few of them were fraught with spiritual capabilities” (Idel 3). As we will see, the version manifested in Death’s Jest-Book is the latter, as the “resurrected” Wolfram appears in almost all respects to be fully conscious and “fraught with spiritual capabilities.” The invocation of Luz here raises problems central to my discussion and to Beddoes’s treatment of life and death, particularly in terms of both the rabbinical teachings of the status of the Golem’s body and Beddoes’s own indebtedness to anatomy as figured in his allusions especially to Vesalius.24 On the one hand, we can see in the resurrection scene a definition of life reminiscent of the vital principle theory espoused by Thelwall: life is inherent in organized matter, not dependent on something immaterial. On the other hand, the text reveals a number of contradictions: Ziba asks Melveric if he is ready to follow “the ghost, / Whom you will re-imbody” (3.3.508–9), and he commands the asyet-unseen resurrected Sibylla to “Draw on thy body, take up thy old limbs, / And then come forth tomb-born” (3.3.561–2). Thus, in his constructions of the body as something that can be worn or inhabited even as it is essential, Ziba waivers between seeing the body as the center of life and seeing it as a temporary house for life. The situation becomes even more complicated when the Duke, after much debate, finally agrees to let Ziba try raising Sibylla, after Ziba reveals that he has a scroll upon which “Are written words, which read, even in a whisper, / Would in the air create another star” (3.3.515–16). The rabbinical traditions emphasize the relation of the written word to the animation of the Golem: “The operator is supposed to create a figure, or a body out of dust; this form is called the Golem and this term ostensibly refers to an entity which is not created in a magical way, but it is only the starting point for the magical creation. [. . .T]he operation which involves the pronunciation of the letters of the alphabet begins only after the preparation of the form” (Idel 56). Thus, the presence of the body is a crucial aspect of the ritual, but the ritual only deals with the animation of the body not with the creation of it. While the body is thus identified as fundamentally important, its relation to the soul is as yet ambiguous: life depends upon a mutually dependent body and soul 24 Andreas Vesalius (1514–1564) is widely considered the father of modern anatomy. His important De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septum (1543) “marked a turning point in the history of anatomy” in that it advocated knowing the body through the dissection of cadavers rather than “as it had been set out in the classical texts and taught in every European university” (Carlino 1). Beddoes used the frontispiece to Vesalius’s text—a skeleton in the classical “thinker” pose leaning on a gravestone and with its hand on a skull—as the frontispiece to Death’s Jest-Book.

Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body


even as it seems to rely most heavily on the presence of the soul. Similarly, life is also dependent upon language and text: Ziba’s scroll, “Laid there among the bones, and left to burn / With sacred spices, its keen vaporous power / Would draw to life the earliest dead of all” (3.3.522–4). To serve as tinder for the flame, the Duke offers the “useless blood-bond” he had made with Wolfram, who, conveniently, is laid to rest in the same tomb as Sibylla should be. As the rite begins, noises are heard from within the tomb—apparently much to Ziba’s surprise—and out comes Mandrake, who had (again conveniently—and comically) fallen asleep inside the tomb. The Duke threatens both Mandrake and Ziba (“Is this thy wretched jest, thou villainous fool?” [3.3.592]) for their apparent deception, but Mandrake says, “If you want to speak to another ghost of longer standing, look into the old lumber room of a vault again. Some one seems to be putting himself together there” (3.3.597–9). Sure enough, Wolfram emerges prepared to avenge his death. His exchange with Melveric underscores one of the crucial aspects of the entire scene: DUKE.

Thou man-mocking air, Thou art not truer than a mirror’s image, Nor half so lasting. [. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .] WOLFRAM. Is this thin air, that thrusts thy sword away? Flesh, bones, and soul, and blood that thou stol’st from me, Upon they summons, bound by bloody signs, Here Wolfram stands: what wouldst thou? DUKE. What paper else, But that cursed compact, could have made full Hell Boil over, and spill thee, thou topmost damned? (3.3.656–8, 662–7)

Bradshaw draws our attention to the burning of the contract and the raising of Wolfram which happen almost simultaneously: The body is reconstituted from dust as texts are reduced to ashes. While so much of Beddoes’s verse is devoted to the destruction of the body in death, language structures building and taking shape as the body is broken down, here the reader witnesses the symmetrical reverse; here is the parallel and interdependent reduction and reconstitution of language and human body—a razing and a raising, a single process. (142)

However, the Duke refuses to see Wolfram as anything but a “specter” and tells us that Wolfram now lives “against the body’s laws” (3.3.691–2). As Bradshaw suggests, we can see an exchange in that a text is destroyed as a body is reanimated, but we can also see this particular body as a failed text: the text is consumed and the body is, to the Duke’s eyes at least, incomplete in that it is still only a “specter.” Far from skill in language, Ziba betrays an inability to manipulate language effectively enough. And as we will see in the play’s conclusion, Ziba’s failure prefigures Isbrand’s—and Beddoes’s—failure, as well. In a discussion of the resurrection scene, Harold Bloom suggests that “[t]he resurrection of the body has lost all its spiritual force [. . .] and is only another oddity of an obscure natural world. In such a world, death itself “is a hypocrite, a white dissembler,” against whose authority rebellion is possible” (“Thomas”

“The Body’s Laws”


442). While the resurrection may offer an ironic comment on spirituality and serve a dramatic function, the body as foregrounded in this passage—alternately the seed and flower of life—is less an “oddity” than that against which everything else must be measured. Whereas Mandrake’s pronouncements on the mysteries of death established certain norms within the context of the play, especially in that they complicate the body-soul relationship by refusing to declare a clear hierarchy, Ziba’s and the Duke’s pronouncements as embodied in Wolfram at once employ those norms and call them into question. Furthermore, although the resurrection may suggest a successful rebellion against death, that Wolfram is truly “alive” remains unclear. In Isbrand, perhaps the ultimate “Death’s Fool” even as he is paired with Wolfram, we see the status and even the necessity of the body foregrounded and questioned more thoroughly than in any other aspect of the play. In his study of what he terms Beddoes’s “aspiring heroes,” John Agar suggests that, “[t]ypically, Beddoes” aspiring hero desires to triumph over—to violate—the natural order of the world he lives in. To do so he must ally himself with the powers of death or hell, with what he regards as the superhuman, and deny his own humanity” (376). Mandrake’s “violation” of the natural order is decidedly not a violation and is only cast as one for (mostly) humourous effect; Wolfram’s violation is so extreme that it can be relegated to the position of literary device, to the mystical realm of the supernatural, even as we recognize certain physical and metaphysical notions coming into question. In Isbrand, we encounter no violation other than the desire to effect one, and his extended tirades against “the body’s laws” engender the clearest discussion of those laws outside the letters and the most vivid depiction of “Death’s Fool”—and the reasons for its ultimate failure. Throughout the text, Isbrand repeatedly makes reference to his contempt for the body, even as he claims mastery over it. We see from the opening scenes of the play that vengeance is Isbrand’s driving force, but it is not until just prior to the resurrection scene, in the passages leading up to his open rebellion against the Duke, that we witness just how driven he is: If you would wound your foe, Get swords that pierce the mind: a bodily slice Is cured by surgeon’s butter: let true hate Leap the flesh wall, or fling his fiery deeds Into the soul. (2.4.189–93)

More than just an exhortation to inflict true pain on an enemy’s mind and soul by “leap[ing] the flesh wall” and getting at that within, this passage also foreshadows the idea that will be with Isbrand for the rest of the play: the notion that the flesh can be overcome and that the “truth” lies somewhere over and above it. Death’s JestBook, as I have already suggested, embodies a similar leap for Beddoes himself: frustrated with medicine’s and, more specifically, anatomy’s inability to provide him with satisfactory answers about the nature of life and death but unwilling to engage a metaphysics that left such “physics” behind, he sought to develop the “new drama” that would unite the metaphysical and physical aspects of Apollo. Thus, Isbrand’s expressed contempt for those who know only the body, in this case surgeons, echoes


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

Beddoes’s own concerns, even as both Isbrand and Beddoes reveal the bodiliness of their ambitions. After Isbrand orchestrates a successful coup against the Duke, he revels in the success of the moment and exclaims, O stingy nature, To make me but one man! Had I but body For every several measure of thought and will, This night should see me world-crowned. (4.4.143–6)

Isbrand simultaneously curses the limitations of anatomy even as he concedes his need for a body to pursue his ambitions. If, as both Mandrake and Ziba suggested, life is an act of will, Isbrand should be more human than human, but the excess of will he demonstrates here is perhaps the first manifestation of his attempt to leap the flesh wall. Wolfram effected a similar leap, but he characterizes his violation of nature’s and the body’s laws as unwilled. When the Duke tries to banish the ‘specter,” Wolfram declares, If I had come unsummoned, If I had burst into your sunny world, And stolen visibility and birth Against thy prayers, thus shouldst thou speak to me: But thou hast forced me up, remember that. (4.1.49–53)

In addition to emphasizing that his offense against nature was carried out against his will, this also serves to further question the success of his resurrection: we are left wondering if this really is the resurrected Wolfram However, Isbrand’s violation is clearly willed. After his successful rebellion against his Duke, Isbrand’s ambition has grown immeasurably. Just before the insurrection, Isbrand invokes “my brother King and Fool, / Friend Death” (4.4.168– 9). Even in his suggestion that death is unreal, Mandrake still acknowledges death’s power; here, Isbrand’s declaration that he is its equal at once elevates him and devalues Death. Moreover, his contempt for the body and its laws has clearly grown: O! it is nothing now to be a man. Adam, thy soul was happy that it wore The first, new, mortal members. To have felt The joy of the first year, when the one spirit Kept house-warming within its fresh-built clay, I’d be content to be as old a ghost. Thine was the hour to live in. Now we’re common, And man is tired of being no more than human; And I’ll be something better:—not by tearing This chrysalis of psyche ere its hour, Will I break through Elysium. There are sometimes, Even here, the means of being more than men: And I by wine, and women, and the sceptre, Will be, my own way, heavenly in my clay. (4.4.182–95)

“The Body’s Laws”


Like Beddoes’s demand for a new drama instead of a revision of past works or a revival of past playwrights, Isbrand calls for a “new man,” to be “more than human,” “something better.” This claim, and the claim that he makes his “own way,” are further stressed in one of the play’s most famous speeches, in which Isbrand makes a pronouncement that sounds much like Milton’s Satan: In one word hear, what soon they all shall hear: A king’s a man, and I will be no man Unless I am a king. Why, where’s the difference? Throne steps divide us: they’re soon climbed perhaps: I have a bit of FIAT in my soul, And can myself create my little world. Had I been born a four-legged child, methinks I might have found the steps from dog to man, And crept into his nature. Are there not Those that fall down out of humanity, Into the story where the four-legged dwell? (5.1.34–44)25

Isbrand declares himself to be master of his own body and his world, and, further, to be a creator on par with the Judeo-Christian god—and in doing so he fully announces his Satan-like hubris. And as we reach the climax of the play, we learn that Isbrand plans to overcome his soul, as well. In a passage reminiscent of several of Beddoes’s letters, Isbrand makes his most powerful statements against the body’s laws and expresses his utmost goals: How I despise All you mere men of muscle! It was ever My study to find out a way to godhead, And on reflection soon I found that first I was but half-created; that a power Was wanting in my soul to be its soul, And this was mine to make. Therefore, I fashioned A will above my will, that plays upon it, As the first soul doth use in men and cattle. There’s lifeless matter; add the power of shaping, And you’ve the crystal: add again the organs, Wherewith to subdue sustenance to the form And manner of one’s self, and you’ve the plant: Add power of motion, senses, and so forth, And you’ve all kind of beasts; suppose a pig: To pig add foresight, reason, and such stuff, Then you have man. What shall we add to man, To bring him higher? I begin to think That’s a discovery I soon shall make. Thus I, owing night to books, but being read In the odd nature of much fish and fowl, And cabbages and beasts, have I raised myself, 25 See Paradise Lost 1.254–63.


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body By this comparative philosophy, Above your shoulders, my sage gentlemen. Have patience but a little, and keep still, I’ll find means, bye and bye, of flying higher. (5.1.46–71)

Isbrand’s ambition is not only to successfully break the body’s laws but to rewrite them: he apparently displays here the necessary textual authority, as outlined by Mandrake, and he also displays the necessary will, as outlined in the resurrection scene. However, despite the overabundance of will Isbrand repeatedly displays and the obvious disdain for the body, he fails to recognize that he is still bound by its laws. In some cases, this failure appears pathetic: “Come, come; to rest, my soul. I must sleep off / This old plebeian creature that I am” (4.4.200–1). In other cases, it serves to establish the certainty, even necessity, of his ultimate failure. Shortly before Isbrand’s death, his fellow conspirators gather to discuss what the events following his rise to power. The conspirators all express their fears that his thirst for power will know no bounds. Most importantly, one of the group suggests a possible source for that lust: He is no more Isbrand of yesterday; But looks and talks as one, who in the night Hath made a bloody compact with some fiend. His being is grown greater than it was, And must make room, by cutting off men’s lives, For its shadowy increase. (5.2.2–7)

Regardless of the extent of his will and mastery over language, Isbrand cannot overcome his own physical being, and his desire to do so threatens the lives of others. Ultimately, fearing his growing ambition, Isbrand’s conspirators conspire against him, and stab him to death. In Isbrand’s final Faustian speech, which begins as one last shout of defiance but ends with a too-late moment of recognition, we learn why Isbrand’s quest to be more than man ultimately fails: think you that I will die? Can I, that stand So strong and powerful here, even if I would, Fall into dust and wind? No: should I groan, And close my eyes, be fearful of me still. ‘Tis a good Jest: I but pretend to die, That you may speak about me bold and loudly; Then I come back and punish; or I go To dethrone Pluto. It is wine I spilt, Not blood, that trickles down. [. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .] Imagine not I’m weak enough to perish: The grave, and all its arts, I do defy. [. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .] I jest and sing, and yet alas! am he, Who in a wicked masque would play the Devil; But jealous Lucifer himself appeared,

“The Body’s Laws”


And bore him—whither? I shall know to-morrow, For now Death makes indeed a fool of me. [Dies.] (5.4.251–9, 269–70, 281–5)

Precisely because of his attempts to fly higher, to leap the flesh walls, Isbrand falls. No amount of will or textual mastery can re-write the body’s laws, and neither Isbrand’s desire “to find out a way to godhead” or Beddoes’s identical desire to find “every shadow of a proof or probability of an after-existence” are exempt from that fact. In the end, Isbrand’s and Beddoes’s attempts to master the body only make them subservient to it. Furthermore, both failed to realize that any attempt to ask questions about the soul, the immaterial, the immortal only serve to reify the body, the material, the mortal because “asking” and “answering” are material activities. However, while we may call Isbrand’s and Beddoes’s efforts failures, Death’s JestBook appears to have succeeded. As a fragmented textual body, lacking “edges” and “closure,” the play embodies the contradictions of an age and poet that sought to reconcile old metaphysical problems in the light of new physical “certainties” foregrounded by the emergence of scientific medicine as one of the most dominant discourses of power. And in “failing” to effect successfully a reconciliation, in allowing the contradictions to remain unresolved, Death’s Jest-Book succeeds in walking the space between. Death’s Fool About a year after one failed attempt at suicide, Beddoes succeeded by drinking poison.26 Some commentators, such as Strachey, suggest that the suicide was the final, desperate attempt to search for proof of an after-life. Neither anatomy nor the drama provided him with the means to leap the flesh wall and break the body’s laws, so “[d]id his mind, obsessed and overwhelmed by images of death, crave at last for the one thing stranger than all these—the experience of it” (264)? Furthermore, we are left to wonder how much of a role his frustration with the “stillborn” Death’s Jest-Book, his “failed” attempt at the new drama, played in that final decision. Jack concedes that “[i]f Beddoes had published this “strange conglomerate” he would certainly have been attacked by the reviewers,” but he goes on to argue that “publication is the only way a poet can escape a poem”: There is a possible analogy with Endymion. If Keats had taken Hunt’s advice and revised his poem, or left it unpublished, he would have been saved from severe and painful criticism; but he might not have developed as rapidly as he did to become the poet of Hyperion and the Odes. Beddoes was to struggle in the toils of his extraordinary poem

26 Early biographers took at face value Beddoes’s claim in 1848 that he “fell with a horse in precipitous part of the neighbouring hills and broke [his] left leg to pieces. In spite of the very best treatment part of the fractured limb was obliged to be sacrificed” (Works 680). But, following substantive evidence provided by Donner in his definitive biography, commentators now hold that Beddoes opened an artery in his leg. He was discovered on the verge of death and taken to hospital, where he acquired an infection in his leg which then had to be amputated.


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body for the rest of his life, practically everything that he wrote being apparently related to it in some way. (141)

More than possibly affording him the answers he was looking for, completing the play could have ensured for Beddoes that which he wanted but denied all his life: recognition as a poet. In a late letter to Kelsall, Beddoes admits that “[i]t is a confounded bore & baulks me much that I have no connection with any publisher or journalist in England—I shd then have some stimulus & c and do some good; now I can do nothing—” (654). This admission would surface again in the last words Beddoes wrote 20 years later, which are remarkably similar to Isbrand’s. On his death-bed, Beddoes left a note for his friend Revell Phillips: MY DEAR PHILLIPS I am food for what I am good for—worms. I have made a will here which I desire to be respected. [. . .] Love to Anna Henry—the Beddoes of Longvill and Zoe & Emmeline King—also to Kelsall whom I beg to look at my MSS—and print or not as he thinks fit. I ought to have been among other things a good poet; Life was too great a bore on one peg & that a bad one.— (683)

As with Keats, that kind of recognition would come too late. Among Beddoes’s posthumous admirers, we can include Tennyson, who praised Death’s Jest-Book,27 and Ezra Pound, who, in Canto 80, found it curious that T.S. Eliot “has not given more time to Mr Beddoes / (T.L.) prince of morticians / where none can speak his language.” And, as Bradshaw points out, the tendency of many contemporary critical and theoretical questions to deal with the relationship between body and text will ensure that Beddoes will command greater attention in the coming years. On this score, the last words here must be Isbrand’s: Let him wear the cap, let him toll the bells; he shall be our new court-fool: and, when the world is old and dead, the thin wit shall find the angel’s record of man’s works and deeds, and write with a lipless grin on the innocent first page for a title, “Here begins Death’s Jest-book”.—There, you have my testament: henceforth speak solemnly to me, and you shall have a measured answer from me, who have relapsed into courtly wisdom. (2.2.113–19)

27 That is, according to Tennyson’s son Hallam; see Tennyson 393.

III Coda What is very real about bodies is a matter written on and through the body, a matter of discursive production developed and disciplined in the physicalities of the body. As others have argued, the body is a materialization, a socially mediated formation, lived individually and in communities as real effects. The physicality of the body establishes some of the potentials and limits for what we can do with our bodies, but these limits are not always absolutely fixed. The social world enters the physical body as we develop skills and capacities, altering even the body’s molecular structures, its anatomy, physiology, and metabolism. The body is thus a sturdy but fragile thing, an historical matter of political struggle. (Zita 4)

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Apollo’s Poets

If the time should ever come when what is now called science, thus familiarized to man, shall be ready to put on, as it were, a form of flesh and blood, the Poet will lend his divine spirit to aid the transfiguration, and will welcome the Being thus produced, as a dear and genuine inmate of the household of man. (Wordsworth, “Preface” 753)

As Wordsworth wrote these words, the time he spoke of was already arriving. Medicine’s rhetoric of legitimacy, its effort to materialize its authority over bodies and the body politic, had succeeded in the embodiment of the medical establishment in the form of the legally sanctioned and scientifically authorized medical professional. The sciences of the flesh and blood had become embodied as flesh and blood, but “the Being thus produced” was hardly “a dear and genuine inmate of the household of man.” The new medical establishment would provide a fully equipped staging area for extensive journeys into the inner spaces “opened up,” to borrow a phrase from Foucault, by the biomedical sciences, and it would also help to ensure the maintenance of high standards and rigorous training for all those who passed through its halls. But these promises were often accompanied by equally vehement dissent, as the medical establishment also magnified concerns about notions of authority over the body: as one of the most powerful authorities over all things bodily, medicine assumed a position of almost absolute power and proprietorship over the body and even the body politic. Both extremes found outlets in various popular forums, particularly poetry (broadly considered); however, both assent and dissent are often obscured, first, by the fact that few outside the institutions really knew what was happening on the inside, and, second, by the very fact that their primary concerns are assenting and dissenting rather than exploring the consequences in any sustained way. However, while we can often readily identify voices at these two extremes, it is perhaps more important and more generative to our understanding of the development and influence of that authority to identify the voices at the “center,” literally and metaphorically, of its development. Those figures who occupied the spaces at which the inner workings of the medical establishment bled into the outside world and who expressly constructed the body-conscious Poet-Physician provide some of the most productive points of access to begin our inquiries. John Thelwall, John Keats, and Thomas Lovell Beddoes occupy such spaces, and their characterizations of the Peripatetic Philosopher, the Poet-Physician, and Death’s Fool to mobilize their engagements with the changing nature of medical authority are mediated by their equally ambivalent engagements with poetic authority. Similarly, their treatments of the medical body are most clearly manifested in poetic texts, effectively establishing a double hybrid that all three implement and critique. In the opening lines of “The Fall,” Keats observes,


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body Fanatics have their dreams, wherewith they weave A paradise for a sect; the savage too From forth the loftiest fashion of his sleep Guesses at heaven; pity these have not Trac’d upon vellum or wild Indian leaf The shadows of melodious utterance. But bare of laurel they live, dream, and die; For Poesy alone can tell her dreams, With the fine spell of words alone can save Imagination from the sable charm And dumb enchantment. (1–11)

From the perspective of the Poet, those who are “bare of laurel”—those who do not have immediate access to “the fine spell of words” poetry provides—remain trapped in their own “dumb enchantment” of fanaticism or savagery. Poets, on the other hand, enjoy the power to speak and record their “Guesses at heaven,” and that same power grants them the authority to examine and question the speakings and records of others. Although “guessing” may be a far cry from “knowing,” the weight given to the written over the merely spoken in this passage suggests that the guesses of Poets carry the mark(s) of authority and are thus closer to knowing. “Fanatics” and the ”savage,” those without access to poetry, remain “bare” and in “dreams”; in other words, Keats deploys racist and culturally elitist discourses to identify poetry and writing as signifiers of knowledge and as civilizing forces and thus identifies the Poet as both ultimate product and producer of knowledge and civilization. Nevertheless, the Poet-Physician, like the fanatic and the savage, is “bare” in that he is necessarily placed on display as the manifestation of the medical body in the literary text, where “the fine spell of words” is all that mediates that bareness. In effect, the Poet-Physician occasions and critiques a double hybridity whereby he exists as a medicalized body in the poetic text and works to theorize an interrelation between medical and poetic authority. Of course, no discussion of these issues as manifested at this period could be complete without at least a nod to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a text, as I mentioned at the outset, that is likely the first we think of when we consider Romantic-Century treatments of the interpenetrations of poetry and medicine in depictions of the body. But, for reasons that I have already discussed, engaging with Frankenstein in any meaningful way is at once outside the scope of this study and beyond its capacity, for, as we all know, that novel is one of the most frequently read, taught, and analyzed books of the period—perhaps precisely because of its engagements with the concerns I detail in this study. For my purposes in this coda, I want to talk briefly not about the novel itself but about Shelley’s narration of how the story came to be embodied in the form we know it today. In the “Preface” to the 1831 edition, Shelley famously recounts the tale of the night in the summer of 1816 when she, Percy Shelley, Byron, and Byron’s physician John Polidori agreed to “each write a ghost story” (7). She endeavored to “think of a story, [. . .] which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature, and awaken thrilling horror—one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart” (8). Ultimately, she knew, “[e]verything must have a beginning,” but

Apollo’s Poets


Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos; the materials must, in the first place, be afforded: it can give form to dark, shapeless substances, but cannot bring into being the substance itself. In all matters of discovery and invention, even of those that appertain to the imagination, we are continually reminded of the story of Columbus and the egg. Invention consists in the capacity of seizing on the capabilities of a subject, and in the power of moulding and fashioning ideas suggested to it. (8; emphasis added)

As we know, the “materials” available to her included conversations about “the nature and principle of life,” particularly as defined by Erasmus Darwin’s experiments with galvanism (8–9). Shelley notes that she speaks “not of what the Doctor really did, or said that he did, but [. . .] of what was then spoken of as having been done by him” (8–9; emphasis added). As those conversations permeated her dreams that night, she envisioned the scene of the monster’s creation, and she “had thought of a story” (10). It comes as little surprise that the story she told “to speak to the mysterious fears of our nature” foregrounds the pursuits of an individual trained in the “unhallowed arts” (9) obsessed with discovering the mysteries of that very nature, particularly when we are reminded of the age in which the novel was written and read. The changing nature of medical authority over the body at once effected a newly medicalized body and forever altered the treatments and depictions of “other” bodies: what was once familiar often appeared unfamiliar as anatomical inquiries displayed stranger images, physiological experiments exhibited more peculiar results, surgical procedures became more common, legal prescriptions granted more power to an already immensely powerful medical establishment, and popular depictions of these changes served, in many cases, to heighten the unfamiliarity. In much the same way as Shelley but perhaps with even greater anxiety because of their associations with such changes, Thelwall, Keats, and Beddoes seized on the capabilities of treatments of the body that depended upon a relation between poetry and medicine, a relation made most manifest in their ambivalent connections to both discursive realms. Each, in his turn, spoke the link between writing and healing, poet and physician, text and body, all manifested as a form of body consciousness made possible by the interpenetrations of poetry and medicine. So, too, did their readers, in their turn, mold and fashion their own version of that same relation in the wake of the mediating influence of Apollo’s Poets: readers of Thelwall, then and now, recognize the advantages and disadvantages of a body-conscious political vision of reform; readers of Keats recognize the advantages and disadvantages of a body conscious treatment of authority; and readers of Beddoes recognize the advantages and disadvantages of body-conscious questions about the metaphysics of death. In all cases, just as the works of these figures manifest the anxieties of their particular time and place, they also offer multiple ways to explore, if not alleviate, those very anxieties, and greater attention to both the works and the concerns can have a lasting influence on our understandings of Romantic-Century medicine, poetics, and bodies. But beyond the boundaries of academic questions about the Romantic Century, I seek here to participate in on-going conversations, academic and otherwise, about


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

the nature of our bodies and the various ways our bodies are and have been treated, depicted, and claimed, and, more importantly, how such treatments, depictions, and claims rely on anxieties and authorities that we would do well to question and examine. To paraphrase Catherine Gallagher and Thomas Lacqueur, our bodies have histories, histories that are more often told to us than by us. For nearly two centuries, medicine has provided the most dominant framework and most powerful vocabularies for such narrations and that authority rests largely on medicine’s ability to dictate the terms of the discussion—to tell us what bodies are and what they need, how to be well and even “how” to be sick. To be sure, scientific medicine has made tremendous contributions to the quality of our lives and the care of our bodies and will continue to do so. At the same time, however, “advances” in medical science—from cloning to transplant technology to stem-cell research to pharmaceutical delivery—and public debates proceeding from those and other developments—from euthanasia to organ donation to “alternative” treatments—continue to dominate the media and foster hope even as they renew and heighten old anxieties. And as we continue to marvel at and fear medical science, as we seem to grow increasingly dependent on it as we age and as our environment dictates, as “our” bodies seem to be somehow less ours with each passing year, attending to medicine’s history and its history of the body will become increasingly important. In a critique of contemporary sociobiological treatments of gender, Laqueur writes, An historian can contribute little to the already existing critical analysis of particular experiments purporting to demonstrate the biological basis of gender distinctions or to lay bare hormones and other chemicals that are meant to serve as a sort of ontological granite for observable sexual differences. But I can offer material for how powerful prior notions of differences or sameness determine what one sees and reports about the body. (21)

Similarly, as a literary scholar, I can have little impact on medicine’s on-going internal debates about the body, its processes, and its definitions, but I can illustrate the degree to which those debates are a continuation of what I have identified as medicine’s rhetoric of legitimacy and the ways in which that rhetoric continues to affect our lives. By tracing part of the history of the medical body and examining some of the ways in which its historical and literary treatments and depictions have influenced later treatments and depictions, I hope I have done just that.

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Schiebinger, Londa, “Skeletons in the Closet: The First Illustrations of the Female Skeleton in Eighteenth-Century Anatomy.” Gallagher and Laqueur 42–82. Scholz, Susanne, Body Narratives: Writing the Nation and Fashioning the Subject in Early Modern England, New York: St. Martin’s, 2000. Scrivener, Michael, “John Thelwall and the Press.” Romanticism, Radicalism, and the Press. Ed. Stephen C. Behrendt. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1997. 120–36. ——, “John Thelwall’s Political Ambivalence: Reform and Revolution.” Radicalism and Revolution in Britain 1775–1848: Essays in Honour of Malcolm I. Thomis. Ed. Michael T. Davis. New York: St. Martin’s, 2000. 69–83. ——, “The Rhetoric and Context of John Thelwall’s ‘Memoirs’.” Spirits of Fire: English Romantic Writers and Contemporary Historical Methods. Ed. G.A. Rosso and Daniel P. Watkins. Toronto: Associated UP, 1990. 112–30. ——, Seditious Allegories: John Thelwall and Jacobin Writing. University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 2001. Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. Ed. M.K. Joseph. New York: Oxford UP, 1980. ——, The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Ed. Betty T. Bennet. 3 vols. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1980. Shelley, Percy Bysshe, Adonais. Reiman and Powers 388–406. ——, A Defence of Poetry. Reiman and Powers 478–508. Snow, Royall H., Thomas Lovell Beddoes: Eccentric and Poet. New York: Covici, 1928. Southey, Robert, New Letters of Robert Southey. Ed. Kenneth Curry. 2 vols. New York: Columbia UP, 1965. ——, “The Surgeon’s Warning.” The Poetical Works of Robert Southey Collected By Himself. Vol. 6. London, 1838. 184–91. 10 vols. Sperry, Stuart M., Keats the Poet. 1973. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1994. Sprague, Allen B., “William Godwin’s Influence Upon John Thelwall.” PMLA 37 (1922): 662–82. Sterne, Lawrence, A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy By Mr Yorick. 1768. London: Fraser, 1971. Strachey, Lytton, “The Last Elizabethan.” Books and Characters: English and French. New York: Harcourt, 1922. 235–65. Temkin, O., “The Role of Surgery in the Rise of Modern Medical Thought.” Bulletin of History of Medicine 21 (1951): 248–59. Tennyson, Hallam, Alfred Lord Tennyson: A Memoir. London: Macmillan, 1906. Thale, Mary, ed. Selections from the Papers of the London Corresponding Society 1792–1799. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1983. Thelwall, Boyle C., The Life of John Thelwall By His Widow. London, 1837. Thelwall, John, An Essay Towards a Definition of Animal Vitality; Read at the Theatre, Guy’s Hospital, January 26, 1793; In Which Several of the Opinions of the Celebrated John Hunter are Examined and Controverted. London, 1793. ——, John Gilpin’s Ghost; or, The Warning Voice of King Chanticleer: An Historical Ballad: Written Before the Late Trials, and Dedicated to the Treason-Hunters of Oakham. London, 1795; rpt. in Ode to Science, John Gilpin’s Ghost, Poems, The Trident of Albion. Ed. Donald H. Reiman. New York: Garland, 1978.

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Abernethy, John, 25 Abrams, M.H., 2, 2n Æscalapius, 125, 126 Agar, John, 133 Akenside, Mark, 10, 10n Allen, William, 90 Allot, Miriam, 101, 101n, 102, 104 anaesthetia, 40 Anatomy Act (1832), 42 Apollo, 10, 16, 17, 48, 91, 92, 93, 101, 102, 103, 110, 113, 114, 119, 120, 123, 124, 126, 133, 143 Apothecaries Act (1815), 39, 40n, 42, 87, 96 Aristotle, 52, 66 Babington, William, 38, 90 Baillie, Joanna, 12, 42–58, 44, 45, 45n, 46, 47, 59, 122n De Monfort, 58 “Introductory Discourse,” 12, 15, 44, 44n, 47, 52–8, 122n Letters, 53, 57 Plays on the Passions, 12, 15, 44, 57 Baillie, Matthew, 12, 54, 54n Morbid Anatomy, 12, 54 Barker, Francis, 9, 9n Barrell, John, 64n Bate, Jonathan, 89n, 100n Beddoes, Anna Marie, 16 Beddoes, Thomas, 14, 16, 30n, 31, 32–7, 39, 40, 42 Hygëia, 37 Letter to the Right Honourable Sir Joseph Banks, A, 34, 35–6, 36 “Observations on the Character and Writings of John Brown, M.D.”, 31, 32n Observations on the Nature and Cure of Sea Calculus, 33 Beddoes, Thomas Lovell, 4, 5, 6, 11, 13, 14, 16, 17, 24, 59, 66, 111–38, 141, 143 Brides’ Tragedy, The, 112, 115, 116n, 122

Death’s Jest-Book, 16, 17, 112, 113n, 114, 116, 116n, 117, 119, 120, 123, 124, 125–37, 138 Improvisatore, The, 115 Last Man, The, 115 Letters, 17, 115, 117, 118–19, 119, 120, 121, 122, 123, 125, 138 Love’s Arrow Poisoned, 115 Sarconi, 115n Second Brother, The, 115 Torrismond, 115, 122 Berger, Harry, Jr., 1 Berlin (University), 117, 118, 118n Bettany, G.T., 38n, 89n Bewell, Alan J., 1n, 2n, 46n, 103 Beyette, Kent, 45n Bible, 68n, 112n Bichat, Xavier, 4, 4n, 122 Billington, Sandra, 126n Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, 96, 96n Bloom, Harold, 2, 2n, 125, 132 Blumenbach, Johann Friedrich, 117, 117n, 130 On the Natural Varieties of Humankind, 117, 130 Body Studies, 1, 1n, 8n, 9, 49, 50 Boerhaave, Herman, 28, 29, 32 Bradshaw, Michael, 113, 114n, 122, 124, 129, 132, 138 Brett, R.L., 50n Brewer, William D., 44, 45n Brown, Charles Armitage, 89n, 94, 95, 98, 107 Brown, John, 14, 22, 27, 28, 30, 30n, 31, 32, 32n, 33, 34, 35, 37, 40, 42, 48, 105 Brunonianism, 30, 31, 32, 48, 105 Elements of Medicine, The, 30, 30n, 32, 33 Brown, Lee Rust, 1n Browne, John, 116, 116n Myographia Nova, 16, 16n Browne, Thomas, 21 Bruhm, Steven, 3n, 64n


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

Buchan, William, 36 Domestic Medicine, 37 Bugajski, Ken A., 44n Burke, Edmund, 64, 64n, 72, 73, 74, 82 First Letter on a Regicide Peace, 73 Reflections on the Revolution in France, 64, 73n Burroughs, Catherine B., 44n, 54n Burton, Robert, 122n Burwick, Frederick, 54n, 116n Bush, Douglas, 89n Butler, Judith, 7, 8, 8n Bynum, W.F., 2n, 24, 28, 30 Byron, George Gordon, 12, 23n, 108, 109, 142 Don Juan, 109 Carlino, Andrea, 23n, 131n Carter, Richard, 87n, 89n Cartwright, F.F., 40n Cestre, Charles, 63, 63n Cholmeley, James, 38, 90 Claeys, Gregory, 64n, 65n, 72n Clark, George, 22n, 40n Clarke, Charles Cowden, 89n, 90, 91n, 94, 95, 98, 107 Cline, Henry, 15, 38, 66, 66n Cockney School, The, 13, 16, 95, 96, 96n, 97, 108 Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, 12, 30n, 63, 77n, 117n “Frost at Midnight,” 77n Letters, 63 Shorter Works and Fragments, 30–31n Collins, Henry, 64n Colvin, Sidney, 89n Company of Barber-Surgeons, 22n Company of Surgeons, 22n Cooper, Astley, 13, 14, 25, 38, 38n, 39, 40, 41, 42, 59, 66n, 71n, 90, 91, 92, 95 Lectures on the Principles and Practices of Surgery, 38, 39, 41 Surgical Essays (with Benjamin Travers), 38, 39, 41 Cooper, Bransby Blake, 23n, 38n, 39, 40, 42n, 65n, 71n Cope, Zachary, 22n Cornwall, Barry (B.W. Proctor), 87 Cox, Jeffrey N., 57n, 95, 95n Crochunis, Thomas C., 54n

Cullen, William, 14, 22, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 32n, 35, 37, 42 First Lines in the Practice of Physic, 28, 29, 32 Institutions of Medicine, 29 Cunningham, Andrew, 1n, 23n Curry, James, 90 Darley, George, 116, 116n Darwin, Erasmus, 13, 13n, 48, 143 Botanic Garden, The, 13n Zoonomia, 13n, 48, 48n De Almeida, Hermione, 1n, 10, 14n, 88, 89, 89n, 90, 91, 92n, 99, 100, 102, 103 De Baecque, Antione, 64n Deane, Seamus, 67, 67n Donkin, Ellen, 57–8 Donne, John, 122n Donner, H.L., 17n, 112n, 114n, 115, 117, 118n, 125n, 137n Dowd, Maureen, 54n Duffin, Jaclyn, 2n, 23n Duncan-Jones, E.E., 111n Duthie, Peter, 54, 55, 57 Dwyer, Karen, 45n, 54n Eagleston, A.J., 63n Edinburgh (University), 10n, 23, 24, 29, 33, 34, 35, 37, 38 Edinburgh Practice of Physic, Surgery, and Midwifery, The, 30, 32, 33, 36, 37 Eichner, Hans, 1n Ellis, Markman, 1n Estor, Annmarie, 45n, 46n Examiner, The, 13, 89n Faflak, Joel, 98, 99 Forbes, Aileen, 45n, 53, 55, 58 Foucault, Michel, 1n, 4, 4n, 5, 7, 31, 65, 141 Fraser, Mariam, 1n French Revolution, 64, 67, 67n French, Roger, 2n, 23n, 25 Friedman-Romell, Beth H., 54n, 57 Frye, Northrop, 2, 2n, 113, 113n, 126 Fulford, Tim, 2n, 13n Galen (or Galenic Theory), 27, 28, 28n, 30, 68 Gallagher, Catherine, 1n, 6, 144 Galperin, WIlliam H., 3, 3n



Gamer, Michael, 54n Gaull, Marilyn, 113, 121 Gelfand, Toby, 22n George I, 23 George III, 12 Geyer-Kordesch, Johanna, 24n Gilbert, Dierdre, 45n, 54n Gittings, Robert, 87n, 89n, 90n Godwin, William, 70, 70n, 79, 115 Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, 70–71n Goellnicht, Donald C., 2n, 10, 87n, 88, 89, 89n, 90, 91, 91n, 100 Goldsmith, Oliver, 10, 10n Göttingen (University), 13, 17, 24, 24n, 33, 114n, 116, 117, 117n, 118, 121, 122, 123, 124 Grainger, Richard Dugard, 118, 118n Gray, Henry, 42, 42n Gray’s Anatomy, Descriptive and Applied, 42, 42n Greco, Monica, 1n Gregory, Horace, 112 Gross, Samuel Davis, 24n Guy’s School, The, 10, 13, 14, 15, 16, 26, 38, 38n, 40, 42, 65, 65n, 66, 89, 89n, 90, 91, 93, 100, 109, 110, 122

Hunt, James Henry Leigh, 13, 16, 95, 95n, 96n, 137 “Apothecaries; and Political Deductions from their Country Growth,” 95 Hunter, John, 12, 14, 15, 22, 22n, 24, 25, 27, 28, 30, 31, 32, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 42, 66, 68, 69, 70, 74, 82 Surgical Works, 24, 24n, 25n, 27, 68n Hunter, William, 14, 22, 22n, 24, 25, 25n, 27, 28, 30, 31, 32, 35, 36, 37, 40, 42 Doctr. Hunter’s Course of Anatomical and Chirigical Lectures, 22, 24, 25, 25n Hunterian Museum, The, 24, 25

Haighton, J., 66, 66n Hale, David George, 64n Hale-White, William, 87, 88, 89n Hampsher-Monk, Iain, 63n Harris, Jonathan Gil, 64n Hartman, Geoffrey, 98n Hassard, John, 1n, 19 Hassler, Donald M., 48n Henry VIII, 40 Heringman, Noah, 1n Hewlett, Dorothy, 89n Hogarth, William, 25, 26 Rewards of Cruelty, The, 25–6, 26n Holliday, Ruth, 1n, 19 Holloway, S.W.F., 22n, 40n Holstein, Michael E., 91 Homer, 91 Hood, Thomas, 26, 33 “Mary’s Ghost,” 26, 33 Howell, James, 112 Vision, The, 112

Kandl, John, 89n Keats, John, 5, 6, 10, 11, 13, 14, 16, 17, 38, 48, 59, 66, 87–110, 113, 114, 115, 116, 119, 123, 123n, 137, 138, 141, 142, 143 Anatomical and Physiological Note Book, 90, 91, 92, 100 Endymion, 109 “Fall of Hyperion,” 16, 89, 90, 98–108, 141–2 “Hyperion,” 16, 89, 93, 98–108 “Imitation of Spenser,” 90 Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems, 94 Letters, 87–8n, 93, 94, 99, 100, 110 “Ode to Apollo,” 91, 110 Poems, 89, 90 “To George Felton Mathew,” 93, 110 Kelsall, Thomas Forbes, 17n, 115, 115n, 116, 116n, 117, 118, 119, 120, 121, 122, 123, 125, 128, 138 King-Hele, Desmond, 13, 13n, 48n

Idel, Moshe, 127, 131 Irigaray, Luce, 8n Jack, Ian, 112, 137 Jacyna, L.S., 24n Jardine, Nicholas, 1n Jenner, Edward, 25 Johnson, George, 66 Johnson, Mark, 1n Johnston, Kenneth R., 75, 77n Jones, A.R., 50n Jordanova, Ludmilla, 6n


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

Kissane, James, 98n Kobler, John, 24n Kristeva, Julia, 8n Lakoff, George, 1n Lane, Joan, 2n, 22n Laqueur, Thomas, 1n, 6, 144 Lau, Beth, 101n Lawrence, Christopher, 22n, 29, 29n, 42, 42n Lawrence, Susan C., 22n, 40n Le Sage, Alain-Réne, 96, 96n Adventures of Gil Blas of Santillane, The, 96, 96n Lee, Debbie, 2n Legouis, Pierre, 111n Leipzig (University), 117 Lemprière, John, 91, 91n Levere, Trevor, 33n Levinson, Marjorie, 100n Lewis Matthew Monk, The, 112 Lewis, Matthew, 112 Leyden (University), 10n Licence of the Society of Apothecaries (LSA), 16, 39–40n Linebaugh, P., 26n Literary Gazette, 108 Logan, Peter Melville, 1n, 2n London Corresponding Society (LCS), 13, 15, 73 London Magazine, The, 116n Love, Walter D., 64n Lundin, Jon, 114n, 116, 116n, 119 MacConnell, Juliet Flower, 8n Mangoliouth, H.M., 111n Marcet, Alexander, 90 Marlowe, Christopher, 115 Marvell, Andrew, 111, 111n, 112, 112n, 114 Matlak, Richard, 48n Matthews, G.M., 87, 108 Mayo, Robert, 44–5 Mazumder, Pauline M.H., 38n McCann, Andrew, 63n, 76, 83n McDayter, Ghislane, 9–10n McGann, Jerome J., 1n, 31, 43, 82n Medical Act (1858), 22, 22n, 42 Mercier, Louis-Sébastian, 23 Milnes, Richard Monckton, 90

Milton, John, 85, 85n, 101n, 135 Comus, 85 Paradise Lost, 101, 101n, 135n Morgagni, Giovanni Battista, 28 Morgan, S.R., 31n Morton, Timothy, 3n, 4n Moses, 66, 68, 69 Motion, Andrew, 89n Moylan, Christopher, 114n, 120, 122, 122n, 123 Naturphilosophie, 30, 30n, 31n, 91 Neubauer, John, 1n Nickerson, Charles C., 115n Nosology, 28, 29, 30 O’Neill, Michael, 98, 99, 105 Oerlemanns, Onno, 3n Oxford University, 13, 33, 115, 115n, 116, 116n, 120, 120n, 123 Paget, Stephen, 25 Parrish, Stephen Maxfield, 45, 45n Paulson, Ronald, 26n Peachey, George C., 23n, 24n Pembroke College (Oxford), 115, 116 Physical Society, The, 15, 66, 66n, 67, 70 Pitt, William, 72 Plato, 66 Plutarch, 66 Polidori, John, 142 Porter, Roy, 1n, 2n, 6, 7, 9, 9n, 21, 22n, 23, 23n, 24, 25, 26, 28, 28n, 33, 35, 39–40n, 42, 43, 45, 97 Poston, Carol H., 64n Pound, Ezra, 138 Purinton, Marjean D., 45n, 54n Quarterly Review, 109 Rehbock, Philip F., 70, 71 Richardson, Alan, 1n, 29n, 47, 54n Richardson, Ruth, 23n, 42, 42n Ricks, Christopher, 116 Robert, Daniel Sanjiv, 45n, 46n Robinson, Henry Crabbe, 63 Roe, Nicholas, 10, 12, 13n, 38, 45n, 63n, 64n, 65n, 70–71n, 89n, 96, 96n, 97 Rollins, Hyder Edward, 89n Rosen, George, 14n

Index Rousseau, G.S., 1 Royal College of Physicians, 22n Royal College of Surgeons, 22n, 24 Ruston, Sharon, 4n Sadoff, Dianne F., 8n Salisbury, William, 90 Sawday, Jonathan, 23n Schaffer, Simon, 31n Schiebinger, Londa, 6n Scholz, Susanne, 64n Schönlein, Johann Lukas, 119, 119n Scrivener, Michael, 63n, 64, 73 Shakespeare, William, 45n, 91, 110, 115, 121 Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, 12, 43, 115, 115n, 116, 142, 143 Frankenstein, 12, 43, 112, 142, 143 Last Man, The, 115 Shelley, Percy Bysshe, 3, 4n, 12, 108, 115, 115n, 143 Adonais, 108, 109 Cenci, The, 115, 120 Defense of Poetry, A, 3, 4 Smollett, Tobias, 10, 10n, 96 Snow, Royall H., 114n, 116, 116n Southey, Robert, 34, 83, 84 “Surgeon’s Warning, The,” 34 Sperry, Stuart M., 91n Sprague, Allen B., 63n St. Paul, 67, 72, 112 Sterne, Lawrence, 81 Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy, A, 81 Strachey, Lytton, 112, 114, 137 Temkin, O., 38n Tennyson, Alfred, Lord, 113, 138 Tennyson, Hallam, 138n Thale, Mary, 64n Thelwall, Boyle C., 64n, 65n Thelwall, John, 4, 5, 6, 11, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 27, 38, 59, 63–85, 114, 115, 119, 131, 141, 143 Essay Towards a Definition of Animal Vitality, An, 15, 16, 64, 65–70, 71, 80 John Gilpin’s Ghost, 74, 75 Letter To Francis Jeffray, 84


Natural and Constitutional Right of Britons, The, 63, 65, 71, 73, 74, 85 Peripatetic, The, 15–16, 65, 75–83 Poems Chiefly in Retirement, 64n, 65, 76, 77n Poems Written in Close Confinement, 76, 85 Poetical Recreations of The Champion, The, 76 Rights of Nature, The, 65, 71–72, 72–73, 74, 75, 76, 85 Tribune, The, 65, 72n, 81n, 84 Trident of Albion, The, 84 Thewall, R., 83n Thompson, C.J.S., 127n Thompson, E.P., 63, 63n Thompson, Judith, 63n, 65n, 76, 77, 77n Todd, Janet, 1n, 29, 76 Travers, Benjamin, 38 Surgical Essays (with Astley Cooper), 39, 41 Trinity College, 10n Trott, Nicola, 85n Tyburn, 26, 26n Vesalius, Andreas, 131, 131n De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septum, 131n Vienna (University), 117 Waddington, Ivan, 2n, 22n Waddington, Joshua, 91 Wallen, Martin, 45n Ward, Aileen, 89n Watkins, Daniel P., 112 Wear, Andrew, 2n, 23n Webster, John, 115 Wells, Walter A., 87, 88, 89 Welton, Donn, 1n Wheatley, Kim, 96n Wilkie, Brian, 1n Wilks, S., 38n, 89n Williamson, Karina, 10n Wilner, Eleanor, 113, 116 Wittreich, Joseph, 85n Wolfson, Susan, 1n, 113 Wollstonecraft, Mary, 64, 64n, 72 Wordsworth, William, 3, 11, 12, 15, 43, 44, 45, 45n, 46–52, 53, 55, 56, 59, 63, 91, 115, 121, 141


Romanticism, Medicine, and the Poet’s Body

“Goody Blake and Harry Gill,” 48 Letters, 95n Lyrical Ballads, 3, 12, 15, 44, 49, 50n “Preface,” 2, 3, 3n, 12, 15, 44, 44n, 45, 46–52, 141 “Tintern Abbey,” 61 Worshipful Society of Apothecaries, 22n, 39 Würzburg (University), 13, 17, 117, 118, 118n

Youngquist, Paul, 1n, 3n, 11, 30, 33, 45n, 46n, 47, 48 Yudin, Mary F., 45n Z (John Gibson Lockhart), 96, 96n, 97, 98, 109 Zakarin, Laura, 8n Zall, Paul M., 33n Zita, Jacquelyn N., 8n, 139 Zürich (University), 118