Guest Post: Songs of Urban Innocence and Experience

By Katherine Magyarody

I was recently chatting to a friend about the NASSR Graduate Student Caucus and the suggestion that posts could include original poetry. It is an exciting prospect, but also vexing. What might contemporary poetry on a Romanticist blog look like? If someone wrote something similar in tone to Keats’s early faux-Spenserian verse would anyone find value in it? Did it have to be an Ode? Was there anything in our proximity as remote and beautiful as the Lake District? Looking around, I nearly concluded that the world is too much with us.

We happened to be sitting on a bench near a city playground that evening, and our conversation was punctuated by the shrieks of tiny humans running through the sand and dirt in their socks and stockings. Part of me hoped that if I ever became a parent I’d have the presence of mind to either crazy-glue my spawn’s shoes to their feet or forgo foot-gear entirely. Another part of me wondered what it might be like for these children to be growing up in the twenty-first century, where childhood is often a progressively difficult exercise in disenchantment. This led me to contemplate Blake’s “The Lamb” and Songs of Innocence.

Blake’s poem, which could be read by children and adults, relies on the reader’s familiarity with catechism and Christian imagery, two basic references of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The poem, and its more disquieting counterpart, “The Tyger,” are meant to present in succession a familiar and a disruptive narrative about creation. In “The Lamb,” the child speaker comfortably equates himself with the animal and to the divine, an equation which “The Tyger” strips of its innocence. But lambs no longer have the same cultural weight. Any lamb these children might have encountered, whether bleary-eyed in a petting zoo or pinky-red and wrapped in cellophane at the supermarket, would certainly fail to have the effect Blake intended. The lamb is no longer familiar in the way, say, a squirrel is. Goodness knows there were herds of those prancing through the park, chasing their mates and pushing each other off trees. Whoever made the squirrel must be a genius, because by adding fluff to the tail, this modified rat can bounce around the city in broad daylight and get fed by old ladies for its troubles. Squirrels have a certain greedy innocence to them, which has its charm — not unlike humans. Raccoons are more unsettling, with their sharp intelligence and teeth.

So I created a response to, or adaptation of, Blake for the blog. I’m not a poet or an artist or a Blakeian visionary, but I thought that my attempts might encourage some poets to submit more original poetry.

Note: In terms of meter, I would like to observe that “squirrel” is usually pronounced something closer to “squirl.” I know that after you have read this you will insist that it has two syllables of equal importance. I’m sure you also spell tiger with a y.


Katherine Magyarody is a Victorianist at the University of Toronto.

Why Franklin’s Ship Matters to Romanticists

I was excited to learn, earlier today, that a Canadian marine expedition has located one of Sir John Franklin’s ships on the Arctic seabed, after a 160-year search for material evidence of the ill-fated Victorian voyage to find, chart, and claim the Northwest Passage. One archaeologist, William Battersby, has described the recent find as “the biggest archaeological discovery the world has seen since the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb almost 100 years ago.” The ship, now resting on the sea floor, seems to have been preserved in fairly good condition, and the searchers hope to find artifacts from the voyage — perhaps even photographs — on board.

Franklin's ship -- either Erebus or Terror -- on the ocean floor (photo: Parks Canada)
Franklin’s ship — either Erebus or Terror — on the ocean floor (photo: Parks Canada)

The Franklin lost expedition occupies a prominent place both in Victorian exploration and in the modern  Canadian national imagination. Franklin’s doomed venture has variously been interpreted as sublime martyrdom for the glory of Britain, an example of the worst excesses of nineteenth-century imperialist hubris, and, most recently, as evidence for a Canadian bid for Arctic sovereignty as melting ice makes the Northwest Passage more commercially viable. But what hasn’t been discussed are Franklin’s personal connections with Romantic poetry, and his expedition’s wider place within a culture of Arctic discovery that our writers helped to define.

Launched in 1845, the voyage was led by Captain Sir John Franklin, who commanded two ships, the forbiddingly-named “Erebus” and “Terror,” with a complement of 128 seamen. Franklin’s goal was to establish a northern maritime route that would permit shipping from Britain to the Pacific without rounding the Cape or circumnavigating South America. The explorer had previous experience in the Canadian arctic, having led the Coppermine Expedition overland in what are now the Northwest Territories (1819-22). Though this venture had been a disaster (11 of his 20 men died and there were rumors of cannibalism, while Franklin himself ate his boot leather), he was hailed as a hero upon his return, eventually earning a promotion as Governor of Tasmania. But this harsh experience hadn’t made the explorer more pragmatic: on his 1845 expedition, he brought along a useless supply of “button polish, handkerchiefs, curtain rods and a writing desk.” An abandoned lifeboat, discovered later, contained a “large amount of abandoned equipment, including boots, silk handkerchiefs, scented soap, sponges, slippers, hair combs, and many books, among them a copy of The Vicar of Wakefield.”

Setting out from England in May 1845, the expedition fared well at first, sending cheerful messages home via a whaling boat in July. The expedition camped off Beechey Island during the 1845-46 winter, but at this point things began to go wrong. Three sailors (Torrington, Braine, and Hartnell) died and were interred on Beechey Island, where I visited in 2007.

Graves on Beechey Island (Wikimedia)
Graves on Beechey Island (Wikimedia)

Modern toxicological analyses of their bodies reveal that they all suffered from lead poisoning, probably from the lead solder used to seal the tinned food, or from lead-pipes for storing water aboard ship. Affairs took another turn for the worse: the ships were trapped in ice off King William Island, 700 km to the south, in September 1846 and never sailed again; after two winters off King William Island, the crew abandoned the ships, and set out overland to find a Hudson’s Bay Company camp located hundreds of miles to the south. According to a note left on the island, Franklin died on June 11, 1847, and the expedition’s command passed to Francis Crozier, the commander of the “Terror.” Oral reports from the Inuit and modern forensic evidence suggest that the crew eventually turned to cannibalism. Though Crozier and another crew member may have made it as far as 400 miles to the south, where the remains of a camp were found in 1948, all members of the expedition and both ships were lost. Meanwhile, after two years without word, Lady Jane Franklin launched a massive investigation into her husband’s whereabouts, offering £20,000 in reward. Through the 1850s, dozens of ships set out to locate Franklin’s missing vessels and to determine the fate of the crew. The ships, and Franklin’s grave, were never found.

Torrington's grave on Beechey Island -- from my visit in August 2007
Torrington’s grave on Beechey Island — from my visit in August 2007

But what does Franklin’s expedition have to do with Romantic literature? Much more than I was aware, it turns out. The ill-fated explorer was actually Tennyson’s uncle-in-law (the poet’s wife’s mother was Franklin’s sister). And Eleanor Anne Porden, Franklin’s first wife, was a Romantic poet in her own right: she published The Veils; or the Triumph of Constancy (1815), “The Arctic Explorations” (1818), a poem inspired by her romantic interest in Franklin (whom she married in 1823), and Coeur de Lion, a historical epic with a dedication to George IV (1822). Her marriage to Franklin came with one condition: that she be allowed to pursue her poetic vocation. Porden had one child and died of consumption in 1825, while Franklin was away at sea (he married her friend Jane Griffin on his return).

In addition to Franklin’s personal connections to the English literary scene, his expedition is interesting in its participation in a mythology of Arctic exploration launched during the Romantic period. Frankenstein‘s frame narrative is the locus classicus for this, and Robert Walton’s narrative hauntingly anticipates some of the perils that the Franklin expedition would later face: the ship, bound for the North Pole, becomes inextricably trapped in ice, and, in spite of Frankenstein’s passionate exhortation that the expedition press on,  Walton agrees to lead the crew away from the ship, setting out overland to reach the south and civilization. Meanwhile, an emaciated and exhausted Frankenstein dies, while the Creature drifts away on a raft in permanent self-exile from humanity. (This last touch may owe something to the Hudson mutiny of 1611, when Henry Hudson’s crew marooned him and his son in a life raft in the middle of what is now Hudson’s Bay, in the Canadian Arctic).

Beechey Island, during my visit there (August 2007)
Beechey Island, during my visit there (August 2007)

More directly related to Canadian exploration, though, is the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which (Fulford and Kitson argue) incorporated details of Samuel Hearne’s A Journey from Prince of Wales’s Fort in Hudson’s Bay to the Northern Ocean (pub. 1795). Hearne (1745-92) was an overland explorer in northern Canada who kept memorable diaries of his three expeditions between 1769 and 1771. Though Coleridge’s scenes are set in the South Pole, his gothicized descriptions of the Arctic landscape almost certainly owe certain details to Hearne’s travel narrative. Contributing to the veracity of this claim for influence is the fact that Hearne’s co-author, William Wales, who wintered with him at Hudson’s Bay in 1768-69, was Coleridge and Lamb’s teacher at Christ’s Hospital, and Coleridge mentions reading Hearne’s work in his notebooks. Moreover, Wordsworth cites Hearne’s “very interesting work” directly in the note to “The Complaint of a Forsaken Indian Woman,” which he read “with deep interest” during the composition of Lyrical Ballads. And, while Wordsworth and Coleridge were reading Hearne’s Journey to the Northern Ocean for sublime artistic inspiration, Franklin too was consulting it — but in a more literal fashion, as the only reliable guide-book for his own voyages. The explorer read Hearne’s book in preparation for his Coppermine expedition, and confirmed in his own travel report the exact location of the infamous “Massacre at Bloody Falls” that Hearne had recounted.

In short, then, the recovered Franklin ship promises to reveal not just the mysteries of the doomed expedition, but also a cultural archaeology, germinated in the Romantic period, about the unexpected correspondence of literary art and exploration — just as The Vicar of Wakefield made its way into a lifeboat.

The author kayaking in the Arctic -- August 2007
The author kayaking in the Arctic — August 2007

Call for NGSC Bloggers 2014-2015

Dear NASSR Graduate Students and Advisers of Romantic Studies Graduate Students:

The NASSR Graduate Student Caucus (NGSC) invites applications for new bloggers for the 2014-2015 academic year. We ask that NGSC bloggers commit to contributing about 1 post per month (or about 8-10 total per year) and to serving through September 2015.

To apply, please submit a short statement of interest, along with a current academic CV, to the Managing Editor, Arden Hegele, aah2155 at columbia dot edu. Applications are due on 15 September 2014. Applicants will be notified by 1 October 2014.

As always, we welcome posts on a wide range of topics and issues of importance to our authors that represent their range of expertise, scholarly experiences, institutions, research interests, and issues relating to student life. This year, we are particularly interested in featuring a Poet in Residence and expanding our Dialogues series.

Please Note: Posts need not be works of honed, researched scholarship and sustained argument (though, admittedly, this can be a tough habit to break!). Posts can be as brief as a paragraph or as long as a few pages. Posts can also be a collage of images as well as thought experiments, original poetry, or a recently read poem or literary excerpt, or artistic piece or performance that you would like to share. Collections of links, reports on travel, or summaries of scholarly talks attended related broadly to the field of Romanticism are likewise warmly invited.

We hope this space is one where we can enjoy writing fun, lighthearted reflections or humorous quips as well as serious contemplations about our field. Fostering a supportive and meaningful community of graduate students is at the heart of this successful enterprise; we hope you will choose to take part!

If you have any questions about blogging for the NGSC, please send us an email and we’ll get right back to you.

Sincerely yours,

NASSR Graduate Student Caucus Co-Chairs:

Laura Kremmel (Lehigh U)
Jacob Leveton (Northwestern U)
Teresa Pershing (West Virginia U)

Arden Hegele (Columbia U), Managing Editor, NASSR Graduate Student Caucus Blog

Laura Moriarty and Geologic Motions

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Art.Science.Gallery – a fresh and inventive place that is nestled in Austin’s Canopy Studios of artists, musicians, galleries and other creative spaces. Hayley Gillespie, Ph.D., the founder of the gallery, is an ecologist and artist with a specialization in endangered salamanders. Though the mission for the gallery is to exhibit art merged with science, Gillespie and her team incorporate events and lectures that help to promote science literacy and increase communication between other scientists, artists, and the public.  It’s hard not to be smitten with a gallery that also has a Laboratory for classes – but not a typical art class listing. This summer at Art.Science.Gallery, you can register for Climate Science 101.

The show that I came to see was titled “GEO_______”, and featured four artists working in response to topics of general earth related sciences, but in quite unique ways from one another in content and in form. For the purposes of this review, I want to focus on Laura Moriarty’s work, as I have several immediate responses to her body of work and have been interested in seeing her sculptural pieces for a long time. This exhibit featured 6 of her small three-dimensional paintings that capture the immediate feeling of something being rent asunder, but in the most beautiful way.


Laura Moriarty, 2014, layers of solid, pigmented beeswax
I Can See for Miles and Miles #3
Laura Moriarty
layers of solid, pigmented beeswax
Photograph by Nicole Geary

Each one of Moriarty’s I Can See For Miles and Miles sculptures, which the artist calls three-dimensional paintings, appears as an obelisk that is evidence. Revealed to you in slices and dips, colors spill out and pulse from deep in the stack of layered, pigmented wax. To reveal how the earth’s violent and mysterious tectonics work, she reproduces its methods in small scale and in false-color.  Viewed as a series or separately, these paintings hint at the geologic motion that shapes the surface we walk upon. Pockets of curiosity into the unknown are exposed, like a textbook diagram, only to be folded in again. Looking down from the top of each piece gives one a sense of temporary peace as observable pigments may peek out from beneath the layers below, hinting at the constant forces of earth’s creation and consumption.    These are paintings that are not only about surface or image, but the complete construction of them wrapped into one object.

I Can See For Miles and Miles puts in mind Moriarty’s encaustic on panel works.  These sculptures function less like an object and more like a lesson, reading as colorful and representative models – pages taken right out of the geology textbook – though certainly not a familiar text. Through the repeated application of heating and cooling, building and erosion, each panel takes on its own kind of rock-like form.  Using encaustic medium, Moriarty collapses her built structures into new forms, mimicking the processes of the earth, and in doing so creates formations rich with the aesthetic of the geologic. Though her work isn’t a teaching tool, it certainly resonates with the voice of science.

One such intriguing example, Erosion Mountain, kindles the imagination by just looking closely at its interesting features. Some lovely dark and fluid pattern seems to run through the surface and into the layers below, possibly indicating a flow of water through this mountaintop. The red zone is mixed up inside, almost as if it is forming breccia near the banks of a river, eroding mountaintop into smaller bits. The strata are easy to correlate, but contain attractive interfingering of large, boulder-like bits of encaustic ephemera from other places. Perhaps the viewer need know nothing about geological workings to enjoy the view of Erosion Mountain, but it sure makes for a good story.

Laura Moriarty 2009  Pigmented beeswax on panel  9 x 12 x 4
Erosion Mountain
Laura Moriarty
Pigmented beeswax on panel
9 x 12 x 4
Image courtesty of

Complementing the three-dimensional paintings, Moriarty also presented a new set of work entitled Agates.   Several large format paintings composed of layered and pigmented encaustic make up the series, with varying depth and transparency throughout the images. They are quite striking, at once realistic but without a point of tangible reference to some real rock, they conjure the impression of that familiar semi-precious stone. Formed from the tiers of siliceous coating that percolate out of water and line the fine walls of caves or small vesicles, banding in agates represent years of geological layering. The Agates delve into those reaches of deep time. The pieces are large (21.25 x 31 inches) and push all edges of the paper, giving a sense that they are not contained by this format. There are no small hand samples here, just large expanses of study of movement and color in the flow of banded encaustic.

Agates Laura Moriarty 2014 pigmented beeswax on paper
Laura Moriarty
pigmented beeswax on paper
Photograph by Nicole Geary

Laura Moriarty’s work is at its most exciting when viewed in three dimensions, however these terrestrial studies hint at what the artist knows. Manipulation of the medium in order to mimic earth’s own fiery and sometimes inexplicable motions is the artist’s truest skill.  Moriarty peels back the layers and hints at the complexities and profundity concerning deep time.  She allows us to ponder what goes on beneath the surface, whether it is geologically inspired or more subtly induced.

How to Keep On Keepin’ On

PhDs in the humanities take a long time.  Even optimistically we in English expect at least five years, and most statistics suggest our degrees take seven or eight–and that’s in addition to the time spent on an MA.  A lot of life happens in those years, both to us and to the people we care about and care for: marriages, divorces, births, deaths, accidents, health complications, financial troubles, moving across the country…the list goes on. Every single graduate student I know has dealt with one or more of these major life changes in the course of our PhD years, and I can tell you (and you can probably concur) that sometimes it’s really hard to keep on keepin’ on.  I’m sure we have all asked ourselves at least once whether it would be easier just to quit school and pursue a different career, especially when other folks in our lives might be asking us the same thing.

I have been extremely lucky so far in that all my life changes have been happy ones: I got married (not much disruption there), and after the approval of my prospectus I got pregnant, moved with my husband to a new state so he could start his PhD program, and had a baby.  Even though these were all good, even wonderful things for my family, they brought about a sort of academic breakdown: for about year I (or at least my dissertation schedule) fell apart.  I know for a fact that I’m not alone in experiencing this; indeed, I’m convinced that for many folks, falling off the wagon for a semester or two is a reality of pursuing the PhD.  In this post, therefore, I’d like to start a conversation about getting back on the wagon. Three practical things have made a huge difference for me, and if you have similar experiences to share or any valuable advice to add, I hope you will post it in the comments.

1)      Find your support group, and stay in contact. This support group includes non-academics too, but school friends and advisers have been especially important to my academic motivation. These are the people I can bounce ideas off of, ask for feedback on my work, and even go to for hugs or laughs or tears.  They are the ones who remind me that my work is smart and interesting (rather than looking at me with slightly glazed-over eyes while I describe it), who provide useful leads and suggestions, and who cheer me on.  Watching them progress in their work helps motivate me to progress in mine.

I’ve been fotunate to find a number of these folks in my own cohort at my own university, and mostly in my own program of study (one who I know as my “dissertation buddy,” though, studies something totally different from Romanticism).  This might not be how it works for you, but there are other ways of finding your peeps, as I’ve learned since moving to a new state.  The NGSC is one, obviously—it’s the whole reason why we exist!  Facebook has also been a useful way for me to feel connected to my PhD friends as well as to old friends I made in my MA program who are now doing their PhDs or MLSs or MFAs in other places.  I don’t often converse with these FB-friends, but it still energizes me to see them post things like “I wrote three pages today!” Another idea is to join or form a reading/writing group: I meet every few months with a group of 18th-century scholars in central Ohio; they provide an important link to the academic world around me, especially since I’m not regularly wandering a college campus.   Online writing groups work too; for awhile my friends and I circulated short pieces of our writing to each other every other month or so…and though we trailed off, it was important to me while it lasted. Some universities offer dissertation support groups, where people in all disciplines can come together for discussion and motivation.  In short, there are a ton of potential ways to stay connected to motivating people…I hope you’ll share some ideas of your own.  The most important thing (at least in my opinion) is to fight isolation.  We are part of a group, a conversation.  We are in this together.

2)      Apply for things.  (Conferences, fellowships, articles, whatever).  Applications can feel like time-suckers, especially when you get those rejection letters weeks later.  And it’s true, you have to be careful not to let applications become excuses not to write your actual dissertation, but you also have to be careful not to let your dissertation be the reason you don’t apply for things!  Applications are useful for lots of reasons:  first, they have firm deadlines, meaning they will motivate you to actually produce something for others to read. That something often turns out to be really useful in terms of moving your thinking forward and clarifying your articulation of it. Plus, people DO read it–and even if you don’t “win,” your application has put your work on the radar screen of important folks you will most likely continue to interact with (say, librarians at key archives who have a remarkable memory for such things).  There is almost nothing I’ve regretted applying for, even the things I’ve not been granted.  Plus, it’s so thrilling and validating when you ARE awarded those things, and usually they open doors to more opportunities that moves your work along even further.  So just do it.  Apply.

3)      Attend (and present at) conferences.  This relates to #2 since you have to apply and then you have a deadline and a public audience (all huge motivators to producing actual sentences). But it’s also immensely important to #1, the fight against isolation.  If you are working in absentia as I am, or if you just don’t have a lot of friends in your program or in your specific area of study, conferences remind you that you are not alone.  You come together to geek out with similar-minded people, and it can totally refresh your interests—even your interest in your own project!  Conferences get even better as you make friends with people you don’t get to see in person anywhere else.  I cannot adequately express how much I loved NASSR 2013, for all of the reasons above.  It really helped pull me out of the academic funk I’d been in for months, and I fed on the energy it gave me for months afterward.

Conferences are expensive, so it makes sense to choose carefully.  If you can only attend one a year, make sure it’s one that will maximize the benefits. Usually, ones that are discipline-specific, well-established, and that you know some of your idols/mentors/friends will be attending are good choices.  For Romanticism NASSR is great, but ICR is awesome too…and a host of other conferences can be really useful for your more specific or wider-ranging work.  If you’re unsure of a given conference’s “worth,” just ask around.

So there you have it: these are the processes that currently keep me keepin’ on.  They are useful even when life’s running smoothly, but if you’re out there struggling to keep a grip on your academic goals—perhaps even afraid you’re falling (or have fallen) to pieces—take heart.  Baby-steps are still steps, and as long as you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you’ll get through it.  Most of all, remember you are not alone!  Life is going to happen to all of us, and that’s normal.  You may even decide to take a different path altogether.  But if you do decide the PhD is for you, you can most definitely do it!! I’m out here, cheering you on.

Summertime and Academic Livin’

While technically it will not be summer until June 21st, most colleges and universities have ended their quarters and semesters by now (or are in the process of ending their quarters). Which means that we are all on summer break! As popular media would have it, that means that we are all going to lock up our offices, classrooms, and homes and then head off to the nearest cool body of water to sip beverages in the sun while reading. That would be nice, but of course is not our reality.

“The summer (Landscape with lovers)” (1807) by Caspar David Friedrich

Graduate Students are in a tricky situation. We are still students, not faculty, yet have many responsibilities beyond merely being a student. I am sure that many of you upon reaching summer break have been asked by friends or relatives about your summer plans. “Camping, beach going, adventures to exotic locales, road trips?” they might ask, a mischievous shimmer in their eye. And many of us sigh, smile wanly, and reply “work.”

But among other graduate student friends there is always a certain giddiness that comes with summer too because our time becomes our own. There are no classes to teach, no classes to take, no tests to prepare for, no seminar papers, just free time to work on articles and dissertation chapters and readings. And for some it is very easy to reorient and start in on that work. They are the lucky ones. Others, I would even be willing to guess the majority, enter the warm embrace of summer and find themselves slowing down. We are productive, but maybe not as productive as we would like to be.

What I hope to do here is offer a few suggestions that the ASU 19th Century Colloquium uses for continued productivity over the summer.

“Summer afternoon” by Charles Lewis Fussell
  1. Scheduling – Absolute freedom can itself be somewhat constraining because time can be spent in infinite numbers of ways. One could be doing research or cleaning or writing or planning a get-together. Checking Twitter or news websites does not matter because there is always more time. Time loses some of its meaning because there are no pressures, whereas during the semester you have to finish the paper before a deadline otherwise there will be consequences. So creating a summer schedule is one way of getting past this hurdle. Work from 8:00 am until 12:00 pm, and only at 12:01 pm allow yourself to be distracted by other items. Even if one does not adhere completely to the not being distracted, putting yourself in the frame of mind that you are working is still helpful. Furthermore scheduling non-work items, also known as fun, too can make those more enjoyable.
  2. Environment – Being at home can be nice, especially after the last week of classes end. But being at home all summer … well, that starts to feel like a Charlotte Perkins Gilman short story. Many in the 19th Century Colloquium attempt to change their environments as much as possible. Some have extra space where they live that can be turned into an office (where only work occurs). Others like the more active atmosphere of the coffee shop. Some even keep going to campus to work there. Whatever the case maybe, having different space for work that is away from home can be quite helpful.
  3. Meet Up with other Students – Part of the other problem with summer is that our communities disappear over night, with people leaving to go back to the home states or just isolating themselves in their homes. One of the ways that we have tried to ward off that loneliness is by having summer meetings. The colloquium picks a date and location and we all meet-up to talk about what we have been working on and what we plan on working on. Even if the group itself is not designed to try and make sure that we are working, merely meeting with colleagues to report can be incentive enough.  
  4. Writing Group – The writing group is a bit more of intense option, but still an effective one. Instead of meeting up every so often, the writing group is more of a tight-knit collective. With a small group of people, four to five, the writing group outlines a set of goals for itself, like finishing a complete article draft or chapter draft by a certain date. Then, on that date you have to submit what you have written to the other members of the group. Likewise they give you what they have written, and you all then review each other’s work. The writing group is not an especially lighthearted approach to summer, but you will get work done.

Those are the brief suggestions that we have towards summer. There are certainly more tactics for productivity though, so if you have a tactic that we missed, feel free to leave a comment. Otherwise, good luck everyone with the start of summer; we hope that it is both relaxing and productive!

Kent Linthicum                

Experience: I Served in the British Army of 1812

My introduction to the geopolitics of British Romanticism came about in a highly unusual way. In the summer of 2007, I had a job as a historical reenactor: six days a week, I became a foot soldier and musician in a Drum Corps of the British Army during the War of 1812. My one-time service for the honour of the Prince Regent took place at Fort York, a National Historic Site located in downtown Toronto, Canada, and in this post I will share my lived observations of what the daily experiences of colonial military service would have been like for a British soldier at the height of the Romantic period.

The American attack on York in 1813 (from Fort York website)
The American attack on York in 1813 (Fort York website)

First, a little history of the British Army at Fort York, Upper Canada. Now surrounded by condominiums, a brewery, an airport, and former abattoirs, Fort York is one of Toronto’s oldest landmarks, with a complex history. Built in 1793 in anticipation of an American invasion, the Fort housed the British regiments outposted to Upper Canada, including grenadier corps like the 8th Regiment of Foot, the Canadian Fencible Infantry, and the Royal Artillery detachment. As Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe had anticipated, Fort York would indeed see action, and it was a key site of conflict on the Canadian side of the border during the War of 1812. In April 1813, the City of York (now Toronto) was overcome by an American force of 2700 men who crossed Lake Ontario in a fleet of fourteen ships, armed with 85 cannon. (By contrast, the defending force consisted of only 750 Britons, Canadians, and First Nations peoples, with a meagre 12 cannon.) Notable events during the battle included the British commander’s order to blow up the gunpowder magazine, and the death of the American commander, Brigadier-General Zebulon Pike. Though the American force occupied Fort York for six days, and burned the surrounding town, by 1814, the British forces had strengthened Fort York sufficiently to repel another water invasion from Lake Ontario, and the war ended with York still under British control (Canada, of course, would not become a separate nation from Britain until 1867). Today, Fort York operates as a historic site that portrays the regimental activities of British forces in the early nineteenth century, preserving details from the reenactors’ uniforms, to musket drills, to sumptuous (if somewhat bland) Georgian mess dinners for both officers and the distinguished citizens of Toronto — all in full Romantic-era dress.

The Art of Playing the Fife
The Art of Playing the Fife (Fort York website)

I fell into the job almost by chance, and began my service at Fort York as a musician. Fresh from my first year at University, I was a pretty good flautist and piccolo player, so the job of fifer in the Drum Corps seemed a natural fit. When it came to mastering the shrill instrument itself, I was a quick study; the far greater challenge was memorizing up to 40 short pieces to be played on command. All of our music (ranging from duty calls to marches) was historically accurate, and our repertoire included the usual suspects (like “God Save the King” and “The British Grenadiers”), but also some rarer melodies from eighteenth-century collections of folk tunes. Later, I learned that many of our fife and drum pieces predated the Romantic period, with several of them, like Lillibulero, appearing in The Beggar’s Opera (1728), or even dating to the English Civil War. On the battlefield, the role of the Drum Corps was to deliver orders to the different squadrons through musical calls, and, as I was to learn during reenacted battles, military convention forbade shooting at the musicians, who were armed only with swords. In preparation for battle exercises, we practiced several calls to summon the troops. Our particular affiliated troop was the Fort York Squad, a regiment that drilled with muskets and bayonets and performed on parade.

Drum Corps on parade (Wikimedia Commons)
Fort York Drum Corps on parade (Wikimedia Commons)

But the musical training was only a small part of the Drum Corps’ duties. What I wasn’t anticipating were the rest of the Corps’ military responsibilities. Each day, we would arrive at the Fort to spend up to an hour in the blockhouse cleaning the brass buttons and insignia on our uniforms and shakos (top hats), and polishing our boots to a perfect shine; each day, we had to show them to a commanding officer for approval before venturing outdoors. Our uniforms consisted of white linen trousers that buttoned at the front, a simple linen shirt, a wool jacket with the design of the Regiment of Fencibles (yellow for the Drum Corps; red for the Squad), black leather boots, and a black shako with a brass plate and an enormous felted plume (it looked rather like a pipe cleaner). In the middle of summer, the heat of the uniform was almost unbearable, and we would march hastily after drills into the blockhouse to strip off our wool jackets. We were also allowed to walk outdoors, while not on parade, in just our under-layers and boots, but were required to wear a small felt hat at all times. (The historical effet de réel of our garments was heightened by the rumour that one of Fort York’s directors had been a consultant on the uniforms for the British Navy in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.)

Fort York Squad (from Fort York website)
Fort York Squad drilling (Fort York website)

At the Fort, our daily routines included numerous drills, raising and lowering the flag (a historically accurate version of the Union Jack, which was missing a few key white bars), musical demonstrations, and — most excitingly — artillery. Directed by our Drum Major, the Corps practiced for battle by marching in two rows, while playing in time — an activity that required hours of drilling on the parade grounds of Fort York. (Thanks to the extensive drills, I will never forget how to do a “right-about… FACE!”) We were also instructed in the minutiae of dressage within the rank and file, which we practiced faithfully before performing our drills before the visiting public. In addition, we were well-versed in military decorum, never failing to salute our Lieutenant, Corporal, Sergeant, and Drum Major while passing them on the parade ground. Meanwhile, the Squad practiced their musketry, bayonet-charges, battle-cries, and marching. There was one particularly terrifying Squad member who would lead the troops in screaming “Kill — Kill — KILL!” during bayonet exercises (the Corps would often quietly retreat to the barracks during those sessions). Intriguingly, the drills revealed that the musket, the Romantic-era individual weapon of choice, was surprisingly inefficient: since the musket often took a minute or more to reload after a single shot, the Squad could not afford to waste a second, and our Squad’s hard work in mastering their drills that summer was rewarded with a first place in the Drill Competition at Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Fort George.

The only surviving photo from my time at the Fort. Here I am manning the gun (with sponge in hand) during an unusual girls'-only artillery demonstration (complete with Regency dresses).
The only surviving photo of me from my time at the Fort. Here I am on the cannon (with sponge in hand) during an unusual women-only artillery demonstration.

My favourite daily practice was the artillery demonstration. Instead of our usual yellow regimentals, we wore the blue coats of the Royal Artillery Detachment for this exercise, and manned a six-pound field gun in three- to six-person teams. Each person took a specific position on the gun, which included commanding the drill, sponging out the barrel, loading the powder charge, carrying and igniting the wick, and hooking out the debris after the cannon had fired. Thanks to my enthusiasm for the latter responsibility, I won (for the first — and hopefully the last — time), the ‘Happy Hooker’ award at the end of the summer. Since we were firing directly at a major expressway, we didn’t use ammunition, but the demonstration was still impressive enough with gunpowder alone.

As members of a broader ceremonial British Army still apparently extant throughout Canada, we also took part in occasional mock-battles at other forts around the region, including a water invasion at Fort Niagara in New York State, and several battles and marches at Fort George just across the Ontario border. The Fort Niagara battles were particularly fierce, since we — the British cohorts — had been instructed to lose command of the Fort to a huge invading American force of reenactors. During the battle, since the reenacting squads were permitted to use their weaponry, there were sounds of shots and wreaths of smoke surrounding our Drum Corps as we played the duty calls to our troops, and, in a moment of horror for all concerned, one of our soldiers actually fell to the ground bleeding (it turned out he had had a voluminous nosebleed due to the stress of the experience). As night fell, we resumed our open-air sleeping quarters inside Fort Niagara’s walls, while the American reenactors pitched white tents outside the Fort, and their families and children, in full period dress, prepared historic cuisine on small campfires.

Though we came together in solidarity for mock battles, there was also tremendous rivalry between local British Army forts: our great competitor, Fort Henry (in Kingston, Ontario) even took out a huge billboard mockingly advertising its reenactment programs over the expressway above Fort York, and, when I dined at Fort Henry with family that Thanksgiving, I felt almost treasonous to my own Fort’s good name. This historically accurate rivalry, intriguingly, became a key motif in Canadian literature. As I learned later in my English classes, Margaret Atwood and Northrop Frye have written extensively about how the “Garrison Mentality” of early British colonial forts, like Fort York and Fort Henry, contributed to a kind of willful isolationism in the settings of the literature of the next two hundred years. As a microcosm of a distant civilization in the face of an encroaching wilderness, the garrison demanded total obeisance to internal hierarchies, and an attitude of competition towards other such outposts; what is striking, to me, is how this garrison mentality from the Romantic era persists in quite literal fashion among the post-colonial historic sites today.

What did I learn by serving in the Regency military?  The life of the colonially-posted British soldier was exceptionally formalist, with a great deal of emphasis on appearance, protocol, drill, and duty, and often with very little active service. But when service suddenly became real in battle, our well-practiced forms were all we could fall back on. I was also surprised at the central role of art in providing formal structure to the British soldier’s life: the fife and drum calls governed the structure of the day, the soldier’s physical movements, and even his (or her!) survival. Finally, and perhaps in contrast to other immersive experiences that are available in the modern era (e.g. Dickens Universe; the Jane Austen Society of North America’s conferences), becoming a Regency soldier for several months meant entering in a more serious way into the daily pace of Regency military life. The most memorable thing, to me, was the shift in pace between bucolic in-Fort domesticity and the sudden, shocking nature of battle, which Austen captures so well (with reference to the Navy) at the end of Persuasion: we, like the Wentworths, had suddenly to “pay the tax of quick alarm for belonging to that profession which is, if possible, more distinguished in its domestic virtues than in its national importance.”

All photos come from the Friends of Fort York website – — unless otherwise noted.

Archival Research: The Poetic Personalities Of Keats And His Circle

Participants on the Heath.  Not all of us, but quite a few!
May 3, 2014: Keats and His Circle Conference participants on Hampstead Heath. Not all of us, but quite a few!

Hello and happy summer!  Since I last blogged, I passed my Ph.D. comprehensive exams and spent two weeks in England.  I presented at the Keats and his Circle conference along with my fellow blogger, Arden Hegele, and of course the conference was everything a Keatsian (or Romanticist) could wish it to be. Our weekend at Wentworth Place came complete with three days of really smart and innovative Keats studies, phenomenal featured lectures, and a “Keats walk” through Hampstead. But what I will talk about today is what I learned in the week after the conference.

In order to make the most out of this trip (and reward myself for surviving comps), I stayed abroad a few extra days to travel around England and research at a few archives. And even though I spent a good amount of time touring fun locations like Highclere Castle (aka. Downton Abbey) and Chatsworth Manor (aka. Pemberley from the 2005 Pride and Prejudice film), my days in the libraries were my favorite parts of the trip.

I will resist the temptation to turn this post into a report of my research (I have already written that for my dissertation director, after all).  But I thought I would tell you some fun things I learned about Keats and his circle in my time at the British Library, the Bodleian Library at Oxford, and the Brotherton Collections at the University of Leeds.

I spent my first days of research at the British Library, since I was staying in London for the conference. In addition to some of Keats’s letters, I was privileged to work with an autograph book compiled by George and Georgiana Keats. This little family memento contained copies of poems in Keats’s hand that the poet had sent in letters to his brother and sister-in-law, as well as copies of poems made by George and Georgiana.  Much to my delight, I learned this collection includes the only surviving full manuscript copy of Isabella (titled here “The Pot of Basil”). As Isabella was the spark that initiated and shaped my Master’s thesis, the poem is very special to me, and the fangirl inside me nearly fainted to read the following heartrending passage in the poet’s hand:

And she forgot the stars, the moon, and sun,

And she forgot the blue above the trees,

And she forgot the dells where waters run,

And she forgot the chilly autumn breeze;

She had no knowledge when the day was done,

And the new morn she saw not: but in peace

Hung over her sweet Basil evermore,

And moisten’d it with tears unto the core.

While perusing this autograph book, I was always happy to see Georgiana’s copies of poems. Her handwriting was much more legible than the poet’s.  In fact, I often had to reference internet transcriptions of Keats’s letters and poems to make certain of the pieces written in his hand.  But even more than the clarity of Georgiana’s copies, I appreciated George and Georgiana’s evident care and engagement with Keats’s life work. For instance, the couple added many poems in honor of Keats to the back of the collection. But my favorite part about this compilation was “To Autumn,” copied by Georgiana. At the bottom of the poem, she included a newspaper clipping of the opening quatrain of Keats’s “Lines Written in the Highlands”:

There is a charm in footing slow across a silent plain,

Where patriot battle has been fought, where glory had the gain;

There is a pleasure on the heath where Druids old have been,

Where mantles grey have rustled by and swept the nettles green;

Maybe these added lines reveal the couple’s nostalgia for home.  “To Autumn” itself is a keen reminder of the abundant beauty of the English countryside, a keen reminder that England, family, and John are so far away from these pioneers now well settled in Louisville, Kentucky. However, I prefer to read into this newspaper clipping how George and Georgiana interpreted the 1820 poem and the poet. It seems to me that George and Georgiana thought of the poem in connection with earlier, more obviously historically-informed works.  Perhaps they treasured the idea of the political Keats and, probably better than most anyone else in his circle, they understood that the poet was always the political and historical Keats, a bard evoking a glorious past to illuminate a troubled present.

At Oxford, I turned my attention to the P.B. Shelley manuscripts available at the Bodleian.  Disappointingly, the letters were all copies (either photo copies or copies in unknown hands), unless they were written to Shelley by a minor Romantic like Thomas Peacock.  I did look at several letters between Shelley and Leigh Hunt and one letter from Keats to Shelley. The letter between Keats and Shelley featured in a paper given by Madeleine Callaghan of Sheffield University at the Keats conference. Callaghan discussed the correspondence between Keats and Shelley, giving a very enlightening reading of their exchange of writing tips. Very interestingly, Keats’s handwriting was much more regular and legible in his letter to Shelley than in his letters and poems to George and Georgiana. I didn’t need internet references at all to transcribe his hand here. This all seems very reasonable, given the very different relationships Keats had with Shelley (often a rival and certainly not a favorite for the young poet) and his family. Keats didn’t theorize literary practice or philosophize off the cuff in this letter to Shelley. While to George and Georgiana Keats would ramble, journal, and test his ideas, his advice to Shelley proves very succinct, measured and bold, though a bit self-deprecating:

Keats to Shelley, August 16, 1820: Courtesy of the Bodleian Library Website. Note the chunk missing from the side, where Shelley ripped open the wax seal.
Keats to Shelley, August 16, 1820: Courtesy of the Bodleian Library. Note the chunk missing from the side, where Shelley ripped open the wax seal.

“You I am sure will forgive me for sincerely remarking that you might curb your magnanimity and be more of an artist, and ‘load every rift’ of your subject with ore.  The thought of such discipline must fall like cold chains upon you, who perhaps never sat with your wings furl’d for six Months together.And is not this extraordina[r]y talk for the writer of Endymion? whose mind was like a pack of scattered cards – I am pick’d up and sorted to a pip.” (August 16, 1820)

One last detail from the Shelley letters that cannot escape comment: Shelley was the worst at peeling the wax seal from his letters!  He left large holes in almost every letter he received.  I had to fight the very real temptation to peel the wax from the torn bits in order to piece together the final paragraphs of many letters.  What this says about Shelley, I will leave for you to speculate upon in the comments below.  I just thought this was a really funny little quirk, and I did not see the same consistency in carelessness in the other letters I viewed.

My most productive research was at Leeds, where I spent several hours pouring over Charles Cowden Clarke’s commonplace book.  What a spectacular item! In addition to sage advice from his father, passages from histories and political essays, CCC quotes at length from Barbauld’s prose and poetry.  He also copied passages from Byron (bits of The Giaour and lines on the Prince Regent), some from Wordsworth and Ollier.  Also, the commonplace book houses several of CCC’s own sonnets, including one titled “The Nightingale,” on which John Barnard has written.

Unfortunately, CCC’s annotating practices were basic at best.  I was really excited to look at his copy of Story of Rimini, but his annotations were little more that check marks and some lines in the margins.  I examined the poem against his published defense of Rimini (a response to the Edinburgh Review’s attack of the poem) to see if there was any significant overlap with his annotations, but I didn’t find anything very fruitful. CCC’s annotations in most of his personal copies (including Keats’s 1820 volume) relate primarily to his appreciation of physical description or elegant phrasing. They do not critique content so much as style.

Sketch by Joseph Severn. Courtesy of the Keats-Shelley House site.
Sketch by Joseph Severn. Courtesy of the Keats-Shelley House.

As controlled and deliberate as CCC appears in other places, his guard seems to fall upon reading his friend’s biography. The annotations in Richard Monckton Milnes Life, Letters, and Literary Remains of John Keats can be called copious in comparison to the rest of his library.  Most significantly, CCC created a sort of index in the inside cover of each volume, where he lists topics of interest and page numbers related to the topics.  These include: Shakespeare, puns, moral courage, England, etc.  Also, I found a funny annotation: in a Keats letter copied in the volume, CCC placed an X next to “Byron’s perverted education makes him assume to feel, and try to impart to others, those depraved sensations which the want of any education excited in many”—and in a footnote below, CCC writes “He has given you compound interest for your insolent scorn, my Lord Byron” (lord has a scribble underline). And what was most touching in his annotations: on the page where Milnes copies Severn’s letters to England upon Keats’s death, CCC double-underlined Keats’s last words, and at the bottom of the page he wrote, “Oh God! Too—too awful.” I felt myself tearing up in the middle of the library reading room, and I had to work not to cry into the manuscript! I think this might have been my favorite insight into Keats and his circle of support.

Fortunately much of the material I worked with at the British Library and the Bodleian is digitized.  In fact, in the last couple of weeks, the British Library has made nineteenth century manuscripts, letters, and books available through their Discovering Literature educational website.  I’m really pleased with these little findings. I think they will be very helpful in guiding my dissertation preparation. In the meantime, I am incorporating some of my research into my NASSR paper.  See you in July, Romanticists!

Graphs in Romanticism Research

We are all aware of the hand-wringing that accompanies humanities scholarship in the early 21st century. Soon enough there will be another article announcing the death or worthlessness of the humanities degree. Subsequently there will be a rebuttal which points out how crucial the humanities are. And the cycle will continue. I am not trying to disparage that particular discussion, but I want to point it out as a symptom of the larger problem of how the humanities interface with the public. According to the public, there does not seem to be anything concrete that the humanities produce; of course that is not true, but it is hard to overcome that perception. One of the ways of overcoming that perception might be to offer alternative perspectives on our data. To that end, I want to further consider the graph, as a way of helping further humanities research. I will say that the goal here is to continue the discussion about whether or not the graph as a research tool can be useful for Romanticism; I am not sure the graph will be useful, but to understand the advantages and pitfalls of a new methodology we will need to have the discussion first.

One last item, before we go too much further: I would be remiss not to note Graphs, Maps, and Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History by Franco Morretti. That book and its various responses really started this particular conversation.  I hope to focus the conversation on particular tool though, which is the Google Ngram Viewer. As you all are aware, the Ngram Viewer uses Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to search through Google’s database of digitized books. The Ngram Viewer is not perfect, to say the least. For example, it frequently confused the long ‘s’ as an ‘f’ up until recently. That being said, the Ngram Viewer does have some powerful tools available, not only allowing you to search for various words, but also parts of speech, most popular following words, and so on.

Here is a graph that charts the ‘Big Six’ from 1789 until 1912:

If you would like to see the original graph it his here: Blake,Wordsworth,Coleridge,Byron,Shelley,Keats Original. Among other items, this graph can tell us a few items: That Blake started off as the most popular, but that Lord Byron was the most popular of all of the six throughout the long nineteenth century, although there were a few moments where Shelley, Wordsworth, and even Coleridge over took him. And that Keats … was not quite as popular.

Or, at least it would be nice if the graph told us that. Due to the way that the OCR works, though, any mention of the words are gathered. So that a search for ‘Shelley’ will collect not only Percy, but also Mary, and their children, and extended family, or just anyone else named Shelley. Names that are a bit more unique, like Wordsworth and Byron, probably are closer to representing the writers I was looking for. But those searches will still gather information from other Lord Byrons and other Wordsworths, like Dorothy. For the purpose of searching for proper-nouns, the more unique the better. For example, here is a graph of more unique book titles:

The original graph is here: Pride and Prejudice,The Bride of Lammermoor,Mansfield Park,Frankenstein,Sense and Sensibility,The Last Man,Guy Mannering Graph. This data is a bit more valuable, because the likelihood of someone writing ‘Frankenstein’ or the words ‘Pride and Prejudice’ together, to refer to something else than the books  is smaller (although not impossible). Noticeably, Sir Walter Scott’s  novel is quite popular, although so too is Shelley’s. And, admittedly, if I extended the graph into the 20th century, Jane Austen’s novels would be more prominent.

The Ngram Viewer can also do a wildcard search, which I did with the word ‘French’ below:



Again, here is the original: French * Graph. At least for the time limit, the most frequent word to follow the word ‘French’ is ‘and’.  That result is not particularly surprising, though, as and is a fairly common word. What did surprise me was that between 1812 and 1818 ‘army’ followed ‘French’ more frequently than ‘and’. Of course, Napoleon was attempting to conquer the rest of Europe during that phase of time (minus Elba). But I think that the concern or interest in the French army was so great that it surpassed an everyday usage is interesting. If someone were writing how, in a particular text, one can see the anxiety over the French army, this graph might help them reinforce their point.

I would also like to point out the “Search in Google Books” section. If you were to click on any of those date ranges, Google would take you to the books where it found the word in question. Also, that search section can show what kind of results the search is generating, whether Blake refers to William, or other Blakes.

Although this is a brief meditation, I think that there are a few items that I would like focus on. First off, I think it it plain that these graphs are no substitute for the closer readings that people in the humanities often perform. And there are problems with the graphs, they cast a net that is a bit too wide. There is though a few interesting advantages, like these graphs can help show very large historical shifts. The viewer can also help with a very formalist study, because of its ability to parse words (which I did not touch on here).  But for the moment, I think that the very broad perspective of the Ngram Viewer might be useful to humanities research, in that it would help us illuminate historical trends just a little bit better.  Graphs, and the Ngram Viewer tool, are certainly not perfect nor can they replace our normal methodologies, but they do have some potential for humanities research.

-Kent Linthicum

Resources for Graduate Students of Romanticism