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Introduction

This essay introduces the Romantic-period political reformer and polymath John Thelwall and takes stock of his rapid critical renaissance over the past decade. The announcement of a new archival find, a copy of a seventeenth-century play owned and annotated by Thelwall, serves to highlight the range of his interests and activities. Presenting Thelwall as a leading representative of “romantic sociability,” I situate him within wider social and intellectual networks than have hitherto been mapped, and I raise questions about the coherence and continuity of his diverse pursuits—literary, political, and scientific—that demand further attention. My brief overview of the essays collected here emphasizes how they address those questions, engaging with one another, with existing Thelwall scholarship, and with Romantic studies more generally. This introduction also sets forth the rationale for the volume as part of the larger project John Thelwall: Recovery and Reassessments (forthcoming) and explains why Romantic Circles is an especially appropriate venue for that project’s efforts to advance Thelwall studies by reconnecting text, voice, and image in the dynamic way for which Thelwall himself was renowned.
September 2011

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John Thelwall and Association

John Thelwall’s elocutionary career has frequently been understood as a renunciation of his revolutionary politics. This essay questions such an assessment. I argue that once we understand the associationist model of mind that guides both Thelwall’s elocutionary work and his political philosophy, we see that throughout his career Thelwall was pursuing a common end: strengthening associations in the minds that inhabited, and created, the public sphere.
September 2011

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Youngquist and Botkin, "Introduction: Black Romanticism: Romantic Circulations"

This Romantic Circles Praxis Volume moves the perspective of critical inquiry into British Romanticism from the Island (England) to the Islands (West Indies), considering the particular significance of the Atlantic—watery vortex of myriad economic and cultural exchanges, roaring multiplicity of agencies, and vast whirlpool of creative powers. Black Romanticism remembers a forgotten ancestry of British culture, recovering the vital agencies of diasporic Africans and creole cultures of the West Indies. It does so by practicing counter-literacy, reading the works of nation, empire, and colony against themselves to liberate the common cultures they occlude. The five essays presented here examine texts by or about Jean Jacque Dessalines, Juan Manzano, Jack Mansong, Mary Prince, and John Gabriel Stedman, following a circuitous route that begins in Africa and travels from Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba, Suriname, Bermuda, and Antigua to corresponding points in England, America, and the continent. The circulation of radically different adaptations of the “same” material provides new ways to understand the colonial Caribbean.
October 2011

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Twa, "Jean-Jacques Dessalines: Demon, Demigod, and Everything in Between"

Popular representations of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a Haitian Revolutionary general and Haiti’s first head of state, have shaped his legacy for various political, creative, and ritualistic purposes. While most factions have presented Dessalines as either completely demonic or virtuously heroic, only Haiti’s religion of Vodou recognizes and actually celebrates his many contradictions.
October 2011

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Szwydky, "Rewriting the History of Black Resistance: The Haitian Revolution, Jamaican Maroons and the “History” of Three-Fingered Jack in English Popular Culture, 1799-1830"

The story of Three-Fingered Jack (the escaped slave who terrorized the British colonists in Jamaica from 1780 to 1781) appeared in England in at least five major versions between 1799 and 1830. Although different in their respective politics and approaches, these five nineteenth-century version of the story deemphasized the collective threat that underlies Three-Fingered Jack’s exploits in 1780-81, during an time of several slave uprisings in the Caribbean, including the Haitian Revolution.
October 2011

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"Paper Promises: Restriction, Caricature, and the Ghost of Gold"

The surge of scholarly interest in Romantic literary forgery has overlooked the impact of financial forgery on Romantic-era politics and culture. This essay uses James Gillray’s Midas (1797) and William Hone and George Cruikshank’s Bank Restriction Note (1819) as the basis for an investigation of the cultural and political repercussions of the 1797 Bank Restriction Act. The decision of Pitt’s government to end payment in gold and flood the economy with paper money was deeply unpopular. To begin with, it was seen as an act of fiscal incompetence and incontinence, as can be seen in Gillray’s scatological vision of Pitt as an inverted Midas figure showering the nation with cheap banknotes. Secondly, the Restriction Act led to a massive hike in executions for banknote forgery. The Bank of England’s prosecution of lower-class offenders provoked a public outcry at both the unreality of paper money and the harshness of the penal code. Cruikshank and Hone’s response to this controversy was the Bank Restriction Note, a mock banknote in which the normal symbols of the state have been replaced with macabre gallows humour. The essay concludes by proposing that caricature (sheets of paper satire) was the perfect medium for ridiculing the dubious authenticity of paper currency which was no longer anchored in the ‘real’ value of gold and silver.
February 2012

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"Walter Scott and the Financial Crash of 1825: Fiction, Speculation, and the Standard of Value"

Although radicals and economists had been attacking the fiscal “speculation” of the credit economy since the seventeenth century as akin to forgery and theft, many conservative commentators on Britain’s financial affairs embraced it as the source of the heroic and imaginative power of debt and credit. This essay reads Walter Scott’s Letters of Malachi Malagrowther and The Chronicles of the Canongate as “speculative” responses to the financial crisis of 1825. Following a period of intense economic expansion, primarily in Latin America and mostly based on highly speculative development plans, and facing a sudden loss of confidence in the banking sectors, the British government and the Bank of England tested various forms of economic diversification. Rather than assuming total responsibility for the new debt loads, the banks, supported by legislation, converted it into a variety of repayment and deposit schemes in smaller institutions, including, for the first time, bank branches. But in Scotland, such schemes also entailed replacing an autonomous and thriving financial community. In the letters, Scott attempts to revive the idea of “speculation”—which I define as both an act of imagination and an act of seeing—against English models of economic diversification. Chronicles documents the failure of this speculative economy and replaces it with a tenuous if critical mode of socio-economic comparison.
February 2012

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"The Ruins of Empire and the Contradictions of Restoration: Barbauld, Byron, Hemans"

This essay explores how Regency ruin culture developed at once as the apogee and the ambivalently repressive (and repressed) symptom of British imperialism, articulating the nuances of “Britain’s role in determining the trajectory of the Napoleonic imperial project at moments unstably situated between triumph and catastrophe, commercial and military pre-eminence and social crisis.” Working through Walter Benjamin's comments on ruination in The Arcades Project, Keach marks out how the difference between a “canonical” and “critical” ruin culture depends on gestures of delayed fascination tempered by an “awakening” that throws the ruin into sudden critical knowledge. For Keach, the ruin is indelibly coupled to restoration, thus producing a double movement of destruction and reconstruction that not only operates separately, but is intrinsic to the ideology of the ruin. As fragment, the ruin figures as a remainder of other cultures newly “acquired” and transmuted into the mournful excesses that haunt their reinstallment in pre- and post-Waterloo Britain. Even more, it either constitutes a celebratory surplus that hints at renovation or offers itself as unyielding matter—the debris of political and social violence.
January 2012

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"Mary Wollstonecraft’s Perpetual Disaster"

This essay reads the moments in the Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark (1796) in which Mary Wollstonecraft imagines future disasters and grieves for losses yet to come. Taking his cue from William Godwin's comment that her prejudices suffered a "vehement concussion" from the events of the French Revolution, Juengel argues that these moments of disastrous affect register a traumatic apprehension she cannot otherwise articulate - not even in her Historical and Moral View of the Origins and Progress of the French Revolution (1794). Devastated by a wounding realization of revolutionary hope, Wollstonecraft is "[h]aunted by what was to have been the future," and weaves "the time of revolutionary politics with what we might call 'species time,' resulting in forms of untimeliness that figure as disaster without end." Her sense of this disaster, so threatening to the value of individual lives, is attuned to the discovery of a planetary "deep time" that took place in the decades before and after the 1790s and to the prospect, articulated two years later by Malthus, of an ongoing "disaster of sensation and feeling that paradoxically moves the species toward life rather than death." Yet all these untimely reflections may enable her to avoid confronting the disasters of the present, such as the consequences of the fire that destroyed large portions of Copenhagen just before her arrival there; the thought of disaster, she suggests, would relieve her from the task of treading on "live ashes," on ills not yet reduced to scenes in fancy. Ultimately, Juengel argues, these movements of disastrous thought may all speak of what Reinhardt Koselleck describes as the radical temporalization of revolutionary time, a temporalization to which Wollstonecraft ultimately responds with a generous passivity, with a more-than-Kantian hospitality to disaster itself.
January 2012

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