Wales

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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 the West Country: The Road to Nether Stowey Revisited

This article presents arguments for continuities in John Thelwall’s life and career from the early 1790s through to the new century, post-1800. Thelwall’s westward migration in 1797 is explored in detail, as is the publication of his essay "The Phenomena of the Wye" in the Monthly Magazine for May and July of 1798. Consideration is given to Thelwall’s various identities, and to the political/cultural significances of England’s west country between 1797 and 1819. Thelwall’s friendship with Coleridge is assessed in the light of intractable differences between the two men.
September 2011

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Gillray, Cruikshank & Thelwall: Visual Satire, Physiognomy and the Jacobin Body

In the years following his acquittal for High Treason in 1794, John Thelwall came to personify all that English loyalists most feared about the plebeian democrats of the London Corresponding Society. In loyalist discourse, he became at one and the same time, an intemperate but horribly effective Jacobin orator, and a covert conspirator working quietly behind the scenes to ally the Foxite opposition with the LCS and some of its insurrectionary fellow travellers. The apparent disjuncture in Thelwall's character between public bluster and private plotting presented a unique set of problems for loyalist caricature, explicitly demonstrated in the practice of the best known ministerial cartoonists of the period, Rowlandson, Cruikshank and Gillray. This essay explores some of the ways in which this dichotomy was resolved in visual culture, and assesses the impact of popular prints like these on the manufacturing of Thelwall's political reputation.
September 2011

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John Thelwall and the Politics of the Picturesque

This essay explores the political significance of John Thelwall’s engagement with the discourse of the picturesque in his travel writing of the 1790s. E. P. Thompson asserted that Thelwall’s turn to travel writing in the immediate aftermath of his metropolitan radical career demonstrated the success of the authorities in driving him out of politics. For Thompson, Thelwall’s essays “A Pedestrian Excursion” and “The Phenomena of the Wye” (1798-1801) were “conventional” and “unremarkable” examples of the picturesque tour, in which Thelwall reneged on his reformist principles by failing to engage with the working people he encountered. Recent critical accounts have defended Thelwall against Thompson’s charge by accentuating the sociological emphasis of the pedestrian tours and playing down Thelwall’s engagement with the picturesque. This essay argues that it is precisely through an exploration of the picturesque that Thelwall finds a new medium for the articulation of his political ideals. Thelwall’s turn to the picturesque is not just a response to political harassment. The Peripatetic (1793) demonstrates Thelwall’s long-held fascination with visual forms, though it expresses distrust at the abstracting effects of spectatorship. In The Peripatetic, Thelwall begins an exploration of alternative means of “seeing,” namely the material exploration of both the landscape and social configurations. This exploration is continued and refined in the “Pedestrian Excursion” and “Phenomena of the Wye,” where the language of Thelwall’s descriptions of landscape anticipate his engagement with the politics of free speech in his elocutionary writings of the next decade.
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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"Knowledge Against Paper: Forgery, State Violence and Radical Cultural Resistance in the Romantic Period"

This essay firstly examines the strategy of radical education in the early nineteenth-century plebeian public sphere around the issue of paper money, illustrated by William Cobbett in his article series "Paper Against Gold," published in the Political Register during 1810-11. Cobbett’s role as a counter-hegemonic intellectual in the series and the conception of popular knowledge it championed is highlighted, in part through his attempts to expose the complex workings of the wider financial system he described as a "place . . . of a sort of mysterious existence; a sort of Financial Ark; a place not, perhaps, to be touched, or even seen." The second part of the essay demonstrates how this form of critical publicity was transformed in the postwar years into an active project of resistance against the worst abuses of the paper money system, culminating in Cobbett’s "puff out" campaign in the Register to materially undermine Bank of England paper currency and T.J. Wooler’s print protests in The Black Dwarf directly confronting the enforcement of the "bloody code" in the capital forgery trials of late 1818. This postwar print campaign against the paper money system illustrates key aspects of the wider radical intellectual project in the plebeian public sphere, highlighting how the radical press "converted" popular public debate into a new form of cultural currency in the Romantic period, a currency that emblematized a continuing concern for the material welfare of its readers and listeners in the face of a corrupt and bloody political and economic system.
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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