Romantic Numbers

"Docile Numbers and Stubborn Bodies: Population and the Problem of Multitude"

In the wake of the 1795 food crisis, a number of agricultural, governmental, and charity institutions developed a new discourse of population for understanding the disaffected masses. The gambit for these institutions was that by understanding population—numbers of people, their distribution, their ages, and their occupations—they could create policies to control and appease the crowd of distressed poor and working class peoples. While population provides an ordering of life, the “swinish multitude” serves as a figure for life in excess of population. There are a number of human and animal assemblages which work against assimilation into the national endeavor of counting. Gillray’s illustrations, Spence’s utopics, Sussex pigs, Hogg’s Shepherd’s Calendar, and Batchlor’s agrarian poetic manifesto Village Scenes push against the narrow parameters by which population understands and represents life. Their discourse of excess and multitude work against Burke’s “Thoughts and Details on Scarcity,” Malthus’s Essay on Population, and Rickman’s 1801 census, the Speenhamland system, and the burgeoning methodologies for constructing population.

April 2013

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Romantic Numbers

The six essays in this volume offer a range of mediations prompted by the volume’s title. This volume explores older and newer logics of “matching” and “counting” and “measuring” (whether statistical, geometric, or otherwise un/calculable); they register as well an upsurge in interest in formal-language, neurocognitive and medial-historical approaches. These essays invite us to think “bodies,” “multitudes,” and “subjectivity” along different axes. They ask us to think about the (romantic) one, the (romantic) proper name, quantity, and quality; they invite us to reflect on the status of poetry and measure, about the work of the novel as totalization, about models of mind, about calculuses of populations and food. Ranging through Wordsworth, Scott, Malthus, Babbage, and Galt (among others), this volume points to new directions in romanticist thinking while reconstructing the complexity of romantic-period thought. Edited and introduced by Maureen N. McLane, with essays by Matthew F. Wickman, Marjorie Levinson, James Brooke-Smith, John Savarese, Bo Earle, and Ron Broglio, along with two responses by Maureen N. McLane: Response #1, Response #2.

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April, 2013

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