Charles Mahoney

Charles Mahoney, Romantics and Renegades: The Poetics of Political Reaction

Charles Mahoney, Romantics and Renegades: The Poetics of Political Reaction.  New York:
Palgrave, 2003.  x + 266pp. $90.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-333-96849-2).

Reviewed by
Robert K. Lapp
Mount Allison University

Skip over the title of this book to glance at the table of contents, where the key terms "Hazlitt" and "Apostasy" point directly toward its major strengths. "Repeatedly taking its bearings from Hazlitt's critical interventions of the 1810s" (2), this book makes a substantial contribution to Hazlitt studies by reinforcing a trend toward the positive revaluation of his Regency writings, in particular his relentless exposure of the political tergiversations of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey. More than this, Mahoney advances our understanding of the intersection of literary and political discourse during the Regency by focussing on Hazlitt's master-term "apostasy," discerning in it a far more resonant figure than its negative connotations might suggest. By "pressuring" the term's "obliquely impacted etymological resonances" (3), and by applying these to a series of nuanced and illuminating close readings, Mahoney discovers that apostasy, in the writings of romantic authors, comes to name something more than a mere "standing-off" or a "standing-away" from a previously held political or religious principle. Instead, "it repeatedly figures a standing so precarious as finally to be indistinguishable from a falling--and not an isolated fall at that, but an always-falling which can be seen to occur with reference not merely to political principle, but, more unpredictably, literary language" (2). Readers alert to the deconstructive turn will detect in this "always-falling" the familiar vertigo of "an uncontainable falling characteristic of figurative language" in general, and thus an inevitable swerve away from historical particularity toward the risky claim that "romantic apostasy designates less a postrevolutionary historical phenomenon than an abiding crisis in literary signification" (12). For now, however, let us set this point aside, and instead hasten to note that Mahoney balances his figural analysis with "detailed historical assessments of English literary and political culture from the revolutionary decade of the 1790s through the reactionary years of the Regency" (4). In this context, "romantic apostasy" comes more convincingly to name "a particularly romantic anxiety concerning the precarious relation between literary language and ideology," especially "those features of [such] language which seemingly precipitate a falling in with power" (5).

The Examiner 1818–1822. Vols. 11–15 (1818–1822). Introduction by Yasuo Deguchi

The Examiner 1818-1822. Vols. 11-15 (1818-1822).  Introduction by Yasuo Deguchi. London: Pickering & Chatto, 1998. 4,260pp. £600/$950 (Hdbk; ISBN: 1-85196-427-4, 5 vol. set).

Reviewed by
Charles Mahoney
University of Connecticut

At the beginning of 1818, Leigh Hunt was at the height of his career as the charismatic editor of the Examiner and critical champion of young poets such as Keats and Shelley. His profile was such that when Blackwood's took aim at the factitious "Cockney School" in 1817-19, Hunt was recognized as its ringleader and excoriated accordingly. By the end of 1822, however, Hunt was nearly forgotten: sales of the Examiner had fallen off precipitously; he had been seemingly abandoned by many of the young talents he had gathered around him in Hampstead; and he had resigned the editorship of the paper late in 1821 upon embarking for Italy and the ill-fated partnership (with Shelley and Byron) of the Liberal. The popular, heroic libeler of the Regent in 1812--the "wit in the dungeon"--was little more than the deposed and exiled "King of the Cockneys" in 1822. Whereas the paper's first five years, 1808-12, were highlighted by the series of ex officio informations filed against it for seditious libel (culminating in the Hunts' notorious trial and conviction in 1812), and the second five years, 1813-17, were dramatized by its transformation from a political weekly into a broader vehicle for reform in cultural as well as political matters (enlivened most noticeably by the regular contributions of Hazlitt and the introduction of the "Literary Notices" in 1816), these last five years under Hunt witness the erosion of both the paper's appeal and the stature of its editor: Hunt was regularly either overworked or too ill to work; circulation fell so low that a page of advertisements was begun in 1820; and when John Hunt was imprisoned and Leigh was en route to Italy in 1822, the paper often consisted in little more than numerous extracts from other publications. Nevertheless, these volumes--the third and final installment in Pickering & Chatto's invaluable reprint of the first fifteen years of the Examiner--are crucial to our understanding of the literary and political culture of Regency England. However unsystematic the paper's political principles may have been, the Examiner stood--liberally, unstintingly, invariably--for Reform, as articulated by a critic who steadfastly championed the vital and renovating consequences of literature for political change. And when chastening the Quarterly Review for its abuse of Keats and Shelley, upbraiding the ministerial press for its coverage of Peterloo, defending Queen Caroline, or denouncing the cant and hypocrisy of a corrupt Parliament, the Examiner succeeded time and again in "telling the Truth to Power" with its provocative combination of political intransigence and literary virtuosity.

The Examiner 1808–1822, Vols. 6–10 (1813–1817), introduced by Yasuo Deguchi

The Examiner 1808–1822. Vols. 6–10 (1813–1817). Introduction by Yasuo Deguchi. London: Pickering & Chatto Publishers, 1997. 4,240pp. £550.00/$850.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 1-85196-426-6).

Reviewed by
Charles Mahoney
University of Connecticut

Keats saved his back issues to send to his brother George in America; in Florence, Shelley learned of the Peterloo massacre when his copy arrived; John Gibson Lockhart ridiculed it in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine as but the "Cockney Court-Gazette"; and Southey not only censured it in The Quarterly Review but also fumed to Lord Lonsdale that its editor ought to be transported to Botany Bay. Whether inclined to subscribe to or proscribe it, you could not ignore The Examiner in the 1810s. And now, with Pickering & Chatto's invaluble reprint of its first fifteen years, 1808–1822, it is once again possible to understand why, week after week, The Examiner was and is the indispensable index of the political and literary culture of Regency England. The volumes before us here, 1813–1817, constitute the second installment of Pickering & Chatto's three-year project: the first five volumes (1808–1812, culminating in the Hunts' trial and conviction on charges of libel), were published in 1996, and the last five (1818–1822, from the height of its literary influence through Leigh Hunt's resignation of the editorship), are scheduled to appear in December, 1998. Pickering & Chatto's impressively legible reprint (made from the Cambridge University Library set) has already begun to provide scholars of Romantic studies with a timely opportunity to recalibrate their understanding of "political Romanticism" in terms of the effects of the Regency, the Napoleonic Wars, and their catastrophic aftermath on English prospects for Reform. When complete, The Examiner, 1808–1822 will again be available to radicals and apostates alike as (according to The Edinburgh Review in 1823) "the ablest and most respectable of the publications that issue from the weekly press."

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