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British War Poetry in the Age of Romanticism 1793-1815, by Betty T. Bennet, Edited by Orianne Smith


About This Edition

By Orianne Smith

The Editors | The Collection of Texts | The Electronic Edition

The Editors

Betty T. Bennett, who first collected and edited these poems as a book in 1976, is Distinguished Professor of Literature, American University, in Washington, D. C. She is the author of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley: An Introduction (JHUP 1998), and Mary Diana Dods, A Gentleman and a Scholar (JHUP, 1994); the editor of The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (JHUP, 1980-88); Selected Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (JHUP, 1995); Mary Shelley, in the Lives of the Great Romantics III, (Pickering, 1999), and co-editor of Mary Shelley in Her Times (JHUP, 2000), Shelley: Poet and Legislator of the World (JHUP, 1995), and The Mary Shelley Reader (OUP, 1990). She is at present completing a biography of Mary Shelley.

Orianne Smith is a Ph.D candidate at Loyola University Chicago, completing a dissertation on gender and millenarianism in the Romantic period.  She is the editor of Helen Maria Williams's Julia, A Novel (forthcoming with Broadview), and co-editor of a Romantic Circles edition of Mary Robinson's Letter to the Women of England on the Injustice of Mental Subordination (1799).  Works-in-progress include co-editing a collection of the works of Joanna Southcott.

Bennett's New Bibliography of Additional Poems was digitized by Doug Guerra of Loyola University Chicago. Steven Jones is responsible for the edition's initial concept and layout, and for coordinating the project as a whole. Design and production was the work of Kate Singer, Site Manager of Romantic Circles.


The Collection of Texts

The 350 war poems carefully chosen by Betty T. Bennett for her original edition of British War Poetry in the Age of Romanticism: 1793-1815 provide an invaluable resource for literary scholars and historians interested in exploring the complex and shifting attitudes of Britons during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.  Over the years since it was first published in 1976, this collection has been prized by several generations of Romantic-era scholars who owned or, after it went out of print, were fortunate to find an extant copy.  In light of its ongoing usefulness as a scholarly tool, this electronic edition of Bennett's British War Poetry was created in order to give current and future scholars access to this significant work.  We hope that the flexibility of the electronic format—and the opportunity to search these poems by author, by title, and by date—will make this collection even more accessible than the earlier print version.

Betty T. Bennett's original introduction, reproduced here in its entirety, provides an essential background to the historical, political and literary contexts in which these poems were written.  As Bennett demonstrates, the stories of the widows, orphans, impressed sailors and wounded soldiers in these poems are a powerful reminder of the real cost in terms of human suffering and economic loss felt throughout England during its twenty-two years of war with France.  The focus in many of these poems on the plight of individuals struggling to survive in these years reveals a heightened awareness of the personal, subjective experience of war.  Poems written for both radical and conservative journals and periodicals reflect this shift towards articulating the story of the common man simply and with feeling.  

These poems give a capacious view of Romantic-period poetry within the larger political and popular culture, which goes well beyond the boundaries of literary Romanticism.  The war poems by the female poets included in this edition are illuminating in another way. What is most interesting about the sixteen poems included here by Charlotte Smith, Mary Robinson, Helen Maria Williams, Amelia Opie, Eliza Daye, Anna Seward, Mary Russell Mitford and Ann Yearsley is how similar (in tone, content and range) they are to the poems in this edition written by male authors. Although some of the poems by these women are compassionate accounts of the devastating effects of war on the family dynamic, other poems such as Robinson's The Camp and January, 1795 are bitingly satiric in their descriptions of the social chaos and corruption generated by the war.  Williams's vision of a new Millennium of peace and prosperity in Ode to Peace is in sharp contrast to Ann Yearsley's apocalyptic interpretation of the events in France in Anarchy: A Sonnet.  Placing the poems by Romantic women writers within the general context of British war poetry demonstrates their active and vigorous participation in the political and social debates of their time. 


The Electronic Version

This electronic edition is not a facsimile of the original print edition.  Some changes have been necessary in order to make the transition from a print to an electronic version.  Hyperlinking and the structures of organization made possible by HTML markup are the most obvious changes. In addition, some footnotes have been slightly updated.  The edition will we hope continue to evolve in later iterations.  Eventually, we plan to produce an XML version at Romantic Circles that will be accessible and useable in more flexible, database-driven searches of these poems—as well as additional poems that could be aggregated by that time.

The cover image for this edition is a cartoon by James Gillray contrasting British naval power with French land power. It depicts a feast in which Pitt helps himself to a healthy portion of the oceans while Napoleon carves up Europe.  The image is used courtesy of The National Army Museum.

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Published @ RC

September 2004