Romanticism, Forgery and the Credit Crisis
Ian Haywood, "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.
Robert Miles, "Emma and Bank Bills: Romanticism and Forgery"
In his review of Emma Walter Scott comments that Harriet Smith’s "facile affections" are transferred "like a bank bill by indorsation." The metaphor is doubly apt: it sums up Harriet while pointing to a peculiar feature of Austen’s Emma—its reliance on economic language to prosecute its themes. This reliance is not accidental but an expression of a fundamental aspect of Romantic-era culture: the consistent juxtaposition of contingency with an imagined "gold standard" that gives such contingency meaning. This essay argues that Jane Austen’s Emma offers the reader a complex reflection on the interpenetration of economic and aesthetic systems of value that developed in the aftermath of the suspension of cash payments in 1797.
Alex Benchimol, "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.
Alex J. Dick, "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.
Nick Groom, "Afterword: Forgery and the Credit Crunch"
This essay summarizes the essays in the collection. It places them in the context of recent work in authenticity studies, Romanticism, and the history of legal and financial forgery, and remarks on the current economic situation. The account concludes with suggestions for further avenues of research.