Printer-friendly versionSend by email

Gothic Technologies: Visuality in the Romantic Era

Haunted Britain in the 1790s

Angela Wright, University of Sheffield

Wright argues that the rise in popularity of the Gothic romance in the 1790s led to an obsession with its pernicious effects in the periodical press. In its turn, this critical obsession with the Gothic in the 1790s became as imitative and as manufactured as the novels that it sought to critique.  This essay appears in _Gothic Technologies: Visuality in the Romantic Era_, a volume of _Romantic Circles Praxis Series_, prepared exclusively for Romantic Circles (http://www.rc.umd.edu/), University of Maryland.

    The story is made up from that sublime production, the Castle Spectre, and from Mr Whaley's tragedy of the Castle of Montval, with several incidents freely borrowed from Cervantes; or, perhaps, at second-hand, from his Shakespearean dramatiser, the author of the Mountaineers. Had we any influence with Mr Astley, the Amphi-theatrical manager; we would recommend Mrs K to his employment, as a kind of journeywoman manufacturer of ghosts, secret doors, &c. &c

    (Review of Anne Ker's The Heiress di Montalde; or the Castle of Bezanto: A novel in two volumes (London, 1799) in the Antijacobin Review, 7 (1800): 201-2)

  1. The celebrated threat to "the discriminating powers of the mind" that William Wordsworth identified in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads arrived in the cargo of "frantic novels, sickly and stupid German tragedies, and deluges of idle and extravagant stories in verse." Such material, for Wordsworth, was emblematic of "the magnitude of the general evil" that confronted Britain's literary republic (Wordsworth: 1805: vi.). On their own, these items do not seem to account for the hyperbolic "magnitude" of the perceived threat. Taken together, the adjectives that Wordsworth applies to these items are collectively urgent: "frantic" (linguistically reminiscent of France), "sickly" and "stupid" (connected specifically to German productions) and "deluges," all come to represent a literary contamination from the continent which was spreading throughout Britain's literary arena. For Wordsworth, the contamination had spread beyond the listed generic items and had become a "general evil" threatening literature.

  2. Not only had this continental invasion infected the fiction, drama and poetry of Britain, but it had also engulfed the arena of literary criticism itself, as I will argue in this essay. Wordsworth's proposal of a new form of poetry to respond to the British nation's literary torpor provided a strong antidote to the perceived "evil." As a celebrated milestone in the development of British Romanticism, Wordsworth's prefatorial success lay in his proposal of a new artistic mechanism. Rather than merely commenting upon what he and many others perceived as Britain's passive embrace of continental imports, Wordsworth embarked upon his own revolutionary technology.1

  3. It is here that we may wish to consider the implications of the title of this collection— "Gothic Technologies"—for the very imprecision of the word "technology" is suggestive. The eighteenth-century use of the word "technology" placed the emphasis on "art" as well as gesturing towards our own understanding of the word today. Whilst the Oxford English Dictionary's principal definition of "technology" is as "A discourse or treatise on an art or arts; the scientific study of the practical or industrial arts," it charts how as early as 1706 Phillips defined it as "a Description of Arts, especially the Mechanical," thus privileging artifice and mechanism in the Arts. By 1755, whilst Samuel Johnson did not include the word "technology" in his Dictionary, he included the adjective "technical," commenting on its rarefied usage: "Belonging to arts; not in common or popular use."2 In 1755, then, "technical" remained a rare and privileged term to be applied to mechanical arts. But as Fred Botting charts elsewhere in this collection, the deployment of Gothic tropes in the latter part of the eighteenth century became strongly associated with mechanism. "Mechanical" was no longer rarefied and privileged as a technology, but instead became emblematic of the Gothic genre and its critical apparatus, synonymous with the mass invasion of "frantic," "sickly," and "stupid" continental imports.

  4. The implications of the changing definitions of "mechanical" and "technology" clustered around the Gothic, and it is worth considering how late eighteenth-century criticism of the Gothic before Wordsworth emphasised the mechanical aspects of the Gothic's supernatural apparatus. In the review of the Gothic novel The Heiress of Montalde, the epigraph for my essay, the Antijacobin Review playfully recommended its author Anne Ker to the theatrical manager Mr Astley as a "journeywoman manufacturer of ghosts," emphasising both the commercial and mechanistic aspects of her fiction. Such reviews were neither rare nor original in their remoulding of "mechanical" as a derogatory epithet to describe a genre that deployed a recognizable collection of supernatural tropes. In Accidental Migrations Edward Jacobs discusses the Gothic's reproduction of an "unusually stable set of conventions in an unprecedented number of texts" (Jacobs, 198). The "stable set of conventions" that Jacobs identifies was a source of anxiety for critics of the Gothic in the 1790s and 1800s.

  5. Curiously, however, the essence of hostile reviews (that the Gothic was formulaic or "mechanistic") came to define the reviews themselves, as they too assumed the mechanistic aspects that they attacked. In other words, the late eighteenth-century reception of the Gothic became as much of an identifiable technology, itself reproducing the "stable set of conventions" that first appeared in the novels themselves. In its entrenchment against Gothic "technologies" criticism itself became imitative, manufactured and repetitive in the 1790s. It was perhaps the mechanical torpor into which criticism lapsed that provoked such a strong antithetical response from Wordsworth and others in the 1800s. In the following sections of my essay, I explore both the Gothic's perceived mechanical torpor in the 1790s, and the subsequent mirroring of the same in the 1800s.

  6. The supernatural and the "dignus vindice nodus"

  7. The French novelist Madame de Genlis's The Knights of the Swan; or, the court of Charlemagne was reviewed by the London Review and Literary Journal in May 1796. The review intervened in an increasingly important point of debate, that of the legitimate use of the supernatural, thus:

    With respect to the introduction of her supernatural agent, the ghost, [de Genlis] seems conscious that the critics will not be easily satisfied; and in a note subjoined to its first palpable appearance, seeks her justification in the opinions of that aera, and in the licence ever granted to romances and poets. How far this argument will avail as a reason for her thus calling on the tomb to ope its ponderous and marble jaws, must be left to the candour of the public, though we cannot help remarking, that the observation of Horace on the dignus vindice nodus, will not bear her out in the present difficulty. No event is brought about by this frightful spectre thus revisiting the glimpses of the moon, which might not have been accomplished by an ordinary agent; and we are sorry, when a writer of acknowledged abilities sacrifices to a popular and vulgar taste, at the expence of her more enlightened judgment.

    (Review of Madame de Genlis, The Knights of the Swan; or, the court of Charlemagne: A Historical and Moral Tale, trans. James Beresford, (London: Joseph Johnson, 1796) in The London Review and Literary Journal, 29, (May, 1796): 316.)

    The London Review touched a collective critical chord, as it emphasised the tension in Madame de Genlis's choice of supernatural rather than "ordinary" agents. For The London Review this unfortunate aesthetic selection was paralleled by her appeal to "popular and vulgar taste" in place of "enlightened judgement."3 Appealing to an older and more venerable technology, the London Review invoked Horace's "dignus vindice nodus" from The Art of Poetry.4 In The Art of Poetry, Horace uses the phrase "dignus vindice nodus" to denote a problem in play-acting, but it is the way in which he casts this in relation to literary legitimacy which is of relevance here. Speaking of the ideal drama, Horace says: "nec deus intersit, nisi dignus vindice nodus." This can be translated as, "And let no god intervene, unless a knot come worthy of such a deliverer." The "worthiness" of a "knotty" or "problematic" literary device is of crucial significance to the debate surrounding the Gothic in the periodical press of the 1790s. When the dignus vindice nodus is resurrected in the 1790s in relation to the use of the supernatural, Horace's words should be translated to mean "you should not use this device unless you have a legitimate reason." "Legitimacy" fast became divorced from the Gothic's mechanistic reproduction of ghosts in the 1790s. The Gothic romance's luxurious and too-frequent indulgence of the supernatural was quite simply deemed to be an unworthy advocate of the supernatural because of its exhaustive deployment of it as a visual stimulant.

  8. The critical consensus in 1790s Britain came to equate spectral appearances with "popular and vulgar taste." The reviewer in the London Review went on to argue that: "It is high time that this extravagant passion for raising up useless spirits from underground should be banished from our novels and from our spectacles" (Anon, 1796: 316). The choice of the word "extravagant" indicates the way in which these spectral appearances were viewed as superfluous and, as "useless spirits" suggests, unnecessary and beyond the bounds of British propriety. The repeated emphasis upon "our novels" and "our spectacles" is suggestive of the belated attempt to protect Britain's literary tastes from the perceived continental influences that Wordsworth also identifies. (emphasis added) In the Monthly Review, William Taylor supported this position on Madame de Genlis's novel, complaining that "the painting is frequently too indelicate and luxuriant for the sober taste of this country" (Taylor, 22, 1797: 93). For Taylor, Britain was a nation of sobriety and industry in contrast to the indelicacy and luxuriance of France.5 The association of French sentiment with rhetorical embellishment, in opposition to British common sense and plain-speaking, continued in reviews of less well-established authors. For example, in reviewing the work of Catherine Lara, a prolific adaptor and translator working during the 1790s, the Critical Review complained that "French sentiment . . . is too fanatical and too artificial for plain English common sense" (Anon, 18, (December, 1796): 474-5).6

  9. Britain's supernatural epidemic fast became associated with an array of epithets that linked it to France. "Extravagance," "fanaticism," "vulgarity" and "luxury" all became paradigmatic of an invasion of French sentiment into Britain by means of the supernatural. The worthiness of the supernatural in itself was not in question, but its relentless deployment throughout British fiction was. The contamination of English language and English literature by French language and French literature also carried within itself the potential for other, more political, imitational possibilities.

  10. Haunted Britain

  11. The Reverend Thomas Mathias's satirical poem The Pursuits of Literature, published in four separate dialogues between 1794 and 1797, was one of the first documents to sustain the comparison of the political revolution and military threat in France with the invasion of French literary tastes into Britain.7 His complaint in the fourth dialogue that "Sooner to France Thames roll his current strong/Than men love verse, high fancy, or the song" (ll. 227-228) lamented the denigration of the British republic of literature while connecting to the potential political threat of British military surrender. This coupling of the literary with the political potential for surrender was elaborated upon by Mathias throughout the four dialogues of The Pursuits of Literature.

  12. Further on in the fourth dialogue, Mathias emphasised how the thirst for narrative, and more precisely Gothic narrative, had led to the simultaneous expulsion of learning and martial vigour from Britain. Here, with customary hyperbole, Mathias recast Britain itself as a Gothic spectre, with a "dead spirit" and a spent "vigour." Having devoted a large amount of textual space in the Preface of the fourth dialogue to the denigration of Matthew Lewis's Gothic creation The Monk, he then satirically explored how the British nation's thirst for visual thrills in the form of the supernatural had impoverished the country. Placing Horace Walpole's 1764 Castle of Otranto on trial for having spawned the British craving for the supernatural, the following lines pleaded:

    Speak then, the hour demands; Is learning fled?
    Spent all her vigour, all her spirit dead?
    Have Gallic arms and unrelenting war
    Borne all her trophies from Britannia far?
    Shall nought but ghosts and trinkets be display'd,
    Since Walpole play'd the virtuoso's trade,
    Bade sober truth revers'd for fiction pass,
    And mus'd o'er Gothic toys through Gothic glass?
    Since states, and words, and volumes, all are new,
    Armies have skeletons, and sermons too;
    (Mathias, IV, ll. 539-548)
  13. "Gallic arms" and "unrelenting war" for Mathias had deprived Britain of true learning and literature, leaving Walpole's Gothic "trinkets" and "toys" in place of Britain's true literary trophies. Britain as a seat of true learning was recast as a museum of phantoms, with Walpole and his imitators poring over displays of ghosts, trinkets and Gothic toys through a display cabinet made of "Gothic glass."

  14. What is particularly intriguing about Mathias's rendition of Britain as a Gothic display cabinet is the level of objectivity that is presumed here. While he couples "states" with "words" and "volumes" to emphasise an earlier point from the third dialogue (that "LITERATURE, well or ill-conducted, is THE GREAT ENGINE, by which all civilized states must ultimately be supported or overthrown" (Mathias, III, l.141) by contrast, the detachment implied by Walpole "musing" over Gothic toys through "Gothic glass" is remarkable. It implies a passive and uninvested consumption of these trinkets that is accompanied by a level of detached irony provided by the "Gothic glass." The allusion to Walpole's reversal of fiction and truth with his first counterfeit preface to The Castle of Otranto, his "toying" with a "virtuoso's trade" is suggestive of the illegitimacy in which Mathias viewed Walpole's literary incursion.8 Walpole's more aristocratically-detached contemplation of Gothic paraphernalia is precisely what gave rise to the unprecedented amount of Gothic romances in the 1790s written by authors (such as Anne Ker) with far less pedigree and more financial motive. There was no worthiness behind Walpole's motivation, in Mathias's account, and his portrayal of Walpole's "musings" is suggestive of precisely this point.

  15. While "states" and "volumes" may be newly fashionable, in Mathias's vision the bastions of Britain's physical and moral defences, armies and sermons, have endured an anonymous and prolonged death. The troublesome conjunction between Catholicism, Revolution and British literary delight in terrors and spectres was not unique to Mathias. Here, though, the links between despotic Catholicism, visuality and display were strengthened to re-emphasise how the "spirit" of learning had been supplanted by a much more troublesome phantom. As the Oxford English Dictionary notes, the word "spirit" is commonly used in phrases denoting or implying diminution or cessation of the vital power, or the recovery of this. If Britain's literary spirit has expired, then all that remains in Mathias's vision is the ghostly skeleton of the Gothic. The "state" of learning is beyond recovery.9

  16. Mathias's critical position on uncritical consumption was strengthened by the new regiment of satirical attack which was raised in the late 1790s. Satirical letters, which argued about a "system" of terror invading the rational realms of British print culture, began to crop up in periodicals across the political spectrum. "The Terrorist System of Novel Writing" (1797), "Terrorist Novel Writing" (1798) and "On the New Method of Inculcating Morality" (1798) all provided light-hearted recipes on how to concoct a Gothic fiction, emphasising the manufactured nature of the Gothic. On the imitative trend that gave rise to such satirical articles, E.J. Clery correctly argues that "The hothouse productivity of the 1790s meant that the initial reading of a Gothic novel was not unlikely to be the equivalent of reading half a dozen others" (Clery, 1995: 142). These satirical letters emphasised how the Gothic apparatus was not only unoriginal, but easily consumed, with both "Terrorist Novel Writing" and "On the New Method of Inculcating Morality" specifically using the word "recipe" to describe their reducto ad absurdium of the Gothic genre.10 "Terrorist Novel Writing" concluded its light-hearted recipe of a castle, gallery, skeletons and assassins for a Gothic novel with the advice: "Mix [the elements] together, in the form of three volumes to be taken at any of the watering places, before going to bed" (cit. Clery and Miles 2000: 184).

  17. The absence of education and instruction in Gothic romances was lamented in all three articles. In "Terrorist Novel Writing" the complainant reminded the journal that "A novel, if at all useful, ought to be a representation of human life and manners, with a view to direct the conduct in the most important duties of life, and to correct its follies"11 (cit. Clery and Miles 2000: 184). "Anti-Ghost," the writer of "On the New Method of Inculcating Morality" echoed a similar lament: "So much for the instruction to be derived, if it really wanted in this enlightened age. But what is the information we learn?" (Anon. 1798). The active process of learning that literature was supposed to support was being replaced by an incuriously passive consumption of a Gothic novel where readers could pick over the Gothic trinkets and choose the right combination to please themselves. In marked contrast to Wordsworth's later urgent epithets of "frantic," "sickly, stupid" and "deluges," these more pedestrian satires of the Gothic were suggestive of leisure, indulgence, and bemusement with their subject matter.

  18. Spectral Imitations

  19. The fact that "Terrorist Novel Writing," "The Terrorist System of Novel Writing" and other satirical articles also became imitative in themselves, all using supposedly satirical recipes to denigrate the Gothic genre further, emphasised the universal nature of this process of consumption. The "hothouse productivity of the 1790s" that E.J. Clery discusses in relation to the Gothic extends beyond the realm of the novel to all literary endeavour, and inevitably, criticism itself was not untainted by uncritical consumption. Just as the Gothic came to be identified as a recognizable "technology" through its critical reception in the 1790s, so too did its critical recipes. By using the same generic convention—the recipe—to mock formulaic fiction that seemingly "blunted" the mind, reviewers also created a new generic technology that was as manufactured as its target.

  20. Emily Jane Cohen has argued that the "Gothic is a genre that valorizes the image and the ornament" (Cohen 1995: 883). But the above excerpt from Mathias's fourth dialogue, where the entirety of literary Britain is rendered as one skeletal Gothic museum, goes beyond this. It suggests that other areas of literature have also been infected by the Gothic's celebration of the ornamental, its use of certain attractive toys, its uncritical selection of trinkets from the Gothic display cabinet.

  21. Imitation was not solely confined to the Gothic genre; it spread to the criticism of it as well in the 1790s, and thereby rendered this criticism largely redundant. As the Oxford English Dictionary records, the adjective spectral refers not only to the quality of ghostliness, but also to the "resembling, or looking like spectre or spectres." Just as Freud's linguistic excavation of the different definitions of heimlich and unheimlich revealed in "The Uncanny," so too we find that there is a conflation between imitation and original in the OED's definitions of "spectral." This conflation informs how I define the spectralization of Britain in the 1790s. The series of imitations produced by Gothic novelists and critics alike led to each technology resembling the other with no particular original in mind.

  22. The similarity in titles between "Terrorist Novel Writing" and "The Terrorist System of Novel Writing" is only the most obvious of a series of imitations that were taking place as part of Britain's defence against the imitative spectralization of Britain. In a humorous attempt to dissociate himself from the fashion for spectral apparitions, for example, the essayist for Walker's Hibernian Magazine signed himself "Anti-Ghost" (Anon, "Anti-Ghost," January, 1798), whilst elsewhere the editor of a short-lived satirical periodical called The Ghost refashioned himself as "Felix Phantom" (Anon, "Felix Phantom" 1796).12 These examples illustrate how apt was Mathias's coining of "Gothic trinkets." The vogue for appropriating the supernatural paraphernalia of the romance in an attempt to prove the novel's unoriginality spectacularly misfired. "Anti-Gothic" criticism in itself became a tired commodity that relied on the visual cues provided in "recipes" for its satirical targets.

  23. Due to a complex process of literary contamination, "anti-Gothic" criticism endlessly refracted the novels that it accused of being derivative and manufactured.13 Whilst "The Terrorist System of Novel Writing" satirised the perceived "system" for writing a Gothic romance, it spawned another "system" that was as mechanical as its target. Reviewers and satirical writers came to gaze upon their works with the same impassivity, borrowing the very same set of trinkets from the display cabinet as the imitative practitioners of the Gothic.

  24. One reviewer for the Critical summarised the critical awareness regarding the imitative contagion. When reviewing a novel called Austenburn Castle by an "unpatronized female" in 1796, the writer complained "Since Mrs Radcliffe's justly admired and successful romances, the press has teemed with stories of haunted castles and visionary terrors; the incidents of which are so little diversified, that criticism is at a loss to vary its remarks" (Anon, 16 (February, 1796). The unabated presence of spectres in Britain's novels in turn led to criticism itself being haunted by the spirit of the Gothic. The reviewer's awareness of the lack of critical variety spawned by the Gothic served only to increase the pathos of such critical ossification. Not only did the Gothic become unworthy of the supernatural, and hence illegitimate, but criticism itself was losing its originality, and hence its "dignus vindice nodus."

  25. In "Ideal Presence and Gothic Romance," Robert Miles has indicated the variety of uses for anti-Catholic rhetoric in the late eighteenth century, arguing that "it was now marshalled against the promiscuous display of useful, desirable, or mysterious things. Against the regime of surfaces was set a supposed regime of essence" (Miles 1999: 17). Miles's qualification of the critical opposition with the word "supposed" is entirely apposite for the process of critical spectralization that I have just discussed. T.J. Mathias's satirical lamentation for the "death" of the spirit of learning in Britain and the expiry of its "vigour" in The Pursuits of Literature described a literary crisis that had spread beyond the confines of the Gothic genre.

  26. As a final illustration of my argument, I would like to return to the review of the novelist Anne Ker's Adeline St Julian from the Antijacobin Review. Surprisingly, she defended herself against the Antijacobin's accusations of imitation in the Preface to her novel Emmeline, arguing that "it appears to me . . . that they are racking their imagination to find out a somebody that has wrote somehow or somewhere similar in some respect, to this wonderful, absurd, improbable, romantic something which I have written." (Ker, 1801: v) The facility with which Ker nailed the suitably vague and repetitive critiques of her own alleged imitations demonstrated precisely how criticism of the Gothic became haunted by the spectre which it set out to exorcise.

  27. The visually dramatic effects in 1790s Gothic fiction were appropriated by the critical responses that it provoked. The clear reliance upon other critics' lenses suggests that the reviewers spent too long musing "o'er Gothic toys through Gothic glass," rather than relying on their own critical acuity. Mathias's despairing question "Where is Invention?" in the fourth dialogue of The Pursuits of Literature stood out in splendid metrical isolation, echoing through the museum of phantoms that Britain had become.

  28. It was only with the advent of Wordsworth's "systematic defence of the theory" behind the creation of Lyrical Ballads that the critique of passive consumption and "the gaudiness and inane phraseology of many modern writers" gathered critical fortitude. This was precisely because he offered the questionable remedy of "a selection of language really used by men," and rejected the mechanistic tendencies of the Gothic and its 1790s critics (Wordsworth: 1805, iv.). Wordsworth's faith in the power of "great and permanent" objects to act upon "certain and indestructible qualities of the human mind" acted as a strong corrective. Whereas earlier critics of the fickle consumption of Gothic visual trinkets had fallen prey to their targets, Wordsworth's proposal of an entirely new technology provided a strong and concrete alternative to the mechanistic aspects of the Gothic. In turn, his "technology" in the Preface would also be satirized, most famously by Byron in Don Juan. Nonetheless, Wordsworth's celebrated innovation in disowning the mechanisms embraced by both the Gothic and its critics in the 1790s and proposing a solid and oppositional departure in their place secured him a more enduring reputation in the history of British Romanticism. The "greatness," "permanence" and indestructibility that Wordsworth emphasised disrupted the 1790's enchantment with Gothic mechanism and artifice.

 

Works Cited

Anon. Review of Anon. Austenburn Castle (London: William Lane, 1795), Critical Review, 16, February, 1796: 222.

Anon. Review of Madame de Genlis, The Knights of the Swan; or, the court of Charlemagne: A Historical and Moral Tale, trans. James Beresford, (London: Joseph Johnson, 1796), The London Review and Literary Journal, 29 May, 1796: 316.

Anon. The Ghost, edited by "Felix Phantom," Edinburgh: Mudie, 1796.

Anon. Review of Catherine Lara, Critical Review, 18, December, 1796: 474.

Anon. Review of The Ghost edited by "Felix Phantom," Critical Review, 18, December, 1796: 476.

Anon. "The Terrorist System of Novel Writing,"Monthly Magazine, August 1797: 102

Anon. "Terrorist Novel Writing" in Spirit of the Public Journals for 1797, vol.1 (London, 1798, pp. 223-5, cit. Gothic Documents, eds. E.J.Clery and R.Miles Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000: 184

Anon. "On the New Method of Inculcating Morality," Walker's Hibernian Magazine, January 1798.

Anon. Review of Anne Ker's The Heiress di Montalde; or the Castle of Bezanto: A novel in two volumes (London, 1799), the Antijacobin Review, 7 1800: 201-2.

Botting, Fred. "Power in the Darkness: Heterotopias, Literature and Gothic Labyrinths"  Genre 26, 2-3, Summer/Fall, 1993: 253-282.

Chaplin, Sue. "Romance and Sedition in the 1790s: Radcliffe's The Italian and the Terrorist Text,"  Romanticism 7 (2) 2001: 177-90.

Clery, E.J. The Rise of the Supernatural in British Fiction, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,  1995.

Cohen, Emily Jane. "Museums of the Mind," ELH, 62, 1995: 883.

Gamer, Michael. "Gothic fictions and Romantic writing in Britain," in Jerry Hogle (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002: 85-104.

Jacobs, Edward. Accidental Migrations. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2000.

Johnson, Samuel. A Dictionary of the English Language. 2 vols. London, 1755.

Keen, Paul The Crisis of Literature in the 1790s. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Ker, Anne. Preface to Emmeline, or the Happy Discovery; A Novel, in two volumes. London, J.& E. Kerby and T. Hurst, 1801.

Mathias, T.J. The Pursuits of Literature: A Satirical Poem in Four Dialogues. London, 1798.

Miles, Robert. "Ideal Presence and Gothic Romance", Gothic Studies 1/1, 1999: 17.

Taylor, William. Review of Madame de Genlis, The Knights of the Swan; or, the court of Charlemagne: A Historical and Moral Tale, trans. James Beresford, (London: Joseph Johnson, 1796), the Monthly Review 22 1797: 93.

Wordsworth, William. Preface to 2nd edition of Lyrical Ballads. London, 1800

Notes

1 As Michael Gamer in particular has argued, however, Wordsworth's new critical enterprise involved him divorcing himself from the Gothic genre which he had previously, albeit unsuccessfully, explored by writing Gothic dramas. Gamer explores the contradictions in Wordsworth, Coleridge, Scott and Wollstonecraft's criticism of the Gothic in "Gothic fictions and Romantic Writing in Britain." Here, he warns: "Such a reading, however, would demand we exercise selective memory and require we overlook that these same writers in these same years produced recognizably Gothic texts" (Gamer, 2002: 89).
Back

2 Samuel Johnson, A Dictionary of the English language: in which the words are deduced from their originals, and illustrated in different significations by examples from the best writers, to which are prefixed, a history of the language, and an English grammar. 2 vols. (London: Knapton; T. and T. Longman, C. Hithch and L. Hawes; A. Millar, and R. and J. Dodsley, 1755), vol. II.
Back

3 As Fred Botting argues elsewhere in this collection, "Gothic machinery, in rationalising and mechanising supernatural occurrences and readerly superstition, establishes a cycle of repetition, boredom, stimulation and disappointment that threatens enlightenment ideals of the rational and discriminating individual."
Back

4 I am grateful to my colleague Dr Richard Steadman-Jones from the Department of English Language and Linguistics at the University of Sheffield for assistance with this.
Back

5 The coupling of extravagance with France continued elsewhere in literary battles. For example, when reviewing Edmund Burke's 1790 Reflections on the Revolution in France, the Monthly Review criticised what it viewed as Burke's descent into French rhetorical embellishments: "he no sooner crosses the Channel, than he throws off the brown bob, and plain broad-cloth of British argument, to array himself in the powdered bag, and embroidered silk, of French declamation" (Monthly Review, 3, (1790) 321).
Back

6 Lara published two translated novels in 1796, the above and Louis de Boncoeur. A Domestick Tale (London: Ridgway, 1796). Although Arthur Aikin in the Monthly Review praised the latter for the "considerable merit" of its translation, the Critical concentrated on the extravagance of French sentiment in both translations, noting of the latter that "The language of genuine sensibility and affection is very distinct from this extravagance, which may produce affectation or provoke disgust, but will never touch the heart" (Critical Review, 18 December, 1796), p. 474.
Back

7 T.J.Mathias, The Pursuits of Literature: A Satirical Poem in Four Dialogues, (London, 1798).
Back

8 Cf. Chapter 3 of E.J. Clery's The Rise of Supernatural Fiction: 1762-1800 for a detailed analysis of the "illegitimacy" issue in Walpole's two Prefaces (1995: 60-67). In "Ideal Presence and Gothic Romance" in Gothic Studies 1/1 Robert Miles also provides a detailed analysis of the implications of Walpole's two prefaces in relation to Kames's theory of "ideal presence" (1999: 21-23).
Back

9 Cf. also Paul Keen's The Crisis of Literature in the 1790s for a full analysis of the mounting concern of the demise of the republic of letters in Britain.
Back

10 On the imitative trend that gave rise to such satirical articles as the ones I am about to discuss, E.J. Clery correctly argues that "The hothouse productivity of the 1790s meant that the initial reading of a Gothic novel was not unlikely to be the equivalent of reading half a dozen others" (Clery, 1995: 142). Edward Jacobs also cites Mary Alcock's "A Receipt for Writing a Novel" in Roger Lonsdale's Eighteenth-Century Women Poets (Jacobs, 2000: 199).
Back

11 Cf also Sue Chaplin's "Romance and Sedition in the 1790s: Radcliffe's The Italian and the Terrorist Text" in Romanticism 7 (2) 2001: 177-90. Chaplin's article also addresses "Terrorist Novel Writing" in relation to the law and unregulated consumption.
Back

12The Ghost, edited by Felix Phantom. Edinburgh: Mudie, 1796. The Critical Review commented on the appearance of this periodical that, "Most of the papers are of a very flimsy texture, - the wit very thinly scattered, and the sentiments trite and common" Critical Review, 18, (December, 1796).
Back

13 Cf. also Fred Botting's argument on the "Gothicization" of Thomas Mathias's Pursuits in "Power in the Darkness: Heterotopias, Literature and Gothic Labyrinths" in Genre 26, 2-3, Summer/Fall, 1993, pp. 253-282.
Back

About this Page

Published @ RC

December 2005