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Romantic Passions

Hemans, Heber, and Superstition and Revelation

Nanora Sweet, University of Missouri-St. Louis

  1. This essay offers a close reading of Felicia Hemans's fragment Superstition and Revelation (c. 1820), her abandoned syncretic account of early Christianity and its pagan origins. Subsequent comments by Hemans suggest that the poem might have been a centerpiece for her work. During her last illness she said of another projected religious poem The Temple that she regretted not finishing the "noble and complete work" worthy of "a British Poetess" (Chorley 2: 257-58). In our moment, when Hemans is being considered as a first- or second-rank Romantic poet, several useful ways of reading Superstition and Revelation suggest themselves. As long-time readers of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron, we might read Hemans's fragment alongside their syncretic experiments, for instance in Prometheus Unbound and Manfred. As new readers of Hemans, we might use this provocative fragment--and the scene of its fragmentation--as a means to understanding her purposefulness as a writer, her "intentions," we might say. This paper will combine elements of both ways of reading.

  2. A number of Hemans's new readers do question, even seriously doubt, the purposefulness of her work as an artist, controversialist, or revisionist of culture. In commenting on her "Casabianca," Jerome McGann presumes that Hemans's poem was jingoist in a thoughtless, immature sort of way: "no, we don't know her intentions but we do know that she would be unlikely to say or argue anything that brought 'English military honor' into disrepute. She was a very good girl" ("Reading Hemans"). McGann's Bakhtinian method allows him to claim for "Casabianca" an "excellence" that "transcends the poem's all-but-declared morality." His theory is interesting and wide-ranging; but his readings of Hemans are after all based on a few lyrics, and Hemans was a writer of numerous long poems and sequences and of twenty concertedly annotated volumes. I question that we should concede all artistic claims, that we should defer all textual questions extra-textually, just yet.

  3. As McGann's qualifier "all-but-declared" suggests, a number of us remain perplexed by Hemans's tone: some are certain that the cruel ironies in her materials inform and structure her rhetoric, and some are certain that they do not. David Latane's comment from the "Reading Hemans" thread incorporates this perplexity: "to presume a conscious strategy of 'savage irony' (Isobel Armstrong's phrase about the poem) doesn't fit with [the] picture we have of Hemans's poetic practice." Some of us are uncertain about the relationships between her texts and those she frequently echoes, while others question her textual methods. Again Latane: "the material which Hemans derives from her library (in this she is the female Southey) can be opposed to poems which derive more from experience." Are her echoes wholesale borrowings? We wonder. Are they intentional allusions? Effective ones? What, to use Latane's term, is Hemans's "poetic practice"? And what is her vision? This essay is a partial answer to these questions.

  4. Hemans's memorialists (c. 1870; Trinder) have suggested a way of reading her that might, as a keynote, synthesize our tonal and textual questions into one artistic vision. In the double window dedicated to Hemans in St. Asaph Cathedral, the Biblical judge Deborah is depicted in her dual roles as general and adjudicator [figure 1]. The irony between these roles is real and irreducible, I think, just like the irony in Hemans's texts. Further, the allusion to Deborah is no mere copying of Hemans's work but an imaginative extension of its poetic method. After all, Hemans did not develop the figure of Deborah per se in her poetry. Rather, in a thoroughgoing study of the subject of woman, she rang changes on the feminine as dually expressive of perfume and poison, motherhoood and infanticide, immolation and inoculation, violence and law.

  5. Superstition and Revelation is as echoic--as allusive, if you will--as any text in Hemans. And as a poem on religion, it offers plenty of tonally charged material for us to consider. I will argue that this poem and the scene of its writing do form a valuable occasion for the study of Hemans's poetic purposes and practices. The poem was abandoned after receiving a thorough critique by Reginald Heber, poet, critic, and Anglican priest and later Bishop; Hemans's first personal associate in the Quarterly Review circle whose leader John Murray was already publishing her books. Heber's written comments appeared in Henry Chorley's Memorials of Mrs. Hemans a year after her death (1836).

  6. The scene of writing at idyllic St. Asaph in North Wales belies the literary struggle that took place there circa 1820 between this ambitious priest and this equally ambitious poet. Hemans lived with her children and maternal family at Bronwylfa, which was commodiously situated along the footpath into this cathedral town [figure 2; rebuilt after a fire in the 1860s]. Hemans would also have walked the picturesque path between Cathedral and Bishop's palace (where she did her franking!) [figure 3]. She would've known Heber during his stays at the Old Deanery, for he had married the daughter of the Dean, Dr. Shipley, and become a prebendary at St. Asaph [figure 4].

  7. Idyllic circumstances aside, when the zealous Heber applied a Tory religious orthodoxy to Hemans's work-in-progress, he produced such a persistent misreading of her work that we cannot be surprised to see her abandon it. As important, Heber misread her work so consistently that his designs form a guide to her contrasting ones. His orthodox disciplining of her experimentation reveals what was suppressed--the work that might have been a tonal center for her work. Looked at in another way, this episode presents a case of misdirected creative writing feedback, a familiar and contemporary scene of writing for us. The contretemps between Hemans and Heber over Superstition and Revelation dramatizes the pitfalls of class and gender difference in the creative writing workshop then as now.

  8. It is something of a critical accident, I want to say, for me to be contributing to a discussion of Romantic feeling or emotions or "passions" ("melancholy," "loss," even "sentiment" itself). It's true that I'm interested in performative "ways of reading," in tone itself, and in a poet whose tone remains perplexing, and whose affect feels excessive, to many readers. It's also true that I'm committed to working with Germaine de Stäel's similarly-toned oeuvre in this period, including the crucial work De l'Influence des Passions. But in their most recent books, my co-contributors do a great deal more with feeling than I do. Elizabeth Fay, Jerome McGann, and Adela Pinch have argued in various ways that we know feeling from its performances and their records; that feeling makes history and does so in the form of literature; that feeling, not law (pace Foucault), shapes the literature of history and the history of literature. These critics anchor their work synchronically in the later eighteenth century, the "age of sensibility," and then move from there into a diachronic history of feeling: I would add Julie Ellison and her Delicate Subjects (and subsequent work in the "Cato's Tears" project) to this group. These critics press eighteenth-century "sensibility" forward until it becomes "sentiment" (McGann) or psychoanalysis (Pinch, Fay) or feminism (Ellison, McGann). For these critics, emotions bring the "differences" of fashion, culture, and medium--and of gender, class, and race--into a canonical history that seems to them too often too much "the same."

  9. While I cannot disagree with their elegant work, I myself assume rather than foreground the nature of "feeling." As I work on the contentious scene of writing and reading between Hemans and Heber, I construe feeling first and foremost as the ambition and striving that characterize authorship, a striving toward self-definition that is self-evidently and specifically bourgeois. I do register, and historicize, the feelings in this scene. Kenneth Burke taught us long ago that there was a "grammar" to our "motives." Were I to test a theory of emotion with my practice, Burke's very literate "dramatistics" could well be it. Burke's rhetoric was a grammar and not a history of motives, yet its grounding in the Renaissance court(ier)ship of Shakespeare's sonnets suggests how readily we might use it to historicize authorial motives. In the encounter that I will depict between Reginald Heber (Oxford-educated Anglican cleric) and Felicia Hemans (daughter of mercantile Liverpool and sister to transatlantic Unitarianism), a remnant of "court culture" clashes with middle-class authorship in a rhetorical drama that might extend what Burke has set forth. (Here of course I echo the vocabulary that Gary Kelly developed for us in Revolutionary Feminism.) At moments, as we'll see, Heber's disciplining of Hemans comes to look more Sadean than courtly--with Hemans fortunately not masochistic enough to continue the game. And thus Foucault comes in after all for his test (but that is another day).

  10. As I read Hemans's poetic fragment within the scene of its writing, I construe its emotive rhetoric, but also its emotional landscape. And here perhaps I come closer to my fellow critics in these papers, using such language as "affection" or the feelings of the "exile" or what I once spoke of as 'a fertile array of feminine feeling.' But my intention is not to instantiate feeling in any way, or to essentialize it as "feminine," or even, as McGann does in his treatments of Hemans in The Poetics of Sensibility, to convert feeling into a historical or cultural materiality. Rather, my practice will be to take feelings performed within Hemans's text as metonyms which should be linked with material causes, historical implications, and (important in a poem about religion) cultural practices.

  11. We pick up our tale of Hemans's religious writing in 1820. She has just published The Skeptic, an attack on certain unnamed skeptic poets, clearly Byron and Shelley, and Byron especially. I suggest, however, that neither The Skeptic nor Superstition and Revelation is merely an attack on the skeptic poets. Here once more I differ with Jerome McGann, who says, "reading her, we do well to begin with The Skeptic, just to make sure we keep her philosophical views in clear perspective" ("Reading Hemans"). In my view, each poem develops not so much a "clear" as a complex intertextual relationship with its interlocutors, and in the process reflects both sides of the Pisan circle's dual religious project of skepticism and syncretism. For instance, in the The Skeptic Hemans argues that Byron is not truly the skeptic he claims to be--and reveals herself as something of a skeptic too (Sweet, "The Bowl of Liberty" 329-43). In this vein, she characterizes God as one who exacts the sacrifice of "our fairest and our best," always a painful outcome for those who mother those "fairest and best" (Hemans 152). As we pause at this harsh characterization of God, we remember that elsewhere for this poet (for instance in The Tale of the Secret Tribunal and The Vespers of Palermo) son-sacrifice is either a cruel instrument of policy or the fulfillment of vengeance--and in either case it is critiqued as a form of nihilism. Attacking the skeptic poets may have given Hemans the license to fulminate loudly against skepticism, while also quietly questioning Christianity and being well reviewed by the Tory press in the bargain (Quarterly Review, October 1821, 130-37).

  12. In the interests of women and children, then, Hemans's The Skeptic has quarreled with skepticism and perhaps also with orthodoxy. As we know, Byron and Shelley complemented their skepticism with a syncretizing of Hellenic and Orientalist religious resources. In Childe Harold 2.8 Byron portrays this syncretism with his usual negligent ease: "Yet if, as holiest men have deem'd, there be" a life hereafter, we would encounter in it "the Bactrian, Samian sage." These latter are the two Magi of Shelleyan syncretism, Zoroaster and Pythagoras. (On Shelley's Zoroastrianism, see Curran 65-92; on his Pythagoreanism, see Lavelle 264-84.) Might Hemans also salve the cruel dispensations of Christianity with an array of "rites" from the Near East, especially feminine ones? Indeed a Pythagorean cult of beauty has shaped her aesthetics from the start, just as it has Shelley's; by 1819 that "beauty" had led her to Plutarch's healing legend of Numa and Egeria ("The Bowl of Liberty" 146, 274-78).

  13. Hemans's formal experiment with Shelleyan syncretism begins circa 1820 with Superstition and Revelation. Unlike The Skeptic, this syncretic poem is neither completed nor published, nor is it well received by its Tory critic. Hemans goes on to replace it with the scattered lyrics on Greek and Western religion embedded in her 1823 volume ("Elysium," "The Funeral Genius," and others) and in subsequent volumes (for instance, the "Lays of Many Lands" cycle in her 1825 The Forest Sanctuary), none of them so obviously a definitive work on religion. Yet in her book of 1819 (Tales, and Historic Scenes) and plays and poetry of 1823, Hemans had suggested that republican culture needed a local religious establishment if it was to contend with the instabilities that threaten women and children. In Superstition and Revelation she had proposed the daring syncretic project that could meet this need: a harmonizing of Shelleyan syncretism with established religion.

  14. Chorley recounts that, while she was composing Superstition and Revelation, Hemans was in the early stages of her literary acquaintance with Reginald Heber (1783-1826), Anglican cleric, poet, hymnist, Quarterly Review reviewer, at the last Bishop of Calcutta. Heber's 1803 Oxford Prize Poem Palestine gave him an audience with Scott and brought him to literary attention. For the Quarterly Review he was to review many books important to Hemans such as the poetry of Mary Tighe, Stäel's De l'Allemagne, and Goethe's Tasso. His chief literary legacy, however, is his hymns, especially "Holy, Holy, Holy," "Brightest and Best of the Sons of the Morning," and "From Greenland's Icy Mountains." Perishing while at work in India, Heber is memorialized in St. Paul's Cathedral [figure 5]. Heber and his clerical friend H. H. Milman, the later Dean of St. Paul's, both sponsored Hemans, Heber through his Quarterly Review connections, Milman in the London theater. Milman would later write The History of the Jews, a valuable attempt to historicize English "Hebraism."

  15. Heber often visited St. Asaph, the North Wales episcopate and town nearest Hemans's home, becoming the first literary light that she would know in person (Chorley 1: 55). No Shelleyan syncretist, Heber was nonetheless a learned comparatist (as his "Brightest and Best" Magi hymn suggests), interested in a Manichean Zoroastrianism that would divide good from evil. Hemans showed Heber her draft of Superstition, and he responded to it at length. Chorley quotes several passages from Heber's response as evidence of Heber's "high estimation" of Hemans's "natural gifts" and "acquired knowledge." "Possibly," Chorley says, Hemans "shrunk from the research and illustration recommended to her, as involving too much labour; at all events, the poem was never completed" (1: 56-57). Hemans did not often shrink from "research" and "labour," however. As it happens, the theology "recommended" by Heber, a Hebraic orthodoxy of the "Chastener" God, was only partially compatible with her own. Taken together, Hemans' poetico-religious draft and Heber's rigorous disciplining of it offer fascinating reading, whether from the standpoint of feminist, cultural, or purely literary criticism.

  16. Starting with its title, Superstition and Revelation is an equivocal text: Heber will enforce the contrast between its noun terms, but Hemans plays across the linkage "and" to blend pagan and Christian experiences and dilemmas. A text of twenty-eight "Modern Greece" stanzas (from Hemans's 1817 progress poem by that name: ababcdcdee, the last line an alexandrine), this draft-fragment is footnoted by a further, suppressed stanza (Hemans 493-96; poem to be cited by stanza number). One might illustrate her pagan-Christian fragment with the pagan-Christian site she wrote about as "Our Lady's Well," aka Ffynnon Fair and St. Mary's Well, the ruined shrine and ever-fresh spring that Peter Trinder and I found and photographed in the Vale of Clwyd [figure 6].

  17. In its extant form, Superstition appears at first to be a disordered congeries of allusions and motifs concerning pre-Christian religious sensibility. Its moments zigzag designedly, however, from Eden to exile; from patriarchal shrine to "apostate wanderer"; from worship of sun, moon, and stars to Druidic human sacrifice; from Hellenized/Near Eastern mystery cults to Zoroastrianism. In alluding to Shelley, Wordsworth, and Milton, Hemans blends their religious poetics to her ends, using also the harmonizing values of picturesque painting. The poem opens, for example, on an Eden graced with allusions to Shelley's "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty"--"phantoms, with ideal beauty fraught". . ."pass, like sunbeams, o'er the realms of thought" (1)--and the Wordsworth poem behind that hymn, the "Intimations Ode": "the child of that primeval soil, / With you its paths of high communion trode, / His glory yet undimmed" (2).

  18. The poem's Shelleyan Stanza 1 posits a "mystic veil" behind which dwell a set of "beings of brighter worlds" or "Immortals." In Hemans's syncretism, these figures are both the immortal dead (in The Skeptic's "worlds of light,/ Where severed souls, made perfect, reunite," 149) and the demigods of a Shelleyan theogony. Later appearing as archangels or "sons of Heaven," these beings evoke the figures favored by the Promethean poets, Satan and the Titans. When Superstition turns from its Shelleyan Eden to an exile from that Paradise, its echoes become Miltonic: angels now "in angry splendour tower" over exiled man (Paradise Lost 12.643-44), "Guarding the clime where he no more might dwell,/ With meteor-swords" (4). All told, in her opening stanzas Hemans has posited a poetico-philosophical Eden and a Fall, but one whose loss and exile will be unaccompanied by sin and guilt. Courting Tory disapproval, she has connected her afterlife with the theogony of the skeptic poets. In stanza 5 comes the Deluge, and it too will be disposed as cultural sensibility rather than religious orthodoxy.

  19. This Flood is followed, not by a conventional rainbow, but by the figure Byron used in Childe Harold 4, the Claudean sunset of the Italian picturesque; Byron's "one vast Iris of the West" (4.27) becomes Hemans's own "purple west," "the orb of day" that "seeks the ocean's breast,/ A thousand clouds, all glowing in his ray" (7). This "brief splendour" recalls the Claudean radiance that elsewhere in Hemans submerges and suspends history's fragments in a gouache of feminization. Suspending "Truth" in this flow, Hemans brings her flood figure from pagan fragment to Christian sanction with all of its destabilizing force intact. In this important stanza 7, she portrays a deceptive blending that allows "superstition" to seem part of "Truth" and that ultimately baffles orthodox attempts to sequester the title terms ("Superstition," "Revelation") that are party to it:

    So round thy parting steps, fair Truth! awhile
    With borrow'd hues unnumber'd phantoms shone[;]
    And Superstition, from thy lingering smile,
    Caught a faint glow of beauty not her own,
    Blending her rites with thine--while yet afar
    Thine eye's last radiance beam'd, a slow-receding star.

    This feminine personification of Truth does not willingly separate herself from Superstition--which is also feminine--preferring to "linger," receding only slowly, very much the mother reluctantly leaving her child. And if "fair Truth" would bestow a "lingering smile" on Error, who is to gainsay Error's basking in such a glow? Truth, after all, is radiance (a "star"), a commodity that in Hemans is made for "blending": it is part of the many-hued "beauty" celebrated and respected in Hemans's earlier work (Sweet, "History").

  20. It is on this equivocal stanza that Heber chooses to make his first comment on Hemans's draft, suggesting a myth (about "Astraea, or Righteousness") in which "Religion" "left the world" of superstition more decisively than it does in Hemans's poem. After religion's departure, for Heber "the grand features of nature" still testify "to their Maker's existence and power"; in effect, he hurries off his pagan, feminine figure (a "celestial virgin") and refocuses on a more safely Biblical--and masculine--"Maker" (1: 57).

  21. Showing a spirit less Hebraic than Heber's, Hemans's poem in one stanza skims past Superstition's only pure "shrine," that of the Biblical patriarchs (who worshiped "The One adored and everlasting Name"), preferring instead (like her own "Truth"?) to linger over "apostate wanderers" who "fondly sought" communion with "beings. . .sublime" (8-9). These "exiles," not the patriarchs, enlist Hemans's key notions of succor and sanctuary: "Yes! we have need to bid our hopes repose/ On some protecting influence" (10). As though pursuing the serpentine river that in a Claudean painting unifies the diminutive human foreground with its vast skies, we now follow this "wanderer Man" into the "boundless void" of "futurity"--or, in more painful moments, back into this human dilemma: "when affliction bade his spirit bleed,/ If 'twere a Father's love or Tyrant's wrath decreed?" (12). In the pagan's dilemma, the Death/God ambiguity of The Skeptic again asserts itself; and Hemans's poem observes, "marvel not" if amidst such ambiguities man "sought to trace" in "rushing winds" "The oracles of Fate!" (13).

  22. It is stanza 12's unresolved dilemma--is God a Father or a tyrant or both?--that leads to the second response given by Heber, an energetic attack on the blendings and continuities forwarded in Hemans's poetics of religion: "I would certainly introduce the doubt," he advises, "whether the blended prospects of good and evil in nature, might not arise from the struggle of a good and evil principle," "that principle which the Magi embodied into a system" (Chorley 1: 59). Heber's comment develops a lengthy portrait of "the mind of the savage" as Manichean and prey to "baser" moments such as the worship of priests, wizards, Furies, and witches. A catalog of female evil absorbs much of his passage, including "the woman of Endor," "Thessalian witches, who smeared themselves with human gore and made philtres of the hearts of famished children," "hags," and "the witches of the middle ages." The distance is great between Heber's Manicheanism and Hemans's blendings, empathies, and dilemmas in the face of paternalist tyranny; and the extraordinary lack of tact that Heber shows when he demonizes the feminine to a woman poet would hardly assuage such estrangement.

  23. Heber to the contrary, as Superstition and Revelation continues it catalogs in a forgiving light even the most offending parties to pre-Christian history as Blake and Wordsworth wrote it: the Druids with their human sacrifice and the Near Eastern mystery devotees with their moon-ridden feminine passion and male-sacrifice. As in Blake, the Druids are emblem of tyranny in Hemans (in Dartmoor; see Sweet, "History"). She chooses to probe this superstition further here, giving us to understand that "Fear" triggers this cycle of sacrifice, "Fear" that "bow'd before the phantoms she portray'd" (16). The Near East features sacrifice too; and there Hemans chooses to study with empathy the woman made complicit in this sacrifice, "the frantic mother" who "bore her child to die." The Near East fertility cult of child sacrifice in Hemans includes not only this mother but "Syrian maids" who keep vigil, mourning for Adonis and also weeping "for the dead" (13-15). A grace note here, these female singers are the predecessors of those many who appear in (or in effect, sing) the dirges that fill Hemans's work after 1820. Those dirges and their singers will offer a feminist folklore that originates in Superstition and Revelation's sympathetic study of Near Eastern mystery religion. In sum, Hemans involves woman and the feminine in religion in more complex and equivocal ways than Heber's catalog of "witches" would allow.

  24. In this poem as in Shelleyan syncretism, the intimations "Of life, and power, and excellence" have announced themselves most pervasively through the Zoroastrian "symbols" of the stars and sun (stanzas 14, 17-19, 26-28). It is via a worship of the stars in particular that Hemans plots her poem's gradual, much interrupted, emergence of religious consciousness: stars can "benignantly convey . . . erring thought" to a greater "Power" (18); they can also exemplify guidance to home, that favored sanctuary in Hemans (19). It is at this moment ("after stanza 19") that Heber begins his next note, one recommending a more "judicial astronomy" in which "the stars were supposed. . .to walk the world and report to the Almighty the deeds of the evil and the good." Heber further remarks on the ensnaring beauty of the planet Venus ("believed to have been a woman") and on the identification in "Spain, Portugal, and Sicily" of Venus with the Virgin Mary: this results in "an undue share of homage from. . .mariners" (Chorley 1: 60-61).

  25. Well might he register a conservative caution at this point, for Hemans's stanza 20 adds to astronomical worship "the queen of heaven," the "silvery crown" of Diana presiding over the Near Eastern rites of fertility and sacrifice ("On hoary Lebanon's umbrageous height"): "Hail" to this queen, the poem says, who "faintly" illumines "the 'wilder'd soul." After this excursus on the moon, for the balance of her poem Hemans embraces the stars of Zoroastrianism as her chief pre-Christian emblem. Her Magi-leading stars, however, invoke the unbroken, searching processional that has formed her laureate poetics to date rather than the divisive Manichean values selected by the orthodox Heber from Zoroastrianism. In the Near East, close by the "polluted shrine" of Syrian sacrifice, Zoroastrianism offers Hemans a unifying and "expanding flood/ Of radiance," pre-Christian though it may be:

    What if his thoughts, with erring fondness, gave
    Mysterious sanctity to things which wear
    Th'Eternal's impress?-- (27)

    With this emblem of guidance and in this poem of continuous yet wandering progress, Hemans has created another in the series of processionals that, as I have argued elsewhere, inform her poetry ("History"). Once again, the conductress is a feminine "Truth," the loving, "slow-receding" star of stanza 7. For Hemans, the star induces not a "judicial" disciplining of error but a continuity from "Superstition" to "Revelation."

  26. In her last extant stanza (28), Hemans begins to historicize Zoroastrianism as the religion of Persian conquerors: "And with that faith was conquest." Her fragment ends with Persia's "quenchless flame" accompanying Cyrus "from shore to shore" (496/28). Her 1823 volume's poetry on Greece will refer to the attempt by Persia to conquer Greece, and it is regrettable that Superstition stops before clarifying the tenor of its own work on the Persian empire. Heber's last note recommends that she write on the Hebraic topos "Belshazzar's Feast," as she soon does (matched by Milman in 1822). Babylon's last feast offers Hemans another "last banquet" poem (as the 1819 "The Last Banquet of Antony and Cleopatra"), one featuring favored themes of empire and exile. At this feast the "handwriting on the wall" predicts Persia's conquest of Babylon and the release of the Hebrews from captivity.

  27. Heber's note "after 28" continues to discipline Hemans's revisionist views: "Conclude with observing, how God made the growth of the religion of Zoroaster subservient to the security of his people" (Chorley 1: 62). Then, after projecting two further cantos for Hemans's poem and declaring himself against the Cult of the South, Heber recommends the beliefs of the "northern nations" over "the inferiority" of those of "the Greeks and Romans." He concludes his comment to Hemans with the (either disingenuous or ill-fated) hope that he has saved her trouble and contributed to the production of "more lines as beautiful" (1: 63).

  28. Thus Hemans's argument for continuity between "superstition" and "Christianity" ran aground when it was not approved by her conduit with the Tory literary press. Yet the poem's survival in fragment form grants much to readers seeking to understand Hemans's tone, theme, artistry, and cultural practice: it leavens the apparent orthodoxy of The Skeptic, with which it shares, after all, the theme of guidance home and a discomfort with a Father/Tyrant God; it shows that subversive aesthetic values inform her religious as well as her secular poetry; it helps historicize Hemans's great body of lyric material to come, associating its ever-present dirge with a Near Eastern religion of son-sacrifice attended by a fertile array of feminine feeling; and its comparative religion offers further background for the folklorist project that begins with "Greek Songs" (1823) and "Lays of Many Lands" (1825). Hemans's Superstition fragment also contributes to our understanding of the Cult of the South and its religious and poetic topoi.

  29. Making it even more difficult to quit Superstition and Revelation is the suppressed stanza printed with it. Entering the fight over Zoroastrianism--is it a "judicial" Manicheanism, or a flooding, "lingering" light that guides?-- this stanza remarks that the Zoroastrian Mage "rear'd no temple, bade no walls contain" incense and prayer. A Shelleyan figure, this admired communicant has no need of organized religion, "But made the boundless universe his fane" (496n). Such were the views barely suppressed in the poem that threatened Hemans's alliance with Tory Anglicanism. Such were the views that would soon make the Boston Unitarians Andrews Norton and W. E. Channing claim Hemans as one of their own.

  30. Of more immediate moment is this: with The Skeptic and Superstition, Hemans has probed the cultural idiom in use by the prominent writers Byron and Shelley, who are serving as apologists for--and even actors in--revolution in the Mediterranean. She is thus now better prepared to address such revolution at that cultural level: one result will be her 1823 Risorgimento drama The Vespers of Palermo (there lies another scene of clerical misreading, as the Covent Garden production guided by Milman revises Hemans's ending). It is on the cultural level that the feminine is often all-but (to adapt McGann's qualifier) co-opted, her "eye" made the "lode-star of thy soul," for instance in the unreconstructed Petrarchanism of these so-called skeptical poets (The Skeptic 149). After Superstition Hemans has at least her own private lexicon in which the Zoroastrian star of smiling "Truth" is feminine and guides a train of "frantic" mothers, "wilder'd" Maenads, and "tearful" maids toward her by "blending her rites with thine" (7, 20, 24-25).


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