John Thelwall: Critical Reassessments
Yasmin Solomonescu | Nicholas Roe | Mary Fairclough | Molly Desjardins | Emily B. Stanback | Steve Poole | Angela Esterhammer | Patty O’Boyle
Yasmin Solomonescu, "Introduction"
This essay introduces the Romantic-period political reformer and polymath John Thelwall and takes stock of his rapid critical renaissance over the past decade. The announcement of a new archival find, a copy of a seventeenth-century play owned and annotated by Thelwall, serves to highlight the range of his interests and activities. Presenting Thelwall as a leading representative of “romantic sociability,” I situate him within wider social and intellectual networks than have hitherto been mapped, and I raise questions about the coherence and continuity of his diverse pursuits—literary, political, and scientific—that demand further attention. My brief overview of the essays collected here emphasizes how they address those questions, engaging with one another, with existing Thelwall scholarship, and with Romantic studies more generally. This introduction also sets forth the rationale for the volume as part of the larger project John Thelwall: Recovery and Reassessments (forthcoming) and explains why Romantic Circles is an especially appropriate venue for that project’s efforts to advance Thelwall studies by reconnecting text, voice, and image in the dynamic way for which Thelwall himself was renowned.
Nicholas Roe, "John Thelwall and the West Country: The Road to Nether Stowey Revisited"
This article presents arguments for continuities in John Thelwall’s life and career from the early 1790s through to the new century, post-1800. Thelwall’s westward migration in 1797 is explored in detail, as is the publication of his essay "The Phenomena of the Wye" in the Monthly Magazine for May and July of 1798. Consideration is given to Thelwall’s various identities, and to the political/cultural significances of England’s west country between 1797 and 1819. Thelwall’s friendship with Coleridge is assessed in the light of intractable differences between the two men.
Mary Fairclough, "John Thelwall and the Politics of the Picturesque"
This essay explores the political significance of John Thelwall’s engagement with the discourse of the picturesque in his travel writing of the 1790s. E. P. Thompson asserted that Thelwall’s turn to travel writing in the immediate aftermath of his metropolitan radical career demonstrated the success of the authorities in driving him out of politics. For Thompson, Thelwall’s essays “A Pedestrian Excursion” and “The Phenomena of the Wye” (1798-1801) were “conventional” and “unremarkable” examples of the picturesque tour, in which Thelwall reneged on his reformist principles by failing to engage with the working people he encountered. Recent critical accounts have defended Thelwall against Thompson’s charge by accentuating the sociological emphasis of the pedestrian tours and playing down Thelwall’s engagement with the picturesque. This essay argues that it is precisely through an exploration of the picturesque that Thelwall finds a new medium for the articulation of his political ideals. Thelwall’s turn to the picturesque is not just a response to political harassment. The Peripatetic (1793) demonstrates Thelwall’s long-held fascination with visual forms, though it expresses distrust at the abstracting effects of spectatorship. In The Peripatetic, Thelwall begins an exploration of alternative means of “seeing,” namely the material exploration of both the landscape and social configurations. This exploration is continued and refined in the “Pedestrian Excursion” and “Phenomena of the Wye,” where the language of Thelwall’s descriptions of landscape anticipate his engagement with the politics of free speech in his elocutionary writings of the next decade.
Molly Desjardins, "John Thelwall and Association"
John Thelwall’s elocutionary career has frequently been understood as a renunciation of his revolutionary politics. This essay questions such an assessment. I argue that once we understand the associationist model of mind that guides both Thelwall’s elocutionary work and his political philosophy, we see that throughout his career Thelwall was pursuing a common end: strengthening associations in the minds that inhabited, and created, the public sphere.
Emily B. Stanback, "Disability and Dissent: Thelwall’s Elocutionary Project"
This essay argues for a reassessment of John Thelwall’s career as an elocutionary scientist in light of recent work in the history of medicine and Disability Studies. Traditionally understood as apolitical—at least in comparison to his involvement in radical politics and materialist science—Thelwall’s therapeutic endeavor should instead be recognized as significantly demonstrating his continued dedication to democratic ideals. Thelwall’s elocutionary texts are, in fact, provocatively egalitarian, and as an elocutionary scientist Thelwall actively resisted the normative views of disability that were beginning to consolidate during the era.
Steve Poole, "Gillray, Cruikshank & Thelwall: Visual Satire, Physiognomy and the Jacobin Body"
In the years following his acquittal for High Treason in 1794, John Thelwall came to personify all that English loyalists most feared about the plebeian democrats of the London Corresponding Society. In loyalist discourse, he became at one and the same time, an intemperate but horribly effective Jacobin orator, and a covert conspirator working quietly behind the scenes to ally the Foxite opposition with the LCS and some of its insurrectionary fellow travellers. The apparent disjuncture in Thelwall's character between public bluster and private plotting presented a unique set of problems for loyalist caricature, explicitly demonstrated in the practice of the best known ministerial cartoonists of the period, Rowlandson, Cruikshank and Gillray. This essay explores some of the ways in which this dichotomy was resolved in visual culture, and assesses the impact of popular prints like these on the manufacturing of Thelwall's political reputation.
Angela Esterhammer, "John Thelwall’s Panoramic Miscellany: The Lecturer as Journalist"
From January to June 1826, Thelwall edited, wrote, and marketed The Panoramic Miscellany, a monthly periodical that demonstrates his ongoing commitment to political causes, public education, elocutionary training, and literary criticism. This essay examines the context and contents of the little-known Panoramic Miscellany, showing that Thelwall’s editorial policy and discursive practice depend heavily on his experience as lecturer and educator and that the Panoramic Miscellany stands out for its international perspective, its attention to women writers, and the integrity of its book reviews. The unsuccessful attempt of Thelwall the lecturer to become an independent journalist offers insights into the experimental and volatile media context of the 1820s.
Patty O'Boyle, "'A Son of John Thelwall': Weymouth Birkbeck Thelwall’s Romantic Inheritance"
This essay traces the meandering career of Weymouth Birkbeck Thelwall, the son of John Thelwall and his former pupil and second wife, the young and beautiful Henrietta Cecil Boyle. Born on the eve of reform and near the end of John Thelwall’s life, Weymouth followed in his father’s artistic, adventurous and amorous footsteps; creating his own peripatetic journey which led him eventually to a tragic and isolated death in colonial Nyasaland. His life narrative graphically illustrates how the Romantic idealism espoused by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century radicals; the reforms in education, and the civil and religious liberties which they campaigned for had unlooked for consequences, culminating in the late Victorian grab for Africa figured in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. In Weymouth Thelwall we have a true “son of John Thelwall” and a strangely prophetic model of Mr. Kurz: citizen, artist, journalist and romantic idealist—with an eye to the main chance and a defiant propensity to take one too many risks.