Higher up the chain were the inhabitants of the ancient civilizations of the East, high enough for Orientalism to become an established fashion in architecture, decoration, costume and poetry, as Byron's 'Eastern Tales' and his Don Juan indicate. Caroline Franklin's contribution to this volume situates Byron's The Siege of Corinth (1816) and Hebrew Melodies (1815) in the context of their author's sceptical critique of Orientalism and his discourse of sentimental nationalism. Franklin considers the poems as symbolic meditations on the poetry of imperialism as well as discourses oppositional to the Evangelical movement at home. In Byron's work, colonialism was interrogated through a survey of the Europe of Napoleonic conquest and Bourbon reaction, and through an examination of the historical space in which Western and Eastern empires met, fought and melded - the unstable space of Venice, considered here by Malcolm Kelsall. Kelsall seeks to undermine the assumptions on which Said's Orientalism was founded, by returning Byron's and Wordsworth's geo-political imaginations to the liminal space of a republic, in which the construction of the West as its opposite by an imperialist East (and South) was as legible as the West's colonialism of the 'Orient'. Byron, Kelsall shows, destabilizes the ideologies of empire by reversing the gender and sexual hierarchies implicit in the cultural representations, by which Venetians had imaged their colonial dominance, celebrating a feminized and Orientalized culture of sexual fecundity and social melding, rather than one of masculine authority. Pointing to the persistence of Sir William Jones's translations of sexually explicit Hindu poetry, in Shelley as well as Byron, Kelsall develops in the context of 1820s Europe the arguments of Michael Franklin's essay later in this volume.
Shelley also exploited the East in a series of visionary poems and dramas, including The Revolt of Islam (1818), 'The Witch of Atlas' (1824), and Prometheus Unbound (composed 1818-19; published 1820), which stressed the redemptive aspects of Prometheus' soul mate Asia. Like Sir William Jones, Shelley in such poems genders the East as female and represents it as a source of renewal, if not redemption. Significantly, it is towards the East that Mary Shelley's Henry Clerval directed his talents in Frankenstein (1818). Like Sir William Jones, Clerval wished to master the languages of India with the aim of materially assisting in the progress of colonization and trade.
The East is not always so redemptive a force. Shelley's 'Ozymandias' may follow Volney's Ruins in deriving comfort from the end of empires, but, for others in the period, the East was the source of anxiety and infection. With extraordinary prescience, Thomas Paine had pre-empted this fear back in 1775 in his remarkable tract 'Reflections on the Life and Death of Lord Clive' where he imagined a guilt-ridden and tormented Clive' haunted by memories of his colonial rapacity in India. The topos of the confident imperialist, stricken with colonial guilt and subject to a mysterious, even occult,
punishment in later life is analysed in D. L. Macdonald's discussion in this volume of Matthew Lewis's Gothic depictions of his slave plantations in Jamaica. The topos was to reappear later in the nineteenth century, finding its most popular manifestations in the thrillers of Wilkie Collins and Arthur Conan Doyle and in J. Milton Hayes's melodramatic, music-hall monologue, 'The Green Eye of the Yellow God'. But in the Romantic period, the Bedouin Arab, who features in Wordsworth's account of Coleridge's dream in Book Five of The Prelude, fleeing from 'the fleet of waters of the drowning world' is a prophet of apocalypse. For Anna Letitia Barbauld back in 1791, the East was the source of divine punishment for Britain's involvement in the slave-trade. In her verse Epistle to William Wilberforce, Esq., she combines themes from the discourses of colonialism, fashion and medicine with politics, by representing the modish Orientalism of the time, and the mercantile and commercial success which underlaid it, as an infectious and sybaritic luxury which corrupted and feminized civilization and encouraged despotism.
Nor less from the gay East, on essenc'd wings,
Breathing unnam'd perfumes, Contagion springs;
The soft luxurious plague alike pervades
The marble palaces and rural shades;
Hence, throng'd Augusta builds her rosy bowers,
And decks in summer wreaths her smoky towers;
And hence, in summer bow'rs, Arts costly hand
Pours courtly splendours o'er the dazzled land:
The manners melt - One undistinguish'd blaze
O'erwhelms the sober pomp of elder days;
Corruption follows with gigantic stride,
And scarce vouchsafes his shameless front to hide:
The spreading leprosy taints ev'ry part,
Infects each limb, and sickens at the heart.
Simplicity! most dear of rural maids,
Weeping resigns her violated shades:
Stern Independence from his glebe retires,
And anxious Freedom eyes her drooping fires;
By foreign wealth are British morals chang'd,
And Afric's sons, and India's, smile aveng'd.
Similarly, De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater (1821) presents the alternative, negative aspect of Eastern influence, one which threatens and infects, albeit this time through the psychic agency of dreams. The East as a nexus of fears of despotism, corruption, effeminacy and infection is discussed by Joseph W. Lew in his analysis of Mary Shelley's apocalyptic novel The Last Man (1826). The novel deals with the total annihilation of the human race resulting from a plague emanating from the East. Such subject matter brings the theories of Montesquieu's L'Esprit de Lois (1748) into the context of the imperial doubt, the inevitable result of colonial encounters. Arguably Shelley's novel prefigures, in a more sophisticated way, the mode of imperial Gothic, practised by writers such as H. Rider Haggard and Bram Stoker in the fin de siècle years of the nineteenth century. Shelley's Eastern plague and De Quincey's opium nightmares oddly pre-empt the threats of invasion posed by Stoker's Dracula and Haggard's Ayesha, with their ambitions to colonize the West in an unholy parody of contemporary Western imperialism.