Over the course of the eighteenth-century, Great Britain built a formidable military power stoked in no small part by financial instruments devised not by merchants but by the state. "The ability of government administrators to establish the routine by which revenues were collected, money raised and supplies requisitioned," writes historian John Brewer, "could make the difference between victory and humiliation." The rise of the "fiscal-military state" strengthened both British military forces and the state itself to an unprecedented degree. The financial, even clerical mode of waging war gained extraordinary value over the course of the eighteenth-century; hardly visible to the public at large, their effects were felt more than they were seen. New modes of taxation and deficit spending "put muscle on the bones of the British body politic, increasing its endurance, strength and reach" (xvii). Brewer's magisterial account deliberately turns attention away from military exploits and heroes, even away from devastating violence, to focus on the driest aspects of a nation dedicated to its martial power: taxes, book-keeping, numbers. In doing so, his account translates a system of fragile abstractions into corporeal tissue, converting what might be dead matter—the bare bones of the field of history or the field of battle—into a robust "body politic." More curious perhaps, and a sign of the uneasy passage of numbers to bodies, is Brewer's acknowledgement that the fictive body is also a feeling one: "humiliation," rather than defeat per se, is the haunting alternative to British victory.
The figurative conjunction and conversion of numbers and flesh under the banner of war remains familiar. Harder to analyze in these verbal maneuvers is the level of sentience involved: what can the bodies born of numbers feel? The form of modern war emergent in the eighteenth century via taxes and debt financing is allied with other emergent regimes associated with numbers and finance: to what degree did the force of numbers amplify, dampen or otherwise transform the feeling body? If, as Brewer suggests, the economic repercussions of war in this period "are difficult to measure," how much more difficult is measurement when it tries to align what one contemporary called "the system of war" with the nervous system (xxi)? I would like to argue for a particular emphasis and delineation in the Romantic period on feeling numbers, especially among a group of reform-minded tinkers: Bentham, Godwin and Shelley—often in conversation with non-reformists such as Malthus. Heirs to and subjects of the fiscal military state, commenting both during and after the cataclysmic global wars with France that opened the new century, these writers unravel the neat allegory that Brewer paints, where the numbers of state finance and the cells of human bodies appear neatly woven together in the history of war. They employ numbers, by contrast, that tax the body to the point of disintegration so that, in fact, only numbers are left to register feeling.
Following recent critical studies on numbers and finance capital by Mary Poovey and Ian Baucom; and studies of the history of affect, I consider Romantic debates on the numbers of war, and how reformists developed philosophical and rhetorical instruments to convert a system of value so closely associated with and productive of imperial warfare, into a system of feeling numbers that resists and works to disintegrate the fiction of the robust body politic. My aim is less to show how these writers argued against the system of numbers, but rather how they embraced and reconstituted numbers, insisting on the correspondence between pained and suffering bodies and state accounting, pushing that correspondence for its affective yield. In these cases, it is difficult and perhaps counter-productive to decide whether the appeal to numbers by opponents of the "war system" can be read as irony or complicity. "In the scale of just calculation," observes James Callender, a reformist forced to leave Britain for his criticism of Britain's war policies, "the most valuable commodity, next to human blood, is money." In his tirade against the "war system," Callender literally seethes with numbers. Here is just his concluding flourish: “The question to be decided is, are we to proceed with the war system? Are we, in the progress of the nineteenth-century, to embrace five thousand fresh taxes, to squander a second five hundred millions sterling, and to extirpate twenty millions of people?” (8) The question that motivates my essay concerns what "just calculation" might mean in this view of history. I argue for war as a particularly potent site, indeed, perhaps the most potent and generative site for friction between universals and particulars, between theoretical (or in this case, numerical) systems and those forces (in this case, feeling or affect) that accompany as much as they disrupt such systems. The putative "difference" between calculation and sentience may be more complex than conventional accounts of Romanticism have led us to believe, especially when we are asked to respond to something like an unembodied sentience.
Sylvan the giant captive Ourang-Outang is only the most spectacular figure in an array of monsters, prodigies, and other anomalous characters who trouble the categories not just of culture, gender, ethnicity and race but of humanity as a species in Walter Scott's late romance Count Robert of Paris (1831). Dismissed by most commentators as a bizarre effusion of Scott’s dotage, Count Robert of Paris sets its scene decisively outside the developmental continuum specified for “the classical form of the historical novel” by Georg Lukács. Eleventh-century Constantinople is scarcely the scene of “our own” past, a setting that may provide “a concrete prehistory of the present” (The Historical Novel 269). It is doubly divided from modern British readers: by the schism between the Greek and Roman churches, which cast Byzantium as the decadent shadow of a more vigorous “western civilization”; and by the Ottoman conquest of 1453, which cut off the Greek empire from the progressive path to modernity. J. H. Alexander’s new edition of Count Robert of Paris (Edinburgh, 2006), restoring extensive passages that were cut by Scott’s executors, allows us to see more clearly than was hitherto possible the novel’s philosophical investment in alien histories, alien origins.
Among the passages published for the first time is a conclusion in which Scott acknowledges the unprecedented, experimental character of what is “probably the last of my fictitious compositions” (362). The quest for “novelty at whatever rate” has driven him to “lay his scene in distant countries, among stranger nations, whose manners are imagined for the purpose of the story – nay, whose powers are extended beyond those of human nature.” Scott’s prime example of a romance that goes beyond human nature is “a late novel . . . by the name of Frankenstein” (363). Scott had reviewed Frankenstein for Blackwood’s in 1818, and a new edition of the novel, revised by Mary Shelley, was published just over one month after he completed Count Robert of Paris (and less than two months before its publication). On Scott’s own authority, then, this essay will read Count Robert of Paris not as a historical novel but as a work of anthropological science fiction. Scott’s late romance reveals the link between the historical novel and science fiction to be more intimate than we might have thought, genetic as well as analogical, soon after the foundation of both genres (Waverley, Frankenstein) in British Romanticism.
The name of that link, “man,” designates the philosophical problematic of Count Robert of Paris and marks the novel’s station not just at the end of Scott’s career but at the end of a century-long project of cultural modernization, the so-called Scottish Enlightenment. In 1739 David Hume had given that project a name, “the science of man.” By the 1770s it seemed as though history had become established as the discipline best equipped to realize the science of man, in conjectural histories of society, of manners and institutions, the arts and sciences, as well as of particular nations. It was the attempt to totalize these projects, to write the history of man as a species that laid bare a fault-line in the secular category of “man”—a fault-line constituted by its biological foundation. “The Human Species is in every view an interesting subject,” wrote Lord Kames in the preface to his Sketches of the History of Man (1774): however, “there is still wanting a history of the species, in its progress from the savage state to its highest civilization and improvement.” “The subject of this volume is the History of Man, by which I mean, not what is commonly called History, that is the History of Nations and Empires, but the History of the Species Man”: thus Lord Monboddo, introducing the fourth volume of his Antient Metaphysics (1795). These best-known of Scottish essays in the history of man as a species are notorious for their disruption of the category they invoke: Kames for his argument that humankind consists of different species (originally unified but then marked with biological as well as linguistic difference after Babel), Monboddo for his insistence that the mysterious great ape, the Orang-Outang, is man in his natural state, lacking only the artificial acquirement of language. For these accounts, it seems, “man” signifies at once too much and too little. By the time Scott was writing Count Robert of Paris, in 1830-31, the trouble with man had blown up into a scandal. Amid a rising tide of mainly French morphological speculation on the transmutation of species, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck had cited the orang-utan as a human prototype—not just a type of natural man but a figure for man’s animal origins and the mutability of species. Lamarck’s work was diffused across British literature by the controversy that peaked in the early 1830s, in endorsements by “Edinburgh Lamarckians” such as Robert Jameson and Robert E. Grant, as well as in refutations, most notably by Charles Lyell in the second volume of Principles of Geology (published one month after Count Robert of Paris, in January 1832).
Count Robert of Paris finds its imaginative opening in the contemporary crisis of world history and the science of man. Scott’s Constantinople swarms with different creeds, nations, races and species, in which the boundaries between nation and race and species, and between human and non-human species, shift and blur. The main figure for this boundary-flux is the Orang-Outang, who, among his other accomplishments, understands instructions given in Anglo-Saxon and kills off the principal villain of the story. The newly restored text of Count Robert of Paris allows us to see that various forms of biological difference (including sexual as well as racial and species difference) are everywhere in play in the novel. Count Robert earns its place beside Frankenstein, if we understand Shelley’s novel (following Maureen McLane’s analysis in Romanticism and the Human Sciences) as enacting a radical critique of the “specifically anthropological discourse of man” that underwrites the newly-won autonomy of imaginative literature in British Romanticism. Scott’s Constantinople opens a new kind of setting for a new kind of historical romance: the cosmopolis or world-city as conjectural arena for the natural history of man. Within this radically heterodox imaginary space, Count Robert of Paris explodes the monogenetic trajectories of national progress charted in the Scottish Waverley Novels for a fantastic exploration of the multiplicity of developmental paths and forms that humankind might take.
Speitz reveals how Prince’s narrative attests to the importance of salt, a central product of slave labor in the British-held West Indies. Although its overall value is largely ignored in literary scholarship, Speitz demonstrates how harvesting salt proved harmful enough to inspire Prince’s rendition of a horrific contortion of being. Her repeated detrimental exposure to salt transforms Prince’s body, consciousness, and ultimately, of course, her narrative--making it tantamount to a material history and psychological case study of a forced merger of landscape, labor, body, and mind. Prince’s text records how lethal amounts of salt seep through the skin, forging a visceral, literal, and grotesque union between salt, the commodified substance, and the slave, the commodified worker. Further, buttressing the vast amount of scholarship on the historical significance of luxury consumables which could easily impede international or regional revenue streams if boycotted, Speitz brings to light the unacknowledged history of Caribbean salt raking relative to not only British colonial economies and politics, but also to the revolutionary history of the United States, in which it plays a pivotal role.