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Robert Bloomfield: The Inestimable Blessing of Letters



John Goodridge and Bridget Keegan, "Introduction"

This introduction argues for the importance of a scholarly consideration of Robert Bloomfield's interesting and extensive correspondence. It then offers a brief overview of the four essays including in this special number.

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Tim Fulford, "Bloomfield in his Letters: The Social World of a London Shoemaker Turned Suffolk Poet"

This essay places Bloomfield in his social world—the world of Georgian London and of rural Suffolk and Wales. It makes extensive use of his correspondence to offer new insights into such issues as patronage and publishing, the book market, radical politics, Cockney London, and the picturesque tour. It shows Bloomfield to be a witty commentator on his time as well as an astute reader of the poetry of his contemporaries.

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Peter Denney, "The Talk of the Tap-Room: Bloomfield, Politics and Popular Culture"

This article takes as its point of departure Bloomfield’s repeated and insistent claim that he was a poet, not a politician. Drawing on the fascinating recently published correspondence of Bloomfield and his circle, it examines how the dissociation of poetry and politics in the post-revolutionary decades affected the poet’s public and private identities. In the first instance, the article explores how the ideology of natural genius exerted pressure on Bloomfield and other laboring-class poets to think about poetry as a cultural form that was incompatible with the public sphere of politics, especially the combative world of artisan radicalism. But the article also shows that the polarization of political culture in the aftermath of the French Revolution debate had the effect of politicizing even the most private aspects of Bloomfield’s life and literary productions. Much to the poet’s profound vexation, his public persona was appropriated by radicals, liberals, and loyalists alike, depriving him of the privacy the theory of natural genius assumed he should embrace.

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Ian Haywood, "The Infection of Robert Bloomfield: Terrorising The Farmer's Boy"

This article argues that Robert Bloomfield’s seminal text The Farmer’s Boy is a much darker and more troubled poem than has been appreciated. Although recent criticism has begun to explore some of the poem’s ideological complexities, there is still a prevailing tendency to locate its imaginative resources and strengths in its depiction of a lost pastoral world of rural English labor. Haywood aims to break out of this pastoralist mold by reading the poem as a psycho-biographical allegory of Bloomfield’s unresolved feelings about separation, loss, social mobility, patronage, and success. By intensifying and magnifying the more violent conventions of the georgic, Bloomfield converts the poem into what John Barrell (writing about De Quincey) calls “narratives of trauma and narratives of reparation” (22). The pain, terror, and guilt of these “narratives” reflect not only Bloomfield’s troubled poetical formation but also capture the counter-revolutionary paranoia and repression of the late 1790s. Although Haywood's interpretation uses the text to speculate about Bloomfield’s memories of his early life, his conclusions are supported by copious illustrations and supportive evidence from Bloomfield’s letters.

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Bridget Keegan, "Bloomfield's Writing for Children"

Robert Bloomfield twice wrote works explicitly for a juvenile audience. Little Davy’s New Hat was first published in 1815 and went through three separate editions by 1824. The Bird and Insects’ Post Office, which Bloomfield was writing with his son Charles at the time of his death, was published posthumously in his Remains (1824). With these texts, Bloomfield tried his hand at what was, in the early nineteenth century, a relatively new genre. In addressing a juvenile audience, Bloomfield joined some of the most important authors of the age. A re-examination of the works for children demonstrates how Bloomfield fully participates in his Romantic cultural moment. While differing in style and in audience, these two texts are also very much of a piece with Bloomfield’s other core moral and artistic concerns. Although celebrating Bloomfield’s children’s books could be seen as inviting the risk of once again relegating Bloomfield to the status of naïf—a writer capable only of simple works and observations because of his laboring-class background—if we understand them in relation to the rest of Bloomfield’s achievements they appear less anomalous and less simplistic. Both works are unafraid to contend with life’s harsher realities even as they perform the typical moral function of children’s literature and extol the virtues of charity and kindness to the poor and to animals.

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Published @ RC

December 2011