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date: 14 November 2019

Romanticism and War

Abstract and Keywords

This article examines the development of scholarship on literary responses to the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, 1793–1815. It examines the reasons for the surprising lack of research on this area in both traditional and new historicist accounts of romanticism, as seen in the work of M. H. Abrams and Jerome J. McGann, despite the pioneering work of Betty T. Bennett. It then examines the major studies of the topic produced by Gillian Russell, Simon Bainbridge, Philip Shaw, Mary A. Favret, Neil Ramsey, and others. Particular focus is placed on key critical issues, including the distance from the scene of conflict of those writing and reading about war, the representation of suffering and wounding, and the impact of war on noncombatants. The article ends with pointing to areas for further study.

Keywords: romanticism, war, revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte, Napoleonic Wars, suffering, conflict

“War was the single most important fact of British life from 1793–1815,” claimed Betty T. Bennett in the introduction to her groundbreaking anthology British War Poetry in the Age of Romanticism, first published in 1976.1 As this statement suggests, the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars were fought during the era usually described as the romantic period. Bennett’s collection of 350 poems drawn from the period’s newspapers and magazines sought to establish that war was “perhaps the principal poetic subject” of the age and that the dominant poetic figures of “the beggar, the orphan, the widow, the sailor and soldier and veteran, the country cottage … were largely derived from the war experience.”2 However, despite Bennett’s strident characterization of the literary culture of the romantic period as one of war, it is only relatively recently that the era’s martial conflict has become a focus for scholars of romanticism. For example, as late as 2000, Philip Shaw was able to claim of his pioneering edited collection Romantic Wars: Studies in Culture and Conflict, 1793–1822 that it “is the first of its kind to address the relations between warfare and literary and visual culture in Great Britain between the years 1793 and 1822.”3 Given the significance attached to it by some critics, war remains a relatively unstudied element of the literary and cultural milieu of British romanticism. This seeming lack of engagement with the period’s defining historical events is something that a number of critics, in very different ways, have seen as constituting the romantic response to war.

The relative lack of attention paid by literary scholars of the romantic period to the role of conflict is particularly surprising given the various claims made for the importance of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars by military and social historians. In British Society and the French Wars, 1793–1815, Clive Emsley argues that “if there was a common experience shared by all Britons in the last decade of the eighteenth and early years of the nineteenth centuries, it is to be found less in the changes resulting from the industrial revolution and more in the demands of war.”4 Emsley’s general claim has been supported by the work of Geoffrey Best, David Gates, and others, who have shown how the regular British army expanded from 40,000 men in 1793 to 250,000 in 1813, with a similar growth in naval power from 45,000 sailors in February 1793 to 145,000 in 1812.5 During the period of invasion crisis, these regular armed forces were supplemented by large volunteer forces, which at their height in 1803 amounted to 400,000 men.6 As these numbers suggest, a large proportion of the British population was directly involved in the wars against France, possibly as many as one in five of all adult males during the invasion threats of 1797–1804.7 With as many as one in four families having direct involvement in the wars,8 the conflict’s impact on the “home front”—seemingly removed from the battlefield—was significant and made visible in a range of ways, from returning soldiers to developments in fashion. A. D. Harvey drew attention to the effects of the war on British society in his pioneering collection English Literature and the Great War with France,9 and Jenny Uglow has provided a culmination to this work in her excellent In These Times: Living in Britain Through Napoleon’s Wars, 1793–1815. In this impressively wide-ranging study, Uglow uses an array of sources to answer the question: “How did the wars affect the lives of people in Britain, not only those who fought, but those at home looking on, waiting, working, watching?”10

The potential significance of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars is heightened for a number of historians by the debate over whether they were the culmination of an established form of conflict or a new type of warfare altogether. As early as 1832–1833, General Carl von Clausewitz argued in On War that the French Revolution’s levées en masse had created the “Nation in Arms”11 and transformed the conflict from the eighteenth-century model of limited war fought under rules for territorial gain to “total war” fought for ideological reasons, a contest in which “suddenly war again became the business of the people” and “the full weight of the nation was thrown into the balance.”12 Focusing primarily on the French context, David A. Bell, in The First Total War: Napoleon and the Birth of Modern Warfare as We Know It, analyzes the shift during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars from an Enlightenment vision, which regarded warfare as an aberration and sought “perpetual peace,” to a modern attitude that embraced conflict and even came to regard it as a means of redemption. In Britons: Forging the Nations 1707–1837, Linda Colley looks at the extraordinary war effort on the British side of the channel. For her, the conflicts of 1793–1815 were the latest in the series of wars against France that since the Act of Union of 1707 had enabled Great Britain to define itself against its national and religious “Other.”13 Like Colley, J. E. Cookson, in The British Armed Nation, 1793–1815, examines the volunteer movement prompted by the invasion threat in relation to ideas of national identity, arguing that “the Napoleonic mobilization for national defence was undoubtedly the greatest ‘national project’ in Britain’s experience.”14 For Cookson, the patriotism of the volunteer movement was far more conditional than for Colley, negotiated in relation to existing and local patterns. However, both studies emphasize the importance of the British fight against revolutionary and Napoleonic France to individual, local, and national identities.

There are a number of reasons that the scholarship of romanticism, particularly as traditionally conceived around a canon of six writers (William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, George Gordon Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and John Keats), may have seemed belated in thinking about the link between the period’s literature and the context of wartime in which much of it was produced. Some historically oriented studies did examine writers’ entire careers, such as Carl Woodring’s pioneering Politics in English Romantic Poetry (1970), in which he argued that greater attention needed to be paid to the political ideas consciously expressed by the poets.15 However, many of the most influential subsequent studies of romanticism tended to emphasize the revolutionary decade of the 1790s, looking at the early, more radical poetry of Wordsworth and Coleridge, or the post-Waterloo protest poetry of Byron and Shelley.16 This twin focus on revolution and protest, reflecting to various degrees the broadly left-leaning politics of the academy, tended to overlook the major historical events of the war years between the publication of Lyrical Ballads in 1798 and that of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage in 1812. Indeed, the grand accounts of romanticism of the 1970s and 1980s, be they “old” or “new” historicist, defined the literary movement specifically through its failure to engage with the realm of history enacted as warfare. M. H. Abrams, in the essay “English Romanticism: The Spirit of the Age,” which he would expand into the movement-defining study Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature, argued that romanticism was a displaced millenarianism, stimulated by the poets’ disappointed hopes for the French Revolution. These failed political hopes, he asserted, were internalized into the world of the imagination: “Hope is shifted from the history of mankind to the mind of the single individual, from militant external action to an imaginative act.”17 Similarly, Nicholas Roe claimed in Wordsworth and Coleridge: The Radical Years that “[i]t was failure that made Wordsworth a poet.”18 Abrams’s account grounds romanticism within a narrative of revolutionary failure that renders the war irrelevant in itself. Military action, as well as “militant external action,” no longer has any real bearing in a world of “imaginative acts.” Despite approaching the subject from a very different theoretical orientation, many of the “new historicist” accounts of romanticism of the 1980s similarly argued that the writers themselves failed to engage with the history of their times, including the wars. In The Romantic Ideology, a work often regarded as the manifesto of “new historicism,” Jerome McGann argued that romantic poems “occlude and disguise their own involvement in a certain nexus of historical relations” so that history is “evaded,” “elided,” “displaced,” and “annihilated.”19 One example of how this methodology shaped the critical treatment of the literary response is Alan Liu’s monumental and brilliant study Wordsworth: The Sense of History, in which he offers a reading of the poet’s work in relation to the figure of Napoleon Bonaparte, the enemy against whom Britain was battling from his rise to power in 1799 until his final defeat at the battle of Waterloo in 1815. Rather than seeing the poet’s response to the French general and emperor as a direct confrontation, Liu argues that Wordsworth strives to deny and repress the history that Bonaparte represents. In a stunning, close analysis of Wordsworth’s famous passage describing the crossing of the Simplon Pass in Book VI of The Prelude, Liu draws on an impressive combination of historical research and nuanced close analysis to read the passage as the “climactic veiling” of the figure of the usurper, Napoleon Bonaparte.20

In this context, it is noticeable that the earliest studies of romantic period culture and war from the mid-1990s looked beyond the standard canon of poets or their works, participating to different degrees in the critique of romanticism as a retrospective and ideological construction. In one of the most significant and influential explorations of the field, “Coming Home: The Public Spaces of Romantic War,” Mary Favret turned for many of her examples to Betty Bennett’s British War Poetry in the Age of Romanticism, the anthology that collected magazine and newspaper verse, reading such works alongside those by the canonical poets. Opening her essay with the question “What did war in Romanticism look like?,” Favret argues that the texts Bennett reproduces were part of a public sphere that acted as “a paper shield—a shield of newspaper reports, pamphlets, songs and poems—against the destructive violence of war.”21 Central to Favret’s project is an issue that has occupied all subsequent studies of the area, that the British reading public was removed from the scene of conflict itself: “In simply empirical terms, the displacement of war, ‘the activity of reciprocal injuring,’ remained for the most part outside the visual experience of the English population.” War, therefore, was mediated to the reading public “through institutions and verbal conventions that filtered and altered its content.”22 Favret’s essay offered an important acknowledgment of the dominant place of war in the print culture of the romantic period, though she argued that these mediations of conflict actually operated to protect or “shield” the reading public from comprehending the violence of war itself. Favret’s phrase “the activity of reciprocal injuring” in the quotation above is drawn from Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain, which examines the impossibility of fully articulating suffering.23 Following Scarry, Favret argues that the public sphere produces an “aphasia about war” that not only cloaked the truth of war from the contemporary readership but has also been responsible for the lack of attention to martial matters in current romantic studies. Favret draws attention to the writing of war in the period, with analysis of De Quincey’s essay “The English Mail Coach,” Coleridge’s “Fears in Solitude,” and Wordsworth’s invasion sonnets of 1803, and she particularly highlights the ubiquity of the war widow in the popular poems and ballads. Rather than acting as a critique of war’s devastation, Favret sees the plethora of poems on the war widow as displacing the damage of war from the public body of the citizen soldier and into the private, feminized sphere: “[W]arfare surfaces in the realm of affective relations and feminine care.”24 The public sphere cannot acknowledge the damage done by war.

Favret’s influential and much-debated essay marked a significant moment in the study of war and romanticism, not least in drawing attention to the sheer volume of writing on the conflict in the period, both within and beyond the canon. In my own early work on the poets’ responses to the Anglo-Gallic combat, initially focused on the figure of Napoleon Bonaparte, I sought to expand the range of literary texts considered to show just how engaged these writers were with the martial age in which they lived. In Napoleon and English Romanticism, I argued not only that there was a contest between the Lake Poets, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Robert Southey, and two of their most vehement antagonists, Byron and William Hazlitt, over the representation of Napoleon, but that there was also a series of contests between the writers and the period’s preeminent figure of political and military power, Bonaparte himself. By reading less well known texts alongside the major works of British romanticism, I aimed to offer a different model of the response to history to those offered my M. H. Abrams or Jerome McGann, described above. For example, through a reading of The Prelude alongside Wordsworth’s political sonnets, it became possible to provide a response to Alan Liu’s account of the Simplon Pass episode as a suppression of the figure of Napoleon, arguing for this crucial passage as the culmination of the contest with the French leader that Wordsworth had been conducting in his shorter poems.25 Similarly, through examination of what at the time of analysis were rarely read works, such as Wordsworth’s tract known by the shortened title The Convention of Cintra, the poet could be reconceived as a writer who at times was obsessed by the war and who was forced by it to reformulate his sense of the relationship between history and the imagination. In The Convention of Cintra, Wordsworth writes: “We combated for victory in the empire of reason, for strong-holds in the imagination.”26 Analyzing such phraseology forced a reconsideration of the nature of the Wordsworthian imagination itself, seen by Abrams as a state of “spiritual quietism” and “wise passiveness” and by Liu as a power privileged at the expense of the suppression of history.27 Against these accounts, I argued that the imagination needed to be reformulated as a militant, active, and political force that both evolved out of and was directly engaged in the war with Napoleon. By showing that for Wordsworth the imagination was only “satisfied” by the “closing deed magnificent” of the Battle of Waterloo, as the poet claimed in his “Thanksgiving Ode,” I sought to demonstrate the extent to which the one-time Grasmere volunteer’s sense of identity and role was forged by the martial age in which he lived. Through similar case studies of other major writers of the period, I aimed to establish that romanticism itself could be seen as inspired, stimulated, and shaped by the age of war with which it was at least partly concurrent.28

In another pioneering study of the mid-1990s, The Theatres of War: Performance, Politics, and Society 1793–1815, Gillian Russell sought to “reclaim military history for eighteenth-century cultural studies.”29 She did so by linking what were then two under-researched fields, war and the theater. In so doing, Russell’s work expanded the study of romanticism and conflict beyond the poetic and into the broader cultural sphere. By examining theatrical representations of battles, such as Sheridan’s The Glorious First of June, with its spectacular re-enactment of the naval victories of Admiral Richard Howe, Russell was able to show the significant presence of war in the culture of the period, especially as mediated through performance: the “whole enterprise of the theatre was dedicated to the commemoration of the war and the enhancement of patriotism.”30 Russell’s work also valuably signals another direction in the field in showing how culture can be seen to shape the identities and performances of those actively involved in the conflict itself. As well as looking at plays performed by soldiers and sailors, Russell presents public and military culture in the period as theatrical, asking, “How did the individual soldier or sailor perform as actors in the theatres of war?”31 Russell illustrates the “mutually sustaining” relationship of the war and theater with a brilliant analysis of Andrew Franklin’s musical entertainment A Trip to Nore of 1797, a “grand metatheatrical event” that incorporated the issue of military spectatorship into its own performance.32 In a book that provides a valuable parallel to Russell’s volume, Scott Hughes Myerly examined the cultural and performative elements of life in the army in British Military Spectacle: From the Napoleonic Wars through the Crimea. In this well-illustrated work, Myerly focused particularly on the importance of the uniform for soldiers’ identity and morale. Like Russell, he reveals the central place of war in the popular theatrical culture of the time, such as the spectacular equestrian displays performed at Astley’s Amphitheatre, an early form of circus.33

The growing critical interest in romanticism and war was illustrated by the publication in 2000 of a collection of ten essays in the volume Romantic Wars: Studies in Culture and Conflict, 1793–1815, edited by Philip Shaw. These essays both responded to the pioneering work in the field and indicated the future direction of scholarship in the area. In a particularly valuable contribution, “Invasion! Coleridge, the Defence of Britain and the Cultivation of the Public’s Fear,” Mark Rawlinson engaged with Favret’s “Coming Home,” examining the role of the imagination in bringing the war home to Britain, a line of thinking that would be followed by a number of scholars in subsequent years.34 Other essays notably drew attention to women’s writing on the war, with Stephen C. Behrendt establishing how important the subject was for a number of women poets,35 Jacqueline Labbe offering a powerful account of Charlotte Smith’s “The Emigrants,”36 and Eric C. Walker examining the relationship between the literary trope of marriage and the end of war in the writing of Jane Austen and William Wordsworth,37 a subject he would study at greater length in his Marriage, Writing and Romanticism: Wordsworth and Austen after War.38

Along with Shaw’s collection, a number of more focused studies helped develop understandings of how the war was represented in the period’s literature. In a pair of essays, Tim Fulford provided a valuable examination of the importance of the martial context for the establishment of Jane Austen’s heroes’ masculinity, while also examining the cults of heroism that grew up around naval heroes, especially Lord Horatio Nelson.39 Diego Saglia’s Poetic Castles in Spain: British Romanticism and the Figurations of Iberia investigated the role of the Peninsular War within the larger context of the romantic imagining of Spain.40 Richard Cronin included the section “The War against Napoleon” in The Politics of Romantic Poetry: In Search of the Pure Commonwealth, with chapters on the war poetry of William Wordsworth, Walter Scott, and Lord Byron.41

Shaw followed his edited collection Romantic Wars in 2002 with his major study, Waterloo and the Romantic Imagination, a work that used the culminating battle of the Napoleonic era to reflect more generally on the place of conflict in romanticism through studies of Scott, Southey, Wordsworth, and Byron as well as the cultural forms of battlefield tours, panoramas, and the drawings of the surgeon Sir Charles Bell. In this rich and theoretically ambitious study, Shaw provides superb, close readings of how these figures and forms represented the war, particularly addressing two major issues. In the first of these, he developed Colley’s and Favret’s work by using Lacanian analysis to examine the role of conflict in the making of both the nation and poetry: “More often than not, local crises in the form and content of these verses [written in response to the battle] were related to larger questions concerning the nature of the nation state and the authority of the poet.”42 For Shaw, the ending of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars was “traumatic” for the victors as well as the vanquished, in that the nation struggled to re-create the sense of identity that it had gained during wartime.43 This sense of Waterloo as a national trauma is linked to the second of Shaw’s major concerns in this volume, “the wound.” Like Favret, Shaw turns to the work of Elaine Scarry to examine the issues of the representation of suffering and the extent to which pain can be articulated through language. Asking, ‘Why is it that images of the body in pain are so elusive in this period?,”44 Shaw follows Favret’s argument that the wounded soldier must be translated back “into a private body, identified with the feminine, and distanced from our vision of the public man.”45 Wounding, for Shaw, becomes a key element of “the ideology of sacrifice.” What the numerous accounts of bodily damage at Waterloo share “is an almost total disregard for the inner experience of wounding; bodies en masse are pierced, maimed, dismembered and crushed but descriptions of individual suffering are blandly erased, as if, to adapt Scarry’s analysis, the body has been emptied of personal and civil ‘content’.”46

In British Poetry and the Revolution Napoleonic Wars: Visions of Conflict of 2003, I sought to offer an alternative way of reading the vast literary output on the conflict to that offered by Favret and Shaw. From this point of view, poetry was a means by which the war was mediated to the British public distant from the scene of war, a critical approach informed by Russell’s analysis of theater’s role in the period, discussed above. Returning to the materials collected in Bennett’s anthology British War Poetry in the Age of Romanticism: 1793–1815, I argued that poetry provided a medium for contesting the conflict’s meaning. Through verse, the scene of conflict could be imagined, and poems brought the war’s suffering back home to a British readership, a process figured in the innumerable works on the returning soldier. The war poetry of the period was as much a “paper bullet” as a “paper shield.”47 While poetry mediated the wars to the British public, the conflict shaped poetic theories and practices, particularly in relation to issues of gender. A number of significant women poets took war as their subject, including Charlotte Smith, Felicia Hemans, and others whose work was collected by Bennett. However, the wartime reconceptions and reformulations of poetry were often presented as a need for poetry to become more manly in a time of national emergency. The examples of Byron and Scott, the period’s two best-selling poets, illustrated the centrality of the wars to the poetic identities and outputs of the age. While Byron produced a significant body of antiwar writing, Scott was highly influential in shaping understandings of these (and future) conflicts with his tales of “border chivalry,” which presented war as heroic, shaped by the codes of romance and framed by the conventions of the picturesque. As Scott’s biographer John Gibson Lockhart stated, Scott “must ever be considered as the ‘mighty minstrel’ of the Antigallican war.”48

The importance of war as a subject of reading and writing in the romantic period was J. R. Watson’s argument in his Romanticism and War: A Study of British Romantic Period Writers and the Napoleonic Wars. Watson himself described the book as “an attempt to write a straightforward account of the way in which the war of 1793–1815 was perceived by British Romantic period writers, and how they in turn helped produce some perceptions of the war.”49 Watson opens his study with an act of reading, with Jane Austen describing as “delightfully written & highly entertaining” Charles William Pasley’s Essay on Military Policy and Institutions of the British Empire.50 As Watson argues after an elegant reading of the soldier’s book and the novelist’s response to it, “Above all, perhaps, there was a sense of the importance of these matters” of war.51 For Watson, the conflict of the period was a crucial formative influence on writers’ characters and the works they produced: “At the deepest level, war is a test of who we are: It affects our comprehension of ourselves as human beings, our self-awareness, our “fashioning” of ourselves. For just as we understand ourselves better through art, and particularly through tragedy, so we come to see, in war, particular human virtues and vices.”52 Watson develops these ideas through a wide-ranging and detailed series of case studies, following the war through its chronological development. In addition to the responses to combat of the major poets—Wordsworth, Coleridge, Scott, Byron, and Shelley—he also examines some of the less studied writers on the subject, such as Thomas Campbell, author of once highly popular works such as “The Soldier’s Dream,” “The Wounded Hussar,” and “Hohenlinden.” Watson also gives valuable attention to two of the major accounts of conflict produced by soldiers who fought in the war, William Napier’s The History of the War in the Peninsula and Carl von Clausewitz’s On War. Through studies of John Ruskin and Thomas Hardy, he examines the legacy of romanticism for the understanding of war in the nineteenth century.

As a number of the studies described above illustrate, the landscape of romanticism can look very different when viewed through the lens of war. Relatively under-researched writers such as Smith, Scott, Robert Southey, Hemans, and Anna Laetitia Barbauld have emerged as significant voices during the conflict.53 This is perhaps even more the case when some of the most popular poetry of the period is considered. In The Ocean Bards: British Poetry and the War at Sea, 1793–1815, George H. Hahn examined the huge amount of patriotic, naval verse produced by Charles Dibdin the elder and others.54 He includes studies of important but overlooked genres such as invasion poems, battle odes, and sailors’ elegies. Like an earlier essay by Geoff Quilley in Shaw’s Romantic Wars and Robert Fahrner’s The Theatre Career of Charles Dibdin the Elder, Hahn’s valuable recovery of these poems reveals how central the figure of Jack Tar was to the period’s cultural imagination and how crucial to the war effort and recruitment was the work of largely forgotten writers, especially that of Charles Dibdin.55

While much of the work on romanticism and conflict has focused on representations of conflict, a noteworthy recent development has been Mary Favret’s emphasis on affect in War at a Distance: Romanticism and the Making of Modern Wartime. In this beautifully written and at times moving study, Favret again emphasized Britain’s distance from the scene of conflict, as she had done in her essay “Coming Home,” but she developed the analysis of how war had permeated Britain’s home front that she had been working on in subsequent essays.56 For Favret, the conflict with France was felt every day and everywhere in Britain, but at a level on which it was barely registered: “[T]he literature of the Romantic period reveals the everyday not as a zone of peace in contrast to distant war, but as the unspectacular register or medium of wartime.”57 War was not experienced in straightforward ways but rather as structures of feeling. The experience of waiting for news unsettled even a sense of time itself: “How time and knowledge were registered in daily life became newly uncertain. And with that uncertainty came a set of disturbing affective responses, including numbness, dizziness, anxiety, or a sense of being overwhelmed.”58 Drawing on affect studies, Favret examined “modes of response or apprehension that lie outside of cognition per se” and argued that in many instances the conflict with France was “never quite articulated into “clear” knowledge of war.”59 While Favret rejects the new historical emphasis on the hidden or repressed, she argues that as readers we need to attune ourselves to elements of a wartime mentality that do not directly articulate combat. Rather, war is felt in Favret’s study through a series of brilliantly analyzed romantic figures and tropes, including the fireside, the post boy, winter snow, the passing cloud, and the everyday accident. For Favret, it is the sense of temporal and geographical dislocation that makes the romantic period “the first wartime of modernity.”60

As many of the previous studies suggest, the romantic-period writing on the conflict with France appears to fail to fit with what might be seen as one of the major categories of war literature, texts written by those who were active in combat. References to World War I war poetry, for example, usually refer to the work of soldier poets such as Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, and Siegfried Sassoon or to others who “served” in the war. The Poetry Foundation’s web page “World War I Poets,” for example, presents “a selection of poets who served as soldiers, medical staff, journalist, or volunteers.”61 Work on romantic-period war writing has not only focused on writers who had no personal experience of battle, but has particularly examined the representation of the noncombatant experience. However, in his groundbreaking The Military Memoir and Romantic Literary Culture, 1780–1835, Neil Ramsey drew attention to a significant genre of writing by those who participated in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, the military memoir. As Ramsey illustrates through an appendix listing nearly two hundred examples, the soldier memoir was a recognized literary genre that grew in popularity and reputation, to the point that in the 1830s reviewers were arguing that such works should be “required reading for the British nation.”62 Ramsey examines the generic elements of the military memoir, identifying a “dramatic change” at the time of the Peninsular War from an emphasis on the memoirist as an ordinary individual and observer of quotidian detail, to one in which “a soldier narrator came to present himself as a naïve witness to war … a man of feeling who represents war principally as an affective experience and who recoils from its suffering.”63 These sentimental narratives were themselves transformed into narratives of heroic suffering and sacrifice that contributed to the national commemoration of the nation’s victory and made the military author a prominent figure in romantic literary culture. While the kinds of texts that Ramsey examines have been drawn on previously by historians,64 his volume marked an important development in the literary scholarship on the war.

Ramsey’s interest in the figure of the suffering soldier is shared by Philip Shaw in the third of his major contributions to the study of romanticism and war, the monograph Suffering and Sentiment in Romantic Military Art. The issues of suffering and sentiment had been central to Shaw’s Waterloo and the Romantic Imagination. In this later volume, he expands his field of study to include painting as well as literary texts, examining representations of those killed, wounded, or otherwise affected by war in an impressive range of forms: prints, books illustrations, panoramas, aesthetic treatises, news reports, commemorative painting, and portraits. While Shaw had examined visual materials in Waterloo and the Romantic Imagination, his developed examination of such materials alongside literary works brings a valuable interdisciplinary approach to the major issues in the field. Taking the literary and the visual together as a field of representation, Shaw argues that “the study of Romantic military art provides insight into how audiences in this period understood war as a contested arena of moral and political debate (‘war is a necessary evil’), as locus for speculation on national identity (‘war forges/disintegrates the nation’) and as a focus for the conveyance of heightened feeling (‘war is beautiful and sublime’).”65 The broad thrust of Shaw’s argument is that the affecting imagery of killed and maimed soldiers presented by these works “became a powerful tool of ideological enforcement, enabling ordinary members of the public to come to terms with the rapid, unpredictable and increasingly bloody course of national history.”66 Rather than becoming a locus for antiwar feeling, as we might expect, the suffering soldier became a heroic representative of the sacrifices required in wartime for the good of the nation. While audiences were conditioned to respond to scenes of devastation with pity and concern, such responses rarely led to political action against the prosecution of war. However, while the discourses of sentiment and the sublime worked to keep visions of suffering from intruding too far into daily life, Shaw also detects traces of doubt, melancholy, and hysteria in some of these works that opens them up to alternative readings. For example, in his examinations of the figure of the returned soldier represented by the poet William Wordsworth and the painter John Opie, Shaw identifies a version of the combatant traumatized by conflict, engagingly arguing that “such moments represent the beginning of an enquiry into the waste and ruin of war.”67

The title of Jeffrey Cox’s monograph, Romanticism in the Shadow of War: Literary Culture in the Napoleonic War Years, offers a valuable image for thinking about current scholarship on romanticism and conflict. War casts its shadow over this extraordinary period of literary production, while Cox also sees the period between the Peace of Amiens and the Hundred Days as “cast into the shadows” by critical constructions of romanticism.68 By reconceiving war, Cox seeks to reconceive romanticism itself. As he rightly points out, most of the work to date has focused on “larger than life figures such as Napoleon and Nelson” and on “relatively large actions taking place in and around Europe—Austerlitz or Trafalgar or Waterloo.”69 This focus neglects what Cox describes as “the struggles at the periphery,” such as those in India and North and South America. Counter to accounts of the Anglo-Gallic conflict that have seen it as a total war, Cox emphasizes the limited nature of military actions in the period, providing him with his model for reshaping the period: “I suggest that we should think of the Romantic period—both in its military actions and its cultural productions—as the era of small feints, limited campaigns, border raids.”70 By rethinking the conception of war in the period, Cox is able to identify how his chosen writers—Thomas Holcroft, Anna Laetitia Barbauld, and Leigh Hunt—created new sociolects, “new ways of speaking about themselves and their worlds.”71

Cox’s monograph provides a powerful illustration of the value of ongoing research into war and points to some of its possible future directions. He shows how our understanding of very well-known and highly studied texts can be enhanced by locating them within the wartime and postwar context, for example in his reading of Byron’s Manfred as an “after-war play that challenges the main form of post-war drama, the melodrama, in order to suggest a quite different response to the post-Waterloo world.”72 The mention of “melodrama” here also reveals the extent to which war was central to many of the period’s less studied literary and cultural forms, an area pioneered by critics such as Russell, but in which there remains much to be done, for example through the study of the hugely popular works of Charles Dibdin the Elder.73 A further underexamined resource is the vast range of war poems published in the period’s newspapers and magazine, the scale of which is hinted at by Bennett’s British War Poetry in the Age of Romanticism. While the anthology remains central to many of the major accounts of the field, such as those by Shaw and Favret, a rich range of materials exists beyond its scope. Bennett herself estimates that there were over 3,000 short poems on the war published in newspapers, periodicals, and magazines, of which she was only able to reprint 350.74 As Cox also shows, attention to the “shadow” of war makes it possible to identify new elements of romanticism itself, in his case a radical discourse that offers “resistance to an oppressive social and political apparatus.”75 For Cox, as for Favret and Shaw, attention to the relationship between romanticism and war can also help us reflect on the conflicts of our own time and the ways in which they are mediated and contested through literature.

Bibliography

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Abrams, M. H. Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature. New York and London: W. W. Norton, 1973.Find this resource:

Bainbridge, Simon. British Poetry and the Revolution Napoleonic Wars: Visions of Conflict. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.Find this resource:

Bainbridge, Simon. Napoleon Bonaparte and English Romanticism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.Find this resource:

Behrendt, Stephen C. “‘A Few Harmless Numbers’: British Women Poets and the Climate of War, 1793–1815.” In Romantic Wars: Studies in Culture and Conflict, 1793–1822, edited by Philip Shaw, 13–36. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2000.Find this resource:

Bell, David A. The First Total War: Napoleon and the Birth of Modern Warfare as We Know It. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2007.Find this resource:

Bennett, Betty T., ed. British War Poetry in the Age of Romanticism: 1793–1815. New York and London: Garland, 1976.Find this resource:

Best, Geoffrey. War and Society in Revolutionary Europe, 1770–1870. Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1998.Find this resource:

Christie, Ian. “Conservatism and Stability in British Society.” In The French Revolution and British Popular Politics, edited by Mark Philp, 169–187. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991.Find this resource:

Colley, Linda. Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707–1837. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992.Find this resource:

Cookson, J. E. The British Armed Nation, 1793–1815. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997.Find this resource:

Cox, Jeffrey N. Romanticism in the Shadow of War: Literary Culture in the Napoleonic War Years. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Cronin, Richard. The Politics of Romantic Poetry: In Search of the Pure Commonwealth. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 2000.Find this resource:

Emsley, Clive. British Society and the French Wars, 1793–1815. Basingstoke and London: Macmillan, 1979.Find this resource:

Fahrner, Robert. The Theatre Career of Charles Dibdin the Elder (1745–1814). New York: Peter Lang, 1989.Find this resource:

Favret, Mary A. “Coming Home: The Public Spaces of Romantic War.” Studies in Romanticism 33, no. 4 (Winter 1994): 539–548.Find this resource:

Favret, Mary A. “Everyday War.” ELH 72, no. 3 (Fall 2005): 605–633.Find this resource:

Favret, Mary A. War at a Distance: Romanticism and the Making of Modern Wartime. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Favret, Mary A. “War Correspondence: Reading Romantic War.” Prose Studies 19, no. 2 (August 1996): 173–185.Find this resource:

Favret, Mary A. “War in the Air.” Modern Language Quarterly 65, no. 4 (December 2004): 531–559.Find this resource:

Fulford, Tim. “Romanticizing the Empire: The Naval Heroes of Southey, Coleridge, Austen and Marryat.” Modern Language Quarterly 60, no. 2 (June 1999): 531–559.Find this resource:

Fulford, Tim. “Sighing for a Soldier: Jane Austen and Military Pride and Prejudice.” Nineteenth-Century Literature 57, no. 2 (September 2002): 153–178.Find this resource:

Gates, David. “The Transformation of the Army, 1783–1815.” In The Oxford Illustrated History of the British Army, edited by David Chandler and Ian Beckett, 133–159. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.Find this resource:

Gies, David T. “‘Such Is Glorious War’: British Reflections on the Peninsular War in Spain (1808–1814).” Bulletin of Spanish Studies 91, nos. 9–10 (2014): 261–272.Find this resource:

Gottlieb, Evan. “Fighting Words: Representing the Napoleonic Wars in the Poetry of Hemans and Barbauld.” European Romantic Review 20, no. 3 (July 2009): 327–343.Find this resource:

Hahn, George H. The Ocean Bards: British Poetry and the War at Sea, 1793–1815. Oxford: Peter Lang, 2008.Find this resource:

Harvey, A. D. English Literature and the Great War with France: An Anthology and Commentary. London: Nold Jonson Books, 1981.Find this resource:

Jordan, Gerald, and Nicolas Rogers. “Admirals as Heroes: Patriotism and Liberty in Hanoverian England.” Journal of British Studies 28, no. 3 (July 1989): 201–224.Find this resource:

Labbe, Jacqueline M. “The Exiled Self: Images of War in Charlotte Smith’s ‘The Emigrants.’” In Romantic Wars: Studies in Culture and Conflict, 1793–1822, edited by Philip Shaw, 37–56. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2000.Find this resource:

Liu, Alan. Wordsworth: The Sense of History. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1989.Find this resource:

McGann, Jerome J. The Romantic Ideology: A Critical Investigation. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1983.Find this resource:

Myerly, Scott Hughes. British Military Spectacle: From the Napoleonic Wars through the Crimea. Cambridge, UK: Harvard University Press, 1996.Find this resource:

Quilley, Geoff. “Duty and Mutiny: The Aesthetics of Loyalty and Representation of the British Sailor c. 1798–1800.” In Romantic Wars: Studies in Culture and Conflict, 1793–1822, edited by Philip Shaw, 80–109. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2000.Find this resource:

Ramsey, Neil. The Military Memoir and Romantic Literary Culture, 1780–1835. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2011.Find this resource:

Rawlinson, Mark. “Invasion! Coleridge, the Defence of Britain and the Cultivation of the Public’s Fear.” In Romantic Wars: Studies in Culture and Conflict, 1793–1822, edited by Philip Shaw, 110–137. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2000.Find this resource:

Roe, Nicholas. Wordsworth and Coleridge: The Radical Years. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988.Find this resource:

Rosenblum, Nancy L. “Romantic Militarism.” Journal of the History of Ideas 43, no. 2 (1982): 249–268.Find this resource:

Russell, Gillian. The Theatres of War: Performance, Politics, and Society 1793–1815. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995.Find this resource:

Saglia, Diego. Poetic Castles in Spain: British Romanticism and the Figurations of Iberia. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2000.Find this resource:

Scarry, Elaine. The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.Find this resource:

Shaw, Philip, ed. Romantic Wars: Studies in Culture and Conflict, 1793–1822. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2000.Find this resource:

Shaw, Philip. Suffering and Sentiment in Romantic Military Art. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2013.Find this resource:

Shaw, Philip. Waterloo and the Romantic Imagination. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave, 2002.Find this resource:

Uglow, Jenny. In These Times: Living in Britain Through Napoleon’s Wars, 1793–1815. London: Faber and Faber, 2014.Find this resource:

Valladares, Susan. Staging the Peninsular War: English Theatres 1807–1815. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2015.Find this resource:

Walker, Eric C. “Marriage and the End of War.” In Romantic Wars: Studies in Culture and Conflict, 1793–1822, edited by Philip Shaw, 208–226. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2000.Find this resource:

Walker, Eric C. Marriage, Writing and Romanticism: Wordsworth and Austen after War. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009.Find this resource:

Watson, J. R. Romanticism and War: A Study of British Romantic Period Writers and the Napoleonic Wars. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.Find this resource:

Woodring, Carl. Politics in English Romantic Poetry. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970.Find this resource:

Wordsworth, William. The Convention of Cintra. In The Prose Works of William Wordsworth, edited by W. J. Owen and Jane Worthington Smyser, 3 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984.Find this resource:

Notes:

(1) Betty T. Bennett, ed., British War Poetry in the Age of Romanticism: 1793–1815 (New York and London: Garland, 1976), ix.

(3) Philip Shaw, ed., Romantic Wars: Studies in Culture and Conflict, 1793–1822 (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2000), 1.

(4) Clive Emsley, British Society and the French Wars, 1793–1815 (Basingstoke and London: Macmillan, 1979), 4.

(5) Geoffrey Best, War and Society in Revolutionary Europe, 1770–1870 (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1998), 125; David Gates, “The Transformation of the Army, 1783–1815,” in The Oxford Illustrated History of the British Army, ed. David Chandler and Ian Beckett (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 133.

(7) Ian Christie, “Conservatism and Stability in British Society,” in The French Revolution and British Popular Politics, ed. Mark Philp (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 170.

(8) Gerald Jordan and Nicolas Rogers, “Admirals as Heroes: Patriotism and Liberty in Hanoverian England,” Journal of British Studies 28 (1989): 217n70.

(9) A. D. Harvey, English Literature and the Great War with France: An Anthology and Commentary (London: Nold Jonson Books, 1981).

(10) Jenny Uglow, In These Times: Living in Britain Through Napoleon’s Wars, 1793–1815 (London: Faber and Faber, 2014).

(11) David A. Bell, The First Total War: Napoleon and the Birth of Modern Warfare as We Know It (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2007).

(12) Quoted in Best, War and Society, 63.

(13) Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707–1837 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992).

(14) J. E. Cookson, The British Armed Nation, 1793–1815 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), 261.

(15) Carl Woodring, Politics in English Romantic Poetry (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970).

(16) Nicholas Roe, Wordsworth and Coleridge: The Radical Years (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988).

(17) M. H. Abrams, “English Romanticism: The Spirit of the Age,” in The Correspondent Breeze: Essays on English Romanticism (New York and London: W. W. Norton, 1984), 66. See also M. H. Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature (New York and London: W. W. Norton, 1973).

(18) Nicholas Roe, Wordsworth and Coleridge: The Radical Years (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), 275.

(19) Jerome McGann, The Romantic Ideology: A Critical Investigation (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1983), 12.

(20) Alan Liu, Wordsworth: The Sense of History (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1989).

(21) Mary A. Favret, “Coming Home: The Public Spaces of Romantic War,” Studies in Romanticism 33, no. 4 (Winter 1994): 539.

(23) Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985).

(25) Simon Bainbridge, Napoleon Bonaparte and English Romanticism (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 94.

(26) William Wordsworth, The Convention of Cintra, in The Prose Works of William Wordsworth, ed. W. J. Owen and Jane Worthington Smyser, 3 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), 1:261.

(28) An important early examination of romanticism as an inherently martial movement was Nancy L. Rosenblum, “Romantic Militarism,” Journal of the History of Ideas 43 (1982): 249–268.

(29) Gillian Russell, The Theatres of War: Performance, Politics, and Society 1793–1815 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), 3.

(33) Scott Hughes Myerly, British Military Spectacle: From the Napoleonic Wars through the Crimea (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996).

(34) Mark Rawlinson, “Invasion! Coleridge, the Defence of Britain and the Cultivation of the Public’s Fear,” in Shaw, Romantic Wars (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2000), 110–137.

(35) Stephen C. Behrendt, “‘A Few Harmless Numbers’: British Women Poets and the Climate of War, 1793–1815,” in Shaw, Romantic Wars (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2000), 13–36.

(36) Jacqueline M. Labbe, “The Exiled Self: Images of War in Charlotte Smith’s ‘The Emigrants’,” in Shaw, Romantic Wars (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2000), 37–56.

(37) Eric C. Walker, “Marriage and the End of War,” in Shaw, Romantic Wars (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2000), 208–226.

(38) Eric C. Walker, Marriage, Writing and Romanticism: Wordsworth and Austen after War (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009).

(39) Tim Fulford, “Sighing for a Soldier: Jane Austen and Military Pride and Prejudice,” Nineteenth-Century Literature 57, no. 2 (September 2002): 153–178, and “Romanticizing the Empire: The Naval heroes of Southey, Coleridge, Austen and Marryat,” Modern Language Quarterly 60, no. 2 (June 1999): 531–559.

(40) Diego Saglia, Poetic Castles in Spain: British Romanticism and the Figurations of Iberia (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2000).

(41) Richard Cronin, The Politics of Romantic Poetry: In Search of the Pure Commonwealth (Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 2000).

(42) Philip Shaw, Waterloo and the Romantic Imagination (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave, 2002).

(47) Simon Bainbridge, British Poetry and the Revolution Napoleonic Wars: Visions of Conflict (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).

(49) J. R. Watson, Romanticism and War: A Study of British Romantic Period Writers and the Napoleonic Wars (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), vii.

(53) In addition to the studies described above, see Evan Gottlieb, “Fighting Words: Representing the Napoleonic Wars in the Poetry of Hemans and Barbauld,” European Romantic Review 20, no. 3 (July 2009): 327–343.

(54) George H, Hahn, The Ocean Bards: British Poetry and the War at Sea, 1793–1815 (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2008).

(55) Geoff Quilley, “Duty and Mutiny: The Aesthetics of Loyalty and Representation of the British Sailor c. 1798–1800,” in Shaw, Romantic Wars, 80–109; Robert Fahrner, The Theatre Career of Charles Dibdin the Elder (1745–1814) (New York: Peter Lang, 1989).

(56) Mary Favret, “War Correspondence: Reading Romantic War,” Prose Studies 19, no. 2 (August 1996): 173–185; “War in the Air,” Modern Language Quarterly 65, no. 4 (December 2004): 531–559; “Everyday War,” ELH 72, no. 3 (Fall 2005): 605–633.

(62) Neil Ramsey, The Military Memoir and Romantic Literary Culture, 1780–1835 (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2011), 190.

(64) For a recent example, see David T. Gies, “‘Such Is Glorious War’: British Reflections on the Peninsular War in Spain (1808–1814),” Bulletin of Spanish Studies 91, nos. 9–10 (2014): 261–272.

(65) Philip Shaw, Suffering and Sentiment in Romantic Military Art (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2013), 4.

(68) Jeffrey N. Cox, Romanticism in the Shadow of War: Literary Culture in the Napoleonic War Years (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 1.

(73) For a recent study of the theatrical response to the war, see Susan Valladares, Staging the Peninsular War: English Theatres 1807–1815 (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2015).