Lost Voices

The other Romantics and the Romantic others

The Romantic period is extremely rich in literature of all kinds. Academic convention for the past 50 years has focused on the work of the six major poets (Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Byron, and Keats). These are indeed formidable figures and deserve their eminence. However, recent scholarship has revealed to us a host of neglected writers who often have different aims from those of the "visionary company."

Excellent editions and anthologies of women writers, for example, have restored a more balanced picture of the age. Recently, Anne Mellor has argued that women, around 1800, became the primary producers and consumers of writing in Britain and vitally participated in the public sphere. And John Brewer has shown what a central part women played in provincial societies (the lively Anna Seward in Lichfield, for example).

Other imbalances have been redressed. The lowly-born poets John Clare, Robert Bloomfield, and James Hogg now all have flourishing societies devoted to their work. Clare is a particularly interesting and problematical figure. A superb edition of the complete works was completed a few years ago, and the groundswell of appreciative readers is spearheaded by distinguished writers such as Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney. Yet many contemporary scholars virtually exclude Clare from serious consideration, a snobbery as reprehensible as the social condescension of Clare’s contemporaries.

This academic blind-spot is partly caused by a mistrust of "self-taught" writers, as if what one learned by oneself was not knowledge. Remember Jowett of Balliol:
                                          I am Benjamin Jowett
                                          Of Balliol College;
                                          What I don’t know
                                          Isn’t knowledge.

The self-taught writers, male and female, provide an entirely different perspective of this fascinating era. One could argue, indeed, that all poets worth their salt are self-taught, especially during the Romantic age.

Instead of pairing the Early Romantics and Late Romantics, the package would cover the Romantic Canon and the Romantic Others.