Teaching Global Romanticisms: Romanticism and the Logic of Culture

This paper describes a course that covers the Romantic period of European and American literature as the moment and site of the modern invention and institution of “culture”—both as an object of study and as a historical and ethical basis for the establishment of self and society. During a 15-week semester, the students and I read, in English, aesthetic treatises by Blair, Herder, and Schiller, poetry by Macpherson and Byron, and novels by Rousseau, Goethe, Staël, and Cooper. These texts are supplemented by theoretical work on the logic of culture in the modern era and the condition of the modern university. Our primary concerns are to enjoy the rich complexities of these literary projects, to understand their role in establishing culture as a new model of authority and identity, and to perceive the centrality of Romanticism in shaping current cultural paradigms and dilemmas.

Teaching Global Romanticisms: Romanticism and the Logic of Culture

1.        This paper describes a course that covers the Romantic period of European and American literature as the moment and site of the modern invention and institution of “culture”—both as an object of study and as a historical and ethical basis for the establishment of self and society. I last taught the course in 2012, and so this paper is something of a retrospective account. I maintain the present tense in my description, however, because this report has inspired me to take up the course again in the near future. It has also alerted me to the need to update its approaches to reflect the fine work in global Romanticism published in the interval and to reconsider how instructional approaches to Romanticism’s “logic of culture” might intersect with accounts of its “global imaginary.” This is a pedagogical report, not a scholarly intervention, and so I will simply acknowledge the compelling recent work of Samuel Baker, Evan Gottlieb, James Mulholland, Juliet Shields, Julie Carr, and Jeffrey Robinson among others whose varied meditations on the interplay between Romantic forms and mobile networks of global trade, communication, and empire must now inform any sustained reading of the authors I cover in this course. It is a confirmation of many of their varied but complementary models of Romanticism that a course focused primarily on the question of culture turns repeatedly in its concerns to the question of the global.

2.        During a 15-week semester, the students and I read, in English, aesthetic treatises by Blair, Herder, and Schiller, poetry by Macpherson and Byron, and novels by Rousseau, Goethe, Staël, and Cooper. These texts are supplemented by theoretical work on the logic of culture in the modern era and the condition of the modern university. Our primary concerns are to enjoy the rich complexities of these literary projects, to understand their role in establishing culture as a new model of authority and identity, and to perceive the centrality of Romanticism in shaping current cultural paradigms and dilemmas.

3.        Both the title of my course and our initial historical and theoretical parameters are taken from William Ray’s The Logic of Culture: Authority and Identity in the Modern Age, a rich and suggestive meditation on culture that draws upon the sociological models of Pierre Bourdieu and Jürgen Habermas with nods back to Matthew Arnold, Norbert Elias, F. R. Leavis, and Raymond Williams, and which contains extended engagements with Rousseau, Herder, Kant, and Schiller. Ray’s work is exceptionally productive in the advanced undergraduate classroom not only for his lucid prose and clear explications of social and aesthetic theories, but for the remarkably capacious extent of his argument. In just under 200 pages, Ray offers a) a theoretical model of culture and identity formation in the modern era; b) an intellectual history of European Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment critique; c) a survey of social and literary “institutions” (the museum, the novel) that are both determined by and determinative of cultural logic; and d) a telling and provocative consideration of recent debates over globalization and multiculturalism. Even limiting ourselves to his introduction and first chapter on the roots of cultural logic, paired with Raymond Williams’s treatment of the term culture in Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society and the entry from the OED, we are able to begin interrogating an idea most students simply take for granted.

4.        I pair these theoretical writings with the opening passages from two primary texts (of sorts) which lay bare the modern ideology of culture, David Finn’s How to Visit a Museum and John Sutherland’s How to Read a Novel: A User’s Guide. Each of these works offer accessible case studies in how regulatory norms are prescribed through idealizations of subjective responses under the aegis of culture. Finn promotes the cultural management of freedom most succinctly in his opening lines by telling his readers that “there is no right or wrong way to visit a museum. The most important rule you should keep in mind as you go through the front door is to follow your own instincts” (10). Sutherland offers an equally normative valorization of acculturated subjectivity through Tolstoy’s depiction of Anna Karenina’s “sublimely languorous” immersion in a Trollope novel on a train from Moscow to St. Petersburg (3). Both Finn and Sutherland insist on the individuality of aesthetic response in contrast to a perceived surfeit of objects and texts in the modern world, constructing aesthetic pleasure as a marker of human intelligence, a badge of honor for the cultured visitor/reader, a skill to be mastered, and a mechanism of social improvement. Through a humorous deconstruction of the rhetoric of these writings, students apprehend how culture and its institutions instantiate a dialectic between autonomy and law, identity and custom, which marks a paradoxical yet productive model of authority in the modern age. [1] 

5.        The class is thus prepared for Schiller’s On the Aesthetic Education of Man, which I suggest might just as well be entitled How to Have an Aesthetic Experience . . . and Why. After the unwitting examples of Finn and Sutherland, students can perceive in Schiller’s more demanding prose how the antinomies of law and nature opened up by the political and philosophical revolutions of the eighteenth century mandated new programs for cultural education. Alongside passages from the Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (Appendix A), we attend to what Schiller calls “the building up of true political freedom [as] the most perfect of all works of art” (25). By emphasizing the social, political, and hence moral motives for Schiller’s valorization of aesthetic culture, I help students to see his proliferating sequence of dichotomies (sense and form, feeling and reason, savagery and barbarism, etc.) as both epistemological and historical categories leading towards the mediating and transformative experiences of beauty, freedom, and culture. It is the aesthetic state alone for Schiller which “carries out the will of the whole through the nature of the individual,” and thus confers a “social character” upon humanity: “Taste alone brings harmony into society, because it establishes harmony in the individual” (137–38).

6.        These formulations are echoed by any number of Schiller’s contemporaries, of course, and a glance at brief quotations from Schlegel, Hölderlin, Shelley, and Keats allows students to appreciate Schiller’s letters as articulations of a dominant strain of Romantic thought (Appendix A). Helen Maria Williams’s oft reprinted celebration of the Fête de la Fédération from her Letters Written in France makes clear the ideological dimensions of this program: “Half a million of people assembled at a spectacle, which furnished every image that can elevate the mind of man; which connected the enthusiasm of moral sentiment with the solemn pomp of religious ceremonies; which addressed itself at once to the imagination, the understanding, and the heart!” (64–65). [2] 

7.        This project is Kantian to the core, as Schiller freely announces, but he opens his work with an epigraph from Rousseau’s Julie (“Si c’est la raison qui fait l’homme, c’est le sentiment qui le conduit” [“if it is reason that makes man, it is sentiment that guides him”]), and it is to that crucial novel of European Romanticism, in the excellent and affordable edition from Dartmouth University Press (translated and edited by Philip Stewart and Jean Vaché) that we next turn. Despite, or perhaps because of the increasingly surreal lunacy of Rousseau’s project, undergraduates thoroughly enjoy this novel’s odd and disorienting conflation of irony and sincerity, while its epistolary form appeals to a generation brought up on texting and instant messaging. Nicholas Paige has outlined an “aesthetics of renunciation” in Rousseau’s novel and its contemporary reception that reveals important affinities between the bifurcated reading experience of the sentimental novel and the modern logic of culture (Paige 131–54), and Ray himself argues that Rousseau seeks to instill in his readers a conscious division of acculturated reflections (Logic of Culture 84–94; Story and History 240–69). I likewise aim to underscore with my students how the novel solicits and regulates naturalized responses under the twin standards of freedom and law.

8.        Rousseau repeatedly valorizes authentic sentiments, honest communication, and virtuous self-regard, even as he emphasizes the necessity of education and cultivation to join such characteristics to moral duty. In its twin prefaces (which might be entitled How to Read a Novel . . . If You Must) and its bizarre annotations (my favorite being his recommendation of fera, requested by Julie on her deathbed, as “an excellent fish particular to Lake Geneva, found only at certain times” [599]), the novel repudiates the received authority of cultural norms and expresses a conviction in the existence of natural values, even as it suggests that such values are insufficient without moral guidance and are, in any case, no longer available to the readers of this work. Rousseau’s prefatory fantasy of a virtuous farm couple reading his novel after their daily chores is counterbalanced by his satirical aside that it is only in “depraved ages” that people enjoy reading nostalgically about virtue (19).

9.        As the class encounters the rebellious romance and the methodical submission of Julie and St. Preux, the imaginative origins of Schiller’s aesthetic education become clear. In the movement of the two lovers from passion to duty, we encounter the proliferating dialectics of contingent desire and autonomous law, all mediated by love and portrayed as a poetics of virtue. Neither Julie’s rational submission to faith nor St. Preux’s flirtation with suicidal despair, which follow their failed affair and conclude the first half of the novel, suffice for the building of a moral society. Instead, it is in the utopia of Clarens under Monsieur de Wolmar’s direction, delineated throughout the novel’s second half, in which “innocence and peace” are programmatically produced through “the confidence of beautiful souls” (342, 346). In the domestic economy of Clarens, Wolmar and Julie represent the twin authorities of law and beauty, producing through custom and sentiment a pure morality which “follows and corrects” nature and a pure subordination which becomes the expression of individual will (375). The seduction and the horror of this totalitarian vision are perceptible within a twenty-first-century classroom, and the construction of absolute authority as the union of custom and nature allows students to apprehend both the dream and the nightmare of the Romantic project.

10.        Understanding Rousseau’s novel as both a representation and an enactment of moral sentiments to provide a new basis of reflexive cultural communion helps students perceive the relation of the novel genre more broadly as an institution of culture, aiding in “the transition from the state of nature to the civil state” theorized by Rousseau in The Social Contract as a substitution of justice for instinct and celebrated by Schiller as “[carrying] out the will of the whole through the nature of the individual” (Appendix A). Hence they are well prepared to appreciate the dialogue between ancient poetry and modern taste staged in the pages of Macpherson’s Poems of Ossian. As we read selections from the Fragments of Ancient Poetry, Fingal, and Temora, which Macpherson composed, compiled, and heavily annotated, alongside critical treatises by Blair and Herder, Staël and Chateaubriand, we encounter an archetypal instance of the invention of tradition within explicitly nationalized contexts.

11.        Published in over 40 discrete English editions from 1760 through 1830, and translated during this same time into French, Dutch, German, Swedish, Finnish, Italian, Russian, Danish, Hungarian, Spanish, Polish, Czech, Latin, and Classical Greek, the Poems of Ossian form arguably the single most influential work of British poetry of the Romantic era (Gaskill). Yet, to my knowledge, these works are rarely taught and occupy only a marginal position, if they are included at all, in the standard anthologies of Romantic verse (Moore). Their reputation as forgeries certainly contribute to this neglect, as does the absence of any affordable edition for use in the classroom. Neither Howard Gaskill’s excellent but prohibitively priced University of Edinburgh edition nor the cheaper but less reliable nineteenth-century reprint from Dover Press provide a complete sense of the dynamic interface between poetry and annotation that Macpherson constructed in the early editions of his works. Some universities and colleges will have these editions in their special collections, and they are also available through ECCO for those with institutional subscriptions. The Ossian Online project at the University of Galway, edited by Rebecca Barr and Justin Tonra, now offers a compelling and open access resource that reproduces the combination of translation, ethnography, and comparative literature at work in the pages of Macpherson’s texts (see Fingal in Appendix A).

12.        What the students are able to perceive materially in the pages of these editions is the invention of culture as a dialogue between tradition and innovation, heritage and taste. Fiona Stafford argues that “Macpherson’s ‘translations’ involved acts of interpretation not only between Gaelic and English, but also between the oral culture of the depressed rural communities of the Scottish Highlands and the prosperous urban centers of Lowland Scotland, where the printed word was increasingly dominant,” and that therefore we should view his project as neither naïve nor deceptive but as “a sophisticated attempt to mediate between two apparently irreconcilable cultures” (viii). Whether or not they are willing to grant Macpherson this degree of latitude, students are able to witness the efficient transfer of cultural authority from the oral traditions Macpherson evokes to the aesthetic tastes of a modern print culture, which he paradoxically repudiates as degraded from the martial and sentimental purity of the ancient Gaels. The poems themselves thematize this anxiety of cultural transmission throughout, obsessed as they are with proleptic self-eulogy, poetic lament, and a general atmosphere of loss in which the value of any deed is only realized in the affective response of belated reflection. Akin to Julie and St. Preux’s tour to the locations of their former romance, the result is a highly reflexive bardic history which, in concert with the extensive annotations that occupy equal space in Macpherson’s pages, is more about its own reception as aesthetic tableau and archaeological record than about the deeds of its warriors.

13.        Hugh Blair’s "Critical Dissertation on the Poems of Ossian," which was included in all later editions of the work, offers an extended argument for the mutual implication of historical inquiry and aesthetic response as complementary modes of cultural evaluation. Reading his dissertation, the class is able to explore the general contours of conjectural history, the valorization of poetry as moral imagination, and the celebration of the melancholic sublime (Ossian’s “joys of grief”) as superior to the beauties of classical antiquity—arguably the three primary ingredients of Romanticism as a self-conscious literary style. We turn from Blair to selections from Herder, who celebrates Ossian as an authentic voice of oral folk tradition and the vitality of primitive cultures. Mme de Staël comparably valorizes Ossian as the origin of a northern Romanticism in contest with a southern classicism, while François-René de Chateaubriand critiques her convictions by reasserting the necessity of Christianity and advanced society for the cultivation of beautiful morality. Chateaubriand views the sentimental effusions of Ossian’s warriors as evidence of their historical inaccuracy and makes Macpherson’s poetry a locus for his battle with atheistic philosophy and doctrines of perfectibility. Reading through these examples of Ossian’s critical reception enables students to perceive the tension between aestheticism and historicism in Romantic discourse (Leerssen), as well as the political and cultural agendas served by various positions (Appendix A).

14.        Of all the documents of Ossian’s reception, it is Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther which had the greatest influence on European letters, and, indeed, helped to promote Macpherson’s work to a wider audience. Goethe’s novella replays both Rousseau’s sentimental education and Macpherson’s cultural archaeology in a tragic mode, presenting a paradigmatic instance of the Romantic turn towards interiority and despondency as a staged response to the tensions of social transformation. Like Rousseau, Goethe presents his fiction as an edited sequence of letters valuable as testimonials of sincerity and objects of sympathy. Werther is, in many ways, another St. Preux, skeptical of cultural mores and seeking beauty as an amelioration to a degenerate society. Such beauty is to be found in the natural world, in literature (especially Klopstock and Ossian), and, of course, in Lotte. The conclusion, in which the melancholic antihero extensively recites the Ossianic “Songs of Selma” to his idealized object of desire, stands as one of the almost literally seminal moments of European Romanticism. As both a last attempt at sexual consummation and a retrospective farewell to his beloved, Werther’s recitation, encompassing a disproportionate one-fifteenth of the entire narrative, deploys the sequential lamentations of Macpherson’s bardic performances towards a sentimental expression of heartsick regret (Lamport).

15.        Goethe famously disavowed this early melodramatic fantasia as a product of youthful self-indulgence and the morbid temperament of his generation, but the novella itself, along with Goethe’s later reflections, nicely included in the Signet Classics edition (translated by Catherine Hutter), enables the class to perceive the Romantic affinities between melancholic confession and cultural ennui. The significance of the work, Goethe argues, emerges precisely out of the social and historical disparities revealed between the heroic cadences of Ossianic lament and the performatively self-indulgent letters of a lovesick hero: “Defunct heroes and wan maidens hovered around us until, in the end, we really thought we could see the terrible shape of the spirit of Loda. In such an atmosphere, with fancies and studies of this nature, tortured by unsatisfied passion, with no external inspiration to do anything really important, our only prospect to succumb, in the end, to a dreary, uncultured, bourgeois existence—we began to think kindly of departing this life ” (146). Werther’s Ossianic recitation is at once an elegiac identification with a supposedly anterior poetry, itself a performance of elegy as a cultural rite, and an ironic revelation of the gulf separating the ideals informing his love for Lotte and the social realities that prevent its consummation.

16.        With this range of cultural and psychological maneuvers in mind, we approach two of the most paradigmatic literary works of the Napoleonic era, Mme de Staël’s novel Corinne, or Italy and Lord Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. Both share multiple generic affinities with Schiller’s aesthetic treatise, Rousseau’s sentimental novel, Macpherson’s bardic ethnography, and Goethe’s melancholic parable, all framed within travel narratives in which the conflicts between duty and sensibility are played out through a topography of historical rupture and cultural alienation.

17.        The entire plot of Corinne can be read as a prolonged crisis of the absence of paternal authority contemporaneous with the French Revolution, an absence restored through the fraught logic of national culture. Oswald’s early residence in revolutionary France coincides with his father’s demise, a father whom he mourns to the brink of self-destruction, yet who himself was ambivalent about exercising his authority in deference to “the purity of affection, which depends on what is most free and involuntary in our nature” (214). His eventual return to Scotland marks a necessary submission to public and domestic dignity and hence a substitution of paternal authority by national spirit, “the prejudices, if you like, which unite us and our nation” as his father writes from beyond the grave: “we are a group, a community, which is free but indissoluble, and can perish only with the last one of us” (335). Between this liberation in France from the unexercised law of the father and the willful submission in Scotland to national duty, Oswald encounters Corinne and Italy through a cult of genius that is simultaneously a cult of the nation. Corinne distills the best of Italian climate, arts, and history while she surmounts the failings to which those very factors have condemned her people. In gazing upon her, both natives and foreigners perceive an idealized image of poetic self-determination even as they recognize the social and political contingencies that make such self-determination impossible. Corinne is not Italy, as the secret of her birth finally reveals and as the title of the novel, with its impossible imperative to choose between the individual and the nation, makes clear; but she does personify the tension between identity and authority with which Oswald must contend.

18.        The novel itself involves its readers in an analogous contention between nation and selfhood. Staël’s narrative rhetoric insists upon a normative perspective for the appreciation of landscape, the fine arts, and general scenes of cultural life, suggesting a universal aesthetic position by which culture may be apprehended and critiqued. Whether it is the picturesque beauty of Ancona or the sublime terror of Vesuvius, the sailors in the Adriatic or the citizens of Naples, the ruins of Rome or the buildings and galleries of Bologna, Italian culture is offered as a sequence of visual tableaux not only for the perceptions of the individual characters, whose responses inevitably serve to signify their national dispositions, but for an idealized reader whose sympathetic assent to a cosmopolitan taste is presupposed and thereby reaffirmed. Staël positions the reader as a cultivated and autonomous mind free of the confines of national customs and habits, though she repeatedly insists not only on the necessity of the conclusions they derive but also on the collective understandings and beliefs that shape all individuals, common and refined alike. We are repeatedly lectured on the aesthetic sensibilities of the Italians, the rational predilections of the Scots, and the careless sociability of the French through a narrative logic that explicitly conjoins character to national customs and those customs in turn to climate, religion, politics, and history as well as the individual endeavors of poets and artists—the very characters whose impulses allegedly are being explained.

19.        Explaining himself to Corinne by the tombs of Rome, Oswald speaks in the first-person plural as an emissary from the North: “We probably want sadness to surround death . . . and even before Christianity enlightened us, our ancient mythology, our Ossian, places only regrets and funeral chants beside the grave” (62–63). Later, as Corinne sings and plays Scottish laments besides George Wallis’s painting from Ossian’s Temora of Connal asleep on his father’s tomb, which she hangs in her private gallery as evidence of her own cultural patrimony, Oswald is overcome and begs her to “follow me to those retreats peopled by my memories” (162). Oswald and Lucille’s daughter Juliet assumes the same pose at the end of the novel, having learned the melody from Corinne at the cost of great suffering. This line of Ossianic references converts the bardic song from an already invented tradition of Scottish nationalism to a symptom of national character, a marker of aesthetic response, and an expression of personal sorrow, and in all cases a signifier of the tension between submission to cultural inheritance and assertion of individual desire.

20.        By the time we turn to Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, students are getting used to the contours of the Romantic wanderer. St. Preux, Werther, Oswald, Harold—all appear variations of a single character. Alienated from the cultural mores of his own society, each takes at least temporary refuge in the road, traveling for distraction while acquiring a storehouse of social tableaux and natural vistas against which to formulate his own moral identity. That such journeys of discovery never fulfill their stated goals of liberation, but instead drive these figures either back to the comforts of duty and obligation or into a spiral of self-destruction, also seems to be a basic premise of the Romantic pilgrimage. Byron’s genius is not to concern himself with conclusions, but to use the template of cultural alienation as the medium for a range of aesthetic and historical reflections which exceed the limits of convention. As he notes, “a fictitious character is introduced for the sake of giving some connexion to the piece” (19), but this ironic device helps reveal Romantic character as primarily a conduit for binding sociological and historical reflection under the sign of culture.

21.        Reading Childe Harold as a fusion of travelogue and memoir, the class perceives how culture becomes yet again an object of contemplation and a vehicle of self-realization, with aesthetic meditation serving as a mode of political as well as historical commentary. Like Staël, whom he eulogizes in the fourth canto, Byron constructs poetic pilgrimage both as a response to the continental turmoil of the Napoleonic wars and as an alternative cosmopolitanism at once skeptical and sympathetic. Students are generally unfamiliar with the multitude of locations surveyed in Byron’s work, as well as the many political treaties, military battles, and other topical references, and, more than in any of the other works in this course, such references can place a barrier towards appreciation, particularly in the first two cantos. But they also underscore, in the form of Byron’s own copious annotations, how everything from ancient ruins to current events can be united within the imperatives of Romantic culture to replace content with judgment.

22.        The poem’s later set pieces of natural beauty in the third canto take us once again back to Vevey and Rousseauvian epiphanies, and I match Byron’s evocation of the Alps alongside not only the relevant passages from Julie and the Confessions, noted by Byron himself, but the renderings of the solitary sublime in Werther (“From the forbidding mountain range, across the barren plain untrodden by the foot of man, to the ends of the unknown seas, the spirit of the Eternal Creator can be felt rejoicing over every grain of dust that comprehends Him and lives!” [64]) and Ossian (“When the storms of the mountain come; when the north lifts the waves on high; I sit by the sounding shore, and look on the fatal rock. Often by the setting moon I see the ghosts of my children” [170]). Schiller once again helps us here, specifically his reflection in "Naïve and Sentimental Poetry" on the experience of loss so constitutive of the modern: “Our feeling for nature is like the sick person’s feeling for health” (195). Yet the fourth canto returns us to the aesthetic ideal in its celebration of “the beings of the mind” (4.5.37) amidst the “marble wilderness” (4.79.710) of Rome. We spend a day looking at the masterpieces of antiquity alongside Byron’s meditations and find ourselves back in the world of David Finn’s How to Visit a Museum, only with a far more eloquent and skeptical guide (Siegel).

23.        The course could end here, the students having read and considered some of the most popular, influential, and archetypal literary expressions of European Romanticism. But I find it particularly instructive in an American classroom to jump the Atlantic and read James Fenimore Cooper’s first Leatherstocking Tale, The Pioneers, for its rendering of nature and character in perpetual transformation—the cultural ethos of the new American nation. Borrowing thematically and stylistically from Scott, whose novels would work equally well within the paradigms of this course, Cooper presents culture as a state of constant change. Culture marks the transition from wilderness to civilization, from the Native to the European, but also from the colonies to the states, the early settlements to the established cities. As with Staël and Byron, indeed as with Rousseau, Macpherson, and Goethe, Cooper marks his own narrative perspective on events as essential, here severed irretrievably from the America of his youth and a natural world that is itself subject to radical alteration.

24.        Throughout the novel, we as readers are made aware of our role in judging the various characters and their actions in relation to cultural and historical contingencies. Natty Bumpo and Indian John offer us highly mediated echoes of older ways of life and stand, like Ossianic heroes, as elegiac markers of historical change, figures for stages in a developmental history of the modern nation who must give way to the laws of Judge Temple, even as their rightful claims to the land are repeatedly recognized in the language of the narrative (Hayne). Also akin to Macpherson’s project—and those of Rousseau, Goethe, Staël, and Byron—Cooper’s extensive use of footnotes alerts his readers to their own mediated relationship to a cultural (and, in Cooper’s case, ecological) past, one to which they are indebted for the cultivation of the new world even as their reflective reading experience attests to the necessity of its eradication. Even in the optimistic setting of Cooper’s pioneer town, the culture of modernity assumes a constitutively elegiac mode: “This was the last that they ever saw of the Leather-stocking,” the novel ends, “whose rapid movements preceded the pursuit which Judge Temple both ordered and conducted. He had gone far towards the setting sun,—the foremost in that band of Pioneers, who are opening the way for the march of the nation across the continent” (456). Such a conclusion fulfills the transfer of cultural authority to the modern reader. The Romantic logic of Cooper’s novel—like every one of the works covered in this course—replaces tradition with judgment, offering its readers an aesthetic education by which nature and law are reconciled and sublated in the free play of art. As Byron notes at the conclusion of Childe Harold, “Farewell! with him alone may rest the pain / If such there were—with you, the moral of his strain!” (4.186.1673–74).

25.        This model of cultural identity informs most facets of our modern society, and while tracing its roots may be enlightening, it is also worth considering its demise under the pressures of globalization. By way of a coda, then, I turn with the students to Bill Readings’s The University in Ruins, a critique of the culture wars in the modern university that extends the narrative of this course through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and suggests our current relation to the breakdown of national culture. Readings begins his history where Ray leaves off, moving from Schiller’s promotion of aesthetic culture through the German Idealists, the celebration of bildung, and the Anglo-American promotion of the university as the site for the cultivation of the liberal arts within overtly national frameworks. With glances at the writings of Matthew Arnold, Cardinal Newman, F. R. Leavis, and Allan Bloom, the class is able to perceive the resiliency of the models of culture we have been tracing throughout the term. But in equally compelling glances at a variety of statements on culture taken from our university’s promotional literature (and duplicated, no doubt, at any current institution of higher learning), we are able to witness the evacuation of culture as a site of meaning under pressure from the corporate discourse of excellence which Readings so brilliantly critiques. Arguing that the logic of culture is inextricable from the rise and fall of the nation-state and the modern university, Readings helps situate the practice as well as the subject of the class within historical and institutional parameters.

26.        What are the advantages of this approach to the teaching of Romanticism over some of the more exclusively British models in which many of us have been trained and which this selection of essays aims to widen if not critique? Besides the very real problem of literary provincialism, a problem only partially and imperfectly addressed by the inclusion of French, German, and American works, I would argue that the sampling of Romantic literature I offer my students is more representative of the historical phenomenon itself, emphasizing as it does works whose influence spread throughout Europe and the wider world far more so than the writings of many other poets, essayists, and novelists typically included in anthologies of Romantic literature. From a European perspective, it is Rousseau, Goethe, and Byron who constitute fountainheads of Romantic expression. It is Schiller and Staël who articulate through literary and critical works the profound traumas of the revolution, and it is Ossian who offers a new aesthetic for poets, a tradition of “ethnopoetics” whose relation to the equally vibrant experimental strain of nineteenth-century poetries can be traced wonderfully through the use of Jerome Rothenberg and Jeffrey C. Robinson’s Poems for the Millennium, Volume Three: The University of California Book of Romantic and Postromantic Poetry. Furthermore, by exploring Romanticism as imbricated within a modern logic of culture, students can appreciate it as an influential response to social and intellectual transformations still unfolding in the present day. Hard choices of selection are always necessary. What I have tried to outline in this essay is a combination of texts and approaches that I have found to work well in the advanced undergraduate classroom. They offer students a compelling survey of European Romanticism while offering instructors a provocative challenge to reimagine this exciting moment in literary history.

Works Cited

Baker, Samuel. Written on the Water: British Romanticism and the Maritime Empire of Culture. U of Virginia P, 2010.

Barr, Rebecca, and Justin Tonra, editors. Ossian Online, ossianonline.org. Accessed 11 June 2018.

Byron, George Gordon, Lord. The Major Works, edited by Jerome J. McGann, Oxford UP, 2000.

Carr, Julie and Jeffrey C. Robinson, editors. Active Romanticism: The Radical Impulse in Nineteenth-Century and Contemporary Poetic Practice. U of Alabama P, 2015.

Chateaubriand, François-René de. "Letter to M. de Fontanes upon Madame de Stael-Holstein’s System of Morals." Essays on Various Subjects in Literature and Morals, vol. 2, London, 1815, pp. 3–42.

Cooper, James Fenimore. The Pioneers. Penguin, 1988.

Finn, David. How to Visit a Museum. Henry N. Abrams, 1985.

Gaskill, Howard, editor. The Reception of Ossian in Europe. Thoemmes Continuum, 2004.

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. The Sorrows of Young Werther and Selected Writings. Translated by Catherine Hutter, Signet, 2005.

Gottlieb, Evan. Romantic Globalism: British Literature and Modern World Order 1750–1830. Ohio State UP, 2014.

Gottlieb, Evan, editor. Global Romanticism: Origins, Orientations, and Engagements, 1760–1820. Bucknell UP, 2015.

Hayne, Barrie. "‘Ossian’, Scott and Cooper’s Indians." Journal of American Studies, vol. 3, no. 1, 1969, pp. 73–87.

Herder, Johann Gottfried. "Extract from a Correspondence on Ossian and the Songs of Ancient Peoples." German Aesthetic and Literary Criticism: Winckelmann, Lessing, Hamann, Herder, Schiller and Goethe, edited by H. B. Nisbet, Cambridge UP, 1985, pp. 153–61.

Howarth, Peter. "Creative Writing and Schiller’s Aesthetic Education." The Journal of Aesthetic Education, vol. 41, no. 3, 2007, pp. 41–58.

Lamport, F. J. "Goethe, Ossian and Werther." From Gaelic to Romantic: Ossianic Translations, edited by Fiona Stafford and Howard Gaskill, Rodopi, 1998, 97–106.

Leerssen, Joep. "Ossian and the Rise of Literary Historicism." The Reception of Ossian in Europe, edited by Howard Gaskill, Continuum, 2004, pp. 109–25.

Macpherson, James. The Poems of Ossian, edited by Howard Gaskill, Edinburgh UP, 1996.

Moore, Dafydd R. "The Critical Response to Ossian’s Romantic Bequest." English Romanticism and the Celtic World, edited by Gerard Carruthers and Alan Rawes, Cambridge UP, 2003, pp. 38–53.

Mulholland, James. Sounding Imperial: Poetic Voice and the Politics of Empire. Johns Hopkins UP, 2013.

Paige, Nicholas. "Rousseau’s Readers Revisited: The Aesthetics of La Nouvelle Héloïse." Eighteenth-Century Studies, vol. 42, no. 1, 2008, pp. 131–54.

Preziosi, Donald. "Brain of the Earth’s Body: Museums and the Framing of Modernity." The Rhetoric of the Frame: Essays on the Boundaries of the Artwork, edited by Paul Duro, Cambridge UP, 1996, pp. 96–110.

Ray, William. The Logic of Culture: Authority and Identity in the Modern Era. Blackwell, 2001.

———. Story and History: Narrative Authority and Social Identity in the Eighteenth-Century French and English Novel. Blackwell, 1991.

Readings, Bill. The University in Ruins. Harvard UP, 1996.

Rothenberg, Jerome, and Jeffrey C. Robinson, editors. Poems for the Millenium, Volume Three: The University of California Book of Romantic and Postromantic Poetry. U of California P, 2009.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Julie, or the New Heloise. Translated by Philip Stewart and Jean Vaché, UP of New England, 1997.

———. The Social Contract and Other Later Philosophical Writings, edited by Victor Gourevitch, Cambridge UP, 1997.

Schiller, Friedrich. On the Aesthetic Education of Man. Translated by Reginald Snell, Dover, 2004.

———. "On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry." Essays, edited by Walter Hinderer and Daniel O. Dahlstrom, Continuum, 1993, pp. 179–260.

Shields, Juliet. Nation and Migration: The Making of British Atlantic Literature, 1765–1835. Oxford UP, 2016.

Siegel, Jonah. Haunted Museum: Longing, Travel, and the Art-Romance Tradition. Princeton UP, 2005.

Sommer, Doris. "Schiller and Company, or How Habermas Incites Us to Play." New Literary History, vol. 40, no. 1, 2009, pp. 85–103.

Staël, Madame de. Corinne, or Italy. Translated by Sylvia Raphael, Oxford UP, 1998.

———. On Politics, Literature and National Character. Translated and edited by Morroe Berger, Doubleday, 1964.

Stafford, Fiona. Introduction. The Poems of Ossian and Related Works, edited by Howard Gaskill, Edinburgh UP, 1996.

Sutherland, John. How to Read a Novel: A User’s Guide. Profile, 2006.

Williams, Helen Maria. Letters Written in France, edited by Neil Fraistat and Susan S. Lanser, Broadview, 2001.

Williams, Raymond. Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, Oxford UP, 1976.


[1]Donald Preziosi performs a masterful critique of Finn’s rhetoric in "Brain of the Earth’s Body: Museums and the Framing of Modernity." BACK

[2]Two articles on Schiller which are both accessible to the advanced undergraduate and provocative meditations on his relevance in contemporary education and critique are Peter Howarth’s "Creative Writing and Schiller’s Aesthetic Education" and Doris Sommer’s "Schiller and Company, or How Habermas Incites Us to Play." BACK


JSON What's this?
As you're browsing RC, you might see small buttons scattered on various pages. These buttons let you download that page's content in a ready-to-use data file! Learn more on our RC Data page.