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Nova Scotia


This essay introduces the Romantic-period political reformer and polymath John Thelwall and takes stock of his rapid critical renaissance over the past decade. The announcement of a new archival find, a copy of a seventeenth-century play owned and annotated by Thelwall, serves to highlight the range of his interests and activities. Presenting Thelwall as a leading representative of “romantic sociability,” I situate him within wider social and intellectual networks than have hitherto been mapped, and I raise questions about the coherence and continuity of his diverse pursuits—literary, political, and scientific—that demand further attention. My brief overview of the essays collected here emphasizes how they address those questions, engaging with one another, with existing Thelwall scholarship, and with Romantic studies more generally. This introduction also sets forth the rationale for the volume as part of the larger project John Thelwall: Recovery and Reassessments (forthcoming) and explains why Romantic Circles is an especially appropriate venue for that project’s efforts to advance Thelwall studies by reconnecting text, voice, and image in the dynamic way for which Thelwall himself was renowned.
September 2011

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“A Son of John Thelwall”: Weymouth Birkbeck Thelwall’s Romantic Inheritance

This essay traces the meandering career of Weymouth Birkbeck Thelwall, the son of John Thelwall and his former pupil and second wife, the young and beautiful Henrietta Cecil Boyle. Born on the eve of reform and near the end of John Thelwall’s life, Weymouth followed in his father’s artistic, adventurous and amorous footsteps; creating his own peripatetic journey which led him eventually to a tragic and isolated death in colonial Nyasaland. His life narrative graphically illustrates how the Romantic idealism espoused by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century radicals; the reforms in education, and the civil and religious liberties which they campaigned for had unlooked for consequences, culminating in the late Victorian grab for Africa figured in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. In Weymouth Thelwall we have a true “son of John Thelwall” and a strangely prophetic model of Mr. Kurz: citizen, artist, journalist and romantic idealist—with an eye to the main chance and a defiant propensity to take one too many risks.
September 2011

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Introduction - Once Only Imagined