Surprised by joy—impatient as the WindI turned to share the transport—Oh! with whom—William Wordsworth, "Surprised by Joy"
Can I see a falling tear,And not feel my sorrows share—William Blake, "On Anothers Sorrow"
but, Britain, know,Thou who hast shared the guilt must share the woe.—Anna Barbauld, "Eighteen Hundred and Eleven
1. The quotations above from Wordsworth, Blake, and Barbauld offer three different takes on the sharedness of feeling: the surprise of joy and of the disappointment that there is no one with whom to share it; the presumed inevitability of sharing someone else’s sorrow just from the sight of their tears; and the warning that belonging to a nation means partaking of its guilt and pain. As distinct as these passages are, Wordsworth’s question “Oh! with whom” could be asked in all three poems. The fellow-feeling that Blake may seem to be describing as natural was neither inevitable nor guaranteed to all persons, and as Steven Goldsmith has suggested, we might read the rhetorical questions in "On Anothers Sorrow" literally to reveal Blake’s despair about a hypocritical or calculated kind of sympathy and sentimentalism (191). What is more, James Chandler’s account of the economic language at work in Blake’s poetics of feeling suggests that “share” as a noun here recalls an affective economy in which emotion is not only calculable but also complicit: “Pity would be no more, / If we did not make somebody poor” (27). Barbauld’s lines too might, at first glance, seem certain about who is sharing feeling, but in addressing the British public, she imagines a dispersed, communal guilt and woe that belongs to everyone and no one at once.
2. In this special issue  , we have assembled a collection of essays that take a closer look at how collective feeling—or “feeling together,” as Nancy Yousef puts it in her “Afterword”—takes poetic form in Romantic writing. How is a particular collective, a “public,” congealed or construed through the stances and textures of imaginative writing? And why should we specify that feeling is “public” at all, if (as we believe) all feeling is relational? The individualization or privatization of feeling, like the desire for its calculability, is a kind of open question for Romantic-era writers. “Publics are queer creatures,” writes Michael Warner: “You cannot point to them, count them, or look them in the eye. You also cannot easily avoid them. They have become an almost natural feature of the social landscape, like pavement” (7). The apparently simple fact of sharing feeling, then—with another person or with an entire nation—subjects both the feeling and the feeler to a shaky dispersion; where does feeling end if it is public? Turning to share feeling’s transport and finding the question “Oh! with whom,” might capture, in one way, the questions of public feeling that the essays in this collection seek to address. With whom is feeling shared, as it becomes evident that it exceeds the individual? Perhaps we should ask, then, not how feelings become public, but how feelings create publics, or how publics already vibrate with feeling. What does it feel like to be (or not to be) attached to a country or community, to have (or not to have) membership or citizenship, in ways that one can neither contain nor control?
3. This volume turns to Romanticism, as a historical and a literary formation, to consider how public feelings operate and circulate through the language of poetry. How does poetry mediate the politics and sociality of feeling? How can poetry register not just the solitary, recollected overflow of powerful feeling, but also a communal, complicit, or contagious one? Along with our contributors, we would like to pose the question here: how are feelings implicated in and around poetry—and how does poetry interfere in, perpetuate, or rearticulate feelings circulated in zones of sociality loosely denoted as public? Intervening variously in poetics, affect theory, and critical social theory, the contributors to this volume examine literary scenes in order to assert that feeling is part of a structured world—in other words, that public feeling is what builds and unravels the conflicted experience of collective life.
4. We have gathered this selection of essays in order to bring together in new configurations the study of poetics, affect, and politics for the field of Romanticism. In response to Lauren Berlant’s suggestion that “public spheres are affect worlds at least as much as they are effects of rationality and rationalization” (450), the contributors collectively pursue the question of how poetry and poetic form might provide a different kind of understanding of the formation of publics and counter-publics that compete for historical visibility. In a critical tradition that has already—as Mary Favret has shown—increasingly revealed “the intractably social and material bases for romantic esthetics and the poets’ deep awareness of this dependency” ("Study of Affect and Romanticism," 1163), we aim here to pursue more explicitly questions of social and political urgency that emerge in an unfolding historical present. Just like any other domain of culture, Romantic poetry is rife or riven with feeling. But how might we recognize its feelings as tuned in to the political or the communal, or as public?
5. In focusing on “public feeling,” we take a cue from the recent work in affect theory by Ann Cvetkovitch and Lauren Berlant (members of the Public Feelings project from the early 2000s on), as well as that of Jennifer Nash, Sara Ahmed, Sianne Ngai, and Eve Sedgwick. These scholars draw on feminist and queer studies to articulate the intricacies and histories of social and political feeling and the ways in which feeling might produce new forms of sociality. Indeed, as Nash has written, pointing to, among others, the work of poets June Jordan and Audre Lorde (the latter of whom Eric Lindstrom’s essay in this volume takes up), “the labor of constructing political communities around ‘public feelings’ and ‘communal affect’ has been a black feminist investment for decades” (20). But “public feeling” could describe sensibilities plainly active in the Romantic era, as well. In investigating what she describes as the “unfinished business of sentimentality,” Berlant reminds us that the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were crucial moments for understanding the origins of the modern interlacing of politics and feeling. Writing about contemporary political feeling, Cvetkovich links her account of depression as a public feeling to Romantic-era debates about slavery and abolition, reminding us that we must understand sentimental, abolitionist modes of representation, in order to understand “contemporary human rights discourses that still traffic in the generation of affect through representations that aim to touch their audiences” (9). In his recent discussion of affect, “mood,” and the Black romantic subject, Bakary Diaby argues that historicity itself is “a Romantic mood that still sets the terms by which we discuss racial subjection in the present” (121). Romanticism, it seems, describes the beginning of an affective political moment in which we are still immersed.
6. The phrase “public feeling” also recalls the preoccupation in eighteenth-century British moral philosophy with describing and prescribing the fellow-ness of feeling. The vast and excellent scholarship in the last thirty or so years on the history of sympathy and sensibility by—among others—James Chandler, Julie Ellison, Lynn Festa, Steven Goldsmith, Thomas Pfau, Adela Pinch, Amit Rai, and Nancy Yousef, has demonstrated how deep the interest in, and anxiety about, fellow-feeling ran. What bothered David Hume and Adam Smith, Pfau explains, was that “something as ostensibly private and inward as a feeling should be imbued with so much social energy” (4). In other words, sympathy acts, as Pinch puts it, as a reminder that “one’s feelings may really be someone else’s” (7). In Ellison’s view, the literature of sensibility “exposes a complicated awareness of the human costs of national and imperial economies, as well as the knowledge that sensibility itself is a privilege. Sensibility is the admitted connection between speculation, mood, and power” (7). Festa also situates discussions of sympathy and sentimentality in the context of empire, arguing that “by governing the circulation of feeling among subjects and objects, sentimentality helps to define who will be acknowledged as human” (3). More recently, Yousef has taught us to “soften the hard opposing edges of solitary inwardness and interpersonal exposure” and suspend the ethical and epistemic questions that so often arise about sympathy by shifting terms to “intimacy” (4). In her afterword to this collection, Yousef also suggests a rearrangement of terms, replacing “public feeling” with an expansive sense of “complicity” that exceeds its more typical connotations of guilt and responsibility.
7. If historians have argued that a new kind of national identity and sympathy took hold during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in England, what feelings did that newly imagined community elicit, rely upon, and silence?  What were the feelings that surrounded, propelled, and resisted the development of industrialization, colonialism, war, and slavery? These are questions that were asked directly and urgently at the time. Barbauld, for example, in her anonymous anti-war pamphlet from 1793, Sins of Government, Sins of the Nation, asks “how far as individuals are we really answerable for the guilt of national sins?” (Selected Poetry and Prose, 315). As the essays in this volume by Anastasia Eccles and Amelia Worsley both emphasize, the thinking in the 1790s and early years of the nineteenth century about government, power, violence, and citizenship led to a growing awareness and self-consciousness about widespread complicity. The literatures of sentiment, Ellison writes, serve “as indices of the pain caused by political arrangements from which artists and intellectuals knowingly benefited but at the same time could not control” (7). The idea of communal feeling was perhaps described most commonly at the time through the word “general”; it is Barbauld again who wrote that “the whole time of war ought to be a time of general mourning, a mourning in the heart, a mourning much more sincere than on the death of one of those princes whose cursed ambition is often the sole cause of war” (Civic Sermons 19). Anticipating Percy Shelley’s diagnoses of the politics of mourning, Barbauld’s demand for general mourning and Shelley’s calls for “universal grief” at “national calamity” (379) both work reactively, pushing back against the emotional demands of the state, demands that are often “curiously announced from outside and on high” (Favret, The General Fast 130).
8. We are certainly accustomed to thinking of poetry as both representing and producing powerful feeling, but we have perhaps given less attention to how a poetics might produce or reveal important political feelings in the reader. This is familiar territory in the study of abolitionist literature, carefully calculated to elicit the reader’s delicate sympathies. But as Worsley’s essay reminds us, the gap between Romanticism and abolitionist literature has in some ways been wider than it needs to be, part of a broader aesthetic vilification of “public poetry.” We think there is still more work to be done on how poetic figure and form alter our conception of the feelings that both compose and decompose the individual in its historical forms. How does imaginative literature study the feelings that mark both our alienation from others and our attachments? How does poetry register not individual emotion but emergent political formations of indifference or care, such as the urban repulsion tracked here by Samalin between Wordsworth’s poetry and the sociology that emerged across the nineteenth century? How might narratives of this kind prompt a different engagement between Romantic poetics and contemporary expressions of social inextricability, such as that described by Nash in her recent account of “black feminist love-politics” (14)?
9. Although it is not a term of art used by the contributors themselves, the rubric of “reading practices” offers a ground for thinking together the affective, epistemological, and sociological valences that animate these essays. For instance, the idea of a feeling of readerly “complicity” that both Eccles and Worsley develop becomes, in their respective essays, an occasion for theorizing the relation between the narrative theme of guilt and the affective experience of standing idly by, both modeled for, and produced in, the reader. Eccles identifies the trope of apostrophe in Godwin’s Caleb Williams (1794) as a stylistic means for focusing on the power of highly localized, emotionally-fraught linguistic events in forming a public. Worsley examines how Southey’s use of the ballad form subtly confronts the reader with the interaction among personae that spring into life through the iterative structure of the ballad, forcing readers to feel their desire to be an observer to suffering.  In both these essays, formal features derived from poetic and narrative theory are recast as ethically-charged stances. Poetry is considered not simply as a collection of historically shifting genre forms, but more emphatically—in the poetics of knowledge that emerge across genres—as a set of imaginative protocols for understanding how publics take shape through intimate social and psychic relations. 
10. One crucial requisite for our interest in “public feeling,” then, following Berlant’s observation about public spheres as affect worlds, is that we take the term poetry to mean something quite expansive, something like the aesthetic flexibility of form in a given corner of communicative or emotional life. Zachary Samalin’s essay adopts a genealogical method, assembling poetic and sociological scenes from Wordsworth to Weber, that allows him to trace the affective disposition of disgust or revulsion in city life across new formalizations of social theory in the nineteenth century. Representations of the urban crowd, argues Samalin, increasingly teach analysts of nineteenth-century social form to understand the fact of bodily proximity and the welter of unwelcome sensory stimuli through the “unwanted feeling” of disgust. This disgust is then quietly converted, in mid-century texts by Engels and Mayhew, into the more abstracted feeling of alienation. By the end of the nineteenth century, when Durkheim set out to fix the outlines of the study of society on scientific principles, it is utterly forgotten that a sublimated feeling of disgust is the basis for neutral observation of other humans, now fully alienated from the analyst: hence Durkheim’s disavowal of the relevance of feeling anything at all while analyzing society. In Samalin’s vivid account, we can see how Wordsworth’s visceral response to the sights, sounds, and smells of the city in Book 7 of the Prelude (1850)—the “funhouse mayhem” of Bartholomew Fair—prefigures an entire way of thinking about urban disaffection, in preparation for its eventual codification as the prerequisite for a science of society. But it is not until we know that observational neutrality is fashioned from intense repulsion that we can recognize this as a kind of paradox. By reading the “poetics” of sociology, Samalin demonstrates that affective norms take shape historically, and more specifically, that social imaginaries have what he calls an “emotional grammar.”
11. Following Samalin’s genealogical sweep, we turn to the pair of essays already described, each of which pursues closer-textured literary readings with broad implications for the study of reading practices and Romantic genres. While Anastasia Eccles tackles a narrative politics embedded in the novel’s care for how the reader might read herself into (and out of) the novelistic scene, Amelia Worsley addresses a similarly choreographed situation in narrative poetry that guides the identificatory options available through its mediated form and structure of address. Interestingly, as noted above, both essays hinge on the invitation to a readerly sense of complicity. Eccles’s "Feeling Complicit in William Godwin’s Caleb Williams" does this while carrying out a striking re-evaluation of this canonical work, using an affectively attuned formalism. Keeping in mind Godwin’s philosophical accounts of agency and causation, Eccles finds in the novel’s plot an attention to “complicity,” or an unwilled, precarious state of “interdependence” that, Eccles argues alongside Godwin, should constitute mutual responsibility in any given social formation. Building her readings of Godwin’s fiction (and its reception) through perceptive recourse to his political theory, Eccles makes the compelling suggestion that fiction—even while offering, in this case, a page-turning Gothic detective novel—can serve as an almost didactic technology for inducing an awareness of shared damage everywhere enacted, but rarely acknowledged, in the ordinary practices of everyday life. Eccles brings to light several specific devices the novel uses to angle in on the many ways of relating to one’s own practice of reading (e.g., the novelistic use of apostrophe). Like Samalin’s “unwanted feeling,” the felt complicity both dramatized in, and passed along by, Caleb Williams (1794) is partly defined as social in the sense of “atmospheric,” or unwilled. Yet its inevitability can equally be, as Eccles points out in closing, a necessary, perhaps even invigorating reminder of “the ways we always read as, against, and through one another.”
12. As in Samalin’s account of a network of affective relations submerged in a poetics of sociology, Eccles makes her case by suggesting that it is the poetics latent in Godwin’s prose—those “forms of lyric address that confuse guilty characters and eavesdropping readers”—that gives the novel’s expressions both their local ambiguity and their potential durability in the public feeling of complicity. From sociology and narrative, we proceed in Worsley’s and Lindstrom’s essays to several modes more familiar to scholars of Romantic poetry: the ballad, the abolitionist poem, and the “defense” of poetry. In "Abolitionist Publics," Worsley looks at readerly complicity in the context of the preeminently public genre of the abolitionist poem, which she suggests has been too often derogated in aesthetic terms, precisely on the basis of its aspirations to sway the public on a live question in political debate. Using one example of abolitionist poetry’s “shadow canon” as a case study, Robert Southey’s 1799 ballad "The Sailor, Who Had Served in the Slave Trade," Worsley shows how—in ugly tension with the poem’s “abhorrent” thematic transferal of suffering from Black bodies to white consciences—the poem’s form seeks to create an abolitionist public. Long read as a minor work—a failed attempt to translate the archaic mariner of Coleridge’s 1798 "Rime," as a notoriously nebulous allegory of guilt, into a present-day sailor and explicit participant in Britain’s slavery economy—Southey’s ballad becomes, for Worsley, a place to examine the formation and perception of ethical norms regarding the politics of enslaved labor. Reading a precise choreography of voices in the poem—both as it repurposes the ballad as “medium,” and as it diagrams guilt between confessor, captain, minister, and reader—Worsley reveals an unexpected complexity in the structures of liberal sympathy, disidentification, and misrecognition experienced by the reader in traversing the poem’s staged “space of collective consciousness.” Refusing merely to dramatize the remorse of a sailor coerced into murder and confirm the sentimental reader’s innocence, the poem instead rewrites sympathy and individual guilt as a pervasive and banalized chain of complicity: the reader can neither “sympathize with” nor “condemn” the poem’s actors without mimicking the sailor’s desire for self-exculpation. Thus, even as it explicitly aims to broadcast abolitionism with a pious call to prayer, Worsley unearths how the poem also indicates that the slave trade is a “communal violence” that belongs as well to the counterpublic it calls into being.
13. Shifting theoretical gears, Lindstrom’s essay builds around the climactic claims of two very different and yet, in this account, profoundly cognate essays: Audre Lorde’s "Poetry is Not a Luxury" (1984) and Percy Shelley’s "A Defence of Poetry" (1821). In both, poetry becomes the stuff of everyday life and initiates the possibility of (a new) society, turning a claim for the ordinariness of aesthetic experience into “a fundamental argument about the necessity of poetry.” This “necessity” is expressed famously by Shelley as a kind of “unacknowledged” legislation, and arrestingly by Lorde as “the skeleton architecture of our lives.” Lindstrom teases out the contrast between Lorde and Shelley in a series of readings that draws directly on the affect theories of Lauren Berlant, Kathleen Stewart, and others. In pursuing unforeseen convergences between Lorde and Shelley, arguably one of the “white fathers” alluded to in her essay "Poetry is Not a Luxury," his essay creatively locates a “lateral agency” in Shelley’s thought, which highlights not the negative effects of Shelley’s “dispersive poetics” but rather a “collective experiential promise.” This allows us to glimpse how, read with Lorde, something quite different emerges from Shelley’s thought. Lindstrom contrasts Shelley’s lightning-like visions with what Lorde calls that “quality of light” that characterizes the collective she has in mind, now emphatically situated and embodied: “For women, then, poetry is not a luxury” (37); indeed, Lorde’s poet is aligned with “the black mothers in each of us,” an “us” meant to disable the universalization of experience. Lindstrom’s essay thus proposes that there is much to learn when Lorde is read “into and with” Shelley: for Lorde’s conception of poetry as “the distillation of experience” (39) builds its shared, ordinary feelings from something like Shelley’s inchoate futurity, only now in a manner attuned to the practical, embodied necessities of emotional life, where affective relations like anger, fear, or love are imagined through a “felt and embedded, not mirroring, relationship.”
14. Lastly, Nancy Yousef’s “Afterword” concludes the series by offering a new lens for looking at the issue’s themes, while situating these themes and their treatment as pregnantly “symptomatic of our moment.” Articulating an unstated premise of what the contributors hold in common, Yousef opens by suggesting a “redundancy” in the phrase “public feeling,” insofar as feeling takes place in expression as an ongoing “call upon us” (in the words of Stanley Cavell). The notion of private feeling is then revealed as a subset of the social: that is, what we think of as private feeling is a learned etiquette of tacit legibility, or of open concealment, that we have chances to notice or let be. Taking up several lines from Godwin, which Eccles examines in her essay on readerly complicity, Yousef pursues and expands the idea of shared feeling across all four essays, now as a “more capacious” complicity, one that will “require new ways of speaking about agency” if it wants to redefine “public” so as to span “the vast extent of our co-implication with one another.” As Yousef has it, the essays together seek out the gradations of reception and response in the formation of expressive publics—fine lines to which romantic writing regularly returns us, in the many and various versions of what Anne-Lise François has memorably called “recessive action” (1). In pointing to the contributors’ collective understanding of close reading as a practice of shared life, Yousef argues that it is through the essays’ “renewed commitment” to reading that complicity earns the expansive redefinition it receives here.
15. Such complicity would take many forms, not all negative. In being “Surprised by joy,” Wordsworth’s narrator has in a sense already “shared” the feeling which comes over him. In her powerful overview of the issue, Yousef reminds us that the essays in this collection “all address the imbrication of aesthetic form and emotions,” in order to find “points of ethical inflection.” While differing significantly in their methods, each contributor addresses the formal dimension of feeling that structures aesthetic production, at least implicitly imagining the intimate circumstances required for social identification and recognition. Their shared point of departure might be said to match what Judith Butler calls our impressionability, a way of imagining subject formation taking place through unwilled publics, through ethical call and expressive response: more than a kind of conduct, the ethical becomes “a way of understanding the relational framework within which sense, action, and speech become possible” (12). To return to Cavell, and to Yousef’s insightful joining of the notion of “public feeling” with the supposed problem of private language, we might say that the work we gather here seeks not merely to insist on revealing that what seems private is really public, as though that were the point, but also to redefine “public” as the collective task of putting something together, of composition: “It is little help in this work . . . to take reassurance from the supposed fact…that language is public, that it is shared. This prompts us to avoid seeking sociably to provide help and example sufficient to make it public, to see it shared” (185). Perhaps it is poetry, in the ordinary sense—Lorde’s “quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives” (36)—that makes feeling together possible.
Barbauld, Anna. Civic Sermons to the People Number 1. Dundee: Edward Leslie, 1792.
———. Selected Poetry and Prose. Edited by William McCarthy & Elizabeth Kraft, Broadview Press, 2001.
Berlant, Lauren. "Critical Inquiry, Affirmative Culture." Critical Inquiry, vol. 30, no. 2, 2004, pp. 445–51.
———.The Female Complaint: The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality. Duke UP, 2008.
Blake, William. The Complete Poetry and Prose. Edited by David Erdma. Anchor Books, 1988.
Butler, Judith. Senses of the Subject. Fordham UP, 2015.
Cavell, Stanley. Philosophy the Day after Tomorrow. Harvard UP, 2005.
Chandler, James. An Archaeology of Sympathy: The Sentimental Mode in Literature and Cinema. U of Chicago P, 2013.
———. "Blake and the Syntax of Sentiment: An Essay on ‘Blaking’ Understanding." Blake, Nation, and Empire, edited by Steve Clark and David Worrall, Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.
Colley, Linda. Britons: Forging the Nation 1707–1837. Yale UP, 1992.
Cvektovich, Ann. Depression: A Public Feeling. Duke UP, 2012.
Diaby, Bakary. "Feeling Black, Feeling Back: Race, Fragility, and Romanticism." Symbiosis: A Journal of Transatlantic Literary and Cultural Relations, vol. 23, no.1, 2019, pp. 117–38.
Ellison, Julie. Cato’s Tears and the Making of Anglo-American Emotion. U of Chicago P, 1999.
Favret, Mary. "The Study of Affect and Romanticism." Literature Compass, vol. 6, 2009, pp. 1159–66.
———. "The General Fast and Humiliation: Tracking Feeling in Wartime." Romanticism and the Emotions, edited by Joel Faflak and Richard C. Sha, Cambridge UP, 2014.
Festa, Lynn. Sentimental Figures of Empire in Eighteenth-Century Britain and France. Johns Hopkins UP, 2006.
François, Anne-Lise. Open Secrets: The Literature of Uncounted Experience. Stanford UP, 2008.
Goldsmith, Steven. Blake’s Agitation: Criticism and the Emotions. Johns Hopkins UP, 2013.
Langan, Celeste, and Maureen N. McLane. "The Medium of Romantic Poetry." The Cambridge Companion to British Romantic Poetry, edited by James Chandler and Maureen N. McLane, Cambridge UP, 2008, pp. 239–62.
Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Crossing Press, 2007.
Nash, Jennifer. "Black Feminism, Love-Politics, and Post-Intersectionality." Meridians, vol. 11, no. 2, 2011, pp. 1–24.
Pfau, Thomas. Romantic Moods: Paranoia, Trauma, and Melancholy, 1790–1840. Johns Hopkins UP, 2005.
Pinch, Adela. Strange Fits of Passions: Epistemologies of Emotion, Hume to Austen. Stanford UP, 1996.
Rai, Amit. Rule of Sympathy: Sentiment, Race, and Power 1750–1850. Palgrave, 2002.
Rancière, Jacques. The Names of History: On the Poetics of Knowledge. Translated by Hassan Melehy, U of Minnesota P, 1994.
Shelley, Percy. The Prose Works of Percy Shelley. Vol. 1, Wilkie and Robinson, 1810.
Warner, Michael. Publics and Counterpublics. Zone Books, 2002.
Yousef, Nancy. Romantic Intimacy. Stanford UP, 2013.
 We would like to thank the terrific collective of participants in a double-seminar panel on “Poetry and Public Feelings” held at the 2018 American Comparative Literature Association conference at UCLA: the wide-ranging and experimental thoughts shared there, on poetry, politics, and the passions, inspired us to put this special issue together. We are particularly grateful to this issue’s essay contributors (each of whom presented papers at that seminar), whose patience and generosity of thought helped to shape the issue and our rationale for it. We thank Nancy Yousef for joining us, and for her guidance and humor throughout the editing process. Our special thanks too to the general editors of Romantic Circles Praxis Series. Tristram would like to recognize Samantha Botz (PhD, Northwestern) as a valued interlocutor on ideas about collective feeling in the Romantic century. Finally, we want to recognize here the recent loss of Lauren Berlant: without their work this project would be unimaginable. BACK