Demson, "Radical Publishers of the Romantic Era"

ENGL 630: Radical Publishers of the Romantic Era

Dr. Michael Demson
Assistant Professor of English, Sam Houston State University

Office: Evans 117
Contact: 936-294-1430,
Online every day

“Revisiting the Radical Republican Publishers of the Romantic Era in the Digital Era” is an online, summer-intensive, graduate workshop that introduces students to the careers of four English republican publishers of the Romantic period: William Blake, Leigh Hunt, William Hone, and William Cobbett. Each of these figures thought deeply about political and artistic freedom, like many of the authors they published, and perhaps more importantly, they were forerunners in the struggle for a free press in England. To introduce the print culture and political context of the Romantic era, students in this course read biographies, correspondences, an assortment of each publisher’s publications, including newspapers, political pamphlets, and Romantic literature, as well as original fiction and non-fiction pieces authored by each publisher. The objective here is to assess how control of the means of publication and dissemination affects literary productions. The course also aims to introduce students to innovations in Digital Humanities, including virtual libraries, databases, digitized texts, specialized search engines, and new analytical tools. The objective here is to break the habits of reading produced by reading anthologies; these new digital resources enable students to contextualize the literature of the period in unprecedented ways, giving them access to materials long relegated to distant archives, providing the means to search documents rapidly, and to automate the compilation of historical and literary data. Throughout the course, students explore analogies between the rise of the popular press in the Romantic era and the rise of the Internet in their own day.

Students are responsible for maintaining continuous online access from the beginning through to the end of the semester and are expected to spend substantial periods of time every day (weekends excepted) participating in class-related online activities (including keeping an online journal, contributing to discussion, reading lectures, conducting database research). No accommodations will be made for students who do not maintain or have only intermittent Internet access. If you do not have continuous Internet access (i.e., minimum of 4 hours of online access daily), do not take this course. You will find this course too difficult, frustrating, and overwhelming unless you are actively engaged online each and every weekday for the entire semester.

Daily routine

1) check for course announcements (which may include changes in schedule, exam questions, assignments, readings, etc.),

2) review the current exam question so you see what will be relevant in the readings,

3) complete the required readings listed on the schedule for that day,

4) conduct online research when assigned,

5) write a journal entry,

6) participate in the online discussions and research discussions (completing assignments and posting responses to others), and

7) prepare for weekly exams and/or the final paper.

Summer classes are intensive: start preparing for the end of the semester from day one!

“This is the thing” (from William Hone’s 1819 “The Political House that Jack Built,” Illustrated by George Cruikshank)

Course description

Urizon from William Blake’s First Book of Urizen.

This course will examine English republican author-publishers of the Romantic era, who not only wrote about freedom of speech, parliamentary reform, universal suffrage, and abolition, but also published their own works in defiance of authorities and at great personal hazard. Because they wrote and published newspapers, pamphlets, and posters instead of pieces that fit neatly into anthologies, these central figures of Romanticism have not received the attention they should. For two centuries only those scholars who could spend days if not years in England’s archives and museums had access to their publications. Today, however, because of recent coordinated efforts to digitize many of these Romantic publications, rendering them both accessible and searchable, interest in the Romantic republican publishers is on the rise. By providing this course online, students will learn about recent developments in Digital Humanities and be able to engage with, perhaps even contribute to, pioneering scholarly websites such as The William Hone Biotext, The Blake Archive, and Romantic Circles. This course will be open to all M.A. students in English and is designed for those who wish to develop their appreciation of the Romantic era.

This course will introduce students to the careers and major works of William Blake, Leigh Hunt, William Hone, and William Cobbett. All four of these figures were committed English republicans during the last decades of the eighteenth century and early nineteenth century. Their convictions prompted them to write, and when their positions were deemed too dangerous to publish by established publishers, they began to publish their writings themselves. Blake both wrote and illustrated illuminated texts, publishing them in small numbers out of a cottage outside of London. They would come to be regarded around the world as masterpieces of graphic design and poetry, though he did not enjoy this fame in his own lifetime. On the other hand, Cobbett, Hunt, and Hone published pamphlets and newspapers that had circulations that ran up to the tens of thousands and Hone in the hundreds of thousands. The government deemed these men extremely dangerous and prosecuted them at every opportunity: Cobbett spent time in prison for sedition, and once freed he fled to America to escape further prosecutions; Hone was prosecuted four times for sedition but won all of his cases… and notoriety; famously, Hunt lived in a prison for many years, where he conducted a literary circle, which included such famed poets as Lord Byron and John Keats.

Core Questions

Each week of the course, we will address three related but distinct theoretical questions. We will develop answers by looking at the lives and major works of the focus authors: Blake, Hunt, Hone, and Cobbett.

  1. How did self-publishing affect the literary and non-literary productions of those Romantics able to publish their own works?
  2. What is the relationship between journalism and literature?
  3. How is the digital era reconfiguring our understanding of the Romantic era (its canon, its poetics, its enduring relevance)?

We will also do some comparative work to answer these questions, drawing into our discussions other Romantics, including Dorothy and William Wordsworth, Mary and Percy Shelley, John Clare, and Mary Hays.


It is critically important that in all online communications you follow the core rules of netiquette. If you are unfamiliar with these rules, I highly recommend that you review them at Remember that communication online, with its lack of contextual social markers, can be difficult to read, especially when it involves emotions. Be patient, considerate, and, when necessary, use emoticons to signal sarcasm, irony, and nuanced tones dependent on ambiguity.


Each week of the course, we will read a biography (listed below) of our focus authors. Additional readings are listed on the schedule or others announced during the course of the semester will be available online. NOTE: the SHSU bookstore was unable to find some of these books, but they are readily available new and used on and at steeply discounted prices.

Bentley, G. E. Jr.. The Stranger from Paradise: A Biography of William Blake. New York: Paul Mellon Center BE, 2003.
Holden, Anthony. The Wit in the Dungeon: The Remarkable Life of Leigh Hunt: Poet, Revolutionary, and the Last of the Romantics. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2005.
Ingrams, Richard. The Life and Adventures of William Cobbett. New York: Harper Perennial, 2006.
Wilson, Ben. The Laughter of Triumph: William Hone and the Fight for the Free Press. London: Faber, 2005.

Summary of assignments

Journal (20%, 5% per unit): students are expected to keep a daily (weekends excepted) journal online—or blog—of their reading, research, and online activities notes (click on the journal tab). These journals will not be shared with other students, but will be read and graded by the instructor. They may be written in an informal style, but should nevertheless be textually engaged (use quotes) and descriptive. For example, if you react strongly to something, go into detail, explain why and provide examples with page numbers, a URL, etc. Comments on other readings, manuscripts, pamphlets, may be included, but the focus of the entries should be on course materials. Similarly, comments on the course itself, or on discussion posts may likewise be included, with the same proviso regarding staying focused on the course material. A daily entry should run about 300 words minimum (one full page double-spaced); there is no maximum. Use the journal to prepare for the weekly exams and the final paper.

Discussion and discussion assignments (30%: 20% for daily discussion posts, 5% per unit, and 10% for “Research discussion” posts—best 5 of 7—at each 2%) students are expected to participate daily (weekends excepted) in the discussion forums and to respond to posted topics. Discussion should be conducted in more formal language than the journal entries and should provide citations where appropriate (MLA format). Students are also expected to conduct themselves as scholars and to be scholarly in their disagreements with classmates. Responses to the discussion prompts should be 150 words minimum, and the mandatory two responses to classmates’ posts should be 50 words minimum. Remember that we all benefit from discussion, debate and disagreement, so keep it civil and courteous.

Exams (30%, 10% each, one per unit, dropping the lowest): students are expected to complete four essay exams, one due every Tuesday by Midnight. These exams are open-book; students are allowed to use their books, notes, outside resources (online or paper), when preparing and writing their exams. Announced each preceding Thursday, topics for these exams will be drawn from the required readings and digital archival research of the previous week and will be related to our core questions. Students may spend as much time as they deem appropriate preparing for these exams, but must allot themselves 120 minutes to write the exams (observation of this time restriction is on the honor principle). On average, this means 3 to 5 pages of writing. Papers must be uploaded through the assignment drop box. Late exams will receive zero credit (F). The lowest grade exam will be dropped, such that three exams, each worth 10%, will constitute 30% of the course grade. Note well that it may be very beneficial to you to do well on the first three exams so that you can opt out of the fourth to focus on your final paper.

Final Paper (20%): students are expected to develop one of their first three exams into a 6-to-10-page (1,800-3,000 word) research paper, due Wednesday, June 27. This paper should address authors and issues discussed in the course, represent original scholarship, draw heavily from digital archives, be accompanied by a works cited page, and follow MLA guidelines for research papers.

Students with disabilities policy

George Cruikshank, “A Thing of No Bowels,” from William Hone’s The Divine Right of Kings to Rule Wrong! 1821.

Individuals otherwise qualified shall not be excluded, solely by reason of their disability, from participation in any academic program nor be denied the benefits of these programs nor be subjected to discrimination. Students with disabilities that might affect their academic performance are expected to visit with the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities (Counseling Center), and with their instructors so that appropriate strategies can be developed. SHSU adheres to all applicable federal, state, and local laws, regulations, and guidelines with respect to providing reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities. All disclosures of disabilities will be kept strictly confidential. NOTE: No accommodation can be made until you register with the Counseling Center.

Academic dishonesty policy

All students are expected to engage in all academic pursuits in a manner that is above reproach. Students are expected to be honest and to pursue their studies with integrity both in and out of the classroom. The University and its official representatives may initiate disciplinary proceedings against a student accused of any form of academic dishonesty including, but not limited to, cheating on an examination or other academic work which is to be submitted, plagiarism, collusion and the abuse of resource materials. For this course, academic dishonesty, including but not limited to plagiarism, is grounds for immediate failure for the semester, regardless of work previous submitted. Students who do not understand how to properly cite sources may be given the opportunity to redo the assignment in question, but this is entirely at the discretion of the instructor. If you cheat, do not anticipate that you will be given a second chance. If you have any questions or anxieties about what constitutes plagiarism, do not hesitate to ask me or to seek help at the Writing Center.

Course Schedule (subject to changes)

Thursday, May 31

Read the syllabus, introduce yourself online and read the introductions of your classmates, and post course questions (if you have any) all under Course Home.

Posted lecture: “Introduction to Radical Romantic Publishers and Digital Archives.”

Exam #1 topic posted.

Reading: Bentley, Chapters I-III; “Illuminated Printing,” Blake Archive (peruse the “Glossary” as well) and read several poems from Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.

Peruse this overview of early British newspapers:

Friday, June 1

Posted lecture: “On Reading Blake.”

Reading: Bentley, Chapters IV-V; Frye, Northrop, “Introduction,” Selected Prose and Poetry of Blake, Modern Library Edition, New York: Modern Library, 1955, xiii-xxx (posted in course materials); Blake, William, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” (Blake Archive).

Research discussion: Explore The Blake Archive.

Monday, June 4

Reading: Bentley, Chapters VI, “Blake as Publisher,”

“Blake’s Retreat from the Public,” “The Journalist and The Visionary: Crabb Robinson and William Blake,” “Blake on the Fringes of Politics,” and the Postscript; Blake’s “The Book of Urizen,”

Tuesday, June 5

Exam #1 on Blake due by midnight.

Wednesday, June 6

Posted lecture: “Radicalism and Romantic Circles.”

Reading: Holden, “Prologue” and Chapters I-III.

Research discussion: Explore Romantic Circles to identify research resources:

Thursday, June 7

Exam #2 topic posted.

Reading: Holden, Chapters IV-VII; Cox, Jeffrey N., “Keats in the Cockney School,” , 1996; 2 (1): 27-39 (posted in course materials); Keats, John, “Dedication to Leigh Hunt, Esq.,” “Written On The Day That Mr. Leigh Hunt Left Prison,” and “Ode to a Nightingale”; Shelley, Percy, “Ode to a Skylark.”

Friday, June 8

Reading: Holden, Chapters VIII-XI; Shelley, Percy, Adonaïs.

Research discussion: The Examiner is available on Google (through book search)—Find and read The Examiner articles on, and poems by, John Keats and Percy Shelley.

Anonymous artist, Peterloo Massacre, original illustration published by Richard Carlile, 1819.

Monday, June 11

Posted lecture: “Peterloo.”

Reading: Holden, XII-XIV: Shelley, Percy, “England 1819.” Research discussion: The Examiner is available on Google (through book search)—Find and read The Examiner accounts of Peterloo.

Tuesday, June 12

Exam #2 due on Hunt by midnight.

Wednesday, June 13

Posted Lecture: “Reintroducing John Cahuac.”

Reading: Wilson, Part I; Cahuac, John, “Who Killed Cock Robin?” (posted in course materials); Hone, William, “The Political House that Jack Built” (available on Romantic Circles).

Research discussion: explore The William Hone Biotext.

Thursday, June 14

Exam #3 topic posted.

Reading: Wilson, Part II; Grimes, Kyle, “Chapter Nine: Verbal Jujitsu: William Hone and the Tactics of Satirical Conflict,” The Satiric Eye: Forms of Satire in the Romantic Period, Ed. Steven E. Jones, New York: Palgrave, 2003 (posted in course materials).

Friday, June 15

Reading: Wilson, Part III; Cahuac, John, “Letter to Lord Sidmouth” (posted in course materials).

Monday, June 18

Reading: Wilson, Part IV; Shelley, Percy, “The Mask of Anarchy.”

Tuesday, June 19

Exam #3 due on Hone by midnight.

Wednesday, June 20

Reading: Ingrams, Chapters I-III.

Thursday, June 21

Exam #4 topic posted.

Reading: Ingrams, Chapters IV-VI; Gilmartin, Kevin, “Introduction” and “Reading Cobbett’s contradictions,” Print Politics: The Press and Radical Opposition in Early Nineteenth-Century England, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996, 158-194 (posted in course materials).

Research discussion: explore Cobbett’s early Rural Rides

William Blake, The Book of my Remembrance, c. 1796, relief etching color printed, with pen and watercolor

Friday, June 22

Reading: Ingrams, Chapters VII-IX.

Monday, June 25

Reading: Ingrams, Chapters X-XII.

Tuesday, June 26

Exam #4 on Cobbett due by midnight.

Wednesday, June 27

Final paper due by midnight.

Exam Topics

These are open book, open note, open resource exams, but your exams must represent your own thinking and must provide your own original analysis. You must provide MLA citations for all sources used. Each time, you have two hours to compose your response to the assigned topic. You may break this into two, one-hour sessions so long as the break between the two sessions does not exceed half-an-hour. Do not spend more that two hours writing this exam, and do not break the time up into more than two sessions. You may take time out for bathroom breaks or smoke breaks, but try to stay focused. But, you may spend as much time preparing to write it—by readings, taking notes, discussion ideas with others, etc.—and you may prepare your works cited in advance of writing your response. Late exams will receive zero credit, unless you can provide appropriate proof of hospitalization, decapitation, or a significant family emergency (such as major house explosion of not a single toilet or hot water heater but of a whole wing, a death in your immediate family, but not some third-removed cousin who happened to have had a horrific accident at Splashtown where the service is being held).

There is no length-requirement, but the typical exam runs around 1000 words. Focus on answering the question as best you can in the time allotted. You are welcome to ask questions at any point up until you begin your two hours of writing. If you need or want recommendations, ask in the discussion area. When in doubt, email me!

First Exam Topic: The Freedom of Self-Publication

Premise: for much of his career, Blake had near complete control over his artistic productions—from their conception, through their composition and publication, to their distribution. Question: how did Blake’s self-publication affect his artistic productions?


1. Focus on a specific example from his poetry (a short poem or a passage from a longer work), but you should also include relevant historical/biographical context.

2. Work with the Blake Archive and critical sources you have gathered.

3. Include an MLA works cited at the end of your exam (which you may prepare in advance).

Second Exam Topic: The Defiance of Self-Publication

Premise: for much of his career, Hunt had was able to publish ideas and literary works hostile to the government and as a result he fostered a coterie of radical authors and a culture of defiance. Question: explore how this culture of defiance permeated literary and/or non-literary productions from the Cockney School.


1. Focus on a specific passage from Hunt's publications and/or the writings of the Cockney School (a short poem or a passage from a longer work), but you should also include relevant historical/biographical context.

2. Work with scholarly sources you have gathered from Romantic Circles.

3. Include an MLA works cited at the end of your exam (which you may prepare in advance).

Third Exam Topic: Fighting the Government

Premise: to criticize the government or established church in print was a dangerous act in Regency England, even more so after Peterloo. Question: Explore through a comparative analysis different rhetorical strategies or modes that radical Romantics adopted in their battle for freedom of the press and the right to free speech after the 1819 massacre.


1. Focus on a specific passages and/or images (a short poem and/or a passage from a longer work) from Hone's publications, as well as selections from Hunt's publications, the writings of the Cockney School, the Hone circle, and/or Cahuac. Also, you should also include relevant historical/biographical context (though you may assume your audience knows the broad strokes of what happened at Peterloo).

2. Work with the Hone BioText.

3. Include an MLA works cited at the end of your exam (which you may prepare in advance).

Fourth Exam Topic: Prison Time

Premise: Both Hunt's and Cobbett's time in prison, and prisons are a recurrent topic in their papers. Executions were common as was transportation, and debt could land you in prison. Question: What did Cobbett and his contemporaries think about the prison institution (be as specific as possible)?


1. Focus on a specific passage from Cobbett's publications.

2. Include an MLA works cited at the end of your exam (which you may prepare in advance).