The Spasmodic Poets

Alexander Smith of Glasgow

My present research is focused on an unjustly neglected school of avant-garde poetics from the middle-Victorian era called the "Spasmodics." First used as a term of derision based on the poets' use of irregular meter and startling (and startlingly-beautiful) imagery, Spasmodism became a movement in its own right as the poets so labelled grew more famous by the week.  By 1854, readers all over the U.K. as well as those in France, Australia, and in alien lands seemingly as remote as the moon--California--were losing their minds with enthusiasm over this over-rich poetic crop. 

Suffice it to say, outselling everyone around them (including especially Matthew Arnold) before any of them had turned 25 years old earned them a few enemies; unfortunately for the Spasmodics, these enemies became the guardians of literary culture for the era and they were summarily erased.  If all this sounds a little Cloak+Dagger, that's because it was. Sydney Dobell (1824-1874), one of the riskiest artists in the group, called Alexander Smith's treatment at the hands of the culturati "a martyrdom."


For the curious, the principle Spasmodics are:

  • Alexander Smith
  • Sydney Dobell
  • Phillip James Bailey
  • J. Stanyan Bigg
  • Ebenezer Jones

and convincing cases have been made for:

  • Elizabeth Barret-Browning
  • Alfred Tennyson's Maud
  • Arthur Hugh Clough
  • James Thomson (B.V.)