I’ll be presenting a paper at the upcoming North American Society for the Study of Romanticism on the subject outlined below.
An Element of Egotism: Taking the Self out of the Sublime in Late Romanticism
In DeQuincey’s Romanticism, Margaret Russell shows how “the historical permutation of [minor] authorship…is necessarily also a symptom…that profits from the reflexivity it achieves by encoding an account of its own production” (133). Wordsworth’s The Prelude and Coleridge’s “Kubla Kahn,” are the most well-known exemplars of such reflexivity and such profit, but the minor poets who followed them, both in chronology and in style turned this element of reflexivity from “a symptom” to a feature: the whole show. Poets Ebenezer Jones and Alexander Smith particularly made careers out of the origin stories of their own careers turning useful background of successful cultural artifact, as in Coleridge’s “Man from Porlock” gloss, into background as cultural artifact, and successful ones too.
But this essay, which reads Smith’s and Jones’ early poems as attempts by working class (minor) writers to break into Russell’s succession of historical permutation by performing encoded reflexivity, also challenges the received notions about such writers: that they were fame-hungry strivers. It argues, rather, that their poems show a route around the egotistical sublime made so distasteful by Wordsworth. The fame which Keats so sought and Byron so basked in is rejected by their immediate poetic successors as unhealthy. Such grand rejections of authorship as personality, while still performing authorial struggle as spectacle, of course, made them famous.