Romantic Poetry and Fiction
Overview English Romantic literature is overwhelmingly a poetic one, with six major poets writing in the first quarter of the 19th century, transforming the literary climate. Blake was unknown; Wordsworth and Coleridge won partial acceptance in the first decade; Scott and Byron became popular. The flowering of the younger Romantics, Byron, Shelley and Keats, came after 1817, but by 1824 all were dead. The other great literary artist of the period is Jane Austen, whose six novels appeared anonymously between 1811 and 1818. Other books appearing without an author’s name were Lyrical Ballads (Bristol, 1798) and Waverley (Edinburgh, 1814). The novels of ‘the author of Waverley’, Sir Walter Scott, were wildly popular. There was original fiction from Maria Edgeworth and Mary Shelley, and non-fiction from Thomas De Quincey, Charles Lamb and William Hazlitt.
The Romantic poets Early Romantics William BlakeWilliam Blake (1757-1827) was Burns's contemporary but had none of his success. He grew up poor in London, went to art school, was apprenticed to an engraver at 14, and lived by engraving. His fine teenage Poetical Sketches were printed but not published.He engraved his later poems by his own laborious method, hand-colouring each copy of the little books in which he published them. Eventually, his art gained him a few admirers, notably the painter Samuel Palmer (1805-81). Blake had begun his Songs of Experience with ‘Hark to the voice of the Bard!’ - but the age did not hearken to this truly ‘heaven-taught’ genius. Self-educated and misunderstood, he opposed the ruling intellectual orthodoxies, political, social, sexual and ecclesiastical, with a marked contempt for Deist materialists, censorious priests and the President of the Royal Academy, Sir Joshua Reynolds. A revolutionary who briefly shared Milton’s hope that paradise might be restored by politics, he came to regard the political radicals, his allies, as blind rational materialists: ‘Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau;/Mock on, mock on, ’tis all in vain./You throw the sand against the wind,/And the wind throws it back again.’ For Blake, human reality was political, spiritual and divine. A material ideal of advancement showed ‘Single vision, and Newton’s sleep’ (Isaac Newton’s prophetic writings were then unknown). A religious visionary driven by Deism to unorthodox extremes, Blake was also, unlike most mystics, a satirical ironist and a master of savage aphorisms, as in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Blake’s Songs of Experience (1794) contain what have become his most celebrated poems, such as ‘The Sick Rose’, ‘The Tyger’ and ‘London’.Blake uses the rhythmical quatrains of Isaac Watts’s Divine Songs for Children (1715), repeating and twisting words and sounds to make a discord with the childhood vision of his earlier Songs of Innocence. Concentration lends his images a surreal intensity: ‘the hapless Soldier’s sigh/Runs in blood down Palace walls’ and ‘the youthful Harlot’s curse ... blasts with plagues the Marriage hearse’. When read, he was not understood. Wordsworth said later: ‘There was no doubt that this poor man was mad, but there is something in the madness of this man which interests me more than the sanity of Lord Byron and Walter Scott.’ In the time of the French Revolution there were many who saw signs that the Judgement of the Apocalypse was at hand, but Blake was isolated and his thought was esoteric. He drew on unfamiliar theological traditions of biblical prophecy. Blake’s thought evolved in his later prophetic books, often inverting conventional religious values in a way deriving from 18th-century satirical traditions of reversed perspective. Thus, Milton’s God the Father is parodied as ‘Old Nobodaddy aloft’ who ‘farted and belched and coughed’. He invented new and complex myths with allegorical strands of meaning, as in the Vision of the Daughters of Albion, featuring Oothoon, Theotormon and Bromion. Scholarship has made the later Blake less obscure, but it will never communicate as other Romantic poetry does. If keys can never fully unlock these prophetic myths of political and sexual liberation, yet lightning can strike from their most impenetrable clouds. A brief History cannot do justice to Blake’s later work, which is a study in itself. Blake illustrated a book by Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97), the indomitable author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), who married the radical social philosopher William Godwin (1756-1836), author of an Inquiry concerning Political Injustice (1793) and a programmatic Gothic novel, Caleb Williams (1794). She died after giving birth to a daughter, later to become Mary Shelley. Godwin’s belief that humanity, since it was reasonable, could be made perfect by rational persuasion persuaded many in the early 1790s.
Subjectivity The ingredients of Romantic sensibility had existed before 1798, but the new poets found for it an authentic voice, touch and intensity. The novel elements in the Lyrical Ballads were defined and given impetus by the Preface Wordsworth added in 1800 (without mention of Coleridge). The quality and impact of the best poems were such that lyric poetry and imaginative literature were permanently altered, especially by the new emphasis on subjective experience. As poetry became more subjective, literature began to be defined as imaginative. Thus the post-Romantic prose of Carlyle, and of Ruskin, Newman and Pater is more ‘literary’ than the rational prose of J. S. Mill, which relies less on rhythm and imagery. In fiction, too, the keynote is often set by imaginative natural description, as in the novels of the Brontës.
Romanticism and Revolution There had been a European Romanticism or pre-Romanticism since the ‘Ossian’ craze of the 1760s. Rousseau’s Julie, ou la Nouvelle Héloïse (1761) and Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) added passionate love to the ingredients of sensibility sketched in the last chapter. Thus it was that Robert Southey (1774-1843), expelled from Westminster School, could say that he went up to Oxford with ‘a heart full of poetry and feeling, a head full of Rousseau and Werther, and my religious principles shaken by Gibbon.’ He makes out here that he was a typical student of the generation that shared Wordsworth’s reaction to the French Revolution: ‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,/But to be young was very heaven.’ Southey became very popular, and eventually a strong Tory. The idea of the American Revolution excited European intellectuals. French Romantics were radical and liberal, but English Romantics divided. Early 18th-century French thinkers had admired the English for having already curbed the royal power; mid-18th-century French thinkers identified repression with king, nobles and clergy. Things were not so clear in England, where the French Revolution had a mixed and changing reception. Youthful rapture was modified by the Terror, when thousands were killed. Tom Paine (1737-1809), a hero of the American Revolution and radical author of The Rights of Man (1791), was welcomed in France. Yet his opposition to the execution of Louis XVI put him in prison and near the guillotine. In 1793 France declared war on England, whose government as a result became more repressive - and had much to repress. Napoleon set about his ‘liberating’ conquest of Europe; Britain resisted and at length succeeded. But her own reforms had to wait until after 1824, when Byron, Shelley and Keats, young radicals at the end of a long and severe period of national reaction against the Revolution and Napoleon, were dead. Blake was the only Romantic to stay true to his vision in middle age. Coleridge and Wordsworth lost faith in utopian solutions, and by 1815 had turned to the Church of England.
William Wordsworth Wordsworth’s early radicalism went quiet, yet a democratic tone is clear in the Advertisement to Lyrical Ballads; with Pastoral and Other Poems (1798), which advises that most of the poems were to be considered as experiments’ to determine ‘how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure’. In line with this programme, a few Lyrical Ballads recount incidents of unsophisticated rural life, using a language close to common speech. The Preface attacks the artificial ‘poetic diction’ used in conventional 18th-century verse (and suggests that 18th-century verse is conventional). The Preface proclaims that, at this moment of crisis, the poet is the defender of human nature.Wordsworth’s analysis of how the media excited bored urban audiences is republican and idealist, not populist. It also shows the 18th-century austerity which kept extravagance out of his work. A sentence in the Preface, however, claims that ‘all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling’. Untrue of most previous kinds of poetry, this described his own poetic process, which involved ‘emotion recollected in tranquillity’. But the overflow model has not helped his reputation. Despite lyrics such as ‘My heart leaps up when I behold/A rainbow in the sky’, he rarely gushes, especially in comparison with other Romantics. Matthew Arnold rightly praised his ability to face the worst with terrible calm - as in ‘A slumber did my spirit seal’, which attains moral grandeur in eight uneffusive lines. Of the chief Lyrical Ballads, only Coleridge’s Rimre of the Ancient Mariner is a ballad, and Lines written some miles above Tintern Abbey, Michael, Nutting and ‘There was a boy, ye knew him well’ are not lyrics. But the volume claims in its hybrid title that the finer qualities of song-like lyrics, such as ‘A slumber did my spirit seal’, can inhere in rough ‘folk’-verse tales.The experimental poems partially succeed, or fail interestingly. More significant are the anecdotes from everyday life, such as ‘We are Seven’ and ‘Simon Lee’, which successfully mix genres and offer unresolved viewpoints. Less experimental are the central Lines written some miles above Tintern Abbey, which follow in Cowper’s conversational mode. Coleridge’s earlier Frost at Midnight was a model for Tintern, giving landscaped reflection a new poetic intensity and psychic depth. The thought of the two friends was at this time almost indistinguishable. Both poems offer the doctrine of Nature now associated with Wordsworth, Coleridge’s in a finely articulated psychological, philosophical and religious form. Wordsworth felt ‘A presence that disturbs me’
Samuel Taylor Coleridge Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1835) had every poetic talent but discipline. It has been said that his greatest masterpiece was Wordsworth, but his own exceptional gifts produced five absolutely remarkable poems: The Ancient Mariner in Lyrical Ballads; from the same period Frost at Midnight, and the fragments Kubla Khan and Christabel, unpublished until 1816. Finally, Dejection: An Ode (1802), drafted the night he heard Wordsworth read the Immortality Ode. Wordsworth later added a conclusion to his own Ode, declaring that: ‘To me the meanest flower that blows can give/Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.’ STC, as he called himself, could not make the same act of faith. He fluently suggests the beauties of the night that surround ‘Yon crescent Moon, as fixed as if it grew/In its own cloudless, starless lake of blue’, but ends, ‘I see them all so excellently fair,/I see, not feel, how beautiful they are.’ He ‘may not hope’, he says, ‘from outward forms to win/The passion and the life, whose fountains are within.’ Dejection ends with a stifled prayer that Joy will attend a Lady (namely, Sara Hutchinson). He published it on the fourth anniversary of Wordsworth’s marriage, and the seventh of his own. This is the centre of Coleridge’s critical thinking, in which literature is less a work of art than a natural product of the imagination. His applied criticism is philosophical and comprehensive, as when in Biographia Literaria he enlarges Wordsworth’s ideas of poetic diction and rhythm. It can be psychological, as in his notable Shakespeare criticism. Most branches of knowledge contribute to Coleridge’s criticism, which he carried on endlessly in letters, notebooks, lectures and in the margins of books.
Sir Walter Scott The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805) was the first of the verse romances by which Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) made his name. He had begun by translating German imitation-romances, and collecting the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, continuing the work of Percy and of The Scots Musical Museum. The battlefields of the Borders of Scotland and England produced ballads such as the 15th-century Chevy Chase, a romance admired by Sidney, praised by Addison and printed by Percy. Scott spent much of his boyhood in the Borders with his grandparents. The Lay, sung at a noble Scott household in Tudor times, is a medieval tale of feud and magic, taking clues from Christabel, which Scott had seen in manuscript, and from Spenser. It has a shape-changing dwarf, and a wizard, Michael Scott, from whose tomb a magic book is taken to provide a curse. It also has feasting, a tournament, horses, armour and picturesque country. But a tragic outcome to this tale of lovers from feuding families is averted - by love, chivalry and magic, not by divine grace. The Lay is recited in a flexible and pleasing minstrel verse-form. Scott followed up its huge success with other verse-romances including Marmion and The Lady of the Lake, until Byron captured this market. He then wrote novels, anonymously.
Younger Romantics Lord ByronGeorge Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) had a wild ancestry, a Calvinist childhood, handsome looks and a club foot. Inheriting his title unexpectedly, he lived noisily at Harrow and Cambridge, creating an image by athletic and libertine exploits. The ‘craving for extraordinary incident’ noted by Wordsworth could be ‘hourly gratified’ in the Regency by spoilt noblemen, among them the Prince Regent. The Romantic Poet, spontaneously producing poems as a tree does leaves or a thundercloud lightning, was more intriguing to journalists and to society than mere poems. A composite image of poet-asflawed-genius took elements from the opium addiction of Coleridge; from Byron and Shelley scattering wives, lovers, children and debts across Europe; and from the younger Romantics' early deaths. Rousseau and Napoleon preceded Byron, but he was the first British poet to become the hero-villain of a publicity cult. On leaving Cambridge, Byron pursued adventure in Iberia, Malta and the Turkish empire. These travels contributed to the first two cantos of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, published in 1812:Byron worked the crowd with romances and dramatic poems in fluent verse, posing as himself. Only his liberalism, egotism and scepticism were sincere. Notable among his doomed self-projections is Manfred (1817), in which the superman refuses a deathbed repentance, telling the Abbot, ‘Old man! ’tis not too difficult to die.’ Byron’s sensational romances continued with Cain in 1821. But his verse journalism also had a more intimate and epistolary side, glimpsed above in ‘Save concubines and carnal companie’ and the irony of ‘E’en for change of scene would seek the shades below’ - a prophecy of Don Juan. Having woken up famous, Byron became more than famous. After flinging herself at him, Lady Caroline Lamb described him as ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know’. In 1814 his half-sister gave birth to a child said to be his. In 1815 he married a rich, serious and unlucky wife. Ostracized for incest, he left England for good in 1816, travelled to Lake Geneva, stayed with the Shelleys, and then moved to Italy. Most days Byron was a drawing-room milord, but he had wild periods: his debauches in Venice involved two hundred women; he was also bisexual. He sealed his European reputation as a rebel by his death while supporting the Greek revolt against the Turks. Byron’s distinction and originality is found in his anti-romantic Don Juan. He tired of his own poses and of ‘cant’, the sanctimonious expression of sentiment. His new irony is much closer to the self he reveals in his sparkling letters. Like Scott, Edgeworth, Peacock, Landor and Austen, Byron did not think that the Romantic revolution invalidated rational criticism. Pope he thought far better than any of the Romantics. His mature voice is first heard in Beppo and The Vision of Judgement Byron’s Don Juan (pronounced in the English way), the legendary womanizer who ends in hell, the Don Giovanni of Mozart’s 1787 opera, is, among other things, a humorous self-portrait: a passive youngster who falls in with the amorous wishes of a series of beautiful women in Seville, Greece, St Petersburg and England. But Don Juan, like Tristram Shandy, is not read for the Life but for the Opinions, which include: ‘What men call gallantry, and the gods adultery,/Is much more common where the climate’s sultry’ and ‘Thou shalt believe in Milton, Dryden, Pope;/Thou shalt not set up Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey;/Because the first is crazed beyond all hope,/The second drunk, the third so quaint and mouthey ...’. Although it rises to satire, most of Don Juan is a long-running joke. Insofar as it is self-display, the mature milord is more interesting than the self-regarding Childe. ‘It may be profligate,’ Byron wrote to a friend, ‘but is it not life, is it not the thing?’ He exposes hypocrisy with a wonderfully varied use of anticlimax which disarms as it unmasks.
John Keats John Keats (1795-1821), son of the manager of a London livery stables, attended not Eton or Harrow but Enfield School, a Dissenting academy. Here he learned much English poetry before leaving at 15, already the head of his family. At 20 he qualified at Guy’s Hospital as an apothecary-surgeon, but decided to be a poet. Through Leigh Hunt (1784-1859), editor of the liberal Examiner, he met Hazlitt, Lamb and Shelley. His 4000-line Endymion (1817) was censured in the Tory quarterlies. His Poems appeared in 1820. He died in Rome in 1821, of tuberculosis. Keats's reputation rose at his death and has not fallen. His gift is clear in ‘On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer’ (1816). His notable trials in the sonnet form helped him devise the stanzas used in his Odes. In the couplets of Endymion and the blank-verse of the unfinished Hyperion, his fertile mind tends to run on: his imagination responded impetuously to sensuous beauty, in women, in nature or in art, and in verse and language themselves. Stanza-form controlled his sentences and concentrated his thought, and his late unstanzaic poems, Lamia and The Fall of Hyperion, are less diffuse. The first critics of Endymion wanted him to control his aestheticism — They found his explicit sensuousness cloying. But Keats did not need to be told that aesthetic joy passes. In 1816 he had asked in Sleep and Poetry, ‘And can I ever bid these joys farewell?/Yes, I must pass them for a nobler life,/Where I may find the agonies, the strife/Of human hearts.’ He had already lost his mother to the tuberculosis which was later to claim his brother Tom and himself. Sleep and Poetry is a title which points to Keats’s lasting concern about the morality of imagination, and the complex relationships between art and experience. In his last major work, The Fall of Hyperion, he is told that ‘The poet and the dreamer are distinct,/Diverse, sheer opposite, antipodes./The one pours out a balm upon the world,/The other vexes it.’ In The Eve of St Agnes he produced perhaps the most coherent of all the symbolic legends invented by the Romantic poets. Using a medieval romance setting and the Spenserian stanza, Keats brings together young lovers from feuding families, a situation found in The Lay of the last Minstrel and Christabel. The end is neither tragic, as in Romeo and Juliet, nor, as in Scott or in Coleridge’s intended ending, happy.Keats’s images of illness and death would be just as concrete if we did not know that he was an apothecary-surgeon who had nursed his dying brother Tom. This concreteness is the ‘ore’ he recommended to Shelley.
Romantic prose Belles lettres Romantic poetry invites a reverence which Romantic prose essayists, for all their ‘fine writing’, rarely show. In the year in which Keats addressed the nightingale as a ‘light-winged Dryad of the trees’ on Hampstead Heath, Thomas Love Peacock wrote that `We know ... that there are no Dryads in Hyde-park nor Naiads in the Regent’s-canal. But barbaric manners and supernatural interventions are essential to poetry. Either in the scene, or in the time, or in both, it must be remote from our ordinary perceptions.’ This last is an 18th-century judgement on Romantic poetry, to be read with Wordsworth’s Preface and Shelley’s Defence.Charles Lamb Charles Lamb (1775-1834) was indifferent to ideas, to politics and to the Lake District. His anthology of the older dramatists was a contribution to later Romantic tastes. Although his comments are often shrewd, Lamb treated Renaissance plays as cabinets of poetic gems and curiosities. His preference for reading plays rather than seeing them is only partly due to the low state of the theatre. Playwrights were for him ‘dramatic poets’, whereas the Romantics were specimens of humanity who lived about the time of Lamb. The purpose of his own familiar essays is to display his idiosyncratic sensibility. The charm valued by his friends lingers in Old China and in The Two Races of Men - these are ‘the men who borrow’ and ‘the men who lend’. Coleridge appears as ‘Comberbatch, matchless in his depredations’; those books that he returns are ‘enriched with annotations’. William Hazlitt A humorous phrase was not the highest ambition of the lifelong radical, William Hazlitt (1778-1830). His literary and theatrical criticism consists of random lively ‘impressions’. He wrote one wonderful essay, My First Acquaintance with Poets (1823), an unforgettable account of his meeting with his heroes of twenty-five years earlier. Wordsworth ‘sat down and talked very naturally and freely, with a mixture of clear gushing accents in his voice, a deep guttural intonation, and a strong tincture of the northern burr, like the crust on wine. He instantly began to make havoc of the half of a Cheshire cheese on the table ...’. STC’s ‘forehead was broad and high, light as if built of ivory, with large projecting eyebrows, and his eyes rolling beneath them, like a sea with darkened lustre ... His mouth was gross, voluptuous, open, eloquent; his chin good-humoured and round: but his nose, the rudder of the face, the index of the will, was small, feeble, nothing - like what he has done.’ Vigorous caricature made Hazlitt an effective journalist and public speaker, but his politics overrode his critical judgement. The premium which Romanticism gave to sincerity leaves a criticism which is merely autobiographical at the mercy of whim and prejudice. Lamb, for example, so ‘gentle’, so fond of old books, old China and his old schoolfriend Coleridge, had a philistine contempt for the music of Mozart and Handel. Leigh Hunt (1784-1859) was a benign exponent of descriptive-cumappreciative criticism, a man of letters of liberal energy and sympathy. He will be remembered less for his own writing than as the editor who published Keats, Shelley, Byron, Hazlitt, Hogg and Tennyson.Thomas De Quincey Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859) is best remembered for the elaborate prose of Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, an autobiography full of hallucinatory dreams, notably one of an Easter Sunday when he recognizes the face of Ann, a 17-yearold prostitute who had helped him when he was down and out in London. The psychological configuration given by De Quincey to his compelling memories is reminiscent of those in Frost at Midnight and in Wordsworth’s ‘spots of time’. It prefigures the imaginative use of the Gothic made by the Brontës.Fiction Thomas Love Peacock Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1864), who worked beside Lamb in the East India Office under John Mill, was a fine satirist. Like the gifted poet Walter Savage Landor, Peacock was a long-lived 18th-century gentleman Radical. Both wrote imaginary conversations between writers, but Landor’s historical conversations have none of the quickness of Peacock’s ironic countryhouse dialogues between ‘perfectibilians, deteriorationists, status-quo-ites ... transcendentalists, political economists, theorists in all sciences ... lovers of the picturesque, and lovers of good dinners.’ The Misfortunes of Elphin (1829), set in 6th-century Wales, contains ‘The War Song of Dinas Vawr’, a parody of the darkage battle-poem idealized by the Romantics: ‘The mountain sheep are sweeter/But the valley sheep are fatter;/We therefore deemed it meeter/To carry off the latter.’ Mary Shelley If Peacock’s dialogues are modelled upon Plato’s, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley (1797-1851) is a cross between the Gothic tale and the fable of ideas; neither is realistic. Frankenstein began as a literary experiment within a social experiment - as a ‘ghost story’ in a game proposed by Byron at the Villa Diodati on Lac Leman, Switzerland, in 1816, while Mary’s half-sister Claire Clairmont was having an affair with Byron. Two years earlier Mary, aged 16, had eloped with Shelley from the home of her father, the philosopher-novelist William Godwin. Her mother, the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, had died after her birth in 1797. Mary herself lost a daughter at 17, bore a son at 18, and, after the suicides of another of her half-sisters and of Shelley’s wife, married the poet at 19. She had lost another child before she was widowed at 24. She dedicated Frankenstein to Godwin. Shelley wrote a preface, supposedly by Mary, and also a disingenuous pre-publication review in which he refers to the author as male and as showing the influence of Godwin. Men were the midwives of this mythbreeding text. Frankenstein is an epistolary narrative with three narrators, the English Arctic explorer Capt. Walton, the German scientist Victor Frankenstein, and the nameless ‘man’ which Frankenstein ‘creates’ out of human body-parts by electrical experiment. The Creature wants a mate, which Frankenstein assembles but destroys. It then kills its creator’s brother, his friend and his wife; he tries to kill it, but it escapes into the Arctic. The sensational contents and moral ideas of Frankenstein are conveyed in a mechanical style. Its interest is cultural, moral, philosophical and psychological: it is a nightmare of alienation; a sentimental critique of the victorious intellect to which Shelley and Godwin trusted; and a negative critique of a Faustian overconfidence in natural science.Maria Edgeworth Women make a notable contribution to fiction from early in the 19th century. The historical novel was perfected by Scott, but he did not invent it. In Waverley he wrote ‘so as in some distant degree to emulate the admirable portraits drawn by Miss Edgeworth’. He refers to the anonymous Castle Rackrent: An Hibernian tale taken from facts and from the manners of the Irish squires before the year 1782, an edited oral memoir of the steward of the Rackrent estate.
Sir Walter Scott The Quarterly Review, founded by Scott, greeted the anonymous Waverley (1814) as ‘a Scotch Castle Rackrent’ but ‘in a much higher strain’. Waverley; Or, ’Tis Sixty Years Since deals with a larger subject more directly, the Jacobite Rising of 1745, in which Bonnie Prince Charlie, backed by Highland clans loyal to the deposed House of Stuart, advanced as far as Derby before retreat and defeat. Scott’s initial approach is oblique, establishing Edward Waverley as a decent young English gentleman who has spent his youth, like Cervantes’ Don Quixote, reading romances of chivalry. He is an innocent blank page. Finding himself in Scotland with his detachment of Dragoons, he is charmed by Scottish hospitality and manners, and by Rose Bradwardine. He is then captivated by Highland life, and smitten with Flora MacIvor, whom he sees in the glen in a scene of ‘romantic wildness’:Scott’s success was immediate, immense, international. Waverley was followed by twenty-five Scottish historical novels, notably The Antiquary (1816), Old Mortality (1816), The Heart of Midlothian (1818) and Redgauntlet (1824), and English medieval romances, beginning with Ivanhoe (1819); also numbers of plays, biographies, essays, and editions. Thanks to Scott, Edinburgh saw the Prince Regent in a kilt (and pink tights) taking a dram of whisky: a swallow which made the summer of Scottish tourism. Scott, the first Briton to be made a baronet for writing books, may be the most influential of all British novelists. His historical novels use a new social history to recreate the past through characters imaginary and real. He combined wide reading in 18th-century antiquarians with fluent composition and narrative. Leisurely and detailed in exposition, he sets up several centres of interest; the action hen develops energy and drama. He made the past imaginable, with a sympathetic grasp of the motives and influences shaping the actions of groups and individuals. His characterization is benign, detached, shrewd, humorous, owing much to 18th-century theatrical traditions of external representation, but very wide in its social scope, with pungent low-life characters. His reconstruction of how things happen in history is broad, penetrating and subtle, and his plots are expertly managed. In his Scottish novels he sought to make the differing versions of Scottish history mutually intelligible to their inheritors, using a new relativistic historical and anthropological approach to reconcile sectarian traditions, so that a Scotland who understood herself could be known to England. Scott was a patriot and a Unionist.The greatest commercial success of ‘the Wizard of the North’ was Ivanhoe, the first of the English romances which succeeded his Scottish novels. It created the costume-drama industry which turns out ‘good reads’ and bodice-rippers. In Scott’s English medieval pageants, drawn from reading rather than local knowledge, the use of theatrically-posed scenes, as of Flora MacIvor at the waterfall, loses both irony and Scottish iron. His popularity and reputation eventually faded, and his generosityof style means that he seems long-winded compared with his snappier imitators. The success of Ivanhoe and its sequels should not conceal the achievement of the author of Waverley, a historical novelist of range, grasp and balance.Jane Austen Jane Austen (1775-1817) grew up in the quiet country parish of her father, the Rev, George Austen, in a family where literature was the chief amusement. One of her five elder brothers became her father’s curate and successor. She wrote for pleasure in childhood, and as an adult chose to work on ‘3 or 4 families in a country village’: the world she knew. Her wit, workmanship and background are not Romantic but Augustan and 18th-century Anglican, like the ideals of the older country gentry she depicts. Despite its sudden spring in the mid-18th century, the novel became a major form again only after 1800. Before Austen, there were Gothic tales, novels of sensibility like Mackenzie’s The Man of Feeling, the social entertainments of Fanny Burney and Charlotte Smith, and Godwin’s experiments of ideas, but the novel reached perfection with Jane Austen. It went on to popularity, periodical publication, and bigger things.After juvenilia written to entertain her family, she dedicated herself to the novel. Her novels are cast in the form of the comedy of manners: accuracy of social behaviour and dialogue, moral realism, elegance of style, and ingenuity of plot. For all her penetration and intelligence, Austen is distinctly a moral idealist. The mistress of irony unfolds a Cinderella tale ending in an engagement. The heroine, typically of good family but with little money, has no recognized prospect but marriage; no wish to marry without love; and no suitable man in sight. After trials and moral discoveries, virtue wins. Of the few professional After juvenilia written to entertain her family, she dedicated herself to the novel. Her novels are cast in the form of the comedy of manners: accuracy of social behaviour and dialogue, moral realism, elegance of style, and ingenuity of plot. For all her penetration and intelligence, Austen is distinctly a moral idealist. The mistress of irony unfolds a Cinderella tale ending in an engagement. The heroine, typically of good family but with little money, has no recognized prospect but marriage; no wish to marry without love; and no suitable man in sight. After trials and moral discoveries, virtue wins. Of the few professional novelists before her, none is so consistent. Formally, Austen’s fiction has the drastic selectivity of drama, and, like Racine, gains thereby. The moral life of her time is clear in her pages, although the history is social not national. Two of her brothers, however, became admirals; and in Persuasion, amid the vanities of Bath, she rejoices in the challenge of naval officers to the old social hierarchy. Her comedy of manners accepts the presence or absence of rank, wealth, brains, beauty and masculinity as facts, and as factors in society, while placing goodness, rationality and love above them. Such comedy is not trivial, unless a woman’s choice of husband is trivial. For all her fun and sharp-edged wit, Austen’s central concern is with the integrity of a woman’s affections. Her novels become increasingly moving.The bright Northanger Abbey and the dark Sense and Sensibility are preparatory to the well-managed gaiety of Pride and Prejudice, which the author came to find ‘too light, bright and sparkling’. It is certainly simpler than the serious Mansfield Park, the classical Emma and the autumnal Persuasion. It is hard to choose between these. Mansfield Park is not about the education of its heroine: her example educates others. Amidst complex social comedy, the plain and simple Fanny Price, a poor niece brought up at Mansfield in its splendid park but not sophisticated by it, resists the predatory charm of visitors from London. Edmund, her admired cousin, eventually realizes the beauty of her nature. Moral worth is recommended less directly in Emma, a work of art designed with economical symmetry. ‘Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to dis-tress or vex her.’ Emma, the queen of the village, prides herself on her perceptiveness, and decides that Harriet Smith, a pretty seventeen-year-old of unknown birth whom she takes up, is too good to marry a local farmer. Emma invites her to the house to meet the new parson, who misinterprets the encouragement and proposes to Emma. This is only the first, however, of Emma’s mistaken efforts to marry off Harriet. Austen so manages appearances that the reader shares Emma’s dangerous delusions. Virtually everybody in the book is misled by their imagination. In this sense, Austen is squarely anti-Romantic.