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  • Cited by 6
  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: November 2008

1 - The living pantheon of poets in 1820: pantheon or canon?


As recently as the early 1980s, the definition of Romantic poetry would have been fairly clear and mostly non-controversial. Students explored Romanticism through the work of six major poets - Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats - with primary attention being given to their lyric poetry or to the lyric qualities of their attempts at, say, epic. Yet a Romanticism defined by the “Big Six” male writers is very much a mid-twentieth- century creation contrasted with, for example, Thomas Humphry Ward's English Poets of 1880, which included the favored six (Blake, largely invisible during the Romantic period, had been recovered by his Victorian admirers) alongside “secondary” Romantic poets such as Thomas Love Peacock, “Barry Cornwall,” and Leigh Hunt, popular writers of the period such as Sir Walter Scott, Thomas Moore, and Samuel Rogers, and women poets such as Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Joanna Baillie, and Felicia Hemans; George Benjamin Woods's 1916 English Poetry and Prose of the Romantic Period (still being reprinted in 1950) has a similar gathering of poets. Ernest Bernbaum's 1949 edition of his Guide Through the Romantic Movement continued to recognize sixteen major Romantic writers, though they are all male; but the path being taken by scholarship on Romanticism was signaled in the 1950 MLA publication The English Romantic Poets: A Review of Research, which included only five male poets, with Blake's absence corrected in later versions of this work. The most important anthology of the 1970s and 1980s, David Perkins's English Romantic Writers (1967), gives almost all of its pages to the core group, though it does sample other male poets.

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