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Among the Romantics: E. P. Thompson and the Poetics of Disenchantment

  • James Epstein


This article examines key themes in the political and intellectual life of E. P. Thompson. It argues for the centrality of romanticism to his work; it focuses on his unfinished study of the early Romantics. Thompson drew parallels between socialist hopes and disappointments of his own day and the reactions of the early romantic poets to the failed promise of the French Revolution. This article charts the trajectory of the early Romantics as they moved from political engagement to retreat, and relates this trajectory to Thompson's own politics. Thompson discerned a pattern whereby intellectuals and artists moved through stages from political engagement to disenchantment and then to “apostasy” or default. Disenchantment could be a productive condition; at issue was how the poet handled the “authenticity of experience,” how disenchantment was dealt with in verse. Both Thompson and the Romantics privileged the concept of “experience” which they set in opposition to abstract theory. The article's final section turns to themes that Thompson had intended to address but left unfinished, including shifting views of patriotism and the defeated cause of women's rights. For Thompson the romantic impulse was ultimately linked to utopian desire, to the capacity to imagine that which is “not yet.”



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1 Thompson, E. P., “My Study,” in Collected Poems, ed. Inglis, Fred (Newcastle, 1989), 80.

2 Thompson, E. P., The Making of the English Working Class (London, 1963), 832.

3 For a partial list of events, broadcasts, and publications, see Holland, Owen and Phillips, Eoin, “Fifty Years of E. P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class: Some Field Notes,” Social History 39, no. 2 (June 2014): 172–81, 173n7. See also Fieldhouse, Roger and Taylor, Richard, eds., E. P. Thompson and English Radicalism (Manchester, 2014); Davis, Madeline and Morgan, Kevin, introduction to “‘Causes That Were Lost?’ Fifty Years of E. P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class as Contemporary History,” ed. Davis, Madeline and Morgan, Kevin, special issue, Contemporary British History 28, no. 4 (September 2014): 374–81.

4 See, however, Scrivener, Michael, “E. P. Thompson and Romantic Radicalism,” Wordsworth Circle 37, no. 2 (Spring 2006): 5256 .

5 Palmer, Bryan D., E. P. Thompson: Objections and Oppositions (London, 1994), 2527 ; Conradi, Peter J., A Very English Hero: The Making of Frank Thompson (London, 2012), 811, 43–48.

6 Thompson referred to a collection on the romantic poets in a number of places and over a long period. See, for instance, Thompson, E. P., interview by Mike Merrill, in Visions of History, ed. Abelove, Henry et al. (New York, 1976), 325 , at 22; and Thompson, E. P., Persons and Polemics (London, 1994), viiviii .

7 Thompson, E. P., “Disenchantment or Default? A Lay Sermon,” in The Romantics in a Revolutionary Age, ed. Thompson, Dorothy (Woodbridge, 1997), 3374 .

8 See McGann, Jerome J., The Romantic Ideology: A Critical Investigation (Chicago, 1983).

9 Thompson, “Disenchantment or Default?,” 34.

10 William Hazlitt, The Spirit of the Age (1825), in The Works of William Hazlitt, ed. Howe, P. P., 21 vols. (London, 1930–1934), 11:16.

11 William Godwin, Diaries, for Wordsworth's visits in 1795–1796, Abinger Papers, Bodleian Library, Oxford University, Oxford,

12 Coleridge to Southey, 21 October 1794, in The Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. Griggs, E. L. (Oxford, 1956), 1:115; “Godwin,” Morning Chronicle, 10 January 1795, quoted in Roe, Nicholas, The Politics of Nature: William Wordsworth and Some Contemporaries (Basingstoke, 2002), 2526 .

13 Thompson, “Disenchantment or Default?,” 34–35.

14 Wordsworth, William, The Prelude: The Four Texts (1798, 1799, 1805, 1850), ed. Wordsworth, Jonathan (London, 1995), 446. References are to the 1805 version and appear parenthetically in the main text.

15 Compare Philp, Mark, “Thompson, Godwin and the French Revolution,” History Workshop Journal 39, no. 1 (Autumn 1995): 91101 ; idem, Reforming Ideas in Britain: Politics and Language in the Shadow of the Revolution, 1789–1815 (Cambridge, 2014), 6, and chap. 8; and Mee, Jon, “‘The Press and Danger of the Crowd’: Godwin, Thelwall, and the Counter-Public Sphere,” in Godwinian Moments: From Enlightenment to Romanticism, ed. Maniquis, Robert M. and Meyers, Victoria (Toronto, 2011), 83102 . As Mee indicates, Wordsworth continued to share Godwin's anxieties about the uncontrolled passions of the crowd.

16 Simpson, David, Romanticism, Nationalism, and the Revolt against Theory (Chicago, 1993).

17 Thompson, E. P., “Where Are We Now?,” in E. P. Thompson and the Making of the New Left, ed. Winslow, Cal (London, 2014), 215–46, at 236–37. Written in April 1963, the memo was not published. The differences between Thompson and Perry Anderson, the journal's editor, soon spilled onto the pages of New Left Review and Socialist Register. See, most notably, Anderson, Perry, “The Origins of the Present Crisis,” New Left Review, no. 23 (January–February 1964): 2653 ; idem, Socialism and Pseudo-Empiricism,” New Left Review, no. 35 (January–February 1966): 242 ; E. P. Thompson, “The Peculiarities of the English” (1965), in Thompson, , The Poverty of Theory and Other Essays (London, 1978), 3591 . Thompson links Godwin's hyper-rationalism and Wordsworth's rejection of abstract theory to his later attack on Althusser. E. P. Thompson, “The Poverty of Theory or an Orrery of Errors,” in Thompson, Poverty of Theory, 193–397, at 372–73.

18 E. P. Thompson, “Wordsworth's Crisis” (1988), in Thompson, Romantics, 75–95, at 88–89. See also idem, “Benevolent Mr. Godwin” (1993), in Thompson, Romantics, 96–106.

19 Thompson, E. P., William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary, rev. ed. (London, 1977), 790–93.

20 Goode, John, “E. P. Thompson and ‘the Significance of Literature,’” in E. P. Thompson: Critical Perspectives, ed. Kaye, Harvey J. and McClelland, Keith (Philadelphia, 1990), 183203 , at 190–98.

21 Thompson, Making, 176, 159. See also idem, “A Compendium of Cliché: The Poet as Essayist” (1979), in Thompson, Romantics, 143–55, at 146.

22 The scholarly literature on Pantisocracy is large, but for the background, see Holmes, Richard, Coleridge: Early Visions, 1772–1804 (New York, 1989), chap. 4; and MacGillivray, J. B., “The Pantisocracy Scheme and its Immediate Background,” in Studies in English by Members of University College Toronto, ed. Wallace, Malcolm W. (Toronto, 1931), 131–69.

23 Samuel Coleridge, Collected Works of Samuel Coleridge, vol. 1, Lectures 1795 on Politics and Religion, ed. Patton, Lewis and Mann, Peter (London, 1971), 124–30. Coleridge pulled together ideas from Godwin, Rousseau, Priestley, Locke, Hartley, Harrington, and Moses Lowman on Hebraic agrarian law. See Morrow, John, Coleridge's Political Thought: Property, Morality and the Limits of Traditional Discourse (New York, 1990), chap. 1; and Leask, Nigel, The Politics of Imagination in Coleridge's Critical Thought (New York, 1988), chap. 3. For Thelwall's views on property, see Claeys, Gregory, ed., introduction to The Politics of English Jacobinism: Writings of John Thelwall (University Park, 1995), xxxvlvi .

24 For Southey's reaction to Brissot's execution, see Southey, Charles Cuthbert, ed., The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey (New York, 1851), 67. For the “secret” importance to Wordsworth of the execution of the Girondist journalist, Antoine-Joseph Gorsas, see Roe, Politics of Nature, chap. 6.

25 For the publication history of Wat Tyler, see Fulford, Tim and Crawford, Rachel, eds., Robert Southey: Later Poetical Works, 1811–1838 (London, 2012), 3:441–60.

26 Wordsworth to William Matthews, 23 May and [8] June 1794, in The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth: The Early Years, 1787–1805, ed. Ernest de Selincourt, 2nd ed., rev. Chester L. Shaver (Oxford, 1967), 119, 123–24.

27 Thompson, “Wordsworth's Crisis,” 78–83. See also Roe, Nicholas, Wordsworth and Coleridge: The Radical Years (Oxford, 1988), 175–86, 276–79; Johnston, Kenneth R., The Hidden Wordsworth (New York, 2002), chap. 18; and Davis, Michael T., “‘That Odious Class of Men Called Democrats’ Daniel Isaac Eaton and the Romantics, 1794–1795,” History 84, no. 273 (January 1999): 7492 .

28 Samuel Coleridge, Conciones ad Populum, or Addresses to the People (1795), in Patton and Mann, eds., Collected Works, 1:61, 1:74; Coleridge to Dyer, [late February 1795], in Griggs, ed., Collected Letters, 1:152. See, more generally, Davis, Michael T., “The British Jacobins and the Unofficial Terror of Loyalism in the 1790s,” in Terror: From Tyrannicide to Terrorism, ed. Bowden, Brett and Davis, Michael T. (Brisbane, 2008), 92113 .

29 Coleridge reworked the lecture into the pamphlet, The Plot Discovered: An Address to the People against Ministerial Treason (Bristol, 1795). For the legislative crackdown, see Barrell, John, Imagining the King's Death: Figurative Treason, Fantasies of Regicide, 1793–1796 (Oxford, 2000), chap. 16.

30 E. P. Thompson, “Bliss Was It in That Dawn—The Matter of Coleridge's Revolutionary Youth” (1971), in Thompson, Romantics, 108–32, at 124–27.

31 Southey to Charles Danvers, 15 June 1809, in New Letters of Robert Southey, ed. Curry, Kenneth (New York, 1965), 1:511.

32 Hazlitt, Spirit of the Age, 11:37.

33 Johnston, Kenneth R., Unusual Suspects: Pitt's Reign of Alarm and the Lost Generation of the 1790s (Oxford, 2013), xvii. See also Bugg, John, Five Long Winters: The Trials of British Romanticism (Stanford, 2014).

34 Coleridge to Thelwall, [late April 1796], in Griggs, ed., Collected Letters, 1:204; Coleridge to Thelwall, 13 November 1796, in ibid., 1:253.

35 E. P. Thompson, “Hunting the Jacobin Fox” (1994), in Thompson, Romantics, 156–217, at 163; idem, Making, 157–61.

36 Thelwall studies has become a crowded subfield. Thompson quipped, in a letter from 1993, “Thelwall is suddenly an O.K. subject.” Roe, Nicholas, “The Lives of John Thelwall: Another View of the ‘Jacobin Fox,’” in John Thelwall: Radical Romantic and Acquitted Felon, ed. Poole, Steve (London, 2009), 1324 , at 13.

37 Thompson, “Disenchantment or Default?,” 40–49.

38 Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions, 155–60; Fairer, David, Organising Poetry: The Coleridge Circle, 1790–1798 (Oxford, 2009), chap. 10.

39 Thompson, Making, 176; Coleridge, S. T., Table Talk and Omniana, ed. Ashe, T. (London, 1903), 103, 26 July 1830. For “Spy Nozy,” see Roe, Wordsworth and Coleridge, 248–62; and Johnston, Unusual Suspects, chap. 12.

40 Thompson, “Disenchantment or Default?,” 50–57.

41 Wakefield, Gilbert, A Reply to Some Parts of the Bishop of Llandaff's Address to the People of Britain (London, 1798), 23; Johnston, Unusual Suspects, chap. 10.

42 Tyson, Gerald P., Joseph Johnson: A Liberal Publisher (Iowa City, 1979), chap. 5; Smyser, Jane Worthington, “The Trial and Imprisonment of Joseph Johnson, Bookseller,” Bulletin of the New York Public Library 77, no. 4 (Summer 1974): 418–35; Braithwaite, Helen, Romanticism, Publishing and Dissent: Joseph Johnson and the Cause of Liberty (Basingstoke, 2003), 127–32, 162.

43 Thompson, “Disenchantment or Default?,” 55.

44 Wordsworth, William, A Letter to the Bishop of Llandaff on the Extraordinary Avowal of his Political Principles … by a Republican, in The Prose Works of William Wordsworth, ed. Owen, W. J. B. and Smyser, Jane Worthington (Oxford, 1974), 1:2949 .

45 Thompson, “Hunting,” 178, 192–203; idem, Making, 176. See also Thompson, Judith, John Thelwall in the Wordsworth Circle: The Silenced Partner (New York, 2012), chap. 11.

46 Johnston, Unusual Suspects, 201–4; idem, Wordsworth's Excursion: Route and Destination,” Wordsworth Circle 45, no. 2 (Spring 2014): 106–15.

47 Thompson, “Disenchantment or Default?,” 57.

48 Johnston, Hidden Wordsworth, 444–49.

49 Thompson, Making, 176, 179.

50 Thompson, “Interview,” 11–12.

51 Palmer, E. P. Thompson, 45–55; Searby, Peter, Rule, John, and Malcolmson, Robert, “Edward Thompson as a Teacher: Yorkshire and Warwick,” in Protest and Survival: Essays for E. P. Thompson, ed. Rule, John and Malcolmson, Robert (London, 1993), 123 .

52 Thompson, E. P., William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary (London, 1955) 841; Thompson, , William Morris (1977), 727, 810.

53 Thompson, E. P., “Socialist Humanism: An Epistle to the Philistines,” New Reasoner, no. 1 (Summer 1957): 105–43. Thompson's articles from this period are conveniently reprinted in Winslow, ed., E. P. Thompson. See also Kate Soper, “Socialist Humanism,” in Kaye and McClelland, eds., E. P. Thompson, 204–32.

54 Hall, Stuart, “Life and Times of the First New Left,” New Left Review, no. 61 (January–February 2010): 177–96; Thompson, Dorothy, “On the Trail of the New Left,” New Left Review, no. 215 (January–February 1996): 93100 . Earlier in the year, Nikita Khrushchev's “secret speech” had already led to internal dissent within the British Communist Party; Thompson was among those demanding an open and full account. See Saville, John, “The Twentieth Congress and the British Communist Party,” in Socialist Register, 1976, ed. Miliband, Ralph and Saville, John (London, 1976), 123 .

55 Thompson, E. P., preface to The Making of the English Working Class (London, 1980), 14.

56 Mander, John, The Writer and Commitment (London, 1961), 7; E. P. Thompson, “Commitment and Poetry” (1979), in Thompson, Persons and Polemics, 332–41. Compare idem, Commitment in Politics,” Universities and Left Review, no. 6 (Spring 1959): 5055 .

57 E. P. Thompson, “Outside the Whale,” in Thompson, Poverty of Theory, 1–33, at 3–4. See also idem, “At the Point of Decay,” in Thompson, , Out of Apathy (London, 1960), 315 .

58 C. Wright Mills first discussed the cultural “default” of intellectuals in “Culture and Politics: The Fourth Epoch,” Listener, 12 March 1959, reprinted in Power, Politics, and People: The Collected Essays of C. Wright Mills, ed. Horowitz, Irving Louis (New York, 1963), 236–46.

59 Orwell, George, “Inside the Whale,” in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, vol. 1, An Age Like This, 1920–1940, ed. Orwell, Sonia and Angus, Ian (Harmondsworth, 1970), 548, 569–78.

60 Ibid., 568.

61 Auden, W. H., “In Memory of W. B. Yeats” (1939), in Another Time (London, 1940), 108.

62 Collini, Stefan, “Enduring Passions: E. P. Thompson's Reputation,” in Collini, Common Reading: Critics, Historians, Publics (Oxford, 2008), 177. See also Eastwood, David, “History, Politics and Reputation: E. P. Thompson Reconsidered,” History 85, no. 280 (October 2000): 634–54.

63 Spain was published by Faber & Faber with a thin red dust jacket that stated, on the inside flap, that all of the author's royalties were to go to medical aid for Spain.

64 Thompson, “Outside the Whale,” 4–13. The revised version of Spain was first published in Another Time and republished in The Collected Poetry of W. H. Auden (London, 1945). For Auden's inner conflict and political poetry, see Mendelson, Edward, Early Auden (New York, 1981), chap. 9. For an illuminating discussion of the poem, see Hynes, Samuel, The Auden Generation: Literature and Politics in England in the 1930s (London, 1976), 251–56. Thompson's poetry reflects Auden's influence.

65 Thompson, “Outside the Whale,” 20.

66 Ibid., 18–21.

67 Thompson, E. P., “Socialism and the Intellectuals,” Universities and Left Review, no. 1 (Spring 1957): 3136 . See also idem, “Socialist Humanism.”

68 Saville, John, Memoirs from the Left (London, 2003), 114–16; idem, “Twentieth Congress,” 18–19.

69 See E. P. Thompson, “Left Review” (1971), in Thompson, Persons and Polemics, 228–35.

70 Swingler was a member of the New Reasoner’s editorial board and friend of Thompson. See Croft, Andy, Comrade Heart: A Life of Randall Swingler (Manchester, 2003), chap. 15.

71 Lewis, C. Day, “Revolutionaries and Poetry,” Left Review 1 (July 1935): 395402 , at 400; Swingler, R., “The Interpretation of Madness: A Study of William Blake and Literary Tradition,” Left Review, no. 3 (February 1937): 2128 , at 22. Left-wing contemporary writing on this issue is copious, but see, for example, Lewis, C. Day, ed., The Mind in Chains: Socialism and the Cultural Revolution (London, 1937); and Caudwell, Christopher, Illusion and Reality (London, 1938), particularly chap. 12, “The Future of Poetry.”

72 Fox, Ralph, The Novel and the People (New York, 1945), 115–16, 124–25.

73 Thompson, Frank, There is a Spirit in Europe: A Memoir of Frank Thompson, ed. Thompson, T. J. and Thompson, E. P. (London, 1947), 5758 .

74 Ibid., 15; Thompson, E. P., Beyond the Frontier: The Politics of a Failed Mission, Bulgaria, 1944 (Stanford, 1997).

75 Schwarz, Bill, “‘The People’ in History: The Communist Party Historians’ Group, 1946–56,” in Making Histories: Studies in History-Writing and Politics, ed. Johnson, Richard et al. (London, 1982), 4495 . See also Hobsbawm, Eric, “The Historians’ Group of the Communist Party,” in Rebels and Their Causes: Essays in Honour of A. L. Morton, ed. Cornforth, Maurice (London, 1978), 2147 ; and Matthews, Wade, The New Left, National Identity, and the Break-Up of Britain (Chicago, 2014), chap. 2.

76 See, for example, Thompson, E. P., “Comments on a People's Culture,” Our Time, October 1947: 3438 ; idem, William Morris and the Moral Issues of To-day,” Arena 2, no. 8 (June–July 1951): 2530 . The editorial boards of these journals included Left Review veterans.

77 See Middleton, Stuart, “E. P. Thompson and the Cultural Politics of Literary Modernism,” Contemporary British History 28, no. 4 (September 2011): 1634 .

78 E. P. Thompson, “Edgell Rickword,” in Thompson, Persons and Polemics, 236–43. See also Hobday, Charles, Edgell Rickword (Manchester, 1989), particularly chap. 12; and Harker, Ben, “‘Communism is English’: Edgell Rickword, Jack Lindsay and the Cultural Politics of the Popular Front,” Literature and History 20, no. 2 (Autumn 2011): 1634 .

79 Lindsay, John and Rickword, Edgell, eds., A Handbook of Freedom: A Record of English Democracy through Twelve Centuries (London, 1939), 2044 , 126–50, 230–33, 235–38.

80 Kiernan, V. G., “Wordsworth and the People,” in Democracy and the Labour Movement: Essays in Honour of Dona Torr, ed. Saville, John (London, 1954), 240–70. See also idem, Wordsworth Revisited,” New Reasoner, no. 7 (Winter 1958–59): 6274 .

81 Hobsbawm, Eric, Interesting Times: A Twentieth-Century Life (London, 2003), 97.

82 See Mulhern, Francis, The Moment of “Scrutiny” (London, 1979); Schwarz, “‘The People,’” 64–65; and Middleton, “E. P. Thompson,” 423–25.

83 Mulhern, Moment, 329–30; Hilliard, Christopher, English as a Vocation: The Scrutiny Movement (Oxford, 2012), 13 , 256–57.

84 Hardy, Lesley, “F. R. Leavis, E. P. Thompson and the New Left: Some Shared Critical Responses,” Socialist History 30 (2007): 121 . For the attraction of Leavis and a defense of the concept of “experience,” see Williams, Raymond, Politics and Letters: Interviews with New Left Review (London, 1979), 6567 , 162–68.

85 Thompson, E. P., review of The Long Revolution by Raymond Williams, New Left Review, no. 9 (May–June 1961): 2434 ; idem, review of The Long Revolution by Williams, Raymond, New Left Review, no. 10 (July–August 1961): 3439 . For Williams’ reflections on “populism,” see also Williams, Raymond, “Notes on Marxism in Britain since 1945,” New Left Review, no. 100 (November–December 1976): 8194 , particularly 86–88.

86 Thompson, “Commitment in Politics,” 51–53. Compare Hall, Stuart, “A Sense of Classlessness,” Universities and Left Review, no. 5 (Autumn 1958): 2632 . See also Michael Newman, “Thompson and the Early New Left,” in Fieldhouse and Taylor, eds., E. P. Thompson, 169–77; Dworkin, Dennis, Cultural Marxism in Postwar Britain: History, the New Left, and the Origins of Cultural Studies (Durham, 1997), 5478 .

87 Thompson remained on the editorial board through 1961 but felt that the former editors were excluded under Anderson's editorship. For the other side of this conflict, see Perry Anderson, Arguments within English Marxism (London, 1980), 131–40.

88 Thompson, E. P., ed., Warwick University Ltd: Industry, Management and the Universities (Harmondsworth, 1970); Palmer, E. P. Thompson, 100–13.

89 Williams, Raymond, ed., May Day Manifesto, 1968 (Harmondsworth, 1968).

90 Edwards, Pamela, The Statesman's Science: History, Nature, and Law in the Political Thought of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (New York, 2004), particularly the introduction and chap. 1; Craig, David M., Robert Southey and Romantic Apostasy: Political Argument in Britain, 1780–1840 (London, 2007); Chandler, James K., Wordsworth's Second Nature: A Study of the Poetry and Politics (Chicago, 1984).

91 Butler, Marilyn, Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries: English Literature and Its Background 1760–1830 (Oxford, 1981), chap. 6.

92 Shelley, Percy Bysshe, “To Wordsworth,” in Percy Bysshe Shelley: The Major Works, ed. Leader, Zachary and O'Neill, Michael (Oxford, 2003), 9091 . Byron's attack comes in his “Dedication” to Don Juan (1819).

93 William Hazlitt, Examiner, 29 December 1816, in Howe, ed., Works of William Hazlitt, 7:119; Gilmartin, Kevin, William Hazlitt: Political Essayist (Oxford, 2015), 27, 49.

94 Thompson, E. P., Witness against the Beast: William Blake and the Moral Law (Cambridge, 1993), 228–29; Mee, Jon and Crosby, Mark, “‘This Soliderlike Danger’: The Trial of William Blake for Sedition,” in Resisting Napoleon: The British Response to the Threat of Invasion, 1797–1815, ed. Philp, Mark (Aldershot, 2006), 111–24.

95 Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, “France: An Ode” (1798), in Samuel Taylor Coleridge: The Major Works, ed. Jackson, H. J. (Oxford, 2000), 8992 .

96 E. P. Thompson, “Coleridge's Revolutionary Youth” and “Compendium of Cliché,” in Thompson, Romantics, 114, 145–50.

97 Thompson, “Disenchantment or Default?,” 37–38. See also the illuminating discussion in Mahoney, Charles, Romantics and Renegades: The Poetics of Political Reaction (Basingstoke, 2003), 79 .

98 Thompson, “Disenchantment or Default?,” 36–37. The poem was composed from April 1797 to March 1798. The composition history is complicated with ongoing revisions until its publication in book one of the Excursion.

99 Hazlitt, Spirit of the Age, 11: 87.

100 His formulation has come in for criticism and revision. See, most recently, Steedman, Carolyn, An Everyday Life of the English Working Class: Work, Self and Sociability in the Early Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, 2013), chap. 1.

101 Wordsworth, Prelude, 496.

102 Wordsworth, William, Preface (1802) to Lyrical Ballads, ed. Brett, R. L. and Jones, A. R. (London, 1968), 255–61.

103 E. P. Thompson, “Education and Experience,” in Thompson, Romantics, 4–32.

104 Ibid., 10, quoting Tribune 2, no. 16 (1796): 1617 ; Thompson, “Hunting,” 167.

105 Thompson, “Education and Experience,” 10–13, 28, quoting Prelude, bk. 8, 420–25. Compare Lindsay and Rickword, eds., Handbook of Freedom, xi–xii, where Rickword notes “how the word ‘common’ and its derivations … appear and re-appear like a theme through the centuries.”

106 See Butler, Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries, 58–68; Smith, Olivia, The Politics of Language, 1791–1819 (Oxford, 1984), chap. 6; and Bugg, John, “Revolution,” in William Wordsworth in Context, ed. Bennett, Andrew (Cambridge, 2015), 175–81.

107 Thompson, “Hunting,” 199.

108 Thompson, Making, 342–44. See also Eastwood, David, “Robert Southey and the Intellectual Origins of Romantic Conservatism,” English Historical Review 104, no. 411 (April 1989): 308–31. The reciprocities of paternalism formed a central theme in Thompson, E. P., Customs in Common: Studies in Traditional Popular Culture (London, 1991).

109 See the essays collected in Thompson, E. P., Writing by Candlelight (London, 1980). His case for the importance of rule of law to democratic society was first articulated in Thompson, E. P., Whigs and Hunters: The Origin of the Black Act (London, 1975), 258–69.

110 Palmer, E. P. Thompson, chap. 5; Bess, Michael, Realism, Utopia, and the Mushroom Cloud: Four Activist Intellectuals and Their Strategies for Peace, 1945–1989 (Chicago, 1993), 136–54; Veldman, Meredith, Fantasy, the Bomb, and the Greening of Britain: Romantic Protest, 1945–1980 (Cambridge, 1994), chap. 9. For his writings from this period, see Thompson, E. P., The Heavy Dancers (London, 1985); and idem, Double Exposure (London, 1985).

111 Butler, Marilyn, “Thompson's Second Front,” History Workshop Journal 39, no. 1 (Autumn 1995): 7178 .

112 For the most prominent example, see Colley, Linda, Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707–1837 (New Haven, 1992). See also Samuel, Raphael, ed., Patriotism and the Making and Unmaking of British National Identity, 3 vols. (London, 1989); Cunningham, Hugh, “The Language of Patriotism, 1750–1914,” History Workshop Journal 12, no. 1 (Autumn 1981): 833 ; and Eastwood, David, “Patriotism and the English State in the 1790s,” in The French Revolution and British Popular Politics, ed. Philp, Mark (Cambridge, 1991), 146–68.

113 Butler, “Thompson's Second Front,” 71–72.

114 McGann, introduction to Romantic Ideology; Levinson, Marjorie, Wordsworth's Great Period Poems (Cambridge, 1986), 9, and introduction. See also Liu, Alan, Wordsworth: The Sense of History (Stanford,  1989). Compare Abrams, M. H., “On Political Readings of Lyrical Ballads ,” in Doing Things with Texts: Essays in Criticism and Critical Theory, ed. Fischer, Michael (New York, 1989), 364–91.

115 Thompson aligned himself with the work of David Erdman and Carl Woodring. Of the “new historicists,” he shared most in common with Butler.

116 Thompson, “Interview,” 14. For Thompson as a reader of texts, see Luke Spencer, “The Uses of Literature: Thompson as Writer, Reader and Critic,” in Fieldhouse and Taylor, eds., E. P. Thompson, 96–117.

117 Wordsworth, Preface to Brett and Jones, eds., Lyrical Ballads, 257.

118 Tribune 1, 18 April 1795, 132–33; Plato,” Politics for the People, vol. 2, no. 4 (1794): 4952 . In his article, “Modern Patriotism,” Coleridge questioned Thelwall's status as a “patriot,” an early indication of their differences over religion. Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, Watchman, no. 3, 17 March 1796 , in Collected Works of Samuel Coleridge, vol. 2, The Watchman, ed. Patton, Lewis (London, 1970), 98–100.

119 Wordsworth went in order to visit his former lover, Annette Vallon, and their daughter, Caroline.

120 Wordsworth, William, William Wordsworth: The Major Works, ed. Gill, Stephen (Oxford, 2000) 275, 289. For “national defense patriotism,” the feeling that best describes Wordsworth's reaction, see Cookson, J. E., The British Armed Nation, 1793–1815 (Oxford, 1997), introduction and chap. 8. For the difference between the invasion threats of 1797–1798 and 1803–1805, see also Mark Philp, “Introduction: The British Response to the Threat of Invasion, 1797–1815,” in Philp, ed., Resisting Napoleon, 1–17.

121 Thompson, “Disenchantment or Default?,” 70.

122 Wordsworth, William Wordsworth, 282–83. A recent statute banned all persons of color from France's continental territories. My comments draw on Kaplan, Cora, “Black Heroes/White Writers: Toussaint L'Overture and the Literary Imagination,” History Workshop Journal 46, no. 1 (Autumn 1998): 3562 .

123 Wordsworth, Prelude, 410–12.

124 Thompson, Making, 402, 146–47.

125 Blackburn, Robin, The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 1776–1848 (London, 1988), chap. 4; Linebaugh, Peter and Rediker, Marcus, The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (Boston, 2000), 334–41. For a typical example associating abolitionists with “Jacobins,” see A Very New Pamphlet Indeed! … Containing Some Strictures on the English Jacobins (London, 1792), 35 .

126 Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Lecture on the Slave-Trade,” in Patton and Mann, eds., Collected Works, 1:248–49. For Thelwall, see Tribune 3 (1795), xxxv, 4748 . See also Wood, Marcus, Slavery, Empathy, and Pornography (Oxford, 2002), 169–80.

127 Robert Southey: Poetic Works, 1793–1810, ed. Pratt, Lynda (London, 2004), 5:5456 ; Sonoi, Chine, “Southey's Radicalism and the Abolitionist Movement,” Wordsworth Circle 42, no. 1 (Winter 2011): 2226 . See also Geggus, David, “British Opinion and the Emergence of Haiti, 1791–1805,” in Slavery and British Society, 1776–1846, ed. Walvin, James (Baton Rouge, 1982), 123–49.

128 See Steedman, Carolyn, “A Weekend with Elektra,” Literature and History 6, no. 1 (Spring 1997): 1742 ; and idem, The Price of Experience: Women and the Making of the English Working Class,” Radical History Review, no. 59 (Spring 1994): 108–19.

129 E. P. Thompson, afterword to Thompson, Romantics, 221–23. For female literary casualties, see Johnston, Unusual Suspects, 113–16, and chap. 7, on Helen Maria Williams. See also Kelly, Gary, Women, Writing, and Revolution, 1790–1827 (Oxford, 1993).

130 See Midgley, Clare, Women against Slavery: The British Campaigns, 1780–1870 (London, 1992), chap. 2; Ferguson, Moira, Subject to Others: British Women Writers and Colonial Slavery, 1670–1834 (London, 1992), chaps. 7–11; and Chernock, Arianne, Men and the Making of Modern British Feminism (Stanford, 2010).

131 Thompson, Making, 162–63. See also Cayton, Andrew, Love in the Time of Revolution: Transatlantic Radicalism and Historical Change, 1793–1818 (Chapel Hill, 2013).

132 E. P. Thompson, “Which Britons?” (1993), in Thompson, Persons and Polemics, 321–32; Colley, Britons, chap. 6. See also Franklin, Caroline, “Romantic Patriotism as Feminist Critique of Empire,” in Women, Gender and Enlightenment, ed. Knott, Sarah and Taylor, Barbara (Basingstoke, 2005), 551–64. For the feminist version of More, see, for example, Mellor, Anne K., Mothers of the Nation: Women's Political Writing in England, 1780–1830 (Bloomington, 2000), chap. 1.

133 E. P. Thompson, “Mary Wollstonecraft” (1974), in Thompson, Persons and Polemics, 1–9. From the large literature on Wollstonecraft, see Taylor, Barbara, Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination (Cambridge, 2003), particularly chap. 6.

134 Taylor, Wollstonecraft, 188, 246–55; idem, Eve and the New Jerusalem: Socialism and Feminism in the Nineteenth Century (London, 1983); Gleadle, Kathryn, The Early Feminists: Radical Unitarians and the Emergence of the Women's Rights Movement, 1831–51 (Basingstoke, 1995).

135 Wollstonecraft, Mary and Godwin, William, A Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark and Memoirs of the Author of “The Rights of Woman,” ed. Holmes, Richard (Harmondsworth, 1987), letter 14, 148–49, and editor's introduction, 20–21.

136 Thompson, “Socialism and the Intellectuals,” 31.

137 Thelwall, John, Rights of Nature, Against the Usurpations of Establishments … Part the Second (London, 1796), 32.

138 E. P. Thompson, “An Open Letter to Leszek Kolakowski” (1973), in Thompson, Poverty of Theory, 92–192, at 176, responding to Kolakowski, Leszek, “Intellectuals against Intellect,” Daedalus 101, no. 3 (Summer 1972): 115 . The passage might be compared to Herbert Marcuse, of whom Thompson was critical, discussing the reduction of the romantic space of the imagination.” Marcuse, One Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society (Boston, 1964), 195–96.

139 See Matthews, New Left, chap. 3; and Anderson, Arguments, particularly chap. 5. For a different take on Thompson's “Englishness,” see Satia, Priya, “Bryon, Gandhi and the Thompsons: The Making of British Social History and the Unmaking of Indian History,” History Workshop Journal 81, no. 1 (Spring 2016): 135–70.

140 Thompson, “Poverty of Theory,” 196, 199–201; idem, “Interview,” 17; idem, The Politics of Theory,” in People's History and Socialist Theory, ed. Samuel, Raphael (London, 1981), 396408 . Compare Stuart Hall, “In Defence of Theory,” in Samuel, ed., People's History, 378–85.

141 See Thompson's roundtable comments, Agendas for Radical History,” Radical History Review, no. 36 (Fall 1986): 2645 , at 37–42. See also Kenny, Michael, “Socialism and the Romantic ‘Self’: The Case of Edward Thompson,” Journal of Political Ideologies 5, no. 1 (February 2000): 105–27.

Among the Romantics: E. P. Thompson and the Poetics of Disenchantment

  • James Epstein


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