Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 September 2020
This essay explores the particular forms that Jonsonian politics took across the period from the 1790s to the 1830s through two detailed case studies. The first explores the uses of Jonson made by the radical lecturer and political reformer, John Thelwall, from 1794–6. Thelwall offers a reading of a public Jonson whose presence in the lecture room and in political pamphlets is vitally connected with the discourses of political possibility made available by and in this post-Revolutionary moment in English history. The second case study explores contrastingly private uses of Jonson made by Charles Lamb, a writer who for a long time was sweetened by his posthumous reception into a far less political, engaged and awkward writer than he should now seem. Lamb’s annotated copy of the Jonson third folio is for the first time available to study after its purchase by Princeton University Library. The essay suggests that these annotations have their origin in the moment of mid-1790s protest to which Thelwall’s Jonson had belonged, and in which Lamb, too, played a part. Over the course of his many returns to reading Jonson, Lamb inscribes a Romantic politics in Jonson’s margins, a politics that today may have renewed relevance.