William Hazlitt had concluded in 1815 that a Quaker poet would be ‘a literary phenomenon’ - how could a marginal sect renowned for their plain dress, sober ways and proscription of pleasures produce imaginative literature? To conceive such a writer would be a paradox. Yet the career of Bernard Barton, a prolific poet of the 1820s and 1830s, presented the Romantic era with just such a phenomenon. Instantly recognisable to his contemporaries as the Quaker poet, Barton drew on the styles of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century - Cowper, Wordsworth, Crabbe - to fashion verse under a Quaker muse. His diverse poetic output is unified by a tender emotional warmth, a picturesque love for the Suffolk countryside and a self-consciously modest but nevertheless sophisticated authorship.
This is the first ever modern edition of Barton’s poetry, providing freshly edited texts from the original print sources and a comprehensive scholarly treatment encompassing critical commentary, detailed notes and textual variations. Capturing the full range of his career from the 1810s to 1840s, it includes generous selections of nature poetry, religious verse, texts of sociability and friendship, ekphrastic compositions, political writings and a long extract from his radically pacifist elegy to Napoleon. The book also includes a selection of invaluable contextual material, such as periodical reviews and Barton’s own prefaces, as well as a substantial essay introducing Barton and his times.
In a time when the nineteenth-century literary canon is in a continual process of expansion and revision, this unusual and striking poet, working from the position of a religious minority and yet fully engaging the mainstream poetic traditions of his day, deserves to be rediscovered, and this edition achieves precisely this.
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