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Living Forms

Romantics and the Monumental Figure

Bruce Haley

Publication Year: 2003

Based on years of archival research in various British and American libraries, Living Forms examines the early nineteenth century’s fascination with representations of the human form, particularly those from the past, which, having no adequate verbal explanatory text, are vulnerable to having their meanings erased by time. The author explores a variety of such representations and responses to them, including Coleridge’s Shakespeare lectures, Hazlitt’s essays on portraits, Keats’s poems on mythic and sculpted figures, meditations by Byron’s Childe Harold on the monuments of Italy, Felicia Hemans’s verses on monuments to and by women, and Shelley’s poems and letters on figures from Italy, Egypt, and other antique lands. Haley argues that in what has been called the “museum age,” Romantics sought aesthetically to frame these figures as “living forms,” mental images capable of realization in alternate modes or forms.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: SUNY series, Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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p. ix

I am happy to have the opportunity to thank those people and organizations who—many without their knowing it—contributed to the writing of this book. The scholars whose ideas I have drawn on are listed in the Works Cited section, but especially important have been the writings of Ernst Cassirer, Francis Haskell, Nicholas Penny, and Martin Aske. I am indebted too to the staffs...

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Introduction: Thoughts on Nelson’s Monument in St. Paul’s

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pp. 1-11

During the Napoleonic War a Committee on National Monuments commissioned several memorials to military notables. Lord Nelson’s was assigned in 1807 to John Flaxman and erected in the South Transept nave of St. Paul’s Cathedral. It is dominated by an imposing, realistic, life-size figure of the man standing on a high plinth. Below and to his right Minerva encircles two...

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Chapter 1: Imaginary Museum

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pp. 13-33

André Malraux remarked that museums change the very nature of the items they house. They “estrange the works they bring together from their original functions and . . . transform even portraits into ‘pictures’” (9).¹ When we recognize a portrait figure, painted or sculpted, less by its subject than by its maker—Reynolds, Lawrence, Flaxman, Chantrey—we can’t help thinking of it as an art “work,” as appropriate to a museum as to a...

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Chapter 2: History’s Seen and Unseen Forms: Peacock and Shelley

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pp. 35-57

Those museum visitors heard from in the last chapter could journey through Europe in relative comfort and safety because the Napoleonic wars had ended at Waterloo in June, 1815. No longer was there a French military presence in the cities of the Grand Tour, and for the most part the masterpieces looted by the Imperial Army had been restored to their original settings—private palaces or public museums.

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Chapter 3: Coleridge’s Shakespeare Gallery

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pp. 59-81

In the “Defence of Poetry” works of art are the reflection of the form-making power of poiein, which “regards the relations of things . . . in their integral unity.” Analogously, every great age presents an aesthetic synthesis of arts and institutions, best grasped by reimagining these works and the figures in them. Like the “Defence,” Coleridge’s Shakespeare lectures are exercises in historical restoration. Treating the Shakespeare corpus as...

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Chapter 4: Hazlitt’s Portraits: The Informing Principle

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pp. 83-109

“A likeness pleases every body,” observes Jane Austen, referring to Emma Woodhouse’s collection of desultory, half-finished “miniatures, half-lengths, whole-lengths, pencil, crayon, and water-colours” of her family. Those pictures themselves are likenesses; a likeness too is their perceived resemblance to identified living originals: “There is my sister; and really quite like her own elegant figure!—and the face is not unlike.”

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Chapter 5: Symbolic Forms: The Sleeping Children

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pp. 111-127

The solid, stationary object—the framed portrait, the stone effigy, the marble divinity, even the church tablet or graveyard headstone—has always fascinated poets, partly because it recalls or resembles a person but is not one, partly because it offers a model of undying remembrance and expression. For both reasons poets have tested the power of language to make these things speak. According to Jean Hagstrum,

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Chapter 6: Wordsworth’s Prelude: Objects that Endure

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pp. 129-145

One of Wordsworth’s “Itinerary Poems of 1833” is a sonnet on a monument in Wetheral Church, Corby, Cumberland. He had first viewed the sculpture in the studio of its eccentric creator, Joseph Nollekens. Proclaimed by Fuseli to be better than anything by Canova, the work honors Maria Howard, who died in childbirth at twenty-three. Wordsworth’s own memorial opens by briefly describing the Nollekens...

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Chapter 7: Fortune’s Rhetoric: Allegories for the Dead

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pp. 147-163

Figures like Wordsworth’s Shepherd, Cumberland beggar, and discharged soldier are living forms because they are not simply memorial ones—portraits of persons once known, now gone. They are intended to live permanently in his (and our) memory by their identification with the lasting forms of nature. Their life is the “intermediate” image in the poet’s, then the reader’s, imagination. These forms are symbolic, and the...

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Chapter 8: The Mourner Turned to Stone: Byron and Hemans

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pp. 165-191

According to Freud, a person with hysteria is like someone standing weeping before London’s Charing Cross or the Monument to the Great Fire. A public monument is meant to evoke feelings of public pride, not private grief or regret.¹ It declares itself a work, a completed effort or achievement, signifying and publicizing its subject’s own achievements. A private monument, on the other hand—the headstone for or photograph...

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Chapter 9: “Those Speechless Shapes”: Shelley’s Rome

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pp. 193-217

At the very time Shelley was composing “Ozymandias,” the Count de Forbin was journeying through Egypt, encountering “with a sort of terror . . . mountainous figures wrought by the hand of man, who had even engraven his image upon them.”¹ The man-made “image” of man had been meant to give these monumental shapes a permanent human memory, but their massive objecthood left them with the blank monumentality...

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Chapter 10: Keats’s Temples and Shrines

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pp. 219-252

In the autumn of 1817 Keats confided to Benjamin Bailey the hope that Endymion would take him “a dozen paces towards the Temple of Fame” (Letters 1: 170). The “long Poem” was to be a test of his powers both of imagination and completion. Its success would be his own monument as well as a temple of homage to the kinds of works his letter cited as his models: long poems by “our great Poets . . . in the shape of Tales.” Possessing...

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pp. 253-258

According to Foucault, the early nineteenth-century’s fear of being “dehistoricized” led to a fascination with “traces left behind by time,” especially those “still capable of reflecting [man’s] image.” As records, however, such monuments had “fallen silent and folded back upon themselves,”¹ an apt description, perhaps, of those forms seen by travelers in antique lands, as well as the melancholy figures in the Hyperion...


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pp. 259-279

Works Cited

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pp. 281-297

Index [Includes Back Cover]

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pp. 299-307

E-ISBN-13: 9780791487679
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791455616
Print-ISBN-10: 0791455610

Page Count: 317
Illustrations: 12 b/w photographs
Publication Year: 2003

Series Title: SUNY series, Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century
Series Editor Byline: Pamela K. Gilbert See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 56752128
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Living Forms

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Subject Headings

  • Statues in literature.
  • Architecture and literature -- History -- 19th century.
  • Romanticism -- Great Britain.
  • Monuments in literature.
  • English literature -- 19th century -- History and criticism
  • Sculpture in literature.
  • Art and literature -- Great Britain -- History -- 19th century.
  • Literature and history -- Great Britain -- History -- 19th century.
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