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Authorship in Eighteen Hundred and Eleven: An Integral Approach

From: ESC: English Studies in Canada
Volume 38, Issue 2, June 2012
pp. 49-70 | 10.1353/esc.2012.0016

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Authorship in the regency was a dangerous affair. We have all heard the story of the review that killed Keats or the withering phrase “This will never do” that greeted Wordsworth’s Excursion.1 There is the violent tale of Coleridge’s Christabel, savaged in an open marketplace riven by the crossfire of anonymous review criticism. Keats, of course, did not actually die of the reviews of Endymion, and Wordsworth and Coleridge, although wounded, did in fact survive to write more poems, yet these poignant myths evoke the atmosphere of discursive violence that marked the British public sphere during the Napoleonic era and its aftermath.

Perhaps less well known, if equally telling, is the legend of the attack review that cut short the writing career of Anna Laetitia Barbauld.2 In this case there were gender as well as political factors at play in the sarcasm of John Wilson Croker,3 the reviewer tasked by the Tory Quarterly with torpedoing Barbauld’s visionary prophecy Eighteen Hundred and Eleven:

We had hoped, indeed, that the empire might have been saved without the intervention of a lady-author: we even flattered ourselves that the interests of Europe and of humanity would in some degree have swayed our public councils, without the descent (deus ex machina) of Mrs. Anna Laetitia Barbauld, in a quarto, upon the theatre where the great European tragedy is now performing.[...] We must [therefore] take the liberty of warning her to desist from satire, which indeed is satire on herself alone; and of entreating, with great earnestness, that she will not, for the sake of this ungrateful generation, put herself to the trouble of writing any more party pamphlets in verse.

It is notable that while Barbauld did continue to write after 1812, “there were no further separate publications from her pen” (McCarthy 481), and while the poetry of Keats, Wordsworth, and Coleridge survived the battleground of the Regency, Barbauld’s did not: apart from her writings for children, her literary oeuvre sank entirely from sight. Recently, however, her writings have been gradually restored to the canonical status they first enjoyed in the 1770s, when Barbauld was revered as one of the “Nine Living Muses of Great Britain” (McCarthy 117).4 This paper aims frankly to participate in the ongoing work of restorative justice for Barbauld, in this case by exploring two senses of the phrase “authorship in Eighteen Hundred and Eleven.” The first sense involves testing a new critical approach, derived from the Integral Theory of Ken Wilber, that offers to refocus our understanding of the author function in general and to describe with enhanced precision the particular form it took two hundred years ago when Barbauld’s poem was first published. The second sense involves a reading of Barbauld’s own articulation of authorship in the poem Eighteen Hundred and Eleven. This articulation she conveys by implication through the poem’s tone and form, as well as through the striking figure of “Genius”—figured as an inscrutable and wayward “Spirit” of cultural evolution—that haunts its final lines (241, 215). As we shall see, in this figure Barbauld comes closest to anticipating an “Integral” perspective, one example of how this apparently occasional poem survives its embattled context to speak compellingly to our own time and beyond.

What is an “Integral” perspective? Broadly speaking, Integral Theory is one philosophical attempt to integrate the apparently incommensurable metanarratives of (post)modernity. With its Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, its biennial conference, and its book series out of suny Press,5 Integral Theory is being applied in a wide range of academic disciplines because it effectively balances the integrative appeal of what E. O. Wilson calls “consilience” with a robust contextualism informed by poststructuralism and systems theory (Wilson). The name “Integral” thus conveys an approach with roots in German Idealism, Process Philosophy, and Arthur Koestler’s theory of “holons” (48), as well as one that seeks to incorporate and align such contemporary knowledge domains as evolutionary science and developmental psychology. For the purposes of this short article, and with reference to the discipline of literary studies, Integral Theory offers a system of “perspective-taking” that can...


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