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  • Double Bonds: Charles Lamb’s Romantic Collaborations
  • Alison Hickey

Duplex nobis vinculum, et amicitiae et similium junctarumque Camoenarum; quod utinam neque mors solvat, neque temporis longinquitas!


“Double is the chain that binds us—both of friendship and of like Muses joined together. Would that neither death nor distance of time could dissolve it!” So reads the invented epigraph to Poems, by S. T. Coleridge, Second Edition, to which are now added Poems by Charles Lamb and Charles Lloyd (1797). 1 The volume bears witness to another bond as well: Lamb’s portion of the text is dedicated, “with all a brother’s fondness . . . to Mary Ann Lamb, the author’s best friend and sister”—and later his partner in domestic and authorial “double singleness” ( LW, 5:283, 2:75). An account of these overlapping and sometimes competing sets of double bonds can give us insight not only into the Lambs’ particular authorial relations to each other and to others, but also into collaboration in its “Romantic” contexts.

Collaborative relations are an indisputable fact of the Romantic period, traceable through authors’ published accounts of the genesis of their texts; through personal journals, epistolary exchanges, publication history, and the testimony of contemporaries; and through allusion, echo, thematic resemblances, and shared ideas. Relying on such evidence, scholars have produced numerous detailed studies of the indebtedness of the Romantics (particularly Wordsworth and Coleridge) to each other, as well as to other sources. But we have yet to comprehend the extent to which Romantic texts—both those that we commonly associate with collaboration (such as the Lyrical Ballads ) and those that we routinely attribute to single authors—represent their own collaborative origins. 2

Romantic texts thematize and stage collaboration in metaphors of organic relation and in dialogic patterns and strategies that have become the hallmark of recent Romanticist criticism, though (misleadingly) [End Page 735] with little explicit reference to collaboration. In addition to reflecting and being reflected in Romantic preoccupations, Romantic collaboration has implications beyond Romanticism. If its emergence is an inaugural moment, rather than a transient one, we may think of subsequent generations as writing within or against its structures, metaphors, and rhetorical strategies: Romantic collaboration becomes something for later writers to collaborate with. Moreover, since the still-prevalent assumption that creation is a solitary process owes much to insufficiently-considered notions of Romanticism as the flourishing of individual genius, a reexamination of the origins of such notions can contribute to a broader revision of the history of collaboration, and of authorship generally.

This is a revision that recent studies of “discourse” and “the dialogic” have already begun, mounting an array of strong challenges top the idea of the author as a unitary subject. But while these analyses are important for suggesting that writing is not the expression of individual identity, they do not offer a complete critical framework or vocabulary for an account of collaboration. 3 Rather than elaborating upon the opposition between the traditional single-figure approach and Foucauldian notions of discourse—a procedure that would risk marginalizing once again the considerable territory on which the death of the mythical single author may mean the birth of what Jack Stillinger calls “real multiple authors”—this essay explores Romantic collaboration in one of its complex manifestations, by looking at the ways in which Charles Lamb’s, S. T. Coleridge’s, and Mary Lamb’s writings represent the collaborative relations that bound the three authors together. 4

The role of collaboration in the Romantic period is tied to political and social developments ranging from ideals of revolutionary fraternity to changing gender roles, attitudes toward sexuality, and conceptions of family, friendship, and marriage. At a time when periodicals were shaping public opinion to an unprecedented degree, the idea of collaboration became an important instrument in the division of audiences along political and aesthetic lines. Writers of the period exploited the perception of collaboration for their particular critical, authorial, or political ends. 5 In one of the most famous instances, “C——dge and S—t—y, L—d and L—be and Co.” were pilloried together in Canning’s “New Morality” verses in the Anti-Jacobin, alongside the usual “Jacobin” suspects. 6 (Coleridge and Southey...

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