In this essay, Adam Bridgen argues that the oft-condemned “sycophancy” of James Woodhouse’s early poetry is a misapprehension that overlooks the emergence of his evangelical, egalitarian beliefs in the mid-1760s. Reconsidering the letters between Woodhouse and his patrons reveals not only the influential friendships he cultivated as a plebeian poet but also the class prejudices he continued to encounter and resist, often forcefully. Although he conformed to a humble self-portrayal in his 1764 and 1766 Poems, Woodhouse’s subversion of praise allowed him to criticize as well as commend elite behavior; viewing benevolence as a Christian duty faithful to the more equal society that God had intended, he praised patronage, in fact, for its leveling potential.


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