Johns Hopkins University Press
  • The Infinite Grotesque:Paper Money and Aesthetics in Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France

In 1757, Edmund Burke theorized his famous model of the sublime, a powerful and ennobling aesthetic category marked by gigantic size, formlessness, obscurity, and infinity, among other traits.1 Yet, in 1790, Burke encountered a new object that troubled his categories by embodying sublime traits while also symbolizing the French Revolution he opposed: the revolutionary paper currency of France, the assignats. Late eighteenth-century Europe witnessed not only the radical political event of the Revolution but also a new, experimental form of money, a compulsory paper currency based on the sale of church lands confiscated by the National Assembly. Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France registers an anxious awareness that French paper money embodied the potential to be perceived as sublime. Produced in massive quantities that led to rapid inflation, the assignats created a gigantic, boundless economy—an infinite (perhaps even sublime) entity. The prospective sublimity of the assignats prompted Burke to appropriate a specific subtype of the grotesque, a category related to, though ultimately distinct from, the sublime: the infinite, parodic grotesque. While critics have shown that Burke in 1790 re-categorized the Revolution as grotesque rather than sublime, what merits further attention is how paper money in particular (and its infinity) prompted Burke to draw upon and popularize a specific subtype of grotesque.2 This subtype became, in the 1790s, part of a discourse used by writers and caricaturists to engage with a larger transformation many commentators perceived in Romantic Europe: a fundamental shift, brought about by recent economic changes, in how value was grounded in material objects. [End Page 69]

To locate a form of infinity distinct from that of the sublime, Burke turned to the infinite grotesque, grounded in bodily functions (consumption, vomiting, defecation) that process distinct objects into formless streams of organic matter. I begin this article by tracing the origins of this category in Paradise Lost, a foundational text for the infinite, parodic grotesque and a key source of examples used by Burke when laying out his aesthetic theory. Burke appropriated grotesque images that were not only infinite but also inversions of the life-generating aspects of the grotesque: while the regular grotesque thrived on growth, nourishment, and regeneration, the parodic version inverted these qualities into images of false nourishment, cannibalism, mutilation, and quackery. Finally, I trace the afterlife of Burke's economic appropriation of the grotesque in 1790s caricatures by James Gillray and Richard Newton.3 In addition to the assignats, later commentators witnessed England's Restriction Act (1797), which made paper money compulsory, as well as a second experimental paper currency created by the French government in 1796: the mandats.4 According to both later commentators and Burke, Romantic Europe was transitioning from an economy rooted in material objects, such as gold and property (perceived as intrinsically embodying their value), to an economy of paper, a symbolic marker. These commentators proposed that material objects—namely the aristocratic estate and the "solid" wealth of gold money—no longer functioned as anchors of culture and history.5 By implying that the economy had become progressively dematerialized, Burke and others endorsed a view of monetary history that has been discredited by recent historians, since abstract economies of private credit, rather than metal coins, in fact preceded paper money.6 Yet, though inaccurate, the history of the economy created by Burke and others deepens our understanding of how Romantic artists used aesthetics to grapple with economic and social change. These artists employed the infinite grotesque to engage with questions that the rise of paper currencies placed at the heart of the Romantic period. To what extent must an economy be made up of material things? Can systems of exchange consist solely of abstractions such as symbols, promises, or language? And more importantly, how does the presence or absence of material things in economies shape social relationships, particularly structures of class and hierarchy? The infinite grotesque served as a vehicle for representing the perceived transition from an economy of objects to one of symbolic paper. The fundamental power of this aesthetic category was to destroy distinct, bounded objects by dissolving them into shapeless flows of waste matter. Torn between the conflicting goals of condemning paper money as immaterial, "fictitious" speculation and recategorizing it as grotesque, Burke's representation of money oscillated between the bodily and the abstract, the material and the imaginary (Reflections, 107).


Criticism treating the connections between Burke's aesthetics and his politics has often centered on his two core categories, the sublime and the beautiful. Isaac Kramnick argues that the Revolution caused Burke to rethink his aesthetic theory, ultimately recoiling from the sublime in favor of the beautiful.7 Patrick Brantlinger recognizes the powerful sublimity of public debt and credit in Burke's writings.8 Tom Furniss indicates that Burke's Enquiry develops a "revolutionary" bourgeois aesthetic, a power later appropriated in 1789 by Richard Price, who used [End Page 70] Burke's sublime to promote the Revolution; in response, the Reflections attempts to distinguish between a true and "false" sublime.9 Furniss's work suggests that the Revolution had been interpreted as sublime by many onlookers, such as Price, but for Burke this was a crucial misreading. As I suggest in what follows, anxiety about this perceived misreading led Burke to intervene by refiguring the Revolution as a grotesque phenomenon mistaken for sublime. Ronald Paulson and Frans De Bruyn have also recognized Burke's turn to the grotesque, rather than the sublime, in his depiction of the Revolution. Paulson claims that to represent the radically new event of the Revolution, commentators turned to existing frameworks, including the related categories of sublime and grotesque: "Had Burke been asked if he regarded the French Revolution as sublime, he would have replied: No, grotesque. In his sense the grotesque is a burlesque sublime."10 Studies by these scholars have been foundational in mapping the entwinement of Burke's politics and aesthetics.

My argument builds on two claims advanced by the above criticism. First, as Furniss suggests, Burke revised his aesthetics in the Reflections when confronted with a potentially sublime Revolution and Price's sermon, which used the sublime for revolutionary rhetoric. Second, as Paulson and De Bruyn argue, Burke turned to the related category of the grotesque. Yet, what this criticism has omitted is that not only the Revolution but also its currency presented Burke with disturbing sublime potential. Attention to the economic contexts of the Reflections reveals that this text participated in a wider discourse of the parodic, infinite grotesque, appropriated in the 1790s to engage with transformations in England's economy and shifting perceptions of the material roots of money.11

Several core properties of the grotesque make it an ideal vehicle for representing paper money. Wolfgang Kayser has demonstrated that the term "grotesque" derives from the Italian grottesco, which takes its root from grotta ("cave") and was first used to describe ancient cave paintings re-discovered in fifteenth-century Italy.12 These images frequently fuse human and nonhuman forms, combining plant parts with human or animal features.13 Transgressing distinctions between humans, plants, and animals, the grotesque centers on the breakdown of boundaries, transformation, and heterogeneity. According to Frances Connelly, "[t]he grotesque is defined by what it does to boundaries, transgressing, merging, overflowing, destabilizing them."14 Mikhail Bakhtin, in his study of medieval carnival, argues that "[t]he grotesque image reflects a phenomenon in transformation, an as yet unfinished metamorphosis, of death and birth, growth and becoming."15 For Bakhtin, growth and fertility lie at the heart of the grotesque, as well as images of a body that exceeds its own boundaries through excess and overgrowth, constantly depicted as eating, drinking, defecating, dying, or being born.16 These characteristics suit Burke's representation of paper money, as the never-ending, cyclical transformations of the grotesque mirror the infinite production of paper banknotes, and the fluid state of the grotesque object—always transforming and dissolving its boundaries—mirrors the changeability of the assignats and their value.

The grotesque offered Burke an appropriate replacement for the sublime because of the multiple similarities between the two. Gigantic size—a feature Burke describes as "very compatible with the sublime" (Enquiry, 155)—appears repeatedly in grotesque graphic satires such as The Inexhaustable Mine [sic] (fig. 2) and Midas (fig. 1). Moreover, while Burke portrays "delightful horror" as "the most [End Page 71] genuine effect, and truest test of the sublime" (Enquiry, 73), Kayser argues that fear is a crucial aspect of many theories of grotesque.17 Boundlessness is another trait shared by both grotesque and sublime. While the grotesque dissolves borders by blending and exceeding, sublimity derives from the boundlessness of obscurity and infinity.18 While the relationship between the grotesque and sublime remained undertheorized throughout the eighteenth century, in Romantic-era Europe, theorists expressed increasing interest in this topic. Victor Hugo claimed that modern literature would thrive by unifying the grotesque and sublime: "tout dans la création n'est pas humainement beau, que le laid y existe à côté du beau, le difforme près du gracieux, le grotesque au revers du sublime" [everything in creation is not humanly beautiful; the ugly exists beside the beautiful, the deformed close to the graceful, the grotesque at the reverse of the sublime.]19 Burke himself alluded to the similarities between the two categories in the Enquiry when referring to "odd wild grotesques" in paintings of the temptations of St. Anthony (64). Obscurity, Burke suggests, constitutes the sole difference between these categories. Since language can only paint an imperfect picture of a terrifying object, literature tends towards the obscurity of the sublime, whereas painting represents objects more clearly, and thus as grotesque (Enquiry, 64). Contrasting a sublime passage from Job (which describes a "spirit") with attempts to represent phantoms in painting, Burke argues that the clarity of these paintings renders the images grotesque: "Several painters have handled a subject of this kind, with a view of assembling as many horrid phantoms as their imagination could suggest; but all the designs I have chanced to meet of the temptations of St. Anthony, were rather a sort of odd wild grotesques" (Enquiry, 64). These remarks reveal an awareness that the sublime and grotesque are closely related. While Burke's comments ostensibly stress the differences between sublime and grotesque, they also hint at the similarities between the two, since one category can so easily slide into the other.

While the sublime and grotesque share similarities, they nonetheless possess essential differences. Only the grotesque involves transformation, regeneration, bodily process, and unions of heterogeneous parts. The type of boundlessness inherent to each category is also distinct. While the sublime has no perceptible boundaries (as in an infinite galaxy), the grotesque disintegrates existing boundaries. As Connelly suggests, "The boundlessness of the sublime, dynamical or numerical, overwhelms reason and exceeds its powers to contain and define. The grotesque, by contrast, is in constant struggle with the boundaries of the known, the conventional, the understood."20 Seizing upon these differences, Burke's Reflections constructs a narrative of aesthetic error, undercutting the potential sublimity of revolutionary money by reconfiguring it as a misrecognized grotesque.

The discourse Burke establishes adopts two additional qualities that distinguish it from the conventional Bakhtinian grotesque. First, Burke's representation of money partakes in a specific subtype of grotesque, one particularly well suited for satires of paper bills: the infinite and parodic grotesque. This particular form has been given too little attention by critics. The infinite grotesque satirizes the inflationary excess of paper currencies and offers an alternative to sublime infinity. Grounded in the body or a similar processing mechanism, such as a machine, the infinite grotesque dissolves solid, formed objects into shapeless matter through mutilation, consumption, vomiting, and defecation. This category is particularly [End Page 72] useful for critiques of paper money because it centers on the processing and unshaping of matter, aptly encapsulating the perceived loss of solid material wealth in the economy (as gold and property are replaced by apparently formless, ephemeral paper). Moreover, Burke's grotesque is not only infinite but also a parodic inversion of the Bakhtinian grotesque. I use the term "parodic" because this model imitates the regenerative, Bakhtinian grotesque while also inverting some of its primary characteristics. Instead of life-generating images of eating, nourishment, and reproduction, the parodic grotesque involves cannibalism, false nourishment, sterility, and quackery. Burke needs this satanic imagery to separate the revolutionary economy from the positive connotations of the grotesque. Elsewhere in the Reflections, he implies his awareness of the positive grotesque, employing this trope to describe a healthy state as "a permanent body composed of transitory parts, wherein, by the disposition of a stupendous wisdom, molding together the great mysterious incorporation of the human race, the whole, at one time, is never old or middle-aged or young, but, in a condition of unchangeable constancy, moves on through the varied tenor of perpetual decay, fall, renovation, and progression" (30). The state perpetuates itself through grotesque cycles of death and rebirth, and its body is a combination of heterogenous parts.

The term "grotesque" existed in Burke's time only to describe figures rather than a singular aesthetic mode, "the grotesque."21 The general term "grotesque" was not used to signify an aesthetic category until the 1820s.22 When Burke uses the term "odd wild grotesques" in the Enquiry, he thus refers to figures. Whenever he contemplated grotesque images—such as people swallowing "paper pills" and mummy flesh—he would have thought of these images with the term "grotesques" in this sense. Focused discussion of "the grotesque" as an aesthetic category was rare before Hugo, and Burke does not explicitly use the term in the Reflections. The grotesque was excluded from mainstream eighteenth-century aesthetic theory, Bakhtin argues, because it jarred with neoclassical aesthetics, which portrayed the body as complete, bounded, and separate from the rest of the world and other bodies.23 Nonetheless, despite the limited use of the term, grotesque images existed in Western art and literature prior to its naming as a distinct category. The term "grotesque" used to describe figures dates back to the Renaissance, and Bakhtin has identified this aesthetic mode in the work of Rabelais.24 Most importantly, the grotesque appears in Paradise Lost, in which Milton does use the term "grotesque."25

To represent the parodic grotesque, the Reflections draws on Milton. Burke's drama of aesthetic misreading (grotesque mistaken for sublime) echoes a rhetorical move pivotal to Paradise Lost. Milton, like Burke, reveals the sublimity of revolutionary politics to be a disguised grotesque. While early in the poem Satan appears "[i]n shape and gesture proudly eminent," he is later reduced to a "monstrous serpent on his belly prone" (1.590, 10.514). Stanley Fish famously argued that readers of Paradise Lost form initial responses to Satan and his eloquence, only to realize later that they have been mistaken, thus exposing their own corruption and fallibility as postlapsarian subjects.26 In the Enquiry, Burke cites one of Milton's descriptions of Satan as a key example of sublimity (62). However, the later books of Paradise Lost reveal that Satan embodies what Furniss and Paulson, in their studies of Burke, call a "false sublime." In Book 10, for example, Satan puts on his final show of false grandeur when he returns from the Garden of Eden [End Page 73] and reveals himself to his followers. But rather than applause, his words are met by "[a] dismal universal hiss" as his audience turns into snakes (10.508). Satan's own transformation follows (10.511–14).27 Milton exploits the grotesque themes of transformation and permeable boundaries between human and animal. Satan is a figure of transmutation, constantly adopting other forms. One moment he is perched "like a cormorant," and the next he is "[s]quat like a toad" at Eve's ear (4.196, 4.800). When Satan occupies the body of the serpent, Milton specifies that "[i]n at his mouth / The Devil entered" (4.397–8; 9.187), gesturing to the grotesque emphasis on orifices such as the mouth and nose.28

More specifically, Burke appropriates from Milton's villain a satanic inversion of the grotesque. After Satan's followers turn to snakes, a grove of trees springs up with fruit like that of the forbidden tree; yet, when Satan's followers, "parched with scalding thirst and hunger" (10.555), attempt to eat the fruit, their hopes of sustenance are dashed by the fruit's sudden transformation into a sickly mockery of nourishment:

        They, fondly thinking to allayTheir appetite with gust, instead of fruitChewed bitter ashes which th' offended tasteWith spattering noise rejected. Oft they assayed,Hunger and thirst constraining, drugged as oft,With hatefullest disrelish writhed their jawsWith soot and cinders filled (10.564–70)

This deathly consumption inverts the nourishment and life of the Bakhtinian grotesque. While death is part of Bakhtin's model, it is always accompanied by rebirth: the grotesque weaves together moments of reproduction and decay into a vision of continuous, cyclical time.29 But in Paradise Lost, the snakes consume the fruit but remain in perpetual hunger, "worn with famine long" (10.573). Like these fallen angels, Death experiences "eternal famine" and engages in cannibalism (a deathly, corrupted consumption) in an endless attempt to satiate this hunger (10.597). Sin, another key grotesque figure, parodies reproduction and fertility. She enters the world by springing out of Satan's head, an apt encapsulation of Bakhtin's theory of the grotesque body as "not separated from the rest of the world" and constantly exceeding its own boundaries.30 In a parody of reproduction, hounds, the offspring of Death's incestuous rape, "hourly conceived / And hourly born," continually invade Sin's womb and gnaw her insides (2.796–97). Cannibalism, incest, sterility, and deathly consumption constitute the core features of the satanic grotesque as outlined by Milton.

We can find the positive counterpart of the grotesque in Milton's prelapsarian Eden, described as a place of abundant overgrowth, "[w]ith thicket overgrown, grotesque and wild" (4.136). As Gordon Teskey notes, Milton's use of the term "grotesque" alludes to the caves that fill the landscape as well as to the grotesque cave paintings rediscovered in the Renaissance.31 The Edenic grotesque consists of growth and nourishment, of "trees loaden with fairest fruit" and the healthy, robust consumption that takes place in the excessive feasting when Raphael visits Adam and Eve in Eden (4.147). Sin represents the inversion of prelapsarian Eve, who is associated with reproduction ("Mother of Mankind whose fruitful womb [End Page 74] / Shall fill the world more numerous with thy sons") and with Eden's regenerative overgrowth: "She … / Her unadornèd golden tresses wore / Dishevelled but in wanton ringlets waved / As the vine curls her tendrils" (5.388–89, 4.305–07).

Paradise Lost contains a wide range of grotesque motifs, such as transformation and heterogeneity (Satan's shapeshifting into a snake) and an emphasis on orifices (Satan possessing the serpent through the mouth), but Burke and other critics of paper money borrowed only a specific subsection of this imagery. The images they chose parody the grotesque as well as focus on its infinite potential, centring on bodily processes that disintegrate formed objects into endless streams of matter. Burke's Reflections popularized this medium and mobilized it for addressing the economic concerns of the 1790s.


No other aspect or product of the Revolution presented Burke with more troubling sublime potential than the assignats. Capable of endless inflationary expansion, these bills epitomized all the qualities shared by the sublime and grotesque: gigantic size, horror, infinity, and boundlessness. Confronted in 1790 by the need to represent an infinite, seemingly sublime economy, Burke mobilized the infinite, parodic grotesque to create a false narrative about the loss of material things in the economy and social life. According to this narrative, the "solid substance" of landed property and "real money" dissolve into shapeless matter (Reflections, 38, 167). The infinite grotesque redeploys the formlessness of sublimity as its grotesque counterpart, and the sublime infinity of a universe finds its dark opposite in the endless productions of the National Assembly's paper economy.

A lengthy passage from the Reflections, excerpted below, hints at Burke's awareness of the infinity of the assignats:

Is there a debt which presses them?—Issue assignats. … Is a fleet to be fitted out?—Assignats. If sixteen millions sterling of these assignats, forced on the people, leave the wants of the state as urgent as ever—issue, says one, thirty millions sterling of the assignats. … Are the old assignats depreciated at market?—What is the remedy? Issue new assignats.


Burke critiques the boundless excess of paper money and the National Assembly's power to produce endless quantities of paper. This overproduction in turn triggers instability, as the value of the assignats becomes "depreciated at market." The paper economy constitutes a massive entity with endless identical parts, bill after bill stretched out with no perceptible end.

In the Enquiry, we can locate the precise model of sublimity that the assignats approximate: the "artificial infinite." This effect occurs when an object embodies two qualities: succession (where the multiple parts of a thing are repeated until they appear infinite) and uniformity (where the parts are identical) (Enquiry, 74). For his central example of the artificial infinite, Burke depicts a line of uniform pillars:

the rays from the first round pillar will cause in the eye a vibration of that species; an image of the pillar itself. The pillar immediately succeeding increases it; that which follows renews and enforces the impression; each [End Page 75] in its order as it succeeds, repeats impulse after impulse, and stroke after stroke, until the eye long exercised in one particular way cannot lose that object immediately; and, being violently roused by this continued agitation, it presents the mind with a grand or sublime conception.

(Enquiry, 139)

The repetition of identical parts triggers a physiological response by agitating the eye and impressing the mind with "a grand or sublime conception." A bare wall could never create an illusion of infinity, since a wall represents one idea "and not a repetition of similar ideas" (Enquiry, 140). Burke's description of the infinite identical pillars recalls Giovanni Battista Piranesi's Carceri d'invenzione, engravings of seemingly endless prisons whose infinity derives from identical architectural repetitions. The Gothic Arch, for example, depicts a prison that appears to stretch on forever, with countless repetitive staircases and arches that open onto vaulted spaces with no visible end: the architectural repetition mimes the sublime infinity of Burke's repeating colonnade.32 Burke's stress on a "repetition of similar ideas" anticipates his lengthy passage about assignats. As a seemingly endless procession of identical parts, paper money fulfills the requirements of both succession and uniformity, an apt embodiment of the artificial infinite. Pillar after pillar becomes bill after bill.

By swelling to massive, unwieldy, and shapeless proportions, paper money also epitomizes the sublime qualities of the boundless and the gigantic. We can detect Burke's anxieties about the vastness of the revolutionary economy when he compares it to an ocean, one of his key examples of sublimity in the Enquiry (58). He also uses the metaphor of a sea to describe ballooning debt levels in France: "Nations are wading deeper and deeper into an ocean of boundless debt" (Reflections, 136). The phrase "boundless debt" highlights this sublime trait of the new currency. Because of the structural similarities between paper money and sublimity, the assignats embody a powerful aesthetic potential, forming the economic core of a revolution that had been, in Burke's mind, misread as sublime.33

In response to the aesthetic threat of paper money, the Reflections harnesses these sublime traits and redefines them as the infinite, parodic grotesque. Burke depicts the economy of revolutionary France as a body engaged in the endless consumption of things and their subsequent regurgitation as formless organic matter. Waste and consumables, as transient but still material phenomena, offer a physical embodiment of characteristics commonly associated with the immaterial—ephemerality, transience, and formlessness—and thus serve as an ideal vehicle for the Reflections' paradoxical representation of paper money as both immaterial (a "fictitious" currency) and grotesque (and thus embodied) (107).34 Torn between conflicting goals to discredit paper money as immaterial and to represent it as grotesque, Burke's depiction of paper money shifts between the abstract and the material.

Burke's images of the Revolution evoke parodic inversions of the Bakhtinian grotesque: quackery, cannibalism, dismemberment, consumption, and disease—all of which permeate, transgress, dissolve, or rearrange the boundaries of objects and the body (and by extension, the body politic).35 By figuring revolutionary ideals as false medicine, the Reflections envisions them as substances that permeate the body with false promises of healing and regeneration. Referencing a diuretic medicine, [End Page 76] Burke suggests that revolutionary ideas are not only taken into one's person but are also processed and then expelled in streams of matter. He compares the act of listening to radical rhetoric to "taking periodical doses of mercury sublimate and swallowing down repeated provocatives of cantharides to our love of liberty" (Reflections, 55). The OED identifies "cantharides" as a beetle that could be used internally as a diuretic, citing this example from Burke.36 Burke also associates the Revolution with cannibalism. After arresting the King and Queen at Versailles, the revolutionaries celebrate: "the sufferings of monarchs make a delicious repast to some palates" (Reflections, 63). Paris, Burke claims, staged the "spectacle" of the St. Bartholomew massacre in Paris to excite the masses, "to stimulate their cannibal appetites" (Reflections, 125). The grotesque dominates Burke's depiction of the October Days. He portrays the Palace of Versailles as "swimming in blood, polluted by massacre and strewed with scattered limbs and mutilated carcasses," thus drawing on images of mutilation that transgress the body's boundaries (Reflections, 62).

Forms of parodic or deceptive nourishment resurface as metaphors for paper banknotes as Burke depicts the body politic of France swallowing "paper pills" and processing them into infinite formlessness (Reflections, 210). Quackery, particularly false medicine swallowed orally, is one of Burke's favored metaphors for assignats. Describing the conversion of church lands into paper, Burke asserts, "[w]ith these philosophic financiers, this universal medicine made of church mummy is to cure all the evils of the state" (Reflections, 206). The "medicine made of church mummy" refers to the practice of consuming mummy flesh for medicinal purposes.37 While Burke here draws on the figurative usage of "mummy"—meaning "[t]he preserved essence of something"—if we take into account the larger context of the Reflections, which repeatedly portrays paper money as medicine to be swallowed, we see that the literal meaning of "mummy"—as "[a] substance prepared for medicinal use from mummified (usually human) flesh"—also inflects Burke's use of the word.38 On a literal level, the mummy image denotes a human corpse that has been ingested. But on a symbolic level, the reference to "church mummy" alludes to the assignats' practice of taking confiscated lands and un-shaping their boundaries by subjecting them to bodily process.

In a second passage portraying the assignats as medicine, Burke critiques the Assembly's lack of clear bookkeeping:

they have purposely covered all that they ought industriously to have cleared with a thick fog, and then, blindfold themselves, like bulls that shut their eyes when they push, they drive, by the point of their bayonets, their slaves, blindfolded indeed no worse than their lords, to take their fictions for currencies and to swallow down paper pills by thirty-four millions sterling at a dose.

(Reflections, 210–11)

The assignats become a mass feeding of "paper pills" forced upon the French people. Paper money functions as it does in Midas, permeating the boundaries of the body in massive quantities as it is "swallow[ed] down." Here Burke alters his paradigm slightly by depicting the swallowing of paper, rather than specie, that will be converted into paper by the body. Whether swallowing specie or paper, the French body politic will derive nothing but false nourishment from this consumption. [End Page 77]

In Burke's images of assignats as medicines and consumables, we can locate a fundamental tension in his appropriation of the grotesque to describe paper money. On the one hand, he is drawn to the infinite grotesque because it dissolves distinct objects into shapeless matter, an apt embodiment of the fluidity and formlessness he attributes to the paper economy. On the other hand, Burke's aesthetic goal—his need to represent the Revolution as neither sublime nor beautiful and his subsequent turn to the grotesque, and thus to visceral, physical, and embodied imagery—contradicts his key political goal to discredit French paper money as an immaterial form of speculation. Torn between conflicting interests, Burke's model of paper money oscillates between the body and the imagination, the tangible and the abstract. In the passage cited above, even within a single phrase, "to take their fictions for currencies and to swallow down paper pills," the assignats shift from imaginary "fictions" to "pills" (tangible objects for consumption) (Reflections, 211). These contradictory images mirror the widespread uncertainty about the materiality of money in Burke's political moment, a fear exacerbated by the Revolution. In Romantic-era Europe, vehement controversies about paper bills exposed the symbolic nature of money: does value reside in physical things, or is it, as Rebecca Spang claims, people who "make stuff into money"?39 Burke's Reflections does not acknowledge the social, symbolic nature of gold money, replicating a common false distinction between thing and abstraction deeply engrained in debates about money. Marc Shell has shown that this tension between "the substantial thing and its sign" ran throughout nineteenth-century American debates about paper money.40 This uncertainty about what Spang calls the "stuff" of money haunts Burke's Reflections and generates his spectral, yet vividly material, depictions of paper bills.

While Burke posits a narrative of increasing abstraction in the history of money, I do not intend to repeat his logic. The Reflections endorses a common, but ultimately false, narrative that posits the gradual removal of objects from Western capitalist economies.41 In this alleged transformation, barter was first replaced by metal currencies, which in turn gave way to paper banknotes.42 Contrary to Burke's claims, however, the history of money follows no such linear trajectory. Spang argues that monetary abstractions have existed for centuries, and that "even abstractions manifest themselves in a material or corporeal fashion and our perception of an object's concreteness always depends on culturally shaped expectations."43 Craig Muldrew, Margot Finn, and Deborah Valenze have shown that the paper economy was preceded not by metal coins but by the more abstract medium of private credit, the dominant form of exchange in early modern and eighteenth-century England.44 Geoffrey Ingham criticizes orthodox views of money as tangible objects that can "be stored and passed from hand to hand," and he instead figures money as "a social relation," a form of credit and debt empowered by sovereignty.45 Bill Maurer argues that money arises from "infrastructures" of value and "comes into being by convention, agreement, and a set of relationships and obligations among people inside of complex organizations like states."46 This criticism has done the valuable work of calling into question the dematerialization narrative of the history of money. Yet, although historically inaccurate, the rhetoric of economic dematerialization was influential in Romantic England and is thus worthy of scholarly attention. Rather than reinstating Burke's narrative, I analyze it as a form of rhetoric. Burke's Reflections and Gillray's and Newton's [End Page 78] caricatures of paper money contain implicit histories of money, and by analyzing these (false) narratives, we can trace the discourse of the infinite, satanic grotesque, as well as its mobilization to represent Britons' changing understanding of the material roots of value.

Burke's oscillations between material and immaterial depictions of money resurface in another infinite, parodic grotesque depiction of paper banknotes when he compares the Assembly's financial experiments to those of John Law, who in France vouched for the trade venture of the Mississippi Company (Pocock's note, Reflections, 226). According to Burke, Law's experiments were better founded than the assignats, since they were not only built on speculations about the Mississippi but also aimed for "an increase of the commerce of France" (Reflections, 212). Burke argues that Law's experiments opened the commerce of France to

the whole range of the two hemispheres. They did not think of feeding France from its own substance. A grand imagination found in this flight of commerce something to captivate. It was wherewithal to dazzle the eye of an eagle. It was not made to entice the smell of a mole nuzzling and burying himself in his mother earth, as yours is.

(Reflections, 212–13)

Like the "church mummy," the assignats become pieces of the French body politic (and literally, pieces of church lands) that are cannibalistically force-fed to the French people, thus "feeding France from its own substance." What is most striking about this passage, however, is the (undesirable) aggressive materiality it assigns to paper money and the (desirable) imaginative airiness it assigns to Law's financial scheme. Burke contrasts the two senses of sight and smell: while Law's experiments dazzle the vision of an eagle, the money of the National Assembly is aligned with a mole nuzzling in the dirt. Described as a "flight of commerce," Law's scheme is airy and imaginative, soaring above the earth's sordid materiality and distanced by the long-range sense of sight rather than the close-range sense of smell. While at other moments, Burke criticizes the fanciful speculation of the assignats, his image of the burrowing mole associates it with the sordidly material and condemns material ventures, instead praising "flight[s] of commerce" that captivate the "grand imagination"—terms which approximate his previous critiques of financial speculation. Burke thus degrades the body while praising the superiority and liberating power of the ideal, an impulse that conflicts with the tendency we have seen elsewhere in the Reflections to draw back from what he sees as ideal signification. Burke's representation of paper money is inconsistent. While the infinite, parodic grotesque is ideally suited for implying that paper money dissolves economic and cultural objects into the economy at large, the grotesque is ultimately a deeply material category incompatible with Burke's rhetoric of immateriality.

In 1797, a more extended discourse of the infinite grotesque emerged when British graphic satires drew on Burke's aesthetics to respond to the Bank Restriction Act. While clear parallels emerged between the infinite grotesque in graphic satires and in Burke's text, England's historical circumstances had changed dramatically since the publication of the Reflections seven years prior. In 1797, Burke's worst fear arrived in England: a mandatory paper currency no longer exchangeable for gold. Previously, the Reflections had differentiated between English and French paper money on the grounds that English notes corresponded to specie at the Bank [End Page 79] of England and could be redeemed for gold at any time: "in England, not one shilling of paper money of any description is received but of choice; … the whole has had its origin in cash actually deposited; and … is convertible at pleasure" (204). But a widespread shortage of cash, high national debt levels, and the costs of war with France prompted the Restriction Act, which decreed that the Bank of England would no longer exchange banknotes for specie.47 Moreover, in 1796, Europe had witnessed the failure of another paper currency in France, the mandats, which were issued as replacements for the assignats but lasted only a few months.48 Unlike Burke, graphic satirists of 1797 responded to paper money in a time when its perceived threats had been brought far closer to home. However, the common thread between Burke's text and the satires is fear of the apparent (though false) dematerialization of money, as well as the use of the infinite grotesque to represent and condemn this perceived change.

Like Burke's Reflections, Gillray's and Newton's satires of paper money depict institutions, such as the government and the Bank of England, as either bodies or machines engaged in the infinite processing of matter and its subsequent emission in new forms. Perhaps no other eighteenth-century British text captures the grotesque endlessness of paper money better than Gillray's satire of the Restriction, Midas (fig. 1). In Gillray's vision, a gigantic Prime Minister Pitt stands above the Bank of England with a stomach full of gold coins, vomiting and defecating an apparently infinite supply of paper money.49 The size of Pitt's body and the streams of matter leaving it stress the inflationary excess of the paper economy. Pitt has filled his belly with gold, but his arms and legs remain thin and stick-like, implying starvation. Gillray thus suggests that the paper economy is a false source of sustenance. It nourishes neither the English body politic (symbolized by Pitt's figure) nor the eager citizens who stand below, waiting to catch the paper bills that are, in the end, nothing but waste matter. Gillray's politics thus echo Burke's in two ways: not only does he express a conservative view towards the Revolution, opposing it much like Burke, he also adopts a conservative outlook towards paper money.50

Anxieties about inflationary economies also surface in Newton's The Inexhaustable Mine [sic] (fig. 2). In this image, excessive strings of gold are pulled from the orifices of John Bull, with Pitt among the persecutors. Like Burke and Gillray, Newton draws on grotesque traditions representing the breakdown of the body's boundaries, as well as the theme of absurd excess, as implied by the title of the work. Bull's belly is as gigantic as Pitt's in Midas, and the mounds of gold pulled from his body and piled in the background appear endless. Newton links this theme of excess more directly to paper money in The New Paper Mill (fig. 3). Here, Bull's body is ground up and processed by a massive machine while the raw materials re-emerge as twenty-shilling notes. The industrial machinery suggests massification and enormous scale. Like Midas, then, The New Paper Mill critiques the grotesque excess of the paper economy and its ability to transform bounded things into shapeless matter. In The New Paper Mill, mutilation destroys the shape of a body and turns it into a formless stream of paper. Both images portray paper money as the product of processing by massive systems, whether bodies or machines. Newton's politics towards paper money thus mirror Gillray's in his satirical critique of the grotesque nature of this new economy. [End Page 80]

Figure 1. James Gillray. Midas, Transmuting all into Paper. London, 1797. The British Museum. © The Trustees of the British Museum.
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Figure 1.

James Gillray. Midas, Transmuting all into Paper. London, 1797. The British Museum. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

[End Page 81]

Figure 2. Richard Newton. The Inexhaustable Mine [sic]. London, 1797. The British Museum. © The Trustees of the British Museum.
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Figure 2.

Richard Newton. The Inexhaustable Mine [sic]. London, 1797. The British Museum. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

[End Page 82]

Figure 3. Richard Newton. The New Paper Mill. London, 1797. The British Museum. © The Trustees of the British Museum.
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Figure 3.

Richard Newton. The New Paper Mill. London, 1797. The British Museum. © The Trustees of the British Museum.


Burke was by no means the only writer to question a perceived shift from an economy of material objects to an economy of abstraction. The rise of paper money in France and England did not change the nature of money from material to symbolic but simply brought to the foreground the symbolic, social nature that had always characterized money. Paper money prompted increased awareness of the fact that money is not simply a thing but a social construct whose value is determined by people and institutions. The assignats in particular provoked anxieties about the materiality of money, as Spang has shown, because they represented portions of the biens nationaux, lands formerly held by crown and church put up for sale by the Assembly; this basis in church lands formed the crux of arguments both for and against the assignats, as politicians strove to legitimize their favored currencies (whether specie or paper) by grounding them in physical sources of value.51 The assignats appealed to politicians precisely because the banknotes were tied to the physical land they represented; thus, they "would make state finances material, taking them out of the realm of the fantastic and the man-made and anchoring them firmly in the domain of nature."52

The assignats and the Restriction Act made it more difficult to deny the symbolic nature of money, since mandatory, non-exchangeable paper money appeared to have no alleged link to physical origins of value. The Restriction Act prompted an outpouring of reactions, from the graphic satires of Gillray and Newton to responses by Thomas Paine, Henry Thornton, Thomas Love Peacock, [End Page 83] and others.53 In England, as in France, debates fixated on the question of money's status as a thing. Peacock highlights the insubstantiality of paper currencies in his Paper Money Lyrics, pointing out that "promises of payment / Are neither food nor raiment."54 Byron asserts that paper money is a "bark of vapour" compared to the "bower-anchor" of gold.55 On the other end of the spectrum, those who had defended England's paper money prior to the Restriction affirmed these same abstract qualities by emphasizing convertibility, the power of English banknotes to be transformed into gold upon demand. Qualities later condemned by opponents of the Restriction—changeability, transformation, abstraction—had previously been the foundation for defenses of paper money. In 1804, Peter King defended paper banknotes only when they were convertible, insisting that "the power of immediate conversion into specie is the only circumstance which can prevent the excess or maintain the value of any paper currency."56 Likewise, J. R. McCulloch argued that while non-exchangeable paper money may depreciate sharply in value, "no such consequences can follow from the issue of banknotes, such as were then circulated in all parts of Britain," which "were fully equivalent to the gold which might be obtained in exchange for them the moment it was required."57 These defenses could not be classified neatly as either fully sublime or fully grotesque. Although proponents of paper currencies embraced the ethereal qualities of convertible paper, even these commentators sometimes fell back on the rhetoric of material solidity to defend paper credit. Thornton, a famous supporter of paper money, countered the argument that country banknotes have created fictitious capital by stressing their ties to tangible commodities, insisting that they have extended foreign trade and helped "to bring home the timber which has been used in building, … and the cotton and the wool which the hand of the manufacturer has worked up."58 The vexed materiality of money resurfaces whenever normal economic functioning is disrupted by change or crisis.59

Despite frequent claims that paper money was ethereal and imaginary, the use of visceral and material grotesque imagery to describe money extended beyond the 1790s. Later examples included George Cruikshank's imitation banknote, Bank Restriction Note (1819), and Percy Shelley's Oedipus Tyrannus (1820).60 Cruikshank's satire incorporates grotesque imagery on the surface of an imitation banknote itself, critiquing England's practice of executing those who forged a false banknote. While rows of corpses hang from nooses in one section of the note, in another a female figure of Britannia engages in cannibalistic consumption of children.61 Shelley's Oedipus Tyrannus features frequent grotesque imagery, such as the tyrant Swellfoot's temple composed of "thigh-bones and death's-heads."62 Shelley associates this grotesque imagery with paper money in particular when one of Swellfoot's followers declares: "Does money fail?—come to my mint—coin paper, / Till gold be at a discount, and ashamed / To show his bilious face, go purge himself, / In emulation of her vestal whiteness."63 Both "bilious" and "purg[ing]" oneself evoke the classic connection between money and vomiting. Yet, in these later depictions of paper money, the boundlessness of the infinite grotesque has disappeared. Because infinity is a key part of the power of the sublime, provoking awe and admiration, later critics of paper money move away from this quality, possibly in an effort to reduce the aesthetic power of banknotes. [End Page 84]

For Burke, the implications of paper currencies extend far beyond the economic sphere, and the infinite grotesque offers a vehicle to chart these consequences. In his view, the rise of a compulsory paper currency encourages a fundamentally different view of economic value than the one encouraged by his traditional Whig vision of the English nation. At the core of Burke's vision of England is the landed estate, an integral cultural anchor. Burke supports the wealth of the aristocracy because its surplus funds the creation of permanent material objects, which in turn act as reservoirs of culture, history, and national identity:

Why should the expenditure of a great landed property, which is a dispersion of the surplus product of the soil, appear intolerable to you or to me when it takes its course through the accumulation of vast libraries, which are the history of the force and weakness of the human mind; through great collections of ancient records, medals, and coins, which attest and explain laws and customs; through paintings and statues that, by imitating nature, seem to extend the limits of creation; through grand monuments of the dead, which continue the regards and connections of life beyond the grave (Reflections, 142).

These objects act as material embodiments of "laws and customs" and "the history … of the human mind." Burke stresses the permanence of these cultural forms, as they "continue the regards and connections of life beyond the grave." Much like the estates of the aristocracy, the lands of the church constitute another essential material anchor of French society that has been threatened by the assignats. Burke contrasts the permanence and stability of church property with what he perceives as more ephemeral embodiments of value. While the "the majestic edifices of religion" are "sacred works which grow hoary with innumerable years," the capricious spending of independent individuals tends to be squandered on "momentary receptacles of transient voluptuousness; in opera houses, and brothels, and gaming houses, and clubhouses" (Reflections, 142). The words "momentary" and "transient" stress the impermanence of these cultural forms. In Burke's ideology, paper money attacks the permanent material foundations of the nation and replaces them with ephemeral paper, shifting towards a fluid, transient, and changing economy.

Since property constitutes such a key cultural anchor in Burke's vision of English society, and because money is, as he terms it, the "cement" holding a nation together, the removal of these objects from exchange dissolves the nation's "binding force" and disintegrates its class structures, including traditional hierarchies (Reflections, 167). A grotesque economy creates, and is created by, what Burke sees as a grotesque society: a vast, "swinish multitude" bereft of the shaping forces of hierarchy and class—a formless, boundless mob that has become, as in Burke's xenophobic description of Revolutionary clubs, "a monstrous medley of all conditions, tongues, and nations" (Reflections, 69, 59). The fluidity of Burke's infinite grotesque economy takes on a sociopolitical dimension when, mimicking the shapeless flows of paper, society itself begins to adapt grotesque traits. The power of the infinite, parodic grotesque to dissolve boundaries replicates itself in the realm of class. When gold and land melt into a "Euripus of funds and actions," so too do previously bounded, distinct groups of citizens become a dangerous mass of "energy," or unrestrained intellect deprived of the shaping force of hierarchy (Reflections, 88, 136).64 Without permanent, traditional pillars of value, the nation's social structure transforms. [End Page 85]

It is the infinite grotesque, and its characteristic breakdown of boundaries, that gives Burke's famous image of the "swinish multitude" much of its rhetorical force (Reflections, 69). He claims that if the revolutionaries upset the hierarchy of the nobility and clergy, who govern over the academy, learning will be "cast into the mire and trodden down under the hoofs of a swinish multitude" (Reflections, 69). Burke's language implies not only a dirty, visceral materiality but also the classic grotesque blend of human and animal, as physical characteristics of swine merge with the human crowd. Within this shapeless "multitude," all boundaries—of class, and even of the human—become corroded.

The fluidity of revolutionary society, the Reflections implies, is directly linked to Burke's false narrative about the fluidity of paper money and the perceived loss of material objects from the economy. Burke claims that the Assembly intends to use the assignats as a "cement" to hold together the "several new republics of France," but while this cement may remain functional for a short time,

if, after a while, the confiscation should not be found sufficient to support the paper coinage (as I am morally certain it will not), then, instead of cementing, it will add infinitely to the dissociation, distraction, and confusion of these confederate republics … But if the confiscation should so far succeed as to sink the paper currency, the cement is gone with the circulation. In the meantime its binding force will be very uncertain, and it will straiten or relax with every variation in the credit of the paper.

(Reflections, 167).

Money acts as the "cement" of a nation, the "binding force" that will "straiten or relax" with every fluctuation in value. In Burke's political aesthetics, when economic objects lose their status as coherent things and dissolve into unformed flows of matter, the social world undergoes a corresponding transformation from a formed, hierarchical nation into a "swinish multitude" (Reflections, 38). For Romantic authors, paper money becomes a site in which complex, competing interests come together—aesthetic, economic, political, and social. Aesthetic theories of the period crystallize in debates about money. Discussions of the economy offer a key vehicle for working out not only aesthetic categories but also the changing role of material objects in economic value.

Adrienne Todd

Adrienne Todd recently completed her PhD in Romantic literature at the University of Toronto. She would like to thank Alan Bewell for his help with this article.


1. Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Sublime and Beautiful, ed. James T. Boulton (London: Routledge, 1958), henceforth cited parenthetically as "Enquiry."

2. Critics who have shown that Burke recategorizes the Revolution as grotesque instead of sublime include Ronald Paulson and Frans De Bruyn. Paulson, Representations of Revolution (1789–1820) (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1983), 168; De Bruyn, The Literary Genres of Edmund Burke: The Political Uses of Literary Form (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1996), 170. While Paulson's primary focus is Burke's use of the sublime and beautiful, he briefly acknowledges the grotesque nature of Burke's depiction of the revolution (see note 10 of this article). Paulson interprets Burke's grotesque as a "burlesque sublime." Paulson, Representations, 168.

3. James Gillray, Midas, Transmuting all into Paper (London, 1797), The British Museum, fig. 1; Richard Newton, The Inexhaustable Mine [sic] (London, 1797), The British Museum, fig. 2; Newton, The New Paper Mill (London, 1797), The British Museum, fig. 3.

4. For more on the mandats, see Rebecca Spang, Stuff and Money in the Time of the French Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 2015), 212, 232.

5. Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, ed. J. G. A. Pocock (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1987), 38, henceforth cited parenthetically as "Reflections."

6. See page 78 for the arguments of these scholars.

7. Isaac Kramnick, The Rage of Edmund Burke: Portrait of an Ambivalent Conservative (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1977), 51–52.

8. Patrick Brantlinger, Fictions of State: Culture and Credit in Britain, 1964–1994 (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1996), 108.

9. Tom Furniss, Edmund Burke's Aesthetic Ideology: Language, Gender and Political Economy in Revolution, Cambridge Studies in Romanticism (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993), 2, 117–19.

10. Paulson, Representations, 168. Charles Hinnant also traces the similarities between grotesque and sublime in Burke's writings. Hinnant, "Shaftesbury, Burke, and Wollstonecraft: Permutations on the Sublime and Beautiful," The Eighteenth Century 46, no. 1 (2005): 31, 33. Katey Castellano further analyzes Burke's grotesque in "Burke's 'Revolutionary Book': Conservative Politics and Revolutionary Aesthetics in the Reflections," Romanticism on the Net 45 (2007). See also David Collings, "The Monstrous Crowds and Mysterious Incorporations of Edmund Burke," in Monstrous Society: Reciprocity, Discipline, and the Political Uncanny, c. 1780–1848 (Lewisburg: Bucknell Univ. Press, 2009).

11. For more on how Romantic thinkers engaged with economic landmarks such as the gold standard and the Restriction Act, see Alexander Dick, Romanticism and the Gold Standard: Money, Literature, and Economic Debate in Britain 1790–1830, Palgrave Studies in the Enlightenment, Romanticism and Cultures of Print (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013); Matthew Rowlinson, Real Money and Romanticism, Cambridge Studies in Romanticism (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2010); Amanda Lahikainen, "Currency from Opinion: Imitation Banknotes and the Materiality of Paper Currency in Britain, 1782–1847," Art History 40, no. 1 (2016); and Kevin Barry, "Crediting Power: Romantic Aesthetics and Paper Money 1797–1825," La questione romantica : rivista interdisciplinare di studi romantici 3–4 (1997): 169–70.

12. Wolfgang Kayser, The Grotesque in Art and Literature, trans. Urlich Weisstein (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1963), 19.

13. Ibid., 20.

14. Frances Connelly, introduction to Modern Art and the Grotesque, ed. Connelly (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2003), 4.

15. Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, trans. Hélène Iswolsky (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1984), 24.

16. Ibid., 26.

17. Kayser, The Grotesque, 21.

18. Paulson also points out an "area of agreement between sublime and grotesque": both exceed neoclassical norms and share features of "obscurity, formlessness, and the ugly." Paulson, Representations, 168–69.

19. Victor Hugo, preface to Cromwell, in Cromwell (Paris, 1828), xi. Translation is mine.

20. Connelly, Modern Art and the Grotesque, 5.

21. Kayser, The Grotesque, 77.

22. Ibid.

23. Bakhtin, Rabelais, 28–29. Frances Barasch indicates that theorists such as Burke himself helped perpetuate this exclusion from explicit theorization: "A rationalist or neoclassical school, exemplified by Edmund Burke, attempted to establish an aesthetic for heroic and learned matter that qualified as 'sublime' or 'beautiful,' while it disregarded or rejected the popular, creative grotesque. A theoretical understanding of the grotesque as a serious aesthetic category was as yet impossible given the dominance of such neoclassical views." Barasch, "Grotesque," in Encyclopedia of Literary Theory: Approaches, Scholars, Terms, general ed. Irena R Makaryk (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1993), 86.

24. Kayser outlines the history of the term "grotesque" and its origins in the Renaissance. Kayser, The Grotesque, 19.

25. John Milton, Paradise Lost, ed. Gordon Teskey, Norton Critical Editions (New York: Norton, 2005), 4:136, henceforth cited parenthetically.

26. Stanley Fish, Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise Lost (London: MacMillan, 1967), xli.

27. Ivana Bičack, in her study of the grotesque in Paradise Lost, similarly charts Satan's diminishment from angelic grandeur to a "lurking, squatting, and finally slithering thing," with Book 10 marking the climax in this transformation. Bičack, "Transmutations of Satan and Caesar: The Grotesque Mode in Milton's Paradise Lost and Lucan's Pharsalia," Milton Quarterly 49, no. 2 (2015): 121.

28. Bakhtin notes the centrality of orifices such as the nose and mouth to the grotesque. Bakhtin, Rabelais, 316–17.

29. Bakhtin, Rabelais, 24–25.

30. Ibid, 26. Bičack also suggests that Satan dramatizes Bakhtin's concept of the unfinished, unseparated body: Satan constantly exceeds his boundaries and extends outwards into the world, as in the creation of Sin and Death. Bičack, "Transmutations," 118–19.

31. Gordon Teskey's note to Paradise Lost (4.136).

32. Giovanni Battista Piranesi, The Gothic Arch, in Carceri d'invenzione (1749–1750), The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

33. For more on the sublimity of money, see Rowlinson, Real Money, 28–30.

34. Rowlinson and Ian Haywood have traced a long tradition of associating money with waste matter. Rowlinson, Real Money, 164–67; Haywood, "Paper Promises: Restriction, Caricature, and the Ghost of Gold," in Romanticism, Forgery, and the Credit Crunch, ed. Haywood, Praxis Series, Romantic Circles (February 2012), under "Gold into Paper." See also Haywood's Romanticism and Caricature (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013).

35. Furniss also points out Burke's use of the "body politic" metaphor, arguing that Burke sees this body as threatened by the disease of revolutionary ideals. Furniss, Aesthetic Ideology, 122–23.

36. Oxford English Dictionary Online (OED), s.v. "cantharides," accessed November 11, 2016.

37. The OED describes the historical practice of ingesting mummified flesh as medicine. Oxford English Dictionary Online, s.v. "Mummy," accessed March 2, 2017.

38. Ibid.

39. Spang, Stuff and Money, 6.

40. Marc Shell, Money, Language, and Thought: Literary and Philosophic Economies from the Medieval to the Early Modern Era (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1982), 6.

41. Spang suggests that "the shift from substance to abstraction [is] central to nearly every history of money." Spang, Stuff and Money, 10.

42. Spang, Stuff and Money, 10.

43. Ibid., 11. See also Rowlinson, who proposes that all money has symbolic elements, and that the very distinction between abstract value and "the material substance in which it circulates" emerged in the eighteenth century, when paper became the dominant mode of exchange. Rowlinson, Real Money, 167.

44. Craig Muldrew, The Economy of Obligation: The Culture of Credit and Social Relations in Early Modern England (Houndmills: St. Martin's, 1998); Margot Finn, The Character of Credit: Personal Debt in English Culture, 1740–1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2003); Deborah Valenze, The Social Life of Money in the English Past (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2006).

45. Geoffrey Ingham, The Nature of Money (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2004), 15, 12.

46. Bill Maurer, How Would You Like to Pay? How Technology is Changing the Future of Money (Durham and London: Durham Univ. Press, 2015), 70.

47. Mary Poovey, Genres of the Credit Economy: Mediating Value in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Britain (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2008), 175–76.

48. Spang, Stuff and Money, 212.

49. For further discussion of these images, see also Haywood, "Paper Promises"; Dick, Romanticism, 46–47; and Mary Dorothy George, ed., Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires Preserved in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum, XXI vols. (London: British Museum Trustees, 1942), vol. 7.

50. Sophie Loussouarn outlines Gillray's political outlook towards the Revolution, noting that his response changed and became increasingly negative from 1792 onwards. Loussouarn, "Gillray and the French Revolution," National Identities 18, no. 3 (2016): 328.

51. Spang, Stuff and Money, 76, 80.

52. Ibid., 82

53. Thomas Paine opposes paper money just as firmly as Burke in The Decline and Fall of the English System of Finance, 11th ed. (Paris, 1796). Henry Thornton, on the other hand, endorses paper money in An Enquiry into the Nature and Effects of the Paper Credit of Great Britain (London, 1802). See also Thomas Love Peacock, Paper Money Lyrics, and Other Poems, in The Works (1924–1934), XII vols. (Cambridge: Chadwyck-Healey, 1992; first published 1924–34, Constable & Co.), vol. 7. For more on the controversies about the Restriction, see the "bullion controversy" in Dick, Romanticism, 36–73.

54. Peacock, "Pan in Town," lines 7–8, in Paper Money.

55. George Gordon Byron, Don Juan, in Lord Byron: The Major Works, ed. Jerome J. McGann (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1986), canto 12, lines 32, 19.

56. Peter King, "Thoughts on the Effects of the Bank Restrictions," 2nd ed. (London: 1804).

57. J. R. McCulloch, preface to A Select Collection of Scarce and Valuable Tracts and other Publications, on Paper Currency and Banking, ed. McCulloch (London: Lord Overstone, 1857), viii-ix.

58. Thornton, Enquiry, 167–68.

59. Spang and Poovey have demonstrated that monetary controversy peaks during times of economic uncertainty, credit crisis, or radical political change. Spang, Stuff, 2; Poovey, Genres, 3–4.

60. George Cruikshank, Bank Restriction Note (London: William Hone, 1819), The British Museum; Percy Shelley, Oedipus Tyrannus (Cambridge: Chadwyck-Healy, 1994).

61. My analysis of Cruikshank's banknote is indebted to George's cataloguing and annotation of this image. See note 49.

62. Shelley, Oedipus Tyrannus, act 1, scene 2.

63. Ibid, act 1, scene 1.

64. My discussion of Burke's concept of intellectual "energy" is influenced by J. G. A. Pocock's discussion in the introduction to Reflections on the Revolution in France, ed. Pocock (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1987), xxxvii.

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