Remembrance and Remediation:Mediating Disability and Literary Tourism in the Romantic Archive
This article explores the circuits of remediation through which poems and embodied experiences of literary tourism can be productively read through disability studies. I read the work of Sophia Hyatt, who was deaf, and whose devotional poetry to Lord Byron traces a circuit around the poet's former home, Newstead Abbey during the 1820s, and throughout their subsequent remediation. Hyatt's representations of her experience deliberately walking in the footsteps of a famously disabled poet to whom she devoted her own creative powers bears witness to a differently embodied experience of Byron's legacy, through an alternative archival practice of embodied repetition.
Disability, embodiment, remediation, poetry, Byron, tourism
Thomas and louisa wildman purchased newstead abbey in not tinghamshire from the exiled and embattled Lord Byron in 1818 for about 95,000 pounds. Byron was living in Italy at the time, but Thomas had been at Harrow with him and was a great admirer of his former schoolfellow. He and Louisa took reverential care of Newstead's Byronic associations, spent a great deal of money restoring and renovating the building and grounds, and throughout their tenure welcomed a variety of guests interested in their home's association with literary celebrity. One of these was Sophia Hyatt, who took up residence at Weir Mill Farm, in the grounds of Newstead, around 1821. The Wildmans told later visitors that Sophia spent most of her time rambling the grounds and visiting spots particularly associated with Byron, sometimes composing devotional poetry to her hero on an erasable slate that she carried with her, and tracing her own realm of the imaginary across Newstead, by foot and by pencil. Deaf and mute since childhood, Hyatt communicated almost entirely through writing. Her at once familiar and estranged relationship with Byron and her own experience as a disabled woman deliberately walking in his footsteps bears witness to Byron's complex legacy through an alternative archival practice of embodied repetition. Byron's lived experience of a disability—a lower-limb deformity—can be read through the transient materiality of the erasable slate and the various remediations of Hyatt's poetic texts. Hyatt emerges from this assortment as an overlooked and uniquely positioned mediator of affective Romantic archives.
Hyatt's surviving poems confirm her as a Byron devotee and early literary tourist; many of them are apostrophes addressed directly to the [End Page 85] absent poet and also invoke Newstead itself.1 However, that survival is only partial: nothing written in Hyatt's own hand remains. A few poems—most notably, an address to Byron titled "To the Author of Childe Harold," discussed at length later in this essay—were copied by Louisa Wildman into her own commonplace book, which is now held by the William Andrew Clark Memorial Library at the University of California, Los Angeles.2 Several more poems and excerpts from a letter to Wildman are included in Washington Irving's essay Abbotsford and New-stead Abbey (1835).3 Irving's description of his visit to Newstead several years earlier oscillates between historical anecdote, Byron hagiography, ghost stories, and descriptive observations of the day, and concludes with what he refers to as "a little tale of real life" (Newstead Abbey, 203). This story is called "The Little White Lady" after the sobriquet given to Hyatt by the Wildmans for her manner of dress. In it, Irving recalls the Wildmans' account of Hyatt's life during her time at Newstead. Irving also describes, again referring to the Wildmans as his source, Hyatt's composition practice as reiterative: she would write on the erasable slate in situ, then copy her poems out on paper in the evening. A packet of such manuscript poems, Louisa Wildman told Irving, was left with her upon Hyatt's departure from Newstead, though regrettably none of these papers have survived.
The literary tourist's steps and moments of reverie and composition are echoed by the repetitive write, erase, cut, paste, and copy motions of remediation on Hyatt's slate, on her loose leaf manuscripts, in Wild-man's commonplace book, and in Irving's highly citational essay. The tangibility of this remediation—and the loss of Hyatt's originals—pushes different experiences of embodiment and communication into view. This article explores the circuits of remediation through which poems and embodied experiences of literary tourism intersect in the Romantic commonplace. I examine this collection of representations through the lens of what Christopher Mounsey, writing about conceptualizing disability in eighteenth-century literature, labels variability. Mounsey calls for "a new analysis of the body—variability—that goes beyond the rhetoric of sameness and difference that concerned scholars in the [End Page 86] twentieth century," in order to account for the myriad ways any grouping of people can be "the same only different."4 Variability, emphasizing the body's embeddedness in both material and social worlds, provides one way of thinking about the multiple acts of remediation and imitation that Hyatt perpetuates herself, as well as how she is represented in varying material and figurative contexts by the Wildmans and by Irving. Mounsey's conception of variability also helps us consider Hyatt's deafness and Byron's lameness as points on a spectrum of disability. Hyatt refers to her deafness and inability to communicate verbally as her "infirmities," one among several terms—incapacity, deformity, illness—used to designate function and aesthetic bodily difference in the nineteenth century (Newstead Abbey, 223). Disability studies as an academic mode of inquiry emerged from disability activism in the late twentieth century, which had established a broad coalition of persons with disabilities, embracing community through shared difference to achieve common political goals. While their practical experiences of disability were quite different, Hyatt's identification with Byron shows how such a coalition can be achieved through a poetics of remediation and embodiment. Hyatt's particular experience of Newstead Abbey offers a new angle for understanding the intersections between nineteenth-century social constructions of disability and Romantic media paradigms of remediation. Recovering Hyatt's experience is dependent on the paradigms of book history, which help us understand how literary experiences move in and out of books, are shuffled between readers, and how they remediate acts of reading and writing within different imaginative and physical spaces. Through book history and literary tourism, therefore, we gain greater access to the material conditions, representations, and mediations of disability in the nineteenth century.
Louisa Wildman's commonplace book was my first point of entry into Hyatt's archive (as another, potentially coalitional, inhabitant of the disability spectrum). The commonplace book started as an archival form, a technology of memory that evolved into an aesthetic form. As blank albums into which were deposited excerpts from the compiler's reading, commonplace books were unruly collections. The nineteenth-century commonplace book, in particular, was more loosely organized than its rigidly structured predecessors. Romantic "readers accepted the value of extracts but rejected the discipline of commonplace-book tradition," as Heather J. Jackson puts it.5 Jillian M. Hess explains further [End Page 87] that "most Romantics structured their commonplace books according to personal experience," or chronologically, rather than under the indexical headings suggested by John Locke a century earlier in A New Method of Making Commonplace Books.6 By the early nineteenth century the commonplace book was a dynamic body of quotation, original writing, observation, and a material record of both individual and social experience. Wildman's remediation anchors Hyatt's poetry in an embodied material and social context that can be traced back and forward to other sites of remediation and scenes of composition and reading. This allows us to recover some sense of how Hyatt uses intertextuality and remediation to think through her bodily difference and its reciprocal relation to the social.
Disability and the Romantic Archive
Disability emphasizes the positioning of the body in place and time, and its myriad relationships both to social formations and the architectures of built environments. "The fluidity and situatedness of disability," writes Gracen Brilmyer, "are useful mechanisms by which to critique any objects' description and to expose the archival assemblage attached to a record."7 Brilmyer's evocation of fluidity emphasizes that a disability does not often consist of a static impairment but instead changes constantly in relation to its environment and various internal and external factors. In this sense, then, disability studies seems a natural fit for the already-fragmented, contingent nature of the Romantic archives that this special issue seeks to address. Disability has always been central to literary narratives of human experience, and particularly to those of Romanticism. Many famous authors of the Romantic era were themselves disabled or chronically ill. While Romantic-era disability studies is still nascent, in recent years several important publications have emerged, notably a collection of wide-ranging essays edited by Michael Bradshaw, Disabling Romanticism (2016), and a monograph by Emily Stanback, The Wordsworth-Coleridge Circle and the Aesthetics of Disability (2016).8 A more recent reflection by Bradshaw describes disability studies as an essential [End Page 88] part of our ongoing "process of re-historicizing Romantic literature. … [it] can help to disrupt the canonical and institutional nature of Romanticism … not only the witness of the non-normatively embodied, but of difference in general."9 Scholarship that acknowledges disability as both embodied experience and as an identity category in its own right is enriching and critically necessary to the continuing cultural valences of Romanticism.
The decades at the turn of the nineteenth century have been described as a transitional moment in the history of disability.10 Fuson Wang elaborates that, sitting between the Enlightenment and Victorian medicalization, "two restrictive movements to classify the human against the inhuman and the normal against the abnormal," Romantic disability studies had to wait for "a genuinely historicist turn [in disability studies] to make its complex case."11 This historicist turn has focused in part on telling stories of individual lived lives and experiences of disabled people in earlier periods. In other words, on documenting the historical record in a way that acknowledges the centrality of disability to historical experience—both formal and informal "archives" of disabled lives. The traces of Hyatt that may be glimpsed in the Wildman commonplace book and Irving's narrative constitute one such record.
But there are limits to the archive's capacity to record and preserve such experiences. Sara White, for example, re-evaluates the archive's structural relationships to the body, responding to questions about whether or not archivists have reliably served and represented people with a disability.12 In particular, White suggests, archives might look to the history of disability studies' own negotiation of medical and social models of disability to apply a theory of complex embodiment to archival practices of appraisal, arrangement, and description, one that privileges original contexts and relationships. The term "complex embodiment" was coined by the disability theorist Tobin Siebers [End Page 89] to negotiate the place of embodied experience in disability identity politics.13 Disability studies in the twentieth century, drawing on the rhetoric of disabled activists, initially worked to counter the Victorian "medical" model of disability that operated on the binary of normal and defective bodies, drawing a distinction between disability—how abled people respond to those with impairments or functional limitations—and those physical, sensory, or cognitive conditions that cause functional limitations. The social model instead codes disability as a form of political, economic, and socio-cultural oppression tantamount to a denial of access. But a model based only on accessibility fails to account for invisible disabilities, including numerous chronic and mental illnesses. Later scholars have taken a variety of approaches to understanding disability on a spectrum between embodied experiences and the cultural structures that oppress or other people with disabilities.14 Siebers's term "complex embodiment" encapsulates the ways in which bodies also organize social relationships, and allows for multiple ways for people with disabilities to relate to their bodies in social and political contexts. Since disability frequently either goes unindexed or contained in specialist activist archives, White advocates for archive policies that acknowledge disability as a relational factor in the arrangement, description, and juxtaposition of archival documents. For the purposes of this essay, complex embodiment provides a way to understand how bodies also shape the production and reception of texts, particularly at the intersections of book history and literary tourism.
Certain conditions of ability must typically be met in the archive. The reading room may or may not have good accessibility to those who use mobility aids; the collections may or may not be available in any alternative formats for those with vision or hearing impairments. These kinds of archival encounters often assume an abled experience of embodiment, and in recognizing the conditions of such encounters, we begin to understand the extent to which disability has often been elided in representations and narratives of the historical record. Through complex embodiment, disability might be theorized as the tension between metaphor and lived experience—to what extent does ability shape our abstractions of the material? As Michael Bradshaw argues, disability highlights a matter of central importance to Romanticists who want to [End Page 90] deal with the relationship of the abstract to the material.15 Moreover, it makes the acknowledgment of variously embodied experience particularly important for dealing with different oscillating representations of Romantic archives. Thinking through embodiment and disability allows us to manage competing counter-narratives, multiple perspectives, and material histories.
Hyatt's participation in—even inauguration of—literary pilgrimage and devotional composition at Newstead Abbey is re-enacted by Irving and many other later tourists. My positioning of the commonplace book and slate as key objects in an embodied archival practice is also influenced by Rebecca Schneider's theory of performing remains. Schneider, crafting a theory of historical re-enactment, argues that trying to recreate historical encounters and events produces a sense of "superabundance" that "troubles linear temporality by offering at least the suggestion of recurrence, or return, even if the practice is peppered with its own ongoing incompletion."16 We might read literary tourism on similar terms. As Nicola J. Watson puts it, pilgrims are in some senses attempting to become the author by "seeing through their eyes and briefly inhabiting their homes and haunts";17 in other words, to re-enact a favorite author's own moments of literary epiphany. We might certainly say this of Hyatt, who communes with Byron through her own poetry. Re-enactment is characterized by putting on or getting up a performance of the past in the present, often staged in the same place as the original occurrence, creating a knotty entanglement of time and space. As the home and haunt of Lord Byron, and as a castle reconstructed in and among the ruins of an abbey after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, Newstead Abbey is a densely thick text of this sort.
The commonplace book is also a zone of reenactment, in which the compiler reiteratively accumulates and re-contextualizes a superabundance of textual fragments. As an archival document, the commonplace book promotes the same "suggestion … of return" that Schneider emphasizes.18As preserved by Wildman and Irving, Hyatt's poetry and letters repeatedly emphasize themes of return, even as she herself repeatedly returns to specific sites on the Abbey grounds, which are then returned to by [End Page 91] Irving, and by numerous anonymous tourists after him. She not only seeks to become Byron, but to invite him to return and understand her experiences in the same way she has assimilated his. Reproduction and reenactment make different experiences of embodiment visible, even when following a script, and underscore how ability (the body's performance) is relative to time and space. Hyatt re-enacts documented moments of inspiration in the life of Lord Byron connected to Newstead Abbey, in terms that create a counter-narrative of disability particularly attentive to adaptive modes of movement and perception. In so doing, she offers specialized knowledge about the relationship between body and environment at Newstead.
Embodied in Verse
The commonplace book is a generative site of composition and remediation, as can be immediately grasped by reading a poem composed by Hyatt and transcribed by Louisa Wildman. Wildman prefaces the poem with this title and byline: "To the Author of Childe Harold, Written by Sophia Hyatt, The White Lady" (figure 1). Unfortunately, Wildman does not record any further details about Hyatt in the commonplace book. This entry does reinforce, however, Irving's account that the nickname "The Little White
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[End Page 92] Lady" was given to Hyatt by the Wildmans, rather than invented in order to romanticize his own narrative. Irving describes Hyatt's relationship with Louisa Wildman as generous: "She invited her into the Abbey; treated her with the most delicate attention, and seeing that she had a great turn for reading, offered her the loan of any books in her possession" (Newstead Abbey, 213). According to Irving, this relationship culminated eventually in Hyatt bequeathing her manuscripts to Wildman when, in financial distress, she left Newstead:
Seeking Mrs. Wildman [the day before her departure from the Abbey] she placed in her hands a sealed packet, with an earnest request that she would not open it until after her departure from the neighborhood … On opening the packet, [Louisa Wildman] found a number of fugitive poems, written in a most delicate and minute hand, and evidently the fruits of her reveries and meditations during her lonely rambles.(Newstead Abbey 218)
These "fugitive poems" were likely the source of Louisa Wildman's transcriptions in her commonplace book. Irving also notes that these manuscripts were provided to him during his visit: "from these the foregoing extractions have been made" (Newstead Abbey, 218). Hyatt herself seems to anticipate this almost bewildering series of remediations; in a letter also enclosed in the packet, and transcribed by Irving, she describes her composition practice in her own words:
most of them [were] written there, in my little tablet, while sitting at the foot of my Altar—I could not, I cannot resist the earnest desire of leaving this memorial of the many happy hours I have there enjoyed. Oh! Do not reject them, madam; suffer them to remain with you.(Newstead Abbey, 224)19
Hyatt refers again to the scene and materials of her composition, tying her acts of reading and writing to her exploration of the grounds, the circuit of repetition activated again by Louisa's reading, and subsequent reinscription, and Irving's later reading and reinscription. Hyatt also insists on her precarious records living on in relation to their original contexts.
The poem by Hyatt that Louisa Wildman chose to copy, "To the Author of Childe Harold," reinforces this impression of Newstead Abbey as an entirely mediated landscape, echoing those of the commonplace book and the archive. What follows Hyatt's straightforward title is a sentimental apostrophe to Byron, begging the poet to turn aside from Greece and [End Page 93] Italy, and not necessarily return to Newstead, but recognize its influence on his work. She does so through persistent reflexive reference to Childe Harold, tracing Byron's foreign tour through his poetic descriptions and emphasizing the extent to which it is the poetry that has captured and transmitted these experiences. She opens by asking the absent author what he is now at work on:
Where art Thou, wandering spirit say,What echo now thy strains prolong,What favor'd refrain boasts thy story,Does Greece whose woes thy muse has sung
While bending from their airy wallsO'er Patriot Chiefs of Ancient daysList as each dulcet accent falls,And hang enraptured in Thy Lays,
Or Italy whose scenes sublimeAre pictured in thy deathless lay,The classic muses' favorite chimeDoes in her verses the wanderer stray—(lines 1–12, CB, 94)
Hyatt blurs the boundaries between poem and place, imagining an author who strays into his muse's imagination—she projects the fantasy that she is undertaking herself onto Byron as she walks the grounds of his former home and similarly retreads the "place" of his most famous literary work, rehearsing its most famous descriptions of Europe. The form is sometimes hesitant and the rhymes awkward and incomplete, but this theme is repeated with certainty. As the poem goes on, she continues her identification with Byron by imagining the famous poet to be engaged in similar acts of literary pilgrimage, in this case via his interest in the Italian poet Torquato Tasso, who was imprisoned in an asylum in Ferrara, and then to Clarens in the Alps, associated with Rousseau's Julie:
Or lingering near thy Tasso's cell,20To soothe the poet's injured shade,And dearly hallow with thy shellThe spot his woes had sacred made [End Page 94] O wheresoever thy lyre is strung,Mid Alpine snows or "Clarens Shade"Where "pendant avalanches" hang,Or where "deep love" thru all pervade(lines 17–24, CB, 94–95).21
Hyatt emphasizes literary pilgrimage as both inspirational and liberatory. Words associated with sound—"echo," "strains," "refrain," and "song"—put pressure on the metaphors of hearing that we often use to conceptualize written verse as it is seen on the page. In letters excerpted by Irving, Hyatt frequently refers to her hearing impairment as a kind of exile from spoken communication:
Of all the pleasures of polished life which fancy has so often pictured to me in such vivid colors, there is not one that I have so ardently coveted as that sweet reciprocation of ideas, the supreme bliss of enlightened minds in the hour of social converse … but since the loss of my hearing, I have always been incapable of verbal conversation.(Newstead Abbey, 220)
But Hyatt's poetry—her engagement with "fancy" as she suggests here—reiterates and enacts the desire for reciprocation she expresses, in language that evokes visually (and textually) the oral sociability she is denied.
This suggests that Hyatt understands the complex embodiment of her position, and asserts poetry as an alternative mode of conversation. Lennard Davis argues that the relationship between deafness and writing at the turn of the nineteenth century can be tied to a broader historical consolidation of reading as a cultural activity, as over the course of the eighteenth century an oral culture had transitioned to one of silent reading. "To read," Davis points out, "requires muteness and attention to nonverbal signs," an intuitive connection between deafness and textuality.22 Jennifer Esmail, building on Davis's work, writes that by the middle of the nineteenth century, "deaf people and their advocates [were using] poetry as a weapon in their fight against widespread [End Page 95] cultural myths about deaf people's intellectual and linguistic deficits."23 There is no evidence to suggest that Hyatt participated in the broader Deaf culture of nineteenth-century Britain, though the record may be incomplete, as Irving is not likely to have been attentive to or interested in these distinctions.
Hyatt's work is aware of its own status as writing in the sense that Davis describes. She describes her disability as an important context for her engagement with fancy and the imagination, for it erases the suspension of disbelief that allows us to talk about written verses as if they are exclusively spoken or sung. Hyatt's own use of aural metaphor, therefore, points us to the difficulty of inhabiting a body in a society constructed to reject and alienate difference. Further, Hyatt explains that while the Wildmans had encouraged her to interact with them more, she avoided them: "Thus cut off, as it were, from all human society, I have been compelled to live in a world of my own, and certainly with the beings with which my world is peopled, I am at no loss to converse" (Newstead Abbey, 224). The idea of Byron was Hyatt's chief interlocutor as she read, wrote, and walked his routes in the grounds of the Abbey. While Hyatt interacted to an extent with the Wildmans, it seems largely to have been in service of her literary interests until she surprised Louisa Wildman with the packet of poems and its revelatory letter. Hyatt describes a realm of "fancy" and the imaginary constructed from her knowledge of her own body in space, an imaginary proxy for the social realm mediated via books, composition (on her slate), and tourism.
The final stanzas of "To the Author of Childe Harold" enact a self-consciously imagined return, repeatedly telling the imagined Byron that Newstead Abbey has a claim on him and his muse:
O, turn thee Bard from distant flowersSend one fond strain to these lov'd BonesOne grateful lay thy Newstead claimsHere culled thy muse her earliest flowers
And still Thou'rt dear to every breast.Lo there sweet haunts and peaceful shade.Thy name by every tongue is blest,And love for thee each heart pervades—Then turn thee Bard from distant plainsSend one sweet strain to these sad BonesOne soothing lay thy Newstead claims, [End Page 96] Oh, let one soothing lay be ours.—(lines 25–36, CB, 95)
The final line of the poem conflates the speaker with Newstead: "Oh let one … lay be ours" (line 36, CB, 94–95). The extent to which this poem blurs the boundaries between Byron, his poetry, Newstead, and the speaker are remarkable; its place in Louisa Wildman's commonplace book, in which original poems are dated and located at "Newstead Abbey," is an equally striking example of a similar series of remediations.
The commonplace book and Newstead are both repeatedly inscribed by Hyatt and her remediators. Irving, too, seems to recognize the insistent materiality of Hyatt's writings as they are presented to him, a collection of loose leaves and commonplace extracts; remember: "Many of her feelings and fancies, during these lonely rambles, were embodied in verse, noted down on her tablet, and transferred to paper in the evening, on her return to the farm house. Some of these verses now lie before me" (Newstead Abbey, 209). Hyatt's use of multiple scribal technologies—the erasable slate, the bundle of manuscript poems and papers bequeathed to Louisa Wildman—is an adaptation to her disabilities in that it allows her to compose spontaneously, as one would in conversation. Irving, for example, is able to assemble his narrative through conversation and oral histories. Hyatt relies on material circuits of communication, exemplifying Siebers's assertion that "disability is a social location complexly embodied."24 Both the slate and the commonplace book begin as blanks that can be filled in different ways depending on the circumstances; they emphasize the conditions of writing.25 They are social objects, typically used to share writing. However, from there they diverge. It is in the spaces between the two that situated embodiment becomes visible. The slate tablet—erasable, cheap, easy to maintain—emerged as a robust, tangible, and portable site of ephemeral composition. Slates were used in continual cycles of writing and cleaning—most popularly in education: the slate "afforded repetition and practice as each response could be quickly wiped off to [End Page 97] enable a new one."26 But erasable slates were also used in a variety of composition practices, including music and poetry. Thomas H. Ford, for example, argues that the Wordsworth poem "Written with a Slate-pencil" uses the figure of the erasable slate to suggest that textuality in the early nineteenth century was caught up in cycles of airy repetition, too.27 Hyatt uses her slate as a site of both textual conversation with actual persons (clear in the Wildmans' descriptions of exchanging words with her) and poetic composition. For Hyatt, the slate becomes a palimpsest of conversation and poetic composition—a site, we might also say, of remediated conversations real and imagined.
When those ephemeral compositions are reinscribed, repeated, and remediated again in the commonplace book, they move into a different yet still ephemeral space of extraction and re-contextualization. Ink on the pages of a commonplace book is more durable than words on a slate, but remains difficult to catalog and archive within institutional parameters. Hyatt thus escapes any inscription in the Clark's catalog description of the Wildman commonplace book, for example, which emphasizes the association with Byron and Newstead Abbey, but doesn't have the capacity to represent all of the individual entries in that assemblage. As a discrete, tangible object, the commonplace book must—at least at this moment—be opened by a body in the archive in order for Hyatt's poetry to become visible.
Irving is also aware of the position of his body in relation to the archive and literary history throughout Abbotsford and Newstead Abbey (1835). Recounting a trip to stay with Sir Walter Scott at Abbotsford, and a subsequent visit to the Wildmans at Newstead Abbey, the part of the essay dealing with Newstead concentrates not on Irving's personal life but on his investigation of aspects of the estate and neighborhood most connected to Lord Byron. This includes a history of the Abbey, descriptions of the ruins, reconstructed wings, and particularly the gardens, with attention to memorials of its famous owner: a tree on which Byron had carved his name, another tree which he was reputed to have planted as a boy, and the monument to Byron's favorite dog Boatswain. All of this description is constantly compared to extracts from Byron's poetry and letters, particularly passages describing Newstead. Irving's tour of Newstead is inextricably intertwined with his reading of Byron's body of work. It is an intensely literary experience. As Alison Booth writes, at places like Newstead, these gestures of devotion to authors create an [End Page 98] "overlay of eras and versions of interrelated houses and visits [that] can only thicken, like a plot, over time."28 Irving spends much of his time at Newstead rambling alone, "where one may indulge poetical reveries, and spin cobweb fancies without interruption" (Newstead Abbey, 119). In fact, Irving follows the same route and visits the same monuments that he later describes as Hyatt's favorite haunts, tracing this path across Newstead twice. He also repeats the word "reverie" when describing both his and Hyatt's respective states of mind. This succinctly illustrates how literary pilgrimage is recursive by nature, both in act and in its textual mediations, continually re-negotiated in encounters between bodies and books.
Irving is deeply invested in integrating the imaginative or fictional qualities of place with realist descriptions of history and architecture. The essay accordingly demonstrates his familiarity with Byron's work, and particularly the poet's own descriptions of Newstead's fraught history as monastery and baronial seat, which he quotes frequently in order to deepen the associative charm of his own observations and to blur distinctions between past and present, fiction and reality. Places, for Irving, manifest as quasi-fictional narratives—perhaps not surprising from an author who is himself synonymous with a town whose official name has been changed to reflect the impact on the national mythology of his own fictional version. His description of Newstead oscillates, accordingly, between historical anecdote, ghost stories, and descriptive observations of the day—and concludes with a story in which he combines all three, "The Little White Lady." Irving frames Hyatt's poetry and history as both a sentimental tale and as a model for literary tourism. Moreover, since the original manuscripts are lost, it is difficult to estimate to what extent Irving edited the excerpts from her letters and poetry to suit his own purposes.
Irving is not a reliable narrator, writing as he does under the loose auspices of his "Geoffrey Crayon" persona, an expatriate, picturesque mediator of American and European literary inheritance. Irving inaugurated the Crayon character in The Sketch-book of Geoffrey Crayon (1819–20), and the transatlantic success of that book enabled the later publication of "Abbotsford and Newstead Abbey" as No. 2 in a three-volume series titled The Crayon Miscellany, which also included volumes titled, respectively, "A Tour on the Prairies" and "Legends of the Conquest of Spain." Susan Manning describes the prose of Crayon as a kind of "'Claude Glass' whose composing sensibilities and attenuating, softening focus taught subsequent viewers—tourists and fellow-artists—how an American might properly project his [End Page 99] or her experience of Englishness."29 Irving creates, in his own words, a picturesque, static "sketch" to be extracted and re-enacted by his readers. The history of Hyatt he offers must therefore be understood within this framework. His initial presentation of Hyatt is as a species of fairytale. Irving relates to the reader how, out riding one day on the grounds with Colonel Wildman, the two men were "amusing themselves with applying fairy tales to the charming scenery around them" (Newstead Abbey, 203). This inspires Wildman to tell Irving the beginning of a story—"some circumstances of which were related to me on the spot, and others I collected in the course of my sojourn at the Abbey" (Newstead Abbey, 203)—making the process of re- and trans-mediation he undertook in compiling both oral and written records explicit. Moreover, this framing device collapses the story with the grounds of the Abbey itself. To visit Newstead was to ride through a quasi-fictional landscape.
However, we need not completely discount the transcriptions of Hyatt's writing that Irving provides. He repeatedly references the primary sources he worked with, indicating as he copies out Hyatt's poetry that "some of these verses now lie before me" (Newstead Abbey, 210). As Irving's narrative progresses, it takes a decidedly archival turn; he ceases trying to describe Hyatt and instead excerpts heavily from the poetry and letters she left for Louisa Wildman, providing context and a sense of the paper's originator that the commonplace book lacks. Although remediated through the lens of Irving's idealized literary tourist, some of Hyatt's lived experience and unique sense of a disabled and differentiated body embedded in the imagined and material landscape of Newstead Abbey is still accessible. In the last several pages of Irving's narrative, the heavy quotation from Hyatt's letter to Louisa Wildman takes up entire page lengths. The original materials of Hyatt's texts are lost, and with them a clear sense of Hyatt's intention for the archival packet she gifted to Louisa Wildman. Yet Irving's emphasis on the material conditions of their production, within the contexts of what is, in many ways, a prototype of the tourist's guidebook to a site of literary significance, invites his reader to consider their own embodied relationship to literary texts and authors. The articulation of the desire to get closer to an author, to inhabit their home and their haunts, to engage in compensatory composition, he surrenders to Hyatt.
Reading and Writing Byron
Byron has himself been a singularly catalyzing figure within Romantic studies of disability since Andrew Elfenbein edited a special issue of European Romantic Review on "Byron and Disability" in 2001. As Elfenbein states in [End Page 100] his introduction, up to that date Byron's "status as perhaps the most famous disabled man of his day had received strangely little discussion" in modern scholarship.30 In the nearly two decades since then, that has changed, and though there is much still to be written about both Byron's lived experience and his aesthetic projects, this article does not have the space to address it except in a roundabout way. However, I do want to suggest the possibility that Byron's visibility as a famous disabled poet during the 1810s–1820s made his work and his home seem particularly accessible venues of inspiration and consolation for Hyatt. As she came to know the Wildmans during her time on the estate, Louisa gave her access to the library, though according to Irving "the writings of Lord Byron seemed to form the only study in which she delighted, and when not occupied in reading those, her time was passed in passionate meditations on his genius. Her enthusiasm spread an ideal world around her" (Newstead Abbey, 214). Irving paints this as escapist, which suggests an abstraction or turn away from the real world, but I am not so sure—some of her poetry suggests an identification with Byron not only as idol but as an idol who is over and over again located in simultaneously social and material locations. Read through this lens, Hyatt, by re-embodying his routes around the Abbey, as well as through her poetic pleas for his return, endeavors to find a similar relationship to her material surrounds expressed in Byron's poetry. Rather than an escape, I would characterize this as an attempt to tether her imagined social sphere to a material landscape—to create a potential point of return.
Hyatt was constantly engaged in reading and writing—acts rooted in sociability, even when undertaken in physical isolation. Christopher Krentz, in his monograph Writing Deafness, points out that "because reading and writing are basically silent and visual acts—what Lennard J. Davis has called 'the deafened moment'—they offer a meeting ground of sorts between deaf and hearing people, a place where differences may recede and binaries may be transcended."31 Hyatt employs Newstead Abbey as such a ground to write upon, using her knowledge of the place to anchor a transcendent sense of connection and communion with Byron. Literary pilgrimage becomes a vector for self-reflexively examining embodiment. Irving reminds us that Hyatt did not meet Byron himself, describing her poetry as
[c]hiefly curious as being illustrative of that singular and enthusiastic idolatry with which she almost worshipped the genius of Byron, or [End Page 101] rather the romantic image of him formed by her imagination … for, as she herself declares, in one of her rhapsodies, she had never beheld Lord Byron: he was, to her, a mere phantom of the brain.(Newstead Abbey, 210)
This description of an illusory Byron manifests fiction's ability to imaginatively transport readers into the space of the imaginary. Paul Westover describes this as a necessary condition for literary tourism, in which a visitor seeks to use a specific site to generate interaction with an absent (often deceased) author.32 Byron, in particular, was also the object of an emerging celebrity culture that generated and thrived on imagined interactions. As Tom Mole explains, fascination with the celebrity poet both "enabled a retreat from social life" and allowed for readers to take potentially opposing positions on his life or texts, simultaneously "structur[ing] social intercourse."33 Returning to Siebers's description of disability as a "social location complexly embodied," we might also read Hyatt's manifestation of Byron as a ghostly interlocutor as an articulation of her own experience of social marginalization.34 The following excerpt from another poem addressed to Lord Byron (this one only extant in Irving's extracts) further articulates Hyatt's position on the ideal presence of her muse:
I ne'er have drunk thy glance—Thy formMy earthly eye has never seen,Though oft when fancy's visions warm,It greets me in some blissful dream.Greets me, as greets the sainted seer
Some radiant visitant from high,When heaven's own strains break on his ear,and wrap his soul in ecstasy.35
Hyatt plays with multi-sensory perceptions, juxtaposing visual and auditory imagery. She pictures on paper—through written text—not just a special communion with the poet but one that is auditory. She doesn't [End Page 102] need to have seen him, because imagination allows her to capture his (de)formed form through her own metaphorical ear. Hyatt's identification fantasy is rooted in poetry's ability to picture shared sensory (embodied) experiences. While she does not seem to have had connections with the Deaf community, Hyatt understands poetry as a meditative mode to consider shared commonalities as well as differences.36
Christine Kenyon Jones argues that, from a young age, Byron used "fictional, historical, and biographical models" to think through his lameness.37 As Kenyon Jones and others have noted, critics have long politely ignored Byron's disability—"everyone presumably knew about Byron's partial lameness," writes Elfenbein in 2001, "but no one, evidently, had anything to say about it."38 Kenyon Jones points out in response that biographical sketches as early as 1815 put Byron's disability in conversation with other disabled poets—"Corporeal defects are not unfrequently attached to a high degree of mental superiority. Homer, Milton, and Delille, were blind; Pope was deformed; and it is a singular coincidence that Lord Byron and Mr. Walter Scott have both been lame from birth."39 During his lifetime Byron's lameness was known and discussed, often in conversation with his career as a poet, and we can presume Hyatt was aware of it as well.
In other poems, Hyatt reverses roles with Byron, picturing herself as the memorialized figure and Byron as devotee, imagining a Lord Byron returned from exile as the reader. Another poem that only survives in Irving's extracts, titled "Written beneath the tree on Crowholt Hill, where it is my wish to be interred, (if I should die in Newstead)," was presumably written before Byron's death in 1824, when Hyatt might still have imagined he would outlive her.40 In it, Hyatt asks Byron to bless her grave, on the grounds of his former home, as additional monument to his own legacy:
Thou, while thou stand'st beneath this tree,While by thy foot this earth is press'd,Think, here the wanderer's ashes be—And wilt thou say, sweet be thy rest!(lines 1–4)41 [End Page 103]
In this stanza there are several hints about Hyatt's identification with her idol. She characterizes herself as a "wanderer," mirroring Byron's current state of social exile on the continent. She imagines Byron able to return home and thus, to return her to a kind of final home. She also specifically uses the image of Byron standing in the same spot or, below the tree, above her grave, and imagines "thy foot" pressing into the earth. Irving passes over Hyatt's specific evocation of Byron's foot without comment, but I think it is worth noting that she could not have been unaware of the connection. It is specifically Byron's embodied difference that Hyatt imagines as the connecting limb, as it were, reaching out to meet her at the site of her grave and memorial—on the grounds of his house, at a site already seen as his memorial. Hyatt imagines a posthumous dissolution by which she and Byron could both come home and rest, channeled through a shared perspective at once material—physically located and embodied—and abstract, achieved through the vehicle of poetry and the written word.
The page becomes a substitution for the spot under the tree, where Byron's foot and Hyatt's voice might intersect. In another strikingly recursive verse, the reader is asked to picture Hyatt, reading Byron, reading Hyatt, a cycle activated by another reading witness picking up the page. The final stanza reinforces this image, returning to the tree, to Byron's feet, and the rest of a tired wanderer:
And here, beneath this lonely tree—Beneath the earth thy feet have press'd,My dust shall sleep—once dear to theeThese scenes—here may the wanderer rest!(lines 17–20)42
Hyatt once more positions her own body as part of the palimpsest of Newstead Abbey, enacting the desire for reciprocity that she expresses in her letters even in imagining her own posthumous condition. Quite poignantly, the pages on which this poem were written, presumably after being copied from her compositional slate, she put into the packet and gifted to Louisa Wildman only a day before her own death, not long after Byron's body was returned to the vicinity of Newstead in 1824. Hyatt's only remaining family member had ceased answering her letters. In increasing financial distress, she had decided to remove to London. The Wildmans, moved by the letters and poems, tried to find Hyatt, intending to fix-up one of the cottages on the property for her to live in—unfortunately, Louisa Wildman's letter explaining this was too [End Page 104] late. Hyatt had left the farmhouse for Nottingham, and died in a traffic accident before the Wildmans' servant was able to find her. It is with her death that Irving ends his story.
First composed on an erasable slate tablet and bequeathed to a place as much as to a person, Hyatt's poetry provides an articulation of both the mediated temporal landscape we encounter in Romantic archives, and an entry point to applying a disability studies framework to Romantic mediation. While Hyatt's lived experience is available only at removes, the nature of those removes—repetition suggestive of return and recirculation—serves to reinforce the complexity of Romantic archives as they fluctuate between the material and the abstract, the fragment and the whole. Our own reciprocal gestures toward recovering Hyatt's narrative can only be partial and fragmented themselves. Hyatt's own end to her narrative puts emphasis on what Tanya Titchkosky has described as the potential for disability frameworks to find "more viable and imaginative ways to live with the social fact that our embodiment is text mediated": "Now I go—but O might I dare to hope that when you are enjoying these blissful scenes, a thought of the unhappy wanderer might sometimes cross your mind, how soothing would such an idea be" (Newstead Abbey, 225).43 To reciprocate, and participate in the conversation that Hyatt inaugurates, perhaps our best answer is to walk the grounds of Newstead Abbey, reading Byron and Hyatt, allowing for our own moments of reverie, and composing. By asking her reader to re-enact her own scenes of composition, to take up her texts and walk back out on to the grounds of the Abbey as both Louisa Wildman and Irving did, and mediate their own experience of that place, Hyatt makes the disabled tourist's body a unique site of literary knowledge.
Jessica Roberson is faculty in English at Mount Saint Mary's University in Los Angeles, where she teaches courses in nineteenth-century literature, genre, and literary theory. She has previously published on various intersections of book history, reception studies, and literary tourism in the nineteenth century; her current book project is titled Romanticism and the Making of Media Mortality. Recently her pedagogical and research interests have converged in the fields of disability studies and maker culture, and future work will explore the potential of accessible making for Romantic literary studies.
1. While Hyatt was a resident of Newstead Abbey and not a transient visitor, I have chosen to call Hyatt a tourist at times in order to emphasize the essentially touristic nature of her exploration of the grounds and writing of devotional poetry.
3. Published as The Crayon Miscellany, No. 2: Abbotsford and Newstead Abbey (Philadelphia: Carey, Lea, and Blanchard, 1835), 203. Henceforth cited parenthetically in the text as Newstead Abbey.
6. Hess, "Coleridge's Fly-Catchers: Adapting Commonplace-Book Form," Journal of the History of Ideas 73, no. 3 (2012): 468; Locke, A New Method of Making Commonplace Books (London: J. Greenwood, 1706), vi–5.
8. See Bradshaw, ed., Disabling Romanticism (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), and Stanback, The Wordsworth-Coleridge Circle and the Aesthetics of Disability (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). Also, Jason Farr, Novel Bodies: Disability and Sexuality in Eighteenth-Century British Literature (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2019); and Mounsey, ed., Idea of Disability in Eighteenth-Century England.
10. For the d/Deaf, in particular, the Romantic period comes just before a mid-nineteenth-century war of methods in deaf education between sign language (and a distinct Deaf language) and assimilation into mainstream oral culture. The distinction between deaf and Deaf usually demarcates a recognition of a distinct Deaf culture with its own language, schools, sociability, and customs. Since Hyatt does not use that terminology to refer to herself, I use deaf unless specifically addressing modern-day Deaf culture.
14. Two examples of this are the complex embodiment model of Siebers, favored by White, and the "political/relational" model of Alison Kafer. See Siebers, Disability Theory, and Kafer, Feminist Queer Crip (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2013).
19. The Altar was the monument to his dog Boatswain that Byron erected in the Abbey's garden.
21. Hyatt refers to Byron's description of the Alps in Canto III of Childe Harold: "Clarens! sweet Clarens, birth-place of deep Love!" (stanza 99, line 1). See Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Vol. II (London: John Murray, 1819), 54. There is thus a double significance to her choice of passage from Childe Harold, linking both Hyatt and Wildman, as the compiler, to a commonplace book tradition of imitating and paying tribute to Rousseau as well as Byron.
25. On commonplace books, see David Allan, Commonplace Books and Reading in Georgian England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010); on Byron, see Corin Throsby, "Byron, Commonplacing, and Early Fan Culture," in Romanticism and Celebrity Culture, 1750–1850, ed. Tom Mole (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009). Throsby notes that many readers "actively constructed identities as readers of Byron" (227–28).
33. Mole, Byron's Romantic Celebrity: Industrial Culture and the Hermeneutics of Intimacy (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 2. Byron's inauguration of modern celebrity and its projections of imagined intimacy is a rich field of Romantic scholarship by Mole and others.
35. Sophia Hyatt, "I ne'er have drunk thy glance," excerpted in Irving, Newstead Abbey, 210–11.
38. Elfenbein, "Editor's Introduction," Disabling Romanticism, 247.
39. "Some account of the right Hon. Geo. Gordon, Lord Byron," The New Monthly Magazine and Universal Register 3 (1815), 530.