Queen Caroline in Caricature: June 1820

Ian Haywood, University of Roehampton

Image: Robert Cruikshank, The Secret Insult (Museum Wilhelm Busch)

On this day (5 June) exactly two hundred years ago, one of the most high-profile political and sexual scandals in British history burst onto the cultural scene. The focus of this unprecedented media storm was Caroline of Brunswick, the estranged wife of the new king George IV, previously the Prince of Wales and Prince Regent.[1]

The pair had married in 1795 when George agreed a deal with parliament to pay off enormous gambling debts – amounting to millions of pounds today – in return for reforming his rakish ways. The marriage was a disaster: George was drunk during the wedding ceremony, and there were rumours that Caroline’s standards of hygiene were not of the highest (though typically, this criticism did not apply to the Prince). Moreover, George was already illicitly married to Maria Fitzherbert, and his mistress Lady Jersey was appointed as Caroline’s bedchamber lady. Though Caroline conceived her daughter Charlotte, George insisted on a separation, a decision that would come back to haunt him.

From 1796 until 1820, the royal couple led independent lives, but George launched several undercover investigations to try to expose Caroline’s allegedly promiscuous lifestyle, and he restricted her access to Princess Charlotte. In 1814 Caroline want into exile and only discovered the news of Charlotte’s death in 1817 by accident. When George III died in January 1820, Caroline asserted her claim to be the lawful Queen of Britain and announced her intention to return to England. The king was horrified and determined to stop her. But how to manage this dilemma? The country was in a state of political unrest, and the Queen was already regarded by many people as an injured wife and mother. Her cause was an ideal opportunity to rally anti-government protest in the wake of the Peterloo massacre, the draconian Six Acts against freedom of speech, and the executions of the Cato Street conspirators. Undeterred, and against the advice of his ministers, George had Caroline’s name struck off the Church of England liturgy and demanded a solution.

Just as their relationship had begun with a royal bribe, George assumed Caroline could be bought off and sent a delegation to intercept her journey through northern France. During the weekend of 3-4 June 1820, Lord Hutchinson and the rising Whig star Henry Brougham met with Caroline in the town of St Omer. They offered her an allowance of £50,000 per annum (an increase of £15,000 on her existing stipend) in return for the renunciation of her claim and permanent exile. If she refused, she was threatened with prosecution for adultery. Caroline rejected the offer, resumed her journey to Calais, and arrived at Dover on 5 June 1820. Huge crowds of ecstatic fans welcomed her return and she was mobbed all the way to London.

For the remainder of the year, her story dominated the press and Romantic print culture. The media explosion was unprecedented: millions of words appeared in newspapers, periodicals, pamphlets, trial reports, Addresses, prayers, poems, broadsides and placards.[2] Caroline’s persecution seemed to capture the imagination of the whole country. The Times summed up the public mood in its report of her homecoming: ‘The Queen of England is at present every thing with every body’ (7 July 1820). Caroline represented a new force in British politics: public opinion.[3] Though the vast majority of the population had no vote, they were able to express their views through the ‘fourth estate’ of the press and traditional ‘out-door’ methods of agitation such as petitioning, Addresses, rallies, processions, charivari, threat-letters, window-smashing and effigy-burning. The flagrant hypocrisy and double standards of the accusations against Caroline’s sexual morality revived feminist arguments which had been dormant since the ‘Jacobin’ 1790s,[4] and the dubious legality of the trial was seized on by liberals and radicals as a prime example of political corruption. Lacking any independent access to the corridors of power, Caroline knew that her only chance of success was to appeal directly to the power of the people and the vox populi.

The mobilization of a popular front of oppositional Romantic politics and print was remarkable in its scale and intensity, and central to its success was the contribution that visual culture played in Caroline’s rise to political celebrity. In addition to the wide circulation of engraved portraits, medallions and other visual memorabilia, her story was a field-day for the caricaturists. Hundreds of satirical prints and illustrated pamphlets appeared in her favour, and after the collapse of her trial in late 1820 her opponents also turned to caricature to enhance their counter-offensive.

There were numerous reasons for the popularity and efficacy of Georgian caricature. It was a unique art form which combined political reportage with unbridled and entertaining fantasy; it was able to respond quickly and memorably to political events and it operated outside of conventional aesthetic and ethical norms. This imaginative freedom created a parallel visual universe in which public figures re-enacted and reconfigured newsworthy incidents according to a satirical logic of inversion, irony. allusion and parody.[5] The result was a compelling debunking of official ideology and the stripping away of polite codes of reverence and respect that frequently shielded and mystified social and political power. This anarchic tendency was often balanced by an apparent championing of an identifiable cause or faction, though on closer inspection this advocacy could prove to be unstable, and the consumer of caricatures had to be on their guard for surprises and traps.

The power of Carolinite caricature can be illustrated by looking at the response to her arrival in Britain. Within days of her spectacular ‘remigration’, Robert Cruikshank’s The Secret Insult; or Bribery and Corruption rejected!!! was published by the radical activist William Benbow. This collaboration reflected the significant role that radical publishers played in defining Caroline’s satirical identity. The field was led by the formidable partnership of William Hone and Robert’s more famous brother George Cruikshank, closely followed by the now-forgotten John Fairburn, Thomas Dolby, Benbow and John Cahuac.[6] The Secret Insult is a striking, proto-feminist idealization of Caroline’s authority, presence and prowess. In order to make her homecoming more mythic and symbolic, Cruikshank transplants the St Omer incident to a reimagined arrival on the shores of Britain. Instead of the cheering crowds of Dover, the scene fantasizes a stand-off between the forces of good and evil which is more reminiscent of an invasion tableau, except that the usual roles are reversed and it is the defenders who are in the wrong. The confrontation is semiotically and sartorially polarized into two trios: on the right side we see the proud, stern, virtuous, magisterial and upright figures of a modestly-attired Caroline, her advisor Alderman Wood in Roman armour and (not to be ignored) a patriotic frigate; on the left side, the compromised, obsequious, cringing, untrustworthy, cowardly and evasive figures of a cowed Hutchinson and a Brougham who has his back to the viewer and is confessing his discomfort to the devil.

The textual components of the print indicate its political sympathies and typically bring into play a range of allegorical, cultural and topical allusions: Wood’s ‘Shield for the Innocent’ and fiery sword of justice are stock emblems which glorify (even to the point of being tongue-in-cheek) Caroline’s elevated and iconic status; ‘The Wooden Walls of England’ inscribed on the frigate refers to a popular patriotic naval song and reflects Caroline’s alarming popularity with the rank-and-file of the armed forces;[7] the scroll of ‘Lawful Claims’ in her left hand countermands the forthcoming ‘Bill of Pains and Penalties’ against her; and the speech bubbles reduce the fastidious press reports of St Omer and Dover into populist soundbites. In response to Hutchinson’s fawning offer to ‘change your name & livery & retire to some distant part of the earth w[h]ere you may never be seen or heard any more; & if 50,000£ pr annum will not satisfy you, what will?’  – the latter an example of the ‘excessive profligacy of the age we live in’ according to the Times – Caroline simply replies ‘Nothing but a Crown!’[8] The retort gains added, if ironic force, from the echo of Proverbs 12.4: ‘A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband;/ But she that maketh ashamed is as rottenness in his bones’.[9] This sums up the opposing sides of her case and highlights how she is forced to defy patriarchal norms in order to conform to them and achieve her rightful place as the king’s consort.

Compared to the emissary’s flaccid money bags, she has the same columnal, phallic solidity as her (ludicrously classicized) protector Alderman Wood. Brougham’s embarrassed and unchivalrous back-turning suggests a radical mistrust of ‘secret’ Whig motives and backroom deals. In this respect the title of the print is actually something of a self-referring or self-cancelling misnomer as the whole ‘secret’ escapade was widely reported in the press, including the publication of supposedly confidential documents. Indeed, Caroline demanded to see the offer in writing and thereby initiated a recirculating paper trail that rebutted the notorious obscurity of the government’s Committee of Secrecy and its much-lampooned Green Bags of evidence. As the only uncaricatured figure in the scene, Caroline embodies the open, masculine qualities of civic republicanism: even though her motives are self-aggrandising and ambitious, it is clearly her duty to re-enter Britain and restore its moral and political fibre, sweeping away Old Corruption and its disreputable practices. She is the new broom (Brougham) of British politics. In the words of John Fairburn’s broadside On the Return of Queen Caroline to England,

Not fifty thousand pounds, nor fifty more,
Nor all the wealth that Britain has in store,
Could tempt the mind, in conscious virtue bold,
To barter innocence for sordid gold.[10]

The tension between the legal and moral definitions of ‘innocence’ would eventually prove to be Caroline’s undoing. Her controversy raised but could not resolve the protracted issues of women’s rights and freedoms in a patriarchal society. But for all its limitations and blind spots, the gender politics of the campaign was one of its enduring legacies. As the Examiner opined, ‘adultery is either a crime in every body, or it is not’ and the paper even hinted that a guilty verdict would expose the double standard: ‘men, generally speaking, indulge themselves as they please, and yet demand all the while fidelity from the women’ (11 June 1820). The controversy politicised many women and gave a voice to their concerns. This is the reason why the St Omer episode is so important, as it set the stage for female defiance, resistance and self-assertion.

William Hone hoped that ‘the answer of her Majesty were put into the hands of every man and woman in England – never was a finer compliment paid to the English nation’.[11] This was a vision of a democratic public sphere which Hone himself went some way to achieving through his own cheap publications, including his phenomenally successful illustrated satirical pamphlets. Though the popularity and social reach of caricature is still hotly disputed by scholars, visual satire made a unique contribution to the formation of public opinion in the Caroline affair. The sheer volume of prints that appeared, and their remarkable resourcefulness in creating new iterations of the key episodes in the controversy, is a fitting ‘compliment’ to the Golden Age of British caricature.

For more information, see the History Hub’s video on the Queen Caroline affair, presented by Dr Katie Carpenter in the Parliamentary Archives:


[1] A good recent biography is Jane Robins, Rebel Queen: How the Trial of Caroline Brought England to the Brink of Revolution (London: Simon and Schuster, 2006).

[2] According to Thomas Lacquer, the Caroline controversy was ‘popular as no previous political movement had been…the sheer volume of propaganda was staggering…[and it]  saturated the whole country’ (‘The Queen Caroline Affair: Politics as Art in the Reign of George IV’, Journal of Modern History (September 1982): 417-466, 429-30. Malcolm Chase agrees: ‘Queenite literature arguably constituted the greatest publishing phenomenon of the early nineteenth century’ (1820: Disorder and Stability in the United Kingdom (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013), 179.

[3] For Dror Wahrmann, public opinion in the Caroline controversy was regarded as ‘the ultimate key to the political process – an omnipotent, infallible, supreme arbiter’ (‘Public opinion, violence, and the limits of constitutional politics’, in James Vernon, ed. Re-Reading the Constitution: New Narratives in the Political History of England’s long Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996) 83-122, 90).

[4] Anna Clarke, Scandal: The Sexual Politics of the British Constitution (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), Chapter 8; Kristin Flieger Samuelian, Royal Romances: Sex, Scandal and Monarchy in Print, 1780-1821 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), Chapter 4.

[5] Ian Haywood, Romanticism and Caricature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013); David Francis Taylor, The Politics of Parody: A Literary History of Caricature, 1760-1830 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2018).

[6] In subsequent posts I will look at prints and publications by all these figures.

[7] A version by Henry Green was printed in 1773: see http://spenserians.cath.vt.edu/TextRecord.php?&action=GET&textsid=34845 Accessed 3/6/20. The irony of course is that the vaunted British navy’s function was to keep invaders out. On 15 June, just four days after The Secret Insult was published, the Third Regiment of Guards mutinied in Caroline’s favour. The Duke of Wellington declared: ‘Thus, in one of the most critical moments that ever occurred in this country, we and the public have reason to doubt in the fidelity of the troops, the only security we have, not only against revolution but for the property and life of every individual in the country who has anything to lose’ (cited in Robins, Rebel Queen, 128).

[8] According to the Times (6 June), Caroline replied, ‘My determination is soon formed: I shall set out instantly for England — it is in London, and London alone, that I shall consent to consider any proposals.’ William Hone added an even more defiant flourish: ‘Go – inform your Master  – that in London, and in London alone, I will consent to consider of any proposal of the King of England’ (The King’s Treatment of the Queen Shortly Stated to the People of the England (London: William Hone, 1820), 20).

[9] The Bible: Authorized Version (London: British and Foreign Bible Society,1963) 520.

[10] A copy is pasted into a collection of Carolinite broadsides in the British Library.

[11] Hone, the King’s Treatment of the Queen, 20.

George Cruikshank, Ah! sure such a pair was never seen so justly form’d to meet by natutre (Museum Wilhelm Busch)

NASSR UPDATE

6-9 August 2020
Toronto, Ontario


North American Society for the Study of Romanticism (NASSR)
28th Annual Conference

“Romanticism & Vision”

Regrettably, the NASSR 2020 conference has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We wish everyone a safe and healthy summer ahead.

Francis Barber[?]

CFP – NASSR 2020 Conference at the University of Toronto – 6-9 August 2020

Dear Members of the Romantic Illustration Network (RIN):

Greetings! You are invited to submit a paper proposal for the 28th Annual Conference of the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism (NASSR). The NASSR conference, which will take place at the University of Toronto, Ontario on August 6-9, 2020, will bring together 300-400 scholars to discuss literature, philosophy, politics, art, and culture c. 1770-1840.

CONFERENCE WEBSITE: http://sites.utoronto.ca/wincs/nassr2020

Keynote Speakers:
Elizabeth Maddock Dillon (Northeastern University)
Martin Myrone (Tate Britain)

Topics may include (but are not limited to):

  • Re-envisioning Romanticism: looking back and looking forward 
  • Visions and the visionary: perception, prognostication, projection, speculation, the speculative
  • Ways of looking: reading, conceptualizing, observing, peeping, gazing, categorizing, examining, recognizing and misrecognizing
  • Visual culture, philosophy, and aesthetics: objects of sight, spectacle, the spectacular, the sublime and the beautiful
  • Reading methods and histories: careful, close, distant, surface; plagiarism, copyright law
  • Print culture in its social, theoretical, and physical aspects (e.g. text, design, structure, layout); manuscripts, letters, journals, scrapbooks, books, journals, newspapers
  • The seen and the unseen: noumena, phenomena, the spirit world, apparitions and appearances
  • Romantic iconoclasm and anti-representationalism; ocularcentrism and “the tyranny of the eye”
  • Visual communication: text, numbers, notation (e.g. musical), images, sign language, placards, banners, flags, gestures, hieroglyphs, emblems, insignia
  • Questions of form and representation 
  • Fashionable looking: costume, hair, makeup, manner, style, taste, places to see and be seen
  • Visualizing gender and sexuality: identity, performance, politics 
  • Visual and scenic arts: sculpture, painting, illustration, graphic satire, print shops, pornography, broadsheets, dioramas, panoramas, architectural and landscape design
  • Theatre and performing arts: set design, lighting, visual effects, costume, body movement, dance, pantomime, attitudes, tableaux vivants
  • Art collection and assessment: museums and curation, connoisseurship, formal and evaluative concerns (e.g. light, color, pattern, shape, scale, proportion)
  • Visualizing class: social hierarchies and signifiers (e.g. clothing, heraldry, pageantry), occupational and economic segregation
  • Instruments of looking: lenses, spectacles, quizzing glasses, spy glasses, Claude glasses, prisms, mirrors, telescopes, microscopes, orreries, windows
  • Forms of illumination and darkness: lightning, electricity, candlelight, lamps, gas light, spotlights, limelight, torches, fireworks; shade, shadow, twilight, gloom, obscurity
  • Religious vision(s): prophecy, revelation, enthusiasm, sermons and hymns, public and private devotion, natural and revealed religion
  • The science of the eye: vision, optics, visual anatomy, medicine, pathology, disability, blindness
  • Data visualization (e.g. land, economy, population studies): mapping, cartography, geography, geolocation, charts, diagrams, categorization, numerical and pictorial statistics
  • Visualizing race: slavery, racism, racialization, minoritization 
  • Vision and ecopoetics: seeing nature (vistas, prospects, the picturesque); noticing and reading features of land, water, and sky; watching weather and recognizing climate; the animal gaze
  • Envisioning space and place: the local and the global, home and abroad, the peripheral and transperipheral
  • Envisioning (the ends of) empire: imperialism, colonialism, sites and sights of war; decolonization, indigenization
  • Political and military forecasting, strategy, optics, campaigns, battlegrounds, political theatre
  • Imagining the future of Romanticism; strategizing its work in the humanities, in the university, and in society

EMAIL CONTACT: nassr2020vision@gmail.com

POSTER: Please see attached and share widely.

**The deadline for general submissions is 24 January 2020.**

We look forward to receiving your proposals!

Sincerely Yours,
Terry F. Robinson (and on behalf of John Savarese and the NASSR 2020 conference committee)

Michael Brown on the War Paintings of Charles Bell, Surgeon

Reposted from the Surgery & Emotion Blog

WARNING: CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES OF WOUNDS AND INJURIES

Pity and Pride: Picturing the War Wounded in the Work of Charles Bell

November 2019

 

Dr Michael Brown of Roehampton University considers the emotional content of the famous war paintings of the surgeon Charles Bell.

I recently had an article accepted for publication by the Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies which explores the relationship of the Scottish surgical siblings John Bell (1763-1820) and Charles Bell (1774-1842) to war, especially their imaginative and professional investment in military surgery and their complex emotional reactions to the experience of treating the wounded. Drawing on Yuval Noah Harari’s argument that the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries saw war configured as an increasingly transcendent emotional event, it considers the difficulties of translating both professional identities and emotional experiences across a widening civil-military divide.[1]

In this regard, what is particularly interesting about both John and Charles Bell is that neither man was a military surgeon.  While Charles wrote in 1807 that ‘of all things I should like to be kept and sent to the armies as a surgeon’ and while John agitated for a role in the training of military surgeons, neither had served in the army or navy and neither had any direct experience of battle.[2]   And yet, in their work, both men imagined themselves as battlefield surgeons, harnessing the emotional and cultural capital of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars to shape their identities as surgeons.

While John Bell’s engagement with the war wounded is not especially well known outside of specialist circles, his younger brother’s experiences are far more widely discussed.  This derives, in part, from the emotionally expressive letters that he sent back to England from Brussels in the aftermath of Waterloo. Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) said that reading one of Charles’ letters to his brother George (1770-1843) ‘set me on fire’ and it served as inspiration both for his own trip to the Continent as well as his semi-fictional account of Waterloo, Paul’s Letters to his Kinsfolk (1816).[3] But even more than his letters, it is Charles’ paintings of the war wounded that have excited academic attention, and it is revealing that, outside of medical history, interest in Charles Bell has largely come from art historians such as Anthea Callan, Aris Sarafianos and, most notably of all, Philip Shaw.[4]

There is much more to be said about Charles’ experiences of the effects of war and how his emotional self-reflection fits within the wider affective cultures of what I call ‘Romantic surgery’.  This aspect, which is frequently overlooked by those who view him predominantly as an artist, rather than a surgeon, is what my article seeks to do.  But even in terms of his art, which has been subject to far greater critical scrutiny, there is still more to be said. In the main, scholars have been attracted to his images of the wounded of Waterloo and have emphasised his representation of pain and suffering, as well as his evocation of sublime pathos. By contrast, they have said rather less about his earlier paintings of the wounded from the Battle of Corunna (1809), men whom he encountered during his trip to Halsar Hospital in Gosport and, later, at York Hospital in Chelsea.

These paintings exhibit certain similarities to his later sketches from Brussels, particularly in their visceral quality.  This is certainly true of his images of gunshot wounds to the skull, thigh and testicles (Figs 1, 2 and 3).

Fig. 1 – Charles Bell, ‘Musket Ball Wound of Skull’ (1809). Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.
Fig. 1 – Charles Bell, ‘Musket Ball Wound of Skull’ (1809). Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.
Fig. 2 – Charles Bell, ‘Gunshot Wound of Thigh’ (1809). Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.
Fig. 2 – Charles Bell, ‘Gunshot Wound of Thigh’ (1809). Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.
Fig. 3 - Charles Bell, ‘Gunshot wound of testes’ (1809). Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.
Fig. 3 – Charles Bell, ‘Gunshot wound of testes’ (1809). Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.

But, in other respects, they differ. For one thing, they are more obviously painterly, since they are finished in oils. For another, they are just as enamoured of male beauty as they are concerned with bodily disfigurement. Take, for example, his three images of chest and abdominal wounds (Figs 4, 5 and 6).

Fig. 4 – Charles Bell, ‘Gunshot Wound of the Chest’ (1809). Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.
Fig. 4 – Charles Bell, ‘Gunshot Wound of the Chest’ (1809). Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.
Fig. 5 – Charles Bell, ‘Gunshot Wound of Abdomen’ (1809). Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.
Fig. 5 – Charles Bell, ‘Gunshot Wound of Abdomen’ (1809). Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.
Fig. 6 – Charles Bell, ‘Gunshot Wound of Chest’ (1809). Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.
Fig. 6 – Charles Bell, ‘Gunshot Wound of Chest’ (1809). Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.

In Fig. 4, in particular, the pose, though no doubt calculated to display the wound, resonates with the poses of other male models, especially boxers, who were regular subjects of the anatomical and artistic gaze.   Meanwhile, in other instances, the men’s display of their wounds evokes the traditions of Christian iconography, notably the stigmata (Fig. 7) and religious ecstasy (Fig. 8), as well as contemporary neoclassical subjects such as Jacques Louis David’s Death of Marat (1793) (Fig. 9).

Fig. 7 – Giacomo Galli, Christ Displaying his Wounds (c.1630). Perth and Kinross Council.
Fig. 7 – Giacomo Galli, Christ Displaying his Wounds (c.1630). Perth and Kinross Council.
Fig. 8 – Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio, Mary Magdalen in Ecstasy (1606). Wikimedia Commons.
Fig. 8 – Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio, Mary Magdalen in Ecstasy (1606). Wikimedia Commons.
Fig. 9 – Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Marat (1793). Wikimedia Commons.
Fig. 9 – Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Marat (1793). Wikimedia Commons.

That Charles should have conceived of his sitters in this way is hardly surprising. He was well schooled in art theory, having published a book on the expression of emotion in painting (1806) and competed (unsuccessfully) for the chair of Anatomy at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1807. Moreover, his interest in the male form and its representation is well documented in his letters. In 1808, for example, he wrote to George that he ‘had been grumbling for some days that comparisons of the modern athletes and the antique had been making, and exhibitions of Jackson, the boxer, etc. without my presence [sic]’.  However, ‘On Saturday when I came home I found that Lord Elgin had called, and written a note requesting me to come and see an exhibition of the principal sparrers naked in his museum. I went, and was much pleased’.[5] Furthermore, when writing to his bother about the ‘his gun-shot men’, he told him how he sought to learn from the ‘best old masters’ how to convey a ‘faithful’ representation that is ‘full of character’, as opposed to the ‘modern’ style in which the individual was ‘shaded off and indistinct’.[6]

At the same time, the ambivalence of Charles’ Corunna paintings, torn as they are between beauty and horror, pride and pity, can be ascribed to Charles’s complex affective response to Haslar. As he wrote to George, concerning his experiences with the wounded, ‘I have muttered bitter curses and lamentations, have been delighted with the heroism and prowess of my countrymen, and shed tears of pity in the course of a few minutes’.[7] In this way, Charles’ paintings can be seen to exemplify a range of emotional responses that were utterly in keeping with contemporary cultural norms, namely the religious (‘bitter curses and lamentations’), the patriotic (‘heroism and prowess of my countrymen’) and the sentimental (‘tears of pity’).

Charles’ images of the Waterloo wounded share certain qualities with his earlier paintings. The faces of the men, in particular, speak to his interest in the representation of intense emotion, approaching on occasion to what Sarafianos and Shaw have identified as sublime pain.  But, in other respects, they are more ragged, less obviously aestheticized and perhaps more shocking.  No doubt, this owes something to the medium: watercolours after pencil sketches done at the bedside.  It also owes something to the severity of the wounds themselves, which in a number of cases are particularly extreme (Figs 10 and 11). But, as with his Corunna images, they also reflect Charles’ emotional experiences in Brussels.

Fig. 10 – Charles Bell, ‘(Upper extremity) Anonymous soldier’ (c.1815). Wikimedia Commons.
Fig. 10 – Charles Bell, ‘(Upper extremity) Anonymous soldier’ (c.1815). Wikimedia Commons.
Fig. 11 – Charles Bell, ‘(Upper extremity), Voultz, King’s German Legion’ (c.1815). Wikimedia Commons.
Fig. 11 – Charles Bell, ‘(Upper extremity), Voultz, King’s German Legion’ (c.1815). Wikimedia Commons.

Much of Charles’s surgical work was with the French wounded, who had been ‘brought from the field after lying many days in the ground, many dying, many in the agony, many miserably racked with pain and spasms’.[8] While at Haslar his emotional equipoise had been tested, but in Brussels it was almost overwhelmed, as he was confronted by the ‘most shocking sights of woe’.[9] In this regard it is interesting that, where one might expect his French patients, or even those members of the King’s German Legion whom he treated, to be ‘othered’, his sketches largely preserve the names of his Waterloo subjects, whereas those of his British subjects from Corunna remain anonymous. Despite referring to the French troops as a fierce, cruel and bloodthirsty ‘race of banditti’, he was deeply moved by their ‘plaintive cries and declarations of suffering’.[10]  It is almost as if he wished to preserve, in their names, a testament to the humanity of those whose suffering he witnessed and sought to relieve (Fig. 12).

Fig. 12 – Charles Bell, ‘(Abdomen) Peltier, 3rd French Lancers’ (c.1815). Wikimedia Commons.
Fig. 12 – Charles Bell, ‘(Abdomen) Peltier, 3rd French Lancers’ (c.1815). Wikimedia Commons.

Indeed, Charles’ graphic images from Waterloo might even be regarded as a kind of emotional catharsis, an expression of sensations that were so intense as to defy language. After his return to London he wrote a letter to his friend, the Whig MP Francis Horner (1778-1817); following a lengthy description of his experiences, he apologised for ‘falling into the mistake of attempting to convey to you the feelings which took possession of me, amidst the miseries of Brussels’. Acknowledging the ineffability of what he had seen, he concluded by suggesting that ‘I must show you my notebooks, for as I took my notes of cases generally by sketching the object our remarks, it may convey an excuse for the excess of sentiment’.[11]

 

[1] Yuval Noah Harari, The Ultimate Experience: Battlefield Revelations and the Making of Modern War Culture, 1450-2000 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).

[2] Letters of Charles Bell (London: 1870)  Charles to George Bell, 21st May 1807, p. 96.

[3] John Gibson Lockhart, Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, Bart, vol. 3 (Edinburgh: 1837), p. 347-50. See

[4] Anthea Callen, Looking at Men: Art, Anatomy and the Modern Male Body (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018); Aris Sarafianos, ‘Wounding realities and “painful excitements”: real sympathy, the imitation of suffering and the visual arts after Burke’s sublime’, in Thomas Macsotay, Corneils van der Haven and Karel Vanhaesebrouck (eds), The Hurt(ful) Body: Performing and Beholding Pain, 1600-1800 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2017), 170-201; Philip Shaw, Suffering and Sentiment in Romantic Military Art (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2013). Shaw is not an art historian in the conventional sense, but his book is largely concerned with visual representation.

[5] Letters, Charles to George Bell, 26th July 1808, pp. 125-6.

[6] Ibid., Charles to George Bell, 23rd May 1809, pp. 147-8.

[7] Ibid., Charles to George Bell, 3rd February 1809, p. 139.

[8] Ibid., Charles to George Bell, 1st July 1815, p. 241.

[9] Ibid., Charles to Francis Horner, July 1815, p. 248.

[10] Ibid., Charles to George Bell, 1st July 1815, pp. 242-3.

[11] Ibid., Charles to Francis Horner, July 1815, p. 248.

CFP: ‘Poetry & Painting: Conversations’ – An Interdisciplinary Conference; University of Oxford, 23 March 2020

CFP: ‘Poetry & Painting: Conversations’ – An Interdisciplinary Conference;

Faculty of English, University of Oxford, 23 March 2020.

You know how

I feel about painters. I sometimes think poetry

only describes.

Frank O’Hara, ‘John Button Birthday’ (1957)

The supposed similarity between poetry and painting was famously characterized in Horace’s ‘Ars Poetica’ by the dictum ‘ut pictura poesis’ (‘as is painting, so is poetry’). Yet in 1766, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing influentially argued for the limits that condition these different art forms — how could a visual scream ever be rendered linguistically?

The intense and ambivalent relationship between the so-called “sister arts” of poetry and painting has long been a subject of critical enquiry. The multiple tensions and affinities shared by these expressive forms are fruitful topics of a discussion that is currently enjoying a revival both within and beyond academia.

Co-organisers Drs Jasmine Jagger and Jack Parlett invite you to share your thoughts on this relationship for a one-day conference in Oxford. This symposium seeks to ignite and develop critical and trans-historical conversations about the interplay between the sister arts. Contributors may consider, but need not be limited to:

  • Ekphrasis and ekphrastic writing
  • Illustration and other “composite” modes
  • Co- and inter-disciplinarity
  • Gender politics
  • Narrative, time and temporality
  • Tone, texture, and style
  • Questions of form
  • Issues of historicity
  • Interrelations between poetry, painting and other forms (e.g. photography and film)
  • Theories of the visual and the gaze
  • Interpretation and revisionism
  • Colour, mood, affect, and play

 

Proposals are invited for twenty-minute papers, to be delivered as part of panels of three. Individual proposals (of 250 words), and panel proposals (of up to 700 words), for three papers that interact under a common theme, are warmly accepted. Creative responses are also welcome.

The conference’s plenary speakers have been confirmed as Professor T. J. Clark and Dr Kathryn Murphy. Please send proposals to jack.parlett@univ.ox.ac.uk and jasmine.jagger@ell.ox.ac.uk. The deadline for submissions is 30 November 2019. The one-day conference will take place on 23 March 2020 at the Faculty of English, Oxford. For more information, please visit www.poetryandpainting.co.uk. We welcome you to disseminate this CFP widely. This conference is organised in association with the Faculty of English, Oxford.

Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology, by G. Kim Blank

About a million years ago, when I was an MA student, I wrote a comparative thesis on the poetry of John Keats and Percy Shelley. Some years later, as a prof, and after a PhD on ShelIey and William Wordsworth, I was able to write Shelley out of my system. I later managed to do the same with Wordsworth.

But Keats—not so much.

Yet, from the start, he was the dead, white, English, male poet who intrigued me most, and thoughts about him continued to plague and attract me. The old question lurked: How did little Johnny (all five-foot-two-inches of him) become so damn good so darn quickly? How did he move so fast, and so dramatically, from writing mainly bad, random, I-wannabe-a-poet poetry to composing some of the best verse in the language? When, in October 1818, Keats confidently (though privately) declared he would be an enduring poet after his death, he hadn’t written much to earn that claim. But he was about to. And almost all of it within a year. After that, circumstances and the slow death sentence of consumption wasted him away. He died in Rome in February 1821, aged twenty-five.

About eight years or so ago, I began a book on Keats, with the working title of Keats’s Progress. It was a subject—Keats’s development and his poetical character—taken up by some of the most esteemed literary critics of the modern era, the likes of Walter Jackson Bate, Helen Vendler, Christopher Ricks, and Susan Wolfson. There was no shortage of brilliant yet sensible Keats’s criticism and biography, but I figured there was still something more to say.

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Well, after making some kind of scattered start on the book while sitting in the library at Harvard (with most of Keats’s manuscripts stored somewhere in the building), I also had one eye on the digital humanities. Though seemingly unrelated, I was also thinking about how research was increasingly driven by Google’s insidiously energetic algorithms, and that users were eager to click on and on and on. It was a practice quite unlike working through the material object of a book.

Then some kind of thought came to me. Tainted by blind ambition, I figured I could do so much more in exploring the complex story of Keats’s development if I designed a website that, at the same time, represented an implicit challenge to the traditional scholarly book, and by working with the googleized compulsion to click on and on.

Anyway, 156 chapters (170k words) and 700 images later, the thing (mainly biography and literary analysis) was completed: Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology, version 1.0.

How did it up and running?

Luckily, Dr. Arnie Keller, a retired colleague here at the University of Victoria, and an expert on web design, told me anything could be done. Just describe exactly how you want it to look, how you want it structured, and how you want it to function. After some growing pains while I almost got used to how to do work within the site he was building, and while he almost got used to my fussy ways when it came to things like layout, a decent version of the site came into being. As a labor of friendship and as a challenge relative to my capabilities, Arnie had worked some virtual magic—it was indeed up and running!

Soon after Arnie withdrew from helping out with site (who could blame him—he was retired!), for technical support, I connected with the Humanities Computing and Media Centre here at UVic. It had a long, strong track record with supporting and developing some big and complex DH projects. Martin Holmes of HCMC generously took sight of the site, performed some significant and ingenious under-the-hood cleaning up, mainly by enhancing functionality (a few more details here) that would also ensure site longevity. Martin immediately directed me to a better way to work with the site: Oxygen XML Editor. Better indeed. (Hope they pay for this endorsement.) Martin continues to make sure the engine runs smoothly—and better.

As for the site’s structure: it was designed so that users should be able to jump into any of the chapters (each one a web page) and, because of the what’s on that page, not be lost in terms of MKP’s greater critical narrative. All poems mentioned in each chapter are available via the page; all people mentioned have popup personographies; often there are links to other related chapters; and a detailed chronology for the whole year is beside every chapter. Importantly, and key, most chapters contain discursive signals that often look both forwards and backwards along the narrative line. (I somewhat pretentiously called this structure progressive reduplication.)

And then there are the images. Feedback suggests that some users simply like to cruise through the pages, just to look at stuff. I understand. Who doesn’t take some pleasure in thumbing through magazines just for the pictures? The site does have the largest online gathering of representations of Keats in the Gallery, some of them lifted from fairly obscure regions of the Internet. There are also plenty of facsimiles, portraits, paintings, photographs, the odd word cloud, some Keats-related material never seen before, and every chapter has a map that points to a Keats-related place. Like I said, a traditional book can’t do all of these things. Further, most books can’t say, “Go ahead, start anywhere.”

But when all the cool digital stuff is torn away, a monograph on Keats is still in there, complete with arguments, critical observations, and opinions to go along with purely factual and visual material. The hope: that the information and ideas and images work together to create—well, whatever MKP is.

Is the site done? No. Will it ever be done? No. There’s always another thought about Keats and his poetry, another interesting image to put up—and, of course, another typo to correct. The worst one so far: “pubic” for “public.” Arg.

If you find more, do drop a line. We’ll call it collaboration.