Image of the Month: Keats’s Romantic Assassin,13th September 1819

Two hundred years ago this Friday, John Keats witnessed a remarkable event. Ian Haywood (University of Roehampton, London), tells us more…
image of the month september 2019

 

On 13 September 2019, John Keats witnessed a remarkable political spectacle. Taking a short break from a prolonged residence in the provincial city of Winchester, Keats’s brief return to London coincided with the huge triumphal procession of the leading radical orator Henry Hunt. It was the botched arrest of Hunt at St Peter’s Fields in Manchester on 16 August that produced the Peterloo ‘massacre’, an event which sent shockwaves through the country and mobilised thousands of ordinary people to take to the streets in protest. Although he was on bail pending a trial that would lead to over two years in prison, Hunt returned to London like a conquering hero. In Keats’s words, writing to his brother George and his wife:

You will hear by the papers of the proceedings at Manchester and Hunt’s triumphal entry into London – It would take me a whole day and a quire of paper to give you any thing like detail – I will merely mention that it is calculated that 30,000 people were in the streets waiting for him – The whole distance from the Angel Islington to the Crown and Anchor was lined with Multitudes.[i]

Far from warranting a ‘mere mention’ in Keats’s life, this experience is now regarded by scholars as having had a major impact on Keats’s imagination. In John Keats and the Culture of Dissent (1998), Nicholas Roe argues that Hunt’s ‘triumphal entry’ gave a political tinge to Keats’s last great poem ‘To Autumn’, drafted just 6 days later.[ii] Using a New Historicist approach, Roe interprets the word ‘conspiring’ in the poem’s third line as a potent allusion to radical accusations that the violence at Peterloo was premeditated. Ostensibly a homage to the pastoral tradition and his rural seclusion in Winchester, ‘To Autumn’ can now be read as a political allegory about repressive government, enclosure acts, rural labour and surveillance. If further evidence is needed about Keats’s agitated and combative frame of mind, adjacent sections of the same letter discuss the historical progress of democracy and the trial of the radical publisher Richard Carlile.

However circumstantial or speculative these conclusions may be,[iii] they add an exciting new dimension to Keats’s account of his London peregrination on 13 September. If, as Roe states, ‘Keats’s private affairs overlapped with public events’[iv] at this supercharged political moment, this encourages us to look for further identifications between Keats’s own frustrations and the wider canvas of social and political struggle. It is at this juncture that Romantic illustration enters (pun intended) into the picture. The very next sentence after the description of Hunt’s procession cited above records a seemingly inconsequential visual encounter:

As I pass’d Colnaghi’s window I saw a profile portrait of Sands the destroyer of Kotzebue. His very look must interest every one in his favour – I suppose they have represented him in his college dress – He seems to me like a young Abelard – A fine mouth, cheek bones (and this is no joke) full of sentiment: a fine unvulgar nose and plump temples.[v]

This may appear to be a random and disconnected incident, but it ‘overlaps’ in numerous significant ways with ‘the afternoon’s deeper dramaturgy of suspicion’, in Richard Marggraf Turley’s phrase.[vi] It is surely no coincidence that Keats stopped to admire an engraving of a celebrated revolutionary assassin, Karl Ludwig Sand (see above). On 23 March 1819, this liberal-nationalist German student had murdered the dramatist August von Kotzebue as an enemy of the people. Kotzebue is probably known to most Romanticists today as the author of Lovers Vows, the scandalous home entertainment of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, but in Keats’s day he was a prime example of a political ‘apostate’ or turncoat, a former supporter of reform who had become an apologist for authoritarian government. Keats would have followed this sensational story in Leigh Hunt’s Examiner, and it is unlikely he would have disagreed with Hunt’s conclusion that Sand was a martyr to the democratic spirit of the age: his action was morally repugnant but politically sanctioned; put another way, Kotzebue paid the price of reaction and Legitimacy. At the end of the Napoleonic wars, the Congress of Vienna had betrayed the promise of national liberty for formerly occupied countries and returned much of Europe to the rule of the Holy Alliance. Kotzebue’s crime was that of trahison des clercs, liberal ‘men of letters’ who became ‘scribes and servants to despotism’ (Examiner, 11 April 1819) and used their cultural authority to scoff at reformers. By 1817 German students were publicly burning Kotzebue’s works and he was a locus of radical hatred. The Examiner condemned the assassination as a ‘feverish mistake’ which ‘never can supply the want of proper elementary reform’, but sympathy for Sand’s victim was strictly limited: ‘The fate of Kotzebue is pitiable, we allow, although he was a renegade and a spy; but so is that of the victim of his tergiversation and of the broken promises of kings’ (ibid). This partisanship was legion, and by the summer of 1819 Sand had become a national hero. The portrait which Keats saw is almost certainly the one that appeared in A Memoir of Charles Louis Sand, published just a few days before Peterloo (Figure 1).[vii] According to the unnamed Editor, Germany was full of ‘involuntary sympathy’ for Sand, and his portrait was frequently ‘exhibited in frames containing those of the most distinguished German patriots’ (vii).

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Figure 1. Frontispiece, Memoir of Charles Louis Sand (London: G. & W. B. Whittaker, 1819) Creative Commons. No artist or engraver is credited. The quotation is from King Lear 3. 4. 12-13 : ‘The tempest of my mind,/Doth from my senses take all feeling else,/Save what beats there’.

Like the Examiner, the Editor gives short shrift to the fate of Kotzebue, a ‘perverter of literature’ and ‘miserable pensioned penman’ who resisted the ‘universal cry for amelioration and reform’ being heard ‘from the rock of Gibraltar to Bergen; from Venice to Hebrides!’ (xxxi-iv). The Examiner’s dire warnings of a reactionary backlash were also repeated, and this prediction that the authorities would use the assassination as an excuse for a crackdown proved to be grimly reliable. It is ironic that just one week after Keats admired Sand’s portrait, the German Confederation passed the Carlsbad Decrees, a highly repressive set of laws restricting press freedom, purging the universities of liberals, and installing surveillance into the public sphere (see Figure 2). If ‘To Autumn’ exudes a ‘suspicion’ of the forthcoming Six Acts, the British government’s response to Peterloo, it also allegorizes the ‘wailful’ consequences of Sand’s Romantic, or Byronic, heroism, the ‘last oozings hours by hours’ of intellectual freedom in Germany.[I]

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Figure 2 Der Denker Club (The Thinkers Club) 1819. Wilhelm Busch Museum. The prints shows muzzled university professors. The central plaque above the table asks, ‘How long will thinking be allowed to us?’ The other notice states that the main club rule is silence.

As much as Hunt’s procession, and partly because of it, Sand’s portrait is a locus of powerful and resonant ‘overlaps’ between Keats’s private life and public events. The parallel between Kotzebue and the ‘Cockney’ view of first-generation Romantic apostasy is striking, and it is tempting to speculate that Sand occupied for Keats a fantasy role of righteous, Oedipal vengeance. Indeed, an early report in the Examiner (4 April) noted that the assassination was like an event ‘we read of in novels and mysterious histories, as written by the societies of Illuminati’. As a foreign patriot, Sand was an ideal figure for displaced identification, admiration, and even glamour: ‘His very look must interest every one in his favour’. Any resemblance to Keats himself, as movie credits might say today, was entirely coincidental, but the allusion to ‘young Abelard’ takes us deep into Keats’s private and professional life: both his struggle with romantic love and his quest for ‘unvulgar’ fame intensified in 1819. If Keats needed masculine role models, Sand the veteran of Waterloo and Hunt the veteran of Peterloo were at hand. In Freudian terms, we can certainly detect a ‘joke’ of sentimental affiliation in the portrait, despite Keats’s disavowal. With hindsight, Sand’s ‘plump temples’ are a poignant contrast to Keats’s imminent demise, so it is unsurprising to see a verbal echo in the eroticized, ‘plumped’ hazel shells of ‘To Autumn’, the bearers of the ‘sweet kernel’ of fruition, meaning and hope, but also, perhaps, conspired against by the ‘clammy cells’ of constitutional decomposition.

[i] Sand was executed by beheading on 20 May, 1820.

[i] Letters of John Keats, ed. Robert Gittings (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970), 313. The distance from Islington in north London to the Crown and Anchor tavern, a well-known venue for radical politics in the Strand in central London, was several miles.

[ii] Nicholas Roe, John Keats and the Culture of Dissent (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), 256.

[iii] Roe has noted that some of his students even make an ingenious association between the cider press in ‘To Autumn’ and the carnage of pressed bodies at Peterloo. See ‘John Keats at Winchester’, in Richard Margraff Turley, ed. Keats’s Places (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 225-44, 241.

[iv] Roe, ibid, 253. See also Roe’s John Keats: A New Life (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2016), 344.

[v] The print seller Colnaghi was located at 23 Cockspur Street, near Trafalgar Square, which was not on the route of Hunt’s procession.

[vi] Richard Marggraf Turley, ‘Objects of Suspicion: Keats, ‘To Autumn’ and the Psychology of Romantic Surveillance’, in Nicholas Roe, ed. John Keats and the Medical Imagination (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 173-206, 184.

[vii] Memoir of Charles Louis Sand (London: G. & W. B. Whittaker, 1819). Further page references in parentheses. The Editor’s Introduction is dated 10 August 1819.

 

RIN Summer Event: Book Launch, July 23rd, 6pm Westminster Archives Centre

The RIN book, Romanticism and Illustration ed. Haywood, Matthews and Shannon is out!

Thank you to our wonderful contributors, and to CUP for producing such an elegant tome.

9781108425711

To celebrate, we are inviting everyone to the Book Launch:  this will take place at the Wine Reception at the end of the inaugural event of the GWM Reynolds Society. Please come along and have a drink with us to celebrate both the launch of Romanticism and Illustration, and the launch of this new literary society!

Date: Tuesday July 23rd, 2019

Time: 6pm onwards

Location: City of Westminster Archives Centre, 10 St. Anne’s Street, London

Poster with full details below:

reynolds-society-launch-poster-with-rin-launch-info.jpg

Call for Papers: ‘Who Shall Deliver Me?’ Christina Rossetti and the Illustrated Poetry Book

Organised between the Birkbeck Centre for Nineteenth–Century Studies and Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village, this two-day symposium will include an opportunity to tour the exhibition ‘Christina Rosetti: Vision and Verse’ at Watts Gallery and a launch of the new digital edition of Goblin Market edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra and Anthony Harrison.

Keynote
Professor Lorraine Janzen Kooistra (Ryerson University) and Professor Antony H. Harrison (North Carolina State University): ‘Visualizing Christina Rossetti’s Poetry in Print, Pigment, and Pixel’

Christina Rossetti’s (1830-1894) poetry has inspired visual artists since it first began to be published in the 1840s. Artists who made designs to accompany her poetry in illustrated books include her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Frederick Sandys, Arthur Hughes, Laurence Housman and later Florence Harrison, Lucien Pissarro and Charles Ricketts. Those who engraved these designs include the prolific Dalziel Brothers firm and Joseph Swain.

This Autumn Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village will hold the exhibition ‘Christina Rossetti: Vision and Verse’, which is accompanied by a new publication Christina Rossetti: Poetry in Art (edited by Dr Susan Owens and Dr Nicholas Tromans, Yale University Press). To coincide with the exhibition, this two-day symposium will bring together established and emerging scholars in the field to examine Rossetti’s work in the context of the mid-nineteenth-century illustrated poetry book. How did poets collaborate with publishers and artists in the production of illustrated poetry books? What role does ornament play in the formation of meaning? How did women poets work with illustrators and publishers?

We welcome proposals for papers and will be particularly interested in the following topics:
• The Pre-Raphaelite Illustrated Poetry Book
• The Illustrated Decadent Book
• The Illustrated Poetry Book in the Digital Age
• In the engravers’ workshop: The Dalziel Brothers and the Illustrated Poetry Book
• Ornament, Colour, and Lines: the Visual Culture of Poetry
• Poetry as Collaboration
• Women Poets and Women Illustrators
• Christina Rossetti as a visual artist
• Christina Rossetti and the Ut Pictura Poesis Tradition
• Christina Rossetti, Illustrated.

Abstracts of 350 words and biographies of no more than 100 words should be sent to Tessa Kilgarriff at assistantcurator@wattsgallery.org.uk by Monday 1 October 2018. Papers should be 20 minutes in length.

Postgraduate bursaries
Four postgraduate bursaries are available. Each bursary will cover registration for both days and up to £60 towards travel expenses. To apply for a bursary please send a two-page CV and a 300 word supporting statement in addition to your abstract and biography. In the 300 word statement, applicants should explain the reasons why they are seeking financial sponsorship and how attendance at Rossetti and the Illustrated Poetry Book conference will contribute to their research and professional development. All application materials should be sent to assistantcurator@wattsgallery.org.uk with ‘Rossetti bursary application’ under the subject line by Monday 1 October 2018. Any enquiries should be similarly addressed.

For more information, please click here.

Book and Illustration at the Turn of the Century in Britain + America

BOOKS AND ILLUSTRATION AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY IN BRITAIN AND AMERICA
A public symposium presented by the Fellowship of American Bibliophilic Societies

Saturday, May 19, 2018 · 1:30 pm
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway, Wilmington, DE
 
Free for Museum Members or with Museum admission

In conjunction with the Fellowship of American Bibliophilic Societies’ (FABS) Tour of Delaware and the Delaware Bibliophiles, the Delaware Art Museum will hold “Books and Illustration at the Turn of the Century in Britain and America,” a symposium with three speakers. These talks will focus on illustration and book design—a strength of the collections of the Delaware Art Museum and the University of Delaware Library. A tea reception will follow.

Please visit www.delart.org/event/books-and-illustration/ for details and registration.

Speakers:

–         “Ouida Illustrated: Commerce, Politics, and Representation in the Illustrated
Editions of Ouida’s Works”
Jesse R. Erickson, Postdoctoral Researcher in Special Collections and Digital
Humanities, University of Delaware

–        “Rediscovering an American Woman Illustrator, Alice Barber Stephens”
Martha H. Kennedy, Curator, Popular & Applied Graphic Art, Library of Congress

–        “Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market: 150 Years of Art & Illustration”
Casey Smith, Visiting Professor of English, West Chester University

This event is sponsored by the Delaware Art Museum’s Friends of the Helen Farr Sloan Library and by the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection, University of Delware Library.

 

Romantic Illustration Network Internship: Westminster Archives Centre

The Romantic Illustration Network has organized a student internship at our partner organization, City of Westminster Archives Centre, in London.

Roehampton student Philip Rafferty (MRes, Classics), will  spend four weeks at the Archives, funded by Santander bank.

Philip has been working with the Shepherd Collection of London prints, and the playbills collection, as well as cataloging and assisting with RIN’s summer event on July 19th.

 

Applications open: Amy P. Goldman Fellowship in Pre-Raphaelite Studies

Amy P. Goldman Fellowship in Pre-Raphaelite Studies

Deadline to apply November 1, 2016
The University of Delaware Library, in Newark, Delaware, and the Delaware Art Museum are pleased to offer a joint Fellowship in Pre-Raphaelite studies, funded by the Amy P. Goldman Foundation. This one-month Fellowship, awarded annually, is intended for scholars conducting significant research in the lives and works of the Pre-Raphaelites and their friends, associates, and followers.  Research of a wider scope, which considers the Pre-Raphaelite movement and related topics in relation to Victorian art and literature, and cultural or social history, will also be considered. Projects which provide new information or interpretation—dealing with unrecognized figures, women writers and artists, print culture, iconography, illustration, catalogues of artists’ works, or studies of specific objects—are particularly encouraged, as are those which take into account transatlantic relations between Britain and the United States. Applicants whose research specifically utilizes holdings of the University of Delaware Library, the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection, the Delaware Art Museum, and the Helen Farr Sloan Library and Archives, are preferred.

A stipend of $3,000 is available for the one-month Fellowship. Housing will be provided. Personal transportation is recommended (but not mandatory) in order to fully utilize the resources of both institutions.

The Fellowship is intended for those who hold a Ph.D. or can demonstrate equivalent professional or academic experience. Applications from independent scholars and museum professionals are welcome. By arrangement with the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, scholars may apply to each institution for awards in the same year; every effort will be made to offer consecutive dates.

The deadline to apply for the 2017 Fellowship is November 1, 2016. Notification of the successful applicant will be announced by December 1, 2016. The chosen candidate will then be asked to provide a date for assuming the Fellowship by January 1, 2017.

If you have any questions or would like to request more information, please contact:

Margaretta S. Frederick
Pre-Raphaelite Fellowship Committee
Direct line: 302.351.8518
E-mail: fellowships@delart.org