The facsimile reprints published by Woodstock Books over the last few years have given modern scholars a chance to read various pieces from the Romantic period in their original format, as well as to put them in perspective with other works considered important enough to deserve a modern edition. The two recent volumes published in the series certainly fulfil the ambition of the series, and reward any reader for their detailed perusal. Responding to a letter from William Taylor in which the publication of an annual anthology based on the French and German Almanacks was discussed, Robert Southey wrote on December 3, 1798: "I think of speedily editing such a volume." And the result was the first volume of the Annual Anthology , published in 1799, and the following companion volume in 1800. Modern readers are lucky in their reprinting as one volume into the series Revolution and Romanticism, 1789- 1834.
Reading through the poetry contained in these two volumes, I quickly find myself agreeing with Jonathan Wordsworth that "The Annual Anthology is full of good things." (n.p.) Indeed, though the majority of poems might justly be considered as minor poetry, especially for Coleridge and Southey. There are many gems to be found here, as for instance Lloyd's 'To a Young Man', Lamb's 'Living without God in the World', and George Dyer's 'To the Nightingale'. Furthermore, reading 'Fire, Famine, and Slaughter. A War Eclogue' amidst poems of lesser quality makes you re-evaluate your opinion of Coleridge's poetry, its place in contemporary poetry, and its reception at the turn of the century. The recent re-publication of Poems 1797 provides another opportunity to look at, as well as to contextualise, some early poems by Coleridge.
Poems 1797 is the second edition of Coleridge's Poems (published in 1796), with the addition of a series of poems by Charles Lamb and Charles Lloyd. The additional poems constitute the main attraction of this volume as they are not readily available. Although rarely discussed nowadays, they deserve a place in any discussion of poetry written during the 1790s not only for their reflections of contemporary themes and style but also for their influence on, and differences from, Coleridge's poems. The fact that several poems in the volume have titles and contents related to other contributors of the volume make explicit the complicity and friendship that united the three authors. Furthermore, Lloyd's 'The Maniac' seems to anticipate Coleridge's ancient Mariner, and his 'Lines to S. T. Coleridge' contains a similar atmosphere than to the one of 'This Lime-Tree Bower my Prison'. It is in some ways refreshing to (re)discover Lamb the poet rather than the famous essayist, even though his sonnets do not rank too highly compared to Coleridge's poetry present in Poems 1797 , of which the revised version of Religious Musings is the most striking. It contains, in Jonathan Wordsworth's words, "not just [Coleridge's] most ambitious poetry, but a redemptive creed." (n.p.) I will also point out Coleridge's 'Preface to the Second Edition', which contains one of the first instances of Coleridge's defence of his poetry following attacks on his apparent obscurity. He declares: "An Author is obscure, when his conceptions are dim and imperfect, and his language incorrect, or inappropriate, or involved. A poem that abounds in allusions . . . claims not to be popular—but should be acquitted of obscurity. The deficiency is in the Reader. But this is a charge which every poet, whose imagination is warm and rapid, must expect from his contemporaries ." (p. xviii) Coleridge would have many other occasions to, and sometimes reasons for, defending his poetry during the rest of his life.
Facsimile reprints are also used to great effect, though in a different way, by Pickering & Chatto in their collection Lives of the Great Romantics , published under the general editorship of John Mullan. Following a very good first series which dealt with Wordsworth, Byron and Percy Shelley, this second series of volumes deals with Keats, Scott, and Coleridge. Some contemporary recollections of these three Romantic writers tend to be available in short quotations in modern biographies of these writers. These volumes offer the opportunity to read numerous contemporary accounts in their original format, and thus grant the reader a unique perspective on the reception of these authors during the nineteenth century. This new set is undoubtedly an important addition to the corpus of primary works reproduced in facsimile version, and it should find a home in every library, alongside the first series and the forthcoming third one, focusing this time on William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley.
Jennifer Wallace is the editor of the first volume of the series, which is devoted to John Keats, an author who had a unique biographical life in the years following his life. Wallace offers a very clear and concise introduction to the difficult question of Keats' early biographies and the creation of the Keats myth. As she remarks,
The myth of Keats replaced the historical biography, precisely because there were no detailed facts available to disapprove it. If we look at the early history of writing about Keats after 1821, we can begin to understand the important connection between the myth and the man - or the public and the private poet - which actually shapes and influences the Keats we think we know so well today.p. xi
She includes the whole of Shelley's beautiful Adonais , alongside extracts from the most of Keats' close friends such as Leigh Hunt, John Hamilton Reynolds, Benjamin Robert Haydon, Charles Cowden Clarke, and Joseph Severn. A long extract from Richard Monckton Milnes' Life, Letters and Literary Remains of John Keats allows the reader to have a better understanding of the work which influenced Hunt's recollection of Keats in his own Autobiography (1850). Interestingly, Wallace also includes Hunt's early recollection of Keats in his Lord and Some of his Contemporaries (1828).
Partly because of Coleridge's opium addiction, presented to the world in the writings of De Quincey in 1834-35 and Joseph Cottle in 1837, no official biography of Coleridge ever appeared after his death in 1834. At any rate, Coleridge's life does not present itself very well for any biographical works. Indeed, as Ralph Pite remarks in his informative introduction, "Because biography relies on narrative, Coleridge's life fits extremely badly into its organising structures. We gain a better picture of him from the succession of glimpses offered by this anthology." (p. xvi) And Pite certainly offers large numbers of 'glimpses' in his edition, with 32 extracts from works such as Hazlitt's 'My First Acquaintance with Poets', James Gilman's The Life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge , Thomas Noon Talfourd's Final Memorials of Charles Lamb , Christopher Wordsworth's Memoirs of Wordsworth , William Jerdan's Men I have Known and Thomas Carlyle's Life of John Sterling . Reading through these numerous accounts of Coleridge, one cannot but be impressed by the variety of recollections that Pite has gathered in this very useful volume. To mention but two, the extract from Clement Carlyon's Early Years and Late Reflections presents a vivid description of Coleridge's Cambridge days, his pantisocratic scheme and his religious discussions; and Eliza Meteyard's brief discussion of the Wedgwood's youthful friendship with Coleridge offers a moving, if partial, recollection of this decisive part of Coleridge's life.
"Among 'Lives' of British Romantic writers," Fiona Robertson declares, "recollections and more formal biographies of Walter Scott occupy a special and in many ways an odd position. He was considered by readers in his own day, and for much of the nineteenth century, to be the greatest Romantic." (p. xi) In this third volume of Lives of the Great Romantics II , Robertson presents a very well-thought and clearly introduced selection of extracts from some of the many biographical accounts of Scott published between 1825 and 1894. "This volume of 'Lives'", she notes,
is organised so as to provide, in the headnotes introducing each extract or group of extracts, a full account of the contribution of each work to a growing body of Scott memorabilia. Mindful of the master narrative of Lockhart's biography and its tendency to dwarf other contributors, it does not set out to provide its own assimilative account of the history of Scott biography, but instead attends as closely as possible to specific voices and perspectives within it.p. xv
These specific voices and perspectives come through very clearly during the reading of Robertson's selections, one of the best volume of the Pickering series so far. Indeed, even though the extract from Lockhart's Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott naturally finds a prominent place within the recollections, Robertson manages to present other extracts with great effect. Ultimately, the unique personality of Scott permeates, and is illuminated by, these various recollections, so much so that one can say, in Maria Edgeworth's words, "His very self I see, feeling, thinking, and about to speak." (p. 372)
From self-analysis of poetical talent, early versions of poems, and republications of lesser known poems by minor Romantic figures, to contemporary recollections of major canonical writers, the volumes under consideration in this review give an improved and more accurate sense of how poetry and poets were published and received during the Romantic period and the nineteenth century. For this and much more, they are to be read and consulted again and again. For allowing a modern reader to have a better understanding of, and an easier access to, some Romantic works and writers, I can only encourage the various editors and presses not to cease their welcomed effort. With the present critical attention to historical context, these works will no doubt find an eager audience.