Representing some Late Romantic-Era, Non-Canonical Male Poets: Thomas Hood, Winthrop Mackworth Praed, Thomas Lovell Beddoes[Record]

  • Susan J. Wolfson

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  • Susan J. Wolfson
    Princeton University

Editor's Note

Selected Poems of Thomas Lovell Beddoes, Winthrop Mackworth Praed, and Thomas Hood is now available from Penguin UK (ISBN: 0140436006 - Price:£9.99). You can find more information about this edition, and order it, at the Penguin website.

My cumbersome main title names four liabilities, instanced by my subtitle's perhaps unknown or only vaguely familiar names: the genre, the era, the status, the sex. The first liability, at least from a commercial standpoint, is (non-contemporary) poetry itself, increasingly an alien and foreign language not only in culture at large but even in our academic worlds. Byron's Corsair, legendarily, sold 10000 copies on the first day of publication and went into double-digit editions over the next several months. Last year, Penguin UK reissued the poem in its "first edition" series, not expecting a repetition of these figures, but not expecting the astounding failure they encountered either. So spectacular was this failure in relation to their modest but optimistic anticipations that it has virtually killed the series. The vanishing market for poetry is not a period-specific problem of course, but it feeds into the second liability, the difficulty of interesting publishers in any project of editing "Late Romantic-era" writers. If The Corsair flops, what hope is there for lesser lights? Even in professional conversation, the three decades spanning the 1820 to 1850 have not, until recently, proved as interesting to students of Romantic poetry as the three previous decades. Until very recently, Romantics had even ceded the 1840s to the Victorians, the first decade (after all) of the eponym's reign. Even so, Romantics argued some claim. Wordsworth was still tending his career in the 1840s and still fiddling with the innovative poem that would be a publishing sensation in 1850, The Prelude; new, important editions of Keats, Shelley, L.E.L., and others appeared in these years; and everyone was still reading and being stimulated by the literature of the century's first decades, Scott and Byron as popular as ever. The1820s and 1830s? Until recently, these decades focused attention primarily to follow to conclusion the careers of Scott and Byron, Coleridge, Shelley and Keats, or to keep track of Wordsworth, or to mark the first flashes of later stellar careers (Tennyson, Barrett Browning, Browning). More recently, these decades have drawn attention as the era of that new, commercially potent, author-attracting phenomenon of the annuals, in which everyone published, including some of our "old canonicals" (Wordsworth, Coleridge, Scott—and posthumously, Byron and Percy Shelley)—and in which our newer canon of Romantic-era women poets and tale-tellers (Hemans, L.E.L., Mary Shelley) found welcome. It was in these decades that their professional careers took off and became cultural events. Our new, much needed attention to women writers—not only Hemans, L.E.L. and Shelley, but a wealth of others—frames another problem with bringing attention to Hood, Beddoes, Praed: however appealing their poetry is on the level of craft, wit, and social vibrancy, these poets are marginal (or coterie) and "male." This is not a complaint, just a fact (as my other essay in this issue of Romanticism on the Net makes clear, I have been an energetic participant in the she-revival). Even so, our lively (re)discovery of women's poetry has had the effect (inevitable, in a finite world) of submerging the male poets whose canonical status in representations of the field, from the late nineteenth century into the twentieth, has never been securely anchored. The field is expanding but our teaching semesters or quarters are not, and our new, revisionary classroom anthologies have had to make substitutions even as they have increased modestly in size. Some brief measures, across the last few decades of the last century, may help to put the case in quantitative shorthand. The 725-page Romantics unit in the second ...