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Anthologizing Romanticism [Anne Mellor]

I want first to address some of the marketing issues that Susan Wolfson raised in her introduction, and then to offer some suggestions on how the Mellor/Matlak anthology might be used in the classroom.

When Richard and I first proposed our anthology to Harcourt Brace in 1991, our editor, Stephen Jordan, commissioned the project enthusiastically. He believed that the time was coming when David Perkins's English Romantic Writers—which had been a consistent seller for Harcourt Brace for twenty years—was about to be displaced by a less "canonical" anthology, and he wanted to have a viable competitor in place. He put no restrictions whatsoever on our method of organization, selections, annotations—the only constraints were total page-length (not to exceed 1200 pages) and responsiveness to peer-review during the process. Since scholars in the profession who were asked to evaluate this project during its development were consistently supportive and enthusiastic, Stephen Jordan basically gave us a free hand. At the last minute, when we came in with a book of 1400 pages, our new editor at Harcourt Brace, John Meyer, generously allowed us the extra 200 pages. And I think Stephen Jordan's instincts were right—the Mellor/Matlak anthology was published this January and has already sold out its first printing of 5000 volumes; 1400 copies are now being reprinted with the typographical and factual errors which have so far been drawn to our attention corrected; and when this printing is sold, we will be able to construct a second edition which will make a few substantive changes. For this new edition, we seek your help in correcting errors (both factual and typographical) and, more important, we welcome your suggestions as to what texts you really miss not having, and which ones you think we could eliminate to make room for them.

Practical Decisions that went into forming the anthology [Richard Matlak]

When Professor Mellor and I undertook British Literature: 1780-1830, so many decisions had to be made about organization; authors and works to include and exclude in shaping an equitable anthology of men and women writers; sometimes the surname to use, in the case of women authors; the choice of versions of works; the kind and extent of annotation; even deciding to correct or to let stand spelling and grammatical errors. As I say, so many decisions had to be made on a regular basis that we were reduced to formulating principles and, worse, abiding by them! Here are some of the most important.

Besides deciding that half of our 1400 pages would be devoted to women writers, which is the most prominent distinction one will note upon perusing the Table of Contents, we would like to call attention to our principles of ORGANIZATION:

  1. first, by date of publication, including an explicit identification of the host document, i.e., the journal, newspaper (for a few poems and some prose), or volume the work appeared in when it first appeared;

  2. second, by distinguishing between works published during the author's lifetime and works published posthumously; and

  3. third, organization without regard to genre or form.

All of this may sound straightforward and perhaps now obligatory at this historically-minded time, but it was troublesome to carry out. Most standard editions of the writers who have been re-edited in the past 25 years organize works by year of composition, rather than publication. Almost all Romantic period anthologies and single-author anthologies do the same. And then, to move to the related principle of selection of versions of texts, it is generally the received text—or perhaps some recent editorial construction—that one finds in compositional sequence rather than the text as it appeared when first published.

Thus, to take the organization of Coleridge's works as a familiar example, many (but not all) teachers might be aware that the version of Ancient Mariner offered as being composed in 1797-98 is usually the version with the famous gloss of 1817. Fewer would know that the version of "Eolian Harp" listed as appearing in 1796 is not the poem of 1796, but rather the signficantly revised version with the "One Life" passage that appeared in 1817. This is more an intellectual than aesthetic matter because it bears on the development of Coleridge's religious and philosophical ideas. Getting things out of order obviously prepares the way for inevitable misunderstanding. When texts are listed in compositional sequence, one would also be hard pressed to infer that Christabel, "Kubla Kahn," and "The Pains of Sleep" were published together for the first time as a vocationally meaningful volume in 1816, or that "Frost at Midnight" appeared in a politically-minded volume with Fears in Solitude and France: An Ode in 1798, but not in Lyrical Ballads. What is the consequence of these, let's say, quiet editorial decisions that blind students and teachers on matters of composition and publication?

The chief consequences are that versions of works misplaced chronologically and works organized according to date of composition rather than publication date can spawn faulty interpretations of an author's artistic and intellectual development and specious influence exercises—and sometimes scholarship—on intertextual relationships among writers. Certainly, anthologies have not intentionally sought to mislead readers, but, regardless, many readers have been and many are still being misled because of an editorial preference for the "received text" and a greater interest in the individual development of authors rather than in the currency of their works in their own time. Of course, an editorial preference for the received text would not prevent an editor from organizing by publication date of that version. However, if an editor is also more concenred with the author's individual development rather than the public impact of the author's works on his or her time, that the editor will misplace the received version according to date of first composition or first publication, which ironically beclouds an understanding of an author's aesthetic and intellectual development.

So you'll be happy to know that we haven't done these things! Our editorial team at Harcourt Brace made it easy for us on several of the most important poems by allowing the space for early and later versions of Coleridge's "Effusion XXXV," later the "Eolian Harp," both the 1798 and the 1817 versions of Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and the two versions of Keats's La Belle Dame Sans Merci (1820/1848). There being a limit to such wholesale duplication, we must admit to a downside to organizing by date of first significant publication: you may find yourself unfamiliar with some lines and parts of your favorite works and you may discover that the version of the work you are familiar with is aesthetically superior, though those in Wordsworth studies especially maintain a great deal of negative capability on this issue. What we have done to console our hypothetically-annoyed reader is to provide in the annotation significant revisions found in the received text.

Another feature of our first principle on organization is that we have presented works published incrementally as such. Byron's Don Juan is thus interspresed with works and letters and journals that appear between its installments.

I mentioned above that we also organize works without regard to genre or form, rather than according to the standard editorial format of, for example, poetry first, prose next, informal prose last. This introduces a compromise of our first principle in that unpublished letters and journals are organized according to date of composition, rather than date of publication. This compromise makes it possible, however, to keep at least one eye on an author's private life and thoughts as his or her public presence develops. One might find, for example, our presentation of Keats and Byron enhanced by reading their letters and journals in chronological proximity to published works rather than having to imaginatively re-organize the volume to find and make relevant associations.

Finally, our sequestration of works published posthumously almost forces one to think about the development of reputation both in and out of our fifty year period, 1780-1830. The seepage of both Shelleys' works until as late as 1959, the nearly new reputation of both Wordsworths from editorial work of the past two decades, are just a few of the lessons on reputation that our Table of Contents will provide. British Literature: 1780-1830 contains a fuller explanation of all of this in its "Introduction," should you be now taken with curiosity and admiration about such matters of rationale!

How to Use the Anthology to Teach [Anne Mellor]

The most common question we have received from those teachers who have contemplated using our anthology is "How can I possibly include all this in one course?" Of course, you can't. We designed the anthology to be used in a variety of ways, which I'd like to briefly outline here. First, it could be used in the traditional way, as a study of single authors. We have tried to supply enough work by each author we include to make it possible to teach the development of that author's literary career over time. Second, it could be used as a study of different genres in the Romantic period: one could analyze the development of various poetic forms (the sonnet, the ballad, the ode, the epic), or drama (we have included seven plays), or of fictional and non-fictional prose.

What we hoped, however, was that our anthology would encourage teachers to think of early nineteenth-century writing in new ways, as historically located responses to the other discourses—political, scientific, philosophical—of the day. I now organize my courses thematically around the burning social issues of the time: the Rights of Man and the French Revolution, the Rights of Woman, the Rights of Slaves (the discourse of abolitionism), the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions and their consequences, as well as the development of a new aesthetics, what we have traditionally identified as "Romatnicism." Within each of these categories, I teach texts by pairs—pairs which call attention to the difference that gender or class or even race makes to the construction of a literary text.

Here are a few concrete examples. On the French Revolution, I pair Blake's, Wordsworth's, Coleridge's, and Helen Maria Williams's early enthusiasm for the Revolution with Charlotte Smith's more ironic view in The Emigrants. On the Rights of Woman, I pair radical feminist texts by Wollstonecraft with more moderate texts by Anna Barbauld and Hannah More and with the attack ont the bluestockings by Richard Polwhele. On the slave-trade, I discuss the difference that gender makes to the critique of slavery, pairing texts by Cowper, Southey, and Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" with texts by Yearsley, More, and Barbauld, the slave narrative of Equiano with that of Mary Prince. On science, I pair the enthusiasm of Darwin and Percy Shelley with the scepticism of Frankenstein. On Romantic love, I pair the celebrations of Percy Shelley and Keats with the more ironic treatements by Felicia Hemans and Letitia Landon. I always teach Byron's and Shelley's treatments of incest in Manfred and The Cenci, for instance, in tandem with Mary Shelley's Matilda. On aesthetic theory, I pair Barbauld's Introductory Discourse to Plays on the Passions with Wordsworth's Preface to the Lyrical Ballads.

Other teachers have used other thematic groupings: the city of London versus the countryside, setting Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads and "Composed upon Westminster Bridge" against Mary Robinson's Lyrical Tales and "January, 1795"—or sense and sensibility, setting Jane Austen's novel against attitudes toward reason and the emotions articulated by Blake, Wordsworth, and Keats. The goal of all such pairings of course is to help students to read more critically, to show them how writers respond both to each other and to the culture in which they live, to help them understand the pressures upon the life of the imagination in this particular historical period.