The subject of this article is the vicious public dispute between Southey and Byron—the well-known argument that centred on the two poets’ Visions of Judgment. Precipitated by Southey’s call for censorship of immoral literature and punishment of “Satanic” authors, the dispute was won—according to twentieth-century critics—by Byron, whose devastating parody undermined the credibility of Southey’s political poetry.
It has long been understood that the dispute was about more than personal enmity, that what was in question was literature’s relationship to power and its proper role in the body politic. What has received less attention is the fact that the dispute concerned not only the domestic scene (literature’s relationship to Church and State in Britain) but also the widening sphere of empire. It is my intention to focus on the imperial sphere in what follows so as to reveal that Southey and Byron were arguing in and for a new context. They were setting out rival models of colonialist and Orientalist poetry for an age in which empire was being expanded and imperialism redefined. These models include two long poems that scholars have hitherto failed to relate to the poets’ dispute—Byron’s The Island (1823) and Southey’s Tale of Paraguay (1825). Both these poems look different when we understand their place in the poets’ contest to make their own colonialist representations of native peoples prevail over the hearts and minds of the British public.
- Bligh, William. A Narrative of the Mutiny on Board Her Majesty’s Ship Bounty and the Subsequent Voyage of Part of the Crew. London: George Nicol, 1790.
- ---. A Voyage to the South Sea Undertaken By Command of His Majesty, for the purpose of conveying the bread-fruit tree to the West Indies. London: George Nicol 1792.
- Byron, George Gordon. Byron's Letters and Journals. Ed. Leslie A. Marchand. 10 vols. London: Murray, 1977. Cited throughout as LJ.
- ---, Lord Byron. The Complete Poetical Works. Ed. Jerome J. McGann and Barry Weller. 7 vols. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1991. Cited throughout as BPW.
- ---. TheIsland. BPW 6.343-69.
- Cooke, M.G. The Blind Man Traces the Circle: On the Patterns and Philosophy of Byron’s Poetry. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1969.
- Diderot, Denis. Supplément au voyage de Bougainville. 1796. Geneve: Droz, 1955.
- Forster, George. A Voyage Round the World in His Britannic Majesty's Sloop Resolution Commanded by Captain James Cook, during the Years 1772, 3, 4, and 5. 2 vols. London, 1777.
- Leask, Nigel. “Wandering through Eblis: Absorption and Containment in Romantic Exoticism.” Romanticism and Colonialism: Writing and Empire 1780-1830. Eds. Tim Fulford and Peter J. Kitson. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998. 165-88.
- Martin, John. An Account of the Natives of the Tonga Islands in the South Pacific Ocean With An Original Grammar and Vocabulary of their Language Compiled and Arranged from the Extensive Communications of Mr William Mariner. 2 vols. London: John Murray, 1817.
- McGann, Jerome J. Fiery Dust: Byron’s Poetic Development. Chicago and London: Chicago UP, 1968.
- ---. The Romantic Ideology: A Critical Investigation. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1983.
- McKusick, James C. “The Politics of Language in Byron’s The Island.” ELH 59 (1992): 839-56.
- ---. “‘Wisely Forgetful:’ Coleridge and the Politics of Pantisocracy.” Romanticism and Colonialism: Writing and Empire 1780-1830. Eds. Tim Fulford and Peter J. Kitson. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998. 107-28.
- Medwin, Thomas. Private Conversations with Lord Byron. London: Henry Colburn, 1824.
- Mitford, Mary Russell. Christina, the Maid of the South Seas: A Poem. London, 1811.
- Moorehead, Alan. The Fatal Impact: The Invasion of the South Pacific 1767-1840. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1966.
- Rennie, Neil. Far Fetched Facts: The Literature of Travel and The Idea of the South Seas. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1992.
- Rousseau, Jean Jacques. Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (Second Discourse), Polemics, and Political Economy. The Collected Writings of Rousseau. Vol 3. Eds. Roger D. Masters and Christopher Kelly. Hanover and London: UP of New England for Dartmouth College, 1992.
- Southey, Robert. History of Brazil. 3 vols. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, 1810-19.
- ---. Letter. The Courier 11 Jan. 1822.
- ---. Letter. The Courier 13 Dec. 1824.
- ---. New Letters of Robert Southey. Ed. K. Curry. 2 vols. New York and London: Columbia UP, 1965.
- ---. The Poetical Works of Robert Southey Collected by Himself. 10 vols. London: Longman, Orme, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1838. Cited throughout as SPW.
- ---. Preface. Vision of Judgment. SPW vol. 10.
- ---. Rev. of An Account of the Natives of the Tonga Islands in the South Pacific Ocean, by John Martin. Quarterly Review 17 (April 1817): 1-39.
- ---. Rev. of Polynesian Researches, by William Ellis. Quarterly Review 43 (May 1830): 1-54.
- ---. Rev. of Transactions of the Missionary Society in the South Sea Islands. Quarterly Review 2 (1809): 24-61.
- ---. Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey. Ed. J. W. Warter. 4 vols. London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1856.
- ---. The Tale of Paraguay. SPW vol. 7.
- Woodring, Carl. Politics in English Romantic Poetry. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1970.