Reviews

Gerard Carruthers and Alan Rawes, eds. English Romanticism and the Celtic World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. ISBN: 052181085. Price: US$75.[Notice]

  • Janet Sorensen

…plus d’informations

  • Janet Sorensen
    Indiana University, Bloomington

In 1784, as the Welsh Orientalist Sir William Jones presided over the Calcutta bench and his Asiatick Society, his agitational pamphlet A Judgement on the Principles of Government, in a Dialogue between a Gentleman and a Farmer (over ten thousand already distributed) reappeared in Welsh and included a history of the prosecution of its publisher, a history performed at fairs and markets across North Wales. While Jones’ pamphlet draws from Locke in its arguments for parliamentary reform and cooperative association, Jones was also steeped in Welsh material and cultural life, defending the peasantry from rack-renting tyranny and serving as “chief Bard” for the society of the “Druids of Cardigan” before departing for India (Michael J. Franklin, “Sir William Jones, the Celtic Revival and the Oriental Renaissance” 30). Influenced by Welsh antiquarians and poets such as Lewis Morris and Evan Evans, Jones wrote Anglo-Welsh poems, yet their scope points outward, invoking Druids to “teach the world to be wise” and embrace a religious syncretism (“Kneel to the Goddess whom all Men Adore” [1780]) or, in his projected Anglo-Indian epic, depicting a harp-playing druid who advocates “the government of the Indians by their own laws” (36). The tracing of complex circuits—be they the physical movement between such sites as County Glamorgan, London, and Calcutta or the transforming travel of political ideas and literary topoi, from north Welsh radicalism to the figure of the druid/bard—forms the basis of the strongest contributions to Carruthers’ and Rawes’ important collection. Recent scholarship has been busy revising our understanding of eighteenth-century and Romantic British writing by focusing on the “Celtic World,” as Carruthers and Rawes call it. Susan Manning’s Fragments of Union (Palgrave, 2002), Kathryn Temple’s Scandal Nation: Law and Authorship in Britain, 1750-1832 (Cornell UP, 2003), and the collection Scotland and the Borders of Romanticism (Cambridge UP, 2004) all consider how Scottish writing in particular destabilizes conventional notions of literary periodization, canonicity, authorship, and national identity itself. The essays in English Romanticism and the Celtic World also explore not simply an unproblematically pluralist “four nations” theory of literary history but consider “the extent to which Celticism was used as a tool in the construction and expansion of the British State” (1) and, alternatively, how Scottish, Irish and Welsh writers “construct[ed], cement[ed] and promematiz[ed] British identity” (6). Yet perhaps most original about this volume is its recurring motif of a mobile Celticism. The book’s most compelling moments are those in which it reveals how those “Celtic” literary figures and themes—such as the bard or primitivism—so unrelentingly connected in the national imaginary to a specific, even essential, organic space, were in fact easily attached to imperial movements and often produced out of them. In marvelously detailed accounts, Michael J. Franklin and Caroline Franklin put fascinating local histories to use in their respective studies of Welsh writers and Celtic themes at work in far-flung sites of British commerce and colonization. While Michael J. Franklin situates William Jones within Welsh and Irish antiquarian circles, Caroline Franklin considers Bristol, thriving port of British empire and economic “metropolis” of Wales, in her analysis of the period’s dialectically related cultures of antiquarianism and forgery. Writers fabricated the primitive and vernacular society and literature that the forces visible in a rapidly changing Bristol were eroding. Thus Bristolian Robert Southey turns to the myth of “a twelfth-century Welsh prince who supposedly discovered America before Columbus” (70) in the long poem that he hoped would be his masterpiece, (but, alas, was not) Madoc (1805). The political valence of this wide-ranging circulation of Celticism was complex, particularly in relation to the quasi-colonial status of Wales, Ireland, and …