Peterloo, Cato Street, and Caroline : poetry and popular protest, 1819-1821
This thesis will address the problem of literary exclusions in the later Romantic period by shifting the focus of literary study away from the Self towards a sequence of key political events. This allows examination of a variety of canonical and non-canonical verse by focusing on writing that attempts to 'intervene in' the public world. More particularly I will focus on writing engaged in a struggle for control of the representation of three key public events: the Peterloo Massacre of August 1819, the Cato Street conspiracy of April 1820 and the Queen Caroline affair (1820-21). In each case I have considered the inter-relation between 'popular' responses, as revealed in broad-sheets, pamphlets, etc. and 'literary' responses, and have gauged how far the two types of response converge. I also look at the emergence of a kind of writing that dissolves the difference between the 'high' and the 'low', the kind of writing produced by figures such as William Hone, and Shelley in his Mask of Anarchy. Each of these historical events is considered in a separate section. The first section deals with poetic responses to the Peterloo massacre. I begin by examining the poems of Samuel Bamford, the only known poet at the massacre, and his attempts to tone down the more inflammatory aspects of his first poems on Peterloo for his new Chartist audience of the 1840's. I then move on to William Hone and his battle to control the narratives of contemporary texts that have been produced by the literary elite and the ruling class, and in doing so to create his own public sphere. I end the section by examining Shelley's Peterloo poems and his assimilation of current radical discourse and poetic style. The second section is concerned with the Cato Street conspiracy, a conspiracy that was in fact manufactured by the government's spy system. This event did not attract the radical poets, instead it elicited responses from liberals such as Charles Lamb and Byron. In this section I argue that both Lamb and Byron are more concerned with contemporary British politics than has previously been acknowledged. The third section of the thesis looks at the Queen Caroline affair, an event that put many radical republicans in the dubious position of supporting a Queen. By examining the work of Charles Lamb, George Cruikshank, William Hone, Shelley, and a number of anonymous radical poets, I attempt to determine just how the public's imagination had been shaped to engender such support, and what radicals expected to gain by championing the unfortunate Queen Caroline. In conclusion this thesis is distinguished from other critical studies of the period by its refusal either to value literary texts for the light that they throw on the wider culture, or to value the wider culture for the light it throws on the literary texts. It starts from the assumption that literature and the culture out of which it is produced are interdependent.