Romantic Anti-Jacobins or Anti-Jacobin Romantics?

                                     by Kenneth R. Johnston

  [Johnston, Kenneth R. "Romantic Anti-Jacobins or Anti-Jacobin Romantics?" Romanticism On the Net 15 (August 1999)

I propose to set two scenes of writing in a fundamentally parodic relationship to each other. One was famous in its day but is
almost forgotten now, the other unknown then but forever famous now. The first was in a house next to No. 169 Piccadilly,
opposite Old Bond Street, connected by a hidden passage to the bookshop of James Wright, the ‘morning resort’ of savvy
young politicians like George Canning, who gathered there to throw together the weekly issues of the The Anti-Jacobin; or
Weekly Examiner, from November 1797 to July 1798. The other was somewhere "a few miles above Tintern Abbey," where
Wordsworth started composing his famous poem of that title, finishing it as he walked down Clifton Hill into Bristol on July 13,
1798, and delivering it next day to the printshop of Joseph Cottle in Wine Street for last-minute inclusion in the volume titled
Lyrical Ballads.

We know a great deal about these latter, Somerset scenes. Indeed, since the publication of Jerry McGann's The Romantic
Ideology in 1983, and especially since Marjorie Levinson's provocative 1986 essay, "Insight or Oversight?," we have learned
more new things about "Tintern Abbey"-a poem on which the community of Romantic scholarship thought it had a very good
grasp-than anyone might have believed possible, in 1983.

About The Anti-Jacobin, however, we have known, until very recently, only about as much as we have ever known, and that
has seemed enough. But I want to suggest that it is not, and that these two scenes of writing have more to do with each other
than we have thought. Considered as "text" and "context," they provide a good working model of an older form of
literary-historical scholarship: viz., The Anti-Jacobin and its last polemical satire and cartoon, "New Morality," have remained
deep in the background of Wordsworth and Coleridge's careers, thanks to its one-line reference to "C---dge and S-th-y, L--d
& L-b & Co." Usually this reference has been treated as something of a joke, if not downright slander, on the order of the "Spy
Nozy" incident in Somerset the year before, or the Pantisocracy fiasco-almost always referred to as a "fiasco"-the year before
that. At most, it is understood as a reference to the formerly radical writings of Coleridge and Southey, and a sign that the
powers-that-were had not yet got the word that the two young poets had, in Coleridge's calculated phrase, "snapped their
squeaking baby-trumpets of Sedition" (1) and were no longer radicals but something else, something that we now call

Instead, I want to suggest, following a newer model of historical interpretation, sometimes called "The New Historicism"
(though its practice is not so unified), that these two scenes cannot be neatly divided into foreground "text" and background
"context." At the very least, in 1798, their roles were reversed: The Anti-Jacobin was very much in the London foreground,
Lyrical Ballads very far in its anonymous Bristol background. But, since the apparent reversal in value of these two scenes,
over the intervening two hundred years, might still look like "poetic" or "historical" justice to some, I want to complicate that
mere reversal, and suggest that the two scenes (i.e., texts, places, and authors) were mutually implicated in each other-and
further (here I advance beyond suggestion to speculation) that the two sets of writers knew this, and were "in some
sense"-those invaluable weasel words-communicating with each other. My instrument for creating this complicating mutual
implication is the theory of parody developed by Linda Hutcheon, which derives in turn from the inter-textual theories of
Mikhail Bakhtin, especially ‘dialogism’ and the phenomena of texts-speaking-through-texts, with or without conscious authorial
intention. (2)

The historical hypothesis I am developing is that "New Morality" is to some extent a coded call to Wordsworth, and perhaps
also to Coleridge and Southey, to return to the establishment fold-from whence they came by birth and class origin-and join in
the work of cultural regeneration which the bright young men of The Anti-Jacobin saw themselves engaged in. I have put
forward some of this interpretation in my recently published The Hidden Wordsworth. (3) But I want to extend it further,
suggesting that not only do certain lines in "Tintern Abbey" appear to reject this coded invitation (‘evil tongues, / Rash
judgements [and] the sneers of selfish men’), but that certain lines of argument in the Preface to the second edition of Lyrical
Ballads (1800) constitute a revisionary acceptance of that invitation. This becomes especially clear when the two sets of
texts/contexts are placed together with the almost wholly unknown plans that Wordsworth and Coleridge were hatching,
especially between 1798 and 1800, that Wordsworth should become the new Milton of England, the prophetic author of The
Recluse, "On Man, on Nature, and on Human Life."

Finally, at my furthest point out on this shaky limb, I want to suggest that Wordsworth's qualified acceptance of that invitation is
signaled-perhaps "sealed" is the better word-by his acceptance of yet another invitation that might be implied in the larger
context of these two scenes of writing: namely, that he should, on his way through London en route to Germany, meet with
some of The Anti-Jacobin's authors, in their daytime jobs as under-secretaries in the Home Office and the Foreign Office, to
set up an arrangement whereby some or all of his expenses in Germany would be paid by putting him on the payroll of William
Cavendish, third duke of Portland, head of the Home Office and chief architect of the new "secret department," which was the
nucleus of the modern British Secret Service.

All that is quite a mouthful. Now let me try to shore up the limb I am standing on. Assuming that we have the various "scenes"
of Tintern Abbey quite firmly in our collective cultural memory, I will concentrate on The Anti-Jacobin and the ways in which it
would have been known to our semi-anonymous young authors in and around Bristol. Some of these are demonstrably
biographical. Others are more abstract, involving a critical sense of the various ways in which The Anti-Jacobin and what we
may call the ‘textual milieu’ of Lyrical Ballads (its poems, prefaces, advertisements, and revisions from 1798 to 1800) can be
seen as engaged in a critical re-writing of each other, a polemical engagement or duel in which parody is the weapon chosen by
the antagonists. This is obvious in the case of The Anti-Jacobin; less obvious but still relevant in the case of Wordsworth and
Coleridge, if we expand our sense of parody to include not just humorous writing and debunking intentions, but also serious
intentions that might (or might not) be expressed in humorous terms.

The Anti-Jacobin was a very powerful and largely successful weapon in what we can now recognize as a "culture war" being
fought for the hearts and minds of the British people during the Parliamentary session of 1797-98, the precise term of its
existence. (Thus I distinguish sharply between it and its much tamer successor, The Anti-Jacobin Review and Magazine,
which ran until 1821.) It was established by its primary authors, George Canning (the future prime minister), John Hookham
Frere (college acquaintance of Wordsworth and Coleridge and later close friend of Byron), George Ellis, and William Gifford,
its actual editor (not to be confused with the John Gifford who later became the editor of the Edinburgh Review). Canning and
Frere were under-secretaries in the Foreign and Home Offices, respectively, and they proposed The Anti-Jacobin as a
semi-official attack mechanism to discredit opponents of Pitt's unpopular "Minister's War" with France. It would be something
like a Private Eye written by M.P.s or, in American terms, an American Spectator or National Review receiving
over-the-transom submissions from the White House or Congress. (Forms of authorship and contribution certainly not
unknown today, if we think of Joe Klein’s originally anonymous novel, Primary Colors.) These young men realized that though
the British people still supported Pitt, they did so with their heads, not their hearts, and more from fear of a French invasion than
out of any affection for Pitt-who, whatever his many qualities, was not a man to inspire affection. Furthermore, the
Anti-Jacobin writers wanted to distance themselves and their leader from the merely reactionary anti-Jacobins, those "King
and Crown" mobs who sprang up in many towns and terrorized the populace by their attacks on their liberal opponents, who
were frequently some of those towns' most distinguished citizens. (The burning and sacking of Joseph Priestley's house and
laboratory in Birmingham is the clearest case in point here.) Instead, The Anti-Jacobin writers wanted to immobilize their
opponents by making them appear ridiculous: laughter, not lynching, would be its weapon. With the Gagging Acts of 1795 and
subsequent repressive legislation and successful trial convictions firmly in place, the young men of The Anti-Jacobin turned to
ridicule and co-optation to complete the government's mopping-up operation against its opponents.

As such, it was a type of media watchdog, like Steven Brill's recently launched Brill's Content in the U.S., which set journalists
of every stripe howling with its first issue, analyzing the media's sloppy coverage of allegations about Monica Lewinsky. But,
unlike Brill's Content, The Anti-Jacobin was a government attack-dog against the media-Pitt's pit bull, so to speak. Each of
its substantial weekly issues (30 pages or more) divided the previous week's news coverage into ‘Lies, Misrepresentations, and
Mistakes.’ Given the relative anonymity of its authors, this was a brilliant fail-safe device, especially the "Lies of the Week"
section, which was something like the ‘Top Ten’ feature on David Letterman's Late Night television show, providing each
week a new set of reasons demonstrating that Pitt's opponents in the liberal press were stupid, foolish charlatans. It was as hard
to answer as a long-running "when did you stop beating your wife?" joke. On the few occasions when the Morning Courier or
Post or Chronicle tried to answer it (as the Chronicle did in early 1798, submitting an ‘Epistle to the Editors of The
Anti-Jacobin,’ which was printed along with a deflatory answer by Hon. John Courtnay), they found themselves, like the
hapless opponents of Swift and Pope earlier in the century, helplessly ensnared in the net of their own distorted language-like
the astrologer Partridge in Swift's Bickerstaff Papers, hopelessly protesting to a laughing world that he was not dead.
Answering the Anti-Jacobin was a no-win proposition, and since "The New Morality" satire appeared in its very last issue, it
was even less answerable-unless its attack were picked up and carried on-unannounced and disguised, but clear to those in the
know-in another publication, such as Lyrical Ballads, whose address to the issues at hand was as oblique, but as pointed, as
The Anti-Jacobin was in its.

Though most of every issue was devoted to "exposing" Lies, Misrepresentations, and Mistakes, and often included long pieces
on government finance (for the taxes were the most unpopular part of the war), every issue nevertheless had a substantial
poetry or ‘Arts’ section. From the outset and frequently throughout the year (especially at the beginning of 1798), these
sections discussed the kind of poetry-and the kind of poet-that was most needed at this time of national crisis. In its
introductory number (November 20, 1797), The Anti-Jacobin announced its search for the ideal poet for the troubled times:
"we have not been able to find one good and true Poet, of sound principles and sober practice, upon whom we could rely for
furnishing us with a handsome quantity of sufficient and approved verse." And in its last number (July 9/16, 1798), in "The New
Morality," it appeals to a "bashful genius" to emerge from rural retirement and "pour th'indignant strain" of "lofty satire" against
the "stage, verse, pamphlets, politics, and news" that are England's "just alarms."

That the Somerset poets were well aware of The Anti-Jacobin is clear from recent work by Nicholas Roe and Paul Magnuson
and others on this particular textual/contextual crux. (4) We can be quite certain that Wordsworth and Coleridge knew The
Anti-Jacobin's attacks on Coleridge, and read carefully not only its satiric verse and parodies against Coleridge and Southey,
but also followed its occasional disquisitions on the proper or best form of poetry for English culture and society.

Southey's poems were The Anti-Jacobin's first and favorite target of parody, and Coleridge's were not far behind, though
neither author was named: there was some concern about libel laws, and Pitt was nervous that his bright young men would go
too far. Southey's knee-jerk liberal poems, such as his "Botany Bay Eclogues," and Coleridge's effusion "To a Young Ass," a
democratical effusion dedicated to the proposition that donkeys have rights and feelings too, were the sorts of "Jacobin" poems
that made many of The Anti-Jacobin's parodies very easy to write, and some of them hilariously funny. Other frequent targets
of attack well within Coleridge and Southey's (and Wordsworth's) ambience were John Thelwall, who tried to join their
literary-philosophical "triumverate" in 1797, Erasmus Darwin (his Loves of the Plants is satirized in Frere's and Canning's
"Loves of the Triangles," perhaps the best of its parodies), William Godwin, Wordsworth’s good friend from London, and
Thomas Beddoes, Coleridge’s Bristol friend (and employer of Humphry Davy at the Pneumatic Institute).

Godwin and Coleridge and Darwin were all attacked under the fictitious name of Mr. William Higgins, an author residing at "St.
Mary Axe" (compare Coleridge's own satiric pseudonym, "Nehemiah Higginbotham, his birthplace at Ottery St. Mary, and the
River Axe running near it). This caricature has well been called a sort of "portmanteau" Jacobin, to whom any kind of Jacobin
literary or philosophical excess could be attributed as needed (it has also been taken as a glance toward Mary Wollstonecraft).
The Anti-Jacobin could always have things both ways with whichever ‘Mr. Higgins’ it had in mind, as it solicitously explained
in a late issue:

     we cannot but consider ourselves as the guardians of Mr. Higgins’s literary reputation, in respect to every work of
     his which is conveyed to the world through the medium of our paper (though, what we think of the dangers of his
     principles we have already sufficiently explained) . . . (June 11, 1798)

Small wonder that Coleridge, toting up a list of ‘Characters for satire’ after his return from Germany the following summer,
should place ‘Canning & the Anti-Jacobins’ at the very top of it. (5)

In considering these identifications, we should imagine, as well, Wordsworth’s reactions to seeing his new and much-admired
friends witheringly and unfairly attacked, nationally, on a weekly basis, throughout the year that we Romanticists often consider
an annus mirabilis-but that Pitt considered his worst crisis-year to date, marked by the naval mutinies at Nore and Spithead in
1797 and by the Irish rebellions and invasions of 1798. Wordsworth and Coleridge were trying to break back into print in a
new, revolutionary, yet anonymous fashion; Pitt & Co. were trying to stay in office in a way that was also new (the ur-creation
of the modern Conservative party), but determinedly anti-revolutionary.

It is not necessary, for the general point of my argument, to establish direct textual connections between The Anti-Jacobin and
the poetry of Coleridge and Southey and Wordsworth, though the more we can do so the more interesting its conclusions
become. Inter-textual methods of cultural criticism allow us more leeway. Nonetheless, in any reading of the poetry sections,
one is struck by the intensity, particularity, and familiarity of the attacks on Coleridge and Southey. Running over some of their
most closely shared topics, we find, inter alia, frequent discussions of correct meter, rhyme, and poetic form, sometimes
allowing their targets correct poetic principles but ridiculing their content (e.g., No. VI). Chief among The Anti-Jacobin’s
opponents' supposedly ridiculous subjects were their sympathetic interviews with suffering poor people in the street, as in its
send-up of Southey in "The Knife-Grinder and the Friend of Humanity," or its parody of his "Soldier's Wife" as "The Soldier's
Friend." Its very first offering parodied Southey's "Inscription" for Henry Marten, the regicide imprisoned in Chepstow Castle,
as an inscription for Mrs. Brownrigg, who was imprisoned in Newgate because "SHE WHIPP'D TWO FEMALE
'PRENTICES TO DEATH, / AND HID THEM IN THE COAL-HOLE." These attacks hit very close to home in Somerset,
directly on Southey (who was actually in London for much of the year), but also indirectly on Wordsworth, who was drafting
ostensibly very similar poems, such as "The Female Vagrant," "The Tale of Margaret" (or "The Ruined Cottage"), "The Baker's
Cart" and others, which he would continue fearlessly into Lyrical Ballads' "The Idiot Boy," "The Sailor's Mother," "The Old
Cumberland Beggar," and others-all the while trying to distinguish what his poems were doing from what Southey's did.
(Southey in the meantime having publicly renounced his "Jacobin" phase.) If The Anti-Jacobin was parodying Southey, there is
a meaningful sense in which Wordsworth’s apparently similar poems were parodic re-writings of Southey as well, not just
‘serious’ treatments of the same subjects (since Southey was nothing if not serious). Furthermore, Wordsworth’s rewritings
sprang not just from his ‘original Romantic genius,’ but from his engagement with definitions of the means and ends of poetry
that were at once different from, yet not wholly unrelated to, those laid down by The Anti-Jacobin.

As for Coleridge, a poem entitled "Lines, Written at the Close of the Year 1797" (No. X; Jan. 15, 1798) can hardly have been
written-or read-without conscious reference to his "Lines, written at the close of the Preceding Year" [1796]. Similarly, the
"Ode to Jacobinism," by "An English Jacobin," bears close similarities to his "France: An Ode," and others poems he was
writing at the time, expressing despair and ambivalence at being caught between Pitt’s repression at home and French militarism

This much is clear. What needs stressing is the seriousness and cogency of The Anti-Jacobin's arguments for a proper national
poetry, and the kind of poet needed to write it. This kind of discussion came to Wordsworth's and Coleridge's eyes precisely at
the time they were first hatching their career-defining dream, not that they should become the (eventually) world-famous
authors of Lyrical Ballads, which was viewed simply as a convenient way to make money to pay for their upcoming trip to
Germany, but that Wordsworth should become the epic, prophetic bard of The Recluse, with its comprehensive views "on
Man, on Nature, and on Human Life." This was the poem that, as Coleridge said a year later (ca. November 1799), was to be
addressed ‘to those, who, in consequence of the complete failure of the French Revolution, have thrown up all hopes of the
amelioration of mankind, and are sinking into an almost epicurean selfishness, disguising the same under the soft titles of
domestic attachment and contempt for visionary philosophes.’ (6) This was not the same audience The Anti-Jacobin sought to
address, but it was not completely different, since Canning and Frere, like Pitt himself, had been liberal sympathizers with the
early, constitutional phase of the French which they now-like Coleridge here-saw as a ‘complete failure.’ They were more
worried about this ‘failure’ as a threat (of invasion, for example) than as a disappointment, but they too were concerned to
rouse up an erstwhile liberal audience that had fallen into a funk.

(However mistaken local gossips may have been about the purpose of nocturnal rambles between Nether Stowey and
Alfoxden, the mission of James Walsh to Somerset was directly related to the government’s concerns about a possible French
invasion, such as had already occurred in Ireland in 1796 and in England-at Fishguard, in Wales-in February of 1797. The role
of the liberal media in ‘creating a climate’ (as we say) of disaffection-to rise up and embrace the liberating revolutionaries-was
every bit as much on the mind of English-and French-authorities as the activities of future partisans marking likely landing spots
for the invading troops.)

There are several significant parallels between the language, phrasing, and arguments of The Anti-Jacobin’s views on poetry
and Wordsworth's 1800 Preface. In considering these parallels, however, we should keep in mind that Wordsworth was likely
to have had The Anti-Jacobin’s personal political attacks as much in mind-or ‘in emotion’-as its more purely literary
arguments, when he came to write his famous defense of poetry, a consideration often overlooked by literature professors.

For example, The Anti-Jacobin begins its justification for producing yet-another-publication: "some account may reasonably
be expected of the views and principles on which it [the journal] founds its pretensions to notice." ("Prospectus," 1). Compare
Wordsworth: "It is supposed, that by the act of writing in verse an Author makes a formal engagement that he will grant certain
known habits of association" (1800 Preface, para. 5). Such parallels are merely conventional standard practice, but they get

The Anti-Jacobin decries the contemporary over-production of media in language similar to Wordsworth's. "Whatever may be
the habits of inquiry and anxiety for information upon subjects of public concern diffused among all ranks of people, the vehicles
of intelligence are already multiplied in a proportion nearly equal to this encreased demand" (1). Compare Wordsworth: "the
great national events which are daily taking place, and the encreasing accumulation of men in cities, where the uniformity of their
occupations produces a craving for extraordinary incident which the rapid communication of intelligence hourly gratifies." And,
back to Anti-Jacobin: "of the utility of such a purpose, if even tolerably executed, there can be little doubt, among those
persons . . . who must have found themselves, during the course of the last few years, perplexed by the multiplicity of
contradictory accounts of almost every material event that has occurred in the eventful and tremendous period" (3).

In this cultural situation, both The Anti-Jacobin and Wordsworth propose to advance on the basis of principles-principles of
poetry which, they imply, are intimately related to, if not actually constitutive of, the best powers of the human mind, and hence
of society itself. Of course, I am close here to Wordsworth's well-known statement of this relation: he proposes to produce a
kind of poetry "well adapted to interest mankind permanently, and not unimportant in the quality of its moral relations." He has
been urged (he says) by his friends "to prefix a systematic defense of the theory, upon which the poems were written," but he
demurs, because "my arguments would require a space wholly disproportionate to the nature of a preface," and because such a
theory would require, 1) "a full account of the present state of the public taste in this country," 2) a determination of the "manner
[in which] language and the human mind act and react on each other," and 3) a "retracing [of] the revolutions not of literature
alone but likewise of society itself."

The Anti-Jacobin also asserts that "it is natural that [readers] should require some profession of our principles as well as of our
purposes" (3). But the poetry situation it confronts requires that it proceed with a kind of reverse (parodic) spin-which
Wordsworth's preface may be said to re-reverse. After stating that "we have not been able to find one good and true Poet,"
the journal goes on to make a frank admission: that "the only market where [poetry] is to be had good and ready made [is] that
of the Jacobins-an expedient full of danger, and not to be used but with the utmost caution and delicacy." (1) It opines that
"good Morals, and what we should call good Politics, are inconsistent with the spirit of true Poetry," speculating that this is
perhaps because "'the Muses still with freedom found' have an aversion to regular governments, and require a frame and
system of protection less complicated than kings, lords, and commons.’

Be that as it may, the journal will select "such pieces" of Jacobin poetry "as may serve to illustrate some one of the principles on
which the poetical as well as the political doctrine of the NEW SCHOOL is established-prefacing each of them . . . with a short
disquistion on the particular tenet intended to be enforced or insinuated in the production before them" (13).

     By this means, though we cannot hope to catch "the wood-notes wild" of the Bards of Freedom, we may yet
     acquire, by dint of repeating after them, a more complete knowledge of the secret in which their greatness lies
     than we could by mere prosaic admiration; and if we cannot become poets ourselves, we at least shall have
     collected the elements of a Jacobin Art of Poetry for the use of those whose genius may be more capable of
     turning them to advantage." (14; second italics added)

This ‘dint of repeating after’ its opponents is the key at once to The Anti-Jacobin’s genius and to its serious intentions, since it
signifies not merely a comic parodic debunking (as in its handling of Southey’s poems), but also an effort to, as it were, mouth
a poetry whose ‘greatness’ it acknowledges, but whose ‘genius’ as currently practiced seems to Canning & Co. misplaced, in
the sense of not being turned to advantage.

This apparently modest, forward-looking pedagogical impulse is also present in Wordsworth's Preface, when he concludes his
diatribe against the "gross and violent stimulants" that are debasing the present public taste-"frantic novels, sickly and stupid
German Tragedies, and . . . idle and extravagant stories in verse"-by saying he has "a deep impression of certain inherent and
indestructible qualities of the human mind" [and] "a belief that the time is approaching when the evil will be systematically
opposed by men of greater powers and with far more distinguished success." These ‘men of greater powers’ have never (so far
as I know) been identified, but they must for practical purposes be Wordsworth and Coleridge: the systematic opposition they
will mount to the present debased cultural/political situation of the human mind constitutes the ‘Jacobin Art of Poetry’
facetiously called for by The Anti-Jacobin-that is to say, a concept of poetry with revolutionary, liberating powers.

But while Wordsworth would be one of those "Bards of Freedom" who agree that poetry is liberating, in and of itself, The
Anti-Jacobin, though acknowledging that this "Jacobin" poetry is the best available in England at the time, still proposes to
present it "with such precautions as may conduce to the safety of our readers' principles, and to the improvement of our own
poetry." (13)

Thus both The Anti-Jacobin and the Preface to Lyrical Ballads present their poetry as contributing to a future melioration of
a presently debased poetry, politics, and, ultimately, human mind and nature. True, The Anti-Jacobin often has its tongue in
cheek, but not always, since its poetic parodies are mixed with poems it straightforwardly admires, and occasionally even some
"Jacobin" poems that it admires, though prefacing them with the 1790s equivalent of a cultural Surgeon-General's warning. "It
might not be unamusing to trace the springs and principles of this species of poetry, which are to be found, some in the
exaggeration, and others in the direct inversion of the sentiments and passions which have in all ages animated the breast of the
favorite of the Muses, and distinguished him from the 'vulgar throng'." (This, except for the arch phrase, "not unamusing," would
not be out of place in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads.)

When the Anti-Jacobin specifies the subjects of this new poetry/philosophy/morality, it gives the wartime version of some of
Wordsworth's and Southey's commonest peacetime subjects: "we are presented with nothing by contusions and amputations,
plundered peasants, and deserted looms. Our poet points the thunder of his blank verse at the head of the recruiting serjeant, or
roars in dithyrambics against the lieutenants of pressgangs" (15). It is not far from this to Wordsworth's choice of "low and
rustic life [and] . . . the manners of rural life" (para. 6), nor from his fiercest anti-war diction, in the earliest versions of ‘The
Female Vagrant,’ about she and her children wading ‘dog-like’ through pools of blood. Indeed, when Wordsworth defends
"the language of these men" as "a more permanent and a far more philosophical language than that which is frequently
substituted for it by Poets," he may be said to be calling The Anti-Jacobin's bluff, or casting its supercilious assumptions about
proper poetry back into its face, in a still more outrageous and challenging way.

We can see the overall unity, intelligence, and seriousness of The Anti-Jacobin's literary attacks throughout the 1797-98
Parliamentary session in many ways, most simply in the congruence between its references to the "New School" and the "New
Faith" in its Prospectus and opening issue, and to the "New Morality" in its last. In this respect, "The New Morality" is a poetic
recapitulation of the entire year's run (actually 6-7 months), and it is noteworthy that the recapitulation comes in poetry, for
though poetry and criticism appear in every issue, they usually do not take as much space as the exposure of ‘Lies,
Misrepresentations, and Mistakes.’ (It fell to Gillray's cartoon of the same title broaden the scope of the attack, to include not
just the poets and other writers gathered up near the atheistical altar of Larevelliere-Lepaux, the arch high priest of
"Theophilanthropy," but the Leviathan train of the Duke of Bedford and Charles James Fox and all other stripes of opposition
leaders who-the left-to-right movement of the cartoon suggests-are being led to revolutionary atheism by bad poetry, bad
morals, and bad political writing.) Just as "The New Morality" is structured as an address to some "bashful [and determindedly
rural] Genius" to rise up and save his country by poetry, so the whole editorial structure of the journal is that of saving the
country from excess by the patient inculcation of better principles.

The Advertisement to Lyrical Ballads may have been written by Wordsworth at this time, alone in Bristol, under fire, and
separated from Coleridge. Like its successive revisions into the Prefaces of 1800 and 1802, it lacks Coleridge's subtle
persuasive powers. It proceeds, in its three main paragraphs, to insult its readers by assuring them that, whatever they may
think of poetry in general or these poems in particular, they are most assuredly wrong, either because their taste has been
improperly educated or because they have not devoted enough attention to the study of poetry. It speaks with the voice that
Wordsworth’s friend James Losh complained of, "too earnest and emphatic." But if Wordsworth imagined himself to be
answering the editors of The Anti-Jacobin, his assertiveness sounds more brave than pompous.

Wordsworth's "Advertisement" may be read as a salvo back in the direction of the "Introduction to the Poetry of The
Anti-Jacobin," from its very first issue. There, The Anti-Jacobin had been spoken with its own lordly authority about the true
nature of poetry, and lamented the present cultural situation, in which it seemed "that good Morals, and what We should call
good Politics, are inconsistent with the spirit of true Poetry." Hence Wordsworth's reference to Sir Joshua Reynolds, "[who]
observed [that "an accurate taste in poetry"] is an acquired talent, which can only be produced by severe thought, and a long
continued intercourse with the best models of composition," deliberately invokes the kind of authority that such "readers of
superior judgment" would be disposed to accept. But Wordsworth also made his volume's provocation obvious by imagining
the ‘scene’ (in the sense of scandal) that would be created when these poems appeared, like lower-class intruders barging into
a genteel eighteenth-century drawing room: these sneering "readers of superior judgment . . . accustomed to the gaudiness and
inane phraseology of many modern writers . . . will look round for poetry, and will . . . enquire by what species of courtesy
these attempts can be permitted to assume that title." Who are they? Who invited them?

This view of the poems of Lyrical Ballads as fradulent usurpers of proper titles-of proper poetry-in this case-glances at the
strictures of the Anti-Jacobin, and Wordsworth's subsequent attack upon "readers of superior judgment" appears less
rhetorically inept (for insulting his readers) if we imagine he is attacking the editors of the Anti-Jacobin, who certainly set
themselves up as such: "We should bring to the undertaking much less anxiety for success, and should state our claims on public
attention with much less boldness, than We are disposed to do in the consciousness of higher purposes, and more beneficial
views." (2) As Wordsworth goes on to say-rightly, to such readers-"the style in which many of these pieces are executed . . .
will not exactly suit their taste [and] it will appear to them that . . . the author has sometimes descended too low, and that many
of his expressions are too familiar, and not of sufficient dignity." (Adv., para 3). But his goals are the same as theirs, only better
and higher. Just as he strenuously argues the useful purpose of the poems in Lyrical Ballads, so too was it the goal he was
setting for his entire career, in announcing his proposed masterwork to his friend James Losh: ‘I have written 1300 lines of a
poem which I hope to make of considerable utility; its title will be The Recluse or views of Nature, Man, and Society’. (7)

Was Wordsworth, in effect, responding to The Anti-Jacobin's invitation in "The New Morality" to some "bashful Genius, in
some rural cell" to rise up in response to "thy Country's just alarms": "Wield in her cause thy long neglected arms: / Of lofty
Satire pour th'indignant strain" (76-77). The main address of "The New Morality" (like Pope's Dunciad) is a call for a strong
national poet to rise up and take on the task of moral regeneration which the editors had been preparing for by therapeutic
satire. It is a Juvenalian satire, calling for more in the same vein. It is not wholly out of the question that they actually had
Wordsworth in mind, and hence protectively did not mention his name. They certainly knew who he was, and they may well
have known that he and Francis Wrangham had collaborated on an imitation of Juvenal's Satire VIII in London in 1795, and
were still working on it two years later. Their description of this ideal poet has many similarities to his career (and/or
Coleridge’s) to date: . . . for who can tell

     What bashful Genius, in some rural cell, [Alfoxden?]
     As year to year, and day succeeds to day,
     In joyless leisure wastes his life away?
     In him the flame of early Fancy shone; [An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches? Coleridge’s two early
     His genuine worth his old Companions own; [J.H. Frere, the old Cantab?]
     In childhood and in youth their Chief confess'd, [Wordsworth's poetical reputation at Hawkshead and
     Cambridge? Coleridge’s at Christ’s Hopsital and Cambridge?]
     His Master's pride [William Taylor, Wordsworth’s Hawkshead master?], his pattern to the rest.
     Now, far aloof retiring from the strife
     Of busy talents, and of active life, [London, 1795? Bristol, 1796?]
     As, from the loop-holes of retreat, he views
     [remaining contacts with London friends?]
     Our Stage, Verse, Pamphlets, Politics, and News,
     [packets of books and newspapers sent to Racedown and Alfoxden?]
     He loaths the world, -or with reflection sad
     Concludes it irrecoverably mad;
     Of Taste, of Learning, Morals, all bereft,
     No hope, no prospect to redeem it left.
     (55-70; italics added: quoting Cowper, The Task)

"Tintern Abbey" may be in part Wordsworth's response to this invitation, adapting it to his different-but not all that
different-purposes. At the very least, he would have been startled to read lines that hit so close to his own situation. Calls for a
great new English poet had been echoing throughout the 1790s, ever since the death of Samuel Johnson in 1784, and
Wordsworth's self-creation was, as we see in the linkages between The Recluse and the Lyrical Ballad prefaces, intimately
connected with an idea of his poetry and his life forming a model for national regeneration.

Maybe the Anti-Jacobin editors had somebody else in mind, but such knowledge of ‘Coleridge & Co.’ on their part is not at
all unlikely. Canning and Frere, when they were not engaged in their semi-clandestine production of The Anti-Jacobin, were
regularly in contact with the wholly clandestine operations of the government's Secret Service run by William Wickham, John
King, and Richard Ford, the latter two of whom had received a full set of reports the previous summer from James Walsh, their
top agent, on the disaffected Alfoxden gang, naming Coleridge, and ‘Wordsworth’ in particular, as ‘a name I [Walsh] think
known to Mr. Ford.’ John King's brother had tutored Canning's friend George Ellis, a major Anti-Jacobin contributor; Frere
had overlapped with Wordsworth for three years at Cambridge and with Coleridge for one; and Ford was a close friend of
Richard Brinsley Sheridan through their mutual financial interest in the Drury Lane Theater-the same Sheridan who, during this
same year, at first encouraged but ultimately rejected the two Somerset poets’ first co-operative project, their closely-related
plays, Osorio and The Borderers. (Wordsworth had been in London to assist the fortunes of his play in November and
December of 1797, when the first five issues of The Anti-Jacobin appeared, with their carpet-bombing initial assaults on
Southey’s knee-jerk liberal effusions.) Despite their differences in political persuasion, the groups of young men who produced
The Anti-Jacobin and those who produced (or talked about producing) The Recluse, The Borderers and Osorio, and,
eventually, Lyrical Ballads, were not very different in class and education, nor in their desires for a moral reform of the
country-although they saw its troubles differently-nor in their literary brilliance and ambition. Young men like Coleridge and
Wordsworth and Francis Wrangham had family political backgrounds very much like those of Canning and Frere-rather more
conservative than theirs, in fact. Wordsworth in particular had a strong line of connections from his native relations with the
Lowthers and the Howards, through his uncles Cookson and Robinson, to Wilberforce and thence right up to Pitt.

"New Morality," a poem widely under-rated in literary history, is one of the last representatives of a grand tradition of verse
satire stretching back at least as far as Dryden. The largest target of this satiric tradition had always been excessive zeal or
"enthusiasm" in religious and political matters, following the terrible events of the English Civil War. Now these excesses were
seen to be rising horribly renewed in a French Revolution which some well-intentioned but misguided young Englishmen seemed
to want to bring back home. In this perspective, The Anti-Jacobin's final appeal to some "bashful Genius, in some rural cell"
could have been to the young Wordsworth, putting in public, patriotic terms the appeal to his better, established self that his
uncles William Cookson and John Robinson had put to him in personal, familial terms throughout the '90s. Was it a last
invitation to come in from the cold, home again, to return to the fold? Instead, he left the country again-but perhaps not before
accepting that invitation on some terms, as the payment of nearly 100 pounds to ‘Mr. Wordsworth,’ recorded in Portland’s
secret paybook for June 13, 1799, suggests.

But the implications of that scene of writing take us away from the culture wars of The Anti-Jacobin and Lyrical Ballads, and
into England’s real ‘Minister’s War’ with France, and into the much shadier scenes of suborning and suppressing domestic
dissent which Pitt and Portland managed so well by trials, threats, bribes, and punishments throughout the decade of the 1790s.
I have no proof that would document the literary connections between these two texts in indisputable terms-other than James
Walsh’s claim that Richard Ford would recognize the name ‘Wordsworth,’ and the Duke of Portland’s payment to a ‘Mr.
Wordsworth’ who could well be the same man. But in seeking for a closer connection-not to ‘expose’ Wordsworth but to
appreciate the extreme pressures under which he and Coleridge conducted their literary revolution-I have constructed an
intertextual argument on principles similar to those enunciated by Simon Schama:

     . . . to have an inquiry, whether into the construction of a legend, or the execution of a crime, is surely to require
     the telling of stories. And so the asking of questions and the relating of narratives need not, I think, be mutually
     exclusive forms of historical representation. (8)

Coincidentally, Schama’s subjects are also ‘Romantic’: the legend of General Wolfe created by Benjamin West’s famous
painting (1770), and the crime of the 1849 murder of George Parkman, uncle to the great Romantic historian of Wolfe’s
campaign and the opening of the American West, Francis Parkman, Jr. Whether Wordsworth committed a ‘crime’ in the
course of creating his ‘legend,’ and what exactly that ‘crime’ was-the real crime (sedition or treason) of supporting
revolutionary France or the politically incorrect crime, of bad faith or ‘renegadism,’ for not supporting it-remain matters of
speculation. But the connection of both crime and legend to his powerful self-creation as the Romantic poet of his generation is
not adventitious to his literary development, as is suggested by the close connections of the blunt polemics of the 1798
Advertisement and the 1800 Preface to Lyrical Ballads to the equally fierce, if more ‘refined’ polemics of the 1797-1798

The Anti-Jacobin’s reputation continued long into the nineteenth century, especially its poetry sections, often reprinted as The
Beauties of the Anti-Jacobin; thirty-four editions have been recorded. Some literary historians might still be disposed to
explain this away as the persistence of an ‘old’ taste for satire, and thus out of step with a new ‘Romantic’ hegemony. But
although The Anti-Jacobin’s parody and satire is often very good, it cannot be separated from its subject matter, which also
continued to pre-occupy 19th century England: fear of revolution, not only in France in 1830 and 1848, but also in England, in
1819, 1832, and throughout the 1840s. In this respect, the persistence of The Anti-Jacobin might be charted alongside-as
parody and counter-parody-the slow growth of Wordsworth’s reputation from its ‘Jacobin’ origins-as many critics saw them-in
the Lyrical Ballads of 1798-1800. Only by the time of the posthumous publication of The Prelude in 1850 was
Wordsworth’s reputation-by then Poet Laureate-really safe from this imputation, so that this poem, with its chapter-and-verse
(but carefully doctored) accounts of his close involvement with several phases and persons of the French Revolution, could be
accepted, but dismissively, as part of ‘that old business of the French Revolution.’ By then, Wordsworth’s ‘anti-Jacobin’
credentials were as well established as his ‘Romantic’ ones; indeed, by then, he had made the two virtually
synonymous-completing a process that began in 1797-98 when he and Coleridge could see, every week, just how far outside
the pale of acceptable literary society they were being cast by their opposite numbers, the bright young men of The



(1) Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. Earl Leslie Griggs, 6 vols. Oxford : The Clarendon Press, 1956-71)
vol. I, p. 397. (back)

(2) Linda Hutcheon, A Theory of Parody: The Teaching of Twentieth-Century Art Forms (New York: Methuen, 1985).

(3) Kenneth R. Johnston, The Hidden Wordsworth: Poet, Lover, Rebel, Spy (New York: W. W. Norton & co., 1998).

(4) Nicholas Roe, Wordsworth and Coleridge: The Radical Years (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988); Paul Magnuson,
Coleridge and Wordsworth: A Lyrical Dialogue (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988). (back)

(5) Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridg, ed. Kathleen Coburn (London: Routledge, 1957-) vol. I, 567. (back)

(6) Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge vol. I, p. 527; ca. 10 November 1799. (back)

(7) Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth - The Early Years, ed. E. de Selincourt and Chester Shaver (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1957) p. 214; 11 March 1798; first italics added. (back)

(8) Simon Schama, Dead Certainties: Unwarranted Speculations (New York: Knopf, 1991) p. 325. (back)

                                        Kenneth R. Johnston
                                         Indiana University

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