Feuding reviewers and writers interacted in close circles, and thus, ran into one another in person like in this encounter between Lord Jeffrey and Sir John Archibald
Feuding reviewers and writers interacted in close circles and ran into one another in person like in this encounter between Lord Jeffrey and Sir John Archibald

Kim Wheatley’s Romantic Feuds: Transcending the ‘Age of Personality’ illustrates how the early nineteenth century approached the concept of authorship. Much of her analysis demonstrates how authors such as Samuel Coleridge and Robert Southey combat and capitalize print media, a public market in which their private life collides with their public. What seems like a common problem for famous people today may not have been a serious issue for artists in the early nineteenth century. Coleridge considered it a “habit of malignity” (2) for reviewers to hang a writer’s dirty laundry in public or to gossip but nowadays a personal attack on a celebrity is one of the many tradeoffs of becoming a public figure. Yet, at the same time, Coleridge understands the motive behind such attacks – it feeds the beast that is the faceless reading public. He gets that through “sensationalist art” (13), reviewers can continue to make a living, and though he understand the “game,” (13) he insists on reviewers lack of rationality and consolidation of  “fixed canons of criticism’ (13).

Anti-Jacobite sentiment was at its high point in the early nineteenth century
Anti-Jacobin sentiment was at its high point in the early nineteenth century

Reviewing was developing genre of writing but still had established conventions, such as the need to reply to an attack with counterattack either by the person attacked of by his defenders (61) or the necessity of remaining anonymous by means of collaborative writing (57). The back and forth vitriol that characterized reviewing culture or the “age of personality” that Colridge deplored synthesized private voices with public ones. For instance, when a poet’s collective, public voice could not be distinguished from his individual, artistic voice, it might interrupt accepted definitions of authorship. Wheatley writes that when Wat Tyler was published, due to the loss of copyright from Southey, and various editions of it work were distributed, his status as a public figure became heavily vulnerable to criticism. The assumption behind the example of Southey is that authors must remain consistent to their political allegiances. That Southey’s past identify as a poet in Wat Tyler contradicts his present political alliances as a parliament member demonstrates the discomfort of allowing authors access to the public sphere. What is also interesting, as Wheatley points out, is that Southey is characterized as a “literary prostitute” (27), made effeminate and black, but is still a poet worthy of critics’ attention. Wat Tyler also received negative attention because of its partiality to “Jacobinical views” (29) in a time of great ani-jacobin sentiment. Wheatley’s main point is that Southey, though a dishonest public figure, continues to be registered through the romantic lens of a growing artist. Thus, critics like Hazlitt, confound the lines between politics, criticism, reviewing, and poetry as they adopt and reshape theories of art, and this case “Wordsworth’s theory of personal continuity’ (34).

Hazlitt describes the Quarterly as an impenetrable government  entity
Hazlitt describes the Quarterly as an impenetrable government entity

Blackwood’s Timothy Tickler, a pseudonym for the editor, also played with the idea of “reviewing” by caricaturizing a feud between Coleridge and the Edinburgh editor. Thus, both Coleridge and the anonymous and generic Francis Jeffery become characters within a humorous fiction rewritten for the purpose of capitalizing the “commodified gossip” that had begun with Cooleridge’s Biographia.  One of Wheatley’s primary points is that Coleridge along with all the other editors was active participant in this culture of gossip and “age of personality” (94). The culture of reviewing changed, was malleable and just developing, but it also contributed to the conversation involving the aesthetic and theoretical discourse of the romantic movement.

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