McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts
Daniel P. Watkins
Albert C. Labriola
John Keats, Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Regency Romanticism, Visionary poetics
Throughout the British Romantic period, poets and prose writers shared a keen interest in the imaginative possibilities conferred by the national legacy of literary prophecy. The subversive and transformative elements of the vatic tradition in England, particularly as established by John Milton's aesthetically and politically radical work, appealed to both older and younger Romantic writers who sought not simply to describe their times but to remake them. To such minds, prophecy offered a historically authoritative genre equipped with unique aesthetic principles and a seemingly timely interventionist ethic, whether turned to the renovation of individual men and women or of whole communities.
After the Battle of Waterloo decisively concluded the Napoleonic Wars, however, Romantic literary prophecy in England underwent a significant transformation. This study addresses how four major British postwar authors--namely, Byron, the Shelleys, and Keats--engage and challenge the ideas and ideals of visionary poetics and so assert new perspectives on literary prophecy in contradistinction to the first wave Romantics' aesthetic values and tenets. Over the course of this discussion, I look closely at Shelley's Prometheus Unbound, Byron's The Vision of Judgment, Mary Shelley's The Last Man, and select lyrical pieces from Keats. Although Shelley in part carries forward the visionary spirit of Blake and the Lake Poets, Byron, Mary Shelley, and Keats actively question that spirit and its expression in literary art. Consequently, these second wave Romantics facilitate the discontinuation of what the twentieth-century scholar Joseph Anthony Wittreich, Jr., calls the English line of vision, that is, an artistic genealogy stretching from the Romantics to Milton, Spenser, Sidney, and Chaucer (and, ultimately, to the prophets of Judeo-Christian scripture). This study, then, presents an evaluation of why the younger Romantics countervail the British visionary poetics tradition and how this important change in the general artistic imagination reflects both the hopes and the disenchantments of the British post-Napoleonic moment.
Ruppert, T. (2008). "Is Not the Past All Shadow?": History and Vision in Byron, the Shelleys, and Keats (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/etd/1132