I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.
Wordsworth & Coleridge: The Radical Years, Second Edition, by Nicholas Roe, Oxford University Press, 352 pp, £25, ISBN: 978-0198818113 What has feeling to do with politics? What does it mean to feel when a blissful millennium foretold by generations of prophets seems, at long last, to be just around the corner? What does feeling entail when we face not only an elysium but also an impending apocalypse (religiously conceived or not) that promises to overthrow inherited privileges and unjust institutions – a paradise regained in the very world of all of us, where selfishness yields to fraternity, where liberty and equality are actually realised, reified? What does it mean to feel – and who dares to feel anyway – when forces conspire, in the name of the law and in the interests of “security”, to drag us from our bright dreams, when to dream is to risk imprisonment, exile and forfeiture of all that is dear to us, to hazard even death? And does feeling have any valency, any use at all, when, subsequently, the beatific visions themselves prove delusory and, once again, we are left with nothing except things as they are? English writers who lived through the 1790s knew all too well the significance of feeling in politics. In 1789, when the fall of the Bastille marked the beginning of the French Revolution, English liberals, dissenters and reformists welcomed that glorious moment. France had long had a double reputation in Britain: known for its fashionable elegance, its couture, but also for the authoritarian and repressive measures pursued by state and church. That resounding eighteenth-century ballad “The Roast Beef of Old England” contrasts “all-vapouring France” with a Merry England whose “mighty Roast Beef” “ennobled our veins and enriched our blood”. Drawing on this longstanding English perception, William Hogarth’s The Gate of Calais (1748) famously portrays a fat Catholic friar fingering and salivating over a gigantic joint of beef that is being delivered to an English tavern in the French port. By way of contrast, Hogarth shows ragged, emaciated soldiers feeding on their soupe maigre and enviously eyeing up the beef. Three superstitious fishwives with crosses on their necks are worshipping a skate in the foreground. Catholicism, superstition, state-sponsored poverty and even Jacobitism (in the shape of the miserable Irish and Scottish soldiers in exile) are all brilliantly skewered here, at the same time as English prosperity is celebrated. The French Revolution changed all that….
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