Authorship in Eighteen Hundred and Eleven: an integral approach.
Perhaps less well known, if equally telling, is the legend of the attack review that cut short the writing career of Anna Laetitia Barbauld. (2) In this case there were gender as well as political factors at play in the sarcasm of John Wilson Croker, (3) the reviewer tasked by the Tory Quarterly with torpedoing Barbauld's visionary prophecy Eighteen Hundred and Eleven:
We had hoped, indeed, that the empire might have been saved without the intervention of a lady-author: we even flattered ourselves that the interests of Europe and of humanity would in some degree have swayed our public councils, without the descent (deus ex machina) of Mrs. Anna Laetitia Barbauld, in a quarto, upon the theatre where the great European tragedy is now performing.[...] We must [therefore] take the liberty of warning her to desist from satire, which indeed is satire on herself alone; and of entreating, with great earnestness, that she will not, for the sake of this ungrateful generation, put herself to the trouble of writing any more party pamphlets in verse. (Croker 309, 313)
It is notable that while Barbauld did continue to write after 1812, "there were no further separate publications from her pen" (McCarthy 481), and while the poetry of Keats, Wordsworth, and Coleridge survived the battleground of the Regency, Barbauld's did not: apart from her writings for children, her literary oeuvre sank entirely from sight. Recently, however, her writings have been gradually restored to the canonical status they first enjoyed in the 1770s, when Barbauld was revered as one of the "Nine Living Muses of Great Britain" (McCarthy 117). (4) This paper aims frankly to participate in the ongoing work of restorative justice for Barbauld, in this case by exploring two senses of the phrase "authorship in Eighteen Hundred and Eleven" The first sense involves testing a new critical approach, derived from the Integral Theory of Ken Wilber, that offers to refocus our understanding of the author function in general and to describe with enhanced precision the particular form it took two hundred years ago when Barbauld's poem was first published. The second sense involves a reading of Barbauld's own articulation of authorship in the poem Eighteen Hundred and Eleven. This articulation she conveys by implication through the poem's tone and form, as well as through the striking figure of "Genius"--figured as an inscrutable and wayward "Spirit" of cultural evolution--that haunts its final lines (241, 215). As we shall see, in this figure Barbauld comes closest to anticipating an "Integral" perspective, one example of how this apparently occasional poem survives its embattled context to speak compellingly to our own time and beyond.
What is an "Integral" perspective? Broadly speaking, Integral Theory is one philosophical attempt to integrate the apparently incommensurable metanarratives of (post)modernity. With its Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, its biennial conference, and its book series out of suny Press, (5) Integral Theory is being applied in a wide range of academic disciplines because it effectively balances the integrative appeal of what E. O. Wilson calls "consilience" with a robust contextualism informed by post-structuralism and systems theory (Wilson). The name "Integral" thus conveys an approach with roots in German Idealism, Process Philosophy, and Arthur Koestler's theory of "holons" (48), as well as one that seeks to incorporate and align such contemporary knowledge domains as evolutionary science and developmental psychology. For the purposes of this short article, and with reference to the discipline of literary studies, Integral Theory offers a system of "perspective-taking" that can cogently integrate such divergent approaches to literary criticism as, for example, deconstruction and material history, reader-response and biographical criticism, formalism and cultural history, psychological approaches and codicology. In so doing, it offers one solution to the routine contradiction we all experience between theory and practice when we approach such sub-domains of literary criticism as the question of authorship. On the one hand, we have long been taught by formalism to be wary of the "Intentional Fallacy" (Wimsatt), and by poststructuralism to reduce the author to a mere byproduct of ideology, to an effect of language. On the other hand, just as our students ask "What did the author mean by this?," we too frame such questions as "Why did Barbauld publish such a poem under her own name, knowing as she did the violence of the literary marketplace in 1812?" To answer these questions, moreover, we turn to such books as William McCarthy's superb 2008 biography, Anna Laetitia Barbauld: Voice of the Enlightenment, not only for their detailed archival research but also (in this case) because McCarthy's lucid style and sound, revisionary insights are inspired by, and boldly reaffirm, Barbauld's Enlightenment faith in an author's capacity to assert intentional, rhetorical agency in the very teeth of reactionary regimes and the oppressive prejudices of the public sphere.
Integral Theory helps us to solve this apparent contradiction by resituating the concept of authorial intention within a much larger and more inclusive multidisciplinary frame than we are used to invoking, one that takes into account (among other important perspectives) evolutionary psychology and the "noetic" sciences of consciousness (Institute). This is philosopher Ken Wilber's "all-quadrants" model (figure 1), which draws from Process philosophy the concept of an inseparable dipolarity of the physical and experiential in all things, all the way up and all the way down the evolutionary scale. In this "panexperientialist" view, everything has some form of interiority, however rudimentary, from the most basic imaginable responses of subatomic particles to each other through to the unity awareness of Zen masters and other trained contemplatives. One of Wilber's innovations is to take this dipolar model of interiority and exteriority and to double it, thereby taking into account the fact that every entity, event, or process in the universe is also irreducibly embedded in plurality or collectivity. Thus every "occasion of experience" (as Whitehead would say) (6) has four irreducible, co-arising, mutually interdependent dimensions, mapped out by Wilber's four quadrants. One example familiar to us is the way the dipolar nature of the sign (signifier/signified, or material sign and non-local meaning) is pluralized by virtue of its embeddedness in the collective contexts of semantics (interior meanings) and syntax (exterior systems). Another example is to think of authorship in terms of the evolved behaviours (exterior and observable) that reflect such interior consciousness events as authorial intention and readerly attention. Authorship, in this view, is the conscious intention to solicit, via material signs, the attention of an "imagined community" (to extend Benedict Anderson's phrase to denote any intersubjective group joined by non-local, shared meanings and values), where both intention and attention are evolved behaviours within a complex system or social "ecology."
Meanwhile, a complex sign--such as Barbauld's poem Eighteen Hundred and Eleven--can be mapped not just synchronically on the flat plane of the four quadrants of figure 1 but diachronically on the "z" dimension of both literary history and, more broadly, of evolutionary development, described in Integral Theory with spatial metaphors of depth, altitude, and level to evoke the diachronic concept of emergence. So, in these broadest terms, consciousness--along with behaviours, social systems, and the "noosphere" of cultural meanings--evolves or, rather, co-evolves. (7) Here we can introduce another important dimension of Wilber's model: his theory of "holons," a term borrowed from Arthur Koestler to describe the way that every whole is always already a part of some larger whole. More complex holons emerge by transcending and including their constituent parts, or "sub-holons," creating a "holarchy," or natural hierarchy (Wilber, Brief History 23-43). Consider, for example, the familiar evolutionary sequence of atom-molecule-prokaryotic cell. In each case, the emergent entity transcends but includes its constituent parts, which together constitute a new, organic "holon," different in kind and qualities than the mere sum of its "sub-holons."
When applied to literary criticism, this theory of holons suggests that any given work of art can be regarded not just as a single entity or "holon" but, rather, as a process of protracted emergence that can be mapped as a nested series of holons, from the "artist holon" of authorial concept and intention, through the "artifact holon" (the object of formalist criticism), to the "reader holon." (8) This concept of the artwork as an ever-unfolding process is especially evident in the fact that the "reader holon" is renewed in every individual interpretative encounter with the artifact in a potentially endless series. In its simplest form, this model is the old communications one of an encoder, a message, and a decoder but with a fresh diachronic dimension registered in the spatial metaphor of increasing "altitude" to take into account the evolutionary tendency toward increasing complexity or "depth" (in this case because each new reader, or each renewed reading, has potential access to previous readings as well as to new social and cultural information).
One final, crucial element of this model that gives it particular credibility within literary studies is the way it factors in the inevitable opacities and "aporiae" at each level of emergence under the metaphorical sign of the "shadow"--a figure for the "unconscious" in both its psychological and material dimensions. (9) Thus, in the "author holon" (figure 2), we can take account not only of Intention, Behaviours, Cultural Meanings, and Social Systems but also, in the two "Interior" (left-hand) quadrants, Lacanian lack and all the aporiae of the "Symbolic Order" and, in the "Exterior" (right-hand) quadrants, the invisible agency of genetics and the strange attractors of non-linear systems. Meanwhile, figure 2 also indicates how Integral Criticism can usefully map or situate--can thus integrate--as many as possible of the currently available critical approaches or relevant methodologies, honouring the truth and value of each in its own domain, while noting the partiality or incompleteness of each relative to the others. (10) Meanwhile, other approaches can be placed in the remaining two holons in the series. The "artifact holon" (figure 3), for instance, is the site of all formalist approaches, where we can note how "interiority" in this case is not a function of biological consciousness but, rather, of semiology, of the work of art as a product of the "noosphere" of human consciousness, with both an "implied author" and an "implied reader" as the noospheric equivalent of interiority. In the "reader holon," meanwhile (figure 4), we can see how theories of resonance and of reader response, expanded to take into account a range of states of consciousness, could mesh with an analysis of the "ecology of value and meaning" at the very moment of reading. In figure 4, we apply this analysis to a sexist reviewer for the Quarterly in 1812, but this would change and evolve with each reader's encounter with a given text, such as a student in 2013 reading the poem as "homework."
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An Integral study of "authorship in Eighteen Hundred and Eleven," then, is one that focuses in particular on the "author holon," although not exclusively, of course, because all dimensions of the diachronic text are intricately interdependent. In this case, a study of the "author holon" would be supplemented by the strategies of formalist analysis that discern the implied author of the "artifact holon," strategies that serve to illuminate what the poem itself has to say--and, by extension, what Barbauld might have been saying--about the theme of authorship itself. To illustrate these reflections, and by way of recalling the poem's content and context, we can turn to its opening lines, written at the very nadir of the World War with Napoleon:
Still the loud death drum, thundering from afar, O'er the vext nations pours the storm of war: To the stern call still Britain bends her ear, Feeds the fierce strife, the alternate hopes and fears, Bravely, though vainly, dares to strive with Fate, And seeks by turns to prop each sinking state. Colossal Power with overwhelming force Bears down each fort of Freedom in its course; Prostrate she lies beneath the Despot's sway, While the hushed nations curse him--and obey. (1-10)
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Right away, and without reference to the title page of the poem, we can say that the implied author of these lines, so skilfully in command of a battery of rhetorical effects, conjures both the portentous tone and the acute sense of performativity and metatextual self-awareness that comes with an advanced foregrounding of the signifier. Meanwhile, however, in an era when such a poem might well have been published anonymously (to avoid the violence of review criticism), we note that the title page does in fact boldly name the author--"Anna Laetitia Barbauld"--which thus refers us beyond a formalist approach alone to the "author holon" and the strategies of biographical scholarship. These will serve to illuminate the historical individual who thus skilfully solicits public attention to her outspoken and magisterial survey of the immediate global crisis of Napoleon's hegemony. The title of the poem, Eighteen Hundred and Eleven, already attempts to epitomize this crisis for its first readers, implying that authorship involves on this occasion a highly topical "act of historical testimony" (McCarthy 469), a calculated intervention in the rapidly evolving debates of what James Chandler in England in 1819 calls a "hyperactive public sphere" (Chandler 82). In this context, the form in which the first edition was published also helps to identify more precisely the "imagined community" to which it is addressed, as we know that the authoritative medium of an erudite, quarto poem aimed to capitalize on a highly developed literary marketplace in order to solicit the attention of the empowered (and reviewing) classes and thus to maximize or amplify the discursive force of this intervention. At the same time, the masterly heroic couplets enlist, by formal allusion, the cultural authority of an Alexander Pope in "One thousand Seven Hundred and Thirty Eight" or the austere moral suasion of a Samuel Johnson in "London: A Poem" (McCarthy 468). This invocation of authority seems natural enough to us, but in Barbauld's time it created an experience of acute gender dissonance in the minds of some of the poem's first readers in the putative discrepancy between the epic, martial tone and the woman named on the title page. Barbauld may have been able to anticipate such a misreading, but, even if not, McCarthy's biography suitably names this style of authorship as one that involves the risk-taking of a "voice of Enlightenment," that is, one committed in spite of censorship to the value of learned, public discourse, to carefully cultivated powers of witness, discernment, and oratory, made possible on this dangerous occasion by issuing from one last "fort of Freedom" not yet "Prostrate" beneath Napoleon's power.
Certainly Barbauld was no stranger to risk-taking, and no doubt one reason she and her publisher--the fearless Joseph Johnson, whose shop was a centre for radical thought in the 1790s--chose to advertise her name on the title page was precisely to exploit the fact that the author function is always in part a social construction. That is, the name "Anna Laetitia Barbauld" was the sign or "brand" of an authorial reputation--a public "character," in eighteenth-century terms--one that extended back in this case to the 1770s, when Barbauld was lionized as one of the "Nine Living Muses of Great Britain" for her book of Poems (McCarthy 117). This landmark volume included a distinct forerunner to Eighteen Hundred and Eleven in tone, form, and theme: the paean to Enlightenment liberty, "Corsica: Written in the Year 1769" (Barbauld 59-66). Barbauld's name would also conjure in many minds her more recent biography of Samuel Richardson and her editorship of an erudite, fifty-volume edition of the British Novelists. Moreover, bookbuyers sympathetic to Joseph Johnson's politics would likely know that Barbauld was the author of the series of brilliant, outspoken essays in the 1790s that pressed for the civil rights of Dissenters (McCarthy 276-81). For such readers, it would be expected therefore that Barbauld would go on in the present poem to risk an even more Juvenalian tone:
And thinkst thou, Britain, still to sit at ease, An island Queen amidst thy subject seas, While the vext billows, in their distant roar, But soothe thy slumbers, and but kiss thy shore? To sport in wars, while danger keeps aloof, Thy grassy turf unbruised by hostile hoof? So sing thy flatterers; but, Britain, know, Thou who hast shared the guilt must share the woe. (39-46)
To the Tory government of 1811, which had just committed Britain to a policy of permanent war with Napoleon, such lines were enough to test the notion of the supposed "Freedom" of the British public sphere and to call in the machinery of censorship that operated via the shaming rituals of review criticism. Their strategy was to spin the connotations of the author's name in the direction of entirely different brand of authorship, one that also had some roots in biographical truth: that of an aging schoolmistress who was in fact (in 1812) best known for her Lessons for Children, who had sacrificed a promising career as a "lady-author" to run the boy's school of her Huguenot husband, Rochemont Barbauld, and whose married name, therefore, in a time of patriotic emergency, must be suspected of unpatriotic sympathies with the French (not to mention the further scandal of Rochemont's recent death from a bout of violent mental illness) (McCarthy 435-54). Thus, in the harshly satirical image of the Quarterly Review, Barbauld is glimpsed in these lines dashing down "her shagreen spectacles and her knitting needles" to take up the embarrassing postures of a "fatidical spinster" (309).
She is fatidical because she goes on to venture some startling predictions that shocked and puzzled even some of her closest friends. (11) First, she foresees the immediate economic consequences of the government's war policy ("Ruin, as with an earthquake shock, is here" ) and then (correctly) predicts the eventual hemorrhage of British economic power westward to the United States ("Yes, thou must droop; thy Midas dream is o'er; / The golden tide of Commerce leaves thy shore" [61-62] and "westward streams the light" ). Most strikingly, however, Barbauld predicts in the long term the eventual collapse of European civilization. To do so, she allows the voice of Enlightenment built up in her opening lines to give way to a more melancholy, elegiac voice that we associate with Romantic dejection. However, in naming this voice "Fancy," and by describing it as a "Fond moody Power," Barbauld strategically retains the authority of Enlightenment rationality in its capacity to trace (with Gibbon and Volney) the historical logic of empire, even as she can appear to ascribe both the result of this logic, and her emotional recoil from it, to the extravagance of (female) imagination:
Where wanders Fancy down the lapse of years, Shedding o'er imagined woes untimely tears? Fond moody Power! As hopes--as fears prevail, She longs, or dreads, to lift the awful veil, On visions of delight now loves to dwell, Now hears the shriek of woe or Freedom's knell: Perhaps, she says, long ages past away, And set in western waves our closing day, Night, Gothic night, again may shade the plains Where Power is seated, and where Science reigns, England, the seat of arts, be only known By the gray ruin and the mouldering stone; That Time may tear the garland from her brow, And Europe sit in dust, as Asia now. (113-26)
While these lines look back to Goldsmith's "Deserted Village" (1770) and forward to Mary Shelley's Last Man (1826), they also begin to explain why Eighteen Hundred and Eleven has new and uncanny resonance in 2013, for while we are struck today by Barbauld's prescience in predicting the westerly movement of "the golden tide of Commerce" to the Americas--even to the point of imagining literary tourists to this future Britain from "the Blue Mountains or Ontario's lake" (130)--we are now in a position to be attuned to a different "shadow of futurity" that darkens this poem. With the possibility of the collapse of the American empire hoving into view, her theory of cultural evolution now makes more sense, anticipating as it does such end-of-civilization scenarios as Jared Diamond's 2005 nonfiction bestseller Collapse (McCarthy xii).
Having briefly traced Barbauld's representation of authorship in this poem from the voice of Enlightenment through its Regency Romantic turn to an informed but strategically wayward and affective imagination, we are in a position to see how these are combined in the uniquely post-Enlightenment allegory of cultural evolution that concludes the poem. First, however, let us review the way an Integral perspective can usefully organize the information we have in hand about the composition of this poem, and which McCarthy's biography has immeasurably expanded and improved. Figure 5 returns us to the "author holon" but now in more detail. If we begin in the lower right quadrant with Barbauld's immersion in the social formations of her time, we can see how a national crisis has created a "hyperactive public sphere" in which any discursive intervention in the built systems of dissemination will have maximum agency. This opportunity, then, calls forth the behaviours (upper right quadrant) of an individual suited by a lifetime of training boys and young men to rise up and fearlessly instruct a nation led by men. This behaviour includes the skilful selection of the medium of a quarto poem for her intervention based on a similarly lifelong immersion in the material systems of education and publication. These behaviours are in turn the outward expression of a matrix of interior motivations and intentions that we can plausibly--although of course only partially and provisionally--reconstruct, especially through an analysis of Barbauld's cognitive, emotional, and spiritual formation within Enlightenment Dissent. And this subcommunity of Dissent is in turn inseparable from the larger web of "imagined communities" at this time whose willingness to attend to works of literary art makes possible, and calls forth, her words and whose otherwise invisible (because "non-local") shared values are in turn made legible by Barbauld's writings. One of these communities is the Britain that we have already heard Barbauld address explicitly in her poem, which in turn (returning to the lower right quadrant), names a social system that in 1811-1812 is "far from equilibrium."
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We can go deeper in our analysis, however, by pausing in that lower left quadrant. The audience whose attention is solicited or projected by authorship in this poem is in fact split between at least two incommensurable imagined communities. On the one hand, there is the Britain addressed sternly and explicitly in the voice of moral conscience ("Thinkst thou, Britain, still to sit at ease[?]"). On the other, there is the subculture of Dissent which shaped both the force and the dissident, Blakean independence of voice in this poem. In a second apostrophe, Barbauld simultaneously invokes both of these audiences in a phrase that delivers two sharply different implications:
Yet, O my Country, name beloved, revered, By every tie that binds the soul endeared, Whose image to my infant senses came Mixt with Religion's light and Freedom's holy flame! (67-70)
To her fellow Unitarians, "Religion's light and Freedom's holy flame" would convey both the immediate sense of the author's gratitude for being nurtured within a country of faith and tolerance and the deeper and powerfully coded political implication that only in Unitarian Dissent and its values of liberal Enlightenment is found an ideal of "Freedom" that far exceeds the reality of systemic oppression under the unrepealed Test and Corporation Acts (12)--a failure of freedom that the poem declares elsewhere will lead shortly to Britain's ruin. A canny reader like John Wilson Croker of the Quarterly (who was First Secretary of the Admiralty and whom the editor Murray assigned the task of silencing Barbauld), would be hyperalert to such dissidence, and these words would carry precisely this ambivalent political meaning with exactly the opposite affective charge.
This ironic doubling of meanings, moreover, is the product of the formative contradiction of Barbauld's having growing up at the centre of a community (as the daughter of a respected teacher in the advanced educational system of Dissent) that is in fact marginalized within the larger national community of Britain (McCarthy 19). Croker's damaging review draws attention to the way this formative contradiction is in turn redoubled by Barbauld's position as an enlightened woman within patriarchal culture. Marlon Ross points out that this requires "the dissenting female's double dissension," which sets for an author like Barbauld the paradoxical task of "seek[ing] empowerment while retaining the moral authority of the disempowered" (102). Eighteen Hundred and Eleven is proof that she succeeded in this task, despite the rejection of her poem, because the very strength of the Establishment's rebuke of her self-empowerment as an author is a clear sign that she was, in fact, a force to be reckoned with (McCarthy 477).
McCarthy's research illuminates two sources of this success that we can situate in the upper two quadrants of figure 5. First, in the upper right, we encounter the arbitrary biographical circumstances that shape behaviours, as well as the opaque material shadow of genetic inheritance. Throughout her life, Barbauld was cast in the role of either elder sister or of quasi-maternal authority, first to her brother John and the boys of her father's Warrington Academy and then to the boys and young men of the Barbaulds' own Palgrave School. This "gave her a form of power," in McCarthy's words, and "scope to an evolving ambition to influence others. It allowed her to make the most of being female in a patriarchal society" (37). McCarthy goes on to present convincing evidence that these circumstances reinforced a certain imperiousness of manner that Barbauld absorbed from her own mother, and likely inherited as a behavioural trait, against which she struggled her whole life to balance compassion, tolerance, and patience (22-23). In the historical moment of crisis that inspired Eighteen Hundred and Eleven, then, these factors explain why Barbauld's authorial behaviours stand out from those of her male Romantic contemporaries. With her patience tested by the obviously ruinous policies of an incompetent government, Barbauld's response (in William Levine's analysis) is "more like Cassandra speaking in the midst of Athena's Trojan temple than like her contemporaries and immediate predecessors, who adopt biblical or bardic postures on the summits of remote mountains" (Levine 184).
A second source of Barbauld's success in "seek[ing] empowerment while retaining the moral authority of the disempowered" (Ross 102) is revealed by McCarthy's research to be her self-education in Stoicism. As a young woman, Barbauld discovered Elizabeth Carter's magisterial translation of Epictetus, from which she drew both a lifetime of spiritual and moral ideals and profound inspiration as a woman of letters. "Carter's Epictetus is austere and impressive and speaks with tremendous moral force," writes McCarthy (55). Thus for Barbauld, "The Voice of Stoicism was, clearly, a woman with a powerful mind and a command of language" (55). Stoicism holds that the only things in our power are our opinions and our choices, and therefore "the highest employment of life is 'the Care of [our] own Faculty of Choice; how to render it undisturbed, unrestrained, uncompelled, free' " (McCarthy 52). Thus, McCarthy explains,
Stoicism begins as a therapy of consolation for pain and loss, a technique of self-government that requires one to shrink one's ego within the smallest possible compass. But in its second movement it lifts the ego out of "that little casual Spot" where the individual suffers loss and constraint and diffuses the self through the universe. It converts loss into heroic disdain, isolation into relatedness to the whole creation. (McCarthy 53)
Here is a crucial glimpse into the otherwise elusive domain of authorial interiority and intention (the upper left quadrant in figure 5). To convert "loss into heroic disdain [and] isolation into relatedness to the whole creation" is a spiritual practice suited not only to a woman doubly marginalized by her faith and her gender but also suited to Barbauld's immediate emotional state of grief over her husband's recent death. Moreover, unlike many of her fellow Dissenters in the Regency, including her own brother, who were suffering from what McCarthy calls "the illness of disillusioned idealism" (465), Barbauld refused the option of outright despair. Instead, she transferred these shadow elements of loss, doubt, and disillusionment into transcendent "heroic disdain" and converted her isolation into a sublime "relatedness to the whole creation."
This is most evident in the final section of the poem, in which she delivers an epic vision of the dynamics of cultural change that shocked her first readers and remains the subject of scholarly debate today. Here the Stoic double movement of "shrink[ing] one's ego into the smallest possible compass" and of "diffus[ing] the self through the universe" takes at least three discernible forms. First, Barbauld extends her representation of authorship to include a less individuated and volitional form of creativity, one that is instead subsumed within large, universal processes of unfolding. Second, she presents a model of history that supplements and even contradicts the cherished Enlightenment myth of a linear, westerly "progress" of civilization, suggesting instead that the path of history is essentially unknowable in its random, non-linear unpredictability. Nevertheless (and thirdly), she concludes her poem with a prophecy of an enlightened "higher life" and "free[dom]" transplanted and renewed, but one that "disdain[s]" an enthnocentric logic and submits to a radically global perspective by locating this rebirth unexpectedly in South America. (13)
The epic scope of this vision is introduced with lines marked by a shift in tone at line 215 from the elegiac musings of "Fancy" to the boldly vatic and oracular:
There walks a Spirit o'er the peopled earth Secret his progress is, unknown his birth; Moody and viewless as the changing wind, No force arrests his foot, no chains can bind; Where'er he turns, the human brute awakes, And, roused to better life, his sordid hut forsakes, He thinks, he reasons, glows with purer fires Feels finer wants, and burns with new desires[.] (215-22)
While clearly drawing on such Enlightenment precedents as Thomson's "Liberty," Barbauld significantly alters the allegory by allowing this "Spirit" to remain unnamed and "unknow[able]" and by gendering it masculine, in contrast with the female goddess of freedom (McCarthy 472-74). At the same time, unlike the masculine, wind-born Holy Spirit of Christian myth, this transcendent force of awakening is "moody and viewless as the changing wind"--more akin to the "fond moody Power" of the "Fancy" named earlier (Ellison 240)--and in the lines that follow, almost monstrous in its inscrutable otherness: "as some playful child the mirror turns / Now here now there the moving lustre burns" (263-64). The strategic ambiguity of this figure, and the tolerance for paradox that it entails, may be usefully compared to Keats's "Negative Capability" or Shelley's "Shape all Light" in The Triumph of Life, and it is in these post-Enlightenment attempts to integrate linear and nonlinear ways of knowing that we can discern an anticipation of the aims and perspectives of Integral Theory.
Barbauld's chaotic "Spirit," moreover, is the creative force that lies behind authorship. Whenever its "lustre burns,"
Then kindles Fancy, then expands the heart, Then blow the flowers of Genius and of Art; Saints, Heroes, Sages, who the land adorn, Seem rather to descend than to be born; Whilst History, midst the rolls consigned to fame, With pen of adamant inscribes their name. (235-40)
While this last line seems to epitomize a traditional ideal of individual authorial "fame," and indeed recapitulates the lengthy roll call of individual culture-makers that crowd the central sections of the poem (89-111, 133-57, 177-214), Barbauld nevertheless embeds this ideal within a larger, more universal perspective on authorship that "shrink[s]" the "ego" of the individual to merely one agent of an enormous and unknowably random cultural-making force. And while no doubt the tone and style of this poem suggest that its author aspires to be inscribed in the "rolls" of "History," we cannot help but imagine that Barbauld was also Stoically aware that the high cost of articulating her prophecy might include, at least in the short term, the destruction of her public reputation on the battlefield of Regency review criticism.
Certainly she includes herself, by implication, in the general doom she foresees. Once a civilization--such as Europe--is spawned by the movements of this "vagrant Power" (259),
The Genius now forsakes the favoured shore, And hates, capricious, what he loved before; Then empires fall to dust, then arts decay, And wasted realms enfeebled despots sway [.] (241-44)
And while she offsets the horror of Europe's unavoidable demise with a long description of the zenith of "Science and Art" currently enjoyed in Regency Britain--in lines easily reminiscent of Pope's Windsor Forest--she turns in the final verse-paragraph to recapitulate her Cassandra-like prophecy and to reveal the shocking truth that "Genius" delivers only, and inevitably, the mixed blessings of wealth and corruption, art and decadence:
But fairest flowers expand but to decay; The worm is in thy core, thy glories pass away; Arts, arms, and wealth destroy the fruits they bring; Commerce, like beauty, knows no second spring. Crime walks thy streets, Fraud earns her unblest bread, O'er want and woe thy gorgeous robe is spread, And angel charities in vain oppose: With grandeur's growth the mass of misery grows. For see, to other climes the Genius soars, He turns from Europe's desolated shores [.] (313-23)
If indeed "Arts, arms, and wealth destroy the fruits they bring," and if it is inevitable that "With grandeur's growth the mass of misery grows," then Barbauld is breaking new ground in theorizing the chaotic engine of cultural change. With hindsight, we can suggest that all she needs to complete the picture is a theory of evolution, (14) one which both retains the non-linearity she intuits while restoring a discernible metanarrative of developing complexity. Integral Theory, as we have seen, supplements its synchronic map of the quadrants with the diachronic narrative of emergent "holons," which on the large scale describe both biological evolution and (by analogy) a model of cultural evolution in which each emergent "stage" of culture, like Barbauld's binary of "grandeur" and "misery" above, brings with it a unique set of both "dignities" and "disasters," and it is the pressure to solve the "disasters" that propels the emergence of a new stage (Wilber Brief History 187-90).
For Barbauld, however, the dark historical moment of 1811-1812 had undermined her confidence in the linear trajectory of Enlightenment while offering no new metanarrative to replace it, and so she posits instead a more arbitrary movement for the "Genius" of civilization:
And lo, even now, midst mountains wrapt in storm, On Andes' heights he shrouds his awful form, On Chimborazo's summits treads sublime, Measuring in lofty thought the march of Time; Sudden he calls:--"'Tis now the hour!" he cries, Spreads his broad hand, and bids the nations rise, [...] Shouts to the mingled tribes from sea to sea And swears--Thy world, Columbus, shall be free. (323-28, 333-34)
McCarthy calls Barbauld's prophecy an "agnostic, darkly ironic view of history's motions" that undermines the apparent confidence of that final line with the possibility of "sublime mockery" (472, 474). And while this phrase captures the tone of "heroic disdain" with which Barbauld refashions Enlightenment shibboleths under the pressure of modernity and modern warfare, it is perhaps more accurate to describe these final lines as an example of how the astringent clarity of Stoicism has facilitated a transcendence of ethnocentricity and inspired a willingness to imagine a truly global future in which all possibilities are open for the restless emergence of noospheric complexity.
Indeed, through the lens of Integral criticism, we can read in this final authoritative gesture the emergence of a new and more inclusive perspective that is tolerant of paradox, from which both Enlightenment linearity and post-Enlightenment non-linearity are at once true and partial, distinguishable yet co-arising. At the same time, Barbauld casts her poem in a brilliantly refined rhetorical form that she cannily foresees will attract the attention of future North American connoisseurs intent on understanding a transhistorical logic of cultural transmission. McCarthy concludes that Eighteen Hundred and Eleven "summed up a lifetime of reflection and declared her loyalties, ethical and cultural" (467), and it is no wonder then that this "voice of Enlightenment," inflected by the dark realities of her moment, was willing to risk the fate of Cassandra, and, with "heroic disdain" for her reputation, to align her creative impulse with the "Genius" of historical change and produce a poem that "diffuses the self through the universe." In the end, then, this case study in multi-dimensional authorship--whose dimensions Integral criticism offers to discern and clarify--combines all the immediate and explosively communicative energies of an occasional poem (normally purchased at the price of ephemerality) with an advanced theory of cultural evolution that successfully propels its legibility into our own time and beyond.
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Robert K. Lapp
Mount Allison University
(1) Francis Jeffrey, ["Review of Wordsworth's Excursion"], The Edinburgh Review 24 (November 1814): 1-4.
(2) It is important to note that Barbauld's writing career was not in fact ended by this review, as was the consensus view (see Keach and Birns) until recently, when it has been challenged by Mellor and Looser. Mellor, for example, notes that "Although 'Eighteen Hundred and Eleven' [...] was her last separately published volume of verse, [...] Barbauld continued to publish individual poems under her own name in literary reviews and annuals for several more years" (148). Nevertheless, the negative reception of her greatest poem did have its effect; McCarthy notes that in the years immediately following she suffered a "deep and long depression" (481) and never again attempted a poem on the massive public scale of Eighteen Hundred and Eleven.
(3) McCarthy (477) clarifies that Croker was the anonymous author of this review.
(4) See Birns 454-56 for a useful summary of this process of re-canonization.
(5) See Esbjorn-Hargens, Reams, Zimmerman, and Wilber, Integral Psychology.
(6) For an excellent summary of Whitehead's process philosophy, including his concept of "actual occasions," see Cooper 165-76. Griffin offers a more detailed account, 119-27.
(7) "Noosphere" is a term adapted by Wilber from Teihard de Chardin to denote the sphere of human thought marked by language and self-consciousness that emerges as a distinct "level" in the evolution of intersubjective interiors, corresponding to levels of "exterior" evolution in the biological brain and the organization of complex human social systems.
(8) Wilber develops this schema in two essays on "Integral Art and Literary Theory" in The Eye of Spirit: see part 1, 102-03, and part 2. I have substituted the names "author holon" for his term "primal holon" and "artifact holon" for his "artwork holon"
(9) Wilber does not include this element in his "Integral Art and Literary Theory" essays, but "shadow work" is an essential component of "Integral Theory and Practice" (see Patten 41-67). I have adapted the concept and applied it here to extend his holonic model of art to its logical conclusions.
(10) This is how Integral Theory offers a potential improvement on the current "best practices" of literary criticism by organizing, relativizing, and intelligently integrating an eclectic and robust set of interpretative approaches, while accounting for their apparent contradictions and providing a checklist of perspectives that might otherwise be missed.
(11) See McCarthy's comprehensive review of the reception of this poem, 476-81.
(12) Acts of 1661 and 1662 that curtailed the civil rights of Dissenters and Roman Catholics by restricting public offices to those who confessed membership in the Established Church of England. They were repealed only in 1829.
(13) See Birns for a detailed historicist analysis of what lay behind Barbauld's allusion to South America.
(14) Theories of evolution were available in the Regency, but they were likely eclipsed in Barbauld's vision by the dark implications of the historical crisis of 1811-1812.
Robert Lapp holds the Purvis Chair in English Literature at Mount Allison University, where he is Associate Professor and Head of the Department of English. Winner of a 3M National Teaching Fellowship in 2008, he teaches a range of courses on eighteenth-and nineteenth-century literature and ecological approaches to literary criticism. His current research focuses on intersections of Integral Theory, ecopoetics, and representations of the environment in Romantic and neo-Romantic poetry and non-fiction prose.
Figure 1. The four quadrants or dimensions of Integral Theory. Interior, experiential Exterior, physical (Individual Interior) (Individual Exterior) Individual, Singular Consciousness Behaviour Experience, Intention; Material Form; Phenomenology Biology, Physics Meaning Systems Collective, Intersubjectivity Non-linear dynamic, Plural Culture, Hermeneutics; Systems Theory; Poststructuralism Sociology, Marxism (Collective Interior) (Collective Exterior)
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|Title Annotation:||Anna Laetitia Barbauld|
|Author:||Lapp, Robert K.|
|Publication:||English Studies in Canada|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2012|
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