Romanticism & gender & melancholy.
IN INFLUENTIAL PUBLICATIONS, FROM MARY SHELLEY: HER LIFE, HER Fiction, Her Monsters (1988), through the pioneer anthology, Romanticism and Feminism (1988), and on into the brisk polemics of Romanticism & Gender (1993), the field-changer (co-edited with Richard Matlak), British Literature, 1780-1830 (1996), the history-shifting Mothers of the Nation: Women's Political Writing, 1780-1830 (2002), and a mother-lode of articles, further editions, plenary lectures, and collegial conference talks, Anne K. Mellor has been remapping the zone marked "Romantic," showing the difference that gender makes, to the canon and the canonicals. My essay in honor of her work tests a blue/s-print for this difference in the field of "melancholy." Despite a mirror in the first three letters, this mood does not spell the warmth and good humor of a Mehor, though its issues have been her devotions.
2. Romanticism & Melancholy: The Spirit of the Age
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
This memorably brilliant volley is the opening paragraph of Dickens's Tale of Two Cities (1859), (1) set in 1775, before everything exploded in France at the dawn of the literature we have come to call "Romantic," hallmarked by unities and fragments, identity formation and identity crisis, hopeful revolution, despondency and dispossession. "Melancholy" is the big tent for this oscillation--and durably forever "like the present."
In the Romantic era, melancholy haunts idealism as its shade of disillusion. Here's Wordsworth writing about one of Dickens's two cities in 1804. Although he tells Coleridge that he regards himself (and his poetry) as composed by "two natures ... joy the one, / The other melancholy," the horror of Paris in the civil war that succeeded the revolutionary hopes of 1789 gives all to melancholy, its force still felt deeply years on:
Most melancholy at that time, O Friend! Were my day thoughts, my dreams were miserable; Through months, through years, long after the last beat Of those atrocities (I speak bare truth, As if to thee alone in private talk) I scarcely had one night of quiet sleep, Such ghastly visions had I of despair ... (2)
Resonating from bare to scarcely to despair, this poetry sounds a prelude to Freud's iconic essay, more than a century on, on melancholy. Freud proposed that whereas "in mourning it is the world which has become poor and empty; in melancholia it is the ego itself." (3) But such refinement eluded the Romantic generation, eluded even its icon of the "egotistical sublime," Wordsworth. (4) More than any personal, self-hollowing loss, his nightmare is an arrest of historical consciousness, a "melancholy waste of hopes o'erthrown" (2:448-49), as vast and as heartfelt for the poet writing in 1804 as it was for the hope-dashed young man of 1792.
By 1804, even everyday Lakeland could fall to a sensation of this waste: the "miner, melancholy man, / That works by taper-light, while all the hills / Are shining with the glory of the day" (8:508-10). (5) Wordsworth could hear melancholy anywhere. Touring the Highlands, he listens to a Lass at a distance, "Reaping and singing by herself .../... a melancholy strain": her "plaintive numbers" evoke "old, unhappy, far-off things, / And battles long ago," or "Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain, / That has been, and may be again!" While the exact theme remains unknown, the poet fully absorbs the melancholy affect: "The music in my heart I bore, / Long after it was heard no more"--the music translated to the muse of the music that is The Solitary Reaper: (6) In Wordsworth's lingering imagination, a melancholy song paces the rhythm of her solitary work, from which he takes a compatible poetic harvest. On the horizon of my essay is what "melancholy" may speak beyond a solitary song--namely, that historical consciousness and, for modern women, a "familiar matter of today" (to call upon the language of another surmise for the Highland Lass's theme but of matter that eludes Wordsworth's guesses) in a chorus of women's social alienation and restlessness.
But first, back to Wordsworth. Worrying in his thirties about the high vocation of "Poet," he recounts a melancholy fit and fall in Resolution and Independence. (7) On a splendid morning, after a roaring in the wind all night and a rain that came heavily and fell in floods, he's out in the world enjoying a reprieve from "all the ways of men, so vain and melancholy" (21). But this being Wordsworth, it's not long before feeling "as happy as a Boy" (18) turns to his musing on another boy, "Chatterton, the marvellous Boy, / The sleepless Soul that perish'd in its pride" (43-44), and then on Burns, whose ill health aged him beyond his mid-thirty years. And so, the melancholy math for all boys-to-poets: "We Poets in our youth begin in gladness; / But thereof come in the end despondency and madness" (48-49). Yes, a Leech-gatherer pops up "by peculiar grace" (50) to utter faith and cheerful endurance; but if wading bare-legged into ponds to attract a waning supply of blood-suckers, and being old, poor, and homeless to boot, constitute an oracle of "human strength, and strong admonishment" (119), can melancholy be far behind? "In my mind's eye," the poet murmurs, "I seem'd to see him pace / About the weary moors continually, / Wandering about alone and silently" (136-38), and the eye can't close. Its deep reflection is Hamlet's vision: "methinks I see my father ... in my mind's eye" (Hamlet 1.2.184-85)--a paternal ghost that makes the one a Melancholy Dane and drives the other to "Resolution and Independence" (Wordsworth's rebranding of the 1802 working-title "The Leechgatherer").
3. What Keats Owed to Melancholy. What Ode on Melancholy Collects
As a sensation, melancholy is wrought with sorrow, loss, or pain. As a word of alliterative Is in trochaic dimeter, melancholy seems genetically destined for double duty: melano (black); and (though not philologically accurate) mel (sweet), in alliance with melody. Keats took this in as he underscored the verses in Paradise Lost on Satan's rally of the vanquished in "Hell's concave" (1:535-69), writing in his margin:
The light and shade--the sort of black brightness---the ebon diamonding ... the sorrow, the pain, the sad-sweet Melody--the P[h]alanges of Spirits so depressed as to be 'uplifted beyond hope'-the short mitigation of Misery the thousand Melancholies and Magnificences of this Page. (8)
In this key of splendor recalled amidst the doom of loss, Keats remembered the base line of Wordsworth's great Ode, on mortality and immortality, a mingling of recognition and longing that Keats writes out this way on May 31, 1819:
Nothing can bring back the hour Of splendour in the grass and glory in the flower
"I once thought this a Melancholist's dream--" Keats could say, with belated correction (K 256). Wordsworth first published his Ode (the title later elaborated into Intimations of Immortality) in the 1807 Poems that housed Resolution and Independence. It mattered mightily to him that the elegiac couplet isolated in Keats's quotation was for him a subordinate syntax--"Though nothing can bring back ..."--pointed to a determination against melancholy: "We will grieve not, rather find / Strength in what remains behind" (Ode 179-89). Even so, will ... not sounds that hard Wordsworthian discipline of "philosophic mind" (189) over and against the achingly gorgeous evocation of what is so utterly gone. (Not for nothing did another William, William Inge, title a teleplay Glory in the Flower and a later screenplay Splendor in the Grass.) Keats elevates the epitaphic sigh to primary syntax, which he allows to oscillate between an ironic regard of the genre of "Melancholist's dream" (oh those melancholics--it's always "Nothing"!), and a rueful review ("I once thought") with new respect.
Keats was drafting Ode on Melancholy at the time, its every fullness poised for dissolution, and inseparable from this knowledge. In three stanzas arrayed on the classical ode-pattern of thesis (strophe), antithesis (antistrophe) and condensation (stand), the Ode issues a mock-didactic treatise on how to rebrand transience, the Melancholist's lament, as a poetic resource, intensity. Keats begins in medias res, on four stressed syllables, three rhymed:
No, no, go not to Lethe, neither twist Wolf s-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine; Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kiss'd By nightshade, ruby grape of Proserpine; Make not your rosary of yew-berries, Nor let the beetle, nor the death-moth be Your mournful Psyche, nor the downy owl A partner in your sorrow's mysteries; For shade to shade will come too drowsily, And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul. (1-10)
For all the large cautions, the tone is tricky. In the "contrariety of pathological splendours" William Empson hears a confident "parody" that voices "by contradiction ... the wise advice of uncles," while Helen Vendler audits a poet "subversively attracted by what he reproves." (9) Keats serves both with his menu of lush antithetical compounds, rehearsing the admonitions in melodies of seductive allure. Even that downy owl, rejected mascot for "sorrow's miseries," sounds again in the caution-cue drowsily (Keats hit this adverb after trying out heavily then sleepily (10)) for the sake of a flow into drown.
With a mournful Psyche disciplined into wakeful soul," the suffixes of ful chime out a thesis on opposite recognitions as inextricable and, at extremes, simultaneous. Don't melt, thaw, and resolve the elements, Keats's odist exhorts,
But when the melancholy fit shall fall Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud, That fosters the droop-headed flowers all, And hides the green hill in an April shroud; Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose, Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave, Or on the wealth of globed peonies; Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows, Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave, And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes. (11-20)
This odist will have none of the pathology of "melancholy fits" indexed in Robert Burton's sublime treatise, The Anatomy of Melancholy, the very phrase appearing therein dozens of times. (12) Keats's odist makes poetic capital out of fit, an archaic term for a unit of poetry or a strain of music: the mood fits into the poetry as the poetry fits out the mood. In this one-sentence stanza of luxurious cascades, Keats even hangs fall at a line-end, to give it pause before the scenery drops from weeping, to heaven-sent nurture, to funeral shroud. The advice is arrested around its images. The morning rose cannot forbid its undertone of mourning, nor keep rose from ghosting the fall of melancholy that might re-call for use the rosary refused in stanza 1. The rainbow of a salt-sand wave is a sheen no sooner seen than gone. The adjective globed is Keatsian: this for a world in a peony, the flower famed, of old, for medicinal powers, but here a wealth in transience. The diet for these dyings is not mourning, however, but the exhortation to "glut" and "feed."
The odist takes this aesthetic to erotic extravagance (in his dreams!), feeding on a spectacle of female anger, the aesthete in love with the phonics of feed deep, deep ... peerless (her peerless eyes are nonpareil, but no window to her soul). Stuart Sperry had to halt his critical analysis for a parenthesis: "(Viewed in purely human terms, the situation is the perfect one for a poet having his face slapped)." (13) The hazard is more than a slap in Keats's plan. The severest reversal impends in stanza 3, and it's related to the gender-spectacle that had Sperry wincing. The opening phrase, "She dwells with Beauty," puns the mistress of Stanza 2 into transience too, and then, in a crucial pivot, turns this She to an alliance with sovran Melancholy: (14)
She dwells with Beauty--Beauty that must die; And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh, Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips: Ay, in the very temple of Delight Veil'd Melancholy has her sovran shrine, Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine; His soul shall taste the sadness of her might, And be among her cloudy trophies hung. (21-30)
The Melancholy-connoisseur of she-anger is set up for a death of luxury. I think that Keats left eyes /peonies such a weak rhyme at the end of stanza 2 in order to save eyes for this strong chime with die at the start of 3. Beauty must die, the present participles spelling the rapid transience of life in time: Joy bidding adieu; Pleasure aching nigh, turning to poison in the pitch of sweetness. In an argument pointed by rhyme-echoes, the ruby grape of Proserpine returns to resound as Joy's grape bursting against a palate fine, the boon of Melancholy's sovran shrine, where the connoisseur becomes a trophy, and no special trophy either, just one "among" many "hung"--the bottom line, faintly toning "trophies sung," the verbal embodiment of ode to melancholy's strophes in the soul-making. (15)
Absent from this Ode has been its speaker's marker, "I." It is trumped by an expressively modal Ay, schemed to rhyme with die. The phrasing of "none save him" is a rich double supplement. Keats first tried "none but him" (keying the willing burst); (16) the revision is better for punning the sense of except into beyond saving. Ode on Melancholy is ultimately a mortality ode--a genre shadowed by its housing in the same volume as Keats's last romance, Lamia, where a young man's fatal enchantment by a lady who vanishes (perhaps was never gettable) takes a cue from The Anatomy of Melancholy. Keats was reading this treatise both with a poet's and a medical student's attention, and postscripted a citation as the epitaph to Lamia. (17)
4. Melancholy Men, Melancholy Women
In 1831, Tennyson's friend Hallam named the "spirit of modern poetry" as "melancholy," and measured this as a "return of the mind upon itself," in recoil from the "community of interest" busy with the "prevalence of social activity" and "the palpable interests of ordinary life" (620). (18) The next year Tennyson published his extravagant melancholy romance, The Lotos-Eaters, expanding and revising an episode in the Odyssey. (19) The allure of the "mild-eyed melancholy Lotos-eaters" (stanza 3) is no simple historical nostalgia; it is a displacement that enables a modern man to write world-weary verse. Soon the ancient seamen are singing, in chorus, of how sweet it would be "To lend our hearts and spirits wholly / To the influence of mild-minded melancholy" (Choric Song, stanza 5), a poetry that may well intoxicate its readers, too. No wonder that the choral ode of refusals--"we will no further roam"; "we will not wander more"--has troubled some professional critics, who, sensing its proximate pressure, slap it down: "infantile voluptuousness," says one; "melancholy in the state of decadence," says another. (20) But Tennyson's lotos-eating is a complex confection, layered with pained skepticism about the sermonizing that life is hard, suffering inevitable, toil virtuous, death the only ease. Ulysses' crewmen are no languorous decadents, and surely no infants. They are battered veterans of a long war, whose long, long voyage home feels like another endless war, with home lost in the haze of history. This alienation, not lotos-eating, is the deepest melancholy, and its voicing is plural and public:
Dear is the memory of our wedded lives, And dear the last embraces of our wives And their warm tears: but all hath suffer'd change; For surely now our household hearths are cold: Our sons inherit us: our looks are strange: And we should come like ghosts to trouble joy. (Choric Song, stanza 6)
Dear is, not dear was. But the now holds no recovery: warm tears have fallen to cold hearths, joy not even bidding adieu, but lost to these exiles.
What of the women at home? The rest of my essay is about their melancholy, a language that some want to valorize as she-epistemology ("women's ways of knowing," says one critic), but which is better audited, I think, in the registers of social logic and communication. (21) One of the first communicators for the Romantic era was Charlotte Smith, whose serial productions of Elegiac Sonnets across the 1780s and 90s seduced legions of men who felt her pain, and felt connected, through her poetry, to other men of feeling. "SONNET XXXII. to melancholy. / written on the banks of the arun. October, 1785" (22) opens these channels by working a literary inventory for personal expression:
WHEN latest Autumn spreads her evening veil, And the grey mists from these dim waves arise, I love to listen to the hollow sighs, Thro' the half-leafless wood that breathes the gale. For at such hours the shadowy phantom, pale, Oft seems to fleet before the poet's eyes; Strange sounds are heard, and mournful melodies, As of night-wanderers, who their woes bewail. Here, by his native stream, at such an hour, Pity's own Otway, I methinks could meet, And hear his deep sighs swell the sadden'd wind! Oh melancholy!--such thy magic power, That to the soul these dreams are often sweet, And soothe the pensive visionary mind!
By the fifth edition, "melancholy" gets upgraded with a capital M, (23) a general spirit abroad. No isolated, diseased, or hysteric female sensibility, it is "the poet's" perception. Veils, grey mists, dim waves, breathing autumnal woods, and native spirits: these are Graveyard-Poetry schoolings, only incidentally gendered. When Smith's sonnet-poet invites us "Here, by his native stream, at such an hour" to "hear" Otway's "deep sighs swell the sadden'd wind," it matters that the origin of the sighs are Pity's, there to be audited by an Otway or by a Smith. The flow from "Strange sounds are heard" to the scene Here marks out a liberal poetic tradition: "And hear his deep sighs." The shadowy auditorium of Melancholy (here and hear), Smith proposes, is not gender-gated; it is open admission to the "pensive visionary mind"--and so, a way for a woman to be credentialed as a poet.
Wordsworth heard the call of Elegiac Sonnets (1784) as a fourteen-year-old schoolboy, and subscribed as a Cambridge undergraduate to the fifth edition (1789), an era he recalls in The Prelude in a soft but knowing parody of Smith-forged language:
A melancholy from humours of the blood In part, and partly taken up, that lov'd A pensive sky, sad days, and piping winds, The twilight more than dawn, Autumn than Spring, A treasured and luxurious gloom ... (6:192-96)
The "sweet" habit that liked "To feed a Poet's tender melancholy / And fond conceit of sadness" (6:375-78), Wordsworth freely admits, is lite and food for future years, a Poet's training table.
Smith's Elegiac Sonnets succeeded not just through this Poet-franchise but also from a validation by experience--with such effect that a reviewer for The Gentleman's Magazine could "hope that the misfortunes she so often hints at, are all imaginary"; if these were "real," it would be with a "diminished pleasure" that one could peruse "her very tender and exquisite effusions." (24) Yet Smith insisted on "real," and real in a woman's fortunes. Her melancholy was not "imaginary"; it was the voice of an intelligent, cultured woman, forced early into marriage to a spendthrift sot, who financially ruined and serially impregnated her, and left her to write ceaselessly, to sustain herself and her many children. (25) In a preface to the sixth edition (1792), she recounts a conversation with a friend who hoped she might write "in a more cheerful style." She replied, "Alas! . . . can the effect cease, while the cause remains?" When "I first struck the chords of the melancholy lyre" (she takes pains to say) it was "unaffected sorrows drew them forth ... And I have unfortunately no reason yet, though nine years have since elapsed, to change my tone." (26) All italics are hers. Melancholy is the authentic voice, and effect, of social causes and grievances.
Absent legal remedy or political remediation, melancholy was the available channel for female communication--even better if men overheard. Writing an essay in 1810 titled "The Origin and Progress of Novel-Writing," Anna Barbauld asked, "Why is it that women ... are apt to give a melancholy tinge to their compositions?" (27) She answered by turning the question to a rhetorical harangue:
Is it that they suffer more, and have fewer resources against melancholy? Is it that men, mixing at large in society, have a brisker flow of ideas, and, seeing a greater variety of characters, introduce more of the business and pleasures of life into their productions? ... Is it that women nurse those feelings in secrecy and silence, and diversify the expression of them with endless shades of sentiment ...? (42)
There are several iterations of the question, all marking a circular sociology: women write with a melancholy tinge because they are melancholy, and they are melancholy because in "society" they are "women."
At this intersection, in this circulation, is Felicia Hemans, at once the celebrated poetess of hearth and home and "The Queen of Melancholy" (so she was dubbed in numerous Victorian anthologies). In publications from 1812 into the 1830s, Hemans's genius was her bending the cultural ideal of "feminine" into dark contradictions. Nineteenth-century monitors wanted to read her melancholy tinge as peculiar to her, or at least containable as a "feminine" hallmark that could be transvalued into patient suffering, a pattern female heroinism. Yet Hemans's friend Henry Chorley, even as he allowed that the poetry was "often deeply melancholy" in its devotion to "the farewells and regrets of life," could read the cultural grain of "finer natures broken in pieces by contact with a mercenary and scornful world." (28) In 1825 Hemans heard another friend's plea that she temper her habitual "choice of melancholy subjects," her "dwelling on what was painful and depressing," by "giving more consolatory views of the ways of Providence, thus infusing comfort and cheer into the bosoms of her readers, in a spirit of Christian philosophy. " (29) At such requests, Charlotte Smith could only sigh in exasperation. Hemans obliged with Our Daily Paths, getting off a few game stanzas about the beauty abiding even in the dark paths.
But it's the dark passages that keep pulling her back in: "we carry our sick hearts abroad amidst the joyous things." (30) A reader may sense this burden in her severe pruning of some lines from Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey (133-35) for her epigraph:
Nought shall prevail against us, or disturb Our cheerful faith, that all which we behold Is full of blessings
Wordsworth's verse, just before what Hemans has (re)worded, is a fuller census:
that neither evil tongues, Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men, Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all The dreary intercourse of daily life, Shall e'er prevail against us or disturb ... (31)
Hemans suppresses the full litany of Wordsworth's daily paths, to cut to "cheerful faith." Yet a reader as subtly tuned as she to everything that contends with faith knows that Wordsworth's lines give what is denied a weight of words that in poetic force may well disturb and prevail against the counter-weight of determined argument. "I have really studied these poems, and they have been the daily food of my mind," she tells her friend Maria Jane Jewsbury; this too is a daily path. "Then, what power Wordsworth condenses into single lines," she exclaims. (32) Several years on, she expresses gratitude to the poet himself "for the fresh green places of refuge" his poetry "has offered me in many an hour." But instead of listing the green places, she explicates the antithetical context:
... in many an hour when --"The fretful stir Unprofitable, and the fever of the world Have hung upon the beatings of my heart" (33)
No surprise that the Wordsworth-words she effaces return to haunt the lines of Our Daily Paths as it labors toward consolation, the cause clearly competing with the cure:
... in our daily paths lie cares, that oft times bind us fast, While from their narrow round we see the golden day fleet past. (23-24) Yet should this be?--Too much, too soon, despondingly we yield! A better lesson we are taught by the lilies of the field! A sweeter by the birds of heaven--which tell us, in their flight, Of One that through the desert air for ever guides them right. Shall not this knowledge calm our hearts, and bid vain conflicts cease? Ay, when they commune with themselves in holy hours of peace; And feel that by the lights and clouds through which our pathway lies, By the beauty and the grief alike, we are training for the skies! (29-36)
"Shall not this knowledge" conveys coercion, the "lesson" and the "training" feeling more rote than endorsed, with salvation in "the skies" the remotest of romances--a pathway in death out of the daily paths prescribed for women in time and history.
Mary Wollstonecraft's voice of melancholy, worldly and politically aggrieved, speaks out loud and bold in A Vindication of the Rights of Men, her rebuttal to Edmund Burke's pain at the arrest of the royal family at Versailles in 1790: do "the pangs you felt for insulted nobility ... deserve to be compared with the long-drawn sigh of melancholy reflection, when misery and vice ... haunt our steps, and swim on to the top of every cheering prospect?" she protests. (34) Soon in prospect is a reflection more categorical than even the general "our" of 1790:
After considering the historic page, and viewing the living world with anxious solicitude, the most melancholy emotions of sorrowful indignation have depressed my spirits, and I have sighed when obliged to confess, that either nature has made a great difference between man and man, or that the civilization, which has hitherto taken place in the world, has been very partial.
So she opens A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). (35) By "partial," she means "considering females rather as women than human creatures ... when improvable reason is allowed to be the dignified distinction which raises men above the brute creation" (2-3). She's heard the murmur "that it is masculine for a woman to be melancholy" (66)--thus Addison began a frequently anthologized Spectator essay, "Men and Women," in no compliment. "Women in their nature are much more gay and joyous than men" and so must "keep a watch on the particular bias which nature has fixed." (36)
To Wollstonecraft, such gender-partition (insinuating the abnormality of uncooperative women) betrays, with no care to theorize, the cause: women are censured for melancholy deviation from their assigned nature. Wollstonecraft's "melancholy ... indignation" is a political protest, tuned to the "melancholy truth" that women have no "civil existence in the state" (1:339-40). (37)
This melancholy is the severe spirit of the age for the wrongs of woman, and a language to which women resorted, again and again, to articulate and share civil grievances, often with a heroic Hamlet badge. Romantic Hamlets were legion, and not always male: Radcliffe's oppressed heroine Emily St. Aubert and Wollstonecraft's Vindicator put in a purchase. Hamlet-melancholy was liberal autobiography, an intertext for all. In the 1820s and early 1830s, Jewsbury (who praised Wollstonecraft in decades when it was still not possible to speak her name in polite society) spoke this melancholy as the strains of professional authorship were taking a toll on her, the satisfactions tangled up with aggravations. She discussed this with Wordsworth (who admired her talent), then with Hemans. Both women were coming to wonder, with "sober sadness," Hamlet-sighed, "how, unless a necessity be laid upon her, any woman of acute sensibility, and refined imagination can brook the fever & strife of authorship." (38)
Their contemporary L.E.L. (celebrity poet Letitia Elizabeth Landon) brooked the fever with determination. In a "Memoir of L.E.L.," her friend and housemate Emma Roberts commented that "the trials ... of writing against time, often under the infliction of indisposition or mental anxiety," so depressed Landon's spirits as to render a view of "the realities of life, somewhat of a melancholy character." (39) But this was "occasional," and Landon more typically persisted "with cheerfulness" (13). Even so, the trials (fueled by gossip) were unrelenting. In 1838, she took the cure of marriage, leaving with her husband for Cape Coast Africa, in a last adventure, soon sealed with her sudden, mysterious death--"a melancholy catastrophe" (so one report went) for her and her adoring public, in the line of all her melancholy heroines. (40)
In 1832 Jewsbury also capitulated to what Wollstonecraft called that "melancholy truth" for women: the necessity of marriage. She was exhausted by the profession of author: "the world is too strong for me." she told Dora Wordsworth (the poet's daughter) in March 1831; "literary life poisons my moral being, at once by its blandishments & cares 'Me this unchartered freedom tires.'" (41) She's using Wilham Wordsworth's poetry first to ally with his melancholy ("The World is too much with us") then to summon his antidote-minded Ode to Duty about the perils of too much freedom. (42) She had given the discipline her best shot in a semiautobiographical novella, The History of an Enthusiast (1830). Its template was Stael's Corinne (international best-seller since 1807), the anatomy of a female artist, heartbroken by a lover who wants a traditional wife.
Yet Jewsbury's tale refuses to pathologize her poet-heroine's world-weary melancholy, or to give it a death sentence. Stael makes Corinne's last poem a death-song; Jewsbury has her heroine fill the last pages of The History with a satire on the whole anatomy. Here's a brief sample:
And I would rather lose what I love here, Be it man, woman, flower, or recollection, By swift translation to another sphere, Than have it in the shape of retrospection; I hate all ghosts, but most, and without measure, The apparition of departed pleasure. "Is not this shocking?" cries some flaxen Werter, Warm from a bath of tears o'er tomes of folly; Be still,--what is exchange of hearts but barter, As full of cheating and of melancholy ... (43)
This poet has the melancholy lores gleefully in hand, from Hamlet to Goethe and his legions, to Smith's clutch of Werter-voiced elegiac sonnets, to Corinne, to Shelley's perpetual elegies on transience, to Keats's range of modes from satiric to high aesthetic.
And not the least, Lord Byron, who theatricalized melancholy with grand success, launched by the world-unloving Childe Harold (1812). Swooning to Canto 3 of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage in 1816, Scott declared that "the proper language" for describing Byron's alluring aspect was "melancholy." (44) Five years on, "John Bull" (mask of J. G. Lockhart, Scott's son-in-law) spoofed the pose in an open Letter to the Right Hon. Lord Byron: "you thought it would be a fine, interesting thing for a handsome young Lord to depict himself as a dark-souled, melancholy, morbid being, and you have done so, it must be admitted, with exceeding cleverness." He mimicked the national crush: "the amazing misery of the black-haired, high-browed, blue-eyed, bare-throated, Lord Byron. How melancholy you look in the prints! Oh! yes, this is the true cast of face." (45) But Bull was belated; Byron was already spoofing the melancholy industry in Don Juan:
I pass my evenings in long galleries solely, And that's the reason I'm so melancholy. (5:58)
I bet Jewsbury enjoyed Byron's pun-anagram lemancholy, a lover's affliction. (46)
In Jewsbury's wit, melancholy matters most (as often for Byron) as a ready rhyme for a folly. She may be registering Shakespeare's capacity to inhabit both a Hamlet and a Jacques, or its update in one spasm of Keats's bitter love-lorn Endymion, "stupefied with my own empty folly, / And blushing for the freaks of melancholy" (Endymion 1:962-63). The godfather of the rhyme is of course Burton, in a dozen refrains in a poem at the front of Anatomy, "The Authors Abstract of Melancholy." Each stanza of moodswing sighs an octave in tetrameter couplets, the last one a refrain-rhyme with melancholy that measures the relays of joy and grief in comparisons that go this way:
All my joyes to this are folly, Naught so sweet as melancholy. All my griefes to this are jolly, Naught so sad as melancholy. All my joyes besides are folly, None so sweet as melancholy. All my griefes to this are folly, None so soure as melancholy. All other joyes to this are folly, None so sweet as melancholy. All my griefes to this are jolly, None so damn'd as Melancholy. All my joyes to this are folly, Naught so sweet as melancholy. All my griefes to this are jolly, Naught so fierce as Melancholy. All my joyes to this are folly, Naught so sweet as melancholy. All my griefes to this are jolly, Naught so fierce as melancholy. All my joyes to this are folly, Naught so devine as melancholy.
And so on--each base-line of melancholy a repetition that accumulates, with mounting parody, the theme at hand, hurtling to the death-wish that is the crisis and release:
My paine, past cure, another Hell, I may not in this torment dwell, Now desperate I hate my life, Lend me a halter or a knife. All my griefes to this are jolly, Naught so damn'd as melancholy.
Jewsbury's playful rhymings are a conscious refrain from this legacy.
Her rogue refusal provoked some Victorian monitors, all too eager to supply a discipline of melancholy. The History of an Enthusiast (scolded Mrs. Ellis in her obituary on jewsbury for The Christian Keepsake, edited by her husband) gives a "most melancholy picture of the ceaseless conflict, the insatiable thirst for what is unattainable, and the final wretchedness necessarily attendant upon the ungoverned ambition of superior intellect, when associated with the weakness, natural dependence and susceptibility of woman." (47) But what's natural? This is the question Jewsbury tested in her writing and in her self-accounting, telling a friend:
In the best of everything I have done, you will find one leading idea-- Death: ... in all you would find the sober hue, which, to my mind's eye, blends equally with the golden glow of sunset and the bright green of spring--and is seen equally in the 'temple of delight' as in the tomb of decay and separation. I am melancholy by nature, cheerful on principle. (48
In a melancholy nature, the "feminine" charge to be cheerful is an alien principle. The male poetic voices Jewsbury involves, without ascription because they seem natural to her voice, are the Prince of Melancholy, Hamlet ("my mind's eye"), Wordsworth's kind and not yet resolute poet (.Resolution and Independence), and the aesthetic principle that has Keats putting Melancholy in the "temple of delight."
Jewsbury rendered this CV just before she left England, in the spirit of her Enthusiast, as a "second Mary Wollstonecraft," (49) but historically as Mrs. William Kew Fletcher, serviceable wife of a brusque career chaplain, posted to India in the employ of the East India Company. A few months into her new chapter, Jewsbury was dead from cholera, not from melancholy--cheerful on principle, perhaps, but not denying its exertion against authentic melancholy: melancholy not by self-indulgence but by self-esteem. With a cheerful marriage and in a better time, our un-melancholy Anne Mellor (her name nicely errata-shifted to Mellow in an anthology of 1990 (50)) cheers us on.
Berlant, Lauren. "The Female Complaint." Social Text 19, no. 20 (1988): 237-59
Bull, John [John Gibson Lockhart]. Letter to the Right Hon. Lord Byron (London: William Wright, 1821). In John Bull's Letter to Lord Byron, edited by Alan Lang Strout. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1947
[Burton, Robert], Democritus Junior. The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621; Oxford: Henry Cripps, 1638).
Butler, Judith. The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1997.
Byron, George Gordon, Lord. Byron's Letters and Journals. Edited by Leslie Marchand. 12 vols. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 19731982.
--. Don Juan. Cantos 111--v. London: John Murray, 1821.
Chorley, H. F. Memorials of Mrs. Hemans. 2 vols. London: Saunders and Otley, 1836.
Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. 2 vols. Leipzig: Bernhard Tauchnitz, 1859.
Ellis, Mrs. [Sarah Stickney]. "Mrs. Fletcher, Late Miss Jewsbury." In The Christian Keepsake, and Missionary Annual, edited by William Ellis, 30-42. London: Fisher, 1838.
Empson, William. Seven Types of Ambiguity. 1927. 2nd revised edition. Cleveland: World Publishing, 1964.
Freud, Sigmund. "Mourning and Melancholia." 1917. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works. Translated by James Strachey. 24 vols. London: Hogarth, 1957. 14:243-58.
The Gentleman's Magazine 56, no. 4 (April 1786): "sonnets, by Mrs. Charlotte Smith."
[Hallam, Arthur Henry], "On Some of the Characteristics of Modem Poetry, and on the Lyrical Poems of Alfred Tennyson." The Englishman's Magazine 1, no. 5 (London: E. Moxon, August 1831): 616-28.
Hemans, Felicia. Felicia Hemans: Selected Poems, Letters, Reception Materials. Edited by Susan J. Wolfson. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000.
--. Poems of Felicia Hemans. Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, 1873
Hutchings Illustrated California Magazine 4, no. 7 (January 1860): 330.
Jacobus, Mary. "The Science of Herself: Scenes of Female Enlightenment." In Romanticism, History and the Possibilities of Genre, edited by Tilottama Rajan and Julia Wright, 240-69. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Jewsbury, Maria Jane. The History of An Enthusiast. In The Three Histories. London: Frederick Westley and A. H. Davis, 1830.
Keats, John. Endymion. London: Taylor and Hessey, 1818.
--. Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes and Other Poems. London:
Taylor and Hessey, 1820. "Ode on Melancholy" is in this volume.
--. John Keats: A Longman Cultural Edition. Edited by Susan J.
Wolfson. New York: Pearson, 2006.
--. The Poems of John Keats. Edited by Jack Stillinger. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978.
Khalip, Jacques. Anonymous Life: Romanticism and Dispossession. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2009.
Kristeva, Julia. Soleil Noir: Depression et melancholie. 1987. Translated by Leon S. Roudiez: Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989.
Langbaum, Robert. The Poetry of Experience. 1957. New York: Norton, 1963
Lau, Beth. Keats's Paradise Lost. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1998.
Low, Dennis. The Literary Protegees of the Lake Poets. Hampshire, UK: Ashgate, 2001.
"Madness and Melancholy." Review of several items. Quarterly Review II/III (August 1809): 155-80.
Marshall, F. A. NQ, 6th Series ix [April 5, 1884]: 271.
Mellor, Anne K. "'Anguish no cessation knows': Elegy and the British Woman Poet, 1660-1834." In The Oxford Handbook of the Elegy, edited by Karen Weisman, 442-62. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.
Milton, John. II Penseroso and Paradise Lost. The Poetic Works of John Milton. Edited by H. C. Beeching. London: Oxford University Press, 1922.
Moore, Thomas. Letters and Journals of Lord Byron. 2 vols. London: John Murray, 1830.
Riede, David G. Allegories of One's Own Mind: Melancholy in Victorian Poetry. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2005.
Roberts, Emma. "Memoir of L.E.L." In The Zenana and Minor Poems of L.E.L. London: Fisher, Son, 1839. 5-36.
Schiesari, Juliana. The Gendering of Melancholia: Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and the Symbolics of Loss in Renaissance Literature. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992.
Schur, Owen. Victorian Pastoral: Tennyson, Hardy, and the Subversion of Forms. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1989.
[Scott, Walter], Review of Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Canto in & c. Quarterly Review xvi (October 1816): 172-208.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Edited by Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor. London: Arden, 2006.
Smith, Charlotte. Elegiac Sonnets. 3rd edition. London: J. Dodsley, . --. 5th edition. London: T. Cadell, .
--.Elegiac Sonnets, and Other Poems. 8th edition. 2 vols. London: T. Cadell, Junior, and W. Davies, 1797.
Sperry, Stuart M. Keats the Poet. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973
Tennyson, Alfred Lord. "The Lotos-Eaters." In Poems, in Two Volumes. 2nd edition. London: Edward Moxon, 1843. 175-84.
Vendler, Helen. The Odes of John Keats. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983.
Watt, Julie. Poisoned Lives. Eastbourne, UK: Sussex Academic Press, 2010.
Wolfson, Susan J. Borderlines: The Shiftings of Gender in British Romanticism. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2006.
--. "Charlotte Smith: 'to live only to write & write only to live.'" HLQ 70, no. 4 (2007): 633-59.
Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Men. 2nd edition. London: Joseph Johnson, 1790.
--. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. 2nd edition. London: J. Johnson, 1792.
Wordsworth, William. Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey. In Lyrical Ballads. London: Longman, 1798.
--. Ode to Duty, Resolution and Independence, The Solitary Reaper, and
"The World is too much with us." In Poems, in Two Volumes. London: Longman, 1807.
--. Thirteen-Book "Prelude." 1805. Edited by Mark L. Reed. 2 vols. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991.
(1.) 2 vols. (Leipzig: Bernhard Tauchnitz, 1859).
(2.) The Prelude 10:368-74, and in the paragraph above, 10:868-69; Thirteen-Book "Prelude" (1805), ed. Mark L. Reed, 2 vols. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991). Subsequent quotations are from this edition unless otherwise indicated.
(3.) Sigmund Freud, "Mourning and Melancholia" (1917), Standard Edition, trans. James Strachey (London: Hogarth, 1957), 14:246.
(4.) Keats coined the phrase "the Wordsworthian or egotistical sublime" in a letter of October 1818; see Wolfson, ed .John Keats (New York: Pearson, 2006), 214. Unless otherwise indicated, quotations are from this edition, cited as K.
(5.) Wordsworth cut these lines in 1832, the year of the Reform Act (see The Prelude, eds, Jonathan Wordsworth, M. H. Abrams, and Stephen Gill [New York: Norton, 1979], 292n6).
(6.) Lines 3-6, 18-24, 31-32, in Poems, in Two Volumes (London: Longman, 1807). The actual inspiration was already written: a "beautiful passage" in Thomas Wilkinson's journal of a Highland tour (Dorothy Wordsworth, 7 November and 14 December 1805; The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, The Early Years, 1787-1805, ed. Ernest de Selincourt, rev. Chester Shaver [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967], 639, 652). "Passed a female who was reaping alone: she sung in Erse as she bended over her sickle; the sweetest human voice I ever heard: her strains were tenderly melancholy, and felt delicious long after they were heard no more" is the passage in Tours to the British Mountains (London: Taylor and Hessey, 1824), 12.
(7.) Lines from the poem are cited from Poems, in Two Volumes.
(8.) K 228-29, all sic. See also Beth Lau, Keats's Paradise Lost Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1998), 82-84. Keats was studying Paradise Lost in 1818-1819.
(9.) Empson, Seven Types of Ambiguity (1927), 2nd revised ed. (Cleveland: World Publishing, 1964), 243; Vendler, The Odes of John Keats (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983), 172.
(10.) K 369, citing autograph ms. in the Taylor Collection, Princeton University Library.
(11.) This only lightly personified "Psyche" hints at an aesthetic "psychology." Although this word is not in the 8th edition of Dr. Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language (1799), the OED marks two strands of relevant definition: a science of the soul (1654-); then a science of cognition, nicely summed by David Hartley's Observations on Man (1749): "Psychology, or the Theory of the human Mind" (1.3.354).
(12.) [Burton], The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621; Oxford: Henry Cripps, 1638).
(13.) Sperry, Keats the Poet (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973), 282-83.
(14.) Princeton's manuscript has "Mistress" in stanza 2, kin to capital-M Melancholy.
(15.) This nice audit is Garrett Stewart's, in the Cambridge Companion to John Keats, ed. Susan J. Wolfson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).
(16.) Autograph ms., Albert A. Berg Collection, New York Public Library; see Jack Stillinger, ed., Poems of John Keats (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978), 375m
(17.) "Burton's 'Anatomy of Melancholy,' Part 3, Sect. 2, Memb. 1. Subs. I," in Lamia & etc. (London: Taylor and Hessey, 1820), pages 45-46.
(18.) [Arthur Henry Hallam], "On Some of the Characteristics of Modern Poetry, and on the Lyrical Poems of Alfred Tennyson," The Englishman's Magazine 1, no. 5 (London: E. Moxon, August 1831): 616-28. Although Hallam (and Tennyson) may anticipate Julia Kristeva's Soleil Noir: Depression et melancholie (1987), my interest is in the social resistance Hallam saw Tennyson articulating, a temper against the times.
(19.) In Poems, in Two Volumes, 2nd ed. (London: Edward Moxon, 1843), 175-84.
(20.) Robert Langbaum, The Poetry of Experience (1957 rpt.; New York: Norton, 1963), 89; Owen Schur, Victorian Pastoral: Tennyson, Hardy, and the Subversion of Forms (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1989), 47.
(21.) Mary Field Belenky, et ah. Women's Ways of Knowing (New York: Basic, 1986). For epistemic "skepticism" see Jacques Khalip, Anonymous Life: Romanticism and Dispossession (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2009): "the female melancholic" is the categorical "feminine self" in "agonized refusal ... of participatory identity" (135, 138, and in general, chapter 4, in the line of Julia Kristeva and Judith Butler).
(22.) Smith, Elegiac Sonnets, 3rd edition (London: J. Dodsley, ), page 33.
(23.) Smith, Elegiac Sonnets (London: T. Cadell, ), page 32.
(24.) The Gentleman's Magazine 56, no. 4 (April 1786): "sonnets, by Mrs. Charlotte Smith," 333.
(25.) See Wolfson, "Charlotte Smith," HLQ 70, no. 4 (2007): 633-59.
(26.) Smith, Elegiac Sonnets, and Other Poems, 8th ed., 2 vols. (London: T. Cadell, Junior, and W. Davies, 1797), x-xi.
(27.) She goes on with this catalogue of argument-in-questions. "Origin and Progress" is a substantial, 62-page essay that prefaces her 50-volume edition of The British Novelists (2nd ed.; London: Rivington, etc., 1820), 42.
(28.) Chorley, Memorials of Mrs. Hemans, 2 vols. (London: Saunders and Otley, 1836), 1:43-44
(29.) Poems (Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, 1873), 37on. The exhorter was Dugald Stewart, Professor of Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh University.
(30.) Our Daily Paths, line 15. The poem was first published in The Monthly Magazine (ns 4; October 1827); I quote here and subsequently from my edition, Felicia Hemans (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), a publication for which Anne Mellor's support was instrumental.
(31.) Lines, written a few miles above Tintem Abbey (1798), in Poems, in Two Volumes, 2:79; lines 129-33.
(32.) Letter to Maria Jane Jewsbury, 1826; in Felicia Hemans, ed. Wolfson, 492; "Tintern Abbey" was her "favourite," Hemans told Chorley (24 June 1830; Felicia Hemans, 505).
(33.) Letter, early 1834, quoting "Tintem Abbey," 32-34; Felicia Hemans, 517.
(34.) A Vindication of the Rights of Men, 2nd ed. (London: Joseph Johnson, 1790), 152.
(35.) A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 2nd ed. (London: J. Johnson, 1792), 1; subsequent quotations are from this edition. A genre of female melancholy, the "political elegy," Anne Mellor notes, often housed a "social critique" of the conditions of a woman's life (" 'Anguish no cessation knows,'" 456-57). See also Lauren Berlant on the female complaint as a witness to injury, its discourse hovering between oppositional sexual politics and sentimental expression of powerlessness ("The Female Complaint," Social Text 19, no. 20 : 243-44).
(36.) Number 128 (July 27, 1711), in an edition contemporaneous with A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 8 vols. (London: J. S. Jordan, 1794), there nonce-titled "Vivacity and Gravity" (3:32) 37. Mary Jacobus reads in women's "melancholic subjectivity" a "science of herself" with political bearing, "a contestatory position from which to vindicate the rights of woman" by dislodging the routine gendering of Reason as male and sensibility as female ("The Science of Herself: Scenes of Female Enlightenment," Romanticism, History and the Possibilities of Genre, eds. Tilottama Rajan and Julia Wright [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998], 258, 267).
(38.) Jewsbury to Dora Wordsworth, 20 January 1829 (qtd. in Wolfson, Borderlines [Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2006] 102); Dennis Low, The Literary Protegees of the Lake Poets (Hampshire, UK: Ashgate, 2001), 163.
(39.) The Zenana and Minor Poems of L.E.L. (London: Fisher, Son, 1839), 12-13.
(40.) The Watchman, 2 January 1839; cited by Julie Watt, Poisoned Lives (Eastbourne: Sussex Academic Press, 2010), 1.
(41.) Dove Cottage archives, Grasmere, England: WLMS/A. See also Dennis Low, Literary Protegees, 173.
(42.) Both poems are in Poems, in Two Volumes.
(43.) From heroine Julia Osborne's poem, "Farewell after a Visit," The History of An Enthusiast (London: Frederick Westley and A. H. Davis, 1830), 178, 179.
(44.) [Walter Scott], review of Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Canto III & c. Quarterly Review XVI (October 1816): 177.
(45.) [John Gibson Lockhart], Letter to the Right Hon. Lord Byron (London: William Wright, 1821), in John Bull's Letter to Lord Byron, ed. Alan Lang Strout (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1947), 80.
(46.) Don Juan, Cantos III--V (London: John Murray, 1821); Byron's self-satire in a letter to Thomas Moore, October 6, 1821 (Moore, Letters and Journals of Lord Byron, 2 vols. [London: John Murray, 1830], 2:544). in a letter of November 1811 (not in Moore) Byron uses lemancholy for several lover-frustrations, including Miss Milbanke's recent rejection of his first proposal of marriage (Leslie Marchand, Byron's Letters and Journals [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973-1982], 2:124). F. A. Marshall notes that "lemancholy used to be a common slang word" (NQ, 6th Series ix [April 5, 1884]: 271)--e.g. "Our Social Chair," Hutchings Illustrated California Magazine 4, no. 7 (January 1860): "If you are melancholy, laugh to drive the blues away" or laugh at "a poetical young man" as he tells his "own lemancholy story" (330).
(47.) [Sarah Stickney], "Mrs. Fletcher, Late Miss Jewsbury," The Christian Keepsake, and Missionary Annual, ed. William Ellis (London: Fisher, 1838), 32.
(48.) Letter to Mrs. Samuel Carter Hall, quoted in "Mrs. Fletcher," Athenceum 347 (June 21, 1834): 473. Though unsigned, both its venue and similar paragraphs about Jewsbury in Memorials of Mrs. Hemans (London: Saunders and Otley, 1836) indicate Chorley.
(49.) The History, 170.
(50.) The Romantics and Us: Essays on Literature and Culture, ed. Gene RuofF (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1990), 11 (twice!).
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|Author:||Wolfson, Susan J.|
|Publication:||Studies in Romanticism|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2014|
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