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Literary Networks and Dissenting Irish Print Culture examines the origins of Irish labouring-class poetry produced in the liminal space of revolutionary Ulster (1790-1815), where religious dissent fostered a unique and distinctive cultural identity.

Inhaltsverzeichnis

Frontmatter

Introduction: Irish Poetic Networks, 1790–1815

Abstract
The role of religious and political dissent has recently become central to our understanding of the revolutionary period in Britain and Ireland (1780–1820), and there were few places where Dissenters were more geographically concentrated or socially powerful than in the north of Ireland:
In 1787 the fourth Duke of Rutland making his Viceregal tour of Ireland observed that ‘the province of Ulster is filled with Dissenters, who are in general very factious — great levellers and republicans […]. They are greatly under the influence of their clergy, and are taught from their cradles to be republicans […]. (Stewart, 2000, p. 32)
Rutland’s observations on Ulster point to a densely concentrated religious minority whose religious and political non-conformism was making itself conspicuous but, more generally, they offer a retrospective sense of Ulster’s transnational position in the early Romantic period. This minority was almost exclusively Scottish-descended after centuries of Scots-Irish migration across borders, particularly in what L. M. Cullen described as the ‘pan-Scottish world … on both sides of the North Channel with Glasgow as its intellectual centre’ (Cullen, 1989, p. 230). This fact, combined with the fiercely independent, anti-authoritarian (and therefore tending towards anti-monarchical) theology of the congregations, effectively rendered the Presbyterian Church in Ireland ‘a state within a state’, causing the ruling Episcopal party considerable alarm (Hempton and Hill, 1992, p. 16).
Jennifer Orr

1. Sentiment, Sociability and the Construction of a Poetic Circle

Abstract
It seems that no matter how rural the situation of a literary network, collective attempts at creativity and critical conversation in the Romantic period were rarely confined to one particular social class or intellectual discipline, particularly at the latter end of what is known as the ‘sentimental era’. In his proposal of the Öffentlichkeit, the bourgeois public sphere, Jürgen Habermas drew attention to the homosocial fraternal paradigm of sociability, and since then several works have sought to explore the continuity of Enlightenment sociability and sentiment in a wider variety of settings.1 These include the book club and the literary salon as well as a ‘counter’ public sphere which included radical political societies. Such alternative settings also enabled the inclusion of minorities: women, ‘labouring-class’ groups, and Dissenters. Jon Mee’s Conversable Worlds: Literature, Contention and Community 1762 to 1830 (2011) develops the idea of ‘hazardous conversation’, whereby a number of diverse and competing views might collide within the same circle, producing intense intellectual debate and creativity. More recently, John Goodridge has revised the often underestimated creative relationships between ‘labouring-class’ poets and their contemporaries, particularly the ‘fleeting but intense’ interaction of poets John Clare (1793–1864) and John Keats (1795–1821) (see Goodridge, 2013, p. 61).
Jennifer Orr

2. The Creation of Ulster Labouring-Class Poetry, 1790–3

Abstract
Samuel Thomson’s preface to his debut volume Poems on Different Subjects reflects a self-confident authorial voice which appears to shun the critical elite for an audience of labouring peers. Such self-confidence accrued from a growing fashion across the ‘long’ eighteenth century for labouring-class poetry, most famously exemplified in Stephen Duck (1705?–56), Ann Yearsley (1753–1806) and Robert Burns, poets who enjoyed unprecedented levels of critical and public interest.1 The popularity of these writers was undoubtedly assisted by trends in mid-century poetry, exemplified by Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751) which sought to promote the potentiality of rural ‘mute inglorious Milton[s]’, and a fashion for primitive bardic, origin figures like Macpherson’s Ossian (Gray, 2003, p. 332, l.59). In addition, the Scottish ‘vernacular revival’ produced a tradition of national georgic, known also as the ‘Cotter tradition’, whereby poets presented the rural scene from the perspective of the nameless labouring figures of Gray’s Elegy, creating sympathy with and, in Burns’s case, rehabilitating the Scottish Dissenting figures of the poem. Since the 1980s, work by a vast array of critics has rehabilitated many labouring-class figures as individual poets, particularly Duck, Burns and Clare.2 More recently, Samuel Thomson, independently of his circle, has become a regular study among these rehabilitated poets.3
Jennifer Orr

3. Revolution and Radical Dissenting Poetry, 1791–8

Abstract
Long before Percy Bysshe Shelley’s A Defence of Poetry (1821) articulated the notion of poets as ‘the unacknowledged legislators of the world’, the written word had been credited with the potential to influence public opinion and to complement armed national struggle. But, as Fiona Stafford points out, ‘[t]he very act of writing poetry at a time when others are being shot is sometimes subject to charges of political evasion or irresponsibility, as evident in some of the more anxious, soul-searching of [Seamus] Heaney’s early volumes’ (Stafford, 2010, p. 12). This is a charge to which Irish writers from Yeats to Heaney have felt compelled to respond. While the work of each was shaped by respective historical events — that of Irish independence and the Ulster ‘troubles’ — the Irish revolutionary context of the 1790s was equally central to the formation and development of Ulster Romantic poetry. The most well-known United Irish poet, James Orr has recently formed a book-length study as Ulster’s leading ‘patriot poet’ (see Baraniuk, 2014). Much of Orr’s poetry, most of which was published between 1804 and 1817, was retrospective in its treatment of revolution and rebellion, benefitting from rumination on the events of 1791–8. He forms an interesting contrast to Thomson whose poetry, continuously in the Belfast newspapers and republished with notable emendations in his post-rebellion volume New Poems (1799), offers an intriguing, immediate, sense of an evolving political attitude which responded to the events of the 1790s as they unfolded.
Jennifer Orr

4. ‘Here no treason lurks’: Post-Union Bardic Regeneration

Abstract
Thomson’s image of the hedgehog rolled up into its natural posture of spiky self-defence has been recognised as a powerful symbol of his circle’s retreat into local quietism during the turbulent period following the Irish Rebellion, but the poet’s clever puns on rebel imagery and final reference to the hedgehog’s apparent retreat to raise up a new generation of pups (‘creep awa the way ye came / And tend your squeakin pups at hame’), endows the hedgehog with a powerful allegorical currency to proffer a message of United Irish resistance, and even resurgence (Orr, 2009, pp. 124–5). The poem was written in 1798–9, immediately following the climactic Battle of Antrim at which United Irish rebels, armed with pikes for weapons, engaged with loyalist troops, ultimately unsuccessfully. Thomson’s evident sympathy for the hedgehog and his deliberate reference to its spines (‘pikes’), its defensive natural adaptation against the predator, is clearly a deliberately provocative pun on the weaponry of the recently defeated United Irishmen. Here, through a poem that is a product of the age of sensibility and the interrogation of ‘nature’s social union’ between man and animal, we have a symbol apropos of continued political resistance that defines his poetry of the period following the Rebellion and immediately predating the Act of Union.
Jennifer Orr

5. Dissenting Romanticism in the Early Union Period

Abstract
Religious millennialism was a staple of radical Dissenting writing in the 1790s and millenarianism, in particular, was exploited by the United Irishmen to gain popular support. But in the 1790s there is little direct evidence of Thomson’s specific interest in millenarianism, such as that which we find in some of his United Irish contemporaries like William Steel Dickson (1744–1824).1 Thomson’s transactions with the Belfast bookseller Robert Callwell (1793–7) were mostly composed of poetic works, save ‘Five vols of the the Bible’, and much of his favourite poetry from earlier centuries had a strongly religious theme, particularly Milton and Bunyan (STC, p. 41). James Orr, too, produced many poems that were directly informed by his more liberal ‘New Light’ Presbyterianism. Though he was keen to disassociate himself from what he regarded as the tendency towards Calvinist bigotry in his community, Orr’s poetry features a strong humanitarian theme from the outset and is marked by a Hutchesonian faith in the individual moral conscience that will redeem Ireland as a nation.
Jennifer Orr

6. Metropolitan Print Culture and the Creation of Literary Ulster

Abstract
The appearance in Belfast of Sydney Owenson’s passionately nationalistic novel The Wild Irish Girl, a national tale (1806) was celebrated by the republican poet James Orr, who praised the author for championing the superiority of the Irish character, defined by Orr as that which is ‘friendly in the sportive throng, [and] Hospitable to the stranger’ (ll. 10–11). Whether reformist or conservative, radical or patriotic, many of the poems published by the Thomson circle in the decades immediately following the United Irish Rebellion and the Anglo-Irish Union seek to present an image, or a vision, of a peaceful and culturally flourishing nation with first-rate educational and artistic provision in its regional capital of Belfast. An amusing article from the Dublin magazine The Satirist (1809–10) testifies to the lingering radical reputation of the town of Belfast, where ‘national sentiment, will not be denied by anyone who recollects the ebullitions of Irish patriotism in the years 1796, 1797, and 1798’.1 The review goes on, however, to distinguish tartly between ‘the genuine amor patria’ displayed in Dublin, tellingly described as ‘the Irish metropolis’, and the ‘pride […] and vast knowledge of commercial transaction’ exhibited by the many ‘Scottish-descended’ residents of Belfast. The Satirist commentary reflects a sense in which Belfast was considered by the Dublin literati to be a space which was culturally ‘other’ and still somewhat provincial, and where the intellectual ranks of the town were dominated by bourgeois merchants and bankers.
Jennifer Orr

Conclusion

Abstract
Beyond his influence as Ulster’s first labouring-class poetic success, Samuel Thomson’s decision to form a coterie of poets had far-reaching effects beyond his own lifetime, setting in motion a tradition of Ulster poetry which intersected with the powerful literary salons of the day, not least through the prolific figures of James Orr, William Hamilton Drummond and Robert Anderson, each of whom were read outside of Ireland and whose verses were known by their celebrated contemporaries in Scotland and Ireland such as Scott, Wordsworth and Southey. Within Ulster, a second generation of poets like Thomas Beggs, Joseph Carson, Robert Huddleston and David Herbison looked to Thomson, M’Kenzie and Orr as the founders of a distinctive northern school of poetry which preserved the Dissenting character of Ulster as a province. As Ulster’s first ‘labouring-class’ poetic success, Samuel Thomson remains a central and influential figure; both as an individual poet who inspired others to follow his example, and as the instigator of a coterie which played a leading role in the definition of northern Irish, and later Ulster, Romantic literary culture. In his imaginative creations, drawing on Scottish, English and Irish literary traditions, Thomson captured the uniqueness of Ulster’s landscape, inhabitants, and, crucially, the political and theological events that shaped its contemporary state.
Jennifer Orr

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