18th Century and Romantic Literature Research Seminar

The final meeting of this year's English Faculty 18th-Century and Romantic Studies Research Seminar will take place at 5pm on Thursday 26th April in the Faculty (see plasma screen for location). There will be two 30-minute papers, both given by current PhD students. All are welcome and there will be refreshments between the two talks.

(i) Jessica Lim, "Anna Letitia Barbauld's /Lessons/: The Conversational Primer in Eighteenth-Century Britain"

In 1778 Anna Letitia Barbauld published a small book entitled /Lessons for Children Aged Two to Three Years/. Over the next two years she extended this into a four-part collection. Twenty-two years later, Sarah Trimmer wrote of /Lessons /that the "well-known little books have the merit of being the first of their kind," and only two years after Trimmer made that assessment Charles Lamb angrily described how "that Cursed Barbauld Crew" had successfully dominated the children's literature market with their books "in the shape of knowledge." This paper explores the phenomenon of /Lessons for Children /by analysing Barbauld's invocation of the figure of the parent-author and her use of the conversational mode. By illustrating the ways in which Barbauld's principles of Rational Dissent inform the literary shape and content of /Lessons for Children, /a work emulated by a number of Barbauld's contemporaries,//this paper also suggests the significance of Rational Dissent in shaping late-eighteenth-century British children's books.

Suggested preparatory reading: /Lessons /can be found on ECCO. See also William McCarthy, 'Mother of All Discourses: Anna Barbauld's /Lessons for Children/', in /Culturing the Child 1690 - 1914: Essays in Memory of Mitzi Myers, /ed. Donelle Ruwe (Lanham, Maryland: The Children's Literature Association and Scarecrow Press, 2005), 85 - 111.

(ii) Dylan Carver, "On ashes: Thomas Gray's /Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard /and the philosophy of John Locke"

Few English poems have been as widely memorized as Thomas Gray’s /Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard/. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it was a core element of various curricula, and was frequently taught for recitation. But even before it was institutionally endorsed as one member of an emerging canon of specifically English “classics”, there were readers who wanted to learn it by heart. This kind of intimate familiarity––not only with the poem’s dense tissue of allusions, but also with its metre, rhythm, and complex vowel music––had the potential to unsettle Gray’s own theory of memory, which was strongly influenced by the philosophy of John Locke. Throughout his life, Gray read and annotated Locke’s works. The notes in his commonplace book suggest that he accepted Locke’s distinction between vital memory and (merely) pedagogically useful habit. However, in Gray’s elegy, and in its long reception history, the categories are shown to be impure: habit will sometimes tip over, into memory.

Suggested preparatory reading: a 1753 printing of the /Elegy/

See also the chapter ‘Of Retention’ in Locke’s /Essay Concerning Human Understanding/.