Romantics and Revolutionaries

Romantics and Revolutionaries

The Romantics: England in a Revolutionary Age
by E.P. Thompson
The New Press, 1997 225 pp. $25

This posthumous collection of essays and reviews by E.P. Thompson makes a companion to the last book he completed, Witness against the Beast—a study of William Blake’s poetry in the light of his possible ancestry among the radical Protestant sect of Muggletonians. There was a great deal in that volume about the Muggletonian creed, and somewhat less about its disciple and allegorist, the author of the greatest English lyrics of imaginative liberty. The depth of the archival engagement drove out, or excluded as a matter of economy, a comparable range of critical inquisitiveness, and yet the result was to give Blake’s thinking a credible environment in his age. Much more is known about William Wordsworth, the hero of the present book: he was an inspired historian of his own thoughts and feelings. It might seem that his radical legacy, after the first decade of work in the 1790s, is far more equivocal than Blake’s; but Thompson is largely concerned with the nineties, and the portrait that emerges is unexpectedly generous. Wordsworth’s later ambivalence toward the leveling democratic sentiments he once espoused is shown to be an imaginative response to a pressure of reaction that overtook English society in the years of war against Napoleon.

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