British Romantic Writing and Environmental Catastrophe

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Romantic Climates

Romantic Poetry and the Grammar of Weather

In our latest Romantic Climates blog post, Dr Thomas H. Ford (Melbourne) reflects on the statement ‘it is raining’.

In the second edition of the Works of Percy Shelley published in 1839, Mary Shelley included a number of previously unpublished poetic fragments that she had transcribed from a notebook of drafts, notes and drawings originally compiled by Shelley between the spring of 1819 and the spring of 1820. Amongst the fragments she included can be found the following enigmatic short verse:

The fitful alternations of the rain
Which the chill wind, languid as if with pain
Of its own heavy moisture, here & there
Drives through the grey & beamless atmosphere

Mary Shelley’s motives for publishing these fragments may be surmised from an editorial note to the first edition of the Works, in which she stated:

In addition to such poems as have an intelligible aim and shape, many a stray idea and transitory emotion found imperfect and abrupt expression, and then again lost themselves in silence… I find many such in his manuscript books, that scarcely bear record; while some of them, broken and vague as they are, will appear valuable to those who love Shelley’s mind, and desire to trace its workings.

Taking Mary Shelley’s comment as an interpretative guide, we might read this short poem as a representation of the workings of Shelley’s mind, perhaps even of the workings of the Romantic imagination more broadly conceived. This poetic fragment may well lack an intelligible aim and shape, as Mary Shelley suggested – indeed, it is not even a full sentence, lacking a main verb – and yet it is possible to see in these fitful alternations a description of the fleeting movements of thoughts that lie just on the far side of comprehension, too ambiguous and unstable to be resolved into the fixities of representability. This would then be a poem, at least in part, about the weather within, recording the shifting and unsettled state of a mind whose spasmodic and irregular switching or flipping between two modes, moods or modifications prevents it attaining any certain or communicable self-knowledge.

Such a reading could draw support from the fact that atmosphere for Shelley, as more widely for the Romantic poetry that followed Wordsworth, was a specifically poetic medium of historical experience. Romantic weather involved what Shelley elsewhere referred to as ‘the atmosphere of human thought’: it interfused the physical aeriform environment with the poetic spirit and the sense of history. As such, it was fraught with obscure intimations of loss and communicative failure. Read as an act of poetic self-description, this short fragment records a mind bearing the pain of a heavy moisture it is unable to discharge; a mind in which thought has grown nebulous and indistinct. Its emphasis rests on the fleeting transit of ungraspable emotions, and on vague elements of unilluminated feeling. Describing the failure of the poetic imagination to attain an achieved poetic form, it is a fragment that is in some sense about hazy fragmentation. If it allows us to trace the workings of Shelley’s mind, as Mary Shelley had hoped, it does so by presenting that mind as not really working at all, but as instead dispersing in a cloud of cognitive incapacity: restless, fretful, inclement, afflicted by a paradoxically languid drive.

In formal logic, ‘alternation’ is now a technical term for the inclusive sense of ‘or’, in which both sides of a disjunction may be taken to coexist (the type of inclusive disjunction that Jean-François Lyotard, following Alexandre Kojève, named ‘parathesis’). ‘Fitful alternations’ seem similarly to suspend the logic of the excluded middle, as if it were somehow raining and not raining at the same time in this poem. Except there is no time in this poem, which, lacking a verb, even suspends the logic of predication and the temporal ordering that predicates describe. These alternations never resolve into an event. They instead describe a condition unlocatable in time, a fraught atmosphere of permanent transience. They refuse any spatial localisation as well. Shelley marks a spatial distinction – here / there – only to include both sides of it. The off-rhyme of ‘atmosphere’ and ‘there’ even blurs the phonic dissimilarities between here and there, bending ‘here’, ‘there’, and ‘-sphere’ into an undifferentiated sound vaguely resonant with ‘air’. And identities, like locations and phonemes, also grow hazy and indistinct. The chill wind is said to drive the alternations of the rain through the atmosphere. But the wind and rain are surely themselves part of this atmosphere they traverse, so that agent, object and context effectively merge into one. Indeed, in the manuscript transcribed by Mary Shelley, the word ‘drives’ is actually struck through, placed under erasure. The drive to externality, to poetic self-expression, seems not just self-conflicted but even self-cancelling. The more one looks at this fragment, the harder it is to pick out any definite form or identifiable action, any certain agency, any specificity of time or place. It all fades away into the unbounded murk of a grey and beamless atmosphere, unclosed by any syntactic period or full-stop – an atmosphere of indeterminate extent in which nothing, strangely literally, seems to take place.

Following Mary Shelley, again, one might even read these lines as an act of poetic self-description in a yet more material sense: as an account of their own physical appearance on the manuscript page, and so, by metonymy, as an allegory of the material obscurity and dark passages of inscriptive textuality. In another editorial note, Mary Shelley stated:

Did any one see the papers from which I drew that volume, the wonder would be how eyes or patience were capable of extracting from so confused a mass, interlined and broken into fragments, so that the sense could only be deciphered and joined by guesses which might seem rather intuitive than founded on reasoning.

These handwritten texts constitute a confused and mobile aggregate of heterogeneous materials, in which words, for example, as well as being over-written, jumbled, and struck through, are also often interspersed and covered over with drawings and doodles – Shelley’s ‘kinetic rituals’, as Nancy Moore Goslee suggested, ‘to keep the ink and his thought flowing’. Considered as graphic material, Shelley’s manuscript texts certainly resemble the indefinable state of these fitful alternations of the rain. They are blurred, interlined, uncertain, fragmentary, obscure, suspended, indeterminate and transmedial: resistant to the categories of reason, and legible at best only speculatively. Whether read as an account of the atmosphere of poetic language, as a mood of the poet’s own mind, or as inscriptive material self-reflection, this poem remains stray, transitory, imperfect and abrupt, finally losing itself in silence, just as Mary Shelley had suggested.

What this poem most signally fails to do, and what it keeps most silent about, is its ostensible subject-matter, the weather itself. ‘The fitful alternations of the rain’ do not say ‘it is raining’. And yet, equally, this fragment does not say ‘it is not raining’. What it says instead involves not saying either of these two things. And so it cannot help us to perceive the weather, or to come to know something about the state of the atmosphere: to reconstruct, for example, what was happening outside as Shelley wrote this poem. It communicates nothing meteorological. Nor can it inform an ethics of care that might be extended to include the weather: it ventures no pathetic fallacy, no idea of an answerable nature that is somehow sympathetic or responsive to our communicative concerns. Any emotional state ascribed to the atmosphere in this poem is co-ordinated by the words ‘as if’, placing it in the subjunctive mood of the acknowledged counter-factual. The poem’s connection to the atmospheric environment that it would appear to represent is then one that has been negated or suspended throughout: the poem withholds or withdraws from such acts of environmental representation as that entailed in the statement ‘it is raining’.

That statement – it is raining – was surprisingly central to twentieth-century phenomenological accounts of the nature of experience. The problem concerned understanding what ‘it’ meant in this sentence. What was this ‘it’ that rained? The answer that tended to be given was the ‘it’ that rains is environmental. Analysing the grammar of weather was then seen as a way of illuminating the structure of an environment, and so of providing a phenomenology of environmental being. Husserl, for instance, cited this sentence in his Logical Investigations as an example of what he called fluctuating or unsteady expressions (schwankende Ausdrücke). He contrasts these with the ‘objective expressions’ of theory, geometry, science, mathematics and so on, which can be understood ‘without necessarily directing one’s attention to the person uttering it, or to the circumstances of the utterance’. The meaning of fluctuating expressions, however, is radically context-dependent. Words such as ‘here’, ‘now’ and ‘you’ point to the situation in which they are uttered. Husserl stated that the function of the word ‘here’, for example, is ‘to name the spatial environment of the speaker’. The sentence ‘it is raining’ exemplifies a further sub-category of these essentially contextual expressions, in which the reference to this subjective environment is left tacit and unspoken, despite the meaning of the sentence still hinging on that contextual reference. ‘It is raining’,’ Husserl wrote, ‘does not have the general meaning that rain is falling, but that it is doing so now, outside. What the expression lacks is not merely unspoken, it is not even expressly thought: it certainly belongs, however, to what our speech means’. ‘It is raining’ for Husserl was then a signal example of how our language can be environmental, in that its meaning is contingent on its empirical inscription or utterance in a certain contextual spatial and temporal location, even when reference to that environment is silent, implicit and even unconscious. ‘It is raining’, in other words, circumscribes a singular although unspoken environment centred around the speaker. In so doing, it pointed for Husserl to the projective nature of subjectivity, and to the way in which that subject has always pre-organised his or her field of potential experience into an ambient world, thereby marking the irreducibility from language of reference to the material embodiment of all cognition.

As Husserl noted, ‘it is raining’ is an anonymous formula, an example of what he called ‘the impersonalia of ordinary speech’. In his lecture course of 1929-30, The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude, Heidegger took up the impersonality of this sentence to describe the structure of environmental existence as a fundamentally non-subjective atmosphere or attunement (Stimmung). These are modes of being, Heidegger suggested, ‘that constantly, essentially, and thoroughly attune human beings, without human beings always recognizing them as such’. Such existential atmospheres cannot be properly understood as emotional states, or as properties of a subject or object, because they lie prior to the emergence of any subjective framing of experience, any objective specificity. They instead encompass both subject and object and govern the manner of their subsequent discrimination, thereby shaping how a subject will come to relate to him- or herself, and to his or her world: ‘it seems as though an attunement is in each case already there, so to speak, like an atmosphere in which we first immerse ourselves in each case and which attunes us through and through. It does not seem so, it is so’. And inasmuch as environmental moods set the tone of our being and precede any distinction of subject from object, they participate in the characteristically impersonal grammar of weather expressions:

It is boring for one. What is this ‘it’? The ‘it’ that we mean whenever we say that it is thundering and lightening, that it is raining. It – this is the title for whatever is indeterminate, unfamiliar. Yet we are familiar with this, after all…This is what is decisive: that here we become an undifferentiated no one.

‘It is raining’ says that something is happening, but that it is an agentless happening, something happening to no one in particular, brought about by nothing in particular: a listless mood that drifts through unorganised and non-subjective realms of undifferentiated experience belonging to no-one. Heidegger’s erasure here of the implied subject was the primary point of difference between his interpretation of this sentence and that given by Husserl, in which the ‘it’ of an environment could only be understood through reference to an embodied subject.

Later, in his ‘Letter on humanism’, Heidegger would rework this impersonal formulation – it is raining, it is, there is, Es gibt – much more positively as the impersonal, agentless gift of the given. We have existence as an environment that is beyond and behind all the things that might exist within it, just as we have rain: as an unbidden plenitude. Against these ‘connotations of abundance and generosity’, Lévinas stressed in his Time and the Other that horror was in fact the ground-note or basic Stimmung of environmental being.

Let us imagine all things, being and persons, returning to nothingness. What remains after this imaginary destruction of everything is not something, but the fact that there is [il y a]. The absence of everything returns as a presence, as the place where the bottom has dropped out of everything, an atmospheric density, a plenitude of the void, or the murmur of silence. There is, after this destruction of things and beings, the impersonal ‘field of forces’ of existing. There is something that is neither subject nor substantive. The fact of existing imposes itself when there is no longer anything. And it is anonymous: there is neither anyone nor anything that takes this existence upon itself. It is impersonal like ‘it is raining’.

In this ‘atmosphere of presence’, from which all existing things have been abstracted, environmental being is again seen to be anonymous and impersonal. ‘It’ here does not stand in for some unexpressed noun or series of noun-predicates, as it did with Husserl, but rather designates a properly impersonal dynamic, a ‘density of the void’, existence as such, in which there is no longer any inside or outside. The horror of environmental being, for Lévinas, was that the negation of any particular given form, the destruction of any existing entity, whether object or subject, never actually succeeded in removing this background atmosphere of presence, and so never quite fully succeeded in eliminating the presence of that entity either. That is where the horror of the environment lies: whatever you might want to dispose of, erase or negate just keeps on returning, returning as ‘it’, precipitated as rain. Lévinas illustrated this process, which he called ‘the return of presence in negation’, with the figure of the corpse, which presents the material persistence of the body after death. Considered in environmental terms, death is never the end: the corpse remains. There is no nothingness, and so no way out from an environment, neither for your trash, nor for you. With Lévinas, the inescapability of environmental being – which for Husserl indicated the ineradicable environmental co-ordinates of any linguistic act, and for Heidegger the ontological priority of the moods of existence – took on a traumatic, menacing dimension.

In a draft essay from the early 1980s, Louis Althusser gave these phenomenological interpretations of ‘it is raining’ an aleatory turn, taking this sentence as his starting-point for a theory of the legibility of history understood as radically non-teleological. Althusser’s philosophy of rain was a late attempt to address what had been a central problem for him throughout his writings: the problem of reconciling historical necessity (determination ‘in the final instance’) with the contingency of history – its capacity for unpredictable swerves, abrupt epistemological breaks and singular new beginnings. From the sentence ‘it is raining’ Althusser derived a theoretical model in which historical events and institutions could be understood as contingent conjunctures of otherwise independent elements, conjunctions that had taken on a quasi-durable form:

Nothing in the elements of the encounter prefigures, before the actual encounter, the contours and determinations of the being that will emerge from it… Quite the contrary: no determination of the elements can be assigned except by working backwards from the result to its becoming, in its retroaction.

For Althusser, the ‘it’ of ‘it is raining’ named this unsurpassable conjunctural condition of historical understanding, the facticity or ‘always already’ nature of what it must decipher. ‘It is’ then indicated ‘the priority of the occurrence…over all its forms’, and ‘the primacy of absence over presence’.

Further philosophical discussions of ‘it is raining’ could be added to this survey. But these brief outlines should already suffice to indicate how persistently twentieth-century phenomenology identified in the grammar of our weather language the parameters of environmental being. These interpretations of the sentence ‘it is raining’ all shared the sense that atmosphere is structured like a language. They were committed to the principle that we can come to understand aspects of environmental experience by thinking about how we use words like ‘it’. ‘It is raining’ is a neutral form that weakens distinctions between subject and object; grammatically, it is a middle voice neither active nor passive; its temporality is uncertain, occupying an indeterminate present. And drawing on those grammatical ambiguities, philosophers derived theories of environmental being that appeared to contradict each other. For Husserl, ‘it is raining’ pointed ultimately to the way the environment always environs a subject. For Heidegger and Lévinas, by contrast, it pointed to the impersonality that precedes the emergence of any subjectivity, and which determines whatever subjective forms may then emerge within it. Althusser discovered in the formal structure of the sentence ‘it is raining’ a conception of history as the contingent concatenation of heterogeneous forms, the determinations of which are legible only speculatively and retrospectively. ‘It is raining’ would then appear to be impersonal despite or while also describing a situation centred on a speaker. That situation is unique, singular and embodied, yet also vague and indefinable. It is available only retrospectively even as it defines the here-and-now. It is like a historical conjuncture in that it is unstable and contingent: if it is raining, it always might well not have.

We could take this bundle of unstable and even contradictory semantic properties as together outlining the grammar of weather, supplying the paradoxical shape and feeling of what an atmospheric environment is. But then there are also the paradoxes language enters into when it becomes poetic, involving the distinct ways that literature uses words, even words as apparently simple as ‘it’. As Paul Valéry observed in The Art of Poetry, ‘it’ works differently in poetry: ‘One is taught: “Say it is raining if you mean it is raining”. But a poet’s object is not and never can be to tell us that it is raining. We do not need a poet to persuade us to take our umbrella’. In poetic language it is ‘the nonusage – the not saying “it is raining” – that is [the poet’s] business’. The practice of ‘nonusage’ described here by Valéry was performatively undertaken in the closing lines of Samuel Beckett’s novel Molloy: ‘Then I went back into the house and wrote, It is midnight. The rain is beating on the windows. It was not midnight. It was not raining’. Literature is not a weather report, even – perhaps especially – when it looks most like one.

If the environment has the structure of a language, as twentieth-century philosophers implied, then certain literary uses of language (nonusages, in Valéry’s term) would seem to involve the cancellation or at least suspension of that environmental grammar. In her essay ‘Unspeakable Weather, or the Rain Romantic Constatives Know’, Anne-Lise François identified one mode of such a suspension in Wordsworth’s weather poetry. The ‘Romantic constative’ is in her words ‘a type of sentence that makes available what remains impersonal or unclaimed – of no concern – in subjective experience, a mode of statement that, finished at the instant of its posing, releases such experience from construction, whether this means the expectation of narrative development or the consolations of psychic identity’. The impersonal yet subjective moods and modes of experience that François described share critical semantic properties with the weather statements investigated by phenomenology. But Romantic poetry made this atmospheric experience available – it communicated it, made it expressive – by suspending the operative force of the semantic structures that would later prove so important for twentieth-century philosophical investigations of environmental experience. These suspended constructions include, in addition to the ones listed by François (the constructions of narrative sequence and of expressive individuality), those of the environmental grammar which is encoded in some of our most basic acts of speaking about what surrounds us, and of saying what it is where we are. Something like environmental experience (unclaimed, impersonal, yet still subjective) is released from the condition of its intelligibility in these environmental terms – terms influentially taken in the twentieth century to figure the phenomenological condition of all meaningfulness as such.

Neither saying it is raining nor not saying it is raining, the fitful alternations of Shelley’s rain withhold or abstract from the grammar of environment. In such lyric utterances in which the ‘pathos of heightened subjectivity’ becomes ‘indistinguishable from intensified impersonality’, François locates evidence of a ‘fraught ecological commitment to knowledge of the world not predicated on an assimilating or anthropomorphizing consciousness’. Romanticism’s atmospheres formed a critical chapter in the history of Western environmental consciousness because in these years the word ‘atmosphere’ acquired paradoxical semantic elements that would later be taken up in the word ‘environment’. But the true paradox of Romanticism’s literary atmospherics – suspended, undecidable, parathetic and vague as they are – is that they also bore witness to the possibility of experiencing the natural world as it might exist outside those structures of meaning, and so to a nature beyond, before, or without the grammar of environmental being, however we might choose to interpret ‘it’.

Thomas H. Ford is a Lecturer in English and Theatre Studies at the University of Melbourne. His book on Atmospheric Romanticism is forthcoming from Cambridge University Press.

This entry was posted in Romantic Climates.

Vile Atmospheres and Stagnant Wonders: Clare in the Fens

In our latest Romantic Climates blog post, Dr Erin Lafford (Oxford) writes on John Clare, fenlands, and ‘Romantic air’.

In his essay ‘The Correspondent Breeze’ (1984), M. H. Abrams laid a foundation for thinking about the role of ‘air-in-motion’ in Romantic period poetry.[1] Alongside tracing the significance of air (and its movements in winds, breaths, and breezes) as a key metaphor for emotional and political renovation, Abrams also acknowledged that ‘the moving air lent itself pre-eminently to the aim of tying man back into the environment’. He did not, however, specify what type of environment this is or should be. If the legacy of Abrams’ essay is that there has long been identified a prominent aerial imagination in Romantic poetry and poetics, then there is room now to think about how this aerial imagination might speak to, and be readdressed by, the concerns and approaches of the environmental humanities. Specifically, in this blog post I hope to offer some thoughts about how the trope of aerial inspiration so central to Abrams’ reading of Romanticism can be brought into relationship with ideas about the impact of the environment and its climatic effects on individuals that were circulating in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Air is a beguiling element, unseen and yet ubiquitous. It was, however, and continues to be, conceived as a key medium of transmission between the self and their environment, especially where health is concerned. Such a viewpoint necessitates thinking about air as it relates to specific environmental conditions; rather than a general ‘tying’ of ‘man’ into an unidentified habitat or climate, this blog post will explore how Romantic poetry and its surrounding medical and environmental discourses reveal an interest in air as a site of differentiation between places and their healthy or unhealthy effects. The idea of a ‘correspondent breeze’, when brought into contact with the material specificities of a poet’s surroundings, was not without its fears and anxieties, and the line between inspiration and contagion was not always distinct. To draw out some of these ideas, I am going to focus on the poetry of John Clare and its exploration of the Northborough fenland by which he was surrounded from 1832-37.

The landscape that features in much of Clare’s ‘middle-perid’ poetry is the vast expanse of fenland in East Anglia, ranging between Souh Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire, which he encountered properly when he moved from Helpston to Nortborough in 1832.   The principle characteristic of fenland is its flatness, marked by expanses of shallow water (either fresh or salt), in which dead plant matter does not fully decay, and so forms a layer of saturated peat and bog. In his poem ‘Winter in the Fens’ Clare opens with a rather gloomy prospect of such a landscape:

So moping flat & low our valleys lie
So dull & muggy is our winter sky
Drizzling from day to day with threats of rain
And when that falls still threatening on again
From one wet week so great an ocean flows
That every village to an island grows
And every road for even weeks to come
Is stopt, and none but horsemen go from home

(ll. 1-8)

The sense of a waterlogged, ‘muggy’, and ‘threatening’ environment captured in these lines taps into anxieties prior and contemporary to Clare about the hostile and unhealthy nature of the fens. The presence of stagnant water, which in turn was thought to propagate a potentially noxious atmosphere of miasmas and vapours, combined to foster a fear of this environment as both physically and morally dangerous. Such wariness was expressed in literary, medical, and agricultural texts. James Armstrong’s four-book poem, The Art of Preserving Health (1744) warned readers against treading near the ‘slothful Naiad of the fens’, for fear that their ‘humid soil’, ‘watry reign’ and ‘Eternal vapours’ should result in ‘Tertian, corrosive scurvy, or moist cattarh’ (I, ll. 130-59). For Arthur Young, the apparent uhealthiness and moral degradation bred in the fens was justification enough to warrant their drainage, called for during the onward march of enclosure acts in the region. In his General View of the Agriculture of the County of Lincoln (1799), he stated that ‘So wild a country nurses up a race of people as wild as the fen; and thus the morals and the eternal welfare of numbers are hazarded or ruined for want of enclosure. Drainage supposedly liberated the fens from being a rancid site of infection to a fertile and prosperous landscape where ‘fens of water, mud, wild fowl, frogs, and agues have been converted to rich pasture […] Health improved, morals corrected, and the community enriched’.[2] The ‘agues’ mentioned here, otherwise known as a malarial illness referred to as ‘fen fever’, also appear in a medical treatise by Dr Fenwick Skrimshire, Clare’s Peterborough doctor who was one of the signatories on his committal papers to Northampton General Asylum. Skrimshire’s The Village Pastor’s Surgical and Medical Guide (1830) situates his readers in a decidedly hostile environment, depicting the fens as a hotbed of illness and disease. He writes of ‘the prevailing fevers of our fenny country’, and that ‘the swamp and the fen, in whatever climate they may be situated, are not fit places for human habitations’.[3]

Crucially, the purportedly infectious air and atmosphere of the fens played the most significant part in their literary, cultural, and medical reputation for being so inhospitable. In Rural Rides (1830), William Cobbett recalled an encounter with a mass of fog on the journey from London to Newbury, but was assured by its resemblance to more innocuous clouds formed from above rather than risen from below: ‘I do not think that they are by any means injurious to health. It is the fogs that rise out of swamps, and other places, full of putrid vegetable matter, that kill people’.[4] It is the emphasis that Cobbett places on these ‘fogs’ as rising from the ground that offers such a significant distinction between this form of air and the kind Abrams had in mind when he wrote ‘The Correspondent Breeze’. In his book The Matter of Air (2010), Steven Connor distinguishes between ‘Romantic’ air and its antithesis: the first is a kind of inspirational ‘radiance’ that falls from above, a ‘Romantic haze’ that both ‘diffuses and retains radiance’. The second is more pathological: a ‘vaporous sensibility’ where ‘mists and fogs are held to be the unhealthy halitosis of the ground […] full of infection, as opposed to the ethereal lucidity of the upper air’.[5] The air that reeks upwards from the fens, then, does not lend itself to participation in the ‘aim of tying man back into the environment’ that Abrams conceived. A poem that sought to harness such an atmosphere would be treading a fine line between inspiration and contagion. Clare was all too aware of this. He frequently wrote to his publishers, John Taylor and James Hessey, about bouts of fever that he attributed to the surrounding fenland: ‘I have just got over a very bad fever that is now raging from house to house in our fenny villages like a plague’; ‘I was taken soon after I received your letter with the books & was ill six weeks     it was a very bad Fever & I expect I brought it out of the Fens home with me’.[6] His friend and champion in London, Eliza Emmerson, frequently expressed fears about the effects of the fens on Clare’s health, and wrote to him in June 1825 asking about the well-being of one of his daughters (also named Eliza): ‘She, too, cannot escape the ague-like effects of the season, and your vile fenny atmosphere. I sincerely wish both for your children’s sake & your own you could quit the flats & bogs of Helpstone’.

Yet for all of his fears of exposure to the threatening atmosphere of the fens, and indeed his experiences of ill-health (both mental and physical) that were so often attributed to them, Clare did not deem this landscape unfit for poetic representation. Poems such as ‘Winter in the Fens’ offer a rather bleak view of what it means to inhabit this landscape, and some, such as ‘The Fens’, draw on the anxiety of contagion. The landscape is figured as provoking shudders, chills, and the ague, with fearsome creatures lurking beneath murky waters:

Wandering by the rivers edge
I love to rustle through the sedge
And through the woods of reed to tear
Almost as high as bushes are
Yet, turning quick with shudder chill
As danger ever does from ill
Fear’s moment-ague quakes the blood
While plop the snake coils in the flood

(ll. 1-8)

The ‘shudder chill’ and ‘moment-ague’ that ‘quakes the blood’ in these lines announce an uncomfortable version of being ‘tied’ into an environment, where innocuous ‘wandering’ invites potentially harmful encounters with the landscape; the verse enacts a fearful ‘turning’ way from the environment in this respect, even as Clare’s speaker tracks his movements through it. However, elsewhere in his poetry Clare counters the anxiety surrounding the fens by choosing instead to celebrate their biodiversity and beauty. In ‘Wanderings in June’ especially, the speaker’s enjoyment at trudging through fenland turns not on a sense of freely circulating, refreshing air, but on a sense of stagnation. He marks how a sudden encounter with the topography of the fens (‘But now my footsteps sidle round / The gently sloping hill / Now falter over marshy ground’ (ll. 185-87)) gives way to a moment of amazement at the forms of life they contain:

What wonders strike my idle gaze
As near the pond I stand!
What life its stagnant depth displays
As varied as the land
All forms & sizes swimming there
Some sheath’d in silvery den
Oft siling up as if for air
Then nimbling down again

(ll. 201-208)

The static, ‘idle’ environment offered here cultivates a turn away from a ‘correspondent breeze’ to harness instead a stagnant atmosphere as the means of revelation.   Stagnation and its requisite lack of circulation becomes a model of focussed attention and, crucially, of wonder. It is the airless (‘as if for air’) that informs Clare’s poetic gaze here, and the unhealthy connotations of stagnant water and its vapours become rehabilitated into a model of deep environmental engagement.

By figuring the fens as a source of pleasure and wonder, then, Clare offers a way into complicating the aerial imagination of Romantic poetry. He brings the specificities of his local environment to bear on his verse, and finds inspiration never far away from the threat of contagion. The sluggish atmosphere of the fens, considered the antithesis to a Romantic ideal of ‘air in motion’, is transformed in his verse into a vehicle of enchantment and attentive wonder. Clare also, I think, invites us to consider how he self-consciously sought to transform the toxic air of his locality into the material of poetic composition, and how our understanding of Romantic air can be enriched and diversified by his poetics. I conclude this post with some lines from one of the many songs Clare composed, in order to think about how the noxious air of the fens also became the source of a sung, poetic ‘air’; Clare’s song hails not from the correspondent breeze, but from the swamps, and we must think about what it means for a poet to harness deliberately such a ‘low’ form of air:

Swamps of wild rush beds & sloughs squashy traces
Grounds of rough fallows wi thistle & weed
Flats & low vallies of kind cups & daiseys
Sweetest of subjects are ye for my reed
[…] Yer skies may be gloomy & misty yer mornings
Yer flat swampy vallies unholsome may be
Still refuse of nature wi out her adornings
Yere dear as this heart in my bosom to me

(ll. 1-24)

This is not an ideal, generalised poetic ‘air’ but one borne out of a specific topography and that bears the traces of a supposedly inhospitable atmosphere. That Clare can not only breathe, but sing in the fens, is a reimagining of inspiration that brings it down from the clouds towards the material influences of a poet’s environment (healthy or unhealthy) and an alternative form of Romantic air.

[1] M. H. Abrams, ‘The Correspondent Breeze: A Romantic Metaphor’, in The Correspondent Breeze: Essays On English Romanticism (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1984), pp. 25-43.

[2] Arthur Young, General View of the Agriculture of the Country of Lincoln (London: Bulmer and Co, 1799), p. 246.

[3] Fenwick Skrimshire, The Village Pastor’s Surgical and Medical Guide (London: Hatchard and Son, 1838), p. 259.

[4] William Cobbett, Rural Rides (London: William Cobbett, 1820), p. 127

[5] Steven Connor, The Matter of Air: Science and Art of the Ethereal (London: Reaktion Books, 2010), pp. 178-79.

[6] The Letters of John Clare, ed. Mark Storey (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985), p. 245; p. 446.

Erin Lafford is currently a Stipendiary Lecturer in English at Trinity College, University of Oxford. Her research centres around thinking about Romantic period literature in relation to medical and environmental thought, and she has recently completed her doctorate on ‘Forms of Health in John Clare’s Poetics’.

This entry was posted in Romantic Climates.

Enduring Darkness: Romantic Visions of Apocalypse

In the second of our Romantic Climates blog posts, Dr Catherine Redford (Oxford) discusses depictions of apocalyptic climate change in Romantic writing.

In the Christian tradition, it is said that the end of the world will be marked by a terrifying and all-encompassing darkness. Across the gospels, Christ advises his followers of the signs of the end days, warning that the sun will darken, the moon will fail to give light, and the stars will fall from heaven. These prophecies are echoed in Revelation, the final book of the Bible, in which the opening of the sixth seal on doomsday prompts a great earthquake and leads to the sun becoming ‘black as sackcloth’ (Revelation 6. 12).

The eighteenth century saw a particular fascination with this eschatological tradition. Numerous poems were written at this time that depict the fire and brimstone of Christian apocalypse, with bones rising from graves into a fiery world in which the wicked are judged. A number of these texts explicitly draw on the terror of darkness at the end of time: in his On the General Conflagration, and Everlasting Judgment (1710), John Pomfret describes how the sun is ‘to substantial Darkness turn’d’ during the ‘black Days of Universal Doom’, while Edward Young’s A Poem on the Last Day (1713) imagines the ‘exstinguisht Sun’ of doomsday and John Ogilvie depicts the ‘eternal night’ of the apocalypse in The Day of Judgment (1753).

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the concept of apocalypse took on a new significance that combined Christian prophecy with the experiences and theories of the contemporary world. Whereas the popular understanding of apocalypse had previously been rooted in the theological, it now began to be influenced by new scientific thought – specifically, by the emerging fields of geology and palaeontology. The biblical account of the earth being but a few thousand years old, which had previously been widely accepted, had been shaken by the discovery in the eighteenth century of fossil records suggesting that the earth was in fact far older than this. In 1813, Baron Georges Cuvier published his Essay on the Theory of the Earth, a scientific tract arguing that the presence of the fossils of different animals within separate layers of the earth’s strata indicates the occurrence of many sudden and violent ‘revolutions’ in the world’s history, whereby dramatic natural catastrophes wipe out entire populations and clear the way for new species.

With the publication of Cuvier’s theories, the idea of apocalypse thus shifted; no longer necessarily a single event at the end of time presided over by a controlling deity, apocalypse could be plural and cyclical, marked by the rise and fall of species and habitats. But while Cuvier’s apocalyptic revolutions were dramatic and multiple, others predicted a more lingering end for the earth. In 1749, Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon had published La Théorie de la Terre, a work that suggested the earth was gradually cooling and would continue to do so until it was eventually completely encased in impacted ice – a hypothesis that was in stark contrast to the Christian ‘fire and brimstone’ model of doomsday. Buffon’s theory of natural climate change, which went through several editions in the decades following its publication, became particularly resonant following the volcanic eruption in 1815 of Mount Tambora in Indonesia. A hundred times more powerful than the famous eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, this geological event killed an estimated 10,000 people instantly and released around 55 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide into the air. This sulphur dioxide formed fine particles of sulphuric acid that created a ‘veil’ in the atmosphere, leading to a darkening of the skies across Europe and a fall in global temperatures by 2-3 degrees Celsius. As a consequence, the 1816-17 global crop yield dropped by approximately 75 per cent, resulting in food riots and civil disruption. 1816 came to be known as the ‘Year Without a Summer’, with the newspapers and periodicals of the time filled with reports of torrential rain, flooding, hail, and thunderstorms.

With the origins of these climatic conditions remaining a mystery to those in Europe, the weather events of 1816 were interpreted as apocalyptic in both the older biblical and more modern scientific sense. The dark skies immediately brought to mind the New Testament prophecies of the end days in which the sun turns black, but the falling temperatures also held echoes of Buffon’s vision of an icy end for the world. At this time, scientists also observed an entirely coincidental increase in sunspot activity; combined with the unseasonably gloomy weather, this led to rumours that the sun was dying and that doomsday was surely imminent. The so-called ‘Bologna Prophecy’, which can be traced back to an Italian astronomer, predicted that the world would end on 18 July that year, and in England the April edition of the Literary Panorama ran a headline that announced ‘The End of the World! The End of the World!’.

In Geneva, the poets Lord Byron and Percy Shelley were confined to the house for long spells due to these freak weather events, and spent time considering the apocalyptic implications of the recent climate change. In a letter to Thomas Love Peacock dated 22 July 1816, Shelley referred to Buffon’s ‘sublime but gloomy’ theory that ‘this earth which we inhabit will at some future period be changed into a mass of frost’, and in a conversation with Byron later recorded by Cyrus Redding speculated about how ‘if the sun were to be extinguished at this moment’, the human race would perish ‘until perhaps only one remained’. A devotee of Cuvier, Byron perhaps introduced Shelley to the concept of catastrophic apocalyptic revolutions at this time; in Shelley’s ‘Mont Blanc’, a poem written that summer, we can certainly locate the destructive yet cyclical power of apocalypse in the image of the race of man flying in dread, ‘his work and dwelling’ vanishing ‘like smoke before the tempest’s stream’ (ll. 118-19).

Lord Byron’s work that summer also took inspiration from the dark skies and apocalyptic anxiety of 1816. In the short poem ‘Darkness’, which was written between 21 July and 25 August that year, Byron presents a vision of the end of the world in the form of what the speaker cryptically describes as ‘a dream, which was not all a dream’ (l. 1). In Byron’s depiction of the apocalypse, the ‘bright sun’ is ‘extinguish’d’ (l. 2) and the stars ‘wander darkling in the eternal space’ (l. 3) of the ‘moonless air’ (l. 5). The parallels with Christ’s description of doomsday here are striking, but Byron simultaneously weaves in references to a more modern understanding the end of the world; indeed, perhaps this is ‘not all a dream’ because a version of it is being played out in Byron’s own time. The poem is filled with icy imagery that is possibly a response to Shelley’s interest in Buffon’s apocalyptic theories; not only does the speaker refer to the ‘icy earth’ (l. 4) in the opening lines of the text but, if we turn to Byron’s undated rough draft of the poem (MS. T), we can observe that he originally imagined the ‘frozen depths’ of lakes and rivers and described the ocean’s waves as ‘folded up and frozen’.

One of the great mysteries of Byron’s poem is whether this is a secular version of apocalypse or not. On the one hand, God appears to be startlingly absent: while the poem opens with familiar biblical imagery of apocalypse, it quickly becomes apparent that the promised second coming and accompanying millennium will not be taking place. Instead, the poem ends in nothingness, the universe conversely defined by absence, void, and an all-encompassing darkness. On the other hand, it’s possible that Byron engages with the biblical model of apocalypse in order to suggest that God has deliberately withdrawn himself from a world that has rejected Christianity; after all, the scriptures repeatedly figure the act of turning away from God as the acceptance of darkness, and hell itself is depicted as a space into which no light can enter.

This engagement with the darkness of apocalypse can also be found in other works of the early nineteenth century that consider the end of the world. In the 1820s, the figure of the Last Man on earth became particularly popular, and appeared in numerous poems, plays, novels, short stories, paintings, and songs of the time, the most famous of which is Mary Shelley’s post-apocalyptic novel of 1826, The Last Man. In Thomas Campbell’s ‘The Last Man’, a short poem of 1823, the Last Man on earth watches as the world dies around him at the end of time. Thought by many to have been inspired by Byron’s ‘Darkness’, this poem in fact bears little relation to its predecessor, presenting the Last Man as a prophet figure who is sure that doomsday is being controlled by God and is ultimately confident of his place in heaven. The contemporary accusations that Campbell copied Byron’s idea stem, in part, from the fact that Campbell chooses to frame his apocalypse with the death of the sun. While Byron plunges the reader into total darkness from the opening of his text, however, Campbell presents the sun as slowly dying, its ‘sickly glare’ (l. 11) functioning as a metaphorical sunset for humankind. There are clear parallels with Christ dying for humanity from the start of the poem, with the Campbell punning on sun/Son as the speaker states that ‘The Sun himself must die / Before this mortal shall assume / Its immortality!’ (ll. 2-4).

Another depiction of the death of the sun at the end of time occurs in a short story of 1826 that was published anonymously in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. ‘The Last Man’ tells the tale of a man who falls asleep – in a manner reminiscent of Rip Van Winkle – in the mouth of a cave and wakes up at the end of time in a dying world. Written ten years after the Year Without a Summer, it’s unlikely that this vision of the apocalypse was influenced by the climate change of 1816, nor does it appear to respond to the depiction of doomsday found in the Christian eschatological tradition. The text, however, is indebted to the grand geological timescale of scientists such as Cuvier and Buffon, whose understanding of the history – and future – of the planet extended over millennia. Upon waking from his extended sleep, the narrator of ‘The Last Man’ immediately observes both the geological changes to the landscape and the alteration of the heavens. He notes that the skies have an ‘unnatural dimness’ at night, with the moon emitting only a strange ‘broken light’ and the planets appearing ‘larger, and redder, and darker’ – that is, older – than they had been in his own time. Even when the sun rises the Last Man is surrounded by the same ‘dark atmosphere’, with the aged sun having become a ‘dark orb of reddish flame’, sinking towards the earth as it slowly dies. The landscape, too, has altered beyond recognition: the river has dried up, the vegetation has decayed, and the very rocks have ‘mouldered away’. The Last Man explicitly notes that this destruction is not the result of the ‘rapid devastation of an earthquake’ but the product of the ‘slow finger of time’: this darkness has not descended upon the world suddenly and dramatically, as in Byron’s poem, but gradually and naturally.

Visions of apocalypse can be traced back to Judaic texts from the third century BC and occur throughout both the Old and New Testaments, but in the early nineteenth century there was a shift in the popular understanding of the end of the world. While visions of doomsday from this period continue to respond to the eighteenth-century Christian eschatological tradition – most notably in the fascination with the death of the sun and the darkness that follows – they also draw on emerging scientific theories of deep time, revolutionary catastrophe, and slow, geological change. The darkness and climate change experienced across the world in the summer of 1816 compounded this new way of framing the apocalypse, prompting a new generation of modern apocalyptic texts that saw humankind at the mercy not of God, but of time itself.

Dr Catherine Redford is a Career Development Fellow in English at Hertford College, Oxford. Her research interests include the depiction of apocalypse and dystopia in literature of the long nineteenth century, and she has published on Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, and H. G. Wells. She is currently writing a book on the Romantic ‘Last Man’ tradition. Website:

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There’s a Planet Outside the Text—Notes toward a Deep Historicism

In the first of our Romantic Climates blog posts, Professor Gillen D’Arcy Wood (Illinois) reflects on Deep Time and the humanities.

In Tennyson’s In Memoriam (1833-48), geological Deep Time signifies a pitiless Nature and the subjugation of all species, humans included, to the logic of extinction:

From scarpèd cliff and quarried stone
She cries, “A thousand types are gone;
I care for nothing, all shall go. (56: 2-4)

1830s texts by Charles Lyell and Tennyson revealed the trendlines of the intellectual elite, but the true popularization of Deep Time—which Stephen Jay Gould has called the most momentous epistemological revolution since Galileo—would wait until the 1860s. Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859, followed by Lyell’s The Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man (1863) and John Lubbock’s Pre-Historic Times (1865) imprinted a new, abyssal figure of time on the popular imagination. Deep Time applied not only to Theories of the Earth, but to the Descent of Man also. For generations of English professors, the “darkling plain” of Matthew Arnold’s 1867 poem “Dover Beach” has stood for the theological upheaval and heartbreak of the 1860s. Thank God for “Dover Beach”! It condenses the decades-long intellectual “roar” over Deep Time theory into a satisfying 37-line lyric, eminently teachable in a single 50-minute class.

So goes the familiar history of the Victorians, Evolutionary Theory, and Deep Time. But what has happened since—in academia, at least—is less easy, or comfortable, to describe. The Victorians discovered Deep Time, but we, as cultural historians of the period, while enshrining that discovery, have excused ourselves from its true implications. Historiography was the first emergent discipline to feel the shuddering impact of the Deep Time revolution of the 1860s. Sacred history must be abandoned, but what to replace it with? Professional historians of the late nineteenth century, faced with their own extinction, responded with truly Darwinian ingenuity. The biblical timescale of 6,000 years would be preserved by substituting the creation of the Earth with a refurbished chronology called “the birth of civilization,” with the Mediterranean as its “cradle.” The geography—ancient Mesopotamia—remained intact—with only minor adjustments: Genesis and the Garden of Eden gave way to the ziggurats and tablets of Sumer. Shored up against the abyss of Deep Time, human history was stabilized within a bible-deep chronology, only with writing and mathematics, the rule of law, and building of cities as the new narrative of origins, replacing Original Sin.

150 years since “Dover Beach,” a century since the secularization of Biblical chronology, and the Deep Time revolution has yet to reach the academic humanities. Scholars in the twentieth century combined ingenuity with simple denial to keep at bay the intellectual revolution that continues to define and drive the modern bio-physical sciences. Evolution’s bastard intellectual offspring—eugenics and social Darwinism—brought Deep Time theory into toxic proximity with institutional racism. For an academic historiography committed to modern nation-state narratives and cultural identity formation, Deep Time and evolution signified an insidiously deterministic counter-narrative, at odds with the consensus Hegelian model of progress, agency, and self-realization.

From century’s beginning to end, therefore, the practice of history (and its sibling literary and cultural historiographies) was defined by almost exclusively by the study of writing: by the accumulation of textual primary sources for general information, and by the “close reading” of select texts for the discovery of more subtle intentions and ideologies extrapolated to represent the age. Visual objects—paintings, architecture, landscapes, fashions—might be included, to be interpreted as “texts.” With nineteenth-century intellectual history in mind, the hegemony of writing in twentieth-century historiography appears on a continuum with the “shallow” timeline mandated by scriptural chronology and its secularized offspring. Scripto-centrism in the humanities since Victorian times has prevailed at the direct expense of Deep Time theory, to the point where our estrangement from the natural and physical sciences, of which Deep Time is the founding, enabling principle, is absolute.

Wait a minute! you say: twentieth-century critical theory has destroyed precisely that “grand narrative” paradigm of teleological history I just described! No respectable scholar today champions a triumphalist “History of Western Civilization” model beginning in the Mediterranean 5,000 years ago. Yes, indeed, but the problem of shallow historiography has only gotten worse with the rise of techno-industrial and postcolonial narratives of modernity, which radically foreshorten history’s timeline to the period of European industrialization and global expansion since 1750. Where once the period before Sumer and the invention of writing was cast into the oblivion of “pre-history,” now a post-1750 modernity narrative reigns supreme, with scholars of the Renaissance forced to fight for their lives (and tenure lines) as Early Modernists, and medievalists voted off the island entirely. [Of the five trained medievalists in my department, one teaches comic books; another lectures on Tolkien and Game of Thrones; while two others have ridden off into the sunset of the Deanery]. We are left with specialists and sub-specialists of “modern” European imperialism and its aftermath of subaltern rising. The work in this field is often brilliant and revelatory, but it belongs, nevertheless, to a larger, suffocating hegemony of ideas: what Daniel Smail has called “the sterile presentism that grips the historical community.” I know the phenomenon all too well. As a career Romanticist I am no less a product of the dominant shallow time methodology than any humanist working in the Academy today. Even now, as an advocate of Deep Time scholarship, I don’t feel truly comfortable making a pronouncement on anything that has ever occurred outside the 1810s.

So, the intellectually restless Victorians excavated Deep Time, but we have managed, in the 150 years since, to reinter it, quietly but determinedly. The crimes of “modernity” teach us that we are not merely mortal, but that human experience, and cultural imagination, is radically temporally constrained. Short memories and brutish, short-term goals. A shallow life. All reflected in our historiography. The Victorians felt the shock of an Earth’s history stretching billions of years, but we have, through a consensus of silence on the subject, become immured to that shock. Like the first generation of professional historians in the late nineteenth century, we compartmentalize and consign. Modernity, glittering, savage, and sublime, is our sole preoccupation; what predates it is forever, irredeemably, pre-modern. The Ancients and Elizabethans retain vestiges of their charm, but as for Deep Time—that Victorian intellectual revolution might as well not have happened.

What’s the remedy? How can nineteenth-centuryists, and other period scholars, escape the fetish-logic that drives the triumph of modernity and history-as-text?

In one sense, the emergence of the Anthropocenic model might appear just another ingenious academic iteration of modernity’s sacred timeline: history truly begins only with the first fossil-fuel dependent technologies of the late eighteenth century. For professional humanists, the status quo is preserved, with a fashionable environmentalist inflection to supplement the prevailing techno-industrial and postcolonial models that sacralize the post-1750 period. Not only that, but the word itself betrays the bias that gave rise to the very crisis the Anthropocene names, that is, a dedication to the human story at the expense of everything non-human. Certainly, for the Romanticist, the rise of the Anthropocene can seem like Christmas come early. We are no longer curators of a few brief, tumultuous decades at the turn of the nineteenth century, but are reinvigorated as scholars indispensable to a newly created episteme: the “Birth of the Anthropocene.” Dissertations will be written, symposiums convened, and careers made.

This said, I contend there are more reasons for optimism than cynicism in the rise of Anthropocene studies. Because the transdisciplinary debate over the Anthropocene began among, and is hosted by, eminent geologists, in order to engage the discourse of the Anthropocene humanists cannot avoid the subject of Deep Time. To define the Anthropocene, one must first be conversant with the scientific basis for demarcating the greater geological epoch of the Holocene—that period since the last Ice Age from which the Anthropocene, it is proposed, should be carved off. The cultural historian of modernity is quickly dizzy and disoriented. The mere mention of the Holocene transports us back 10,000 years, and even that is only the most recent of the standard geological periodizations, a mere babe-in-arms compared to the Cambrian of 500 million years antiquity, and beyond, to the billion year timescales of Earth’s formation and the origin of life. Like Byron’s narrator of the scandalous tale of Don Juan, the Anthropocenic humanist might soon feel “sorry that I e’er begun.”

But having written four books centered on the sinisterly narrow timeframe of the 1810s, I can bear witness that conventional period scholarship and Anthropocene studies are compatible, given the right topic. My recent book—Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World (Princeton, 2014)—described the global environmental and social impacts of the major eruption of an East Indies volcano in 1815. The book wedded accounts of the eruption’s aftermath—on the microscales of days and months—with the deep time histories of the volcano itself, and climate change in the Holocene. I accumulated all the written sources I could find related to the event—notes, journals, newspapers, poems—and paired these with a voluminous scientific literature on Tambora that was almost wholly non-textual in its methodologies and data content (geological sediments, ice cores, climate models, etc.). The 1815 Tambora eruption functioned as a kind of time portal, if you will, to travel across millennia. It likewise enabled me to traverse global spaces entirely outside the well-worn routes of postcolonial and nation-state historiography. Volcanic climate change is no respecter of human borders. Tambora dropped me into Deep Time. It also whisked me to India, China, and the Arctic. The argument implicit in Tambora is that the twenty-first-century humanist—the environmental humanist, in particular—can embrace geological timeframes while remaining a period scholar of modernity. He or she can integrate traditional archival, text-based research, with the material scope, data-mining powers, and interpretive reach of multiple scientific disciplines.

To live in the Anthropocene is to breathe in wonder and power, while breathing out failure and helplessness. As citizen-subjects of the Anthropocene, we hurry to commit to our all-powerful geological agency in the world—as better stewards, as ethical environmental managers—even as Deep Time sucks us into Tennyson’s opposite conclusion: that we are nothing . . . it is all hopeless. To give narrative shape to this dilemma, to write the geological human, is the work of Deep Time scholarship—which belongs to the greater project of Anthropocene studies.

It’s never too late for Deep Time.

Gillen D’Arcy Wood is the Andrew and Susan Langan Professor of Environmental Humanities at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. His book Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World is available from Princeton University Press. Professor Wood will be speaking at the Mediating Climate Change conference at Leeds in July 2017.

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Welcome to the Romantic Climates blog

Attributed to Francis Danby, 1793–1861, British, Sunset at Sea after a Storm, ca. 1824, Oil on pressed card, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Attributed to Francis Danby, 1793–1861, British, Sunset at Sea after a Storm, ca. 1824, Oil on pressed card, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Romantic Climates is a blog published by the AHRC-funded project British Romantic Writing and Environmental Catastrophe, based at the University of Leeds.

Scholars from around the world will be contributing blog posts about their work on Romantic ecology. We hope that the blog will showcase cutting-edge research into how Romantic-period writers, artists, and thinkers understood the environment.

To find out more about the British Romantic Writing and Environmental Catastrophe project, read our About page.

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