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Robespierre's Reign of Terror spawned an evil little twin in William Pitt the Younger's Reign of Alarm, 1792-1798. Terror begat Alarm. Many lives and careers were ruined in Britain as a result of the alarmist regime Pitt set up to suppress domestic dissent while waging his disastrous wars against republican France. Liberal young writers and intellectuals whose enthusiasm for the American and French revolutions raised hopes for Parliamentary reform at home saw their prospects blasted. Over a hundred trials for treason or sedition (more than ever before or since in British history) were staged against 'the usual suspects' - that is, political activists. But other, informal, vigilante means were used against the 'unusual suspects' of this book: jobs lost, contracts abrogated, engagements broken off, fellowships terminated, inheritances denied, and so on and on. As in the McCarthy era in 1950s America, blacklisting and rumor-mongering did as much damage as legal repression. Dozens of 'almost famous' writers saw their promising careers nipped in the bud: people like Helen Maria Williams, James Montgomery, William Frend, Gilbert Wakefield, John Thelwall, Joseph Priestley, Dr. Thomas Beddoes, Francis Wrangham and many others. Unusual Suspects tells the stories of some representative figures from this largely 'lost' generation, restoring their voices to nationalistic historical accounts that have drowned them in triumphal celebrations of the rise of English Romanticism and England's ultimate victory over Napoleon. Their stories are compared with similar experiences of the first Romantic generation: Coleridge, Wordsworth, Southey, Lamb, Burns, and Blake. Wordsworth famously said of this decade, 'bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven!' These young people did not find it so-and neither, when we look more closely, did Wordsworth.
Kenneth R. Johnston received his Ph.D. from Yale University and spent his entire academic career at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, where he was honoured for distinguished teaching and scholarly achievement, while also heading its Department of English. He has also taught at the universities of Bucharest and Colorado, and Georgetown University. He now resides in Alexandria, Virginia.
Table of Contents
Preamble: 'Who are these people?' I. The Red Decade Usual and Unusual in 1790s Britain Before and After Lives: John Thelwall and William Godwin II. The Forces of Public Opinion Joseph Priestley, 'Dr. Phlogiston' James Montgomery, Radical Moravian III. Keeping the University and Church Safe from Reform William Frend, 'Frend of Jesus, friend of the Devil' Thomas Beddoes, Sr., No Laughing Matter IV. Other Voices, Other Places The Suspect Gender: Helen Maria Williams, Our Paris Correspondent Suspect Nations: William Drennan, 'Let Irishmen remain sulky, grave and watchful' Generic Suspicions: Robert Bage, The Novelist Who Was Not V. End-Games Gilbert Wakefield, The End of Controversy James Mackintosh, The Great Apostate: Judas, Brutus, or Thomas? VI. The Romantic Poets and the Police Spy Nozy in Somerset: 'A Gang of Disaffected Englishmen' Coleridge and Thelwall: 'Whispering Tongues Can Poison Truth' Wordsworth, The Prelude, and Posterity Robert Southey, More Radical Than Thou Charles Lamb, Radical in a lamb's cloak Robert Burns, 'A Man for a' That' Blake's America: The Prophecy that Failed Coda: 'What does it signify?' Appendix 1: Trials for Sedition and Treason, 1792-1798 Appendix 2: Wakefield's Juvenal