A Rarely Plowed Furrow

I’ll be teaching the second half of the Brit Lit survey this Spring, and I’ll start with the Romantics (or in Blake’s case, the Proto-Romantics), as is the custom. However, while our anthology contains a bit from Burke, there’s perhaps less attention to the anti-Romantic (or more precisely, anti-Jacobin) popular writing of that era.

At The American Spectator, friend of the blog Helen Rittelmeyer has an interesting piece on this very topic, and offers some examples of anti-Jacobin work from the era. One nice bit from her piece:

One [parody], “The Friend of Humanity and the Knife-Grinder,” was modeled on an extremely maudlin poem Robert Southey had just published called “The Widow,” which featured such lines as “‘I am a widow, poor and broken-hearted!’ / Loud blew the wind, unheard was her complaining, / On drove the chariot.” The parody goes:

Tell me, knife-grinder, how came you to grind knives?
Did some rich man tyrannically use you?
…Drops of compassion tremble on my eyelids,
Ready to fall as soon as you have told your
Pitiful story.

The knife-grinder replies that his clothes are only shabby because “last night, a-drinking at the Chequers, / This poor old hat and breeches, as you see, were / Torn in a scuffle.” He concludes:

I should be glad to drink your honor’s health in
A pot of beer, if you will give me sixpence;
But for my part, I never love to meddle
With politics, sir.

The friend of humanity cries, “Wretch! whom no sense of wrongs can rouse to vengeance!” and kicks over the knife-grinder’s wheel before departing “in a transport of republican enthusiasm and universal philanthropy.”

Plus ça change…

Read the whole thing. My students may.

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About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
This entry was posted in Culture, Education, Literature, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

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