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steadily retreated from authorial domination, exaggerating and extending
Longinus™ interest in the reader™s experience of the sublime instead.
In particular, the contributions of Burke and Kant, which emphasized
the reader™s experience of sublimity over the author™s creation of sublime
effects, provided for a reinterpretation of the sublime as a function of the
natural world, a sublime “self-begot, self-raised”32 that allowed readers to
avoid the manipulative precedence of a Longinian creator. To be sure, the
sublime moment in both Burke and Kant involves an implicit awful
submission to some external scene. However, particularly for Kant, who
deemphasizes the causal dynamics of the sublime, such a moment origin-
ates in the subject™s capacity for feeling. As Guerlac writes, “The Kantian
account of the natural sublime explicitly establishes the sublime as an
arena of aesthetic experience in which authorial intention is totally irrele-
vant” (“Longinus and the Subject of the Sublime,” 289). The importance
of an observer™s subjective perceptions grew accordingly, so that poetry,
instead of a rhetorical effort to move an audience, became an attempt to
express faithfully the process of being moved, a performative expression of
passion taken, as Harold Bloom says, “as the demonstration of a receptive
spirit,” and given the name, “Sensibility.”33
As the aesthetics of sensibility and the sublime were following this
rough trajectory through the end of the eighteenth century, the fortunes
of anger as an artistic mode were consequently developing towards para-
dox. We have seen how, in the eighteenth-century Longinian and Juve-
nalian models, anger and sublimity were intimately related; with the
growth of sensibility, which privileges emotional reaction and expression,
one would expect anger to take its place at the forefront of poetic practice.
However, insofar as the origins of the sublime moved from the writer
affecting to the writer being affected “ the writer as transcriptive “reader”
“ poets began to seek out experiences of sublimity, which they could then
translate into art. Fear, awe, confusion “ the emotions of the sublime
experience “ therefore became the dominant emotional tones of poetry.
The abandonment of Longinian hypsos for Burkean sublimity can be seen
in a generation of poets less interested in wielding Juvenalian vituperation
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
30
than in recording moments of anxious grandeur. Accordingly, Juvenal™s
popularity brought him more critical appreciation than imitation. In the
post-Augustan poetry of the sublime, anger shifted from the poet to some
external terror-inspiring force, such as nature or God.
David Morris demonstrates the importance of images of God™s wrath
to this changing conception of the sublime. Paraphrases of passages from
the Bible became occasions for angry tours de force, as Morris™s citation of
the elder Thomas Warton™s “A Paraphrase of the xiiith Chap. of Isaiah”
(1751) exempli¬es:
The dread Jehovah comes “ before him march
Anger and Vengeance: The polluted Land
Shall desolated mourn, and far away
His red Right Hand shall shrieking Sinners sweep.
Then shall the Stars of Heav™n, the glittering Gems
Of awful Night™s dark robe, the pale-ey™d Moon,
The weary Pilgrim™s Friend, and the great Sun,
Who from the crystal Portals of the East
Walks forth with tenfold Brightness cloth™d, and pours
Intolerable Day, all darken™d droop.
Earth from her Orbit shall astonisht leap,
Heav™n rock and tremble to the Throne of God.34

Morris calls Warton™s poem “a short, exhilarating divagation into the
sublime” (The Religious Sublime, 109), one of many such renderings found
in the poetry of the period. Signi¬cantly, the poet™s own emotion within
these delineations of divine vengeance partakes not of anger but of the
astonishment requisite for the sublime. By displacing anger onto the
Christian God and portraying anger as a personi¬ed cipher, these poets
avoid the troubling aesthetic and ethical issues surrounding that emotion.
Divine anger is by de¬nition sublime and justi¬ed; the poet portraying Ira
Dei or the Dies Irae takes his place in a long tradition extending back to the
prophets of the Old Testament. Such poetry forsakes the vituperatio of
Juvenal for the creation of a set-piece, a tableau of wrath, that terri¬es its
own renderer, and thus does not implicate him in the alienating spectacle.
The Longinian sublimity of divine anger was ¬rst asserted by John
Dennis, who is perhaps known best for his vitriolic exchanges with Pope.
An early champion of Longinus, Dennis produced a series of writings
¬rmly linking sublimity to passion, and introducing terror as fundamental
to the dynamics of the sublime.35 For Dennis, as Morris remarks, of all the
inducements to such terror, “none could be more sublime than those
which showed the wrath of an angry God” (The Religious Sublime, 74).
Towards Romantic anger 31
Anticipating Burke™s Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of
the Sublime and the Beautiful (1757), Dennis ¬nds “Enthusiastick Terror”
to be the chief source of the sublime. He therefore looks to God™s in¬nite
wrath to inspire such fear, and in so doing, remakes Longinian sublimity
as he praises it. Inspired anger, or rhetorical menos, moves outside the
poet, an externalization reminiscent of Senecan strategies; the result, for
both Seneca and Dennis, is alienation from the angry ¬gure, whether in
Stoic revulsion or Christian terror.
Even when eighteenth-century poets were not working under Christian
auspices, when it came to speaking in their own voices, the psychology of
fear often seemed more congenial to sublimity than that of anger. We
observe the poet™s strained and ¬tful negotiations with fear as a muse in
William Collins™s “Ode to Fear.”36 Collins, eager to tap sublime terror as
his creative wellspring, imagines “Vengeance, in the lurid Air,” who “Lifts
her red Arm, expos™d and bare” (“Ode to Fear,” lines 20“21), in order to
frighten himself with an image of anger that he has created; or, as Collins
puts it in “The Passions. An Ode for Music,”
First Fear his Hand, its Skill to try,
Amid the Chords bewilder™d laid,
And back recoil™d he knew not why,
Ev™n at the Sound himself had made.
(“The Passions,” Works, lines 49, 17“20)
Although in “The Passions” Fear proves to be the passion least capable
of producing music, Collins addresses that emotion in the “Ode to Fear”
as, “O thou whose Spirit most possest / The Sacred Seat of Shakespear™s
Breast” (lines 64“65). Collins implies that fear is the source of sublime
poetry, rather than beautiful music, and therefore decides, “I, O Fear, will
dwell with Thee! ” (line 71).
Steven Knapp has shown that in personi¬ed emotions, the “combin-
ation of fanatic self-absorption and overt ¬ctionality perfectly matches the
dual criteria of the sublime.”37 Like many personi¬ed emotions, Fear in
Collins™s ode is both the cause and the bearer of fright, a self-re¬‚ective
status that culminates in the fear of its own actions, as seen in the passage
from “The Passions” above. Coleridge complains of the frequency of this
kind of re¬‚exivity in Spenser, whose personi¬ed “Grief represents two
incompatibles, the grieving and the aggriever,” a “confusion of agent and
patient” (qtd. in Knapp, Personi¬cation and the Sublime, 83). However,
this confusion accurately re¬‚ects the standard of sympathy that governs
most emotional exchange: “We weep or laugh as we see others do,” in
Horatian phrase. Personi¬ed, and therefore quintessential, emotions wield
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
32
their affective power as a sign of their own saturation. Collins addresses
Fear in the language of sympathetic response; her fright produces an
identical emotion in the poet:
Ah Fear! Ah frantic Fear!
I see, I see Thee near.
I know thy hurried Step, thy haggard Eye!
Like Thee I start, like Thee disorder™d ¬‚y
...
O Fear, I know Thee by my throbbing Heart.
(“Ode to Fear,” lines 5“8;42)
As Weiskel writes of this passage, “The persona is internalized. ˜I see you
there™ becomes ˜I know you here™” (The Romantic Sublime, 110).
Yet anger, as Seneca makes clear, normally does not partake of sympathetic
transference; we in fact rarely become angry as we see others do. Indeed, the
moral philosophers of the eighteenth century also tend to emphasize
the alienating effects of anger. For Adam Smith, who views sympathy
as the cornerstone of man™s moral sense, anger precludes a sympathetic
response. As he writes in his Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759):
The hoarse, boisterous, and discordant voice of anger . . . inspires us with either fear or
aversion. We do not ¬‚y towards it . . . It is the same case with hatred. Mere expressions
of spite inspire it against nobody, but the man who uses them. Both these passions are
by nature the objects of our aversion. Their disagreeable and boisterous appearance
never excites, never prepares, and often disturbs, our sympathy.38
Here Smith objecti¬es anger and hatred in the act of turning his heart
from them: “these passions are by nature the objects of our aversion,”
never the subjects of our sympathy. Lord Kames makes a similar point in
his Elements of Criticism (1762):
Anger, I think, is singular; for even where it is moderate and causeth no disgust,
it disposeth not the spectator to anger in any degree. Covetousness, cruelty,
treachery, and other vicious passions, are so far from causing any emotion similar
to themselves, to incite a spectator to imitation, that they have an opposite effect.
They raise abhorrence, and fortify the spectator in his aversion to such actions.
When anger is immoderate, it cannot fail to produce the same effect.39
As Kames sees it, anger puts its audience on the defensive and invites
moral judgment. This emotion not only disables sympathy but also
invites condemnation of (and actual “aversion” to) the angry man, who
has abandoned decorum and, in effect, exiled himself from the commu-
nity of good-natured men.
Towards Romantic anger 33
Because of this antipathetic effect, personi¬cations of anger and its
relations almost inevitably work towards alienation, and are typically
presented by authors as negative and (self) destructive. In the Faerie
Queene, for example, Spenser splits anger into two allegorical characters:
Pyrochles and Furor, or spite and rage, respectively.40 Pyrochles, an
incarnation of bad temper, has as his motto, “Burnt do I burne” (The
Faerie Queene, 2.4.38). He eventually becomes a victim of Furor, or
personi¬ed rage, whom Pyrochles himself literally unleashes. Spenser
describes Furor in Senecan idiom:
Yet his great yron teeth he still did grind
And grimly gnash, threatning reuenge in vaine:
His burning eyen, whom bloudie strakes did staine,
Stared full wide, and threw forth sparkes of ¬re;
And more for ranck despight, then for great paine,
Shakt his long lockes colourd like copper-wire,
And bit his tawny beard to shew his raging ire. (2.4.15)
Like Seneca™s Anger, which was “black and blue from its own blows”
(De Ira, 2.35.5), Furor is bent on destruction, which he focuses on himself
in the absence of another victim. Furor seems ready to devour himself
here, gnashing his teeth and eating his own beard. However, when freed
by Pyrochles, his better half, Furor drags him “through durt and myre
without remorse” (The Faerie Queene, 2.5.23). Like Collins™s Fear in “The
Passions” who fears himself, Furor gets furious with his own alter-ego.
The emotions of personi¬cations are by de¬nition unmotivated and
extreme, but these evaluations are particularly damning for anger. It seems
the less we know about the circumstances of the anger of others “ its
prelude, its stimulus, its target “ the less likely we are to be sympathetic
with it. An angry person without suf¬cient context seems insane, often
laughable, as the enraged antics of screwball comics demonstrate. Thus
personi¬cations of anger must forego any aspirations to the aesthetics of
sensibility, and aim for the sublime, if they wish to be taken seriously.
Collins™s own personi¬cation of anger in “The Passions” seems caught
somewhere between these two purposes, especially if we consider revenge,
or active anger, as part of the same emotion:
Next Anger rush™d; his eyes on ¬re
In Lightnings own™d his secret Stings:
In one rude Clash he struck the Lyre,
And swept with hurried Hand the Strings.
...
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
34
“ but with a Frown,
Revenge impatient rose,
He threw his blood-stain™d Sword in Thunder down,
And with a with™ring Look,
The War-denouncing Trumpet took,
And blew a Blast so loud and dread,
Were ne™er Prophetic Sounds so full of Woe.
And ever and anon he beat
The doubling Drum with furious Heat;
And tho™ sometimes each dreary Pause between,
Dejected Pity at his Side,
Her Soul-subduing Voice applied,
Yet still He kept his wild unalter™d Mien,
While each strain™d Ball of Sight seem™d bursting from his Head.
(“The Passions,”Works, 50“51, lines 21“52)
Anger remains a comic grotesque here, his attempts at music “rude” and
“hurried”; and to some extent, Revenge is also a bug-eyed caricature.
However, Revenge™s “loud and dread” trumpet prophesying war indicates
at least a mock-sublime, one potentially more powerful than that provided
by Fear or Pity. In these representations of Anger and Revenge, as well as in
the image of Vengeance in his “Ode to Fear,” Collins shows that he
recognizes and even values wrath as a source of the sublime. Yet ultimately
Collins shrinks from an appropriation of anger, from a true engagement
with anger as a muse. Fear and Pity can be explored in speci¬c odes, but
Anger remains at the margins, an occasion for these more acceptable and
more sympathogenic emotions. Collins, whose palpable inability to over-
come the in¬‚uence of precursors has been often cited, can only imagine
responding to the sublime anger of Spenser™s Furor, Shakepeare™s Lear, or
Milton™s God, allying himself with the emotions of accommodation.
Evidently, Collins™s contemporaries also chose to dwell with emotions
other than anger, for we meet its personi¬cation only rarely in the
poetry of the period. Most eighteenth-century representations of anger
follow Senecan and Spenserian patterns in portraying that emotion as a
foe to temperate behavior and an enemy to virtue. For example, James
Armstrong, a medical doctor and poet, writes of anger in The Art of
Preserving Health (1744):
But there™s a Passion, whose tempestuous sway
Tears up each virtue planted in the breast,
And shakes to ruins proud Philosophy.
For pale and trembling Anger rushes in,
With fault™ring speech, and eyes that wildly stare;
Towards Romantic anger 35
Fierce as the Tiger, madder than the seas,
Desperate, and arm™d with more than human strength.
How soon the calm, humane, and polish™d man
Forgets compunction, and starts up a ¬end!
...
But he whom Anger stings, drops, if he dies,
At once, and rushes apoplectic down;
Or a ¬erce fever hurries him to hell.41
Armstrong™s Anger is truly demonic, “madder than the seas, / . . . and
arm™d with more than human strength” and yet a speci¬c propellant
towards the underworld. Armstrong pits the centrifugal expansiveness
of anger that we saw in Medea against the centripetal pull of human
frailty, condemning angry outbursts as dangerous to body and soul. For
Armstrong, angry sublimity gives the soul a “proud ¬‚ight” ¬lled not with
Longinian “joy and vaunting” (On the Sublime, 7.2) but with fever and
apoplexy, a Satanic prideful ¬‚ight or fall into hell. We can see that poets
like Armstrong and Collins trade on anger™s potential sublimity even as
they condemn and mock the angry ¬gures they create. Yet of course, such
tonal oscillation undercuts the sublime, a fundamentally univocal mode,
dependent upon concentration and vehemence; as Blake puts it mem-
orably, “If the sun and moon should doubt / They™d immediately go
out” (E, 596). Both anger and sublimity require a kind of faith in, or at
least a professed commitment to, one™s own emotional perspective. In
Armstrong and Collins, anger does not inspire such faith.
Beyond the realm of personi¬cation, poets working in the sublime
mode in the later eighteenth century have other occasions to invoke anger,
invariably with quali¬cations. For example, Thomas Gray™s “The Bard”
(1757) begins with the curse of the last Welsh poet on Edward the First:
“Ruin seize thee, ruthless King!
Confusion on thy banners wait,
Tho™ fann™d by Conquest™s crimson wing
They mock the air with idle state.
Helm, nor Hauberk™s twisted mail,
Nor even thy virtues, Tyrant, shall avail
To save thy secret soul from nightly fears,
From Cambria™s curse, from Cambria™s tears!”42

The shift from curse to tears in the ¬nal line is instructive, for the tone
of the poem moves from anger to grief.43 We begin with a confrontation,
in which the armies of Edward are daunted by the bard™s angry voice:
“Stout Glo™ster stood aghast in speechless trance” (Gray: Poetical Works,
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
36
1.1.13); the ¬rst stanza thus dramatizes the angry sublime. However, the
second stanza changes its tone to one of mourning. The bard, “Robed
in the sable garb of woe, / . . . With a Master™s hand, and a Prophet™s ¬re, /
Struck the deep sorrows of his lyre” (1.2.3“8). The curse that follows
moves from grief over the deaths of the bard™s fellow poets (1.3) to a
prophetic vision of Edward™s line (2.1“2.3), to a “vision of glory” of
Elizabeth and the eventual triumph of the poets (3.1“3.3); and at the
poem™s conclusion, the bard™s suicide is an act of de¬ant “joy” and
“triumph,” not anger.
Adam Smith, again in his Theory of Moral Sentiments, articulates the
aesthetic values of artists and writers like Gray, for whom anger was a
medium best deployed in moderation: “When [music] imitates the notes
of anger, it inspires us with fear. . . . The voice of anger . . . and of all the
passions which are akin to it, is harsh and discordant . . . It would be a
strange entertainment which consisted altogether of the imitations of
hatred and resentment” (37). Much of Juvenal, then, is very strange
entertainment indeed; and the growing sense that anger must be “guarded
and quali¬ed” (38) in art as well as life led poets away from Juvenalian
invective towards more introspective forms. Anger, when it does appear in
post-Augustan poetry, is usually quickly transformed, as in Gray™s “The
Bard,” or abandoned, as in Book 3 of Cowper™s The Task, in which the
poet begins a section of vituperation on classic Juvenalian themes, only to
cut himself off as his anger begins to grow. Like Juvenal™s Third Satire,
Cowper™s Task ¬nds its unity in “its consistent recommendation of
country over city life.”44 And in Book 3, lamenting society™s lack of
commitment to domestic happiness, Cowper echoes Juvenal™s First,
Third, and Sixth Satires in a striking passage:
what shipwreck have we made
Of honor, dignity, and fair renown,
™Till prostitution elbows us aside
In all our crowded streets; and senates seem
Convened for purposes of empire less
Than to release th™ adultress from her bond.
Th™ adultress! what a theme for angry verse,
What provocation to th™ indignant heart
That feels for injur™d love! but I disdain
The nauseous task to paint her as she is,
Cruel, abandon™d, glorying in her shame!
No:“let her pass, and, chariotted along
In guilty splendour, shake the public ways.45
Towards Romantic anger 37
Facit indignatio versum, for Cowper as well as Juvenal, and the revul-
sion at female promiscuity and the sexual impropriety of urban society, so
strongly present in Juvenal, ¬nds an echo here. Yet just as Cowper reaches
full-throated anger in line 68, he checks himself with the interruptive,
“No:“”, abandoning his rage for a return to the self-involved meditations
and descriptions that structure the poem; only forty lines later, the
famous “I was a stricken deer” passage begins (line 109), and rumination
entirely replaces vituperation.
For Cowper, as for Gray, Armstrong, Collins, and many other poets of
the period, the aesthetic (and indeed the moral) value of anger is intim-
ately bound up with its negation, one™s own anger having become less a
means of transcendence than a thing to be transcended. Clearly, most
poets of the eighteenth century, insofar as they were interested in the
poetic transformation and communication of anger, made efforts to
distance themselves from that emotion: through the displacement of
anger onto divine or personi¬ed ¬gures, or the overt disapproval of angry
emotions, or the preference for ridicule over invective, or the transform-
ation or truncation of rage. This deliberate distancing that permeates the
history of angry art, from Homer and Seneca and perhaps even Juvenal,
through the post-Augustan poets, made the legacy that the Romantics
received a particularly vexed one. At an historical moment when anger
was newly pressurized in the public sphere (thanks to the French Revolu-
tion and the ways it was discussed), Romantic-period poets shouldered
the double burden of sublimity and sincerity, attempting to enact Long-
inian ekstasis in communicating their own “purely personal” emotions.
Anger makes such a task dif¬cult, just as it made dif¬cult the negotiations
of the eighteenth-century poets with sensibility and the sublime. It
required one to yield to the transports, while controlling the utterance,
of what became known in the years of Revolution and Terror as a
dangerous and fundamentally alienating emotion.
chapter 2

Burke, Coleridge, and the rage for indignation




In his 1796 Letters . . . on the Proposals for Peace with the Regicide Directory
of France, an exasperated Edmund Burke looks back on the long series of
outrages that for him have constituted the French Revolution, and asks his
readers to suppose for a moment that all of these things had occurred in
England™s green and pleasant land:
Should we not obtest Heaven, and whatever justice is yet on Earth? Oppression
makes wise men mad; but their distemper is still the madness of the wise, which
is better than the sobriety of fools. Their cry is the voice of sacred misery, exalted,
not into wild raving, but into the sancti¬ed phrensy of prophecy and inspiration
“ in that bitterness of soul, in that indignation of suffering virtue, in the
exaltation of despair, would not persecuted English loyalty cry out, with an awful
warning voice, and denounce the destruction that waits on Monarchs? . . .
Would not this warm language of high indignation have more of sound reason
in it, more of real affection, more of true attachment, than all the lullabies of
¬‚atterers, who would hush Monarchs to sleep in the arms of death?1
As both disquisition upon and exempli¬cation of the complex dis-
course of political anger during the 1790s, this passage is particularly
revealing. Burke writes here in a high Juvenalian style, associating angry
rhetoric with wisdom, virtue, and sincerity, and setting it against foolish
moderation and deceitful ¬‚attery. Like Juvenal, he turns to indignatio as
the only rational option for the bonus vir, the good man surveying a world
gone wrong; “it™s hard not to write satire,” Juvenal tells us, asking “who
could be so inured / to the wicked city, so dead to feeling, as to keep his
temper?”2 Burke presents an emotion that is prophetic, “sacred,”
“exalted,” “sancti¬ed,” “awful,” and “high,” and thus clearly separated
from the brutish, atheistic fury “ the “wild raving” “ that he locates in the
words and deeds of the revolutionaries. In other words, he articulates a
species of anger, allied with “virtue,” “sound reason” and “English loy-
alty,” that folds easily into the martial spirit of a nation at war. Further,
the language of the passage invests that emotion with epic sanctity,

38
Burke, Coleridge, and the rage for indignation 39
alluding to Milton™s “warning voice” from Paradise Lost, and to Pope™s
Odyssey in which Odysseus is heard “obtesting Heav™n” for allowing him
to sleep through the slaughter of the Oxen of the Sun.3 Both allusions
carry associations of rousing a placid, ignorant sufferer to a posture of
wakeful defense, which is precisely what Burke intends in Letters on a
Regicide Peace. The “lullabies of ¬‚atterers” would lull Englishmen and
their king to sleep; the voice of anger must be the alarm, the wake-up call.
Furthermore, by exalting despair and sanctifying misery, the passage
evokes a kind of emotional apotheosis, a “sacred phrensy of prophecy
and inspiration,” in which, to paraphrase William Blake, the voice of
honest indignation becomes the voice of God.
Burke wrote this passage at the end of the great period of English
debate over the French Revolution, what Gregory Claeys calls in the
introduction to his 3,500-page collection, Political Writings of the 1790s,
“an intense controversy . . . which produced one of the most voluminous
and theoretically signi¬cant bodies of political literature, indeed the most
important debate about democratic principles, in British history.”4
During this time, the public voice of dissidence found its pitch and tenor
in the wake of publications by Burke and Paine, as pro-Revolutionary
tracts, articles, letters, and speeches streamed from the press, all bearing
critiques of the political status quo in England. By 1796, however, virtu-
ally all supporters of Revolutionary principles had been converted by
the Terror, the execution of the king, and several years of warfare “ or
else silenced by a series of governmental restrictions. As far as anger is
concerned, then, Burke™s passage signi¬es an important discursive victory
of the conservative party, and one with real political implications. The
anger of the revolutionaries and their reformist sympathizers in England
had been more or less completely identi¬ed as blind and ferocious rage (or
diabolical hypocrisy), while their opponents had ¬rmly seized the elevated
ground of noble indignation. In a sense, this was a self-ful¬lling prophecy:
as the reformers found themselves shut out from any real consideration by
the government, they were forced to adopt more aggressive positions. As
Mark Philp writes, “we should understand the 1790s in terms of the
development of a logic of confrontation . . . at each step, the stakes in
the struggle were raised “ both in the sense of increasing the costs of
agitating for reform, and in the sense of making moderate reform less
likely.”5 Throughout this period, the evolution of conceptions of anger
was a determining force behind such developments. Ultimately, in a
period intensely interested in the causes and consequences of anger,
just indignation is ¬rmly separated from anger per se, which is made
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
40
equivalent with irrational rage. As we will see, this process of reconcep-
tualization resonates strongly through the work of the Romantic poet
who, more than any of the others, found his voice amidst the Revolution
debates of the 1790s: Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
To the end of his life, Burke labored to establish the indignation“rage
distinction, and it determined the British discussion regarding revolution
and reform for decades to come. Early respondents to Burke either
dismissed his anger as inappropriate to rational discussion (e.g., Godwin,
Piggot, Macaulay), or became angry themselves at Burke, his rhetoric,
and the corrupt status quo he defended (e.g., Paine, Wollstonecraft).6 As
the debates and the Revolution wore on, this latter group and their
followers came to dominate the discussion on the side of reform, even
as Burke and other reactionaries became more severe in their attacks on
the French and French sympathizers. Thus as both parties were claiming
righteous indignation as their weapon, they were condemning anger as
expressed by the opposition. In his Re¬‚ections on the Revolution in France,
Burke had encouraged the “indignation of mankind” in the face of “the
furies of hell,” thereby pre¬guring this all-important distinction between
a righteous, judgmental emotion exercised for the public good, and a
furious, irrational passion indulged in a personal, destructive ¬t.7 The
years 1790“96 in England witnessed an elaborate rhetorical struggle over
the political ownership of these two opposing conceptions of anger.
Conducted via oratory and argument, this struggle shows strong evi-
dence of connections with the literary past. The contest evoked two
traditions of anger, traceable to Juvenal on the one hand and Seneca on
the other. In Juvenalian satire, anger is intense indignation: just, neces-
sary, continuous with the self, required of the rational man confronted by
corruption and evil. Like Juvenal™s portraits of the Roman citizens,
Burke™s depictions of the revolutionaries tend towards extremity. For
example, Juvenal in Satire i asks rhetorically, “When was Vice more
rampant? When did the maw of Avarice gape wider?” and later proclaims,
“All vice is at its acme.”8 In the Re¬‚ections, Burke calls the leading of the
royal family from Versailles to Paris “the most horrid, atrocious, and
af¬‚icting spectacle, that perhaps ever was exhibited to the pity and
indignation of mankind” (117), and describes the procession as one in
which “the royal captives who followed in the train were slowly moved
along, amidst the horrid yells, and shrilling screams, and frantic
dances, and infamous contumelies, and all the unutterable abominations
of the furies of hell, in the abused shape of the vilest of women” (122).
This exhibition or spectacle is the “most horrid,” its actors the “vilest”
Burke, Coleridge, and the rage for indignation 41
imaginable: Burke reaches readily for the superlative degree at a time
when most Englishmen felt the comparative was suf¬cient. Thus from
Burke™s enemies came many charges of inappropriate anger and immod-
erate censure, cast in Senecan terms.9
For Seneca, anger is furious rage: irrational, worse than pointless, a
negation of the self and its allegiances, a pathway to madness and evil.
Seneca himself calls the angry man “devoid of self-control, forgetful of
decency, unmindful of ties . . . closed to reason and counsel, excited by
tri¬‚ing causes, [and] un¬t to discern the right and true.”10 Virtually all of
these accusations would be leveled at Burke in the wake of his Re¬‚ections.
As William Anderson characterizes the opposing views of anger,
Whereas Juvenal™s satirist implies the righteous nobility of his anger, Seneca
admits no justi¬cation at all for wrath or indignation . . . Instead of labeling
indignation virtuous, noble, magnanimous, liberal, or simply honest, [Seneca]
calls it insane. It follows that the indignant man, not a vir bonus, is much rather a
person who has lost his essential humanity and sunk to the level of the beasts.11
Because of these classical foundations, the debates in England were
haunted by myriad rhetorical and conceptual ghosts: corollaries
and assumptions bending the discourse towards rigid polarities. The
typical contributor to political debate in the 1790s claimed he was angry
in the Juvenalian manner at the fact that his opponents were angry in the
Senecan “ and thus these opponents became madmen, beasts, furies of
hell, and the vilest of women.
In British Satire and the Politics of Style, 1789“1832, Gary Dyer demon-
strates that the Juvenalian temper became the province of conservative
writers during the Romantic era, primarily because “the perceived threat
of ˜jacobinism™ in politics and culture demanded monological, unambigu-
ous satire”; that is, it demanded a rhetoric of urgent defense.12 According
to Dyer, this led radical authors towards more dialogic and ironic modes
of satire that avoided the ancient Juvenalian/Horatian division. This
narrative should be supplemented with a recognition that the conserva-
tives came to own Juvenalian indignation only after a pitched battle over
anger itself, which they won by effectively ascribing Senecan rage to
radicals and refomers alike. There were plenty of indignant friends of
the Revolution responding to the publication of Burke™s Re¬‚ections, Paine
and Wollstonecraft among them, and, as Robert Whitford writes of their
reponses, “the Juvenalian spirit was one of the important factors in social
progress of that Revolutionary era.”13 Indeed, Gilbert Highet states that,
like Rousseau and Marat, “in England . . . the revolutionaries of the mind
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
42
were devoted to Juvenal,” citing Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Byron as
examples.14 The conservative victory depended upon the recasting of
Revolutionary discontent as irrational fury, a process that typically relied
upon the associating of it with the most extreme instances of violence
occurring in France. Yet, particularly in the early 1790s, Juvenalian
indignation was a rhetorical option for all.
After all, to claim indignation is to appropriate a three-fold bonus for
one™s anger: it is justi¬ed (because it has been caused by evident wrong-
doing), it is righteous (because it is felt on behalf of others), and it is
digni¬ed (because it has resulted from an affront to dignity worth
defending). For example, Wollstonecraft makes her emotions clear in
A Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790). Of Burke™s Re¬‚ections, she says,
“My indignation was roused by the sophistical arguments,” and tells
Burke, “I glow with indignation when I attempt, methodically, to unravel
your slavish paradoxes.”15 In a neo-Juvenalian vein, she continues, “Ob-
serve, sir, that I called your piety affectation . . . I speak with warmth,
because of all hypocrites, my soul most indignantly spurns a religious one:
“ and I very cautiously bring forth such a charge, to strip you of your
cloak of sanctity” (i :28). The unmasking of hypocrites is a cherished
function of angry satire, one that Wollstonecraft invokes here. As is the
case for Juvenal, indignatio prompts her writing; both confront opponents
using a tone Dyer sees as “not merely exposing their [enemies™] behavior
for all to see but imitating the wrath of the God who awaits them” (British
Satire, 43). The Juvenalian temper is predicated on the assumption that
one™s anger is more than justi¬ed, eminently righteous. According to
Howard Weinbrot, Juvenal typically implies that “not to be an indignant
satirist in such a world is worthy of being satirized in its own right.”16
Thus Wollstonecraft presents her anger as a rational, even requisite,
response to falsehood, performed for the public good.
Thomas Paine also recognized the importance of indignation for the
cause of revolution, since it is an emotion predicated on the essential
dignity of those who feel it.17 For the underclass attempting to establish a
species of social and political equality, claiming indignation at the status
quo and its defenders was crucial. One contemporary reader of Paine
described the methods of The Rights of Man as using “the rude grasp of
coarse, but manly, indignation, to tear away the curtain that mysteriously
concealed from the public eye, those tricks of state which the public purse
has so liberally contributed to support, and to expose to ridicule that
Aristocracy which can continue to exist no longer than while it continues
to be respected.”18 We can glimpse here the way that anger was implicated
Burke, Coleridge, and the rage for indignation 43
in the struggle for respect during this period. For Paine™s reader, the
indignant unmasking of the deceptive and hollow shows of state will
transfer their unjustly held respect back to the people themselves. Like
Juvenalian satire, The Rights of Man names and castigates corruption on
behalf of the “natural dignity” of man, sadly eclipsed in the author™s time.
Paine describes his emotions in this way in Rights of Man i : “When I
contemplate the natural dignity of man; when I feel (for Nature has not
been kind enough to blunt my feelings) for the honour and happiness of
its character, I become irritated at the attempt to govern mankind by force
and fraud, as if they were all knaves and fools” (41). Like Wollstonecraft,
Paine presents his anger (here named “irritation”) as an emotion felt on
behalf of mankind. What™s more, that anger depends on the “natural
dignity” of the people, something which has been shamefully traduced by
those in power. The argument gains power because it implies that their
anger is not simply a reaction to physical deprivation or suffering; it is
predicated upon the violation of a ¬duciary relationship, in this case
something called “the Rights of Man.”
One might say Richard Price was the ¬rst Englishman to lay signi¬cant
claim to indignation on behalf of the French revolutionaries, in his
Discourse on the Love of Our Country (1789) which so provoked Burke.
In a passage Burke quotes in his Re¬‚ections in order to demolish it, Price
writes, “I have lived to see t h i r t y m i l l i o n s of people, indignant and
resolute, spurning at slavery, and demanding liberty with an irresistible
voice.”19 As we have seen, Burke will go on to establish the people™s anger
as that of the “furies of hell,” an emotion productive of violations and
destructions that should call forth the “indignation of mankind.” Yet it
was Burke™s own temper that many of his respondents targeted. Issac
Kramnick begins his aptly titled book The Rage of Edmund Burke by
stating, “Edmund Burke was an angry man,” and calls his later career “a
study in rage and furious indignation.”20 By way of illustration, he
describes a famous scene in Parliament when Burke broke openly with
Fox in 1791: “Burke got increasingly angrier as the debate wore on,
pouring out his words in torrents of rage. The members of Parliament
were appalled and shouted him down. Burke turned on the speaker,
declaring: ˜I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of
truth and soberness™ (180“81). The debate itself turned on Burke™s intro-
duction of a harangue against the French Revolution amidst a discuss-
ion of a constitution for Quebec. As Kramnick notes, Burke was
repeatedly called to order by his colleagues, which only inspired him to
more urgent and self-isolating rhetoric. A May 1791 cartoon (attributed to
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
44
Rowlandson), “The Volcano of Opposition,” depicts the scene, with
Burke erupting angrily, vomiting a lava of “damnation” on Fox as the
members of Parliament run for cover, calling for “Monro!” who was “an
expert on lunacy.”21 To one side, Sheridan comforts Fox, dismissing
Burke™s torrent as “the effusions of a Demoniac,” a man possessed. The
moment is emblematic of Burke™s reception in England during the
Revolution debates, particularly as Burke™s Shakespearean rebuttal evokes
the relation of anger to truth and self-control. He wants to be seen as a
¬gure of heroic indignation, and his opponents cast him in the role of
madman beside himself with rage.
This struggle helps explain more fully why the Marie Antoinette
passage from Burke™s Re¬‚ections became a lightning-rod for his opponents,
who saw the stakes of the emotional rhetoric it deploys. Essentially, Burke
attempts to evoke an heroic, chivalric indignation in the face of Revolu-
tionary outrages, describing the dauphiness as “glittering like the morn-
ing-star” and then contemplating her rough handling and imprisonment
as Queen of France:
Oh! what a revolution! and what an heart must I have, to contemplate without
emotion that elevation and that fall! . . . little did I dream that I should have
lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation
of men of honour and of cavaliers. I thought ten thousand swords must have
leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult.
“ But the age of chivalry is gone . . . It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that
chastity of honour, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst
it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched . . . (126“27)
Burke implies that indignation is the nameless “emotion” that all with
hearts must feel in response to this “revolution,” and he believes the same
emotion should have caused “ten thousand swords” to leap out, not to
defend the queen, but “to avenge” a threatening look. The language thus
evokes the emotional dynamics not of open warfare but of dueling,
wherein honor is guarded by means of ¬erce reprisals and yet according
to a set of rigid principles that “mitigate ferocity.” Burke invokes an
aristocratic temper involving rational judgment, courage, and “manly
sentiment” (127), felt in reaction to insults offered by madmen and furies;
both are ways of describing anger, and Burke™s passage and its reception
make clear the political stakes of seizing the former and ascribing the latter
to the opposition.
With his Re¬‚ections, Burke had placed the tone, or temper, of the
debate at the center of the debate itself. From the ¬rst, respondents
made an issue of his anger, and their objections fell generally into two
Burke, Coleridge, and the rage for indignation 45
categories: the insuf¬cient causes and the potentially ruinous conse-
quences of his enraged rhetoric. Of those who considered the causes,
most writers blamed Burke™s overheated imagination as producing, via
spectacular and sentimental scenes like the Marie Antoinette passage, a
kind of self-induced, reactive fury. Calling the Re¬‚ections a “volume of
outrage” (29) and a work of “copious fury,” “let loose in a frenzy of
passion” (12), Thomas Paine in Rights of Man i exclaims, “Mr. Burke has
outraged his own imagination, and seeks to work upon that of his readers”
(22). In other words, Burke has become angry in looking at the “tragic
paintings” he has himself created (22). As Tom Furniss has stated in
similar terms, “Burke presents himself as horri¬ed by the enactments on
the political stage of the most extreme of the possible denouements of his
own political and aesthetic plot.”22 The last two words are important in
their indication of the way this emotional dynamic relates to the trajec-
tories implicit in Burke™s theories on the sublime. His contemporary
respondents readily made the connection between a theory that valued a
sensibility to delicious terror, and an enraged reaction to the terrors of
Revolutionary France: both depend on an imaginative exaggeration.
Wollstonecraft, for example, mocks Burke™s “pampered sensibility,”
saying, “You foster every emotion till the fumes, mounting to your brain,
dispel the sober suggestions of reason. It is not in this view surprising,
that when you should argue you are impassioned, and that re¬‚ection
in¬‚ames your imagination” (Vindication of the Rights of Men, Claeys,
i :13). Furthermore, she later asks, “Your reason may have often been the
dupe of your imagination; but say, did you not sometimes angrily bid
her be still, when she whispered that you were departing from strict
truth?” ( i :57). For Wollstonecraft, Burke™s aesthetic ideology encourages
an imaginative in¬‚ammability that has expressed itself in the anger of the
Re¬‚ections.23
In their eagerness to condemn him for emotional intoxication and
excess, Burke™s respondents often touch upon an unsettling paradox: the
Re¬‚ections are the product of both overreacting and overacting. Paine
says the vignettes Burke presents “are very well calculated for theatrical
presentation, where facts are manufactured for the sake of show . . . But
Mr. Burke should recollect that he is writing History, and not Plays;
and that his readers will expect truth, and not the spouting rant of high-
toned declamation” (Rights of Man i , 22). Metaphors involving painting,
drama, and ¬ctional narrative are often applied to the Re¬‚ections as a
way of indemnifying Burke™s calculation. As a practiced political orator
and a theorist of aesthetic effects, he would know how to manipulate an
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
46
audience™s emotional reaction by means of art. Paine makes a point of
seeing through the rhetoric “ he calls it “spouting rant,” recalling
Rowlandson™s cartoon “ by associating it with overacting. Yet, as we have
already seen, even as Paine and others object to this declamatory excess
and transparent theatricality, they identify Burke™s outrage as a species of
method-acting, induced by an overly warm imagination. His anger thus
becomes simultaneously a cynical, politically motivated ¬ction and a sign
that he is out of control, close to madness.
Other writers who fault the tone or temper of the Re¬‚ections stress
the likely dangers of a debate conducted in anger. In his Letters on the
Revolution in France (1790), Thomas Christie warns pointedly,
If a man let loose his over-heated imagination, and accuses others of being
plunderers, con¬scators, atheists, and even murderers, they may be stimulated to
retaliate, by calling him court-¬‚atterer, turn-coat, toad-eater, knave, pensioner
and slave. Thus a war of abusive epithets and malignity is begun, which troubles
the peace of society, and often produces dreadful consequences.24

Christie™s sharp-tongued dread of the discussion becoming “a war of
abusive epithets” was perhaps more prescient than he knew, and was
certainly shared by other English sympathizers with the Revolution,
who heard in Burke™s outrageous tone the death knell of moderation.
The anonymous author of Strictures on the Letter of the Rt. Hon. Mr. Burke
(1791) writes that if the French had any regard for Burke™s opinions, “the
constant repetition of degrading, vilifying, and in¬‚ammatory passages
directed against the principal persons who support the revolution must
inevitably have been productive of such discord throughout the nation as
would have been followed by the most tragical events. The scenes of
confusion and horror might have been unutterable.”25 Again, this looks
like a foreshadowing of the massacres and the Terror, episodes still only
vaguely imaginable (“tragical” but “unutterable”) by most Englishmen in
1791. Like Christie, this author perceives an immediate causal link be-
tween the temper of the revolution debates and the course of “society” and
“the nation.” Angry words will produce scenes of horror, by making the
ground of moderation a literal no-man™s land.26
Poststructuralist historians in the wake of Francois Furet have argued
¸
that the course of the French Revolution was in large part determined by
the logic of its own discursive and representational practices. In Furet™s
view, the primary function of the Revolution was the freighting of all
words and actions with political meaning “ a kind of hyper-historical
consciousness that amounted to a national ideology ultimately incarnated
Burke, Coleridge, and the rage for indignation 47
by Robespierre, who is “an immortal ¬gure not because he reigned
supreme over the Revolution for a few months, but because he was the
mouthpiece of its purest and most tragic discourse.”27 Furet claims to
be “deducing the Terror from Revolutionary discourse” (Interpreting
the French Revolution, 61), and he has been followed in this project by
scholars such as Lynn Hunt, Mona Ozouf, Simon Schama, and Alan
Liu.28 They describe a world “where a network of signs completely
dominated political life” (Furet, Interpreting the French Revolution, 48),
one in which “human action no longer encounters obstacles or limits,
only adversaries, preferably traitors” (Furet, Interpreting the French Revo-
lution, 26). As Liu puts it, “The Revolution . . . was a poetics of violence
that interpreted itself so as to declare that there was neither reality nor
right outside its poetics. It was a totalitarian poetics.”29 Not surprisingly
then, denunciation and its consequences fairly de¬ned the Revolutionary
experience. Furet speaks of the counterrevolutionary “aristocratic plot” as
“central to this system of notions and actions that constituted the Revo-
lutionary phenomenon itself ” (Interpreting the French Revolution, 63);
“obsessions with conspiracy thus became a discourse common to all”
(55“56).30
In this light, we can better understand the nameless fears expressed by
Burke™s respondents regarding the consequences of his enraged discourse.
They foresaw that in committing to anger, both sides of the debate would
necessarily imagine each other as increasingly powerful, threatening, and
despicable, while emphasizing their own losses at their opponents™ hands.
As a result, moderation would become anathema: England would make
foreign and domestic policy decisions in an atmosphere charged with
rage, and debate as such would virtually cease. Mark Philp writes that
the period 1789“1803 is one in which the language of political debate undergoes a
process of continual transformation. In this process, positions are polarised . . .
and the stakes of controversy become extraordinarily in¬‚ated. Faint-hearted
reformers are denounced as Jacobin terrorists, well-meaning humanitarians
become the enemy within, and the cautious critic of the status quo is accused of
bringing the country to an inch of defeat . . . Given this kind of response,
viewing the period as involving a “debate” on France becomes questionable.31
A similar process occurred in France as well, where the aristocratic plot
was an angry, retributive specter that called forth its opposite number in
the ¬gure of the Terror, and in the language of Marat, Hebert, and
´
Robespierre. To be a patriot was to be indignant; the enrages set the tone.
As Furet says, this required “adversaries, preferably traitors,” and instituted
a political and moral economy whereby one could only prove loyalty by
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
48
denouncing, rather than debating, another.32 Under the in¬‚uence of anger,
extremity became the order of the day; and in the eyes of English
reformers (like Christie), Burke™s Re¬‚ections offered to inaugurate a similar
discursive economy on his side of the Channel.
Within the con¬nes of the Revolution debate itself, objectors to Burke
hear his anger as rhetorical distortion, an irrational trope leading him
away from truth and disqualifying him for rational discussion. Irish
author Benjamin Bous¬eld writes that the Re¬‚ections “appears to be
nothing else, than the soaring ¬‚ights of a boundless imagination, and
the effusions of an irritable and irritated mind.”33 Similarly, Joseph
Priestly remarks in a open letter to Burke, “You appear to me not to be
suf¬ciently cool to enter into this serious discussion.”34 One anonymous
early respondent perceives that Burke™s expressions “appear on all occa-
sions to be dictated by a warmth that he is at no pains to restrain,”
although “He will, perhaps, tell us they are the effusions of an honest
indignation”; the Re¬‚ections “can now only be regarded as a splenetic
invective, a vague and impassioned declamation.”35 The physicality of these
various characterizations “ irritated, warm, splenetic “ associates Burke™s
anger with the thoughtless reactions of the body (like Rowlandson™s
vomited lava) rather than the rational judgments of the mind. Like
ascribing someone™s rage to hormones or exhaustion, this strategy involves
assuming that the angry person cannot see things clearly, without the
darkened bias enjoined by a jaundiced, splenetic eye.36
Thus, as it was painted by many of the reformers, Burke™s anger was
either a false and melodramatic pose adopted for political ends or it was
the authentic but automatic reaction of an unsound brain. Indeed,
sometimes it was both of these things at once, a self-induced and self-
indulgent ¬t of rhetorical rage. Furthermore, because it involved the
exaggeration or manufacturing of evils, it threatened to polarize discussion
of the French Revolution (and thus English reform) into two armed
camps. Certainly a good many of the reformist participants in the
Revolution debates deplored anger and its rhetorical corollaries: invective,
abuse, exaggeration, and irrationality. Locating these ¬rst in Burke, they
attempted to banish them from the discussion. Godwin was the great
leading spirit of this cause in his ultra-rational Enquiry Concerning Polit-
ical Justice (1793). In the early 1790s, one could ¬nd other radical re-
formers like Catharine Macaulay writing of Burke™s “temper” of
“indignation,” which unfortunately obliges him “to substitute a warm
and passionate declamation to a cool investigation, and to address the
passions instead of the reason of mankind.”37 Similarly, Charles Piggot
Burke, Coleridge, and the rage for indignation 49
opines in a 1791 pamphlet: “To men in the sober habit of re¬‚exion, such
indecent intemperance must seem a very sorry proof of the aspersions he
wishes to convey . . . Moderation is the surest proof of conviction, and . . .
passion was never yet useful to any cause.”38 Such recommendations of
cool, reasonable, moderate investigation were meant to apply to both
sides of the debate. Furthermore, it is during this period that we still ¬nd
pamphlets appearing in England with titles like Moderate Politics (1791),
or a periodical like The Political Magazine (1780“91) publishing extensive
extracts from Burke and Paine simultaneously. In other words, politics as
such “ involving a rational, bipartisan process of discussion and com-
promise “ was still possible. Nothing attests more eloquently to the
conclusion of such a period than the passage of the infamous Two Acts
in December of 1795, which essentially criminalized opposition to the
political status quo.
In effect, the British government came to require indignation against
France and French principles, thus institutionalizing what had been
the conservative position from the beginning. An anonymous 1794 pam-
phlet published in London makes this point explicitly, as it consciously
removes the option of calm moderation:
In a cause like this, and in a time like the present, there is no neutrality. They
who are not actively, and with decision and energy, against Jacobinism, are its
partisans. They who do not dread it, love it; it cannot be viewed with
indifference: it is a thing made to produce a powerful impression on the feelings.
Such is the nature of Jacobinism, such is the nature of man, that this system
must be regarded either with enthusiastic admiration, or with the highest degree
of detestation, resentment, and horror.39
Such sentiments are the product of outrage, as the author con¬rms by
quoting Shakespeare™s Kate from The Taming of the Shrew at the outset of
the pamphlet: “My pen has told the anger of my heart” (Desultory
Thoughts, 1). His position also marks the growing alarmism in England
during this period, and is duplicated in any number of loyalist publica-
tions of this period. “Cato” in the Anti-Jacobin encourages “hatred and
indignation” in the face of “the Jacobin system,” and calls moderation
“ridiculous squeamishness,” saying, “Whoever is not for us is against us
. . . Even lukewarmness is a high crime and misdemeanor.”40
Of course, it was not only the conservatives who were advancing
such opinions. Sampson Perry™s radical weekly, the Argus, published in
November 1795 an ode “To Moderation,” in which that personi¬cation is
spurned as a “h y p o c r i t e” with a “traitor heart,” and called “the fatal
source of human woe.”41 Moderation is anger™s enemy, so condemnations
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
50
of it like this one amount to defenses of that emotion and rededications to
its energies. Just as “Cato” calls for “hatred and indignation,” so the
author of “To Moderation” openly objects to viewing anger as madness
or fury: “™Tis thine to call it mad erroneous rage,” the poem reads, “When
Indignation™s spirit nobly glows” (45). Here the rhetorical division be-
tween the Juvenalian and Senecan conceptions of anger is explicit. Thus
the reformers tend to see moderation as a sleep, an acquiescence to an
unjust status quo, even as loyalists are painting it as the surest conductor
to ruinous French principles and practices. Under the in¬‚uence of anger,
each side exaggerated the evils and power of those who disagreed. As a
result, the complex range of political positions possible in 1789 was
reduced by 1795 to a simple choice: with us or against us, in Cato™s
phrase. Angry rhetoric had transformed each party™s perception of their
political opponents to a frightening caricature, producing two specters of
ruin named “Jacobinism” and “tyranny.” In the end, the conservatives™
version triumphed in English popular consciousness, assisted by the French
invasions of neighboring nations and primarily by the litany of French
terrors described or invented in the pages of the government-controlled
press.
In addition to bloody descriptions, metaphorical acts of naming
were fundamental to this process. A survey of the English loyalist prints
in the 1790s reveals a certain oscillation on the question of whether the
Jacobins are devils or tigers. The anonymous author of Desultory Thoughts
on the Atrocious Cruelties of the French Nation assures us, “Devils and
tygers are the just epithets now in fashionable usage, to distinguish
[Frenchmen] from men of other nations!” (76“77). Certainly the tiger
epithet for violent French revolutionaries was popular: Ronald Paulson
cites examples from the Times, Wilkes, Romilly, Burke “ even Blake,
Wollstonecraft, and Wordsworth42 “ and this list could easily be
extended.43 The counterrevolutionaries aimed to ascribe savage, blood-
thirsty rage to the French by associating them with thoughtless and wild
predatory beasts.
We might also remember Book 10 of The Prelude, in which Wordsworth
recalls his experiences in Paris in 1792, just after the September Massacres
and the declaration of the Republic, both of which put him at great
unease: “But at best it seemed a place of fear, / Un¬t for the repose
of night, / Defenceless as a wood where tigers roam.”44 Wordsworth™s
image of unfenced tigers prowling the civitas is meant to register his sense
that the state should police the anger of citizens rather than encourage it.
But even Wordsworth would have recognized that, like it or not, the
Burke, Coleridge, and the rage for indignation 51
Revolution had created a new place for anger within the public sphere.
How much had changed in regard to anger can be seen by comparing two
passages that recall Wordsworth™s from The Prelude. The ¬rst is from
Edward Young™s A Vindication of Providence, written in 1728, when the
anger of the monarch was still king of the political jungle: “It is elegantly
said, the King™s anger is as a roaring lion, which Description of it is
con¬n™d to Kings, only as to its Ef¬cacy; it is strong, though not as
successful in other Men. By a King it is let loose into the large Field of
Power; in others it bites the Bars that con¬ne it.”45 Young recognizes that
anger is our fundamental political emotion, the ferocity of which is equal
in all men. By picturing the common man™s anger as a caged lion that
“bites the Bars that con¬ne it,” Young implies that instruments of control
(i.e., chains and prisons) are the only things that separate the king “ both
physically and ontologically “ from his subjects. Approximately one
hundred years later, Sir Walter Scott looked back on the period leading
up to the fateful meeting of the Estates-General (on May 5, 1789), and
wondered at the provoking behavior of Louis XVI™s government: “The
conduct of the government . . . towards the nation whose representatives
it was shortly to meet, resembled that of an insane person, who should by
a hundred teazing and vexatious insults irritate into frenzy the lion, whose
cage he was about to open, and to whose fury he must necessarily be
exposed.”46 The political role of the angry citizen had changed utterly
between Young™s era and Scott™s; the enraged populace “ one of the larger
cats of history “ had been let out of the bag, and had entered the “large
Field of Power” as a legitimate force for political change. Like the
unfenced tigers that Wordsworth imagines in Paris, the uncaged lion
offers to tear apart the old order in the name of the people™s wrath.
However, the characterization of revolutionaries as bestial becomes a
problem when the writers turn their attention from the violent mob to the
leaders, and to their real targets, the English Jacobin writers, orators, and
editors who were determining the radical cause. For the loyalists, the
mindless fury of an animal was not suf¬cient to represent the diabolical
plots and machinations by which such leaders manipulated their publics.
Hence, they were also, or alternately, devils: cold and calculating monsters
of hypocrisy whose only aim was to rouse the anger of masses for their
own sel¬sh and cruel desires. In 1796, the loyalist daily Tomahawk!, Or
Censor General offers a “Receipt to Make a Jacobin,” wherein “Hypocrisy”
is the ¬rst ingredient, followed by pride, sedition, falsehood, rebellion,
enmity, envy, and “dissembling tears”47 “ a thoroughly Satanic mixture,
reminiscent also of Blake™s speaker in “A Poison Tree” who nurses hidden
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
52
wrath with “tears” and “soft deceitful wiles” (e , 28). Such a ¬gure is
emphatically not an enraged beast but a demonic plotter, of whom the
reactionary John Bowles writes, “This infernal ¬end can appear as an angel
of light; he can wear the mask of r e f or m.”48 Throughout the 1790s,
much energy is spent labeling the mass of French revolutionaries, English
radicals, and reformers as tigerish Jacobins, and portraying prominent men
such as Marat, Robespierre, and Thelwall as their devilish guides.49
Opposing the rage of the tigers and the enmity of the devils is a force
insisted upon by the loyalists: the just indignation of Englishmen. Free
of Gallic in¬‚uences, this variety of anger rises naturally and rationally
in the English breast when provoked by evidence of tigers and devils at
work. The author of the aforementioned Desultory Thoughts describes
his work as “an humble and well-meant endeavour to excite in English-
men a just indignation and abhorrence of principles so repugnant
and monstrous to the real nature of man!” (5). Similarly, a letter by
“Brittanus” in the London newspaper The True Briton (the nationalistic
rhetoric here approaching hysteria-levels) announces that its purpose is to
“tear off the ¬‚imsy veil by which these men attempt to conceal their real
designs from their indignant country.”50 “These men” here referred to
are members of radical groups such as the London Corresponding Society
and the Society for Constitutional Information “ in other words, devi-
lish Jacobins whose duplicity needs to be countered with national indig-
nation. In this same hortatory vein, one T. Moore writes in his Address to
the Inhabitants of Great Britain (1793), “Let the example of France be a
warning to my Countrymen; “ let the unparalleled, cruel, and deliberate
murders committed there, be impressed so forcibly upon the heart of
every Briton as not to be eradicated! “ Let us view with horror and
indignation a system marked with every species of infamy.”51 The loyalist
press had clearly become a bully pulpit for indignation by 1793, and the
doctrine was plain enough: insofar as you are a true Englishman, you shall
be indignant at the rage of the French and their sympathizers, whose
emotion has no basis in actual grievances but has been excited by cruel
and manipulative demagogues. In short, indignation is just and English;
rage is unjust and French. As a corollary, any Englishman expressing
sympathy with the Revolution in France is necessarily an angry tiger or
a ¬end.
A few radicals were still contesting this semantics of anger in 1795“96,
most notably John Thelwall, and Burke continued to be an easy target.
Operating in a Godwinian mode, Thelwall casts himself and his cause as
Burke, Coleridge, and the rage for indignation 53
one of moderation, and labors to condemn all anger “ especially Burke™s “
as destructive rage. In deference to the Enlightenment roots of his cause,
he presents himself as the champion of reason and nonviolence, even if (as
Michael Scrivener has shown) his own political rhetoric oscillated between
“intemperance and moderation.”52 With regard to indignation, Thelwall
attempts a zero-sum game by removing all varieties of anger from the
discussion, while other radicals (like Sampson Perry) are still ¬ghting to
reclaim indignation as the indispensable province of his party. Respond-
ing to Burke™s Letter to a Noble Lord, Thelwall adopts a thoroughly
Senecan posture of disapproval: Burke™s anger is an “ungovernable phren-
zy.”53 Surveying everything Burke has written since 1790, Thelwall ¬nds
only “the distemper of his mind”:
The hydrophobia of alarm rages too ¬ercely in his mind, to suffer him to wet his
lips with the sober stream of reason, or turn to the salutary food of impartial
investigation. All is rage, and foam, and headlong precipitancy, and the
individual must be as mad as himself who expects any thing but to be torn by his
envenomed tooth. (“Sober Re¬‚ections,” 330).

In other words, Burke is a mad dog, foaming at the mouth, utterly
unreasonable and destructive. In addition, that “envenomed tooth” im-
plies contagion, a process whereby his rage spreads to infect the political
atmosphere. Like Seneca, who deplored that “the mind plunges headlong
into anger” because “no more frenzied state besets the mind” (De Ira,
3.1.5), Thelwall also stresses the “precipitancy” enjoined by anger, involv-
ing a rush to judgment and punishment without a pause in which the
moderating in¬‚uence of reason might enter. “Like Collins™s personi¬ca-
tion of Anger,” Thelwall exclaims, “forth ˜ “ he rushed: his eyes on ¬re /
In lightnings own his secret stings!™” (“Sober Re¬‚ections,”359). Thelwall in
fact also offers this quotation as the epigraph to the entire pamphlet, and
associates Burke with Collins™s personi¬ed “Revenge” from the same
poem, “The Passions.” In a phrase James Nohrnberg uses to describe
Spenser™s Pyrochles, Burke in Thelwall™s presentation is “a kind of tan-
trum going somewhere to happen.”54 This characterization of Burke was
common enough in the 1790s; as one satirist described his behavior
following the break with Fox: “And wild he roams the country round /
And angry scours the streets, / And tweaks the nose, or kicks the breech /
Of every Whig he meets.”55 Thelwall follows this line precisely, and
indeed it was the dominant one among Burke™s opponents, as we have
seen.
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
54
Thelwall™s condemnation of Burke™s rage grows out of a more encom-
passing rhetoric of moderation. He seems to have spent much of the years
1795“96 urging both parties to abandon invective and violence as destruc-
tive instruments of factionalism. He saw quite clearly that the conserva-
tives aimed ¬rst to collapse the cause of reform into its angriest and most
violent fringe; the “Jacobin” label was the obvious and ubiquitous indica-
tor of this strategy. In the same pamphlet, he claims that the defenders of
the status quo
endeavour to confound together . . . every sanguinary expression, every intem-
perate action of the obscurest individual whose mind has become distempered by
the calamities of the times . . . with the honest and virtuous labours of those true
sons of moderation and good order who wish to render their fellow citizens ¬rm
and manly, that they may have no occasion to be tumultuous and savage; to
spread the solar light of reason, that they may extinguish the grosser ¬res
of vengeance; and to produce a timely and temperate reform, as the only means
of averting an ultimate revolution. (“Sober Re¬‚ections,” 369)
Renouncing tumult, savagery, and vengeance in favor of moderation
and order, Thelwall strikes his characteristic pose of the later 1790s. It was
essentially a rear-guard maneuver by a man who had been demonized as a
rabble-rouser, an in¬‚ammatory agent bent on inciting the working and
middle classes to furious destruction. For example, when the king™s
carriage was stoned in St. James™s Park in 1795 following a speech by
Thelwall to an immense crowd, the Tomahawk announced, “The mis-
c r e a n t Thelwall, and his daring associates have become lost to all
respect for the laws of their country” (4:17), and claimed that he “only
wishes to irritate, not to relieve; and by that means to rouze the million to
some daring act” (4:16). This was despite the fact that the title and subject
of the address was “Peaceful Discussion, and Not Tumultuary Violence,
the Means of Redressing National Grievances.”56 For Thelwall and his
cause, anger had become an unshakable liability.
The writings of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who was very much a part of
these controversies in the 1790s, show that the dynamic fortunes of anger
in the Revolution debates not only in¬‚uenced the ways Englishmen
thought and wrote about politics, but also altered their more private
negotiations with the aggressive passions. Lyric poetry of the expressive
school thus also bears the impress of the change, recorded in Coleridge™s
case as an uneasy ¬‚irtation with violence-as-inspiration. As Simon
Bainbridge has argued, Coleridge™s “in¬‚uential ideas about poetry and
imagination were formulated in relation to the era of war in which he
lived.”57 Just before his thirty-¬rst birthday, Coleridge recorded in his
Burke, Coleridge, and the rage for indignation 55
notebook the thoughts and emotions of a day hauntingly representative of
his engagements with anger. Following a lament over his lack of product-
ivity “ “This year has been one painfull Dream / I have done nothing!” “
he begins again,
Oct. 19 1803. The general Fast Day “ and all hearts anxious concerning the
Invasion. “ A grey Day, windy . . . the Lake has been a mirror so very clear . . .
& now it rolls in white Breakers, like a Sea, & the wind snatches up the water,
& drifts it like Snow / “ and now the Rain Storm pelts against my Study
Window!58
The moment is an evocative one, recalling both the 1798 “alarm of an
invasion” that produced “Fears in Solitude” and “the coming on of rain
and squally blast” of the more recent “Dejection: An Ode” (1802).59 The
peace with Napoleon had collapsed in May of 1803, and as Kathleen
Coburn notes, “Buonaparte was massing troops and supplies at Boulogne
. . . [it was] a period of real alarm” (Notebooks, i :1577n).
Coleridge watches the changing weather with thoughts like those of
“Fears in Solitude,” in which he had wondered,
What uproar and what strife may now be stirring
This way or that way o™er these silent hills “
Invasion, and the thunder and the shout,
And all the crash of onset; fear and rage,
And undetermin™d con¬‚ict “ even now. . .
(Poetical Works, 471, lines 35“39)
Furthermore, as in “Dejection: An Ode,” the storm ¬gures the poet™s
own troubled emotional state and, ultimately, an energizing of his
imaginative powers. In “Dejection,” he writes,
And oh! that even now the gust were swelling,
And the slant night-shower driving loud and fast!
Those sounds which oft have raised me, whilst they awed,
And sent my soul abroad,
Might now perhaps their wonted impulse give,
Might startle this dull pain, and make it move and live!
(Poetical Works, 698, lines 15“20)
Similarly, the notebook entry in which he asks “Whence am I not
happy?” ends with the following notation: “Storm all night “ the wind
scourging & lashing the rain, with the pauses of self-wearying Violence
that returns to its wild work as if maddened by the necessity of the Pause /
I, half-dozing, list™ning to the same, not without solicitations of the poetic
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
56
Feeling” (Notebooks, i :1577). When Coleridge writes that the wind is
“scourging & lashing the rain” and “returns to its wild work as if
maddened by the necessity of the Pause,” he recalls his opening lament,
in which he uses similar language to describe his own work: “O me! My
very heart dies! . . . I have done nothing! “ O for God™s sake, let me whip
& spur, so that Christmas may not pass without some thing having been
done” (i :1577). His identi¬cation with the wind and storm is anticipatory
of Shelley™s in “Ode to the West Wind,” and again recalls “Dejection,” in
which he addresses the “Wind, that rav™st without” (line 99) in this
manner:
Thou mighty Poet, e™en to Frenzy bold!
What tell™st thou now about?
™Tis of the Rushing of an Host in rout,
With groans of trampled men, with smarting wounds “
At once they groan with pain, and shudder with the cold!
(Poetical Works, 701, lines 109“13)
In this passage, we return full circle, via the “crash of onset, fear and rage”
of “Fears in Solitude” to the “hearts anxious concerning the Invasion” of
the 1803 notebook vigil. Furthermore, in Coleridge™s entry, anxiety over a
French invasion merges with more personal negotiations with aggression.
In the notebook, he writes,
A day of storm / at dinner an explosion of Temper from the Sisters / a dead Sleep
after Dinner . . . / I slept again with dreams of sorrow & pain . . . I was worsted but
not conquered “ in sorrows and in sadness & in sore & angry struggles “ but not
trampled down / But all this will come again if I do not take care. (Notebooks, i :1577)
The Southeys had recently moved to Keswick, and the Fricker sisters
(Edith and Sara, now Mrs. Southey and Mrs. Coleridge) were evidently
quarrelsome. The domestic con¬‚icts at the dinner table “ itself a sign of
the Keswick circle™s rebellion against the Fast Day “ translate to the “sore
& angry struggles” of Coleridge™s dreams, as he dozes in the tense
atmosphere of the household, amidst the sounds of the rain-storm and
the fears of war.
In fact, the dream of anger was a recurring one for Coleridge. Before
dawn on Saturday morning, July 20, 1805, he awoke from a distressing
dream “ the latest in a long series of such “ and wrote the following:
How often am I doomed to perceive & wonder at the generation of violent
Anger, in dreams, in consequence of any pain or distressful sensation in the
bowels or lower parts of the Stomach / When I have awoke in agony of pure
Burke, Coleridge, and the rage for indignation 57
Terror, my stomach I have found uniformly stretched with wind / But anger not
excluding but taking the Lead of Fear . . . (Notebooks, i i :2613)
These are the words of a man who has had anger as a bedfellow for
quite some time, weary and anxious about the physiological causes (bad
digestion) and psychological effects (“pure Terror”) of his angry night-
mares. He describes the precise character of these dreams in a letter to
Southey written almost two years earlier, in the ¬rst version of the poem
that would become “The Pains of Sleep”:
Pangs of Revenge, the powerless Will,
Still baf¬‚ed, & consuming still,
Sense of intolerable Wrong,
And men whom I despis™d made strong
Vain-glorious Threats, unmanly Vaunting,
Bad men my boasts & fury taunting
Rage, sensual Passion, mad™ning Brawl,
And Shame, and Terror over all!60

Coleridge called this “a true portrait of my nights” (Notebooks, i i :984),
and, in a number of versions, it remains one of the best-known psy-
chological self-depictions of the Romantic age. However, its grounding
in the emotion of anger has been obscured by readers™ emphasis on
Coleridge™s guilt and shame, the classic Freudian emotions.61 By changing
our focus to his “fury,” “Rage,” and “Pangs of Revenge,” we may begin to
see the importance of anger to Coleridge™s dream-haunted imagination
and literary work.
From the numerous passages marshaled here, we can begin to see that
Coleridge often experiences anger itself as an invasion: an onset of passion
that baf¬‚es “the powerless Will,” not unlike a violent wind-storm or a
bout of wind in the digestive tract. In this sense, his conception of anger
falls in line with post-Revolutionary attitudes that identify that emotion
by and large with blind rage: a painful disorder or disease that depends
upon an essentially irrational loss of self-control. However, one also
perceives in Coleridge™s comments a pleasurable (and quite traditional)
association of rage with inspiration; those windy visitations amount to
“solicitations of the poetic Feeling,” a “wonted impulse” that can hardly
be separated from violent fury and frenzy. His work thus bears signs
of a crucial paradox: for the Romantic poet as such, “rage” must be a
good thing “ even as rage is being demonized in English culture. In his
many writings on the subject, Coleridge closely associates the negative
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
58
experience of anger with feelings of fear, involving a sense of vulnerability
to attack closely related to the invasion fears of the Napoleonic years. Yet
he also envisions various positive enactments of the angry passions that
would arise from a visitation of energizing rage. In struggling to make
this distinction between invasion and visitation, Coleridge takes up the
Romantics™ project of de¬ning poetic anger in their particularly vexed
historical moment.
One of Blake™s aphorisms is appropriate: “To be in a Passion you Good
may do / But no Good if a Passion is in you ” (E, 492). We know Blake is
speaking speci¬cally about anger here, thanks to Wordsworth, who
reminds us in a passage from the Essay, Supplementary to the Preface (1815),
Passion, it must be observed, is derived from a word which signi¬es suffering; but
the connection which suffering has with effort, with exertion, and action, is
immediate and inseparable. How strikingly is this property of human nature
exhibited by the fact, that, in popular language, to be in a passion, is to be angry! “ but,
“Anger in hasty words or blows
Itself discharges on its foes.”
To be moved, then, by a passion, is to be excited, often to external, and always to
internal, effort. 62
Both poets emphasize the expressive imperative of anger; like the
swollen, angry apple of “A Poison Tree,” it requires discharge. Yet, like
Coleridge, both remain uneasy about its passive and reactive aspect. As
Romantics, they want a species of rage that could be the handmaiden of
the will, an invited visitor rather than an invading conqueror. When
Coleridge notes in 1803 that he listened to the wild storm “not without
solicitations of the poetic Feeling,” he indicates this desire, and his
grammar nicely catches the ambiguity of his relationship to inspiration:
who is soliciting whom here? It seems nature™s wrath acts pander to the
Coleridgean imagination: frenzied storms give rise to the furor poeticus,
the noble rage of the poet.
Writing in the particular cultural context of anger we have traced thus
far, Coleridge was at pains to imagine poetic rage distinctly separated
from the destructive and irrational anger-as-rage paradigm of the 1790s, to
which Coleridge himself contributed. One approach was simply to ex-
clude anger from the precincts of one™s poetry; another was to back away
from references to imaginative inspiration as “rage.” These strategies of
retrenchment are re¬‚ected in microcosm in Coleridge™s revisions to his
“Monody on the Death of Chatterton.” In the ¬rst version of the poem,
written in 1790, “rage” serves two important functions; by 1794, these
Burke, Coleridge, and the rage for indignation 59
have been eliminated. First, in the 1790 manuscript (unpublished in the
author™s lifetime), to express a turn from mournfulness to anger over
England™s neglect of Chatterton, Coleridge writes, “Now is my breast
distended with a sigh, / And now a ¬‚ash of Rage / Darts through the tear,
that glistens in my eye” (1:13; lines 10“12). For the 1794 published text, this
becomes “Now Indignation checks the feeble sigh, / Or ¬‚ashes through
the tear that glistens in mine eye!” (1:126; lines 31“32). Coleridge™s renam-
ing of his emotion (from “Rage” to “Indignation”) is symptomatic of the
widespread revaluation of these terms in British discourse during the
1790s which we have traced, whereby “indignation” had become a locus
of rational judgment almost separate from anger itself, and “rage” had
been ¬rmly associated with blindly destructive, animal fury. Second, in
preparing the 1794 version, Coleridge removes the Thomas Gray epigraph
to the poem which read in 1790, “Cold penury repress™d his noble rage, /
And froze the genial current of his soul” (1:13). This eighteenth-century
“rage” is hardly anger, but rather is in keeping with another de¬nition:
“poetic or prophetic enthusiasm or inspiration,” as the OED has it.63
Coleridge approves Gray™s identi¬cation of rage as “noble,” and associates
it with a natural aristocracy of the poet™s mental, creative powers, and with
the upright justice of indignation. Yet the motto is excised in 1794,
¬guring the general stepping away from rage enacted in England during
this period.64
Furthermore, in the Gray epigraph to Coleridge™s Chatterton poem,
poetic rage is associated with an in¬‚ammatory state, insofar as “Cold
penury” represses it and freezes another kind of metaphorical circulation,
“the genial current of his soul.” In¬‚ammation here involves not blockage
but free-¬‚ow, a salutary accession of energy and heat rather than a
dangerous state of imbalance. The concept links the epigraph to the
passage from Coleridge™s “Dejection” (quoted above) in which the poet
wishes “that even now the gust were swelling, / And the slant night-
shower driving loud and fast,” so that these sounds “Might now perhaps
their wonted impulse give, / Might startle this dull pain and make it live!”
The poem presents inspiration as a process of contagious in¬‚ammation, a
swelling gust enlivening the poet with a startling impulse, which causes a
renewed circulation; the process imagined is something like holding
a foot numb with cold over a ¬‚ame. Always fascinated by the relation
of the human imagination to both physiology and the natural world,
Coleridge characteristically imagines rage at a junction of interchange
among these realms.
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
60
For Coleridge, separating poetic, creative rage from rage-as-anger also
meant falling in line with contemporaries who saw the latter as merely
reactive and destructive. In a late essay entitled “On the Passions” (1828),
he sets out his description of rage as a bodily state, one that barely involves
the mind at all. He writes that “Rage is an affection of the Irritability or
Instinctivity . . . and has its seat & birth place in the Vasculo-muscular
System, the Blood and the Muscles,” and sees it as occupying (with fear) “a
mid place between the Appetites and the Passions” due to its grounding in
“Impulse and Seizure” and its dependence upon “external excitants.”65
According to Coleridge, this primarily physiological state works
by sudden Dilation, Diffusion, Explosion “ So Milton™s Satan, roused to fury by
the contemptuous sarcasms of Gabriel and the menace of the angelic guard,
dilated stood “ & at the touch of Ithuriel™s spear “ “as when a spark
Lights on a heap of nitrous powder “
“ “ “ “ “ “ “ the smutty grain
With sudden blaze diffus™d in¬‚ames the air.” (Shorter Works, i i :1433)
In this reading of rage in Paradise Lost, Satan™s bodily expansion from
toad to “his own shape” (Milton, Paradise Lost, 4:819) to the size of
“Teneriffe or Atlas” in which “His stature reached the sky” (4:987“88)
occurs as part of the physiological phenomonology of anger. In a process
of in¬‚ammatory swelling or chemical reaction, Satan is literally “waxing
more in rage ” (4:969).66 Coleridge presents this scene as illustrative of
deep connections between anger and the body, recalling his “pain . . . in
the bowels” and “the generation of violent Anger” in dreams thereby. The
self-as-mind is virtually excluded from the circuit.
Another way of depicting angry rage as physically organic might be to
displace it onto the natural world, in storms and “squally blasts.” At one
level, Coleridge found this strategy particularly attractive because it
allowed him to reappropriate the energy of rage once it had been purged
of associations with human resentment and cruelty. Few poets have such a
high incidence of stormy weather in their work. Yet for Coleridge, wind-
storms prove to be the link between mind and nature; as he theorizes in
“The Eolian Harp,”
And what if all of animated nature
Be but organic harps diversely framed,
That tremble into thought, as o™er them sweeps
Plastic and vast, one intellectual breeze,
At once the Soul of each and God of All?
(Poetical Works, 234, lines 44“8)
Burke, Coleridge, and the rage for indignation 61
Coleridge™s insistence on the thoughtful, intellectual aspects of this
interchange signals that his externalizing and naturalizing of rage as the
“Wind that rav™st without” (“Dejection,” line 99) occurs not as part of a
further alignment of anger with the irrational, but as the articulation of
the Lakist conviction that (to adapt Wordsworth) the passions of men are
incorporated in the beautiful forces of nature. In other words, storms do
not merely represent the poet™s emotional weather metaphorically, but they
provoke stormy emotions, and in some sense are provoked by them as
well. When the dejected Coleridge wishes “That even now the gust were
swelling, / And the slant night-shower driving loud and fast” (“Dejection,”
lines 15“16), he calls forth this sympathetic weather in a Lear-like moment
of imagined command. The storm becomes a locus of interchange be-
tween the poet™s emotional state and the world of nature; in his imagined
narrative, its rage calls forth the poet™s and vice versa.
Finally, as another strategy to separate true poetic feeling from anger,
Coleridge presents insecurity as the source of that emotion, which comes
to characterize failed poets in his mind. In 1801, he writes in his notebook
that “genuine Anger, which is made up of Fear & animal Courage, will
be found in those most, who most hang upon the opinions of others, &
to whom those opinions are of the most importance,” and thus,
“Verse-makers who are not Poets, are angered, irritable” (Notebooks,
i :979). He would repeat this theory years later in the Biographia Literaria,
in chapter 2: “Supposed Irritability of Men of Genius,” where he claims
that only bad poets who hunger vainly for fame are often angry. As he
puts it, “men, whose dearest wishes are ¬xed on objects wholly out of
their own power, become in all cases more or less impatient and prone to
anger,” which is based in “an involuntary sense of fear.”67 At the same
time, men of genius are not irritable in personal matters; Milton for
example “reserved his anger, for the enemies of religion, freedom, and his
country” (Biographia Literaria, 36“37). We can glimpse the underpin-
nings of this distinction in the culture of Romantic-period anger, where
one species of anger (rage) is involuntary, sel¬shly destructive, and
fearful, while another (indignation) is controlled, moral, and potent. Yet
Coleridge ascribes the latter to Milton, thus associating it with the creative
force of the author in a manner that works to recuperate rage as a
conceptual category. In the poet™s mind, Juvenalian indignation emerges
in a state of inspired rage.
Coleridge™s de¬nitional and representational strategies with regard to
anger signify his unease with that emotion, particularly as experienced
personally. His indignation at Napoleon, for example, was one thing, and
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
62
could be assimilated to poetic inspiration a la Milton; his gnawing
resentment at Wordsworth or Southey was quite another, and seemed
to signify the petty fears and insecurities of a failed artist. Thus came the
vicious and classically Freudian cycle so familiar to readers of Coleridge:
aggression, born from insecurity, is introjected as guilt. In “The Pains of
Sleep,” he gives a recipe for this emotional cocktail as “Rage, sensual
Passion, mad™ning Brawl, / And Shame, and Terror over all!” Coleridge™s
problem is that this state of mind “ Coleridgean Hell “ is separated by
only a knife™s edge from the paradise of poetic rage. Not only does his
imaginative work draw upon the same intertwined fearful and aggressive
passions that fuel his nightmares, but he ¬gures inspiration as some-
thing akin to a ¬t of anger. For example, in the closing lines of “Kubla
Khan,” the inspired singer ¬lls his audience with “holy dread”; the cry of
“Beware! beware!” and the weaving of that protective circle indicate
the presence of a threatening, wrathful spirit at its center. However, anger
as such remains unmentioned and indeed unwarranted here, because
Coleridge wants to articulate a state of rage free from the guilt and fear
associated with his angry feelings.
Following his (probably hallucinatory) sighting of Wordsworth in bed
with Sara Hutchinson, his beloved “Asra,” at Coleorton in November of
1806, Coleridge found himself awash in outrage.68 He wrote in his
notebook, “Spite of Reason Anger & Resentment carried on amid anguish
and self-trouble by mere power of distinct Images and Thoughts” (Note-
books, ii :2954). The notation tells two stories, one of the connection
between anger and suffering (“anguish and self-trouble”) in Coleridge™s
mind, and the other of its relation to his imaginative powers (“distinct
Images and Thoughts”). Furthermore, both af¬liations occur under the
sign of the irrational; for Coleridge here, anger is quite literally spite
against reason, and proceeds by means of visions. Like Burke™s overactive
imagination that gave rise to his anger, Coleridge™s “power of distinct
Images and Thoughts” kept his anger at Wordsworth boiling, and recalls
his preface to “Kubla Khan,” where he claims that, in a sort of waking
dream, “images rose up before him as things, with a parallel production of
the correspondent expressions, without any sensation or consciousness of
effort” (Poetical Works, i :296). His imagination is riven by the similar
phenomenology of the painful invasiveness of anger and the joyful visit-
ation of rage.
Coleridge™s work thus serves as an example of how the Revolution
controversy, particularly as determined by Edmund Burke, changed the
ways Englishmen thought about anger. We have seen that, in committing
Burke, Coleridge, and the rage for indignation 63
themselves to anger as indignation, both loyalists and reformers had to
imagine each other as increasingly more powerful, dangerous, and out of
control “ and had to keep asserting their own losses and fears of losses at
the enraged opposition™s hands. As a result, moderation became the great
enemy as the Revolution debates wore on. Writing in this scorched-earth
landscape that persisted through the Napoleonic years, the Romantic
poets had to ¬nd ways to accommodate their rage even while asserting
the dangers of resentment and vengefulness. Yet the case was more
complicated and far-reaching than we have seen thus far, as the anxious
struggle over anger spilled beyond the political arena, into other discip-
linary contexts including medicine and the law. In the next chapters, it is
to this overspill and its effect on the Romantic imagination that we turn.
chapter 3

In¬‚ammatory reactions



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