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In December of 1777, Charles James Fox addressed the House of Commons
in the following manner:
For the two years that a certain noble lord has presided over American affairs, the
most violent, scalping, tomahawk measures have been pursued: “ bleeding has
been his only prescription. If a people deprived of their ancient rights are grown
tumultuous “ bleed them! If they are attacked with a spirit of insurrection “
bleed them! If their fever should rise into rebellion “ bleed them, cries this state
physician! More blood! More blood! Still more blood!1
In Fox™s terms, tumult, insurrection, and rebellion (i.e., manifestations
of the people™s anger) have called forth a monoideistic program of the-
rapy from George III™s secretary of state for the colonies, Lord Germain.
Bleeding, here a synecdoche for military repression, is metaphorically
related to bloodletting as an anti-in¬‚ammatory remedy for fever. Expli-
citly mixing the rhetoric of revolutionary politics with that of medical
therapeutics, Fox enacts a common trope of discourse that would
achieve new urgency in the half-century following the American Declar-
ation of Independence. It was during this period “ that is, during the
Romantic era “ that the anger of the people assumed political legitimacy
(in addition to mere ef¬cacy), demanding from the ruling classes ideo-
logical resistance or capitulation (in addition to mere struggle or ¬‚ight).
In the resulting war of words, a diagnostic view of anger prevailed, as
authors on both sides of the revolutionary question labored to establish
the nosology and pathology of public rage, as a prelude to prescribing
treatment for the disorder.2 The two emergent de¬nitions of in¬‚amma-
tion “ disease or symptom “ were deeply embedded in the contemporary
discourse of political anger. As we will see with reference to the work
of William Blake and others, Romantic-period literature bears the impress
of this conceptual-discursive situation in its dealings with anger and
revolution.

64
In¬‚ammatory reactions 65
In his address, Fox objects to Lord Germain™s regimen of colonial
bloodletting, not only on the grounds of its in¬‚exibility, but also because
it seems to encourage the disease it means to cure. None other than
Edmund Burke had made this objection in similar terms in his January
1777 “Address to the King.” Of Lord North™s oppressive policies in
response to the “great disorders and tumults” in America, Burke states,
Other methods were then recommended and followed, as infallible means of
restoring Peace and order. We looked upon them to be, what they have proved
to be, the cause of in¬‚aming discontent into disobedience, and resistance into
revolt ¦ It seem™d absurd and preposterous, to hold out as the means of calming
a people, in a state of extreme in¬‚ammation and ready to take up arms, the
austere Law which a rigid Conqueror would impose ¦ 3
The raging of the French Revolution would send Burke to the other side
of this debate, but here he implies that in¬‚ammation cannot be treated
effectively by bleeding “ that an in¬‚amed populace will become even more
so in reaction to the strong repression of that symptom of discontent.
Those in favor of strong controls and reprisals “ Lords Germain and North,
George III “ saw the matter quite differently. To them, the raging in¬‚-
ammation of the American colonists was itself a disease, not a symptom,
and thus required forceful countermeasures. In a speech to Parliament
delivered in October of 1775, the king made his position clear:
Those who have too long successfully laboured to in¬‚ame my people in America
¦ now openly avow their revolt, hostility, and rebellion . . . It is now become
the part of wisdom and (in its effects) of clemency, to put a speedy end to these
disorders by the most decisive exertions. For this purpose, I have increased my
naval establishment, and greatly augmented my land forces.4
Although less explicitly than Fox or Burke, here George III assumes a
therapeutic relation to the in¬‚ammatory “disorders” plaguing the colonial
body politic. Thus he has prepared for “decisive exertions” “ in this case,
military interventions “ to scotch the rebellion, which has been spread as a
kind of contagious fever among the people.
The debates which gave rise to all of these statements would be
rehearsed, with a difference, in the next several decades as the French
Revolution trumped the American one in English political consciousness.
In fact, after the 1780 Gordon Riots, the threat of popular violence had
come home; and following the fall of the Bastille in 1789, the contours of
the discussion of anger came under increasing pressure. The English
debates over revolution and reform were basically conducted in two
periods of intense activity: 1789“96, and 1815“19; and in the texts of these
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
66
periods, groups associated with a particular political view “ and most
often, “the people” as a potentially insurrectionary aggregate “ are de-
scribed as being “in¬‚amed.” Depending on the sympathies of the author,
this in¬‚ammation calls for a particular therapeutic program. For the
counterrevolutionaries, such a condition, exacerbated and indeed pro-
duced by the “in¬‚ammatory” rhetoric of “Jacobin” publications and
speeches, must be suppressed. In this view, in¬‚ammation is itself a disease
which will have destructive effects on the body and its constitution if
allowed to rage freely. For republican authors on the other hand, the
people™s in¬‚ammation (that is to say, their rebellious outrage) is a re-
sponse to economic and political realities supported by the government.
From this perspective, in¬‚ammation is a symptom of a deeper disease or
debility of the constitution, and a part of the political body™s natural
defense system; thus the in¬‚ammatory action should be allowed to run its
course, to do its work.
This latter view had come to dominate actual medical practice in
the latter half of the eighteenth century. John Hunter (1728“93) and
William Cullen (1710“90) represent this older guard as the most import-
ant English spokesmen for the essentially restorative powers of in¬‚amma-
tion. In this they followed the work of George Stahl (1660“1734) who
introduced the idea, “clearly foreign to many physicians of his time . . .
That in¬‚ammation is a physiological ˜action™ on the part of the forces
controlling the body, rather than a merely morbid or praeternatural
˜passion™ “ in other words a reaction rather than a disease or lesion.”5 As
Hunter claimed, “in¬‚ammation may be said in all cases to arise from a
state of parts in which they cannot remain” (Treatise 364), and “as every
in¬‚ammation has a cause, that cause should be removed before the
resolution can take place” (329). At least through Hunter™s generation,
then, in¬‚ammation was mostly thought of in medical circles as a poten-
tially salutary action caused by some injury or disorder. Except in extreme
cases in which the in¬‚ammation was so violent that it threatened to send
the body into complete “disorganization,” therapy should be primarily
supportive in nature, allowing the in¬‚ammatory action to perform its
healing function, while treating its cause through other methods.
But a change was building throughout the Revolutionary years,
so that after Waterloo, medical conceptions of in¬‚ammation and its
treatment had been reversed. This transaction was the result of what
medical historian Peter Niebyl has called “The English Bloodletting
Revolution,” describing the several decades when medical theory came
to regard in¬‚ammation as itself a disease, or cause of all disorders in the
In¬‚ammatory reactions 67
body, and medical practice adopted bloodletting as the favored treat-
ment for it.6 For example, prior to this medical “revolution,” the standard
treatment for fever (then recognized as a primary cause of in¬‚ammation)
was Peruvian bark, or cinchona, taken orally; its active ingredient is
quinine, and thus it could often be effective. However, this was changing
in the early nineteenth century: “In 1818, Thomas Bateman (1778“1821),
physician to the London Fever Hospital, recounted how, as a young
physician in the late 1790s, he had employed the then fashionable
method of treating fevers, bark. Twenty years later he had abandoned
the fashion of his youth and turned to bloodletting.”7 Niebyl argues that
the Revolutionary spirit of the times and the sanguinary experiences of
physicians in the Napoleonic wars were in no small part responsible
for this reversal in medical progress. To this I would add that the
rede¬nition of in¬‚ammation as disease, rather than symptom, seems
also to have been partially determined by the conceptual and rhetorical
patterns of the Revolution debates, particularly as they were concerned with
anger. As Revolution gave way to Terror and war, the dangers of in¬‚aming
the populace were trumpeted ever more loudly in the British press, and
popular anger was more consistently described as destructive rage. That is,
anger-as-in¬‚ammation came to look like a disease or contagious infection,
rather than a rational, purgative symptom. The belated result was a con-
ceptual rapprochement between political and medical approaches to
in¬‚ammation in the post-Revolutionary era: bleed, suppress, eliminate.8
In his 1795 Letter to William Elliot, Burke may be remembering Fox™s
address to Commons, and seems to have anticipated my observations
when he remarks, “These analogies between bodies natural and politick,
though they may some time illustrate arguments, furnish no argument of
themselves. They are but too often used under the color of a specious
philosophy. . .”9 Yet two paragraphs later, we ¬nd him speaking of
the revolutionary spirit of Europe in the following terms: “The medita-
tions of the closet have infected the senates with a subtle frenzy, and
in¬‚amed armies with the brands of the furies. The cure might come from
the same source with the distemper. I would add my part to those who
would animate the people (whose hearts are yet right) to new exertions
in the old cause” (IX:41). Notice how he combines the language of feve-
rish disease (“infected,” “frenzy,” “distemper,” “cure”) with that of ¬re
(“in¬‚amed,” “brands”) to characterize the effects of revolutionary writers
on civilization (“senates,” “armies,” “the people”). Here the rhetoric of
in¬‚ammation comes so readily to hand that Burke doesn™t notice his
reliance on “analogies between bodies natural and politick” to make his
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
68
point. Furthermore, the interchangeability of the two metaphors (fever
and ¬re) here con¬rms the counterrevolutionary tendency to assimilate
reformist outrage to destructive disorder.10
In fact, most English reformers wanted to preserve distinctions
among several varieties of in¬‚ammation, while their opponents aimed to
collapse them all into one leveling holocaust. Thus, in the discourse of the
loyalists, anything “ journal, speech, or event, even an abstraction “
deemed “in¬‚ammatory” threatened the state with violent insurrectionary
destruction. The reformers, on the other hand, tried to assert anger™s
importance while disclaiming, or perhaps ¬‚irting with, popular violence
as that emotion™s necessary correlative. Not surprisingly then, this
debate takes the form of metaphorical manipulations. Personal anger
(experienced while reading a radical journal), popular outrage (excited
by one of John Thelwall™s speeches), and mob violence (including the
literal torching of buildings and crops) were all part of a rhetoric of
in¬‚ammation that also involved the metaphorical blazing of ideology.
As Richard Price writes in A Discourse of the Love of our Country (1789),
addressing all “friends of freedom, and writers in its defence,” “Behold
the light you have struck out, after setting A M E R I C A free, re¬‚ected to
F R A N C E , and there kindled into a blaze that lays despotism in ashes,
and warms and illuminates E U R O P E !”11 Like the “beacon™s comet blaze”
of Liberty that Wordsworth praises in his 1793 Descriptive Sketches,
this ¬re burns away abstract categories, political structures, and mental
chains. It is the ¬‚ame at which William Blake so assiduously kindled
his torch.
For example, in Blake™s America (1794), the struggle between “Albions
Angels” and the revolutionary “¬erce Americans” reaches its climax on
plate 14, as Albion™s Guardian sends a feverish “plague wind” against the
rebellious colonies (E, 55). Blake describes the scene:
Fury! rage! madness! in a wind swept through America
And the red ¬‚ames of Orc that folded roaring ¬erce around
The angry shores . . .
Then had America been lost, o™erwhelm™d by the Atlantic,
And Earth had lost another portion of the in¬nite,
But all rush together in the night in wrath and raging ¬re
The red ¬res rag™d! the plagues recoil™d! Then roll™d they
back with fury
On Albions angels; then the pestilence began in
streaks of red
Across the limbs of Albions Guardian . . .
In¬‚ammatory reactions 69
The plagues creep on the burning winds driven by
the ¬‚ames of Orc,
And by the ¬erce Americans rushing together in
the night. . . (E, 56“57)
Fighting ¬re with ¬re, the Americans oppose the “burning winds” with
“the red ¬‚ames of Orc,” and send those in¬‚ammatory plagues back to
England, causing “streaks of red / Across the limbs” of their persecutors.
Essentially, this is Blake™s vision of the situation described by Fox and
Burke regarding England™s approach to the unruly American colonies: the
people are angry; call it a plague and then suppress it. But Blake shows
that conceptual strategy recoiling upon the English, by means of a
counter-in¬‚ammation, a series of purging watch-¬res lit by the “rushing
together” of the wrathful Americans: e pluribus unum. Thus Blake™s work,
like that of so many of his contemporaries, demonstrates its imaginative
involvement with the unprecedented fact “ and even more so with its
European sequels “ that after 1776, American anger was no longer a
disease; it was a revolution.
Even the older Wordsworth, characterizing his revolutionary sympa-
thies as he revised the Prelude, remembered his heart™s command thus:
“Ye purging ¬res, / Up to the loftiest towers of Pride ascend, / Fanned by
the breath of angry providence.”12 Furthermore, in 1793, he had described
another such revolutionary “phoenix-rite of regenerative immolation”
(as Alan Liu calls it) in Descriptive Sketches.13 He ¬rst presents “Liberty,”
looking for all the world like Blake™s Rintrah who “roars and shakes his ¬res
in the burdened air” (E, 33), in a posture like that of the lady with her torch
in New York™s harbor: “Liberty shall soon, indignant, raise / Red on his
hills his beacon™s comet blaze; / Bid from on high his lonely cannon sound,
/And on ten thousand hearths his shout rebound.”14 Surely that red,
indignant blaze also ¬nds an echo in the ¬‚ames of the “ten thousand
hearths” of England, in which we imagine ¬‚ames leaping higher in response
to Liberty™s call. Yet there is more ¬re to come, from a very different
source. In the Prelude, “purging ¬res” will consume the “towers of Pride”;
here, in Descriptive Sketches, pride™s anger itself sets the land a¬re:
Yet, yet, rejoice, tho™ Pride™s perverted ire
Rouze Hell™s own aid, and wrap the hills in ¬re,
Lo! from th™ innocuous ¬‚ames, a lovely birth!
With its own Virtues springs another earth:
Nature, as in her prime,
Begins, and Love and Truth compose her train. . .
(481, lines 780“85)
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
70
As in the Prelude, ¬re is the engine of “the mighty prospects of the time”
and the agent of justice (6:443), here giving rise to a world reborn. In
both poems, Wordsworth presents in¬‚ammation as a curative symptom,
“innocuous” and purgative of pride™s perversions. Whether ire™s ¬re is
revolutionary (as in the Prelude, where the towers of Pride are consumed)
or counterrevolutionary (as in Descriptive Sketches, where “Hell™s own aid”
is roused by Pride™s anger), Wordsworth imagines it as a salutary stage or
crisis that brings about regeneration.
One should resist, however, taking these samples of Wordsworth™s
poetry as con¬rming a taste for wrath. As a metaphor for the spread of
republicanism, in¬‚ammation was one thing; as a program for political
change, it was quite another, even in “the radical years.” In a 1794 letter to
William Matthews, in which he discusses plans to publish a monthly
journal, Wordsworth writes,
when I observe the people should be enlightened upon the subject of politics,
I severely condemn all in¬‚ammatory addresses to the passions of men, even when
it is intended to direct those passions to a good purpose. I would put into each
man™s hand a lantern to guide him, and not have him set out upon his journey
depending for illumination on abortive ¬‚ashes of lightning, or the coruscations
of transitory meteors.15
Like most middle-class English “Jacobins” (including Godwin,
Coleridge, and Priestly), Wordsworth was troubled by the idea of mob
violence, and took pains to separate himself from the incendiaries of the
radical press: his projected journal the Philanthropist would not contain
appeals to the anger of the people.
For the counterrevolutionaries, the enraged mob was even more of a
worry. In their writings, as we have seen, anger™s ancient associations with
madness and heat conjoin in a rhetoric of in¬‚ammation as both fever
(including redness and swelling) and ¬re (including ¬‚ames and explo-
sions); both implied something potentially ungovernable and destructive.
Such negative metaphorical characterizations of anger are at least as old as
Seneca™s De Ira, which begins with the description of the angry man
quoted in chapter 1:
you only have to behold the aspect of those possessed by anger to know that
they are insane. For as the marks of a madman are unmistakable “ a bold and
threatening mien, a gloomy brow, a ¬erce expression, a hurried step, restless
hands, an altered colour, a quick and more violent breathing “ so likewise are
the marks of the angry man; his eyes blaze and sparkle, his whole face is
crimson with the blood that surges from the lowest depths of his heart, his lips
quiver, his teeth are clenched, his hair bristles and stands on end, his breathing is
In¬‚ammatory reactions 71
forced and harsh, his joints crack from writhing, he groans and bellows, bursts
out into speech with scarcely intelligible words, strikes his hands together
continually and stamps the ground with his feet: his whole body is excited and
“performs great angry threats”; it is an ugly and horrible picture of distorted and
swollen frenzy.16
Seneca is primarily concerned with personal anger as an irrational
disruption of Stoic constantia, or self-possession, whereas the Revolution
debates have popular outrage as their continual theme. Yet the wide
circulation of his rhetorical ¬gurations of anger in the eighteenth century
“ including madness, in¬‚ammation, fever, ¬re “ ensured that a diagnostic
attitude towards anger would predominate: where did it start? How
does it spread? What treatment is required? Most fundamentally, is it a
destructive disorder, a reactive symptom, or a salutary action with regard
to the political body?
As might be expected, answers to this last question depend on whose
anger is at issue; each side of the Revolution debate wants to diagnose
raging fevers in the other. Yet because of revolution™s long association
with ¬re (from, say, Prometheus forward), in¬‚ammation tends to be
´
strongly ascribed to those antagonistic to the anciens regimes of France
and England. Furthermore, in some cases the English radicals stretched
out their arms and embraced the ¬‚ame of ¬re, accepting in¬‚ammation as
their birthright. For example, in October 1795, Sampson Perry wrote in
the advertisement to his newly relaunched radical weekly, The Argus, “He
who best seizes the subject which is now warming the cold heart, and
in¬‚aming the stoick mind, will best please, will best succeed.”17 Here,
fever warms and warns, and the rejection of Seneca is explicit: anger is
not a disease but a cure for Stoic torpor. More frequently, however,
“in¬‚ammation” is used in the loyalist press as an adjective of warning
and condemnation, applied to the speeches and publications of the
radicals from the 1790s through the postwar era. In this regard, anger
spreads like contagious fever and like wild¬re, thanks to the windy,
infectious, incendiary words of Paine, Thelwall, Eaton, and Spence.
Both metaphors imply an unnatural and destructive state of emergency,
requiring immediate repression and control.
Yet as the radicals continually struggled to assert, revealed abuses often
make people mad without resulting in violence and destruction. For
Eaton and Perry in the 1790s, and later for Wooler and Sherwin, anger
was necessary to rouse a public whose ancient rights were being usurped
while it slept. As Perry writes in his Argus, published from prison in
1796, “An in¬‚ammatory writing under despotism, is a virtuous writing.”18
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
72
Similarly, in the post-Waterloo period, W.T. Sherwin writes in 1817 in the
inaugural issue of his weekly Political Register,
By in¬‚ammatory harrangues, you mean the endeavors of such a man, to convince
his countrymen of the true causes of their distress; and because he takes truth for
his guide, you charge him with an attempt to in¬‚ame the minds of the people. I
will tell you what in¬‚ames, or irritates the minds of the people, “ . . . the want of
a representation in Parliament . . . and a thousand other things, which all
emanate from this source.19
In the same week, William Hone employed a self-consciously in¬‚am-
matory rhetoric in his Reformist Register. Responding to an article in the
Times wherein the people have been spoken of as objects to be dealt with,
a bit like surplus potatoes, Hone turns up the heat:
Read, for instance, the following extract from the Times of to-day; and if before
you get to the end of it, you do not feel the blood from your heart rushing up
into your cheeks, and scorching your very skin, if you do not feel as if you were
nearly choking, before you have got half through, you have not the feelings
which I had . . . ”20
Precisely as the loyalists feared, Hone attempts to spread angry in¬‚-
ammation widely via a kind of sympathetic, contagious writing. He
would be arrested and jailed for blasphemous libel within a month™s time.
Clearly, the Revolution debates of the 1790s had produced conceptual
and rhetorical ¬gures that set the tone for discussions of domestic reform
through the Napoleonic era. As Southey laments in an 1812 review,
The most in¬‚ammatory harangues . . . are published like dying-speeches and
sold through the manufacturing districts at a halfpenny or penny each. The
effusions of hot city orators, and the most incendiary paragraphs of the anarchist
journals are circulated in the same manner . . . The incendiaries have succeeded
in kindling a ¬‚ame; it is in the power of the laws to prevent them from extending
it, and adding fuel to the con¬‚agration . . . The ¬rst duty of the government is to
stop this contagion . . . While the poor continue what they are . . . the materials
for explosion will always be under our feet.21
The language of both “contagion” and “con¬‚agration” that Southey
uses here indicates the permeability of the metaphor, and thus its ¬‚ex-
ibility for loyalist writers. “Rage” becomes the pivot term in such writing,
associating the revolutionaries with ¬re, fever, and ferocious beasts. Im-
plicit in these ascriptions is the irrationality and indeed the pathology of
popular anger: the mob is headless, blind, and ultimately passive, serving
as ¬‚ammable material set alight for destructive purposes by the “incendi-
ary paragraphs” of the radicals. In other words, their anger is a “passion”
In¬‚ammatory reactions 73
in the root sense of the word, a visitation upon them (like a disease, like a
house-¬re) that brings suffering. Thus “in¬‚ammatory” (rather than “in¬‚-
amed) often becomes the accusation of choice, aimed at the radical leaders
and authors, and implying that the people™s outrage has been forced upon
them by opportunistic villains, rather than provoked by material or
political causes.
Southey™s article takes this line exactly, blaming “harangues,” “orators,”
“paragraphs,” and “journals” as the source of discontent, particularly as
they are circulated cheaply among the working poor. He elaborates on
this theme, looking back to Burke™s “swinish multitude”:
The weekly epistles of the apostles of sedition are read aloud in tap-rooms and
pot-houses to believing auditors, listening greedily when they are told that their
rulers fatten upon the gains extracted from their blood and sinews . . . The
lessons are repeated day after day, and week after week. If madder be distributed
to a pig only for a few days his bones are reddened with its die [sic]; and can we
believe that that bloody colouring of such “pig™s-meat” as this will not ¬nd its
way into the system of those who take it for their daily food? (345)
The extraordinary metaphor developed here “ with its reference to the
radical journal Pig™s Meat “ is imperfect (pigs would not be particularly
greedy for madder), but it vividly depicts the passive transference of anger-
as-in¬‚ammation (here, the reddening associated with madder) from the
radical press to the manufacturer in the ale-house, a passive pig swallowing
everything whole, and being changed “ made “madder” “ thereby.
Southey may have been remembering a similar passage, written by his
compatriot Coleridge during their period of Jacobinism in the 1790s. In
the “Introductory Address” to his 1795 Conciones ad Populum, Coleridge
repeats the language of his ¬rst political lecture at Bristol (originally
published as A Moral and Political Lecture in 1795), and also incorporates
passages from letters sent previously to Southey himself.22 Here Coleridge
calls for reform without violence, and closes with a series of signi¬cant
metaphors regarding anger, the ¬nal one particularly related to Southey™s
comparison of an enraged public to maddened, reddened pigs:
We should be cautious how we indulge the feelings even of virtuous indignation.
Indignation is the handsome brother of Anger and Hatred. The Temple of
Despotism, like that of Tescalipoca, the Mexican Deity, is built of human skulls,
and cemented with human blood; “ let us beware that we be not transported
into revenge while we are leveling the loathsome Pile; lest when we erect the
edi¬ce of Freedom we vary the stile of architecture, not change the materials . . .
The energies of the mind are wasted in these intemperate effusions. These
materials of projectile force, which now carelessly explode with an offensive and
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
74
useless noise, directed by wisdom and union might heave Rocks from their base,
“ or perhaps (dismissing the metaphor) might produce the desired effect without
the convulsion . . . That vice is the effect of error and the offspring of
surrounding circumstances, the object therefore of condolence not of anger, is a
proposition easily understood . . . but . . . it is not enough that we have once
swallowed these Truths “ we must feed on them, as insects on a leaf, till the
whole heart be coloured by their qualities, and shew its food in every the
minutest ¬bre.23
Like Marvell™s quiet mind with its “green thought in a green shade,”
Coleridge™s insect here becomes an emblem for the power of natural
benevolence and Truth (¬gured by nature itself ) to fortify the self against
tumultuous passions like anger. In this, the metaphor precisely reverses
Southey™s, in which pigs who feed on the madder plant grow red,
signifying the anger inculcated by the in¬‚ammatory falsehoods of the
radicals. For Coleridge, the truth of benevolence is an anti-phlogistic leaf;
for Southey, the falsity of discontent is an histaminic stalk. Both pithy
metaphors suggest that when it comes to anger, you are what you eat:
emotions are a function of habits of intake, which should be controlled.
Coleridge™s other primary metaphor in this passage involves the demo-
lition of a temple, and its progress demonstrates his ambivalence about his
subject. Recognizing that the “Temple of Despotism” must be leveled to
make room for the “edi¬ce of Freedom,” Coleridge turns to anger™s
incendiary power: “intemperate effusions” become “materials of projectile
force” which may “heave Rocks from their base” if properly “directed by
wisdom and union.” Yet he has just warned his audience against the
dangers of anger, hatred, and revenge, which would involve replicating
the skulls and blood of the original structure. Ultimately he is forced to
dismiss the metaphor (and with it, anger as such), hoping that the
“desired effect” of demolition may be produced “without the convulsion.”
Behind this con¬‚icted passage is the destruction of the Bastille, which was
literally accomplished without explosives but whose capture required the
in¬‚amed anger of the citizens of Paris. Can we tear down a “loathsome
Pile” without “intemperate effusions?” The question particularly haunted
middle-class English reformers and sympathizers with revolution, who
deplored scenes of popular violence and yet continually “ if unconsciously
“ wooed the anger of oppressed members of the nation. Wordsworth™s
Convention of Cintra (1809) evinces similar anxieties as he attempts to
¬gure the regulation of outrage, here on the part of the Spanish revolu-
tionaries: “The dif¬culty lies “ not in kindling, feeding, or fanning the
¬‚ame; but in continuing so to regulate the relations of things “ that the
In¬‚ammatory reactions 75
fanning breeze and the feeding fuel shall come from no unworthy quarter,
and shall neither of them be wanting in appropriate consecration.”24 Like
Coleridge who wants incendiary public anger to be “directed by wisdom
and union,” Wordsworth hopes to “regulate the relations of things”
so that patriotic in¬‚ammation remains worthy of the name, and conse-
crated to its purpose. Both writers fear political anger as wild¬re, and
both produce metaphors that represent this anxiety: Coleridge wants a
demolition without a convulsion, and Wordsworth imagines a holy ¬‚ame
to which the “fanning breeze and the feeding fuel” impart a consistent
moral charge.25
The point of this brief survey has been to demonstrate the two ruling
paradigms of in¬‚ammation in the Revolutionary period “ as disease or as
symptom “ and to show the function of those paradigms in the contem-
porary discourse of political anger. It becomes clear that the debates over
in¬‚ammation were fundamentally concerned with the causes and conse-
quences of popular anger. Thus they conform to a larger pattern of
concern over anger in the period, centered on de¬ning the basic trajectory
or plot of that emotion. Narratives of the French Revolution and com-
mentaries on British reform offer various versions of this plot, as do
Romantic-era works of literature, from “A Poison Tree” and Caleb
Williams to Prometheus Unbound and Marino Faliero. To identify a plot
of anger is to validate some particular way of handling that emotion. As
we have seen with regard to in¬‚ammation, one™s response could be to
support or repress the work of anger, depending on how one reads its
causes and consequences. The larger cultural and political fabric provided
many more opportunities to analyze anger™s function, particularly in the
midst of the passionate debates over revolution and reform, which in
many cases were expressly about anger itself. In the case of William Blake,
to whose work the remainder of this chapter is devoted, the revolution
question was always subsumed within the emotional register of its articu-
lation. Put another way, Blake™s work embraces revolution as a correlative
(perhaps even a consequence) of an allegiance to particular passions and
emotional trajectories.
As a way into Blake™s imaginative representations of anger, we might
¬rst consider Blake™s personal negotiations with that emotion, memorably
enacted in his arrest for treason after cursing the soldier Sco¬eld whom he
found trespassing in his garden at Felpham in August of 1803. Blake™s
altercation with Sco¬eld (like Achilles™ with Agamemnon) demonstrates
how, in wartime, the division between private and public anger is almost
impossible to maintain. Anger aims to have consequences, and it tends to
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
76
expand to include all apparent targets, rapidly crossing lines towards
public concerns. Achilles™ private quarrel with his king has immediate
political and martial repercussions; Blake™s personal indignation at
Sco¬eld™s invasion of his garden grows to an assertion that all soldiers
are slaves, and then to a damning of the king. Whether Blake actually said
these things matters less than their insertion (either by Blake or Sco¬eld)
into a private con¬‚ict between strangers, indicating the tendency of
citizens™ anger to implicate or involve the state in times of crisis. Further-
more, private experiences of indignation and outrage establish the pat-
terns by which the citizen will behave towards indignities threatened by
and/or at the political status quo. And ¬nally, Sco¬eld™s appearance in
Jerusalem as a target of Los™s rage indicates the permeability of Blake™s
work to his personal emotional narratives.
In one of the verses recorded in his notebook, Blake struggles to
comprehend his anger:
Was I angry with Hayley who used me so ill
Or can I be angry with Felphams old Mill
Or angry with Flaxman or Cromek or Stothard
Or poor Schiavonetti whom they to death botherd
Or angry with Macklin or Boydell or Bowyer
Because they did not say O what a Beau ye are
At a Friends Errors Anger shew
Mirth at the Errors of a Foe (E, 504)
Blake, it would seem, was not an easy man to befriend. As in “A Poison
Tree,” anger is an emotion best reserved for friends “ a paradox here, since
in offending Blake and raising his ire, friends are transformed into foes. In
this alienating economy of emotion, anger dissipates not by forgiveness of
offenders but by their demotion. Such a strategy indicates a fundamental
aversion to the imposition of anger; Blake would rather write off everyone
as enemies than submit to anger™s reactive dynamics. In an extreme (and
paranoid) assertion of the imaginative will, he transforms his anger into
“Mirth” by recasting friends as foes.
Yet Blake must imagine this resulting mirth as an equivocal emotion, one
similar to what Milton calls “grim laughter” in a prose passage on satire:
. . . the veine of laughing (as I could produce out of grave Authors) hath oft-
times a strong and sinewy force in teaching and confuting; nor can there be a
more proper object of indignation than a false Prophet . . . in the disclosure
whereof if it be harmfull to be angry, and withall to cast a lowring smile . . . it
will be long enough ere any be able to say why those two most rationall faculties
of humane intellect anger and laughter were ¬rst seated in the brest of man.26
In¬‚ammatory reactions 77
For Milton, the most effective mode of satire involves a dialectical play of
anger and laughter. By pairing these two traditionally irrational and un-
controllable emotional reactions as the “two most rationall faculties of
humane intellect,” Milton privileges the wrath that is their synthesis, and
that can melt away the words of the false prophet to reveal the true text they
obscured. For Blake, the grim laughter of the wrathful satirist, because it
indicates imaginative triumph, is preferable to the painful, reactive anger of
personal experience, which indicates victimization and belatedness.
“A Poison Tree,” Blake™s best-known depiction of personal anger™s
destructive effects, begins where the satiric “Was I angry . . . ” notebook
verse ends, transforming the triumphant aphoristic conclusion of that
work into a program for ruin. “Was I angry” closes with the recommen-
dation, “At a Friends Errors Anger Shew / Mirth at the Errors of a Foe.”
Later in the notebook, “Christian forbearance,” the poem later renamed
“A Poison Tree,” appears:
I was angry with my friend;
I told my wrath, my wrath did end
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
And I waterd it in fears,
Night & morning with my tears:
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles. (E, 28)
Anger can be shown in response to the offenses of a friend, not a foe; the
two notebook poems have that much in common. However, the poems
diverge, as if “Christian forbearance” misread the concluding line of “Was
I angry.” The speaker does show mirth (“smiles” and “soft . . . wiles”) in
response to the errors of a foe, but here that mirth serves to disguise and
indeed to compound his anger rather than transform it, aided by the
“fears” and “tears” indicating dissimulation. The speaker™s is not the
“lowring smile” of Milton™s wrathful satirist but the falsely sunny smile
of the angry reactionary caught up in a secret cycle of revenge.
Hiding his anger, the speaker nurtures a tree of poison, preparing a
bitter harvest:
And it grew by day & night.
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine. (E, 28)
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
78
This poison tree, cultivated in secret, produces an “apple bright,” in¬‚-
amed with undischarged anger. The foe desires this fruit because he wants
to deprive the speaker of it. In this sense, the apple comes to represent
revenge itself; to pursue it is to bring destruction on one™s own head. The
speaker tells that his foe
. . . into my garden stole,
When night had veiled the pole;
In the morning Glad I see;
My foe outstretched beneath the tree. (E, 28)
Blake™s speaker “ here resembling the Jehovah who insists that both fruit
and vengeance are “mine” “ knows that revenge is a dish best served cold.
Out of his obsessive anger, a plot slowly emerges, by “night & morning,”
by “day & night” “ a plot that will implicate the foe in his own downfall.
At the poem™s conclusion, the speaker has been made “Glad” by observing
the fruit of his vengeance: the corpse of his victim beneath the lowering
tree of anger. The “apple bright,” a swollen boil of contained anger that
itches for revenge, proves toxic, devouring its own devourer by means of
the secret ministry of poison.
In De Ira, Seneca writes contra Blake, “The best corrective of anger lies
in delay” (2.29.1), urging his reader,
Fight against yourself! . . . If [anger] is kept out of sight, if it is given no outlet,
you begin to conquer. Let us conceal its signs, and so far as it is possible
let us keep it hidden and secret . . . It should be kept hidden in the deepest
depths of the heart and it should not drive but be driven; and more, all
symptoms of it let us change into just the opposite. Let the countenance be
unruf¬‚ed, let the voice be gentle, the step very slow; gradually the inner man
conforms to the outer (3.13.1“3)
Such recommendations directly contradict the dynamics of anger
shown in “A Poison Tree,” where “soft deceitful wiles” in¬‚ame anger
instead of gradually dousing it. For Seneca, secrecy is the path to trans-
formation, but Blake blames secrecy for the perpetuation of error. Yet
both authors believe that anger “should not drive but be driven”; both
want to eliminate personal anger and revenge in order to free men from
uncontrolled emotional reaction that promotes violence towards mind
and body. Like the Stoic sage whose ideal is immunity to the world™s
promptings to emotional reaction, Blake scorns the loss of imagination
attendant upon reactive emotions. Both see anger as capitulation, the
result of a misguided attachment to the mundane or to the narrow
selfhood; both recommend more acute perception as the cure. Blake turns
In¬‚ammatory reactions 79
to art to effect this refocusing, while the Stoics turn to reason. In De Ira,
anger™s irrational torsions threaten Stoic constantia; in Blake, anger™s
predictable constancy thwarts the transformation of self and world.
Writing on forgiveness in Blake, Jeanne Moskal has occasion to quote
Hannah Arendt: “In contrast to revenge, which is the natural, automatic
reaction to transgression, forgiveness can never be predicted . . . Forgive-
ness, in other words, is the only reaction which does not react but acts
anew and unexpectedly.”27 While Blake™s opinion of forgiveness is more
ambivalent, as Moskal has shown, he shares Arendt™s view of revenge as
reaction, and disapproves whole-heartedly of it;28 for above all else, Blake
favors emotional priority, which is another name for imaginative self-
creation. Reactive emotions, or passions as passive responses, are inevit-
ably part of a cycle of opacity, a mill of death with complicated wheels.
Just as he emphasizes freedom and the horrors of restraint, Blake evinces
an equivalent disapproval of reaction, the automatic passions that subject
the imagination to the actions of another. As he writes in “Auguries of
Innocence,” “To be in a Passion you Good may do / But no Good if a
Passion is in you” (E, 492): To possess emotional energy is positive, to be
possessed by it is not.
Blake™s conception of fallen anger as a reactionary and therefore un-
desirable emotion emerges in part from the historical nexus of the late
eighteenth century. The events of the Ninth of Thermidor and the
subsequent execution of Robespierre in July of 1794 signaled the end of
the French Revolution and beginning of the reaction. Indeed, the French
´
term “reactionnaire” emerged during this period as a designation for the
growing counterrevolutionary sentiment, exempli¬ed by the White
Terror of 1795.29 As George Lefebvre writes of that period, “The reaction-
aries . . . hoped to take vengeance on the Jacobins and Sans-Culottes by
turning the Terror against them,” vengeance that Isnard would neologis-
´
tically label “crimes reactionnaires” in 1796.30 Thus the representatives of
the Revolutionary government seized semantic priority by relegating the
maneuvers of their enemies to “reaction,” or belated response. Recogniz-
ing the importance of such designations, the party of reaction banned the
´
use of the word revolutionnaire in June of 1795.31 Two decades later, the
word “reaction” in its political sense began to appear in English writings.
In Old Mortality, Scott writes of “that perpetuating of factious quarrels,
which is called in modern times Reaction”; and in the same year (1815) the
Edinburgh Review, in praising the early days of Napoleon™s leadership,
stated that “all men dreaded what the French call a reaction.”32 In both
cases, usage indicates that the political meaning of the word was a
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
80
relatively new addition to the language, retaining overtones of angry
retaliation and cycles of revenge, which Blake deplored.
In fact, Blake uses the word “reaction” only once in his works: in
Jerusalem, as the voice of “Divine Vision” says in condemnation,
The Reactor hath hid himself thro envy. I behold him.
But you cannot behold him till he be reveald in his System
Albions Reactor must have a Place prepard: Albion must Sleep
The Sleep of Death, till the Man of Sin & Repentance be reveald.
Hidden in Albions Forests he lurks; he admits of no Reply
From Albion: but hath founded his Reaction into a Law
Of Action, for Obedience to destroy the Contraries of Man[.]
He hath compelld Albion to become a Punisher . . . (E, 191)
Northrop Frye writes of this passage, “Satan, Blake says, is a ˜Reactor™;
he never acts, he only reacts; he never sees, he always has to be shown; and
if our attitude to what we see is ˜reactionary™ we are done for” “ that is,
doomed because another does (or acts) for us.33 According to Erdman,
the “Reactor” also resembles the vengeful Jehovah, whose eye-for-an-eye
example has led England to reactionary and retributive policies towards
France (Prophet, 470). Here, reaction is explicitly associated with ven-
geance and punishment, with a state of anger founded upon a defen-
sive and watchful pacing of boundaries and characterized by an inherently
belated responsiveness. Blake wants instead an anger that is an assistant to
his imaginative will, an emotion that is active and revolutionary, that
privileges the trope, the metaphorical turning that escapes the dull
round of history and the single vision of Newton, whose third law of
motion in the Principia makes “reaction” a primary structuring force of
the universe.
Blake™s attitude towards action and reaction is further informed by
his reading of Swedenborg. In a copy of The Wisdom of Angels concern-
ing Divine Love and Divine Wisdom (1788), Blake noted the following
passage:
There is from God in every created Thing a Reaction, Life alone hath Action,
and Reaction is excited by the Action of Life: This Reaction appears as if it
appertained to the created Being, because it exists when the Being is acted upon;
thus in Man it appears as if it was his own, because he does not perceive any
otherwise than that Life is his own, when nevertheless Man is only a Recipient of
Life. From this Cause it is, that Man, from his own hereditary Evil, reacts against
God; but so far as he believes that all his Life is from God, and every Good of
Life from the Action of God, and every Evil of Life from the Reaction of Man,
Reaction thus becomes correspondent with Action, and Man acts with God as
In¬‚ammatory reactions 81
from himself. The Equilibrium of all Things is from Action and joint Reaction,
and every Thing must be in Equilibrium.34
According to Swedenborg, God alone acts and man merely reacts;
man™s “hereditary Evil” leads him to react against God, while believing
he is acting originally. To overcome this state of affairs, Swedenborg
suggests, man must accept his own reactive nature, subordinating himself
to God™s action, which then ¬‚ows through man in such a way that reactive
man may paradoxically act “with God as from himself.” For Swedenborg,
this “Equilibrium” is true freedom. In the margin of his copy of The
Wisdom of Angels, next to this passage, Blake writes, “Good & Evil are
here both Good & the two contraries Married” (E, 604). He recognizes
that the marriage or equilibrium presented by Swedenborg transforms
reaction into a species of action “ precisely Blake™s project in regard to
anger and wrath, as we have seen. Yet Blake seems to have come to
recognize in Swedenborg an af¬nity with Newton, and soon rejects a
system requiring reaction to explain existence: what looks like incarnation
of the divine act reveals itself as mere ventriloquism. Blake sees that the
claim, “Man acts with God as from himself,” means not “as well as from
himself,” but “as if from himself.” The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
enacts Blake™s rejection of this system and its sponsor.
Ultimately, the distinction between reactive anger and active wrath
determines much of Blake™s work, particularly the prophetic books. The
crowning example occurs at the conclusion of Jerusalem, where he envi-
sions the awakening of Albion from his sleep of imaginative and spiritual
torpor, a moment heralding apocalyptic transformation. On plate 94,
we ¬nd Albion “on his Rock: storms & snows beat round him” and
“The weeds of Death inwrap his hands & feet” (E, 254). All seems
lost, until Brittania™s lament enters “Albion™s clay cold ear; he moved
upon the Rock” (E, 254); and as “the Breath Divine went forth upon the
morning hills,”
. . . Albion rose
In anger: the wrath of God breaking bright ¬‚aming on all sides around
His awful limbs: into the Heavens he walked clothed in ¬‚ames
Loud thundring, with broad ¬‚ashes of ¬‚aming lightning & pillars
Of ¬re, speaking the Words of Eternity in Human Forms, in direful
Revolutions of Action & Passion . . . (E, 255)

Albion literally rouses himself to anger here, partaking of the wrath of
God and taking his place at the end of a line of prophets who spoke their
own wrathful “Words of Eternity.” As in Biblical eschatology, history
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
82
ends on a dies irae, with an angry roar, not a whimper.35 Yet, as Erdman
has noted, “the motif of Jerusalem is peace without vengeance” (Prophet,
462). Albion™s apocalyptic wrath must be something other than the
emotional reaction Los fears when he exclaims, “O Albion, if thou takest
vengeance; if thou revengest thy wrongs / Thou art forever lost!” (E, 194).
His rising anger must be distinct from both the unspoken wrath of
“A Poison Tree,” which grows to produce deadly fruit, and the vicious
curses of Tiriel against his children. Here, at the conclusion to Jerusalem,
Blake offers an anger that is redeemed from fallen cycles of vengeance and
frustration, a wrath untainted by Urizenic (and Homeric) retribution.
Blake is fundamentally concerned with creating a structure for, while
working within, this “bright ¬‚aming” wrath that produces “Words of
Eternity” and “direful / Revolutions of Action & Passion.”
The conclusion of Jerusalem thus illuminates the differences between
this redeemed anger that ends historical strife and the fallen anger that
precipitates it. Speci¬cally, Blake™s rendering of apocalypse in the last ¬ve
plates of Jerusalem presents the culmination of a symbolic theme that runs
through Blake™s prophetic writings: the bow and arrows of ¬‚aming gold “
the weapons of the prophet and vehicles of divine wrath. Albion rises like
the sun, “bright ¬‚aming,” “upon the morning hills,” and the wrath of
God is seen “breaking” with the day; Blake makes the identi¬cation
explicit:
. . . Thou seest the Sun in heavy clouds
Struggling to rise above the Mountains; in his burning hand
He takes his Bow, then chooses out his arrows of ¬‚aming gold
Murmuring the Bowstring breathes with ardor! clouds roll round the
Horns of the wide Bow, loud sounding winds sport on the mountain brows.
(E, 255)
Albion has become a wrathful Apollo; but for Blake, Apollo is one of the
“detestable gods of Priam” (Milton, E, 108), equivalent to Apollyon, the
Destroyer in the Book of Revelation. Blake knew that the history and
literary history of the West begins with a fall into anger, enacted by Apollo
and related in Homer™s Iliad. Although we hear of Achilles™ wrath ¬rst,
Apollo and his priest introduce the angry cycle of vengeance that occupies
both the epic and the fallen history of mankind. In Book One of the Iliad,
Apollo, hearing the prayer of his priest for revenge,
. . . strode down along the pinnacles of Olympos, angered
in his heart, carrying across his shoulders the bow and the hooded
quiver; and the shafts clashed on the shoulders of the god walking
In¬‚ammatory reactions 83
angrily. He came as night comes down and knelt then
apart and opposite the ships and let go an arrow.
Terrible was the clash that rose from the bow of silver.36
Albion rises like the sun and Apollo descends like night, both bringing
stormy weather with them.37 The murmuring thunder of each bow
becomes a prophetic ¬at, Apollo™s heralding a fall into one kind of anger
and Albion™s indicating redemption by means of another. Apollo™s arrows
literally carry plague to the Greek camp; they also bring vengeful anger in
a trajectory of contagious reaction. In Jerusalem, Blake asserts Albion™s
wrathful bowshot as the cure.
Plates 97 and 98 of Jerusalem present Albion™s apocalyptic archery most
thoroughly:
. . . Then Albion stretchd his hand into In¬nitude
And took his Bow. Fourfold the Vision for bright beaming Urizen
Layd his hand on the South & took a breathing Bow of carved Gold
Luvah his hand stretch™d to the East & bore a Silver Bow bright shining:
Tharmas Westward a Bow of Brass pure ¬‚aming richly wrought:
Urthona Northward in thick storms a Bow of Iron terrible thundering.
And a Bow is a Male & Female & the Quiver of the Arrows of Love,
Are the Children of this Bow: a Bow of Mercy & Loving-kindness: laying
Open the hidden Heart in Wars of mutual Benevolence Wars of Love
And the Hand of Man grasps ¬rm between the Male & Female Loves
And he Clothed himself in Bow & Arrows in awful state Fourfold
In the midst of his Twenty-eight Cities, each with his Bow breathing
Then each an Arrow ¬‚aming from his Quiver ¬tted carefully
They drew fourfold the unreprovable String, bending thro the wide Heavens
The horned Bow Fourfold, loud sounding ¬‚ew the ¬‚aming Arrow fourfold.
Murmuring the Bow-string breathes with ardor. Clouds roll round the horns
Of the wide Bow, loud sounding Winds sport on the Mountains brows:
The Druid Spectre was Annihilate loud thundring rejoicing terri¬c vanishing
Fourfold Annihilation & at the clangor of the Arrows of Intellect
The innumerable Chariots of the Almighty appeard in Heaven
And Bacon & Newton & Locke, & Milton & Shakespear & Chaucer
A Sun of blood red wrath surrounding heaven on all sides around,
Glorious incompreh[en]sible by Mortal Man . . . (E, 256“7)

Uniquely here, the four Zoas (or states of Albion) “ Urizen, Luvah,
Tharmas, and Urthona “ act in one accord, indicating Albion™s “Fourfold
vision” as a function of political unity; out of many, one. Thus, this weapon
is “unreprovable”: undeserving of blame and free from cycles of retali-
ation. The “¬‚aming Arrow fourfold” that Albion lets ¬‚y is one of “Love,”
or redeemed desire, and “Intellect,” or redeemed reason, uniting even
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
84
Locke and Milton. These forces will transform the destructive strife of
mankind, exempli¬ed by the Trojan War in Homer and the warring Zoas
in Jerusalem and The Four Zoas, into “Wars of mutual benevolence, Wars
of Love” conducted within a glorious “Sun of blood red wrath.” Epic
anger gives place to apocalyptic wrath.
As we have seen, the Blakean hero is necessarily in¬‚amed
(think of Rintrah shaking his ¬res in The Marriage, for example) and
transgressive, always breaking chains, circles, and horizons in outbursts
of self-created rage. As such, he enacts a particularly anti-classical, post-
Christian variety of the sublime. As an analogue, we might consider
´
how Chateaubriand, in his monumental and in¬‚uential Genie du Chris-
tianisme (1802; English trans., 1815), praises the sublime of the Bible over
that of Homer in Longinian (and Blakean) terms: “the sublime in Homer
commonly arises from the general combination of the parts, and
arrives by degrees at its acme. In the Bible it is always unexpected; it
bursts upon you like lightning, and you are left wounded by the thunder-
bolt before you know how you were struck by it.”38 Homer is indeed
“vanquished” by the Bible, “in such a manner as to leave criticism no
possible subterfuge” (362). Milton too defeats Homer in Chateaubriand™s
account of the sublime, for Homer™s “marvellous and all his grandeur
are nevertheless eclipsed by the marvellous of Christianity” (330), a judg-
ment Chateaubriand supports by citing Satan™s transgressive journey
from Hell to Earth in Paradise Lost, 2“3. “Satan speeding his course from
the depths of Chaos up to the frontiers of nature” is “a sublime species
of the marvellous” (333), precisely because of Satan™s mighty extroversion.
In the midst of the passage Chateaubriand abstracts, Milton™s God
observes Satan™s movements:

Only begotten Son, seest thou what rage
Transports our adversary, whom no bounds
Prescribed, no bars of hell, nor all the chains
Heaped on him there, nor yet the main abyss
Wide interrupt can hold; so bent he seems
On desperate revenge, that shall redound
Upon his own rebellious head. And now
Through all restraint broke loose he wings his way39

For both Chateaubriand and Blake, transporting rage that bursts bound-
aries constitutes the style of the prophetic sublime, which surpasses the
heroic sublime of Homeric epic. Like Blake™s Albion, who “rose / In
anger: the wrath of God breaking bright ¬‚aming on all sides around / His
In¬‚ammatory reactions 85
awful limbs . . . / Loud thundring with ¬‚ashes of ¬‚aming lightning”
(E, 255), the sublime of the Bible and Milton “bursts upon you like
lightning” in a wrathful moment of explosion. Blake, however, wants to
replace Milton™s ¬guration of the sublime in Satan, here a misplaced epic
hero seeking “desperate revenge,” with a divine wrath, transgressive rather
than vengeful or regulatory, that will enact apocalypse as a ¬gure for his
own sublime style.
William Blake™s prophetic moment consists in an escape from anger™s
bonds by way of wrath™s energies. As Morton Paley has written of wrath in
Blake™s conception, “the poet aspiring towards prophecy perceives and
¬xes its terrible energies as sublime”; the anger of the prophet enables this
transgressive discourse of sublimity.40 Vincent A. De Luca ¬nds that
Blake views the sublime “as a turbulent, subversive, indecorous force, a
surpassing of conventions and reasonable limits™,” a de¬nition all but
indistinguishable from Blake™s view of prophetic wrath.41 Reactive anger
amounts to “Single vision & Newtons sleep” (E, 722), while prophetic
wrath suggests a fourfold vision at once satiric, apocalyptic, transgressive,
and sublime. Further, the sublime is not merely energy, but rather a
dialectical structure involving both containment and eruption. The turn
from bondage to liberation, and from anger to wrath, constitutes the
Blakean sublime, which resides in that continually re¬gured trope. As
Blake states in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, “Reason is the bound or
outward circumference of Energy” (E, 34). Under a similar assumption,
Longinus asserts, “There is no tone so lofty as that of genuine passion, in
its right place, when it bursts out in a wild gust of mad enthusiasm.”42
Blake and Longinus both approve of outbursts in the right places. In an
oscillation between the centripetal binding agent (usually reason) and the
centrifugal force of transgression (passion or imagination), the sublime
moment and the scene of anger ¬nd a common dynamic structure.
At the end of A Song of Liberty, the epilogue to The Marriage, a ¬ery
revolutionary ¬gure confronts a “jealous king”, and cursing gives
way to energetic eruption (E, 44). As the poem concludes, the wrathful
¬gure, “Spurning the clouds written with curses, stamps the stony law to
dust” while “loosing the eternal horses from the dens of night crying, /
Empire is no more! and now the lion & wolf shall cease” (E, 45).
Directly underneath these lines, as Erdman has pointed out, “the text is
illuminated with dashing and prancing horses” (Prophet, 195). These are
Blake™s horses of wrath, analogues of the four horses of Revelation that are
released on the dies irae. Erdman sees these horses from A Song of Liberty
as products of the marriage of Reason and Energy, or a synthesis of the
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
86
“tygers of wrath” and “the horses of instruction,” cited in Blake™s The
Marriage of Heaven and Hell (E, 37), with the result that “The era of the
beasts of prey gives way to the era of the untethered horses of the intellect”
(Prophet, 195). The “son of ¬re” probably speaks the prophetic concluding
line, again involving the discourse of in¬‚ammation with revolutionary
rage; but the syntax allows us to attribute it to the “eternal horses”
themselves, who prophesy the end of history as they shake off their fetters,
representing the transgressive, anti-reactionary energies of Blakean anger.
Ultimately, the virtually constant pairing of wrath and ¬re in Blake™s
work has a basis in both classical and Biblical models, even as such
imagery is shaped by a discourse of anger and in¬‚ammation in the public
sphere of the 1790s. For Blake, questions of history and eschatology linked
these in¬‚uences: how can vengeful, circular anger be transformed into
creative, forward-looking wrath? Can in¬‚ammation be both a reactive
symptom and a self-originating agent of change? What vision of anger
will bring us closer to the world we desire? The Romantic period con-
fronted such concerns at an unprecedented level of urgency, as revolution
and its media continually demonstrated and asserted the power of anger
(as a human phenomenon, as a conceptual category, as a rhetorical device)
to reshape society and the lives of men. In Blake™s work, the trans¬gura-
tion of epic anger by means of apocalyptic wrath produced a kind of
prophetic blaze, a shaking of ¬res in an air burdened with assumptions
about anger that threatened art, the spirit of revolution, and, thus for
Blake, the human form divine.
chapter 4

Provocation and the plot of anger




I was angry with my friend;
I told my wrath, my wrath did end
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
“ Blake, “A Poison Tree”

William Blake™s “A Poison Tree” suggests that acting upon anger puts an
end to plot; whether we tell or wreak our wrath, its expression is antithet-
ical to calculated narratives. As Philip Fisher says, anger is a fundamentally
rash emotion precisely at odds with the “world of plots.”1 On the other
hand, the same poem presents the cultivation of angry passions as de-
pendent upon the secret plotting of the speaker, whose hunger for
vengeance grows in proportion to the narrative™s deferral of satisfaction.
In other words, in Blake™s poem, anger both requires plots and disables
them. This double vision is symptomatic of a broader, historically speci¬c
oscillation in British conceptions of anger during the 1790s, due primarily
to the in¬‚uence of the French Revolution and the ways it was discussed.
In English political, medical, and legal discourse of the period, we ¬nd a
remarkable alignment of changing attitudes towards rage in the wake of
the Revolution, as a fear of popular anger permeated the culture. As
revolutionary anger was being demonized as irrational, destructive rage
in conservative political discourse, in¬‚ammation (of the body and body
politic) was being reconceptualized as a dangerous disease in metaphorical
and medical terms.2 To this extent, the plot of anger was being written as
a blind and rash trajectory “ the arc of shrapnel in the explosion. On the
other hand, a parallel discourse depicted the radical leaders as pursuing a
conscious, calculating program of wrath against the state, a plot of anger
as sharply directed as a knife in the back. Furthermore, it remained a
question of some importance to the Revolution debates whether British
subjects were discontented (i.e., angry) because of rational causes, such as

87
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
88
their lack of representation in Parliament, or because they had been
in¬‚amed by radical rhetoric that blinded them to their best interests.
Was their anger a rational exercise of the will to advance the nation
towards reform, or a mindless response to demagoguery, one that
followed only a trajectory of destruction?
These questions underlie much of the rhetoric surrounding the issue of
reform in England during this period, and answers to them overspill the
bounds of political debate into other disciplinary arenas. More speci¬-
cally, and for my purposes here, changes in the way English courts judged
cases of provocation follow the contours of the debate, suggesting a large-
scale shift in national consciousness. As Jeremy Horder has shown, a new
legal situation at the end of the eighteenth century had its basis in a
changing conception of anger:
in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the law ceased to describe anger in
terms of outrage, the conception of anger in which reason plays the dominant
role in guiding action. The law instead described it in terms of a loss of self-
control . . . according to which passions overwhelm the power of reason, leaving
people at the mercy of their desires for retaliatory suffering.3
As a result, defendants who could establish that they killed in anger
were assumed to have been out of control and thus not fully culpable for
their actions. Just as medical doctors were rede¬ning in¬‚ammation from
curative symptom to irrational disease, lawyers and judges were rethinking
outbursts of anger as ¬ts of madness rather than exercises of the will. In
this account, anger™s narrative logic “ a perceived injury followed by a
desire for retaliation and an expression of that desire “ becomes an
automatic reaction that usually thwarts one™s larger interests, rather than
a rationally pursued path in keeping with the self and its desires: the angry
man kills his best friend; the British worker pulls down the political
structures that have sustained him. Of course, the paradox of this new
legal dispensation is that as it reduces the defendant™s culpability, it
ampli¬es his error: the angry murderer is less guilty (because he is out
of control), but also less human, more pathetic, more self-destructive.
The work of William Godwin nicely re¬‚ects these developments in the
history of anger, politics, the law, and narrative. Following the publica-
tion of Caleb Williams in 1794, Godwin imagined that two of his next
projects would be “Observations on the Revolution in France” and a “Life
of Alexander the Great.”4 Neither was actually completed, but both were
clearly prepared for in his novel. Much has been made of its revolutionary
(or in any case, politically radical) themes,5 and I suggest that the ¬gure of
Provocation and the plot of anger 89
Alexander as he appears in Caleb Williams provides a key to Godwin™s
attitudes towards anger and provocation, revolution and reform “ ones
quite in keeping with the new Stoicism of the 1790s. This is true particu-
larly with regard to the legend in which Alexander rashly kills his good
friend Clitus after being provoked by his invective during a drunken
banquet.6 By Godwin™s era, the legend was already well-worn as an
illustrative example. Looking back, in the Biographia Literaria, on his
boyhood education in the classics at Christ™s Hospital, Coleridge remem-
bers “the example of Alexander and Clytus” being forbidden as a simile by
his schoolmaster James Bowyer, since it “was equally good and apt,
whatever might be the theme. Was it ambition? Alexander and Clytus!“
Flattery? Alexander and Clytus! “ Anger? Drunkenness? Pride? Friend-
ship? Ingratitude? Late repentance? Still, still Alexander and Clytus!”7
Bowyer™s objection lies in the various applicability of this ancient anec-
dote which plays an important role in Godwin™s Caleb Williams (1794),
where its applicability “ that is, the recognition of it as an apt allusion “ is
precisely at issue. Pace Bowyer, I want to unfold the Alexander“Clitus
story as a ¬gure indicating Godwin™s thoughts on anger, particularly in
relation to the intemperate political climate of the 1790s and current
conceptions of anger and provocation. Furthermore, Mary Shelley™s
Frankenstein provides a useful post-Revolutionary counterpoint to the
questions of provocation involved in her father™s work, a topic explored
at chapter™s end. In Godwin™s novel, Caleb alludes to the story of
Alexander and Clitus and thus points to a plot of anger that structures
both the novel-as-narrative and revolutionary politics as Godwin saw
them. Ultimately, like so much of the writing of this period, Caleb
Williams is concerned with the tyrannous consequences of uncontroll-
ed rage: for leaders, for rebels, and for political communities. In
Godwin™s hands, a biography of Alexander and observations on the
French Revolution would have had this same set of concerns at heart.
In Caleb Williams, during his early residence with Falkland, Caleb
claims that he often found himself in the midst of conversations with his
master that touched upon Falkland™s “secret wound”: his guilt over
the murder of Tyrrel.8 As the most memorable example, he tells of a
discussion on the merits of Alexander the Great, one that reveals much
about the two interlocutors. Citing Prideaux 9 and Fielding10 as prece-
dents, Caleb disparages Alexander as a “Great Cut-throat,” “who has spread
destruction and ruin over the face of nations” (Caleb Williams, 111).
Falkland, on the other hand, offers a spirited defense of the conqueror
as “gallant, generous, and free,” a “model of honour, generosity, and
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
90
disinterestedness” who “set out in a great undertaking to civilise mankind”
(111). The conversation proceeds amiably enough until Caleb makes the
following all-too-applicable remarks:
what is worse, sir, this Alexander in the paroxysm of his headlong rage
spared neither friend nor foe. You will not pretend to justify the excesses
of his ungovernable passion. It is impossible sure that a word can be said for
a man whom a momentary provocation can hurry into the commission of
murders . . . (112; my emphasis)
Hearing in this an allusion to his own vengeful murder of Tyrrel,
Falkland is stricken: “The blood forsook at once the transparent com-
plexion of Mr. Falkland, and then rushed back again with rapidity and
¬erceness” (112). He attempts a stammering defense of Alexander, and
seems eager to dismiss the topic, but Caleb cannot resist probing the
wound with a more pointed allusion: “Clitus, said I, was man of very
coarse and provoking manners, was he not?” (113). Again, Falkland™s
reaction is immediate and physical; he glares at Caleb, is “seized with a
convulsive shuddering,” and then “strode about the room in anger, his
visage gradually assumed an expression as of supernatural barbarity, he
quitted the apartment abruptly, and ¬‚ung the door with a violence that
seemed to shake the house” (113). The episode marks Caleb™s “advancing
to the brink of the precipice,” as his curiosity dooms him to Falkland™s
wrathful persecution (113).
Caleb™s negative view of Alexander initially seems to be an echo of
Godwin™s own. In Political Justice, Godwin writes of him as a monarch
who had employed “bloodshed, violence and murder” for the purpose “of
enslaving mankind,” and notes that “The conquests of Alexander cost
innumerable lives.”11 Yet evidence suggests a more ambiguous opinion,
one that moderates this view with that of Falkland. Later in Political
Justice, Godwin paraphrases a “common opinion” of the “school of
adversity,” which is that “the mixed, and, upon the whole, the vicious,
yet accomplished” character of Alexander was formed in his struggles
with “injustice and persecution” (i i :7). Godwin goes on to refute the
necessity of adversity for the creation of virtue, but does not challenge this
“mixed” characterization. In addition, in Godwin™s History of Greece:
From the Earliest Records of that Country to the Time in which it was
reduced into a Roman Province (published in 1822 under the pseudonym
Edward Baldwin), he writes sympathetically, “The reign of Alexander
could not be omitted in the history of Greece: he was one of the
most extraordinary persons which that memorable portion of the earth
Provocation and the plot of anger 91
produced, and his character must be considered as the offspring of
the institutions and achievements of the Greeks” (quoted in Mace,
“Hercules and Alexander,” 42). Finally, in the language of Falkland™s
defense of Alexander, we hear sentiments of which Godwin would have
approved. When Falkland says, “It is mind, Williams, the generation of
knowledge and virtue that we ought to love,” and praises Alexander as “a
true and judicious lover of mankind” (Caleb Williams, 111“12), he recalls
Godwin™s Political Justice, in which “mind” plays a central role in Godwin™s
scheme of a just society (e.g., i :25“26). As he puts it in that work, glowingly,
“to raise those who are abased; to communicate to every man all true
wisdom, and to make all men participators of a liberal and comprehensive
benevolence. This is the path in which the reformers of mankind ought to
travel. This is the prize they should pursue” (i :448). Caleb™s perennial
sympathy for and devotion for Falkland throughout the novel perhaps
¬gures Godwin™s own con¬‚icted attitude towards Alexander, and towards
elitism generally.12
Yet beyond noting the basic association of Falkland with Alexander,
critics have paid little attention to the contours of this conversation, and
particularly to the implications of Caleb™s allusion to Clitus. Mace only
states that “Falkland™s identi¬cation with Alexander is most apparent
when he reacts violently to Caleb™s mention of Clitus” (“Hercules and
Alexander,” 41). Given Falkland™s preoccupation with his own guilt, one
assumes that this is so because Clitus reminds him of Tyrrel, another
provoking victim. But actually the Tyrrel“Clitus comparison is not a
particularly apt one. After all, Clitus was Alexander™s intimate friend of
long standing, who had saved his life in the past, thus making the murder
all the more egregious. In contrast, Tyrrel and Falkland were decided
enemies at the time of Tyrrel™s death. Falkland does not regret the loss of
Tyrrel, but of his own chivalric image of himself “ whereas Alexander
sincerely mourns Clitus.13 Thus there is something curious in Falkland™s
instant recognition of the Clitus allusion as applicable to his own situation
with Tyrrel. In fact, it reveals a more appropriate analogy that Falkland
may glimpse simultaneously: Caleb as Clitus.
After all, both Caleb and Clitus are devoted assistants who unadvisedly
provoke their powerful masters to ¬ts of destructive rage. Further, both
accomplish this by means of allusion. The substance of Clitus™ reproaches
and taunts varies with the historian, but all agree he disparaged
Alexander™s egotism and his refusal to share credit appropriately with
those under his command. Plutarch and Quintus Curtius Rufus are two
of the primary classical sources of the tale, both of which Godwin knew.14
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
92
According to them, Clitus™ remarks involved his alluding to a passage
from Euripides™ Andromache beginning, “Oh, how perverse customs are in
Greece!” and which continues,
When the army sets up trophies over an enemy, people do not regard this as the
deed of those who have done the work. Instead the general receives the honor.
He brandished his spear as one man among countless others and did no more
than a single warrior, yet he gets more credit. And sitting arrogantly in of¬ce in
the city they think grander thoughts than the common people, though they are
worthless. The people would be far superior to them in wisdom if they acquired
daring and will.15
Plutarch reports that Clitus sang out only the ¬rst line, which so
enraged Alexander that he slew him with a spear. Similarly, Curtius Rufus
(in the edition owned by Godwin) notes that before being killed, Clytus
was “rehearsyng verses of Euripides . . . The effect of them was, that the
Greekes dyd evyll, whiche in the monumentes of their victoryes, did
subscribe onely the names of theyr kynges, whiche usurped the glorye to
them selves that other menne dyd winne by sheadyng of theyr bloude”
(Actes of the Great Alexander, 151). Just as Alexander hears a maddening
accusation in the quotation, Falkland hears one in Caleb™s allusion to this
ancient scene of provocation and wrath. In such a mirrored echo chamber,
Caleb becomes Clitus in the moment of alluding to him.
The burden of the Euripides passage is a challenge to aristocratic
elitism, precisely what Caleb challenges in Alexander, and thus implicitly
in Falkland, during their conversation. Caleb asks Falkland, for example,
“But shall I forget what a vast expence was bestowed in erecting the
monument of his fame? . . . How many hundred thousands of lives did
he sacri¬ce in his career?” “ to which Falkland answers, “what in reality
are a hundred thousand such men more than a hundred thousand sheep?”
(Caleb Williams, 111). In a sense, therefore, both Clitus and Caleb can
claim a revolutionary consciousness, objecting to an unfair distribution of
goods and evils in the service of tyrannical desires. As is immediately
evident when Caleb raises the topic, Alexander™s reputation is close to
Falkland™s heart, Clitus or no; the Macedonian ruler represents everything
“ the rule of “honor, generosity, and disinterestedness,” “learning, sens-
ibility, and taste,” a “cultivated liberality of mind,” a commitment to
“knowledge and virtue” “ that Falkland hugs so dearly (110“11). Yet all of
these attributes are based in Falkland™s commitment to aristocratic chiv-
alry and noblesse oblige, both of which involve a view of common men as
“sheep.” So for Falkland, Caleb™s invocation of Clitus brings forth not
only the specter of Tyrrel, but also of revolutionary dissent (in the person
Provocation and the plot of anger 93
of Caleb himself ), predicated on the “ungovernable passions” indulged by
the aristocracy.
In this confrontation with Caleb, Falkland reveals himself as trapped in
a recurrent cycle of provocation and reaction, again playing Alexander to
another™s Clitus. His angry pacing, his “expression of supernatural bar-
barity,” and his violent door-slamming in response to Caleb™s words are
the prelude to his destructive persecution of his devoted secretary. As
Caleb himself puts it after being told the truth, “He killed Mr. Tyrrel, for
he could not control his resentment and anger . . . how can I expect that a
man thus passionate and unrelenting will not sooner or later make me his
victim?” (137). In con¬rmation of this, we soon ¬nd Falkland informing
Caleb, “I shall crush you in the end with the same indifference that I
would any other little insect that disturbed my serenity . . . miscreant!
reptile! . . . cease to contend with insurmountable power!” (153“54). Along
with Tyrrel™s similar failing, Falkland™s inability to defuse his rage be-
comes the prime mover of the tragedy that ensues. And like Alexander,
Falkland learns to lament his wrath.
In fact, Godwin™s novel, and particularly volume i , might fairly be read
as a primer on the wages of anger. Initially Falkland appears as the soul of
restraint, placating Count Malvesi, who is “drunk with choler” upon
suspecting Lucretia™s in¬delity. Yet even here he warns Malvesi, “My
temper is not less impetuous and ¬ery than your own, and it is not at
all times that I should have been thus able to subdue it” (15). These are
prophetic words, put to the test by means of Barnabas Tyrrel, whose envy
and aversion regarding Falkland produce torments of anger for both men.
Tyrrel himself does little besides nurse resentment and indulge in angry
outbursts. We see him as he “brooded . . . in the recesses of a malignant
mind” (23), and “seemed ready to burst with gall and indignation” (26);
he says of Falkland, “I should be glad to see him torn with tenter-hooks,
and to grind his heart-strings with my teeth” (37); he curses Emily for
defying him, and “his despotic and unforgiving propensities stimulated
him to a degree little short of madness” (57); “foaming with rage,” he
curses Hawkins, claiming “I will suffer nobody to stop the stream of my
resentment” (77). Godwin informs us that “vengeance was his nightly
dream, and the uppermost in his waking thoughts” (78), and that he “was
under the dominion of an uncontrollable fury” (85). Even after Emily™s
death, “his rage was unbounded and raving. He repelled every attack with
the ¬ercest indignation” (93), and ultimately gives Falkland a beating in a
¬t of drunken rage. This last detail “ Tyrrel™s intoxication “ connects
again to the Alexander“Clitus story, in which anger and alcohol both
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
94
¬gure to produce a dangerous loss of self-control. Under the in¬‚uence of
these two in¬‚ammatory agents, Tyrrel acts to demonstrate Godwin™s Stoic
horror at their destructive power. Falkland™s forbearance gives way, and he
murders Tyrrel in the street.
Or does he? In fact a strong case could have been made at the time for
mitigating Falkland™s offence to manslaughter, rather than murder. Be-
cause of the legal changes that Horder has traced, provocation to anger
was a viable defense against charges of premeditation, and had been so
since the latter half of the eighteenth century. This alteration was thus less
a reaction to conceptual changes introduced by the French Revolution
and the ensuing debate, than a parallel development that helped con¬rm
(and was itself strengthened by) the widespread reimagining of anger as
irrational rage in the Revolutionary era “ what Karen Weisman calls in her
article on provocation and Romanticism the “newly emergent conceptual-
izations of the angry agent.”16 For example, in successfully defending “the
Wicked Lord” Byron (the poet™s great-uncle) against a murder charge,
Solicitor General William de Grey argued in 1765: “an ungovernable
transport of passion will so far alleviate the crime, as to make that, which
would otherwise have been murder, and a capital offence, manslaughter
only . . . This is a condescension the law shews to the frailties of the
human mind, which upon great and sudden provocations cannot com-
mand itself, nor maintain its reason.”17 By the 1790s, virtually all crimes
committed in anger could be defended as having been performed in “an
ungovernable transport of passion,” since that was what “anger” had
increasingly come to mean. In these terms, Falkland killed Tyrrel in a
passionate ¬t of rage brought on by the overwhelming provocation of
Tyrrel™s beating him in public. In fact, Tyrrel had doubly offended by
affronting Falkland™s honor and initiating a physical assault, each of
which alone was held by legal authorities to be suf¬cient to induce an
angry loss of self control (Horder, Provocation and Responsibility, 92“94).
Making his admission to Caleb, Falkland says, “Insulted, disgraced, pol-
luted in the face of hundreds, I was capable of any act of desperation”
(Caleb Williams, 135), and Caleb concludes to himself, “He killed
Mr. Tyrrel, for he could not control his resentment and anger” (136“67).
Furthermore, Falkland™s attack followed close on the heels of the beating,
one of the requisite points for establishing an angry loss of self-control. He
“followed Mr. Tyrrel from the rooms,” implying that there was no time for
his blood to have cooled in the interim; and Tyrrel, after all, “was found
by some of the company dead in the street, having been murdered at the
distance of a few yards from the assembly house” (95; my emphasis). The
Provocation and the plot of anger 95
immediacy of Falkland™s retaliation would have served him well in miti-
gating the charge of murder in an eighteenth-century court of law.18
However, for Falkland, reputation is the only consideration, and guilt
for manslaughter is as insupportable as guilt for murder: both in this case
imply a cowardly and dishonorable (although perhaps excusable) action.
He covers up his crime not because he fears the gallows, but because he
wants to protect his famed honor “ honor which has in fact been vitiated
by his vengeful wrath. As a man of chivalry in the Italian mode, Falkland
has two options to settle the affair with Tyrrel: call him into the ¬eld or, if
he is unworthy of such gentlemanly treatment, hire “bravoes” to assassin-
ate him (11). In his anger, Falkland falls between these two stools,
attacking the unprepared Tyrrel from behind like any hired killer. Para-
doxically, his anger over the loss of public honor entailed in the beating
causes him to commit a deeply dishonorable act.
As a critique of chivalric passions, Godwin™s novel proceeds to reveal the
dangerous connections between honor and anger. Earlier, Falkland had
admitted the personality trait he shares with Tyrrel: a hot temper. In an
initial attempt to disable their growing animosity, Falkland says to him,
We are on the brink of a whirlpool which, if it once get hold of us, will render all
further deliberation impotent . . . We are both of us nice of temper; we are both apt
to kindle, and warm of resentment . . . A strife between persons with our peculiarities
and our weaknesses, includes consequences that I shudder to think of. (28“29).
It becomes clear that the “peculiarities” and “weaknesses” of the two
men amount to a pathological defensiveness regarding their public repu-
tations. Falkland™s warning almost convinces Tyrrel only when the former
suggests that their rivalry “shall merely present a comedy for the amuse-
ment of our acquaintance” (29). Tyrrel™s response “ “Damn me, if I
consent to be the jest of any man living” (29) “ is in keeping with his
resentment at Falkland™s social victories over him, and with his ¬nal
physical attack on Falkland after being cursed publicly by him, and
hooted from the assembly hall. Falkland obviously shares this sensitivity
to others™ perceptions. From the ¬rst, he admits to Malvesi that if the
Count™s “challenge had been public,” things would not have ended so
happily (15). Falkland calls himself the “fool of fame” (135) and acknow-
ledges, “My life has been spent in the keenest and most unintermitted
sensibility to reputation” (101), a sensibility that becomes the driving force
of the plot as it is expressed via acts of vengeance.
Such anxious self-regard had long been recognized as one of the leading
causes of frequent anger, or susceptibility to provocation. In “Concerning
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
96
the Cure of Anger,” Plutarch states, “Of all men there are none so
exceedingly disposed to be angry as those who are ambitious of honor”;
this would serve well as an epigraph to Caleb Williams, as well as to
Plutarch™s own history of Alexander and Clitus.19 Similarly, in The
Rambler, Samuel Johnson judges that “Pride is undoubtedly the original
of anger.”20 He notes that men who fear their own insigni¬cance will
often “endeavour, by their fury, to fright away contempt from before
them, when they know it must follow them behind,” using anger to
procure “some kind of supplemental dignity” (“The Folly of Anger,”
68“69). Writing in his notebook some ¬fty years later, Coleridge expresses
a similar point: “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.”
Coleridge, who believed that “Rage and Fear are one disease,”21 ¬nds
the root of anger in one™s sense of vulnerability, particularly in regard to
“the opinions of others.”
Yet as both Johnson and Coleridge suggest, and as other authors
con¬rm, such prideful rage only serves to excite further contempt rather
than admiration. Authors who condemn anger typically present that
emotion as eminently self-defeating, producing a tendency towards dra-
matic irony: it causes one to do precisely that which one is striving to
avoid. This conception of anger, common in the eighteenth century from
Young through Johnson to Godwin, is plainly indebted to classical and
roughly Stoical sources, most notably Seneca, but also Plutarch. In De Ira,
Seneca calls anger the “maximum malum”; it “brings to a father curses, to
a husband divorce, to a magistrate hatred, to a candidate defeat.”22 He
also writes that anger “blocks its own progress to the goal toward which it
hastens” (1.12.5). Like Seneca, Plutarch presents anger as worse than
useless, always adversely affecting the situation it aims to address, even
when it is turned on itself: “We do in our anger reprove others for being
angry . . . therein . . . rather increasing and exasperating the disease which
we pretend to cure” (“Concerning the Cure of Anger,” i :58). In the words
of Edward Young, who also found that “the principal Cause of Anger is
Disrespect,” “Anger therefore is not only an Evil itself, proceeding
from and leading to Evil, but, often, to the very Evil it would most avoid.
It falls on its own Sword.”23 Godwin™s narrative re¬‚ects this Stoical
sense of anger™s plot: ultimately, both Tyrrel and Falkland lose their
reputations as a result of their anger: Tyrrel is execrated for causing
Emily™s death by his willful wrath, and Falkland is exposed as the
dishonorable murderer of Tyrrel.
Provocation and the plot of anger 97
Humphrey Prideaux calls the murder of Clitus “a very vile action, and
the greatest blot” on the life of Alexander (The Old and New Testaments,
i : 722), who was also extremely protective of his reputation; and like
Tyrrel with Emily, Alexander was responsible for the death of a close
friend.24 The Alexander“Clitus allusion thus helps con¬rm that through-
out Godwin™s novel, anger functions ironically, counteracting one™s gen-
eral will or purpose even while it appears to be a radical indulgence of the
will. Godwin also sees anger as leading to further injury rather than
reparation or defense; the best the angry man can hope for is mutually
assured destruction, in a vicious circle of fury and contempt. Tyrrel and
Falkland aptly illustrate such conclusions, as their anger destroys the lives
they have constructed for themselves. Caleb™s ¬nal verdict on Falkland
makes this point explicitly:
From that moment [of the murder] thou only continuedst to live to the
phantom of departed honour . . . thy benevolence was in a great part turned into
rankling jealousy and inexorable precaution. Year after year didst thou spend in
this miserable project of imposture; and only at last continuedst to live long
enough to see . . . thy closing hope disappointed, and thy death accompanied
with the foulest disgrace! (Caleb Williams, 326)
Such a characterization of anger is in keeping with Godwin™s long-
standing denigration of the passions. In Political Justice, he makes clear
that anger reproduces the very political problems that it means to remedy.
Considering “the nature of revolution,” he writes,
Revolution is engendered by an indignation against tyranny, yet is itself
evermore pregnant with tyranny. The tyranny which excites its indignation, can
scarcely be without its partisans; and, the greater is the indignation excited, and
the more sudden and vast the fall of the oppressors, the deeper will be the
resentment which forms in the minds of the losing party. (i :267).
For Godwin, indignation and resentment themselves are the tyrannies to
be resisted, structuring as they do the struggle of revolutionary and
oppressor in a cycle of reaction. Anger gives birth to revolution, which
therefore retains that emotion™s tyrannous character: the apple doesn™t fall
far from the Blakean poison tree.
Godwin™s special emphasis on “indignation” here in Political Justice
reveals a connection to Tyrrel and Falkland, both particularly jealous of
their own dignity or sense of worth. To feel indignation, one must ¬rst
have a place of dignity in which to stand, from which one can look on the
actions of others as shameful and unworthy. We have seen in chapter 1
that this particular variety or name of anger is heavily favored by writers
Anger, Revolution, and Romanticism
98
on both sides of the Revolution question during the 1790s: republicans
and loyalists want to claim indignation, while ascribing mad fury and
animal rage to their equally angry opponents. Here, and in Caleb
Williams, Godwin intervenes to say that cherishing indignation is, well,
undigni¬ed “ and dangerous to the cause, whatever it may be. Coleridge
makes the same point in a 1794 letter to Robert Southey, warning his
friend, “Your sensibilities are tempestuous “ you feel Indignation at
Weakness “ Now Indignation is the handsome Brother of Anger &
Hatred “ his looks are ˜lovely in terror™ “ yet still remember, who are his
Relations.”25 Like Godwin™s genealogy, in which revolution is engendered
by indignation and pregnant with tyranny, Coleridge™s family tree of
indignation bears sinister crests. In Caleb Williams, Tyrrel and Falkland
demonstrate that the angry defense of one™s dignity concludes in a
shameful ¬t of rage.
Later in Political Justice, Godwin re¬nes his view of political anger:
“The men who grow angry with corruption, and impatient at injustice,
and through these sentiments favour the abettors of revolution, have an

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. 3
( 7)



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