K: Kha, Kha, The Duck Quacketh (18th Century Phonics)

How many thousands of teachers and parents are familiar with the Miskin phonics system we use today? Most mornings I dig out my laminated set II cards and begin an English lesson with ‘OY, OY, TOY FOR A BOY’ focusing on all the OY sounding words. If you thought this was a relatively new system (like I did) then you would be mistaken.

I was browsing though an online version of the Orbis Sensualium Pictus (1705), apparently the first children’s picture book, when I found a curious phonics guide tucked in amongst the other essential early 18th century primary school skills like ‘brewing beer!’ and ‘slaughtering animals!’ The chapter begins with a solemn discussion between a teacher and his student which is delivered in both English and Latin.


As my dear readers are obviously proficient in Latin I will give their discourse in English:

Teacher: ‘come boy, learn to be wise!’ Boy: ‘what does this mean to be wise?’. Teacher: ‘to understand rightly, to do rightly, and to speak out rightly, all that are necessary’. Boy: ‘Who will teach me this?’ Teacher: ‘I, by God’s help’. Boy: ‘How?’ Teacher: ‘I will guide thee throw all. I will shew thee all. I will name thee all’. Boy: ‘See, here I am; lead me in the name of God’. Teacher: ‘Before all things, thou oughtest to learn the plain sounds, of which man’s speech confideth’:


I will definitely be trying out this 300 year old method tomorrow morning when we are doing our ‘K’ sounds: anas tetrinnit, Kha kha, the duck quaketh.

George Herbert (1593-1633)

George Herbert was rector of Bemerton between 1630-1633. He was also a poet and his colloquies and religious themes really appeal to me. His poetry reflects a balanced Anglicanism (neither Puritan nor Catholic), and for me the simplicity of diction and metaphor are an important part of what make them so interesting and effective.


When Herbert’s father died the young family moved to London, and Herbert’s mother became friend and patron to the Metaphysical poet John Donne. ‘These close links with the older poet had an influential and positive effect on Herbert’s life and work’ (Graham, 2000). But unlike Donne, ‘Herbert wrote no love poetry, having decided, when he began writing poetry at Cambridge, to devote his poetic works to God’ (Mackean, 2005).

There is a clarity and directness in Herbert’s verses. His writing is sometimes musical and often his structural forms are uncomplicated and not unlike a ‘song’.  Perhaps some poems were indeed meant for musical accompaniment. An example of this could be ‘Easter Song’. In fact, we can still find some of Herbert’s work in British hymnals today. A few famous ones being ‘King of Glory, King of Peace’ and ‘Teach me, My God and King’.

Many of his poems are also colloquies (conversations) between himself and God or with his heart, and we can see good examples in his poems ‘Good Friday’ and ‘The Pearl’. In these works the tone is ‘private, subjective and modest’. In ‘Good Friday’ we hear Herbert modestly saying ‘o my chief good’ and ‘how shall I count what thee befell?’ These colloquies allow for a powerful exchange of emotions and dilemmas between the poet and the recipient.

A prominent and important theme in Herbert’s poetry is his struggle between an ordinary life versus a surrendering to God. A good example of this can be found in his poem ‘The Collar’ a clever metaphor playing on the idea of the collar being both a restraint (Herbert being a servant of God), and an item of clerical clothing. Herbert intends a pun on the word collar with the word ‘choler’ meaning anger. The poem is a complaint being voiced by someone rebelling against the constraint he feels binds him. The poem is rich with restraining imagery ‘collars, cages, cable and ropes’, and there are rhetorical questions asked throughout giving the reader a sense of uncertainty and insecurity. Another interesting aspect of this poem is the randomness of the stanza form. This may suggest exaggeration of a conversational tone. We can almost imagine the poet really speaking in this poem. Likewise, the unusual stanza pattern may symbolise indiscipline of the rebellious spirit, or impulsiveness. Both ideas are interesting and work well with the style and theme of the poem. Also of interest is the contrast between the start of the poem, where the narrator depicts violence ‘I struck the board (altar), and cried, No more/I will abroad’ to show a spiritual crisis. This is in sharp contrast to the calm ending: ‘Me thought I heard one calling, Child! / And I replied, My Lord’, where the poet hears God’s voice and instantly knows his place and admits God’s authority.

Herbert’s poetry is full of Christian imagery and is probably semi-autobiographical. It is also clear that his sureness of tone comes from a very sound biblical knowledge. This can be seen in his poems ‘Man’ and ‘Love III’. In ‘Man’ Herbert develops a theme drawing from the book of Genesis and Psalm 8. His good understanding of theology is effectively put to use in uncomplicated and clear language. In this poem we also see an interesting conceit. Here ‘man’ is a metaphor for the world. He also possibly intended a double meaning where man is seen as the temple in which the Holy Spirit dwells. ‘Herbert often drew his inspiration from everyday domestic experiences, employing a range of simple commonplace imagery’ (Mackean, 2005). Good examples of this can be found in his poems ‘The Church-Floor’ and ‘The Window’. Herbert drew upon the structures and artefacts which surrounded him as a priest as sources for his verses. Both poems are:

Based on the church building itself: the metaphysical and allegorical interrelationship between devotion and the place which has been made for it provides the sustained images (Graham, 2000, p.56).

In ‘The Church-Floor’ the first four stanzas are only three lines each ending with ‘Patience, Humility, Confidence and Charity’ a personification of human virtues built upon aspects of the church floor. The last octave of the poem ends with ‘Blest be the Architect (referring to God), whose art/Could build so strong in a weak heart’. Although this poem is simplistic in style the comparison between the virtues and Herbert’s use of concrete imagery, is both effective and interesting. The same can be said of his poem ‘The Windows’ where Herbert this time compares preachers to church windows. Implying that through the grace of God man can become a window through which the glory of God shines as a light through a window. Again, this poem is a simple but effective comparison of church architecture and human qualities. A further interesting observation on the poetry of Herbert reveals how he often used ‘pattern poems’ as an effective tool:

George Herbert’s “Easter Wings” is written in a form of pattern poetry known as carmen figuration, otherwise known as shaped verse, in which the words and lines are arranged on the page so that they create a visual image or illustration of the poem’s subject. Herbert creates a visual image of wings, whether intended to be angels or of birds, offer a thematic view of the human state (Dykes, 2002).

Another good example of Herbert’s use of shaped verse can be found in his poem ‘The Altar’ in which the words of the poem itself form a shape of an altar. Interestingly, Herbert uses the theme of an altar in his poem as a metaphor for how one should himself as a sacrifice to the Lord.

I think it is fair to say that Herbert was a master of economy when it came to poetry. Although many of his themes are serious and weighty, Herbert approached his work with a directness and simplicity quite different to the other Metaphysical poets of his time. ‘John Donne often expressed his doubts in intellectual terms, answering them in the same way. Herbert on the other hand occasionally explored his doubts in intellectual terms, but he answered them with emotion’ (Mackean, 2005).

Through Herbert’s often ‘conversational, persuasive and proverbial’ tone, we can see a poet plagued by his own human weaknesses and doubts.  A reader would not have to be religious to relate to the common struggles Herbert experienced in his life. Indeed, whether one approaches Herbert’s work from a religious point of view or not, it would be hard to deny that his simple lyrical poems are packed intensely with emotion and often speak for themselves.

Ten Little Nigger Boys

I was reading Atlanta Black Star’s interesting, but as the title says ‘Disturbingly Racist Children’s Books’ that were around in the early 20th century. The link can be found here: 8 Disturbingly Racist Children’s Books Designed to Devalue Black People


What most shocked me was the nursery rhyme counting book called ‘Ten Little Nigger Boys’ which taught white children to count. The book ran for many editions and was still being published as late as 1956!

It was also set to music. A version can be found here on YouTube: Ten Little Nigger Boys Song

Depicted in the book are caricatures of black boys who are eliminated by a series of gruesome events, counting down from ten to the last one.

 Nursery Rhyme about Ten Little Niggers

Ten little nigger boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self, and then there were nine.

Nine little nigger boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself, and then there were eight.

Eight little nigger boys traveling in Devon;
One said he’d stay there, and then there were seven.

Seven little nigger boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself in half, and then there were six.

Six little nigger boys playing with a hive;
A bumble-bee stung one, and then there were five.

Five little nigger boys going in for law;
One got in chancery, and then there were four.

Four little nigger boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one, and then there were three.

Three little nigger boys walking in the zoo;
A big bear hugged one, and then there were two.

Two little nigger boys sitting in the sun;
One got frizzled up, and then there was one.

One little nigger boy living all alone;
He got married, and then there were none.

Victorian Fiction Database (1837-1901)

At the Circulating Library: A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

For those of you who like Victorian literature and bibliography, I recommend the following website: http://www.victorianresearch.org/atcl/

It’s a vast database containing details of 12729 books written by 2852 authors and it covers the entire Victorian era. You can search by author, year, title  or genre! So, if you fancy perusing the titles of the so called ‘Silver-Fork’ novels, click on NOVELS – GENRES – SILVER FORK NOVELS and you will find a whole list of them… 96 titles to be precise:

Genre: Silver-Fork Novel

Description: These novels depict life in fashionable society.

References: Alison Adburgham, Silver Fork Society: Fashionable Life and Literature from 1814 to 1840 (Constable, 1983); Sutherland

  1. Robert Plumer Ward.  Tremaine: or, The Man of Refinement.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1825.
  2. Marianne Spencer Hudson.  Almack’s: A Society Novel of the Times of George IV.  3 vol.  London: Saunders and Otley, 1826.
  3. Catherine Dorothea Burdett.  English Fashionables Abroad: A Novel.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1827.
  4. Robert Plumer Ward.  De Vere: or, The Man of Independence.  4 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1827.
  5. Edward Bulwer Lytton.  Pelham: or, The Adventures of a Gentleman.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1828.
  6. Lady Scott.  A Marriage in High Life.  2 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1828.
  7. Edward Bulwer Lytton.  Devereux: A Tale.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1829.
  8. Edward Bulwer Lytton.  The Disowned.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1829.
  9. Edward Bulwer Lytton.  Paul Clifford.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1830.
  10. Theodore Edward Hook.  Maxwell.  3 vol.  London: Bentley, 1830.
  11. Benjamin Disraeli.  The Young Duke: “A Moral Tale, though gay”.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1831.
  12. Catherine Gore.  Mothers and Daughters: A Tale of the Year 1830.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1831.
  13. Catherine Gore.  Pin Money.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1831.
  14. Laetitia Elizabeth Landon.  Romance and Reality.  3 vol.  London: Bentley, 1831.
  15. Benjamin Disraeli.  Contarini Fleming: A Psychological Auto-Biography.  4 vol.  London: John Murray, 1832.
  16. Thomas Henry Lister.  Arlington.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1832.
  17. Countess of Blessington.  The Repealers.  3 vol.  London: Bentley, 1833.
  18. Edward Bulwer Lytton.  Godolphin: A Novel.  3 vol.  London: Bentley, 1833.
  19. Benjamin Disraeli.  The Wondrous Tale of Alroy: The Rise of Iskander.  3 vol.  London: Saunders and Otley, 1833.
  20. Theodore Edward Hook.  The Parson’s Daughter.  3 vol.  London: Bentley, 1833.
  21. Theodore Edward Hook.  Love and Pride.  3 vol.  London: Whittaker, 1833.
  22. Catherine Gore.  The Hamiltons: or, The New Era.  3 vol.  London: Saunders and Otley, 1834.
  23. Laetitia Elizabeth Landon.  Francesca Carrara.  3 vol.  London: Bentley, 1834.
  24. Countess of Blessington.  The Two Friends: A Novel.  3 vol.  London: Saunders and Otley, 1835.
  25. Lady Sydney Owenson Morgan.  The Princess: or, The Beguine.  3 vol.  London: Bentley, 1835.
  26. Lady Dacre.  Tales of the Peerage and the Peasantry.  3 vol.  London: Bentley, 1835.
  27. Lady Charlotte Bury.  The Devoted.  3 vol.  London: Bentley, 1836.
  28. Catherine Gore.  The Diary of a Désennuyée.  2 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1836.
  29. Catherine Gore.  Mrs. Armytage: or, Female Domination.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1836.
  30. Theodore Edward Hook.  Gilbert Gurney.  3 vol.  London: Whittaker, 1836.
  31. Countess of Blessington.  The Victims of Society.  3 vol.  London: Saunders and Otley, 1837.
  32. Catherine Gore.  Memoirs of a Peeress: or, The Days of Fox.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1837.
  33. Edward Bulwer Lytton.  Ernest Maltravers.  3 vol.  London: Saunders and Otley, 1837.
  34. Lady Charlotte Bury.  The Divorced.  2 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1837.
  35. Lady Charlotte Bury.  Love.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1837.
  36. Benjamin Disraeli.  Venetia.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1837.
  37. Benjamin Disraeli.  Henrietta Temple: A Love Story.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1837.
  38. Catherine Gore.  Stokeshill Place: or, The Man of Business.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1837.
  39. Theodore Edward Hook.  Jack Brag.  3 vol.  London: Bentley, 1837.
  40. Laetitia Elizabeth Landon.  Ethel Churchill: or, The Two Brides.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1837.
  41. Edward Lakeby.  The Earldom Restored: An Event in High Life.  2 vol.  London: Smith, Elder, 1837.
  42. Catherine Gore.  The Woman of the World.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1838.
  43. Edward Bulwer Lytton.  Alice: or, The Mysteries. A Sequel to “Ernest Maltravers”.  3 vol.  London: Saunders and Otley, 1838.
  44. Catherine Gore.  The Heir of Selwood: or, Three Epochs of a Life.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1838.
  45. Catherine Stepney.  The Courtier’s Daughter.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1838.
  46. Countess of Blessington.  The Governess.  2 vol.  London: Longman, 1839.
  47. Catherine Gore.  The Cabinet Minister.  3 vol.  London: Bentley, 1839.
  48. Theodore Edward Hook.  Gurney Married: A Sequel to Gilbert Gurney.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1839.
  49. Theodore Edward Hook.  Births, Deaths, and Marriages.  3 vol.  London: Bentley, 1839.
  50. Robert Plumer Ward.  Pictures of the World at Home and Abroad.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1839.
  51. Rosina Bulwer Lytton.  Cheveley: or, The Man of Honour.  3 vol.  London: Edward Bull, 1839.
  52. Lady Charlotte Bury.  The History of a Flirt, Related by Herself.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1840.
  53. Catherine Gore.  Preferment: or, My Uncle the Earl.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1840.
  54. Catherine Gore.  The Dowager: or, The New School for Scandal.  3 vol.  London: Bentley, 1840.
  55. Catherine Gore.  Cecil: or, The Adventures of a Coxcomb.  3 vol.  London: Bentley, 1841.
  56. Catherine Gore.  Greville: or, A Season in Paris.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1841.
  57. Lady Charlotte Bury.  Family Records: or, The Two Sisters.  3 vol.  London: Saunders and Otley, 1841.
  58. Catherine Gore.  Cecil, a Peer: A Sequel to Cecil; or, The Adventures of a Coxcomb.  3 vol.  London: T. and W. Boone, 1841.
  59. Robert Plumer Ward.  De Clifford: or, The Constant Man.  4 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1841.
  60. Lady Charlotte Bury.  The Manoeuvring Mother.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1842.
  61. Countess of Blessington.  The Lottery of Life.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1842.
  62. Theodore Edward Hook.  Fathers and Sons.  3 vol.  London: C. H. Clarke, 1842.
  63. Theodore Edward Hook.  Peregrine Bunce: or, Settled at Last.  3 vol.  London: Bentley, 1842.
  64. Laetitia Elizabeth Landon.  Lady Anne Granard: or, Keeping Up Appearances.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1842.
  65. Catherine Gore.  The Ambassador’s Wife.  3 vol.  London: Bentley, 1842.
  66. Catherine Gore.  The Banker’s Wife: or, Court and City.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1843.
  67. Frances Milton Trollope.  Hargrave: or, The Adventures of a Man of Fashion.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1843.
  68. Lady Charlotte Bury.  The Wilfulness of Woman.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1844.
  69. Catherine Gore.  The Popular Member, The Wheel of Fortune, etc.  3 vol.  London: Bentley, 1844.
  70. Countess of Blessington.  Strathern: or, Life at Home and Abroad. A Story of the Present Day.  4 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1845.
  71. Catherine Gore.  Self: A Novel.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1845.
  72. Catherine Gore.  Peers and Parvenus.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1846.
  73. Catherine Gore.  The Débutante: or, The London Season.  3 vol.  London: Bentley, 1846.
  74. Catherine Gore.  The Débutante: or, The London Season.  3 vol.  London: Bentley, 1846.
  75. Barbara Hemphill.  Lionel Deerhurst: or, Fashionable Life Under the Regency.  3 vol.  London: Bentley, 1846.
  76. Catherine Gore.  Castles in the Air.  3 vol.  London: Bentley, 1847.
  77. Catherine Charlotte Maberly.  Fashion and its Votaries.  3 vol.  London: Saunders and Otley, 1848.
  78. Catherine Gore.  The Diamond, and the Pearl.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1849.
  79. BTAO Sin and Sorrow.  Sin and Sorrow: A Story of a Man of Fashion.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1850.
  80. Anna Atkins.  The Perils of Fashion: A Novel.  3 vol.  London: Henry Colburn, 1852.
  81. Catherine Gore.  The Dean’s Daughter: or, The Days We Live In.  3 vol.  London: Hurst and Blackett, 1853.
  82. Anna Atkins.  The Colonel: A Novel of Fashionable Life.  3 vol.  London: Hurst and Blackett, 1853.
  83. Catherine Gore.  Progress and Prejudice.  3 vol.  London: Hurst and Blackett, 1854.
  84. Catherine Gore.  Mammon: or, The Hardships of an Heiress.  3 vol.  London: Hurst and Blackett, 1855.
  85. Mrs. Martin Lucas.  The Quicksands of Fashion.  3 vol.  London: T. C. Newby, 1855.
  86. Lady Charlotte Bury.  The Lady of Fashion.  3 vol.  London: Hurst and Blackett, 1856.
  87. Lady Chatterton.  Compensation: A Story of Real Life Thirty Years Ago.  2 vol.  London: John W. Parker, 1856.
  88. Frances Milton Trollope.  Fashionable Life: or, Paris and London.  3 vol.  London: Hurst and Blackett, 1856.
  89. Henry Noel Humphreys.  Diamonds and Dust: Being Grains from the Sands of Society.  3 vol.  London: T. C. Newby, 1856.
  90. Emily Owen.  Raised to the Peerage: A Novel.  3 vol.  London: Hurst and Blackett, 1859.
  91. Blue Tunic.  From the Peasantry to the Peerage: A Novel.  3 vol.  London: T. C. Newby, 1860.
  92. George Augustus Sala.  The Baddington Peerage: Who Won, and Who Wore It. A Story of the Best and Worst of Society.  3 vol.  London: Skeet, 1860.
  93. Catherine Maria Grey.  Passages in the Life of a Fast Young Lady.  3 vol.  London: Hurst and Blackett, 1862.
  94. Catherine Maria Grey.  Good Society: or, Contrasts of Character.  3 vol.  London: Hurst and Blackett, 1863.
  95. Anna Atkins.  A Page from the Peerage.  2 vol.  London: Longman, 1863.
  96. Joseph Verey.  Martyrs to Fashion: A Novel.  3 vol.  London: Tinsley Brothers, 1868.

Hugh Latimer, or The School Boys’ Friendship (1828)

I’ve wanted to read this extremely rare novel by Susannah Strickland for years, so you can imagine my excitement when I recently discovered a readable grainy microfiche version. I have to confess it’s the first time I’ve ever read a book this way, but it was well worth the effort.

The novel revolves around a 12 year old boy called Hugh Latimer who attends a foundation school as a scholarship boy. He is the son of a widowed shopkeeper and gee doesn’t he get some abuse from his aristocratic peers. The children taunt him with insults like ‘beggar’s brat,’ but Latimer struggles on bravely through his school days with the help of his best friend Montrose. As the book progresses the boys develop a deep and lasting friendship and they learn much from their uncles and school master, Mr. Manby. From the very start, when Hugh asks to be taken from the school, his uncle asks ‘what would you rather be a gentleman or a shopkeeper?’ when Hugh replies the former, his uncle retorts ‘well don’t let them take that advantage from you’. The novel is also rich in biblical lessons, especially those found in the the book of St. Matthew, and one is given a real insight into early 19th century mentality. The author Mrs. Strickland develops several themes in her writing which she feels strongly about; in particular, she exposes and tackles class and racial prejudices which were both problematic during this period. In one scene the boys are walking arm in arm and happen to meet a black youth who enters the school with a basket of cakes on his head. Being a book of its time we encounter a vexing racist attack. The author lectures the reader on the evils of idleness and highlights this as the reason for the assault. Our hero Montrose then appears on the scene and threatens to thrash the boys for their inhumanity. When they leave we hear him addressing the youth ‘so where do you live, Blackey?’ He is clearly a thoughtful boy, but he has much to learn! Anyway, after the youth refuses their financial assistance, Montrose decides they should all visit his uncle. The Colonel then repays old ‘Blackey’ and after a long fruitful lecture he joins their hands and solemnly declares they must remain friends for life.

Later in the story with the introduction of Sinclair, the novel turns its focus to class prejudice. The pompous Sinclair with his upper class ancestry causes great mischief to Latimer’s friendship with Montrose. Having seen this unfold, Mr. Manby invites Hugh to his residence for tea. Hugh confesses he is heartbroken after being forsaken by Montrose and here Mr. Manby reveals his own humble origins as a foundation boy. He recalls being bullied by a youth called Carey, who spared few opportunities in humiliating him in front of his peers. One summer’s morning while out walking his dog he noticed somebody struggling in the water. It was Carey, and feeling nothing but indignation he decided to stand by and watch him drown. It was only after his dog jumped in the water and swam towards the boy that he came to his senses and dragged Carey onto the riverbank. Manby continues by explaining how they wept in each other’s arms, forgave the past and how Carey died peacefully in God grace, washed free of all his sins [naturally Carey’s death is full of pious reflections and comforting promises of everlasting life].

In the latter part of the novel Montrose invites Latimer to his uncle’s for the holidays. Of course Latimer initially hesitates after hearing that Sinclair and his siblings will also be there. Latimer arrives at the Colonel’s house and a week passes without any news from the brats. The boys and the Colonel spend their happy days in the pursuit of knowledge and science. When the arrogant Sinclair finally arrives he sees Latimer playing chess with his sister and declares he is no suitable playfellow for his sibling. The next morning Sinclair ignores Latimer’s salutations, and Montrose launches into an angry rant in defense of his friend. The Sinclair brothers leave the room and the Colonel tries to patch things up. The week passes in haughty politeness but with no sense of any warmness developing. Later, during a group drama where the parts are divided according to personality, the Sinclair sisters remark that ‘Latimer’ should naturally be the servant. The wounded boy retaliates: ‘what of it. My father was once a proud servant who died fighting for his country’.

While Montrose is downstairs chatting with chums from school, Latimer hears one of the girls shrieking as her dress catches fire. She is completely engulfed in flames so he raps her in a blanket and manages to singe off his eyelids so severally he cannot see for days. Next there follows a mawkish and unrealistic scene where the Sinclair’s fall at Latimer’s feet weeping and forgetting their old prejudices, thank him for saving their sister’s life. A few days later when the party departs (with Hugh still bedridden) he is given ‘handsome gifts’ for the services he rendered to the girl. The Colonel then sits with Latimer and points out a sword hanging on the wall. When he asks the boy to guess who that sword belonged to, Hugh, answered ‘to a hero?’ to which the Colonel replies, ‘yes, it was your fathers’. An ecstatic Hugh then asks the Colonel how he knew his father.  The Colonel explains how he was not dissimilar to the haughty Sinclair in his youth and had treated Latimer’s father (who was his commanding officer) with much contempt because of his humble origins. After repeatedly trying to antagonise him he eventually struck him in the face. The noble officer reminded him that he could be sentenced to death for his affront, but concluded how he was grateful there were no witnesses, as the matter could now end in a truce. As a sign of new found respect they exchanged their swords.

In the process of time the two boys become top of their school. The famous Lord Peterborough is passing through the area and requests to see the establishment. Latimer as the head scholar delivers an excellent speech in Latin, and after making some enquiries Lord Peterborough learns he is the son of the brave soldier who had thrice saved his life. To return the favour Hugh is awarded a pair of colours by the peer and a 50 pound annual pension for his mother and lame uncle. And here the novel concludes with the following beautiful paragraph:

‘The two young friends entered the army together; they served in the same regiment, fought in the same battles, and bled the same cause. Montrose, after many gallant actions, was made Lord Grahame; and his friend Latimer, rising by degrees to the height of his profession, received the badge of knighthood from the hand of his sovereign’.

For me, this book was both charming and silly at the same time. Often the scenes were overly mawkish, and the boys’ relationship was too mushy. Nevertheless, if one can see past this, and have the patience to wade through the religious moralising and shallow characters, I think it is well worth a read, even if only to appreciate the forward thinking ideas of the author.

Forgotten British Novels (1800-1829)

For those of you who enjoy obscure or long forgotten books, I’ve found a superb database cataloguing British novels published between 1800-1829. Created by the good folks at Cardiff University, the database allows users to examine bibliographical records of 2,272 works of fiction written by approximately 900 authors, along with a large number of contemporary materials.

Perhaps you will discover something interesting like the works of the prolific Mary Meeke, who wrote novels with curious titles such as: Midnight Weddings (1802), Old Wife and Young Husband (1804) and There is a Secret! Find it Out (1808).

The database can be found at: http://www.british-fiction.cf.ac.uk/browse.html

Keats & Coleridge – Romanticism

A brief look at Keat’s Ode to a Nightingale and Coleridge’s Frost at Midnight. What links them to the Romantic tradition?

In a letter to Benjamin Bailey (Nov 1817) Keats wrote ‘I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the truth of Imagination – what the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth.’ This is an interesting quote as it sums up one view of Romanticism as a reaction to the rationalism of the Enlightenment. Writers, artists, and composers during the Romantic period valued intuition over learning and imagination over doctrine. This is a direct contrast to the earlier Age of Enlightenment which valued both logic and science. The Romantics wanted their work to be for everybody (not just for the educated) and to bring back the spiritual with a new language connected to nature and beauty. It is with this view in mind that I would like to analyse two poems from this period and to demonstrate how their language and content links them as examples of ‘Romantic’ poetry.

In ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ the speaker directs his address to a nightingale as a way of expressing an intense thought and feeling. ‘The first half of the ode shows how the speaker desires to escape the self and its human condition’ (Wolfson, 2001, p.91). Stanza one begins with thudding alliteration – a sense of melancholy. This is reinforced with ‘numbness’, ‘dull opiates’ and ‘sunk’. He is too happy in his happiness and is tipping over into sadness. In stanza two he longs for wine and the sensuous joys of summer. We see this in ‘tasting of Flora’, ‘country green’ and ‘sunburnt mirth!’ In both stanzas the poet is focusing on his own feelings and intuition rather than trying to apply reason and logic. These were important ideas to the ‘Romantics’ who valued nature and spontaneity and the importance of the individual self. Continuing with the analysis, we notice the mood shift in stanza four where he connects with the world of the nightingale and talks of light in both the literal and spiritual sense. This ‘experienced’ enchantment is intensified (in stanza five) with vivid images and references to different sensory experiences. We have sight: ‘white hawthorn’ and ‘pastoral eglantine’, fragrance (or smell): ‘the coming musk rose’, taste: ‘dewy wine’ and lastly hearing: ‘the murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves’.  This intensity peaks in stanza six with a moment of complete happiness ‘now more than ever seems it rich to die’. In stanza seven he refers to the bird as a symbol of immortality and links legend, romance, the bible and the timelessness of the nightingale’s song. The repetition of the word ‘forlorn’ interestingly punctures the poem and here the speaker returns grounded to the original place. We are reminded of the important ‘Romantic’ principle of imagination through the elevation of the poets self – the contrast between earth v. heaven and stasis v. movement. In the final stanza the speaker’s soul returns to the earth from its visionary world gentle and dreamy, ending with two questions ‘Was it a vision, or a waking dream? Fled is that music: – Do I wake or sleep?’ which concludes nothing other than ‘the ode itself and its musical fellowship with a vanished nightingale’ (Wolfson, 2001, p.92).

Looking at the structure of the poem we notice the ode is composed of ten line stanzas: a Shakespearian sonnet-quatrain (abab) plus a Petrachan sestet (cdecde). According to Wolfson (2001) ‘this form subscribes to a metrical contract, against which a contrarian poet such as Keats could play the urgencies of passion and impulse. The ode is graceful and free and it is fluidly handled’. It builds to a climax and returns to earth gently. This is a wonderful example of a poem that focuses on the less tangible ‘Romantic’ areas of human experiences.

If we now consider Coleridge’s poem Frost at Midnight. We notice that the overriding concern of the speaker is his relationship with his infant son and his aspiration for him to have a better start in life. We notice ‘the silence of the house is pregnant with preternatural energy’ (Keanie, 2002, p.64) but it is a quality silence ‘the kind of silence that has absolutely nothing to do with loneliness, or emptiness; the kind of silence that actually empowers the consciousness’ (Keanie, 2002, p.64). An interesting ‘Romantic’ platform to begin our analysis of the ideas within the poem.

As with Keats’ ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, nature plays an important part in ‘Frost at Midnight’ and it is used to great effect in the poem. The speaker is acutely aware of what is going on both inside and outside of the cottage. In stanza one he is hyper-aware and dwells on a mixture of intrusive thoughts ‘abstruser musings’ and mix of sensory information ‘inaudible as dreams’ ‘thin blue flame’ and ‘fluttered’. In addition to this the silence is broken twice by an ‘owlets cry’. These are important as they show the poet being both introspective and highly aware of his surroundings. He is using his imagination and internalising, two important ‘Romantic’ ideas. Stanza two is a recollection of his school days. We find ‘stirred’ and ‘haunted’ and ‘wild pleasures’. He also adds ‘supernatural’ qualities to his childhood memories as when he refers to the church bells as ‘sounds of things to come.’ In stanza three he comes back to the present and contrasts his upbringing in the city with images of nature and the sublime. He imagines his child growing up submerged in the awesomeness of nature ‘wander like a breeze/by lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags/of ancient mountains, and beneath the clouds.’ The poem also has a strong Christian element where nature represents the physical presence of God’s word. We notice this in ‘Himself in all, and all things in himself’. This is important as he links nature with the divine. The final stanza concludes with a message of hope for his child. It is full of optimistic gems from all the seasons. We find ‘summer and greenness’ the ‘robin redbreast betwixt tufts of snow’ and ‘the secret ministry of frost.’

The poem is a verse monologue. It was classed by Coleridge as one of his ‘conversational’ poems. According to Audet (1970) ‘much of the poems success derives from the tension created between the poet’s extreme emotion and his natural, conversational language’. The poem ‘has a restraint and naturalness of language which suits the rather simple events described. To obtain this naturalness, Coleridge has employed a flexible, easy-flowing blank verse’ (Audet, 1970). It is this conversational style that marks it as a truly ‘Romantic’ poem that can appeal to anybody no matter how educated or uneducated. It is full of natural imagery, human instinct and is considered by many to a seminal poem from this period.


AUDET, R.A. 1970. ‘Frost at Midnight’: The Other Coleridge [www] http://www.jstor.org/pss/813517 (6th Jan, 2012)

FERGUSON, M., SALTER, M.J., STALLWORTHY, J. 2005. The Norton Anthology of Poetry. 5th edn. London: W.W. Norton & Company, pp. 935-937 & pp. 810-811.

KEANIE, A. 2002. Student Guide to Samuel Taylor Coleridge. London: Greenwich Exchange, pp. 62-64.

WOLDSON, S.J. 2001. The Cambridge Companion to Keats. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 90-93.


KRAUZE, A., SPENCER, L. 1997. Introducing the Enlightenment. Cambridge: Icon Books Ltd.

O’HARA, K. 2010. The Enlightenment. Oxford: One World Publications

WHITNEY, E. 2010. English Romanticism [www] http://www.uh.edu/engines/romanticism/ (6th Jan, 2012)