Katie Trumpener, Bardic Nationalism: The Romantic Novel and the British Empire (Princeton UP 1997) - Preface

[Bibliographical details: Katie Trumpener, Bardic Nationalism: The Romantic Novel and the British Empire, Princeton UP 1997, 426pp.; Notes, p.293ff.; Sel. Bibl., p.367ff; Index, p.411ff.]

This book links the literary and intellectual history of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Britain ’s overseas colonies during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries to redraw our picture of the origins of cultural nationalism, the lineages of the novel, and the early literary history of the English-speaking world. In the process, it argues implicitly for the disciplinary transformation of English literature, so called, and for a new way of conceiving the disciplinary mandate of comparative literature.

The romantic period sees the consolidation of a new British overseas empire and a new degree of English political and cultural influence in Scotland and in Ireland ; Britain ’s own uneven economic development, at the same time, means that Scots and Irish are disproportionately represented in the British Army that occupied new overseas colonies, as in the early colo nial settlements. In Britain Anglo-Scottish and Anglo-Irish cultural revivals partly offset a process of cultural centralization, and a new literary na tionalism became visible in novelistic genres and literary scandals, amid discussion of national character, cultural transmission, and modernization. Most existing studies of this period have treated these Anglo-Celtic literary cultures as imitative footnotes to a broadly English culture or, although significant in their own right, as isolated from England and from each other. This book establishes their centrality, interconnection, and international influence.

English literature, so-called, constitutes itself in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries through the systematic imitation, appropriation, and political neutralization of antiquarian and nationalist literary developments in Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. The period’s major new genres (bal lad collection, sentimental and Gothic fiction, national tale, and historical novel), its central models of historical scholarship and literary production, and even its notions of collective and individual memory have their origins in the cultural nationalism of the peripheries. The book argues therefore for a major revision in the way we think about this particular moment in liter ary history, as in the way we understand the genesis and function, the cen tralization and circulation, of literature within an empire.

The first half of the book argues that in Scotland and Ireland, a nationalist and traditionalist worldview takes shape from antiquarian reactions to Enlightenment programs for economic improvement, read as a form of political and cultural imperialism. The case is made in part through a detailed examination of several landmark English Enlightenment investigations of the Celtic peripheries and the critical reception of these works in Ireland [xi] and Scotland. Their famous indifference to cultural tradition catalyzes lit erary counter-representation and the articulation of an oppositional nationalist aesthetics. Responding in particular to Enlightenment dismissals of Gaelic oral traditions, Irish and Scottish antiquaries reconceive national history and literary history under the sign of the bard. According to their theories, bardic performance binds the nation together across time and across social divides; it reanimates a national landscape made desolate first by conquest and then by modernization, infusing it with historical memory. A figure both of the traditional aristocratic culture that preceded English occupation and of continued national resistance to that occupation, the bard symbolizes the central role of literature in defining national identity.

A quintessential product of the late eighteenth century, bardic nationalism continues to have enormous influence on the formal development of the early-nineteenth-century novel, as the second half of the book details. As nationalists argue for the specificity and the separate historical develop ment of particular regions (and as enlightened imperialists, arguing along opposite lines, see this distinct character as a symptom of backwardness), the period’s fiction begins to codify the different British peripheries and colonies into distinctive “chronotopes”; Mikhail Bakhtin’s notion of the literary chronotope theorizes the spatial-temporal parameters that determine the world-view of a fictional genre and the rules of operation that establish the direction, the pace, and the meaning of the stories unfolding within it. If Bakhtin’s idea makes sense of the ideological distinction and contest between the different novelistic genres emerging during this period, it is equally useful to describe how the novel (in an era of intense discussion about the developmental pattern of national characters and histories) grasps nations as distinct life worlds yet begins, at the same time, to experiment with the relations of setting and time, plot and character. Thus in the late eighteenth century, the writers of picaresque novels become interested at once in the plot situations generated by travel, in the differences between the places passed through, and in the filtering of their reality through narrative perspective. Whereas some novelists transpose romance plots into a succession of new national or colonial settings or into the bardic, Gothic, or antiquarian past, to see how they are affected by such variables, others carefully localize their characters’ movements to explore the microinfluence of locale or historical circumstances on attitudes and actions.

The new early-nineteenth-century genres reiterate and redirect such chronotopic experiments, to analyze both Britain ’s constituent cultures and her overseas colonies. The early national tale evokes an organic national society, its history rooted in place; the historical novel describes the way historical forces break into and break up this idyll - and yet, through the very upheaval they cause, shape a new national community in place of the [xii] old. Nationalist Gothic and annalistic novels, however, refuse this happy ending to stress instead the traumatic consequences of historical transformation and the long-term uneven development, even schizophrenia, it cre ates in “national characters.”; Although such novels now seem prescient in their critique of colonialism and modernization, it is Walter Scott’s histori cal novel, with its stress on historical progress, that won out as the paradigmatic novel of empire, appealing to nationalist, imperialist, and colonial readers alike. For Scott insists simultaneously on the self-enclosed character of indigenous societies (living idyllically, if anachronistically, outside of historical time), on the inevitability with which such societies are forcibly brought into history, and on the survival of cultural distinctiveness even after a loss of political autonomy. As he enacts and explains the com position of Britain as an internal empire, Scott underlines the ideological capaciousness of empire, emphasizes the analogies between nation forma tion and empire building, and argues for the continued centrality of national identity as a component of imperial identity.

Throughout the nineteenth century, indeed, in the new context of the British overseas colonies, the Anglo-Celtic model of literary nationalism that arose in response to British internal colonialism (and that used a conservative model of memory to buttress a movement of radical self-assertion) continues to manifest its characteristic political strengths and weaknesses. A lasting source of anti-imperialist inspiration, it also helps ensure that cultural nationalism (as long as it separates cultural expression from political sovereignty) can be contained within an imperial framework. Some Irish and Scottish writers see in the empire a restaging of the structural injustices of Britain ; their sense of systematic parallels becomes the basis of an international solidarity at once militantly anti-imperialist and militantly nationalist. Although equally resentful of the subordination of Britain to England, others see in the empire (as a place where individual Scottish or Irish settlers can rise to prosperity and influence) the sole com pensation for these injustices - and allow their nationalist pride and their ambivalence toward English culture to be subsumed into a support for the imperial project.

Where both positions meet is in their awareness of the transcolonial consciousness and transperipheral circuits of influence to which empire gives rise, as disparate cultures find themselves connected not only by their parallel modes of subordination within the empire but also by a constant flow of people - administrators, soldiers, merchants, colonists, and travelers - b ack and forth between different imperial holdings. Thus even in their de liberate, systematic underdevelopment or monodevelopment by the imperial powers, the most far-flung provinces of the empire (beginning with Scotland and Ireland ) simultaneously develop a strange cosmopolitanism, which parallels (if on a much reduced scale) that of the imperial center [xiii] itself. Such self-awareness marks much early colonial writing. Yet most accounts of Britain ’s literary empire, seeing as their object of study a literature forged by the influence of English models on English colonists, have either emphasized the cultural subordination of periphery to center or traced the discrete national development of separate colonial literatures. The international address and transcolonial character of today’s postcolonial fiction makes clear the need fora synchronous history of empire instead.

The aim of this book, then, is to map the national and transnational lineages of nationalist fiction in the early nineteenth century and to draw a new kind of map of romantic fiction in the process. Read as a sequence, the chapters that follow describe an unfolding series of linked novelistic concerns, generic types, and literary tropes; taken individually, each chapter attempts to describe the way important extranovelistic developments of the period - Enlightenment land reform and eighteenth-century ballad collecting, the reorganization of British domestic life and the circuits of emigration and influence within the British Empire - not only give the romantic novel much of its content but leave lasting traces in the generic structure, recurring tropes, and formal vocabulary of the novel.

Julian Moynahan attributes the instability of the romantic novel to the political upheavals of its period.

Romanticism had temporarily unhinged - derailed - the novel by overwhelming it with new expressive possibilities, a new politics of crisis and change, and a new expectation that any substantial story about private persons would reflect the experience of a whole society. Development in the genre, rapid in the eighteenth century, appeared to slow during the first third of the nineteenth. (Moynahan, Anglo-Irish, p.69; 1.)

This book reads the romantic novel very differently. Between 1760 and 1830, British literature is obsessed with the problem of culture: with historical and cultural alterity, with historical and cultural change, with comparative cultural analysis, and with the way traditional customs and values shape everyday life. At the same time, British novelists are rethinking the political and epistemological bases of the novel, taking apart, reassembling its chronotopic framework, and reformulating the relationship between its characters, its plot, and its argument. Many of the novels discussed in the following pages have long been forgotten or overlooked; read against mid- eighteenth- or mid-nineteenth-century realism, they may appear scrappy or odd. Yet they have an aesthetic of their own; although some of these novels develop new and innovative ways of working with the novel as a long and cumulative form, many are structured episodically, with local strengths of scene and characterization. When they are reread in relation to the intellectual life of their period, their true degree of conceptual ambition and formal [xiv] experimentation becomes clear, for even their hoariest literary clichés or set pieces prove to be saturated with cultural and historical meaning.

Over the course of the romantic period, the history of the British novel is a history of dislocations, bifurcations, and disengagements as much as it is of continuity or accretion. Only an account that describes this history both locally and relationally can hope to capture the complex dynamic of its development. The incremental structure of this book attempts to capture the movement of the literature it is describing, to analyze its leaps ahead and its doubling back, and at the same time to fill in, layer by layer, the novel’s intellectual and literary context. As the first half of the book will work to show, controversies around the figure of the bard - and the problem of bardic memory - recapitulate at once the recurring epistemological dilemmas of antiquarian work and a specific history of debate about the politics of cultural memory and the future role of national cultures in the new multinational Britain. Such debates point to a bifurcation of British romanticism by national identifications (whereas many Irish, Scottish, and Welsh writers remain fundamentally suspicious of an English-dominated Britain, most of their English contemporaries take it for granted). This divide is particularly visible in what interests each group about the bard: nationalist antiquaries take up the bard as a figure of cultural situatedness and argue for a reading of aesthetic works as the expression of cultural practices and historical conditions, whereas English men of letters adopt the bard as a figure of cultural fragmentation and aesthetic autonomy.

For much of the twentieth century - and perhaps particularly during the 1980s, when Marxist literary history did battle with a rhetorically oriented deconstruction - literary and historical studies have tended to separate these domains from one another, a divison that replicates and extends the bifurcation in the late-eighteenth-century reception of the bard. This book represents an attempt to develop a kind of literary history that historicizes, explicates, and thereby circumvents this divide, to develop a mode of literary-historical analysis in which literary form itself becomes legible as a particularly rich and significant kind of historical evidence, as a palimpsest of the patterns, transformations, and reversals of literary, intellectual, and political history. To explore the ways in which the romantic novel takes up and reworks the nationalist debates of the late eighteenth century is to watch a process through which ideology takes on generic flesh, and old formats of literary argument reappear to structure the novel in many ways, from the development of character to the unfolding of plot. [xiii; end.]

Chapter 1: Harps Hung Upon the Willow [pp.3-37]
Sect: The Origins of Nationalism (19ff.)
In the second half of the eighteenth century, local developmens such as enclosures, the changing use of crops and livestock, the building of new roads, and the reorganzation of poor relief generated new agricultural abundance and new agricultural fortunes. They also led to increasing political tension and class stratification: a new kind of rural penury, the criminalization of the poor, the escalation of rural population, the beginnings of large-scale overseas emigration, and, in those who migrated instead to Britain’s cities, the origins of what would become a new industrial working class. In the Scottish, Irish, and Welsh peripheries of the new Britain, the effects of such modernization were particularly visible and politicized, for they were seen to escalate, exacerbate, or recapitulate processes of political incorporation and disfranchisement [sic] already under way, in Wlaes and Ireland, since the sidteen century and in Scotland since the beginning of the [19] eighteenth century.


The capitalization of Britain, funded by the booty of imperialist conquest and the slave labor of the colonies, accentuates the gap between rich and poor. In the initial, optimistic period of capitalist expansion, landowners [20] depict themselves as public benefactors, “improving” their own property as part of a campaign for greater national prosperity. But once those without property start to feel the ruthlessness of a new capitalist social contract, property owners depict themselves as drained of all personal agency or responsibility, forced into rent increases or clearances only because they, in turn, are acted upon by larger, impersonal market forces.

The rise of a capitalist economy exacerbates not only the inequities of class within all sectors of British society but also the inequities of regional development. Many Scottish and Anglo-Irish landowners find themselves caught between the two developments. Those able to make new capital investments in the improvement of their properties often succeed in consolidating their local economic and political standing. Those without such investment capital, however, often suffer an acute loss of prestige and local importance. In preunion Ireland, for instance; many landowners begin to feel their marginal place within English and British economic, political, and cultural life with new acuteness; when Maria Edgeworth and other Irish national novelists look back on the late eighteenth century, in the wake of the Union, they focus on the figure of the absentee landlord and use the return of the absentee as a catalyst of plot. [2] Such landlords, Edgeworth argues, are driven by contradictory imperatives and loyalties; while they desert their local responsibilities and make continual, unreasonable financial demands on their impoverished Irish tenants, in a vain bid to win status and recognition in London, English society mocks and despises them as backward representatives of a backward people. And indeed, their refusal to invest in or to supervise local development dooms their tenants to dependent poverty. The only solution to these social and economic disorders, the novelists suggest, is a renewed, nationalist identification with Ireland, as a state whose marginality can and must be reversed. By ignoring the judgments of London and taking pride, instead, in local improvement and accomplishment, the landlords could alleviate the sufferings of those beneath them and resume the duties of their station. The emergence of the modern nation-state and the concealment of landed and moneyed power in and as market forces are thus matched by the rise of a new cultural nationalism.

But as Marxists have long argued, nationalists’ complaints of past oppression and external misrecognition also work to occlude the actual local restructuring of the country. Benedict Anderson has influentially argued that modern nationalist movements, in spite of their traditionalist and communitarian rhetoric, are actually predicated on the rise of individualism, fueled by political energies generated by the modernization process and shaped by “impersonal” apolitical institutional forces. Anderson points particularly to the parallels between the way the modern census “produces” integral autonomous subjects and the way modem print capitalism creates in its readers a sense of seriality and therefore of historical agency. When the census designates new ethnic (in addition to more traditional racial or religious) categories in which to group inhabitants, and then records identity in integral terms within those categories, Anderson argues, this creates new forms of identification with the state. The newspapers, in their turn, use a standardized vocabulary (“a minister,” “the emperor,” “a nationalist leader,” “the revolution,” “the civil war,” “the nationalist partisans”) to describe political actors and political events emanating from very different situations in various parts of world; the effect is to lead newspaper readers to see developments around them in terms of “everyday universals.” Together, census and newspaper create subjects whose self-understanding is at once newly individualized and newly communal, newly generic and newly, ethnically specific - and nationalism creates itself in their image. Grounded in new notions of the universal, byproducts of new systems of categorization, nationalist movements tend to couch their very claims to historical, ethnic, and cultural specificity in a recognizably standard rhetoric. Even as they labor to re-create the lost community of the nation, nationalists work within a thoroughly modern conception of political life. Although they seem not to realize it, their sense of community is imaginary as much as it is imagined.

From its very origins, then, nationalism appears as a species of fiction. Yet if nationalism is a creation of the imperial state, why is the nationalist political stance so oppositional? If the nationalist is a descendant of the statistician, if nationalism is a modernism, a product of rationalization and enumeration, then why does the nationalist sense of temporality appear so resolutely antimodern, so that nationalist revivals often are accompanied by antiquarianism and other forms of traditionalism? Despite their cogency, Anderson’s theories cannot account for central features of nationalist rhetoric. Whereas Anderson emphasizes the discursive construction of nationalism, its origins in an official act of naming, nationalists insist that it is the imperialists who are trapped in a discursively bounded and therefore severely limited view of the world. For Anderson, nationalist analysis is derivative, produced by, in, and with imperial categories: the nationalists’ sense of group identity derives from their collective interpellation, into the modern state apparatus, and into state classifications. The nationalists frame the causalities rather differently, reacting with particular vehemence to the imperial census; for them, its catalogs and inventories function as claims to ownership and as tools for social control, yet its categories remain deeply inadequate, reflecting grave misprisions about the culture under survey: imperialism does not makes nationalism possible so much as necessary. For Anderson, nationalism is an attempt to wrest or extend the state’s attention to a newly individuated, newly visible, recognized, and [22] therefore self-confident body of subjects. Nationalists, instead, see their movement as a collective one, fueled by anger at the authorities’ persistent inability to tell the natives apart; they combat the abstractions of the state by insisting on the human fates behind the official statistics.

In examining the prototypical nationalisms of late-eighteenth-century Britain, this book shows Western Europe’s first modern nationalist movements emerging from a rather different set of circumstances and displaying a far more complicated consciousness than the one Anderson postulates. Its relationship to modernization is dialectical rather than simply derivative or reactive. New losses invoke the old: the modernization process triggers cultural memory both because modernizers and improvers appear determined to suppress and replace it and because new forms of economic oppression are being joined to old forms of political oppression. The communalist rhetoric of nationalism responds at once to the division of labor, to the large-scale alienation of land and of culture, and to the threat of a new capitalist oligarchy.

In its emphasis on solidarity, as in its communitarian longings, early nationalism anticipates socialism and other utopian movements, just as the nationalist account of the collective roots of culture and the importance of cultural institutions in the struggle against political oppression anticipates central discussions of Marxist aesthetics. Yet from the nineteenth century onward, Marxists have tended to view nationalist politics with great suspicion, as enshrining the wrong kind of collectivity - and Anderson, his protests to the contrary, is finally no exception.” Reading nationalism as a relatively unreflexive reflection of modernity, he tends to miss its moment of radical critique, from its prophetic analysis of modern alienation to its recognition of the way in which Enlightenment progressivism overlaps with imperialist demands for social control and cultural pacification.

In eighteenth-century Britain new forms of cultural nationalism emerged in response at once to Enlightenment programs for economic transformation and to Enlightenment theories of historical periodization and historical progress. Anderson identifies the imperial classification of the people as the founding moment of nationalist identity formation; nationalism is constructed by the imperial census and with the categories of the imperial state. In Britain, however, it is not the census but the survey that provides nationalism with its symbols of imperial control: the terrain of nationalist struggle is the land itself.” The intellectual roots of nationalism are in an antiquarian practice concerned with conjoining the material and the discursive realms. And nationalist analysis tries to steer a course between what it condemns as the excessive nominalism of imperial discourse and the excessive materialism of Enlightenment practice. [...; 23] (pp.19-23.)


A new nationalism may be called into being in several parts of Britain, but only where a firm sense of national identification, pride and anger, has long preceded it.

In an imperial situation that functions by categorical exclusions, in a climate of long-standing political and religious antagonisms, it does not take the advent of a census taker to make visible the lines of demarcation between various groups. all is It the more remarkable, then, that late-eighteenth-and -early-nineteenth-century cultural nationalisms found important supporters and advocates not only among those directly oppressed or disfranchised but also among intellectuals who, by virtue of ethnic, religious, regional, or occupational background, might have been expected to oppose them. In Ireland, especially, some of the most impassioned denunciations of English imperialism and some of the most dedicated attempts at literary restitution come from Anglo-Irish antiquaries and novelists; convinced of the intertwined destinies of Catholics, Anglicans, and Presbyterians, Milesian peasants and Ascendancy gentry, they work to explicate a past full of ethnic shame. Nationalist movements may have found their emotional center in the memory of ethnic suffering, but they also move and mobilize sympathizers beyond the ethnic groups most directly affected. Identification is at least as complicated as identity itself. (Robert Crawford, Devolving English Literature, Oxford 1992.)

The question, then, is less how a consciousness of national aggrievement first comes into being than when and why it takes on a more systematic and militant form, and under what circumstances it can mobilize broad support. In Britain and Ireland the measurement and mapping of land, the remaking of rural topography, in the name of agricultural improvement, reawakens and renews questions of ownership, tradition, and occupation. Often a preude to enclosure (as to other improvements that fundamentally altered access to and the use of common lands), the surveying of land functioned symbolically as an announcement of the new terms of ownership. At the ame time, the eighteenth-century development of government ordnance surveying is clearly linked to the consolidation of British military control in Scotland and Ireland, North America and India. In domestic as in overseas territories under occupation, such surveys functioned quite explicitly; acts of incorporation; the first major ordnance survey was begun in the ighlands in 1746, to facilitate pacification and military occupation.

In the seventeenth century, official “plantation” maps were produced Ireland as a basis for the redistribution of forfeited Irish property and for systematic “plantation” of English soldiers and adventurers on these lands. In the early nineteenth century, the systematic remapping of Ireland [25] in the famous 1824 General Ordnance, was accompanied by its renaming, as the surveyors devised a new anglicized nomenclature with which they systematically replaced each Gaelic place-name on the map. (...; p.26)


Nationalist consciousness began with the recognition of imperial occupation and with the attempt to grasp the economic, political, and cultural consequences from the appropriation of land and the loss of self-government to the alienation of cultural inheritances. The material difficulties [26] involved in recovering and reconstructing the national cultural legacy of an oppressed people brought home, as little else could, the full effect of imperial occupation. While free nations could collect, protect, and publish all available historical and literary records, the colonized were forced to look on as “their” governments hastened the dispersal of private and national libraries, discouraged the propagation of national literary traditions that might have stirred up “separatist” sentiments, and attempted to suppress or supplant the national language. If the immediate political consequences of conquest were a loss of sovereignty and a loss of national pride, the long-term cultural consequences were even more damaging: threats to the historical record and to the national sense of history, the determined undermining of cultural traditions, the erosion of language, and the gradual loss of national identity. In an age of localized and national uprisings, mass executions and deportations, in a political context that produced real national martyrs, the nationalists' new attitude toward the past must be understood as historical mourning and as national self-defense.

On one level, the effect of antiquarian work—and the problems of conservation and of heritage it brought to light—was to guide the nationalist analysis of imperialism beyond the realm of purely material relations, toward more abstract questions of history, memory, and collective identity. In this historicizing turn, and in its ultimate belief in the primacy of cultural questions over economic ones, nationalist analysis most decisively parts company with Enlightenment discourses of national improvement. Yet the activities of nationalist antiquaries represent a continual attempt to join the realm of materiality to the discursive realm. At the most elementary level, antiquarian work is driven by the belief that the shape of the past—its belief world, its cultural practices, its historical transformation—can be reconstructed through the analysis of the artifactual traces it has left behind. When eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century intellectuals tried to mock or discredit antiquarian theories, they attacked with particular vehemence the antiquaries' founding premise: the belief in the reconcilability of material and linguistic sources and the elevation of the physical fragment, the worn or broken artifact of everyday life, to the same status as written records.

Antiquarian work is attacked both for the ostensible baseness of its objects of study and for the literal-mindedness of its belief that it can deduce civilizational forms from physical remnants; antiquarians proverbially mistake the discarded chamber pot or the cooking pot found in the bog for an antique urn, postholes dug thirty years ago for the traces of ancient buildings, and on this basis misdeduce the local course of Roman conquest. To conduct researches in the material world rather than in the world of the library is to risk contamination by its debris; antiquarians are depicted as lacking in decorum, ridiculously reliant on the (misleading or [27] misunderstood) testmony of the local peasants, prey to suspicious paroxysms of enthusiasm over individual finds, and given to erecting huge and wobbly theoretical edifices on the basis of modest or dubious evidence. In attempting to interpret the evidence of the world, antiquarians enter unknowingly into an epistemological quagmire, in which they successively lose all sense of direction and all sense of perspectives. [Here erroneously ‘loses’].

But if the satirist represents antiquarians as debased and bested by their materials, the national antiquarians see themselves as ennobled and enlightened by their contact with material evidence. The artifact is of value not so mch in its own right but because of its ability to represent synedochically the culture and the historical moment that produced it. And because its materiality renders it fragile, the artifact represents not only the traces of a larger cultural world but also the tragic trials and the triumphant survivals of its history. Mde of transient stuff, it survives only brokenly, to serve as a reminder of all that has been effaced or swept away. Yet the fact tht it has survived at all is little short of miraculous and suggests the power of culture to endure its vicissitudes with something of itself still intact. Far from evoking disgust, then, the brokenness of the object evokes both tenderness and veneration of its antiquity.

From the mid-eighteenth century onward, antiquarian editors routinely use the term reliques to describe pieces of ancient oetry that constitute the surviving records of a distant national past. The Christian overtones of this language are not accidental, but they are not at odds, either, with the materialism of antiquarian analysis. The political and temporal pressures that would efface the meaning of a culture are legible on the scarred surface of the culture as a whole. The attributes of Christ’s tortured body are here transposed onto the frgments of the past; they will reappear in the early nineteenth century, in the national tale, on the tormented bodies of its allegorical characters. In both incarnations, the metaphor of sacrifice and redemption are deployed with great intesnity - but at the same time without the mystical or racializing overtones with which later nationalst invoked similar images. If eighteenth-century nationalists devote considerable attention to the way nationa history is rooted in a particular national landscape, their analysis is groudned in a critique of existing property relations and the formulation of a new historical reflection theory.

Early cultural natinalists derive much of their historical and anthropological sense of culture from the innovative historical theories of the Scottish Enlightenment, particularly its four-stage theory of human social development, and its careful enumeration of the way material determinants and institutional forms of culture define each civilizational epoch. [See Ronald L. Meek, Social Science and the Ignoble Savage, Cambridge UP 1986.] Nationalist accounts, however, place their emphasis very differently, insisting on a notion of cultural tradition left oout of the natural and national histories [28] of the mainstream Enlightenment. For the Enlightenment, the model is evolutionary, emphasising the inevitability with which each developmental stage, each historical culture, is replaced by the next, more advanced one. What shapes, destroys, and replaces cultural formations is an apparently impersonal, endlessly recurring historical process.

The nationalist reworking of this Enlightenment model involves a sustained attempt to challenge it assumpations about inevitability, agence, and progress. When cultures change, nationalists argue, it is often due to the violence of outside forces, rather than any inevitable, internal dynamic. The English conquest of Ireland and Wales and the British occupation and pacification of the Highlands involved deliberate attempts to eradicate traditional forms of culture in order to root out remaining sources of indigenous identity and national pride. Such suppressions lead ot the lasting psychic and intellectual dislocation of the colonized. Unable, under English occupation, to rebuild their shattered cultural institutions, they are unwilling, at the same time, to adapt themselves to the conquerors’ way of life. Their refusal to relinquish the memory of a preconquest society dooms them, personally and collective, to a shadowy half-life, caught between past and present. Yet this refusal also keeps alive the hope of future autonomy and decisively blocks the conquerors’ narrative of triump and progress.

For late-eighteenth-century nationalists, the insistence on the contemporary cultural forms of educated Western Europeans as the natural telos of all societies amounts to a justification for imperialism. O’Halloran, it will remembered, traced this tactic back to the Elizabethan conquest of Ireland; to justify their military activities, he argued, the English ideologues launched an official campaign to vilify Ireland, portraying it as primitive and uncivilized. Believing in the inevitability of historical progress, Enlightenment historical narratives assign coexisting cultural forms to exemplify different moments in a “historical” hierarchy: “advanced” forms of culture serve as models for the present, and more “primitive” forms will necessarily be doomed to extinction. Nationalist historical narratives, in contrast, posit the noninevitability and undesirability of radical cultural transformation, stressing instead the organic accretion of cultural practices, institutions, and forms over many epochs. Even where external forces succeed in disrupting the coherence of a national culture, and where an imperial culture is imposed in its place, the lasting force of national memory will ensure that its victory does not endure. Thus where Enlightenment histories stress the necessary discontinuities of culture, nationalist histories stress the survival of cultural memory from one epoch to the next.

The historicizing move of cultural nationalists, in the late eighteenth century, represents at once a decisive challenge to Enlightenment cultural assumptions and the attempt to apply and extend the Enlightenment’s new [29] sociological analysis. Antiquarian research derives much of its investigative method, descriptive techniques, and discursive style from Enlightenment encyclopedias and treatises. But if the Enlightenment impulse is scientific - an attemp to expand, by experiment and by catalog, the scope of the knowable world - the nationalist project is recuperative. What separates nationalist antiquarians from their Enlightenment counterparts is their motivation and their partisanship, their identification with thei subject matter and thei sense of temporality.

In an era dominated by a rhetoric of progress, nationalists insisted on looking backward; new visions of futurity gave rise to new visions of the past. Yet many nationalists also participated in projects for economic renewal: a suppressed history of national suffering and a lost national heritage were to be recovered precisely to speed the economic, cultural, and political recovery of a newly conscious nation. If some Enlightenment improvers dreamed of a future severed from the past, nationalist improvers wanted a future in which a relationship to the past, damaged or severed under colonial rule, could be repaired, a future in which a history of cultural achievements was at once honored, preserved, and rejoined.

Late-eighteenth-century nationalism is constituted, in many ways, as a critique of modernization and of the uneven regional development it perpetuates. The ultimate goal of many nationalist sympathizers, however, is to become beneficiaries of the new wealth that such modernization generates. Thus although it derives its rhetoric of colonization from the experience of the overseas empire and its rhetoric of dispossession partly from the plight of the British poor, eighteenth-century cultural nationalism is paradoxically enmeshed both in the project of empire (which generates the money for domestic reconstruction) and in the process of class stratification (as the apparently inescapable result of economic modernization). In its analysis of the way in which penal laws and other repressive property laws facilitated the English appropriation of aristocratic estates in Ireland or Wales, and in its laments for those dispossessed or exiled as a result, eighteenth-century cultural nationalism may appear to foreshadow a Jacobin critique of property relations and political absolutism. Yet such laments often reflect not so much concern for tenant farmers as nostalgia for feudal privilege and a lost indigenous aristocratic culture.

The cultural nationalisms of late-eighteenth-century Scotland, Ireland, and Wales served as an important prototype for nineteenth-century nationalist movements throughout Europe, not least in their populist attempts to invoke a united people without giving unsettling attention to differences of status and privilege within the nation. Problematic already from the origins of nationalism, this paradox became painfully acute in the 1790s, in the light of attempts by the United Irishmen and Scotsmen to forge a revolutionary, anti-imperialist, and Jacobin nationalism, determined simultaneously [30] to level class barriers and to eradicate ethnic identifications based on religion or cultural tradition. Prior to the 1790s, the rhetoric of cultural nationalism often resembled the parallel rhetoric of improvement, in the way it masked the powerful interest, and self-interest, of class. Directed against the conquest of the nation by outside forces, the subjugation of the nation to outside rulers, the draining of the nation’s wealth by absentee landlords, nationalist polemics sometimes masked the extent to which an imbalance of power and the economic exploitation of the rich by the poor are features of domestic political life as well.

If the British influence in the Celtic peripheries manifests itself overtly, in military or juridical form, the process of cultural homogenization and economic modernization is often more subtle and more localized. The bog drainages that English political economist Arthur Young records so painstakingly and approvingly in hundreds of locales across Ireland are carried out by Anglo-Irish landowners on dozens of isolated estates, coordinated only indirectly by the force of the agricultural market and by the Dublin Society’s information on agricultural improvement and competitions. Anglo-Irish society, indeed, is closely knit precisely because of the geographical, linguistic, and cultural isolation of English settlements, the intensity of tenant discontent and unrest, and the relative lack of wealth and pedigree, the provincial manners and pronunciation that separate Anglo-Irish landowners from their English counterparts. At the same time, as Young points out, they are confronted at home by the spectacle of their dispossessed Catholic counterparts, even in some cases by Milesian aristocrats reduced to working as cottars on their former family estates. What all of these factors make possible, however intermittently, is critical reflection on the price of conquest, modernization, and dispossession. So too, in late-eighteenth-century Scotland, the linguistic and cultural divisions, the increasingly uneven economic and political development between the Lowlands and the Highlands, and the growing gap, during the Bute era, between Lowland consciousness of its own cultural refinement and the crudity of English anti-Scottish sentiment, all help to create an Enlightenment culture at once actively involved in the project of modernization, visibly anxious about its consequences for traditional culture, and, thanks to the self-scrutiny of sentimentalism, intensely sensitive to its own ambivalent feelings.

The particular situation of these places, indeed, makes possible in them new kinds of consciousness, far earlier and far more acutely than within England itself. In watching the effects of imperialism and modernization on the traditional societies within their purview, segments of both Anglo-Irish and Lowland society become convinced of the need to preserve indigenous antiquities and traditionary customs, and even to decelerate the course of modernization altogether, by reseparating the national [32] governments of the peripheries from the central government in London and from a British economy. The new middle-class cultural nationalism and antiquarianism that thes concerns engender are thus based at once - and this cannot be stressed enough - on a new degree of imaginative sympathy and community with countrymen more directly oppressed and affected, and at the same time on a rhetorical appropriation of their situation and customs as if they in fact constituted a shared tradition. This paradox remains crucial to all subsequent European nationalist movements. (p.32.)


Bardic nationalism insists on the rich fullness of national knowledge, on the anchoring of discursive traditions in landscape, in a way of life, in custom. The English, by comparison, have only borrowed words. (p.34.)

[End of Introduction.]

1. Apparently unacquainted with the eighteenth-century history of the Anglo-Irish novel, Moynahan also appears unfamiliar with the resurgence of critical work on the romantic novel over the last five to ten years. (p.293.)

2. [Trumpener here cites:] Maria Edgeworth, Castle Rackrent, Ennui, The Absentee; Owenson, The Wild Irish Girl, Florence Macarthy, and Absenteeism; Maturin, The Wild Irish Boy and The Milesian Chief; Roche, The Tradition of the Castle: Scenes in the Emerald Isles (1824); John Banim, The Anglo-Irish of the Nineteenth Century (1828) and remarks that Owenson and the others remain less optimistic than Edgeworth about the absentee’s reclamation for the national community.

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