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Notorious Facts

Publicity in Romantic England, 1780–1830

James Mulvihill

Notorious Facts examines the sensationalistic confounding of persons and principles in the public life of Romantic England (1780–1830). Its purview is limited to five decades straddling the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, but its trajectory, moving from a politics rendered in personal terms to a politics of personality, describes a shift still in process today. The study’s chapters draw on a motley body of literature (pamphlets, secret histories, and the like) that at first glance seems uncharacteristic of what literary historians call the English Romantic period. Viewed in the context of something called late Georgian England, these texts seem more indigenous, but if the canonical revisionism of the last few decades should teach us anything, it is that a Romanticism encompassing all romanticisms ideally excludes nothing.
In its heroic Enlightenment sense, publicity is concerned with exposing the workings of power for all to see. A good deal may be inferred about publicity in Romantic England from primary texts in which this salutary function is at once espoused and subverted. These texts—the mostly nameless or pseudonymous authors of the age’s pamphlet literature are the heroes and villains of the piece—almost invariably claim to speak from a disinterested conception of publicity while putting its methods of critical exposure to wholly self-interested purposes. This study examines well-known authors of the period like Jeremy Bentham, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and William Hazlitt, as well as pamphleteers like John Horne Tooke, Philip Withers, and Nathaniel Jefferys. Other figures include authors of secret history like Thomas Ashe, Mary Anne Clarke, Lewis Goldsmith, and Joseph Haslewood in addition to notorious figures in their own right such as the Prince and Princess of Wales, Mrs. Fitzherbert, and the Reverend Edward Irving. Among the topics treated are treasonous libel, royal scandal, secret history, and celebrity.
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University Press Copublishing Division / University of Delaware Press
Pages: 226Size: 6 1/2 x 9 1/2
978-1-61149-346-7 • Hardback • November 2011 • $75.00 • (£49.95)
978-1-61149-490-7 • Paperback • October 2013 • $34.99 • (£23.95)
James Mulvihill is professor of English at the University of Alberta, where he teaches courses on Romantic England.
1 Introduction
2 Chapter 1. Libelous Truths: Power and Publicity
3 Three English Perspectives
4 1. An Essay on the Evils of Scandal, Slander, and Misrepresentation
5 Jeremy Bentham: "An Essay on Political Tactics"
6 Samuel Taylor Coleridge: The Friend
7 Three Pamphlet Controversies
8 1. Secret Influence Public Ruin!
9 2. Matter of Fact for the Multitude
10 3. A Few Cursory Remarks upon the State of Parties
11 English Libel Law
12 The King v. John and Leigh Hunt
13 Chapter 2. Regal Obsessions: Scandal and the Prince of Wales
14 Men versus Measures
15 The Fitzherbert Affair
16 1. John Horne Tooke: A Letter to a Friend
17 2. Philip Withers and the Alfred Pamphlets
18 The Jefferys Affair
19 1. The Delicate Investigation
20 2. Nathaniel Jefferys: A Review of the Conduct of the Prince of Wales
21 Chapter 3. Secret Histories: The Popular Idiom of Exposure
22 Secret History and Publicity
23 Royal Revelations
24 1. Thomas Ashe: The Spirit of "The Book"
25 2. Mary Anne Clarke: Minutes of Evidence and The Rival Princes
26 Napoleonic Disclosures
27 1. The Exposé; or, Napoleon Buonaparte Unmasked (1809)
28 2. The Secret History of the Cabinet of Bonaparte (1810)
29 3. Historic Doubts Relative to Napoleon Buonaparte (1819)
30 Green Room Exposés
31 1. Joseph Haslewood, The Secret History of the Green-Room
32 2. Edwin versus McCready
33 Chapter 4. Celebrity Turns: William Hazlitt and the Reverend Edward Irving
34 William Hazlitt
35 1. "Whether Actors Ought to Sit in the Boxes"
36 2. Liber Amoris
37 3. The Spirit of the Age
38 Edward Irving
39 1. Hazlitt on Irving
40 2. Ministry and Media
41 3. Dangerous Preaching
42 Afterword
43 Bibliography
Mulvihill (Univ. of Alberta) examines pamphlets, journalism, 'secret histories' (fictional and otherwise), and other popular genres of the Romantic period to show how in the culture of the period 'reason is supplanted by reputation' (paraphrased from Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, Eng. tr., CH, Mar'90, 27-4175). This clearly written book concerns 'the triumphant rise of publicity' and 'the fatal identity of personality and publicity.' Though the book knowingly follows Jon Klancher's The Making of English Reading Audiences (1987) and Andrew Franta's Romanticism and the Rise of the Mass Public (2007), it distinguishes itself by its argument — that 'principled exposure of power was displaced by a fascination with sensational personal exposure' — and by its examples. Scandals surveyed herein include the love life and marriage(s) of George, Prince of Wales (later George IV), including the trial of Queen Caroline; corruptions in the administration of William Pitt the Younger; and William Hazlitt's critical accounts of the celebrity preacher Edward Irving. Ironies are critical to the argument: 'assaults on popular celebrity perversely draw celebrities to ... performances' of Rev. Edwards's celebrity, and their manipulation of public opinion is 'just another form of the culture industry engaged in fabricating other idols.' Includes a useful bibliography. Summing Up: Recommended.


Mulvihill's study presents itself as a contribution to "Romantic public sphere studies", referencing the influential work of Jurgen Habermas in this area and complementing such earlier studies.
Recent Studies In The Nineteenth Century

James Mulvihill’s Notorious Facts...addresses Romantic-era journalism, here focusing on the increasingly insatiable public demand for salacious gossip and scandal. Notorious Facts: Publicity in Romantic England, 1780–1830 shows a great deal of scholarly erudition, drawing upon a miscellany of sources: newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, court reports, and cartoons....Notorious Facts has many enlightening and entertaining case studies.
The Year's Work In English Studies