Romanticism, Cheap Print, Circulation, and Readership

Some “leading questions” on Tracts and Cheap Print

1. What do we know about who read the Cheap Repository and similar moral tracts and how they were circulated? How would we characterize the genre of the Cheap Repository? Especially something like the Shepherd of Salisbury Plain?

2. What about the materiality of these types of text? What does this tell us about intended audience and reception, if anything? What do changes between editions tell us about a changing reading public?

3. How do we square the often “conservative” and religious messages of these texts with what is going on politically and socially in England during this time period? What does this tell us about reading and readers?

4. Moving on the organizations like the LCS, radical groups and periodicals, and nineteenth century working class associations and labor groups – how is the circularity and temporality of print used by these groups to form a public or counterpublic? Are there any connections between this type of circulation and reading and what we see with things like the Cheap Repository?

5. What about periodicals – radical, evangelical, and otherwise – what do these tell us about what people were reading and writing in these circles?

6. Especially in the case of these types of movements (both evangelical and radical), and their use of print, how much can we really distinguish between orality, manuscript, and print audiences? In other words, how far removed is cheap print from these other public sphere forms? What are the implications of this?

A Brief Example: John Wesley and John Thelwall

James Gillray, Copenhagen House

James Gillray, Copenhagen House

About five minutes after this [a person walked out of the lecture] a great disturbance was heard at the door, and in rushed a desperate banditti of about ninety sailors, as their numbers stand ascertained by regular dispositions. These desperadoes, drafted from the difference ships of war in the roads, and armed with bludgeons and cutlasses, after having cut and knocked down the persons who guarded the door, and even the mere gazers who happened to be loitering about, poured in among the audience with the most wild ferocity, dealing blows indiscriminately upon man, woman, and child, who, totally unprepared for resistance, were knocked down across the benches with terrible wounds and bruises; and a scene of fashion, gaiety, and pleasure was instantly metamorphosed into one of carnage and horror, of fractured heads, and garments covered over with blood. A general massacre seemed to be inevitable; no means either of defence or escape presented themselves; and the ruffians, not satisfied with knocking people down, reiterated their blows as they lay prostrate at their feet (John Thelwall, Appeal to Popular Opinion 22-23).

John Wesley at Wednesbury

John Wesley at Wednesbury

To attempt speaking was vain; for the noise on every side was like the roaring of the sea. so they dragged me along till we came to the town; where seeing the door of a large house open, I attempted to go in; but a man, catching me by the hair, pulled me back into the middle of the mob. They made no more stop till they had carried me through the main street, from one end of the town to the other. I continued speaking all the time to those within hearing, feeling no pain or weariness. at the west end of the town, seeing a door half open, I made toward it and would have gone in; but a gentleman in the shop would not suffer me, saying they would pull the house down to the ground. However, I stood at the door, and asked, “Are you willing to hear me speak?” Many cried out, “No, no! knock his brains out; down with him; kill him at once.” Others said, “Nay, but we will hear him first.” I began asking, “What evil have I done? Which of you all have I wronged in word or deed?” And continued speaking for above a quarter of an hour, till my voice suddenly failed: then the floods began to lift up their voice again; many crying out, “Bring him away! bring him away!” (JWW I:437-438).

Horsley’s 1800 Charge:

In many parts of the kingdom new conventicles have been opened in great number, and congregations formed of one knows not what denomination.  The pastor is often, in appearance at least, an illiterate peasant, or mechanic.  The congregation is visited occasionally by preachers from a distance…. It is very remarkable, that these new congregations of non-descripts have been mostly formed, since the Jacobins have been laid under the restraint of those two most salutary statutes, commonly known by the names of the Sedition and the Treason Bill.  A circumstance which gives much ground for suspicion, that Sedition and Atheism are the real objects of these institutions, rather than religion.  Indeed, in some places this is known to be the case.  In one topic the teachers of all these congregations agree; abuse of the Established Clergy, as negligent of their flocks, cold in their preaching, and destitute of the Spirit…. It is a dreadful aggravation of the dangers of the present crisis in this country that persons of real piety should, without knowing it, be lending their aid to the common enemy, and making themselves in effect accomplices in a conspiracy against the Lord, and against his Christ.  The Jacobins of this country, I very much fear, are, at this moment making a tool of Methodism (19-20).

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