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Edited by Nicholas Roe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Pp. xviii + 320; 7 illustrations. $59.95.
Keats and History is a collection of thirteen essays concerned in various ways with Keats's relationship to contemporary events and ideas, along with an Introduction describing the volume's approach and its relationship to previous Keats criticism. Nicholas Roe had the foresight to plan this volume so that it appeared in 1995, the bicentennial of Keats's birth. The collection's many fine essays explore some of the most popular and promising topics in Keats studies today.
Susan Wolfson's "Keats Enters History" is concerned not with Keats's own writing but with the poet's posthumous reputation, especially the myth that Keats perished from hostile reviews. Wolfson is particularly astute in remarking the ways in which nineteenth-century poems, essays, and other writings feminize Keats by portraying him as a frail victim of brutal, caddish reviewers. John Barnard's essay also does not work directly with Keats's writing but draws upon primary material that bears significantly on Keats's outlook and development. Barnard presents and comments upon a number of entries in the commonplace book of Charles Cowden Clarke, one of the poet's earliest and most important mentors. Joan Caldwell published entries from this album in a 1980 article, but her selections were chiefly literary. Barnard focuses on the political and historical topics and establishes without question that Clarke's political views were staunchly liberal, deploring tyranny in its various forms and celebrating religious tolerance.
Most of the essays in Keats and History address ways in which Keats's poems and letters comment upon contemporary ideas, conditions, or events. Martin Aske argues that contemporary reviewers were envious of the …