Essays in Romanticism

Reenacting the Pamphlet War in an Age of Turmoil

Essays in Romanticism (2021), 28, (2), 77–92.

Abstract

Published in 1790, Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France triggered a pamphlet war whose major players included Mary Wollstonecraft, Thomas Paine, and the artist James Gillray. The debate that ensued about the French Revolution, which Percy Shelley called “the master theme of the epoch in which we live,” was fundamentally a debate between past and present, between tradition and the needs of a living culture, and between the status quo and innovation. This essay describes an attempt by the author to reenact the Pamphlet War at the US Air Force Academy to help cadets negotiate these tensions at their institution and, in doing so, participate in the work of Romanticism. The essay also suggests ways Romanticists could harness the Pamphlet War to engage political and cultural debates in our own age of upheaval and turmoil. Finally, it offers the Pamphlet War as a vehicle for debating the state of the field and the work of the Romantic classroom itself.

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Author details

Johnston, Richard