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  1. What features of the prophecies of the last days in the Book of Revelation make it an appropriate scenario for a political revolution? What features, if any, stand in the way of such an application?
  2. What phrases and images, as well as conception of history, are shared in the millennial early poetry of Blake, Wordsworth, and Coleridge?
  3. It has been suggested that the spirit of Romanticism owed less to the millenarian hopes excited by the French Revolution than to the disappointment and disillusionment which followed. As Thomas Noon Talfourd wrote in 1815, horror at the excesses of the Revolution had served "to raise and darken the imagination." To what extent is Talfourd's analysis of the genesis of Romanticism persuasive? Does it apply equally to all members of the "first generation" of major Romantic poets? What evidence do you find in the careers of Blake, Wordsworth, and Coleridge, respectively, of the process Talfourd describes?
  4. Apocalypticism, often linked with the question of revolution, has deep roots in British political thought and continues to play a powerful role in the late twentieth century.
    1. Compare the fourteenth-century poet John Gower's account of the Uprising of 1381 with the texts gathered in this topic. How does Gower make use of apocalyptic imagery in his account of the rebellion, and how does his use of such imagery sort with the fact that Gower is deeply hostile to the rebels and their aims?
    2. Based on what you discover in the Twentieth Century section of Norton Topics Online, to what extent have the "apocalyptic expectations" engendered by the French Revolution continued to resonate in English thought about politics, history, and the future?
    3. Is it more accurate to characterize apocalyptic thought, from the thirteenth century to the present, as a continuous tradition with innate characteristics, or as a textual resource which different groups in different historical periods have drawn upon to meet their specific needs?
    4. Finally, you may wish to consider and analyze the role of apocalyptic themes and images in your own thinking about society and its future in the next millennium. How, if at all, do the texts gathered here help you to "historicize" your own ideas and impressions?
  5. The Civil Wars in seventeenth-century England aroused fervent expectations of imminent apocalypse among radical sects, expectations shared to some extent by such leading figures as Oliver Cromwell and John Milton.
    1. What is the role of millenarian thought in texts by seventeenth-century English radicals such as Gerrard Winstanley's The True Levelers' Standard Advanced and Abiezer Coppe's A Fiery Flying Roll? How do these writings compare to the apocalyptic expectations of the Romantics?
    2. The Unitarian ministers Richard Price and Joseph Priestley belonged to the tradition of Protestant dissent, which traced itself back to the parliamentary side in the Civil Wars. How do the responses of Price and Priestley to the French Revolution suggest a link or continuity between millenarian thought in the mid-seventeenth century and in the late eighteenth?
  6. While the Romantic poets greeted the French Revolution in language suggestive of universal liberation, Karl Marx, writing in the mid-nineteenth century, saw it as a bourgeois revolution which overthrew the antiquated trappings of feudalism to make way for capitalist society. At the same time, as Marx noted in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, the revolutionaries "needed to conceal from themselves the bourgeois-limited content of their struggles and to keep their passion on the high plane of great historic tragedy."
    1. To what extent does Marx's analysis of the French Revolution, and of the self-deception practiced by its adherents, apply to the early poetry of Blake, Wordsworth, and Coleridge?
    2. To what extent do the revolutionary visions of Shelley, in Queen Mab and in his later verse, differ from those of the older Romantics?
  7. The element of fire plays a prominent role in the prophecies of the Book of Revelation, and in contemporary English responses to the French Revolution. Richard Price hailed the revolution as "a blaze that lays despotism in ashes, and warms and illuminates Europe!" The image of fire, real or metaphysical, external or internal, figures prominently in Blake's America and A Song of Liberty (NAEL 8, 2.121), and in Wordsworth's Descriptive Sketches and The Excursion.
    1. What roles does fire play in these texts? What are its properties and associations?
    2. How does the Romantic image of fire as an element associated with revolution compare with its significance in Revelation?
  8. Romanticism is often associated with radical individualism, and much Romantic poetry focuses on the struggles of the individual will to break or transcend its social and metaphysical bonds. Millenarianism, on the other hand, consists of the expectation of the fulfilment of God's providential design, in which the place left for individual human agency is limited if not nonexistent. The French Revolution could thus be viewed either as the work of heroic individuals struggling for liberty or as an act of God. What is the role of the individual in poems such as Coleridge's Religious Musings, Blake's America, and Wordsworth's Descriptive Sketches, and Shelley's Queen Mab? How does the vision of history and the individual's role in these works compare with the later writings of these Romantic poets? What might explain this?
  9. Another source of the expectations that a blissful outcome of history was at hand — in addition to biblical apocalypses — was the Roman poet Virgil's prophecy, in his fourth Eclogue, of the return of a lost golden age.
    1. What themes and images of Virgil's poem are taken over in the millennial passages of Wordsworth's Descriptive Sketches?
    2. Are there Virgilian echoes in other poets' millennial responses to the French Revolution?
    3. What does Virgil's prophecy have in common with biblical apocalypses? In what ways does it differ?
  10. Percy Bysshe Shelley was born in 1792, the year of the deposition of Louis XVI and the September massacres in Paris. Like those of the first generation of Romantic poets, Shelley's views were shaped by the French Revolution and its aftermath, but he came to maturity in a very different political climate.
    1. In what ways does Shelley's early poem Queen Mab repeat the millenarian view of history expressed by the first generation of Romantic poets in the early years of the French Revolution?

    2. How do the poems which Shelley addressed to the English working class, A Song: "Men of England" (NAEL 8, 2.770), England in 1819 (NAEL 8, 2.771), and To Sidmouth and Castlereagh (NAEL 8, 2.771), compare, in their vision of history and of social struggle, to Shelley's earlier Queen Mab and to the works of the first generation of Romantic poets?
  11. Prose writers contemporary with the Romantic poets were also deeply affected by the French Revolution. Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790) in response to Edmund Burke's hostile Reflections on the Revolution in France and lived in France in the climactic years from 1793 to 1794. William Hazlitt saw the revolution as the source of The Spirit of the Age (1825). The prose of Thomas Carlyle, historian of the revolution, epitomized this turbulent spirit. Consider the explicit or implicit significance of the French Revolution and apocalyptic expectations in one of the following:
    1. Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (NAEL 8, 2.170–95).
    2. William Hazlitt's Mr. Wordsworth from The Spirit of the Age.
    3. Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus (NAEL 8, 2.1005) and The French Revolution.

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