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Rethinking British Romantic History, 1770–1845$
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Porscha Fermanis and John Regan

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199687084

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199687084.001.0001

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A ‘poor crotchety picture of several things’

A ‘poor crotchety picture of several things’

Antiquarianism, Subjectivity, and the Novel in Thomas Carlyle’s Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell

(p.94) 4 A ‘poor crotchety picture of several things’
Rethinking British Romantic History, 1770–1845

Porscha Fermanis

Oxford University Press

This chapter argues that Thomas Carlyle’s Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell (1845) enacts a methodological struggle between the ‘artist’ and the ‘workman’, associating the ‘artist historian’ with new kinds of subjectivity primarily connected with the emergence of the novel while correlating the ‘workman’ with an antiquarian attention to empirical detail. The literary model Carlyle draws upon for his characterization of the artist is that of the eighteenth-century epistolary novel, from which he develops a new kind of cognitive or psychological history that is more focused on fashioning a self than on interpreting events in the hermeneutic mode. Yet Carlyle’s methodology is also highly empirical, as the artist must adopt the techniques of the workman in order to ‘impersonate’ his historical subject. This duality not only disrupts teleologies about the development of the modern historical method but also points to the ambivalent relationship between history and literature in the period.

Keywords:   Thomas Carlyle, Oliver Cromwell, Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell, subjectivity, antiquarianism, cognitive history, epistolary novel, empiricism, psychology, methodology

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