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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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‘The fanciful traditions of early nations’

‘The fanciful traditions of early nations’

History, Myth, and Orientalist Poetry in India Prior to James Mill

(p.54) 2 ‘The fanciful traditions of early nations’
Rethinking British Romantic History, 1770–1845

Daniel Sanjiv Roberts

Oxford University Press

This chapter considers the assimilation of Indian mythology by British poets and historians in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Indian myths are often subjected to European modes of thought and governance in texts which exhibit an uneasy mix of Hindu mythological history and orthodox Enlightenment modernity, but the chapter argues for a pre-Mill British milieu surprisingly open to a historiography predicated on imaginative manoeuvres. It suggests that Indian mythological narratives opened up avenues of allegorical historical truth for writers of orientalist verse, such as William Jones and Robert Southey, confounding and sometimes even correcting the generic expectations of European history and criticism. Although poets like Southey increasingly repudiate Hindu mythology, poems such as The Curse of Kehama (1810) have their genesis in an intellectual environment more sympathetic to the convergence of myth and history than one might expect.

Keywords:   India, mythology, mythography, history, orientalism, Robert Southey, James Mill, William Jones, The Curse of Kehama

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