Category: History

Bad Will Scarlet and the Good Sheriff: “Robin Hood: A Tale of the Olden Time” (1819) | Stephen Basdeo

Few Romanticists are aware of the two-volume historical romance Robin Hood: A Tale of the Olden Time, published in Edinburgh in July 1819. A cynic might say that our anonymous author had initially written a generic inheritance drama but decided late in the game, for marketing purposes, to change it into a Robin Hood novel.

The Revolutionary Life of Eugene Sue (Part I) | Stephen Basdeo

It was in the early evening of 26 January 1804 (5 Pluviôse in the Year XII of the French Republic) that several eminent people from French high society were gathered at number 160 Rue Neuve de Luxembourg. Among them was Jean Baptise-François Legros, the Auditor of the Public Treasury. The French military commander Eugène Rose de Beauharnais, who was adopted son of First Consul of the French Republic, Napoleon Bonaparte, was there as well. Also in attendance was Beauharnais’s mother and Napoleon’s wife Josephine Bonaparte—later in this same year, 1804, Napoleon would crown himself Emperor of the French and Josephine would be granted the title of empress. These luminaries of French political and military life were gathered to witness the birth of a child: a novelist who went on to achieve astounding heights of fame in the French literary world–Eugene Sue.

The Comic History of the Peasants’ Revolt | Gilbert Abbot a Beckett

“Ah!” said the bookseller, after a pause; “nothing now succeeds unless it’s in the comic line. We have comic Latin grammars, and comic Greek grammars; indeed, I don’t know but what English grammar, too, is a comedy altogether. All our tragedies are made into comedies by the way they are performed; and no work sells without comic illustrations to it. I have brought out several new comic works, which have been very successful. For instance, The Comic Wealth of Nations; The Comic Parliamentary Speeches; The Comic Report of the Poor-Law Commissioners, with an Appendix containing the Comic Dietary Scale; and the Comic Distresses of the Industrious Population. I even propose to bring out a Comic Whole Duty of Man. All these books sell well: they do admirably for the nurseries of the children of the aristocracy. In fact they are as good as manuals and text-books.”

“Mysteries of the People” (1848): Eugene Sue’s Epic Socialist Novel | Stephen Basdeo

“It graphically traces the special features of class-rule as they have succeeded one another from epoch to epoch, together with the special character of the struggle between the contending classes. The “Law,” “Order,” “Patriotism,” “Religion,” “Family,” etc., etc., that each successive tyrant class, despite its change of form, fraudulently sought refuge in to justify its criminal existence whenever threatened; the varying economic causes of the oppression of the toilers; the mistakes incurred by these in their struggles for redress; the varying fortunes of the conflict;—all these social dramas are therein reproduced in a majestic series of “novels” covering leading and successive episodes in the history of the race—an inestimable gift, above all to our own generation, above all to the American working class.”

M.P. Shiel’s “The Purple Cloud” (1901) | Stephen Basdeo

“The empires of civilization have crumbled like sandcastles in a horror of anarchy. Thousands upon thousands of unburied dead, anticipating the more deliberate doom that comes and smokes, and rides and comes and comes, and does not fail, encumber the streets of London, Manchester, Liverpool … the fields lie waste, wanton crowds carouse in our churches, universities, palaces, banks, hospitals … in several towns the police seem to have disappeared.”

The Forest Rebel | Stephen Basdeo

Almost all western societies hold in reverence two “anonymous” figures: the worker and “the unknown soldier.” Ernst Jünger would have us venerate a third figure: The Forest Rebel. The Forest Rebel has been present in nearly every society and is a symbol of resistance to tyranny.

Pierce Egan’s “Robin Hood” and the Victorian “Standard English Novels” Literary Canon | Stephen Basdeo

This post examines the creation of the Victorian “Standard English Novels” series. This is because we have a strange situation in Robin Hood scholarship. Minor and unimportant works of authors like Thomas Love Peacock receive too much attention and their importance in the legend’s history is overemphasised. Meanwhile the works of major Victorian authors, who were considered “canonical” and as one of the “masters of English novels” in their day, receive very little critical attention.

Pandemic in Vienna | G.W.M. Reynolds

“Those black spots indicated a condition of putrid decomposition;—the tongue grew also black, and swelled so as nearly to suffocate the victim —lolling out of his parched mouth, and between his livid lips, and experiencing a thirst so burning that no beverage, however sharp or acid, could assuage that agonizing sensation:—large gouts of thick black blood were expectorated;—the breath exhaled an odour so nauseating that it was pestilence itself;—and violent pains crowned the infernal torments which the wretched patient thus endured.”

The Assassin | G.W.M. Reynolds

“Quick as thought he raised the pistol, and fired it point blank at his opponent. M. Durantal uttered one single cry and fell down dead. At that moment a violent rustling of the boughs was heard close by…”

This story originally appeared in “The London Journal” in 1845.

When the Upper Classes Commit Crime: Eugene Aram (1704–59)

“When the morning appointed for his execution arrived the keeper went to take him out of his cell when he was surprised to find him almost expiring through loss of blood, having cut his left arm above the elbow, and near the wrist, with a razor; but he missed an artery … when he was taken to the place of execution he was perfectly sensible, though so very weak, as to be unable to join in devotion with the clergyman who attended him. He was executed at York, August 6th, 1759, and his body was hung in chains in Knaresborough Forest.”

Rise of the Rogues

“He may cheat cards or snatch purses. He may forge a cheque or a will. He may beg with a painted ulcer, or float a commercial bubble. He may scheme for title and fortune by means of a worldly marriage, or pocket his hostess’s spoons. He may prey on the government as smuggler and illicit distiller, or turn counterfeit utterer. He may play quack, levy blackmail, crack a safe, or even rob on the highway.”