Sympathy and the State in the Romantic Era: Systems, State Finance, and the Shadows of Futurity

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SYMPATHY AND THE STATE IN THE ROMANTIC ERA: SYSTEMS, STATE FINANCE, AND THE SHADOWS OF FUTURITY. By Robert Mitchell. New York and London: Routledge, 2007. Pp. x + 266. ISBN 0 415 77142 0. £75.00.

Robert Mitchell's complex study combines the seemingly unrelated topics of state finance and financial crises with concepts of sympathy and their influence on the literature of the 'Romantic era'. In an introductory chapter he outlines Great Britain's financial difficulties during the period, addressing topics such as the national debt, the Bank Restriction Act and the debate about the increasing reliance on paper currency. He also explicates concepts central to his study such as 'social systems', 'financial capitalism' and 'affect'. Five chronologically ordered chapters follow. These discuss ideas of 'sympathy' and 'identification' as they are represented in literary texts by various authors. Chapter 1 focuses on the South Sea stock panic of 1720-21 and the impact it had on the theories of sympathy developed in Scottish moral philosophy, especially in David Hume's Treatise of Human Nature. The second chapter focuses on the writings of the sentimental moral philosophers Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Adam Smith, contrasting the very different ideas of identification and sympathy that inform their responses to the importance of the national debt. Chapter 3, through a discussion of works by Ann Yearsley, Hannah More and Samuel Jackson Pratt, explores how anti-slavery poets invoked sympathetic responses from their readers and Chapter 4 discusses the mark left on Wordsworth's poems of 1797-98 by his own experience of debt and financial struggle and the crisis of public credit that occurred at the same time. …