Feeling British: Sympathy and National Identity in Scottish and English Writing, 1707-1832

Feeling British: Sympathy and National Identity in Scottish and English Writing, 1707-1832

Feeling British: Sympathy and National Identity in Scottish and English Writing, 1707-1832

Feeling British: Sympathy and National Identity in Scottish and English Writing, 1707-1832

Synopsis

Feeling British argues that the discourse of sympathy both encourages and problematizes a sense of shared national identity in eighteenth-century and Romantic British literature and culture. Although the 1707 Act of Union officially joined England and Scotland, government policy alone could not overcome centuries of feuding and ill will between these nations. Accordingly, the literary public sphere became a vital arena for the development and promotion of a new national identity, Britishness. Feeling British starts by examining the political implications of the Scottish Enlightenment's theorizations of sympathy the mechanism by which emotions are shared between people. From these philosophical beginnings, this study tracks how sympathetic discourse is deployed by a variety of authors - including Defoe, Smollett, Johnson, Wordsworth, and Scott - invested in constructing, but also in questioning, an inclusive sense of what it means to be British.

Excerpt

Daniel Defoe was getting frustrated. despite the fact that more than half a decade had passed since the 1707 Act of Union between England and Scotland was ratified, the Scottish parliament was dissolved, and Westminster was made the official seat of the new British government, things were not going smoothly. Although the first Jacobite Rebellion was still more than a year away, Defoe seemed to sense that resistance to the Union was growing on both sides of the border. the full title of his 1713 pamphlet, Union and No Union. Being an Enquiry into the Grievances of the Scots. and how far they are right or wrong, who alledge that the Union is dissolved, suggests that public confidence in the newly expanded nation-state was already low. Defoe’s bitterness at this state of affairs is evident: “That the Kingdoms of England and Scotland are united by an establish’d Constitution, and formed both into One Body, now called the Kingdom of Great Britain, which Constitution is called the UNION; this is well enough known. But that there is Union little enough among us, as well about the Establishment of that Constitution it self, as about the Observing or not Observing the Articles made between us, is the great Misfortune of Both Nations.” This opening statement expands the double entendre of the pamphlet’s title. On the one hand, many were already saying that the Union had been nullified by mutual transgressions (which Defoe did not believe); on the other hand, Defoe knew that the existence of a political Union did not necessarily guarantee national unity. While he was very aware of specific causes of dissatisfaction with the Union—indeed, the bulk of this pamphlet is devoted to assuaging grievances concerning the Act’s measures regarding religion, government, and especially property taxation—Defoe was also committed to the idea that the Union was both right and necessary. Accordingly, he is “very sorry to note a Truth so little to our Consolation”: “that a Firmer Union of Policy with Less Union of Affection has hardly been known in the whole World.”

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