Academic journal article Studies in Romanticism

Waterloo, Napoleon, and the Vision of Peace in Louisa Stuart Costello's the Maid of the Cyprus Isle

Academic journal article Studies in Romanticism

Waterloo, Napoleon, and the Vision of Peace in Louisa Stuart Costello's the Maid of the Cyprus Isle

Article excerpt

IN BOTH WOMEN WRITERS AND NINETEENTH-CENTURY MEDIEVALISM (2009) and the "Introduction" to her edition of Elizabeth Tothridge Costello's 1809 novel The Soldier's Orphan: A Tale (2001), Clare Broome Saunders casts new light on the life and career of Elizabeth's daughter, Louisa Stuart Costello, a once celebrated but now scarcely known Irish miniaturist and author whose "contemporaries regarded [her] so highly that in 1845 her request for a civil list pension was granted." (1) An intelligent and marketable talent, Costello published histories, such as the four-volume Memoirs of Eminent Englishwomen (1844), and translations, such as Specimens of the Early Poetry of France (1835) and The Rose Garden of Persia (1845), but seemed to excel as a travel writer who, as Teresa A. Lyle suggests, "created [her] own grand tour experience" and then "unabashedly offered her work as a major contribution to the growing travel literature on Europe." (2) Works in this vein include her two-volume A Pilgrimage to Auvergne, from Picardy to Le Velay in 1842, her The Falls, Lakes, and Mountains, of North Wales in 1845, and her A Tour to and from Venice, by the Vaudois and the Tyrol in 1846, as well as several "Sketches of Legendary Cities" for Bentley's Miscellany, including pieces on Shrewsbury, Bath, Tintern Abbey, and Bristol. Here and elsewhere, Costello's independence of mind, strength of spirit, and originality of style distinguish her as "an important anomaly" whose confidence in her own perceptiveness and narrative skills helps to render the illusion that she traveled alone across the United Kingdom and the Continent. (3) If her Victorian-era prose sets Costello apart as especially self-assured and intellectually vivacious, as Lyle claims, then these qualities have their nascence in Costello's Regency-era debut volume, The Maid of the Cyprus Isle (1815), or, more precisely, in a triptych of topical companion poems--"On Reading the Account of the Battle of Waterloo," "Verses, on the Picture of the King of Rome, Holding Violets," and "Napoleon, on his Residence in St. Helena"--that hints at the assertiveness and independence we find in Lyle's portrait of the Victorian traveler. These poems indicate their author's cosmopolitan outlook, a frame of mind that recalls first-wave Romantics such as Mary Robinson, Helen Maria Williams, and Charlotte Smith while reflecting the resistance of some second-wave Romantics to the often bloodthirsty triumphalism then widespread in Britain (as captured, for example, by the original version of William Wordsworth's Thanksgiving Ode). (4) This cosmopolitanism excites particular interest in light of the poet's age. Like Felicia Hemans, Eleanor Anne Porden, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and the Canadian novelist Julia Catherine Beckwith, Costello showed precocious creative gifts: her first book appeared when, by all accounts, she was sixteen years old. (5) But unlike Hemans or Shelley, Costello is a lost Romantic voice who remains neglected even as very recent work from Stephen C. Behrendt and Beth Lau excites fresh interest in the recovery and recontextualization of such voices, (6) The recovery of her work becomes a more compelling task when we consider Saunders's claim that this author's art and thought epitomize "the permeable nature between Romanticism and Victorianism," which positions Costello as a "Romantic Victorian," to borrow a phrase from Jane Stabler's superb study of the Brownings vis-a-vis Byron and Percy Shelley. (7) Because Costello belonged, again like Hemans, Shelley, and Barrett Browning, to both the late Romantic and early Victorian generations, I believe that a reassessment of the topical poems in her 1815 volume may enhance not only what we know both of Costello and of mid-Regency political poetry, but also, ideally, what we know of the interrelationships between the Romantic and Victorian imaginations. In short, the reevaluation of Costello's fledgling Romantic verse presents an opportunity to amplify our understanding of Stabler's notion of the Romantic Victorian through selective analysis of an author who witnessed both the Age of Napoleon and the Age of Victoria. …

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