Specimen poetics: botany, reanimation, and the Romantic collection

Porter, D. (2017) Specimen poetics: botany, reanimation, and the Romantic collection. Representations, 139(1), pp. 60-94. (doi: 10.1525/rep.2017.139.1.60)

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This essay argues that the modern literary anthology—and specifically its aspiration to delimit both aesthetic merit and historical representativeness—emerged as a response to changes in eighteenth-century botanical collecting, description, and illustration. A dramatic upsurge in botanical metaphors for poetic collections around 1800 was triggered by shifts in the geographies, aims, and representational practices of botany in the previous century. Yoking Linnaean taxonomy and Buffonian vitalism to Hogarth’s line of beauty, late eighteenth-century botanical illustrations imbued plucked, pressed specimens with a new vitality. Erasmus Darwin’s Botanic Garden (1789, 1791) translated the aesthetic reanimations of visual art into a collection of poetic specimens, spurring compilations that promote a vitalist standard of literary value. By rejecting aesthetic reanimation as the figurative ground for poetic collecting, Charlotte Smith and Robert Southey forward an alternative historical model of literary merit, one grounded in the succession and continuity of representative literary types. These competing metrics for selection and valuation underwrite the anthology as we know it today.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Porter, Dr Dahlia
Authors: Porter, D.
College/School:College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Journal Name:Representations
Publisher:University of California Press
ISSN (Online):1533-855X
Published Online:07 August 2017
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2017 © The Regents of the University of California
First Published:First published in Representations 139(1):60-94
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher.

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