Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Whew. Finally an abstract

Here's the text of my abstract for Appositions so far:

“Some Gothicq barbarous hand”: poetry and public policy in Samuel Daniel’s epistle to Prince Henry

In the first decade of the seventeenth century, England’s overseas adventure in the Virginia colony was the subject of a variety of literary attention. Much of this amounted to little more than shameless propaganda, marked by buoyant optimism and a resolute invocation of imperial destiny, the dominant historical metanarrative. Not all literature associated with the Viriginia expedition is part of these well-known public propaganda efforts, however.  There were significant minority opinions such as those expressed by Samuel Daniel in his verse epistle addressed to the heir to the throne, Prince Henry Frederick, a young man just beginning to assume important responsibilities.  Daniel’s poem is unusual for several reasons. First, as a verse epistle addressed to a public figure, it is far closer to dialogue than to panegyric. Second, unlike so many of his peers, Daniel writes a carefully constructed argument against discovery and plantation. And Daniel’s argument works not by refuting the claims of the propagandists but by playing on the implicit fear behind the metanarrative of imperial destiny itself.  The very ease and wealth that were the advertised results of plantation would, Daniel feared, introduce an “asiatique” weakness to an English character already marred by “immoderate humours.” Eventually England’s new empire would fall prey to some savage “Gothicq” race, and America would prove to England as “Asia to Rome.”  Finally, unlike other literary texts in the period, Daniel’s epistle may have had practical results in Prince Henry’s choice of the rigorous Thomas Dale as the next governor of the Virginia colony. Drawing on sources ranging from early modern historians to medical texts, I argue that poems like Daniel’s show the extent to which historical metanarratives, the traditional province of poetic expression, were at the center of literary contributions to public policy.  When early modern English poetry engaged most directly with matters of public policy, it did so at the fault lines of the dominant metanarrative.

Let me know what you think.


  1. I like this abstract a lot! (and congrats on the acceptance). I'm intrigued by his use of the term "gothic" -- but perhaps he is just referring to the actual goths (visi, ostro?) and just the whole idea that colonization etc will be the downfall of the Empire. I can't help thinking of Gibbon, but he's so much later, which leads me to wonder about sources of this particular metanarrative, there must be earlier ones (Roman?) that Daniel is drawing on? Guess I'll have to read the article.

  2. I'm so excited you commented! This use of Gothic is actually fairly new in the early modern period. Daniel's use (Gothic as savage/crude) FAR predates anything recorded in the OED (1695 is the first in the OED). And you're right that this metanarrative is a lot like Gibbon's. I think that's because these fears accompany English imperialism early and for a long time. They are like a kind of dark underbelly of imperialist optimism. The cool thing, from my perspective, is that I can be in on it from the start, as it were.