This chapter explores and, to some degree, reconceptualises the widespread modern-day critical view that the eighteenth-century construction of the trope of “natural genius” tended to imprison the eighteenth-century laboring-class poets within limiting and undesirable cultural identities. The chapter examines works by two of the most controversial and widely discussed laboring-class poets of the late century – including “To Mr ****, an Unlettered Poet, on Genius Unimproved” and “Addressed to Ignorance, Occasioned by a Gentleman’s desiring the Author never to assume a Knowledge of the Ancients” by Ann Yearsley, and the mammoth autobiographical epic The Life and Lucubrations of Crispinus Scriblerus by James Woodhouse. It then argues that by the century’s end laboring-class poets did not hesitate to manipulate and “answer back” to the conventions of “natural genius” for their own political, religious, aesthetic and ethical ends. The chapter contends that each poet’s reclamation of “natural genius” as a positive descriptor and attribute helps us to understand their cultural, social and ideological positions at the time they wrote these works, as well as reconfiguring our ideas about how laboring-class poets interacted with and reacted to the conventions of their promotion to the reading public.
|Title of host publication||A History of British Working-Class Literature|
|Editors||John Goodridge, Bridget Keegan|
|Place of Publication||Cambridge|
|Publisher||Cambridge University Press|
|Number of pages||15|
|Publication status||Published - May 2017|