William Gilbert and Esoteric Romanticism

BookWilliam Gilbert and Esoteric Romanticism

William Gilbert and Esoteric Romanticism

A Contextual Study and Annotated Edition of 'The Hurricane'

Romantic Reconfigurations: Studies in Literature and Culture 1780-1850, 3


June 14th, 2018

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William Gilbert, poet, theosophist and astrologer, published The Hurricane: A Theosophical and Western Eclogue in Bristol in 1796, while he was on intimate terms with key members of Bristol literary culture: Coleridge published an extract from The Hurricane in his radical periodical The Watchman; Robert Southey wrote of the poem’s ‘passages of exquisite Beauty’; and William Wordsworth praised and quoted a long passage from Gilbert’s poem in The Excursion. The Hurricane is a copiously annotated 450 line blank verse visionary poem set on the island of Antigua where, in 1763, Gilbert was born into a slave-owning Methodist family. The poem can be grouped with other apocalyptic poems of the 1790s—Blake’s Continental Prophecies, Coleridge's Religious Musings, Southey's Joan of Arc—all of which gave a spiritual interpretation to the dramatic political upheavals of their time. William Gilbert and Esoteric Romanticism presents the untold story of Gilbert’s progress from the radical occultist circles of 1790s London to his engagement with the first generation Romantics in Bristol. At the heart of the book is the first modern edition of The Hurricane, fully annotated to reveal the esoteric metaphysics at its core, followed by close interpretative analysis of this strange elusive poem.

'Paul Cheshire is unquestionably the world authority on William Gilbert and The Hurricane. Based on extensive original research, this ground-breaking study will return Gilbert to the forefront of critical attention, locating him in relation to more famous contemporaries and setting-out for the first time his esoteric brand of Romanticism and its many affinities with more familiar Romantic authors and texts, ideas and concepts. Presenting its key text—The Hurricane—in full at its centre, the book fills a conspicuous gap in current understandings and opens numerous new avenues for further research.'
Nicholas Roe, Wardlaw Professor of English Literature, University of St Andrews

'This is an unusual book about an unusual man. In his engagingly written, intensively researched study of the life and work of William Gilbert, Paul Cheshire illuminates the hermetic vision underpinning Gilbert’s allegorical poem The Hurricane, and widens its scope to explore the influence of western esoteric thought on the imagination of the Romantic poets in a manner which touches on issues still alive and vital in our own transitional times.'
Lindsay Clarke, Whitbread Prize-winning author of The Chymical Wedding and The Water Theatre

'William Gilbert was a leading member of the utopian, apocalyptic and artistic movement of the 1790s, a remarkable period in British – and European – history. He was a major influence on the Romantic poets, and his presence is felt in Coleridge’s masterpiece, Kubla Khan. Paul Cheshire’s remarkable biography brings this forgotten genius to life, restoring him to his proper place in our artistic and radical history.'
Nicholas Campion, Associate Professor in Cosmology and Culture, University of Wales Trinity Saint David

'Other scholars have worked on The Hurricane and William Gilbert; Cheshire’s account draws on their work and goes a considerable way beyond it (not least in considering the horrors of slavery in this context). The fascination of this neglected figure is made plain, as are the critical implications of a work with both esoteric roots and Romantic repercussions.'
Michael Caines, Times Literary Supplement 

‘Cheshire makes an admirable case for remembering Gilbert… [a] tantalizing study.’
Christy Edwall, The Wordsworth Circle

'Paul Cheshire has done us a service in providing here not only a book that places the poem [The Hurricane] in its cultural and historical milieu but a fully annotated scholarly edition of the poem itself. It is an important new contribution to the expanding literature on Romanticism in Bristol and comes highly recommended. For both its language and its themes, The Hurricane is a poem well worth revisiting.' 
Steve Poole, The Regional Historian

'A provocative and illuminating study of William Gilbert… We may hope that Cheshire’s indefatigable and imaginative research will continue to help us rediscover the eccentric and fearless genius who proudly declared: “I am not understood. ’Tis well. / I understand myself. It is better.”'
Marsha Keith Schuchard, Common Knowledge

'William Gilbert and Esoteric Romanticism provides an excellent basis for further scholarly work, both on Gilbert, and on the esoteric in Romantic culture more generally.'
Jacob Lloyd, The BARS Review

Author Information

Paul Cheshire has written a number of articles on Coleridge and his contemporaries, including a chapter on Coleridge’s notebooks for the Oxford Handbook of S. T. Coleridge. He has also written on the influence of seventeenth century hermetic philosophy on Milton. His initial study of The Hurricane, ‘The Hermetic Geography of William Gilbert’, appeared in Romanticism in 2003.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
List of Figures and Illustrations13
Part One: William Gilbert in Romantic Culture29
1. A Magus of the 1790s: William Gilbert in Bristol and London31
2. Bristol and the First Romantics56
3. ‘With no unholy madness’: Gilbert and Coleridge75
4. ‘My astrological friend’: Gilbert and Southey88
5. The Calenture: Gilbert and Wordsworth103
Part Two: The Hurricane113
The Hurricane: a Theosophical and Western Eclogue. To which is subjoined, A Solitary Effusion in a Summer’s Evening.117
6. The Hurricane and Hermetic Geography177
7. Decoding the Allegory of the ‘Theosophical and Western Eclogue’198
8. Son of a Saintly Slave Owner216
Part Three: Conclusion231
9. Esoteric Romanticism233