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Radical London Conference. Radical insofar as it’s being held in Aberdeen. Day 2.

April 18, 2015


Ah, Day 2.  A full programme.

Woken again by seagulls.  I don’t know how anybody in Aberdeen ever oversleeps for anything for any reason.  A full breakfast and a healthy stroll brought us to a papers on “The London Problem” and reactions to the American War of Independence.

Discussion concerned…. to what extent is London a “problem” – a fatal oversetting imbalance in the eighteenth-century economy, and to what extent is it a means by which “Britain” can succeed through a microcosmic divisions? Perhaps the very divisions in the London Corresponding Society illustrate how a campaigning movement could grow and spread and stay the same at one and the same time.

Were people in London “happy” when the American War of Independence ended?  Which people were happy?  Why were they happy?  And what were the unhappy people unhappy about?  Why is it that “Peace” is so hard to depict, to paint, to describe compared to war?

The panel overran, which was fine, and then on to coffee and then on to a discussion of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, print culture and the reception of American poetry in London at the beginning of the nineteenth century, in particular the reception of the poetry of Joel Barlow?  Right-wing commentators just didn’t like the radical Barlow – fine.  But a lot of other people didn’t like Barlow either?  Was Barlow just not very good?  Was Barlow too much for “soft-left” liberals to swallow?  What were people saying when they didn’t like Barlow and was the real problem, a problem with epic, a problem with long po-faced poems with titles ending in “iad”.

Some nice sandwiches.

And then we had a long discussion about Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Sir James Mackintosh, the kind of investment in metropolitan Britishness made by Scottish merchants in London.  Coleridge did not come out of this conversation very well.  He rarely does.

(I got to think about the paradoxes of being “London-Scottish”, from the eighteenth-century to the present day.  Certain people you could assuredly identify as “London-Scottish”, including Rod Stewart and Gordon Ramsay.  But the Scots of London have never lived in “London-Scottish” neighbourhoods.  They have never clustered together in in order to provide communal support in the way that the London Irish always have?  Why?  Why is this?)

And… we finished the formal part of the day with talks about Robert Thomson’s radical songs for the London Corresponding Society.  We saw a great list of toasts, and enjoyed a brief stuggle with the confused publication history of old tunes with dangerous politicised lyrics.  Meanwhile, we heard about Iolo Moragnwg, a Welsh poet in London, who wrote “Escape from London” poems in which Glamorgan was mythologised in welsh language lyrics which were both emotionally immediate and yet mythologically dense.

And then we went off somewhere in a little bus – to a huge great castellated hotel with high oak ceilings and antlers and pictures of pipers and a deal of food and quaffing.  Our conversation last night was, if anything, even more erudite and intellectually demanding – and if I ever remember any of it, I may think to write some of it down.



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