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The Crimean War in Victorian Poetry


Tai-Chun Ho

Cast in the shadow of the soldier-poets of the First World War, Victorian war poets have often been disparaged as «armchair patriots» glorifying military action in an unthinking fashion. Challenging this long-standing assumption, The Crimean War in Victorian Poetry considers the evolution of the figure of the homefront poet and explores the daunting task of representing war from a civilian perspective.

By virtue of the medium of modern reportage, the Crimean War (1854-1856) witnessed the inauguration of the civilian spectatorship of distant suffering, provoking a heated debate over the concept of the war poet and the function of war poetry during moments of national crisis. Confronted with news of soldiers’ hardships and of the distress caused by the government’s mismanagement of war, the so-called armchair poet sought ways of addressing the problem of pain and adversity from a distance and of engaging with the politics of war by composing lines of verse at home.

This is the first book-length study to examine the predicaments and achievements of mid-Victorian war poets. It provides historically nuanced readings of how a diverse group of British poets – ranging from the Poet Laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson to the highly acclaimed female poet Louisa Stuart Costello – fought a literary war as they reworked the established traditions of war poetry and experimented with poetic forms in response to news of distant combat.

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Chapter 2: The Afterlives of Campbell and ‘The Soldier’s Dream’


On 10 August 1854, in the House of Lords, Lord John Campbell appealed to the Prime Minister Lord Aberdeen for government help to secure a site in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey for the erection of a statue of Thomas Campbell (1777–1844).1 Following the death of Campbell in June 1844, a committee had been established to erect a memorial to the poet in Westminster. As friends of the late poet, Lord Campbell and Aberdeen not only served as pallbearers during the poet’s funeral procession in Westminster on 3 July, but also as committee members for ‘The Campbell Monument’.2 Although Campbell was a highly esteemed poet and his works were already popular in his lifetime, the committee’s public subscription campaign was far from successful. On 23 August 1844, ‘An Englishman’, in a letter to the editor of The Times, proclaimed that he had read the committee’s advertisement for subscriptions to Campbell’s memorial with ‘feelings both of surprise and regret’. He criticized the proposal to squeeze another memorial into the crowded space of the abbey, pointing out that ‘the highest tribute of respect which can be paid to the dead’, the funeral at Westminster, ‘has been already paid to Campbell’ and that if a statute of the poet were to be erected, it should be placed in Glasgow, his birthplace, where it ‘may have its due moral influence’ on the youth of Scotland. He asked, ‘what ←77 | 78→influence … will it have in Westminster Abbey?’3 Though the sculptor William...

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