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The Crimean War in Victorian Poetry

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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 3: The People’s War: Challenging the Governing Classes

Extract

Soon after England’s declaration of war on Russia, The Times coined the catchphrase ‘the people’s war’, which it repeatedly employed throughout the Crimean campaign to foreground the role of public opinion in checking ministerial war policies. On 6 April 1854, having proclaimed that ‘this is pre-eminently a popular war’ and that ‘[t]he people themselves have insisted on it’, a leader of The Times warned political leaders: ‘had a Minister been found who could connive at the aggressions of Russia … he could not have stood against the unanimous resolution of the people to allow no such outrage on the order and peace of the world.’1 One month later, discussing the government’s new financial policy with regards to the war budget, a leader confidently predicted that ‘[t]he present war is a people’s war, and the people will not object to pay for it’.2 Towards the closing stage of the conflict, on 2 November 1855, a leader of The Times summed up the differences between the battle of Waterloo and the present war:

It was the House of Commons, aided by the aristocracy, that did the work then, – not the people whom it professed to represent … Such a statement would be not only false, but utterly ridiculous, if applied to the present war. It is pre-eminently the people’s war, and, if there is any difficulty, it is in the House of Commons; if there ←111 | 112→is any unsoundness, it is in the aristocracy. The people are the great...

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