Robert William Rix »

Robert W. Rix has published widely in several areas relating to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: politics, religion, language, nationalism, Nordic antiquarianism, and book history. One area of interest has been the work and print culture practices of William Blake and his contemporaries, especially in relation to the subcultures of English religious radicalism. In recent years, Rix has also written on the history and perception of the Arctic. Related to this area of inquiry is his forthcoming book, which is entitled The Vanished Settlers of Greenland: In Search of a Legend and its Legacy (Cambridge University Press).

Copyright Information

This article is © 2022 The Author and is the result of the independent labour of the scholar credited with authorship. Unless otherwise noted, the material contained in this journal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 (CC BY-NC-ND) International License.
Date of acceptance: 16 September 2019.

Referring to this Article

R. W. RIX. ‘Fugitive Text: Robert Southey and S. T. Coleridge’s Ballad of the Devil’, Romantic Textualities: Literature and Print Culture, 1780–1840, 24 (Winter 2021)

Online: Internet (date accessed): http://www.romtext.org.uk/articles/rt24_064/
PDF DOI:10.18573/romtext.64

Fugitive Print

Robert Southey and S. T. Coleridge’s Devil-Ballad

Abstract Abstract

Abstract: The article examines the print history of Robert Southey and S. T. Coleridge’s co-written but anonymously published ‘The Devil’s Thoughts’ (1799). Over more than three decades, the ballad was transcribed, reprinted, and imitated. Most notably, an illustrated edition of 1830—erroneously ascribed to the classical scholar Richard Porson—enjoyed much popularity in the market for print, allegedly selling fifteen-thousand copies. The satirical poem aims its barbs at lucrative but immoral professions (lawyers, apothecaries, and booksellers), but government policies on prisons and support for war with France are also criticised. The article aims to discuss the poetical and political reasons why the two poets were reluctant to acknowledge the authorship of the satire. Examining the ballad’s various reproductions provides an illuminating case study of how nineteenth-century print culture could exploit popular texts that were placed in the public domain. The discussion will be divided into three sections. The first section will examine the poem’s genesis and unpack its most significant allusions in the context of contemporary print satire. The second section will document the reproduction trajectory of a Romantic-period poem that was dispossessed for most of its popular lifespan. The final section will critically examine how entrepreneurs in the book market cashed in on the popularity of the illustrated version (1830) by publishing several derivative compositions in hasty succession.

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