Seeing Things: Mesmerism, Spiritualism, and Romantic Poetry, 1836–1855

  • Joseph Crawford
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Literature, Science and Medicine book series (PLSM)


This chapter investigates the rise of mesmerism and spiritualism in Britain, and the attractions that both movements held for authors and admirers of Romantic poetry. The relationship between mesmeric trance states and poetic creativity will be discussed in relation to the writings of J.C. Colquhoun, Elizabeth Barrett, Harriet Martineau, and Chauncey Hare Townshend, all of whom associated the powers of mesmerism with those of the imagination. It compares their pro-mesmeric writings to those of Browning, arguing that his hostility towards both mesmerism and spiritualism was connected to his scepticism regarding visionary poetry, and explores the roles played by mesmerism and poetic inspiration in Barrett’s and Browning’s courtship correspondence. The differing ways in which Barrett and Browning responded to mesmerism and spiritualism serve to illustrate the ways in which beliefs about these subjects were deeply entangled with contemporary controversies over the nature of poetic genius.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joseph Crawford
    • 1
  1. 1.University of ExeterExeterUK

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