Introduction: Revolutionising the Dead: Burke, Paine, De Quincey

  • David McAllister


Two different but overlapping groups were named as ‘the dead’ in Romantic and early Victorian culture: the familiar dead, who could be named, remembered, and mourned, and another group, the dead as a crowd, a mass, a threatening force. This chapter considers the differences between these two common ways of imagining the dead, before tracing the emergence of a highly politicised debate about their relations to the society of the living. It shows how and why this debate erupted into public view during the Revolution Controversy, the pamphlet war that dominated British responses to the French Revolution throughout the early 1790s. It then traces competing representations of the dead in key texts by Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Thomas De Quincey, as revolutionary, liberal, and conservative writers argued over how the living should imagine the dead. Were they unaccountable tyrants, whose dead hand prevented the people from governing in their own best interests? Benevolent ancestors, from whom the living had inherited a just society and who therefore deserved their obedience and loyalty? Or something else entirely: a problem to be measured, legislated against, reformed, cajoled, cleaned-up, re-positioned, reinterpreted, rethought, and ultimately reimagined?

This chapter identifies the dead as a significant trope in the Revolution Controversy, establishes the link between progressive politics and a desire to reimagine the dead, and shows what was at stake in their literary representation both in the 1790s and beyond.


  1. Alley, Jerom. 1792. A Review of the Political Principles of the Modern Whigs. London: J. Debrett.Google Scholar
  2. Anderson, Benedict. 2006. Imagined Communities. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  3. Belsey, Catherine. 2005. Culture and the Real. Routledge: Abingdon.Google Scholar
  4. Blakemore, Steven. 1988. Burke and the Fall of Language: The French Revolution as Linguistic Event. Hanover/London: University Press of New England.Google Scholar
  5. Bromwich, David. 1989. A Choice of Inheritance: Self and Community from Edmund Burke to Robert Frost. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Burke, Edmund. 1989. Reflections on the Revolution in France. In The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke, ed. L.G. Mitchell and W.B. Todd. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  7. ———. 2015. Speech on Reform of Representation in the Commons. In The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke, ed. P.J. Marshall and Donald Bryant, vol. 4. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  8. Canetti, Elias. 1973. Crowds and Power, trans. Carol Stewart. Harmondsworth: Penguin.Google Scholar
  9. Chadwick, Edwin. 1843. A Supplementary Report on the Results of a Special Inquiry into the Practice of Interment in Towns. London.Google Scholar
  10. Christie, Thomas. 1995. Letters on the Revolution of France. In The Political Writings of the 1790s, ed. Gregory Claeys, vol. 1. London: Pickering and Chatto.Google Scholar
  11. Coleridge, Hartley. 1908. In The Complete Poetical Works of Hartley Coleridge, ed. Ramsay Colles. London: George Routledge.Google Scholar
  12. Collings, David. 2009. Monstrous Society: Reciprocity, Discipline, and the Political Uncanny at the End of Early Modern England. Cranbury: Associated University Presses.Google Scholar
  13. De Quincey, Thomas. 2003. Autobiographic Sketches. In The Works of Thomas De Quincey, ed. Daniel Sanjiv Roberts, vol. 19. London: Pickering & Chatto.Google Scholar
  14. ———. 1845. Suspiria de Profundis: Being a Sequel to the Confessions of an English Opium Eater. Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, March 1845, 269–285.Google Scholar
  15. Dreyer, Frederick A. 1979. Burke’s Politics: A Study in Whig Orthodoxy. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Dickens, Charles. 1860. Uncommercial Traveller XII. All the Year Round, July 21, 348–352.Google Scholar
  17. Dijkstra, Bram. 1996. Evil Sisters: The Threat of Female Sexuality and the Cult of Manhood. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.Google Scholar
  18. Duffy, Eamon. 1992. The Stripping of the Altars. New Haven/London: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Freud, Sigmund. 1953. Mourning and Melancholia. In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud XIV, trans. and ed. James Strachey, 239–260. London: Hogarth Press.Google Scholar
  20. Fosso, Kurt. 2004. Buried Communities: Wordsworth and the Bonds of Mourning. Albany: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
  21. Furniss, Tom. 2000. Cementing the Nation: Burke’s Reflections on Nationalism and National Identity. In Reflections on the Revolution in France: New Interdisciplinary Essays, ed. John Whale, 115–144. Manchester: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Gerrald, Joseph. 1995. The Address of the British Convention assembled at Edinburgh November 19, 1793 to the People of Great Britain. In The Political Writings of the 1790s, ed. Gregory Claeys, vol. 4. London: Pickering and Chatto.Google Scholar
  23. Godwin, William. 1993. Essay on Sepulchres; or, A Proposal for Erecting Some Memorial of the Illustrious Dead in All Ages on the Spot Where Their Remains Have Been Interred. In Political and Philosophical Writings of William Godwin, ed. Mark Philp. London: William Pickering.Google Scholar
  24. Greenblatt, Stephen. 2001. Hamlet in Purgatory. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Harrison, Robert Pogue. 2003. The Dominion of the Dead. Chicago: Chicago University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Jefferson, Thomas. 1829. Memoirs, Correspondence, and Private Papers, ed. Thomas Jefferson Randolph. London.Google Scholar
  27. Lamb, Robert. 2015. Thomas Paine and the Idea of Human Rights. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Laqueur, Thomas W. 2015. The Work of the Dead: A Cultural History of Mortal Remains. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Macaulay, Catherine. 1995. Observations on the Reflections of the Right Hon. Edmund Burke on the Revolution in France. In The Political Writings of the 1790s, ed. Gregory Claeys, vol. 1. London: Pickering and Chatto.Google Scholar
  30. Mackintosh, James. 2008. Vindiciae Gallicae: Defence of the French Revolution: A Critical Edition, ed. Edmund Garratt. Basingstoke: Palgrave.Google Scholar
  31. Marshall, Peter H. 2002. Beliefs and the Dead in Reformation England. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. ———. 1984. William Godwin. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Martineau, Harriet. 1838. Retrospect of Western Travel. London: Saunders and Otley.Google Scholar
  34. Miller, J. Hillis. 1975. The Disappearance of God: Five Nineteenth-Century Writers. Cambridge, MA/London: Belknap Press.Google Scholar
  35. Neocleous, Mark. 2005. The Monstrous and the Dead: Burke, Marx, Fascism. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.Google Scholar
  36. Paine, Thomas. 1992. Rights of Man, ed. Gregory Claeys. Indianapolis: Hackett.Google Scholar
  37. The Political Crisis: Or, a Dissertation on the Rights of Man. In Radicalism and Reform, 1790–92, ed. Gregory Claeys, vol. 3, 149–150.Google Scholar
  38. Price, Richard. 1790. A Discourse on the Love of Our Country. London.Google Scholar
  39. Rights of Citizens, Being an Examination of Mr. Paine’s Principles, Touching Government. By a Barrister. Dublin. 1791.Google Scholar
  40. Ruskin, John. 1904. Modern Painters. In Complete Works of John Ruskin, ed. E.T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, vol. 5, 72. London: George Allen.Google Scholar
  41. Sibley, Mulford Q. 1956. Burke and the New Ancestor Worship. New Republic, March 12, 24–25Google Scholar
  42. Smith, Alexander. 1914. Dreamthorp: A Book of Essays Written in the Country, ed. Hugh Walker. London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Taylor, Isaac. 1836. Physical Theory of Another Life. London: William Pickering.Google Scholar
  44. Thelwall, John. 1995. Sober Reflections on the Seditious and Inflammatory Letter of the Rt. Hon. Edmund Burke to a Noble Lord. In Politics of English Jacobinism: Writings of John Thelwall, ed. Gregory Claeys. University Park: The University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
  45. Weever, John. 1631. Ancient Funerall Monuments. London: Tho. Harper.Google Scholar
  46. Wollstonecraft, Mary. 1995. A Vindication of the Rights of Men, in a Letter to the Right Honourable Edmund Burke. In The Political Writings of the 1790s, ed. Gregory Claeys, vol. 1, 2nd ed. London: Pickering and Chatto.Google Scholar
  47. Wordsworth, William. 1974. A Letter to the Bishop of Llandaff. In The Prose Works of William Wordsworth, ed. W.J.B. Owen and Jane Worthington Smyser, vol. I, 19–66. Oxford: The Clarendon Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • David McAllister
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of English and HumanitiesBirkbeck College - University of LondonLondonUK

Personalised recommendations