The Race Idea and the Romantics: Coleridge and De Quincey

  • Peter J. Kitson
Part of the Nineteenth-Century Major Lives and Letters book series (19CMLL)


The focus of this first chapter has been narrowed to consider the importance of one of the languages of racism from the mid-eighteenth century to the early nineteenth century, that is, “classic racism,” the “racism of ideology” or “scientific racism.” This involves the affirmation in scientific and literary discourses that humanity can be divided into certain distinct groupings on the basis of common physical (and often moral and intellectual) characteristics that were regarded as hereditary. This is not to be taken as an argument that “racism” did not exist before biological racism was articulated and developed, nor that it disappeared when that form of belief began to lose credibility, particularly after the atrocities of German National Socialism. The rationale for focusing my discussion in this way is determined by the growing importance of the race idea in the period under discussion, as, increasingly, the leading, though never the exclusive, paradigm for discussing human variety. It may well be that this is a discussion of the surface language or one of the idioms of racism and not the deep structure or grammar of the ideology that David Theo Goldberg attempts to delineate in his work. Nevertheless, by juxtaposing an understanding of this idiom in a number of areas, we may also gain some understanding of how the deep structure of racism, the underlying bass notes of the symphony, reveals itself in its leitmotif.


Human Species Early Nineteenth Century Comparative Anatomy Romantic Period Slave Trade 
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© Peter J. Kitson 2007

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  • Peter J. Kitson

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