The Dulci with the Utile

Allegorical and Utopian Romance
  • A. A. Markley


Hidden today in bibliographies of the early 1790s are two little-known romances that reveal a distinctly creative approach to using the forms of popular fiction to promote the ideals of the radical English reform movement. The first of these, the anonymously authored The Excursion of Osman, the Son of Abdallah, Lord of the Vallies; A Political Romance, was published in Liverpool in 1792. The Excursion of Osman introduces an Oriental prince who travels to a thinly disguised Europe, here called “Slavonia,” and witnesses a variety of peculiar allegorical situations that offer a unique view of one reformist’s opinions on the political situation of the day. Dramatically changing its generic character in its second half, The Exursion of Osman moves from political allegory to sentimcntal abolitionist tale as it alters its focus to the tragic story of an African slave named “Alla-moor” and her sufferings both in Africa and in America. The author explains his goals:

In the first place, I have laboured for thy entertainment—In the second place, for thy information, and in both, for thy benefit, as well as my own. Thou wilt therefore be candid in judging how well I may have succeeded: But I shall not be satisfied with thy candour only: For, in thus blending, or endeavouring to blend, the dulci with the utile, there ariseth a little claim upon thy indulgence; seeing, that thou canst not, in reason, expect so great a portion of the useful, as if it were all useful; nor of the entertaining, as if it were all of that quality.1


French Revolution Late Eighteenth Century Political Corruption British Culture Slave Master 
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  1. 8.
    William Doyle, The Oxford History of the French Revolutio (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 164–65.Google Scholar
  2. 9.
    Nigel Aston, The French Revolution, 1789–1804: Authority, Liberty, and the Search for Stabilit (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 224; see also Doyle, Oxford Histor, 172.Google Scholar
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  4. 31.
    James Raven and Antonia Forster note that this work was sometimes attributed to an H. Whitmore. See The English Novel 1770–1829: A Bibliographical Survey of Prose Fiction Published in the British Isle, gen. eds. Peter Garside, James Raven, and Rainer Schowerling (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), I: 676.Google Scholar
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    Wylie Sypher comments on this novel’s treatment of slavery in Guines Captive Kings: British Anti-Slavery Literature of the XVIIIth Centur (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1942; repr., New York: Octagon Books, 1969), 309–10.Google Scholar
  6. 43.
    See Claeys, introduction to Utopias of the British Enlightenmen, xviii.Google Scholar
  7. 46.
    In the Introduction to their edition of The Emigrants, W M. Verhoeven and Amanda Gilroy point out that the rights of women are left out of Imlay’s utopian vision. Imlay likewise has no place for the Native Americans in his plans, unless they choose to be assimilated into the white community (New York: Penguin, 1998), xl–xli. See also W. M. Verhoeven’s analysis of the novel and its relationship to both Henry Willoughb and to George Walker’s The Vagabon (1799) in “‘New Philosophers’ in the Backwoods: Romantic Primitivism in the 1790s’ Novel,” The Wordsworth Circl 32, no. 3 (Summer 2001): 130–33; and John Seelye’s assessment of the reformist aims of The Emigrant in “The Jacobin Mode in Early American Fiction: Gilbert Imlay’s The Emigrant,” Early American Literatur 22 (1987): 204–11.Google Scholar
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    Gilroy analyzes this episode, as well as the episode involving Caroline’s sister Eliza in “‘Espousing the Cause of Oppressed Women,’” 191–205. Gilroy insightfully points out ways in which the chivalric attitudes of Imlay’s male characters undercut the author’s attempts to represent the promise of America for female emancipation.Google Scholar
  10. 49.
    Anna Neill relates aspects of the novel to Wollstonecraft’s philosophy and writings in “Civilization and the Rights of Woman: Liberty and Captivity in the Work of Mary Wollstonecraft,” Womes Writin 8, no. 1 (2001): 113–14, as does Mazzeo in “The Impossibility of Being Anglo-American,” 63–67.Google Scholar
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    Chris Jones interprets Glenmorris’s loyalty to cause over country as a specific reference to Godwin’s Political Justice “Radical Sensibility in the 1790s,” in Reflections of Revolution: Images of Romanticis, ed. Alison Yarrington and Kelvin Everest (London and New York: Routledge, 1993), 180.Google Scholar

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© A. A. Markley 2009

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