The Bengal Annual: A Digital Exploration of Non-Canonical British Romantic Literature


Nature within Romanticism is deeply connected to the idea of the growth of the individual, the sublime, and within The Bengal Annual, Orientalism.

The Romantic sense of nature is that which is opposite to life within human society. To the Romantics, human society lacked the power to help one grow and develop as an individual. As British Romantic poet William Wordsworth describes in "The World is Too Much With Us," 

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! (Wordsworth 2-4). 

The poem's speaker laments the human fixation on money and acquiring meaningless objects. Nature, or the natural world outside of human society, is where one truly is centered and can focus on what matters, such as personal growth, without such meaningless distraction. 

Nature was also a place where one could encounter the sublime, and recognize that the natural world is infinitely more powerful and important than oneself. Describing the raging sea and dizzying cliffs on the shore, poet Charlotte Smith writes of how only a person lacking reason, or a lunatic, can remain unfazed by such sights. 

He has no nice felicities that shrink 
From giant horrors; wildly wandering here, 
He seems (uncursed with reason) not to know 
The depth or the duration of his woe. (Smith 10-14)

The sublime visage of the raging wind, massive waves, and soaring cliff side fills the speaker with horror and terror, which are essential aspects of the sublime. To the Romantics, nature was a powerful force, wild and untamed, bigger than the self and infinitely stronger. Through the sublime in nature, one understood their true place in the world.

However, it is important to note that not all Nature is equal in the Romantic World. For a full understanding of these concepts, one must examine how they were expressed in all parts of the British Empire. The Bengal Annual reveals that to some British Romantics, only British Nature was supremely sublime and powerful. One of those Romantics was the Annual's Editor, David Lester RichardsonHis use of unflattering nature metaphors to describe Indian Literature portray his nationalist leanings:

The early shoots of [Literature published in India] are choked and overshadowed by the more favoured vegetation of a foreign soil, --sometimes, it is true, lovely, and magnificent, but much more frequently rank, worthless, and noxious. (5)

Richardson uses nature metaphors to compare India and Britain, portraying Indian literature as a foul, stinking weed due to being choked by the public's preference for the stronger British "vines." Therefore, not all nature is awe inspiring in this Romantic's eyes--only his homeland deserves to hold Nature that is powerful and awe inspiring. 

The interpretation of Nature the Annual offers forces a different interpretation of the Romantic concept of Nature. Nature only adheres to the common Romantic idea of a sublime space where one can develop as an individual within the confines of British borders. The reality is that the Romantic notion of Nature is a reflection of the writer's opinion of a nation, portrayed within their descriptions of the Natural world. 

For a more detailed analysis of the connection between Orientalism, Nature, and an essay penned by the editor of the Annual ("The Literati of British India"), click here

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