Black books: Sedition, circulation, and The Lay of the Last Minstrel

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Abstract

This article identifies the book of spells as a key figure in Scottish Romanticism that links Walter Scott's early poetry to the politics of reading. Tracing the trope of the book as both discursive text and magical object through protests against military conscription, the trial of Thomas Muir for sedition, and Scott's narrative poem The Lay of the Last Minstrel, I situate the text between the political violence of the 1790s and the establishing of a new literary culture in early nineteenth-century Edinburgh. Scott's poem both enters and resists this new republic of letters, allowing it to be invaded by forms of radical reading from the previous decade. The magic book of the poem, with its inherent power and mysterious circulation, recalls the function of Thomas Paine's Rights of Man in the prosecution of Muir, and the use of books as political symbols in the militia protests.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)197-223
JournalELH: English Literary History
Volume81
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 10 Mar 2014

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