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The University of Southampton

‘The most pathetic ideas of fallen greatness’: British accounts of Poland, 1772-1830 Seminar

Southampton Centre for Nineteenth-Century Research
16:00 - 18:00
6 March 2019
Building 04 Room 4055 Highfield Campus University of Southampton SO171BJ

For more information regarding this seminar, please email Dr Aude Campmas at .

Event details

Part of the Southampton Centre for Nineteenth-Century Research seminar series 2018/19. All welcome.


This paper investigates a series of commentaries on Poland written by British travel writers, novelists and poets in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. The period, I argue, saw a sea-change in views on Polish affairs. Most writers who concerned themselves with the Polish and Lithuanian Commonwealth before the 1790s viewed it as an example of a failing polity. Poland’s primary characteristics, it was assumed, were its political anarchy, its commercial backwardness and its religious fanaticism. Conceptions, however, altered in the wake of the partitions enacted by Austria, Prussia and Russia that ultimately resulted in Poland’s elimination as an independent nation state in 1795. While, at one level, the Commonwealth’s demise demonstrated its inherent failings, the perceived injustices of the actions performed by the partitioning powers, and the doomed attempts of the Poles themselves to enact political reform and military resistance, ensured that Poland acquired newfound importance and respect from British commentators. Through an examination of the work of a range of writers, among them William Coxe, Jane Porter and Thomas Campbell, my presentation will trace some of the key features of this shift in attitudes and examine its wider significance for our understanding of late- and post-Enlightenment conceptions of nation, politics and history.

Speaker information

Dr Benjamin Dew, University of Portsmouth. Ben Dew is a Senior Lecturer in English Literature. Ben’s research is principally concerned with early-modern and Enlightenment ideas about history. His monograph, Commerce, Finance and Statecraft: Histories of England, 1600-1780, was published by Manchester University Press in 2018. He has published on a number of Enlightenment-era writers, among them Bernard Mandeville, Paul de Rapin-Thoyras and David Hume, in a range of journals including Modern Intellectual History, Intellectual History Review, and the Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies. In addition, Ben is the editor of The Politics of Tea (Pickering and Chatto, 2010), a scholarly edition of pamphlets concerning tea and the politics of empire in the eighteenth century. Ben’s current research is concerned with ideas of Europe in eighteenth-century historical writing. In 2018, he received a Lewis Walpole Fellowship from the University of Yale to complete work in relation to this project.

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