Romanticism and the Poetics of Attention
Lily Gurton-Wachter



Attention’s Disciplines

We tend to talk confidently about attention as though it were obvious just how and to what one ought to pay it, but what do we spend and what do we gain when we “pay” attention? Despite the implicit sense that attention is part of a neat economic exchange in which one could simply pay it and be done, the word attention contains its own difficulty: from the Latin ad and tendere, “to stretch to,” attention suggests a stretching or bending of the mind toward an object, though not too far, lest one get lost in the object itself.1 And yet this activity also requires a precarious passivity, one Samuel Johnson identified with “the French meaning” of attend, “to wait for.”2 Neither fully active nor passive, neither wholly voluntary nor involuntary, attention again and again evades definition and categorization, and thus escapes our attention. It is extremely difficult, it turns out, to pay attention to attention.3

This book takes up that challenge, though not through the cognitive approaches that have become increasingly familiar in both science and literary study.4 Instead, I investigate how a variety of people at the turn of the nineteenth century in Britain—poets and philosophers, teachers and theologians, politicians and physicians—conceptualized and described attention, how they demanded it of others or complained about its deficits, how they strategized to command it in individuals or to situate it within broader fields of study. This was, I argue, a particularly troubled and rich moment for attention. Before modern psychology became a distinct discipline of study or a profession at the end of the nineteenth century, attention both distinguished and put into curious alignment the seemingly disparate fields of medicine, aesthetics, theology, poetics, pedagogy, ethics, politics, and rhetoric, all of which, we might say, were competing for attention—competing, that is, for readers, and for the authority to define just how and to what one ought to pay attention to begin with.5 Though “attention” is a term, often a command, used to discipline students and soldiers alike, attention during the years known in literary studies as the Romantic period was exceptionally undisciplined, moving between and interlacing these various fields. In resisting categorization, attention was unpredictable and uncontrollable, never a wholly effective tool of either discipline or security.6

The Romantic period, falling directly between the two periods scholars typically look to for psychological or philosophical definitions of attention—namely, the Enlightenment and the Victorian era—was a volatile interdisciplinary moment in attention’s history, coming in Europe just prior to the development of psychology, a field that would try to adopt attention as its own. Psychological definitions of attention, though, proved complicated as well: in 1905, German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus would complain that “attention is a real embarrassment to psychology.”7 Most accounts of attention skip over, perhaps with a similar sense of embarrassment, the turn of the nineteenth century, typically locating the origin of our modern struggle with attention considerably later. Jonathan Crary’s pivotal study of the history of attention, Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle, and Modern Culture, pinpoints the emergence of attention as a problem in the 1870s and 1880s, when Crary identifies a uniquely modern distraction as an effect and a constituent element of multiple attempts to produce and maintain attentiveness in human subjects.8 Recent shifts in this history have noted that the late nineteenth-century mania for attention borrowed and revived a quieter concern from a century earlier, linked to early eighteenth-century Enlightenment philosophy of mind and new concepts of scientific observation.9 Indeed, throughout both the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, psychologists, philosophers, and physicians argued over whether attention was voluntary or involuntary; whether it was an act of the will or an irresistible and spontaneous reflex of the mind; a quality of mature, adult concentration, or of a child’s wonder. They debated the distinctions between attention, reflection, and consciousness; the possibility of attending to more than a single object at once; whether we can refuse to hear or see by withholding our attention; whether attention to a passion rather than to its object increases or diminishes the passion; whether forgetting is always or only caused by inattention; and whether it is possible to attend to attention itself. Before psychology arrived to discipline it, attention oscillated widely and wildly from theology to pedagogy, from ethics to medicine, and from poetics to politics. Attention is therefore a rich site for understanding how different disciplines intersected and intertwined in the period, as they competed with each other for the authority to define the experience that now seems as basic and minimal as how we pay attention.

The poetry of this period, I submit, was not just one of these forces competing for attention. This book will argue that in trying to apprehend how their own readers paid attention, Romantic poets grappled with a variety of other disciplines also vying for those readers’ notice. Romanticism is thus exemplary of an interdisciplinary thinking that understands itself as constituted by the modes of attention that it also criticizes. Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy famously define Romanticism as neither “mere ‘literature’” nor a theory of literature, but rather “theory itself as literature or, in other words, literature producing itself as it produces its own theory.”10 I would amend that definition here to suggest that Romanticism names a literature that produces itself as inextricable from both the diverse modes of attention cultivated by other disciplines and the alternative modes of attention it makes possible for its own readers. The Romantic texts I focus on use poetic form to experiment with an attention that always comes to bear on, but is never entirely limited to, the experience of reading. This book traces a poetics of attention that thus understands what and how readers notice as constituted and transformed by the modes of scrutiny, focus, watchfulness, and concentration developed in and by other discursive arenas. These include aesthetics, politics, ethics, theology, natural history, pedagogy, medicine, botany, history, rhetoric, and—most controversially, as I will reveal throughout—the strategy and practice of war.

Even armed with psychology’s organizational tools, late-nineteenth-century thinkers found attention baffling. In Matter and Memory (1896), Henri Bergson complains that an adequate definition of attention cannot be found, lamenting that no matter how we attempt to locate it, “we always come back to a metaphor.”11 Similarly, French psychologist Théodule Ribot’s The Psychology of Attention (1888) calls attention an “attitude of the mind, a purely formal state.”12 Though these descriptions of the formal and figural nature of attention are meant to signal frustration, they are also suggestive of why poetry, particularly concerned with form and figure, might have found in attention’s frustrations an aesthetic opportunity.

The Fidgets

Twenty-first-century scientists have recently traced the first documentation of the disorder that we now call Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder to a medical text published in London in 1798, An Inquiry into the Nature and Origin of Mental Derangement, by the Scottish physician Alexander Crichton.13 Crichton, who would later become physician to the Imperial Russian court, devotes an entire chapter to the “morbid alterations to which attention is subject,” one of which he describes as the “incapacity of attending with a necessary degree of constancy to any one object” and “an unnatural or morbid sensibility of the nerves, by which means this faculty is incessantly withdrawn from one impression to another.”14 Contesting the assertion that, in the words of Thomas Reid, “attention is a voluntary act” requiring “an active exertion to begin and to continue it,” Crichton notes a shift in how people were beginning to understand attention at the close of the century.15 His studies insist that attention is often involuntary and that to believe otherwise would be considered, by the 1790s, quite “unphilosophical” (257). Moreover, Crichton suggests that paying too much attention “can prove hurtful,” and he gives a lengthy account of one man whose attention “was constantly kept on the stretch, and was continually shifting from one subject to another” (270). Following one such intense “stretch,” the man tries to write a simple note but cannot find his words (289). He has such a “morbid” case of what Crichton earlier called “the fidgets” that he cannot even speak (272). This overlooked text in the history of attention marks the first medical attempt to understand what Shakespeare had called the “malady of not marking” as in fact an actual malady for doctors to diagnose.16

Seventeen ninety-eight is also the year of a more well-known event in the history of attention, though it has not yet been thought of in this context: namely, the publication of Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which was accompanied two years later by Wordsworth’s complaint in the volume’s “Preface” about a degradation of attention among British readers more pervasive and general than that Crichton described. Wordsworth’s famous diagnosis of the “state of almost savage torpor” in the minds of British readers—minds altered by the speed and pace of reading daily newspapers and frantic novels—is a complaint about attention, and an explicit indictment of his own readers’ “organs of attention,” or lack thereof.17 The fact that Wordsworth blames this communal attention deficit disorder on the “great national events which are daily taking place” and the “increasing accumulation of men in cities, where the uniformity of their occupations produces a craving for extraordinary incident, which the rapid communication of intelligence hourly gratifies,” suggests not just that poetry and newspapers competed for readers’ attentions.18 Rather, Wordsworth’s point is that the political and social transformations of the period, in conjunction with the new media that documented them, altered how people paid attention altogether.19 Indeed, the caricaturist G. M. Woodward’s parody of Charles Le Brun’s depiction of Attention as one of the Expressions of the Passions of the Soul suggests that in the year 1800 attention could not be conceptualized as distinct from the eager listening of what Woodward calls a “newsmonger.” As the nineteenth century began, gone was any reliable distinction between a seemingly neutral physiology of attention and the uneasy passions that emerged from reading the newspaper.20

The “great national events” taking place daily in Britain in the 1790s and 1800s—the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, the sedition trials, and the indefinite suspension of habeas corpus are only a few of the convulsive repercussions of the French Revolution—not only served as the content of the news that readers “craved.” The events themselves, to invoke Walter Benjamin’s story about Baudelaire’s modern urban shock experience, so drastically altered the structure of experience that a poet could no longer count on readers willing and able to pay attention to his words.21 One crucial change in the structure of experience, I will argue, came with the militarization of attention that emerged in the years of the first “total war,” a war that brought “mass arming on an unprecedented scale” that was so consuming that it had to be fought through its civilians’ senses.22 As Mary Favret shows in her pivotal study of Romanticism and war, the pervasive sense of “war at a distance” in the Romantic period meant the “transformation of society not by warfare per se, but by a militarization of institutions, social systems, and sensibilities,” a transformation by which “war invades thought itself.”23 In focusing on attention, this book dilates one especially eccentric way that war can invade thought, and expands the important conversation Favret and others have begun toward issues as far-ranging as scientific observation, reading, sympathy, surveillance, pedagogy, affect, medicine, and prayer—all of which converge in the unruly and undisciplined movement of a Romantic attention pressured by, but not limited to, the demands of war.24 Whereas Favret shows how a number of Romantic concerns were affected by the pervasive sense of war at a distance, this book shows how one central wartime concern—attention—quickly and necessarily expands outward onto a wide variety of issues, since attention itself, even when the military tries to discipline it, resists containment.

The year 1798, that of Crichton’s Inquiry and of Lyrical Ballads, marked, as Jerome Christensen reminds us, “not only the annus mirabilis but also the thunderous dawn of the Napoleonic invasion threat and the heyday of Pitt’s repression.”25 From 1792 until 1815, the years that historians now refer to as the “Great Terror,” war and the constant threat of invasion put immense pressure on the cognitive capacities of British civilians, who were continually exhorted to watch and remain vigilant for an always imminent (though never successful) French invasion.26 In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary finds the first written indication of “Attention!” as a military command in the publication in 1792 of the first official military field manual issued by the British War Office, Rules and regulations for the formations, field-exercise, and movements, of His Majesty’s Forces.27 This text marks the first public, written attempt to use attention to regulate and systematize the movements, postures, and exercises of the British army, preparing forces for “the exact uniformity required in all movements.”28 The manual instructs:

On the word, Attention, the hands are to fall smartly down the outside of the thighs; the right heel to be brought up in a line with the left; and the proper unconstrained position of a soldier immediately resumed.

When standing at ease for any considerable time in cold weather, the men may be permitted, by command, to move their limbs; but without quitting their ground, so that upon the word Attention, no one shall have materially lost his dressing in the line. (6)

The manual provides a precise example of those “small techniques of discipline” that Michel Foucault describes as “the panopticisms of the every day.”29 The unprecedented militarism in these years made this disciplining an urgent and ubiquitous demand, since it was the first war that involved “the complete mobilization of a society’s resources to achieve the absolute destruction of an enemy, with all distinction erased between combatants and noncombatants.”30 Thus, not just soldiers but all civilians, each of whom was considered a “half-soldier,” were asked in popular pamphlets and broadsides to keep watch and wait, providing a kind of prehistory to the slogan of twenty-first-century America: “If you see something, say something.”31 This militarization was so widespread, as Anne Secord has remarked, that even “a quaker pacifist could advocate a system of education in which ‘every one, like a soldier, must be upon the alert—& like soldiers, all at the same moment—thus the attention is kept in constant exercise and no idlers can live amongst them.’32 Though a fixed alertness is certainly always crucial for military movement—Milton wrote of force united “with fixed thought” and Jonathan Crary has recently described the twenty-first-century search for a drug that will allow soldiers to remain awake for seven days at a time—the Romantic period marked a newly explicit attempt to describe, regulate, and standardize attention for military purposes.33

Broadsides warning the British of an imminent French invasion asked for the contribution of all civilians’ loyalism, weapons, and—central to a consideration of attention in the period—their senses, exhorting everyone to “strain every nerve in defense of our native land.”34 Alarmist broadsides often linked national security with a communal and constant watchfulness that enhanced one’s “sense of danger,” asking with reference to the potential invasion, “How . . . are we to avert such horrors?” and responding with the imperative: “by feeling the full extent of your danger.”35 These texts directly linked the security of the state to a stretching and bending of its inhabitants’ nerves and senses, as though a communal feeling of safety itself would cause the nation’s political and military vulnerabilities, and as though indulging the feeling of alarm and fear—“that rational sense of danger”—might do some good.36 Coleridge’s enigmatic wish to “excite in every part of the British empire, THE SENSE OF DANGER, WITHOUT THE FEELING OF FEAR” reveals the urgent yet confused demands on the senses during the period.37 War, these pamphlets reveal, feeds off of an attention defined by the deadening of some kinds of watching in favor of others.38 Romanticism, I will argue, sought to derail that process and reappropriate a mode of attention that, it turned out, was always more mobile and erratic than the state wanted it to be anyway.

This militarized attention quickly took the shapes of surveillance, spying, and alarm. “What I say unto YOU, I say unto ALL: WATCH” was indeed the watchword of the period. Watch and wait, the government ordered, for France of course but also for the subtler, more insidious emergence of French opinion.39 A wartime watchfulness inseparable from fear, surveillance, and suspicion was demanded at all times by a new group of politicians who called themselves, proudly, “alarmists.” And resistance to this “system of alarm,” even simply in the form of an attention to something else, transgressed the political rules just as mental derangement disobeyed the discipline of the mind.40 Thus Crichton’s diagnosis of “the fidgets”—that “disease of attention” from which “every impression seems to agitate the person, and gives him or her an unnatural degree of mental restlessness”—echoed the political malady of attention that proved so contagious in the 1790s: “the political fidgets.” “The patient begins with simple scratching,” Noah Webster explains, satirically diagnosing what he calls this most dangerous kind of fidgetiness, “and soon snarles and bites; he then becomes incoherent; and, in his last ravings, nothing can be heard but congress—treason—election—six dollars a day. All the world cries out, the man is mad! No such thing; he is only fidgety.”41 For anti-Jacobin authorities, calls for political change were best dismissed as a disease of the attentive faculty.

Though the word “fidgetiness” didn’t arrive in English until 1792, both the medical and political diagnoses of the fidgets draw on the familiar, everyday problem of fidgetiness in readers.42 In 1782, the early Romantic poet William Cowper had written about “sedentary weavers of long tales” who “Give me the fidgets, and my patience fails.” He explains: “At ev’ry interview their route the same, / The repetition makes attention lame.”43 Wordsworth’s complaint in the “Preface” to Lyrical Ballads implies that poetry—more particularly, his poetry—aims to correct and counter the effects of newspapers, urban life, and politics on how readers pay attention. This book will investigate just how this response happens in Romantic poetry, but we will not find here the predictable oppositions between an agitated craving for newspapers and a slower, calmer, less distracted engagement with poetry, or between frantic wartime alarmism and a detached, fearless, apolitical, and self-absorbed concentration on verse. There certainly was plenty of support for poetry’s reputation for demanding a more sustained and heightened absorption than other literary forms, and for its ability to refine or cultivate the attention of its readers. In this vein, for example, Coleridge wrote that “there is no profession on earth, which requires an attention so early, so long, or so unintermitting as that of poetry,” and in a letter to Schiller in 1797, Goethe suggested that “poetry demands, nay, it enforces, a collected state of mind.”44 And yet even Goethe’s affirmation of poetry’s collecting powers proves more disturbing than rewarding, since it is also poetry that “isolates man against his will, . . . repeatedly forcing itself on the attention.”45 Over the course of this book, I uncover a Romantic poetics of attention that, moving beyond a blanket demand for heightened readerly absorption, uses verse form to explore attention’s conditions and its limits, its forcefulness and its finitude. This poetics experiments with the rhythms of reading and thus with the media and conditions of receptivity; it encourages modes of divided, doubled, and multiplied attention, in which it finds not a liability but a strength; and it courts a rhythm in verse between attention and its relaxation, between watchfulness and its withdrawal.46 Furthermore, it does not shy away from attention’s oscillation between disciplines. Rather, the poems I discuss engage attention as a formal problem in which they find an opportunity to reflect both on how they will be read and on their relation to various other shapes attention takes—as affective receptivity or as military defense, as an attitude toward other persons or things, or as a condition for knowledge, sensation, or memory. By paying attention to the divergent ways that attention can be paid, Romantic aesthetics pivots on the possibility that how we watch might alter what we notice.

In taking seriously the affective, political, cognitive, theological, and ethical postures taken up by attention, then, the poems I explore not only experiment formally with the reader’s attention but are also about a variety of modes of attention and an assortment of attentive figures, including collectors, animals, historians, soldiers, shepherds, alarmists, hunters, naturalists, doctors, critics, children, and spies—all of which inform how these poems imagine the figure of their own reader. We might say, then, that they actively theorize the experience of reading in a time of tumultuous national events, when the distinction between how and what one reads, again and again, comes undone. And yet while Romanticism understands itself as molded by these other modes of attention, it also turns to form and figure to carve out alternative modes of attention and inattention. Both borrowing from and critiquing the attentive forces it collects, the poems I focus on offer new ways to imagine attention’s shapes, postures, and attitudes—new “geometries of attention.”47 The Romantic poetics of attention that this book unmasks has many faces: it often dismisses the “despotism of the eye” in favor of the more precarious epistemologies of the ear;48 it replaces a proleptic knowledge of what will arrive with an uncertain phenomenology of the foreign; it turns away from commanding prospect views and toward a more minute observation of the ground and its nonhuman surface and history, finding in a minute attention to particulars a liberation from the constraints of both narrative and argument; and it courts the susceptibility and vulnerability that inevitably accompanies every attempt to keep watch and maintain security.49 At times, this poetics borrows from the resonances of a theological attention linked to vigilant practices of mourning and prayer; at other times, it invites the precise moment when a vigilant brace relaxes. It reorients the minimalism of attention to imagine it as an end in itself, in particular for the experiences of both reading and sympathy for which it is typically only a “necessary preliminary.”50 Trying (and sometimes failing) to separate attention from consciousness, memory, fear, sympathy, knowledge, narrative, thought, and other more seemingly elaborate actions, Romanticism develops a poetics of just noticing.

By courting the rhythms of a divided and doubled attention, this poetics makes available views of history that would otherwise overwhelm or elude an observer. In every chapter, attention problems surface in poems that are also about those “great national events which are daily taking place”—poems about war or invasion, surveillance or national alarm. These are poems about witnessing, or failing to witness, history, a term I use to signal both a record of what has already taken place and a historic present, an experience of the contemporary that is marked by an awareness of events so vast and significant that they command and escape any individual’s attention simultaneously.51 The scope of history is one particularly troubling object for an observer whose attention is always limited and selective; consequently, the historic, overwhelming and disappearing all at the same time, emerges over the course of this book as, fundamentally, a problem of attention. This is why, as I suggest in Chapter 5, Keats’s Hyperion has to end abruptly, fragmented by a mortal mind unable to attend to all of history. And this is why, I will discuss in Chapter 3, when Wordsworth goes to Paris in the 1790s he admits that he “scarcely felt the shock” of the Revolution’s “concussions,” but was instead “by novelties in speech / Domestic manners, customs, gestures, looks” first “engrossed.”52 In understanding attention as keyed to historic shifts, these texts also suggest that how we witness, understand, and record historical experience can never be separated entirely from the competing forces that try to determine our notice to begin with. For if grappling with history involves facing war and politics and ethics, then the very object of our historical attention is precisely that which shapes how we pay attention to begin with. Romanticism, I argue, diagnoses this bind and seeks to move beyond it. Experimenting with the formal conditions and rhythms of mental absorption and receptivity, these poets encounter other, more elusive types of experience, those “slight historical etchings” that are inaccessible to a more active, proleptic, and overdetermined vigilance.53

Romantic modes of attention emerge, then, out of a concern about how one might pay attention to national events in ways that resist the state-based regimes of keeping watch. “Silent the colonies remain and refuse the loud alarm,” William Blake writes in America (1793), hailing a refusal to pay attention that was itself a crime, since “every inhabitant is bound to keep watch in his turn,” and “an inhabitant is indictable for refusing to keep watch.”54 Blake’s description later in the poem of the moment when “The morning comes, the night decays, the watchmen leave their stations” (53) similarly joins the everyday rhythms of a watchman’s work shifts with the apocalyptic climax that signals there is nothing left to watch for. One argument that takes shape over the course of this book is that military and political modes of watchfulness became exceptionally forceful players in the competition for attention by remaining so fiercely intolerant of any alternative kind of attentiveness, and the militarization of attention was thus palpably felt by poets seeking to articulate other ways to look and listen. When the military insisted that all civilians keep watch for just one object—a French invasion—they were precluding a whole variety of other kinds and objects of attention, on the grounds that any division of attention would be tantamount to a lapse that would leave the nation dangerously vulnerable to its enemies. Strongly discouraged, then, was the possibility that one might, in Thomas De Quincey’s words, “mind something alien, or remote from the interest then clamouring for attention.”55 Romantic poetry thus practices a “counter-conduct” in cultivating other postures of attention, other “formal states” that engage the narrowness of wartime watchfulness in a direct contest over attention, even as it borrows less polemically from other disciplines.56 To pay attention otherwise, then, could be radical; after all, “government,” wrote William Godwin, “is nothing but regulated force; force is its appropriate claim upon your attention.”57

That said, Romantic authors also hint that the very modes of attention demanded by government could paradoxically lead to these alternative modes of attention to other things, and that minding something alien is an inevitable effect of the temporality of an always mobile attention. In Desmond (1792), her epistolary novel about the French Revolution, Charlotte Smith describes the state of broadened, flexible awareness enabled by alarm. “The truth is,” writes the novel’s protagonist,

Whenever I am not suffering under any immediate alarm, my mind, possessing more elasticity than I once thought possible, recovers itself enough to look at the objects around me, and even to contemplate with some degree of composure, my own present circumstances, and the prospect before me, which would a few, a very few months since, have appeared quite insupportable.58

This passage suggests a resistance to political alarm different from the one that Blake offers in America. Instead of refusing to feel alarm completely, Smith recognizes that alarm can produce an “elasticity” of mind which fosters a kind of looking that would have otherwise seemed impossible. As Favret has written, “However fragile or compromised, the psychology and emotional culture called wartime provides its own responses and sometimes its own resistance to the destructiveness of war.”59 In Things as They Are, or the Adventures of Caleb Williams (1794), Godwin also finds that a painful vigilance and suspicion, one linked in no ambiguous terms to political obedience and tyranny, can enable a similarly enlarged focus. The mode of attention that Caleb calls the “vigilance of tyranny,” a constant state of “vigilance and suspicion,” has surprisingly empowering effects on the mind, immediate effects that “might have been expected from years of observation and experience.”60 Later in the novel, Caleb identifies these effects in terms of susceptibility, admitting, “I was probably indebted to the sufferings I had endured and the exquisite and increased susceptibility they produced, for new energies” (304).61 Both novels insist on a radicalism that resists the oppressive political modes of attention in the period, and yet both also find in political alarm a source of “exquisite” vulnerability when it outlasts its immediate objects and turns elsewhere.

Though these passages appear in novels, this book looks to verse for a formal engagement with this exquisite susceptibility, since poetry, I contend, has particularly concentrated and forceful ways of bringing into view the attention problems that all literature must deal with. In verse, the writers I discuss find a medium in which to experiment with the intensification and relaxation of attention in order to seek other styles of receptivity. This concern among Romantic literary writers in a recovered malleability, in the “susceptibility” that comes not just from attention’s brace but also its relaxation, extends an investigation of the strain and slackening of attention that is at work in the casual everyday movements of reading—a rhythm heightened by the pauses and cadences of verse. Verse form, these writers discovered, puts pressure on the reflexes of attention and inattention that are at work in all reading. Given the troubled status of attention in the period, then, it is perhaps not as straightforward as he would like when Coleridge defines meter as “simply a stimulant of the attention.” Indeed, Coleridge seems aware of the complexity when he adds, tautologically, that it “therefore excites the question: Why is the attention to be thus stimulated?”62 For Joseph Priestley, though, as I will discuss in detail in my first chapter, instead of stimulating the attention, meter divides it: “the appearance of verse of any kind . . . shews a double attention,” a divided attention that moves between two objects. So too does poetic language often ask the reader to swing between sound and sense, between opposing significations of single words, between the vehicle and tenor of a metaphor, or between competing syntaxes. Romantic poetics develops an emphatic doubleness and division of attention that counteracts the teleological single-mindedness of war and politics, on the one hand, and of theology, on the other, since Christian models of an attention focused solely on one God also made powerful claims on British minds. In the chapters that follow, close readings of verse by Blake, Cowper, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Charlotte Smith, and Keats show how poets imagine their readers in ways that are indebted to the various modes of attention they are also critical of. These poems put pressure on poetic language, figure, and form to investigate the ways poetry might alter how a reader pays attention, and to court modes of attention that divide, double, or stray from their initial objects.


Robert Mitchell Meadows’s engravings of Attention and Inattention (1791) remind us of, and play with, the way we often conflate attention and reading. Both images depict a young woman: in Attention she, predictably, concentrates on the book being read to her, and in Inattention she has fallen asleep. The images illustrate the “absorptive tradition” Michael Fried has found in early eighteenth-century paintings that evokes realism through a subject’s rapt attention and obliviousness to being watched.63 The joke here seems to be that the young woman is actually oblivious of the book and absorbed instead in the face of the handsome young man reading it to her, since, as the verse caption asks, “when Loves the theme what eye can close?” “Can that be Love,” Blake asks, evoking a different kind of absorption, “that drinks another as a sponge drinks water?” (50). The woman’s inattention is likewise caused by her lack of romantic interest in the elderly woman reading to her (and her apparent preference for Ovid over Fox’s Martyrs). On the other hand, her inattention is not the frantic fidgetiness Crichton describes. Sleeping beside the reader, the woman appears not only content but fully absorbed in her sleep—just as “absorb’d and lost” in sleep as she was in love.

I borrow the phrase “absorb’d and lost” from William Cowper, who himself borrows it from religious language to describe that “indolent vacuity of thought” that lets the mind sleep. In Book IV of his long poem The Task (1785), Cowper describes an experience of gazing thoughtlessly at the fire, where he finds “strange visages, expressed / In the red cinders.”64 Staring at the faces in the fire, the poet contemplates his own strange visage, as his face masks his indolence:

Meanwhile the face
Conceals the mood lethargic with a mask
Of deep deliberation, as the man
Were task’d to his full strength, absorb’d and lost.
(IV: 298–301)

Cowper’s readers have suggested that the poem has something to do with the task of attention (or, we might consider, as the etymology of “task” implies, its tax).65 These lines complicate that reading insofar as Cowper plays with the way that the task of attention that the face feigns is perhaps more “lost” than the lethargy it hides. For if these lines begin with a seemingly straightforward opposition between a secret mood and a mask that conceals it, foreground and background collapse when the very thing the mask is feigning signals absence rather than the presence it promises. “Absorb’d and lost” could describe both the “mood lethargic” and the “deep deliberation”: after all, if you concentrate on something for too long or too intensely, your concentration may become a blank stare surprisingly close to a lapse in attention, a “sterile act.”66 Both the attentive and the inattentive reader, then, can end up lost. This problem has plagued attention’s theorists. Michael Fried suggests that “absorption and unconsciousness are keyed to one another, to an extent that makes any contrast between them largely empty of meaning.”67 Similarly, Jonathan Crary writes, “attention always contained within itself the conditions for its own disintegration, it was haunted by the possibility of its own excess—which we all know so well whenever we try to look at or listen to any one thing for too long.”68 And in a short fragment titled “Habit and Attentiveness” (1932), Walter Benjamin alludes to the slippery continuum on which attention and distraction lie: “It might be presumed that the soul can be more easily distracted, the more concentrated it is. Yet isn’t this concentrated listening not just the furthest development of attention, but also its end—the moment when it gives birth to habit?”69

Cowper’s “brown study” is famous for echoing Locke’s confession that his soul doesn’t always think.70 Yet it also echoes an important theological model of attention, the goal of which was to lose oneself in its only worthy object: God. Thus we can hear Cowper’s “absorb’d and lost” in John and Charles Wesley’s popular eighteenth-century Methodist hymn: “Thus let me, Lord, Thyself attain, / And give Thee up Thine own again. / Absorbed and lost in Thee.”71 A quick glance over the titles of the Wesleys’ hymns reveals just how pervasive the rhetoric of watchfulness and vigilance was. Almost every hymn in the collection Hymns for the Watch-Night (1744) is about praising and practicing “faith’s most fix’d attention.”72 The Wesleys pick up on a long-standing tradition that understands attention as a theological act or a spiritual operation of the mind, a “force of the soul” according to Charles Bonnet, and the “natural prayer of the soul” for a curious tradition of thinkers from Nicolas Malebranche in the seventeenth century to Simone Weil, Walter Benjamin, and Paul Celan in the twentieth. And though this line of thought might seem to rely on a model of attention quite distinct from our secular inheritance of Enlightenment philosophy and nineteenth-century psychology, the term’s theological force has persisted even in the most apparently secular of places.73 Cowper’s line, though, does not suggest that he is absorbed and lost in God. Instead, he borrows the structure of vacuous immersion to suggest that attention and the mask of de-liberation that liberates him from the task of attention can both lead to an experience of absorption and loss. As Kevis Goodman has made clear, however, this “unthinking” consciousness is neither a retreat from nor an avoidance of the world, but an unexpected opening—linked in the poem to the experience of reading the newspaper—“through which the world’s strangeness enters.”74

When Coleridge revises Cowper’s lines in “Frost at Midnight” (1798), he relocates this slipperiness between staring, sleeping, and dreaming to school, where, hiding from “the stern preceptor’s face,” his eye is “fixed with mock study on [his] swimming book.”75 The mask of deliberation and mock study both imply a model of attention as an unstable disciplinary tool that is more often mocked and masked than obeyed. In a later text, Coleridge will reveal a more sinister pedagogy, writing that “where no interest previously exists, attention (as every School-master knows) can be procured only by Terror: which is the true reason, why the majority of mankind learn nothing systematically except as School-boys or Apprentices.”76 The twentieth-century French philosopher Simone Weil, for whom attention was the crucial foundation for theology, ethics, and philosophy, also explains the problem of disciplinary attention in schools:

Most often attention is confused with a kind of muscular effort. If one says to one’s pupils: “Now you must pay attention,” one sees them contracting their brows, holding their breath, stiffening their muscles. If after two minutes they are asked what they have been paying attention to, they cannot reply. They have been concentrating on nothing. They have not been paying attention. They have been contracting their muscles. We often expend this kind of muscular effort on our studies. As it ends by making us tired, we have the impression that we have been working. That is an illusion.77

Attention, Weil suggests, cannot be forced, and it often doesn’t look the way we might expect. The muscular effort we expend when trying to pay attention, she explains, is always a “mask of deliberation” that will prevent us from becoming truly engrossed in what we turn our eyes, and other muscles, on.

The familiar story about Romanticism and education emphasizes the opposition between the swimming book and nature, the “Great universal Teacher!” But there are also other stories to tell here about reading and attention, about books that swim away even when we want to read them, about how, even when students try to pay attention, they end up lost. There are also stories about the strange coincidence between the most absorbed and the most distracted students, and about the various affective shapes attention can take in and out of school. In tracking attention and its cognates, this book uncovers a cross section of Romantic-era thought that also differs from well-known stories about Romanticism and aesthetic philosophy. Though Kant, Lessing, Burke, Reynolds, and the lesser-known Archibald Allison make brief appearances here, my focus on attention—as an unstable, unshareable, and unsustainable faculty that is separable from imagination, judgment, abstraction, memory, and even consciousness—brings to the surface a variety of attitudes and moods that do not quite fit within a Kantian framework of disinterested aesthetic judgment.78 When he does mention attention in The Critique of Judgment, Kant tends to associate it with charm rather than with the aesthetic judgments through which Romanticism has so often been read.79 But even then, attention is marginal, perhaps, as Jonathan Crary writes, because Kant’s goal was a “disinterested aesthetic perception as a desire to escape from bodily time” and attention is “incompatible with any model of a sustained aesthetic gaze.”80 Attention to attention instead uncovers a Romanticism that looks more like what Rei Terada has called looking away, a “phenomenophilic anti- or protoaesthetic,” or “a counteraesthetic that plays on the periphery of the aesthetic”—one Terada associates with Romanticism’s interest in a noncoercive discourse of mere appearance.81 Indeed, given attention’s structural trait, as Rodolphe Gasché writes, “of a turn toward (something) that is conjoined to a disregarding turn away from something,” the study of attention reveals that looking is always a mode of looking away.82 In refusing to conflate attention with cognition or knowledge, the minimal acts of noticing that this book traces often register the difference between what Terada calls, borrowing from analytic philosophy, “object perception (something crosses my gaze) and fact perception (a dragonfly is passing in front of me),” aligning “mere attention” with the former.83 Cowper, for example, will seek to separate sound from both fear and knowledge, since “sounds are but sounds,” and Charlotte Smith will assume a posture of just listening for signals that just tell that something living is abroad, without knowing what that something is. And yet neither poet is disinterested, as Kant would have it, since their susceptibility is key to their attentiveness. The posture of just paying attention takes attention’s undisciplined unruliness as an aesthetic—or counter-aesthetic—opportunity.

Blake evokes disciplinary attention through the cruel eyes of the teacher and the spy, the latter of which I will discuss in detail in Chapter 1’s treatment of Blake’s “Watch Fiends.”84 Here I’d like to turn to a gentler attention, the pastoral watchfulness of “The Shepherd,” the second of Blake’s Songs of Innocence (1789):

How sweet is the Shepherds sweet lot,
From the morn to the evening he strays:
He shall follow his sheep all the day
And his tongue shall be filled with praise.
For he hears the lambs innocent call.
And he hears the ewes tender reply.
He is watchful while they are in peace.
For they know when their Shepherd is nigh.

After an initial reading, “The Shepherd” seems like one of the more straightforward of Blake’s Songs: “To most of us,” S. Foster Damon writes, “this poem needs no comment.”85 Though this poem might seem to require less concentration than the other Songs of Innocence, this simplicity is deceptive, for the poem throws a number of hurdles in the reader’s way: the ambiguities of syntax, the curious repetition of “sweet” in the first line, and the fact that it is the shepherd who strays rather than the sheep. If a shepherd’s watchfulness typifies another disciplinary mode of attention, the pastoral power that Foucault calls “a prelude to governmentality” insofar as it develops the “art of conducting, directing, leading, guiding, taking in hand, and manipulating men, an art of monitoring them and urging them on step by step,” how should we understand Blake’s shepherd, who rather than guiding the straying sheep, is himself straying?86 Who is watching and shepherding him? In this respect, we might read this poem, with its “Wesley tune,” as upsetting both the theological figure of the shepherd, who in popular hymns “brings my wandering spirit back, / When I forsake his ways,” and the figure Foucault calls the king-shepherd or politician-shepherd.87 In contrast to the shepherd’s governing vigilance, which protects the flock from error, Blake suggests a mode of observing that is compatible with straying, and that itself manages to remain unguided and unwatched.

But even weirder in “The Shepherd” is the incongruous logic at work in the repetition of conjunctions that actually evade the conditional logic they imply, offering two fors that never provide the explanations they promise. This culminates in the reader’s attention itself straying from the purposefulness that the poem’s syntax suggests. The emphatic illogic of the poem—the combination of explanatory words with lines that decidedly avoid explanation—stresses those out-of-step fors, so that when we ask, what is the shepherd watching for, we ought to hear both senses of for: for what object does he watch, and for what purpose? What for? The poem’s conjunction problem thus points to broader questions about how we conceptualize attention: how do we watch, when we keep watch? What do we watch for? And what do we read for? Blake’s turn from logic to attention intersects curiously with Charles Bonnet’s comment in The Contemplation of Nature (1766) that “there is still wanting a book, which would be the most useful of any that could issue from the human mind, and that is, a History of Attention . . . Were this book well written, and properly attended to, it would put an end to all logic, because it would itself be logick reduced into action.”88 Blake frustrates his reader’s expectations by suggesting that we replace our tendency to read for logic (that is, to expect it) with an experience of reading as a mode of watching that doesn’t watch for anything in particular.

The final two lines of “The Shepherd” pair these incongruous conjunctions with a circular logic that binds watchfulness to peace in a strange formulation that raises more questions than it answers. “But he is watchful,” David Simpson asks of the shepherd, “and the implication is that this has something to do with their being at peace. What is the connection?”89 Watchfulness and peace have “something to do” with each other, but what? Which comes first: peace or watchfulness? Does one guarantee the other? These questions are important not only to the pastoral world of shepherding but also to a political realm in which the state was attempting to monopolize the term watchful in order to demand, with unprecedented urgency, that every civilian keep watch for only one thing: a French invasion. Slogans like “Union and Watchfulness, Britain’s true and only security” insisted that watchfulness was necessary for defense, but Blake’s phrase “he is watchful while they are in peace” oddly implies that he might not keep watch during war.90 Insofar as Blake’s lines suggest that either peace is contingent on watchfulness or watchfulness is contingent on peace, the poem gestures toward the inevitability of looking away, of straying, and toward the precarity of maintaining peace, if peace depends on attention. This is not, as Simpson notes, a “happy little poem about protection.”91 Instead it signals a peculiarly Romantic dialectic between keeping watch and invasiveness, a dialectic that finds that vulnerability is inextricable from the efforts to prevent it, and that watchfulness might heighten one’s susceptibility rather than ward it off. Blake elsewhere makes more explicit indictments of how the rhetoric of peace participates in the “Code of War” (67), a phrase that acutely anticipates Foucault’s claim that “peace itself is a coded war”—a code in which watchfulness was crucial.92 “What god is he,” asks Blake, “writes laws of peace and clothes him in a tempest—no more I follow, no more obedience pay” (55). Unlike his more explicit denunciations of the coded or clothed logic of war, Blake’s grammar of irresolution and illogic in “The Shepherd” raises finer questions about the uncertain epistemology and phenomenology of war. In an essay on syntax and sentiment in Blake, James Chandler suggests that we read in the syntactical ambiguity of “The Shepherd” the economic resonance of the word “tender.”93 Such a reading also allows us to hear in the poem’s critique of wartime watchfulness and the code of war that I have been drawing out a question about the economic logic implied in the act of paying attention. In fact, we say that we pay attention for the same reason we pay anything: to pacify our creditors. The English word pay comes from the Latin pax, “peace.”94 If peace, as Blake suggests, cannot be understood apart from its eventual transformation into war, it also cannot be separated from a language of getting and spending tender. This helps tie together Blake’s critique of pity in “The Human Abstract”—“Pity would be no more / If we did not make somebody Poor”—with his complaint about peace in the following stanza: “And mutual fear brings peace, / Till the selfish loves increase” (27). I will discuss pity along with other ethical postures of attention in more detail in Chapter 5, but let us just note here that pity is, for Blake, one of the more hypocritical modes of attention, a companion to Cruelty, who “spreads his baits with care” (27). Blake describes an oppressive logic in which peace always masks the code of war, and care is just one of cruelty’s enticements.

“The Shepherd,” though, is not the wholly experienced poem that “The Human Abstract” is, and if there is a sweetness and tenderness here, I want to suggest we can find it in the alternate mode of watchfulness the poem proposes, an attention that one might stray rather than pay. After all, when the watchmen leave their stations, they are bound to notice something else. When the logics of war, or of reading, come undone, attention takes new forms. This undisciplined, straying, “sweet” watchfulness might thus provide a way out of the absorption and loss Cowper found in the excesses of both attention and its lapse, something akin to that depicted in Lavater’s drawing of a “mild attention”, or David Hartley’s evocation of a gentle one. After one has looked at something and then closed the eyes, Hartley writes, a “clear and precise image” will appear “frequently to Persons, who are attentive to these Things, in a gentle way: for as this Appearance escapes the notice of those who are intirely [sic] inattentive, so too earnest a Desire and Attention prevents it.”95 The flip side of not paying enough attention, Hartley suggests, is paying too much, and both can prevent you from noticing something. Blake’s sweet and tender watchfulness, neither disciplined nor disciplining, is a gentle, straying one that doesn’t know in advance what it is watching for and that, as Amanda Jo Goldstein has written on Blake’s “sweet science,” entails both “an attitude toward the object that is conscious of its fragility, and a concomitant consciousness, indeed, a cultivation, of the plasticity and permeability of the observing self.”96 The challenge of reading “The Shepherd” itself suggests that the reader will not be rewarded for paying attention with a simple purchase: instead the reader has to linger, stray sweetly, and gently wander around these lines aimlessly, to rouse attention without any payoff other than the reader’s own permeability. “The wisest of the Ancients,” Blake wrote, “considerd what is not too Explicit as the fittest for Instruction because it rouzes the faculties to act” (702).

War and reading thus emerge among the diverse disciplines vying for attention in a strange kinship formed through the demands they place on watchfulness—a kinship that became a problem for a Romantic poetics that sought gentler ways. Yet instead of opposing the militarization of attention with an aesthetics of complete distraction, the Romantic poetics that I offer an account of here criticizes wartime watchfulness by suggesting alternate forms of keeping watch that are nevertheless indebted to war’s ramping up of attention—forms that invite the unexpected productivity of a divided, or double, attention; that strain the attention only to perceive something new through its relaxation; that imagine, or lament the inability to imagine, a heightened attention divorced from fear; and that understand attention in the act of sympathy as both painful and sufficient. This is a poetics that finds something surprisingly fruitful in both the movement and the proximity between habit and attention, between the blank stare and the moment of noticing something, and it uses the rhythms of verse form to court a dialectic between these extremes and to pause at the tender moments between them. Against the background of wartime watchfulness, I suggest that Romantic texts critique and borrow from the forms of attention demanded by martial vigilance to produce alternative habits that resist definition, conclusion, or telos. These texts imagine attention as an end in itself, all the while reckoning with its inextricability from war and its political effects, which become, I argue, the most powerful claims on attention in the period. After all, war, as Simone Weil will write, is “a way of imposing another reading upon sensations, a pressure upon the imagination of others.”97

Focusing most directly on the experience of reading, my first chapter excavates from Romantic poetics a model of reading with a double attention. I begin by investigating how eighteenth-century philosophers and rhetoricians imagined people paying (or not paying) attention as they read; looking, in particular, at the way that all reading requires a certain inattention—for Erasmus Darwin, to the individual letters, sounds, and shapes in a word, or for Condillac, to the darkness we experience every time we blink. The phrase “double attention” appeared in these years in both military texts and poetic ones. Whereas a double, additional attention was demanded for national security, the phrase also described a division of attention that signaled weakness in Joseph Priestley’s suggestion that one should not write about serious subjects in verse, since it “shews double attention,” dividing the reader’s mind between meter and the serious subject. Romantic poetics, I suggest, reappropriates Priestley’s complaint: from Wordsworth and Coleridge’s theories of meter to Blake’s poetic practice, poets embraced a model of double attention in which division—pace Priestley or the war office—is a strength. For Blake, who was once arrested when his sketching was mistaken for spying, aesthetic and political forms of observation merge in uncomfortable ways. In contrast to “Satan’s Watch Fiends,” figures in Milton and Jerusalem for government-sanctioned surveillance, Blake demands of his reader an attention that is both passive and multiple, divided not only between text and image but also among various, competing grammars and syntaxes, and between multiples ways of reading the minute particulars of punctuation. Blake alludes to the historical practice of surveillance so as to transform it into a poetic theory, one in which reading entails a double attention that is closer to waiting than seeking, an attention divorced from the fiendish search he calls “suspition.”

“The Poetics of Alarm and the Passion of Listening,” my second chapter, looks to attention’s various affective shapes, focusing on its proximity to alarm, terror, fear, and the experience of being startled. Foregrounding the parliamentary debates in the 1790s that made explicit an emerging uneasiness about the feeling of alarm and its elusive origin, I argue that at the same time that alarm and attention were becoming synonymous, critics of alarmism began linking alarm’s uncertainty to language, as the distinction between speaking about fear and causing it came undone. In light of the general climate of alarm, and alarm about alarm, I turn to Cowper’s “The Needless Alarm” and Coleridge’s “Fears in Solitude” as poems that mark an unexpected and uneasy proximity between alarmism and poetry; the latter, after all, was produced in “an unusual state of excitement” often linked to fear. Both poems consider what Cowper calls “the sounds of war,” pushing apart the gap between sound and signification in order to worry a proximity between poetic language and the “empty sounds” of alarmism. I suggest that Cowper’s and Coleridge’s poetics threaten to empty out language while revealing that, in poetry, such an evacuation can paradoxically produce possibility. Whereas Cowper’s poem finds hope in a mode of listening to sound without thinking of it as the sound of something, Coleridge’s poem does not, and is itself more difficult to read, for it registers satirically the itself frightening impossibility of reading without suspicion. And whereas Cowper imagines the poet’s own widening attention as fearless, Coleridge finds the simple act of attention inextricable from fear.

The third chapter, “Bent Earthwards: Wordsworth’s Poetics of the Interval,” begins with a story De Quincey tells about Wordsworth, who when he put his ear to the ground to listen for the arrival of the newspaper, looks up and notices that a new perception arrives only at the moment when the “organs of attention” relax from an attentive brace. Investigating how Wordsworth’s verse formally manages, deflects, and distracts the reader’s attention, the chapter articulates the promise of a signification produced through and at the moment of rest—in the interval. The wartime context of Wordsworth’s observation while waiting for the news of war and De Quincey’s own interest in the military order to “Attend!” make clear that both authors’ curiosity about the play of watchfulness and its withdrawal ought to be understood in the context of the wartime demand of vigilance on the part of the English citizenry. De Quincey queries the possibility of noticing something other than that for which one waits: by doing so in a military context, he underscores how alarms of invasion preclude both other perceptions and perceptions of others. Through close readings of passages from The Prelude, I argue that Wordsworth’s verse puts his phenomenological insight to work for an other perception of history. His attempt to experience the Revolution at the site of the September Massacres in Paris highlights how he only gains a sense of the historic in the intervals between two states of heightened attention: reading and keeping watch.

In the fourth chapter, “‘That Something Living Is Abroad’: Missing the Point in Beachy Head,” I read Charlotte Smith’s final prospect poem as a response to the pervasive characterization of France as England’s “natural enemy,” a term pivotal to the militarization of attention since it naturalizes a single object of attention and alarm. Attuned to the unexpected intersections of national security and natural history on the coastline, Beachy Head refigures the prospect poem by highlighting the nation’s natural vulnerability: gazing across the Channel from the rocks of Beachy Head toward France, Smith points to geological evidence in the rocks on which she stands that suggests the two enemy nations were once one land mass that was split by a “vast concussion.” The poem is preoccupied with figures of keeping watch, and yet the poet does not limit her own watch to a single, predetermined enemy but rather opens it to the potential arrival of animals, plants, immigrants, gypsies, natural histories, and slight sounds, like that made by the sea-snipe, which “just tells,” she writes, “that something living is abroad.” Smith thus asks how one might sense the arrival of the foreign without knowing in advance what it is, or how one can make sense of a foreign nation that one can neither perceive nor communicate with. Juxtaposing poetic, military, and scientific practices of observation, Beachy Head presents a landscape teeming with both sounds and listeners overlapping and intertwining—sounds of foreignness and nearby life. As Smith multiplies these signals of danger, they lose their urgency, forming instead an archive of outdated modes of attention. Moving from horizon to the ground, from the prospect view to a more minute observation, Smith depicts a heightened, anticipatory, and yet divided attention that she also demands of her reader, who must likewise move between the poetic text and its unfolding notes.

My final chapter, “Attention’s Aches in Keats’s Hyperion Poems,” considers the postwar pains of paying attention to another’s pain. Exemplifying an unconventional tradition from the early Romantics to Walter Benjamin that understands attention as weakening rather than strengthening the cognitive subject, Keats’s Hyperion poems explore the experience of paying attention to violence and the violence of just paying attention. Putting Keats’s fragments in the context of both the mutilated sculptures known as the Elgin Marbles and Charles Bell’s medical watercolors of soldiers wounded at Waterloo with amputated limbs, I read Keats’s fragments as meditations on the strange overlap between paying attention to another’s suffering and paying attention to art. In contrast to the theory of sympathy posited by Adam Smith, for whom attention is only a preliminary step to a fuller sympathy grounded in narrative, Keats’s fragments resist the fullness of narrative and find satisfaction instead in the simple act of paying attention, in the mere noticing of pain without explanation or story—as Keats wrote in the margin of Milton’s description of the war in Chaos in Paradise Lost: “so it is.” Keats’s minimal attitude reading Milton’s account of war in Chaos prompts my turn in the Afterword, “Just Looking,” to Simone Weil, who is preoccupied with a “decreative” model of attention as a retreat and passivity, as an experience of not taking sides, and whose interpretation of the Iliad finds Homer remarkable in his ability also to represent war without taking sides. Weil’s 1939 essay “The Iliad, or the Poem of Force” suggests what a literary criticism of just paying attention might look like, since Weil described attention to pain and poetry alike as just looking. In this sense, her theological mode of reading anticipates recent resistance to critique and suspicion in literary studies. For Weil, attention should be radically impersonal, as I suggest it is in Emily Dickinson’s 1863 “Four Trees,” a poem about the mere act of noticing the overlooked background of a landscape, and with it the blank page behind the poem itself. Dickinson’s Civil War poem, along with Paul Celan’s translation of it, suggest an afterlife for the Romantic poetics of attention that invites the slight but pivotal experience of noticing something else during war. For Celan, this comes as the uncanny way in which the poem itself, rather than the reader, pays attention.

At its most troublesome, attention is indistinguishable from its lapse, since paying attention itself always means ignoring a variety of other objects. This structural problem in attention means that there are always other things that we do not or only barely notice, or things that we notice but immediately forget. The Romantic poetics of attention that this book traces experiments with methods with which to disrupt our habits of attention so as to notice something else, in some other way—whether it’s the forgotten proximity between England and France, or the overlooked blank page hiding behind a poem. Resisting the powerful wartime demands to view the landscape as a site to be secured and commanded, the poets discussed here develop in verse a “critical attitude,” a posture of countering pastoral power that Foucault calls “the art of not being governed quite so much.”98 While reimagining how their own readers pay attention, these poets practice this art by putting their ears to the ground, by looking to objects more and more minute, or by looking away, to invite the strange and foreign without seeking to protect against it.


1. s.v. “Attention,” Oxford English Dictionary. Johnson’s Dictionary defines “attention” as “the act of attending or heeding; the act of bending the mind upon any thing.” s.v. “Attention” in Samuel Johnson, A dictionary of the English language: in which the words are deduced from their originals, and illustrated in their different significations by examples from the best writers, sixth edition (London: 1785). Eighteenth Century Collections Online, hereafter ECCO.

2. The French attendre means “to wait.” See s.v. “Attend” in Johnson’s A dictionary of the English language.

3. On the philosophical problem of attending to attention itself, see Rodolphe Gasché, “On Seeing Away: Attention and Abstraction in Kant,” CR: The New Centennial Review 8.3 (Winter 2008), 4; and Paul North, The Problem of Distraction (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012), 3–4.

4. See, for example, recent fMRI experiments that “study how our brains respond to literature . . . how cognition is shaped not just by what we read, but how we read it.” Corrie Goldman, “This Is Your Brain on Jane Austen, and Stanford Researchers Are Taking Note,” Stanford Report, September 7, 2012.

5. Though the emergence of “modern psychology” is typically located at the end of the nineteenth century, when it became a profession, the word and the interest began much earlier. Gary Hatfield writes, noting the “air of paradox,” that attention actually first became a chapter heading in psychology textbooks in the 1730s. “Attention in Early Scientific Psychology,” in Visual Attention, ed. R. D. Wright (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 3. See also Edward S. Reed, From Soul to Mind: The Emergence of Psychology from Erasmus Darwin to William James (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998); Fernando Vidal, The Sciences of the Soul: The Early Modern Origins of Psychology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011); and Christopher Fox, ed., Psychology and Literature in the Eighteenth Century (New York: AMS Press, 1987).

6. On interdisciplinary or predisciplinary knowledge formations that resisted divisions of labor in the Romantic period, see Jon Klancher, Transfiguring the Arts and Sciences: Knowledge and Cultural Institutions in the Romantic Age (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 4; and Amanda Jo Goldstein, “Irritable Figures: Herder’s Poetic Empiricism,” in The Relevance of Romanticism: Essays on German Romantic Philosophy, ed. Dalia Nassar (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 273. On the instability of attention, see Gasché, who explains via Kant that attention is “inherently unsteady and changeable,” and thus “everything that reposes on attention, everything that attention makes possible—transcendental apperception, self-consciousness, cognition, to name only a few—is likewise inherently unstable.” “On Seeing Away,” 25. Paul North also discusses attention’s undisciplined nature: “Attention may be asserted by disciplines; they may even practice it or claim they are practicing it; nevertheless it cannot be understood in a disciplined way, at least insofar as discipline is associated primarily with attentive thought.” Problem of Distraction, 4.

7. Qtd. in Jonathan Crary, Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle, and Modern Culture (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999), 45n.

8. Crary, Suspensions, 49. In his Techniques of the Observer, Crary considers the first few decades of the 1800s, when, he explains, “the individual observer became an object of investigation and a locus of knowledge” and “the status of the observing subject was transformed.” Jonathan Crary, Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1990), 6. Since Crary’s Suspensions, the study of attention in the humanities has proliferated in a variety of directions: Jonathan Beller’s The Cinematic Mode of Production: Attention Economy and the Society of the Spectacle (Hanover: Dartmouth College Press, 2006), and Kenneth Rogers’s The Attention Complex: Media, Archaeology, Method (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) discuss attention in cultural studies, media, and cinema, building on work by Debord, Hayles, Kittler, and Stiegler; Paul North’s Problem of Distraction provides a philosophical history of the problem of distraction from Aristotle to Benjamin. In literary studies, the recent interest in cognitive science and literature has brought attention to the forefront: Nicholas Dames’s The Physiology of the Novel: Reading, Neural Science, and the Form of Victorian Fiction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007) describes novel-reading in the Victorian period as “a rhythmic oscillation between attentiveness and distraction, or alertness and obliviousness, that characterized all reading, particularly all reading of novelistic narrative” (77), while Margaret Koehler’s Poetry of Attention in the Eighteenth Century (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) reframes British poetry of the eighteenth century, through cognitive science, as attempts to cultivate attention in readers. Koehler’s very helpful history of attention considers Archibald Alison’s aesthetics (which I discuss in Chapter 1) illustrative of the “pivotal role of attention in the shift from eighteenth-century to Romantic models” (18). I view some of these eighteenth-century models, particularly William Cowper, as more continuous with Romanticism than Koehler does. Natalie Phillips complicates Koehler’s argument by suggesting that though eighteenth-century poets often aligned poetry with a traditional view of attention as a narrowing of thought, in practice “they used techniques that emphasized readers’ ability to maintain concentration amidst distraction, manage multiple information streams, and recognize layered rhythmic patterns.” “The Art of Attention: Navigating Distraction and Rhythms of Focus in Eighteenth-Century Poetry,” in Eighteenth-Century Poetry and the Rise of the Novel Reconsidered, ed. Kate Parker and Courtney Weiss Smith (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2014), 188.

9. One early exception to this tradition is David Braunschweiger, Lehre von der Aufmerksamkeit in der Psychologie des 18. Jahrhundert (Leipzig: Hermann Haacke, 1899). More recent shifts in focus that have started to account for earlier theories of attention include Gary Hatfield, “Attention in Early Scientific Psychology”; Matthew Riley, Musical Listening in the German Enlightenment: Attention, Wonder and Astonishment (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004); Matthew Bell, The German Tradition of Psychology in Literature and Thought, 1700–1840 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005); Margaret Koehler, Poetry of Attention in the Eighteenth Century; Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, Objectivity (New York: Zone Books, 2010), 234–46; Lorraine Daston, “The Empire of Observation, 1600–1800,” in Histories of Scientific Observation, ed. Lorraine Daston and Elizabeth Lunbeck (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011); and Lorraine Daston, “Attention and the Values of Nature in the Enlightenment,” in The Moral Authority of Nature, ed. Lorraine Daston and Fernando Vidal (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004).

10. Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy, The Literary Absolute: The Theory of Literature in German Romanticism, trans. Philip Barnard and Cheryl Lester (Albany: SUNY Press, 1988), 12. Unless noted, emphasis within quotations appears in the original source.

11. Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory, trans. Nancy Margaret Paul and W. Scott Palmer (New York: Zone Books, 1991), 12.

12. Théodule Ribot, The Psychology of Attention (Chicago: Open Court Publishing Company, 1890), 17–18.

13. Klaus W. Lange, Susanne Reichl, Katharina M. Lange, Lara Tucha, and Oliver Tucha, “The History of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder,” ADHD 2.4 (December 2010): 241–55.

14. Alexander Crichton, An Inquiry into the Nature and Origin of Mental Derangement, Volume I (London: T. Cadell, 1798; New York: AMS Press, 1976), 270–71. Hereafter cited parenthetically. On Alexander Crichton’s life and influence, see E. M. Tansey, “The Life and Works of Sir Alexander Crichton, F.R.S. (1763–1856): A Scottish Physician to the Imperial Russian Court,” Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 38.2 (1984): 241–59.

15. Thomas Reid, Essays on the intellectual powers of man (Edinburgh: John Bell, 1785), 60. ECCO. Reid’s understanding of attention is more complicated than this. See Gideon Yaffe, “Thomas Reid on Consciousness and Attention,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 39.2 (2009): 165–94.

16. “Up until the end of the eighteenth century, when Crichton published his inquiry, it was uncommon to focus on mental issues from a physiological or medical perspective.” Lange et al., “History of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder,” 242. Interestingly, Gasché points out that Kant understood hypochondria as a “sickness of the faculty of attention” in his Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, which was also published in 1798. “Attention, in this case, suffers from being undivided, that is, from giving undivided attention to inner, bodily sensations.” Gasché, “On Seeing Away,” 23. See Kant, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, trans. and ed. Robert B. Louden (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 106. “Malady of not marking” comes from William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part II; Act I, Scene 2, The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997), 933.

17. William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads, ed. R. L. Brett and A. R. Jones (New York: Routledge, 2013), 239–40. “Organs of attention” is Thomas De Quincey recalling Wordsworth in Reminiscences of the English Lake Poets (London: Dent, 1961), 122.

18. Wordsworth and Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads, 240.

19. Wordsworth’s claims suggest the extent to which our contemporary anxieties about attention are limited neither to our time nor our specific new media, but rather echo those that accompanied the emergence of the newspaper, of novels, of big cities—concerns that are perhaps more endemic to the precariousness of our concept of attention itself than they are determined by any specific media.

20. Benedict Anderson calls newspaper-reading in the eighteenth century a “ceremony incessantly repeated at daily intervals.” Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 2006), 35. See also Kevis Goodman’s excellent chapter “Cowper’s Georgic of the News: The ‘Loophole’ in the Retreat” in Georgic Modernity and British Romanticism: Poetry and the Mediation of History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

21. Walter Benjamin, “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire,” in Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, trans. Harry Zohn, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), 156.

22. Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation 1707–1837 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 283. On total war, see David Bell, The First Total War: Napoleon’s Europe and the Birth of Warfare As We Know It (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2007), esp. 7–20.

23. Mary Favret, War at a Distance: Romanticism and the Making of Modern Wartime (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 12; 39.

24. In addition to Favret’s important study, I am thinking of John Barrell, Imagining the King’s Death: Figurative Treason, Fantasies of Regicide, 1793–1796 (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2000); Jerome Christensen, Romanticism at the End of History (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000); Jeffrey Cox, Romanticism in the Shadow of War: Literary Culture in the Napoleonic War Years (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014); Jan Mieszkowski, Watching War (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012); Philip Shaw, Waterloo and the Romantic Imagination (New York: Palgrave Macmillon, 2002).

25. Christensen, Romanticism, 84–85.

26. H.F.B. Wheeler and A.M. Broadley, Napoleon and the Invasion of England: The Story of the Great Terror (London: J. Lane, 1908), I: 104. On the pervasiveness of the fears of invasion and the way that “daily life for most people would have been punctuated with reminders of the threat of invasion and the need for public vigilance and support,” see Mark Philp’s “Introduction: The British Response to the Threat of Invasion, 1797–1815,” in Resisting Napoleon: The British Response to the Threat of Invasion, 1797–1815 (Burlington: Ashgate, 2006).

27. s.v. “Attention,” def. 5a, Oxford English Dictionary.

28. By His Majesty’s command. Adjutant General’s office, June 1. 1792. Rules and regulations for the formations, field-exercise, and movements, of His Majesty’s Forces (London: War-Office, 1792), vi. ECCO.

29. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage Books, 1977), 223.

30. Bell, First Total War, 7.

31. The phrase “half soldier” is from Frank J. Klingberg and Sigurd B. Hustvedt, eds., The Warning Drum: The British Home Front Faces Napoleon; Broadsides of 1803 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1944), 34. Compare with Judith Butler’s recent claim that “when the alert goes out, every member of the population is asked to be a ‘foot soldier’ in Bush’s army.” Judith Butler, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (London/New York: Verso, 2004), 39.

32. Qtd. in Anne Secord, “Coming to Attention: A Commonwealth of Observers during the Napoleonic Wars,” in Histories of Scientific Observation, ed. Lorraine Daston and Elizabeth Lunbeck (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), 422–23. Secord’s excellent essay shares my interest in how wartime watchfulness extended to a variety of disciplines in the period, arguing that scientific observation was intertwined with wartime attention, since “the watchfulness of a nation at war, in some cases at least, provided an observational context that contributed to the study of marine plants” (429).

33. John Milton, “Paradise Lost,” in Complete Poems and Major Prose, ed. Merritt Y. Hughes (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett, 1957), 225. Jonathan Crary, 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (London: Verso, 2013), 1–3.

34. Klingberg and Hustvedt, Warning Drum, 38. Critics of political alarmism also linked the propagation of war to the straining of nerves. Thomas Erskine writes of the attempt to “save the country rushing down this precipice of ruin into the phrenzy of alarm, which every nerve of government had been strained to propagate.” A View of the Causes and Consequences of the present War with France (London: J. Debrett, 1797), 43. ECCO.

35. Klingberg and Hustvedt, Warning Drum, 33.

36. The Alarmist (London: J. Owen, 1796), viii. ECCO.

37. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “The Men and the Times,” in Essays on His Times in the Morning Post and The Courier, ed. David V. Erdman, 3 volumes, Volume 3 of The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978), 1: 423.

38. I am borrowing here from Judith Butler’s suggestion that “[w]ar sustains its practices through acting on the senses, crafting them to apprehend the world selectively, deadening affect in response to certain images and sounds, and enlivening affective responses to others.” Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? (London: Verso, 2009), 51–52.

39. Francis Wollaston, The origin and insidious arts of Jacobinism: a warning to the people of England (London: 1799), 1. ECCO. In a speech in 1793, Charles James Fox asserted, “The danger, whatever might be its degree, had two sources: first, the fear of the propagation of French opinions in this country, and next, the fear of the progress of the French arms.” The Speech of the Right Hon. Charles James Fox, in the House of Commons, Jan. 4, 1793 on the Alien Bill (London: Printed for James Ridgway, 1793), 4.

40. The Parliamentary History of England from the Earliest Period to the Year 1803, Volume 31 (London: T. C. Hansard, 1818), 534.

41. Noah Webster, Sentimental and Humourous Essays, conducive to economy and happiness (London: Printed for J. and A. Arch, 1798), 4–5. ECCO.

42. s.v. “Fidgetiness,” Oxford English Dictionary.

43. William Cowper, “Conversation,” in The Poems of William Cowper, Volume 1, ed. John D. Baird and Charles Ryskamp (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), lines 207–8, 213–14.

44. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria; or, Biographical Sketches of My Literary Life and Opinions, ed. James Engell and W. Jackson Bate, 2 volumes, Volume 7 of Collected Works (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983), 1: 45. Correspondence Between Schiller and Goethe, from 1794 to 1805, trans. L. Dora Schmitz, Volume 1 (London: George Bell and Sons, 1877), 366.

45. Correspondence Between Schiller and Goethe, 366.

46. On the tendency in the eighteenth century to view divided attention as a liability, see Koehler, Poetry of Attention, 26.

47. See Joan Retallack, The Poethical Wager (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 175–81.

48. Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, 1: 107.

49. On the term “security” and its relation to “care,” see John T. Hamilton, Security: Politics, Humanity, and the Philology of Care (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013).

50. See my discussion of “Puzzles for Volunteers!!” in Chapter 1.

51. I am drawing here on Kevis Goodman’s description of “that teeming historical presentness that is ‘not yet’ fully formed as knowledge, but presses insistently, insinuating itself at the level of recurrent figure.” Georgic Modernity, 105. Lauren Berlant also provides a helpful description of the experience of “feeling historical in the present,” when “the atmosphere suggests a shift of historic proportions in the terms and processes of the conditions of continuity of life. Norms and intuitions suddenly feel off: a sensed perturbation of world-shaping dimensions impels recasting the projected impact of small and large gestures, noticings, impulses, moments.” “Thinking about Feeling Historical,” Emotion, Space and Society 1 (2008): 5.

52. All quotations from The Prelude are from the 1805 version from The Prelude, 1799, 1805, 1850, ed. Jonathan Wordsworth, M. H. Abrams, and Stephen Gill (New York: Norton, 1979), here IX: 85. Hereafter cited parenthetically by book and line number.

53. The phrase is Charlotte Smith’s. See Charlotte Smith, Minor morals, and sketches of natural history (1798), in The Works of Charlotte Smith, Volume 12, ed. Stuart Curran (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2007), 259.

54. William Blake, The Complete Poetry and Prose, ed. David Erdman (New York: Anchor Books, 1988), 55. All references to Blake’s work are to this edition, hereafter cited parenthetically by page number. The quotations from the Statute of Winchester (1285) are from William Hawkins, A Treatise of the Pleas of the Crown; or, A System of the Principal Matters relating to that subject, digested under proper heads, sixth edition (Dublin: Eliz. Lynch, 1788), 2: 874. ECCO.

55. Thomas De Quincey, “Presence of Mind,” in The Works of Thomas De Quincey (London/Brookfield: Pickering & Chatto, 2000), 17: 49.

56. Michel Foucault, Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège de France 1977–1978, trans. Graham Burchell (New York: Picador, 2007), 201. Foucault uses “counter-conduct” instead of his preliminary term “dissidence” for “these forms of resistance that concern . . . a power that assumes the task of conducting men in their life and daily existence” (200). Foucault is talking specifically about countering the pastoral power undergirding modern governmentality, a power linked to the act of keeping watch (127).

57. William Godwin, Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, and its influence on morals and happiness. The Third Edition Corrected (London: G. G. and J. Robinson, 1798), 1: 230. ECCO.

58. Charlotte Smith, Desmond (Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2001), 311.

59. Favret, War at a Distance, 18.

60. William Godwin, Things as They Are, or the Adventures of Caleb Williams, ed. Maurice Hindle (London: Penguin, 1988), 128.

61. In “Psychology and Politics in William Godwin’s Caleb Williams: Double Bond or Double Bind?” Melinda Alliker Rabb notices a similar connection, writing that “perhaps the problem with the bonds between politics and psychology in the novel is that Godwin makes political injustice and emotional agitation so compelling.” In Fox, Psychology and Literature in the Eighteenth Century, 63. My suggestion here is that Godwin’s point may be that the emotional agitation caused by political injustice can be mobilized against the very injustice which causes it.

62. Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, 2: 69.

63. Michael Fried, Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980).

64. William Cowper, The Task, in The Poems of William Cowper, Volume 2, ed. John D. Baird and Charles Ryskamp (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), book IV, lines 288–90. Hereafter cited parenthetically by book and line number.

65. Marshall Brown reads these lines as reflecting the “divorce of consciousness from attention.” Preromanticism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991), 69. See also chapter 7, “The Task of Attention,” in Margaret Koehler’s Poetry of Attention.

66. Maurice Blanchot evokes the “sterile act” when he warns and instructs his reader: “The attention should be exerted, so to speak, by this narrative in such a way as to draw it slowly out from the initial distraction, without which, however—he senses it well—attention would become a sterile act.” Awaiting Oblivion [L’Attente l’oubli], trans. John Gregg (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997), 9.

67. Fried, Absorption and Theatricality, 31.

68. Crary, Suspensions, 47.

69. Walter Benjamin, “Ibizan Sequence,” in Selected Writings, Volume 2, Part 2, 1931–1934, ed. Michael W. Jennings, Howard Eiland, and Gary Smith (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1999), 592.

70. See Goodman, Georgic Modernity, 88–91.

71. For this, as well as a lengthy list of how the figure of absorption was used in hymns, see Gordon Mursell, English Spirituality: From 1700 to the Present Day (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 160.

72. John and Charles Wesley, The Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley, Volume 9 (London: Wesleyan-Methodist Conference Center, 1870), 408.

73. Ribot refers in his section on “Morbid States of Attention,” to the “Castillo interior” of Saint Theresa where he finds a description of the seven stations, or degrees of prayer, one must pass to arrive at the interior castle of the soul. Psychology of Attention, 96–100. On theological modes of attention, see David Marno, “Easy Attention: Ignatius of Loyola and Robert Boyle,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 44.1 (2014): 135–61; and Moshe Barasch, “Waking: A Form of Attention in Ritual and in Religious Art,” in Aufmerksamkeiten, ed. Aleida Assmann and Jan Assmann (Munich: Fink, 2001). Lorraine Daston also discusses the influence of natural theology on early modes of scientific observation: “Throughout the eighteenth century, natural theology—the worship of God through the study of His works—supplied the motivation and rationale for an expenditure of attention that contemporaries perceived as uncomfortably close to religious reverence.” “Attention and the Values of Nature in the Enlightenment,” 105–8. Daston discusses the conflict between attention to God and attention to science, writing that in theory, each minute observation “was the bottom rung on a ladder that ascended to God’s wondrous providence,” but in practice, there was a real anxiety among naturalists about an attention that should have been devoted to God (108). On the relation between the theological model of attention and the military one, see Rogers, Attention Complex, 79.

74. Goodman, Georgic Modernity, 90.

75. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Frost at Midnight,” in Coleridge’s Poetry and Prose, ed. Nicholas Halmi, Paul Magnuson, and Raimonda Modiano (New York: Norton, 2004), 121, lines 42–43.

76. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Friend, 2 volumes, Volume 4 of The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. Barbara E. Rooke (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 1: 17.

77. Simone Weil, “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God,” in Waiting for God, trans. Emma Craufurd (New York: Harper & Row, 1951), 109–10.

78. According to Gasché, Kant views attention as a “purely sensible faculty,” one not as developed as abstraction, which “presupposes something higher—the freedom of thought, autonomy, and culture.” “On Seeing Away,” 11. And yet Gasché goes on to suggest that attention is more complicated than this, since it actually requires abstraction.

79. See, for example, Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, trans. Paul Guyer and Eric Matthews (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 109–10. Cowper’s “brown study” and Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight” both echo an interest in these charms “for the imagination,” since in staring at the fire, they are exploring what Kant calls not beautiful objects but “beautiful views of objects.” “In the latter, taste seems to fasten not so much on what the imagination apprehends in this field as on what gives it occasion to invent, i.e. on what are strictly speaking the fantasies with which the mind entertains itself while it is being continuously aroused by the manifold which strikes the eye, as for instance in looking at the changing shapes of a fire in a hearth or of a rippling brook, neither of which are beauties, but both of which carry with them a charm for the imagination, because they sustain its free play” (126–27). On charms as ineligible for aesthetic judgment, see Rei Terada, Looking Away: Phenomenality and Dissatisfaction, Kant to Adorno (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009), 23. Kant also discusses this in Anthropology, writing that “things like flickering fires . . . play in the mind and it becomes absorbed in thought” (66–67).

80. Crary, Suspensions, 46–47. Gasché explains that Kant gives his most elaborate account of attention in Anthropology. “On Seeing Away,” 4. See also Riley, Musical Listening, 9–10.

81. Terada, Looking Away, 116; 6–7; 4.

82. Gasché, “On Seeing Away,” 22. Gasché and Terada’s titles are strikingly similar, but Gasché’s “seeing away” is abstraction, whereas Terada’s “looking away” is a cultivation of perceptions that “seem below or marginal to normal appearance” (3–4).

83. Terada, Looking Away, 19. Terada’s argument is directly concerned with Kant. She writes that “the Critique of Judgment excludes the most ephemeral and indefinite perceptions from aesthetic experience because they cannot sustain the thought of commonality that Kant wishes to affirm” (6), and that though Kant’s disinterested aesthetic judgment is an attempt to subtract “the coercive effect of fact perception,” he differs from the phenomenophiles she describes by suggesting that these judgments “are also able to present themselves as necessary conclusions to which everyone ought to come” (98–99).

84. See Steven Goldsmith’s reading of the instructor’s “cruel eye” in “The Schoolboy” as indicating a visual discipline figured by the letter O, an eye that “drives all joy away.” Blake’s Agitation: Criticism and the Emotions (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013), 216.

85. S. Foster Damon, William Blake: His Philosophy and Symbols (New York: Peter Smith, 1947), 268.

86. Foucault, Security, 184; 165.

87. Psalms, carefully suited to the Christian worship in the United States of America (Philadelphia: 1799), 43. ECCO. On the possible provenance of the “Wesley tune” in “The Shepherd,” see Martha Winburn England and John Sparrow, Hymns Unbidden: Donne, Herbert, Blake, Emily Dickinson and the Hymnographers (New York: New York Public Library, 1966), 49. On Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience as revisions of popular hymns, see chapter 5 of Michael Farrell, Blake and the Methodists (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). Foucault, Security, 128; 141.

88. Charles Bonnet, The contemplation of nature, 2 volumes (London: T. Longman, 1766), I: liv–lv. ECCO.

89. David Simpson, Irony and Authority in Romantic Poetry (Totowa: Rowman & Littlefield, 1979), 87. Harold Bloom calls Blake’s shepherds “ironically accepted figures,” writing that the poem’s “disturbing element” is that “the Shepherd inspires a confidence in his flock which is entirely dependent upon his actual presence.” “Introduction,” in William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, ed. Harold Bloom (New York: Chelsea House, 1987), 2–3.

90. Klingberg and Hustvedt, Warning Drum, 131.

91. Simpson, Irony and Authority, 87.

92. Michel Foucault, “Society Must Be Defended”: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975–76, trans. David Macey (New York: Picador, 2003), 51. Foucault gives a history of Christian pastoral power as a “power of care” with a “sense of vigilance with regard to any possible misfortune” that he links to the emergence of modern governmentality in Security, 127. The entire lecture series develops a history of pastoral power through the figures of the “king-shepherd” and the “god-shepherd” and the “crisis of the pastorate” that precipitated new political structures. See esp. 121–51.

93. James Chandler, “Blake and the Syntax of Sentiment: An Essay on ‘Blaking’ Understanding,” in Blake, Nation, and Empire, ed. Steve Clark and David Worrall (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 113.

94. s.v. “Pay,” v.1 def. 1a, Oxford English Dictionary.

95. David Hartley, Observations on man, his frame, his duty, and his expectations. In two parts (London: S. Richardson, 1749), 1: 10. ECCO.

96. Amanda Jo Goldstein, Sweet Science: Romantic Materialism and the New Logics of Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, forthcoming 2017).

97. Simone Weil, The Notebooks of Simone Weil, trans. Arthur Wills (New York: Routledge, 2004), 24.

98. “What Is Critique?” in The Essential Foucault, ed. Paul Rabinow and Nikolas Rose (New York: New Press, 2003), 265. For Foucault, this art is a direct response to the idea instilled by Christian pastoral that each individual “had to be governed and had to let himself be governed” (264).