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Linton- Life in the Collections

23) Spirit Of Peers and People. A National Tragic-Comedy.

London 1834

Published by Effingham Wilson. With a satirical intaglio print by the political cartoonist Robert Seymour as frontispiece.

The framework of this biting burlesque on the corrupt state of politics under the reign of King William IV fuses the traditions of caustic Swiftian satire with the stirring imagery of the Hone’s & Cruikshank  lampoons. As the author of this political parable, Richard Hengist Horne, states in his preface, the play is “addressed rather to the understanding than the passions: its unity is in its general priciples or spirit, rather than in action.”  But these prepending words of appeasement can hardly neutralize the downright aggressive character of that play, which predominantly consists of a series of rough Brechtian sceneries depicting the bitter living conditions of the working class in their members’ raging voices. Horne wrote this play with its central demand for a substantial political reform that would participate the working class, only a few months after having been introduced to W.J. Fox´ Craven Hill – circle. In his review in The Monthly Repository Fox characterized the execution of the play as being “as bold as the conception. Dramatic interest there is none (...) but of poetry, character, eloquence, satire and humour, both broad and delicate, there is abundance (...). We have to do with a writer of originality and genius.”

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This so called National Tragic-Comedy was followed only a few months later by a challenging play of the same typ, the Political Oratorio, whose expressive content in the words of Isobel Armstrong also „reaches a savage, Brechtian intensity.” The Political Oratorio was published in 1835 in Fox´ The Monthly Repository, whose editorship Horne would take over from Fox in the following year, however rather unsucessful; like his predecessor, Horne was very ambitious as a theorist and published a few essays on the problems of drama in the Repository; he also became involved in the translation of August Wilhelm Schlegel’s „Vorlesungen über dramatische Kunst und Literatur” (A course of Dramatic Art and Literature).

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Frontispiece.by Robert Seymour