Andrew Smith
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Touched by the dead
Eighteenth-century Gothic poetics
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This chapter explores transformations between the elegy and a poetic discourse of the elegiac in the mid-eighteenth century. The notion that the dead elicit our sympathy can be found in Adam Smith and Edmund Burke and this empathetic reaching out to death underpins the elegy of the time. By examining Edward Young’s Night Thoughts, Robert Blair’s The Grave (1743), James Hervey’s Meditations amongst the Tombs (1745-7), Thomas Warton’s The Pleasures of Melancholy (1747) and Thomas Gray’s ‘Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard’ (1751), we can see how a discourse about death, dying, and mourning was established. Repeated tensions between natural spirituality and processes of memorialisation appear across these quite diverse texts. How to produce an aesthetic which captures feelings of loss appears at different levels of self-consciousness in these writings which all outline, often competing, artistic positions that the elegiac poet might occupy.

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Gothic death 1740–1914

A literary history

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