"A Scottish Milton": Robert Pollok and epic theodicy in the Romantic Age

Davis, Deryl Andrew (2018) "A Scottish Milton": Robert Pollok and epic theodicy in the Romantic Age. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Printed Thesis Information: https://eleanor.lib.gla.ac.uk/record=b3336083


Robert Pollok’s The Course of Time was one of the best-selling long poems of the nineteenth century, outstripping works by much better known contemporaries such as Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley. Yet today, Pollok and his poem are almost entirely forgotten by scholars and general readers alike. This thesis explores the factors behind the poem’s enormous, decades-long popularity and its later sudden decline, arguing that neither can be understood without a recognition of the poem’s distinctiveness as a Romantic-era Miltonic theodicy written from an evangelical Scottish Calvinist perspective. In contrast with most of his Romantic peers, Pollok used the Miltonic model to defend, rather than to challenge or reinterpret, traditional Christian doctrines under siege in the early nineteenth century, especially biblical authority, final judgment, heaven, and hell.

As the first comprehensive examination and close reading of The Course of Time in the modern era, this study begins with an exploration of Milton’s significance for the British Romantics as a whole and compares that with his peculiar importance for Pollok, which lies primarily in the theodicean model of Paradise Lost and Milton’s embodiment of the ideal of the Christian poet. Next, the study considers three figures contemporary with Pollok whose influence may have been decisive for The Course of Time: Lord Byron, whose short lyric “Darkness” inspired Pollok’s poem and whose religious skepticism Pollok sought to challenge; theologian John Dick, who provided a theological framework and polemical stance that Pollok may have adopted; and apocalyptic Scots preacher Edward Irving, who called for a new Milton to affirm biblical understandings of judgment in an epic poem, and who did so shortly before Pollok began The Course of Time. Following, I undertake a close reading of the poem to investigate its larger didactic aims and performance as a “sermon in verse” intended to offer cautionary examples to its readership. The final chapter examines the poem’s reception history through reviews, analyses, and commentaries and considers the reasons behind its dramatic rise to popularity and precipitous decline and near-disappearance decades later, finding both rooted in its deep religiosity and distinctive identity as a traditional Miltonic theodicy in the Romantic age. A comprehensive examination of the poem and its history thus provides valuable insights into the changing relationship between religion and wider culture in the nineteenth century, the uses of literature as a vehicle for theological content and instruction, and the important and often overlooked role that religion played in Scottish Romantic literature.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Robert Pollok, epic, theodicy, Romanticism, Scottish Literature, religion, Milton, Byron, religious poetry.
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies > Theology and Religious Studies
Supervisor's Name: Jasper, Professor David and Carruthers, Professor Gerard
Date of Award: 2018
Depositing User: Mr. Deryl Davis
Unique ID: glathesis:2018-30776
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 19 Nov 2018 16:44
Last Modified: 14 Sep 2021 13:20
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/30776

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