Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
This study examines the literary career of the eighteenth-century American poet Joel Barlow. Because Barlow, unlike his peers, came to fully embrace print-based methods of authorship and advertising, between 1790-1810 he emerged as the most widely read American poet. Employing a book studies methodology, this project focuses on the publication details surrounding each of Barlow's poems including: his relationships with his publishers, the physical shape and appearance of his works, the cost of those works, how those works were advertised, and the extent of their geographic distribution. The arc of Barlow's career was extraordinary. Barlow's development, his transformation from a standard eighteenth-century club poet who relied on manuscript circulation and oral performance in the 1770s to an international man of letters and a periodical fixture by 1800, highlights the possibilities and limitations of American literary publishing during the early national period. Importantly, Barlow's ability to emphasize, rather than elide, his personal identity in the press, forces scholars to reevaluate their notions of late eighteenth-century republican print culture.
Barlow's career also impacts our reading of American literary history. In an age of caution and deference in American poetry, Barlow was driven to maximize his audience, publishing his poems across all price points and in every medium offered by the time. Barlow's efforts at self-promotion, coupled with his staunch republican politics, allowed his poems to take on a life of their own in the era's fiercely partisan press. Thanks to his association with the transatlantic republican movement and radical religious thinkers, this study suggests that poems such as the "Conspiracy of Kings," (1792) "The Hasty Pudding," (1796) and the Columbiad (1807) enjoyed audiences as large and as economically diverse as those of popular fiction. Even in an age marked by the rise of the novel and the beginnings of romanticism, An Ink-Stained Neoclassicist contends that Barlow's proto-mass audience reveals the persistent popularity and cultural importance of neoclassical verse in the intellectual life of many Americans at the turn of the nineteenth century.
Copyright 2010 Willis Burr McDonald
McDonald, Willis Burr III. "An ink-stained neoclassicist: Joel Barlow and the publication of poetry in the early Republic." dissertation, University of Iowa, 2010.