‘He was not one of ye’: Poetry and Mental Peculiarity, 1825–1836

  • Joseph Crawford
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Literature, Science and Medicine book series (PLSM)


This chapter explores how the conceptions of poetic genius fostered by the writings of Byron and Shelley served to reinforce existing stereotypes of poets as antisocial and mentally abnormal. This belief, coupled with the increasing confidence of contemporary physicians that all mental traits could be explained in physical terms, led to the widespread assumption that poetic talent was due to the abnormal development of the brain and nervous system. In consequence, the belief arose that poets were naturally predisposed to suffer from mental and physical illness, and that great poetic talent would naturally be accompanied by great vulnerability to insanity. This complex of linked ideas can be seen in the works of writers as varied as Isaac D’Israeli, John Stuart Mill, Arthur Hallam, Richard Horne, Richard Madden, and John Wilson Croker, and formed an important part of the intellectual context within which Browning and Tennyson began their respective poetic careers.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joseph Crawford
    • 1
  1. 1.University of ExeterExeterUK

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