In the eighteenth century Britannia became a vehicle for poets and other writers to reflect on the difficult place of the individual in the emerging public sphere. Writers of the first half of the century characteristically imagined the goddess in a domestic political sphere, persuading her “children” to exercise greater patriotism. She sways public opinion to effect improvement. Alone among writers of this period, James Thomson intuitively understood that no single voice had authority in the new politics and that all interventions were contingent. His 1729 Britannia ends with the goddess rushing off to Parliament and the powerless poet left behind in a bleak, coastal setting. Later in the century the importance of Britannia faded, but the patterns established in earlier texts continued. Anna Seward’s 1781 Monody on Major Andrè retains some features of the tradition, but rather than move toward hope, in the manner of most earlier texts, it ends with Seward’s melancholy recognition of her own weakness. Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1798 “Fears in Solitude,” which also retains some features of the tradition, is a sustained reflection on the individual’s limited influence in the public sphere.

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