My Natural Methodism, by Richard E. Brantley: A Description
My Natural Methodism, reflecting on my participation in Anglo-American studies, integrates memoir and literary scholarship. A child’s formative years define the hiding places of interpretive power, and my intellectual and my spiritual autobiography morph toward reconsidering and extending my seven-volume perspective on an international cultural poetic. During my youth, faith in experience and the experience of faith overlapped, creating a binocular way of seeing that I realize, in retrospect, refreshes my perspective on, as well as prepared me to discover in the first place, a science/religion dialogue of Anglo-American literature. This latest effort to overhear such rich conversation infuses our contemporary norm of scholarly objectivity with the subjective position of the interpreter, highlighting my own early instances of motivating inspiration. As an innovative genre of interpretive inquiry—as a memoir/lit crit conjunction of hybrid vigor—this culminating volume of my scholarly work models personal investment—leading to professional commitment—across disciplines in the liberal arts and sciences.
In independent and private terms, as well as on the public plane of an academic discourse, I reaffirm a historical and interdisciplinary, and invent an autobiographical, method of close reading. Accordingly, I believe the overall accounting I offer is at least as first-hand and pressing as it is also detached and unbiased. My self-portrait of the critic as a young man embodies what I have cumulatively argued that Charles Lamb meant by calling Wordsworth’s poetry “natural methodism.” Ultimately, my natural methodism and Wordsworth’s alike depended on cross-pollination between British empiricism and trans-Atlantic revivalism, which, in turn, became the empirical/evangelical dialect of British and American literary history. I can compare my version of science versus religion with that of my favorite authors, and vice versa. Readers of this canon may do likewise, first by standing on the scientific, religious, and creative ground of experience, and then by crediting the spiritual as well as natural vision of Romantic to Modern Anglo-America.
To that end, I have made sure that the literary contextualizing in my eighth monograph includes informal touches from my newly subjective, as distinct from my usual objective, urgency (just as, through integration or interweaving, the memoir contains literary echoes, and hence acquires a formal tone). What would the payoff be? Beyond the academy, My Natural Methodism illustrates the prevalent human habit, and represents the very humane signature, of interpretive inquiry. This universal penchant can never be fully objective, but also should never be only subjective. Interpretation is not a question of either one or the other of these twinned ideals of investigation but, instead, the use of both at once. Finally, whether as the experience of the interpreter or as a value of interpretation, Both/And is the lesson. From Locke, Wesley, and Edwards, through Wordsworth and Dickinson or George Eliot and Frederick Douglass, to T. S. Eliot and Marianne Moore, science and religion appear to be not so much in conflict as in mutually enriching communion.
Praise for My Natural Methodism
In this characteristically generous-spirited, intellectually energetic new book, Richard Brantley pays tribute to family members, teachers, and authors who inspired his life’s intellectual-spiritual journey. Borrowing his title phrase from Charles Lamb’s review of Wordsworth’s “The Excursion,” Brantley reflects on how “natural methodism” accounts for science/faith conjunctions in Anglo-American writing, with special emphasis on Romantic and post-Romantic writers Wordsworth, Emerson, and Dickinson while applying his thesis to a host of later poets and novelists including Eliot, Auden, and Marilynne Robinson. In this time of STEM dominance in academia and valuation of curricula chiefly for immediate job prospects, Brantley makes a powerful case for literature’s enduring impact. And he does so with joy and gratitude.
Jane Eberwein, Distinguished Professor of English Emerita, Department of English, Oakland University
My Natural Methodism is Richard Brantley’s eighth book. It is an autobiography rich with literary criticism, its pages warm with references to the signatures of his life and his reading. His heartfelt intelligence is a gift for thoughtful readers to examine repeatedly. They will mark their place in the book and think about their own lives, their meanderings, intellectual and otherwise.
Samuel F. Pickering, Jr., Professor Emeritus, Department of English, University of Connecticut, Storrs
In My Natural Methodism: Experience Becomes Words, Richard E. Brantley culminates his “career-long quest for aesthetic understanding” of the Romantic influence in Anglo-American culture.He does so by deftly interweaving autobiography with scholarly analysis, thereby incorporating personal experience in what he variously describes as a “memoir/lit-crit hybrid.” He seeks nothing less than the “disciplinary re-enchantment” needed to combat the current decline of the humanities. The book brings both/and logic to academic writing that Brantley sees as too narrowly devoted to objectivity, at the expense of the subjective life blood of literature and the arts. Thus, intertwining formative years with professional expertise, and gracing his hybrid with humor and humility, Brantley elegantly manages his dialogue with the rich Anglo-American tradition of science, religion, and literature.
Paul Crumbley, Professor Emeritus, Department of English, Utah State University
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Culicidae Press announces the release of Richard E. Brantley’s Transatlantic Trio: Empiricism, Evangelicalism, Romanticism: Essays and Reviews 1974-2017
About the Book
The essays and reviews in Transatlantic Trio are laid out in a sequence that, though differing slightly from the chronological order in which they were first printed, best reveals the scholarly narrative implicit throughout these formerly scattered, yet now assembled, shorter pieces. One case—namely, “Locke and Wesley: An Essence of Influence”—compresses the collection’s take not just on the British, but on the British-to-Anglo-American, milieu. At least one essay in the first series, accordingly, may be short enough for readers in a hurry. Two cases, as already specified in the bibliographical listings, re-publish only the longer of two pieces otherwise similar. Another case revises the piece in question, and changes its title from “Romanticism and Christianity” to “Empiricism and Evangelicalism: A Combination of Romanticism”: this revision offers readers the quickest way to acquaint themselves with the series as a whole (books included). Establishing the broadest parameters of all the essays, a final case expands the piece and changes its title from “The Common Ground of Wesley and Edwards” to “Wesley and Edwards: An Anglo-American Nexus.” All other reprints remain as they were, except for occasional clarifications and typographical corrections (for convenience in transcribing, the somewhat differing styles of citation favored among the various original publishers are retained). May readers discover only the forgivable extent of remaining infelicity!
Browsers among these essays and reviews may wish to consider whether or not British empiricism and the empirical evangelicalism of the Anglo-American world can each in its own right prove as worthy to be read for its manner as for its thoughts. Readers might also stay alert to how the confluence of empirical philosophy and evangelical faith in the neoclassic-to-Romantic imagination helps explain 19th-century authors as aficionados of the realistic and of the preternatural at one and the same time. From their varying but corresponding points of view, these thirty-eight reissues do not just examine, but dwell in the possibility of, intellectual, emotional, and imaginative re-integration.
Praise for Transatlantic Trio
In this treasure trove of literary commentary, Richard Brantley distills his decades of inquiry into the dynamic religious, scientific, and poetic forces that sustained an amazingly fruitful strain of Anglo-American Romanticism. Wordsworth, Coleridge, Blake, Keats, Tennyson, Emerson, and Dickinson play key roles in his argument, along with Locke, Wesley, Edwards, Darwin, and Brantleys of multiple generations. In their creative blendings of empiricism with evangelicalism, the writers featured here experimented with subtleties of both/and logic that challenge today’s either/or reductionism. These articles, book chapters, personal writings, and reviews document energetic, sustained grappling with thinkers from the Enlightenment to the current literary scene, all treated with Brantley’s characteristic insight, intensity, congeniality, and verve. As the humorous cover drawing of thirteen writer-thinkers aboard a railroading handcar suggests, Transatlantic Trio engages its readers on Brantley’s adventurous scholarly excursion, “a back-and-forth that gets somewhere.”
—Jane Donahue Eberwein, Distinguished Professor Emerita of English, Oakland University
Spanning almost half a century, Richard Brantley’s ‘ongoing project in bi-national cultural poetics’ is both an erudite analysis of the history of transatlantic literary engagement and, in itself, an emblematic example of the flowering of transatlanticism as a subject of literary study. Brantley has an Emersonian talent for identifying previously unnoticed connections across space and time, tracing correspondences between empirical philosophy and evangelical faith, with coordinates ranging from Locke, Edwards and Wesley, to Blake, Dickinson and Tennyson, in a narrative that explores the complex, ambiguous subtleties of the relationships between history and literature. Brantley’s scholarship does not merely tell us about the past: the forms of ‘healthy skepticism’ that he traces through the 17th to the 19th centuries – and which he adopts in his own readings – remain as vital as ever as antidotes to a tendency in our own times towards a ‘certainty’ that [. . .] ‘is the enemy of decency and humanity in people who are sure they are right.’
—Chris Gair, Senior Lecturer in English Literature and American Studies, School of Critical Studies, University of Glasgow
This collection of essays and reviews provides representative examples of Richard Brantley’s pioneering work in highlighting interconnections between empiricism, evangelicalism and Romanticism, and in showing the importance of positioning and connecting British and American writers, and cultural and literary movements and ideas, within a transatlantic field. Brantley’s work foregrounds a productive antagonism between the experience-based epistemology of John Locke and the revivalist theology of John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards, and traces this dialectic’s influence on canonical works of Anglo-American Romanticism, early and late. Moving beyond a nation-based model, Brantley offers a nuanced consideration of the ways in which British and American writers such as Wordsworth, Keats, Tennyson, and Dickinson used a comparable empirical method to authenticate and authorize the sensory experience of a physical world, while employing a similar procedure to interrogate the idea of faith in a metaphysical or supernatural realm.
—Páraic Finnerty, Reader in English and American Literature, University of Portsmouth
Richard E. Brantley has provided, in Transatlantic Trio, a capstone to one of the central preoccupations of his extremely distinguished scholarly career. This is the analysis of commonalities in two central but apparently divergent traditions of thought: philosophical empiricism and evangelical non-conformism. He traces the growth of British Romanticism out of the relationship between the two, attending to ways in which both traditions place emphasis on knowledge of the self through the experience of the immanent, and goes on to show how, through complex transatlantic conversations, these ideas come to form the bedrock of American intellectual and spiritual thought. As such, it gives readers both an accessibly defined account of Romanticism from a transatlantic perspective, and also offers a series of scholarly expositions of the central literary figures in the long century under view. The book does more than this, however. It also provides a fascinating overview of the subject as it has developed during the past four decades and ends with a reflection, after decades of experience, on how the consolations of pedagogy bring an enhancement of faith.
—Matthew Scott, Lecturer in the Department of English Literature, University of Reading
Brantley’s trio, made up of empiricism, evangelicalism, and Romanticism—as spelled out in his complete title—may be thought of as a productively unresolved dialectic whereby Romanticism draws energy from the conflicting imperatives of faith and experience. In a revealing epigraph to his prologue, Brantley quotes Arthur Koestler on the generative power of opposing points of view: “Creativity arises as the result of the intersection of two quite different frames of reference.” For Brantley, the “different frames of reference” are experience/empiricism/science, on the one hand, and faith/evangelicalism/religion on the other. He unites these clashing polarities at the very beginning of his prologue through the incisive chiasmus, “faith in experience and experiential Faith,” that crystalizes the mutually beneficial cross-pollination that he views as the driving force of Romanticism. “British empiricism and transatlantic revivalism,” he writes, “strike sparks off the literary imagination of a bi-national Romantic Movement”. The poem, then, that Brantley reads across two centuries is his metaphorical celebration of these conflicting voices: “just as an antiphony is ‘an opposition of sound’—‘the answer made by one voice to another’—so empirical philosophy and evangelical faith alternate, or converse, in Romantic Anglo-America (OED).” Brantley goes so far as to argue that “’the harmony produced’ by that ‘opposition of sound,’ . . . can appear on the same page of, and perhaps even as the single voice of, Anglo-American Romanticism (OED).” Such language clearly reflects Brantley’s interest in presenting the great central poem of Romanticism as forward looking, and not merely a record of artistic triumph consigned to the past. He is at his most ambitious when he proposes that Romanticism is not content “just to make poetry new, but to pass it on, and perhaps even prepare the ear of readers, however unwittingly on all fronts, for the taught pleasures of the Modern-era dissonance to come.” At the heart of Brantley’s life’s work lies his conviction that Romanticism has a crucial role to play in our present moment. To insure that his own work meets the standard he most admires in the thinkers and artists who have long been his subject, Brantley departs from what he describes as his own tendency toward “relentless self-consistency, accentuating the positive, eliminating the negative, and reaffirming the whole” to interject an entirely “different and maybe refreshing line of auto-subversion.” The key question he directs to himself in his epilogue is whether or not “human minds [his own included] rest in the mystery and doubt perhaps too glibly—or even somewhat disingenuously. . .” This willing contemplation of his own potential for superficiality ultimately leads to the most devastating of his admissions: “Who,” Brantley wonders, “can deny his or her yearning for unity on some days? To see empirical vs. evangelical emerging into harmony (poetry) looks a lot like synthesis just now.” Having confronted his own fears and thereby shown respect for what Jorge Luis Borges has described as the “’counter-book’” that each complete book must contain (qtd. by Brantley 615), Brantley dedicates the remainder of his epilogue to rebuilding the foundations for his argument. The steps Brantley elaborates as most central to his method now concentrate on the emotional, affective dimension of the more narrowly intellectual approach he sketched in the prologue. His first move is to affirm the importance of ambiguity as an antidote to the allure of complacency that threatens his own scholarship as much as it does the visionary aspirations of the Romantic writers he studies. Working from the Latin roots of the term—that he translates as “to wander uncertainly”—Brantley gives particular emphasis to uncertainty as an essential byproduct of Romantic writers’ determination to “search for something, they know not what.” “Both/and logic,” he argues, “carries the implication not just of tentativeness or open-mindedness,” but the “understanding” that “those who come down hard on one side or the other can be wrong or dangerous.” Brantley’s next move is to present active and unceasing vigilance as the best defense against the inclination to seek final answers and succumb to single-mindedness. “The writers who have attracted the attention of the series refuse to sleep, until Jerusalem is built,” but, of course, he notes, “they never sleep, for they never finish building.” Here again Brantley directs attention to the forward-looking, future-oriented component of Romanticism. “Dialectical strategy,” he reminds us, “proves ultimately inimical to aesthetic versatility.” Continuous resistance to dialectical closure as brought about by the vigilant pursuit of an uncertain future yields the creative dynamism Brantley finds most admirable in Romantic writers, and it provides the standard he applies equally to his own published works. Brantley concludes his epilogue by asking the one question guaranteed to provoke resistance and intensify vigilance: “What next?” He concludes with a summary of his primary aims expressed in admirably plain language: “The prologue and epilogue have not just offered a master key to all these reprints and to the books, but opened the door to more investigation.” We leave the epilogue with the sure sense that Brantley is already moving into the future.
—Paul Crumbley, Professor of English and Director of the Undergraduate Studies Program, Utah State University
In mulling nineteenth-century poetic thought in the English-speaking world, Brantley shows how empiricism and evangelicalism swept into each other and produced Romanticism. Reading the great nineteenth-century poets moves us because their poetry like the vision of John Wesley is rich with good black earth but not earthbound. Faith arises out of sense experience. Brantley is a fine, readable critic. His good sensible language explains Wordsworth’s language of sense. Reading Transatlantic Trio almost enables a person to understand the blending of the spiritual and the natural that so often make us imagine that our common observations of nature are moving and uplifting.
—Sam Pickering, Professor of English, Emeritus, University of Connecticut
These essays speak to the way Enlightenment, Romantic, and Victorian thinkers created a Venn diagram out of an opposition that still nibbles at the soul (to paraphrase Dickinson) of today’s postmodern world: science vs. religion. Of the many strategies the Romantics offer us to overcome the Manichean duality that runs rampant today are the flexibility of method over the rigidity of system as well as the multiple perspectives of “both/and logic” over the singular vision of “either/or logic.” In terms of literary criticism and history, these methods show us the benefits and necessity of moving beyond the single-nation formulations of Romanticism towards a comparative approach. By examining transatlantic influence and literatures as hierarchical, scholars of Transatlantic Romanticism have unwittingly embraced the very duality they are trying to deconstruct. Brantley’s methodology levels these fields to remove the competitive poetics and politics that emerged in the wake of the American Revolution and still maintains a foothold. His application of these strategies to present-day Western thought expands this book beyond a work of criticism to a philosophy that overrides the binary coding of a digital age. He ties “the transatlantic trio of empiricism, evangelicalism, and Romanticism together” in new and compelling ways: the collected essays and book reviews are tesserae that together form a mosaic, a more complete scholarly picture of Anglo-American Romanticism than previously existed. The book ends with a powerful autobiographical epilogue that testifies to the transcendent methods of Anglo-American Romanticism to help us make sense of not only the 18th-to-21st centuries, but also of our own lives, the antiphony of internal and external worlds that composes our thoughts and the “music of humanity.”
—Joel Pace, Professor of English, University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire
About the Author
Richard E. Brantley is Alumni Professor of English, Emeritus, at the University of Florida, where, from 1969 to 2011, he taught courses in Romanticism, the History of Criticism, and the Bible as Literature. He hibernates in Gainesville, Florida, and rusticates in Zirconia, North Carolina. He gladly teaches, and gladly learns from, his fellow retirees. He still explores the realistic, yet hopeful, give-and-take between science and religion during the long Romantic Movement from roughly 1770 to 1870. Transatlantic Trio shows him warming to his subject at every crucial stage of its development.