O'Quinn, "Of Extension and Durability: Romanticism’s Imperial Re-Memberings"
"Of Extension and Durability: Romanticism’s Imperial Re-Memberings"
University of Guelph
1. What difference does a critical awareness of imperial history make for the study of British Romanticism? Material that was formerly the domain of anthropologists, art historians, archaeologists, military historians and historians of empire has become an important archive both for re-thinking canonical texts and for re-imagining the social and cultural dynamics of Georgian society.  Important critical studies have laid the groundwork for expanding scholars’ sense of the ways in which Romantic discourse was thoroughly permeated by global geopolitical concerns.  We can read the editorial consensus among recent anthologies of British Romanticism, all of which contain subsections on anti-slavery and orientalism, as a symptomatic recognition of the importance of these materials. That said, there are also few surprises here. Earlier scholars such as David Erdman established beyond question the importance of imperial problematics to Blake’s work, and there are many other similar examples. What remains constant is a recognition that the period conventionally associated with Romantic discourse saw crucial transformations in imperial governance and colonial discourse. And yet there has been a remarkable containment of this recognition by relegating this scholarship into sub-fields. Scholars who work on British India are well aware of this predicament, for in spite of widespread recognition of the importance of developments on the Indian subcontinent to British society in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, important work on Romantic interculturalism, on the emergence of proto-anthropological disciplines, on models of racialization, on global economics and other topics remains either the domain of a few scholars bridging the divide between literary studies and history or it remains largely unexplored. A similar problem exists for scholars of trans-Atlantic Romanticism whose work has the potential to undermine the recalcitrant division of literary studies into the study of national literatures.
2. My concern here is not simply one of disciplinary exclusion—although that is an important issue—or of expanding the field of enquiry yet again. The question with which I opened this essay does not pertain simply to questions of “context” or of “canon”. The issue I want to address here is how increasing awareness of the global flow of people, commodities, and cultural products impinges on how we analyze Romantic culture. Obviously, I cannot provide an exhaustive answer to such a question in an essay. What I will do instead is offer a set of linked examples of the kind of analysis that might begin to give a sense of the potential afforded by allowing knowledge of imperial history to permeate close reading and vice versa. I use the word permeation advisedly, because beyond demonstrating how historical context enables cultural analysis, I also show how close reading itself does historical work, and thus cannot be separated from some world beyond the text.
3. In the process, I am going to make at least two grand claims, hardly new, but which inform everything which follows. The first concerns the unabated prosecution of war throughout the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. As Mary Favret has persuasively argued, Romantic literature is a wartime literature, and from the Seven Years War onward Britain’s wars were global affairs.  The second follows from the first and has to do with chronology. The more that one reads the imperial archive, the more it becomes clear that consideration of the emergence and practice of what we call Romanticism needs to start with the loss of the American colonies. In my opinion, the preponderance of scholarship on the French Revolution is one of the decisive critical obstacles to a genealogical analysis of the relationship between Romanticism and empire because it so frequently re-inscribes the nation as the primary political entity. This is not to say that this scholarship is invalid or wrong-headed, but rather that it radically limits the historical purview of cultural analysis.
4. Historians as differently motivated as J.G.A. Pocock and Dror Wahrman have argued that something fundamental happens to British culture and society during the American crisis.  Pocock’s influential account of the political crisis in the Atlantic traces the problem of imperial governance back to two key problems: the lack of any coherent theory of confederation in British political thought and the troubling duality of the term “imperium”. As he states,
5. Losses in America in the early 1780s are inextricably bound up with reverses in India during the same period. As Linda Colley has reminded us, news of Haider Ali’s victory over the British at Pollilur in 1780 arrived in London in 1781 and provoked ‘universal consternation’ in part because the news coincided with reports of the fall of Yorktown.(270) To commentators in the American colonies, in Britain and in India at this time, the East India Company’s hold over territory in India empire seemed in equal jeopardy. Like the first war with Mysore in 1767-9, the Second Mysore War ended inconclusively in 1784, and it cost the East India Company a great deal both in resources and confidence. According to a British medical officer stationed in Calcutta at the time,
6. In contrast to Stephen Conway’s influential argument that the experience of the American conflict did not alter British attitudes to war and empire (315), this essay contends that the transit from the early 1780s to the early 1790s involved extremely complex shifts in British subjectification—i.e. the processes through which subjects make themselves accountable to normative discourses which in turn recognise and make them visible—and that these shifts are perceptible in the cultural field.  This essay looks at two seemingly unconnected texts—William Hodges’s Travels in India During the Years 1780, 1781, 1782 and 1783 (1793) and William Cowper’s "Yardley Oak" (ca. 1791)—to explore not only how changes in imperial governance can be traced in the formal and aesthetic elements being analyzed, but also how close reading of these formal elements can elucidate the historical dynamics of global empire. In both cases, I argue that the works themselves act as conduits from the early 1780s to the early 1790s, from one revolutionary situation to another, and thus need to be considered in light of this transit through historical time. Specifically, I will be looking at the emblematic representation of trees as metaphors for governance in order to show how each reconfigures the relationship between men and things in a way that cancels the memory of past imperial reverses. Lurking in the centre of the essay is brief reading of another notable tree, Burke’s famous oak from the Reflections on the Revolution in France, in order to show how the figural exchange between empire and nation can productively engage with extant scholarship on the 1790s. In my readings of Hodges, Burke and Cowper, these botanical figures become surrogative in Joseph Roach’s sense of the term in that they overwrite a historical wound in order to allow an enabling supplemental fantasy to gain traction in a time of national and imperial crisis (2). As prosthetic devices to overcome the loss of the American colonies, Hodges’s deployment of the Banyan tree, and Cowper’s re-orientation of the oak metaphor allow us to see what kind of cultural work was needed to reconfigure imperial subjectivity at this transitional juncture.
The Banyan Tree, or the Ghostly Face of Company Rule
7. William Hodges’s Travels in India is a text literally structured by war. Hodges’s journey and his narrative are repeatedly interrupted by armed conflict between the forces of the East India Company and resistant native powers across the subcontinent. The first chapter records the humiliating loss at Pollilur in the Second Mysore War which not only raised questions regarding Warren Hastings’s bellicosity, but also haunted representations of British rule in India until the final defeat of Tipu Sultan in 1799. Later chapters are closely intertwined with the East India Company’s response to Chait Singh’s rebellion and many of the most famous images—the picturesque rendering of hill fortresses at Bidjegur and Gwalior—have an integral relation to siege operations carried out while Hodges was traveling with Hastings’s retinue.  In spite of the fact that the Travels appears to be a pro-Hastings document, published in London at the turning point in the impeachment proceedings against the former Governor-General of Bengal, the narrative disjunctions instantiated by these earlier conflicts destabilize Hodges’s explicit argument that British governance in the region is not only benevolent, but also reminiscent of prior examples of enlightened Moslem rule.  This rhetorical battle within Hodges’s narrative has significant implications for analyses of British governance and of British representation of India at this juncture. The text’s strategies of exemplification, negation and obfuscation intervene not only in the rhetorical assault on Warren Hastings, but also in the attemp to justify British rule during the Cornwallis era. What I wish to demonstrate, through the close reading of compositional adjacency and metonymic contiguity in one image and one fragment of text, is how Hodges’s rendering of the banyan tree coalesces with larger historical and political developments which transformed not only British rule in the Asian subcontinent, but also the very notion of empire itself.
8. How are we to understand the inaugural gesture of the first chapter, which opens with a detailed account not of the Company’s victory over Chait Singh’s insurgency, but of the Company’s humiliating defeat at Pollilur? It is important to recognize the chain of associations invoked by this material. The loss at Pollilur resulted in the captivity and enslavement of numerous British soldiers. As Kate Teltscher and Linda Colley have demonstrated, accounts of their forced conversion and circumcision were widely circulated throughout the 1780s, and they generated significant anxiety regarding the blurring of lines between Mysorean and British identities.  These anxieties were exacerbated by reports of British atrocities at Anantpaur, of the overall mismanagement of the second Mysore war and of the indecisive treaty of Mangalore. In short, war with Mysore in the 1780s is traversed by fantasies of castration, loss and failure that are largely responsible for the construction of Tipu Sultan as the arch-enemy of British imperial activity in India.
9. This entire assemblage of associations establishes a frame of imperial anxiety and, like Giles Tillotson, I believe that the war with Mysore casts a long shadow in the Travels.  Describing his time in Madras, Hodges presents the conflict with Hyder Ali as an interruption in artistic and commercial production:
10. From the period immediately prior to the passing of the Regulating Act to the East India Company Charter Act, the governance of the East India Company generated significant controversy regarding the appropriate form and quality of colonial rule. Michel Foucault, in his essay "Governmentality," defined “Government as the right disposition of things,” and his notion of disposition is useful here, because it draws attention to how power is distributed by the very selection and arrangement of populations, commodities and flows. Hodges’s text engages with this problematic by presenting figures of the right disposition of men and things. The absence of women in this phrase is intended because it lies at the core not only of Hodges image of the banyan tree, but also in key developments in colonial discourse in the early 1790s. Harriet Guest’s recent reading of the deployment of femininity in Hodges’s narrative argues that the “great distinction” between Indian and European society is negotiated by the ascription of femininity to Indian peoples, places and things (2007, 28-32). Within the chain of images engraved for the Travels, the banyan tree image is caught in the tangle of gendered fantasies which inflected much of the European and specifically British account of imperial rule. It is preceded by a Mughal painting of a Zenanah (24) and followed by a highly sentimental image of "Mahommedan Women attending the Tombs of their Parents, Relatives, or Friends at Night" (28). Two of the next three images focus specifically on Hindu women: first, an image of mother and child (30) and then the famous stele-like image of the "Procession of a Hindoo woman to sacrifice on the funeral pile" (84). At the risk of simplifying this chain of images, I would suggest that the banyan tree is ensconced in a series of proto-ethnographic images which focus almost exclusively on the lives of women. The subjects here are not incidental for they are connected to precisely the social and religious practices most frequently remarked upon by European travelers—the sequestration of women, marital constancy and suttee—as signs either of Moslem despotism or Hindu fanaticism/superstition. And each in their own way argues against prior visualizations of these elements of Indian sociability. The Zenanah image hands over representational agency to an unnamed Mughal artist, thereby squelching any imputation of voyeurism. The mourning image figures it as a scene of exemplary sensibility; and the suttee scene is rendered as a scene of horrified yet erotically charged observation. 
11. The banyan tree (ficus indica), is the subject of an extensive textual description and also one of the volume’s most accomplished engravings.
12. Understanding Hodges’s intervention in this figural economy requires that we recognize the most important prior European visual representation of the banyan tree. Bernard Picart’s discussion of Tavernier’s account of “the penitance of the faquirs” in The ceremonies and religious customs of the various nations of the world... was widely circulated throughout Europe from the late 1730's onward. The English translation featured an extraordinary engraving of all manner of religious prostrations, enthusiasms and mortifications conducted under the boughs of a banyan tree. 
13. That monstrous excess is figured forth by the face on the tree’s trunk, which occupies the centre of the composition, and which is framed by the central temple. Picart’s adjoining text identifies that face:
14. Hodges’s rendering of the banyan tree effectively interrupts the entire network of associations mobilized by Picart and performs a complex series of displacements. Again the key lies in compositional adjacency, in the disposition of the image’s component elements. A metonymic relation is built between the two shaded figures and the tree. In contrast to the Picart image, the two figures are unloading the boat on the extreme left so the tree is adjacent, not to fanaticism, but to idealized labour and prosperity. This specifically contrasts with the Bramin from Picart’s text who ostensibly profits from the “superstition” of the votaries. This substitution of one kind of accumulation for another is crucial to Hodges’s textual description of the banyan tree:
15. The text achieves this rhetorical sleight of hand through the careful management of adjacent sentences and figures. The first sentence indicates that it is Cleveland who not only governs the district, but also fosters Hodges’s artistic production. This has a kind of inaugural effect because Hodges ostensibly made no art in Madras during the campaign against Mysore. This frames the next four sentences which specifically address the banyan tree. The final three sentences of the paragraph then suddenly cut back to the framing issue by speaking directly about good governance. If we break the paragraph into these three, the gap between the internal description of the tree and the framing remarks on governmentality become immediately conspicuous. It is literally the paratactic adjacency of the frame to the internal description that allows the tree to figure for good government. And each of the sentences of this internal unit is notable for how it re-writes prior descriptions of the banyan tree. By describing the tree as a natural curiosity which “cannot fail to excite the attention of the traveller”, Hodges invokes the long line of travel narratives and quasi-scientific accounts of Asia, which includes Tavernier, Picart and Fenning. However, the subsequent sentence performs a key divagation from these prior discourses when it refuses to refer to the tree as a mother and when it rigorously separates the child-like dependent shoots from the newly rooted “parents of others”. This effectively counters not only the feminization of the tree, and hence its connection to Mamaniva in Picart, but also replaces non-normative sexuality with a carefully managed sphere of reproduction where parents and children are never confused.  So much for the threat of monstrous maternal Hinduism nascent in Picart. The next sentence picks up on the tree’s ability to shade “hundreds of people”, but does not refer to this group as a regiment as in Fenning. This erases the military in favour of a subject people and thus erases both native insurgency and British military activity in one rhetorical stroke.
16. The final three sentences of the paragraph play out the implications of Hodges’s re-writing of prior discourses on the banyan tree with an uncompromising logic. When we jump the gap from the fifth to the six sentence, Cleveland’s good governance has generated a paradise on earth. In light of the prior evacuation of the tree’s metonymic and metaphorical connections to Mahadevi, this declaration seems to imply that Cleveland, and by extension, the East India Company, operate as a benevolent God who, rather than inculcating fanaticism and non-productivity, fosters both commercial and artistic production. This helps explain why the religious elements of Picart’s image are invoked but visually contained in both the church-like building in the background and the walking figure in the foreground.
17. The face of Mamaniva is doubly displaced, and I would argue that this doubling poses a series of complex problems. The architectural element in the background still occupies the precise centre of the composition, but it no longer frames the trunk and if anything its tiny church-like spire replaces the envaginated female face in Picart with a certain quiet phallicism. Could we not argue that the monstrous mother of Hinduism has been replaced by a pagod whose undecidable construction suspiciously resonates with the Christian discourse used to legitimate Cleveland’s governance? The compositional displacement and the undecidable architectural element figures forth a form of Hindu culture dissociated from fanaticism at precisely the moment when the question of Chrisitianizing the Asian subcontinent is very much in the air.  The very undecidability of the architectural figure is resonant because it sits at the juncture of two governmental paths—one aimed at containing Hindu excess and one aimed at converting the population—when arguments for both options were being weighed and counter-weighed.
18. In this context the tree itself becomes iconically phallic or indeed hyper-phallicized. As a huge penis with myriad dependent penises, this figure for the governmentality of the East India Company not only puts thousands of years of Hindu religious and social practices into abeyance, but also equates the Company with the autonomous production of both food and art. This is bolstered by the final sentence of the paragraph which links this new period of productivity to earlier periods of Mughal stability, presumably under the Akbar’s rule, wherein good governance fostered art and happiness. This linkage between Akbar and Hastings not only legitimates Company rule as a repetition of past models of good government, but also firmly locates any competent form of Moslem rule in the historical past. As Tobin, Eaton and others have argued,  Hodges’s picturesque aesthetic is particularly well suited to rendering India society and culture as one vast ruin, and this same thematic suffuses Hodges’s description of Akbar’s tomb:
19. Hodges' sense of “pensive melancholy” has multiple valences in 1793—its year of publication—and it is hard not to hear, in the phrase “civil dissentions”, a certain cautionary admonition regarding not only imperial, but also national affairs. In light of the melancholy prompted by this icon of the mutability of dynastic power is thus entirely appropriate that phallic British governance be figured forth not architecturally but rather as a living organism whose extension constitutes a fantasy of paternal self-replication.
20. The style of paternal masculinity which Hodges associates with both Akbar and Hastings resonates with the emergence of a crucial trope—both visual and textual—from Britain’s ongoing struggles with Mysore. In his careful management of the famous hostage transaction which ended the third Mysore War in 1793, Cornwallis, and those representing the event, did everything possible to suggest that Tipu Sultan’s sons would receive a form of paternal care previously unknown to them in their father’s household. This declaration of paternal benevolence was explicitly mobilized to contrast with the treatment of British captives by Hyder Ali following Pollilur.  This gesture coalesced with the emergence of a proto-ethnographic “explanation” for why Indian populations were incapable of governing themselves that linked subject populations to non-normative sexualities. In this rhetoric, the native population of India was divided along religious and ethnic lines and polarized by gendered fantasies of identity.  Between the poles of always already feminized Hindu subjects and hyper-masculinized present Moslem rulers, such as Tipu Sultan, lies an internal capsule of normative masculinity. Hodges’s complex deployment of gender and sexuality in the description of the banyan tree speaks to the ongoing spectre of loss in Mysore set into motion in the first chapter of the Travels, but it does so in a way that both forecloses and opens the problematic of governmentality. In Hodges’s text, the former rule of Akbar and the present example of the East India Company exist uneasily in this realm of normativity because the distinction between past and present is the only thing preventing the collapse between Moslem and Christian rule.
21. If we take one last look at the banyan tree image we can discern three layers of displacement. In the background, the ancient pagod which framed Mahadewi in Picart’s picture has given way to an image from the future: a small parsonage superimposed on a now obsolete Hindu temple. In the middle ground, Mahadewi’s envaginated face has been erased and the tree itself emerges as a fantasy of phallic British rule. And the ancient religious practices of the faqirs have been replaced by present commerce. And in the foreground, something new emerges. The aged Hindu man looking out at the viewer is not only detached from the past of Picart’s image, but he seems to hail the viewer, or perhaps even Hodges, into a new temporal relationship beyond the conventional aesthetic objectives of the picturesque. It is as though the old man’s gaze establishes precisely what Hodges and by extension his audience desired all along: a relationship which figures forth the artist/observer as a phallic ruler over the subject of the image. Remember Hodges asserts that during the time of truly successful native insurgency there is no art. Here in 1793 following what was supposed to be victory over Tipu, Hodges text can revel in the power of domination. Isn’t that what is coded into the penitential pose of the figure in the foreground, for this is not an intersubjective glance, but a gaze of subjection. And the viewer accedes to the scene of paternal forgiveness perhaps needed to overcome the psychic, governmental and historical impasse occasioned in 1781. In this re-figuring of the past Hodges has sketched the future for himself and for those to whom he wishes to sell the Travels—a future that brings his art through the picturesque distancing from the political towards the moral exemplifications and re-invigorated Georgic tropes associated with Romanticism. 
Cowper’s Oak, or the American Ghost
22. After his return from India, Hodges’s time was divided between preparing his Indian paintings and drawings for publication either in Select Views in India or Travels in India and embarking on a series of exemplary moral landscapes of notable British sites. Arguably the most significant of these, prior to the famous pair of paintings The Effects of Peace and The Consequences of War of 1794, was his South View of Windsor, taken from the Great Park.  The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1787 and quickly transformed into a very high quality engraving “following the same format he was simultaneously adopting for the striking prints of A View of the Emperor Shere Shah at Sasseram in Bahar and A View of the Gate of the Tomb of the Emperor Akbar at Secundrii....In this sense, Hodges implicitly offers Windsor as the centre of the Britain’s empire as well as the nation, through such comparisons with Mughal dynastic sites”.  The picture itself is perhaps not surprising. As Quilley and Bonehill indicate, “the picture gives a panoramic view across the park and countryside with the focal point of the castle in the centre distance, in an evocation of an ordered, harmonious landscape that is to be understood as at once natural and political” (194). The pair of oaks on the right frames both the stags in the foreground and the castle in the background, and thus perform precisely the sheltering function that oaks had performed in numerous contexts from at least the time of Locke. Pope’s "Windsor Forest" comes to mind no less than patriotic evocations of oak trees by William Whitehead throughout the American war.
23. But something is amiss. In both Pope and Whitehead, British oaks have a global reach either through their transformation into warships in the case of Windsor Forest, or through a certain political extension in Whitehead.  Here is Whitehead writing as Laureate on the eve of the American War:
24. This figure of the spreading branches of the British oak—here extending across the Atlantic itself—is simply not possible in the 1780s. The loss of the American colonies has lead to a certain restraint in this emblematic figure. But this spatial restraint is supplemented by a renewed investment in the oak’s capacity to figure forth historical continuity: spatial extension gives way to temporal reach.
25. I think we can see something of this in Hodges' picture, for its rendering of power is remarkably contained and in many ways looped in on itself. The oak frames the stags which rest before the seat of the King. All three pictorial elements are the literal possessions of the Crown and each one figures for the Crown. In this sense, they are doubled versions of each other and thus the concentration of power is in a sense overdetermined. That overdetermination suggests that the entire composition is attempting to shore up something that may not be as solid as it first appears. This is only exacerbated by the format of the print itself. Modelled on his iconic pictures of the ruins of former Mughal stability, Hodges’s view of Windsor has the potential to be read not only as the consolidation of dynastic power, but also as a further example of the mutability of empire. In other words, the allegorical relation set up between Windsor and the Tomb of Akbar establishes the British crown as both the substitute for Mughal power and its double. This reaffirms Britain’s claim to governance in the present, but uses the Mughal past to interrogate the future of British rule not only in the colonies, but also at the very centre of the empire. The question posed by the comparison is what will prevent the British state from receding into obsolescence in roughly the same manner as Akbar’s regime?
26. Hodges’s picture allows us to recognize a similar combination of restraint and overdetermination in what is perhaps the most significant mobilization of the oak figure in the late eighteenth century. I am referring of course to Burke’s use of the oak to figure forth the British constitution in Reflections on the Revolution in France:
27. It is for this reason that Burke’s figure sacrifices extensibility to duration by intertwining the life cycle of the tree with the bonds of the family:
28. As with my analysis of Hodges, we need to go back to the global war of the early 1780s in order to move forward. In early December of 1781, less than two months after Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown, William Cowper sent an imaginary “sociable conversation” to his friend Joseph Hill in which Cowper articulated his thoughts on the American War. After stating that he knew of no one up to the task of leading Britain out of the conflict, Cowper offered the following summary of the state of the empire:
29. For Cowper and others, the reverses of the early 1780s, both in America and in other colonial locales, raised the simultaneous possibility that British culture may die and yet live on in a ghostly form elsewhere. The complex temporality of this ghosting procedure and the figural attempts to keep it under control are the primary focus of the reading which follows. In Hodges, I demonstrated one example of how past losses could be refigured as future domination. Cowper’s "Yardley Oak" enacts a similar phantasmatic displacement of past losses. The crucial difference is that Cowper’s focuses far less on the compensatory fantasy of domination over colonial others, but rather on the renewed fantasy of national consolidation.
30. The political dilemma presented in Cowper’s letter presupposes a strong sense of the integration of colony and metropole. For Cowper, the loss of America implies the ruin of England; his thoughts on the non-distinction of England and America emerge frequently in his letters, but nowhere more explicitly than in the following missive to John Newton:
31. Roughly ten years after Cowper’s appraisal of the end of the American war, he found himself again contemplating the destruction of the nation, only this time he deploys a cultural rather than a natural trope for disintegration:
32. This same sense of Providential retribution suffuses “Yardley Oak”, but it is played out not only with more rhetorical force, but also with more historical specificity:
33. But this isn’t all that is achieved here. The metaphorical comparison between the oak tree and “the shatter’d vet’ran” also activates the memory of past war—and not the triumphalism following the Seven Year’s War, but rather the sense of loss characteristic of Cowper’s remarks on the American war. I believe that this phrase evokes the wounded veteran of the American war and this oak is shattered like the potter’s vessel alluded to in Cowper’s 1793 letter. The full connotations of this metaphor are not activated until seventy lines later, but it is the central enigma of the poem. In what sense is the tree shattered and in what way is it a veteran?
34. These questions are temporarily supplanted by an explicit statement of the desire to venerate the tree, which concludes the first verse paragraph:
35. When we recognize that the capacity to provide shade is precisely the feature of the figure that is so appealing to Burke, then I think the full import of Cowper’s intervention becomes clear. For Cowper, the loss of the American colonies and the predicted failure of the war with France amount to symptomatic signs of God’s displeasure with the corruption of British liberty, both at a national and imperial level. What is remarkable here is that Cowper’s opening verse paragraph activates the entire historical predicament with such iconic specificity: the shattered oak, the banyan tree, the sense of a nation deformed and hollowed out from the inside. But most importantly their collocation suggests that all of these connotations are comparable to one another and to the speaker himself. This collocation lies beneath my decision to consider the banyan and the oak in the same essay, because it implies that these figures, like India and Britain, are bound up in a global historical dynamic.
36. As the poem unfolds, the two primary elements of the oak figure—extension and duration—are scrutinized historically; and by this I mean that their figural potential is tested against the historical moment of 1791. Cowper’s evaluation of this moment in Britain’s history is dire and the poem is suffused with a sense of past or passing glory. As one might expect, Cowper plays out the “mutability in all/That we account most durable below” (70-1), and traces “thy growth/From almost nullity into a state/Of matchless grandeur, and declension thence/Slow into such magnificent decay.” (87-90) The pun on “state” bolsters the direct assertion that Britain is in a condition of irrevocable, but nonetheless majesterial, decline. It is almost the same language used by Hodges to describe the obsolescence of the Mughal dynasty.
37. But Cowper’s description of the tree focuses our attention on the tree’s boughs and on the hollowing out of its trunk:
38. But nestled within this fairly explicit critique is a very subtle gesture. Imperial war is evoked by the pun on “tortuous arms”, but by focussing the reader’s attention on a fairly arcane element of ship-building—knee timber—Cowper consigns the “arms” figure to the notes, only to activate it in a surprisingly brutal fashion in the next verse paragraph. At the most explicit comparison between the oak and the state, the speaker suddenly discloses that the tree affords no shelter because it has no limbs:
39. With the loss of its arms, the tree’s capacity to figure forth shelter has been permanently compromised. From this figural dismemberment comes a different possibility for metaphor. This tree becomes notable not for its arms, but for its screaming mouth:
40. It is in this light that the poem’s truncated ending—the poem remained incomplete—gains its resonance. At the very moment that the speaker declares that the tree is bereft of arms and un-memorialized, he also insists that the tree endures:
41. But whether Cowper is referring to France or to new patriots in Britain is not crucial. What follows in both the cancelled and the retained versions of the poem is an explicit adoption of a pedagogical stance. Since the “shatter’d vet’ran” can no longer speak, its double, the oracular poet, must perform:
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 See Baucom, Makdisi, Franklin, Coleman, Leask, Barrell, and Richardson and Hofkosh, for a sense of the range of work in this area. BACK
 Eaton, 35-42. See de Almeida and Gilpin, 121-22 for a reading of how the Banyan tree is deployed in the celebration of Hastings’s rule in Hodges’s "Natives drawing Water from a Pond With Warren Hastings House at Alipur in the Distance" (1781). This painting bears obvious comparison to the engraving of the banyan tree in Travels in India. BACK
 Fenning, 180. Col. Ironside’s, Account of a Banian tree, in the Province of Bahar offers a less rhetorically inflected description of the tree:
 For a discussion of the banyan tree's figural function during the height of the Raj see Pinney. BACK
 Bernard Picart, The ceremonies and religious customs of the various nations of the world... vol.4 (London: William Jackson, 1733). BACK
 This envagination is also discernable in James Phillip’s engraving View of Cubbeer Burr, the Celebrated Banyan Tree of 1789. This engraving is based on a painting by James Wales which is in turn based on James Forbes’s drawings from the 1770s. BACK
 This also diverges from Milton’s feminization of the banyan in tree in Book IX of Paradise Lost. Rajan’s reading of the multivalent possibilities of the Milton’s passage in Under Western Eyes: India from Milton to Macaulay, 59-62 gives some sense of the closure effected in Hodges’s representation of the banyan tree. As we will see later in this essay, Milton’s deployment of the banyan tree is important to Cowper’s rendering of the oak tree. BACK
 Charles Grant’s Observations on the State of Society among the Asiatic Subjects of Great Britain, particularly with respect to Morals; and on the means of improving it.—Written chiefly in the Year 1792, which argued vociferously for the propagation of Christian religion in the subcontinent was disseminated at the same time as Hodges’s Travels. BACK
 See Goodman for an important recent argument regarding the significance of Georgic discourse to the emergence of British Romanticism. BACK
 See Harriet Guest’s analysis of these now missing paintings in "The Consequences of War’ in the winter of 1794-95" in Quilley and Bonehill, 61-70. BACK
 I am using Foucault’s notion of the “symbolics of blood” advisedly because as both Foucault and Ann Laura Stoler have argued the transformation of this symbolics plays a crucial role in the emergence of biological state racism in the nineteenth century. I am arguing that Burke’s text can be folded into the pre-history of biopower. See Stoler, 19-54 and 60-1. BACK
 For a pair of stimulating essays addressing the afterlife of Cowper’s poem in Wordsworth and Clare, see Tim Fulford’s "Wordsworth’s The Haunted Tree and the Sexual Politics of Landscape" (2001) in Romanticism and Ecology and "Cowper, Wordsworth, Clare: The Politics of Trees" (1995) The John Clare Society Journal 14. BACK
 William Cowper, The Letters and Prose Writings of William Cowper. Volume IV. Ed. James King and Charles Rykamp (Oxford: Clarendon, 1984). All subsequent references will be presented in the text by volume and page number. BACK
 William Cowper, “Yardley Oak” in The Poems of William Cowper ed. John D. Baird and Charles Ryskamp, 3 Vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1980-), 77-82. All subsequent references will be given by line number in the text. BACK
 There are certain resonances between this passage and the opening of Book 3 of Virgil’s Aeneid. In Dryden’s translation, the speaker refers to the cutting of sacred trees: