The first of these books is the product of an interdisciplinary conference at which literary critics and historians exchanged perspectives on a year conspicuous both for political conflict and for politically charged literature. Alas, it would take more than conferences for the two disciplines to understand each other. A number of the literary critics dwelled on the fear of tyranny that was voiced in (and around) 1614 by poets and historians, an anxiety given focus by the breakdown of the short-lived Parliament that was called in the spring and by the imprisonment of the Crown's principal critics within it. The lecture by Conrad Russell, the dominant historian of the politics of the period, found no place for such sentiments. To him the substance of early modern Parliamentary activity lies in the grind and details of the legislative process, not in the declamatory gestures of the disgruntled. He has spent most of his career challenging the Whiggish emphases, favoured by earlier generations, on constitutional conflict and the cause of liberty. Having seen off most of his fellow historians, he now met the literary critics. The poetry they quoted, though it was widely circulated among contemporaries, was evidently new to him. With engaging candour he wondered if he had spent his life looking in the wrong places. In the printed version of the lecture he has recovered his poise. Though gesturing courteously to the ideal of interdisciplinarity, he concludes that he was right all along.
LRB 6 November 2003 | PDF Download