Valerie Rumbold delivers the Warton Lecture

Posted on Friday 14th May 2010

The Department is proud to report that Dr Valerie Rumbold, Reader in English, was invited by the British Academy to give the prestigious Warton Lecture on English Poetry for this year, and duly did so on Tuesday 4 May 2010 at the British Academy in London.  Her topic was: 'The Reason of this Preference': Sleeping, Flowing and Freezing in Pope's Dunciad.

The Warton Lecture on English Poetry was endowed by Mrs Frida Mond in 1910 (with the Shakespeare Lecture). In a letter to the Academy's Secretary, Sir Israel Gollancz, she asked that an annual lecture be given as a tribute to Thomas Warton, 'the first historian of English poetry, whose work not only led the way to the scientific study of English Literature, but also stimulated creative genius, and played no small part in the Romantic Revival'.

Dr Rumbold’s lecture can now be heard as a podcast.  The lecture begins by concentrating on a small building block from one of Pope's major poems—a couplet of his that was reputedly his favourite. When Samuel Johnson was collecting material for his life of Pope, one of his informants claimed to be able to identify for him 'the couplet by which he [i.e. Pope] declared his own ear to be most gratified'. The couplet, from The Dunciad, depicts the Sea of Azov, and the river that flows into it. Johnson quoted it, and noted 'But the reason of this preference I cannot discover'. By focusing on the process through which Pope shaped this couplet Dr Rumbold shows that we can not only sharpen our appreciation of this one small unit, but also develop insights into the wider significance of its structure and themes for Pope's work more generally.