Oaths, Odes and Orations 1789-1830

2022 Paris Symposium of the London-Paris Romanticism Seminar

Friday 9 and Saturday 10 December 2022

Maison de la recherche, Sorbonne Université (Friday) and Ecole Normale Supérieure (Saturday)

Scroll down for introductory statement / CFP 




10h            Welcome and registration: Maison de la recherche, 18 rue Serpente

10h15         Presentation: London-Paris Romanticism Seminar (Marc Porée, Paris director and David Duff, London director); Presentation: SERA (Caroline Bertonèche, President)

10h30        Panel – Revolutionary Voices

Pierre LURBE (Sorbonne Université) ‘“The spouting rant of high-toned exclamation”: The Art of Oral/Aural Caricature in Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man’

Robert W. JONES (University of Leeds)  ‘Rhetoric, Resistance and the Nation: Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s Speech, 20 April 1798’

11h30        COFFEE BREAK

12h            Keynote Lecture 1

Francesco BUSCEMI (University of Groningen)  ‘How To Do Things with Oaths: Militancy and Loyalty in the French Revolution’

13h              LUNCH

14h30          Panel — Varieties of Oratory

Dafydd MOORE (University of Plymouth)  ‘Richard Polwhele and Pulpit Oratory in the Eighteenth-century English Province’

Anna ANSELMO (University of Ferrara)  ‘Henry “Orator” Hunt’s Letters to the Manchester Magistrates: Illocutionary Acts and the Representation of Social Actors’

15h30          COFFEE BREAK

16h              Keynote Lecture 2

Judith THOMPSON (Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia)  ‘Thelwall’s French Connection: La Voix de la Girouette

17h              RECEPTION



9h15          Welcome and registration: Salle Celan, ENS, rue d’Ulm

9h30          Panel – The Ode: Form and Function

Will BOWERS (Queen Mary University of London)  ‘The Ode Disinterred’

Paul HAMILTON (Queen Mary University of London)  ‘Odes et al.’

10h30        COFFEE BREAK                             

11h            Panel – Performative Language and Public Address

Catherine BOIS (Université Paris Nanterre)  ‘Poetic/Rhetorical Ethos and the Performative Power of Words in The Prelude, Books 9-10’

David DUFF (Queen Mary University of London)  ‘Blake’s Public Addresses’

12h            LUNCH                                                                             

13h30        Keynote Lecture 3

Rémy DUTHILLE (Université Bordeaux Montaigne)  ‘Toasting, Oratory and Parody in 1790s Britain’

14hr30       END OF CONFERENCE


Introductory statement / CFP

The Tennis Court Oath of 20 June 1789 was the first overtly revolutionary act of the French Revolution and marked the beginning of an epoch in which public speech acts took on unprecedented political significance. The ceremonial odes and hymns of the fêtes de fédération were another manifestation of this renascence of orality, restoring the ancient Pindaric tradition of poetry as public performance and giving new meaning to odic conventions such as invocation, exhortation and apostrophe. In the work of André Chénier and others, this new lyric function produced major poetry. Meanwhile, in the halls of the political clubs, in the National Convention and revolutionary Committees, and from lecterns, pulpits and courtroom benches across France, oratory of all kinds shaped the course of history and decided the fate of individuals. Even on the executioner’s scaffold, rhetorical amplification became the preferred mode of address, a grim illustration of Baudelaire’s subsequent observation about ‘the grandiloquent truth of gestures on life’s great occasions’.

The revitalisation of performative language was not confined to the 1789 Revolution, nor to France. Britain experienced what many still consider a golden age of political eloquence, as orators of the calibre of Pitt, Burke, Fox and Sheridan jousted in parliament and extended their orations through the medium of print. Outside parliament, the growth of the corresponding societies, of other political clubs and associations, and of political lecturing created numerous opportunities for public address, the communicative practices and clandestine rituals of certain organisations attracting repressive measures such as the Unlawful Oaths Act of 1797. Radical writers mimicked French revolutionary styles in odes to Liberty and on the Bastille, while satirists parodied their efforts in mock-odes to the guillotine and pseudo-songs travestying revolutionary enthusiasm. Sermons, notably in the Nonconformist churches, were another front in the oral war of ideas, fusing religion and politics in provocative ways. Educational lecturing also underwent a remarkable boom, in the new Royal Institution and other fashionable lecturing institutions.

This two-day symposium will assess the literary significance of this mobilisation of orality and public utterance, and explore links between the speech acts of politicians, polemicists and educators and the writings of poets and other authors. How is the Romantic revaluation of the ode which produced the famous lyrics of Coleridge, Keats, Shelley and Victor Hugo – and of less well-known figures such as Southey, Hemans, Iolo Morganwg and Peter Pindar – connected with the revival of ceremonial ode-writing and public ritual? How are the ‘speech genres’ of everyday life integrated into the more complex genres of imaginative literature, as Bakhtin postulated? Can speech-writing, sermonising or toast-making be themselves a form of literary activity? What happens when legally, morally binding oaths and commitments are broken, forcing the swearer to recant, in public again – are such disavowals part of the culture of apostasy and disenchantment posited by literary historians of Romanticism? And to what extent do these purposive deployments of public speech enter the literary and rhetorical theory of the period?

We invite proposals on any aspect of the literary and verbal life of Britain and France from 1789 to 1830 that relates to this broad set of issues. Topics may include but are not confined to:

  • Oaths, affirmations and other verbal rituals
  • Toasts and toasting
  • Public lectures and lecturing
  • Denunciation, recantation and confession
  • Proclamations, declarations and vindications
  • Odes, hymns and songs
  • Apostrophe, personification and other poetic devices
  • Literature and public ceremony
  • Dialectic of publicness and privacy in Romantic lyric
  • Political, religious and forensic oratory
  • Illocutionary acts and performative language
  • Gendered eloquence
  • Dialogues and dialogism
  • Rhetorical theory of the Romantic period


Scientific Committee

Prof Marc Porée (ENS Ulm, Paris)

Prof David Duff (Queen Mary University of London)

Prof Caroline Bertonèche (Université Grenoble Alpes/ Société d’Études du Romantisme Anglais)

Dr Laurent Folliot (Sorbonne Université)

Dr Sophie Laniel-Musitelli (Université de Lille/ Institut Universitaire de France)


Previous symposia

Details of previous symposia are available on the Past Events page. Publications arising from these events can be accessed from the Publications page.