Ungovernable passions: intoxication and Romanticism

James Nicholls

in The Politics of Alcohol

Published by Manchester University Press

Published in print October 2009 | ISBN: 9780719077050
Published online July 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781781702758 | DOI:
Ungovernable passions: intoxication and Romanticism

Show Summary Details


The ‘ungovernable passions’ which characterised the habitual drinker took on a new resonance as sensibility mutated into full-blown Romanticism. Whereas habitual drinkers had previously been described, diagnosed, defined, and dissected from the outside — by sober preachers, doctors and moralists — they were about to start speaking for themselves. The first example of this appeared in a book called Some Enquiries into the Effects of Fermented Liquors, published in 1814 by Basil Montagu. Charles Lamb's use of Miltonic allusion both aggrandises the experience of addiction, and creates an analogy between intoxication and the Fall of Man. Intoxication has always had a special relationship with art. Symposiastic poetry, which praised alcohol for both its conviviality and its ability to inspire, was popular from the Renaissance onwards. Robert Burns revitalised the tradition of symposiastic verse in poems such as ‘Scotch drink’, as well as incorporating them into ‘Tam O'Shanter’: a poem which celebrated the pleasures of convivial drinking in the warmest terms, while using drunkenness as the occasion for the wildly hallucinogenic imagery of the denouement.

Keywords: intoxication; Romanticism; habitual drinkers; drunkenness; Basil Montagu; Charles Lamb; addiction; symposiastic poetry; Robert Burns; alcohol

Chapter.  2990 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.