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On Tongues and Ears

On Tongues and Ears

Divine Voices in the Modern Metropolis

(p.137) Chapter 7 On Tongues and Ears
London Voices, 1820-1840
James Grande
University of Chicago Press

In accounts of voice and vocality in early nineteenth-century London, two dominant narratives emerge. If one concerns political representation—having, or finding, a voice, in an age of petitions, protests, and parliamentary reform—the other revolves around a new set of claims that were being made for the idealized voices of high art. This chapter, however, focuses on some alternative accounts of listening and speaking, which disrupt the narratives of Romanticism and reform and challenge our sense of London’s nineteenth-century modernity. It takes its cue from Charles Lamb’s 1821 essay “A Chapter on Ears,” an anguished response to new attitudes towards musical listening which reflects Lamb’s background in the culture of Protestant dissent. It then turns to the 1822 arrival of the celebrity preacher Edward Irving, who quickly became one of the most talked about, listened to, captivating voices in London. The two are linked through the figure of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a submerged presence in Lamb’s essay and a close friend and mentor to Irving. These heterodox histories, of frustrated listening, charismatic oratory, and—finally—of inspired speech, or glossolalia, suggest the persistence of some residual regimes of voice, which now seem strangely proleptic of our own religious present.

Keywords:   Charles Lamb, listening, Protestant dissent, Edward Irving, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, glossolalia, oratory

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