Keats's 'Outburnt Lamp'

Winifred Wing Yin Liu

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


On 21 December, Keats forwarded a copy of the Examiner to his brothers, saying that reformist publisher William Hone has done ‘an essential service’ to what he called ‘Liberty’s Emblazoning’. Later in the month, he wrote ‘King Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream’ to celebrate Hone’s acquittal. Earlier in May 1817, William Hone was arrested for publishing three parodies that satirised the Prince Regent and the Jenkinson cabinet in the style of the Anglican litany. In an attempt to censor dissent, Tory ministers charged him with blasphemy. Hone was later pronounced Not Guilty on 20 December 1817, and Aileen Ward has suggested that Hone incited a ‘universal interest’ in religious parody – as a result, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream’ and the opening of Book III of Endymion were Keats’s attempts at ‘trying his hand at political parody as a gesture of solidarity with Hone and defiance of the Government’.
Building on Ward’s propositions, I observe that Keats had already expressed strong dislike for government and institutionalised religion prior to Hone’s trials in 1817. Hence, this paper shall offer an outline of the socio-political events underpinning ‘Written on 29 May: The Anniversary of the Restoration of Charles II’ (1815) and ‘Written in Disgust of Vulgar Superstition’ (1816). I shall then discuss how Keats viewed the Anglican Church as an opponent to reform, and pay particular attention to Keats’s melancholic imagery of church bells and ‘outburnt lamps’.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 20 May 2022


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