Emotions and Politics in “Letters Written in France”

A preconceived assumption of modern and past youth is the inability to feel emotions deeply.  However, in Helen Maria Williams’ “Letters Written in France, in the Summer of 1790” the youthful enthusiasm and deep emotion is conveyed in very strong terms.  Williams writes in such a way that you can feel her excitement, “[…] how am I to give you an adequate idea of the behaviour of the spectators?  How am I to paint the impetous feelings of that immense, that exulting multitude?” (109)  In this passage, I believe that Williams is euphoric with the sublime, another characteristic of the Romantic Era youth.  The sublime to Williams was being in a spectacle of another world, the celebrations of the first year anniversary of liberating the Bastille, and feeling all the emotions that came along with being in the midst of the jubilant celebrations.  She declares that she cannot do justice to the things the people are doing, but she can describe the general attitude of the people, “[…] addressed itself at once to the imagination, the understanding, and the heart!” (109)  Perhaps her enthusiasm came from the fact that not only was she a youth herself, but in the 1790s the British government was reacting against the French Revolution by spying on and busting up political party meetings. (“The Rights of Man and the Revolution Controversy”, 108)  Williams was writing a letter back to her friend who was in England at that time, perhaps she was conveying the happiness and enthusiasm felt by all, even the old, of liberation.


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