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By Michael Tomko (auth.)

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Extra resources for British Romanticism and the Catholic Question: Religion, History and National Identity, 1778–1829

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While the slave trade and Catholic Emancipation were often associated, Byron, with characteristic irony, claims to ‘pity the Catholic peasantry for not having the good fortune to be born black’ (34). The comparisons do not end there, however, as he also links Catholic and Jewish plights: It was said by somebody in a former debate ... if the Catholics are emancipated, why not the Jews? ’ (39) Rather than finding development or progress in history, Byron focuses on the historical oppression of minorities, whether they are Catholic, Jewish or African.

The succeeding government of Fox, Grenville and Sidmouth united leaders from across the political spectrum in the ‘Ministry of All Talents’. In the face of the Peninsular Wars with Napoleon, the Ministry proposed to The Purgatorial Politics of the Catholic Question 29 strengthen the Empire and nation, not through force of arms or preserving the constitution from a Catholic influence, but through reform. Within this milieu, The Wild Irish Girl articulates and promotes the hope that a new national understanding might emerge from the resolution of the Catholic Question and the Act of Union.

In the October 1808 issue of The Edinburgh Review, Sydney Smith felt the need to counter the prevalent view among supporters of Catholic Emancipation that: though the argument is given up, and the justice of the Catholic cause admitted, it seems to be generally conceived, that their case, at present, is utterly hopeless; and that, to advocate it any longer, 34 British Romanticism and the Catholic Question will only irritate the oppressed, without producing any change of opinion in those by whose influence and authority that oppression is continued.

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