William Gilbert, poet, theosophist and astrologer, published The Hurricane: A Theosophical and Western Eclogue in Bristol in 1796, while he was on intimate terms with key members of Bristol literary culture: Coleridge published an extract from The Hurricane in his radical periodical The Watchman; Robert Southey wrote of the poem’s ‘passages of exquisite Beauty’; and William Wordsworth praised and quoted a long passage from Gilbert’s poem in The Excursion. The Hurricane is a copiously annotated 450 line blank verse visionary poem set on the island of Antigua where, in 1763, Gilbert was born into a slave-owning Methodist family. The poem can be grouped with other apocalyptic poems of the 1790s—Blake’s Continental Prophecies, Coleridge's Religious Musings, Southey's Joan of Arc—all of which gave a spiritual interpretation to the dramatic political upheavals of their time. William Gilbert and Esoteric Romanticism presents the untold story of Gilbert’s progress from the radical occultist circles of 1790s London to his engagement with the first generation Romantics in Bristol. At the heart of the book is the first modern edition of The Hurricane, fully annotated to reveal the esoteric metaphysics at its core, followed by close interpretative analysis of this strange elusive poem.
Paul Cheshire has written a number of articles on Coleridge and his contemporaries, including a chapter on Coleridge’s notebooks for the Oxford Handbook of S T Coleridge. He has also written on the influence of seventeenth-century hermetic philosophy on Milton. His initial study of The Hurricane ‘The Hermetic Geography of William Gilbert’, appeared in Romanticism in 2003.
'Paul Cheshire is unquestionably the world authority on William Gilbert and The Hurricane. Based on extensive original research, this ground-breaking study will return Gilbert to the forefront of critical attention, locating him in relation to more famous contemporaries and setting-out for the first time his esoteric brand of Romanticism and its many affinities with more familiar Romantic authors and texts, ideas and concepts. Presenting its key text—The Hurricane—in full at its centre, the book fills a conspicuous gap in current understandings and opens numerous new avenues for further research.'
Nicholas Roe, Wardlaw Professor of English Literature, University of St Andrews
Of The Hurricane:
'A strange poem with still stranger notes.'
'This is an unusual book about an unusual man. In his engagingly written, intensively researched study of the life and work of William Gilbert, Paul Cheshire illuminates the hermetic vision underpinning Gilbert’s allegorical poem The Hurricane, and widens its scope to explore the influence of western esoteric thought on the imagination of the Romantic poets in a manner which touches on issues still alive and vital in our own transitional times.'
Lindsay Clarke, Whitbread Prize-winning author of The Chymical Wedding and The Water Theatre.
'William Gilbert was a leading member of the utopian, apocalyptic and artistic movement of the 1790s, a remarkable period in British – and European – history. He was a major influence on the Romantic poets, and his presence is felt in Coleridge’s masterpiece, ‘Kubla Khan’. Paul Cheshire’s remarkable biography brings this forgotten genius to life, restoring him to his proper place in our artistic and radical history.'
Nicholas Campion, Associate Professor in Cosmology and Culture, University of Wales Trinity Saint David