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Abstract

In “Signs of the Times” (1829), Thomas Carlyle characterizes what we now call the Romantic period as obsessed with crisis. After an account of what distinguishes Romantic anxieties of decline from 18th century precedents, this essay reads the period’s anxiety of impending decline as an index of how those living through this period understood their own historicity. Through close attention to Anna Barbauld’s poem Eighteen Hundred and Eleven (1812), it asks about the kind of cultural work done by the forecast of ruin and reflects on how such anticipations of decline produce cultural and literary value, and how they seek, paradoxically, to stave off decline through the very acknowledgement of its inevitability.