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The Field of Imagination

Thomas Paine and Eighteenth-Century Poetry
Scott M. Cleary

BUY Cloth · 186 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813942933 · $39.50 · Sep 2019
BUY Ebook · 186 pp. · ISBN 9780813942940 · $39.50 · Sep 2019

One of America’s Founding Fathers, Thomas Paine is best remembered as the pamphleteer who inspired the American Revolution. Yet few also know him as an eighteenth-century poet of considerable repute. In The Field of Imagination, Scott Cleary offers the first book on Paine’s poetry, exploring how poetry written both by and about Paine is central to understanding his development as a political theorist.

Despite his claim in The Age of Reason that he was abandoning poetry because it led too much into the "field of imagination," Paine never completely left poetry behind. He took advantage of his position as editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine to situate his poetry in relation to the magazine’s tacit support of American independence. He drew on two British poets, James Thomson and Charles Churchill, to provide revealing epigraphs for his major early works in support of that independence, and in turn he himself became an influence on early American poets such as Joel Barlow and Philip Freneau.

Paine’s poetry has until now been largely relegated to the status of scholarly curiosity. But whether through his own poetry, his thoughts on the place and function of poetry in the Age of Reason, or his deep influence on the poetry of the early American republic, Paine’s involvement in poetical craft provides a lens onto the unique and tempestuous literary culture of the eighteenth century.


Cleary reconstructs Paine's poetry in terms of a shift from a British to an American identity, and in this book we get a much clearer sense of the meaning and importance of his poetry to Paine than has been made evident elsewhere. This is a well-informed, careful, and nuanced study which greatly surpasses anything previously written in this area

Gregory Claeys is Professor of History at Royal Holloway, University of London

About the Author: 

Scott M. Cleary is Associate Professor of English at Iona College and coeditor of New Directions in Thomas Paine Studies.

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