1st Edition

Robert Pollok’s The Course of Time and Literary Theodicy in the Romantic Age The Rise and Fall of a Christian Epic

By Deryl Davis Copyright 2024
    272 Pages 3 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book explores the contexts and reception history of Robert Pollok’s religious epic The Course of Time (1827), one of the best- selling long poems of the nineteenth century, which has been almost entirely forgotten today. Widely read in the United States and across the British Empire, the poem’s combination of evangelical Calvinism, High Romanticism, and native Scottishness proved irresistible to many readers. This monograph traces the poem’s origins as a defense of Biblical authority, divine providence, and religious orthodoxy (against figures like Byron and Joseph Priestley) and explores the reasons for The Course of Time’s enormous, decades- long popularity and later precipitous decline. A close reading of the poem and an examination of its reception history offers readers important insights into the dynamic relationship between religion and wider culture in the nineteenth century, the uses of literature as a vehicle for theological argument and theodicy, and the important but often overlooked role that religion played in literary— and, particularly, Scottish— Romanticism. This work will appeal to scholars of religious history, literary history, Evangelicalism, Romanticism, Scottish literature, and nineteenth- century culture.





    Introduction: Robert Pollok and the Contexts of The Course of Time


    Summary of The Course of Time


    Note on Language


    Chapter 1: Miltonic Theodicy in the Romantic Age


    Chapter 2: Epic Correspondences: How Pollok Used Milton


    Chapter 3: Sources of Inspiration:  Byron, John Dick, Edward Irving and old Mortality


    Chapter 4: The Poem a Sermon: Religion and Moral Portraiture in The Course of Time


    Chapter 5: Sharpening Weapons at the Forge of Byron: Romanticism and Apocalypticism in The Course of Time


    Chapter 6: The Rise and Fall of a Christian Epic








    Deryl Davis is Adjunct Professor of Theology and the Arts at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., and a producer with Journey Films, a documentary film company making films on religion and spirituality for public television. He received his Ph.D. in Literature, Theology, and the Arts from the University of Glasgow, Scotland.

    The Course of Time was one of the most popular poems in the century after its publication. But in twentieth-century criticism, it almost entirely disappeared. Deryl Davis’s ground-breaking book, the first to focus on the poem, explains why it once mattered – and why it should matter more today.


    Crawford GribbenProfessor of History, Queen’s University Belfast



    Now almost forgotten, Robert Pollok's The Course of Time (1827) was an enormously influential best seller in its day, sometimes compared to Milton's Paradise Lost. Deryl Davis' new book examines its importance within Scottish Romanticism and the theology and literature of its time and why it was forgotten later in the nineteenth century. Davis' work makes an important contribution to the field of Romanticism and to the religious and literary world of early nineteenth-century Scotland.


    David JasperEmeritus Professor, Literature and Theology, University of Glasgow



    This is a culturally sensitive reassessment of one the big poetic texts in Scotland and well beyond during the early nineteenth century. Discarded and forgotten but now disinterred, Pollok and The Course of Time have much that is worth pondering for a readership interested in literature and theology in the twenty-first century.

     Gerard CarruthersFrancis Hutcheson Professor of Scottish Literature, University of Glasgow