The Graveyard School


No, not a place (though it would look great on a diploma), the "Graveyard School" refers to a group of primarily 18th Century poets and writers, mostly male (which is why here at LitGothic we tend to think of them, affectionately, as "the Boneyard Boys") whose writings frequently touched on themes of death, mortality, religion, and melancholy. Often elegiac in tone (and title) — an elegy is, by the 18th Century, simply a poem in lament of a death — these poems make frequent use of funereal or gloomy imagery, though their purpose was rarely sensationalist. Most of the Graveyard School poets were very Christian writers — many were in fact clergymen — who used the imagery of night, death, and gloom in spiritual contemplations of human mortality and our relation to the divine.

Quite popular even into the early years of the C19, the Graveyard School was, not surprisingly, an important factor in the development of the Gothic novel, helping to create not only a vocabulary of gloomy imagery but a popular taste that recognized the emotional, moral, and even "psychological" value of that imagery. In their frequent emphasis on the lives of ordinary, even unidentified individuals and the death of those individuals, the Graveyard School writers are sometimes taken as precursors of the Romantic interest in the commonplace, and the melancholic introspection of many Graveyard School works prefigures and contributes to the Romantic fondness for self-scrutiny of various emotional states, including "negative" states; see, for example, Coleridge's "Dejection: An Ode" or Keats' "Ode on Melancholy."

Want more? There's a short overview of the movement at Franz Potter's Graveyard School page. Here's a thumbnail description from the Columbia Encyclopedia at Bartleby.com. See also this overview of melancholy in C18 poetry.

Here, in alphabetical order, are the Graveyard School poets represented at LitGothic:

Mark Akenside
James Beattie
Robert Blair
Elizabeth Carter
William Collins
William Cowper
Thomas Gray
James Hervey
James Macpherson
William Mason
David Macbeth Moir
Thomas Parnell
William Shenstone
James Thomson
Joseph Warton
Thomas Warton
Henry Kirke White
Edward Young

"The Graveyard School."