William Gifford was known in his day as the foremost classical satirist of the age, and as a worthy successor to Alexander Pope. His twin satires on the Della Cruscan school of poetry, The Baviad (1791) and The Mæviad (1795), powerful and vitriolic works in the manner of The Dunciad, quickly established him as the most significant practitioner of the darker energies of the Juvenalian tradition, and, to many eyes, demolished the literary reputations of the Della Cruscan coterie (‘the rod that broke the Cruscas’ as Leigh Hunt has it). And Gifford inspired a generation of young satirists, George Canning appealing to the poet in The Anti-Jacobin’s poetical manifesto ‘New Morality’, and, though well aware of Gifford’s implacable ultra-Toryism, Lord Byron beginning his satirical career in self-declared imitation of his manner in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (and though he later abandoned Gifford’s heroics for John Hookham Frere’s ottava rima, Byron never varied from personal admiration for the satirist). As Leigh Hunt knew well, ‘sometimes public principle is incarnate in personality’. 1 In his forties and fifties, the diminutive, often-ailing Gifford, a former apprentice cobbler born into poverty, a former ploughboy who initially left school before he was fourteen, bestrode his age, contemporary Tory satire and contemporary Tory journalism incarnate, a troubling, contentious figure, celebrated on the right as the editor of two of the most important Tory periodicals of the Romantic period, The Anti-Jacobin and The Quarterly Review, and despised on the left – Byron apart – as a sycophantic sinecurist, toadying to his betters and sponsoring brutal journalistic attacks on Hunt, Keats and the ‘Cockney School’. Despite Gifford’s contemporary importance, his work is little read today. Consequently, it has become difficult to see beyond the caricature available in much literary history: the satirical poet who did little more than break butterflies on the wheel, the editor of The Anti-Jacobin, an amusing journal with unfortunate politics, the butcher of The Quarterly Review orchestrating beastly attacks on Endymion. And Gifford’s original adversaries have fared little better. Della Cruscanism, the remarkable cultural phenomenon that enraptured fashionable English life in the late 1780s and early 1790s, has languished in the shadows. For two centuries after the publication of The Florence Miscellany, the Della Cruscan coterie, the most notable of whom were Hannah Cowley (‘Anna Matilda’), Robert Merry (‘Della Crusca’) and Mary Robinson (‘Laura Maria’), survived in literary history as a footnote, unhinged poetasters whose ludicrous lucubrations were effectively demolished by a satirist who was, moreover, thought to be wasting his powers on an insignificant target. This volume is rooted in a conviction that xivboth sets of conventional assumptions need to be rethought. Gifford was not, as critical commonplace has had it, taking a sledgehammer to a nut; his assault is upon a significant avant-gardist literary movement. With its poetry of highly-wrought sentiment, Della Cruscanism was an important moment in the development of English Romanticism and in the history of Romantic period women’s writing. Gifford recognised the significance of the project, and the very venom with which he treats it betokens that importance. Modern critics have been slower than William Gifford in registering the contemporary relevance of the Della Cruscans, who spent much of the last two centuries mired in neglect, due in no small measure to the potency of Gifford’s mordant onslaught. However, there was a welcome upsurge in critical attention to the movement in the 1990s, in the work of Jerome J. McGann and others, 2 a willingness to revise our critical sense of the significance of the Della Cruscans. It is my contention that the same readiness to look with fresh eyes at a literary phenomenon of great importance in its day but ignored since should be applied to the work of William Gifford. Critics have been alienated by Gifford’s combative anti-Jacobinism and by the bludgeoning meted out to his satirical victims (as if ad hominem character assassination is acceptable when it proceeds from the pen of a Hazlitt or a Hunt, both of whom were expert exponents of the literary scalpel, but beyond the pale when it is from a Gifford or a Wilson). But we should not let ourselves be blinded to the power of Gifford’s performance. Whether or not Gifford’s brand of literary bloodsports is to our particular taste, and whether or not we admire the bejewelled and vigorous fabric of Della Cruscan poetry, the engagement between the two is compelling. It is time that we paid attention to Gifford and the Della Cruscans once again.