In England, Neoclassicism flourished roughly between 1660, when the Stuarts returned to the throne, and the 1798 publication of Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads, with its theoretical preface and collection of poems that came to be seen as heralding the beginning of the Romantic Age. Regarding English literature, the Neoclassical Age is typically divided into three periods: the Restoration Age (1660-1700), the Augustan Age (1700-1750), and the Age of Johnson (1750-1798). Neoclassical writers modeled their works on classical texts and followed various esthetic values first established in Ancient Greece and Rome. Seventeenth-century and eighteenth-century Neoclassicism was, in a sense, a resurgence of classical taste and sensibility, but it was not identical to Classicism. In part as a reaction to the bold egocentrism of the Renaissance that saw man as larger than life and boundless in potential, the neoclassicists directed their attention to a smaller scaled concept of man as an individual within a larger social context, seeing human nature as dualistic, flawed, and needing to be curbed by reason and decorum. In style, neoclassicists continued the Renaissance value of balanced antithesis, symmetry, restraint, and order. Additionally, they sought to achieve a sense of refinement, good taste, and correctness. Their clothes were complicated and detailed, and their gardens were ornately manicured and geometrically designed. They resurrected the classical values of unity and proportion and saw their Page 557 | Top of Articleart as a way to entertain and inform, a depiction of humans as social creatures, as part of polite society. Their manner was elitist, erudite, and sophisticated. The brooding social unrest that culminated in the revolutions in the American colonies and in France toppled this artificial refinement, and in the wake of those wars emerged portraits of the single common worker or wanderer sketched against the vast natural landscape, a character that came to be one of the chosen subjects of the Romantics in the nineteenth century.
In the Restoration Age, in poetry, the classical forms of the heroic couplet and the ode became popular. With the opening of the theaters appeared plays written in couplets and others in prose that fell in the category of the comedy of manners. Major works include Milton's Paradise Lost (although it spans both baroque and restoration in its style and subject) and Paul Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. But Dryden's works, lesser by comparison to those by Milton and Bunyan, more anticipated the Augustan Age to follow. In this second period flourished the poetry of Alexander Pope, with his exquisite mastery of the couplet in Essay on Man (1734); many of Pope's lines became famous sayings that are familiar in modern times such as this one from Essay on Criticism (1711): "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread." Also in the Augustan Age the rise of journalism and its way of evolving into and shaping fiction writing is visible in the work of Daniel Defoe, who began as a pamphleteer and ended by securing his place in the canon of great novelists with such famous works as Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Moll Flanders (1722), which are fictions appearing to be autobiographical. The Age of Johnson was dominated by Samuel Johnson and the consummate work of his is The Dictionary of the English Language (1745-1755). In drama, the comedy of manners continued to be popular, but in poetry, there was a rise of the ballad and sentimental poetry as written by Thomas Gray, William Cowper, Robert Burns, and George Crabbe, which in some ways anticipates the style and sentiment of the romantics to follow. Additionally, there appeared the novel of sensibility, particularly the work of Horace Walpole and Ann Radcliffe, which in their sensationalism and emotionality anticipate the Gothic novel of the nineteenth century.
Daniel Defoe (c. 1660-1731)
Daniel Defoe produced his most important works during the Augustan Age, named for its writers who consciously attempted to emulate the work of the original Augustan writers, such as Virgil and Horace. He is also among those responsible for the creation of the English novel. Over the course of his lifetime, he worked as a journalist, pamphleteer, and essayist, writing as a social commentator for the merchant class. Defoe's work is a hallmark of the Neoclassical Age. It is didactic as well as analytical. Defoe wrote on politics, religion, and economics, and he drew from his social awareness when he wrote his novels, some of which were passed off as factual memoir.
Scholars estimate that Defoe's birth occurred sometime in 1660. He was born to James Foe, a tradesman and merchant, and Alice Foe; it is unclear why Daniel added the "De." Though his father was reasonably successful, he could not send his son to the best schools, as he was a Dissenter, member of a religious group that did not conform to the Church of England. In his adult life, Defoe worked as a businessman in land speculation, the import business, as an inventor, and in other endeavors.
During Defoe's life, England was politically driven by the monarchy and the Anglican Church, and, like his father, Defoe was a Dissenter and found need to defend his faith. Defoe participated in several rebellions, and, after a show of support during the Glorious Revolution, was honored with several positions, serving William of Orange from 1689 to 1702.
Defoe's religious beliefs prompted many of his writings, including several political pieces and pamphlets and some satirical poetry. It was The Shortest-Way with Dissenters; or, Proposals for the Establishment of the Church, a satire written in support of religious freedom, that earned him fame in 1702. In reaction to the work, Defoe found himself charged with libel, fined, and imprisoned until Robert Harley secured his release in 1703 in exchange for his services as a pamphleteer and undercover public propagandist for the government, which continued for roughly ten years.
A Review of the Affairs of France, with Observations on Transactions at Home, was a tri-weekly journal Defoe created in 1704. Though Page 558
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he likely felt obligated to lean his review in favor of the government, his employer, it was still an essential vehicle of expression for the writer at the time. In the journal, Defoe offered his views on a variety of topics, including politics, economics, morality, and religion. His reporting techniques, social commentary, advice columns, and other features made A Review of the Affairs of France, with Observations on Transactions at Home a model publication for journalism into modern times.
The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner, better known today as Robinson Crusoe,was published in 1719. It was his first novel and came to be his most recognized. Defoe is also responsible for writing several other novels, including Moll Flanders, Colonel Jack,and Roxana, all of which are still in print in the early 2000s. In 1722, Defoe published his A Journal of the Plague Year,which purports to be a detailed account by a man who remained in London during the Great Plague of 1665; this highly detailed and informative work was intended to remind its eighteenth-century readers of what the plague was like and what measures people took to survive it. In modern times, the book is sometimes compared to Samuel Pepys' diary, a factual journal kept by a man who actually did live through the 1665 plague in London. Ironically, Defoe's novel about the plague has more information in it regarding how the plague moved across the city and the statistics of mortality.
Defoe died April 26, 1731, in Moorfields, London, England.
John Dryden (1631-1700)
John Dryden, a writer much of his age but little read in modern times, produced satires, comedies, tragedies, lyric poetry, farces, translations, literary criticism, political poetry, and essays. Identified by some scholars as England's first verse satirist, Dryden developed the verse satire and used the heroic couplet effectively as did his contemporaries.
Dryden was born August 19, 1631, in Aldwinkle, Northamptonshire, England. He was the son of Erasmus Dryden and Mary Pickering, land-owning gentry, and was well schooled in the classics, first attending Westminster School and then Trinity College, Cambridge, starting in 1650. Dryden was recognized for his poetry while in school, winning prizes for various poems. He eventually earned a B.A. in 1654, the same year his father died.
A year after his graduation, he left Trinity and eventually obtained a position in London working as some sort of civil servant under Oliver Cromwell. His first poem of any significance, a reaction to Cromwell's death, was "Heroique Stanzas to the Glorious Memory of Cromwell," (1659). Several poems followed, but his first lengthy poetic work was "Annus Mirabilis." The poem consisted of 304 quatrains (four-line stanzas) documenting English history, covering a recent war, the plague, and the Great Fire of London. Mac Flecknoe, published in 1682, was his first notable satire.
By 1663, Dryden had also begun to write plays. His first was The Wild Gallant, followed by The Rival Ladies, and then The Indian-Queen, The Indian Emperour. He also wrote a work of criticism Of Dramatick Poesie: An Essay,published in 1668, which actually was a defense of his own literary practice. Other works of criticism were published: in 1668, A Defence of an Essay of Dramatick Poesie, and in 1672, Of Heroique Playes. Both were written in response to the criticisms of Sir Robert Howard, who took issue with some of Dryden's theatrical conventions.
Of Heroique Playes shows his strong interest in writing an original epic, as does his Discourse Concerning the Original and Progress of Satire (1692). Although Dryden found no time to realize his epic, other essential works followed.
By 1668, Dryden was England's leading playwright, and shortly after the restoration of Charles II to the throne, he was appointed poet laureate. Throughout the remainder of his life, Dryden continued to produce critical works in response to the ever-changing tastes in literature. In addition, he produced some of his finest poetry, including "To the Memory of Mr. Oldham" in 1684, and pieces that experimented with the beast fable. On May 12, 1700, he died and was buried in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey.
Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)
The Age of Johnson marked the end of the first period of Neoclassicism, and Samuel Johnson is the major author of the second one. Johnson was a man of many talents, including those of lexicographer, translator, journalist/essayist, travel writer, biographer, editor, and critic. He injected into the Neoclassical Age his own energy and enthusiasm, an appreciation of nature and the country life, and an ever-widening range of intellectual interests.
Born to Michael and Sarah Ford Johnson on September 18, 1709, at Lichfield in Staffordshire, Johnson spent most of his early childhood coping with illness. Poor financial circumstances left his family in a state of unrest. Despite a troubled childhood, Johnson demonstrated a keen intellect during his time at Lichfield Grammar School. He then attended Stourbridge Grammar School and eventually worked there.
The first poem Johnson wrote was "On a Daffodil, the First Flower the Author Had Seen That Year" in 1724. Mostly at Stourbridge he translated classical works, for example, the Iliad. He also wrote several poems, works demonstrating his talents through his experimentation with poetic conventions and his use of diction as well as rhythm. In 1728, Johnson attended Pembroke College, Oxford. There, as throughout the rest of his career, Johnson demonstrated a natural ability for writing poetry with incredible speed as well as precision.
His first attempt at writing professionally came when he moved to London in 1737 in an effort to complete and promote his blank-verse tragedy Irene. Johnson eventually began writing for Gentleman's Magazine, producing poetry of light verse as well as Latin and Greek epigrams. Next he turned to a popular contemporary poetic form—the imitationvto attempt to create his first independent piece. The art of imitation allowed the author to exercise creative freedom as he translated the original compositions of others. Johnson chose the Latin poet Juvenal and imitated his Satura III, writing on urban life in London. London: A Poem, in Imitation of the Third Satire of Juvenal was published in May 1738. He published One Thousand Seven Hundred and Thirty Eight, a second imitation, just a few days later. The success of these poems led to subsequent renderings of Juvenal's works and a steady stream of poetry from Johnson followed.
Johnson spent the next fifteen to twenty years working as a hack writer and journalist. He continued writing reviews, translations, and articles for Gentlemen's Magazine through the mid 1740s. Much of his work, at this time, was prose, although he did revise several poems, including "The Young Author," "Ode to Friendship," and "To Laura," which were published in the magazine in 1743 along with Latin translations such as The Vanity of the Human Wishes and Satura X.
During the latter part of his life, Johnson earned an honorary M.A. at Oxford (1755) for his Dictionary of English Language. In 1765,Trinity College, Dublin, also presented him with an honorary LL.D. By the time of his death, on December 13, 1784, Johnson had earned his place in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey, near the foot of Shakespeare's monument. For modern readers, Johnson's persona seems to dominate this period, and that is because at least in part, they look back at Johnson through the eyes of his friend and biographer, James Boswell, whose best remembered work is his The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791).
Jean-Baptiste Poquelin was born January 15, 1622, in Paris, France, to a middle-class family; his father was an interior decorator for the royal court and passed this profession on to his son. In 1643, Molière took up a career in the theater, which meant relinquishing the commission his father gave him as well as the social standing to which he was born. He soon became head of the acting troupe he had joined and took on the stage name Molière. Molière served as actor, Page 560 | Top of Articlelawyer, and playwright for the troupe. His troupe traveled the countryside and performed for twelve years before returning to Paris in 1658. In Paris, Molière quickly established himself in royal court as a premier actor and playwright. He was most famous for his farces although he preferred tragedies. Tartuffe, first staged in 1664, was one of his most controversial plays because it mocked high society. Although Molière hadmanyenemies, he found protection in the favor of King Louis XIV and continued to work in the theater. He died on February 17, 1673, in Paris from tuberculosis after just finishing a performance of his play, The Hypochondriac.
Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
Alexander Pope was born in London, England, on May 21, 1688, to a Catholic family. England's break with the Roman Catholic Church in the previous century meant that sentiment against Catholics in England was still strong. Pope attended school in secret until his family was forced to leave London and move to the Berkshire countryside in southwest England. Pope published his first poems in 1711 to great acclaim. This achievement brought him into literary circles, and he became friends with writers such as Jonathan Swift and Richard Steele. Pope's popular poem The Rape of the Lock was published in its entirety in 1714; his equally famous translation of Homer's Iliad appeared in serial form between 1715 and 1720. Pope had a successful and lucrative writing career, but he struggled with chronic ill health. He died on May 30, 1744, in London.
Of Dramatick Poesie: An Essay
Of Dramatick Poesie: An Essay (1668) represented John Dryden's challenges to the trends of English theater in the seventeenth century and is considered one of his best prose works. The significance of the piece lies in its argument concerning the development of the English theater, and it proved to be a driving influence.
In Of Dramatick Poesie: An Essay, four speakers, namely Crites, Eugenius, Lisideius, and Neander, drift down the Thames River as the English and Dutch wage a naval battle. Dryden presents his views in dialogue form. The use of several characters allowed Dryden to present
the various aspects of his argument from these seemingly separate perspectives without explicitly endorsing a given opinion. The author offers clear positions on the issues discussed, for example, the merits of English theater versus that of the French and drama written in verse instead of prose. Dryden liked the dialogue as a form because it allowed him to explicitly consider various positions in an effort to ultimately support his own.
The characters in the essay are engaged in a discussion of classical conventions, as they are used by the French, and the value of the unities in English theater. The unities were strict rules of dramatic structure formulated by Italian and French writers during the Renaissance and loosely based on the dramatic principles of Aristotle. Presented as a dialogue, another classical convention, the work is as intellectually engaging as it is entertaining.
Jonathan Swift saw overnight success with the 1727 publication of his politically charged satire Gulliver's Travels. It had all of the elements of a Page 561
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tempting read—mystery as well as political, social, and sexual scandal. So potentially controversial was its content, however, that Swift saw fit to publish the book anonymously.
Lemuel Gulliver is the main character of Gulliver's Travels, and the book is an account of his adventures in Lilliput, Brobdingnag, Laputa, and among the Houyhnhnms. Gulliver finds himself towering over the inhabitants of Lilliput (they are only six inches high), and they refer to Gulliver as "Man-Mountain." Gulliver's size is a political issue, and, as he becomes more and more involved in Lilliput, demands are put upon him to aid the Lilliputians in a war against Blefuscu.
The plot is largely allegorical and comments indirectly on contemporary British politics. It did not take the public long to discover that the author was writing about England rather than Lilliput and the like or that the author of this satire was Jonathan Swift. Swift was not only active on the political scene but a well-known journalist with an easily recognizable style.
A classic in its own right, The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner, now recognized as simply Robinson Crusoe, was published in London by William Taylor on April 25, 1719. It was based on the adventures of Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish sailor marooned alone on the island of Yernandez in the South Pacific. In terms of literary history, it is often called the first English novel.
Robinson Crusoe rejects his mercantile family in favor of a life at sea. After a number of adventures, including his encounters with pirates and an escape from slavery, Crusoe is caught in a hurricane. His ship is rendered useless as a result of the storm, and for the next twenty-eight years, he is stranded on an island in the Caribbean. The work documents Crusoe's struggle to survive in isolation.
Robinson Crusoe has many characteristics of a classical epic, with an identifiable hero, hard travel, separation from a homeland, and even small battles. Defoe assigns the character of Robinson Crusoe several admirable qualities, recognized, both in modern times and at the time of the book's publication, for his practicality, intelligence, and a well-balanced religiousness, among others. The book was even used for instructional purposes.
The Rape of the Lock
The Rape of the Lock is one of the best examples of the mock epic from the Neoclassical Age, which means that it takes a low subject and inflates it with epic grandeur. The difference between the insignificant action and the epic treatment is what makes for the comic effect. The work was published in 1712, when Pope was just twenty-three years old.
The story was written to smooth over the tensions that developed between two prominent families when Lord Petre cut a lock of Arabella Fermor's hair. In Pope's version, Belinda (Arabella Fermor) meets the Baron (Lord Petre), among others, at Hampton Court. Over coffee and tea, the Baron cuts the treasured lock, inviting a verbal attack from other women at the gathering who witness the crime. Belinda manages to throw snuff in his face before threatening him with a hairpin. At this point, the speaker interjects his own consolation to the victim, and at the work's end, he also points out that, though the lock is lost and cannot be recovered, it will be preserved on the moon (a common belief of the time concerning things lost) and may outlast even Belinda.
The work, in the tradition of the genre, mocks the events on which it was based by making light of them. Pope honors this minor tragedy in classical form and, in doing so, undermines the intensity of Arabella's experience. This is precisely because the trivialities of modern life fail to compare to the subject matter of classic epics, such as Iliad, the story of the siege of Troy, a battle that ensues because Paris has stolen away Helen from Menelaus, and her virtue and his honor must be defended. The hairpin in Pope's poem mocks by its insignificance the lethal weapons used in heroic battles such as the one fought at Troy.
This work is an imitation, a popular contemporary poetic form used by Samuel Johnson. London was based on a translation of Satura III by Juvenal, a great satirical poet of ancient Rome. This work on urban life in London was the first piece Johnson created and published on his own, independent of the magazine he was working for in 1738.
The satire describes the difficulties of making an honest living in the city and then moves on to discuss the dangers of urban life. Johnson did not stick closely to the Juvenal text, however, but reworked it to accommodate his depictions of country life as a viable alternative for city dwellers. This celebration of country life is dictated by the time in which he wrote, a time when literature expressed a preoccupation with nature and life on the farm. Johnson also left out many of Juvenal's depictions of urban blight and poverty as well as the nuisances accompanying them, such as noise, crowds, traffic, and crime. Johnson also expanded Satura III, adding many contemporary political references to the introduction of the work. Following a common practice of the time, Johnson used his work as a platform for critique, in this case, pointed at Spanish efforts to squash British commerce, among other matters.
Tartuffe is Molière's most famous play. The word Tartuffe means religious hypocrite in French. This comedy tells the story of a wicked man named Tartuffe who gradually convinces another man, Orgon, to hand over his wealth, power, and family to Tartuffe. The king intercedes at the end, saves Orgon, and puts Tartuffe in prison. Tartuffe is written in rhyming couplets of twelve-syllable lines. It was first staged in 1664 at Versailles but was soon censored due to pressure from Molière's enemies. This play offended the Roman Catholic Church and members of the high society he was mocking, although King Louis XIV, Molière's sponsor, was not bothered by it. Nonetheless, Tartuffe was censored for five years. Molière's social commentary remains relevant in the twenty-first century and productions of Tartuffe continue to be staged.
Intellectuals and Intellectualism
Devotion to the exercise or application of the intellect was important to the neoclassical writer. This tendency was an outgrowth of the classical tradition these writers sought to imitate. Writers such as Dryden, Johnson, and Pope, not wanting to limit themselves to one genre, engaged in experimentation to sharpen their own rhetorical abilities, imitating the conventions of classical poetic verse, drama, and rhetoric. In addition, these writers commented on a wide range of topics—political, historical, and social—demonstrating a wealth of civic knowledge. Intellectual expression was of greater value to the neoclassicist than the expression of feelings, and out of this desire came the satire and various forms of didactic (instructional) literature.
Often the writings of these authors were a printed form of debate, intellectual contests in print and journalism. Satirists would compete with one another, relying on sharp wit to savagely belittle their adversary. When John Dryden wrote Of Dramatick Poesie: An Essay, he both criticized the current trends of the English theater and defended himself. Sir Robert Howard immediately responded to the essay with some criticisms of his own. The result was a scathing rebuttal, A Defence of An Essay of Dramatick Poesie, in which Dryden attacked Howard's comments. Howard's response was fairly mild, almost as if he were surrendering.
The seemingly unchecked actions and irresponsibility of the monarchy were a source of deep contention among its critics. The reigns of Charles II and his brother James II were mired in contradiction, their public faces never betraying their true intentions. There was also great opposition to the court influence of Robert Walpole, first Earl of Orford; a highly influential
statesman, he all but assumed the role of king, gaining the confidence of George I and II.
Neoclassical writers repeatedly challenged the establishment, resorting to their own form of social protest, the written word expressed as satire, to inform, educate, and incite public outrage. In response to Walpole's flagrant abuse of power, the two popular political parties of the time, the Tories and the Whigs, formed a loose alliance against Walpole. Of those dissenters, Tory writers Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, John Gay, and Henry Fielding, and the Whig writer James Thomson formed an alliance bent on exposing Walpole publicly. The efforts of the small group of sharp-tongued intellectuals stung Walpole. He responded to the attacks by imposing censorship on the group.
The neoclassicists sought to imitate the classics, looking to the poetic conventions, the dramatic theories, as well as the rhetorical skills of the classicists as models. From the onset of the Restoration Age through the Age of Johnson, writers imitated classical forms such as the ode, the satire, and the epic. They also tended to favor rhymed couplets utilizing conventional poetic diction and imagery in their works.
Imitation was also a neoclassical genre. An imitation is a translation by which the translator takes certain artistic liberty with a classical work in an effort to produce a work that has contemporary relevance. Using the classical source as a point of reference, the translator often alters not only the language but the actual structure of the work, sometimes omitting or changing sections of it to suit contemporary tastes.
Imitation was a well-accepted art form, readily adopted by Restoration poets. Samuel Johnson was an imitator and chose the Latin poet Juvenal, imitating his Satura III, to express himself on urban life in London. Johnson took care to include Juvenal's words at the bottom of the pages of his London, wishing to preserve Juvenal's sentiments next to his own. Johnson preserved the original structure of the work but altered portions of it in order to voice his own views, which were more specific to his audience.
An allegory is a narrative form in which symbolic characters or actions are used to convey a message or teach a lesson. Typically used to teach moral, ethical, or religious ideals, it was also used for political purposes. In the case of the neoclassicists, the latter was often the case, often in conjunction with satire.
Swift's criticism of English politics was so harsh that he felt it necessary to publish his work Gulliver's Travels anonymously. On the surface, the work is fiction, but on a deeper level it is an account of the bitter political struggles between the two major political parties of the early eighteenth century, the Tories and the Whigs.
Johnson lampoons those intimate with the British political scene in his depiction of certain characters. For example, the Lilliputian emperor is characterized as being tyrannical and corrupt and is also easily recognized as George I, king of England (1714-1727). The Lilliputian empress Page 564 | Top of Articlestands for Queen Anne, who, offended by Swift's earlier satires, chose to prevent his advancement in the Church of England. The two parties in Lilliput, the Low-Heels and the High-Heels represent the Whigs and the Tories respectively.
This term describes works of literature that aim to teach some moral, religious, political, or practical lesson. The term usually refers to literature in which the message is more important than the form. The aim of many of the neoclassical writers was instruction, as many of them were moralists and critics of English politics, and all shared an interest in conveying their position. In the case of Robinson Crusoe, Defoe's lesson for the young audience is that perseverance pays off.
Robinson Crusoe was recognized as a book of extraordinary value for children in its time. Many believed Crusoe to be an excellent role model for children. Steady, intelligent, spirited, independent, industrious, Defoe's character demonstrates all of these qualities in the face of great adversity and survives. Defoe's work has also been praised because of children's ability to relate to Crusoe and his persistence, delighting in the discoveries he makes and what he does to survive.
Blank verse is unrhymed iambic pentameter (composed of lines of five two-syllable feet, or sets, with the first syllable unaccented and the second accented). Blank verse has traditionally been a popular form, aptly suited to the natural cadence of English.
Shakespeare used blank verse frequently in his plays and Milton's Paradise Lost is written in blank verse. Dryden used blank verse in All for Love (1678). Though the metrical form fell out of popularity in the later eighteenth century, it was revived by some of the Romantic poets.
This genre was a suitable form for neoclassicists who wanted to scorn contemporary subjects by belittling them with bombast. Pope, Swift, Dryden, Richardson, and others used mock epic to satirize social and political excesses of their age.
The classic epic is lofty, serious, and long. The poem relates the story of a national hero, a mythic or historical figure of great cultural importance. The setting is vast, and often there is some sort of divine intervention in human events. The hero has supernatural abilities and may visit the underworld to speak to other heroes now dead. The work is written in a lofty style, enriched by elaborate, extended metaphors and allusions to further elevate the subject. Milton's Paradise Lost is an epic in the classical mode.
The mock epic employs many of the same classical conventions as the epic. The work is a long poem, employing a serious tone, using ornate language, extended metaphors, and classical allusions. But the subject matter is low or bawdy or ridiculous, decidedly not heroic, and in this contrast between manner and matter the satire achieves its comic effect.
Pope's "Rape of the Lock" is a good example of the mock epic. As duly pointed out by Frances Mayhew Rippy, in "The Rape of the Lock: Overview," Pope's work looks at modern concerns, finding them less heroic than those of the classical world. Rippy adds that the "Epic battles have become card games and snuff-throwing," and the "genealogy of weapons has become the history of Belinda's ornamental hairpin." Essentially, the work succeeds in satirizing the loss of a sense of what is important.
The neoclassical period was framed by specific historical events. Scholars generally agree that the movement began with the return of the Stuarts to the English throne in 1660 and ended with the 1798 publication of Lyric Ballads.
The Restoration Age (1660-1700)
England underwent a transformation at the outset of the Restoration, in strong reaction against Puritanism. The period was marked by a resurgence of scientific thought and investigation. It is at this point, with the infusion of French influences, that Neoclassicism begins to develop.
During the Restoration Age, the heroic couplet, a rhyming couplet written in iambic pentameter (a verse with five iambic feet), was the major verse form. The poetry itself was typically didactic or satirical in nature—the work's main aim was either to instruct some moral, religious, political, or practical lesson or to ridicule and attack some aspect of contemporary life. The ode was also widely used. An ode is a lengthy, lyrical, Page 565 | Top of Articlerhyming poem addressing or praising some object, person, or quality in a lofty, noble style.
Prose took on a more modern style, as represented by Bunyan, Dryden, and Milton, principal writers of the age. Milton's Paradise Lost and Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress were among the major literary achievements of the period, and Dryden's work demonstrates a transition toward the Augustan Age. Locke's writings, more political in nature, represented the course of English thought during this time.
The Restoration Age also enjoyed the reopening of theaters. Both William Wycherly and William Congreve wrote dramas. The comedy of manners and the heroic drama developed as genres.
The Augustan Age (1700-1750)
Classical ideas of common sense and reason took precedence over creativity fueled by emotion and imagination during the Augustan Age. Typically, literature produced in this time tends to be realistic, satirical, and moral. Authors like James Thomson continued to reflect in their writings a concern for the study of nature and science.
Poetry is carefully structured, as reflected in that the work of Pope, and the mock epic and verse essay are common. Defoe's journals, collections of essays, and periodicals such as the Spectator influenced English prose style. Swift's satires were popular as were the early novels of Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding, among others. Finally, the theater took a turn in character from a moralistic bent in favor of the sentimental comedy. In addition, classical and domestic tragedy dominated the stage.
The Age of Johnson (1750-1798)
A period aptly named for Samuel Johnson, whose prose and critical works eventually led to the end of the neoclassical tradition, the Age of Johnson represented a transition from a focus on classical study/imitation to an interest in folk literature and popular ballads, which can be observed in Johnson's own writing.
During this time, the novel developed further, with Sterne and Mackenzie helping to fashion what came to be called the novel of sensibility. The Gothic novel was born in the works of Ann Radcliffe and Horace Walpole. Henry Brooke and William Godwin wrote novels steeped in distinct philosophical as well as political commentary. Shakespeare was exceedingly popular, and both the sentimental comedy and the comedy of manners remained widely used forms. In addition, burlesque, pantomime, and the melodrama were in the forefront. Important dramatists of this time include Richard Sheridan and Oliver Goldsmith; poets include William Collins and Thomas Gray.
The age experienced a growing interest in human freedom, intensified by both the American and French revolutions. An interest in the outdoors, a celebration of country life, and an engagement in an ever-widening circle of intellectual pursuits characterized the period, as did the development of several religious movements such as Methodism. It would be in this environment that the neoclassical tradition came to an end and English Romanticism began to take form.
Comedy of Manners
The comedy of manners is a category of plays about the manners and conventions of an aristocratic, highly sophisticated society. The characters are usually types rather than individualized personalities, and plot is less important than the atmosphere. Such plays were an important aspect of late seventeenth-century English comedy. The comedy of manners was revived in the eighteenth century by Oliver Goldsmith and Richard Sheridan, enjoyed a second revival in the late nineteenth century, and endured into the twentieth century. Examples of comedies of manners include William Congreve's The Way of the World in the late seventeenth century; Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer and Sheridan's The School for Scandal in the eighteenth century. Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest in the nineteenth century and W. Somerset Maugham's The Circle in the twentieth century are modern examples.
The English climate during the neoclassical period was one of false appearances in both political and the public domains. Part of the masquerade involved a monarchy that was publicly sensitive yet privately ambivalent concerning many issues. There was also a nouveau riche middle-class, whose members were more interested in gentrifying themselves with refined clothing and manners than acknowledging the political conflicts swirling about them.
The history of the monarchy was fuel enough for a great deal of criticism on the part of the neoclassicists, and rightfully so. The hopes of the public were high for a leader who could promise relief from the religious and political struggles that plagued England. It is not surprising that a crowd gathered to cheer Charles II as he landed on the shores of Dover in May of 1660. Many felt that Charles's coronation in 1661 would signify an end to the civil and political unrest. However, he proved to be a man of contradictions.
The return of English control to the monarchy also fostered the opening of the London theaters in 1662. The new theaters were no longer located in the lower-class parts of town, as was often the case in the Elizabethan age, but were now between Westminster and the City of London. Attending these performances provided a chance for people of various economic levels to observe royalty and the well-to-do. The drama of the theaters also managed to overshadow a major naval defeat at the hands of the Dutch in 1673.
Charles II, at least on the surface, gave England much to hope for. Publicly, he professed a love of parliaments and expressed a hope for an independent Church of England. Privately, however, he often postponed parliaments, pushed for toleration of Catholics, and even converted to Catholicism on his deathbed. Similarly, James, Charles's brother and successor, initially pledged support of the Anglicans by promising to honor the national church and to end religious uniformity. Soon, however, he moved against Anglican interests. His attempts to convert the nation to Catholicism provoked William of Orange, his Dutch son-in-law, to organize an army. A confrontation occurred in November of 1688, causing James to flee to France.
The reign of King William III saw the restoration of the Church of England but also an England deep in debt from funding the revolution, inspiring much political grumbling and satire. Queen Anne, his successor, had what some historians have called a peaceful reign, inspired by consumer confidence and a sense of nostalgia. But after Queen Anne's death, King George I and his family were imported from Hanover, Page 567 | Top of ArticleGermany. He could only speak broken English and had little interest in English politics.
At that point, Robert Walpole chose to step in and manage the affairs of both George I and his successor, George II. Walpole, acting more as minister than advisor, overstepped his bounds, swaying party politics, making way for the Whigs to assume a dominant role. He was sarcastically dubbed "prime" minister, due to his arrogance and his politics. So tyrannical were his policies that the two main parties, the Whigs and the Tories, formed a temporary alliance against him. The pressure of military conflict ultimately led to Walpole's resignation.
George III ascended to the throne in 1760, and though his reign has been characterized as tumultuous, historians are quick to point out that during that time, Britain was the richest nation with the largest empire.
It was also a time of high fashion. As the middle class mingled with gentry, they strove to imitate what they saw as being their tastes. Wigs, scarves, silks, jewelry—all of these commodities were in demand and appeared in catalogs. Advertising was also a natural outgrowth of such consumerism and began to be a major source of financial support to periodicals. There was also a focus on politeness and self-control. Pope, Swift, and others would satirize what they saw as being frivolous or pointless attempts at self-promotion.
All of the diversion—the pomp and circumstance of the social classes, the drama of the theater, the drama of the monarchy—could not mask the ever-widening gaps between rich and poor. Nor could it avert the public outcry against the slave trade, which fueled much of England's financial strength as a superpower. These conflicts and others moved literature towards Romanticism.
Dubbed by many to be intellectual art, the works of neoclassical writers were praised for their didactic nature. Subsequent generations of readers marveled at the versatility of these writers who produced such a variety of work, including poetry, satires, odes, drama, prose, criticism, and translations. The works themselves commanded
greater admiration as examples elegance, simplicity, dignity, restraint, order, and proportion.
One rather negative assertion made on the part of critics is that imagination was intentionally repressed during the neoclassical period. To the contrary, Donald F. Bond, author of "The Neo-Classical Psychology of the Imagination," argues that although writers were concerned with the "dangers of an uncontrolled imagination, an examination of the psychological background of the period reveals an awareness of the validity of the imagination." Considering the mind as a "storehouse of images," he elaborates on his point by stating that "this aspect of the imagination, as the power whereby the mind is cognizant of external objects without direct sensory stimulus, is prevalent throughout the period."
Another problem of note is the rather fuzzy classification Neoclassicism is subject to. Depending upon the critic, the terms Classicism and Neoclassicism are thought to be sometimes interchangeable and sometimes not. James William Johnson's "What Was Neoclassicism?" explored the issue, taking the position that the research of his contemporaries has uncovered "a Page 568 | Top of Articlevast range of literature simply ignored—or perhaps suppressed—by earlier critics." His conclusion was simply that "the resulting disparity between limited assumptions and expanded information has called into question the very possibility of formulating any critical schema that accurately describes the characteristics of English literature between 1660 and 1800."
Timothy Dykstal, in his examination of the work of female neoclassical authors Sarah Fielding and Jane Collier, defines Neoclassicism as the adoption of Classical techniques and values in an effort to critique contemporary behaviors. In "What Indeed Was Neoclassicism?" Donald Greene counters Johnson, dismissing his ideas as "tedious pseudo-problems, better left for journalists—and professors of literature—to play with if it amuses them."
Kryhoski is currently employed as a freelance writer. In this essay, Kryhoski considers critical opinions on the definition of Neoclassicism.
The boundaries defining the neoclassical genre have been tested, questioned, and found wanting by many literary critics. Equally troublesome to many of these critics is the notion that a literary canon can be categorized strictly on the basis of what is a largely accepted, though narrowly focused. In the late 1960s, James William Johnson considered this idea in his work "What Was Neoclassicism." He was chiefly concerned with what he identified as a vast range of literature widely ignored in favor of a "limited, prejudged selection of Restoration and 18th Century literature."
Johnson contends that modern writers are also a threat, having no sense of aesthetic or principle akin to that of the neoclassicists, or even the Victorians, for that matter. Although this is an old argument, it continues to resonate today. Even the most respectable literary reference books will prove discerning as to just what differences exist between a classic and a "new" classic. Some literary dictionaries will go as far as to say that the terms Classicism and Neoclassicism are interchangeable, leaving the amateur (and perhaps even the seasoned) scholar to shake his or her head.
Donald Greene, in his reply to Johnson's work, "What Indeed was Neo-Classicism? A Reply to James William Johnson's 'What was Neo-Classicism?,"' also responds to what he sees as a somewhat troublesome form. Greene states that unlike other literary periods in history, the neoclassical age comes with "undistinguished credentials," without, what he calls, some of the big, generalizing terms used to define periods of significant literary importance. Greene feels that a substantial objection to the application of the term Classicism,, or any of its variants, is based on the understood basis of classification for such literature. Greene states simply that in the classification of such literature of the period, 1660-1800, it remains that
if it means that people in the eighteenth century read widely in the Latin and Greek classics and were influenced by them, they did so equally, and sometimes more, in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and a good deal of the nineteenth centuries.
The whole idea that there was a sudden "revival" of Classicism is repellent to Greene and others. It has been noted that if there was such a period in English history, a period when Classicism was declared dead, in Greene's rather humorous words, "this is indeed some important news." He cites the efforts of one of the greatest writers of the years preceding what has been coined the "classical revival" in the history in England, namely those of Milton. The example is a compelling one because of Milton's stature in the literary community and in the Western canon as a whole. He is identified by Greene, and, undoubtedly, countless others, as one perhaps more profoundly schooled in the classics than "any other English author." Milton was also admired for his uses of classical Latin elegiac verse; his last publication mirrored a strict form of Greek tragedy to boot.
Shakespeare also seems to take a sort of nebulous position within the context of neoclassical conventions. Thora Burnley Jones, in her collection, Neo-classical Dramatic Criticism, 1560-1770, considers the acceptance of Shakespeare by Restoration playwrights such as Pope and Johnson. Jones asserts that such playwrights encouraged a "climate of opinion which ensured the acceptance of Shakespeare as the central figure in the English literary tradition." However, Shakespeare certainly did not fit within the conventional window of opportunity provided as a reference for describing the English neoclassicists.
Yet Jones takes the author's style to task, citing, rather pointedly, his neoclassical qualities as a playwright. First, says Jones, Shakespearean plays had a certain degree of verisimilitude to them. He was able, with great depth and accuracy, to explore the human condition in a language that was all-inclusive, one that everyone could hear and be touched by. Shakespeare does not subscribe to the neoclassical principles of form, however. Critics often note Shakespeare's lack of concern for established classical form and for rules of decorum. He often mixed comedy with tragedy and completely ignored the unities. (Jones suggests the possibility that he knew nothing of such convention.) He also often lacked the level of style and elevation that other classicists shared as a common trait in their writings. Jones states that the third criterion defining the neoclassicist hinges on the idea of "art and morality." It is the task of the neoclassical writer to "indicate the way to a good life." Shakespeare is certainly guilty of this tendency, although his moralistic tendencies have been viewed as being somewhat misguided.
Shakespeare did have some faults when compared to those neoclassicists who followed
him. Such faults seemed to clash against the very virtues that the neoclassicists strove to imitate. But the Augustan Age brought with it a marked interest in Shakespeare. Shakespeare somehow managed to rise above the fray, to continually be both recognized and excused for his deficits. Jones states that critics engage in "excusing his faults by the application of false historicism: he lived in barbarous times, spoke a less refined vernacular, shared the company of coarse players, and so on."
The convention in Augustan criticism of pitting Shakespeare against Aristotle is said to be a tradition of the age. For whatever reason, this did little, if anything, to ruin his critical reputation among other writers of the period. He is instead continuously excused for ignoring the rules of form precisely because he knew no better. Critics have often forgiven Shakespeare for his weaknesses with plot and structure, looking to his character sketches in order to grant the playwright redemption.
Shakespeare's critics make a case for the assertions set out by Johnson that critics are often blinded by their own personal interests. This is not to dispute the value of Shakespeare's contribution to literature; rather, it is only used to demonstrate the seemingly arbitrary assignment of values even those neoclassicists who were contemporaries of the age might assign an author in determining merit. For instance, in Jones's works, she recalls the preface to Pope's text on Shakespeare. The preface states that he transcended imitation, going beyond the interpretation of a common human experience (nature), and has "conjured up a golden world."
But Jones claims that Pope is merely repeating the established view that "Shakespeare's characterization is good because it is lifelike; it is individualized and it is consistent, drawn from life and not from other writers." Pope's work about the playwright is interesting insomuch as he was pandering to an audience who loved Shakespeare. Pope forgives his excesses, attributing them to the types of audiences he answered to. As to his lack of education, Pope pointed to Shakespeare's level of wit and fancy, claiming that the abilities he had in both areas more than made up for his lack of scholasticism.
The conclusion Jones comes to is that despite the critical techniques of writers like Pope, there still exists an urge to apply neoclassical values to Shakespeare's work, regardless of the fact that such value judgments are in direct opposition with a felt response to the poetry. The conventions of Neoclassicism, no matter how loosely applied, do not seem to warrant the classification of Shakespeare as a neoclassicist. Again, the critics of neoclassical literature and form are not impervious to their own personal motivations and, as demonstrated by Pope, eschew critical response in an effort to forward their own personal agendas.
So who will redraw the lines of the genre, and what artists should be included? Should they be redrawn at all? To Donald Greene, at least, the matter is simply a matter of vision. Specifically, he warns of the dangers of looking too closely at individual instances where the convention might fit a person or idea, in favor of looking at the cultural landscape that inspires such movements.
Source: Laura Kryhoski, Critical Essay on Neoclassicism, in Literary Movements for Students, The Gale Group, 2003.
In this essay, Dykstal examines the neoclassical style used by Sarah Fielding in The Cry: A New Dramatic Fable and by Jane Collier in An Essay on the Art of Ingeniously Tormenting.
Why begin an essay aspiring to a cluster entitled "new approaches to the eighteenth century" by evoking the specter of neoclassicism, especially when the texts that it focuses on are by women? A literary mode rather than a genre, neoclassicism connotes a range of unfashionable aesthetic values: order, decorum, universal truth. Its critical fortunes may be contrasted with that of the romance, a once-neglected genre that has surged of late, especially with respect to women's studies. If studies of neoclassicism tended to exclude women and women Page 571
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writers, renewed attention to the romance, particularly to the way that it anticipates developments in the eighteenth-century novel, has reinvigorated eighteenth-century studies and restored women writers to their rightful place in the canon. But neoclassicism is a more useful rubric for describing certain eighteenth-century texts than mere summaries or even caricatures of it have suggested, even for women writers whom it might be thought to exclude, and it is particularly useful when the main thing those texts are doing is critiquing the romance and the expectations that it creates for a modern audience. In this essay, I would like to examine two of the more innovative fictions of Sarah Fielding and her collaborator Jane Collier as experiments in a neoclassical mode. These works do not adapt the values of the ancients to criticize the moderns: they have tough things to say about the ancients as well. But they do adopt the forms and techniques of classical writers to make their cases against modern audiences, particularly modern readers of the romance. They treat the classics as equals, and by doing so come closest to the spirit, if not the values—aesthetic and otherwise—of the ancients.
Joseph M. Levine's description of the ancient's side in the eighteenth-century "battle of the books" can serve as a definition of the purest kind of neoclassicism:
The best, the only political education, is a training in the classical authors. Latin and Greek are the keys to a treasure chest of wisdom and examples, unmatched by anything afterward. The student must model himself on his ancient predecessors for style and substance, in his speech and his behavior, and he is not likely to surpass them. Perfection can only be imitated.
(Levine 1991, 5)
The early Pope is paradigmatic here. In "An Essay on Criticism" (1711), he rails against the moderns—unworthy of even standing on the shoulders of the ancient giants—as he regularizes the past, taking the advice that is often fragmented in classical texts (Aristotle's Poetics and Longinus's On the Sublime, for example) and turning it into memorable couplets:
Moderns, beware! Or if you must offend
Against the Precept, ne'er transgress its End,
Let it be seldom, and compell'd by Need,
And have, at least, Their Precedent to plead.
(Pope 1963, 149)
Viewing the classical text as a collection of timeless truths, the Pope of the "Essay" vows to
transgress the "Precept" only when authorized by the ancients themselves. This, then, is the classic meaning of neoclassical: not only a commitment to aesthetic values like the aforementioned order and decorum, but also an ideological stance that sees those truths as fixed rather than fungible.
In fact, there is relatively little literature in the eighteenth century that favors the ancients in this unqualified way, and (as Howard D. Weinbrot has definitively shown in Britannia's Issue ) a fixed adherence to classical virtues, aesthetic or otherwise, was never the program of "British" writers. Pope himself, in his later imitation of Horace's "First Epistle of the Second Book" (subtitled "To Augustus") realizes that the classics get away with transgressions that hang the moderns, simply by virtue of being old:
I lose my patience, and I own it too,
When works are censur'd, not as bad, but new;
While if our Elders break all Reason's laws,
These fools demand not Pardon, but Applause.
(Pope 1963, 640)
Although he prefers what he calls "Paraphrase, or Translation with Latitude," John Dryden, in his preface to a translation of Ovid's Epistles, defines the practice of "Imitation," where the "Translator (if now he has not lost that Name) assumes the liberty not only to vary words and sence, but to forsake them both as he sees occasion: and taking only some general hints from the Original, to run division on the groundwork, as he pleases" (1956, 1.114-15). The kind of neoclassicism that I am describing here runs even more "division on the ground-work" of the ancients than Dryden recommended: strictly speaking, what Fielding and Collier do with their models is not imitation. The most common way of reading The Cry is as an anti-romance; Collier's Essay is most easily seen as a parody of a female conduct-book. Certainly they are not "neoclassical" because their authors advance some unassailable standards of formal beauty. Yet it is useful to compare these texts to their classical models because they suggest that our passions and our interests need to be seen in a longer historical context than many novels and most romances are willing to see them, and because they provoke, and are provoked by, the rules for living that the ancients left to us.
Call these texts experiments in a neoclassical mode, then, generic experiments much like Swift's famous "Description" poems. In his "Description of a City Shower," Swift draws on the georgic in order to point out the disparity between Virgil's Roman countryside and the contemporary London street:
Now from all parts the swelling kennels flow,
And bear their trophies with them as they go:
Filth of all hues and odours, seem to tell
What streets they sailed from, by the sight and smell.
(Swift 1983, 114)
The georgic, as Virgil established it, is a poem that makes rural labor attractive: like the pastoral it celebrates country life, but it does so in a way that makes clear that life would not be possible without industry. Swift's poem inverts that dynamic, washing clean the industry that supports city life with the "swell" of poetic description. Yet the whole poem is couched, as are Virgil's, as a practical bit of advice: Swift tells us, as Virgil might tell one of his husbandmen, that "Careful observers" who pay attention to the sights and sounds he describes will know "when to dread a shower." Swift is indebted to his classical model, and the poem depends for its effect on the implied contrast between a bucolic past and the bustling present, but he respects the georgic for the use he can put it to, not for any truth content it contains or any style it inviolably shows. Indeed, Swift himself violates neoclassical decorum by daring to throw "drowned Puppies" and "Dead cats" in with Virgil's bees and honey (1983, 114).
In the brand or mode of "neoclassicism" that I am outlining, in fact, there is a great ambition to make the ancients useful for an English Page 573 | Top of Articleaudience. When Catherine Secker, a friend of the "bluestocking" intellectuals Elizabeth Carter and Catherine Talbot, died in 1748, Carter undertook a translation of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus from the Greek to help her friend Talbot deal with her grief. The consolation of this philosophy was a long time coming, for Carter stalled in her task when Thomas Secker, then Bishop of Oxford, complained that her initial attempts at rendering Epictetus's style were too smooth (Thomas 1991, 161). Epictetus was rough and conversational and should remain so, not only because that would have been truer to the philosopher's own ambition to oppose the "professional" philosophers of his day, but also because, as Secker wrote to Carter, Epictetus's "plain and home exhortations and reproofs . . . will be more attended to and felt, and consequently ...do more good, than any thing sprucer that can be substituted in their room" (Carter 1808, 1.168). By 1758, Carter had produced a translation that was true enough both to spirit and style to remain standard until the twentieth century. Among Sarah Fielding's works, too, was a translation of the classical writer Xenophon's Memoirs of Socrates (1762), a work that she probably undertook after noting the success of Carter's translation (which sold more than 1000 copies by subscription [Myers 1990, 168]), and which she too found appealing for its pointed style and home truths (Bree 1996, 21-22). When the ancients were plainly useful in themselves, translation could suffice.
More commonly, though, the ambition to make the ancients useful meant making them—as Pope says in his "Advertisement" to "To Augustus"—"entirely English" (1963, 635). For John Gay, writing his dedicatory poem to the miscellany of neoclassical imitations compiled by the bookseller Bernard Lintot in 1712, that meant making the work both various ("The Muses O'lio") and linguistically accessible:
Translations should throughout the Work be sown,
And Homer's Godlike Muse be made our own;
Horace in useful Numbers should be Sung,
And Virgil's Thoughts adorn the British Tongue.
(Gay 1974, 1.38-39)
Pope went even further, attracted to Horace not only for his air of easy authority, but also for the opportunity that imitation afforded him to work out a debased typology between the world of the ancients and his own. "The Reflections of Horace . . . seem'd so seasonable to the present Times," the contrast between the good patronage of Augustus and the bad ministry of George II so obvious, "that I could not help applying them to the use of my own Country" (1963, 634), he says. Again, Pope emphasizes the utility of neoclassical imitation: useful sometimes, as in the "Essay on Criticism," for making the rules of the ancients accessible to the moderns; useful other times, as in "To Augustus," for embarrassing them.
The standard history of neoclassicism is dominated by men, beginning (roughly) with Dryden and ending with Johnson, and includes Swift and Pope as well as writers like Prior, Addison, Gay, Akenside, and Goldsmith. But women were neoclassicists as well, and were drawn to the mode for all of the same reasons. They too liked the image—even if it was only that—of an age where literary merit was duly recognized, where order and decorum reigned, and where their present concerns were given historical consequence. At the same time, critics of the past and present, engaged in recovering the neoclassical commitments of women writers, notice the subtle ways that their use of the past differs from that of male writers. Echoing Samuel Holt Monk, who noted that "by virtue of their sex" women were "somewhat outside the tradition," and thus "able to criticize more independently than could men" (1935, 216), Jonathan F. S. Post and Anne K. Mellor write in their introduction to a recent collection of articles on women's poetry that "[G]ender difference frequently encouraged a sense of authorial distance or separation from the dominant tradition . . . " (2002, 5-6). Even when male poets like John Milton and Abraham Cowley are imitating Horace's famous fifth ode "To Pyrrha," for example, they steer fairly close to the original. Horace gazes on Pyrrha, a beautiful young woman preparing herself physically to break the heart of another youth, and remembers when he too was "shipwrecked" by her beauty: Cowley remembers his own wreck and assures himself that "there's no danger now for Me" (1967, 1.143), and Milton nostalgically hangs "My dank and dropping weeds / To the stern God of Sea" (1957, 10). But Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, imitating the same ode, more emphatically asserts her independence from past loves and losses:
For me, secure I view the raging Main,Page 574 | Top of Article
Past are my Dangers, and forgot my Pain,
My Votive Tablet in the temple shews
The Monument of Folly past,
I paid the bounteous God my gratefull vows,
Who snatch'd from Ruin sav'd me at the last.
(Montagu 1977, 302)
Milton and Cowley pay their tributes to Neptune because they were once shipwrecked and survived; Montagu pays hers because she,"sav'd...at the last," just skirted the wreck. The difference is subtle, but it also keys on the gender difference: for an eighteenth-century woman—and Montagu does make the speaker of her poem a woman admiring the beauty of a man—to be "wrecked" was much more devastating than it would have been for a man. Similarly, the scholar and translator Carter asserts her independence from her admired Epictetus by subordinating his Stoicism to the truths of her Christianity. For Carter, Christianity offers hope to ordinary, fallible people, whereas Stoicism "insults human Nature...by enjoining and promising a Perfection in this Life, of which we feel ourselves incapable" (1758, xxiii). Women neoclassicists, like their male counterparts, are concerned to prove their legitimacy to speak within the tradition. At the same time, their gender gives them a certain freedom to challenge it.
What I have been outlining in these last few paragraphs is a neoclassical mode that aims to make the ancients useful for a modern, English audience; and a willingness, on the part of certain women writers, to make them useful by experimenting with—not just translating or transmitting—their truths. This is the context in which I shall examine the innovative fictions of Fielding and Collier. To be sure, their experimentation was not confined to the classics. In the sequel to her most popular novel, David Simple (1744), entitled Volume the Last, Fielding deconstructs the simple pieties of that sentimental novel in order to prove that "The Attainment of our Wishes is but too often the Beginning of our Sorrows" (1998). In The Governess (1749)—credited with being "the earliest known full length novel written specifically for young people" (Cadogan 1987, vii)—Fielding attempts to condition her juvenile readers before they acquire their bad habits of interpretation. But Fielding's (and Collier's) The Cry: A New Dramatic Fable (1754) dismisses several philosophical schools and mimics the structure of a Greek tragedy as it displays the essential selfishness of romantic love and the fatuous yearnings of audiences who read for it, and Collier's An Essay on The Art of Ingeniously Tormenting (1753) imitates the structure and rhetorical strategy of Ovid's Ars Amatoria (The Art of Love) as it dissects just how tormenting love, and other kinds of dependency, can be. What these books have in common, as I said before, is their critique of the concept of romance: they want to demystify it as dangerous for women. They do that, in part, more by provoking than by invoking the authority of the classical tradition, using it to diagnose some problems of modern life.
Fielding begins The Cry by surveying the genres—ellegory, essay, romance, and novel—that a modern writer has to work with. She rejects allegory, mapping the spiritual world onto the temporal one, because it tends to the fantastic, and the essay because it can be tedious. Romances and novels, in contrast, are entertaining, but concentrate on action or plot, "and much rather would we chuse that our reader should clearly understand what our principal actors think, than what they do" (1986). She refuses, then, to classify her own fiction as any of these. The plot of The Cry does follow that of a fairly conventional romance: a virtuous young woman named Portia falls in love with a young man named Ferdinand, stays true to him as he wanders from her, and is rewarded for her faithfulness by marriage and happiness. Linda Bree notes what is unusual about Portia's story: unlike most romantic heroines, she is assertive enough to refuse to marry her lover until he proves to her that he deserves her love (1996, 92). But, as in a romance, or a novel, Portia does get her man in the end.
But the romance plot is not all, or even most, of the "narrative" of The Cry. The overt structure is that of a five-act play rather than a multi-chapter novel, and what "incidents and adventures" (Fielding 1986) there are compete with dramatically (and sometimes not-so dramatically) staged dialogue on both abstract philosophical, and concrete ethical, questions. For most of "Part the First," in fact, we hear very little of Portia, Ferdinand, and the other characters revolving around their courtship: Portia does declare that she loves Ferdinand, but she spends more time asserting the right of women to book learning, speaking "of the envy of Ben Johnson to Shakespeare", and, as she does often, inventing a new word to define an old behavior: "turba," to describe "all the evil passions, such as wrath, hatred, malice, envy, &c. which sometimes altogether possess the human breast." When she states these opinions, Portia is talking to the other main "character" of Page 575 | Top of ArticleThe Cry, the character who best exemplifies "turba" in action: "the Cry" itself, a strange crowd of bad interpreters that Fielding models on the chorus of a Greek tragedy. Like that chorus, the Cry exists to voice the opinions of the public; unlike a classical Greek chorus, however, the opinions that the Cry expresses are usually inane rather than inevitable. Constantly interrupting Portia's story and challenging her telling of it, the Cry displays its typical behavior when Portia declares herself unable to hate another woman that Ferdinand may have fallen in love with, still wishing to be "instrumental to his happiness." Incredulous of what they call Portia's "romantic . . . affectation," the Cry puts a sarcastic spin on her words, saying that Ferdinand "would be mightily pleased to hear his mistress so tamely giving him up." By implying that her selflessness is really a self-interested attempt to make Ferdinand differently beholden to her, the Cry reduces Portia's admirable sentiment to just another attempt to gain an advantage in the game of love.
It is with these dialogues between the characters and the chorus, not the plot, that Fielding fulfills her stated purpose to "strike a little out of a road already so much beaten" with romances and novels (1986). They are central to her avowed purpose in this experimental fiction: to prove "that to moderate, and not to inflame the passions, is the only method of attaining happiness." Bree, one of the few critics to have commented extensively on the book, concedes that "The Cry's opinions . . . are noisy, thoughtless, and ignorant," and that with this dramatic device Fielding is satirizing not only "contemporary playhouse audiences" but also "public opinion in general, including, possibly, those members of the public who have read The Cry without due attention to its moral message" (1996, 96). If anything, she understates the case. If we are typical romance or novel readers, always hungry for the cheap thrill or gratuitous plot twist, then we are exactly like the Cry, and Fielding is insulting us. As she continues in the introduction:
If the heroine of a romance was to travel through countries, where the castles of giants rise to her view; through gloomy forests, among the dens of savage beasts, where at one time she is in danger of being torn and devour'd, at another, retarded in her flight by puzzling mazes, and falls at last into the hands of a cruel giant; the reader's face will be alarm'd for her safety . . .; and with what joy will he accompany her steps when she finds the right road, and gets safely out of the enchanted dreary forest! But the puzzling mazes into which we shall throw our heroine, are the perverse interpretations made upon her words; the lions, tigers, and giants, from which we endeavour to rescue her, are the spiteful and malicious tongues of her enemies. . . . Nor can this be effected, unless we could awaken the judgment to exert itself, so as to reject all the alluring bribes which the passions, assisted by the imagination, can offer.
To be sure, this does not make any reader simply equivalent to Portia's "enemies" among the Cry. But it does equate such an enemy with the typical reader of romance (or the novel), content to be fantastically entertained rather than intellectually challenged, and it does equate the susceptibility to being taking in by the "alluring bribes" of conventional fiction with the tendency to think up "perverse interpretations" and speak with "malicious tongues." If we react as a typical reader, we are reacting as does the Cry. The dramatic structure of Fielding's experimental fiction constantly implicates her audience in an act of dishonorable interpretation, and makes us ashamed of always thinking, and saying, the worst.
Fielding may borrow the device of the chorus from classical drama, but she uses it differently. If the chorus of a Greek tragedy exists, that is, to expose the hero's capacity for self-delusion, the Cry in Fielding's anti-romance exists to be exposed, as her audience, deluded in themselves. Mira Suzuki and others have seen how concerned Fielding was to correct the deficiencies in contemporary reading practices; what has not been seen, however, is how this concern is part of Fielding's larger project to "awaken" an audience weaned on romances and novels to "exert" its judgment altogether, to think independently. Indeed, Fielding suggests that a willingness to settle for the conventional wisdom is a fault, not just of romantic reading, but of a kind of unconscious classical learning. Ferdinand's brother Oliver, for example—an evil rake who attempts to lure Portia away from Ferdinand in his brother's absence—proves his capacity for self-delusion when he attributes the "success" of his affairs to "the force of his wise maxims." Specious—if classical—analogies, like that "between a military siege, and the progress of courtship" (1986), propel his sexual predation. Similarly, Oliver and Ferdinand's father Nicanor, when Page 576 | Top of Articlehe finds himself wounded in love, fails to put himself "into the hands of that skilful surgeon Reason to probe his wounds to the bottom," employing instead "that quack Fallacy to plaister them over at the top." He wants to heal himself the easy way, and Fielding implies that settling for the longstanding axiom is easier, if ultimately less effective, than actually "reasoning" things out for oneself through the hard process of self-examination. As Portia tells the Cry elsewhere, "when we toss about the sayings of philosophers, and do not take care to enter into their true meaning: we only disguise and cover over falsehood by the sanction of acknowledged authority." She does not mean that the "sayings of philosophers" are themselves "falsehoods," as she clarifies this point to the Cry; she means that philosophy is meant to be practiced, not just recited, and that merely reciting it, as axiomatic, is almost surely to "disguise and cover over falsehood," or to rationalize one's bad behavior. No philosophy, however ancient, says Portia—incidentally claiming the right of women, not just men, to deal with it—is meant to be "placed in the clouds not to be looked at by any mortal, especially by female eyes." It is meant to be lived, tested, experienced.
So concerned is Fielding with the difference between mere book learning and experience that she devotes an entire "act" of The Cry to teaching it. Part 4 of the novel is the story of Cylinda, the mistress on whom Nicanor has spent his family's fortune. The best educated person (including the men) in Portia's circle, Cylinda was reared by an indulgent father who taught her the principles of classical virtue but not the Christian religion, causing her subsequent reading over "many books of philosophy" to be rangy and undisciplined, guided by "no fixed principle" (1986). Although she fancies herself temporarily in love with her cousin, Cylinda's real preoccupation is with the progress of her own intellect, and she travels through various philosophical schools in search of a way of life that will gratify her sense of self-importance. She settles first on the modern optimism of the third earl of Shaftesbury, attracted by his determination "to exalt human reason", and "to prove that all nature is subject to our determination, and that no man hath a right to impose on us the belief of anything but what our penetration hath discovered, and our judgment approved." A wise mentor, however, soon shows Cylinda that, by his falling down in raptures at the infinite wisdom of the almighty, Shaftesbury fails his own test of intellectual independence. From the Stoics, Cylinda learns that to invest oneself emotionally in another person is a losing proposition, because people disappoint you or fall away. She lives by that axiom until she falls in love with her last lover Eustace, for whom she abandons the "wisdom of keeping myself independent" with a passion all out of stoic proportion.
Progressively, Cylinda discovers not only that one cannot be a Shaftesburian or a Stoic these days, one cannot be a Skeptic or an Epicurean either. By repeating this pattern of first converting to a philosophical school and then falling away from it, Cylinda realizes the futility of philosophical learning—if not of philosophical thinking—altogether. The moral of Cylinda's story is that neither women nor men can gain wisdom by a cutrate survey of philosophical schools: it must be gained by living, loving, and losing. Portia, whose father educated her in the classics too, does not argue that women should abandon classical learning altogether. As long as it is not regarded as "the whole center of true wisdom," it can guide the sort of candid "enquiry" after truth that she (earlier) contrasts to the "discovery" of preordained conclusions (Fielding 1986). At the beginning of her odyssey, Cylinda gravitates toward those philosophical schools that tell her what she already knows. What Cylinda realizes in the course of her journey is that she must submit herself to something, or rather to some-one, who will not. This is not an anti-feminist message, for even Eustace, the former Epicurean, "submits" in this fashion. In a letter that he writes to Cylinda after his wife takes him back, he expresses his amazement at how the latter "could talk of hope in a situation wretched enough to drive almost the strongest mind to distraction; whilst I with all my boasted philosophy, for the meer gratification of a wild appetite, had from raging jealousy suffered inexpressible torments." By itself, philosophy is inadequate to soothe the savage mind, but philosophy accompanied by the compassion of another just may be up to the task.
Understanding Cylinda's story as a comment on the importance of experience also provides a way of understanding the generic experiment that is The Cry. Readers who approach Fielding's fiction expecting a conventional romance will be sorely disappointed: like the chorus of the Cry, her audience does not get what it wants. But, if Page 577 | Top of Articlereaders submit themselves to the highly unconventional narrative of The Cry, they just might get what they need: Fielding's lesson about moderating the passions. This lesson, although stoic in tone, is not to be gained by merely reading the Stoics. It may however, be gained by reading a novel like The Cry, which depicts not only many characters disappointed in love, but also itself disappoints its readers if all they are looking for is narrative gratification. Fielding revives ancient philosophy in The Cry by forcing her audience to experience its truths, not just read about them. By critically examining the inadequacies of philosophical rules, at least considered apart from experience, she challenges her readers to examine themselves.
Collier's Essay is equally demanding of her readers, although she makes us work not through subverting her models but by inverting them. I would classify the Essay, in fact, as a satiric conduct book, a hybrid genre that stretches from Ovid to J. P. Donleavy's The Unexpurgated Code (1975), and which includes Jonathan Swift's Directions to Servants (1745), a precedent that Collier herself alludes to (Bilger 2003, 42). It claims to offer useful advice on life and love, and yet the advice it offers is so unpalatable that the reader would have to be a moral monster to take it. Before I explain the parallel to Ovid's conduct book, however, I shall explain how the satire in this difficult book works, and how it works differently than that in Swift's.
The ostensible audience of the Essay are those individuals who wish, as the title explains, to "ingeniously torment" their dependents for the perverse pleasure of it. The book is divided in half by the type of dependent being tormented. The first part of the Essay, as Collier explains, "is addressed to those, who may be said to have an exterior power from visible authority, such as is vested, by law or custom, in masters over their servants; parents over their children; husbands over their wives; and many others." The second part—the part that debunks romantic (and other kinds of) love—contains rules for tormenting those whose dependency arises "from the affection of the person ...as in the case of the wife, the friend, &c." (2003). Throughout, Collier simply assumes that those in power will torment their dependents. That is not the same thing as saying that such relationships are bound to be tormenting. Although she speculates, for example, that the "unlimited power" that parents have over their children probably arose, historically, "from a knowledge of the great natural affection and tenderness, that is in almost every living creature towards its offspring," she adds that "to such parents as possess this true affection, I direct not my precepts; for where real love and affection towards the children (which must exert itself for their good) is in the heart, all my instructions will be thrown away" (my emphasis). In other words, Collier does occasionally suggest that real love and affection (if not romantic love) is possible among both unequals and equals, and that human beings are capable of treating each other decently. But her interest is clearly elsewhere. The generative satiric assumption of the Essay is that it will be avidly read by those people who do not love their dependents, and who want to hurt them besides.
For all of their perversity, the ways of tormenting that the Essay delivers—the "how-tos" of this how-to book—are indeed ingenious. If your humble companion—a dependent of the first type—is beautiful, for example, Collier advises you "to say so many mortifying things, as shall make her believe you don't think her in the least handsome. If her complexion is fair, call her Whey-face; if 'tis not of the whitest sort, you may tell her, she is as brown as Mahogany. . . . Thus, by right management, every personal perfection may be turned to her reproach" (2003). If you have a friend—the second type of dependent—whom you want to torment, you can make it unpleasant for her to be around you and then "upbraid" her for avoiding you; blame her for any misfortunes she may experience (while blaming the world for your own); and tell her "spiteful stories" that you have heard about her, all the while professing not to believe them. Generally, the ingenuity of Collier's advice arises from her ability to turn what the rest of the world considers virtues—such as the "loyalty" that would ignore the world's calumny—into sources of pain; and thus, while it may be easier to inflict cruelty on those who are legally dependent on you, it is ultimately more satisfying for the tormentor to inflict it on the emotionally dependent. Indeed, as she claims in Part 2, while many make the mistake of thinking "that the principal qualification" of a potential tormentee "is, his having a soft place in his head, . . . the chief thing to seek after is, the man who has a soft place in his heart."
Collier's sometimes tedious advice goes on for 234 pages in the second edition, and is so consistent to its own perverse logic that it is possible to admire its ingenuity while temporarily forgetting that it is perverse. But perhaps that is just the point. The satiric target of the Essay should be clear: Collier means to lash those who are cruel to their dependents, especially those who make a show of professing virtue while doing so. Occasionally, Collier will drop her satiric irony and simply say this. When she wants to prove that her advice is authentic, for example, she claims that her "regard for the reputation of my pupils" has led her to take it from those "exemplars . . . who are not the openly cruel and hard-hearted, but rather the specious pretenders to goodness, who, under an outcry about benevolence, hide the most malevolent hearts." There is a touch of irony at the beginning of this sentence—she cannot really have "the highest regard" for her pupils in the art of tormenting (2003)—but not much at the end of it: it is a direct hit on "pretenders to goodness." Also discernable is the norm—the standard of real virtue—against which Collier finds her satiric targets wanting. The concluding paragraph of Part 2, in fact, measures the target against the standard directly:
Nay, what a strange creature did I once hear of! A young lady of title and fortune, who had servants, friends, and dependents, at her command, was afflicted with a painful disorder (which at last deprived her of her life) for near twelve years; yet never took the opportunity of one of those advantages, to say a cross or fretful thing to any one! . . . Should we not, my dear pupils, alarmed by the danger of such a shining exemplar, all assemble together, in order, by some envious detraction, to pull down this our greatest enemy? Alas! she is above our reach!
Although the world is full of ingenious tormentors, Collier implies in this passage, it also contains a few "strange creatures" who are kind, rather than cruel, to their dependents. They—together with parents who truly love their children, and the like—are the few good people in Collier's satire who serve to call out the many bad ones.
But, like much of the best satire—and here Swift does come to mind—the more one reads in Collier's Essay, the less clear the targets of its satire are. Even the above paragraph, addressed again to those tormentors who envy the virtuous exemplar, concludes rather ambiguously: "Therefore we have no hope left, but in trying to reverse an old general observation, and in arduously endeavouring to shew, that these our precepts will be more forcible towards promoting the love of Tormenting, than the most royal and illustrious example will be, towards inculcating and teaching every Christian virtue" (2003). The hope expressed here, that a single example of kindness will not stand up against many examples of cruelty, may be vain, or it may not: at the very least, the statement tempers the frustration that the speaker had expressed, in the sentence just before, at being outclassed by the "shining exemplar," and raises the possibility that vice really is stronger than virtue. It also raises the possibility that those who are being satirized at the end of Part 2 are not only tormentors but also those dogooders who actually hope, with their single examples of virtue, to prevail against them. If the Essay had an entirely stable satiric target, then this possibility would never arise: readers could sit safely back and bask in the glory of their own reflected virtue. And this is precisely what readers are wont to do. As Swift famously defined the genre in The Battle of the Books, "Satyr is a sort of Glass, wherein Beholders do generally discover every body's Face but their Own; which is the chief Reason for that kind of Reception it meets in the World, and that so very few are offended with it" (1983, 140). No reader begins the Essay thinking that he or she will be the brunt of the joke. Its superficial pleasure (for all, I imagine, but the most perverse readers) is the pleasure of knowing oneself to be morally superior to the cruel ones being made fun of. But to read closer in the Essay is to realize that the joke, after all, may be on oneself.
And this is where Ovid's Art of Love comes in. The fact is that Swift's Directions to Servants, the satiric conduct book to which Collier's Essay is usually compared, fails as a model in an all-important respect. The Directions purports to be written by an ex-footman to his fellow servants, teaching them how better to cheat their masters. It confirms all the worst impressions that masters have of servants, and those who took pleasure in it were probably those who complained that good help was hard to find. It is thus, as Betty Rizzo says, "written from the establishment point of view" (1994, 45). But Collier's book defends the dispossessed. It may address its advice to masters—to those in control of relationships—but it is actually making them, Page 579 | Top of Articlenot their dependents, the satiric target. In this way, it operates more like Ovid's conduct book, which—as I will show—targets masters as it gives them advice.
It is clear that Collier would have had both the motive and the means to "imitate" Ovid. Although she and Sarah Fielding dismissively compared their educations in the classics to that of their notable friend, the classical scholar James Harris (Fielding and Fielding 1993), Henry Fielding, in a copy of Horace's works that he inscribed to Collier in 1754, praised her for possessing "an Understanding more than Female, mixed with virtues almost more than human" (Qtd. in Battestin 1989). Ovid was, after Horace, the most popular Latin author in eighteenth-century England (Mace 1996, 33). Indeed, the Eighteenth-Century Short Title Catalogue lists sixteen editions of The Art of Love alone between 1700 and 1760, including a translation, in 1747, by Henry Fielding himself, entitled Ovid's Art of love paraphrased, and adapted to the present time. Only a few copies survive of this work that, according to Martin Battestin, gives "classical authority" to Fielding's personal "fascination with subjects illustrating the rawest sexuality, most especially the sexuality of women" (1989, 411-12). Moreover, Henry Fielding mocked in print the pretensions of women to classical learning, and apocryphally is said to have "teize[d] and taunt[ed]" Sarah for her efforts to improve her knowledge of the classics (381). It is possible, then, that Jane Collier defended her friend and the capacities of her sex by drawing on the classical text that Henry had previously used to denigrate it.
Again, The Art of Love is addressed to a cynical audience that wants instruction in an "art"—seduction—that, to moral readers, is distasteful at best and immoral at worst. Consider Ovid's advice to a man who wants to seduce a woman:
Yield to resistance, yielding wins the day,
Just play whatever part she bids you play,
Damn what she damns, whate'er she praises, praise,
Echo alike her "yeses" and her "nays."
Laugh when she laughs, cry promptly when she cries,
Let her give orders to your lips and eyes.
(Ovid 1990, 113)
The key phrase in this passage, as in the entire poem, is Ovid's advice to "play whatever part" in the game of love that will allow the seducer to triumph over the resistance of the prey. There is no such thing as sincerity in this game, and no innocents: the lover is actively playing his part, but the beloved too (as we learn elsewhere in the poem) is passively "bidding" the part to be played. As Molly Myerowitz writes in her appropriately titled book about the poem, Ovid's Games of Love, "In Ovid's version of love, it is convention which empowers human relationships. . . . Each sex must be aware of the conventions; each is told to tacitly allow the opposite sex to act in accordance with convention" (1985, 28).
That is why, if we want to remain moral readers, we cannot allow ourselves to take The Art of Love seriously, for its instruction. Ovid himself warned against taking it seriously in Tristia, his later "defense" of the poem, which basically reduces the ways of reading it (as Myerowitz summarizes them) to two: "Either Ovid means what he says in his defense—it was all in fun—and the poem is a praiseworthy parody of the didactic genre, ...or the poet means what he says in his poem—ego sum praeceptor Amoris [I am love's teacher]—and is to be condemned for immorality and callous licentiousness" (1985, 20). Just as no one would admit to reading Collier's Essay for real instruction in the art of tormenting, no one would admit to reading Ovid's Art of Love to learn how to be a better seducer.The pleasure in the poem, and in the Essay, is the pleasure of moral superiority, of feeling oneself better than the immoral or the cruel.
But Collier, at least, will not allow us that pleasure unmolested. Alison Sharrock and Duncan F. Kennedy have shown how reading Ovid's poem can itself be understood as an instance of seduction, a seduction into (in Sharrock's words) "a self image as a 'sophisticated reader,"' who recognizes that Ovid is playing a literary game with us, making it difficult for us to take his advice seriously and yet daring us to do so (1994, 261; Kennedy 2000, 174-75). There is nothing very damaging about that assumption in Ovid—a game is just a game—but to be such a "sophisticate" in Collier is to set oneself up for satiric attack. That there is pleasure to be had in tormenting should be obvious: the full title of the work promises to give us the "Proper Rules for the Exercise of that Pleasant Art," and in the introduction Collier draws an ingenious analogy between tormenting and benevolence, or "the true love of virtue," in that the former, like the Page 580 | Top of Articlelatter, is disinterested, "exercised for its own sake, and no other" (2003). But that already brings the virtue uncomfortably close to the vice, and later she even suggests that the pleasure of benevolence intensifies that of tormenting, that one can be simultaneously virtuous and cruel. It is less satisfying, that is, "To deny a common beggar your bounty which he asks" for that "can only be depriving him of a meal; but to give bountifully to a common beggar, and to deny assistance to your friend, is the highest gratification to a proud and cruel disposition." Now, if the show of benevolence ("to give bountifully to a common beggar") increases the real pleasure of tormenting ("to deny assistance to your friend"), then Collier is satirizing not just tormentors but the disinterested practitioners of benevolence—the image that sophisticated readers like to cultivate for themselves—as well, or at least implying that benevolence may not be as real (that is, as disinterested) as they think it is. The Essay, in other words, does not offer simple, stable support to the party of virtue. Rather, by being so relentless in its perverse logic and confronting the occasional perversity of supposedly disinterested professions of benevolence, it targets our own talent for tormenting. We are seduced by Ovid's poem, and held culpable by Collier's Essay.
While it seems, at first, that Collier is holding women more culpable for tormenting than men, the Essay is more indiscriminately corrosive than that. On the one hand, she says, "there is, in female friendship, a much more intimate connexion, and more frequent opportunities of practicing the subtle strokes of teazing, than amongst the men" (2003). On the other hand, and more profoundly, Collier is attacking the system of gender inequality in English society, a system that turns women (and others of the relatively powerless) into tormentors. As Audrey Bilger puts it, "What Colliers satire clearly illustrates is that a system based on power and subordination lends itself to manipulation and cruelty" (2003). At the beginning of her section "To the Husband," for example, Collier exclaims that "English wives" should actually be "happy . . . that the force of custom is so much stronger than our laws! How fortunate for them, that the men, either thro' affection or indolence, have given up their legal rights; and have, by custom, placed all the power in the wife!" (2003). Who is Collier's target here? She could be asserting, without irony, that the force of custom is stronger than the law, in which case her target would be the powerful women who are the beneficiaries of that state of affairs, not the impotent men who have allowed it to happen. Or, she could be mocking, through irony, anyone who would believe that claim, a reading that would direct her critique at men, particularly those husbands who complain about how "dominated" they are by their wives. Either may be to blame, or both, but Collier's choice of models to imitate and to invert, both classical and modern, is wickedly appropriate. For this system of gender insubordination has been a long time building, and conduct books, which represent women as objects of seduction—like Ovid's—or mere receptacles of virtue—like Halifax's—have had a share in building it.
At any rate, and just as in The Cry, no reader—male or female—escapes the Essay unscathed. And in the end that is just the point of both books: to force the reader to undergo the process of self-examination that Fielding, in the introduction to The Cry, declared to be the purpose of her experimental fiction. They demand a "dialogical" response from their readers, provoking them in the same way that Socrates—the philosophical hero of Fielding's translation of Xenophon—provoked his followers, refusing to let them settle into the easy pleasures of romance or the moral superiority of the economically and emotionally powerful. But that dialogical response is not why I call them experiments in a "neoclassical" mode. Rather, in both these texts Fielding and Collier show themselves able to take on the ancients as equals, either by stepping through their philosophical schools on the way to a kind of Christian humanism, or by recalling the way that a classic text brings its readers up short by seducing them into ultimately destructive images of themselves. As they provoke their modern readers, that is, they provoke the ancients, not simply replicating but reanimating their truths.
Although she enjoyed neither of these books, Lady Montagu, in a letter often quoted by the few scholars who have commented on them, was prescient about that purpose: "I have read the Cry, and if I would write in the Style to be admir'd by good Lord Orrery, I would tell you the Cry made me ready to cry, and the Art of Tormenting tormented me very much" (1965-67, 3.88). Lady Mary does not, of course, intend her remark as a compliment, but Jane Collier may have taken it as such, and the disturbing "Fable" that Page 581 | Top of Articleconcludes the Essay—telling where the knowledge of this particular art has been gained—reveals why. "In the time when beasts could speak, and write, and read, the English language, and were moved with the same passions as men;" an "old poem" is found that describes physical pain every bit as acutely as the Essay describes mental torment. The poem is signed merely with the letter L. Together, the animals speculate about who its author may be. Various candidates are put forward—the lion for its "strength," the leopard for its "activity," and the lynx for its "fierceness"—but, in the end, the author is discovered to be the lamb, a raditional symbol of gentleness and meekness. How has the lamb acquired such powers of description? The horse explains: "it is impossible . . . that any beast, that has the feeling which our author shews for the tortured wretches . . . should ever make the ravages, which, it is notorious, are daily made by the three fierce competitors before us. . . . [I]t is from suffering, and not from inflicting torments, that the true idea of them is gained" (Collier 2003). Collier may end the Essay with this fable to put all the abuse it has heaped on its primary targets in context: if women, traditionally the lambs in English society, are also its tormentors, it is because they have suffered the worst. But it also offers a startling rationale for the unorthodox narratives of both The Cry and the Essay: if reading them makes us "suffer," frustrating our desires for narrative continuity and romance and satirically exposing our tormenting ways, it is only because such suffering creates consciousness. Fielding and Collier's experimental fictions may never have been wildly popular with readers like Lady Mary, but they do accomplish their didactic purposes in a weirdly successful way.
Source: Timothy Dykstal, "Provoking the Ancients: Classical Learning and Imitation in Fielding and Collier," in College Literature, Vol. 31, No. 3, Summer 2004, pp. 102-22.
In the following essay excerpt, Sitter considers what constituted "wit" during the neoclassicist period by examining philosophical writings of the times.
For thee explain a thing till all men doubt it,
And write about it, Goddess, and about it.
(—Alexander Pope, Dunciad)
Sooner or later in any discussion of neoclassical literature the word wit, if not the
spaniel, splashes its way back to the hunter's side. That major authors of the Restoration and early eighteenth century prized and practiced wit is perhaps the one thing every succeeding generation has agreed on, although with widely differing evaluations of that achievement. Each retrospective estimate of Dryden or Pope seems, interestingly, to approach Dryden's view of one of his predecessors: "if we are not so great wits as Donne, yet certainly we are better poets." As Dryden's usage and the work of many modern scholars remind us, the value and definition of wit have been complex all along. Wit is Nature in ambiguity dressed—and so is Nature.
Despite the broad problems of historical semantics, readers continue to agree that Restoration repartee, The Rape of the Lock, Fielding's asides and prefaces, most of the poetry of Swift and Prior, and The Beggar's Opera all are witty. Whatever neoclassical wit is taken to be, it is likelier sought in Gay than Gray. It is not sought everywhere in the period—rarely in Defoe, scarcely in Richardson, for example—but wherever it is found the impression is generally one of hearing a shared language of the age, a shared rhetoric, rather than a clever ideolect. The examples mentioned range greatly but call to mind a familiar mixture of "common" sense, unconventional perspective, quickness, economy, and irreverence, to which no single writer (no Austen or Wilde, for example) has a unique claim in the period. This historical impression might be focused by looking for a moment at what might be called the epitaph of neoclassical wit, the couplet John Gay wrote for his tomb, and at the reaction it provoked in a young writer of a later generation, Samuel Johnson. The lines Gay asked Pope to put on his grave and that duly appeared in Westminster Abbey are these: "Life is a jest; and all things show it, / I thought so Page 582 | Top of Articleonce; but now I know it." Writing for the Gentleman's Magazine in 1738, Johnson finds this "trifling distich" more proper for the "window of a brothel" than for a monument. All people, he argues, do or do not believe in a future state of rewards and punishments. "In one of these classes our poet must be ranked. . . If he was of the latter opinion, he must think life more than a jest, unless he thought eternity a jest too; and if these were his sentiments, he is by this time most certainly undeceived. These lines, therefore, are impious in the mouth of a Christian, and nonsense in that of an aetheist." Nothing suggests that Gay saw any contradiction between making a good end and making a jest, or that friends such as Pope, Arbuthnot, and Swift found the epitaph trifling. Johnson's objections have their reason, but not the reason of his predecessors. The encounter is a reminder again of how often neoclassical wit plays upon mortality and how often it laughs at the oppositional logic of either/ or. The common language Gay counted on was quickly disappearing.
While this episode suggests wit's passage, the more closely this ordering rhetoric is looked for the less explicit it seems to have been. Not only does "wit" itself have an array of meanings, as even the casual reader of An Essay on Criticism soon suspects, but it has its own oppositional story through the late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries. The best-known version is that of true wit versus false wit in Addison's series of Spectator essays (nos. 58-63), but Addison builds on Locke's earlier opposition of wit and judgment. Locke in turn was probably influenced by Malebranche, almost surely by Hobbes, perhaps by Boyle, and possibly by Bacon. Locke is a good place to begin not only because his oppositions seem to have been the most influential but also because a careful reading of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding shows that behind the desire to derogate or dignify wit lie issues far different from coffee-house decorum. At stake are conflicting notions of intellectual coherence and competing versions of reality. After exploring Locke's dichotomy and its implications in his theory of knowledge, I shall turn to its subversion, respectively genteel and raucous, by Addison and Prior. Less suspicious of language than Locke, both Addison and Prior are more deeply sceptical of individual aspirations to an unmediated agreement of thinking and things.
WIT AND JUDGMENT IN LOCKE
I shall imagine I have done some service to Truth, Peace, and Learning if, by any enlargement on this Subject, I can make Men reflect on their own Use of Language; and give them Reason to suspect, that since it is frequent for others, it may also be possible for them, to have sometimes very good and approved Words in their Mouths, and Writings, with very uncertain, little, or no signification. And therefore it is not unreasonable for them to be wary herein themselves, and not to be unwilling to have them examined by others.
In a later chapter of the same book Locke would attend to wit under the rubric "Of the Abuse of Words," but he had in fact discussed it at some length before deciding to take language as his province. This earlier passage from book 2 ("Of Ideas") is the one Addison put into broad circulation the morning of 11 May 1711 by quoting most of it in the fifth of six Spectators on wit:
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If in having our Ideas in the Memory ready at hand, consists quickness of parts; in this, of having them unconfused, and being able nicely to distinguish one thing from another, where there is but the least difference, consists, in a great measure, the exactness of Judgment and clearness of Reason, which is to be observed in one Man above another. And hence, perhaps, may be given some Reason of that common Observation, That Men who have a great deal of Wit, and prompt Memories, have not always the clearest Judgment, or deepest Reason. For Wit lying most in the assemblage of Ideas, and putting those together with quickness and variety, wherein can be found any resemblance or congruity, thereby to make up pleasant Pictures, and agreeable Visions in the fancy: Judgment, on the contrary, lies quite on the other side, in repeating carefully, one from another, Ideas wherein can be found the least difference, thereby to avoid being misled by Similitude, and by affinity to take one thing for another. This is a way of proceeding quite contrary to Metaphor and Allusion, wherein, for the most part, lies that entertainment and pleasantry of Wit, which strikes so lively on the Fancy, and therefore [is] so acceptable to all People; because its Beauty appears at first sight, and there is required no labour of thought, to examine what Truth or Reason there is in it. The Mind, without looking further, rests satisfied with the agreeableness of the Picture, and the gayety of the Fancy: And it is a kind of affront to go about to examine it, by the severe Rules of Truth, and good Reason; whereby it appears, that it consists in something, that is not perfectly conformable to them.
This passage is worth considering more carefully than has been the modern habit. Kenneth MacLean, in what is regrettably still the standard work on Locke and eighteenth-century literature, points to the influence of the dichotomy but refers to it as a "detached bit of psychology" of "obviously little significance" in Locke's philosophy, a view more recent commentators seem to endorse by passing on in silence. Even literary critics as alert to Locke's metaphorical valences as is Paul de Man (1979) tend to proceed directly to book 3 and the explicit remarks on language. My view is that this piece of psychologizing is thoroughly attached to the tensions in Locke's argument throughout the Essay and that understanding those tensions can help in the reading of several neoclassical works of wit in something more of the spirit their authors writ. . .
It is clear that metaphor marks the appetite of wit for similarities, while judgment patiently seeks out differences. The place of allusion may seem less obvious, however, first because it is not necessarily associated with wit in particular (as distinguished, for example, from scholarly writing or sermons), and secondly because Locke gives no plain counterpart to it other than judgment's "whole way of proceeding." But it is clear that allusion is still on Locke's mind when he discusses wit again in book 3. This section is again long, but I quote it whole in the interests of care rather than quickness:
Since Wit and Fancy finds easier entertainment in the World, than dry Truth and real Knowledge, figurative Speeches, and allusion in Language, will hardly be admitted as an imperfection or abuse of it. I confess, in Discourses, where we seek rather Pleasure and Delight, than Information and Improvement, such Ornaments as are borrowed from them, can scarce pass for Faults. But yet, if we would speak of Things as they are, we must allow, that all the Art of Rhetoric, besides Order and Clearness, all the artificial and figurative application of Words Eloquence hath invented, are for nothing else but to insinuate wrong Ideas, move the Passions, and thereby mislead the Judgment; and so indeed are perfect cheat; and therefore however laudable or allowable Oratory may render them in Harangues and popular Addresses, they are certainly, in all Discourses that pretend to inform or instruct, wholly to be avoided; and where Truth or Knowledge are concerned, cannot but be thought a great fault, either of the Language or Person that makes use of them. What, and how various they are, will be superfluous here to take notice; the books of Rhetorick which abound in the world will instruct those who want to be informed: Only I cannot but observe, how little the preservation and improvement of Truth and Knowledge is the Care and Concern of Mankind; since the Arts of Fallacy are endow'd and preferred. 'Tis evident how much Men love to deceive, and be deceived, since Rhetorick, that powerful instrument of Error and Deceit, has its established Professors, is publickly taught, and has always been had in great Reputation: And I doubt not but it will be thought great boldness, if not brutality in me, to have said thus much against it. Eloquence, like the fair Sex, has too prevailing Beauties in it to suffer itself ever to be spoken against. And 'tis in vain to find fault with those Arts of Deceiving, wherein Men find pleasure to be Deceived.
The opposition of "truth" and "rhetoric," it has been argued, has been essential to philosophy's self-definition since Plato's attack on the Sophists; philosophy is distinguished by not being rhetoric or poetry. Locke's particular "plain-style" aversion to the "arts of fallacy" is familiar. This passage emphasizes the values implicit in Locke's earlier distinction, since the quasi-psychological opposition of wit and judgment now becomes the openly ethical contest of wit and fancy on one side (the syntax of the first sentence merges them) against knowledge and truth on the other. . .
The first sentence of the earlier passage associates wit with "having our ideas in the memory ready at hand" but judgment with "having them unconfused and being able nicely to distinguish one thing from another" (my emphasis). This silent slide from ideas to things is crucial to Locke's dichotomy and, as I shall try to show, a clue to greater problems within the Essay. The attribution to wit of the "artificial and figurative application of words" and of "allusion" implies, of course, contrary ways of proceeding in the world of judgment, knowledge, and truth. What exactly are these contraries? Presumably the first would be the natural and literal application of words, and the second would be unallusive language.
In short, Locke's charged opposition of wit and judgment entails three major claims: (1) we can know and speak of things as they are; (2) we can (and should) speak naturally and literally; (3) we can (and should) speak without allusion. The question is whether there is really any space in Locke's Essay for any of the three assumptions. Page 584 | Top of ArticlePut another way, in light of Locke's rigorous contributions to epistemology, to the study of language, and to ethics, what are we to make of his supposition that we can and should seek an unartificial language free of allusion and illusion? The boundaries between the epistemological and linguistic-ethical claims Locke makes in attacking wit are less clear than my listing of them may suggest, but I shall try to consider them in the order enumerated above.
I have already suggested that the general difficulty behind Locke's claim that judgment distinguishes things or that it guides us in speaking of "things as they are" stems from the commitment of the Essay as a whole to the view that what we know are (only) our ideas. Since able readers of Locke from Thomas Reid to the present have commented on the tension between that commitment and Locke's equally strong belief that our senses give knowledge of the external world, it is possible to concentrate selectively on a few of the Essay's moments of attempted reconciliation in order to see the range of Locke's ideas about ideas. Seeing that range may help in understanding Locke's occasional vehemence, because it stretches, sometimes awkwardly, from ideas as "mental Draughts" or "Pictures of Things" to ideas as barely legible signs.
In his discussion of "clear and obscure, Distant and Confused Ideas," Locke launches at once into visual metaphor—"the Perception of the Mind, being most aptly explained by Words relating to the Sight"—in order to argue that "our simple ideas are clear, when they are such as the objects from whence they were taken did or might in a well-ordered sensation or perception, present them" (2.29.2). This painstakingly worded statement seems to offer more certainty than it provides. It sounds as if clear ideas are visual copies ("taken") of objects viewed in the way a normal person perceives them. But if in place of the words Locke italicizes we attend to as and might, we find that what seemed a generic or causal account of the origin of clear ideas is a conditional description of them based on a simile: Ideas are clear when they are kinds of mental images like those that normal viewers might have registered had they been there.
The fate of simple ideas is noteworthy because while Locke is habitually ready to grant that complex ideas are things we make up to think and talk with ("fictions of the mind") rather than direct perceptions, he is understandably less willing to sever the mimetic link between simple ideas and the external world. At his most scrupulous, however, he does sever most of it. Not only is "likeness" to things in the world restricted to simple ideas, it is narrowed still further to simple ideas of "primary qualities" of body (solidity, extension, figure, motion, and number as opposed to colors, sounds, tastes, and so on). It would seem that only Newton spent most of his time having ideas "like" the world. Such ideas "are resemblances" of bodies and "these patterns do really exist." The rest "have no resemblance of them at all. There is nothing like our Ideas existing in the bodies themselves." It is in this chapter that Locke's "idea" becomes more like the response to a sign than like a picture. Most simple ideas of sensation are "no more the likeness of something existing without us than the names that stand for them are the likeness of our ideas, which yet upon hearing they are apt to excite in us."
Our experience, in other words, is closer to reading or listening to speech than to looking at things. We have, with the exception of primary qualities, access not to objects but to signifiers. Had Locke pursued this model of experience consistently, rather than the complex of visual metaphors noted earlier, the Essay would be a very different book. As it is, the linguistic analogy surfaces at several revealing points, often in negative terms, as in the remarks on wit or rhetoric. Before going further it is necessary to underscore the significance of the analogy here by recalling that Locke is perhaps the first major analyst of language to stress that the relation of signifier to signified is not divinely instituted or mimetic but "perfectly arbitrary." What the linguistic analogy implies, then, is a functional, convenient but wholly ungrounded relation of idea and world.
At this point we can begin to see Locke's denigration of figurative expressions and allusions in the context of his uneasiness about language in general. There are moments in Locke, as will be seen, where words alone are certain truth, but many more, and more explicit ones, of linguistic skepticism: "For he that shall well consider the Errors and Obscurity, the Mistakes and Confusion, that is spread in the World by an ill use of Words, will find some reason to doubt whether Language, as it has been employ'd, has contributed more to the improvement or hindrance of Page 585 | Top of ArticleKnowledge amongst Mankind." Locke's suspicion of what he terms the "cover of wit and good language" runs deeper than the currents of plain-style Puritanism or scientific polemic. The tension between Locke's thinking of ideas as pictures or as interpretations of signs (or correspondingly of objects available to us as things or as signifiers) is played out at large in the Essay as a tension between truth as residing in perceptions or in propositions. The explanation I want to try to illustrate is this: having reached the uncomfortable insight that our experience of "things" is in fact the experience of signifiers, Locke seeks to manage the radical implications of the linguistic analogy by reverting to the model of perceptions and pictures and by stipulating impossibly strict standards for proper language. If experience may just be a language, then language itself had best be kept determinate. It should (against all odds) speak of things as they are.
Locke's treatment of language in book 3 of the Essay strikes most readers as remarkably free of theories of origin and (and perhaps therefore) surprisingly consistent on the arbitrariness of the relation between signified and signifier. Hans Aarsleff claims more than chronological priority for Locke (1982). To be sure, language is God's gift to humanity, but the terms remain general: language is defined as the totality of all natural languages and as their use by the totality of speakers. Unlike vast numbers of his contemporaries and many later writers, Locke nowhere in the Essay's chapters on language speculates about how Adam and Eve communicated, the Tower of Babel, or, except dismissively, mysterious or mystical connections between names and things named. However pious his intentions at large (the "main end of these inquiries" being "knowledge and veneration" of the "Sovereign Disposer of all things", for purposes of philosophic discussion there is no linguistic paradise lost. Where an Adamic myth surfaces instead is in Locke's notion of a language of judgment that names things as they are, without figure and, as only Adam could, without allusion.
Locke's contradictions on the subject of figurative language in book 3 have been brilliantly illustrated by de Man, and the issue of metaphor in the Essay as a whole can best be considered in connection with the responses to Locke of Addison and Prior. For now at least a partial answer emerges to the question of what allusion has to do with figurative speech in Locke's opposition of wit and judgment. Like "eloquence" and other "artificial" uses of language, allusions lack original innocence, are in fact the most emphatic figure of this lack, of having fallen into time. Return briefly, then, to the question of how an ideal of an unallusive language fits so uneasily with Locke's arguments elsewhere in the Essay.
The two arguments that run counter to the unallusive norm are linguistic and epistemological, although again the boundaries are not always distinct. The linguistic is relatively simple. When discussing language directly Locke argues, consistently, that since words have "naturally no signification" the "idea which each stands for must be learned and retained by those who would exchange thoughts and hold intelligible discourse with others." What such learning and retention of common usage amounts to is a continual series of allusions, namely to the usage of past and present speakers. Most of these allusions are of course unconscious, and any conventional notion of language implies the ability to make them, even the inability to not make them most of the time. But Locke goes further to recommend conscious allusions. If we would seek "propriety of speech" as indeed we should since words are "no man's private possession by the common measure of commerce and communication," we will find propriety by studying and imitating the usage of our linguistic predecessors: "The proper signification and best use of Terms is best to be learned from those, who in their Writings and Discourses, appear to have had the clearest Notions, and apply'd to them their Terms with the exactest choice and fitness."
Let me acknowledge at once that my use of "allusion" may well be broader than Locke intended and that he might have been thinking not of the shared use of words but of distinctive phrases and sentences—something closer to quotation. But it is also clear that in the attacks on wit in books 2 and 3 he is not criticizing the citation of authorities, something he does attack elsewhere but as characteristic of Scholasticism rather than of wit, fancy, or eloquence. It may be that he means something close to what allusion usually means in modern literary discussion, that is, intentional reference to previously used phrases or verbally established contexts for the complication of present meaning. And if it may be added that allusion often complicates by suggesting at least a fleeting parallel, it may be seen why Locke repeats the word in the same breath Page 586 | Top of Articlewith "figurative speeches" and "similitude." But when all of this has been granted, it remains true that Locke's notion of a wholly direct and unallusive discourse belongs to a less sophisticated theory of language than to the secular one he works out. While we can speak of some writers, for example, as more allusive than others, there is no logical place for a use of language "quite contrary" to allusion. In view of Locke's account of language as the sum of common conventions, a speech that is the opposite of allusive speech would seem to belong to a world of neither wit nor judgment but desire.
If the allusiveness Locke denigrates is in fact central to his theory of language, is it also central to his theory of knowledge? Much of the Essay can be read as a succession of attempts to answer no to this question, to put the knower and the known in a direct relation, unmediated by community or language. Before considering a few of the efforts to find extralinguistic certainties in book 4, let us turn to a final episode in the discussion of language that seems already an epistemological episode as well. Locke is discussing the names of "mixed Modes," that is, several ideas of "sorts or Species of Things", and arrives at the interesting observation that, unlike simple ideas, these complex ideas usually become known to us after we have learned the words for them.
I confess, that in the beginning of Languages, it was necessary to have the Idea, before one gave it the Name: and so it is still, where making a new complex Idea, one also, by giving it a new Name, makes a new Word. But this concerns not Languages made, which have generally pretty well provided for Ideas, which Men have frequent Occasion to have, and communicate: And in such, I ask, whether it be not the ordinary Method, that Children learn the Names of mixed Modes, before they have their Ideas? What one of a thousand ever frames the abstract Idea of Glory and Ambition, before he has heard the Names of them?
With the rare exceptions, then, of new coinages, the large range of ideas that make converse of any complexity possible are learned by a process of allusion. The vocabulary of these ideas exists first as a vocabulary.
I have been arguing that Locke's criticism of the figures and allusions of wit is part of an uneasiness about language at large and that his criticism was sharpened by the suspicion that knowledge and language are inseparable. Locke would not concede their inseparability. What he says instead, explaining how he came to write book 3, is that he found that knowledge and words had "so near a connexion" that "very little" could be "said clearly or pertinently" about knowledge without first observing the "face and manner of signification" of words. Because knowledge is, in Locke's suggestive phrase, "conversant about truth," it has "constantly to do with propositions." While it ends "in things," it arrives there "so much by the intervention of words" that they seem "scarce separable" from general knowledge. "At least they interpose themselves so much between our Understandings, and the Truth, which it would contemplate and apprehend that, like the Medium through which visible Objects pass, their Obscurity and Disorder does not seldom cast a mist before our Eyes, and impose upon our Understandings." The progress of actions attributed to words is striking: words intervene, then interpose, and finally impose.
In a landscape so populated or where, to take a later metaphor, so many have wandered "lost in the great Wood of Words", mathematics often looks like the safest way out of allusion and illusion. "By abstracting their Thoughts from Names, and accustoming themselves to set before their Minds the Ideas themselves . . . and not sounds instead of them," mathematicians have escaped most of the "perplexity, puddering, and confusion" of other fields (ibid.). If we would "but separate the Idea under consideration from the Sign that stands for it" moral knowledge would be "as capable of real Certainty, as Mathematics." I shall return to Lockes admiration for mathematical method in discussing Prior's response to the Essay, but the general point is simply that the main appeal of mathematics for Locke seems to be that it offers not a world of symmetry unencumbered by matter, or (as one might expect), more direct access to primary qualities, but an escape from words.
Locke's desire for extralinguistic certainty shows forth even when he argues more fully the point that truth resides in propositions. The chapter in which he does so, "Of Truth in General", is one of the most curious in the Essay, primarily because of Locke's insistence on a distinction between mental and verbal propositions, "truth of thought" and "truth of words." For it turns out that when he begins by defining truth as "nothing but the joining or separating of Signs, as the Things signified by them, do agree or disagree one with another," Locke is not at all Page 587 | Top of Articlemaking the same definitional move that Hobbes had made in declaring that "true and false are attributes of speech, not of things. And where speech is not, there is neither truth nor falsehood... Truth consisteth in the right ordering of names in our affirmations." For Locke, on the contrary, the "signs" joined or separated to make propositions can be either words or ideas: "So that Truth properly belongs only to Propositions: whereof there are two sorts, viz. Mental and Verbal; as there are two sorts of Signs commonly made use of, viz. Ideas and Words." This is a most unusual definition of "idea," I believe unprecedented in the Essay to this point. (Although I have argued that some of Locke's descriptions of ideas imply that they are like our responses to signs, the synonyms he himself normally uses are phantasms, notions, perceptions, pictures, and so on.) This odd twist allows Locke, however, to go on to assert the necessity of considering truth of thought and truth of words "distinctly one from another."
Necessary as it may be, two difficulties are conceded. The first is that as soon as we begin to describe mental propositions in words they become verbal propositions (a problem analogous to trying to observe oneself without being self-conscious, say, which does not usually lessen the belief that one has periods of unselfconsciousness). The second, much greater difficulty Locke poses to his own distinction appears to undo it entirely: "And that which makes it harder to treat of mental and verbal Propositions separately, is That most Men, if not all [my emphasis], in their Thinking and Reasonings within themselves, make use of Words instead of Ideas, at least when the subject of their meditation contains in it complex Ideas." Having opened the possibility that all propositions of much complexity are verbal rather than purely mental, Locke vacillates in the rest of this brief chapter between extremes, wishing at one point that those who speak on subjects like religion, power, or melancholy (all of them remarkably complex ideas) would "think only of the Things themselves" rather than their words, and at another point restricting his definition of truth further to only verbal propositions: " Truth is the marking down in Words, the agreement or disagreement of Ideas as it is."
Every one's Experience will satisfie him, that the Mind, either by perceiving or supposing the Agreement or Disagreement of its Ideas, does tacitly within it self put them into a kind of Proposition affirmative or negative, which I have endeavoured to express by the terms Putting together and Separating. But this Action of the Mind, which is so familiar to every thinking and reasoning Man, is easier to be conceived by reflecting on what passes in us, when we affirm or deny, than to be explained by Words.
Locke's meaning seems to be that our habit of making nonverbal propositions can be better imagined nonverbally than explained verbally. In other words, the proposition that we habitually make tacit propositions is most clear as a tacit proposition.
ADDISON, PRIOR, AND LOCKE'S DICHOTOMY
If Locke's opposition of wit and judgment involves as many problems as the previous section claims (and a few more will be suggested here), it is material to ask why it ever attracted Joseph Addison. That we cannot know Addison's motivation as he sat to the pages that would become Spectator 62 does not preclude some guesses. There is the general prestige of the Essay, and there is Addison's particular interest in bringing philosophy from the closet to the coffeehouse. Moreover, Locke's opposition has the appeal of familiar wisdom (so-and-so is "clever" but not thoughtful, or "steady" but not quick) suddenly bolstered by modern analysis ("and hence perhaps may be given some reason . . .") and looking for the moment as if it might offer an exhaustive characterological dichotomy (a recurrent fantasy neatly satirized in the quip, "There are two kinds of people: those who divide things into two and those who don't"). Neither eighteenth- nor twentieth-century intellectuals are immune to the charms of such a prospect. But it is probably safer to modify the question about Addison to how he found Locke's dichotomy attractive. How much of it does he accept, how does he use it, and how does it look when he has finished?
Like the rest of the series, Spectator 62 contrasts "true" wit and "false" wit. Addison begins it by referring to Locke's "admirable Reflection upon the Difference of Wit and Judgment, whereby he endeavours to shew the Reason why they are not always the Talents of the same Person." He then quotes all of the passage from 2.11.2 quoted earlier, except the first sentence, replaced by his summary, and the last sentence and a half, thus ending with Locke's observation that through metaphor and allusion wit "strikes so lively on the Fancy, and is therefore acceptable to all People." The passage, then, Page 588 | Top of Articlethat Addison commends as the "best and most philosophical Account that I have ever met with of Wit" has already changed clothes for the meeting. His introduction neutralizes Locke's explanation of why men of wit are often not good judges (Locke says nothing of wit being beyond the reach of men of judgment) to a distinction of talents. And in silently ignoring the latter part of Locke's section he suppresses Locke's regret that wit is so "acceptable to all people," a fact due to its requiring "no labour of thought" and not being up to the rigor of "truth or reason." Similarly, there is no mention in the essay of Locke's attack on wit, figurative language, and allusion in book 3 (quoted above).
To what he does quote, Addison adds and qualifies. Locke's is the best (previous) explanation of wit, "which generally, tho' not always, consists in such a Resemblance and Congruity of Ideas as this Author mentions. I shall only add to it, by way of Explanation, That every Resemblance of Ideas is not that which we call Wit, unless it be such an one that gives Delight and Surprize to the Reader: These two Properties seem essential to Wit, more particularly the last of them." The reserve clause ("generally, though not always") can be held, with Addison, until the conclusion of his consideration of Locke. Before going there it is worth noting, first, that Addison's "Resemblance and Congruity of Ideas" replaces Locke's assertion that wit is an "assemblage of ideas" based on "any resemblance or congruity" the assembler can find, and, second, that Addison's emphasis on the "surprize" of wit suggests pleasure from the discovery of real resemblance in place of Locke's "beauty ...at first sight." Both alterations are important for Addison's later propositions. "That the Basis of all Wit is Truth" and that a beautiful thought has "its Foundation in the Nature of Things."
The essential claim of most of the rest of Addison's essay, where he appropriates Locke's dichotomy between wit and judgment into his own between two kinds of wit, is that true wit is true. The point is explicit but sometimes lost sight of because "true" wit can be taken to mean something like "genuine" or "pure" wit and because Addison also uses contrasts like "Gothic" versus "natural"; but the starker terms are "Falsehood" and "Truth." The phrase probably quoted most often in summarizing Addison's position is "true Wit consists in the resemblance of Ideas, and false Wit in the Resemblance of Words." What he actually says is that this description covers the examples he has just cited ("according to the foregoing Instances"), among which figure prominently the familiar targets, such as shaped verses, acrostics, quibbles, and puns. The attack on puns (which false wit might call an argument adhomonym) is usually best remembered because it fits so readily the distinction between resemblances of words and resemblances of ideas. But similarity of ideas is not the basis of all true wit, as Addison's conclusion makes clear:
I must not dismiss this Subject without observing, that as Mr. Locke in the Passage abovementioned has discovered the most fruitful Source of Wit, so there is another of a quite contrary Nature to it, which does likewise branch it self out into several Kinds. For not only the Resemblance but the Opposition of Ideas does very often produce Wit; as I could shew in several little Points, Turns and Antitheses, that I may possibly enlarge upon in some future Speculation.
Perhaps if Addison had returned to the opposition of ideas in a later essay this passage would by now have attracted more notice. Standing almost as an afterthought, its casual tone is as disarming as the suave appearance of agreement with Locke earlier in the essay. Here Addison does much more than shift Locke's emphasis. If it is true that wit discerns differences as well as similarities, then the dichotomy between wit and judgment collapses. Having enlisted it in an argument for the truth of wit, Addison leaves Locke's distinction, so to speak, without judgment.
It may be coincidence that Addison characterized the wit of opposition as "quite contrary" to the more familiar sort Locke had described. Accident or allusion, the phrase suggests their distance, since it is the one Locke used to oppose not one kind of wit to another but the ways of difference and similitude. My brief discussion of Spectator 62 no doubt reveals the judgment that Addison knew exactly what he was doing. But judgment, as Locke eventually argues in some passages to which it is now time to turn, should be distinguished from knowledge.
The fourth book of Locke's Essay, "Of Knowledge and Opinion," begins with the proposition that because the mind's only immediate object is its own ideas, knowledge is "nothing but the perception of the connexion and agreement, or disagreement and repugnancy of any of our Ideas. Page 589 | Top of ArticleIn this alone it consists. Where this Perception is, there is Knowledge, and where it is not, there, though we may fancy, guess, or believe, yet we always come short of Knowledge." In fact, as Locke everywhere emphasizes, we usually do come short of knowledge. Fancying, as we have seen, has nothing to do with knowledge, but we must often guess or believe in order to "know" how to live. "He that in the ordinary Affairs of Life, would admit of nothing but direct plain Demonstration, would be sure of nothing, in this World, but of perishing quickly." Rarely in the presence of certainty, our guesses and beliefs in this "twilight" of probability are guided by judgment, the subject of a late chapter (14).
To understand Locke's account it is necessary to see what is at stake. The starting point of book 4 makes clear that knowledge—like truth, its expression in propositions—is conversant about similarities of ideas ("agreement") as well as about differences. The difference between wit and knowledge in this respect seems to be that wit makes similarities and knowledge perceives them. The question, which Addison helps indirectly to focus, is whether the same is true of judgment. Is judgment closer to knowledge or to wit?
Locke does what he can to close the gap between judgment and knowledge by associating them with each other as much as possible, and, as we have seen, the attacks on wit and eloquence in books 2 and 3 provide occasion to use judgment, truth, reason, and knowledge as near synonyms. Whatever the discriminations to be made elsewhere among the four terms, Locke seems to fuse them to compose whatever it is that is "quite contrary" to wit. Judgment ("being able nicely to distinguish") and knowledge ("perception" of agreement or disagreement) are closely associated elsewhere by Locke's tendency to speak of perceiving and distinguishing as the same thing: the mind recognizes separate ideas "at first view," for example, "by its natural power of Perception and Distinction."
A broader association of judgment with knowledge by virtue of what "it" is opposed to operates in the chapter "Of the Reality of Knowledge," where Locke contrasts the knowledge of a "sober" man and a man of the "most extravagant Fancy in the world." How do these two differ, Locke imagines his reader asking, if knowledge is only the internal agreement or disagreement of one's own ideas? Like the original contrast of judgment and wit, this opposition of sobriety and fancy signals a great deal of strain. Locke's answer to the question is that our knowledge is limited but consists of "two sorts of Ideas, that, we may be assured, agree with things," simple ideas and all complex ideas except those of substances. What he in fact argues is much narrower: simple ideas "are not fictions of our Fancies" because they represent things to the extent "ordained" by the "wisdom and will of our Maker," in the way we are "fitted" to perceive them; complex ideas have all the "conformity necessary to real knowledge" because they are "archetypes of the mind's own making" and were never "intended to be the Copies of anything." When, after several paragraphs on the desirability of separating ideas from words, Locke concludes that we have "certain real knowledge" whenever "we are sure those ideas agree with the reality of things," the words come uncomfortably close to his later dismissal of enthusiasts: "They are sure because they are sure." The chapter ends in a tone weirdly reminiscent of A Tale of a Tub:
Of which agreement of our ideas with the reality of things having here given sufficient marks, I think I have shown wherein it is, that Certainty, real Certainty, consists. Which, whatever it was to others, was, I confess, to me heretofore, one of those Desiderata which I found great want of.
When Locke finally comes to write of the judgment directly rather than by way of "contraries," it is still on the side of truth, but the fundamental association with knowledge no longer holds. The brief chapter (4.14) concludes with a new refinement.
Thus the Mind has two Faculties conversant about Truth and Falsehood:
First, Knowledge, whereby it certainly perceives and is undoubtedly satisfied of the Agreement or Disagreement of any Ideas.
Secondly, Judgment, which is the putting Ideas together, or separating them one from another in the Mind, when their certain Agreement or Disagreement is not perceived, but presumed... And if it so unites or separates them as in Reality Things are, it is right Judgment.
In this scheme knowledge perceives but judgment puts together and separates. At least half (and if Addison is right, all) of its operations, then, seem less contrary than kindred to the "assemblage of ideas, and putting those together" previously assigned to wit. The function of the original dichotomy seems in retrospect to have been to protect the "good" assemblages (complex Page 590 | Top of Articleideas, for example) from the taint of fiction and to make a firmer claim on "things as they are" than the Lockean way of ideas can consistently justify. Having in this chapter momentarily opened the possibility that judgment may after all proceed rather like wit, Locke attempts to close it in the last sentence with the sudden introduction of "right Judgment." It might fairly be objected that if we can have right and wrong judgment we can have right and wrong—or true or false— wit as well. In that case, wit and judgment are not distinct actions but different manners: one "quick," the other "careful." To Matthew Prior, at least, Locke's judgment would seem a name for slow wit.
Prior's "A Dialogue between Mr: John Lock and Seigneur de Montaigne" was not published until this century. By far most of the best of its roughly ten thousand words are given to Montaigne, whose urbanity and ranging observation are plainly more sympathetic to Prior than is Locke's earnest introspection. When Locke objects that as the "loosest of writers" Montaigne naturally undervalues "my close way of Reasoning," Montaigne replies: "All the while you wrote you were only thinking that you thought; You and Your understanding are the Personae Dramatis, and the whole amounts to no more than a Dialogue between John and Lock." And the shortcomings of monodrama are as plain as the maxim that "he that does not talk with a Wiser Man than himself may happen to Dye Ignorant." "Really who ever writes in Folio should convince people that he knows something besides himself, else few would read his Book, except his very particular Friends." When Locke again criticizes Montaigne's lack of method, this time enlisting Chanet, Scaliger, and Malebranche for support, Montaigne says: "I have observed that there is Abcedarian Ignorance that precedes Knowledge, and a Doctoral Ignorance that comes after it. . . Method! our Life is too short for it."
Despite the breezy antipathy of these exchanges, references to arguments and examples from all four books of the Essay show that Prior read it with care if not respect. He is particularly attentive to Locke's suspicion of figurative language and allusions. Prior approaches allusion by having Locke boast that while Montaigne's writing is a collection of stolen goods, "I spin my Work out of my own thoughts." The claim predictably leads Montaigne to "allude" to The Battle of the Books and play Swift's bee to Locke's spider, with an additional shake of the metaphor: "But to come nearer to you, Mr: Lock, You like many other writers, Deceive your Self in this Point, and as much a Spider as you fancy your Self, You may often cast your Webb upon other Mens Textures." Locke answers that if he has been anticipated in some points without knowing it, "what I write is as much my own Invention as if no Man had thought the Same thing before me," while Montaigne simply copied materials from his commonplace book. To this Montaigne replies laconically: "Why the best One can do is but compose, I hope you do not pretend to Create." Finding Locke undaunted, Montaigne charges him with unwitting allusion:
Your Ideas, as you call them . . . were so mixed and Blended, long before You began to write, in the great Variety of things that fall under their Cognizance that it was impossible for You to Distinguish what you Invented from what You Remembered. . . . When you Seem to have least regard to Orators and Poets you have recourse to both for your very turn of Style and manner of Expression. Parblew Mr. Lock, when you had writ half your Book in favor of your own Dear Understanding you quote Cicero to prove the very Existence of a God.
In another part of this long speech, Montaigne asserts that Malebranche, like Locke, warned against misleading the judgment with figurative language but was in fact wise to ignore his own advice: "the Strength of his Argument consists in the beauty of his Figures." This claim, that figurative language discovers rather than covers an author's judgment, conveys the radical difference between Prior and Locke. It emerges more resonantly in a passage that gains point when we recall that Locke's suspicion of language had led to celebrations of mathematics; on at least four occasions he had paused in particular to hope that philosophy would attain an "instrument" of "sagacity" approaching algebra. In this exchange Montaigne has just attacked Locke with two analogies, one of them taken from the Essay:
Lock. Simile upon Simile, no Consequential Proof, right Montaigne by my Troth. Why, Sir, you catch at Similes as a Swallow does at Flies.Page 591 | Top of Article
Montaigne. And you make Similes while you blame them. But be that as it will, Mr. Lock, arguing by Simile is not so absurd as some of
You dry Reasoners would make People believe. If your Simile be proper and good, it is at once a full proof, and a lively Illustration of Your matter, and where it does not hold the very disproportion gives You Occasion to reconsider it, and You set it in all it's lights, if it be only to find at least how unlike it is. Egad Simile is the very Algebra of Discourse.
This simile (or "metasimile") falls so neatly that it may seem, as Locke would say (the actual Locke), a "kind of affront to go about to examine it by the severe -rules of truth and good reason." Locke's point is that the obvious inappropriateness of such an examination is itself an admission that wit is not "conformable" to the way of judgment. But whatever Prior thinks of Locke's method, he invites the reader to apply the test of truth, maintaining in fact that all similes issue such invitations. If a simile succeeds in being at once "full proof" and "lively illustration," it conveys knowledge (as Locke's agreement of ideas); if it does not, it calls judgment into action ("gives . . . occasion to reconsider") and will lead to knowledge (as Locke's disagreement of ideas). Bad similes may lower our estimate of a work; but for the reader a simile "works" whether it succeeds or fails.
Prior clearly assumes a less vulnerable reader than Locke's, one whose judgment will be quickened rather than outdistanced by wit's quickness. Exactly how much more he assumes in the passage is difficult to determine, but it seems likely that he might expect the reader who would examine the comparison of algebra and simile to be thinking of algebra as more than a shorthand notation. Considering algebra generally as the study of functions rather than fixed quantities (and the word seems to have had at least this currency), "the algebra of discourse" suggests the working-out of relationships within language. This is another way of claiming, with Addison, that wit has verity as well as brevity; in other words, it not only paints pictures but contemplates general relations. If the philosopher's desire is ultimately the Hobbesean one that words be used as the wise man's "counters" rather than as the fool's "money", to seek an extralinguistic discovery procedure for moral philosophy is simply to turn one's back on the higher mathematics already at hand in the liveliest uses of language.
With different emphases but complementary doubts, Addison and Prior both question Locke's devaluation of wit and the opposition of wit to judgment. Challenging the claim that discrimination is peculiar to judgment, Addison points politely to the collapse of the dichotomy. Prior more explicitly raises the problem of any such dichotomy (regardless of which side is "privileged") by questioning whether making similitudes and making distinctions are really separable acts of mind. This is the fundamental question at the level of common sense, and common sense sides, I believe, with Locke one moment and Prior the next: yes, we sometimes "distinguish," sometimes "assemble," and can "distinguish" between the operations; no, we cannot differentiate without comparing and vice versa. But behind this armchair antinomy the problem dividing Locke from Addison and Prior can be seen as a question with particular pertinence to our own era and criticism: does it make more sense to think of "things as they are" as represented (perhaps badly) by language or as constituted by language?
The preceding commentary suggests at several points that Locke's accounts of language in general and of figurative language in particular are efforts to reclaim indirectly an access to preor extralinguistic "things" that other parts of his Essay seal off. In suggesting now that Addison and Prior are deeply skeptical of the attempt to get past language to something firmer, I do not mean to convert them into proto-Nietzschean or proto-Derridean rhetoricians of contradiction. From the perspective of poststructuralism, both are grounded in "logocentrism." Both believe that in the beginning was the Word, the authorial will originating all subsequent meaning. Neither would know what to make of the idea that this belief should be reinscribed as "In the always-already are words." Nor would either be likely to hear more than burlesque in Beckett's version, "In the beginning was the pun." But at the same time, neither Addison nor Prior seems to share Locke's nostalgia for things and ideas untouched by words or for truths too tacit to enter the shared figures and allusions of language. If these differences are significant, then it seems we would need to speak of logocentrisms in neoclassical writing (and presumably in other literary periods) for the term to be historically useful; in the monolithic singular it is, like Locke's "wit," less descriptive of variable rhetorical practices than protective of its rhetorically constructed opposite.
Source: John Sitter, "About Wit: Locke, Addison, Prior, and the Order of Things," in Rhetorics of Order: Ordering the Rhetorics in English Neoclassical Literature, edited by J. Douglas Canfield and J. Paul Hunter, University of Delaware Press, 1989, pp. 137-57.
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The Age of Reason Begins is an excellent historical reference guide for those who want to understand the political era leading up to the neoclassical period. It reviews a period in history full of religious strife and scientific progress, from 1558 to 1650.
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The Classical Tradition goes into great detail in explaining the major events/movements that defined Classicism. The author not only includes key classical movements, but also discusses the impact of classical work on more contemporary writers.