Public versus Secret, Not Public versus Private
  • Melinda Alliker Rabb


Satires in post-civil war England, claims Samuel Butler, “are found to conteine more wit, and Ingenuity then all other writings”:

So much Power has Malice above all other Passions, to highten Wit and Fancy, for malice is Restles, and never finde’s ease until it has vented it self. And therefore Satyrs that are only provok’d with the Madnes and Folly of the world, are found to conteine more wit, and Ingenuity then all other writings, whatsoever, and meet with a better Reception from the world, that is always more delighted to heare the Faults and vices though of itself bee describd, then all the Panegyricks that ever were, which are commonly as Dull as they are false, And no man is Delighted with the Flattery of another.” (S. Butler, 60)

Jonathan Swift claims that the same era is distinguished by its penchant for secrecy: “I am deceived if in history there can be found any period more full of passages which the curious of another age would be glad to know the secret springs of” (PW8:108). Satire and secrecy share the potential for aggression. Effective strategies of attack sometimes depend on what Swift calls the satirist’s “life by stealth” (JS 2:203) in which stunned victims are taken by surprise and rendered ineffectual. At the same time, satire and secrecy can produce intimacy: sharing hidden meanings—ironies, confidences, allusions, inside jokes—creates a sense of community, what Swift calls “friends laughing in a corner.”


Public Sphere Woman Writer Early Eighteenth Century Hide Meaning Print Culture 
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© Melinda Alliker Rabb 2007

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  • Melinda Alliker Rabb

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