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Abstract

One of my main contentions in this book is that issues of cultural provinciality played a central role in eighteenth-century British literary culture. Writers of the period understood that literature was not just a matter of artistic achievement but of cultural power. Individual achievements, in their view, took place within the space defined by the broader question of the standing of the cultural tradition of which they were a part—and cultural prestige, they knew, was in turn linked to the geopolitical power of the polity whose culture was in question. These connections have been brought under renewed scrutiny through the lense of postcolonial cultural criticism, but they involve an old recognition of the interplay of cultural and geopolitical power in the shaping of cultural status. What is harder for us to recognize is that across the Restoration and the eighteenth century, English-language writers saw themselves as in need of establishing the value of the cultural tradition in which they operated—certainly for the audience constituted by the wider world, but, consequently, to a certain extent for their own eyes as well.

Keywords

English Language Eighteenth Century British Isle Literary Tradition Literary Culture 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Cornelius W. Schoneveld, “Bilderdijk between Pope and Byron: The Paradoxes of His Translation of An Essay on Man into Dutch,” in Centennial Hauntings: Pope, Byron and Eliot in the Year 88, ed. C. C. Barfoot and Theo D’Haen (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1990), 219.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Robert Southey, “Epistle to Allan Cunningham?’ in The Poetical Works of Robert Southey, Collected by Himself, 10 vols. (London: Longman et al. , 1838), 3:305–18, lines 141–47. Line numbers for subsequent references to this poem are supplied in the text.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See Paul Dibon, “L’Universite de Leyde et la Republique des Lettres au XVIIe siecle,” Quaerendo 5 (1975): 4–38; Mordecai Feingold, “Reversal of Fortunes: The Displacement of Cultural Hegemony from the Netherlands to England in the Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Centuries,” in The World of William and Mary: Anglo-Dutch Perspectives on the Revolution of 1688–89, ed. Dale Hoak and Mordecai Feingold (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996), 234–61, 316–22 (notes); E. H. Kossmann, “The Dutch Republic in the Eighteenth Century,” in The Dutch Republic in the Eighteenth Century: Decline, Enlightenment and Revolution, ed. Margaret C. Jacob and Wijnand W. Mijnhardt (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992), 19–31; Wijnand W. Mijnhardt, “The Dutch Enlightenment: Humanism, Nationalism, and Decline,” in ibid. , 197–223; Mijnhardt, “Dutch Culture in the Age of William and Mary: Cosmopolitan or Provincial?” in The World of William and Mary, ed. Hoak and Feingold, 219–33, 311–16 (notes).Google Scholar
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    In a letter of December 6, 1828, to William Wordsworth, Southey writes that he has been preparing various essays for the periodicals: “—these and an ‘Epistle to Allan Cunningham’ for his Anniversary, describing some of my portraits, make the main part of what I have done since my return from London. The plan of thus exhibiting myself is borrowed from a poem of Bilderdijk’s, part of which I have translated and introduced, and taken that opportunity of doing what justice I can to one of the most admirable men in all respects whom it has been my good fortune to know” (New Letters of Robert Southey, ed. Kenneth Curry, 2 vols. [NewYork: Columbia University Press, 1965], 2:329). In 1830, Southey had successfully recommended that Bilderdijk be elected an honorary member of the Royal Society of Literature (Cornelius De Deugd, “Friendship and Romanticism: Robert Southey and Willem Bilderdijk,” in Europa Provincia Mundi: Essays in Comparative Literature and European Studies Offered to Hugo Dyserinck on the Occasion of His Sixty-Fifth Birthday, ed. Joep Leerssen and Karl Ulrich Syndram [Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1992], 379).Google Scholar
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    Much the same is true of England’s geopolitical standing in the European world. Under Charles I, J. R. Jones writes, “Powerlessness, combined with a busy diplomacy and grandiose pretensions, made England contemptible” in the eyes of Continental powers; a similar situation arises in the reign of Charles II. “English historians have described with some satisfaction the speed with which Charles detached himself from the French affiance and the Third Dutch War in 1674, and the way in which the French ambassador was taken by surprise: in reality the lack of French reaction, the absence of a determined attempt to preserve the English alliance, was a true but unflattering estimate of how much it was worth. In terms of French diplomatic activity and expenditure, England mattered far less than Brandenburg or Sweden, and when Louis did later respond to Charles’s appeals for money the amounts which were paid put him on the same level as a minor French pensioner like the Elector of Trier. In 1688 Louis, by his decision to proceed with his aggression in the Rhineland, judged England to be less important than Cologne or the Palatinate” (“English Attitudes to Europe in the Seventeenth Century,” Britain and the Netherlands 3[1968], 39).Google Scholar
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    Ironically, though, Chudleigh’s own poem, like many such critiques of rhymed verse, is itself written in rhyme. For a broad survey of the debate over rhyme in English poetry in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, see Arthur Melville Clark, “Milton and the Renaissance Revolt against Rhyme,” in Studies in Literary Modes (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1946), 105–41; and Morris Freedman, “Milton and Dryden on Rhyme,” Huntington Library Quarterly 24 (1960–61): 337–44. The debate is of interest here because it is construed by its participants as an issue not simply of literary style or aesthetics, but of English cultural independence and cultural identity—much like the debate over the popularity of Italian opera in Britain, which I discuss in chapter 3.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
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    Cf. the chapter on “the progress-of-poesy poem” in Terry, Poetry and the Making of the English Literary Past 1660–1781, 35–62, esp. 49–57 (see n. 18).Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Jones, The Triumph of the English Language, 183 (see intro. , n. 11).Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    I draw the concept of the “apparatus of languages” from the work of Renee Balibar: see her LInstitution du frantais: essai sur le colinguisme des Carolingiens a la Republique (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1985).Google Scholar
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    Thomas Hobbes, “Answer to Davenant,” in Critical Essays of the Seventeenth Century, ed. Joel E. Spingarn, 3 vols. (1908–09; repr. , Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1957), 2:65.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Swift, A Proposal for Correcting. the English Language, 32 (see intro. , n. 7); Johnson, Selected Poetry and Prose, 334, 336 (see intro. , n. 34).Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Edmund Waller, “Of English Verse,” in Silver Poets of the Seventeenth Century, ed. G. A. E. Parfitt (London: Dent, 1974), lines 5–6, 13–16. Subsequent references to this poem are given by line number in the text.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Sir William Temple, “An Essay upon the Ancient and Modern Learning,” in Critical Essays of the Seventeenth Century, ed. Spingarn, 3:63 (see n. 25).Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Pope, “Essay on Criticism,” lines 482–83 (see intro. , n. 7); Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, The Spectator, ed. Donald Bond, 5 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965), 3:566.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
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  32. 32.
    I cite Boileau’s original (“L’Art poetique”) and the Soame—Dryden translation (“The Art of Poetry”) from the parallel printing of the English and French works in The Continental Model: Selected French Critical Essays of the Seventeenth Century, in English Translation, ed. Scott Elledge and Donald Schier, rev. ed. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1970). References to these works will be given by line number in the body of the text. (The quotation from Jacob Tonson is from The Continental Model, 386.)Google Scholar
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    A few years later, in 1686, the East India Company, under Sir Josiah Child, did send troops to India and declared war on the Mughal Empire. Despite military and naval support from James II, they were driven out of Surat, imperiled in Bombay, and defeated in Bengal. In September 1687, the Company was able to sue for peace, by agreeing to pay “a large sum in reparations. ” Only in 1690 was the Company allowed back into Bengal, “after a grovelling apology from it as well as a fine of 150,000 rupees (about £15,000 sterling)” (Bruce P. Lenman, Englands Colonial Wars 1550–1688 [London: Longman, 2001], 209–11).Google Scholar
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    It is noteworthy that the American colonies do not seem appropriate to these authors to invoke at this juncture. The imperial fantasies of British literary culture were oriented toward the Old World of the East, even though the so-called first British Empire was constructed in the “New World” of the West, with the gap between these two orders creating a space ofimperial anticipation and design that accompanies and shapes British expansion in the East.Google Scholar
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    Richard Bailey has gathered much material that bears on this topic in the chapter on “World English,” in his Imaqes of English: A Cultural History of the Language (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991), 93–121.Google Scholar
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    This seems to me to mark the major limitation of the otherwise compelling recent scholarly work by Robert Crawford, Leith Davis, Janet Sorensen, and others on Anglo-Scottish literary and cultural relations since the Union of 1707. By focusing its attention on domestic “British” contexts, such work fails to assess the intersections of domestic hegemony, European rivalry, and overseas imperialism in the construction of the empire of English.Google Scholar

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