The “republic of letters” represents one of the central ways of cognitively mapping the terrain of European culture during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. If we want to understand the situation of English-language literary culture in the early modern period and how this situation impinged on the self-understanding of English-language writers, we need to examine this discursive institution. Unlike the progress of English topos, the republic of letters has been the subject of extensive study. But most of this work assumes that the erudite, scholarly vision of the republic of letters that was dominant through the early seventeenth century is the essential and definitive expression of this concept. As a result, as I show in this chapter, we have signally misconstrued or ignored the eighteenth-century vision of the republic of letters. This vision was based, not on the ideal of an equal, universal, learned, Latin-based culture, but rather on a belletristic conception of heterogeneous national literary traditions interacting with one another and negotiating issues of linguistic diversity and cultural marginality/centrality. This chapter brings this more modern version of the republic of letters into focus and shows how it conditioned the self-understanding of English-language writers, posing for them issues of secondariness and cultural marginality, and giving a nationalistic inflection to their conception of literary practice.


Eighteenth Century Seventeenth Century Public Sphere Literary Tradition French Language 
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    90, The Enlightenment concept of the public thus already anticipates (unlike Habermas’s formulation) the problem of minorities in majoritarian democracies, an issue developed in the nineteenth century by J. S. Mill, and one that has acquired a renewed importance in twentieth-century Western thinking about multicultural societies. The issue has also figured importantly in the African–American tradition and in the constitutional thought of independent India and post-apartheid South Africa, to cite a few significant instances.Google Scholar
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  99. I retain, no doubt, a sort of acquired reflex from the necessity of this vigilant transformation. I am not proud of it, I make no doctrine of it, but so it is: an accent—any French accent, but above all a strong southern accent—seems incompatible to me with the intellectual dignity of public speech. (Inadmissible, isn’t it? Well, I admit it.) Incompatible, a fortiori, with the vocation of poetic speech: for example, when I heard Rene Char read his sententious aphorisms with an accent that struck me as at once comical and obscene, as the betrayal of a truth, it ruined, in no small measure, an admiration of my youth. (Monolinguism of the Other; or the Prosthesis of Origin, trans. Patrick Mensah [Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998], 46)Google Scholar
  100. Derrida’s remarks, in their bluntness, help us to reflect on how the issue of “Scotticisms” and a “Scotch” accent figured in the anglophone literary culture of the eighteenth century, and on how the accents of Third World Englishes resonate in the context of the modern internationalization of the language.Google Scholar
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