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Abstract

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.

Keywords

Eighteenth Century Seventeenth Century Public Sphere Literary Tradition French Language 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Marc Fumaroli, “The Republic of Letters,” Diogenes 143 (1988), 136–39. For the fullest account of the early history of the phrase, see Francoise Waquet, “Qu’est-ce que la Republique des Lettres? Essai de semantique historique,” Bibliotheque de lEcole des Chartes 147 (1989): 473–502. See also Elizabeth Eisenstein, “The Republic of Letters and the Printed Book-Trade,” The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early-Modern Europe, 2 vols. in 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 136–59, esp. 137, n. 287 where she notes the use of the phrase in 1417.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Dibon, “L’Universite de Leyde et la Republique des Lettres,” 26–27 (see chap. 1, n. 3). The (religious) notion of “Christendom,” however, was becoming outmoded by the early eighteenth century, if not already by the mid-seventeenth century, its place being taken by the newer (cultural or civilizational) notion of Europe,” and it is this latter concept that provides the contextual frame for the eighteenth-century republic of letters. On the shift from “Christendom” to “Europe,” see Franklin Le Van Baumer, “The Conception of Christendom in Renaissance Europe,” Journal of the History of Ideas 6 (1945): 131–56; Denys Hay,” ‘Europe’ and ‘Christendom’:A Problem in Renaissance Terminology and Historical Semantics,” Diogenes 17 (1957): 45–55; Hay, Europe: The Emergence of an Idea, rev. ed. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1968); and Hale, The Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance, 3–15 (see chap. 1, n. 14).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    For general studies of the erudit republic of letters of the seventeenth century, see (in addition to the works cited previously): Hans Bots, “L’Esprit de la Republique des Lettres et la tolerance dans les trois premier periodiques hollandais,” XVIIe Siecle 116 (1977): 43–57; Hans Bots and Francoise Waquet, eds. , Commerdum Litterarium: Forms of Communication in the Republic of Letters 1600–1750 (Amsterdam: APA-Holland University Press, 1994); Lorraine Daston, “The Ideal and Reality of the Republic of Letters in the Enlightenment,” Science in Context 4 (1991): 367–86; Paul Dibon, “Communication in the Respublica literaria of the 17th Century,” Respublica Litteraria: Studies in the Classical Tradition 1 (1978): 43–55; Anne Goldgar, Impolite Learning: Conduct and Community in the Republic of Letters 1680–1750 (New, Haven, CT:Yale University Press, 1995); Maarten Ultee, “The Place of the Dutch Republic in the Republic of Letters of the Late Seventeenth Century,” Dutch Crossing 31 (1987): 54–78; Maarten Ultee, “The Republic of Letters: Learned Correspondence, 1680–1720,” The Seventeenth Century 2 (1987): 96–112; Maarten Ultee, “Res publica litteraria and War, 1680–1715,” in Res Publica Literaria: Die Institutionen der Gelehrsamkeit in der fruhen Neuzeit, ed. Sebastian Neumeister and Conrad Wiedeman, 2 vols. (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1987), 2:535–46; Francoise Waquet, “De la lettre erudite au periodique savant: les faux semblants d’une mutation intellectuelle,” XVIIe Siecle 140 (1983): 347–59; Francoise Waquet, “Les Editions de correspondances savantes et les ideaux de la Republique des Lettres, “ XVIIe Siecle 178 (1993): 99–118. These scholars stress the foundation of the early republic of letters on personal (rather than institutional) relations and practices (Goldgar); the small size of the active community of the republic of letters—not more than 1,200 persons in any given year (according to Ultee, “The Republic of Letters,” 100); and the central importance of learned correspondences as the chief modality through which the republic of letters was sustained.Google Scholar
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    Guez de Balzac quoted in Waquet, “Qu’est-ce que la Republique des lettres?” 501, n. 125 (see n. 1); Sir Richard Blackmore, Eliza:An Epick Poem. In Ten Books (London: Awnsham and John Churchill, 1705), 89.Google Scholar
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    Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, 138 (see n. 1). Subsequent references to this work are given in the text.Google Scholar
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    Variations on the notion of the republic of letters recur in the writings of scores of English-language authors from George Wither in the midseventeenth century to Hazlitt and Southey in the early nineteenth century—including, Sir Thomas Browne; Sir Richard Blackmore; Thomas Rymer; John Dennis; John Dryden; Sir William Temple; John Locke; Joseph Addison; Samuel Cobb; Jonathan Swift; Charles Gildon; John Oldmixon; John Gay; Lady Mary Wortley Montagu; Anthony Ashley Cooper, earl of Shaftesbury;Thomas Tickell; Jonathan Richardson; Henry Fielding; Edward Young; Samuel Derrick; John Langhorne; Charles Churchill;William Julius Mickle; Frances Burney; David Hume; Samuel Johnson; Laurence Sterne; George Huddesford;Thomas Jefferson; Joel Barlow; Lemuel Hopkins; James Boswell; Oliver Goldsmith; Christopher Anstey; William Hayley; Henry James Pye; Bishop Richard Hurd; and Samuel Ireland. I discuss a few of these examples more directly in the course of this chapter.Google Scholar
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    Henry Oldenburg, The Correspondence of Henry Oldenburg, ed. A. Rupert Hall and Marie Boas Hall, 9 vols. (Madison: University ofWisconsin Press, 1966), 2:27–28. It is perhaps worth remarking that, while “49 per cent of the Fellows of the Royal Society were foreigners” in 1740 (J. S. Bromley, “Britain and Europe in the Eighteenth Century,” History 66 [1981]: 394), “no woman was elected to full membership in the Royal Society until 1945” (Schiebinger, The Mind Has No Sex? 26 [see intro. , n. 32]).Google Scholar
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    Diego de Saavedra Fajardo, Respublica Literaria: or, The Republick of Letters; being a Vision, trans. “J. E. ” (London: S. Austen, 1727), 1–3. (Subsequent references to this work are given in the text.)Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    It is perhaps worth noting that Dante’s palace of Limbo in canto 4 of the Inferno has often been construed as a palace of Fame, with its seven walls representing the seven liberal arts, and that its inhabitants—the poets, philosophers, and “great souled” men and women of Greece, Rome, the Islamic world, and Italy—form a kind of proto-republic of letters. Dante (d. 1321) precedes the first recorded use of the phrase respublica literaria by a hundred years but his example suggests that the concept antedates the term— and his inclusion of figures like Avicenna, Averroes, and Saladin shows us that equating the idea of the republic of letters with the respublica Christiana, even in its early days, leads us to ignore the cultural work it is used to effect.Google Scholar
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    Likewise, one might note, the only woman, ancient or modern, mentioned in Swift’s Battle of the Books (pub. 1704) is “Afra the Amazon” (i. e. , Aphra Behn), though the forces of the moderns are numbered at “fifty thousand” (“A Full and True Account of the Battel Fought last Friday between the Antient and the Modern Books in St. James’s Library,” in The Oxford Authors: Jonathan Swift, ed. Angus Ross and David Woolley [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984], 16, 6).Google Scholar
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    David Hume, “Of Essay-Writing,” in Essays, Moral Political and Literary, ed. Eugene F. Miller, rev. ed. (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 1987), 537. (Subsequent citations are given in the text.)Google Scholar
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    Sarah Fielding, The Adventures of David Simple, ed. Peter Sabor (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1998), [3] (original in italics).Google Scholar
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    Halsband, “Ladies of Letters in the Eighteenth Century,” 50–51 (see n. 18).Google Scholar
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    [William Rose], Review of History of England, by Catherine Macaulay, Monthly Review 29 (1763): 372–82; Henry Mackenzie, Letters to Elizabeth Rose of Kilravock, ed. Horst W. Drescher (Miinster:Uerlag Aschendorff,1967), 70. The Restoration and eighteenth-century period witnessed, of course, the emergence of a number of important groupings of literary women from the circle around Katharine Philips, to the “female senate” around Swift, to the female coterie around Richardson, and the Bluestocking circles of the later eighteenth century.Google Scholar
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    Critical Review, 2d ser. , 5 (1792): 132, quoted in Laura L. Runge, “Gendered Strategies in the Criticism of Early Fiction,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 28 (1995): 375.Google Scholar
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    Pope, “The Temple of Fame,” in Poems of Alexander Pope, ed. Butt, lines 278–81, 288–91 (see intro. , n. 7). Subsequent references to this poem are provided in the text.Google Scholar
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    William Kenrick in the Monthly Review 21 (November 1759): 381, quoted in The Collected Works of Oliver Goldsmith, ed. Arthur Friedman, 5 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966), 1:247. Subsequent references to Goldsmith’s Enquiry into the Present State of Polite Learning are also from this edition and are provided in the text.Google Scholar
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    On the importance of this theme in eighteenth-century English literary culture, see Michael Meehan, Liberty and Poetics in Eighteenth-Century England (London: Croom Helm, 1986).Google Scholar
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    Dibon writes regarding Grotius: “Pour lui, l’activite intellectuelle est essentiellement ordonnée a la praxis, au service de la cite” (“L’Universite de Leyde et la Republique des Lettres,” 32) (see chap. 1, n. 3).Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Joseph Addison, Letters of Joseph Addison, ed. Walter Graham (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1941), 281.Google Scholar
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    Sir Joseph Banks, letter to Deodat de Dolomieu, 1801, quoted in de Beer, “The Relations between Fellows of the Royal Society and French Men of Science,” 275 (see n. 7).Google Scholar
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    On Browne’s relation to the concept of the republic of letters, see R. J. Schoeck, “Sir Thomas Browne and the Republic of Letters: Introduction,” English Language Notes 19 (1982): 299–312 and Jean-Jacques Denonain, “Thomas Browne and the ‘Respublica Litteraria,’ ” English Language Notes 19 (1982): 370–81.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Cf. other seventeenth-century comments that emphasize the cultural nationalist import of writing in English: e. g. , Sir Edward Coke explains why he wrote the first part of his Institutes (Coke on Littleton, 1628) in English: “This part we have. published in English, for that they are an introduction to the knowledge of the national law of the realm. We have left our author to speak his own language, and have translated him into English, to the end that any of the nobility or gentry of this realm, or of any other estate or profession whatsoever, that will be pleased to read him and these Institutes, may understand the language wherein they are written” (quoted in John W. Cairns, “Blackstone, an English Institutist,” Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 4 [1984], 330). Similarly, Milton comments, in the Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (1643), that his work “might perhaps more fitly have been written in another tongue [i. e. , Latin]: and I had done so, but that the esteem I have of my country’s judgment, and the love I bear to my native language to serve it first with what I endeavor, made me speak it thus, ere I assay the verdict of outlandish readers” (Complete Poems and Major Prose, 702 [see intro. , n. 28]). One notes that in the postcolonial world, too, the choice of language in which to write is bound up with issues of cultural nationalism.Google Scholar
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    Pseudodoxia Epidernica did, of course, go on to acquire a wider European audience: it was translated into Dutch (in 1668), into German (in 1680), into French (in 1733), and from the French into Italian (in 1737). See Geoffrey Keynes, A Bibliography of Sir Thomas Browne, 2d ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968).Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Likewise, the tendency to take note of French recognition of English literary achievements betrays a similar, though more direct, concern with extraterritorial opinion. Even so nationalistic a critic as John Dennis—who insists (as we will see in chapter 3) on the national distinctiveness of each culture on the basis of its “Religion, Climate, and Customs” (12) and who asserts, “I love my Country very well, and therefore should be ravished to see that we out did the French in Arts, at the same time that we contend for Empire with them” (10)—evidences this kind of deference to foreign opinions. In The Impartial Critick (1693), he writes of Edmund Waller: “We all of us have reason to Honour the Man, who has been an Honour to England: And it is with an inexpressible pleasure, that I find his Death lamented by two great French Wits, viz. La Fontaine, and Monsieur St. Euremont” (13). La Fontaine and Saint-Evremond thus function to ratify English self-regard. (All citations are from The Critical Works ofJohn Dennis, vol. 1 [see intro, n. 34].) The character of English responses to French comments, whether positive or negative, about English culture bears a striking analogy, indeed, to Scottish and Irish responses to English comments on their cultural traditions and achievements.Google Scholar
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    The centrality of the notion of emulation” to eighteenth-century British literary culture is highlighted by Howard Weinbrot in Britannias Issue: The Rise of British Literature from Dryden to Ossian (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), but he sees the concept as contributing to a benign cosmopolitanism, whereas I see it as feeding a competitive cultural nationalism.Google Scholar
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    Addison, writing before the Union of Scotland and England in 1707, works with an “English” framework, but Pope’s prefatory poem, originally published in Pope’s Works of 1720 and reprinted in Tickell’s edition ofAddison’s Works in 1721, speaks in a “British” idiom. The poem was further revised in 1726, and published in the 1735 edition of Pope’s Works. Google Scholar
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  43. 43.
    The contrast between the opening section of the poem and its close is even more noticeable when one considers the six lines not included in this reprinting of the poem. In those lines, Pope describes critically some of the “wonders” of ancient Rome that have fallen into ruins or have disappeared altogether:Google Scholar
  44. Imperial wonders rais’d on Nations spoil’d, Where mix’d with Slaves the groaning Martyr toil’d; Huge Theatres, that now unpeopled Woods, Now drain’d a distant country of her Floods; Fanes, which admiring Gods with pride survey, Statues of Men, scarce less alive than they. (lines 5–10) (see “To Mr Addison, Occasioned by his Dialogues on Medals,” in The Poems ofAlexander Pope, 215 [see intro. , n. 7])Google Scholar
  45. The message is clear that not only is it vain to imagine that such “wonders” will survive, but also that they are dubious achievements in the first place, being dependent on “slaves” and “martyr[s]” and on “nations” that have been despoiled. Given this emphasis, it is even more striking that by the end of the poem Pope should entreat his compatriots to emulate and succeed Rome.Google Scholar
  46. Howard Erskine-Hill offers a rich reading of Pope’s poem (“The Medal Against Time: Pope’s Epistle to Mr. Addison,” in The Augustan Idea in English Literature [London: Edwin Arnold, 1983], 267–90), but one which, to my mind, too easily resolves the tension in the poem between its opening suspicion of Roman acts of glory and its concluding endorsement of British emulation of the ancient Romans. Pope’s poem may offer ways of revivifying the decayed monumentality of Augustan Rome (by translating it into the career of modern Britain), but it never offers any adequate answer to the moral dubiousness of Roman grandeur.Google Scholar
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    A particularly telling instance of this inability to view the ancients except by way of the polite world of continental Europe occurs in Cynthio’s praise of Horace’s satiric finesse, in contrast to the crude management of “our English satirists” (369): “Horace knew how to stab with address,” Cynthio declares, “and to give a thrust where he was least expected. Boileau has nicely imitated him in this, as well as his other beauties. But our English libellers are for hewing a man downright, and for letting him see at a distance that he is to look for no mercy. ” “I own to you,” Eugenius responds, “I have often admired this piece of art in the two satirists you mention ” (370). Here, the “beauties” of Horace become indistinguishable from the beauties of Boileau, and it is almost as if Cynthio and Eugenius have learned to see in Horace what they have been trained to notice by Boileau. Addison’s remarks here echo Dryden’s comments in his “Discourse concerning the Original and Progress of Satire” (1692): Dryden remarks on the “fineness of raillery” in artful satire that serves to distinguish “the slovenly Butchering of a Man,” from “the fineness of a stroak that separates the Head from the Body, and leaves it standing in its place,” before going on to instance his portrait of Zimri in Absalom and Achitophel as something he is proud of in this regard (The Works ofJohn Dryden, vol. 4, 71 [see chap. 1, n. 21]). It is especially telling that while Addison seems to have Dryden’s language in the back of his mind here, he evokes it only to criticize “our English satirists”—presumably, including Dryden himself. (Dryden’s own comment has been related, through Thomas Rymer’s 1674 translation, to Rene Rapin’s Reflexions sur lAristote: see P. J. Smallwood, “A Dryden Allusion to Rymer’s Rapin,” Notes and Queries 23 [19761: 554.)Google Scholar
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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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