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The Cambridge History of English Literature, 1660–1780
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The Cambridge History of English Literature, 1660–1780 offers readers discussions of the entire range of literary expression from the Restoration to the end of the eighteenth century. In essays by thirty distinguished scholars, recent historical perspectives and new critical approaches and methods are brought to bear on the classic authors and texts of the period. Forgotten or neglected authors and themes as well as new and emerging genres within the expanding marketplace for printed matter during the eighteenth century receive special attention and emphasis. The volume's guiding purpose is to examine the social and historical circumstances within which literary production and imaginative writing take place in the period and to evaluate the enduring verbal complexity and cultural insights they articulate so powerfully.


‘... the new Cambridge History of English Literature, 1660–1780, is a welcome and needed reference ... a volume to ponder, to enjoy, and in places, to challenge. … the essays in this volume jostle against one another, some synthesizing recent information, some proposing new opinions, some challenging modern trends. Richetti and his colleagues are to be commended for producing a book that represents so much of the best recent thinking about eighteenth-century literature.'

Claudia Kairoff Source: Eighteenth-Century Life

‘This volume succeeds in representing the variety of texts between 1660 and 1780 that are studied as English literature, and simultaneously gives a lively sense of the debates, both in the period represented and in current criticism and scholarship, about the boundaries and the purpose of the category of literature ... The volume is reliable and stimulating. It will have a long life as a work of reference, and is an excellent indication of the current state of the subject.'

Source: Forum for Modern Language Studies

‘... this volume provides a comprehensive survey of authors and literary genres by focusing on a narrative account of what a variety of individual scholars regard as the most significant features of their subjects.'

Source: American Reference Books Annual

‘In briefly reflecting on a volume as compendious as this one it is needless to say how much of interest and value it contains that I haven't been able even to allude to. The centurial significance of the Cambridge History of English Literature, 1660-1780, its status as the first of its kind since George Saintsbury and his Peace of the Augustans, only furthers the importance of Richetti's collection.'

Michael McKeon Source: SEL-Studies in English Literature

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Page 1 of 2

  • 1 - Publishing and bookselling 1660–1780
    pp 11-36
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    Literary production and patronage flourished according to the regulatory and economic structure of the book trade but also as a result of the broader resources of the state, its population and its leading consumers. The profile of book publication changed as booksellers reacted more speedily and effectively to market demands, publishing specialist works in response to new professional interests as well as to new fashions in entertainment and instruction. Prices far higher than production costs could be imposed by cartels of leading booksellers at least until the legal battles over copyright in the late 1760s, but in many respects also continuing thereafter. In presenting new books as the necessaries and decencies of middle-class life while they clearly remained expensive luxuries, booksellers had to develop ever more sophisticated marketing and distributional techniques. New supporting agencies ranged from commercial libraries and subscription book-clubs to private debating societies and the solemn recommendations of the periodical reviews.
  • 2 - The social world of authorship 1660–1714
    pp 37-60
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    The period from 1660 to 1714 witnessed the birth of the modern English author. For it is during these years that there began to appear many of the features by which people define modern authorship: copyright legislation, widespread identification of the author on the title page, the 'author by profession', bookselling as a commercial enterprise, a literary 'marketplace', the periodical essay and political journalism. It is a commonplace of literary history that Restoration literary life was for the most part organized around the court. Early eighteenth-century writing shows that many authors cultivated a distinctive voice, and, whether or not they addressed a particular real reader, seemed to retain a strong sense of the presence of the imagined reader who is rallied, instructed, rebuked or merely diverted. And further study has begun to show that the standard pictures of the author's social relationships in manuscript culture and in print culture need to be redrawn to fit historical circumstances.
  • 4 - Novels on the market
    pp 87-106
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    Most literary history has obscured the productive symbiosis between the early type of English fiction, and those narratives written by the three canonical authors: Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding, also known as the fathers of the English novel. By looking at how Aphra Behn became the first successful writer of the novels, this chapter explains the centrality of the novel of amorous intrigue for the emergence of the elevated and morally improving novels of the eighteenth century. As part of the new culture of the market, novels appear to induce an uncanny automatism in authors and readers. In an introductory chapter to Tom Jones, Fielding relegates novel writers to the lowest rank of authors, because to the composition of novels and romances, nothing is necessary but paper, pens and ink, with the manual capacity of using them. The novel was produced as a stay against early modern novel reading practices that threatened to short-circuit the Enlightenment educational project.
  • 5 - Restoration and early eighteenth-century drama
    pp 107-131
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    The Restoration theatre, while in many ways a new creation, maintained important continuities with pre-1642 practice. It was with this double confidence, theatrical and literary, that the playwrights of the Restoration set off to make a new beginning in English drama. The professionals were proud of the support given to their work by the court, and often boasted of having used leading courtiers as models of heroism in tragedy and conversational brilliance in comedy. Critics of the earlier part of the last century classified the plays as 'comedies of manners', drawing attention to their artificiality and elegance, and stressing their indebtedness to court culture. The mature comedies of Etherege, Wycherley, Otway, Shadwell, Southerne, Congreve and Vanbrugh are all town comedies in the sense of being concerned with how identity and hierarchies are to be established within this new social formation and with providing guidance about what is to be expected on a day-to-day basis from its inhabitants.
  • 6 - Dryden and the poetic career
    pp 132-159
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    Dryden's Essay of Dramatic Poesy (1668) is the defining text of the early modern literary imagination. Dryden creates and inhabits his own art: he is simultaneously a character within the drama of the Essay, the master of its voices, and the victim, by an ever so slight embarrassment, of its ironies. Such reflexivity announces the beginning of a career that involved not only the making of great poetry but also the theorising and marketing of literary culture and the fashioning of new idioms of art, and at every point negotiating the art and life of a writer in the midst of public passions and occasions. The authors find Dryden's elegiac and epic measures, the gravity and sublimity that he learned from Virgil and of course the hidden and not so hidden strokes of political argument, aggression and innuendo.
  • 7 - Political, satirical, didactic and lyric poetry (I): from the Restoration to the death of Pope
    pp 160-208
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    The Virgilian progression model, sometimes said to have governed the shape of classic literary careers such as Dryden's and Pope's, may have prompted poets to write early pastorals, later Georgics or Georgic-like didactic poems, and ultimately long poems. This chapter describes political, didactic, satirical and lyrical poetry to offer a more historically accurate description of actual forms and trends. There were scores of more ambitious and longer didactic poems about larger, more ruminative matters. The argument in philosophical, theological and historical poems is often complex and sometimes couched in highly technical terms, and the very magnitude of these poems is intimidating. The best known today is Pope's extremely ambitious Essay on Man in four long books; it aims to 'vindicate the ways of God to Man', and the Milton echo underscores what is in effect a claim of direct didacticism on a heroic scale.
  • 8 - Eighteenth-century women poets
    pp 209-234
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    The earliest publications of most eighteenth-century writers are individual poems, and it is often forgotten that the first substantial, even book-length, publication of many writers known today as novelists or playwrights was a volume of poetry. From Judith Stanton's 258 eighteenth-century poets, the author has selected those who deserve mention here and close study. In the first generation: Elizabeth Singer Rowe, Mary Chudleigh, Sarah Fyge Egerton and Anne Finch. Rowe's first poems, as was common in the century, had been published in periodicals, and two numbers of the Athenian Mercury were devoted to them; her Poems on Several Occasions, Written by Philomela (1696) included the usual love, friendship, political, religious and social comment poems. All of these women wrote in a wide variety of forms, published in various venues and demonstrated their dedication to excellence and to continued experimentation and mastery.
  • 9 - Systems satire:
    pp 235-258
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    Systems satire assumes the part and whole are in cahoots; it represents a connection among seemingly disparate things such as political life, familial life, professional life, cultural life, aesthetic life. The root idea in systems satire of the early eighteenth century is that the lure of the new expansionist money economy separates literary and social practices from every value but material ones. The paradox of systems satire, Jonathan Swift's in particular, is that it feeds off the very energy of the forms it attacks. Swift's satiric attacks are based not only on his ideological dislikes but also on the language in which ideas displeasing to him are conveyed. As usual for Swift, the focus is on post-1688 English and European history, culminating in the War of Spanish Succession and the last years of Queen Anne, the subjects of two of Swift's serious books, Conduct of the Allies and The History of the Four Last Years of Queen Anne.
  • 10 - Persistence, adaptations and transformations in pastoral and Georgic poetry
    pp 259-286
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    By bringing Pastoral and Georgic together, this chapter stresses their differences, and argues that they represent a crucial distinction in eighteenth-century poetry between ironic and organic form. Pastoral's limitations and Georgic's capaciousness were equally fruitful; but they marked out different kinds of poetry. The Georgic was well equipped for engaging with the momentous developments of the Industrial Evolution in which the natural energies in soil, rock and water were harnessed to increasingly sophisticated processes. The Georgic's variety and adaptability, its interest in how things are organised, its geographical and historical dynamics and its openness to specialised vocabularies, allowed it to explore economies of many different kinds. Remarkably, both Pastoral and Georgic persisted throughout the eighteenth century, and by transforming and adapting in various ways, were able to offer their contributions to the political debates of the 1790s.
  • 11 - Political, satirical, didactic and lyric poetry (II): after Pope
    pp 287-315
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    Poetry of the later eighteenth century is 'after Pope' creatively as well as chronologically. This chapter talks about political, satirical, didactic and lyric poetry during the later eighteenth century. The term 'didactic' often is more evaluative than descriptive. While not easy to define, the 'didactic' poem might be distinguished, negatively and roughly, with the help of Sir William Temple's 1690 essay 'Of Poetry'. Temple differentiates six recurrent motives for poetry: praise, instruction, story, love, grief, and reproach. The chapter focuses on poems in which the second of these poetic impulses is not overwhelmed by one of the others. The story of lyric poetry from the 1740s into the 1780s resembles one of the mid-century's own odes. It begins abruptly, proceeds irregularly, exhibits flashes of brilliance and passages of obscurity and concludes with a mixture of daring and diffidence.
  • 12 - Drama and theatre in the mid and later eighteenth century
    pp 316-339
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    Almost all histories of eighteenth-century English drama have focussed on the new plays. The new plays are a product of the theatre system. The sequence of new comedies and tragedies provides no tidy or interesting narrative as one proceeds through the eighteenth century. Fully granting the smudginess of all borderlines, this chapter suggests that English musical drama of the eighteenth century can be fairly well understood in terms of four types: ballad opera, burletta/burlesque, comic opera and English opera. The plays we have been surveying were mostly written for one of two common purposes: to display favourite actors and actresses to good effect or to employ the technical resources of theatres increasingly devoted to lavish scenery and machinery, or sometimes both. Beyond the specifics of acting style and technique, people can look to the broader subject of character and the ways in which it can be conveyed in the theatre.
  • 13 - Scottish poetry and regional literary expression
    pp 340-362
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    In his deft defence of his own poetic practice, Robert Burns reveals his acute awareness of the kinds of difficulties faced by eighteenth-century writers who were somehow situated outside the cultural mainstream. Burns's mixing of the Scottish language, climate and way of life with echoes from Gray's famous poem, reveals both his first-hand knowledge of the countryside and a skilful engagement with current literary trends. His choice of the Spenserian stanza, for example, evokes the work of two recent Scottish poets who had succeeded in English: James Thomson, who adopted the form for The Castle of Indolence, and James Beattie, who used it for The Minstrel. The admiration of Burns outside Scotland is important to any discussion of vernacular poetry and the question of regional literary expression, because it reveals that the appeal of his work, and by implication, the appeal of dialect poetry, is not necessarily limited to a small local audience.
  • 14 - History and literature 1660–1780
    pp 363-390
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    The histories published between 1660 and 1780 include some of the most compelling and dazzling narrative performances in British literature. Historical writing occupied a central place in British culture throughout this period. The critical and commercial success of narrative history resulted from a unique partnership between historians and booksellers. This chapter argues, somewhat against the grain of recent criticism, that historians positively and progressively redefined their genre against the prose narrative forms of romance, biography and the novel, even though they freely borrowed a number of stylistic elements and literary strategies. Moreover, it argues that this process of generic stabilisation actually facilitated an expansion of the range and type of subject matter tackled under the heading of 'history'. In the longer term, the economic and social theory of the Scottish Enlightenment vastly expanded the horizons of narrative history, particularly in the area of what we would now call cultural history, or, as it was then known, the history of 'manners'.
  • 15 - A preliminary discourse on philosophy and literature
    pp 391-422
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    Students of eighteenth-century philosophy and literature are the inheritors of the disciplinary divisions. This chapter proposes some of the early modern terms within which the boundary between philosophy and literature was constituted, debated and crossed. It begins by moving from the general problem of division to an account of the two dominant ways in which philosophy as a field was divided between roughly 1660 and 1800. These two systems of knowledge exist side-by-side and in competition: they help explain why the same span of time would be characterised by the period designations of neoclassicism and Enlightenment. Although the method of proceeding takes into account familiar problems in the history of ideas and canonical writers in the history of philosophy and literature, the chapter provides a context within which to view the interventions of female philosophers. Women writers understood the implications of the decline of the three philosophies into two, and the collapse of the speculative into the practical.
  • 16 - Britain and European literature and thought
    pp 423-444
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    French influence in Britain had superseded the predominance of Italy and Spain carrying over from the Renaissance. For Britain and France the latter years of the seventeenth century were an extended era in which cultural stability and dynamism were combined, in which 'good sense' was a central value, promoted by satire and criticism. In Dryden people see a comparatist frame of mind emerging in his negotiating cultural rivalry with France or in the confrontation of Ancients and Moderns. Much in Dryden's critical writing, including his comparative thinking, essayistic presentation and appreciation of Montaigne, seems to owe something to his absorption of the influence of Charles de Marguetel de Saint-Denis, Seigneur de Saint-Evremond. Before people turn to Voltaire and the French Enlightenment in the strict sense, there is a topic important to the age that demands attention, one that provoked both Saint-Evremond and Dryden, namely opera.
  • 17 - Religion and literature
    pp 445-470
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    Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century English society and culture was essentially religious in its institutions, practices and beliefs, and that writing on religious subjects dominated the publishing market. Religious writing habitually fell into three main categories, doctrinal, controversial and practical divinity. Works in the first two categories were concerned with establishing the truth of specific doctrines and the evidences, natural and revealed, for Christianity. Works in the third category, generally regarded as the most important, were concerned with the nature and practice of the Christian life and the path to salvation. This chapter explores the first two categories briefly under the heading of works concerned with the defence and definition of religion. More attention is given to the third, practical literature, under the headings of guides to the Christian life, accounts of Christian experience, and Christian song. Among these forms are to be found the most popular works of religious literature with a wide readership across denominational boundaries.
  • 18 - Literary criticism and the rise of national literary history
    pp 471-497
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    One story that eighteenth-century critics liked to tell about themselves was the triumph of criticism itself, its rise and progress from modest beginnings before the Restoration to a respected place in English literature. Most influential Restoration and eighteenth-century criticism addressed art from the reader's point of view. An Essay on Criticism represents a high-water mark for the critical claims of the Ancients. Dialectical swings between 'progressive' and 'romantic' views provide the impetus for much of eighteenth-century literary history and criticism. Discussions of prose fiction, in particular, endlessly circle around the difference between older 'romances' and up-to-date 'histories' or 'novels'. By the end of the century, critics referred less often to rules and more often to genius. Yet critical judgements still followed the lines set down in the age when the British reading public came into its own.
  • 19 - Augustan England and British America
    pp 498-524
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    To explain literary and intellectual relations between England and America in the eighteenth century is to trace a process through which, beginning from an identical set of Augustan writings, England and America would arrive at opposite conclusions about the nature of political rights in an age of empire. In eighteenth-century literary relations between England and America, transatlantic discourse may be taken as that focussing on the problem of imperium in the Roman or classical sense. This is a term very badly translated by our term 'empire', which, bearing as it does the traces of Lenin's twentieth-century attempt to work out a Marxist theory of imperialism, inevitably bears as well the political commitments of modern anti-colonial ideology. Eighteenth-century writing that wholly presupposes the Roman model of imperium also tends to demote questions of locality to relative unimportance, and to do so, paradoxically enough, even when its geographical setting is transatlantic.
  • 20 - The eighteenth-century periodical essay
    pp 525-548
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    The periodical essay is a genre that flourished only in a fifty-year period between 1709 and 1759. The rise of the genre begins with John Dunton's Athenian Gazette on 17 March 1691; its maturity arrives part way through Addison and Steele's Tatler; and its decline is advanced when the last number of Goldsmith's short-lived Bee is published on 24 November 1759. In between the genre reaches its full flowering in Addison and Steele's daily Spectator and its most transcendent and durable form in Johnson's Rambler. In 1691 the innovative and adventuresome John Dunton, just back from a commercial visit to Massachusetts, started The Athenian Mercury. Like most of the essay periodicals of the eighteenth century, The Athenian Mercury courted a female readership. More than most genres the periodical essay was subject to all sorts of unscrupulous competition: imitation, piracy, forgery and plagiarism.
  • 21 - Public opinion and the political pamphlet
    pp 549-571
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    The period from the later seventeenth to the middle of the eighteenth centuries has been described, quite rightly, as 'the first age of party'. This inevitably presents problems for a thesis in which 'rational-critical' debate is posited as being somehow free from party-political considerations. Operating in the belief that political argument can influence the way people think, and therefore the way they act, the political pamphlet, like other forms of propaganda, attempts to manipulate its readers' political perceptions. Sir Robert Walpole emerged almost entirely unscathed from the extended assault on his competence and integrity conducted by the most gifted writers of their generation. Similarly, the unprecedented stir created by Thomas Paine's Rights of Man failed to win the battle for the nation's political consciousness, and by the end of the century the radical pamphleteers had been all but silenced by the conservative reaction to events in France.
  • 22 - Sentimental fiction: ethics, social critique and philanthropy
    pp 572-601
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    Sentimental fiction would probably have aroused less vocal enmity had it been quieter in its moral claims. Accompanying the emphasis on a naturally intuitive sentiment of morality is Hume's insistence that, as well as being innate, sympathy is the most attractive and productive human virtue. When Hume expatiates on the intertwined merits and pleasures of benevolence, moreover, we hear not only the valorisation of sensibility that would become standard in sentimental fiction, but something of the same rhetoric. Where moral-sense philosophy stands out is in the directness with which its vocabulary and propositions entered the novel. A pointed example comes in The Cry (1754), an experimental dialogue-novel by Sarah Fielding and the satirist Jane Collier, in which Cylinda is lured into the moral dangers of indiscipline and self-satisfaction by her uncritical enthusiasm for Shaftesbury. Parroting 'a great many of the author's favourite expressions, such as social affections, philanthropy', she lapses into worship of her own understanding and merit.
  • 23 - Folklore, antiquarianism, scholarship and high literary culture
    pp 602-622
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    The story of scholars and antiquaries, translators and editors, and writers who ambiguously filled the roles required by what the age demanded will begin with the shaping notions of poets and move to the most controversial poet, who billed himself as a translator. The poetry of Macpherson and Chatterton, while claimed as historical, was part of the making of national myth. Myth, which seemed rejected and exploded for much of the eighteenth century, and was actually lurking not too far beneath the surface, would make a comeback. Blackwell anticipated the development in his Letters concerning Mythology, but a range of seventeenth and eighteenth-century inquiries involving historians, chronologists, linguists, folklorists and others, both Deists and Christians, contributed to mythological syncretism, the attempt to find in a number of different cultures or national traditions similar mythic master narratives at work. Shelley's 'Adonais' with its melding of Hebrew Adonai and Greek Adonis is a one-word outcome of this scholarship.

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