Poetry and the Idea of Progress, 176090
189 pages
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189 pages
English

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An exploration of under-examined relationships between poetry and historiography between 1760 and 1790.


‘Poetry and the Idea of Progress, 1760–1790’ explores under-examined relationships between poetry and historiography between 1760 and 1790. These were the decades of Hugh Blair’s ‘Dissertation on the Poems of Ossian, the Son of Fingal’ (1763) and ‘Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres’ (1783), Thomas Percy’s ‘Reliques of Ancient English Poetry’ (1765), Adam Ferguson’s ‘Essay on the History of Civil Society’ (1767) and Lord Monboddo’s ‘Of the Origin and Progress of Language’ (1774). In these texts and many more, verse is examined for what it can tell the historian about the progress of enlightened man to civil society. By historicizing poetry, these theorists used it as a lens through which we might observe our development from savagery to ‘polish’, with oral verse often cited as proof of the backwardness or immaturity of man from which he has awoken.


‘Poetry and the Idea of Progress, 1760–1790’ deepens our understanding of the relationship between poetry and ideas of progress with sustained attention to aesthetic, historical, antiquarian and prosodic texts from these decades. In five case studies, this volume demonstrates how verse was employed to deliver deeply ambivalent reports on human progress. In this pre-‘Romantic’, pre-‘Utilitarian’ age, those reading verse with an eye to what it could convey about the journey towards the Enlightenment Republic of letters were in fact telling stories as subtle and ambiguous as the rhythms of the verse being read. Rather than focusing on a limited set of particular poets, ‘Poetry and the Idea of Progress, 1760–1790’ pays close attention to the theories of versification which were circulating in the later anglophone eighteenth century. With numerous examples from poems and writing on poetics, this book shows how the poetic line becomes a site at which one may make assertions about human development even as one may observe and appreciate the expressive effects of metred language.


The central contention of ‘Poetry and the Idea of Progress, 1760–1790’ is that the historians and theorists of the time did not merely instrumentalize verse in the construction of historical narratives of progress, but that attention to the particular characteristics of verse (rhythm and metre, line endings, stress contours, rhyme, etc.) had a kind of agency – it crucially reshaped – historical knowledge in the time. ‘Poetry and the Idea of Progress, 1760–1790’ is a sustained assertion that poetry makes appeals to what was known as one’s ‘taste’, exerting aesthetic forces, and by so doing mediating one’s understanding of human development. It claims that this mediation has a special shape and force that has never undergone sufficient exploration.


List of Figures; Acknowledgements; Introduction; Part One: The Cultural Logic of Progress; Part Two: ElocutionaryPoetics in the Context of ‘Taste’; 1. Progress by Prescription; 2. Thomas Sheridan and the Divine Harmony of Progress; Part One: Harmony Articulated; Part Two: From Disinterestedness to the Divine; 3. ‘There Is a Natural Propensity in the Human Mind to Apply Number and Measure to Every Thing We Hear’: Monboddo, Steele and Prosody as Rhythm; Part One: Monboddo’s Theory of Linguistic Progress; Part Two: Steele’s Emphasis; Part Three: Rhythm as Prosody; 4. ‘[C]ut into, distorted, twisted’: Thomas Percy, Editing and the Idea of Progress; Part One: The Stadial Antiquarian; Part Two: Prosody as Pressure Point; 5. ‘Manners’ and ‘Marked Prosody’: Hugh Blair and Henry Home, Lord Kames; Afterword: Rude Manners, ‘Stately’ Measures: Byron and the Idea of Progress in the New Century; Conclusion; Notes; Bibliography; Index.

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Date de parution 10 avril 2018
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781783087747
Langue English

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Poetry and the Idea of Progress, 1760–1790
Poetry and the Idea of Progress, 1760–1790
John Regan
Anthem Press
An imprint of Wimbledon Publishing Company
www.anthempress.com

This edition first published in UK and USA 2018
by ANTHEM PRESS
75–76 Blackfriars Road, London SE1 8HA, UK
or PO Box 9779, London SW19 7ZG, UK
and
244 Madison Ave #116, New York, NY 10016, USA

© John Regan 2018

The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above,
no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

ISBN-13: 978-1-78308-772-3 (Hbk)
ISBN-10: 1-78308-772-2 (Hbk)

This title is also available as an e-book.
CONTENTS
List of Figures

Acknowledgements

Introduction

Part One: The Cultural Logic of Progress
Part Two: Elocutionary Poetics in the Context of ‘Taste’
1. Progress by Prescription

2. Thomas Sheridan and the Divine Harmony of Progress

Part One: Harmony Articulated
Part Two: From Disinterestedness to the Divine
3. ‘There Is a Natural Propensity in the Human Mind to Apply Number and Measure to Every Thing We Hear’: Monboddo, Steele and Prosody as Rhythm

Part One: Monboddo’s Theory of Linguistic Progress
Part Two: Steele’s Emphasis
Part Three: Rhythm as Prosody
4. ‘[C]‌ut into, distorted, twisted’: Thomas Percy, Editing and the Idea of Progress

Part One: The Stadial Antiquarian
Part Two: Prosody as Pressure Point
5. ‘Manners’ and ‘Marked Prosody’: Hugh Blair and Henry Home, Lord Kames

Afterword: Rude Manners, ‘Stately’ Measures: Byron and the Idea of Progress in the New Century

Conclusion

Notes

Bibliography

Index
FIGURES
3.1 Page 24 of Joshua Steele, Prosodia Rationalis
3.2 Page 77 of Joshua Steele, Prosodia Rationalis
3.3 Page 75 of Joshua Steele, Prosodia Rationalis
3.4 Page 76 of Joshua Steele, Prosodia Rationalis
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
I would like to thank Marie, John and Lucy Regan for their kindness and support throughout the research and writing of this book.
My debt to academic colleagues and contemporaries is considerable and acknowledged at various points in the body of the text, but some special mention is warranted here also. Richard Bradford of the University of Ulster provided a model of attention to the turbulent world of eighteenth-century poetics. On the aesthetics of verse my thinking has been shaped by Peter de Bolla and Simon Jarvis at the University of Cambridge. Finally, I could not have asked for more generous readers than Corinna Russell and Philip Connell.
Chapter 4 of this book is a revised version of an article entitled ‘Ambiguous Progress and Its Poetic Correlatives: Percy’s Reliques and Stadial History’ that featured in English Literary History , vol. 81, no. 2. Parts of the Afterword featured in an article in the Keats-Shelley Journal vol. 60. I am grateful to the editorial boards of these journals for allowing me to revise material for inclusion here.
I also wish to acknowledge the assistance of the staff of the Rare Books Room at Cambridge’s University Library, without whom writing this book would have been impossible.
Finally, thanks to Nola Boomer, whose kindness has stayed with me ever since it was conferred.
Introduction
Part One: The Cultural Logic of Progress
As the Seven Years War drew to a close in 1763, the idea of progress in British intellectual life was undergoing a process of rebalancing. In the earlier eighteenth century, the religious implications of the word ‘progress’ commonly outweighed suggestions that human, morality, intellect, society or art could be improved. Broadly providential, the word suggested that the only human elevation possible could be towards God. But in the time span specified by this book’s title, humanist conceptions of progress began to gain greater purchase among British historians and philosophers, albeit that these never supplanted the divine valences of the idea. This book is about this rebalancing: how it shaped, and was shaped by, poetry and poetics in the time.
Several important social and political developments were coeval with the rise of humanist ideas about human development in what J. G. A. Pocock has called the ‘high eighteenth century’. 1 Throughout the decades 1760–90, the enclosure laws sharply truncated common rural rights, and the earliest convulsions of the Industrial Revolution were being felt. Migration from country to city began to ramp up throughout Britain, and modern party politics were taking shape. While Scotland’s political and social conditions after the 1707 union can hardly be said to have been placid or stable, the Jacobite uprisings of 1715 and 1745 could by 1760 at least be viewed with some historical perspective rather than with visceral distaste. Amidst these changes, ideas of human improvement and decline became cultural cynosures. They influenced and were influenced by several different and disparate domains, as what was commonly referred to as ‘commercial society’ found definition in texts by Adam Smith , Adam Ferguson , Francis Hutcheson and Henry Home, Lord Kames . 2 These domains included commerce and science, aesthetics , farming and print culture, nation and faith, art, environment and the offices of state, to name a few. Of the environment, earlier in the century, John Locke , and then Montesquieu borrowed from Vitruvius to propagate ideas of man’s being influenced by his surroundings, and fostered the consequent conviction that these were available to improvement. If the environment was improvable, then so was human development in that environment. Montesquieu’s understanding of progress encompassed the role of climate in shaping human institutions, although a sense of the weather’s being improvable was of course absent . Where trade and commerce had been viewed as largely ameliorative forces in British life in the earlier parts of the century, 1750s Britain saw rapid economic deceleration, rising unemployment and the beginning of the Seven Years War. Whig criticism of Lord Bute ’s handling of the negotiations to end the war focused on his leniency towards France, but also on Britain’s too-great shouldering of the debt generated by that conflict. Gin mania took hold in several burgeoning urban centres . Englishman John Brown’s 1757 treatise Estimate of the Manners and Principles of the Times responded pessimistically to the recent history of trade, expressing the author’s horror at its effects in language wholly typical of the age. Those whose lives had been transformed by commerce were likely to have undergone a sharp loss of ‘martial virtue’ and ‘manly’ vigour. 3 Brown’s text encapsulated a commonplace view: a too-great encroachment of commerce into our lives entailed effeminacy or a reversal of gender roles, vanity, luxury and refined indulgence. And so Brown’s Estimate gained significant traction in England, if not Scotland, for describing the decline of Britain at the middle of the century . 4 But until Brown, such explicit negativity about the state of British man had been attenuated by, among others , Henry St. John , Viscount Bolingbroke, who challenged pessimism by appeals to the idea that a Patriot King would always intervene to attenuate national decline in his The Idea of a Patriot King of 1738 . In this he was supported by his friend Jonathan Swift , who believed in the aforementioned divine intervention in human affairs. Bolingbroke, like so many across the anglophone eighteenth century, followed Machiavelli and earlier Renaissance writers and classical writers Livy and Polybius in espousing the idea of historical cycles . These by necessity took larger-scale historical perspectives to observe that any moral, cultural or technological descent would always be followed by an ascent. A cyclical model, rooted in the recurring seasons and practices of agriculture, mitigated the kind of unequivocal pessimism that Brown had expressed, and which was common in British narratives of human progress in this age . Robert Nisbet’s book History of the Idea of Progress (2017) examines Plato and Aristotle ’s espousal of the model. Plato’s Laws suggests that humankind develops through a series of stages, predicated first on the family, then a series of intermediate stages before finally reaching what is figured as the culminative city state. As in Aristotle , Plato suggests that, while humankind is destined for this political culmination, there is no guarantee of the sustained health and advancement of this final realization of human advancement. That is, this greatest state of improvement available to humankind is necessarily always susceptible to degradation . This stadial conception of history, like virtually all that are considered in this book, finds its provenance in Hesiod’s division of human development into Gold, Silver, Bronze, demi-God and Iron races. Adapting Hesiod’s stages , in his Statesman , Plato used the consideration of advancement and decline for a sustained meditation on the question of determinism, free will and human progress. While he asserted that man’s golden age was that in which God exerted full care over the development of the human race, God is absent from subsequent stages, and the iniquity and frailty of the human character is man

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