The qualities and achievements of eighteenth century English literature have suffered denigration as a result of a prevailing Whig interpretation of literary history. It is the contention of this book, originally published in 1986, that an alternative form of Whig interpretation is possible and even desirable. It has as its sphere of interest the ways in which views on the nature and benefits of political freedom, and various "whiggish" readings of literary history, political theory and aesthetics, did in fact shape literary and social changes through the eighteenth century. Many characteristic Romantic tenets can be seen as springing, not fully formed from the heads of their creators, but directly out of the aesthetic concerns focusing around Longinus, and the recognition of the historically singular nature of the British constitution.
This book studies and analyses the forms such concerns took in several of the central thinkers and writers of the period, and is an important contribution to the understanding of the eighteenth century milieu.
Table of Contents
Preface. Part 1: Freedom’s Ample Fabric (a) The Arts and Liberty (b) Freedom and the National Character Part 2: The Early Decades (a) The Third Earl of Shaftesbury (b) Thomas Blackwell (c) Mark Akenside (d) Augustan, Grecian, Gothic Part 3: David Hume – Turning Points. Part 4: The 1760s and Beyond (a) Brown and Sheridan (b) Adam Ferguson (c) Dr Johnson Part 5: William Wordsworth. Conclusion. Notes. Index.