Slavery and Augustan Literature: Swift, Pope, Gay

By John Richardson | Go to book overview

8

Conclusion

The attitudes I have been discussing are of two broad kinds. First, there are the political positions that occur in writings associated with the Treaty of Utrecht. These positions must have been more or less consciously adopted, and although there is little explicit approval of, or enthusiasm for, the Asiento among them, there is an implicit support common to all. Second there are the more general attitudes, mostly occurring in later works, which concern self, freedom, and the nature of people and societies. Attitudes of this kind are often less consciously entertained than the opinions of polemical tracts, they form a mental frame by which the world is assessed, they are deeply embedded in the texts, and they presumably were deeply embedded in their authors’ thinking. Some of these attitudes are mutually contradictory, and the combination of them in works such as Gulliver’s Travels and Pope’s Horatian poems is quite complex. However, there are also elements of the attitudes in many Scriblerian texts, including Gulliver’s Travels and the Horatian poems, which implicitly justify contemporary slavery. There are two questions that remain. Does this matter? And if it does matter, how does it affect our interpretation and evaluation of the texts? Much of the foregoing book has already implied partial answers to these questions, but here I try to make those answers explicit, if brief.

Many modern readers of Swift, Pope and Gay have assumed that their attitudes, political positions and even social engagement are important. Commentators on Pope, to choose just one of the three writers, provide ready examples. Erskine-Hill claims of him that ‘Few poets have been more deeply involved in the society of their age’, 1 and Mack validates the position of the Dunciad by identifying a kind of allegiance: ‘somewhat like the Iliad, one might say (comparing great things with small), where also a civilization is at stake. Or like the Aeneid, where a civilization falls because it deserves to fall from its own pride, folly, gullibility, and decadence. ’ 2 Mack’s sentences seek to underscore the importance of the Dunciad by comparing it with great earlier texts, and by placing it in opposition to the vices of citizens which threaten the existence of a civilization. According to such a reading, the poem’s importance lies not just in its beauty but also in its political values. Assumptions about the

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Slavery and Augustan Literature: Swift, Pope, Gay
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • References and Short Titles xi
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - The English and Slavery 13
  • 3 - The Scriblerus Club 39
  • 4 - Writing the Peace 63
  • 5 - Pope 89
  • 7 - Gay 109
  • 7 - Swift 121
  • 8 - Conclusion 147
  • Notes 153
  • Bibliography 173
  • Index 183
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