The Language of Politics in the Age of Wilkes and Burke

The Language of Politics in the Age of Wilkes and Burke

The Language of Politics in the Age of Wilkes and Burke

The Language of Politics in the Age of Wilkes and Burke

Excerpt

Two convictions prompted the writing of this book: first, that the political literature of the later part of the eighteenth century has been undeservedly neglected in works of literary criticism; and second, that the insights obtained from a literary-critical examination of these--and any other-- political writings should be considered by historians and political theorists as significant to their own special enquiries. The former conviction needs no verification: it is a fact. The latter is more contentious, and for that reason it is briefly argued in the introductory essay and provides the theme for the concluding chapter.

The choice of the two periods of political controversy-- 1769-71, centring on Wilkes's election, and 1790-93, with the debate on Burke's Reflections as its focal point--was determined both by their historical importance and by the stature of the writers involved in them. They did not, however, warrant investigation with the same degree of thoroughness, hence the unequal size of the two parts of this book. The first period lacks the cohesion which the publication of the Reflections provided for the second, and it did not engage a comparable number of talented contributors whose work merits critical assessment; nevertheless, the participation of three such writers as Junius, Samuel Johnson, and Edmund Burke is reason enough for discussing it, even though its byways are not explored. The historical 'survey' with which each part opens is--especially in the case of the earlier controversy--intended to remind the non- professional historian of some essential facts; the second survey is necessarily more extensive, and it also offered more scope for originality.

The publication of this book enables me to acknowledge many debts. The award by the Durham Colleges in the University of Durham of a research studentship, made tenable at . . .

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