Reconcilable Differences in Eighteenth-Century English Literature

Reconcilable Differences in Eighteenth-Century English Literature

Reconcilable Differences in Eighteenth-Century English Literature

Reconcilable Differences in Eighteenth-Century English Literature

Synopsis

"The authors whose work Piper examines in this book might be understood nowadays as having a theoretical concern. Swift's Travels, Gay's Trivia, and Pope's Essay on Man are responses - or so Piper argues - to the question: What if nature is, as George Berkeley has asserted, strictly perceptual? Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho and Austen's Emma emerge from an intensification of the same question: What if, not only nature, but the people who inhabit nature, are also, as David Hume has asserted, strictly perceptual? Can we understand a strictly perceptual world? Can we - or how can we - live here?" "In this book Piper thus examines major works by Swift, Gay, Pope, Radcliffe, and Austen with the awareness of perceptualism that they must have possessed and describes the connections between their works and this philosophy." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

The authors whose works I will examine in this book confronted what might be understood nowadays as a theoretical concern. Swift’s Travels, Gay’s Trivia, and Pope’s Essay on Man are responses—or so I will argue—to the question: What if nature is, as George Berkeley has asserted, strictly perceptual? Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho and Austen’s Emma emerge from an intensification of the same question: What if, not only nature, but the people who inhabit nature are also, as David Hume has asserted, strictly perceptual? Such questions inevitably led to others: If Berkeley and Hume are right, each of these authors asked in turn, what can we know; and what can we do? Can we understand a strictly perceptual world? Can we—or how can we—live here? Swift, Gay, and Pope were chiefly interested, like Berkeley, in problems of knowledge; Radcliffe and Austen were also concerned, as Hume would have suggested, with conduct. They all began, however, with the realm of experience that Berkeley had exposed, that is, with a world altogether unsupported by external matter. and each of them attempted to show how we might endure and enjoy such a place.

The self-consciousness they brought to this concern with what may best be described as “perceptualism” is not altogether determinable. the earlier three of them were personally acquainted with Berkeley; and there is evidence that the later two had some solid knowledge of Hume. But the intellectual atmosphere they all breathed, an atmosphere which had been gathering since Bacon produced his Magna Instauratio, is more significant. Locke had augmented this atmosphere with his emphatic advocacy of experience; and the Royal Society, whose principles Thomas Sprat broadcast in his History, had also contributed to it. It was so pervasive during the eighteenth century, indeed, that the simple soldier, Captain Tobias Shandy, absorbed one of its basic elements, the succession of ideas, without, as he admitted, even knowing what it meant. Surely Swift and Austen did. Captain Shandy gave a pious rendering to an even more volatile element, that is, Hume’s frightening tenet that anything can produce anything . . .

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