English Versions of Roman Satire in the Earlier Eighteenth Century

English Versions of Roman Satire in the Earlier Eighteenth Century

English Versions of Roman Satire in the Earlier Eighteenth Century

English Versions of Roman Satire in the Earlier Eighteenth Century

Synopsis

This book discusses Imitations of the ancient Roman verse satirists Horace, Juvenal, and Perseus published in Britain in the first half of the eighteenth century. It endeavors to put major writers such as Alexander Pope and Samuel Johnson in the context of lesser writers of the period. It also devotes attention to other canonical writers such as Jonathan Swift, Henry Fielding, and Christopher Smart.

Excerpt

In recent years professors of english in American universities, especially those who teach American and contemporary literature, have been obsessed with the canon, not the collection of books that the Bible comprises, but with what works ought to be taught in literature courses, recensing the curriculum to insure that the proportion of authors who are women or ethnic minorities corresponds to their current distribution in the American population. But even those of us concerned chiefly with what the canonists term “dead European white male” authors cannot but be bemused with the apparent unfairness of one aspect of canonical studies, attribution and authorship, and the critical estimation and scholarly attention that a work can receive, not on account of its quality but of its author. For students of eighteenth-century literature Daniel Defoe is the most familiar example. Political pamphlets devoted to the most obscure controversies of the early eighteenth century that even the most dedicated scholar would scarcely be capable of opening seem worthy of general interest when presumed to be by the author of Robinson Crusoe.

But a study of Imitations of the Roman verse satirists in the earlier part of the eighteenth century obviously cannot be limited to major authors. Not only would excluding minor poets be like trying to study the ecology of a forest by confining our attention to the largest species of plants and animals, but even judging what are the biggest varieties is arbitrary. Let us consider the major “canonical” authors covered in this study. They are, in the order treated: Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, Samuel Johnson, Henry Fielding, and Christopher Smart. We are grateful to the work of twentieth-century editors that we have their Imitations of Horace or of Juvenal in reliable and generally well-annotated editions. But for how many were their Imitations major works of literature? I expect most Popeans would rank at least some of his Imitations of Horace as great poetry, perhaps starting with his first attempt, the Imitation of the first satire of the second book. and we have it on authority of no less a master than . . .

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