The Goths in England: A Study in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Thought

The Goths in England: A Study in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Thought

The Goths in England: A Study in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Thought

The Goths in England: A Study in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Thought

Excerpt

It is common knowledge that throughout the eighteenth- century discussion of aesthetic taste the term "Gothic" was in prevailing usage a Modewort of very wide currency and that as applied to literature and the fine arts the same term was used with both eulogistic and disparaging connotations. What is not common knowledge, however, is that the history of the "Gothic" begins not in the eighteenth but in the seventeenth century, not in aesthetic but in political discussion; stale platitudes drawn from the classic-romantic dichotomy made familiar by the simpler sort of literary textbooks simply do not suffice to explain the full phenomenon of the Gothic vogue in England.

The term "Gothic" came into extensive use in the seventeenth century as an epithet employed by the Parliamentary leaders to defend the prerogatives of Parliament against the pretensions of the King to absolute right to govern England. To this end the Parliamentarians searched the ancient records of English civilization for precedent and authority against the principle of monarchical absolutism. An antiquarian movement flowered, and in the ancient records the Parliamentarians discovered that the original forebears of the English were the Germanic invaders of Rome whom they called not Germans but Goths, substituting the name of only one of the Germanic tribes to denote all the barbarians collectively; the Goths, they thought, founded the institutions of public assemblies which, in its English parliamentary form, the Stuarts were seeking to destroy. The antiquarian researches, conse-

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