Elations: The Poetics of Enthusiasm in Eighteenth-Century Britain

Elations: The Poetics of Enthusiasm in Eighteenth-Century Britain

Elations: The Poetics of Enthusiasm in Eighteenth-Century Britain

Elations: The Poetics of Enthusiasm in Eighteenth-Century Britain

Synopsis

Seeking "to discover what happens inside that black hole of English poetry between neoclassicism and romanticism", Irlam (comparative literature, State U. of New York-Buffalo) excavates the now seldom read poetry of two poets popular in 18th century England, James Thomson and Edward Young.

Excerpt

Throughout the eighteenth century, English poetry was the stage for a fierce agon between, in Christopher Smart's partisan terms, "the writings of man [which] perish as the garment [and] the Book of God [which] endureth forever." Whereas Raphael in Paradise Lost had said to Adam, "Heav'n / Is as the Book of God before thee set, / Wherein to read his wondrous Works, and learn / His Seasons, Hours, or Days, or Months, or Years," poets of the eighteenth century were inclined to be more ecumenical and substitute for Heaven other texts of God somewhat closer to home. Thinking some half a century later along lines similar to Milton, James Thomson prefaced his Seasons by calling poetry the "peculiar Language of Heaven," the expression of a "poetical Enthusiasm" exhorted by "the Works of Nature."

Stated quite simply, then, this project is an investigation of some of the claims made by and for the idioms of Enthusiasm and a rhetoric of Heaven, or an aesthetics of messianism in eighteenth-century aesthetic reckonings. This book began out of a curiosity to discover what happens inside that black hole of English poetry between neoclassicism and romanticism. It is a project that undertakes several interconnected tasks: It proposes to rewrite the literary history of a particular period in English literature around the politics and literature of "Enthusiasm." It accomplishes this by reconsidering early eighteenth-century aesthetic theory as well as the poetry of two major and representative poets seldom read today but hugely popular in the eighteenth century: James Thomson and Edward Young. It explores the genesis and construction of moral authority through a variety of competing discourses appropriated by poetry, and it traces the progressive rehabilitation . . .

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