Not in Timon's Manner: Feeling, Misanthropy, and Satire in Eighteenth-Century England

Not in Timon's Manner: Feeling, Misanthropy, and Satire in Eighteenth-Century England

Not in Timon's Manner: Feeling, Misanthropy, and Satire in Eighteenth-Century England

Not in Timon's Manner: Feeling, Misanthropy, and Satire in Eighteenth-Century England

Excerpt

The gloomy Dean of St. Patrick's, in a now famous letter to Alexander Pope, accuses himself of misanthropy but carefully dissociates his kind of hatred from the traditional misanthropy projected in the archetypal Timon figure:

I have ever hated all nations, professions, and communities, and all my love is toward individuals: for instance, I hate the tribe of lawyers, but I love Counsellor Such-a-one, and Judge Such-a-one: so with physicians--I will not speak of my own trade--soldiers, English, Scotch, French, and the rest. But principally I hate and detest that animal called man, although I heartily love John, Peter, Thomas, and so forth. This is the system upon which I have governed myself many years, but do not tell, and so I shall go on till I have done with them. I have got materials toward a treatise, proving the falsity of that definition animal rationale, and to show it would be only rationis capax. Upon this great foundation of misanthropy, though not in Timon's manner, the whole building of my Travels is erected; and I never will have peace of mind till all honest men are of my opinion.

All honest men are probably, at least in secret, of Swift's opinion, for this paradoxical misanthropy, which has a modern, existential ring to it, seems to represent an unflinching facing up to the reality of human evil without, like Timon, despairing of the human potential for good. Unlike Timon, Swift does not reject society nor does he wish it ill; as he says in another letter to Pope, his misanthropy lacks the malicious force of anger: "I tell you after all, that I do not . . .

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