The Rise of Romanticism: Essential Texts

The Rise of Romanticism: Essential Texts

The Rise of Romanticism: Essential Texts

The Rise of Romanticism: Essential Texts

Excerpt

Roots of Romanticism may be located in the work of the not always major or even highly-regarded enquirers of The Royal Society in the late seventeenth and early' eighteenth centuries. Partial founder of the Society and Cromwell's brother-in-law, John Wilkins, was the author of the Discovery of a World in the Moonand a postscript on means of getting there. In 1668 he published his Essay Towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language. John Wallis, who broke the Royalist code at Carisbrooke Castle, wrote the Arithmetica infinitorum (1655), which prompted Newton, it is said, to the binomial theorem, and as an appendage to his Grammatica linguae Anglicanae (1653) the De loquela, an enquiry into the physical roots of English sounds which was used in treating deaf mutes. Sufficient glory might have accrued to George Hickes through his niece, who edited the Anglo-Saxon Homily on the Nativity in 1709, and produced in 1715 her Rudiments of Grammar for the English-Saxon Tongue but Elizabeth Elstob followed a family tradition. Hickes's own Anglo-Saxon and Moeso-Gothic grammar had appeared in 1689, and his Linguarum veterum septentrionalium thesaurus or Thesaurus of the Ancient Northern Languages between 1703 and 1705. The journals of Thomas Hearne, the under-librarian at the Bodleian Library until 1716, are more amusing but less constructive than his work as antiquarian and editor of texts such as The Battle of Maldon without which it is doubtful that the poetry of for example Thomas Warton the Elder would have been written. Among the Society's correspondents was Edward Pococke, chaplain to the 'Turkey Merchants' at Aleppo, first Professor of Arabic at Oxford, and substantial donor of the Bodleian's original Arabic collection. His Specimen historiae Arabum (1649) was one of the first two books set from the University press's Arabic fount. His emendation, perhaps after sleepless nights in Aleppo, of 'wailing like the dragons' (Micah, 1:8) to 'howling like the jackals' nicely pinpoints the effect on mythology of onthe-spot enquiry. The source of the contemporaneity science gave to the Old Testament, a novelty extensively effective in the poetry of Young, Smart and Blake, may be seen also in the work of Dr Richard Mead (1673-1754), largest collector of curiosities of the era. At one time Vice- President of the Royal Society, he diagnosed successfully the complaints not only of Pope and Young, but in his Medica sacra (1749) those of Hezekiah, Jehoram, Saul, Nebuchadnezzar and Job as, respectively, an abscess, dysentery, melancholia, hypochondria and elephantiasis.

Pope and Swift were accurate in prophesying Augustan doom. Not until the Poetical Sketches of Blake in the second half of the century did Northern and oriental verse rival in quality the classical imitation of Pope but the spring from which this shift derived was flowing before the turn . . .

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