Charles Gildon tells of an event, held just prior to the outbreak of civil war, that brought together the Caroline cognoscenti to debate the relative merits of Shakespeare and the Ancients in a courtly "trial of Skill": "The place agreed on for the Dispute, was Mr. Hales' Chamber at Eaton; a great many Books were sent down by the Enemies of this Poet [Shakespeare], and on the appointed day, my Lord Falkland, Sir John Suckling, and all the Persons of Quality that had Wit and Learning, and interested themselves in the Quarrel, met there, and upon a thorough Disquisition of the point, the Judges chose by agreement out of this Learned and Ingenious Assembly, unanimously gave the Preference to SHAKESPEAR." 1 Within a few years, Falkland and Suckling would both be dead. The court would be dispersed, its members in self-imposed exile and its king executed. The unanimity of the courtiers would be forever shattered. There would be no more trials of skill.
During the Restoration and the eighteenth century there occurred many attempts at recreating this primal scene of English canon-making. Dryden and other Royal Society intellectuals dreamt of establishing a British Academy modelled on the French, where not only the language and its usage might be supervised but where also, in Evelyn's words, "gentlemen and scholars" might "pass censure and bring authors to the touch." 2 Defoe, Addison, Swift, Smollett, and Dick Minim were among the better-known eighteenth-century advocates of a national academy of language and letters. Gildon himself produced a plan for an all-powerful academy that would exercise control over language