Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity, 1650-1750

By Jonathan I. Israel | Go to book overview

27

ANGLOMANIA: THE 'TRIUMPH
OF NEWTON AND LOCKE

i. Europe Embraces English Ideas

One of the best known and most striking features of the Early Enlightenment is a cultural and intellectual movement which swept the continent from France to Russia, and Scandinavia to Sicily, in the 1730s and 1740s. This was the so-called anglomanie of the eighteenth century, a near universal fashion for English ideas, influences, and styles. Suddenly, virtually everything English was in demand in Europe. For the first time, English poetry and plays were widely studied. English grammars and dictionaries, rare in the past, became commonplace. British constitutional monarchy began to be widely admired. Above all, Newton and Locke were almost everywhere eulogized and lionized.

The phenomenon is well known and of crucial importance for the general evolution of western civilization.1 Yet the particular play of cultural and intellectual forces generating the anglomanie of the 1730s and 1740s has not been much considered, or studied. It is certain, in any case, that there are at least two strikingly diverse ways of explaining the phenomenon and relating it to its historical context. Some scholars have been inclined to locate the origins of the Enlightenment itself in precisely those intellectual streams, Newtonianism and Locke's empiricism, which spearheaded, so to speak, Britain's cultural conquest of the west. The notion that the French and other continental philosophes 'looked to England as the source of the Enlightenment'2 and that the 'fashion for deism' in France was a 'daughter of Anglomania'3 gains plausibility from the incontestable fact that many books proclaiming the mainstream High Enlightenment, published on the continent from the 1730s onwards, clearly professed to be inspired by English ideas. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that Voltaire's intellectual, as distinct from rhetorical and literary, contribution to the Enlightenment, consists of little more than introducing Newton and Locke to the continent or, as Paolo Mattia Doria called his Lettres philosophiques (1734), mere 'propaganda' for

1 Gay, The Enlightenment, ii, 24–4, 58, 230, 454; Feingold, 'Reversal', 234–4, 256–6; Feingold, 'Partnership in
Glory', 291–1; Maurer, Aufklärung und Anglophilie, 14–46, 32–2.

2 Harrison, 'Religion' and the Religions, 3, 176; see also Schouls, Descartes, 177; Fitzpatrick, 'Toleration',
25, 43.

3 Gay, The Enlightenment, 1, 11–12.

-515-

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