The Rhetoric of Suffering: Reading the Book of Job in the Eighteenth Century

By Jonathan Hoeber Lamb | Go to book overview

6
The Job Controversy

The brief foregoing account of the overlapping characteristics of a rhetoric of interruption, embracing personal integrity, historiography, and political eloquence within an unfolding of tautologies that is common both to eighteenth-century narratives and the book of Job, will help explain some of the passion invested in the conflicts over the interpretation of Job between the mid-1740s and the mid-1760s.1 At the centre of this conflict stands William Warburton, an ambitious divine with strong political affiliations, both theoretical and practical, who wished to rescue Job for orthodoxy and systematic narrative. Although he was fussy enough about party differences to despise Hume as an atheistical Jacobite, 'a monster as rare with us as a hippogriff, he himself is vulnerable to the criticism Hume made of Socrates, namely, of raising Tory consequences on Whig foundations.2 He sets out his commitment to Whig principles in an early piece on history, where he refers to 'the divine Right of Tyranny and Slavery' as one of the worst impostures an unenlightened mind can harbour. 'Publick Liberty', he affirms in the same essay, 'is the Balm of human Misery, the Quintessence of human Felicity, and the Recompence for the Loss of a Terrestrial Paradise.'3 In his ambitious attempt to reconcile Revolution principles with the priority of the integrity of the state, The Alliance between Church and State ( 1736), he indicates the limits of his libertarian way of thinking. Although the end of civil society is the security of the 'temporal liberty and property of man' under an 'Original Compact' which is its only legitimate foundation, this does not include insuring dissenters and atheists against loss of employment, even though it guarantees the freedom of their consciences.4 The 'Free Convention and Mutual Compact' which makes the interests of church and state interdependent decrees that people who refuse to profess the faith of the state religion be excluded from all areas of public administration (63).

____________________
1
A brief but authoritative survey of the Job controversy is to be found in Martin C. Battestin, The Providence of Wit ( Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974), 197-200. Subsequent commentaries include Melvyn New, "Sterne, Warburton, and the Burden of Exuberant Wit", ECS 15/13 ( 1982), 245-74; Everett Zimmerman, "Tristram Shandy and Narrative Representation", The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation, 28/2 ( 1987), 127-47; and Jonathan Lamb, "The Job Controversy, Sterne, and the Question of Allegory", ECS 24 ( 1990), 1-19.
2
Letter of 8 June 1755 in Francis Kilvert (ed.), A Selection from Unpublished Papers of William Warburton, 257; "Of the Original Contract", 487.
3
William Warburton, A Critical and Philosophical Enquiry into the Causes of Prodigies and Miracles as related by Historians ( London: Thomas Corkett, 1728), 8, 27.
4
The Alliance between Church and State ( London: Fletcher Gyles, 1736), 21, 91.

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