The Long 18th Century?

William III and Mary II (1689-1702)

As a sometime academic, I once had a (sub-professional) interest in trying to understand how capitalism and the novel grew up together, as it were, during what some historians like to call the “long eighteenth century” of 1688-1815—from the beginning of reign of William III in England (the so-called “Glorious Revolution”) to the end of the Napoleonic wars with France, at the Battle of Waterloo.

By this time both capitalism’s the novel’s “forms”, as it were were somewhat firmly settled, after an initial 100 years+ of experimentation. (N.b. there are……

(1688-1815) The Long 18th Century!

Here is where I will discuss any helpful wide-ranging secondary literature that I find, be they historical surveys of the period or critical texts dealing with multiple canonical thinkers or works…

…To be continuously updated!

Chronologically-speaking, the first, go-to secondary text for the Long 18th Century should probably be Paul Hazard’s The Crisis of the European Mind (1935, depicted at right), which treats the period from 1680-1715, or the very beginning of our journey. Since I am in the middle of that……

(1688) Oroonoko by Aphra Behn
(Penguin/Reading the Long 18th Century #1)

(Coming soon)

(1689-1702) William III & Mary II: Partners in Revolution by Jonathan Keates
(Penguin/Reading the Long 18th Century #2)

(Penguin Monarchs #33 (2015)) This is a lively, jauntily-paced, unabashedly opinionated and well-informed potted history this, just the right length (somewhat briefer than the Very Short Introductions Series) for someone who wants to know a bit about a monarch, but who is not a historical royal watcher. I learned a fair bit from its scanty 80-something-pages, such as:

The impact of this Dutch Protestant value system on the English he came to rule has been underestimated, like almost everything else William of Orange brought them. A major feature of life in the Calvinist Netherlands was a significant degree of tolerance towards other faiths and denominations, something not native to England at that time, however much we now pride ourselves on it as……

(1689) Second Treatise of Government and a Letter Concerning Toleration by John Locke
(Oxford/Reading the Long 18th Century #3)

This volume, published in 2016 and in an edition with a decent introduction by Mark Goldie, is missing the First Treatise (which attacks theories of absolute monarchy rooted in Adam as the first in his line) and is a bit skimpy on endnotes, but they are sufficiant for a basic understanding of the text.

The second treatise is essential reading for anyone interested in thinking about the inter-grafted nature of the trees of “liberty” and “property” in the 18C, and how their legacy is still with us today (viz. libertarian insistence that the former rights are rooted in the latter).

The First Treatise, and much better notes, can be found in the……

(1690) An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke
(Penguin/Reading the Long 18th Century #4)

And hence perhaps may be given some reason of that common observation,—that men who have a great deal of wit, and prompt memories, have not always the clearest judgment or deepest reason. For WIT lying most in the assemblage of ideas, and putting those together with quickness and variety, wherein can be found any resemblance or congruity, thereby to make up pleasant pictures and agreeable visions in the fancy…” (Essay 152)

Though Locke himself cautions (late in Book IV, the final volume of the Essay) against the Argumentum ad Vericundeum (from “authority”)—against giving undue credence to an argument merely because of the reputation* of the person making it (e.g. “the Aristotelian unities must be respected by any playwright, because Aristotle”), still there exist certain books……

(1693) The Comedies of William Congreve
(Penguin/Reading the Long 18th Century #5)

A young poet is liable to the same vanity and indiscretion with a young lover; and the great man that smiles upon one, and the fine woman that looks kindly upon t’other, are each of’em in danger of having the favour published with the first opportunity

Love For Love (Prologue, 213)

Written-in-a-creative-rush from 1692-1700 (aged 22-30) these plays have aged indifferently well, shall we say, and are still somewhat worth reading today, betimes.

By turns divertingly witty and penetratingly cynical about human nature, they can also be a bit of a slog, with the flat characters being so absurdly named and hard to tell apart. Still, I’d like to see these on stage one day, especially the incredibly manic The Double Dealer….


(1694) (1960) The Sot-Weed Factor by John Barth
(Modern Novel Set in the Long 18th Century)

This hilariously picaresque and never-ending novel charts the fortunes and adventures of the self-appointed “Poet Laureate” of Maryland as, Tom Jones- or Candide-like, he innocently gets into one scrape after another during the early years of settlement of the first American colonies, his first adventure coming in the year 1694 as he sets sail from England. A convincing parody of writing of the period, the prose should prove not only a diverting interlude from heavier fare but also an intriguing glance at early American postmodernism as it grapples with past forms, modes and attitudes. Rather than write a post on this most entertaining and fiendishly clever of novels, however, I will save both myself and any potential reader much time by referring them t…

(1696-1705) The Relapse and Other Plays by John Vanbrugh
(Oxford/Reading the Long 18th Century #6)

4* (out of 5)

I’m awarding this 4* (3.5) because on the strength of the title play alone, which I found to be droller than anything by friend-of-Swift Sheridan, this more than deserves to be brought back into print (brought out in 2004, it was reissued by OUP in ’09, but I could only find it used).

The last three– increasingly short–plays are the rather amusing The Confederacy (4* but as it is a more or less faithful adaptation of a French play by Florent Dancourt, those stars belong to the originator!), the unfinished and unfunny A Journey to London (2*, written late in life, it seems), and the very brief, amusing farce (again cribbed from a French original), and the one-act The Country House in which the householder of a……

(1697-1745) Jonathan Swift Major Works
(Oxford/Reading the Long 18th Century #7)

Note: I actually read the now-defunct Oxford Authors Series version from 1984 (pictured at right), but the texts are identical….

Jonathan Swift lived from 1667-1745 and wrote a heck of a lot of dense, now-obscure work. I’m not going to lie to you and say that this wasn’t the slog that it surely was. Whether it was I who dragged this squat, ugly tome through the past seven months, or it me—is now, finally, moot. Cos it’s over, free at last, free at last!

If you ever took those period-survey English lit courses in uni, did you, too, dread those volumes, published by Norton and Riverside,……

Jonathan Swift (1667–1745) Biographies and Criticism

It is difficult merely imagining Swift, the Doctor and Dean, the terror of ministers and magnates, as a baby: the image is almost absurd. Picturing it means endowing him with a vulnerability, a physical and emotional need he cancelled altogether from his adult personality. But then, what should we expect? At an early stage in his career, Swift ridiculed the idea of understanding writers through biography…

—from The Reluctant Rebel (76)

Literary biography doesn’t get much better than the book pictured at left. In fact, I’d put John Stubbs’ Jonathan Swift, the Reluctant Rebel up there with Richard Ellman’s James Joyce or Deirdre Bair’s Samuel……

(1698–1704) The True-Born Englishman and Other Writings by Daniel Defoe
(Penguin/Reading the Long 18th Century #8)

From the Introduction:

The theme of The True -Born Englishman is simple but profound […] What possible right has a race composed of all the offscourings of Europe, Romans, Gauls, Saxons, Danes and Normans—as well as needy Scots—to despise foreigners? (xii)

I would be but half in earnest if I said that I read this so that you don’t have to (OK: three-quarters, maybe seven-eighths), but it would be a shame, in a way, if you didn’t (it is currently out of print, but 2-Dolla-Dan copies abound on the used-book interwebs). Cos in this book (containing 13 of Defoe’s reputed 545 extant works, these all composed some two decades before his novels, between 1698 and 1704) you get a better picture of what Mr. Defoe was really……

(1699–1738) A Modest Proposal and Other Writings Jonathan Swift

I HAVE been assured by a very knowing American of my Acquaintance in London; that a young healthy Child, well nursed, is, at a Year old, a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome Food; whether Stewed, Roasted, Baked, or Boiled; and, I make no doubt, that it will equally serve in a Fricasie, or Ragout…

—from “A Modest Proposal”

If you are going to buy one book of Swift’s in addition to the Travels, this Penguin miscellany gives you the best bang for your buck: superbly annotated and supplemented by both a glossary and a biographical dictionary (all such addenda amounting to 100pp of the 400 page……