Aesthetics of contingency provides an important reconsideration of seventeenth-century literature in light of new understandings of the English past. Emphasising the contingency of the political in revolutionary England and its extended aftermath, Matthew Augustine challenges prevailing literary histories plotted according to structural conflicts and teleological narrative. In their place, he offers an innovative account of imaginative and polemical writing, in an effort to view later seventeenth-century literature on its own terms: without certainty about the future, or indeed the recent past. In hewing to this premise, the familiar outline of the period – with red lines drawn at 1642, 1660, or 1688 – becomes suggestively blurred. For all of Milton’s prophetic gestures, for all of Dryden’s presumption to speak for, to epitomise his Age, writing from the later decades of the seventeenth century remained supremely responsive to uncertainty, to the tremors of civil conflict and to the enduring crises and contradictions of Stuart governance. A study of major writings from the Personal Rule to the Glorious Revolution and beyond, this book also re-examines the material conditions of literature in this age. By carefully deciphering the multi-layered forces at work in acts of writing and reception, and with due consideration for the forms in which texts were cast, this book explores the complex nature of making meaning in and making meaning out of later Stuart England.
In the winter of 1673-1674, the Stuart poet laureate and historiographer royal, John Dryden, famously undertook to recast John Milton's blank-verse epic as a rhymed semi-opera. The most immediate context for Dryden's 'tagging' of Milton's verses is the controversy over rhyme which had arisen with the new heroic drama. There is precious little extant commentary on Paradise Lost dating to the reigns of Charles and James; indeed, the earliest entries for the poem's critical reception in most sourcebooks are Andrew Marvell's commendatory poem and Dryden's praise in The State of Innocence. Marvell's humiliating image of Dryden drudging like a 'pack-horse' to tag Milton's points is thus not only interested but premature, for it is in The State of Innocence that Dryden plots the complex effects of some of his greatest Augustan poetry.
The argument of this book follows two main themes: the first has to do with periodicity; the second with politics, especially as a framework within which to view seventeenth-century literature. This chapter maps the disciplinary paradigms which have long produced a view of the seventeenth century saturated by high-definition contrasts: between the earlier and later Stuart periods, but also between factions and ideologies. It then asks what it would look like to write the history of seventeenth-century literature anew, to tell a story about imaginative and polemical writing in this age that remained open to accident and unevenness, to contradiction and uncertainty. Giving illustrative consideration to John Dryden, Andrew Marvell, and John Milton, the chapter begins to suggest some new ways of conceiving how these writers might relate to one other and to the politics and aesthetics of a long seventeenth century.
This chapter explores how the framework of a ‘long eighteenth century’ distorts our sense of Restoration literature through a process of selective reading and imagining that emphasises ‘the shape of the future’. The writings of Lord Rochester provide the ground on which this argument is tested. In tracing Rochester’s texts through the circuits of script and print, this chapter illuminates the radical unfixity of Rochester as cultural sign. To privilege Rochester’s ‘Augustanism’, or to see him, as recent commentators would have it, as a ‘proto-Whig’, is perforce to strain against the varied cultural scripts he so promiscuously fashioned and in which he was no less promiscuously apprehended and imagined. More largely, this chapter argues, by refiguring Rochester, we may also appreciate the decidedly mixed character of whatever might be called ‘Restoration modernity’.
Many scholars of Milton’s early verse have discerned in The Poems of Mr John Milton (1645) a prophecy of the English revolution and of the unsung poet’s transformation into the bard of Paradise Lost. This chapter attempts to read the poetry of young Milton within the uncertain horizons of his own lived history. It thus focuses on the problematic of becoming at the heart of Poems 1645. For if notes of apocalyptic and rebirth sound throughout the volume, this chapter nonetheless shows how the staging and re-staging of this theme ultimately folds hoped-for millenarian rupture back into the fabric of secular time. What is argued of the Nativity Ode has general application to Milton’s inaugural collection of verse: despite all that it would confirm about Milton’s genius, the shape of his career, and the direction of English history, the most that it can do is resolve upon an indeterminate waiting.
This chapter explores the cracks in Marvell and Milton’s presumed political alliance. Digging out the roots of this tradition, it argues that the notion of Marvell and Milton’s ‘exceptionless’ friendship first emerges as a tactic of the high churchmen writing against Marvell’s witty pamphlet in support of religious toleration, The Rehearsal Transpros’d (1672). But if the ‘Miltonizing’ of Marvell was originally sponsored by Anglican absolutism, the ideology that has maintained it from the nineteenth century to our own turns out to be modern liberalism itself. As a result, it has often been difficult to apprehend Marvell’s politics on their own terms. By untethering Marvell from Milton, as this chapter shows through detailed reconsiderations of Marvell’s poetry and prose, we stand to gain not only a fresh bearing on the historical Marvell, but also, and what is of perhaps wider import, a resolutely Marvellian bearing on the divisions and tumults of his age.
Literary historians long considered Thomas Browne uninterested in the great events of his day. While more recent scholarship has revised this picture, it has tended to place the famous Dr Browne on the wrong side of a conflict between conservatives and radicals. This chapter begins by re-examining the relations between and among writing, politics, and class in revolutionary England, emphasising the fluidity of the ideological context in which Browne’s meditation was first written and published. The second part of the chapter traces the processual character of Browne’s text, that is, the multiplicity of material forms and circumstances in which his Religio Medici might have been encountered, and the various interlocutions that soon attached themselves to it and mediated its meanings. Finally, it seeks to reconstruct the religious subject and the spiritual politics constituted out of the text’s distinctive rhetorical form. Stepping out provisionally, with a sense of limitation, with a sense of style, this chapter argues, Religio Medici brilliantly addresses itself to the heresy of certainty under which Browne saw the Stuart church beginning to buckle.
Religion, revolution, and the end of history in Dryden’s late works
Matthew C. Augustine
Notwithstanding its reputation as a secular age, the Restoration was notable for its religious converts, not least its most famous pair of writers, Lord Rochester and the Stuart laureate John Dryden. This chapter explores the development of Dryden’s art in the wake of his conversion to Rome in 1685 and the subsequent failure of Stuart rule. Its theme is ‘transprosing and transversing’, as Dryden and his contemporaries referred to the transformation of one kind of text into another. Dryden’s late work of fable and translation represents an extensive body of transversive writing – one that resonates strongly with his experience as a convert, of fashioning a new spiritual and political identity on top of a prior script that cannot be wholly erased. And indeed, in the palimpsestic play of Dryden’s late aesthetic, this chapter also traces a shift in the poet’s conception of English history, from the providential typologies of Astraea Redux (1660) and Absalom and Achitophel (1681) to the self-consciously contingent allegories of The Hind and the Panther (1687), Don Sebastian (1689), and Fables (1700).
Since 1980s, there has been a steady stream of excellent work on the politics of literature and the literature of politics in seventeenth century England. Work on Andrew Marvell has seen a resurgence in the new millennium, driven by landmark scholarly editions of both his poetry and his prose. This book invites readers to entertain the prospect of placing Marvell at the centre of the literary landscape, exploring how such placement would shift people's perceptions of seventeenth-century literary culture. It presents a collection of essays that are divided into three sections. The first section asks readers to consider novel ways in which early modern and contemporary readers have conceived of texts and their position in the public world of print consumption and critical practice. It focuses on the relationship between literary texts and their historical moments, aesthetics, contextualisation of the religious, political, or social and Marvell's lasting awareness of and fascination with the public. The second section outlines seventeenth-century accounts and perceptions of child abuse, and the problems of identifying and recounting the experience of abuse and the broader significance of the appeal to Marvell of European poetry. The last section takes up issues of literary relations between prominent authors of the century. It illustrates how Marvell's depiction also stands in relation to Dutch representations of de Ruyter's victory, which emphasised the martial heroism as well as the negative consequences of the English monarchy's economic policies.