The Experimental Imagination
Literary Knowledge and Science in the British Enlightenment
Tita Chico




Natural philosophers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were devoted to creating and safeguarding the objectivity of the modest witness and his scientific findings, particularly with recourse to the imaginative possibilities available through literary knowledge. These representations were designed to portray good, successful naturalists—they were modest in their judgment and in their bodies, instrumentally divorcing themselves from anything that might suggest bias.

But if there are good scientists, there are also bad scientists. The long eighteenth-century literary archive provides seemingly innumerable examples, often in the form of satires: Samuel Butler’s natural philosopher mistakes a mouse in his telescope for an elephant on the moon; Margaret Cavendish pillories the bear-men in The Blazing World for their narrow and speculative views; Aphra Behn dupes and ultimately reprimands Ballarido, with his twenty-foot-long telescope in The Emperor of the Moon; Swift satirizes the projectors in the Academy of Lagado; and Ned Ward’s The London Spy and William King’s Dialogues of the Dead ridicule virtuosi as impractical and myopic. Beyond satirizing science as self-interested folly, what do these characterizations accomplish?

The character of the immodest witness equips writers to explore both the limits and potential of scientific observational practice. In this chapter, I focus on two literary characters that embody the possibilities of an immodest witness, the Gimcrack (a proper noun for foolish scientists) and the coquette. They are not only ubiquitous in the Enlightenment archive; they also demonstrate the imaginative work possible through literariness. The Gimcrack and the coquette are often viewed as performers and dissemblers, devoted to advancing their own social standing and self-interest. They are deeply social characters, portrayed within a web of relations—affective, sexual, financial, and intellectual—although they often obstruct the normal functioning of those connections. Gimcracks ignore society and social demands in favor of studying insects. And coquettes refuse to cede their moment of agency on the marriage market by endlessly deferring the choice of a husband. Through their interactions with others, these characters reveal the social embeddedness of scientific practice, both its costs and benefits.

The Gimcracks and coquettes in this chapter appear in dramas and periodicals, respectively, a fact that provides an occasion to consider the genres’ affinities. Of course, drama and periodicals have distinct conventions and expectations, evident in drama’s links to playhouse culture and the periodical’s proliferation through print media. However, I focus on their common investment in performance as a literary device.1 The literary characterization of Gimcracks and coquettes relies on performance to explain their coherence, motivation, and expression; they are individuals performing roles to advance their self-interest. Plays and periodicals share features that instructively relate to the practice of natural philosophy: these genres implicitly imagine sociability, whether in the form of audience members or readers, and they enact vivid examples of affective relations. Drama allows the opportunity to witness a character in a social context, interacting with others and maneuvering according to the dictates of the author’s plot. Plays provide a special view of the experimental philosopher in company and in relation to his or her other social roles. While theatricality in natural philosophy credentials practitioners and advocates, theatricality in plays with Gimcracks locates the operation of science in a larger social network.2 In the production of scientific knowledge, performance acts as the means of acquiring consensus and credibility; on the playhouse stage, performance functions as a mechanism that reveals and determines social relations. Performance in the genre of the periodical, in which the coquette frequently appears, is a mode of observational behavior. Eidolons import theatricality into print, as they draw on the rhetoric of display and disclosure to convey meaning. The tension between experimental philosophy and the periodical brings to light competing modes of ocularity and a metacritical discourse on observation and authority.

I begin this chapter by discussing the quality of immodesty in the literary archive of the long eighteenth century, demonstrating that it is a photographic negative of the idealized modest witness that practitioners of experimental philosophy imagine. Scientific instrumentation and observation always run the risk of deviating into the terrain of the immodest, whether as a vehicle solely for self-aggrandizement or through the eroticization of the body. I then turn to the theatrical Gimcrack, a character first imagined by Thomas Shadwell in The Virtuoso and who has a long afterlife in plays, poems, and periodicals. The Gimcracks I consider—Shadwell’s Sir Nicholas Gimcrack, James Miller’s Lady Science, and Susannah Centlivre’s Valeria—are all self-interested observers intent on blocking systems of sociability. Gender here plays an important, revelatory role: Gimcracks are ordinarily men, but female Gimcracks uncover the plasticity of the characterization and the social relations that natural philosophy puts at stake. I conclude with a discussion of the periodical’s coquette, who might seem to be an unlikely player in the discourses of natural philosophy. The coquette in the Spectator and the Female Spectator serves both as an example of the shared trivialness and self-delusion of the beau monde and the experimental project, and as a paragon for the necessity of this self-interested viewpoint to observe and appreciate the natural and social worlds. The coquette can be an object of futile scientific scrutiny, or she can express and even acquire the moral quality of good taste by devoting herself to natural philosophy. Taken together, these immodest witnesses bear out the logic of self-interest undergirding claims to objectivity, revealing its limitations and contradictions, as well as the literariness of their characterizations that in some instances promise superior insight.


The modest witness of natural philosophy is attentive and self-effacing, devoted to producing credible information about natural phenomena. The concept of the modest witness draws on metaphoric language and thinking to make this subject position possible. And the modest witness ends up being a winner of history—it is the source of modern scientific objectivity. However, the alternative discourse of the virtuoso as an immodest witness emerged alongside the modest witness and came to function as its cultural and ideological antithesis.3 Some seventeenth-century skeptics even suspected that the modest witness might actually devolve into a virtuoso.

The term virtuoso was first recorded in English in 1598 and was not closely allied with natural philosophy until the 1640s; by the 1660s, it connoted an exclusively scientific interest.4 Robert Boyle uses the term in New Experiments Physico-Mechanical: Touching the Spring of the Air and their Effects (1661) when recounting a German experiment, a citational practice that demonstrates the cosmopolitanism of experimental philosophy, the networks of authority on which it relies, and the significance of virtual witnessing. The German practitioner is a “great Virtuoso”: “And a Learned Man a while since inform’d me, That a great Virtuoso, friend to us both, has, with not unlike success, tryed the same Experiment in the lower and upper parts of a Mountain in the West of England.”5 The ranks of “a Learned Man” and “a great Virtuoso” are explicit signals that Boyle’s claims are built on already-established privileges and authority. To be a virtuoso, one needed wealth and leisure; “he is a gentleman.”6

As evident in Boyle’s account, virtuoso originally had positive associations, referring to a man of learning. However, once the Royal Society acquired its first charter in 1662, the meaning of the term quickly transformed into a person engaged in “futile and indiscriminate study.”7 In this later sense, the virtuoso was understood to be motivated by a desire for reputation and social standing, even “snob-appeal.”8 Mary Astell, when discussing the “Character of a Virtuoso,” asks, “What Knowledge is it? What Discoveries do we owe to their Labours? It is only the Discovery of some few unheeded Varieties of Plants, Shells, or Insects, unheeded only because useless.”9 When John Dryden’s character Sir Martin Marr-All, in the play of the same name, pretentiously announces that he is known as a virtuoso, his companion comedically asks, “Is not Vertue enough, without O so?”10 The connotation persisted well into the eighteenth century: Samuel Johnson’s The Idler parodies the attempts of one “Tim. Ranger” to fashion himself into a “fine Gentleman” by becoming a virtuoso.11

Two poems published within a year of each other exemplify the potential blurring of the modest witness and the immodest one, between the virtuoso who is admired and one who is maligned. Both titled “The Microscope,” these poems imagine microscopic views for markedly different ends. Tipping Silvester’s 1733 poem celebrates polite science. Silvester’s “The Microscope” figuratively represents the experience of examining natural phenomena under the microscope, including a bee, a spider, a fly, a silkworm, and various liquids. Silvester contrasts the sights under a microscope to the limited vision of artists, concluding that art without the microscope produces “pleasing Error” and, with it, “gross Defects.”12 Under the microscope, engravings of grape vines on a silver cup are roughly and coarsely hewn, grotesque even. Artists are the tricksters of early modern image making, and Silvester turns to reprimand women as exemplars of such dissembling. In the mode that Swift made famous in “The Lady’s Dressing Room” (1732), Silvester turns the microscope on women’s clothes, hair, fingernails, and hands, imagining women enraged by the microscopic revelation that female beauty is superficial and cannot sustain further inspection: “if by chance their dirty Nails they spy,/Their scaly Hands, and brisly Hairs; O fie!”13 The labor and magic of the toilet vanish in the magnified view.

The previous year, another poem of the same name was published in Female Inconstancy Display’d (1732). The anonymous “The Microscope” tells the story of an absent-minded father, a natural philosopher who has succumbed to the allure of the microscope to examine “Flies and Maggots by the Hour.”14 The microscope is an appropriate prosthetic for a man who cannot see beyond his own nose. The character of the distracted, self-involved scientist was often portrayed as declining the normal obligations of polite society, selfishly abdicating convention, and squandering the privileges and fortunes of a gentleman.15 The father’s fascination with the natural world in “The Microscope” unveils his obliviousness to the social world. But if the father is blind, the poem is not. Elaborating what the father cannot see, “The Microscope” pictures “Which way his Daughters were inclin’d.”16 Sally and Jenny’s inclination is explicitly erotic: they experiment “For Lechery and Learning sake,” turning the microscope to measure their sleeping brother’s penis and then using it to view one of their own vaginas.17

The contrast between these two poems demonstrates that scientific instrumentation could be imagined as modest and immodest. Even with Silvester’s Swiftian interlude to scrutinize female beauty, his microscope remains a stable, reliable tool for knowledge production, promoting optical scrutiny and the aesthetics of the natural world. In the other “The Microscope,” Sally and Jenny reduce the optical instrument to an erotic plaything. The explicit sexualization of “The Microscope” might seem surprising, but it is analogous to Gulliver’s bawdy experiences in Voyage II of Gulliver’s Travels, wherein he synecdochally becomes a microscope examining naked ladies-in-waiting.18

My juxtaposition of the two microscope poems also intends to underscore that eroticism, particularly masturbatory eroticism, was written into microscopy from its early usage. Antoni van Leeuwenhoek’s specimens included human semen, the microscopic examination of which yielded the discovery of human spermatozoa in 1677, findings he published in Philosophical Transactions the following year.19 In 1718, Alexander Pope met a Mr. Hatton, a clockmaker “who is like wise curious in microscopes and [who] showed my mother some of the semen masculinum, with animascula in it.”20 And Henry Baker includes a chapter on the “Animalcules in Semine Masculino,” with engravings of seven samples, in The Microscope Made Easy (1742); it draws heavily on Leeuwenhoek’s work.21 Even within the practice of a credentialed and influential modest witness, immodesty—in this case, the sexualized body, regardless of gender—is always possible.

Gimcracks and coquettes are defined by an inability to overcome prejudice and desires, speaking for himself or herself rather than for the object. Rather than conclude that immodest witnesses are merely failures, merely bad scientists, I analyze them for the observational practices they imply. Drawing on techniques of literary convention including characterization, plot, and the imagination, numerous writers of the long eighteenth century embrace, rather than deny, the witness’s inherent immodesty.


The proper noun Gimcrack was widely associated with buffoonish virtuosi throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: it was a synonym for a bad scientist. Sir Nicholas Gimcrack is the lead character in Thomas Shadwell’s 1676 play, The Virtuoso. After Hooke attended a performance of the play on June 12, 1676, at Dorset Garden, he complained in his diary that the audience knew the characterization of “Sir Nicholas Gimcrack, F. R. S.” satirized him: “Damned dogs. Vindica me Deux. People almost pointed.”22 His peers and acquaintances peppered him with questions about the play, drawing out the allusion. Hooke was an astute choice for Shadwell’s satire. Many of the Royal Society’s weekly meetings, especially during its first two decades, involved staging experiments and reading about others, work that heavily depended on Hooke’s labor and expertise.23 Due to his publications and roles within the organization, Hooke was the public face of experimentalism. But Hooke’s status was precarious. He was vulnerable to being viewed as a professional mechanic rather than a gentlemanly natural philosopher. And he “lost” the seventeenth-century public relations battle for scientific innovation to Isaac Newton.24

Shadwell’s characterization was prescient, for the character Gimcrack lingered in the long eighteenth-century literary archive.25 As we shall see, the “afterlife,” or “imaginative expansion,” of Gimcrack is rich and varied, pointing to this literary character’s timeliness, resilience, and pliability.26 In Reflections upon Ancient and Modern Learning, William Wotton refers to Gimcrack as an embarrassment, complaining of “the sly Insinuations of the Men of Wit, That no great Things have ever, or are ever likely to be perform’d by the Men of Gresham, and, That every Man whom they call a Virtuoso, must needs be a Sir Nicolas Gimcrack.”27 In their satires, William Congreve, Joseph Addison, and John Hildrop caricature Gimcrack.28 Gimcrack captures a variety of imaginative possibilities, from his first appearance on stage—as an occasion for Hooke’s humiliation in the theater—to texts serious and satiric, pedantic and playful. What is it about the original Sir Nicholas Gimcrack in Shadwell’s The Virtuoso that generates such a literary heritage?

The answer resides in Shadwell’s literary strategy: Gimcrack’s characterization. This is an independent yet deluded gentleman who fritters away his time and wealth on nonsensical experiments. His ultimate failing is not that he is obsessed with experimental philosophy, but that he is obsessed with experimental philosophy at the expense of his other duties and responsibilities as a wealthy gentleman and guardian. Through a vast number of examples, humorous in their extravagance, the play ensures that Gimcrack’s expenditures of financial and social capital are seen as ludicrous, even worthy of censure. Gimcrack exhausts a substantial portion of his income on expensive specimens and instruments, including, his nieces complain, £2,000 on “microscopes, telescopes, thermometers, barometers, pneumatic engines, strentrophonical tubes, and the like.”29 On a smaller financial scale, Gimcrack spends 10 shillings each on eggs, hoodwinked into believing they have hair on them. Other curiosities include a spider that he claims to have tamed and to have taught that it was named “Nick” (after him); a vault stocked with bottles of air from around England, air that he boasts is of various weights; and rotten wood and putrid flesh that he vows produce light enough for reading. We first meet him in his study learning to swim. The location is not unexpected, for the home was the primary site of experimental philosophy in the seventeenth century.30 Yet the sight of Gimcrack lying prone on his library desk, imitating the movements of a frog in a bowl of water next to him, is comedic and satiric. He scoffs at the idea of practicing in a pool: “I content myself with the speculative part of swimming; I care not for the practic. I seldom bring any thing to use, ‘tis not my way. Knowledge is my ultimate end” (II.ii.84–86). Sir Formal Trifle, an adoring orator, quickly adds, “To study for use is base and mercenary” (II.ii.89). The obviously erroneous quality of Gimcrack’s observations provides a hearty rejoinder to his statement that “Knowledge is my ultimate end.” The character Gimcrack is defined by his desire for any kind of purportedly experimental knowledge that in turn blinds him to actual observable phenomena.

If Gimcrack is focused on what he thinks he sees, then the play is designed to show us what he refuses to notice. Gimcrack announces, “’Tis below a virtuoso to trouble himself with men and manners. I study insects” (III.iii.86–89), but “men and manners”—that is, matters of one’s socially experienced life, including affective and sexual relations—plague him. The Virtuoso, like so many of Shadwell’s other plays, imagines uncontrolled female sexuality and desire.31 Gimcrack’s own marriage binds him to a wife (his second) known for her sexual promiscuity. His nieces mock Lady Gimcrack for her sexual experience and pretensions, and Lady Gimcrack later has quick liaisons with their beaus.

Most of the transactions between the play’s characters are determined by their desire for sex, and Shadwell engineers the plots so that most are ridiculed or pilloried. The marriages of the nieces are socially legitimate forms of sexual desire, but these are comparatively minor events in the play, haphazardly arranged. Even these are subject to the imperatives of performance: because Gimcrack refuses to allow any sort of marriage plot for his nieces, Clarinda and Miranda, their suitors, Bruce and Longville, pretend to be virtuosos to visit the Gimcrack household. The young men take up the traditional roles of the clever and resourceful beaux, determined to find a way around an obstinate guardian. Their full-bodied parody of natural philosophy matches Gimcrack’s earnest, if self-interested, performance in tone and effect. From the guardian’s blinded, self-interested point of view, these men are perfect acolytes.

With all of this plotting and counter plotting, The Virtuoso stages sexual farce. But the play also imagines the origin of Gimcrack’s obtuseness: his passion for natural philosophy, as superficial and misguided as it is, is the primary cause of his demise. Gimcrack’s experimentalism is a vehicle for his self-aggrandizement. Craving more fawning and praise from Bruce and Longville, Gimcrack begins to make far-fetched claims about the effects of various inventions. For example, a “speaking trumpet” or a “stentrophonical tube” (V.ii.43, 44) will replace clergy, allowing one parson to preach to the entire country and the monarchy to seize church lands. This same invention could eliminate the need for ambassadors and their expense to the state. Gimcrack’s bragging about technology replacing people begins to circulate beyond his domestic orbit and elicits a particularly dangerous response from the laboring classes: a mob of ribbon weavers protests that Gimcrack’s proposed mechanical loom will leave them without work. In hasty and frightened response to the threats of the crowd, Gimcrack renounces the utility of experimental philosophy altogether: “Hear me, Gentlemen, I never invented an engine in my life. As Gad shall sa’ me you do me wrong. I never invented so much as an engine to pare cream cheese with. We virtuosos never find out any thing of use, ‘tis not our way” (V.iii.76–79). Shadwell may have been alluding to a 1675 uprising of silk weavers who were protesting the invention of an automatic loom, a historic example of labor unrest and social upheaval in the face of scientific advancement.32

Whether the threat of protest is too potent or too irrelevant for the play to contemplate, the threat of a mob attack serves another purpose, for it precipitates the dramatization of the sexual and domestic costs of experimental philosophy. The undoing of Sir Nicholas hinges on his embrace of science. He has been too preoccupied with experiments and with talking about them to notice that his wife is as unfaithful to their marriage as he is. The couple find themselves in a scene of mutual discovery and they reach a stalemate of accusation, each spouse pretending to be injured by the other’s sexual infidelity. Even these conjugal betrayals do not tell the whole story: through asides, the audience learns that the spouses’ lovers, Flirt and Hazard, have been having their own affair. Once the nieces are paired off with their suitors, the play stages a final showdown between Sir Nicholas and Lady Gimcrack. The virtuoso swears to his wife that he’ll be “reveng’d on all your lewdness” and Lady Gimcrack promises the same ( Gimcrack attempts to throw his wife out of the house and replace her with Flirt, but his outburst has no effect: Lady Gimcrack announces that she is financially independent with “a settlement for separate maintenance” and that she has proof of his criminal conversation ( Sir Nicholas, with little bargaining power of his own, both offers and asks for forgiveness: without missing a beat, he preposterously offers a truce at the moment he is outwitted.

Abject as he is, the play swiftly compounds Gimcrack’s sexual humiliation in financial terms. The Steward announces, “Several engineers, glassmakers, and other people you have dealt with for experiments” have seized “all your estate in the country” (–29). Grasping for something to save him, Gimcrack turns again to Lady Gimcrack, now looking at her as a source of income, and repeats his promise to forgive her. Lady Gimcrack’s rejection of his now wholly worthless offer is complete: “No, Sir, I thank you; my settlement is without incumbrance” ( And Snarl—Gimcrack’s uncle—turns out to have just married his own mistress, Figgup, thus ensuring that Gimcrack will not inherit Snarl’s estate. Gimcrack’s final economic alternative resides in his nieces, and so he proposes that they lend him money. Clearly having already sensed a bad money manager in their uncle (among his other flaws), Miranda and Clarinda defer to their new financial guardians, their husbands. With his monetary future doomed, Sir Nicholas tries to comfort himself by reflecting that he still has Flirt. But Flirt has no interest in an impoverished lover. “Deserted by all,” Gimcrack is left with only his experimental philosophy to comfort him ( Humbled, Sir Nicholas promises to reform, vowing to devote himself to practical study. The play concludes with Gimcrack claiming that experimental philosophy must be for utility rather than merely for speculation and its associated pleasures: “Well, now ’tis time to study for use: I will presently find out the philosopher’s stone; I had like to have gotten it last year, but that I wanted May-dew, being a dry season” (–32).

The objects of the play’s critique are various. In terms of experimental philosophy, Gimcrack’s enthusiasm for fancy and speculation are absurd in the face of common sense. While experiments to him are always grounded in the material world and are not, in essence, instances of magical thinking, divine intervention, or astounding miracles, they are presented to the audience and to the majority of the characters in the play as outlandish and fundamentally unbelievable. They seem to be imaginable, following the encouragement of natural philosophical advocates, but they are too imaginative to be real. Missing from Gimcrack’s practice is the authenticating process practiced by the modest witness, in which experiments were considered a performance subject to collective adjudication. In the world of The Virtuoso, everyone performs to advance his or her own self-interest. The authorizing structure built into the production of natural philosophical knowledge is reduced to a parodic performance in the scenes where Bruce and Longville pretend to agree with Gimcrack only so they may be close to Clarinda and Miranda.

Is the play’s point that Gimcrack is a fool or that experimental philosophy is foolish? One could argue that the play imagines experimental philosophy could be enacted legitimately, in which case the problem here is merely Sir Nicholas’s selfishness and shortsightedness.33 His vanity all too easily allows him to replace a collective of like-minded experimentalists with the flattering tones of Sir Formal, Bruce, and Longville. But The Virtuoso also implies that the practice of experimental philosophy encourages and even requires such buffoonish and self-interested behavior. The Virtuoso does not merely make Gimcrack a blinded fool who could, but does not, practice science well: the sexual plotting of Shadwell’s play suggests that experimental philosophy is yet another form of self-interested folly. The play wraps up with Gimcrack financially depleted and sexually abandoned. He seems to learn a little bit by the end, but this is a limited and parodic reformation. The lesson Gimcrack takes away from his humiliations is that he needs experimental philosophy to produce for him, to effect tangible results. The possibility of Gimcrack being productive, however, is unlikely. The cumulative effect of these disgraces is that natural philosophy is a nongenerative activity. Within a play dramatizing so many forms of sexual plotting, Shadwell’s message is clear: experimental philosophy is epistemologically dubious and socially destructive, for it simultaneously impedes the circulation of wealth and the reproduction of the family.

Shadwell’s literary descendent, James Miller, transforms the character of Sir Nicholas Gimcrack into a woman, Lady Science, in order to insist on natural philosophy’s intellectual and social legitimacy. Miller’s play, The Humours of Oxford (1730), bears out the fruitlessness, inappropriateness, and inaccuracies of experimental practice when taken up by a woman. The change of Gimcrack’s gender enables a plot that polices scientific women as interlopers and emphasizes the social relations that such female characters threaten, in effect signaling a danger well beyond the ignominy that Sir Nicholas suffers.

Miller’s Lady Science is a wealthy widow with a marriageable daughter; her niece makes the connection to Shadwell’s original by mocking her aunt as “Lady Gimcrack.”34 For Lady Science, science is a metaphor, always conveying figurative connotations. In this, Lady Science performs the literariness embedded in natural philosophy as a theory and practice. But her success as a natural philosopher ends here. We meet Lady Science mid-lament: “I profess it grieves me to the very Center of my Heart, to think that I have any Mode of Relation to such an empty Cilinder, such an exhausted Receiver—Surely, we need no longer doubt the Existence of a Vacuum; for the Skulls of the young Girls and Fops of this Age, are Demonstrations sufficient of it” (12–13). Lady Science’s characterization of fashionable society through metaphors of instrumentation conflates the now-familiar air pump experiments with a dramatic stock-in-trade, a stalwart of the older generation lamenting the manners and attitudes of the current age. From the guardian’s point of view, the next generation is as weightless as a vacuum, a metaphor that evokes a concept from experimental philosophy to make social commentary.

Lady Science’s conclusions about the beau monde may well be apt, but she is characterized as a fool, a scientific Mrs. Malaprop. If experimental philosophy represents a mode of knowing and understanding the natural world, then the joke The Humours of Oxford develops is that Lady Science’s words consistently, and comically, reveal precious little knowing and even less understanding. Lady Science utters scientific words without recognizing their meanings, bending natural philosophical language to her own self-interested and self-deluded ends. When she meets a potential suitor for her daughter, who pretends he is a fellow naturalist to gain her approval, Lady Science queries, “Which Hypothesis are you of—the Ptolemaick, or Copernican?” and “Have you any Skill in Judicial Astrology—I think it absolutely necessary, for one who has a Family, to be a considerable Proficient in that useful Science” (57, 58). The point of Lady Science’s characterization is that she has been caught up in science merely as a novelty. Clarinda, her niece, lampoons Lady Science’s devotion to natural philosophy as substituting one form of frivolous fashion and novelty for another. It is as if “a Beau [were] encompass’d with Telescopes and Globes, instead of Looking-Glasses, and Peruke-Blocks; and a Coquette with Euclid and Newton on her Toilet, instead of Waller and Congreve; and stript of all her Patches, to mark the Planets in the Solar System, ha, ha!” (13). If beaux and coquettes were to take up experimental philosophy and to trade their looking glasses and peruke blocks for telescopes and globes, it would only be in an attempt to out-fashion each other once again. In Miller’s universe, this competition would evacuate natural philosophy of intellectual significance, even though science’s fashionability was one of its powerful and alluring connotations. Clarinda’s witty description insinuates that the social context of the beau monde forestalls a genuine engagement with substantive intellectual work and practice. The implication is that Lady Science could just as easily have become ensnared in cards, liquor, sex, or any other form of urban dissipation. As we saw in Chapter 1, the naturalist Henry Baker made a similar point in his advocacy of scientific practice, but he did so to insist on its superiority. For Miller, Lady Science’s devotion to natural philosophy embodies self-pleasure, self-indulgence, and self-delusion.

The Humours of Oxford links its satiric characterization of Lady Science as a fool to a deep discomfort with her power and independence as a widow. Her self-aggrandizement leads her to believe she is a natural philosopher; her wealth provides the resources to pursue this fiction, enabling her, for example, to take up residence in Oxford “that she might be within the Pales of Parnassus, and at the Fountain-head of Erudition” (3). As a mother and a widow, Lady Science has the legal, social, and ethical right to determine her daughter’s future. Yet she is an intransigent and silly guardian who, in the logic of the play’s plot, must be tricked. She refuses to inform Victoria of a £10,000 inheritance from Victoria’s grandmother and takes an unyieldingly patriarchal approach to her daughter’s amatory prospects: “Pray, Mistress, who taught you to have any Inclinations but what I think proper?” (46). Victoria must obey all her mother’s whims or risk being cut off, which Lady Science does anyway in Act V.

Following the model of Shadwell’s Bruce and Longville, who purport to be virtuosos to gain the favor of an inflexible guardian, Victoria’s suitor pretends to be “Mr. Mudbrains,” a “Fellow of Brazen-Nose-College” (46). In their interview, Lady Science’s misunderstandings of scientific ideas and discoveries are flagrant, even though she self-consciously justifies her queries with the claim that “in the Disposal of my Daughter I am principally concern’d for the Improvement of her Intellectual Faculties” (57). Lady Science explains her hope that Victoria will be altered into a version of herself, urging “Mr. Mudbrains” to “use your utmost Endeavours to make her more like her Mother” (59). From Lady Science’s point of view, such a transformation would ensure Victoria’s position; from everyone else’s, of course, it would render her a fool. If Lady Science’s hopes for Victoria are self-interested, then so too is her perception of Gainwell-as-Mr.-Mudbrains. She sees herself in him: “I perceive this is a Man of very great Learning (for he thinks and saith just as I do)” (58). Lady Science is so blinded by her self-image that she cannot see the facts in front of her, not even that Gainwell is wearing a pillow under his coat and telling her only what she wants to hear. She finds Mr. Mudbrains appropriate because he mimics what she believes about the world and, more important, about herself. Enhancing the comedy and satire, when she questions the young suitor, he only occasionally affirms “absolutely” or mumbles a list of similar nouns; more frequently, she answers for him. If one considers the interview an opportunity for Lady Science to evaluate this young man—to conduct, as it were, an experiment to determine Gainwell’s suitability as a match for her daughter—then it of course fails miserably. Lady Science’s assessment of Gainwell merely confirms her opinions, biases, and image. The play heightens its ridicule of Lady Science by having Gainwell’s ruse discovered by an idiot, one Ape-all, “an Oxford Scholar, a trifling ridiculous Fop, affecting Dress and Lewdness, and a Contemner of Learning” (x). Lady Science may be perfectly convinced by Gainwell’s garbled and sycophantic responses, but even a bona-fide fool can figure out the truth.

Lady Science’s flaw is not merely that she is a vain, selfish, and deluded guardian. It is also that she is a woman. The play’s censure and reformation of Lady Science concentrate on her gender, punishing her with amatory humiliation. Haughty, a college fellow, pretends to admire Lady Science but only for her £50,000, and she, in turn, warmly welcomes his attention. She is seduced by his seemingly learned company, which in fact replicates the dynamic of rhetorical assent played out in her interview with Gainwell. Haughty vehemently takes her side in the debate with Clarinda (and, to a lesser extent, Victoria) about the worth of natural philosophy (21–23). Drawn to Haughty’s image of her, Lady Science agrees to what turns out to be a sham marriage, the truth of which is disclosed by the appearance of Haughty’s wife shortly thereafter. Humiliated, Lady Science faints. When she recovers, she swiftly reprimands herself: “I am justly made a Fool of” (79). Her remorse does not focus merely on having been tricked by her misguided desire for Haughty, but also on her ill-formed aspiration, as a woman, to “be a Philosopher” (79). The problem that Lady Science represents is scientific thinking in the wrong hands: Lady Science fails to understand it properly and also uses this ill-learned habit merely to promote herself as fashionable. Intellectually and socially, she fails. She has a dull mind and is fooled easily by the machinations of others.

Lady Science’s womanhood opens her to an even sharper punishment within the logic of Miller’s play. She is not merely humiliated by her fake marriage to Haughty. She is also subject to a searing rebuke from the normative Gainwell, who announces that “The Dressing-Room, not the Study, is the Lady’s Province—and a Woman makes as ridiculous a Figure poring over Globes, or thro’ a Telescope, as a Man would with a Pair of Preservers mending Lace” (79). Gainwell’s spatialization of gender difference utilizes a conservative eighteenth-century ideology that associates beautification with women and intellectual production with men, a figuration challenged by the complexity of the dressing room trope.35

The marriage plot of The Humours of Oxford depends on Lady Science’s shaming and reformation, for only then might she be powerless to impede Victoria’s match with Gainwell. She shares humiliation with her literary predecessor, Sir Nicholas Gimcrack, but she deviates from his path when she rejects natural philosophy altogether. Sir Nicholas promises to become a good scientist, as unlikely as this may be; Lady Science vows to abandon it altogether. While the action of the play moves quickly at this point, taking only a few minutes longer to conclude, Lady Science’s pledge to give up natural philosophy is markedly belabored and takes up a sizeable amount of time on stage:

I will destroy all my Globes, Quadrants, Spheres, Prisms, Microscopes, and Magick-Lanthorns—I’ll throw out all my Lumber of Load-stones, Peble, and Petrified Shells, to pave my Door—I’ll convert my Air-Pump into a Water-Pump, send all my Serpent’s Teeth, Mummy’s-Bones, and monstrous Births, to the Oxford Museum; for the Entertainment of other as ridiculous Fools as my self; and then I will immediately fly from this abominable Place. (79)

When Lady Science promises to speak no longer of natural philosophy, she does so with an inventory of how she will extract it from her life—destroying, repurposing, or disposing of her instruments and specimens. The almost excessive detail of her concluding speech seems to connote a thorough refashioning of Lady Science before she will “fly,” but suggests an uneasy, even anxious desire on the part of the playwright to eradicate the material objects that have represented the widow’s self-interest—along with all evidence that she was able to act on this self-interest. The peculiar thoroughness of the play’s repudiation of Lady Science in these concluding lines suggests that the capacity of a widow to assert her self-interest through the languages of science, though not successful in this instance, retains a particularly unsettling potential.

Sir Nicholas Gimcrack and Lady Science hold the power of wealth and guardianship in their respective plays, and the dramas use natural philosophy in obviously ridiculous ways to undo that knot of self-interested and self-perpetuating authority. In the examples of Sir Nicholas Gimcrack and Lady Science, Shadwell and Miller repudiate experimental philosophy as selfish and nongenerative. Both characters are domineering, self-interested fools who bend their social worlds to their delusions. Nevertheless, their failures differ. Lady Science exposes herself as a bad scientist, and Sir Nicholas subject to the bad influence of science. The dramatic unfolding of these breakdowns offers the audience an opportunity to witness situations that by necessity require remedying. Shadwell’s and Miller’s plays cannot end without such renunciations: natural philosophy introduces problems that the plotting—of the dramatist and of other characters—must solve.

In The Virtuoso and The Humours of Oxford, the Gimcrack character has financial and legal independence, conditions that ease a lifestyle devoted to experimental philosophy. Centlivre’s The Basset-Table (1705) alternatively turns to an individual without guaranteed social power, but for whom the practice of science has the potential to facilitate a self-determination that might otherwise be impossible legally, financially, or morally. The character Valeria does not have an independent fortune nor does she maintain legal independence. She is the unmarried daughter of a boorish and old-fashioned squire, Sir Richard. Early in the play, a potential suitor calls her a “Philosophical Gimcrack.”36 Valeria lives as Lady Science recommends in The Humours of Oxford: she inhabits the beau monde as a devotee of natural philosophy. But Centlivre’s Gimcrack is earnest, not frivolous, and serious, rather than misguided.

For Centlivre, the practice of experimental philosophy is an opportunity to redefine what a fashionable young woman’s life might be. Valeria transforms her dressing room into a domestic laboratory where she uses her prized microscope to perform experiments on various specimens, including a “huge Flesh Fly” (a present from her beau, Mr. Lovely) and a fish that she begins to dissect under the microscope (217, 227). To acquire suitable specimens, Valeria sends her servants out for vermin and turns normally fashionable accoutrements into gross bodily matter. She reports with pride that she has “dissected [her] Dove” and tries to trade a piece of jewelry for her cousin’s “Italian Greyhound” (218). Valeria consistently transforms materials of female fashionability and sophistication into objects for scientific scrutiny. While Lady Science is told to leave the gentleman’s study and stay in her dressing room, ironically, the unmarried and dependent Valeria has the freedom to define her dressing room as a laboratory. Her dressing room is not a site of theatricality, artifice, or illicit sexuality, but rather evokes the space’s figurative and historic associations with women’s education, autonomy, and possible independence.37

Valeria’s dedication to natural philosophy is not merely an isolated or idiosyncratic characterization, for it occurs within the larger social possibilities envisaged in The Basset-Table. Valeria’s story is a subplot in a play devoted to representing women’s inclinations. The main action concerns Lady Reveller’s basset table, a place where fortunes and reputations are raised and dashed with a turn of the cards. Gambling was tied to aristocratic self-display and to the possibility that gamblers were merely performing that identity. A vehicle for the unpredictable transfer of wealth, the gaming table threatened to undo traditional social hierarchies because participants, such as the underclass or women, could acquire power through this newfound, if “irrationally” acquired, wealth.38 In The Basset-Table, Centlivre knots gambling to female agency. Lady Reveller rebuffs her uncle’s censure by insisting on her autonomy: “Lookye, Uncle, do what you can, I’m resolv’d to follow my own Inclinations” (206).

Read in relation to the play’s main gambling plot with its performative display of rank and power, irrational circulation of wealth, and potential to upend social hierarchies, Valeria’s experimental philosophy should also be considered a performance. It is a form of play and self-fashioning, a means for a young woman to articulate and manage her self-interest and value. Valeria’s experiments also function figuratively: her practice of science enables her to imagine her own self-determination. When enacted by an authority figure such as Sir Nicholas Gimcrack or Lady Science, the effects are obstructionist. When performed by one who does not have the assurance of authority, wealth, or privilege, the results make possible a self-interest that these structures and institutions by definition deny. Valeria refuses her lover’s proposal that they elope and explains that her angry father will destroy her laboratory: “What,” she asks, “and leave my Microscope, and all my Things, for my Father to break in Pieces?” (228). Her refusal is to the point. Centlivre not only displaces paternalistic fury from the daughter’s body onto her belongings and presents the specter of the patriarch’s tyrannical authority (only to undermine it later, when her father is bamboozled to accept Lovely), but also gives Valeria the language to insist on her worth apart from the marriage market. By transforming her dressing room into a laboratory and her luxury goods into specimens and by valuing her “Microscope, and all [her] Things” more than an elopement with Mr. Lovely, Valeria momentarily at least holds on to her self-fashioning as a virtuosa devoted to—and safeguarded by—her own theater of experimental philosophy. In many ways, Valeria can be viewed as proto-feminist.39

Valeria may be determined to follow her inclinations in her dressing room/laboratory, but Centlivre’s endorsement of the virtuosa in The Basset-Table is uneven, seemingly tolerant but not unequivocal. While Valeria is not humiliated or exposed as Gimcrack and Lady Science are by the end of The Virtuoso and The Humours of Oxford, she is not fully successful within the play. This young Gimcrack epitomizes Centlivre’s “feminist individualism,” which introduces the possibility of female agency only to explore its contradictions.40 Valeria’s characterization leaves her susceptible to her lover and vulnerable to her father. For all that she practices scrutiny of the natural world, Valeria cannot see Lovely’s motives. She believes he shares her enthusiasm for natural philosophy, but his lack of interest is evident to the play’s audience when she invites him to peer into her microscope: “O Mr. Lovely! come, come here, look through this Glass, and see how the Blood circulates in the Tale of this Fish” (227). His response calls attention to the erotic, rather than philosophical, nature of his attentions: “Wonderful! but it Circulates prettier in this fair Neck” (227). Valeria’s dressing room to Lovely is a place for sexual play and indulgence, a figure for female sexuality. Lovely is not only uninterested but also only indulging Valeria’s fancy for experimentalism until he can secure her acceptance. After Valeria announces that she has discovered a tapeworm in a dog’s cadaver, he mutters, “I wish they be not got into thy Brain,” and then quickly recovers himself to flatter her, “Oh you charm me with these Discoveries” (227). One need only recall Mr. Lovely’s opening conversation with his friends, in which he brags that he makes fun of her experiments behind her back. A cad at heart, Lovely believes that he “deserve[s] her by mere dint of Patience” (210). The motivation for Lovely’s attention? Wealth. Valeria is worth £20,000 to her future husband, and Lovely, a soldier, needs to raise his own fortune.

A second way that Centlivre diminishes Valeria’s agency is in relation to her father: her attempts at self-determination are sharply curtailed by Sir Richard, who dreams of English colonial expansion and values his daughter exclusively in those terms. To him, she is merely a reproductive machine for the first empire. The Basset-Table attaches a desire for empire to the domestic concern of a daughter’s marriage, forging a relationship between colonial and national concerns that shapes many plays of the period.41 When approached by the fictitious “Captain Match” (Valeria’s beloved, Mr. Lovely, in disguise), Sir Richard delights in the idea that his daughter will marry a sailor bound to travel and who, like himself, hates the French. The prospect of an alliance between Valeria and “Captain Match” warms Sir Richard’s jingoistic, patriarchal heart. To him, Valeria is a vehicle for her father’s descendants who will help to found a global Britannia; he muses that his grandsons (and they will be grandsons) will be “Heroes of my Nation.—Boys, all Boys,—and all Soldiers./They shall the Pride of France pull down, / And add their Indies to our English Crown” (241). Sir Richard’s inclination is to produce a militaristic legacy to enlarge the dominion of the nascent British Empire, with little care for his future son-in-law’s fortune, much less his daughter’s thoughts; for him, the goal is to recuperate the patriarchal loss that a daughter institutes in the newly capitalistic economy of the eighteenth century.42 He views that compensation in imperialistic terms.

If we read The Basset-Table solely through characterization, Valeria’s experimental philosophy offers only a temporary and ultimately unsuccessful means through which she pursues her amatory and intellectual inclinations. Indeed, Sir Richard increases the pressure on Valeria to the point of forcing her into marriage, although she does not know that Captain Match is actually her beloved Lovely. But the question of Centlivre’s view of Valeria’s experimental philosophy is not exclusively evident in the heiress’s characterization and requires that we turn to the narrative of the play’s plot. Centlivre’s plots won praise from her contemporary critics, most notably Richard Steele in the Tatler, who admires their “Subtilty of Spirit.”43 Centlivre’s plots reflect her views of society and function as a means to improve social relations.44 Plot in Centlivre’s plays is a site of ideological critique and reformulation, “imagining how the bold strokes of theatrical action might render the plots of patriarchy obsolete.”45 Plot, moreover, is a form of literary knowledge: it produces story.

In The Basset-Table, Centlivre’s plotting ensures that Valeria may maintain her two inclinations—experimental philosophy and Lovely. Centlivre’s plotting also stymies Sir Richard’s attempts to throw his fortune and his daughter’s future into the service of the fledgling empire. In the face of these plots, The Basset-Table locates Valeria’s sense of independence in experimental philosophy: it allows Valeria to thwart the conventions of female sociability and fashion, and also gives her the intellectual means of valuing herself outside the marriage market. With Lovely’s ruse to trick Sir Richard almost complete, and of which Valeria remains unaware, she continues to refuse her assent. Sir Richard scoffs at his daughter in revealing terms: “Ay, you and your Will may philosophize as long as you please,—Mistress,—but your Body shall be taught another Doctrine,—it shall so,—Your Mind,—and your Soul quotha! . . .’Tis the Flesh Housewife, that must raise Heirs” (240–241). In this response, the playwright gives full voice to the father’s blustery and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to define Valeria solely as “the Flesh Housewife.” However, at the moment that he insists his daughter’s value is only to extend the patriarchal line, Sir Richard is being tricked into condoning the spouse of her choice, a simultaneity that indicates the sharpness of Centlivre’s critique. The plot of The Basset-Table punishes the jingoistic, patriarchal father for reducing his daughter to a sexual commodity. Therefore, the final circumvention of Sir Richard confirms the efficacy, as tenuous as it may be, of experimental philosophy to redefine what it means to be a young woman in London. Centlivre recuperates the virtuosa from satire and celebrates her agency and intellectual independence, even if those qualities are not fully imagined or possible.

Read together, the significance of The Virtuoso, The Humours of Oxford, and The Basset-Table resides in their presentation of experimental philosophy within the context of domestic and affective relations. The playwrights’ thematic treatment of science correlates to acts that either enhance or diminish one’s status and hopes for success, as well as those of one’s family. And yet the plays’ characterizations of Gimcracks and their uses of performance and plotting point to the literariness of these explorations. These plays insist on a persistent association among the practice of experimental philosophy, sexual regimes, and the circulation of wealth. Shadwell’s prescient drama, The Virtuoso, renders those associations embarrassingly visible, while envisaging the potential for whole-scale loss endemic to hopes for technological advancement. The original Sir Nicholas Gimcrack is humiliated not by the ridiculousness of his experiments, but by a series of sexual and financial losses that are, by implication, endemic to the natural philosophical project. Miller’s The Humours of Oxford unremittingly characterizes the wealthy widow Lady Science as a fool guided only by self-interest and desire. Its conservatism impugns Lady Science for imagining that she can participate in the project of experimentalism, rendering her engagement superficial and self-aggrandizing; despite its punitive conclusion, the play’s plot displays such a woman’s agency as socially disruptive and dangerous. The Basset-Table converts Gimcrack from a wealthy gentleman or a wealthy widow into a dependent heiress, in the process exposing the institutional privileges of natural philosophy and reconfiguring them in the service of feminine, possibly feminist, self-determination. Centlivre posits, even if ambivalently, a model of agency available through the practice of experimental philosophy, in which a virtuosa does not embody the privileged and self-effacing objectivity of the modest witness or an obstructionist self-indulgence of the typical Gimcrack. She instead has the opportunity, albeit limited, to speak for herself.


In my discussion of Gimcracks, I have focused on three characters: a gentleman, a widow, and an heiress—a man and two women, the latter of whom are in vastly different social positions from each other. In so doing, I develop an archaeology of a subjectivity associated with the practice of science, a character type known to embrace experimentalism in the service of self-advancement. Gimcracks are always social beings, under pressure to perform a particular role within a community where everyone seems to be dissembling.

My second literary character, the coquette, may not seem to have as strong of an association with natural philosophy as the Gimcrack, yet the connection recurs in the eighteenth-century literary archive. Why? Coquettes are problems. They are social problems because they refuse to capitulate to the demands of the marriage market, rejecting the imperative that they choose a single suitor. Committed to life á la mode, the coquette appears to her critics to be an excessive consumer of male attention: rather than committing to one admirer, she collects many. She also seems to be an excessive consumer of the vast array of luxury goods newly available in the London marketplace. According to Eliza Haywood’s narrator in The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless, coquettes value themselves “on the number and quality of their lovers, as they do upon the number and richness of their clothes.”46 The coquette Betsy Thoughtless is known for her vanity, love of flattery, and the “little Lightness of her Mind.”47 Her lifestyle implies that a coquette exists only to attract the admiration of men and the envy of women, playing with “courtship rituals without following through on their promise—consummation within marriage.”48 Because the coquette by definition delays and defers marriage, she is, in fact, “in open rebellion against the standard rules of courtship.”49 But because she dresses beautifully and fashionably, she is likewise a key and desired actor in dramas about affective relations. Coquettes present an ideological crisis because they expose the vulnerability of a patriarchal system that requires their acquiescence. They are immovable. They refuse the trajectory of the marriage plot and insist on perpetually living in the moment of a woman’s greatest power—courtship.50

Coquettes are social problems, but they are also epistemological problems: they invite attention yet thwart inspection. One cannot tell whom a coquette truly favors; this is what makes her frustrating to male admirers. She hides her specific intentions and desires beneath a beautiful and alluring surface. One cannot know what a coquette genuinely thinks, much less what she truly is. For critics, there is also the distinct possibility that a coquette has no inside to hide and that she is simply a mirage of brilliant surfaces—a social creation with no knowable or discoverable interiority.

The coquette appears as a character to generate desire and discouragement, an occasion for scrutiny and condemnation and a symbol of rebellious excess. In what follows, I argue that as a character to be observed, she elicits an exploration of the limits of experimental knowledge acquisition. As a character to be imitated, she introduces the possibility of enlightened subjectivity.

The character of the coquette recurs in Addison and Steele’s the Spectator. Her primary effect within the periodical is frustration. Men, women, and Mr. Spectator find the coquette’s willfulness and refusal to play by the rules alluring, annoying, and even dangerous. And the Spectator’s coquette exists within a periodical actively devoted to crafting its own model of observational wisdom and authority. The paper’s eidolon, Mr. Spectator, is present but not seen, and he writes under the cover of anonymity.51 Alongside its configuration of spectatorship, the periodical expresses deep skepticism about experimental observation. In a discussion of his paper’s popularity, Mr. Spectator ironically praises the Royal Society: “The Air-Pump, the Barometer, the Quadrant, and the like Inventions were thrown out to those busie Spirits, as Tubs and Barrels are to a Whale, that he may let the Ship sail without Disturbance, while he diverts himself with those innocent Amusements.”52 From Mr. Spectator’s viewpoint, experimental philosophy does not have any intrinsic value; its import dwells in its tactical function, which safeguards the body politic.

In two issues published a week apart (nos. 275 and 281), the Spectator intensifies its derision by conjoining satire of natural philosophy and satire of the beau monde. The periodical’s fiction is this: after meeting with a group of experimental philosophers to discuss a human dissection and microscopic examination, Mr. Spectator’s imagination is fired so vividly that these new scientific ideas, “mixing with those which were already there, . . . employed my Fancy all the last Night, and composed a very wild Extravagant Dream” (2:594). The result is a “Visionary Dissection” of a beau’s brain and of a coquette’s heart (2:594). In the Spectator, dreams provide access to certain types of knowledge, particularly social, cultural, and political positions that the periodical wishes to promulgate. The dream about Lady Credit is an especially famous example. The dream is an instrument of observation, grounded in imaginative insight. It is, most important, a literary device.

The plot is this. An anatomist cuts open a body and observes its parts under a microscope. Within the fiction of the dream, the microscopic examination of the beau’s brain confirms that it is “only something like” a real brain (2:571). Magnification reveals things “imperceptible to the naked eye,” namely cavities, ducts, and bladders filled with all manner of “Trumpery”: “Ribbons, lace and Embroidery,” “Billet-doux, Love-Letters, pricked Dances,” “Fictions, Flatteries, and Falshoods,” “Vows, Promises, and Protestations,” “Oaths and Imprecations,” and “Sonnets and little musical Instruments” (2:571). The dissection of the coquette’s heart unveils a similar literalization. The anatomist proclaims her heart the most difficult he has tried to dissect because of its “many Labyrinths and Recesses” where she hides her true intentions and desires (2:594). Twisted like a Gordian knot, her heart has no anatomical connection to her tongue and is “stuffed with innumerable sorts of Trifles” (2:594). Its surface bears millions of scars from lovers’ “innumerable Darts and Arrows,” none of which seem to have broken through the surface, that is, until they discover in its inner cavity a “little Figure, which, upon applying our Glasses to it, appeared dressed in a very fantastic manner” (2:595–596). The beau resides deep within the recesses of the coquette’s heart, visible only with the tools of experimental philosophy. This ocular demonstration ultimately confirms Mr. Spectator’s assessment of the coquette more generally. She who is obsessed with being fashionable and commanding male attention has a heart stuffed full of fashionable accoutrement and a miniature of her cherished, fickle beau. The discovery of the beau in the coquette’s heart suggests that her rebellion against the rules of courtship fails. She might refuse to choose a lover openly, but the “Visionary dissection” confirms that she nonetheless loves the beau.

The results of the dissections are what an eighteenth-century reader of Addison and Steele’s periodical might expect. Scientific observation in both cases exposes literalization. The beau and coquette, preoccupied by the whims of social climbing and erotic pleasures, turn out to be made of them, a metonymic rendering that Alexander Pope exploits in The Rape of the Lock. The beau and the coquette embody the objectification and commodification that their behavior perpetuates. Yet Mr. Spectator’s “Visionary Dissection[s]” do not solely indict the superficial values of the beau monde. His dreams simultaneously implicate experimental philosophy in ridicule and critique, a provocation the paper elaborates by questioning the validity of knowledge gained from sensory perception, the hallmark of experimental knowledge production.

The Spectator’s dream transforms the beau’s brain and the coquette’s heart into instruments. As evident in Hooke’s Micrographia, the conversion of body parts into scientific instruments supports the erasure of a practitioner’s bias. But according to Addison, instrumentalization of the body only exacerbates prejudice and error. The beau’s ear contains a canal filled with “Wind or Froth” that leads directly to a cavity linked to the beau’s tongue filled with a “Spongy Substance, which the French Anatomists call Galimatias, and the English, Nonsense” (2:571). The anatomical structure Mr. Spectator details literalizes a process wherein the beau hears cant and repeats it. As an instrument for sensory perception, the beau’s ear bypasses any filter of judgment or reasoning, transforming that perception into its own organic substance, nonsense. The beau’s vision is equally inadequate: while his “Ogling Muscles, were very much worn and decayed with use,” his “Elevator” muscle—looking upward to heaven—is undeveloped and unused (2:571). Even a feature of the brain that is not related to the senses per se indicates the mechanistic self-justification of the beau’s brain and, by implication, of such ocular practices. When Mr. Spectator takes the microscope to the beau’s “pineal gland,” arguably the “Seat of the Soul,” he sees “a thousand little Faces or Mirrours, which were imperceptible to the naked Eye, insomuch that the Soul, if there had been any here, must have been always taken up in contemplating her own Beauties” (2:571). What should be the physical manifestation of the beau’s soul, in other words, is a machine for self-observation and self-love—that is, narcissism. The imaginative dissection of the beau’s body exposes instruments of sensory perception that result in nonsense, ogling, and self-admiration.

The imaginative dissection of the coquette’s heart heightens this skepticism because of her gender. The beau may be selfish and foolish, but the coquette threatens the economy of sexual relations and patriarchal authority by refusing to subject herself to its rules. As a consequence, her characterization in Mr. Spectator’s “Visionary Dissection” is even sharper. The coquette’s heart, scarred and hiding her true feelings, is encased in a “thin reddish Liquor,” which it turns out has “all the Qualities of that Spirit which is made use of in the Thermometer, to see the Change of Weather” (2:596). In a lengthy description, Mr. Spectator recounts an experiment conducted on the same liquid from another dissection of a coquette’s heart. The movement of this fluid “shewed him the Qualities of those Persons who entered the Room where it stood” (2:596). The coquette’s “Liquor” responds with animation to “the Approach of a Plume of Feathers, an embroidered Coat, or a Pain of fringed Gloves; and that it fell as soon as an ill-shaped Perriwig, a clumsy Pair of Shoes, or an unfashionable Coat came into his House” (2:596). The liquid remains of the coquette’s heart react quickly and passionately, rising and falling based on the proximity of pleasurable and valued fashions.

Hearts, of course, are not organs of sensory perception. Nevertheless, this instrumentalization of the coquette’s body, achieved through the abstraction of organic liquid from the body itself, impugns the valuation of sensory perception at the core of experimental knowledge: sensory perception is inherently biased and flawed, even in its instrumental manifestations.

Tackling the dominant experimental sense, Mr. Spectator’s instrumentalization of the coquette’s dissected body widens to her eyesight: “We could not but take Notice likewise, that several of those little Nerves in the Heart which are affected by the Sentiments of Love, Hatred, and other Passions, did not descend to this before us from the Brain, but from the Muscles which lie about the Eye” (2:596). Microscopic examination in this instance reveals the mechanics of pure sensory perception. The coquette’s visual perception bypasses her mind and directly fuels her sentiments, without the benefits of intellectual reflection and moderation. The coquette’s vision embodies the myopia of “the uncritical and coquettish eye [that] was easily duped by petty illusion and maggoty marvels.”53 Mr. Spectator’s characterization of the coquette’s ocular apprehension assails her sensory perception and sensory perception more generally as a way to obtain knowledge. When the body reacts—when only the senses shape human behavior—the results are impetuous, even irrational.

In the Spectator’s “Visionary Dissection,” both the beau and the coquette come under the periodical’s judgmental purview. But the beau is not as much of a problem in the plot of social relations; he is not unknowable, merely frivolous. For Mr. Spectator, the coquette is both a specimen and observer, failing in both roles to produce meaningful, valuable knowledge. The dissection of the coquette’s heart lays bare heartlessness, a quality that comes as no surprise to Mr. Spectator and his agreeable readers. But it also discloses the dangers of sensory perception. As an instrument, the coquette’s heart displays how sensory perception works, the transformative process by which external stimuli are rendered into observations. In Mr. Spectator’s dream, her perceptions merely accord with the frivolous value system of the beau monde and with her insistence on her importance, both of which challenge the paternalistic, commercial world Addison and Steele envisage throughout the periodical. A coquette’s eyes and optical instruments inappropriately and similarly value small, trivial, and ultimately superficial things. For Mr. Spectator, coquettes and experimental philosophy not only share but also deepen these flaws, a stance in accord with the larger project of the Spectator’s promotion of an urban, masculine sociability and standard of taste.54

As in the case of Shadwell’s Gimcrack, Addison’s coquette finds an important afterlife. In the hands of Eliza Haywood, the midcentury periodical the Female Spectator reconfigures Mr. Spectator’s evocation of coquettes: not only is the Spectator reborn as the Female Spectator, but the Female Spectator is a reformed coquette herself. The Female Spectator is a version of Haywood’s heroine Betsy Thoughtless at the end of the novel by the same name: still conversant in the urbanized world, fashions, and desires of eighteenth-century London, though reformed into good judgment, discrimination, and gentility.55

The Female Spectator self-consciously draws on the Spectator as its model and target.56 The eidolon’s status as a reformed coquette is only part of Haywood’s rejoinder: in a pair of related issues, Haywood recuperates the coquette through her practice of experimental philosophy. She is not the object of inspection or subject to the mediation of Mr. Spectator’s dreaming technology. The Female Spectator reimagines the coquette as an avid and productive practitioner of scientific scrutiny. Haywood narrates an excursion to the country in which the Female Spectator and her club are inculcated into the pleasures and curiosities of natural philosophy. The club includes the unmarried Euphrosine, the married Mira, and a widow, together representing the social roles available to a woman over her lifetime. When the sun begins to shine at Mira’s country estate, the women sally “forth with our Microscopes” to examine the natural wonders in the garden.57 They observe numerous caterpillars, noting their coloration, and collect hillocks into pots, examining them daily to see what changes they can detect (17:296). To the naked eye, the hillocks have a coarse and ugly covering, “like the Bristles of a Boar,” but under the microscope, their “Skin [is] perfectly enameled with Gold and Purpose” (17:293). “When you come to examine them,” the Female Spectator writes, “you will find Beauties you little expected”; they are admirable, “graceful and majestic,” well designed, and medicinally useful (17:293, 299). The women’s scientific curiosity is also piqued by the prospect of using a neighbor’s thirty-six-foot telescope, which is housed in a specially designed turret. Furnished with a pair of globes, a writing table, a bookcase, and a dozen chairs, the turret connotes privilege, intimate society, and knowledge production.58 The Female Spectator looks through the telescope and observes that peculiar dark spots and shadows on the moon counter its brightness, phenomena that the group interprets as evidence of the plurality of worlds.

Haywood honors fashionable London women who practice experimental philosophy together. Within the pages of the Female Spectator, the experience of natural philosophy produces sustained, careful observation of nature and new topics of conversation. The Female Spectator summarizes her intention: “All that was aimed at . . . was to shew the Female Subscribers and Encouragers of this Undertaking, how much Pleasure, as well as Improvement, would accrue to them by giving some few hours, out of the many which they have to spare, to the Study of Natural Philosophy” (17.318). With an apology for any inadvertent errors, she hopes that women will imitate her example. Haywood’s story and encouragement that women pursue scientific inquiry can be read as one of many ways the periodical offers sensible and appealing instruction for readers. The few pages devoted to “Recreations” in Richard Steele’s The Ladies Library, for instance, address only the things women ought not do.59 Haywood provides positive models: such diversions will safeguard her audience from the allure of other dangerous urban pleasures; they also introduce the possibility of intellectual and social equality with men.60 Hers is the sophisticated and intelligent version of Lady Science’s enthusiasm. Haywood also echoes Celia Fiennes’s claim that London’s fashionable would improve greatly were they “curious to inform themselves and make observations of the pleasant prospects, good buildings, different producers and manufacturers of each place, with the variety of sports and recreations they are adapt to.”61 Haywood goes so far as to suggest all women and all men of leisure ought to practice experimental philosophy.

But filling women’s leisure time is not Haywood’s primary goal: the practice of natural philosophy sets up the means for a powerful conversion narrative that undergirds the periodical. By applying themselves to the study of natural philosophy, coquettes have the potential to reform themselves and become versions of the Female Spectator herself. A correspondent “Philo-Naturae” clarifies that coquettes are the intended audience. It is not merely “the Ladies,” but more specifically “the Enliveners of Society” who must be taught the advantages of natural philosophy (15:144)—coquettes. Experimental philosophy enhances the social world of the coquette, providing innumerable topics for discussion: “here they never can want Matter:—new Subjects of Astonishment will every Day, every Hour start up before them, and those of the greatest Volubility will much sooner want Words than Occasions to make Use of them” (15:153–154). Philo-Naturae’s case for natural philosophy implicitly relies on an association with being á la mode without indicting the value of novelty, as Mr. Spectator does.

The suitability of the coquette to natural philosophy goes beyond replacing one topic of conversation for another. The coquette as a character has observational training that prepares her well to engage in scientific observation. If one is instructed in the logic of the fashions and diversions associated with the dressing room, then one has the skills appropriate to the practice of experimental philosophy:

If we become early Connoisseurs in the Mode, can make smart Remarks on the Dress of every one we see at the Ball, the court, the Opera, or any other public Place, take so much Delight in hearing and reporting every little Accident that happens in Families we are acquainted with,—how much more Pleasure should we find in examining the various and beautiful Habits with which Natures cloathes those Plants and Flowers which adorn our Gardens. (15:139)

The Female Spectator’s journey to the country with her club produces such observations, illuminating that the discriminating eye of a fashionable woman is an excellent observational instrument:

There are Microscopes which will shew us such magnificent Apparel, and such delicate Trimming about the smallest Insects, as would disgrace the Splendor of a Birth-day:—Several of them are adorned with Crowns upon their Heads, have their Wings fringed with Colours of the most lively Dye, and their Coats embroidered with Purple and with Gold. (15:147)

Haywood overtly frames the Female Spectator’s microscopical observation in language from the contemporary world of sartorial fashion. Words such as apparel and trimming and the allusion to ornate clothing one would wear for the king’s birthday overlay the observations of these insects such that the language of fashion shares and even brings forth the aesthetic values of experimental philosophy. The Female Spectator’s description evokes the literariness of Robert Boyle’s “skilfully chosen, and well-applied, Comparison” and Henry Power’s aesthetic rendering of a horse fly’s eye. Written into this account is a privileging of the coquette’s view—she, among observers, can identify and assess such things as trimming, crowns, dye, and embroidery. The coquette’s schooling in fashionable London life prepares her for astute observations of the natural world. She also has the possibility of contributing to the nationalist project of the Royal Society (see 15:151, 153–154).

Even for the author of Betsy Thoughtless, whose coquettish heroine reforms, the transformation of a coquette into a natural philosopher is radical. The Female Spectator’s investment in science for women comes from a conviction that it allows for the expression—and even the acquisition—of good taste. Haywood introduces the topic of natural philosophy in the Female Spectator through a discussion of reason, curiosity, and intellectual beautification. She builds the case that making one’s mind beautiful is no different from doing the same with one’s body, conjoining the connotations of the dressing room as a space for cosmetic adornment and intellectual improvement: women “can find means to purify their Complexions, to take out Pimples, Freckles, and Morphew from the Skin . . . will not Reason and Reflection enable us to erase whatever is a Blemish in the Mind?” (15:131–132). Reason and reflection are the tools of intellectual self-improvement and available through three “Amusements, Diversions, and Employments”: studying history, reading travel narratives, and practicing natural philosophy (15:132). These are forms of intellectual work that provide the commensurate benefit of “more solid Reflections,” “enlarging the Ideas, informing the Understanding, and above all, of inspiring in us a Love and Reverence for the great Author, Director, and sole Disposer of every thing in Nature” (15:139–140). At the core of this pedagogy, the Female Spectator imagines inculcating a model of the self in which “We shall be enabled to prize every thing according to its real Value, and be entirely free from all Prejudice and partial Attachments” (15:140).

The Female Spectator envisages the reformed coquette as a subject position to which her readers may aspire. Haywood’s model of observation embodied by the reformed coquette does not deny the experiential but depends on it. The “Amusements, Diversions, and Employments” that the Female Specatator endorses are valuable because they serve as barometers of an individual’s powers of discrimination, skills that are available because of that individual’s engagement with, not detachment from, the world.

The coquette’s transformation embodies the larger pedagogical goal of the periodical—the reformation and education of its readers—and is possible through, and confirmed by, the acquisition of good taste. The “Amusements, Diversions, and Employments” of history, travel narratives, and natural philosophy allow for the measurement of one’s taste, for in them, “our good or bad Taste are chiefly discoverable” (15:132). As appropriate observers, Haywood explains, “We shall be possessed of all those useful and agreeable Talents, which in their Assemblage compose of what may justly be called the true fine Taste” (15:140). Taste is an eighteenth-century aesthetic category inextricable from a sense of fashionability, moral quality, rank, and social status. To be in possession of good taste in the eighteenth century connoted modesty, restraint, practicality, and decorum in distinction to bad (aristocratic) taste corrupted by ideologically retrogressive qualities of personal ostentation, irrational excess, arbitrary election, and libertine abandon.62 Good taste is both a personal and a social quality and, as such, can serve as a mechanism to inculcate female restraint and (in its absence) as a measure of female license.63 To have good taste was to be seen as a discerning, refined individual. To have good taste was to be seen as a moral individual. At the same time, the culture of taste embodied “repressive tendencies” that labored to obscure its structural relation, for example, to the institution of slavery.64

The Female Spectator’s conjunction of taste and natural philosophy is hardly accidental. As in the case of eighteenth-century aesthetic theory more generally, which I discuss at length in Chapter 5, the quality of taste could be linked to refined sensory perception. David Hume makes this connection in a discussion of perception; with heightened perception comes heightened sensibility. Taste and sentiment are inseparable.65 Hume argues that “the perfection of the man, and the perfection of the sense or feeling, are found to be united.”66 To have “delicacy of taste,” the pinnacle of accomplishment, “enlarges the spheres both of our happiness and misery, and makes us sensible to pains as well as pleasures, which escape the rest of mankind.”67 Pain and pleasure are, in turn, “a way of knowing.”68 For Hume, this experience of pleasure is specifically designed for judgment. The skill of discernment may be achieved if one practices appropriately: “But allow him to acquire experience in those objects, his feeling becomes more exact and nice.”69 It takes doing. With practice, “the organ acquires greater perfection in its operations; and can pronounce, without danger of mistake, concerning the merits of every performance.”70 Hume’s evocation of experimental philosophy is clear: the most refined “organ” of sensory perception will produce, in the end, “the perfection of man.”71 This turn to natural philosophy depends on an analogy between mental and physical taste, what the mind and body process.72 Perceiving well, for Hume, is inextricably linked to one’s archive of knowledge and one’s embodiment.

Along with Hume, Haywood imagines good taste as something that may be acquired through practice because good taste is not “morally impossible for any one to be possessed of” (15:137). Readers of the periodical may convert their bad taste into good through the right exercise. With proper instruction and training, a person can join the morally and socially superior individuals in possession of good taste: “But they who can once resolve to employ themselves in such a manner as becomes a Person of fine Taste, however repugnant they may be at first, will, by Degrees, be brought insensibly to have it in reality” (15:138). By imagining that an individual may receive an education in good taste, the Female Spectator envisages and promotes techniques of self-improvement and self-transformation. From the periodical’s opening pages, the Female Spectator focuses on good taste, enjoining her readers to practice it: “It is very much by the choice we make of subjects for our entertainment, that the refined taste distinguishes itself from the vulgar and more gross” (1:1). Good taste is revealed by our choices. But Haywood suggests that this may be obtained: if you perform good taste, eventually you will have it.

The periodical’s message for its female readers is unequivocal: transform yourself from a vain and trivial coquette into a serious and morally judicious lady, and you will simultaneously convert yourself from a woman of bad taste to good. Coquettes, after all, are singled out by Mr. Spectator as those who cannot hope to have any of these qualities and who have no potential for improvement. The Female Spectator argues the opposite. The possibility of a coquette’s reformation, rather than her imagined death and dissection, does not negate her earlier activities and amusements but readjusts her focus and the ends. Through this conversion narrative, the Female Spectator repudiates a competitive social network in which coquettes battle for admirers and attention, and instead promotes an intellectual and social community where women learn from each other as a means of developing and promoting good taste. The conversion narrative’s availability to coquettes ultimately is the import of the embedded story of the journey to Mira’s country estate. The account of their country excursion shows good taste in action, thereby promoting a new mode of female society populated by modern, self-improving, and discerning individuals. A coquette’s experience in the fashionable world and her acquisition of good taste through the practice of natural philosophy suggest a specific model for British modernity: the coquette may be an unlikely and unexpected exemplar, but she is emphatically imagined as at once enlightened and á la mode.

Immodest witnesses, so often maligned as bad scientists with poor judgment and blinded by self-importance, disclose the structural, cultural, and ideological qualities bound up with the scientific project more generally. One may dismiss the Gimcracks and coquettes of the world as, at best, comic buffoons and, at worst, obstructionist retrogrades. These bad scientists, however, expose a more nuanced account of the natural philosophical project. They embody the inescapability of immodesty: the self-interest of knowledge production, which in turn provides material for critique and endorsement. The scientific project runs the risk of being only a mechanism, variously, for self-interest, sexual pleasure, and the accumulation of wealth. The lesson that the immodest witness teaches is that this proclivity for self-interest is written into the characterization of the modest witness. Yet this predisposition has the perhaps unexpected effect of ennobling subjects ordinarily marginalized by traditional social structures. For this reason, Centlivre and Haywood see an opening. Natural philosophy offers a means to translate the inherent subjectivity of scientific observation into an unlikely model for female agency. Centlivre portrays the potential for a dependent heiress to be independent through the intellectual work of experimental philosophy, and Haywood imagines the reformation of a coquette accomplished through the same method, adding to it the promise of acquiring that sparkling aesthetic and moral quality of having good taste in the process. The Gimcrack and the coquette thus transform into avatars of modern enlightenment.

What emerges next, and the subject to which we turn in the following chapter, is the narrative structure that produces scientific believers: the seduction plot.


1. Lisa A. Freeman, Character’s Theater: Genre and Identity on the Eighteenth-Century Stage (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), 11–46; and Manushag N. Powell, Performing Authorship in Eighteenth-Century English Periodicals (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2012), 13–48.

2. Donna J. Haraway, Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium. FemaleMan©Meets_Onco-Mouse™: Feminism and Technoscience (New York: Routledge, 1997), 29; John Shanahan, “Theatrical Space and Scientific Space in Thomas Shadwell’s Virtuoso,” SEL: Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900, 49, no. 3 (2009): 549–71; esp. 549–50; Joanna Picciotto, Labors of Innocence in Early Modern England (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010), 285; and Al Coppola, The Theater of Experiment: Staging Natural Philosophy in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 6–10.

3. Michael Hunter, Science and Society in Restoration England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 67; and William T. Lynch, Solomon’s Child: Method in the Early Royal Society of London (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001), 6.

4. Walter E. Houghton, Jr. “The English Virtuoso in the Seventeenth Century: Part I,” Journal of the History of Ideas 3, no. 1 (1942): 66, 71–72; and Craig Ashley Hanson, The English Virtuoso: Art, Medicine, and Antiquarianism in the Age of Empiricism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 2–8.

5. Robert Boyle, New Experiments Physico-Mechanicall, Touching the Spring of the Air, and its Effects (1660), in vol. 1 of The Works of Robert Boyle, ed. Michael Hunter and Edward B. Davis (London: Pickering & Chatto, 1999), 1:169.

6. Houghton, “The English Virtuoso: Part I,” 53.

7. OED and David Walton, “Copernicus or Cheesecake? Faultlines and Unjust Des(s) erts: Notes towards the Cultural Significance of the Virtuosa,” Cuardernos de Filogia Inglesa 9, no. 2 (2001): 48.

8. Walter E. Houghton, Jr. “The English Virtuoso in the Seventeenth Century: Part II,” Journal of the History of Ideas 3, no. 1 (1942): 204, 211; and Houghton, “The English Virtuoso in the Seventeenth Century: Part I,” 63.

9. Mary Astell, An Essay in Defence of the Female Sex (London, 1696), 103.

10. John Dryden, Sir Martin Marr-All: or, the Feigned Innocence (1668), vol. 9 of The Works of John Dryden, ed. John Loftis (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966), III.i.60–61.

11. Samuel Johnson, The Idler and The Adventurer, ed. W. J. Bate, John M. Bullitt, L. F. Powell, vol. 2 of The Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1963), 199 (no. 64; Saturday, July 7, 1759).

12. Tipping Silvester, “The Microscope. A Poem,” Original Poems and Translations (London, 1733), 47.

13. Ibid., 48.

14. “The Microscope,” in Female Inconstancy Display’d in three Diverting Histories . . . To which is added, Several Diverting Tales and Merry Jokes (London, 1732), 41.

15. Lorraine Daston, “The Empire of Observation, 1600–1800,” in Histories of Scientific Observation, ed. Lorraine Daston and Elizabeth Lunbeck (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), 102. This figure also provides material for the “mad scientist” character. See Barbara M. Benedict, “The Mad Scientist: The Creation of a Literary Stereotype,” in Imagining the Sciences: Expressions of New Knowledge in the “Long” Eighteenth Century, ed. Robert C. Leitz, III and Kevin L. Cope (New York: AMS Press, 2004), 59–107.

16. “The Microscope,” 42.

17. Ibid., 41.

18. Deborah Needleman Armintor, The Little Everyman: Stature and Masculinity in Eighteenth-Century English Literature (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2011), 56–79.

19. Edward G. Ruestow, The Microscope in the Dutch Republic: The Shaping of Discovery (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 23–26.

20. Alexander Pope, The Correspondence of Alexander Pope, ed. George Sherburn (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956): 1:465 (February 18, 1718).

21. Henry Baker, The Microscope Made Easy (London, 1742), 152–167.

22. The Diary of Robert Hooke, ed. Henry W. Robinson and Walter Adams (London: Taylor & Francis, 1935), 235.

23. Marie Boas Hall, Promoting Experimental Learning: Experiment and the Royal Society, 1660–1727 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 3, 22.

24. Lisa Jardine, The Curious Life of Robert Hooke: The Man Who Measured London (New York: HarperCollins, 2004), 1–15.

25. Marjorie Hope Nicolson, Science and Imagination (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1956), 113, 142; Claude Lloyd, “Shadwell and the Virtuosi,” PMLA 44, no. 2 (1929): 472–494; Joseph M. Glide, “Shadwell and the Royal Society: Satire in The Virtuoso,” SEL: Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900, 10, no. 3 (1970): 469–490; and Peter Anstey, “Literary Responses to Robert Boyle’s Natural Philosophy,” in Science, Literature and Rhetoric in Early Modern England, ed. Juliet Cummins and David Burchell (Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate, 2007), 147.

26. David A. Brewer, The Afterlife of Character, 1726–1825 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005), 6.

27. William Wotton, Reflections upon Ancient and Modern Learning (London, 1697), 418.

28. William Congreve, “Prologue to Pyrrhus King of Epirus,” in The Works of Mr. William Congreve, 4th ed. (London, 1725), 3:277; Joseph Addison, The Tatler, ed. Donald F. Bond (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), 3:133–135 (no. 216; August 26, 1710); and John Hildrop, A Modest Apology for the Ancient and Honourable Family of the Wrongheads (London, 1744), 22.

29. Thomas Shadwell, The Virtuoso, ed. Marjorie Hope Nicolson and David Stuart Rodes (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1966), II.ii.298–300. Subsequent citations will be noted parenthetically within the text.

30. Stephen Shapin, “The House of Experiment in Seventeenth-Century England,” Isis 79 (1988): 373–404.

31. Jean I. Marsden, “Ideology, Sex, and Satire: The Case of Thomas Shadwell,” in Cutting Edges: Postmodern Critical Essays on Eighteenth-Century Satire, ed. James E. Gill (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1995), 47–48.

32. Judith B. Slagle, “‘A Great Rabble of People’: The Ribbon-Weavers in Thomas Shadwell’s The Virtuoso,” Notes and Queries 36 (September 1989): 353–354.

33. Piccotto, Labors of Innocence, 244.

34. James Miller, The Humours of Oxford (London, 1730), 13. Subsequent citations will be noted parenthetically within the text.

35. Tita Chico, Designing Women: The Dressing Room in Eighteenth-Century English Literature and Culture (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2005).

36. Susanna Centlivre, The Basset-Table, vol. 3 of The Works of the Celebrated Mrs. Centlivre (London, 1760–1761), 222, 220. Subsequent citations will be noted parenthetically within the text.

37. Chico, Designing Women, 25–45.

38. Beth Kowaleski Wallace, “A Modest Defense of Gaming Women,” Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 31 (2002): 21–39.

39. Katharine M. Rogers, Feminism in Eighteenth-Century England (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982), 100; Patsy S. Fowler, “Rejecting the Status Quo: The Attempts of Mary Pix and Susanna Centlivre to Reform Society’s Patriarchal Attitudes,” Restoration and 18th-Century Theatre Research 11, no. 2 (1996): 52; and Eleanor Mattes, “The ‘Female Virtuoso’ in Early Eighteenth-Century English Drama,” Women and Literature 3, no. 2 (1975): 8.

40. Laura J. Rosenthal, Playwrights and Plagiarists in Early Modern England: Gender, Authorship, Literary Property (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996), 206.

41. For a discussion of this relationship between empire and the domestic in the period’s drama, see Bridget Orr, Empire on the English Stage, 1660–1714 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 1–27.

42. Ruth Perry, Novel Relations: The Transformation of Kinship in English Literature and Culture, 1748–1818 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 19–20.

43. Steele, The Tatler, 1:154 (no. 19; 24 May 1709).

44. Douglas R. Butler, “Plot and Politics in Susanna Centlivre’s A Bold Stroke for a Wife,” in Curtain Calls: British and American Women and the Theater, 1660–1820, ed. Mary Anne Schofield and Cecilia Macheski (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1991), 362, 370.

45. John O’Brien, “Busy Bodies: The Plots of Susanna Centlivre,” in Eighteenth-Century Genre and Culture: Serious Reflections on Occasional Forms. Essays in Honor of J. Paul Hunter, ed. Dennis Todd and Cynthia Wall (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2001), 166.

46. Eliza Haywood, The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless, ed. Christine Blouch (Peterborough, ONT: Broadview Press, 1998), 142.

47. Ibid., 176.

48. Juliette Merritt, “Reforming the Coquette: Eliza Haywood’s Vision of Female Epistemology,” in Fair Philosopher: Eliza Haywood and the Female Spectator, ed. Lynn Marie Write and Donald J. Newman (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2006), 180–181.

49. Ibid., 180.

50. See Shelley King and Yaël Schlick, eds., Refiguring the Coquette (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2008), and Theresa Braunschneider, Our Coquettes: Capacious Desire in the Eighteenth Century (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009).

51. On Mr. Spectator’s characterization, see Scott Paul Gordon, “Voyeuristic Dreams: Mr. Spectator and the Power of Spectacle,” The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation 36, no. 1 (1995): 3; Anthony Pollock, Gender and the Fictions of the Public Sphere, 1690–1755 (New York: Routledge, 2009), 55–74; and Joanna Picciotto, Labors of Innocence in Early Modern England (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010), 566–583.

52. Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, The Spectator, ed. Donald F. Bond (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), 1:519 (no. 262; December 31, 1711). All subsequent citations will be included in the text.

53. Barbara Maria Stafford, Body Criticism: Imaging the Unseen in Enlightenment Art and Medicine (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1993), 346.

54. Erin Mackie, Market á la Mode: Fashion, Commodity, and Gender in The Tatler and The Spectator (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), 1–29.

55. Juliette Merritt, Beyond Spectacle: Eliza Haywood’s Female Spectators (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004), 11; and Iona Italia, The Rise of Literary Journalism in the Eighteenth Century: Anxious Employment (London: Routledge, 2005), 123–129. More recently, Manushag N. Powell has read the Female Spectator as a spinster (Performing Authorship in Eighteenth-Century English Periodicals, 154).

56. For a discussion of the relation between the Spectator and the Female Spectator, see Deborah J. Nestor, “Representing Domestic Difficulties: Eliza Haywood and the Critique of Bourgeois Ideology,” Prose Studies 16, no. 2 (1993): 3; Shawn Lisa Maurer, Proposing Men: Dialectics of Gender and Class in the Eighteenth-Century Periodical (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998), 204–231; Eve Tavor Bannet, “Haywood’s Spectator and the Female World,” in Fair Philosopher: Eliza Haywood and The Female Spectator, ed. Lynn Marie Wright and Donald J. Newman (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2006), 82–103; Lynn Marie Wright and Donald J. Newman, “Introduction,” in Fair Philosopher: Eliza Haywood and The Female Spectator, ed. Lynn Marie Wright and Donald J. Newman (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2006), 13–17; and Pollock, Gender and the Fictions of the Public Sphere, 147–84.

57. Eliza Haywood, The Female Spectator (London, 1746), 17:291. Subsequent citations are noted parenthetically within the text.

58. Leon Battista Alberti, On the Art of Building in Ten Books, trans. Joseph Rykwert, Neil Leach, and Robert Tavernor (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994), 144; Orest Ranum, “The Refuges of Intimacy,” in Passions of the Renaissance, ed. Roger Chartier, vol. 3 of A History of Private Life, ed. Philippe Ariès and Georges Duby (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), 210–229; and Alan Stewart, “The Early Modern Closet Discovered,” Representations 50 (1995): 76–100.

59. Richard Steele, The Ladies Diary (London, 1714), 1:59–66

60. Kristin M. Girten, “Unsexed Souls: Natural Philosophy as Transformation in Eliza Haywood’s Female Spectator,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 43, no. 1 (2009): 57.

61. Celia Fiennes, “To the Reader,” in The Illustrated Journeys of Celia Fiennes, 1685-c. 1712, ed. Christopher Morris (London: Macdonald, 1982), 32.

62. Mackie, Market á la Mode, 20; and James Noggle, The Temporality of Taste in Eighteenth-Century British Writing (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 1–39.

63. Ricardo Miguel-Alfonso, “Social Conservatism, Aesthetic Education and the Essay Genre in Eliza Haywood’s Female Spectator,” in Fair Philosopher: Eliza Haywood and The Female Spectator, ed. Lynn Marie Wright and Donald J. Newman (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2006), 79. Robert W. Jones, “Eliza Haywood and the Discourse of Taste,” in Authorship, Commerce and the Public: Scenes of Writing, 1750–1850, ed. E. J. Clery, Caroline Franklin, and Peter Garside (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), 103.

64. Simon Gikandi, Slavery and the Culture of Taste (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011), 17.

65. Dabney Townsend, Hume’s Aesthetic Theory: Taste and Sentiment (London: Routledge, 2001), 86–136.

66. David Hume, “Of the Standard of Taste,” in Essays: Moral, Political, and Literary, ed. Eugene F. Miller (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Classics, 1985), 241.

67. Hume, “Of the Delicacy of Taste and Passion,” in Essays: Moral, Political, and Literary, ed. Eugene F. Miller (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Classics, 1985), 4.

68. Denise Gigante, Taste: A Literary History (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005), 1–21.

69. Hume, “Of the Standard of Taste,” 242.

70. Ibid., 243.

71. Ralph Cohen, “David Hume’s Experimental Method and the Theory of Taste,” ELH: English Literary History 25 (1958): 288; Redding S. Sugg, Jr., “Hume’s Search for the Key with the Leathern Tongs,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 16 (1957): 101; and Ernest Campbell Mossner, “Hume’s ‘Of Criticism,’” in Studies in Criticism and Aesthetics, 1600–1800, ed. Howard Anderson and John S. Shea (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1967), 239.

72. David Marshall, The Frame of Art: Fictions of Aesthetic Experience (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005), 187.