Literary Authority
An Eighteenth-Century Genealogy
Claude Willan


Contents and Abstracts
(i): Introduction
chapter abstract

Summarizes chapters and places the argument in the context of recent methodological developments in the fields covered by the1 book. Situates the argument in transhistorical context and suggests how it bears the weight of transhistorical value despite – because of – its granular historical specificity. It introduces the concept of the genre system, a holistic term for the agglomeration of economic, social and material substrates, practices and communities that are the necessary preconditions of a text's existence and the set of vectors that produce and disseminate it. Poses the problem of continued Scriblerian cultural bias and suggests the interpretive plenitude that could come from rejecting it. Chapter keywords: disciplinary history, literary theory, book history, genre, aesthetics, politics

1 Whig Prose Cultures
chapter abstract

The fall of the house of Stuart left many cultural and social vacuums for Williamites to fill. This chapter gathers together four representative Whiggish non-fiction prose writers in order to show the persistence of a particular kind of totalizing logic linking parts to wholes and tending to argue for the absolute necessity of Williamite rule for the avoidance cultural, military, economic, or moral apocalypse. Bracketing Joseph Addison, the third earl of Shaftesbury, John Dennis, and Walter Derham, I show the breadth and flexibility of the Whig theodicy in order to show the sophistication of their program of cultural reform and domination.

2 I love with all my heart : Jacobite poetry in manuscript
chapter abstract

This chapter recovers a culture that developed in diametric opposition to the Whig cause, advocating for the house of Stuart. It adumbrates a large and coherent archive of Jacobite poetry in manuscript across over 300 manuscripts with at least 600 poems, and addresses how and why this culture existed. Picking out key rhetorical and formal gestures, the chapter offers an overview of a huge body of almost completely unprinted and unstudied work, arguing for its cohesion and precision. Having explained the kinds of secrecy the culture operated under and the formal consequences of those material conditions, it suggests an alternative model for literary aesthetics: not whether a poem is good or bad but whether it is effective or ineffective at achieving its goals.

3 Dipt in Ink: Pope without Pope in his early career
chapter abstract

Pope's career to 1717's early culmination in the Works has been much explained. Pope managed to use the genre systems and logical and rhetorical strategies left behind by Jacobite and Whig advocates for competing versions of government in order to advance his own standing. I show the roots of persistent canards like Pope's following the Virgilian wheel of poetic progress and unpack his determination to exert control over the imaginative space surrounding his poems. Examining Pope's Pastorals, Rape of the Lock, Key to the Lock, Windsor-Forest, and other works, the chapter explores the specific mechanisms Pope used to make the reader prioritize Pope's own account of himself over any other heuristic.

4 Pope's Moderate Ascendancy
chapter abstract

Pope finessed his technique of asserting epistemological privilege. But rather than speaking to a readership or a milieu Pope cantilevered his claims at a national scale. This process was intensely dialogic in the engagement it required him to make with leading voices of the Whig cultural revolution. I read An Essay on Man as a direct engagement with Whiggish mores and with physico-theology in particular, while Epistle to Cobham shows Pope using the Whig opposition to Walpole as well as differentiating himself from it. Epistle to Arbuthnot shows Pope engaging with the predecessor of Pope's who worried him the most - Pope himself - while offering a fully self-sufficient taxonomy of literary merit and cultural value. The chapter closes with a consideration of Pope's penchant for enmity, and asks what practical advantage Pope chose to accrue through malice.

5 Johnson's Struggle with Pope
chapter abstract

Noted self-canoniser Samuel Johnson is the last focal figure of the book. The chapter begins by showing the depth and particularity of Johnson's engagement with Pope in London and Vanity of Human Wishes. It next shows Johnson's renowned prose style as a way of recasting the epistemological structure of the Popean couplet into what I call prose couplets . I discuss a selection of Johnson's abundant prose couplets and show how faithfully they remediate Pope's complex, splintering ironies. The chapter closes with a discussion of Johnson's exercises in monument-building, both for their implicit politics – such as which passages of Locke which Johnson cites – and for their gestalt effect of positioning Johnson as his culture's adjudicator.

chapter abstract

The book closes with a short consideration of the tangle of canards it has disclosed, and an investigation of the literary aesthetics that might have been had literary authority not been so assiduously arrogated by Pope and Johnson. What could literature and literature studies look like, then? What could we then use literature for?