Public spirit and public order: Edmund Burke and the role of the critic in mid-eighteenth-century Britain Public Deposited

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  • March 22, 2019
  • Crowe, Ian
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
  • This study centers upon Edmund Burke’s early literary career, and his move from Dublin to London in 1750, to explore the interplay of academic, professional, and commercial networks that comprised the mid-eighteenth-century Republic of Letters in Britain and Ireland. Burke’s experiences before his entry into politics, particularly his relationship with the bookseller Robert Dodsley, may be used both to illustrate the political and intellectual debates that infused those networks, and to deepen our understanding of the publisher-author relationship at that time. It is argued here that it was Burke’s involvement with Irish Patriot debates in his Dublin days, rather than any assumed Catholic or colonial resentment, that shaped his early publications, not least since Dodsley himself was engaged in a revision of Patriot literary discourse at his Tully’s Head business in the light of the legacy of his own patron Alexander Pope. Through a focus on two of Burke’s Tully’s Head projects in particular, the Vindication of Natural Society and the unfinished Abridgment of the English History, we are able to see how that revisionist process converged upon the problem of how to promote public spiritedness and civic engagement without jeopardizing the political and social order established in the kingdom in the wake of the Glorious Revolution. We can also trace Burke’s distinctly Irish contribution to the reconfiguration of a Patriot discourse within that segment of London literary society. What emerges is a sustained critique of the intellectual strategies employed by Lord Bolingbroke and Lord Shaftesbury, particularly their reliance upon philosophical and historical skepticism, and a fresh rhetoric of Patriot criticism built upon an alternative, allegorical and religiously syncretic understanding of the interdependence between the natural and artificial in human society. Burke’s professional and personal relationships with Dodsley and with writers such as Joseph Spence and Joseph Warton in Dodsley’s Tully’s Head circle provides a challenge to received opinions not only of the roots of Burke’s political thought, but also of the use of concepts such as Patriotism, Nationalism, and Enlightenment in understanding the role of the critic in the mid-century British Republic of Letters.
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  • Smith, Jay
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  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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