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Prose Immortality, 1711-1819

Prose Immortality, 1711-1819

Jacob Sider Jost
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Prose Immortality, 1711-1819
    Book Description:

    Writers have always aspired to immortality, using their works to preserve their patrons, their loved ones, and themselves beyond death. For Pindar, Horace, and Shakespeare, the vehicle of such preservation was poetry. In the eighteenth century, figures such as Joseph Addison, Edward Young, Samuel Richardson, Laetitia Pilkington, Samuel Johnson, and James Boswell invented a new kind of literary immortality, built on the documentary power of prose. For eighteenth-century authors, the rhythms and routines of daily lived experience were too rich to be distilled into verse, and prose genres such as the periodical paper, novel, memoir, essay, and biography promised a new kind of lastingness that responded to the challenges and opportunities of Enlightenment philosophy and evolving religious thought.

    Prose Immortality, 1711-1819documents this transformation of British literary culture, spanning the eighteenth century and linking journalism, literature, theology, and philosophy. In recovering the centrality of the afterlife to eighteenth-century culture, this prizewinning book offers a versatile and wide-ranging argument that will speak not only to literary scholars but also to historians, scholars of religion, and all readers interested in the power of literature to preserve human experience through time.

    Winner of the Walker Cowen Memorial Prize for an Outstanding Work of Scholarship in Eighteenth-Century Studies

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3681-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    How do writers memorialize and preserve the dead? When John Dryden died in 1700, poets wrote elegies. When Samuel Johnson died in 1784, biographers wrote lives. This book is about what happens in between.

    Few poets die at convenient times for literary periodization, but Dryden is an obliging exception. When the poet laureate succumbed to gangrene on May 1, 1700, he brought the poetic history of the seventeenth century to a close with him. Two anthologies of memorial verse appeared the same year:Luctus Britannici: or The Tears of the British Muses; for the Death of John Dryden, Esq.,and...

  5. PART ONE Daily Time and Horizontal Futurity

    • 1 The Afterlife and the Spectator
      (pp. 21-36)

      When Richard Steele began his pioneering periodical, theTatler, in 1709, he borrowed from Jonathan Swift both the name of his narrator, “Isaac Bickerstaff, Esq.,” and the comic doctrine that life and death are in the eye of the beholder, questions of degree rather than irrevocable absolutes.¹ Swift’s Bickerstaff had predicted the astrologer John Partridge’s death and then indignantly rebutted Partridge’s claims to be still alive.² Steele’s Bickerstaff claims the power to “confute other dead Men, who pretend to be in Being” but are “actually deceased.” Swift’s satire, against the pretensions of astrology and Partridge’s anti–High Church demagogy, is...

    • 2 Night Thoughts on Time, Fame, and Immortality
      (pp. 37-56)

      Edward Young was a lifelong disciple and admirer of Joseph Addison; he prefixed commendatory verses toCatoin 1713 and made Addison’s Christian deathbed scene the centerpiece of hisConjectures on Original Composition(1759) nearly a half century later.¹ His magnum opusNight Thoughtsboth continues and revises theSpectator’s exploration of time and eternity through cumulative publication. At the time of its appearance in print over the period 1742–46,Night Thoughtswas unprecedented in being structured not as a set number of books, cantos, or sections, but as an indefinitely continued sequence of “Nights.” Its nocturnality is both...

  6. PART TWO Theology and the Novel

    • 3 The Threat to the Soul in Butler and Warburton
      (pp. 59-77)

      To summarize the findings of the first section of this book: The reader who opens either theSpectatororNight Thoughts(and we would do well to remember that both were enormous best sellers in Britain and the subject of numerous Continental imitations and translations, respectively) is being asked to attend to and coordinate multiple schemes of time. Thematically, each work consists of moral exhortation rooted in the essential continuity between the quantifiable earthly time marked out by clocks and calendars and the endlessly succeeding posthumous time into which all human souls must eventually enter. Formally, each consists of discrete...

    • 4 The Beatified Clarissa
      (pp. 78-96)

      IsClarissaa religious novel?¹ The critical tradition has generated formidable arguments for both sides. The inaugural “yes” belongs to Richardson himself; as he writes in a postscript to the novel, “The Author … imagined … he couldsteal in, as may be said, and investigate the great doctrines of Christianity under the fashionable guise of an amusement” (8:279). Meanwhile the origin of the naysaying tradition, as Florian Stuber has pointed out, lies with Smith and Diderot, deists who nevertheless “declared Richardson to be ‘the greatest moralist of all time.’”² Subsequent secular readings have included the psychological (and in many...

    • 5 Happy Ever After in Sir Charles Grandison
      (pp. 97-112)

      Sir Charles Grandison is a rebel with a cause; Richardson’s good man lives his life in open and principled protest against the aristocratic mores of his day. He refuses to duel, drink, or drab, and he will not squander his money in country sports, London amusements, or the temptations found on the Grand Tour. As a narrative,Sir Charles Grandisonis in equally frank rebellion against the comic conventions and expectations that its readers, in both Richardson’s time and our own, bring to the text. It refuses to end with marriage.

      The reader of Shakespeare’s comedies and Jane Austen’s novels...

  7. PART THREE Afterlife Writing

    • 6 Laetitia Pilkington in Sheets
      (pp. 115-132)

      Thus far, this study has concentrated on literary figures whose concern about uniting text and person in the life to come has been unencumbered by worries about keeping body and soul together from day to day. As Whig politicians, well-connected clergy, and London men of business, Addison, Steele, Young, Butler, Warburton, and Richardson did not engage in literary composition and theological speculation from positions of leisuredotium, but they did sit securely within sight of the pinnacle of the Hanoverian rank and class hierarchy. Laetitia Pilkington—penniless, divorced, female, Irish—has a different story to tell. HerMemoirs, published in...

    • 7 Johnson’s Eternal Silences
      (pp. 133-151)

      This study opened with the claim that when eighteenth-century understandings and representations of time changed, understandings of immortality changed as well. I have argued that Addison and Steele’s diurnal, periodical eternity appears transformed in Young’s nocturnal epic and in Richardson’s heaven-directed writing to the moment. In my final chapter, I describe the new expression that this dialectic of time and eternity takes in theLife of Johnson. Boswell’s biography is a thoroughly Johnsonian work, not only because Johnson tacitly countenanced its creation and provided theoretical and practical models for its form, but because it is a powerful response to concerns...

    • 8 James Boswell, Also, Enters into Heaven
      (pp. 152-174)

      Boswell was a more serious philosopher than Hume. Not a better philosopher, obviously, but a more serious one. For Hume, philosophy was an intellectual exercise and professional vocation; it was academic, in something like our modern sense. Despite the immensity of the mature Hume’s philosophical ambitions and achievement, philosophy never seems to have given him any dark nights of the soul. He admired the ancients for whom it was an elite hobby: “Let us revive the happy times, when Atticus and Cassius the Epicureans, Cicero the Academic, and Brutus the Stoic, could, all of them, live in unreserved friendship together,...

  8. Epilogue Keats Imagines the Life of Shakespeare
    (pp. 175-180)

    TheSpectatorpostulated a horizontal afterlife in which the daily moral formation of earthly existence would continue in a posthumous “beyond” under the superintendence of a Supreme Being. Addison’s reconceptualization of the afterlife prospered in the eighteenth century: Butler’sAnalogyuses it to connect the consequences of moral choice on earth to presumed analogues after death, and it is the basis of the political theology of the Scottish deist William Dudgeon, who imagined that “the other world will be a society” because “we are creatures plainly designed for improvements in knowledge and goodness, and … these can only be brought...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 181-210)
    (pp. 211-224)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 225-240)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 241-246)