Eighteenth Century Literature

I’m cleaning out some old papers today and found a bunch of stuff from my class in Eighteenth-Century literature, surely the most tedious ordeal of my academic career. There was good literature in the class, but the professor was a pompous fool, and literally two thirds of the students dropped it after the first class. The remaining dozen sort of banded together to fight off sleep or the occasional personal attacks of the professor. Here’s a gem of a sentence from his syllabus:

“If we were to see ‘Modesty’ in the illustration that Addison provides, simply as an instance of the cognitively unmediated way in which this faculty was supposed to work, despite Locke’s attack on the doctrine of ‘innate ideas,’ it is evident that the fascination with and slant on the concept of ‘sensibility’ that this and others of the Spectator papers reveal, are highly relevant to an understanding of the revolt against the rationalist and stoical values that the once-dominant school of the neoclassicists had sought to perpetuate.”

I don’t just want to throw this stuff out, I want to burn it, too.

There were some bright spots, the poetry of Christopher Smart being one of them. Smart was a poet who was committed to a mental hospital when he suddenly insisted on saying his prayers out loud and in public. He composed his masterpiece “Jubilate Agno” while confined, and it contains one of the most charming odes to a pet found anywhere:

For I will consider my cat Jeoffry.
For he is a servant of the Living God and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.

And so it continues for another 70 lines or so. Marvellous stuff.