By Paul Keen
This booklet bargains an unique research of debates that arose within the 1790s concerning the nature and social function of literature and the hot category of readers produced through the revolution in info and literacy in eighteenth-century England. the 1st half concentrates at the dominant arguments in regards to the function of literature and the prestige of the writer; the second one shifts its concentration to the debates approximately working-class activists and radical ladies authors, and examines the expansion of a Romantic ideology inside this context of political and cultural turmoil.
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Godwin’s position may have balanced the energies of private judgement against the constraints of social exchange, but it remained a potentially anarchical vision, as we will see below. It licensed an endless number of authors to engage in an endless series of debates on every imaginable subject, including politics, guided only by the decisive force of something known as reason. But Godwin insisted that unchecked debate ultimately led to social cohesion rather than dissension by developing widely shared standards of opinion amongst the reading public: 30 Enlightenment Literature has reconciled the whole thinking world respecting the great principles of the system of the universe, and extirpated upon this subject the dreams of romance and the dogmas of superstition.
22 (1795): 545) Paying tribute to the same process, Mary Hays insisted that the gradual pace of the dawning of truth was a sign of strength rather than weakness. 17 The magnitude of these transformations did not make them seem any less inevitable though. The Monthly Review allowed, in their account of an English translation of Volney’s Ruins, that the arrival of a new era ‘when the whole race will form one great society’ was not ‘speedily to be expected’. But the undeniable fact was that ‘even now .
This freedom has alone made our government what it is; this freedom alone can preserve it’. ‘Other liberties’, he continued later in the same trial, ‘are held under governments, but the liberty of opinion keeps 7 GOVERNMENTS THEMSELVES in due subjection to their duties’. The Analytical Review insisted in similar terms that ‘[l]iterature, by enlightening the understanding, and uniting the sentiments and views of men and of nations, forms a concert of wills, and a concurrence of action too powerful for the armies of tyrants’ (2 (1788): 324–5).