English 245 with Dr. G @ SUNY TC3     




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Syllabus & Schedule





1. Classical Britain

2. Beowulf 1

3. Beowulf 2

4. Middle Ages

5. Romance

6. Sir Gawain

7. Malory

8. Chaucer's Miller

9. Wife of Bath

10. Religious Protest

11. Biblical Drama

12. Play of Mankind

13. Early Modern Period

14. Thomas More

15. Philip Sidney

16. Print Culture

17. Walter Raleigh

18. Twelfth Night 1

19. Twelfth Night  2

20. Civil War

21. An Age of Irreverence

22. Aphra Behn

23. Reading Papers

24. Gulliver

25. Rape of the Lock

26. School for Scandal

27. New God

28. Revolution

Final Exam




** 21. An Age of Irreverence **



The Restoration and Eighteenth Century
Vol. 1C, pages 2121-2144 and 2174-2193
Longman 3rd ed.
"Restoration and 18th Century" and  "The Royal Society"

Hooke's Micrographia is also available online at

Aubrey's Brief Lives ia also available at


The lesson includes both a quiz and a journal writing assignment to be submitted on the interactive course site at  SUNY Learning Network.  


Write for an hour (or more if you have time). Make notes you will find useful on the final essay. Some other journaling ideas for today might include:

How would you describe the writing styles of the authors represented in today's readings?

What seems modern and what seems dated in these readings?

Why should we read any British writers prior to the Restoration, other than maybe Francis Bacon? Why read any literature written before the age of science?











left: Longman cover with Sir Joshua Reynolds, "Mrs. Abington as Miss Prue."

Pictures tell the story of the age, as illustrated in the frontispiece of the book. (How does it differ from the earlier frontispieces? what does it show and suggest about the culture it depicts?)



See General instructions on Journaling for this course. For a sample journal, see Dr. G's 2007 Brit Lit 1 Journal.

Adapted by Dr. G from David Damrosch, et al.,
Teaching British Literature
(New York: Longman, 2003)

Hot Cover
If the Renaissance is "early modern," then the Restoration and Eighteenth-Century are a lot more modern. This era has been called the Enlightenment, Age of Reason and Neo-Classical Age, to signify a time when serious thinking emerged from "middle" ages constrained by faith or superstition. Yet this great new age of discovery and science was as playful and fun-loving as serious.

Mrs. Abington by Joshua ReynoldsWe might call it the Age of Irreverence. Some reverent things happened (the development of Methodism and natural religion, for example), and it was commonly thought at this time that the new science would lead to real knowledge of God's plan for the universe. Nevertheless, the questioning of authority begun in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance reached fruition only after the English Civil War and commonwealth period [Lesson 20]. Results included overhauls of religion and government, the economy and work, technology and science, literature, fashion and art.














Left: another provocative portrait of Mrs. Abington by Sir Joshua Reynolds (cir. 1764-73).



Our textbook captures the refined and deliciously scandalous spirit of this time with its cover, Reynolds' portrait of "Mrs. Abington as Miss Prue," the famous actress elegantly and provocatively posed. (What actresses did we see in prior periods?)

Have a look at the century-spanning portraits of women that punctuate the general introduction. (What changes do they trace?) Above all, see Hogarth's A Rake’s Progress, which tracks one fop's demise through the culture's eight most central places (home, salon, tavern, square, church, gambling den, Newgate, Bedlam). Compare this progression to the medieval stations of the cross!

The new age saw the introduction of the industrial revolution and world trade, the construction of coffeehouses and public transportation, the rise of scientific method and banking, the decline of the monarchy and Anglicanism, and the burgeoning of novels, satires, diaries, and self-expression in general.  It was the time of the Glorious Revolution and the American Revolution. Change began to be seen as progress rather than decay. Free thinking and tolerance came into vogue, and personal quests for pleasure, wealth and political freedom lost much of their former stigma. Slavery was questioned and, finally, in 1772 declared to be contrary to English law.

The social class system also was transformed. In the middle ages, society had consisted of "the three estates": those who fought (the aristocracy or landed gentry), those who prayed (church officials), and those who worked (peasants). This had come down from the ancient British society of warriors, Druids and commons observed by Caesar. By the Restoration, however, Brits began to be divided less by work than by money. The new orders were upper class, middle class, and lower class, as defined mainly by wealth--a social arrangement more rigid than in Anglo-America today but more fluid than in preindustrial times. 

In sum, this Britain is our mother world. We begin to feel at home here, at least if we feel at home in our time.  


Left: Is this the first British rock star? It's the first British Libertine poet, John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (1647-1680), crowning his inspiring monkey with laurel. Some of the poems appear in our book (2345-3456).





The microscope of Robert Hooke

The New Science
Science in the seventeenth century is rooted in irreverence for literature--the belief that we can learn more from nature than from our forefathers, even the ancient sagacious writers of Israel, Greece or Rome. Experimental method accorded new centrality to the data supplied by the senses. As Sprat observes at one point in his History of the Royal Society, fellows of the Royal Society feel surest when inquiring into “things” that can “be brought within their own touch and sight.” They feel less secure about evidence for which they are “forced to trust the reports of others.”

This poses an interesting new question for literature: if nobody is too impressed with lies any more, how can a writer, a maker of mere "reports," engage readers' senses? One answer appears in Hooke’s
Micrographia, where our eyes take in directly the drawn-up data—even as the data, obtained by means of microscope, alert us to the inadequacy of human vision heretofore. A somewhat more subtle answer appears in Aubrey's Brief Lives, biographies that deal very abundantly in things touched, smelled, tasted, counted. (To compile a quick catalog: Bacon’s aversion to neat’s leather, his strong beer, his snowstuffed goose . . .) Sprat himself returns repeatedly to the ideal (to be savagely mocked by satirist Jonathan Swift) that words can attain the “nakedness,” specificity, and palpability of things. Throughout this period, writers of various kinds sought to close the gap between the word for a thing, or the appearance of a thing,  and the thing itself.

Thomas Sprat and the Royal Society
In phrases key to this "Perspectives" section of our textbook, Sprat emphasizes the importance of incompletion in the fellows’ work: “their purpose was to heap up a mixed mass of experiments, without digesting them into any perfect model,” and to present their reports “not as complete schemes of opinions, but as bare, unfinished histories” (2127). How does each of these writers in the writing itself--its structure, diction, style--attempt to convey the sense of a heap, a mixed mass, an unfinished history, an unsolved puzzle? In what ways—and for what reasons—do the writers complicate this agenda by insinuating order, hypothesis, point, and rhetorical flourish in their prose?





Left: the microscope used for the Royal Society of London by Robert Hooke.


In many authors of this period, and in Sprat in particular, old contends with new. Sprat was a theologian hired to defend the Royal Society's scientific project from religious attacks, and his writing style is generally at odds with his message. His words are most ornately rhetorical when denouncing ornate rhetoric. His scornful rejections of “this vicious abundance of phrase, this trick of metaphors, this volubility of tongue,” and of “all the amplifications, digressions, and swellings of style,” are both instances of the Ciceronian tricolon (or three-parter), that amplified or copious style that had long afforded writers and orators the kind of prefabricated grandeur that Sprat criticizes.

Sprat is aware of his problem: “The style in which [this history] is written,” he confesses in his preface, “is larger and more contentious than becomes that purity and shortness which are the chief beauties of historical writings.” For this fault he blames the Society’s detractors. So severe are their attacks, Sprat argues, that he must use all of the rhetorical resources available to him. He just doesn't get it.

In Philosophical Transactions (a scientific journal established in 1665 and still published as I write in 2012) the newly developing genre of the periodical provided a near-perfect implementation of the “mixed mass” and the “unfinished history.” The table of contents for each number blazoned an ostentatious variety of topics. In the matter of “the monstrous calf,” erroneous observations in the first number are comfortably corrected in the second. Boyle’s conjectures about ambergris, though erroneous in themselves, fulfill flawlessly the Society’s agenda for inquiry: its proud dependence on information gathered by merchants and “mechanicks” engaged with the real world; its use of a manuscript “journal” (another mode of periodical) in which the data are recorded fresh, at the time and place of their first gathering.



Robert Hooke
Rhetorically, Hooke sustains a continual traffic between small things and great. He asserts, throughout his text, that the microscope’s minutiae have much to teach us about Creation and about the “true philosophy” in which Hooke and his colleagues are engaged. Yet the connections between facts and conclusions are tentative, cautiously subject to revision.

Hooke repeatedly confesses his subordinate social status (real enough at the Royal Society), which probably made it seem to his aristocratic bosses that they were the discoverers, and yet they often were annoyed that Hooke went off on his own priorities. One discovery they were making is that the world of science, even though it requires funding, actually belongs to those who do it.

Hooke’s preface highlights the double status of the human senses in the Society’s agenda: the senses are essential, and they are sadly feeble. New instruments are needed to extend their reach and refine their grasp. Hooke promptly remakes this point, with subtle visual force, Figure 1 from Micrographia, the periodin the book's first illustrative plate, showing a printed period (or full stop) many times magnified. The plate leads us into the book’s central revelation: we have looked at things all our days, but we have not seen them as they are.

Having seen the period in the plate, we cannot look at text on any page in quite the same way again, and so we read more carefully, we begin to experiment with alphabets that are less difficult for the human eye to distinguish, and in general we advance into that collaborative process of skeptical inquiry which the Society so prized. Hooke draws us there again and again by inviting us to do our own “work” on the plates he presents, as at the end of his commentary on the flea.

Hooke’s flea seems to have produced the most shock and fascination of any of his plates, Robert Hooke's fleapartly because of the implicit violence of the image (see the metaphors of armor and weaponry that Hooke deploys in his description) but partly too because the picture was a foldout, glued into the book but four times the size of the book’s normal page. Having perhaps become accustomed to the magnifications on early pages, the reader was confronted here, at the very end of the book, with expansion expanded—and with the implication that Micrographia and its attendant inquiries would prove an unending program, of which this was a first installment of bare, unfinished history.




"Philosophy" and "science" were closely related terms in the 17th century. One meant pursuit of knowledge, and the other meant knowledge.










Hooke's period (full stop), left, gaves him the idea that secret code can be devised by shrinking text to miniature size, readable only by microscope.






Left: Hooke's flea. With the Restoration, some  Brits started over by looking more closely at things.

John Aubrey
Aubrey’s Brief Lives are unfinished history incarnate: even in this copious array of notes towards biography, he leaves blanks that he never gets around to filling in. The real question is what makes them so pleasurable as prose and so persuasive, in their own way, as biography. It may be best to hear a few items read aloud, some short (Bacon’s “hazel eye,” Harvey’s “young wench”) and some longer (Harvey’s involvement at Edgehill, with its striking train of narrative thought), and to ask, one by one, what effects Aubrey achieves in these items and how he achieves them. One key may lie in Sprat’s recurrent praise of “naked” language (and “bare” history).

Aubrey’s anecdotes seem unadorned, unmediated, as though rawly reported in accord with the credo, “first thought, best thought.” At the same time, Aubrey is conspicuously and pervasively present, as gatherer (“Mr. Hobbes told me. . .”) and as shaper: it seems, for example, that with a few reservations Aubrey admires both Bacon and Harvey, though he does not directly say so. At least he presents his subjects as worthy of note.

Yet Aubrey reveals warts and all. Bacon is not only a great scholar and wit: he takes bribes and molests boys! The Brief Lives are entirely new in their realism--or scandal or gossip or whatever. Before Aubrey with some exceptions, biography normally was used for moral teaching. Characters exemplified good or bad conduct, saints (Foxe's Book of Martyrs) or sinners (Thomas More's Richard III). In most cases, the biographer did not know the subject personally or through acquaintances but only through books and imagination. Which is it: does Aubrey apply scientific method in order to tell the complex truth, or is he merely a gossip collector showing how well connected he is to important people of the day?

Dueling Prose Styles
Lives contrasts in style with the selections in our anthology from Samuel Johnson’s Lives of the Poets (2931-2940) or  Edward Hyde’s True Historical Narrative of the Rebellion (recall "the Death of Montrose" in Lesson 20). Aubrey offers informal, clipped, simple sentences.  (And sentence fragments!) Johnson and Hyde, however, use formal Ciceronian periods. The formal and informal, or high and middle styles, have separate purposes. The high sentence expresses, as syntax, those “perfect [i.e., polished, completed] models” of thought that Sprat could not resist using when denouncing his opponents. On the other hand, the middle style, also known as the "running style" or "Senecan style," embodies the provisional, the observed, the sense of history unfinished, which Sprat celebrated. This style eventually developed into today's "plain English," using the fewest words that clearly convey the meaning, usually in SVO (subject-verb-object) order. It is our familiar ideal in almost all nonfiction prose.

The high and middle styles battled through the eighteenth century. Comic novelist Henry Fielding and other humorists used periodic sentences to describe to lowly subjects; Daniel Defoe and other journalists used running sentences to provide a sense of objectivity. Writers often used the two modes on different occasions. For instance, Samuel Pepys used ornate Ciceronian “public prose” in speeches, but he chose a far plainer style for his informal data-driven diary. We live in a much less ornate world today, but dressing up and dressing down, British writers of the 17th and 18th centuries were keenly aware of how their words looked in print.



Aubrey inaugurates the scandal sheet that has become the standard fare in popular English media.






























Below: Frontispiece to the History of the Royal Society. Crowning King Charles II are the first president of the society Christopher Wren (left) and the Elizabethan philosopher of science Francis Bacon (right)


For criticism and mockery of Hooker and Sprat, see Margaret Cavendish, "Observations upon Experimental Philosophy" (Damrosch 2203-2205) and "A Voyage to Laputa" in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (Damrosch 2532-2536). Gulliver is especially taken with an experiment that would abolish all words and use only things themselves for expression (2535). Cavendish mistakenly believes the natural world is only what we see, that the microscope produces only unnatural distortions. Her view is likely to have been shared by many.

The Royal Society maintains a web page. Some famous Royal Society papers are also collected online.

Micrographia by Robert Hooke (with plates) at Project Gutenberg. Robert Hooke web site

English Bill of Rights 1689 from the Yale Law School

Great Fire of London from BBC

Industrial revolution links

John Dryden from Bartleby.

William Harvey from Bartleby

Samuel Pepys Diary  http://www.pepys.info/



Know of an excellent website that would wonderfully  complement this lesson? Please send it to Dr. G.


 Copyright 2008 by Gary Homer Gutchess