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12 Jan

“Censorship and deception in the printing of Swift’s works 1690-1758” , National Print Museum, 15th Jan 2015.

From ECIS: There will be a public lecture at the National Print Museum entitled ‘Censorship and deception in the printing of Swift’s works 1690-1758’, on Thursday, 15 January 2015, at 6.30pm. The lecture will be given by Professor Andrew Carpenter as part of the National Print Museum’s ‘Censored’ lecture series and is free of charge

Please visit the National Print Museum website, or call 01 6603770 for further details.

03 Dec

Reciprocal Referencing: Hutcheson and Swift

At the end of a downpour on a Dublin street

“Now in contiguous drops the flood comes down,
Threatening with deluge this devoted town.”
Downpour in Dublin (c) Phil Burns/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

I came across an article, An image from Francis Hutcheson in Gulliver’s Travels, book IV, chapter 5 by Arnd Bohm, in which he points out the similarity between a passage by Swift and a passage by Hutcheson.

In Gulliver’s Travels (book IV, Chapter 5) Gulliver tells the gentle, horse-like Houyhnhnm master about wars among humans, and the death and destruction it involves:

And to set forth the valour of my own dear countrymen, I assured him, “that I had seen them blow up a hundred enemies at once in a siege, and as many in a ship, and beheld the dead bodies drop down in pieces from the clouds, to the great diversion of the spectators.”

The Houyhnhnm is horrified, as we might be well be, at the thought of wholesale death being a “great diversion”. Bohm suggests that the moral indifference shown is emphasised when we realise the likely source of the example Swift is using.
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02 May

Swift, satire and censorship

Clip from The First Georgians, which covers an important but often overlooked time in British and Irish history.

What is said about censorship is true. Britain was freer than most after the legal mechanisms for policing print lapsed in 1695. Still, many works were published anonymously, for fear of public reaction. Swift is an excellent example…even though his satire was so entertaining that Gulliver’s Travels is widely read today without any notion of its satirical intent (nicely explained in this video).

Works judged blasphemous or seditious could still get you arrested. Toland, Emyln and Swift himself (not to mention his printer) could all attest to that.

Still, to steal a title from Swift, this was truly a time when a “Battle of the Books” was first allowed to take place. More on the political and philosophical background to Gulliver’s Travels here on Cliffs Notes.

17 Mar

Patrick and a question of identity

Statue of St Patrick overlooking green fields and a rainbow

Image: starbeard /Flickr (CC BY)

Last year Vox Hiberionacum published two posts on the historical Patrick and the voicing of early Irish identity: one relating to classical and early medieval terms used by outsiders and a sequel on terms used in Patrick’s own writings. In brief, Patrick used the term Scotti, which had with negative connotations, but mainly to refer to the pagan Irish. The converts he referred to as Irish/Hibernae, including in the famous account of his dream where ‘the voice of the (not yet converted) Irish’ calls on him to return to Ireland, and in contexts referring to existing converts. Vox Hiberionacum points out the complexity of identity involved in both terms – the people referred to in both were of multiple backgrounds, classes and tribes. Some were not even born in Ireland. In his Letter to Coroticus protesting the killing and enslavement of Irish converts to Christianity by a British chieftain, Patrick writes

Indignum est illis Hiberionaci sumus
‘For them, it is a disgrace/shameful that we are from Ireland‘. 

Whether this is a slip or a rhetorical device, it is the first insular expression of an Irish ‘we’, and it includes not only the Irish born in Ireland but Patrick himself.

This complexity inherent in the term “Irish” brought to mind two of Ireland’s greatest philosophers. Johannes Scotus Eriugena adopted two names denoting his Irishness, plausibly because even by his time being an Irishman (Scotus) did not automatically mean born in Ireland (Eriugena). George Berkeley in several places in his Philosophical Commentaries writes, “we Irish” (“we Irish do not hold with this”, “We Irish think otherwise”). Yet he is often claimed as English. Both philosophers are enmeshed in the complexities of Irish identity.
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17 Jan

Rude Enlightenment

Admittedly, Swift was not an easy man with whom to get on with, aggravating his church superior, Archbishop William King of Dublin, himself a truculent steward prone to picking fights.

Arbuckle was an equally thorny character who made enemies easily. He found it necessary to leave the University of Glasgow in a hurry when, as a student, he was involved in an altercation concerning the election of the rector. He retreated to Dublin, where he fell into favor with Robert, Viscount Molesworth of Swords—himself described by one acquaintance as “waspish” and prone to anticlerical outbursts.

These traits helped Molesworth to remain close to that most volatile and barbed of personalities, the freethinker John Toland. He promulgated a kind of literary subterfuge that Swift mocked in a series of texts, notably An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity, in which he mentioned Toland by name.

A selection of personality clashes in Enlightenment Dublin.

Quote from Michael Brown (2012) “The Biter Bitten: Ireland and the Rude Enlightenment” in Eighteenth-Century Studies, Volume 45, Number 3 (JSTOR)

To see just how rude it could get, see the post on James Arbuckle.

29 Aug

John Locke in Ireland

In 1692 John Locke’s Essay concerning Human Understanding was put on the curriculum of Trinity College Dublin by the provost St George Ashe. This was the first university to do so, unsurprising given the book was only published two years before.

The book was added on the recommendation of William Molyneux, founder of the Dublin Philosophical Society and first translator of Descartes’Meditations into English. In 1692 Molyneux made a flattering reference to Locke in the dedication of his own book, the Dioptrica Nova. He sent a copy to Locke, sparking a correspondence that only ended when Molyneux died. Molyneux was immortalised on a later edition of Locke’s Essay as the creator of Molyneux’s Problem.

When, in 1695, John Toland published his Christianity Not Mysterious, which applied Lockean ideas to religion, Locke was by then known well enough for the arguments refuting Toland to employ the same Lockean ideas. The Irish Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment, described by David Berman, produced new theological positions, such as Theological Representationalism, and some important philosophers. “Without Locke’sEssay“, says Berman, “there would hardly have been a Berkeley, Hutcheson or Burke.” Much of Irish philosophy in this “Golden Age” rests on Lockean foundations, and Berkeley’s philosophy is rooted in disputes between different positions based on Locke.
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29 Jul

The Seven Sages

The First. My great-grandfather spoke to Edmund Burke
In Grattan’s house.
The Second. My great-grandfather shared
A pot-house bench with Oliver Goldsmith once.
The Third. My great-grandfather’s father talked of music,
Drank tar-water with the Bishop of Cloyne.
The Fourth. But mine saw Stella once.
The Fifth. Whence came our thought?
The Sixth. From four great minds that hated Whiggery.
The Fifth. Burke was a Whig.
The Sixth. Whether they knew or not,
Goldsmith and Burke, Swift and the Bishop of Cloyne
All hated Whiggery; but what is Whiggery?
A levelling, rancorous, rational sort of mind
That never looked out of the eye of a saint
Or out of drunkard’s eye.
The Seventh. All’s Whiggery now,
But we old men are massed against the world.
The First. American colonies, Ireland, France and India
Harried, and Burke’s great melody against it.
The Second. Oliver Goldsmith sang what he had seen,
Roads full of beggars, cattle in the fields,
But never saw the trefoil stained with blood,
The avenging leaf those fields raised up against it.
The Fourth. The tomb of Swift wears it away.
The Third. A voice
Soft as the rustle of a reed from Cloyne
That gathers volume; now a thunder-clap.
The Sixth. What schooling had these four?
The Seventh. They walked the roads
Mimicking what they heard, as children mimic;
They understood that wisdom comes of beggary.

Yeats’ poem (published 1933) in praise of Edmund Burke, Oliver Goldsmith, George Berkeley (the Bishop of Cloyne) and Jonathan Swift. All wrote about oppression and dispossession; Berkeley and Swift in the Irish context (The Querist and A Modest Proposal), Goldsmith in the context of the rich evicting the poor in The Deserted Village, and Burke on the widest canvas of all (India, the American colonies and Ireland).

Yeats’ affiliation with the Georgian (protestant, intellectual) past first emerged in “The Tower” (1928) and “Blood and the Moon” (1929). Yeats also makes reference to the 1798 Rising, “the trefoil stained with blood”, which he previously referred to (“Emmet, Fitzgerald, Tone”) in “The Funeral of Parnell” (1932).

It is a little strange to see four men who attended Trinity College Dublin, three of whom (Swift, Berkeley and Burke) were pillars of the Establishment, described as walking the roads and knowing that “wisdom comes of beggary”. However in Yeats’ 1931 introduction to Hone and Rossi’s Bishop Berkeley1 Yeats argued that the Georgian society they all belonged to was one that allowed “solitaries to flourish” – essentially the same premodern society that supported hermit monks, or Indian sages with begging bowls, or literal beggars and wanderers.
Continue reading

23 May

The Logicians Refuted

Read by Gregg Margarite. Written by Jonathan Swift (or Oliver Goldsmith, see note).

Very much in the tradition of Diogenes, who on hearing Plato had defined humans as “featherless bipeds”, presented him with a plucked chicken, the poet satirically punctures humanity’s supposed elevated status.

He explicitly argues against Aristotle and Smiglesius (1564 – 1618, Polish Jesuit philosopher, known for his 1618 Logica, commonly used as a textbook), and implicitly against those in his own time who presented reason as all important. The poet retorts that man is weak and erring, and instinct is a better guide. He makes a long list of man’s follies and foibles (including a dig at Sir Robert Walpole or “Bob”, who employed party-writers to write his praises). He claims animals avoid these errors (though his knowledge of beasts is not as accurate as that of man). He finally notes human similarity to apes, and that humans at court yet manage to out-ape the apes.

Full text of the poem.

Note: This video attributes the authorship of this work to Jonathan Swift, but it is also attributed to Oliver Goldsmith. Continue reading

17 May

Swift and the Postboy

Swift and the PostboyFrom the British Library, dated 3 February 1806. A ( probably apocryphal) tale of cheek rewarded!

The picture shows the postboy dressed in Swift’s dressing gown seated in Swift’s chair, as Swift bows to him. The text below the picture says:

A Gentleman employed a Post Boy to carry a present of a Turbot to Dean Swift, who seldom gave the bringer any thing for his Trouble, the Boy knowing this delivered it in an awkward & careless manner which discomposed the Doctor, who thereupon determined to teach him good Manners: “sit down in my Chair” said he “and suppose yourself to be the Dean and I will represent you” – on which the Dean delivered the Turbot and Message with great Politeness, – “well done” said the Boy “you are a very civil Fellow, here is five shillings for you and pray give my Compliments to your Master” – the Dean took the Hint, smil’d at the Joke, and rewarded him with half a Guinea.


09 May

What you see is what you get

This, too, is a feature of Irish thought. A nervousness of abstraction underlies the conservative politics of Berkeley, Swift and Burke, leading them to belabour impious rationalists and idle utopianists. It is not surprising that Burke, with his passion for the particular, should have produced one of the first great works of aesthetics in these islands. It fitted well with his hatred of revolutionary rationalism across the Channel. It may seem odd to say that Berkeley was wary of abstractions when he produced such a wildly speculative doctrine as esse est percipi, but the truth is that he thought it no more than common sense. It was, he thought, what the man in the street believed too. The common people were not metaphysically inclined, and so did not subscribe to the notion that there was some mysterious ‘substance’ that supposedly underlay our sensory impressions of things. For them as for Berkeley himself, what you see is what you get.

From “What you see is what you get” in the LRB, Terry Eagleton’s review of “The Correspondence of George Berkeley”, edited by Marc Hight (subscription required).

The piece is 90% Eagleton on Irish thought, and 10% the volume being reviewed, but none the worse for that.