Meditations and literary history, 1600-1750 : generic mixture and generic change

Radcliffe, David Hill, Department of English, University of Virginia
Fowler, Alastair, Department of English, University of Virginia

Using the meditation as exemplary instance, I argue that literary genres change by incorporating, resisting, or merging with other genres in ways which articulate changing values in religion, philosophy, and social history. The procedures of combinatory analysis which I apply to seventeenth and eighteenth-century meditations are able to account for differences within and between works, genres, and periods and to explain why and how changes in literary history take place. They also permit us to see the importance of meditational genres in articulating philosophical, religious, and social positions in the years between 1600 and 1750.

In the Anniversaries, John Donne attempted to establish the authority of a vatic conception of religious discourse over rival claims to authority by incorporating and subsuming the methods of natural philosophy and scientific divinity within his poetry. The hierarchical disposition of genres in the work reflects the hierarchical structure of authority which Donne seeks to reestablish. Where the principle of generic combination in the Anniversaries is subordination, in "Coopers Hill" it is heterogeneity: Denham imitates the ideal of harmonious concord in a mixed monarchy in a complex play of unity and difference in a work containing epigrammatic complements, meditations on religious and secular subjects, and georgic evocations of commercial wealth and royal prerogative. In the Compleat Angler, Walton took a genre used to aggravate political differences, and transformed satire into a Menippean contemplation celebrating the pleasures of innocence and the innocence of pleasure. Abraham Cowley's Essays were written at a time when the hierarchy of genres associated with courtly poetry no longer accorded with the values of aristocratic society. Cowley's sylva deprecates the values of the court and offers in their place a digest of classical wisdom expressed in a new array of genres elevating rural innocence and domestic felicity. In making Robinson Crusoe a "serious" novel, Defoe finds in solitude the common denominator between the pious and picaresque, and in the Serious Reflections explores implications of subjectivity for religious practices, commercial relations, and fictional techniques. In an appendix on the frontispieces to The Anatomy of Melancholy and An Essay on Man, I consider implications of concepts of meditation for changing relations between literature and the visual arts.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Literature, Modern -- 17th century -- History and criticism, Literature, Modern -- 18th century -- History and criticism, Meditations
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