The Drama of Reason
Introduction: Geoffrey Hill and Soliloquy
The cover of this book reproduces part of an emblem commissioned by Anthony Ashley Cooper, the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury, for his treatise ‘Soliloquy: or, Advice to an Author’, and printed in the 1732 edition of his collected writings, Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times.1 The central panel of the emblem shows a large mirror ‘of the fashionable sort’ leaning ominously over a writing desk in a darkened room.2 On each side of this central panel a boy holding a hand-mirror stands against a sky in which three harpies are arranged in differing positions. On the left, the boy holds the mirror in front of him and looks into it; the harpies are making off into the distance ‘in confusion’. In the right panel, the boy stands against gathering storm clouds, ‘his head […] turn’d strongly away from [the mirror]’. As a consequence, the harpies hover over him menacingly, one of them bearing a crown and sceptre. Refusal to reflect upon yourself, the emblem implies, is tantamount to an abdication of sovereignty: control of your fate – or rather, of your thoughts, fancies and desires – passes to the vengeful whims of the harpies.
‘Soliloquy: or, Advice to an Author’ argues that reasoning cannot be perfected except by a kind of division of the self into two. Commenting on the notion of daemon in classical philosophy, Shaftesbury interprets it to mean
That we had each of us a Patient in our-self; that we were properly our...
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