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Great Expectations: Futurity in the Long Eighteenth Century


Edited By Mascha Hansen and Jürgen Klein

What did eighteenth-century men and women think about when they contemplated the future? What was hidden in the «dark bosom of futurity», as Richardson’s Pamela calls it? Do all types of literature that supply a critique of the present conjure up an idealized past or a vision of a better future? Predictions and prophecies – not only astrological but also political ones, utopian models, theological concepts like predestination, progress in the sciences, and, last but not least, life-after-death, both in the form of secular fame and the immortal soul, are among the topics addressed by the essays collected in this volume.


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INTRODUCTION Mascha Hansen A Man who confines his Speculations to the Time present, has but a very narrow Province to employ his Thoughts in. For this Reason, Persons of studious and contemplative Natures often entertain themselves with the History of past Ages, or raise Schemes and Conjectures upon Futurity. For my own part, I love to range through that Half of Eternity which is still to come, rather than look on that which is already run out; because I know I have a real Share and Interest in the one, whereas all that was transacted in the other, can be only Matter of Curiosity to me. (The Tatler, 152, 28-30 March 1710) Joseph Addison was not the only one who preferred to let his thoughts roam over “that Half of Eternity which is still to come,” even if the notion of half an eternity may seem somewhat puzzling to modern readers. Ordinary people were less concerned with the time span of eternity, but even they reacted violently to a seeming attempt to steal a part of their future: “Give us back our eleven days,” rioting mobs shouted when England finally adopted the Gregorian Calendar in 1752, “dropping” the eleven days between 2 and 14 September.1 It may seem somewhat paradoxical to look back into the past to find out about the roots of modern notions concerning the future. Yet there is little doubt that the future has been considered to be enormously important in Western soci- eties, perhaps now more...

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