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Great Expectations: Futurity in the Long Eighteenth Century

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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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EDMUND BURKE, FUTURITY AND PROVIDENCE, Norbert Col

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EDMUND BURKE, FUTURITY AND PROVIDENCE Norbert Col, Université de Bretagne-Sud/HCTI Looking into all the occurrences of Burke’s use of “futurity” would be tedious, but it is not amiss to bracket one from the near beginning of his writings and an- other from the very end. He had the eye of a historian in the unfinished An Abridgement of English History: “Futurity is the great concern of mankind,” and he mentioned various instances of divination.1 In the fourth of Letters on a Regi- cide Peace, also left unfinished but this time by his death, he encouraged the addressee, Earl Fitzwilliam – “[b]ut do – I no longer prevent it – do go on – look into futurity” – against the backdrop of his anguish over “the regicide empire of today.”2 The invitation was rhetorical: ancient seers had deluded themselves, but the late 1790s had a bleak futurity in store. Whether Providence would intervene was just a similar moot point to its concern with the efforts of earlier seekers into its ways. Rather neatly, this encapsulates Burke’s thinking on the subject. He was a sceptic, hence one that shared some of the values of his time, but his scepticism derived from a Christian worldview. In between these two poles, there could have been room for contemporary ideas whereby mankind mastered as much as could be mastered of its future with the help of science, technology and a new set of moral values. Efforts have indeed been made to connect Burke with some of these devel-...

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