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«The first wit of the age»

Essays on Swift and his Contemporaries in Honour of Hermann J. Real

Edited By Kirsten Juhas, Patrick Müller and Mascha Hansen

On the occasion of Hermann J. Real’s seventy-fifth birthday, this collection honours a scholar whose contagious curiosity has been dedicated to the study of Jonathan Swift’s life and works for the past four decades. The contributions cover multiple aspects of the Dean’s writings as well as a number of eighteenth-century contexts. They not only celebrate the Director of the Ehrenpreis Centre at the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität, Münster, the Editor of the annual Swift Studies, and the convener of six international Münster symposia on the Dean of St Patrick’s, but they also pay homage to the mentor, colleague, and friend. At the same time, they reflect the enduring vitality of Swift studies, which it has been one of Hermann J. Real’s greatest academic achievements to promote.

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III. EARLY PROSE

Extract

JONATHAN SWIFT AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE Clement Hawes, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor I A Tale of a Tub, a glorious anomaly in a great many ways, interferes product- ively with various strains of cultural historiography. As is well known, Swift’s satire especially focuses on the problematic break claimed by the so-called “Moderns”: a forwards-leaning faction in a sometimes facetious cultural quarrel, originating in France and spreading across the Channel, between those intellectuals who defended traditional humanistic letters and those who pro- moted such newer methodologies as Baconian empiricism. The quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns, pitting the authority of origins and genealogy against that of the latest breakthrough, was intrinsically reductive. We are perhaps in a position now to see more clearly what A Tale of a Tub does to criticism and historiography that relies too confidently on the distorting lens of precisely such broad period designations. Swift was a consistent enemy of Sir Isaac Newton, who would, as Master of the Mint, long after the publication of the Tale, validate Wood’s Halfpence. More relevant for this essay is Newton’s stature as an embodiment of radically new thinking, the veritable poster-boy for modernity. Such is the view of Newton’s most engaged biographer, who describes the latter’s achievement as a break with Aristotelian natural philosophy and with geocentrism, as well as the success, by the end of the seventeenth century, of a liberatory autonomy from theology.1 It is an oft-told tale. However, the strict firewall between Newton’s published...

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