Before the Empire of English: Literature, Provinciality, and by Alok Yadav (auth.)

By Alok Yadav (auth.)

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Extra resources for Before the Empire of English: Literature, Provinciality, and Nationalism in Eighteenth-Century Britain

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The Latin, though then less celebrated, and confined to more narrow limits, has in some measure outlived the Greek, and is now more generally understood by men of letters. Let the French, therefore, triumph in the present diffusion of their tongue. 46 Like Macaulay after him, Hume invokes the imperial dimension to liken the status and fate of English to that of Latin. Cultural prestige, Hume implies, rests not on cultural achievements alone (the main emphasis in the earlier version of the “progress of English” topos), but rather on achievement mediated through the perspective of a nation’s position in the worldsystem.

But in the hands of English authors, the topos is increasingly characterized by a reluctance to acknowledge any dependence on foreign cultures, and is used to assert instead a native (even a nativist) genealogy that supports or implies a claim for autonomous and autotelic development. F. Jones has examined in his classic study of The Triumph of the English Language (1953). What is most important for my argument here is Jones’s recognition that,“The refinement and adornment of the mother tongue were themselves considered the goal of literature.

For English speakers in the twenty-first century, it requires a strenuous effort of the historical imagination to picture an early modern world in which the English-language literary and cultural sphere occupy only a relatively minor place, but without such an effort we will have a distorted picture of the early modern world and will fail to notice the singular achievement and radical transformation embodied by the rise to metropolitan standing of the English-language literary tradition across the long eighteenth century.

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