Howard Erskine-Hill

Howard Erskine-Hill is a Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge and author of The Social Milieu of Alexander pope. He is working on a study of the Augustan idea in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Winner’s History

Howard Erskine-Hill, 20 August 1981

Some great and some good things, and some both great and good, undoubtedly came out of the period 1640-60 which Christopher Hill calls ‘the English Revolution’. What came out, however, was not necessarily originated by the period. It is a nice problem to distinguish causation from succession. In 12 short and easygoing chapters, originally the Merle Curti Lectures at the University of Wisconsin, Professor Hill’s account slides to and fro from causation to succession. For example: ‘Locke drew on the experiences of the revolutionary decades’ and is thus an ‘intellectual consequence’ of ‘the English Revolution’; and ‘the great revolution in human thought … echoed from England all over Europe … Harrington, Locke, Newton, Hume and Adam Smith gave the lead to the whole of Europe. Richardson and Fielding, building on 17th-century spiritual autobiographies, and on the writings of Bunyan and Defoe, created the novel, the dominant literary form of the modern age.’

On Aetna’s Top

Howard Erskine-Hill, 4 September 1980

So Pope wrote in 1737, since which time Cowley has passed almost entirely into the hands of academic literary historians, whose chief service to him has been the rediscovery of his unfinished epic The Civil War, edited by Allan Pritchard in 1973. What pleases David Trotter is the conception of Cowley as a poet of cultural crisis, of the ‘intellectual revolution’ of the 17th century. Three leading ideas help him to take this view. The first is Eliot’s hypothesis of a 17th-century dissociation of sensibility, here given a more specific formulation in Hobbes’s distinction between locutionary and propositional truth. The second is a Romantic concept of revolution as creative upheaval. The third is a more recent notion of the exhaustion of discourses, which connects perhaps indirectly with some contemporary French criticism, and with Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962). These ideas may seem to yield the pedigree of the book, and are arguably the source of some falsification of the cultural history, as well as much that is of positive interest.

The Battle of Edmonton, which began early in the morning of 12 December 1745, appeared to the combatants to have decided the nation’s future. The military details will be familiar to many...

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When in Rom

John Sutherland, 9 June 1994

Ask what has been the single greatest influence on literary research since the Sixties and the answer might be the Xerox machine, the jumbo jet or Jacques Derrida. Ask what will transform...

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Princes and Poets

Niall Rudd, 4 August 1983

In his immensely impressive book Dr Erskine-Hill shows how the example of Augustus was used as an inspiration, or as a warning, at every period from the Church Fathers to the end of the 18th...

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