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I now, I then

Thomas Keymer: Life-Writing, 16 August 2017

AHistory of English Autobiography 
edited by Adam Smyth.
Cambridge, 437 pp., £64.99, June 2016, 978 1 107 07841 3
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... style (intimate letters, transcribed conversations) with a minimum of authorial mediation. Thomas De Quincey invited comparison with Rousseau in Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, but relinquished Rousseau’s sense of personal control. The opium becomes a rival protagonist of his story, almost at times a rival author. It strips away the ‘veil ...

Too Many Pears

Thomas Keymer: Frances Burney, 26 August 2015

The Court Journals and Letters of Frances Burney 1786-91, Vols III-IV: 1788 
edited by Lorna Clark.
Oxford, 824 pp., £225, September 2014, 978 0 19 968814 2
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... vanish from the title pages. The earliest, weightiest defence of the book came from Thomas Macaulay: his counterblast to Croker in the Whig Edinburgh Review was written to settle a private score, but he was sincere in his admiration. He found in the diary the same qualities of observation that in 1778 had made Evelina, in his view, the first ...

Freaks, Dwarfs and Boors

Thomas Keymer: 18th-Century Jokes, 2 August 2012

Cruelty and Laughter: Forgotten Comic Literature and the Unsentimental 18th Century 
by Simon Dickie.
Chicago, 362 pp., £29, December 2011, 978 0 226 14618 8
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... Compassion was invented in the 18th century, or so the story goes. Sensibility and sympathy were the wellspring of benevolent action and the glue of society (Adam Smith). There were no qualities more admirable ‘than beneficence and humanity … or whatever proceeds from a tender sympathy with others’ (David Hume). Fashionable poems deplored slavery and child labour, and wrung tears from the public on behalf of the distressed ...

Mastering the Art of Understating Your Wealth

Thomas Keymer: The Tonsons, 4 May 2016

The Literary Correspondences of the Tonsons 
edited by Stephen Bernard.
Oxford, 386 pp., £95, March 2015, 978 0 19 870085 2
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... Who​ invented English literature? English literature, that is, as a conceptual category defined by canon and tradition? The 18th century has provided most of the candidates. There were opinion formers like Joseph Addison, who airbrushed out Milton’s regicidal politics, or David Garrick, who turned Shakespeare from upstart crow into national bard; there were theoreticians of ‘original composition’ like Edward Young, who set a premium on the rejection of classical models; there were book-trade entrepreneurs whose huge poetry anthologies cashed in on the landmark case of Donaldson v ...

At least that was the idea

Thomas Keymer: Johnson and Boswell’s Club, 10 October 2019

The Club: Johnson, Boswell and the Friends who Shaped an Age 
by Leo Damrosch.
Yale, 488 pp., £20, April 2019, 978 0 300 21790 2
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... The Turk’s Head​ isn’t the kind of name you’d choose for a pub these days, though there’s still one in Wapping, and another in Twickenham. The famous Turk’s Head was in Gerrard Street in Soho, a precinct first laid out under Charles II, popular with authors and artists from the start (Dryden moved to Gerrard Street in 1687 while still poet laureate), and by the mid-18th century thronged with coffee houses and taverns ...

After-Meditation

Thomas Keymer: The Girondin Wordsworth, 18 June 2020

Radical Wordsworth: The Poet who Changed the World 
by Jonathan Bate.
William Collins, 608 pp., £25, April, 978 0 00 816742 4
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William Wordsworth: A Life 
by Stephen Gill.
Oxford, new edition, 688 pp., £25, April, 978 0 19 881711 6
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... borough since the heyday of Sir James (‘Wicked Jimmy’) Lowther, 1st earl of Lonsdale: a man Thomas De Quincey called ‘a true Feudal Chieftain’, notorious for his ‘gloomy temper and habits of oppression’. Wicked Jimmy went to a better (or worse) place in 1802, at which point the large debt he owed Wordsworth’s late father, who had spent many ...

Rogering in Merryland

Thomas Keymer: The Unspeakable Edmund Curll, 13 December 2007

Edmund Curll, Bookseller 
by Paul Baines and Pat Rogers.
Oxford, 388 pp., £30, January 2007, 978 0 19 927898 5
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... perhaps, but also a reminder that Curll, by publishing the 1725 Works, did more than anyone before Thomas Hollis in the 1760s to keep alive Marvell’s reputation. Curll’s intertwining of seduction and sedition was targeted and exploited by the authorities, and his belated prosecution for publishing pornographic titles including Venus in the ...

Bring some Madeira

Thomas Keymer: Thomas Love Peacock, 8 February 2018

Nightmare Abbey 
by Thomas Love Peacock, edited by Nicholas A. Joukovsky.
Cambridge, 297 pp., £84.99, December 2016, 978 1 107 03186 9
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Crotchet Castle 
by Thomas Love Peacock, edited by Freya Johnston and Matthew Bevis.
Cambridge, 328 pp., £79.99, December 2016, 978 1 107 03072 5
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... Marilyn Butler​ , whose Peacock Displayed was published in 1979, wasn’t the first to connect Peacock’s name with the showy wit of his satires. It started with Shelley, his friend and patron, who joked in 1820 about ‘the Pavonian Psyche’ (pavo: peacock), as though Peacock himself had the kind of name that he specialised in giving to his characters ...

That Corrupting Country

Thomas Keymer: Orientalist Jones, 9 May 2013

Orientalist Jones: Sir William Jones, Poet, Lawyer and Linguist, 1746-94 
by Michael Franklin.
Oxford, 396 pp., £35, September 2011, 978 0 19 953200 1
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... of the French Revolution it was Jones’s version that was stamped on medals by the democrat Thomas Spence. Franklin tracks the motto’s path through American political discourse, from Jefferson’s speeches to the rhetoric of abolitionism; even ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ may glance at an earlier line from the poem, about ‘starr’d and spangled ...

Cough up

Thomas Keymer: Henry Fielding, 20 November 2008

Plays: Vol. II, 1731-34 
by Henry Fielding, edited by Thomas Lockwood.
Oxford, 865 pp., £150, October 2007, 978 0 19 925790 4
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‘The Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon’, ‘Shamela’ and ‘Occasional Writings’ 
by Henry Fielding, edited by Martin Battestin, with Sheridan Baker and Hugh Amory.
Oxford, 804 pp., £150
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... nowhere more than in the comedies and farces of the 1730s, eight of which appear in this volume of Thomas Lockwood’s edition of Fielding’s drama. A third and final volume of plays is in preparation, and will complete the Wesleyan Edition of the Works of Henry Fielding – a heroic project, begun in the 1960s, which has now outlived all but three members of ...

Carry up your Coffee boldly

Thomas Keymer: Jonathan Swift, 16 April 2014

Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World 
by Leo Damrosch.
Yale, 573 pp., £25, November 2013, 978 0 300 16499 2
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Parodies, Hoaxes, Mock Treatises: ‘Polite Conversation’, ‘Directions to Servants’ and Other Works 
by Jonathan Swift, edited by Valerie Rumbold.
Cambridge, 821 pp., £85, July 2013, 978 0 521 84326 3
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Journal to Stella: Letters to Esther Johnson and Rebecca Dingley, 1710-13 
by Jonathan Swift, edited by Abigail Williams.
Cambridge, 800 pp., £85, December 2013, 978 0 521 84166 5
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... awful’. Early memoirists take us further with Swift’s character, but only so far. His godson Thomas Sheridan recalled that ‘he always appeared to the world in a mask, which he never took off but in the company of his most intimate friends.’ Yet this unmasking, such as it was, only seems to have confused things further. The most memorable assessments ...

What did she do with those beds?

Thomas Keymer: Eliza Haywood, 3 January 2013

A Political Biography of Eliza Haywood 
by Kathryn King.
Pickering and Chatto, 288 pp., £60, June 2012, 978 1 85196 917 3
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... Alexander Pope’s slur has loomed for centuries over the reputation of Eliza Haywood, the most prominent female author of her day. In The Dunciad, she is the prize of a pissing competition held between talentless hacks:   Who best can send on high The salient spout, far-streaming to the sky; His be yon Juno of majestic size, With cow-like udders, and with ox-like eyes ...

You can’t prove I meant X

Clare Bucknell, 16 April 2020

Poetics of the Pillory: English Literature and Seditious Libel, 1660-1820 
by Thomas Keymer.
Oxford, 352 pp., £25, October 2019, 978 0 19 874449 8
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... books, the printer’s name and location could be disguised by the use of a false imprint.For Thomas Keymer in his beautifully detailed history, such strategies of evasion are one of the things that make seditious literary texts worth reading, forms of energetic ‘creativity and rhetorical complexity’ for which, perhaps counterintuitively, we have ...

High-Meriting, Low-Descended

John Mullan: The Unpolished Pamela, 12 December 2002

Pamela: or, Virtue Rewarded 
by Samuel Richardson, edited by Thomas Keymer and Alice Wakely.
Oxford, 592 pp., £6.99, June 2001, 0 19 282960 2
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... have his manuscript corrections, only the edition produced from them by his daughter Anne in 1801. Thomas Keymer and Alice Wakely, the editors of the Oxford edition, suggest that Anne might well have included changes of her own, as well as those of Richardson’s other daughter, Martha, who had died in 1785. They quote from letters in which Martha yearns ...

‘I can scarce hold my pen’

Clare Bucknell: Samuel Richardson’s Letters, 14 June 2017

The Correspondence of Samuel Richardson with Lady Bradshaigh and Lady Echlin 
edited by Peter Sabor.
Cambridge, three vols, 1200 pp., £275, November 2016, 978 1 107 14552 8
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... until very recently been the only available basis for scholarly work. It is now being replaced by Thomas Keymer and Peter Sabor’s magnificent 12-volume edition of the correspondence, three volumes of which, edited by Sabor, collect Richardson’s letters with Bradshaigh. Their pages represent an extraordinary amount of work – in sorting through and ...

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