Mastering the Art of Understating Your Wealth

Thomas Keymer

  • The Literary Correspondences of the Tonsons edited by Stephen Bernard
    Oxford, 386 pp, £95.00, March 2015, ISBN 978 0 19 870085 2

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. Becket, which more or less destroyed copyright law; there were the pioneering academics of Enlightenment Scotland, among them Adam Smith, who made ‘rhetoric and belles lettres’ a university discipline and exported it to North America.

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