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Klra Bicanov

From Rhetoric to Aesthetics:

Wit and Esprit

in the English and French Theoretical Writings


of the Late Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Centuries

MASARYKOVA UNIVERZITA
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2013 Klra Bicanov


2012 Masarykova univerzita
ISBN 978-80-210-???
ISSN 1211-3034

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Table of Contents
INTRODUCTION......................................................................................................................... 9
1 THE THEORETICAL AND HISTORICAL PROLEGOMENA........................................... 19
1.1 Wit Theorized: Summary of Twentieth-Century Approaches ....................................... 19
1.2 Wit as Aesthetic Concept ................................................................................................. 31
1.3 The Culture of the Late Seventeenth Century England and France: Political,
Philosophical and Literary-historical Setting ................................................................ 44
2 Official and Alternative Classical Aesthetics.......................................... 55
2.1 Dominique Bouhours and Poetic Ideologies of the Bel Esprit ..................................... 56
2.2 Chevalier de Mr: Esprit as Light of Nature.................................................................. 69
2.3 Nicolas Boileau-Despraux and the Ideal of Neoclassical Esprit................................... 75
3 TRUE AND FALSE WIT: DRYDEN, POPE, AND ADDISON .......................................... 87
3.1 John Dryden and Vagaries of Restoration Wit ............................................................... 88
3.2 Alexander Pope: Wit as Meta-criticism ........................................................................... 98
3.3 Joseph Addison and Aesthetics of Neoclassical Wit .................................................... 109
3.4 Wit and Esprit: Points of Accord and Dissonance ....................................................... 118
CONCLUSION ......................................................................................................................... 129
BIBLIOGRAPHY ..................................................................................................................... 133
ENDNOTES . ........................................................................................................................... 143
INDEX . .................................................................................................................................... 151

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For my Grandmother who had appreciation for wit

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Introduction

This study began as a comparative analysis of wit and humour in the Restoration
drama and dramatic theory. Drawing on my B.A. thesis on English comic theories in
the late seventeenth century Iintended to explore the literary and aesthetic implications of the two terms as they contested for the audiences, authors and critics favour
in the early modern England. Furthermore, I included the French literary scene of
the corresponding period and its employment of and theorizing about esprit which significantly widened the scope of both considered issues and analyzed texts. Therefore,
Idecided to focus exclusively on the wit/esprit aspect of the project and consider it
primarily from the point of view of the literary and aesthetic ideas articulated in the
critical texts of the period, i.e. 1660s to 1710s. While I occasionally mention apiece of
contemporary creative writing, be it apoem or aplay, Ido so to illustrate apoint or
contrast astatement made in apreface, theoretical treatise, essay, aletter etc., and my
focus is on the relatively new genre of literary and dramatic criticism as well as aesthetics and the interactions of these disciplines with the questions pertaining to the terms
of wit and esprit, respectively.
While arelatively large amount of studies concerning wit has been carried out in the
past six decades, in my research Ihave not come across asingle piece of critical writing
which would have acomparative aspect. Ihave come across anumber of comparative
studies dealing with various aspects of English and French literature during my research;
however, the theme of wit and esprit respectively never came up as akey topic. The question of influence is, of course, too vital to be ignored completely and Iwill be making
occasional brief comments concerning the individual authors influencing one another.
However, my intention in this study is not to present acoherent argument concerning
wit based on an idea of the influence of one national literature on the other but rather
to look at some of the key texts of the period in their cultural contexts. These texts illustrate the background of the influence and provide acomparative reading of the two
concepts which will hopefully yield new interpretive approaches to the nearly neglected
area of wit.
The aim of this study is twofold: First to review afairly dated but so far unchallenged
view of wit as an outmoded and irrelevant term belonging to the critical vocabulary of
literary past. Seen as arather obscure item of avague historical significance at best, wit
has ceased to be considered relevant enough to be included among the canon of literary

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critical terms covered by the renowned Critical Idiom series published by Methuen
during the1970s and early 1980s which included terms such as metaphor, comedy of
manners, conceit, irony, absurd, etc. On the other hand, it did find its way into numerous dictionaries of literary terms, where with few exceptions it has been presented
as aliterary device operating exclusively in the sphere of verbality. Part of my attempt
to rehabilitate wit lies in presenting the term as a complex concept relevant to many
art-related areas not only literature, but also visual arts, theatre studies, and theory of
games. This approach should result in amore comprehensive nd multi-faceted notion
of the term and, consequently, it should allow the fundamental features of the term become clear. By demonstrating that wit is not an exclusive property of verbal expression,
Iargue that it is more beneficial to regard it as aesthetic term whose applicability is much
more extensive than modern research has shown so far.
The second aim of this study is literary historical. By focusing on the English and
French literature of the second half of the seventeenth century, i.e. the period when wit
received much (both positive and negative) attention, Iwish to trace the terms gradual
shift from the realm of rhetoric to the newly established field of literary aesthetics. The
claim concerning the move from rhetoric to aesthetic has been both contested and endorsed by various scholars. In his study The Classical Sublime: The French Neoclassicism and
the Language of Literature Nicholas Cronk argues that articulating new theoretical terms
in the second half of the seventeenth century, be it the sublime, wit, or the je-ne-sais-quoi,
rises from the the struggle to break free from an inherited rhetorical tradition and to
forge anew aesthetic doctrine but the literary tradition out of which this need rises from
must be taken into account as well (Cronk 82-3). He contends that to speak of ashift
from rhetoric to aesthetic could be said to be tautology in the context of seventeenthcentury critical thought. The term rhetoric seems appropriate to the period; however,
the problem especially for atwenty-first century reader is how to understand it. Also,
poetics at this time was not considered separately from rhetoric, but rather as apart of
that wider discipline; manuals of rhetoric frequently drew on poets for their examples.
Neoclassical poetics lost its autonomy in the process of rhetorisation. Therefore, Cronk
concludes, to speak of severing aliterary-critical terms from its rhetorical origins is not
meaningful in the context of French neoclassicism (83). Opposing this claim is ashort
but terse text by Jeane Goldin Jeux de lesprit et de la parole. Dune rhtorique un
art de la pointe. In her defence of la pointe (conceit), Goldin claims that it cannot be
treated as arhetorical figure, as it manifests [] aspecific mental dynamism, stressing
the ambiguity of an epoch which gave birth to the modern thought1 (136). Perhaps
more convincing than Goldins argument, focused too narrowly on asingle poetic device
to encompass the field of rhetoric and aesthetic in its entirety, is the evidence of the
shift which can be found in writings of one of the most prominent seventeenth-century
French author. In the Preface to his translation of the ancient treatise On the Sublime,
Nicolas Boileau writes with respect to the ancient authors intentions:
It must be observed then that by the sublime he [Longinus] does not mean what the orators
call the sublime style, but something extraordinary and marvelous that strikes us in adiscourse

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and makes it elevate, ravish, and transport us. The sublime style requires always great words, but
the sublime may be found in athought only, or in afigure or turn of expression. Athing may
be in the sublime style, and yet not be sublime, that is, have nothing extraordinary nor surprising
in it []. (The Continental Model 272)

In addition to the above-mentioned arguments in favour of the shift from rhetoric to


aesthetic, Ibelieve that Cronk is confusing the gradual shift from rhetoric to aesthetic
with amuch more radical and contestable severing or dissociating of the two spheres.
I have no intention to claim that in order to understand how wit was employed and
theorized during the period of English and French literature in question it should be
severed from its rhetorical origins. On the contrary, Ibelieve that these origins have to
be kept in mind and stressed. Nevertheless, Ibelieve that to deny the gradual shift of the
theoretical paradigms in which wit and related terms were organized from the rhetorical
to the aesthetic is to deny the legitimacy of the terms themselves.
In summary, this thesis aims at amore complex, if not exhausting, look at an aesthetic
concept whose vitality is indisputable in its timelessness, while concentrating on the
theories surrounding it during the period of its busiest currency. It details the early
modern shift from the concept of wit as arhetoric device to amore inter-disciplinary approach which Ibelieve is necessary to employ in order not to regard the term as an item
from an outdated critical vocabulary. In addition, this thesis emphasizes the comparative
potential of the concept outside of English discourse by putting the term side by side
with its French equivalent, aperspective which to my knowledge has been absent from
the studies on wit Ihave encountered during my research.
Apart from the project history and thesis statement, this Introduction shall provide
apreliminary account of history of the so-called vogue words acategory into which
wit and esprit are often pigeonholed and their connection to literary criticism from the
historical point of view. My argument here is that while afairly useful prolegomenary
label, it cannot be the only or main denotation of wit. The historical aspect of both terms
is further explored in abrief introduction of the words from etymological perspective,
concentrating on the period immediately preceding the seventeenth century, that is the
Renaissance. Iwill continue to discuss the historical context of the terms in more specialized details in the first chapter of the thesis. After Ihave demarcated the historical territory of the thesis Imove on to present an outline of its structure, briefly introducing the
individual chapters and subchapters and delineating my interest in each part of the text.

The vogue words and their place in literary criticism


Although today wit is often regarded by critics as a quaint category of verbal cleverness, it was amajor analytic mode as well as one of stylistic sophistication in the English literature of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries (Sitter 5). Wimsatt
and Brooks see wit is a kind of genteel slang word in the early eighteenth century

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(Literary Criticism 241). To state that wit is beyond precise definition may at first appear
like atrivial tautology. Delving deeper into the terms layers etymological as well as
contextual it appears that not only there might have been areason for the difficulty
in formulating astable definition but also that other terms or vogue words shared
same destiny. This particular feature of these terms is what has divided critics and scholars in two camps the former suggesting that the instability of the term is asign of
its shadiness, and the latter claiming that wit is one of those words too useful ever to
be exactly defined (The Norton Anthology of English Literature 2571). T. S. Eliots ideas
penned in his 1921 essay on Andrew Marvell testify to the extraordinary amount of apprehension of the complexities of the term:
You cannot find it in Shelley or Keats or Wordsworth; you cannot find more than an echo
of it in Landor; still less in Tennyson or Browning; and among contemporaries Mr. Yeats is
an Irishman and Mr. Hardy is amodern Englishman that is to say, Mr. Hardy is without it
and Mr. Yeats is outside of the tradition altogether. On the other hand, as it certainly exists
in Lafontaine, there is alarge part of it in Gautier. And of the magniloquence, the deliberate
exploitation of the possibilities of magnificence in language which Milton used and abused,
there is also use and even abuse in the poetry of Baudelaire. Wit is not aquality that we are accustomed to associate with Puritan literature, with Milton or with Marvell. (Andrew Marvell
in Times Literary Supplement 31 March1921)

Wit has been labelled a modish word, a linguistic fashion item of the Restoration
England. Its equivalent in this sense can be the bel esprit, but as Isuggest in the second
chapter only when it is complemented by another, equally if not more, fashionable
word in the French history the je-ne-sais-quoi. The quintessentially indefinable critical
keyword whose heyday came around the 1660s represented away of articulating experience of apowerful and seemingly inexplicable force. Today it is regarded as amannered
archaism in both French and English, yet it still offers to speakers of both languages
away of articulating their experience of apowerful and seemingly inexplicable force.
To label wit as amere vogue word is hardly acceptable or serious scholarly approach to
literary history. Thus, Gunar Sorelius contends that [w]it is often an ambiguous word
in Restoration criticism, yet of great currency and importance (Sorelius 96). Similarly,
Paul Hammond recognizes it as the hallmark of an intelligent, confident culture and
suggests that [i]mplicitly, in Drydens lines and elsewhere, it defines the gap between
Restoration culture and the preceding decades (Restoration Literature. An Anthology xv).
In attempt to avoid an overly simple labelling, Ipropose that it is necessary to look into
when and how the accretion of semantical layers started and what it implies for the contemporary understanding of the term.

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Pre-history of the terms


Although I will devote a part of the first chapter to describing how etymology of wit
changed throughout its existence, Iwill not go into too much detail regarding its Renaissance history (apart from its relationship with Renaissance rhetoric, which is one of the
topics of the last subchapter of the following chapter). For this reason, Iwish to present
abrief summary of what wit came to denote during this period in the English context;
this summary will be followed by asimilar account of esprit.
During the reign of Elizabeth Ithe meaning of words in general was shifting perhaps
even more than usual, as William Crane suggests, reminding that Erasmuss caution
that every definition is misfortune will be repeating during this period (Crane, Wit and
Rhetoric 6). In Gabriel Harveys Trimming of Thomas Nashe (1597) wits formal definition
runs as follows: [Wit is] an affluent Spirit, yielding inuention to praise or dispraise, or
anie ways to discourse (with judgment) of euerie subiecte (quot. in Crane 9-10). Here,
wits association with rhetoric is apparent, as invention was one of the five elements of
rhetoric. Wit was often paired up with qualifying adjectives: true, false, biting, or
quick. Even though the controversy over what constitutes wit as such became acute
only after 1700, it was inherent in the subject from very early times. For example wits
frequent association with unruliness or rebelliousness was not afeature peculiar to the
Renaissance period. In all ages mental acumen has displayed atendency to run away
with its possessor (Crane 11). This ambivalence has been commented on by the ancient
rhetoricians and Cicero would praise wit in some of his treatises while growing highly
suspicious of it in others.
As literary fashions were changing in the quarter century from 1590 to 1615 with
a rapidity that has never been equalled before, new conceptions of wit achieved currency. About 1590 the word began to be associated with ability to write plays and gain
aliving by the pen. The near relation between wit and rhetoric which had marked the
preceding years of Elizabeths reign persisted to aconsiderable extent. Plays of William
Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, writings of Greene and Lodge provide evidence of this close
connection. Soon after publication of Sir Philip Sidneys Astrophel and Stella (1591), sonnet came into vogue, followed by satire and epigram. The emphasis which these forms
placed on neatly turned thought tended to swing wit in the direction of play upon
words.
In the nearly three decades following 1615 wit mutated more and more toward association with anagrams, acrostics, quips and other poetic forms favoured by the Metaphysical
poets while still retaining many of its older meanings. In the view of this fact, Abraham
Cowley observed in his Ode: of Wit (1660) that A thousand different shapes it bears,
/ Comely in thousand shapes appears while providing alist of things wit is not: Tis
not aTale, tis not aJest / Admird with Laughter at afeast, / Nor florid Talk which
can that Title gain ; / The Proofs of Wit for ever must remain. /Tis not to force some
lifeless Verses meet / With their five gouty feet (The Oxford Book of Seventeenth Century
Verse 693). Nor is wit adornment and gilding, puns, anagrams, acrostics, bawdy jokes,
lines that almost crack the stage, tall metaphors (i.e. conceits) or odd similitudes. This

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critical analysis of aesthetic theory, emphasizing the poets capacity to create order out of
disparate elements, brings into play the problem of definition which will be arecurring
topic of this thesis. Also, all the poetic devices mentioned by Cowley are important to
take note of as they will be referred to by John Dryden, Alexander Pope and Joseph Addison some thirty to sixty years later in their respective attempts to provide asatisfying
definition of the troublesome word.
Unlike wit, esprit does not seem to have ever acquired the vogue word status this
was reserved for other terms, such as the je-ne-sais-quoi and others. It, however, shared
witssimilarly complex etymology. Esprit is aterm, as Alian Pons suggests, whose semantical range is extremely wide, [and] it was employed for an equivalent of the Latin
expression ingenium at the expense of great ambiguity, rendering the French word very
vague2 (Pons 2003). Giambattista Vico, in his La Mthode des tudes de notre temps (1709)
remarks that
the French, when they wish to express acertain mental faculty which allows to connect separate things in amanner which is fast, propriate and fortunate, and which we call ingegno, use
the word esprit (spiritus), and this mental faculty which manifests itself in the synthesis they
regard as something completely simple, as their exaggeradly subtle intellects excel in the finest
reasoning more than in synthesis.3 (quot. in Pons 2003)

The variant of the term, the bel esprit, became prominent during the first decade of
the seventeenth century. Taking on new layers of meanings and contexts it reflected the
turbulent changes of the French society which will be explored in the last part of the
first chapter.

Outline of structure
The structure of the present thesis reflects the multi-perspectival and reflexive manner in which Iwish to present the term in question. Apart from the Introduction and
the Conclusion, the thesis consists of three main chapters, one of them focusing on
theoretical and literary historical issues and two other on textual analyses. The Introduction is followed by Chapter 1 titled Theoretical and Historical Prolegomena. In
this chapter Ideal with the present state of research on wit and the historical frame of
the concept. Subchapter 1.1 provides asummary of twentieth-century approaches to
wit the main approaches, developments and points of dissension in the field of wit
studies are presented and critically evaluated. Tracing the revival of interest in wit to
the first decades of the twentieth century, Ipay attention to the ideas of J. E. Spingarn,
J. W. Courthope and T. S. Eliot as the pioneers representing the initial stage of the
modern day research in wit. These were followed by William Empson and C. S. Lewis
who contested over the term in the atmosphere of new developments of the post-war
literary criticism. From the ample stream of the structuralist and psychoanalytic liter-

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ary scholarship of the more recent decades Ichose to present the views of Jonathan
Culler, John Sitter and Richard W. F. Kroll as they represent important theoretical
approaches to wit based on post-structuralist literary criticism. While Jonathan Culler
uses the term to present the post-structuralist theory of language, John Sitter brings
together the seventeenth-century ideas on language and its ability to represent reality
and the post-structuralist theories to show that wit can be used as abridging element
between these two historical periods. Finally, Richard Kroll uses the post-structuralist
premises to present wit as closely linked to the matters of power and control (linguistic
or otherwise) as they were represented in Restoration comedy. All three approaches
testify to wits vitality and usefulness for the modern literary criticism as they show the
plurality and versatileness of the term and thus refute some of the older, more sceptical views on this matter. In adirect rebuttal of C.S. Lewiss opinion of wit as asubversive, morally dubious concept, John Sitters work is particularly beneficial, which is
also the reason why Idevote so much attention to his theories. Drawing on the questions raised by this part of the chapter, Imove on to subchapter 1.2 where Ipresent
four contexts of wit: its definition as aliterary and aesthetic concept, its relation to
the questions of humour, the sublime and the beautiful respectively and finally, wits
employment in the current artistic endeavours outside the literary area Ipresent wit
as an agent in semiotic theory of theatre of aCzech semiotician Ivo Osolsob, and in
the form of meta-wit in the theory of games. These several possible interpretations of
wit are all united my intention to present it as aesthetic term, using theories and notions from different artistic disciplines. Introducing the notion of sprezzatura, aterm
characteristic for the painting and life at court in the Italian Renaissance, I suggest
that it shares similar features with wit this also anticipates my readings of the French
authors whose writings are analyzed in the second chapter. Their ideas on esprit are
very much part of asystem of aesthetics which is partly based on the concept of sprezzatura.
The last subchapter of the introductory chapter (1.3) continues to explore the historical aspect of wit, focusing on the Rennaisance period and in particular on the
sixteenth century rhetoric and its role in shaping the concept of wit. Starting with
clarification of the relationship of rhetoric and poetry, Imove to presenting some basic
rhetorical devices and demonstrate how they influenced the division of different types
of wit. Special attention is devoted to epigram, agenre which in away sums up the
intrinsic tensions lying at wits centre the problem of verbal representation versus
conceptual truth, and its appreciation by the seventeenth-century as well as modern
critics. These tensions can be said to stand for the cultural environment of both France
and England of the latter half of the seventeenth century which is atopic of the second and third part of the last subchapter. Ibriefly present the cultural, political and
philosophical backgrounds of France and England, covering roughly the whole of the
seventeenth century, but focusing mainly on the period between 1660 and 1700. The
purpose of these two subchapters is make the reader familiar with some terms sprezzatura, prciosit, honntet as well as ideas and historical settings, that will be used in
the next two chapters.

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After identifying the main historical and theoretical areas in Chapter 1 Imove on
to presenting textual analyses of the three selected French authors. Chapter 2, titled
Esprit and the je-ne-sais-quoi: Bouhours, Mr, and Boileau comprises three subchapters concentrating on the theories of esprit and related terms, such as the je-ne-sais-quoi,
dlicatesse and the sublime, deployed in the texts of Dominique Bouhours, chevalier
de Mr and Nicolas Boileau-Despraux. In subchapter 2.1 I deal with two texts of
Dominique Bouhours, Les Entretiens dArtiste et dEugne and La Manire de bien penser
dans les ouvrages desprit as representatives of the genre of literary and social criticism
which became apartial inspiration for the work of Joseph Addison whose theories of
wit are the subject of my textual analyses in the third chapter. Bouhourss ideas on
esprit, the je-ne-sais-quoi and other concepts form asystem of thought which was unique
to the seventeenth century gradual forming of aesthetics. The bel esprit, Bouhourss
own version of the ideal of poetic and social achievement is analyzed in contrast to the
je-ne-sais-quoi to show how these terms vagueness was astrategically employed device
meant to keep the elite circles of French society closed to intruders from the newly
establishing merchant classes. Keeping in the same sphere of social literature and
literary criticism, subchapter 2.2 examines the rarely analyzed text of Antoine Gombauld, chevalier de Mr, Discours de lEsprit. Iexplore Mrs text mostly with regard
to the accessibility of esprit to women who were often seen as the founders of the new
sensibility associated with prciosit. Being regarded as one of the chief theorists of
honntet, Mr continues the tradition of the polite writer such as Bouhours, linking
the genres of literature and its appreciation and the rules of etiquette and appreciation of conduct. The last subchapter of Chapter 2 (2.3) focuses on different meanings
of esprit in the theories concerning poetry and its appreciation in the work of Nicolas
Boileau. Ifocus on the authors masterpiece of neoclassical criticism LArt potique, and
Ialso look into his ideas on the sublime expressed in his preface to the translation of
the Le Trait du sublime. Here Iam specifically interested in how Boileau used Longinuss text for conveying his own ideas on esprit which he later extended in the critical
chefs-doeuvre. Unlike my textual analysis of Popes Essay on Criticism (3.2), where Iuse
anumber of relatively recent critical studies to either support or contrast my opinion,
Ianalyze the employment of esprit in Boileaus LArt potique using very few secondary
sources. While all the foreign-language quotations, both from primary and secondary
sources, appearing in the first and second chapter are translated into English in the
main body of the thesis and the original text can be found in the Endnotes at the end
of the thesis, Iopted for adifferent approach in the subchapter 2.3. The quotations
from Boileaus LArt potique which Iuse in my textual analysis in this subchapter are
quoted in French directly in the text and followed by (mostly my own) English translation. That way Ican explore several meanings of esprit used by Boileau and trace their
connections to other terms of his theories of literature as well as the use of esprit in the
texts of other French authors, especially Mr. Boileaus understanding of the term
also anticipates the employment of the word in theories of the English authors mostly
in terms of its duality and emphasis on the link between the aesthetic and ethical dimension of artistic creation.

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After looking at the ways in which esprit was employed in the works of the French
authors, Imove to presenting textual analysis of works of three English authors. These
readings are the subject of Chapter 3, named True and False Wit: Dryden, Pope, and
Addison. While all the three authors and the analyzed texts (Essay on Dramatick Poesy,
Essay on Criticism, and the Spectator papers respectively) are considered astable part of
the canon, they have been seriously understudied. The main purpose of the chapter is
to trace wits change from the rhetoric device used by the previous generations of the
Metaphysical poets to the concept of creative powers combined with ethical awareness
favoured by the newer neo-classicism-influenced authors.
Subchapter 3.1 explores John Drydens theories of wit in the context of his critical
oeuvre. Apioneer of the English dramatic criticism, Dryden never expressed his theories
of wit systematically in one text. Instead, they appear spread over anumber of critical
writings essays, prefaces, letters etc. Itraced those texts and attempted to follow the
writers changing ideas on the subject as his ideas on the role and function of literary
criticism developed throughout his career. For Dryden, wit seems to fulfil the role of
ameasuring device in the contest of literary and cultural achievement of the present
and the previous generations of authors. Idemonstrate that while many of his critical
precepts and theories were inherited either from precisely those generations he rebelled
against or foreign authors, he managed to shape the concept of wit so that it became an
indispensible item of the latter seventeenth-century criticism.
Subchapter 3.2 focuses on Alexander Popes Essay on Criticism which has often been
regarded as ariposte to Boileaus LArt potique. In this subchapter Icontinue to explore
the interconnection between the development of literary criticism and the concept of
wit. Idemonstrate that Popes concept of wit is amorally engaged faculty, and as such is
crucial for the ideal critic Pope is describing in his text. Here, good conduct and cultivated artistic sensibilities again seem to blur the boundaries between the social and the artistic as in the case of Bouhours and Mr. Here, asimilarity emerges between Boileaus
and Popes ideas on how wit must include the concern for both the artistic achievement
and moral integrity. Asimilar concern can be seen as linking Popes text with ideas on
wit analyzed in the last subchapter of the third chapter which concludes the analytical
part of the thesis. In subchapter 3.3 Icome back to the genre of social literature in the
form of the early modern social journal The Spectator, collaborative work of Joseph Addison and Richard Steele. Iconcentrate on the ideas on wit Addison expressed in the
series of five entries (numbers 58-63) and some of his earlier, much less known texts,
namely Notes on Some of the Foregoing Stories in Ovids Metamorphoses, Dialogues
upon the Usefulness of Ancient Medals, especially in Relation to the Latin and Greek
Poets and the Essay on the Georgics. While Addisons ideas on wit continue the line of
aesthetic experience curbed with moral concern, they also demonstrate interest in clarity as afeature of non-fiction literature, at the same time allowing for some degree of
equivocality of fiction, adifference often disregarded by scholars.
In subchapter 3.4 Ipresent the final comparison of the ways in which the terms of
wit and esprit were employed and treated by the six chosen authors. While the present
study is acomparative one, Iam more interested in the differences than similarities of

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the deployment of the term by the English and the French authors of the period in question. One of the aims of the thesis is to identify and describe the differences which grew
out of the two cultures whose intellectual, cultural, and political concerns and problems
were at that point of history very alike in certain areas. Also, the multi-semantic nature
of the two terms could suggest similar treatment on both sides of the channel. For all
this, the ways in which wit and esprit were employed by the French and English authors
can hardly be expected to be identical.
Finally, in the conclusion to the whole study, Ireview the results of my research, focusing on the various parallels and differences between the concepts of wit and esprit as
they appear in my textual analyses. Ialso suggest some possible reasons for the findings
of my thesis. Isummarize the history of the concept with respect to the modern literary
criticism, once again highlighting the difference between its assessment of wit and my
position on the matter. Furthermore, Idiscuss how, in todays culture wit bridges the
artistic and social spheres as aterm of appreciation, proving to be avigorous, if not unequivocal, concept. Rounding off the whole thesis, Ipoint out several possible directions
the research into wit might be headed into.

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Prolegomena
Les lois de nos dsirs sont des ds sans loisir.
R. Desnos, Corps et biens (1930)

1.1 Wit Theorized: Summary of Twentieth-Century


Approaches
Since the beginning of the twentieth century, wit has become the subject of several studies of literary history and theory. It has been approached from anumber of different
perspectives and has also been subject to various methods of theoretical examination,
usually in the vein of the current stream of literary theory. This chapter presents the
key literary studies dealing with wit which were published during the last century or so
in order to summarize the achievement of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries
literary scholarship in relation to the term. It is organized chronologically, concentrating on those studies which reflected a contemporary literary critical approach to the
term, starting with historical and positivist, linguistic, to formalist, post-structuralist and
psychoanalytical perspective in order to present the terms interaction with the major
literary theories of the past century.

1.1.1 Beginnings of Critical Interest in Wit: Courthope, Spingarn, Eliot


Throughout the history of English literature wit has primarily been associated with
Metaphysical poetry and Restoration comedy. During the first three decades of the twentieth century, the discussions involving the term were exclusively related to the former
as Restoration comedy had to wait for its critical re-assessment till the second half of the
century.
The first major mention of wit appears in J. W. Courthopes History of English Poetry
in 1903. In the third volume entitled The Intellectual Conflict of the Seventeenth Century.
Decadent Influence of the Feudal Monarchy. Growth of the National Genius Courthope uses
the term to characterize the historical development of English poetry of the above said
period. Poetical wit branches into three distinctive schools under the reign of Elizabeth and James I. that of theological wit, Metaphysical wit and court wit (Chapters
VII-XI) and schools of theological and court wit under the reign of Charles I(Chapter
X). Before describing the poetry of these periods in detail, he attempts to define and

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characterize poetical wit. He does so mainly on positivist and historical grounds, positing Johnsons definition of wit in his Life of Cowley as the best one so far. However,
Courthope also notes that the great biographer never attempted to explain the nature
and evolutionary circumstances of the term and so he takes upon himself to correct this
omission. He begins by discussing the social and historical background of the Renaissance, questioning the view that explains wits appearance in European literature on
purely aesthetic principle (Courthope, History of English Poetry 104). Dismissing theories
about the gradual spreading of wit, which claim that the popularity of the term first
started in Spain, and travelled through Italy and France to England, Courthope suggests that agreater cause had to be at work, as the term became to be fashionable in
almost every European country at the same time, retaining the identity of essence
while exhibiting great variety of form (History of English Poetry 105). Locating this panEuropean outbreak of poetical wit after the Council of Trent (1545-1563), he holds
that the [] causes of these phenomena are to be found in the decay of the scholastic
philosophy and of the feudal system, [], and in the revival, [] of the civic standards
of antiquity operating on the genius of many rising nations and languages (History of
English Poetry 105-6).
He then proceeds to define the leading features of wit with regard to the Metaphysical poets. He finds them in paradox, hyperbole, and excess of metaphor which he calls
the signs of the efflorescence of decay (Courthope, History of English Poetry 106). Connecting the use of hyperbole with concetti (conceits) in sonnets and chivalric and troubadour poetry, Courthope contends that the original warlike incentive of the knights
to panegyrize the lady was gradually replaced by the poets efforts to outdo each other
in mere ingenuity (Courthope, History of English Poetry 110). This creative impulse was
then taken ad absurdum by John Donne and other Metaphysical poets. Their liking for
excessive metaphor is accounted for by the decay of allegory as anatural mode of poetic expression (ibid.). Unlike Dante, whose use of innovative metaphors sprang out of
necessity, the Spanish and Italian baroque poets, like Luis de Gngora and Giambattista
Marino, used allegorical language merely to disguise the essential commonplace of
[their] subject-matter and out of desire for novelty in expression (Courthope, History
of English Poetry 112). Agreeing with Johnson, Courthope regards wit in the hands of the
Metaphysical poets as ameans to exercise their imagination and unrestrained liberty,
not to express things of vital importance [...] such as the nature of the unseen world,
as it is with Dante (History of English Poetry 116, 112).
As outdated as Courthopes approach appears today, it must be acknowledged that
it managed to hint at asignificant feature of wit that will be continually re-appearing
in all its forms and stages of development that will be traced in this chapter the craving after novelty and intellectual pleasure of creating brand new images. On the whole,
however, Courthopes assessment of wit does appear anachronistic even in comparison
with its contemporary study by J. E. Spingarn in his magisterial three-volume collection
Critical Essays of the Seventeenth Century (1908-9). Offering nosystematic analysis of wits
significance for the period, Spingarn does use the term to contextualize the interests
and interactions of the contemporary literary critical scene. The starting point for the

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discussion of wit for him is the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes. Wit is asignificant element of the philosophers mechanical theory of poetry, as laid out in his correspondence with William Davenant: Time and Education [...] begets experience; Experience
begets memory; Memory begets Judgement and fancy; Judgement begets the strength
and structure, and fancy begets the ornaments of aPoem (Spingarn, Critical Essays of
the Seventeenth Century Ixxviii). Fancy, aseventeenth-century synonym for wit, is in this
description opposed to judgment and Hobbes is credited by Spingarn with the clearest
formulation of this antithesis which had been recognized by the French and the Italians
in the sixteenth century (Critical Essays of the Seventeenth Century Ixxviii).
Spingarn provides brief semantic background of the term in the Renaissance but he
does not explore the circumstances of the semantic shift from thought to witty thought.
Wit is the English equivalent for the French esprit, which in its turn owed its connotation to the Italian ingegno and the Spanish ingenio. In the Elizabethan age wit denoted
the intellect in general, in opposition to will, the faculty of volition (xxx). Phrases as
ingenious and conceited, sharpness of ingenuity occur incessantly in the literature of
the day, and are the Elizabethan equivalents of the Italian bell ingegno. Gradually, even
before the waning of the Italian influence, the native word wit had been acquiring the
signification of ingenuity (xxx). From this time on wit was associated with the imaginative or rather fanciful element in poetry, and more or less important as this element was
more or less valued by succeeding schools (xxx). Discussion of Hobbes and Davenant
was initiated by the latters dedication of the lengthy preface of the epic poem Gondibert
(1650) to the influential philosopher. The preface and Hobbess riposte Answer to Davenant (1650) mark acrucial point in the history of English literary criticism, anticipating
the themes and forms of the many theoretical debates whose sum creates the bulk of
the early modern literary criticism. One of these topics was the opposition of wit and
judgment which became the testing ground of most significant philosophers, writers and
critics of the period. Spingarn does not analyze the texts in great detail but rather notes
the context in which they were produced and received:
Hobbes [...] clearly distinguished wit from judgement, and what is more, insisted on the necessity of both in poetry. Davenants preface and Hobbess answer were written in Paris, and both
learnt in France that jugement is as essential to poetry as esprit. As early as 1650 there are signs
that wit is under suspicion. So strong became the feeling that by itself it was insufficient form
of poetic creation, that gradually its original imaginative signification became subordinate, and
Dennis employs it to denote a just mixture of Reason and Extravagance, that is such amixture
as reason may always be sure to predominate. (xxx)

Spingarn goes on to adumbrate the gradual mutations of the terms denotation, naming rationalism as the main source of the pressure. His concluding statement is acknowledged even by the modern literary historians of wit: These variations in the meaning of
asingle term parallel the general changes of literary taste in the nation. Each succeeding
school of poetry gives its own content to the critical terms which it inherits no less than
to those it invents (xxxi).

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T.S. Eliot was the first among the 20th century literary critics whose interest in wit was
motivated by personal ideological agenda. As his opinion on literature and matters of
spirituality and religion gradually changed and radicalized, his appreciation of wit became more and more dismissive. Anonymously reviewing H. J. C. Griersons anthology
of Metaphysical poems in the 1921 issue of Times Literary Supplement, Eliot identifies two
main features of the Metaphysical poets (Smith, John Donne: The Critical Heritage 442).
They are the agile management of figures of speech, especially those figures which call
for the rapid association of unlike objects and the other is the peculiarly close association, if not actual fusion, of feeling and thought, sensuous experience and intelligence,
sensation and idea (quot. in Smith, Metaphysical Wit 4). This favourable view is revised
in the article Note sur Mallarm et Poe in Nouvelle revue franaise five years later, where,
not dissimilarly to Courthope, witty metaphors of Donne are differentiated from the
philosophically bolstered wit of Dante and consequently disregarded (Metaphysical Wit
6). In his series of lectures on the conceit in Donne and Crashaw (1926 and 1936) Eliot
again tries to come to terms with his own ambivalent fascination with Metaphysical
poetry. Donne is an indisputable master of certain secondary modes, he is amind of
the trecento in disorder, mind in chaos, not in order (The Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry:
The Clark Lectures at Trinity College, Cambridge, 1926, and the Turnbull Lectures at the Johns
Hopkins University, 1933 133).
It is important to keep in mind that even if Eliots mentions of wit appear to be made
en passant only, they are now considered crucial for the revival of the interest of literary
critics in the term (and more broadly speaking in Metaphysical poetry) that arrived in
the second half of the twentieth century. Eliot very astutely observes that [w]hen we
speak of the wit of Donne, the wit of Dryden, the wit of Swift, and our own precious
wit, we are not speaking of the same thing, and we are not speaking of different things,
but of agradual development and different stages of the same thing, shrewdly hinting
at that particular quality of the term that will become the reason for interest of William
Empson, J. C. Ransom, C. S. Lewis and other critics from the 1960s onwards (25).

1.1.2 Formalist and Linguistic Approach: Empson and Lewis


The years after the hiatus of academic writing caused by World War II saw aremarkable growth of interest in wit as apart of the general boom of literary studies. The first
post-war decade spawned at least four important studies related to wit: three of them
specifically dealing with Alexander Popes Essay on Criticism, regarded as one of the
most crucial works of the early Augustan literary criticism. William Empsons article
Wit in the Essay on Criticism in the influential The Hudson Review (1950) represents
alandmark in the critical approach not only to the word but to ahistorical text as well.
Empsons close reading of Alexander Popes poem focuses on the complexity of its key
words meanings, emphasising the prominence of what Empson calls almost aslang
word which the term acquired after the Restoration. He connects this prominence to
the current meaning of the word i.e. power to make ingenious (and critical) jokes,

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claiming this meaning was already the most prominent one in the early Augustan
period (Wit in the Essay on Criticism 84-5). The words complexity and multi-layered
nature did not pose athreat of confusion to Popes (educated enough) contemporaries; the performance inside the word [...] was intended to be quite obvious and in the
sunlight but for amodern reader the word is opaque and the poem is dull (85).
A riposte to William Empsons 1950 article came in the form of C. S. Lewiss account
of wit in his Studies in Words (1960). The study is not confined to asingle author or aliterary text and there is clearly no interest on the part of the author in setting the word
in the contemporary literary-historical context. Lewis starts with athorough overview of
the words etymological history and development of its semantics, identifying three senses of wit: old sense of wit, wit-ingenium and what he terms the dangerous sense of wit. In the
Old and Middle English old sense of wit designated mind, reason, intelligence (Lewis,
The Studies in Words 86). For example, in Beowulf the hero warns his adversary Unferth
against s u in helle scealt werho dreogan / eah in wit duge in Michael Alexanders versification: youre aclever man, Unferth / but youll endure hells damnation
for that (Alexander, Beowulf 23). The second, wit-ingenium sense, developed from the
first sense when different kinds of wit started to be distinguished: Each mans wit has its
own cast bent, or temper; one quick and another plodding, one solid and another showy,
one ingenious to invent and another accurate to retain.[...] Thus in Chaucer we have For
tender wittes wenen al be wyle / Theras they can pleynly understande people of tender
mind (Lewis, The Studies in Words 88) or in John Lylys Euphues the eponymous hero is
described as someone whose witte [is] lyke waxe apte to receiuve any impression (The
Complete Works of John Lyly 185). This change, as Lewis correctly observes, was crucial for
the future development of the word. Wit became to be distinguished in terms of its quality and consequently used as an evaluative term. This kind of wit exercised its power in
the art of verbal expression, i.e. rhetoric, and was associated with the ability of imaginative thinking. As such, it is no longer aterm of cognitive psychology and philosophy but
operates in adifferent sphere that of artistic creation and criticism.
The reason why Lewis devised the third, dangerous sense of wit is that the words various senses did not come and go, so that we could safely say that during the Renaissance
period the word no longer held its original sense, but only the second, more appreciative
one, while in the Restoration texts we only encounter wit in its further sense. Instead, it
retained all its senses and thus could be used in all the three of them within one utterance. Hence Dryden can say of Achitophel that He sought the Storms; but for aCalm
unfit, / Would Steer too nigh the Sands, to boast his Wit. / Great Wits are sure to Madness near allyd; (The Works of John Dryden II 10). Wit of the second line means natural
intelligence; great wits of the third line means men of genius, asuperior intellectual
capacity.
The nature of the shift between these two usages i.e. from adescriptive to an evaluative term is something C.S. Lewis seems rather uneasy about. For him, the pure
evaluative character of words means that they have actually become useless synonyms
for good and bad (Studies in Words 7-8). This displeasure at the devaluation of words is
very much present in his treatment of the dangerous sense of wit which is defined by

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Lewis rather obscurely as that sort of mental agility or gymnastic which uses language
as the principal equipment of its gymnasium (Studies in Words 97). Dangerous sense
is usually the current sense of the word, one which we reach for when trying to figure
out what the word means in an unfamiliar usually old context. If the current sense
seems to work in the unfamiliar context, we are very likely to be deceived and lured
into misreading because the now dangerous sense may have existed then but it may
not yet have been at all dominant (13). Therefore Lewis advises caution: If we once
allow more familiar, though not necessarily later, meanings to colour our reading of the
word wit wherever the neoclassical writers use it, we shall get into hopeless confusion
(92-3). That is why Empson was wrong in his analysis of wit claiming that there is not
asingle use of the word in the whole poem in which the idea of ajoke is quite of sight
(quot. in Lewis 93). Lewis on the other hand finds plenty of passages where it is simply
wit-ingenium with no idea of ajoke, however far in the background (93). This can be so
thanks to the insulating power of the context which protects the word wit (or in general
any word) from ambiguity, aconcept which was important in both Empsons and New
Critics literary theories. However, Ibelieve that Lewiss argument is built on amisapprehension of Empsons claims. When he disagrees with literary theories of Empson,
Lewis is not primarily concerned with literature and the specific way in which it employs
words and meanings, but with the everyday communication we conduct in order to make
ourselves understood and convey our thoughts: If ambiguity (in Professor Empsons
sense) were not balanced by [the power of context], communication would become almost impossible. [...] What seems to me certain is that in ordinary language the sense of
aword is governed by the context and this sense normally excludes all others from the
mind (Studies in Words 11).
Lewis then tries to come up with a method to designate what the word meant in
the time of its Restoration boom but encounters another obstacle the contemporary
definitions: It is the greatest simplicity in the world to suppose that when, say, Dryden
defines wit or Arnold defines poetry, we can use their definition as evidence of what the
word really meant when they wrote. The fact that they define it at all is itself aground
for scepticism (18). We do not feel the need to define aword, unless we tend to deflect
from its regular sense. This is specially the case of negative definitions. Once we feel
the need to emphasize that deprecate does not mean depreciate, it is asign that the word
is beginning to mean exactly that. Lewis admits that by doing this we in fact resist the
growth of anew sense but immediately produces areason for justifying this strategy:
We may be quite right to do so, for it may be one [sense] that will make English aless
useful means of communication (18). Consequently, the many definitions the Restoration authors and critics attempted are for Lewis mere tactical definitions, weapons in war
of positions, in which the sides are fighting for apotent word. The critics motivation
is to appropriate an attractive word: The pretty word has to be narrowed ad hoc so as
to exclude something he dislikes. The ugly word has to be extended ad hoc [...], so as to
bespatter some enemy (19).
Lewiss account does not pretend to aliterary study its concern is clearly with the
semantics of the word and not its specific usages at specific times. Conceived thus, Isee

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acrucial problem in using contemporary literary texts essays, prefaces, prologues etc.
for purposes of non-literary analysis. This method may work with other words analyzed
in the book but becomes rather problematic in the case of wit. Lewiss approach stands
in astrict contrast to that of Formalism and New Criticism the word itself is mistrusted
while the context is given the power to stabilize its potential for semantic ambiguity.
With a word as volatile as wit, Lewis can only be satisfied with the present situation,
where the happy ending involves the words stripping of the layers of meaning and
settling to one useful meaning. This happy condition is most clearly realized when the
word is used safely in non-literary contexts, e.g. in the surviving saying God give you wit
(Studies in Words 110).
These idealizing and mythifying tendencies on Lewiss part are criticized by John
Sitter in his study The Arguments of Augustan Wit (1991). He rebuffs Lewiss effort
to dignify wit by means of abstracting it from actual expression and the attempt to
identify one foremost meaning of the word (essential gift of the poet, his creativity)
which begins to be threatened by the dangerous sense of jocularity and witty language growing stronger in the Restoration and early eighteenth century (John Sitter,
The Arguments of Augustan Wit 85). According to Sitter, Lewis charts the transformation
of the word as anarrative of heretical deviation and nearly tragic loss of the original,
pure meaning while those meanings most strongly objected to are those that put him
unquestionably in the social and material world of language: jokes and witty remarks
as well as Drydens propriety of thoughts and words (The Arguments of Augustan
Wit 85). However, as Sitter asserts, Drydens definition, albeit tentative and unstable
(in Dryden, just as in Pope and others, wit sometimes meant mind, ingenuity or imagination), perpetuates wit as closely related to conversation and firmly linked to the
material and the living.

1.1.3 S
 tructuralist, Post-structuralist and Psychoanalytic Angle:
Culler, Sitter, Kroll
As has been mentioned above, the formalist literary criticism helped to revive interest
in wit during the first decades of the twentieth century. The successive streams of literary theory have appropriated the term in ways and contexts which will be the topic of
this section and the following subchapter. Given the scope of this work, it is impossible
for me to present all of the studies, books and articles published on wit in its various
contexts and meanings during the last sixty years. I am confined to mention briefly
anumber of these that in my opinion stand out and Ichose to give amore detailed account of three that Ifind most pertaining to my purpose of this chapter.
Although wit is not acentral notion of Jonathan Cullers On Deconstruction: Theory
and Criticism after Structuralism, it is significant to follow the ways in which the term
becomes part of his post-structuralist discourse. According to Culler, pun, which can
be seen in its extreme as a sin against reason, tends to accentuate the signifier the
linguistic sign which arrests our gaze and by interposing its material form it affects

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or infects the thought. To minimize the truth-endangering powers of the pun, the
signifier must be suppressed by displacing into the realm of joke. In philosophy, the
rejection of signifier equals the rejection of writing. In literature of the Restoration
period, the rejection of pun took form of the rejection of levity which was associated
especially with comedy. More importantly however, it manifested itself as rejection of
the imaginative forces which lie at the basis of metaphor, which is in turn regarded by
many scholars to be the cornerstone of literature (Culler, Deconstruction: Theory and
Criticism after Structuralism 91). Here, pun represents all kinds of verbal creativity and
novelty which, as we will see in the subsequent chapters, was associated with the so
called false wit. Culler contends that in pun, the accidental or external relationship between signifiers is treated as aconceptual relationship, identifying history as
his story or connecting meaning (sens) and absence (sans) (Deconstruction: Theory
and Criticism after Structuralism 91-2). In order not to infect thought, verbal wit has
to be treated as ajoke.
Developing Cullers exposition further, Ipropose to contrast false wits external relationship between signifiers with true wit as consisting in the conceptual relationship
between the signified. To make this claim, Iam turning to Aristotles theory of wit as expressed in his Rhetoric. Aristotle associated wit with the ability to make apt comparisons
between different categories of being, thus making it the fundamental principle behind
the type of metaphor, which was termed the conceptual (cognitive) by the twentieth-century linguistics. In Organon Aristotle identified ten basic categories of being: substance,
quantity, quality, relation, place, date, posture, possession, action and passion. Although
they have been since rejected by the modern day philosophy, the concept as such is still
helpful. The conceptual metaphor is based on the understanding of one idea in terms
of another, for example, understanding quantity in terms of action (e.g. gold prices are
soaring). Thus, according to Aristotle, wit is based on comparison between ideas of two
different categories, and not merely on physical similarities of their verbal representations. As we will see, this type of wit was hailed as the valuable one during the Restoration period, as it did not depend on the instability of language.
Another study which must be presented in agreater detail here the already mentioned
John Sitters study The Arguments of Augustan Wit (1991). I would like to present it as
arelatively unique example of awell-informed, insightful and unorthodox piece of critical writing on wit that enriches both our knowledge of the literature it deals with (late
seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century English poetry) as well as of ways of employing wit of this literature in thinking about contemporary literary theory. As Sitter himself claims, he wishes to approach the subject of wit from various angles in order to bring
Augustan works to bear on contemporary literary theory (The Arguments of Augustan
Wit 2). Although his attention focuses on the major poets of the period John Dryden,
John Gay, Alexander Pope, Matthew Prior, Lord Rochester he devotes some space to
the theories of John Locke and the analysis of Swifts Gulliver Travels. In the second chapter Sitter presents his principal three-step argument of the materiality of the Augustan
writing as opposed to the abstraction which has dominated the literary discourse since
Romanticism. The argument is based on the study of Lockes epistemological troubles

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with language and its access to truth and knowledge in general and relates to the subject
of wit in an original and compelling fashion.
Starting from the philosophers notorious elevation of judgment above wit as propounded in the Essay concerning Human Understanding, Sitter refutes Lockes distrustful
disregard of language as atransmitter of truth in the sense of things as they are. In
Lockes scheme of ideas wit is aharmful thing, leading our attention astray mainly because of its association with rhetoric. Lockes linguistic scepticism and his aversion to the
arts of fallacy are contrasted with the attitudes of Joseph Addison and Matthew Prior.
In his Dialogue between Mr. John Locke and Seigneur de Montaigne Prior attacks Lockes
naivety about language as being suitable and useful means of reaching Truth (affined
with reason, knowledge and judgment) only if cleansed of the hampering figurativeness
of rhetoric. While acquiescing in Lockes core argument that judgment is essentially an
analytic faculty while wit asynthetic one, Prior questions the possibility of separating the
mental acts of making similitudes and making distinctions as the process of differentiating is always already dependant on the pre-act of comparing and vice versa (The Arguments of Augustan Wit 70). Similarly, one of Addisons Spectator essays on wit (No. 62, to
be precise) demolishes Lockes anxious opposition of wit and judgment by simple, common sense-based arguments. Addison makes alterations in Lockes definition of wit by
stating that not only resemblance but the opposition of ideas produces wit. Therefore, if
wit discerns differences as well as similarities, the dichotomy between the two collapses.
As Sitter suggests, common sense [...] houses with Locke one moment and with Priors
[argument] the next and goes on to observe that the real problem dividing Locke from
Addison and Prior can be seen as aquestion with particular pertinence to our own era
and criticism: does it make more sense to think of things as they are as represented
(perhaps badly) by language or as constituted by language? (70) Not wishing to present
either of the former writers as proto-Nietschean or proto-Derridean rhetoricians of contradiction, Sitter nevertheless stresses their counter-position to Lockes nostalgia for
things and ideas untouched by words or for truths too tacit to enter the shared figures
and allusions of language (70).
To make the untenability of the Lockean hostile view of wit (as the proxy of the figurative mode of language) even more obvious, Sitter parallels the philosophers judgement-wit opposition with the famous opposition of metaphor and metonymy of Roman
Jakobson. While admitting the opposition is neither exact nor proportional, Sitter
nevertheless proposes that it is useful by suggesting it can make arevealing statement
about the inconclusiveness of the Augustan argument and about historical continuity
(71). Based on Jakobsons opposition of metaphor (created through process of selection or substitution) and metonymy (process of combination or contexture), Sitter approximately associates wit with metaphor and similarity principle on the one hand and
judgement, metonymy and contiguity principle on the other. For Jakobson, the poetic
function of language draws on both selective (i.e. metaphoric) and combinative (i.e.
metonymic) modes as ameans for the promotion of equivalence. In the post-Romanticism poetry-centred literary discourse the supremacy of metaphor (as opposed to the
metonymically based realistic novels) has been widely acknowledged just as according

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to critics like Jonathan Culler and Paul de Man it has become common to regard it
as the revelation of essences and imaginative truth (Culler, Pursuit of Signs: Semiotics,
Literature, Deconstruction 198). Cullers provocative account of metaphor suggests that
[t]o maintain the primacy of metaphor is to treat language as adevice for the expression of thoughts, perceptions, truth. To posit the dependence of metaphor on metonymy is to treat what language expresses as the effect of contingent conventional relations
and asystem of mechanical processes. Metaphor and metonymy thus become in turn
not only figures for figurality but figures for language in general (Pursuit of Signs 2012). However, according to Sitter, Jakobsons account favours metonymy over metaphor,
the former mode being based not on contingency but contiguity. Cullers ascribing
contingent relations to metonymy means seeing its relations as accidental rather than
essential, superficial rather than profound and so is not equivalent with Jakobsons contiguity which includes things that are next to each other not only in linguistic but also
existential terms (Sitter 75). Sitter believes that in this respect Jakobsons opposition
shares the important common feature with Lockes of providing aclaim on things as
they are that is otherwise difficult to make by recognizing the general correspondence
between Lockes characterization of wit as the assertion of likeness and Jakobsons location of poetry in the realm of equivalences (76).
As with the first analogy, Sitter warns against too literal juxtaposition of Lockes and
Jakobsons dichotomy. Instead he suggests that the basic oppositions are the most instructive ones: for Locke primarily operations of mind and for Jakobson primarily
the operations of language: Lockes discrimination (or discerning) and assemblage
(putting together) and Jakobsons selection and combination (ibid.). The tension between the two operations is not characteristic only of the two main literary modes but
also in different personalities or personal predilections, where we can discern the
strong desire to make characterological if not moral diagnoses (ibid.). This brings Sitter
back to what he calls the local debate over the status of wit and it allows him to explain
that although the significance of such discussion seems lost to us in the centuries of
changing literary paradigms, it could cause excitement for the Augustans. Moreover,
the tropes of literary criticism may not be as far-apart as it is often suggested by literary
historians. Comparing lines of Alexander Popes (in his Essay in Criticism of 1711) to
those of A. R. Ammonss (in Essay on Poetics of 1972), Sitter proposes affinity of poetical
concerns spanning over two centuries of English criticism: Tis hard to say, if greater
Want of Skill / Appear in Writing or in Judging ill ... ... its hard to say whether the
distinguishers or the resemblancers are sillier.
Popes opening couplet juxtaposing writing creative activity governed by wit and
criticism (intellectual activity governed by judgment) introduces us to the third and final
step of Sitters argument in his attempt to reconnect the subject of wit with the issues
of contemporary literary theory. Reminding us that the Augustan quarrel over the province of wit is in part one transformation of the longer battle between philosophy and
rhetoric alluded to in the earlier stage of the argument, Sitter attacks the view of wit
as dematerialized, abstracted entity of the literary poetics. Drydens first definition of
wit appears in Annus Mirabilis (1667) and is based on asimilar dichotomy. Unlike Pope,

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he is able to merge the twofold transformation into athreefold description of imagination:


The composition of all poems is, or ought to be, of wit, and wit in the poet, or wit writing, []
is no other than the faculty of imagination in the writer, which, like animble spaniel, beats over
and ranges through the field of memory, till it springs the quarry it hunted after; or, without
metaphor, which searches over all the memory for the species or ideas which it designs to represent. Wit written is that which is well defined the happy result of thought, or product of that
imagination. (Dryden Of Dramatic Poesy and Other Critical Essays I. 97-8)

Using the implied analogy of natura naturans, Sitter contends that here, wit writing is
the active process, wit witting, while the final product wit written might be considered
as wit witted analogous to natura naturata (Sitter, The Arguments of Augustan Wit 79). Wit
written is the wit of most of Drydens discussions, where it becomes propriety of thoughts
and words, wit which is not epigram, antithesis, or pun but the delightful imaging of
persons, actions, or things ... some lively and apt description, dressed in such colours of
speech that it sets before your eyes the absent object as perfectly and more delightfully
than nature. As Drydens argument unfolds, wit written moves toward wit writing:
So then, the first happiness of the poets imagination is properly invention, or finding of the
thought; the second is fancy or the variation, driving or moulding of that thought, as the
judgement represents it proper to the subject; the third is elocution, or that art of clothing
and adorning that thought so found and varied, in apt, significant, and sounding words: the
quickness of the imagination is seen in the invention, the fertility in the fancy, and the accuracy
in the expression. (Dryden Of Dramatic Poesy and Other Critical Essays I98)

By appropriating judgment to imagination Dryden manages to transcend the Lockean


opposition: judgment seems to be so simultaneous with fancy it becomes its synonym.
But this rescue action also nearly transcends language, separating expression in words
from the intellectual discovery and construction, relegating it to the last place in time
as well as in importance. Sitter notes that most of the late seventeenth- and eighteenth
century attempts to ennoble wit involve amove similar to Drydens and lead to the same
problem: judgment is appropriated to wit, which is then implicitly redefined in broader
terms as imagination or genius, but which in its loftier identity finally has no visible
connections with the process of writing itself (Sitter, The Arguments of Augustan Wit 81).
These difficulties were propelled by the vastly influential definition of wit expressed in
Johnsons Life of Cowley (1779):
If wit be well described by Pope, as being that which has been often thought, but was never
before so well expressed, they certainly never attained, nor ever sought it; for they endeavoured to be singular in their thoughts, and were careless of their diction. But Popes account
of wit is undoubtedly erroneous; he depresses it below its natural dignity, and reduces it from
strength of thought to happiness of language.

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If by amore noble and more adequate conception, that be considered as wit which is at once
natural and new, that which, [...] is, upon its first production, acknowledged to be just; if it be
that which he that never found it, wonders how he missed; to wit of this kind the Metaphysical
poets have seldom risen. Their thoughts are often new, but seldom natural; [...].
But wit, abstracted from its effects upon the hearer, may be more rigorously and philosophically considered as akind of discordia concors; acombination of dissimilar images, or discovery
of occult resemblances in things apparently unlike. Of wit, thus defined, they have more than
enough. The most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together; nature and art are ransacked for illustrations, comparisons, and allusions; their learning instructs, and their subtlety
surprises; but the reader commonly thinks his improvement dearly bought, and though he
sometimes admires, is seldom pleased. (83)

As the twentieth-century criticism came first to appreciate Metaphysical poetry, most


of its attention (from John Courthope, T. S. Eliot etc.) was focused on the third paragraph with the term of discordia concors allowing either reprobation or appreciation. In
the two preceding and far less quoted paragraphs, Johnsons alliance with the Augustan discussion is much clearer. Johnsons own preference seems to be for the more
adequate definition of wit as that which is at once natural and new, and not obvious
is [...] acknowledged to be just. Still, Johnson seems to be suggesting that Popes account of wit is wrong as he depresses it below its natural dignity, and reduces it from
strength of thought to happiness of language in other words isolates expression from
thinking.
Sitters explanation is that Pope describes wit from the readers perspective: the
poets happiness of language occasions the readers strength of thought. In Johnsons first two paragraphs we can detect the assertion that the natural dignity of
wit requires it abstracting it from its effects upon the hearer (Sitter, The Arguments
of Augustan Wit 83). This effort to dignify wit by means of abstracting it from actual
expression resonates in some of the twentieth-century criticism, namely C. S. Lewiss
previously mentioned account of wit in his Studies in Words. Its idealizing and mythifying tendencies are manifested in Lewiss attempt to identify one foremost meaning
of the word (essential gift of the poet, his creativity) which begins to be threatened by
the dangerous sense of jocularity and witty language growing stronger in the Restoration and early eighteenth century (Sitter, The Arguments of Augustan Wit 83-4). Lewis
charts the transformation of the word as anarrative of heretical deviation and nearly
tragic loss of the original, pure meaning. Those meanings most strongly objected to by
Lewis are those that put him unquestionably in the social and material world of language: jokes and witty remarks as well as Drydens propriety of thoughts and words
(The Arguments of Augustan Wit 85).
This particular quality of wit is explored in Richard W. F. Krolls article Discourse
and Power in The Way of the World as well. Analyzing the most famous play of William
Congreve, Kroll billuminates the intricate relations between language, and the social and
political realities in which it is used. Wit is not only [] afeature of discourse but []
ajudgment of discourse that signals apt judgments about the world and entails aproper

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view of language in relation to persons, things, events, and ideas (Kroll, Discourse and
Power in The Way of the World 728). Kroll thus rejects attempts of previous critics (e.g.
T. H. Fujimuras classification of characters based on whether they belong to the class
of Truewit, Witwoud or Witless) and suggests that character is itself constituted as
afeature of discourse (Discourse and Power in The Way of the World 728).
Kroll identifies three planes of discourse in the play: natural, legal and social. These
realms of interpretation must be controlled by the characters of the play in order to be
successful in achieving their respective goals. The purely natural realm includes the
hidden drive for love, money, or power, which we cannot hope to purge but must at all
events socialize (Discourse and Power in The Way of the World 738). This is the fundamental level of human communication and there is zero possibility of manipulation of
language. The legal discourse is alevel of contractual realm, where certain words and
expressions are bound by ageneral social agreement and therefore can be trusted. The
final level of discourse is the social one, in which only the most verbally skilled, creative,
and at the same time self-disciplined characters can operate successfully. This level of
discourse allows to bargain for the matters of love (finding alover, starting afamily) and
power (inheritance settlement, pre-nuptial agreement, marriage etc.) using alanguage
that is not only acceptable by the society but even admired by it.
Associating each of the three levels of discourse with a certain group of the plays
characters, Kroll shows that the most despicable and ultimately defeated characters are
those who cannot operate beyond the levels of the natural or legal discourse. Meanwhile,
the heroine and hero of the play are represented as the victorious couple who achieve
all they wished (and worked hard) for: mutual love, marriage, as well as alarge dowry.
Their ability to manipulate language and to navigate it through the murky waters of the
Restoration milieu of epistemological scepticism is unmatched and highly appreciated.
Kroll proposes to view wit as an ability to creatively manipulate language (through metaphors, comparisons, quick repartees and other means), and through it the social reality
in which our lives are set.

1.2 Wit as Aesthetic Concept


1.2.1 The Problem of Definition: Wit in Dictionaries
While most of the definitions of wit found in the dictionaries of literary and critical
terms are bent on providing an extensive account of the terms complicated historical development, and/or stressing the changes it went through during the process
(Becksons and Ganzs Readers Guide to Literary Terms, Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry
and Poetics, The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory), others attempt to formulate ageneral principle of wits function and to evaluate its position
in the contemporary literary production and criticism. For example, Babette Deutschs 1965 Poetry Handbook claims that wit is the faculty that makes for metaphor by
the perception of likeness in unlike things (169). Quoting T. S. Eliots definition of

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wit in some of seventeenth-century poets as it appeared in the Andrew Marvell essay


(a tough reasonableness beneath the slight lyric grace), she contends that wit is
now admired as asign of the poets power to relate incongruities and so give afresh
understanding of complexities [...] (Poetry Handbook 170). Recalling Eliots remark
that wit can also be found in the work of certain twentieth-century poets, Deutsch
focuses primarily on wits function in poetry. However, it is significant that Eliot was
able to discern the poetic wit in the contemporary prosaic texts as well, praising
for example the wit of Djuna Barness Nightwood, acult modernist novel written in
dense, gothic language.
Unlike Deutschs narrow but systematic focus on (modern) poetic wit, AReaders Guide
to Literary Terms by Karl Beckson and Arthur Ganz states that [i]n modern times, wit is
limited to intellectually amusing utterances calculated to delight and surprise (240). In
an attempt to cover all aspects of the terms agency, the brief entry emphasizes the periodic changes wit underwent, so that its meanings, overlapping from period to period,
have at any one time been numerous (A Readers Guide to Literary Terms, 239). In the
Renaissance, the word [...] meant intelligence or wisdom:
During the seventeenth century, the term wit meant fancy [...] implying such nimbleness of
thought and such originality of figures of speech as was found in the Metaphysical poetry [...]
of John Donne and others. In the latter half of the century, the meaning of wit changed. For
Hobbes (in the Leviathan, 1651) judgment rather than fancy was the principal element of wit,
and, in fact, he felt that wit could be achieved by judgment alone. The excess of fancy, he remarked later, resulted in aloss of delight in wit. As apoetic faculty, true wit was the poets ability to see similarities in apparently dissimilar things. False wit, as later described by Addison,
involved the association of words rather than ideas; such linguistic devices as puns, anagrams,
acrostics, etc., he listed as types of such wit. (Beckson and Ganz 239-40)

Attempting to squeeze the complex question of Hobbess opinion of wit into ashort
paragraph, this definition of the term is bound to confuse rather than enlighten aprospect student of early modern English critical vocabulary.
The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory provides arather succinct
but serried chronological survey of the terms development. Associating wit with the
Old English witan to know, the entry starts by observing that the word has acquired
anumber of accretions in meaning since the Middle Ages, and in critical and general
use has changed agood deal( The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory
985). Referring to Roger Ascham, John Lyly or Sir Philip Sidney as the Renaissance exponents of the term, it then assumes the usual trajectory of names, associated with the
most pregnant definitions of wit produced at various stages of its development: Thomas
Hobbes, John Dryden, Abraham Cowley and Alexander Pope in the Restoration and
early Augustan periods, as well as those who are regarded as spokesmen of the pre-Romantic and Victorian periods displeasure at wit: dr. Johnson in the eighteenth century,
and William Hazlitt and Matthew Arnold in the nineteenth. The entry closes with T. S.
Eliots rediscovery of John Donne and Andrew Marvell which is based on rehabilitation

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of wit, stating that in the current usage [...] wit [...] suggests intellectual brilliance and
ingenuity; verbal deftness, as in the epigram (985-6).
Probably the most inclusive account of wit is provided by Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics edited by Alex Preminger. Two editions in particular (the enlarged 1974
edition and 1993 The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics) offer avery detailed
chronological summary of wits journey through history. Though both of the editions
entries follow the same chronological pattern and refer to the identical canon of authorities on wit (Thomas Hobbes, John Dryden, Alexander Pope, T. S. Eliot), either of them
contain places not present in the other one. Starting with ancient Greece and ending
with the twentieth-century literary critics, the entries provide comparative accounts of
wits equivalents in other languages (French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Russian)
as well as assessment of the current status of the word as critical term which takes into
account its varied and convoluted history. A short summary of both entries is worth
presenting here as they represent asuccinct yet rarely complex account of wits gradual
transformation of meaning.
Wits equivalent in the ancient Greece is the term euphuia, mentioned in Platos Republic
and Aristotles Poetics in these texts the word occurs in senses ranging from shapeliness
to cleverness. In Aristotles Rhetoric wit is associated with the ability to make apt comparisons i.e. the fundamental principle behind metaphor, or well-bred insolence. For the
Roman rhetoricians e.g. Cicero and Quintilian the equivalent was ingenium (cleverness, ingenuity) senses which would seem to generate the whole historical range of
the meanings of wit in English (The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics 1374).
During Renaissance the term is used in senses similar to the classical meaning, with perhaps more emphasis on ingenuity and the ability to create the bizarre, the extraordinary,
and the unique (Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics 897). Renaissance treatises on
invention one of the five parts of the art of rhetoric tend to identify wit with the ability
to discover and amplify new subjects. In the seventeenth century wit becomes increasingly
present in discussions of style which use it to identify the ability to discover brilliant, paradoxical, and far-fetched figures, especially metaphor, irony, paradox, pun antithesis etc.
Literary Baroque with its national varieties of styles marinism in Italy, gongorism in
Spain, Metaphysical poetry in England and prciosit in France gave rise to wit as one
of key concepts of the seventeenth-century literature and culture in general and the
treatises of Spanish and Italian theoreticians e.g. Baltasar Gracins Agudezza y arte
de ingenio (1642) and Emmanuele Tesauros Il Cannocchiale aristotelico (1654) are the
first examples of early modern texts of literary criticism to document this. In its heyday,
wit referred to the inventive or imaginative faculty and, in particular to the ability to
see similarity in disparates (The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics 1375). In
general, the authors believed it was essential quality of poetry. Emmanuele Tesauro, Italian rhetorician and playwright, claimed that the process of divine creation is the defining principle of wit and the more wit an author reveals, the more godlike he becomes.
This Metaphysical theory of poetic creation was later replaced by rationalist theories
of e.g. Thomas Hobbes, who under the influence of Ren Descartes and Blaise Pascal regarded wit in more psychological terms. As the latter part of the seventeenth

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century progressed, the discussions of wit became numerous so that it is impossible


now to reduce the mass of material produced on the topic to any simple form. Wit was
sometimes contrasted to fancy or judgment; sometimes identified with one or the other.
At times it was contrasted with humor, raillery, satire, and ridicule; at times compared
to them (Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics 897). Naturally, the vagueness and
elasticity of the term eventually led critics to suspect its validity and the last decade of
the seventeenth century saw agrowing disregard for the term, enhanced by the changing
social climate as well.
Atype of dichotomy developed in the critical texts related to wit, dividing it up into
true wit the ideal of all poetic striving, and false wit writing which dazzles without
appealing to the understanding. The climax in the discussion of wit was represented by
Alexander Popes Essay on Criticism (1711) apoem which sums up in its context the central sense of wit to be found in poet-critics from John Dryden to Samuel Johnson and indicates arejection of the false wit as mere cleverness of the previous age. The somewhat
confusing situation in which the term found itself between approximately 1650 and 1720
is explained by the encyclopaedia as following: This polysemy is not unusual, nor should
be seen as distracting as long as we recognize the use of wit in atechnical aesthetic sense
to mean the imaginative or striking figure, the flash of verbal intuition, the marmoreal
phrase, the pointed dictum (The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics 1375).
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, afairly close correspondence of meaning
develops among the English wit and the French esprit, the Spanish agudeza and gracia,
the Italian ingegno, acutezza and argutezza, the German Schrfe and Witz, and the Russian
um and ostroumie, even though all these terms underwent historical semantic changes
and have different stories in general. In French, the word esprit is polyvalent in many of
the same ways; indeed Boileaus Art potique (1674) was clearly aprime model for Pope.
Esprit is amore unstable or modish word than wit, yet it survived in its focused meaning at least through Voltaire (1694 - 1778). In Italy acutezza (argutezza, arguzia) and in
Spain agudeza were generally treated as the rhetorical ornament enhancing the thought
(concetto, concepto).
While the key words in Italian, Spanish, and Russian have survived in contemporary
speech, though bereft of their literary specificity, English wit entered quite anew realm
of meaning parallel to that other historically complex word humour (see the discussion of C. S. Lewis). Samuel Johnson in his Life of Cowley dubbed the wit of Metaphysical
poetry as the heterogenous ideas ... yoked together by violence together thus stressing
the terms unnaturalness which was taken up by the romantic poets who transformed
its meaning so that the word became to be associated with levity and its former sense
was attributed to imagination. For example, William Hazlitt in his essay Wit and Humour
(1819) distinguished wit as the artificial element and imagination as the valid one, and
Matthew Arnold rejected Chaucer and Pope from his list of the greatest poets because
of their wittiness: they lacked what he called high seriousness (Princeton Encyclopedia
of Poetry and Poetics 898). This reduction of the terms meaning became widespread and
was shifted only in the first two decades of the twentieth century thanks to arevived
interest in the Metaphysical poets.

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Eliots revaluation of Metaphysical wit, discussed above, is only one of this revivals
tracks. No less important (especially from the point of view of the feminist readings
of wit in the Restoration comedies) was Sigmund Freuds psychoanalytical concept of
witz, or C. Brookss emphasis on irony and paradox as the principal devices of literary
complexity and structure, and apersistent strain of parody as ameans to what might
be called intertextual wit, as in James Joyces Ulysses (1920) and Thomas Manns Doktor
Faustus (1947). Eliots assessment found sympathizers in Brooks and I.A. Richards and
modern poets insist on allowing wit aplace in their conceptions of the nature of poetry. Thus the meaning of wit has in the 20th century regained some critical force and,
through its literarily serious connection with irony and parody, begun to approach again
its old kinship with imagination. The meaning of the term, however, seems not to have
come quite full circle: it is not commonly associated with imagination or conceptual
power; on the other hand, it is associated with irony, and irony is associated with imagination and conceptual power.
To conclude this section, Iwish to include an example of French and German definitions of wit as they appeared in recent dictionaries of aesthetic terms. While there are
overlaps in some of the meanings of the word, it is significant to acknowledge the culturally specific features which helped differentiating the words overall meaning as well as
status in all three cultures.

Esprit and spirituel


In Vocabulaire desthtique (2004), Anne Souriau divides the entry on esprit into four
categories: 1. Wit as mind, as opposite to body 2. Wit as more than average degree
of creative mental faculty 3. Wit as aparticular turn of phrase and 4. Wit as aesthetic
category4 (686-7).
The first two semantic spheres do not differ radically from some of the English meanings of the word. With regard to the first meaning of the term, Souriau writes that
Wit means the whole of human psyche; sometimes in amore specific sense the faculties of
intellect (wit as intelligence as opposed to heart as emotions) or the faculties of invention
(sometimes opposed to reason). It is this sense of the word which we have in mind when we
describe works of literature or arts as works of wit: we do not refer to them as to physical
objects only, but also and more importantly as the resulting products of the minds activity.5
(Vocabulaire desthtique 686)

Describing the second sense of esprit, we can hear echoes of C. S. Lewiss dangerous meaning. It also approximately follows the chronological trajectory of the English
wit in its gradual demise and replacement with other meanings of the word:
This sense of the word is rather old, but it is important to be familiar with it order to avoid
possible misinterpretation. It was used especially in the 17th century [...] to say that awriter

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has wit; modern day equivalent would be talent or genius. Thus Louis XIV said to Mme de
Svign about Racines tragedy Esther that the playwright has much wit. This sense started
to disappear in the 18th century: Voltaire, author of the entry on Wit (Philosophie et BellesLettres) in lEncyclopdie, dispensed of this particular sense in favour of the following ones.6
(686-7)

Thus, in the eighteenth century, the French esprit loses the appreciative charge and
has to be accompanied by apositive adjective to regain it:
According to Voltaire it is ageneric word which nowadays must be used with another word
to determine it Sublime wit of Corneille is not the same thing as wit of Boileau, or nave wit
of de la Fontaine, etc. Here, wit is used in the sense of aparticular character of the author,
his specific type of thinking, his world view, his style. In this sense, wit was used in the 18th and
early 19th centuries as apart of the expression Wit of to describe asummary of an authors
work accompanied by afew extracts from his work. This sense of the word is lost today, in its
own time it had, as apart of atitle, acertain commercial value. (687)7

Wit in this sense is astimulating sharpness of thought, which determines aesthetic


category of wittiness8 (ibid.).*
Souriau divides the latter terms entry into two main semantic spheres: the first, original one is areligious notion; its English equivalent is the spiritual. The second one,
however, is more complex. As Souriau suggests, even if it is easily connected with
the comic and the satiric, it should not be confused with either9 (1307). She provides
anumber of examples that set the comical apart from the witty, stating that [a] mistake
can be comical, but it is not witty, amispronunciation can amuse, [], it causes laughter,
but it is not wit10 (ibid.). In wit of this sense there is nothing risible, comical, or satiric:
wit does not make us laugh, it makes us smile. Souriau proposes four features which
when combined can be regarded as adefinition of wit: 1. Ingeniousness of unexpected
connections, 2. Suitability of connections thus brought together, 3. The impression of
ease and facility, and 4. Signification11 (1307-8).
The first condition is concerned, it can produce two slightly differing effects. In apoetic context, the contrasting elements (lively rhyme and elevated vocabulary or colourful and dreamlike description of an everyday reality) cause delightful surprise, while in
alighter context of ajoke, the delight comes from asudden change of direction of the
narrative: Mirabeau was capable of virtually anything for money even agood deed12
(1307). Souriau concludes by calling wit liberation from [] the banal, the expected;
aplay of creative force, liberated soul13 (ibid.).
Another feature of wit is its conciseness. Although this feature does not reduce wit
to jokes only, acertain economy of form is necessary one-act comedies, short novels,
*) In order to emphasize difference between lesprit and le spirituel in this particular instance, Ichoose
to translate it as wit and wittiness. As will become presently clear, however, le spirituel can be also
translated as wit.

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songs or poems with terse structure and quick-paced tempo are most likely to be labelled
as having wit. This logically results in wits association with ease and facility of expression. The surprise we experience when reading/watching/listening to something witty
has to be accompanied by the impression of effortlessness. The last condition proposed
by Souriau is that wit has to have adeeper meaning: even though appearing as amere
play, it offers apiercing look at reality. In the 18th century wit was often associated with
the quality of sharpness and perceptiveness. This last condition recalls Freuds conception of wit, as expressed in his 1905 study Der Witz und seine Beziehung zum Unbewuten
(usually translated as Le mot desprit et ses rapports avec linconscient into French). As we will
see, the entry on witz in Wolfhart Henckmann and Konrad Lotters Lexikon der sthetik
draws heavily on this conception.

Witz
Although etymologically closer to the English wit than the French esprit at first sight,
witz is according to Henckmann and Lotter aresult of predominantly French historical influences. The original meaning was, however, similar to the English wit:
[Wit] means natural cleverness or resourcefulness. The modern meaning of the term was narrowed down under the influence of the French esprit in the 18th century. Related to satire
and caricature, wit is one of the forms of the comic shaped by reason. It stands against the
sentimental, warm-hearted, sensible humour.14 (Lexikon der sthetik 399)

While some of the terms fundamental features in the entry are identical to the previous descriptions, they are of course associated with different authorities:
Its important structural feature is brevity (Jean Paul). As asimple form of narration (Jolles) it
usually consists of two parts the story and the punch line (?). In principle though we have to
distinguish among verbal wit, wit of situation (gag), and wit of action. Wits effect is produced
by revelation of the hidden similarities of two otherwise unrelated things or ideas or dissolving
of the high expectations into nothingness (Kant, Visher).15 (399)

The brief remark concerning wits other possible means of manifestation (apart from
the verbal one) are not pursued any further by the authors. Instead, the main part of
the entry is dedicated to description of the mechanics of Freudian wit and its qualities.
In this, part wit is the driving force behind jokes, losing all its artistic and aesthetic
associations:
Its default mood is aggressive. The laughter that it provokes is directed against ethnic minorities (jokes at the expense of Jews or blacks), against socially marginalized groups (jokes at the
expense of the disabled, mentally ill), against certain professional groups (jokes at the expense
of the doctors, teachers, priests, judges), against establishment (political jokes) etc.16 (399-400)

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The concluding part of the entry dissociates wit from all the possible literary or artistic manifestations, reducing it to the witz-joke aspect of the term:
Wit is disrespectful, it does not succumb to cultural norms, it breaks down taboos and thus
enables the (indirect) gratification of the forbidden or displaced wishes. Its pleasure is the result of the sudden removal of the obstacle which guards off the forbidden emotions, thoughts
or instincts.17 (400)

Similar to the missing question of the various forms of aesthetic employment of wit,
there is astriking absence of ahistorical survey of the terms usage by German authors
both in theory and practice.* The result is somewhat reduced description of aterm that
in the context of German contemporary culture seems to be associated exclusively with
the sphere of jocularity.

1.2.2 Wit and Humour and the Sublime and the Beautiful:
Comparative Approach
Towards the close of the seventeenth century, wit was getting increasingly compared
to and contrasted with humour. Before proceeding to comparing wits and humours
characteristics, Iwant to suggest that it is possible to view this dichotomy as parallel to
one of the chief dichotomies of the aesthetics that of the sublime and the beautiful.
While wit was often contrasted with humour in the literary and dramatic criticism
of Restoration the sublime was set against the beautiful by Edmund Burke in his Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1756). As these
two latter concepts have been frequently held in opposition as apoint of theoretical
contrast, we may wish to compare them with the wit-humour dichotomy. Philip Shaw
compiles in his study of sublime a list of contrastive adjectives, characterising the
relationship between the sublime and the beautiful. The sublime is greater than the
beautiful; the sublime is dark, profound, and overwhelming and implicitly masculine,
whereas the beautiful is light, fleeting, and charming and implicitly feminine (Shaw 9).
Unlike the sublime, which is a divisive force, encouraging feelings of difference and
deference, the beautiful encourages aspirit of harmony and unity (ibid.). Translated
into political terms, the sublime is associated with the individualistic, even dictatorial,
while the beautiful is connected to the social and democratic. The gendered nature of
the distinction between the sublime and the beautiful also has ahistory: Longinus says
that sublime speech ravishes or rapes the listener; in Burke, the sublime is avirile
masculine power, one that is contrasted with its passive feminine counterpart, the concept of the beautiful. Even more explicit in the early Kant is the distinction between
*) German Romantics in particular were interested in wit from aesthetic point of view. For example Friedrich
Schlegel called wit logical sociability, absolute social feeling, or fragmentary genius, and an explosion
of confined spirit (Harrison, Art in Theory 899-902).

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the depth and profundity of the masculine sublime and the shallow, slight nature of
the feminine beautiful (10).
The gendered nature of the relationship between wit and humour becomes increasingly apparent during the eighteenth century which preferred the gentleness of humour
to the keenness of wit. In his Essay towards Fixing the True Standards of Wit, Humour, Raillery, Satire, and Ridicule. To Which Is Added, an Analysis of the Characters of an Humourist, Sir
John Falstaff, Sir Roger de Coverly, and Don Quixote Corbyn Morris, aWhig politician and
economist, provides an exhaustive catalogue of the superior virtues of humour over wit.
Firstly, humour is associated with nature, while wit with art and artificiality. Secondly,
humour frequently exhibits very generous benevolent Sentiments of Heart, while wit
is the expression of the cold, intellectual activity of the mind (Tave 119). Humour excites
the feelings of harmony and solidarity, while wit encourages the atmosphere of aggressive competition and emulation. In political terms, the impulse of humour is egalitarian,
and middle-class while that of wit elitist and aristocratic.
Wit and the sublime, then, are often associated with the masculine, while humour and
the beautiful with the feminine. As we will see in the following chapters, the questions
connecting the terms of wit and the sublime and gender categories either as metaphorical expressions or as qualities ascribed to one or the other gender - run through many
a text that bridges the literary and the social world. For some of the French authors,
the question whether esprit one of the characteristic features of members of the polite
circles could be possessed by both genders was one of the most crucial ones in relation
to the term. For others, esprits linking with qualities associated traditionally with one or
the other gender seems to represent an aid in attempt at defining the term.

1.2.3 Wit as Aesthetic Principle: Visual Arts, Theatre Studies,


Game Theories
Wit as easy grace: Sprezzatura
If jouissance can be seen as alate twentieth-century equivalent to wit in the sphere of
literary criticism, its Renaissance equivalent in the area of visual arts can be found in
sprezzatura. There are many features these two terms share afact that is rarely commented on. In this brief account, Iwould like to emphasize these features to manifest
the similarities and connections. Sprezzatura is most frequently associated with the
period of Italian High Renaissance, when it was used to describe either the ideal of
courtly behaviour or ahighly appreciated artistic achievement (mainly in painting but
also in music). While it was not anew term (its roots go back as long as classical times),
sprezzatura was the main topic of The Book of the Courtier by Baldesar Castiglione (Il
libro del cortegiano, 1528). Having ascribed both negative and positive connotations
to the term, Castiglione defined it as paradoxical in nature as it conceals art, and
presents what is done and said as if it was done without effort and virtually without
thought (I.26). In his study Harry Berger defines the term as the ability to show that

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one is not showing all the effort one obviously put into learning how to show that one
is not showing effort (The Absence of Grace: Sprezzatura and Suspicion in Two Courtesy
Books 296).
Both wit and sprezzatura manipulate the reality (of language, artistic production
etc.) to give the impression of ease and gracefulness with which the effect (a witty
repartee, asublime portrait) is achieved. The impression of effortlessness is avital
condition of both these concepts and will re-appear again in the analytical parts of
this work where it will constitute the difference between what was termed true
and false wit in the early modern English aesthetics. Furthermore, they also both
function as social mask; sprezzaturas nonchalant ease and wits adroit twisting of
language both dissimulate reality: the artist never reveals the amount of hard work
he or she invested in the final creation while the author of the witty repartee can go
unpunished when insulting aco-conversationalist.

Wit as meta-communication: Semiotic model


In the work of the Czech theatre semiotician Ivo Osolsob wit becomes the general organizing pattern of the dramatic aesthetic. In his study Divadlo, kter mluv, zpv atan:
Teorie jedn komunikan formy (1974, Theatre That Speaks, Sings, and Dances: ATheory
of aForm of Human Communication) Osolsob puts forward aconvincing and witty
theory which bridges Aristotles concept of metaphor and wit as aesthetic principle
which governs the modern theatre. He sets out with his own reading of the definition of
metaphor, contending that:
[] wit is in its principle identical with metaphor, i.e. it is an image that precipitates and facilitates apprehension of something which would have to be otherwise explained in along and
complicated manner and thus it gives us pleasure.18 (Osolsob 82)

He continues by relegating wits structural features from rhetoric to both the realm of
everyday activities (where it is possible to use the expression resourcefulness instead
of wit to describe the quality) and the realm of arts, formulating the general working
definition:
Wit is then if we translate this principle to the realm of other than rhetoric tasks of explicating something to someone asolution of acertain rather complicated task; asolution which surprises by its ease and simplicity. [] this solution is more surprising (and hence more effective), if
we do not have to spend too much energy, time etc., if we can utilize what is readily available
and at the same time what nobody else thought of.19 (ibid.)

Testing the presumption in both realms, Osolsob produces several examples, ranging from sport, mathematics, an utterance set in a neutral context, joke, music and
literature:

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Witty, then, is such achess-player (or afootball or avolleyball player), who is able to turn to
his advantage asituation which was created by his adversary; witty is such an answer which
uses aword or an expression, which has just been used by apartner in conversation; witty is
asuch solution of an equation which contextualizes previous solution procedures; witty is such
amusical composition which successfully utilizes aseemingly barren music theme or which can
[...] change the whole nature of the piece; witty is asuch piece of writing which does not strain
to create a new plot function, but will use acharacter originally meant for adifferent function,
and will combine both functions.20 (ibid.)

Osolsob then goes on to pronounce the final definition of his conception of wit as
any detour, which turns out to be ashortcut and the shortest way to reaching agoal
(ibid.).21 Coming back to Aristotle, Osolsob reveals ingenious connection between metaphor, wit and model:
[] Aristotle associated wit with metaphor: metaphor is nothing else than amodel, or amodel
of ahigher level: what modelling does with objects (i.e. substituting them for other objects),
metaphor does with their names. Why not [] associate wit not only with metaphor but also
with a model? The invention of model is in itself aclassical witty solution: it does not toil and
moil searching for what is not available, but instead utilizes what is available here and, in afinal, victorious step, now and presents this inadequacy as its asset.22 (83)

Finally, Osolsob applies his theory of wit to theatre, claiming that [] theatre (in the
sense of the dramatic work) creates a model of communication using communication,
and, using what is at hand, creates amodel of the communication which is not available at
the moment23 (ibid.). Wit thus becomes an aestheticized model of communication about
communication.

Witticism and meta-wit


In his article Contingency, Games, and Wit Gary Morson presents wit as the ability to
resist the fundamental state of the world which is entropy. Suggesting that [e]xperience
teaches us that left to themselves, things tend to amuddle, as Gregory Bateson put it,
Morson identifies the lack of order, i.e. contingency as the ruling principle of our lives.
One of environments designed to banish contingency (apart from e.g. the social institutions such as insurance companies etc.) is art. He sees art as asort of game, quoting
Roger Caillois, French theoretician of aesthetics and, who claims that [p]lay [] is an
attempt to substitute perfect situations for the normal confusion of contemporary life
(quot. in Morson, 133).
For Morson witticism is aform of play: As agenre, it vindicates the superiority of
mind, even in extremities of difficulty where mental presence must overcome adisadvantage (144). It resembles the sort of game of improvisation in which one must handle
an unexpected challenge and to come up with an appropriate response without hesita-

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tion: The harder the challenge, the faster and less predictable the reply, the greater the
wits mastery of social circumstances, and the cleverer his facility with verbal resources
the better the witticism and the more surely the game has been won (145). Like the
game of improvisation, the witticism dramatizes the minds encounter with contingency.
Both depend on presentness: The successful witticism expresses the triumph of mind
and its adequacy to any social situation (147). In ashort moment, the wit masters all the
complexities of aset of social circumstances and formulates aperfectly apropos remark
that illuminates them. Witticism thrives in socially challenging situations when speed
and verbal and mental adroitness are of the utmost importance. Witticism, unlike wise
saying or aphorism, involves story. For Morson, this does not mean the narrative that
constitutes the witticism, but another story or context which envelops the witticism. As
an example he provides the relationship between Samuel Johnson and his biographer
James Boswell. Boswells function was to tell amusing little stories showcasing Johnsons
wit. He could feature as the narrator, insultee, provocateur or any combination of these
three. Thus in the context of Johnsons witty insult regarding Boswells origin narrated
by the latter, the biographer assumes the third role that of the provocateur which is, at
the same time, his second role within the story (148):
Boswell: Ido indeed come from Scotland, but Icannot help it.
Johnson: That, Sir, Ifind, is what avery great many of your countryman cannot help.

Here, Boswell does not only narrate to perfection his own diminishment but has also
had the wit to foresee exactly what would inspire Johnson to diminish him so quotable
thus ensuring the suitable form for witticism.
Morson suggests that certain locales, especially salons, serve as conventional settings
for witticisms (149). The salon becomes the playground a marked off space and time
for an occasion governed by rules for verbal and nonverbal behaviour. So much are salons the favoured locale for wit that witticisms themselves may retrospectively characterize alocale or social situation as asort of salon. The less like asalon asituation may be,
the wittier it is to make it into one (ibid.). One of such unexpected locales is the place
of execution where gallows humour or wit hails from.
Gallows wit or wit of the last words presents achallenge in that it treats execution
or generally something that would evoke terror in others as no more than an inconvenience. For the wit it however presents an opportunity to play, to engage in mental agility.
Morson asserts that here is another way such wit impresses: it demonstrates supreme
courage. Both wit and courage demand mental presence when most difficult. Not everyone can make sport of his or her own imminent dismemberment (153). He also suggest
that the truly witty and courageous can even use martyrdom as the playground for
their wit and he provides the following examples of Saint Lawrence, who, being burned
alive on agridiron, said at one moment that he might be turned over, since he was done
enough on that side, and Thomas More, who, mounting the scaffold, urged the chief executioner: I pray you, master Lieutenant, see me safe up, and [as for] my coming down,
let me shift for myself [and] drawing his beard aside before placing his head on the block

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he remarked: This has not offended the king. (quot. in Morson, 153). Mores pun on
shift makes the place of execution into another salon. More importantly though, the
last joke concerning the guilt of his head reminds us of head as the seat of mind, the
centre of wit. According to Morson, the game of wit on the scaffold assimilates what is
most alien to human life death itself into the mind-made game world (154). Witticism then ultimately shows that mind triumphs over nature, political power or physical
force.
In these brief encounters with wit in three different areas of contemporary and historical theories of art my goal was to draw attention to the terms omnipresent and universal
structural features. Although the following parts of this study will mainly be concerned
with wit as a term of literary criticism and aesthetics, it will be possible to recognize
some of the above features in the texts analyzed in the following chapters. It is however
important to keep in mind that, while some of the accounts describing these features are
fairly recent, they have been in existence for aconsiderable amount of time. For example
the concept of meta-wit i.e. being witty about wit is wits specific feature which can
be traced at least as far as Shakespeares comedies. Rupert D. V. Glasgow shows how the
complex network of associations between sex, archery, and wit in probably the wittiest
of Shakespeares comedies Loves Labours Lost manifests that not only is wit inherently
sexual in nature, but it is also acourtly pastime (like archery). Applauding about of wit
exchanged between Rosaline and Boyet, Maria responds to it using the metaphor of the
mark, meaning ashot at target. Boyet warns her to be cautious, as mark can also mean
pudendum, and he himself plays on the double meaning of prick:
MARIA. Amark marvellous well shot, for they both did hit it.
BOYET.
Amark! O, mark but that mark! Amark, says my lady!

Let the mark have aprick int, to mete at, if it may be.
MARIA. Wide o the bow hand! I faith, your hand is out.
COSTARD. Indeed, a must shoot nearer, or hell neer hit the clout.
BOYET.
An if my hand be out, then belike your hand is in.
COSTARD. Then will she get the upshoot by cleaving the pin.
MARIA.
Come, come, you talk greasily; your lips grow foul.
COSTARD. Shes too hard for you at pricks, sir: challenge her to bowl.
BOYET.
Ifear too much rubbing. Good night, my good owl.

(Love Labours Lost, IV. 1)

Wit, as Glasgow points out, is amatter of hitting atarget with atimely prick (232)
and this particular instance is moreover awitty comment about wit.
Meta-wit, however, is not an exclusive feature of wit in English literature. In his novel
Siebenks, the German Romantic writer Jean Paul presents marriage as meta-wit: in his
Preschool of Aesthetics, he defines wit as the disguised priest who marries every couple
(quot. in Flemming The Pleasures of Abandonment: Jean Paul and the Life of Humor 126). As
Paul Flemming comments: Wit gladly combines disparate and heterogeneous ideas that
otherwise wouldnt be associated with each other. In wit, as in marriage, every couple is

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potentially an odd-couple (ibid.). In Siebenks, the newlywed couple the eponymous


hero and his fiance Lenette could not be more heterogeneous themselves: which is all
the better for wit, but all the worse for the newlyweds.
As will become evident in the works of the Restoration and early modern English
writers analyzed in the second part of this study, meta-wit belonged among their repertoire as well. It gets most attention from Alexander Pope, who employs it in his Essay on
Criticism written in heroic couplets when merging the critical contents and poetical form
creating perfect environment for meta-wit to thrive in.

1.3 T
 he Literature and Culture of the Late Seventeenth
Century: Political, Philosophical and Literary-historical
Background
1.3.1 Rhetoric and the Renaissance Poetic
Aristotle distinguished between the style of rhetoric and that of poetry. Rhetoric, most
of which pertained to style, contained more verbal devices than poetics. Since verbal
devices always tend to usurp all other means of expression and since writing techniques tend to subsume oral ones, the once dominant study of rhetoric was slowly relegated to adivision of poetics under the general category of style. The actual fusion of
theories of oratory and poetry is generally attributed to Cicero. His aims in De oratore
combined the qualities of poetry (to delight) with the aim of oratory (to persuade).
He discussed wit (ingenium) as ameans of developing afull, ornate style through imitation of the Greek orators and pointed out parallels between ingenium as he used it
and Platos comments on (wit) in The Republic (VII, 535), and (witty) in
The Phaedrus (Sections 269d-270a). Aristotle was also familiar with Platos idea, stated
in The Laws, that aperson who is (witty, i.e. having excellent natural endowments) may do more harm to the state than an ignorant citizen if such awitty person
has evil intentions.
Despite the early fusion of theories, rhetoric still retained its classical meaning of effective oral expression during the Middle Ages and was (possibly except grammar) the
most important study in the trivium (i.e. the three lower Artes Liberales which included
grammar, rhetoric and logic). Classical rhetoric consisted of five traditional parts or
canons: inventio (invention or discovery), disposition (arrangement), elocutio (style), memoria (memory), and pronuntio (delivery). By the Renaissance, only the first three of the
traditional parts retained any significance memoria and pronuntio pertained largely to
oral expression and rhetoric was by that time apart of the discipline in the writing of
both prose and poetry. Another development was the gradual simplification of figurative
language. Medieval treatises had gradually reduced the complex categories of rhetoric
to tropes and figures. Even as early as postclassical criticism, these two categories had
failed to maintain separate status and distinctions. Quintilian had noted that many au-

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thors have considered figures identical with tropes; furthermore there are some who
call tropes figures. By the sixteenth century, Elizabethans thought of rhetorical devices
mostly in terms of figures, and rhetoricians usually listed under that classification not
only tropes but also schemes and repetitions. For example George Puttenhams Arte of
English Poesie (1589) divided figures into three groups: those which serve the ear (auricular), those which serve the mind (sensible) and those which serve both together (sententious). Among the chief rhetoricians of the Renaissance, three classes of figures were
considered most important. The first group consisted of figures of thought: definition,
division, distinction, enumeration, cause, effect, antecedent, consequence, comparison,
similitude, dissimilitude, example, and citation of authority. The second group consisted
of various forms of exclamation, interrogation, and description all designed to sway
emotions. The third group consisted of some 150 figures depending upon such merely
mechanical devices as spelling, diction, and syntax. Because of its importance in the
creation of wit, the first group, in particular comparison, similitude, and dissimilitude,
received increasing attention in the seventeenth century.

Figurae verborum and figurae sententiae


The subordination of rhetoric to techniques of style, together with the simultaneous simplification of rhetorical devices into classes of figures, had great bearing upon the kinds
of wit, as the English Renaissance viewed them. The simplification of rhetorical devices
into classes of figures was important in the discussion of what was later labelled as wit of
thoughts and wit of words. According to D. Judson Milburn wit of thoughts and of words
became acommon distinction from the seventeenth century onwards (41). Nowadays
this distinction may be slightly obscure but the distinction certainly became the centre
of literary criticism in the years following the restoration of Charles II till the second
decade of the eighteenth century.
This division of wit arose from the reduction of rhetoric to tables of figures, in
which the figure came to predominate verbal ornamentation. Tables of figures were
subdivided traditionally into figurae verborum and figurae sententiae. The first, figurae
verborum (figures of language, words, speech) sought agreeable sounds either alone or
in combination, as in parallelisms, antitheses, alliterations, rhymes, and assonances.
The second category, figurae sententiae (figures of thought, matter, sense) sough effective development of the idea in the sentence or sententious statement; it made use of
exclamations, rhetorical questions, and suggestions. During the seventeenth century,
the discrimination between wit of words and wit of thoughts became increasingly
important, and as reaction against excessive ornamentation increased wit of words
became the first object of critical attack.

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Epigram
Epigram, recognized as a classical verse genre, was afavoured poetic form during the
first three decades of the seventeenth century, after which its vogue started to fade.
Generally having the form of a short poem building to a surprising turn of thought
or sententious statement, it varied in length from two to sixteen or more lines and the
last line or two contained an often surprising sting based on wordplay. The content
was rather trivial as this epigram by Henry Parrot, one of the most productive Jacobean
epigrammatists shows:
Nuptiae post nummos
There was atime when men for love did marry
And not for lucre sake, as now we see:
Which from that former age so much doth vary
As alls for what youll give? or nought must be.
So that this ancient word called matrimony
Is wholly made amatter now of money.*

During the Restoration period, epigrams artistic status grew more and more unstable as
the vogue for verbal wit was disappearing. At the same time, however, epigrammatic heritage was carried on by such famous writers as John Dryden, whose famous lines: Here lies
my wife: here let her lie! / Now shes at rest and so am I lack the convoluted, Metaphysical quality of their Elizabethan and Jacobean predecessors while retaining the sting. As
the period advanced, epigrammatic style became criticized more and more often. Sir William Temple wrote of the degenerate moderns, who, not worthy to sit down at the Feast,
have to content themselves with the Scraps, that is, with lesser forms of poetry; thus they
incorporate epigrams which were all turned upon Conceit, or some sharp Hits of Fancy
or Wit (Of Poetry quot. in Spingarn, III 99-100). At the same time, however, epigrammatic wit continued to find audience and readership during the first half of the eighteenth
century at least, keeping aconsiderable portion of the press business afloat with numerous
reprints of poetical miscellanies and specialized anthologies such as Martial Revivd (1722),
ACollection of Epigrams (1735), or Selected Epigrams (1797).
Epigram has not ceased to cause fascination as well as indignation to the present day
and is athorn in the flesh for some modern scholars as well. Associated with falseness of
wit, its subversiveness especially in the sphere where language and religion are brought
into immediate contact, epigram becomes the target of acertain type of literary criticism. For example, in anumber of his critical writings, Roger D. Lund attacks epigrammatic wit, appropriating the seventeenth-century terminologies of true and false wit
in order to catch it out at sinning against reason to use Jonathan Cullers phrase as
*) Henry Parrot, Mastive, quoted by J. William Hebel and H. H. Hudson, eds. Poetry of the English Renaissance,
1509-1660 (New York, 1946), p. 529.

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well as morality. To do so, Lund works with quotations similar in tone to this passage of
Popes Essay on Man:
All Nature is but Art, unknown to thee;
All Chance, Direction, which thou canst not see;
All Discord, Harmony, not understood;
All partial Evil, universal Good;
All, spite of Pride, in erring Reasons spite,
One truth is clear, Whatever IS, is RIGHT. (I, 289-94)

Noting Popes apparent teleological confusion, Lund draws attention to the aggressive binarims as Nature/Art, Chance/Direction, Discord/Harmony, and Partial Evil/
Universal Good that emerge as the necessary product of Popes antithetical logic
result of which is that the authors epigrammatic sentiments strike the unsympathetic
reader as both surprising and perverse (Lund, The Ghosts of Epigram, False Wit, and
the Augustan Mode 77). In another of his texts titled Infectious Wit: Metaphor, Atheism, and the Plague in Eighteenth-Century London Lund asserts that
[f]or eighteenth-century Englishmen, particularly those who equated social stability with the
interests of Church and Monarch, the intellectual movement that created the greatest anxiety
was the steady rise of secularism, rationalism, sexual libertinism, and anticlericalism, which
had been roughly designated as forms of modern atheism. (46)

Epigrams ambiguous reception is parallel to that of wit it signals the fact that literary practice favoured forms and styles which were disapproved of by the contemporary
criticism. This chasm bears significantly on the issues of language and its relationship to
knowledge and style as it developed during the late seventeenth century. The following
part of this study will address these issues in order to provide complete background of
the studied period.

1.3.2 Seventeenth-century France: Society and Arts in the State of Flux


As Ihave suggested above, the Restoration period was an intellectually and politically
turbulent time. Thus, when thinking about awork of literary art hailing from England
between the years 1660 and 1720, we need to keep in mind that it was not only along
standing classical heritage, but also the empiricism and scepticism of the English provenance together with French classicism what shaped them. In the following subchapter
I will provide a brief sketch of the French culture, its concerns and dilemmas of the
seventeenth century before turning to the philosophical and cultural background of
England.
The changing patterns and relationships of seventeenth century France deeply affected its literature and philosophy. After the second half of the fifteenth century

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which was marred by endless dynastic rivalry, economic pressure and most importantly the Wars of Religion, a religious and political conflict, the dominant mood of
the society was the desire for order, organization and restraint. The court of Henry IV,
the king who began the long process of reformation of the powers of state, was busy
planning reconstructions of cities and the task of the refining manners and language
and bringing together the literary and social scenes had to be taken up by other circles. Marquise de Rambouillet, awife of one of the most important court members,
withdrew from Versailles and helped create anew social movement prciosit equal
in its exclusivity to that of the court, but with very different tastes and ideology which,
ultimately, became the decisive factor in the forming of the seventeenth-century arts
and society. Prciosit and neoclassicism, the style it partly helped shape will be the
subject matter of the following pages, then, as they have significant implications for
the subsequent parts of this study. While my treatment of these issues (prciosit and
neoclassicism) will be rather brief at this moment, Iwill draw on them when discussing the key topics of the second chapter the bel esprit and the je-ne-sais-quoi as they
represent vital elements in understanding the texts of the French authors analyzed in
the next chapter.

Prciosit: The ideal of genteel manners and the concept of honnte homme
The word prciosit (preciousness) denotes aliterary style and/or asocial movement of
French aristocracy of the first half of the seventeenth century that pursued refinement
of conversation and gentilesse of manners. The movements core members were aristocratic ladies, with Catherine de Vivonne, Marquise de Rambouillet, as its central figure
and adismissed wife of Henry IV., Marguerite de Valois, aroyal asset to the circle. They
gathered in salons; the most eminent one being that of Marquise de Rambouillet who for
more than forty years (1618-1660) entertained visitors from the art crowd as well as Parisian respectabilities (Mike 19). LHtel de Rambouillet with its legendary le salon bleu
became the workshop of the movement that was to influence Frances literary scene as
well as political course as one of its many guests were Richelieu, at that time still abishop
of Luon, cardinal de la Valette, marshal de Souvr and others. The writers included
Malherbe, Vaugelas, Chapelain, Segrais, and Voiture. Thomas Kaminsky, drawing on the
studies of Ferdinand Brunot and Domna C. Stanton, presents the following picture of
this environment, with anew type of asocial ideal in its centre:
Within this coterie, politesse became the defining quality of the honnte homme, aperson of both
elevated character and refined wit who seemed to possess anatural ability to please. Learning
was esteemed in women as well as men, so long as it remained well-bred and devoid of pedantry.
Grace, wit, and afree but pleasing manner were the touchstones of precieux society. (20-1)
The honnte homme represented the combination of urbanity of manners, sophistication in
literary taste and gentility of expressing it which becomes one of the guiding principles of

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literary production in both France and Britain of the seventeenth- and eighteenth centuries
(France, Politeness and its Discontents: Problems in French Classical Culture 4).

The literary taste of the prciueses, how they were labelled, revelled in Giambattista
Marini or Honor dUrf who wrote the celebrated pastoral novel LAstre (1613-9). Kaminsky suggests that the concept of prciosit is generally associated nowadays with the
affectations of language that Molire satirized in Les Prcieuses ridicules but at the same
time he also asserts that modern French critics generally agree that the so-called jargon
of the prcieux salons actually enriched the French language while the stylistic characteristics of the authors provided the foundation for French classicism (19).
The language and awareness of political endangerment were closely interrelated in
the movements purifying efforts: As far as language was concerned, the efforts to
purify and chisel it, to get rid of all vulgarity and to distinguish it from the vulgar, machiavelism-soaked hedonism of the new social classes was only the beginning24 (Divadlo
francouzskho baroka 22). The refinement of the language gradually became the over-refinement, the purifying effort produced affectedness and artificiality and, finally, issued
in hypocrisy. Prciosit put aban on words such as cow, pig, breast and to breed because they all referred to things of vulgar and low origin (Divadlo francouzskho baroka
22). The movements striving for difference and originality bred metaphorical, kenninglike expressions like liquid element for water, buttress of life for bread or inhabitants
of Neptunes kingdom for fish (ibid.).
The movements main impetus was the need to differentiate the language from that of
the French bourgeoisie, the relatively new class of merchants and bankers and to oppose
the political and economic strength this class was gradually gaining. The seventeenth
century saw the last phase of the shift of power from aristocracy to the capitalist middle
class and the aristocratic isolation of language, refuge in safety of the salons was alast
and desperate act of defence. There was, however, aconsiderable literary contribution
in this language exercise. The salon frequenters developed considerable skill in employing metaphors, which sometimes, admittedly, produced overtly subtle, far-fetched
comparisons. Still, the overall tendency to precision, sophistication, and most importantly the stylistic self-awareness of prciosit shaped some of the founding principles of
neoclassicism.

Neoclassicism and la querelle des anciens et des modernes


The battle between the ancients and the moderns was the result of speedy development
of literary taste during the first half of the seventeenth century. The tradition of humanism, the ideological complement of the Renaissance with its penchant for rules and imitation of the ancient authors was opposed to the Baroque modernism which strove for
the excessive, ornamental in music and visual arts and far-fetched metaphor (la pointe) in
literature. By 1630 this style became more and more outdated and replaced by prciosit
and its pre-classical concerns with emotional restraint and order as the ruling features of

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expression. Franois de Malherbe, the pioneer of French classicism, initiated the forming of its first principles during the 1630s and by the mid-century, the classical doctrine
was complete.
Neoclassicism, as it was instituted in France during the 1630s, was the literary instrument of astate bent on centralizing and consolidating its authority. As aresponse
to the scrutinization by the state, writers soon developed meticulously coded methods
of writing. Thus Pierre Corneille, for instance, circumvented some of the rigidities
of French neoclassical formal prescriptions by developing and refining strategy that
John Dryden later used against Corneille himself, that of misquotation in the sense
of inventing anothers words, not altering them. The official French literature of the
period aimed to be socially conformist: its function was to describe man as auniversal
phenomenon, not an individual with idiosyncrasies distinguishing him or her from
the rest. The concern with proportion, propriety and order was the central framework of the style. The already mentioned notion of biensance and vraisemblance are
closely related to it. The former term refers to the principles of decorum maintained
not only by the members of the fashionable salons, but also by characters of the literary and dramatic works these honntes gens produced and consumed. It required no
violence, no foul language or buffoonery, it preferred lofty themes and noble characters both in real life and on stage. The principle of vraisemblance demands that
the actions and plots be believable for which purposes the three Aristotelian unities
of time, place and action were rediscovered and applied rigidly the neoclassical playwrights, especially by Molire and Racine. As the process of rediscovery and new appreciation for the ancient literary rules and production became wide-spread, awave
of resistance against these strict regulations appeared and with it the battle between
the ancients and moderns.
While Ido not intend to go into chronological details of the battle here, it is necessary
to at least briefly summarize the two camps and their opinions. The battle itself could
be more readily described as aseries of mostly personal attacks between individual
members of the opposite sides, starting around the mid-century and dying away after
1715. It is important not so much for its immediate outcome, but rather for the pattern
of literary exchange which was then iterated by the English authors. Its significance also
lies in the ideological implications, as both sides tended to promote adifferent set of cultural standards. It is not surprising then, to see the term taste repeated again and again,
as it was one of the key issues of the dispute.
The central belief of the advocates of the moderns that modern literature has benefited from the general advance of knowledge that had occurred between ancient times
and the present. The two works that support this idea are Charles Perrualts Parallle des
anciens et les modernes (1688-97) and Bernard Fontenelles Digression sur les ancienes at les
moderns (1688). Perrault asserted that knowledge of the human heart had increased, so
the modern poet has an advantage over his predecessors; Homer, for example, would
have written abetter epic if he had lived in the age of Louis XIV (The Cambridge History
of Literary Criticism, Vol. 4 The Eighteenth Century 91). While supporting monarchy, the
moderns were more inclined to acknowledge the shifts in the social strata, and they are

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often associated with Paris and the salons. Their taste was for the politesse and ingenuity
of language; the Greek and Latin culture was for them in some extreme cases asynonym of dark, barbarous times.
The ancients were represented by Jean de la Fontaine (1621-95), Jean de la Bruyre
(1645-96) or Nicolas Boileau-Dspreaux (1636-1711). These authors represented acircle
much closer to the official power of Versailles and the king. For the ancients the classics
of antiquity remained worthy of admiration and imitation. This, however did not imply
slavish copying, but continuing an old tradition which had been revitalized at the Renaissance and this feature of their style is emphasized by Peter France or Antoine Adam,
who claims that one of the crucial motives of the neoclassical literature was the wish
for renewal, the new creativeness (142). Similar tensions between the feelings of obligation to acknowledge the literary and cultural traditions and the need to outgrow can be
observed in the English society of the Restoration period.

1.3.3 Society in Transition: Restoration England and its Culture


For Derek Hughes, the question of naming is one of the most characteristic themes of
Restoration drama. In the introductory chapter of his English Drama 1660-1700 as well
as elsewhere, he claims that the act of naming and entitlement, i.e. identifying oneself
or another is amoment when acharacters social and familial place as well as linguistic
order is restored. This act always happens through the medium of language (Hughes,
English Drama 1660-1700, 26). In this section Iwant to argue that this pre-naming state
of instability or equivocality was not only characteristic for the portrayal of the human
existence in late seventeenth-century England, but it can also be applied to the area of
human intellectual output of that time mainly that concerned with literary and dramatic criticism and the embryonic aesthetics. The period of Restoration was in words
of Paul Hammond an age of unstable critical vocabulary and the circumstances of
this instability will now be analyzed in order to provide an ideological background for
the following parts of this study.
Restoration England is sometimes pictured as aflamboyant, care-free period of English history, one in which King Charles II and his train of royal concubines and courtiers
loved by his people spend days visiting bawdy and irreverent Restoration comedies,
celebrating the end of the horrors of the Puritan interregnum (1642-1660) during which
the official theatrical production was banned. It is however much more realistic if we
choose to see this period as a dynamic time of transition from old modes (political,
economic as well as social and cultural) to new ones. The spirit of the period can be conveniently characterized by the words of John Tillotson, Archbishop of Canterbury who
wrote that [t]he fashion of the age is to call every thing into question (English Drama
1660-1700 1).
One of the foremost areas which was influenced by the questioning mode of the
times was religion. The rise of scepticism and new forms of religions (e.g. Deism) gave
space for anew critical discourse which runs through most of the philosophical works

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of Thomas Hobbes and other philosophers of the period. The explosion of upper-class
atheism practised by e.g. playwright Earl of Rochester or theatre critic Charles Gildon,
though a statistical minority, was an important influence on the ideas these authors
presented in their works. Closely connected to the deterioration of the system of Christianity as the universal codex of laws is the questioning of the nature of morality in
Leviathan Thomas Hobbes portrayed man as an appetitive and morally relative creature,
for whom right or wrong is insignificant in the state of nature in which he is at war with
all other man. This idea clashed dramatically with the whole concept of unchanging
universality of Christian morals.
Consequently, these ideas destabilized the concepts of the nature of personal (psychological, sexual etc.) and social identity. Influenced by the French Renaissance philosopher Michel de Montaigne, Hobbes claimed that the human life and consciousness
must be viewed in the terms of the processes of matter in motion, implying that human
identity is essentially unstable. As far as social identity is concerned, the horror of the
state of nature with its brutality in hostility drove men to form societies, exchanging
the dangerous freedom of anarchy for subjection to a protective authority. The most
stable protection being offered by an absolute sovereign, men contracted away their
natural rights in return for security (13). Thus, Hobbess conception of society is based
on aparadox: humanity creates societies not to fulfil its nature but to escape it man is
in equal measure savage and citizen these two elements remain eternally conflicting,
yet eternally inseparable. His view is in fact an explicit rejection of Aristotles concept of
man as zoon politicon.
Hobbes then dissolved the universal, natural character not only of traditional hierarchy but also of traditional morality. Moral values were decided by political authority;
Hobbes even likened social codes to the rules of agame when he stated that [i]t is in
the Laws of aCommonwealth, as in the Lawes of Gaming; whatsoever the Gamesters all
agree on, is Injustice to none of them, and continued by defining morality in his 1656
essay Questions concerning Liberty, Necessity, and Chance, as not transgressing the rules set
by those involved: As men in playing the turn up trump, and civil conversation our morality is all contained in not disobeying of the laws (Hobbes, Leviathan, 388).

The intellectual milieu of the Restoration period: The Ancients and the Moderns
The intellectual context of the majority of the Restoration authors and certainly of
those analyzed in the third chapter of this study is usually described as neoclassical.
However, the term Neoclassicism has acquired a number of meanings, often resulting in contradictory statements. It will be useful to present abrief survey of the terms
definitions before I continue with describing the specific features of the intellectual
background of the Restoration period themselves. As Robert D. Hume suggests, neoclassical is sometimes used simply as adescriptive term to designate works falling within
the 1660-1800 period or, in its more restricted sense, it can be used to mean French
literary theory of the later seventeenth century. Even though these definitions seem to

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offer genuine advantages (the former because it is neutral in its assessment, the latter
because it clearly implies the influence of the French literary orthodoxy on the English
writing) they ultimately do not serve their purpose. The neutrality of the first definition
does not hold true, since the term carries the clear implication of arevival of or areturning to an earlier culture. The strictly national demarcation of the second definition
is unrealistic mostly because, as the period went on, an increasing amount of genuine
classicism appeared which was not imported from the other side of the Channel (Hume
Drydens Criticism 155).
The well-known cultural controversy, which helped define the Restoration period,
was the clash between the ideas supporting the dominance of the artistic and intellectual values of the Ancient Rome and Greece, and those in favour of the contemporary
(and more or less local) culture. The notorious proponent of the Ancients views was
Sir William Temple who argued against the Modern position in his essay On Ancient
and Modern Learning. In the essay he incidentally repeated the commonplace, originally from Bernard of Chartres, that we see more only because we are dwarves standing on the shoulders of giants. As Bernard Levine maintains: The quarrel [] both
preceded the Restoration and continued to be argued for along time afterward, but
it took on apeculiar form and significance in the later century (Levine viii). Many
(if not most) Restoration authors began with aself-consciously modern position, but
after much vacillation, each wound up accepting alarge dose of anciennet seeking a
position somewhere on asliding scale between the extreme demands of both parties,
and in doing so they developed astance to culture that has sometimes been called baroque, but may also be seen as aprelude to eighteenth-century neoclassicism (ibid.).
Levine rightly observes that the tension between the ancients and the moderns was
undoubtedly one of the chief defining characteristics of Restoration culture and colored much of its thought (ix). The basic condition of the quarrel and much of the
intellectual history of the period was abroad insistence that the ancient Greeks and
Romans had set the supreme models and standards for every sort of endeavour, most
particularly for politics and the humanistic arts associated with it: rhetoric and oratory,
history, poetry, and moral philosophy.
Anciennet was thus the basic inheritance of the Restoration gentleman, as it had
been earlier, reinforced now by arepugnance to the profoundly disturbing revolutionary events that had so recently challenged both the social order and the classics. Levine
suggests that the outcome of the battle was draw in which the field was pretty much
divided the ancients commanding the humanities, and the moderns the sciences and
the Restoration anticipated the outcome and defined itself in the process (ix-x).

Language, knowledge, and epistemology in the late seventeenth-century


English culture
By the middle of the seventeenth century, the Neoplatonic view that Adams original
language had been a system of natural signs, genuinely corresponding to the things

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expressed, was in decline. The schism between the signifier and signified became more
evident than ever before. The irreconcilable gap between words and things was atheme
of much of the contemporary philosophy which became increasingly aware of vagueness of words. Hobbes, for example, vigorously rejects the idea of natural language and
frequently expresses horror of confusing words with things, believing that the subordination of the sects and the intellectual stagnation of scholasticism were alike sustained
by acorruption of language in which insignificant expressions were held to correspond
to real entities (English Drama 1660-1700, 14). For Hobbes, linguistic signs have no essential significance, for language originates in arbitrary compact, as consequence to the
need to establish signs for the conducting of social intercourse (15).
Similar to its function in Hobbess theory of morality, consensus communis is the underlying principle of language and communication: That is atrue sign, which by the
consent of men becomes asign (Hobbes, Philosophical Rudiments concerning Government
and Society, 221). Consequently, the linguistic compact is potentially unstable and it
is perpetually necessary to establish agreed meanings and careful definitions (English
Drama 1660-1700, 15). According to Deborah Fisk Payne the suspicion that language is
not transparent medium through which reality can be grasped undeformed was present
in the writings not only of Thomas Hobbes, but also his predecessor Francis Bacon, and
contemporaries Thomas Sprat and John Locke. These philosophers were all aghast at
language gone astray and attempted to slip aleash on words, to domesticate them into
isomorphic relationship with objects in nature (Payne 411). John Lockes position as
expressed in his Essay concerning Human Understanding (1698) is that of nearly extremist
rejection of language, as the following lines show:
[...] figurative speeches and allusion in language will hardly be admitted as an imperfection or
abuse of it. Iconfess in discourses where we seek rather pleasure and delight than information
and improvement, such ornaments as are borrowed from them can scarce pass for faults. But
yet if we would speak of things as they are, we must allow that all the art of rhetorick, besides
order and clearness, all the artificial and figurative application of words eloquence hath invented, are for nothing else but to insinuate wrong ideas, move the passions, and thereby mislead
the judgment, and so indeed are perfect cheats: And therefore [...] they are [...] wholly to be
avoided; and where truth and knowledge are concerned, cannot but be thought agreat fault,
either of the language or person that makes use of them.[] Eloquence [...] has too prevailing
beauties in it, to suffer itself ever to be spoken against. (III. x. 34)

The atmosphere of untrustworthiness of the unstable language influenced both Restoration comedy especially its usage of language and thematic choices and the forming genre of literary and dramatic criticism. It becomes most conspicuous when people
use it metaphorically, that is, in other sense than [words] are ordained for; and thereby
deceive others (Leviathan, ch. 4, 102).

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2 Official and Alternative Classical


Aesthetics: Bouhours, Mr, and Boileau
La vraie loquence se moque de lloquence.
Blaise Pascal, Les Penses (1669)
La confiance fournit plus la conversation que lesprit.
Franois de La Rochefoucauld, Maximes (1665)

In this chapter Ilook at the texts of three French authors Dominique Bouhours, chevalier de Mr, and Nicolas Boileau in which theories of esprit, its version bel esprit, and
several other related terms like the je-ne-sais-quoi and the sublime are expressed. Unlike
Boileaus LArt potique, one of the most well-known texts of the French neoclassicism,
both Bouhourss Les Entretiens dArtiste et dEugne and La Manire de bien penser dans les
ouvrages desprit, and Mrs Discours de lesprit are seriously under-researched and rarely
analyzed texts. While these two latter authors writings belong to the genre of literature
of social life, often not distinguishing between the appreciation of artistic, psychological and social values, Boileaus interests are more specifically literature-based. However,
even in his theories concerning esprit he pursues the ideal of balance between the artistic
truthfulness and moral integrity. Esprit also appears to have played an important part
in the early modern French societys process of self-identification. In particular, the act
of defining aterm like esprit, or the je-ne-sais-quoi becomes crucial in determining the
cultures ideological positions.
The seventeenth century is usually considered agolden period of French criticism.
Boileau, Bouhours and other French critics disparaged the poetry of Italy and Spain,
though they drew rather more than they cared to acknowledge from sixteenth-century
Italian critics. By the last quarter of the seventeenth century France had assumed aleadership in literary criticism which the rest of Europe, including even Italy, acknowledged
(The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism. The Eighteenth Century 83). Dogmatic and legislative in tone, the French critics like Boileau, Rapin, and Le Bossu were far away from
the technical and philosophic treatment of literary language of the generations of critics
to come, but their achievement must be considered seriously as they represent the stage
of early modern European criticism in which a strong tendency among theorists [] to
take over psychological doctrines as afoundation for their views, to displace rhetoric (in
its widest acceptation as the art of writing) from its traditional basis of classical authority and common-sense observation and establish it on properly philosophical foundation (Stone 22).

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Theories of esprit in the texts of Boileau, Bouhours and Mr demonstrate that the
term serves as acatalyst of this gradual change, partly because it is so flexible in its semantic and contextual usage. Also, tracing its interplay with the already mentioned je-nesais-quoi and sublime will hopefully yield new insights into the ways various streams and
doctrines of French neoclassicism interacted and responded to each other. The tensions
between them are part of my interest in this chapter, and emphasis on the social dimension of esprit is detectable in Bouhourss theories of the bel esprit, where the adjective
adds an appreciative tone to the expression.

2.1 Dominique Bouhours and Poetic Ideologies


of the Bel Esprit
2.1.1 The bel esprit and the je-ne-sais-quoi
Dominique Bouhours was born in 1628 in Paris where he also died in 1702. Although
today he is usually remembered as an essayist and neo-classical critic, during his time
he was also known in his capacity of Jesuit priest, as he engaged in theological and literary polemic with the Jansenists. For the purpose of my reading of Bouhours, the most
important fact is that he was afrequent and influential visitor to the salon of Madeleine
de Scudry, where he made aname as an expert on matters of style and language this
fact is attested by Nicolas Boileau and Jean La Bruyre who considered him aforemost
authority in this field and Jean Racine who allegedly sent him Phdre for approval.
When considering the terms of the bel esprit and the je-ne-sais-quoi which lie at the heart
of Bouhourss poetic theory Iwill be concerned specifically with how these terms were
strategically employed by the French author in his discourse of cultural, social, and literary elitism. Ido not attempt to separate the literary from the social and cultural sphere
in my approach, as Ibelieve this particular period perceived them to be interconnected
in a way that defies any clear-cut compartmentalization. In this respect, I agree with
Richard Scholar, who points out that [w]hat is striking about the discourse of art and
artistic appreciation in late seventeenth-century France culture is how embedded it is in
the discourse of social distinction (Scholar 199). Authors of this period were used to
deploy their social credentials as artists to explain the qualities of their writings; indeed,
Bouhours and others talk about these two spheres as if they were one and the same
thing (ibid.). I also believe that this intertwinement of qualities renders the periods
literary creative and critical output considerably inaccessible but at the same time it is
the reason for its fertility in terms of interpretive possibilities.
Taking into account the nature of the relationship between the literary and the cultural, my approach will therefore posit the two terms as tools of literary and social exquisiteness employed by the members of the polite circles and salons in order to establish
and maintain their exclusiveness. In Bouhourss two major critical works, Les Entretiens
dArtiste et dEugne and La Manire de bien penser dans les ouvrages desprit both the bel

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2.1 Dominique Bouhours and Poetic Ideologies of the Bel Esprit

esprit and the je-ne-sais-quoi play an important role of indispensible tools of cultural and
ideological appropriation. This role is also the possible reason for their elusiveness,
which is not aresult of incapability on the part of their users but acarefully designed
strategy. In the following account Iwill partly draw on my comments concerning sprezzatura and prciosit movement the previous chapter.

2.1.2 Les Entretiens dArtiste et dEugne: The Key Concepts of the New
Aesthetic Introduced
In Les Entretiens dArtiste et dEugne (1671, henceforth Les Entretiens) Bouhours introduces the bel esprit and the je-ne-sais-quoi as key terms of what will become his alternative
aesthetic theory and devotes agreat deal of attention to their description. The text is
composed of six dialogues, two of which are devoted to the concepts of the bel esprit
and the je-ne-sais-quoi. The dialogues involve two friends, Ariste and Eugene, who are
based on Bouhours himself and Ren Rapin, his friend and fellow Jesuit. The names of
the characters are derived from Greek and Latin and both mean well-born. The two
men converse in the agreeable discursive manner of the well-informed amateurs which
had become established in the salons or in the words of the narrator the free and
familiar conversations that well-bred people have [...], and which do not fail to be witty,
and even knowledgeable, though one never dreams there of making wit show, and study
has no part in it25 (Les Entretiens 2).
The subjects of the conversations are chosen and dealt with in erudite, but not pedantic manner. The six topics covered by the interlocutors are the sea, regarded to be
an object of contemplation, the French language, secrets, true wit (Le Bel Esprit), the
ineffable (Le Je ne sais quoi) and poetical devices (Les Devises).* Commenting on
the choice of topics, Charles Harrison points out that [c]ontrary to the predominant
intellectual rationalism of the time, Bouhours uses the dialogue form to explore the nature of those indefinable critical qualities that are perceived instantaneously through the
workings of intuition, rather than gradually through the operations of reason (Art in
Theory 1648-1815 222). Thus, the bel esprit is conceived as aperson who acts decisively on
the basis of individual but justifiable intuition while the je-ne-sais-quoi may be seen as that
which the bel esprit or the true artist uniquely generates. As these suggestions imply, the
tendency represented in Bouhourss speculations is more isolation of an ineffable critical virtue from the wider category of aesthetic production, and of the artist from the
illustrator, the designer or the entertainer.

*) The first entretien on sea has been analyzed in agreat detail by R. G. Maber in his Bouhours and the
Sea: The Origins of the First Entretien dAriste et dEugne which appeared in The Modern Language
Review 75.1 (1980), pp. 76-85. Also, an extensive account of the whole text is presented in Nicholas Cronks
The Classical Sublime: French Neoclassicism and the Language of Literature (chapter 3 Inventing le je ne sais
quoi: Bouhourss Les Entretiens dArtiste et dEugne, pp. 51-76) which partly informs this subchapter.

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Entretien IV: The bel esprit as atool of poetic truth


The concept of the bel esprit is the central topic of the fourth encounter of Eugene and
Ariste. The two protagonists set out to define the bel esprit by clarifying its relationship to
common sense. Right from the start of the dialogue it is clear that for them the bel esprit
is not opposed to common sense, but rather represents its specific kind:
True wit, [], is inseparable from common sense, and it is amistake to confuse it with that
sort of vivacity which has nothing to do with it. One might think that judgment is the foundation for beauty of wit; or rather bel esprit is of the nature of those precious stones which are
not less solid than brilliant. There is nothing more beautiful than awell-cut and well-polished
diamond; it shines on every side and on every facet.26 (The Continental Model 161) *

The dialogue continues with metaphorical description of the bel esprit: It is solid but
brilliant matter, it dazzles but has consistency and body. The union, the mixture, the
proportion of the brilliant with the solid give it all its charm and all its value. There is
asymbol for bel esprit as Iconceive it27 (ibid.). As the metaphor unravels, the bel esprit
is being described in even more glamorous terms:
It is equally brilliant and solid; it might well be defined as common sense which sparkles. For
there is akind of gloomy, bleak common sense which is hardly less the contrary of wit than is
afalse brilliance. The common sense Iam speaking of is entirely different; it is gay, lively, full
of fire [] ; it proceeds from astraight and luminous intelligence and from aclear and pleasant imagination.28 (161-2)

Bouhourss bel esprit, then, has to command both vivacity as well as common sense; the
perfect balance of these two faculties renders the mind subtle but not vapid, brilliant
but not too brilliant, quick to conceive an idea, and sound in all its judgments29 (162).
This kind of wit thinks of things properly and expresses them correctly, it is concise, and
even though it is concerned more with things than with words it does not scorn ornaments of language while not seeking them out30 (ibid.).
Nicholas Cronk contests that, although Bouhourss explanations of the bel esprit are
not entirely coherent, the whole dialogue has poetic language as its central concern,
[and] the emphasis on le bel esprit and le gnie takes the discussion beyond the mimetic framework of the earlier part of [Les Entretiens] in that the author seems to be
making aradical suggestion that le bel esprit and le discernement are active qualities
required in the reader of a literary work (Cronk 60). The discussion of the bel esprit
further provides an answer to those who criticized the moral function and status of literature. If the writer is possessed of a gift from heaven [] adivine Iknow not what,
*) Les Entretiens had not been translated into English before the twentieth century. The only translation of the
text appeared as The Conversations of Aristo and Eugene in the anthology The Continental Model: Selected French
Critical Essays of the Seventeenth Century in English Translation, eds. Scott Elledge and Donald Schier.

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and if readers are equipped with the bel esprit to help them interpret the writers inspired
pronouncements, it is hard to argue that poetry obfuscates truth31 (The Continental Model
163). On the contrary, it is discernment which allows the reader to see things [] for
what they are in themselves32 (161). At the same time, it is the writers inspiration which
revelas all things to the soul in their true light33 (169). Cronk concludes that Bouhours
is adamant that poetic language has the power to reveal higher truths; by implication,
[] it can be aforce for moral good (Cronk 61).

The bel esprit as atool of cultural appropriation


Bouhourss bel esprit can also be regarder as a highly selective tool for readers interpretation of authorial intentions. In the last part of the dialogue, the French critic is
concerned with the conditions under which one is eligible to possess the bel esprit. The
two main ones are race and gender. The latter is adumbrated already in the first part of
the dialogue, where Eugene suggests that [t]he beauty of wit is amasculine and gallant
beauty which has in it nothing soft or effeminate34 (quot. in Art in Theory 224). Later,
Bouhours attempts to put forward aclimatic theory of genius in his dialogues on the
bel esprit, when he suggests that scarcity of les beaux esprits in northern countries is owing
to the cold, damp climate, and that climate is responsible for the particular nature of
the French genius. While Ariste maintains that the bel esprit is accessible to all nations,
Eugenes arguments make him eventually admit that the bel esprit is rarer in cold countries because nature in those parties is drearier and more languishing so to speak with
Eugene further asserting that the quality of the bel esprit as you have defined him is
not at all compatible with the coarse temperament and the massive bodies of northern
peoples35 (The Continental Model 175).
As Faith Beasley suggests, Bouhourss account of the influence of the worldly culture
on the quality of the bel esprit is underscored by the influence of national identity when
he writes that [it is] the fate of the French nation to have this fine quality of mind today
when other peoples do not have it36 (176). Later he states that one might say that all
the intelligence and all the learning of the world are now among us and that all other
nations are barbarous when compared with the French37 (179). According to Beasley,
Bouhourss temporal identification of these distinguishing qualities of the French language [as well as] his emphasis on the fact that esprit and bon sense are now common
whereas they used to be so rare can be viewed as further evidence of the worldly milieus pervasive influence by the 1660s (73-4). Ibelieve Beasley reveals asignificant inner
contradiction in Bouhourss viewpoint when she suggests that while appearing to praise
the significance of the worldly influence, the text also reflects the growing opposition
to this influence, especially its female component (74). Contrary to the common respect
paid to women on basis of their role in the spreading of the policies of the bel esprit and
bon sens (as mentioned in the account of the seventeenth-century French society in the
first chapter), Bouhours seems to be refusing most women the faculty of esprit, and consequently, the title of bel esprit:

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That bright flame and that good sense [] do not result from acold and moist complexion:
the cold and moisture which make women weak, timid, indiscreet, light, impatient and talkative [], prevent them from having the judgment, the solidity, the strength, and the precision
which bel esprit demands. That phlegm with which they are filled and which gives them their
delicate coloring does not agree well with delicacy and vivacity of mind; it blunts the cutting
edge of the intellect and dims its light. If you reflect on this question you will see that what is
brilliant in women partakes of the nature of lightning which dazzles for amoment and which
has no solidity; women shine abit in conversation, and provided the talk be of trifles they do
well; but beyond this they are not very reasonable. In aword, nothing is thinner or more limited than the female mind.38 (The Continental Model 180)

In Bouhourss theory the bel esprit represents the exclusive propriety (and property)
of avery narrow section of society, and can only be achieved through education and
social experience. The subtle charm of the bel esprit is not anatural state of affairs but
aresult of the process of linguistic and social betterment. According to Richard Scholar,
the bel esprit is the term that Bouhours uses to repackage aristocratic honntet. The
narrator of the texts describes Ariste and Eugene as honnestes gens at the beginning
of their Entretiens (208). In fact, the bel esprit is established as the quintessence of honntet by the fourth entretien in which Ariste and Eugene distinguish true beaux esprits
from crude-minded peasants, obtuse pedants, and the super-subtle poetasters who have
usurped their title in recent years (209). The beaux esprits form aquasi-aristocratic elite
that Ariste and Eugenes intervention serves to protect and sustain. As Scholar suggests,
the very fact that such intervention is regarded as necessary suggests that the identity
and constitution of this elite is in fact an object of ideological and social conflict (ibid.).
When they come to define true bel esprit, the two friends play afamiliar game. Aristes
definition of bel esprit as good sense which sparkles is strategically incomplete: beyond
all the definable qualities of the bel esprit, there is something more39: the mind must
have besides acertain clarity which all great geniuses do not have 40 (The Continental
Model 166). The indefinite adjective certain (une certain) adds aconsiderable degree
of ineffability here, just as Eugene does when he asserts that the bel esprit must possess
je ne say quell agrment (I know not what charm). The quintessence of honntet is the
bel esprit, but the essence of the bel esprit seems to be the je ne sais quoi, the topic of the
fifth entretien and of the following section.

Entretien V: The je-ne-sais-quoi


The fifth dialogue of Les Entretiens deals with amot juste that describes the things that
cannot be expressed, i.e. the je-ne-sais-quoi an expression which is usually described as
the ineffable aspect of beauty or style and which had been taken by the French from
the Spanish (el no s qu) in the first half of the seventeenth century. This je ne sais quoi,
the indefinable quality that can be felt in an object of all kinds as well as in aperson but
cannot be described in any simple terms emerges as atopic of the discussion Ariste and

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Eugene are having without any introduction or prelude, as if quite naturally, in the easy
flow of the conversation. One of my goals of this subchapter is to show that this kind of
nonchalant introduction of topics is Bouhourss specific strategy to enhance his aesthetic
theories with modish concepts. The two gentlemen reveal themselves in this respect to
be true beaux esprits, go-betweeners connecting the worlds of learning and wit. Before
demonstrating how the ineffability of the bel esprit relates to that of the je-ne-sais-quoi,
Iwill provide abrief introduction to the latter term.
Scholar identifies three realms the term can be related to: passions (i.e. psychology),
culture and nature. In the confines of the first realm the je-ne-sais-quoi draws two individuals [] into sympathy or antipathy at first sight (Scholar 59-60). In the realm of culture the je-ne-sais-quoi is not aparticular relation, but instead, auniversal quality (60).
This claim resonates with Ariste who says that there are certain mysterious qualities
which are universal so that everybody is equally touched by them (The Continental Model
188).41 Therefore, aculture can collectively recognize adistinguishing quality in some
of its individual members or works of art. In the third realm, nature, the je-ne-sais-quoi is
responsible for the inexplicable movements of attraction and repulsion which regularly
occur between the magnet and iron, the tides ebb and flow, the human body and the
diseases that it suffers. In these three realms, Scholar argues, the je-ne-sais-quoi remains
sealed within the lived world of created nature (Scholar 60).
Finally, there is a fourth, tentative realm, proposed by the two friends: that of the
transcendental relationship between humans and their divine maker. Ariste describes
hope for salvation, and indeed salvation itself, as I know no what of adifferent kind
and Eugene reinforces this upward direction of the term out of the created world into
the realm of the divine by suggesting that this mysterious quality partakes of the essence
of grace as well as of nature and art to which Ariste replies in the form of rhetorical
question which makes his proposal the more decisive: [T]hat grace, Isay, what is it but
amysterious quality of asupernatural order which can be neither explained nor understood? 42 (The Continental Model 191)

The je-ne-sais-quoi as asign of quality


Scholar makes a powerful claim which establishes the je-ne-sais-quoi as a topic of
polite conversation in the third quarter of the seventeenth century. I follow his argument, but would like to suggest that the je-ne-sais-quoi is not only the topic of the
conversation but also and perhaps more importantly the ideological tool of
the discussion, not unlike the bel esprit. Scholar in fact seems to hold asimilar view
when he suggests that the je-ne--sais-quoi represents a sign of quality. Following his
line of argument as well as expanding my own argument concerning the bel esprit,
Iwill now demonstrate how the two terms participate in establishing aculturally defensive mechanism of acertain social group amidst the society of the seventeenth-century
France. The je-ne-sais-quoi becomes the indefinable stamp of quality of avery selective
social group, relying on the previously mentioned lexical sign of the bel esprit with its

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already demarcated exclusiveness; the other three signs are honntet, galanterie, and
urbanit.
Around the mid-seventeenth century acircle of minor nobles and bourgeois supported
the monarchist cause during the burst of civil war, and they were subsequently rewarded
for their loyalty. The group was in need of fashioning asocial identity and galanterie was
convenient as it emphasized cultural distinction over noble origins. This model then
spread among other mostly Modern authors and their supporters Bouhours, Fontenelle, Madame de Scudry and this conversational ideal was reiterated by portrayal
in literary works. Scholar suggests that what he calls game of nescioquiddity is at play
in the case of the je-ne-sais-quoi just as it was in the case of the bel esprit. The game takes
place in salon conversation among the members of polite circles. Where the previous
circles used acertain manner of conversation and demeanor to articulate aparticular
philosophical position, the gallant circle makes the manner itself the topic of conversation (185).
The je-ne-sais-quoi game follows astereotypical pattern: amember of the polite circle wonders aloud what it is that lends some people (and their literary, social or other
achievements) an air of quality. The initial name for this quality was honntet, which
was then replaced by urbanit, and the bel esprit respectively. The interlocutors attempt
each in turn to define this elusive quality which generates aseries of adjacent adjectives
of quality. These are used to describe the ways in which it makes itself felt in particular
situations. The ultimate attempt, i.e. adefinition of the sum of the qualities, is, however,
afailure which is then admitted by all participants. This, Scholar argues, is anecessary
outcome of the game of nescioquiddity, as its function is to reinforce the elitism of the
group by not being able to find adefinition of the requirements for joining the circle in
the first place. Thus, the members manage to keep the outsiders out while constantly
electing themselves as insiders by effectively denying aworkable definition of the qualities needed for entering the circle. To support this hypothesis, Scholar quotes Norbert
Elias who argues that through their necessary contacts with rich bourgeois social strata,
the seventeenth-century courtly aristocracy could not prevent the spreading of their
names, their customs, their tastes and their language to other classes (Scholar 190).
By renewing the indefinable signs of their own quality, its vogue words, members keep
the circle intact when the signs threaten to spread beyond. The game of nescioquiddity is thus a playful defense mechanism of cultural elitism. Scholar summarizes this
mechanism in the following lines: The polite circle suggests that its subtle charm is, like
magnetic attraction, atruly inexplicable occult quality. But this charm can be shown to
be an instrument designed to protect and further the interests of aparticular group
(Scholar 211).
An important feature of the defense mechanism of the je-ne-sais-quoi is sprezzatura. The
je-ne-sais-quoi is so well made that it tricks the outsiders into thinking that it is in fact agift
of nature. Without mentioning this connection directly, Bouhours makes avery explicit
claim concerning the relationship between the two terms when he writes: the great
masters [] have always tried to give charm to their works by hiding their art with great
care and skill 43 (The Continental Model 190). The je-ne-sais-quoi in Bouhours is acultural

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practice that masquerades as anatural property: the tag ars est celare artem (the art
lies in concealing the art), which appears in the rhetorical works of Aristotle and Cicero,
here describes an entire culture. Bouhourss Les Entretiens are themselves aperfect proof
of this assumption: the topics of the dialogues are carefully assembled to testify to this
theory the dialogue on sea with its unfathomable depths and air of mystery, the dialogue on the secrets all represent notions in which the je-ne-sais-quoi is very easily located,
and the dialogue on the French language explores the site of the battle for undefinability
itself. Both the je-ne-sais-quoi and the bel esprit have an important place in Bouhourss expansion of the poetic theory of cultural elitism in another of his critical texts, La Manire
de bien penser dans les ouvrages desprit.

2.1.3 La Manire de bien penser dans les ouvrages desprit: The theory
expanded
La Manire de bien penser dans les ouvrages desprit (1687, henceforth La Manire) consists
of four dialogues between two men of letters, Eudoxe and Philanthe. As usual, the names
stand for qualities the two speakers represent: the former is associated with classical
simplicity and good sense, while the latter suggests fancy and floridity (Clark 263). The
first dialogue deals with false thoughts, equivoques, hyperboles, puns, conceits, etc.,
and shows that no thought should be admitted, however agreeable, unless it is true;
the second and third dialogues discuss the true and the false in the sublime and wit ; and
the fourth deals mainly with obscurity (ibid.).

The bel esprit and le sublime: Bouhourss theory of la dlicatesse


The bel esprit recurs in La Manire de bien penser dans les ouvrages desprit (translated into
English as The Art of Criticism or, the Method of Making aRight Judgment upon Subjects of
Wit and Learning in 1705) during adiscussion of true and false wit. However, it is not
the central theme of the text, but merely one of the conditions and necessary qualities
which aperson or awork of art has to possess in order to reach the ultimate goal of
aesthetic efforts the natural. The set of aesthetic terms Bouhours uses to present his
theory includes, apart from esprit, classical categories such as beauty (beaut), the natural
or inborn (naf), the great (grand), the delicate (dlicate), the pretty (le joli), and the plain
(simple). Bouhourss agenda is quite complex in this text as it takes adirect part in the
heated aesthetic and ideological disputes of his own time.
First, the dialogues function as aresponse to acritical debate concerning the sublime
which was spurred by Boileaus 1674 translation of Longinuss treatise On the Sublime.
The translation belonged to one of many literary events in the course of the querelle in
1693 Boileau published anew edition of the translation which included anumber of
critical reflections directed against the theory of the superiority of the Moderns over the
Ancients. Although an Ancient himself, Bouhours never belonged to the orthodox circle

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of this side of the battle, but rather remained closer to the stylistic ideals of aprevious
generation, upholding the rhetorical tradition which favoured aslightly more orotund,
less austere poetic style. Therefore, his position in the debate of the sublime is not entirely in agreement with the Ancient line.
Second, like other French critics of his day, Bouhours opposed those Italian and
Spanish poets of the late Renaissance style who, with their far-fetched conceits, were the
enemies of true wit. In La Manire, these far-fetched conceits were associated with false
wit and unnaturalness by both speakers. Italian poets are not used to be very natural
claims Eudoxe, accusing the Italian poets Guidubaldo Bonarelli and Torquato Tasso
of having too much Art, an expression clearly related to jeu desprit, false wit: [T]he
Heart explains it self ill by aturn of Wit, and Iwoud willingly say with aMan of Good
Judgment. I dont love such a far-fetchd beginning, above all in a violent passion in
which Sprightliness has no part 44 (The Art of Criticism 171). Opposing both these authors as well the proponents of the sublime (and by extension the ideas of the anciennet),
Bouhours advocates the natural thought, that directs the readers mind towards the object or idea in view rather than towards the ingenuity of the writer, saying that anatural
thought has simple Beauty, without Art 45 (156). This claim, i.e. that something like
excess of wit is possible, serves as atopic for awhole dialogue, as Philanthus, whose taste
is for the ornamental and florid, begs to be enlightened on this matter.
While Bouhours does not subscribe to the ideal of the sublime, he does not allow
his two interlocutors to dismiss it completely either. Instead, he manages to weave the
concept into his own aesthetic theory which is based on many elements, thus creating
amore complex texture of argument than had been represented by Les Entretiens. One of
the central critical concepts Bouhourss theory rests upon is dlicatesse (delicacy). In the
second dialogue Eudoxe sets out to present this concept whose position to the other elements of Bouhourss theory is rather complicated. It also seems to be one of the voguewords of the day, as Philanthus suggests: Tell me Ipray, [], what is precisely Delicacy?
Nothing else is talkd off ; and Italk of it every Minute without well understanding what
Isay, and having aclear Notion of it 46 (The Art of Criticism 110). After acknowledging
the difficulty of capturing the essence of adelicate Thought, using astrategy not unlike
that employed by Eugene and Ariosto in their attempts to define the je-ne-sais-quoi in Les
Entretiens, Eudoxe suggests that
[w]e must in my Mind reason on the Delicacy of the Thoughts, which make Pieces of Wit, as
we do of those of Nature ; the most delicate are these where Nature takes pleasure to work in
little, and where the matter is almost imperceptible, makes us doubt whether she has aMind
to show or hide her Address 47 (111).

Adelicate thought is such athought which is expressed by few well-chosen words and
the sense which it contains is neither too ostentatious nor too plain. This feature brings
dlicatesse very close to the bel esprit in Les Entretiens, where Ariosto says that [m]uch
meaning is gathered into few words, everything is said that need be said an only that is
said which must be said 48 (The Continental Model 162). Furthermore, it must be hid to

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the end that we may look for it, and that we should guess at it, and keeps us in suspense
to give us the pleasure of discovering it all at once, when we have knowledge enough
49
(ibid.). Once again, dlicatesse is revealed to have surprisingly similar features to wit
in the requirement for acertain amount of knowledge necessary to discover it as well
as the mental energy which must be invested in the act of discovering, gratified by the
sensation of surprise. By giving this new critical concept bel esprit-like features, as well as
strategically mentioning the je-ne-sais-quoi when explaining it, Bouhours makes it clear
that La Manire is an expansion of the ideas proposed in Les Entretiens.
The implied critique of the sublime becomes overt in the conclusion of Eudoxes
explanation of la dlicatesse when he asserts that [w]e may conclude that delicacy adds
something to the Agreeable and Sublime 50 (The Art of Criticism 111).
[T]he great and the sublime are not natural, nor they can be, for the natural carries in it
somewhat low, or less elevated ; did you not tell me, interrupts Philanthus, that Simplicity and
Grandure [sic] were not incompatible? Yes, replyd Eudoxus, and Isay so still, but there is acertain difference between anoble Simplicity, and pure Plainness, one only excludes Ostentation,
and the other Greatness it self.51 (156)

As Nicholas Cronk points out, Bouhours outlines a critical concept (la dlicatesse,
la navet) which embodies le sublime but includes much else besides (Cronk 134).
Bouhours manages to include Boileaus sublime into his own discussions, but in a manner which divorces [it] from Boileaus conception (ibid.).

The role of the bel esprit in Bouhourss theory


The task remains now to evaluate what place the bel esprit has in Bouhourss theory expressed in Les Entretiens and La Manire. Both texts reveal clearly the various tensions
underlying poetic theory of the 1670s and it is equally evident that Bouhours is sensitive
to the dilemmas posed for poetry by anomenclaturist theory of language. No matter if
we are more inclined to accept presumptions made by Nicholas Cronk who maintains
that Bouhours is articulating a full-blown aesthetic theory complete with set of critical terms or by Michael Moriarty, arguing that as acritic, Bouhours belongs to astage
of the seventeenth-century French criticism concerned with establishing correct taste
rather than formulating rules (as opposed to the prescriptive neoclassical criticism of
earlier decades), the bel esprit still stands before our eyes as a particle in Bouhourss
system of neoclassical aesthetic of suggestion, whose distinctive feature is the rejection
of the principle of wide accessibility and clarity while holding on to the requirement
for naturalness (The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism. The Renaissance 526). Thus in
La Manire Bouhours links good taste to aclassical poetics, based on Latin and Greek
models against Spanish and Italian, an aesthetic of naturalness, though leaving some
room for the sublime conception, against the old Baroque conceit associated with false
esprit (ibid.).

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I am more inclined to agree with Moriarty, who emphasizes the salient features of
Bouhourss system of thought and the balance the critic tries to achieve. On the other
hand, I believe that Cronks attempt to present Bouhourss ideas as what he calls fullfledged aesthetic theory might be slightly exaggerated (Cronk 65). Cronk later argues
with regard to Les Entretiens that the dialogue form helps shield what might otherwise
appear as afundamental incoherence in Bouhourss critical thought, explaining that
it helps Bouhours to deal allusively with the difficulties which he clearly perceives in
contemporary poetic theory but which he feels unable to address more directly (73).
However, it seems difficult to accept that acertain type of form of Bouhourss literary
output can save his ideas from being eventually labelled as fundamental incoherence.
In my opinion, the dialogue form employed by the author attests more to the contemporary penchant for this type of prosaic form, as it allowed for setting an example of
how apolite and entertaining, yet erudite and informative conversation should be conducted. Bouhourss confusion of the characteristic features of esprit and dlicatesse which
Ihave just pointed out contrasts in his discerning between esprit and what is delicate
and strong. The tension between the two latter terms is mentioned more than once by
Bouhours, for example during adiscussion on rarity of the real bel esprit, where Eugene
says that qualities as contrary as vivacity and common sense, delicacy and strength,
[] are not often found together 52 (168). Dismissing what passes for wit in the society,
Bouhours produces adefinition of bel esprit which is centred on the individuals ability
to discern objects at their proper value:
[] true beauty of wit consists in ajust and delicate discernment which those gentlemen do
not have. That discernment shows things to be what they are in themselves, not stooping too
soon, as do the common people who do not go below the surface, and not going too far like
those refined intelligences which, through an excess of subtlety, evaporate in vain and chimerical imaginings. 53 (The Continental Model 161)

From this point of view, then, bel esprit in Bouhourss writings, although it does not
occupy aforemost position among the critical terms he operates with, is used by the
critic to represent acompromise between the two extreme positions. It is arole which
will become evident in other critics theories as well, albeit in different contexts. It is
nevertheless important to acknowledge this function of wit as aconspicuous one within
the framework of the early modern theories of wit.

2.1.4 Bouhourss Reception in England


Comparing the overall Bouhourss influence in England to that of one of his contemporaries, Alexander Clark writes: It is clear that Bouhourss fame was amore fragile
growth than that of Le Bossu, [],[b]ut it must be evident [] that whenever one discusses the origin and spread in English criticism of the idea that good sense, truth,
nature are at the basis of all good imaginative writing, it is at ones peril that one

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neglects to reckon with Bouhours (Clark 274). More specifically, Bouhourss ideas on
the bel esprit and the je-ne-sais-quoi received aconsiderable amount of attention in the
Restoration England. The je-ne-sais-quoi was taken up by many major playwrights of the
period when discussing wit or attempting to provide an elegantly evasive definition of
it, employing an equal strategic by-pass to what Bouhours himself perfected in the two
above discussed texts.
In general, the term enjoyed particular success in the polite conversation of Restoration in England. It constitutes one example of the vogue for French elegance that
Charles II and his courtiers brought back with them to England in 1660 (Scholar 42).
The je-ne-sais-quoi appears for the first time in Robert Boyles tragedy Tryphon (1668) and
it confirms that Bouhours in 1671 is making use of aword already in vogue. The French
expression is mentioned in The Prologue when the protagonists, Nokes and Angell,
attempt to defineanother fashionable epithet, wit:
NOKES. Awit is in one word Iknow not what?
ANGELL. Of that kind Title give your Poet Joy.

Awit is then in French, Aje ne scay quoi.

Amodish name.
NOKES. Yes, Sir, that Name to gain,

How many of our Writers crack their brain?

(Boyle, Prologue to Tryphon)

Boyles two elegant wits display the je-ne-sais-quoi as alinguistic fashion item in Restoration London (43). The modish name stands here for an equally modish thing and it
was afterwards used in arather ironic and mocking sense in several texts, both theatre
plays and essays. In Thomas Shadwells The Virtuoso (1676), for example, the coquettish
Lady Gimrack seduces ayoung man with the modish confession: [...] sight of you did
stir in me astrange Je ne sai quoi towards you (III, ii). Earl of Shaftesbury in his collection of essays Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times (1713) refers to, no doubt
with avery polite irony, that je ne sais quoi of wit, and all those graces of mind which
these virtuoso-lovers delight to celebrate (Shaftesbury 63).
Restoration comedies use the je-ne-sais-quoi to describe those who would pass for having wit. But, as Scholar observantly points out, ones man wit is another mans foppery.
Congreves Double Dealer (1694) includes an English prcieuse ridicule, Lady Froth, who
is characterized as a great Cocquet; pretender to Poetry, Wit, and Learning in the dramatic personae (Congreve 16). Lady Froth holds that the heroines unaffected admirer,
Mellefont, lacks what she calls a Manner. The two ladies share the following exchange
during which Lady Froth provides an explanation of her usage of the term:
LADY FROTH.

Some distinguishing quality, as for example, the belle-air or brillant of Mr.


Brisk; the solemnity, yet complaisance of my lord, or something of his
own, that should look alittle je-ne-scay-quoish; he is too much of amediocrity, in my mind.

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CYNTHIA.

He does not indeed affect either pertness, or formality; for which Ilike
him. (II, ll. 42-7)

While Scholar reads this passage as aproof of how the je-ne-sais-quoi is [] firmly settled as the subtle artifice by which one cultivates anatural manner, Iprefer to see it as
aclear sign of the demise of the je-ne-sais-quoi and its related set of terms including the
bel esprit towards the close of the seventeenth century. In the comedy, Lady Froth is one
of the villains, whose social pretense and inauthenticity goes hand in hand with her own
admiration for the foreign forms of affectation. For that is what the je-ne-sais-quoi as well
as the bel esprit finally came to be regarded as signs of counterfeit emotions and outdated attitudes which started to fall out of the audiences favour towards the close of the
seventeenth century.
The importance of Bouhourss discussion of the bel esprit as apart of an unorthodox
neoclassical aesthetic theory was recognized by Joseph Addison in the Spectator 62, in
apassage which significantly promoted the French critics reputation across the channel:
Bouhours, whom Ilook upon to be the most penetrating of all the French Criticks, has taken
Pains to show, that it is impossible for any Thought to be beautiful which is not just, and
has not its Foundation in the Nature of things: that the Basis of all Wit is Truth; and that no
Thought can be valuable, of which good sense is not the Ground-work. (The Spectator I268)

Good sense, in Bouhourss view, could sometimes operate instinctively and rapidly
but with great certainty: in such cases it was the same as good taste (The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism, Vol. 4 77-8). However, while Bouhourss stylistic strategy aimed
at restricting the territory of literary and artistic appreciation that only belonged to the
members of the salon culture of French society, Addisons own concerns with style were,
as we will see in the third chapter, much closer to the tastes and ideologies of the newly
establishing merchant classes of the English early modern coffeehouse culture.
Some of Bouhourss premises and opinions of esprit and other terms will be appearing
in the following subchapter which deals with his follower chevalier de Mr. Similarly
to Bouhours, he puts forward atheory of esprit which cannot be regarded as an example of the official neoclassical, rhetoric-based, critical doctrine, but rather as a newly
emerging aesthetics of suggestion. At the same time, however, his association of esprit
with nature puts him close to the ideas of Nicolas Boileau, whose ideas of esprit are the
subject of the third subchapter of this chapter. As such, Mrs ideas provide an important connecting link between the aesthetic of suggestion and amore official doctrine of
dogmatic neo-classicism.

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2.2 Chevalier de Mr: Esprit as Light of Nature


Chevalier de Mr was born in 1607 in the southwestern France; the exact place of his
birth as well as most other facts of his life is unknown. Subsequently, the status assigned
to his person by the twentieth-century literary history is rather obscure. One of the few
things that seem to be undisputed is that he was ahigh-living French socialite and essayist. However, today he is far better known for his involvement in amathematical problem
which has given rise to the modern probability theory rather than for his involvement in
the high life of the French society or for his literary achievements. An ardent gambler,
Mr asked two mathematicians, Pierre Fermat and Blaise Pascal, to provide an explanation of his persistent losses in the game of dice. In computing the odds involved in
gambling, their solution to the problem now usually referred to as chevalier de Mrs
problem or paradox represents an important contribution to what is today called
theory of probability.
Another fact about his life that seems to be certain is that he was connected to the
family of Mme de la Bazinire, awife of the trsorier de lEpargne and was tasked with
counselling the couples two daughters in matters of social conduct and polite conversation. Afrequent visitor to the fashionable salons of the mid-century France, he was one
of the key theorists of the concept of honntet which he presented as acompendium of
aesthetic and moral values (charm, naturalness, good taste, and politeness). For Mr
honntet is an ideal of individual excellence, but it is inseparable from aristocratic hegemony. Paradoxically, given that the honnte homme is the opposite of the pedant, he
often tends to adopt apedagogical tone. As asalon writer, Mr is known for four Discours (1677) and six Conversations (1688) concerning charm, wit, and conversation, and
six further Discours, published posthumously.

2.2.1 The Polite Lexicon: the je-ne-sais-quoi, honntet , and esprit


In his writings, Mr repeatedly uses the je-ne-sais-quoi to describe the charms of anonchalant or negligent style in conversation, prose style, and painting alike. He discerns
just such anegligent je-ne-sais-quoi in the paintings of Apelles, aGreek painter. This air
of natural ease, Mr reveals to his reader, hides asubtle artifice:
In all activities [] one recognizes the masters of the craft by Iknow not what that is free and
easy and always pleasing, but which one can hardly acquire without great practical experience
[] Charms animate correctness in all Ihave just said but they do so in such anatural manner
that they look like apure present of nature. This is equally true in activities of the mind, such
as conversation, where one needs to have the same freedom if one is to make oneself agreeable. 54 (Oeuvres compltes II 121)

Here, Mr echoes ideas of Bouhours who also suggested that in relation to the jene-sais-quoi the acted ease and air of negligence are vital features. Using strategies not

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unlike Machiavelli, Mr himself makes the point repeatedly. According to Richard


Scholar, the je-ne-sais-quoi is something of astylistic tic in his writing (The Je-Ne-SaisQuoi in the Early Modern Europe 212).
In Des Agrmens, included in the first series of his Conversations, Mr describes the
term, which for him is closely connected to the art de plaire cultivated by the honnte
homme, by the following words: What appeals to me the most, and what one should
in my opinion strive after the most in their attempts to please, is the Iknow not what
which can be easily perceived, but not as easily explained []55 (Discours de lesprit 95).
In another of his Conversations, Mr and his fellow correspondent discuss how best to
define honntet (Oeuvres compltes I74). Although it appears in avariety of forms, true
honntet can be instantly recognized by its principal effect: it is pleasing (75). However,
recognizing the effects of honntet and defining the quality itself are two very different
things. Mr ends along speech by recounting his previous conversation on the topic
with a lady who combines beauty with a turn of mind that her peers find irresistibly
pleasing. As it turns out, she embodies the very quality that she asks him to define:
After all that, alady of perfect beauty, and with awit so lovable that even the most beautiful
women could not help loving her, asked me what it was to be ahonnte homme, and ahonnte
femme too, since it amounts to the same thing; and once Ihad told her what Ithought about
the matter and she had talked about it with great good sense, she fully admitted that all of that
seemed to her necessary of one were to be that about which she was asking, but that there
still remained something inexplicable about it which is easier to recognize when one sees it in
practice than to say what it is. What she was imagining is something noble, Iknow not what,
which enhances all the fine qualities, which comes from the heart and wit alone, and of which
the other things are merely the retinue and trappings. 56 (Oeuvres compltes I77)

Not only does this quotation confirms what has been said about the je-ne-sais-quoi in
Bouhourss theories in the previous subchapter in terms of the nescioquiddity, but also
and more importantly it brings up several important literary-critical topoi that link
Mr to Bouhours and the tradition of the salon aesthetics.
First, Mr identifies esprit as one of the two sources of the noble je-ne-sais-quoi which
characterizes honntet. Ialready pointed out in the previous chapter that the equality
of sexes with regard to honntet has been contested by Nicholas Hammond. While
the traditional view of the modern literary history is that women of the French salons
took agreat part in the process of cultivating the conduct and forms of polite expression and in fact initialized the whole movement, there are signs in the form of textual
evidence suggesting that Hammonds relatively isolated voice may be right. Second,
the connection and contrast between heart and mind mentioned in the last sentence
is adynamic dichotomy which Iattended to in the previous chapter, and would like
to expand it with respect to Mrs ideas pertaining to taste. Third, the excess of wit
(not mentioned in the above passage directly but closely connected to the heart-mind
dichotomy) provides another link between the theories of Bouhours and Mr as both
consider the issue and its implications in their writings. Iwill explore these topics in

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the following section of this subchapter in my analysis of one of his first four Conversations titled Discours de lesprit.

2.2.2 Discours de lEsprit: The Polite Society versus Nature


In the discourse, which has aform of aletter to anoble lady, Mrs main purpose is
to explain to the anonymous Madame which features constitute esprit and how to recognize it in aperson of aquality. The critic presents agradually developing, if slightly
sketchy, ideas on the term which cross over the borders of philosophy, aesthetics,
literature, psychology as well as history. This expostition is framed by the account of
a tour of historical figures, hailing both from the ancient history (Homer, Socrates,
Caesar, August and Cleopatra) and amore recent one (Louis XI, Henri IV, Cardinal
Richelieu), assigning esprit to some (Socrates, Henri IV) while denying it to others
(August, Cleopatra).

Women and esprit


Regarding accessibility of esprit to women, Mr shares aview which is rather similar to
that of Bouhours. However, he is putting it across in aless direct manner, presumably
because he is writing to alady. The fact that the addressee is awoman is made clear at
the very beginning of the epistle as Mr begins it by amicably reprimanding the lady
for being overmodest:
It seems to me, Madam, that you love modesty more than you should and despite that Ifind
that sometimes you allow yourself to be withdrawn from it. The cause for this may lie in that
you have not considered what modesty is and that you think that the more one demeans oneself, the more modest one is. 57 (Discours de lEsprit 1)

Mr concludes that this virtue [] consists of perfect balance 58 and suggests that
modesty and esprit do not necessarily exclude one another (ibid.).
Why could you not be in agreement concerning the rare qualities of your own wit, you whose
deeds are good and whose need for communion so slight, that even if you were less beautiful
than you are, you would never cease to be the loveliest person in the whole world? 59 (ibid.)

The criticism turns into panegyric once Mr starts persuading the lady that those
qualities of her person which she herself regards as the least attractive are in fact those
that make her exceptional and admirable: You converse in asimple manner, you do not
say pretty words or sweet things; you withdraw yourself from judging, you make decisions for your own person only, and when you come back from atheatre, you usually
have nothing good or bad to say about it 60 (Discours de lEsprit 2).

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Although the praise of the ladys qualities is amassed throughout the letter, it is
worth noting that it is apraise of acertain kind only. Indeed, women are always judged
according to the criteria of appearance and modesty, as opposed to men, who are valued on the basis of their courage, learning and wit: This man, they say, has wit, but
he is not learned; this one has much wit, but he has no knowledge of the ways of the
world; this woman is beautiful, but there is no brilliance in her, and this woman is very
pretty, but her features are not regular enough 61 (4). The qualities of courage, beauty
or education are seen as inferior to the quality of wit; those who possess it stand above
all others: The most courageous men are not always the best judges of courage, and
the most beautiful women are often bad judges of beauty, but people who have much
wit, are able to discern those who do well even in the least important aspects of their
lives 62 (11).
If, after all, wit is acknowledged as aquality awoman can come to possess, there are
still obstacles between her and the full-fledged respect. The impediments are recounted
by Mr as something other people claim (There is another way of talking which is
frequently to be seen (6)), in arather straightforward manner: I must admit that you
have enough wit but do not have any judgment 63 (6). Mr himself seems not to support this claim as he explains that to have esprit and to judge well is almost the same
thing 64 (ibid.). However, nowhere in the letter does he clearly dissociate himself from
this point of view which seems to be in adirect opposition to the view of the modern
scholars on the social status of women in the seventeenth-century France. For example,
Jolanta Pekacz contends that women occupied aspecial place as experts in matters of
taste in seventeenth-century France and she goes on to claim that [t]hey were often
perceived as superior judges, primarily due to their lack of formal education. The lack
of education made womens intuition unspoiled, their taste natural, and their imagination sharper than mens (The Salonnires and the Philosophes in Old Regime France:
The Authority of Aesthetic Judgment 281).
Mr does not dwell on this topic long enough to come to an unequivocal conclusion;
subsequently, his opinions of this matter have to be qualified as ambiguous. Instead, he
moves on to attempt amore abstract and depersonalized definition of esprit which will
be the topic of the last two sections of this subchapter.

Esprit: definition and dialectic


The first definition of esprit comes after several pages of the letter, and one of its most
significant features is its tentativeness; the phrase il me semble (it seems to me) is
used by Mr repeatedly. He sets out to define esprit in very broad terms: It seems to
me that esprit lies in the ability to understand things, to consider them from all sorts of
perspectives, to clearly judge them as well as their value, to discern what one has in common with the other and in what it is different, and to know how to discover the most
well-hidden ones 65 (10). In accordance with what he claimed about esprit in connection
to women, Mr defines it as nearly identical with judgment. The definition continues

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in similarly general terms when he claims that [i]t also seems to me that it is an infallible sign that one has wit to know the best means and how to employ them in all which
one undertakes 66 (10). Esprit, then, seems to lie in ways of conduct and achieving ones
goals in general, an idea which is repeated again later in the text: [...] the best proof that
one has wit and knows how to use it is to live well and to conduct oneself in the proper
manner 67 (12).
After this preliminary demarcation comes a series of negative definitions describing
what esprit is not: Wit must not be confused with reason as if they were the same thing,
and Ifind that one can easily be very reasonable and not have more than very little wit.
68
(16) Reason is defined by Mr as a power of soul which is common to both wit and
feeling 69 (ibid.). Another quality esprit should not be mistaken for is talent aquality of
lesser order which one can possess if they are endowed with esprit70 (17). Mr continues
to produce several more signs of esprit interestingly, he interchanges the term with intelligence and judgment in the two last instances: Another sign of esprit is when one does
not let allow themselves to be fooled by fashion or customs, or when one makes decisions
only when one knows what the decision is about [];71 also [...] it is agood sign of intelligence not to understand what is not intelligible, and yet another sign of good judgment
is to reject without reflection abad ambiguity which is nowadays often valued as witticism
72
(18-9). In this last instance, esprit becomes synonymous with good judgment as well as
good taste as Mr is now operating in the sphere of literature and its appreciation. When
Michael Moriarty claims that Mr constantly stresses the rarity and distinctiveness of
good taste, as of honntet, asimilar claim can be made with regard to esprit for Mr,
just like for Bouhours before him, it is aquality one of which most distinctive features is
exclusiveness and uniqueness (The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism 526). Mr goes
on to distinguish two kinds of esprit. First, there are those among us
[] who are in minority, [and] understand things in themselves. These have the ability to
search the ideas of nature and have invented or perfected the arts and sciences. The other type
are those of amore lazy or careless nature who usually never invent anything, but they comprehend what they are told by the inventors, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. 73 (28)

Mr identifies these two types as inventors and those who do not invent 74 (ibid.).
With respect to the former, more unique, type of esprit, he writes that [] this first
disposition which renders us capable to comprehend, comes to us when we are born, it
is agift from heaven, it is anatural light which cannot be acquired; however, it can be
increased, improved, refined, and this is what we call to acquire wit 75 (28). Just like taste,
then, esprit can be trained and cultivated and therefore is related closely to the basic
values of polite society. The light metaphor, already present in Bouhourss conception
of esprit is crucial for Mrs theory and represents arepeating image which will again
re-appear in writings of the English authors analyzed in the following chapter, most distinctly Alexander Popes Essay on Criticism. Iwill now explore the ideas of esprit which lie
behind this metaphor in the last section of Mrs Discours.

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The ultimate metaphor: Esprit as natural light


After the introductory account based on the general definition of esprit, Mr eventually
proceeds to formulate his own theory of the term. In doing so, he draws on the already
explored themes of female qualities, defending simplicity which often is mistaken for
stupidity esprits great nemesis (stupidity does not loathe esprit any less than esprit stupidity 76). Mr suggests that simplicity, while being somewhat limited in its capacities,
should still be appreciated and respected as it
[] presents itself as sweet, amenable, docile, steady, just, magnanimous, grateful, and abit
suspicious. It does not defy but itself, and when it errs, it loves being informed about the mistake, and tries to correct it. It admires good qualities which it can explain to its own advantage;
it would love to see everyone happy. If its light does not reach too far, at least it is pure, and it
is well aware of what it wants, and is always prepared to receive it. 77 (32-3)

Here, simplicity is described in terms which are traditionally associated with the feminine qualities and while Mr does not equate it with esprit but rather sees it as an ancillary, it is clear that he values this quality very highly. Several pages later, the light analogy
is expressed in amost succinct manner when Mr claims that [w]it is asort of light
[which] creates and reflects all at once 78 (41). According to Jacques G. Benays essay
LHonnte Homme devant la Nature, ou la philosophie du Chevalier de Mr, esprit in Mrs
writings becomes equal with nature which
considered in its totality, is asource of light and understanding; it is areservoir of ideas, and
finally ahomeland of the esprits purs. It is asource of light as it emanates sincere and natural
reason, as opposed to the social or political reason. Thanks to it aman gets rid of the false
clarities which obscure his judgment and ruin his feelings.79 (30)

This reading brings Mr closer to the neoclassical admiration of nature; at the same
time, however, Benay seems to be suggesting that this nature is of amore complex and
spiritual making as he connects it with Metaphysical esprit. Still, the main stress rests
on the qualities of sincerity, authenticity of expression and perception: This natural
reason which Mr defines as a gift from heaven corresponds to asort of charm which
is lesprit mtaphysique, superior to all others and whose perception allows those who
possess it to discern the harmonies, proportions, and numbers present in nature and
ad infinitum 80 (ibid.) The esprits mtaphysiques are the ones who are capable of access nature and all its precepts, and who searched in the ideas of nature and invented
or perfected the arts and sciences 81 (Benay 30). The other types of esprits, which Mr
calls mathematical or geometrical do not invent they comprehend what the inventors have to say 82 (ibid.) The emphasis on the balance between understanding nature
in its complexity and entirety on the one hand, and possessing the ability to create on
the other, seems to be the red line running not only through the Discours, but aunifying
thought of Mrs aesthetics. The pure wits are those who embody this rare quality and

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together they inhabit apastoral-like patrie lointaine far away from the false truths and
artifices of the fashionable salons asociety which only the most prefect honntes hommes
are permitted to enter .
According to Benay, this interpretation of Mrs theory of esprit is confirmed by the
critics growing aversion to the city, its pretentious and over-cultivated way of life, professing sympathy for the simplicity of country: Do not believe that Iam enchanted by
Paris or by the Court. It seems to me that Iam acitizen of the world, not unlike Socrates;
and yet from time to time Iturn my eyes towards my home town in the country, and
perhaps it is with same tenderness which Cato felt for his homeland 83 (31). Thus, Mr
reappraises and reappropriates esprit, taking it out of the fashionable prcieuse salons into
the company of those unaffected by the entanglements of jeux desprit-riddled conversation, discarding along the way both the prcieuse ideal of delicate artifice as well as the
dogmatic neoclassical doctrines. Of course, this radical move on Mrs part has to be
seen in the light of his incoherent and slightly contradictory theories his aversion to
the Court expressed bluntly in the above quotation can be contradicted by his equally
keen appraisal of the new Court expressed in the Discours. At the same time, the vehement tone of what is clearly more personal piece of writing must be acknowledged as
unique within the context of the early modern French ideas on esprit and his ideas represent an important body of thought and aesthetic and ideological stance which throws
much-needed light on the development of the terms in question. Before exploring theories of wit which were formed on the English side of the channel, Iwill now look into
the ideas on esprit of the last proponent of the French literature of the latter part of the
seventeenth century, the defender of neoclassical theory, Nicolas Boileau- Dspreaux.

2.3 N
 icolas Boileau-Dspreaux and the Ideal
of Neoclassical Esprit
This subchapter further examines the role of esprit in the conspiracy to protect the
ineffable, the element of allusiveness, tentativeness, almost secretiveness, and afeature
which can be said to characterize the birth of the French aesthetic thought of the latter
part of the seventeenth century (Borgerhoff ix). This feature is shared by esprit with the
je-ne-sais-quoi of Bouhourss theory of cultural exclusiveness as well as with the sublime
which is one of the central literary-critical terms of the poetic theory of Nicolas Boileau.
I will first introduce Boileaus critical precepts and then concentrate on his two key
works: Le Trait du sublime, his translation of the treatise On the Sublime by the Greek
rhetorician Longinus, and his own critical masterpiece, LArt potique.*
Le Trait du sublime and LArt potique were both published in 1674 as apart of Boileaus two-volume vres diverses. They were conceived by the poet as acritical diptych and
it is clear that they should be interpreted thus. Iwill therefore first look into the ways
*) For the sake of simplicity, Iwill henceforth refer to Longinus or Pseudo-Longinus as Longinus.

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in which Boileau employed esprit in his translation of Longinus and his own poem on
poetry and criticism. Next, Iwill provide acomparative analysis of the French text of
the poem and its 1680 English translation. Boileaus interest in the sublime in LArt potique seems to be an extension of the ideas he mediated in the translation of Longinuss
treatise. The basic premise is that nature and art are not opposed, but rather subsumed
in the perfect manner of sublime; and raison is not the instrument of logic it is usually
taken to be, but ameans of insight and aprinciple of control for the creative writer. Thus
esprit describes innate potential, but also creative power: it is both an inherited gift and
an act of judgment. It is significant that Boileau uses both esprit and nature to translate
the Greek . Other contexts of esprit will also be discussed, in particular with regard
to the moral issues connected to literary criticism and production which Alexander Pope
will draw from in An Essay on Criticism his own attempt to formulate the current state
of the English criticism and the rules which (ought to) guide those taking part in it.

2.3.1 Boileau as aCritic


The appreciation of Boileau as an individual critic and the consequent significance ascribed to the critical principles that he formulated has been contested at various points
of the literary history. While he was perceived as awriter of low lampoons and less-thanelegant panegyrics by his own contemporaries and as amodel of poetic elegance and
critical perception by the eighteenth-century critics, he has dwindled to the status of
aminor and rather obscure writer representing an outdated version of stilted unreality
by the mid-twentieth century. Traditionally regarded as the patron saint of the French
neoclassicism by its supporters, and at the same time seen as apedant who had cramped
and tethered French poetry in the shackles of rules and dry clinging to rationalism by
those disfavouring the literary style, he has until recently been labelled aprosaic and
pompous versifier. In either case, this old-fashioned notion of Boileau as the archpriest
of arationalist cult of rules has still not been entirely superseded or discredited.
For the purpose of my analysis of the use of the term esprit in Boileaus criticism,
Iwish to adopt the viewpoint of the recent literary history, which has done aconsiderable amount of work revaluating the critics status. In particular Ishare athesis of Jules
Brody whose research is directed at Boileaus critical theories from the point of view
of his ideas on the sublime, and who stresses the intuitive nature of critical perception
and the neoclassical notion of reason in general, and the way in which for Boileau this
intuition is linked with knowledge in the widest sense not so much factual knowledge
as experience, wisdom, and mental vigour. The importance of reason and the rational
is usually regarded as one of the key premises of the neoclassicism. Reason must be
however understood in an impersonal, idealized way, as it is closely connected to the
principles of vraisemblance and biensance and is virtually included in them. It does not
imply the willingness to follow alogical argument wherever it leads but rather the belief
that reasoning is the instrument by which critics can establish the significance of these
fundamental concepts and so lay down rules for creative writing. All this suggests that

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2.3 Nicolas Boileau-Dspreaux and the Ideal of Neoclassical Esprit

the neoclassical doctrine can hardly be regarded as binding or monolithic as was frequently supposed.
In keeping with this statement, Iwish to propose that Boileau, not unlike Dominique Bouhours, bases many of his theoretical assumptions on art of the je-ne-sais-quoi
without necessarily attempting to reduce the sublime to it. For example in the Preface to
the 1701 edition of his collected works, Boileau directly relates the term to the cause
of aesthetic pleasure: [i]f Iam asked to say what charm or salt is, my reply will be that
it is aje-ne-sais-quoi that one is able to feel much better than to express 84 (uvres potiques 4). Here, Boileau emphasizes the vagueness of his conception, but immediately
explains that aesthetic pleasure is brought about by the first expression of athought
that everyone has had. The origin of the je-ne-sais-quoi here is not wrapped in mystery: it is universally acknowledged truth and, plausibly, an equally accessible ability.
Boileau, then, does not follow Bouhours in his unyielding isolation of the term from
the undistinguished majority, but instead displaces the aristocratic, elitist values of
aminority good taste by the universal values of apublic culture. His position on the
nescioquiddity game seems to be rather negative as he chooses to adopt an ideologically unbiased pose in his criticism.
As Ihave already demonstrated in my analysis of Bouhourss employment of esprit in
the theories of the je-ne-sais-quoi and la dlicatesse, there was enough space in the neoclassical doctrine to accommodate matters which had little to do with jejune rules or sober
rationalism. It becomes more and more conspicuous that the intuitive and indefinable
played asignificant role in the French theories of poetic creation and appreciation of the
latter part of the seventeenth century. My analysis of Boileaus conception of esprit and
its relation to reason and the sublime will hopefully expand this hypothesis.

2.3.2 Esprit in Boileaus Translation of Le Trait du sublime


Throughout the Trait du sublime Boileau uses esprit interchangeably with nature to
render , Longinuss word for natural endowment. But that is hardly its total
meaning here. Esprit denotes native gift, as well as acapacity for awareness and restraint.
Longinus wrote that the first and most important source of sublimity isthe power
of forming great conceptions which in Boileaus translation became certain elevation
of mind which makes us think fortuitously of various things. From here on, Boileau
developed the suggestion that the mental quality basic to great writing though certain
to exist is of an uncertain essence. In the ninth chapter of the treatise the burden of
what Boileau was trying to make the ancient author say becomes clearer: Elsewhere
Ihave written as follows: Sublimity is the echo of agreat soul. Hence also abare idea,
by itself and without aspoken word, sometimes excites admiration just because of the
greatness of soul implied 85 (IX 2). The step from certain to the je-ne-sais-quoi was
natural for Boileau. The note of tentativeness which Boileau strikes both in the Trait
and in discussions that grew up around it seems to characterize an inability to explain as
well as genuine willingness to welcome and live with the inexplicable. Further on, dur-

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ing discussion of Homer, the Ancient poet possess loftiest mind (lvation desprit):
Hence sublime thoughts belong properly to the loftiest minds and is associated with
the sublime proportions: The distance between heaven and earth a measure, one
might say, not less appropriate to Homers genius than to the stature of his discord86
(IX 4). In this context, the lvation desprit is used to characterize the poetic achievement of Homers prime, the Iliad, with its impressive battle scenes, and heroic portraits
of gods and men. This poem, filled with action and dramatic tension, was, in Longinuss
view, the fruit of the poets maturity, while the Odyssey with its emphasis on narrative and
the marvelous the work of the old age. Boileau turned this proposition into an ever so
slightly judgmental statement: When we turn to the Odyssey we find occasion to observe
that agreat poetical genius in the decline of power which comes with old age naturally
leans towards the fabulous87 (IX 12). The idea of weakness which Boileau inserts here
for no apparent reason, undergoes arather elaborate extension as his rendering of the
judgment on the Odyssey develops. Boileau seems to be suggesting that something has
happened to Homers esprit:
[] comme Homre compos son Iliade durant que son esprit tait en sa plus grande vigueur,
tout le corps de son ouvrage est dramatique et plain daction ; au lieu que la meilleure partie
de lOdysse se passe en narrations, qui est le gnie de la vieillesse.
[] les gnies naturellement les plus levs tombent quelquefois dans la badinerie, quand la
force de leur esprit vient steindre.
[] les grands potes et les crivains clbres, quand leur sperit manque de vigueur pour le
pathtique, samusent ordinairement peindre les murs. (IX 13-15)

In each of these three passages Boileau chooses to explain the aging poets decline by
the loss of an inner strength which had stayed up the intense productions of his vigorous
maturity. Between the erratic conduct of an aging, failing poet and the controlled, relentless carriage of Homers prime all the difference lies in the flagging of what Boileau
calls esprit.
If Homer strays from the path of intensity, Boileau seems to be suggesting, it is because with the decline of his esprit he was also deprived of his principle of control. By
esprit Boileau seems to mean here, as in fact he often does in the Art potique, not merely
an innate potential, but an effective creative power, having as much to do with judgment
as with talent or gift. This acceptation, moreover, was frequent in the seventeenth-century French cultural context. The word brought together the ideas of innate ability, taste,
intellect and judgment; as Jules Brody points out, many French authors and moralists
employed the term in this particular way:
Bossuet, like Descartes, used esprit for the mind : nous navons point de mot plus proper
pour expliquer celui de et de mens. La Fontaine opposes esprit to savoir as intelligence
or taste to learning. In the same way La Bruyre speaks of women and courtiers as having

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beaucoup desprit sans erudition. Like La Rochefoucauld he equates it also with jugement;
elsewhere he considers it acreative faculty more comprehensive than talent: Entre lesprit et
le talent il ya la proportion du tout sa partie. Mme de Svign was pleased to hear Louis
Bourdaloue preach on frequent communion si adroitement et avec tant desprit. (Brody 59)

In making the unfaltering gait of Homers prime afunction of his esprit Boileau seems
to be suggesting that deep within the creative mind he saw acomplex connivance of the
natural and the intellectual, vitality and restraint. He will continue to interpret esprit in
his own attempt to express principles of good writing and correct appreciation of poetry.
Before analyzing the terms role in the text of LArt potique, Iwill briefly introduce the
poem in its broader context, focusing mainly on the preliminary issues of the translation
as well as composition.

2.3.3 LArt potique: The Text and the Context


LArt potique (1674) is aprescriptive treatise written in ahighly polished, witty couplet
verse. Often hailed as amodern version of Horaces Ars Poetica, it resembles its model in
form and mood as well as in the contents. The first and last of the four cantos deal with
general principles of poetry and criticism and offer general advice to authors and critics;
the first one including ahistory of the Parnasse franais. The middle two cantos outline
the principles of good writing in the various genres, including some (for example, sonnet, rondeau, madrigal) not known to Horace. William K. Wimsatt and Cleanth Brooks
describe LArt potique as an amusing expansion of Aristotle and Horace to encompass
the several genres [] which were countenanced by the French classicism. The poem
exhibits acertain interesting Gallic bias, as of classicism nationalized, and anicely reasonable wit (Literary Criticism 235).
LArt potique was translated into English as The Art of Poetry by William Soames in 1680
and revised by John Dryden two years later.* Dryden replaced the examples from French
literature with examples from English literature in order to make the text more accessible
for his readers.** The adaptation is an attempt to find asimilar pattern in English literature
between approximately 1660s to 1680s similar to the pattern found by Boileau in French
literature of the same period. The intention on the part of the translators to produce an
English poetic is also shown by the omission of passages irreverent to English literary conditions, such as verses 21 to 26 of Canto I, where hiatus, enjambment etc., are discussed.
An interesting divergence from the spirit of the original can be found in the passage relating to burlesque poetry, where Boileaus point is either missed, or far more probably
purposefully distorted. Where Boileau recommends to his fellow-poets Imitons de Marot
*) In my subsequent analysis of the text, Iwill use the 1683 edition of the translation as it appeared in The
Continental Model. Selected French Critical Essays of the Seventeenth Century, edited by Scott Elledge and Donald Schier, pp. 208-69.
**) In doing so, Dryden followed the practice initiated by George Etherege, Lord Buckingham, and John
Oldham, all of whom chose to find English analogues to various French culture-specific references.

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llgant badinage, / Et laissons le burlesque aux plaisants du Pont Neuf Dryden hasBut
learn from Butler the buffooning grace, / And let burlesque in ballads be employed.
While more or less authentic willingness to add the last refinements to English verse was
one of the features of the English criticism of the 1680s, the tradition of satiric mode of
writing, which excludes the idea of decorum and nobility of style as well as admiration towards satirists (in this case Samuel Butlers Hudibras), was too strong to be subdued by the
neoclassical doctrine. The two codes were irreconcilable and the French point of view had
to yield to the English one. Similar liberties were taken by the translators when dealing
with lesprit and wit as Iwill show in the next section of this subchapter.
Drawing attention to the generic tension characteristic for works of verse criticism, Gordon Pocock makes an interesting point when he argues that while the poems title could
suggest it is meant as asystematic treatise setting out neo-classical doctrine, the poem itself
can be read as adramatic event (83). It is aknown fact that Boileau gave readings from
LArt potique in various salons from 1672 onwards. The poem was meant to be read aloud
in the fashionable environment of the Parisian aristocratic and artistic circles. While the
element of dramatic recitation was always of agreat concern to Boileau, in this poem it
is crucially important. At the outset of the text, Boileau seems to be insisting that to write
well the poet must possess not only native poetic potential (gnie), which is not entirely
rare, but some other ability, which is considerably more difficult to find: a secret source
of poetic effectiveness which is extremely rare. Much of LArt Potique revolves around this
indefinable centre, which is felt for the first time in the proposition in lines 3-5, between
influence secrt and geni: If at the Birth the Stars that ruld thy Sence / Shone not
with aPoetic Influence : / In thy strait Genius thou wilt still be bound 88 (ll. 3-5).
Another significant issue concerning the composition of LArt potique is the question
of the interplay of the intellectual with the moral. The stress on the guiding power of reason (la raison, le bon sens) and its necessary dominance over the poetic devices (la rime)
is put forward by the poet very early in the Canto I: What-ere you write of Pleasant or
Sublime, /Always let sense accompany your Rhyme ; / Falsely they seem each other to
oppose ; / Rhyme must be made with Reasons Laws to close / And when to conquer
her you bend your force, /The Mind will Triumph in the Noble Course (ll. 27-32).
Reason for Boileau and his contemporaries was not a calculating attitude of mind, nor
yet the analytical and critical, generalizing and abstracting reason of philosophers, but
rather the Cartesian reason which directs the human soul and distinguishes true from
false. This is the meaning of the term which Boileau uses to culminate this passage in,
creating what has since his times become practically proverbial couplet in French:
To Reasons yoke she [rhyme] quickly will incline,
Which, far from hurting, renders her Divine:
But, if neglected, will as easily stray,
And Master Reason, which she should obey.
Love Reason then : and let what ere you Write
Borrow from her its Beauty, Force, and Light.89
(ll. 33-8)

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This mapping out of the power relations allows Boileau to smoothly connect the
intellect-ruled poetic abilities and the ethical imperative. Further on in the Canto I, the
lack of sense or knowledge of the proper way of writing, is discussed in the language
of ethics: Observe the Language well in all you Write, / And swerve not from it in
your loftiest flight. /The smoothest Verse, and the exactest Sence / Displease us, if
ill English give offence : / Abarbrous Phrase no Reader can approve 90 (ll. 155-9).
A clumsily composed phrase is vicieux and the list of the offences continues with
adjectives like orgueilleux (proud) and mchant (evil) for a bad writer (ll. 160-2).
Literary faults are moral errors, the result of lack of self-knowledge: But Authors that
themselves too much esteem, / Lose their own Genius, and mistake their Theme 91
(ll.19-20). The moral quality of intellectual clarity comes out most forcefully in lines
147-54 of Canto I, with their attack on those who cannot think straight. The clinching
line is celebrated: What we conceive, with ease we can express92 (l. 153). The appeal
for moral self-scrutiny and call for self-knowledge does not involve an author exclusively, but is presented as acommunal activity: [] find you faithful Friends that will
reprove, / That on your Works may look with careful Eyes, / And of your Faults be
zealous Enemies : / Lay by an Authors Pride and Vanity, / And from aFriend aFlatterer descry93 (ll. 186-90).

2.3.4 Use of Esprit in LArt potique


As Ihave already mentioned, the English translation of the poem was rather loose in its
replacement of the French authors with the English ones. Scott Elledge and Donald Schier even suggest that it is more appropriate to call it an adaptation rather than atranslation (The Continental Model 385). From the point of view of the term which lies at the
centre of my interest and the way it was handled by the translators the term adaptation
is certainly much more appropriate as avery non-orthodox approach was employed by
Soames and Dryden with regard to its translation.
The term esprit appears thirty eight times in LArt potique while there are only twenty
four occurrences of wit in the English translation. Esprit is in fact more often translated
as mind (six times) than as wit (five times). For example Lesprit rassasi le rejette
linstant is The Mind once satisfid, is quickly cloyd (l. 62); Lesprit la trouver
aisment shabitue is The Minds will Triumph in the Noble Course (l. 32); Sans rien
dire lesprit, tourdir les oreilles is Confound my Ears, and not instruct my Mind (l.
36); Lesprit nest point mu de ce quil ne croit pas (l. 50) is The minds not movd,
if your Discourse be vain (l. 51); Lesprit ne se sent point plus vivement frappe (l. 57)
becomes The mind is most agreeably surprised (l. 55); and Tout prend un corps, une
ame, un esprit, un visage (l. 64) is All must assume aBody, Mind, and Face (l. 163).
There are often instances where esprit or its modifications are transformed into various
expressions; for example bel esprit becomes charming Poetry (l. 8); esprit is Weight (l.
12), Authors (l. 19), Writer (l. 147), Reader (l. 159), lesprit phlegmatique (l. 72) is
cold Rhyme (l. 73).

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As James H. Jensen points out, Dryden uses wit in his translation to express several
things. First, to describe an inventive man with acopious fancy such apersons abilities
can make him anyone from an urbane, polite conversationalist to agreat poet. In this
sense, he uses wit or wits as the translation for pote, auteur, les plus savants auteurs,
un sublime crivain, noble esprit, and comic wit (poet) for le comique. In the sense
of invention, fancy, and expression, fused with judgment, as for example perceived in
afinished work, it is the faculty which controls or orders. In The Art of Poetry la noble
hardiessse (la noble hardiesse des plus beaux vers) as well as the expression rveries
become wit. Also, lagrable et le fin is translated as wit and the sentence Horace
acette aigreur mla son enjoument (l. 152) is Horace his pleasing wit to this did add
(l. 147) (A Glossary of John Drydens Critical Terms, 5).
In the poem, Boileau clearly employs esprit in multiple senses which often contradict
each other and contrast intuitive creative power with judgement and restraint. In fact,
similarly wide scope of esprits meaning characterizes Boileaus own creative writing.
Susan W. Tieffenbrun drew attention to the highly expressive way in which the author
renders the complex duality of the term in the ninth of the twelve poems which constitute Les Satires, acollection of twelve highly topical satirical poems. The two aspects
of the creative mind are actually severed and personified in order to engage in adialogue which strikingly resembles the classical Freudian patterns of ego and superego
interaction. In it the restraining superego of asatirist suffers in his awareness of his
own sterile power as apoet and asocial critic is confronted by the rash and intuitive
esprit-ego. The courageous and swift esprit-ego is finally won over and silenced by the
super-egos cautious pleading, but only after the pragmatic super-ego turns the discussion to the subject of the King, with whom the Satires began in the form of the Discours
au Roy. Representing the ultimate, divine authority, Louis incarnates for the esprit-ego
the sole truly legitimate subject to which he can in good conscience address his verse,
since the King, unlike the rest of the audience, is certain to comprehend and appreciate his work in the spirit in which it was created (Tieffenbrun 683).
In my analysis, Iwas able to locate four different meanings of esprit in the poem. The
two meanings identified by Tieffenbrun in Les Satires relate to the authors mind: the
first, the esprit-as-ego is the one which instigates the poetic action; it is creative but often
without restraint and rational judgment while the other, the esprit-as-superego is rational
and keeps the ego in place while depending on its creative energy. In fact, although Tieffenbrun does not make it explicit, it is clear that they depend on each other and only
together can they produce poetry. Thus the super-ego is invoked by Boileau at the outset
of the poem where some ground rules are laid down for potential poets: Ni prendre
pour genie un amour de rimer :/Craignez dun vain plaisir les trompeuses amorces, /
Et consultez longtemps votre esprit et vos forces (Do not mistake for genius the desire
to rhyme: / Fear the deceitful baits of vain pleasures, / And consult well your wit and
abilities) (ll.10-2). In the very next line there is an example of the esprit-as-ego, serving
as awarning to those authors who fall under the spell of their own ego and vain pride:
Mais souvent un esprit qui se flatte et qui saime, / Mconnat son gnie et signore
soi-mme (But often awit who flatters himself and who himself loves / Misjudges his

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genius and does not know his own self) (ll.19-20). Here, once again, the artistic failures
are closely linked to the social and ethical ones. The stress on reason and sense can be
identified in the following lines as well, where they are needed to supervise the creative
powers [q]ue toujours le bon sens saccorde avec le rime; / Lun lautre vainement
ils semblent se har; / La rime est une esclave , et ne doit quobir. /Lorsqu la bien
chercher dabord on svertue, / Lesprit la trouver aisment shabitue (so that good
sense always agrees with rhyme; / They seem to hate each other only, / Rhyme is aslave,
and should but obey. / While one strives hard searching for it, / The mind will learn
to find it easily) (ll. 28-32). Unchecked by reason and good sense, the esprit-as-ego succumbs to the false beauties of verbal creativity.
However, esprit should be present not only in the author, but is equally important
in areader. Here too, it can assume the form of arestrained and restraining appreciative ability with taste for balance and the rational or of an exuberant and shallow
mind favouring the excessive and frivolous. As Boileau continues to explore the theme
of interconnectedness of the aesthetical and ethical requirements in author, he condemns the barren superfluity94 of the prcieux (ll. 49-60). Such writing is not welcome
as [l]esprit rassasi le rejette linstant (The mind once satisfied quickly rejects
it) (l. 62). Still, the formal aspect of poetry cannot be ignored either. Stressing the
regularity of rhyme and mellifluous vocabulary, the critic also exhorts that the author
[f]uyez des mauvais sons le concour odiex : / Le vers le mieux rempli, la plus noble
pense / Ne peut plaire lesprit quand loreille est blesse (Avoid odious noise of
the unpleasant sound: / The verse can be infused with most noble ideas, but still will
not please the mind, if it hurts the ear)(ll. 110-2). Without having to make it more
obvious, the readers (or Boileaus audiences) understood that the esprit here is of the
kind which can appreciate the balanced poetic creation in which lies the basis of true
wit. Asimilar image of confounded ears and neglected mind can be found in Canto III
where Boileau describes how abadly-written play (a mass of ill-joined miracles) says
nothing to the mind, and deafens the ears (l. 36).
Apart from these meanings esprit can also stand for simply mind in the sense aseat
of mental activity. It is the only meaning of the term in Boileau which does not seem to
have any positive or negative connotations. This neutral sense of esprit is appears
several times in the poem, for example in Canto III where Boileau describes the rules
for composing aperfect piece of heroic poetry: L pour nous enchanter tout est mis
en usage; / Tout prend un corps, une me, un esprit, un visage (ll. 163-4). In this case,
Drydens translation is fairly accurate: Here fiction must employ its utmost grace, /
All must assume a body, mind, and face (ll. 162-3). Similarly, the lines [l]Evangile
lesprit noffre de tous ctes (l. 201) is translated as The Gospel offers nothing to
our thoughts, (l. 200) is more or less accurate, with esprit having aneutral charge as
thoughts. Afew lines later, asimilar phrase [l]a fable offre lesprit mille agrments
divers meaning the fable offers to the mind thousands diverse pleasures (l. 237) is
translated as In fable we athousand pleasures see (l. 236). Occasionally esprit can mean
the mental activity itself, as for example in the line 340: Aux accs insolence dune
bouffonne joie, / La saggesse, lesprit, lhonneur, furent en proie here the term can

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assume ameaning ranging from mental activity as such to the appreciative term signifying an exceptional quality of the activity.
Commenting on character delineation in comedy in Canto III Boileau writes: La
nature, fconde en bizzares portraits, / Dans chaque me est marque de differents
traits; / Un geste la dcouvre, un rien la fait parotre. / Mais tout esprit na pas des
yeux pour la connotre (ll. 369-72). Here, esprit is apart of acommonplace metaphor
typical for the seventeenth century. The idea that mind had eyes in fact served thinkers from Plato onward and it denoted aprivileged, suprasensual vision, which was
implicit all along in Boileaus injunction to open eyes to Reasons light. Reason as
akind of intellectual sense examines things through the eye of the mind. Involved in
the last quoted lines, then, is asensitivity to nuance, aflair for rightness, which is nothing else than Reason.
Esprit can also signify aperson or, by extension, acertain social status. At the beginning of Canto IBoileau identifies his target audience and their aspirations with
an early warning: O vous donc qui, brlant dune ardeur prilleuse, /Courez du bel
esprit la carrier pienuse (ll. 7-8). By Dryden and Soames this is translated as You,
then, that burn with a desire to try / The dangerous course of charming poetry.
However, aless loose translation of the lines would be You who, burning with adangerous desire, /Embark on the thorny journey of a true wit, making the warning
for all those who want to take part in the salon life of the French high society much
more obvious: You are about to enter aworld which, although glittering and full of
easy glamour on the surface, is in reality filled with hidden obstacles for those who
want to conquer it.
The meanings of esprit employed by Boileau I identified in the poem demonstrate
that the term covered an extensive scope of conceptual nuances, ranging from neutral
descriptive one to both positive and negative denotations of abilities of appreciation and
composition of poetry. While Boileau does not make esprit the central critical term of
his text, it nevertheless constitutes an indispensable critical platform on which he can
build his main aesthetic theory of good versus bad taste both in authors and readership
and audience.

2.3.5 Boileaus Reception in England


In terms of general impact of Boileaus uvre magistrale, the poem spurred aseries of
similar efforts within afew years after the publication of the Soames-Dryden adaptation.
The first wave was represented by three most notable texts: Rochesters Allusion to the
Tenth Satire of Horace (1680), the Essay upon Poetry by John Sheffield, Earl of Mulgrave
(1682), and translation of Horaces Ars poetica by Wentworth Dillon, Earl of Roscommon
as well as his Essay on Translated Verse (1684); the second wave included Epistle to aFriend
(1700) by Samuel Wensley, and Essay on Unnatural Flights in Poetry (1701) by George
Granville, and of course Essay on Criticism (1711) by Alexander Pope. Iwill deal with the
comparison of Boileaus and Popes theories of esprit and wit respectively later; as far as

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the above-mentioned attempts are concerned, it will suffice to say that, unlike Pope who
stood apart from the tradition and the crowd, they are all full of commonplaces, of the
authors themselves as well as of others.
In this chapter, texts of three French critics Dominique Bouhours, chevalier de Mr
and Nicolas Boileau were analyzed in order to demonstrate how these authors employed
the term esprit. Idemonstrated that in all of the three authors theories, the concept has
variety of usages beyond the boundaries of verbal or literary sphere of culture. Unlike
Bouhours and Mr, who merge the literary and the social contexts of esprit, Boileau
sees the two as necessary and equally valuable ingredients in an outstanding work of
literary art which possesses the quality.
Presenting esprit as one of elements of the French aesthetical theories, Ialso wished
to explore how the term interacts with other critical concepts, in particular the sublime
and the je-ne-sais-quoi. Here, the je-ne-sais-quoi should be seen as the object of competing
discourses: in the mouth of Mr, it serves for instance to register judgments of social
incongruity (the pretensions of ascholar to honntet); Boileau uses it to denote the particular quality of literary work that satisfies the general taste of mankind, aquality he
interprets as the expression of an idea that everyone must have had, in aform that seizes
their attention. On the other hand, the extensive discussion in Bouhourss Entretiens
dAriste et dEugene emphasizes the omnipresence of the je-ne-sais-quoi in nature, art, and
even divine grace and seems to be aimed at preserving mystery as ameans to sustaining the ideal of harmonious conversation. Iwill now continue my reading of the early
modern ideas on wit by looking at the theories of three selected English critics of the
latter half of the seventeenth century and analyzing their works in order to determinate
the significance and specific uses they ascribed to wit.

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Pope, and Addison
Wits now arrived to amore high degree;
Our native language more refined and free.
Our ladies and our men now speak more wit,
Than all the former age of poets writ.
John Dryden, Epilogue to The Conquest of Grenada (1669)

Modernity exists in the form of adesire to wipe out


whatever came earlier; in the hope of reacting at last
apoint that could be called atrue present,
apoint of origin that marks anew departure.
Paul De Man, Literary History and Literary Modernity (1970)

In this chapter Iwill examine the works of John Dryden, Alexander Pope, and Joseph
Addison with respect to wit, tracing the terms development in their writings. While
concentrating on Drydens Essay of Dramatick Poesy, Popes Essay on Criticism, and Addisons Spectator series of essays on wit, Iwill also include some of their other critical texts.
Because all three authors are traditionally considered to be the most significant critical
authorities of the period between 1660 and 1720, Iwill provide ashort overview of the
nature of the Restoration and the early eighteenth-century English criticism. As we will
see, the nature of the contemporary criticism interacts to agreat degree with the way wit
was employed by the selected authors.
I particularly look to explore the ways the term developed in each authors understanding as apart of the contemporary critical terminology, with its gradually changing
meaning and as apart of the cultures self-identifier through which society denoted its
own differences from past times and expectations for future. Using this double signifiedsignifier approach, Ihope to arrive at amore complex portrait of wit during its prime
time. While Iwill make en passant comparisons among the individual English authors
conceptions of wit, acomparative analysis of the English and French authors will provide
aconclusion to this chapter.
The literary (or in Drydens case dramatic) criticism in the late seventeenth and early
eighteenth centuries has not enjoyed much attention or appreciation on the part of

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modern scholars. Many remarks have been made by modern critics regarding the unstable nature of Restoration criticism. Ibelieve that J. E. Spingarn is right when he states
that seventeenth-century criticism is really a very troubled stream; winds from every
quarter blow across its surface; currents from many springs and tributaries struggle for
mastery within it (Spingarn, Icvi). Asimilar view is held by Robert Hume who claims
that the Restoration is not an intellectually homogeneous period. Its temper if it is
possible to speak of such thing must be seen as an inharmonious blend of incongruous elements (Hume, Drydens Criticism 176). Iagree with Hume and Spingarn that the
Restoration is atransitional period and that critical texts of John Dryden mirrors his
intellectual milieu to aremarkable degree.

3.1 John Dryden and Vagaries of Restoration Wit


In this subchapter, Iwill explore the usage of the term wit in the critical works of John
Dryden. To understand how Dryden employs the term, Iwill first examine the nature of
his critical oeuvre, which, as was already mentioned in the introduction, has been under
amore or less constant attack of modern critics. While trying to justify Dryden against
the widespread charges of cavalier inconsistency and critical carelessness, Iwish to prove
that his employment of the term wit has suffered from similarly unfair misinterpretation and accusation of haphazard treatment and apparent contradictions. Furthermore,
considered within the context of the contemporary literary criticism, his employment of
critical terminology and in particular that of French provenance should cast some
light on his usage of the term in question.

3.1.1 The Specifics of Drydens Critical Style and Terminology


Robert Hume contends that Drydens criticism was not of the typically neoclassical proscriptive kind, and suggests dividing his criticism into three types, even though he acknowledges that such categories are far from absolute. The first type is prescriptive criticism
(e.g. The Grounds of Criticism today), the second is speculative (Essay of Dramatick Poesy)
and the last type is explanatory (the vast majority of his critical efforts) (Robert Hume,
Drydens Criticism 6-7). He counters George Watson who thought Drydens criticism was
most of all prescriptive, and asserts that Watson underemphasizes the transitional nature
of Drydens work (Drydens Criticism 24). Hume characterizes Drydens criticism as follows: To look for atidy pattern in the development of Drydens criticism is ultimately
pointless. He never tried to work out aformal aesthetic, and his comments on the practice
of criticism amount to no more than some scattered commonplaces (6). Dryden is much
keener to examine the possibilities of resolving specific literary problems (such as details
of language, plot, characters, theatrical conventions, etc.) than attempting to deal with ab-

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stract issues, which make him uncomfortable.* H. James Jensen refers to Drydens style as
rambling and considers it to be the reason why the author never systematically developed
awork or theory of criticism to any length, and his discussions of particular subjects, as
well as why many of his great critical statements, occurred in isolated passages, and often
in momentary digressions. As aresult, one passage can seldom represent Drydens over-all
views on asubject and in Jensens words he will cheerfully deny at one time what he
confidently affirmed two years earlier (4).
In addition to the nature of Drydens criticism, we need to consider his unique conception of critical terminology. In parallel to the aversion towards abstract topics, his dislike
of technical terms, such as those used in rhetorical textbooks, led Dryden to come up
with terms that were frequented in cultivated circles of aristocracy, or the critical words
which came from French, the polite language of precise and sophisticated criticism. Thus
Drydens critical terms usually have both general and specific meanings. His use of French
meanings for English equivalents can sometimes be misleading or puzzling depending on
whether the French or the English meaning might apply or whether an English meaning
is quite different from the French. For example, point cannot be understood without
knowledge of the meanings of the French pointe. Drydens point of wit is a thought
which surprizes with acertain subtlety of imagination, akind of word play 95 (Cayrou 674).
Apoint thus must be regarded as rhetorical rather than emotional. Drydens use of spirit also cannot be understood without knowledge of the various meanings of esprit. Still,
spirit is, as we have seen in aprevious chapter, such acomplex term that in some areas
neither the French nor the English meanings are in atotal agreement with Drydens use.
One of the meanings of spirit is similar to genius, to the indefinable essence of agreat
work of art, and thus to the conception of Bouhourss je-ne-sais-quoi, at least after 1671.**
Analyzing the nature of the Restoration criticism, Paul D. Cannan suggests that part
of the reason these critics seem to flounder so much is because they are searching for
acritical voice (19). Seen in the light of this explanation, Drydens criticism cannot be
dismissed as aproduct of amuddled mind, which seems to have been asuggestion on the
part of many modern scholars. However, there have been other, more helpful, explanations. George Watson suggests that Drydens inconsistency can be accounted for by acombination of a sense of tact and the influence of scepticism, the most powerful stream
of the contemporary philosophy (60), while Michael Gelber contends it was areflection
of Drydens attempt to bring his theories into harmony with his art (3). In his study of
Drydens theory of comedy Frank Harper Moore also notes the now nearly notorious
claim of modern literary historians that Drydens critical opinions are asign of amateurish
insouciance. Moore defends Dryden, explaining that these changes constitute areasoned
*) Comparing the English and French dramatic criticism of that period, Gunnar Sorelius makes asimilar
claim, saying the English criticism was much more pragmatic and empirical than that of France. Restoration critics [] almost all of them [being] also dramatists in their own right show great awareness and
understanding of the practical needs of the theatre (The Giant Race Before the Flood: Pre-Restoration Drama
on the Stage and in the Criticism of the Restoration, 31).
**) One of Drydens notable paraphrases from Bouhourss Je ne sais quoi appears in his dedication of Amboyna, one of his less notable dedications.

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development of his theory; they are the products not of inconsistency and insincerity
but of open-mindedness and continued interest (10). Iam inclined to agree with Gelber
and Moore rather than with Watson and Idevelop their line of argument and defence of
Dryden furthermore with aclaim that this gradual transition should be seen as areflection
of the changing taste as well as the force which changes the taste as Iwill manifest in the
following part of this subchapter.
Dryden might have felt asimilar unease towards wit aword which was perused very
frequently in the Restoration criticism, and which often denoted the struggle of writers,
playwrights and philosophers to voice new ideas or reformulate old ones. C. S. Lewis
finds those attempts amusing evidences of the words drift towards its dangerous sense
(Lewis, Studies in Words 100) and he offers a hardly unintentionally simplified overview of contemporary ideas on the term:
1650: Davenant, describing something which is not, yet is accompted, Wit, includes in it
what are commonly called Conceits, things that sound like the knacks or toyes of ordinary Epigrammatists.
1664: Flecknoe warns us that wit must not include clenches (puns), quibbles, gingles, and
such like trifles.
1667: Dryden tells us that wit does not consist of the jerk or sting of an epigram nor the seeming contradiction of apoor antithesis...nor the jingle of amore poor paronomasia.
1668: Shadwell corrects those ignorant people who believed that all the Wit in Playes consisted in bringing two persons upon the Stage to break Jests, and to bob one another,
which they call Repartie.
1672: Dryden classifies clenches as The lowest and most grovelling kind of wit.
1700: Dryden says that the vulgar judges ... call conceits and jingles wit.

(Studies in Words 100-101)

In fact, all these are attempts at defining what wit is or should be by means of elimination of the undesired elements. Paul Hammonds labelling of the Restoration as the age
of unstable vocabulary should not be understood then as aeuphemism for aperiod in
which people would comfortably slip in and out of the different meanings [of the word]
without noticing it as C. S. Lewis suggests. Rather, Ipropose to regard it as aperiod
of wits pendency; aperiod of tentative, not tactical definitions (103). The amusing
evidences may appear less amusing and more instructing when seen as proofs of acomplex situation in aperiod, where wit started to gradually lose its clear, well-established
connotations and became increasingly problematic as well as useful for its users.
John Dryden, as one of the chief shapers of the Restoration literary production, produced his texts, artistic as well as critical, according to the current taste (and, also, often
with regard to his financial situation) which changed rather quickly in the course of the
late seventeenth century. One of Drydens first poems Upon the Death of the Lord
Hastings, written in 1649 when the future Poet Laureate was about eighteen years old,
pays tribute to the then decaying Metaphysical wit consisting of shocking images and
aceaseless flow of conceits:

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Was there no milder way but the Small Pox,


The very Filthness of Pandoras Box?
So many Spots, like naeves, our Venus soil?
One Jewel set off with so many aFoil?
Blisters with pride swelld; which throws flesh did sprout
Like Rose-buds, stuck i thLily-skin about.
Each little Pimple had aTear in it,
To wail the fault its rising did commit:
Who, Rebel-like, with their own Lord at strife,
Thus made an Insurrection gainst his Life.
Or were these Gems sent to adorn his Skin,
The Cabnet of aricher Soul within?
No Comet need foretell his Change drew on,
Whose Corps might seem aConstellation.


(ll. 53-66)

The bizarre metaphorisation, awkward elision and harsh sounds contribute to the
general unevenness of the poem in which the Metaphysical wit reached its last stage of
every fashion-excess bringing out irritation from the audience. The general movement
of poetics was towards amore regular rhythm, even lines and natural accents in the style
of Edmund Waller and others. Wit found its new station in the heroic couplet, which
Dryden mastered in his MacFlecknoe nearly thirty years later after this slightly morbid
elegy. In Mac Flecknoe (written 1672, published 1682), wits satirical lashings reveal its
potential for slanderousness and profanity which were soon to become its own ruin. The
poem satirizes Thomas Shadwell, a Whig, Protestant and dully moralistic dramatist
who was Drydens successor in the office of Poet Laureate. In the poem, Shadwell is
to succeed one Richard Flecknoe, aminor poet and Drydens adversary, as Prince of
Nonsense (imaginary equivalent to the function of Poet Laureate). Flecknoe praises his
followers potential in these famously satirical lines:
Sh[adwell] alone my perfect image bears,
Mature in dullness for his tender years.
Sh[adwell] alone, of all my Sons, is he
Who stands confirmd in full stupidity.
The rest to some faint meaning make pretence,
But Sh[adwell] never deviates into sense.
Some beams of Wit on other souls may fall,
Strike through and make alucid interval;
But Sh[adwell]s genuine night admits no ray,
His rising Fogs prevail upon the Day;

(The Works of John Dryden, II. 54)

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The antithetical turns upon the maturity of dullness, the strength of stupidity, and
the inability to deviate into sense all show wits ability to combine the comic and the
intellectual. The gradual change of attitude towards wit can be detected not only when
Dryden uses wit as aworking tool, but when he thinks about the word as apart of critical
vocabulary. Judson D. Milburn summarizes this development as follows:
When [Dryden] was most enthusiastic toward wit, his aim was to please or delight first, and
then to instruct. By 1677 he had reversed these aims, for now comedy aimed first to instruct
delightfully. In 1700 he was apologizing for having placed pleasure before instruction. The
same shift is evident in his opinion of wit. Whereas he had early emphasized the importance
of the secret graces which violated the rules, by the mid-eighties he was stressing propriety and
decorum. (264)

Still, in the poem, Dryden defends wit against humour. With it he attacks Shadwells
humour, his farcical humour characters. Shadwell declares his lineage from Jonson, but
Jonsons satire of humour characters has by now degenerated into Shadwells meaningless laughter, laughter for its own sake. As Ronald Paulson suggests, Dryden presumes
that wit operates more efficiently on these figures then the mere representation of the
follies and extravagances of Bedlam. He makes wit normative in asatire of humor; the
poets wit provides the bite that Shadwells humor so notably lacks (46).
The fact that Dryden was able to produce several, sometimes opposing, definitions of
wit should not be interpreted as aproof of literary double-dealing or carelessness. Different contexts of wit called for different definitions, just as new genres and changing
tastes of the times did. John Sitter stresses the dialogical nature of Drydens most famous
definition:
If we take Dryden at his words, that wit is apropriety of words and thoughts; [...] we have
a definition that happily refuses to separate wit from words and conversation. And in this
sense, making the barest historical allowance for the fussiness that would later attach to propriety and elegantly, Drydens wit is clearly related to the conversation of English-speaking
human beings ever since. (85)

The emphasis on the social, dialogical aspect of the notion specifies wits function in
late seventeenth century English culture and at the same time endangers its position as
an easily identified synonym for either mental qualities or its verbal product. It transfers
wit from the ever so slightly secluded realm of philosophical categories or rhetorical
figures of speech into the dangerously unstable sphere of social interaction, with its
ceaselessly changing tastes, sensibilities and ideologies. In the following part of this
subchapter Iwill examine with Drydens more or less isolated statements concerning wit
in his critical texts will be examined. By contextualizing them, Ihope to demonstrate
that Drydens attitude towards wit was not aresult of his muddled mind, but rather
aself-conscious attempt to deal with various themes and questions posed by the literary
practice of the changing late seventeenth-century English culture.

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3.1.2 The Beginnings: The Essay of Dramatick Poesy


Essay of Dramatick Poesy written 1665, published 1668 is an example of explanatory
criticism according to Humes categorization. It has aform of adialogue on dramatic
practice between four speakers: Eugenius (meant to represent Lord Buckhurst, Drydens
patron), Crites (Sir Robert Howard, adramatist and Drydens son in law), Lisideius (Sir
Charles Sedley), and Neander (meaning new man ahint that Dryden, amember of
the gentry class, is entitled to join in this dialogue on par with the three men who are
both older and his social superiors).
The four friends discuss three topics: The relative merit of classical drama (upheld
by Crites) as opposed to modern drama (championed by Eugenius); whether French
drama, as Lisideius maintains, is better than English drama (supported by Neander, who
famously calls Shakespeare the greatest soul, ancient or modern); and the question of
whether plays in rhyme are an improvement upon blank verse drama aproposition
that Neander, despite having defended the Elizabethans, now advances against the sceptical Crites (who also switches from his original position and defends the blank verse
tradition of Elizabethan drama). In reality, it is closer to six set speeches arranged in
three pairs than to adialogue in the Platonic sense, as George Watson rightly observes
(40). Crites argues for the Ancients, Eugenius for the Moderns; Lisideius cries up the
French drama, Neander the English; Crites defends blank verse, Neander rhyme. The
inflexibility of the dialogue, which is deliberate according to Watson as well as Hume
(Watson 41, Hume, Drydens Critcism 48), provides anot very dynamic platform for an
authentic discussion, but is arather fixed medium in which topics are merely displayed.
Indeed, Dryden makes no attempt to argue the issues out, arrive at compromises or spot
overlapping parts of the speakers positions.
Dryden does not attempt to formulate adefinition of wit in the essay. However, he
uses the word in the first dialogue mainly as akey term in distinguishing the achievements of the drama of his own days from the playwrights of the past age, Ben Jonson,
John Fletcher and William Shakespeare. He, then, does not employ or explore the term
as asignified, but rather as asignifier, whose signified for the time being is left comfortably undefined. The most important feature of this signifier is its ability to denote
the measure of improvement and refinement of language and conversation between the
age of Shakespeare, Fletcher and Jonson and Drydens own times:
But, that you may know how much you are indebted to those your masters, and be ashamed
to have so ill requited them, Imust remember you that all the rules by which we practise the
drama at this day, either such as relate to the justness and symmetry of the plot; or the episodical ornaments, such as descriptions, narrations, and other beauties, which are not essential to
the play; were delivered to us from the observations that Aristotle made, of those poets, which
either lived before him, or were his Contemporaries: we have added nothing of our own, except we have the confidence to say our wit is better; which none boast of in our age, but such
as understand not theirs. (Of Dramatic Poesy and Other Critical Essays I27)

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But he also talks about wit in terms of superiority of comedy of wit versus the Jonsonian comedy of humours, stating: I think him [Jonson] the most learned and judicious
Writer which any Theater ever had. He was amost severe Judge of himself as well as
others. One cannot say he wanted wit, but rather that he was frugal of it (Of Dramatic
Poesy and Other Critical Essays I69).
As mentioned in the first chapter, Drydens intellectual environment was an example
of the tumultuous mixture of the influences of French classicism and contemporary English ideas. For Dryden, the Ancients as well as more recent predecessors were the biblical race of giants before the flood indeed, but he was not ready to bow before them in
agesture of self-deprecation. His ruminations of Shakespeare, Jonson and others betray
aconfidence which was an important feature of the Restoration culture.

3.1.3 Annus Mirabilis and Beyond: Theory Expounded


As has already been pointed out, Drydens own definitions of the term have often been
found inadequate and confusing. They were so for his contemporaries, too, and even
caused aprefatory war with Thomas Shadwell, aminor Restoration playwright. The
source of the confrontation was Drydens assertion in the Essay of Dramatick Poesie that
Jonsons wit falls short of Shakespeare and Beaumont and Fletcher. Dryden was not attacking Jonson then, however; he was using his example to argue for the superiority of
the English drama over the French. But Shadwell mistook those comments as an affront
to Jonson and his own dramatic practice, and as shameless self-promotion of Drydens
comedy of wit. In the preface to his play The Sullen Lovers (1668), he accused Dryden of
emphasizing wit at the expense of character. Dryden took up the opportunity to answer
this accusation in the preface to An Evenings Love (1671), where he described Ben Jonsons plays as pleasant: [] but that pleasantness was not properly wit, or the sharpness
of conceit, but the natural imitation of folly (148).
In this explication, we are beginning to see that Drydens employment of the term
indeed has to be considered within the actual literary context. In this particular place,
sharpness of conceit indicates the emphasis upon liveliness as distinct from the apt and
perfect description of natural imitation; but this is emphasis only. Ayear later Dryden
writes about Ben Jonson in the Defence of the Epilogue that
the most judicious of poets, he always writ properly, and as the character required; and Iwill
not contest farther with my friends who call that wit: it being very certain that even folly itself,
well represented, is wit in alarger signification; and that there is fancy, as well as judgment, in
it, though not so much or noble [] (178)

For Dryden wit had to include both judgment and fancy in order to produce authentic
artistic value. This can be traced in fact as early as 1667, when he published the poem
Annus Mirabilis. In the preface, he describes the proper wit of an heroic or historical
poem as some lively and apt description [] such [] that it sets before your eyes the

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absent object as perfectly, and more delightfully, than nature (98). This specific definition is preceded by alengthier, yet more general definition of wit, which takes into account its two different aspects:
The composition of all poems is, or ought to be, of wit; and wit in the poet, or wit-writing (if
you will give me leave to use aschool distinction) is no other than the faculty of imagination in
the writer, which, like animble spaniel, beats over and ranges through the field of memory, till
it springs the quarry it hunted after: or, without metaphor, which searches over all the memory
for the species or ideas of those things which it designs to represent. Wit written is that which
is well designed, the happy result of thought, or product of imagination. (97-8)

As John Sitter contends, this definition of wit is Drydens most striking and most
complicated because it first proposes a twofold distinction between wit writing and
wit written and then merges these into athreefold description of imagination (Sitter,
79). Wit writing in this dichotomy is the process, while wit written is the result and as
Sitter observes, wit written will turn out to be the wit of most of Drydens discussions,
where it becomes, simply, a propriety of thoughts and words (80).
However, other critics find definitions like this one wanting. The failure of such definition, as David Wykes points out in his study Preface to Dryden, is that it seems too general,
as does Drydens later notorious definition penned in The Authors Apology for Heroic
Poetry and Poetic Licence, prefaced to The State of Innocence (1677): a propriety of
thoughts and words (Of Dramatic Poesy and Other Critical Essays I207). In fact Dryden
himself was aware of the vagueness of his account, and he attempted to narrow down the
definition by explaining what wit is not in the preface to Annus Mirabilis:
But to proceed from wit, in the general notion of it, to the proper wit of an heroic or historical poem; Ijudge it chiefly to consist in the delightful imaging of persons, actions, passions,
or things. It is not the jerk or sting of an epigram, nor the seeming contradiction of apoor
antithesis (the delight of an ill-judging audience in aplay of rhyme) nor the jingle of amore
poor Paronomasia; neither is it so much the morality of agrave sentence, affected by Lucan,
but more sparingly used by Virgil. (Of Dramatic Poesy and Other Critical Essays I98)

Dryden proceeds by presenting a positive definition: [...] it is some lively and apt
description, dressed in such colours of speech, that it sets before your eyes the absent object, as perfectly, and more delightfully than nature, which finally becomes wit is apropriety of thoughts and words or, in other terms, thoughts and words elegantly adapted
to the subject (I 207). Dryden continues by elaborating on the topic of the nature of the
creative act of poetry one of the very few passages in all of his critical writing, where
abstract criticism is not interrupted by some practical advice:
So then the first happiness of the poets imagination is properly invention or finding of the
thought; the second is fancy, or the variation, deriving or moulding of that thought, as the
judgment represents it proper to the subject; the third is elocution, or the art of clothing and

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adorning that thought, so found and varied, in apt, significant, and sounding words: the quickness of the imagination is seen in the invention, the fertility in the fancy, and the accuracy in
the expression. []
This is the proper wit of dialogue or discourse, and consequently of the drama, where all
that is said is to be supposed the effect of sudden thought; which, though it excludes not the
quickness of wit in repartees, yet admits not atoo curious election of words, too frequent allusions, or use of tropes, or, in fine, anything that shows remoteness of thought or labour in
the writer. (98-9)

In the relatively late To the Right Honourable My Lord Radcliffe prefixed to Examen poeticum: Being the Third Part of Miscellany Poems (1693) Drydens discussion of wit
takes the form once again of acomparison between poets Ovid, and, among others,
Virgil. If wit be pleasantry, Dryden says, he [Ovid] has it to excess; but if it be propriety, Lucretius, Horace, and, above all, Virgil are his superiors (II 163). Here, Drydens
doubts concerning wits true nature come to the surface most clearly. Edward Pechter
comments: The implied doubt of the if-subjunctive constructions illustrates once again
Drydens open-mindedness. Wit may and should be seen as residing in both pleasantry
and in propriety. Drydens comparison does not reject one poet or the other (Pechter
26). Iwould like to extend this assumption by adding that, just as Drydens mind is open
to appreciation of both poets Virgil as well as Ovid, his mind is open to both conceptions of wit i.e. wit as pleasantry and wit as propriety as they both represent two different kinds of legitimate poetic value.
This dual legitimacy can be described by means of the set of terms from the contemporary aesthetics the faculties of judgment and fancy. Judgment accomplishes
aptness, perfectness, accurate representation ajust, proper imitation, while fancy accomplishes liveliness, elegance in other words, works taken by nature up to ahigher
pitch. It seems, then, that Dryden, while apparently allowing the meaning of the term to
fluctuate, insists throughout his criticism upon the comprehensive nature of wit, stressing its inclusion of both fancy and judgment.

3.1.4 French vs English, Moderns vs Ancients: Wit as Compromise


Drydens siding with the Moderns was enabled by his idealization of wit. The basis of
the argument i.e. the present correcting the past reflected his theory of comedy of
wit (represented by plays of his fellow authors and his own) pitted against the comedy
of humours. In the already mentioned prologue to An Evenings Love (1671) he distinguishes wit and humour: The first works on the judgment and fancy; the latter on the
fancy alone: there is more of satisfaction in the former kind of laughter, and in the latter
more of scorn (Of Dramatic Poesy and Other Critical Essays I146). Several pages later, he
expands the comparison by listing the differing effects both devices have on the reader:
[...] for the business of the poet is to make you laugh: when he writes humour, he makes
folly ridiculous; when wit, he moves you, if not always to laughter, yet to apleasure that

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is more noble (I 152). By arguing for wit over humour Dryden identified himself with
the Earl of Rochester, the aristocratic Court Wits and the libertine tradition as such. Furthermore, by citing the conversation of courtiers and, the ultimate model, the monarch
himself, the epitome of witty conversation, he was able to equate wit, polite discourse,
aristocracy, and monarchy.
Despite Drydens often proclaimed antipathy for French culture, his knowledge of
their literature and criticism was profound, detailed, and very up-to-date during his whole
literary career which spanned over almost forty years. He read, appropriated, or was influenced by Pierre and Thomas Corneille, Racine, Molire, Georges and Madeleine de
Scudry, Quinault, La Calprende, and he made references to works of St. Evremond,
Boileau, Segrais, Bossu, Dacier, Rapin, lAbb dAubignac, du Bartas, Descartes, Fontenelle, Malherbe, and Perrault. As his career was nearing its end, he even began to refer
to French authors with respect and sympathy, so much so that it is possible to claim that
Dryden kept insisting upon his Englishness, but [...] his scope was decidedly European
(2). Lord Buckinghams comedy The Rehearsal (1672) satirically lashes out at Drydens
manner of unbridled acquiring of plots and speeches. In the following scene of the play
Bayes (indicating the bay leaf the symbolic plant of the Poet Laureate) boasts though
not specifically referring to robbing the French his ingenious composing methods:
BAYES.

And Ido here averr, That no man yet Sun eer shone upon, has parts sufficient
to furnish out aStage, except it were by the help of these my Rules.
JOHNSON. What are those rules, Ipray?
BAYES.
Why, Sir, my first Rule is the Rule of Transversion, or Regula Duplex: changing
verse into Prose, or Prose into verse, alternative as you please.

[...]

Itake abook in my hand, either at home or elsewhere, for that sall one, of
there be any Wit int, as there is no book but has some, ITransverse it; that is,
if it be Prose put it into Verse, (but that takes up some time) and if it be Verse,
put it into Prose.

(5-6, I.i.)

Although Drydens principles for writing and evaluating literature came mostly from
the Ancients and the French authors, he applied them in apersonal way, giving Restoration readers and audiences standards by which to judge art. His fundamental principle, which comes from the Ancients, is that art is imitation of nature. Arecord of his
changing concepts of wit is agood barometer of the varying proportions of imagination
and judgment Dryden demanded. In wit writing and wit written, an excess of either
imagination or judgment was an extreme; abalance of each carried to great heights, in
the highest genres, manifests itself in awork of sublime genius. Drydens most characteristic personal stance appears to be his abhorrence of extremes, and therefore he
constantly vacillates in attempting to find abalance, agolden mean, on every occasion,
in judging all works of art and in debating all practical critical problems.

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3.2 Alexander Pope and Wit as Meta-criticism


This subchapter focuses on Alexander Popes An Essay on Criticism, usually regarded as
amasterpiece of the early Augustan criticism and in words of Joseph Addison an assemblage of the most known and most received observations on the subject of literature
and criticism (Spectator No. 253). Even though Iwill refer to several other texts by Pope
throughout this subchapter as well, its centre is constituted by the analysis of the Essay, as
the poem represents apoint of contrast with the following subchapters main text i.e.
the Spectator papers on wit by Joseph Addison. Although it chronologically precedes the
Spectator series on wit (May 1711), it is often considered to be the pinnacle of the early
eighteenth-century English criticism and therefore should be logically concluding this
chapter. My placing it before the subchapter on Addison is achoice based on several
arguments, mainly concerning the interplay of wit and the development of literary criticism in the early eighteenth century which will be the key theme of this subchapter.

3.2.1 An Essay on Criticism: Critics Enigma


The approach of the modern criticism to the Essay is atestament to its internal complexities and conflicts: Some critics suggest it should be primarily treated as awork of literary criticism (e.g. Phillip Smallwood in his study Reconstructing Criticism: Popes Essay on
Criticism and the Logic of Definition), while others (e.g. Patricia Meyer Spacks in her article
Imagery and Method in An Essay on Criticism) emphasize the moral aspect that unites
the issues of criticism and creative writing. Meyer Spacks contends that the Essay is first
and foremost awork of poetic nature with wit having acentral position in the poem:
The poetic ambition of the Essay on Criticism centers in its attempting to demonstrate
how wit can provide acontrolling power for what wit creates (Meyer Spacks 107). Wit
for Pope, she continues, is the image-making faculty, [], equivalent to invention, the
power of poetic discovery and creativity... (ibid.). In arather impressionistic manner,
William K. Wimsatt and Cleanth Brooks point out that [Popes] poem is never without
the interest of acertain shimmer upon the surface through the implied dimension of
criticism of criticism (Neoclassical Criticism 236).
The relationship of modern literary criticism to the Essay has been arather strained
one. There have been several studies published in the past sixty years which are very protective of the text, but there exists another approach, rarer and more sober one. Ibelieve
that while the former approach often provides various valuable contexts without which
the text could not have been understood properly, the latter approach because it is
less defensive tends to be more revealing about the poems significance for our present
times. This more objective approach is represented, among others, by Paul D. Cannan
who acknowledges the poems many flaws and confusions. Part of his assumption relies
on the contemporary criticism, provided by John Denniss Reflections Critical and Satyrical, Upon aLate Rhapsody, Calld, An Essay on Criticism (1711), which claimed that apart
of the problem of the poem is that it has a confused sense of audience: at times [it]

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seems to be instructing critics how to judge writers, and elsewhere, telling writers how
to placate critics (Cannan 179).
Cannan also sums up the difficulties modern scholars have experienced acknowledging the poems qualities claiming that [] Pope scholars often seem embarrassed by the
poem as aliterary criticism: despite its memorable verse, the poem is highly derivative
[] and marred by ambiguous terminology and poor organization (171). As Cannan
contends, the emergence of criticism in England towards the end of the seventeenth
century was concomitant with the rise of the institution of authorship which brought
with it questions about the relationship among author, critic, and audience that remain
to be analyzed even today (173). Thus, the Essay on Criticism represents the challenges of
asserting oneself as critic, with or without simultaneously claiming the status of poet. As
avirtually unknown author at the age of twenty-two, Pope had to demonstrate his right
to criticize through his performance, not by means of his established respect. But he also
took advantage of his anonymity in the poem: like Addisons and Steeles Mr. Spectator, Pope presents himself as the model critic by asserting his credentials and by setting
himself in opposition to the abstract notion of the bad critic. The persona which Pope
creates in the Essay, Cannan suggests, is hardly one of anovice: [R]ather he carefully
casts himself as the ideal critic, the hero-critic with nearly Superman qualities (174).
Accordingly, several scholars have suggested that, in the Essay, Pope is less interested in
critical theory than in establishing himself as apoet and it certainly is an opinion that
one must keep in mind while examining the poem. Ruben Quintero asserts that the Essay on Criticism encapsulates [Popes] poetical intentions, and he wishes to prepare his
most influential reader, the literary critic, for them (21). Ripley Hotch argues that the
Essay is not about criticism, but about the young poet writing the poem, his situation,
and his claim to merit. For the poem is, if anything, not adisquisition on criticism, but
aproof of the qualifications of the author to assume his place as head of the kingdom
of wit he describes (474-5). Principally I agree with Hotch, although I would like to
modify his assertion slightly. Pope is indeed very much interested in asserting himself
as a respected and authoritative figure of early eighteenth century English literature,
nevertheless, Iwould not go so far as to suggest that he does not care for the state the
contemporary criticism is in rather he is set on the position he could (and should) take
in it. Thus, his concern is the establishing of the relationship between the individual and
the (poetic) society, while using the concept of wit as the whet-stone of the process.
The Essay is divided into three parts: the first prescribes rules for the study of art
criticism, while emphasizing the compromise of the contemporary often conflicting
ideas on criticism in the form of aharmonious system. The second part exposes and
analyzes the causes of wrong criticism, and the third part characterizes the morals of
agood critic and praises the great critics of the past centuries. Thus, though the poem
seems to suggest that its main concern is theory and practice of art and, specifically, literary criticism, its actual scope is much wider and the two themes literary criticism and
literary practice are presented by Pope as two interlinked activities.
As far as the form of the poem is concerned, it is quite important to realize that while
expressing ideas and recommendations about the obligations and strategies of a good

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eighteenth-century literary critic, the Essay belongs to the venerable, if short-lived, tradition of English verse criticism, which enjoyed avogue in the early 1680s (Cannan 178).
Modern critics, Cannan continues, are often quick to distance Popes poem from this
tradition because it is an essay on criticism, not poetry. According to Maynard Mack, [t]
he content of the poem would be quite new to its readers so far as treatment inverse was
concerned, there being extant several reputable versified Arts of poetry, including Horaces, but nothing quite like acritical Art (Mack, Alexander Pope: ALife 178). As Cannan
suggests, this form must have been considered old-fashioned and Popes contemporaries
(Addison, Dennis and others) must have made this connection. While afew examples of
verse criticism appeared between 1685 and 1711, they hardly represented the cutting-edge
of critical discourse, represented for example by serialized criticism in the Spectator. Ideologically, verse criticism was also the province of the aristocratic, gentlemanly critic and not
in keeping with the current trend again, best exemplified in the criticism of Addison and
Steele, Charles Gildons manual for appreciating Shakespeare appendixed to the Rowe
Shakespeare etc. This aspect of the Essay and the ramifications it has for the employment
of wit in the poem will be explored in the latter part of the present subchapter.
Modelled after the precedents of Horaces Art of Poetry and Boileaus LArt Potique in
its contents as well as structure, the Essay repeats the classical principles of criticism in
asimple, conversational language, which occasionally borders on banter. Apart from wit,
other key terms of neoclassical criticism explored in the poem are Nature, genius, taste,
ancients, and rules. As Ihave shown in the introduction, the term wit and its function in
the Essay received some attention from William Empson mainly because it represented
an example of what he called aword with acomplex structure. However, what Empsons study overlooked was the historical and intellectual context of the poem. Iwill now
present two studies of the poem which try to understand the poems central term against
these backgrounds in order to set it into aproper context before Icontinue to discuss
its connections with Drydens employment of the term.

3.2.2 The Contexts of An Essay on Criticism


The approach of Edward Niles Hooker in his article Pope on Wit: The Essay on Criticism is traditional in its literary-historical framework of argument; there is no theoretical basis or theorem which is subsequently tested. Hooker poses three questions which
he intends to answer: First, taking into account that Pope writes an essay devoted to
the principles of criticism, what makes him dedicate so much time and attention to wit
rather than taste; second, what were the literary discussions and controversies in which
Pope was involved at that time and which led him to express his opinion in the Essay, and
third, what body of contemporary thought was available to him as he wrote, and how
it illuminate[s] the direction and implications of his thinking (185-6). The study is also
motivated by wish to justify the reputation of the text in question and to clarify Popes
intentions and achievements as apart of amore universal rehabilitation of Popes work
suggested by Hooker (185).

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E. N. Hooker sees the Essay as Popes defence of the term against the attacks of moralists
that became numerous towards the end of the seventeenth century. Pope, himself both an
author and acritic, is interested in the cooperation between the critical and creative skills.
He identifies true genius as the highest form of talent in the poet, and true taste as the
highest talent in the critic and proceeds to formulate aprinciple that the best critics are
those who excel as authors themselves: In Poets as true Genius is but rare, / True Taste as
seldom is the Criticks Share; / Both must alike from Heavn derive their Light, / These
born to Judge, as well as those to Write. / Let such teach others who themselves excell,
/ And censure freely who have written well (An Essay on Criticism ll. 11-6).* True taste and
true genius also work in close proximity. The conceptual shift from genius and taste to
wit which Hooker performs is rather abrupt as well as metaphorical: According to him
adiscussion of the art of criticism would be idle unless it expounded taste by revealing the
ways and standards of genius. Or, since genius is distressingly rare, one may, like Pope,
examine the ways of wit, that more inclusive thing, conceived of as literary talent or as the
distinguishing element in literature, the breath of life informing the dull clay (186). Using
one of John Drydens rules on the employment of wit in the process of literary creation
(The composition of all poems is, or ought be, of wit), Hooker describes it poetically
as a spark, fire, invention, the life-giving force and his differentiation of wit and its traditional counterpart judgment follows the Hobbesian and Lockean line of thought:
Sense and judgment are the solid, useful stuff with which the writer works, but wit is the
magic that lifts the stuff to the plane of belles-lettres (186).
During the last decade of the seventeenth century, the English society became saturated with wit for two main reasons. The first, rather complex one, was related to the changing attitude towards language and its ability to access truth and knowledge. Whereas the
conceited wit of Metaphysical metaphors used to be seen as adirect link to the hidden,
esoteric truth, the philosophers of the 1670s were demanding simple, clear language,
untainted by similes and metaphors which were regarded now as deceitful and detrimental. Another reason was that Restoration comedy, appropriating Metaphysical wit and
modifying it so that it suited its need for quick, insightful, social discourse dealt with
themes often believed immoral and witty metaphors were playwrights favourite device
of conveying the tabooed truths. The new, often satiric, wit, apparently less concerned
with matters of spiritual nature, became atool with which to attack religion and subvert
morality. In Hookers opinion those moralists who attacked wit during that time in fact
attacked literature per se, as wit in the sense of impulse for creative writing was Popes
main sense throughout the poem (187). These were the key reasons that led Pope to
write the poem and to devote so much space to wit. Hooker concludes his article in an
apologetic tone: If he [Pope] was not entirely successful in conveying his meaning with
utter clarity, the fault lay partly in the lack of acritical vocabulary and areminder that
if we wish to comprehend the poets views of the literary art, we must read the poem
with afuller awareness of its historical setting (204).
*) All subsequent quotations from the Essay are taken from the Twickenham edition of Poems of Alexander
Pope, volume I., Pastoral Poetry and An Essay on Criticism, p. 237-326.

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As Hooker rightly observes, the Essay is remarkable for its emphasis on wit instead of
other aesthetic categories, e.g. taste, genius, etc. It shows to what extent the term was
of great concern to the early Augustan critics. This can be also proven by the acerbic
critique from the pen of John Dennis landed on the original version of the Essay and
published in his already mentioned Reflections Critical and Satyrical. One after the other,
Dennis picks up the lines of the Essay concerned with wit and tears them to shreds, commenting that [w]herever this Gentleman talks of Wit, he is sure to say something that
is very foolish (411). Dennis takes notice of the ambiguity with which Pope uses the
term. Finding fault with the four lines as they appeared in the first edition of the poem:
What is this Wit that our Cares employ, / The Owners Wife that other Men enjoy? /
The more his Trouble as the more admird, / Where wanted scornd, and envyd where
acquird (Dennis, Reflections Critical and Satyrical 411) he says: [...] what does he mean
by acquird Wit? Does he mean Genius by the word Wit, or Conceit and Point? (411).
If by wit Pope means Genius, it cannot be, as Genius is never acquired, if he uses the
term to mean conceit, point, it does not make sense at all, as those are things that ought
never to be in Poetry, unless by chance sometimes in the Epigram, or in Comedy, where
it is proper to the Character and the Occasion; and evn in Comedy it ought always to
give place to Humour (411). Denniss conclusion is marked with scathing criticism of
both the poem and its author:
He dictates perpetually, and pretends to give Law without any thing of the Simplicity or Majesty
of aLegislator, and pronounces Sentence without any thing of the Plainness or Clearness, or
Gravity of aJudge. Instead of Simplicity we have little Conceit and Epigram, and Affectation.
Instead of Majesty we have something that is very mean, and instead of Gravity we have
something that is very boyish. And instead of Perspicuity and lucid Order, we have but too
often Obscurity and Confusion. (ibid.)

I believe that Arthur Fenner is right in suggesting that another layer of historical
context should be taken into account when reading the poem when he says Popes
contribution to arather bitter warfare then raging between the wits and their critics,
awarfare which had included the Ancients and Moderns controversy, Colliers Short
View and the many replies to it, Blackmores Satyr Against Wit, and several Spectator
essays (238).
For Fenner, the Essay is first and foremost a defense [sic] of poets against foolish and
hostile critics in tones that shift gradually from banter to apassionate plea (ibid.). The
banter is clearly discernible in the opening lines:
Tis hard to say, if greater Want of Skill
Appear in Writing or in Judging ill;
But, of the two, less dangerous is thOffense,
To tire our Patience, than mis-lead our Sense:
Some few in that, but Numbers err in this,
Ten Censure wrong for one who Writes amiss;

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AFool might once himself alone expose,


Now One in Verse makes many more in Prose.

(An Essay on Criticism, ll.1-8)

Fenner contends that these lines should be read to mean that it is hard to say which
is aworse bungler, but surely abad poet is less dangerous to us than abad critic, and
in recent years bad critics have become ten times more numerous (238) and recall the
critical wars raging during the time the poem was written.
In Emile Audras and Aubrey Williamss introduction to the Twickenham edition of
the Essay the term is approached both from the point of view of the immediate context
of the poem and in abroader context as akey item in the vocabulary of the Augustan
literary criticism. Audra and Williams also explain why Pope chose the term as the poems central theme and what function it had on the contemporary literary scene. They
claim that Popes poem dealing with the nature of poetic art both from the point of view
of the poet and the critic is an uncompromising synthesis of all the moods and strains
current in the neoclassical literary criticism. The fact which has been bothering many
modern literary critics and readers alike the poems apparent obscurity and loose and
contradictory usage of such central terms as nature and wit is interpreted as Popes
deliberate attempt at formulating the principles of the neoclassical criticism. The poem
is aresult of Popes preference to maintain the complications issuing from the highly
eclectic set of values at work during the period rather than succumbing to the simplifications of artistic truth. The Essays antithetical reality is not obscured but emphasized
intentionally by Pope whose main goal is to harmonize the opposing attitudes of several
critical schools (Audra and Williams 213).
If it appears then that Pope uses his key word of choice as apart of often contradictory
assertions, we should understand that he does so for areason. Audra and Williams proceed to give an account of the words usage story from roughly 1650 to 1710. Similarly
to Spingarns approach, they follow the wit-versus-judgement line of the development.
These two notions in fact symbolize two opposing forces in the evolution of the ideas
concerning literary art and its (in)capability to access truth. In association with poetry,
wit which till the Renaissance had been itself very closely connected to rhetoric is
opposed to rational reasoning whose popularity was growing stronger as the seventeenth century advanced towards its end. The French logician Peter Ramus reassigned
the anciently established five parts of the art of rhetoric (i.e. invention, arrangement,
memory, expression (style) and delivery) so that it included only expression and style,
while the three other parts were now included in dialectic (215). This division reduced
the function of rhetoric to aconcern with mere ornamentation of truths that logic was
happy enough to discover.
An important consequence of this division was the tendency to associate wit with the
merely pleasing, ornamental, fanciful, impetuous, and insubstantial. According to Audra
and Williams, this means that [t]he ultimate effect of such a line of thought as this
would be the trivialization of poetry itself: the faculty of wit and the figurative language
it inspires are seen as unrelated to truth and real knowledge, to things as they are

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because the figurative language is of the essence of poetry, the denial of its ability to
express truth is the denial of the value and dignity of poetry (217).
Compared to Drydens usage of wit throughout his literary career, Popes employment
of the term is similarly diffuse in the space of asingle poem. Pope, for whom the main
sense of wit in the poem seems to be synonymous with invention or creative impulse,
could not agree with this concept of wit-as-ornament and therefore attempts to blur
the distinctions between wit and judgement. However, there are many couplets in the
poem which still cause disagreement among the modern critics. The common argument
of the period that wit needs to be controlled by judgment is recounted by Pope in the
lines that There are whom Heavn has blest with store of Wit / Yet want as much again
to manage it (ll. 80-1, 212). Audra and Williams suggest that the apparent paradox of
this couplet was however no confused ambiguity, as is often believed, but avery clear
authorial intention as some thirty years later, Pope revised the lines and preserved its
equivocal character: Some of whom Heavn in Wit has been profuse, / Want as much
more, to turn it to its use (213). On the other hand, William Warburton prefers to
think that in the original version of the poem where these two lines read: There are
whom Heavn blest with store of Wit, / Yet want as much again to manage it (The
Works of Alexander Pope 326), in the first line wit is used, in the modern sense to mean
the effort of imagination; in the second line it is used, in the ancient sense, for the
result of judgment. Warburton asserts that Pope wanted to give the reader ahard
time puzzling over these lines, which in the first version draw too much attention to
the semantic shift (from the lower kind of wit , i.e. imagination to the higher kind
of wit, i.e. judgment or reason) and he endeavoured to keep this shift out of sight
by altering the lines into the final version: Some, to whom Heavn in wit has been
profuse, / Want as much more, to turn it to its use (p. 327). My understanding of
the two lines is that the change in phrasing actually heightens the sense of paradox,
thus reaching the effect of meta-wit discussed in the first chapter.

3.2.3 From Wild Heap to Nature to Advantage Dressd: Popes Dual


Conception of Wit
As has been suggested by the above mentioned critics, Popes conception of wit in the
Essay is an uncompromising synthesis of roughly dual structure. Iwould like to test this
assumption by closely analyzing the Essay on Criticism as well as Popes other texts. In
aletter to William Wycherley Pope agrees with the playwright that
[...] whatever lesser Wits have risen since his [Drydens] Death are but like Stars appearing
when the Sun is set, that twinkle only in his absence and with the Rays they have borrowed
from him. Our Wit (as you call it) is but Reflection or Imitation, therefore scarce to be calld
ours. True wit, [], may be defind as aJustness of Thought and aFacility of Expression; or []
aperfect Conception with an easy Delivery. (The Correspondence of Alexander Pope 2)

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Three years later, boldly opposing the older playwrights suggestion that sprightliness
of wit despises method, Pope says:
This is true enough, if by Wit you mean no more than Fancy or Conceit; but in the better notion of Wit, considerd as propriety, surely Method is not only necessary for Perspicuity and
Harmony of parts, but gives beauty even to the minute and particular thoughts, which receive
an additional advantage from those which precede or follow in their due place: (34)

The better notion of wit is clearly anod in the direction of the neoclassical efforts
to dignify the term which will be the main mission of Joseph Addisons and Richard
Steeles Spectator. There are other lines of the Essay as well as Popes other texts that
testify approval to this shift: But true Expression, like thunchanging Sun, / Clears and
improves whateer it shines upon (An Essay on Criticism, ll. 315-6). The idea of wits timelessness is of course arevamped line True Wit is everlasting like the Sun borrowed
from the Essay on Poetry (1682) whose author, John Buckingham, Earl of Mulgrave, was
a great friend and patron of Popes. In another instance Pope describes with almost
Drydenian imagery the ill preferences of older times: Some to Conceit alone their Taste
confine, / And glittring Thoughts struck out at evry line / Pleasd with aWork where
nothings just or fit; / One glaring Chaos and wild Heap of Wit ( ll. 289-91). And, like
Dryden himself, Pope is perfectly capable of straying from his own theoretical precept
to composing an example that defies it as these line of his Elegy to the Memory of an
Unfortunate Lady testify:
Most souls, tis true, but peep out once an age,
Dull sullen prisners in the bodys cage:
Dim lights of life, that burn alength of years
Useless, unseen, as lamps in sepulchres;
Like eastern kings alazy state they keep,
And close confind to their own palace, sleep.
(The Rape of the Lock and Other Poems 341, ll. 17-22)

Being sometimes called Elegy on the Death of an Unfortunate Lady, the poem clearly
recalls lines of Drydens To the Duchess of Ormond (imprisond in so sweet a cage, /
Asoul might well be pleasd to pass an age), and Donnes The Second Anniversary (She,
whose faire body no such prison was, / But that asoule might well be pleasd to passe
/ An age in her) respectively, thus propelling the Metaphysical penchant for glittering
thoughts Pope refuses to consider valuable. In 1706 Pope writes in aletter to Wycherley
that Donne had definitely more Wit than he wanted Versification: for the great dealers
in Wit, like those in Trade, take least Pains to set off their Goods; while the Haberdashers of small Wit, spare for no Decorations or Ornaments (quot. in Meyer Spacks 127).
Here, Pope struggles with the overwhelming tradition of the Metaphysical poets. On the
one hand, he regards them unworthy of following because of their lack of discipline, on
the other he is clearly susceptible of the creative energy of their genius this dilemma

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makes it difficult for him to arrive to anegative final judgment of (all of) them. And Pope
also comments on wit in the notes to his translation of Homers Iliad: There cannot be
atruer kind of wit, than what is shewn in apt Comparisons (107). Gradually, however,
Pope finds that wit must be understood and employed in all its complexity to be of any
use or, as Meyer Spacks puts it, [w]its function as ordering power is as important as its
creative force (113). The imagery of the Essay testifies to this fragile balance.
The pro-creation aspect of wit in the Essay can be to acertain extent attributed to
Drydens influence on the poem, which is usually felt to be quite substantial but difficult
to locate. Iagree with John Sitter that it is most visible in Popes consistent adoption
of the pleasure principle (genrous Pleasure to be charmd with Wit (l. 238)) Dryden
takes for granted and in the Essays broad insistence, which also follows of necessity,
that wit is nothing if not good writing. What must be understood by good writing is the
act of poetic creation, production in short work. Here, wits materiality as opposed
to the neoclassical attempts to ennoble it with abstraction becomes very conspicuous.
Pope reminds his readers that [p]oetry is always aphysical labor and pleasure (Sitter
86). The charm of wit referred to in line 238 can be only apprehended by the readers
if they are fully aware of the physical labour the poet puts into the production of the
poem. Isuggest expanding Sitters observation by adding that the pleasure of creation
of poetic texts may even be linked to sexual pleasure that wit becomes associated with
in the Essay.
The sexual metaphors are pervasive throughout the Essay failure in the attempt at
wit is equivalent to sexual failure in But Dulness with Obscenity must prove / As shameful
sure as Impotence in Love (ll. 532-3). When Pope dramatically poses the basic question:
What is this Wit, which must our cares employ? (l. 500), he immediately answers himself: The Owners Wife, that other Men enjoy (l. 501), and, in perhaps the most crucial
and certainly most often quoted couplet of the poem wit and judgment are paired in
amost difficult yet fundamental relationship that of matrimony: For Wit and Judgment
often are at strife, / Tho meant each others Aid, like Man and Wife (ll. 82-3). The ideal
of total complementarity and sufficiency is almost utopian and the poem keeps stressing
the near-impossibility of reaching this harmony.
In discussing wit or conceits, Pope argues that true wit exists in the harmonious
relationship among idea, image, and expression, thus effectively imposing upon the
rebellious faculty of wit astandard of propriety and justness. The pro-discipline aspect
stresses the power of wit as aclarifying, thus an order-bringing element and in association with Sun (true Expression, like thunchanging Sun, / Clears and improves whateer it
shines upon) it is transfigured into divinity. Wit concerns itself with The naked Nature
and the living Grace, thus being equivalent to the vast energy of divine and graceful
nature (l. 294). The mysterious creative energy of the first aspect of wit becomes the to
Advantage drest Nature of the latter aspect True Wit is [] ; / What oft was Thought,
but neer so well Exprest (ll. 297-8) in another, hugely popular, yet often slated couplet in
the first part of the poem. The tension between what is thought and what is expressed reminds us of the material nature of wit, and at the same time opens anew track of Popes
agenda which has already been announced in the first part of this subchapter that of

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the poet-critic as ahero. Popes idea of ideal critic and wits role in it will be the topic
of the concluding part of this subchapter, in which Iwill show how to read the intricate
relationship between the individual artist, his guild and wit. As we will see, this relationship shares certain points of interest with Addisons understanding of wit ameans to
moderate wits first aspect with morality, but still maintains aunique point of view.

3.2.4 Pope and Addison I: Pride, Vanity and Wit


Addison reviewed Popes Essay extensively in the Spectator No. 253 of 20 December 1711.
He gave the poem high praise, asserting that the poetry and the expression were admirable though the sentiments, excusably, were not new. The passages to which Addison took
exception were those which reflected upon Denniss critical tantrums and he also hinted
at apossible streak of envy and malevolence of Popes character when he claimed: I am
very sorry to find that an Author, who is very justly esteemed among the best Judges, has
admitted some strokes of this Nature [envy and detraction] into avery fine Poem []
which [] is aMasterpiece in its kind (The Spectator 482). The somewhat pontifical air
of the paper was precisely what was needed to wound and enrage the abnormally sensitive younger poet and this minor criticism adumbrates the falling out of the two authors
that was to follow in afew years time. More significantly though, Addisons jab at Pope
introduces us to the conjunction of aesthetic and ethics. More specifically, it zooms in
on the questions of the relation of moral qualities of apoet or acritic which is closely
intertwined with the poems discussion of wit.
The correlation between moral and aesthetic obligations becomes the central topic of
the last part of the Essay, even though we can see hints scattered throughout the whole
poem. For example, early in the first part, Pope refers to a Criticks noble name! (l. 47).
This phrase suggests apossibility (which later in the poem will become necessity) of close
connection between the artistic and the ethical in acritic. In this aspect Pope follows
Boileau who expresses asimilar necessity in the fourth part of his LArt Potique. Here,
Ibelieve Patricia Sparks is wrong when she asserts that Pope and Boileau disagree about
this matter. She contends that in his poem the French critic implies apossible antithesis
between good man and good poet-critic, supporting her claim with the following lines
from Boileaus poem (she quotes them in French only, without providing the English
translation): Que les vers ne soient pas votre ternel employ. / Cultivez vos amis, soyez
homme de foi. / Cest peu dtre agrable et charmant dans un livre, / Il faut savoir
encore et converser et vivre (Spacks, Imagery and Method in An Essay on Criticism117).
She suggests that these lines demonstrate that in Boileaus conception of the artist one
can be agreeable or even charming in abook without being so in life; to devote oneself
to the eternal occupation of verse is to neglect the responsibilities of personal morality. Ibelieve that Spacks misreads Boileaus lines. Compare her interpretation with the
English adaptation of these lines by Soames and Dryden: Let not your only business be
to write; / be virtuous, just, and in your friends delight. / Tis not enough your poems
be admired; / bur strive your conversation be desired (The Continental Model, 263). In

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my opinion these lines emphasize the need to live beyond book agood writer needs
to cultivate his or her own personal relationships, for it is not enough to be charming
in abook, virtuosity is the main goal of every artist. For Pope as for Boileau, for that
matter no such dissociation which Spacks seems to be implying is possible: the identity
between good critic and the good man is simply necessary, not just possible.*
The third part of the poem constantly emphasizes the association of criticism and
good manners. When Pope urges that one should not let the Man be lost in the critic,
he adds, Good-Nature and Good-Sense must ever join; /To Err is Humane; to Forgive,
Divine (ll. 524-5), he is urging the fellow-critics to partake of divinity through high morality. The message the conduct of the good critic is that of the good man is clear
even though occasionally Pope swerves to amore general advice, for example As Men
of Breeding, sometimes Men of Wit, / Tavoid great Errors, must the less commit (ll. 25960). Here Meyer Spacks insightfully comments: Commitment to the realm of wit, []
requires self-discipline, self-knowledge, relinquishment of lesser ideals (120).
Good breeding and, consequently, good taste, is also contrasted to artifice and vanity of false wit both in conduct and in artistic preferences. The ideal critic, Pope
asserts, is well-bred though learned and sincere though well-bred as well as blest
with aTaste exact, yet unconfind (ll. 635, 639). He also must possess knowledge both
of Books and Humankind because Tis not enough, Taste, Judgment, Learning, join
(l. 640, 562). Therefore, the good critic should let Truth and Candour shine in his
judgment and perhaps most significantly has to have a Soul exempt from Pride (l.
563, 641).
As Arthur Fenner points out, the idea of pride is lurking behind every other line
of the poem. For Augustans pride was the super-category in which most sins could be
included, because any violation of Gods law is arefusal to take ones proper (subordinate) place in the Chain of Being He has created. To try to be something one is not as
does bumpkin in regal purple, or an ape dressed like our grandsires (l. 321, 332) is to
disrupt the hierarchy of Nature (Fenner 237). Agood poet and critic must follow Nature (l. 68), and not only where she has set standards for poetry, but where she has fixd
the Limits fit to acritics mental powers, And wisely curbd proud Mans pretending
Wit (ll. 52-3). Modern critics, the second part of the Essay suggests several times, have
not followed Nature, but have left their proper places in her hierarchy: Poets, aRace
long unconfind and free, / Still fond and proud of Savage Liberty, / Receivd his [Aristotles] Laws, and stood convincd twas fit / Who conquerd Nature, shoud preside oer
Wit (649-52). False learning and wit has turned some into coxcombs Nature meant
but fools who in search of wit lost their common sense (ll. 27-8); others are not even
aspecies at all unsuccessful poets turned critics, unnatural and deformed things which
can pass for neither: Some have at first for Wits, then Poets past, / Turnd Criticks next,
*) My reading of the passage is also consistent with the editor of Boileaus work, D. Nichol Smith, who comments on these lines says that Boileau carried out his own instructions to the letter. He cultivated the
friendship of the leading writers of the time, and in particular of Racine, Molire, and La Fontaine ; and
he was adecided force in aconversation. For more details on Boileaus relationships with other French
authors, see Boileau, LArt Potique (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1915), p. 93.

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and provd plain Fools at last; / Some neither can for Wits nor Criticks pass, / As heavy
Mules are neither Horse nor Ass (36-9).
For Pope, then, wit is the perfect balance between the raw energy of the poetic creation (represented by Liberties of Wit) on the one hand and the structuring faculty that
channels this energy (represented by Wits Fundamental Laws) (l. 717, 722) on the other.
Apoet who is capable of achieving this harmony, can become acritic who Supream in
Judgment, as in Wit, / Might boldly censure, as he boldly writ (657-8). Acritic, who is
not apoet himself, must nevertheless possess the same faculty: A perfect Judge will read
each Work of Wit / With the same Spirit that its Author writ (233-4).
As we have seen, Popes poem and the ideas on wit expressed in it are consistent, but
often obscure and difficult to disentangle. The poet puts forward an authoritative theory
or set of rules which if followed will provide for establishment of anew discipline of
literary criticism. Therefore, Icannot agree with David B. Morris who contends that the
Essay on Criticism reclaims the legacy of John Dryden for English critics, endorsing his
principles, backing his often speculative and exploratory spirit of inquiry, and providing asecure, compact, flexible theory of criticism to stabilize the practice of his English
successors (34). Ibelieve that Popes treatment of the topic is much more authoritative
and prescriptive than Drydens. Also, while continuing to expand some of those themes
Dryden concerned himself with, Pope is much more aware of the wide scope of wits
meaning, utilising it in asignificantly more creative and sophisticated manner than the
older poet. In the following subchapter Iwill explore to what extent Popes conception
of the term differed from that of Joseph Addison, the father of the early modern journalistic style.

3.3 Joseph Addison and the Aesthetics of Neoclassical Wit


As has been mentioned in the introduction, the Spectator scholarship has been rather
scarce. Only one major study has been published in the last two decades Brian McCreas Addison and Steele Are Dead: The English Department, its Canon, and the Professionalization of Literary Criticism. McCreas central interest lies in identifying and analyzing the
strategies Addison and Steele employ to secure as large readership as possible for their
paper, assuming that their main motivation was popularity. To be read by as many people
as possible, the paper must be written in aclear language, hence any sort of ambiguity or
tendency towards metaphorical mode of expression is an unwelcome, detrimental even,
feature of the discourse of the journal. McCrea devotes awhole chapter to this simple
claim, quoting various passages from the Spectator and elsewhere, focusing on Addisons
attack of puns and false wit. After my analysis of wit in Addisons texts, Iwill come back
to some of McCreas claims in order to contrast them with my own reading of the issues
raised by him in regard to wit. Iwill conclude this subchapter by comparing Addisons
and Popes usage of the term in alarger context of their artistic agendas and styles.

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3.3.1 The Spectator and the Neoclassical Criticism


The Spectator was adaily periodical founded by Joseph Addison and Richard Steele who
were the journals main contributors. Each paper was approximately two thousand
words long, and the original run consisted of more than five hundred numbers which
were collected into seven volumes. After ashort hiatus the paper was revived without the
involvement of Steele in 1714, appearing three times in aweek for six months. These papers were then collected to form the eighth volume. The goal of the Spectator as stated
in its tenth issue was to enliven Morality with Wit, and to temper Wit with Morality
and to bring Philosophy out of Closets and Libraries, Schools and Colleges, to dwell
in Clubs and Assemblies, at Tea-Tables and Coffee-Houses (The Spectator I44). One of
its functions was to provide readers with educated, topical talking points, and advice in
how to carry on conversations and social interactions in a polite manner. In keeping
with the values of Enlightenment philosophies of their time, the authors of the Spectator promoted family, marriage, and courtesy. George Saintsbury suggests that Addison
supervised the overall scope of the paper, which was written on adeliberate system, and
divisible into three groups the first group consisting of the early papers on true and
false wit (Nos. 58-63), and of essays on the stage, the second focusing on the elaborate
criticism of Miltons Paradise Lost (Nos. 267-86), and the third containing the series on
the pleasures of the imagination (Nos. 411-18) (Saintsbury 173).
What unites these three groups of papers and in fact runs as ared thread through
Addisons whole work is the concern with language and its role in the educating and
civilizing process of the early modern reader. In this subchapter, Iwill attempt to trace
this red thread of language and especially its relationship to verbal wit atopic to which
Addison devoted much attention. Apart from the Spectator papers, I will also look at
some of his much less known texts, mainly Notes on Some of the Foregoing Stories in Ovids
Metamorphoses (1697) and Dialogues Upon the Usefulness of Ancient Medals (1721).

3.3.2 The Spectator Series on Wit


Michael G. Ketcham identifies four methods for defining wit in the Spectator series (i.e.
series on criticism and taste): (1) analytical method consisting in separating what Addison calls false, true and mixed wit; (2) historical method by tracing the history
of wit from classical through Gothic and modern times; (3) applying the conventional
categories of neoclassical criticism in wit the first Race of Authors, who were the great
Heroes in Writing, were destitute of all Rules and Arts of Criticism; and for that Reason,
though they excel later Writers in Greatness and Genius, they fall short of them in Accuracy and Correctness (No. 61); and (4) the method of searching for the psychological
explanations Addison contrasts his own definitions with Drydens definition of wit as
a Propriety of Words and Thoughts applied to the Subject (No. 62) (Ketcham 71).
In the first essay on wit (No. 58 of May 7 1711), Addisons main motive is to establish [...] aTaste for polite Writing and he proceeds to set out aplan to trace out the

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History of false Wit and distinguish the several Kinds of it as they have prevailed in
different Ages of the World (The Spectator I245). He is motivated by fear of revival
of those antiquated Modes of Wit that have been long exploded out of the Common-wealth of Letters because lately there have been several Satyrs and Panegyricks
handed about in Agrostick, by which Means some of the most arrant undisputed
Blockheads about the Town began to entertain ambitious Thoughts, and to set up for
Polite Authors (The Spectator I245). In this single sentence, Addison identifies several
important things: One of the poetic forms of false wit (acrostic, i.e. apoem in which
the first letter, syllable or word of each line spells out aword or amessage), association of false wit with the genre of satire and panegyric, and more significantly still his
true motivation for tracing out the history of false wit. False wit is closely associated
with those who try to set up for [polite] authors, i.e. the would-be writers or artists in
general. Addisons real goal is not aesthetic (to establish astandard of taste in writing)
or literary-historical (to summarize the changing poetic styles), but ideological to
defend himself and his profession against those who may wish to infiltrate the guild
and impose upon those whose sensibilities are not as highly trained as to distinguish
between what is agood piece of writing and what is not. In the Art of false Wit, Addison continues, [...] aWriter does not shew himself aMan of abeautiful Genius, but
of great Industry (I 246). He goes on to identify picture-poems (favoured by the Metaphysical poets and often dubbed acrosticks) as another type of false wit and criticizes
them for their derogative attitude towards poetic art: author of such apoem had to
first draw the Out-line of the Subject which he intended to write upon, and afterwards
conform the Description to the Figure of his Subject (I 247). During this creative
process, poetry is treated in an impermissible manner: it is to contract or dilate itself
according to the Mould in which it [is] cast (ibid.). Addison quotes Drydens Mac Flecknoe to support his own position.
In the second essay on wit (No. 59 of May 8, 1711) Addison points out for the first time
the social appeal of awit when he says: there is nothing more certain than that every
Man would be aWit if he could, thus hinting at the increasing social attractiveness of
the status of writer in the early modern European culture (I 249). Those would-be wits
(i.e. authors) are characteristic for the inappropriately painful and futile attempts at establishing this status: [W]ere one to gain [the title of wit] by those Elaborate Trifles [...],
aMan had better be aGally-Slave than aWit (ibid.). He goes on to identify some more
forms of false wit: lipogram (a poem in which acertain letter is omitted), rebus (a poem
in which awhole word is omitted and replaced by an image) and echo-poem (e.g. George
Herberts Heaven (1633)). He quotes a part of Samuel Butlers mock heroic Hudibras
(1664). Addison also associates the origin of these forms of what he calls false wit with
the ancient Greek authors but his criticism is directed at the Metaphysical poets who
revived these poetic methods purely for the sake of being Witty(I 251). The ancient authors (or rulers respectively), practised this kind of wit for some actual purpose (e.g. the
rebus-coin of Caesar, who placed the figure of elephant on the reverse side of the coins.
The word Caesar meant elephant in Punic and it was against laws to place aprivate
mans image on the coin).

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The Christian monks are identified as the main culprits of this vogue of false wit in the
beginning of the third essay on wit (No. 60 of May 9, 1711). The monks as the masters
of learning in the early Christian period took up to this kind of wit which required time
and industry, but not genius and capacity. They not only restored the ancient techniques
of false wit, but also enriched the World With Inventions of their own e.g. anagram,
which is nothing else but aTransmutation of one Word into another, or the turning
of the same Set of Letters into different Words; which may change Night into Day, or
Black into White, if Chance [...] shall so direct (I 254). Here, Addison alludes to the
central danger of language employed in creative way manipulation and deformation
of reality. Also, he adds another feature of false wit: it is not guided by necessity (artistic
or any other), but by mere chance. Again, he emphasizes the disproportional quantity
of time invested into the creation of this kind of writing he recounts astory of aman
who, trying to come up with an anagram for his mistresss name, shut himself up for
half aYear before finally coming up with one (I 255). Other types of false wit include
chronogram (favoured by the Germans) and bouts rimes (favoured by the French).
In the fourth paper on wit (No. 61 of May 10, 1711) Addison mostly attacks punning
and discusses the battle between the Ancients and the Moderns before mentioning the
distinction between false and true wit for the first time. Punning, Addison asserts at the
outset of the essay, is the most frequent kind of false wit:
The Seeds of Punning are in the Minds of all Men, and tho they may be subdued by Reason,
Reflection and good Sense, they will be very apt to shoot up in the greatest Genius, that is not
broken and cultivated by the Rules of Art. Imitation is natural to us, and when it does not raise
the Mind to Poetry, Painting, Musick, or other more noble Arts, it often breaks out in Puns
and Quibbles. (I 259)

He quotes Aristotle (Rhetoric, Chapter 11) who ranks paragram as aproof of good
writing. According to Addison, the age that was most pun-prone was the reign of James
I (1566 1625), i.e. the time of Baroque poetry, marinism, gongorism, Metaphysical
poetry etc. During this time, pun was delivered with great Gravity from the Pulpit, or
pronounced in the most solemn manner at the Council-Table (I 260). Pun infected
the everyday speech, and by extension the reality, it ceased to respect the borders
of its designated area of influence, as Addison observes: The Sermons of Bishop Andrews, and the Tragedies of Shakespear, are full of [Puns] (ibid.). Thus, the religious
practice was undermined by the subversive wit and the same rhetoric was used by
asinner to make repentance in the church as by an actor during asoliloquy on the
stage. Addison is sarcastic about a famous University of this Land, which was lately
Infested With Punns and suggests ironically that the reason might be the nearby fens
and marches (I 261).
Defending the ancient authors who used puns, Addison says they did not know any
better they were destitute of all Rules and Arts of Criticism, and for that Reason,
though they excel later Writers in Greatness of Genius, they fall short of them in Accuracy and Correctness (ibid.). To distinguish several kinds of wit produced by the first

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race of the writers (i.e. the Ancients) was the task of the second race of authors, and
they did so upon the criterion of their being founded in truth. Ancient authors (apart
from Quintilian and Longinus) did not know how to separate false and true wit, because
the distinction was not settled yet. The dichotomy of false and true wit lay at the core of
the establishment of Augustan art criticism. He then continues to locate the revival of
false wit: [it] happend about the time of the Revival of Letters [i.e. Renaissance], but as
soon as it was once detected, it immediately vanishd and disappeard (I 262). Addison
also predicts that it will one day be yet again revived in some distant Period of time, as
Pedantry and Ignorance will prevail upon Wit and Sense (ibid.). Here, wit is of course
the right kind of wit i.e. he true wit.
Finally, Addison defines pun as a Conceit arising from the use of two Words that
agree in the Sound, but differ in the Sense (I 262-3). If a Piece of Wit is true, it needs
to stand the test of translation: if it bears the Test, you may pronounce it true; but if it
vanishes in the Experiment, you may conclude it to have been aPunn (I 263). He then
likens false wit to vox et praeterea nihil (i.e.sounds without sense) and contrasts it to true
wit whose essence lies in the metaphorical Induitur, formosa est: Exuitur, ipsa forma est
(let her be dressed or undressed, all is one, she is excellent still) (ibid).
The penultimate essay on wit (Spectator no. 62 of May 11, 1711) starts by Addison
quoting from Lockes Essay on the difference between Wit and Judgment: [...] Wit lying most in the Assemblage of Ideas, and putting those together with Quickness and
Variety, herein can be found any Resemblance or Congruity thereby to make up pleasant Pictures and agreeable Visions in the Fancy (I 263-4). On the other hand, judgment
lies [] in separating carefully one from another, Ideas wherein can be found the least
Difference, thereby to avoid being misled by Similitude and by Affinity to take one thing
for another (I 264). In Lockes account, metaphor is associated with pleasantries of wit
and fancy and opposed to judgment and reason. Addison approves of this definition of
wit and adds that not every resemblance of Ideas is what we call wit, unless it be such
an one that gives Delight and Surprize to the Reader: These two Properties seem essential
to Wit, more particularly the last of them. The ideas should not lie too near one another
in the Nature of things, for where the Likeness is obvious, it gives no Surprize (I 264).
Apart from the obvious resemblance, some further congruity must be discovered in the
two ideas that is capable of giving the reader some surprise.
Addison then defines true wit as resemblance of ideas while false wit as resemblance
of single letters (as in anagrams, chronograms, lipograms, acrostics), sometimes of syllables
(echo-poems, doggerel rhymes), sometimes of words (puns, quibbles), and sometimes of whole
sentences or poems (picture-poems), and proceeds to introduce athird type of wit: mixt
Wit consisting partly in the resemblance of ideas and partly in the resemblance of
words. This kind of wit abounds in Cowley, Waller, the Italians, occasionally Dryden,
while Milton, Spencer, Boileau, most of the ancient Greeks, are above it. Mixt wit has
innumerable branches, and it is the composition of puns and true wit. Addison disagrees with Drydens famous definition of true wit as Propriety of Words and Thoughts
adapted to the Subject (I 267). This definition, Addison contends, is applicable to good
writing in general. As George Williamson points out, Addison misquotes Dryden here,

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but the misquoting emphasizes the opposition between Addisons position and earlier
perceptions of wit. For Dryden, according to Addisons misreading, wit can be tested by
looking at the work itself, by assessing the proportions between words and thoughts. For
himself, Addison turns to Lockes definition of wit as lying most in the assemblage of
ideas, and putting those together with quickness and variety wherein can be found any
resemblance or congruity, thereby to make up pleasant pictures in the fancy (quoted in
No. 62). Addison modifies his definition, as well, in order to further emphasize an affective psychology: every Resemblance of Ideas is not that which we call Wit, unless it be
such an one that gives Delight and Surprize to the Reader (No. 62). Addison appeals
beyond the formal qualities of the work to the mechanisms of the mind (Ketcham 72).
Iwill devote apart of the following section to the element of surprise and its significance
in Addisons aesthetic theory.
Addison agrees with Dominique Bouhours that no thought can be beautiful that is not
just and does not have its foundation in the nature of things: [...] the Basis of all Wit
is Truth; and [...] no Thought can be valuable, of which good Sense is not the Groundwork (I 268). Boileau is also asupporter of this principle which is the natural Way of
writing, that beautiful Simplicity, which we so admire in the Compositions of the Ancients (ibid.). This ability stems from the strength of genius. Those who lack in it, try
to compensate for it with foreign Ornaments (ibid.). Addison compares these authors
to Goths in Poetry, who, like those in architecture, try to supply beautiful Simplicity
with all the Extravagancies of an irregular Fancy (ibid.).
Doubting the taste of English Poets as well as Readers and calling it extremely
Gothick, he quotes Dryden, who in turn quotes Jean Regnauld de Segrais who distinguishes the readers of poetry according to the capacity of judging into three classes (I
269). Addison only quotes the first, lowest class of the readers: the Rabble of Readers
in other words Les Petits Esprits [who] prefer aQuibble, aConceit, an Epigram, before
solid Sense and elegant Expression: These are Mob-Readers (I 269). In the very last
paragraph Addison returns to Lockes definition of wit and expands it by suggesting
that not only the Resemblance but the Opposition of Ideas does very often produce Wit
(I 270). However, he does not provide details of this suggestion nor does he give any
examples, stating only that he may possibly enlarge upon [this topic] in some future
Speculation (ibid.).
In the last essay on wit (Spectator no. 63 of May 12, 1711) Addison recounts his last
nights allegorical dream of several schemes of wit: In his dream, he enters Region of
false wit, governed by Goddess of Falsehood. Nothing in this land appears natural trees
blossom in leaf-gold, produce bone-lace and precious stones. The fountains bubble in
opera tunes, are filled with stags, wild-boars, and mermaids, dolphins and fish play on
banks and meadows. The birds have human voices; the winds are filled with sighs and
messages of distant lovers. Addison ventures upon agothic building in adark forest it
turns out to be aheathen temple of the God of Dullness. The god is surrounded by his
worshippers: Industry and Caprice. There is an altar covered in offerings of axes, wings,
cut in paper and inscribed with verses (picture-poems). The votaries present include Regiment of Anagrams, Body of Acrosticks, files of Chronograms, Phantom of Tryphiodorus

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the Lipo-grammatist, all engaging in pastime like Rebus, Crambo, and Double Rhymes
(I 271-2). Outside the temple, Addison passes by a Party of Punns, and on his way out
of the region, he meets Goddess of Truth, whose arrival is signalled by a very shining
Light(I 273). On her right side, there marched aMale Deity, who bore several Quivers on his shoulders, and grasped several Arrows in his hand. His name was Wit (I
273). The frontiers of the Enchanted Region were inhabited by the Species of MIXED
WIT, who made avery odd Appearance when they were mustered together in an Army
(ibid.). He goes on to describe the members of the species as follows: There were Men
whose Bodies were stuck full of Darts, and Women whose Eyes were burning Glasses:
Men that had Hearts of Fire, and Women that had Breasts of Snow (ibid.). This big
group divided up into two parts, one half throwing themselves behind the Banners of
TRUTH, and the others behind those of FALSEHOOD (ibid.).
The brightness of Truth makes Falsehood fade away and with her the whole army
shrunk into Nothing, the temple sinks, the fountains recover their murmurs, birds
their voices, the trees their leaves, and the whole Face of Nature its true and genuine
Appearance(I 274). Then Addison inspects the army of true wit: there is the Genius of
Heroic Poetry, Tragedy, Satyr, Rhetorick, Comedy, and Epigram, who marched up at
the Rear and who had been posted thereat the Beginning of the Expedition, that he
might not revolt to the Enemy, whom he was suspected to favour in his Heart(ibid.).
Addison is very much awed and delighted With the Appearance of the God of Wit,
for there was something so amiable and yet so piercing in his Looks that he feels
himself inspired with Love and Terrour (ibid.). The God offers his quiver of arrows
as apresent to Addison who, reaching his hand to accept it knocks it against the chair
and wakes up.

3.3.3 Ambiguity and Surprise: Addisons Aesthetics of Neoclassical


Wit
The ideas on different types and quality of wit expressed in the six Spectator essays on
wit are usually believed to have appeared for the first time in this series. In fact, Addison
voiced most of them some fourteen years prior to the publication of the wit series and,
to my knowledge at least, this fact has so far gone unnoticed. In 1959 Bonamy Dobre
observed that [t]he odd truth is that Addison ceased to develop, to change in any way,
after [...] 1698. Everything he has to say is implicit in the notes to Ovids Metamorphoses of
1697, and his essay on Virgils Georgics (113) but he never gave the specifics of Addisons
arrested development. It is therefore worth devoting some space to these early expressions of Addison. As early as 1697 Addison, commenting on Fable Vin his Notes on
Some of the Foregoing Stories in Ovids Metamorphoses, criticizes playing on words
in Latin authors.
[] as true wit is nothing else but asimilitude in ideas, so is false wit the similitude in words,
whether it lies in the likeness of letters only, as in anagram and acrostic; [...] or whole words,

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as puns, echoes, and the like. Beside these two kinds of false and true wit, there is another of
amiddle nature, that has something of both in it. When in two ideas that have some resemblance with each other, and are both expressed by the same word, we make use of the ambiguity of the word to speak that of one idea included under it, which is proper to the other. [...]
most languages have hit on the word, which properly signifies fire, to express love by, (and
therefore we may be sure there is some resemblance in the ideas mankind have of them;) from
hence the witty poets of all languages, when they have once called love afire, consider it no
longer apassion, but speak of it under the notion of areal fire, and, as the turn of wit requires,
make the same word in the same sentence stand for either of the ideas that is annexed to it.
(The Works of Joseph Addison I150-1)

He then goes on to criticize the middle kind of wit, which he likens to ambiguity,
notably harshly:
Ovid [] is the greatest admirer of this mixed wit of all the ancients, as our Cowley is among
the moderns. Homer, Virgil, Horace, and the greatest poets scorned it, as indeed it is only fit
for epigram and little copies of verses; one would wonder therefore how so sublime agenius as
Milton could sometimes fall into it, in such awork as an epic poem. But we must attribute it to
his humouring the vicious state of the age he lived in, and the false judgment of our unlearned
English readers in general []. (The Works of Joseph Addison I151)

These excerpts from The Notes constitute not only an attack on punning but also an
attack upon ambiguity, even upon metaphors. Only weak poets will rely upon comparisons of the sort illustrated by the metaphor of fire and love. Great poets may stoop
to this mixt wit but only as they submit to the vicious taste and false judgment of
unlearned [] Readers (151).
Brian McCrea suggests that [b]oth Addison and Steele, throughout their writings,
criticize punning, suggesting the motives are of ethical nature: [] Steele opposes
the off-color double entendre of Restoration comedy for moral reasons (McCrea 38).
But, as he contends, the authors opposed the usage of puns and forced conceits
for epistemological as well as for ethical reasons. Insofar as apun depends upon one
word bearing at least two possible meanings, Addison and Steele feel that puns are
confusing, destructive of clarity (38). McCrea believes that Addison naively (by the
standards of modernism and postmodernism) assumes that words can refer to one
idea, and to one idea only. The striking metaphor, the surprising conceit, [...] are to be
avoided indeed, any kind of verbal wit is taboo (39).
As Iwill show, these assumptions are correct only to acertain extent. For now, however, let us pursue McCreas line of argument further. He writes that [t]he uses that
Addison and Steele find for verbal ambiguity (puns, and wit) allegory, repetition, and
personae all reveal how their quest for popularity led them to seek clarity and quotes
Samuel Johnson who rightly observed in his Life of Addison that, His purpose was to
infuse literary curiosity by gentle and unsuspected conveyance into the gay, the idle, and
the wealthy; he therefore presented knowledge in the most alluring form, not lofty and

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austere, but accessible and familiar (37). McCrea further asserts that it is important to
observe Addisons relentless attempt to limit double meanings as expressed in his Dialogues upon the Usefulness of Ancient Medals, especially in Relation to the Latin and
Greek Poets written probably in 1703-05:
The[] learned medallists [] tell us [that], the rabbit, [...] may signify either the great multitude of these animals [] or, perhaps the several mines that are wrought within the bowels of
that country, the Latin word Cuniculus signifying either rabbit or amine. But these gentlemen
do not consider, that it is not the word but the figure that appears on the Medal. Cuniculus
may stand for arabbit or amine, but the picture of arabbit is not the picture of amine. Apun
can be no more engraven than it can be translated. When the word is construed into its idea,
the double meaning vanishes. The figure [...] before us means a real rabbit, which is there
found in vast multitudes. (The Works of Joseph Addison I325)

For Addison, McCrea suggests, meanings of this type are nothing more than puns
and they must be vanquished in order for the act of interpretation to be valid i.e. if
an interpreter wishes to successfully construe the idea upon which the work of art is
based: These ideas, of course, can be represented by figures; the woman on the medal
can stand for Spain. But the correspondence must be exact and one-to-one. The woman
is Spain; the rabbit is arabbit. The rabbit cannot represent both rabbits and mines (McCrea 40). Addison attacks punning and any kind of verbal wit because double meanings
destroy the clarity that he believes is necessary to both build and affect alarge audience.
Thus, McCrea believes [i]n the terms of Jacques Derrida, Addison and Steele willingly
subordinate writing to the rank of an instrument enslaved to afull and originarily [sic]
spoken language (quot. in McCrea 42). Such a view of language also stands against
Terry Eagletons assertion in his Literary Theory: An Introduction that [t]he hallmark of
the linguistic revolution of the twentieth century, from Saussure and Wittgenstein to
contemporary literary theory is the recognition that meaning is not simply something
expressed or reflected in language: it is actually produced by it (ibid.) McCrea therefore concludes that [t]his view of language dominates postmodern literary criticism and
theory and makes Addison and Steele largely irrelevant to the discipline and its professors (ibid.).
We may find many of McCreas assumptions perceptive, even true. Iwish to take issue
with him, however, with regard to his statement that [a]mbiguity is alow kind of wit
because in the nature of things one image should express one idea; one verb should
have one sense. Literature thus should not surprize the reader, but rather should
make sense in anatural, which here becomes asimple and direct, way (65). Against
this assumption (i.e. that literature, or generally, art should not surprise the receiver)
many objections could be raised. First of all, there is Addison himself who says regarding
the mixed type of wit in the Notes that [t]his way of mixing two different ideas together
in one image, as it is agreat surprize to the reader, is agreat beauty in poetry, if there be
sufficient ground for it in the nature of the thing that is described (The Works of Joseph
Addison I147).

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Ibelieve that what Addison really suggests is that under certain conditions mixed wit
can be of aconsiderable aesthetic value. The key means of achieving this value is surprise. The element of surprise and novelty are in fact the key features of Addisons aesthetics which he develops in some of the later issues of the Spectator journal. However, it
is another issue, adumbrated in his earlier work (in this case his Georgics essays published
in 1693), which proves McCreas claim dubious at the very least. There is one clear hint
in the Essay on the Georgics that tells us what direction Addisons later criticism is to take.
After quoting apassage from the second Georgics, he writes:
Here we see the poet considered all the effects on this union between trees of different kinds
and took notice of that effect which had the most surprise and, by consequence, the most delight in it, to express the capacity that was in them of being thus united. [...] This is wonderfully
diverting to the understanding, [...]. For here the mind, which is always delighted with its own
discoveries, only takes the hint from the poet, and seems to work out the rest by the strength
of her own faculties. (The Works of Joseph Addison I156-7)

The stress on the element of surprise, as William H. Youngren rightly observes, was
later to be canonized, under the name of novelty, along with greatness and beauty, as
one of the three great sources of the Pleasures of the Imagination (Youngren 273).
To claim that Addison believes that literature, or art as such, should not provide surprise to its consumer is therefore to seriously misread his ideas on literary art and, consequently, to misunderstand his aesthetics in general. Ibelieve that McCrea not unlike
C. S. Lewis overlooks the distinction between the sphere of everyday communication,
in which ambiguity can be asource of serious and potentially harmful misunderstandings, and the sphere of literature, in which it is welcome as asource of artistic value.
Ibelieve that his emphasis on the motives of Addison and Steeles striving at clarity of
speech is important but perhaps needs to be slightly modified. It is true, of course, that
the two authors had awide accessibility on their minds when producing the texts of the
Spectator. However, given the nature of the paper, its genre and purpose, as they were
stated at the beginning of this subchapter, Isuggest we see this choice of style as aprotojournalistic, not purely literary strategy. In this respect Addisons text differs from Popes
significantly unlike the latter poet Addison writes about wit, but does not demonstrate
it at the same time.

3.4 Wit and Esprit: Points of Accord and Dissonance


This subchapter offers comparative reading of the theories and ideas on wit and esprit
as they appeared in the texts analyzed in the two previous chapters. As Ialready pointed
out in the Introduction, my primary concern is to stress what is different in the authors
opinions rather than to stress presumably obvious similarities. My hypothesis was that
the image of wit and esprit will be despite the fact that the two words have similarly

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3.4 Wit and Esprit: Points of Accord and Dissonance

complex etymology and operate in cultures sharing many characteristic features at


least partially disparate. The objective of this subchapter, then, is to point out and pursue these points of dissonance in order to come up with aclosing argument concerning
the relation of the two terms. Iwill nevertheless begin this subchapter with an account
of the influence of French literary criticism on its English counterpart by summarizing
the views of Dryden, Pope, and Addison in order to the general background of my subsequent analyses.
The readings which follow the introductory section of this subchapter are meant to
juxtapose the texts analyzed Chapters 2 and 3 while utilizing the suggestions and contexts Iintroduced in the theoretical chapter, thus interconnecting all the parts of the
thesis. Bringing together the contexts of wit I proposed for consideration in the first
chapter with the ideas on both of the terms in their specific historical settings in the two
analytical chapters will hopefully yield some previously over-looked perspectives on the
English term which has been the centre of the centre of my interest. In addition, Ihope
the comparative analysis will throw some new light on the ways in which wit is theorized
by the contemporary literary criticism and, also, that it will possibly offer some fresh
insights into the individual authors and their work.

3.4.1 The French Criticism in England: The Question of Influence


The question of the influence of French criticism in England of the second half of the
seventeenth century is arather precarious one. The general opinion is that, unlike in
poetry and drama, where the English were unwilling to give up primacy to the French,
in matters of literary criticism their ideas were heavily informed by the French critical
output. Thus for example A. F. B. Clark claims explicitly that [e]ver since the resumption of literary activities with the return of Charles II in 1660, the eyes of Englishmen
turned towards France as the source of critical light (233), describing the situation as
one of acomplete and unabashed imitation:
[f]rom 1660 onwards, the English criticism derives practically all its theories and laws from
France. Almost every French critical work is translated into English after its appearance and
often goes through several editions in translated form during the eighteenth century. It is not
till the second half of that century that systematic doubts begin to be expressed regarding the
value of the French critics. (ibid.)

Similarly, J.W. H. Atkins suggests that as aresult of the influence of the French criticism, a new field of literary inquiry was opened up in England; anew direction was
given to critical studies; and currency was given to fresh doctrines relating to [] new
standards of literary judgment (Atkins 70). The situation, as perceived by contemporary critics themselves, was one filled with tensions, often of national character, already
hinted at Bouhourss account of bel esprit. Thomas Rymer in the preface to his 1694
translation of Rapins Rflexions sur la potique dAristote (1674) sums it up in a light,

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jocular tone; however, it is important to remember that this was atrue nature of the situation surrounding the status of critics and criticism in the last third of the seventeenth
century:
The Author of these Reflections is as well-known amongst the Criticks, as Aristotle to the Philosophers : never Man gave his judgment so generally, and never was judgment more free and impartial. He might be thought an Enemy to the Spaniards, were he not as sharp on the Italians ;
and he might be suspected to envy the Italiand, were he not as severe on his own Countrymen.
[] (Rapin, Monsieur Rapins Reflections on Aristotles Treatise of Poesie In General 5)

With regard to the English critics, Rymer observes, clearly with personal interest at
stake, that till of late years England was as free from Criticks, as it is from Wolves, that
aharmless well-meaning Book might pass without any danger (2).
Among the English authors, whose texts were analyzed in this chapter, it is mostly
John Dryden who generally speaks up for the French critics and their achievements. In
his Discourse concerning the Original and Progress of Satire (1692), he pays atribute to the
French critics in going back to his early struggles with the problems of composition:
when Iwas myself in the rudiments of my poetry, without name or reputation in the world, having rather the ambition of the writer than the skill; when Iwas drawing the outline of an art,
without any living master to instruct me in it; an art which had been better praised than studied
in England [] when thus, as Isay, before the use of the vast ocean, without any other help than
the pole-star of the ancients, and the rules of the French stage among the moderns. (Clark 234)

In the Dedication to the Aeneis (1697) his admiration for the French critics is expressed
with sheer sincerity: For impartially speaking, the French [critics] are so much better than
the English, as they are worse poets (ibid.). Alexander Pope belongs to anew generation
of critics, who familiarized themselves with the precepts of the French neoclassicism early
in their careers and as much as they were influenced by them, they constantly challenged
them in their works. Thus in the Essay on Criticism he makes abold statement regarding
the resistance of the English to the French writing that critic-learning flourished most in
France, / The rules anation born to serve, obeys; / And Boileau still in right of Horace
sways. /But we, brave Britons, foreign laws despised, / And kept unconquered and uncivilized, / Fierce for the liberties of wit and bold, / We still defied the Romans as of old
(712-8). Similarly Joseph Addison, usually respectful towards the French critics, now and
again becomes uneasy about the constant repetition of diction, design, unities and his
patience gives out occasionally as in the following passage from the Spectator No. 291: A
few rules extracted out of the French authors, with acertain cant of words, has sometimes
set up an illiterate heavy writer for amost judicious and formidable critic (The Spectator
I205). Therefore, even though the modern critics usually evaluate the influence of the
French criticism on the English literary scene of the Restoration period as one of unequivocal agreement, it is important to keep in mind that the actual situation was one of
conflicted nature filled with tensions, be it of personal, national or artistic character.

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Boileaus LArt potique and Popes Essay on Criticism: Wit and language
What connects LArt potique and Essay on Criticism on ageneral level is their common interest in pursuing the matters of poetic production and literary criticism and also alongestablished commonplace that there is not much originality of thought or contribution
of new literary theories in either of them as they both function rather as collecting tank
of the already proposed thoeries. However, by the title of the poem, not An Essay on Poetry but An Essay on Criticism, Pope is differentiating himself from the tradition in anew
perspective. He appears to be raising the Art of Poetry to the second power. Wimsatt
and Brooks comment: In actuality the notion of criticism, when scrutinized, very readily becomes transparent, focusing telescopically on the more concrete matter of poetry
itself, so that what Pope says is actually De Arte Poetica (Neoclassical Criticism 236). This
manoeuvre cannot be found in Boileaus poem, transparently titled LArt potique.
As the analyzed texts by Boileau and Pope show, wit is repeatedly theorized as atwopart concept with one part tending towards unbridled creative impulse which suffers no
restraint and the other part towards surpressing it. Thus they oppose the philosophies
of John Locke and Thomas Hobbes, described in the first chapter of the thesis, both of
which ascribe the dangerous, creative impulse to what they call Fancy or Imagination,
while reserving the controlling, restrictive force to Judgment. This definition of wit has
been contested not only by Pope and Boileau, but also other French critics. For example
La Rochefoucauld, in his Rflexions ou sentences et maximes morales, rejects the separation
of the two mental faculties, claiming that
We are deceived if we think that mind and judgment are two different matters: judgment is but
the extent of the light of the mind. This light penetrates to the bottom of matters; it remarks
all that can be remarked, and perceives what appears imperceptible. Therefore we must agree
that it is the extent of the light in the mind that produces all the effects which we attribute to
judgment.96 (59)

However, even he was not consistent in his opinion and often dissociated wit from
judgment, for example in maxim no. 258 he says that [g]ood taste arises more from
judgment than wit97 (170).
If we agree to link the more unstable part of wit to the act of poetic creation and
the more controlling part to the act of criticism, it becomes clear that Pope, though
balancing the two parts of wit in order to keep within the confines of the neoclassical
doctrine of harmony, manages to playfully smuggle the creative part into the poem.
Thus, atext which is titled Essay on Criticism is in fact apoetic exercise in witty writing. Asimilar concern is absent from Boileaus poem and the tone of the poem is far
more prescriptive than playful. The question of creative attitude towards language is
avery complex one and cannot be successfully answered at this moment. However, it
might be noteworthy to consider aclaim of Rupert D. V. Glasgow who with regard to
the language of James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and Jonathan Swift argues that they all
should be sited in [] an Irish tradition, the Gaelic roots of which seem to have been

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conducive to apredominantly playful attitude to language and to be responsible for the


Anglo-Irish heritage of wits (Madness, Masks, and Laughter 80). While avoiding sweeping generalisations, Iwish to suggest that in Popes poem which is officially atreatise of
literary criticism but factually an exercise in verbal wit, there is some evidence to support Glasgows modified claim that the Anglo-Saxon tradition of language relishes
in witty verbal jocularity. Thus, both Pope and Dryden, while avouching their respect
for the neoclassical doctrines based on reason and rules, can be found sinning against
them in their own artistic texts. This paradox is one of the reasons for the tension surrounding the literary criticism of the analyzed period of English literature.
By coming back to the issue of esprit not having asimilarly wide range of meanings
compared to wit in Popes and Boileaus texts (wit is said to have seven meanings, while
esprit only four with the sense of neutral mind being the prominent one) or, by means
of generalisation, in French literary theory of the second half of the seventeenth century, we also come back to the English terms more unstable usage in relation to gender
categories which Idemonstrated in my analyses. We see that the impuls for unrestrained
playfulness is inherent to the English mind which puts up aconstant fight to subdue it
by heightening the feature of control. To carry the point even further, Iwould suggest
that this may be the reason for the uneasiness to theorize wit in aneutral manner in
some of the critical studies which we witnessed in the chronological summary of the
twentieth-century approaches presented in the first chapter. However, this proposition
would deserve amore thorough investigation in order to produce some solid and conclusive results. At this point, Iwill have to leave it in the form of suggestion for future
research and continue with my comparative reading of the two terms.

3.4.2 Wit and Esprit as Signs of Advancement in English and French


Culture
Another point of difference can be drawn between the question of progress of the
French Court as reflected for example by the account of esprit in Mrs Discourse de
lEsprit and the process of refining wit as asign of progress of English literature and its
language, represented in various critical writings of John Dryden. From this point of
view, both terms were seen as signs of quality to borrow an expression from Richard
Scholar in case of the French culture, it was part of the discourse of the French Court;
in case of the English culture, the appraisal was connected directly to the literary sphere.
More importantly however, they were both related to the merging of the literary and
social, mentioned in the introduction to the second chapter with relation to how esprit
was theorized in the works of Dominique Bouhours and chevalier de Mr. Another expression for quality that encompasses both the ideal of noble and pleasant conduct and
the proper style in awork of literary art is decorum. There are many similarities between
the concerns and criteria of decorum and wit and esprit. Originating in rhetorical theories
of Aristotle and Horace, decorum is what prescribes which style is appropriate to which
subject and is responsible for the requirements of purity of genres one of key rules of

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neoclassicism. Social decorum prescribes limits of appropriate social behaviour within


aset situation.
In Mrs Discourse de lEsprit the term esprit is used to emphasize distinction between
the illusory and genuine beauties of the contemporary French Court in comparison
to the old one. Speaking about the current tastes of the members of the polite circles,
the critic observes that [w]hat we are told about the old Court does not suit the taste
of our ladies98 (19). But finally one can be sure that there was little wit at the old
Court99 (20-1). Summarizing the development of the advancement of French culture,
the Court and esprit become the key criteria: How can it be then that this Court is so
different to that which used to be in the old days? Henry the Great who was agood
judge of all things, and who never studied anything but the art of war, and the late
king methinks did not contribute to it very much. The Prince whom we have seen,
had adelicate wit and would say excellent things100 (23).* However, Mr distinguishes the true beauties (vrais Agrmens) from the false ones; the true advancement
of the Court is associated with the first sort: The Court has therefore made some
progress concerning wit and galanterie, but it was achieved under the great Prince
who is admired by the world, and who has plenty of true beauties101 (ibid.). Eventually
the Court emerges from Mrs account as asymbol of shining falsehood (un faux
brillant) which often passes for true esprit: Shining falsehood which is born out of
confused and volatile imagination, passess easily for agreable wit, provided that one
observes closely manners of the Court, and the majority of those who are more skilfull
[...], are convinced that they do not need more than to have studied hard in order to
acquire wit102 (45). This reading of Mrs relationship to the polite society confirms
what was proposed earlier with respect to the critics sceptical attitude towards the
metropolitan way of life. The falseness, artifice and ingenuity, both of social conduct
and as its aesthetic representation are socially localized in Mr. It might be interesting to trace relationship of the dichotomy of the city and court versus the country to
esprit from political perspective in other Mrs texts and correspondence as the Court
usually associated with the King and powers of the State.
Among the English authors, it was John Dryden who first employed the term wit to
differentiate between past and present achievements in the sphere of social conduct
and aesthetics. For instance, in Defence of the Epilogue. An Essay on the Dramatick Poetry of
the Last Age attached to Conquest of Grenada (1672) he writes that [i]f Love and Honour
now are raisd, / Tis not the Poet, but the Age is praisd. / Wits now arrived to amore
high degree; / Our native language more refind and free. / Our ladies and our men
now speak more wit / In conversation than those poets writ (Of Dramatic Poesy and
Other Critical Essays I89). Ihave suggested that Bloomian anxiety of influence might
be in play in Drydens conception of the poetic tradition and the role wit serves in it.
Drydens relationship towards his precursors, although not one of depressed alarm,
suggests acertain amount of tension, as exemplified by these lines: We acknowledge
*) The Prince here is Louis XIV (1638 1711), the Sun King, the late king is Louis XIII (1601 1643), and
Henry the Great is Henri IV (1553 1610).

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them [Shakespeare, Fletcher and Jonson] our fathers in wit; but they have ruined their
estates themselves, before they came to their childrens hands (I 85). If Harold Bloom
claims that the covert subject of most poetry for the last three centuries has been the
anxiety of influence, each poets fear that no proper work remains for him to perform
Isuggest to expand this estimation in order to include Dryden and his generation of
fellow poets defying the weight of poetic achievemnt of the previous authors (Bloom
148). In general, however, wit is regarded by Dryden as ausefeul element in the process of dissociation from the older generation of authors. In the works by Alexander
Pope and Joseph Addison analyzed earlier in this chapter, this relationship is similarly
conflicted, and the distinction between what is considered genuine wit and what only
passes for it in relation to the past and present constitutes agreat part of both of the
authors discussions of wit.
Alexander Pope distinguishes between wit as fancy or conceit and another kind
considerd as propriety which is the better notion of wit (Correspondence of Alexander
Pope 34). The former kind is the wild heap of wit based on conceits and glittring
Thoughts (An Essay on Criticism 289-91). This is the wit of the generation of the Metaphysical poets which is generally rejected by Pope, even though he is forced to make an
exception personified by John Donne, who had definitely more Wit than he wanted
Versification (quot. in Meyer Spacks 127).
Joseph Addisons relationship to the poetic heritage of the the Metaphysical poetry as
an expedient of his distinction between the right and wrong type of wit can be grasped
in three issues of the Spectator series on ballads - Nos. 70, 74, and 85. Seing it as apendant to the already analyzed series on wit (Nos. 58-63), Alfred B. Friedman suggests
that [a]ll the three ballad papers are permeated with an animus against the Gothics
manner of writing against those who have formed to themselves awrong and artificial
taste upon little fanciful writers and authors of epigrams. These are the readers who
(No. 70) are unqualified for the entertainment afforded by an ordinary song or ballad
(Friedman 5). In the Spectator No. 74 Addison writes: Had this old song been filled with
epigrammatic turns and points of wit, it might perhaps have pleased the wrong taste of
some readers (Spectator I290). To emphasize the wrong taste of those who prefer the
poetic devices of the out-dated sort, Addison repeats: If this song had been written in
the Gothic manner, which is the delight of all our little wits, whether writers or readers,
it would not have hit the taste of so many ages, and have pleased the readers of all ranks
and conditions (295).
In the texts of Nicolas Boileau and Dominique Bouhours esprit does not to fulfill the
role of the meter of good and bad poetry or taste. In Bouhourss texts, the two pairs
of friends (Ariste and Eugene and Philanthes and Eudoxe) sometimes use the term jeu
desprit to express the chief failures of the foreign, mostly Italian and Spanish variants
of Metaphysical poetry. Thus when analyzing the hero mourning his his ladys death in
Tassos epic poem La Gerusalemme liberate they criticize the flowery language full of conceits which in their opinion clashes with the tragedy of the scene: Tears and Witticisms
are very disagreeable Company, and grief has no occasion for such Points103 (The Art
of Criticism 48). Jeu desprit is also associated with the excess of this deplorable wit and

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does not agree with the more natural, less ingenious esprit: [T]he Heart explains it self
ill by aturn of Wit, and Iwoud willingly say with aMan of Good Judgment. Idont love
such afar-fetchd beginning, above all in aviolent passion in which Sprightliness has no
part104 (The Art of Criticism 171).

3.4.4 Wit and Esprit: Terminology of New Taste


In generalized terms, it might be said that the dilemmas of wit analyzed in this study are
the result of clash between what Peter France calls demands of truth-telling and sincerity and those of persuasive communication of language (3). This is certainly true as far
as the underlying philosophical principles explored in the first chapter are concerned.
Asatisfying explanation of these dilemmas, particularly with regard to the comparative
point of view of this subchapter, must include discussion of the forming aesthetic category of taste and the role which wit played in it. We have seen the dichotomy of what
the English early modern authors call true and false wit serve as a demarcation line
between the old and new poetic styles and types of taste. In the French, this dichotomy
is captured by the difference between the terms esprit, which has much wider ring of
meanings than the English wit, and jeux desprit, which stresses the verbal playfulness associated with the general idea of false wit more explicitly than its English equivalent.

Esprit, bel esprit, and jeu desprit


Ihave already suggested in my comparison of the use of wit and esprit in Popes and
Boileaus texts that esprit assumes the neutral meaning of mind more often than wit.
This applies as well for theories on esprit of Franois de La Rochefoucauld who in his Reflections on Various Subjects provides an extensive classification of various types of minds
according to their qualities. When faced with the task to describe the bel esprit, La Rochefoucaulds account testifies to the general complications related to vagueness of the
term: The expression Bel Esprit is much perverted, for all that one can say of the different kinds of mind meet together in the Bel Esprit. Yet as the epithet is bestowed on
an infinite number of bad poets and tedious authors, it is more often used to ridicule
than to praise105 (La Rochefoucauld, Reflections 84). The English translation seems to be
equally awkward, as the term esprit is translated as both mind and wit within the space
of asingle paragraph, even though it clearly has the same meaning in all five instances:
There are yet many other epithets for the mind which mean the same thing, the difference lies
in the tone and manner of saying them, []. Custom explains this in saying that aman has wit,
has much wit, that he is agreat wit; there are tones and manners which make all the difference
between phrases which seem all alike on paper, and yet express adifferent order of mind.106
(Reflections 84, emphasis mine).

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Concerning terminology used to express aesthetic appreciation, esprit turns out to be


similarly unreliable and unstable as the bel esprit as my analysis of the aesthetic theory
of Dominique Bouhours in the second chapter suggested: the je-ne-sais-quoi, the sublime,
dlicatesse share features too similar to allow clear and unambiguous distinction of individual traits. Bel esprit seems to emphasize the social dimension of esprit, it never assumes aneutral meaning, very often stands for aperson, and in such acase it is aperson
of a very specific character. Similar to honnte homme, the bel esprit rarely assumes female
identity or is described with adjectives associated with it.

True and false wit


Looking back at Drydens definition of wit, Pope writes: True wit, [], may be defind
as aJustness of Thought and aFacility of Expression; or [] aperfect Conception with
an easy Delivery (The Correspondence of Alexander Pope 2). The dichotomy of true and
false appears in embryonic stage in the theories of Dryden, who wavers between conflicting positions on what qualities wit should be associated with. By modifying Drydens
definition, Pope makes it clear that his ideas on the matter of appreciation are much
less foggy, even if they are often compromised by the irrepressible impulse to deploy
or appreciate the more material, sensuous and subsequently more volatile kind of wit.
Addisons contribution to the classification of the terms is the most conspicuous, if not
trouble-free. Delineating very obvious differences between true and false wit, Addison
falls into atrap of his own making by introducing third, mixed type of wit only to. Associated mainly with punning, i.e. wordplay and the mode of vebal playfulness which
generates ambiguity and destroys clarity, mixed wit is condemned as harmful. At the
same time, nevertheless, Addison allows this mode to retain some aesthetic value by
connecting it with the elements of novelty and surprise, key features of his neoclassic
aesthetics.
The adjectives true and false help to diversify what in fact are the two opposing
yet complementary components of wit the tendency towards verbal playfulness, and
rejection of literal meaning in favour for metaphorical mode of expression, and hence
ambiguity. This falseness is associated with Metaphysical poetry which, at its worst, was
based solely on the principle of verbal ingeniousness, and was governed by the urge to
display ones ability to produce never before used images and metaphors. In the fashionable society, such ability was highly valued for its immediate effectiveness. As some of
the authors Mr in particular demonstrate, it was also atype of ability which was
associated with superficiality and excessive artifice both from the point of aesthetic expression as well as social conduct. The excess of external ornamentalization or exaggerated expressivity be it of poetic language or astyle in the form of far-fetched conceits
or ones demeanour in the form of affectation was what made false wit incompatible
with the requirements for natural and well-balanced aesthetic mode. On the other hand,
true wit signifies what is genuine, unstudied and unpretentious. It is not subject to the
ambition to draw the audiences attention to oneself at all costs. In the sphere of aesthet-

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ics, it exercises acommand over both creative and receptive qualities. As aconcept, it is
more complex than false wit, as it de facto includes some of its features but pairs them up
with the restraint of intensity, measured expression and sober rationalism. The balance
of these two elements is what makes wit true, i.e. avaluable and respected aesthetic
concept.
To my knowledge, there is no equivalent to the systematic approach to this terminology as exemplified by Addisons series on wit in the French aesthetic texts of the early
period. What seems to be obvious, then, is that jeu desprit is the equivalent of false wit.
As for true wit, Ibelieve that it is covered by one of meanings of esprit; and there is no
attempt on the part of the authors analyzed in this study to come up with aqualitative
adjective to emphasize their approval. One obvious reason for this may of course be
that there was never aneed for such aterm, as the expression jeu desprit was sufficiently
distinctive as well as suggestive in its explicit acknowledgment of the element of play.
The term bel esprit seems to be specifically related to the sphere of social contact in the
French context, more specifically with the polite circles represented by the prcieuse salons and the Court. There is no original equivalent of this term in the English language,
but it was adopted and became part of more or less historical terminology where it excusively described acultivated, witty or clever person who uses the mind creatively.

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Conclusion

Conclusion

The aim of this study was to explore the term wit as aparticular historical phenomenon,
presenting it in its past and present contexts. The concept has been treated as ahistorical agent and actor, concentrating in particular on its activity at the crossroads of the
early modern spaces of English literary criticism and theory and the worldly literature
of politeness. The exploration was carried out within linguistic, theoretical, and historical frame, emphasizing the multi-disciplinary dimension of the term, as well as bringing
into the question encounters with the French literary criticism and its usage of the term
esprit. In these encounters, both concepts emerge as markers of anxieties and uncertainties of era of political and social upheaval, countered with renewed urges toward certainty and semantic unequivocalness. The historical agency and development of wit was
examined through its activity in arange of different texts and contexts some of which
are rarely discussed in the contemporary literary criticism.
At the same time, the study emphasized wits vitality and attempted to posit it as aliving concept by suggesting that its current status as a quaint category of verbal cleverness does not encompass the terms potential (Sitter 5). Therefore, the traditional view
of the concepts agency as apredominantly verbal and literary device is challenged by
proposing that the term should be viewed as aesthetic concept rather than arhetoricbased poetic device. For this purpose, Ipresent theory of visual arts and social conduct
of the Renaissance Italy, known as sprezzatura, semiotic model of theatre proposed by
Czech theorist Ivo Osolsob, and atheory of games as sites for wits employability in the
spheres of non-literary nature.
As away of concluding, Iwill highlight some important aspects of wits and esprits
agency in the theories of early modern literary criticism. Iwill further argue that the
textual analyses carried out in the second and third chapters of the thesis attest to the
gradual development of wit from the device of rhetoric-based poetic to the broader and
more flexible field of aesthetics. This in turn confirms the legitimacy of my suggestion
to revaluate the modern concept of wit and to consider it rather as an aesthetic concept,
operative in various artistic theories, than as anarrowly verbal device confined to the
field of literary production. Finally, Iwill suggest topics for further research branching
out of the present study.

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Conclusion

In the theories of the first French author, Dominique Bouhours, Le Bel Esprit introduces a reader-oriented dimension designed to make manifest the moral value of
reading literature (as against those who argue that literature imitates too well and is
therefore immoral) (Cronk 72). Complementing the bel esprit, Le Je Ne Say is an attempt to establish anew literary concept which can defend forcefulness of expression (as
against those who believe that literary discourse, as asecond-degree imitation, is inherently flawed) (ibid.) First of the two analyzed Bouhourss texts Les Entretiens dArtiste
et dEugne reveals clearly the various tensions underlying poetic theory in the 1670s.
Bouhours is evidently sensitive to the dilemmas posed for poetry by anomenclaturist
theory of language. As Cronk suggests, the drift of discussion in the Entretiens, with its
emphasis on the je ne sais quoi and the bel esprit points towards an aesthetic of suggestion an aesthetic which stands in inevitable opposition to the prevailing poetic theory
of unproblematic clarity (70). Bouhours seeks to elaborate upon this notion further in
La Manire de bien penser dans les ouvrages desprit, where he tries out anew term for this
ineffable literary quality, la dlicatesse.
Chevalier de Mr shares the basic premise of Bouhours, i.e. the connection of his
theories of the je-ne-sais-quoi and esprit to the sphere of social decorum. In Discours de
lesprit he expounds his ideas of the latter term to alady stressing the discprepancy between what is genuine esprit and what is mistaken for it. Associating it with judgment,
he rejects falseness and artifice of behaviour and aesthetic experience, metaphorically
defining esprit as a sort of light which has the power to create and reflect things at
the same time. The light metaphor, appearing already in Bouhourss theories, is one
of the most persistent with respect to esprit as well wit. One other point of connection
is the relationship of Bouhours and Mr towards the question of women and their
access to esprit. While Bouhours clearly associated esprit with the masculine quailities,
and presented it as virtually taboo for women, Mrs position is more ambivalent.
Without explicitly addressing the topic, he constantly links women with beauty and
men with courage. Furthermore, in asuggestive list of adjectives, Mr presents simplicity as acommendable quality, as it stands for limited, yet still receptive and agreeable feature.
The emphasis in Boileaus theories on esprit shift from the social to the literary field as
he explores wit as atwo-part concept in his Satires. Both parts participate on the creative
process which requires rationality and control as well as energy and imagination. In my
analysis of the use of the term esprit in Boileaus LArt Potique Iidentify several different
meanings of the term and compare them with the English equivalents in acontemporary adaptation of the poem. Basically, esprit can assume four different roles depending
on which of the two elements and which position towards the aesthetic object is taken.
It can thus assume the role of restrained receiver of the aesthetic experience, one who
appreciates the balance and the rational, or it can assume the identity of ashallow and
easily impressed mind which has weakness for the frivolous and superficial. Asimilar dynamics can be found between the two author-like types of esprit: esprit-ego which is rash
and intuitive as well as highly creative. In order to produce valuable results, it has to be
restrained by amore pragmatic super-ego which is the controlling element in esprit. This

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Conclusion

type of dynamics is in fact fundamental for majority of discussions of the nature of wit
in the English literary and aesthetic theories which Iwill now expound.
John Drydens theories of wit are atypical product of the immediate post-Restoration
years. Influenced by the brand new stream of neoclassic criticism imported from France,
reacting against the English variant of Baroque poetry, and burdened by the weight of
literary achievements of Shakespeare and Jonson, Dryden attempts to both adopt the
new neoclassic doctrines and accommodate the requirements of his own audiences. As
aprolific playwright, his theories of wit make an attempt to conciliate these conflicting
tendencies. This is the reason behind his rather unsystematic attitude towards wit. On
the one hand, he claims that wit is propriety of words and words, on the other, he suggests that it is some lively and apt description, dressed in such colours of speech, that it
sets before your eyes the absent object, as perfectly, and more delightfully than nature,
( Of Dramatic Poesy and Other Critical Essays I207).
Alexander Popes theories, although not as explicitly contradictory as those of Dryden,
clearly attest to the inner tension which as Iclaim is the inherent feature of wit. In
his Essay on Criticism, apoem dealing with the issues of poetic creation and criticism and
heavily influenced by Boileaus LArt potique, he presents asimilar model of wit to that
of the French critic, contrasting the pro-creation aspect of wit to the pro-discipline
aspect. Also similar to Boileau is Popes concern for the moral and aesthetic balance
in the process of artistic creation and appreciation, which can be juxtaposed to the balance of the individual elements of wit. Pope sees wit as the perfect balance between the
raw energy of poetic creation and the structuring, and the order-bringing faculty that
supervises the act of creation. At the same time, Pope is able to playfully utilize the very
concept which he theorizes in the poem which making it aunique proof of the precepts
and ideas expressed in it.
The concern for pragmatic clarity and unequivocalness as opposed to the aesthetic
pleasure of surprise and novelty are at the centre of Joseph Addisons theory of wit. My
reading of his theories was partially informed by a debate with Brian McCrea whose
study, although twenty years old now, is still the most recent study in Addison literary
scholarship. Using Addison as apart of his own agenda, which paradoxically tries
to use the author as aproof why the contemporary literary criticism does not concern
itself with writers like Addison and Steele, McCrea contends that Addison opposed the
element sof ambiguity and surprise in his theories of wit, in order to make his texts accessible to as large numer of readers as possible. However, McCrea simplifies the matter
so that it serves his own case. Addisons main mission stands in asharp contrast with the
elitist nature of the post-World War II English department, nourished by the post-structuralist valorization of inaccessibility (Claiborne Park 662). As much as McCreas claim
brings up many thought-provoking and uncomfortable questions, my concern is that not
only does he manipulate Addison stheory of wit and imagination but that his manipulations are based on misresearched claims. Furthermore, Ifind that McCrea bases his
reading of Addison on aHabermasian premise that the development of English coffeehouse culture and its periodical press marked the emergence of apotentially egalitarian
discursive space, arealm governed more by rational force of the Berger argument than

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Conclusion

by the institutional force of existing power relations (Pollock 707). However, in agreement with Anthony Pollock, Ibelieve that this interpretation of the post-Restoration
public space is compromised, especially with respect to the issues of gender and class
(ibid.).
Addison systematically traces the development of wit in the seventeenth century, coming up with categories of true and false wit, which represent the final encapsulation of
the qualities and features tentatively suggested by the previous theorists. This pinning
down of the vital differences between the two opposing tendencies represents the culmination of the early modern theories of wit as well as abeginning of a new branch of
philosophy of perception, based on categories such as taste, beautiful, and art aesthetics. The ideas on wit expressed by Addison in the wit series of the Spectator were later
developed by him in the series on Pleasures of Imagination, where he formulated his
proper aesthetic theory.
Early modern ideas on wit and esprit explored in this study constitute abody of theory
which revolved around the questions of creative process and modes of reception of its
result. In the comparative subchapter of the third chapter Ipresented several perspectives on how the individual theories differ from one another. Itried to point out the
singularities which emphasized the differences between them. Nevertheless, if we wish
to find some points of agreement, they will appear before our eyes very clearly. The
inherent tensions of the two elements constituting the concept are present in most theories of the French and English critics as well. They approach wit and esprit from various
positions and explore their various aspects; however they face similar basic dilemmas
and reveal identical structure of the term. Accumulating issues of gender, morals, style,
and ideology, theories of wit and esprit unquestionably represent avital part of the early
modern aesthetic discourse.
While this study aimed at presenting the concept of wit from multi-disciplinary point
of view, it did not propose to present acomprehensive account of wits agency either
in its historical or its contemporary context, as such atask is clearly beyond its feasibility and resources. During the period of researching and writing of the study, I have
come across several topics which did not suit my purposes, but which, in my opinion,
deserve further inestigation. The question of the relationship between the political and
ideological scene which during the latter half of the seventeenth century is extremely
interesting in itself and the discourses of wit representsts one of these topics. Although
the issues of style in interaction with the competing ideologies of the day are the key
theme of Robert Markleys study Two-Edgd Weapons: Style and Ideology in the Comedies of
Etherege, Wycherley, and Congreve, where his primary concern are Restoration comedies,
he avoids the question of wit completely. And, last but not least, comparative reading
of the French and English plays with respect to the interplay of wit and politics is also
worth considering.

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1) [] manifeste, [] un dynamism mental particuleir. [...] lambiqut dune poque o nat la
pense moderne.
2) [] dont la gamme des significations est extrmement vaste, at employ pour le traduire, au
prix de beaucoup dquivoques, tant donn le caractre vague du mot franais.
3) [] les Franais, quand ils veulent donner un nom cette facult mentale qui permet de relier
de manire rapide, approprie et heureuse des choses spares et que nous appelons ingegno,
emploient le mot esprit (spiritus), et de cette puissance mentale qui se manifeste dans la synthse,
ils font quelque chose de tout simple, parce que leurs intelligences exagrment subtiles excellent dans la finesse du raisonnement plutt que dans la synthse.
4) 1. Lesprit comme pense, oppos au corps 2. Lesprit comme degree eminent des faculties
psychiques cratrices 3. Lesprit comme tournure partuclire de pense et 4. Lesprit, catgorie
esthtique
5) Esprit dsigne tout le psychisme humain, ou parfois, plus spcialment, les facults intellectuelles (quand on opposes lesprit et le couer cest--dire lintelligance et laffectivit)
ou les facults dinvention (parfois opposes au jugement). Cest en ce sense que les ouvres
littraires et artistiques sont dites ouvres de lesprit : ce ne sont pas seulement des objets
matriellement raliss, mais aussi et surtout les fruits dune activit de la pense.
6) Ce sense est ancien, mais il faut le connatre pour viter des contresens. On adit, surtout au
XVIIe sicle, quun crivain avait de lesprit, l o lon dirait aujourdhui quil adu talent, ou de
gnie. Ainsi Louis XIV disait Mme de Svign, propos dEsther, Racine abien de lesprit.
Ce sense sefface au cours du XVIIIe : Voltaire, auteur de larticle Esprit (Philosophie et BellesLettres) dans lEncyclopdie, lcarte au profit des sense suivants.
7) Cest, dit Voltaire, un mot gnrique qui atoujours besoin dun autre mot qui le dtermine ...
Lesprit sublime de Corneille nest ni lesprit de Boileau, ni lesprit naf de la Fontaine , etc.
Il sagit ici du caractre particulier dun auteur, de son genre propre de pense, de vision du
monde, et de style. partir de ce sens, on aappel Esprit de ... au XVIIIe sicle et dbut de
XIXe, un rsum de loeuvre dun auteur, avec quelques extraits choisis; cet emploi du terme
nexiste plus aujourdhui ; mais, comme titre, il avait en son temps une certaine valeur commerciale.
8) Lesprit est ici une finesse piquante de la pense, qui dtermine la catgorie esthtique du
spirituel.

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9) [] si il se combine bien et facilement avec le comique et le satirique, il ne se confond avec


deux.
10) Des lourdises peuvent faire rire, elles nont pas spirituel ; un lapsus peut amuser, [] , et
dclenche lhilarit, ce nest pas un mot desprit [].
11) 1. Linventivit de rapports inattendus 2. Convenance pertinente des lments ainsi rapprochs
3. Laisance et la lgret 4. La signification.
12) Mirabeau tait capable de tout pour de largent, mme dune bonne action.
13) [] affranchissement [], du banal, du prvu ; jeu dune puissance cratrice, me en libert.
14) [Witz] heit ursprnglich Schauheit oder Findigkeit. Unter den Einfluss der franzsischen
esprit verengt sich der Begriff im 18.Jh. zu seiner heutigen Bedeutung. Dem Satirischen und
der Karikatur verwandt, ist der W. eine durch den Verstand geprgte Form des Komischen. Er
steht damit im Gegensatz zum warmen, gemtvollen, vernnftigen Humor.
15) Sein wichtigstes Bauprinzip ist die Krze (Jean Paul). Als eine einfache Form des Erzhlens
(Jolles) besteht er in der Regel aus zwei Teilen, der W. Erzhlung und der Pointe. Prinzipiell ist
allerdings zwischen Wort-W., Situations-W. (gag) und Handlungs-W. zu unterscheiden. Seine
Pointe stellt zwischen einander sonst fremden Dingen oder Vorstellungen verborgene hnlichkeiten her oder lst eine hochgespannte Erwartungen in nichts aus (Kant, Vischer).
16) Die Grundstimmung des W. ist aggressiv. Das Lachen, das er hervorruft, richtet sich gegen
ethnische Minderheiten (Juden- oder Neger-W.), gegen soziale Randgruppen (Behinderten-,
Irren-W.), gegen bestimmte Berufsgruppen (Arzt-, Lehrer-, Pfarrer-, Richter-W.), gegen die
Regierung (politischer W.) etc.
17) Der W. ist respektlos, hlt sich an keine kulturellen Normen, durchbricht Tabus und ermglicht so die (indirekte) Befriedigung verbotener oder verdrngter Wnsche (Bachtin). Seine
Lust resultiert aus dem pltzlichen Abbau des Hemmnisaufwands, der gegenber den verbotenen Gefhlen, Gedanken oder Triebregungen errichtet worden ist.
18) [] vtip je svou podstatou to sam, co metafora, toti obraz, jeho pouit enkem urychl
ausnadn pochopen neho, co by bylo jinak teba vysvtlovat dosti nesnadno azdlouhav
avzbud tm nai libost.
19) Vtip je tedy zobecnme-li tento posteh ina een jinch loh ne rtorick lohy nkomu
nco vyloit een uritho relativn nesnadnho kolu, een, kter pitom pekvapuje
svou snadnost: dodejme, e toto een je pekvapivj (tedy iinnj), jestlie si pro n nejdeme daleko, jestlie vyuijeme toho, co je po ruce aco pesto jinho pout nenapadlo.
20) Vtipn bude tedy achista (ale tak fotbalista nebo volejbalista), vyuije-li situace, kterou nm
soupe sm namhav vytvoil, vtipn bude odpov, uije-li slova nebo obratu, skterm vyrukoval partner i protivnk, vtipn bude een rovnice, vyuije-li souvislost pedchozm postupem ji vytvoench, vtipn bude prce skladatele, vyt-li pekvapiv bohatstv zchudikho
motivku nebo doke-li [] zmnit knepoznn cel charakter tmatu, vtipn bude kompozin
prce spisovatele, nebude-li se pachtit s tm, aby vymlel pro novou djovou funkci novou
postavu, ale vyuije-li postavy pvodn vymylen pro jinou funkci, aob funkce spoj [].
21) [] vtipn je prost zdnliv odboka, zn se neekan vyklube vhodn zkratka anejkrat
spojen kcli.

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22) U Aristoteles spojuje vtip smetaforou: metafora vak nen nic jinho ne model, jene model
o patro v : to, co dl modelovn svcmi (toti e je bere jako nhraky jinch vc), dl
metafora sjejich nzvy. Spojme tedy vtip smle nejen smetaforou, ale is modelem. Vynlez
modelu je ostatn klasicky vtipn een: nenamh se zskat to, co kdispozici nen, avyuv
toho, co kdispozici je, adokonce ztoho nedostatku udl nejvt vhodu.
23) Kad divadlo (ve smyslu dramatick dlo) modeluje komunikaci komunikac: bere to, co
kdispozici je adl ztoho model on komunikace, oni jde akter kdispozici nen.
24) Pokud lo ojazyk, nezstalo pi snaze vytbit ho, zbavit ho obhroublost aodliit se jm od
zvulgarizovanho, machiavelismem nasklho hedonismu nov spoleensk vrstvy.
25) [] conversations libres & familires , quont les honnestes gens, quand ils sont amis, & que
ne laissent pas destre quelquefois spirituelles, & mesme savantes, quoy quon ne songe pas
y avoir de lesprit, & que ltude ny ait point de part. (2)
26) Le vray bel esprit , [] , que ce discernement exquis appartient plus au bon sens , quau bel
esprit ; & cest se mprendre , que de le confondre avec je ne say quelle vivacit qui na rien
de solide. Le jugement est comme le fonds de la beaut de lesprit: ou pltost le bel esprit
est de la nature de ces pierres precieuses , qui nont pas moins de solidit , que dclat. Il ny
arien de plus beau quun diamant bien poli & bien net ; il clate de tous costez , & dans toutes
ses parties. (235-6)
27) Cest un corps solide qui brille ; cest un brillant qui ade la consistence & du corps. Lunion
, le mlange , lassortiment de se quil adclatant de solide , fait tout son agrment tout son
prix. Voil le symbole du bel esprit , tel que je me limagine. (236)
28) Il ya du solide & du brillant dans un gal degr: cest le bien dfinir , le bon sens qui brille.
Car il ya une espece de bon sens sombre & morne , qui nest gueres moins oppos la beaut
de lesprit , que le faux brillant. Le bon sens dont je parle , est dune espece tout differente: il
est gay, vif , plein de feu , [] , il vient dune intelligence droite & lumineuse , dune imagination nette & agreable. (236)
29) [] fait que lesprit est subtile, & quil nest point vapor; quil brille , mais quil brille point
trop ; quil conoit proptement tout , & quil juge sainement de tout. (236-7)
30) Un vray bel esprit songe plus aux choses quaux mots[] les ornements du langage. (237)
31) un don du ciel [] je ne say quoi de divin (234).
32) les choses telles quelles sont en elles-mesmes. (235)
33) tous les objets dans leur jeur, les veritez les plus obscures (254).
34) [l]a beaut de lesprit est une beaut masle & genereuse , qui na rien de mol, ni deffemin.
(237)
35) les beaux esprits sont un peu plus rares dans les pas froids , parce que la nature yest plus
languissante & plus morne pour parler ainsi [] le bel esprit tel que vous lavez dfini , ne
saccomode point du tout avec les temperament grossiers & les corps massifs des peuples du
Nord (270).
36) [cest] ltoile de la nation franaise davoir prsentement ce beau tour desprit que les autres
nations nont pas (271).
37) on dirait que tout lesprit & toute la science du monde soit maintenant parmi nous , & que
tous les autres peuples soient barbares en comparaison des Franois [] je ne say rien de plus
commun dans tout le Royaume , que ce bon sens delicat yestoit si rare autrefois

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38) Ce beau feu & ce bon sens [] , ne viennent pas dune complexion froide & humide : la froideur & lhumidit qui rendent les femmes foibles , timides , indiscrettes , legeres , impatientes
, babillards , []les empeschent davoir le jugement , la solidit , la force , la justesse que le bel
esprit demande. [] elles ne sont pas trop raisonnables.
39) [] le bon sens qui brille [].
40) il faut encore yavoir une certain clart que tous les grands genies nont pas (246-7).
41) il ya des je ne say quoy universels, dont tout le monde est touch galement.
42) je ne say quoy dun autre ordre [] [] le je ne say quoy est de la grace aussi bien que de
la nature et de lart. []; [C]ette grace, dis-je, quest-ce autre quoun je ne say quoy supernatural, quon ne peut expliquer, ni comprendre?
43) [] les grand maistres [] ont tasch tojours de donner de lagrment leurs ouvrages, en
cachant leur art avec beaucoup de soin, et dartifice.
44) [] trop dart. Le cur sexplique mal dabord par un jeu desprit, & je dirois volonriers avec
un homme de bon goust. Je naime pas un commencement si recherch, sur tout dans un passion
violente, o le brillant ne doit avoir nulle part. (234)
45) pense naturelle [a] je ne say qouy beaut simple, sasn fard & artifice. (217-8)
46) Ah dites-moy, je vous prie, [...], ce que cest prcisment que dlicatesse ! on ne parle dautre
chose , jen parle toute heure moy-mesme sans bien savoir ce que je dis , ni sans en avor
une notion nette. (157)
47) Il faut, mon avis , raisonner de la dlicatesse des penses qui entrent dans les ouvrages
desprit , par rapper celle des ouvrages naturels. Les plus dlicatets sont ceux o la naure
prend plaisir travailler en petit , & dont la matire presque imperceptible fait quon doute si
elle adessein de montrer ou de cacher son adresse. (158)
48) On ramasse beaucoup de sens en peu de paroles : on dit tout ce quil faut dite , & on ne dit
prcisment que ce quil faut dire (237).
49) il semble dabord quelle le cache en partie, afin quon du moins elle le laisse seulement entrevoir , pour nous donner le plaisir de le dcouvrir tout--fait quand nous avons de lesprit.
(158)
50) [d]o lon peut conclure que la dlicatesse ajote je ne say quoi au sublime & lagrable.
(159)
51) Le grand, le sublime nest point naf, & ne le peut estre: car le naf emporte de soy-mme
je ne say quoi de petit, ou de moins lev. Ne mavez-vus pas dit, intrrompit Philanthe, que
la simplicit & la grandeur nestoient pas incompatible? Q, reprt Eudoxe, et je vous le dis
encore, mais il ya de la diffrence entre une certaine simplicit noble & la navit tout pure:
lune nexclut que le faste, lautre exclut mesme la grandeur. (218)
52) [] des qualitez aussi opposes, que la vivacit et le bon sens, la delicatessen et la force, [] ne
se rencontrent pas tojours ensemble (252).
53) Car la veritable beaut de lesprit consiste dans un discernement juste et delicat, que ces
Messieurs-l nont pas. Ce discernement fait connoistre les choses telles quelles sont en ellesmesmes, sans quon demeure court, comme le peuple, dui sarreste la superficie: ni quasi
sans quon aille trop loin, comme ces esprits rafinez, qui force de subtiliser, svaporent en
des imaginations vaines et chimeriques. (235)

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54) [] en tous les exercise [] on connoist les excellens maistres du mestier je ne say quoy
de libre et dais qui plaist toujours, mais quon peut geure acquerir sans une grande pratique
[]. Les agrmens animent la justesse en tout ce que je viens de dire; mais dune faon si
nave, quelle donne penser que cest une present de la nature. Cela se trouve encore vray
dans les exercices de lEsprit comme dans la Conversation; o il faut avoir cette libert pour
sy rendre agreable.
55) Ce que jaime le mieux, et quon doit selon mon sense le plus souhaiter en tout ce quon fait
pour plaire, cest je ne say quoi qui se sent bien, mais qui ne sexplique pas si aisment [].
56) Aprs tout, une Dame parfaitement belle et dun esprit si aimable, que mesme les plus beles
ne pouvoient sempcher de laimer, me demandoit ce que cestoit quun honneste homme,
et une honneste femme, car lun revient lautre: et quand jeus dit ce que jen croyois, et
quelle en eut parl de fort bons sense, elle avoa bien que tout cela luy semblait ncessaire
pour estre ce quelle demandoit, mais quil yavoit encore quelque chose dinexplicable, qui
se connoist mieux le voir pratiquer qu le dire. Ce quelle simaginoit consiste en je ne sai
quoi de noble qui releve toutes les bonnes qualitez, et qui ne vient que du cur et de lesprit;
le reste nen est que la suite et lquipage.
57) Il me semble, Madame, que vous aimez plus que vous ne devriez la modestie , & je trouve
pourtant que vous ne laissez pas quelquefois de vous en loigner. Cela vient peuttre de ce
que vous navez pas guerre consider ce que cest , &que vous croyez que plus on sabaisse ,
plus on est modeste.
58) Cette vertu , [] , consiste dans un juste milieu [].
59) Et pourqoui ne pouvez vous demeurer daccord des rares qualitez de vtre
esprit , vous qui lavez si bien fait & si peu commun , que quand vous seriez moins belle vous ne
laisseriez pas destre la plus aimable personne du monde?
60) Vous parlez simplement , vous ne dites ni de beaux mots, ni de belle choses ; vous tes retenu juger , vous ne decidez de rien quen vous-mme, & lors que vous revenez de la Comedie ou du Balet , vous nen parlez pour lordinaire ni en bien ni en mal.
61) Ct home , diton , abien de lesprit , mais il nest pas savant : ct autre abeaucoup de lesprit
, mais il ne sait pas le monde : cette femme est belle , mais elle na rien de piquant , & cette
autre est fort jolie , mais ce ne sont pas des traits bien reguliers.
62) Les plus vaillans Hommes ne sont pas tojours les plus grands Juges de la valeur , & les plus
belles Femmes jugent souvent mal de la beaut , mais les gens qui lont beaucoup desprit ,
remarquent ceux qui lont bien fait dans les moindres actions de leur vie.
63) Voici encore une faon de parler dont se sert frequentement. Il faut avoer que vous avez
bien de lesprit , mais que vous navez point de jugement.
64) [] avoir esprit en tout, & bien juger de tout , cest presque une mme chose.
65) Il me semble que lEsprit consiste comprendre les choses , les avoir considerer toute
sortes dgards , juger nettement de ce quelles sont , & de leur juste valeur , discerner ce
que lune ade commun avec lautre , & ce qui len distingue , & savoir prendre les bonnes
voyes pour dcouvrir les plus caches.
66) Il me semble aussi que cest une marque infaillible quon ade lesprit , de connotre les meilleurs moyens , & de les savoir employer pour bie faire tout ce quon entreprend.

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67) [] la plus grande preuve quon ade lEsprit , & quon la bien fait , cest de bien vivre & de
se conduire tojours comme on doit.
68) Il ne faut pas confondre lesprit & la raison , comme si ctoit une mme chose , & je trouve
quon peut bien tre fort raisonnable & navoir que fort peu desprit.
69) [] une puissance de lame commune lesprit & au sentiment [].
70) [] esprit & le talent ne sont pas de meme nature [] lesprit est dune si grande tendue
que la moindre chose quon fait par lesprit, tmoigne quon seroit capable de tout ce quon
entreprendroit , qu sy voudroit appliquer sous dexcelens maitres. (17-8)
71) Cest encore une marque dun bon fonds desprit , de ntre abus ni des modes , ni des coutomes ; de ne decider de rien moins que de bien voir ce quon decide [].
72) [] cest un bon signe dintelligence de ne pas entendre ce qui nest pas intelligible , & que
cest encore une marque dun bon discernment de rejetter sans reflexion une mauvaise quivoque quon veut faire valoir comme un bon mot.
73) Il ya deux sortes desprits. Les uns qui sont en petit nombre, comprennent les choses deuxmmes. Ce sont eux qui on cherch dans les ides de la nature & qui ont invent ou perfectionn les arts & les sciences. Les autres qui sont dun naturel plus paresseux ou plus negligent
ninventent pas pout [sic] lordinaire , mais ils comprennent ce que leur disent les inventeurs
, tantt plus vit, tantt plus lentement.
74) inventeurs [] ceux qui ninventent pas.
75) [...] cette premiere disposition qui nous rend capables dentendre , nous vient quand nous
venons au monde , cest un present du Ciel , cest un lumiere naturell qui ne se peut aquerir
, mais elle saugmente, elle sclaircit, elle se perfectionne , & cest ce que nous appellons
aquerir lesprit.
76) [] la sottise na pas moins daversion pour lesprit que lesprit pour la sottise. (32)
77) [] la simplicit se montre douce , accommodante , docile , gale , juste , liberale , reconnoissante , & peu souponneuse. Elle ne se dfie que delle-mme ; & quand elle fait quelque faute
, elle aime bien quon len avertisse , & tche de sen corriger. Elle amire les bonnes qualitez
quelle peut expliquer son avantage , elle voudroit que tout le monde fut heureux. Que si sa
lumiere nest pas dune grande tendu , ce quelle en a, pour le moins est si pur , quelle sent
bien ce qui lui manque , & quelle est tojours prte le recevoir.
78) lesprit est une espece de lumiere , & la lumiere se produit & se reflchit tout dun coup.
79) [] la nature, considre dans sa totalit, est une source de lumire et dentendement, un rservoir dides, enfin la patrie lointaine des esprits pur. Cest une source de lumire pusiquelle
dpartit la raison sincre et naturelle, par opposition la raison soicale ou politique donc
acquise. Grce elle lhomme de dfait des fausses clarts qui obscurcissent son jugement et
gtent ses sentiments.
80) Cette raison naturelle que Mr dfinit comme tant un prsent du Ciel correspond une
espce de grce qui est lesprit mtaphysique, suprieur entre tous, et dont la perception
permet celui qui la reu de discerner les accords, les proportions et les nombres qui sont
dans la nature et qui vont linfini.
81) [] ont cherch dans les ides de la nature et qui ont invent ou perfectionn les arts et les
sciences.

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Endnotes

82) [] ninvent pas ils comprennent ce que dissent les inventeurs.
83) Ne croyez pas que je sois enchant de Paris ny de la Cour. Il me semble que je suis Citoien
du monde, peu prs comme lestoit Socrate, et je ne laisse pourtant pas de tourner de temps
en temps les yeux vers mon village, et peut-estre avec autant de tendresse quen avoit Caton
pour sa patrie.
84) [] que si on me demande ce que cest que cet agrment et ce sel, Je rpondray que cest un
je ne say quoi quon peut beaucoup mieux sentir, que dire (4).
85) Jai dj crit ailleurs que cette elevation desprit tait une image de la grandeur dme; et
cest pourquoi nous admirons quelquefois la seule pense dun homme, encore quil ne parle
point ...: par example, le silence dAjax aux Enfers ... Car ce silence aje ne sais quoi de plus
grand que tout ce quil aurait pu dire.
86) [...] certain lvation desprit dont les penses sont toutes sublimes : comme on le peut voir
dans sa description de la Desse Discorde, qui a, dit-il, La tte dans les Cieux, et les pieds sur
la Terre.
87) Je vous prie de remarquer combien il est affaibli dans son Odysse, o il fait voir en effet
que cest le propre dun grand esprit, lorsquil commence vieillir et dcliner de se plaire
aux contes et aux fables.
88) Sil ne resent du Ciel linfluence secrte, /Si son astre en naissant ne la form Pote. / Dans
son geni troit il est toujours captif (ll. 3-5).
89) Quelque sujet quon traite, ou plaisant, ou sublime, / Que toujours le bon sens saccorde
avec le rime; / Lun lautre vainement ils semblent se har; / La rime est une esclave , et ne
doit quobir. /Lorsqu la bien chercher dabord on svertue, / Lesprit la trouver aisment shabitue; / Au joug de la raison sans peine alle flchit / Et loin de la gner , la sert et
lenrichit. / Mais, lorsquon la nglige, elle devient rebelle, / Et pour la rattraper, le sens court
aprs elle. / Aimez done la raison: que toujours vos crits / Empruntent delle seule et leur
lustre et leur prix (ll. 27-38).
90) Surtout quen vos crits la langue rvre / Dans vos plus grands excs vous soit toujours sacre. /En vain vous me frappez dun son mlodieux, / Sie le terme est impropre ou le vicieux;
/ Mon esprit nadmet point un pompoux barbarisme (ll. 155-9).
91) Mais souvent un esprit qui se flatte et qui saime, / Mconnat son gnie et signore soi-mme
(ll.19-20).
92) Ce que lon conoit bien snonce clairment (l. 153).
93) Faitez-vous des amis prompts vous censurer ; / Quils soient de vos crits les confidens
sincres , / Et de tous vos defaults les zls adversaires. / Dpouillez devant eux larrogance
dAuteur , Mais sachez de lami discerner le flatteur (ll. 186-90).
94) labondance sterile (ll. 59).
95) [p]ense qui surprend par quelque subtilit dimagination, par quelque jeu de mots.
96) On sest tromp lorsquon acru que lesprit et le jugement taient deux choses diffrentes.
Le jugement nest que la grandeur de la lumire de lesprit; cette lumire pntre le fond des
choses; elle yremarque tout ce quil faut remarquer et aperoit celles qui semblent imperceptibles. Ainsi il faut demeurer daccord que cest ltendue de la lumire de lesprit qui produit
tous les effets quon attribue au jugement. (141)

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Endnotes

97) Le bon Got vient plus du jugement que lesprit. (178)
98) Tout ce quon nous rapporte de la vieille Cour nest pas au gout des Dames daujourdhui
(19).
99) Mais enfin on se peut asseurer quil yavoir peu desprit dans la vieille (20-1).
100) Comme se peut-il donc faire que cette Cour soit si differente de ce quelle toit autrefois?
Henri le Grand qui jugeoit bien de tout , quoi quil neut guere tudi que le mtier de la
guerre , & le feu Roi ce me semble ny ont pas peu contrib. Ce Prince que nous avons veu ,
avoit lesprit delicat, & disoit dexcellentes choses (23).
101) La Cour adonc fait du progrs en ce qui regarde lesprit & la galanterie , mais elle sacheve
sous ce grand Prince que le monde admire , & que les vrais Agrmens nabandonnent point
(ibid.).
102) Un faux brilliant , qui ne vient que dune imagination boillante & confuse , pass aisment
pour un esprit agreeable , pourveu que la maniere de la Cour ysoit bien observe , & la
plpart des plus habiles , [], sont persuadez quil ne faut quavoir beaucoup tudi pour
avoir bien de lesprit (45).
103) Les jeux desprit , replique Eudoxe, ne sacordent pas bien avec les armes , & il nest pas
question de pointes quand on est saisi de douleur (296-7).
104) Le cur sexplique mal dabord par un jeu desprit, & je dirois volonriers avec un homme
de bon goust. Je naime pas un commencement si recherch, sur tout dans un passion violente, o
le brillant ne doit avoir nulle part. (234)
105) On aabus du terme de bel esprit, et bien que tout ce quon vient de dire des diffrentes
qualits de lesprit puisse convenier aun bel esprit, nanmoins, comme ce titre t donn
aun nombre infini de mauvais potes et dauteurs ennuyeux, on sen sert plus souvent pour
tourner les gens en ridicule que pour les louer (112).
106) Bien quil yait plusieurs pithtes pour lesprit dui paraissent une mme chose, []. Lusage
ordinaire le fait assez entendre, et en disant quun homme a de lesprit, quil a bien de
lesprit, quil abeaucoup de lesprit, et quil abon esprit, il ny aque les tons et les manires
dui puissent mette de la diffrence entre ces expressions dui paraissent semblables sut le
papier, et qui experiment nanmois de trs diffrentes sortes de lesprit (114).

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Index

The study is concerned with aesthetics and literary criticism, which have therefore been omitted.
The primary object of the study, wit, has also been omitted due to its high occurrence in the text.
Titles of works of art and literature are entered under their author. Where the author of a work is
not cited, the work is entered under the heading literary works.

Addison, Joseph 17, 27, 32, 68, 98, 100, 107,


109-18, 120, 124, 126, 131-2
The Works of Joseph Addison 116-8
The Spectator 17, 68, 98, 100, 107, 109-11,
118, 120, 124, 132
anciennet 53, 64

bel esprit 12, 14, 16, 48, 55-68, 81, 84, 119,
125-7, 130
biensance 50, 76
Boileau, Nicolas 10, 16-7, 34, 36, 51, 55, 63, 65,
75-85, 97, 100, 107-8, 113-4, 120-2, 124-5,
130-1
Bouhours, Dominic 16-7, 55-75, 77, 85, 89,
114, 119, 122, 124, 126, 130
La Manire de bien penser dans les ouvrages
desprit. Dialogues. 55-6, 63, 130

Cannan, Paul D. 89, 98-100


Congreve, William 30, 67, 132
Culler, Jonathan 15, 25-6, 28, 46

decorum 50, 80, 92, 122-3, 130


dlicatesse 16, 63-6, 77, 126, 130
Derrida, Jacques 117
Dryden, John 12, 17, 23-6, 28,-30, 32-4, 46, 50,
53, 79-84, 87-97, 100-1, 104-7, 109-11, 113-4,
119-20, 122-4, 126, 131
Of Dramatic Poesy and Other Critical Essays 29,
93-6, 123, 131
Eagleton, Terry 117
Eliot, T. S. 12, 14, 19, 22, 30-3, 35
Empson, William 14, 22-4, 100
esprit 11-8, 21, 34-7, 39, 48, 55-85, 89, 114, 1189, 121-7, 129-30, 132
Fujimura, Thomas Hikaru 31
Gombauld, Antoine, chevalier de Mr 16, 55,
68-9, 71, 73-4, 85, 122, 130

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Index

Hobbes, Thomas 21, 32-3, 52, 54, 101, 121


honntes gens 50
Hughes, Derek 51
Hume, Robert D. 52-3, 88, 93
je-ne-sais-quoi 10, 12, 14, 16, 48, 55-7, 60-5, 6770, 75, 77, 85, 89, 126, 130
literary works
Beowulf 23
Locke, John 26-9, 54, 101, 113-4, 121
McCrea, Brian 109, 116-8, 131
Metaphysical poetry 19, 22, 30, 32-4, 112,
124, 126
Montaigne, Michel de 27, 52

Osolsob, Ivo 15, 40-1, 129
Plato 33, 43, 53, 84, 93
Phaedrus 44
The Republic 44
Pope, Alexander 17, 22-3, 25-6, 28-30, 32-4, 44,
47, 73, 76, 84-5, 87,98-109, 118-22, 124-6, 131
Essay on Criticism 22-3, 34, 44, 73, 76, 84, 87,
98-101, 103-5, 107, 109, 120-1, 124, 131
prciosit 48-9, 57
politesse 48, 51

Rapin, Ren 55, 57, 97, 119-20


Reflections on Aristotles treatise of poesie 120

Scholar, Richard 56, 60-2, 67-8, 70, 72, 85, 889, 99, 109, 122, 131
Shadwell, Thomas 67, 90-2, 94
Shakespeare, William 13, 43, 93-4, 100, 124,
131
Loves Labours Lost 43
Sitter, John 11, 15, 25-30, 92, 95, 106, 129
Spingarn, Joel E. 14, 19-21, 46, 88, 103
sprezzatura 15, 39-40, 57, 62, 129
sublime 10-1, 15-6, 36, 38-40, 55-7, 63-5, 75-8,
80, 82, 85, 97, 116, 126

Tave, Stuart 39
Vico, Giambattista 14
vraisemblance 50, 76

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Edin rada (vdeck redakce)


prof. PhDr.Ladislav Rabuic,CSc. (pedseda)
Mgr.Iva Zlatukov (mstopedsedkyn)
prof. RNDr.Zuzana Dol,DSc.
Ing. Radmila Drobnov, Ph.D.
Mgr.Michaela Hanouskov
doc. PhDr.Jana Chamonikolasov,Ph.D.
doc. JUDr.Josef Kotsek,Ph.D.
Mgr. et Mgr.Oldich Krpec,Ph.D.
prof. PhDr.Petr Macek,CSc.
PhDr.Alena Mizerov (tajemnice)
doc. Ing. Petr Piroek, Ph.D.
doc. RNDr.Lubomr Popelnsk,Ph.D.
Mgr.David Povoln
Mgr. Kateina Sedlkov, Ph.D.
prof. MUDr.Anna Vak,CSc.
prof. PhDr.Marie Vtkov,CSc.
doc. Mgr.Martin Zvona,Ph.D.

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Klra Bicanov

From Rhetoric to Aesthetics:


Wit and Esprit
in the English and French Theoretical Writings
of the Late Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Centuries

Vydala Masarykova univerzita roku 2013


Vychz jako Spisy Filozofick fakulty Masarykovy univerzity v Brn . 41??
Odpovdn redaktorka doc. PhDr. Jana Chamonikolasov, Ph.D.
Tajemnk redakce prof. Mgr. Libor Jan, Ph.D.
Nvrh oblky a grafick prava: Pavel Kepela
Tisk: ????
Vydn prvn, 2013
Nklad 300 vtisk
ISBN 978-80-210-???
ISSN 1211-3034

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