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How Enlightened was the Enlightenment?
Week 7: The Arts.
Poems and other quotations:
Social class: (summary 1.2):
A man’s a man for a’ that:
What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, and a’ that;
Gie fools their silks and knaves their wine,
A man’s a man for a’ that:
For a’ that, and a’ that,
Their tinsel show, and a’ that;
The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor,
Is king o’ men for a’ that!
Enlightenment optimism (summary 2.1):
Pope’s proposed epitaph for Sir Isaac Newton:
Nature and Nature’s laws lay hid in night:
God said, Let Newton Be! And all was light
On the harmony of nature (in the 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:
And, spite of pride in erring reason’s spite,
One truth is clear, whatever is, is right’
On human nature: (summary 2.2):
‘Two principles in human nature reign:
Self-love, to urge, and reason, to restrain’ (O’Hara p 11)
Man and Woman (summary 2.3):
Pope: An Essay on Man:
Expatiate free o’er all this scene of Man;
A mighty maze! But not without a plan;
A Wild, where weeds and flow’rs promiscuous shoot;
Or Garden, tempting with forbidden fruit.
But vindicate the ways of God to Men.
I. Say first, of God above, or man below,
What can we reason, but from what we know?
Is the great chain, that draws all to agree,
And drawn supports, upheld by God, or thee?
II. Presumptuous Man! The reason wouldst thou find,
Why form’d so weak, so little, and so blind?
First, if thou canst, the harder reason guess,
Why form’d no weaker, blinder, and no less?
Ask of they mother earth, why oaks are made
Taller or stronger than the weeds they shade?’
Epistle II. To a Lady…
‘Nothing so true as what you once let fall,
‘Most Women have no Characters at all.’
Matter too soft a lasting mark to bear,
And best distinguish’d by black, brown, or fair.
‘Come then, the colours and the ground prepare!
Dip in the Rainbow, trick her off in Air…’
‘Rufa, whose eye quick-glancing o’er the Park,
Attracts each light gay meteor of a Spark,
Agrees as ill with Rufa studying Locke,
As Sappho’s diamonds with her dirty smock;
Or Sappho at her toilet’s greasy task,
With Sappho fragrant at an ev’ning Mask:
So morning Insects that in muck begun,
Shine, buzz, and fly-blow in the setting-sun.’
On the economy, and virtue (summary 2.4):
The Fable of The Bees: or, Private Vices, Public Benefits is a book by Bernard Mandeville, consisting of the poem The Grumbling Hive: or, Knaves turn’d Honest and prose discussion of it (1705 - 17140.
[Notes from Wikipedia]
‘A Spacious Hive well stock'd with Bees,
That lived in Luxury and Ease;
And yet as fam'd for Laws and Arms,
As yielding large and early Swarms;
Was counted the great Nursery
Of Sciences and Industry.
No Bees had better Government,
More Fickleness, or less Content.
They were not Slaves to Tyranny,
Nor ruled by wild Democracy;
But Kings, that could not wrong, because
Their Power was circumscrib'd by Laws’.
The 'hive' is corrupt but prosperous, yet it grumbles about lack of virtue. A higher power decides to give them what they ask for:
‘But Jove, with Indignation moved,
At last in Anger swore, he'd rid
The bawling Hive of Fraud, and did.
The very Moment it departs,
And Honesty fills all their Hearts;’
This results in a rapid loss of prosperity, though the newly-virtuous hive does not mind:
‘For many Thousand Bees were lost.
Hard'ned with Toils, and Exercise
They counted Ease it self a Vice;
Which so improved their Temperance;
That, to avoid Extravagance,
They flew into a hollow Tree,
Blest with Content and Honesty’.
‘For the main Design of the Fable, (as it is briefly explain’d in the Moral) is to shew the Impossibility of enjoying all the most elegant Comforts of Life that are to be met with in an industrious, wealthy and powerful Nation, and at the same time be bless’d with all the Virtue and Innocence that can be wish’d for in a Golden Age; from thence to expose the Unreasonableness and Folly of those, that desirous of being an opulent and flourishing People, and wonderfully greedy after all the Benefits they can receive as such, are yet always murmuring at and exclaiming against those Vices and Inconveniences, that from the Beginning of the World to this present Day, have been inseparable from all Kingdoms and States that ever were fam’d for Strength, Riches, and Politeness, at the same time.’
On nature (summary 2.5):
‘True wit is Nature to Advantage drest,
What oft was thought, but ne’er so well Exprest,
Something, whose Truth convinc’d at sight we find,
That gives us back the image of our Mind.’
Criticisms of enlightenment rationalism (summary 2.7):
James Thomson (1700 – 1748), in his Seasons, comments on the limitations of Newtonian Opticks:
Form, fronting on the Sun, thy show’ry prism;
And to the sage-instructed eye unfold
The various twine of light, by thee disclos’d
From the white mingling maze. Not so the boy;
He wondering views the bright enchantment bend,
Delightful o’er the radiant fields and runs
To catch the falling glory’.