VI. Some Aspects of Authorship and Readership

1. Social Background and Denominational Allegiance of Authors; Genres and Party-Political Orientation

It is a well-known fact of general literary history that English writers of the eighteenth century came from a broad social spectrum, including the aristocracy. So Goethe's complaint about the lack of aristocratic writers in Germany does not apply to the England of the Enlightenment, where the Earl of Halifax, Lord Lyttelton, Lord Chesterfield and others were active men of letters. There were noblemen among the political authors, too. St. John, the later Lord Bolingbroke, for instance, wrote the pioneering A Letter to the Examiner (1710), and the pamphlet Observations upon the State of the Nation, in January 1712/13 (1713) has been attributed to the Earl of Nottingham. As was the case with belles-lettres, however, the vast majority of authors of political writings belonged to the middle class, particularly the upper middle class. And just as with belles-lettres, political authors from the lowest classes, if there were any at all, were the exception. Within the broad complex of the middle class the proportion of members of the professions with an Anglican background and education was very high. Against the Anglican predominance Nonconformists and also autodidacts were rare among authors although more frequent among the Whigs than among the Tories, Roper being, of course, a Tory autodidact. Examples of Whig authors belonging to non-Anglican denominations are Ridpath and Oldmixon. It is well-known that Defoe, too, who never completely denied his Whig origins, was a Dissenter. The fact that political authors, irrespective of their social and educational background, were generally more or less automatically discredited as hirelings and mercenary scribblers by their opponents has to do with the lack of theoretical legitimisation of both the press and the party system, which was frequently still considered pathological.

     Besides denominational differences, there were also certain professional constellations which manifested clear distinctions as regards genre and party-political allegiance. Members of the professional classes were of paramount importance for political writing, and a large number of them belonged to the lower clergy - this likewise confirms the not insignificant role played, as is well known, by the clergy in eighteenth-century literature, for instance in novels and nature poetry. The prominent part played by the lower clergy was not only reflected in their own particular domain, the sermon, where the majority of the clergy were on the Tory side; it is significant that there was a slight Whig overbalance in sermons preached by the higher clergy. The lower clergy also had the largest share in the production of pamphlets and poems - note especially the rich variety of peace poems. There are some quite interesting party-political correlations between professional groups and genres. There was, for instance, an unusual concentration on the Tory side of poems written by the lower clergy - the Whigs produced only a fraction of the number produced by the Tories. Other genres were more under Whig influence. In particular the major public genre, the pamphlet, was - in numerical terms - more the domain of the Whigs. So more pamphlets were written by Whig politicians than by Tory ones, and, surprisingly, there were more Whig pamphets even among those by the lower clergy. An examination of pamphlets by authors occupying senior administrative posts reveals that the Whigs in fact had a virtual monopoly! The majority of documentary publications, too, came from the Whig camp, if we leave aside Boyer's contribution, which was a special case. The longer prose romance in the style of Mrs. Manley's The New Atalantis (1709) seems to have been used exclusively by the Tories; Oldmixon's The Court of Atalantis (1714), which employs this medium to take a critical look at members of the Tory Ministry but which did not appear until after the completion of the Utrecht peace debate, can be classified as a belated response to Tory variations on this genre.

     Although it is difficult to distinguish between these features strictly along party lines, it can be said that the traditional genres like sermons, poems and prose romances were more often than not written by Tory sympathisers. Altogether the 'narrative slant' in important Tory propaganda, which is also seen in the widespread use of time-honoured verse fables such as Stacy's Parliament of Birds (1712), is quite remarkable. Texts like Swift's The Conduct of the Allies (1711), Arbuthnot's The History of John Bull (1712) and Wagstaffe's The Story of the St. Alb-ns Ghost (1712), to name but a few, characterized by what one could call the 'spell of fictional consistency', released tremendous polemical energy. Significantly, all these appeared during the Tory offensive of the turning-point debate, when the Tories staked everything on emotional mobilization. On the other hand authors who preferred the 'professional' genres like pamphlets or documentary writings tended to be Whigs. It can be said without exaggeration that until well into 1710, the year when the government changed, Whig propaganda appeared more professional than its Tory counterpart. The particular agility of the Whigs in their use of the pamphlet, incidentally, does not conflict with the fact that, at least until 1710, the Whigs also made full use of the drama, a powerful medium for propaganda purposes, because the political promotion of the drama by some members of the Kit-Cat Club with their own vested interests had a strong professional touch. It is Harley's achievement that the greater propagandistic effectiveness of the Whigs over a considerable period was systematically broken; the chapter focusing on the turning-point debate has shown in its description of the process of polemical interaction how the thrust of Tory propaganda eventually outdid that of the Whigs at the beginning of 1712. Besides, political writers hardly ever concentrated on just one genre, but were as a rule productive in several. This was particularly true of the most prominent authors, those mainly responsible for determining the broad polemical lines such as Swift, Defoe and Maynwaring. Their share in the production of broadsides was disproportionately high. There was a particularly high rate of anonymity in this genre, but a considerable number of the broadsides which can be attributed to a particular author were actually written by Swift, Defoe or Maynwaring, although these did not, of course, match the productivity of a specialist like Hoffman. The strikingly intensive use of the broadside by influential political commentators also shows with how much careful consideration this genre was integrated into the polemical interaction.

     An interesting and in many respects representative group stands out among those authors who were responsible for the most important opinion-forming periodicals - The Examiner, A Review, The Medley and The Observator -, a group that was mainly instrumental in maintaining the uninterrupted progress of the political debate. Swift, Defoe, Maynwaring and Ridpath, all belonging to the generation born during the Restoration, had consciously witnessed the Revolution of 1688/89 or even played an active part in it. It is a remarkable fact that three of them - Swift, Defoe and Maynwaring - changed party at some time in their lives, or at least had a change of political views, which points to a certain fluctuation in the political life of the time and a corresponding adaptability of the authors who helped to shape it. Moreover, all four authors, who not only wrote essays but were productive in other genres, too, channelled most if not all of their literary energy into journalistic activities during the period from 1710 until 1713. This can be seen as an indication of the increasing significance and professionalisation of political propaganda in the ongoing debate between the Government and the Opposition.

 

2. Aspects of a Genre (the Political Essay) and its Readership

Our examination of the sociological aspects of readership focuses on the four periodicals mentioned above, which followed a clear party-political line, sought to shape public opinion and - for the most part - simultaneously developed a conscious appeal to a specific audience. Although the main emphasis will be on the opinion-forming journals, sociological aspects of readership concerning other genres will be briefly considered in order to complete the picture. At the beginning it is appropriate to recall some remarks made in the introduction, namely that - like belles-lettres - political writing, too, was addressed almost exclusively to the middle and upper classes, and this although more and more sections of the population were being drawn into the process of public political communication and despite the fact that via the oral presentation of broadsides even the lowest classes were from time to time mobilised by political propaganda. Within the vast complex of the middle and upper classes it is possible to make some quite clear sociological distinctions among the readership, especially since in the early eighteenth century - in contrast to the Victorian age - there was no collective readership yet which was addressed in its entirety by the literature produced, as by Dickens' novels, for example; the various literary genres were still rather tailored to specific strata of the reading public. To give an example, Richardson's novels were intended primarily for a lower to middle bourgeoisie whose expectations were met first of all by didactically effective instruction in questions of moral conduct and religious edification rather than being combined with classical educational ideals. Comic epic poems like Pope's The Rape of the Lock, on the other hand, were addressed to a public comprising the aristocracy and the upper middle class, both with a classical education and more interested in formal brilliance than moral instruction. Such sociological distinctions can also be seen in the way political writers communicated with their public. In order to describe the sociological framework as objectively as possible, the following criteria will be applied: first of all, the degree of classical education (a measure of which is the use of Latin texts and references to classical literature, history and mythology); secondly, references to other areas of knowledge, especially to English history to illustrate political positions; and thirdly, linguistic aspects, especially vocabulary, but also imagery and syntax.

a) The Examiner

Among the four opinion-forming periodicals the intended readership of the Examiner occupies the top position in the socio-cultural hierarchy. In the form of prefaced mottoes and passages inserted into the text the Examiner makes the most extensive use of Latin. The thirty-three issues written by Swift between November 1710 and June 1711 contain fifteen Latin quotations. Although translations or paraphrases are provided at essential points in the argument, as numbers 14 (2 November 1710) and 17 (23 November 1710) show, Swift relies to a certain extent on his readers' own ability to understand Latin. The degree of difficulty is thus somewhat higher than that of the Medley, which does without prefaced mottoes and uses practically no Latin quotations, always working with paraphrases instead. So it is only in the Examiner that the Latin language plays any real role as a vehicle for classical education. In keeping with this orientation is the exceptionally frequent recourse to ancient history for historical examples; ancient history accounts for about eighty per cent of these (Fig. 1), and it is complemented by numerous allusions to classical mythology. Incidentally, the later Examiner, which was revived in December 1711, made considerably less use of Latin, which earned it an ironical note in the Observator of 12-15 December 1711 and demonstrated a slight shift in its attitude to its readers. The cultural component of the Examiner is matched by its comparatively select vocabulary, the most extensive of the four periodicals under consideration (Fig. 5). This includes a clearly discernible though not over-conspicuous proportion of foreign words, particularly hard words; but there is a noticeable paucity of abstract nouns, so that Swift does not lapse into Johnsonese in this respect, either. Rather the Examiner is at pains to present political facts as clearly as possible with the aid of numerous down-to-earth images with sometimes decidedly popular appeal - it is quite a remarkable fact that the Examiner, which appears the most intellectual of the four opinion-forming periodicals, uses a comparatively wide variety of images. Thus in the Examiner the prestige-enhancing recourse to the classics combines with the desire to lend vigour to the political message; despite its love of the classics and a traditionalism that must have appealed to the gentry - primarily its intended readership - the Examiner was clearly determined to avoid dryness. Structurally, too, the Examiner meets relatively superior standards; the altogether unmistakable cultural elitism of this periodical is underlined by the frequent borrowing of classical rhetorical patterns and also by genuine classical imitations, as in the Verres issue of 30 November 1710.

     Swift's syntax is characterized by an unobtrusive structure that ensures intellectual clarity, but without Defoe's overt didactic care. For instance, the Examiner lacks explicit repetitive elements, and Swift only uses the paratactic constructions favoured by Defoe for rhetorical emphasis, which does not detract from the lightness and elegance of his prose, which aspires to the ideal of easy and familiar style for the upper class and thus leaves no doubt as to its audience. The language of the Examiner and The Conduct of the Allies, though more rhetorical, flows in part as naturally as that of Gulliver's Travels. Never falling into uncontrolled long-windedness, it at the same time avoids the all-too smooth style characteristic of the Spectator. Swift's prose in the Examiner is urbane, but it also allows something of the author's roughness to show through. Thus there is a kind of unpolished politeness about it which presumably appealed to the landed gentry, who made up the larger part of the readership. The Examiner was tailored to reach this audience above all. Although it took no account of the lower or lowest social strata, it nevertheless repeatedly introduced key-words which became current in all Tory propaganda and reached the entire social spectrum. The word "perquisite", for instance, which was early and conspicuously applied to Marlborough in Examiner 17 (23 November 1710), became de rigueur throughout Tory writings and was taken up especially by numerous broadsides, which relied on such linguistic pacemakers and, in a kind of propagandistic recycling process, made Swift's political lunges accessible to a wider circle of readers. Although particularly aimed at the gentry, the Examiner was able to initiate new linguistic trends throughout the social spectrum, and the provocative style it employed in its treatment of the political opponent made it a very effective propaganda tool.

b) A Review

The Review was the ideal complement to the Examiner, with regard to both its ideology and its readership. The strikingly small part played by the classics shows that its readers were to be found at the opposite end of the social scale. Of the four opinion-forming periodicals the Review makes by far the fewest references to ancient history; they account for only about a fifth of the historical examples selected (Fig. 2). On the other hand, the high percentage of references to English and European history - the Stuart period receives the most attention in the Review - indicates a middle-class readership interested in practical information. It is quite obvious that in the Review Defoe was laying emphasis on the non-classical curriculum customary at the dissenting academies, as is confirmed by the frequent inclusion of knowledge taken from the natural sciences or geography. Whilst the classics are practically absent in the Review, the fact that religion - apart, of course, from a politically conceived Protestantism - plays no more than a minor role indicates that with the inclusion of natural science material Defoe wanted to incorporate the more secular side of the typical Dissenter's education. The use of commercial and maritime vocabulary to clarify political correlations is also a feature of the Review specific to its readership.

     A linguistic examination of the Review confirms the educational level we have established. Of the four opinion-forming periodicals the Review has by far the smallest vocabulary, totalling only eighty per cent of that employed by the Examiner. There is a corresponding reduction in the proportion of foreign words, especially of hard words. Of course the incidence of foreign words in the Review is nowhere near as low as that in Robinson Crusoe, which shows that Defoe, despite special consideration for particular social strata, did not wish to impose any heavy readership restrictions on himself but was at pains to achieve a certain breadth of appeal. It is interesting to note that some pamphlets exactly share the Review's approach in this respect; among them are Reasons why this Nation Ought to Put a Speedy End to this Expensive War (1711), A Defence of the Allies and the Late Ministry (1711) and No Queen: Or, no General (1712) in particular, while the later pamphlet A Farther Search into the Conduct of the Allies (1712), for instance, falls far short (Fig. 6). The fact that a large number of pamphlets are, along with the Review, on a much higher plane than Defoe's first novel in terms of vocabulary can be seen if we take a look at, for example, Reasons Why, so important for setting the course of the political debate; words like "Adjunct", "eternize", "Exigencies", "Arbitrate" and "expostulate" are hard to imagine in Robinson Crusoe. In the use of imagery, too, the Examiner and the Review complemented each other. Whereas in Swift's periodical classical antiquity provided a relatively high proportion of the images and historical analogies, Defoe was at pains to use everyday language in the Review, in which - as has already been made clear in the treatment of the differences between Whig and Tory rhetoric - political metaphor played a not insignificant role. There is a good example in the Review of 9 August 1711, in which Defoe once more makes himself the advocate of "public credit" and clothes its possible disappearance in the following striking image: "[...] if it stops, the whole Circulation Stagnates, and the Body Politick must fall into Convulsions, and from thence into Death".

     Finally, an examination of the structure of the essays in the Review reveals uncomplicated syntax, which is easy to follow, offers ample opportunity for pauses and is marked by frequent repetition. Repetition is in effect the characteristic feature of Defoe's political didactics, a technique that he used out of consideration for an audience which, unlike Swift's, made modest demands intellectually and was evidently less well-read. In the Review of 5 June 1707, in which Defoe sketches his conception of himself as a journalist, the author had defended his repetitive style against his critics' frequent objections with the following sociological considerations: "For my part, I value the instructing and informing one honest meaning ignorant Person, more than the detecting and confronting a thousand Knaves, and 'tis for the sake of these I write; for their Sakes I dwell upon a Subject sometimes longer than the Rules of Language allow, for their Sakes I repeat and repeat, and quote my self over and over; and can with Ease bear the foolish Banters of the envious Critick and Reproacher; I had rather say the same thing over twenty times, than once omit, what may this Way be useful". This audience-consciousness again, with its resulting effects on the structure, links the Review with the pamphlets. Here are some typical examples. In The Succession of Spain Consider'd (1711) the danger of a concentration of Habsburg power in the event of an Austrian solution to the Spanish question is hammered into the reader by constant repetition. The key-word 'Austrian greatness' achieves a similarly high frequency. Reasons Why is also characterized by a repetitive style. The material and economic draining of England is regularly invoked, and in addition casuistry of change, introduced by the sentence "the Case is alter'd Now", rings out through the entire pamphlet. In Armageddon (1711) - a third example -, which is characterized by a rhetoric of concession addressed to the Opposition, attention is seized again and again by the idea, which flattered the Whigs, that the latter are by no means against peace so long as England's interests are preserved. There is certainly a functional relationship between the repetitive style of the Review and the pamphlets on the one hand and the style that prevails in Robinson Crusoe on the other. Just as factuality is conveyed by regular repetition in the novel and, more importantly, repeated reflection on significant external events allows them to be grasped intellectually, the essays in the Review and the pamphlets signal the importance of a political subject through repetition. And just as the novel makes Robinson Crusoe's tenacious struggle with his environment comprehensible, the Review and the pamphlets employ this very technique of repetition in order to convey the intense struggle of the conscientious author with his delicate political topic. To this extent both genres were destined to be vehicles of their author's indefatigable propaganda efforts, which was consistent with Harley's approach of also determinedly canvassing a non-Tory clientele for support for his political line, a line which was to be presented as the only practical alternative given the particular demands of the time. That Defoe sought to accomplish this propagandistic task with inelegant, sometimes even ponderous syntax and eschewed any hint of flippancy at the same time was probably to his advantage given the fact that he was addressing a predominantly lower middle-class audience.

c) The Medley

In its function as a mere counter to the Examiner the Medley was also tied to a particular class of reader; at any rate it seems to have adopted the aim of demonstrating equality with Swift's periodical in every respect and under all circumstances. This probably explains its surprisingly frequent references to the classics, indeed sometimes more frequent than found in the Examiner, though Latin references generally take the form of paraphrases. In order to counter its opponent the Medley also takes up the Examiner's classical orientation in order to secure a gain in prestige by means of an erudite refutation or perhaps an elaborate development of an historical analogy. Maynwaring's periodical is sometimes reminiscent of the competitive spirit of a schoolboy. The writer's aim in adapting classical references was to demonstrate his competence in this area in comparison with the obvious learning of the author of the Examiner. This led to a relative neglect of recent English history. It is surprising that of the four opinion-forming periodicals the Medley has the lowest proportion of references to the Stuart age (Fig. 3), from an ideological point of view the Whigs' most fruitful period for their political polemics.

     Lexically, the Medley steers a middle course. The Medley's imagery clearly lacks the richness of the Examiner's; here the approach is largely one of reaction without any individual emphases. Syntactically, the relatively high proportion of hypotactic constructions - the highest of the four periodicals - illustrates the pains to which the Medley always went to counter its opponent by means of the most logical analysis possible in order, as it were, to show him up. This method presupposes a certain ability of the reader to accept a challenge. Nevertheless it is difficult to make out any specific readership addressed by the Medley beyond the mimicry with respect to the Examiner. At any rate the vindication of the old Ministry or the Junto and the preference for the moneyed interest are not reflected in any corresponding linguistic idiosyncrasies or stylistic features.

d) The Observator

Being in competition with the Review, the Observator manifested a similar consciousness of its intended readership. In contrast to Defoe's periodical Ridpath's contains a comparatively high proportion of references to ancient history (Fig. 4) - presumably a consequence of the prestige enjoyed by classical studies at the time, even among the lower classes. At the same time it was clearly different in function from the other Whig periodical, the Medley, and correspondingly it was aimed at a different readership. While the Medley evidently desires to counter the impression that the Examiner is talking down to it like a schoolmaster, reprimanding it, as it were, with Latin slogans, and opposes Swift's conservatism with its own idea of the correct use of a classical education, the author of the Observator slips into the role of the teacher presenting the ignorant rural population with instruction applicable to real life but often having its source explicitly in the classics. But it is true that even longer references to classical antiquity in the Observator tend less to become ends in themselves than those in the Medley with its cultural snobbery. The two issues of the Observator of 2-5 January 1712 and 5-9 January 1712, for example, which use the fate of Aristides in their reply to the accusations made against Marlborough by the Tories, directly follow the periodical's political and didactic line. Despite the relatively high proportion of classical references - almost half the historical references in the Observator are to ancient history - corresponding intellectual and linguistic demands are not made on the reader because, in response to Roger's request, the Latin passages are mostly translated or reduced to dog Latin. In references to the Stuart period, incidentally, the Observator comes closest to the Review, the leading periodical in this respect; this is an indicator of a certain polemical concentration on this period in competition with the Review. The Review and the Observator are about equal in their references to other periods of English history, too.

     Compared with Defoe's periodical, however, Ridpath's journal is characterized by a marked lack of images, which in this respect puts it at the lower end of the scale among the four opinion-forming periodicals. This seems to indicate that the Observator was inclined to show even more consideration for a strongly dissenting readership distrustful of metaphorical illustration than was the case with Defoe. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that Ridpath's didactic medium was the continuous dialogue, in which rhetorical techniques such as the extensive use of images had no place but would rather have seemed artificial. The way in which this periodical presented its arguments was based on the idea of educational inequality, conveyed by the dialogue between the "Observator" and the "Countryman"; so any thought of intellectual equality between author and addressee, indispensable for successful metaphorical transfer, was not a part of the Observator's didactic approach. In the case of the Observator there are further specific restrictions with regard to readership. The Observator, in contrast to the Medley, for example, makes hardly any reference to contemporary belles-lettres. The regular appearance of headlines summarising in advance the contents of an issue also indicates that the Observator sought to adapt to a public which was accustomed to comparatively plain modes of thought and preferred simple objectivity to brilliance of style. As far as vocabulary is concerned, the Observator ranges higher than the Medley mid-way between the two Tory organs. The relatively high level of vocabulary employed by the Observator suggests that this peridiocal felt able to stretch its readers as far as the subject-matter was concerned, so long as the mode of presentation did not prove too much for them. At any rate the Observator was under no circumstances prepared to allow its vocabulary to descend to broadside level. However, the syntax underlines the intellectual consideration, characteristic of the Observator, for a public hungry for information but with limited linguistic and cultural experience. For instance, the relatively low proportion of carefully constructed complex sentences reveals the author's intention to keep the structures of his argument as simple as possible in order to enable his readers to concentrate entirely on the essential subject-matter.