Saturday, 6 January 2007

Gregory Melleuish, 'Introducing Keith Windschuttle', Quadrant, January-February 2007, p. 13:

The enemies of Enlightenment and Classicism have been Romanticism and progressivism, the elevation of feeling over rationality and a worship of mutation and change over order and structure.

In Sir Charles Grandison, an extraordinary novel that recounts the stages of domestic happiness, Samuel Richardson explores the emergence of a house-bound hero, a lay legislator, a purveyor of perfect justice. A product of the mature Enlightenment, the novel was a favourite of Jane Austen, a participant in the rise of Romanticism although a pre-Romantic in her aesthetic sensibilities. Sir Charles Grandison is worth reading, not just because our favourite nineteenth-century novelist delighted in his fiction, but because we can see therein the seeds of the Romantic revival.

The novel is a bridge spanning the ideologies of Right and Left in Australia at the current time. It is a moment of decisive action — where a man meets and woos a woman he believes deserving of his attentions, no matter how reactionary his politics may be — that affords a space wherein we can reflect on the continuity implicit in the Romantic and the Enlightenment aesthetics.

Even more apposite, perhaps, is the publication, in 1771, just seven years before the establishment of the Sydney colony, of The Man of Feeling:

Henry Mackenzie, the son of an Edinburgh physician, was born in August, 1745. After education in the University of Edinburgh he went to London in 1765, at the age of twenty, for law studies, returned to Edinburgh, and became Crown Attorney in the Scottish Court of Exchequer. When Mackenzie was in London, Sterne's "Tristram Shandy" was in course of publication. The first two volumes had appeared in 1759, and the ninth appeared in 1767, followed in 1768, the year of Sterne's death, by "The Sentimental Journey." Young Mackenzie had a strong bent towards literature, and while studying law in London, he read Sterne, and falling in with the tone of sentiment which Sterne himself caught from the spirit of the time and the example of Rousseau, he wrote "The Man of Feeling." This book was published, without author's name, in 1771.

If we are to subscribe to my notion of continuity between the Enlightenment and Romantic projects, this makes Tristram Shandy a foundational text for the new society being planned in New South Wales.

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