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Hume Studies Volume XXI, Number 2, November 1995, pp. 340-343 Author's Response A Reply to Mark Box ADAM POTKAY I find that all in all Box makes my book seem much more forbidding than it is—or at least, than I think it is. Much of this is probably my own fault for starting my book with a somewhat theoretical section on methodology—on the so-called "new historicism." While I accept responsibility for making statements about the new historicism, I think it might be "profitable to confess what moved me to make such statements": my editor at Cornell wouldn't publish my book unless I did so. It seems that many university presses are eager, today, for literary critics and historians to begin their books by orienting themselves with regard to current methodological practices and controversies. So I ended up situating my largely historical little book in relation to a recent "ism"—new historicism. I make fairly clear, however, that unlike many of these new historicists, I'm neither a Marxist in any activist sense, nor a Freudian in any sense at all. My book, unlike Box's précis, contains no "febrile psyches," "existential crises," "approach-avoidance complexes," "subconscious rationalizations," or "pathologies." And although I do talk about "ideologies," I tend to use that term as many political historians now do to mean any more or less coherent body of beliefs; only once do I venture an explicitly Marxian use of that term. Here's the offending passage: It is fair to say that politeness is an ideology in the classical Marxian sense because its proponents—especially in Scotland—conceiving of themselves as the restorers of a type of social equality found in the Adam Potkay is at the Department of English, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg VA 23187-8795 USA. e-mail aspotk@mail.wm.edu Book Reviews 341 places publiques of Athens, disguised (perhaps even to themselves) their role as spokesmen for a rising class of gentry, professionals, well-to-do tradesmen, and moderate clericals who sought to confirm their identity and consolidate their power in contradistinction to a growing urban "mob." This mob refers to the smaller tradesmen, artisans, and workers of London, and, to a lesser degree, Edinburgh and Glasgow, insofar as they sought—as they increasingly did after 1760—to wrest political authority from its accustomed channels. (17-18) What leads me to say this is obviously not Hume's youthful letter of 1734, in which he observes that in France politeness has pervaded even the lower class; it is, rather, Hume's plangent complaints about the vulgar and the mob in his letters of the 1760s, the decade, significantly, in which he made substantial revisions to his youthful essay "Of Eloquence," revisions that evince a growing sqeamishness about the whole notion of passionate and popular eloquence. Significantly, the 1760s was also the decade in which Adam Smith delivered the lectures on rhetoric and belles-lettres that have (presumably with some degree of fidelity) come down to us—lectures that are, as I demonstrate in my book, fairly obsessed with teaching his young Glaswegian students how to distinguish themselves, by their reserve and elegance of address, from the vulgar and the mob. Indeed, by adducing Hume's letter of 1734, Box neglects what I had hoped to have been one of the chief lessons of my book—namely, that Hume's political opinions change between 1741 and 1770, or between first writing, and finally revising, "Of Eloquence." Hume grows far less comfortable with "the people," and accordingly with the popular appeal of the ancient orators. He grows much more concerned with the ill effects of demagoguery. He grows far more committed to an ethos of polite style that distinguishes "us" from the "vulgar." Box seems to think it's a little bit funny that I pay all this attention to the evolution of a single essay, particularly "Of Eloquence," which, in his assessment , "has gone almost entirely unremarked for over two centuries." But, as I have argued in a recent paper,1 Hume's "Of Eloquence" was probably the one piece of his writing most widely known in both Britain...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 340-343
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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