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Hume Studies Volume 27, Number 1, April 2001, pp. 186-190 MARK SALBER PHILLIPS. Society and Sentiment: Genres of Historical Writing in Britain, 1740-1820. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000. Pp. xvii + 369. ISBN 0-691-03179-7, cloth, $57.50; ISBN 0-691-00867-1, paper, $25.95. This gracefully written and ably-researched book explores historical writing in Britain in the last half of the eighteenth and the first quarter of the nineteenth centuries. Readers of this journal, however, may be most interested to know that it is also a book in which Hume figures prominently. One of Phillip's most involved subtexts aims to explain how it was that Hume, the celebrated historian of the eighteenth century, fell from grace in the nineteenth century. As any scholar interested in historiography will know, this is not Phillips's first foray into the history of history writing. In the background of the present endeavor are his earlier published works on the writing of history in the Italian Renaissance—see, for instance, his well-received Francesco Guicciardini: The Historian's Craft (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977)—and a number of more recent essays on eighteenth-century topics, some of which, in revised forms, find their way into the book under review. Phillips brings a well-trained mind to his study of history writing in eighteenth-century Britain ; and it shows. A central idea in this book is that, if we are successfully to recapture the essence of eighteenth-century historical writing, we must think about history in an expansive way. This means defining the "genres" of history broadly enough to include not only general, philosophical, and conjectural histories, but also annals, memoirs, biography, and literary history. It also means shifting our "attention away from the customary focus on a few great, individual works" (xi). Phillips's wide-ranging approach takes in many eighteenth- and nineteenth-century writers. His twelve chapters provide valuable discussions of thinkers as disparate as John Aikin, William Alexander, Archibald Alison, Samuel Ancell, Adam Anderson, Anna Laetitia Barbauld, John Bennett, Joseph Berington, Robert Bisset, Thomas Blackwell, James Boswell, Edmund Burke, William Creech, Isaac D'Israeli, Adam Ferguson, William Gilpin, William Godwin, Elizabeth Hamilton, Robert Henry, Julius Hutchinson, Francis Jeffrey, Samuel Johnson, Henry Home (Lord Kames), John Logan, Thomas MacDonald, James Mackintosh, Thomas Mathias, John Millar, James Burnett (Lord Monboddo), Arthur Murphy, Charles Philpot, Samuel Jackson Pratt, John Ramsay of Ochtertyre, William Robertson, William Roscoe, William Russell, Sir Walter Scott, Adam Smith, Dugald Stewart, Joseph Strutt, Thomas Hume Studies Book Reviews 187 Warton, Helen Maria Williams, and others. Phillips not only employs a variety of well- and lesser-known writers to fill in his detailed historiographical landscape, he also expands the boundaries of his canvas by aiming to approach the writing of eighteenth-century history from the perspective of these writers' readers. What does his innovative approach to the history of ideas produce? Phillips argues that history was "reframed" in the eighteenth century. Looking across the chronological boundaries that traditionally are thought to separate eighteenth-century historiography from what came before and afterwards, Phillips notes continuity-in-change with shifts in emphasis. "Retraining" its subject matter, eighteenth-century historical writing incorporated topics such as private life, everyday manners, and commerce—topics that were not always, and sometimes could not have been, a concern of Greek and Roman historians or their humanist heirs. But Phillips's eighteenthcentury "postclassical" historians are notably more modern than the early-modern historians who inhabit Philip Hicks's Neoclassical History and English Culture, From Clarendon to Hume (Houndsmill: Macmillan, 1996). Reading between Phillips's lines shows him to be engaged in a running debate with Hicks, or so it seemed to this reviewer. At the same time that history's subject matter was widening, Phillips argues that the range of "distanciation," the sense of distance authors hoped to create between their readers and the recounted events and characters, also expanded. Classical historians like Tacitus increasingly were likely to be given a "sentimentalist rereading" by eighteenth-century readers ( 145). Eighteenth-century historians increasingly were likely to incorporate a sentimentalist perspective as they strove to understand the past not only with respect to the present but...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 186-190
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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