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THE NEW SATIRE OF AUGUSTAN ENGLAND PHILIP PINKUS I There are many kinds of Augustan satire: Butler's hudibrastic jogtrot, John Oldham's thunderous invective in his Satires upon the Jesuits, Dryden's MacFlecknoe, the moralizing abuse of Defoe's Reformation of Manners, Pope's Imitations of Horace, Swift's Gulli11er's Travels, and Addison's gentle admonishments in the Spectator (if we may call this satire). These satires are not merely different from each other. Most of them represent different conceptions of what satire is. Yet when we use the term "Augustan satire" we usually have a clear idea of what is meant because most satires of this period share a distinctive style, subject matter, imagery, and point of view, which are fundamentally different from those of almost all satire before it. We can say that in the neo-classical period satire comes of age, that it is the first time that satire, as we commonly understand the mode, is written with any COnsistency , that in fact, this is what we mean by satire. Whatever changes have occurred since the eighteenth century (with possibly one exception, the writers of the absurd) are minor. They have not altered the basic conception of satire established then. To explain what happened to satire at this time we first need a measuring stick, a definition of satire, to give our examination SOme validity. Such a definition will be arbitrary, perhaps, like all literary definitions, but it will be an attempt to describe what we ordinarily mean by satire today and should proVide us with a useful perspective.' I do not mean to suggest that any work that does not fit this definition is not satire. If Horace's sermones have been called satires for 2,000 years then, of course, they are satires, and no definition of mine will alter the fact. I can only try to show that Horace's conception of satire is not our conception today, nor was it that of the Augustan period, even though the Augustans wrote numerous "imitations" of Horatian satire. We think of the tradition of satire as beginning with the Roman samra, yet in the satUTa there are few instances of the familiar satiric impact that we usually associate with satire in our sense of the word. Our kind of satire did exist among the ancients, though sporadically, as is Volume XXXVIII, Number 2, January 1969 THE NEW SATIRE OF AUGUSTAN ENGLAND 137 shown for example, by the portrait of Socrates in Aristophanes' The Clouds. The satire on Socrates provides a convenient basis for our definition . The first thing we notice is that this is not Socrates the man, at least not the noble figure we get from the pages of Plato, who has become almost a secular Christ to Western humanists. The picture we are given is a monstrous lie, according to Socrates' idolaters. But it is nO more a lie than, say, Shakespeare's portrait of Henry V. As an artist, the satirist makes nO claim to historical truth, he settles for what he considers to be artistic truth. The satirist's purpose is to reveal the destructive element, the evil, beneath his target's pose of respectability: it is an artistic conception , not an historical One. In effect, Aristophanes is saying, here is your great philosopher, the man of wisdom. He is not only a fool; he presents his idiocy as enlightenment, and you believe him and even respect him for it. And Aristophanes proceeds to blow up the image of Socrates into a pedantiC buffoon suspended in a basket, arguing learnedly that black is white, offering windy abstractions to pay the family debt, spinning vast philosophic systems out of chop-logic, so that the difference between what Socrates the man pretends to be and the artist's perception of what he actually is, becomes enormous. Before we dismiss the satirist's image as malicious fantasy we should remember that Aristophanes' picture of the philosopher is one of the stock images of satire. W e see it in Lucian's "Auction of the Philosophers," in Quevedo's philosophers in the Visions, in Rabelais' Wordspinner, Butler's Sir Hudibras, in Swift's philosophers...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 136-158
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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