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Richard Bentley and John Dunton: Brothers under the Skin ROBERT ADAMS DAY Many readers have been struck by the extraordinary capaciousness of the satirical net that Swift casts in A Tale of a Tub; in the sections concerning the abuses of learning, for instance, where he is not afraid to name names, the victims of his satire range from the late laureate to Tom D'Urfey (though to be sure Dryden was dead by 1704, and a Catholic to boot). But clearly Swift is not concerned to spare either eagles or tomtits, or—to preserve the metaphor of a net and include Hobbes in our discourse—leviathans or minnows. One ill-assorted pair of Swift's victims here—certainly a leviathan and a minnow—have probably never been considered together be­ fore; nor, one would think, is there any reason except sheer love of paradox to mention Richard Bentley, D.D., and John Dunton in the same breath. On the one hand the Master of Trinity, the Newtonian divine chosen to inaugurate the celebrated Boyle Lectures against atheism, considered by many to be the foremost classical scholar of his age, and on the other an eccentric (or mad) little self-educated bookseller, operating out of the Black Raven in the Poultry, equally no­ table for his shameless self-advertising and his participation in some rather shady dealings concerning the promotion of popular works of piety: what could these two have in common? One answer will immediately occur to many readers: Swift had a violent personal grudge against both. It is common knowledge that he had made a fool of himself with his "Ode to the Athenian Society" before discovering that that august body consisted principally of John 125 126 / DAY Dunton; he and Sir William Temple had engaged in acrimonious and abortive negotiations with Dunton over a scheme to publish a history of England; and he had seen his admired patron ignominiously flat­ tened by Bentley in the controversy over the authenticity of the epistles of Phalaris. But a heavily-documented recent study has per­ suasively argued that Swift was far more objective about Temple, far less a slavishly admiring partisan, than we had thought; and as for the Phalaris controversy, the consensus at the time and for many years later was in fact that Temple, the Honorable Charles Boyle, and the Christ Church wits had scored a resounding victory over the oafish pedant Bentley.1 It is more to Swift's credit to assume that something more significant than personal animosity led him to bestow his satiri­ cal attentions on Bentley and Dunton. I want to argue here that Swift had perceived, in certain writings both of which we can be sure he knew, a fundamental and identical threat to good letters and polite learning as he understood them. I refer to Bentley's Dissertation on Phalaris (1697 and 1699) and Dunton's A Voyage Round the World (1691). Very few modern scholars have read either of these. But they de­ serve more attention than they have received for many reasons, and notably for our purpose because, however disparate their subject matter, they both shrilly proclaim the arrival on the scene of a new kind of writer—Typographic Man, in full bloom—a new attitude to­ ward audience, self, and subject matter, which I have chosen to call Eyethink, and a new style, which, borrowing a term from the Russian Formalist critics, I shall call skaz. To detect and articulate these literary phenomena, which I am quite sure that Swift perceived only vaguely and intuitively, but with no less alarm for all that, we need to adopt a view of literary history which has only recently been brought to our attention, notably by Walter J. Ong: the view that the gradual replacement in the West of oral and preliterate culture by writing and then by typography has exerted a steady and powerful, but only very gradual, influence on the develop­ ment of discourse—the history of utterance, so to say, from Homer to Wordsworth to Allen Ginsberg.2 Space does not permit an elaborate exposition of this theory, but we must note at least that in a preliterate society...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1938-6133
Print ISSN
0360-2370
Pages
pp. 125-138
Launched on MUSE
2021-05-20
Open Access
No
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