"What is Man?": Reason, Sensibility, and Identity in Eighteenth-Century British Poetry
English 443: Studies in Eighteenth-Century British Literature
TR 2-3:30, Jones 303, Fall 1998

Professor: Dan White
Office: Library 263, x. 3428
Office Hours: Monday 10:00-11:30, Thursday 10:30-12:00, or by appointment
E-Mail: dewhite@ups.edu
Home Phone: (206) 328-5548 (Discretion is advised)

Course Focus: A late-eighteenth-century pamphlet, The Catechism of Man, begins:

Question. What is Man?
Answer. A reasonable and social animal.
Q. How do you prove that he is endowed with reason?
A. From his powers of observing, remembering, comparing, and judging.
Q. How do you prove that he is social?
A. From his natural desire of society, his being always found in society, and his improvement and happiness in it.

Looking back on the period between 1660 and 1800 from this perspective, we see two poles of eighteenth-century identity: reason, the analytical faculty, and sensibility, the civilizing force of sympathy that binds individuals in society. Literary critics have typically described the period as a development from the Enlightenment, or Age of Reason, through the Age of Sensibility, and finally to Romanticism. In this course we will rethink this progression by reading works, primarily poems, that define human nature through accounts of "reason" and "sensibility." Are human beings naturally rational or only capable of reason? Is sensibility an innately feminine quality in the eighteenth century? Consequently, as the title of Henry Mackenzie's novel asks, is there even such a thing as a "man of feeling"? How are reason and sensibility perceived by working-class poets? Focusing on women's poetry and the sonnet, the last section of the course will trace these issues through the abolitionist movement, the French Revolution debate, and early Romantic poetry and poetics.

Requirements: Two (5-7, 20 pp.) or three (5-7, 5-7, 10-12 pp.) papers; Oral presentation; Class participation. The longer paper (10-12 or 20 pp.) will require some research and readings in secondary sources.

Grading: Your grade will be a combination of the papers (60%), oral presentation (20%), and class participation (20%). If you have difficulty engaging in public discussion, please see me.

Readings: With the exception of The Man of Feeling, all required readings are either in The Norton Anthology of English Literature (Sixth Edition, Volume I), Mellor and Matlak's British Literature 1780-1830, or the coursepack. After each reading below, I indicate the source in parentheses. For instance, (N 1755-61) means pp. 1755-1761 in the Norton; (M 168-69) means pp. 168-69 in Mellor and Matlak; and (C) means in the coursepack.


Section I: Enlightenment, Neoclassicism, and Gender

WEEK 1
September 1 Introduction; John Taylor, the "Charge" with which Taylor, tutor in Divinity at the Warrington Academy, prefaced his lectures (C)

September 3 John Locke, from An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding (N 1755-61); Sir Isaac Newton, from Theory about Light and Colors (N 1761-66); Immanuel Kant, "What is Enlightenment?" (C)

WEEK 2
September 8 John Milton, "L'Allegro" (N 1443-46), "Il Penseroso" (N 1446-50)

September 10 Milton, "Lycidas" (N 1451-56)

WEEK 3
September 15 Alexander Pope, "Eloisa to Abelard" (N 2255-63), from "An Essay on Man" (N 2263-70)

September 17 Anne Finch, "To the Nightingale" (C), "A Nocturnal Reverie" (N 1993-94)

WEEK 4
September 22 Joseph Addison, from Spectator 62, "Wit: True, False, Mixed" (N 2202-205); Pope, "The Rape of the Lock" (N 2233-52)

September 24 Pope, "The Rape of the Lock"; Jonathan Swift, "The Progress of Beauty" (C), "Stella's Birth-Day" (N 2011-12)

WEEK 5
September 29 William Congreve, The Way of the World (N 1911-71)

October 1 Congreve, The Way of the World; Topic and Thesis for Paper #1 due


Section II: Neoclassicism and the Working Class

WEEK 6
October 6 Stephen Duck, "The Thresher's Labour" (C); Mary Collier, "The Woman's Labour" (C), "An Elegy Upon Stephen Duck" (C)

October 8 Mary Leapor, "An Essay on Woman" (C), from "Mira's Picture. A Pastoral" (C), "Mira's Will" (C); Paper # 1 due (5-7 pp.)


Section III: Graveyard Poetry and Men of Feeling

WEEK 7
October 13 Thomas Gray, "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" (N 2458-61), "Sonnet on the Death of Mr. Richard West" (C), "An Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College" (N 2455-57)

October 15 Gray (continued); Samuel Johnson, "The Vanity of Human Wishes" (N 2297-306)

WEEK 8
October 20 Henry Mackenzie, The Man of Feeling

October 22 Mackenzie, The Man of Feeling

WEEK 9
October 27 Oliver Goldsmith, "The Deserted Village" (N 2484-93); George Crabbe, from "The Village" (N 2493-501)

October 29 William Cowper, from The Task (N 2501-506); Topic and Thesis for Paper #2 due


Section IV: Indifference vs. Sensibility: Women's Poetry, Abolitionism, and the French Revolution Debate

WEEK 10
November 3 Helen Maria Williams, "To Sensibility" (M 504-505); Hannah More, from "Sensibility" (M 202-206), Frances Greville, "A Prayer for Indifference" (C); Ann Yearsley, "Addressed to Sensibility" (C), "To Indifference" (C)

November 5 Anna Barbauld, "Ode to Spring" (C), "The Rights of Woman" (M 186-87), "Washing Day" (M 187-89); Mary Wollstonecraft, from A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (M 371-412); Paper #2 due (5-7 pp.)

WEEK 11
November 10 Lecture on abolitionism; Parliamentary Proceedings, from The Debate on a Motion for the Abolition of the Slave-Trade, in the House of Commons, on Monday the second of April, 1792, Reported in Detail (selections TBA)

November 12 Hannah More, "Slavery" (M 206-209); Ann Yearsley, "A Poem on the Inhumanity of the Slave Trade" (M 263-68); Barbauld, "An Epistle to William Wilberforce" (M 169-70), "The Mouse's Petition" (C)

WEEK 12
November 17 Lecture on the French Revolution debate; Edmund Burke, from Reflections on the Revolution in France (M 13-19); Mary Wollstonecraft, from A Vindication of the Rights of Men (M 20-24); Thomas Paine, from The Rights of Man (M 25-28)

November 19 Burke, Wollstonecraft, Paine (continued)


Section V: Reevaluating Early Romanticism: Sensibility and the Sonnet

WEEK 13
November 24 William Lisle Bowles, "To the River Itchin" (C); Charlotte Smith, from Elegiac Sonnets (C); from review of Smith in the Critical Review (C); Samuel Taylor Coleridge, from Poems (1797), from Introduction to "Sonnets, Attempted in the Manner of the Rev. W.L. Bowles" (C); William Wordsworth, "Sonnet on Seeing Miss Helen Maria Williams Weep at a Tale of Distress" (M 563)

November 26 No class (Thanksgiving)

WEEK 14
December 1 William Wordsworth, from Preface to the Second Edition of Lyrical Ballads (M 573-81); Samuel Taylor Coleridge, from Biographia Literaria, Chapter 13 (M 749-50); Wordsworth, "Tintern Abbey" (M 571-73)

December 3 Coleridge, from Conciones ad Populum (M 684-89), from On the Constitution of Church & State, Chapter V (M 762-64)

WEEK 15
December 8 Coleridge, "Reflections on Having Left a Place of Retirement" (M 693-94), "The Eolian Harp" (M 760); "Frost at Midnight" (M 697); Topic and Thesis for Final Paper due

Final Paper (10-12 or 20 pp.) due one week after last class.


Daniel E. White
dewhite@ups.edu