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"Downright Anarchy" : Fielding's history of English literature

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"Downright Anarchy" : Fielding's history of English literature "D . h A h " ownng t narc y : Fielding' s History of English Literature Y oshihiro Shira tori I In the 23rd issue of The Covent-Garden journal (21 March 1751), Henry Fielding (1707-54) writes a brief history of English literature.< 0 This history, although one of the earliest written attempts at surveying English literary achievements chronologically, is quite a significant primary material of Fielding's, which has hitherto been ignored. No studies have ever tried to elucidate what induced Fielding late in life to survey the historical course of English literature. The narration of the history of literature attained significance in the eighteenth century. As Trevor Ross has shown, literary history was established "as a discipline" in the late 1770s (24 7). The vogue for literary history culminated in the publication of Thomas W arton's History of English Poetry (177 4-81) and Samuel J ohnson's Lives of the Poets (1779-81). The rise of literary history was closely related to the formation of a literary canon. As Douglas Lane Patey puts it, "literary canons" were "an Augustan invention" (17; emphasis original). War- ton's and Johnson's literary histories, Lawrence Lipking asserts, satis- fied the need for an "ordered" canon of English literary works: "What the public demanded, and what it eventually received, was a history of English poetry, or a survey of English poets, that would provide a basis (48) -155- for criticism by reviewing the entire range of art. Warton and Johnson responded to a national desire for an evaluation of what English poets had achieved" (328). Compared to the histories written by Warton or Johnson, Fielding's history is too short and rough. For example, it does not include any particular discussions on individual works and their merit. But we should not overlook the fact that Fielding was aware of the absence of such a historical "survey"

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