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Writing and Political Engagement in Seventeenth-Century England & The Politics of Information in Early Modern Europe.

Derek Hirst and Richard Strier, eds. Writing and Political Engagement in Seventeenth-Century England.

Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. vii + 236 pp. index. $59.95. ISBN: 0-521-66175-7.

Brendan Dooley and Sabrina Baron, eds. The Politics of Information in Early Modern Europe.

(Routledge Studies in Cultural History.) London and New York: Routledge, 2001. viii + 310 pp. index. $65. ISBN: 0-415-20310-4.

Both of these collections explore the permeability of private and public, the first through showing how the political permeates the personal in seventeenth-century England and the second by focusing on the topic of information circulation or "news," moving well beyond England to look at early modern Spain, France, Scandinavia, Italy, and the Netherlands.

Writing and Political Engagement in Seventeenth-Century Enland is dedicated to the memory and work of literary scholar John Wallace, especially his Destiny His Choice: The Loyalism of Andrew Marvell. The essays in this volume, arranged in chronological order, are united by "a shared concern with the relationship between ideas and events" (2) in seventeenth-century England. Although rather loosely connected, the essays bring astute new insights to analyses of individual texts by showing the public or political aspects of various kinds of literary writing and the interrelation of the personal and the political.

In the opening essay, Richard Strier shows that certain aspects of Prospero's character--in particular his fantasies of omnipotence--are a kind of "magical politics" linked with and hence revealing a dark side of colonialism in the New World. In the essay following, Stanley Fish argues that the self-abnegarion of George Herbert's The Country Parson entails an (attempted) erasure of the self that constructs devotion as only seeming and theatrical presentation. Similarly, Jackson Cope proposes that Sir Kenelm Digby's "personal" writings on Venetia Stanley are part of a public self-justification, countering negative reactions both to his marriage and to his wife's death under suspicious circumstances.

Three essays then explore the influence of intellectual traditions on individual thinkers. Quentin Skinner shows how Thomas Hobbes draws upon a humanist plan of study, including grammar, rhetoric, poetry, history, and moral philosophy, before the "genuine rupture" that marks the skeptical scientific approach adopted in his De Cive. Barbara Donagan looks at the shared language of casuistry to analyze how eventual parliamentarians or royalists justified taking action in the English civil war. J.G.A. Pocock explores how Thomas May draws upon classical historiography for modes of commemoration and explication, as he struggles to comprehend the disasters of a civil war in progress.

The final two essays trace the interrelations of the personal and political in the representation of self and others. Derek Hirst shows how Marvell's use of the satiric figure of Mr. Bayes reveals a web of interconnections that make up the rich "political culture" of the period. Victoria Silver connects Algernon Sidney's self-presentation with his republican critique of Filmer's Patriarcha, including challenging the assumption that representations of the monarch are self-evident, complete, and incontrovertible.

Although remaining somewhat disparate, the individual essays in Writing and Political Engagement in Seventeenth-Century England are clearly written, thoughtful, and compelling. Some essays--such as Jackson Cope on Sir Kenelm Dighy or J.G.A. Pocock on the little-explored Thomas May--break new ground, while others--such as Stanley Fish's demystifying account of Herbert--bring fresh approaches to well-known texts. A fitting tribute to the fine scholar that it commemorates, Writing and Political Engagement presents variations on the theme of the relationship of the personal and the political, reminding us how rich and complex those categories were in the early modern period.

The second volume, The Politics of Information in Early Modern Europe, focuses on the production, circulation, and reception of political information in the seventeenth century. Building upon work on the history of print by Roger Chattier, Elizabeth Eisensrein, and Robert Darnton and upon studies of early modern news by Joad Raymond and others, this original and remarkably coherent volume conjoins investigation of the commercial aspects of news with its political ramifications. Taken together, the essays trace the complex processes through which, by the end of the seventeenth century, newspapers became the method par excellence for conveying political information in England and in Europe more broadly.

The four essays in part one focus on England, bringing up themes that re-echo throughout the volume: the ongoing place of oral transmission and manuscript news after the advent of printed newsbooks, the stimulation and demand for news in times of war, the development of public opinion and beginnings of a (Habermasian) public sphere, and the varied--not simply emancipatory--effects of print.

In Stuart Sherman's analysis, the interdependence of various media and the new modes of dissemination are captured by Ben Jonson's dramatic satire on the rise of the corantos and the all-consuming hunger for news. Sabrina Baron shows that, given the close supervision of printed news in England in the 1620s and 1630s, oral and manuscript accounts remained not only vital but potentially more dangerous. Turning to the 1640s and 1650s, Michael Mendle argues that the explosion of printed news and, in particular, its malleability, were crucial to both the overthrow and the restoration of the Stuarts. Finally, Daniel Woolf finds that the circulation of information in England gave a sense of the duration of the present necessary for the formation of public opinion, despite limitations on the flow of news brought about by social degree, gender, religion, occupation, and most influentially, geography.

The chronologically-arranged essays in part two, "The Continent," take up these same important and interrelated themes while also comparing and contrasting English and continental models. Did the continental model of political information differ from the English in the age of absolutism? The contributors find celebratory rhetoric, but also a more variegated picture. Monarchs effectively used press propaganda, but censorship varied by locale and time: the flow of news information was diversely shaped by war, rebellion, and changes of rule.

Thomas Schroder writes of the early "success" story of the German press in response to the demand for news about the Thirty Years War and the support of the political powers of the time. In the essay following, Otto Lankhorst looks at the thriving printing industry in the (largely) tolerant Dutch Republic, beginning with the Amsterdam-based Courante uyt Italien, first published in 1618. Turning to France, Jean-Pierre Vittu analyses diverse forms of political information, ranging from the celebrations of the sovereign by way of the Te Deum, to Theophraste Renaudot's influential gazette (supported by Richelieu), to the unprecedented mobilization of the press during the Fronde, to later reinforcement of control. Paul Arblaster then shows how in the Spanish Netherlands, censorship of a vigorous news production varied depending on whether it was in the hands of the Spanish or local authorities.

In his analysis of Spain, Henry Ettinghausen demonstrates how, although the production of newspapers came comparatively late, other genres such as manuscript newsletters provided information about and critique of the court of Philip IV. Mario Infelise argues that the late-seventeenth-century war against the Turks was particularly important in the development of the news in Venice. Paul Pies examines how cultural and political differences in the neighboring states of Sweden and Denmark shaped their varied histories of newspaper production.

Part three, "Pan-European Trajectories," concludes the volume with an essay by Brendan Dooley on news and doubt in early modern culture, tracing the recorded impressions of elite readers throughout Europe and asking provocatively, "Are we having a public sphere yet?"

Taken together, the essays in The Politics of Information demonstrate that a rich and volatile range of media interacted and thrived in the seventeenth-century development of the news. The volume is an important contribution to ongoing scholarly discussion of the history of print and the inception of an emergent public sphere of political debate. The editors and contributors are to be commended for a groundbreaking collection characterized by impressive detail, coherence, and erudition.
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Author:Knoppers, Laura Lunger
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2003
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