Some Paradigms of Conversability in the Eighteenth Century
This chapter examines three key articulations of the conversational turn: the politeness paradigm associated with Addison and Steele; the ideas of sentiment and sympathy associated with Hume and the Scottish Enlightenment; and the more frictive idea of conversation found in Isaac Watts and the culture of Rational Dissent. The method focuses on the recurrence of certain tropes and the way they are used, especially where they open up differences at work beneath what seem similar commitment to the conversable turn. Attention is also given to the cultural context of each of the key texts: the emergent commercial society of early eighteenth-century London, including the different perspectives on conversation of writers like Shaftesbury and Swift; the Scottish Enlightenment and its opponents in the Popular Party of the Kirk; and the context of Rational Dissent for Watt’s ideas. The chapter ends by considering how some of these ideas influenced the sentimental fiction of the 1770s and 80s and the idea of sympathy offering to transcend a social world full of difficult mediations.
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