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«Pedro Javier Pardo García Universidad de Salamanca pardo Abstract The paper discusses a series of 18th-century works which may be included ...»

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Satire on Learning and the Type of the Pedant

in Eighteenth-Century Literature

Pedro Javier Pardo García

Universidad de Salamanca

pardo@usal.es

Abstract

The paper discusses a series of 18th-century works which may be included in a genre

sometimes referred to as ‘satire on learning’, and, more specifically, which feature a

particular character type—the pedant. The genre has not received much critical

attention, so the paper will simply attempt to build a corpus of works integrating that genre—which, hopefully, may be expanded by later research and contributions to the topic—by establishing a series of links among them. In carrying out this task, this paper will (1) focus on the existence of English, French and Spanish works which testify to the European dimension of the genre and to a shared critical conception of learning as pedantry. It will then (2) draw a composite portrait of the central figure, the pedant (also called virtuoso, learned wit, erudite dunce), who gives unity to the works themselves and to the genre as a whole. It will finally (3) suggest lines of research which may render the topic interesting and fruitful.

The so-called tradition of learned wit has been studied in English literature because of its relation and contribution to major works and authors, basically Sterne’s Tristram Shandy but also some of Swift’s and Pope’s masterpieces.1 As a comparison of these books with their learned sources makes clear, a distinction should be drawn within this larger tradition between genuine works of erudite lore such as Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy (1621) or Thomas Browne’s Vulgar Errors (1646), to name but two of the most outstanding and widely known exemplars, and works such as those by Swift, Pope or Sterne, which draw their themes and materials from that tradition but use them for satiric purposes. This second kind of works can be considered to be something more articulated and specific than a tradition, that is to say, a genre, which has been occasionally referred to as satire on learning, since it is basically a critique of erudition and abuses in learning, featuring for this purpose a particular character type, that of the pedant (sometimes called virtuoso) and certain themes and forms associated with this type.

This genre of satire on learning is not restricted to eighteenth-century English literature: there are some interesting—even if minor or half-forgotten—examples of it in eighteenth-century European literature outside Britain. In this European context, however, the genre has not received, to my knowledge, much critical attention. So, at the initial stage of research on the topic that these remarks are intended to illustrate, it may not be irrelevant to build an expanded and international corpus of works by establishing a series of links among them. These links are founded on a textual—and not contextual—basis. In other words, they are documented through an examination of certain texts in different languages and the features which recur in them, through relations of affinity and analogy which point to—but do not necessarily imply—actual contact or influence, and not through a demonstration of these latter. In fact we may be confronted by one of those cases in which coincidences are explained by similarities in separate or even independent © Edicions i Publicacions de la Universitat de Barcelona intellectual and cultural climates, by historical and literary processes that are not bound by particular national frontiers, rather than by rapports de fait. These are the cases which allow comparative literature to transcend these rapports de fait as its only legitimate basis, perhaps to the regret of some traditionalists.

In carrying out this task, this paper will (1) focus on the existence of English, French and Spanish works which testify to the European dimension of the genre and to a shared critical conception of learning as pedantry. It will then (2) draw a composite portrait of the central figure, the pedant, virtuoso, learned wit, or erudite dunce, who gives unity to the works themselves and to the genre as a whole, and it will demonstrate his indebtedness to the Quixotic figure. And, it will finally (3) suggest lines of research which may render the topic interesting and fruitful, it will hint how this genre may be explored through a comparative approach which should highlight its supranational dimension and permanence through different periods and ages, and at the same time underscore the differences arising from different contexts, both temporal and spatial.

1. Eighteenth-Century Pedantry Pedantry and abuses of learning seem to be a characteristic eighteenth-century disease, or at least a characteristic eighteenth-century literary topic, although their literary ancestors must unquestionably be sought in Rabelais and Cervantes, and there are also some seventeenth-century predecessors.2 (Of course the possibility that the authors drew on certain real-life models of the time, not very different from the ones we can still spot among us in university departments, seminars and conferences, cannot be altogether discarded.) This efflorescence of pedantry in the eighteenth century is made clear by a brief overview of eighteenth-century works dealing with this topic, many of them featuring Quixotes of learning.

(a) The most universal and accomplished Quixotic pedant is of course Walter Shandy in Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy (1760-1767), but, antedating Sterne, there are other minor or less-known works which make use of this figure to carry out their satire on learning. In England the most significant predecessor in so far as he makes explicit the Quixotic connection through his obvious imitation of the Don, is the religious pedant of Samuel Butler’s Hudibras (1663, 1664, 1678). Butler was also the author of two works showing the same satirical approach to learning, The Elephant in the Moon and Satire in Two Parts upon the Imperfections and Abuse of Human Learning (both written c. 1670-71, but published posthumously in the eighteenth century). And he also produced characters and fragments in which he sketches types and situations which bear the imprint of this genre. But type and genre come to their prime in the works produced by the members of the so-called Scriblerus Club (which included Swift, Pope, Gay, Arbuthnot and Parnell).3 Swift had published A Tale of a Tub in 1704, undoubtedly one of the cornerstones of the genre, but it is to the joint authorship of the club that we owe the most representative and significant, if not polished or accomplished in literary terms, exemplar of the genre, the Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus (published in 1741 but written between 1714 and 1727).





To the feigned authorship of Martinus Scriblerus were ascribed other works actually written by members of the club such as Annus Mirabilis (1722), Peri Bathous: Of the Art of Sinking in Poetry (1728), Virgilius Restauratus (1729), the critical apparatus to Pope’s Dunciad known as the Dunciad Variorum (1729), or The Origin of Sciences (1732), among others. Of course The Dunciad itself (1728, 1729, 1742, 1743) and its most immediate antecedent, Dryden’s MacFlecknoe (1682), exhibit the critique of false or misapplied learning characteristic of the genre, and so do certain chapters of Gulliver’s Travels (1726), especially in the third part, where Gulliver narrates his experience in Laputa and describes © Edicions i Publicacions de la Universitat de Barcelona the Academy of Projectors at Lagado. The work as a whole, according to Kerby-Miller (1988), was conceived by Swift as the travels of Martinus Scriblerus, and Gulliver’s quixotic behaviour at the end of the narrative seems also to corroborate this statement. And we may also add the presence of the type in other literary forms, such as journalism (Tom Folio in the essays of The Tatler) and drama: the protagonist of Thomas Shadwell’s The Virtuoso (1676) is an evident forerunner of the eighteenth-century pedant, who is the protagonist—Dr Fossile—of the collaborative Scriblerian farce (by Pope, Arbuthnot, and mainly by Gay) Three Hours after Marriage (1717). Finally, we must bear in mind that the pedant may have an episodic appearance in works which are not basically satires on learning, for example the two pedantic tutors of the hero in Fielding’s Tom Jones (1749), Thawckum and Square, the pedant Mr Selvin who is ridiculed by the protagonist at a certain point of Charlotte Lennox’s The Female Quixote (1752), or the astronomer encountered by the hero of Samuel Johnson’s Rasselas (1759).

(b) As has been remarked above, satire on learning does not seem to be an exclusive English creation, although it can be argued that the genre produced its best and its most on English soil. Certain French and Spanish works testify to the supranational dimension of satire on learning. The French instances are perhaps less known than the English ones and include the Histoire de Monsieur Ouffle, by the Abbé Laurent Bordelon (1710), featuring one of the earliest Quixotes of learning, Le Chef-d’oeuvre d’un Inconnu (1714), by Thémiseul de Saint-Hyacinthe, or the Mémoires de l’Académie de Troyes (1744), by Pierre-Jean Grosley. In Spain, besides the well known and Shandean protagonist of Father Isla’s novel Fray Gerundio de Campazas (1758 and 1768), one may add works such as Los Eruditos a la violeta (1772), by José Cadalso, or Pedro Centeno’s Don Quijote el Escolástico (1788 and 1789), which was preceded by a periodical entitled El apologista universal (1786-1788), also by the same author and featuring mock or ironic reviews supposedly written by a defender of scholastic and traditional learning. Of course there is no reason why there may not be more satires on learning in other European languages, and, once the basic features of the genre are identified, other examples may be certainly spotted in German, Italian, or Portuguese literature.

Perhaps the most important of these basic features, since it is what most of these works share, is the critical presentation of learning as pedantry. In eighteenth-century English newspapers and dictionaries pedantry was defined as pretence to learning (and this is the sense we may find, for example, in Cadalso’s Los Eruditos a la Violeta), that is to say, the exhibition of false learning as far as this is superficial or even nonexistent, faked, counterfeited. But, in addition to this, there was another sense of pedantry which implied a more subtle and complex critique of learning, and this is the one defined by Swift when he wrote that Pedantry is properly the over-rating any kind of knowledge we pretend to … And if that kind of knowledge be a trifle in itself, the pedantry is the greater.

For which reasons I look upon fiddlers, dancing-masters, heralds, masters of the ceremony, &c. To be greater pedants than Lipsius, or the elder Scaliger.

(in Kerby-Miller 1988, 268) In the first sense, pedantry amounts to lack of real learning; in the second one, to an inappropriate or even disproportionate use of it. This double definition of pedantry was not new, though. We may find a similar conception of pedantry one century earlier in Cervantes’s novella El coloquio de los perros, included in his Novelas Ejemplares (1613).

© Edicions i Publicacions de la Universitat de Barcelona At a certain point in their dialogue, the wise and talkative dogs Cipión and Berganza, the

protagonists of the work, describe abuses of learning in the same twofold fashion:

BERGANZA- … Hay algunos romancistas que en las conversaciones disparan de cuando en cuando con algún latín breve y compendioso, dando a entender a los que no lo entienden que son grandes latinos, y apenas saben declinar un nombre ni conjugar un verbo.

CIPIÓN – Por menos daño tengo ése que el que hacen los que verdaderamente saben latín, de los cuales hay algunos tan imprudentes que hablando con un zapatero o con un sastre arrojan latines como agua.

BERGANZA – De eso podremos inferir que tanto peca el que dice latines delante de quien los ignora como el que los dice ignorándolos.

(1982, vol. III, 267-68; emphasis added) The man who quotes in Latin but in fact lacks a true knowledge of this language (“el que dice latines … ignorándolos”) illustrates pedantry as pretence to learning; the scholar who uses Latin in an inappropriate context or way (“el que dice latines delante de quien los ignora”) points to pedantry as misuse or simply abuse of learning.

It is this second dimension of pedantry which is more distinctively and thoroughly explored by satire on learning, and the lines of this exploration are suggested to a great extent by Swift’s definition of pedantry quoted above. There are two interesting ideas pointed out by Swift, which recur in many of the works mentioned above. Firstly, the overrating of knowledge, which implies an exaggeration in the place and importance allotted to erudition, or, in other words, the centrality of learning. Secondly, knowledge as a trifle, which implies an exaggeration of its specialised or restricted nature, that is, the triviality of learning. Pedantry is thus attacked as excess in learning, as learning becoming too central and too trivial, or, combining both types of abuse, as a disproportion between the excessive value attached to it by the subject and the insignificant nature of the object itself, a disparity between the importance or place attached to it and those inherent in it. Satire results from the comic handling of this disproportion and disparity: erudition is applied to every aspect or area of life, including those clearly hostile to it because of their everyday and ordinary nature (centrality); erudition is made up of obscure, far-fetched, irrelevant knowledge, and is concerned with topics, books, authors, that nobody cares about any more (triviality). The resulting satire is not just a critique of the specific philosophical or scientific system represented by the sources of learning, but of any system which is not adequately understood or properly used, or, in other words, of learning without wisdom, of the misapplication of intelligence; and, furthermore, of an intellectual approach to life, of an attitude that can be summed up as living by the head. Satire on learning is thus able to embrace both the topical and the general.



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