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The Providence of Wit

Aspects of Form in Augustan Literature and the Arts
Martin C. Battestin

BUY Cloth · 446 pp. · ISBN 9780198120520 · $59.50 · Oct 1983

By exploring the relationship between the idea of Nature and the idea of Art in the period from 1660-1760, this study attempts to account for the distinctive quality of the 'Augustan mode' in literature in arts. Before what Pope envisioned as the apocalypse of modernism occurred, artists and aestheticians shared the faith of Newton and the divines in providential order, and, refining the neoclassical doctrine of mimesis, they expressed that faith in theory and practice. In shaping his own ideal forms, the Augustan artist took as paradigm the fiat of Genesis. Showing that theories of 'pure form' in the period rest upon the mutually dependent assumptions of ethnology and aesthetics, Professor Battestin first discusses the ways in which ideas of Nature's harmony, symmetry, and variety affected the doctrine of mimesis in the abstract arts of music, architecture, and gardening. Against the background he next examines the idea of Art and the relationship between form and meaning in the poetry of Pope and Gay and the fiction of Fielding and Godlsmith. THe final chapter, focusing on the deliberate violation of these formal principles in A Tale of Tub and Tristram Shandy, distinguishes between the Augustan and Modern modes by contrasting Swift's implicit acceptance of the ideals of his age with Sterne's sense that they are no logner relevant either to life or to art.


For almost the first time in Mr. Battestin's book religion has its full innings in the reinterpretation of eighteenth-century literature....Perhaps his greatest contribution is his recovery of a number of divines and their writings and his employment of them as an intellectual rather than a merely antiquarian source.

Paul Fussell · Times Literary Supplement

The Providence of Wit is deeply concerned with how waxing and waning eighteenth-century artistic, historical, and ontological assumptions help illumine the form of major works by major authors between about 1660 and 1760. Lucidly written, handsomely illustrated, and critically compelling, The Providence of Wit remains a brilliant exposition of the Christian Humanist point of view. It also remains essential reading for students of the REstoration and the eighteenth century.

Howard D. Weinbrot, Vilas and Quintana Professor, the University of Wisconsin--Madison

An erudite, imaginative exploration of intellectual patterns governing early English fiction, The Providence fo Wit remains an indisepnsable text for critics and scholars alike. Utterly persuasive but never overinsistent, Martin Battestin amasses evidence to illuminate the familiar and elucidate the unfamiliar. He has permanently altered our understanding of the English eighteenth century.

Patricia Meyer Spacks, Neil Gray, Jr. Professor of English, Yale University

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