Sunday, July 04, 2010

Earl Miner, Patterns in Stoicism in Thought and Prose Styles, 1530-1700

Earl Miner, Patterns in Stoicism in Thought and Prose Styles, 1530-1700, PMLA, October 1970, Volume 85, Number 5, pp. 1023-1034.

It has grown a commonplace in accounts of English literature of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that Stoicism in various guises reached the height of its influence in the period from about 1580 to 1630 and that it waned thereafter. (1023)

Morris Croll… conscious alternative to the affected and decorated Ciceronianism, which was premeditated rather than organic, … English writers as diverse as Bacon, Donne, or Browne owed their styles to Roman exemplars and to such continental herbingers of the new modes as Justus Lipsius (Joset Lips). /
To George Williamson, the development of modern English prose was a far more complex process. It began with Erasmus’ anti-Ciceronian Ciceronianus in 1528. The first major English figure was John Lyly, however, whose style possessed two such seemingly opposed features as the schematic structure of the Asian stylists or the Ciceronians and the witty point of the curt Senecan style. (1023)

It was this loose style that eventually won out over the vogue for the curt style, and the loose style that provided in its various manifestations the main line of stylistic development in seventeenth-century prose. (1024)

Croll’s major opponent, R. F. Jones, has not so much disproved Croll as argued that, in the seventeenth century at least, stylistic changes are much better explained by the rise of the new science… (1024)

Croll’s thesis has been accepted for the late Renaissance and early seventeenth century, whereas Jones’s thesis has been accepted for developments culminating in the Restoration. … Whatever occasional objections may have been heard, I think that there is no question but that in one version or another the Croll-Williamson-Jones thesis is widely accepted and taught. (1024)

I very much fear that our generalizations, especially those derived from Croll and relating to England, are based too much upon impression and continental example, too little upon real English evidence. (1025)

I have taken my evidence from the Short-Title-Catalogues of Pollard and Redgrave and of Wing. … The pattern of publication of the dramatic writings is set forth in Table A… What deserves stress is that the half century from 1580 to 1630, when Stoicism was allegedly at its height, has the fewest publications of all (with a complete gap between 1585 and 1613), while the period when Stoicism is supposedly to have vanished, the Restoration, ahs in fact many of Seneca’s plays available. /
It may be thought, however, that the popularity of Seneca’s plays is less significant than that of his prose writings. (1026-1027)

…the period before 1580 was more Senecan than that between 1580 and 1630. And although Senecanism is supposed to have waned after about 1630, there are in fact eighteen publications between 1635 and 1700, four and a half times the total before, especially of the moral Seneca, believed most influential to English thought. And in the hypothetically un-Stoic Restoration, there are fourteen publications. (1027)

…in 1610 only two of Seneca’s prose works were available in English publication. The period from Erasmus’ Ciceronianus in 1528 to 1614 had little Stoic comfort. / We may consider, however, that the argument for Stoic popularity can be reclaimed by a hypothesis that Justus Lipsius and, in particular, his De Constantia, went through numerous English editions, bringing continental Stoicism and prose styles to English attention. Table C gives us the pattern for Lipsius. … Here, happily, and at last, we have some evidence of a “Stoic” writer popular in the last fifteen years of the sixteenth century. There were nine publications. On the other hand, his popularity soon waned, and there is a hiatus of almost half a century between 1615 and 1653. (1027)

Once again, we can only conclude that there were more “Stoics” in the latter half of the seventeenth century than in the former. (1028)

The truth is that classicists describe some of the works (particularly the later) of “Tully” as largely Stoic in nature. Among these is the De Officiis, dealing with the Stoic conception of obligations, duties, or “offices”. The significant fact for theorists of prose style is that this one work of Cicero’s. … was more often published in England than the total canons of Seneca’s prose or of Lipsius’. (1028)

The single “Stoic” writer whose English popularity follows the outline of usual accounts of Stoic ebb and flow in thought as well as in prose style is the historian Tacitus, whose total works published in England do not come, however, to half the number of Cicero’s one work, De Officiis. (1028)

The absolute and relative paucity of publications of Tacitus makes the pattern of less use than the pattern set by the more popular Seneca or the greatly more popular Cicero. Still, it is a fact, and perhaps we can best understand it by attention to Livy, who is contentionally opposed to Tacitus by our proponents of an English Senecan prose. There seems to be a view that he and Cicero enjoyed an earlier popularity and then were displaced by Seneca and Tacitus. In fact, the pattern for Livy is that in Table F. … It is obvious that Tacitus (first published in 1585) was printed in England before Livy (first in 1589), and that with the exception of the very anomalous year of 1659 the pattern, on a reduced scale of frequency, is that of Tacitus… (1028-29)

There are, however, two other major Roman Stoics whom we can look to for confirmation either of the pattern so far observed here, or of the conventional notion. The two are of course Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. …. Epictetus… During the supposedly Stoic half century from 1580 to 1630 there were but three printing in about seven years; but in the four decades between 1660 and 1700 there were nine: three times as many. (1029)

Marcus Aurelius … for the most contemplative of the Antonine emperors, there was no separate publication before 1634. … Simply put, there were four publications between 1634 and 1659, that is, after the presumed period of “Renaissance Stoicism” and fewer than in the Restoration. (1029-30)

It may be argued that since Stoicism influenced Christianity, especially in its Pauline emphasis, we should consider certain Christian writers. I shall return to the subject of religious writings, but for the moment it must be said that while the admittance of Christian writers into consideration greatly widens, and hazes over, the scope of Stoic thought, it nearly destroys the idol of Stoic prose styles. One of the most Pauline of the Fathers, and the one said to have been most popular in England after the Reformation, was Augustine, whose style is famously, or notoriously, ornate (although he, too, wrote in different styles). (1030)

As I suggested earlier, it might be thought that we should assign multiple factors to earlier publications in order to compensate for the increasing number of books published, and I gave reasons for rejecting the thought. Let us, however, accept it for the moment. … The period from 1580 to 1630 emerges on this evidence as one decidedly “Ciceronian,” and it is the Restoration that is decidedly Stoic. It should be said of the Restoration as well, however, that a glance at Wing’s Short-Title Catalogues would show that even in that period more of Cicero (though not of De Oratore) was published than of Seneca. It is just that the Restoration appears to have been relatively more Stoic than earlier periods. (1030-1031)

…the record of publications in England is especially damaging to the hypothesis about the replacement of Ciceronian prose styles by Stoic. I suspect Croll’s knowledge of France may have led him to impose a French model and chronology on England. At least a brief check of the holdings in the Bibliotheque Nationale seems to suggest that French patterns of popularity fit Croll’s thesis better than English, although even in France the total canon of Cicero as opposed to that of Seneca raises some doubts, and the nature of the evidence requires extreme caution. (1032)

Next, the thesis of an un-Stoic, or a scientific of Epicurean, Restoration requires revision. It is obvious that the second half of the seventeenth century was the first time in English history that a major Epicurean writer, Lucretius, was available in English publication, but he was less frequently published in the period than Seneca or the Stoic Cicero. In fact, of the four major philosophical Roman Stoic writers—Seneca, Tacitus, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius—only Tacitus was published less frequently in the Restoration than before. (1032)

In particular, some prose styles may be curt, others loose, and yet others periodic without reference to Stoicism. (1033)

It may be remembered (as one manifestation of decorum) that the translators’ preface to the Authorized Version of the Bible is ornately “Ciceronian,” and that the prose used for such books as the Psalms beautifully adapts “Ciceronian” periodicity to English. The fact that the Authorized Version follows earlier English versions so often and that, for example, the Psalms are part of daily divine service and were printed in the Prayer Book makes it plain that “Ciceronian” prose was (and is) widely heard and read in Reformed England. A second, and related, principle is that religious writings were more often read and sermons more often heard than any classical forms during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. (1033)

Finally, I wonder whether the information presented here is really so surprising? If we think of one major Stoic feature among what are admittedly many, it is a familiar fact that although they believed in self-sufficiency, Stoics differed from certain other schools in holding that the individual held obligations (Cicero’s “offices”) to others and, particularly, to public service. We can all agree that restoration literature, notably that of Dryden, or for that matter of Milton, was concerned with such “offices” and that it was public in mode. It is small wonder that in the Restoration booksellers knew that there was an increasing market for Stoic writings (though why not Tacitus?). (1033)


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