Language and ideas

From Johnson’s Dictionary to letter-writing, newspapers and coffee-house culture: explore how different forms and mediums helped to develop and circulate language and ideas during the long 18th century.

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Johnson's Dictionary: Myths and realities

Article by:
David Crystal

David Crystal looks past the myths surrounding Samuel Johnson's Dictionary to discover a work of remarkable precision, sensitivity and attention to social and regional variation.

Theme:
Language and ideas
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African writers and Black thought in 18th-century Britain: Banner

African writers and Black thought in 18th-century Britain

Article by:
S I Martin

By 1780, there were at least 20,000 black people living in Britain. S I Martin describes how four writers, taken from Africa as children and sold into slavery, grew up to write works that challenged British ideas about race, called for African brotherhood and demanded the abolition of the slave trade.

Themes:
Politics and religion, Travel, colonialism and slavery, Language and ideas
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Newspapers, gossip and coffee-house culture

Article by:
Matthew White

Matthew White explains how the coffee-house came to occupy a central place in 17th and 18th-century English culture and commerce, offering an alternative to rowdy pubs and more formal places of business and politics.

Themes:
Politics and religion, Politeness, sensibility and sentimentalism, Language and ideas
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Ephraim Chambers' Cyclopaedia, 1741 crop

The Enlightenment

Article by:
Matthew White

The Enlightenment's emphasis on reason shaped philosophical, political and scientific discourse from the late 17th to the early 19th century. Matthew White traces the Enlightenment back to its roots in the aftermath of the Civil War, and forward to its effects on the present day.

Themes:
Politics and religion, Language and ideas
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Letters, letter-writing and epistolary novels

Letters, letter writing and epistolary novels

Article by:
Louise Curran

Louise Curran explores the real and fictional letters published in the 18th century, from the correspondence of Alexander Pope and Ignatius Sancho to Samuel Richardson's hugely popular epistolary novel Pamela and the works it inspired.

Themes:
Rise of the novel, Language and ideas, Politeness, sensibility and sentimentalism
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Boydell's Collection of Prints illustrating Shakespeare's works

Neoclassicism

Article by:
Andrew Macdonald-Brown

Writers and craftsmen including Alexander Pope, John Dryden, Jonathan Swift and Josiah Wedgwood found inspiration in the classical period. Andrew Macdonald-Brown explores how their works adopted the style, genres, aesthetic values and subjects of Greek and Roman writers.

Themes:
Satire and humour, Language and ideas
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thumbnail taken from the First edition of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, signed by Laurence Sterne

The ‘stuff’ of Tristram Shandy

Article by:
John Mullan

Dashes, loops, wiggles and blanks: John Mullan investigates the visual oddities of Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy.

Themes:
Satire and humour, Rise of the novel, Language and ideas
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Further themes

Rise of the novel

Discover how the novel emerged as a new literary form in the 18th century and examine pioneering texts, from Oroonoko and Robinson Crusoe to Gulliver’s Travels and Pamela.

Gender and sexuality

Examine representations of gender and sexuality in Restoration and 18th-century literature including Paradise Lost and The Rape of the Lock, and explore the works of early women writers such as Aphra Behn, Frances Burney and Margaret Cavendish.

Theatre and entertainment

From Restoration comedy to The Beggar’s Opera, She Stoops to Conquer and The School for Scandal: examine key plays alongside the history and conventions of Restoration and 18th-century theatre.

Politics and religion

The Civil Wars and the Restoration of the monarchy, the Enlightenment or ‘Age of Reason’, and British colonialism: investigate the political and religious contexts of Restoration and 18th-century literature.

Georgian society

Explore the Georgian period in its social, political and historical contexts, with overviews of popular politics, the rise of consumerism and entertainment.

Travel, colonialism and slavery

From Robinson Crusoe to the anti-slavery activism of Olaudah Equiano and the letters of Ignatius Sancho: explore a range of writing produced during an age of travel, trade and colonial conquest, in which Britain vastly expanded its Empire, fuelled by its involvement in slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.

Satire and humour

Discover how writers of the 17th and 18th centuries used satire and humour to address issues around politics and power, inequality and class, gender and marriage – as well as to entertain readers and audiences.

Politeness, sensibility and sentimentalism

Explore polite culture, sensibility and sentimentalism in the 18th century, and how these concepts are reflected in the writing of the period.

Language and ideas

From Johnson’s Dictionary to letter-writing, newspapers and coffee-house culture: explore how different forms and mediums helped to develop and circulate language and ideas during the long 18th century.