English Clandestine Satire, 1660-1702
In early modern Britain, the primary medium of free comment was the clandestine satire, circulated either orally or in manuscript. Part of the national political culture from Jacobean times, satire reached its greatest influence following the Restoration of Charles II, when a new 'easy' style, combining courtly polish with demotic frankness and flagrant indecency, led to the composition of thousands of such poems. Most of the poets of the time, including such major talents as
Marvell and Rochester, wrote in the genre, though nearly always anonymously. While its chief targets were political, much Restoration satire concerned itself with the emerging demography of 'Town' and its uncertain experimentation with new kinds of social freedom. Attacks on the sexual misbehaviour (real
or imagined) of aristocratic women hover, equally uncertainly, between moral condemnation and ill-disguised envy, while also conferring an inverse celebrity status on their victims. In this paradoxical social world, not to be lampooned could mean that one was no longer a person of importance.
In the first comprehensive survey of this vast field, Harold Love considers the relationship of the lampoon to gossip, how one might construct a poetics of the genre, and how clandestine satire reached and was received by its readers. Constructing three primary categories of 'court', 'Town' and 'state' lampooning, Love argues that far from being the product of isolated disaffection, most satire was the work of a circle of recognized poets, frequently operating in collaboration. An extensive
first-line index to the principal manuscript sources for clandestine satire makes this book an open sesame to further exploration of its fascinating field.