Impolite Learning: Conduct and Community in the Republic of Letters, 1680-1750

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Yale University Press, 1995 - Literary Criticism - 395 pages
During the period immediately preceding the Enlightenment, scholars throughout Europe located themselves within an informal social and cultural community. The members of this Republic of Letters traveled to meet each other, exchanged letters, contributed to scholarly journals, and helped with the publication of other scholars' work. In this book, Anne Goldgar examines the everyday interactions of the scholars and the values that underpinned their society. She argues that the pressures of the marketplace and the popularity of the new, competing Enlightenment literature diverted the older community's attention from the content of debates and toward the manner in which they were conducted. This tendency intensified an earlier reluctance to turn away from the personal communal structure to a more professional, academic society. Inferring ideas about cooperation through recorded instances of conflict, Goldgar looks at often amusing stories of plagiarism, theft, insult, and impersonation. These stories illuminate the fundamental academic ethos of obligation; the Republic's attempts, not always successful, to reorganize and professionalize the community, notably through literary journals; the basis of scholarly hierarchy and the ideal career path toward intellectual prominence; and the difficulties, in an international and non-denominational community, of dealing with the realities of religious and political division within Europe. In a final chapter, Goldgar presents a slant on the difficult transition from the old erudition to the Enlightenment.

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About the author (1995)

Anne Goldgar is lecturer in early modern history at King's College London.

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