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JOSEPH ADDISON - O FORTUNATOS MERCATORES, 1716, “The Freeholder”


Essay which celebrates commerce as the pillar of the nation.
It’s meant for a different audience: a public who reads prose, who doesn’t have an enormous cultural preparation and who wants practical and useful information.
It’s an example of 18th century periodical essay
Fixed by Addison and Steal, 2 writers who began to launch new periodicals “The Spectator”,... together or individually in which they invented/copyrighted a new kind of prose: short pieces on 1 specific topic with a variety of subjects, all related to present preoccupations and all suited the needs of a middle class public (bourgeois).
The style is clear, logical, informative and offering useful information.
These periodicals were often called magazines because they are storehouses of information (Italian “magazzino”).
Magazines and periodical essays contributed to the formation of a new socio-cultural phenomenon known as the PUBLIC SPHERE. Created in 1960 by the German sociologist Jurgen Habermas “The Structured Transformation of the Public Sphere”. He said that between the 17th and the 18th c. A real/virtual space emerged in Western societies. Individuals came together to discuss public questions about politics, society, culture, economy. A space to debate began to emerge away from the court, diplomatic circles and the church (middle ages and Renaissance). This space is REAL because the public sphere manifests itself in real places such as meeting houses and coffee houses. It is VIRTUAL because it identifies itself in literature. 2 literary forms emerged: novels and periodicals/essays/magazines. The public sphere is the ancestor of the public opinion.
He deals with the questions of COMMERCE, POLITICS AND IDENTITY OF ENGLAND.
The idea of England is eradicated upon commercial propensity linked with its political institutions and legislation, which are different from all the other countries in Europe because by this time, England had a differential development compared to the rest of the European continent. First of all, England was the only parliamentary monarchy in Europe and it was the only nation state having a Parliament divided into 2 houses, the Commons and the Lords. This kind of constitution came together with specific laws:
The Bill of Rights, passed in 1689. It sanctioned the balance of power: what the crown can do, what the parliament can do, what the government can do. It also sanctioned some basic civil rights of the individuals. It was based on the Magna Charta – 1215.
Law Habeas Corpus, 1679. It determined that no one could be in prison until proved guilty of crime. At this point of time, England was the only nation to have this law.
Structurally, the text is logical and clear.
Each section develops 1 idea:
Insular identity: we have a vocation for commerce
An island is difficult to defend: naval power for both commerce and defence.
Our policy is to defend our power upon seas without violence.
Export/import.
Commerce as a civilizing power.
Commerce can give employment.
Commerce is a force of progress and expansion.
It is not only for the middle class but also for the politicians: British politics must support commerce because it’s in our blood, it brings wealth and peace.
He underlines the new idea of Britishness -> the text is a testimony of a slow developing sense of British identity which incorporates English, Scottish, Welsh = collective identity
It’s very patriotic but it’s also COSMOPOLITAN.
Both the texts by Pope and Addison are contradictory because they underline the importance of peace and cooperation, but at the same time they say that this cooperation cannot exist without aggressiveness and war.
di Valentina Ligabue
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