A futuristic anti-Jesuit satire

The Memoirs of the Twentieth Century @ Eighteenth-Century Ireland Society/An Cumann Éire San Ochtú Céad Déag 2022 Annual Conference University College Cork, 17-18 June 2022

Designed as a hypothetical laboratory to test the author’s political and philanthropic ideas, and to satirize a number of coeval cultural and political trends, The Memoirs of the Twentieth Century is one of the first futuristic fictions known in European literature. Published anonymously in 1733, it was written by Samuel Madden, an Irish Anglican clergyman and philanthropist with Hanoverian and Whig sympathies. It consists of a collection of diplomatic letters written in the 1990s, sent to the Lord High Treasurer in London from British ambassadors from a number of countries, which the narrator claims to have received from the future. Through these correspondences, twentieth-century world scenarios spread out before the reader, in which British naval power rules the waves and international commerce, while the transnational scheming of the Jesuits threatens the independence of weaker European courts.

A fine example of the emergence of a new secularized future, pliable through human action, The Memoirs’ logical extrapolation is informed by a variety of underlying rationales, ranging from utopian achievements to the satiric mocking of the writer’s present. This paper addresses The Memoirs as anti-Jesuit satire, an aspect never touched upon by the (scarce) existing scholarship on this work. While the power of the printed word and the sharing of knowledge as a key to progress are portrayed in utopian terms in the virtuous practices attributed to the British rulers of the future, specular comments are offered on the astuteness with which the Jesuits adapt their propaganda to different cultural contexts and social spheres, not least through the use of the press.

The anti-Jesuit polemic thus contributes to the Memoirs’ fascinating reflection on the problem of the production, control and circulation of knowledge. This paper intends to outline a number of inter-textual references and argumentative and rhetorical strategies exploited by the Memoirs’ anti-Jesuit satire, and to highlight how, thanks to the fictional device of the projection into the future, this work fits originally into the long history of anti-Jesuit controversy in the Protestant world.

William Hogarth (British, London 1697–1764 London) Credulity, Superstition, and Fanaticism, March 15, 1762 British, Etching and engraving; second state of two; plate: 17 1/4 x 13 in. (43.8 x 33 cm) sheet: 18 7/16 x 13 3/4 in. (46.8 x 35 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, detail.

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