Anticipation and Satire in 1778 London

The Future Tense of War

@ ISECS International Seminars for early career scholars / SOG18
War Times in the 18th century: Perceptions and Memories, September 25-30, 2022, Schloss Seggau/Leibnitz (Austria)

A view of the House of Peers, the King sitting on the throne, the Commons attending him
J. Lodge, in The gentleman’s magazine, 1769. Yale, Horace Walpole Library.

On 23 November 1778 an account of a heated parliamentary debate on recent developments in the American War of Independence was printed in London, discussing the turning point that had transformed the conflict between the colonies and the mother country into a Euro-Atlantic confrontation with the signing of the Franco-American treaties.

The pamphlet followed the editorial custom, common in the British capital notwithstanding the restrictions in place, of committing to paper the sessions of Parliament. This report, however, had one peculiarity: it reported a session that had yet to take place.

The pamphlet Anticipation: Containing the Substance of his M———y’s Most Gracious Speech to Both H——s of P—-l—–t, on the Opening of the Approaching Session, printed by Thomas Becket, promised to contain a faithful transcription of the parliamentary debate that was to take place three days later.  Its author, the playwright and satirist Richard Tickell, had set up a mockery of the rhetorical battles that were accompanying, in the House of Commons, the progress of the conflict – from Edmund Burke’s complaints about the decline of the British Empire, to Charles Fox’s arguments about the unsustainability of a war on the American continent, from John Wilkes’ corrosive humour, to Whig opposition to a war that armed Native Americans against the colonists and opened up space for speculation by unscrupulous merchants.

On the day of the session, Parliament erupted in laughter when some unsuspecting speaker fell into the linguistic habits mocked in the pamphlet that many had read. With ten editions in its first year alone, enthusiastic reviews and excerpts in newspapers such as The Morning Chronicle, and copies on the bedside tables of readers such as Horace Walpole, Anticipation is a particularly successful case of Revolutionary War-related satire and stands out for its use of a futuristic imagination.

The case of Anticipation exemplifies the fruitfulness of satire as a genre open to formal experimentation, capable of combining representation of current events and new literary uses of the future. Tickell’s pamphlet certainly dealt with a future that was extremely close to the author’s and his readers’ present, and indeed it was precisely from the relative flattening between prediction and the known that the comic effectiveness of the parliamentary portrait partly arose. Nevertheless, the use of a future expressly thematised as the setting for a literary work testifies to war as a catalyst for cultural change.

An imaginary laboratory to test political ideas, a backdrop to satirise the present, a dimension pliable by human action: during the eighteenth century the future underwent critical processes of change and secularisation. Speculations about the future represented, through fiction, the deep transformations that affected the conceptualisation of time in the European mind in the age of the Enlightenment. Why did Tickell choose to set his satire in the future? Is there a specific connection here between the war theme and a fiction based on the narrative manipulation of time? Can it be argued that war as a phenomenon harbinger of sudden and disruptive restructuring of power relations on a political and social level gave the colonisation of the future in the European imagination a particular impulse? Can this curious pamphlet be linked to instances of future wars imagined in earlier and later novels and satires – such as The Reign of George VI, which in 1763 had offered the depiction of a future Seven Years’ War, or the ominous satires that accompanied the plans for a French invasion of Grand Britain between the 1790s and 1805?

Starting from these questions, a close-reading and contextualisation of Anticipation may foster a better understanding of the “paper wars” with which public opinion on armed conflict was mobilised. This case study lends itself very well to highlight a little-known part of the broad spectrum of perceptions and memories created by the phenomenon of war in the eighteenth century, namely the use of a secularised time to come as an imaginative and rhetorical tool.

 



Cite this blog post
Giulia Iannuzzi (2022, September 18). Anticipation and Satire in 1778 London. Geographies of Time. Retrieved April 21, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/przb

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