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Eighteenth-Century Ireland Conference. Part of Day One

June 11, 2016


I’m back in Galway after only a week’s absence.  I’m back but I was late – thanks to family travel miseries whose epicentre was Cardiff Airport.  Whatever I missed was doubtless marvelous and the experience of hearing it – irreplaceable.

The papers I got to hear most of (arriving discreetly at the back of the room having ran through a sweltering Galway for the second week in succession) were on Hutcheson, Berkeley and Henry Brooke.  This was satisfyingly meaty philosophical fare – all about the nature of the self and society – all about whether virtue was really “disinterested” and also all about whether or not education needed to assume an innate moral sense, or whether morality needs to be organically generated through practical exercise.

Thank you  Clíona Ó Gallchoir, Alvin Chen and Tomás Ó Maolalaidh

You wait decades for a decent book on Oliver Goldsmith and then two come along.  And yesterday I was hanging out with both authors – Michael Griffin, author of Enlightenment in Ruins: Geographies of Oliver Goldsmith and  Norma Clarke, Brothers of the Quill – Oliver Goldsmith in Grub Street.  Norma Clarke had a plenary address at the conference, where she talked engagingly about Goldsmith’s relationship with the idea of Grub Street and changing relationships between authors and readers that Grub Street implies.

Having launched her book, and also the very important and very large The Irish Enlightenment by Michael Brown we repaired to the nicest hotel restaurant that could be found for us – where wiggy confab continued unabated.

I’ve always thought that Goldsmith, masquerading as a good natured simpleton, was in fact playing with official norms of value.  Always in Goldsmith there’s a sense of a mismatch between official indices of prosperity and actual quality of life.  Wealth increases.  Men decay.  Empires rise.  People are uprooted.

I must go back to Goldsmith’s histories – I did some work on them once – but it sort of got lost.  His popular histories of England, Greece and Rome – weren’t masterpieces of original research but they were tremendously popular.  too popular in fact in the sense that they ended up going through so many corrected, contracted and expanded editions after his death that Goldsmith started to elide into his own italics – to become Goldsmith’s History  in a sense not unlike Gray’s Anatomy.  In a sense, the authorial function itself became compromised.

I must write more on this.  But when O Lord?  When?


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