Date of Award

Fall 1997

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Michael V DePorte


"Public Poetry, Memory, and the Historical Present: 1660-1745" examines the role public poetry played in the fashioning of social memory during the so-called Augustan age of English literature; further, it traces in the rise and decline of public poetry during this period the emergence and subsequent estrangement of two distinctive modes of public memory: one highly emblematic and allusive in nature, fostering and indeed dependent upon a well-endowed collective sense of historical and literary tradition; the other far more literal and individualistic, fashioning social memory of the historical present--the present moment set against the backdrop of historical consciousness--by encouraging a personal awareness of the immediate, prosaic realities of the everyday world. Both modes of memory, the figurative and prosaic, were made broadly available to English society at large with the rise of public poetry in the years after the Restoration. They are generally united in the work of John Dryden, whose rise as a public figure coincides with the rise of public poetry itself in England, but it was the fate of Dryden's greatest literary inheritor, Alexander Pope, to preside over--even accelerate--what one might call the divorce between the figurative and literal modes of public memory, the subsequent decline of the commercial appeal and cultural authority of formal verse, and the gradual eclipse of the figurative mode of public memory, which had tended to accommodate the habits of mind and memory inculcated by poetry. This "divorce" coincides with the gradual supplanting of occasional, journalistic poetry (broadsheet ballads as well as formal verse) by prose journalism and the novel, but also at work were the continuing shift from orality to literacy and an evolving sensibility--rationalist, individualist, and mercantilist in nature--in which the habit of emblematic allusion to a shared historical and literary tradition ceased to be relevant and viable. In tracing the broad cultural effects of an important poetic mode, therefore, I explore an important moment in the evolution of social consciousness, a moment that stands as the proximate origin of our own habits of memory.