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Contribution to Book
French philosophy and English politics in Interregnum poetry
The Stuart Court: Essays in Politics and Political ,Culture (1996)
  • Charles Kay Smith, University of Massachusetts at Amherst

This essay offers a historical context for the influence of epicurean philosophy in mid-seventeenth century so that the ideological nature of poetry during the Interregnum becomes more clear. I begin by discussing the epicurean tradition in France from Michel Montaigne to Pierre Gassendi that had been maturing for half a century. This late Renaissance secular tradition, sometimes referred to as a new humanism, has too often been misinterpreted as the consequence of neo-stoicism rather than neo-epicureanism. Prominent French libertins (epicurean free-thinkers) greeted the defeated cavalier=s after their decisive defeat at the battle of Marston Moor in the summer of 1644. Rather than continuing to live in their enemy's England, many cavaliers gathered around Queen Henrietta Maria=s court-in-exile in Paris for a decade and a half. The libertins befriending the English included many French aristocrats and intellectuals including Gassendi himself whose neo-epicurean philosophy had Christiaized ancient epicureanism. English royalists began thinking and writing as new humanists, and some began translating epicurean, lucretian and Gassendian texts. A number of these royalist writers published epicurean influenced poetry and other texts in the London press from mid 1640s through the 1650s. The puritans, in charge of the English government during the Interregnum generally saw these texts as an ungodly literary invasion. Andrew Marvell, a kind of Poet Laureate to the Cromwell Protectorate, wrote a likely satire in response to royalist epicurean verse, which was not published until after his death. Yet To His Coy Mistress is generally regarded as having been written in the early 1650s. Today the poem is being read in the cavalier carpe diem tradition, indeed almost defines the genre. Our naive reading of what is most likely Marvell’s finest satire would surprise Marvell, if he knew how we have wrenched it out of its cultural context as a puritan response to royalist epicurean ideology.

Publication Date
January, 1996
Malcolm R. Smuts
Cambridge University Press
Citation Information
Charles Kay Smith. "French philosophy and English politics in Interregnum poetry" 1stCanbridge, UKThe Stuart Court: Essays in Politics and Political ,Culture (1996)
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