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A Quick Stab at the Eighteenth Century

Stabbing ImageEndless war, the Hanoverian Georges, the Toleration Act, Handel, libellers and rascals Wilkes, Wolcot and Tom Paine, Dr Johnson, liberty and improvements, London, Defoe, Pope, waspish Walpole, essays moral and sententious, the Club of Honest Whigs, feminism, the Gothic novel, squalor and opulence, Jethro Tull, music and fireworks, gossipy periodicals, Ann Radcliffe, Tom Jones and Tristram Shandy, plays sentimental, verse, Gibbon, Boswell and Gray, Bonny Scotland, the exotic South Seas, Newtonian science, mysteries of air, and inoculation.

Such was the rich variety of the Britain's Long Eighteenth Century, from the Glorious Revolution of 1688 through to the defeat of Emperor Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815. The 18th Century contained and encompassed almost everything.

A Quick Stab at the Eighteenth Century is just that, an exhibition that provides a brief overview of a rich century. The exhibition focuses on key aspects such as philosophy, religion, music, literature and science, and features notable works such as John Locke's Two Treatises on Government (1694), David Hume's Essays, Moral and Political (1748), a scarce printing of Thomas Paine's Age of Reason (1794), Mary Wollstonecraft's feminist classic A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1796), Sarah Fielding's David Simple (1744), periodicals such as The Tatler (1709) and The Gentleman's Magazine (1731), Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776), Samuel Johnson's Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775), and a rare limited edition copy of Thomas Gray's Poems illustrated by William Blake (1972). A vast majority of the book and manuscripts are from Dr Esmond de Beer's Collection.

The exhibition coincides with the David Nichols Smith Seminar theme of 'Rewriting the Long Eighteenth Century' at the University of Otago on 10 to 14 April, and two other eighteenth century events: 'Evoking the 18th Century: Works from the Dunedin Public Art Gallery Collection', 17 March -28 September 2007; and 'Scottish Leaves: Books and Manuscripts from Scottish Writers 1711-1822', Dunedin Public Library Special Collections 10 April-15 July 2007.


Jeremy Black, Eighteenth-century Britain, 1688-1783. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire; New York: Palgrave, 2001.
John Brewer, The Pleasures of the Imagination: English Culture in the Eighteenth Century. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1997.
H. T. Dickinson (ed.), A Companion to Eighteenth-Century Britain. London: Blackwell Publishing, 2002.
Juliet Gardiner and Neil Wenborn (eds.), The Columbia Companion to British History. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Special thanks to the Auckland City Art Gallery for the print by William Powell Frith.