SEMINAR: Like a Libyan Lion: Getting to Grips with Rage in Eighteenth-Century England
|Like a Libyan Lion: Getting to Grips with Rage in Eighteenth-Century England : A CHE Seminar with Thomas Dixon
This talk takes its title from an account in Daniel Defoe’s The Complete English Tradesman (1726) describing a shopkeeper of a fragile temper who was often enraged by the impertinence of his customers. Although the man maintained a polite and civilised exterior with his annoying customers, when the provocation became too much, he would go upstairs, beat his wife and kick his children in a violent rage like ‘a man in Bedlam’, before sitting down to weep profusely. A couple of minutes later, he would return to his shop, ‘as humble, as courteous, and as calm as any man whatever’. With his customers the man was a lamb, but with his family a madman, ‘outrageous like a Libyan lion'.
I will use this text as the starting point for a discussion of experiences and theories of rage in eighteenth-century England, asking what was distinctive about the texture and treatment of angry emotions in this period, including which terms were used to describe them, and how medicine, philosophy, and Christian teaching were deployed to restrain and resist rage. I will also ask what beliefs about men and animals are revealed in Defoe’s comparison of his violent shopkeeper to a ‘Libyan lion’. Sources will include sermons, works of moral philosophy, and treatises about physiognomy and expression. As well as using the example of rage to ask what access historians can have to the emotions and emotional regimes of the past, I will ask what place anger and rage have in relation to historiographical categories such as politeness and sensibility, which have frequently been applied to eighteenth-century culture.
Professor Thomas Dixon is the Director of the Centre for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary University of London. His books include From Passions to Emotions: The Creation of a Secular Psychological Category (Cambridge University Press, 2003), The Invention of Altruism: Making Moral Meanings in Victorian Britain (Oxford University Press, 2008), and Weeping Britannia: Portrait of a Nation in Tears (Oxford University Press, 2015). He is currently researching anger and rage as part of a collaborative Wellcome Trust project entitled ‘Living With Feeling: Emotional Health in History, Philosophy, and Experience’. His broadcast projects have included a television programme about science and religion and a BBC Radio series entitled ‘Five Hundred Years of Friendship’. He is a Partner Investigator of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions 1100–1800, and is visiting Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne during November 2016.
This seminar is hosted by the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (Europe, 1100-1800).
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