Before the Empire of English offers a broad re-examination of eighteenth-century British literary culture, centered around issues of language, nationalism, and provinciality. It revises our tendency to take for granted the metropolitan centrality of English-language writers of this period and shows, instead, how deeply these writers were conscious of the inherited marginality of their literary tradition in the European world of culture. The book focuses attention on crucial but largely overlooked aspects of eighteenth-century English literary culture: the progress of English topos since the death of Cowley and the cultural aspirations and anxieties it condenses; the concept of the republic of letters and its implications for issues of cultural centrality and provinciality; and the importance of cultural nationalist emphases in "Augustan" poetics in the context of these concerns about provinciality. The book examines imperial aspirations and imaginings in the English literary culture of the period, but it shows how such aspirations are responses to provincial anxieties more so than they are marks of imperial self-assurance. In doing so, the book offers a way of understanding the resonances between the cultural politics of the postcolonial world and those of the earlier history of the English tradition itself.

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