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Civil Tongues and Polite Letters in British America
     

Civil Tongues and Polite Letters in British America

by David S. Shields
 

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In cities from Boston to Charleston, elite men and women of eighteenth-century British America came together in private venues to script a polite culture. By examining their various 'texts'—conversations, letters, newspapers, and privately circulated manuscripts—David Shields reconstructs the discourse of civility that flourished in and further shaped

Overview

In cities from Boston to Charleston, elite men and women of eighteenth-century British America came together in private venues to script a polite culture. By examining their various 'texts'—conversations, letters, newspapers, and privately circulated manuscripts—David Shields reconstructs the discourse of civility that flourished in and further shaped elite society in British America.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Shields (English, The Citadel) explores compellingly the role of private societiessalons, clubs, coffeehouses, tavern companies, tea tables, balls, and ritual assembliesin invoking free discourse and civility in British America. Such societies lay outside state control, unlike formal court society, and thus were avenues for encouraging art, forming a range of opinions, and refining manners. Each of these societies developed its own distinctive manner of discourse, which Shields describes in some detail. Scholars of British America and early American literature will find his book the most valuable, as will any reader interested in the 18th century's "Republic of Letters."David B. Mattern, Univ. of Virginia, Charlottesville

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780807823514
Publisher:
The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date:
05/28/1997
Series:
Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia Series
Edition description:
1
Pages:
382
Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.19(d)

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
The argument of this exceptional book is deceptively simple, that 'belles lettres,' a concept colonial writers owed to their English contemporaries, arose and flourished in distinctive sites or places—the salon, the coffeehouse, a royal governor's retinue. In pursuing this argument and filling out the details of the story, David Shields has performed remarkable feats of recovery and interpretation. Here is literary history that in an exemplary manner links the history of taste and aesthetics with the social history of literary production.—David D. Hall, Harvard University

Examines the complexities of private society with detailed, lively accounts of the coffeehouses, clubs, salons, balls, and tea times of eighteenth-century America. Shields recreates an exuberant social exchange that provides a significant contribution for scholars, students, and general readers of British-American history and culture. . . . An invaluable source of archival writings, poetry, letters, gazettes, all meticulously gathered for this collection. . . . Not only testifies to women's influence on public discourse but also suggests exciting directions for future scholarship in what is certainly a landmark study.—Women's Studies

Shields has constructed a most unusual book. . . . Seldom does a scholar come up with something so new.—William and Mary Quarterly

A major contribution to our understanding of [the] process of cultural transplantation. . . . Civil Tongues and Polite Letters will enhance David Shields's reputation as one of the brightest stars in the rising generation of analysts of the literary culture of British America.—Jack P. Greene, Times Literary Supplement

Civil Tongues uses manuscript sources to make the different colonial milieus in which belles lettres were practiced come alive. . . . [Shields's] critical exuberance has the happy side-effect of transforming Civil Tongues into a virtual sourcebook for the fields of both belles lettres and British-American culture. . . . Civil Tongues should prove to be required reading for scholars of eighteenth-century America, but because it can be read as a case study in the ways that communitarian cultures often depend upon tacit assumptions of ethnic and racial homogeneity, its implications extend well beyond the field of colonial American studies.—South Atlantic Review

Shields's cultural and literary history of the institutions of civility and their belles lettres will . . . be of value to historians of eighteenth-century British polite society, as well as to American historians.—English Historical Review

Shields explores compellingly the role of private societies—salons, clubs, coffeehouses, tavern companies, tea tables, balls, and ritual assemblies—in invoking free discourse and civility in British America. . . . Scholars of British America and early American literature will find this book the most valuable, as will any reader interested in the 18th century's 'Republic of Letters.'—Library Journal

Meet the Author

David S. Shields is professor of English at The Citadel.

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