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The Fringes of BeliefEnglish Literature, Ancient Heresy, and the Politics of Freethinking, 1660-1760$
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Sarah Ellenzweig

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780804758772

Published to Stanford Scholarship Online: June 2013

DOI: 10.11126/stanford/9780804758772.001.0001

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Conclusion: Pope's Essay on Man and the Afterlife of English Freethinking

Conclusion: Pope's Essay on Man and the Afterlife of English Freethinking

(p.133) Conclusion: Pope's Essay on Man and the Afterlife of English Freethinking
The Fringes of Belief
Stanford University Press

This chapter considers Britain's links to the continental Enlightenments that follow later in the eighteenth century. It describes how the continental reception of Alexander Pope's An Essay on Man illustrates England's unique role in the European Enlightenment—both as a noteworthy and early participant in its own right and as a tradition with distinct limits to its radicalism. Upon its translation in the mid-1730s, the poem generated an outcry among the French religious establishment, providing an occasion for Voltaire to hone the French freethinking platform in response to its critics. According to Voltaire's Candide, the existence of evil forces people to confront the likelihood that the universe operates wholly at random, without the benefit of even the most general divine superintendence. This motivates a radical attempt to make man a productive agent in a world devoid of supernatural order.

Keywords:   continental Enlightenments, Britain, Alexander Pope, Essay on Man, French religious establishment, European Enlightenment, Voltaire, Candide

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