This article explores how changing ideas about time and time-telling had a powerful and lasting impact upon the literature of the long eighteenth century (i.e., c. 1660–c. 1830). After a brief overview of the dominant technological, scientific, and philosophical preoccupations, the discussion concentrates on influential recent critical studies of topics such as the relationship between clock time and narrative structure in the novels of Samuel Richardson and Laurence Sterne, the appearance of poetical subgenres directly inspired by mechanical timepieces, and the characteristic skepticism of certain Romantic authors toward the alleged merits of temporal rationalization. Although most of these studies have focused on how the (quasi-)isochronicity of pocket watches and pendulum clocks directly influenced particular literary forms, structures, and themes, this article concludes by arguing that the relationship between literature and time was (in fact) partially reciprocal, and that the former therefore sometimes profoundly altered contemporaneous attitudes toward the practical business of time-telling.
This article examines the effects of the unprecedented number of prosecutions for political opinion in the 1790s and afterward on romantic period literature. The chief instrument for these prosecutions was the law on libel. This legal framework placed a premium on various forms of metaphor, irony, and allegory, which the Crown had to construe as concrete libels in any prosecution. Many trials became major public events, a visible part of the period’s print culture, widely reported in newspapers and eagerly consumed by the public in a variety of media. The courtroom provided a theater of radical opinion in which defendants could publicize their views and mock the authority of the state. The pressure exerted on writers by the law on libel also conditioned a more general anxiety and may even have influenced developing ideas of the autonomy of the aesthetic.