Infidelity and infection : the biblical nexus of false religion and contagious heterodoxy in Burton, Milton, Swift and Defoe
This thesis undertakes an architectonically arranged analysis of a particularly prevalent and powerful rhetorical figure in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century English religious literature, the metaphor linking false religion with pestilential infection. Heterodoxy is considered by authors representing diverse doctrinal backgrounds in this theologically turbulent period, to be tantamount to deadly contagion, underscoring the severity of its perceived threat to a given orthodoxy. Under this scheme, both physical plague outbreaks - the threat of which is very real in the period covered in this study (1621-1722) - and heretical disseminations, threaten to reach epidemic proportions. Especially striking is the widespread incidence of this figurative phenomenon, which is called into polemical service by such diverse disputants as the staunch Presbyterian Thomas Edwards at one extreme, and the High Church Anglican Jonathan Swift at the other. It is the fact Swift’s categorization of the Presbyterian denomination as the “Epidemick Sect of Æolists” in A Tale of a Tub (1704), which launched this inquiry into an extensive corpus of seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century texts rooted in religious controversy. Just as Swift does in so many ways, this investigation radiates principally backward and into the seventeenth century proper. To a lesser extent, it also looks forwards into the eighteenth century by tracing examples of this recurring metaphor in Swift’s later work as well as in Daniel Defoe. Detailed analysis of the individual seventeenth- and eighteenth-century texts is prefaced by an introductory chapter which surveys biblical precedents for this particular metaphorical application.