New Book | Libel and Lampoon: Satire in the Courts, 1670–1792

Posted in books, online learning by Editor on April 10, 2022

Andrew Bricker will be speaking online (via Zoom) with Marissa Nicosia about his new book on Tuesday, 12 April 2022, at noon (ET) in a session sponsored by the Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography and the Rare Book School. From Oxford UP:

Andrew Benjamin Bricker, Libel and Lampoon: Satire in the Courts, 1670–1792 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2022), 352 pages, ISBN: 978-0192846150, $90.

Libel and Lampoon shows how English satire and the law mutually shaped each other during the long eighteenth century. Following the lapse of prepublication licensing in 1695, the authorities quickly turned to the courts and newly repurposed libel laws in an attempt to regulate the press. In response, satirists and their booksellers devised a range of evasions. Writers increasingly capitalized on forms of verbal ambiguity, including irony, allegory, circumlocution, and indirection, while shifty printers and booksellers turned to a host of publication ruses that complicated the mechanics of both detection and prosecution. In effect, the elegant insults, comical periphrases, and booksellers’ tricks that came to typify eighteenth-century satire were a way of writing and publishing born of legal necessity. Early on, these emergent satiric practices stymied the authorities and the courts. But they also led to new legislation and innovative courtroom procedures that targeted satire’s most routine evasions. Especially important were a series of rulings that increased the legal liabilities of printers and booksellers and that expanded and refined doctrines for the courtroom interpretation of verbal ambiguity, irony, and allegory. By the mid-eighteenth century, satirists and their booksellers faced a range of newfound legal pressures. Rather than disappearing, however, personal and political satire began to migrate to dramatic mimicry and caricature-acoustic and visual forms that relied less on verbal ambiguity and were therefore not subject to either the provisions of preperformance dramatic licensing or the courtroom interpretive procedures that had earlier enabled the prosecution of printed satire.

Andrew Benjamin Bricker is an Assistant Professor of English Literature in the Department of Literary Studies at Ghent University and a Senior Fellow at the Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography at the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia. He received his BA and MA from the University of Toronto and his PhD from Stanford University. Before joining UGent, he was a Mellon Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities at McGill University and a Killam Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of British Columbia.


Introduction: The Perils of Satire
1  Keeping out of Court I: Libel and Lampoon after Hale and Dryden
2  Keeping out of Court II: Swift and the Illicit Book Trade
3  Irony in the Courts: Defoe and the Law of Seditious Libel
4  Naming in the Courts: Pope and the Dunciad
5  Allegory in the Courts: Satire and the Problem of ‘Libellous Parallels’
6  Keeping out of Court III: Caricature, Mimicry, and the Deverbalization of Satire
Epilogue: A Shandean History of the Press

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