London 18th-Century Postgraduate Reading Group: ‘The Dangerous Mix of Atomism & Poetry’, 19 April 2016


The second session of the London 18th-Century postgraduate reading group will be at 12.30pm on Tuesday 19th April in Room S3.05, Strand Building, King’s College London, WC2R 2LS. We’ll be continuing with the theme of Resentment and Regard (more details on the group’s blog, here).

‘Whatever in Lucretius is Poetry is not Philosophical, whatever is Philosophical is not Poetry’ – Samuel Taylor Coleridge to William Wordsworth, May 1815.

The week’s reading is focused on the simultaneous resentment and regard directed towards Lucretius’s poetics from the late seventeenth-century English translations onwards. Seen as a prime example of atheistic poetry, the publication of various translations of Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura provoked many backlashes that both regarded the high quality of his poetic verse whilst resenting the atomistic philosophy it aimed to teach its readers. We will look at various commentaries on Lucretius and his translations across the early to mid-eighteenth century as a way of discussing the interactions between poetics and dangerous philosophies in the period:


– Lucy Hutchinson’s dedication to her unpublished 1675 translation of De Rerum Natura [Available online here]

– John Dryden’s comments on Lucretius in his ‘Preface to Sylvae’ [Available on Eighteenth Century Collections Online here, images 10-18]

– Thomas Creech’s Preface to his 1682 translation of De Rerum Natura, [Available on Early English Books Online here, images 8-11]

– Aphra Behn’s ‘To the Unknown Daphnis on his Excellent Translation of Lucretius’, [Available on Eighteenth Century Collections Online here, images 62-65]

– Richard Blackmore’s preface to his 1712 anti-Lucretian poem Creation [Available on Eighteenth Century Collections Online here, looking at pages 1-2; 32-52]

– Later comments on Lucretius in the 1740 The Christian Free-Thinker: Or an Epistolary Discourse Concerning Freedom of Thought [Available on Eighteenth Century Collections Online here, pages 28-34]


Topics to discuss might include: the religious ramifications involved in a turn towards a classical past; the use of poetics to present philosophy; the power and danger of poetry; the place of Lucretius’s poetry as part of a gendered resentment in Behn and Hutchinson; the balance of regard for poetics and resentment for philosophy; the use of poetics to simultaneously promote and overturn.

For optional critical material on the place of Lucretius in the eighteenth-century, see: David Hopkins, ‘The English Voices of Lucretius from Lucy Hutchinson to John Mason Good’, in The Cambridge Companion to Lucretius (Cambridge, 2007), pp. 254-273.

For further information (and for copies of the readings if you cannot access them through your institution), please contact Robert Stearn ( or James Morland (

You can read about the first session’s discussion here.