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I shall be ambitious to have it said of me, that I have brought Philosophy out of Closets and Libraries, Schools and Colleges, to dwell in Clubs and Assemblies, at Tea-tables, and in Coffee houses. 

Joseph Addison (1711)

In David Hughes’s fascination for the profane, scurrilous, and satirical we see a further dimension of issues prevalent elsewhere in this exhibition. By providing a new and vibrant outlet for opinions the publishing boom in politically inflected literature offers compelling evidence of Enlightenment in action in early eighteenth-century England. Self-declared rationalists proffering Whig liberty, and High Church Tory satirists lampooning Hanoverian society and all associated with it (such as Newtonian science) stimulated a democratisation of knowledge that had little parallel elsewhere in Europe. Shaped by Britain’s permissive censorship laws, this intensely modern discourse did indeed bring philosophy ‘out of Libraries, Schools and Colleges’ to a new public, voracious in its reading habits. By its nature secular and antithetical to academicism, such literature brought to prominence a new intelligentsia. Supported by a burgeoning publishing industry, this new class of freethinkers clearly interested Hughes.

As an associate of the great Lord Newcastle (Chancellor of the University and Whig par excellence), we can be certain that Hughes, along with most Queens’ Fellows, could be counted amongst the Whig faction with its acceptance of the Hanoverian settlement and all that that entailed. Yet it is partly Hughes’s habit of organising and binding together volumes of opposing opinions from the disputes that exercised Georgian England that lends his library significance. Much of it conceived as ephemera, it was in this form that a new kind of satirical, scurrilous and occasionally lewd literature achieved its place alongside the august canons of theology and ancient classics that otherwise predominate in Queens’ Library.

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