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origins of pamphleteering

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The word ‘pamphlet’ appears to derive, curiously, from the generalized use of the title of a popular 12th‐cent. Latin love poem called Pamphilus, seu de Amore, which was adapted to ‘Pamphilet’. Orwell, in his introduction to British Pamphleteers (vol. i, 1948), describes a pamphlet as ‘a short piece of Polemical writing, printed in the form of a booklet and aimed at a large public’, usually of 5,000–10,000 words, and without hard covers. Pamphleteering may be said to have started with the Reformation, and during the 16th cent. became widespread (see Nashe, Dekker, and Martin Marprelate); J. Knox's First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment [i.e. ‘government’] of Women (1558) was perhaps the first British political pamphlet. In the 17th cent. the religious and political ferment that gave rise to the Civil War produced many thousands of pamphlets, some of high literary quality; Milton's are perhaps the best known, but see also Winstanley, Overton, Walwyn, Clarkson, Coppe, Lilburne, Nedham, and Berkenhead. Tyranipocrit Discovered and Light Shining in Buckinghamshire (1648) were both anonymous as were many others. These writers played an important part in the transition from the learned, allusive prose of men like Donne, Andrewes, and Sir T. Browne to the plain, clear, and colloquial style recommended by the Royal Society. In the 18th cent., though important works in pamphlet form were produced by writers as considerable as Defoe and Swift, the rise of weekly periodicals tended to reduce the demand for this form of communication. The form was revived in the 19th cent. by the ‘tracts’ of the Oxford Movement and the Fabian Society.

Subjects: Literature

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