Swift and the Decay of Letters (1955)
As Ricardo Quintana has said, “It is possible to analyze Swift’s controlling ideas with some accuracy, and yet to miss entirely that quality of the man which set him apart from all of his contemporaries.” In discussing Swift’s satirical treatment of the literary life of his own times in A Tale of the Tub and The Battle of the Books I shall not, therefore, attempt to deal with his neo-stoicism, his concept of right reason, or his religious beliefs, for it seems to me a mistake to assume that his revulsion from much of the writing that surrounded him stemmed primarily from his holding such relatively public ideas. In any discussion of A Tale of a Tub as a whole, of course, they have to be invoked. But in an important sense Swift’s rationalism, neo-stoicism, and Christianity were negative beliefs. That is to say, their function for him was primarily to aid in restraining and making harmless the emotions.
Underlying his treatment of literature, on the other hand, I think we can discover certain more positive and personal feelings about what qualities were admirable in individuals and in society; and it was because he possessed those feelings that he was able to earn the devotion of a man so different from him in many ways as Yeats. With their aid he resisted a social process involving, among other things, the ascendancy of the crowd over the individual, the substitution of method for invention, the exaltation of the present over the past and the future over the present, and, at bottom, the replacing of strenuous moral endeavor by a spiritual passivity compounded of mere perception and sensation. The essential nature of that process, I believe, was what he symbolized by the spider in The Battle of the Books; and what he opposed to it was what he symbolized by the bee.
I shall begin by considering briefly the nature of the two opposing concepts of the admirable human life that seem to have been interacting in his mind when he wrote the two works that I am concerned with.
Though science and philosophy in seventeenth-century France and England differed in their development in much the same way as the most distinguished of their originators had differed—Bacon having emphasized the importance of experimentation, while Descartes denied it—at bottom both were alike in that, metaphysically, they tended to reduce man to the status of a ticker-tape machine, a mere receiver and recorder of impulses. For the English apologists for the new science, no less than for Descartes, happiness, and indeed all right-thinking, was to reside ultimately in the morally neutral contemplation of the “real” world of measurable qualities. “The experimenter,” Thomas Sprat wrote in 1667 in his History of the Royal Society of London, “labors about the plain and undigested objects of his senses, without considering them as they are joined into common notions”; and elsewhere in the book he contrasted the uneasiness of always pondering theological, social, and historical problems with the comfort of contemplating nature, and emphasized the superiority to “the glorious pomp of words” of “the silent, effectual, and unanswerable arguments of real productions.”
Superficially active and industrious with their barometers, white powders, and dissected dogs, the members of the Royal Society were in reality, according to Sprat, engaged in obtaining the same kind of passive and hedonistic satisfaction that they might otherwise have sought under the aegis of the neo-Epicureanism of the period. “This course of study,” Sprat wrote,
will not affright us with rigid precepts or sour looks, or peevish commands, but consists of sensible pleasure, and besides will be most lasting in its satisfactions, and innocent in its remembrance.
What raptures can the most voluptuous men fancy to which these are not equal? Can they relish nothing but the pleasures of their senses? They may here enjoy them without guilt or remorse.
And when Sprat triumphantly enumerated the recent discoveries of science, it was in a very different spirit from that in which Elizabethans and Jacobeans had viewed the explorations of their own times. It was now, as it were, the compass that counted, not the sea-discoverers who used it—and counted because, like the other discoveries, it appeared to assure the rapid approach of a time of comfort in which (Sprat again) “the beautiful bosom of Nature will be exposed to our view; we shall enter into its garden and taste of its fruits, and satisfy ourselves with its plenty; instead of idle talking and wandering under its fruitless shadows.”
It was the pseudo-philosophical web of such an outlook, I suggest, that Swift sensed stretching over much of the cultural life of his contemporaries; and there were reasons why he should have been particularly disturbed by it.
During his formative years as secretary to Sir William Temple, Swift had found at Moor Park a concept of right action and true human creativity that was the antithesis of the foregoing. The moderate epicureanism of his employer, like his pleasure in gardens and “old wood …, old wine …, old books …, and old friends,” was only the earned resting place of a man who, during his time, had lived with considerable strenuousness. In his writings, Temple’s admiration of energy was as pronounced as his love of rationality, and it was the former quite as much as the latter that Swift took over and made his own. “Though it be easier to describe Heroic Virtue, by the effects and examples, than by causes or definitions,” Temple wrote in a well-known passage,
yet it may be said to arrive from some great and native excellency of temper or genius transcending the common race of mankind in wisdom, goodness and fortitude. These ingredients advantaged by birth, improved by education, and assisted by fortune, seem to make that noble composition, which gives such a lustre to those who have possessed it, as made them appear to common eyes, something more than mortals, and to have been born of some mixture, between divine and human race; to have been honoured and obeyed in their lives, and after their deaths bewailed and adored.
That Temple is not speaking of mere energy of personality, of the kind that Swift himself later took exception to in his scornful references to Perseus and Hercules in A Tale of a Tub, is emphasized by what follows.
According to Temple, Heroic Virtue, the possession of which he denies to Caesar and Alexander, so conduces to the general good that its “character … seems to be, in short, the deserving well of mankind.” It is, in fact, the highest form of wisdom; and between wisdom and wit (that other great manifestation of human energy), Temple makes the connection in his essay “On Poetry.” “To the first of these are attributed, the inventions or productions of things generally esteemed the most necessary, useful, or profitable to human life, either in private possessions or public institutions. To the other, those writings or discourses which are the most pleasing or entertaining to all that read or hear them. …” Here, presumably, we have the origin of Swift’s remark in “A Digression concerning Critics,” that “One man can fiddle, and another can make a small town a great city, and he that cannot do either one or the other deserves to be kicked out of the Creation.”
And such a yoking of art and practical wisdom is by no means to the disadvantage of the former, as Temple goes on to show in his account of the creative process:
But though invention be the mother of poetry, yet this child is, like all others, born naked, and must be nourished with care, clothed with exactness and elegance, educated with industry, instructed with art, improved by application, corrected with severity, and accomplished with labor and with time, before it arrives at any great perfection or growth. ‘Tis certain that no composition requires so many Ingredients, or several of more different sorts than this, nor that to excel in any qualities, there are necessary so many gifts of Nature, and so many improvements of learning and of art. For there must be an universal genius, of great compass as well as great elevation. There must be sprightly imagination or fancy, fertile in a thousand productions, ranging over infinite ground, piercing into every corner, and by the light of that true poetical fire, discovering a thousand little bodies or images in the world, and similitudes among them, unseen to common eyes, and which could not be discovered, without the rays of that sun.
Here in Temple’s writings, it seems plain, is the basis of Swift’s aesthetics and literary morality in The Battle of the Books and A Tae of a Tub.
The qualities that for Temple primarily ennoble both poetry and public action are energy, invention (“the first attribute and highest operation of divine power”), wisdom, self-mastery, and wit (for Swift “the noblest and most useful gift of human nature”). And for both Swift and Temple these were to be found preeminently in that idealized classical civilization concerning which Christopher Dawson has written:
It is not easy for us to realize the strength of this classical tradition. For three hundred years men had lived a double life. The classical world was the standard of all their thought and conduct. In a sense it was more real to them than their own world, for they had been taught to know the history of Rome better than that of England or modern Rome; to judge their literature by the standard of Quintilian; and to model their thought on Cicero and Seneca.
It was, I believe, with the standards of Moor Park firmly appropriated—the standards symbolized by the bee—that Swift contemplated the very different world of contemporary English letters.
In his incursion into the battle of the Ancients and Moderns, Swift superficially had the worst of it. Looking back at the episode from a literary-historical viewpoint, we can only raise our eyebrows at such oddities as his attribution of insanity to William Wotton’s methodology, his sustained attack upon Richard Bentley, his obtuseness about Bernard de Fontenelle, his extraordinary lists of adversaries, remarkable no less for their omissions (such as Newton and Locke) than for the placing of some of the inclusions (Thomas Rymer, for instance, who was notoriously on the side of the Ancients). And when we recall the similar battles of the present century, it is difficult not to feel considerable sympathy for a movement, especially one with Fontenelle as its most distinguished spokesman, that was essentially an attempt to break through a kind of historical sound-barrier and endow the present with as much reality and significance as the defenders of the Ancients accorded the past.
Yet, coarse and unjust as his attack in some ways was, I think that Swift was resisting a process that seemed to him to work insidiously but undeniable towards the corruption of contemporary writing.
For now the average author need no longer feel any obligation to measure himself, consciously or unconsciously, against the classical writers whose greatness had formerly been felt more or less in Temple’s terms. Instead, as Swift made explicit in A Tale of a Tub, his contemporaries had almost succeeded in destroying the felt power of those writers as individual personalities, either by outright denigration or by busying themselves only with forms and texts, and were now proceeding to address their own works solely to the mental world of the anti-historical present. And the literary climate of the period was of a kind peculiarly to hinder the creation of any new and valid critical standards.
The strength of party politics was growing at such a rate that soon almost all of the rapidly multiplying professional writers would be earning their livings in the service of one or more of the many factions. The increasingly influential upper middle classes of London were relatively lacking in a cultural tradition of their own and tended to absorb from the aristocracy their less admirable qualities only. And pleasure-seeking women were playing more and more conspicuous roles in fashionable society. Thus, when it was not mere propaganda, literature tended increasingly to be thought of as mere entertainment, an undemanding way of killing time; and whichever kind of commodity he was trying to provide, the average writer was drawn almost inevitably into gross flattery of his patrons and a pervasive concern to keep as closely abreast as possible of the rapidly and arbitrarily changing fashions.
Consequently, whenever an appeal was made to higher standards than the resulting mêlée of competitiveness and personally motivated criticism provided, it could be to a posterity whose critical status, logically, would have to be on a par with that of the present reading public. And in dealing with such appeals Swift was justifiable ruthless. Conscious as he was of the body’s decay, devouring time was for him as terrifying a reality as it had been for the Elizabethans and Jacobeans, and his evocation of it, in the “Dedication to Prince Posterity,” and of the ephemerality of most contemporary publications, is one of the most powerful things in the book.
In his own eyes, that is to say, there could be no valid escape from the obligation to live and write self-responsibly in the present by the light of respectably standards personally believed in.
If we grant the fundamental soundness of his view of the ordinary reading public, Swift’s at first somewhat odd yoking of the Royal Society group, the coffee-house cliques, and the pedants gains considerably in impressiveness when we consider that these, the intelligentsia of the period, not merely did not assist in the preservation or creation of valid standards but actually worked against them. Moreover, the nature of their treason was of a kind peculiarly to exasperate Swift.
By continually emphasizing the theme that the Ancients lacked a methodology, the apologists for the Moderns were in fact replacing the standard of individual merit and endeavor by that of collective knowledge, so that now the question was always, “What did a man (such as Pythagoras) know?” and not “How did he come to know it?” Admittedly an awareness of the incongruity of anyone’s being patronizing about Pythagoras did seep sufficiently into the contemporary consciousness to produce the defensive argument, which even Fontenelle and Wotton felt impelled to counter, that it was actually harder to develop an idea than to originate it (though even then Wotton went on to suggest that of the two activities the former might well be the more useful). But, such minor exceptions aside, a complacent insistence on the paramountcy of method seems to have been pervasive, since it was now perfectly possible for a modern, confronted with the apparent comprehensiveness of Newton’s discoveries, to feel that there was very little left to discover about the “real” world and that what was required now was largely the consolidation and dissemination of knowledge.
It was this point of view, as manifested in connection with literature, that Swift attacked so admirably in “A Digression of the Modern Kind” and “A Digression in Praise of Digressions.” And his metaphor of the army of learning ravaging the territory it occupies has a painfully modern flavor, as do his comments upon the uses of indexes, compendiums, abstracts, and interpretative systems—“Authors need to be little consulted, yet critics and commentators and lexicons carefully must,” for example.
The nature of the impetus that all this gave to the further corruption of standards is clear. It was what Bacon had earlier pointed to when he extolled the scientific method for its ability to “place all wits and understandings nearly at a level.”
On the one hand we find Sprat attempting to lure polite gentlemen into the Royal Society by asking, “Are they affrighted at the difficulties of knowledge? Here they may meet with a study that as well fits the most negligent minds as the most industrious.” On the other, with the help of proliferating aids to easy knowledge, the same gentlemen could presumably rapidly acquire the kind of nodding acquaintance with Virgil and “The Rules” that would confirm them in the self-satisfaction that the authors competing for their attention were engaged in promoting. And the bearings that the fashionable concerns with method had for authors themselves Swift devastatingly indicates at the end of “A Digression in Praise of Digressions”:
By these means, in a few weeks, there starts up many a writer, capable of managing the profoundest and most universal subjects. But, what though his head be empty provided his common-place book be full; And if you will bate him but the circumstances of method, and style, and grammar, and invention, allow him but the common privileges of transcribing from others, and digressing from himself, as often as he shall see occasion, he will desire no more ingredients towards fitting up a treatise that shall make a very comely figure on a bookseller’s shelf; there to be preserved neat and clean, for a long eternity, adorned with the heraldry of its title fairly inscribed on a label; never to be thumbed or greased by students nor bound to everlasting chains of darkness in a library; but when the fullness of time is come, shall happily undergo the trial of Purgatory, in order to ascend the sky.
Brilliant though Swift was as a diagnostician of literary ills, we obviously wouldn’t go to The Battle of the Books or A Tale of a Tub for any purely literary criticism of a kind intended seriously towards remedying them.
In a way, of course, his description of the ideal critic in “A Digression concerning Critics” is clear enough, with its talk of assisting intelligent readers “to pronounce upon the productions of the learned, form [their] taste to a true relish of the sublime and the admirable, and divide every beauty of matter or of style from the corruption that apes it.” And so is the conception of the self-discipline that writing should entail that comes out in “An Apology,” especially in the following:
The author assures those gentlemen who have given themselves that trouble with him [of attempting to answer the book] that his discourse is the product of the study, the observation, and the invention of several years, that he often blotted out much more than he left, and if his papers had not been a long time out of his possession, they must have still undergone more severe correction; and do they think such a building is to be battered with dirt-pellets however envenomed the mouths may be that discharge them.
But such passages do not really take us very far, and the obvious fact is that Swift’s concern with literature in these two books, especially A Tale of a Tub, was of another kind from that of a literary critic as described in the Digression. Though he spoke approvingly of the invention and use of critical “rules,” he himself was doing something more complicated, and I think more important.
Swift, as I have tried to show, was a man extraordinarily sensitive to the tendencies of certain of the beliefs of his time; and, as he sensed with that poetic intuitiveness not possessed by otherwise more intelligent contemporaries of his, such as Locke and Fontenelle, the ends towards which they were conducing were individual madness and the erection of ideologies having for their supporters the status of religion and leading, sooner or later, to the “Establishment of New Empires by Conquest.”
In A Tale of a Tub he was concerned with literature not as a commodity to be marketed and weighed but as something that was symptomatic of the ideas and moral health both of the individuals producing it and of the times in which they lived; and he judged ideas less for the “correctness” of their arguments than for their power to lead people towards or away from the kinds of virtues that he cherished.
I have tried to show how he attacked the essential illiteracy, ignorance, and intellectual self-complacency of his own period for edging the individual towards the spiritual passivity that was then to a considerable extent a philosophical ideal. But he also saw beyond the smooth front of that ideal to the fact that rationalism always produces its own kind of unreason, and it is a mark of his genius that in “A Digression in the Modern Kind” he linked together the purely rationalistic and the occultist criticism of Homer.
Both were unhistorical, both went to the forms of the work rather than to the moral personality of the writer as a living force, both were part of a tendency to find easy ways to knowledge and power, and both, ultimately, conduced to the kind of madness the attack upon which, as Ricardo Quintana and Miriam Kosh Starkman have shown, forms the centre of A Tale of a Tub.
1955; reformatted 2008
© John Fraser
This essay, which was written a good while ago, is published here [in The Name of Action] for the first time, virtually without revisions. It has continued to interest me over the years because of the kinds of connections that I was able to make in it. And I was confirmed in my desire to include it by reading A.C. Elias, Jr.’s recent learned and ingenious Swift at Moor Park: Problems in Biography and Criticism (University of Philadelphia Press, 1982).
At this distance from the subject, I shall not put my hand on my heart and swear that the Swift whom I offer with such assurance is in all respects “the” Swift. But I am quite sure that “my” Swift is a more credible one than the low-keyed, petty, and academic ironist with whom Mr. Elias emerges from his dismantling of the standard account of Swift’s attitude to Temple by writers like Irvin Ehrenpreis.
“Whatever his areas of philosophical agreement with the great man, “ Mr. Elias informs us, “Swift’s most cherished function in life was to smile at solemn human pretence, which all too often it was Temple’s unhappy fate—despite his best intention—to embody.” In such a curiously old-fashioned formula, as in the book at large, we lose altogether the Swift of heroic pride and aspiration, the Swift who later on so relished feeling near the center of power during Harley and St. John’s ministry, and whose subsequent comportment during his lifelong exile in the provinces is one of the most remarkable and poignant episodes in British literary history.
To judge from his book, Mr. Elias, with his evident and I suspect nowadays representative distaste for Temple’s fondness for the heroic, seems unacquainted with the possibility that, as Yeats well knew, to aspire may be in some degree to become. And I am reminded of a colleague’s remark apropos of the whole school of ironical academic revisionists, “They seem to think that reality must always be scandalous” (to which I added, “Or banal”). But to me, at least, it is obvious that just as it was possible for Temple to aspire to dignity and wisdom as a writer without thereby being hypocritical, so it was possible for Swift to be aware of flaws in Temple but at the same time admire the virtues to which Temple aspired.
Mr. Elias’s Swift, compulsively pulling down Temple and his heroic virtues while going through the motions of praise, seems to me a writer incapable of passion, generosity, and greatness. I prefer the Swift who, in a complex transposition of Renaissance values, would later fight heroically for Ireland, and of whom in “Swift’s Epitaph,” Yeats wrote:
Imitate him if you dare,
World-besotted traveler; he
Served human liberty.
I have modernized the spelling of quotations (chiefly a matter of de-capitalizing the first letters of nouns), broken up some paragraphs, and added roman-numeral dividers. Because of the relatively brief distance that one can see ahead, Web prose, in my experience, requires shorter paragraphs than print-prose. In this it may also take one a bit closer to the spoken word.
The bibliographical notes to the paper have vanished, and I am no longer scholar enough to want to redo them. But as I recall, when I checked quotations for book publication they were accurate. The historical and literary judgments are my own. The learned and passionate Swift scholar Samuel Holt Monk called the paper “awfully good.”
It was the first paper that I wrote for his three-term seminar at Minnesota—Swift in the first term, Pope in the third, and in-betweens in the second. All the topics were assigned. I did papers in the second term on Bernard Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees and the Abbé Bouhours’ concept of the je ne sais quoi, the certain something that took one beyond the mere observance of “rules,” and wrote a final paper of over a hundred pages, virtually an M.A. thesis, on the architecturally oriented third Earl of Burlington. That was my first year as a Ph.D. student.
Monk obviously lived and breathed Swift, and generated an extraordinary buzz in the seminar. Swift was alive for him, and with him a wealth of detail about other figures and doings in those years, so that spaces of the historical imagination started opening up for us too. One felt that it was possible to be right oneself, I mean accurate and truth-telling, if one worked hard enough. But Monk wasn’t doing or promoting hagiography, or defending his own turf, though of course one was pleased when one pleased him.
My second paper was on Swift and the Duke of Marlborough, whom Monk said Swift hated. Not being inspired by the subject, I settled down with the then complete works of Swift and copied out every mention of Marlborough that I could find. I ended up arguing that “hate” wasn’t quite the right term, since in fact the chronological pattern was one of alternating condemnation and praise, as if Swift was on the prod against Marlborough for obvious political reasons but, faced with the evidence of his military genius, could not bring himself to withhold respect out of what would now be called reasons of political correctness—and then, self-correcting, returned to the attack. I had no sense of violating taboos by doing this, nor did Monk react as if I had. And when in the course of the paper I referred to Swift’s “tipsy” letters to his young lady friends. Monk said, quizzically, that he had heard Swift accused of numerous failings, but this was the first time that he had heard him called a drunk. But, said I, at various times he says he’s sitting down to write after a convivial evening with Bolingbroke and Harvey, and obviously they were drinking there.
I’m not sure how original Monk was on Swift. A lot of what he said appeared to be in Ricardo Quintana on Swift, and his well-known and obviously strongly felt article on “The Pride of Lemuel Gulliver” seemed to me, later on, to be misguided. But from the point of view of students, these were advantages. He wasn’t trying to sell us his own patented write-it-down-on-the-back-of-an-index-card image of Swift. He simply wanted us to go with him into those times and spaces and encounters and try to get a fix on some of the things that were going on. And you knew that if you were to make a factual error he would know it for what it was, so you tried to avoid errors.
It all added up to an encounter with true scholarship, the real right thing, that I was very lucky to have had—an encounter, moreover, in which the “knowledge enforced by firm detail” (J.V. Cunningham’s phrase) did not get in the way of or work against critical intelligence and individual judgment. Later on, a Friday afternoon talk to the Department by Allen Tate, its chief luminary, was announced, which packed everyone into the lounge. Monk, virtually bowing and scraping before the great man and probably personal friend whom he was introducing, provided a brilliant introduction to the subject of the occasion, Tennyson’s “Tithonus.” After which Tate advanced to the lectern, read out the poem beautifully in that precise and slightly dry voice of his, and sat back down again. No doubt there were some questions.
Monk also, when the Department experimented with mass lectures by grown-ups to enrich our individual pedagogical endeavors, gave a brilliant forty-five-minute lecture on the nature and history of satire. When, later on, I sounded out the freshmen in my section, they preferred the performance of Leonard Unger, who had strolled on stage and offered some leisurely observations about I forget what.
Monk had been, I was told, the victim of a tragedy, the death in a boating accident of his wife and child. One had the feeling that his whole self, and a complex network of values, were involved in his dealings with Swift, whose world-view and challenges to self-congratulatory modernizing he obviously, as a Southerner, found congenial.
The compleat scholar, and without any showboating, he was not “academic.” I was particularly lucky to have had him on Swift that year, and to have had to read a lot by Swift (and very little about him), since otherwise I might have been too easily contented with Leavis on him in the famous essay ending with, “We shall not find Swift remarkable for intelligence if we think of Blake.”
Monk’s seminar wonderfully complemented the seminar for History and English students offered jointly by Jacques Barzun and Lionel Trilling at Columbia, which began each week with Trilling and Barzun commenting on the paper for the week (on a topic of the writer’s choosing, and put on reserve so that we could all read it in advance) and moved on to the text for the week, the only examples of which that I can recall were G.K. Chesterton’s The Victorian Age, and Noel Annan’s life of Leslie Stephen. I remember the latter because, when Trilling misquoted Q.D. Leavis as saying that Virginia Woolf wouldn’t know which end of a cradle to rock, I piped up and said, no, it was which end of a cradle to stir.
What was the seminar “about”? I can’t recall what we were told, but I think now that it was a humanistic attempt, back then in the early 1950s, to free us from jargon-ridden ideologies (Freudian, Marxist, New Critical, etc) and the sub-specialisms of our respective disciplines., and from unself-critical dogmatism. Historians in the making were to be intelligible to literary scholar-critics in the making, and vice versa. Barzun, as I recall, did most of the heavy lifting, pushing us to look at the rhetorics of papers and texts, Which made us all the more attentive to the words, when he spoke, of Trilling, who embodied the Moral Intellect. Subsequently, like others, I had a private audience with Trilling. He was more swiftly and wittily intelligent there than in his writings, at least up to that point (he remarked that “sibling rivalry” would be a good name for a Jamesian country house), and, unsolicited, he landed me my first academic job. On a later occasion (there were only two), when I ventured to commiserate with him about a hostile British review, he said, with obvious feeling, “Well, but look how they've treated poor Leavis,” a sentiment that he did not, I think, express in print. Barzun seconded, emphatically, his advice that I get a doctorate.
My own paper for the seminar, influenced by my recent twenty months in Israel and Q.D. Leavis’s recent praise of the book, was on Hawthorne, Brook Farm, and The Blithedale Romance. Trilling wrote little on it except, “You write so well that you should write much better”, which of course was a thrill. Barzun blackened the margins and on page eight wrote, “At last a decent sentence.” It was the most helpful reading that anything of mine has received, even though he wasn’t concerned with the contents. At Minnesota the group of us who brought out the twelve issues of GSE (The Graduate Student of English) also believed in jargon-free prose and read the heck out of submissions, our own included. I myself—ah youth!—gave the Barzun treatment to an article that I had solicited from a Name, who understandably withdrew it. Later it appeared as the first chapter of a book of his, with a gracious mention of me in the preface for having got him to write it.
It was Trilling who steered me to Monk when I told him I was going to Minnesota.
I don’t recall Descartes’ figuring in Monk’s seminar, but that academic year I also took a three-term and pretty technical sequence of graduate classes on Descartes, Leibniz and Spinoza in the Philosophy Department, the first two given by Francis Raab, the third (brilliantly but for me incomprehensibly) by Wilfred Sellers.