James Howell’s Familiar Letters, Print, and History
In his Epistolae Ho-Elianae, or, Familiar Letters (1645), James Howell took the letters of Seneca and Cicero as models for an epistolary history of his own time. However, he published his book at a moment of dramatic change in English print culture, in which both the sheer quantity and partisan quality of printed newsbooks were exploding. Amid the tumult of the Civil Wars, Howell decried the emergence of a print-based public sphere of debate while simultaneously participating in it. Howell imagined the letter as a privileged sphere of genteel exchange, while diving into the pamphlet wars of the 1640s and 1650s. His example can show us much about the differences between the media realities we inhabit, and those in which we would like to live.
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