As the eighteenth century progressed into the nineteenth, the world of the Enlightenment continued towards a more progressive future, even in the eyes of the conservative and devout. No longer did superstition have room in works of art and literature - unless used as a tool for satire to emphasise its foolishness - concepts like demonmania were already, as it seems, becoming outdated. It had become an antiquated term for what many would have deemed a fault of the mind or spirit (but not caused by possession of some sort). The Encylcopedie’s description of Demonmania goes as far as to include religious zealots that scream the end is nigh, terrorizing communities with their exaggerations of Hell Fire and destruction as being demon maniac's, suffering from a form of melancholia that plagued their spirit. But, as with superstitions, it seems that this kind of behavior, this extreme zealotry, was falling by the wayside for more rational views of the world, even in a religious context.
Author Samuel Johnson was one of whom didn’t share the same exact optimism for the future as Diderot and D'alembert, for him the Encyclopedie wouldn’t change the way the world functioned, even if an extensive (to complete) catalogue of knowledge could be amassed it still wouldn’t bring Europeans into a golden age of insight and knowledge. While Johnson didn’t really believe many of these things were a possibility, one of the largest factors in shepherding society into a more progressive era of intellect was creating art that held a moral message.
With this, Johnson would not have deemed a piece of art that propagandized or promoted the belief in demons (horror films in modern Hollywood are reminiscent of this) or possession. Even with his largely conservative view of the Enlightenment and it’s place in the pantheon of human movements towards greater intellect and actualization, he still promoted beliefs that upheld the sentiments created in the Encyclopedie about demonmania. Within art demons can be depicted, but only as a way to support the moral message that is created - using demonic iconography as symbols rather than literal meanings. To Johnson, the better way to abolish the notion of demonmania would be through these moral messages in popular artworks and NOVELS rather than through a comprehensive encyclopedia that would be consumed by a smaller portion of the population. His work, On Fiction, deals with this by urging writers to create works that dealt with reality and daily occurrences - ideas that do not fall in the category of supernatural and that artifice, such as demons and the like, should be used to promote a moral value in these works.
Johnson saw Shakespeare as one of the most prolific moral writers of all time, and went on to write a complete edition of Shakespeare's plays. But, while Shakespeare writings, as Johnson sees, is as indicative of humanity as a whole as possible, he admits that it has become idealized through time in a fashion that it was never meant to be. This process of idealization and reinterpretation that he sees happening in other’s collective editions of Shakespeare’s work is the chief reason he creates his own, as a way to preserve the integrity of the original piece, the message it was intended to tell. In that way all works of literature that stand the test of time must, even ones with powerful moral messages, must stand against men’s inflation of them as time itself passes, as we skew their messages to fit ourselves and the times we live in. In his Notes On Shakespeare Johnson writes “if phraseology is to be changed as words grow uncouth by disuse, or gross by vulgarity, the history of every language will be lost; we shall no longer have the words of any author”, he goes on to explain the slipperiness of such acts - that as time passes each transcribed edition will edge further and further away from the truth originally set within the work.
But even as he saw Shakespeare to be an incredibly moralistic author, he still struggled with his own interpretations of some of the events, including ghosts and ghouls - evidence of obvious artifice in Shakespeare's work - that he attempted to rationalize. When speaking of Macbeth and the abundance of witchcraft and ghosts, Johnson believes the ignorance of commoners, the Holy Wars of old, and King James to be reason enough for the prevalence of such nonsense. To explain the inclusion of these phantoms in an otherwise moral work Johnson believes that Crusaders, coming back from the East, brought back superstitious beliefs of dark spirits that explained their various defeats. As well, in the wake of the Reformation act, King James (the King at the time of Shakespeare) was a firm believer in witchcraft and even went as far as examining witches himself and writing an entire book on ways to detect them. It's important to understand that Samuel Johnson put great importance on the Age in which Shakespeare was writing as a way to compare the moral message he constructed, " In order to make a true estimate of the abilities and merit of a writer, it it always necessary to examine the genius of his age, and the opinions of his contemporaries." Geniuses may have the ability to transcend their age in many ways, but they still should be tethered to it in an analytical way. The prevalence of these demonic/fantastic imagery, and from such higher ups in society, is explanation enough as to why Shakespeare would include such things in an otherwise honest work of plays, because in his society it was an overwhelmingly more common belief compared with the Enlightenment era.
In a book like Tristram Shandy, it is easy for the kinds of moral messages Johnson is looking for in works of literary art to get lost in an endless amount of bemusements and anecdotal throw-aways. “It was not English, Sir”, and “Nothing odd will last” were two quotes Johnson attributed to the novel - clearly he found the strange narrative style and subject matter to be a novelty, nothing less or more and would likely have felt it didn’t achieve the moral voice he believed all art should employ.
While Tristram Shandy may not seemingly deal with SUPERSTITIOUS or delve into the supernatural, the novel makes a point that over zealousness in the theoretical world can have many real world consequences. Walter Shandy, Tristram’s father, is wholly involved in his theoretical world crafting Tristram’s education to his satisfaction - to ensure he becomes an actualized person - but, in doing so, he completely neglects Tristram’s teachings and thus Tristram loses out on many years of schooling because of his fathers near zealot like devotion to Tristram’s education. While this can be read as a crack at the Encyclopedie (and thus, the article I aim to defend and explain), it can also be seen in a broader sense, expanding to all theoretical worlds or fields that zealousness is applied to, such as religion. Instead of being entirely devoted to the theory of the bible, the world that it exists in - filled with divine consequences and inhabited with a number of demons - we should focus on the physical world right in front of us, an idea that coincides with Johnson in some ways. With his conservative view, he also felt that, while humans have amassed a great amount of knowledge, it wasn’t being used at all. In the case of demonmania, it would be that we have the ability to understand it as a mental illness (in an early way) but without proliferation among the society it could still exist in religious fanfare. It’s the application that needs to be focused on, rather than the gathering and cataloging - the actual teaching of these things. Without it being taught in an effective manner, we’re all like Tristram as a child, ignorant.
Likewise this comes as somewhat of a refute to what Kant believed in when he wrote that the Enlightenment, striving for personal knowledge, was the answer to self-incurred tutelage. While some may strive and achieve the freedom he talks of, for this to be successful a solid system of EDUCATION is required to bring the populace up as a whole - one cannot learn without the opportunity to. Just because the Encyclopedie believes and promotes the idea that demonmania is a form of mental illness rather than a superstitious curse doesn’t mean that the general populace will reflect that ideology until it is taught and brought to the attention of the public.
As the Enlightenment blossomed both Samuel Johnson and Laurence Sterne, in their respective works, provide a critique on the Enlightenment while still upholding many of the same values promoted. Samuel Johnson saw the proliferation of art and literary works as a double edged sword, only being as useful to society as the moral value they carried. And that, even with a moral message in stow, time and interpretation will skew the work itself. While Sterne poked fun at a number of things the Enlightenment held dear; namely its focus on theoretical knowledge being the savior of the world - the idea that if a book described how to do something, you could do it - and the way that ideology neglected the application of teaching something, as well as the idea that humanity can achieve omnipotent knowledge - time always runs out.