CHAPTER VI: FROM THE RESTORATION, 1660, TO THE PUBLICATION OF PAMELA, 1740
History of the Period.—This chapter opens with the Restoration of Charles II. (1660-1685) in 1660 and ends before the appearance, in 1740, of a new literary creation, Richardson's Pamela, the novel of domestic life and character. This period is often called the age of Dryden and Pope, the two chief poets of the time. When Oliver Cromwell died, the restoration of the monarchy was inevitable. The protest against the Puritanic view of life had become strong. Reaction always results when excessive restraint in any direction is removed.
During his exile, Charles had lived much in France and had become accustomed to the dissolute habits of the French court. The court of Charles II. was the most corrupt ever known in England. The Puritan virtues were laughed to scorn by the ribald courtiers who attended Charles II. John Evelyn (1620-1706) and Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) left diaries, which give interesting pictures of the times. The one by Pepys is especially vivid.
In 1663 Samuel Butler (1612-1680) published a famous satire, entitled Hudibras. Its object was to ridicule everything that savored of Puritanism. This satire became extremely popular in court circles, and was the favorite reading of the king.
Charles II. excluded all but Episcopalians from holding office, either in towns or in Parliament. Only those who sanctioned the Episcopal prayer book were allowed to preach. In order to keep England's friendship and to be able to look to her for assistance in time of war, Louis XIV. of France paid Charles II. L100,000 a year to act as a French agent. In this capacity, Charles II. began against Holland. From a position of commanding importance under Cromwell, England had become a third-rate power, a tail to a French kite.
James II. (1685-1688), who succeeded his brother, Charles II., undertook to suspend laws and to govern like a despot. He was driven out in the bloodless revolution of 1688 by his son-in-law, William (1689-1702), and his daughter Mary. William of Orange, who thus became king of England, was a prince of Holland. This revolution led to the Bill of Rights (1689), the “third pillar of the British Constitution,” the two previous being Magna Charta and the Petition of Right. The foundations were now firmly laid for a strictly constitutional monarchy in England. From this time the king has been less important, sometimes only a mere figure-head.
This revolution, coupled with the increasing rivalry of France in trade and colonial expansion, altered the foreign policy of England. Holland was the head of the European coalition against France; and William III. was influential in having England join it. For the larger part of the eighteenth century there was intermittent war with France.
Under Anne (1702-1714) the Duke of Marlborough won many remarkable victories against France. The most worthy goal of French antagonism, expansion of trade, and displacement of the French in America and India, was not at this time clearly apparent.
Anne's successor was the Hanoverian Elector, George I. (1714-1727), a descendant of the daughter of James I., who had married a German prince. At the time of his accession, George I. was fifty-four years old and could speak no English. He seldom attended the meetings of his cabinet, since he could not understand the deliberations. This circumstance led to further decline of royal power, so that his successor, George II. (1727-1760), said: “Ministers are the king in this country.”
The history of the rest of this period centers around the great prime minister, Robert Walpole, whose ministry lasted from 1715-1717 and from 1721-1742. His motto was, “Let sleeping dogs lie”; and he took good care to offend no one by proposing any reforms, either political or religious. “Every man has his price” was the succinct statement of his political philosophy; and he did not hesitate to secure by bribery the adoption of his measures in Parliament. He succeeded in three aims: (1) in making the house of Hanover so secure on the throne that it has not since been displaced, (2) in giving fresh impetus to trade and industry at home by reducing taxation, and (3) in strengthening the navy and encouraging colonial commerce.
Change in Foreign Influence.—Of all foreign influences from the beginning of the Renaissance to the Restoration, the literature of Italy had been the most important. French influence now gained the ascendancy.
There were several reasons for this change. (1) France under the great Louis XIV. was increasing her political importance. (2) She now had among her writers men who were by force of genius fitted to exert wide influence. Among such, we may instance Moliere (1622-1673), who stands next to Shakespeare in dramatic power. (3) Charles II. and many Cavaliers had passed the time of their exile in France. They became familiar with French literature, and when they returned to England in 1660, their taste had already been influenced by French models.
Change in the Subject Matter of Literature.—The Elizabethan age impartially held the mirror up to every type of human emotion. The writers of the Restoration and of the first half of the eighteenth century, as a class, avoided any subject that demanded a portrayal of deep and noble feeling. In this age, we catch no glimpse of a Lady Macbeth in the grasp of remorse or of a Lear bending over a dead Cordelia.
The popular subjects were those which appealed to cold intellect; and these were, for the most part, satirical, didactic, and argumentative. The two greatest poets of the period, John Dryden and his successor, Alexander Pope, usually chose such subjects. John Locke (1632-1704), a great prose writer of this age, shows in the very title of his most famous work, Of the Conduct of the Understanding, what he preferred to discuss. That book opens with the statement, “The last resort a man has recourse to in the conduct of himself is his understanding.” This declaration, which is not strictly true, embodies a pronounced tendency of the age, which could not understand that the world of feeling is no less real than that of the understanding.
One good result of the ascendancy of the intellect was seen in scientific investigation. The Royal Society was founded in 1662 to study natural phenomena and to penetrate into the hidden mysteries of philosophy and life.
The Advance of Prose.—In each preceding age, the masterpieces were poetry; but before the middle of the eighteenth century we find the prose far surpassing the poetry. Dryden, almost immediately after the Restoration, shows noteworthy advance in modern prose style. He avoids a Latinized inversion, such as the following, with which Milton begins the second sentence of his Areopagitica (1644):—
“And me perhaps each of these dispositions, as the subject was
whereon I entered, may have at other times variously affected ...”
Here, the object “me” is eighteen words in advance of its predicate. The sentence might well have ended with the natural pause at “affected,” but Milton adds fifty-one more words. We may easily understand by comparison why the term “modern” is applied to the prose of Dryden and of his successors Addison and Steele. To emphasize the precedence of these writers in the development of modern prose is no disparagement to Bunyan's style, which is almost as quaint and as excellent as that of the 1611 version of the Bible.
French influence was cumulative in changing the cumbersome style of Milton's prose to the polished, neatly-turned sentences of Addison. Matthew Arnold says: “The glory of English literature is in poetry, and in poetry the strength of the eighteenth century does not lie. Nevertheless the eighteenth century accomplished for us an immense literary progress, and its very shortcomings in poetry were an instrument to that progress, and served it. The example of Germany may show us what a nation loses from having no prose style... French prose is marked in the highest degree by the qualities of regularity, uniformity, precision, balance... The French made their poetry also conform to the law which was molding their prose... This may have been bad for French poetry, but it was good for French prose.”
The same influence which gave vigor, point, and definiteness to the prose, necessary for the business of the world, helped to dwarf the poetry. If both could not have advanced together, we may be thankful that the first part of the eighteenth century produced a varied prose of such high excellence.
The Classic School.—The literary lawgivers of this age held that a rigid adherence to certain narrow rules was the prime condition of producing a masterpiece. Indeed, the belief was common that a knowledge of rules was more important than genius.
The men of this school are called classicists because they held that a study of the best works of the ancients would disclose the necessary guiding rules. No style that did not closely follow these rules was considered good. Horace, seen through French spectacles, was the classical author most copied by this school. His Epistles and Satires were considered models.
The motto of the classicists was polished regularity. Pope struck the keynote of the age when he said:—
“True wit is nature to advantage dress'd,
What oft was thought, but ne'er so well express'd.”
These two lines show the form of the “riming couplet,” which the classical poets adopted. There is generally a pause at the end of each line; and each couplet, when detached from the context, will usually make complete sense.
Edmund Waller (1606-1687), remembered today for his single couplet:—
“The soul's dark cottage, battered and decayed,
Lets in new light through chinks that time has made,”
had used this form of verse before 1630; but it was reserved for Dryden, and especially for Pope, to bring the couplet to a high degree of perfection. A French critic advised poets to compose the second line of the couplet first. No better rule could have been devised for dwarfing poetic power and for making poetry artificial.
Voltaire, a French classicist, said, “I do not like the monstrous irregularities of Shakespeare.” An eighteenth-century classicist actually endeavored to improve Hamlet's soliloquy by putting it in riming couplets. These lines from Macbeth show that Shakespeare will not tolerate such leading strings nor allow the ending of the lines to interfere with his sense:—
”...Besides, this Duncan
Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been
So clear in his great office, that his virtues
Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued against
The deep damnation of his taking-off.”
A later romantic poet called the riming couplet “rocking-horse meter”; and said that the reading of many couplets reminded him of round trips on a rocking-horse.
Advances are usually made by overstressing some one point. The classicists taught the saving grace of style, the need of restraint, balance, clearness, common sense. We should therefore not despise the necessary lesson which English literature learned from such teaching,—a lesson which has never been forgotten.
The Drama.—The theaters were reopened at the time of the Restoration. It is interesting to read in the vivacious Diary of Samuel Pepys how he went in 1661 to see Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, “a play of itself the worst that I ever heard.” The next year he characterizes A Midsummer Night's Dream as “the most ridiculous play that I ever saw.” He liked the variety in Macbeth, and calls The Tempest “the most innocent play that I ever saw.”
The Restoration dramatists, who were dominated by French influence, so often sneered at morality and the virtues of the home, that they have paid the penalty of being little read in after times. The theater has not yet entirely recovered from the deep-seated prejudice which was so intensified by the coarse plays which flourished for fifty years after the Restoration.
Although John Dryden is best known among a large number of Restoration dramatists, he did better work in another field. William Congreve (1670-1729) made the mast distinctive contribution to the new comedy of manners. Descended from an old landowning family in Staffordshire, he was for a while a mate of Jonathan Swift at Trinity College, Dublin. In 1691 Congreve was entered in the Middle Temple, London, to begin the study of law, but he soon turned playwright. His four comedies,—The Old Bachelor, The Double Dealer, Love for Love, The Way of the World,—and one tragedy, The Mourning Bride, were all written in the last decade of the seventeenth century. After 1700 he wrote no more plays, although he lived nearly thirty years longer. On his death, in 1729, he was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Congreve attempts to picture the manners of contemporary society, and he does not penetrate far below the surface of life. He is not read for the depth of his thought, but for his humor and for the clear, pointed style of his prose comedies. George Meredith says:—
“Where Congreve excels all his English rivals is in his literary
force, and a succinctness of style peculiar to him... He is at once
precise and voluble. If you have ever thought upon style, you will
acknowledge it to be a signal accomplishment. In this he is a
classic, and he is worthy of treading a measure with Moliere.”
Congreve's best comedies are Love for Love and The Way of the World. The majority of critics agree with Meredith in calling Miss Millimant, who is the heroine of the latter play, “an admirable, almost a lovable heroine.” Meredith illustrates one phase of his own idea of the comic spirit, by the language which Miss Millimant uses in accepting her lover: “If I continue to endure you a little longer, I may by degrees dwindle into a wife.” Congreve's peculiar genius is well shown in his ability to make her manner of speech reveal her characteristics. His plays are unfortunately disfigured with the coarseness of the age.
The blemishes in the drama did not exist, however, without an emphatic contemporary protest. Jeremy Collier (1650-1729), a non-conforming bishop, in his Short View of the Immorality of the Stage(1698), complains that the unworthy hero of one of Congreve's plays “is crowned for the man of merit, has his wishes thrown into his lap, and makes the happy exit.”
Such attacks had their weight and prepared the way far the more moral sentimental comedies of Richard Steele and succeeding playwrights. The sacrifice of plot to moral purpose and the deliberate introduction of scenes designed to force an appeal to sentiment caused the later drama to deteriorate in a different way. We shall see that the natural hearty humor of Goldsmith's comedy, She Stoops to Conquer(1773), afforded a welcome relief from such plays.
JOHN DRYDEN, 1631-1700
Life.—John Dryden was born in 1631 in the small village of Aldwinkle, in the northern part of Northamptonshire. Few interesting facts concerning his life have come down to us. His father was a baronet; his mother, the daughter of a rector. Young Dryden graduated from Cambridge in 1654.
During his entire life, Dryden was a professional literary man; and with his pen he made the principal part of his living. This necessity often forced him against his own better judgment to cater to the perverted taste of the Restoration. When he found that plays had more market value than any other kind of literature, he agreed to furnish three plays a year for the king's actors, but was unable to produce that number. For fifteen years in the prime of his life, Dryden did little but write plays, the majority of which are seldom read to-day. His only important poem during his dramatic period was Annus Mirabilis (The Wonderful Year, 1666), memorable for the great London fire and for naval victories over the Dutch.
By writing the greatest political satire in the language at the age of fifty, he showed the world where his genius lay. During the last twenty years of his life, he produced but few plays. His greatest satires, didactic poems, and lyrics belong to this period. In his last years he wrote a spirited translation of Vergil, and retold in his own inimitable way various stories from Chaucer and Boccaccio and Ovid. These stories were published in a volume entitled Fables, Ancient and Modern. Dryden died in 1700 and was buried in Westminster Abbey beside Chaucer.
It is difficult to speak positively of Dryden's character. He wrote a poem in honor of the memory of Cromwell, and a little later another poem, Astraea Redux, welcoming Charles II. He argued in stirring verse in favor of the Episcopal religion when that was the faith of the court; but after the accession of James II., who was a Catholic, Dryden wrote another poem to prove the Catholic Church the only true one. He had been appointed poet laureate in 1670, but the Revolution of 1688, which drove James from the throne, caused Dryden to lose the laureateship. He would neither take the oath of fealty to the new government nor change his religion. In spite of adversity and the loss of an income almost sufficient to support him, he remained a Catholic for the rest of his life and reared his sons in that faith.
He seems to have been of a forgiving disposition and ready to acknowledge his own faults. He admitted that his plays were disfigured with coarseness. He was very kind to young writers and willing to help them with their work. In his chair at Will's Coffee House, discoursing to the wits of the Restoration about matters of literary art, he was one of the most prominent figures of the age.
His Prose.—Although to the majority of people Dryden is known only as a poet, his influence on prose has been so far-reaching as to entitle him to be called one of the founders of modern prose style.
The shortening of sentences has been a striking feature in the development of modern English prose. Edmund Spenser averages about fifty words to each of his prose sentences; Richard Hooker, about forty-one. One of the most striking sentences in Milton's Areopagitica contains ninety-five words, although he crowds over three hundred words into some of his long sentences. The sentences in some of Dryden's pages average only twenty-five words in length. Turning to Macaulay, one of the most finished masters of modern prose, we find that his sentences average twenty-two words. Dryden helped also to free English prose from the inversions, involutions, and parenthetical intricacies of earlier times. His influence on both prose and poetry were much the same. In verse he adopted the short, easily understood unit of the classical couplet; and in prose, the short, direct sentence.
Dryden's prose deals chiefly with literary criticism. Most of his prose is to be found in the prefaces to his plays and poems. His most important separate prose composition is his Essay of Dramatic Poesy, a work which should be read by all who wish to know some of the foundation principles of criticism.
Satiric Poetry.—No English writer has surpassed Dryden in satiric verse. His greatest satire is Absalom and Achitophel, in which, under the guise of Old Testament characters, he satirizes the leading spirits of the Protestant opposition to the succession of James, the brother of Charles II., to the English throne. Dryden thus satirizes Achitophel, the Earl of Shaftesbury:—
“Great wits are sure to madness near allied,
And thin partitions do their bounds divide;
Else, why should he, with wealth and honor blest,
Refuse his age the needful hours of rest?
Punish a body which he could not please,
Bankrupt of life, yet prodigal of ease?
And all to leave what with his toil he won
To that unfeathered two-legged thing, a son.
* * * * *
In friendship false, implacable in hate,
Resolved to ruin or to rule the state.”
Zimri, the Duke of Buckingham, is immortalized thus:—
“Stiff in opinions, always in the wrong,
Was everything by starts, and nothing long.”
Mac Flecknoe is another satire of almost as great merit, directed against a certain Whig poet by the name of Shadwell. He would have been seldom mentioned in later times, had it not been for two of Dryden's lines:—
“The rest to some faint meaning make pretence,
But Shadwell never deviates into sense.”
All for Love, one of Dryden's greatest plays, shows the delicate keenness of his satire in characterizing the cold-blooded Augustus Caesar, or Octavius, as he is there called. Antony has sent a challenge to Octavius, who replies that he has more ways than one to die. Antony rejoins:—
“He has more ways than one;
But he would choose them all before that one.
Ventidius. He first would choose an ague or a fever.
Antony. No; it must be an ague, not a fever;
He has not warmth enough to die by that.”
Dryden could make his satire as direct and blasting as a thunderbolt. He thus describes his publisher:—
“With leering looks, bull-faced, and freckled fair,
With two left legs, and Judas-colored hair,
And frowsy pores that taint the ambient air.”
Argumentative or Didactic Verse.—Dryden is a master in arguing in poetry. He was not a whit hampered by the restrictions of verse. They were rather an advantage to him, for in poetry he could make more telling arguments in briefer compass than in prose. The best two examples of his power of arguing in verse are Religio Laici, written in 1682, to uphold the Episcopal religion, and The Hind and the Panther, composed in 1687, to vindicate the Catholic church. Verse of this order is called didactic, because it endeavors to teach or to explain something. The age of the Restoration delighted in such exercises of the intellect vastly more than in flights of fancy or imagination.
Lyrical Verse.—While most of Dryden's best poetry is either satiric or didactic, he wrote three fine lyrical poems: Alexander's Feast, A Song for St. Cecilia's Day, and An Ode to Mrs. Anne Killigrew. All are distinguished by remarkable beauty and energy of expression. Alexander's Feast is the most widely read of Dryden's poems. The opening lines of the Ode to Mrs. Anne Killigrew seem almost Miltonic in their conception, and they show great power in the field of lyrical poetry. Mistress Killigrew was a young lady of rare accomplishments in both poetry and painting, who died at the age of twenty-five. Dryden thus begins her memorial ode:—
“Thou youngest virgin daughter of the skies,
Made in the last promotion of the blest;
Whose palms, new plucked from Paradise,
In spreading branches more sublimely rise,
Rich with immortal green above the rest:
* * * * *
Thou wilt have time enough for hymns divine,
Since Heaven's eternal year is thine.”
Some of his plays have songs and speeches instinct with lyrical force. The following famous lines on the worth of existence are taken from his tragedy of Aurengzebe:—
“When I consider'd life, 'tis all a cheat,
Yet, fool'd with hope, men favor the deceit,
Trust on, and think to-morrow will repay:
To-morrow's falser than the former day,
Lies worse; and while it says, we shall be blest
With some new joys, cuts off what we possest.
Strange cozenage! none would live past years again;
Yet all hope pleasure in what yet remain.
And, from the dregs of life, think to receive
What the first sprightly running could not give.
I'm tir'd with waiting for this chemic gold,
Which fools us young and beggars us when old.”
General Characteristics.—In point of time, Dryden is the first great poet of the school of literary artists. His verse does not tolerate the unpruned irregularities and exaggerations of many former English poets. His command over language is remarkable. He uses words almost as he chooses, but he does not invest them with the warm glow of feeling. He is, however, something more than a great word artist. Many of his ideas bear the stamp of marked originality.
In the field of satiric and didactic poetry, he is a master. The intellectual, not the emotional, side of man's nature appeals strongly to him. He heeds not the song of the bird, the color of the rose, nor the clouds of evening.
Although more celebrated for his poetry than for his prose, he is the earliest of the great modern prose stylists, and he displays high critical ability.
DANIEL DEFOE, 1659?-1731
Varied Experiences.—Daniel Defoe was born in London, probably the year before the Restoration. His father, a butcher in good circumstances, sent the boy to a school in which English, instead of Latin, was the medium of instruction. He was taught how to express himself in the simple, forceful English for which he became famous. His education was planned to make him a dissenting minister; but he preferred a life of varied activity. He became a trader, a manufacturer of tiles, a journalist, and a writer of fiction. By also serving as a government agent and spy, he incurred the severe criticism of contemporaries. It is doubtful if even Shakespeare had more varied experiences or more vicissitudes in life.
For writing what would to-day be considered a harmless piece of irony, The Shortest Way with Dissenters, in which Defoe, who was himself a dissenter, advocated banishment or hanging, he suffered the mortification of exposure for three days in the pillory and of imprisonment in the pestilent Newgate jail. His business of making tiles was consequently ruined. These experiences, with which his enemies taunted him, colored his entire life and made him realize that the support of his wife and six children necessitated care in his choice and treatment of subjects.
His life was a succession of changing fortunes. He died in poverty in 1731 and was buried in Bunhill Fields, London. His grave was marked by only a small headstone, but the English boys and girls who had read Robinson Crusoe in the Victorian age subscribed the money for a monument with a suitable inscription. It is remarkable that Bunhill Fields, which contains the graves of so many humble dissenters, should be the final resting place of both Bunyan and Defoe, the authors of the first two English prose works most often read to-day.
A Journalist and a Prolific Writer.—Defoe has at last come to be regarded as the first great English journalist. He had predecessors in this field, for as early as 1622 the Coranto, or journal of “current” foreign news, appeared. In 1641, on the eve of the civil war, the Diurnall of domestic news was issued. In 1643, when Parliament appointed a licenser, who gave copyright protection to the “catchword” or newspaper title, journalists became a “recognized body.” “Newsbooks” and especially “newsletters” grew in popularity. Only a few years after the Restoration, there appeared The London Gazette, which has been continued to the present time as the medium through which the government publishes its official news.
From 1704 to 1713 Defoe issued The Review, which appeared triweekly for the greater part of the time, and gave the news current in England and in much of Europe. The Review, an unusual achievement for the age, shows Defoe to have been a journalist of great ability. This paper had one department, called The Scandal Club, which furnished suggestions for The Tatler and The Spectator.
It has been computed that Defoe wrote for The Review during the nine years of its publication 5000 pages of essays, in addition to nearly the same amount of other matter. He also issued many pamphlets, which performed somewhat the same service as the modern newspaper with its editorials. It is probable that he was the most prolific of all English authors. Few have discussed as wide a range of matter. He wrote more than two hundred and fifty separate works on subjects as different as social conditions, the promotion of business, human conduct, travels in England, and ghosts.
Fiction.—Defoe was nearly sixty when he began to write fiction. In 1719 he published the first part of Robinson Crusoe, the story of the adventures of a sailor wrecked on a solitary island. The Frenchman Daudet said of this work: “It is as nearly immortal as any book can ever be.” The nineteenth century saw more than one hundred editions of it published in London alone. It has been repeatedly issued in almost every language of Europe. The secret of the success of Robinson Crusoe has puzzled hundreds of writers who have tried to imitate it.
The world-wide popularity of Robinson Crusoe is chiefly due (1) to the peculiar genius of the author; (2) to his journalistic training, which enabled him to seize on the essential elements of interest and to keep these in the foreground; (3) to the skill with which he presents matter-of-fact details, sufficient to invest the story with an atmosphere of perfect reality; (4) to his style, which is as simple and direct as the speech of real life, and which is made vivid by specific words describing concrete actions,—such as hewing a tree, sharpening a stake, hanging up grapes to dry, tossing a biscuit to a wild cat, taking a motherless kid in his arms; and (5) to the skill with which he sets a problem requiring for its solution energy, ingenuity, self-reliance, and the development of the moral power necessary to meet and overcome difficulties.
Young and old follow with intense interest every movement of the shipwrecked mariner when he first swims to the stranded ship, constructs a raft, and places on it “bread, rice, three Dutch cheeses, five pieces of dried goat's flesh, a little remainder of European corn, and the carpenter's chest.” Readers do not accompany him passively as he lands the raft and returns. They work with him; they are not only made a part of all Crusoe's experience, but they react on it imaginatively; they suggest changes; they hold their breath or try to assist him when he is in danger. Defoe's genius in making the reader a partner in Robinson Crusoe's adventures has not yet received sufficient appreciation. The author could never have secured such a triumph if he had not compelled readers to take an active part in the story.
It was for a long time thought that Defoe was ignorant, that he accidentally happened to write Robinson Crusoe because he had been told of the recent experience of Alexander Selkirk on a solitary island in the Pacific. It is now known that Defoe was well educated, versed in several languages, and the most versatile writer of his time. Robinson Crusoe was no more of an accident than any other creation of genius.
Defoe's other principal works of fiction are: Memoirs of a Cavalier, the story of a soldier's adventures in the seventeenth century; The Life, Adventures, and Piracies of the Famous Captain Singleton, a graphic account of adventures in a journey across Africa; Moll Flanders, a story of a well-known criminal; and A Journal of the Plague Year, a vivid, imaginative presentation, in the most realistic way, of the horrors of the London plague in 1665. These works are almost completely overshadowed by Robinson Crusoe ; but they also show Defoe's narrative power and his ability to make fiction seem an absolute reality. In writing Gulliver's Travels, Swift received valuable hints from Defoe. Stevenson's Treasure Island is the most successful of the almost numberless stories of adventure suggested by Robinson Crusoe.
JONATHAN SWIFT, 1667-1745
Life.—Swift, one of the greatest prose writers of the eighteenth century, was born of English parents in Dublin in 1667. It is absolutely necessary to know something of his life in order to pass proper judgment on his writings. A cursory examination of his life will show that heredity and environment were responsible for many of his peculiarities. Swift's father died a few months before the birth of his son, and the boy saw but little of his mother.
Swift's school and college life were passed at Kilkenny School and Trinity College, Dublin. For his education he was indebted to an uncle, who made the boy feel the bitterness of his dependence. In after times he said that his uncle treated him like a dog. Swift's early experience seems to have made him misanthropic and hardened to consequences, for he neglected certain studies, and it was only by special concession that he was allowed to take his A.B. degree in 1686.
After leaving college, he spent almost ten years as the private secretary of Sir William Temple, at Moor Park in Surrey, about forty miles southwest of London. Temple had been asked to furnish some employment for the young graduate because Lady Temple was related to Swift's mother. Here Swift was probably treated as a dependent, and he had to eat at the second table. Finally, this life became so intolerable that he took holy orders and went to a little parish in Ireland; but after a stay of eighteen months he returned to Moor Park, where he remained until Temple's death in 1699. Swift then went to another little country parish in Ireland. From there he visited London on a mission in behalf of the Episcopal Church in Ireland. He quarreled with the Whigs, became a Tory, and assisted that party by writing many political pamphlets. The Tory ministry soon felt that it could scarcely do without him. He dined with ministers of state, and was one of the most important men in London; but he advanced the interests of his friends much better than his own, for he got little from the government except the hope of becoming bishop. In 1713 he was made dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin. In 1714, Queen Anne died, the Tories went out of power, and Swift returned to Ireland, a disappointed man. He passed the rest of his life there, with the exception of a few visits to England.
When English politicians endeavored to oppress Ireland with unjust laws, Swift championed the Irish cause. A man who knew him well, says: “I never saw the poor so carefully and conscientiously attended to as those of his cathedral.” He gave up a large part of his income every year for the poor. In Dublin he was looked upon as a hero. When a certain person tried to be revenged on Swift for a satire, a deputation of Swift's neighbors proposed to thrash the man. Swift sent them home, but they boycotted the man and lowered his income L1200 a year.
During the last years of his life, Swift was hopelessly insane. He died in 1745, leaving his property for an asylum for lunatics and incurables.
The mysteries in Swift's life may be partly accounted for by the fact that during many years he suffered from an unknown brain disease. This affection, the galling treatment received in his early years, and the disappointments of his prime, largely account for his misanthropy, for his coldness, and for the almost brutal treatment of the women who loved him.
Swift's attachment to the beautiful Esther Johnson, known in literature as Stella, led him to write to her that famous series of letters known as the Journal to Stella, in which he gives much of his personal history during the three sunniest years of his life, from 1710 to 1713, when he was a lion in London. Thackeray says: “I know of nothing more manly, more tender, more exquisitely touching, than some of these brief notes, written in what Swift calls his 'little language' in his Journal to Stella.”
A Tale of a Tub and the Battle of the Books.—Swift's greatest satire, the greatest prose satire in English, is known as A Tale of a Tub. The purpose of the work is to uphold the Episcopalians and satirize opposing religious denominations. For those not interested in theological arguments, there is much entertaining philosophy, as the following quotation will show:—
“If we take an examination of what is generally understood by
happiness, as it has respect either to the understanding or the
senses, we shall find all its properties and adjuncts will herd
under this short definition,—that it is a perpetual possession of
being well deceived. And first, with relation to the mind or
understanding it is manifest what mighty advantages fiction has over
truth; and the reason is just at our elbow, because imagination can
build nobler scenes and produce more wonderful revolutions than
fortune or nature will be at expense to furnish.”
Swift's satiric definition of happiness as the art “of being well deceived” is a characteristic instance of a combination of his humor and pessimistic philosophy.
In the same volume with A Tale of a Tub, there was published a prose satire in almost epic form, An Account of a Battle between the Ancient and Modern Books in St. James Library (1704). Although this satire apparently aims to demonstrate the superior merits of the great classical writers, it is mainly an attack on pretentions to knowledge. Our greatest surprise in this satire comes not only from discovering the expression, “sweetness and light,” made famous by Matthew Arnold in the Victorian age, but also from finding that a satirist like Swift assigned such high rank to these qualities. He says that the “Ancients” thus expressed an essential difference between themselves and the “Moderns”:—
“The difference is that, instead of dirt and poison, we have rather
chosen to fill our lives with honey and wax, thus furnishing mankind
with the two noblest of things, which are Sweetness and Light.”
Gulliver's Travels.—The world is always ready to listen to any one who has a good story to tell. Neither children nor philosophers have yet wearied of reading the adventures of Captain Lemuel Gulliver in Lilliput and Brobdingnag. Gulliver's Travels is Swift's most famous work.
Gulliver makes four remarkable voyages to strange countries. He first visits Lilliput, which is inhabited by a race of men about six inches high. Everything is on a corresponding scale. Gulliver eats a whole herd of cattle for breakfast and drinks several hogsheads of liquor. He captures an entire fleet of warships. A rival race of pygmies endeavors to secure his services so as to obtain the balance of power. The quarrels between these little people seem ridiculous, and so petty as to be almost beneath contempt.
Gulliver next visits Brobdingnag, where the inhabitants are sixty feet tall, and the affairs of ordinary human beings appear petty and insignificant. The cats are as large as three oxen, and the dogs attain the size of four elephants. Gulliver eats on a table thirty feet high, and trembles lest he may fall and break his neck. The baby seizes Gulliver and tries to swallow his head. Afterward the hero fights a desperate battle with two rats. A monkey catches him and carries him to the almost infinite height of the house top. Certainly, the voyages to Lilliput and Brobdingnag merit Leslie Stephen's criticism of being “almost the most delightful children's book ever written.”
The third voyage, which takes him to Laputa, satirizes the philosophers. We are taken through the academy at Lagado and are shown a typical philosopher:—
“He had been eight years upon a project for extracting sunbeams
out of cucumbers, which were to be put in vials, hermetically
sealed, and let out to warm the air in raw, inclement summers. He
told me he did not doubt that in eight years more he should be able
to supply the governor's gardens with sunshine at a reasonable
In this voyage the Struldbrugs are described. They are a race of men who, after the loss of every faculty and of every tie that binds them to earth, are doomed to continue living. Dante never painted a stronger or a ghastlier picture.
On his fourth voyage, he visits the country of the Houyhnhnms and describes the Yahoos, who are the embodiment of all the detestable qualities of human beings. The last two voyages are not pleasant reading, and one might wish that the author of two such inimitable tales as the adventures in Lilliput and Brobdingnag had stopped with these.
Children read Gulliver's Travels for the story, but there is much more than a story in the work. In its pages the historian finds allusions that throw much light on the history of the age. Among the Lilliputians, for example, there is one party, known as the Bigendians, which insists that all eggs shall be broken open at the big end, while another party, called the Littleendians, contends that eggs shall be opened only at the little end. These differences typify the quarrels of the age concerning religion and politics. The Travels also contains much human philosophy. The lover of satire is constantly delighted with the keenness of the thrusts.
General Characteristics.—Swift is one of the greatest of English prose humorists. He is noted also for wit of that satiric kind which enjoys the discomfiture of the victim. A typical instance is shown in the way in which, under the assumed name of Isaac Bickerstaff, he dealt with an astrologer and maker of prophetic almanacs, whose name was Partridge. Bickerstaff claimed to be an infallible astrologer, and predicted that Partridge would die March 29, 1708, at 11 P.M. When that day had passed, Bickerstaff issued a pamphlet giving a circumstantial account of Partridge's death. Partridge, finding that his customers began to decrease, protested that he was alive. Bickerstaff promptly replied that Partridge was dead by his own infallible rules of astrology, and that the man now claiming to be Partridge was a vile impostor.
Swift's wit frequently left its imprint on the thought of the time. The results of this special prank with the astrologer were: first, to cause the wits of the town to join in the hue and cry that Partridge was dead; second, to increase the contempt for astrologers; and, third, in the words of Scott: “The most remarkable consequence of Swift's frolic was the establishment of the Tatler.” Richard Steele, its founder, adopted the popular name of Isaac Bickerstaff.
Taine says of Swift: “He is the inventor of irony, as Shakespeare of poetry.” The most powerful instance of Swift's irony is shown in his attempt to better the condition of the Irish, whose poverty forced them to let their children grow up ignorant and destitute, or often even die of starvation. His Modest Proposal for relieving such distress is to have the children at the age of one year served as a new dish on the tables of the great. So apt is irony to be misunderstood and to fail of its mark, that for a time Swift was considered merely brutal; but soon he convinced the Irish that he was their friend, willing to contribute both time and money to aid them. His ironical remarks on The Abolishing of Christianity were also misunderstood.
His poems, such as A Description of a City Shower, and Cadenus and Vanessa, show the same general characteristics as his prose, but are inferior to it.
We shall search Swift's work in vain for examples of pathos or sublimity. We shall find his pages caustic with wit, satire, and irony, and often disfigured with coarseness. One of the great pessimists of all time, he is yet tremendously in earnest in whatever he says, from his Drapier's Letters, written to protect Ireland from the schemes of English politicians, to his Gulliver's Travels, where he describes the court of Lilliput. This earnestness and circumstantial minuteness throw an air of reality around his most grotesque creations. He pretended to despise Defoe; yet the influence of that great writer, who made fiction seem as real as fact, is plainly apparent in Gulliver's remarkable adventures.
Although sublimity and pathos are outside of his range, his style is remarkably well adapted to his special subject matter. While reading his works, one scarcely ever thinks of his style, unless the attention is specially directed to it. Only a great artist can thus conceal his art. A style so natural as this has especial merits which will repay study. Three of its chief characteristics are simplicity, flexibility, and energetic directness.
JOSEPH ADDISON, 1672-1719
Life.—Joseph Addison was born in the paternal rectory at Milston, a small village in the eastern part of Wiltshire. He was educated at Oxford. He intended to become a clergyman, but, having attracted attention by his graceful Latin poetry, was dissuaded by influential court friends from entering the service of the church. They persuaded him to fit himself for the diplomatic service, and secured for him a yearly pension of L300. He then went to France, studied the language of that country, and traveled extensively, so as to gain a knowledge of foreign courts. The death of King William in 1702 stopped his pension, however, and Addison was forced to return to England to seek employment as a tutor.
The great battle of Blenheim was won by Marlborough in 1704. As Macaulay says, the ministry was mortified to see such a victory celebrated by so much bad poetry, and he instances these lines from one of the poems:
“Think of two thousand gentlemen at least,
And each man mounted on his capering beast;
Into the Danube they were pushed by shoals.”
The Chancellor of the Exchequer went to Addison's humble lodgings and asked him to write a poem in honor of the battle. Addison took the town by storm with a simile in which the great general was likened to the calm angel of the whirlwind. When people reflected how calmly Marlborough had directed the whirlwind of war, they thought that no comparison could be more felicitous. From that time Addison's fortunes rose. Since his day no man relying on literary talents alone has risen so high in state affairs. He was made assistant Secretary of State, Secretary for Ireland, and finally chief Secretary of State.
Though Addison was a prominent figure in the political world, it is his literary life that most concerns us. In his prime he wrote for The Tatler and The Spectator, famous newspapers of Queen Anne's day, many inimitable essays on contemporary life and manners. Most newspaper work is soon forgotten, but these essays are read by the most cultivated people of to-day. In his own age his most meritorious production was thought to be the dull tragedy of Cato, a drama observing the classical unities. Some of his Hymns are much finer. Lines like these, written of the stars, linger in our memories:—
“Forever singing as they shine,
The hand that made us is divine.”
Addison had a singularly pleasing personality. Though he was a Whig, the Tories admired and applauded him. He was a good illustration of the truth that if one smiles in the mirror of the world, it will answer him with a smile. Swift said he believed the English would have made Addison king, if they had been requested to place him on the throne. Pope's jealous nature prompted him to quarrel with Addison, but the quarrel was chiefly on one side. Men like Macaulay and Thackeray have exerted their powers to do justice to the kindliness and integrity of Addison.
Addison died at the age of forty-seven, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Collaborates with Steele.—Under the pen name of Isaac Bickerstaff, Richard Steele (1672-1729), a former schoolmate and friend of Addison, started in 1709 The Tatler, a periodical published three times a week. This discussed matters of interest in society and politics, and occasionally published an essay on morals and manners. Steele was a good-natured, careless individual, with a varied experience as soldier, playwright, moralist, keeper of the official gazette, and pensioner. He says that he always “preferred the state of his mind to that of his fortune”; but his mental state was often fickle, and too much dependent on bodily luxuries, though he was patriotic enough to sacrifice his personal fortune for what he considered his country's interest.
We find Addison a frequent contributor to The Tatler after its seventeenth number. Steele says: “I fared like a distressed prince who calls in a powerful neighbor to his aid; I was undone by my auxiliary; when I had once called him in, I could not subsist without dependence on him.”
The Tatler was discontinued in 1711, and Steele projected the more famous Spectator two months later. Addison wrote the first number, but the second issue, which came from Steele's pen, contains sketches of those characters which have become famous in the Sir Roger de Coverley Papers. Steele's first outline of Sir Roger is a creation of sweetness and light:—
“His tenants grow rich, his servants look satisfied, all the young
women profess to love him, and the young men are glad of his
company. When he comes into a house he calls the servants by their
names, and talks all the way upstairs to a visit.”
The influence of such a character must have been especially wholesome on the readers of the eighteenth century. Without the suggestive originality of Steele, we might never have had those essays of Addison, which we read most to-day; but while Steele should have full credit for the first bold sketches, the finished portraits in the De Coverley gallery are due to Addison. Steele says of his associate, “I claim to myself the merit of having extorted excellent productions from a person of the greatest abilities, who would not have let them appear by any other means.”
It is well, however, to remember that Steele did much more work than is popularly supposed. Beginning with March 1, 1711, there were 555 issues of The Spectator published on succeeding week days. To these were added 80 more numbers at irregular intervals. Of these 635 numbers, Steele wrote 236 and Addison 274.
In many respects each seemed to be the complement of the other. Steele's writings have not the polish or delicate humor of Addison's, but they have more strength and pathos. Addison had the greater genius, and he was also more willing to spend time in polishing his prose and making it artistic. From the far greater interest now shown in Addison, the student should be impressed by the necessity of artistic finish as well as of excellence in subject matter.
Addison's Essays—The greatest of Addison's Essays appeared in The Spectator and charmed many readers in Queen Anne's age. The subject matter of these Essays is extremely varied. On one day there is a pleasant paper on witches; on another, a chat about the new woman; on another, a discourse on clubs. Addison is properly a moral satirist, and his pen did much more than the pulpit to civilize the age and make virtue the fashion. In The Spectator, he says: “If I meet with anything in city, court, or country, that shocks modesty or good manners, I shall use my utmost endeavors to make an example of it.” He accomplished his purpose, not by heated denunciations of vice, but by holding it up to kindly ridicule. He remembered the fable of the different methods employed by the north wind and the sun to make a man lay aside an ugly cloak.
Addison stated also that one of his objects was to bring “philosophy out of closets and libraries, schools and colleges, to dwell in clubs and assemblies, at tea tables and coffeehouses.” His papers on Milton did much to diminish that great poet's unpopularity in an age that loved form rather than matter, art rather than natural strength.
The Sir Roger de Coverley Papers.—The most famous of Addison's productions are his papers that appeared in The Spectator, describing a typical country gentleman, Sir Roger de Coverley, and his friends and servants. Taine says that Addison here invented the novel without suspecting it. This is an overstatement; but these papers certainly have the interest of a novel from the moment Sir Roger appears until his death, and the delineation of character is far in advance of that shown in the majority of modern novels. We find ourselves rereading the De Coverley Papers more than once, a statement that can be made of but few novels.
General Characteristics.—Addison ranks among the greatest of English essayists. Some of his essays, like the series on Paradise Lost, deal with literary criticism; but most people to-day read little from his pen except the Sir Roger de Coverley Papers, which give interesting pictures of eighteenth-century life and manners.
Before we have read many of Addison's essays, we shall discover that he is a humorist of high rank. His humor is of the kind that makes one smile, rather than laugh aloud. Our countenance relaxes when we discover that his rules for an eighteenth-century club prescribe a fine for absence except in case of sickness or imprisonment. We are quietly amused at such touches as this in the delineation of Sir Roger:—
“As Sir Roger is landlord to the whole congregation, he keeps them
in very good order, and will suffer nobody to sleep in it besides
himself; for, if by chance he has been surprised into a short nap at
sermon, upon recovering out of it, he stands up and looks about him,
and, if he sees anybody else nodding, either wakes them himself, or
sends his servants to them.”
Addison is remarkable among a satiric group of writers because he intended his humor to be “remedial,”—not merely to inflict wounds, but to exert a moral influence, to induce human beings to forsake the wrong and to become more kindly. We may smile at Sir Roger; but we have more respect for his kindliness, after reading in Spectator No. 383, how he selected his boatmen to row him on the Thames:—
“We were no sooner come to the Temple Stairs, but we were surrounded
with a crowd of watermen, offering us their respective services.
Sir Roger, after having looked about him very attentively, spied one
with a wooden leg, and immediately gave him orders to get his boat
ready. As we were walking towards it, 'You must know,' says Sir
Roger, 'I never make use of anybody to row me, that has not either
lost a leg or an arm. I would rather bate him a few strokes of his
oar than not employ an honest man that had been wounded in the
Queen's service. If I was a lord or a bishop, and kept a barge, I
would not put a fellow in my livery that had not a wooden leg.'“
Such humor, which finds its chief point in a desire to make the world kindlier, must have appealed to the eighteenth century, or The Spectator could not have reached a circulation of ten thousand copies a day. Addison would not now have his legion of warm admirers if his humor had been personal, like Pope's, or misanthropical, like Swift's.
Of his style, Dr. Samuel Johnson says, “Whoever wishes to attain an English style, familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and nights to the study of Addison.” Benjamin Franklin, as we know from his Autobiography, followed this advice with admirable results. Addison's style seems as natural and easy as the manners of a well-bred person. When we have given some attention to dissecting his style, we may indeed discover that a prose model for to-day should have more variety and energy and occasionally more precision; but such a conclusion does not mean that any writer of this century would like the task of surpassing the De Coverley Papers.
ALEXANDER POPE, 1688-1744
Life.—Alexander Pope was born in London in 1688. His father, a devout Catholic, was a linen merchant, who gave his son little formal schooling, but allowed him to pick up his education by reading such authors as pleased his fancy.
He was a very precocious child. At the age of twelve he was writing an Ode on Solitude. He chose his vocation early, for writing poetry was the business of his life.
In his childhood, his parents removed from London to Binfield, a village in Berkshire, nine miles from Windsor. When he was nearly thirty years old, his translation of the Iliad enabled him to buy a house and grounds at Twickenham on the Thames, about twelve miles above London. He lived here for the rest of his life, indulging his taste for landscape gardening and entertaining the greatest men of the age.
After early middle life, his writings made him pecuniarily independent, but he suffered much from ill health. In his Lives of the English Poets, Dr. Samuel Johnson says of Pope:—
“By natural deformity, or accidental distortion, his vital functions
were so much disordered that his life was a long disease... When he
rose, he was invested in a bodice made of stiff canvas, being scarce
able to hold himself erect till they were laced, and he then put on
a flannel waistcoat. One side was contracted. His legs were so
slender that he enlarged their bulk with three pair of stockings...
“In all his intercourse with mankind, he had great delight in
artifice, and endeavored to attain all his purposes by indirect and
unsuspected methods. He hardly drank tea without a stratagem. “
The publication of his correspondence tangled him in a mesh of deceptions, because his desire to appear in a favorable light led him to change letters that he had sent to friends. His double-dealing, intense jealousy, and irritability, due to his physical condition, caused him to become involved in many quarrels, which gave him the opportunity to indulge to the utmost his own satiric tendency. In one of his late satires, The Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot, he charged Addison with the inclination to—
“Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer,
And without sneering, teach the rest to sneer.”
On the basis of what he wrote, we may divide his life into three periods. During his first thirty years, he produced various kinds of verse, like the Essay on Criticism and The Rape of the Lock. The middle period of his life was marked by his translation of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. In his third period, he wrote moral and didactic poems, like the Essay on Man, and satires, like the Dunciad.
Some Poems of the First Period: Essay on Criticism and The Rape of the Lock.—Pope's first published poem, The Pastorals, which appeared in 1709, was followed in 1711 by An Essay on Criticism,—an exquisite setting of a number of gems of criticism which had for a long time been current. Pope's intention in writing this poem may be seen from what he himself says: “It seems not so much the perfection of sense to say things that have never been said before, as to express those best that have been said oftenest.”
From this point of view, the poem is remarkable. No other writer, except Shakespeare, has in an equal number of lines said so many things which have passed into current quotation. Rare perfection in the form of statement accounts for this. The poem abounds in such lines as these:—
“For fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”
“To err is human, to forgive divine.”
“All seems infected that th' infected spy,
As all looks yellow to the jaundiced eye.”
“In words, as fashions, the same rule will hold,
Alike fantastic if too new or old:
Be not the first by whom the new are tried,
Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.”
The Rape of the Lock, which is Pope's masterpiece, is almost a romantic poem, even though it is written in classical couplets. It was a favorite with Oliver Goldsmith, and James Russell Lowell rightly say says: “The whole poem more truly deserves the name of a creation than anything Pope ever wrote.” The poem is a mock epic, and it has the supernatural machinery which was supposed to be absolutely necessary for an epic. In place of the gods and goddesses of the great epics, however, the fairy-like sylphs help to guide the action of this poem.
The poem, which is founded on an actual incident, describes a young lord's theft of a lock of hair from the head of a court beauty. Pope composed The Rape of the Lock to soothe her indignation and to effect a reconciliation. The whole of this poem should be read by the student, as it is a vivid satiric picture of fashionable life in Queen Anne's reign.
Translation of Homer.—Pope's chief work during the middle period of his life was his translation of the Iliad and of the Odyssey of Homer. From a financial point of view, these translations were the most successful of his labors. They brought him in nearly L9000, and made him independent of bookseller or of nobleman.
The remarkable success of these works is strange when we remember that Pope's knowledge of Greek was very imperfect, and that he was obliged to consult translations before attempting any passage. The Greek scholar Bentley, a contemporary of Pope, delivered a just verdict on the translation: “A pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you must not call it Homer.” The historian Gibbon said that the poem had every merit except faithfulness to the original.
Homer is simple and direct. He abounds in concrete terms. Pope dislikes a simple term and loves a circumlocution and an abstraction. We have the concrete “herd of swine” translated into “a bristly care,” “skins,” into “furry spoils.” The concrete was considered common and undignified. Homer says in simple language: “His father wept with him,” but Pope translates this: “The father poured a social flood.”
Pope used to translate thirty or forty verses of the Iliad before rising, and then to spend a considerable time in polishing them. But half of the translation of the Odyssey is his own work. He employed assistants to finish the other half; but it is by no means easy to distinguish his work from theirs.
Some Poems of his Third Period: “Essay on Man,” and “Satires.”—The Essay on Man is a philosophical poem with the avowed object of vindicating the ways of God to man. The entire poem is an amplification of the idea contained in these lines:—
“All nature is but art unknown to thee;
All chance, direction which thou canst not see;
All discord, harmony not understood;
All partial evil, universal good.
And spite of pride, in erring reason's spite,
One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right.”
The chief merit of the poem consists in throwing into polished form many of the views current at the time, so that they may be easily understood. Before we read very far we come across such old acquaintances as—
“The proper study of mankind is man.”
“An honest man's the noblest work of God.”
“Vice is a monster of so frightful mien
As, to be hated, needs but to be seen;
Yet, seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.”
The Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot and The Dunciad are Pope's greatest satires. In The Dunciad, an epic of the dunces, he holds up to ridicule every person and writer who had offended him. These were in many cases scribblers who had no business with a pen; but in a few instances they were the best scholars of that day. A great deal of the poem is now very tiresome reading. Much of it is brutal. Pope was a powerful agent, as Thackeray says, in rousing that obloquy which has ever since pursued a struggling author. The Dunciad could be more confidently consulted about contemporary literary history, if Pope had avoided such unnecessary misstatements as:—
“Earless on high, stood unabash'd De Foe.”
This line is responsible for the current unwarranted belief that the author of Robinson Crusoe lost his ears in the pillory.
General Characteristics.—-Pope has not strong imagination, a keen feeling for nature, or wide sympathy with man. Leslie Stephen says: “Pope never crosses the undefinable, but yet ineffaceable line, which separates true poetry from rhetoric.” The debate in regard to whether Pope's verse is ever genuine poetry may not yet be settled to the satisfaction of all; but it is well to recognize the undoubted fact that his couplets still appeal to many readers who love clearness and precision and who are not inclined to wrestle with the hidden meaning of greater poetry. One of his poems, The Rape of the Lock, has become almost a universal favorite because of its humor, good-natured satire, and entertaining pictures of society in Queen Anne's time.
He is the poet who best expresses the classical spirit of the eighteenth century. He excels in satiric and didactic verse. He expresses his ideas in perfect form, and embodies them in classical couplets, sometimes styled “rocking-horse meter”; but he shows no power of fathoming the emotional depths of the soul.
In the history of literature, he holds an important place, because, more than any other writer, he calls attention to the importance of correctness of form and of careful expression. He is the prince of artificial poets. Though he erred in exalting form above matter, he taught his age the needed lesson of careful workmanship.
The Restoration and the first part of the eighteenth century display a low moral standard in both church and state. This standard had its effect on literature. The drama shows marked decline. We find no such sublime outbursts of song as characterize the Elizabethan and Puritan ages. The writers chose satiric or didactic subjects, and avoided pathos, deep feeling, and sublimity. French influence was paramount.
The classical school, which loved polished regularity, set the fashion in literature. An old idea, dressed in exquisite form, was as welcome as a new one. Anything strange, irregular, romantic, full of feeling, highly imaginative, or improbable to the intellect, was unpopular. Even in Gulliver's Travels, Swift endeavored to be as realistic as if he were demonstrating a geometrical proposition.
Dryden and Pope are the two chief poets of the classical school. Both use the riming couplet and are distinguished for their satiric and didactic verse. Their poetry shows more intellectual brilliancy than imaginative power. They display little sympathy with man and small love for nature.
The age is far more remarkable for its prose than for its poetry. French influence helped to develop a concise, flexible, energetic prose style. The deterioration in poetry was partly compensated for by the rapid advances in prose, which needed the influences working toward artistic finish. Because of its cleverness, avoidance of long sentences, and of classical inversions, Dryden's prose is essentially modern. Defoe'sRobinson Crusoe is the world's most popular story of adventure, told in simple and direct, but seemingly artless, prose. Of all the prose writers since Swift's time, few have equaled him and still fewer surpassed him in simplicity, flexibility, directness, and lack of affectation. The essays of Steele and Addison constitute a landmark. No preceding English prose shows so much grace of style, delicate humor, and power of awakening and retaining interest as do the Sir Roger de Coverley Papers.
The influence of this age was sufficient to raise permanently the standard level of artistic literary expression. The unpruned, shapeless, and extravagant forms of earlier times will no longer be tolerated.
SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY
An account of the history of this period may be found in either Gardiner, Green, Walker, or Cheney. Vols. VIII. and IX. of the Political History of England give the history in greater detail. For the social side, consult Traill, Vols. IV. and V., and Cheney's Industrial and Social History of England. Lecky's History of England in the Eighteenth Century is an excellent work.
The Cambridge History of English Literature, Vols. VIII., IX., X.
Courthope's A History of English Poetry, Vols. III., IV., and V.
Stephen's English Literature in the Eighteenth Century.
Taine's History of English Literature, Book III., Chaps. I., II., III.
Gosse's History of Eighteenth Century Literature begins with 1660.
Garnett's The Age of Dryden.
Phillips's Popular Manual of English Literature, Vol. I.
Minto's Manual of English Prose Literature.
Saintsbury's Life of Dryden. (E.M.L.)
Macaulay's Essay on Dryden.
Lowell's Essay on Dryden in Among My Books.
Dryden's Essays on the Drama, edited by Strunk.
Fowler's Life of Locke. (E.M.L.)
Stephen's History of Thought in the Eighteenth Century.
Dennis's The Age of Pope.
Thackeray's English Humorists (Swift, Addison, Steele, Pope).
Stephen's Life of Swift. (E.M.L.)
Craik's Life of Swift.
Courthope's Life of Addison. (E.M.L.)
Macaulay's Essay on Addison.
Stephen's Life of Pope. (E.M.L.)
De Quincey's Essay on Pope, and On the Poetry of Pope.
Johnson's Lives of the Poets (Dryden, Pope, Addison).
Lowell's My Study Windows (Pope).
SUGGESTED READINGS WITH QUESTIONS AND SUGGESTIONS
Dryden.—From his lyrical verse, read Alexander's Feast or A Song for St. Cecilia's Day. The opening lines of Religio Laici or of The Hind and the Panther will serve as a specimen of his argumentative or didactic verse and Absalom and Achitophel for his satire. (Cassell's National Library, 15 cents.)
Selections are given in Ward, II., 454-483; Bronson, III., 20-58; Manly, I., 203-209; Oxford Treasury, III., 99-110; Century, 266-285.
For his critical prose, read An Essay of Dramatic Poesy (Strunk's edition of Dryden's Essays on the Drama). For selections see Craik, III., 148-154; Manly, II., 146-163; Century, 276-285.
What is the chief subject matter of Dryden's verse? Point out typical qualities in his argumentative and satiric verse. Give definite instances of his power in argument and satire.
Why is his prose called modern? Point out some of its qualities.
Defoe.—Read or reread Robinson Crusoe and point out where he specially shows the skill of the journalist in the presentation of his facts. Can you select passages that show the justice of the criticism? How would the interest in the story have been affected, had Defoe, like the author of Swiss Family Robinson, caused the shipwreck to occur on an island where tropical fruits would have rendered unnecessary Crusoe's labor to secure food?
Swift.—Caik's English Prose Selections, Vol. III., pp. 391-424, contains representative selections from Swift's prose. The best of these are The Philosophy of Clothes, from A Tale of a Tub (Craik, III., 398); A Digression concerning Critics, from the same (Craik, III., 400); The Emperor of Lilliput (Craik, III., 417) and The King of Brobdingnag (Craik, III., 419), from Gulliver's Travels.
Selections may be found also in Manly, II., 184-198; Oxford Treasury, III., 125-129; Century, 299-323.
Is Swift's a good prose style? Does he use ornament? Can you find a passage where he strives after effect? In what respects do the subjects which he chooses and his manner of treating them show the spirit of the age? Why is Gulliver's Travels so popular? What are the most important lessons which a young writer may learn from Swift? In what is he specially lacking?
Addison and Steele.—From the Sir Roger de Coverley Papers the student should not fail to read Spectator No. 112, A Country Sunday. He may then read Spectator No. 2, by Steele, which sketches the De Coverley characters, and compare the style and characteristics of the two authors. The student who has the time at this point should read all the De Coverley Papers (Eclectic English Classics, American Book Company).
Good selections from both Addison and Steele may be found in Craik, III., 469-535; Manly, II., 198-216; Century, 324-349.
In what did Addison and Steele excel? What qualities draw so many readers to the De Coverley Papers? Why may they be called a prelude to the modern novel?
Select passages which will serve to bring into sharp contrast the style and humor of Swift and of Addison.
Pope.—Read The Rape of the Lock (printed with the Essay on Man in Eclectic English Classics, American Book Company, 20 cents). Selections from this are given in Ward, III., 73-82. The Essay on Man, Book I. (Ward, III., 85-91), will serve as a specimen of his didactic verse. The Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot (Ward, III., 103-105) will illustrate his satire, and the lines from the Iliad in Ward, III., 82, will show the characteristics of his translation.
The Rape of the Lock and full selections are given in Bronson, III., 89-144; Century, 350-368; Manly, I., 228-253.
How does Pope show the spirit of the classical school? What are his special merits and defects? Does an examination of his poetry convince you that Leslie Stephen's criticism is right? Select lines from six great poets of different periods. Place beside these selections some of Pope's best lines, and see if you have a clearer idea of the difference between rhetoric and true poetry.
FOOTNOTES TO CHAPTER VI:
[Footnote 1: Essay on Criticism, lines 297, 298.]
[Footnote 2: For a list of the chief dramatists of the Restoration and their best work, see p. 626.]
[Footnote 3: For full titles, see p. 50.]
[Footnote 4: For full titles, see p. 6.]