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A History of English Literature by Robert Huntington Fletcher

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Chaucer's 'Prolog.' Among the secrets of Dryden's success in this
particular field are his intellectual coolness, his vigorous masculine
power of seizing on the salient points of character, and his command of
terse, biting phraseology, set off by effective contrast.

Of Dryden's numerous comedies and 'tragi-comedies' (serious plays with a
sub-action of comedy) it may be said summarily that some of them were among
the best of their time but that they were as licentious as all the others.
Dryden was also the chief author of another kind of play, peculiar to this
period in England, namely the 'Heroic' (Epic) Play. The material and spirit
of these works came largely from the enormously long contemporary French
romances, which were widely read in England, and of which a prominent
representative was 'The Great Cyrus' of Mlle. de Scudery, in ten volumes of
a thousand pages or more apiece. These romances, carrying further the
tendency which appears in Sidney's 'Arcadia,' are among the most
extravagant of all products of the romantic imagination--strange melanges
of ancient history, medieval chivalry, pastoralism, seventeenth century
artificial manners, and allegory of current events. The English 'heroic'
plays, partly following along these lines, with influence also from
Fletcher, lay their scenes in distant countries; their central interest is
extravagant romantic love; the action is more that of epic adventure than
of tragedy; and incidents, situations, characters, sentiments, and style,
though not without power, are exaggerated or overstrained to an absurd
degree. Breaking so violently through the commonplaceness and formality of
the age, however, they offer eloquent testimony to the irrepressibility of
the romantic instinct in human nature. Dryden's most representative play of
this class is 'Almanzor and Almahide, or the Conquest of Granada,' in two
long five-act parts.

We need do no more than mention two or three very bad adaptations of plays
of Shakspere to the Restoration taste in which Dryden had a hand; but his
most enduring dramatic work is his 'All for Love, or the World Well Lost,'
where he treats without direct imitation, though in conscious rivalry, the
story which Shakspere used in 'Antony and Cleopatra.' The two plays afford
an excellent illustration of the contrast between the spirits of their
periods. Dryden's undoubtedly has much force and real feeling; but he
follows to a large extent the artificial rules of the pseudo-classical
French tragedies and critics. He observes the 'three unities' with
considerable closeness, and he complicates the love-action with new
elements of Restoration jealousy and questions of formal honor. Altogether,
the twentieth century reader finds in 'All for Love' a strong and skilful
play, ranking, nevertheless, with its somewhat formal rhetoric and
conventional atmosphere, far below Shakspere's less regular but
magnificently emotional and imaginative masterpiece.

A word must be added about the form of Dryden's plays. In his comedies and
in comic portions of the others he, like other English dramatists, uses
prose, for its suggestion of every-day reality. In plays of serious tone he
often turns to blank verse, and this is the meter of 'All for Love.' But
early in his dramatic career he, almost contemporaneously with other
dramatists, introduced the rimed couplet, especially in his heroic plays.
The innovation was due in part to the influence of contemporary French
tragedy, whose riming Alexandrine couplet is very similar in effect to the
English couplet. About the suitability of the English couplet to the drama
there has always been difference of critical opinion; but most English
readers feel that it too greatly interrupts the flow of the speeches and is
not capable of the dignity and power of blank verse. Dryden himself, at any
rate, finally grew tired of it and returned to blank verse.

Dryden's work in other forms of verse, also, is of high quality. In his
dramas he inserted songs whose lyric sweetness is reminiscent of the
similar songs of Fletcher. Early in his career he composed (in pentameter
quatrains of alternate rime, like Gray's 'Elegy') 'Annus Mirabilis' (The
Wonderful Year--namely 1666), a long and vigorous though far from faultless
narrative of the war with the Dutch and of the Great Fire of London. More
important are the three odes in the 'irregular Pindaric' form introduced by
Cowley. The first, that to Mrs. (i. e., Miss) Anne Killigrew, one of the
Queen's maids of honor, is full, thanks to Cowley's example, of
'metaphysical' conceits and science. The two later ones, 'Alexander's
Feast' and the 'Song for St. Cecilia's Day,' both written for a musical
society's annual festival in honor of the patron saint of their art, are
finely spirited and among the most striking, though not most delicate,
examples of onomatopoeia in all poetry.

Dryden's prose, only less important than his verse, is mostly in the form
of long critical essays, virtually the first in English, which are prefixed
to many of his plays and poems. In them, following French example, he
discusses fundamental questions of poetic art or of general esthetics. His
opinions are judicious; independent, so far as the despotic authority of
the French critics permitted, at least honest; and interesting. Most
important, perhaps, is his attitude toward the French pseudo-classical
formulas. He accepted French theory even in details which we now know to be
absurd--agreed, for instance, that even Homer wrote to enforce an abstract
moral (namely that discord destroys a state). In the field of his main
interest, further, his reason was persuaded by the pseudo-classical
arguments that English (Elizabethan) tragedy, with its violent contrasts
and irregularity, was theoretically wrong. Nevertheless his greatness
consists throughout partly in the common sense which he shares with the
best English critics and thinkers of all periods; and as regards tragedy he
concludes, in spite of rules and theory, that he 'loves Shakspere.'

In expression, still again, Dryden did perhaps more than any other man to
form modern prose style, a style clear, straightforward, terse, forceful,
easy and simple and yet dignified, fluent in vocabulary, varied, and of
pleasing rhythm.

Dryden's general quality and a large part of his achievement are happily
summarized in Lowell's epigram that he 'was the greatest poet who ever was
or ever could be made wholly out of prose.' He can never again be a
favorite with the general reading-public; but he will always remain one of
the conspicuous figures in the history of English literature.

THE OTHER DRAMATISTS. The other dramatists of the Restoration period may be
dismissed with a few words. In tragedy the overdrawn but powerful plays of
Thomas Otway, a man of short and pathetic life, and of Nathaniel Lee, are
alone of any importance. In comedy, during the first part of the period,
stand Sir George Etherege and William Wycherley. The latter's 'Country
Wife' has been called the most heartless play ever written. To the next
generation and the end of the period (or rather of the Restoration
literature, which actually lasted somewhat beyond 1700), belong William
Congreve, a master of sparkling wit, Sir John Vanbrugh, and George
Farquhar. So corrupt a form of writing as the Restoration comedy could not
continue to flaunt itself indefinitely. The growing indignation was voiced
from time to time in published protests, of which the last, in 1698, was
the over-zealous but powerful 'Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness
of the English Stage' by Jeremy Collier, which carried the more weight
because the author was not a Puritan but a High-Church bishop and partisan
of the Stuarts. Partly as a result of such attacks and partly by the
natural course of events the pendulum, by the end of the period, was
swinging back, and not long thereafter Restoration comedy died and the
stage was left free for more decent, though, as it proved, not for greater,


MODERN ROMANTICISM [Footnote: Thackeray's 'Henry Esmond' is the greatest
historical novel relating to the early eighteenth century.]

POLITICAL CONDITIONS. During the first part of the eighteenth century the
direct connection between politics and literature was closer than at any
previous period of English life; for the practical spirit of the previous
generation continued to prevail, so that the chief writers were very ready
to concern themselves with the affairs of State, and in the uncertain
strife of parties ministers were glad to enlist their aid. On the death of
King William in 1702, Anne, sister of his wife Queen Mary and daughter of
James II, became Queen. Unlike King William she was a Tory and at first
filled offices with members of that party. But the English campaigns under
the Duke of Marlborough against Louis XIV were supported by the Whigs,
[Footnote: The Tories were the political ancestors of the present-day
Conservatives; the Whigs of the Liberals.] who therefore gradually regained
control, and in 1708 the Queen had to submit to a Whig ministry. She
succeeded in ousting them in 1710, and a Tory cabinet was formed by Henry
Harley (afterwards Earl of Oxford) and Henry St. John (afterwards Viscount
Bolingbroke). On the death of Anne in 1714 Bolingbroke, with other Tories,
was intriguing for a second restoration of the Stuarts in the person of the
son of James II (the 'Old Pretender'). But the nation decided for a
Protestant German prince, a descendant of James I through his daughter
Elizabeth, [Footnote: The subject of Wotton's fine poem, above, p. 158.]
and this prince was crowned as George I--an event which brought England
peace at the price of a century of rule by an unenlightened and sordid
foreign dynasty. The Tories were violently turned out of office; Oxford was
imprisoned, and Bolingbroke, having fled to the Pretender, was declared a
traitor. Ten years later he was allowed to come back and attempted to
oppose Robert Walpole, the Whig statesman who for twenty years governed
England in the name of the first two Georges; but in the upshot Bolingbroke
was again obliged to retire to France. How closely these events were
connected with the fortunes of the foremost authors we shall see as we

THE GENERAL SPIRIT OF THE PERIOD. The writers of the reigns of Anne and
George I called their period the Augustan Age, because they flattered
themselves that with them English life and literature had reached a
culminating period of civilization and elegance corresponding to that which
existed at Rome under the Emperor Augustus. They believed also that both in
the art of living and in literature they had rediscovered and were
practising the principles of the best periods of Greek and Roman life. In
our own time this judgment appears equally arrogant and mistaken. In
reality the men of the early eighteenth century, like those of the
Restoration, largely misunderstood the qualities of the classical spirit,
and thinking to reproduce them attained only a superficial,
pseudo-classical, imitation. The main characteristics of the period and its
literature continue, with some further development, those of the
Restoration, and may be summarily indicated as follows:

1. Interest was largely centered in the practical well-being either of
society as a whole or of one's own social class or set. The majority of
writers, furthermore, belonged by birth or association to the upper social
stratum and tended to overemphasize its artificial conventions, often
looking with contempt on the other classes. To them conventional good
breeding, fine manners, the pleasures of the leisure class, and the
standards of 'The Town' (fashionable London society) were the only part of
life much worth regarding. 2. The men of this age carried still further the
distrust and dislike felt by the previous generation for emotion,
enthusiasm, and strong individuality both in life and in literature, and
exalted Reason and Regularity as their guiding stars. The terms 'decency'
and 'neatness' were forever on their lips. They sought a conventional
uniformity in manners, speech, and indeed in nearly everything else, and
were uneasy if they deviated far from the approved, respectable standards
of the body of their fellows. Great poetic imagination, therefore, could
scarcely exist among them, or indeed supreme greatness of any sort. 3. They
had little appreciation for external Nature or for any beauty except that
of formalized Art. A forest seemed to most of them merely wild and gloomy,
and great mountains chiefly terrible, but they took delight in gardens of
artificially trimmed trees and in regularly plotted and alternating beds of
domestic flowers. The Elizabethans also, as we have seen, had had much more
feeling for the terror than for the grandeur of the sublime in Nature, but
the Elizabethans had had nothing of the elegant primness of the Augustans.
4. In speech and especially in literature, most of all in poetry, they were
given to abstractness of thought and expression, intended to secure
elegance, but often serving largely to substitute superficiality for
definiteness and significant meaning. They abounded in personifications of
abstract qualities and ideas ('Laughter, heavenly maid,' Honor, Glory,
Sorrow, and so on, with prominent capital letters), a sort of a
pseudo-classical substitute for emotion. 5. They were still more fully
confirmed than the men of the Restoration in the conviction that the
ancients had attained the highest possible perfection in literature, and
some of them made absolute submission of judgment to the ancients,
especially to the Latin poets and the Greek, Latin, and also the
seventeenth century classicizing French critics. Some authors seemed
timidly to desire to be under authority and to glory in surrendering their
independence, individuality, and originality to foreign and
long-established leaders and principles. 6. Under these circumstances the
effort to attain the finished beauty of classical literature naturally
resulted largely in a more or less shallow formal smoothness. 7. There was
a strong tendency to moralizing, which also was not altogether free from
conventionality and superficiality.

Although the 'Augustan Age' must be considered to end before the middle of
the century, the same spirit continued dominant among many writers until
near its close, so that almost the whole of the century may be called the
period of pseudo-classicism.

DANIEL DEFOE. The two earliest notable writers of the period, however,
though they display some of these characteristics, were men of strong
individual traits which in any age would have directed them largely along
paths of their own choosing. The first of them is Daniel Defoe, who
belongs, furthermore, quite outside the main circle of high-bred and
polished fashion.

Defoe was born in London about 1660, the son of James Foe, a butcher, to
whose name the son arbitrarily and with characteristic eye to effect
prefixed the 'De' in middle life. Educated for the Dissenting ministry,
Defoe, a man of inexhaustible practical energy, engaged instead in several
successive lines of business, and at the age of thirty-five, after various
vicissitudes, was in prosperous circumstances. He now became a pamphleteer
in support of King William and the Whigs. His first very significant work,
a satire against the High-Church Tories entitled 'The Shortest Way with
Dissenters,' belongs early in the reign of Queen Anne. Here, parodying
extreme Tory bigotry, he argued, with apparent seriousness, that the
Dissenters should all be hanged. The Tories were at first delighted, but
when they discovered the hoax became correspondingly indignant and Defoe
was set in the pillory, and (for a short time) imprisoned. In this
confinement he began _The Review_, a newspaper which he continued for
eleven years and whose department called 'The Scandal Club' suggested 'The
Tatler' to Steele. During many years following his release Defoe issued an
enormous number of pamphlets and acted continuously as a secret agent and
spy of the government. Though he was always at heart a thorough-going
Dissenter and Whig, he served all the successive governments, Whig and
Tory, alike; for his character and point of view were those of the
'practical' journalist and middle-class money-getter. This of course means
that all his professed principles were superficial, or at least secondary,
that he was destitute of real religious feeling and of the gentleman's
sense of honor.

Defoe's influence in helping to shape modern journalism and modern
every-day English style was large; but the achievement which has given him
world-wide fame came late in life. In 1706 he had written a masterly short
story, 'The Apparition of Mrs. Veal.' Its real purpose, characteristically
enough, was the concealed one of promoting the sale of an unsuccessful
religious book, but its literary importance lies first in the
extraordinarily convincing mass of minute details which it casts about an
incredible incident and second in the complete knowledge (sprung from
Defoe's wide experience in journalism, politics, and business) which it
displays of a certain range of middle-class characters and ideas. It is
these same elements, together with the vigorous presentation and emphasis
of basal practical virtues, that distinguished 'Robinson Crusoe,' of which
the First Part appeared in 1719, when Defoe was nearly or quite sixty years
of age. The book, which must have been somewhat influenced by 'Pilgrim's
Progress,' was more directly suggested by a passage in William Dampier's
'Voyage Round the World,' and also, as every one knows, by the experience
of Alexander Selkirk, a sailor who, set ashore on the island of Juan
Fernandez, off the coast of Chile, had lived there alone from 1709 to 1713.
Selkirk's story had been briefly told in the year of his return in a
newspaper of Steele, 'The Englishman'; it was later to inspire the most
famous poem of William Cowper. 'Robinson Crusoe,' however, turned the
material to account in a much larger, more clever, and more striking
fashion. Its success was immediate and enormous, both with the English
middle class and with a wider circle of readers in the other European
countries; it was followed by numerous imitations and it will doubtless
always continue to be one of the best known of world classics. The precise
elements of its power can be briefly indicated. As a story of unprecedented
adventure in a distant and unknown region it speaks thrillingly to the
universal human sense of romance. Yet it makes a still stronger appeal to
the instinct for practical, every-day realism which is the controlling
quality in the English dissenting middle class for whom Defoe was writing.
Defoe has put himself with astonishingly complete dramatic sympathy into
the place of his hero. In spite of not a few errors and oversights (due to
hasty composition) in the minor details of external fact, he has virtually
lived Crusoe's life with him in imagination and he therefore makes the
reader also pass with Crusoe through all his experiences, his fears, hopes
and doubts. Here also, as we have implied, Defoe's vivid sense for external
minutiae plays an important part. He tells precisely how many guns and
cheeses and flasks of spirit Crusoe brought away from the wreck, how many
days or weeks he spent in making his earthen vessels and his canoe--in a
word, thoroughly actualizes the whole story. More than this, the book
strikes home to the English middle class because it records how a plain
Englishman completely mastered apparently insuperable obstacles through the
plain virtues of courage, patience, perseverance, and mechanical ingenuity.
Further, it directly addresses the dissenting conscience in its emphasis on
religion and morality. This is none the less true because the religion and
morality are of the shallow sort characteristic of Defoe, a man who, like
Crusoe, would have had no scruples about selling into slavery a
dark-skinned boy who had helped him to escape from the same condition. Of
any really delicate or poetic feeling, any appreciation for the finer
things of life, the book has no suggestion. In style, like Defoe's other
writings, it is straightforward and clear, though colloquially informal,
with an entire absence of pretense or affectation. Structurally, it is a
characteristic story of adventure--a series of loosely connected
experiences not unified into an organic plot, and with no stress on
character and little treatment of the really complex relations and
struggles between opposing characters and groups of characters. Yet it
certainly marks a step in the development of the modern novel, as will be
indicated in the proper place (below, p. 254).

Defoe's energy had not diminished with age and a hard life, and the success
of 'Robinson Crusoe' led him to pour out a series of other works of
romantic-realistic fiction. The second part of 'Robinson Crusoe' is no more
satisfactory than any other similar continuation, and the third part, a
collection of moralizings, is today entirely and properly forgotten. On the
other hand, his usual method, the remarkable imaginative re-creation and
vivifying of a host of minute details, makes of the fictitious 'Journal of
the Plague Year' (1666) a piece of virtual history. Defoe's other later
works are rather unworthy attempts to make profit out of his reputation and
his full knowledge of the worst aspects of life; they are mostly very frank
presentations of the careers of adventurers or criminals, real or
fictitious. In this coarse realism they are picaresque (above, p. 108), and
in structure also they, like 'Robinson Crusoe,' are picaresque in being
mere successions of adventures without artistic plot.

In Defoe's last years he suffered a great reverse of fortune, paying the
full penalty for his opportunism and lack of ideals. His secret and
unworthy long-standing connection with the Government was disclosed, so
that his reputation was sadly blemished, and he seems to have gone into
hiding, perhaps as the result of half-insane delusions. He died in 1731.
His place in English literature is secure, though he owes it to the lucky
accident of finding not quite too late special material exactly suited to
his peculiar talent.

JONATHAN SWIFT. Jonathan Swift, another unique figure of very mixed traits,
is like Defoe in that he connects the reign of William III with that of his
successors and that, in accordance with the spirit of his age, he wrote for
the most part not for literary but for practical purposes; in many other
respects the two are widely different. Swift is one of the best
representatives in English literature of sheer intellectual power, but his
character, his aims, his environment, and the circumstances of his life
denied to him also literary achievement of the greatest permanent
significance. Swift, though of unmixed English descent, related to both
Dryden and Robert Herrick, was born in Ireland, in 1667. Brought up in
poverty by his widowed mother, he spent the period between his fourteenth
and twentieth years recklessly and without distinction at Trinity College,
Dublin. From the outbreak attending the Revolution of 1688 he fled to
England, where for the greater part of nine years he lived in the country
as a sort of secretary to the retired statesman, Sir William Temple, who
was his distant relative by marriage. Here he had plenty of time for
reading, but the position of dependence and the consciousness that his
great though still unformed powers of intellect and of action were rusting
away in obscurity undoubtedly did much to increase the natural bitterness
of his disposition. As the result of a quarrel he left Temple for a time
and took holy orders, and on the death of Temple he returned to Ireland as
chaplain to the English Lord Deputy. He was eventually given several small
livings and other church positions in and near Dublin, and at one of these,
Laracor, he made his home for another nine years. During all this period
and later the Miss Esther Johnson whom he has immortalized as 'Stella'
holds a prominent place in his life. A girl of technically gentle birth,
she also had been a member of Sir William Temple's household, was
infatuated with Swift, and followed him to Ireland. About their intimacy
there has always hung a mystery. It has been held that after many years
they were secretly married, but this is probably a mistake; the essential
fact seems to be that Swift, with characteristic selfishness, was willing
to sacrifice any other possible prospects of 'Stella' to his own mere
enjoyment of her society. It is certain, however, that he both highly
esteemed her and reciprocated her affection so far as it was possible for
him to love any woman.

In 1704 Swift published his first important works (written earlier, while
he was living with Temple), which are among the masterpieces of his
satirical genius. In 'The Battle of the Books' he supports Temple, who had
taken the side of the Ancients in a hotly-debated and very futile quarrel
then being carried on by French and English writers as to whether ancient
or modern authors are the greater. 'The Tale of a Tub' is a keen, coarse,
and violent satire on the actual irreligion of all Christian Churches. It
takes the form of a burlesque history of three brothers, Peter (the
Catholics, so called from St. Peter), Martin (the Lutherans and the Church
of England, named from Martin Luther), and Jack (the Dissenters, who
followed John Calvin); but a great part of the book is made up of
irrelevant introductions and digressions in which Swift ridicules various
absurdities, literary and otherwise, among them the very practice of

Swift's instinctive dominating impulse was personal ambition, and during
this period he made long visits to London, attempting to push his fortunes
with the Whig statesmen, who were then growing in power; attempting, that
is, to secure a higher position in the Church; also, be it added, to get
relief for the ill-treated English Church in Ireland. He made the
friendship of Addison, who called him, perhaps rightly, 'the greatest
genius of the age,' and of Steele, but he failed of his main purposes; and
when in 1710 the Tories replaced the Whigs he accepted their solicitations
and devoted his pen, already somewhat experienced in pamphleteering, to
their service. It should not be overlooked that up to this time, when he
was already more than forty years of age, his life had been one of
continual disappointment, so that he was already greatly soured. Now, in
conducting a paper, 'The Examiner,' and in writing masterly political
pamphlets, he found occupation for his tremendous energy and gave very
vital help to the ministers. During the four years of their control of the
government he remained in London on intimate terms with them, especially
with Bolingbroke and Harley, exercising a very large advisory share in the
bestowal of places of all sorts and in the general conduct of affairs. This
was Swift's proper sphere; in the realization and exercise of power he took
a fierce and deep delight. His bearing at this time too largely reflected
the less pleasant side of his nature, especially his pride and arrogance.
Yet toward professed inferiors he could be kind; and real playfulness and
tenderness, little evident in most of his other writings, distinguish his
'Journal to Stella,' which he wrote for her with affectionate regularity,
generally every day, for nearly three years. The 'Journal' is interesting
also for its record of the minor details of the life of Swift and of London
in his day. His association, first and last, with literary men was
unusually broad; when politics estranged him from Steele and Addison he
drew close to Pope and other Tory writers in what they called the
Scriblerus Club.

Despite his political success, Swift was still unable to secure the
definite object of his ambition, a bishopric in England, since the levity
with which he had treated holy things in 'A Tale of a Tub' had hopelessly
prejudiced Queen Anne against him and the ministers could not act
altogether in opposition to her wishes. In 1713 he received the unwelcome
gift of the deanship of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, and the next
year, when the Queen died and the Tory ministry fell, he withdrew to
Dublin, as he himself bitterly said, 'to die like a poisoned rat in a

In Swift's personal life there were now events in which he again showed to
very little advantage. In London he had become acquainted with a certain
Hester Vanhomrigh, the 'Vanessa' of his longest poem, 'Cadenus and Vanessa'
(in which 'Cadenus' is an anagram of 'Decanus,' Latin for 'Dean,' i. e.,
Swift). Miss Vanhomrigh, like 'Stella,' was infatuated with Swift, and like
her followed him to Ireland, and for nine years, as has been said, he
'lived a double life' between the two. 'Vanessa' then died, probably of a
broken heart, and 'Stella' a few years later. Over against this conduct, so
far as it goes, may be set Swift's quixotic but extensive and constant
personal benevolence and generosity to the poor.

In general, this last period of Swift's life amounted to thirty years of
increasing bitterness. He devoted some of his very numerous pamphlets to
defending the Irish, and especially the English who formed the governing
class in Ireland, against oppression by England. Most important here were
'The Drapier's [i.e., Draper's, Cloth-Merchant's] Letters,' in which Swift
aroused the country to successful resistance against a very unprincipled
piece of political jobbery whereby a certain Englishman was to be allowed
to issue a debased copper coinage at enormous profit to himself but to the
certain disaster of Ireland. 'A Modest Proposal,' the proposal, namely,
that the misery of the poor in Ireland should be alleviated by the raising
of children for food, like pigs, is one of the most powerful, as well as
one of the most horrible, satires which ever issued from any human
imagination. In 1726 (seven years after 'Robinson Crusoe') appeared Swift's
masterpiece, the only one of his works still widely known, namely, 'The
Travels of Lemuel Gulliver.' The remarkable power of this unique work lies
partly in its perfect combination of two apparently inconsistent things,
first, a story of marvelous adventure which must always remain (in the
first parts) one of the most popular of children's classics; and second, a
bitter satire against mankind. The intensity of the satire increases as the
work proceeds. In the first voyage, that to the Lilliputians, the tone is
one mainly of humorous irony; but in such passages as the hideous
description of the _Struldbrugs_ in the third voyage the cynical
contempt is unspeakably painful, and from the distorted libel on mankind in
the _Yahoos_ of the fourth voyage a reader recoils in indignant

During these years Swift corresponded with friends in England, among them
Pope, whom he bitterly urged to 'lash the world for his sake,' and he once
or twice visited England in the hope, even then, of securing a place in the
Church on the English side of St. George's Channel. His last years were
melancholy in the extreme. Long before, on noticing a dying tree, he had
observed, with the pitiless incisiveness which would spare neither others
nor himself: 'I am like that. I shall die first at the top.' His birthday
he was accustomed to celebrate with lamentations. At length an obscure
disease which had always afflicted him, fed in part, no doubt, by his fiery
spirit and his fiery discontent, reached his brain. After some years of
increasing lethargy and imbecility, occasionally varied by fits of violent
madness and terrible pain, he died in 1745, leaving all his money to found
a hospital for the insane. His grave in St. Patrick's Cathedral bears this
inscription of his own composing, the best possible epitome of his career:
'Ubi saeva indignatio cor ulterius lacerare nequit' (Where fierce
indignation can no longer tear his heart).

The complexity of Swift's character and the great difference between the
viewpoints of his age and of ours make it easy at the present time to judge
him with too great harshness. Apart from his selfish egotism and his
bitterness, his nature was genuinely loyal, kind and tender to friends and
connections; and he hated injustice and the more flagrant kinds of
hypocrisy with a sincere and irrepressible violence. Whimsicalness and a
contemptuous sort of humor were as characteristic of him as biting sarcasm,
and his conduct and writings often veered rapidly from the one to the other
in a way puzzling to one who does not understand him. Nevertheless he was
dominated by cold intellect and an instinct for the practical. To show
sentiment, except under cover, he regarded as a weakness, and it is said
that when he was unable to control it he would retire from observation. He
was ready to serve mankind to the utmost of his power when effort seemed to
him of any avail, and at times he sacrificed even his ambition to his
convictions; but he had decided that the mass of men were hopelessly
foolish, corrupt, and inferior, personal sympathy with them was impossible
to him, and his contempt often took the form of sardonic practical jokes,
practised sometimes on a whole city. Says Sir Leslie Stephen in his life of
Swift: 'His doctrine was that virtue is the one thing which deserves love
and admiration, and yet that virtue in this hideous chaos of a world
involves misery and decay.' Of his extreme arrogance and brutality to those
who offended him there are numerous anecdotes; not least in the case of
women, whom he, like most men of his age, regarded as man's inferiors. He
once drove a lady from her own parlor in tears by violent insistence that
she should sing, against her will, and when he next met her, inquired,
'Pray, madam, are you as proud and ill-natured to-day as when I saw you
last?' It seems, indeed, that throughout his life Swift's mind was
positively abnormal, and this may help to excuse the repulsive elements in
his writings. For metaphysics and abstract principles, it may be added, he
had a bigoted antipathy. In religion he was a staunch and sincere High
Churchman, but it was according to the formal fashion of many thinkers of
his day; he looked on the Church not as a medium of spiritual life, of
which he, like his generation, had little conception, but as one of the
organized institutions of society, useful in maintaining decency and order.

Swift's 'poems' require only passing notice. In any strict sense they are
not poems at all, since they are entirely bare of imagination, delicacy,
and beauty. Instead they exhibit the typical pseudo-classical traits of
matter-of-factness and clearness; also, as Swift's personal notes,
cleverness, directness, trenchant intellectual power, irony, and entire
ease, to which latter the prevailing octosyllabic couplet meter
contributes. This is the meter of 'L'Allegro' and 'Il Penseroso,' and the
contrast between these poems and Swift's is instructive.

Swift's prose style has substantially the same qualities. Writing generally
as a man of affairs, for practical ends, he makes no attempt at elegance
and is informal even to the appearance of looseness of expression. Of
conscious refinements and also, in his stories, of technical artistic
structural devices, he has no knowledge; he does not go out of the straight
path in order to create suspense, he does not always explain difficulties
of detail, and sometimes his narrative becomes crudely bare. He often
displays the greatest imaginative power, but it is always a practical
imagination; his similes, for example, are always from very matter-of-fact
things. But more notable are his positive merits. He is always absolutely
clear, direct, and intellectually forceful; in exposition and argument he
is cumulatively irresistible; in description and narration realistically
picturesque and fascinating; and he has the natural instinct for narration
which gives vigorous movement and climax. Indignation and contempt often
make his style burn with passion, and humor, fierce or bitterly mirthful,
often enlivens it with startling flashes.

The great range of the satires which make the greater part of Swift's work
is supported in part by variety of satiric method. Sometimes he pours out a
savage direct attack. Sometimes, in a long ironical statement, he says
exactly the opposite of what he really means to suggest. Sometimes he uses
apparently logical reasoning where either, as in 'A Modest Proposal,' the
proposition, or, as in the 'Argument Against Abolishing Christianity,' the
arguments are absurd. He often shoots out incidental humorous or satirical
shafts. But his most important and extended method is that of allegory. The
pigmy size of the Lilliputians symbolizes the littleness of mankind and
their interests; the superior skill in rope-dancing which with them is the
ground for political advancement, the political intrigues of real men; and
the question whether eggs shall be broken on the big or the little end,
which has embroiled Lilliput in a bloody war, both civil and foreign, the
trivial causes of European conflicts. In Brobdingnag, on the other hand,
the coarseness of mankind is exhibited by the magnifying process. Swift,
like Defoe, generally increases the verisimilitude of his fictions and his
ironies by careful accuracy in details, which is sometimes arithmetically
genuine, sometimes only a hoax. In Lilliput all the dimensions are
scientifically computed on a scale one-twelfth as large as that of man; in
Brobdingnag, by an exact reversal, everything is twelve times greater than
among men. But the long list of technical nautical terms which seem to make
a spirited narrative at the beginning of the second of Gulliver's voyages
is merely an incoherent hodge-podge.

Swift, then, is the greatest of English satirists and the only one who as a
satirist claims large attention in a brief general survey of English
literature. He is one of the most powerfully intellectual of all English
writers, and the clear force of his work is admirable; but being first a
man of affairs and only secondarily a man of letters, he stands only on the
outskirts of real literature. In his character the elements were greatly
mingled, and in our final judgment of him there must be combined something
of disgust, something of admiration, and not a little of sympathy and pity.

Steele and Addison, of which the most important are their essays in 'The
Tatler' and 'The Spectator,' contrast strongly with the work of Swift and
are more broadly characteristic of the pseudo-classical period.

Richard Steele was born in Dublin in 1672 of an English father and an Irish
mother. The Irish strain was conspicuous throughout his life in his
warm-heartedness, impulsiveness and lack of self-control and practical
judgment. Having lost his father early, he was sent to the Charterhouse
School in London, where he made the acquaintance of Addison, and then to
Oxford. He abandoned the university to enlist in the aristocratic regiment
of Life Guards, and he remained in the army, apparently, for seven or eight
years, though he seems not to have been in active service and became a
recognized wit at the London coffee-houses. Thackeray in 'Henry Esmond'
gives interesting though freely imaginative pictures of him at this stage
of his career and later. His reckless instincts and love of pleasure were
rather strangely combined with a sincere theoretical devotion to religion,
and his first noticeable work (1701), a little booklet called 'The
Christian Hero,' aimed, in opposition to fashionable license, to show that
decency and goodness are requisites of a real gentleman. The resultant
ridicule forced him into a duel (in which he seriously wounded his
antagonist), and thenceforth in his writings duelling was a main object of
his attacks. During the next few years he turned with the same reforming
zeal to comedy, where he attempted to exalt pure love and high ideals,
though the standards of his age and class leave in his own plays much that
to-day seems coarse. Otherwise his plays are by no means great; they
initiated the weak 'Sentimental Comedy,' which largely dominated the
English stage for the rest of the century. During this period Steele was
married twice in rather rapid succession to wealthy ladies whose fortunes
served only very temporarily to respite him from his chronic condition of
debt and bailiff's duns.

Now succeeds the brief period of his main literary achievement. All his
life a strong Whig, he was appointed in 1707 Gazetteer, or editor, of 'The
London Gazette,' the official government newspaper. This led him in 1709 to
start 'The Tatler.' English periodical literature, in forms which must be
called the germs both of the modern newspaper and of the modern magazine,
had begun in an uncertain fashion, of which the details are too complicated
for record here, nearly a hundred years before, and had continued ever
since with increasing vigor. The lapsing of the licensing laws in 1695 had
given a special impetus. Defoe's 'Review,' from 1704 to 1713, was devoted
to many interests, including politics, the Church and commerce. Steele's
'Tatler' at first likewise dealt in each number with several subjects, such
as foreign news, literary criticism, and morals, but his controlling
instinct to inculcate virtue and good sense more and more asserted itself.
The various departments were dated from the respective coffee-houses where
those subjects were chiefly discussed, Poetry from 'Will's,' Foreign and
Domestic News from 'St. James's,' and so on. The more didactic papers were
ascribed to an imaginary Isaac Bickerstaff, a nom-de-plume which Steele
borrowed from some of Swift's satires. Steele himself wrote two-thirds of
all the papers, but before proceeding far he accepted Addison's offer of
assistance and later he occasionally called in other contributors.

'The Tatler' appeared three times a week and ran for twenty-one months; it
came to an end shortly after the return of the Tories to power had deprived
Steele and Addison of some of their political offices. Its discontinuance
may have been due to weariness on Steele's part or, since it was Whig in
tone, to a desire to be done with partisan writing; at any rate, two months
later, in March, 1711, of Marlborough's victory at Blenheim, secured the
favor of the ministers of the day, and throughout almost all the rest of
his life he held important political places, some even, thanks to Swift,
during the period of Tory dominance. During his last ten years he was a
member of Parliament; but though he was a delightful conversationalist in a
small group of friends, he was unable to speak in public.

Addison's great fame as 'The Spectator' was increased when in 1713 he
brought out the play 'Cato,' mostly written years before. This is a
characteristic example of the pseudo-classical tragedies of which a few
were produced during the first half of the eighteenth century. They are the
stiffest and most lifeless of all forms of pseudo-classical literature;
Addison, for his part, attempts not only to observe the three unities, but
to follow many of the minor formal rules drawn up by the French critics,
and his plot, characterization, and language are alike excessively pale and
frigid. Paleness and frigidity, however, were taken for beauties at the
time, and the moral idea of the play, the eulogy of Cato's devotion to
liberty in his opposition to Caesar, was very much in accord with the
prevailing taste, or at least the prevailing affected taste. Both political
parties loudly claimed the work as an expression of their principles, the
Whigs discovering in Caesar an embodiment of arbitrary government like that
of the Tories, the Tories declaring him a counterpart of Marlborough, a
dangerous plotter, endeavoring to establish a military despotism. 'Cato,'
further, was a main cause of a famous quarrel between Addison and Pope.
Addison, now recognized as the literary dictator of the age, had greatly
pleased Pope, then a young aspirant for fame, by praising his 'Essay on
Criticism,' and Pope rendered considerable help in the final revision of
'Cato.' When John Dennis, a rather clumsy critic, attacked the play, Pope
came to its defense with a reply written in a spirit of railing bitterness
which sprang from injuries of his own. Addison, a real gentleman, disowned
the defense, and this, with other slights suffered or imagined by Pope's
jealous disposition, led to estrangement and soon to the composition of
Pope's very clever and telling satire on Addison as 'Atticus,' which Pope
did not publish, however, until he included it in his 'Epistle to Dr.
Arbuthnot,' many years after Addison's death.

The few remaining years of Addison's life were rather unhappy. He married
the widowed Countess of Warwick and attained a place in the Ministry as one
of the Secretaries of State; but his marriage was perhaps incompatible and
his quarrel with Steele was regrettable. He died in 1719 at the age of only
forty-seven, perhaps the most generally respected and beloved man of his
time. On his deathbed, with a somewhat self-conscious virtue characteristic
both of himself and of the period, he called his stepson to come and 'see
in what peace a Christian could die.'

'The Tatler' and the more important 'Spectator' accomplished two results of
main importance: they developed the modern essay as a comprehensive and
fluent discussion of topics of current interest; and they performed a very
great service in elevating the tone of English thought and life. The later
'Tatlers' and all the 'Spectators' dealt, by diverse methods, with a great
range of themes--amusements, religion, literature, art, dress, clubs,
superstitions, and in general all the fashions and follies of the time. The
writers, especially Addison, with his wide and mature scholarship, aimed to
form public taste. But the chief purpose of the papers, professedly, was
'to banish Vice and Ignorance' (though here also, especially in Steele's
papers, the tone sometimes seems to twentieth-century readers far from
unexceptionable). When the papers began to appear, in spite of some
weakening of the Restoration spirit, the idea still dominated, or was
allowed to appear dominant, that immorality and lawlessness were the proper
marks of a gentleman. The influence of the papers is thus summarized by the
poet Gray: 'It would have been a jest, some time since, for a man to have
asserted that anything witty could be said in praise of a married state or
that Devotion and Virtue were in any way necessary to the character of a
fine gentleman.... Instead of complying with the false sentiments or
vicious tastes of the age he [Steele] has boldly assured them that they
were altogether in the wrong.... It is incredible to conceive the effect
his writings have had upon the Town; how many thousand follies they have
either quite banished or given a very great check to! how much countenance
they have added to Virtue and Religion! how many people they have rendered
happy by showing them it was their own faults if they were not so.'

An appeal was made, also, to women no less than to men. During the previous
period woman, in fashionable circles, had been treated as an elegant toy,
of whom nothing was expected but to be frivolously attractive. Addison and
Steele held up to her the ideal of self-respecting intellectual development
and of reasonable preparation for her own particular sphere.

The great effectiveness of 'The Spectator's' preaching was due largely to
its tactfulness. The method was never violent denunciation, rather gentle
admonition, suggestion by example or otherwise, and light or humorous
raillery. Indeed, this almost uniform urbanity and good-nature makes the
chief charm of the papers. Their success was largely furthered, also, by
the audience provided in the coffee-houses, virtually eighteenth century
middle-class clubs whose members and points of view they primarily

The external style has been from the first an object of unqualified and
well-merited praise. Both the chief authors are direct, sincere, and
lifelike, and the many short sentences which they mingle with the longer,
balanced, ones give point and force. Steele is on the whole somewhat more
colloquial and less finished, Addison more balanced and polished, though
without artificial formality. Dr. Johnson's repeatedly quoted description
of the style can scarcely be improved on--'familiar but not coarse, and
elegant but not ostentatious.'

It still remains to speak of one particular achievement of 'The Spectator,'
namely the development of the character-sketch, accomplished by means of
the series of De Coverly papers, scattered at intervals among the others.
This was important because it signified preparation for the modern novel
with its attention to character as well as action. The character-sketch as
a distinct form began with the Greek philosopher, Theophrastus, of the
third century B. C., who struck off with great skill brief humorous
pictures of typical figures--the Dissembler, the Flatterer, the Coward, and
so on. This sort of writing, in one form or another, was popular in France
and England in the seventeenth century. From it Steele, and following him
Addison, really derived the idea for their portraits of Sir Roger, Will
Honeycomb, Will Wimble, and the other members of the De Coverly group; but
in each case they added individuality to the type traits. Students should
consider how complete the resulting characterizations are, and in general
just what additions and changes in all respects would be needed to
transform the De Coverly papers into a novel of the nineteenth century

ALEXANDER POPE, 1688-1744. The chief representative of pseudo-classicism in
its most particular field, that of poetry, is Dryden's successor, Alexander

Pope was born in 1688 (just a hundred years before Byron), the son of a
Catholic linen-merchant in London. Scarcely any other great writer has ever
had to contend against such hard and cruel handicaps as he. He inherited a
deformed and dwarfed body and an incurably sickly constitution, which
carried with it abnormal sensitiveness of both nerves and mind. Though he
never had really definite religious convictions of his own, he remained all
his life formally loyal to his parents' faith, and under the laws of the
time this closed to him all the usual careers of a gentleman. But he was
predestined by Nature to be a poet. Brought up chiefly at the country home
near Windsor to which his father had retired, and left to himself for
mental training, he never acquired any thoroughness of knowledge or power
of systematic thought, but he read eagerly the poetry of many languages. He
was one of the most precocious of the long list of precocious versifiers;
his own words are: 'I lisped in numbers, for the numbers came.' The
influences which would no doubt have determined his style in any case were
early brought to a focus in the advice given him by an amateur poet and
critic, William Walsh. Walsh declared that England had had great poets,
'but never one great poet that was correct' (that is of thoroughly regular
style). Pope accepted this hint as his guiding principle and proceeded to
seek correctness by giving still further polish to the pentameter couplet
of Dryden.

At the age of twenty-one, when he was already on familiar terms with
prominent literary men, he published some imitative pastorals, and two
years later his 'Essay on Criticism.' This work is thoroughly
representative both of Pope and of his period. In the first place the
subject is properly one not for poetry but for expository prose. In the
second place the substance is not original with Pope but is a restatement
of the ideas of the Greek Aristotle, the Roman Horace, especially of the
French critic Boileau, who was Pope's earlier contemporary, and of various
other critical authorities, French and English. But in terse and
epigrammatic expression of fundamental or pseudo-classical principles of
poetic composition and criticism the 'Essay' is amazingly brilliant, and it
shows Pope already a consummate master of the couplet. The reputation which
it brought him was very properly increased by the publication the next year
of the admirable mock-epic 'The Rape of the Lock,' which Pope soon
improved, against Addison's advice, by the delightful 'machinery' of the
Rosicrucian sylphs. In its adaptation of means to ends and its attainment
of its ends Lowell has boldly called this the most successful poem in
English. Pope now formed his lifelong friendship with Swift (who was twice
his age), with Bolingbroke, and other distinguished persons, and at
twenty-five or twenty-six found himself acknowledged as the chief man of
letters in England, with a wide European reputation.

For the next dozen years he occupied himself chiefly with the formidable
task (suggested, no doubt, by Dryden's 'Virgil,' but expressive also of the
age) of translating 'The Iliad' and 'The Odyssey.' 'The Iliad' he completed
unaided, but then, tiring of the drudgery, he turned over half of 'The
Odyssey' to two minor writers. So easy, however, was his style to catch
that if the facts were not on record the work of his assistants would
generally be indistinguishable from his own. From an absolute point of view
many criticisms must be made of Pope's version. That he knew little Greek
when he began the work and from first to last depended much on translations
would in itself have made his rendering inaccurate. Moreover, the noble but
direct and simple spirit and language of Homer were as different as
possible from the spirit and language of the London drawing-rooms for which
Pope wrote; hence he not only expands, as every author of a
verse-translation must do in filling out his lines, but inserts new ideas
of his own and continually substitutes for Homer's expressions the
periphrastic and, as he held, elegant ones of the pseudo-classic diction.
The polished rimed couplet, also, pleasing as its precision and smoothness
are for a while, becomes eventually monotonous to most readers of a
romantic period. Equally serious is the inability which Pope shared with
most of the men of his time to understand the culture of the still
half-barbarous Homeric age. He supposes (in his Preface) that it was by a
deliberate literary artifice that Homer introduced the gods into his
action, supposes, that is, that Homer no more believed in the Greek gods
than did he, Pope, himself; and in general Pope largely obliterates the
differences between the Homeric warrior-chief and the eighteenth century
gentleman. The force of all this may be realized by comparing Pope's
translation with the very sympathetic and skilful one made (in prose) in
our own time by Messrs. Lang, Leaf, and Myers. A criticism of Pope's work
which Pope never forgave but which is final in some aspects was made by the
great Cambridge professor, Bentley: 'It's a pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you
must not call it Homer.' Yet after all, Pope merited much higher praise
than this, and his work was really, a great achievement. It has been truly
said that every age must have the great classics translated into its own
dialect, and this work could scarcely have been better done for the early
eighteenth century than it is done by Pope.

The publication of Pope's Homer marks an important stage in the development
of authorship. Until the time of Dryden no writer had expected to earn his
whole living by publishing works of real literature. The medieval minstrels
and romancers of the higher class and the dramatists of the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries had indeed supported themselves largely or wholly by
their works, but not by printing them. When, in Dryden's time, with the
great enlargement of the reading public, conditions were about to change,
the publisher took the upper hand; authors might sometimes receive gifts
from the noblemen to whom they inscribed dedications, but for their main
returns they must generally sell their works outright to the publisher and
accept his price. Pope's 'Iliad' and 'Odyssey' afforded the first notably
successful instance of another method, that of publication by
subscription--individual purchasers at a generous price being secured
beforehand by solicitation and in acknowledgment having their names printed
in a conspicuous list in the front of the book. From the two Homeric poems
together, thanks to this device, Pope realized a profit of nearly L9000,
and thus proved that an author might be independent of the publisher. On
the success of 'The Iliad' alone Pope had retired to an estate at a London
suburb, Twickenham (then pronounced 'Twitnam'), where he spent the
remainder of his life. Here he laid out five acres with skill, though in
the formal landscape-garden taste of his time. In particular, he excavated
under the road a 'grotto,' which he adorned with mirrors and glittering
stones and which was considered by his friends, or at least by himself, as
a marvel of artistic beauty.

Only bare mention need here be made of Pope's edition of Shakspere,
prepared with his usual hard work but with inadequate knowledge and
appreciation, and published in 1725. His next production, 'The Dunciad,'
can be understood only in the light of his personal character. Somewhat
like Swift, Pope was loyal and kind to his friends and inoffensive to
persons against whom he did not conceive a prejudice. He was an unusually
faithful son, and, in a brutal age, a hater of physical brutality. But, as
we have said, his infirmities and hardships had sadly warped his
disposition and he himself spoke of 'that long disease, my life.' He was
proud, vain, abnormally sensitive, suspicious, quick to imagine an injury,
incredibly spiteful, implacable in resentment, apparently devoid of any
sense of honesty--at his worst hateful and petty-minded beyond any other
man in English literature. His trickiness was astonishing. Dr. Johnson
observes that he 'hardly drank tea without a stratagem,' and indeed he
seems to have been almost constitutionally unable to do anything in an open
and straightforward way. Wishing, for example, to publish his
correspondence, he not only falsified it, but to preserve an appearance of
modesty engaged in a remarkably complicated series of intrigues by which he
trapped a publisher into apparently stealing a part of it--and then loudly
protested at the theft and the publication. It is easy to understand,
therefore, that Pope was readily drawn into quarrels and was not an
agreeable antagonist. He had early taken a violent antipathy to the host of
poor scribblers who are known by the name of the residence of most of them,
Grub Street--an antipathy chiefly based, it would seem, on his contempt for
their worldly and intellectual poverty. For some years he had been carrying
on a pamphlet war against them, and now, it appears, he deliberately
stirred them up to make new attacks upon him. Determined, at any rate, to
overwhelm all his enemies at once in a great satire, he bent all his
energies, with the utmost seriousness, to writing 'The Dunciad' on the
model of Dryden's 'Mac Flecknoe' and irresponsibly 'dealt damnation 'round
the land.' Clever and powerful, the poem is still more disgusting--grossly
obscene, pitifully rancorous against scores of insignificant creatures, and
no less violent against some of the ablest men of the time, at whom Pope
happened to have taken offense. Yet throughout the rest of his life Pope
continued with keen delight to work the unsavory production over and to
bring out new editions.

During his last fifteen years Pope's original work was done chiefly in two
very closely related fields, first in a group of what he called 'Moral'
essays, second in the imitation of a few of the Satires and Epistles of
Horace, which Pope applied to circumstances of his own time. In the 'Moral'
Essays he had intended to deal comprehensively with human nature and
institutions, but such a systematic plan was beyond his powers. The longest
of the essays which he accomplished, the 'Essay on Man,' aims, like
'Paradise Lost,' to 'vindicate the ways of God to man,' but as regards
logic chiefly demonstrates the author's inability to reason. He derived the
ideas, in fragmentary fashion, from Bolingbroke, who was an amateur Deist
and optimist of the shallow eighteenth century type, and so far was Pope
from understanding what he was doing that he was greatly disturbed when it
was pointed out to him that the theology of the poem was Deistic rather
than Christian [Footnote: The name Deist was applied rather generally in
the eighteenth century to all persons who did not belong to some recognized
Christian denomination. More strictly, it belongs to those men who
attempted rationalistic criticism of the Bible and wished to go back to
what they supposed to be a primitive pure religion, anterior to revealed
religion and free from the corruptions and formalism of actual
Christianity. The Deistic ideas followed those expressed in the seventeenth
century by Lord Herbert of Cherbury, brother of George Herbert, who held
that the worship due to the Deity consists chiefly in reverence and
virtuous conduct, and also that man should repent of sin and forsake it and
that reward and punishment, both in this life and hereafter, follow from
the goodness and justice of God.] In this poem, as in all Pope's others of
this period, the best things are the detached observations. Some of the
other poems, especially the autobiographical 'Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot,'
are notable for their masterly and venomous satirical sketches of various
contemporary characters.

Pope's physical disabilities brought him to premature old age, and he died
in 1744. His declining years were saddened by the loss of friends, and he
had never married, though his dependent and sensitive nature would have
made marriage especially helpful to him. During the greater part of his
life, however, he was faithfully watched over by a certain Martha Blount,
whose kindness he repaid with only less selfishness than that which
'Stella' endured from Swift. Indeed, Pope's whole attitude toward woman,
which appears clearly in his poetry, was largely that of the Restoration.
Yet after all that must be said against Pope, it is only fair to conclude,
as does his biographer, Sir Leslie Stephen: 'It was a gallant spirit which
got so much work out of this crazy carcase, and kept it going, spite of all
its feebleness, for fifty-six years.'

The question of Pope's rank among authors is of central importance for any
theory of poetry. In his own age he was definitely regarded by his
adherents as the greatest of all English poets of all time. As the
pseudo-classic spirit yielded to the romantic this judgment was modified,
until in the nineteenth century it was rather popular to deny that in any
true sense Pope was a poet at all. Of course the truth lies somewhere
between these extremes. Into the highest region of poetry, that of great
emotion and imagination, Pope scarcely enters at all; he is not a poet in
the same sense as Shakspere, Milton, Wordsworth, Shelley, or Browning;
neither his age nor his own nature permitted it. In lyric, original
narrative, and dramatic poetry he accomplished very little, though the
success of his 'Elegy on an Unfortunate Lady' and 'Eloisa to Abelard' must
be carefully weighed in this connection. On the other hand, it may well be
doubted if he can ever be excelled as a master in satire and kindred
semi-prosaic forms. He is supreme in epigrams, the terse statement of pithy
truths; his poems have furnished more brief familiar quotations to our
language than those of any other writer except Shakspere. For this sort of
effect his rimed couplet provided him an unrivalled instrument, and he
especially developed its power in antithesis, very frequently balancing one
line of the couplet, or one half of a line, against the other. He had
received the couplet from Dryden, but he polished it to a greater finish,
emphasizing, on the whole, its character as a single unit by making it more
consistently end-stopped. By this means he gained in snap and point, though
for purposes of continuous narrative or exposition he increased the
monotony and somewhat decreased the strength. Every reader must decide for
himself how far the rimed couplet, in either Dryden's or Pope's use of it,
is a proper medium for real poetry. But it is certain that within the
limits which he laid down for himself, there never was a more finished
artist than Pope. He chooses every word with the greatest care for its
value as both sound and sense; his minor technique is well-night perfect,
except sometimes in the matter of rimes; and in particular the variety
which he secures, partly by skilful shifting of pauses and use of extra
syllables, is remarkable; though it is a variety less forceful than

[Note: The judgments of certain prominent critics on the poetry of Pope and
of his period may well be considered. Professor Lewis E. Gates has said:
'The special task of the pseudo-classical period was to order, to
systematize, and to name; its favorite methods were, analysis and
generalization. It asked for no new experience. The abstract, the typical,
the general--these were everywhere exalted at the expense of the image, the
specific experience, the vital fact.' Lowell declares that it 'ignored the
imagination altogether and sent Nature about her business as an impertinent
baggage whose household loom competed unlawfully with the machine-made
fabrics, so exquisitely uniform in pattern, of the royal manufactories.'
Still more hostile is Matthew Arnold: 'The difference between genuine
poetry and the poetry of Dryden, Pope, and all their school, is briefly
this: Their poetry is conceived and composed in their wits, genuine poetry
is conceived and composed in the soul. The difference is immense.' Taine is
contemptuous: 'Pope did not write because he thought, but thought in order
to write. Inky paper, and the noise it makes in the world, was his idol.'
Professor Henry A. Beers is more judicious: 'Pope did in some inadequate
sense hold the mirror up to Nature.... It was a mirror in a drawing-room,
but it gave back a faithful image of society, powdered and rouged, to be
sure, and intent on trifles, yet still as human in its own way as the
heroes of Homer in theirs, though not broadly human.'

It should be helpful also to indicate briefly some of the more specific
mannerisms of pseudo-classical poetry, in addition to the general
tendencies named above on page 190. Almost all of them, it will be
observed, result from the habit of generalizing instead of searching for
the pictorial and the particular. 1. There is a constant preference (to
enlarge on what was briefly stated above) for abstract expressions instead
of concrete ones, such expressions as 'immortal powers' or 'Heaven' for
'God.' These abstract expressions are especially noticeable in the
descriptions of emotion, which the pseudo-classical writers often describe
without really feeling it, in such colorless words as 'joys, 'delights,'
and 'ecstasies,' and which they uniformly refer to the conventionalized
'heart, 'soul,' or 'bosom.' Likewise in the case of personal features,
instead of picturing a face with blue eyes, rosy lips, and pretty color,
these poets vaguely mention 'charms,' 'beauties,' 'glories,'
'enchantments,' and the like. These three lines from 'The Rape of the Lock'
are thoroughly characteristic:

The fair [the lady] each moment rises in her charms,
Repairs her smiles, awakens ev'ry grace,
And calls forth all the, wonders of her face.

The tendency reaches its extreme in the frequent use of abstract and often
absurdly pretentious expressions in place of the ordinary ones which to
these poets appeared too simple or vulgar. With them a field is generally a
'verdant mead'; a lock of hair becomes 'The long-contended honours of her
head'; and a boot 'The shining leather that encased the limb.'

2. There is a constant use of generic or generalizing articles, pronouns,
and adjectives, 'the,' 'a,' 'that,' 'every,' and 'each' as in some of the
preceding and in the following examples: 'The wise man's passion and the
vain man's boast.' 'Wind the shrill horn or spread the waving net.' 'To act
a Lover's or a Roman's part.' 'That bleeding bosom.' 3. There is an
excessive use of adjectives, often one to nearly every important noun,
which creates monotony. 4. The vocabulary is largely conventionalized,
with, certain favorite words usurping the place of a full and free variety,
such words as 'conscious,' 'generous, 'soft,' and 'amorous.' The metaphors
employed are largely conventionalized ones, like 'Now burns with glory, and
then melts with love.' 5. The poets imitate the Latin language to some
extent; especially they often prefer long words of Latin origin to short
Saxon ones, and Latin names to English--'Sol' for 'Sun, 'temple' for
'church,' 'Senate' for 'Parliament,' and so on.]

SAMUEL JOHNSON, 1709-1784. To the informal position of dictator of English
letters which had been held successively by Dryden, Addison, and Pope,
succeeded in the third quarter of the eighteenth century a man very
different from any of them, one of the most forcefully individual of all
authors, Samuel Johnson. It was his fortune to uphold, largely by the
strength of his personality, the pseudo-classical ideals which Dryden and
Addison had helped to form and whose complete dominance had contributed to
Pope's success, in the period when their authority was being undermined by
the progress of the rising Romantic Movement.

Johnson was born in 1709, the son of a bookseller in Lichfield. He
inherited a constitution of iron, great physical strength, and fearless
self-assertiveness, but also hypochondria (persistent melancholy),
uncouthness of body and movement, and scrofula, which disfigured his face
and greatly injured his eyesight. In his early life as well as later,
spasmodic fits of abnormal mental activity when he 'gorged' books,
especially the classics, as he did food, alternated with other fits of
indolence. The total result, however, was a very thorough knowledge of an
extremely wide range of literature; when he entered Oxford in 1728 the
Master of his college assured him that he was the best qualified applicant
whom he had ever known. Johnson, on his side, was not nearly so well
pleased with the University; he found the teachers incompetent, and his
pride suffered intensely from his poverty, so that he remained at Oxford
little more than a year. The death of his father in 1731 plunged him into a
distressingly painful struggle for existence which lasted for thirty years.
After failing as a subordinate teacher in a boarding-school he became a
hack-writer in Birmingham, where, at the age of twenty-five, he made a
marriage with a widow, Mrs. Porter, an unattractive, rather absurd, but
good-hearted woman of forty-six. He set up a school of his own, where he
had only three pupils, and then in 1737 tramped with one of them, David
Garrick, later the famous actor, to London to try his fortune in another
field. When the two reached the city their combined funds amounted to
sixpence. Sir Robert Walpole, ruling the country with unscrupulous
absolutism, had now put an end to the employment of literary men in public
life, and though Johnson's poem 'London,' a satire on the city written in
imitation of the Roman poet Juvenal and published in 1738, attracted much
attention, he could do no better for a time than to become one of that
undistinguished herd of hand-to-mouth and nearly starving Grub Street
writers whom Pope was so contemptuously abusing and who chiefly depended on
the despotic patronage of magazine publishers. Living in a garret or even
walking the streets at night for lack of a lodging, Johnson was sometimes
unable to appear at a tavern because he had no respectable clothes. It was
ten years after the appearance of 'London' that he began to emerge, through
the publication of his 'Vanity of Human Wishes,' a poem of the same kind as
'London' but more sincere and very powerful. A little later Garrick, who
had risen very much more rapidly and was now manager of Drury Lane theater,
gave him substantial help by producing his early play 'Irene,' a
representative pseudo-classical tragedy of which it has been said that a
person with a highly developed sense of duty may be able to read it

Meanwhile, by an arrangement with leading booksellers, Johnson had entered
on the largest, and, as it proved, the decisive, work of his life, the
preparation of his 'Dictionary of the English Language.' The earliest
mentionable English dictionary had appeared as far back as 1604,
'containing 3000 hard words ... gathered for the benefit and help of
ladies, gentle women, or any other unskilful persons.' Others had followed;
but none of them was comprehensive or satisfactory. Johnson, planning a far
more thorough work, contracted to do it for L1575--scanty pay for himself
and his copyists, the more so that the task occupied more than twice as
much time as he had expected, over seven years. The result, then, of very
great labor, the 'Dictionary' appeared in 1755. It had distinct
limitations. The knowledge of Johnson's day was not adequate for tracing
the history and etymology of words, and Johnson himself on being asked the
reason for one of his numerous blunders could only reply, with his
characteristic blunt frankness, 'sheer ignorance.' Moreover, he allowed his
strong prejudices to intrude, even though he colored them with humor; for
example in defining 'oats' as 'a grain which in England is generally given
to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.' Jesting at himself he
defined 'lexicographer' as 'a writer of dictionaries, a harmless drudge.'
Nevertheless the work, though not creative literature, was a great and
necessary one, and Johnson did it, on the whole, decidedly well. The
'Dictionary,' in successive enlargements, ultimately, though not until
after Johnson's death, became the standard, and it gave him at once the
definite headship of English literary life. Of course, it should be added,
the English language has vastly expanded since his time, and Johnson's
first edition contained only a tithe of the 400,000 words recorded in the
latest edition of Webster (1910).

With the 'Dictionary' is connected one of the best-known incidents in
English literary history. At the outset of the undertaking Johnson exerted
himself to secure the patronage and financial aid of Lord Chesterfield, an
elegant leader of fashion and of fashionable literature. At the time
Chesterfield, not foreseeing the importance of the work, was coldly
indifferent, but shortly before the Dictionary appeared, being better
informed, he attempted to gain a share in the credit by commending it in a
periodical. Johnson responded with a letter which is a perfect masterpiece
of bitter but polished irony and which should be familiar to every student.

The hard labor of the 'Dictionary' had been the only remedy for Johnson's
profound grief at the death of his wife, in 1752; and how intensively he
could apply himself at need he showed again some years later when to pay
his mother's funeral expenses he wrote in the evenings of a single week his
'Rasselas,' which in the guise of an Eastern tale is a series of
philosophical discussions of life.

Great as were Johnson's labors during the eight years of preparation of the
'Dictionary' they made only a part of his activity. For about two years he
earned a living income by carrying on the semi-weekly 'Rambler,' one of the
numerous imitations of 'The Spectator.' He was not so well qualified as
Addison or Steele for this work, but he repeated it some years later in
'The Idler.'

It was not until 1775 that Johnson received from Oxford the degree of LL.D.
which gave him the title of 'Dr.,' now almost inseparable from his name;
but his long battle with poverty had ended on the accession of George III
in 1762, when the ministers, deciding to signalize the new reign by
encouraging men of letters, granted Johnson a pension of L300 for life. In
his Dictionary Johnson had contemptuously defined a pension thus: 'An
allowance made to any one without an equivalent. In England, it is
generally understood to mean pay given to a state hireling for treason to
his country.' This was embarrassing, but Johnson's friends rightly
persuaded him to accept the pension, which he, at least, had certainly
earned by services to society very far from treasonable. However, with the
removal of financial pressure his natural indolence, increased by the
strain of hardships and long-continued over-exertion, asserted itself in
spite of his self-reproaches and frequent vows of amendment. Henceforth he
wrote comparatively little but gave expression to his ideas in
conversation, where his genius always showed most brilliantly. At the
tavern meetings of 'The Club' (commonly referred to as 'The Literary
Club'), of which Burke, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Goldsmith, Gibbon, and others,
were members, he reigned unquestioned conversational monarch. Here or in
other taverns with fewer friends he spent most of his nights, talking and
drinking incredible quantities of tea, and going home in the small hours to
lie abed until noon.

But occasionally even yet he aroused himself to effort. In 1765 appeared
his long-promised edition of Shakspere. It displays in places much of the
sound sense which is one of Johnson's most distinguishing merits, as in the
terse exposure of the fallacies of the pseudo-classic theory of the three
dramatic unities, and it made some interpretative contributions; but as a
whole it was carelessly and slightly done. Johnson's last important
production, his most important really literary work, was a series of 'Lives
of the English Poets' from the middle of the seventeenth century, which he
wrote for a publishers' collection of their works. The selection of poets
was badly made by the publishers, so that many of the lives deal with very
minor versifiers. Further, Johnson's indolence and prejudices are here
again evident; often when he did not know the facts he did not take the
trouble to investigate; a thorough Tory himself he was often unfair to men
of Whig principles; and for poetry of the delicately imaginative and
romantic sort his rather painfully practical mind had little appreciation.
Nevertheless he was in many respects well fitted for the work, and some of
the lives, such as those of Dryden, Pope, Addison and Swift, men in whom he
took a real interest, are of high merit.

Johnson's last years were rendered gloomy, partly by the loss of friends,
partly by ill-health and a deepening of his lifelong tendency to morbid
depression. He had an almost insane shrinking from death and with it a
pathetic apprehension of future punishment. His melancholy was perhaps the
greater because of the manly courage and contempt for sentimentality which
prevented him from complaining or discussing his distresses. His religious
faith, also, in spite of all intellectual doubts, was strong, and he died
calmly, in 1784. He was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Johnson's picturesque surface oddities have received undue attention,
thanks largely to his friend and biographer Boswell. Nearly every one
knows, for example, that he superstitiously made a practice of entering
doorways in a certain manner and would rather turn back and come in again
than fail in the observance; that he was careless, even slovenly, in dress
and person, and once remarked frankly that he had no passion for clean
linen; that he ate voraciously, with a half-animal eagerness; that in the
intervals of talking he 'would make odd sounds, a half whistle, or a
clucking like a hen's, and when he ended an argument would blow out his
breath like a whale.' More important were his dogmatism of opinion, his
intense prejudices, and the often seemingly brutal dictatorial violence
with which he enforced them. Yet these things too were really on the
surface. It is true that his nature was extremely conservative; that after
a brief period of youthful free thinking he was fanatically loyal to the
national Church and to the king (though theoretically he was a Jacobite, a
supporter of the supplanted Stuarts as against the reigning House of
Hanover); and that in conversation he was likely to roar down or scowl down
all innovators and their defenders or silence them with such observations
as, 'Sir, I perceive you are a vile Whig.' At worst it was not quite
certain that he would not knock them down physically. Of women's preaching
he curtly observed that it was like a dog walking on its hind legs: 'It is
not done well, but you are surprised to find it done at all.' English
insular narrowness certainly never had franker expression than in his
exclamation: 'For anything I can see, all foreigners are fools.' For the
American colonists who had presumed to rebel against their king his
bitterness was sometimes almost frenzied; he characterized them as
'rascals, robbers and pirates.' His special antipathy to Scotland and its
people led him to insult them repeatedly, though with some individual Scots
he was on very friendly terms. Yet after all, many of these prejudices
rested on important principles which were among the most solid foundations
of Johnson's nature and largely explain his real greatness, namely on sound
commonsense, moral and intellectual independence, and hatred of
insincerity. There was really something to be said for his refusal to
listen to the Americans' demand for liberty while they themselves held
slaves. Living in a period of change, Johnson perceived that in many cases
innovations prove dangerous and that the progress of society largely
depends on the continuance of the established institutions in which the
wisdom of the past is summed up. Of course in specific instances, perhaps
in the majority of them, Johnson was wrong; but that does not alter the
fact that he thought of himself as standing, and really did stand, for
order against a freedom which is always more or less in danger of leading
to anarchy.

Johnson's personality, too, cannot be fairly judged by its more grotesque
expression. Beneath the rough surface he was a man not only of very
vigorous intellect and great learning, but of sincere piety, a very warm
heart, unusual sympathy and kindness, and the most unselfish, though
eccentric, generosity. Fine ladies were often fascinated by him, and he was
no stranger to good society. On himself, during his later years, he spent
only a third part of his pension, giving away the rest to a small army of
beneficiaries. Some of these persons, through no claim on him but their
need, he had rescued from abject distress and supported in his own house,
where, so far from being grateful, they quarreled among themselves,
complained of the dinner, or even brought their children to live with them.
Johnson himself was sometimes exasperated by their peevishness and even
driven to take refuge from his own home in that 'of his wealthy friends the
Thrales, where, indeed, he had a room of his own; but he never allowed any
one else to criticize or speak harshly of them. In sum, no man was ever
loved or respected more deeply, or with better reason, by those who really
knew him, or more sincerely mourned when he died.

Johnson's importance as a conservative was greatest in his professional
capacity of literary critic and bulwark of pseudo-classicism. In this case,
except that a restraining influence is always salutary to hold a new
movement from extremes, he was in opposition to the time-spirit;
romanticism was destined to a complete triumph because it was the
expression of vital forces which were necessary for the rejuvenation of
literature. Yet it is true that romanticism carried with it much vague and
insincere sentimentality, and it was partly against this that Johnson
protested. Perhaps the twentieth-century mind is most dissatisfied with his
lack of sympathy for the romantic return to an intimate appreciation of
external Nature. Johnson was not blind to the charm of Nature and sometimes
expresses it in his own writing; but for the most part his interest, like
that of his pseudo-classical predecessors, was centered in the world of
man. To him, as he flatly declared, Fleet Street, in the midst of the hurry
of London life, was the most interesting place in the world.

In the substance of his work Johnson is most conspicuously, and of set
purpose, a moralist. In all his writing, so far as the subject permitted,
he aimed chiefly at the inculcation of virtue and the formation of
character. His uncompromising resoluteness in this respect accounts for
much of the dulness which it is useless to try to deny in his work. 'The
Rambler' and 'The Idler' altogether lack Addison's lightness of touch and
of humor; for Johnson, thoroughly Puritan at heart, and dealing generally
with the issues of personal conduct and responsibility, can never greatly
relax his seriousness, while Addison, a man of the world, is content if he
can produce some effect on society as a whole. Again, a present-day reader
can only smile when he finds Johnson in his Preface to Shakspere blaming
the great dramatist for omitting opportunities of instructing and
delighting, as if the best moral teachers were always explicit. But
Johnson's moral and religious earnestness is essentially admirable, the
more so because his deliberate view of the world was thoroughly
pessimistic. His own long and unhappy experience had convinced him that
life is for the most part a painful tribulation, to be endured with as much
patience and courage as possible, under the consciousness of the duty of
doing our best where God has put us and in the hope (though with Johnson
not a confident hope) that we shall find our reward in another world.

It has long been a popular tradition, based largely on a superficial page
of Macaulay, that Johnson's style always represents the extreme of
ponderous pedantry. As usual, the tradition must be largely discounted. It
is evident that Johnson talked, on the whole, better than he wrote, that
the present stimulus of other active minds aroused him to a complete
exertion of his powers, but that in writing, his indolence often allowed
him to compose half sleepily, at a low pressure. In some of his works,
especially 'The Rambler,' where, it has been jocosely suggested, he was
exercising the polysyllables that he wished to put into his 'Dictionary,'
he does employ a stilted Latinized vocabulary and a stilted style, with too
much use of abstract phrases for concrete ones, too many long sentences,
much inverted order, and over-elaborate balance. His style is always in
some respects monotonous, with little use, for instance, as critics have
pointed out, of any form of sentence but the direct declarative, and with
few really imaginative figures of speech. In much of his writing, on the
other hand, the most conspicuous things are power and strong effective
exposition. He often uses short sentences, whether or not in contrast to
his long ones, with full consciousness of their value; when he will take
the trouble, no one can express ideas with clearer and more forceful
brevity; and in a very large part of his work his style carries the finely
tonic qualities of his clear and vigorous mind.

JAMES BOSWELL AND HIS 'LIFE OF JOHNSON.' It is an interesting paradox that
while Johnson's reputation as the chief English man of letters of his age
seems secure for all time, his works, for the most part, do not belong to
the field of pure literature, and, further, have long ceased, almost
altogether, to be read. His reputation is really due to the interest of his
personality, and that is known chiefly by the most famous of all
biographies, the life of him by James Boswell.

Boswell was a Scotch gentleman, born in 1740, the son of a judge who was
also laird of the estate of Auchinleck in Ayrshire, near the English
border. James Boswell studied law, but was never very serious in any
regular activity. Early in life he became possessed by an extreme
boyish-romantic admiration for Johnson's works and through them for their
author, and at last in 1763 (only twenty years before Johnson's death)
secured an introduction to him. Boswell took pains that acquaintance should
soon ripen into intimacy, though it was not until nine years later that he
could be much in Johnson's company. Indeed it appears from Boswell's
account that they were personally together, all told, only during a total
of one hundred and eighty days at intermittent intervals, plus a hundred
more continuously when in 1773 they went on a tour to the Hebrides.
Boswell, however, made a point of recording in minute detail, sometimes on
the spot, all of Johnson's significant conversation to which he listened,
and of collecting with the greatest care his letters and all possible
information about him. He is the founder and still the most thorough
representative of the modern method of accurate biographical writing. After
Johnson's death he continued his researches, refusing to be hurried or
disturbed by several hasty lives of his subject brought out by other
persons, with the result that when his work appeared in 1791 it at once
assumed the position among biographies which it has ever since occupied.
Boswell lived only four years longer, sinking more and more under the habit
of drunkenness which had marred the greater part of his life.

Boswell's character, though absolutely different from Johnson's, was
perhaps as unusual a mixture. He was shallow, extremely vain, often
childishly foolish, and disagreeably jealous of Johnson's other friends.
Only extreme lack of personal dignity can account for the servility of his
attitude toward Johnson and his acceptance of the countless rebuffs from
his idol some of which he himself records and which would have driven any
other man away in indignation. None the less he was good-hearted, and the
other members of Johnson's circle, though they were often vexed by him and
admitted him to 'The Club' only under virtual compulsion by Johnson, seem
on the whole, in the upshot, to have liked him. Certainly it is only by
force of real genius of some sort, never by a mere lucky chance, that a man
achieves the acknowledged masterpiece in any line of work.

Boswell's genius, one is tempted to say, consists partly of his absorption
in the worship of his hero; more largely, no doubt, in his inexhaustible
devotion and patience. If the bulk of his book becomes tiresome to some
readers, it nevertheless gives a picture of unrivalled fulness and
life-likeness. Boswell aimed to be absolutely complete and truthful. When
the excellent Hannah More entreated him to touch lightly on the less
agreeable traits of his subject he replied flatly that he would not cut off
Johnson's claws, nor make a tiger a cat to please anybody. The only very
important qualification to be made is that Boswell was not altogether
capable of appreciating the deeper side of Johnson's nature. It scarcely
needs to be added that Boswell is a real literary artist. He knows how to
emphasize, to secure variety, to bring out dramatic contrasts, and also to
heighten without essentially falsifying, as artists must, giving point and
color to what otherwise would seem thin and pale.

part of the eighteenth century produced not only the greatest of all
biographies but also the history which can perhaps best claim the same
rank, Edward Gibbon's 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.' History of
the modern sort, aiming at minute scientific accuracy through wide
collection of materials and painstaking research, and at vivid reproduction
of the life, situations and characters of the past, had scarcely existed
anywhere, before Gibbon, since classical times. The medieval chroniclers
were mostly mere annalists, brief mechanical recorders of external events,
and the few more philosophic historians of the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries do not attain the first rank. The way was partly prepared for
Gibbon by two Scottish historians, his early contemporaries, the
philosopher David Hume and the clergyman William Robertson, but they have
little of his scientific conscientiousness.

Gibbon, the son of a country gentleman in Surrey, was born in 1737. From
Westminster School he passed at the age of fifteen to Oxford. Ill-health
and the wretched state of instruction at the university made his residence
there, according to his own exaggerated account, largely unprofitable, but
he remained for little more than a year; for, continuing the reading of
theological works, in which he had become interested as a child, he was
converted to Catholicism, and was hurried by his father to the care of a
Protestant pastor in Lausanne, Switzerland. The pastor reconverted him in a
year, but both conversions were merely intellectual, since Gibbon was of
all men the most incapable of spiritual emotion. Later in life he became a
philosophic sceptic. In Lausanne he fell in love with the girl who later
actually married M. Necker, minister of finance under Louis XVI, and became
the mother of the famous Mme. de Stael; but to Gibbon's father a foreign
marriage was as impossible as a foreign religion, and the son, again,
obediently yielded. He never again entertained the thought of marriage. In
his five years of study at Lausanne he worked diligently and laid the broad
foundation of the knowledge of Latin and Greek which was to be
indispensable for his great work. His mature life, spent mostly on his
ancestral estate in England and at a villa which he acquired in Lausanne,
was as externally uneventful as that of most men of letters. He was for
several years a captain in the English militia and later a member of
Parliament and one of the Lords of Trade; all which positions were of
course practically useful to him as a historian. He wrote a brief and
interesting autobiography, which helps to reveal him as sincere and
good-hearted, though cold and somewhat self-conceited, a rather formal man
not of a large nature. He died in 1794.

The circumstances under which the idea of his history first entered his
mind were highly dramatic, though his own account of the incident is brief
and colorless. He was sitting at vespers on the Capitoline Hill in Rome,
the center of ancient Roman greatness, and the barefooted Catholic friars
were singing the service of the hour in the shabby church which has long
since supplanted the Roman Capitol. Suddenly his mind was impressed with
the vast significance of the transformation, thus suggested, of the ancient
world into the modern one, a process which has rightly been called the
greatest of all historical themes. He straightway resolved to become its
historian, but it was not until five years later that he really began the
work. Then three years of steady application produced his first volume, in
1773, and fourteen years more the remaining five.

The first source of the greatness of Gibbon's work is his conscientious
industry and scholarship. With unwearied patience he made himself
thoroughly familiar with the great mass of materials, consisting largely of
histories and works of general literature in many languages, belonging to
the fourteen hundred years with which he dealt. But he had also the
constructive power which selects, arranges, and proportions, the faculty of
clear and systematic exposition, and the interpretative historical vision
which perceives and makes clear the broad tendencies in the apparent chaos
of mere events. Much new information has necessarily been discovered since
Gibbon wrote, but he laid his foundation so deep and broad that though his
work may be supplemented it can probably never be superseded, and stands in
the opinion of competent critics without an equal in the whole field of
history except perhaps for that of the Greek Thucydides. His one great
deficiency is his lack of emotion. By intellectual processes he realizes
and partly visualizes the past, with its dramatic scenes and moments, but
he cannot throw himself into it (even if the material afforded by his
authorities had permitted) with the passionate vivifying sympathy of later,
romantic, historians. There are interest and power in his narratives of
Julian's expedition into Assyria, of Zenobia's brilliant career, and of the
capture of Constantinople by the Turks, but not the stirring power of Green
or Froude or Macaulay. The most unfortunate result of this deficiency,
however, is his lack of appreciation of the immense meaning of spiritual
forces, most notoriously evident in the cold analysis, in his fifteenth
chapter, of the reasons for the success of Christianity.

His style possesses much of the same virtues and limitations as his
substance. He has left it on record that he composed each paragraph
mentally as a whole before committing any part of it to paper, balancing
and reshaping until it fully satisfied his sense of unity and rhythm.
Something of formality and ponderousness quickly becomes evident in his
style, together with a rather mannered use of potential instead of direct
indicative verb forms; how his style compares with Johnson's and how far it
should be called pseudo-classical, are interesting questions to consider.
One appreciative description of it may be quoted: 'The language of Gibbon
never flags; he walks forever as to the clash of arms, under an imperial
banner; a military music animates his magnificent descriptions of battles,
of sieges, of panoramic scenes of antique civilization.'

A longer eulogistic passage will sum up his achievement as a whole:
[Footnote: Edmund Gosse, 'History of Eighteenth Century Literature,' p.

'The historian of literature will scarcely reach the name of Edward Gibbon
without emotion. It is not merely that with this name is associated one of
the most splendid works which Europe produced in the eighteenth century,
but that the character of the author, with all its limitations and even
with all its faults, presents us with a typical specimen of the courage and
singleheartedness of a great man of letters. Wholly devoted to scholarship
without pedantry, and to his art without any of the petty vanity of the
literary artist, the life of Gibbon was one long sacrifice to the purest
literary enthusiasm. He lived to know, and to rebuild his knowledge in a
shape as durable and as magnificent as a Greek temple. He was content for
years and years to lie unseen, unheard of, while younger men rose past him
into rapid reputation. No unworthy impatience to be famous, no sense of the
uncertainty of life, no weariness or terror at the length or breadth of his
self-imposed task, could induce him at any moment of weakness to give way
to haste or discouragement in the persistent regular collection and
digestion of his material or in the harmonious execution of every part of
his design.... No man who honors the profession of letters, or regards with
respect the higher and more enlightened forms of scholarship, will ever
think without admiration of the noble genius of Gibbon.' It may be added
that Gibbon is one of the conspicuous examples of a man whose success was
made possible only by the possession and proper use of inherited wealth,
with the leisure which it brings.

EDMUND BURKE. The last great prose-writer of the eighteenth century, Edmund
Burke, is also the greatest of English orators. Burke is the only writer
primarily a statesman and orator who can be properly ranked among English
authors of the first class. The reasons, operating in substantially the
same way in all literature, are not hard to understand. The interests with
which statesmen and orators deal are usually temporary; the spirit and
style which give a spoken address the strongest appeal to an audience often
have in them something of superficiality; and it is hard for the orator
even to maintain his own mind on the higher level of rational thought and
disinterested purpose. Occasionally, however, a man appears in public life
who to the power of compelling speech and the personality on which it is
based adds intellect, a philosophic temperament, and the real literary,
poetic, quality. Such men were Demosthenes, Cicero, Webster, and at times
Lincoln, and beside them in England stands Burke. It is certainly an
interesting coincidence that the chief English representatives of four
outlying regions of literature should have been closely
contemporaneous--Johnson the moralist and hack writer, Boswell the
biographer, Gibbon the historian, and Burke the orator.

Burke was born in Dublin in 1729 of mixed English and Irish parentage. Both
strains contributed very important elements to his nature. As English we
recognize his indomitable perseverance, practical good sense, and devotion
to established principles; as largely Irish his spontaneous enthusiasm,
ardent emotion, and disinterested idealism. Always brilliant, in his
earlier years he was also desultory and somewhat lawless. From Trinity
College in Dublin he crossed over to London and studied law, which he soon
abandoned. In 1756 he began his career as an author with 'A Vindication of
Natural Society,' a skilful satire on the philosophic writings which
Bolingbroke (the friend of Swift and Pope) had put forth after his
political fall and which, while nominally expressing the deistic principles
of natural religion, were virtually antagonistic to all religious faith.
Burke's 'Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas on the Sublime
and Beautiful,' published the same year, and next in time after Dryden
among important English treatises on esthetics, has lost all authority with
the coming of the modern science of psychology, but it is at least sincere
and interesting. Burke now formed his connection with Johnson and his
circle. An unsatisfactory period as secretary to an official in Ireland
proved prolog to the gift of a seat in Parliament from a Whig lord, and
thus at the age of thirty-six Burke at last entered on the public life
which was his proper sphere of action. Throughout his life, however, he
continued to be involved in large debts and financial difficulties, the
pressure of which on a less buoyant spirit would have been a very serious

As a politician and statesman Burke is one of the finest figures in English
history. He was always a devoted Whig, because he believed that the party
system was the only available basis for representative government; but he
believed also, and truly, that the Whig party, controlled though it was by
a limited and largely selfish oligarchy of wealthy nobles, was the only
effective existing instrument of political and social righteousness. To
this cause of public righteousness, especially to the championing of
freedom, Burke's whole career was dedicated; he showed himself altogether
possessed by the passion for truth and justice. Yet equally conspicuous was
his insistence on respect for the practicable. Freedom and justice, he
always declared, agreeing thus far with Johnson, must be secured not by
hasty violence but under the forms of law, government, and religion which
represent the best wisdom of past generations. Of any proposal he always
asked not only whether it embodied abstract principles of right but whether
it was workable and expedient in the existing circumstances and among
actual men. No phrase could better describe Burke's spirit and activity
than that which Matthew Arnold coined of him--'the generous application of
ideas to life.' It was England's special misfortune that, lagging far
behind him in both vision and sympathy, she did not allow him to save her
from the greatest disaster of her history. Himself she repaid with the
usual reformer's reward. Though he soon made himself 'the brains of the
Whig party,' which at times nothing but his energy and ability held
together, and though in consequence he was retained in Parliament virtually
to the end of his life, he was never appointed to any office except that of
Paymaster of the Forces, which he accepted after he had himself had the
annual salary reduced from L25,000 to L4,000, and which he held for only a

During all the early part of his public career Burke steadily fought
against the attempts of the King and his Tory clique to entrench themselves
within the citadel of irresponsible government. At one time also he largely
devoted his efforts to a partly successful attack on the wastefulness and
corruption of the government; and his generous effort to secure just
treatment of Ireland and the Catholics was pushed so far as to result in
the loss of his seat as member of Parliament from Bristol. But the
permanent interest of his thirty years of political life consists chiefly
in his share in the three great questions, roughly successive in time, of
what may be called England's foreign policy, namely the treatment of the
English colonies in America, the treatment of the native population of the
English empire in India, and the attitude of England toward the French
Revolution. In dealing with the first two of these questions Burke spoke
with noble ardor for liberty and the rights of man, which he felt the
English government to be disregarding. Equally notable with his zeal for
justice, however, was his intellectual mastery of the facts. Before he
attempted to discuss either subject he had devoted to it many years of the
most painstaking study--in the case of India no less than fourteen years;
and his speeches, long and highly complicated, were filled with minute
details and exact statistics, which his magnificent memory enabled him to
deliver without notes.

His most important discussions of American affairs are the 'Speech on
American Taxation' (1774), the 'Speech on Conciliation with America'
(1775), both delivered in Parliament while the controversy was bitter but
before war had actually broken out, and 'A Letter to the Sheriffs of
Bristol' (1777). Burke's plea was that although England had a theoretical
constitutional right to tax the colonies it was impracticable to do so
against their will, that the attempt was therefore useless and must lead to
disaster, that measures of conciliation instead of force should be
employed, and that the attempt to override the liberties of Englishmen in
America, those liberties on which the greatness of England was founded,
would establish a dangerous precedent for a similar course of action in the
mother country itself. In the fulfilment of his prophecies which followed
the rejection of his argument Burke was too good a patriot to take

In his efforts in behalf of India Burke again met with apparent defeat, but
in this case he virtually secured the results at which he had aimed. During
the seventeenth century the English East India Company, originally
organized for trade, had acquired possessions in India, which, in the
middle of the eighteenth century and later, the genius of Clive and Warren
Hastings had increased and consolidated into a great empire. The work which
these men had done was rough work and it could not be accomplished by
scrupulous methods; under their rule, as before, there had been much
irregularity and corruption, and part of the native population had suffered
much injustice and misery. Burke and other men saw the corruption and
misery without realizing the excuses for it and on the return of Hastings
to England in 1786 they secured his impeachment. For nine years Burke,
Sheridan, and Fox conducted the prosecution, vying with one another in
brilliant speeches, and Burke especially distinguished himself by the
warmth of sympathetic imagination with which he impressed on his audiences
the situation and sufferings of a far-distant and alien race. The House of
Lords ultimately acquitted Hastings, but at the bar of public opinion Burke
had brought about the condemnation and reform, for which the time was now
ripe, of the system which Hastings had represented.

While the trial of Hastings was still in progress all Europe was shaken by
the outbreak of the French Revolution, which for the remainder of his life
became the main and perturbing subject of Burke's attention. Here, with an
apparent change of attitude, for reasons which we will soon consider, Burke
ranged himself on the conservative side, and here at last he altogether
carried the judgment of England with him. One of the three or four greatest
movements in modern history, the French Revolution exercised a profound
influence on English thought and literature, and we must devote a few words
to its causes and progress. During the two centuries while England had been
steadily winning her way to constitutional government, France had past more
and more completely under the control of a cynically tyrannical despotism
and a cynically corrupt and cruel feudal aristocracy. [Footnote: The
conditions are vividly pictured in Dickens' 'Tale of Two Cities' and
Carlyle's 'French Revolution.'] For a generation, radical French
philosophers had been opposing to the actual misery of the peasants the
ideal of the natural right of all men to life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness, and at last in 1789 the people, headed by the lawyers and
thinkers of the middle class, arose in furious determination, swept away
their oppressors, and after three years established a republic. The
outbreak of the Revolution was hailed by English liberals with enthusiasm
as the commencement of an era of social justice; but as it grew in violence
and at length declared itself the enemy of all monarchy and of religion,
their attitude changed; and in 1793 the execution of the French king and
queen and the atrocities of the Reign of Terror united all but the radicals
in support of the war against France in which England joined with the other
European countries. During the twenty years of struggle that followed the
portentous figure of Napoleon soon appeared, though only as Burke was
dying, and to oppose and finally to suppress him became the duty of all
Englishmen, a duty not only to their country but to humanity.

At the outbreak of the Revolution Burke was already sixty, and the
inevitable tendency of his mind was away from the enthusiastic liberalism
which had so strongly moved him in behalf of the Americans and the Hindoos.
At the very outset he viewed the Revolution with distrust, and this
distrust soon changed to the most violent opposition. Of actual conditions
in France he had no adequate understanding. He failed to realize that the
French people were asserting their most elementary rights against an
oppression a hundred times more intolerable than anything that the
Americans had suffered; his imagination had long before been dazzled during
a brief stay in Paris by the external glitter of the French Court; his own
chivalrous sympathy was stirred by the sufferings of the queen; and most of
all he saw in the Revolution the overthrow of what he held to be the only
safe foundations of society--established government, law, social
distinctions, and religion--by the untried abstract theories which he had
always held in abhorrence. Moreover, the activity of the English supporters
of the French revolutionists seriously threatened an outbreak of anarchy in
England also. Burke, therefore, very soon began to oppose the whole
movement with all his might. His 'Reflections on the Revolution in France,'
published in 1790, though very one-sided, is a most powerful model of
reasoned denunciation and brilliant eloquence; it had a wide influence and
restored Burke to harmony with the great majority of his countrymen. His
remaining years, however, were increasingly gloomy. His attitude caused a
hopeless break with the liberal Whigs, including Fox; he gave up his seat
in Parliament to his only son, whose death soon followed to prostrate him;
and the successes of the French plunged him into feverish anxiety. After
again pouring out a flood of passionate eloquence in four letters entitled
'Thoughts on the Prospect of a Regicide Peace' (with France) he died in

We have already indicated many of the sources of Burke's power as a speaker
and writer, but others remain to be mentioned. Not least important are his
faculties of logical arrangement and lucid statement. He was the first
Englishman to exemplify with supreme skill all the technical devices of
exposition and argument--a very careful ordering of ideas according to a
plan made clear, but not too conspicuous, to the hearer or reader; the use
of summaries, topic sentences, connectives; and all the others. In style he
had made himself an instinctive master of rhythmical balance, with
something, as contrasted with nineteenth century writing, of eighteenth
century formality. Yet he is much more varied, flexible, and fluent than
Johnson or Gibbon, with much greater variety of sentence forms and with far
more color, figurativeness and picturesqueness of phrase. In his most
eloquent and sympathetic passages he is a thorough poet, splendidly
imaginative and dramatic. J. R. Greene in his 'History of England' has well
spoken of 'the characteristics of his oratory--its passionate ardor, its
poetic fancy, its amazing prodigality of resources; the dazzling succession
in which irony, pathos, invective, tenderness, the most brilliant word
pictures, the coolest argument, followed each other.' Fundamental, lastly,
in Burke's power, is his philosophic insight, his faculty of correlating
facts and penetrating below this surface, of viewing events in the light of
their abstract principles, their causes and their inevitable results.

In spite of all this, in the majority of cases Burke was not a successful
speaker. The overwhelming logic and feeling of his speech 'On the Nabob of
Arcot's Debts' produced so little effect at its delivery that the ministers
against whom it was directed did not even think necessary to answer it. One
of Burke's contemporaries has recorded that he left the Parliament house
(crawling under the benches to avoid Burke's notice) in order to escape
hearing one of his speeches which when it was published he read with the
most intense interest. In the latter part of his life Burke was even called
'the dinner-bell of the House' because his rising to speak was a signal for
a general exodus of the other members. The reasons for this seeming paradox
are apparently to be sought in something deeper than the mere prejudice of
Burke's opponents. He was prolix, but, chiefly, he was undignified in
appearance and manner and lacked a good delivery. It was only when the
sympathy or interest of his hearers enabled them to forget these things
that they were swept away by the force of his reason or the contagion of
his wit or his emotion. On such occasions, as in his first speech in the
impeachment of Hastings, he was irresistible.

From what has now been said it must be evident that while Burke's
temperament and mind were truly classical in some of their qualities, as in
his devotion to order and established institutions, and in the clearness of
his thought and style, and while in both spirit and style he manifests a
regard for decorum and formality which connects him with the
pseudo-classicists, nevertheless he shared to at least as great a degree in
those qualities of emotion and enthusiasm which the pseudo-classic writers
generally lacked and which were to distinguish the romantic writers of the
nineteenth century. How the romantic movement had begun, long before Burke
came to maturity, and how it had made its way even in the midst of the
pseudo-classical period, we may now consider.

THE ROMANTIC MOVEMENT. The reaction which was bound to accompany the
triumph of Pseudo-classicism, as a reassertion of those instincts in human
nature which Pseudo-classicism disregarded, took the form of a distinct
Romantic Revival. Beginning just about as Pope's reputation was reaching
its climax, and gathering momentum throughout the greater part of the
eighteenth century, this movement eventually gained a predominance as
complete as that which Pseudo-classicism had enjoyed, and became the chief
force, not only in England but in all Western Europe, in the literature of
the whole nineteenth century. The impulse was not confined to literature,
but permeated all the life of the time. In the sphere of religion,
especially, the second decade of the eighteenth century saw the awakening
of the English church from lethargy by the great revival of John and
Charles Wesley, whence, quite contrary to their original intention, sprang
the Methodist denomination. In political life the French Revolution was a
result of the same set of influences. Romanticism showed itself partly in
the supremacy of the Sentimental Comedy and in the great share taken by
Sentimentalism in the development of the novel, of both of which we shall
speak hereafter; but its fullest and most steadily progressive
manifestation was in non-dramatic poetry. Its main traits as they appear in
the eighteenth century are as clearly marked as the contrasting ones of
Pseudo-classicism, and we can enumerate them distinctly, though it must of
course be understood that they appear in different authors in very
different degrees and combinations.

1. There is, among the Romanticists, a general breaking away not only from
the definite pseudo-classical principles, but from the whole idea of
submission to fixed authority. Instead there is a spirit of independence
and revolt, an insistence on the value of originality and the right of the
individual to express himself in his own fashion. 2. There is a strong
reassertion of the value of emotion, imagination, and enthusiasm. This
naturally involves some reaction against the pseudo-classic, and also the
true classic, regard for finished form. 3. There is a renewal of genuine
appreciation and love for external Nature, not least for her large and
great aspects, such as mountains and the sea. The contrast between the
pseudo-classical and the romantic attitude in this respect is clearly
illustrated, as has often been pointed out, by the difference between the
impressions recorded by Addison and by the poet Gray in the presence of the
Alps. Addison, discussing what he saw in Switzerland, gives most of his
attention to the people and politics. One journey he describes as 'very
troublesome,' adding: 'You can't imagine how I am pleased with the sight of
a plain.' In the mountains he is conscious chiefly of difficulty and
danger, and the nearest approach to admiration which he indicates is 'an
agreeable kind of horror.' Gray, on the other hand, speaks of the Grande
Chartreuse as 'one of the most solemn, the most romantic, and the most
astonishing scenes.... I do not remember to have gone ten paces without an
exclamation that there was no restraining. Not a precipice, not a torrent,
nor a cliff, but is pregnant with religion and poetry.' 4. The same
passionate appreciation extends with the Romanticists to all full and rich
beauty and everything grand and heroic. 5. This is naturally connected also
with a love for the remote, the strange, and the unusual, for mystery, the
supernatural, and everything that creates wonder. Especially, there is a
great revival of interest in the Middle Ages, whose life seemed to the men
of the eighteenth century, and indeed to a large extent really was,
picturesque and by comparison varied and adventurous. In the eighteenth
century this particular revival was called 'Gothic,' a name which the
Pseudo-classicists, using it as a synonym for 'barbarous,' had applied to
the Middle Ages and all their works, on the mistaken supposition that all
the barbarians who overthrew the Roman Empire and founded the medieval
states were Goths. 6. In contrast to the pseudo-classical preference for
abstractions, there is, among the Romanticists, a devotion to concrete
things, the details of Nature and of life. In expression, of course, this
brings about a return to specific words and phraseology, in the desire to
picture objects clearly and fully. 7. There is an increasing democratic
feeling, a breaking away from the interest in artificial social life and a
conviction that every human being is worthy of respect. Hence sprang the
sentiment of universal brotherhood and the interest in universal freedom,
which finally extended even to the negroes and resulted in the abolition of
slavery. But from the beginning there was a reawakening of interest in the
life of the common people--an impulse which is not inconsistent with the
love of the remote and unusual, but rather means the discovery of a
neglected world of novelty at the very door of the educated and literary
classes. 8. There is a strong tendency to melancholy, which is often
carried to the point of morbidness and often expresses itself in meditation
and moralizing on the tragedies of life and the mystery of death. This
inclination is common enough in many romantic-spirited persons of all
times, and it is always a symptom of immaturity or lack of perfect balance.
Among the earlier eighteenth century Romanticists there was a very
nourishing crop of doleful verse, since known from the place where most of
it was located, as the 'Graveyard poetry.' Even Gray's 'Elegy in a Country
Churchyard' is only the finest representative of this form, just as
Shakspere's 'Hamlet' is the culmination of the crude Elizabethan tragedy of
blood. So far as the mere tendency to moralize is concerned, the eighteenth
century Romanticists continue with scarcely any perceptible change the
practice of the Pseudo-classicists. 9. In poetic form, though the
Romanticists did not completely abandon the pentameter couplet for a
hundred years, they did energetically renounce any exclusive allegiance to
it and returned to many other meters. Milton was one of their chief
masters, and his example led to the revival of blank verse and of the
octo-syllabic couplet. There was considerable use also of the Spenserian
stanza, and development of a great variety of lyric stanza forms, though
not in the prodigal profusion of the Elizabethan and Jacobean period.

JAMES THOMSON. The first author in whom the new impulse found really
definite expression was the Scotsman James Thomson. At the age of
twenty-five, Thomson, like many of his countrymen during his century and
the previous one, came fortune-hunting to London, and the next year, 1726,
while Pope was issuing his translation of 'The Odyssey,' he published a
blank-verse poem of several hundred lines on 'Winter.' Its genuine though
imperfect appreciation and description of Nature as she appears on the
broad sweeps of the Scottish moors, combined with its novelty, gave it
great success, and Thomson went on to write also of Summer, Spring and
Autumn, publishing the whole work as 'The Seasons' in 1730. He was rewarded
by the gift of sinecure offices from the government and did some further
writing, including, probably, the patriotic lyric, 'Rule, Britannia,' and
also pseudo-classical tragedies; but his only other poem of much importance
is 'The Castle of Indolence' (a subject appropriate to his own
good-natured, easy-going disposition), which appeared just before his
death, in 1748. In it he employs Spenser's stanza, with real skill, but in
a half-jesting fashion which the later eighteenth-century Romanticists also
seem to have thought necessary when they adopted it, apparently as a sort
of apology for reviving so old-fashioned a form.

'The Seasons' was received with enthusiasm not only in England but in
France and Germany, and it gave an impulse for the writing of descriptive
poetry which lasted for a generation; but Thomson's romantic achievement,
though important, is tentative and incomplete, like that of all beginners.
He described Nature from full and sympathetic first-hand observation, but
there is still a certain stiffness about his manner, very different from
the intimate and confident familiarity and power of spiritual
interpretation which characterizes the great poets of three generations
later. Indeed, the attempt to write several thousand lines of pure
descriptive poetry was in itself ill-judged, since as the German critic
Lessing later pointed out, poetry is the natural medium not for description
but for narration; and Thomson himself virtually admitted this in part by
resorting to long dedications and narrative episodes to fill out his
scheme. Further, romantic as he was in spirit, he was not able to free
himself from the pseudo-classical mannerisms; every page of his poem
abounds with the old lifeless phraseology--'the finny tribes' for 'the
fishes,' 'the vapoury whiteness' for 'the snow' or 'the hard-won treasures
of the year' for 'the crops.' His blank verse, too, is comparatively
clumsy--padded with unnecessary words and the lines largely end-stopped.

WILLIAM COLLINS. There is marked progress in romantic feeling and power of
expression as we pass from Thomson to his disciple, the frail lyric poet,
William Collins. Collins, born at Chichester, was an undergraduate at
Oxford when he published 'Persian Eclogues' in rimed couplets to which the
warm feeling and free metrical treatment give much of romantic effect. In
London three years later (1746) Collins put forth his significant work in a
little volume of 'Odes.' Discouraged by lack of appreciation, always
abnormally high-strung and neurasthenic, he gradually lapsed into insanity,
and died at the age of thirty-seven. Collins' poems show most of the
romantic traits and their impetuous emotion often expresses itself in the
form of the false Pindaric ode which Cowley had introduced. His 'Ode on the
Popular Superstitions of the Highlands,' further, was one of the earliest
pieces of modern literature to return for inspiration to the store of
medieval supernaturalism, in this case to Celtic supernaturalism. But
Collins has also an exquisiteness of feeling which makes others of his
pieces perfect examples of the true classical style. The two poems in
'Horatian' ode forms, that is in regular short stanzas, the 'Ode Written in
the Year 1746' and the 'Ode to Evening' (unrimed), are particularly fine.
With all this, Collins too was not able to escape altogether from
pseudo-classicism. His subjects are often abstract--'The Passions,'
'Liberty,' and the like; his characters, too, in almost all his poems, are
merely the old abstract personifications, Fear, Fancy, Spring, and many
others; and his phraseology is often largely in the pseudo-classical
fashion. His work illustrates, therefore, in an interesting way the
conflict of poetic forces in his time and the influence of environment on a
poet's mind. The true classic instinct and the romanticism are both his
own; the pseudo-classicism belongs to the period.

THOMAS GRAY. Precisely the same conflict of impulses appears in the lyrics
of a greater though still minor poet of the same generation, a man of
perhaps still more delicate sensibilities than Collins, namely Thomas Gray.
Gray, the only survivor of many sons of a widow who provided for him by
keeping a millinery shop, was born in 1716. At Eton he became intimate with
Horace Walpole, the son of the Prime Minister, who was destined to become
an amateur leader in the Romantic Movement, and after some years at
Cambridge the two traveled together on the Continent. Lacking the money for
the large expenditure required in the study of law, Gray took up his
residence in the college buildings at Cambridge, where he lived as a
recluse, much annoyed by the noisy undergraduates. During his last three
years he held the appointment and salary of professor of modern history,
but his timidity prevented him from delivering any lectures. He died in
1771. He was primarily a scholar and perhaps the most learned man of his
time. He was familiar with the literature and history not only of the
ancient world but of all the important modern nations of western Europe,
with philosophy, the sciences of painting, architecture, botany, zoology,
gardening, entomology (he had a large collection of insects), and even
heraldry. He was himself an excellent musician. Indeed almost the only
subject of contemporary knowledge in which he was not proficient was
mathematics, for which he had an aversion, and which prevented him from
taking a college degree.

The bulk of Gray's poetry is very small, no larger, in fact, than that of
Collins. Matthew Arnold argued in a famous essay that his productivity was
checked by the uncongenial pseudo-classic spirit of the age, which, says
Arnold, was like a chill north wind benumbing his inspiration, so that 'he
never spoke out.' The main reason, however, is really to be found in Gray's
own over-painstaking and diffident disposition. In him, as in Hamlet,
anxious and scrupulous striving for perfection went far to paralyze the
power of creation; he was unwilling to write except at his best, or to
publish until he had subjected his work to repeated revisions, which
sometimes, as in the case of his 'Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,'
extended over many years. He is the extreme type of the academic poet. His
work shows, however, considerable variety, including real appreciation for
Nature, as in the 'Ode on the Spring,' delightful quiet humor, as in the
'Ode on a Favorite Cat,' rather conventional moralizing, as in the 'Ode on
a Distant Prospect of Eton College,' magnificent expression of the
fundamental human emotions, as in the 'Elegy,' and warlike vigor in the
'Norse Ode' translated from the 'Poetic Edda' in his later years. In the
latter he manifests his interest in Scandinavian antiquity, which had then
become a minor object of romantic enthusiasm. The student should consider
for himself the mingling of the true classic, pseudo-classic, and romantic
elements in the poems, not least in the 'Elegy,' and the precise sources of
their appeal and power. In form most of them are regular 'Horatian' odes,
but 'The Bard' and 'The Progress of Poesy' are the best English examples of
the genuine Pindaric ode.

OLIVER GOLDSMITH. Next in order among the romantic poets after Gray, and
more thoroughly romantic than Gray, was Oliver Goldsmith, though, with
characteristic lack of the power of self-criticism, he supposed himself to
be a loyal follower of Johnson and therefore a member of the opposite camp.
Goldsmith, as every one knows, is one of the most attractive and lovable
figures in English literature. Like Burke, of mixed English and Irish
ancestry, the son of a poor country curate of the English Church in
Ireland, he was born in 1728. Awkward, sensitive, and tender-hearted, he
suffered greatly in childhood from the unkindness of his fellows. As a poor
student at the University of Dublin he was not more happy, and his lack of
application delayed the gaining of his degree until two years after the
regular time. The same Celtic desultoriness characterized all the rest of
his life, though it could not thwart his genius. Rejected as a candidate
for the ministry, he devoted three years to the nominal study of medicine
at the Universities of Edinburgh and Leyden (in Holland). Next he spent a
year on a tramping trip through Europe, making his way by playing the flute
and begging. Then, gravitating naturally to London, he earned his living by
working successively for a druggist, for the novelist-printer Samuel
Richardson, as a teacher in a boys' school, and as a hack writer. At last
at the age of thirty-two he achieved success with a series of periodical
essays later entitled 'The Citizen of the World,' in which he criticized
European politics and society with skill and insight. Bishop Percy now
introduced him to Johnson, who from this time watched over him and saved
him from the worst results of his irresponsibility. He was one of the
original members of 'The Club.' In 1764 occurred the well-known and
characteristic incident of the sale of 'The Vicar of Wakefield.' Arrested
for debt at his landlady's instance, Goldsmith sent for Johnson and showed
him the manuscript of the book. Johnson took it to a publisher, and though
without much expectation of success asked and received L60 for it. It was
published two years later. Meanwhile in 1764 appeared Goldsmith's
descriptive poem, 'The Traveler,' based on his own experiences in Europe.
Six years later it was followed by 'The Deserted Village,' which was
received with the great enthusiasm that it merited.

Such high achievement in two of the main divisions of literature was in
itself remarkable, especially as Goldsmith was obliged to the end of his
life to spend much of his time in hack writing, but in the later years of
his short life he turned also with almost as good results to the drama
(comedy). We must stop here for the few words of general summary which are
all that the eighteenth century drama need receive in a brief survey like
the present one. During the first half of the century, as we have seen, an
occasional pseudo-classical tragedy was written, none of them of any
greater excellence than Addison's 'Cato' and Johnson's 'Irene' (above,
pages 205 and 217). The second quarter of the century was largely given
over to farces and burlesques, which absorbed the early literary activity
of the novelist Henry Fielding, until their attacks on Walpole's government
led to a severe licensing act, which suppressed them. But the most
distinctive and predominant forms of the middle and latter half of the
century were, first, the Sentimental Comedy, whose origin may be roughly
assigned to Steele, and, second, the domestic melodrama, which grew out of
it. In the Sentimental Comedy the elements of mirth and romance which are
the legitimate bases of comedy were largely subordinated to exaggerated
pathos, and in the domestic melodrama the experiences of insignificant
persons of the middle class were presented for sympathetic consideration in
the same falsetto fashion. Both forms (indeed, they were one in spirit)

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