Th CENTURY: The Restoration Period
The Restoration period started in 1660, when Charles II was restored to the throne, and continued until about 1700. The Restoration brought a strong reaction against the strict moral code the Puritans had enforced. Restoration writers, especially comic playwrights, reflected the new relaxed morality of the upper class in their works.
The stages of literary taste during this and the next two periods are often referred to as the ages of Dryden, Pope, and Johnson, after the three great figures who carried on the classical tradition in literature.
John Dryden became the outstanding literary figure of the Restoration after Milton's death in 1674. He wrote poetry, popular dramas, and literary criticism. The poetry of John Dryden possesses a grandeur and force that set the tone of the new age. His polished heroic couplet (a unit of two rhyming lines of iambic pentameter, generally end-stopped) became the dominant form in the composition of longer poems. He used the new meter to reflect his political and religious shifts: from a supporter of the Puritan to a supporter of the restored monarchy, from the Anglican faith to Roman Catholicism. Dryden's reputation rests primarily on satire, the form that became the dominant genre of the age, although the bulk of his work was in drama. His best plays include "Marriage a la Mode" (1672), a comedy, and "All for Love" (1677), a tragedy. Dryden's clear prose style in his fine literary criticism also defined the tone of his time. One example is "An Essay of Dramatic Poesy" (1668), which contains a brilliant analysis of Shakespeare's work.
During the Restoration, prose became less elaborate than had been fashionable earlier in the 1600's. Writers tried to express themselves clearly, simply, and directly. Noteworthy prose was produced by Samuel Pepys and John Bunyan. Bunyan, a Puritan preacher, used especially simple, vivid language to write allegorical narratives of the human journey through life, death, and religion, including "The Pilgrim's Progress" (1678, 1684), a popular Christian allegory (story with a literal and a symbolic meaning). Pepys, a high official of the Admiralty Office, kept a secret diary that is valuable as a portrait of contemporary taste, giving a delightful and highly detailed view of English life during the late 1600's, e.g. the Great Fire that destroyed much of London in 1666.
After Charles II became king in 1660, the theaters were reopened and an important period in English drama began. Two types of plays rapidly dominated Restoration stages: (1) the comedy of manners and (2) the heroic tragedy. The heroic tragedy had a complicated plot that dealt with the conflict between love and honor and was set in faraway lands. It never rose to the Shakespearean height; little action took place on the stage, and the characters spoke in elegant, noble-sounding heroic couplets.
The comedy of manners was much more successful than the tragedy. It was witty, sometimes cynical, and occasionally indecent and treated love and romantic intrigue in a light, often broadly humorous way. Its greatest practitioner was William Congreve with his "The Way of the World" (1700).
18th century: THE AUGUSTAN AGE (1700--1750)
AND THE AGE OF JOHNSON (1750--1784)
In 1700--1750 literature was influenced by Greek and Latin classics, especially Virgil, Horace, and Ovid from the time of Roman emperor Augustus. Hence, this age was called Augustan, or neoclassical. English authors tried to imitate or recapture many of the philosophic and literary ideals of this period of Roman history. Like the ancient Romans, they believed that life and literature should be guided by reason and common sense and strove for balance and harmony in their writings.
Satire was one of the most common types of literature during the Augustan Age. In spite of the Augustan emphasis on reason, many of the satires were extremely bitter and personal, and thus hardly "reasonable." The leading satirists of the period were Jonathan Swift in prose and Alexander Pope in poetry.
In the age of Alexander Pope (about 1700 to 1744), the classical spirit in English literature reached its highest point. Pope developed the poetic technique of Dryden and required poetry to be as reasonable, lucid, balanced, and as compressed as reason can make it. Pope's reputation rests in large part on satires such as "The Rape of the Lock" (1712), ridiculing the fashionable society and "The Dunciad" (1728; final version 1743) about the authors of his time and their dull books. Pope also perfected the heroic couplet in his philosophical essays "Essay on Man" (1733-1734), in which he advised readers to avoid extremes and in "Moral Essays" (1731-1735) he discussed the nature of men and women and the uses of wealth.
The most noteworthy prose came during the XVIII century with works by Jonathan Swift, who wrote a number of satirical narratives of social criticism. Swift satirized differing interpretations of Christianity in "A Tale of a Tub" (1704). In "The Battle of the Books" (1704), he ridiculed a literary dispute of the day between scholars who preferred ancient authors and those who thought that modern authors were superior. Swift attacked the hypocrisy he saw in kings, courtiers, and teachers in "Gulliver's Travels" (1726), the most famous satire in the English language and a castigation of the human race.
Other outstanding prose-writers of the age were Joseph Addison and Sir Richard Steele, who evolved the genre of the essay. They published their essays in two periodicals, "The Tatler" (1709-1711) and "The Spectator" (1711--1712). Both writers described and criticized the social customs and attitudes of their day. Their essays helped form middle-class tastes in manners, morals, and literature. In addition, Addison's pure and elegant prose style served as a model for other English writers in the 1700's.
The development of the novel is one of the great achievements of English literature of the period. The roots of the novel can be found in the books of Daniel Defoe, who wrote realistic stories consisting of loosely connected incidents that were presented as actual happenings. His
Many scholars consider Samuel Richardson's "Pamela" (1740) to be the first true novel in English. The book, written in epistolary style, is highly moralistic and somewhat rambling. In contrast, the robust novels of Henry Fielding and Scottish-born Tobias Smollett emphasize vigorous humor and satire. Fielding ridiculed "Pamela" in "Shamela" (1741) and his "Tom Jones" (1749) is a great comic novel. The comic genius Laurence Sterne was another leading novelist of the period. His "Tristram Shandy" (1760-1767) has almost no story but is full of delightful jokes and puns. Horror stories called Gothic novels, the first being "The Castle of Otranto" (1764) by Horace Walpole, became popular during the late 1700's and early 1800's. Most of these tales deal with ghosts and supernatural happenings.
The Neo-Classical standards established by the Augustans were maintained by Samuel Johnson and his circle. Their time, or the age of Samuel Johnson, lasted from 1744 to about 1784 and was the period of changing literary ideals. During his age, Samuel Johnson dominated English literature and was as famous for his conversation as he was for his writings.
Johnson's literary achievements are remarkable. His "Dictionary of the English Language" (1755), the first such work prepared according to modern standards of lexicography, is noted for its scholarly definitions of words and the use of excellent quotations to illustrate the definitions. In "The Lives of the English Poets" (1779-1781), Johnson critically examined the work of 52 poets and did much to establish literary criticism as a form of literature. Johnson also wrote articles, reviews, essays, and poems. His prose work "Rasselas" (1759) is a philosophical attack on people who seek an easy path to happiness.
Johnson's friends were the most important writers of the late 1700's. The most prominent among them were Oliver Goldsmith; Richard Sheridan; and Johnson's biographer, Scottish-born James Boswell. Sheridan wrote two clever comedies of manners, "The Rivals" (1775) and "The School for Scandal" (1777). Boswell brilliantly recorded Johnson's eccentricities and witty conversations in "The Life of Samuel Johnson" (1791), one of the great biographies in world literature.
The classicism associated with Johnson fought against the cult of feeling associated with the coming age of romanticism. The early traces of the coming romanticism can be found in the poetry of the preromantics, representing a bridge between neoclassicism and romanticism. In many of their works, these poets signaled the awareness of the socially deprived, the love of nature, and the interest in medieval, nonclassical literature that became typical of English romanticism. Robust and passionate are the lyrics of the Scottish poet Robert Burns, which are characterized by his use of regional Scottish vernacular and his rural characters. Burns's most popular verses include "Auld Lang Syne" (about 1788) and "Comin Thro' the Rye" (about 1796). New interests are even more obvious in the poetry of artist and engraver William Blake, the leading preromantic poet, whose work was barely known when he was alive. Many of his most powerful poems are collected in "Songs of Innocence" (1789) and "Songs of Experience" (1794). The romantic element present in the works of these poets was soon to overturn the neo-classical trend of Samuel Johnson.