A History of English Literature
by Robert Huntington Fletcher
Preface | How to Study | Tabular View | Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | Assignments
Chapter IX. Period VII. The Eighteenth Century, Pseudo-Classicism And The Beginnings Of Modern Romanticism
PERIOD VII. THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY. PSEUDO-CLASSICISM AND THE BEGINNINGS OF MODERN ROMANTICISM
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] 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 proceed.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Under these circumstances the effort to attain the finished beauty of classical literature naturally resulted largely in a more or less shallow formal smoothness.
- 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, 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 digressions.
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 hole.'
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 disgust.
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 AND 'THE TATLER' AND 'THE SPECTATOR' The writings of 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 addressed.
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 type.
ALEXANDER POPE, 1688-1744. The chief representative of pseudo-classicism in its most particular field, that of poetry, is Dryden's successor, Alexander Pope.
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 Shakespeare, 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 Shakespeare, 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 Shakespeare. 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 Dryden's.
[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.
- 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 through.
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
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 Shakespeare. 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 Shakespeare 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.
EDWARD GIBBON AND 'THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE.' The latter 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:
'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. [Footnote: Edmund Gosse, 'History of Eighteenth Century Literature,' p. 350.]
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 handicap.
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 year.
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 satisfaction.
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 1797.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.'
- The same passionate appreciation extends with the Romanticists to all full and rich beauty and everything grand and heroic.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 Shakespeare'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.
- 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'. 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) were extreme products of the romantic return to sentiment and democratic feeling. Both were enormously popular and, crossing the Channel, like Thomson's poetic innovation, exerted a great influence on the drama of France and Germany (especially in the work of Lessing), and in general on the German Romantic Movement. Goldsmith was inferior to no one in genuine sentiment, but he was disgusted at the sentimental excesses of these plays. His 'Good Natured Man,' written with the express purpose of opposing them, and brought out in 1768, was reasonably successful, and in 1771 his far superior 'She Stoops to Conquer' virtually put an end to Sentimental Comedy. This is one of the very few English comedies of a former generation which are still occasionally revived on the stage to-day. Goldsmith's comedies, we may add here for completeness, were shortly followed by the more brilliant ones of another Irish-Englishman, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, who displayed Congreve's wit without his cynicism. These were 'The Rivals,' produced in 1775, when Sheridan was only twenty-four, and 'The School for Scandal,' 1777. Sheridan, a reckless man of fashion, continued most of his life to be owner of Drury Lane Theater, but he soon abandoned playwriting to become one of the leaders of the Whig party. With Burke and Fox, as we have seen, he conducted the impeachment of Hastings.
'She Stoops to Conquer' was Goldsmith's last triumph. A few months later, in 1774, he died at the age of only forty-five, half submerged, as usual, in foolish debts, but passionately mourned not only by his acquaintances in the literary and social worlds, but by a great army of the poor and needy to whom he had been a benefactor. In the face of this testimony to his human worth his childish vanities and other weaknesses may well be pardoned. All Goldsmith's literary work is characterized by one main quality, a charming atmosphere of optimistic happiness which is the expression of the best side of his own nature. The scene of all his most important productions, very appropriately, is the country--the idealized English country. Very much, to be sure, in all his works has to be conceded to the spirit of romance. Both in 'The Vicar of Wakefield' and in 'She Stoops to Conquer' characterization is mostly conventional, and events are very arbitrarily manipulated for the sake of the effects in rather free-and-easy disregard of all principles of motivation. But the kindly knowledge of the main forces in human nature, the unfailing sympathy, and the irrepressible conviction that happiness depends in the last analysis on the individual will and character make Goldsmith's writings, especially 'The Vicar,' delightful and refreshing. All in all, however, 'The Deserted Village' is his masterpiece, with its romantic regret, verging on tragedy but softened away from it, and its charming type characterizations, as incisive as those of Chaucer and Dryden, but without any of Dryden's biting satire. In the choice of the rimed couplet for 'The Traveler' and 'The Deserted Village' the influence of pseudo-classicism and of Johnson appears; but Goldsmith's treatment of the form, with his variety in pauses and his simple but fervid eloquence, make it a very different thing from the rimed couplet of either Johnson or Pope. 'The Deserted Village,' it should be added, is not a description of any actual village, but a generalized picture of existing conditions. Men of wealth in England and Ireland were enlarging their sheep pastures and their hunting grounds by buying up land and removing villages, and Goldsmith, like Sir Thomas More, two hundred years earlier, and likewise patriots of all times, deeply regretted the tendency.
PERCY, MACPHERSON, AND CHATTERTON. The appearance of Thomson's 'Winter' in 1726 is commonly taken as conveniently marking the beginning of the Romantic Movement. Another of its conspicuous dates is 1765, the year of the publication of the 'Reliques [pronounced Relics] of Ancient English Poetry' of the enthusiastic antiquarian Thomas (later Bishop) Percy. Percy drew from many sources, of which the most important was a manuscript volume, in which an anonymous seventeenth century collector had copied a large number of old poems and which Percy rescued just in the nick of time, as the maids in the house of one of his friends were beginning to use it as kindling for the fires. His own book consisted of something less than two hundred very miscellaneous poems, ranging in date from the fourteenth century to his own day. Its real importance, however, lies in the fact that it contained a number of the old popular ballads. Neither Percy himself nor any one else in his time understood the real nature of these ballads and their essential difference from other poetry, and Percy sometimes tampered with the text and even filled out gaps with stanzas of his own, whose sentimental style is ludicrously inconsistent with the primitive vigor of the originals. But his book, which attained great popularity, marks the beginning of the special study of the ballads and played an important part in the revival of interest in medieval life.
Still greater interest was aroused at the time by the Ossianic poems of James Macpherson. From 1760 to 1763 Macpherson, then a young Highland Scots schoolmaster, published in rapid succession certain fragments of Gaelic verse and certain more extended works in poetical English prose which, he asserted, were part of the originals, discovered by himself, and translations, of the poems of the legendary Scottish bard Ossian, of the third Christian century. These productions won him substantial material rewards in the shape of high political offices throughout the rest of his long life. About the genuineness of the compositions, however, a violent controversy at once arose, and Dr. Johnson was one of the skeptics who vigorously denounced Macpherson as a shameless impostor. The general conviction of scholars of the present day is that while Macpherson may have found some fragments of very ancient Gaelic verse in circulation among the Highlanders, he fabricated most of what he published. These works, however, 'Fingal' and the rest, certainly contributed to the Romantic Movement; and they are not only unique productions, but, in small quantities, still interesting. They can best be described as reflections of the misty scenes of Macpherson's native Highlands--vague impressionistic glimpses, succeeding one another in purposeless repetition, of bands of marching warriors whose weapons intermittently flash and clang through the fog, and of heroic women, white-armed and with flowing hair, exhorting the heroes to the combat or lamenting their fall.
A very minor figure, but one of the most pathetic in the history of English literature, is that of Thomas Chatterton. While he was a boy in Bristol, Chatterton's imagination was possessed by the medieval buildings of the city, and when some old documents fell into his hands he formed the idea of composing similar works in both verse and prose and passing them off as medieval productions which he had discovered. To his imaginary author he gave the name of Thomas Rowley. Entirely successful in deceiving his fellow-townsmen, and filled with a great ambition, Chatterton went to London, where, failing to secure patronage, he committed suicide as the only resource against the begging to which his proud spirit could not submit. This was in 1770, and he was still only eighteen years old. Chatterton's work must be viewed under several aspects. His imitation of the medieval language was necessarily very imperfect and could mislead no one to-day; from this point of view the poems have no permanent significance. The moral side of his action need not be seriously weighed, as Chatterton never reached the age of responsibility and if he had lived would soon have passed from forgery to genuine work. That he might have achieved much is suggested by the evidences of real genius in his boyish output, which probably justify Wordsworth's description, of him as 'the marvelous boy.' That he would have become one of the great English poets, however, is much more open to question.
WILLIAM COWPER. Equally pathetic is the figure of William Cowper (pronounced either Cowper or Cooper), whose much longer life (1731-1800) and far larger literary production give him a more important actual place than can be claimed for Chatterton, though his natural ability was far less and his significance to-day is chiefly historical. Cowper's career, also, was largely frustrated by the same physical weaknesses which had ruined Collins, present in the later poet in still more distressing degree. Cowper is clearly a transition poet, sharing largely, in a very mild fashion, in some of the main romantic impulses, but largely pseudo-classical in his manner of thought and expression. His life may be briefly summarized. Morbid timidity and equally morbid religious introspection, aggravated by disappointments in love, prevented him as a young man from accepting a very comfortable clerkship in the House of Lords and drove him into intermittent insanity, which closed more darkly about him in his later years. He lived the greater part of his mature life in the household of a Mrs. Unwin, a widow for whom he had a deep affection and whom only his mental affliction prevented him from marrying. A long residence in the wretched village of Olney, where he forced himself to cooperate in all phases of religious work with the village clergyman, the stern enthusiast John Newton, produced their joint collection of 'Olney Hymns,' many of which deservedly remain among the most popular in our church song-books; but it inevitably increased Cowper's disorder. After this he resigned himself to a perfectly simple life, occupied with the writing of poetry, the care of pets, gardening, and carpentry. The bulk of his work consists of long moralizing poems, prosy, prolix, often trivial, and to-day largely unreadable. Same of them are in the rimed couplet and others in blank verse. His blank-verse translation of Homer, published in 1791, is more notable, and 'Alexander Selkirk' and the humorous doggerel 'John Gilpin' are famous; but his most significant poems are a few lyrics and descriptive pieces in which he speaks out his deepest feelings with the utmost pathetic or tragic power. In the expression of different moods of almost intolerable sadness 'On the Receipt of My Mother's Picture' and 'To Mary' (Mrs. Unwin) can scarcely be surpassed, and 'The Castaway' is final as the restrained utterance of morbid religious despair. Even in his long poems, in his minutely loving treatment of Nature he is the most direct precursor of Wordsworth, and he is one of the earliest outspoken opponents of slavery and cruelty to animals. How unsuited in all respects his delicate and sensitive nature was to the harsh experiences of actual life is suggested by Mrs. Browning with vehement sympathy in her poem, 'Cowper's Grave.'
WILLIAM BLAKE. Still another utterly unworldly and frankly abnormal poet, though of a still different temperament, was William Blake (1757-1827), who in many respects is one of the most extreme of all romanticists. Blake, the son of a London retail shopkeeper, received scarcely any book education, but at fourteen he was apprenticed to an engraver, who stimulated his imagination by setting him to work at making drawings in Westminster Abbey and other old churches. His training was completed by study at the Royal Academy of Arts, and for the rest of his life he supported himself, in poverty, with the aid of a devoted wife, by keeping a print-and-engraving shop. Among his own engravings the best known is the famous picture of Chaucer's Canterbury Pilgrims, which is not altogether free from the weird strangeness that distinguished most of his work in all lines. For in spite of his commonplace exterior life Blake was a thorough mystic to whom the angels and spirits that he beheld in trances were at least as real as the material world. When his younger brother died he declared that he saw the released soul mount through the ceiling, clapping its hands in joy. The bulk of his writing consists of a series of 'prophetic books' in verse and prose, works, in part, of genius, but of unbalanced genius, and virtually unintelligible. His lyric poems, some of them composed when he was no more than thirteen years old, are unlike anything else anywhere, and some of them are of the highest quality. Their controlling trait is childlikeness; for Blake remained all his life one of those children of whom is the Kingdom of Heaven. One of their commonest notes is that of childlike delight in the mysterious joy and beauty of the world, a delight sometimes touched, it is true, as in 'The Tiger,' with a maturer consciousness of the wonderful and terrible power behind all the beauty. Blake has intense indignation also for all cruelty and everything which he takes for cruelty, including the shutting up of children in school away from the happy life of out-of-doors. These are the chief sentiments of 'Songs of Innocence.' In 'Songs of Experience' the shadow of relentless fact falls somewhat more perceptibly across the page, though the prevailing ideas are the same. Blake's significant product is very small, but it deserves much greater reputation than it has actually attained. One characteristic external fact should be added. Since Blake's poverty rendered him unable to pay for having his books printed, he himself performed the enormous labor of engraving them, page by page, often with an ornamental margin about the text.
ROBERT BURNS. Blake, deeply romantic as he is by nature, virtually stands by himself, apart from any movement or group, and the same is equally true of the somewhat earlier lyrist in whom eighteenth century poetry culminates, namely Robert Burns. Burns, the oldest of the seven children of two sturdy Scotch peasants of the best type, was born in 1759 in Ayrshire, just beyond the northwest border of England. In spite of extreme poverty, the father joined with some of his neighbors in securing the services of a teacher for their children, and the household possessed a few good books, including Shakespeare and Pope, whose influence on the future poet was great. But the lot of the family was unusually hard. The father's health failed early and from childhood the boys were obliged to do men's work in the field. Robert later declared, probably with some bitter exaggeration, that his life had combined 'the cheerless gloom of a hermit with the unceasing moil of a galley slave.' His genius, however, like his exuberant spirit, could not be crushed out. His mother had familiarized him from the beginning with the songs and ballads of which the country was full, and though he is said at first to have had so little ear for music that he could scarcely distinguish one tune from another, he soon began to compose songs (words) of his own as he followed the plough. In the greatness of his later success his debt to the current body of song and music should not be overlooked. He is only the last of a long succession of rural Scottish song-writers; he composed his own songs to accompany popular airs; and many of them are directly based on fragments of earlier songs. None the less his work rises immeasurably above all that had gone before it.
The story of Burns' mature life is the pathetic one of a very vigorous nature in which genius, essential manliness, and good impulses struggled against and were finally overcome by violent passions, aggravated by the bitterness of poverty and repeated disappointments. His first effort, at eighteen, to better his condition, by the study of surveying at a neighboring town, resulted chiefly in throwing him into contact with bad companions; a venture in the business of flax-dressing ended in disaster; and the same ill-fortune attended the several successive attempts which he made at general farming. He became unfortunately embroiled also with the Church, which (the Presbyterian denomination) exercised a very strict control in Scotland. Compelled to do public penance for some of his offenses, his keen wit could not fail to be struck by the inconsistency between the rigid doctrines and the lives of some of the men who were proceeding against him; and he commemorated the feud in his series of overwhelming but painfully flippant satires.
His brief period of dazzling public success dawned suddenly out of the darkest moment of his fortunes. At the age of twenty-seven, abandoning the hope which he had already begun to cherish of becoming the national poet of Scotland, he had determined in despair to emigrate to Jamaica to become an overseer on a plantation. (That this chief poet of democracy, the author of 'A Man's a Man for a' That,' could have planned to become a slave-driver suggests how closely the most genuine human sympathies are limited by habit and circumstances.) To secure the money for his voyage Burns had published his poems in a little volume. This won instantaneous and universal popularity, and Burns, turning back at the last moment, responded to the suggestion of some of the great people of Edinburgh that he should come to that city and see what could be done for him. At first the experiment seemed fortunate, for the natural good breeding with which this untrained countryman bore himself for a winter as the petted lion of the society of fashion and learning (the University) was remarkable. None the less the situation was unnatural and necessarily temporary, and unluckily Burns formed associations also with such boon companions of the lower sort as had hitherto been his undoing. After a year Edinburgh dropped him, thus supplying substantial fuel for his ingrained poor man's jealousy and rancor at the privileged classes. Too near his goal to resume the idea of emigrating, he returned to his native moors, rented another farm, and married Jean Armour, one of the several heroines of his love-poems. The only material outcome of his period of public favor was an appointment as internal revenue collector, an unpopular and uncongenial office which he accepted with reluctance and exercised with leniency. It required him to occupy much of his time in riding about the country, and contributed to his final failure as a farmer. After the latter event he removed to the neighboring market-town of Dumfries, where he again renewed his companionship with unworthy associates. At last prospects for promotion in the revenue service began to open to him, but it was too late; his naturally robust constitution had given way to over-work and dissipation, and he died in 1796 at the age of thirty-seven.
Burns' place among poets is perfectly clear. It is chiefly that of a song-writer, perhaps the greatest songwriter of the world. At work in the fields or in his garret or kitchen after the long day's work was done, he composed songs because he could not help it, because his emotion was irresistibly stirred by the beauty and life of the birds and flowers, the snatch of a melody which kept running through his mind, or the memory of the girl with whom he had last talked. And his feelings expressed themselves with spontaneous simplicity, genuineness, and ease. He is a thoroughly romantic poet, though wholly by the grace of nature, not at all from any conscious intention--he wrote as the inspiration moved him, not in accordance with any theory of art. The range of his subjects and emotions is nearly or quite complete--love; comradeship; married affection, as in 'John Anderson, My Jo'; reflective sentiment; feeling for nature; sympathy with animals; vigorous patriotism, as in 'Scots Wha Hae' (and Burns did much to revive the feeling of Scots for Scotland); deep tragedy and pathos; instinctive happiness; delightful humor; and the others. It should be clearly recognized, however, that this achievement, supreme as it is in its own way, does not suffice to place Burns among the greatest poets. The brief lyrical outbreaks of the song-writer are no more to be compared with the sustained creative power and knowledge of life and character which make the great dramatist or narrative poet than the bird's song is to be compared with an opera of Wagner. But such comparisons need not be pressed; and the song of bird or poet appeals instantly to every normal hearer, while the drama or narrative poem requires at least some special accessories and training. Burns' significant production, also, is not altogether limited to songs. 'The Cotter's Saturday Night' (in Spenser's stanza) is one of the perfect descriptive poems of lyrical sentiment; and some of Burns' meditative poems and poetical epistles to acquaintances are delightful in a free-and-easy fashion. The exuberant power in the religious satires and the narrative 'Tam o' Shanter' is undeniable, but they belong to a lower order of work.
Many of Burns' poems are in the Lowland Scots dialect; a few are wholly in ordinary English; and some combine the two idioms. It is an interesting question whether Burns wins distinctly greater success in one than in the other. In spite of his prevailing literary honesty, it may be observed, his English shows some slight traces of the effort to imitate Pope and the feeling that the pseudo-classical style with its elegance was really the highest--a feeling which renders some of his letters painfully affected.
THE NOVEL. We have traced the literary production of the eighteenth century in many different forms, but it still remains to speak of one of the most important, the novel, which in the modern meaning of the word had its origin not long before 1750. Springing at that time into apparently sudden popularity, it replaced the drama as the predominant form of literature and has continued such ever since. The reasons are not hard to discover. The drama is naturally the most popular literary form in periods like the Elizabethan when the ability (or inclination) to read is not general, when men are dominated by the zest for action, and when cities have become sufficiently large to keep the theaters well filled. It is also the natural form in such a period as that of the Restoration, when literary life centers about a frivolous upper class who demand an easy and social form of entertainment. But the condition is very different when, as in the eighteenth and still more in the nineteenth century, the habit of reading, and some recognition of its educating influence, had spread throughout almost all classes and throughout the country, creating a public far too large, too scattered, and too varied to gain access to the London and provincial theaters or to find all their needs supplied by a somewhat artificial literary form. The novel, on the other hand, gives a much fuller portrayal of life than does the drama, and allows the much more detailed analysis of characters and situations which the modern mind has come more and more to demand.
The novel, which for our present purpose must be taken to include the romance, is, of course, only a particular and highly developed kind of long story, one of the latest members of the family of fiction, or the larger family of narrative, in prose and verse. The medieval romances, for example, included most of the elements of the novel, even, sometimes, psychological analysis; but the romances usually lacked the unity, the complex and careful structure, the thorough portrayal of character, and the serious attention to the real problems of life which in a general way distinguish the modern novel. Much the same is true of the Elizabethan 'novels,' which, besides, were generally short as well as of small intellectual and ethical caliber. During the Restoration period and a little later there began to appear several kinds of works which perhaps looked more definitely toward the later novel. Bunyan's religious allegories may likely enough have had a real influence on it, and there were a few English tales and romances of chivalry, and a few more realistic pieces of fiction. The habit of journal writing and the letters about London life sent by some persons in the city to their friends in the country should also be mentioned. The De Coverly papers in 'The Spectator' approach distinctly toward the novel. They give real presentation of both characters and setting (social life) and lack only connected treatment of the story (of Sir Roger). Defoe's fictions, picaresque tales of adventure, come still closer, but lack the deeper artistic and moral purpose and treatment suggested a moment ago. The case is not very different with Swift's 'Gulliver's Travels,' which, besides, is primarily a satire. Substantially, therefore, all the materials were now ready, awaiting only the fortunate hand which should arrange and shape them into a real novel. This proved to be the hand of a rather unlikely person, the outwardly commonplace printer, Samuel Richardson.
SAMUEL RICHARDSON. It is difficult, because of the sentimental nature of the period and the man, to tell the story of Richardson's career without an appearance of farcical burlesque. Born in 1689, in Derbyshire, he early gave proof of his special endowments by delighting his childish companions with stories, and, a little later, by becoming the composer of the love letters of various young women. His command of language and an insistent tendency to moralize seemed to mark him out for the ministry, but his father was unable to pay for the necessary education and apprenticed him to a London printer. Possessed of great fidelity and all the quieter virtues, he rose steadily and became in time the prosperous head of his own printing house, a model citizen, and the father of a large family of children. Before he reached middle life he was a valetudinarian. His household gradually became a constant visiting place for a number of young ladies toward whom he adopted a fatherly attitude and who without knowing it were helping him to prepare for his artistic success.
When he was not quite fifty his great reputation among his acquaintances as a letter-writer led some publishers to invite him to prepare a series of 'Familiar [that is, Friendly] Letters' as models for inexperienced young people. Complying, Richardson discovered the possibilities of the letter form as a means of telling stories, and hence proceeded to write his first novel, 'Pamela, [Footnote: He wrongly placed the accent on the first syllable.] or Virtue Rewarded,' which was published in 1740. It attained enormous success, which he followed up by writing his masterpiece, 'Clarissa Harlowe' (1747-8), and then 'The History of Sir Charles Grandison' (1753). He spent his latter years, as has been aptly said, in a sort of perpetual tea-party, surrounded by bevies of admiring ladies, and largely occupied with a vast feminine correspondence, chiefly concerning his novels. He died of apoplexy in 1761.
At this distance of time it is easy to summarize the main traits of Richardson's novels.
- He gave form to the modern novel by shaping it according to a definite plot with carefully selected incidents which all contributed directly to the outcome. In this respect his practice was decidedly stricter than that of most of his English successors down to the present time. Indeed, he avowedly constructed his novels on the plan of dramas, while later novelists, in the desire to present a broader picture of life, have generally allowed themselves greater range of scenes and a larger number of characters. In the instinct for suspense, also, no one has surpassed Richardson; his stories are intense, not to say sensational, and once launched upon them we follow with the keenest interest to the outcome.
- Nevertheless, he is always prolix. That the novels as published varied in length from four to eight volumes is not really significant, since these were the very small volumes which (as a source of extra profit) were to be the regular form for novels until after the time of Scott. Even 'Clarissa,' the longest, is not longer than some novels of our own day. Yet they do much exceed the average in length and would undoubtedly gain by condensation. Richardson, it may be added, produced each of them in the space of a few months, writing, evidently, with the utmost fluency, and with little need for revision.
- Most permanently important, perhaps, of all Richardson's contributions, was his creation of complex characters, such as had thitherto appeared not in English novels but only in the drama. In characterization Richardson's great strength lay with his women--he knew the feminine mind and spirit through and through. His first heroine, Pamela, is a plebeian serving-maid, and his second, Clarissa, a fine-spirited young lady of the wealthy class, but both are perfectly and completely true and living, throughout all their terribly complex and trying experiences. Men, on the other hand, those beyond his own particular circle, Richardson understood only from the outside. Annoyed by criticisms to this effect, he attempted in the hero of his last book to present a true gentleman, but the result is only a mechanical ideal figure of perfection whose wooden joints creak painfully as he moves slowly about under the heavy load of his sternly self-conscious goodness and dignity.
- Richardson's success in his own time was perhaps chiefly due to his striking with exaggerated emphasis the note of tender sentiment to which the spirit of his generation was so over-ready to respond. The substance of his books consists chiefly of the sufferings of his heroines under ingeniously harrowing persecution at the hands of remorseless scoundrels. Pamela, with her serving-maid's practical efficiency, proves able to take care of herself, but the story of the high-bred and noble-minded Clarissa is, with all possible deductions, one of the most deeply-moving tragedies ever committed to paper. The effect in Richardson's own time may easily be imagined; but it is also a matter of record that his novels were commonly read aloud in the family circle (a thing which some of their incidents would render impossible at the present day) and that sometimes when the emotional strain became too great the various listeners would retire to their own rooms to cry out their grief. Richardson appealed directly, then, to the prevailing taste of his generation, and no one did more than he to confirm its hold on the next generation, not only in England, but also in France and Germany.
- We have not yet mentioned what according to Richardson's own reiterated statement was his main purpose in writing, namely, the conveying of moral and religious instruction. He is extremely anxious to demonstrate to his readers that goodness pays and that wickedness does not, generally even in this world (though in 'Clarissa' his artistic sense refuses to be turned aside from the inevitable tragic outcome). The spiritual vulgarity of the doctrine, so far as material things are concerned, is clearly illustrated in the mechanically virtuous Pamela, who, even in the midst of the most outrageous besetments of Squire B----, is hoping with all her soul for the triumph which is actually destined for her, of becoming his wife and so rising high above her original humble station. Moreover, Richardson often goes far and tritely out of his way in his preaching. At their worst, however, his sentimentality and moralizing were preferable to the coarseness which disgraced the works of some of his immediate successors.
- Lastly must be mentioned the form of his novels. They all consist of series of letters, which constitute the correspondence between some of the principal characters, the great majority being written in each case by the heroine. This method of telling a story requires special concessions from the reader; but even more than the other first-personal method, exemplified in 'Robinson Crusoe,' it has the great advantage of giving the most intimate possible revelation of the imaginary writer's mind and situation. Richardson handles it with very great skill, though in his anxiety that his chief characters may not be misunderstood he occasionally commits the artistic blunder of inserting footnotes to explain their real motives.
Richardson, then, must on the whole be called the first of the great English novelists--a striking case of a man in whom one special endowment proved much weightier than a large number of absurdities and littlenesses.
HENRY FIELDING. Sharply opposed to Richardson stands his later contemporary and rival, Henry Fielding. Fielding was born of an aristocratic family in Somersetshire in 1707. At Eton School and the University of Leyden (in Holland) he won distinction, but at the age of twenty he found himself, a vigorous young man with instincts for fine society, stranded in London without any tangible means of support. He turned to the drama and during the next dozen years produced many careless and ephemeral farces, burlesques, and light plays, which, however, were not without value as preparation for his novels. Meanwhile he had other activities--spent the money which his wife brought him at marriage in an extravagant experiment as gentleman-farmer; studied law and was admitted to the bar; and conducted various literary periodicals. His attacks on the government in his plays helped to produce the severe licensing act which put an end to his dramatic work and that of many other light playwrights. When Richardson's 'Pamela' appeared Fielding was disgusted with what seemed to him its hypocritical silliness, and in vigorous artistic indignation he proceeded to write 'The History of Joseph Andrews,' representing Joseph as the brother of Pamela and as a serving-man, honest, like her, in difficult circumstances. Beginning in a spirit of sheer burlesque, Fielding soon became interested in his characters, and in the actual result produced a rough but masterful picture of contemporary life. The coarse Parson Trulliber and the admirable Parson Adams are among the famous characters of fiction. But even in the later part of the book Fielding did not altogether abandon his ridicule of Richardson. He introduced among the characters the 'Squire B----' of 'Pamela,' only filling out the blank by calling him 'Squire Booby,' and taking pains to make him correspondingly ridiculous.
Fielding now began to pay the penalty for his youthful dissipations in failing health, but he continued to write with great expenditure of time and energy. 'The History of Jonathan Wild the Great,' a notorious ruffian whose life Defoe also had narrated, aims to show that great military conquerors are only bandits and cutthroats really no more praiseworthy than the humbler individuals who are hanged without ceremony. Fielding's masterpiece, 'The History of Tom Jones,' followed hard after Richardson's 'Clarissa,' in 1749. His last novel, 'Amelia,' is a half autobiographic account of his own follies. His second marriage, to his first wife's maid, was intended, as he frankly said, to provide a nurse for himself and a mother for his children, but his later years were largely occupied with heroic work as a police justice in Westminster, where, at the sacrifice of what health remained to him, he rooted out a specially dangerous band of robbers. Sailing for recuperation, but too late, to Lisbon, he died there at the age of forty-seven, in 1754.
The chief characteristics of Fielding's nature and novels, mostly directly opposite or complementary to those of Richardson, are these:
- He is a broad realist, giving to his romantic actions a very prominent background of actual contemporary life. The portrayal is very illuminating; we learn from Fielding a great deal, almost everything, one is inclined to say, about conditions in both country and city in his time--about the state of travel, country inns, city jails, and many other things; but with his vigorous masculine nature he makes abundant use of the coarser facts of life and character which a finer art avoids. However, he is extremely human and sympathetic; in view of their large and generous naturalness the defects of his character and works are at least pardonable.
- His structure is that of the rambling picaresque story of adventure, not lacking, in his case, in definite progress toward a clearly-designed end, but admitting many digressions and many really irrelevant elements. The number of his characters, especially in 'Tom Jones,' is enormous. Indeed, the usual conception of a novel in his day, as the word 'History,' which was generally included in the title, indicates, was that of the complete story of the life of the hero or heroine, at least up to the time of marriage. It is virtually the old idea of the chronicle-history play. Fielding himself repeatedly speaks of his masterpiece as an 'epic.'
- His point of view is primarily humorous. He avowedly imitates the manner of Cervantes in 'Don Quixote' and repeatedly insists that he is writing a mock -epic. His very genuine and clear-sighted indignation at social abuses expresses itself through his omnipresent irony and satire, and however serious the situations he almost always keeps the ridiculous side in sight. He offends some modern readers by refusing to take his art in any aspect over-seriously; especially, he constantly asserts and exercises his 'right' to break off his story and chat quizzically about questions of art or conduct in a whole chapter at a time.
- His knowledge of character, that of a generous-hearted man of the world, is sound but not subtile, and is deeper in the case of men than of women, especially in the case of men who resemble himself. Tom Jones is virtually Henry Fielding in his youth and is thoroughly lifelike, but Squire Allworthy, intended as an example of benevolent perfection, is no less of a pale abstraction than Sir Charles Grandison. The women, cleverly as their typical feminine traits are brought out, are really viewed only from without.
THE OTHER SENTIMENTALISTS AND REALISTS. Richardson and Fielding set in motion two currents, of sentimentalism and realism, respectively, which flowed vigorously in the novel during the next generation, and indeed (since they are of the essence of life), have continued, with various modifications, down to our own time. Of the succeeding realists the most important is Tobias Smollett, a Scottish ex-physician of violent and brutal nature, who began to produce his picaresque stories of adventure during the lifetime of Fielding. He made ferociously unqualified attacks on the statesmen of his day, and in spite of much power, the coarseness of his works renders them now almost unreadable. But he performed one definite service; in 'Roderick Random,' drawing on his early experiences as a ship's surgeon, he inaugurated the out-and-out sea story, that is the story which takes place not, like 'Robinson Crusoe,' in small part, but mainly, on board ship. Prominent, on the other hand, among the sentimentalists is Laurence Sterne, who, inappropriately enough, was a clergyman, the author of 'Tristram Shandy.' This book is quite unlike anything else ever written. Sterne published it in nine successive volumes during almost as many years, and he made a point of almost complete formlessness and every sort of whimsicality. The hero is not born until the third volume, the story mostly relates to other people and things, pages are left blank to be filled out by the reader--no grotesque device or sudden trick can be too fantastic for Sterne. But he has the gift of delicate pathos and humor, and certain episodes in the book are justly famous, such as the one where Uncle Toby carefully puts a fly out of the window, refusing to 'hurt a hair of its head,' on the ground that 'the world surely is wide enough to hold both thee and me.' The best of all the sentimental stories is Goldsmith's 'Vicar of Wakefield' (1766), of which we have already spoken. With its kindly humor, its single-hearted wholesomeness, and its delightful figure of Dr. Primrose it remains, in spite of its artlessness, one of the permanent landmarks of English fiction.
HISTORICAL AND 'GOTHIC' ROMANCES. Stories which purported to reproduce the life of the Past were not unknown in England in the seventeenth century, but the real beginning of the historical novel and romance belongs to the later part of the eighteenth century. The extravagance of romantic writers at that time, further, created a sort of subspecies called in its day and since the 'Gothic' romance. These 'Gothic' stories are nominally located in the Middle Ages, but their main object is not to give an accurate picture of medieval life, but to arouse terror in the reader, by means of a fantastic apparatus of gloomy castles, somber villains, distressed and sentimental heroines, and supernatural mystery. The form was inaugurated by Horace Walpole, the son of the former Prime Minister, who built near Twickenham (Pope's home) a pseudo-medieval house which he named Strawberry Hill, where he posed as a center of the medieval revival. Walpole's 'Castle of 'Otranto,' published in 1764, is an utterly absurd little story, but its novelty at the time, and the author's prestige, gave it a great vogue. The really best 'Gothic' romances are the long ones written by Mrs. Ann Radcliffe in the last decade of the century, of which 'The Mysteries of Udolpho,' in particular, was popular for two generations. Mrs. Radcliffe's books overflow with sentimentality, but display real power, especially in imaginative description. Of the more truly historical romances the best were the 'Thaddeus of Warsaw' and 'Scottish Chiefs' of Miss Jane Porter, which appeared in the first decade of the nineteenth century. None of all these historical and 'Gothic' romances attains the rank of great or permanent literature, but they were historically important, largely because they prepared the way for the novels of Walter Scott, which would hardly have come into being without them, and which show clear signs of the influence of even their most exaggerated features.
NOVELS OF PURPOSE. Still another sort of novel was that which began to be written in the latter part of the century with the object of exposing some particular abuse in society. The first representatives of the class aimed, imitating the French sentimentalist Rousseau, to improve education, and in accordance with the sentimental Revolutionary misconception which held that all sin and sorrow result from the corruptions of civilization, often held up the primitive savage as a model of all the kindly virtues. The most important of the novels of purpose, however, were more thorough-going attacks on society composed by radical revolutionists, and the least forgotten is the 'Caleb Williams' of William Godwin (1794), which is intended to demonstrate that class-distinctions result in hopeless moral confusion and disaster.
MISS BURNEY AND THE FEMININE NOVEL OF MANNERS. The most permanent results of the latter part of the century in fiction were attained by three women who introduced and successively continued the novel which depicts, from the woman's point of view, with delicate satire, and at first in the hope of accomplishing some reform, or at least of showing the beauty of virtue and morality, the contemporary manners of well-to-do 'society.' The first of these authoresses was Miss Frances Burney, who later became Madame D'Arblay, but is generally referred to familiarly as Fanny Burney.
The unassuming daughter of a talented and much-esteemed musician, acquainted in her own home with many persons of distinction, such as Garrick and Sir Joshua Reynolds, and given from girlhood to the private writing of stories and of a since famous Diary, Miss Burney composed her 'Evelina' in leisure intervals during a number of years, and published it when she was twenty-five, in 1778. It recounts, in the Richardsonian letter form, the experiences of a country girl of good breeding and ideally fine character who is introduced into the life of London high society, is incidentally brought into contact with disagreeable people of various types, and soon achieves a great triumph by being acknowledged as the daughter of a repentant and wealthy man of fashion and by marrying an impossibly perfect young gentleman, also of great wealth. Structure and substance in 'Evelina' are alike somewhat amateurish in comparison with the novels of the next century; but it does manifest, together with some lack of knowledge of the real world, genuine understanding of the core, at least, of many sorts of character; it presents artificial society life with a light and pleasing touch; and it brought into the novel a welcome atmosphere of womanly purity and delicacy. 'Evelina' was received with great applause and Miss Burney wrote other books, but they are without importance. Her success won her the friendship of Dr. Johnson and the position of one of the Queen's waiting women, a sort of gilded slavery which she endured for five years. She was married in middle-age to a French emigrant officer, Monsieur D'Arblay, and lived in France and England until the age of nearly ninety, latterly an inactive but much respected figure among the writers of a younger generation.
MISS EDGEWORTH. Much more voluminous and varied was the work of Miss Burney's successor, Maria Edgeworth, who devoted a great part of her long life (1767-1849) to active benevolence and to attendance on her father, an eccentric and pedantic English gentleman who lived mostly on his estate in Ireland and who exercised the privilege of revising or otherwise meddling with most of her books. In the majority of her works Miss Edgeworth followed Miss Burney, writing of the experiences of young ladies in fashionable London life. In these novels her purpose was more obviously moral than Miss Burney's--she aimed to make clear the folly of frivolity and dissipation; and she also wrote moral tales for children which though they now seem old-fashioned were long and widely popular. Since she had a first-hand knowledge of both Ireland and England, she laid the scenes of some of her books partly in both countries, thereby creating what was later called 'the international novel.' Her most distinctive achievement, however, was the introduction of the real Irishman (as distinct from the humorous caricature) into fiction. Scott testified that it was her example that suggested to him the similar portrayal of Scottish character and life.
JANE AUSTEN. Much the greatest of this trio of authoresses is the last, Jane Austen, who perhaps belongs as much to the nineteenth century as the eighteenth. The daughter of a clergyman, she past an absolutely uneventful life of forty-two years (1775-1817) in various villages and towns in Southern England. She had finished her masterpiece, 'Pride and Prejudice,' at the age of twenty-two, but was unable for more than a dozen years to find a publisher for this and her other earlier works. When at last they were brought out she resumed her writing, but the total number of her novels is only six. Her field, also, is more limited than that of any other great English novelist; for she deliberately restricted herself, with excellent judgment, to portraying what she knew at first-hand, namely the life of the well-to-do classes of her own 'provincial' region. Moreover, her theme is always love; desirable marriage for themselves or their children seems to be the single object of almost all her characters; and she always conducts her heroine successfully to this goal. Her artistic achievement, like herself, is so well-bred and unobtrusive that a hasty reader may easily fail to appreciate it. Her understanding of character is almost perfect, her sense for structure and dramatic scenes (quiet ones) equally good, and her quiet and delightful humor and irony all-pervasive. Scott, with customary generosity, praised her 'power of rendering ordinary things and characters interesting from the truth of her portrayal,' in favorable contrast with his own facility in 'the Big Bow-Wow strain.' Nevertheless the assertion of some present-day critics that she is the greatest of all English authoresses is certainly extravagant. Her novels, though masterly in their own field and style, do not have the fulness of description or the elaboration of action which add beauty and power to most later ones, and her lack of a sense for the greater issues of life denies her legitimate comparison with such a writer as George Eliot.
SUMMARY. The variety of the literary influences in eighteenth century England was so great that the century can scarcely be called a literary unit; yet as a whole it contrasts clearly enough both with that which goes before and with that which follows. Certainly its total contribution to English literature was great and varied.
Preface | How to Study | Tabular View | Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | Assignments
More:Writer Directory | Book Reviews | Homework Help | E-texts | Timeline | Submit a Review |