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LAST THREE QUARTERS OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY.
There now began to appear symptoms of reaction against the artificial spirit of the immediately preceding literature. Both in prose and in poetry there is less of conventionality and more of nature. The taste for polished versification still continues; but there is a steadily advancing tendency among poets to find in nature, and in man as man, apart from the artificial distinctions of society, the true theme of their writings. One cause of this reaction is to be found in the decreasing dependence of authors upon patrons or party, and their looking to the general public instead. And, further, English society was shaken out of its hollow unreality to more earnest life by the great movement headed by John Wesley.
Allan Ramsay's charming pastoral drama, The Gentle Shepherd, had appeared in 1725. James Thomson (1700-48), however, was the first writer to manifest with powerful influence the returning love of external nature, in The Seasons (1726–30). The exquisite lyrics of William Collins (1720-59) and Thomas Gray (1716–71) embody the feeling for nature in thoroughly classical form, with all the simple and refined beauty of their ancient models. Oliver Goldsmith (1728-74) advanced the pure love of nature in both his descriptive poems, while in one of them, The Traveller (1764), he extended his sympathies to other peoples. Robert Burns (1759-96), the greatest poet of Scotland, sang passionately of love, and of the independence and universal brotherhood of men, breathed tender regard for the inferior animals, his earth-born companions and fellow-mortals,' and anticipated Wordsworth in being moved even by the meanest flower.' Still more influentially than Burns, William Cowper (1731–1800) expressed the free and full love of nature and of mankind. The joys and especially the sorrows of
the poor were minutely depicted in the verse (1783-1819) of George Crabbe. The drama is principally represented by the sprightly comedies (1768–78) of Goldsmith and Sheridan.
The rise of the novel is one of the most striking features of the period. Fictitious tales there had been before, but now for the first time do we find the true foundation of the modern novel of life and manners. This was begun by Samuel Richardson (1689–1761) in 1740; and Richardson was immediately followed by Henry Fielding (1707-54) and Tobias Smollett (1721-71). In the delightful Vicar of Wakefield (1766), Goldsmith gave us the first of the novels of simple country life.
Early in this period lies the beginning of magazines ; the Gentleman's Magazine was founded by Edward Cave in 1731. One of the writers for this magazine, Samuel Johnson (1709-84), was the most prominent literary man of his time. He was the first to stand clearly apart from patronage. Notwithstanding pompous and antithetical diction, his writings shew the possession of vigorous common sense and elevated morality, and his style has a sonorous eloquence of its own. Besides compiling the famous English Dictionary (1755), he revived the periodical essay and wrote critical biography. Many of Goldsmith's most charming writings were contributed to magazines.
History is ably represented by David Hume (1711-76), Edward Gibbon (1737-94), and William Robertson (1721-93). Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is one of the greatest of historical compositions. Boswell's Life of Dr Johnson (1791) has been reckoned the finest of biographies.
Philosophy and theology have worthy representatives in Joseph Butler (1692-1752), Thomas Reid (1710-96), William Paley (1743–1805), Adam Smith (1723-90), and David Hume. Edmund Burke (1729 ?–97) discussed philosophy and politics in some of the finest prose of the century.
THE NINETEENTH CENTURY.
The great material prosperity of the country, its rapid moral and social progress, the immense improvements in the art of printing, and the increased freedom of the press, have all combined to make this period an epoch of vast literary activity. At the same time powerful waves of influence have made themselves felt from France and Germany. The first portion of the century was marked by great political excitement. The French Revolution had stirred the minds of men with hopes of a new era of regeneration for the world; and the fierce energy of the Revolution was followed by the stormy career of Napoleon, which involved the whole of Europe, and particularly England. William Wordsworth (1770-1850) was little more than out of his teens when he went to France and enthusiastically sympathised with the patriots for a time. His growing love of man as man received impulse from the political situation; it had first come to him from love of nature. His poetry treats mostly, and often rather prosaically, of the conditions and relations of common life. Robert Southey (1774-1843) and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) also began their poetical life amidst the revolutionary fervour. Thomas Campbell (1777-1844) found the subject and inspiration of his magnificent war-songs in the troubles of the opening century. Meanwhile another influence had been at work : Bishop Percy's collection of Reliques of Ancient Poetry (1765) revived interest in the romantic adventures of wilder, ruder times; and this power, both directly and indirectly (through German literature), affected Sir Walter Scott. Scott excelled
in narrative and in vivid description of natural scenery. The wider influence of the new creation of German literature by Lessing, Goethe, and Schiller gradually spread. By none was it more strongly felt than by Coleridge and Thomas Carlyle (born 1795). In point of intellectual force, Lord Byron (1788-1824) is the greatest poet of the century. Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822) stands at the head of our lyrical poets. Both Byron and Shelley proclaimed open revolt against the conventionalities of the world about them; and both continued in various forms the love of mankind and of nature. Associated with these is John Keats (1795-1821), who drew his subjects from Greek and mediæval life. There was now needed a new impulse to stir the poetical spirit. This came with the stormy times of the Reform agitation of 1831-2, and may be said to have lasted for a generation. While retaining some earlier characteristics, this period of poetry deals freely with all questions of practical or speculative interest. Alfred Tennyson is pre-eminent; and near him are Robert Browning and his wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the greatest English poetess, and Matthew Arnold. Within the last ten or twelve years, our poets, partly under earlier influences of the century, partly through revived interest in ancient life and tradition, have gone back to Greek and mediæval and old Norse life for their subjects ;' but they continue the love poetry, and the poetry of natural description.' The greatest of the newer names are William Morris and Algernon Charles Swinburne.
There is no more remarkable feature in this century's literature than the enormous expansion of the novel. Novel-writing has engaged a more than equal proportion of the greatest minds of the time; and has furnished a great field of literary industry to women. Every subject of human interest is handled from the most diverse points of view. Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), in the last twenty years of his life, sent forth nearly thirty novels, mostly historical, which have raised him to one of the very highest places among the literary men of the world. Lord Lytton (1806–73), William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-63), and Charles Dickens (1812-70), next rise head and shoulders above the crowd of even great writers.
And now the first living novelist is a lady, who writes under the name of George Eliot.'
Another striking characteristic of the period is strongly shewn in the works of the last-named writer. This is the presence of the spirit of keen philosophical inquiry in all departments of literature. In poetry and in fiction, as well as in graver works, we are brought face to face with searching analysis of the motives and ends of man, and every problem of human life.
This scrutinising spirit appears among historians in their careful research and industrious sifting of diligently accumulated materials, so that historical writing has become progressively critical, impartial, and accurate. Henry Hallam (1777-1859) has usually been characterised as exhaustive and judicial, Lord Macaulay (1800-59) as brilliant. Bishop Thirlwall (1797–1875) and George Grote (1794–1871) have elaborately examined the story of ancient Greece, while George Finlay (1802?–75) has brought the narrative down to the present day. Dr Arnold of Rugby (1795-1842) and George Long have treated the history of Rome. Sir Arthur Helps (1817-75) has taken for his subject Spanish America. Edward A. Freeman and James A. Froude have re-examined important periods of English history; John Hill Burton has written the history of Scotland ; and Professor William Stubbs of Oxford is the unrivalled historian of our constitutional progress. But the greatest living English historian is Thomas Carlyle, who has illustrated