“The immense success of Handel’s Messiah on its first London performance in 1743, may be taken as the another index of the coming change” —Hudson, that, in literature, is called Bourgeois Classicism or Age of Sensibility which begins to associate itself with the need of imagination, and sympathy for the Middle Ages; a turn from Neo-Classical idea of reason. Thomas Gray’s Stanzas toMr. Bentley (1752) expressed this anti-neoclassicism:
“But not to one in this benighted Age
is that diviner inspiration given,
that burns in Shakespeare’s or in Milton's page,
that pomp and prodigality of Heaven.”
Johnson was the leading man who “has nothing in him of the bear but the skin” (Goldsmith). The London of Johnson’s time was a noisy, turbulent, high-spirited London:
“a populous and smoky city
Small justice shown and still less pity.” (Shelley)
After a concise picture of evils arising form gambling and drink especially from that “new kind of drunkenness…..by that poison called gin.” Garrick did much to raise the tone of the drama, and a noticeable feature of the Age was increasing interest in the theatre by the middle classes. If the audience were less noisy than they had been in the Elizabethan and Stuart times, there was still more room for improvement. It was for the first time that theoretical as well as practical criticism of drama, poetry, essay, and novel appeared on such a large scale. In fact, the kind of debates that went on during the period on different items of drama and poetry has been matched and surpasses only in 20th century The compromise which was only beginning to shape itself in the time of Addison and Steele is now, in the time of Johnson, an accomplished fact. The study of this Age will therefore mean a continual swing between a literature of reason and sentiment.
The periodical essay was chiefly the invention of Steele when on April 12, 1709 (to January 1711), he started The Tatler, (271 in numbers of which 188 were by Steele and 42 by Addison, while 36 were written jointly by them) the chief aim of which was social and moral criticism of men and manners in a highly gentle and polished way. The Spectator (March 1, 1711 to December 1712—555 in number), The Guardian (March 12, 1712 to October 1, 1713—175 in numbers) The Free Holder (December 1715 to June 1716), The Old Whig (March to April 1719) are some periodical essays which appeared (and generally died) in the eighteenth century.
Pope had only two genuine followers—Samuel Johnson and Oliver Goldsmith. Lexicography and prose verse occupied much of Johnson’s time. But his two satires London and u The Vanity of Human Wishes show his powerful mind, grace moral outlook and incisive phrasing. Oliver goldsmith’s Travelers and The Deserted Village depict the social and economic evils of his time in both England and Ireland. He was also a novelist, essayist and historian. In 18th c nature becomes an independent theme as is evident form James Thomson’s The Seasons. William Cowper who is most widely known for John Giplin, a good jest, gathers up many of the contemporary interests in his work. His most successful poem The Task moves freely amid rural scenes. The Castaway shows the fear of his approaching insanity. Thomas Gray’s The Elegy shows the mobility which seemed to hover a number of creative minds in the 18th C. William Collins whose brief life was marked by penury and bouts of insanity, Ode on the Popular Superstitions of the Highlands and ode ro evening show the most distinctive side of his mind lived in the shadows where the shapes of magic could form themselves. Christopher Smart composed the Sing of David written partly with charcoal on the walls he had it extravagant supporters and the most sober judgement cannot miss the spiritual vision and the singing quality.William Blake is at his best in his simplest poems, in the early Songs of Innocence and u Songs of Experience, where wisdom speaks with the voice of child. Here and in some other poems such as The Everlasting Gospel he wrote with those fragrant intuitions which awaken the human mind to the best and most innocent vision of itself. Robert burns speaks straight from the heart to the primitive emotions of the race. He is probably the greatest song writer of the world. His love for nature is a little different from that of Blake and Wordsworth. In Jolly Beggars he exhibits the natural sympathy with the outcast of society. James Thomson who wrote The castle of Indolence, George Grabble whose poems The Village, The Parish Register, and The Tales In Verse being him in the line of the precursors of Romanticism, James Macpherson who catered to the new romantic interest in old heroes and won fame by a series of literary forgeries, Thomas Chatterton, one of the saddest and the most interesting figure of romantic revival and Thomas Percy under whose name appeared Reliques Of Ancient English Poetry—are some other significant minor poets of the Romantic revival.
Johnson as a Critic
Dr. Johnson (1709-84) is an authentic literary voice of his time who, after Pope’s death in 1774, emerged as ‘the undisputed arbiter’ of literary taste of his age. “With him”, says George Watson, “English criticism achieves greatness on a scale that any reader can instantly recognize.” C.H. Firth regards much of his criticism as one of the ‘permanent values.’ Johnson possessed a sanity outlook and a catholicity of mind, rarely found in any other English critic of his age. He was first English critics to attempt a systematic work, The Lives of the Poets, a kind of a history of the English poetry up to his time. His work on metaphysical poets and Shakespeare too is of every much permanent value. Sir John Reynolds remarked that no one had like Johnson “the faculty of teaching inferior minds, the art of thinking’. He left his subject matter of criticism more respected and better understood. “The services Johnson rendered to Shakespeare are sonly second to those he rendered to the language in which Shakespeare wrote”. His Preface to Shakespeare was profoundly by Adams “the most manly piece of criticism that was ever published in my country”. Johnson’s unflinching faith in reason and common sense, his fundamental respect for the voice of people, his healthy pragmatic approach to his critical problems, his delightfully balanced style are some other qualities of Johnson as a critic. Like Bacon he could have said to have taken all the knowledge as his province, Oxford’s honorary doctorate, compilation of such a big dictionary were no accidents. Some other qualities that elevate him to the rank of a great critic and lend a distinctive note to his criticism are: his humanistic outlook of life and literature, his inflicting faith in people, his healthy pragmatic approach to critical problems, and above all his delightfully balanced style. T.S. Eliot describes him as “a man who had………a specialized ear for verbal music”. “He was poet and, no doubt, his poetical experience assisted his criticism.” (J.T. BUTT)
Addison and Steele
Addison was a great critic and a social reformer who brought about a change in the life of the contemporary people through his contribution to The Spectator, which he founded in collaboration with his friend Richard Steel. In The Spectator he appears as a judicious critic of manners and morals of the society. The main aim of The Spectator was to reform the society, and it was Addison’s task: “to enliven morality with wit; and to temper wit with morality” and again in his essay The Scope of the Satire he professes that his aim is: “to satirises the vanity of the society, but he was very careful and does not want personal in any satire”. As a critic, Addison satirises the society in good and humoured way. He was like a judge who “castigates only in smiling”. He uses less contempt more benevolence. He uses his power to satires through the character of Roger, when he observes: “there is no one in the town where he lives that he is not sued”. (Sir Roger at Assizes) The character of roger was created by Addison and steel. They invented their mind with extremes simplicity. Addison shows the conflict between rural feudalism and urban manner in a brilliant way. The Spectator is the picture of Addison himself. His essays are full of neatness. His sentences are short and he polished his phrases until the rhyme was perfected. His prose style has been called “middle flight” by Johnson. His style is easy with learning and it does not lead to obscurity. Thus, Addison’s contribution to English literature is great indeed. Through his essays he satirises the society but he does not injure the feelings of public as like in the case of Defoe, Dryden, Swift and Pope. His contemporary, Pope, remarks: “his sentences have something more charming in it that I have found in any men”. In sum, Addison was, indeed, a great satirist of his age who wanted to correct his society through his mild satire. He refers himself as Mr. Spectator. As Mr. Spectator, he looks at the world with eyes of a mature person who is always hopeful of betterment.