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From the Restoration to the Death of Pope 1660-1744
The Stuart Restoration was a period of descent from poetry to prose, from passion and imagination to wit and the understanding. The serious, exalted mood of the civil war and Commonwealth had spent itself and issued in disillusion. There followed a generation of wits, logical, skeptical, and prosaic, without earnestness, as without principle. The characteristic literature of such a time is criticism, satire, and burlesque, and such, indeed, continued to be the course of English literary history for a century after the return of the Stuarts. The age was not a stupid one, but one of active inquiry. The Royal Society, for the cultivation of the natural sciences, was founded in 1662. There were able divines in the pulpit and at the universities—Barrow, Tillotson, Stillingfleet, South, and others: scholars, like Bentley; historians, like Clarendon and Burnet; scientists, like Boyle and Newton; philosophers, like Hobbes and Locke. But of poetry, in any high sense of the word, there was little between the time of Milton and the time of Goldsmith and Gray.
The English writers of this period were strongly influenced by the contemporary literature of France, by the comedies of Molière, the tragedies of Corneille and Racine, and the satires, epistles, and versified essays of Boileau. Many of the Restoration writers—Waller, Cowley, Davenant, Wycherley, Villiers, and others—had been in France during the exile, and brought back with them French tastes. John Dryden (1631-1700), who is the great literary figure of his generation, has been called the first of the moderns. From the reign of Charles II., indeed, we may date the beginnings of modern English life. What we call "society" was forming, the town, the London world. "Coffee, which makes the politician wise," had just been introduced, and the ordinaries of Ben Jonson's time gave way to coffee-houses, like Will's and Button's, which became the head-quarters of literary and political gossip. The two great English parties, as we know them to-day, were organized: the words Whig and Tory date from this reign. French etiquette and fashions came in, and French phrases of convenience—such as coup de grace, bel esprit, etc.—began to appear in English prose. Literature became intensely urban and partisan. It reflected city life, the disputes of faction, and the personal quarrels of authors. The politics of the great rebellion had been of heroic proportions, and found fitting expression in song. But in the Revolution of 1688 the issues were constitutional and to be settled by the arguments of lawyers. Measures were in question rather than principles, and there was little inspiration to the poet in Exclusion Bills and Acts of Settlement.
Court and society, in the reign of Charles II. and James II., were shockingly dissolute, and in literature, as in life, the reaction against Puritanism went to great extremes. The social life of the time is faithfully reflected in the Diary of Samuel Pepys. He was a simple-minded man, the son of a London tailor, and became, himself, secretary to the admiralty. His diary was kept in cipher, and published only in 1825. Being written for his own eye, it is singularly outspoken; and itsnaïve, gossipy, confidential tone makes it a most diverting book, as it is, historically, a most valuable one.
Perhaps the most popular book of its time was Samuel Butler's Hudibras(1663-1664), a burlesque romance in ridicule of the Puritans. The king carried a copy of it in his pocket, and Pepys testifies that it was quoted and praised on all sides. Ridicule of the Puritans was nothing new. Zeal-of-the-land Busy, in Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair, is an early instance of the kind. There was nothing laughable about the earnestness of men like Cromwell, Milton, Algernon Sidney, and Sir Henry Vane. But even the French Revolution had its humors; and as the English Puritan Revolution gathered head and the extremer sectaries pressed to the front—Quakers, New Lights, Fifth Monarchy Men, Ranters, etc.,—its grotesque sides came uppermost. Butler's hero is a Presbyterian justice of the peace who sallies forth with his secretary, Ralpho—an Independent and Anabaptist-like Don Quixote with Sancho Panza, to suppress May games and bear-baitings. (Macaulay, it will be remembered, said that the Puritans disapproved of bear-baiting, not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators.) The humor of Hudibras is not of the finest. The knight and the squire are discomfited in broadly comic adventures, hardly removed from the rough physical drolleries of a pantomime or circus. The deep heart-laughter of Cervantes, the pathos on which his humor rests, is, of course, not to be looked for in Butler. But he had wit of a sharp, logical kind, and his style surprises with all manner of verbal antics. He is almost as great a phrase-master as Pope, though in a coarser kind. His verse is a smart doggerel, and his poem has furnished many stock sayings, as for example,
'Tis strange what difference there can be
'Twixt tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee.
Hudibras has had many imitators, not the least successful of whom was the American John Trumbull, in his revolutionary satire, M'Fingal, some couplets of which are generally quoted as Butler's, as, for example,
No man e'er felt the halter draw
With good opinion of the law.
The rebound against Puritanism is seen no less plainly in the drama of the Restoration, and the stage now took vengeance for its enforced silence under the Protectorate. Two theaters were opened under the patronage, respectively, of the king and of his brother, the Duke of York. The manager of the latter, Sir William Davenant—who had fought on the king's side, been knighted for his services, escaped to France, and was afterward captured and imprisoned in England for two years—had managed to evade the law against stage plays as early as 1656, by presenting his Siege of Rhodes as an "opera," with instrumental music and dialogue in recitative, after a fashion newly sprung up in Italy. This he brought out again in 1661, with the dialogue recast into riming couplets in the French fashion. Movable painted scenery was now introduced from France, and actresses took the female parts formerly played by boys. This last innovation was said to be at the request of the king, one of whose mistresses, the famous Nell Gwynne, was the favorite actress at the King's Theater.
Upon the stage, thus reconstructed, the so-called "classical" rules of the French theater were followed, at least in theory. The Louis XIV. writers were not purely creative, like Shakespeare or his contemporaries in England, but critical and self-conscious. The Academy had been formed in 1636 for the preservation of the purity of the French language, and discussion abounded on the principles and methods of literary art. Corneille not only wrote tragedies, but essays on tragedy, and one in particular on the Three Unities. Dryden followed his example in his Essay of Dramatic Poesie (1667), in which he treated of the unities, and argued for the use of rime in tragedy in preference to blank verse. His own practice varied. Most of his tragedies were written in rime, but in the best of them, All for Love, founded on Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, he returned to blank verse. One of the principles of the classical school was to keep comedy and tragedy distinct. The tragic dramatists of the Restoration, Dryden, Howard, Settle, Crowne, Lee, and others, composed what they called "heroic plays," such as the Indian Emperor, the Conquest of Granada, the Duke of Lerma, theEmpress of Morocco, the Destruction of Jerusalem, Nero, and the Rival Queens. The titles of these pieces indicate their character. Their heroes were great historic personages. Subject and treatment were alike remote from nature and real life. The diction was stilted and artificial, and pompous declamation took the place of action and genuine passion. The tragedies of Racine seem chill to an Englishman brought up on Shakespeare, but to see how great an artist Racine was, in his own somewhat narrow way, one has but to compare hisPhedre, or Iphigenie, with Dryden's ranting tragedy of Tyrannic Love. These bombastic heroic plays were made the subject of a capital burlesque, the Rehearsal, by George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, acted in 1671 at the King's Theater. The indebtedness of the English stage to the French did not stop with a general adoption of its dramatic methods, but extended to direct imitation and translation. Dryden's comedy, An Evening's Love, was adapted from Thomas Corneille's Le Feint Astrologue, and his Sir Martin Mar-all, from Molière's L'Etourdi. Shadwell borrowed his Miser from Molière, and Otway made versions of Racine's Bèrènice and Molière's Fourberies de Scapin. Wycherley's Country Wife and Plain Dealer although not translations, were based, in a sense, upon Molière's Ecole des Femmes and Le Misanthrope. The only one of the tragic dramatists of the Restoration who prolonged the traditions of the Elizabethan stage was Otway, whose Venice Preserved, written in blank verse, still keeps the boards. There are fine passages in Dryden's heroic plays, passages weighty in thought and nobly sonorous in language. There is one great scene (between Antony and Ventidius) in hisAll for Love. And one, at least, of his comedies, the Spanish Friar, is skillfully constructed. But his nature was not pliable enough for the drama, and he acknowledged that, in writing for the stage, he "forced his genius."
In sharp contrast with these heroic plays was the comic drama of the Restoration, the plays of Wycherley, Killigrew, Etherege, Farquhar, Van Brugh, Congreve, and others; plays like theCountry Wife, the Parson's Wedding, She Would if She Could, the Beaux' Stratagem, theRelapse, and the Way of the World. These were in prose, and represented the gay world and the surface of fashionable life. Amorous intrigue was their constantly recurring theme. Some of them were written expressly in ridicule of the Puritans. Such was the Committee of Dryden's brother-in-law, Sir Robert Howard, the hero of which is a distressed gentleman, and the villain a London cit, and president of the committee appointed by Parliament to sit upon the sequestration of the estates of royalists. Such were also the Roundheads and theBanished Cavaliers of Mrs. Aphra Behn, who was a female spy in the service of Charles II., at Antwerp, and one of the coarsest of the Restoration comedians. The profession of piety had become so disagreeable that a shameless cynicism was now considered the mark of a gentleman. The ideal hero of Wycherley or Etherege was the witty young profligate, who had seen life, and learned to disbelieve in virtue. His highest qualities were a contempt for cant, physical courage, a sort of spendthrift generosity, and a good-natured readiness to back up a friend in a quarrel, or an amour. Virtue was bourgeois----reserved for London trades-people. A man must be either a rake or a hypocrite. The gentlemen were rakes, the city people were hypocrites. Their wives, however, were all in love with the gentlemen, and it was the proper thing to seduce them, and to borrow their husbands' money. For the first and last time, perhaps, in the history of the English drama, the sympathy of the audience was deliberately sought for the seducer and the rogue, and the laugh turned against the dishonored husband and the honest man. (Contrast this with Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor.) The women were represented as worse than the men—scheming, ignorant, and corrupt. The dialogue in the best of these plays was easy, lively, and witty the situations in some of them audacious almost beyond belief. Under a thin varnish of good breeding, the sentiments and manners were really brutal. The loosest gallants of Beaumont and Fletcher's theater retain a fineness of feeling and that politesse de cæur which marks the gentleman. They are poetic creatures, and own a capacity for romantic passion. But the Manlys and Horners of the Restoration comedy have a prosaic, cold-blooded profligacy that disgusts.
Charles Lamb, in his ingenious essay on "The Artificial Comedy of the Last Century," apologized for the Restoration stage, on the ground that it represented a world of whim and unreality in which the ordinary laws of morality had no application. But Macaulay answered truly, that at no time has the stage been closer in its imitation of real life. The theater of Wycherley and Etherege was but the counterpart of that social condition which we read of in Pepys's Diary, and in the Memoirs of the Chevalier de Grammont. This prose comedy of manners was not, indeed, "artificial" at all, in the sense in which the contemporary tragedy—the "heroic play"—was artificial. It was, on the contrary, far more natural, and, intellectually, of much higher value. In 1698 Jeremy Collier, a non-juring Jacobite clergyman, published hisShort View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage, which did much toward reforming the practice of the dramatists. The formal characteristics, without the immorality, of the Restoration comedy re-appeared briefly in Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer, 1772, and Sheridan's Rivals, School for Scandal, and Critic, 1775-9; our last strictly "classical" comedies. None of this school of English comedians approached their model, Molière. He excelled his imitators not only in his French urbanity—the polished wit and delicate grace of his style—but in the dexterous unfolding of his plot, and in the wisdom and truth of his criticism of life, and his insight into character. It is a symptom of the false taste of the age that Shakespeare's plays were rewritten for the Restoration stage. Davenant made new versions of Macbeth and Julius Cæsar, substituting rime for blank verse. In conjunction with Dryden, he altered the Tempest, complicating the intrigue by the introduction of a male counterpart to Miranda—a youth who had never seen a woman. Shadwell "improved" Timon of Athens, and Nahum Tate furnished a new fifth act to King Lear, which turned the play into a comedy! In the prologue to his doctored version of Troilus and Cressida, Dryden made the ghost of Shakespeare speak of himself as
Untaught, unpracticed in a barbarous age.
Thomas Rymer, whom Pope pronounced a good critic, was very severe upon Shakespeare in his Remarks on the Tragedies of the Last Age; and in his Short View of Tragedy, 1693, he said, "In the neighing of a horse or in the growling of a mastiff, there is more humanity than, many times, in the tragical flights of Shakespeare." "To Deptford by water," writes Pepys, in his diary for August 20, 1666, "reading Othello, Moor of Venice; which I ever heretofore esteemed a mighty good play; but, having so lately read the Adventures of Five Hours, it seems a mean thing."
In undramatic poetry the new school, both in England and in France, took its point of departure in a reform against the extravagances of the Marinists, or conceited poets, specially represented in England by Donne and Cowley. The new poets, both in their theory and practice, insisted upon correctness, clearness, polish, moderation, and good sense. Boileau's L'Art Poétique, 1673, inspired by Horace's Ars Poetica, was a treatise in verse upon the rules of correct composition, and it gave the law in criticism for over a century, not only in France, but in Germany and England. It gave English poetry a didactic turn and started the fashion of writing critical essays in riming couplets. The Earl of Mulgrave published two "poems" of this kind, an Essay on Satire, and an Essay on Poetry. The Earl of Roscommon—who, said Addison, "makes even rules a noble poetry"—made a metrical version of Horace's Ars Poetica, and wrote an original Essay on Translated Verse. Of the same kind were Addison's epistle to Sacheverel, entitled An Account of the Greatest English Poets, and Pope's Essay on Criticism, 1711, which was nothing more than versified maxims of rhetoric, put with Pope's usual point and brilliancy. The classicism of the 18th century, it has been said, was a classicism in red heels and a periwig. It was Latin rather than Greek; it turned to the least imaginative side of Latin literature and found its models, not in Vergil, Catullus, and Lucretius, but in the satires, epistles, and didactic pieces of Juvenal, Horace, and Persius.
The chosen medium of the new poetry was the heroic couplet. This had, of course, been used before by English poets as far back as Chaucer. The greater part of the Canterbury Tales was written in heroic couplets. But now a new strength and precision were given to the familiar measure by imprisoning the sense within the limit of the couplet, and by treating each line as also a unit in itself. Edmund Waller had written verse of this kind as early as the reign of Charles I. He, said Dryden, "first showed us to conclude the sense most commonly in distichs, which, in the verse of those before him, runs on for so many lines together that the reader is out of breath to overtake it." Sir John Denham, also, in his Cooper's Hill, 1643, had written such verse as this:
O, could I flow like thee, and make thy stream
My great example as it is my theme!
Though deep yet clear, though gentle yet not dull,
Strong without rage, without o'erflowing full.
Here we have the regular flow, and the nice balance between the first and second member of each couplet, and the first and second part of each line, which characterized the verse of Dryden and Pope.
Waller was smooth, but Dryden taught to join
The varying verse, the full resounding line,
The long resounding march and energy divine.
Thus wrote Pope, using for the nonce the triplet and alexandrine by which Dryden frequently varied the couplet. Pope himself added a greater neatness and polish to Dryden's verse and brought the system to such monotonous perfection that he "made poetry a mere mechanic art."
The lyrical poetry of this generation was almost entirely worthless. The dissolute wits of Charles the Second's court, Sedley, Rochester, Sackville, and the "mob of gentlemen who wrote with ease," threw off a few amatory trifles; but the age was not spontaneous or sincere enough for genuine song. Cowley introduced the Pindaric ode, a highly artificial form of the lyric, in which the language was tortured into a kind of spurious grandeur, and the meter teased into a sound and fury, signifying nothing. Cowley's Pindarics were filled with something which passed for fire, but has now utterly gone out. Nevertheless, the fashion spread, and "he who could do nothing else," said Dr. Johnson, "could write like Pindar." The best of these odes was Dryden's famous Alexander's Feast, written for a celebration of St. Cecilia's day by a musical club. To this same fashion, also, we owe Gray's two fine odes, the Progress of Poesyand the Bard. written a half-century later.
Dryden was not so much a great poet as a solid thinker, with a splendid mastery of expression, who used his energetic verse as a vehicle for political argument and satire. His first noteworthy poem, Annus Mirabilis, 1667, was a narrative of the public events of the year 1666; namely, the Dutch war and the great fire of London. The subject of Absalom and Ahitophel—the first part of which appeared in 1681—was the alleged plot of the Whig leader, the Earl of Shaftesbury, to defeat the succession of the Duke of York, afterward James II., by securing the throne to Monmouth, a natural son of Charles II. The parallel afforded by the story of Absalom's revolt against David was wrought out by Dryden with admirable ingenuity and keeping. He was at his best in satirical character-sketches, such as the brilliant portraits in this poem of Shaftesbury, as the false counselor Ahitophel, and of the Duke of Buckingham as Zimri. The latter was Dryden's reply to the Rehearsal.. Absalom and Ahitophel was followed by the Medal, a continuation of the same subject, and Mac Flecknoe, a personal onslaught on the "true blue Protestant poet" Thomas Shadwell, a political and literary foe of Dryden. Flecknoe, an obscure Irish poetaster, being about to retire from the throne of duncedom, resolved to settle the succession upon his son, Shadwell, whose claims to the inheritance are vigorously asserted.
The rest to some faint meaning make pretense,
But Shadwell never deviates into sense....
The midwife laid her hand on his thick skull
With this prophetic blessing—Be thou dull.
Dryden is our first great satirist. The formal satire had been written in the reign of Elizabeth by Donne, and by Joseph Hall, Bishop of Exeter, and subsequently by Marston, the dramatist, by Wither, Marvell, and others; but all of these failed through an over violence of language, and a purpose too pronouncedly moral. They had no lightness of touch, no irony and mischief. They bore down too hard, imitated Juvenal, and lashed English society in terms befitting the corruption of imperial Rome. They denounced, instructed, preached, did every thing but satirize. The satirist must raise a laugh. Donne and Hall abused men in classes; priests were worldly, lawyers greedy, courtiers obsequious, etc. But the easy scorn of Dryden and the delightful malice of Pope gave a pungent personal interest to their sarcasm, infinitely more effective than these commonplaces of satire. Dryden was as happy in controversy as in satire, and is unexcelled in the power to reason in verse. His Religio Laici, 1682, was a poem in defense of the English Church. But when James II came to the throne Dryden turned Catholic and wrote the Hind and Panther, 1687, to vindicate his new belief. Dryden had the misfortune to be dependent upon royal patronage and upon a corrupt stage. He sold his pen to the court, and in his comedies he was heavily and deliberately lewd, a sin which he afterward acknowledged and regretted. Milton's "soul was like a star and dwelt apart," but Dryden wrote for the trampling multitude. He had a coarseness of moral fiber, but was not malignant in his satire, being of a large, careless, and forgetting nature. He had that masculine, enduring cast of mind which gathers heat and clearness from motion, and grows better with age. His Fables—modernizations from Chaucer and translations from Boccaccio, written the year before he died—are among his best works.
Dryden is also our first critic of any importance. His critical essays were mostly written as prefaces or dedications to his poems and plays. But his Essay of Dramatic Poesie, which Dr. Johnson called our "first regular and valuable treatise on the art of writing," was in the shape of a Platonic dialogue. When not misled by the French classicism of his day, Dryden was an admirable critic, full of penetration and sound sense. He was the earliest writer, too, of modern literary prose. If the imitation of French models was an injury to poetry it was a benefit to prose. The best modern prose is French, and it was the essayists of the gallicised Restoration age—Cowley, Sir William Temple, and above all, Dryden—who gave modern English prose that simplicity, directness, and colloquial air which marks it off from the more artificial diction of Milton, Taylor and Browne.
A few books whose shaping influences lay in the past belong by their date to this period. John Bunyan, a poor tinker, whose reading was almost wholly in the Bible and Fox's Book of Martyrs, imprisoned for twelve years in Bedford jail for preaching at conventicles, wrote and, in 1678, published his Pilgrim's Progress, the greatest of religious allegories. Bunyan's spiritual experiences were so real to him that they took visible concrete shape in his imagination as men, women, cities, landscapes. It is the simplest, the most transparent of allegories. Unlike the Faerie Queene, the story of Pilgrim's Progress has no reason for existing apart from its inner meaning, and yet its reality is so vivid that children read of Vanity Fair and the Slough of Despond and Doubting Castle and the Valley of the Shadow of Death with the same belief with which they read of Crusoe's cave or Aladdin's palace.
It is a long step from the Bedford tinker to the cultivated poet of Paradise Lost. They represent the poles of the Puritan party. Yet it may admit of a doubt whether the Puritan epic is, in essentials, as vital and original a work as the Puritan allegory. They both came out quietly and made little noise at first. But the Pilgrim's Progress got at once into circulation, and hardly a single copy of the first edition remains. Milton, too—who received ten pounds for the copyright of Paradise Lost—seemingly found that "fit audience though few" for which he prayed, as his poem reached its second impression in five years (1672). Dryden visited him in his retirement and asked leave to turn it into rime and put it on the stage as an opera. "Ay," said Milton, good humoredly, "you may tag my verses." And accordingly they appeared, duly tagged, in Dryden's operatic masque, the State of Innocence. In this startling conjunction we have the two ages in a nutshell: the Commonwealth was an epic, the Restoration an opera.
The literary period covered by the life of Pope, 1688-1744, is marked off by no distinct line from the generation before it. Taste continued to be governed by the precepts of Boileau and the French classical school. Poetry remained chiefly didactic and satirical, and satire in Pope's hands was more personal even than in Dryden's, and addressed itself less to public issues. The literature of the "Augustan age" of Queen Anne (1702-1714) was still more a literature of the town and of fashionable society than that of the Restoration had been. It was also closely involved with party struggles of Whig and Tory, and the ablest pens on either side were taken into alliance by the political leaders. Swift was in high favor with the Tory ministers, Oxford and Bolingbroke, and his pamphlets, the Public Spirit of the Whigs and theConduct of the Allies, were rewarded with the deanery of St. Patrick's, Dublin. Addison became secretary of state under a Whig government. Prior was in the diplomatic service. Daniel De Foe, the author of Robinson Crusoe, 1719, was a prolific political writer, conducted his Review in the interest of the Whigs, and was imprisoned and pilloried for his ironical pamphlet, The Shortest Way with the Dissenters. Steele, who was a violent writer on the Whig side, held various public offices, such as Commissioner of Stamps, and Commissioner for Forfeited Estates, and sat in Parliament. After the Revolution of 1688 the manners and morals of English society were somewhat on the mend. The court of William and Mary, and of their successor, Queen Anne, set no such example of open profligacy as that of Charles II. But there was much hard drinking, gambling, dueling, and intrigue in London, and vice was fashionable till Addison partly preached and partly laughed it down in the Spectator. The women were mostly frivolous and uneducated, and not unfrequently fast. They are spoken of with systematic disrespect by nearly every writer of the time, except Steele. "Every woman," wrote Pope, "is at heart a rake." The reading public had now become large enough to make letters a profession. Dr. Johnson said that Pope was the first writer in whose case the book-seller took the place of the patron. Pope's translation of Homer, published by subscription, brought him between eight and nine thousand pounds and made him independent. But the activity of the press produced a swarm of poorly-paid hack-writers, penny-a-liners, who lived from hand to mouth and did small literary jobs to order. Many of these inhabited Grub Street, and their lampoons against Pope and others of their more successful rivals called out Pope'sDunciad, or epic of the dunces, by way of retaliation. The politics of the time were sordid, and consisted mainly of an ignoble scramble for office. The Whigs were fighting to maintain the Act of Succession in favor of the House of Hanover, and the Tories were secretly intriguing with the exiled Stuarts. Many of the leaders, such as the great Whig champion, John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, were without political principle or even personal honesty. The Church, too, was in a condition of spiritual deadness. Bishoprics and livings were sold, and given to political favorites. Clergymen, like Swift and Lawrence Sterne, were worldly in their lives and immoral in their writings, and were practically unbelievers. The growing religious skepticism appeared in the Deist controversy. Numbers of men in high position were Deists; the Earl of Shaftesbury, for example, and Pope's brilliant friend, Henry St. John, Lord Bolingbroke, the head of the Tory ministry, whose political writings had much influence upon his young French acquaintance, Voltaire. Pope was a Roman Catholic, though there was little to show it in his writings, and the underlying thought of his famous Essay on Man was furnished him by Bolingbroke. The letters of the cold-hearted Chesterfield to his son were accepted as a manual of conduct, and La Rochefoucauld's cynical maxims were quoted as authority on life and human nature. Said Swift:
As Rochefoucauld his maxims drew
From nature, I believe them true.
They argue no corrupted mind
In him; the fault is in mankind.
The succession which Dryden had willed to Congreve was taken up by Alexander Pope. He was a man quite unlike Dryden—sickly, deformed, morbidly precocious, and spiteful; nevertheless he joined on to and continued Dryden. He was more careful in his literary workmanship than his great forerunner, and in his Moral Essays and Satires he brought the Horatian epistle in verse, the formal satire and that species of didactic poem of which Boileau had given the first example, to an exquisite perfection of finish and verbal art. Dryden had translated Vergil, and so Pope translated Homer. The throne of the dunces, which Dryden had conferred upon Shadwell, Pope, in his Dunciad, passed on to two of his own literary foes, Theobald and Colley Cibber. There is a great waste of strength in this elaborate squib, and most of the petty writers, whose names it has preserved, as has been said, like flies in amber, are now quite unknown. But, although we have to read it with notes, to get the point of its allusions, it is easy to see what execution it must have done at the time, and it is impossible to withhold admiration from the wit, the wickedness, the triumphant mischief of the thing. In the Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot, the satirical sketch of Addison—who had offended Pope by praising a rival translation of Homer—is as brilliant as any thing of the kind in Dryden. Pope's very malignity made his sting sharper than Dryden's. He secreted venom, and worked out his revenges deliberately, bringing all the resources of his art to bear upon the question of how to give the most pain most cleverly.
Pope's masterpiece is, perhaps, the Rape of the Lock, a mock heroic poem, a "dwarf Iliad" recounting, in five cantos, a society quarrel, which arose from Lord Petre's cutting a lock of hair from the head of Mrs. Arabella Fermor. Boileau, in his Lutrin, had treated with the same epic dignity a dispute over the placing of the reading-desk in a parish church. Pope was the Homer of the drawing-room, the boudoir, the tea-urn, the ombre-party, the sedan-chair, the parrot cage, and the lap-dogs. This poem, in its sparkle and airy grace, is the topmost blossom of a highly artificial society, the quintessence of whatever poetry was possible in those
Tea-cup times of hood and hoop,
And when the patch was worn,
with whose decorative features, at least, the recent Queen Anne revival has made this generation familiar. It may be said of it, as Thackery said of Gay's pastorals: "It is to poetry what charming little Dresden china figures are to sculpture, graceful, minikin, fantastic, with a certain beauty always accompanying them." The Rape of the Lock, perhaps, stops short of beauty, but it attains elegance and prettiness in a supreme degree. In imitation of the gods and goddesses in the Iliad, who intermeddle for or against the human characters, Pope introduced the Sylphs of the Rosicrucian philosophy. We may measure the distance between imagination and fancy, if we will compare these little filagree creatures with Shakespeare's elves, whose occupation it was
To tread the ooze of the salt deep,
Or run upon the sharp wind of the north,...
Or on the beached margent of the sea
To dance their ringlets to the whispering wind.
Very different are the offices of Pope's fays:
Our humble province is to tend the fair;
Not a less pleasing, though less glorious, care;
To save the powder from too rude a gale,
Nor let the imprisoned essences exhale....
Nay oft in dreams invention we bestow
To change a flounce or add a furbelow.
Pope was not a great poet; it has been doubted whether he was a poet at all. He does not touch the heart, or stimulate the imagination, as the true poet always does. In the poetry of nature, and the poetry of passion, he was altogether impotent. His Windsor Forest and hisPastorals are artificial and false, not written with "the eye upon the object." His epistle ofEloisa to Abelard is declamatory and academic, and leaves the reader cold. The only one of his poems which is at all possessed with feeling is his pathetic Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady. But he was a great literary artist. Within the cramped and starched regularity of the heroic couplet, which the fashion of the time and his own habit of mind imposed upon him, he secured the largest variety of modulation and emphasis of which that verse was capable. He used antithesis, periphrasis, and climax with great skill. His example dominated English poetry for nearly a century, and even now, when a poet like Dr. Holmes, for example, would write satire or humorous verse of a dignified kind, he turns instinctively to the measure and manner of Pope. He was not a consecutive thinker, like Dryden, and cared less about the truth of his thought than about the pointedness of its expression. His language was closer-grained than Dryden's. His great art was the art of putting things. He is more quoted than any other English poet but Shakespeare. He struck the average intelligence, the common sense of English readers, and furnished it with neat, portable formulas, so that it no longer needed to "vent its observation in mangled terms," but could pour itself out compactly, artistically in little ready-made molds. But this high-wrought brilliancy, this unceasing point, soon fatigue. His poems read like a series of epigrams; and every line has a hit or an effect.
From the reign of Queen Anne date the beginnings of the periodical essay. Newspapers had been published since the time of the civil war; at first irregularly, and then regularly. But no literature of permanent value appeared in periodical form until Richard Steele started theTatler, in 1709. In this he was soon joined by his friend, Joseph Addison; and in its successor, the Spectator, the first number of which was issued March 1, 1711, Addison's contributions outnumbered Steele's. The Tatler was published on three, the Spectator on six, days of the week. The Tatler gave political news, but each number of the Spectator consisted of a single essay. The object of these periodicals was to reflect the passing humors of the time, and to satirize the follies and minor immoralities of the town. "I shall endeavor," wrote Addison, in the tenth paper of the Spectator, "to enliven morality with wit, and to temper wit with morality.... It was said of Socrates that he brought Philosophy down from Heaven to inhabit among men; and I shall be ambitious to have it said of me that I have brought Philosophy out of closets and libraries, schools and colleges, to dwell in clubs and assemblies, at tea-tables and in coffee-houses." Addison's satire was never personal. He was a moderate man, and did what he could to restrain Steele's intemperate party zeal. His character was dignified and pure, and his strongest emotion seems to have been his religious feeling. One of his contemporaries called him "a parson in a tie wig," and he wrote several excellent hymns. His mission was that of censor of the public taste. Sometimes he lectured and sometimes he preached, and in his Saturday papers he brought his wide reading and nice scholarship into service for the instruction of his readers. Such was the series of essays in which he gave an elaborate review of Paradise Lost. Such also was his famous paper, the Vision of Mirza, an oriental allegory of human life. The adoption of this slightly pedagogic tone was justified by the prevalent ignorance and frivolity of the age. But the lighter portions of the Spectator are those which have worn the best. Their style is at once correct and easy, and it is as a humorist, a sly observer of manners, and, above all, a delightful talker, that Addison is best known to posterity. In the personal sketches of the members of the Spectator Club, of Will Honeycomb, Captain Sentry, Sir Andrew Freeport, and, above all, Sir Roger de Coverley, the quaint and honest country gentleman, may be found the nucleus of the modern prose fiction of character. Addison's humor is always a trifle grave. There is no whimsy, no frolic in it, as in Sterne or Lamb. "He thinks justly," said Dr. Johnson, "but he thinks faintly." The Spectatorhad a host of followers, from the somewhat heavy Rambler and Idler of Johnson, down to theSalmagundi papers of our own Irving, who was, perhaps, Addison's latest and best literary descendant. In his own age Addison made some figure as a poet and dramatist. HisCampaign, celebrating the victory of Blenheim, had one much admired couplet, in which Marlborough was likened to the angel of tempest, who,
Pleased the Almighty's orders to perform,
Rides in the whirlwind and directs the storm.
His stately, classical tragedy, Cato, which was acted at Drury Lane Theater in 1712, with immense applause, was pronounced by Dr. Johnson "unquestionably the noblest production of Addison's genius." Is is, notwithstanding, cold and tedious, as a whole, though it has some fine declamatory passages—in particular the soliloquy of Cato in the fifth act—
It must be so: Plato, thou reasonest well, etc.
The greatest of the Queen Anne wits, and one of the most savage and powerful satirists that ever lived, was Jonathan Swift. As secretary in the family of Sir William Temple, and domestic chaplain to the Earl of Berkeley, he had known in youth the bitterness of poverty and dependence. Afterward he wrote himself into influence with the Tory ministry, and was promised a bishopric, but was put off with the deanery of St. Patrick's, and retired to Ireland to "die like a poisoned rat in a hole." His life was made tragical by the forecast of the madness which finally overtook him, "The stage dark-ended," said Scott, "ere the curtain fell." Insanity deepened into idiocy and a hideous silence, and for three years before his death he spoke hardly ever a word. He had directed that his tombstone should bear the inscription,Ubi saeva indignatio cor ulterius lacerare nequit. "So great a man he seems to me," wrote Thackeray, "that thinking of him is like thinking of an empire falling." Swift's first noteworthy publication was his Tale of a Tub, 1704, a satire on religious differences. But his great work was Gulliver's Travels, 1726, the book in which his hate and scorn of mankind, and the long rage of mortified pride and thwarted ambition found their fullest expression. Children read the voyages to Lilliput and Brobdingnag, to the flying island of Laputa and the country of the Houyhnhnms, as they read Robinson Crusoe, as stories of wonderful adventure. Swift had all of De Foe's realism, his power of giving veri-similitude to his narrative by the invention of a vast number of small, exact, consistent details. But underneath its fairy tales Gulliver's Travels is a satire, far more radical than any of Dryden's or Pope's, because directed, not against particular parties or persons, but against human nature. In his account of Lilliput and Brobdingnag, Swift tries to show that human greatness, goodness, beauty disappear if the scale be altered a little. If men were six inches high instead of six feet, their wars, governments, science, religion—all their institutions, in fine, and all the courage, wisdom, and virtue by which these have been built up, would appear laughable. On the other hand, if they were sixty feet high instead of six, they would become disgusting. The complexion of the finest ladies would show blotches, hairs, excrescences, and an overpowering effluvium would breathe from the pores of the skin. Finally, in his loathsome caricature of mankind, as Yahoos, he contrasts them, to their shame, with the beasts, and sets instinct above reason.
The method of Swift's satire was grave irony. Among his minor writings in this kind are his Argument against Abolishing Christianity, his Modest Proposal for utilizing the surplus population of Ireland by eating the babies of the poor, and his Predictions of Isaac Bickerstaff. In the last he predicted the death of one Partridge, an almanac maker, at a certain day and hour. When the time set was past, he published a minute account of Partridge's last moments; and when the subject of this excellent fooling printed an indignant denial of his own death, Swift answered very temperately, proving that he was dead and remonstrating with him on the violence of his language. "To call a man a fool and villain, an impudent fellow, only for differing from him in a point merely speculative, is, in my humble opinion, a very improper style for a person of his education." Swift wrote verses as well as prose, but their motive was the reverse of poetical. His gross and cynical humor vulgarized whatever it touched. He leaves us no illusions, and not only strips his subject, but flays it and shows the raw muscles beneath the skin. He delighted to dwell upon the lowest bodily functions of human nature. "He saw blood-shot," said Thackeray.
1. History of Eighteenth Century Literature (1660-1780). Edmund Gosse. London: Macmillan & Co., 1889.
2. Macaulay's Essay, The Comic Dramatists of the Restoration.
3. The Poetical Works of John Dry den. Macmillan & Co., 1873. (Globe Edition.)
4. Thackeray's English Humorists of the last Century.
5. Sir Roger de Coverley. New York: Harpers, 1878.
6. Swift's Tale of a Tub, Gulliver's Travels, Directions to Servants, Polite Conversation, The Great Question Debated, Verses on the Death of Dean Swift.
7. The Poetical Works of Alexander Pope. London: Macmillan & Co., 1869. (Globe Edition.)