Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

V.

FIRST CRITICAL PERIOD.

(1660-1745.)

Puritan extreme — Reaction - French influence - Natural science

Transition - Greater toleration — Deism - - Augustan Age — English influence Social condition Woman Witchcraft — Rise of Methodism - Reading public — Clubs — Periodicals — Diarists, Evelyn and Pepys — John Locke — Steele — Rise of the novel – Defoe — Richardson - Fielding — Samuel Butler- James Thomson -- Edward Young - John DRYDEN – JOSEPH ADDISON — ALEXANDER POPE — JONATHAN SWIFT.

This period extends from the Restoration to the death of Pope and Swift. It was ushered in by a violent reaction.

With all its moral earnestness and love of freedom, Puritanism had degenerated into a false and forbidding asceticism. It condemned many innocent pleasures. It clothed morality and religion in a garb of cant. The claims of the physical and intellectual parts of man were, under the influence of a terrific theology, sacrificed to his spiritual interests. All spontaneous joy and gayety were banished from life. The Puritan's steps were slow; his face was elongated; his tone had a nasal quality. He gave his children names drawn from the Scriptures; and shutting his eyes to the beauties of the world about him, and forgetting the infinite love of God, he lived perpetually in the shadow of divine wrath. His religion, at war with nature and the gospel, degenerated into fanaticism and weighed heavily upon the life of the English nation.

With the Restoration, Puritanism was overthrown. The Royalist party, with its sharp contrasts to Puritan principles, again came into power.

The result in its moral effects was dreadful. The stream of license, which had been held in check for years, burst forth with fearful momentum. The reign of the flesh set in.

Virtue was held to savor of Puritanism; duty was thought to smack of fanaticism; and integrity, patriotism, and honor were regarded as mere devices for self-aggrandizement. Under the lead of Charles II., himself a notorious libertine, the court became a scene of shameless and almost incredible debauchery. The effect upon literature can be easily imagined. It debased the moral tone of poetry and the drama to a shocking degree. As Dryden tells us in one of his epilogues :

“ The poets who must live by courts, or starve,
Were proud so good a government to serve;
And, mixing with buffoons and pimps profane,
Tainted the stage, for some small snip of gain."

But there are other respects in which the Restoration affected literature. Charles II. returned to England with French companions and French tastes. It was but natural, therefore, that English literature should be influenced by French models. It was the Augustan Age of literature in France. Louis XIV., the most powerful monarch in Europe, had gathered about him the best literary talent of the age. Corneille, Molière, and Racine gave great splendor to dramatic poetry, and Boileau developed the art of

criticism. But the French drama, besides following classical models in regard to the unities, imposed the burden of rhymed couplets upon dramatic composition. It was in obedience to the wish of Charles that rhyme was first introduced into the English drama. Through French influence the course of the drama, as it had been developed by the great Elizabethans, was seriously interrupted.

But in respect to literary criticism, the influence of France was more salutary. Boileau had displayed great critical acumen in estimating French authors, and had laid down correct principles by which to judge literary composition. The art of criticism took root in England. Dryden, whom Johnson calls the father of English criticism, sat at the feet of his great French contemporary, and in his numerous prefaces exhibited admirable judgment in weighing the productions both of ancient and modern times.

Pope, the greatest writer of the period, likewise followed French models. The characteristics of the new criticism, which gradually fashioned a corresponding literature, were clearness, simplicity, and good sense.

The Restoration gave a new impulse to natural science. Charles II. was himself something of a chemist, and even the profligate Buckingham varied his debaucheries with experiments in his laboratory. In 1662 the Royal Society was founded, and for half a century inventions and discoveries in science followed one another in rapid succession. The national observatory at Greenwich was established. The spirit of investigation showed great vigor. Halley studied the tides, comets, and terrestrial magnetism. Boyle improved the air-pump and founded experimental chemistry. Mineralogy, zoology, and botany either had their beginning or made noteworthy progress at this time. It was the age of Sir Isaac Newton.

But this period was one of ferment and transition. Old faiths in politics, philosophy, and religion were being cast aside. Tradition and custom were summoned before the bar of reason. “From the moment of the Restoration," says Green, “we find ourselves all at once among the great currents of thought and activity which have gone on widening and deepening from that time to this. The England around us becomes our England, an England whose chief forces are industry and science, the love of popular freedom and of law; an England which presses steadily forward to a larger social justice and equality, and which tends more and more to bring every custom and tradition, religious, intellectual, and political, to the test of pure reason." The belief in the divine right of kings became a thing of the past. With the Revolution of 1688, which placed William of Orange on the throne, the prolonged conflict between the people and the king came to an end.

The executive supremacy was transferred from the crown to the House of Commons.

During the latter part of this period the three great religious parties Anglicans, Dissenters, and Roman Catholics - grew somewhat more tolerant. The severity of the law was in a measure relaxed.

Within the Church of England there arose a class of divines who, because of their tolerant views, were stigmatized as “latitudinarians.” Avoiding the scholasticism of the preceding age, they studied Scripture with a genial spirit. The evils of strife, as well as a sense of danger from infidelity, made them desire Christian unity, which they recognized as the normal condition of the church. Among the most distinguished of these broad church

were Ralph Cudworth, Henry More, and John Tillotson.

A still more important movement in theology was the rise of Deism, which owed its prevalence to several cooperative causes. As we have seen, there was a general tendency to break away from the restraints of authority in every department of thought. The divisions and animosities of the church tended to unsettle the faith of many in the teachings of Christianity. And above all, perhaps, the license of the age sought to emancipate itself from the restraints of divine law.

In its progress Deism showed a rapid declension. It began with Lord Herbert of Cherbury, who reduced religion to five points: 1, that there is a God; 2, that he is to be worshipped; 3, that piety and virtue are the principal parts of this worship; 4, that men should repent and forsake sin; and 5, that good will be rewarded and sin punished. This scheme of doctrine represents Deism at its best. The writings of the deists, among whom may be mentioned Hobbes, Blount, and Lord Bolingbroke, naturally called forth many replies. The controversy, which was protracted far into the eighteenth century, was conducted with great ability on both sides. Among the defenders of Christianity, with whom ultimately remained the victory, were Cudworth, John Locke the philosopher, and Joseph Butler, the author of the famous “ Analogy.”

About the time Queen Anne ascended the English throne in 1702, English literature, under the moulding influence from France, began to assume a more elegant form. The

« ZurückWeiter »