Topics so far –
13. The Restoration – 1660 to 1702
14. The Age of Classicism – 1702 to 1740
The Restoration – 1660 to 1702
In restoring the monarchy with King Charles II, the Restoration replaced Cromwell’s Commonwealth and its Puritan ethos with an almost powerless monarch whose tastes had been formed in France.
It also replaced the power of the monarchy with the power of a parliamentary system – which was to develop into the two parties, Whigs and Tories – with most of the executive power in the hands of the Prime Minister. Both parties benefited from a system which encouraged social stability rather than opposition.
Hence the post-Restoration period is often set up as the converse and antithesis of the previous Elizabethan age. It is called classical, as opposed to the Elizabethan romanticism. Though the contrast between the two epochs need not be over-emphasized, yet the differences are very great.
Three historical events deeply influenced the literary movements of the time: the Restoration of the year 1660; the Roman Catholic controversy that raged during the latter half of Charles II’s reign; and the Revolution of the year 1688.
The Restoration (1660). The Restoration of Charles II brought about a revolution in our literature. With the collapse of the Puritan Government there sprang up activities that had been so long suppressed that they flew to violent excesses. The Commonwealth had insisted on gravity and decorum in all things; the Restoration encouraged a levity that often became immoral and indecent. Along with much that is sane and powerful, this latter tendency is prominent in the writing of the time, especially in the comedies.
The Religious Question. The strength of the religious-political passions of the time is reflected in the current literature. The religion of the King was suspect; that of his brother James was avowedly Papist; and James was the heir-apparent to the crown. There was a prevalent suspicion of the Catholics, which, though it might have been groundless, was of such depth and intensity that it colours all the writings of the time.
The lies of Titus Oates added to the popular frenzy, so that when the Earl of Shaftesbury sought to exclude James from the throne and supplant him by the Duke of Monmouth it needed all the efforts of Charles (himself secretly a Roman Catholic) to save his brother. The famous poem of Dryden, Absalom and Achitophel, is an outstanding example of a kind of poem that abounded during those troubled years.
The Revolution (1688). James succeeded to the throne in 1685; but so soon did he reveal his Roman Catholic prejudices that he was rejected in three years and was replaced by Protestant sovereigns. Henceforth religious passions diminish in intensity; and the literature of the succeeding years tends to emphasize the political rather than the religious side of public affairs. Let us see in what respects the new spirit is shown.
1. Imitation of the Ancients. Lacking the genius of the Elizabethans, the authors of the time turned to the great classical writers, in particular to the Latin writers, for guidance and inspiration. This habit, quite noticeable during the time of Dryden, deepened and hardened during the succeeding era of Pope--so much so that the latter laid down as a final test of excellence; Learn hence for ancient rules a just esteem; To copy Nature is to copy them.
2. Imitation of the French. Charles II had spent most of his years of exile in France, and when he returned to England he brought with him a new admiration for French literature. In particular the effects of this penetrated very deeply into the drama, especially into comedy, the most copious literary product of the Restoration. Of French comedy the great Moliere was the outstanding exponent, and his influence was very great.
In the more formal tragedy French and classical models were combined to produce a new type called the heroic play. The type is well represented by Dryden’s Tyrannic Love.
3. The ‘Correct’ School. The Elizabethans too had drawn upon the ancients, but they used their gains freely and joyously, bending the work of the classical authors to their own wills. The imitative work of the new school was of a frigid and limited quality. The school of Dryden was loath to alter; the age of Pope abandoned freedom altogether. Pope puts it thus:
Those Rules of old discovered, not devised,
Are Nature still, but Nature methodised.
‘Thus they evolved a number of ‘rules’, which can usefully be summarized in the injunction “Be correct”. ‘Correctness’ means avoidance of enthusiasm; moderate opinions moderately expressed, strict care and accuracy in poetical technique; and humble imitation of the style of the Latin classics.
John Dryden: Pope and his immediate successors called him “copious”, thus hinting at a lack of care and an unrestrained vigour that were survivals of an earlier virility. Yet Dryden has the new tendency very clearly marked. To him Dr Johnson first applied the epithet “Augustan”, saying that Dryden did to English literature what Augustus did to Rome, which he “found of brick and left of marble”.
Of Dryden it can be said without qualification that he is representative of his age. Indeed, it has been urged as a fault against his character that he adapted himself with too facile a conscience to the changing fortunes of the times. His earliest work of any importance is pre-Restoration (1659), and consists of a laudation of the recently dead Oliver Cromwell. At the Restoration he changed his views, attaching himself to the fortunes of Charles II and to the Church of England. This loyalty brought its rewards in honours and pensions, so that for many years Dryden was easily the most considerable literary figure in the land.
On the accession of James II in 1685 Dryden changed his faith and political persuasion, becoming a Roman Catholic. To his new beliefs he adhered steadfastly, even when in 1688 the Revolution brought certain disaster to such public men as adhered to Catholicism. Thus Dryden lost his posts of Poet Laureate and Historiographer Royal. The Laureateship was conferred on Shadwell, his most rancorous foe; and Dryden retired with dignity to sustain his last years with his literary labours. To this last period of his career we owe some of his finest translations and narrative poems. When he died in 1700 he was accorded a splendid funeral in Westminster Abbey, though it was many years before his grave was marked by a tombstone.
His Poetry: Dryden began his life’s work with poetry; he concluded it with poetry; and the years between are starred with the brightness of his greater poems. As early as February 1664 Pepys records in his diary that he met “Mr Dryden, the poet”; and he remained “Mr Dryden, the poet” till the day of his death. It is therefore as a poet that Dryden is chiefly to be judged.
His first published poem of any consequence was a series of heroic stanzas on the death of the Protector Oliver Cromwell. It consists of thirty-seven quatrains of no particular merit. They move stiffly, and are quite uninspired by any political or personal enthusiasm, but they are a striking manifestation of Dryden’s directness, and show a certain angular force and some metrical dexterity. Two stanzas will show the art of the earliest Dryden:
His grandeur he derived from Heaven alone.
For he was great, ere Fortune made him so;
In 1660 he made a great step forward in poetical craftsmanship by publishing Astraea Redux, in celebration of Charles II’s return. The poem represents a complete reversal of the poet’s political opinions; but it is nevertheless a noteworthy literary advance.
Two other poems of this year, one on the coronation and one addressed to the Chancellor, Clarendon, resemble Astraea Redux in their main features, and are little inferior. Dryden’s early poetical work concludes with Annus Mirabilis (published 1667), which gives a spirited account of the Great Fire and the war with the Dutch in the previous year.
For more than fifteen years succeeding this Dryden devoted himself almost entirely to the writing of plays. Then, about 1680, events both political and personal drove him back to the poetical medium, with results both splendid and astonishing. Political passions over the Exclusion Bills were at their height, and Dryden appeared as the chief literary champion of the monarchy in the famous satirical allegory Absalom and Achitophel (1691). Absalom is the Duke of Monmouth, the unfortunate aspirant to the succession; and Achitophel is his daring but injudicious counsellor Shaftesbury. These two are surrounded by a cluster of lesser politicians, upon each of whom Dryden bestows a Biblical name of deadly aptness and transparency.
Next year he produced another political poem, The Medal, which called forth an answer from an old friend of Dryden’s, Shadwell. Dryden retorted in MacFlecknoe, a stinging, destructive, personal lampoon degraded with much coarseness and personal spite. A similar poem is the second part of Absalom and Achitophel (1682), to which poem Dryden contributed a violent attack on Shadwell, giving him the name of Og. The main part of the work was composed by Nahum Tate, a satellite of Dryden’s. A new poetical development was manifest in Religio Laid (1682) and The Hind and the Panther (1687). The first poem is a thesis in support of the English Church; the second, written after the accession of James, is an allegorical defence of the Roman Catholic faith. Alterations like this in Dryden’s opinions gave free play to the gibes of his enemies.
After the Revolution, when he was driven from his public appointments, Dryden occupied himself chiefly with translations. He once more used the couplet medium, turning Virgil, Ovid, and Boccaccio into English, and adapting Chaucer to the taste of his time.
Though it is small in bulk, Dryden’s lyrical poetry is of much importance. The longest and the best-known pieces of this class are his Song for St Cecilia’s Day (1687) and Alexander’s Feast, written for the same anniversary in 1697. Both show Dryden as a master of melodious verse and of a varied and powerful style.
His Drama: In his dramatic work, as elsewhere, Dryden is a faithful reflex of his time. His methods and objects vary as the public appreciation of them waxes and wanes, with the result that he gives us a historical summary of the popular fancy. His first play was a comedy, The Wild Gallant (1663), which had but a very modest success. It has the complicated plot of the popular Spanish comedies and the ‘humours’ of Jonson’s. After this unsuccessful attempt at public favour Dryden turned to tragedy, which henceforth nearly monopolizes his dramatic work.
His tragedies fall into two main groups:
(a) The Heroic Play: This is a new type of the tragedy that became prominent after the Restoration, and of which Dryden is one of the earliest and most skilful exponents. The chief features of the new growth are the choice of a great heroic figure for the central personage; a succession of stage incidents of an exalted character, which often, as Dryden himself realized, became ridiculous through their extravagance; a loud, declamatory style; and the rhymed couplet. Dryden’s The Rival Ladies (1663) is a hybrid between the comic and heroic species of play; The Indian Emperor (1665), Tyrannick Love (1669), The Conquest of Granada (in two parts, 1669 and 1670), and Aureng-zebe (1675) show the heroic kind at its best and worst. Though Dryden is heavily weighted with the ponderous mechanism of the heroic play, his gigantic literary strength is often sufficient to give it an attraction and a kind of heavy-footed animation.
b) His Blank-verse Tragedies. The heroic play was so easily parodied and made ridiculous that the wits of the Restoration were not slow to make a butt of it. Their onslaughts were not without their effect on Dryden, for already in Aureng-zebe a weakening of the heroic mannerisms is apparent.
After the Revolution he wrote Don Sebastian (1690), Cleomenes (1692), and Love Triumphant (1694). The last was a tragi-comedy and a failure. The other two, however, were quite up to the average of his plays. In addition, at various stages of his career he collaborated with Lee in two other tragedies, and attempted, with lamentable results, to improve upon Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Troilus and Cressida.
His Prose: Dryden’s versatility is apparent when we observe that in prose, as well as in poetry and drama, he attains to primacy in his generation. In the case of prose he has one rival, John Bunyan. No single item of Dryden’s prose work is of very great length; but in his Essay of Dramatick Poesie (1668), in his numerous dedicatory epistles and prefaces, and in the scanty stock of his surviving letters we have a prose corpus of some magnitude. The general subject of his prose is literary criticism, and that of a sane and vigorous quality. The style is free, but not too free; there are slips of grammar, but they are not many. The Essay of Dramatick Poesie (1669) is his longest single prose work and a major piece of English literary criticism. It is in the form of a discussion between four characters, one of whom is Dryden himself, and treats, with an openness of mind and a lack of dogmatizing which are new in criticism, most of the major topics which interested contemporary dramatists. Among them were the question of rhyme or blank verse in drama; the comparison between French and English drama; and the possibility of making a judicious compromise between the strict observance of the classical unities and the greater freedom of the English dramatic tradition. Moreover, the essay is the first attempt to evaluate the work of the Elizabethan dramatists and especially of Shakespeare. The following passage illustrates, not only the directness am! lucidity of his prose style, but his balanced critical judgement:
To begin, then with Shakespeare. He was the man who, of all modern and I shaps ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul. All the images of nature were still present to him, and he drew them not laboriously, luckily when he describes anything, you more than see it, you feel it too.
Several circumstances combined to make this age abound in satirical writing. It was a period of bitter political and personal contention, of easy morals and subdued enthusiasms, of sharp wit and acute discrimination. For these reasons satire acquired a new importance and a sharper edge.
The older satire, such as is represented in the poems of Donne and of Andrew Marvell (1621-78), was of a more general kind, and seemed to have been written with deliberate clumsiness and obscurity. These habits were repugnant to the ideals of the new age, whose satire is more personal and more vindictive. Its effect is immensely more incisive, and it obtains a new freshness and point by the use of the heroic couplet, in which it is almost wholly written. Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel is an excellent example of the political satire, while his MacFlecknoe shows the personal type. Literary satire is also well represented in The Rehearsal (1670), which parodied the literary vices of the time, especially those of the heroic play. This work, which was reproduced year after year, with topical hits in every new edition, was the work of several hands, though the Duke of Buckingham receives the chief credit.
Samuel Butler: Besides Dryden and the tragedy-writers the only considerable poet of the period is Samuel Butler, and his fame rests on one work, Hudibras, in 1663 which was at once a success. Two other parts followed in 1664 and 1678 respectively. Hudibras was topical, for it was a biting satire on the Puritans, who were the reverse of popular when the King returned. In general outline it is modelled upon the adventures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, who find their respective parallels in Sir Hudibras and his squire Ralpho. Sir Hudibras is a Puritan knight who undergoes many absurd adventures with Ralpho, his Independent squire; but the poem lacks the real pathos and genuine insight of its great Spanish original. It is wholly satirical. The poem is composed artfully.
The miscellaneous satire of John Oldham (1653- 83) had much of the earlier clumsiness.
Dryden translated the Latin satirists into English.
Tragedy: The Heroic Play or the Heroic Tragedy: This is a new type of the tragedy that became prominent after the Restoration, and of which Dryden is one of the earliest and most skilful exponents. The chief features of the new growth are the choice of a great heroic figure for the central personage; a succession of stage incidents of an exalted character, which often, as Dryden himself realized, became ridiculous through their extravagance; a loud, declamatory style; and the rhymed couplet. Dryden’s The Rival Ladies (1663) is a hybrid between the comic and heroic species of play; The Indian Emperor (1665). Tyrannick Love (1669), The Conquest of Granada (in two parts, 1669 and 1670), and Aureng-zebe (1675) show the heroic kind at its best and worst.
In comedy alone Dryden showed a certain incapacity; his mind seemed to be too rugged and unresilient to catch the sharper moods of the current wit. Fortunately this weakness of his was atoned for by the activities of a brilliant group of dramatists who made Restoration comedy a thing apart in English literature.
Even so, Restoration comedy drew its main inspiration from the native tradition which had flourished before the closing of the theatres in 1642. In particular it was indebted to Beaumont and Fletcher and to Ben Jonson. Like the heroic play, however, comedy was strongly influenced by Continental writers, and especially by Moliere and the Spaniard, Calderon. It reflected closely the dissolute court life of the period, and, between that and the court life of France, there was a community of spirit which led naturally to an interest in French comedy. Moliere provided English dramatists with ideas for plots and with an example of fine comic characterization; Spanish drama served to strengthen that love of intrigue and incident already firmly established in English comedy.
Of this new style, the passage of Congreve given below is a good specimen. The pervading tone is one of cynicism, and the plays show a close, and often satirical, observation of life and manners which recalls the work of Ben Jonson. Plots and subplots are intricate and numerous, and centre mainly upon amorous intrigues, which reflect an open contempt for the ordinary standards of morality, that, in Wycherley and others, often takes the form of gross sensuality. In the hands of the best and most restrained of the dramatists, Etheredge and Congreve, the immorality still remains, but it is purged of much of its grossness and offensiveness by the fact that it is essentially intellectual, witty, and free from the cruder realism which mars Wycherley’s work.
The immorality of Restoration drama was the object of fierce Puritanical attacks, the most notorious of which was the Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage (1698) of Jeremy Collier. Though this work is notable only for its wrathful tone and its stupidity as dramatic criticism, it provoked many replies from the offending dramatists, but beyond this its objections seem to have had no effect. The characters in Restoration comedies are largely types, whose dispositions are sufficiently indicated by a study of their names. We have Sir Fopling Flutter; Scrub (a servant); Colonel Bully; Sir John Brute; Squire Sullen; Gibbet (a highwayman); Lady Bountiful. They have thus many of the qualities of the Jonsonian character, with its predominant ‘humour’. But by the last part of the period there has evolved something distinct from the comedy of humours--the comedy of manners. A ‘manner’ is difficult to define. It does not imply the portrayal of life so much as a genteel, sophisticated brilliant quality, what one critic has called “a grace or habit of refined culture.”
Etherege: George Etherege had a gift for sharp and satiric social observation. He left only three plays and a handful of poetry, and most of the information about him comes from letters written long after he ceased writing for the stage.
When Charles II returned to England after his exile in France, however, he brought with him the French court tastes for extravagance, clever conversation, flirtation, and comic theater. England celebrated his return, and the period dominated by the distinctly un-Puritan character of his reign is known as the Restoration (1660–1700).
Etherege quickly became a player in Charles II’s court. William Oldys wrote that Etherege was one of ‘‘those leading Wits among the Quality and Gentry of chief rank and distinction, who made their pleasure the chief business of their lives.’’
The Comical Revenge, Etherege’s first play, probably premiered in March of 1664. One of the crew recalled it as being more successful than any preceding comedy. Its success opened doors for Etherege, and he was soon established as one of the witty group of courtiers including Sir Charles Sedley and John Wilmot, earl of Rochester. King Charles himself attended the opening of Etherege’s next play, She Would If She Could, on February 6, 1668. This play, which critics have generally considered superior to The Comical Revenge, generated less interest at the time. Samuel Pepys’s diary contains the following description of the premiere: ‘‘Lord, how full was the house and how silly the play, there being nothing in the world good in it and few people pleased in it.’’ The poorly prepared production may well account for the indifferent reception of She Would If She Could, which was later quite popular with audiences and critics alike.
Until recently, Etherege has been considered one of the inventors of a genre known variously as the comedy of manners. This type of play is reflective of the lightheartedness of the era that produced it. After years of imposed seriousness during the Puritan rule of Oliver Cromwell, high society was eager for some naughty fun. Etherege’s work, like other Restoration-era comedies, suited the tastes of theater-goers. His plays feature explicit sexual situations, drunkenness, rowdy violence, feasting, and revelry—with little worry about morals.
Wycherley: One of the foremost dramatists of the Restoration period, William Wycherley combined irreverent social satire and complex verbal wit to create comedies of lasting interest and appeal. His comedies ridiculed the manners and morals of sophisticated ladies and gentlemen who delighted in illicit intrigue. Wycherley’s plays have attracted much controversy over the years for their candid treatment of moral—particularly sexual—attitudes and behavior, with the result that Wycherley has been alternately hailed as a force for moral regeneration and denounced as a purveyor of moral indecency.
Wycherley’s first play, Love in a Wood, premiered in London in 1671 and made him famous overnight. It attracted the attention of Charles II’s mistress, the Duchess of Cleveland, who introduced Wycherley to court circles. His second play, a comedy titled The Gentleman Dancing Master, was performed later that year The Country-Wife, Wycherley’s best-known play, was first performed in 1672 or 1673 and centers on the attempts of a jealous husband named Pinchwife to keep his young and naive wife out of society because of his fear that she will be unfaithful. This play was a great success and is still performed today. The next year The Plain Dealer was performed with equal success. After The Plain Dealer, Wycherley stopped writing for the stage.
Note: The Restoration was the first time women were allowed to perform on stage.
Wycherley’s work often satirizes the hypocrisies and immoralities of London high society.
Here are some other works that poke fun at the rich and mighty:
The Rape of the Lock (1712), a narrative poem by Alexander Pope. Pope was asked by some friends to mend fences between two aristocratic families after a man cut off a lock of hair, without permission, from a young woman he admired. Pope turned it into a mockepic satire full of sparkling wit, stinging satire, and obvious affection for an elegant society that he could observe but never fully join himself.
Vile Bodies (1930), a novel by Evelyn Waugh. Waugh uses his trademark black humor to expose the shallowness of the ‘‘bright young things’’ of post–World War I British society.
Shampoo (1975), a film directed by Hal Ashby. This satire on the sexual and social mores of the rich in the late 1960s starred Warren Beatty as a hairdresser who makes housecalls, allowing him to use his charms to cuckold all the husbands who are at work earning the money their wives are spending on their selfish pleasures.
Thomas Shadwell: he has been remembered chiefly on account of Dryden’s portrait of him in MacFlecknoe. He deserves mention here, however, in his own right. He held the popular stage for over twenty years and wrote many plays, the best of which were The Sullen Lovers (1668), The Squire of Alsatia (1688), and Bury Fair (1689). Shadwell stood outside the development of the comedy of manners, and imitated closely Jonson’s comedy of humours. His plays are generally coarse, but on occasion he shows real wit.
William Congreve: He wrote all his plays before he was thirty, when he deserted the drama to spend the rest of his life as a very popular society gentleman, largely supported by generous government pensions. ‘His first comedy was The Old Bachelor (1693), and this was followed by the Double Dealer (1693), Love for Love (1695), and The Way of the World (1700). His one tragedy, The Mourning Bride (1697), was in the vein of the later Elizabethan tragedians Congreve is undoubtedly the greatest of the Restoration comedy-writers. In his work the comedy of manners reaches perfection. His plays are a faithful reflection of the upperclass life of his day but their undoubted immorality is saved from being objectionable by artificial wit, a hard-finish, and a total lack of realism. In the artificial society which he depicts moral judgments would be out of place. The tone is one of cynical vivacity, the characters are well drawn, and Congreve’s prose is lucid, concise, .and pointed and shows an excellent ear for rhythm and cadence. In all things he is the polished artist, whose distinctive quality is brilliance.
All Congreve’s plays, except The Way of the World, had an immediate success, and it is ironical that this one should be singled out by posterity as his masterpiece. Free from the occasional sentimental touches which make The Double Dealer, it is the best example of the comedy of manners.
Jeremy Collier: English bishop. Collier is best known for his pious attack on the sexually charged Restoration comedies of William Congreve and John Vanbrugh in his Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage (1698).
Sir John Vanbrugh: Vanbrugh’s career, though much of it is obscure, seems to have been a varied one, for at different times he was a soldier, a herald, and an architect. His best three comedies are The Relapse (1696), The Provok’d Wife 1697), and The Confederacy (1705). Vanbrugh’s plays lack the art and elegance of Congreve’s, but they are full of energy and genial humour. He is fond of farce and good at caricature, and his plots, if daring, are soundly constructed.
George Farquhar (1678-1707). He had an adventurous career, was in turn a clergyman, an actor, and a soldier, and died when he was twenty-nine years old. The pathos of his early death has given him a fame of its own. He wrote seven plays, the best of which are the last two, viz., The Recruiting Officer (1706) and The Beaux’ Stratagem (1707).
Farquhar comes late among the Restoration dramatists, and by his time the cynical immorality of the age seems to have worn thin. His temper is certainly more genial, and his wit, though it has lapses, is more decorous. In The Recruiting Officer and the plays which followed Farquhar added something new to Restoration comedy, in taking his material from a wider life than the polite upper class depicted by Congreve, and his characters are more like ordinary people. His dialogue lacks the polish and sustained wit of Congreve, and is nearer the level of normal conversation. In his rapidly developing humanity, and his growing respect for moral standards, Farquhar looks forward to the drama of Steele and the succeeding age.
Thomas Otway (1651-85). As was so often the case with the dramatists of the time, Otway had a varied and troubled career, closed with a miserable death. His first play, Alcibiades, was produced in 1675; then followed Don Carlos (1676), The Orphan (1680), and his masterpiece, Venice Preserv’d (1682).
Otway began his career in the typical heroic strain of the age, and Don Carlos is a fair specimen of the type, though, in sentiment and language, it is less exaggerated than is usual. His reputation rests, however, on two plays. In The Orphan, which, allowing for its period, is lacking in heroics, Otway struck the note of deep pathos which is his distinguishing feature, while the play has a calmness of tone and absence of rant unusual in its day. Venice Preserv’d is his finest work. Here the tragedy is on a grander scale than in The Orphan, and the characters are skilfully handled-- especially those of Jaffier and Pierre. The play has a rugged and sombre force, and reveals a considerable skill in working out a dramatic situation. One authority on the drama believes it to have been revived more often than any play outside Shakespeare--an undeniable proof of its dramatic possibilities.
Nathaniel Lee: Lee’s life is the usual tale of mishaps, miseries, and drunkenness, with a taint of madness as an additional calamity. He wrote many tragedies, some of which are Nero (1674), Sophonisba (1676), The Rival Queens (1677), and Mithridates (1678). He also collaborated with Dryden in the production of two plays.
During his own time Lee’s name became a byword to distinguish a kind of wild, raving style, which in part at least seems to have been a product of his madness. But he can write well when the spirit is in him; he has a command of pathos, and all through his work he has touches of real poetic quality.
Rationalism and Philosophical Prose
The rational character of the Restoration is clearly seen in the domain of general ideas on man, nature and society. The Restoration brought science into fashion.
Thomas Hobbes: He supported the Royalist cause, was exiled by the Roundheads, and at the Restoration was awarded a pension. The remainder of his long life was devoted to literature. Hobbes took an active part in the intellectual broils of the period, and much of his work is violently contentious. His chief book was Leviathan (1651), which expounded his political theories. The ardour of his opinions embroiled him with both of the chief political parties, but the abuse that it occasioned gave the book an immense interest. The style in which it is written is hard, clear, and accurate --almost the ideal medium for sustained exposition and argument.
Newton: Perhaps the best-known scientist in history, Sir Isaac Newton’s theories revolutionized mathematics, mechanics, astronomy, and optics. An eccentric genius, Newton’s theoretical work covered such fundamental concepts as the force of gravity and the physics of motion, and he is credited as the co-creator of calculus. He laid the groundwork for classical mechanics, the view that dominated the scientific view of the physical universe for the next three centuries.
Rene Descartes: Seventeenth-century French rationalist and the founder of Cartesian philosophy. Often remembered for his adage ‘‘I think, therefore I am.’’ His books include Discourse on Method (1637). He is known as ‘‘The Father of Modern Philosophy’’ for his profound influences on subsequent generations of thinkers. His treatises include Passions of the Soul (1649).
Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon (1609-74), was born in Wiltshire, educated at Oxford, and studied law. A man of excellent address, he was a successful lawyer, and became a member of the House of Commons. At first he was attached to the Parliamentary side, but he separated from the party on account of their attitude to the Church. He changed over to the Royalists, and thenceforward became one of the foremost advocates of the King’s cause. After the downfall of the Royalists he accompanied the young Charles into exile; and at the Restoration he was appointed Lord Chancellor and raised to the peerage as Earl of Clarendon. He was too severe for the frivolous Restoration times, was exiled (1667), and died in France. His body was buried in Westminster Abbey.
His great work, The History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England, was begun as early as 1646 and finished during the years of his last exile. It was not published till 1704. To some extent the work is based on his own knowledge of the struggle; it lacks proportion and complete accuracy; but the narrative is strong and attractive, and it contains masterly character-sketches of some of the chief figures in the struggle. It is composed in long, lumbering sentences, loaded with parentheses and digressions, but the style is readable. It is the most important English work of a historical nature up to the date of its issue.
Gilbert Burnet, Bishop of Salisbury, whose The History of my own Time was published after his death. The style of the book is modelled on that of Clarendon. Burnet’s style is not of the same class as that of his predecessor: it has lapses into colloquialism; its sentences are snipped into small pieces by means of frequent colons and semicolons; and he has not Clarendon’s command of vocabulary.
The Diarists. By a coincidence it happened that the two most famous diary-writers in English were working at the same time, and during this period. Not dissimilar in several respects, their works show both the drawbacks and the advantages of the diary manner. The books are private documents, and so have: no formal pretensions to literary excellence in style, which is not an undiluted misfortune. Yet the style is often ragged and incoherent, and much reading at it produces a feeling of flatness and monotony. But, on the other hand, being private joltings, they are intimate, and so are interesting, full of information concerning public and personal affairs, and containing illuminating comments on people and incidents.
Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) is the more lovable of the two, and is probably known more intimately to the world than any other writer. He was born in London, and educated at St Paul’s and later at Cambridge Through the influence of his kinsman, Sir Edward Montagu (later Earl of Sandwich), he became Clerk of the Acts of the Navy in 1660. From then on he prospered steadily, and eventually he became Secretary to the Admiralty and a Member of Parliament) The panic following the Popish Plot (1679) led to an unjustified charge of popery and a period in the Tower, followed by some years of unemployment. From 1684 to 1688 he was again Secretary to the Admiralty, and in these years he carried through an extensive reform of the administration of the Navy. With the arrival of the new government he lost his post, and he spent the remainder of his life in retirement.
Pepys’ Diary open on Jan. 1, 1660 and continues until May 31, 1669, when his failing eyesight led him to abandon writing at night Written in various forms of cipher, which was not decoded until 1819, it was intended for no eyes but his own and is the most frank and intimate revelation of a human life which is known to us. It shows an amazing lack of reticence, and abounds in minute details of great personal and historical interest. It reveals Pepys as a man of the world, keenly interested in his material advancement; as a great lover of music and the theatre; above all it snows him as intensely human, with many endearing human qualities and many equally human failings - vanity, ill temper, a fondness for fine clothes, good food, and attractive women - a man constantly vowing to amend his way of life, and as constantly failing to do so.
John Evelyn is the other diarist, and is much more respectable and much less amusing than Pepys. His diary is a more finished production in the matter of style, and may have been produced with an eye on the public. The style is simple and lucid, but has little of the freshness that distinguishes Pepys’. The diary, however, is full of accurate information, and in some of the more moving incidents, such as that of the Great Fire, it warms into something like real eloquence.
Religious Prose in the Restoration
In the domain of Restoration prose Bunyan alone contests the supremacy of Dryden. And Bunyan stands in a class by himself The main facts of his life are well known. He himself has given them an imperishable shape in his Grace Abounding (1666), a kind of religious autobiography. this second period of imprisonment he wrote the first part of The Pilgrim’s Progress (published 1678), and then came The Life and Death of Mr Badman (1680) and The Holy War (1682).
Except for Grace Abounding, all Bunyan’s major works are allegorical. In each case the allegory is worked out with ease, force, and clearness. Readers of all ages enjoy the narrative, while they follow the double meaning without an effort. The allegorical personages - for example, Mr Worldly Wiseman, Mrs Diffidence, Giant Despair, Madame Wanton, My Lord Hategood, Mr Standfast - are fresh and apt, and are full of an intense interest and a raw dramatic energy.
Jeremy Taylor is the most prominent literary divine of the period. The son of a barber, he was born and educated at Cambridge, though latterly he removed to Oxford. Taking holy orders, he distinguished himself as an ardent expounder of the Royalist cause, and for a time he was imprisoned by the Parliamentary party. At the Restoration he was rewarded by being appointed to the Irish bishoprics of Down and Dromore. He died in Ireland.
A learned, voluble, and impressive preacher, Taylor carried the same qualities into his prose works, which consisted of tracts, sermons, and theological books. His most popular works, in addition to his collections of sermons, were The Liberty of Prophesying, (1647), Holy Living (1650), and Holy Dying (1651). In his writings he is fond of quotations and allusions and of florid, rhetorical figures, such as simile, exclamation, and apostrophe; and his language, built into long, stately, but comprehensible sentences, is abundant, melodious, and pleasing.
Thomas Fuller (1608-61) was born in Northamptonshire, his father being a clergyman. He was educated at Cambridge, and took holy orders. He received various appointments, and by his witty sermons attracted the notice of Charles I. During the Civil War he was a chaplain to the Royalist forces; but when his side was defeated he made his peace with the Parliamentary party and was permitted to carry on his literary labours. He died the year after the Restoration.
Fuller had an original and penetrating mind, a wit apt for caustic comment, and an industry that remained unimpaired till the end of his life. His literary works are therefore of great interest and value. His serious historical books include The History of the Holy War (1639), dealing with the Crusades, and The Church History of Britain.
Prose on Miscellaneous Subjects
Lord Halifax: Halifax was an outstanding figure in the House of Lords during the exciting times of the Exclusion Bills, of which he was the chief opponent. He ranks high as an orator; as an author his fame rests on a small volume called Miscellanies. The book contains a number of political tracts, such as The Character of a Trimmer, and a piece of a more general character called Advice to a Daughter. In his writings Halifax adopts the manner and attitude of the typical man of the world: a moderation of statement, a cool and agreeably acid humour, and a style devoid of flourishes. In him we find a decided approach to the essay-manner of Addison.
Sir William Temple: Temple also was a politician of some importance, filled diplomatic posts abroad, and was a moderate success in affairs at home. He is an example of the moneyed, leisured semi-amateur in literature. He wrote little and elegantly, as a gentleman should, and patronized authors of lesser fortune and greater genius. His chief works were his Letters (published by Swift in 1700 and 1703), his Memoirs (1691), and his Miscellanea, a series of essays on a variety of subjects.
Prose on Philosophical Empiricism
John Locke: John Locke (1632–1704): Locke was an English philosopher and one of the most influential Enlightenment thinkers. He also made significant contributions to American Revolutionary thought.
Note: During his brief stay at Oxford, Shelley wrote a prose pamphlet, The Necessity of Atheism (1811), which was to have a disastrous effect on his relationship with his family and a dramatic effect on his life. Indeed, Shelley’s decision to publish The Necessity of Atheism and send copies of it to the conservative Oxford dons, seemed more calculated to antagonize and flaunt authority than to persuade by rational argument. Actually the title of the pamphlet is more inflammatory than the argument, which centers upon ‘‘the nature of belief,’’ a position Shelley derived from the skeptical philosophies of John Locke and David Hume.
In some authors of the period we find this desire for unornamented style degenerating into coarseness and ugliness. Such a one is Jeremy Collier (1650-1726), whose Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage (1698) caused a great commotion in its day. It attacked the vices of the stage with great vigour, but the style of this famous book is so colloquial that it becomes in places ungrammatical. Thomas Sprat (1635-1713) was another disciple of the same school. He wrote on the newly formed Royal Society, which demanded from its members “a close, naked, natural way of speaking.” This expresses the new development quite well. A greater man than Sprat, but a fellow-member of the Royal Society, was John Locke (1632-1704), who in his famous An Essay concerning Human Understanding (1690) put the principle into practice. Locke’s style is bare to baldness, but it is clear.
English Literature by Edward Albert [Revised by J. A. Stone]
History of English Literature, by Legouis and Cazamian
The Routledge History of Literature in English: Britain and Ireland, by Ronald Carter and John McRae
Gale’s Contextual Encyclopedia of World Literature