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Default A Comprehensive History of English Literature

English Literature: Its Background and Development

English Literature is one of richest literatures of the world. Being the literature of a great nation which, though inhabiting a small island off the west coast of Europe, has made its mark in the world on account of her spirit of adventure, perseverance and tenacity, it reflects these characteristics of a great people.
It has vitality, rich variety and continuity. As literature is the reflection of society, the various changes which have come about in English society, from the earliest to the modern time, have left their stamp on English literature. Thus in order to appreciate properly the various phases of English literature, knowledge of English Social and Political History is essential. For example, we cannot form a just estimate of Chaucer without taking into account the characteristics of the period in which he was living, or of Shakespeare without taking proper notice of the great events which were taking place during the reign of Elizabeth. The same is the case with other great figures and important movements in English literature.
When we study the history of English literature from the earliest to modern times, we find that it has passed through certain definite phases, each having marked characteristics. These phases may be termed as ‘Ages’ or ‘Periods’, which are named after the central literary figures or the important rulers of England. Thus we have the ‘Ages’ of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden, Pope, Johnson. Wordsworth, Tennyson, Hardy; and, on the other hand, the Elizabethan Age, the Jacobean Period, the Age of Queen Anne, the Victorian Age, the Georgian Period. Some of these phases are named after certain literary movements, as the Classical Age, the Romantic Age; while others after certain important historial eras, as the Medieval Period, Anglo-Saxon Period, Anglo-Norman Period. These literary phases are also named by some literary historians after the centuries, as the Seventeenth Century Literature, Eighteenth Century Literature, Nineteenth-Century Literature and Twentieth Century Literature. These ‘Ages’ and ‘Periods’ naturally overlap each other, and they are not to be followed strictly, but it is essential to keep them in mind in order to follow the growth of English literature, and its salient and distinctive characteristics during the various periods of its development.
Now let us have a critical survey of the background and development of English literature from the earliest times upto the present age.
The Anglo-Saxon Or Old-English Period (670-1100)

The earliest phase of English literature started with Anglo-Saxon literature of the Angles and Saxons (the ancestors of the English race) much before they occupied Britain. English was the common name and tongue of these tribes. Before they occupied Britain they lived along the coasts of Sweden and Denmark, and the land which they occupied was called Engle-land. These tribes were fearless, adventurous and brave, and during the later years of Roman occupation of Britain, they kept the British coast in terror. Like other nations they sang at their feasts about battles, gods and their ancestral heroes, and some of their chiefs were also bards. It was in these songs of religion, wars and agriculture, that English poetry began in the ancient Engle-land while Britain was still a Roman province.

Though much of this Anglo-Saxon poetry is lost, there are still some fragments left. For example, Widsith describes continental courts visited in imagination by a far-wandering poet; Waldhere tells how Walter of Aquitaine withstood a host of foes in the passes of the Vosges; the splendid fragment called The Fight at Finnesburg deals with the same favourite theme of battle against fearful odds; and Complaint of Deor describes the disappointment of a lover. The most important poem of this period is Beowulf. It is a tale of adventures of Beowulf, the hero, who is an champion an slayer of monsters; the incidents in it are such as may be found in hundreds of other stories, but what makes it really interesting and different from later romances, is that is full of all sorts of references and allusions to great events, to the fortunes of kings and nations. There is thus an historical background.
After the Anglo-Saxons embraced Christianity, the poets took up religious themes as the subject-matter of their poetry. In fact, a major portion of Anglo-Saxon poetry is religious. The two important religious poets of the Anglo-Saxon period were Caedmon and Cynewulf. Caedmon sang in series the whole story of the fate of man, from the Creation and the Fall to the Redemption and the Last Judgment, and within this large framework, the Scripture history. Cynewulf’s most important poem is the Crist, a metrical narrative of leading events of Christ’s ministry upon earth, including his return to judgment, which is treated with much grandeur.
Anglo-Saxon poetry is markedly different from the poetry of the next period—Middle English or Anglo-Norman period—for it deals with the traditions of an older world, and expresses another temperament and way of living; it breathes the influence of the wind and storm. It is the poetry of a stern and passionate people, concerned with the primal things of life, moody, melancholy and fierce, yet with great capacity for endurance and fidelity.
The Anglo-Saxon period was also marked by the beginning of English prose. Through the Chronicles, which probably began in King Alfred’s time, and through Alfred’s translations from the Latin a common available prose was established, which had all sorts of possibilities in it. In fact, unlike poetry, there was no break in prose of Anglo-Saxon period and the Middle English period, and even the later prose in England was continuation of Anglo-Saxon prose. The tendency of the Anglo-Saxon prose is towards observance of the rules of ordinary speech, that is why, though one has to make a considerable effort in order to read verse of the Anglo-Saxons, it is comparatively easy to understand their prose. The great success of Anglo-Saxon prose is in religious instructions, and the two great pioneers of English prose were Alfred the Great, the glorious king of Wessex, who translated a number of Latin Chronicles in English, and Aelfric, a priest, who wrote sermons in a sort of poetic prose.
The Angles and Saxons first landed in England in the middle of the fifth century, and by 670 A.D. they had occupied almost the whole of the country. Unlike the Romans who came as conquerors, these tribes settled in England and made her their permanent home. They became, therefore, the ancestors of the English race. The Anglo-Saxon kings, of whom Alfred the Great was the most prominent, ruled till 1066, when Harold, the last of Saxon kings, was defeated at the Battle of Hastings by William the Conqueror of Normandy, France. The Anglo-Saxon or Old English Period in English literature, therefore, extends roughly from 670 A.D. to 1100 A.D.
As it has been made clear in the First Part of this book that the literature of any country in any period is the reflection of the life lived by the people of that country in that particular period, we find that this applies to the literature of this period. The Angles and Saxons combined in themselves opposing traits of character—savagery and sentiment, rough living and deep feeling, splendid courage and deep melancholy resulting from thinking about the unanswered problem of death. Thus they lived a rich external as well as internal life, and it is especially the latter which is the basis of their rich literature. To these brave and fearless fighters, love of untarnished glory, and happy domestic life and virtues, made great appeal. They followed in their life five great principles—love of personal freedom, responsiveness to nature, religion, love for womanhood, and struggle for glory. All these principles are reflected in their literature. They were full of emotions and aspirations, and loved music and songs. Thus we read in Beowulf:
Music and song where the heroes sat—
The glee—wood rang, a song uprose
When Hrothgar’s scop gave the hall good cheer.
The Anglo Saxon language is only a branch of the great Aryan or Indo-European family of languages. It has the same root words for father and mother, for God and man, for the common needs and the common relations of life, as we find in Sanskrit, Iranian, Greek and Latin. And it is this old vigorous Anglo-Saxon language which forms the basis of modern English.

Middle-English Or Anglo-Norman Period (1100-1500)

The Normans, who were residing in Normandy (France) defeated the Anglo-Saxon King at the Battle of Hastings (1066) and conquered England.
The Norman Conquest inaugurated a distinctly new epoch in the literary as well as political history of England. The Anglo-Saxon authors were then as suddenly and permanently displaced as the Anglo-Saxon king.
The literature afterwards read and written by Englishmen was thereby as completely transformed as the sentiments and tastes of English rulers. The foreign types of literature introduced after the Norman Conquest first found favour with the monarchs and courtiers, and were deliberately fostered by them, to the disregard of native forms. No effective protest was possible by the Anglo-Saxons, and English thought for centuries to come was largely fashioned in the manner of the French. Throughout the whole period, which we call the Middle English period (as belonging to the Middle Ages or Medieval times in the History of Britain) or the Anglo-Norman period, in forms of artistic expression as well as of religious service, the English openly acknowledged a Latin control.
It is true that before the Norman Conquest the Anglo-Saxons had a body of native literature distinctly superior to any European vernacular. But one cannot deny that the Normans came to their land when they greatly needed an external stimulus. The Conquest effected a wholesome awakening of national life. The people were suddenly inspired by a new vision of a greater future. They became united in a common hope. In course of time the Anglo-Saxons lost their initial hostility to the new comers, and all became part and parcel of one nation. The Normans not only brought with them soldiers and artisans and traders, they also imported scholars to revive knowledge, chroniclers to record memorable events, minstrels to celebrate victories, or sing of adventure and love.
The great difference between the two periods—Anglo-Saxon period and Anglo-Norman period, is marked by the disappearance of the old English poetry. There is nothing during the Anglo-Norman period like Beowulf or Fall of the Angels. The later religious poetry has little in it to recall the finished art of Cynewulf. Anglo-Saxon poetry, whether derived from heathendom or from the Church, has ideas and manners of its own; it comes to perfection, and then it dies away. It seems that Anglo-Saxon poetry grows to rich maturity, and then disappears, as with the new forms of language and under new influences, the poetical education started again, and so the poetry of the Anglo-Norman period has nothing in common the Anglo-Saxon poetry.
The most obvious change in literary expression appears in the vehicle employed. For centuries Latin had been more or less spoken or written by the clergy in England. The Conquest which led to the reinvigoration of the monasteries and the tightening of the ties with Rome, determined its more extensive use. Still more important, as a result of foreign sentiment in court and castle, it caused writings in the English vernacular to be disregarded, and established French as the natural speech of the cultivated and the high-born. The clergy insisted on the use of Latin, the nobility on the use of French; no one of influence saw the utility of English as a means of perpetuating thought, and for nearly three centuries very few works appeared in the native tongue.
In spite of the English language having been thrown into the background, some works were composed in it, though they echoed in the main the sentiments and tastes of the French writers, as French then was the supreme arbiter of European literary style. Another striking characteristic of medieval literature is its general anonymity. Of the many who wrote the names of but few are recorded, and of the history of these few we have only the most meagre details. It was because originality was deplored as a fault, and independence of treatment was a heinous offence in their eyes.
(a) The Romances
The most popular form of literature during the Middle English period was the romances. No literary productions of the Middle Ages are so characteristic, none so perennially attractive as those that treat romantically of heroes and heroines of by-gone days. These romances are notable for their stories rather than their poetry, and they, like the drama afterwards, furnished the chief mental recreation of time for the great body of the people. These romances were mostly borrowed from Latin and French sources. They deal with the stories of King Arthur, The War of Troy, the mythical doings of Charlemagne and of Alexander the Great.
(b) The Miracle and Morality Plays
In the Middle English period Miracle plays became very popular. From the growth and development of the Bible story, scene by scene, carried to its logical conclusion, this drama—developed to an enormous cycle of sacred history, beginning with the creation of man, his fall and banishment from the Garden of Eden and extending through the more important matters of the Old Testament and life of Christ in the New to the summoning of the quick and the dead on the day of final judgment. This kind of drama is called the miracle play—sometimes less correctly the mystery play—and it flourished throughout England from the reign of Henry II to that of Elizabeth (1154-1603).
Another form of drama which flourished during the Middle Ages was the Morality plays. In these plays the uniform theme is the struggle between the powers of good and evil for the mastery of the soul of man. The personages were abstract virtues, or vices, each acting and speaking in accordance with his name; and the plot was built upon their contrasts and influences on human nature, with the intent to teach right living and uphold religion. In a word, allegory is the distinguishing mark of the moral plays. In these moral plays the protagonist is always an abstraction; he is Mankind, the Human Race, the Pride of Life, and there is an attempt to compass the whole scope of man’s experience and temptations in life, as there had been a corresponding effort in the Miracle plays to embrace the complete range of sacred history, the life of Christ, and the redemption of the world.
(c) William Langland (1332 ?...?)
One of the greatest poets of the Middle Ages was William Langland, and his poem, A Vision of Piers the Plowman holds an important place in English literature. In spite of its archaic style, it is a classic work in English literature. This poem, which is a satire on the corrupt religious practices, throws light on the ethical problems of the day. The character assumed by Langland is that of the prophet, denouncing the sins of society and encouraging men to aspire to a higher life. He represents the dissatisfaction of the lower and the more thinking classes of English society, as Chaucer represents the content of the aristocracy and the prosperous middle class. Although Langland is essentially a satiric poet, he has decided views on political and social questions. The feudal system is his ideal; he desires no change in the institution of his days, and he thinks that all would be well if the different orders of society would do their duty. Like Dante and Bunyan, he ennobles his satire by arraying it in a garb of allegory; and he is intensely real.
(d) John Gower (1325?—1408)
Gower occupies an important place in the development of English poetry. Though it was Chaucer who played the most important role in this direction, Gower’s contribution cannot be ignored. Gower represents the English culmination of that courtly medieval poetry which had its rise in France two or three hundred years before. He is a great stylist, and he proved that English might compete with the other languages which had most distinguished themselves in poetry. Gower is mainly a narrative poet and his most important work is Confession Amantis, which is in the form of conversation between the poet and a divine interpreter. It is an encyclopaedia of the art of love, and satirises the vanities of the current time. Throughout the collection of stories which forms the major portion of Confession Amantis, Gower presents himself as a moralist. Though Gower was inferior to Chaucer, it is sufficient that they were certainly fellow pioneers, fellow schoolmasters, in the task of bringing England to literature. Up to their time, the literary production of England had been exceedingly rudimentary and limited. Gower, like Chaucer, performed the function of establishing the form of English as a thoroughly equipped medium of literature.

(e) Chaucer (1340?...1400)
It was, in fact, Chaucer who was the real founder of English poetry, and he is rightly called the ‘Father of English Poetry’. Unlike the poetry of his predecessors and contemporaries, which is read by few except professed scholars, Chaucer’s poetry has been read and enjoyed continuously from his own day to this, and the greatest of his successors, from Spenser and Milton to Tennyson and William Morris, have joined in praising it. Chaucer, in fact, made a fresh beginning in English literature. He disregarded altogether the old English tradition. His education as a poet was two-fold. Part of it came from French and Italian literatures, but part of it came from life. He was not a mere bookman, nor was he in the least a visionary. Like Shakespeare and Milton, he was, on the contrary, a man of the world and of affairs.
The most famous and characteristic work of Chaucer is the Canterbury Tales, which is a collection of stories related by the pilgrims on their way to the shrine of Thomas Becket at Canterbury. These pilgrims represent different sections of contemporary English society, and in the description of the most prominent of these people in the Prologue Chaucer’s powers are shown at their very highest. All these characters are individualized, yet their thoroughly typical quality gives unique value to Chaucer’s picture of men and manners in the England of his time.
The Canterbury Tales is a landmark in the history of English poetry because here Chaucer enriched the English language and metre to such an extent, that now it could be conveniently used for any purpose. Moreover, by introducing a variety of highly-finished characters into a single action, and engaging them in an animated dialogue, Chaucer fulfilled every requirement of the dramatist, short of bringing his plays on the stage. Also, by drawing finished and various portraits in verse, he showed the way to the novelists to portray characters.
Chaucer’s works fall into three periods. During the first period he imitated French models, particularly the famous and very long poem Le Roman de la Rose of which he made a translation—Romaunt of the Rose. This poem which gives an intimate introduction to the medieval French romances and allegories of courtly love, is the embryo out of which all Chaucer’s poetry grows. During this period he also wrote the Book of the Duchess, an elegy, which in its form and nature is like the Romaunt of the Rose; Complaint unto Pity, a shorter poem and ABC, a series of stanzas religious in tone, in which each opens with a letter of the alphabet in order.
The poems of the second period (1373-84) show the influence of Italian literature, especially of Dante’s Divine Comedy and Boccaccio’s poems. In this period he wrote The Parliament of Fowls, which contains very dramatic and satiric dialogues between the assembled birds; Troilus and Criseyde, which narrates the story of the Trojan prince Troilus and his love for a damsel, Creseida; The Story of Griselda, in which is given a pitiful picture of womanhood; and The House of Fame, which is a masterpiece of comic fantasy, with a graver undertone of contemplation of human folly.
Chaucer’s third period (1384-90) may be called the English period, because in it he threw off foreign influences and showed native originality. In the Legend of Good Woman he employed for the first time the heroic couplet. It was during this period that he wrote The Canterbury Tales, his greatest poetic achievement, which places us in the heart of London. Here we find his gentle, kindly humour, which is Chaucer’s greatest quality, at its very best.
Chaucer’s importance in the development of English literature is very great because he removed poetry from the region of Metaphysics and Theology, and made it hold as “twere the mirror up to nature”. He thus brought back the old classical principle of the direct imitation of nature.
(f) Chaucer’s Successors
After Chaucer there was a decline in English poetry for about one hundred years. The years from 1400 to the Renaissance were a period bereft of literature. There were only a few minor poets, the imitators and successors of Chaucer, who are called the English and Scottish Chaucerians who wrote during this period. The main cause of the decline of literature during this period was that no writer of genius was born during those long years. Chaucer’s successors were Occieeve, Lydgate, Hawes, Skelton Henryson, Dunbar and Douglas. They all did little but copy him, and they represent on era of mediocrity in English literature that continues up to the time of the Renaissance.


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The Renaissance Period (1500-1600)

The Renaissance Period in English literature is also called the Elizabethan Period or the Age of Shakespeare. The middle Ages in Europe were followed by the Renaissance. Renaissance means the Revival of Learning, and it denotes in its broadest sense the gradual enlightenment of the human mind after the darkness of the Middle Ages.
With the fall of Constantinople in 1453 A.D. by the invasion of the Turks, the Greek scholars who were residing there, spread all over Europe, and brought with them invaluable Greek manuscripts. The discovery of these classical models resulted in the Revival of Learning in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The essence of this movement was that “man discovered himself and the universe”, and that “man, so long blinded had suddenly opened his eyes and seen”. The flood of Greek literature which the new art of printing carried swiftly to every school in Europe revealed a new world of poetry and philosophy. Along with the Revival of Learning, new discoveries took place in several other fields. Vascoda Gama circumnavigated the earth; Columbus discovered America; Copernicus discovered the Solar System and prepared the way for Galileo. Books were printed, and philosophy, science, and art were systematised. The Middle Ages were past, and the old world had become new. Scholars flocked to the universities, as adventurers to the new world of America, and there the old authority received a death blow. Truth only was authority; to search for truth everywhere, as men sought for new lands and gold and the Fountain of Youth—that was the new spirit, which awoke in Europe with the Revival of Learning.
The chief characteristic of the Renaissance was its emphasis on Humanism, which means man’s concern with himself as an object of contemplation. This movement was started in Italy by Dante, Petrarch and Baccaccio in the fourteenth century, and from there it spread to other countries of Europe. In England it became popular during the Elizabethan period. This movement which focused its interest on ‘the proper study of mankind’ had a number of subordinate trends. The first in importance was the rediscovery of classical antiquity, and particularly of ancient Greece. During the medieval period, the tradition-bound Europe had forgotten the liberal tone of old Greek world and its spirit of democracy and human dignity. With the revival of interest in Greek Classical Antiquity, the new spirit of Humanism made its impact on the Western world. The first Englishman who wrote under the influence of Greek studies was Sir Thomas More. His Utopia, written in Latin, was suggested by Plato’s Republic. Sir Philip Sidney in his Defence of Poesie accepted and advocated the critical rules of the ancient Greeks.
The second important aspect of Humanism was the discovery of the external universe, and its significance for man. But more important than this was that the writers directed their gaze inward, and became deeply interested in the problems of human personality. In the medieval morality plays, the characters are mostly personifications: Friendship, Charity, Sloth, Wickedness and the like. But now during the Elizabethan period, under the influence of Humanism, the emphasis was laid on the qualities which distinguish one human being from another, and give an individuality and uniqueness. Moreover, the revealing of the writer’s own mind became full of interest. This tendency led to the rise of a new literary form—the Essay, which was used successfully by Bacon. In drama Marlowe probed down into the deep recesses of the human passion. His heroes, Tamburlaine, Dr. Faustus and Barabas, the Jew of Malta, are possessed of uncontrolled ambitions. Shakespeare, a more consummate artist, carried Humanism to perfection. His genius, fed by the spirit of the Renaissance, enabled him to see life whole, and to present it in all its aspects.
It was this new interest in human personality, the passion for life, which was responsible for the exquisite lyrical poetry of the Elizabethan Age, dealing with the problems of death, decay, transitoriness of life etc.
Another aspect of Humanism was the enhanced sensitiveness to formal beauty, and the cultivation of the aesthetic sense. It showed itself in a new ideal of social conduct, that of the courtier. An Italian diplomat and man of letters, Castiglione, wrote a treatise entitled Il Cortigiano (The Courtier) where he sketched the pattern of gentlemanly behaviour and manners upon which the conduct of such men as Sir Phillip Sidney and Sir Walter Raleigh was modelled. This cult of elegance in prose writing produced the ornate style called Euphuism by Lyly. Though it suffered from exaggeration and pedantry, yet it introduced order and balance in English prose, and gave it pithiness and harmony.
Another aspect of Humanism was that men came to be regarded as responsible for their own actions, as Casius says to Brutus in Julius Caesar:
The Fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Instead of looking up to some higher authority, as was done in The Middle Ages, during the Renaissance Period guidance was to be found from within. Lyly wrote his romance of Euphues not merely as an exercise in a new kind of prose, but with the serious purpose of inculcating righteousness of living, based on self-control. Sidney wrote his Arcadia in the form of fiction in order to expound an ideal of moral excellence. Spenser wrote his Faerie Queene, with a view “to fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous and gentle disposition”. Though we do not look for direct moral teaching in Shakespeare, nevertheless, we find underlying his work the same profoundly moral attitude.
(a) Elizabethan Drama
During the Renaissance Period or the Elizabethan Period, as it is popularly called, the most memorable achievement in literature was in the field of drama. One of the results of the humanist teaching in the schools and universities had been a great development of the study of Latin drama and the growth of the practice of acting Latin plays by Terence, Plautus and Seneca, and also of contemporary works both in Latin and in English. These performances were the work of amateur actors, school boys or students of the Universities and the Inns of Court, and were often given in honour of the visits of royal persons or ambassadors. Their significance lies in the fact that they brought the educated classes into touch with a much more highly developed kind of drama, than the older English play. About the middle of the sixteenth century some academic writers made attempts to write original plays in English on the Latin model. The three important plays of this type are Nicholas Udall’s Ralph Roister Doister, John Still’s Grummar Gurton’s Needle, and Thomas Sackville’s Gorbuduc or Ferrex and Porrex—the first two are comedies and last one a tragedy. All these plays are monotonous and do not possess much literary merit.
The second period of Elizabethan drama was dominated by the “University Wits”, a professional set of literary men. Of this little constellations, Marlowe was the central sun, and round him revolved as minor stars, Lyly, Greene, Peele, Lodge and Nash.
Lyly (1554-1606)
The author of Euphues, wrote a number of plays, the best known of them are Compaspe (1581), Sapho and Phao (1584), Endymion (1591), and Midas (1592), These plays are mythological and pastoral and are nearer to the Masque (court spectacles intended to satisfy the love of glitter and novelty) rather than to the narrative drama of Marlowe. They are written in prose intermingled with verse. Though the verse is simple and charming prose is marred by exaggeration, a characteristic of Euphuism.
George Peele (1558-97?)
Formed, along with Marlowe, Greene and Nash, one of that band of dissolute young men endeavouring to earn a livelihood by literary work. He was an actor as well as writer of plays. He wrote some half dozen plays, which are richer in beauty than any of his group except Marlowe. His earnest work is The Arraignment of Paris, (1584); his most famous is David and Bathsheba (1599). The Arraignment of Paris, which contains an elaborate eulogy of Queen Elizabeth, is really a court play of the Masque order. David and Bathsheba contains many beautiful lines. Like Marlowe, Peele was responsible for giving the blank verse musical quality, which later attained perfection in the deft hands of Shakespeare.

Thomas Kyd (1558-95)
Achieved great popularity with his first work, The Spanish Tragedy, which was translated in many European languages. He introduced the ‘blood and thunder’ element in drama, which proved one of the attractive features of the pre-Shakespearean drama. Though he is always violent and extravagant, yet he was responsible for breaking away from the lifeless monotony of Gorboduc.
Robert Greene (1560-1592)
He lived a most dissolute life, and died in distress and debt. His plays comprise Orlando Furioso, Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, Alphonsus King of Aragon and George a Greene. His most effective play is Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, which deals partly with the tricks of the Friar, and partly with a simple love story between two men with one maid. Its variety of interest and comic, relief and to the entertainment of the audience. But the chief merit of the play lies in the lively method of presenting the story. Greene also achieves distinction by the vigorous humanity of his characterisation.
Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593)
The dramatic work of Lodge and Nash is not of much importance. Of all the members of the group Marlowe is the greatest. In 1587 his first play Tamburlaine was produced and it took the public by storm on account of its impetuous force, its splendid command of blank verse, and its sensitiveness to beauty, In this play Marlowe dramatised the exploits of the Scythian shepherd who rose to be “the terror of the world”, and “the scourge of God”. Tamburlain was succeeded by The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, in which Marlowe gave an old medieval legend a romantic setting. The story of the scholar who sells his soul to the Devil for worldly enjoyment and unlimited power, is presented in a most fascinating manner. Marlowe’s Faustus is the genuine incarnation of the Renaissance spirit. The Jew of Malta, the third tragedy of Marlowe, is not so fine as Doctor Faustus, though it has a glorious opening. His last play, Edward II, is his best from the technical point of view. Though it lacks the force and rhythmic beauty of the earlier plays, it is superior to them on account of its rare skill of construction and admirable characterisation.
Marlowe’s contributions to the Elizabethan drama were great. He raised the subject-matter of drama to a higher level. He introduced heroes who were men of great strength and vitality, possessing the Renaissance characteristic of insatiable spirit of adventure. He gave life and reality to the characters, and introduced passion on the stage. He made the blank verse supple and flexible to suit the drama, and thus made the work of Shakespeare in this respect easy. He gave coherence and unity to the drama, which it was formerly lacking. He also gave beauty and dignity and poetic glow to the drama. In fact, he did the pioneering work on which Shakespeare built the grand edifice. Thus he has been rightly called “the Father of English Dramatic Poetry.”
Shakespeare (1564-1616)
The greatest of all Elizabethan dramatists was Shakespeare in whose hands the Romantic drama reached its climax. As we do not know much about his life, and it is certain that he did not have proper training and education as other dramatists of the period had, his stupendous achievements are an enigma to all scholars up to the present day. It is still a mystery how a country boy, poor and uneducated, who came to London in search of odd jobs to scrape a living, could reach such heights in dramatic literature. Endowed with a marvellous imaginative and creative mind, he could put new life into old familiar stories and make them glow with deepest thoughts and tenderest feelings.
There is no doubt that Shakespeare was a highly gifted person, but without proper training he could not have scaled such heights. In spite of the meagre material we have got about his life, we can surmise that he must have undergone proper training first as an actor, second as a reviser of old plays, and the last as an independent dramatist. He worked with other dramatists and learned the secrets of their trade. He must have studied deeply and observed minutely the people he came in contact with. His dramatic output must, therefore, have been the result of his natural genius as well as of hard work and industry.

Besides non—dramatic poetry consisting of two narrative poems, Venice and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, and 154 sonnets, Shakespeare wrote 37 plays. His work as a dramatist extended over some 24 years, beginning about 1588 and ending about 1612. This work is generally divided into four periods.
(i) 1577-93
This was the period of early experimental work. To this period belong the revision of old plays as the three parts of Henry VI and Titus Andronicus; his first comedies—Love’s Labour Lost, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Comedy of Errors and A Midsummer Night’s Dream; his first chronicle play—Richard III; a youthful tragedy—Romeo and Juliet.
(ii) 1594-1600
To the second period belong Shakespeare’s great comedies and chronicle plays – Richard II, King John, The Merchant of Venice, Henry IV, Part I and II, Henry V, The Taming of the Shrew, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It and Twelfth Night. These plays reveal Shakespeare’s great development as a thinker and technician. They show the maturity of his mind and art.
(iii) 1601-1608
To the third period belong Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies and sombre or bitter comedies. This is his peak period characterised by the highest development of his thought and expression. He is more concerned with the darker side of human experience and its destructive passions. Even in comedies, the tone is grave and there is a greater emphasis on evil. The plays of this period are—Julius Caesar, Hamlet, All’s Well that Ends Well, Measure for Measure; Troilus and Cressida, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, and Timon of Athens.
(iv) 1608-1612
To the fourth period belong the later comedies or dramatic romances. Here the clouds seem to have been lifted and Shakespeare is in a changed mood. Though the tragic passions still play their part as in the third period, the evil is now controlled and conquered by good. The tone of the plays is gracious and tender, and there is a decline in the power of expression and thought. The plays written during this period are—Cymbeline, The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale, which were completely written in collaboration with some other dramatist.
The plays of Shakespeare are so full of contradictory thoughts expressed so convincingly in different contexts, that it is not possible to formulate a system of philosophy out of them. Each of his characters—from the king to the clown, from the most highly intellectual to the simpleton—judges life from his own angle, and utters something which is so profound and appropriate, that one is astonished at the playwrigt’s versatility of genius. His style and versification are of the highest order. He was not only the greatest dramatist of the age, but also the first poet of the day, and one of the greatest of all times. His plays are full of a large number of exquisite songs, and his sonnets glowing with passion and sensitiveness to beauty reach the high water mark of poetic excellence in English literature. In his plays there is a fine commingling of dramatic and lyric elements. Words and images seem to flow from his brain spontaneously and they are clothed in a style which can be called perfect.
Though Shakespeare belonged to the Elizabethan Age, on account of his universality he belongs to all times. Even after the lapse of three centuries his importance, instead of decreasing, has considerably increased. Every time we read him, we become more conscious of his greatness, like the charm of Cleopatra,
Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety.
the appeal of Shakespeare is perennial. His plays and poetry are like a great river of life and beauty.
Ben Jonson (1573-1637)
Ben Jonson a contemporary of Shakespeare, and a prominent dramatist of his times, was just the opposite of Shakespeare. Jonson was a classicist, a moralist, and a reformer of drama. In his comedies he tried to present the true picture of the contemporary society. He also made an attempt to have the ‘unities’ of time, place and action in his plays. Unlike Shakespeare who remained hidden behind his works, Jonson impressed upon the audience the excellence of his works and the object of his plays. He also made his plays realistic rather than romantic, and introduced ‘humours’ which mean some peculiar traits in character, which obsess an individual and govern all this faculties.
Jonson was mainly a writer of comedies, and of these the four which attained outstanding success are Volpone; The Silent Woman; The Alchemist; and Bartholomew Fair. Two other important comedies of his, which illustrate his theory of ‘humour’ are—Every Man in His Humour and Every Man Out of Humour. The Alchemist, which is the most perfect in structure, is also the most brilliant realistic Elizabethan comedy. Volpone is a satirical study of avarice on the heroic scale. Bartholomew Fair presents a true picture of Elizabethan ‘low life’. The Silent Woman, which is written in a lighter mood, approaches the comedy of manners. Ben Jonson wrote two tragic plays. Sejanus and Cataline on the classical model, but they were not successful.
Ben Jonson was a profound classical scholar who wanted to reform the Elizabethan drama, and introduce form and method in it. He resolved to fight against cheap romantic effects, and limit his art within the bounds of reason and common sense. He was an intellectual and satirical writer unlike Shakespeare who was imaginative and sympathetic. His chief contribution to dramatic theory was his practice to construct plays based on ‘humour’, or some master passion. In this way he created a new type of comedy having its own methods, scope and purpose. Though he drew his principles from the ancients, he depicted the contemporary life in his plays in a most realistic manner. In this way Jonson broke from the Romantic tendency of Elizabethan drama.

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(b) Elizabethan Poetry

Poetry in the Renaissance period took a new trend. It was the poetry of the new age of discovery, enthusiasm and excitement. Under the impact of the Renaissance, the people of England were infused with freshness and vigour, and these qualities are clearly reflected in poetry of that age.
The poetry of the Elizabethan age opens with publications of a volume known as Tottel’s Miscellany (1577). This book which contained the verse of SirThomas Wyatt (1503?-1542) and the Earl of Surrey, (1577?-1547) marks the first English poetry of the Renaissance. Wyatt and Surrey wrote a number of songs, especially sonnets which adhered to the Petrarcan model, and which was later adopted by Shakespeare. They also attempted the blank verse which was improved upon by Marlowe and then perfected by Shakespeare. They also experimented a great variety of metres which influenced Spenser. Thus Wyatt and Surrey stand in the same relation to the glory of Elizabethan poetry dominated by Spenser and Shakespeare, as Thomson and Collins do to Romantic poetry dominated by Wordsworth and Shelley.
Another original writer belonging to the early Elizabethan group of poets who were mostly courtiers, was Thomas Sackville (1536-1608). In his Mirror for Magistrates he has given a powerful picture of the underworld where the poet describes his meetings with some famous Englishmen who had been the victims of misfortunes. Sackville, unlike Wyatt and Surrey, is not a cheerful writer, but he is superior to them in poetic technique.
The greatest of these early Elizabethan poets was Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586). He was a many-sided person and a versatile genius—soldier, courtier and poet—and distinguished himself in all these capacities. Like Dr. Johnson and Byron he stood in symbolic relation to his times. He may be called the ideal Elizabethan, representing in himself the great qualities of that great age in English history and literature. Queen Elizabeth called him one of the jewels of her crown, and at the age of twenty-three he was considered ‘one of the ripest statesmen of the age’.
As a literary figure, Sidney made his mark in prose as well as in poetry. His prose works are Arcadiaand the Apologie for Poetrie (1595). With Arcadiabegins a new kind of imaginative writing. Though written in prose it is strewn with love songs and sonnets. The Apologie for Poetrie is first of the series of rare and very useful commentaries which some English poets have written about their art. His greatest work, of course, is in poetry—the sequence of sonnets entitled Astrophel and Stella, in which Sidney celebrated the history of his love for Penelope Devereax, sister of the Earl of Essex,- a love which came to a sad end through the intervention of Queen Elizabeth with whom Sidney had quarrelled. As an example of lyrical poetry expressing directly in the most sincere manner an intimate and personal experience of love in its deepest passion, this sonnet sequence marks an epoch. Their greatest merit is their sincerity. The sequence of the poet’s feelings is analysed with such vividness and minuteness that we are convinced of their truth and sincerity. Here we find the fruit of experience, dearly bought:
Desire; desire; I have too dearly bought
With price of mangled mind. Thy worthless ware.
Too long, too long, asleep thou hast me brought,
Who should my mind to higher prepare.
Besides these personal and sincere touches, sometimes the poet gives a loose reign to his imagination, and gives us fantastic imagery which was a characteristic of Elizabethan poetry.

Spenser (1552-1599)

The greatest name in non-dramatic Elizabethan poetry is that of Spenser, who may be called the poet of chivalry and Medieval allegory. The Elizabethan Age was the age of transition, when the time-honoured institutions of chivalry, closely allied to Catholic ritual were being attacked by the zeal of the Protestant reformer and the enthusiasm for latters of the European humanists. As Spenser was in sympathy with both the old and the new, he tried to reconcile these divergent elements in his greatest poetic work—The Faerie Queene. Written in the form of an allegory, though on the surface it appears to be dealing with the petty intrigues, corrupt dealings and clever manipulations of politicians in the court of Elizabeth, yet when seen from a higher point of view, it brings before us the glory of the medieval times clothed in an atmosphere of romance. We forget the harsh realities of life, and lifted into a fairy land where we see the knights performing chivalric deeds for the sake of the honour Queen Gloriana. We meet with shepherds, sylvan nymphs and satyrs, and breathe the air of romance, phantasy and chivalry.
Though Spenser’s fame rests mainly on The Faerie Queene, he also wrote some other poems of great merit. His Shepherd’s Calendar (1579) is a pastoral poem written in an artificial classical style which had become popular in Europe on account of the revival of learning. Consisting of twelve parts, each devoted to a month of the year, here the poet gives expression to his unfruitful love for a certain unknown Rosalind, through the mouth of shepherds talking and singing. It also deals with various moral questions and the contemporary religious issues. The same type of conventional pastoral imagery was used by Spenser in Astrophel (1586), an elegy which he wrote on the death of Sidney to whom he had dedicated the Calendar. Four Hymns which are characteried by melodious verse were written by Spenser in honour of love and beauty. His Amoretti, consisting of 88 sonnets, written in the Petrarcan manner which had become very popular in those days under the influence of Italian literature, describes beautifully the progress of his love for Elizabeth Boyle whom he married in 1594. His Epithalamion is the most beautiful marriage hymn in the English language.
The greatness of Spenser as a poet rests on his artistic excellence. Though his poetry is surcharged with noble ideas and lofty ideals, he occupies an honoured place in the front rank of English poets as the poet of beauty, music and harmony, through which he brought about a reconciliation between the medieval and the modern world. There is no harsh note in all his poetry. He composed his poems in the spirit of a great painter, a great musician. Above all, he was the poet of imagination, who, by means of his art, gave an enduring to the offsprings of his imagination. As a metrist his greatest contribution to English poetry is the Spenserian stanza which is admirably suited to descriptive or reflective poetry. It is used by Thomson in The Castle of Indolence, by Keats in The Eve of St. Agnes, by Shelley in The Revolt of Islam and by Byron in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. On account of all these factors, Spenser has been a potent influence on the English poets of all ages, and there is no exaggeration in the remark made by Charles Lamb that “Spenser is the poets’ poet.”

(c) Elizabethan Prose

The Elizabethan period was also the period of the origin of modern English prose. During the reign of Elizabeth prose began to be used as a vehicle of various forms of amusement and information, and its popularity increased on account of the increased facility provided by the printing press. Books on history, travel, adventures, and translations of Italian stories appeared in a large number. Though there were a large number of prose-writers, there were only two-Sidney and Lyly who were conscious of their art, and who made solid contributions to the English prose style when it was in its infancy. The Elizabethan people were intoxicated with the use of the English language which was being enriched by borrowings from ancient authors. They took delight in the use of flowery words and graceful ,grandiloquent phrases. With the new wave of patriotism and national prestige the English language which had been previously eclipsed by Latin, and relegated to a lower position, now came to its own, and it was fully exploited. The Elizabethans loved decorative modes of expression and flowery style.

John Lyly (1554-1606)

The first author who wrote prose in the manner that the Elizabethans wanted, was Lyly, whose Euphues, popularized a highly artificial and decorative style. It was read and copied by everybody. Its maxims and phrases were freely quoted in the court and the market-place, and the word ‘Euphuism’ became a common description of an artificial and flamboyant style.
The style of Euphues has three main characteristics. In the first place, the structure of the sentence is based on antithesis and alliteration. In other words, it consists of two equal parts which are similar in sound but with a different sense. For example, Euphues is described as a young man “of more wit than wealth, yet of more wealth than wisdom”. The second characteristic of this style is that no fact is stated without reference to some classical authority. For example, when the author makes a mention of friendship, he quotes the friendship that existed between David and Jonathan. Besides these classical allusions, there is also an abundance of allusion to natural history, mostly of a fabulous kind, which is its third characteristic. For example, “The bull being tied to the fig tree loseth his tale; the whole herd of dear stand at gaze if they smell sweet apple.”
The purpose of writing Euphues was to instruct the courtiers and gentlemen how to live, and so it is full of grave reflections and weighty morals. In it there is also criticism of contemporary society, especially its extravagant fashions. Though Puritanic in tone, it inculcates, on the whole, a liberal and humane outlook.
Sidney’s Arcadia is the first English example of prose pastoral romance, which was imitated by various English authors for about two hundred years. The story related in Arcadia in the midst of pastoral surrounding where everything is possible, is long enough to cover twenty modern novels, but its main attraction lies in its style which is highly poetical and exhaustive. One word is used again and again in different senses until its all meanings are exhausted. It is also full of pathetic fallacy which means establishing the connection between the appearance of nature with the mood of the artist. On the whole, Arcadiagoes one degree beyond Euphues in the direction of Sfreedom and poetry.
Two other important writers who, among others, influenced Elizabethan prose were: Malory and Hakluyt. Malory wrote a great prose romance Morte de Arthur dealing with the romantic treasures of the Middle Ages. It was by virtue of the simple directness of the language, that it proved an admirable model to the prose story-tellers of the Renaissance England. Richard Hakluyt’s Voyages and other such books describing sea adventures were written in simple and unaffected directness. The writer was conscious of only that he had something to tell that was worth telling.

The Puritan Age (1600-1660)

The Literature of the Seventeenth Century may be divided into two periods—The Puritan Age or the Age of Milton (1600-1660), which is further divided into the Jacobean and Caroline periods after the names of the ruled James I and Charles I, who rules from 1603 to 1625 and 1625 to 1649 respectively; and the Restoration Period or the Age of Dryden (1660-1700).
The Seventeenth Century was marked by the decline of the Renaissance spirit, and the writers either imitated the great masters of Elizabethan period or followed new paths. We no longer find great imaginative writers of the stature of Shakespeare, Spenser and Sidney. There is a marked change in temperament which may be called essentially modern. Though during the Elizabethan period, the new spirit of the Renaissance had broken away with the medieval times, and started a new modern development, in fact it was in the seventeenth century that this task of breaking away with the past was completely accomplished, and the modern spirit, in the fullest sense of the term, came into being. This spirit may be defined as the spirit of observation and of preoccupation with details, and a systematic analysis of facts, feelings and ideas. In other words, it was the spirit of science popularized by such great men as Newton, Bacon and Descartes. In the field of literature this spirit manifested itself in the form of criticism, which in England is the creation of the Seventeenth Century. During the Sixteenth Century England expanded in all directions; in the Seventeenth Century people took stock of what had been acquired. They also analysed, classified and systematised it. For the first time the writers began using the English language as a vehicle for storing and conveying facts.
One very important and significant feature of this new spirit of observation and analysis was the popularisation of the art of biography which was unknown during the Sixteenth Century. Thus whereas we have no recorded information about the life of such an eminent dramatist as Shakespeare, in the seventeenth century many authors like Fuller and Aubrey laboriously collected and chronicled the smallest facts about the great men of their own day, or of the immediate past. Autobiography also came in the wake of biography, and later on keeping of diaries and writing of journals became popular, for example Pepy’s Diary and Fox’s Journal. All these new literary developments were meant to meet the growing demand for analysis of the feelings and the intimate thoughts and sensations of real men and women. This newly awakened taste in realism manifested itself also in the ‘Character’, which was a brief descriptive essay on a contemporary type like a tobacco-seller, or an old shoe-maker. In drama the portrayal of the foibles of the fashionable contemporary society took a prominent place. In satire, it were not the common faults of the people which were ridiculed, but actual men belonging to opposite political and religious groups. The readers who also had become critical demanded facts from the authors, so that they might judge and take sides in controversial matters.
The Seventeenth Century upto 1660 was dominated by Puritanism and it may be called the Puritan Age or the Age of Milton who was the noblest representative of the Puritan spirit. Broadly speaking, the Puritan movement in literature may be considered as the second and greater Renaissance, marked by the rebirth of the moral nature of man which followed the intellectual awakening of Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Though the Renaissance brought with it culture, it was mostly sensuous and pagan, and it needed some sort of moral sobriety and profundity which were contributed by the Puritan movement. Moreover, during the Renaissance period despotism was still the order of the day, and in politics and religion unscrupulousness and fanaticism were rampant. The Puritan movement stood for liberty of the people from the shackles of the despotic ruler as well as the introduction of morality and high ideals in politics. Thus it had two objects—personal righteousness and civil and religious liberty. In other words, it aimed at making men honest and free.

Though during the Restoration period the Puritans began to be looked down upon as narrow-minded, gloomy dogmatists, who were against all sorts of recreations and amusements, in fact they were not so. Moreover, though they were profoundly religious, they did not form a separate religious sect. It would be a grave travesty of facts if we call Milton and Cromwell, who fought for liberty of the people against the tyrannical rule of Charles I, as narrow-minded fanatics. They were the real champions of liberty and stood for toleration.
The name Puritan was at first given to those who advocated certain changes in the form of worship of the reformed English Church under Elizabeth. As King Charles I and his councillors, as well as some of the clergymen with Bishop Laud as their leader, were opposed to this movement, Puritanism in course of time became a national movement against the tyrannical rule of the King, and stood for the liberty of the people. Of course the extremists among Puritans were fanatics and stern, and the long, protracted struggle against despotism made even the milder ones hard and narrow. So when Charles I was defeated and beheaded in 1649 and Puritanism came out triumphant with the establishment of the Commonwealth under Cromwell, severe laws passed. Many simple modes of recreation and amusement were banned, and an austere standard of living was imposed on an unwilling people. But when we criticize the Puritan for his restrictions on simple and innocent pleasures of life, we should not forget that it was the same very Puritan who fought for liberty and justice, and who through self-discipline and austere way of living overthrew despotism and made the life and property of the people of England safe from the tyranny of rulers.
In literature of the Puritan Age we find the same confusion as we find in religion and politics. The medieval standards of chivalry, the impossible loves and romances which we find in Spenser and Sidney, have completely disappeared. As there were no fixed literary standards, imitations of older poets and exaggeration of the ‘metaphysical’ poets replaced the original, dignified and highly imaginative compositions of the Elizabethan writers. The literary achievements of this so-called gloomy age are not of a high order, but it had the honour of producing one solitary master of verse whose work would shed lustre on any age or people—John Milton, who was the noblest and indomitable representative of the Puritan spirit to which he gave a most lofty and enduring expression.

(a) Puritan Poetry

The Puritan poetry, also called the Jacobean and Caroline Poetry during the reigns of James I and Charles I respectively, can be divided into three parts –(i) Poetry of the School of Spenser; (ii) Poetry of the Metaphysical School; (iii) Poetry of the Cavalier Poets.

(i) The School of Spenser

The Spenserians were the followers of Spenser. In spite of the changing conditions and literary tastes which resulted in a reaction against the diffuse, flamboyant, Italianate poetry which Spenser and Sidney had made fashionable during the sixteenth century, they preferred to follow Spenser and considered him as their master.
The most thorough-going disciples of Spenser during the reign of James I were Phineas Fletcher (1582-1648) and Giles Fletcher (1583-1623). They were both priests and Fellows of Cambridge University. Phineas Fletcher wrote a number of Spenserian pastorals and allegories. His most ambitious poem The Purple Island, portrays in a minutely detailed allegory the physical and mental constitution of man, the struggle between Temperance and his foes, the will of man and Satan. Though the poem follows the allegorical pattern of the Faerie Queene, it does not lift us to the realm of pure romance as does Spenser’s masterpiece, and at times the strain of the allegory becomes to unbearable.
Giles Fletcher was more lyrical and mystical than his brother, and he also made a happier choice of subjects. His Christ’s Victorie and Triumph in Heaven and Earth over and after Death (1610), which is an allegorical narrative describing in a lyrical strain the Atonement, Temptation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Christ, is a link between the religious poetry of Spenser and Milton. It is written in a flamboyant, diffuse style of Spenser, but its ethical aspect is in keeping with the seventeenth century theology which considered man as a puny creature in the divine scheme of salvation.

Other poets who wrote under the influence of Spenser were William Browne (1590-1645). George Wither (1588-1667) and William Drummond (1585-1649).
Browne’s important poetical work is Britannia’s Pastorals which shows all the characteristics of Elizabethan pastoral poetry. It is obviously inspired by Spenser’s Faerie Queene and Sidney’s Arcadiaas it combines allegory with satire. It is a story of wooing and adventure, of the nymphs who change into streams and flowers. It also sings the praise of virtue and of poets and dead and living.
The same didactic tone and lyrical strain are noticed in the poetry of George Wither. His best-known poems are The Shepherd’s Hunting a series of personal eulogues; Fidella an heroic epistle of over twelve hundred lines; and Fair Virtue, the Mistress of Philarete, a sustained and detailed lyrical eulogy of an ideal woman. Most of Wither’s poetry is pastoral which is used by him to convey his personal experience. He writes in an easy, and homely style free from conceits. He often dwells on the charms of nature and consolation provided by songs. In his later years Wither wrote didactic and satirical verse, which earned for him the title of “our English Juvenal”.
Drummond who was a Scottish poet, wrote a number of pastorals, sonnets, songs, elegies and religious poems. His poetry is the product of a scholar of refined nature, high imaginative faculty, and musical ear. His indebtedness to Spenser, Sidney and Shakespeare in the matter of fine phraseology is quite obvious. The greatest and original quality of all his poetry is the sweetness and musical evolution in which he has few rivals even among the Elizabethan lyricists. His well-known poems are Tears on the Death of Maliades (an elegy), Sonnets, Flowers of Sion and Pastorals.

(ii) The Poets of the Metaphysical School

The metaphysical poets were John Donne, Herrick, Thomas Carew, Richard Crashaw, Henry Vaughan, George Herbet and Lord Herbert of Cherbury. The leader of this school was Donne. They are called the metaphysical poets not because they are highly philosophical, but because their poetry is full of conceits, exaggerations, quibbling about the meanings of words, display of learning and far-fetched similes and metaphors. It was Dr. Johnson who in his essay on Abraham Cowley in his Lives of the Poets used the term ‘metaphysical’. There he wrote:
“About the beginning of the seventeenth century appeared a race of writers that may be termed the metaphysical poets. The metaphysical poets were men of learning, and to show their learning was their whole endeavour: but, unluckily resolving to show it in rhyme, instead of writing poetry, they only wrote verses and very often such verses as stood the trial of the finger better than of the ear; for the modulation was so imperfect that they were only found to be verses by counting the syllables.”
Though Dr. Johnson was prejudiced against the Metaphysical school of poets, and the above statement is full of exaggeration, yet he pointed out the salient characteristics of this school. One important feature of metaphysical school which Dr. Johnson mentioned was their “discovery of occult resemblances in things apparently unlike.” Moreover, he was absolutely right when he further remarked that the Metaphysical poets were perversely strange and strained: ‘The most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together; nature and art are ransacked for illustrations, comparisons, and allusions… Their wish was only to say what had never been said before”.
Dr. Johnson, however, did not fail to notice that beneath the superficial novelty of the metaphysical poets lay a fundamental originality:
“If they frequently threw away their wit upon false conceits, they likewise sometimes struck out unexpected truth; if the conceits were far-fetched, they were often worth the carriage. To write on their plan, it was at least necessary to read and think, No man could be born a metaphysical poet, nor assume to dignity of a writer, by descriptions copied from descriptions, by imitations borrowed from imitations, by traditional imagery, and volubility of syllables.”

The metaphysical poets were honest, original thinkers. They tried to analyse their feelings and experience—even the experience of love. They were also aware of the life, and were concerned with death, burial descent into hell etc. Though they hoped for immortality, they were obsessed by the consciousness of mortality which was often expressed in a mood of mawkish disgust.

John Donne (1537-1631),

The leader of the Metaphysical school of poets, had a very chequered career until be became the Dean of St. Paul. Though his main work was to deliver religious sermons, he wrote poetry of a very high order. His best-known works are The Progress of the Soul; An Anatomy of the World, an elegy; and Epithalamium. His poetry can be divided into three parts: (1) Amorous (2) Metaphysical (3) Satirical. In his amorous lyrics which include his earliest work, he broke away from the Petrarcan model so popular among the Elizabethan poets, and expressed the experience of love in a realistic manner. His metaphysical and satirical works which from a major portion of his poetry, were written in later years. The Progress of the Soul and Metempsychosis, in which Donne pursues the passage of the soul through various transmigrations, including those of a bird and fish, is a fine illustration of his metaphysical poetry. A good illustration of his satire is his fourth satire describing the character of a bore. They were written in rhymed couplet, and influenced both Dryden and Pope.
Donne has often been compared to Browning on account of his metrical roughness, obscurity, ardent imagination, taste for metaphysics and unexpected divergence into sweet and delightful music. But there is one important difference between Donne and Browning. Donne is a poet of wit while Browning is a poet of ardent passion. Donne deliberately broke away from the Elizabethan tradition of smooth sweetness of verse, and introduced a harsh and stuccato method. His influence on the contemporary poets was far from being desirable, because whereas they imitated his harshness, they could not come up to the level of his original thought and sharp wit. Like Browning, Donne has no sympathy for the reader who cannot follow his keen and incisive thought, while his poetry is most difficult to understand because of its careless versification and excessive terseness.
Thus with Donne, the Elizabethan poetry with its mellifluousness, and richly observant imagination, came to an end, and the Caroline poetry with its harshness and deeply reflective imagination began. Though Shakespeare and Spenser still exerted some influence on the poets, yet Donne’s influence was more dominant.

Robert Herrick (1591-1674) wrote amorous as well as religious verse, but it is on account of the poems of the former type—love poems, for which he is famous. He has much in common with the Elizabethan song writers, but on account of his pensive fantasy, and a meditative strain especially in his religious verse, Herrick is included in the metaphysical school of Donne.
Thomas Carew (1598-1639), on whom the influence of Donne was stronger, was the finest lyric writer of his age. Though he lacks the spontaneity and freshness of Herrick, he is superior to him in fine workmanship. Moreover, though possessing the strength and vitality of Donne’s verse, Carew’s verse is neither rugged nor obscure as that of the master. His Persuasions of Love is a fine piece of rhythmic cadence and harmony.
Richard Crashaw (1613?-1649) possessed a temperament different from that of Herrick or Carew. He was a fundamentally religious poet, and his best work is The Flaming Heart. Though less imaginative than Herrick, and intellectually inferior to Carew, at times Crashaw reaches the heights of rare excellence in his poetry.
Henry Vaughan (1622-1695), though a mystic like Crashaw, was equally at home in sacred as well as secular verse. Though lacking the vigour of Crashaw, Vaughan is more uniform and clear, tranquil and deep.
George Herbert (1593-1633) is the most widely read of all the poets belonging to the metaphysical school, except, of course, Donne. This is due to the clarity of his expression and the transparency of his conceits. In his religious verse there is simplicity as well as natural earnestness. Mixed with the didactic strain there is also a current of quaint humour in his poetry.
Lord Herbert of Cherbury is inferior as a verse writer to his brother George Herbert, but he is best remembered as the author of an autobiography. Moreover, he was the first poet to use the metre which was made famous by Tennyson in In Memoriam.
Other poets who are also included in the group of Metaphysicals are Abrahanm Cowley (1618-1667), Andrew Marvel (1621-1672) and Edmund Waller (1606-1687). Cowley is famous for his ‘Pindaric Odes’, which influenced English poetry throughout the eighteenth century. Marvel is famous for his loyal friendship with Milton, and because his poetry shows the conflict between the two schools of Spenser and Donne. Waller was the first to use the ‘closed’ couplet which dominated English poetry for the next century.
The Metaphysical poets show the spiritual and moral fervour of the Puritans as well as the frank amorous tendency of the Elizabethans. Sometimes like the Elizabethans they sing of making the best of life as it lasts—Gather ye Rosebuds while ye may; and at other times they seek more permanent comfort in the delight of spiritual experience.

(iii) The Cavalier Poets

Whereas the metaphysical poets followed the lead of Donne, the cavalier poets followed Ben Jonson. Jonson followed the classical method in his poetry as in his drama. He imitated Horace by writing, like him, satires, elegies, epistles and complimentary verses. But though his verse possess classical dignity and good sense, it does not have its grace and ease. His lyrics and songs also differ from those of Shakespeare. Whereas Shakespeare’s songs are pastoral, popular and ‘artless’, Jonson’s are sophisticated, particularised, and have intellectual and emotional rationality.
Like the ‘metaphysical’, the label ‘Cavalier’ is not correct, because a ‘Cavalier’ means a royalist—one who fought on the side of the king during the Civil War. The followers of Ben Jonson were not all royalists, but this label once used has stuck to them. Moreover, there is not much difference between the Cavalier and Metaphysical poets. Some Cavalier poets like Carew, Suckling and Lovelace were also disciples of Donne. Even some typical poems, of Donne and Ben Jonson are very much alike. These are, therefore, not two distinct schools, but they represented two groups of poets who followed two different masters—Donne and Ben Jonson. Poets of both the schools, of course, turned away from the long, Old-fashioned works of the Spenserians, and concentrated their efforts on short poems and lyrics dealing with the themes of love of woman and the love or fear of God. The Cavalier poets normally wrote about trivial subjects, while the Metaphysical poets wrote generally about serious subjects.
The important Cavalier poets were Herrick, Lovelace, Suckling and Carew. Though they wrote generally in a lighter vein, yet they could not completely escape the tremendous seriousness of Puritanism. We have already dealt with Carew and Herrick among the metaphysical group of poets. Sir John Suckling (1609-1642), a courtier of Charles I, wrote poetry because it was considered a gentleman’s accomplishment in those days. Most of his poems are trivial; written in doggerel verse. Sir Richard Lovelace (1618-1658) was another follower of King Charles I. His volume of love lyrics—Lucasta—are on a higher plane than Suckling’s work, and some of his poems like “To Lucasta’, and “To Althea, from Prison’, have won a secure place in English poetry.

(iv) John Milton (1608-1674)

Milton was the greatest poet of the Puritan age, and he stands head and shoulders above all his contemporaries. Though he completely identified himself with Puritanism, he possessed such a strong personality that he cannot be taken to represent any one but himself. Paying a just tribute to the dominating personality of Milton, Wordsworth wrote the famous line:
They soul was like a star, and dwelt apart.
Though Milton praised Spenser, Shakespeare, and Ben Jonson as poets, he was different from them all. We do not find the exuberance of Spenser in his poetry. Unlike Shakespeare Milton is superbly egoistic. In his verse, which is harmonious and musical, we find no trace of the harshness of Ben Jonson. In all his poetry, Milton sings about himself and his own lofty soul. Being a deeply religious man and also endowed with artistic merit of a high degree, he combined in himself the spirits of the Renaissance and the Reformation. In fact no other English poet was so profoundly religious and so much an artist.
Milton was a great scholar of classical as well as Hebrew literature. He was also a child of the Renaissance, and a great humanist. As an artist he may be called the last Elizabethan. From his young days he began to look upon poetry as a serious business of life; and he made up his mind to dedicate himself to it, and, in course of time, write a poem “which the world would not let die.”
Milton’s early poetry is lyrical. The important poems of the early period are: The Hymn on the Nativity (1629); L’Allegro, Il Penseroso (1632); Lycidas (1637); and Comus (1934). The Hymn, written when Milton was only twenty-one, shows that his lyrical genius was already highly developed. The complementary poems, L’Allego and Il Penseroso, are full of very pleasing descriptions of rural scenes and recreations in Spring and Autumn. L’Allegro represents the poet in a gay and merry mood and it paints an idealised picture of rustic life from dawn to dusk. Il Penseroso is written in serious and meditative strain. In it the poet praises the passive joys of the contemplative life. The poet extols the pensive thoughts of a recluse who spends his days contemplating the calmer beauties of nature. In these two poems, the lyrical genius of Milton is at its best.
Lycidas is a pastoral elegy and it is the greatest of its type in English literature. It was written to mourn the death of Milton’s friend, Edward King, but it is also contains serious criticism of contemporary religion and politics.
Comus marks the development of the Milton’s mind from the merely pastoral and idyllic to the more serious and purposive tendency. The Puritanic element antagonistic to the prevailing looseness in religion and politics becomes more prominent. But in spite of its serious and didactic strain, it retains the lyrical tone which is so characteristic of Milton’s early poetry.
Besides these poems a few great sonnets such as When the Assault was intended to the City, also belong to Milton’s early period. Full of deeply-felt emotions, these sonnets are among the noblest in the English language, and they bridge the gulf between the lyrical tone of Milton’s early poetry, and the deeply moral and didactic tone of his later poetry.
When the Civil War broke out in 1642, Milton threw himself heart and soul into the struggle against King Charles I. He devoted the best years of his life, when his poetical powers were at their peak, to this national movement. Finding himself unfit to fight as a soldier he became the Latin Secretary to Cromwell. This work he continued to do till 1649, when Charles I was defeated and Common wealth was proclaimed under Cromwell. But when he returned to poetry to accomplish the ideal he had in his mind, Milton found himself completely blind. Moreover, after the death of Cromwell and the coming of Charles II to the throne, Milton became friendless. His own wife and daughters turned against him. But undaunted by all these misfortunes, Milton girded up his loins and wrote his greatest poetical works—Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes.
“The subject-matter of Paradise Lost consists of the casting out from Heaven of the fallen angels, their planning of revenge in Hell, Satan’s flight, Man’s temptation and fall from grace, and the promise of redemption. Against this vast background Milton projects his own philosophy of the purposes of human existence, and attempts “to justify the ways of God to men.” On account of the richness and profusion of its imagery, descriptions of strange lands and seas, and the use of strange geographical, names, Paradise Lost is called the last great Elizabethan poem. But its perfectly organized design, its firm outlines and Latinised diction make it essentially a product of the neo—classical or the Augustan period in English Literature. In Paradise Lost the most prominent is the figure of Satan who possesses the qualities of Milton himself, and who represents the indomitable heroism of the Puritans against Charles I.
What though the field be lost?
All is not lost; the unconquerable will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield
And what is else, not to be overcome.
It is written in blank verse of the Elizabethan dramatist, but it is hardened and strengthened to suit the requirements of an epic poet.
Paradise Regained which deals with subject of Temptation in the Wilderness is written, unlike Paradise Lost, in the form of discussion and not action. Not so sublime as Paradise Lost, It has a quieter atmosphere, but it does not betray a decline in poetic power. The mood of the poet has become different. The central figure is Christ, having the Puritanic austere and stoic qualities rather than the tenderness which is generally associated with him.
In Samson Agonistes Milton deals with an ancient Hebrew legend of Samson, the mighty champion of Israel, now blind and scorned, working as a slave among Philistines. This tragedy, which is written on the Greek model, is charged with the tremendous personality of Milton himself, who in the character of the blind giant, Samson, surrounded by enemies, projects his own unfortunate experience in the reign of Charles II.
Eyeless in Gaza at the Mill with slaves.
The magnificent lyrics in this tragedy, which express the heroic faith of the long suffering Puritans, represent the summit of technical excellence achieved by Milton.

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(b) Jacobean and Caroline Drama

After Shakespeare the drama in England suffered and a decline during the reigns of James I and Charles I. The heights reached by Shakespeare could not be kept by later dramatists, and drama in the hands of Beaumont and Fletcher and others became, what may be called, ‘decadent’. In other words, the real spirit of the Elizabethan drama disappeared, and only the outward show and trappings remained. For example, sentiment took the place of character; eloquent and moving speeches, instead of being subservient to the revelation of the fine shades of character, became important in themselves; dreadful deeds were described not with a view to throwing light on the working of the human heart as was done by Shakespeare, but to produce rhetorical effect on the audience. Moreover, instead of fortitude and courage, and sterner qualities, which were held in high esteem by the Elizabethan dramatists, resignation to fate expressed in the form of broken accents of pathos and woe, became the main characteristics of the hero. Whereas Shakespeare and other Elizabethan dramatists took delight in action and the emotions associated with it, the Jacobean and Caroline dramatists gave expression to passive suffering and lack of mental and physical vigour. Moreover, whereas the Elizabethan dramatists were sometimes, coarse and showed bad taste, these later dramatists were positively and deliberately indecent. Instead of devoting all their capacity to fully illuminating the subject in hand, they made it as an instrument of exercising their own power of rhetoric and pedantry. Thus in the hands of these dramatists of the inferior type the romantic drama which had achieved great heights during the Elizabethan period, suffered a terrible decline, and when the Puritans closed the theatres in 1642, it died a natural death.
The greatest dramatist of the Jacobean period was Ben Jonson who has already been dealt with in the Renaissance Period, as much of his work belongs to it. The other dramatists of the Jacobean and Caroline periods are John Marston (1575-1634); Thomas Dekker (1570-1632); Thomas Heywood (1575-1650); Thomas Middleton (1580-1627); Cyril Tourneur (1575-1626); John Webster (1575-1625?); John Fletcher (1579-1625); Francis Beaumont (1584-1616); Philip Massinger (1583-1640); John Ford (1586-1639); and James Shirley (1596-1666).

John Marston wrote in a violent and extravagant style. His melodramas Antonia and Mellida and Antonia’s Revenge are full of forceful and impressive passages. In The Malcontent, The Dutch Courtezan, and Parasitaster, or Fawne, Marstoncriticised the society in an ironic and lyrical manner. His best play is Eastward Hoe, an admirable comedy of manners, which portrays realistically the life of a tradesman, the inner life of a middle class household, the simple honesty of some and the vanity of others.

Thomas Dekker, unlike Marston, was gentle and free from coarseness and cynicism. Some of his plays possess grace and freshness which are not to be found even in the plays of Ben Jonson. He is more of a popular dramatist than any of his contemporaries, and he is at his best when portraying scenes from life, and describing living people with an irresistible touch of romanticism. The gayest of his comedies is The Shoemaker’s Holiday, in which the hero, Simon Eyre, a jovial London shoemaker, and his shrewish wife are vividly described. In Old Fortunates Dekker’spoetical powers are seen at their best. The scene in which the goddess Fortune appears with her train of crowned beggars and kings in chains, is full of grandeur. His best-known work, however, is The Honest Whore, in which the character of an honest courtesan is beautifully portrayed. The most original character in the play is her old father, Orlando Friscoboldo, a rough diamond. This play is characterised by liveliness, pure sentiments and poetry.

Thomas Heywood resembles very much Dekker in his gentleness and good temper. He wrote a large number of plays—two hundred and twenty—of which only twenty-four are extant. Most of his plays deal with the life of the cities. In The Foure Prentices of London, with the Conquest of Jerusalem, he flatters the citizens of London. The same note appears in his Edward VI, The Troubles of Queene Elizabeth and The Fair Maid of the Exchange. In the Fair Maid of the West, which is written in a patriotic vein, sea adventures and the life of an English port are described in a lively fashion. His best known play is A Woman Kilde with Kindness, a domestic tragedy written in a simple form, in which he gives us a gentle picture of a happy home destroyed by the wife’s treachery, the husband’s suffering and his banishment of his wife, her remose and agony, and death at the moment when the husband has forgiven her. Instead of the spirit of vengeance as generally prevails in such domestic plays, it is free from any harshness and vindictiveness. In The English Traveller we find the same generosity and kindliness. On account of his instinctive goodness and wide piety, Heywood was called by Lamb as a “sort of prose Shakespeare.”

Thomas Middleton, like Dekker and Heywood, wrote about the city of London. But instead flattering the citizens, he criticised and ridiculed their follies like Ben Jonson. He is mainly the writer of comedies dealing the seamy side of London life, and the best-known of them are: Michaelmas Terms; A Trick to Catch the Old One, A Mad World, My Masters, Your Five Gallants, A Chaste Mayd in Cheapside. They are full of swindlers and dupes. The dramatist shows a keen observation of real life and admirable dexterity in presenting it. In his later years Middleton turned to tragedy. Women beware Women deals with the scandalous crimes of the Italian courtesan Bianca Capello. Some tragedies or romantic dramas as A Faire Quarrel, The Changeling and The Spanish Gipsie, were written by Middleton in collaboration with the actor William Rowley.

Cyril Tourneur wrote mostly melodramas full of crimes and torture. His two gloomy dramas are: The Revenge Tragedies, and The Atheist’s Tragedie, which, written in a clear and rapid style, have an intense dramatic effect.

John Webster wrote a number of plays, some in collaboration with others. His best-known plays are The White Devil or Vittoria Corombona and the Duchess of Malfi which are full of physical horrors. In the former play the crimes of the Italian beauty Cittoria Accorambona are described in a most fascinating manner. The Duchess of Malfi is the tragedy of the young widowed duchess who is driven to madness and death by her two brothers because she has married her steward Antonio. The play is full of pathos and touches of fine poetry. Though a melodrama full of horror and unbearable suffering, it has been raised to a lofty plane by the truly poetic gift of the dramatist who has a knack of coining unforgettable phrases.
John Fletcher wrote a few plays which made him famous. He then exploited his reputation to the fullest extent by organising a kind of workshop in which he wrote plays more rapidly in collaboration with other dramatists in order to meet the growing demand. The plays which he wrote in collaboration with Francis Beaumont are the comedies such as The Scornful Ladie and The Knight of the Burning Pestle; tragi-comedies like Philaster; pure tragedies such as The Maides Tragedy and A King and no King. The Knight of the Burning Pestle is the gayest and liveliest comedy of that time and it has such freshness that it seems to have been written only yesterday. Philaster and The Maides Tragedy are written in Shakespearean style, but they have more outward charm than real merit.
Fletcher alone wrote a number of plays of which the best known are The Tragedies of Vanentinian, The Tragedie of Bonduca, The Loyal Subject, The Humorous Lieutenant. His Monsieur Thomas and The Wild Goose Chase are fine comedies.

Philip Massinger wrote tragedies as Thierry and Theodoret and The False One; comedies as The Little French Lawyer, The Spanish Curate and The Beggar’s Bush, in collaboration with Fletcher. Massinger combined his intellectualism with Fletcher’s lively ease. It was Massinger who dominated the stage after Fletcher. He wrote thirty seven plays of which eighteen are extant. In his comedies we find the exaggerations or eccentricities which are the characteristics of Ben Jonson. In his tragedies we notice the romanticism of Fletcher. But the most individual quality of Massinger’s plays is that they are plays of ideas, and he loves to stage oratorical debates and long pleadings before tribunals. His best comedies are A New Way to Pay Old Debts, The City Madam and The Guardian; his important serious plays are The Fatal Dowry, The Duke of Millaine, The Unnatural Combat. The Main of Honour, The Bond-Man, The Renegado, The Roman Actor, and The Picture. Of all these A New Way to Pay Old Debts is his most successful play, in which the chief character, the usurer, Sir Charles Overreach reminds us of Ben Jonson’s Volpone. All the plays of Massinger show careful workmanship, though a great deterioration had crept in the art of drama at the time when he was writing. When not inspired he becomes monotonous, but he is always a conscientious writer.

John Ford, who was the contemporary of Massinger, collaborated with various dramatists. He was a true poet, but a fatalist, melancholy and gloomy person. Besides the historical play, Perkin Warbeck, he wrote The Lover’s Melancholy, ‘Tis Pity Shee’s a Whore, The Broken Heart and Love’s Sacrifice, all of which show a skilful handling of emotions and grace of style. His decadent attitude is seen in the delight he takes in depicting suffering, but he occupies a high place as an artist.

James Shirley, who as Lamb called him, ‘the last of a great race’, though a prolific writer, shows no originality. His best comedies are The Traytor, The Cardinall, The Wedding, Changes, Hyde Park, The Gamester and The Lady of Pleasure, which realistically represent the contemporary manners, modes and literary styles. He also wrote tragi-comedies or romantic comedies, such as Young Admirall, The Opportunitie, and The Imposture. In all these Shirley continued the tradition formed by Fletcher, Tourneur and Webster, but he broke no new ground.
Besides these there were a number of minor dramatists, but the drama suffered a serious setback when the theatres were closed in 1642 by the order of the Parliament controlled by the Puritans. They were opened only after eighteen years later at the Restoration.

(c) Jacobean and Caroline Prose

This period was rich in prose. The great prose writers were Bacon, Burton, Milton, Sir Thomas Browne, Jeremy Tayler and Clarendon. English prose which had been formed into a harmonious and pliable instrument by the Elizabethans, began to be used in various ways, as narrative as well as a vehicle for philosophical speculation and scientific knowledge. For the first time the great scholars began to write in English rather than Latin. The greatest single influence which enriched the English prose was the Authorised Version of the Bible (English translation of the Bible), which was the result of the efforts of scholars who wrote in a forceful, simple and pure Anglo-Saxon tongue avoiding all that was rough, foreign and affected. So the Bible became the supreme example of earlier English prose-style—simple, plain and natural. As it was read by the people in general, its influence was all-pervasive.

Francis Bacon (1561-1628). Bacon belongs both to the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. He was a lawyer possessing great intellectual gifts. Ben Jonson wrote of him, ‘no man ever coughed or turned aside from him without a loss”. As a prose-writer he is the master of the aphoristic style. He has the knack of compressing his wisdom in epigrams which contain the quintessence of his rich experience of life in a most concentrated form. His style is clear, lucid but terse and that is why one has to make an effort to understand his meaning. It lacks spaciousness, ease and rhythm. The reader has always to be alert because each sentence is packed with meaning.
Bacon is best-known for his Essays, in which he has given his views about the art of managing men and getting on successfully in life. They may be considered as a kind of manual for statesmen and princes. The tone of the essay is that of a worldly man who wants to secure material success and prosperity. That is why their moral standard is not high.
Besides the Essays, Bacon wrote Henry VII the first piece of scientific history in the English language; and The Advancement of Learning which is a brilliant popular exposition of the cause of scientific investigation. Though Bacon himself did not make any great scientific discovery, he popularized science through his writings. On account of his being the intellectual giant of his time, he is credited with the authorship of the plays of Shakespeare.

Robert Burton (1577-1640) is known for his The Anatomy of Melancholy, which is a book of its own type in the English language. In it he has analysed human melancholy, described its effect and prescribed its cure. But more than that the book deals with all the ills that flesh is heir to, and the author draws his material from writers, ancient as well as modern. It is written in a straightforward, simple and vigorous style, which at times is marked with rhythm and beauty.

Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682) belonged entirely to a different category. With him the manner of writing is more important than the substance. He is, therefore, the first deliberate stylist in the English language, the forerunner of Charles Lamb and Stevenson. Being a physician with a flair for writing, he wrote Religio Medici in which he set down his beliefs and thoughts, the religion of the medical man. In this book, which is written in an amusing, personal style, the conflict between the author’s intellect and his religious beliefs, gives it a peculiar charm. Every sentence has the stamp of Browne’s individuality. His other important prose work is Hydriotaphia or The Urn Burial, in which meditating on time and antiquity Browne reaches the heights of rhetorical splendour. He is greater as an artist than a thinker, and his prose is highly complex in its structure and almost poetic in richness of language.
Other writers of his period, who were, like Browne, the masters of rhetorical prose, were Milton, Jeremy Taylor and Clarendon. Most of Milton’s prose writings are concerned with the questions at issue between the Parliament and the King. Being the champion of freedom in every form, he wrote a forceful tract On the Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, in which he strongly advocated the right to divorce. His most famous prose work is Areopagitica which was occasioned by a parliamentary order for submitting the press to censorship. Here Milton vehemently criticised the bureaucratic control over genius. Though as a pamphleteer Milton at times indulges in downright abuse, and he lacks humour and lightness of touch, yet there is that inherent sublimity in his prose writings, which we associate with him as a poet and man. When he touches a noble thought, the wings of his imagination lift him to majestic heights.
Opposed to Milton, the greatest writer in the parliamentary struggle was the Earl of Clarendon (1609-1674). His prose is stately, and he always writes with a bias which is rather offensive, as we find in his History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England.

Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667), a bishop, made himself famous by his literary sermons. On account of the gentle charm of his language, the richness of his images, and his profoundly human imagination, Taylor is considered as one of the masters of English eloquence. His best prose famous book of devotion among English men and women.
Thus during this period we find English prose developing into a grandiloquent and rich instrument capable of expressing all types of ideas—scientific, religious, philosophic, poetic, and personal.
The Restoration Period (1660-1700)

After the Restoration in 1660, when Charles II came to the throne, there was a complete repudiation of the Puritan ideals and way of living. In English literature the period from 1660 to 1700 is called the period of Restoration, because monarchy was restored in England, and Charles II, the son of Charles I who had been defeated and beheaded, came back to England from his exile in France and became the King.
It is called the Age of Dryden, because Dryden was the dominating and most representative literary figure of the Age. As the Puritans who were previously controlling the country, and were supervising her literary and moral and social standards, were finally defeated, a reaction was launched against whatever they held sacred. All restraints and discipline were thrown to the winds, and a wave of licentiousness and frivolity swept the country. Charles II and his followers who had enjoyed a gay life in France during their exile, did their best to introduce that type of foppery and looseness in England also. They renounced old ideals and demanded that English poetry and drama should follow the style to which they had become accustomed in the gaiety of Paris. Instead of having Shakespeare and the Elizabethans as their models, the poets and dramatists of the Restoration period began to imitate French writers and especially their vices.
The result was that the old Elizabethan spirit with its patriotism, its love of adventure and romance, its creative vigour, and the Puritan spirit with its moral discipline and love of liberty, became things of the past. For a time in poetry, drama and prose nothing was produced which could compare satisfactorily with the great achievements of the Elizabethans, of Milton, and even of minor writers of the Puritan age. But then the writers of the period began to evolve something that was characteristic of the times and they made two important contributions to English literature in the form of realism and a tendency to preciseness.
In the beginning realism took an ugly shape, because the writers painted the real pictures of the corrupt society and court. They were more concerned with vices rather than with virtues. The result was a coarse and inferior type of literature. Later this tendency to realism became more wholesome, and the writers tried to portray realistically human life as they found it—its good as well as bad side, its internal as well as external shape.
The tendency to preciseness which ultimately became the chief characteristic of the Restoration period, made a lasting contribution to English literature. It emphasised directness and simplicity of expression, and counteracted the tendency of exaggeration and extravagance which was encouraged during the Elizabethan and the Puritan ages. Instead of using grandiloquent phrases, involved sentences full of Latin quotations and classical allusions, the Restoration writers, under the influence of French writers, gave emphasis to reasoning rather than romantic fancy, and evolved an exact, precise way of writing, consisting of short, clear-cut sentences without any unnecessary word. The Royal Society, which was established during this period enjoined on all its members to use ‘a close, naked, natural way of speaking and writing, as near the mathematical plainness as they can”. Dryden accepted this rule for his prose, and for his poetry adopted the easiest type of verse-form—the heroic couplet. Under his guidance, the English writers evolved a style—precise, formal and elegant—which is called the classical style, and which dominated English literature for more than a century.

(a) Restoration Poetry

John Dryden (1631-1700). The Restoration poetry was mostly satirical, realistic and written in the heroic couplet, of which Dryden was the supreme master. He was the dominating figure of the Restoration period, and he made his mark in the fields of poetry, drama and prose. In the field of poetry he was, in fact, the only poet worth mentioning. In his youth he came under the influence of Cowley, and his early poetry has the characteristic conceits and exaggerations of the metaphysical school. But in his later years he emancipated himself from the false taste and artificial style of the metaphysical writers, and wrote in a clear and forceful style which laid the foundation of the classical school of poetry in England.
The poetry of Dryden can be conveniently divided under three heads—Political Satires, Doctrinal Poems and The Fables. Of his political satires, Absolem and Achitophel and The Medal are well-known. In Absolem and Achitophel, which is one of the greatest political satires in the English language, Dryden defended the King against the Earl of Shaftesbury who is represented as Achitophel. It contains powerful character studies of Shaftesbury and of the Duke of Buckingham who is represented as Zimri. The Medal is another satirical poem full of invective against Shaftesbury and MacFlecknoe. It also contains a scathing personal attack on Thomas Shadwell who was once a friend of Dryden.
The two great doctrinal poems of Dryden are Religio Laici and The Hind and the Panther. These poems are neither religious nor devotional, but theological and controversial. The first was written when Dryden was a Protestant, and it defends the Anglican Church. The second written when Dryden had become a Catholic, vehemently defends Catholicism. They, therefore, show Dryden’s power and skill of defending any position he took up, and his mastery in presenting an argument in verse.
The Fables, which were written during the last years of Dryden’s life, show no decrease in his poetic power. Written in the form of a narrative, they entitle Dryden to rank among the best story-tellers in verse in England. The Palamon and Arcite, which is based on Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale, gives us an opportunity of comparing the method and art of a fourteenth century poet with one belonging to the seventeenth century. Of the many miscellaneous poems of Dryden, Annus Mirabilis is a fine example of his sustained narrative power. His Alexander’s Feast is one of the best odes in the English language.
The poetry of Dryden possess all the characteristics of the Restoration period and is therefore thoroughly representative of that age. It does not have the poetic glow, the spiritual fervour, the moral loftiness and philosophical depth which were sadly lacking in the Restoration period. But it has the formalism, the intellectual precision, the argumentative skill and realism which were the main characteristics of that age. Though Dryden does not reach great poetic heights, yet here and there he gives us passages of wonderful strength and eloquence. His reputation lies in his being great as a satirist and reasoner in verse. In fact in these two capacities he is still the greatest master in English literature. Dryden’s greatest contribution to English poetry was his skilful use of the heroic couplet, which became the accepted measure of serious English poetry for many years.

(b) Restoration Drama

In 1642 the theatres were closed by the authority of the parliament which was dominated by Puritans and so no good plays were written from 1642 till the Restoration (coming back of monarchy in England with the accession of Charles II to the throne) in 1660 when the theatres were re-opened. The drama in England after 1660, called the Restoration drama, showed entirely new trends on account of the long break with the past. Moreover, it was greatly affected by the spirit of the new age which was deficient in poetic feeling, imagination and emotional approach to life, but laid emphasis on prose as the medium of expression, and intellectual, realistic and critical approach to life and its problems. As the common people still under the influence of Puritanism had no love for the theatres, the dramatists had to cater to the taste of the aristocratic class which was highly fashionable, frivolous, cynical and sophisticated. The result was that unlike the Elizabethan drama which had a mass appeal, had its roots in the life of the common people and could be legitimately called the national drama, the Restoration drama had none of these characteristics. Its appeal was confined to the upper strata of society whose taste was aristocratic, and among which the prevailing fashions and etiquettes were foreign and extravagant.
As imagination and poetic feelings were regarded as ‘vulgar enthusiasm’ by the dictators of the social life. But as ‘actual life’ meant the life of the aristocratic class only, the plays of this period do not give us a picture of the whole nation. The most popular form of drama was the Comedy of Manners which portrayed the sophisticated life of the dominant class of society—its gaiety, foppery, insolence and intrigue. Thus the basis of the Restoration drama was very narrow. The general tone of this drama was most aptly described by Shelley:
Comedy loses its ideal universality: wit succeeds humour; we laugh from self-complacency and triumph; instead of pleasure, malignity, sarcasm and contempt, succeed to sympathetic merriment; we hardly laugh, but we smile. Obscenity, which is ever blasphemy against the divine beauty of life, becomes, from the very veil which it assumes, more active if less disgusting; it is a monster for which the corruption of society for ever brings forth new food, which it devours in secret.
These new trends in comedy are seen in Dryden’s Wild Gallant (1663), Etheredge’s (1635-1691) The Comical Revenge or Love in a Tub (1664), Wycherley’s The Country Wife and The Plain Dealer, and the plays of Vanbrugh and Farquhar. But the most gifted among all the Restoration dramatist was William Congreve (1670-1720) who wrote all his best plays he was thirty years of age. He well-known comedies are Love for Love (1695) and The Way of the World (1700).

It is mainly on account of his remarkable style that Congreve is put at the head of the Restoration drama. No English dramatist has even written such fine prose for the stage as Congreve did. He balances, polishes and sharpens his sentences until they shine like chiselled instruments for an electrical experiment, through which passes the current in the shape of his incisive and scintillating wit. As the plays of Congreve reflect the fashions and foibles of the upper classes whose moral standards had become lax, they do not have a universal appeal, but as social documents their value is very great. Moreover, though these comedies were subjected to a very severe criticism by the Romantics like Shelley and Lamb, they are now again in great demand and there is a revival of interest in Restoration comedy.
In tragedy, the Restoration period specialised in Heroic Tragedy, which dealt with themes of epic magnitude. The heroes and heroines possessed superhuman qualities. The purpose of this tragedy was didactic—to inculcate virtues in the shape of bravery and conjugal love. It was written in the ‘heroic couplet’ in accordance with the heroic convention derived from France that ‘heroic metre’ should be used in such plays. In it declamation took the place of natural dialogue. Moreover, it was characterised by bombast, exaggeration and sensational effects wherever possible. As it was not based on the observations of life, there was no realistic characterisation, and it inevitably ended happily, and virtue was always rewarded.
The chief protagonist and writer of heroic tragedy was Dryden. Under his leadership the heroic tragedy dominated the stage from 1660 to 1678. His first experiment in this type of drama was his play Tyrannic love, and in The Conquest of Granada he brought it to its culminating point. But then a severe condemnation of this grand manner of writing tragedy was started by certain critics and playwrights, of which Dryden was the main target. It has its effect on Dryden who in his next play Aurangzeb exercised greater restraint and decorum, and in the Prologue to this play he admitted the superiority of Shakespeare’s method, and his own weariness of using the heroic couplet which is unfit to describe human passions adequately: He confesses that he:
Grows weary of his long-loved mistress Rhyme,
Passions too fierce to be in fetters bound,
And Nature flies him like enchanted ground;
What verse can do, he has performed in this
Which he presumes the most correct of his;
But spite of all his pride, a secret shame
Invades his breast at Shakespeare’s sacred name.
Dryden’s altered attitude is seen more clearly in his next play All for Love (1678). Thus he writes in the preface: “In my style I have professed to imitate Shakespeare; which that I might perform more freely, I have disencumbered myself from rhyme.” He shifts his ground from the typical heroic tragedy in this play, drops rhyme and questions the validity of the unities of time, place and action in the conditions of the English stage. He also gives up the literary rules observed by French dramatists and follows the laws of drama formulated by the great dramatists of England. Another important way in which Dryden turns himself away from the conventions of the heroic tragedy, is that he does not give a happy ending to this play.

(c) Restoration Prose

The Restoration period was deficient in poetry and drama, but in prose it holds its head much higher. Of course, it cannot be said that the Restoration prose enjoys absolute supremacy in English literature, because on account of the fall of poetic power, lack of inspiration, preference of the merely practical and prosaic subjects and approach to life, it could not reach those heights which it attained in the preceding period in the hands of Milton and Browne, or in the succeeding ages in the hands of Lamb, Hazlitt, Ruskin and Carlyle. But it has to be admitted that it was during the Restoration period that English prose was developed as a medium for expressing clearly and precisely average ideas and feelings about miscellaneous matters for which prose is really meant. For the first time a prose style was evolved which could be used for plain narrative, argumentative exposition of intricate subjects, and the handling of practical business. The elaborate Elizabethan prose was unsuited to telling a plain story. The epigrammatic style of Bacon, the grandiloquent prose of Milton and the dreamy harmonies of Browne could not be adapted to scientific, historical, political and philosophical writings, and, above all, to novel-writing. Thus with the change in the temper of the people, a new type of prose, as was developed in the Restoration period, was essential.
As in the fields of poetry and drama, Dryden was the chief leader and practitioner of the new prose. In his greatest critical work Essay of Dramatic Poesy, Dryden presented a model of the new prose, which was completely different from the prose of Bacon, Milton and Browne. He wrote in a plain, simple and exact style, free from all exaggerations. His Fables and the Preface to them are fine examples of the prose style which Dryden was introducing. This style is, in fact, the most admirably suited to strictly prosaic purposes—correct but not tame, easy but not slipshod, forcible but not unnatural, eloquent but not declamatory, graceful but not lacking in vigour. Of course, it does not have charm and an atmosphere which we associate with imaginative writing, but Dryden never professed to provide that also. On the whole, for general purposes, for which prose medium is required, the style of Dryden is the most suitable.
Other writers, of the period, who came under the influence of Dryden, and wrote in a plain, simple but precise style, were Sir William Temple, John Tillotson and George Saville better known as Viscount Halifax. Another famous writer of the period was Thomas Sprat who is better known for the distinctness with which he put the demand for new prose than for his own writings. Being a man of science himself he published his History of the Royal Society (1667) in which he expressed the public demand for a popularised style free from “this vicious abundance of phrase, this trick of metaphors, this volubility of tongue.” The Society expected from all its members “a close, natural way of speaking—positive expressions, clear senses, a native easiness bringing all things as near the mathematical plainness as they can, and preferring the language of artisans, country men and merchants before that of wits and scholars.”
Though these writers wrote under the influence of Dryden, they also, to a certain extent, helped in the evolution of the new prose style by their own individual approach. That is why the prose of the Restoration period is free from monotony.

John Bunyan (1628-1688). Next to Dryden, Bunyan was the greatest prose-writer of the period. Like Milton, he was imbued with the spirit of Puritanism, and in fact, if Milton is the greatest poet of Puritanism, Bunyan is its greatest story-teller. To him also goes the credit of being the precursor of the English novel. His greatest work is The Pilgrim’s Progress. Just as Milton wrote his Paradise Lost “to justify the ways to God to men”, Bunyan’s aim in The Pilgrim’s Progress was“to lead men and women into God’s way, the way of salvation, through a simple parable with homely characters and exciting events”. Like Milton, Bunyan was endowed with a highly developed imaginative faculty and artistic instinct. Both were deeply religious, and both, though they distrusted fiction, were the masters of fiction. Paradise Lost and The Pilgrim’s Progress have still survived among thousands of equally fervent religious works of the seventeenth century because both of them are masterpieces of literary art, which instruct as well please even those who have no faith in those instructions.
In The Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan has described the pilgrimage of the Christian to the Heavenly City, the trials, tribulations and temptations which he meets in the way in the form of events and characters, who abstract and help him, and his ultimately reaching the goal. It is written in the form of allegory. The style is terse, simple and vivid, and it appeals to the cultured as well as to the unlettered. As Dr. Johnson remarked: “This is the great merit of the book, that the most cultivated man cannot find anything to praise more highly, and the child knows nothing more amusing.” The Pilgrim’s Progress has all the basic requirements of the traditional type of English novel. It has a good story; the characters are interesting and possess individuality and freshness; the conversation is arresting; the descriptions are vivid; the narrative continuously moves towards a definite end, above all, it has a literary style through which the writer’s personality clearly emanates. The Pilgrim’s Progress is a work of superb literary genius, and it is unsurpassed as an example of plain English.
Bunyan’s other works are: Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666), a kind of spiritual autobiography; The Holy War, which like The Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegory, but the characters are less alive, and there is less variety; The Life and Death of Mr. Badman (1680) written in the form of a realistic novel, gives a picture of low life, and it is second in value and literary significance to The Pilgrim’s Progress.

The prose of Bunyan shows clearly the influence of the English translation of the Bible (The Authorized Version). He was neither a scholar, nor did he belong to any literary school; all that he knew and learned was derived straight from the English Bible. He was an unlettered country tinker believing in righteousness and in disgust with the corruption and degradation that prevailed all around him. What he wrote came straight from his heart, and he wrote in the language which came natural to him. Thus his works born of moral earnestness and extreme sincerity have acquired true literary significance and wide and enduring popularity. It is quite true to call him the pioneer of the modern novel, because he had the qualities of the great story-teller, deep insight into character, humour, pathos, and the visualising imagination of a dramatic artist.

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Eighteenth-Century Literature

The Eighteenth Century in England is called the Classical Age or the Augustan Age in literature. It is also called the Age of Good Sense or the Age of Reason. Though Dryden belonged to the seventeenth century, he is also included in the Classical or Augustan Age, as during his time the characteristics of his age had manifested themselves and he himself represented them to a great extent. Other great literary figures who dominated this age successively were Pope and Dr. Johnson, and so the Classical Age is divided into three distinct periods—the Ages of Dryden, Pope and Dr. Johnson. In this chapter which is devoted to the eighteenth-century literature in England, we will deal with the Ages of Pope and Johnson. The Age of Dryden has already been dealt with in the preceding chapter, entitled “The Restoration Period.”

The Eighteenth Century is called the Classical Age in English literature on account of three reasons. In the first place, the term ‘classic’, refers in general, applies to writers of the highest rank in any nation. This term was first applied to the works of the great Greek and Roman writers, like Homer and Virgil. As the writers of the eighteenth century in England tried to follow the simple and noble methods of the great ancient writers, they began to be called Classical writers. In the second place, in every national literature there is a period when a large number of writers produce works of great merit; such a period is often called the Classical Period or Age. For example, the reign of Augustus is called the Classical Age of Rome; and the Age of Dante is called the Classical Age of Italian literature. As during the eighteenth century in England there was an abundance of literary productions, the critics named it the Classical Age in English literature. In the third place, during this period the English writers rebelled against the exaggerated and fantastic style of writing prevalent during the Elizabethan and Puritan ages, and they demanded that poetry, drama and prose should follow exact rules. In this they were influenced by French writers, especially by Boileau and Rapin, who insisted on precise methods of writing poetry, and who professed to have discovered their rules in the classics of Horace and Aristotle. The eighteenth century is called the Classical Age, because the writers followed the ‘classicism’ of the ancient writers, which was taken in a narrow sense to imply fine polish and external elegance. But as the eighteenth century writers in England followed the ancient classical writers only in their external performance, and lacked their sublimity and grandeur, their classicism is called pseudo-classicism i.,e., a false or sham classicism.
As the term Classical Age is, therefore, too dignified for writers of the eighteenth century in England, who imitated only the outward trapping of the ancient classical writers, and could not get at their inner spirit, this age is preferably called the Augustan Age. This term was chosen by the writers of the eighteenth century themselves, who saw in Pope, Addison, Swift, Johnson and Burke the modern parallels to Horace, Virgil, Cicero, and other brilliant writers who made Roman literature famous during the reign of Emperor Augustus. Of course, to term this as the Augustan Age is also not justified because the writers of this period could not compare favourable with those of the Augustan Age in Latin literature. But these terms—the Classical Age and the Augustan Age-have become current, and so this age is generally called by these terms.
The eighteenth century is also called the Age of Reason or the Age of Good Sense, because the people thought that they could stand on their own legs and be guided in the conduct of their affairs by the light of their own reason unclouded by respect for Ancient precedent. They began to think that undue respect for authority of the Ancients was a great source of error, and therefore in every matter man should apply his own reason and commonsense. Even in literature where the prespect for classical art forms and the rules for writing in those forms gave the defenders of the Ancients a decided advantages, critics could declare that the validity of the rules of art was derived from Reason rather than from Ancient Authority. Though in the seventeenth century Sir Thomas Browne who stood against Ancient Authority in secular matters, declared that in religion “haggard and unreclaimed Reason must stoop unto the lure of Faith”. John Locke, the great philosopher, had opined that there was no war between Faith and Reason. He declared in An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding (1690), “Faith is nothing but a firm assent of the mind; which if it be regulated as is our duty, cannot be afforded to anything but upon good reason; and so cannot be opposite to it.”
It was widely assumed during the eighteenth century that since every man is competent to decide, by reference to his own reason, on any point of natural or moral philosophy, every man becomes his own philosopher. So the need of the expert or specialist vanishes. Moreover, as all men were assumed to be equally endowed with the power of reasoning, it followed that when they reasoned on any given premises they must reach the same conclusion. That conclusion was believed to have universal value and direct appeal to everyone belonging to any race or age. Moreover, it should be the conclusion reached by earlier generation since reason must work the same way in every period of history. When Pope said of wit that it is “Nature to advantage dress’d, what oft was thought but n’er so well express’d,” and when Dr. Johnson remarked about Gray’s Elegy that “it abounds with images which find a mirror in every mind, and with sentiments to which every bosom returns an echo”, they were simply giving the literary application of this belief that the highest type of art is that which can be understood immediately, which has the widest appeal, which is free from the expression of personal idiosyncrasy, and which deals with what is general and universal rather than with what is individual and particular.
This was the temper of the eighteenth century. If it is called The Age of Reason or The Age of Good Sense, it is because in this age it was assumed that in reasoning power all men are and have always been equal. It was an age which took a legitimate pride in modern discoveries based upon observation and reason, and which delighted to reflect that those discoveries had confirmed the ancient beliefs that there is an order and harmony in the universe, that it is worked on rational principles, that each created thing has its allowed position and moved in its appointed spheres. It was, in short, an age which implicitly believed in the Biblical saying: “God saw everything that He had made, and behold it was very good.”
Now let us consider the literary characteristics of this age. In the previous ages which we have dealt with, it were the poetical works which were given prominence. Now, for the first time in the history of English literature, prose occupies the front position. As it was the age of social, political religious and literary controversies in which the prominent writers took an active part, and a large number of pamphlets, journals and magazines were brought out in order to cater to the growing need of the masses who had begun to read and take interest in these controversial matters, poetry was considered inadequate for such a task, and hence there was a rapid development of prose. In fact the prose writers of this age excel the poets in every respect. The graceful and elegant prose of Addison’s essays, the terse style of Swift’s satires, the artistic perfection of Fielding’s novels, the sonorous eloquence of Gibbon’s history, and the oratorical style of Burke, have no equal in the poetical works of the age. In fact, poetry also had become prosaic, because it was no longer used for lofty and sublime purposes, but, like prose, its subject-matter had become criticism, satire, controversy and it was also written in the form of the essay which was the common literary from: Poetry became polished, witty and artificial, but it lacked fire, fine feelings, enthusiasm, the poetic glow of Elizabethan Age and the moral earnestness of Puritanism. In fact, it became more interested in the portrayal of actual life, and distrusted inspiration and imagination. The chief literary glory of the age was, therefore, not poetry, but prose which in the hands of great writers developed into an excellent medium capable of expressing clearly every human interest and emotion.
The two main characteristics of the Restoration period—Realism and Precision—were carried to further perfection during the eighteenth century. They are found in their excellent form in the poetry of Pope, who perfected the heroic couplet, and in the prose of Addison who developed it into a clear, precise and elegant form of expression. The third characteristic of this age was the development of satire as a form of literature, which resulted from the unfortunate union of politics with literature. The wings and the Tories—members of two important political parties which were constantly contending to control the government of the country—used and rewarded the writers for satirising their enemies and undermining their reputation. Moreover, as a satire is concerned mainly with finding fault with the opponents, and is destructive in its intention, it cannot reach the great literary heights. Thus the literature of the age, which is mainly satirical cannot be favourably compared with great literature. One feels that these writers could have done better if they had kept themselves clear of the topical controversies, and had devoted their energies to matters of universal import.
Another important feature of this age was the origin and development of the novel. This new literary form, which gained great popularity in the succeeding ages, and which at present holds the prominent place, was fed and nourished by great masters like Defoe, Richardson, Fielding, Smollet and others who laid its secure foundations. The realism of the age and the development of an excellent prose style greatly helped in the evolution of the novel during the eighteenth century.
The eighteenth century was deficient in drama, because the old Puritanic prejudice against the theatre continued, and the court also withdrew its patronage. Goldsmith and Sheridan were the only writers who produced plays having literary merit.
Another important thing which is to be considered with regard to the eighteenth century literature is that it was only during the early part of it—the Age of Pope, that the classical rules and ideals reigned supreme. In the later part of it—the Age of Johnson—cracks began to appear in the edifice of classicism, in the form of revolts against its ideals, and a revival of the Romantic tendency which was characteristic of the Elizabethan period.
As the eighteenth century is a long period, it will be dealt with in different chapters entitled—The Age of Pope, The Age of Johnson, Eighteenth Century Novel and Eighteenth Century Drama.
The Age of Pope (1700-1744)

The earlier part of the eighteenth century or the Augustan Age in English literature is called the Age of Pope, because Pope was the dominating figure in that period. Though there were a number of other important writers like Addison and Swift, but Pope was the only one who devoted himself completely to literature. Moreover, he represented in himself all the main characteristics of his age, and his poetry served as a model to others.

(a) Poetry

It was the Classical school of poetry which dominated the poetry of the Age of Pope. During this age the people were disgusted with the profligacy and frivolity of the Restoration period, and they insisted upon those elementary decencies of life and conduct which were looked at with contempt by the preceding generation. Moreover, they had no sympathy for the fanaticism and religious zeal of the Puritans who were out to ban even the most innocent means of recreation. So they wanted to follow the middle path in everything and steer clear of the emotional as well as moral excesses. They insisted on the role of intelligence in everything. The poets of this period are deficient on the side of emotion and imagination. Dominated by intellect, poetry of this age is commonly didactic and satirical, a poetry of argument and criticism, of politics and personalities.
In the second place, the poets of this age are more interested in the town, and the ‘cultural’ society. They have no sympathy for the humbler aspects of life—the life of the villagers, the shepherds; and no love for nature, the beautiful flowers, the songs of birds, and landscape as we find in the poets of the Romantic period. Though they preached a virtuous life, they would not display any feeling which smacked of enthusiasm and earnestness. Naturally they had no regard for the great poets of the human heart—Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton. They had no attachment for the Middle Ages and their tales of chivalry, adventure and visionary idealism. Spenser, therefore, did not find favour with them.
In the poetry of this age, form became more important than substance. This love of superficial polish led to the establishment of a highly artificial and conventional style. The closed couplet became the only possible form for serious work in verse. Naturally poetry became monotonous, because the couplet was too narrow and inflexible to be made the vehicle of high passion and strong imagination. Moreover, as great emphasis was laid on the imitation of ancient writers, originality was discouraged, and poetry lost touch with the real life of the people.
Prose being the prominent medium of expression, the rules of exactness, precision and clarity, which were insisted in the writing of prose, also began to be applied to poetry. It was demanded of the poet to say all that he had to say in a plain simple and clear language. The result was that the quality of suggestiveness which adds so much to the beauty and worth of poetry was sadly lacking in the poetry of this age. The meaning of poetry was all on the surface, and there was nothing which required deep study and varied interpretation.
Alexandar Pope (1688-1744). Pope is considered as the greatest poet of the Classical period. He is ‘prince of classicism’ as Prof. Etton calls him. He was an invalid, of small sature and delicate constitution, whose bad nerves and cruel headaches made his life, in his own phrase, a ‘long disease’. Moreover, being a Catholic he had to labour under various restrictions. But the wonder is that in spite of his manifold handicaps, this small, ugly man has left a permanent mark on the literature of his age. He was highly intellectual, extremely ambitious and capable of tremendous industry. These qualities brought him to the front rank of men of letters, and during his lifetime he was looked upon as a model poet.
The main quality of Pope’s poetry is its correctness. It was at the age of twenty-three that he published his Essay on Criticism (1711) and since then till the end of his life he enjoyed progidious reputation. In this essay Pope insists on following the rules discovered by the Ancients, because they are in harmony with Nature:
Those rules of old discovered, not devised
Are Nature still, but Nature methodised.
Pope’s next work, The Rape of the Lock, is in some ways his masterpiece. It is ‘mock heroic’ poem in which he celebrated the theme of the stealth, by Lord Petre of lock of hair from the head of Miss Arabella. Though the poem is written in a jest and deals with a very insignificant event, it is given the form of an epic, investing this frivolous event with mock seriousness and dignity.
By this time Pope had perfected the heroic couplet, and he made use of his technical skill in translating Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey which meant eleven years’ very hard work. The reputation which Pope now enjoyed created a host of jealous rivals whom he severely criticised and ridiculed in The Dunciad. This is Pope’s greatest satire in which he attacked all sorts of literary incompetence. It is full of cruel and insulting couplets on his enemies. His next great poem was The Essay on Man (1732-34), which is full of brilliant oft-quoted passages and lines. His later works—Imitations of Horace and Epistle—are also satires and contain biting attacks on his enemies.
Though Pope enjoyed a tremendous reputation during his lifetime and for some decades after his death, he was so bitterly attacked during the nineteenth century that it was doubted whether Pope was a poet at all. But in the twentieth century this reaction subsided, and now it is admitted by great critics that though much that Pope wrote is prosaic, not of a very high order, yet a part of his poetry is undoubtedly indestructible. He is the supreme master of the epigrammatic style, of condensing an idea into a line or couplet. Of course, the thoughts in his poetry are commonplace, but they are given the most appropriate and perfect expression. The result is that many of them have become proverbial sayings in the English language. For example:
Who shall decide when doctors disagree?
Thou wert my guide, philosopher, and friend.
Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of mankind is man.
Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be, blest.
Minor Poets of the Age of Pope. During his age Pope was by far the greatest of all poets. There were a few minor poets—Matthew Prior, John Gay, Edward Young, Thomas Pernell and Lady Winchelsea.

Matthew Prior (1664-1721), who was a diplomat and active politician wrote two long poems: Solomon on the Vanity of The World and Alma or the Progress of the Mind. These are serious poems, but the reputation of Prior rests on ‘light verse’ dealing with trifling matters. He is not merely a light-hearted jester, but a true humanist, with sense of tears as well as laughter as is seen in the “Lines written in the beginning of Mezeraly’s History of France’.

John Gay (1685-1732) is the master of vivid description or rural scenes as well of the delights of the town. Like Prior he is full of humour and good temper. As a writer of lyrics, and in the handling of the couplet, he shows considerable technical skill. His best-known works are: --Rural Sports; Trivia, or the Art of Walking the Streets of London; Black-Eyed Susan and some Fables.
Prior and Gay were the followers of Pope, and after Pope, they are the two excellent guides to the life of eighteenth century London. The other minor poets, Edward Young, Thomas Parnell and Lady Winchelsea, belonged more to the new Romantic spirit than to the classical spirit in their treatment of external nature, though they were unconscious of it.

Edward Young (1683-1765) is his Universal Passions showed himself as skilful a satirist as Pope. His best-known work is The Night Thoughts which, written in blank verse, shows considerable technical skill and deep thought.

Thomas Parnell (1679-1718) excelled in translations. His best known works are the The Night-Piece on Death and Hymn to Contentment, which have a freshness of outlook and metrical skill.

Lady Winchelsea (1660-1725), though a follower of Pope, showed more sincerity and genuine feeling for nature than any other poet of that age. Her Nocturnal Reverie may be considered as the pioneer of the nature poetry of the new Romantic age.
To sum up, the poetry of the age of Pope is not of a high order, but it has distinct merits—the finished art of its satires; the creation of a technically beautiful verse; and the clarity and succinctness of its expression.

(b) Prose of the Age of Pope

The great prose writers of the Age of Pope were Defoe, Addison, Steele and Swift. The prose of this period exhibits the Classical qualities—clearness, vigour and direct statement.

Daniel Defoe (1661-1731) is the earliest literary journalist in the English language. He wrote on all sorts of subjects—social, political, literary, and brought out about 250 publications. He owes his importance, in literature, however, mainly to his works of fiction which were simply the offshoots of his general journalistic enterprises. As a journalist he was fond of writing about the lives of famous people who had just died, and of notorious adventurers and criminals. At the age of sixty he turned his attention to the writing of prose fiction, and published his first novel—Robinson Cruso—the book by which he is universally known. It was followed by other works of fiction—The Memoirs of a Cavalier, Captain Singleton, Moll Flanders, Colonel Jack, Roxana and Journal of the Plague Year.
In these works of fiction Defoe gave his stories an air of reality and convinced his readers of their authenticity. That is why they are appropriately called by Sir Leslie Stephen as ‘Fictitious biographies’ or “History minus the Facts’. All Defoe's fictions are written in the biographical form. They follow no system and are narrated in a haphazard manner which give them a semblance of reality and truth. His stories, told in the plain, matter-of-fact, business-like way, appropriate to stories of actual life, hence they possess extraordinary minute realism which is their distinct feature. Here his homely and colloquial style came to his help. On account of all these qualities Defoe is credited with being the originator of the English novel. As a writer of prose his gift of narrative and description is masterly. As he never wrote with any deliberate artistic intention, he developed a natural style which made him one of the masters of English prose.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) was the most powerful and original genius of his age. He was highly intellectual but on account of some radical disorder in his system and the repeated failures which he had to face in the realisation of his ambition to rise in public life, made him a bitter, melancholy and sardonic figure. He took delight in flouting conventions, and undermining the reputation of his apponents. His best-known work, Gulliver’s Travels, which is a very popular children’s book, is also a bitter attack on contemporary political and social life in particular, and on the meanness and littleness of man in general. The Tale of a Tub which, like Gulliver’s Travels, is written in the form of an allegory, and exposes the weakness of the main religious beliefs opposed to Protestant religion, is also a satire upon all science and philosophy. His Journal to Stella which was written to Esther Johnson whom Swift loved, is not only an excellent commentary on contemporary characters and political events, by one of the most powerful and original minds of the age, but in love passages, and purely personal descriptions, it reveals the real tenderness which lay concealed in the depths of his fierce and domineering nature.
Swift was a profound pessimist. He was essentially a man of his time in his want of spiritual quality, in his distrust of the visionary and the extravagant, and in his thoroughly materialistic view of life. As a master of prose-style, which is simple, direct and colloquial, and free from the ornate and rhetorical elements, Swift has few rivals in the whole range of English literature. As a satirist his greatest and most effective weapon is irony. Though apparently supporting a cause which he is really apposing, he pours ridicule upon ridicule on it until its very foundations are shaken. The finest example, of irony is to be found in his pamphlet—The Battle of Books, in which he championed the cause of the Ancients against the Moderns. The mock heroic description of the great battle in the King’s Library between the rival hosts is a masterpiece of its kind.

Joseph Addison (1672-1719) and Sir Richard Steele (1672-1729) who worked in collaboration, were the originators of the periodical essay. Steele who was more original led the way by founding The Tatler, the first of the long line of eighteenth century periodical essays. This was followed by the most famous of them The Spectator, is which Addison, who had formerly contributed to Steele’s Tatler, now became the chief partner. It began on March 1, 1711, and ran till December 20, 1714 with a break of about eighteen months. In its complete form it contains 635 essays. Of these Addison wrote 274 and Steele 240; the remaining 121 were contributed by various friends.
The Characters of Steele and Addison were curiously contrasted. Steele was an emotional, full-blooded kind of man, reckless and dissipated but fundamentally honest and good-hearted. What there is of pathos and sentiment, and most of what there is of humour in the Tatler and the Spectator are his. Addison, on the other hand, was an urbane, polished gentleman of exquisite refinement of taste. He was shy, austere, pious and righteous. He was a quiet and accurate observer of manners of fashions in life and conversation.
The purpose of the writings of Steele and Addison was ethical. They tried to reform society through the medium of the periodical essay. They set themselves as moralistic to break down two opposed influences—that of the profligate Restoration tradition of loose living and loose thinking on the one hand, and that of Puritan fanaticism and bigotry on the other. They performed this work in a gentle, good-humoured manner, and not by bitter invective. They made the people laugh at their own follies and thus get rid of them. So they were, to a great extent, responsible for reforming the conduct of their contemporaries in social and domestic fields. Their aim was moral as well as educational. Thus they discussed in a light-hearted and attractive manner art, philosophy, drama, poetry, and in so doing guided and developed the taste of the people. For example, it was by his series of eighteen articles on Paradise Lost, that Addison helped the English readers have a better appreciation of Milton and his work.
In another direction the work of Addison and Steele proved of much use. Their character studies in the shape of the members of the Spectator Club—Sir Roger de Coverley and others—presented actual men moving amid real scenes and taking part in various incidents and this helped in the development of genuine novel.
Both Steele and Addison were great masters of prose. Their essays are remarkable as showing the growing perfection of the English language. Of the two, Addison was a greater master of the language. He cultivated a highly cultured and graceful style—a style which can serve as a model. Dr. Johnson very aptly remarked: “Whoever wishes to attain an English style, familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and nights to the volumes of Addison.” And again he said: “Give nights and days, Sir, to the study of Addison if you mean to be a good writer, or what is more worth, an honest man.”

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The Age of Johnson (1744-1784)

The later half of the eighteenth century, which was dominated by Dr. Samuel Johnson, is called the Age of Johnson. Johnson died in 1784, and from that time the Classical spirit in English literature began to give place to the Romantic spirit, though officially the Romantic Age started from the year 1798 when Wordsworth and Coleridge published the famous Lyrical Ballads. Even during the Age of Johnson, which was predominantly classical, cracks had begun to appear in the solid wall of classicism and there were clear signs of revolt in favour of the Romantic spirit. This was specially noticeable in the field of poetry. Most of the poets belonging to the Age of Johnson may be termed as the precursors of the Romantic Revival. That is why the Age of Johnson is also called the Age of Transition in English literature.

(a) Poets of the Age of Johnson

As has already been pointed out, the Age of Johnson in English poetry is an age of transition and experiment which ultimately led to the Romantic Revival. Its history is the history of the struggle between the old and the new, and of the gradual triumph of the new. The greatest protagonist of classicism during this period was Dr. Johnson himself, and he was supported by Goldsmith. In the midst of change these two held fast to the classical ideals, and the creative work of both of them in the field of poetry was imbued with the classical spirit. As Macaulay said, “Dr. Johnson took it for granted that the kind of poetry which flourished in his own time and which he had been accustomed to hear praised from his childhood, was the best kind of poetry, and he not only upheld its claims by direct advocacy of its canons, but also consistently opposed every experiment in which, as in the ballad revival, he detected signs of revolt against it.” Johnson’s two chief poems, Londonand The Vanity of Human Wishes, are classical on account of their didacticism, their formal, rhetorical style, and their adherence to the closed couplet.
Goldsmith was equally convinced that the classical standards of writing poetry were the best and that they had attained perfection during the Augustan Age. All that was required of the poets was to imitate those standards. According to him “Pope was the limit of classical literature.” In his opposition to the blank verse, Goldsmith showed himself fundamentally hostile to change. His two important poems, The Traveller and The Deserted Village, which are versified pamphlets on political economy, are classical in spirit and form. They are written in the closed couplet, are didactic, and have pompous phraseology. These poems may be described as the last great work of the outgoing, artificial eighteenth century school, though even in them, if we study them minutely, we perceive the subtle touches of the new age of Romanticism especially in their treatment of nature and rural life.
Before we consider the poets of the Age of Johnson, who broke from the classical tradition and followed the new Romantic trends, let us first examine what Romanticism stood for. Romanticism was opposed to Classicism on all vital points. For instance, the main characteristics of classical poetry were: (i) it was mainly the product of intelligence and was especially deficient in emotion and imagination; (ii) it was chiefly the town poetry; (iii) it had no love for the mysterious, the supernatural, or what belonged to the dim past; (iv) its style was formal and artificial; (v) it was written in the closed couplet; (vi) it was fundamentally didactic; (vii) it insisted on the writer to follow the prescribed rules and imitate the standard models of good writing. The new poetry which showed romantic leanings was opposed to all these points. For instance, its chief characteristics were: (i) it encouraged emotion, passion and imagination in place of dry intellectuality; (ii) it was more interested in nature and rustic life rather than in town life; (iii) it revived the romantic spirit—love of the mysterious, the supernatural, the dim past; (iv) it opposed the artificial and formal style, and insisted on simple and natural forms of expression; (v) it attacked the supremacy of the closed couplet and encouraged all sorts of metrical experiments; (vi) its object was not didactic but the expression of the writer’s experience for its own sake; (vii) it believed in the liberty of the poet to choose the theme and the manner of his writing.
The poets who showed romantic leanings, during the Age of Johnson, and who may be described as the precursors or harbingers of the Romantic Revival were James Thomson, Thomas Gray, William Collins, James Macpherson, William Blake, Robert Burns, William Cowper and George Crabbe.

James Thomson (1700-1748) was the earliest eighteenth century poet who showed romantic tendency in his work. The main romantic characteristic in his poetry is his minute observation of nature. In The Seasons he gives fine sympathetic descriptions of the fields, the woods, the streams, the shy and wild creatures. Instead of the closed couplet, he follows the Miltonic tradition of using the blank verse. In The Castle of Indolence, which is written in form of dream allegory so popular in medieval literature, Thomson uses the Spenserian stanza. Unlike the didactic poetry of the Augustans, this poem is full of dim suggestions.

Thomas Gray (1716-1771) is famous as the author of Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, “the best-known in the English language.” Unlike classical poetry which was characterised by restraint on personal feelings and emotions, this poem is the manifestation of deep feelings of the poet. It is suffused with the melancholy spirit which is a characteristic romantic trait. It contains deep reflections of the poet on the universal theme of death which spare no one. Other important poems of Gray are The Progress of Poesy and The Bard. Of these The Bard is more original and romantic. It emphasises the independence of the poet, which became the chief characteristic of romantic poetry. All these poems of Gray follow the classical model so far as form is concerned, but in spirit they are romantic.

William Collins (1721-1759). Like the poetry of Gray, Collin’s poetry exhibits deep feelings of melancholy. His first poem, Oriental Eclogues is romantic in feeling, but is written in the closed couplet. His best-known poems are the odes To Simplicity, To Fear, To the Passions, the small lyric How Sleep The Brave, and the beautiful “Ode to Evening”. In all these poems the poet values the solitude and quietude because they afford opportunity for contemplative life. Collins in his poetry advocates return to nature and simple and unsophisticated life, which became the fundamental creeds of the Romantic Revival.

James Macpherson (1736-1796) became the most famous poet during his time by the publication of Ossianic poems, called the Works of Ossian, which were translations of Gaelic folk literature, though the originals were never produced, and so he was considered by some critics as a forger. In spite of this Macpherson exerted a considerable influence on contemporary poets like Blake and Burns by his poetry which was impregnated with moonlight melancholy and ghostly romantic suggestions.

William Blake (1757-1827). In the poetry of Blake we find a complete break from classical poetry. In some of his works as Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience which contain the famous poems—Little Lamb who made thee? and Tiger, Tiger burning bright, we are impressed by their lyrical quality. In other poems such as The Book of Thel, Marriage of Heaven and Hell, it is the prophetic voice of Blake which appeals to the reader. In the words of Swinburne, Blake was the only poet of “supreme and simple poetic genius” of the eighteenth century, “the one man of that age fit, on all accounts, to rank with the old great masters”. Some of his lyrics are, no doubt, the most perfect and the most original songs in the English language.

Robert Burns (1759-96), who is the greatest song writer in the English language, had great love for nature, and a firm belief in human dignity and quality, both of which are characteristic of romanticism. He has summed up his poetic creed in the following stanza:
Give me a spark of Nature’s fire,
That is all the learning I desire;
Then, though I trudge through dub and mire
At plough or cart,
My Muse, though homely in attire,
May touch the heart.
The fresh, inspired songs of Burns as The Cotter’s Saturday Night, To a Mouse, To a Mountain Daisy, Man was Made to Mourne went straight to the heart, and they seemed to be the songs of the birds in spring time after the cold and formal poetry for about a century. Most of his songs have the Elizabethan touch about them.

William Cowper (1731-1800), who lived a tortured life and was driven to the verge of madness, had a genial and kind soul. His poetry, much of which is of autobiographical interest, describes the homely scenes and pleasures and pains of simple humanity—the two important characteristics of romanticism. His longest poem, The Task, written in blank verse, comes as a relief after reading the rhymed essays and the artificial couplets of the Age of Johnson. It is replete with description of homely scenes, of woods and brooks of ploughmen and shepherds. Cowper’s most laborious work is the translation of Homer in blank verse, but he is better known for his small, lovely lyrics like On the Receipt of My Mother’s Picture, beginning with the famous line, Oh, that those lips had language’, and Alexander Selkirk, beginning with the oft-quoted line, ‘I am monarch of all I survey’.

George Crabbe (1754-1832) stood midway between the Augustans and the Romantics. In form he was classical, but in the temper of his mind he was romantic. Most of his poems are written in the heroic couplet, but they depict an attitude to nature which is Wordsworthian. To him nature is a “presence, a motion and a spirit,” and he realizes the intimate union of nature with man. His well-known poem. The Village, is without a rival as a picture of the working men of his age. He shows that the lives of the common villager and labourers are full of romantic interest. His later poems, The Parish Register, The Borough, Tales in Verse, and Tales of the Hall are all written in the same strain.
Another poet who may also be considered as the precursor of the Romantic Revival was Thomas Chatterton (1752-70), the Bristol boy, whose The Rowley Poems, written in pseudo-Chaucerian English made a strong appeal of medievalism. The publication of Bishop Percy’s Reliques of Ancient Poetry in 1765 also made great contribution to the romantic mood reviving interest in ballad literature.

(b) Prose of the Age of Johnson

In the Age of Johnson the tradition established by prose writers of the earlier part of the eighteenth century—Addison, Steele and Swift—was carried further. The eighteenth century is called the age of aristocracy. This aristocracy was no less in the sphere of the intellect than in that of politics and society. The intellectual and literary class formed itself into a group, which observed certain rules of behaviour, speech and writing. In the field of prose the leaders of this group established a literary style which was founded on the principles of logical and lucid thought. It was opposed to what was slipshod, inaccurate, and trivial. It avoided all impetuous enthusiasm and maintained an attitude of aloofness and detachment that contributed much to its mood of cynical humour. The great prose writers, the pillars of the Age of Johnson, who represented in themselves, the highest achievements of English prose, were Johnson, Burke and Gibbon.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) was the literary dictator of his age, though he was not its greatest writer. He was a man who struggled heroically against poverty and ill-health; who was ready to take up cudgels against anyone however high he might be placed, but who was very kind and helpful to the poor and the wretched. He was an intellectual giant, and a man of sterling character, on account of all these qualities he was honoured and loved by all, and in his poor house gathered the foremost artists, scholars, actors, and literary men of London, who looked upon him as their leader.
Johnson’s best-known works are his Dictionary and Lives of Poets. He contributed a number of articles in the periodicals, The Rambler, The Idler and Rasselas. In them his style is ponderous and verbose, but in Lives of Poets, which are very readable critical biographies of English poets, his style is simple and at time charming. Though in the preceding generations Dryden, Addison, Steele and Swift wrote elegant, lucid and effective prose, none of them set up any definite standard to be followed by others. What was necessary in the generation when Johnson wrote, was some commanding authority that might set standard of prose style, lay down definite rules and compel others to follow them. This is what was actually done by Johnson. He set a model of prose style which had rhythm, balance and lucidity, and which could be imitiated with profit. In doing so he preserved the English prose style from degenerating into triviality and feebleness, which would have been the inevitable result of slavishly imitating the prose style of great writers like Addison by ordinary writers who had not the secret of Addison’s genius. The model was set by Johnson.
Though Johnson’s own style is often condemned as ponderous and verbose, he could write in an easy and direct style when he chose. This is clear from Lives of Poets where the formal dignity of his manner and the ceremonial stateliness of his phraseology are mixed with touches of playful humour and stinging sarcasm couched in very simple and lucid prose. The chief characteristic of Johnson’s prose-style is that it grew out of his conversational habit, and therefore it is always clear, forceful and frank. We may not some time agree to the views he expresses in the Lives, but we cannot but be impressed by his boldness, his wit, wide range and brilliancy of his style.

Burke (1729-1797) was the most important member of Johnson’s circle. He was a member of the Parliament for thirty years and as such he made his mark as the most forceful and effective orator of his times. A man of vast knowledge, he was the greatest political philosopher that ever spoke in the English Parliament.
Burke’s chief contributions to literature are the speeches and writings of his public career. The earliest of them were Thoughts on the Present Discontent (1770). In this work Burke advocated the principle of limited monarchy which had been established in England since the Glorious Revolution in 1688, when James II was made to quit the throne, and William of Orange was invited by the Parliament to become the king of England with limited powers. When the American colonies revolted against England, and the English government was trying to suppress that revolt, Burke vehemently advocated the cause of American independence. In that connection he delivered two famous speeches in Parliament. On American Taxation (1774) and on Conciliation with America, in which are embodied true statesmanship and political wisdom. The greatest speeches of Burke were, however, delivered in connection with the French Revolution, which were published as The Reflections on the French Revolution (1790). Here Burke shows himself as prejudiced against the ideals of the Revolution, and at time he becomes immoderate and indulges in exaggerations. But from the point of view of style and literary merit the Reflections stand higher, because they brought out the poetry of Burke’s nature. His last speeches delivered in connection with the impeachment of Warren Hastings for the atrocities he committed in India, show Burke as the champion of justice and a determined foe of corruption, high-handedness and cruelty.
The political speeches and writings of Burke belong to the sphere of literature of a high order because of their universality. Though he dealt in them with events which happened during his day, he gave expression to ideas and impulses which were true not for one age but for all times. In the second place they occupy an honourable place in English literature on account of excellence of their style. The prose of Burke is full of fire and enthusiasm, yet supremely logical; eloquent and yet restrained; fearless and yet orderly; steered by every popular movement and yet dealing with fundamental principles of politics and philosophy. Burke’s style, in short, is restrained, philosophical, dignified, obedient to law and order, free from exaggeration and pedantry as well as from vulgarity and superficiality.

Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) was the first historian of England who wrote in a literary manner. His greatest historical work—The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which is an authoritative and well-documented history, can pass successfully the test of modern research and scholarship. But its importance in literature is on account of its prose style which is the very climax of classicism. It is finished, elegant, elaborate and exhaustive. Though his style is sometimes marred by affectations and undue elaboration, yet on account of his massive intellect, and unfailing sense of literary proportion, he towers above all competitors as the model historian.
The Eighteenth Century Novel

The chief literary contribution of the eighteenth century was the discovery of the modern novel, which at present is the most widely read and influential type of literature. The novel in its elementary form as a work of fiction written in prose was at first established in England by two authors—Bunyan and Defoe, who took advantage of the public interest in autobiography. The books of Bunyan, whether they are told in the first person or not, were meant to be autobiographical and their interest is subjective. Bunyan endeavours to interest his readers not in the character of some other person he had imagined or observed, but in himself, and his treatment of it is characteristic of the awakening talent for fiction in his time. The Pilgrim’s Progress is begun as an allegory, but in course of time the author is so much taken up with the telling of the story, that he forgets about the allegory, and it is this fact which makes Bunyan the pioneer of the modern novel.

But it was Defoe who was the real creator of autobiographical fiction as a work of art. He was the first to create psychological interest in the character of the narrator. Moreover, he was the first to introduce realism or verisimilitude by observing in his writing a scrupulous and realistic fidelity and appropriateness to the conditions in which the story was told. For example, the reader is told about Cruso’s island as gradually as Cruso himself comes to know of it. Besides introducing the elements of autobiography and realism, Defoe also fixed the peculiar form of the historical novel—the narrative of an imaginary person in a historical setting as in his Memories of a Cavalier. On account of all these reasons Defoe is rightly termed the originator of the modern novel.
In spite of this, it can be safely said that until the publication of Richardson’s Pamela in 1740, no true novel had appeared in English literature. By a true novel we mean simply a work of fictions which relates the story of a plain human life, under stress of emotions, and the interest of which does not depend on incident or adventure, but on its truth to nature. During the eighteenth century a number of English novelists—Goldsmith, Richardson, Fielding, Smollett, Sterne—all developed simultaneously the form of the novel as presenting life, as it really is, in the form of a story. The new middle class which was rising and getting into power demanded a new type of literature, which must express the new ideal of the eighteenth century, that is, the value and the importance of individual life. Moreover, on account of the spread of education and the appearance of newspapers and magazines there was an immense increase in the reading public to whom the novelist could directly appeal without caring for the patronage of the aristocratic class which was losing power. It was under these circumstances that the novel was born in the eighteenth century expressing the same ideals of personality and of the dignity of command life which became the chief themes of the poets of the Romantic Revival, and which were proclaimed later by the American and French Revolutions. The novelists of the eighteenth century told the common people not about the grand lives of knights, princes and heroes, but about their own plain and simple lives, their ordinary thoughts and feelings, and their day-to-day actions and their effects on them and others. The result was that such works were eagerly read by the common people, and the novel became a popular form of literature appealing to the masses, because it belonged to them and reflected their lives.

Daniel Defoe (1661-1731) was, as has already been pointed out, the originator of the novel, though none of his works can be placed under the category of novel in the modern sense of the term. In Robinson Cruso, Defoe, has described the experiences of Alexander Selkirk who spent five years in solitude in the island of Juan Fernandez. Though the whole story is fictitious, it has been described most realistically with the minute accuracy of an eyewitness. From that point of view we can say that in Robinson Cruso Defoe brought the realistic adventure story to a very high stage of its development, better than in his other works of fiction Captain Singleton, Moll Flanders and Roxana which are just like picaresque stories (current at that time, about the adventures of rogues) to which were added unnatural moralising and repentance. But we cannot call Robinson Cruso, strictly speaking, a novel, because here the author has not produced the effect of subordinating incident to the faithful portrayal of human life and character, which is the criterion of the real novel.

Samuel Richardson (1689-1761) is credited with the writing of the first modern novel—Pamela or Virtue Rewarded. It tells the trials, tribulations and the final happy marriage of a young girl. Written in the form of ‘Familiar Letters, on how to think and act justly and prudently, in the common concerns of Human Life’, it is sentimental and boring on account of its wearisome details. But the merit of it lies in the fact that it was the first book which told in a realistic manner the inner life of a young girl. Its psychological approach made it the first modern novel in England. Richardson here gave too much importance to physical chastity, and ‘prudence’ which was the key to the middle class way of life during the eighteenth century. It enjoyed tremendous popularity on account of being in tune with the contemporary standards of morality.
Richardson’s second novel, Clarissa or The History of a Young Lady, is also written in the form of letters and is as sentimental as Pamela. In the heroine of this novel, Clarissa, Richardson has painted a real woman, portraying truthfully her doubts, scruples, griefs and humiliations. In his next novel, Sir Charles Grandison, which is also written in the form of letters, Richardson told the story of an aristocrat of ideal manners and virtues.
In all his novels Richardson’s purpose was didactic, but he achieved something more. He probed into the inner working of the human mind. It was this achievement that made Dr. Johnson say of Richardson that he “enlarged the knowledge of human nature, and taught the passions to move at the command of virtue”. Of Clarissa he said that “it was the first book in the world for the knowledge it displays of the human heart.” Richardson’s main contribution to the English novel was that for the first time he told stories of human life from within, depending for their interest not on incidents or adventures but on their truth to human nature.

Henry Fielding (1707-1754) was the greatest of the eighteenth century novelists. He wrote his first great novel Joseph Andrews in order to satirise and parody the false sentimentality and conventional virtues of Richardson’s heroine, Pamela. The hero of this novel is a supposed brother of Pamela, a domestic servant, who has vowed to follow the example of his sister. He is also exposed to the same kinds of temptations, but instead of being rewarded for his virtues, he is dismissed from service by his mistress. The satiric purpose of Fielding ends here, because then he describes the adventures of Joseph with his companion Parson Adams, and tells the story of a vagabond life, with a view “to laugh men out of their follies”. Instead of the sentimentality and feminine niceties of Richardson, in Fielding’s novel we find a coarse, vigorous, hilarious and even vulgar approach to life. The result is broad realism not in the portrayal of inner life but of outer behaviour and manners. The characters in the novels are drawn from all classes of society, and they throb with life.
Fielding’s next novel, Jonathan Wild, is a typical picaresque novel, narrating the story of a rogue. His greatest novel, The History of Tom Jones, a Founding (1746-1749), has epic as well as dramatic qualities. It consists of a large number of involved adventures, which are very skillfully brought towards their climax by the hand of a dramatist. Behind all chance happenings, improbabilities and incogruities there exists a definite pattern which gives the complicated plot of Tom Jones a unity which we find nowhere in English novel or drama except in Ben Jonson’s The Alchemists. Without making a deliberate effort at moralising like Richardson Fielding suggests a deeper moral lesson that one should do good not for reward but for the satisfaction of doing so. It is the generous impulses, rooted in unselfishness and respect for others, which are the best guarantee of virtue.
Fieldings’ last novel, Amelia (1751), which is the story of a good wife in contrast with an unworthy husband, is written in a milder tone. Here instead of showing a detached and coarse attitude to life, Fielding becomes soft-hearted and champions the cause of the innocent and the helpless. It is also written in a homely and simple narrative.
Fielding’s great contribution to the English novel is that he put it on a stable footing. It became free from its slavery to fact, conscious of its power and possibilities, and firmly established as an independent literary form. He is called the Father of the English novel, because he was the first to give genuine pictures of men and women of his age, without moralising over their vices and virtues. It was through his efforts that the novel became immensely popular with the reading public, and a large number of novels poured from the press.

Tobias Smollett (1721-1771) followed the example of Fielding in writing picaresque novels, which are full of intrigue and adventure. But he lacks the genius of Fielding, for his novels are just a jumble of adventures and incidents without any artistic unity. Instead of Fielding’s broad humour and his inherent kindness, we find horrors and brutalities in the novels of Smollett, which are mistaken for realism.
Smollett’s best-known novels are Roderick Random (1748) in which the hero relates a series of adventures: Peregrine Pickle (1751) in which are related the worst experiences at sea; and Humphrey Clinker (1771) in which is related the journey of a Welsh family through England and Scotland. In all these novels Smollet excites continuous laughter by farcical situations and exaggeration in portraying human eccentricities. Unlike the realistic and pure comedy which Fielding presents in his novels, Smollet is the originator of the funny novel, which was brought to a climax by Dickens in his satirical and hearty caricatures.

Lawrence Sterne (1713-1768) was the opposite of Smollet in the sense that whereas we find horrors and brutalities in the novels of Smollett, in Sterne’s we find whims, vagaries and sentimental tears. His best-known novels are Tristram Shandy and A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy. The former was started in 1760; its nineth volume appeared in 1767, but the book was never finished. In it are recorded in a most digressive and aimless manner the experiences of the eccentric Shandy family. The main achievements of this book lie in the brilliancy of its style and the creation of eccentric characters like Uncle Toby and Corporal Trim. The Sentimental Journey, which is a strange mixture of fiction, descriptions of travel, and a number of essays on all sorts of subjects, is also written in a brilliant style, and is stamped with Sterne’s false and sentimental attitude to life.
These novels are written in the first person, and while Sterne speaks of one thing, it reminds him of another, with which it has no apparent, logical connection. So he is forced into digression, and in this manner he follows the wayward movements of his mind. This method is very much like that of the Stream of Consciousness novelists, though there is a difference, because the hero in Sterne’s novels is Sterne himself. Another peculiarity of Sterne is his power of sentimentality, which along with his humour and indecency, is part and parcel of his way of interpreting life. Whenever he makes us smile, he hopes that there will be a suspicion of a tear as well. In fact the main contribution of Sterne to the English novel was his discovery of the delights of sensibility, the pleasures of the feeling heart, which opened up a vast field of experience, and which was followed by many eighteenth century writers.

Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774) wrote only one novel—The Vicar of Wakefield. This is the best novel in the English language, in which domestic life has been given an enduring romantic interest. It is free from that vulgarity and coarseness which we find in the novels of Smollett and Sterne. In it domestic virtues and purity of character are elevated. It is the story of Dr. Primrose, a simple English clergyman, who passes through various misfortunes, but ultimately comes out triumphant, with his faith in God and man reaffirmed. Without introducing romantic passion, intrigue and adventure which were freely used by other novelists, Goldsmith by relating a simple story in a simple manner has presented in The Vicar of Wakefield the best example of the novel, the new literary form which was becoming immensely popular.
Summing up the development of the English novel during the eighteenth century, we can say that the novel from a humble beginning evolved into a fully developed form. Defoe gave it the realistic touch; Richardson introduced analysis of the human heart; Fielding made it full of vitality and animal vigour; Smollett introduced exaggerated and eccentric characters; Sterne contributed sentimentality and brilliancy of style; and Goldsmith emphasised high principles and purity of domestic life. In the hands of these early masters the novel took a definite shape and came to be recognised as an important literary form with vast possibilities of further development.
The Eighteenth Century Drama

The dramatic literature of the eighteenth century was not of a high order. In fact there was a gradual deterioration and during the last quarter of the century drama was moving towards its lowest ebb. One of the reasons of the decline of drama during the eighteenth century was the Licensing Act of 1737 which curtailed the freedom of expression of dramatists. The result was that a number of writers like Fielding, who could make their marks as dramatists, left the theatre and turned towards the novel. Moreover, the new commercial middle classes which were coming into prominence imposed their own dull and stupid views on the themes that would be acceptable to the theatre. Naturally this was not liked by first-rate writers who wanted to write independently.

In the field of tragedy two opposing traditions—Romantic and Classical—exercised their influence on the dramatists. The Romantic tradition was the Elizabethan way of writing tragedy. Those who followed this tradition made use of intricate plots and admitted horror and violence on the open stage. The Classical tradition which was mainly the French tradition of writing tragedy was characterised by the unfolding of a single action without any sub-plot, and long declamatory speeches delivered by the actors. The traditional English pattern of drama was exemplified by Otway’s Venice Preserved, while the Classical tradition was strictly upheld in Addison’s Cato (1713), which is written in an unemotional but correct style, and has a pronounced moralising tone. Other tragedies which were written according to the Classical pattern were James Thomson’s Sophonisba (1729) and Dr. Johnson’s Irene (1749). But none of these tragedies, whether following the Romantic or the Classical tradition came up to a respectable dramatic standard, because the creative impulse seems to have spent itself. Though a very large number of tragedies were written during the eighteenth century, they had literary, but no dramatic value. Mostly there were revivals of old plays, which were adapted by writers who were not dramatists in the real sense of the term.
In the field of comedy, the same process of disintegration was noticeable. Comedy was deteriorating into farce. Moreover, sentimentality which was opposed to the authority of reason, came to occupy an important place in comedy. This ‘sentimental’ comedy which gained in popularity was criticised by Goldsmith thus:
“A new species of dramatic composition has been introduced under the name of sentimental comedy, in which the virtues of private life are exhibited, rather than the vices exposed; and the distresses rather than the faults of mankind make our interest in the pieces. These comedies have had of late great success, perhaps from their novelty, and also from their flattering every man in his favourite foible. In these plays almost all the characters are good and exceedingly generous; they are lavish enough of their tin money on the stage; and though they want humour, have abundance of sentiment and feeling. If they happen to have faults or foibles, the spectator is taught, not only to pardon, but to applaud them, in consideration of the goodness of their hearts; so that folly, instead of being ridiculed, is commended, and the comedy aims at touching our passions without the power of being truly pathetic.
Steele was the first exponent of the sentimental comedy in the eighteenth century. In his plays, such as The Funeral, The Lying Lover, The Tender Husband, The Conscious Lovers, Steele extolled the domestic virtues. His object was didactic, and he tried to prove that morality and sharpness of intelligence can go together. In his plays in which tears of pity and emotion flowed profusely, Steele held that Simplicity of mind, Good nature, Friendship and Honour were the guiding principles of conduct.
Other dramatists who wrote sentimental comedies were Colley Cibber, Hugh Kelley and Richard Cumberland. In their hands comedy was so much drenched in emotions and sentiments that the genuine human issues were completely submerged in them. Thus there was a need to rescue the drama from such depths to which it had fallen.
The two great dramatists of the eighteenth century, who led the revolt against sentimental comedy were Oliver Goldsmith (1730-74) and Richard Sheridan (1751-1861). Though in his novel, The Vicar of Wakefield, and in his poem, The Deserted Village, Goldsmith showed clear marks of a sentimental attitude to life, in his Good-Natured Man he covers it with ridicule by portraying the character of Honeywood as unadulterated ‘good-nature’. Though the play is a feeble one, his intentions of mocking the excess of false charity are obvious. His next play, She Stoops to Conquer (1773), which is his masterpiece, was an immediate success. It has always remained one of the half-dozen most popular comedies in the English language. In spite of the obvious improbabilities of the plot, the play moves naturally in a homely atmosphere, full of genuine humour which provokes unrestrained laughter. Here there is no artificiality of sentimental comedy. The main characters—Hardcastle and Tony Lumpkin are very clearly delineated. They are at once types and individuals. They are the images of their age, and yet recognizable as human figures. She Stoops to Conquer went a long way in restoring comedy to its own province of mirth and laughter and rescuing it from too much sentimentality.

Richard Brinsely Sheridan is best known for his two comedies—The Rivals (1775) and The School for Scandal (1777). Sheridan brought back the brilliance of the witty and elegant Restoration comedy, purged of its impurities and narrowness. He created, instead, a more genial and romantic atmosphere associated with the comedies of Shakespeare. His characters are as clearly drawn as those of Ben Jonson, but they move in a gayer atmosphere. The only defect that we find in these comedies of Sheridan is that there is all gaiety, but no depth, no new interpretation of human nature.
The intrigue in The Rivals, though not original, is skilfully conducted. The audience heartily laugh at humours of Mrs. Malaprop, Sir Anthony, and Bab Acres. In The School for Scandal Sheridan showed himself as a mature dramatist. Here the dialogue has the exquisite Congreve-like precision, and wit reigns supreme. Even the stupid characters, the servants, are witty. Though the main characters, the quarrelsome couple and the plotting brothers; the ‘scandal-club’ of Lady Sneerwell; and the intrigue leading inevitably to the thrilling resolution in the famous screen scene, are all familiar, and can be found in many other plays, yet they are invested with novelty. In both these plays Sheridan reversed the trend of sentimentalism by introducing realism tinged with the geniality of romance. He had no message to convey, except that the most admirable way of living is to be generous and open-hearted.

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The Romantic Age (1798-1824)

The Romantic period is the most fruitful period in the history of English literature. The revolt against the Classical school which had been started by writers like Chatterton, Collins, Gray, Burne, Cowper etc. reached its climax during this period, and some of the greatest and most popular English poets like Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley and Keats belong to this period.
This period starts from 1798 with the publication of the Lyrical Ballads by Wordsworth and Coleridge, and the famous Preface which Wordsworth wrote as a manifesto of the new form of poetry which he and Coleridge introduced in opposition to the poetry of the Classical school. In the Preface to the First Edition Wordsworth did not touch upon any other characteristic of Romantic poetry except the simplicity and naturalness of its diction. “The majority of the following poems”, he writes “are to be considered as experiments. They were written chiefly with a view to ascertaining how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adopted to the purposes of poetic pleasure.” In the longer preface to the second edition of the Lyrical Ballads, where Wordsworth explains his theories of poetic imagination, he again returns to the problem of the proper language of poetry. “The language too, of these men (that is those in humble and rustic life) has been adopted because from their intercourse, being less under the influence of social vanity, they convey their feelings and notions in simple, unelaborated expression.”
Wordsworth chose the language of the common people as the vehicle of his poetry, because it is the most sincere expression of the deepest and rarest passions and feelings. This was the first point of attack of the artificial and formal style of Classical school of poetry. The other point at which Wordsworth attacked the old school was its insistence on the town and the artificial way of life which prevailed there. He wanted the poet to breathe fresh air of the hills and beautiful natural scenes and become interested in rural life and the simple folk living in the lap of nature. A longing to be rid of the precision and order of everyday life drove him to the mountains, where, as he describes in his Lines written above Tintern Abbey.
The sounding cataract
Haunted me like a passion; the tall rock,
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
Their colours and their forms, were then to me
An appetite.
By attacking the supremacy of the heroic couplet as the only form of writing poetry, and substituting it by simple and natural diction; by diverting the attention of the poet from the artificial town life to the life in the woods, mountains and villages inhabited by simple folk; and by asserting the inevitable role of imagination and emotions in poetry as against dry intellectualism which was the chief characteristic of the Classical school, Wordsworth not only emancipated the poet from the tyranny of literary rules and conventions which circumscribed his freedom of expression, but he also opened up before him vast regions of experience which in the eighteenth century had been closed to him. His revolt against the Classical school was in keeping with the political and social revolutions of the time as the French Revolution and the American War of Independence which broke away with the tyranny of social and political domination, and which proclaimed the liberty of the individual or nation to be the master of its own destiny. Just as liberty of the individual was the watchword of the French Revolution, liberty of a nation from foreign domination was the watchword of the American War of Independence; in the same manner liberty of the poet from the tyranny of the literary rules and conventions was the watchword of the new literary movement which we call by the name of Romantic movement. It is also termed as the Romantic Revival, because all these characteristics—the liberty of the writer to choose the theme and form of his literary production, the importance given to imagination and human emotions, and a broad and catholic outlook on life in all its manifestations in towns, villages, mountains, rivers etc. belonged to the literature of the Elizabethan Age which can be called as the first Romantic age in English literature. But there was a difference between the Elizabethan Age and the Romantic Age, because in the latter the Romantic spirit was considered as discovery of something which once was, but had been lost. The poets of the Romantic periods, therefore, always looked back to the Elizabethan masters—Shakespeare, Spenser and other —and got inspiration from them. They were under the haunting influence of feelings which had already been experienced, and a certain type of free moral life which had already been lived, and so they wanted to recapture the memory and rescue it from fading away completely.
In the poems which were contributed in the Lyrical Ballads Wordsworthdealt with events of everyday life, by preference in its humblest form. He tried to prove that the commonplace things of life, the simple and insignificant aspects of nature, if treated in the right manner, could be as interesting and absorbing as the grand and imposing aspects of life and nature. To the share of Coleridge fell such subjects as were supernatural, which he was “to inform with that semblance of truth sufficient to procure for those shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment which constitutes poetic faith.” Wordsworth’s naturalism and Coleridge’s supernaturalism thus became the two important spearheads of the Romantic Movement.
Wordsworth’s naturalism included love for nature as well for man living in simple and natural surroundings. Thus he speaks for the love that is in homes where poor men live, the daily teaching that is in:
Woods and rills;
The silence that is in the starry sky;
The sleep that is among the lonely hills.
Coleridge’s supernaturalism, on the other hand, established the connection between the visible world and the other world which is unseen. He treated the supernatural in his masterly poem, The Ancient Mariner, in such a manner that it looked quite natural.
Associated with Wordsworth and Coleridge in the exploration of the less known aspects of humanity was Southey who makes up with them the trail of the so-called Lake Poets. He devoted himself to the exhibition of “all the more prominent and poetical forms of mythology which have at any time obtained among mankind.” Walter Scott, though he was not intimately associated with the Lake poets, contributed his love for the past which also became one of the important characteristics of the Romantic Revival.
Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey and Scott belong to the first romantic generation. Though they were in their youth filled with great enthusiasm by the outburst of the French Revolution which held high hope for mankind, they became conservatives and gave up their juvenile ideas when the French Republic converted itself into a military empire resulting in Napoleonic wars against England and other European countries. The revolutionary ardour, therefore, faded away, and these poets instead of championing the cause of the oppressed section of mankind, turned to mysticism, the glory of the past, love of natural phenomena, and the noble simplicity of the peasant race attached to the soil and still sticking to traditional virtues and values. Thus these poets of the first romantic generation were not in conflict with the society of which they were a part. They sang about the feelings and emotions which were shared by a majority of their countrymen.
The second generation of Romantic writers—Byron, Shelley, Keats, Leigh Hunt, Hazlitt and others—who came to the forefront after the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815, revolted from the reactionary spirit which was prevailing at that time in England against the ideals of the French Revolution. The result was that the second generation came in conflict with the social environment with which their predecessors were in moral harmony. Moreover, the victorious struggle with the French empire had left England impoverished, and the political and social agitations which had subsided on account of foreign danger, again raised their head. The result was that there was a lot of turmoil and perturbation among the rank and file, which was being suppressed by those who were in power. In such an atmosphere the younger romantic generation renewed the revolutionary ardour and attacked the established social order. Thus Romanticism in the second stage became a literature of social conflict. Both Byron and Shelley rebelled against society and had to leave England.
But basically the poets of the two generations of Romanticism shared the same literary beliefs and ideals. They were all innovators in the forms well as in the substance of their poetry. All, except, Byron, turned in disgust from the pseudo-classical models and condemned in theory and practice the “poetical diction” prevalent throughout the eighteenth century. They rebelled against the tyranny of the couplet, which they only used with Elizabethan freedom, without caring for the mechanical way in which it was used by Pope. To it they usually preferred either blank verse or stanzas, or a variety of shorter lyrical measures inspired by popular poetry are truly original.
The prose-writers of the Romantic Revival also broke with their immediate predecessors, and discarded the shorter and lighter style of the eighteenth century. They reverted to the ponderous, flowery and poetical prose of the Renaissance and of Sir Thomas Browne, as we find in the works of Lamb, and De Quincey. Much of the prose of the Romantic period was devoted to the critical study of literature, its theory and practice. Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Lamb, Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt and De Quincey opened up new avenues in the study of literature, and gradually prepared the way for the understanding of the new type of literature which was being produced.
As the Romantic Age was characterised by excess of emotions, it produced a new type of novel, which seems rather hysterical, now, but which was immensely popular among the multitude of readers, whose nerves were somewhat excited, and who revelled in extravagant stories of supernatural terror. Mrs. Anne Radcliffe was one of the most successful writers of the school of exaggerated romances. Sir Walter Scott regaled the readers by his historical romances. Jane Austen, however, presents a marked contrast to these extravagant stories by her enduring work in which we find charming descriptions of everyday life as in the poetry of Wordsworth.
Whereas the Classical age was the age of prose, the Romantic age was the age of poetry, which was the proper medium for the expression of emotions and imaginative sensibility of the artist. The mind of the artist came in contact with the sensuous world and the world of thought at countless points, as it had become more alert and alive. The human spirit began to derive new richness from outward objects and philosophical ideas. The poets began to draw inspiration from several sources—mountains and lakes, the dignity of the peasant, the terror of the supernatural, medieval chivalry and literature, the arts and mythology of Greece, the prophecy of the golden age. All these produced a sense of wonder which had the be properly conveyed in literary form. That is why some critics call the Romantic Revival as the Renaissance of Wonder. Instead of living a dull, routine life in the town, and spending all his time and energy in to midst of artificiality and complexity of the cities, the poets called upon man to adopt a healthier way of living in the natural world in which providence has planted him of old, and which is full of significance for his soul. The greatest poets of the romantic revival strove to capture and convey the influence of nature on the mind and of the mind on nature interpenetrating one another.
The essence of Romanticism was that literature must reflect all that is spontaneous and unaffected in nature and in man, and be free to follow its own fancy in its own way. They result was that during the Romantic period the young enthusiasts turned as naturally to poetry as a happy man to singing. The glory of the age is the poetry of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Scott, Byron, Shelley and Keats. In fact, poetry was so popular that Southey had to write in verse in order to earn money, what he otherwise would have written in prose.
Summing up the chief characteristics of Romanticism as opposed to Classicism, we can say that Classicism laid stress upon the impersonal aspects of the life of the mind; the new literature, on the other hand, openly shifts the centre of art, bringing it back towards what is most proper and particular in each individual. It is the product of the fusion of two faculties of the artist—his sensibility and imagination. The Romantic spirit can be defined as an accentuated predominance of emotional life, and Romantic literature was fed by intense emotion coupled with the intense desire to display that emotion through appropriate imagery. Thus Romantic literature is a genuinely creative literature calling into play the highest creative faculty of man.

Romantic Poetry

Romantic poetry which was the antithesis of Classical poetry had many complexities. Unlike Classical poets who agreed on the nature and form of poetry, and the role that the poet is called upon to play, the Romantic poets held different views on all these subjects. The artistic and philosophic principles of neo-classical poetry were completely summarised by Pope, and they could be applied to the whole of Augustan poetry. But it is difficult to find a common denominator which links such poets as Wordsworth, Coleridge, Scott, Byron, Shelley, and Keats. The reason of this was that there was abundance and variety of genius. No age in English literature produced such great giants in the field of poetry. Moreover, it was the age of revolutionary change, not only in the view of the character and function of poetry but in the whole conception of the nature of man and of the world in which he found himself. The evenness, equanimity and uniformity of the Classical age was broken, and it was replaced by strong currents of change flowing in various directions. One poet reacted to a particular current more strongly or sympathetically than the other poet. Thus each poet of the Romantic period stands for himself, and has his own well-defined individuality. The only common characteristic that we find in them is their intense faith in imagination, which could not be controlled by any rules and regulations.
In fact the most distinctive mark which distinguished the Romantic poets from the Classical poets was the emphasis which the former laid on imagination. In the eighteenth century imagination was not a cardinal point in poetical theory. For Pope, Johnson and Dryden the poet was more an interpreter than a creator, more concerned with showing the attractions of what we already know than with expeditions into the unfamiliar and the unseen. They were less interested in the mysteries of life than in its familiar appearances, and they thought that their task was to display this with as much charm and truth as they could command. But for the Romantics imagination was fundamental, because they thought that without that poetry was impossible. They were conscious of a wonderful capacity to create imaginary worlds, and they could not believe that this was idle or false. On the contrary, they thought that to curb it was to deny something vitally necessary to the whole being.
Whereas the Classical poets were more interested in the visible world, the Romantic poets obeyed an inner call to explore more fully the world of the spirit. They endeavoured to explore the mysteries of life, and thus understand it better. It was this search for the unseen world that awoke the inspiration of the Romantics and made poets of them. They appealed not to the logical mind, but to the complete self, in the whole range of intellectual faculties, senses and emotions.
Though all the Romantic poets believed in an ulterior reality and based their poetry on it, they founded it in different ways and made different uses of it. They varied in the degree of importance which they attached to the visible world and in their interpretation of it. Coleridge conceived of the world of facts as an “inanimate cold world”, in which “object, as objects, are essentially fixed and dead”. It was the task of the poet to transform it by his power of imagination, to bring the dead world back to life. When we turn to The Ancient Mariner and Christable it seems clear that Coleridge thought that the task of poetry is to convey the mystery of life by the power of imagination. He was fascinated by the notion of unearthly powers at work in the world, and it was this influence which he sought to catch. The imagination of the poet is his creative, shaping spirit, and it resembles the creative power of God. Just as God creates this universe, the poet also creates a universe of his own by his imagination.
Wordsworth also thought with Coleridge that the imagination was the most important gift that the poet can have. He agreed with Coleridge that this activity resembles that of God. But according to Wordsworth imagination is a comprehensive faculty comprising many faculties. So he explains that the imagination:
Is but another name for absolute power
And clearest insight, amplitude of mind
And Reason in her most exalted mood.
Wordsworth differs from Coleridge in his conception of the external world. For him the world is not dead but living and has its own soul. Man’s task is to enter into communion with this soul. Nature was the source of his inspiration, and he could not deny to it an existence at least as powerful as man’s. But since nature lifted him out of himself, he sought for a higher state in which the soul of nature and the soul of man could be united in a single harmony.
Shelley was no less attached to the imagination and gave it no less a place in his theory of poetry. He saw that the task of reason is simply to analyse a given thing and to act as an instrument of the imagination, which uses its conclusions to create a synthetic and harmonious whole. He called poetry “the Expression of the Imagination”, because in it diverse things are brought together in harmony instead of being separated through analysis. Shelley tried to grasp the whole of things in its essential unity, to show is real and what is merely phenomenal, and by doing this to display how the phenomenal depends on the real. For him the ultimate reality is the eternal mind, and this holds the universe together. In thought and feeling, in consciousness and spirit, Shelley found reality. He believed that the task of the imagination is to create shapes by which this reality can be revealed.
Keats had passionate love for the visible world and at times his approach was highly sensuous. But he had a conviction that the ultimate reality is to be found only in the imagination. What is meant to him can be seen from some lines in Sleep and Poetry, in which he asks why imagination has lost its power and scope:

Is there so small a range
In the present strength of manhood, that the high
Imagination cannot freely fly
As she was wont of old? prepare her steeds
Paw up against the light, and do strange deeds
Upon the clouds? Has she not shown us all?
From the clear space of ether, to the small
Breath of new buds unfolding? From the meaning
Of Jove’s eyebrow, to the tender greening
Of April meadows.
Through the imagination Keats sought an ultimate reality to which a door was opened by his appreciation of beauty through the senses. For him imagination is that absorbing and exalting faculty which opens the way to an unseen spiritual order.
Thus the great Romantic poets agreed that their task was to find through the imagination some transcendental order, some inner and ultimate reality which explains the outward appearance of things in the visible world and the effect which they produce on us. Each one gave his own interpretation of the universe, the relation of God, the connection between the visible and the invisible, nature and man, as he saw it through the power of his imagination. Each set forth his own vision through the power of his imagination. Each set forth his own vision through the richness of his poetry, and gave it a concrete individual shape. They refused to accept the ideas of other men on trust or to sacrifice imagination to argument. By means of their creative art they tried to awaken the imagination of the reader to the reality that lies behind and in familiar things, to rouse him from the dead and dull routine of custom, and make him conscious of the unfathomable mysteries of life. They tried to show that mere reason is not sufficient to understand the fundamental problems of life; what is required is inspired intuition. Thus their view of life and poetry was much wider and deeper than that of their predecessors in the eighteenth century, because they appealed to the whole spiritual nature of man and not merely to his reason and common sense whose scope is limited.
Poets of the Romantic Age

The poets of the Romantic age can be classified into three groups— (i) The Lake School, consisting of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey; (ii) The Scott group including Campbell and Moore; and (iii) The group comprising Byron, Shelley, and Keats. The first two groups were distinctly earlier than the third, so we have two eight years flood periods of supremely great poetry, namely 1798-1806 and 1816-1824, separated by a middle period when by comparison creative energy had ebbed.

(a) The Lake Poets

The Lake Poets formed a ‘school’ in the sense that they worked in close cooperation, and their lives were spent partly in the Lake district. Only Wordsworth was born there, but all the three lived there for a shorter or longer period. Linked together by friendship, they were still further united by the mutual ardour of their revolutionary ideas in youth, and by the common reaction which followed in their riper years. They held many of the poetic beliefs in common. Wordsworth and Coleridge lived together for a long time and produced the Lyrical Ballads by joint effort in 1798. They had original genius and what they achieved in the realm of poetry was supported by Southey who himself did not possess much creative imagination. The literary revolution which is associated with their name was accomplished in 1800, when in the second edition of the Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth and Coleridge explained further their critical doctrines.
Describing the genesis of the poems contained the Lyrical Ballads, Coleridge wrote later in his greatest critical work—Biographia Literaria (1817):
During the first year that Mr. Wordsworth and I were neighbours, our conversation turned frequently on two cardinal points of poetry, the power of exciting the sympathy of the reader by a faithful adherence to the truth of nature, and the power of giving the interest of novelty by the modifying colours of imagination…The thought suggested itself that a series of poems may be composed of two sorts. In the one, the incidents and agents were to be, in part at least, supernatural; and the excellence aimed at was to consist in the interesting of the affections by the dramatic truth of such emotions as would naturally accompany such situations, supposing them real…For the second class, subjects were to be chosen from ordinary life; the characters and incidents, were to be such as will be found in every village and its vicinity, where there is a meditative and feeling mind to seek after them, or to notice them, when they present themselves. In this idea originated the plan of Lyrical Ballads, in which it was agreed that my endeavour should be directed to persons and characters supernatural…Mr. Wordsworth, on the other hand, was to give charm of novelty to things of every day.
This was the framework of the Lyrical Ballads. Regarding the style, Wordsworth explained in the famous preface:
The poems were published which, I hoped, might be of some use to ascertain how far, by fitting to metrical arrangement, a selection of the real language of men in a state of vivid sensation, that sort of pleasure and that quantity of pleasure may be imparted, which a poet may rationally endeavour to impart…Low and rustic life was generally chosen, because in that condition the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which they can attain their maturity, are less under restraint, and speak a plainer and more emphatic language.
Wordsworth thus registered a protest against the artificial ‘poetic diction’ of the classical school, which was separated from common speech. He declared emphatically: “There is, nor can be, any essential difference between the language of prose and metrical composition.” Thus it was in the spirit of a crusader that Wordsworth entered upon his poetic career. His aim was to lift poetry from its depraved state and restore to it its rightful position.
William Wordsworth (1770-1850) was the greatest poet of the Romantic period. The credit of originating the Romantic movement goes to him. He refused to abide by any poetic convention and rules, and forged his own way in the realm of poetry. He stood against many generations of great poets and critics, like Dryden, Pope and Johnson, and made way for a new type of poetry. He declared: “A poet is a man endowed with more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm and tenderness, who has a greater knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive soul, than are supposed to be common among mankind.” The truth of this statement struck down the ideal of literary conventions based on reason and rationality, which had been blindly worshipped for so long. By defining poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling” he revolted against the dry intellectuality of his predecessors. By giving his ideas about the poetic language as simple and natural, he opposed the “gaudiness and inane phraseology” of the affected classical style.
Wordsworth wrote a large number and variety of lyrics, in which he can stir the deepest emotions by the simplest means. There we find the aptness of phrase and an absolute naturalness which make a poem once read as a familiar friend. Language can scarcely be at once more simple and more full of feeling than in the following stanza from one of the ‘Lucy poems’:
Thus Nature spoke—The work was done,
How soon my Lucy’s race was run.
She died, and left to me
This health, this calm, and quiet scene,
The memory of what has been,
And never more will be.
Besides lyrics Wordsworth wrote a number of sonnets of rare merit like To Milton, Westminster Bridge, The World is too much with us, in which there is a fine combination of the dignity of thought and language. In his odes, as Ode to Duty and Ode on the Intimations of Immortality, he gives expression to his high ideals and philosophy of life. In the Immortality Ode, Wordsworth celebrates one of his most cherished beliefs that our earliest intuitions are the truest, and that those are really happy who even in their mature years keep themselves in touch with their childhood:
Hence, in a season of calm weather,
Though inland far we be,
Our souls have sight of that immortal sea
Which brought us hither.
Can in a moment travel thither,
And see the children sport upon the shore,
And hear the mighty waters rolling ever more.
But Wordsworth was not merely a lyrical poet; he justly claims to be the poet of Man of Nature, and of Human Life. Though in his youth he came under the influence of the ideals of the French Revolution, he was soon disillusioned on account of its excesses, and came to the conclusion that the emancipation of man cannot be effected by poetical upheavals, but by his living a simple, natural life. In the simple pieties of rustic life he began to find a surer foundation for faith in mankind than in the dazzling hopes created by the French Revolution. Moreover, he discovered that there is an innate harmony between Nature and Man. It is when man lives in the lap of nature that he lives the right type of life. She has an ennobling effect on him, and even the simplest things in nature can touch a responsive cord in man’s heart:
To me the meanest flower that blooms can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
According to Wordsworth man is a part of Nature. In his poem Resolution and Independence the old man and the surroundings make a single picture:
Himself he propped, limbs, body, and pale face,
Upon a long grey staff of shaven wood;
And, still as I drew near with gentle pace
Upon the margin of that moorish flood,
Motionless like a cloud the old man stood
That heareth not the loud winds when they call;
And moveth all together, if it move at all.
Besides the harmony between Man and Nature, the harmony of Wordsworth’s own spirit with the universe is the theme of Wordsworth’s greatest Nature poems: Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey, Yew Trees and The Simplton Pass.
Wordsworth is famous for his lyrics, sonnets, odes and short descriptive poems. His longer poems contain much that is prosy and uninteresting. The greater part of his work, including The Prelude and The Excursion was intended for a place in a single great poem, to be called The Recluse, which should treat of nature, man and society. The Prelude, treating of the growth of poets’ mind, was to introduce this work. The Excursion (1814) is the second book of The Recluse; and the third was never completed. In his later years, Wordsworth wrote much poetry which is dull and unimaginative. But there is not a single line in his poetry which has not got the dignity and high moral value which we associate with Wordsworth who, according to Tennyson, “uttered nothing base.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834). The genius of Coleridge was complementary to that of Wordsworth. While Wordsworth dealt with naturalism which was an important aspect of the Romantic movement, Coleridge made the supernatural his special domain, which was an equally important aspect. In his youth Coleridge came under the spell of French Revolution and the high hope which it held out for the emancipation of the oppressed section of mankind. He gave poetic expression to his political aspiration in Religious Musings, Destiny of Nations and Ode to the Departing Year (1796). But like Wordsworth, he also began to think differently after the excesses of the Revolution. This change of thought is shown in his beautiful poem France: an Ode (1798) which he himself called his ‘recantation’. After that he, like Wordsworth, began to support the conservative cause.
Coleridge was a man of gigantic genius, but his lack of will power and addiction to opium prevented him from occomplishing much in the realm of poetry. Whatever he has written, though of high quality, is fragmentary. It was, however, in the fields of theology, philosophy and literary criticism that he exercised a tremendous and lasting influence. His two best-known poems are The Ancient Mariner and Christabel, which represent the high watermark of supernaturalism as some of the best poems of Wordsworth represent the triumph of naturalism, in English poetry. In these two poems Coleridge saved supernaturalism from the coarse sensationalism then in vogue by linking it with psychological truth. He had absorbed the spells of medievalism within himself and in these poems they appeared rarely distilled and inextricably blinded with poets’ exquisite perception of the mysteries that surround the commonplace things of everyday life.
In the Ancient Mariner, which is a poetic masterpiece, Coleridge introduced the reader to a supernatural realm, with a phantom ship, a crew of dead men, the overwhelming curse of the albatross, the polar spirit, the magic breeze, and a number of other supernatural things and happenings, but he manages to create a sense of absolute reality concerning these manifest absurdities. With that supreme art which ever seems artless, Coleridge gives us glimpses from time to time of the wedding feast to which the mariner has been invited. The whole poem is wrought with the colour and glamour of the Middle Ages and yet Coleridge makes no slavish attempt to reproduce the past in a mechanical manner. The whole poem is the baseless fabric of a vision; a fine product of the ethereal and subtle fancy of a great poet. But in spite of its wildness, its medieval superstitions and irresponsible happening, The Ancient Mariner is made actual and vital to our imagination by its faithful pictures of Nature, its psychological insight and simple humanity. In it the poet deals in a superb manner with the primal emotions of love, hate, pain, remorse and hope. He prayeth best who loveth best is not an artificial ending of the poem in the form of a popular saying, but it is a fine summing up in a few lines of the spirit which underlies the entire poem. Its simple, ballad form, its exquisite imagery, the sweet harmony of its verse, and the aptness of its phraseology, all woven together in an artistic whole, make this poem the most representative of the romantic school of poetry.
Christabel, which is a fragment, seems to have been planned as the story of a pure young girl who fell under the spell of a sorcer in the shape of the woman Gerldine. Though it has strange melody and many passages of exquisite poetry, and in sheer artistic power it is scarcely inferior to The Ancient Mariner, it has supernatural terrors of the popular hysterical novels. The whole poem is suffused in medieval atmosphere and everything is vague and indefinite. Like The Ancient Mariner it is written in a homely and simple diction and in a style which is spontaneous and effortless.
Kubla Khan is another fragment in which the poet has painted a gorgeous Oriental dream picture. The whole poem came to Coleridge in a dream one morning when he had fallen asleep, and upon awakening he began to write hastily, but he was interrupted after fifty-four lines were written, and it was never finished.
Though Coleridge wrote a number of other poems—Love, The Dark Ladie, Youth and Age, Dejection: an Ode, which have grace, tenderness and touches of personal emotion, and a number of poems full of very minute description of natural scenes, yet his strength lay in his marvellous dream faculty, and his reputation as a poet rest on The Ancient Mariner, Christabel and Kubla Khan where he touched the heights of romantic poetry.
Robert Southey (1774-1843) was the third poet of the group of Lake Poets. Unlike Wordsworth and Coleridge he lacked higher qualities of poetry, and his achievement as a poet is not much. He was a voracious reader and voluminous writer. His most ambitious poems Thalaba, The Curse of Kehama, Madoc and Roderick are based on mythology of different nations. He also wrote a number of ballads and short poems, of which the best known is about his love for books (My days among the Dead are past.) But he wrote far better prose than poetry, and his admirable Life of Nelson remains a classic. He was made the Poet Laureate in 1813, and after his death in 1843 Wordsworth held this title.

(b) The Scott Group

The romantic poets belonging to the Scott group are Sir Walter Scott, Campbell and Thomas Moore. They bridged the years which preceded the second outburst of high creative activity in the Romantic period.
Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) was the first to make romantic poetry popular among the masses. His Marmion and Lady of the Lake gained greater popularity than the poems of Wordsworth and Coleridge which were read by a select few. But in his poetry we do not find the deeply imaginative and suggestive quality which is at the root of poetic excellence. It is the story element, the narrative power, which absorbs the reader’s attention. That is why they are more popular with young readers. Moreover, Scott’s poetry appeals on account of its vigour, youthful abandon, vivid pictures, heroic characters, rapid action and succession of adventures. His best known poems are The Lady of the Last Ministrel, Marmion, The Lady of the Lake, Rokeby, The Lord of the Isles. All of them recapture the atmosphere of the Middle Ages, and breathe an air of supernaturalism and superstitions. After 1815 Scott wrote little poetry and turned to prose romance in the form of the historical novel in which field he earned great and enduring fame.
Thomas Campbell (1774-1844) and Thomas Moore (1779-1852) were prominent among a host of minor poets who following the vogue of Scott wrote versified romance. Campbell wrote Gertrude of Wyoming (1809) in the Spenserian stanza, which does not hold so much interest today as his patriotic war songs—Ye Mariners of England, Hohenlinden, The Battle of the Baltic, and ballads such as Lord Ullin’s Daughter. The poems of Moore are now old-fashioned and have little interest for the modern reader. He wrote a long series of Irish Melodies, which are musical poems, vivacious and sentimental. His Lalla Rookh is a collection of Oriental tales in which he employs lucious imagery. Though Moore enjoyed immense popularity during his time, he is now considered as a minor poet of the Romantic Age.

(c) The Younger Group

To the younger group of romantic poets belong Byron, Shelley and Keats. They represent the second Flowering of English Romanticism, the first being represented by Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey. Though the younger group was in many ways indebted to the older group and was in many ways akin to it, yet the poets of the younger group show some sharp differences with the poets of older group, it was because the revolutionary ideals which at first attracted Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey and then repelled them, had passed into the blood of Byron and Shelley. They were the children of the revolution and their humanitarian ardour affected even Keats who was more of an artist. Moreover, compared to the poets of the older group, the poets of the younger group were not only less national, but they were also against the historic and social traditions of England. It is not without significance that Byron and Shelley lived their best years, and produced their best poetry in Italy; and Keats was more interested in Greek mythology than in the life around him. Incidentally, these three poets of second generation of Romanticism died young—Byron at the age of thirty-six, Shelley thirty, and Keats twenty-five. So the spirit of youthful freshness is associated with their poetry.

(i) Lord George Gordon Byron (1788-1824)

During his time Byron was the most popular of all Romantic poets, and he was the only one who made an impact on the continent both in his own day and for a long time afterwards. This was mainly due to the force of his personality and the glamour of his career, but as his poetry does not possess the high excellence that we find in Shelley’s and Keats’, now he is accorded a lower positions in the hierarchy of Romantic poets. He is the only Romantic poet who showed regard for the poets of the eighteenth century, and ridiculed his own contemporaries in his early satirical poem, English Bards and Scottish Reviewers (1809). That is why, he is called the ‘Romantic Paradox’.
Byron who had travelled widely captured the imagination of his readers by the publications of the first two Cantos of Childe Harold Pilgrimage (1812). This work made him instantly famous. As he said himself, “I woke one morning and found myself famous.” In it he described the adventures of a glamorous but sinister hero through strange lands. He also gave an air of authenticity to these adventures and a suggestion that he himself had indulged in such exploits. Such a hero, called the Byronic hero, became very popular among the readers and there was greater and greater demand for such romances dealing with his exploits. Under the pressure of the popular demand Byron wrote a number of romances which began with The Giaor (1813), and in all of them he dealt with the exploits of the Byronic hero. But whereas these romances made his reputation not in England alone but throughout Europe, the pruder section of the English society began to look upon him with suspicion, and considered him a dangerous, sinister man. The result was that when his wife left him in 1816, a year after his marriage, there was such a turn in the tide of public opinion against him that he left England under a cloud of distrust and disappointment and never returned.
It was during the years of his exile in Italy that the best part of his poetry was written by him. The third and fourth cantos of Childe Harold (1816-1818) have more sincerity, and are in every way better expressions of Byron’s genius. He also wrote two sombre and self-conscious tragedies—Manfred and Cain. But the greatness of Byron as a poet lies, however, not in these poems and tragedies, but in the satires which begin with Beppo (1818) and include The Vision of Judgment (1822) and Don Juan (1819-24). Of these Don Juan, which is a scathing criticism of the contemporary European society, is one of the greatest poems in the English language. In it humour, sentiment, adventure and pathos are thrown together in a haphazard manner as in real life. It is written in a conversational style which subtly produces comic as well as satirical effect.
Of all the romantic poets Byron was the most egoistical. In all his poems his personality obtrudes itself, and he attaches the greatest importance to it. Of the romantic traits, he represents the revolutionary iconoclasm at its worst, and that is why he came in open conflict with the world around him. His last great act, dying on his way to take part in the Greek War of Independence, was a truly heroic act; and it vindicated his position for all times and made him a martyr in the cause of freedom.
Byron does not enjoy a high reputation as a poet because of his slipshod and careless style. He was too much in a hurry to revise what he had written, and so there is much in his poetry which is artistically imperfect. Moreover his rhetorical style, which was admirably suited to convey the force and fire of his personality, often becomes dull and boring.

(ii) Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

Whereas Byron was the greatest interpreter of revolutionary iconoclasm, Shelley was the revolutionary idealist, a prophet of hope and faith. He was a visionary who dreamed of the Golden Age. Unlike Byron’s genius which was destructive, Shelley’s was constructive and he incarnated that aspect of the French Revolution which aimed at building up a new and beautiful edifice on the ruins of the old and the ugly. Whereas Byron’s motive impulse was pride, Shelley’s was love.
In his early days Shelley came under the influence of William Godwin’s Political Justice. He saw that all established institutions, kings and priests were diverse forms of evil and obstacles to happiness and progress. So he began to imagine the new world which would come into existence when all these forms of error and hatred had disappeared. The essence of all his poetical works is his prophecy of the new-born age. In his first long poem, Queen Mab, which he wrote when he was eighteen, he condemns kings, governments, church, property, marriage and Christianity. The Revolt of Islam which followed in 1817, and is a sort of transfigured picture of the French Revolution is charged with the young poet’s hopes for the future regeneration of the world. In 1820 appeared Prometheus Unbound, the hymn of human revolt triumphing over the oppression of false gods. In this superb lyrical drama we find the fullest and finest expression of Shelley’s faith and hope. Here Prometheus stands forth as the prototype of mankind in its long struggle against the forces of despotism, symbolised by love. At last Prometheus is united to Asia, the spirit of love and goodness in nature, and everything gives promise that they shall live together happy ever afterwards.
Shelley’s other great poems are Alastor (1816), in which he describes his pursuit of an unattainable ideal of beauty; Julian and Meddalo (1818) in which he draws his own portrait contrasted with last of Byron; The Cenci, a poetic drama which deals with the terrible story of Beatrice who, the victim of father’s lust, takes his life in revenge; the lyrical drama Hallas in which he sings of the rise of Greece against the Ottoman yoke; Epipsychidion in which he celebrates his Platonic love for a beautiful young Italian girl: Adonais, the best-known of Shelley’s longer poems, which is an elegy dedicated to the poet Keats, and holds its place with Milton’s Lycidas and Tennyson’s In Memoriam as one of the three greatest elegies in the English language; and the unfinished masterpiece, The Triumph of Life.

Shelley’s reputation as a poet lies mainly in his lyrical power. He is in fact the greatest lyrical poet of England. In all these poems mentioned above, it is their lyrical rapture which in unique. In the whole of English poetry there is no utterance as spontaneous as Shelley’s and nowhere does the thought flow with such irresistable melody. Besides these longer poems Shelley wrote a number of small lyrics of exquisite beauty, such as “To Constantia Singing’, the ‘Ozymandias’ sonnet, the “Lines written among the Euganean Hills’, the ‘Stanzas written in Dejection’, the ‘Ode to the West Wind’, ‘Cloud’, ‘Skylark’; ‘O World! O life! O time’. It is in fact on the foundation of these beautiful lyrics, which are absolutely consummate and unsurpassed the whole range of English lyrical poetry, that Shelley’s real reputation as a poet lies.
As the poet of Nature, Shelley was inspired by the spirit of love which was not limited to mankind but extended to every living creature—to animals and flowers, to elements, to the whole Nature. He is not content, like Wordsworth, merely to love and revere Nature; his very being is fused and blended with her. He, therefore, holds passionate communion with the universe, and becomes one with the lark (To a Skylark), with the cloud (The Cloud), and west wind (Ode to the West Wind) to which he utters forth this passionate, lyrical appeal:
Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is;
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies
Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one.

(iii) John Keats (1795-21)

Of all the romantic poets, Keats was the pure poet. He was not only the last but the most perfect of the Romanticists. He was devoted to poetry and had no other interest. Unlike Wordsworth who was interested in reforming poetry and upholding the moral law; unlike Shelley who advocated impossible reforms and phrophesied about the golden age; and unlike Byron who made his poetry a vehicle of his strongly egoistical nature and political discontents of the time; unlike Coleridge who was a metaphysician, and Scott who relished in story-telling, Keats did not take much notice of the social, political and literary turmoils, but devoted himself entirely to the worship of beauty, and writing poetry as it suited his temperament. He was, about all things, a poet, and nothing else. His nature was entirely and essentially poetical and the whole of his vital energy went into art.
Unlike Byron who was a lord, and Shelley who belonged to an aristocratic family, Keats came of a poor family, and at an early age he had to work as a doctor’s assistant. But his medical studies did not stand in the way of his passion for writing poetry which was roused by his reading of Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, which revealed to him the vast world of poetry. He also became interested in the beauty of nature. His first volume of poems appeared in 1817 and his first long poem Endymion in 1818, which opened with the following memorable lines:
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever;
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us; and sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and healthy, and quiet breathing.
This poem was severely criticised by contemporary critics, which must have shocked Keats. Besides this a number of other calamities engulfed him. He had lost his father when he was only nine; his mother and brother died of tuberculosis, and he himself was suffering from this deadly disease. All these misfortunes were intensified by his disappointment in love for Fanny Brawne whom Keats loved passionately. But he remained undaunted, and under the shadow of death and in midst of most excruciating sufferings Keats brought out his last volume of poems in the year 1820 (which is called the ‘Living Year’ in his life.) The Poems of 1820 are Keats’ enduring monument. They include the three narratives, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes and Lamia: the unfinished epic Hyperion; the Odes, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, and a few sonnets.
In Isabella Keats made an attempt to turn a somewhat repellent and tragic love story of Isabella and Lorenzo, who was murdered by Isabella’s brothers, into a thing of beauty by means of fine narrative skill and beautiful phraseology. In Lamia Keats narrated the story of a beautiful enchantress, who turns from a serpent into a glorious woman and fills every human sense with delight, until as the result of the foolish philosophy of old Apollonius, she vanishes for ever from her lover’s sight. The Eve of St. Agnes, which is the most perfect of Keat’s medieval poems, is surpassingly beautiful in its descriptions. Hyperion which is a magnificent fragment deals with the overthrow of the Titans by the young sun-god Apollo. This poem shows the influence of Milton as Endymion of Spenser. La Belle Dame Sans Merci, which captures the spirit of the Middle Ages, has a haunting melody. Though small, it is a most perfect work of art.
Of the odes, those To a Nightingale, On a Grecian Urn and To Autumn stand out above the rest, and are among the masterpieces of poetic art. In Ode to a Nightingale we find a love of sensuous beauty, and a touch of pessimism. In Ode on a Grecian Urn we see Keats’s love for Greek mythology and art. It is this Ode which ends with the following most memorable lines in the whole of Keats’s poetry.
‘Beauty is Truth, and Truth Beauty’,--that is all
Yea know on earth, and all ye need to know.
The Ode to Autumn, in which Keats has glorified Nature, is a poem which for richness and colour has never been surpassed. Though Keats died young, when he had attained barely the age of twenty-five, and had only a few years in which he could effectively write poetry, his achievement in the field of poetry is so great, that we wonder what he might have accomplished if he had lived longer. For a long time his poetry was considered merely as sensuous having no depth of thought. But with the help of his letters critics have reinterpreted his poems, and now it has been discovered that they are based on mature thinking, and that there is a regular line of development from the point of thought and art. He was not an escapist who tried to run away from the stark realities of life, but he faced life bravely, and came to the conclusion that sufferings play an important part in the development of the human personality. As a worshipper of beauty, though his first approach was sensuous, his attitude suddenly became philosophic, and he discovered that there is beauty in everything, and that Beauty and Truth are one. As an artist there are few English poets who come near him. As a poet he had very high ideals before him. He wanted to become the poet of the human heart, one with Shakespeare. For him the proper role of poetry is ‘to be a friend to sooth the cares, and lift the thoughts of men”, and the real poet is that “to whom the miseries of the world are misery, and will not let him rest.”
And Keats sincerely and persistently lived up to these high ideals. Taking into account all these factors and the very short span of life that was given to him by the Providence, it is no exaggeration to say that of all the English poets he comes nearest to Shakespeare.

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Prose-Writers of the Romantic Age

Though the Romantic period specialised in poetry, there also appeared a few prose-writers-Lamb, Hazlitt and De Quincey who rank very high. There was no revolt of the prose-writers against the eighteenth century comparable to that of the poets, but a change had taken place in the prose-style also.
Whereas many eighteenth century prose-writers depended on assumptions about the suitability of various prose styles for various purposes which they shared with their relatively small but sophisticated public; writers in the Romantic period were rather more concerned with subject matter and emotional expression than with appropriate style. They wrote for an ever-increasing audience which was less homogeneous in its interest and education than that of their predecessors. There was also an indication of a growing distrust of the sharp distinction between matter and manner which was made in the eighteenth century, and of a Romantic preference for spontaneity rather than formality and contrivance. There was a decline of the ‘grand’ style and of most forms of contrived architectural prose written for what may be called public or didactic purposes. Though some Romantic poets—Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, Byron—wrote excellent prose in their critical writings, letters and journals, and some of the novelists like Scott and Jane Austen were masters of prose-style, those who wrote prose for its own sake in the form of the essays and attained excellence in the art of prose-writing were Lamb, Hazlitt and De Quincey.

(i) Charles Lamb (1775-1834)

Charles Lamb is one of the most lovable personalities in English literature. He lived a very humble, honest, and most self-sacrificing life. He never married, but devoted himself to the care of his sister Mary, ten years his senior, who was subject to mental fits, in one of which she had fatally wounded her mother. In his Essays of Elia (1823) and Last Essays (1833), in which is revealed his own personality, he talks intimately to the readers about himself, his quaint whims and experiences, and the cheerful and heroic struggle which he made against misfortunes. Unlike Wordsworth who was interested in natural surroundings and shunned society, Lamb who was born and lived in the midst of London street, was deeply interested in the city crowd, its pleasures and occupations, its endless comedies and tragedies, and in his essays he interpreted with great insight and human sympathy that crowded human life of joys and sorrows.
Lamb belongs to the category of intimate and self-revealing essayists, of whom Montaigne is the original, and Cowley the first exponent in England. To the informality of Cowley he adds the solemn confessional manner of Sir Thomas Browne. He writes always in a gentle, humorous way about the sentiments and trifles of everyday. The sentimental, smiling figure of ‘Elia’ in his essays is only a cloak with which Lamb hides himself from the world. Though in his essays he plays with trivialities, as Walter Pater has said, “We know that beneath this blithe surface there is something of the domestic horror, of the beautiful heroism, and devotedness too, of the old Greek tragedy.”
The style of Lamb is described as ‘quaint’, because it has the strangeness which we associate with something old-fashioned. One can easily trace in his English the imitations of the 16th and 17th century writers he most loved—Milton, Sir Thomas Browne, Fuller, Burton, Issac Walton. According to the subject he is treating, he makes use of the rhythms and vocabularies of these writers. That is why, in every essay Lamb’s style changes. This is the secret of the charm of his style and it also prevents him from ever becoming monotonous or tiresome. His style is also full of surprises because his mood continually varies, creating or suggesting its own style, and calling into play some recollection of this or that writer of the older world.
Lamb is the most lovable of all English essayists, and in his hand the Essay reached its perfection. His essays are true to Johnson’s definition; ‘a loose sally of the mind.’ Though his essays are all criticisms or appreciations of the life of his age and literature, they are all intensely personal. They, therefore, give us an excellent picture of Lamb and of humanity. Though he often starts with some purely personal mood or experience he gently leads the reader to see life as he saw it, without ever being vain or self-assertive. It is this wonderful combination of personal and universal interest together with his rare old style and quaint humour, which have given his essays his perennial charm, and earned for him the covetable title of “The Prince among English Essayists”.

(ii) William Hazlitt (1778-1830)

As a personality Hazlitt was just the opposite of Lamb. He was a man of violent temper, with strong likes and dislikes. In his judgment of others he was always downright and frank, and never cared for its effect on them. During the time when England was engaged in a bitter struggle against Napoleon, Hazlitt worshipped him as a hero, and so he came in conflict with the government. His friends left him one by one on account of his aggressive nature, and at the time of his death only Lamb stood by him.
Hazlitt wrote many volumes of essays, of which the most effective is The Spirit of the Age (1825) in which he gives critical portraits of a number of his famous contemporaries. This was a work which only Hazlitt could undertake because he was outspoken and fearless in the expression of his opinion. Though at times he is misled by his prejudices, yet taking his criticism of art and literature as a whole there is not the least doubt that there is great merit in it. He has the capacity to see the whole of his author most clearly, and he can place him most exactly in relation to other authors. In his interpretation of life in the general and proper sense, he shows an acute and accurate power of observation and often goes to the very foundation of things. Underneath his light and easy style there always flows an undercurrent of deep thought and feeling.
The style of Hazlitt has force, brightness and individuality. Here and there we find passages of solemn and stately music. It is the reflection of Hazlitt’s personality—outspoken, straightforward and frank. As he had read widely, and his mind was filled with great store of learning, his writings are interspersed with sentences and phrases from other writers and there are also echoes of their style. Above all, it vibrates with the vitality and force of his personality, and so never lapses into dullness.

(iii) Thomas de Quincey (1785-1859)

De Quincey is famous as the writer of ‘impassioned prose’. He shared the reaction of his day against the severer classicism of the eighteenth century, preferring rather the ornate manner of Jeremy Taylor, Sir Thomas Browne and their contemporaries. The specialty of his style consists in describing incidents of purely personal interest in language suited to their magnitude as they appear in the eyes of the writer. The reader is irresistibly attracted by the splendour of his style which combines the best elements of prose and poetry. In fact his prose works are more imaginative and melodious than many poetical works. There is revealed in them the beauty of the English language. The defects of his style are that he digresses too much, and often stops in the midst of the fine paragraph to talk about some trivial thing by way of jest. But in spite of these defects his prose is still among the few supreme examples of style in the English language.
De Quincey was a highly intellectual writer and his interests were very wide. Mostly he wrote in the form of articles for journals and he dealt with all sorts of subjects—about himself and his friends, life in general, art, literature, philosophy and religion. Of his autobiographical sketches the best-known is his Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, in which he has given us, in a most interesting manner, glimpses of his own life under the influence of opium. He wrote fine biographies of a number of classical, historical and literary personages, of which the most ambitious attempt is The Caerars. His most perfect historical essay is on Joan of Arc. His essays on principle of literature are original and penetrating. The best of this type is the one where he gives the distinction between the literature of knowledge and of power. On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth is the most brilliant. He also wrote very scholarly articles on Goethe, Pope, Schiller and Shakespeare. Besides these he wrote a number of essays on science and theology.
In all his writings De Quincey asserts his personal point of view, and as he is a man of strong prejudices, likes and dislikes, he often gives undue emphasis on certain points. The result is that we cannot rely on his judgment entirely. But there is no doubt that his approach is always original and brilliant which straightway captures the attention of the reader. Moreover, the splendour of his ‘poetic prose’ which is elaborate and sonorous in its effects, casts its own special spell. The result is that De Quincey is still one of the most fascinating prose-writers of England.
Novelists of the Romantic Age

The great novelists of the Romantic period are Jane Austen and Scott, but before them there appeared some novelists who came under the spell of medievalism and wrote novels of ‘terror’ or the ‘Gothic novels’. The origin of this type of fiction can be ascribed to Horace Walpole’s (1717-97) The Castle of Otranto (1746). Here the story in set in medieval Italy and it includes a gigantic helmet that can strike dead its victims, tyrants, supernatural intrusions, mysteries and secrets. There were a number of imitators of such a type of novel during the eighteenth century as well as in the Romantic period.

(i) The Gothic Novel

The most popular of the writers of the ‘terror’ or ‘Gothic’ novel during the Romantic age was Mrs. Ann Radciffe (1764-1823), of whose five novels the best-known are The Mysteries of Udolpho and the Italian. She initiated the mechanism of the ‘terror’ tale as practiced by Horace Walpole and his followers, but combined it with sentimental but effective description of scenery. The Mysteries of Udolpho relates the story of an innocent and sensitive girl who falls in the hands of a heartless villain named Montoni. He keeps her in a grim and isolated castle full of mystery and terror. The novels of Mrs. Radcliffe became very popular, and they influenced some of the great writers like Byron and Shelley. Later they influenced the Bronte sisters whose imagination was stimulated by these strange stories.
Though Mrs. Radcliffe was the prominent writer of ‘Gothic’ novels, there were a few other novelists who earned popularity by writing such novels. They were Mathew Gregory (‘Monk’) Lewis (1775-1818). Who wrote The Monk, Tales of Terror and Tales of Wonder; and Charles Robert Maturin whose Melmoth the Wanderer exerted great influence in France. But the most popular of all ‘terror’ tales was Frankestein (1817) written by Mrs. Shelley. It is the story of a mechanical monster with human powers capable of performing terrifying deeds. Of all the ‘Gothic’ novels it is the only one which is popular even today.

(ii) Jane Austen (1775-1817)

Jane Austen brought good sense and balance to the English novel which during the Romantic age had become too emotional and undisciplined. Giving a loose rein to their imagination the novelist of the period carried themselves away from the world around them into a romantic past or into a romantic future. The novel, which in the hands of Richardson and Fielding had been a faithful record of real life and of the working of heart and imagination, became in the closing years of the eighteenth century the literature of crime, insanity and terror. It, therefore, needed castigation and reform which were provided by Jane Austen. Living a quiet life she published her six novels anonymously, which have now placed her among the front rank of English novelists. She did for the English novel precisely what the Lake poets did for English poetry—she refined and simplified it, making it a true reflection of English life. As Wordsworth made a deliberate effort to make poetry natural and truthful, Jane Austen also from the time she started writing her first novel—Pride and Prejudice, had in her mind the idea of presenting English country society exactly as it was, in opposition to the romantic extravagance of Mrs. Radcliffe and her school. During the time of great turmoil and revolution in various fields, she quietly went on with her work, making no great effort to get a publisher, and, when a publisher was got, contenting herself with meagre remuneration and never permitting her name to appear on a title page. She is one of the sincerest examples in English literature of art for art’s sake.
In all Jane Austen wrote six novels—Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Mansefield Park, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. Of these Pride and Prejudice is the best and most widely read of her novels. Sense and Sensibility, Emma and Mansefield are now placed among the front rank of English novels. From purely literary point of view Northanger Abbey gets the first place on account of the subtle humour and delicate satire it contains against the grotesque but popular ‘Gothic’ novels.
As a novelist Jane Austen worked in a narrow field. She was the daughter of a humble clergyman living in a little village. Except for short visits to neighbouring places, she lived a static life but she had such a keen power of observation that the simple country people became the characters of her novels. The chief duties of these people were of the household, their chief pleasures were in country gatherings and their chief interest was in matrimony. It is the small, quiet world of these people, free from the mighty interests, passions, ambitious and tragic struggles of life, that Jane Austin depicts in her novels. But in spite of these limitations she has achieved wonderful perfection in that narrow field on account of her acute power of observation, her fine impartiality and self-detachment, and her quiet, delicate and ironical humour. Her circumstances helped her to give that finish and delicacy to her work, which have made them artistically prefect. Novel-writing was a part of her everyday life, to be placed aside should a visitor come, to be resumed when he left, to be purused unostentatiously and tranquilly in the midst of the family circle. She knew precisely what she wanted to do, and she did it in the way that suited her best. Though in her day she did not receive the appreciation she deserved, posterity has given her reward by placing this modest, unassuming woman who died in her forties, as one of the greatest of English novelists.
Among her contemporaries only Scott, realised the greatness and permanent worth of her work, and most aptly remarked: “That young lady has a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. The big bowbow strain I can do myself, like any now going, but the exquisite touch which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting from the truth of the description and the sentiment, is denied to me, What a pity such a gifted creature died so early!”

(iii) Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)

Walter Scott’s qualities as a novelist were vastly different form those of Jane Austen. Whereas she painted domestic miniatures, Scott depicted pageantry of history on broader canvases. Jane Austen is precise and exact in whatever she writes; Scott is diffusive and digressive. Jane Austen deals with the quiet intimacies of English rural life free from high passions, struggles and great actions; Scott, on the other hand, deals with the chivalric, exciting, romantic and adventurous life of the Highlanders—people living on the border of England and Scotland, among whom he spent much of his youth, or with glorious scenes of past history.
During his first five or six years of novel-writing Scott confined himself to familiar scenes and characters. The novels which have a local colour and are based on personal observations are Guy Mannering, The Antiquary, Old Mortality and The Heart of Midlothian. His first attempt at a historical novel was Ivanhoe (1819) followed by Kenilworth(1821), Quentin Durward (1823), and The Talisman (1825). He returned to Scottish antiquity from time to time as in The Monastery (1820) and St. Ronan’s Well (1823).
In all these novels Scott reveals himself as a consummate storyteller. His leisurely unfolding of the story allows of digression particularly in the descriptions of natural scenes or of interiors. Without being historical in the strict sense he conveys a sense of the past age by means of a wealth of colourful descriptions, boundless vitality and with much humour and sympathy. The historical characters which he has so beautifully portrayed that they challenge comparison with the characters of Shakespeare, include Queen Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scott. Besides these he has given us a number of imperishable portraits of the creatures of his imagination. He is a superb master of the dialogue which is invariably true to character.
The novels of Scott betray the same imaginative joy in the recreation of the past as his poetry, but the novel offered him a more adaptable and wider field than the narrative poem. It gave him a better opportunity for the display of his varied gifts, his antiquarian knowledge, his observation of life and character, his delight in popular as well as courtly scenes, and his rich humour.
Scott is the first English writer of the historical novel, and he made very enduring contributions to its development in England as well as in Europe. He was by temperament and training perfectly suited to the accomplishment of this task. In the first place he had acquired a profound knowledge of history by his copious reading since his earliest youth. He had the zest of the story-teller, and a natural heartiness which made him love life in all its manifestations. He had an innate sense of the picturesque, developed by his passion for antiquarianism. His conservative temper which turned him away from the contemporary revolutionary enthusiasm, gave him a natural sympathy for the days of chivalry. In the Romantic age, Scott was romantic only in his love of the picturesque and his interest in the Middle Ages.
Scott was the first novelist in Europe who made the scene an essential element in action. He knew Scotland, and loved it, and there is hardly an event in any of his Scottish novels in which we do not breathe the very atmosphere of the place, and feel the presence of its moors and mountains. He chooses the place so well and describes it so perfectly, that the action seems almost to be result of natural environment.
Though the style of Scott is often inartistic, heavy and dragging; the love interest in his novels is apt to be insipid and monotonous; he often sketches a character roughly and plunges him into the midst of stirring incidents; and he has no inclinations for tracing the logical consequences of human action—all these objections and criticisms are swept away in the end by the broad, powerful current of his narrative genius. Moreover, Scott’s chief claim to greatness lies in the fact that he was the first novelist to recreate the past in such a manner that the men and women of the bygone ages, and the old scenes became actually living, and throbbing with life. Carlyle very pertinently remarked about Scott’s novels: “These historical novels have taught this truth unknown to the writers of history, that the bygone ages of the world were actually filled by living men, not by protocols, state papers, controversies, and abstractions of men.”
The Victorian Age (1832-1900)

The Victorian Age in English literature began in second quarter of the nineteenth century and ended by 1900. Though strictly speaking, the Victorian age ought to correspond with the reign of Queen Victoria, which extended from 1837 to 1901, yet literary movements rarely coincide with the exact year of royal accession or death. From the year 1798 with the publication of the Lyrical Ballads till the year 1820 there was the heyday of Romanticism in England, but after that year there was a sudden decline.
Wordsworth who after his early effusion of revolutionary principles had relapsed into conservatism and positive opposition to social and political reforms, produced nothing of importance after the publication of his White Doe of Rylstone in 1815, though he lived till 1850. Coleridge wrote no poem of merit after 1817. Scott was still writing after 1820, but his work lacked the fire and originality of his early years. The Romantic poets of the younger generation unfortunately all died young—Keats in 1820, Shelley in 1822, and Byron in 1824.
Though the Romantic Age in the real sense of the term ended in 1820, the Victorian Age started from 1832 with the passing of the first Reform Act, 1832. The years 1820-1832 were the years of suspended animation in politics. It was a fact that England was fast turning from an agricultural into a manufacturing country, but it was only after the reform of the Constitution which gave right of vote to the new manufacturing centres, and gave power to the middle classes, that the way was opened for new experiments in constructive politics. The first Reform Act of 1832 was followed by the Repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 which gave an immense advantage to the manufacturing interests, and the Second Reform Act of 1867. In the field of literature also the years 1820-1832 were singularly barren. As has already been pointed out, there was sudden decline of Romantic literature from the year 1820, but the new literature of England, called the Victorian literature, started from 1832 when Tennyson’s first important volume, Poems, appeared. The following year saw Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus, and Dickens’ earliest work, Sketches by Boz. The literary career of Thackeray began about 1837, and Browning published his Dramatic Lyrics in 1842. Thus the Victorian period in literature officially starts from 1832, though the Romantic period ended in 1820, and Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1837.
The Victorian Age is so long and complicated and the great writers who flourished in it are so many, that for the sake of convenience it is often divided into two periods—Early Victorian Period and Later Victorian Period. The earlier period which was the period of middle class supremacy, the age of ‘laissez-faire’ or free trade, and of unrestricted competition, extended from 1832 to 1870. The great writers of this period were Tennyson, Browning, Matthew Arnold, Carlyle, Ruskin, Dickens and Thackeray. All these poets, novelists and prose-writers form, a certain homogenous group, because in spite of individual differences they exhibit the same approach to the contemporary problems and the same literary, moral and social values. But the later Victorian writers who came into prominence after 1870—Rossetti, Swinburne, Morris, George Eliot, Meredith, Hardy, Newman and Pater seem to belong to a different age. In poetry Rossetti, Swinburne and Morris were the protagonists of new movement called the Pre-Raphaelite Movement, which was followed by the Aesthetic Movement. In the field of novel, George Eliot is the pioneer of what is called the modern psychological novel, followed by Meredith and Hardy. In prose Newman tried to revolutionise Victorian thought by turning it back to Catholicism, and Pater came out with his purely aesthetic doctrine of ‘Art for Art’s Sake’, which was directly opposed to the fundamentally moral approach of the prose-writers of the earlier period—Carlyle Arnold and Ruskin. Thus we see a clear demarcation between the two periods of Victorian literature—the early Victorian period (1832-1870) and the later Victorian period (1870-1900).
But the difference between the writers of the two periods is more apparent than real. Fundamentally they belong to one group. They were all the children of the new age of democracy, of individualism, of rapid industrial development and material expansion, the age of doubt and pessimism, following the new conceptions of man which was formulated by science under the name of Evolution. All of them were men and women of marked originality in outlook and character or style. All of them were the critics of their age, and instead of being in sympathy with its spirit, were its very severe critics. All of them were in search of some sort of balance, stability, a rational understanding, in the midst of the rapidly changing times. Most of them favoured the return to precision in form, to beauty within the limits of reason, and to values which had received the stamp of universal approval. It was in fact their insistence on the rational elements of thought, which gave a distinctive character to the writings of the great Victorians, and which made them akin, to a certain extent, to the great writers of the neo-Classical school. All the great writers of the Victorian Age were actuated by a definite moral purpose. Tennyson, Browning, Carlyle, Ruskin, Arnold wrote with a superb faith in their message, and with the conscious moral purpose to uplift and to instruct. Even the novel broke away from Scott’s romantic influence. Dickens, Thackeray, George Eliot wrote with a definite purpose to sweep away error and reveal the underlying truth of humanity. For this reason the Victorian Age was fundamentally an age of realism rather than of romance.
But from another point of view, the Victorian Age in English literature was a continuation of the Romantic Age, because the Romantic Age came to a sudden and unnatural and mainly on account of the premature deaths of Byron, Shelley and Keats. If they had lived longer, the Age of Romanticism would have extended further. But after their death the coherent inspiration of romanticism disintegrated into separate lines of development, just as in the seventeenth century the single inspiration of the Renaissance broke into different schools. The result was that the spirit of Romanticism continued to influence the innermost consciousness of Victorian Age. Its influence is clearly visible on Tennyson, Browning, Arnold, Dickens, Thackeray, Ruskin, Meredith, Swinburne, Rossetti and others. Even its adversaries, and those who would escape its spell, were impregnated with it. While denouncing it, Carlyle does so in a style which is intensely charged with emotional fire and visionary colouring. In fact after 1870 we find that the romantic inspiration was again in the ascendent in the shape of the Pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic movements.
There was also another reason of the continuation of Romanticism in the Victorian Age. There is no doubt that the Reform Act set at rest the political disturbances by satisfying the impatient demand of the middle classes, and seemed to inaugurate an age of stability. After the crisis which followed the struggle against the French Revolution and Napoleon, England set about organizing herself with a view to internal prosperity and progress. Moreover, with the advent to power of a middle class largely imbued with the spirit of Puritanism, and the accession of a queen to the throne, an era of self-restraint and discipline started. The English society accepted as its standard a stricter conventional morality which was voiced by writers like Carlyle. But no sooner had the political disturbances subsided and a certain measure of stability and balance had been achieved then there was fresh and serious outbreak in the economic world. The result was that the Victorian period, quiet as it was, began to throb with the feverish tremors of anxiety and trouble, and the whole order of the nation was threatened with an upheaval. From 1840 to 1850 in particular, England seemed to be on the verge of a social revolution, and its disturbed spirit was reflected, especially in the novel with a purpose. This special form of Romanticism which was fed by the emotional unrest in the social sphere, therefore, derived a renewed vitality from these sources. The combined effect of all these causes was the survival and prolongation of Romanticism in the Victorian Age which was otherwise opposed to it.
Moreover, Romanticism not only continued during the Victorian Age, but it appeared in new forms. The very exercise of reason and the pursuit of scientific studies which promoted the spirit of classicism, stirred up a desire for compensation and led to a reassertion of the imagination and the heart. The representatives of the growing civilization of the day—economists, masters of industry, businessmen—were considered as the enemies of nobility and beauty and the artisans of hopeless and joyless materialism. This fear obsessed the minds of those writers of the Victorian Age, to whom feelings and imagination were essentials of life itself. Thus the rationalistic age was rudely shaken by impassioned protestations of writers like Newman, Carlyle and Ruskin who were in conflict with the spirit of their time.
The Victorian Age, therefore, exhibits a very interesting and complex mixture of two opposing elements—Classicism and Romanticism. Basically it was inclined towards classicism on account of its rational approach to the problems of life, a search for balance and stability, and a deeply moral attitude; but on account of its close proximity to the Romantic Revival which had not completely exhausted itself, but had come to a sudden end on account of the premature deaths of Byron, Shelley and Keats, the social and economic unrest, the disillusionment caused by industrialization and material prosperity, the spirit of Romanticism also survived and produced counter currents.

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Poets of the Early Victorian Period

The most important poets during the early Victorian period were Tennyson and Browning, with Arnold occupying a somewhat lower position. After the passing away of Keats, Shelley and Byron in the early eighteen twenties, for about fifteen years the fine frenzy of the high romantics subsided and a quieter mood ensued. With the abatement of the revolutionary fervour, Wordsworth’s inspiration had deserted him and all that he wrote in his later years was dull and insipid.
There appeared a host of writers of moderate talent like John Clare, Thomas Love Peacock, Walter Savage Landor and Thomas Hood. The result was that from 1820 till the publication of Tennyson’s first important work in 1833 English poetry had fallen into the hands of mediocrities. It was in fact by the publication of his two volumes in 1842 that Tennyson’s position was assured as, in Wordsworth’s language, “decidedly the greatest of our living poets.” Browning’s recognition by the public came about the same time, with the appearance of Dramatic Lyrics (1842), although Paracelsus and Sordello had already been published. The early Victorian poetry which started in 1833, therefore, came to its own, in the year 1842.
The early poetry of both Tennyson and Browning was imbued with the spirit of romanticism, but it was romanticism with a difference. Tennyson recognised an affinity with Byron and Keats; Browning with Shelley, but their romanticism no longer implied an attitude of revolt against conventional modes. It had itself become a convention. The revolutionary fervour which inspired the poetry of the great Romantic poets had now given place to an evolutionary conception of progress propagated by the writings of Darwin, Bentham and their followers. Though the writers of the new age still persisted in deriving inspiration from the past ages, yet under the spell of the marvels of science, they looked forward rather than backward. The dominant note of the early Victorian period was therefore, contained in Browning’s memorable lines: “The best is yet to be.” Tennyson found spiritual consolation in contemplating the
One far off divine event
To which the whole creation moves.
Faith in the reality of progress was thus the main characteristic of the early Victorian Age. Doubt, scepticism and questioning became the main characteristic of the later Victorian Age.

(a) Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)

Tennyson is the most representative poet of the Victorian Age. His poetry is a record of the intellectual and spiritual life of the time. Being a careful student of science and philosophy he was deeply impressed by the new discoveries and speculations which were undermining the orthodox religion and giving rise to all sorts of doubts and difficulties. Darwin’s theory of Evolution which believed in the “struggle for existence” and “the survival of the fittest” specially upset and shook the foundations of religious faith. Thus there was a conflict between science and religion, doubt and faith, materialism and spirituality. These two voices of the Victorian age are perpetually heard in Tennyson’s work. In In Memoriam, more than in any other contemporary literary work, we read of the great conflict between faith and doubt. Though he is greatly disturbed by the constant struggle going on in Nature which is “red in tooth and claw”, his belief in evolution steadies and encourages him, and helps him to look beyond the struggle towards the “one far off divine event to which the whole creation moves.”
Tennyson’s poetry is so much representative of his age that a chronological study of it can help us to write its history. Thus his Lockslay Hall of1842 reflects the restless spirit of ‘young England’ and its faith in science, commerce and the progress of mankind. In Lockslay Hall Sixty Years After (1866) the poet gives expression to the feeling of revulsion aroused against the new scientific discoveries which threatened the very foundations of religion, and against commerce and industry which had given rise of some very ugly problems as a result of the sordid greed of gain. In The Princess, Tennyson dealt with an important problem of the day—that of the higher education of women and their place in the fast changing conditions of modern society. In Maud, he gave expression to the patriotic passion aroused on account of the Crimean War. In Idylls of Kings, in spite of its medieval machinery, contemporary problems were dealt with by the poet. Thus in all these poems the changing moods of the Victorian Age are successively represented—doubts, misgivings, hopefulness etc.
Taking Tennyson’s poetry as a whole, we find that in spite of varieties of moods, it is an exposition of the cautions spirit of Victorian liberalism. He was essentially the poet of law and order as well as of progress. He was a great admirer of English traditions, and though he believed in divine evolution of things:
The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfills himself in many ways
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world,
he was, like a true Englishman, against anything that smacked of revolution.
But the real greatness of Tennyson as a poet lies in his being a supreme artist. The ideas contained in his poems are often condemned by his critics as commonplace, and he is berated as a shallow thinker. But no one can deny his greatness as an artist. He is, perhaps, after Milton, the most conscientious and accomplished poetic artist in English literature. He is noteworthy for the even perfection of his style and his wonderful mastery of language which is at once simple and ornate. Moreover, there is an exquisite and varied music in his verse. In poetic style he has shown a uniform mastery which is not surpassed by any other English poet except Shakespeare. As an artist, Tennyson has an imagination less dramatic than lyrical, and he is usually at his best when he is kindled by personal emotion, personal experience. It is his fine talent for lyric which gives him a high place among the masters of English verse. Some of his shorter pieces, such as Break, break, break; Tear, idle tears; Crossing the Bar are among the finest English songs on account of their distinction of music and imagery.
Tennyson is a master of imaginative description, which is seen at its best in The Lotos Eaters. Words can hardly be more beautiful or more expressive than in such a stanza as this:
A land of stream! some, like a downward smoke,
Slow-dropping, veils of thinnest lawn did go;
And some thro’ wavering lights and shadows broke,
Rolling a slumberous sheet of foam below.
They saw the gleaming river seaward flow
From the inner land; for off, three mountain tops,
Three silent pinnacles of aged snow,
Stood sunset flush’d and dew’d with showery drops.
Up clomb the shadowy pine above the woven copse.
During his lifetime Tennyson was considered as the greatest poet of his age, but after his death a reaction started against him, and he was given a much lower rank among the English poets. But with the passage of time Tennyson’s poetry regained its lost position, and at present his place as one of the greatest poets of England is secure mainly on account of the artistic perfection of his verse.

(b) Robert Browning (1812-1889)

During his lifetime Browning was not considered as great a poet as Tennyson, but after that the opinion of the critics has changed in favour of Browning, who, on account of his depth and originality of thoughts, is ranked superior to Tennyson. Browning and Tennyson were contemporaries and their poetic careers ran almost parallel to each other, but as poets they presented a glaring contrast. Whereas Tennyson is first the artist and then the teacher, with Browning the message is always the important thing, and he is very careless of the form in which it is expressed. Tennyson always writes about subjects which are dainty and comely; Browning, on the other hand, deals with subjects which are rough and ugly, and he aims to show that truth lies hidden in both the evil and the good. In their respective messages the two poets differed widely. Tennyson’s message reflects the growing order of the age, and is summed up in the word ‘law’. He believes in disciplining the individual will and subordinating it to the universal law. There is a note of resignation struck in his poetry, which amounts to fatalism. Browning, on the other hand, advocates the triumph of the individual will over the obstacles. In his opinion self is not subordinate but supreme. There is a robust optimism reflected in all his poetry. It is in fact because of his invincible will and optimism that Browning is given preference over Tennyson whose poetry betrays weakness and helpless pessimism. Browning’s boundless energy, his cheerful courage, his faith in life and in the development that awaits beyond the portals of death, give a strange vitality to his poetry. It is his firm belief in the immortality of the soul which forms the basis of his generous optimism, beautifully expressed in the following lines of Pippa Passes:
The year’s at the spring,
And day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven;
The hill side’s dew pearled;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snails on the thorn,
God’s in his heaven—
All’s right with the world.
Thus is an age when the minds of men were assailed by doubt, Browning spoke the strongest words of hope and faith:
Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be.
The last of life, for which the first was made.
(Rabbi Ben Ezra)
In another way also Browning presents a contrast to Tennyson. Whereas Tennyson’s genius is mainly lyrical. Browning’s is predominantly dramatic, and his greatest poems are written in the form of the dramatic monologue. Being chiefly interested in the study of the human soul, he discusses in poem after poem, in the form of monologue or dialogue, the problems of life and conscience. And in all of them Browning himself is the central character, and he uses the hero as his own mouthpiece. His first poem Pauline (1833) which is a monologue addressed to Pauline, on “the incidents in the development of a soul’, is autobiographical—a fragment of personal confession under a thin dramatic disguise. His Paracelsus (1835) which is in form a drama with four characters, is also a story of ‘incidents in the development of a soul’, of a Renaissance physician in whom true science and charlatanism’ were combined. Paracelsus has the ambition of attaining truth and transforming the life of man. For this purpose he discards emotion and love, and fails on account of this mistake. Browning in this poem also uses the hero as a mouthpiece of his own ideas and aspiration. Paracelsus was followed by Sordello, (1840) which is again ‘the study of a soul’. It narrates in heroic verse the life of a little-known Italian poet. On account of its involved expression its obscurity has become proverbial. In Pipa Passes (1841) Browning produced a drama partly lyrical and consisting of isolated scenes. Here he imagined the effect of the songs of a little working girl, strolling about during a holiday, on the destiny of the very different persons who hear them in turn.
It was with the publication of a series of collections of disconnected studies, chiefly monologues, that Browning’s reputation as a great poet was firmly established. These volumes were—Dramatic Lyrics (1842), Dramatic Romances and Lyrics (1845), Men and Women (1855), Dramatis Personae (1864), Dramatic Idylls (1879-80). The dramatic lyrics in these collections were a poetry of a new kind in England. In them Browning brings the most varied personages to make their confessions to us. Some of them are historical, while others are the product of Browning’s imagination, but all of them while unravelling the tangled web of their emotions and thoughts give expression to the optimistic philosophy of the poet. Some of the important dramatic lyrics are Bishop Blougram’s Apology, Two in a Gondola, Porphyria’s Lover, Fra Lippo Lippi, The last Ride Together, Childe Roland to a Dark Tower Came, A Grammarian’s Funeral, Rabbi Ben Ezra, Prospice and My Last Duchess. All of them have won for Browning the applause of readers who value “thought” in poetry. In (1868-69) Browning brought out four successive volumes of The Ring and the Book, which is his masterpiece. Here different persons concerned in a peculiarly brutal set of murders, and many witnesses give their own versions of the same events, varying them according to their different interests and prejudices. The lawyers also have their say, and at the end the Pope sums up the case. The ten long successive monologues contain the finest psychological studies of characters ever attempted by a poet.
During the last twenty years of his life Browning wrote a number of poems. Though they do not have much poetic merit, yet they all give expression to his resolute courage and faith. In fact Browning is mainly remembered for the astonishing vigour and hope that characterise all his work. He is the poet of love, of life, and of the will to live, here and beyond the grave, as he says in the song of David in his poem Soul:
How good is man’s life, the mere living! how fit to employ
All the heart and the soul and the senses for ever in joy.
The chief fault of Browning’s poetry is obscurity. This is mainly due to the fact that his thought is often so obscure or subtle that language cannot express it perfectly. Being interested in the study of the individual soul, never exactly alike in any two men, he seeks to express the hidden motives and principles which govern individual action. Thus in order to understand his poems, the reader has always to be mentally alret; otherwise he fails to understand his fine shades of psychological study. To a certain extent, Browning himself is to be blamed for his obscurity, because he is careless as an artist. But in spite of his obscurity, Browning is the most stimulating poet, in the English language. His influence on the reader who is prepared to sit up, and think and remain alert when he reads his poetry, is positive and tremendous. His strength, his joy of life, his robust faith and his invincible optimism enter into the life of a serious reader of his poetry, and make him a different man. That is why, after thirty years of continuous work, his merit was finally recognised, and he was placed beside Tennyson and even considered greater. In the opinion of some critics he is the greatest poet in English literature since Shakespeare.

(c) Matthew Arnold (1822-88)

Another great poet of the early Victorian period is Matthew Arnold, though he is not so great as Tennyson and Browning. Unlike Tennyson and Browning who came under the influence of Romantic poets, Arnold, though a great admirer of Wordsworth, reacted against the ornate and fluent Romanticism of Shelley and Keats. He strove to set up a neo-classical ideal as against the Romantic. He gave emphasis on ‘correctness’ in poetry, which meant a scheme of literature which picks and chooses according to standards, precedents and systems, as against one which gives preference to an abundant stream of original music and representation. Besides being a poet, Arnold was a great critic of poetry, perhaps the greatest critics during the Victorian period, and he belongs to that rare category of the critic who is a poet also.
Though Arnold’s poetry does not possess the merit of the poetry of Tennyson and Browning, when it is at its best, it has wonderful charm. This is especially the case with his early poetry when his thought and style had not become stereotyped. Among his early poems the sonnet on Shakespeare deserves the highest place. It is the most magnificent epigraph and introduction to the works of Shakespeare. Another poem of great charm and beauty is Requiescat, which is an exquisite dirge. In his longer poems—Strayed Reveller, Empedocles on Etna, Sohrab and Rustum, The Scholar Gipsy, Thyrsis (an elegy on Clough, which is considered of the same rank as Milton’s Lycidas and Shelley’s Adonais)—it is the lyrical strain into which the poet breaks now and then, which gives them a peculiar charm. It is the same lyrical note in the poems—The Forsaken Morman, which is a piece of exquisite and restrained but melodious passionate music; Dover Beach which gives expression to Arnold’s peculiar religious attitude in an age of doubt; the fine Summer Night, the Memorial Verses which immediately appeals to the reader.
Most of the poetry of Arnold gives expression to the conflict of the age—between spontaneity and discipline, emotion and reason, faith and scepticism. Being distressed by the unfaith, disintegration, complexity and melancholy of his times, Arnold longed for primitive faith, wholeness, simplicity, and happiness. This melancholy note is present throughout his poetry. Even in his nature poems, though he was influenced by the ‘healing power’ of Wordsworth, in his sterner moods he looks upon Nature as a cosmic force indifferent to, or as a lawless and insidious foe of man’s integrity. In his most characteristic poem Empedocles on Etna Arnolddeals with the life of a philosopher who is driven to suicide because he cannot achieve unity and wholeness; his sceptical intellect has dried up the springs of simple, natural feeling. His attitude to life is very much in contrast with the positive optimism of Browning whose Ben Ezra grows old on the belief that “The best is yet to be!”
As a critic Arnold wants poetry to be plain, and severe. Though poetry is an art which must give aesthetic pleasure, according to Arnold, it is also a criticism of life. He looks for ‘high seriousness’ in poetry, which means the combination of the finest art with the fullest and deepest insight, such as is found in the poetry of Homer, Dante and Shakespeare. Arnold’s own poetry was greatly affected by his critical theories, and we find that whereas Tennyson’s poetry is ornate and Browning’s grotesque, Arnold’s poetry on the whole is plain and prosaic. In setting forth his spiritual troubles Arnold seeks first of all to achieve a true and adequate statement, devoid of all non-essential decorations. The reader gets the impression that the writing is neither inspired nor spontaneous. It is the result of intellectual effort and hard labour. But there are occasions in the course of his otherwise prosaic poems, when Arnold suddenly rises from the ground of analysis and diagnosis into sensuous emotion and intuitions, and then language, imagery, and rhythm fuse into something which has an incomparable charm and beauty.

(d) Some Minor Poets

Besides Tennyson, Browning and Arnold there were a number of minor poets during the early Victorian period. Of these Mrs. Browning and Clough are well-known. Elizabeth Berrett (1806-61) became Mrs. Browning in 1846. Before her marriage she had won fame by writing poems about the Middle Ages in imitation of Coleridge. She also gave voice to sensitive pity in Cowper’s Grave and to passionate indignation in The Cry of Children which is an eloquent protest against the employment of children in factories. But she produced her best work after she came in contact with Browning. Her Sonnets from the Portuguese, which were written before her marriage with Browning, tell in a most delicate and tender manner her deep love for, and passionate gratitude to Browning who brought her, who was sick and lonely, back to health of life. The rigid limit of the sonnet form helped her to keep the exuberance of her passion under the discipline of art. Her other great work, Aurora Leigh (1857), is written in the form of an epic on a romantic theme. Written in blank verse which is of unequal quality, the poem is full of long stretches of dry, uninteresting verse, but here and there it contains passages of rare beauty, where sentiment and style are alike admirable.
Arthur Hugh Clough (1819-1861), a friend of Arnold, came under the influence of Wordsworth in his early years, but later he cut himself off from Wordsworthian narrow piety, and moved towards a religious faith free from all dogma. He searched for a moral law which was in consonance with the intellectual development of the age. In his Dipsychus, ‘the double-sould’ (1850), he attempted to reconcile the special and the idealistic tendencies of the soul. His best known work, however, is The Bothie of Toberna Vuolich, in which he has given a lively account of an excursion of Oxford students in the Highlands. Here he, like Wordsworth, emphasises the spiritualising and purifying power of Nature. The importance of Clough as a poet lies mainly in the quality of his thought and the frank nobility of his character which is beautifully expressed in the following memorable lines:
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishment the scroll:
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul!

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Novelists of the Early Victorian Period

In the early Victorian period the novel made a rapid progress. Novel-reading was one of the chief occupations of the educated public, and material had to be found for every taste. The result was that the scope of the novel, which during the eighteenth century dealt mainly with contemporary life and manners, was considerably enlarged. A number of brilliant novelists showed that it was possible to adapt the novel to almost all purposes of literature whatsoever. In fact, if we want to understand this intellectual life of the period.

We need hardly go outside the sphere of fiction. The novels produced during the period took various shapes—sermons, political pamphlets, philosophical discourses, social essays, autobiographies and poems in prose. The theatre which could rival fiction had fallen on evil days, and it did not revive till the later half of the nineteenth century. So the early Victorian period saw the heyday of the English novel.
The two most outstanding novelists of the period were Dickens and Thackeray. Besides them there were a number of minor novelists, among whom the important ones were Disraeli, Bronte Sisters, Mrs. Gaskell, Charles Kingsley, Charles Reade, Wilkie Collins and Trollope. All these novelists had a number of points of similarity. In the first place, they identified themselves with their age, and were its spokesmen, whereas the novelists of the latter Victorian period were critical, and even hostile to its dominant assumptions. This sense of identity with their time is of cardinal importance in any consideration of the early Victorian novelists. It was the source alike of their strengths and their weaknesses, and it distinguished them from their successors. It is not that these novelists were uncritical of their country and age, but their criticisms are much less radical than those of Meredith and Hardy. They accepted the society in which they criticised it as many of their readers were doing in a light hearted manner. They voiced the doubts and fears of the public, but they also shared their general assumptions.
Now let us examine these general assumptions of the early Victorians which these novelists shared. In the first place, in spite of the fact that they were conscious of the havoc caused by the industrial revolution, the presence of mass poverty, and accumulation of riches in a few hands, yet they believed like the common Victorians that these evils would prove to be temporary, that on the whole England was growing prosperous, which was evident from the enormous increase in material wealth and the physical amenities of civilization, and that there was no reason why this progress should not continue indefinitely.
Another important view which these novelists shared with the public was the acceptance of the idea of respectability, which attached great importance to superficial morality in business as well as in domestic and sexual relations. ‘Honesty is the best policy’, ‘Nothing for nothing’ were the dictums which the Victorians honoured in their business relations. Their attitude to sex had undergone a great change. Frank recognition and expression of sex had become tabooed. Fielding’s Tom Jones was kept out of way of women and children, and in 1818 Thomas Bowlder published his Family Shakespeare which contained the original text of Shakespeare’s plays from which were omitted those expression which could not be with propriety read aloud in a family. The novelists were not far behind in propagating the Victorian ideal. Trollop wrote in his Autobiography:
The writer of stories must please, or he will he nothing. And he must teach whether he wish to teach or not. How shall he teach lessons of virtue and at the same time make himself a delight to his readers? But the novelist, if he have a conscience, must preach his sermons with the same purpose as the clergymen, and must have his own system of ethics. If he can do this efficiently, if he can do this efficiently, if he can make virtue alluring and vice ugly, while he charms his readers instead of wearying them, then I think Mr. Carlyle need not call him distressed…
I think that many have done so; so many that we English novelists may boast as a class that such has been the general result of our own work…I find such to have been the teaching of Thackeray, of Dickens and of George Eliot. Can anyone by search through the works of the great English novelists I have named, find a scene, a passage or a word that would teach a girl to be immodest, or a man to be dishonest? When men in their pages have been described as dishonest and women as immodest, have they not ever been punished?
The reading public of the early Victorian period was composed of ‘respectable’ people, and it was for them that the novelists wrote. As the novelist themselves shared the same views of ‘respectability’ with the public, it gave them great strength and confidence. As they were artists as well as public entertainers, they enjoyed great power and authority. Moreover, as they shared the pre-occupations and obsessions of their time, they produced literature which may be termed as truly national.

(a) Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

Dickens is the chief among the early Victorian novelists and is in fact the most popular of all English novelists so far. It was at the age of twenty-five with the publication of Pickwick Papers that Dickens suddenly sprang into fame, and came to be regarded as the most popular of English novelists. In his early novels, Pickwick (1837) and Nickolas Nickleby for instance, Dickens followed the tradition of Smollett. Like Smollett’s novels they are mere bundles of adventure connected by means of character who figure in them. In his Martin Chuzzlewit (1843), Domby and Son (1846-48), and David Copperfield (1849-50) he made some effort towards unifications but even here the plots are loose. It was in Bleak House (1852-53) that he succeeded in gathering up all the diverse threads of the story in a systematic and coherent plot. His later novels—Dorrit (1855-57), A Tale of Two Cities (1864-65), and the unfinished Edwin Drood—were also like Bleak House systematicallyplanned. But, on the whole Dickens was not every successful in building up his plots, and there is in all of them a great deal of mere episodical material.
During the early Victorian period there was a swing from romance or a coldly picturesque treatment of life to depicting the heart had the affections. The novels which during the Romantic period and passed through a phase of adventure, reverted in the hands of Dickens to the literature of feeling. Too much emphasis on feelings often led Dickens to sentimentalism as it happened in the case of Richardson. His novels are full of pathos, and there are many passages of studied and extravagant sentiment. But Dicken’s sentimentalism, for which he is often blamed, is a phase of his idealism. Like a true idealist Dickens seeks to embody in his art the inner life of man with a direct or implied moral purpose. His theme is the worth of man’s thought, imaginings, affections, and religious instincts, the need of a trust in his fellowmen, a faith in the final outcome of human endeavour and a belief in immortality. He values qualities like honour, fidelity, courage magnanimity. The best example of Dickens’s idealism is found in A Tale of Two Cities, where he preaches a sermon on the sublime text: “Greater love path no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
Another phase of Dickens’s idealism was his implicit belief that this is the best of all possible worlds. In spite of pain, dirt and sin with which his novels are full, they leave an impression on the reader of the unwavering optimism and buoyant temper of Dickens. He shared to the full, the sanguine spirit of his age, and despite the hardness of heart and the selfishness of those in high places, their greed and hypocrisy, and the class prejudices which had divided man from man, Dickens believed that the world was still a very good world to live in. He had faith in the better element of human beings who live and struggle for a period, and then fall unremembered to give place to other. All his characters come out of the pit of suffering and distress as better men, uncontaminated and purer than before.
But the most delightful manifestation of the idealism of Dickens is his humour, which is almost irresistible. It is clearly manifest in his first novel, Pickwick, and in the succeeding novels it broadened and deepended. Dickens has the knack of uniting humour with pathos in a sort of tragic-comedy, which is especially noticeable in certain sections of Old curiosity shop and Martin Chuzzlewit. The best examples of Dickens pure comedy are the Peggotty and Barkis episodes in David Copperfield.
It is especially in the delineations of characters that the humour of Dickens is supreme. Like Smollett he was on the lookout for some oddity which for his purpose he made more odd than it was. All his characters are humours highly idealised and yet retaining so much of the real that we recognise in them some disposition of ourselves and of the men and women we met. The number of these humorous types that Dickens contributed to fiction runs into thousands. In fact there is no other writer in English literature, except only Shakespeare, who has created so many characters that have become permanent elements of the humorous tradition of the English race.
Besides being an idealist, Dickens was also a realist. He began his literary career as a reporter, and his short Sketches by Boz have the air of the eighteenth century quiet observer and news writer. This same reportorial air is about his long novels, which are groups of incidents. The main difference is that, while in his sketches he writes down his observation fresh from experience, in his novels he draws upon his memory. It is his personal experiences which underlie the novels of Dickens, not only novels like David Copperfield where it is so obvious, but also Hard Times where one would least expect to find them. One very important aspect of Dickens’s realism is this richness of descriptive detail, based upon what Dickens had actually seen.
It was Dickens’s realism which came as a check to medievalism which was very popular during the Romantic period. He awakened the interest of the public in the social conditions of England. The novels of Dickens were full of personal experiences, anecdotes, stories from friends, and statistics to show that they were founded upon facts. The result was that after Dickens began writing, knights and ladies and tournaments became rarer in the English novel. They were replaced by agricultural labourers, miners, tailors and paupers.
The novels of Dickens were also the most important product and expression in fiction of the humanitarian movement of the Victorian era. From first to last he was a novelist with a purpose. He was a staunch champion of the weak, the outcast and the oppressed, and in almost all his novels he attacked one abuse or the other in the existing system of things. It is, therefore, no exaggeration to say that humanitarianism is the key-note of his work, and on account of the tremendous popularity that he enjoyed as a novelist, Dickens may justly be regarded as one of the foremost reformers of his age.

(b) William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863)

Thackeray who was Dickens’s contemporary and great rival for popular favour, lacked his weaknesses and his genius. He was more interested in the manners and morals of the aristocracy than in the great upheavals of the age. Unlike Dickens who came of a poor family and had to struggle hard in his boyhood, Thackeray was born of rich parents, inherited a comfortable fortune, and spent his young days in comfort. But whereas Dickens, in spite of his bitter experiences retained a buoyant temperament and a cheerful outlook on life, Thackeray, in spite of his comfortable and easy life, turned cynical towards the world which used him so well, and found shames, deceptions, vanities everywhere because he looked for them. Dickens was more interested in plain, common people; Thackeray, on the other hand, was more concerned with high society. The main reason of this fundamental difference between the two was not, however, of environment, but of temperament. Whereas Dickens was romantic and emotional and interpreted the world largely through his imagination; Thackeray was the realist and moralist and judged solely by observation and reflection. Thus if we take the novels of both together, they give us a true picture of all classes of English society in the early Victorian period.
Thackeray is, first of all, a realist, who paints life as he sees it. As he says of himself, “I have no brains above my eyes; I describe what I see.” He gives in his novels accurate and true picture especially of the vicious elements of society. As he possesses an excessive sensibility, and a capacity for fine feelings and emotions like Dickens, he is readily offended by shams, falsehood and hypocrisy in society. The result is that he satirises them. But his satire is always tempered by kindness and humour. Moreover, besides being a realist and satirist, Thackeray is also a moralist. In all his novels he definitely aims at creating a moral impression and he often behaves in an inartistic manner by explaining and emphasising the moral significance of his work. The beauty of virtue and the ugliness of vice in his character is so obvious on every page that we do not have to consult our conscience over their actions. As a writer of pure, simple and charming prose Thackeray the reader by his natural, easy and refined style. But the quality of which Thackeray is most remembered as a novelist is the creation of living characters. In this respect he stands supreme among English novelists. It is not merely that he holds up the mirror to life, he presents life itself.
It was with the publication of Vanity Fair in 1846 that the English reading public began to understand what a star had risen in English letters. Vanity Fair was succeeded in 1849 by Pendennis which, as an autobiography, holds the same place among his works as David Copperfield does among those of Dickens. In 1852 appeared the marvellous historical novel of Henry Esmond which is the greatest novel in its own special kind ever written. In it Thackeray depicted the true picture of the Queen Anne period and showed his remarkable grasp of character and story. In his next novel Newcomes (1853-8) he returned to modern times, and displayed his great skill in painting contemporary manners. By some critics Newcomes is considered to be his best novel. His next novel, The Virginians, which is a sequal of Esmond, deals with the third quarter of the eighteenth century. In all these novels Thackeray has presented life in a most realistic manner. Every act, every scene, every person in his novels is real with a reality which has been idealised up to, and not beyond, the necessities of literature. Whatever the acts, the scenes and the personages may be in his novels, we are always face to face with real life, and it is there that the greatness of Thackeray as a novelist lies.

(c) Minor Novelists

Among the minor novelists of the early Victorian period, Benjamin Disraeli, the Brontes, Mrs. Gaskell, Charles Kingsley, Charles Reede, Wilkie Collins and Trollope are well known.

Benjamin Disraeli (1804-81) wrote his first novel Vivian Grey (1826-27), in which he gave the portrait of a dandy, a young, intelligent adventurer without scruples. In the succeeding novels Coningsby (1844), Sybil (1845) and Tancred (1847) Disraeli was among the first to point out that the amelioration of the wretched lot of the working class was a social duty of the aristocracy. Being a politician who became the Prime Minister of England, he has given us the finest study of the movements of English politics under Queen Victoria. All his novels are written with a purpose, and as the characters in them are created with a view to the thesis, they retain a certain air of unreality.

The Bronte Sisters who made their mark as novelists were Charlotte Bronte (1816-55) and Emily Bronte (1818-48). Charlotte Bronte depicted in her novels those strong romantic passions which were generally avoided by Dickens and Thackeray. She brought lyrical warmth and the play of strong feeling into the novel. In her masterpiece, Jane Eyre (1847), her dreams and resentments kindle every page. Her other novels are The Professor, Villette and Shirley. In all of them we find her as a mistress of wit, irony, accurate observation, and a style full of impassioned eloquence.

Emily Bronte was more original than her sister. Though she died at the age of thirty, she wrote a strange novel, Wuthering Heights, which contains so many of the troubled, tumultuous and rebellious elements of romanticism. It is a tragedy of love at once fantastic and powerful, savage and moving, which is considered now as one of the masterpieces of world fiction.

Mrs. Gaskell (1810-65) as a novelist dealt with social problems. She had first-hand knowledge of the evils of industrialisation, having lived in Manchester for many years. Her novels Mary Barton (1848) and North and South (1855) give us concrete details of the miserable plight of the working class. In Ruth (1853) Mrs. Gaskell shows the same sympathy for unfortunate girls. In Cranford(1853) she gave a delicate picture of the society of a small provincial town, which reminds us of Jane Austen.

Charles Kingsley (1819-75) who was the founder of the Christian Socialists, and actively interested in the co-operative movement, embodied his generous ideas of reform in the novels Yeast (1848) and Alton Locke (1850). As a historical novelist he returned to the earliest days of Christianity in Hypatia (1853). In Westward Ho! (1855) he commemorated the adventurous spirit of the Elizabethan navigators, and in Hereward the Wake (1865) of the descendants of the Vikings.

Charles Reade (1814-84) wrote novels with a social purpose. It is Never too Late to Mend (1853) is a picture of the horrors of prison life; Hard Cash (1863) depicts the abuses to which lunatic, asylums gave rise; Put Yourself in his place is directed against trade unions. His A Terrible Temptation is a famous historical novel. His The Cloister and the Hearth (1867) shows the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance.

Wilkie Collins (1824-89) excelled in arousing the sense of terror and in keeping in suspense the explanation of a mystery of the revelation of crime. His best-known novels are The Woman in White and The Moonstone in which he shows his great mastery in the mechanical art of plot construction.

Anthony Trollope (1815-88) wrote a number of novels, in which he presented real life without distorting or idealising it. His important novels are The Warden (1855), Barchester Towers (1857) and The Last Chronicle of Barset (1867) in which he has given many truthful scenes of provincial life, without poetical feeling, but not without humour. Trollope has great skill as a story-teller and his characters are lifelike and shrewdly drawn. His novels present a true picture of middle class life, and there is neither heroism nor villainy there. His style is easy, regular, uniform and almost impersonal.

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