« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
scepticism abroad, directed against Christianity itself. But this was not the direction which the highest intellects usually took. The task which occupied them was to lighten the weight of dogma within the Church, to infuse a higher tone into the social and domestic spheres, to make men moderate in pleasure, charitable to the poor, dutiful in the relations of life, and to establish the truth of Christianity upon the basis of evidence — evidence differing in no essential respect from that required in ordinary history or science.
But religious enthusiasm was dying out — I mean that earnest realization which searches the heart and moulds the character of
The discussion of Christian evidences is generally the sign of defective Christian life. Traces of devotional activity, however, still existed. In 1696 was formed the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge; and in 1701, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. Charity schools were established and multiplied rapidly under Anne. I have always looked on the institution of charity schools,' writes Addison, which of late years has so universally prevailed through the whole nation, as the glory of the age we live in.' Societies were organized to combat the corruption that had been general since the Restoration, dividing themselves into several distinct groups, and becoming a kind of voluntary police to enforce the laws against blasphemers, drunkards, and Sabbath-breakers.
The separation of theology from politics was proceeding rapidly, and the laymen were becoming increasingly prominent in the state. A high-church writer, in 1712, complains of the efforts that were being made to “thrust the churchmen out of their places of power in the government.'
Poetry.-When a heartless cynicism is fashionable, when brilliancy is preferred to sobriety, when morality tends to a system of abstract rules, when sermons become diagrams, theorems, and corollaries - what will be the character of poetry? Evidently, it must express the temper of the age, or it will perish still-born. It will satisfy the intellect, but starve. the emotional nature. The poet will become an artist of form. Instead of strong passions, elevated motives, and sublime aspirations, he will give us critical accuracy of thought, elegance of phrase, symmetry of parts, and measured harmonies of sound.
Pope was its representative product, and he expresses the peculiarities of his time with singular sharpness and fidelity.
Drama.—The drama of the Restoration had been so outrageously immoral that the intellect of the country became ashamed of the stage, and turned its strength to cultivate other branches of literature. Jeremy Collier, Steele, and Addison had shamed it into something like decency, though ladies of respectability and position still hesitated to appear at the first representation of a new comedy. In style, the dramatic literature, like the general poetry of the period, was polished and artificial. Addison's tragedy of Cato was too cold and classical to touch the passions. The prevailing taste called for faithful and witty delineations of manners, slight and coarse comedies, gaudy spectacles of rope dancers and ballets. 'I never heard of any plays,' said Parson Adams in a novel of that day, 'fit for a Christian to read, but Cato and the Conscious Lovers, and I must own in the latter there are some things almost solemn enough for a sermon.'
Periodical Miscellany. - Internal repose and national wealth occasioned the rise of that middle class of respectable persons, literary idlers, who have leisure to read and money to buy books, but who wish to be entertained, not roused to think, to be gently moved, not deeply excited. This condition developed a new and peculiar kind of literature consisting of essays on the social phenomena of the time, and scraps of public and political intelligence to conciliate the ordinary leaders of news. The pioneer in this department was De Foe, who in 1704 began a tri-weekly journal called The Review, published on post nights,Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
It was reserved for Steele and Addison, however, to make the Miscellany a true agent of social improvement. Their object was to popularize and diffuse knowledge, to adapt every question to the capacity of the idlest reader, to characterize men and women humorously, taking minutes of their dress, air, looks, words, thoughts, desires, actions, and thus to hold the mirror up to nature, showing the very age and body of the time. Sermons veiled in pleasantry were preached on every conceivable text, from the brevity of life to the extravagance of female toilets. The end was moral health — the means was sugar-coated pills. There is evidence that the virtue, decorum, and tone of the patient was much improved.
Light, graceful, and fastidious, as they were required to be, these papers never really probe anything to the bottom, never seek first principles, never contemplate the great darkness of what we are, whence we are, and whither we tend, but aim only to discover moral maxims and motives suitable and sufficient to guide the practical conduct of life, and to enforce those plain duties to God and man which are a pressing anxiety with all strong natures. Perhaps that is better. Metaphysical speculation is empyrean rarity or summer's dust. Devils may dispute of Providence, Foreknowledge, Will, and Fate.
The Novel.-Legends of saints had amused the middle ages, and the romances of chivalry had been popular in the seventeenth century; but a new social form was now developing, in which people desired to see themselves and to talk of themselves. The world of legend and of romantic grandeur had grown dim and unreal, and a fiction was wanted that, continuing the task of the Miscellany, should be domestic and practical, telling the story of common life only. This defines the English Novel, as the word is now understood. Its precursor was De Foe, who in 1719 led the way with his famous Robinson Crusoe, a novel of incident, the never-ceasing delight of children.
Theology.-Scepticism had shown itself in the seventeenth century, and divines had felt the necessity of justifying their faith. Polemic thought, when it did not assume the form of controversy between rival sects of Christians, was a conflict between Christianity and Deism, a doctrine which admits the existence of a Deity and the religious convictions of the moral consciousness, but denies the specific revelation which Christianity affirms. It was sought to prove, on the one hand, that natural religion was sufficient; on the other, that revealed religion was little more than this, accredited by historic proofs and sanctioned by a rational system of rewards and punishments. Christianity not Mysterious, The Gospel a Republication of the Religion of Nature, indicate the tenor of attack. Reasonableness of Christianity, Evidences of Christianity, indicate the tenor of defence. The results were an immeasurable overbalance of good.
Science. The national intellect had been turned to the study of physical science with an intensity hitherto unknown. It is to be observed, however, that infidels were not then permitted to consider scientists their natural allies. Newton had devoted himself to the interpretation of unfulfilled prophecy. Boyle, the father of chemistry, had established a course of lectures for the defence of Christianity. Nearly all the early members of the Royal Society were ardent believers in revelation. When Collins, a Deist, ascribed the decay of witchcraft to freethinking, Bentley, a devout scientist, retorted that it was due, not to freethinkers, but to the Royal Society and to the scientific conception of the universe which that society had spread.
Résumé.—In politics, an age of material eminence; in literature, an age of formal correctness. Philosophy leaned to materialism. The public temper was adventurous, uncertain, unbelieving. Pope was the characteristic product of its poetry; Addison, of its general prose,—the artist of manners; Swift, of its satire,scorning, hating, and hated. Without pathos or 'fine frenzy,' style was neat, clear, epigrammatic. The relative position of prose was never higher than at this date.
The reign of Queen Anne (1702–1714) was long regarded as the Augustan Age of English Literature, on account of its supposed resemblance in intellectual wealth to the reign of the Emperor Augustus. It is now accorded a secondary praise, though conceded to be unrivalled perhaps within its own region,—that of clear thinking and accurate expression,-art that is neither inspired by enthusiastic genius nor employed on majestic themes.
In speculation, he was a man of piety and honor; in practice, he was much of the rake, and a little of the swindler.-Macaulay.
Biography.-Born in Dublin, in 1675, but of English parentage.
Sent to Charter-House School, London, where he found Addison. Between these two was formed an intimacy the most memorable in literature. After studying at Oxford, enlisted in the Guards as a private, and was in consequence disinherited. Promoted to the rank of captain, he plunged into the vices and follies of the day, dicing himself into a sponging-house or drinking himself into a fever. Wrote, became a popular man of the town, and was employed by the Whig government to write The Gazette. Started a periodical miscellany, lost his apppointment by the retirement of his party from office, but continued his character of essayist. Obtained a seat in Parliament, lost it, was knighted by George I, and received a place in the royal household. Always in trouble by his reckless behavior, his pecuniary difficulties increasing, he retired, by the indulgence of the mortgagee, to a seat in Wales left him by his second wife, and there died in 1729.
Writings. — His principles were better than his conduct. Punished by conscience, he made an effort to reform himself, and wrote The Christian Hero, which contains some noble sentiments, but exercised little influence on the author.
The Funeral, The Tender Husband, and The Conscious Lovers are dramas, all of which were successful. The last is the best, which is far from good, though it brought the author a large
These were the first comedies written expressly with a view, not to imitate manners, but to reform them. The characters act less from individual motives than from general rules, and lack the grace of sincerity.
The Tatler (1709), suggested by his employment as gazetteer; a tri-weekly sheet devoted in part to foreign intelligence and in part to the manners of the age. The Spectator (1711), a daily, and, like the Tatler, a news organ, a censor of manners, a teacher of public taste, and an exponent of English feeling; suspended in 1712, and resumed in 1714. The Guardian, also a daily, begun in 1712. Of the first, there were two hundred and seventy-one papers; of the second, six hundred and thirty-five; of the third, one hundred and seventy-five. In these enterprises, Steele was very largely assisted by Addison, who furnished for the Tatler one-sixth, for the Spectator about three-sevenths, and for the Guardian one-third, of the whole quantity of matter.
A passage or two will suggest the spirit and manner of these famous papers.
From the Tatler : The first sense of sorrow I ever knew was upon the death of my father, at which time I was not quite five years of age; but was rather amazed at what all the house