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with an inexpressible fury.
The redoubted Mr. Buckley has shed as much blood as the former.
He spares neither Friends nor Foe, but generally kills as many of his own side as the Enemy.”
1661-1731 From an engraving by Hopwood, after a portrait by J. Richardson In this delectable extract, with its distinction of phrasing and its delicate irony, we have an example of what the essay was to become in the hands of Joseph Addison and Sir Richard Steele, Samuel Johnson and Oliver Goldsmith. But that is a story which will be more fully discussed in the chapters on those illustrious men,
This period also saw the first modern novels, which were written by Daniel Defoe (1661-1731), who, as Austin Dobson says, discovered an uninhabited island, and by Samuel Richardson (1689–1791), who discovered the very much inhabited female heart. These pioneers were followed by Henry Fielding (1707-1754), Tobias Smollett (1721-1771), Laurence Sterne (1713–1768), Samuel Johnson (1709– 1784), Oliver Goldsmith (1728–1774), Horace Walpole (1717–1797), Frances Burney (1752-1840), and Mrs. Radcliffe (1764-1823), until finally, in the early years of the nineteenth century, the novel reached almost its highest perfection in the works of Sir Walter Scott (17711832) and Jane Austen (1775–1817).
Hitherto history in England had been little but uncritical and unscientific chronicle and compilation. In the eighteenth century, however, there arose three writers who raised it at once to a definite art. The first of these was David Hume (1711-1776). For research, as research is now understood, he cared little. But he gave to his History of England ” the charm of a flowing narrative and a style which was as easy to read as a fairy tale. He was followed by Dr. William Robertson (1721-1793) with histories of Scotland, Charles V, and America, which were almost as good as Hume's in style and were based on a somewhat better standard of investigation. Both Hume and Robertson, however, must yield to the matchless work of Edward Gibbon (1737–1794). His “ History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” is still the standard authority for the period it covers and is considered by some critics the finest history in the English language. It is written in a splendidly sonorous style; its narrative flows without a break from the age of the Antonines to the occupation of Constantinople by the Turks; and not even twentieth century scholarship has been able to improve his material.
From the history of nations the transition is easy to the history of individuals. Accordingly we find in this period a wealth of biography and of autobiography not previously equalled by any nation. There were short lives such as Goldsmith's “ Beau Nash " and Johnson's admirable “ Lives of the Poets,” most of whom were not poets at all but only wretched versifiers; there were long biographies such as Hawkesworth’s “Swift” and Hawkins's “ Johnson "; there were scholarly performances such as Middleton's“ Cicero"; and there were personal records as unlike as Colley Cibber's “ Apology for his Life” and Hume's account of “My Own Life.” Finally, in the last
decade of the century, appeared two works, each of which in its own field remains unrivalled. One of these is Gibbon's " Autobiography.” Nothing can be more interesting than his account of the circumstances that moulded his career and determined the progress of his great history. The other work referred to was Boswell's “Life of Johnson,” which is the greatest biography in any language and seems destined to remain so, as the combination of circumstances that produced it is not likely to recur. Carlyle says that it is to England what “ The Odyssey” is to Greece, a true though homely epic. To this day it remains the standard by which every new biography is measured.
The prose spirit of the age also produced letters. Maids of honor who could spell and maids of honor who could not resorted freely to this means of communication. Swift describes one of them as scrawling like a Wapping wench. He himself wrote his " Journal to Stella,” which is really one long letter continued through several years. Indeed most of the great writers and all of the small, if one judge by the avalanche of eighteenth century epistolary volumes that in recent years have descended from the press, delighted in this innocent pastime. The most famous letters of the century, however, were written by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, by the Earl of Chesterfield, and by Horace Walpole, while the best undoubtedly came from the pen of the poet Cowper. Lady Mary wrote of her travels, of society as she saw it, and of contemporary literature; Chesterfield taught his son that whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well and advised him to take care of the pence, for the pounds will take care of themselves; Horace Walpole, holding that the world is a comedy to those who think and a tragedy to those who feel, for sixty years and in 2700 letters gossiped about the brilliant, jigging, smirking Vanity Fair in which he lived; and Cowper wrote with sedate playfulness of his own uneventful days, proving delightfully and conclusively that one can write well about nothing if only one knows how.
Some critics hold that the poetry of the age was not poetry at all but only prose run mad. They call Alexander Pope (1688–1744) the most eminent poet of the time, a word carpenter, a literary mechanic. His theories and his success will be fully discussed in a later chapter. Here it will suffice to say that he succeeded in convincing his own generation and that which followed that he had “carried the language to the highest perfection.” The words in quotation marks were written 1764 by Oliver Goldsmith in his
Enquiry into the Present State of Polite Learning in Europe.” His keen eye already detected a change of fashion and of feeling, a change indeed which is discernible in his own" Traveller," which appeared the same year.
That change, as a matter of fact, had begun with Thomson's “Seasons ” (1726–1730), a nature poem written, not in Pope's coup
Title-page of first edition of Percy's “Reliques" (1765) The courtesy of the Macmillan Company, from "English Literature, An Illustrated Record"
lets, but in blank verse, and characterized by accurate description of living things. After Thomson had come Dr. Edward Young (1684– 1765), who began his literary career by imitating Pope and ended it as the unrhymed author of a sombre moral poem called “ Night Thoughts,” which is not at all in Pope's style. After Young followed