1902 Encyclopedia > English Literature > The Age of Queen Anne (1700-1729): Addison, Defoe, Pope, Swift

English Literature
(Part 8)




VIII. THE AGE OF QUEEN ANNE (1700-1729)

Addison, Defoe, Pope, Swift...


Weary of life, Dryden had descended into the tomb; and his mantle had fallen on no poet. Grateful for support manfully rendered when all the world was against him, he had, in some moving and musical lines, designated in Congreve the successor to his fame-

" Let not the insulting foe my fame pursue,
But-shade those laurels which descend to you:"

but that cold man of fashion never rose above the point which he had reached in the Mourning Bride. A poet, however, appeared before long, but he was a -Whig poet; that is, he represented respectability, common-sense, and the juste milieu the cause which fires the blood, the ideal which kindles the imagination, were strange to him. This Whos Addison, whose Campaign (1704-), an heroic poem on the battle of Blenheim, is mach in the style of that portion of Dryden's Annus Mirabilis which describes the duke of York's victory over the Dutch fleet, but is written with more care and more concentration. To the production of Cato, a tragedy which observes the rules, and aims at exhibiting the lofty grandeur and the devotion to principle of the Roman character, Addison seems to have been induced partly by his protracted stay in Italy (where his attention was engrossed by classical monuments, and turned with indifference from medieval), partly by the desire to win laurels in the field where Corneille and Racine had shone with such distinction, and to show that an English I dramatist could be as correct as they. No other poem of, note, with the single exception to which we shall presently refer, was written in the reign of Anne. The innumerable verses composed by Swift were written rather to give vent to his spleen, and exercise his misanthropic humor, than under the presence of any motive which ordinarily influences poets. Parnell wrote one or two didactic pieces, and Rowe some pastoral ballads, which are not without merit. Defoe's satirical poems, The True-Born Englishman and the Ode to the Pillory, possess the interest which the indomitable character and caustic humour of the man impart to them. As a dissenter, he felt properly grateful to the Dutch prince, one of the first acts of whose reign was to establish a legal toleration, and was equally indignant with the clergymen and gentlemen of England, who, though glad to be rid of James II., felt sore at the thought that the Revolution was effected by foreign regiments. This feeling led to a temporary insistance in society on the fact that a man was an Englishman born; and it is this insistance which Defoe assails with homely but effective ridicule in the True-Born Englishman. The Ode to the Pillcry was Written while its author lay in prison, awaiting his public exposure in that" state machine " for ~having written The , shortest Way with the Dissenters. This was an Ironical Jamphlet, occasioned by the disgust with which Defoe was :inspired by the conduct of the wealthy dissenters in London who occasionally conformed to the worship of the ~establishment in order to qualify themselves under the Test Act for holding office. Defoe recommends the passing of m Act by which a dissenter attending a couventicle shall be made punishable by death or imprisonment for life. Many of the clergy took the pamphlet seriously, and .approved of it; when it was discovered that the advice was ironical, the exasperation against Defoe was so great that it resulted in: his being condemned to pay a heavy fine and to stand in the pillory. The Ode. has a nerve strength, almost dignity, of style, which can seldom be asserted of the writings of Defoe. Referring to that incident, Pope, whose Catholic rearing made him detest the abettor of the Revolution and the champion of William of' Orange, wrote in the Dunciad-

"Earless on high stands unabashed Defoe"-

though he knew that the sentence to the pillory had lon~ ceasell to entail the loss of ears.
The exceptionally remarkable poem to which reference( was made in the last paragraph was Pope's Essay 01i Criticism, which appeared in 1711. Of all such poems the Arts Poetica of Horace is the original model-a model, it may be added, which has never been surpassed. The( classical taste, and the desire to conform to the ancient!
rules, which had obtained a complete ascendancy in the( literary circles of France during the reign of Louis XIV. were now almost equally prevalent in England. Boileau': Epitre sur l' Art Poetique, and the critical writings of Bossu Bouhours, Dacier, and Sarasin, led to the appearance in England of such works as Roscommon's Essay on Translate Verse, Sheffield's two Essays, on satire and on poetry, all( the critical attempts, in prose, of Rymer and Dennis. The receptivity and power of Pope's intellect were natural; employed at an early period of his career on a line 0 thought, in literature and art, which interested so man~ able minds, and was, so to speak, in the air~ He lays dowel in the Essay rules for the guidance of critics in judging which, he contends, they are as much bound to observe a poets are to follow the rules of art in writing, Tb acuteness of observation, the terseness of definition, the brilliance of wit, and the keenness of polished invective which distinguish the Essay, render it, though containing little that is absolutely new, a composition of which English!
literature may well be proud.

But the chief literary achievements of this period were expressed in prose. Prose is the medium which befits the swum rationalistic which is now opening, an age i; which men do not trouble themselves about new ideas, but reason and debate upon those which have been already manifested. Ideas possess themselves of the whole mar and impel him to remodel his life in accordance with tell The idea of the theocratic republic, growing into distinct shape in the minds of Milton, Cromwell, and other Puritans, drove them to march through war, regicide, an revolution towards its accomplishment. The idea ( hereditary monarchy, ruling by virtue of a right of which the origin is lost in the mists of a venerable antiquity, an is therefore assumed to· be divine, animated the Jacobits ( of 1700, as it animates the French legitimists of our own day. But neither of these two ideas had, after turning England upside. down, succeeded in establishing itself; the country had acquiesced perforce in a compromise partisans of the theocratic republic were forced to put up with king, constitution, law, and an Erastian church; nevertheless they were tolerated, and even allowed to write and preach what they pleased, so long as they did not openly advocate sedition. The partisans of hereditary monarchy ; were forced to accept a king, and then a queen, and then a whole dynasty, whose rights had no older or more sacred origin than the Acts of Settlement of 1689 and 1701 still . some deference was paid to their cherished sentiments, inasmuch as the new stock of royalty was not sought from an alien tree, but was a scion, though not the legitimate scion, growing from the old Stuart trunk. With this makeshift English loyalty was fain tube content. Thus on both sides the consistent theorists, the men of an idea, were I discountenanced; and the via media in politics and religion, since it seemed to be the only practicable path, was more and more frequented by men of sense. Then a host of reasoners and debaters arose; bent upon showing, not that I the compromises were logically sound, which they could not do, but that the extremists were dangerous fools. Moreover, since the compromise might be held and viewed I from opposite sides, endless debate was possible, and I actually arose, as to the right way of viewing it, whether mainly as a concession to liberty and democracy, or mainly as the guarantee of order and conservatism. In contests of I this kind the pens of many able writers were engaged in I the reign of Anne j we may mention in particular Swift, Steele, Addison, and Arbuth not. We will briefly examine their chief performances, first in general literature and then in theology and philosophy.





Swift, appointed to the deanery of St Patrick's in 1713, was generally believed to have no faith in revealed religion, but to adhere to what we have called "the compromise" for the sake of what he could get by it. On the night before his installation, a copy of verses was affixed to the door of St Patrick's cathedral, containing these amongst other lines.

"This place he got by wit and rhyme,
And other ways most odd;
And might a bishop be,-in time,
Did he believe in God."

" Look down, St Patrick, look, we pray,
On this thy church and steeple;
Convert thy dean on this great day,
Or else, God help the people. "

This reputation for unbelief was acquired through the publication of The Tale of a Tub (1704), in which Swift employed the unequalled resources of his scornful wit in satirizing the extreme parties, the consistent doctrines, which the Revolution had discomfited. In the celebrated apologue of Peter, Martin, and Jack(by whom we may either understand Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism, or the Church of Rome, that of England, and the Puritans), it is hard to say whether the assault on Peter's knavery and mendacity, or 011 Jack's fanatical folly, be the. more unsparing. Of Martin, who represents rational religion, moderation, common-sense,-in a word, the compromise, Swift has only expressions of approval. But we know that what men feel to be a compromise, they cannot heartily love j and it is therefore only in conformity with what we should expect, to find that for every page given to the. commendation of Martin, at least twenty are employed in reviling Peter or ridiculing Jack. Hence the general effect of the work as a whole is that of an attack on Christianity; and on this account its perusal was much recommended by Voltaire.

But there were other upholders of "the compromise" who had nothing of Swift's cynical temper, nay, who were conspicuously warm-hearted, eager, and generous. Such a man was the Irishman Richard Steele. He seems to have ~ been descended from one or those Cromwellian adventurers who were rewarded for their services to the Puritan commonwealth by grants of land at the expense of the Irish. It was natural, therefore, that his political sympathies should be of an Orange hue, and that he should regard William III. As the greatest of deliverers, the most beneficent of conquers, For, but for the battle of the Boyne, it cannot be doubted that the confiscations of previous reigns would have been in great measure reversed, and the native Irish resettled on their own soil; in which case families of English origin and of recent importation, like that of Steele, would have fared but badly. Hence in his Christian Hero (1701), written while he was in the army, and again in the Tatler, Steele launches forth into glowing panegyrics on his Dutch hero, which would have satisfied Lord Macaulay himself. The foundations being secure, Steele, whose education was English (he was at the Charterhouse and at Oxford along with Addison), employed his voluble argumentative tongue and his racy Hibernian humour to improve the superstructure. Mild reasoning, gentle ridicule, harmless banter, might, he thought, be used with effect to assuage the rancour of old animosities, soften the asperity of party spirit, expose the weak side of vanity, and introduce a temper of "sweet reasonable" into all social relations. Availing himself of the advantages which his position as conductor of the Government Gazette gave him for obtaining early news, Steele started the Tatler in 1709, with the view of entertaining with instructive and amusing gossip the readers whom the promise of news from the seat of war had already attracted. The imaginary editor, Isaac Bickerstaff (the name was borrowed form Swift, who had employed it in his ironical controversy with Partridge the almanac-maker), dates his communications from various coffee-houses according to their subject matter. Addison, who was at the time in Ireland, soon discovered the authorship of the Tatler, and was enlisted with joy by Steele as a contributor. It was succeeded by the Spectator (1711-1713), planned by the two friends in concert, with the same general objects as the Tatler, but with better machinery. Almost at the opening, in No.3, Addison wrote a clever vindication of the revolution-compromise, which the Jacobite leanings of some among the ministry appeared at the time to place in jeopardy. With this exception, political questions are scarcely mentioned by the Spector, who in his character of a mild censor of manners, "pietate gravis ac meritis," affects to stand aloof from the strife of party, and by expostulation and advice, undertakes to reform society. "The Tatler and Spectator were published," says Dr. Johnson, "at a time when two parties, loud, restless, and violent, each with plausible declarations, and each perhaps without any distinct termination of its views, were agitating the nation; to minds heated with political contest they supplied cooler and more inoffensive reflexions: and it is said by Addison….. that they had a perceptible influence upon the conversation of that time, and taught the frolic and the gay to unite merriment with decency."

By turning to fresh intellectual fields the minds of the upper classes-the people in good society-to whom the theatre was now a forbidden or despised excitement, Addison and Steele did without doubt allay much restlessness, still or amuse many feverisy longings. Its ideals discredited or found impracticable, the English mind, dischanted and in heavy cheer, took up with languid interest these pleasant chatty discoursings about things in general, and allowed itself to be amused, and half forgot its spiritual perplexities. Nothing was settled by these papers, nothing really probed to the bottom; but they taught, with much light grace and humour, lessons of good sense and mutual tolerance; and their popularity proved that the lesson was relished. The characterization which we meet with in the Spectator has been justly admired. Sir Roger de Coverly is an excellent type of the English country gentleman of that day- unintelligent and full of prejudices, but manly, open-hearted, and conscientious. The merchantile classes are represented, less adequately, yet in a dignified and attractive manner, by Sir Andrew Freeport. Captain Sentry, as the representative of the army, is not so satisfactory; compare him with Uncle Toby and Corporal Trim in Sterne’s Tristram Shandy and the contrast between a dull, wooden figure, and personages who bring the life of the British army in Flanders exactly and vividly before our eyes, is immediately apparent.

The theological controversies were carried on chiefly between deists and churchmen on the one hand, and non-jurors and oath-takers on the other. There will always be able men to whom revealed religion will not commend itself, because demonstration of its truth is in the nature of things impossible, and the portal through which cinviction must be reached is too lowly for many to enter. In this age of reasoning, the English writers who followed Hobbes in eliminating the supernatural from Christianity considered it to be their duty to exhibit their proofs in the clearest and most systematic manner. Thus arose the school of English deists. Toland, the author of a good life of Milton, led the way with Christianity not Mysterious (1702). Tindal followed with Christianity as Old as the Creation, in which an attempt is made to identify Christ with Crishna, and to evaporate the Christian religion into a solar myth. Collins, in his Discourse on Free-Thinking, took the line of impugning the trustworthiness of the text of Scripture. He was answered by Dr Richard Bentley in a tract called Phileleutherus Lipsiensis, in which it is maintained that the text of the Greek Testament is on the whole in a sounder state than that of any of the Greek classical authors. Berkeley combated free-thinking in the philosophical dialogue of Alciphron. Bishop Butler, and afterwards Warburton, contributed important works to the same controversy.

In philosophy the trains of thought which Hobbes and Leibnitz had pursued were either further developed, or led to opposing reactions. Hobbes selfish theory of morals , and his disposition to leave out the idea of God from his system of the universe, found resolute opponents, not only in Clarke and Berkely, but also in Shaftesbury, the noble author of the Characteristics. The treatises composing this work were published at various times between 1708 and 1713. Shatesbury maintains the disinterested theory of morals, but rather in a rhetorical way than with much solidity of argument; he drives virtue, beneficence, and compassion, not, as Hobbes had in each case done from a source tainted by self-interest, but from the delight which the mind naturally takes in actions and feelings conformable to its own unperfected nature. In his general reasonings on the constitution of nature and of man, Shaftesbury is an optimist; but his optimism acquires its serenity at the cost of surrendering the distinction between good and evil, virtue and vice. Like Pope (who, indeed, in the Essay of Man, versified and condensed freely the glowing rhetoric of the Characteristics), Shaftesbury the Deity whom he celebrates in eloquent period is not a being who hates moral evil while permitting it, but one from those elevated point of view that which seems to us worthy of reprobation must appear as necessary to the working out of a vast scheme of paternal government. The views bear a considerable resemblance to the hypothesis more cautiously put forward by the late Professor Mansel, and at once combated by Mr Mill and Professor Goldwin Smith, which suggested that man’s ideas of justice and injustice, right and wrong , were perhaps entirely different in kind from those which existed in the mind of God. It is obvious that the Supreme Being of the Characteristics, in whose eyes the excesses of the Reign of Terror would be merely a hurricane purifying the moral atmosphere, and who would see "with equal eye" has little in common with the God of the New Testament, whose absolute rejection of inquity is the very basis on which revealed religion is built, and in whose eyes the least of his reasonable creatures is " of more value than many sparrows." This dissonance between Christianity and his own system was evident to Shaftesbury himself, and led him to speak disrespectfully of the former in various places of his writings. He is accordingly classed by Leland among deistical writers. Pope, less clearsighted, would not admit that the philosophy of the Essay on Man (which is precisely the same as that of Shaftesbury) was in any way repugnant to Christianity; and Warburton argued laboriously on the same side. Nevertheless, in his Universal Prayer, Pope implicitly retracted the main tenet of the longer poem; and prosperity has held that Crousaz, the assailant of the Essay, understood its real bearing better than Warburton its defender.

Disturbed at the thought of the predominance which the spread of Locke’s sensationalist philosophy might be expected to give to the material interest of man, yet not choosing to revert to any of the old systems which let in the principle of authority, Berkely conceived the strange idea of denying the validity of the inferences made by every perceiving mind concerning the objects perceived. He denied the existence of matter, or material substance, which is merely the name given by philosophers to the "something" which underlies and supports the sensible qualities of an object. The objects themselves, he admitted, are real; the ideas which the mind forms concerning them are also real; moreover, these ideas constitute for man the sole road to the knowledge of the objects. Instead of holding with Locke that the objects, by the impressions which they make on the senses, engender ideas, he held that the ideas implanted by the Creator in the human mind teach it all that it can possibly know about the objects. This ideal philosophy, having a merely subjective base-growing neither out of tradition nor experience-might obviously be twisted to the vindication of any system of opinions whatever. Hume, therefore, as we shall see in the next section, had not much difficulty in reducing it ad absurdum, by developing further the skeptical theory from which it started.

In France and Spain, Lesage and Lazarillo de Tormes had already won laurels by writing humorous tales of fiction in prose. Defoe, with us, was the first of a series in which he has so many brilliant successors, by composing Robinson Crusoe (1719). Many other fictitious tales, in all which he aimed at the appearance of being a truthful narrator of facts, followed from the same facile pen. But in the texture of these, as in the mind that produced them, there was something coarse and homely; they could not supplant for refined readers the high-flown romances of France. That was reserved for the sentimental novels of Richardson; similia similibus curantur.





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