« PrejšnjaNaprej »
and were greatly influenced by the Latin writer Horace. "There was never an age in which great writers trained themselves so carefully for their office, strove so much to conform to recognized principles of art, reflected so much on the plan and purpose of their compositions, or used more patient industry in bringing their conceptions to maturity." An important difference between the two Augustan ages is that the Roman age followed Rome's greatest prose period, and was almost wholly devoted to poetry. The prose of Cæsar, Sallust, and Cicero preceded the poetry of Virgil and Horace.
Subject-matter and Treatment. On the side of subjectmatter and treatment the literature of the age of Pope is very largely satiric, moral, and didactic. Satire was its heritage from Dryden, and was the form naturally favored by men writing "for the critics in the coffee-houses, for the noblemen from whom they expected patronage, and for the political party they were pledged to support." Why an age so far from moral should show partiality to moral treatises is perhaps not quite clear; but partial to them it was. Pope's lines,
"Honor and shame from no condition rise;
Act well your part, there all the honor lies,"
found no exemplification in the author's life or in the lives of many of his notable contemporaries; yet it is the kind of sentiment applauded on all sides in Pope's day. His contemporaries enjoyed repeating
"Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
even though the object of most men's study (notably of Pope's) was to find the weak points in their adversaries with a view to verbal attack.
Widespread Writing in Verse. Nearly every discussion of the eighteenth century undertakes to decide whether Pope and his followers are or are not poets. No such effort will be made here. The terms "poet" and "poetry" are used with such a variety of meanings that there is no common ground for classifying a writer like Pope. We may avoid committing ourselves by saying that virtually every writer of the time did on occasion express himself in verse. Of the eight chief prose writers named at the beginning of this chapter, six also wrote compositions which their contemporaries had no hesitancy in calling poems.
In concluding this general characterization of the eighteenth century three points must be mentioned: First, the average writer was a better writer than was the average in the preceding century.
Second, there were more writers above the average.
Third, no writer approached in greatness the three chief figures of the seventeenth century - Shakspere, Bacon, Milton. As some one has put it, there are more mountains in the eighteenth-century literature than in the seventeenth; but there are none whose summits reach the heights of the earlier time.
There is no clearly logical order in which to study the writers of the Augustan age. We shall, therefore, make a purely arbitrary choice, beginning with Swift because his Tale of a Tub (1704) is the first really great book of the century. It should, however, be kept in mind that in the same year Defoe began his Review, the first of the illustrious list of periodicals; and Addison wrote The Campaign, a poem celebrating a great victory in war which gained for its author the first noteworthy recognition of literature by government.
JONATHAN SWIFT, 1667-1745
Swift Not an Irishman. Swift was born in Ireland; grew up and received his entire education in Ireland; spent the greater part of his seventy-eight years in Ireland; and died in Ireland. Yet Swift was not an Irishman. He himself
even when enjoying the favor of the great, he was at enmity with the human race; and his fierce irony spared none. his own Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift, he writes:
"Yet malice never was his aim;
He lashed the vice, but spared the name;
No individuals could resent,
Where thousands equally were meant."
This "lashing of thousands" increased with his years. Of one of his later works it has been said, that in his effort to express his disgust with humanity, Swift becomes himself disgusting.
1 In The English Humorists of the Eighteenth Century.
Life Up to First Writings. He was born in Dublin in 1667. In consequence of the death of his father and the financial disability of his mother, Swift was brought up by a wealthy uncle, who sent him to Kilkenny, one of the best preparatory schools in Ireland. At the age of fourteen he entered Trinity College, Dublin; and he was graduated
The famous Alma Mater of Swift, Goldsmith, and Burke.
from there in due time. Two years later Swift went to England and secured a position as secretary-companion to a Sir William Temple, of Moor Park, Surrey, some twenty-five miles southwest of London. The Temple connection, though far from satisfactory to the ambitious young man, he continued until Sir William's death in 1699. During this period and under Temple's influence, Swift received the
master's degree from Oxford, and was ordained into the ministry of the Church of England.
Beginnings of Authorship: (1) "The Battle of the Books." Swift began his career as author toward the close of his stay with Temple. The retired statesman became involved in a controversy with the great scholar, Bentley, as to the relative merits of ancient and modern writers. Swift came to the assistance of his patron with A Full and True Account of the Battle Fought Last Friday between the Ancient and the Modern Books in St. James's Library, generally known as The Battle of the Books.
The author had apparently little interest in the controversy, and took the side of the ancients merely because Temple was on that side and needed help. The most entertaining portion of the work is the fable of the spider and the bee. In this is championed Sir William's idea that the moderns (represented by the spider) get their material from inside themselves, whereas the ancients (represented by the bee) got theirs direct from nature.
(2) "The Tale of a Tub." About the same time (probably 1697) Swift wrote The Tale of a Tub, a satire on religious dissensions, in the form of an allegory. Three brothers, Martin, Peter, and Jack (standing for Martin Luther or the Established Church, the Apostle Peter or the Church of Rome, and John Calvin or the Dissenters), get into a quarrel over the meaning of their father's will (the Bible), in which are "instructions in every particular concerning the wearing and management" of their coats (the Christian faith). Disagreement as to the interpretation of the will leads to alterations of the coats (that is, the addition of various doctrines), and to the increase of feeling between the sects. The Tale did not, as the author hoped it would,