The record of the next few years is like a nightmare, so terrible is Bunyan's spiritual struggle. One day he feels himself an outcast; the next the companion of angels; the third he tries experiments with the Almighty in order to put his salvation to the proof. As he goes along the road to Bedford he thinks he will work a miracle, like Gideon with his fleece. He will say to the little puddles of water in the horses' tracks, "Be ye dry"; and to all the dry tracks he will say, "Be ye puddles." As he is about to perform the miracle a thought occurs to him: "But go first under yonder hedge and pray that the Lord will make you able to perform a miracle." He goes promptly and prays. Then he is afraid of the test, and goes on his way more troubled than before.
After years of such struggle, chased about between heaven and hell, Bunyan at last emerges into a saner atmosphere, even as Pilgrim came out of the horrible Valley of the Shadow. Soon, led by his intense feelings, he becomes an open-air preacher, and crowds of laborers gather about him on the village green. They listen in silence to his words; they end in groans and tears; scores of them amend their sinful lives. For the Anglo-Saxon people are remarkable for this, that however deeply they are engaged in business or pleasure, they are still sensitive as barometers to any true spiritual influence, whether of priest or peasant; they recognize what Emerson calls the "accent of the Holy Ghost," and in this recognition of spiritual leadership lies the secret of their democracy. So this village tinker, with his strength and sincerity, is presently the acknowledged leader of an immense congregation, and his influence is felt throughout England. It is a tribute to his power that, after the return of Charles II, Bunyan was the first to be prohibited from holding public meetings.
Concerning Bunyan's imprisonment in Bedford jail, which followed his refusal to obey the law prohibiting religious meetings without the authority of the Established Church, there is a difference of opinion. That the law was unjust goes without saying; but there was no religious persecution, as we understand the term. Bunyan was allowed to worship when and how he pleased; he was simply forbidden to hold public meetings, which frequently became fierce denunciations of the Established Church and government. His judges pleaded with Bunyan to conform with the law. He refused, saying that when the Spirit was upon him he must go up and down the land, calling on men everywhere to repent. In his refusal we see much heroism, a little obstinacy, and perhaps something of that desire for martyrdom which tempts every spiritual leader. That his final sentence to indefinite imprisonment was a hard blow to Bunyan is beyond question. He groaned aloud at the thought of his poor family, and especially at the thought of leaving his little blind daughter:
I found myself a man encompassed with infirmities; the parting was like pulling the flesh from my bones.... Oh, the thoughts of the hardship I thought my poor blind one might go under would break my heart to pieces. Poor child, thought I, what sorrow thou art like to have for thy portion in this world; thou must be beaten, must beg, suffer hunger, cold, nakedness, and a thousand calamities, though I cannot now endure that the wind should blow upon thee.
And then, because he thinks always in parables and seeks out most curious texts of Scripture, he speaks of "the two milch kine that were to carry the ark of God into another country and leave their calves behind them." Poor cows, poor Bunyan! Such is the mind of this extraordinary man.
With characteristic diligence Bunyan set to work in prison making shoe laces, and so earned a living for his family. His imprisonment lasted for nearly twelve years; but he saw his family frequently, and was for some time a regular preacher in the Baptist church in Bedford. Occasionally he even went about late at night, holding the proscribed meetings and increasing his hold upon the common people. The best result of this imprisonment was that it gave Bunyan long hours for the working of his peculiar mind and for study of his two only books, the King James Bible and Foxe's Book of Martyrs. The result of his study and meditation was The Pilgrim's Progress, which was probably written in prison, but which for some reason he did not publish till long after his release.
The years which followed are the most interesting part of Bunyan's strange career. The publication of Pilgrim's Progress in 1678 made him the most popular writer, as he was already the most popular preacher, in England. Books, tracts, sermons, nearly sixty works in all, came from his pen; and when one remembers his ignorance, his painfully slow writing, and his activity as an itinerant preacher, one can only marvel. His evangelistic journeys carried him often as far as London, and wherever he went crowds thronged to hear him. Scholars, bishops, statesmen went in secret to listen among the laborers, and came away wondering and silent. At Southwark the largest building could not contain the multitude of his hearers; and when he preached in London, thousands would gather in the cold dusk of the winter morning, before work began, and listen until he had made an end of speaking. "Bishop Bunyan" he was soon called on account of his missionary journeys and his enormous influence.
What we most admire in the midst of all this activity is his perfect mental balance, his charity and humor in the strife of many sects. He was badgered for years by petty enemies, and he arouses our enthusiasm by his tolerance, his self-control, and especially by his sincerity. To the very end he retained that simple modesty which no success could spoil. Once when he had preached with unusual power some of his friends waited after the service to congratulate him, telling him what a "sweet sermon" he had delivered. "Aye," said Bunyan, "you need not remind me; the devil told me that before I was out of the pulpit."
For sixteen years this wonderful activity continued without interruption. Then, one day when riding through a cold storm on a labor of love, to reconcile a stubborn man with his own stubborn son, he caught a severe cold and appeared, ill and suffering but rejoicing in his success, at the house of a friend in Reading. He died there a few days later, and was laid away in Bunhill Fields burial ground, London, which has been ever since a campo santo to the faithful.
WORKS OF BUNYAN. The world's literature has three great allegories,—Spenser's Faery Queen, Dante's Divina Commedia, and Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. The first appeals to poets, the second to scholars, the third to people of every age and condition. Here is a brief outline of the famous work:
"As I walked through the wilderness of this world I lighted on a certain place where was a den [Bedford jail] and laid me down in that place to sleep; and, as I slept, I dreamed a dream." So the story begins. He sees a man called Christian setting out with a book in his hand and a great load on his back from the city of Destruction. Christian has two objects,—to get rid of his burden, which holds the sins and fears of his life, and to make his way to the Holy City. At the outset Evangelist finds him weeping because he knows not where to go, and points him to a wicket gate on a hill far away. As Christian goes forward his neighbors, friends, wife and children call to him to come back; but he puts his fingers in his ears, crying out, "Life, life, eternal life," and so rushes across the plain.
Then begins a journey in ten stages, which is a vivid picture of the difficulties and triumphs of the Christian life. Every trial, every difficulty, every experience of joy or sorrow, of peace or temptation, is put into the form and discourse of a living character. Other allegorists write in poetry and their characters are shadowy and unreal; but Bunyan speaks in terse, idiomatic prose, and his characters are living men and women. There are Mr. Worldly Wiseman, a self-satisfied and dogmatic kind of man, youthful Ignorance, sweet Piety, courteous Demas, garrulous Talkative, honest Faithful, and a score of others, who are not at all the bloodless creatures of the Romance of the Rose, but men real enough to stop you on the road and to hold your attention. Scene after scene follows, in which are pictured many of our own spiritual experiences. There is the Slough of Despond, into which we all have fallen, out of which Pliable scrambles on the hither side and goes back grumbling, but through which Christian struggles mightily till Helpful stretches him a hand and drags him out on solid ground and bids him go on his way. Then come Interpreter's house, the Palace Beautiful, the Lions in the way, the Valley of Humiliation, the hard fight with the demon Apollyon, the more terrible Valley of the Shadow, Vanity Fair, and the trial of Faithful. The latter is condemned to death by a jury made up of Mr. Blindman, Mr. Nogood, Mr. Heady, Mr. Liveloose, Mr. Hatelight, and others of their kind to whom questions of justice are committed by the jury system. Most famous is Doubting Castle, where Christian and Hopeful are thrown into a dungeon by Giant Despair. And then at last the Delectable Mountains of Youth, the deep river that Christian must cross, and the city of All Delight and the glorious company of angels that come singing down the streets. At the very end, when in sight of the city and while he can hear the welcome with which Christian is greeted, Ignorance is snatched away to go to his own place; and Bunyan quaintly observes, "Then I saw that there was a way to hell even from the gates of heaven as well as from the city of Destruction. So I awoke, and behold it was a dream!"
Such, in brief, is the story, the great epic of a Puritan's individual experience in a rough world, just as Paradise Lost was the epic of mankind as dreamed by the great Puritan who had "fallen asleep over his Bible."
The chief fact which confronts the student of literature as he pauses before this great allegory is that it has been translated into seventy-five languages and dialects, and has been read more than any other book save one in the English language.
As for the secret of its popularity, Taine says, "Next to the Bible, the book most widely read in England is the Pilgrim's Progress.... Protestantism is the doctrine of salvation by grace, and no writer has equaled Bunyan in making this doctrine understood." And this opinion is echoed by the majority of our literary historians. It is perhaps sufficient answer to quote the simple fact that Pilgrim's Progress is not exclusively a Protestant study; it appeals to Christians of every name, and to Mohammedans and Buddhists in precisely the same way that it appeals to Christians. When it was translated into the languages of Catholic countries, like France and Portugal, only one or two incidents were omitted, and the story was almost as popular there as with English readers. The secret of its success is probably simple. It is, first of all, not a procession of shadows repeating the author's declamations, but a real story, the first extended story in our language. Our Puritan fathers may have read the story for religious instruction; but all classes of men have read it because they found in it a true personal experience told with strength, interest, humor,—in a word, with all the qualities that such a story should possess. Young people have read it, first, for its intrinsic worth, because the dramatic interest of the story lured them on to the very end; and second, because it was their introduction to true allegory. The child with his imaginative mind—the man also, who has preserved his simplicity—naturally personifies objects, and takes pleasure in giving them powers of thinking and speaking like himself. Bunyan was the first writer to appeal to this pleasant and natural inclination in a way that all could understand. Add to this the fact that Pilgrim's Progress was the only book having any story interest in the great majority of English and American homes for a full century, and we have found the real reason for its wide reading.
The Holy War, published in 1665, is the first important work of Bunyan. It is a prose Paradise Lost, and would undoubtedly be known as a remarkable allegory were it not overshadowed by its great rival. Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, published in 1666, twelve years before Pilgrim's Progress, is the work from which we obtain the clearest insight into Bunyan's remarkable life, and to a man with historical or antiquarian tastes it is still excellent reading. In 1682 appeared The Life and Death of Mr. Badman, a realistic character study which is a precursor of the modern novel; and in 1684 the second part of Pilgrim's Progress, showing the journey of Christiana and her children to the city of All Delight. Besides these Bunyan published a multitude of treatises and sermons, all in the same style,—direct, simple, convincing, expressing every thought and emotion perfectly in words that even a child can understand. Many of these are masterpieces, admired by workingmen and scholars alike for their thought and expression. Take, for instance, "The Heavenly Footman," put it side by side with the best work of Latimer, and the resemblance in style is startling. It is difficult to realize that one work came from an ignorant tinker and the other from a great scholar, both engaged in the same general work. As Bunyan's one book was the Bible, we have here a suggestion of its influence in all our prose literature.
MINOR PROSE WRITERS
The Puritan Period is generally regarded as one destitute of literary interest; but that was certainly not the result of any lack of books or writers. Says Burton in his Anatomy of Melancholy:
I have ... new books every day, pamphlets, currantoes, stories, whole catalogues of volumes of all sorts, new paradoxes, opinions, schisms, heresies, controversies in philosophy and religion. Now come tidings of weddings, maskings, entertainments, jubilees, embassies, sports, plays; then again, as in a new-shipped scene, treasons, cheatings, tricks, robberies, enormous villainies in all kinds, funerals, deaths, new discoveries, expeditions; now comical, then tragical matters.....
So the record continues, till one rubs his eyes and thinks he must have picked up by mistake the last literary magazine. And for all these kaleidoscopic events there were waiting a multitude of writers, ready to seize the abundant material and turn it to literary account for a tract, an article, a volume, or an encyclopedia.
If one were to recommend certain of these books as expressive of this age of outward storm and inward calm, there are three that deserve more than a passing notice, namely, the Religio Medici, Holy Living, and The Compleat Angler. The first was written by a busy physician, a supposedly scientific man at that time; the second by the most learned of English churchmen; and the third by a simple merchant and fisherman. Strangely enough, these three great books—the reflections of nature, science, and revelation—all interpret human life alike and tell the same story of gentleness, charity, and noble living. If the age had produced only these three books, we could still be profoundly grateful to it for its inspiring message.
ROBERT BURTON (1577-1640). Burton is famous chiefly as the author of the Anatomy of Melancholy, one of the most astonishing books in all literature, which appeared in 1621. Burton was a clergyman of the Established Church, an incomprehensible genius, given to broodings and melancholy and to reading of every conceivable kind of literature. Thanks to his wonderful memory, everything he read was stored up for use or ornament, till his mind resembled a huge curiosity shop. All his life he suffered from hypochondria, but curiously traced his malady to the stars rather than to his own liver. It is related of him that he used to suffer so from despondency that no help was to be found in medicine or theology; his only relief was to go down to the river and hear the bargemen swear at one another.
Burton's Anatomy was begun as a medical treatise on morbidness, arranged and divided with all the exactness of the schoolmen's demonstration of doctrines; but it turned out to be an enormous hodgepodge of quotations and references to authors, known and unknown, living and dead, which seemed to prove chiefly that "much study is a weariness to the flesh." By some freak of taste it became instantly popular, and was proclaimed one of the greatest books in literature. A few scholars still explore it with delight, as a mine of classic wealth; but the style is hopelessly involved, and to the ordinary reader most of his numerous references are now as unmeaning as a hyper-jacobian surface.
SIR THOMAS BROWNE (1605-1682). Browne was a physician who, after much study and travel, settled down to his profession in Norwich; but even then he gave far more time to the investigation of natural phenomena than to the barbarous practices which largely constituted the "art" of medicine in his day. He was known far and wide as a learned doctor and an honest man, whose scientific studies had placed him in advance of his age, and whose religious views were liberal to the point of heresy. With this in mind, it is interesting to note, as a sign of the times, that this most scientific doctor was once called to give "expert" testimony in the case of two old women who were being tried for the capital crime of witchcraft. He testified under oath that "the fits were natural, but heightened by the devil's cooeperating with the witches, at whose instance he [the alleged devil] did the villainies."
Browne's great work is the Religio Medici, i.e. The Religion of a Physician (1642), which met with most unusual success. "Hardly ever was a book published in Britain," says Oldys, a chronicler who wrote nearly a century later, "that made more noise than the Religio Medici." Its success may be due largely to the fact that, among thousands of religious works, it was one of the few which saw in nature a profound revelation, and which treated purely religious subjects in a reverent, kindly, tolerant way, without ecclesiastical bias. It is still, therefore, excellent reading; but it is not so much the matter as the manner—the charm, the gentleness, the remarkable prose style—which has established the book as one of the classics of our literature.
Two other works of Browne are Vulgar Errors (1646), a curious combination of scientific and credulous research in the matter of popular superstition, and Urn Burial, a treatise suggested by the discovery of Roman burial urns at Walsingham. It began as an inquiry into the various methods of burial, but ended in a dissertation on the vanity of earthly hope and ambitions. From a literary point of view it is Browne's best work, but is less read than the Religio Medici.
THOMAS FULLER (1608-1661). Fuller was a clergyman and royalist whose lively style and witty observations would naturally place him with the gay Caroline poets. His best known works are The Holy War, The Holy State and the Profane State, Church History of Britain, and the History of the Worthies of England. The Holy and Profane State is chiefly a biographical record, the first part consisting of numerous historical examples to be imitated, the second of examples to be avoided. The Church History is not a scholarly work, notwithstanding its author's undoubted learning, but is a lively and gossipy account which has at least one virtue, that it entertains the reader. The Worthies, the most widely read of his works, is a racy account of the important men of England. Fuller traveled constantly for years, collecting information from out-of-the-way sources and gaining a minute knowledge of his own country. This, with his overflowing humor and numerous anecdotes and illustrations, makes lively and interesting reading. Indeed, we hardly find a dull page in any of his numerous books.
JEREMY TAYLOR (1613-1667). Taylor was the greatest of the clergymen who made this period famous, a man who, like Milton, upheld a noble ideal in storm and calm, and himself lived it nobly. He has been called "the Shakespeare of divines," and "a kind of Spenser in a cassock," and both descriptions apply to him very well. His writings, with their exuberant fancy and their noble diction, belong rather to the Elizabethan than to the Puritan age.
From the large number of his works two stand out as representative of the man himself: The Liberty of Prophesying (1646), which Hallam calls the first plea for tolerance in religion, on a comprehensive basis and on deep-seated foundations; and The Rules and Exercises of Holy Living (1650). To the latter might be added its companion volume, Holy Dying, published in the following year. The Holy Living and Dying, as a single volume, was for many years read in almost every English cottage. With Baxter's Saints' Rest, Pilgrim's Progress, and the King James Bible, it often constituted the entire library of multitudes of Puritan homes; and as we read its noble words and breathe its gentle spirit, we cannot help wishing that our modern libraries were gathered together on the same thoughtful foundations.
RICHARD BAXTER (1615-1691). This "busiest man of his age" strongly suggests Bunyan in his life and writings. Like Bunyan, he was poor and uneducated, a nonconformist minister, exposed continually to insult and persecution; and, like Bunyan, he threw himself heart and soul into the conflicts of his age, and became by his public speech a mighty power among the common people. Unlike Jeremy Taylor, who wrote for the learned, and whose involved sentences and classical allusions are sometimes hard to follow, Baxter went straight to his mark, appealing directly to the judgment and feeling of his readers.
The number of his works is almost incredible when one thinks of his busy life as a preacher and the slowness of manual writing. In all, he left nearly one hundred and seventy different works, which if collected would make fifty or sixty volumes. As he wrote chiefly to influence men on the immediate questions of the day, most of this work has fallen into oblivion. His two most famous books are The Saints' Everlasting Rest and A Call to the Unconverted, both of which were exceedingly popular, running through scores of successive editions, and have been widely read in our own generation.
IZAAK WALTON (1593-1683). Walton was a small tradesman of London, who preferred trout brooks and good reading to the profits of business and the doubtful joys of a city life; so at fifty years, when he had saved a little money, he left the city and followed his heart out into the country. He began his literary work, or rather his recreation, by writing his famous Lives,—kindly and readable appreciations of Donne, Wotton, Hooker, Herbert, and Sanderson, which stand at the beginning of modern biographical writing.
In 1653 appeared The Compleat Angler, which has grown steadily in appreciation, and which is probably more widely read than any other book on the subject of fishing. It begins with a conversation between a falconer, a hunter, and an angler; but the angler soon does most of the talking, as fishermen sometimes do; the hunter becomes a disciple, and learns by the easy method of hearing the fisherman discourse about his art. The conversations, it must be confessed, are often diffuse and pedantic; but they only make us feel most comfortably sleepy, as one invariably feels after a good day's fishing. So kindly is the spirit of the angler, so exquisite his appreciation of the beauty of the earth and sky, that one returns to the book, as to a favorite trout stream, with the undying expectation of catching something. Among a thousand books on angling it stands almost alone in possessing a charming style, and so it will probably be read as long as men go fishing. Best of all, it leads to a better appreciation of nature, and it drops little moral lessons into the reader's mind as gently as one casts a fly to a wary trout; so that one never suspects his better nature is being angled for. Though we have sometimes seen anglers catch more than they need, or sneak ahead of brother fishermen to the best pools, we are glad, for Walton's sake, to overlook such unaccountable exceptions, and agree with the milkmaid that "we love all anglers, they be such honest, civil, quiet men."
SUMMARY OF THE PURITAN PERIOD. The half century between 1625 and 1675 is called the Puritan period for two reasons: first, because Puritan standards prevailed for a time in England; and second, because the greatest literary figure during all these years was the Puritan, John Milton. Historically the age was one of tremendous conflict. The Puritan struggled for righteousness and liberty, and because he prevailed, the age is one of moral and political revolution. In his struggle for liberty the Puritan overthrew the corrupt monarchy, beheaded Charles I, and established the Commonwealth under Cromwell. The Commonwealth lasted but a few years, and the restoration of Charles II in 1660 is often put as the end of the Puritan period. The age has no distinct limits, but overlaps the Elizabethan period on one side, and the Restoration period on the other.
The age produced many writers, a few immortal books, and one of the world's great literary leaders. The literature of the age is extremely diverse in character, and the diversity is due to the breaking up of the ideals of political and religious unity. This literature differs from that of the preceding age in three marked ways: (1) It has no unity of spirit, as in the days of Elizabeth, resulting from the patriotic enthusiasm of all classes. (2) In contrast with the hopefulness and vigor of Elizabethan writings, much of the literature of this period is somber in character; it saddens rather than inspires us. (3) It has lost the romantic impulse of youth, and become critical and intellectual; it makes us think, rather than feel deeply.
In our study we have noted (1) the Transition Poets, of whom Daniel is chief; (2) the Song Writers, Campion and Breton; (3) the Spenserian Poets, Wither and Giles Fletcher; (4) the Metaphysical Poets, Donne and Herbert; (5) the Cavalier Poets, Herrick, Carew, Lovelace, and Suckling; (6) John Milton, his life, his early or Horton poems, his militant prose, and his last great poetical works; (7) John Bunyan, his extraordinary life, and his chief work, The Pilgrim's Progress; (8) the Minor Prose Writers, Burton, Browne, Fuller, Taylor, Baxter, and Walton. Three books selected from this group are Browne's Religio Medici, Taylor's Holy Living and Dying, and Walton's Complete Angler.
SELECTIONS FOR READING. Milton. Paradise Lost, books 1-2, L'Allegro, Il Penseroso, Comus, Lycidas, and selected Sonnets,—all in Standard English Classics; same poems, more or less complete, in various other series; Areopagitica and Treatise on Education, selections, in Manly's English Prose, or Areopagitica in Arber's English Reprints, Clarendon Press Series, Morley's Universal Library, etc.
Minor Poets. Selections from Herrick, edited by Hale, in Athenaeum Press Series; selections from Herrick, Lovelace, Donne, Herbert, etc., in Manly's English Poetry, Golden Treasury, Oxford Book of English Verse, etc.; Vaughan's Silex Scintillans, in Temple Classics, also in the Aldine Series; Herbert's The Temple, in Everyman's Library, Temple Classics, etc.
Bunyan. The Pilgrim's Progress, in Standard English Classics, Pocket Classics, etc.; Grace Abounding, in Cassell's National Library.
Minor Prose Writers. Wentworth's Selections from Jeremy Taylor; Browne's Religio Medici, Walton's Complete Angler, both in Everyman's Library, Temple Classics, etc.; selections from Taylor, Browne, and Walton in Manly's English Prose, also in Garnett's English Prose.
HISTORY. Text-book, Montgomery, pp. 238-257; Cheyney, pp. 431-464; Green, ch. 8; Traill; Gardiner.
Special Works. Wakeling's King and Parliament (Oxford Manuals); Gardiner's The First Two Stuarts and the Puritan Revolution; Tulloch's English Puritanism and its Leaders; Lives of Cromwell by Harrison, by Church, and by Morley; Carlyle's Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches.
LITERATURE. Saintsbury's Elizabethan Literature (extends to 1660); Masterman's The Age of Milton; Dowden's Puritan and Anglican.
Milton. Texts, Poetical Works, Globe edition, edited by Masson; Cambridge Poets edition, edited by Moody; English Prose Writings, edited by Morley, in Carisbrooke Library; also in Bohn's Standard Library.
Masson's Life of John Milton (8 vols.); Life, by Garnett, by Pattison (English Men of Letters). Raleigh's Milton; Trent's John Milton; Corson's Introduction to Milton; Brooke's Milton, in Student's Library; Macaulay's Milton; Lowell's Essays, in Among My Books, and in Latest Literary Essays; M. Arnold's Essay, in Essays in Criticism; Dowden's Essay, in Puritan and Anglican.
Cavalier Poets. Schelling's Seventeenth Century Lyrics, in Athenaeum Press Series; Cavalier and Courtier Lyrists, in Canterbury Poets Series; Gosse's Jacobean Poets; Lovelace, etc., in Library of Old Authors.
Donne. Poems, in Muses' Library; Life, in Walton's Lives, in Temple Classics, and in Morley's Universal Library; Life, by Gosse; Jessup's John Donne; Dowden's Essay, in New Studies; Stephen's Studies of a Biographer, vol. 3.
Herbert. Palmer's George Herbert; Poems and Prose Selections, edited by Rhys, in Canterbury Poets; Dowden's Essay, in Puritan and Anglican.
Bunyan. Brown's John Bunyan, His Life, Times, and Works; Life, by Venables, and by Froude (English Men of Letters); Essays by Macaulay, by Dowden, supra, and by Woodberry, in Makers of Literature.
Jeremy Taylor. Holy Living, Holy Dying, in Temple Classics, and in Bohn's Standard Library; Selections, edited by Wentworth; Life, by Heber, and by Gosse (English Men of Letters); Dowden's Essay, supra.
Thomas Browne. Works, edited by Wilkin; the same, in Temple Classics, and in Bohn's Library; Religio Medici, in Everyman's Library; essay by Pater, in Appreciations; by Dowden, supra; and by L. Stephen, in Hours in a Library; Life, by Gosse (English Men of Letters).
Izaak Walton. Works, in Temple Classics, Cassell's Library, and Morley's Library; Introduction, in A. Lang's Walton's Complete Angler; Lowell's Essay, in Latest Literary Essays.
SUGGESTIVE QUESTIONS. 1. What is meant by the Puritan period? What were the objects and the results of the Puritan movement in English history?
2. What are the main characteristics of the literature of this period? Compare it with Elizabethan literature. How did religion and politics affect Puritan literature? Can you quote any passages or name any works which justify your opinion?
3. What is meant by the terms Cavalier poets, Spenserian poets, Metaphysical poets? Name the chief writers of each group. To whom are we indebted for our first English hymn book? Would you call this a work of literature? Why?
4. What are the qualities of Herrick's poetry? What marked contrasts are found in Herrick and in nearly all the poets of this period?
5. Who was George Herbert? For what purpose did he write? What qualities are found in his poetry?
6. Tell briefly the story of Milton's life. What are the three periods of his literary work? What is meant by the Horton poems? Compare "L'Allegro" and "Il Penseroso." Are there any Puritan ideals in "Comus"? Why is "Lycidas" often put at the summit of English lyrical poetry? Give the main idea or argument of Paradise Lost. What are the chief qualities of the poem? Describe in outline Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes. What personal element entered into the latter? What quality strikes you most forcibly in Milton's poetry? What occasioned Milton's prose works? Do they properly belong to literature? Why? Compare Milton and Shakespsare with regard to (1) knowledge of men, (2) ideals of life, (3) purpose in writing.
7. Tell the story of Bunyan's life. What unusual elements are found in his life and writings? Give the main argument of The Pilgrim's Progress. If you read the story before studying literature, tell why you liked or disliked it. Why is it a work for all ages and for all races? What are the chief qualities of Bunyan's style?
8. Who are the minor prose writers of this age? Name the chief works of Jeremy Taylor, Thomas Browne, and Izaak Walton. Can you describe from your own reading any of these works? How does the prose of this age compare in interest with the poetry? (Milton is, of course, excepted in this comparison.)
CHRONOLOGY Seventeenth Century ===================================================================== HISTORY LITERATURE - 1621. Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy 1623. Wither's Hymn Book 1625. Charles I Parliament dissolved 1628. Petition of Right 1629. Milton's Ode on the Nativity 1630-1640. King rules without Parliament. Puritan migration to New England 1630-1633. Herbert's poems 1632-1637. Milton's Horton poems 1640. Long Parliament 1642. Civil War begins 1642. Browne's Religio Medici 1643. Scotch Covenant 1643. Press censorship 1644. Milton's Areopagitica 1645. Battle of Naseby; triumph of Puritans 1649. Execution of Charles I. Cavalier migration to Virginia 1649-1660. Commonwealth 1649. Milton's Tenure of Kings 1650. Baxter's Saints' Rest. Jeremy Taylor's Holy Living 1651. Hobbes's Leviathan 1653-1658. Cromwell, Protector 1653. Walton's Complete Angler 1658-1660. Richard Cromwell 1660. Restoration of Charles II 1663-1694. Dryden's dramas (next chapter) 1666. Bunyan's Grace Abounding 1667. Paradise Lost 1674. Death of Milton 1678. Pilgrim's Progress published (written earlier) =====================================================================
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PERIOD OF THE RESTORATION (1660-1700)
THE AGE OF FRENCH INFLUENCE
HISTORY OF THE PERIOD. It seems a curious contradiction, at first glance, to place the return of Charles II at the beginning of modern England, as our historians are wont to do; for there was never a time when the progress of liberty, which history records, was more plainly turned backwards. The Puritan regime had been too severe; it had repressed too many natural pleasures. Now, released from restraint, society abandoned the decencies of life and the reverence for law itself, and plunged into excesses more unnatural than had been the restraints of Puritanism. The inevitable effect of excess is disease, and for almost an entire generation following the Restoration, in 1660, England lay sick of a fever. Socially, politically, morally, London suggests an Italian city in the days of the Medici; and its literature, especially its drama, often seems more like the delirium of illness than the expression of a healthy mind. But even a fever has its advantages. Whatever impurity is in the blood "is burnt and purged away," and a man rises from fever with a new strength and a new idea of the value of life, like King Hezekiah, who after his sickness and fear of death resolved to "go softly" all his days. The Restoration was the great crisis in English history; and that England lived through it was due solely to the strength and excellence of that Puritanism which she thought she had flung to the winds when she welcomed back a vicious monarch at Dover. The chief lesson of the Restoration was this,—that it showed by awful contrast the necessity of truth and honesty, and of a strong government of free men, for which the Puritan had stood like a rock in every hour of his rugged history. Through fever, England came slowly back to health; through gross corruption in society and in the state England learned that her people were at heart sober, sincere, religious folk, and that their character was naturally too strong to follow after pleasure and be satisfied. So Puritanism suddenly gained all that it had struggled for, and gained it even in the hour when all seemed lost, when Milton in his sorrow unconsciously portrayed the government of Charles and his Cabal in that tremendous scene of the council of the infernal peers in Pandemonium, plotting the ruin of the world.
Of the king and his followers it is difficult to write temperately. Most of the dramatic literature of the time is atrocious, and we can understand it only as we remember the character of the court and society for which it was written. Unspeakably vile in his private life, the king had no redeeming patriotism, no sense of responsibility to his country for even his public acts. He gave high offices to blackguards, stole from the exchequer like a common thief, played off Catholics and Protestants against each other, disregarding his pledges to both alike, broke his solemn treaty with the Dutch and with his own ministers, and betrayed his country for French money to spend on his own pleasures. It is useless to paint the dishonor of a court which followed gayly after such a leader. The first Parliament, while it contained some noble and patriotic members, was dominated by young men who remembered the excess of Puritan zeal, but forgot the despotism and injustice which had compelled Puritanism to stand up and assert the manhood of England. These young politicians vied with the king in passing laws for the subjugation of Church and State, and in their thirst for revenge upon all who had been connected with Cromwell's iron government. Once more a wretched formalism—that perpetual danger to the English Church—came to the front and exercised authority over the free churches. The House of Lords was largely increased by the creation of hereditary titles and estates for ignoble men and shameless women who had flattered the king's vanity. Even the Bench, that last strong refuge of English justice, was corrupted by the appointment of judges, like the brutal Jeffreys, whose aim, like that of their royal master, was to get money and to exercise power without personal responsibility. Amid all this dishonor the foreign influence and authority of Cromwell's strong government vanished like smoke. The valiant little Dutch navy swept the English fleet from the sea, and only the thunder of Dutch guns in the Thames, under the very windows of London, awoke the nation to the realization of how low it had fallen.
Two considerations must modify our judgment of this disheartening spectacle. First, the king and his court are not England. Though our histories are largely filled with the records of kings and soldiers, of intrigues and fighting, these no more express the real life of a people than fever and delirium express a normal manhood. Though king and court and high society arouse our disgust or pity, records are not wanting to show that private life in England remained honest and pure even in the worst days of the Restoration. While London society might be entertained by the degenerate poetry of Rochester and the dramas of Dryden and Wycherley, English scholars hailed Milton with delight; and the common people followed Bunyan and Baxter with their tremendous appeal to righteousness and liberty. Second, the king, with all his pretensions to divine right, remained only a figurehead; and the Anglo-Saxon people, when they tire of one figurehead, have always the will and the power to throw it overboard and choose a better one. The country was divided into two political parties: the Whigs, who sought to limit the royal power in the interests of Parliament and the people; and the Tories, who strove to check the growing power of the people in the interests of their hereditary rulers. Both parties, however, were largely devoted to the Anglican Church; and when James II, after four years of misrule, attempted to establish a national Catholicism by intrigues which aroused the protest of the Pope as well as of Parliament, then Whigs and Tories, Catholics and Protestants, united in England's last great revolution.
The complete and bloodless Revolution of 1688, which called William of Orange to the throne, was simply the indication of England's restored health and sanity. It proclaimed that she had not long forgotten, and could never again forget, the lesson taught her by Puritanism in its hundred years of struggle and sacrifice. Modern England was firmly established by the Revolution, which was brought about by the excesses of the Restoration.
LITERARY CHARACTERISTICS. In the literature of the Restoration we note a sudden breaking away from old standards, just as society broke away from the restraints of Puritanism. Many of the literary men had been driven out of England with Charles and his court, or else had followed their patrons into exile in the days of the Commonwealth. On their return they renounced old ideals and demanded that English poetry and drama should follow the style to which they had become accustomed in the gayety of Paris. We read with astonishment in Pepys's Diary (1660-1669) that he has been to see a play called Midsummer Night's Dream, but that he will never go again to hear Shakespeare, "for it is the most insipid, ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life." And again we read in the diary of Evelyn,—another writer who reflects with wonderful accuracy the life and spirit of the Restoration,—"I saw Hamlet played; but now the old plays begin to disgust this refined age, since his Majesty's being so long abroad." Since Shakespeare and the Elizabethans were no longer interesting, literary men began to imitate the French writers, with whose works they had just grown familiar; and here begins the so-called period of French influence, which shows itself in English literature for the next century, instead of the Italian influence which had been dominant since Spenser and the Elizabethans.
One has only to consider for a moment the French writers of this period, Pascal, Bossuet, Fenelon, Malherbe, Corneille, Racine, Moliere,—all that brilliant company which makes the reign of Louis XIV the Elizabethan Age of French literature,—to see how far astray the early writers of the Restoration went in their wretched imitation. When a man takes another for his model, he should copy virtues not vices; but unfortunately many English writers reversed the rule, copying the vices of French comedy without any of its wit or delicacy or abundant ideas. The poems of Rochester, the plays of Dryden, Wycherley, Congreve, Vanbrugh, and Farquhar, all popular in their day, are mostly unreadable. Milton's "sons of Belial, flown with insolence and wine," is a good expression of the vile character of the court writers and of the London theaters for thirty years following the Restoration. Such work can never satisfy a people, and when Jeremy Collier, in 1698, published a vigorous attack upon the evil plays and the playwrights of the day, all London, tired of the coarseness and excesses of the Restoration, joined the literary revolution, and the corrupt drama was driven from the stage.
With the final rejection of the Restoration drama we reach a crisis in the history of our literature. The old Elizabethan spirit, with its patriotism, its creative vigor, its love of romance, and the Puritan spirit with its moral earnestness and individualism, were both things of the past; and at first there was nothing to take their places. Dryden, the greatest writer of the age, voiced a general complaint when he said that in his prose and poetry he was "drawing the outlines" of a new art, but had no teacher to instruct him. But literature is a progressive art, and soon the writers of the age developed two marked tendencies of their own,—the tendency to realism, and the tendency to that preciseness and elegance of expression which marks our literature for the next hundred years.
In realism—that is, the representation of men exactly as they are, the expression of the plain, unvarnished truth without regard to ideals or romance—the tendency was at first thoroughly bad. The early Restoration writers sought to paint realistic pictures of a corrupt court and society, and, as we have suggested, they emphasized vices rather than virtues, and gave us coarse, low plays without interest or moral significance. Like Hobbes, they saw only the externals of man, his body and appetites, not his soul and its ideals; and so, like most realists, they resemble a man lost in the woods, who wanders aimlessly around in circles, seeing the confusing trees but never the whole forest, and who seldom thinks of climbing the nearest high hill to get his bearings. Later, however, this tendency to realism became more wholesome. While it neglected romantic poetry, in which youth is eternally interested, it led to a keener study of the practical motives which govern human action.
The second tendency of the age was toward directness and simplicity of expression, and to this excellent tendency our literature is greatly indebted. In both the Elizabethan and the Puritan ages the general tendency of writers was towards extravagance of thought and language. Sentences were often involved, and loaded with Latin quotations and classical allusions. The Restoration writers opposed this vigorously. From France they brought back the tendency to regard established rules for writing, to emphasize close reasoning rather than romantic fancy, and to use short, clean-cut sentences without an unnecessary word. We see this French influence in the Royal Society, which had for one of its objects the reform of English prose by getting rid of its "swellings of style," and which bound all its members to use "a close, naked, natural way of speaking ... as near to mathematical plainness as they can." Dryden accepted this excellent rule for his prose, and adopted the heroic couplet, as the next best thing, for the greater part of his poetry. As he tells us himself:
And this unpolished rugged verse I chose As fittest for discourse, and nearest prose.
It is largely due to him that writers developed that formalism of style, that precise, almost mathematical elegance, miscalled classicism, which ruled English literature for the next century.
Another thing which the reader will note with interest in Restoration literature is the adoption of the heroic couplet; that is, two iambic pentameter lines which rime together, as the most suitable form of poetry. Waller, who began to use it in 1623, is generally regarded as the father of the couplet, for he is the first poet to use it consistently in the bulk of his poetry. Chaucer had used the rimed couplet wonderfully well in his Canterbury Tales, but in Chaucer it is the poetical thought more than the expression which delights us. With the Restoration writers, form counts for everything. Waller and Dryden made the couplet the prevailing literary fashion, and in their hands the couplet becomes "closed"; that is, each pair of lines must contain a complete thought, stated as precisely as possible. Thus Waller writes:
The soul's dark cottage, battered and decayed, Lets in new light through chinks that time has made.
That is a kind of aphorism such as Pope made in large quantities in the following age. It contains a thought, is catchy, quotable, easy to remember; and the Restoration writers delighted in it. Soon this mechanical closed couplet, in which the second line was often made first, almost excluded all other forms of poetry. It was dominant in England for a full century, and we have grown familiar with it, and somewhat weary of its monotony, in such famous poems as Pope's "Essay on Man" and Goldsmith's "Deserted Village." These, however, are essays rather than poems. That even the couplet is capable of melody and variety is shown in Chaucer's Tales and in Keats's exquisite Endymion.
These four things, the tendency to vulgar realism in the drama, a general formalism which came from following set rules, the development of a simpler and more direct prose style, and the prevalence of the heroic couplet in poetry are the main characteristics of Restoration literature. They are all exemplified in the work of one man, John Dryden.
JOHN DRYDEN (1631-1700)
Dryden is the greatest literary figure of the Restoration, and in his work we have an excellent reflection of both the good and the evil tendencies of the age in which he lived. If we can think for a moment of literature as a canal of water, we may appreciate the figure that Dryden is the "lock by which the waters of English poetry were let down from the mountains of Shakespeare and Milton to the plain of Pope"; that is, he stands between two very different ages, and serves as a transition from one to the other.
LIFE. Dryden's life contains so many conflicting elements of greatness and littleness that the biographer is continually taken away from the facts, which are his chief concern, to judge motives, which are manifestly outside his knowledge and business. Judged by his own opinion of himself, as expressed in the numerous prefaces to his works, Dryden was the soul of candor, writing with no other master than literature, and with no other object than to advance the welfare of his age and nation. Judged by his acts, he was apparently a timeserver, catering to a depraved audience in his dramas, and dedicating his work with much flattery to those who were easily cajoled by their vanity into sharing their purse and patronage. In this, however, he only followed the general custom of the time, and is above many of his contemporaries.
Dryden was born in the village of Aldwinkle, Northamptonshire, in 1631. His family were prosperous people, who brought him up in the strict Puritan faith, and sent him first to the famous Westminster school and then to Cambridge. He made excellent use of his opportunities and studied eagerly, becoming one of the best educated men of his age, especially in the classics. Though of remarkable literary taste, he showed little evidence of literary ability up to the age of thirty. By his training and family connections he was allied to the Puritan party, and his only well-known work of this period, the "Heroic Stanzas," was written on the death of Cromwell:
His grandeur he derived from Heaven alone, For he was great ere Fortune made him so; And wars, like mists that rise against the sun, Made him but greater seem, not greater grow.
In these four lines, taken almost at random from the "Heroic Stanzas," we have an epitome of the thought, the preciseness, and the polish that mark all his literary work.
This poem made Dryden well known, and he was in a fair way to become the new poet of Puritanism when the Restoration made a complete change in his methods. He had come to London for a literary life, and when the Royalists were again in power he placed himself promptly on the winning side. His "Astraea Redux," a poem of welcome to Charles II, and his "Panegyric to his Sacred Majesty," breathe more devotion to "the old goat," as the king was known to his courtiers, than had his earlier poems to Puritanism.
In 1667 he became more widely known and popular by his "Annus Mirabilis," a narrative poem describing the terrors of the great fire in London and some events of the disgraceful war with Holland; but with the theaters reopened and nightly filled, the drama offered the most attractive field to one who made his living by literature; so Dryden turned to the stage and agreed to furnish three plays yearly for the actors of the King's Theater. For nearly twenty years, the best of his life, Dryden gave himself up to this unfortunate work. Both by nature and habit he seems to have been clean in his personal life; but the stage demanded unclean plays, and Dryden followed his audience. That he deplored this is evident from some of his later work, and we have his statement that he wrote only one play, his best, to please himself. This was All for Love, which was written in blank verse, most of the others being in rimed couplets.
During this time Dryden had become the best known literary man of London, and was almost as much a dictator to the literary set which gathered in the taverns and coffeehouses as Ben Jonson had been before him. His work, meanwhile, was rewarded by large financial returns, and by his being appointed poet laureate and collector of the port of London. The latter office, it may be remembered, had once been held by Chaucer.
At fifty years of age, and before Jeremy Collier had driven his dramas from the stage, Dryden turned from dramatic work to throw himself into the strife of religion and politics, writing at this period his numerous prose and poetical treatises. In 1682 appeared his Religio Laici (Religion of a Layman), defending the Anglican Church against all other sects, especially the Catholics and Presbyterians; but three years later, when James II came to the throne with schemes to establish the Roman faith, Dryden turned Catholic and wrote his most famous religious poem, "The Hind and the Panther," beginning:
A milk-white Hind, immortal and unchanged, Fed on the lawns and in the forest ranged; Without unspotted, innocent within, She feared no danger, for she knew no sin.
This hind is a symbol for the Roman Church; and the Anglicans, as a panther, are represented as persecuting the faithful. Numerous other sects—Calvinists, Anabaptists, Quakers—were represented by the wolf, boar, hare, and other animals, which gave the poet an excellent chance for exercising his satire. Dryden's enemies made the accusation, often since repeated, of hypocrisy in thus changing his church; but that he was sincere in the matter can now hardly be questioned, for he knew how to "suffer for the faith" and to be true to his religion, even when it meant misjudgment and loss of fortune. At the Revolution of 1688 he refused allegiance to William of Orange; he was deprived of all his offices and pensions, and as an old man was again thrown back on literature as his only means of livelihood. He went to work with extraordinary courage and energy, writing plays, poems, prefaces for other men, eulogies for funeral occasions,— every kind of literary work that men would pay for. His most successful work at this time was his translations, which resulted in the complete Aeneid and many selections from Homer, Ovid, and Juvenal, appearing in English rimed couplets. His most enduring poem, the splendid ode called "Alexander's Feast," was written in 1697. Three years later he published his last work, Fables, containing poetical paraphrases of the tales of Boccaccio and Chaucer, and the miscellaneous poems of his last years. Long prefaces were the fashion in Dryden's day, and his best critical work is found in his introductions. The preface to the Fables is generally admired as an example of the new prose style developed by Dryden and his followers.
From the literary view point these last troubled years were the best of Dryden's life, though they were made bitter by obscurity and by the criticism of his numerous enemies. He died in 1700 and was buried near Chaucer in Westminster Abbey.
WORKS OF DRYDEN. The numerous dramatic works of Dryden are best left in that obscurity into which they have fallen. Now and then they contain a bit of excellent lyric poetry, and in All for Love, another version of Antony and Cleopatra, where he leaves his cherished heroic couplet for the blank verse of Marlowe and Shakespeare, he shows what he might have done had he not sold his talents to a depraved audience. On the whole, reading his plays is like nibbling at a rotting apple; even the good spots are affected by the decay, and one ends by throwing the whole thing into the garbage can, where most of the dramatic works of this period belong.
The controversial and satirical poems are on a higher plane; though, it must be confessed, Dryden's satire often strikes us as cutting and revengeful, rather than witty. The best known of these, and a masterpiece of its kind, is "Absalom and Achitophel," which is undoubtedly the most powerful political satire in our language. Taking the Bible story of David and Absalom, he uses it to ridicule the Whig party and also to revenge himself upon his enemies. Charles II appeared as King David; his natural son, the Duke of Monmouth, who was mixed up in the Rye House Plot, paraded as Absalom; Shaftesbury was Achitophel, the evil Counselor; and the Duke of Buckingham was satirized as Zimri. The poem had enormous political influence, and raised Dryden, in the opinion of his contemporaries, to the front rank of English poets. Two extracts from the powerful characterizations of Achitophel and Zimri are given here to show the style and spirit of the whole work.
(SHAFTESBURY) Of these the false Achitophel was first; A name to all succeeding ages cursed: For close designs and crooked counsels fit; Sagacious, bold, and turbulent of wit; Restless, unfixed in principles and place; In power unpleased, impatient of disgrace: A fiery soul, which, working out its way, Fretted the pygmy body to decay.... A daring pilot in extremity, Pleased with the danger, when the waves went high He sought the storms: but for a calm unfit, Would steer too nigh the sands to boast his wit. Great wits are sure to madness near allied, And thin partitions do their bounds divide; Else why should he, with wealth and honor blest, Refuse his age the needful hours of rest? Punish a body which he could not please; Bankrupt of life, yet prodigal of ease? And all to leave what with his toil he won, To that unfeathered two-legged thing, a son.... In friendship false, implacable in hate; Resolved to ruin or to rule the state;... Then seized with fear, yet still affecting fame, Usurped a patriot's all-atoning name. So easy still it proves in factious times With public zeal to cancel private crimes. (THE DUKE OF BUCKINGHAM) Some of their chiefs were princes of the land; In the first rank of these did Zimri stand, A man so various, that he seemed to be Not one, but all mankind's epitome: Stiff in opinions, always in the wrong, Was everything by starts and nothing long; But, in the course of one revolving moon, Was chymist, fiddler, statesman, and buffoon; Then all for women, painting, rhyming, drinking, Besides ten thousand freaks that died in thinking. Blest madman, who could every hour employ With something new to wish or to enjoy! Railing and praising were his usual themes, And both, to show his judgment, in extremes: So over-violent, or over-civil, That every man with him was God or devil.
Of the many miscellaneous poems of Dryden, the curious reader will get an idea of his sustained narrative power from the Annus Mirabilis. The best expression of Dryden's literary genius, however, is found in "Alexander's Feast," which is his most enduring ode, and one of the best in our language.
As a prose writer Dryden had a very marked influence on our literature in shortening his sentences, and especially in writing naturally, without depending on literary ornamentation to give effect to what he is saying. If we compare his prose with that of Milton, or Browne, or Jeremy Taylor, we note that Dryden cares less for style than any of the others, but takes more pains to state his thought clearly and concisely, as men speak when they wish to be understood. The classical school, which followed the Restoration, looked to Dryden as a leader, and to him we owe largely that tendency to exactness of expression which marks our subsequent prose writing. With his prose, Dryden rapidly developed his critical ability, and became the foremost critic of his age. His criticisms, instead of being published as independent works, were generally used as prefaces or introductions to his poetry. The best known of these criticisms are the preface to the Fables, "Of Heroic Plays," "Discourse on Satire," and especially the "Essay of Dramatic Poesy" (1668), which attempts to lay a foundation for all literary criticism.
DRYDEN'S INFLUENCE ON LITERATURE. Dryden's place among authors is due partly to his great influence on the succeeding age of classicism. Briefly, this influence may be summed up by noting the three new elements which he brought into our literature. These are: (1) the establishment of the heroic couplet as the fashion for satiric, didactic, and descriptive poetry; (2) his development of a direct, serviceable prose style such as we still cultivate; and (3) his development of the art of literary criticism in his essays and in the numerous prefaces to his poems. This is certainly a large work for one man to accomplish, and Dryden is worthy of honor, though comparatively little of what he wrote is now found on our bookshelves.
SAMUEL BUTLER (1612-1680). In marked contrast with Dryden, who devoted his life to literature and won his success by hard work, is Samuel Butler, who jumped into fame by a single, careless work, which represents not any serious intent or effort, but the pastime of an idle hour. We are to remember that, though the Royalists had triumphed in the Restoration, the Puritan spirit was not dead, nor even sleeping, and that the Puritan held steadfastly to his own principles. Against these principles of justice, truth, and liberty there was no argument, since they expressed the manhood of England; but many of the Puritan practices were open to ridicule, and the Royalists, in revenge for their defeat, began to use ridicule without mercy. During the early years of the Restoration doggerel verses ridiculing Puritanism, and burlesque,—that is, a ridiculous representation of serious subjects, or a serious representation of ridiculous subjects,—were the most popular form of literature with London society. Of all this burlesque and doggerel the most famous is Butler's Hudibras, a work to which we can trace many of the prejudices that still prevail against Puritanism.
Of Butler himself we know little; he is one of the most obscure figures in our literature. During the days of Cromwell's Protectorate he was in the employ of Sir Samuel Luke, a crabbed and extreme type of Puritan nobleman, and here he collected his material and probably wrote the first part of his burlesque, which, of course, he did not dare to publish until after the Restoration.
Hudibras is plainly modeled upon the Don Quixote of Cervantes. It describes the adventures of a fanatical justice of the peace, Sir Hudibras, and of his squire, Ralpho, in their endeavor to put down all innocent pleasures. In Hudibras and Ralpho the two extreme types of the Puritan party, Presbyterians and Independents, are mercilessly ridiculed. When the poem first appeared in public, in 1663, after circulating secretly for years in manuscript, it became at once enormously popular. The king carried a copy in his pocket, and courtiers vied with each other in quoting its most scurrilous passages. A second and a third part, continuing the adventures of Hudibras, were published in 1664 and 1668. At best the work is a wretched doggerel, but it was clever enough and strikingly original; and since it expressed the Royalist spirit towards the Puritans, it speedily found its place in a literature which reflects every phase of human life. A few odd lines are given here to show the character of the work, and to introduce the reader to the best known burlesque in our language:
He was in logic a great critic, Profoundly skilled in analytic; He could distinguish, and divide A hair 'twixt south and southwest side; On either which he would dispute, Confute, change hands, and still confute; He'd undertake to prove, by force Of argument, a man's no horse; He'd run in debt by disputation, And pay with ratiocination. For he was of that stubborn crew Of errant saints, whom all men grant To be the true Church Militant; Such as do build their faith upon The holy text of pike and gun; Decide all controversies by Infallible artillery; And prove their doctrine orthodox By apostolic blows and knocks; Compound for sins they are inclined to, By damning those they have no mind to.
HOBBES AND LOCKE. Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) is one of the writers that puzzle the historian with a doubt as to whether or not he should be included in the story of literature. The one book for which he is famous is called Leviathan, or the Matter, Form, and Power of a Commonwealth (1651). It is partly political, partly a philosophical book, combining two central ideas which challenge and startle the attention, namely, that self-interest is the only guiding power of humanity, and that blind submission to rulers is the only true basis of government. In a word, Hobbes reduced human nature to its purely animal aspects, and then asserted confidently that there was nothing more to study. Certainly, therefore, as a reflection of the underlying spirit of Charles and his followers it has no equal in any purely literary work of the time.
John Locke (1632-1704) is famous as the author of a single great philosophical work, the Essay concerning Human Understanding (1690). This is a study of the nature of the human mind and of the origin of ideas, which, far more than the work of Bacon and Hobbes, is the basis upon which English philosophy has since been built. Aside from their subjects, both works are models of the new prose, direct, simple, convincing, for which Dryden and the Royal Society labored. They are known to every student of philosophy, but are seldom included in a work of literature.
EVELYN AND PEPYS. These two men, John Evelyn (1620-1706) and Samuel Pepys (1633-1703), are famous as the writers of diaries, in which they jotted down the daily occurrences of their own lives, without any thought that the world would ever see or be interested in what they had written.
Evelyn was the author of Sylva, the first book on trees and forestry in English, and Terra, which is the first attempt at a scientific study of agriculture; but the world has lost sight of these two good books, while it cherishes his diary, which extends over the greater part of his life and gives us vivid pictures of society in his time, and especially of the frightful corruption of the royal court.
Pepys began life in a small way as a clerk in a government office, but soon rose by his diligence and industry to be Secretary of the Admiralty. Here he was brought into contact with every grade of society, from the king's ministers to the poor sailors of the fleet. Being inquisitive as a blue jay, he investigated the rumors and gossip of the court, as well as the small affairs of his neighbors, and wrote them all down in his diary with evident interest. But because he chattered most freely, and told his little book a great many secrets which it were not well for the world to know, he concealed everything in shorthand,—and here again he was like the blue jay, which carries off and hides every bright trinket it discovers. The Diary covers the years from 1660 to 1669, and gossips about everything, from his own position and duties at the office, his dress and kitchen and cook and children, to the great political intrigues of office and the scandals of high society. No other such minute-picture of the daily life of an age has been written. Yet for a century and a half it remained entirely unknown, and not until 1825 was Pepys's shorthand deciphered and published. Since then it has been widely read, and is still one of the most interesting examples of diary writing that we possess. Following are a few extracts, covering only a few days in April, 1663, from which one may infer the minute and interesting character of the work that this clerk, politician, president of the Royal Society, and general busybody wrote to please himself:
April 1st. I went to the Temple to my Cozen Roger Pepys, to see and talk with him a little: who tells me that, with much ado, the Parliament do agree to throw down Popery; but he says it is with so much spite and passion, and an endeavor of bringing all Nonconformists into the same condition, that he is afeard matters will not go so well as he could wish.... To my office all the afternoon; Lord! how Sir J. Minnes, like a mad coxcomb, did swear and stamp, swearing that Commissioner Pett hath still the old heart against the King that ever he had, ... and all the damnable reproaches in the world, at which I was ashamed, but said little; but, upon the whole, I find him still a foole, led by the nose with stories told by Sir W. Batten, whether with or without reason. So, vexed in my mind to see things ordered so unlike gentlemen, or men of reason, I went home and to bed.
3d. To White Hall and to Chappell, which being most monstrous full, I could not go into my pew, but sat among the quire. Dr. Creeton, the Scotchman, preached a most admirable, good, learned, honest, and most severe sermon, yet comicall.... He railed bitterly ever and anon against John Calvin and his brood, the Presbyterians, and against the present terme, now in use, of "tender consciences." He ripped up Hugh Peters (calling him the execrable skellum), his preaching and stirring up the mayds of the city to bring in their bodkins and thimbles. Thence going out of White Hall, I met Captain Grove, who did give me a letter directed to myself from himself. I discerned money to be in it, and took it, knowing, as I found it to be, the proceed of the place I have got him, the taking up of vessels for Tangier. But I did not open it till I came home to my office, and there I broke it open, not looking into it till all the money was out, that I might say I saw no money in the paper, if ever I should be questioned about it. There was a piece of gold and 4L in silver.
4th. To my office. Home to dinner, whither by and by comes Roger Pepys, etc. Very merry at, before, and after dinner, and the more for that my dinner was great, and most neatly dressed by our owne only mayde. We had a fricasee of rabbits and chickens, a leg of mutton boiled, three carps in a dish, a great dish of a side of lambe, a dish of roasted pigeons, a dish of four lobsters, three tarts, a lamprey pie (a most rare pie), a dish of anchovies, good wine of several sorts, and all things mighty noble and to my great content.
5th (Lord's day). Up and spent the morning, till the Barber came, in reading in my chamber part of Osborne's Advice to his Son, which I shall not never enough admire for sense and language, and being by and by trimmed, to Church, myself, wife, Ashwell, etc. Home and, while dinner was prepared, to my office to read over my vows with great affection and to very good purpose. Then to church again, where a simple bawling young Scot preached.
19th (Easter day). Up and this day put on my close-kneed coloured suit, which, with new stockings of the colour, with belt and new gilt-handled sword, is very handsome. To church alone, and after dinner to church again, where the young Scotchman preaching, I slept all the while. After supper, fell in discourse of dancing, and I find that Ashwell hath a very fine carriage, which makes my wife almost ashamed of herself to see herself so outdone, but to-morrow she begins to learn to dance for a month or two. So to prayers and to bed. Will being gone, with my leave, to his father's this day for a day or two, to take physique these holydays.
23d. St. George's day and Coronacion, the King and Court being at Windsor, at the installing of the King of Denmarke by proxy and the Duke of Monmouth.... Spent the evening with my father. At cards till late, and being at supper, my boy being sent for some mustard to a neat's tongue, the rogue staid half an houre in the streets, it seems at a bonfire, at which I was very angry, and resolve to beat him to-morrow.
24th. Up betimes, and with my salt eele went down into the parler and there got my boy and did beat him till I was fain to take breath two or three times, yet for all I am afeard it will make the boy never the better, he is grown so hardened in his tricks, which I am sorry for, he being capable of making a brave man, and is a boy that I and my wife love very well.
SUMMARY OF THE RESTORATION PERIOD. The chief thing to note in England during the Restoration is the tremendous social reaction from the restraints of Puritanism, which suggests the wide swing of a pendulum from one extreme to the other. For a generation many natural pleasures had been suppressed; now the theaters were reopened, bull and bear baiting revived, and sports, music, dancing,—a wild delight in the pleasures and vanities of this world replaced that absorption in "other-worldliness" which characterized the extreme of Puritanism.
In literature the change is no less marked. From the Elizabethan drama playwrights turned to coarse, evil scenes, which presently disgusted the people and were driven from the stage. From romance, writers turned to realism; from Italian influence with its exuberance of imagination they turned to France, and learned to repress the emotions, to follow the head rather than the heart, and to write in a clear, concise, formal style, according to set rules. Poets turned from the noble blank verse of Shakespeare and Milton, from the variety and melody which had characterized English poetry since Chaucer's day, to the monotonous heroic couplet with its mechanical perfection.
The greatest writer of the age is John Dryden, who established the heroic couplet as the prevailing verse form in English poetry, and who developed a new and serviceable prose style suited to the practical needs of the age. The popular ridicule of Puritanism in burlesque and doggerel is best exemplified in Butler's Hudibras. The realistic tendency, the study of facts and of men as they are, is shown in the work of the Royal Society, in the philosophy of Hobbes and Locke, and in the diaries of Evelyn and Pepys, with their minute pictures of social life. The age was one of transition from the exuberance and vigor of Renaissance literature to the formality and polish of the Augustan Age. In strong contrast with the preceding ages, comparatively little of Restoration literature is familiar to modern readers.
SELECTIONS FOR READING. Dryden. Alexander's Feast, Song for St. Cecilia's Day, selections from Absalom and Achitophel, Religio Laici, Hind and Panther, Annus Mirabilis,—in Manly's English Poetry, or Ward's English Poets, or Cassell's National Library; Palamon and Arcite (Dryden's version of Chaucer's tale), in Standard English Classics, Riverside Literature, etc.; Dryden's An Essay of Dramatic Poesy, in Manly's, or Garnett's, English Prose.
Butler. Selections from Hudibras, in Manly's English Poetry, Ward's English Poets, or Morley's Universal Library.
Pepys. Selections in Manly's English Prose; the Diary in Everyman's Library.
BIBLIOGRAPHY. HISTORY. Text-book, Montgomery, pp. 257-280; Cheyney, pp. 466-514; Green, ch. 9; Traill; Gardiner; Macaulay.
Special Works. Sydney's Social Life in England from the Restoration to the Revolution; Airy's The English Restoration and Louis XIV; Hale's The Fall of the Stuarts.
LITERATURE. Garnett's The Age of Dryden; Dowden's Puritan and Anglican.
Dryden. Poetical Works, with Life, edited by Christie; the same, edited by Noyes, in Cambridge Poets Series; Life and Works (18 vols.), by Walter Scott, revised (1893) by Saintsbury; Essays, edited by Ker; Life, by Saintsbury (English Men of Letters); Macaulay's Essay; Lowell's Essay, in Among My Books (or in Literary Essays, vol. 3); Dowden's Essay, supra.
Butler. Hudibras, in Morley's Universal Library; Poetical Works, edited by Johnson; Dowden's Essay, supra.
Pepys. Diary in Everyman's Library; the same, edited by Wheatley (8 vols.); Wheatley's Samuel Pepys and the World He Lived In; Stevenson's Essay, in Familiar Studies of Men and Books.
The Restoration Drama. Plays in the Mermaid Series; Hazlitt's Lectures on the English Comic Writers; Meredith's Essay on Comedy and the Comic Spirit; Lamb's Essay on the Artificial Comedy; Thackeray's Essay on Congreve, in English Humorists.
SUGGESTIVE QUESTIONS. 1. What marked change in social conditions followed the Restoration? How are these changes reflected in literature?
2. What are the chief characteristics of Restoration literature? Why is this period called the Age of French influence? What new tendencies were introduced? What effect did the Royal Society and the study of science have upon English prose? What is meant by realism? by formalism?
3. What is meant by the heroic couplet? Explain why it became the prevailing form of English poetry. What are its good qualities and its defects? Name some well-known poems which are written in couplets. How do Dryden's couplets compare with Chaucer's? Can you explain the difference?
4. Give a brief account of Dryden's life. What are his chief poetical works? For what new object did he use poetry? Is satire a poetical subject? Why is a poetical satire more effective than a satire in prose? What was Dryden's contribution to English prose? What influence did he exert on our literature?
5. What is Butler's Hudibras? Explain its popularity. Read a passage and comment upon it, first, as satire; second, as a description of the Puritans. Is Hudibras poetry? Why?
6. Name the philosophers and political economists of this period. Can you explain why Hobbes should call his work Leviathan? What important American documents show the influence of Locke?
7. Tell briefly the story of Pepys and his Diary. What light does the latter throw on the life of the age? Is the Diary a work of literature? Why?
CHRONOLOGY Last Half of the Seventeenth Century ===================================================================== HISTORY LITERATURE - 1649. Execution of Charles I 1649-1660. Commonwealth 1651. Hobbes's Leviathan 1660. Restoration of Charles II 1660-1669, Pepys's Diary 1662. Royal Society founded 1663. Butler's Hudibras 1665-1666. Plague and Fire of London War with Holland 1667. Dutch fleet in the Thames 1667. Milton's Paradise Lost. Dryden's Annus Mirabilis 1663-1694. Dryden's dramas 1671. Paradise Regained 1678. Pilgrim's Progress published 1680. Rise of Whigs and Tories 1681. Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel 1685. James II Monmouth's Rebellion 1687. Newton's Principia proves the law of gravitation 1688. English Revolution, William of Orange called to throne 1689. Bill of Rights. Toleration Act 1690. Locke's Human Understanding 1698. Jeremy Collier attacks stage 1700. Death of Dryden =========================================================================
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EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY LITERATURE (1700-1800)
I. AUGUSTAN OR CLASSIC AGE
HISTORY OF THE PERIOD. The Revolution of 1688, which banished the last of the Stuart kings and called William of Orange to the throne, marks the end of the long struggle for political freedom in England. Thereafter the Englishman spent his tremendous energy, which his forbears had largely spent in fighting for freedom, in endless political discussions and in efforts to improve his government. In order to bring about reforms, votes were now necessary; and to get votes the people of England must be approached with ideas, facts, arguments, information. So the newspaper was born, and literature in its widest sense, including the book, the newspaper, and the magazine, became the chief instrument of a nation's progress.
The first half of the eighteenth century is remarkable for the rapid social development in England. Hitherto men had been more or less governed by the narrow, isolated standards of the Middle Ages, and when they differed they fell speedily to blows. Now for the first time they set themselves to the task of learning the art of living together, while still holding different opinions. In a single generation nearly two thousand public coffeehouses, each a center of sociability, sprang up in London alone, and the number of private clubs is quite as astonishing. This new social life had a marked effect in polishing men's words and manners. The typical Londoner of Queen Anne's day was still rude, and a little vulgar in his tastes; the city was still very filthy, the streets unlighted and infested at night by bands of rowdies and "Mohawks"; but outwardly men sought to refine their manners according to prevailing standards; and to be elegant, to have "good form," was a man's first duty, whether he entered society or wrote literature. One can hardly read a book or poem of the age without feeling this superficial elegance. Government still had its opposing Tory and Whig parties, and the Church was divided into Catholics, Anglicans, and Dissenters; but the growing social life offset many antagonisms, producing at least the outward impression of peace and unity. Nearly every writer of the age busied himself with religion as well as with party politics, the scientist Newton as sincerely as the churchman Barrow, the philosophical Locke no less earnestly than the evangelical Wesley; but nearly all tempered their zeal with moderation, and argued from reason and Scripture, or used delicate satire upon their opponents, instead of denouncing them as followers of Satan. There were exceptions, of course; but the general tendency of the age was toward toleration. Man had found himself in the long struggle for personal liberty; now he turned to the task of discovering his neighbor, of finding in Whig and Tory, in Catholic and Protestant, in Anglican and Dissenter, the same general human characteristics that he found in himself. This good work was helped, moreover, by the spread of education and by the growth of the national spfrit, following the victories of Marlborough on the Continent. In the midst of heated argument it needed only a word—Gibraltar, Blenheim, Ramillies, Malplaquet—or a poem of victory written in a garret to tell a patriotic people that under their many differences they were all alike Englishmen.
In the latter half of the century the political and social progress is almost bewildering. The modern form of cabinet government responsible to Parliament and the people had been established under George I; and in 1757 the cynical and corrupt practices of Walpole, premier of the first Tory cabinet, were replaced by the more enlightened policies of Pitt. Schools were established; clubs and coffeehouses increased; books and magazines multiplied until the press was the greatest visible power in England; the modern great dailies, the Chronicle, Post, and Times, began their career of public education. Religiously, all the churches of England felt the quickening power of that tremendous spiritual revival known as Methodism, under the preaching of Wesley and Whitefield. Outside her own borders three great men—Clive in India, Wolfe on the Plains of Abraham, Cook in Australia and the islands of the Pacific—were unfurling the banner of St. George over the untold wealth of new lands, and spreading the world-wide empire of the Anglo-Saxons.
LITERARY CHARACTERISTICS. In every preceding age we have noted especially the poetical works, which constitute, according to Matthew Arnold, the glory of English literature. Now for the first time we must chronicle the triumph of English prose. A multitude of practical interests arising from the new social and political conditions demanded expression, not simply in books, but more especially in pamphlets, magazines, and newspapers. Poetry was inadequate for such a task; hence the development of prose, of the "unfettered word," as Dante calls it,—a development which astonishes us by its rapidity and excellence. The graceful elegance of Addison's essays, the terse vigor of Swift's satires, the artistic finish of Fielding's novels, the sonorous eloquence of Gibbon's history and of Burke's orations,—these have no parallel in the poetry of the age. Indeed, poetry itself became prosaic in this respect, that it was used not for creative works of imagination, but for essays, for satire, for criticism,—for exactly the same practical ends as was prose. The poetry of the first half of the century, as typified in the work of Pope, is polished and witty enough, but artificial; it lacks fire, fine feeling, enthusiasm, the glow of the Elizabethan Age and the moral earnestness of Puritanism. In a word, it interests us as a study of life, rather than delights or inspires us by its appeal to the imagination. The variety and excellence of prose works, and the development of a serviceable prose style, which had been begun by Dryden, until it served to express clearly every human interest and emotion,—these are the chief literary glories of the eighteenth century.
In the literature of the preceding age we noted two marked tendencies,—the tendency to realism in subject-matter, and the tendency to polish and refinement of expression. Both these tendencies were continued in the Augustan Age, and are seen clearly in the poetry of Pope, who brought the couplet to perfection, and in the prose of Addison. A third tendency is shown in the prevalence of satire, resulting from the unfortunate union of politics with literature. We have already noted the power of the press in this age, and the perpetual strife of political parties. Nearly every writer of the first half of the century was used and rewarded by Whigs or Tories for satirizing their enemies and for advancing their special political interests. Pope was a marked exception, but he nevertheless followed the prose writers in using satire too largely in his poetry. Now satire—that is, a literary work which searches out the faults of men or institutions in order to hold them up to ridicule—is at best a destructive kind of criticism. A satirist is like a laborer who clears away the ruins and rubbish of an old house before the architect and builders begin on a new and beautiful structure. The work may sometimes be necessary, but it rarely arouses our enthusiasm. While the satires of Pope, Swift, and Addison are doubtless the best in our language, we hardly place them with our great literature, which is always constructive in spirit; and we have the feeling that all these men were capable of better things than they ever wrote.
THE CLASSIC AGE. The period we are studying is known to us by various names. It is often called the Age of Queen Anne; but, unlike Elizabeth, this "meekly stupid" queen had practically no influence upon our literature. The name Classic Age is more often heard; but in using it we should remember clearly these three different ways in which the word "classic" is applied to literature: (1) the term "classic" refers, in general, to writers of the highest rank in any nation. As used in our literature, it was first applied to the works of the great Greek and Roman writers, like Homer and Virgil; and any English book which followed the simple and noble method of these writers was said to have a classic style. Later the term was enlarged to cover the great literary works of other ancient nations; so that the Bible and the Avestas, as well as the Iliad and the Aeneid, are called classics. (2) Every national literature has at least one period in which an unusual number of great writers are producing books, and this is called the classic period of a nation's literature. Thus the reign of Augustus is the classic or golden age of Rome; the generation of Dante is the classic age of Italian literature; the age of Louis XIV is the French classic age; and the age of Queen Anne is often called the classic age of England. (3) The word "classic" acquired an entirely different meaning in the period we are studying; and we shall better understand this by reference to the preceding ages. The Elizabethan writers were led by patriotism, by enthusiasm, and, in general, by romantic emotions. They wrote in a natural style, without regard to rules; and though they exaggerated and used too many words, their works are delightful because of their vigor and freshness and fine feeling. In the following age patriotism had largely disappeared from politics and enthusiasm from literature. Poets no longer wrote naturally, but artificially, with strange and fantastic verse forms to give effect, since fine feeling was wanting. And this is the general character of the poetry of the Puritan Age. Gradually our writers rebelled against the exaggerations of both the natural and the fantastic style. They demanded that poetry should follow exact rules; and 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. In our study of the Elizabethan drama we noted the good influence of the classic movement in insisting upon that beauty of form and definiteness of expression which characterize the dramas of Greece and Rome; and in the work of Dryden and his followers we see a revival of classicism in the effort to make English literature conform to rules established by the great writers of other nations. At first the results were excellent, especially in prose; but as the creative vigor of the Elizabethans was lacking in this age, writing by rule soon developed a kind of elegant formalism, which suggests the elaborate social code of the time. Just as a gentleman might not act naturally, but must follow exact rules in doffing his hat, or addressing a lady, or entering a room, or wearing a wig, or offering his snuffbox to a friend, so our writers lost individuality and became formal and artificial. The general tendency of literature was to look at life critically, to emphasize intellect rather than imagination, the form rather than the content of a sentence. Writers strove to repress all emotion and enthusiasm, and to use only precise and elegant methods of expression. This is what is often meant by the "classicism" of the ages of Pope and Johnson. It refers to the critical, intellectual spirit of many writers, to the fine polish of their heroic couplets or the elegance of their prose, and not to any resemblance which their work bears to true classic literature. In a word, the classic movement had become pseudo-classic, i.e. a false or sham classicism; and the latter term is now often used to designate a considerable part of eighteenth-century literature. To avoid this critical difficulty we have adopted the term Augustan Age, a name chosen by the writers themselves, who saw in Pope, Addison, Swift, Johnson, and Burke the modern parallels to Horace, Virgil, Cicero, and all that brilliant company who made Roman literature famous in the days of Augustus.
ALEXANDER POPE (1688-1744)
Pope is in many respects a unique figure. In the first place, he was for a generation "the poet" of a great nation. To be sure, poetry was limited in the early eighteenth century; there were few lyrics, little or no love poetry, no epics, no dramas or songs of nature worth considering; but in the narrow field of satiric and didactic verse Pope was the undisputed master. His influence completely dominated the poetry of his age, and many foreign writers, as well as the majority of English poets, looked to him as their model. Second, he was a remarkably clear and adequate reflection of the spirit of the age in which he lived. There is hardly an ideal, a belief, a doubt, a fashion, a whim of Queen Anne's time, that is not neatly expressed in his poetry. Third, he was the only important writer of that age who gave his whole life to letters. Swift was a clergyman and politician; Addison was secretary of state; other writers depended on patrons or politics or pensions for fame and a livelihood; but Pope was independent, and had no profession but literature. And fourth, by the sheer force of his ambition he won his place, and held it, in spite of religious prejudice, and in the face of physical and temperamental obstacles that would have discouraged a stronger man. For Pope was deformed and sickly, dwarfish in soul and body. He knew little of the world of nature or of the world of the human heart. He was lacking, apparently, in noble feeling, and instinctively chose a lie when the truth had manifestly more advantages. Yet this jealous, peevish, waspish little man became the most famous poet of his age and the acknowledged leader of English literature. We record the fact with wonder and admiration; but we do not attempt to explain it.
LIFE. Pope was born in London in 1688, the year of the Revolution. His parents were both Catholics, who presently removed from London and settled in Binfield, near Windsor, where the poet's childhood was passed. Partly because of an unfortunate prejudice against Catholics in the public schools, partly because of his own weakness and deformity, Pope received very little school education, but browsed for himself among English books and picked up a smattering of the classics. Very early he began to write poetry, and records the fact with his usual vanity:
As yet a child, nor yet a fool to fame, I lisped in numbers, for the numbers came.
Being debarred by his religion from many desirable employments, he resolved to make literature his life work; and in this he resembled Dryden, who, he tells us, was his only master, though much of his work seems to depend on Boileau, the French poet and critic. When only sixteen years old he had written his "Pastorals"; a few years later appeared his "Essay on Criticism," which made him famous. With the publication of the Rape of the Lock, in 1712, Pope's name was known and honored all over England, and this dwarf of twenty-four years, by the sheer force of his own ambition, had jumped to the foremost place in English letters. It was soon after this that Voltaire called him "the best poet of England and, at present, of all the world,"—which is about as near the truth as Voltaire generally gets in his numerous universal judgments. For the next twelve years Pope was busy with poetry, especially with his translations of Homer; and his work was so successful financially that he bought a villa at Twickenham, on the Thames, and remained happily independent of wealthy patrons for a livelihood.
Led by his success, Pope returned to London and for a time endeavored to live the gay and dissolute life which was supposed to be suitable for a literary genius; but he was utterly unfitted for it, mentally and physically, and soon retired to Twickenham. There he gave himself up to poetry, manufactured a little garden more artificial than his verses, and cultivated his friendship with Martha Blount, with whom for many years he spent a good part of each day, and who remained faithful to him to the end of his life. At Twickenham he wrote his Moral Epistles (poetical satires modeled after Horace) and revenged himself upon all his critics in the bitter abuse of the Dunciad. He died in 1744 and was buried at Twickenham, his religion preventing him from the honor, which was certainly his due, of a resting place in Westminster Abbey.
WORKS OF POPE. For convenience we may separate Pope's work into three groups, corresponding to the early, middle, and later period of his life. In the first he wrote his "Pastorals," "Windsor Forest," "Messiah," "Essay on Criticism," "Eloise to Abelard," and the Rape of the Lock; in the second, his translations of Homer; in the third the Dunciad and the Epistles, the latter containing the famous "Essay on Man" and the "Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot," which is in truth his "Apologia," and in which alone we see Pope's life from his own view point.
The "Essay on Criticism" sums up the art of poetry as taught first by Horace, then by Boileau and the eighteenth-century classicists. Though written in heroic couplets, we hardly consider this as a poem but rather as a storehouse of critical maxims. "For fools rush in where angels fear to tread"; "To err is human, to forgive divine"; "A little learning is a dangerous thing,"—these lines, and many more like them from the same source, have found their way into our common speech, and are used, without thinking of the author, whenever we need an apt quotation.
The Rape of the Lock is a masterpiece of its kind, and comes nearer to being a "creation" than anything else that Pope has written. The occasion of the famous poem was trivial enough. A fop at the court of Queen Anne, one Lord Petre, snipped a lock of hair from the abundant curls of a pretty maid of honor named Arabella Fermor. The young lady resented it, and the two families were plunged into a quarrel which was the talk of London. Pope, being appealed to, seized the occasion to construct, not a ballad, as the Cavaliers would have done, nor an epigram, as French poets love to do, but a long poem in which all the mannerisms of society are pictured in minutest detail and satirized with the most delicate wit. The first edition, consisting of two cantos, was published in 1712; and it is amazing now to read of the trivial character of London court life at the time when English soldiers were battling for a great continent in the French and Indian wars. Its instant success caused Pope to lengthen the poem by three more cantos; and in order to make a more perfect burlesque of an epic poem, he introduces gnomes, sprites, sylphs, and salamanders, instead of the gods of the great epics, with which his readers were familiar. The poem is modeled after two foreign satires: Boileau's Le Lutrin (reading desk), a satire on the French clergy, who raised a huge quarrel over the location of a lectern; and La Secchia Rapita (stolen bucket), a famous Italian satire on the petty causes of the endless Italian wars. Pope, however, went far ahead of his masters in style and in delicacy of handling a mock-heroic theme, and during his lifetime the Rape of the Lock was considered as the greatest poem of its kind in all literature. The poem is still well worth reading; for as an expression of the artificial life of the age—of its cards, parties, toilettes, lapdogs, tea-drinking, snuff-taking, and idle vanities—it is as perfect in its way as Tamburlaine, which reflects the boundless ambition of the Elizabethans.