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Backgrounds of English Literature, 1700-1760

Backgrounds of English Literature, 1700-1760

Copyright Date: 1953
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 270
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  • Book Info
    Backgrounds of English Literature, 1700-1760
    Book Description:

    Backgrounds of English Literature, 1700-1760 was first published in 1953. Minnesota Archive Editions uses digital technology to make long-unavailable books once again accessible, and are published unaltered from the original University of Minnesota Press editions. The five studies collected in this volume have the common purpose of establishing a background for an understanding of eighteenth-century English literature. Some of the most popular ideas and ideals of the period are traced to their sources in contemporary philosophy, science, politics, and religion. All of the studies relate in some way to what the seventeenth century called the climate of opinion. They confirm the observation of Shelley that all writers are subjected to “a common influence which arises out of an infinite combination of circumstances belonging to the time in which they live.” All the studies belong to that older style of literary investigation to which scholarship owes its name and to which every student interested in basic ideas and the origins of concepts will sooner or later wish to turn. The first two studies, “Shaftesbury and the Ethical Poets” and “The Return to Nature in English Poetry of the Eighteenth Century,” throw as much light on the Romantic poetry of the nineteenth century as they do on the poetry of the eighteenth. The nature worship that one thinks of as peculiarly Wordsworthian is shown to lie at the heart of deism, the rationalistic philosophy of a century earlier. In “Whig Panegyric Verse,” the ideals of the Whig party, as expressed by poets of the time, are examined in relation to Shaftesbury’s moral philosophy. In “John Dunton: Pietist and Impostor,” the morbid gloom familiar in the “graveyard poets” is seen to reflect a widespread popular taste. That the melancholia of the period was so common as to be considered a national characteristic appears from “The English Malady,” which is largely concerned with the medical literature of the time.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-3809-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-x)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-2)
  3. I Shaftesbury and the Ethical Poets in England
    (pp. 3-52)

    One of the notable changes in English literature during the eighteenth century is a growth in altruism. It is a change which involves not only a breaking down of the old aristocratic indifference to the lower classes of society during the Restoration, but the establishment of a new ethical theory; literature displayed a broader human interest and assigned a new reason for its sympathy. It is usually assumed that the difference is due principally to the influx of French philosophy. This assumption at least minimizes the importance of a development which had taken place in the literature of England itself...

  4. II The Return to Nature in English Poetry of the Eighteenth Century
    (pp. 53-103)

    Recent investigation has corrected the old idea that no appreciation of nature is to be found in the early part of the eighteenth century. Studies made by Miss Reynolds and Dr. Havens have shown that critics once exaggerated the differences between the age of Pope and that of his successors.¹ In the early part of the eighteenth century “God’s outdoor world” was not, as commentators once held, uniformly despised or neglected. What we once considered two distinct “schools” really shade into each other imperceptibly, and many individual writers defy strict classification. It is now evident that the “return to nature”...

  5. III Whig Panegyric Verse: A Phase of Sentimentalism
    (pp. 104-144)

    Though of slight intrinsic value, Whig poetry of the eighteenth century constitutes a distinct chapter in the history of English literature. The earlier interest of poetry relating to affairs of state had almost invariably taken the form of personal eulogy, satire, or violent invective — types produced in extraordinary abundance during the Restoration. While such verse continued to flourish indefinitely, the complete development of the party system of government enabled poetry to acquire a much broader and more influential sphere. The great body of Whig verse written in the eighteenth century is devoted to the expression of party ideals; it...

  6. IV John Dunton: Pietist and Impostor
    (pp. 145-178)

    Any reliable estimate of the character and talents of John Dunton (1659–1732) can be based only upon his early work. That he eventually went mad we should at least surmise from his later works, especially the political tracts, if we had no more explicit testimony. From the year 1705 onward, indications of paranoia are increasingly pronounced. His main work as author, compiler, hack master, publisher, and factotum was performed between 1682 and 1706.

    Mention of Dunton’s name in histories of English literature is due almost solely to the fact that during this period he played a very active and...

  7. V The English Malady
    (pp. 179-236)

    No characteristic of English poetry in the mid-eighteenth century is more familiar to students of the period than the perpetual reference to melancholy. Though present in some degree in all periods of English literature, even from the time of the Anglo-Saxons, this strain had all but disappeared from polite literature after the Restoration; but now, in spite of the strenuous protests of Akenside and the other Shaftesburian optimists, it again came into fashion and indeed attained a greater vogue than it had ever had before. Whatever one’s opinion of the intrinsic merit of this versified melancholy or of its genuineness...

  8. Reference Notes
    (pp. 239-247)
  9. Index
    (pp. 248-254)