Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

POLITICAL LITERATURE.-The resistance to authority in the opposition to the theory of the Divine Right of Kings did not enter into Literature till after it had been worked out practically in the Civil War. During the Commonwealth and after the Revolution, it took the form of a discussion on the abstract question of the Science of Government, and was mingled with an inquiry into the origin of society and the ground of social life.

THOMAS HOBBES, 1588-1674, during the Commonwealth, was the first who dealt with the question from the side of reason alone, and he is also the first of all our prose writers whose style may be said to be uniform and correct, and adapted carefully to the subjects on which he wrote. His treatise, the Leviathan, 1651, declared (1) that the origin of all power was in the people, and (2) the end of all power was for the common weal. It destroyed the theory of a Divine Right of Kings and Priests, but it created another kind of Divine Right when it said that the power lodged in rulers by the people could not be taken away by the people. SIR R. FILMER supported the side of Divine Right in his Patriarcha, published in 1680. HENRY NEVILE in his Dialogue concerning Government, and JAMES HARRINGTon in his romance, The Commonwealth of Oceana, published at the beginning of the Commonwealth, contended that all secure government was to be based on property, but Nevile supported a monarchy, and Harringtonwith whom I may class Algernon Sidney, executed in 1683,a democracy, on this basis.

John Locke, 1632–1704, in his treatise on Civil Government followed, in 1689–1690, the two doctrines of Hobbes, but with these two important additions—(1) that the people have a right to take away the power given by them to the ruler, (2) that the ruler is responsible to the people for the trust reposed in him, and (3) that legislative assemblies are supreme as the voice of the people. This was the political philosophy of the Revolution.

a

Locke carried the same spirit of free inquiry into the realm of religion, and in his three Letters on Toleration, 1689–90–92, laid down the philosophical grounds for liberty of religious thought. He finished by entering the realm of metaphysical inquiry. In 1690 appeared his Essay concerning the Human Understanding, in which he investigated its limits and traced all ideas, and therefore all knowledge, to experience. In his clear statement of the way in which the understanding works, in the way in which he guarded it and language against their errors in the inquiry after truth, he did as much for the true method of thinking as Bacon had done for the science of nature.

The intellectual stir of the time produced, apart from the great movement of thought, a good deal of Miscellaneous Literature. SIR WILLIAM PETTY, in 1667, made the first effort after a science of political economy in his Treatise on Taxes. Characters, essays, letter-writing, memoirs, all came to the front. The painting of short characters' was carried on after the Restoration by Saml. Butler and W. Charleton. These ‘characters' had no personality, but, as party spirit deepened, names thinly disguised were given to characters drawn of liv. ing men, and Dryden and Pope in poetry and all the prose wits of the time of Queen Anne and George I. made personal, and often violent, sketches of their opponents a special element in literature.

After the Restoration, Cowley's small volume, and Dryden, in the masterly criticism on his art which he prefixed to some of his dramas, gave richness to the Essay. These two writers began, with Hobbes, the second period of English prose, in which the style is easy, unaffected, moulded to the subject, and the proper words are put in their proper places. It is as different from the style that came before it as the easy manners of a gentleman are from those of a learned man unaccustomed to society. In William III's, time Sir W. TEMPLE'S pleasant Essays brings us in style and tone nearer to the great class of essayists of whom Addison was chief.

Lady Rachel Russell's Letters begin the letter-writing literature of England, in which Gray and Cowper, Byron and Beckford have done the best work.

Pepys, in 1660-69, and Evelyn, whose Diary grows full after 1640, begin that class of gossiping memoirs which have been of so much use in giving color to history. History itself at this time is little better than memoirs, and such a name may be fairly given to CLARENDON's History of the Civil Wars, begun in 1641, and to BISHOP BURNET's History of his own Time, and to his History of the Reformation, begun in 1679, completed in 1915. Finally, classical criticism, in the discussion on the genuineness of the Letters of Phalaris, was created by Richard Bentley in 1697–99.

THE LITERATURE OF QUEEN ANNE AND THE FIRST GEORGES. - With the closing years of William III. and the accession of Queen Anne, 1702, a literature arose which was partly new and partly a continuation of that of the Restoration. The conflict between those who took the oath to the new dynasty and the Nonjurors who refused, the hot blood that it produced, the war between Dissent and Church and between the two parties which now took the names of Whig and Tory produced a mass of political pamphlets, of which Daniel Defoe’s and Swift's were the best; of songs and ballads, like Lillibullero, which were sung in every street; of squibs, reviews, and satirical poems and letters. Every one joined in it, and it rose into importance in the work of the greater men who mingled more literary studies with their political excitement. In politics all the abstract discussions we have mentioned ceased to be abstract and became personal and practical, and the spirit of inquiry applied itself more closely to the questions of every-day life. The whole of this stirring literary life was concentrated in London, where the agitation of society was hottest; and it is round this vivid city life that the literature of Queen Anne and the two following reigns is best grouped.

It was with a few exceptions a Party Literature. The Whig and Tory leaders enlisted on their sides the best poets and prose writers, who fiercely satirized and unduly praised them under names thinly disguised. Personalities were sent to and fro like shots in battle. Those who could do this work well were well rewarded, but the rank and file of writers were left to starve. Literature was thus honored not for itself, but for the sake of party. The result was that the abler men lowered it by making it a political tool, and the smaller men, the fry of Grub Street, degraded it by using it in the same way, only in a baser manner. Their flattery was as abject as their abuse was shameless, and both were stupid. They received and deserved the merciless lashing which Pope was soon to give them in the Dunciad.

Being a party literature, it naturally came to study and to look sharply into human character and into human life as seen in the great city. It discussed all the varieties of social life, and painted town society more vividly than was done before or has been since; and it was so wholly taken up with this that country life and its interests, except in the writings of Addison, were scarcely touched by it at all. The society of the day was one in which all subjects of intellectual and scientific inquiry were eagerly debated, and the wit of this society was stimulated by its party spirit. Its literature reflected this intellectual excitement, and at no time in our history was literary work so vigorous and masculine on the various problems of thought and knowledge. Criticism being so active, the form in which thought was expressed was now especially dwelt on, and the result was, that the style of English prose became for the first time absolutely simple and clear, and English verse reached a neatness of expression and a closeness of thought as exquisite as it was artificial. At the same time, and for the same reasons, Nature, Passion, and Imagination decayed in poetry.”

BIBLIOGRAPHY. HOBBES.-I. Disraeli's Quarrels of Authors; Grote's Minor Works; Hazlitt's Literary Remains; Tulloch Rat. Theology in Eng.; Contem. Rev., v. 7, 1868; West. Rev., v. 87, 1867.

LOCKE.-T. Forster's Original Letters of with Sketch of Writings and Opinions; King's Life of; Sir J. Mackintosh's Miscel. Works; R. Vaughn's Essays; Eng. Men of Let. Series; Lewes' Hist. of Philosophy; Ed. Rev., v, 99,

From Locke's Conduct of the Understanding. Those who have read of everything are thought to understand everything too, but it is not always so. Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge, it is thinking (which] makes what we read ours. We are of the ruminating kind, and it is not enough to cram ourselves with a great load of collections; unless we chew them over again, they will not give us strength and nourishment. There are indeed in some writers visible instances of deep thoughts, close and acute reasoning, and ideas well pursued. The light these would give would be of great use, if their readers would observe and imitate them; all the rest at best are but particulars fit to be turned into knowledge; but that can be done only by our own meditation, and examining the reach, force, and coherence of what is said; and then, as far as we apprehend and see the connection of ideas, so far it is ours; without that it is but so much loose matter floating in our brain. The memory may be stored, but the judgment is little better, and the stock of knowledge not increased, by being able to repeat what others have said or produce the arguments we have found in them. Such a knowledge as this is but knowledge by hearsay, and the ostentation of it is at best but talking by rote, and very often upon weak and wrong principles.

Books and reading are looked upon to be the great helps of the understanding and instruments of knowledge, as it must be allowed that they are; and yet I beg leave to question whether these do not prove a hindrance to many, and keep several bookish men from attaining to solid and true knowledge. This I think I may be permitted to say, that there is no part wherein the understanding needs a more careful and wary conduct than in the use of books; without which they will prove rather innocent amusements than profitable employments of our time, and bring but small additions to our knowledge.

There is not seldom to be found even amongst those who aim at knowledge [those) who with an unwearied industry employ their whole

« PredošláPokračovať »