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That not in fancy's maze he wander'd long,
Of gentle blood (part shed in honor's cause,
O Friend, may each domestic bliss be thine! Be no unpleasing melancholy mine.
Me, let the tender office long engage,
LESSON 40. PROSE LITERATURE, The
prose literature of Pope's time collects itself round four great names, Swift, Defoe, Addison, and Bishop Berkeley, and they all exhibit those elements of the age of which I have spoken.
JONATHAN SWIFT, born in 1667, was the keenest of political partisans. The Battle of the Books, or the literary fight about the Letters of Phalaris, and the Tale of a Tub, a satire on the Presbyterians and the Papists, made his reputation in 1704 and established him as a satirist. Swift left the Whig for the Tory party, and his political tracts brought him Court favor and literary fame. On the fall of the Tory party at the accession of George I., he retired to the Deanery of St. Patrick in Ireland an embittered man, and the Drapier's Letters, 1724, written against Wood's halfpence, gained him popularity in a country that he hated. In 1726 his inventive genius, his savage satire, and his cruel indignation with life were all shown in Gulliver's Travels. The voyage to Lilliput and Brobdingnag satirized the politics and manners of England and Europe; that to Laputa mocked the philosophers; and the last, to the country of the Houyhnhnms, lacerated and defiled the whole body of humanity. No English is more robust than Swift's, no wit more scathing, no life in private and public more sad and proud, no death more pitiable. He died in 1745 hopelessly insane.
DANIEL DEFOE, 1661-1731, was almost as vigorous a political writer as Swift, but he will live in literature by Robinson Crusoe, 1719. In it he equalled Gulliver's Travels in truthful representation, and excelled them in invention. The story lives and charms from day to day. With his other tales it makes him our first fine writer of fiction. But none of his stories are true novels; that is, they have no plot to the working out of which the characters and the events contribute. They form the transition, however, from the slight tale and the romance of the Elizabethan time to the finished novel of Richardson and Fielding.
Metaphysical Literature was enriched by the work of BISHOP BERKELEY, 1684-1753. His Minute Philosopher and other works questioned the real existence of matter, and founded on the denial of it an answer to the English Deists, round whom in the first half of the eighteenth century centred the struggle between the claims of natural and of revealed religion. Shaftesbury, Bolingbroke, and Wollaston, Tindal, Toland, and Collins, on the Deists’ side, were opposed by Clarke, by Bentley, whose name is best known as the founder of the true school of classical criticism, and by Bishop Warburton.
I may mention here a social satire, The Fable of the Bees, by MANDEVILLE, half poem, half prose dialogue, and finished in 1729. It tried to prove that the vices of society are the foundation of civilization, and is the first of a new set of books which marked the rise in England of the bold speculations on the nature and ground of society which the French Revolution afterwards increased.
The Periodical Essay is connected with the names of JOSEPH ADDISON, 1672–1719, and SIR RICHARD STEELE, 1675-1729. This gay, light, and graceful kind of literature, differing from such Essays as Bacon's as good conversation about a subject differs from a clear analysis of all its points, was begun in France by Montaigne in 1580. Charles Cotton, a wit of Charles II.'s time, re-translated Montaigne's Essays, and they soon found imitators in Cowley and Sir W. Temple. But the periodical Essay was created by Steele and Addison. It was published three times a week, then daily, and it was anonymous, and both these characters necessarily changed its form from that of an Essay of Montaigne.
Steele began it in the Tatler, 1709, and it treated of everything that was going on in the world. He paints as a social humorist the whole age of Queen Anne—the political and literary disputes, the fine gentlemen and ladies, the characters of men, the humors of society, the new book, the new play; we live in the very streets and drawing-rooms of old London. Addison soon joined him, first in the Tatler, afterwards in the Spectator, 1711. His work is more critical, literary, and didactic than his companion's. The characters he introduces, such as Roger de Coverley, are finished studies after nature, and their talk is easy and dramatic. No humor is more fine and tender; and, like Chaucer's, it is never bitter. The style adds to the charm, and it seems to grow out of the subjects treated of.
Addison's work was a great one, lightly done. The Spectator, the Guardian, and the Freeholder, in his hands, gave a better tone to manners, and a gentler one to political and literary criticism. The essays published every Friday were chiefly on literary subjects, the Saturday essays chiefly on religious subjects. The former popularized literature, so that culture spread among the middle classes and crept down to the country; the latter popularized religion. “I have brought,' he says, philosophy out of closets and libraries, schools and colleges, to dwell in clubs and assemblies, at tea-tables and in coffeehouses.”
“Addison, appearing at a time when English literature was at a very low ebb, made an impression which his writings would not now produce, and won a reputation which was then his due, but which has long survived his comparative excellence. Charmed by the gentle flow of his thought,—which, neither deep nor strong, neither subtle nor struggling with the obstacles of argument, might well flow easily,—by his lambent humor, his playful fancy (he was very slenderly endowed with imagination), and the healthy tone of his mind, the writers of his own generation and those of the succeeding half century placed him upon a pedestal, in his right to which there has since been almost unquestioning acquiescence. He certainly did much for English literature, and more for English morals and manners, which in his day were sadly in need of elevation and refinement. But, as a writer of English, he is not to be compared, except with great peril to his reputation, to at least a score of men who have flourished in the present century, and some of whom are now living.”—R. G. White.
That which chiefly distinguishes Addison from almost all the other great masters of ridicule is the grace, the nobleness, the moral purity which we find even in his merriment. If, as Soame Jenyns oddly imagined, a portion of the happiness of seraphim and just men made perfect be derived from an exquisite perception of the ludicrous, their mirth must surely be none other than the mirth of Addison; a mirth consistent with tender compassion for all that is frail, and with profound reverence for all that is sublime. Nothing great, nothing amiable, no moral duty, no doctrine of natural or revealed religion has ever been associated by Addison with any degrading idea. His humanity is without a parallel in literary history. It may be confidently affirmed that he has blackened no man's character, nay, that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find in all the volumes which he has left us a single taunt which can be called ungenerous or kind.”—Macaulay.
BIBLIOGRAPHY. SWIFT.-J. Forster's Life of; Eng. Men. of Let. Series; Jeffrey's Essays; S. Johnson's Lives of Eng. Poets; Thackeray's Eng. Humorists; Minto's Man. Eng. Prose Lit.; Ward's Anthology; Br. Quar. Rev., Oct., 1854; Black. Mag., v. 74, 1853; Fraser's Mag., v. 61, 1860, and v. 76, 1867; N. A. Rev., Jan., 1868; N. Br. Rev., v. 51, 1870; Ecl. Mag., May and Oct., 1849.
DEFOE.-W. Chadwick's Life and Times of; J. Forster's Hist, and Biog. Essays; Minto's Man. Eng. Pr. Lit.; L. Stephen's Hours in a Library; Eng. Men of Let. Series; Br. Quar. Rev., Oct., 1869; Quar. Rev., v. 101, 1857; Cornhill Mag., v. 17, 1868.
ADDISON.—Minto's Man. Eng. Pr. Lit.; Eng. Men of Let. Series; Macaulay's Essays; Howitt's Homes and Haunts of Brit. Poets; S. Johnson's Lives of Eng. Poets; Taine's Hist. Eng. Lit.; Thackeray's Eng. Humorists, and in Henry Esmond: N. A. Rev., v. 79, 1854; Ecl. Mag., Sept., 1874, and Apr., 1879.