Period History

The Restoration of 1660 brought the monarchy back to England and Scotland. It meant the return of the good and the bad of Cavalier values and morality. Far from ending the hostility of the Civil War, the Restoration only shifted power, postponing the eventual confrontation to 1688.
Because the royal court had been away in France for so long, French fashion and customs became popular in the highest social circles in England. The theaters were reopened, actresses made their first appearance on the English stages, and musical or masque-like plays dominated the English arts.

The Glorious Revolution of 1688 replaced the highly unpopular King James II with William and Mary of Orange. This change of leadership was accomplished without any violence. Mary, a princess of the Stuart line, and her Dutch husband brought balance and stability to England and Scotland. Followers of James II, called Jacobites, would conduct two unsuccessful invasions in later years.

As the 18th century began under the rule of Queen Anne, Whig and Tory politics replaced Cavalier and Puritan. The role of the Prime Minister gained major importance in the government. While greater toleration developed between Anglican and Puritan, persecution of Catholics returned in the form of social prejudice.
Most importantly, stirring in the background, were the first factories of the industrial revolution which would change the world. As trade became more important, textile factories opened in England, causing a massive migration from the rural areas into the cities.

As the industrial revolution radically altered the ways people thought and lived, the European middle class continued to grow and continued to question the feudalistic traditions their countries retained. After the House of Hanover gained control of the crown of the United Kingdom, many were questioning the "divine rights of kings."
Eventually the power of the British monarchy would be challenged and the colonies in the "New World" broke free from British rule with help from France. In 1789, when the independent colonies formed their own document of self-rule, their "Constitution," the French Revolution began and wrestled power from Louis 16.

Theater licensing meant the theaters came under government censorship and these restrictions drove dramatists to underground theater or into the realm of prose writing. The novel would replace the stage for literary expression and become the most important English art form for the next century.
The eighteenth century can be called the century of prose. While the satirists dominated the early development of the novel, the periodical became increasingly important as the rate of literacy increased among the middle class. Eventually, technical, non-fiction works dominated the "Age of Reason." Prose ruled the era.

The Enlightenment is a name given to the eighteenth century due to advancements in science and society. Science departed from from superstitions and turned to serious, critical study through experimentation and observation. Feudalistic govenments gave way to republican rule as the rights of man overthrew the divine rights of kings.

The second half of the eighteenth century has often been called the Age of Reason because of the social advancement resulting from the Englihtenment. It was a period of "realism" and gothic tradition in art and literature; but the most impacting changes were political. The French Revolution, for better or worse, thrust all of Europe into a new era.

The Major Writers

John Dryden was the leading literary artist of the Restoration period. Known for his highly ornate plays and poems, Dryden was very popular with the court of Charles II, which had been strongly influenced by French theater. While critics tend to belittle his efforts, Dryden did his best to keep the Shakespearean tradition alive.

"Essay on Dramatic Posey" is a comprehensive analysis of the contributions made by Shakespeare and Jonson to the world of drama (dramatic posey). Jonson tends to be more precise while Shakespeare fully understands human feeling. Dryden says he admires Jonson, but he loves Shakespeare.

"Song for Saint Cecilia's Day" appears to suggest that music and life are intertwined in human existence, but Dryden goes beyond that. Dryden says that human life has a music of its own, that every act or feeling of man has its own particular sound or music. On judgment day, the music will end.

Samuel Pepys was an English writer and government official. His famous Diary provides an intimate self-portrait and a vivid picture of an exciting period in English history. Pepys recorded many of the important events of the 1660's as a witness and participant. Pepys did not intend to have his diary read by the public.

Pepys's The Diary covers the period of his life from 1660 to 1669. The excerpts centered on the plague of 1665 and the fire of 1666 show a personalized account of two of the most impacting events in the history of England and London, respectively. Pepys's first person account reproduces a real "voice" from the period.

Daniel Defoe

Daniel Defoe was an important public official in London as well as a novelist and journalist. He wrote Robinson Crusoe, one of the first English novels. His works reflect a Whig's perspective on the growing power and wealth the new English merchant class developed through new business opportunities at home and abroad.
A Journal of the Plague Year was very different from Pepys's account of the 1665 disaster. Because Defoe was a child at the time of the plague, he researched historical documents and interviewed survivors to create an impacting piece of historical fiction.

Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift was a Protestant churchman who became a hero in Roman Catholic Ireland. His satire attacked those who abused religion, particularly when they pretended to be religious themselves. He also hated the tyranny of one nation over another. Above all, he hated false pride, as did the rest of his literary circle, the best writers of the period.
Swift is most famous for his episode of Gulliver among the little people in the "Lilliput" section of Gulliver's Travels. This has been the basis of countless children's stories and animated features. However, many readers don't realize that this episode was a strong satire against the ruling aristocracies of England and France in Swift's time.
The "Brobdingnag" episode from Gulliver's Travelsreverses the impressions that Gulliver had about the "smallness" of the Lilliputians. In a land of giants, Gulliver becomes a caged pet and the king of the giants is astonished at how petty and trite the Englishmen really are. The king finds Gulliver and his people repulsive.

Joseph Addison

Joseph Addison is best known for his collaboration with Sir Richard Steele in writing The Spectator , a highly influential and trend-setting periodical. His work featured a natural but sophisticated manner the ideals admired by both Tory and Whig readers. His essays also gave middle class readers a pleasant sense of self-improvement in manners and taste.
"Country Manners" is an essay that contrasts the cultured behaviors of the urban Londoners with rustic behaviors of the country gentry. The pattern that Addison establishes is that as soon as the country gentry begin to imitate the Londoners' actions, the city people find new ways to act "cultured."
"Thoughts on Westminster" is an essay that studies the trends that have developed in remembering the lives of England's greatest men. Addison believes that the monuments in Westminster should say more about the person's history and display a figure that truly represents the person in real life.

Alexander Pope

Alexander Pope's brilliant verse satires ridiculed many kinds of human follies. He was the master of the heroic couplet and a respected literary critic. Pope's biting wit made him one of the most feared writers in England. Because he was Catholic, he was passed over in position and patronage, in spite of his vast talents.
"The Rape of the Lock" is a delightful satire of the pettiness and spitefulness of the London gentry. Pope takes an actual family feud between two aristocratic families and blows it all out proportion, turning it into a mock epic that employs frequent allusions to the Greek classics.
"An Essay on Man" is a long poem composed of Pope's signature heroic couplets. It deals with man's place and purpose in the universe, capturing the complete meaning of "The Great Chain of Being," a belief from this period which placed all of creation in a natural order which can never be broken.

Dr. Samuel Johnson

Dr. Johnson produced almost single-handedly a massive Dictionary of the English Language, which established his fame as a scholar. He developed an equally great reputation as a teacher of moral and religious wisdom through a series of essays, published throughout his life. Other great projects were his eight-volume edition of Shakespeare's plays and his collection of essays on The Lives of the English Poets. Clearly, he was the most respected literary figure of his time.
"Letter to Lord Chesterfield" is a classic example of the "thanks, but no thanks" attitude. Johnson tells the powerful Lord Chesterfield that his patronage is no longer desired, since Johnson was able to complete the massive dictionary on his own. The letter is both polite and emphatic, showing Johnson's mastery of diplomacy.
"Preface to the English Dictionary" is a defense of Johnson's work, telling the reader what a difficult task it is to produce a dictionary, made ever more difficult when it is the first for a given language. Johnson states that lexicographers do thankless work and is never appreciated because the world doesn't perceive the lexicographer as an artist.
Dr. Johnson's The English Dictionary may not appear to be quality work by today's standards; but , for its time and the fact that it was the first dictionary in English, it is quite remarkable. The definitions were mainly based on usage by the master writers of English literature, showing the depth of Johnson's literary knowledge.

James Boswell

James Boswell was a Scottish author who wrote The Life of Samuel Johnson. In 1773, he invited Johnson on a tour of the Hebrides Islands of Scotland. During the many years of their friendship, he tirelessly collected materials on Johnson's life, filling his journals with authentic transcriptions of Johnson's conversations.
The Life of Samuel Johnson is probably the most brilliant biography in the English language. It transformed various incidents of Johnson's life into a unified work of art. Boswell did not merely record facts and dates, and he did not conceal the blemishes of his friend's character. He followed Johnson's belief that through biography, readers may learn by example how to copy virtues and avoid follies of even the greatest people.

Thomas Gray

Thomas Gray was a minor poet of his time, but his work reflected the movement toward romanticism. Gray's poetry reflects his fondness for the artificial diction typical of poetry of his time, but he illustrated a new trend toward romanticism in his mood of melancholy moralizing. Thus, he serves as a bridge between two literary movements.
"An Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" has a basic theme centered on the common fate of common people, who live and die unnoticed and unremembered. The friend in question, Richard West, was worthy of greater recognition as an artist, but the public chose to ignore him.