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still vital and real. The Johnson of Boswell bids fair to be immortal. In the words of Macaulay, “The old philosopher is still among us in the brown coat with the metal buttons and the shirt which ought to be at wash, blinking, puffing, rolling his head, drumming with his fingers, tearing his meat like a tiger, and swallowing his tea in oceans. No human being who has been more than seventy years in the grave is so well known to us. And it is but just to say that our intimate acquaintance with what he would himself have called the anfractuosities of his intellect and of his temper serves only to strengthen our conviction that he was both a great and a good man.”
THE NEW SPIRIT IN LITERATURE The changing spirit of England expressed itself through literature as it did through religion, politics, and social life. This new spirit in literature, which from about the first quarter of the century became increasingly apparent, was at once a result of those wide-spread changes which characterize the time, and also one of those forces which altered men's outlook on life and helped to push England on a new path. Before speaking of some of the authors prominent in this movement, it will be helpful to gain some idea of its chief characteristics.
1. The Return to Nature. The new literature concerns itself distinctively with the country, as the old literature did with the town. Pope, Addison, and Swift, had given London the gossip of the coffee-houses, the miseries and malignities of Grub Street, the gay, petty world of fashion, or the current politics and philosophy. The new poetry led men's thoughts away from these things into the sunshine and the open fields; it trans
ported the inveterate Londoner into a world which he had half forgotten, or had never really known, a world of plow-land and sheepfold, of mountain, lake, and glen; a world that, beside the eagerness and noise of the city, seemed quiet, self-sufficient, and remote. This increasing fondness for country subjects is usually spoken of as “the return to Nature.”
II. The New Sympathy with Man. — This new literature was distinguished by a deeper and a more comprehensive love of man. That deep feeling, which, as the eighteenth century advanced, prompted men to turn from the artificial life of society to the world of Nature, was closely associated with a sympathetic interest in the lives of the country-folk and the poor. The representative writers of Queen Anne's time had despised and satirized humanity. We have seen Pope's low estimate of it, his malice towards men, his ingrained disbelief in women; we have seen Swift's fierce and cynical misanthropy. In a long succession of writers from James Thomson to Wordsworth, we observe that sympathy for human misery and misfortune, that ever deepening admiration for human nature, that love of liberty, and that belief in human brotherhood, which we have already seen in the social development of this period.
III. Children and Home Life. — This deeper humanity, that was making literature more gentle and compassionate, also declared itself in a sympathy with children and with the home. In the writings of the great representatives of the Classical School childhood has no place. But as poets came to view life with a greater tenderness and a deeper understanding, their hearts were touched by the helplessness and loving dependence of little children, and they felt that childhood had in it something wonderful and sacred. This
feeling appeared in poems of childhood, and in stories written for children as well as about them. The quiet and secluded life of the home also found its interpreters, as in Gray, Cowper, Burns, and Wordsworth. Nor was this sympathy restricted to humanity or to the world of inanimate Nature; it stooped to the creatures below man, to the hare, the field-mouse, the waterfowl, even to the very worm beneath our feet. This feeling is particularly evident in the poetry of Cowper and of Burns.
IV. Return to the Poetic Manner of the Elizabethans.
We notice in this new poetry an increasing tendency to revert both to the manner and the spirit of the great English poets who preceded Dryden and Pope. The supremacy of the heroic verse, or ten-syllabled couplet, which those writers had used almost exclusively, was disputed, and here and there poets began to use some of the more varied and musical verse-forms of Spenser and Milton. People no doubt began to tire of the monotonous rise and fall of Pope's favorite measure “the rocking-horse measure,” as Lowell has aptly dubbed it. The heroic couplet had been admirably adapted in its clear, terse expression of epigrammatic thought to the needs of Dryden and of Pope. But as the range of thought that found expression in poetry became wider, and as poets developed a more subtle appreciation of the music of words, they felt the need of new instruments, and so returned to the older verse-forms, especially to blank verse and the Spenserian stanza.
V. A New World of the Imagination. — With these new tendencies we must associate a longing to escape from the world of commonplace fact and everyday experiences, into some strange, untried region of the imagination, remote from the prosaic and the familiar.
The supremacy of "common sense” was passing; a love of strong or strange emotions began to manifest itself, and men found pleasure in a poetry which inspired feelings of wonder, awe, horror, melancholy, or mysterious fear. Men's great desire was to get out of doors, to get away from the town, to experience new sensations, to find a wider area for feeling and imagination. Just as men realized there was a world outside of London, they realized that there was a world outside of England, and the same impulse which drove the poets from Grub Street to the fields drove them to seek for new subjects in far-off and unfamiliar lands, or in remote and less artificial times. Especially important was the collecting or imitating of the ballads of the common people, which had long been disregarded as outside the bounds of literature. To turn away from poetry of a more academic and literary order, and to come back to these ballads, filled as they were with primitive passions, with primitive and superstitious fears, was, in a very real sense, to come back to Nature. And, moved by this desire to ape from the commonplace, men entered the enchanted ground of chivalry and romance. It was but natural that writers in search of “beauty with strangeness,” of something picturesque, heroic, and unfamiliar, should find in the Middle Ages something particularly suited to their needs. It was natural that in their recoil from a time which seemed to them flippant, skeptical, and prosaic, men should take shelter in those ages of romance and knightly heroism, of wonder and of faith. So, during the latter half of the eighteenth century, there was a growing interest in everything belonging to this special period of the past: in its costume, its architecture, its manners, its literature. This delight in the Middle Ages, which is com
monly called the Medieval Revival, found its greatest interpreter in Sir Walter Scott.
These varied and comprehensive changes were not brought about by any one man, nor were they effected in a single generation. To appreciate the gradual transition from the old literature to the new, from the Age of Dryden and of Pope to the Age of Wordsworth and of Shelley, we must now turn to some of the writers who led the way into the new land.
Allan Ramsay and James Thomson. – One fact impresses us at the outset: the important part taken by Scottish men of letters in this reaction from the restrictions of the Classical School. The return of poetry to Nature definitely begins with ALLAN RAMSAY and JAMES THOMSON, both of them children of the Scottish Lowlands. Ramsay, born in 1686, was familiar in his boyhood with the picturesque and mountainous scenery of Lanarkshire. When he was about fifteen he was sent to Edinburgh, where he became a prosperous and popular wig-maker and bookseller. Ramsay was a man of cheerful temper, and as he was interested in books and fond of a jest, his shop became a favorite place of literary and social resort. He had a liking for the old popular lyrical poetry, and he published two collections of early Scottish songs and poems, which in part prepared the way for Robert Burns. Ramsay's best work is The Gentle Shepherd (1725), a pastoral play which pictures successfully the homely shepherd life of the Scotch Lowlands. Ramsay has been called the “prince of the homely pastoral drama," because his pictures are true, and his feeling for beauty, simplicity, and tenderness is genuine. Instead of the classic Damon and Daphne, of Strephon promising to sacrifice a milk-white bull to Phoebus on the banks of