Lapas attēli

for perfection of style, its cynical disbelief in the possibility of virtue in man or woman.

His world was narrow and ignoble; but, such as it was, he interpreted it with the minuteness and truth of a great artist.

His Character. — When we turn from Pope's writings to the man himself, we hesitate between contempt and pity. He was greedy for praise, inordinately vain, and painfully sensitive to criticism; when his self-love was wounded he retaliated with petty malice, rare even in the history of genius. He resorted to equivocations, or direct falsehood, to advance his reputation; he delighted in underhand methods and small intrigues, so that, in the famous phrase, “he hardly drank tea without a stratagem." Yet he was neither cold-hearted nor selfish; he loved his parents and tended them with a touching and beautiful devotion. He had a brave, independent spirit; he fought, an invalid, against the world; a cripple, but with the heart of a soldier. There is much in his life that cannot be tolerated or defended, but there is also something to admire.



One of the important features of the literary history of England, during the latter seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, is the change which took place in the position of the man of letters. Before this time it had been almost impossible to make a living by writing, unless one wrote for the stage. Marlowe, Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and nearly all of the writers who supported themselves entirely by the pen, were dramatists, while those who were not dramatists were not entirely dependent on what they earned

by their literary work. Thus Hooker was a clergyman, Sir Thomas Browne a physician, Isaak Walton a linendraper; while Wyatt and Surrey, Sidney and Raleigh, represent the large class of courtiers and gentlemen to whom literature was not a profession but an occasional pursuit. Even in the latter half of the seventeenth century, Dryden felt himself forced to write plays for a livelihood, although convinced that his talents lay in another direction. The explanation of this is very simple; writing did not pay as a profession, because many crowded to the theaters who would not or could not read a book.

Effect on Authorship of the Revolution of 1688. — Toward the end of the seventeenth century, however, these conditions began to change; it became possible for a writer to make a career for himself through literature, without being compelled to write for the stage. This was due principally to the fact that the government, finding literature useful in guiding or forming public opinion, employed authors to write in its service, and rewarded them with a pension, an embassy, or some public office. This practice may have been partly due to the example of Dryden, who had shown by his political satires and by his timely advocacy of the Roman Church how strong an influence literature could exert on the public mind; but it was largely brought about by the political condition of affairs after the Revolution of 1688. In that year, James II, the brother of Charles II, and the last of the Stuart Kings, was forced to abdicate, and William and Mary, respectively the nephew and daughter of James, were by act of Parliament made joint sovereigns of England. One of the most important results of this was a great increase in the power of Parliament. These sovereigns and their successors did

not rule by a "Divine Right," as the Stuarts had claimed to do, but by the will and authority of Parliament. Under these circumstances the power of the Crown and the importance of the Court declined, and the control of affairs passed more and more into the hands of the great political leaders and their followers, especially in the House of Commons. As the position of these leaders was in turn dependent on the support of the people, there was naturally an eager contest between the two great political parties, Whig and Tory, for the sanction of public opinion. Each side realized that capable writers could do much to win the public to its support. Such a state of things could not but bring about a great change in the author's position. Men of letters began to share in the work of the government; they were brought into frequent contact with the governing class; and the successful writer, treated as an equal by great nobles and leading statesmen, obtained a comfortable income through official patronage. Among many authors rewarded by the government at this time were the great prose satirist Jonathan Swift, who was made Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin; and Joseph Addison, who rose to the high post of Secretary of State.

Growth of the Reading Public. — But while literature was thus largely dependent upon political patronage, or the favor of some distinguished patron to whom the struggling author dedicated his book, the increase in the reading-class was already preparing the way for a yet greater and more lasting change. Ever since the Restoration the wealth of the nation had steadily increased. Trade with the Colonies grew rapidly; and, as the commercial class became wealthier, it gained in social and political importante. Dr. Johnson declared

that “an English merchant was a new species of gentleman." Formerly there had been very few readers outside of the aristocratic or scholarly circles, but now, as the commercial class increased in wealth and consequence, and as they grew to realize their power in the state, the number of those who bought and read books increased also. While in Dryden's time the appeal of literature had been chiefly to the Court, that is, to the King and nobles, in Pope's and Addison's day it was directed principally to the more democratic society of club and coffee-house, to the class commonly known as the “ Town.”

The Freedom of the Press. Coffee-Houses. — Other influences besides the spread of education were slowly and silently adding to the great army of readers. The establishment of the freedom of the press, in 1695, which Milton had pleaded for so eloquently, - opened the way to a fuller and freer discussion of public questions, and led to the founding of several newspapers and periodicals, read by many who never opened larger and more formidable works. London was the natural center of this intellectual activity; and in London the coffeehouses, the meeting-places of statesmen, wits, merchants, and fashionable idlers, did much to quicken and enlarge the mental life of the town. The first coffee-house in England had been started about the middle of the seventeenth century, and by Queen Anne's time, coffeehouses had become an established and important feature of London life. One writer estimated that in 1708 there were nearly three thousand of these coffee-houses in London alone. The coffee-house resembled the modern club; but it was less expensive, less exclusive, and less luxurious. There the Londoner gossiped with his friends, read and wrote his letters, and enjoyed his


coffee and his pipe. The most famous of these coffeehouses were Will's, devoted to literature and poetry; the Grecian, devoted to learning; St. James's, the center of political news and discussions; and Buttons', where Addison dined and spent five or six hours a day. Each had its circle of wits and great men; and each its chief oracle, who, by reason of his superior learning and brilliant talk, ruled it over the others. We can imagine the effect of the incessant discussions, daily, almost hourly, carried on in these thousands of places of public resort. In these coffee-houses, writes a foreign observer, “you all manner of news; you have a good Fire, which you may sit by as long as you please; you have a Dish of Coffee, you meet your friends for the Transaction of Business, and all for a penny, if you don't care to spend more.”

The Rise of the New Prose. — All these conditions, political, commercial, or social, favored the rise of a new kind of prose literature, and tended to give prose a wider influence. Dryden and several other writers of the preceding century had simplified prose style, aiming to make it clear, direct, and forceful, rather than rhetorical or pedantically learned. This easier prose continued in favor during the first part of the eighteenth century, and in the hands of Steele and Addison received a more elegant and classic finish. Periodicals were started, containing brief essays, sketches, and sometimes stories; and these pleased the taste of the town. Sometimes these essays pictured some aspect of the life of the day; sometimes they caught the floating talk of the clubs and coffee-houses, and gave it a witty, brief, and graceful literary form. In the hands of Steele and Addison, this new prose became a great social and educational force; and in those of Defoe and Swift, a powerful influence in politics.

« iepriekšējāTurpināt »