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SPECIAL CHARACTERISTICS AND INFLUENCES.
PERIOD OF PREPARATION.
I. There is, of course, something of reaction implied in the earlier part of a new era-reaction against the dominant fashions of thought and feeling. For the new can antiquate the old only by antagonistic criticism of it. But there is also the living connection of development between two adjacent periods. Out of the old must grow the new. The thoughts and methods and symbols of the old must be used by the new to overthrow its power; else it could never appeal or make itself intelligible to the human beings who have been nurtured in the old. The process of development has two movements, rejection of the elements and forms that have begun to decay and would clog progress, and acceptance of the living elements and forms that still mingle with these.
2. We have no difficulty in tracing the influence of the age of Queen Anne over the literature of the latter half of last century. Down even to Byron Pope was the masterspirit in poetry, though the Wordsworthian protests indicated that his reign was about to end. English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, his first success, is moulded by admiration for the Dunciad. But it and Gifford's Baviad and Maeviad show the last flicker of the Queen Anne satire, that incarnation of the spirit of revenge by means of stinging personalities on rival authors so epigrammatic as to be quotable.
3. Through this whole period there were few poets who did not acknowledge some allegiance to the rhythmic phrase-maker of the Queen Anne period. The satires of Johnson London (1738), and The Vanity of Human Wishes (1749), though steeped in pessimism and Juvenalian gloom, were written under the shadow of Pope. But his Lives of the Poets, composed as late as 1779, and revealing signs of a new and more natural method of prose, is still guided in all its criticisms and dicta by the standards of Dryden and Pope and exhibits unbounded admiration of these two great poets. Gray and Collins, though coming at the beginning of the era, and touched with its love of pathos, its naturalness and emotionalism, fill their odes with the personified abstractions of the great metaphysical period of poetry. Dyer, Armstrong, Akenside, Grainger, Erasmus Darwin, writing though they do in the latter half of the century, are as much given over to the didactic spirit as Pope and his contemporaries in their versified essays. Even the new nature poets cannot throw off the yoke. Goldsmith, Falconer, Cowper, Crabbe, Rogers, and Campbell have to adapt the heroic couplet to the new purpose of sympathetic description. And whenever satire is attempted, it has to echo Pope's manner, even when its spirit is new as in Cowper's earlier poems. Christopher Smart's Hilliad, Churchill's Rosciad, Wolcot's Lousiad, Gifford's Baviad prove by their very titles the Dunciad as the source of their inspiration. Even Shenstone, Beattie, Chatterton, and Burns, though turning back to an older and more natural era for their models, have some tinge of the Queen Anne period in their methods of art; they cannot keep wholly free from the conventional abstractions that had made poetry so frigid, from the conventional talk about the muse that grows so tedious in the poets of the earlier part of the century, or from the artificial atmosphere that had separated the pastoral and lyric from nature.
4. Still more did the prose of the period acknowledge in its style and diction its descent from that of a pseudoclassical era. It was natural for Adam Smith and Paley and Bentham and even Gibbon to adopt a diction highly Latinised and a heavy yet balanced style; it suited the
purposes of philosophical discussion and historical description. But the same diction and style cling to the more imaginative literature too; the light social essay in Johnson's Rambler and the other periodicals of the time is often elephantine in its movement. Burke in his speeches prefers the involved period and the difficult, intricately woven style of an inflected language. Even the novel falls into ponderous rhetoric in its descriptions, sentimental passages, and conversations. One would expect the epistolary style to have first emancipated itself from the stiff brocaded eloquence of the Queen Anne period; yet when we turn to the letters of Burns, we find them modelled on those of Pope, always laboured exercises in trying to be unaffected, often pompous expressions of fine sentiment.
I. The first half of the era is the long struggle of the more natural English mind with the precedents that the genius of Dryden and the art of Pope had fixed for eighteenth century literature. The turmoil and passion of the French Revolution liberated the new spirit from the coils of tradition and made originality and a more natural manner easy for nineteenth century writers.
2. The latter half of the last century never saw the new spirit wholly freed from the yoke of the Augustan Age, except perhaps in Blake and in the Lyrical Ballads of Wordsworth and Coleridge. For the revolutionary movement in England seldom became overt as it did in France, and it found satisfaction in the spheres of religion, philanthropy, and emotional and imaginative literature. The struggles for the rights of public meeting, of petitioning parliament, of publication of the debates in the House of Commons, of uncontrolled elections and of free speech and free journalistic comment on the actions and words of public men were symptoms of the revolutionary fervour that existed in England. But they only once approached the form of outbreak and riot, during the controversy about John Wilkes. The much later Lord George Gordon Riots and the Birmingham Riots of 1793-94 were reactionary in purpose though revolutionary in form. Some of these
rights were partially or wholly conceded, whilst the opposition of authority to the others was not paraded. Such galling abuses of power as oppressed the middle classes and peasantry in France had ceased to exist, thanks to the great struggle of the seventeenth century. There was plenty of injustice, both in the laws and customs, and in the use made of them; but the growth of industry and commerce, whilst urbanising a large part of the population spread more comfort amongst them, and the memory of the Civil War and its horrors still gave them wholesome warning. The Commons, therefore, never assumed the bold attitude and character of the French National Assembly; the system of party government gave free vent in it to revolutionary ardour, like the sympathy with the American 'colonies in their revolt; the remedy of abuses was postponed till legitimate means could be adopted. The French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, the one by its terror, the other by the patriotism and warlike passion they excited and by their drafting off the restless elements out of England, produced a violent reaction and sent the English revolutionary spirit underground. They postponed reform for a generation or more.
3. The middle classes sought, in most cases unconsciously, other vents for the revolutionary instinct, that had begun to work in their hearts. They felt, as they had never felt before, the woes of life. Johnson's deep-rooted pessimism belonged as much to his age as to himself; only he accepted it as the law of nature. His contemporaries on the Continent blamed the government and social institutions for what is really the outcome of the struggle for existence. His countrymen either accepted it as a legitimate theme to weep over, and indulged in sentimentality, or set themselves. to cure it by preaching and praying or crusading against the more crying abuses of custom. They never thought of attributing it all to political or social institutions. The resurgent puritanism of the new classes sent them back to original sin as the source of it. The more secularised sections of them took with Howard to philanthropy or with Wilberforce and Clarkson and Granville Sharpe to antislavery agitation; prison reform and the decision of Lord
Mansfield that whoever touched the soil of England was free were but the outcome of the unconscious revolutionism of the time. The worldly section of the new wealth was quite as conscious of the sadness and the wrongs of life. But the consciousness drove them to no action, in fact never demanded action, as it did in the readers and followers of Rousseau in France. They were satisfied with tears and sighs over the picturesque stories of the woes of men and the pains of animal life. And from Richardson on to Mrs. Radcliffe there were always writers and especially writers of fiction ready to supply cheap stimulus of lachrymation. And there is nothing reveals the sentimentalism of the period so well as the fountain of tears that Sterne could turn on in his books at a moment's notice. In this it forms a marked contrast to the Queen Anne period, which laughed down all enthusiasm and was ashamed of the unrestrained expression of emotion. Nor was the luxury of self-commiseration and sentimentality over the lot of men and animals confined to England. Rousseau's Julie and Goethe's Werther were only the most prominent symptoms of the same disease of the feelings in France and Germany. It was a result of the revolutionism of the times; the coming industrialism and the development of urban life had opened the eyes of a new class to the abuses that had seemed consecrated by time and privilege. The aristocracy were smitten with the same passion for city life and ceased to fulfil their feudal duties to the people of their districts without ceasing to draw the revenues that were attached to those duties. Personal loyalty vanished and the one-sided nature of the relationship stood out in all its nakedness. The new reading public in the growing towns, with their comfort and leisure, wept over the injustice of their own position and the wrongs of the peasantry. But in France the increase of financial pressure on the government and through taxation on the new classes and the rustics made the sentimentality practical. Unless the burden were removed, the new feeling was certain to find volcanic issue. Hence it is that Rousseau and similar writers charge political and social institutions with the existing misery and preach a return to a state of nature free from the evils of government and society.