V. The Enlightenment

The Age of Enlightenment was a period in Europe during the 18th century (1688-1789) when the writers wrote that science and the use of reason would help the society to develop. The Age of Enlightenment is often called “The Augustan Age”, because that title was chosen by the literary circles for the admiration of Rome under the Emperor Augustus. The form of polite literature was poetry. At the beginning of the 18th century verse was preferable in comparison with prose. By the end of the century prose and verse exchanged their places.

The history of England of the second half of the 17th century and during the 18th century was marked by British colonial expansion. London became a great trading metropolis as well as administrative, political and legal centre of England. Its commercial wealth helped the government to become the ruling government all over the British Isles and to develop contracts outside Britain. London was the centre of wealth and civilization. City became the most important district in London, houses were not numbered, because common population couldn’t read. Instead of the numbers pictures were used. Coffee-houses were very popular at that time. People met there to discuss the latest news, to drink tea or coffee, which became very popular as common drinks. Thus the coffee-houses eventually became centres of political life. Each social group had its own coffee-house. The poets and the literary men attended the coffee-houses to read their creations.

In 1688 the bourgeoisie managed to bring the royal power under the control of Parliament. The compromise was reached between the royal power and the bourgeois middle class in England. This agreement was called “The Glorious Revolution” which was relatively bloodless. It brought the Protestant William III (William of Orange) to the throne in place of his Catholic father-in-law King James II (1685-1688).

King William III and his wife Queen Mary reigned together (1689-1702). He accepted his role as a constitutional monarch.

Meanwhile, in Parliament the lines of the modern party political system were already being drawn. The party of landowners was called “Tories”, the party of merchants and nobles was called “Whigs”. Both parties hated each other, that’s why both words were of negative meaning. “Tory” was the name of certain Irish robbers, “Whigs” was an exclamation of the men driving horses. “Tories” wanted the peaceful domestic policy in England, “Whigs” wanted to force the king to rule through Parliament.

Glorious Revolution was the political background of the development of the political literature. Literature met the interests of the bourgeoisie. The writers of the Enlightenment fought for freedom. Most of them wrote political pamphlets, but the best came from the pen of Defoe and Swift. The greatest essayists were Steele and Addison. Addison spoke more gently, Steele a little bit warmly, Pope — more sharply. But all of them used to flatter the upper-class readers who thought that those essays were written about their neighbors or somebody else. Those writers could create such an allusion. That allusion was comfortable for the contemporary society.

Periodical newspapers had been published since the civil war, and in 1702 the first daily newspaper was established. Much of the drama was written not in poetry but in prose. The leading form of literature became the novel. The hero of the novel was a representative of the middle class. Earlier the common people were shown only as comical personages.

The writers of the Age of Enlightenment wanted to improve the world. But some of them hoped to do this only by teaching. Others openly protested against the social order.

Daniel Defoe (1661-1731)

Daniel Defoe (Foe, he added «De» 40 years later) called himself fortunate in his education as well as in his...

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)

Jonathan Swift was one of the famous English writers of the Age of Enlightenment. Moreover, he was a bitter satirist...

Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774)

Oliver Goldsmith is known for his humorous “Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog” (1761) in which a good...

Richard Sheridan (1751-1816)

Richard Sheridan is famous for his two well-known books: the first is “The School for Scandal” (1777), the second is...

Robert Burns (1759-1796)

Robert Burns was born in Alloway, near Ayr, on the 25th of January 1759. He was born in poverty, his...

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