The Age of Pope (1700-1744)

The earlier part of the eighteenth century or the Augustan Age in English literature is called the Age of Pope, because Pope was the dominating figure in that period. Though there were a number of other important writers like Addison and Swift, but Pope was the only one who devoted himself completely to literature. Moreover, he represented in himself all the main characteristics of his age, and his poetry served as a model to others.

(a)  Poetry
It was the Classical school of poetry which dominated the poetry of the Age of Pope. During this age the people were disgusted with the profligacy and frivolity of the Restoration period, and they insisted upon those elementary decencies of life and conduct which were looked at with contempt by the preceding generation. Moreover, they had no sympathy for the fanaticism and religious zeal of the Puritans who were out to ban even the most innocent means of recreation. So they wanted to follow the middle path in everything and steer clear of the emotional as well as moral excesses. They insisted on the role of intelligence in everything. The poets of this period are deficient on the side of emotion and imagination. Dominated by intellect, poetry of this age is commonly didactic and satirical, a poetry of argument and criticism, of politics and personalities.
In the second place, the poets of this age are more interested in the town, and the ‘cultural’ society. They have no sympathy for the humbler aspects of life—the life of the villagers, the shepherds; and no love for nature, the beautiful flowers, the songs of birds, and landscape as we find in the poets of the Romantic period. Though they preached a virtuous life, they would not display any feeling which smacked of enthusiasm and earnestness. Naturally they had no regard for the great poets of the human heart—Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton. They had no attachment for the Middle Ages and their tales of chivalry, adventure and visionary idealism. Spenser, therefore, did not find favour with them.
In the poetry of this age, form became more important than substance. This love of superficial polish led to the establishment of a highly artificial and conventional style. The closed couplet became the only possible form for serious work in verse. Naturally poetry became monotonous, because the couplet was too narrow and inflexible to be made the vehicle of high passion and strong imagination. Moreover, as great emphasis was laid on the imitation of ancient writers, originality was discouraged, and poetry lost touch with the real life of the people.
Prose being the prominent medium of expression, the rules of exactness, precision and clarity, which were insisted in the writing of prose, also began to be applied to poetry. It was demanded of the poet to say all that he had to say in a plain simple and clear language. The result was that the quality of suggestiveness which adds so much to the beauty and worth of poetry was sadly lacking in the poetry of this age. The meaning of poetry was all on the surface, and there was nothing which required deep study and varied interpretation.
Alexandar Pope (1688-1744). Pope is considered as the greatest poet of the Classical period. He is ‘prince of classicism’ as Prof. Etton calls him. He was an invalid, of small sature and delicate constitution, whose bad nerves and cruel headaches made his life, in his own phrase, a ‘long disease’. Moreover, being a Catholic he had to labour under various restrictions. But the wonder is that in spite of his manifold handicaps, this small, ugly man has left a permanent mark on the literature of his age. He was highly intellectual, extremely ambitious and capable of tremendous industry. These qualities brought him to the front rank of men of letters, and during his lifetime he was looked upon as a model poet.
The main quality of Pope’s poetry is its correctness. It was at the age of twenty-three that he published his Essay on Criticism (1711) and since then till the end of his life he enjoyed progidious reputation. In this essay Pope insists on following the rules discovered by the Ancients, because they are in harmony with Nature:
Those rules of old discovered, not devised
Are Nature still, but Nature methodised.
Pope’s next work, The Rape of the Lock, is in some ways his masterpiece. It is ‘mock heroic’ poem in which he celebrated the theme of the stealth, by Lord Petre of lock of hair from the head of Miss Arabella. Though the poem is written in a jest and deals with a very insignificant event, it is given the form of an epic, investing this frivolous event with mock seriousness and dignity.
By this time Pope had perfected the heroic couplet, and he made use of his technical skill in translating Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey which meant eleven years’ very hard work. The reputation which Pope now enjoyed created a host of jealous rivals whom he severely criticised and ridiculed in The Dunciad. This is Pope’s greatest satire in which he attacked all sorts of literary incompetence. It is full of cruel and insulting couplets on his enemies. His next great poem was The Essay on Man (1732-34), which is full of brilliant oft-quoted passages and lines. His later works—Imitations of Horace and Epistle—are also satires and contain biting attacks on his enemies.
Though Pope enjoyed a tremendous reputation during his lifetime and for some decades after his death, he was so bitterly attacked during the nineteenth century that it was doubted whether Pope was a poet at all. But in the twentieth century this reaction subsided, and now it is admitted by great critics that though much that Pope wrote is prosaic, not of a very high order, yet a part of his poetry is undoubtedly indestructible. He is the supreme master of the epigrammatic style, of condensing an idea into a line or couplet. Of course, the thoughts in his poetry are commonplace, but they are given the most appropriate and perfect expression. The result is that many of them have become proverbial sayings in the English language. For example:
Who shall decide when doctors disagree?
Thou wert my guide, philosopher, and friend.
Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of mankind is man.
Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be, blest.
Minor Poets of the Age of Pope. During his age Pope was by far the greatest of all poets. There were a few minor poets—Matthew Prior, John Gay, Edward Young, Thomas Pernell and Lady Winchelsea.
Matthew Prior (1664-1721), who was a diplomat and active politician wrote two long poems: Solomon on the Vanity of The World and Alma or the Progress of the Mind. These are serious poems, but the reputation of Prior rests on ‘light verse’ dealing with trifling matters. He is not merely a light-hearted jester, but a true humanist, with sense of tears as well as laughter as is seen in the “Lines written in the beginning of Mezeraly’s History of France’.
John Gay (1685-1732) is the master of vivid description or rural scenes as well of the delights of the town. Like Prior he is full of humour and good temper. As a writer of lyrics, and in the handling of the couplet, he shows considerable technical skill. His best-known works are: —Rural Sports; Trivia, or the Art of Walking the Streets of London; Black-Eyed Susan and some Fables.
Prior and Gay were the followers of Pope, and after Pope, they are the two excellent guides to the life of eighteenth century London. The other minor poets, Edward Young, Thomas Parnell and Lady Winchelsea, belonged more to the new Romantic spirit than to the classical spirit in their treatment of external nature, though they were unconscious of it.
Edward Young (1683-1765) is his Universal Passions showed himself as skilful a satirist as Pope. His best-known work is The Night Thoughts which, written in blank verse, shows considerable technical skill and deep thought.
Thomas Parnell (1679-1718) excelled in translations. His best known works are the The Night-Piece on Death and Hymn to Contentment, which have a freshness of outlook and metrical skill.
Lady Winchelsea (1660-1725), though a follower of Pope, showed more sincerity and genuine feeling for nature than any other poet of that age. Her Nocturnal Reverie may be considered as the pioneer of the nature poetry of the new Romantic age.
To sum up, the poetry of the age of Pope is not of a high order, but it has distinct merits—the finished art of its satires; the creation of a technically beautiful verse; and the clarity and succinctness of its expression.
(b)  Prose of the Age of Pope
The great prose writers of the Age of Pope were Defoe, Addison, Steele and Swift. The prose of this period exhibits the Classical qualities—clearness, vigour and direct statement.
Daniel Defoe (1661-1731) is the earliest literary journalist in the English language. He wrote on all sorts of subjects—social, political, literary, and brought out about 250 publications. He owes his importance, in literature, however, mainly to his works of fiction which were simply the offshoots of his general journalistic enterprises. As a journalist he was fond of writing about the lives of famous people who had just died, and of notorious adventurers and criminals. At the age of sixty he turned his attention to the writing of prose fiction, and published his first novel—Robinson Cruso—the book by which he is universally known. It was followed by other works of fiction—The Memoirs of a Cavalier, Captain Singleton, Moll Flanders, Colonel Jack, Roxana and Journal of the Plague Year.
In these works of fiction Defoe gave his stories an air of reality and convinced his readers of their authenticity. That is why they are appropriately called by Sir Leslie Stephen as ‘Fictitious biographies’ or “History minus the Facts’. All Defoe’s fictions are written in the biographical form. They follow no system and are narrated in a haphazard manner which give them a semblance of reality and truth. His stories, told in the plain, matter-of-fact, business-like way, appropriate to stories of actual life, hence they possess extraordinary minute realism which is their distinct feature. Here his homely and colloquial style came to his help. On account of all these qualities Defoe is credited with being the originator of the English novel. As a writer of prose his gift of narrative and description is masterly. As he never wrote with any deliberate artistic intention, he developed a natural style which made him one of the masters of English prose.
Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) was the most powerful and original genius of his age. He was highly intellectual but on account of some radical disorder in his system and the repeated failures which he had to face in the realisation of his ambition to rise in public life, made him a bitter, melancholy and sardonic figure. He took delight in flouting conventions, and undermining the reputation of his apponents. His best-known work, Gulliver’s Travels, which is a very popular children’s book, is also a bitter attack on contemporary political and social life in particular, and on the meanness and littleness of man in general. The Tale of a Tub which, like Gulliver’s Travels, is written in the form of an allegory, and exposes the weakness of the main religious beliefs opposed to Protestant religion, is also a satire upon all science and philosophy. His Journal to Stella which was written to Esther Johnson whom Swift loved, is not only an excellent commentary on contemporary characters and political events, by one of the most powerful and original minds of the age, but in love passages, and purely personal descriptions, it reveals the real tenderness which lay concealed in the depths of his fierce and domineering nature.
Swift was a profound pessimist. He was essentially a man of his time in his want of spiritual quality, in his distrust of the visionary and the extravagant, and in his thoroughly materialistic view of life. As a master of prose-style, which is simple, direct and colloquial, and free from the ornate and rhetorical elements, Swift has few rivals in the whole range of English literature. As a satirist his greatest and most effective weapon is irony. Though apparently supporting a cause which he is really apposing, he pours ridicule upon ridicule on it until its very foundations are shaken. The finest example, of irony is to be found in his pamphlet—The Battle of Books, in which he championed the cause of the Ancients against the Moderns. The mock heroic description of the great battle in the King’s Library between the rival hosts is a masterpiece of its kind.
Joseph Addison (1672-1719) and Sir Richard Steele (1672-1729) who worked in collaboration, were the originators of the periodical essay. Steele who was more original led the way by founding The Tatler, the first of the long line of eighteenth century periodical essays. This was followed by the most famous of them The Spectator, is which Addison, who had formerly contributed to Steele’s Tatler, now became the chief partner. It began on March 1, 1711, and ran till December 20, 1714 with a break of about eighteen months. In its complete form it contains 635 essays. Of these Addison wrote 274 and Steele 240; the remaining 121 were contributed by various friends.
The Characters of Steele and Addison were curiously contrasted. Steele was an emotional, full-blooded kind of man, reckless and dissipated but fundamentally honest and good-hearted. What there is of pathos and sentiment, and most of what there is of humour in the Tatler and the Spectator are his. Addison, on the other hand, was an urbane, polished gentleman of exquisite refinement of taste. He was shy, austere, pious and righteous. He was a quiet and accurate observer of manners of fashions in life and conversation.
The purpose of the writings of Steele and Addison was ethical. They tried to reform society through the medium of the periodical essay. They set themselves as moralistic to break down two opposed influences—that of the profligate Restoration tradition of loose living and loose thinking on the one hand, and that of Puritan fanaticism and bigotry on the other. They performed this work in a gentle, good-humoured manner, and not by bitter invective. They made the people laugh at their own follies and thus get rid of them. So they were, to a great extent, responsible for reforming the conduct of their contemporaries in social and domestic fields. Their aim was moral as well as educational. Thus they discussed in a light-hearted and attractive manner art, philosophy, drama, poetry, and in so doing guided and developed the taste of the people. For example, it was by his series of eighteen articles on Paradise Lost, that Addison helped the English readers have a better appreciation of Milton and his work.
In another direction the work of Addison and Steele proved of much use. Their character studies in the shape of the members of the Spectator Club—Sir Roger de Coverley and others—presented actual men moving amid real scenes and taking part in various incidents and this helped in the development of genuine novel.
Both Steele and Addison were great masters of prose. Their essays are remarkable as showing the growing perfection of the English language. Of the two, Addison was a greater master of the language. He cultivated a highly cultured and graceful style—a style which can serve as a model. Dr. Johnson very aptly remarked: “Whoever wishes to attain an English style, familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and nights to the volumes of Addison.” And again he said: “Give nights and days, Sir, to the study of Addison if you mean to be a good writer, or what is more worth, an honest man.”
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The Age of Johnson (1744-1784)

The later half of the eighteenth century, which was dominated by Dr. Samuel Johnson, is called the Age of Johnson. Johnson died in 1784, and from that time the Classical spirit in English literature began to give place to the Romantic spirit, though officially the Romantic Age started from the year 1798 when Wordsworth and Coleridge published the famous Lyrical Ballads. Even during the Age of Johnson, which was predominantly classical, cracks had begun to appear in the solid wall of classicism and there were clear signs of revolt in favour of the Romantic spirit. This was specially noticeable in the field of poetry. Most of the poets belonging to the Age of Johnson may be termed as the precursors of the Romantic Revival. That is why the Age of Johnson is also called the Age of Transition in English literature.

(a)  Poets of the Age of Johnson
As has already been pointed out, the Age of Johnson in English poetry is an age of transition and experiment which ultimately led to the Romantic Revival. Its history is the history of the struggle between the old and the new, and of the gradual triumph of the new. The greatest protagonist of classicism during this period was Dr. Johnson himself, and he was supported by Goldsmith. In the midst of change these two held fast to the classical ideals, and the creative work of both of them in the field of poetry was imbued with the classical spirit. As Macaulay said, “Dr. Johnson took it for granted that the kind of poetry which flourished in his own time and which he had been accustomed to hear praised from his childhood, was the best kind of poetry, and he not only upheld its claims by direct advocacy of its canons, but also consistently opposed every experiment in which, as in the ballad revival, he detected signs of revolt against it.” Johnson’s two chief poems, London and The Vanity of Human Wishes, are classical on account of their didacticism, their formal, rhetorical style, and their adherence to the closed couplet.
Goldsmith was equally convinced that the classical standards of writing poetry were the best and that they had attained perfection during the Augustan Age. All that was required of the poets was to imitate those standards. According to him “Pope was the limit of classical literature.” In his opposition to the blank verse, Goldsmith showed himself fundamentally hostile to change. His two important poems, The Traveller and The Deserted Village, which are versified pamphlets on political economy, are classical in spirit and form. They are written in the closed couplet, are didactic, and have pompous phraseology. These poems may be described as the last great work of the outgoing, artificial eighteenth century school, though even in them, if we study them minutely, we perceive the subtle touches of the new age of Romanticism especially in their treatment of nature and rural life.
Before we consider the poets of the Age of Johnson, who broke from the classical tradition and followed the new Romantic trends, let us first examine what Romanticism stood for. Romanticism was opposed to Classicism on all vital points. For instance, the main characteristics of classical poetry were: (i) it was mainly the product of intelligence and was especially deficient in emotion and imagination; (ii) it was chiefly the town poetry; (iii) it had no love for the mysterious, the supernatural, or what belonged to the dim past; (iv) its style was formal and artificial; (v) it was written in the closed couplet; (vi) it was fundamentally didactic; (vii) it insisted on the writer to follow the prescribed rules and imitate the standard models of good writing. The new poetry which showed romantic leanings was opposed to all these points. For instance, its chief characteristics were: (i) it encouraged emotion, passion and imagination in place of dry intellectuality; (ii) it was more interested in nature and rustic life rather than in town life; (iii) it revived the romantic spirit—love of the mysterious, the supernatural, the dim past; (iv) it opposed the artificial and formal style, and insisted on simple and natural forms of expression; (v) it attacked the supremacy of the closed couplet and encouraged all sorts of metrical experiments; (vi) its object was not didactic but the expression of the writer’s experience for its own sake; (vii) it believed in the liberty of the poet to choose the theme and the manner of his writing.
The poets who showed romantic leanings, during the Age of Johnson, and who may be described as the precursors or harbingers of the Romantic Revival were James Thomson, Thomas Gray, William Collins, James Macpherson, William Blake, Robert Burns, William Cowper and George Crabbe.
James Thomson (1700-1748) was the earliest eighteenth century poet who showed romantic tendency in his work. The main romantic characteristic in his poetry is his minute observation of nature. In The Seasons he gives fine sympathetic descriptions of the fields, the woods, the streams, the shy and wild creatures. Instead of the closed couplet, he follows the Miltonic tradition of using the blank verse. In The Castle of Indolence, which is written in form of dream allegory so popular in medieval literature, Thomson uses the Spenserian stanza. Unlike the didactic poetry of the Augustans, this poem is full of dim suggestions.
Thomas Gray (1716-1771) is famous as the author of Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, “the best-known in the English language.” Unlike classical poetry which was characterised by restraint on personal feelings and emotions, this poem is the manifestation of deep feelings of the poet. It is suffused with the melancholy spirit which is a characteristic romantic trait. It contains deep reflections of the poet on the universal theme of death which spare no one. Other important poems of Gray are The Progress of Poesy and The Bard. Of these The Bard is more original and romantic. It emphasises the independence of the poet, which became the chief characteristic of romantic poetry. All these poems of Gray follow the classical model so far as form is concerned, but in spirit they are romantic.
William Collins (1721-1759). Like the poetry of Gray, Collin’s poetry exhibits deep feelings of melancholy. His first poem, Oriental Eclogues is romantic in feeling, but is written in the closed couplet. His best-known poems are the odes To Simplicity, To Fear, To the Passions, the small lyric How Sleep The Brave, and the beautiful “Ode to Evening”. In all these poems the poet values the solitude and quietude because they afford opportunity for contemplative life. Collins in his poetry advocates return to nature and simple and unsophisticated life, which became the fundamental creeds of the Romantic Revival.
James Macpherson (1736-1796) became the most famous poet during his time by the publication of Ossianic poems, called the Works of Ossian, which were translations of Gaelic folk literature, though the originals were never produced, and so he was considered by some critics as a forger. In spite of this Macpherson exerted a considerable influence on contemporary poets like Blake and Burns by his poetry which was impregnated with moonlight melancholy and ghostly romantic suggestions.
William Blake (1757-1827). In the poetry of Blake we find a complete break from classical poetry. In some of his works as Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience which contain the famous poems—Little Lamb who made thee? and Tiger, Tiger burning bright, we are impressed by their lyrical quality. In other poems such as The Book of Thel, Marriage of Heaven and Hell, it is the prophetic voice of Blake which appeals to the reader. In the words of Swinburne, Blake was the only poet of “supreme and simple poetic genius” of the eighteenth century, “the one man of that age fit, on all accounts, to rank with the old great masters”. Some of his lyrics are, no doubt, the most perfect and the most original songs in the English language.
Robert Burns (1759-96), who is the greatest song writer in the English language, had great love for nature, and a firm belief in human dignity and quality, both of which are characteristic of romanticism. He has summed up his poetic creed in the following stanza:
Give me a spark of Nature’s fire,
That is all the learning I desire;
Then, though I trudge through dub and mire
At plough or cart,
My Muse, though homely in attire,
May touch the heart.
The fresh, inspired songs of Burns as The Cotter’s Saturday Night, To a Mouse, To a Mountain Daisy, Man was Made to Mourne went straight to the heart, and they seemed to be the songs of the birds in spring time after the cold and formal poetry for about a century. Most of his songs have the Elizabethan touch about them.
William Cowper (1731-1800), who lived a tortured life and was driven to the verge of madness, had a genial and kind soul. His poetry, much of which is of autobiographical interest, describes the homely scenes and pleasures and pains of simple humanity—the two important characteristics of romanticism. His longest poem, The Task, written in blank verse, comes as a relief after reading the rhymed essays and the artificial couplets of the Age of Johnson. It is replete with description of homely scenes, of woods and brooks of ploughmen and shepherds. Cowper’s most laborious work is the translation of Homer in blank verse, but he is better known for his small, lovely lyrics like On the Receipt of My Mother’s Picture, beginning with the famous line, Oh, that those lips had language’, and Alexander Selkirk, beginning with the oft-quoted line, ‘I am monarch of all I survey’.
George Crabbe (1754-1832) stood midway between the Augustans and the Romantics. In form he was classical, but in the temper of his mind he was romantic. Most of his poems are written in the heroic couplet, but they depict an attitude to nature which  is Wordsworthian. To him nature is a “presence, a motion and a spirit,” and he realizes the intimate union of nature with man. His well-known poem. The Village, is without a rival as a picture of the working men of his age. He shows that the lives of the common villager and labourers are full of romantic interest. His later poems, The Parish Register, The Borough, Tales in Verse, and Tales of the Hall are all written in the same strain.
Another poet who may also be considered as the precursor of the Romantic Revival was Thomas Chatterton (1752-70), the Bristol boy, whose The Rowley Poems, written in pseudo-Chaucerian English made a strong appeal of medievalism. The publication of Bishop Percy’s Reliques of Ancient Poetry in 1765 also made great contribution to the romantic mood reviving interest in ballad literature.
(b)  Prose of the Age of Johnson
In the Age of Johnson the tradition established by prose writers of the earlier part of the eighteenth century—Addison, Steele and Swift—was carried further. The eighteenth century is called the age of aristocracy. This aristocracy was no less in the sphere of the intellect than in that of politics and society. The intellectual and literary class formed itself into a group, which observed certain rules of behaviour, speech and writing. In the field of prose the leaders of this group established a literary style which was founded on the principles of logical and lucid thought. It was opposed to what was slipshod, inaccurate, and trivial. It avoided all impetuous enthusiasm and maintained an attitude of aloofness and detachment that contributed much to its mood of cynical humour. The great prose writers, the pillars of the Age of Johnson, who represented in themselves, the highest achievements of English prose, were Johnson, Burke and Gibbon.
Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) was the literary dictator of his age, though he was not its greatest writer. He was a man who struggled heroically against poverty and ill-health; who was ready to take up cudgels against anyone however high he might be placed, but who was very kind and helpful to the poor and the wretched. He was an intellectual giant, and a man of sterling character, on account of all these qualities he was honoured and loved by all, and in his poor house gathered the foremost artists, scholars, actors, and literary men of London, who looked upon him as their leader.
Johnson’s best-known works are his Dictionary and Lives of Poets. He contributed a number of articles in the periodicals, The Rambler, The Idler and Rasselas. In them his style is ponderous and verbose, but in Lives of Poets, which are very readable critical biographies of English poets, his style is simple and at time charming. Though in the preceding generations Dryden, Addison, Steele and Swift wrote elegant, lucid and effective prose, none of them set up any definite standard to be followed by others. What was necessary in the generation when Johnson wrote, was some commanding authority that might set standard of prose style, lay down definite rules and compel others to follow them. This is what was actually done by Johnson. He set a model of prose style which had rhythm, balance and lucidity, and which could be imitiated with profit. In doing so he preserved the English prose style from degenerating into triviality and feebleness, which would have been the inevitable result of slavishly imitating the prose style of great writers like Addison by ordinary writers who had not the secret of Addison’s genius. The model was set by Johnson.
Though Johnson’s own style is often condemned as ponderous and verbose, he could write in an easy and direct style when he chose. This is clear from Lives of Poets where the formal dignity of his manner and the ceremonial stateliness of his phraseology are mixed with touches of playful humour and stinging sarcasm couched in very simple and lucid prose. The chief characteristic of Johnson’s prose-style is that it grew out of his conversational habit, and therefore it is always clear, forceful and frank. We may not some time agree to the views he expresses in the Lives, but we cannot but be impressed by his boldness, his wit, wide range and brilliancy of his style.
Burke (1729-1797) was the most important member of Johnson’s circle. He was a member of the Parliament for thirty years and as such he made his mark as the most forceful and effective orator of his times. A man of vast knowledge, he was the greatest political philosopher that ever spoke in the English Parliament.
Burke’s chief contributions to literature are the speeches and writings of his public career. The earliest of them were Thoughts on the Present Discontent (1770). In this work Burke advocated the principle of limited monarchy which had been established in England since the Glorious Revolution in 1688, when James II was made to quit the throne, and William of Orange was invited by the Parliament to become the king of England with limited powers. When the American colonies revolted against England, and the English government was trying to suppress that revolt, Burke vehemently advocated the cause of American independence. In that connection he delivered two famous speeches in Parliament. On American Taxation (1774) and on Conciliation with America, in which are embodied true statesmanship and political wisdom. The greatest speeches of Burke were, however, delivered in connection with the French Revolution, which were published as The Reflections on the French Revolution (1790). Here Burke shows himself as prejudiced against the ideals of the Revolution, and at time he becomes immoderate and indulges in exaggerations. But from the point of view of style and literary merit the Reflections stand higher, because they brought out the poetry of Burke’s nature. His last speeches delivered in connection with the impeachment of Warren Hastings for the atrocities he committed in India, show Burke as the champion of justice and a determined foe of corruption, high-handedness and cruelty.
The political speeches and writings of Burke belong to the sphere of literature of a high order because of their universality. Though he dealt in them with events which happened during his day, he gave expression to ideas and impulses which were true not for one age but for all times. In the second place they occupy an honourable place in English literature on account of excellence of their style. The prose of Burke is full of fire and enthusiasm, yet supremely logical; eloquent and yet restrained; fearless and yet orderly; steered by every popular movement and yet dealing with fundamental principles of politics and philosophy. Burke’s style, in short, is restrained, philosophical, dignified, obedient to law and order, free from exaggeration and pedantry as well as from vulgarity and superficiality.
Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) was the first historian of England who wrote in a literary manner. His greatest historical work—The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which is an authoritative and well-documented history, can pass successfully the test of modern research and scholarship. But its importance in literature is on account of its prose style which is the very climax of classicism. It is finished, elegant, elaborate and exhaustive. Though his style is sometimes marred by affectations and undue elaboration, yet on account of his massive intellect, and unfailing sense of literary proportion, he towers above all competitors as the model historian.

The Eighteenth Century Novel

The chief literary contribution of the eighteenth century was the discovery of the modern novel, which at present is the most widely read and influential type of literature. The novel in its elementary form as a work of fiction written in prose was at first established in England by two authors—Bunyan and Defoe, who took advantage of the public interest in autobiography. The books of Bunyan, whether they are told in the first person or not, were meant to be autobiographical and their interest is subjective. Bunyan endeavours to interest his readers not in the character of some other person he had imagined or observed, but in himself, and his treatment of it is characteristic of the awakening talent for fiction in his time. The Pilgrim’s Progress is begun as an allegory, but in course of time the author is so much taken up with the telling of the story, that he forgets about the allegory, and it is this fact which makes Bunyan the pioneer of the modern novel.

But it was Defoe who was the real creator of autobiographical fiction as a work of art. He was the first to create psychological interest in the character of the narrator. Moreover, he was the first to introduce realism or verisimilitude by observing in his writing a scrupulous and realistic fidelity and appropriateness to the conditions in which the story was told. For example, the reader is told about Cruso’s island as gradually as Cruso himself comes to know of it. Besides introducing the elements of autobiography and realism, Defoe also fixed the peculiar form of the historical novel—the narrative of an imaginary person in a historical setting as in his Memories of a Cavalier. On account of all these reasons Defoe is rightly termed the originator of the modern novel.
In spite of this, it can be safely said that until the publication of Richardson’s Pamela in 1740, no true novel had appeared in English literature. By a true novel we mean simply a work of fictions which relates the story of a plain human life, under stress of emotions, and the interest of which does not depend on incident or adventure, but on its truth to nature. During the eighteenth century a number of English novelists—Goldsmith, Richardson, Fielding, Smollett, Sterne—all developed simultaneously the form of the novel as presenting life, as it really is, in the form of a story. The new middle class which was rising and getting into power demanded a new type of literature, which must express the new ideal of the eighteenth century, that is, the value and the importance of individual life. Moreover, on account of the spread of education and the appearance of newspapers and magazines there was an immense increase in the reading public to whom the novelist could directly appeal without caring for the patronage of the aristocratic class which was losing power. It was under these circumstances that the novel was born in the eighteenth century expressing the same ideals of personality and of the dignity of command life which became the chief themes of the poets of the Romantic Revival, and which were proclaimed later by the American and French Revolutions. The novelists of the eighteenth century told the common people not about the grand lives of knights, princes and heroes, but about their own plain and simple lives, their ordinary thoughts and feelings, and their day-to-day actions and their effects on them and others. The result was that such works were eagerly read by the common people, and the novel became a popular form of literature appealing to the masses, because it belonged to them and reflected their lives.
Daniel Defoe (1661-1731) was, as has already been pointed out, the originator of the novel, though none of his works can be placed under the category of novel in the modern sense of the term. In Robinson Cruso, Defoe, has described the experiences of Alexander Selkirk who spent five years in solitude in the island of Juan Fernandez. Though the whole story is fictitious, it has been described most realistically with the minute accuracy of an eyewitness. From that point of view we can say that in Robinson Cruso Defoe brought the realistic adventure story to a very high stage of its development, better than in his other works of fiction Captain Singleton, Moll Flanders and Roxana which are just like picaresque stories (current at that time, about the adventures of rogues) to which were added unnatural moralising and repentance. But we cannot call Robinson Cruso, strictly speaking, a novel, because here the author has not produced the effect of subordinating incident to the faithful portrayal of human life and character, which is the criterion of the real novel.
Samuel Richardson (1689-1761) is credited with the writing of the first modern novel—Pamela or Virtue Rewarded. It tells the trials, tribulations and the final happy marriage of a young girl. Written in the form of ‘Familiar Letters, on how to think and act justly and prudently, in the common concerns of Human Life’, it is sentimental and boring on account of its wearisome details. But the merit of it lies in the fact that it was the first book which told in a realistic manner the inner life of a young girl. Its psychological approach made it the first modern novel in England. Richardson here gave too much importance to physical chastity, and ‘prudence’ which was the key to the middle class way of life during the eighteenth century. It enjoyed tremendous popularity on account of being in tune with the contemporary standards of morality.
Richardson’s second novel, Clarissa or The History of a Young Lady, is also written in the form of letters and is as sentimental as Pamela. In the heroine of this novel, Clarissa, Richardson has painted a real woman, portraying truthfully her doubts, scruples, griefs and humiliations. In his next novel, Sir Charles Grandison, which is also written in the form of letters, Richardson told the story of an aristocrat of ideal manners and virtues.
In all his novels Richardson’s purpose was didactic, but he achieved something more. He probed into the inner working of the human mind. It was this achievement that made Dr. Johnson say of Richardson that he “enlarged the knowledge of human nature, and taught the passions to move at the command of virtue”. Of Clarissa he said that “it was the first book in the world for the knowledge it displays of the human heart.” Richardson’s main contribution to the English novel was that for the first time he told stories of human life from within, depending for their interest not on incidents or adventures but on their truth to human nature.
Henry Fielding (1707-1754) was the greatest of the eighteenth century novelists. He wrote his first great novel Joseph Andrews in order to satirise and parody the false sentimentality and conventional virtues of Richardson’s heroine, Pamela. The hero of this novel is a supposed brother of Pamela, a domestic servant, who has vowed to follow the example of his sister. He is also exposed to the same kinds of temptations, but instead of being rewarded for his virtues, he is dismissed from service by his mistress. The satiric purpose of Fielding ends here, because then he describes the adventures of Joseph with his companion Parson Adams, and tells the story of a vagabond life, with a view “to laugh men out of their follies”. Instead of the sentimentality and feminine niceties of Richardson, in Fielding’s novel we find a coarse, vigorous, hilarious and even vulgar approach to life. The result is broad realism not in the portrayal of inner life but of outer behaviour and manners. The characters in the novels are drawn from all classes of society, and they throb with life.
Fielding’s next novel, Jonathan Wild, is a typical picaresque novel, narrating the story of a rogue. His greatest novel, The History of Tom Jones, a Founding (1746-1749), has epic as well as dramatic qualities. It consists of a large number of involved adventures, which are very skillfully brought towards their climax by the hand of a dramatist. Behind all chance happenings, improbabilities and incogruities there exists a definite pattern which gives the complicated plot of Tom Jones a unity which we find nowhere in English novel or drama except in Ben Jonson’s The Alchemists. Without making a deliberate effort at moralising like Richardson Fielding suggests a deeper moral lesson that one should do good not for reward but for the satisfaction of doing so. It is the generous impulses, rooted in unselfishness and respect for others, which are the best guarantee of virtue.
Fieldings’ last novel, Amelia (1751), which is the story of a good wife in contrast with an unworthy husband, is written in a milder tone. Here instead of showing a detached and coarse attitude to life, Fielding becomes soft-hearted and champions the cause of the innocent and the helpless. It is also written in a homely and simple narrative.
Fielding’s great contribution to the English novel is that he put it on a stable footing. It became free from its slavery to fact, conscious of its power and possibilities, and firmly established as an independent literary form. He is called the Father of the English novel, because he was the first to give genuine pictures of men and women of his age, without moralising over their vices and virtues. It was through his efforts that the novel became immensely popular with the reading public, and a large number of novels poured from the press.
Tobias Smollett (1721-1771) followed the example of Fielding in writing picaresque novels, which are full of intrigue and adventure. But he lacks the genius of Fielding, for his novels are just a jumble of adventures and incidents without any artistic unity. Instead of Fielding’s broad humour and his inherent kindness, we find horrors and brutalities in the novels of Smollett, which are mistaken for realism.
Smollett’s best-known novels are Roderick Random (1748) in which the hero relates a series of adventures: Peregrine Pickle (1751) in which are related the worst experiences at sea; and Humphrey Clinker (1771) in which is related the journey of a Welsh family through England and Scotland. In all these novels Smollet excites continuous laughter by farcical situations and exaggeration in portraying human eccentricities. Unlike the realistic and pure comedy which Fielding presents in his novels, Smollet is the originator of the funny novel, which was brought to a climax by Dickens in his satirical and hearty caricatures.
Lawrence Sterne (1713-1768) was the opposite of Smollet in the sense that whereas we find horrors and brutalities in the novels of Smollett, in Sterne’s we find whims, vagaries and sentimental tears. His best-known novels are Tristram Shandy and A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy. The former was started in 1760; its nineth volume appeared in 1767, but the book was never finished. In it are recorded in a most digressive and aimless manner the experiences of the eccentric Shandy family. The main achievements of this book lie in the brilliancy of its style and the creation of eccentric characters like Uncle Toby and Corporal Trim. The Sentimental Journey, which is a strange mixture of fiction, descriptions of travel, and a number of essays on all sorts of subjects, is also written in a brilliant style, and is stamped with Sterne’s false and sentimental attitude to life.
These novels are written in the first person, and while Sterne speaks of one thing, it reminds him of another, with which it has no apparent, logical connection. So he is forced into digression, and in this manner he follows the wayward movements of his mind. This method is very much like that of the Stream of Consciousness novelists, though there is a difference, because the hero in Sterne’s novels is Sterne himself. Another peculiarity of Sterne is his power of sentimentality, which along with his humour and indecency, is part and parcel of his way of interpreting life. Whenever he makes us smile, he hopes that there will be a suspicion of a tear as well. In fact the main contribution of Sterne to the English novel was his discovery of the delights of sensibility, the pleasures of the feeling heart, which opened up a vast field of experience, and which was followed by many eighteenth century writers.
Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774) wrote only one novel—The Vicar of Wakefield. This is the best novel in the English language, in which domestic life has been given an enduring romantic interest. It is free from that vulgarity and coarseness which we find in the novels of Smollett and Sterne. In it domestic virtues and purity of character are elevated. It is the story of Dr. Primrose, a simple English clergyman, who passes through various misfortunes, but ultimately comes out triumphant, with his faith in God and man reaffirmed. Without introducing romantic passion, intrigue and adventure which were freely used by other novelists, Goldsmith by relating a simple story in a simple manner has presented in The Vicar of Wakefield the best example of the novel, the new literary form which was becoming immensely popular.
Summing up the development of the English novel during the eighteenth century, we can say that the novel from a humble beginning evolved into a fully developed form. Defoe gave it the realistic touch; Richardson introduced analysis of the human heart; Fielding made it full of vitality and animal vigour; Smollett introduced exaggerated and eccentric characters; Sterne contributed sentimentality and brilliancy of style; and Goldsmith emphasised high principles and purity of domestic life. In the hands of these early masters the novel took a definite shape and came to be recognised as an important literary form with vast possibilities of further development.

The Eighteenth Century Drama

The dramatic literature of the eighteenth century was not of a high order. In fact there was a gradual deterioration and during the last quarter of the century drama was moving towards its lowest ebb. One of the reasons of the decline of drama during the eighteenth century was the Licensing Act of 1737 which curtailed the freedom of expression of dramatists. The result was that a number of writers like Fielding, who could make their marks as dramatists, left the theatre and turned towards the novel. Moreover, the new commercial middle classes which were coming into prominence imposed their own dull and stupid views on the themes that would be acceptable to the theatre. Naturally this was not liked by first-rate writers who wanted to write independently.

In the field of tragedy two opposing traditions—Romantic and Classical—exercised their influence on the dramatists. The Romantic tradition was the Elizabethan way of writing tragedy. Those who followed this tradition made use of intricate plots and admitted horror and violence on the open stage. The Classical tradition which was mainly the French tradition of writing tragedy was characterised by the unfolding of a single action without any sub-plot, and long declamatory speeches delivered by the actors. The traditional English pattern of drama was exemplified by Otway’s Venice Preserved, while the Classical tradition was strictly upheld in Addison’s Cato (1713), which is written in an unemotional but correct style, and has a pronounced moralising tone. Other tragedies which were written according to the Classical pattern were James Thomson’s Sophonisba (1729) and Dr. Johnson’s Irene (1749). But none of these tragedies, whether following the Romantic or the Classical tradition came up to a respectable dramatic standard, because the creative impulse seems to have spent itself. Though a very large number of tragedies were written during the eighteenth century, they had literary, but no dramatic value. Mostly there were revivals of old plays, which were adapted by writers who were not dramatists in the real sense of the term.
In the field of comedy, the same process of disintegration was noticeable. Comedy was deteriorating into farce. Moreover, sentimentality which was opposed to the authority of reason, came to occupy an important place in comedy. This ‘sentimental’ comedy which gained in popularity was criticised by Goldsmith thus:
“A new species of dramatic composition has been introduced under the name of sentimental comedy, in which the virtues of private life are exhibited, rather than the vices exposed; and the distresses rather than the faults of mankind make our interest in the pieces. These comedies have had of late great success, perhaps from their novelty, and also from their flattering every man in his favourite foible. In these plays almost all the characters are good and exceedingly generous; they are lavish enough of their tin money on the stage; and though they want humour, have abundance of sentiment and feeling. If they happen to have faults or foibles, the spectator is taught, not only to pardon, but to applaud them, in consideration of the goodness of their hearts; so that folly, instead of being ridiculed, is commended, and the comedy aims at touching our passions without the power of being truly pathetic.
Steele was the first exponent of the sentimental comedy in the eighteenth century. In his plays, such as The Funeral, The Lying Lover, The Tender Husband, The Conscious Lovers, Steele extolled the domestic virtues. His object was didactic, and he tried to prove that morality and sharpness of intelligence can go together. In his plays in which tears of pity and emotion flowed profusely, Steele held that Simplicity of mind, Good nature, Friendship and Honour were the guiding principles of conduct.
Other dramatists who wrote sentimental comedies were Colley Cibber, Hugh Kelley and Richard Cumberland. In their hands comedy was so much drenched in emotions and sentiments that the genuine human issues were completely submerged in them. Thus there was a need to rescue the drama from such depths to which it had fallen.
The two great dramatists of the eighteenth century, who led the revolt against sentimental comedy were Oliver Goldsmith (1730-74) and Richard Sheridan (1751-1861). Though in his novel, The Vicar of Wakefield, and in his poem, The Deserted Village, Goldsmith showed clear marks of a sentimental attitude to life, in his Good-Natured Man he covers it with ridicule by portraying the character of Honeywood as unadulterated ‘good-nature’. Though the play is a feeble one, his intentions of mocking the excess of false charity are obvious. His next play, She Stoops to Conquer (1773), which is his masterpiece, was an immediate success. It has always remained one of the half-dozen most popular comedies in the English language. In spite of the obvious improbabilities of the plot, the play moves naturally in a homely atmosphere, full of genuine humour which provokes unrestrained laughter. Here there is no artificiality of sentimental comedy. The main characters—Hardcastle and Tony Lumpkin are very clearly delineated. They are at once types and individuals. They are the images of their age, and yet recognizable as human figures. She Stoops to Conquer went a long way in restoring comedy to its own province of mirth and laughter and rescuing it from too much sentimentality.
Richard Brinsely Sheridan is best known for his two comedies—The Rivals (1775) and The School for Scandal (1777). Sheridan brought back the brilliance of the witty and elegant Restoration comedy, purged of its impurities and narrowness. He created, instead, a more genial and romantic atmosphere associated with the comedies of Shakespeare. His characters are as clearly drawn as those of Ben Jonson, but they move in a gayer atmosphere. The only defect that we find in these comedies of Sheridan is that there is all gaiety, but no depth, no new interpretation of human nature.
The intrigue in The Rivals, though not original, is skilfully conducted. The audience heartily laugh at humours of Mrs. Malaprop, Sir Anthony, and Bab Acres. In The School for Scandal Sheridan showed himself as a mature dramatist. Here the dialogue has the exquisite Congreve-like precision, and wit reigns supreme. Even the stupid characters, the servants, are witty. Though the main characters, the quarrelsome couple and the plotting brothers; the ‘scandal-club’ of Lady Sneerwell; and the intrigue leading inevitably to the thrilling resolution in the famous screen scene, are all familiar, and can be found in many other plays, yet they are invested with novelty. In both these plays Sheridan reversed the trend of sentimentalism by introducing realism tinged with the geniality of romance. He had no message to convey, except that the most admirable way of living is to be generous and open-hearted.

The Romantic Age (1798-1824)

The Romantic period is the most fruitful period in the history of English literature. The revolt against the Classical school which had been started by writers like Chatterton, Collins, Gray, Burne, Cowper etc. reached its climax during this period, and some of the greatest and most popular English poets like Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley and Keats belong to this period.

This period starts from 1798 with the publication of the Lyrical Ballads by Wordsworth and Coleridge, and the famous Preface which Wordsworth wrote as a manifesto of the new form of poetry which he and Coleridge introduced in opposition to the poetry of the Classical school. In the Preface to the First Edition Wordsworth did not touch upon any other characteristic of Romantic poetry except the simplicity and naturalness of its diction. “The majority of the following poems”, he writes “are to be considered as experiments. They were written chiefly with a view to ascertaining how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adopted to the purposes of poetic pleasure.” In the longer preface to the second edition of the Lyrical Ballads, where Wordsworth explains his theories of poetic imagination, he again returns to the problem of the proper language of poetry. “The language too, of these men (that is those in humble and rustic life) has been adopted because from their intercourse, being less under the influence of social vanity, they convey their feelings and notions in simple, unelaborated expression.”

Wordsworth chose the language of the common people as the vehicle of his poetry, because it is the most sincere expression of the deepest and rarest passions and feelings. This was the first point of attack of the artificial and formal style of Classical school of poetry. The other point at which Wordsworth attacked the old school was its insistence on the town and the artificial way of life which prevailed there. He wanted the poet to breathe fresh air of the hills and beautiful natural scenes and become interested in rural life and the simple folk living in the lap of nature. A longing to be rid of the precision and order of everyday life drove him to the mountains, where, as he describes in his Lines written above Tintern Abbey.
The sounding cataract
Haunted me like a passion; the tall rock,
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
Their colours and their forms, were then to me
An appetite.
By attacking the supremacy of the heroic couplet as the only form of writing poetry, and substituting it by simple and natural diction; by diverting the attention of the poet from the artificial town life to the life in the woods, mountains and villages inhabited by simple folk; and by asserting the inevitable role of imagination and emotions in poetry as against dry intellectualism which was the chief characteristic of the Classical school, Wordsworth not only emancipated the poet from the tyranny of literary rules and conventions which circumscribed his freedom of expression, but he also opened up before him vast regions of experience which in the eighteenth century had been closed to him. His revolt against the Classical school was in keeping with the political and social revolutions of the time as the French Revolution and the American War of Independence which broke away with the tyranny of social and political domination, and which proclaimed the liberty of the individual or nation to be the master of its own destiny. Just as liberty of the individual was the watchword of the French Revolution, liberty of a nation from foreign domination was the watchword of the American War of Independence; in the same manner liberty of the poet from the tyranny of the literary rules and conventions was the watchword of the new literary movement which we call by the name of Romantic movement. It is also termed as the Romantic Revival, because all these characteristics—the liberty of the writer to choose the theme and form of his literary production, the importance given to imagination and human emotions, and a broad and catholic outlook on life in all its manifestations in towns, villages, mountains, rivers etc. belonged to the literature of the Elizabethan Age which can be called as the first Romantic age in English literature. But there was a difference between the Elizabethan Age and the Romantic Age, because in the latter the Romantic spirit was considered as discovery of something which once was, but had been lost. The poets of the Romantic periods, therefore, always looked back to the Elizabethan masters—Shakespeare, Spenser and other —and got inspiration from them. They were under the haunting influence of feelings which had already been experienced, and a certain type of free moral life which had already been lived, and so they wanted to recapture the memory and rescue it from fading away completely.
In the poems which were contributed in the Lyrical Ballads Wordsworth dealt with events of everyday life, by preference in its humblest form. He tried to prove that the commonplace things of life, the simple and insignificant aspects of nature, if treated in the right manner, could be as interesting and absorbing as the grand and imposing aspects of life and nature. To the share of Coleridge fell such subjects as were supernatural, which he was “to inform with that semblance of truth sufficient to procure for those shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment which constitutes poetic faith.” Wordsworth’s naturalism and Coleridge’s supernaturalism thus became the two important spearheads of the Romantic Movement.
Wordsworth’s naturalism included love for nature as well for man living in simple and natural surroundings. Thus he speaks for the love that is in homes where poor men live, the daily teaching that is in:
Woods and rills;
The silence that is in the starry sky;
The sleep that is among the lonely hills.
Coleridge’s supernaturalism, on the other hand, established the connection between the visible world and the other world which is unseen. He treated the supernatural in his masterly poem, The Ancient Mariner, in such a manner that it looked quite natural.
Associated with Wordsworth and Coleridge in the exploration of the less known aspects of humanity was Southey who makes up with them the trail of the so-called Lake Poets. He devoted himself to the exhibition of “all the more prominent and poetical forms of mythology which have at any time obtained among mankind.” Walter Scott, though he was not intimately associated with the Lake poets, contributed his love for the past which also became one of the important characteristics of the Romantic Revival.
Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey and Scott belong to the first romantic generation. Though they were in their youth filled with great enthusiasm by the outburst of the French Revolution which held high hope for mankind, they became conservatives and gave up their juvenile ideas when the French Republic converted itself into a military empire resulting in Napoleonic wars against England and other European countries. The revolutionary ardour, therefore, faded away, and these poets instead of championing the cause of the oppressed section of mankind, turned to mysticism, the glory of the past, love of natural phenomena, and the noble simplicity of the peasant race attached to the soil and still sticking to traditional virtues and values. Thus these poets of the first romantic generation were not in conflict with the society of which they were a part. They sang about the feelings and emotions which were shared by a majority of their countrymen.
The second generation of Romantic writers—Byron, Shelley, Keats, Leigh Hunt, Hazlitt and others—who came to the forefront after the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815, revolted from the reactionary spirit which was prevailing at that time in England against the ideals of the French Revolution. The result was that the second generation came in conflict with the social environment with which their predecessors were in moral harmony. Moreover, the victorious struggle with the French empire had left England impoverished, and the political and social agitations which had subsided on account of foreign danger, again raised their head. The result was that there was a lot of turmoil and perturbation among the rank and file, which was being suppressed by those who were in power. In such an atmosphere the younger romantic generation renewed the revolutionary ardour and attacked the established social order. Thus Romanticism in the second stage became a literature of social conflict. Both Byron and Shelley rebelled against society and had to leave England.
But basically the poets of the two generations of Romanticism shared the same literary beliefs and ideals. They were all innovators in the forms well as in the substance of their poetry. All, except, Byron, turned in disgust from the pseudo-classical models and condemned in theory and practice the “poetical diction” prevalent throughout the eighteenth century. They rebelled against the tyranny of the couplet, which they only used with Elizabethan freedom, without caring for the mechanical way in which it was used by Pope. To it they usually preferred either blank verse or stanzas, or a variety of shorter lyrical measures inspired by popular poetry are truly original.
The prose-writers of the Romantic Revival also broke with their immediate predecessors, and discarded the shorter and lighter style of the eighteenth century. They reverted to the ponderous, flowery and poetical prose of the Renaissance and of Sir Thomas Browne, as we find in the works of Lamb, and De Quincey. Much of the prose of the Romantic period was devoted to the critical study of literature, its theory and practice. Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Lamb, Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt and De Quincey opened up new avenues in the study of literature, and gradually prepared the way for the understanding of the new type of literature which was being produced.
As the Romantic Age was characterised by excess of emotions, it produced a new type of novel, which seems rather hysterical, now, but which was immensely popular among the multitude of readers, whose nerves were somewhat excited, and who revelled in extravagant stories of supernatural terror. Mrs. Anne Radcliffe was one of the most successful writers of the school of exaggerated romances. Sir Walter Scott regaled the readers by his historical romances. Jane Austen, however, presents a marked contrast to these extravagant stories by her enduring work in which we find charming descriptions of everyday life as in the poetry of Wordsworth.
Whereas the Classical age was the age of prose, the Romantic age was the age of poetry, which was the proper medium for the expression of emotions and imaginative sensibility of the artist. The mind of the artist came in contact with the sensuous world and the world of thought at countless points, as it had become more alert and alive. The human spirit began to derive new richness from outward objects and philosophical ideas. The poets began to draw inspiration from several sources—mountains and lakes, the dignity of the peasant, the terror of the supernatural, medieval chivalry and literature, the arts and mythology of Greece, the prophecy of the golden age. All these produced a sense of wonder which had the be properly conveyed in literary form. That is why some critics call the Romantic Revival as the Renaissance of Wonder. Instead of living a dull, routine life in the town, and spending all his time and energy in to midst of artificiality and complexity of the cities, the poets called upon man to adopt a healthier way of living in the natural world in which providence has planted him of old, and which is full of significance for his soul. The greatest poets of the romantic revival strove to capture and convey the influence of nature on the mind and of the mind on nature interpenetrating one another.
The essence of Romanticism was that literature must reflect all that is spontaneous and unaffected in nature and in man, and be free to follow its own fancy in its own way. They result was that during the Romantic period the young enthusiasts turned as naturally to poetry as a happy man to singing. The glory of the age is the poetry of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Scott, Byron, Shelley and Keats. In fact, poetry was so popular that Southey had to write in verse in order to earn money, what he otherwise would have written in prose.
Summing up the chief characteristics of Romanticism as opposed to Classicism, we can say that Classicism laid stress upon the impersonal aspects of the life of the mind; the new literature, on the other hand, openly shifts the centre of art, bringing it back towards what is most proper and particular in each individual. It is the product of the fusion of two faculties of the artist—his sensibility and imagination. The Romantic spirit can be defined as an accentuated predominance of emotional life, and Romantic literature was fed by intense emotion coupled with the intense desire to display that emotion through appropriate imagery. Thus Romantic literature is a genuinely creative literature calling into play the highest creative faculty of man.
Romantic Poetry
Romantic poetry which was the antithesis of Classical poetry had many complexities. Unlike Classical poets who agreed on the nature and form of poetry, and the role that the poet is called upon to play, the Romantic poets held different views on all these subjects. The artistic and philosophic principles of neo-classical poetry were completely summarised by Pope, and they could be applied to the whole of Augustan poetry. But it is difficult to find a common denominator which links such poets as Wordsworth, Coleridge, Scott, Byron, Shelley, and Keats. The reason of this was that there was abundance and variety of genius. No age in English literature produced such great giants in the field of poetry. Moreover, it was the age of revolutionary change, not only in the view of the character and function of poetry but in the whole conception of the nature of man and of the world in which he found himself. The evenness, equanimity and uniformity of the Classical age was broken, and it was replaced by strong currents of change flowing in various directions. One poet reacted to a particular current more strongly or sympathetically than the other poet. Thus each poet of the Romantic period stands for himself, and has his own well-defined individuality. The only common characteristic that we find in them is their intense faith in imagination, which could not be controlled by any rules and regulations.
In fact the most distinctive mark which distinguished the Romantic poets from the Classical poets was the emphasis which the former laid on imagination. In the eighteenth century imagination was not a cardinal point in poetical theory. For Pope, Johnson and Dryden the poet was more an interpreter than a creator, more concerned with showing the attractions of what we already know than with expeditions into the unfamiliar and the unseen. They were less interested in the mysteries of life than in its familiar appearances, and they thought that their task was to display this with as much charm and truth as they could command. But for the Romantics imagination was fundamental, because they thought that without that poetry was impossible. They were conscious of a wonderful capacity to create imaginary worlds, and they could not believe that this was idle or false. On the contrary, they thought that to curb it was to deny something vitally necessary to the whole being.
Whereas the Classical poets were more interested in the visible world, the Romantic poets obeyed an inner call to explore more fully the world of the spirit. They endeavoured to explore the mysteries of life, and thus understand it better. It was this search for the unseen world that awoke the inspiration of the Romantics and made poets of them. They appealed not to the logical mind, but to the complete self, in the whole range of intellectual faculties, senses and emotions.
Though all the Romantic poets believed in an ulterior reality and based their poetry on it, they founded it in different ways and made different uses of it. They varied in the degree of importance which they attached to the visible world and in their interpretation of it. Coleridge conceived of the world of facts as an “inanimate cold world”, in which “object, as objects, are essentially fixed and dead”. It was the task of the poet to transform it by his power of imagination, to bring the dead world back to life. When we turn to The Ancient Mariner and Christable it seems clear that Coleridge thought that the task of poetry is to convey the mystery of life by the power of imagination. He was fascinated by the notion of unearthly powers at work in the world, and it was this influence which he sought to catch. The imagination of the poet is his creative, shaping spirit, and it resembles the creative power of God. Just as God creates this universe, the poet also creates a universe of his own by his imagination.
Wordsworth also thought with Coleridge that the imagination was the most important gift that the poet can have. He agreed with Coleridge that this activity resembles that of God. But according to Wordsworth imagination is a comprehensive faculty comprising many faculties. So he explains that the imagination:
Is but another name for absolute power
And clearest insight, amplitude of mind
And Reason in her most exalted mood.
Wordsworth differs from Coleridge in his conception of the external world. For him the world is not dead but living and has its own soul. Man’s task is to enter into communion with this soul. Nature was the source of his inspiration, and he could not deny to it an existence at least as powerful as man’s. But since nature lifted him out of himself, he sought for a higher state in which the soul of nature and the soul of man could be united in a single harmony.
Shelley was no less attached to the imagination and gave it no less a place in his theory of poetry. He saw that the task of reason is simply to analyse a given thing and to act as an instrument of the imagination, which uses its conclusions to create a synthetic and harmonious whole. He called poetry “the Expression of the Imagination”, because in it diverse things are brought together in harmony instead of being separated through analysis. Shelley tried to grasp the whole of things in its essential unity, to show is real and what is merely phenomenal, and by doing this to display how the phenomenal depends on the real. For him the ultimate reality is the eternal mind, and this holds the universe together. In thought and feeling, in consciousness and spirit, Shelley found reality. He believed that the task of the imagination is to create shapes by which this reality can be revealed.
Keats had passionate love for the visible world and at times his approach was highly sensuous. But he had a conviction that the ultimate reality is to be found only in the imagination. What is meant to him can be seen from some lines in Sleep and Poetry, in which he asks why imagination has lost its power and scope:
Is there so small a range
In the present strength of manhood, that the high
Imagination cannot freely fly
As she was wont of old? prepare her steeds
Paw up against the light, and do strange deeds
Upon the clouds? Has she not shown us all?
From the clear space of ether, to the small
Breath of new buds unfolding? From the meaning
Of Jove’s eyebrow, to the tender greening
Of April meadows.
Through the imagination Keats sought an ultimate reality to which a door was opened by his appreciation of beauty through the senses. For him imagination is that absorbing and exalting faculty which opens the way to an unseen spiritual order.
Thus the great Romantic poets agreed that their task was to find through the imagination some transcendental order, some inner and ultimate reality which explains the outward appearance of things in the visible world and the effect which they produce on us. Each one gave his own interpretation of the universe, the relation of God, the connection between the visible and the invisible, nature and man, as he saw it through the power of his imagination. Each set forth his own vision through the power of his imagination. Each set forth his own vision through the richness of his poetry, and gave it a concrete individual shape. They refused to accept the ideas of other men on trust or to sacrifice imagination to argument. By means of their creative art they tried to awaken the imagination of the reader to the reality that lies behind and in familiar things, to rouse him from the dead and dull routine of custom, and make him conscious of the unfathomable mysteries of life. They tried to show that mere reason is not sufficient to understand the fundamental problems of life; what is required is inspired intuition. Thus their view of life and poetry was much wider and deeper than that of their predecessors in the eighteenth century, because they appealed to the whole spiritual nature of man and not merely to his reason and common sense whose scope is limited.

Poets of the Romantic Age

The poets of the Romantic age can be classified into three groups— (i) The Lake School, consisting of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey; (ii) The Scott group including Campbell and Moore; and (iii) The group comprising Byron, Shelley, and Keats. The first two groups were distinctly earlier than the third, so we have two eight years flood periods of supremely great poetry, namely 1798-1806 and 1816-1824, separated by a middle period when by comparison creative energy had ebbed.

(a)  The Lake Poets
The Lake Poets formed a ‘school’ in the sense that they worked in close cooperation, and their lives were spent partly in the Lake district. Only Wordsworth was born there, but all the three lived there for a shorter or longer period. Linked together by friendship, they were still further united by the mutual ardour of their revolutionary ideas in youth, and by the common reaction which followed in their riper years. They held many of the poetic beliefs in common. Wordsworth and Coleridge lived together for a long time and produced the Lyrical Ballads by joint effort in 1798. They had original genius and what they achieved in the realm of poetry was supported by Southey who himself did not possess much creative imagination. The literary revolution which is associated with their name was accomplished in 1800, when in the second edition of the Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth and Coleridge explained further their critical doctrines.
Describing the genesis of the poems contained the Lyrical Ballads, Coleridge wrote later in his greatest critical work—Biographia Literaria (1817):
During the first year that Mr. Wordsworth and I were neighbours, our conversation turned frequently on two cardinal points of poetry, the power of exciting the sympathy of the reader by a faithful adherence to the truth of nature, and the power of giving the interest of novelty by the modifying colours of imagination…The thought suggested itself that a series of poems may be composed of two sorts. In the one, the incidents and agents were to be, in part at least, supernatural; and the excellence aimed at was to consist in the interesting of the affections by the dramatic truth of such emotions as would naturally accompany such situations, supposing them real…For the second class, subjects were to be chosen from ordinary life; the characters and incidents, were to be such as will be found in every village and its vicinity, where there is a meditative and feeling mind to seek after them, or to notice them, when they present themselves. In this idea originated the plan of Lyrical Ballads, in which it was agreed that my endeavour should be directed to persons and characters supernatural…Mr. Wordsworth, on the other hand, was to give charm of novelty to things of every day.
This was the framework of the Lyrical Ballads. Regarding the style, Wordsworth explained in the famous preface:
The poems were published which, I hoped, might be of some use to ascertain how far, by fitting to metrical arrangement, a selection of the real language of men in a state of vivid sensation, that sort of pleasure and that quantity of pleasure may be imparted, which a poet may rationally endeavour to impart…Low and rustic life was generally chosen, because in that condition the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which they can attain their maturity, are less under restraint, and speak a plainer and more emphatic language.
Wordsworth thus registered a protest against the artificial ‘poetic diction’ of the classical school, which was separated from common speech. He declared emphatically: “There is, nor can be, any essential difference between the language of prose and metrical composition.” Thus it was in the spirit of a crusader that Wordsworth entered upon his poetic career. His aim was to lift poetry from its depraved state and restore to it its rightful position.
William Wordsworth (1770-1850) was the greatest poet of the Romantic period. The credit of originating the Romantic movement goes to him. He refused to abide by any poetic convention and rules, and forged his own way in the realm of poetry. He stood against many generations of great poets and critics, like Dryden, Pope and Johnson, and made way for a new type of poetry. He declared: “A poet is a man endowed with more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm and tenderness, who has a greater knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive soul, than are supposed to be common among mankind.” The truth of this statement struck down the ideal of literary conventions based on reason and rationality, which had been blindly worshipped for so long. By defining poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling” he revolted against the dry intellectuality of his predecessors. By giving his ideas about the poetic language as simple and natural, he opposed the “gaudiness and inane phraseology” of the affected classical style.
Wordsworth wrote a large number and variety of lyrics, in which he can stir the deepest emotions by the simplest means. There we find the aptness of phrase and an absolute naturalness which make a poem once read as a familiar friend. Language can scarcely be at once more simple and more full of feeling than in the following stanza from one of the ‘Lucy poems’:
Thus Nature spoke—The work was done,
How soon my Lucy’s race was run.
She died, and left to me
This health, this calm, and quiet scene,
The memory of what has been,
And never more will be.
Besides lyrics Wordsworth wrote a number of sonnets of rare merit like To Milton, Westminster Bridge, The World is too much with us, in which there is a fine combination of the dignity of thought and language. In his odes, as Ode to Duty and Ode on the Intimations of Immortality, he gives expression to his high ideals and philosophy of life. In the Immortality Ode, Wordsworth celebrates one of his most cherished beliefs that our earliest intuitions are the truest, and that those are really happy who even in their mature years keep themselves in touch with their childhood:
Hence, in a season of calm weather,
Though inland far we be,
Our souls have sight of that immortal sea
Which brought us hither.
Can in a moment travel thither,
And see the children sport upon the shore,
And hear the mighty waters rolling ever more.
But Wordsworth was not merely a lyrical poet; he justly claims to be the poet of Man of Nature, and of Human Life. Though in his youth he came under the influence of the ideals of the French Revolution, he was soon disillusioned on account of its excesses, and came to the conclusion that the emancipation of man cannot be effected by poetical upheavals, but by his living a simple, natural life. In the simple pieties of rustic life he began to find a surer foundation for faith in mankind than in the dazzling hopes created by the French Revolution. Moreover, he discovered that there is an innate harmony between Nature and Man. It is when man lives in the lap of nature that he lives the right type of life. She has an ennobling effect on him, and even the simplest things in nature can touch a responsive cord in man’s heart:
To me the meanest flower that blooms can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
According to Wordsworth man is a part of Nature. In his poem Resolution and Independence the old man and the surroundings make a single picture:
Himself he propped, limbs, body, and pale face,
Upon a long grey staff of shaven wood;
And, still as I drew near with gentle pace
Upon the margin of that moorish flood,
Motionless like a cloud the old man stood
That heareth not the loud winds when they call;
And moveth all together, if it move at all.
Besides the harmony between Man and Nature, the harmony of Wordsworth’s own spirit with the universe is the theme of Wordsworth’s greatest Nature poems: Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey, Yew Trees and The Simplton Pass.
Wordsworth is famous for his lyrics, sonnets, odes and short descriptive poems. His longer poems contain much that is prosy and uninteresting. The greater part of his work, including The Prelude and The Excursion was intended for a place in a single great poem, to be called The Recluse, which should treat of nature, man and society. The Prelude, treating of the growth of poets’ mind, was to introduce this work. The Excursion (1814) is the second book of The Recluse; and the third was never completed. In his later years, Wordsworth wrote much poetry which is dull and unimaginative. But there is not a single line in his poetry which has not got the dignity and high moral value which we associate with Wordsworth who, according to Tennyson, “uttered nothing base.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834). The genius of Coleridge was complementary to that of Wordsworth. While Wordsworth dealt with naturalism which was an important aspect of the Romantic movement, Coleridge made the supernatural his special domain, which was an equally important aspect. In his youth Coleridge came under the spell of French Revolution and the high hope which it held out for the emancipation of the oppressed section of mankind. He gave poetic expression to his political aspiration in Religious Musings, Destiny of Nations and Ode to the Departing Year (1796). But like Wordsworth, he also began to think differently after the excesses of the Revolution. This change of thought is shown in his beautiful poem France: an Ode (1798) which he himself called his ‘recantation’. After that he, like Wordsworth, began to support the conservative cause.
Coleridge was a man of gigantic genius, but his lack of will power and addiction to opium prevented him from occomplishing much in the realm of poetry. Whatever he has written, though of high quality, is fragmentary. It was, however, in the fields of theology, philosophy and literary criticism that he exercised a tremendous and lasting influence. His two best-known poems are The Ancient Mariner and Christabel, which represent the high watermark of supernaturalism as some of the best poems of Wordsworth represent the triumph of naturalism, in English poetry. In these two poems Coleridge saved supernaturalism from the coarse sensationalism then in vogue by linking it with psychological truth. He had absorbed the spells of medievalism within himself and in these poems they appeared rarely distilled and inextricably blinded with poets’ exquisite perception of the mysteries that surround the commonplace things of everyday life.
In the Ancient Mariner, which is a poetic masterpiece, Coleridge introduced the reader to a supernatural realm, with a phantom ship, a crew of dead men, the overwhelming curse of the albatross, the polar spirit, the magic breeze, and a number of other supernatural things and happenings, but he manages to create a sense of absolute reality concerning these manifest absurdities. With that supreme art which ever seems artless, Coleridge gives us glimpses from time to time of the wedding feast to which the mariner has been invited. The whole poem is wrought with the colour and glamour of the Middle Ages and yet Coleridge makes no slavish attempt to reproduce the past in a mechanical manner. The whole poem is the baseless fabric of a vision; a fine product of the ethereal and subtle fancy of a great poet. But in spite of its wildness, its medieval superstitions and irresponsible happening, The Ancient Mariner is made actual and vital to our imagination by its faithful pictures of Nature, its psychological insight and simple humanity. In it the poet deals in a superb manner with the primal emotions of love, hate, pain, remorse and hope. He prayeth best who loveth best is not an artificial ending of the poem in the form of a popular saying, but it is a fine summing up in a few lines of the spirit which underlies the entire poem. Its simple, ballad form, its exquisite imagery, the sweet harmony of its verse, and the aptness of its phraseology, all woven together in an artistic whole, make this poem the most representative of the romantic school of poetry.
Christabel, which is a fragment, seems to have been planned as the story of a pure young girl who fell under the spell of a sorcer in the shape of the woman Gerldine. Though it has strange melody and many passages of exquisite poetry, and in sheer artistic power it is scarcely inferior to The Ancient Mariner, it has supernatural terrors of the popular hysterical novels. The whole poem is suffused in medieval atmosphere and everything is vague and indefinite. Like The Ancient Mariner it is written in a homely and simple diction and in a style which is spontaneous and effortless.
Kubla Khan is another fragment in which the poet has painted a gorgeous Oriental dream picture. The whole poem came to Coleridge in a dream one morning when he had fallen asleep, and upon awakening he began to write hastily, but he was interrupted after fifty-four lines were written, and it was never finished.
Though Coleridge wrote a number of other poems—Love, The Dark Ladie, Youth and Age, Dejection: an Ode, which have grace, tenderness and touches of personal emotion, and a number of poems full of very minute description of natural scenes, yet his strength lay in his marvellous dream faculty, and his reputation as a poet rest on The Ancient Mariner, Christabel and Kubla Khan where he touched the heights of romantic poetry.
Robert Southey (1774-1843) was the third poet of the group of Lake Poets. Unlike Wordsworth and Coleridge he lacked higher qualities of poetry, and his achievement as a poet is not much. He was a voracious reader and voluminous writer. His most ambitious poems Thalaba, The Curse of Kehama, Madoc and Roderick are based on mythology of different nations. He also wrote a number of ballads and short poems, of which the best known is about his love for books (My days among the Dead are past.) But he wrote far better prose than poetry, and his admirable Life of Nelson remains a classic. He was made the Poet Laureate in 1813, and after his death in 1843 Wordsworth held this title.
(b)       The Scott Group
The romantic poets belonging to the Scott group are Sir Walter Scott, Campbell and Thomas Moore. They bridged the years which preceded the second outburst of high creative activity in the Romantic period.
Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) was the first to make romantic poetry popular among the masses. His Marmion and Lady of the Lake gained greater popularity than the poems of Wordsworth and Coleridge which were read by a select few. But in his poetry we do not find the deeply imaginative and suggestive quality which is at the root of poetic excellence. It is the story element, the narrative power, which absorbs the reader’s attention. That is why they are more popular with young readers. Moreover, Scott’s poetry appeals on account of its vigour, youthful abandon, vivid pictures, heroic characters, rapid action and succession of adventures. His best known poems are The Lady of the Last Ministrel, Marmion, The Lady of the Lake, Rokeby, The Lord of the Isles. All of them recapture the atmosphere of the Middle Ages, and breathe an air of supernaturalism and superstitions. After 1815 Scott wrote little poetry and turned to prose romance in the form of the historical novel in which field he earned great and enduring fame.
Thomas Campbell (1774-1844) and Thomas Moore (1779-1852) were prominent among a host of minor poets who following the vogue of Scott wrote versified romance. Campbell wrote Gertrude of Wyoming (1809) in the Spenserian stanza, which does not hold so much interest today as his patriotic war songs—Ye Mariners of England, Hohenlinden, The Battle of the Baltic, and ballads such as Lord Ullin’s Daughter.  The poems of Moore are now old-fashioned and have little interest for the modern reader. He wrote a long series of Irish Melodies, which are musical poems, vivacious and sentimental. His Lalla Rookh is a collection of Oriental tales in which he employs lucious imagery. Though Moore enjoyed immense popularity during his time, he is now considered as a minor poet of the Romantic Age.
(c)       The Younger Group
To the younger group of romantic poets belong Byron, Shelley and Keats. They represent the second Flowering of English Romanticism, the first being represented by Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey. Though the younger group was in many ways indebted to the older group and was in many ways akin to it, yet the poets of the younger group show some sharp differences with the poets of older group, it was because the revolutionary ideals which at first attracted Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey and then repelled them, had passed into the blood of Byron and Shelley. They were the children of the revolution and their humanitarian ardour affected even Keats who was more of an artist. Moreover, compared to the poets of the older group, the poets of the younger group were not only less national, but they were also against the historic and social traditions of England. It is not without significance that Byron and Shelley lived their best years, and produced their best poetry in Italy; and Keats was more interested in Greek mythology than in the life around him. Incidentally, these three poets of second generation of Romanticism died young—Byron at the age of thirty-six, Shelley thirty, and Keats twenty-five. So the spirit of youthful freshness is associated with their poetry.
(i)  Lord George Gordon Byron (1788-1824)
During his time Byron was the most popular of all Romantic poets, and he was the only one who made an impact on the continent both in his own day and for a long time afterwards. This was mainly due to the force of his personality and the glamour of his career, but as his poetry does not possess the high excellence that we find in Shelley’s and Keats’, now he is accorded a lower positions in the hierarchy of Romantic poets. He is the only Romantic poet who showed regard for the poets of the eighteenth century, and ridiculed his own contemporaries in his early satirical poem, English Bards and Scottish Reviewers (1809). That is why, he is called the ‘Romantic Paradox’.
Byron who had travelled widely captured the imagination of his readers by the publications of the first two Cantos of Childe Harold Pilgrimage (1812). This work made him instantly famous. As he said himself, “I woke one morning and found myself famous.” In it he described the adventures of a glamorous but sinister hero through strange lands. He also gave an air of authenticity to these adventures and a suggestion that he himself had indulged in such exploits. Such a hero, called the Byronic hero, became very popular among the readers and there was greater and greater demand for such romances dealing with his exploits. Under the pressure of the popular demand Byron wrote a number of romances which began with The Giaor (1813), and in all of them he dealt with the exploits of the Byronic hero. But whereas these romances made his reputation not in England alone but throughout Europe, the pruder section of the English society began to look upon him with suspicion, and considered him a dangerous, sinister man. The result was that when his wife left him in 1816, a year after his marriage, there was such a turn in the tide of public opinion against him that he left England under a cloud of distrust and disappointment and never returned.
It was during the years of his exile in Italy that the best part of his poetry was written by him. The third and fourth cantos of Childe Harold (1816-1818) have more sincerity, and are in every way better expressions of Byron’s genius. He also wrote two sombre and self-conscious tragedies—Manfred and Cain. But the greatness of Byron as a poet lies, however, not in these poems and tragedies, but in the satires which begin with Beppo (1818) and include The Vision of Judgment (1822) and Don Juan (1819-24). Of these Don Juan, which is a scathing criticism of the contemporary European society, is one of the greatest poems in the English language. In it humour, sentiment, adventure and pathos are thrown together in a haphazard manner as in real life. It is written in a conversational style which subtly produces comic as well as satirical effect.
Of all the romantic poets Byron was the most egoistical. In all his poems his personality obtrudes itself, and he attaches the greatest importance to it. Of the romantic traits, he represents the revolutionary iconoclasm at its worst, and that is why he came in open conflict with the world around him. His last great act, dying on his way to take part in the Greek War of Independence, was a truly heroic act; and it vindicated his position for all times and made him a martyr in the cause of freedom.
Byron does not enjoy a high reputation as a poet because of his slipshod and careless style. He was too much in a hurry to revise what he had written, and so there is much in his poetry which is artistically imperfect. Moreover his rhetorical style, which was admirably suited to convey the force and fire of his personality, often becomes dull and boring.
(ii)       Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)
Whereas Byron was the greatest interpreter of revolutionary iconoclasm, Shelley was the revolutionary idealist, a prophet of hope and faith. He was a visionary who dreamed of the Golden Age. Unlike Byron’s genius which was destructive, Shelley’s was constructive and he incarnated that aspect of the French Revolution which aimed at building up a new and beautiful edifice on the ruins of the old and the ugly. Whereas Byron’s motive impulse was pride, Shelley’s was love.
In his early days Shelley came under the influence of William Godwin’s Political Justice. He saw that all established institutions, kings and priests were diverse forms of evil and obstacles to happiness and progress. So he began to imagine the new world which would come into existence when all these forms of error and hatred had disappeared. The essence of all his poetical works is his prophecy of the new-born age. In his first long poem, Queen Mab, which he wrote when he was eighteen, he condemns kings, governments, church, property, marriage and Christianity. The Revolt of Islam which followed in 1817, and is a sort of transfigured picture of the French Revolution is charged with the young poet’s hopes for the future regeneration of the world. In 1820 appeared Prometheus Unbound, the hymn of human revolt triumphing over the oppression of false gods. In this superb lyrical drama we find the fullest and finest expression of Shelley’s faith and hope. Here Prometheus stands forth as the prototype of mankind in its long struggle against the forces of despotism, symbolised by love. At last Prometheus is united to Asia, the spirit of love and goodness in nature, and everything gives promise that they shall live together happy ever afterwards.
Shelley’s other great poems are Alastor (1816), in which he describes his pursuit of an unattainable ideal of beauty; Julian and Meddalo (1818) in which he draws his own portrait contrasted with last of Byron; The Cenci, a poetic drama which deals with the terrible story of Beatrice who, the victim of father’s lust, takes his life in revenge; the lyrical drama Hallas in which he sings of the rise of Greece against the Ottoman yoke; Epipsychidion in which he celebrates his Platonic love for a beautiful young Italian girl: Adonais, the best-known of Shelley’s longer poems, which is an elegy dedicated to the poet Keats, and holds its place with Milton’s Lycidas and Tennyson’s In Memoriam as one of the three greatest elegies in the English language; and the unfinished masterpiece, The Triumph of Life.
Shelley’s reputation as a poet lies mainly in his lyrical power. He is in fact the greatest lyrical poet of England. In all these poems mentioned above, it is their lyrical rapture which in unique. In the whole of English poetry there is no utterance as spontaneous as Shelley’s and nowhere does the thought flow with such irresistable melody. Besides these longer poems Shelley wrote a number of small lyrics of exquisite beauty, such as “To Constantia Singing’, the ‘Ozymandias’ sonnet, the “Lines written among the Euganean Hills’, the ‘Stanzas written in Dejection’, the ‘Ode to the West Wind’, ‘Cloud’, ‘Skylark’; ‘O World! O life! O time’. It is in fact on the foundation of these beautiful lyrics, which are absolutely consummate and unsurpassed the whole range of English lyrical poetry, that Shelley’s real reputation as a poet lies.
As the poet of Nature, Shelley was inspired by the spirit of love which was not limited to mankind but extended to every living creature—to animals and flowers, to elements, to the whole Nature. He is not content, like Wordsworth, merely to love and revere Nature; his very being is fused and blended with her. He, therefore, holds passionate communion with the universe, and becomes one with the lark (To a Skylark), with the cloud (The Cloud), and west wind (Ode to the West Wind) to which he utters forth this passionate, lyrical appeal:
Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is;
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies
Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one.
(iii)     John Keats (1795-21)
Of all the romantic poets, Keats was the pure poet. He was not only the last but the most perfect of the Romanticists. He was devoted to poetry and had no other interest. Unlike Wordsworth who was interested in reforming poetry and upholding the moral law; unlike Shelley who advocated impossible reforms and phrophesied about the golden age; and unlike Byron who made his poetry a vehicle of his strongly egoistical nature and political discontents of the time; unlike Coleridge who was a metaphysician, and Scott who relished in story-telling, Keats did not take much notice of the social, political and literary turmoils, but devoted himself entirely to the worship of beauty, and writing poetry as it suited his temperament. He was, about all things, a poet, and nothing else. His nature was entirely and essentially poetical and the whole of his vital energy went into art.
Unlike Byron who was a lord, and Shelley who belonged to an aristocratic family, Keats came of a poor family, and at an early age he had to work as a doctor’s assistant. But his medical studies did not stand in the way of his passion for writing poetry which was roused by his reading of Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, which revealed to him the vast world of poetry. He also became interested in the beauty of nature. His first volume of poems appeared in 1817 and his first long poem Endymion in 1818, which opened with the following memorable lines:
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever;
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us; and sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and healthy, and quiet breathing.
This poem was severely criticised by contemporary critics, which must have shocked Keats. Besides this a number of other calamities engulfed him. He had lost his father when he was only nine; his mother and brother died of tuberculosis, and he himself was suffering from this deadly disease. All these misfortunes were intensified by his disappointment in love for Fanny Brawne whom Keats loved passionately. But he remained undaunted, and under the shadow of death and in midst of most excruciating sufferings Keats brought out his last volume of poems in the year 1820 (which is called the ‘Living Year’ in his life.) The Poems of 1820 are Keats’ enduring monument. They include the three narratives, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes and Lamia: the unfinished epic Hyperion; the Odes, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, and a few sonnets.
In Isabella Keats made an attempt to turn a somewhat repellent and tragic love story of Isabella and Lorenzo, who was murdered by Isabella’s brothers, into a thing of beauty by means of fine narrative skill and beautiful phraseology. In Lamia Keats narrated the story of a beautiful enchantress, who turns from a serpent into a glorious woman and fills every human sense with delight, until as the result of the foolish philosophy of old Apollonius, she vanishes for ever from her lover’s sight. The Eve of St. Agnes, which is the most perfect of Keat’s medieval poems, is surpassingly beautiful in its descriptions. Hyperion which is a magnificent fragment deals with the overthrow of the Titans by the young sun-god Apollo. This poem shows the influence of Milton as Endymion of Spenser. La Belle Dame Sans Merci, which captures the spirit of the Middle Ages, has a haunting melody. Though small, it is a most perfect work of art.
Of the odes, those To a Nightingale, On a Grecian Urn and To Autumn stand out above the rest, and are among the masterpieces of poetic art. In Ode to a Nightingale we find a love of sensuous beauty, and a touch of pessimism. In Ode on a Grecian Urn we see Keats’s love for Greek mythology and art. It is this Ode which ends with the following most memorable lines in the whole of Keats’s poetry.
‘Beauty is Truth, and Truth Beauty’,–that is all
Yea know on earth, and all ye need to know.
The Ode to Autumn, in which Keats has glorified Nature, is a poem which for richness and colour has never been surpassed. Though Keats died young, when he had attained barely the age of twenty-five, and had only a few years in which he could effectively write poetry, his achievement in the field of poetry is so great, that we wonder what he might have accomplished if he had lived longer. For a long time his poetry was considered merely as sensuous having no depth of thought. But with the help of his letters critics have reinterpreted his poems, and now it has been discovered that they are based on mature thinking, and that there is a regular line of development from the point of thought and art. He was not an escapist who tried to run away from the stark realities of life, but he faced life bravely, and came to the conclusion that sufferings play an important part in the development of the human personality. As a worshipper of beauty, though his first approach was sensuous, his attitude suddenly became philosophic, and he discovered that there is beauty in everything, and that Beauty and Truth are one. As an artist there are few English poets who come near him. As a poet he had very high ideals before him. He wanted to become the poet of the human heart, one with Shakespeare. For him the proper role of poetry is ‘to be a friend to sooth the cares, and lift the thoughts of men”, and the real poet is that “to whom the miseries of the world are misery, and will not let him rest.”
And Keats sincerely and persistently lived up to these high ideals. Taking into account all these factors and the very short span of life that was given to him by the Providence, it is no exaggeration to say that of all the English poets he comes nearest to Shakespeare.

Prose-Writers of the Romantic Age

Though the Romantic period specialised in poetry, there also appeared a few prose-writers-Lamb, Hazlitt and De Quincey who rank very high. There was no revolt of the prose-writers against the eighteenth century comparable to that of the poets, but a change had taken place in the prose-style also.

Whereas many eighteenth century prose-writers depended on assumptions about the suitability of various prose styles for various purposes which they shared with their relatively small but sophisticated public; writers in the Romantic period were rather more concerned with subject matter and emotional expression than with appropriate style. They wrote for an ever-increasing audience which was less homogeneous in its interest and education than that of their predecessors. There was also an indication of a growing distrust of the sharp distinction between matter and manner which was made in the eighteenth century, and of a Romantic preference for spontaneity rather than formality and contrivance. There was a decline of the ‘grand’ style and of most forms of contrived architectural prose written for what may be called public or didactic purposes. Though some Romantic poets—Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, Byron—wrote excellent prose in their critical writings, letters and journals, and some of the novelists like Scott and Jane Austen were masters of prose-style, those who wrote prose for its own sake in the form of the essays and attained excellence in the art of prose-writing were Lamb, Hazlitt and De Quincey.

(i)        Charles Lamb (1775-1834)
Charles Lamb is one of the most lovable personalities in English literature. He lived a very humble, honest, and most self-sacrificing life. He never married, but devoted himself to the care of his sister Mary, ten years his senior, who was subject to mental fits, in one of which she had fatally wounded her mother. In his Essays of Elia (1823) and Last Essays (1833), in which is revealed his own personality, he talks intimately to the readers about himself, his quaint whims and experiences, and the cheerful and heroic struggle which he made against misfortunes. Unlike Wordsworth who was interested in natural surroundings and shunned society, Lamb who was born and lived in the midst of London street, was deeply interested in the city crowd, its pleasures and occupations, its endless comedies and tragedies, and in his essays he interpreted with great insight and human sympathy that crowded human life of joys and sorrows.
Lamb belongs to the category of intimate and self-revealing essayists, of whom Montaigne is the original, and Cowley the first exponent in England. To the informality of Cowley he adds the solemn confessional manner of Sir Thomas Browne. He writes always in a gentle, humorous way about the sentiments and trifles of everyday. The sentimental, smiling figure of ‘Elia’ in his essays is only a cloak with which Lamb hides himself from the world. Though in his essays he plays with trivialities, as Walter Pater has said, “We know that beneath this blithe surface there is something of the domestic horror, of the beautiful heroism, and devotedness too, of the old Greek tragedy.”
The style of Lamb is described as ‘quaint’, because it has the strangeness which we associate with something old-fashioned. One can easily trace in his English the imitations of the 16th and 17th century writers he most loved—Milton, Sir Thomas Browne, Fuller, Burton, Issac Walton. According to the subject he is treating, he makes use of the rhythms and vocabularies of these writers. That is why, in every essay Lamb’s style changes. This is the secret of the charm of his style and it also prevents him from ever becoming monotonous or tiresome. His style is also full of surprises because his mood continually varies, creating or suggesting its own style, and calling into play some recollection of this or that writer of the older world.
Lamb is the most lovable of all English essayists, and in his hand the Essay reached its perfection. His essays are true to Johnson’s definition; ‘a loose sally of the mind.’ Though his essays are all criticisms or appreciations of the life of his age and literature, they are all intensely personal. They, therefore, give us an excellent picture of Lamb and of humanity. Though he often starts with some purely personal mood or experience he gently leads the reader to see life as he saw it, without ever being vain or self-assertive. It is this wonderful combination of personal and universal interest together with his rare old style and quaint humour, which have given his essays his perennial charm, and earned for him the covetable title of “The Prince among English Essayists”.
(ii)       William Hazlitt (1778-1830)
As a personality Hazlitt was just the opposite of Lamb. He was a man of violent temper, with strong likes and dislikes. In his judgment of others he was always downright and frank, and never cared for its effect on them. During the time when England was engaged in a bitter struggle against Napoleon, Hazlitt worshipped him as a hero, and so he came in conflict with the government. His friends left him one by one on account of his aggressive nature, and at the time of his death only Lamb stood by him.
Hazlitt wrote many volumes of essays, of which the most effective is The Spirit of the Age (1825) in which he gives critical portraits of a number of his famous contemporaries. This was a work which only Hazlitt could undertake because he was outspoken and fearless in the expression of his opinion. Though at times he is misled by his prejudices, yet taking his criticism of art and literature as a whole there is not the least doubt that there is great merit in it. He has the capacity to see the whole of his author most clearly, and he can place him most exactly in relation to other authors. In his interpretation of life in the general and proper sense, he shows an acute and accurate power of observation and often goes to the very foundation of things. Underneath his light and easy style there always flows an undercurrent of deep thought and feeling.
The style of Hazlitt has force, brightness and individuality. Here and there we find passages of solemn and stately music. It is the reflection of Hazlitt’s personality—outspoken, straightforward and frank. As he had read widely, and his mind was filled with great store of learning, his writings are interspersed with sentences and phrases from other writers and there are also echoes of their style. Above all, it vibrates with the vitality and force of his personality, and so never lapses into dullness.
(iii)     Thomas de Quincey (1785-1859)
De Quincey is famous as the writer of ‘impassioned prose’. He shared the reaction of his day against the severer classicism of the eighteenth century, preferring rather the ornate manner of Jeremy Taylor, Sir Thomas Browne and their contemporaries. The specialty of his style consists in describing incidents of purely personal interest in language suited to their magnitude as they appear in the eyes of the writer. The reader is irresistibly attracted by the splendour of his style which combines the best elements of prose and poetry. In fact his prose works are more imaginative and melodious than many poetical works. There is revealed in them the beauty of the English language. The defects of his style are that he digresses too much, and often stops in the midst of the fine paragraph to talk about some trivial thing by way of jest. But in spite of these defects his prose is still among the few supreme examples of style in the English language.
De Quincey was a highly intellectual writer and his interests were very wide. Mostly he wrote in the form of articles for journals and he dealt with all sorts of subjects—about himself and his friends, life in general, art, literature, philosophy and religion. Of his autobiographical sketches the best-known is his Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, in which he has given us, in a most interesting manner, glimpses of his own life under the influence of opium. He wrote fine biographies of a number of classical, historical and literary personages, of which the most ambitious attempt is The Caerars. His most perfect historical essay is on Joan of Arc. His essays on principle of literature are original and penetrating. The best of this type is the one where he gives the distinction between the literature of knowledge and of power. On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth is the most brilliant. He also wrote very scholarly articles on Goethe, Pope, Schiller and Shakespeare. Besides these he wrote a number of essays on science and theology.
In all his writings De Quincey asserts his personal point of view, and as he is a man of strong prejudices, likes and dislikes, he often gives undue emphasis on certain points. The result is that we cannot rely on his judgment entirely. But there is no doubt that his approach is always original and brilliant which straightway captures the attention of the reader. Moreover, the splendour of his ‘poetic prose’ which is elaborate and sonorous in its effects, casts its own special spell. The result is that De Quincey is still one of the most fascinating prose-writers of England.