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18th century English literature Essay

1. There was a sense of relief and escape, relief from the strain of living in a mysterious universe and escape from the ignorance and barbarism of the Gothic centuries –not referring only to Gothic literature. The dark period provokes that people want to change and improve their lifestyle when they entered the 18th century. There was a general desire to emancipate from the dark aspects of rural and dark living.

2. Sanity, culture, and civilization had revived. There was a general feeling of emancipation from historic specters, a sense of security from the upheavals of the Civil War period.

3. Dryden wrote in 1668 “We have been so long together bad Englishmen that we had not leisure to be good poets”. This quote exemplifies that 17th century men were occupied with complete other things than humanities. “Nature”–philosophical concept/religious concept that rule the 18th century. Western thinking– has been a controlling idea in the Western thought ever since antiquity, but it has probably never been so universally active as it was from the Renaissance to the end of the 18th century. The laws of “Nature” are the laws of reason; they are always and everywhere, and the axioms of mathematics they have only to be presented in order to be acknowledged as just and right by all men. This was the Golden Age of natural theology and deistical freethinking: Spinoza, Boyle, Locke, etc. During the Christian centuries religion has rested upon revelation; now it rested largely upon “Nature” and even the Orthodox who retain the supernatural basis felt that faith must be grounded firmly upon “Nature” before one had recourse t super-Nature. The 18th century is the century of Reason.

If we want to apply reason, it has to be stable. Everything ought to be structured in logic axioms. It is the Golden Age of liberal thinking, also in religion which one had the power and gave divine explanations but they will not provide the answers anymore, but science will do. The scientific movement of the 17th and 17th centuries: Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Bacon, Descartes, Newton produced a “climate of opinion” in which supernatural and occult explanations of natural phenomena ceased to satisfy. The Universe came to be regarded as the Great Machine, working by rigidly determined laws of material causation –laws of Physics; everything has a cause. The supernatural, in both its divine and its diabolical forms, was banished from Nature. Another relevant issue: the state power passed from the king gradually to the Parliament and the Cabinet ministers. A huge expansion abroad of British colonies in Asia, Africa and North America caused the Industrial Revolution.

The basis consists of democratic principles. ! London became more and more the center of the literary and intellectual life of the country and writers came to look upon “polite” London society as their chief, if not their sole, audience. The opposite of natural living, cultivated people lived in London. Aristocracy in the old sense has been transmuted into gentility and wealth becomes the main motivating power in society –aristocracy regarded as gentile; educated and cultured people. Wealth becomes the motor of society -> new social class that centers in commercialization. Economics and Ethics are finally separated. The new economists prove to their own satisfaction that the individual desire to make money can produce in the long run nothing but good, and poverty can only be the result of idleness. In London, the coffeehouse replaces the Court as the meeting place of the men of culture. The journalist makes his appearance, and poetry becomes social and familiar.

There was a correlation, between social class and education and between elegance –which was related to education; e.g. people went to the theatre– and learning that has not always existed in subsequent periods –people wanted to be cultivated so they started reading. The English novel coins in the 18th century thanks to journalism. And if poets were to use references to the Latin and Greek classics as well as to the events in the contemporary world of learning, they had to consider themselves addressing a very limited audience. That is why classic and contemporary studies were mixed in order to have a broader audience. Merchants and tradesmen of the town came to play a very important part in the life of the country. But the middle class were not yet the landed aristocracy, the country gentlemen and big state owners though they ruled only with the permission of and in alliance with the commercial interests. London

The education and the entertainment of the middle classes became a legitimate objective of literature. The period between 1660 and 1785 was a time of amazing expansion for England. The world seemed different in 1785. A sense of new, expanding possibilities transformed the daily life of the British people. And offered them fresh ways of thinking about their relations to nature. The city of London became the center of business, pleasure and the emerging consumer society. Samuel Johnson said that “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life fir there is in London all that life can afford”. With growing prosperity, London turned into a city where everything was for sale. Its elegant shops dazzled tourists, supplying not only heaps of goods but also a perpetual source of amusement. Varieties of spectacles and shows drew larger and larger crowds, and theatres expanded to meet the competition. At the London playhouses, the audience itself was often part of the entertainment.

The Royal Exchange, in the hart of the city (financial district) of London, was not only a hub for business and shopping but also a symbols for “globalization”. The increasing importance of international commerce to the British economy. Addinson’s idyllic picture of the Exchange, written in 1711, celebrates the way in which the whole world seems to revolve around the blessings of trade. But many English people also worried that foreign luxuries might sap the national spirit of independence and self-sufficiency (Practice 1). There was a shift in population from the country to the town, and it reveals how far the life of the city, where every daily newspaper brought news sources of interest had moved from traditional values (London life is reflected in the newspaper). Formerly, the tastes of the court had dominated the art (!): the monarch stands for the nation. But the 18th century witnessed a turn from palaces to pleasure gardens that were open to anyone with the price of admission. New standards of taste were set by what the people of London wanted, and art joined with commerce to satisfy those desires.

Artis Willams Hogarth made his living, not as earlier painters had done through portraits of royal and noble patrons, but by selling his paints to a large and appreciative public. London itself –its beauty and horror, its ever changing moods –became a favorite subject of writers (!). The sense that everything was changing was also sparkled by a revolution in science. In earlier periods, the universe had often seemed a small place, less than 6000 years old, where a single sun moved about the earth, center of the cosmos. Now time and space exploded, the microscope and telescope opened new fields of vision and the “plurality of world”, became a doctrine endlessly repeated. The authority of Aristotle was broken, their systems could not explain what Galileo and Kepler saw in the heavens. As discoveries multiplied, it became clear that the moderns knew things of which the ancients had been ignorant. This challenge to received opinion was thrilling as well as disturbing. In Paradise Lost, Book 8, the angel Raphael warn Adam to think about what concerns him, not to dream about other worlds.

Yet, despite the warning voiced by Milton through Raphael, many later writers found the new science inspiring. It gave them new images to conjure with and new possibilities of fact and fiction to explore. Explorers were travelling around the earth, where they discovered unknown countries and ways of life. These encounters with other peoples often proved vicious. The trade and conquests that made Europeans powers like Spain and Portugal immensely rich also brought the scourge of racism and colonial exploitation. In the 18th century, Britain’s expansion into an empire was fueled by slavery and the slave trade, a source of profit that belied the national self-image as a heaven of liberty, and turned British people against one another. Rising prosperity at home had been built on inhumanity across the seas. At the end of the 18th century as many writers joined the abolitionist campaign, a new humanitarian ideal was forged. The modern world invented by the 18th century brought suffering along with progress. We still live with its legacies today. England was a nation of shopkeepers. But the stylish and lavish shops that filled 18th century London were also a visible sign of growing national power.

The cutting edge of a consumer revolution, they showed the public that the modern world was to be welcomed, not feared. There was something for everyone to desire and possess in this new world of fashion. During the successful run of The Tatler (1709-1711)Germen de la novella de ficcion, Steele’s and Addison’s predecessor to The Spectator, The Female Tatler was published 3 times a week attributed to an imaginary “Mrs. Crackenthrope, a Lady that knows everything”. Its authors, who probably included both women and men, aimed to amuse and instruct female readers, as shown in the following piece on shops from 1709. -> Joseph Addison, from The Spectator, No. 69.

Consider the satisfaction which Addison takes in The Royal Exchange. Why does he love so much to visit it? Are you persuaded that his pleasure comes from being “a great Lover of Mankind,” or is wealth itself what stimulates him?

Many historians describe what happened in 18th century England as The Birth of a Consumer Society. According to this analysis, the widespread pursuit of good and entertainment turned England into the first truly modern nation, in which commercialization drives art as well as the economy. How well does this premise account for what you see in this topic?

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