What we call eighteenth-century literature appeared
between two great political upheavals, the English Revolution of
1688 and the French Revolution of 1789. Some of the chief
characteristics of that literature--such as the emphasis on form,
the union of poetry with politics, the prevalence of satire, the
interest in historical subjects--have been accounted for, in part
at least, in our summary of the history of the period.
The writings of the century are here arranged in three main
divisions: the reign of formalism (miscalled classicism), the
revival of romantic poetry, and the development of the modern
novel. Our study of the so-called classic period includes: (1) The
meaning of classicism in literature. (2) The life and works of
Pope, the leading poet of the age; of Swift, a master of satire; of
Addison and Steele, the graceful essayists who originated the
modern literary magazine. (3) The work of Dr. Johnson and his
school; in which we have included, for convenience, Edmund Burke,
most eloquent of English orators, and Gibbon the historian, famous
for his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
Our review of the romantic writers of the age covers: (1) The work
of Collins and Gray, whose imaginative poems are in refreshing
contrast to the formalism of Pope and his school. (2) The life and
works of Goldsmith, poet, playwright, novelist; and of Burns, the
greatest of Scottish song writers. (3) A glance at other poets,
such as Cowper and Blake, who aided in the romantic revival. (4)
The renewed interest in ballads and legends, which showed itself in
Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, and in two
famous forgeries, the Ossian poems of Macpherson and The
Rowley Papers of the boy Chatterton.
Our study of the novel includes: (1) The meaning of the modern
novel, as distinct from the ancient romance. (2) A study of Defoe,
author of Robinson Crusoe, who was a forerunner of the
modern realistic novelist. (3) The works of Richardson and of
Fielding, contrasting types of eighteenth-century story-tellers.
(4) The influence of Richardson's sentimentality, of Fielding's
realism, and of Goldsmith's moral purity on subsequent English
Selections for Reading
Typical selections are given in Manly,
English Poetry and English Prose, Century Readings, and other
miscellaneous collections. Important works of major writers are
published in inexpensive editions for school use, a few of which
are named below.
Pope's poems, selected, in Standard English Classics, Pocket
Classics, Riverside Literature, and other series. (See Texts, in
Selections from Swift's works, in Athenĉum Press, Holt's English
Readings, Clarendon Press. Gulliver's Travels, in Standard English
Classics, in Ginn and Company's Classics for Children, in
Carisbrooke Library, in Temple Classics.
Selections from Addison and Steele, in Athenĉum Press, Golden
Treasury, Maynard's English Classics. Sir Roger de Coverley Papers,
in Standard English Classics, Riverside Literature, Academy
Chesterfield's Letters to his son, selected, in Ginn and Company's
Classics for Children, and in Maynard's English Classics.
Boswell's Life of Johnson, in Clarendon Press, Temple Classics,
Burke's Speeches, selected, in Standard English Classics, Pocket
Classics, English Readings.
Selections from Gray, in Athenĉum Press, Canterbury Poets,
Goldsmith's Deserted Village and Vicar of Wakefield, in Standard
English Classics, King's Classics; She Stoops to Conquer, in Pocket
Classics, Belles Lettres Series, Cassell's National Library.
Sheridan's The Rivals, in Athenĉum Press, Camelot Series, Riverside
Literature, Everyman's Library.
Poems of Burns, selected, in Standard English Classics, Riverside
Literature, Silver Classics.
Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, school edition by Ginn and Company; the
same in Everyman's Library, Pocket Classics.