Restoration and the 18th century (1660-1798) neoclassicism

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NEOCLASSICISM (Age of Reason, Enlightenment)

Neoclassicism: effort to imitate and reconstitute the literary values of ancient Greece and Rome, continuing the attention of humanism to these values but without the "stylistic indiscipline" and "excessive invention" of Ren. poets, esp. the concettismo of the Italians and the Eng. metaphysicals. Belief that classical poetry was a more direct and faithful representation of nature (esp. human nature) than has been achieved since; conviction that the restraint, simplicity and impersonality of style of the best Roman poets were more likely to please an audience
Mid -17th cent.: France is the major cultural influence in Europe (Corneille, Racine, Moliere, la Fontaine); Art Poétique of Nicholas Boileau (1674) = codifies the Aristotle's Poetics and Horace's Art of Poetry; Neoclassic tradition in criticism developed most fully is France
prescriptive standards of poetry: 1. verisimilitude is important ( the doctrine that poetry should be "probable", or "likely" or "lifelike"; the basic source is Aristotle) 2. against concettismo and baroque support of verbal ornament; arguing for restraint in metaphor 3. decorum (propriety; the use of the right form to suit the subject, of language to suit the character's social and native background, of action to match the nature of character)

In England: a new desire for elegant simplicity from about 1660

Neoclassicism in England: 1660-1798;
3 lesser periods: 1. Age of Dryden (until
Dryden's death in 1700); 2. Age of Pope (until Pope's death in 1744) 3. Age of Johnson ( until the death of Johnson in 1784)
1660: Restoration; Charles II returns from his French exile; returning Royalists brought back an admiration and influence of French philosophy, literature, literary criticism and social behaviour
new poetic style: restaint, clarity, regularity and good sense = corresponds with the nation's yearning for peace and order after 20 years of civil war
Intellectual background: empiricism, direct observation of nature; "natural history" (collection and description of facts of nature), "natural philosophy" (the study of causes of what happens in nature), "natural religion" (the study of nature as the Book written by God)
Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) application of logic and terms of mechanics to language, psychology, government, morals and religion; man is matter put into motion by the stimulus of what he hopes to enjoy or the fear of pains to be avoided; Hobbes contributed to the change in literary style: he distrusted fanciful language which "obscured the rational approach to cause and effect"; separated judgement from wit: judgement is rational, with is fanciful; metaphor is loose reasoning (Leviathan /1651/; Art of Rhetorique /1655/)
Isaac Newton (1642-1727) rose above simple empiricism; new mathematical-mechanical system of the world; universe both created and set in motion by God according to His own laws, laws which bound together all time and space; Newton's laws of optics and celestial mechanics (Philosophia Naturalis Principia Mathematica /1687/) seemed evidence of a universal order in creation (theologically: divine intelligence whose presence might be deducted from his works; Deism: First Cause withdrawn from universe which He set in motion)
"Nature and Nature's Laws were hid in Night / God said, Let Newton be! and All was Light" (Pope)
John Locke (1632-1704) An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) disciplined, analytical, sceptical methods to show that assumptions about innate ideas could not be defended; tried to explore the humn mind in general by closely watching one particular mind; ideas were clear when based on direct experience and adequate when clear, in order to discourse reasonably one must discard any idea that could not be given determinate shape and meaning; since nothing can be known in its essentials, religious truth is a matter of faith

Renaissance Neoplatonic idea of the Chain of Being

See, through this air, this ocean, and this earth,

All matter quick, and bursting into birth.
Above, how progressive lfe may go!
Around, how wide! how deep extend below!
Vast Chain of Being! Which from God began,
Natures ethereal, human, angel, man,
Beast, bird, fish, insect, what no eye can see,
No glass can reach! from Infinite to thee,
From thee to nothing.--On superior powers
Were we to press, inferior might on ours:
Or in the full creation leave a void,
Where, one step broken, the great scale's destroyed:
From Nature's chain whatever link you strike,
Tenth or ten thousandth, breaks the chain alike" (Pope: An Essay on Man I, 8)

National tradition
Ben Jonson (1572-1637) adaptation to English many classical literary genres; consciously developed plain style; turned to the clearness and classicism of Catullus, Horace and Martial; aimed at a verse with unambiguous meaning and a natural voice without rhetoric; tense, epigrammatic style, rich in generalisation; desire for a harmonious society
The Underwood (1640) published posthumustly by a friend includes examples of the plain style used for religious poetry, epistles, elegies, odes, translations of Horatian odes and excellent poems in which women defend "their Inconstancie":

Hang up those dull, and envious fooles

That talk abroad of Womans change,
We were not bred to sit on stooles,
Our proper vertue is to range:
Take that away, you take our lives,
We are not women then, but wives.
John Denham (1615-1669) brought to the developing Neoclassicism strength
his best poem: "Cooper's Hill"; a new type of poem: local poetry; combines description of a landscape with historical and moral reflections (natural description linked with meditation culminates in Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey")

O could I flow like thee, and make thy stream

My great example, as it is my theme!
Though deep, yet clear, though gentle, yet not dull,
Strong without rage, without o'erflowing full.
conciseness, sharp antithesis, balance of opposites, contrast betw. ideal and real, linked association of ideas, subdued elegance; Dryden called the poem "an exact pattern of good writing"

AGE OF DRYDEN (1660-1700) characterised by an effort to bring new refinement to English literature according to sound principles of what is fitting and right; after the Restoration: literature adopts a public voice; focus of interest is on politics and society; corresponding literary style: graceful, poised, observing the decorum; the metaphysical conceit survives but in a more explicit, tentative, amusing or ironic form; subtly implied analogies is the basis of poetry; main genres: panegyric, topical poem, ode, satire and verse epistle

John Dryden (1631-1700)
minor employee during the Protectorate; Heroic Stanzas (1659) elegies on the death of Cromwell
Astrea Redux (1660) celebrates the restoration of Charles II; the final 50 lines addressed to Charles are Virgilian echoes, analogy of the Restoration to Augustan Rome:

Oh Happy Age! Oh times like those alone

By Fate reser'd for Great Augustus Throne!
When the joint growth of Armes and Arts foreshew
The World a Monarch, and that Monarch You.
Early poems: reflect and celebrate the social, political and intellectual changes of his time; helped shape the ideology of the monarchy; Charles' reign depicted as analogous with the great periods of arts in Augustan Rome - accordingly: poetry attempts to achieve some of the characteristics of Augustan literature: 1. respect for elegy and panegyric (classical genres) 2. some traits of Latin syntax adapted to English 3. echoes of Virgil 4. elevated, public, reasonable tone 5. heroic couplets create sense of order, control and clarity
Dryden: a citizen of the world commenting publicly on matters of public concern (coronation, military victory, death of prominent figures)
Annus Mirabilis (1667) naval victory over the Dutch and the Great Fire of London (: naval victory and Great Fire: Providence had brought affliction so that, like a Phoenix, London will rise from its ashes with renewed vigour)
1668: Poet Laureate, 1670: Historiographer Royal
Absalom and Achitophel (1681) Dryden's greatest work; a verse satire on contemporary public affairs; basis: biblical story of the rebellion of Absalom against his father King David (Monmouth=Absalom, Shaftesbury=Achitophel; Charles II=David)
the very comparison of Charles II with King David allows some sly digs at the Merry Monarch's life. The poem opens:

In pious times, ere priestcraft did begin,

Before polygamy was made a sin,
When man on many multiplied his kind
Ere one to one was cursedly confined
When nature prompted and no law denied
Promiscuous use of concubine and bride,
Then Israel's monarch after Heaven's own heart
His vigorous warmth did variously impart
To wives and slaves, and wide as his command,
Scattered his Maker's image through the land.
Didactic poems: 1682: Religio Laici (an essay in verse adocating the Church of England's golden mean between the rationalism of Deism and the authoritarianism of Rome)
1687: The Hind and the Panther (written after his conversion to the Catholic faith; "milk-white Hind, immortal and unchanged": Catholicism; fierce Panther: Church of England)

Lyrics: "A Song for St. Cecilia's Day" (1687)
"Alexander's Feast" (1697)
both are Pindaric Ode, poems in praise of music; attempt to imitate by metrical changes the varying tones of trumpet, flute, violin and the human voice

Translations: Virgil's Aeneid, (Ovid, Boccaccio and Chaucer)

AGE OF POPE (1700-1744) continues the literary tradition of the Age of Dryden and extends that effort to a wider circle of readers, with special satirical attention to what is unfitting and wrong; in London the coffeehouse replaces the Court as the meetingplace of men of culture; poetry becomes social and familiar; wit, restraint, good taste and the subordination of personal idiosyncrasy to a social norm; main genres: mock-epic topical satire, burlesque, generalised, reflective philosophical lyric; the prevalence of the heroic couplet; AUGUSTAN AGE

Alexander Pope (1688-1744) the first English professional writer

"Why did I write?... / To help me thro' this long disease, my life." (from Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot)

his Catholic faith limited his educational possibilities and excluded him from public office
tubercular and crookbacked, Pope strove to achieve perfection and correctness in poetry
Pastorals (written 1704-7, published 1709) admired by friends for the rhetorical niceties of his couplet: antithesis and parallel, pleasing repetitions and syntactic patternings, alliteration and assonance, metrical variations of pause and cadence
Essay on Criticism (1711) Pope's first striking success; reflects the taste of the Augustan age
ultimate source: Horace's Ars Poetica; aiming at a synthesis of the most valuable critical precepts since Aristotle to Boileau and Dryden
key concepts: wit, Nature, ancients, rules, genious

First follow Nature, and your judgement frame

By her just standard, which is all the same:
Unerring Nature, still divinely bright,
One clear, unchang'd and universal light
...wit and judgement are often at strife
Tho' meant each other's aid, like man and wife;
'Tis more to guide, than spur the Muse's steed
Restrain her fury, than provoke his speed.
Those rules of old discover'd, not devis'd,
Are Nature still, but Nature methodiz'd;
Nature, like Liberty, is but restrained
By the same laws, which first herself ordai'd.
simple, conversational language; tone of well-bred ease; imagery drawn from all aspects of contemporary life: military, artistic, sexual, religious

Windsor Forest (1713) hailed the approaching Peace of Utrecht, built on Isaiah and Virgil
local (loco-descriptive or topographical) poem: while describing the landscape, the poet reflects upon its moral, political and literary associations: fertility of the scene--peaceful reign of Queen Anne

The Rape of the Lock (1714) mock-heroic poem based on an actual episode
drawing room war between the sexes; conflict: Lord Petre cut off a lock of hair from the head of Arabella Fermor
parodies and echoes of the Iliad, the Aeneid and Paradise Lost
epic machinery: the Rosicrucians' doctrine of spirits: sylphs (air), gnomes (earth), nymphs (water) salamanders (fire)
exquisite adjustment of epic and mundane planes

Translation of the Iliad and Odyssey: emphatically Augustan in its stress on design and clarity of outline, constantly pointing to the epic's 'moral' (even contemporaries expressed doubts about the appropriateness of his neat couplets and general 'politeness' of the translation of the violent Homeric world, yet the translation won him financial independence for his life)

Essay on Man (1732-34) philosophical poem, fragment of a planned majestic survey of human nature, society and morals
compound of diverse elements: Renaissance Platonism, Newtonian science, traditional theodicy
underlying and unifying the poem is the Great Chain of Being, the vast, perfectly ordered, all-inclusive hierarchy of created things, rising from inanimate matter through insects to man, angels an God; Man's fixed place in the Chain of Being is viewed in a series of perspectives

"In spite of Pride, in erring Reason's spite / One truth is clear, "Whatever is, is Right."

AGE OF JOHNSON (1744-1784) transition to a new literary age

Thomas Warton: History of English Poetry (1774-81) charted the poetic ancestry of Spenser. Focused interest on the poetry before Milton in order to restore poetry to its proper channel of "fiction and fancy, picturesque description and romantic imagery", after a period dominated by "wit and rhyme, sentiment and satire, polished numbers, sparkling couplets, and pointed periods." (Warton's Preface to Milton's Poems upon Several Occasions, 1785)
Age of Johnson: (in a sense) a quest for a lost literary culture, which was found in the Elizabethan age
Joseph Warton: Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope (Vol. I:1756, II: 1782) dissatisfied with the poetry of Pope and the other Augustans, who seemed to them to lack the "nobler qualities" of earlier masters. Claimed that poetry declined because science and philosophy had impoverished the imagination. "The Sublime and the Pathetic [moving] are the two chief nerves of genuine poesy". (Shakespeare , Milton)
Edmund Burke: Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful (1757) "A clear idea is another name for a little idea" marks a transition from the lucidity admired by Pope to the sublimity of writers like Thomas Gray; the classical formalism of the 18th cent. gave way to the aesthetic of romanticism. Central innovation: questioned the classical ideal of clarity, arguing that vagueness and obscurity is far more evocative of the infinite. Darkness is more productive of sublime ideas than light. Fear (desirable for Burke) is diminished by knowledge, but heightened by veiled intimations. "To make everything very terrible [terrifying], obscurity seems in general to be necessary. When we know the full extent of any danger, when we can accustom our eyes to it, a great deal of the apprehension vanishes." Sublime: emphasis on terror, obscurity, power, darkness, solitude, natural magnificence and vastness; the effect on the beholder: terror, (religious) awe, admiration, astonishment, reverence; "whatever is fitted in any sort to excite ideas of pain, and danger, that is to say whatever is in any sort terrible ... is a source of the sublime". Beautiful: based on the passion of love and associates with pleasure, smoothness, delicacy, smallness and light.
Although the sublime feelings of astonishment and awe may resemble pain, the excitaion and exertion that they produce yield a very real pleasure: a consciousness of one's own powers.

Thomas Gray (1716-1771) his works mark a clear shift from neo-classical lucidity towards the obscure and the Sublime; one of the ’graveyard poets’ (graveyard poetry: a type of meditative poetry, it takes as its major themes a melancholy sense of mutability, the inevitability of death, and the hope of a future life, arriving at such generalizations as Gray’s „The paths of glory lead but to the grave”. e.g. Gray: Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard; Young: Night Thoughts, Blair: The Grave).

Gray: one of the most known and respected English poets, yet his reputation rests on 3 major poems and a few shorter lyrics; scholarly recluse, main areas of study: pre-Elizabethan poetry and old Welsh and Norse literature; search for a new style, at once intimate and prophetic; yet often highly artificial diction and distorted word order („the language of the age is neve the language of poetry” cf. Wordsworth!)

most famous works: The Progress of Poesy; The Bard; Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College;

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

elegy: lyric poem that laments a death; it frequently includes a movement from expressed sorrow toward consolation; although it usually mourns the death of an individual, it may also address the ravages of time

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard: inspired by the death of the poet’s close friend, but the poet is mourning not an individual, but an aspect of the human condition, the ultimate fate of all people; respect for established literary forms, knowledge of Greek and Roman culture (Classicism); subject matter and dignified tone (Romanticism)

Iambic pentameter quatrains abab (typical eighteen-century elegiac form)

stanzas 1-3: establish the setting and the mood (countryside, sunset, „solemn stillness”)

stanza 4: focus is shifted to the graveyard and its inhabitants („rude forefathers”)

stanza 5: morning sounds (cf. The evening sounds of the first stanzas) „No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed”

stanzas 6-7: illustrate the daily life of the humble people; sympathy with common people; working close to nature is both joyful and ennobling = Romantic features!

stanzas 8-11: inevitability of death, for rich and poor alike; elevated, formal style

stanzas 12-15: graveyard for a mighty ruler or a poet

stanzas 16-18: the lot of the dead prevented them from becoming great statesmen or tyrants

stanzas 19-23: focus shifted to the desire of humble people for some kind of immortality in the minds of the living

For who, to dumb forgetfulness a prey, On some fond breast the parting soul relies,
This pleasing anxious being e'er resign'd, Some pious drops the closing eye requires;
Let the warm precincts of the cheerful day, E'en from the tomb the voice of Nature cries,
Nor cast one longing lingering look behind? - E'en in our ashes live their wonted fires. -

stanzas 24-29: the ’me’ of the 1st stanza reappears as ’thee’; the speaker is addressing himself, imagining the death of the kind of person he is („ For thee, who, mindful of the unhonoured dead, / Dost in these lines their artless tale relate”)

The Epitaph

Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth
A Youth, to Fortune and to Fame unknown;
Fair Science frown'd not on his humble birth,
And Melancholy mark'd him for her own. -

Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere;
Heaven did a recompense as largely send:
He gave to Misery all he had, a tear,
He gain'd from Heaven, 'twas all he wish'd, a friend. -

No farther seek his merits to disclose,
Or draw his frailties from their dread abode,
(There they alike in trembling hope repose,)
The bosom of his Father and his God.

Consolation found in the belief that these dead repose in heaven with God

For Robert Burns see Fairer: English Poetry of the Eighteenth Century (Longman, 2003)

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