AD's English Literature : Eighteenth Century is the Age of Prose Reason

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Eighteenth Century is the Age of Prose Reason



The 18th century viewed as a whole has a distinctive character. It is definitely the Age of understanding, the age of enlightenment, where a literature which had become pellucid (clear) began to diffuse knowledge among the growing public. The supremacy of reason was unchallenged – there reigned a general belief in the advancement of human mind. This flourishing of enlightened idea and the escalation of reason and logical thought founds its best articulation through the triumph of English prose in the 18th century. As such, the 18th century has often been designated as the age of prose reason. The major prose writers of the age include Jonathan swift (1667 -1745) Joseph Addison (1672 -1719), Richard Steele (1672 -1729) and Samuel Johnson (1704 – 1784). Other prose writers of significance are James Bowell (1740 – 1795), Edlemund Burley (1729 – 1797) and Edward Gibbon (1737 – 1794). 
Jonathan swift’s works are a monstrous satire on humanity.  Swift, who hated all shams, wrote, with a great show of learning famous Bicerstaff Almanac containing “Predictions for the year 1708 was determined by the emerging states,” which first brought sift into prominence This work appeared under the pseudonym of Isaac Bickerstaff was preeminently focus because of his satiric worlds . Ligaments any case of hypocrisy or by notice , he sets up a remedy which is atrocious , and defuse his plan with such seriousness that the satire overwhelms the readers with a sense of monstrous falsity . Swift’s two greatest satires are A Tale of a Tub and Gulliver’s Travels . The Tale began as a grim exposure of the alleged weaknesses of three principle forms of religion beliefs, catholic, Lutheran and Christin as opposed to the Anglican; put it ended in a satire upon all science and philosophy. In Gulliver’s Travels the practice grows more unbearable strangely enough , this book upon which swifts’ literary fame generally rests , was not written from any literary motive , but rather as an outlet of the author’s own bitterness , against fate and human society .
Like swift, Joseph Addison despised shams, but unlike him he never lost faith in humanity; and in all his satires, these is a gentle kindness which makes one think letter of his fellowmen even when he laughs at their little vanities. Addison stripped off the mask of vice, so much upheld by restoration literature, to show its ugliness and deformity; put to reveal virtue in its own notice loveliness was Addison’s main purpose. Further prompted and aided by the more original genius of his friend Steele, Addison seeds upon the new social life of the clubs and made it the subject of endless pleasant essays upon types of men and manners. His journals The Tatler and The spectator are the beginnings of the Coverly essay; and their studies of human character as exemplified in Sir Roger – De – Coverly , are a preparation for the modern novel . The most enduring of Addison’s works are Essays collected from The Tatler and The spectator. To an age of fundamental coarseness and artificiality his essays came with a wholesome message of refinement and simplicity. He attaches all the little varieties and all the big circles of his time not in substantial way, but with a finally ridicule and a gently humour which appears.
  
His Essays are the best picture we possess of the new social life of England; they advanced the art of literary criticism to a much higher stage than it had ever reached before; they certainly led English men to a better knowledge and appreciation of their own literature; and finally they gave us characters that live forever as part of that goodly company which extends from Chaucer’s county power to Kipling Huluancy . Addison and Steele not only introduce the modern essay but their character forfeiture, they herald the dawn of the modern novel.
Steele was a rollicking, good – hearted, emotional, lovable Irishman. He was one of the few winters of his time who showed a sincere and unswerving respect for womanhood. Even more than Addison, he ridicules irks and makes pursue lovely. He was the origination of The Tatler and journeyed with Addison in creating The spectator – the two periodicals which did more to influence the subsequent literature than all the magazines of the century complied. Steele was the original genius of Sir Roger and of many other characters and essays for which Addison usually received the whole credit. But the majority of the cities hold that the more original parts the characters, the overflowing kindness, are largely Steele’s creation while Addison polished and perfected the essays.
Dr. Johnson was probably the most significant intellectual stalwart of the time. His Dictionary and his lives of the poets are worthy to be remembered through both of these are valuable not as literature, but rather as a study of literature. The Dictionary as the first ambitious attempt at the English lexicon is extremely valuable, notwithstanding the fact that some of his derivations are incorrect. Lives of the poets are the simplest and the most readable of his literary works. As criticisms they are often misleading, giving undue praise to artificial poets like pope and abundant injustice to nobler poets like Milton, but as biographies, they are excellent reading, and we owe to them some of the best power picture of the early English poets. Bowell’s Life of Jonson was one of the most famous prose works of the century. It is an immortal work where , like the Greek – sculptures the little slaves produced the more enduring work than the Greek – masters .

Buspe in famous for his best known political speeches “on conciliation with America , “ American Taxation’, ‘The impeachment of women Hasting’ and also for his famous book of prose Reflection  on the French Revolution which are still much studied as models of English prose . Characteristic of the classic age, they abound in fine rhetoric but lack simplicity. But his works reveal the stateliness and the rhetorical power of the English language and because of the poetic prose so rich in images and symbols and the musical cadence of his sentences, and also because of his profound sympathy for humanity and his purpose to establish the truth, Burke won a significant place in the History of English literature.
Only Edward Gibbon remains to be mentioned, His famous prose work is a historical treatise, entitled. TheDecline and Fall of Roman Empire spanning Roman history from 98 A.D to 1453 A.D. It gains little recognition because of his imposing style characterizing by the sinuous roll of his majestic sentences. gibbons style has been characterized as finished , elegant , splendid, rounded , massive , sonorous , elaborate , ornate , exhaustive etc . 
The flourish of prose in the 18th century like a tune is also evident in the rise of novel, bought into vogue by Richardson, Fielding, Smollett and Sterne. But since the novel is a distinct literary genre a discussion on the 18th century novels remains outside the scope of this essay. As a whole it can safely be concluded that because of the growing tendency of prose in the contemporary satires and periodicals, essays which catered to the public tastes increasingly the 18th century lonely triumphs in prose literature.

Ref: 1. History of English Literature- Albert, 
      2. The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature
      3. Microsoft Students’ Encarta

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