Explain 18th Century Satire | Satire in the 18th Century

The age of Pope and Dr. Johnson is regarded as the Augustan age in English literature. The term Augustan is applied to the period of highest refinement of any national literature. In this age efforts were made to translate classical ideals into life and literature, so it is said the age of classicism.

The age was very vast. So, there may be division of the age. It can be divided into three parts. The first part belongs to the age of Pope which ends in the 1740. The second part is of Classicism which ends in 1770. The last and third part is Romanticism that ends in 1798.

Before 1688 the condition of England was not good enough. England got its stability after 1688. The stability brought more power to parliament. At that time there was struggle between Whig and Tory. The result was that the struggle led to violent. But after getting the political stability the struggle ended.

On the economic side of the changes were rapid. The greatest single event of the age was the industrial revolution which led to the depopulation of the countryside. The parliamentary monarch was controlled the middle classes. So, the life was very busy.

Let us now look into the Principal Characteristics of the age. The general temper of the age is that of rationalism. The empiricism of Locks had a great impact on the intellectual life of the age. But is was not the keynote of the age. It is angular a unique fusion of ingenuity with traditionalism, of decorum with realism.

The watchwords of the age were gentleman lines respectability and conformity. There was deep root in the thought and culture in classicism. The age was against imagination and enthusiasm. Even in its early days Pope displayed that he had a rich store house of imagination. The Augustans believed in religion and in God. But they had no faith in Mysteries. In every field of life they wanted to avoid extravagance and emotionalism. There was matristic view of the life of the Augustan’s. They were very much interested with the current time. They were bold for the civil and national life. There was growth of prose and satire.

The Augustans were professed by classicism. They had great respect for the classics of Greece and Rome. They were attracted by the method, by the techniques of old masters. The Augustans were not subjective but they were painfully self conscious in their works. They talk of classical rule and judge every literary production according to these Rules’ perhaps it was the result of their reaction against the Elizabethan Romanticism and against the Metaphysical.

The Augustan Classicist naturally have a strong antipathy to anything that savours of Romanticism. By romantic they mean something improbable or widely sentimental. They discard imagination and they prefer to be objective in their treatment of a thing. But after the fifties of the century, this classical bias gradually moves out yielding place to a new attitude which recognises the importance of imagination and enthusiasm.

The Augustan interpretation of the word Nature is quite distinct from the Romantic interpretation. The authors of the eighteenth century always ask other meant of follow Nature. There are very few who loved the real beauties of Nature. They are essentially the men of London. They always say that city life is better than country life. With all these features, the age naturally speaks through heroic couplets, satires and prose. Lack of city and imagination leads to the death of lyricism. The field of drama is barren. Augustan prose is plain, orderly and reasonable. But the poetry is flat and dull.

The man through whom the age speaks is Alexander pope. Pope’s first volume of poems containing his pastorals, written at the age of eighteen, attracted the attention of the leading men of the age. Pope was a sickly child and all through his life, he remained a weak and disabled man. But in spite of his ailments and physical disabilities, he developed a keen love for studies at a very early age. His first poem appeared in 1709 and 1711 he wrote ‘Essay on Criticism’. In 1712 he published ‘The Rape of the Lock’ a mock heroic poem that suited the best taste of the age. Pope engaged himself in translating ‘Iliad’ and ‘Odyssey’. These translations brought him a great fortune. Latter in his life he wrote “The Dunciad’, ‘Essay on Man’ and some satires. On May 30, 1774 this true representative of the age breathed his last.

Two other poets of the Augustan age were Matthew prior (1664-1721) and John Gray (1685-1732) prior was a poet and a diplomat. He got his education at Cambridge where he showed his felicity of expression as a poet. He was deeply influenced by Horace, Anacreon and Spenser. He wrote both ‘narrative’ and short poems. His verse narratives Solomon on the Vanity of the world emotional poetry of the Elizabethans. The word metaphysical is used not so much in respect to thought and content, but in respect to style and manner. The metaphysical is a way to look at the world. It is also a way to express that outlook. ‘Metaphysical poetry‘ appears so intellect first, its tone is realistic rather than imaginative. The metaphysical poet largely speaks through images. But these images are not emotionally experienced, they are intellectually conceived. Hence these images are known as conceits such Conceits, however can be seen in Sidney. Shakespeare and Chapman. But in them they are an ornament at occasional grace with the metaphysical poets with John Donne, George Herbert, Vaughan and Crashaw.

John Donne, the originator and the leader of this school was born in 1572 and was brought up as a catholic. In his young days he was a man of fashion, but also a man of scholarly habits. As a young man he wrote his five satires, twenty elegies and a number of songs and sonnets. In 1598 he became the private secretary to Lord keeper Egerton but lost the job in 1960 when he married Anne More, the niece of Egerton’s wife. Anniversaries commemorating Elizabeth Drury, daughter of Sir Robert Drury appeared in 1611 and 1612. In 1612 Donne was ordained and he became Reader in Divinity at Lincoln’s inn. In 1621 he became Dean of St. Paul’s and in that capacity he died in 1631. In the last years of his life he wrote his religious poems. The poetry of Donne falls into three groups-

  1. The love poetry
  2. The miscellaneous poems and
  3. The religious poems

In all his poems we find his efforts to transmute his ideas through images which are intellectually conceived, His appeal is direct, he does not whine like the romantic despaired:

“For God’s sake hold your tongue, and let met love.

Or chide my palsy or my gout.

My fine gray hairs, or ruined fortune flout.

With wealth your state, your mind with Arts improve

Take you a course, get you a place.

Donne’s love poems are his best creations. The manliness & the strength of his love-lyrics are comparable to the vigour of Browning’s love poems. Donne’s poems express his staunch sense of realism, his ability to fathom the human mind and his great common-sense. His poem are the products of a wide range of different moods. Some betray a cynical mood, some passion. Ate, some again sing of supreme happiness and delight. The poet is able always to bring a union of passion and ratiocination. Some of his outstanding love poems are ‘The dream’, ‘The Sun Rising’, ‘The Good Morrow’, ‘Sweetest love I do not go Love’s Infiniteness’ and ‘Twickenham Garden’.

The Cult of the metaphysical school was carried on after Donne by Herbert, Crashaw and Vaughan. Of these George Herbert was a poet of great sincerity and deep emotion. He lived only for forty years but he left enough beautiful poems to make him immortal. He was a fine scholar and he could present his Idea lucidly in his poems. His conceits were never obscure. The earnestness of a true devotee stands expressed in his poems. His poems are simple in expression but deep in thoughts. The modern reader is constantly reminded of Francis Thompson when he reads Herbert. His best known poems are ‘The Collar’, ‘The world’, ‘Easter Wings’, ‘The Pulley’, ‘Life’, ‘Avarice’, ‘Love’ and ‘Discipline’. Any of these poems can show the deep strain of sincerity of Herbert and his peculiar way of presentation of his feelings.

Richard Crashaw is a mystic who started as puritan but ended his life a e as a Roman Catholic. He wrote both secular and sacred poems the secular one know as Delights of the Muse and the sacred ones as steps to the Temple. His two poems the flaming Heart and Wishes to his Unknown Mistress represent the two kinds the secular that he wrote. His conceits are often difficult to follow, but then he has also some lines of rare beauty and great lyrical heights.

Henry Vaughan the last of the four outstanding metaphysical poets, is a true mystic who anticipates Wordsworth. Vaughan has not that child like simplicity of Herbert nor he has the mind of a true sage who is always engaged in exploring nature and universe. His best poems The Retreat’, ‘The Night Childhood’ The Dawning’. The Timber’. The World” and “Beyond the Veil’ give out a mind in search after truth. His concepts are easier than those of Crashaw and sometimes he attracts us from the start:

“Ah what time wilt thou come? When shall that cry

The Bridegroom’s Coming fill the sky ??

Abraham Cowley was a royalist but Marvell was staunch Puritan and a parliamentarian. For sometimes he was the Latin secretary to Milton. Cowley is the precursor of a new classicism but Andrew Marvell is the first precursor of English Romanticism. He visualises a spirit behind the manifestations of Nature. He has the ability to enjoy the outer beauties of Nature through his senses :

“What wondrous life is this I lead

Ripe apples drop about my head.

The luscious clusters of the vine.

Upon my mouth do crush their wine.”

The best poems of Marvell are ‘An Horation Ode upon Cromwell’s return from Ireland’, ‘To his coy Mistress’ and ‘Thoughts in a Garden’.

This chapter deals with the outstanding poets of the seventeenth Century before Restoration, but leaves out Milton the greatest poet of the age. Milton’s greatness demands that he should be trend in a separate chapter. Hence his mention is not done here.



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