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quite as much as a satire. The follies of fashionable life are treated with nothing severer than light raillery; and its actually distasteful features,—its lapses into stupidity, its vacuous restlessness, its ennui,--are cunningly suppressed. But all that made it seem the height of human felicity is preserved, and enhanced in charm. “Launched on the bosom of the silver Thames,” one glides to Hampton Court amid youth and gayety and melting music; and for the nonce this realm of “airs, flounces, and furbelows,” of merry chit-chat, and of pleasurable excitement, seems as important as it is to those exquisite creatures of fancy that hover about the heroine, assiduous guardians of her "graceful ease and sweetness void of pride.” Of that admired world likewise are the lovers that Matthew Prior creates, who woo neither with stormy passion nor with mawkish whining, but in a courtly manner; lovers who deem an epigram a finer tribute than a sigh. So the tender fondness of a middle-aged man for an infant is elevated above the commonplace by assuming the tone of playful gallantry.
The ignobler aspects of life,-nutriment of the comic sense, -were not ignored. The new school of poets, however deficient in the higher vision, were keen observers of actuality; and among them the satiric spirit, though not militant as in the days of Dryden, was still active. The value which they attached to social culture is again shown in the persistence of the sentiment that as man grew in civility he became less ridiculous. The peccadilloes of the upper classes they treated with comparatively gentle humor, and aimed their strokes of satire chiefly against the lower. Rarely did they idealize humble folk: Gay's Sweet William's Farewell to Black Eyed Susan is in this respect exceptional. Their typical attitude is seen in his Shepherd's Week, with its ludicrous picture of rustic superstition and naive amorousness; and in Allan Ramsay's Gentle Shepherd, where the pastoral, once remote from life, assumes the manners and dialect of the countryside in order to arouse laughter.
The obvious fact that these poets centered their attention upon Man, particularly in his social life, and that their most memorable productions are upon that theme, led posterity to complain that they wholly lacked interest in Nature, were incapable of delineating it, and did not feel its sacred influence. The last point in the indictment,—and the last only,-is quite true. No one who understood and believed, as they did, the doctrines of orthodoxy could consistently ascribe divinity to Nature. To them Nature exhibited the power of God, but not his will; and the soul of Man gained its clearest moral light directly from a supernatural source. This did not, however, imply that Nature was negligible. The celebrated essays of Addison on the pleasures of the imagination (Spectator, Nos. 411-414) base those pleasures upon the grandeur of Nature; upon its variety and freshness, as of "groves, fields, and meadows in the opening of the Spring"; and upon its beauty of form and color. The works of Nature, declares Addison, surpass those of art, and accordingly "we always find the poet in love with a country life.” Such was the theory; the practice was not out of accord therewith. Passages appreciative of the lovelier aspects of Nature, and not, despite the current preference for general rather than specific terms, inaccurate as descriptions, were written between 1700 and 1726 by Addison himself, Pope, Lady Winchilsea, Gay, Parnell, Dyer, and many others. Nature worshippers they were not. Nature lovers they can be justly styled,-if such love may discriminate between the beautiful and the ugly aspects of the natural. It is characteristic that Berkeley, in his Prospect of Planting Arts and Learning in America, does not indulge the fancy that the wilderness is of itself uplifting; it requires, he assumes, the aid of human culture and wisdom,—“the rise of empire and of arts,"—to develop its potentialities.
A generation which placidly adhered to the orthodox sentiments of its predecessors was of course not moved to revolutionize poetical theories or forms. Its theories are authoritatively stated in Pope's Essay on Criticism; they embrace principles of good sense and mature taste which are easier to condemn than to confute or supersede. In poetical diction the age cultivated clearness, propriety, and dignity: it rejected words so minutely particular as to suggest pedantry or specialization; and it refused to sacrifice simple appropriateness to inaccurate vigor of utterance or meaningless beauty of sound. Its favorite measure, the decasyllabic couplet, moulded by Jonson, Sandys, Waller, Denham, and Dryden, it accepted reverently, as an heirloom not to be essentially altered but to be polished until it shone more brightly than ever. Pope perfected this form, making it at once more artistic and more natural. He discountenanced on the one hand run-on lines, alexandrines, hiatus, and sequence of monosyllables; on the other, the resort to expletives and the mechanical placing of cæsura. If his verse does not move with the “long resounding pace” of Dryden at his best, it has a movement better suited to the drawing-room: it is what Oliver Wendell Holmes terms
The straight-backed measure with the stately stride. Thus in form as in substance the poetry of the period voiced the mood, not of carefree youth, nor yet of vehement early manhood, but of still vigorous middle age,-a phase of existence perhaps less ingratiating than others, but one which has its rightful hour in the life of the race as of the individual. The sincere and artistic expression of its feelings will be denied poetical validity only by those whose capacity for appreciating the varieties of poetry is limited by their lack of experience or by narrowness of sympathetic imagination.
II. ORTHODOXY AND CLASSICISM ASSAILED
During the second quarter of the century, Pope and his group remained dominant in the realm of poetry; but their mood was no longer pacific. Their work showed a growing seriousness and acerbity. Partly the change was owing to disappointment: life had not become so highly cultured, literature had not prospered so much, nor displayed so broad a diffusion of intelligence and taste, as had been expected. Pope's Dunciad, Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot, and ironic satire on the state of literature under “Augustus” (Georgé II, the "snuffy old drone from the German hive"), brilliantly express this indignation with the intellectual and literary shortcomings of the times.
A cause of the change of mood which was to be of more lasting consequence than the failure of the age to put the traditional ideal more generally into practice, was the appearance of a distinctly new ideal,-one which undermined the very foundations of the old. This new spirit may be termed sentimentalism. In prose literature it had already been stirring for about twenty-five years, changing the tone of comedy, entering into some of the periodical essays, and assuming a philosophic character in the works of Lord Shaftesbury. Its chief doctrines, rhapsodically promulgated by this amiable and original enthusiast, were that the universe and all its creatures constitute a perfect harmony; and that Man, owing to his innate moral and æsthetic sense, needs no supernatural revelation of religious or ethical truth, because if he will discard the prejudices of tradition, he will instinctively, when face to face with Nature, recognize the Spirit which dwells therein,-and, correspondingly, when in the presence of a good deed he will recognize its morality. In other words, God and Nature are one; and Man is instinctively good, his cardinal virtue being the love of humanity, his true religion the love of Nature. Be therefore of good cheer: evil merely appears to exist, sin is a figment of false psychology; lead mankind to return to the natural, and they will find happiness.
The poetical possibilities of sentimentalism were not grasped by any noteworthy poet before Thomson. The Seasons was an innovation, and its novelty lay not so much in the choice of the subject as in the interpretation. Didactic as well as descriptive, it was designed not merely to present realistic pictures but to arouse certain explicitly stated thoughts and feelings. Thomson had absorbed some of Shaftesbury's ideas. Such sketches as that of the hardships which country folk suffer in winter, contrasted with the thoughtless gayety of city revelers, and inculcating the lesson of sympathy, are precisely in the vein that sentimentalism encouraged. So, too, the tendency of Shaftesbury to deify Nature appears in several ardent passages. The choice of blank verse as the medium of this liberal and expansive train of thought was appropriate. It should not be supposed, however, that Thomson accepted sentimentalism in its entirety or fully understood its ultimate bearings. The author of Rule, Britannia praised many things,like commerce and industry and imperial power,—that are not favored by the thorough sentimentalist. Often he was inconsistent: his Hymn to Nature is in part a pantheistic rhapsody, in part a monotheistic Hebrew psalm. Essentially an indolent though receptive mind, he made no effort to trace the new ideas to their consequences; he vaguely considered them not irreconcilable with the old.
A keener mind fell into the same error. Pope, in the Essay on Man, tried to harmonize the orthodox conception of human character with sentimental optimism. As a collection of those memorable half-truths called aphorisms, the poem is admirable; as an attempt to unite new half-truths with old into a consistent scheme of life, it is fallacious. No creature composed of such warring elements as Pope describes in the superb antitheses that open Epistle II, can ever become in this world as good and at the same time as happy as Epistle IV vainly asserts. Pope, charged with heresy, did not repeat this endeavor to console mankind; he returned to his proper element, satire. But his effort to unite the new philosophy with the old psychology is striking evidence of the attractiveness and growing vogue of Shaftesbury's theories.
It was minor poets who first expressed sentimental ideas without inconsistency. As early as 1732, anonymous lines in the Gentleman's Magazine advanced what must have seemed the outrageously paradoxical thought that the savage in the wilderness was happier than civilized man. Two years later Soame Jenyns openly assailed in verse the orthodox doctrines of sin and retribution. These had long been assailed in prose; and under the influence of the attacks, within the pale of the Church itself, some ministers had suppressed or modified the sterner aspects of the creed,-a movement