This revolution, coupled with the increasing rivalry of France in trade and colonial expansion, altered the foreign policy of England. Holland was the head of the European coalition against France; and William III. was influential in having England join it. For the larger part of the eighteenth century there was intermittent war with France.
Under Anne (1702-1714) the Duke of Marlborough won many remarkable victories against France. The most worthy goal of French antagonism, expansion of trade, and displacement of the French in America and India, was not at this time clearly apparent.
Anne’s successor was the Hanoverian Elector, George I. (1714-1727), a descendant of the daughter of James I., who had married a German prince. At the time of his accession, George I. was fifty-four years old and could speak no English. He seldom attended the meetings of his cabinet, since he could not understand the deliberations. This circumstance led to further decline of royal power, so that his successor, George II. (1727-1760), said: “Ministers are the king in this country.”
The history of the rest of this period centers around the great prime minister, Robert Walpole, whose ministry lasted from 1715-1717 and from 1721-1742. His motto was, “Let sleeping dogs lie”; and he took good care to offend no one by proposing any reforms, either political or religious. “Every man has his price” was the succinct statement of his political philosophy; and he did not hesitate to secure by bribery the adoption of his measures in Parliament. He succeeded in three aims: (1) in making the house of Hanover so secure on the throne that it has not since been displaced, (2) in giving fresh impetus to trade and industry at home by reducing taxation, and (3) in strengthening the navy and encouraging colonial commerce.
Change in Foreign Influence.—Of all foreign influences from the beginning of the Renaissance to the Restoration, the literature of Italy had been the most important. French influence now gained the ascendancy.
There were several reasons for this change. (1) France under the great Louis XIV. was increasing her political importance. (2) She now had among her writers men who were by force of genius fitted to exert wide influence. Among such, we may instance Moliere (1622-1673), who stands next to Shakespeare in dramatic power. (3) Charles II. and many Cavaliers had passed the time of their exile in France. They became familiar with French literature, and when they returned to England in 1660, their taste had already been influenced by French models.
Change in the Subject Matter of Literature.—The Elizabethan age impartially held the mirror up to every type of human emotion. The writers of the Restoration and of the first half of the eighteenth century, as a class, avoided any subject that demanded a portrayal of deep and noble feeling. In this age, we catch no glimpse of a Lady Macbeth in the grasp of remorse or of a Lear bending over a dead Cordelia.