The second part of the eighteenth century was a time of changing standards in church, state, and literature. The downfall of Walpole, the religious revivals of Wesley, the victories of Clive in India and of Wolfe in Canada, show the progress that England was making at home and abroad. Even her loss of the American colonies left her the greatest maritime and colonial power.
There began to be a revolt against the narrow classical standards in literature. A longing gradually manifested itself for more freedom of imagination, such as we find in Ossian, The Castle of Otranto, Percy’s Reliques, and translations of the Norse mythology. There was a departure from the hackneyed forms and subjects of the preceding age and an introduction of more of the individual and ideal element, such as can be found in Gray’s Elegy and Collins’s Ode to Evening. Dr. Johnson, however, threw his powerful influence against this romantic movement, and curbed somewhat such tendencies in Goldsmith, who, nevertheless, gave fine romantic touches to The Deserted Village and to much of his other work. This period was one of preparation for the glorious romantic outburst at the end of the century.
In prose, the most important achievement of the age was the creation of the modern novel in works like Richardson’s Pamela and Clarissa Harlowe, Fielding’s Tom Jones, Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, Smollett’s Humphrey Clinker, and Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield. There were also noted prose works in philosophy and history by Hume and Gibbon, in politics by Burke, in criticism by Johnson, and in biography by Boswell. Goldsmith’s comedy of manners, She Stoops to Conquer, won a decided victory over the insipid sentimental drama.
For contemporary English history, consult Gardiner, Green, Walker, or Cheney. For the social side, see Traill, V. Lecky’s History of the Eighteenth Century is specially full.
The Cambridge History of English Literature.
Courthope’s History of English Poetry, Vol. V.
Seccombe’s The Age of Johnson.
Gosse’s History of English Literature in the Eighteenth Century.
Stephen’s English Literature in the Eighteenth Century.
Minto’s Manual of English Prose Literature.
Symons’s The Romantic Movement in English Poetry.
Beers’s English Romanticism.
Phelps’s Beginnings of the English Romantic Movement.
Nutt’s Ossian and Ossianic Literature.
Jusserand’s The English Novel in the Time of Shakespeare.
Cross’s The Development of the English Novel.