The Social and Political Ideas of Some English Thinkers of the Augustan Age, A. D. 1650-1750: A Series of Lectures Delivered at King's College, University of London, during the Session 1927-28

By F. J. C. Hearnshaw | Go to book overview

PREFACE

THE term "Augustan Age," as applied to literature, denotes, of course, primarily the period 31 B.C. to A.D. 14, during which Cæsar Augustus ruled as princeps over the Roman world. It was the period within which Virgil and Horace, Propertius and Tibullus, Ovid and Livy, flourished and wrote. The common characteristics of the widely varying works of these eminent men were, on the one hand, an unprecedented perfection of form, but, on the other hand, a certain decline from the originality and vigour of the less polished writings of their predecessors. The age was selfconscious and critical rather than spontaneous and creative.

These same features--external splendour, internal decadence --have marked other periods in the history of other countries, and in particular the reign of Louis XIV in French history, together with the age which in English history saw the fall of the Stuarts and the accession of the Hanoverians. Hence to these periods too the name "Augustan" has been appropriately applied. In England the outstanding figure in the literary world of the first half of the Augustan Age was Dryden; that of the second half was Pope. It is not, of course, possible to assign precise date-limits to an era so vague and indefinite as one distinguished by the form and content of its literary masterpieces. For the purposes of the present volume, however, the rather wide extremes of A. D. 1650 and A.D. 1750 are taken. During this century the strenuous animosities of Roundheads and Cavaliers died down into the petty bickerings of Whigs and Tories; while the ferocious fanaticisms of Puritans and Papists subsided into the polite argumentations of rationalistic Latitudinarians with the almost indistinguishable Deistic rationalists. Simultaneously with this fall in controversial temperature occurred a marked rise in literary lucidity. The majestic and magnificent confusion of Milton's prose was reduced to the ordered beauty of Dryden's musical periods; the rugged

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