English Poets of the Eighteenth Century

English Poets of the Eighteenth Century

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English Poets of the Eighteenth Century

English Poets of the Eighteenth Century

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Excerpt

The clearest portrayal of the prominent features of an age may sometimes be seen in poems which reveal what men desire to be rather than what they are; and which express sentiments typical, even commonplace, rather than individual. John Pomfret Choice (1700) is commonplace indeed; it was never deemed great, but it was remarkably popular. "No composition in oar language," opined Dr. Johnson, "has been oftener perused,"--an opinion quite incredible until one perceives how intimately the poem harmonizes with the prevalent mood of its contemporary readers. It was written by a clergyman (a circumstance not insignificant); its form is the heroic couplet; its content is a wish for a peaceful and civilized mode of existence. And what is believed to satisfy that longing? A life of leisure; the necessaries of comfort plentifully provided, but used temperately; a country-house upon a hillside, not too distant from the city; a little garden bordered by a rivulet; a quiet study furnished with the classical Roman poets; the society of a few friends, men who know the world as well as books, who are loyal to their nation and their church, and whose conversation is intellectually vigorous but always polite; the occasional companionship of a woman of virtue, wit, and poise of manner; and, above all, the avoidance of public or private contentions. Culture and peace--and the greater of these is peace! The sentiment characterizes the first quarter of the eighteenth century.

The poets of that period had received an abundant heritage from the Elizabethans, the Cavaliers, Dryden, and Milton. It was a poetry of passionate love, chivalric honor, indignant satire, and sublime faith. Much of it they ad-

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