The Augustan World: Life and Letters in Eighteenth-Century England

The Augustan World: Life and Letters in Eighteenth-Century England

The Augustan World: Life and Letters in Eighteenth-Century England

The Augustan World: Life and Letters in Eighteenth-Century England

Excerpt

In the world of scholarship the eighteenth century has received abundant honour, but in that of the general reader a good many misconceptions still seem to survive. This book arose from my desire to explore outwards from literature into society and then return from society to literature again. Its intention was as much critical as social-historical, and if the critical aim is imperfectly realised that is my own shortcoming: to examine six major topics and still preserve a sense of critical relevance proved anything but easy, and success may well have eluded me. My hope at least is that Augustan literature may be more understandingly and percipiently read by those who sense how the writer might feel in his world.

Each chapter may be taken by itself yet has also its place in a pattern. Social life leads to the economic activities which supported it, and those to politics into which social life and economics so readily ran. Religion follows on the politics to which it was closely related, and is followed by philosophy to complete the framework of moral thought. Lastly the visual arts are included to reflect the taste of the age. Certain other subjects, such as education andlinguistic conditions, had perforce to be left out, since they could have been accommodated only by considerable enlargement of the book or by serious abbreviation of the restricted space allowed to what is already here. In each chapter the last section tries more specifically than the others to show how literature was influenced. A certain amount of repetition proved unavoidable; the subjects of more than one chapter may affect literature similarly, and some writers are equally relevant to more than one subject. I hope, however, that passages which have echoes in the book may still be found essential to their own contexts.

Many colleagues at the University College of Leicester have given generously of their time and scholarship to help me in fields where they are much more at home than I: I thank . . .

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