John Gay's London Illustrated from the Poetry of the Time

John Gay's London Illustrated from the Poetry of the Time

John Gay's London Illustrated from the Poetry of the Time

John Gay's London Illustrated from the Poetry of the Time

Excerpt

The poetry of the eighteenth century is worth understanding, and this book is meant as a contribution to that end. Critics of yesterday or the day before were too apt to tag the period an age of prose, and to call its verse mechanic, because they failed to appreciate metrical fashions and conventions of style so different from their own. All niggers looked alike to them, from Pope to Erasmus Darwin, and their dull ears heard but one tune. We seem at last to have got somewhere beyond such fopperies. We are glad now to find variety of measure, and can meet a ballad without undue surprise; we can even enjoy a poem in the Spenserian stanza without dubbing it "romantic." We can talk sincerely of power, subtle fancy, breadth of imaginative suggestion, direct drive to the intellect, sensitive humanity, as casual features of this poetry, and illustrate our propositions without expecting contradiction. In other words, appreciation has finally taken the place of polemics.

Now, this book takes a part of the poetry of the period and makes use of it for a special purpose -- to throw light on the way ordinary people lived in London at that time. Prose essays, letters, memoirs, the current drama, all help toward the same end and have been used in innumerable books. One would expect these other forms of literature to be freer from pose, and on the whole more successful in reproducing the important features of town life, than is verse; but it is not so. D'Urfey and Tom Brown, Ned Ward, Edward Moore, and even Addison, are useful, but they are often lurid. The student . . .

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