The Life of Reason: Hobbes, Locke, Bolingbroke

The Life of Reason: Hobbes, Locke, Bolingbroke

The Life of Reason: Hobbes, Locke, Bolingbroke

The Life of Reason: Hobbes, Locke, Bolingbroke

Excerpt

The title of this essay needs some explanation; and I shall try to give the reader some impression of what he may look for, if he troubles to read over the pages that follow.

I give the name of 'Augustans' to the leaders of thought and letters in that period of our history which we are accustomed to call indifferently the Age of Reason or the Age of Neo-classicism; and this period I take roughly as extending from 1650 to 1780. These are indeed rough limits: I give 1650 so as to show that I include the Leviathan at one end as a monument of Augustanism and, at the other, I give 1780 to cover (or very nearly) the appearance of Johnson Lives of the Poets. In using the word Augustan as widely as this, I am indeed extending it beyond the limits employed by Mr. Saintsbury in his well-known book; but if we are going to use the word at all, it is hard to see how we can exclude so influential a maker of the age as Hobbes. He, more than any other great writer of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, preached the power and scope of human reason; and besides, his influence on Dryden was emphatic and acknowledged.

Yet, in this essay, I have written of only three great Augustans: Hobbes, Locke and Bolingbroke; and of these I have not written studies of their writings in all their aspects. Thus, all three were eminent political theorists; but the reader will find nothing here, or very little, of their ethical and political doctrines. Instead, I have tried to elicit the tone and spirit of those of their writings which treat of human knowledge, imagination and religious feeling; and even here, I cannot claim to have made anything approaching complete studies of their doctrines. What I have done is to speak of their writings with an eye to the consequences they were bound to have on the art of literature and on religion, but chiefly on the former; if the latter appears to the reader to loom sometimes large, it is only because I believe that in the last resort art and religion lie, in certain respects, very near to each other.

I have written in this volume about Hobbes, Locke and Bolingbroke, because I have thought that by speaking of these three I should be able to recreate something of the intellectual idiom in which the literary men of the first half of the period were reared, the intellectual attitudes and beliefs which lay behind and influenced Dryden, Pope, Swift, Addison, and which were to affect belief and feeling up to the end of Augustan . . .

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