William Cowper, a Critical Life

William Cowper, a Critical Life

William Cowper, a Critical Life

William Cowper, a Critical Life

Excerpt

The eighteenth century has sometimes been called a static age. This term has a proper application if we mean that the century was an era that defined taste, formulated rules for poetry, architecture, and painting, adhered to certain formalities, and viewed with satisfaction the stage of civilization it had reached. In retrospect, however, it seems more logical to regard the second half of the century as a great transitional period that brought the Renaissance to its lingering close and set the stage for modern life. As the following anecdote illustrates, by the middle of the era new ideas were already stirring the complacency of the upper ranks of society.

Lord Chesterfield, the personification of grace and polish, once found himself in the company of Mrs. Macaulay and Lady Huntingdon. The first of these ladies, having embraced republican principles, was prone to seize every opportunity to express her belief in equality. The second was a disciple of Whitefield and one of the few wealthy converts among the first generation of Methodists. Having somehow cornered the fastidious and cynical Lord Chesterfield, the two ladies launched into a fervent discussion of their political and religious views. The famous aristocrat, though bored and uncomfortable, was much too courteous to reveal his true feelings. Instead he complimented Mrs. Macaulay on her learning and humanity, and then, turning to her companion, he started to commend her piety and zeal. But Lady . . .

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