Dryden and Pope in the Early Nineteenth Century

Dryden and Pope in the Early Nineteenth Century

Dryden and Pope in the Early Nineteenth Century

Dryden and Pope in the Early Nineteenth Century

Excerpt

The early nineteenth century is commonly described in literary surveys and histories as the Age of Wordsworth. Yet, as Newman Ivey White pointed out in The Unextinguished Hearth, the truth was that the majority of readers in the early nineteenth century were 'as stubbornly unaware that theirs was the Romantic age as the ancients were that they were ancients'. The year 1798 is indeed conventionally taken to mark the beginning of the Romantic age, though the appearance of the anonymous Lyrical Ballads, produced by Cottle the publisher in Bristol for two young friends, caused no great sensation among the majority of readers. As Wordsworth observed, it was necessary for him to create the taste by which he was to be judged and appreciated, and this is sufficient caution against any easy assumptions about the nature of literary taste in the early nineteenth century.

The attempt to determine the tastes of an earlier age is a matter in which we must proceed warily. But in studying attitudes towards Augustan poetry in the early nineteenth century we are fortunate at the outset in having an account of literary taste in England at the beginning of the decade in which the Lyrical Ballads appeared. I refer to the words written by Francis Jeffrey in 1816:

When we were at our studies some twenty-five years ago, we can perfectly remember that every young man was set to read Pope, Swift, and Addison, as regularly as Virgil, Cicero, and Horace. All who had any tincture of letters were familiar with their writings and their history; allusions to them abounded in all popular discourses and ambitious conversation; and they and their contemporaries were universally acknowledged as our great models of excellence, and placed without challenge at the head of our national literature. New books, even when allowed to have merit, were never thought of as fit to be placed in the same class, but were generally read and forgotten, and passed away like the transitory meteors of a lower . . .

Author Advanced search

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.