An Eighteenth Century Miscellany: The Classics of the Eighteenth Century Which Typify and Reveal an Era: Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, John Gay, the Earl of Chesterfield, Laurence Sterne, Horace Walpole, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Edward Gibbon, William Blake

Excerpt

The eighteenth century, like the Renaissance, appeals more to the imagination than to the memory. It has, for those who admire it, an atmosphere if not indeed an aura, in part no doubt because of a character so unusually marked, but in even greater part because of a character so completely vanished. If one thinks of it with any emotion at all, one can hardly think of it without nostalgia, nor fail to call to mind those memorials which kindle glamour--powdered hair, coaches-and-four, minuets. The felicity of those who think this way is probably intemperate; but then, the century which has the greatest reputation for being rational has almost never called forth a rational response. People like it either too well or too little: one school, which finds its spokesmen among the Dobsons and the Stracheys, cannot be parted for even a single day from Walpole or Pope; the other and more populous school simply regards eighteenth-century England as a bore. It depends, no doubt, on whether you prefer a way of life to life itself.

I cannot personally see much sense in the attitude of either school. It requires a peculiarly sentimental and unadventurous nature to sigh over the departed splendours of an era long since buried, and to impute to it so much glamour; and it implies, not a critic's or a sociologist's interest, but an antiquary's. It is all too easy and misleading to think only of Georgian houses and Gainsborough portraits, Pope's grotto and Walpole's Gothic, the rotunda at Ranelagh and the pumproom at Bath, Addison holding forth at the Kit-Cat and Johnson at the Cheshire Cheese, the Duchess of Marlborough defying Queen Anne and Flora Macdonald shielding the Young Pretender. That, plainly, is mere façade; although that is perhaps as far in mental perspective as Dobson ever got in composing his Eighteenth-Century Vignettes. An uncorrected impression of the eighteenth century as surpassing all others in brilliance and lustre . . .

Additional information

Contributors:
Includes content by:
  • Alexander Pope
  • John Gay
  • Laurence Sterne
  • Horace Walpole
  • Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Publisher: Place of publication:
  • New York
Publication year:
  • 1936

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