Godwin and the Age of Transition

Godwin and the Age of Transition

Godwin and the Age of Transition

Godwin and the Age of Transition

Excerpt

The outline text-book of the eighteenth century commonly pictures the 'spirit of the age' -- that volatile essence -- as a movement from Augustanism or Reason at the beginning to Romanticism or Feeling at the end of the century: the two qualities being perpetually in inverse proportion, the one waning as the other waxes. Even for the second half of the century, when it becomes progressively less untrue, this is not the whole truth. For the first half it seems anything but the truth. Does Swift lack feeling? Is Young, of the satires on the one hand and Night Thoughts on the other, Augustan or Romantic? Do Pope Pastorals show him to be a man of feeling? Or does his belief that "Whatever is, is right" mark him as a rationalist?

A truer, or at least a more useful, view sees the Augustan as an Age not of Reason but Compromise, whose chief virtues are prudence, tolerance, and politeness: one of those brief periods of stability when neither reason nor feeling is carried so far as to endanger the status quo.

After 1760, however, various latent conflicts become manifest, and the harmony of the era of Queen Anne gradually modulates into the Regency discord.

The seeds of discord are already sown, by the corrupt government of the Pelhams, at the time of Godwin's birth in 1756. They put forth shoots in the period of personal government by George III (1761-82), and come to fruition during the French Revolution and the English repression that followed it -- during the period, that is, of Godwin's maturity.

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