Men of Letters and the English Public in the Eighteenth Century, 1660- 1744: Dryden, Addison [And] Pope

Men of Letters and the English Public in the Eighteenth Century, 1660- 1744: Dryden, Addison [And] Pope

Men of Letters and the English Public in the Eighteenth Century, 1660- 1744: Dryden, Addison [And] Pope

Men of Letters and the English Public in the Eighteenth Century, 1660- 1744: Dryden, Addison [And] Pope

Excerpt

How did the people who lived by the pen between 1660 and 1740 earn their livelihood? That is the question, with its implications as to the kind of writing produced, which Beljame set himself to answer in this classic work of scholarship. The word classic is used advisedly, since no one interested either in the literature of the period, or in its social history, can afford to neglect it, if only to save himself a deterrent amount of initial spade-work. It is classic also by its form and its method: it is a model of how such things should be done. Moreover, the period chosen by Beljame is one of crucial interest, since it was during those years that a fundamental change in the status of the writer took place, a change which corresponded with the final emergence of society from its mediæval phase into the modern one.

The Revolution of 1688 was the political event which defined, gave legal status to, a profound social development bound to affect the position of the great writer, the man of letters (whom alone Beljame considers), as it also did that of the popular or Grub-Street writer; the position of the author of sermons, or of polemical theology, however, remained largely unaltered. Beljame's work was thoroughly done; and however much subsequent studies may have led to revision here and there, however much the attitude, both critical and general, may have varied since 1881--such processes go on continually--le Public et les Hommes de Lettres en Angleterre au Dix-huitième Siècle must always remain the groundwork of a similar study, should it ever be undertaken, and the constant recourse of the scholar or the curious.

But before plunging into this work, the reader, especially if he be a student, should perhaps ask himself what it is he is really reading about. A book such as this is commonly regarded as a part of literary studies, and the danger is that it may come to be accepted as a study of literature. It cannot be too plainly stated that a knowledge of the appurtenances of literature, of its social surroundings, of the soil in which it flourished, will not make a fig of difference to its value for us here and now-- and it is that which matters. To have a notion of how a thing came about, to undergo the most minute explanation of its . . .

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