The Age of Enlightenment
P. M. Mitchell
Every distinguishable age can be looked on as an era of transition. To a certain extent this is a truism. Nevertheless, some points in history in retrospect seem to be more marked and more significant than others. One such identifiable transitional period of consequence is the passage from the late seventeenth to the early eighteenth century. By generally accepted terminology, this transition is from the era of the baroque to the era of Enlightenment. These two periods had many elements in common in Denmark (and, less obviously, in its co-kingdom of Norway) as well as in the rest of Europe, for there was a higher social culture that was international in orientation and neoclassical in style at the same time as there was a vernacular culture--separate from and at first disregarded by the intelligentsia. The classical orientation remained dominant in the eighteenth century as the vernacular slowly came into its own. Latin poetry continued to be produced, but that poetry is forgotten today, for it was gradually superseded by the vernacular culture that we now tacitly assume to be the norm.
To speak of the eighteenth century as a recognizable literary epoch and entity is neither arbitrary nor idle. For Denmark the early part of the century marks the establishment of a secular imaginative literature in the vernacular, while the end of the century is punctuated by enthusiastic works engendered in part by a rejuvenation of indigenous tradition and in part by an awareness of a new literature to the south: German classicism. The eighteenth century also saw the proliferation of literary and critical genres as the numbers of readers grew.
When we use the term literature today we most often think only of belles lettres, whereas at the beginning of the eighteenth century belletristic works