FROM Hesiod to Miniver Cheevey many men have thought, or have pretended to think, that their happiest days were in the past. The man in the street calls that longing regret for "the good old days," the philosopher terms it "chronological primitivism," but named or unnamed the tendency is a constant in human nature. Early eighteenth-century poets who sang the charms of vanished eras rather than those of Georgian England were only adding another chapter to a long and honorable tradition.1
The reader who follows their excursions into the past must be prepared for much that is conventional, much that is repetitious. Timeworn in theme, threadbare in verse, the poems that fail as literature are useful as documentary evidence. They form a partial history of the course of primitivism during the early years of the eighteenth century.
The poets' additions to the long tradition of primitivism blend easily into its venerable conventionality. They dreamed, as generations of writers before them had dreamed, of the classical Golden Age and of the lost beauty of Eden. Life and literature prompted their reminiscent longings. Memories of classical readings, recollections of journeys to Virgil's tomb and Horace's vinecrowned hills, the horror of men of their country and generation for the degenerate state of continental Europe,--all these were powerful motives for lamenting the vanished grandeur of Rome and Greece.
Of all regrets for bygone days, the poets' longings for past times of good government at home were most frequent and most impassioned. No single theme hallowed by tradition could compare in popularity with a subject that had nothing to do with Virgil or with Genesis, the burning theme of contemporary politics. Classic