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AGE OF JOHNSON.
GENERAL SURVEY. The age of Johnson includes the second half of the eighteenth century. It is here named after the great literary dictator simply as a matter of convenience. While he was the centre of an influential literary group for many years, and is the most prominent and picturesque literary figure of his time, other and mightier influences were giving a new tone to literature.
In great measure Johnson bore the impress of the preceding period. In his poetry he is coldly classical; and in a part at least of his prose, he is an imitator of AddiThe real characteristic of this second half of the eighteenth century is transition. By the side of the literary forms and canons of the age of Pope, there arose a new kind of writing distinguished by a return to nature. Artificial poetry had already been carried to its utmost limits; and if literature was to reach a higher excellence, it was obliged to assume a new form. And to this it was urged by the momentous social, political, and religious changes that took place, not only in England, but on the Continent and in America during the latter part of the century.
In their onward course mankind made a marked advance. In social and political relations the rights of men
were more clearly recognized, and the brotherhood of mankind began to affect existing customs and institutions. As in all great forward movements of the world, a variety of causes co-operated in bringing about great changes. Unwilling hands often played an important. part. The stupidity and obstinacy of George III. and of some of his ministers hastened the formal declaration of those principles of liberty which mark a new era in civil government.
A strong tendency of the age was crystallized in the Declaration of Independence. "We hold these truths to be self-evident," said the wise and courageous representatives of the American colonists, "that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness." This solemn declaration sounded the knell of absolutism in the world. It is a political gospel that is destined to leaven the whole lump.
But how came the American colonists to a recognition of the weighty truths embodied in this declaration? They simply voiced the growing spirit of the age. The greater diffusion of knowledge had opened the eyes of men to a better perception of truth. The force of custom and prejudice was in a measure broken. The claims of superi