« 上一頁繼續 »
inasmuch as the same general influences continued operative for a longer time, the period is extended to the death of Swift in 1745. It thus includes the reign of George I., and a part of the reign of George II.
In this period the political principles of the Revolution became predominant. Absolutism gave place to constitutional government. The Tories and the Whigs became well-marked parties, and in turn succeeded to the govern
Corrupt political methods were frequently resorted to in order to gain party ascendency. Walpole boasted that every man had his price. An unselfish patriotism
was too often looked on as youthful enthusiasm, which the coolness of age would cure. Leading statesmen led impure and dissipated lives.
Yet in spite of these conditions, England attained to great influence in Continental affairs. Victory attended her arms on the Continent under the leadership of Marlborough. The battles of Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde, and Malplaquet brought the power of Louis XIV. to the verge of destruction. The balance of power was restored to Europe. The union of England and Scotland was effected in 1707, and English sovereigns henceforth reigned over the kingdom of Great Britain. The power of English thought, as well as of English arms, was felt abroad. Buffon found inspiration in its science; Montesquieu studied the institutions of England with great care; and Rousseau borrowed many of his thoughts from Locke. The English people once more became conscious of their strength, and felt the uplifting power of great hopes and splendid purposes.
In several particulars the state of society does not present a pleasing picture. Education was confined to a
comparatively limited circle. Addison complained that there were families in which not a single person could spell, "unless it be by chance the butler or one of the footmen." Cock-fighting was the favorite sport of schoolboys, and bull-baiting twice a week delighted the populace of London. The theatres were not yet fully redeemed from the licentiousness of the preceding period. Gambling was a common vice; and, what appears strange to us, the women of the time showed a strong passion for this excitement. Speaking of Will's Coffee-house, the Tatler says: "This place is very much altered since Mr. Dryden frequented it. Where you used to see songs, epigrams, and satires in the hands of every one you met, you have now only a pack of cards." Fashionable hours became later; and a considerable part of the night was frequently given to dissipation. Drunkenness increased with the introduction of gin. The police was not able to control. the lawless classes, and in the cities mobs not infrequently vented their rage in conflagration and pillage. When Sir Roger de Coverley, as portrayed by Addison, went to the theatre, he armed his servants with cudgels for protection.
Woman had not yet found her true sphere; and, in wealthy or fashionable circles, her time was devoted chiefly to dress, frivolity, and scandal. In the "Rape of the Lock," Pope gives us a glimpse of conversation in court
"In various talk th' instructive hours they pass'd,
Who gave the ball, or paid the visit last;
Snuff, or the fan, supplies each pause of chat,
Belief in witchcraft had not entirely passed away. 1712 a witch was condemned to death; and her prosecution was conducted, not by ignorant rustics, but by a learned author and an educated clergyman. It is in keeping with the belief of the time to find Sir Roger de Coverley puzzled over the character of Moll White, and piously advising her "to avoid all communication with the devil, and never to hurt any of her neighbor's cattle." Superstition was common, and people of every class had faith in omens. Religion was at a low ebb. Scepticism. was extensively prevalent, especially among the higher classes, and many of the clergy thought more of the pleasures of the chase than of the care of souls. "Every one laughs," said Montesquieu, "if one talks of religion.” But there is also a more favorable side to the social condition of England during this period - some influences that contain the promise of a brighter day. In spite of the low state of Christianity, earnest men, like Doddridge, Watts, and William Law, were not wanting to inculcate a a genuine piety. The rise of Methodism under John Wesley and George Whitefield exerted a salutary influence upon the religious life of England. These great preachers, impressed by the realities of sin, redemption, and eternal life, urged these truths with surpassing eloquence upon the multitudes that flocked to hear them. Before the death of John Wesley, his followers numbered a hundred thousand, and the Established Church was awakened to a new zeal.
The great middle class of England came into greater prominence, and gradually formed a reading public. Literature became independent of patronage. It did not pre
tend to deal with the great problems of human thought,
but as a rule confined itself to criticism, satire, wit, the minor morals, and the small proprieties of life. But through French and classic influences, these subjects were treated with a lightness of touch and elegance of form that have never been surpassed.
The clubs became an important feature of social life in London. Coffee-houses multiplied, till in 1708 they reached the number of three thousand. They became centres for the diffusion of intelligence. Here the leading political, literary, and social questions of the day were discussed.
Periodical publications became an important factor in the intellectual life of England. In 1714 no fewer than fourteen papers were published in London. The principal periodicals were the Tatler, Spectator, and Guardian, which were conducted in a manner not only to refine the taste, but also to improve the morals. Made up of brief, entertaining, and often elegant essays, and treating of every subject from epic poems to female toilets, they came to be welcomed at the club-house and breakfast-table, and exerted a wide and salutary influence upon the thought and life of the country.
THERE is no other writer in English literature of whom we think more kindly than of Joseph Addison. Macaulay has given very strong expression to the same sentiment. "After full inquiry and impartial reflection," he says, "we have long been convinced, that he deserved as much love and esteem as can be justly claimed by any of our infirm and erring race.”
We read his writings with a refined and soothing pleasure. They possess a genial humor and unvarying cheerfulness that are contagious and delightful. There is no other writer who has greater power to dispel gloominess. As seen through his pages, the world appears wrapped in a mellow light. We learn to think more kindly of men, to smile at human foibles, to entertain ennobling sentiments, to trust in an over-ruling providence.
He does not indeed usually treat of the deeper interests of human life; he is never profound; he does not try to exhaust a subject to write it to the dregs. His sphere is rather that of minor morals, social foibles, and small philosophy. But if he is not deep, he is not trifling; and if he is not exhaustive, he is always interesting. He uses satire, but it is never cruel. It does not, like that of Swift, scatter desolation in its path. On the contrary, it is tempered with a large humanity, and like a gentle rain, dispenses blessings in its course. It leads, not to cynicism, but to tenderness.
He enlisted wit on the side of virtue; and by his inimitable humor, good sense, genial satire, and simple piety, he wrought a great social reform. "So effectually, indeed," says Macaulay, "did he retort on vice the mockery which had recently been directed against virtue, that, since his time, the open violation