History of English Literature Notes- Part III


Previous article was the history of English literature part II which briefly explained about 17 century period. That period had 2 main ages. Firstly it was puritan age which was more of conservative and strict in the area of recreational enjoyments. This age stood for liberty of people but also banned many enjoyment areas like theatres because of their religious beliefs and nature. Secondly it was restoration age. In this age monarchy was restored and also theatres were reopened. 17th century also introduced new form of criticism and art of biography and autobiography. After 17th century period 18th century came which was famously known as age of classicism. Now this final article of the series “History of English literature part III” gives you brief key points of 18th century literature.

History of 18th Century in English Literature

This period was divided into 2 ages:

  • Age of Pope (1700-1744)
  • Age of Johnson (1744-1784)

Key points:

  1. In England 18th century was known by many names: Classical Age (prominent one), Augustan Age, Age of Good Sense and Age of Reason.
  2. Classical Age was divided into further 3 periods: Age of Dryden, Pope and Dr. Johnson.
  3. “Classic” term was first applied in the works of great Greek and Roman writers.
  4. 18th century was called as Classical age because of 3 reasons: Firstly writers of that time tried to follow simple and noble methods of great ancient writers. Secondly at this age writers produced works of great merit. Thirdly English writers of this period rebelled against the exaggerated style of writing.
  5. Pseudo-classicism: 18 century writers followed ancient writers only by external performance and had no internal soul. They lacked their splendor and sublimity. That’s why this classicism called as pseudo-classicism or false/sham classicism.
  6. Prose was on front position.
  7. There was an improvement in satire as a form of literature. Realism and precision were carried to perfection.
  8. Origin and development of novel was done in this age.
  9. There was also a decline of drama in 18th century.
  10. 18th century also called the Age of Aristocracy.

Age of Pope History in English Literature

Period: 1700-1744

  • Classical rules and ideals reigned supreme in age of Pope.
  • Pope was the dominating figure that’s why it was called as Age of Pope.


  • Poetry was dominated in age of Pope.
  • Poets of this age were deficient in emotion and imagination. They were dominated by intellect.
  • They were interested in the town and cultural society.
  • The meaning of poetry was all on the surface there was no deep sense in it.


Alexander Pope:

  • Professor Eton called him as “prince of classicism”.
  • He was highly intellectual and extremely ambitious.
  • The main quality of Pope’s poetry was its correctness.
  • At the age of 23 he published “Essay on Criticism”. “Rape of the Lock” was his masterpiece. Other works were “The Dunciad” and translation of Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey.

 Matthew Prior:

  • He was active politician and diplomat.
  • His main works were “Solomon and the Vanity of the World” and Alma or the Progress of the Mind.

John Gay:

  • He was the master in describing the delights of town.
  • Works: “Rural sports”, “Trivia or the Art of Walking the streets of London”, “Black Eyed Susan” and some Fables.

Edward Young:

  • His best known works were: “Universal Passions” and “The Knight thoughts”.

Thomas Parnell:

  • He was known for his translations.
  • Works: “The Night-Piece on Death” and “Hymn to Contentment”.


Writers of this age became more famous for their journals especially not for their books or plays.

Prose writers:

Daniel Defoe:

  • He was the earliest journalist.
  • Defoe was also the originator of English Novel.
  • He was very fond of writing on the lives of famous people who died suddenly, badly famous and criminals.
  • Works: “Robinson Crusoe” (universally known novel), “Captain Singleton”, “Roxana” “Journal of the Plague Year” and “Colonel Jack”.

Jonathan Swift:

  • His had a desire to rise in public life but it made him harsh.
  • Works: “Gulliver’s Travels”, “The Tale of Tub” and “Journal to Stella”.
  • He was also a deep pessimist.

Joseph Addison:

  • He was shy, pious and a polished gentleman.
  • Addison wrote 274 essays in Steele’s Tatler.

Sir Richardson Steele:

  • He was very emotional, honest and also a good hearted man.
  • He wrote 240 essays in Tatler.
  • Addison and Steele both particularly were the originators of periodical essay.
  • Their aim of writing was moral as well as educational.

Age of Johnson History in English Literature

Period: 1744-1784

  • Age of Johnson also known as Age of transition.
  • Cracks in classicism had begun to appear hence there were clear signs of Romantic Revival.
  • This age had classical as well as starting bits of romantic work.


Characteristics of classical poetry were:

  • It was more towards intelligence and deficient in emotions and imaginations.
  • It was mainly town poetry.
  • Its style was artificial and formal.
  • No supernatural things involved.
  • It was also written in closed couplet.

Characteristics of romantic poetry were:

  • It encouraged emotions as well as imaginations.
  • This poetry was more of nature poetry rather than town poetry.
  • It showed the love for supernatural and also mysterious things.
  • Romantic poetry opposed the artificial and formal style and adopted natural and simple forms of expression.
  • Specifically It was in favor of liberty of poet to choose his theme and manner of writing according to his own taste and liking.
  • Romantic poetry also criticized the supremacy of closed couplet and encouraged all sorts of metrical experiments.


Dr. Johnson:

  • He was the great protagonist of classicism.
  • His two famous poems were: “London” and “The Vanity of Human Wishes.


  • He was against the change (romanticism).
  • His known poems were: “The Traveller” and “The Deserted Village”.

Precursors of Romantic Revival:

Following were the poets who showed romantic learning during the reign of Dr. Johnson.

James Thomson:

  • His great quality was his minute observation of nature.
  • His good known poems were “The Seasons” and “The Castle of Indolence”.

Thomas Gray:

  • He had a deep interest in the universal theme of death.
  • Important poems of Gray were: “The Progress of Poesy” and “The Bard”.

William Collins:

  • His poetry revealed deep feeling of sadness.
  • Works: “odes To Simplicity”, “To the Passions” and “To Fear”.

James Macpherson:

  • Some critics considered him as a forger.
  • Most famous work of Macpherson was the publication of Ossianic poems called “Work of Ossian”.

William Blake:

  • Swinburne called him “simple and supreme poetic genius”.
  • “Song of Innocence” and “Song of Experience” were his most famous works.

Robert Burns:

  • He was greatest song writer of English language.
  • Songs: “To a Mouse”, To a Mountain Daisy” and “Man was Made the Mourne”.

William Cowper:

  • He had lived a very tortured life.
  • He also had a very kind soul.
  • His poetry had a very autobiographical touch.
  • He did the translation of Homer in blank verse and also wrote his longest poem “The Task”.

George Crabbe:

  • He had a classical temper but romantic mind.
  • His well-known poems were “The Village”, “The Parish Register and “Tales of the Hall”.


  • A specific literary style was founded for prose which had the principles of logical as well as eloquent thoughts.

Prose writers:

Samuel Johnson:

  • He had fight against the poverty as well as ill health.
  • He was very kind, intellectual and also a helpful person.
  • His had a poor house but it always filled with famous scholars, artists, actors and literary men.
  • He wrote “Dictionary and Lives of Poets” as well as a number of periodic essays.

Edmund Burke:

  • He was a member of parliament for 30 years.
  • He was also famous for his speeches and writings of his public career.
  • His 2 most famous speeches were “On American Taxation” and “Conciliation with America”.

Edward Gibbon:

  • He was specifically the first historian who wrote in literary style.
  • His known work was “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”.

18th century Novel History in English Literature

  • Particularly Middle class was rising and at the same time in power, so they demanded a new form of literature.
  • Novelists of 18th century also gave the picture of common people in their novels.
  • Particularly Richardson’s Pamela in 1740 was a true novel.


Daniel Defoe:

  • He was the originator of the modern novel.
  • Works: “Robinson Crusoe”, “Captain Singleton”, “Moll Flanders” and “Roxana”.

Samuel Richardson:

  • He was particularly recognized in writing first modern novel: “Pamela or Virtue Rewarded”.
  • He also gave more importance to physical chastity and prudence.
  • Second famous novel : “Clarissa or The History of a Young Lady”.

Henry Fielding:

  • He was known as father of English novel and the reason behind this title was that he was the first who gave the true picture of men and women.
  • Fielding’s famous works were: “Joseph Andrews”, “Jonathan Wild” and “Amelia”.

Tobias Smollett:

  • There were horrors and brutalities in the novels of Smollett.
  • He was also the originator of funny novels.
  • “Roderick Random”, “Peregrine Pickle” and “Humphery Clinker” were his major novels.

Lawrence Sterne:

  • In Sterne’s novels we find whims, vagaries and also sentimental tears.
  • His best known novels were “Tristram Shandy” and “A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy”.

Oliver Goldsmith:

  • He was famous for his first and only novel: “The Vicar of Wakefield”.
  • His novel was free from any vulgarity as well as roughness.

18th century Drama History in English Literature

  • There was a decline in the field of drama in 18 century due to Licensing Act of 1737.
  • Steele was the first supporter of sentimental comedy in 18th century. His plays names were: “The Funeral”, “The Lying Lover”, “The Tender Husband” and “The Conscious Lovers”.
  • Especially two great dramatists who revolt against sentimental comedy were Oliver Goldsmith and Richard Sheridan. Goldsmith works were: “Good Natured Man” and “She Stoops to Conquer”. On the other hand Sheridan’s known novels were “The Rivals” and “The School for Scandal”.

In conclusion history of English literature notes series comes to an end with this last article. History of English literature is so vast that it almost has no end. Altogether I try to cover most of the important key points in this series of English literature history till 18th century. I hope it helps you in preparing your any English related specific exams and also saves your time and energy.

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