A critical history of english literature volume 3 by david daiches.pdf

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Unformatted text preview: A Critical History of English Literature VOLUME III DAVID DAICHES A Critical History of English Literature SECOND EDITION IN FOUR VOLUMES VOLUME III ALLIED PUBLISHERS PRIVATE LIMITED NEW DELHI MUMBAI KOLKATA CHENNAI NAGPUR AHMEDABAD BANGALORE HYDERABAD LUCKNOW ALLIED PUBLISHERS PRIVATE LIMITED Regd. Off. : 15 J.N. Heredia Marg, Ballard Estate, Mumbai 400001 Prarthna Flats (2nd Floor), Navrangpura, Ahmedabad 380009 3-2-844/6 & 7 Kachiguda Station Road, Hyderabad 500027 16-A Ashok Marg, Patiala House, Lucknow 226001 5th Main Road, Gandhinagar, Bangalore 560009 1/13-14 Asaf All Road, New Delhi 110002 17 Chittaranjan Avenue, Calcutta 700072 81 Hill Road, Ramnagar, Nagpur 440010 751 Anna Salai, Chennai 600002 First published by Martin Seeker & Warburg Ltd., 1960 First Indian Reprint 1979 Twenty First Reprint 2004 Copyright Š 1960 by THE RONALD PRESS COMPANY All rights reserved New matter Copyright Š 1969 by David Daiches This edition is reprinted in India by Allied Publishers Private Limited, under arrangement with the original publishers Martin Seeker & Warburg Ltd., 54 Poland Street, London W1V 3DF. ISBN 81-7023-041-1 (set) ISBN 81-7023-048-9 Published by Sunil Sachdev and printed by Ravi Sachdev at Allied Publishers Private Limited, 9/2004 Printing Division, A-104 Mayapuri, Phase-Il, New Delhi -110 064 Contents VOLUME III chapter page 15 the restoration . 537 16 the augustan age: defoe, swift, pope … 590 17 poetry from thomson to crabbe …. 65? 18 the novel from richardson to jane austen . . 700 lt; eighteenth-century philosophical, historical and critical prose, and miscellaneous writing . 766 20 scottish literature from allan ramsay to walter scott 809 /, A Critical History of English Literature VOLUME III CHAPTER FIFTEEN The Restoration the puritan experiment in government did not long survive Cromwell’s death in 1658; less than two years later​in May, 1660​ Charles II returned from exile amid popular acclamation. “The shouting and joy expressed by all is past imagination,” recorded the diarist Samuel Pepys, and though, as one of those who went over to Holland to escort the King back, he cannot be considered a wholly impartial witness, there can be no doubt that a majority of the nation was weary both of the rigors of Puritan rule and of the instability in government that followed Cromwell’s death. There remained, as time was to show, a strong Puritan core in England, but for the moment monarchist sentiment was in the ascendant, and the Cavaliers came back to enjoy an Indian summer until the bad judgment of Charles’ brother and successor, James II, alienated finally the great Protestant heart of the country and so brought about the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 and the accession of a king and queen not by divine right but on Parliament’s terms. There was a strong traditionalist element in England which had never reconciled itself to the execution of Charles I and to the various forms which Cromwell’s rule took, and this was true even of many who were on the Puritan side in the conflict. The popular welcome given to Charles on his return was largely due to the general belief that continuity and legality had now been re-established without loss of any of the real gains for Protestant freedom and variety won in the fight against royal absolutism and episcopal dictatorship in the 164QY This view proved to be unduly optimistic; if it had been well-founded, the revolution of 1688 would have been unnecessary. The reaction against Puritan manners and ir; orals was inevitable. It was all the more violent because many of the returned Cavaliers had spent their exile in France and become expert in French wit and French gallantry, and because the King himself, an indolent sensual ist possessed of both wit and cunning, encouraged an atmosphere of r.H.F,r,m.B 53? 538 THE RESTORATION hedonistic liveliness at Court. Charles set the tone for the Court Wits, and the Court Wits set the tone if not for all the literature of the period at least for a certain segment of it, notably dramatic comedy. They were themselves often poets or dramatists. They wrote, however, not as professional men of letters but as gentlemen amateurs writing for their own amusement. John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (1647-80), a wit and a rake of the first rank, was a skilled practitioner of the witty and polished verses, often erotic (and not infrequently pornographic) and sometimes satiric, which represented the courtly literary fashion of the time. Of the major Court Wits​ and they represented a definite group, who flourished from about 1665 to 1680-George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham; Charles Sack-ville, Lord Buckhurst; Sir Charles Sedley; John Sheffield, Earl of Mulgrave; Sir Carr Scrope; and Rochester himself, the most poetically gifted of the wits who were noblemen, were all amateur versifiers or poets and many were also patrons of humbler writers. Sir George Etherege and William Wycherley, two of the most important Restoration dramatists, were also members of the Court circle of wits and wrote to amuse themselves. The amoral wit and stylized hedonism which represented the ideals (in both life and letters) professed by the Restoration wits had no real roots in the larger and deeper patterns of life at the time. The mood and tone which we think of as Restoration, and which is reflected so brilliantly in the best Restoration comedy, was confined to London, and in London only to courtly and fashionable circles. There was no provincial culture in England which corresponded to it. More than at any previous time in the history of English literature, the most characteristic Restoration literature was metropolitan. Nothing is more striking among the sentiments expressed by wits in Restoration plays than the universal praise of London and detestation of the country. In Etherege’s The Man of Mode, the supreme test of Dorimant’s love for Harriet is his willingness to follow her into the country, even after Harriet has summed up all the disadvantages of country living in a speech that epitomizes the attitude of these writers to life outside London: To a great rambling lone house, that looks as it were not inhabited, the family’s so small; there you’ll find my mother, an old lame aunt, and my self, Sir, perched up on chairs at a distance in a large parlour; sitting moping like three or four melancholy birds in a spacious volery​does not this stagger your resolution? In Restoration comedy generally, people from the country are consistently ridiculed for their uncouthness and lack of sophistication. THE RESTORATION 539 Husbands from the country could go so far as to resent their wives’ amours with city gentlemen (as in Wycherley’s The Country Wife)​ a vulgar trait which showed no proper understanding of the Restoration attitude toward sex. That attitude is basic to the tone of Restoration high society, and it is most clearly revealed in the most characteristic literary product of that society​Restoration comedy. The influence of the returned King and his circle of Court Wits on the literature of the period is thus most strikingly and immediately apparent in the theater. The Puritan government had stopped the performance of plays in September, 1642, and though there were occasional surreptitious performances at the various theaters after the passing of the ordirance of suppression, and though Sir William Davenant received permission to give some private dramatic performances (and perhaps a;so some more public performances) in the late 1650’s, on the whole it can be said that the English theater did not exist between 1642 and 1660. With the restoration of King Charles came the restoration of the theater. But it was a different theater, playing to a different kind of audience, from that which had called forth the plays of Shakespeare. The modern theater, with its picture-frame stage, its ai tresses taking female parts, its moveable scenery designed to create a visual image of the locale of each scene, its artificial light, was developed during this period. This was partly because of the influence of France, where so many of Charles’ hangers-on had spent their exile, and partly because the Restoration theater took over and developed the traditions of the private rather than the public Elizabethan and Jacobean theater, which had in some degree managed to survive the prohibition of public dramatic performances. The audience for Restoration drama was also more restricted both geographically and socially than it had been before the closing of the theaters. There was no dramatic activity of any consequence outside London, and the two theaters within the metropolis catered to wits and gallants who went to the play as much for the purpose of engaging in amorous intrigue or of displaying their own dress and manners as of seeing and enjoying a dramatic performance. The playhouse was regarded by the respectable citizens of London as a center of vice and exhibitionism, and they accordingly avoided it, while the dramatists in their turn took every opportunity of ridiculing the middle-class virtues and as often as not presented the citizenry as made up of foolish and jealous husbands whose wives were fair game for seduction by court gallants. Restoration drama was thus a class drama to a degree that no earlier English drama​not even the “citizen comedy” of the Eliza- 540 THE RESTORATION bethans​had been. It represented the stylization of a deliberately cultivated upper-class ethos. There is no need to maintain, with Charles Lamb, that the amoral world of Restoration comedy was a pure dream world with no relation to the life of the time. It had a very precise relation to the life of the time, being based on the attitude of the Court Wits of the 1660’s. It would be truer to say that it was a wish-fulfilment world rather than a dream world, for a man like Etherege created in a character like Dorimant in The Man of Mode an ideal rake and wit of the kind that he and his friends -.vould have liked to be in all their behavior. On the other hand, it was a class drama drawn from and appealing to a tiny minority of the public of the time. That it lasted beyond the Restoration period into the first decade of the eighteenth century, by which time the Court Wits and their ideal of social behavior had largely disappeared from the social scene, results from the fact that Restoration Comedy, though it arose out of the manners and ideals of a specific class, took on a life of its own after that class declined, preserving in a highly stylized art form what no longer existed in any appreciable degree in the life of the nation. The most perfect of Restoration comedies, Congreve’s The Way of the World, was first produced in 1700, fifteen years after the death of Charles II. The break with the Elizabethan and Jacobean theater was not as sharp or as complete as it has sometimes been taken to be. Although the Restoration developed the picture-frame stage that became standard throughout the following two-and-a-half centuries, Restoration theaters preserved a projection to the front of the proscenium onto which the actors and actresses could come to achieve a more intimate relationship with the audience than was possible in the later theater, a kind of relationship which was normal in the Elizabethan playhouse. And though elaborate scenic machinery was often introduced, giving visual localization to specific scenes, examples can still be found, as late as 1690, of the more fluid kind of moving from scene to scene that we associate with the Elizabethan stage. The Restoration theater was in fact a halfway house between the Elizabethan theater and that of the nineteenth or early twentieth century. In terms of dramatic influence, the Elizabethan strain was much stronger. On Restoration comedy, Ben Jonson was the strongest influence, and though Jonson’s comedy of humours was both more moral in tone and purpose and more cunningly worked out in patterns of imagery as well as in plot than the Restoration comedy of manners, the Restoration dramatists derived the basis of their comedy from Jonson’s tone and manner. They refined, localized, aerated, and sometimes dandified his kind of comedy, but what they THE RESTORATION 541 learned from him remained fundamental. There are anticipations of Restoration wit, of the typical Restoration witcombat between the sexes and of the attack on marriage, scattered throughout Elizabethan and Jacobean comedy, and Professor Dobree has quoted some interesting parallels between Massinger and Marston on the one hand and Congreve on the other. But these are less fundamental. Fletcher is a more clearly discernible influence; Beaumont and Fletcher remained highly popular on the Restoration stage, and influenced both tragedy and comedy in the period. It was Fletcher who began the process of aerating Jonson with a more flippant kind of wit and a less moral tone. The comedies of Moliere were well known and often translated and adapted in the last forty years of the seventeenth century. But, though plots and situations in Moliere had their influence and French wit and clarity were admired and imitated, the tone of Moliere’s plays remained essentially different from that of any Restoration dramatist. Restoration comedy was often more particularized in reference and more localized in topography than Moliere’s, and it lacked entirely Moliere’s handling of large moral issues and his underlying concern with such serious general questions as the relation between convention and morality. Restoration writers admired and imitated French wit and much in French life, but they had none of Moliere’s fundamental generosity of spirit. Though there was Spanish influence too​the plays of Calderon were well known and sometimes translated or adapted​and though the comic element in the Italian commedia dell’arte appears to have provided a note of farce in some later Restoration comedies, the heredity of Restoration comedy was essentially English. The first accomplished practitioner of the Restoration comedy of manners was Sir George Etherege (1634/5-91), though other dramatists had produced plays exhibiting some characteristics of this kind of drama before Etherege’s first play, The Comical Revenge, or, Love in a Tub, was performed in 1664. This combined a comic plot dealing with gallants, tricksters, fools, bullies, and ladies of varying degrees of wit and honesty with a “heroic” subplot presenting in rhymed couplets the convolutions of conflicting loves and loyalties in the breasts of fantastically high-minded protagonists. The combination is not successful, and the two worlds neither come together nor in any significant way comment on each other. Etherege was never a great plot-weaver, but at his best he manipulates the action through a variety of rapidly changing situations so ŁS to provide occasion for the kind of wit-coribats and studies in competitive sophistication that the age ioved. His next play, She Would if She Could, performed in 1668, is a more consistently polished performance. The “two hon-542 THE RESTORATION est gentlemen of the town,” who represent male wit and sophistication in the play, speak a dynamic prose of remarkable poise and elegance, and the two young ladies with whom they are involved in the usual Restoration battle between male lust and female prudence have great vivacity and charm. There are also country knights, of course ridiculed, a lustful wife who reverses the major action by pursuing a gallant with desperate cunning, and a variety of comic or foolish characters. The plot is sufficient to bring the characters together in the kinds of situation where they reveal their dispositions and their pp.cterns of living in dialogue that never flags. It is all done with a certain bright coldness, a lack of full implication in the life depicted. But it is not heartless, still less brutal, and the conclusion establishes a satisfactoiy modus vivendi between wit and virtue. The Man of Mode, or, Sir Fopling Flutter, produced in 1676, is Etherege’s last and most brilliant comedy. The play is more purely amoral than the two previous, and the treatment by Dorimant, the hero, of his various women (except for Harriet, who is his match in both wit and poise, and who can make her own terms) would be brutal if related to any other world than one in which the relation between the sexes was purely a matter of finding the best accommodation between lust and self-interest. The wit-combats between Dorimant and Harriet develop a tradition which goes back at least to Shakespeare’s Beatrice and Benedick, adding that new note of bargaining which serves to remove it in large measure (but never quite wholly) from the life of real passion. It is this note of witty bargaining between two people of the opposite sex who are powerfully attracted to each other physically but who want to retain as much freedom of movement as they can for as long as possible​thus achieving an adjustment both between desire and prudence and between surrender and freedom​that achieves its most consummate expression in the dialogue between Millamant and Mirabell in Congreve’s The Way of the World, William Wycherley (1640-1716) produced his four comedies between 1671 and 1676; by far the most interesting of them are the last two, The Country Wife and The Plain Dealer. These show a very different spirit from that of Etherege, the easy courtier who was part of the life he created in his plays. Though Wycherley was, for a short period before his decline into debt and other misfortunes, a Court Wit, it is clear from his plays that he never completely accepted the standards of the Restoration. There is a savagery in his plays, a brutal insistence on the unscrupulous selfishness and obsessive animality of all men and women, on the cruel dishonesties implied in the ordinary courtesies of social life, that is worlds apart THE RESTORATION 543 from the amoral cheerfulness of Etherege or Congreve. The element of Jcnsonian “humour” can be seen in Wycherley to a greater degree than in other writers of comedies in the Restoration period; such a character as the Widow Blackacre in The Plain Dealer is a caricature of the litigious amateur of law who is “gulled” in the end in a somewhat Jonsonian manner, and the moral feeling in that play is sometimes reminiscent of that in Volpone. But Jonson was satirizing deviations from a commonly accepted norm, whereas The Plain Dealer (which was probably written before The Country Wife, but revised before performance and, later, publication as the last of his plays) conveys a sense of general outrage before human nature and society as a whole. The play is a strange mixture of savage indignation and Restoration wit. The principal character is Manly, an honest misanthrope disgusted with the hypocrisies and dishonesties of ordinary social behavior who insists on speaking his mind (which means indulging in abuse) before all comers. He is obviously suggested by the Alceste of Moliere’s Misanthrope, but not only is he particularized as a sailor who “chose a Sea-life only to avoid the World,” but his motives as well as the situations in which he becomes involved reveal no clear-cut issue between moral idealism and worldly compromise, as Moliere’s play does, but only a universal moral squalor which the hero rails at not in order to achieve improvement but out of a masochistic compulsion. The contrast between public pretension and private reality, in Etherege as in Congreve the source of so much delicate and witty maneuvering and bargaining to enable reputation to coexist with self-indulgence, is in The Plain Dealer the universal perfidy that underlies all human relationships. The following speech of Manly’s sums up much of the play: Not but I know that generally no man can be a great enemy but under the name of friend; and if you are a cuckold, it is your friend only that makes you so, for your enemy is not admitted to your house:...
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