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A History of English Romanticism in the Eighteenth

It disapproved of anything original


Again

the literature of the Restoration and Queen Anne periods--which may be regarded as one, for present purposes--was classical, or at least unromantic, in its self-restraint, its objectivity, and its lack of curiosity; or, as a hostile criticism would put it, in its coldness of feeling, the tameness of its imagination, and its narrow and imperfect sense of beauty. It was a literature not simply of this world, but of _the_ world, of the _beau monde_, high life, fashion, society, the court and the town, the salons, clubs, coffee-houses, assemblies, ombre-parties. It was social, urban, gregarious, intensely though not broadly human. It cared little for the country or outward nature, and nothing for the life of remote times and places. Its interest was centered upon civilization and upon that peculiarly artificial type of civilization which it found prevailing. It was as indifferent to Venice, Switzerland, the Alhambra, the Nile, the American forests, and the islands of the South Sea as it was to the Middle Ages and the manners of Scotch Highlanders. The sensitiveness to the picturesque, the liking for local color and for whatever is striking, characteristic, and peculiarly national in foreign ways is a romantic note. The eighteenth century disliked "strangeness added to beauty"; it disapproved of anything original, exotic, tropical, bizarre for the same reason that it disapproved of mountains and Gothic architecture.

Professor Gates says that

the work of English literature during the first quarter of the present century was "the rediscovery and vindication of the concrete. The special task of the eighteenth century had been to order, and to systematize, and to name; its favorite methods had been analysis and generalization. It asked for no new experience. . . The abstract, the typical, the general--these were everywhere exalted at the expense of the image, the specific experience, the vital fact."[14] Classical tragedy, _e.g._, undertook to present only the universal, abstract, permanent truths of human character and passion.[15] The impression of the mysterious East upon modern travelers and poets like Byron, Southey, De Quincey, Moore, Hugo,[16] Ruckert, and Gerard de Nerval, has no counterpart in the eighteenth century. The Oriental allegory or moral apologue, as practiced by Addison in such papers as "The Vision of Mirza," and by Johnson in "Rasselas," is rather faintly colored and gets what color it has from the Old Testament. It is significant that the romantic Collins endeavored to give a novel turn to the decayed pastoral by writing a number of "Oriental Eclogues," in which dervishes and camel-drivers took the place of shepherds, but the experiment was not a lucky one. Milton had more of the East in his imagination than any of his successors. His "vulture on Imaus bred, whose snowy ridge the roving Tartar bounds"; his "plain of Sericana where Chinese drive their cany wagons light"; his "utmost Indian isle Taprobane," are touches of the picturesque which anticipate a more modern mood than Addison's.


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