The 18th century (The Enlightenment)

In the 18th century Britain was as powerful as France. This resulted from the growth of its industries and from the wealth of its large new trading empire. Britain had the strongest navy in the world, the navy controlled Britain's own trade routes and endangered those of its enemies. Britain became wealthy thanks to trade. This wealth made possible both an agricultural and an industrial revolution which made Britain the most advanced economy in the world.
However, there was an enormous price to pay, because while a few people became richer, many others lost their land, their homes and their way of life. Families were driven off-the land in another period of enclosures. They became the working "proletariat" of the cities that made Britain's trade and industrial empire of the 19th century possible. The invention of machinery destroyed old "cottage industries"-and created factories. The development of industry led to the sudden growth of cities like Birmingham, Glasgow, Manchester and Liverpool and other centres in the north Midlands.
This century also saw the change of the ruling dynasty: after William and Mary, came Mary's sister, Queen Anne, the last of the Stuarts, who reigned from 1702 to 1744. After her death a difficult situation arose: the direct succession, to the throne belonged to the line of the deposed James IL his son and then his grandson, who, supported by the "Jacobites", were waiting in France.
In order to avoid the Stuart succession, the crown was offered to a cousin of Queen Anne, the ruler of a small German kingdom of Hanover, who took-the-throne in 1714 as George I. He was followed-by his son, George fl, and grandson, George III. The Hanovers were not a very happy choice, but two attempts to restore the Stuarts proved a failure.
From now on the two-party political system came into being. (It was later adopted in America).The Whigs represented the financial interests, the cities and towns, the progressive-element, and were against any interference of the monarchy, in politics. The Tories, many of them Jacobites, represented the country squires, and their folk, those who favoured old traditions.
The 18th century could also be called a century of wars. From the beginning to the end of the century the great rival, the enemy was France. At first the struggle was for European supremacy, but by the middle of the century the struggle with France was for overseas empire. Here Britain had an advantage because she had the better navy and knew how to use her sea-power. It was during these years that the huge British Empire, ranging from Gibraltar to India and Canada was built up.
But though it was the century of wars,-they were completely different from what we understand by "war" in the 20th- 21st centuries: these were usually fought by small professional armies, and the daily lives of most people were affected hardly at all. Even when Britain and France were at war, trade and cultural exchanges continued between the two countries.
The upper classes and the middle classes in Britain during this age felt more complacent than they had ever felt before or since. They felt that they lived in the best of all possible worlds. This 18th century complacency was partly due to the work of the scientists and philosophers. Human reason and "common sense" played such a significant role in this period that it is often called "the age of reason".
The enlightenment
The same key-word “reason” can be found in the deflation of the term Enlightenment: "the period in the 18th century in Europe when certain thinkers taught that science and the use of reason would improve the human condition".
The writers and philosophers of this age thought that man was virtuous by nature, and vice was due to ignorance only, so they started a public movement for enlightening people. To their understanding, this would do away with all the evils of society, and social harmony would be achieved. But the 18th century in England was also "the age of elegance". Real civilization, superior to the old classical civilization of Greece and Rome, to which the 18th century compared itself, had been achieved at last. Now society (persons of position, wealth and influence) could enjoy it. At the beginning of this period literature was chiefly created for this small society of important and influential people. It was a public literature, which represented the outlook and values of this limited society. It did not represent the impressions, hopes or fears of one individual. It was literature that could be read aloud in a drawing-room, enjoyed in a theatre or discussed in a coffee-house. It seems quite natural, that the atmosphere of this kind encouraged comedy, satire in verse and prose, pleasant little essays, and criticism, but it did not encourage poetry, because this society did not expect from literature anything private or intimate. However, very soon the situation changed drastically. The middle class, especially its women members took to buying and reading books. If they could not afford to buy them, they borrowed them from libraries run by shopkeepers. This fact shows that by 1770s the novel had won great popularity. English literature of the period may be characterized by the following features:
- this period saw the rise of the political pamphlet and essay, but the leading genre of the Enlightenment became the novel. Poetry gave way to tie prose age of the essayists and novelists. The prose style became dear, graceful and polished;
-the hero of the novel was no longer a prince, but a representative of the middle class: that was new, because so far the common people had been depicted as comic characters;
- literature became very instructive; writers tried to tech their readers what was good and what was bad from their own point of view.
The literature of the age of the Enlightenment may be divided into three periods:
The first period
lasted from the "Glorious Revolution" (1688-1689) till the end of the 1730s. It is characterized by classicism in poetry, the greatest follower of the classic style was Alexander Pope. Alongside with this high style there appeared new prose literature, the essays of Steele and Addison and the first realistic novels written by Defoe and Swift. Most of the writers of this time wrote political pamphlets, but the best came from the pens of Defoe and Swift.
The second period of the Enlightenment was the most mature period: the forties and the fifties of the 18th century. It saw the development of the realistic social novel represented by Richardson, Fielding and Smollett.
The third period refers to the last decades of the century. It is marked by the appearance of the new trend: Sentimentalism. The representatives of this trend were Goldsmith and Sterne. This period also saw the rise of the realistic drama (Sheridan) and the revival of poetry.

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