The five studies collected in this volume have the common purpose of establishing a background for an understanding of eighteenth-century English literature. Some of the most popular ideas and ideals of the period are traced to their sources in contemporary philosophy, science, politics, and religion. All of the studies relate in some way to what the seventeenth century called the climate of opinion. They confirm the observation of Shelley that all writers are subjected to “a common influence which arises out of an infinite combination of circumstances belonging to the time in which they live.” All the studies belong to that older style of literary investigation to which scholarship owes its name and to which every student interested in basic ideas and the origins of concepts will sooner or later wish to turn. The first two studies, “Shaftesbury and the Ethical Poets” and “The Return to Nature in English Poetry of the Eighteenth Century,” throw as much light on the Romantic poetry of the nineteenth century as they do on the poetry of the eighteenth. The nature worship that one thinks of as peculiarly Wordsworthian is shown to lie at the heart of deism, the rationalistic philosophy of a century earlier. In “Whig Panegyric Verse,” the ideals of the Whig party, as expressed by poets of the time, are examined in relation to Shaftesbury’s moral philosophy. In “John Dunton: Pietist and Impostor,” the morbid gloom familiar in the “graveyard poets” is seen to reflect a widespread popular taste. That the melancholia of the period was so common as to be considered a national characteristic appears from “The English Malady,” which is largely concerned with the medical literature of the time.
Backgrounds of English Literature, 1700-1760 was first published in 1953. Minnesota Archive Editions uses digital technology to make long-unavailable books once again accessible, and are published unaltered from the original University of Minnesota Press editions.