English Literature Part VI

English Literature 6

Scottish literature in the 18th century

Since the unification of the crowns of England and Scotland through the accession of James I in 1603, London had become the center of cultural life in the British Isles. After the loss of a Scottish Parliament of its own in 1707 and the humiliation in the wars of 1715 and 1745–46, English dominance increased even further. In the field of language, Gaelic has increasingly been displaced; the Scottish variant of English (“Scots”) sank to a dialect that lived on mainly in the oral tradition, while English was the language of the Bible (there was no “Scots” Bible), the London court and (since 1707) gained prestige as the official language. The so-called Scottish enlightenment, a bloom of the sciences and arts in Edinburgh, the “Athens of the North”, is considered to be the greatest achievement of Scottish culture of the 18th century and is seen as an attempt to follow the example of London can be. Philosophers such as D. Hume and A. Smith , the representatives of the Scottish School of Historians (e.g. A. Ferguson ), architects (the Adam family), portrait painters (H. Raeburn , A. Ramsay ) moved in the gleaming social life of the Scottish capital) and authors (Henry Mackenzie [* 1745, † 1831]). Contributions to an independent Scottish literature were made by J. Macpherson with the alleged discovery of the Old Gaelic ” Ossian ” poetry, W. Scott with his historical novels and R. Burns with his poems, some of which were written in “Scots”.


English Romanticism developed at the time of far-reaching historical and social change, the engines of which were the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, and the agrarian and industrial revolutions with their side effects (rural exodus, urbanization, emergence of an industrial proletariat, mass misery). In view of this situation and the successes of the natural sciences, economics and utilitarian philosophy, literature saw itself increasingly marginalized in its social significance, but at the same time claimed to be able to compensate for the modernization losses caused by the deficits of development. This should – in order to prevent the further advance of scientific-rational thinking – be made possible on the one hand by the appreciation of the creative imagination as the most important source of knowledge, on the other hand by an education of the feelings (to be provided by literature) that should enable the individual to W. Wordsworth ).

But in the Romantic era politically engaged literature also emerged, which was often carried by the enthusiasm for the French Revolution and linked to older traditions of English political radicalism. The voice of criticism and protest can be heard most clearly in W. Blake , G. Byron, and PB Shelley ; W. Wordsworth and ST Coleridge , though ardent supporters of the French Revolution in their youth, later adopted more conservative positions.

The most important genre of English romantic literature was poetry. Among the representatives of the older generation, above all W. Blake should be mentioned with his revolutionary-visionary works illustrated by himself, as well as W. Wordsworth and ST Coleridge, whose collection of poems “Lyrical ballads”, first published in 1798 and provided with a programmatic foreword (1798, expanded in 1800) became one of the central texts of English Romanticism. W. Wordsworth’s later major work, “The prelude” (1805; 1850; German “Praeludium”, 1974) gave the epic a subjective, autobiographical twist; ST Coleridges “Biographia literaria” (1817) is one of the most important theoretical texts of the epoch, his Shakespeare lectures decisively shaped the romantic and Victorian image of the ” bard “. Among the younger romantics are G. Byron with his romantic-satirical epic “Don Juan” (1819–24; German 1849), PB Shelley with his idealistic-political poems and verse narratives and the theoretical work “A defense of poetry” (1821, published 1840) as well as J. Keats and his intensely sensual-aesthetic poetry.

According to shoefrantics.com, the most important contribution of English Romanticism to the development of the novel was the founding of the historical novel by Sir W. Scott ; Otherwise, the fiction literature of the epoch either continued the traditions of the 18th century (sentimental, horror and social novels) or pointed to the 19th century (J. Austen ).

While attempts by romantic authors to revive verse drama based on the model of Shakespeare’s time were unsuccessful, C. Lamb , W. Hazlitt and T. De Quincey perfected the essay into a free, subjective form that not least represented the own subjectivity served.

Victorian literature

In the Victorian era (Queen Victoria : 1837–1901) the social change that had begun around the middle of the 18th century continued at an accelerated rate. At the end of the 19th century – after many economic and political crises and reforms – the agrarian state ruled by an aristocratic ruling class had become an urbanized industrial and administrative state in which the bourgeois middle class was the dominant social and political force. In London and the industrial cities, in the course of rapid population growth, there was also a broad and largely impoverished proletariat in the first half of the century emerged, which towards the end of the century claimed its rights more and more successfully. At the same time, traditional religious certainties were lost through biblical criticism and evolutionary theory. The awareness of living in a transitional period was widespread; the change was partly glorified by a scientifically and economically founded belief in progress, partly it was met with deep skepticism – especially in the culturally critical works of authors such as T. Carlyle , J. Ruskin , M. Arnold or JH Newman .

English Literature 6