British Literature III (1660 -1790) --- Mgr. Ema Jelínková, Ph.D

(12) Restoration Poetry and Prose


- the court of Charles II was, despite its cloak of Anglican conformity, open to sexual, religious, and verbal licence

- the change of mood was evident also in the reaction against the two older fashions, the intellectual school of John Donne and the morally serious Puritan writing

- courtier poets (e.g. Earl of Rochester) wrote with wit, profanity, and ribaldry, which were to the taste of the king

- some other poets (e.g. John Dryden) attempted to bring a new refinement according to sound critical principles

- satirical poets (e.g. Samuel Butler) flourished, feeding on the contradictions, ironies, and hypocrisies of society

John Dryden(1631 - 1700)

Life and Career

- the commanding literary figure of the last four decades of the 17th century, commenting on virtually every aspect of the political, religious, philosophical, and artistic life

- the least emotional of poets, wrote occasional social and ceremonial poems to celebrate or commemorate particular events of public life, as a coronation, military victory, death, political crisis, etc.

- appointed Poet Laureate by Charles II (1668), but due to his conversion to Roman Catholicism (1686, under the reign of the Catholic James II) suffered decline of fortune and persecution under the Protestant William of Orange

Public Poetry

- represents the best of the Augustan style: his poetry is dignified, precise, but also lively and musical

- models his vision of Britain under the restored Stuarts on the example of the Imperial Rome of Augustus

Heroic Stanzas (1659):

- commemorates the death of Oliver Cromwell

Astraea Redux (1660):

- in contrast to the former celebrates the return of Charles II to whom and to whose successor James II Dryden remained loyal for the rest of his life

Annus Mirabilis, The Year of Wonders, 1666 (1667):

- a 'historical' poem referring to the events of the year 1666, marked by war, plague, and the Great Fire of London

- celebrates the naval victory over the Dutch and the fortitude of the Londoners and the king during the Great Fire

- interprets the events as trials sent by God to punish rebels, to bind the king and his people together, and to offer a pledge of better times to come

- presents a vision of the king who shall arise like a new Augustus, the ruler of a great empire, and of London which shall arise out of fire like the phoenix, ready to take its place as trade centre for the world

A Song for St Cecilia's Day (1687) and Alexander's Feast (1697):

- odes on St Cecilia, both later attracted the attention of the musical composer Handel

Britannia Rediviva (1688):

- a public ode celebrating the birth of the heir of James II


- after the Restoration wrote plays for the newly opened theatres, mostly to earn money and to please his audience

- produced both tragedies and comedies, later also libretti for the newly introduced dramatic form of the opera

- complied to the classical principles of the Greek and Roman drama, including the preservation of the three unities, and presentation of aristocratic heroes in tragedy and lower-class rakes in comedy

All for Love (1677):

- a blank verse tragedy which adapts Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra to the unities of time, place, and action

Literary Criticism

- most of his critical essays appeared as prefaces to his own books

- set the canons of taste and theoretical principle as a standard for the next generation

- came to be called 'the father of English criticism' by the later writer Samuel Johnson (1709 - 1784)

Of Dramatic Poesy, An Essay (1668):

- written at the time of enforced theatrical inactivity during the Plague of 1665

- seeks sounds theoretical principles on which to construct the new English drama

- takes the form of a conversation between four characters who defend their different views of drama

- studies the ancient drama of Greece and Rome, and the modern drama of contemporary England and France

Verse Satire

- wrote formal satires in the heroic couplet, which influenced the most brilliant satirist of the next century, A. Pope

Mac Flecknoe (composed 1678 or 1679, published 1682):

- a mock-heroic satire occasioned by a quarrel with the popular rival playwright Thomas Shadwell (?1642 - 1692)

- expresses his bitter distaste for Shadwell's flippant plays and rages at the deathliness of human stupidity in general

Absalom and Achitophel (1681):

- a political satire occasioned by the Popish Plot (1678) and its aftermath

- a witty intermixture of reasoned argument, refined technique, and invective

- satirizes the treasonable acts of Charles II's illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth, and his main abettor, the Earl of Shaftesbury, in attempting to exclude legally from the succession the King's Catholic brother, Duke of York

- takes as model the biblical story of the rebellion of Absalom against his father David, draws parallels between Absalom and Monmouth, Achitophel and Shaftesbury, Saul and Cromwell, Pharaoh and Louis XIV of France, etc.

- the main villain is Achitophel who is presented as the Satanic tempter of the honourably gullible Absalom

The Medal (1682):

- a further devastating attack on the Earl of Shaftesbury

Religious Writings

Religio Laici, or A Layman's Faith (1682):

- examines the grounds of his Anglican faith and defends the middle way of the Anglican Church against the rationalism of Deism on one hand and the authoritarianism of Rome on the other

The Hind and the Panther (1687):

- written from the perspective of a converted Roman Catholic

- an allegorical animal fable in which a white hind (the Roman Church) and a spotted panther (the Anglican Church) eloquently discuss theology, the hind having the better arguments


- his translations made many classics available to readers who lacked a classical education

The Works of Virgil (1697)

Fables Ancient and Modern (1700):

- collected translations from Ovid, Boccaccio, and Chaucer

- the preface expresses his sense of his own patriotic mission as a poet and suggests that he saw himself as standing in the vernacular apostolic line beginning, as he claims, with Chaucer, following with Spenser, and then Milton

John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (1647 - 1680)

- the most brilliant Restoration heir to the courtier poetry of Lovelace, Suckling, and Carew

- rearticulates Cavalier gallantry through the exercise of an indulgent world-weariness

- interfuses tenderness and cynicism, domesticity and debauchery, quick wit and meditative seriousness

"Upon Drinking in a Bowl":

- proclaims Cupid and Bacchus his patron saints

"An Age in her Embraces Past":

- hedonistically holds on to what enjoyments the present moment offers

"A Satyr against Mankind" (1675):

- exposes the falseness of all human pretension to honesty, virtue, wisdom, and valour

- undercuts the role of human reason and presents a victim of the presumption to rationality who is finally led to recognize the error into which he has fallen

- shows human life as a jungle in which creatures prey on one another and in which fear is the stimulus to action


- numerous diaries, memoirs, and journals kept by individuals newly emerge in the second half of the 17th century

- autobiographies were encouraged by Protestant and especially Puritan directives to keep an account of events of spiritual significance for each day and to meditate on them

- the increase is inscribed both to the rise of bourgeois individualism and a concomitant interest in self-analysis

- as a form of self-expression open both to men and to women, both to aristocracy (e.g. Margaret Cavendish) and to middle-class (e.g. Samuel Pepys)

Margaret Cavendish (1623 - 1673)

- wrote and published numerous works in a great variety of genres during the Interregnum and Restoration era

- her works elicited more derision than praise, it was considered disgraceful for an aristocratic woman to write

- her person also attracted much attention with her fantastic dress, occasionally idiosyncratic social behaviour, etc.

Poems and Fancies (1653): a collection of poems

Philosophical Fancies (1653): a collection of essays

Nature's Pictures (1656): short fiction

The Blazing World (1666): an utopian romance

The Life of William Cavendish (1667): a biography of her husband

The Forced Marriage (1670): a theatre play

A True Relation of My Birth, Breeding, and Life (1656):

- an autobiography describing the circumstances of her own life: was born into a wealthy aristocratic family, spent fifteen years in exile on the continent with her husband, and after the Restoration regained her status and fortune

- defends her right to publish and to participate in the contemporary intellectual exchange, defends women's rational powers, and criticizes the exclusion of women from education and from the public domain

Samuel Pepys (1633 - 1703)

- worked all his life in various administrative offices in which he achieved some success

- as a London to his core he was interested in all the activities of the city, including the theatre, music, society, business, religion, literature, and the scientific experiments of the Royal Society (which he presided for two years)

- throughout his life indulged his two obsessions, namely money making and women chasing

Diary (published 1825):

- kept for nine years, starting with the Restoration in 1660 and ending in 1669 when he thought he was losing sight

- written in shorthand and sometimes in code

- comments with utter frankness on the events of both public and his private life

- as a document of social history unsurpassed for its rich detail, honesty, and immediacy

John Bunyan (1628 - 1688)

Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666):

- a spiritual autobiography showing the way by which a sinner is led by God's grace through the agonies of spiritual crisis to a new birth and the assurance of salvation

- records his transformation into an eloquent and fearless Baptist preacher, such preachers being common phenomena among the religious sects in Commonwealth, requiring no education or ordination but the inner call

- as an unlicensed Non-conformist preacher endured long terms of imprisonment, wrote most of his works in prison

- intended his autobiography not only as a private process of self-examination but as a means of inspiriting others

The Pilgrim's Progress from This World to That Which is to Come (1678, Part II, 1684):

- an allegory elaborating on the basic metaphor of life as a journey

- makes the personal spiritual pilgrimage of his autobiography an universally shared experience

- describes the journey from the City of Destruction to the Heavenly City undertaken by the characters called Christian, Faithful, and Hopeful

- the pilgrims are tempted by the evil characters, including Mr Worldly-Wiseman, Hypocrisy, or No-Good, and must face the dangers of the Slough of Despond, the Castle of Giant Despair, or the Valley of the Shadow of Death

- uses homely and commonplace objects (e.g. the highway, shortcuts, steep hill) charged with spiritual significance

- models his style on the prose of the Bible, but uses concrete language easily accessible even to the simplest reader

- achieved an immense success and became a household book next only to the Bible, owned and read by everyone

The Life and Death of Mr Badman (1680):

- an allegory which is often thought of as an early experiment in realist fiction or as a proto-novel

- takes the form of a question-and-answer dialogue between Mr Wiseman and Mr Attentive concerning the steady moral descent of a conventional commonplace sinner

The Holy War (1682):

- an allegory describing the three sieges and liberations of the city of Mansoul

- the city was created by Shaddai (God the Father), is temporarily besieged by Diabolus (Satan), and three times liberated by Shaddai's son Emanuel


- a favourite mode for many writers of the later 17th century: John Dryden, Earl of Rochester, Samuel Butler, etc.

- the early 18th century: Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, Henry Fielding, etc.

Samuel Butler (1612 - 1680)

- passed his middle age during the fury of the civil wars and under the Commonwealth, found relief for his despise of Puritan rulers in satirizing their faults

- served as clerk to several Puritan justices of the peace, one of whom was probably the original of Sir Hudibras

Hudibras (1662, Part II, 1663, Part III, 1678):

- a travesty, or burlesque, taking a serious subject and debasing it by using a low style and grotesque exaggeration

- reduces the iambic tetrameter line (used subtly and seriously by Donne, Milton, or Marwell) to something approaching a doggerel with boldly comic rhymes

- takes the name of his protagonist from Spenser's Faerie Queene where Sir Hudibras appears briefly as a rash adventurer and lover, but degrades the knight of chivalric romance into a hypocritical and opportunist character

- derives his digressive narrative from Cervantes's Don Quixote and much of his ironic tone from Rabelais's Gargantua, but the object of his satire is the intellectual, political, and religious charlatanism of modern England

- attacks Presbyterians and Independents, expresses his contempt for Puritans and their Commonwealth

- takes a sceptical, distrusting, and contemptuous view of the contemporary England, so that it is difficult to think of anything that he approved unless it was peace, common sense, and the wisdom emerging from the experience

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