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Ancients and moderns.

During the first three decades of the century, however, partisan feelings were still intense. These feelings were paralleled by a literary division between disciples of the Ancients (who insisted that classical texts and forms should be studied and imitated) and the Moderns (who asserted the superiority of new learning in this advanced age). The great Tory satirists, Swift, Pope, and Gay, with some of their like-minded friends, formed a loose association, the Scriblerus Club, for the purpose of mocking the literary pretensions of the Moderns. They created a corporate persona, Martinus Scriblerus, to whom they attributed the authorship of various dull and pompous works. The club did not last long; it broke up when the Tories fell from power in 1714. The ideas generated among its members, however, provided the inspiration for several of the best satires of the next decade. Gradually, like the Whigs, the Moderns prevailed.


The highly complex, intellectual, and allusive satires of the age of Pope and Swift gave way to the literature of sensibility, of refinement, of feeling. The ability to weep became a test of good character. The midcentury also saw a public reaction against wit as a literary criterion, and a hunger for sincere emotional expression inspired experiments with new poetic forms and a revival of interest in early folk literature.


The theater, however, languished, dominated by revivals of old plays and by vehicles for great actors. In 1737 Prime Minister Walpole had succeeded in getting Parliament to pass the Licensing Act, essentially a provision for precensorship of all new plays. Satiric comedy was thus thwarted. There was no outcry, for the public seemed to prefer spectacles and sentiment to serious drama.

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Author:McCoy, Kathleen; Harlan, Judith A.V.
Publication:English Literature to 1785
Article Type:Reference Source
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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