English culture and literature, mainly through poetry
Brother Anthony (An Sonjae)
The Roman occupation
The Middle Ages
Early 17th century
The Civil War and the Restoration
The 18th century, Augustan Poetry
Revolution & Romanticism
The Victorian age
For hundreds of thousands of years, during the
all the land now forming the island of Britain lay far below the
polar ice cap. At the end of the ice age, as the ice melted, the
resulting huge floods cut deep ravines through the land bridge
Britain with the continent and as the sea levels rose the Channel
was formed. During the Ice Age, the ice withdrew occasionally,
entered at those times but then withdrew as the ice returned.
50,000 BC the island of Britain was inhabited for many thousands
years by nomadic hunter-gatherers. Around 3,000 BC the
(New Stone Age) people arrived, coming from Spain or Northern
They brought an advanced culture, living in settlements
growing crops, using pottery and refined stone tools.
The first remaining monuments from this period
the great barrows in which
families were buried, and the henges,
circles of wood or stone that served as gathering points for the
inhabitants, presumably for relgious ceremonies. The most famous
which began as a
wooden henge before 3,000 BC, then in 2,500 BC it was rebuilt
brought from a place in Wales 380 kms away; no one knows what
meaning was attached to them. The labor involved was unimaginable,
stone weighing about 5 tons. But work stopped, and in 2,300 BC the
stones were relocated in a circle dominated by far larger stones,
weighing up to 45 tons, brought from 30 kms away, with stones laid
top of them to form linked lintels.
After 2,400 BC people came bringing a new
the "Beaker" people, Indo-Europeans who introduced barley.
buried their dead in individual graves. Their technology was more
advanced and they produced the first bronze tools, marking
beginning of the Bronze Age.
It was they who constructed the outer circle of stones at
From 1,300 BC, the population shifted off the chalk uplands to the
Thames valley and the south-east. Life seems to have become more
violent; villages arose, offering mutual protection, and
were constructed on hill-tops, which were then expanded until the
period. Some of them remained as important centers long after the
period. The largest is Maiden
Around 700 BC, Celts began to enter Britain
Europe, where their culture and language covered a large area.
mastered the technology of iron-smelting, marking the arrival of
The links with Europe encouraged continuing trade across the
but after 500 BC this declined, allowing the British and Irish
develop their own culture and specific dialects. Celtic society
essentially tribal, the generations of a single family forming a
with a single chief. Shortly before the Roman period, new Belgic
of Celts arrived from just across the Channel, from what is now
Belgium after them, and settled in south eastern Britain and along
coast, keeping the names of their original tribes. Among the
religious ceremonies and the memory of tribal history were
entrusted to Druids, but they had no writing system.
The Roman occupation
Gaul had been the source of tribal
that invaded Italy; at the same time, east of Gaul across the Rhine
river, the Germanic
tribes were slowly preparing to move westward and southward, an
greater threat to Rome. Therefore from 58 - 51 BC the Roman army
Julius Caesar fought the Gallic War across what is
France. As a result of their victory over the Gallic rebel leader
in 52, the whole of Gaul came under Roman control and was turned
Province of the Roman Empire. The Roman presence was so dominant
the entire population lost their Celtic language and by the end of
empire (around AD 460) spoke only Latin. This then evolved into
Provencal and French languages. In 55 BC and then again a
years later, Julius Caesar crossed to Britain (the Greeks and
called the British Pretani, so the Romans gave the name Britannia
to the whole island). He was interested in its fertility, its
wealth, and its leather but also he was preoccupied by the support
being given to the Gauls. It was only later, however, that Britain
made a province of Rome. From AD 43 until about 404,
central region of Britain was a province of the Roman Empire,
a strong military presence ensuring Roman domination over
The Romans established their control by means
over 100 military camps (castra)
that soon turned into small towns, and also by the creation of
larger town with 5,000 inhabitants. The city they built at the
point where the River Thames could be crossed on foot, Londinium
(London), grew into the largest Roman city north of the Alps. London
Bridge was first built by the Romans. English town names
kept the Roman -castra ending (Chester, Lancaster,
Manchester). Southern Wales was also part of the
Roman-controlled area, but the Picts living in the
area they called Caledonia (Scotland) was too wild for
The emperor Hadrian built a wall from sea to sea to mark
limit of Roman control, between what are now the cities of
Newcastle. Hadrian's Wall
still a popular tourist attraction.
Roman culture included a money economy,
(reading and writing), a standardized legal system,
of stone or brick bound by mortar, and such
as public baths and hypocausts to heat the floors
the rooms. A hot spring gave rise to the city still called Bath.
important, since the Romans always feared uprisings, they
constructed well-paved roads running
across the country; those roads underlie the modern
major roads of England. Six of the roads met at London,
which had some 20,000 inhabitants. In the rural areas, intensive
farming was organized through "villas,"
compounds containing elaborate housing for the rich owner-manager
well as accommodation for many slaves and storage rooms for the
destined to be exported. Yet most of the British people continued
speak Celtic, and to live in traditional ways.
(Click here for a full-length account
the pre-1066 period, from my book)
(Click here for my page of Medieval links)
In the early years of
fifth century, the Roman
legions were withdrawn to defend Rome against the Germanic tribes
had been moving into Italy for several centuries. In 410
capture of Rome by the Visigoths
led by Alaric heralded the beginning of the collapse of Roman
over western Europe. The towns of Roman Britain soon ceased to
function; the use of Latin ceased. Traditional Celtic ways
Before the Romans left Britain, they had been
mercenaries from north Germany (part of which is still known as
Saxony). In the century following the Roman withdrawal, more
other groups from north Germany and the Netherlands,
various West Germanic dialects settled in the
eastern and southern parts of Britain. They subjugated or
the Celts, who remained dominant in the north and west, and in
Ireland. The Germanic people were not Christian, but had the
traditional religion of northern Europe, with multiple gods
and Woden. It is not clear if this process should be seen
invasion or as a gradual arrival. One mystery
is why the new arrivals did not learn the local Celtic language.
is no other example from this age of migration where the language
small number of outsiders took over from the native language so
totally. Virtually no word of Celtic origin was adopted. Some
that an epidemic might have decimated the Celtic population of
Britian so that the arriving Angles, Saxons, Jutes, etc
no one living there..
One of the Germanic group was known as “Angles”
the name of their spears, just as “Saxon” derives from the short
sword they used. The Angles were to give their name to England
(Angle-land). Soon after the Roman withdrawal, groups from
known as “Scots,” began to settle in the western parts of
is now Scotland. Much of the region was originally
by the mysterious Picts who later disappeared completely.
started to become Christian through contacts with Wales during the
later Roman period (Christianity became the official imperial
around 380) but the main name associated with the foundation of
Christianity is that of Patrick, who brought Christianity
much of northern Ireland in the later 5th century.
The Conversion of the
In 597, a team of Christian missionaries
sent from Rome, led by a priest called Augustine, arrived in the
now called Canterbury, in Kent. They began to bring Christianity
and Latin (Roman) culture to the rulers of the various kingdoms.
Augustine became the first Archbishop of Canterbury, the mother
of English Christianity. The copy
Gospels that he brought with him can still be seen. Other
missionaries from western Scotland brought Christianity to
England at the same time. With this new religion came the
literature, and legal traditions of Rome and, above all, the art
Germanic language and culture of Angles and Saxons now united with
the language and culture of southern Europe.
The old oral tradition of memories and stories was
written records. Germanic society was centered in the hall
the farms (in German Hof, the French name for which gave
English name of the royal court) where lords and thanes
lived together. There the scop was the professional singer
teller of tales. Now a shift happened, as the old oral poetry was
transformed in the libraries of Christian monasteries
into written “literature.” The famous story of
hymn told by Bede (c.673 - 735) is
symbolic of the
transformation of oral, pagan or heroic Germanic poetry into
Christian poetry. Bede's Ecclesiastical History and
many other works were made possible by the foresight of Benedict
the founder of the monasteries at Wearmouth, who brought back
books from his visits to Italy and established a library that was
serve as the link between Rome and the chaotic post-Roman world.
artistry displayed in some of the great illuminated texts of the
Gospels is breathtaking, as seen in the Lindisfarne Gospels.
Old English Elegy
Old English elegy seems to spring from heroic society's
experience of history as glory and loss.
It may perhaps best be seen as a poetic expression of human
of the pain of the loss of what deserved not to be lost. It is
strongly marked by an experience of human solitude, the speaker
isolated from normal social existence. There is a way of viewing
in this world as a combination of glory and doom that does not
beyond the tomb, but leads the reader of the poem back to the
since what had to die is yet memorialized and thus perpetuated in
elegiac text itself. That the poetics of temporality and
should be so strongly present at so early a stage of English
The poems which are generally termed elegies are all found in one
manuscript. The Exeter
was given to the library of the Cathedral at Exeter (Devon) by
the first bishop, who died in 1072. It is still there. It was
written about a century before this. It contains over thirty Old
English poems, as well as almost a hundred short riddles. Some of
poems it contains are religious, such as Christ, The Judgement
saints' lives, but it also includes some the oldest heroic
fragments, like Widsith and Deor. The most famous elegies
The Seafarer, The Ruin.
The greatest Old English heroic poem, Beowulf,
in another manuscript, is also full of elegaic passages
future disasters that will overwhelm the now successful 'nations'
Hygelac and Beowulf. Beowulf
tells of three separate battles fought by Beowulf (Bear's son)
supernatural enemies of human society: Grendel, Grendel's
and (fifty years later) a treasure-guarding dragon. In this last
battle, Beowulf is abandoned by all but one of his cowardly
dies of his wounds after killing the dragon.
The Old-English elegies have been especially popular in
20th century, because
their suggestive evocations of what seem to be (but is not)
experience are in some ways close to the dramatic
which Robert Browning
developed in the 19th century and which represent one major form
modern lyric poetry. Ezra Pound ventured to write his own
version of The
Seafarer, freer than a strict translation since he
Old English. The Seafarer depicts a situation of
isolation, the speaker is seemingly adrift in a boat. Much the
motif is found in The Wanderer,
in which the general moral application of the poem is clearer, and
rhetorical development more varied. Some critics consider that the
Christian passages at the beginning and end were added
is not very likely. The central figure has lost his social role
finds no replacement; misfortune drives him to meditate on the fragility
of all human relations. He contemplates the ruins of
abandoned Roman buildings and tries to imagine what life in them
He asks a series of questions echoing the classical ubi
theme -- "where have they all gone?" that stresses the transience
of all earthly life.
1. He who is alone often survives to find mercy,
2. though he long must stir with his arms the
3. troubled in heart obliged to tread paths of
over watery ways.
4. Full-fixed is that man's fate.
5. So spoke the traveller, recalling hard times,
6. fierce battle-slaughter, the deaths of dear
7. Before day broke, many times I have had to
out alone my cares;
8. there is no-one alive now to whom I dare
9. True, it's a fine habit for a man to keep his
heart's vaults locked tight,
10. to keep the hoard-casket of his mind close
whatever his thoughts.
11. A weary heart's thoughts cannot resist Fate,
12. an angry mind's cannot bring help.
13. Those eager for fame shut their sorrowful
14. captive in their breast's treasure-chest. So
wretched with cares,
15. I have left my homeland and family behind,
16. and here am obliged to use fetters to fasten
thoughts of my heart.
17. All this since the time, many years ago now,
18. that I enclosed my gold-friend in the
19. then I crossed the web of the waves
winter-grieving for the loss of a hall.
20. I sought again a giver of treasure, a place
somewhere, be it far or near,
21. where in some mead-hall I might find a man
22. who would recognize my family's name, or
me in my friendlessness,
23. happy to see me come.
24. Any who have felt it know how cruel is the
25. who must live alone without love or
26. There is nothing left but the path of exile,
sign of twisted gold armlets;
27. in his heart-case frozen thoughts, no
28. He can only remember former hall-warriors,
taking of treasure,
29. the eager feasts of youthful days with the
30. All those delights are gone now.
31. Any who have long been obliged to forgo the
guiding of a lord they love,
32. will know: when the poor lonely fellow lies
33. it will seem at times that he is once again
kissing and holding his liege,
34. expressing thanks, laying hands and head on
knees as in former times
35. when gifts were being shared out.
36. But then he wakes, and has no lord,
37. but only the tawny waves and the gulls
with wings outstretched,
38. under frost and snowfall, mingled with hail.
39. Then his heart aches more, longing for the
he once loved;
40. sorrows renew with the sudden memory of long
41. he thinks to hail them gladly, gazes eagerly
that company of warriors
42. whose shadows fade, gliding away over the
43. No familiar voices come echoing from those
44. and cares deepen as he sets out again, time
time, over the web of the waves.
45. No wonder, then, if my thoughts grow dark
46. when I consider human life in this world;
47. how terribly swiftly the brave young thanes
the hall-floor for ever!
48. Daily this middle-earth fails and falls.
49. Wisdom can only be found with time, the
many winters endured.
50. The wise man knows patience, must not be
inflamed, not quick to speak,
51. be neither too fearful nor too blithe, not
52. or eager to boast without prior thought.
53. A man who boasts must first wait and reflect
where his words may lead.
54. A wise warrior should think of the dreadful
55. when all this world's wealth will lie waste;
56. just as we see in many places wind-blown
covered with layers of frost,
57. storm-beaten and drear. The old wine-halls
totter, their former lords lie bereft of joy,
58. for all the heroes have fallen who formerly
against the wall;
59. some went in war, carried away, this one
a bird over the deep,
60. and this devoured by a wolf and Death, while
another sadly hid in an earthen grave.
61. Mankind's Maker laid waste all those
62. the old work of giants stood there useless,
echo now of their former guards' songs.
63. So the wise man ponders deeply upon these
and this dark life,
64. recalls the slaughters of the past, and
65. Hwaer cwom
mearg? Hwaer cwom mago? Hwaer cwom maththumgyfa?
70. Where did the horse go?
the bold youth? Where is the treasure-giver?
66. Hwaer cwom symbla
Hwaer sindon seledreamas?
67. Eala beorht bune! Eala
68. Eala theodnes thrym!
seo thrag gewat,
69. genap under nihthelm,
heo no waere.
71. Where is the feast-place? Where the hall's
72. Alas, bright cup! Alas, man of arms!
73. Alas, the lord's might! How those days have
74. dark under night, as if they never had been.
75. Now the snake-adorned wall stands there
76. towering over signs of what was, dear
77. Spears have taken the lords away,
weapons of Fate almighty.
78. Storms beat at the walls, and snow heralds
79. falling thick it binds the earth as darkness
80. while northern hailstones harshly proclaim
81. Earth's kingdoms are wretched, for Fate
intervenes to change the world.
82. Wealth is fleeting, friends, all men, and
too are fleeting.
83. Every home shall soon lie bare.
84. So spoke the man whose heart was wise,
apart at the council-meeting.
85. The good man does not break his word,
86. and one should never speak before one knows
will truly bring relief,
87. such is a leader with his courage.
88. And all will be well for the one who seeks
and comfort from the Father above,
89. with whom alone all stability dwells.
From Old English to Middle English
(Click here for a full account
the pre-1300 period, French and English, from my book)
(Click here for my
page of Medieval links)
Old English came to England as the West
Germanic languages of Angles and Saxons. After about 790,
more and more Danes and Norwegian “Vikings” settled
northern and eastern England, as well as Scotland and Ireland. Alfred,
of mostly Saxon Wessex in the south, succeeded in
bringing these new arrivals into the Church and united
with English-speaking society around 880. Meanwhile, other
Norwegian settlers had found a new home in western France. Coming
the North, these became known as Normans (North men) and
region in France where they lived received their name, Normandy.
1066, William of Normandy claimed the throne of
England after the death of Edward the Confessor and won
the Battle of Hastings against Harold. This whole saga is
subject of the Bayeux Tapestry.
William took control of England, and gave its
to his companions without regard for the rights and legal titles
Anglo-Saxons. To ensure security, they constructed great
stone castles inside which they had their living
The entire ruling class of England
(in state and Church) was of
Norman origin, spoke French, and had strong roots
France. For almost
150 years, the English language was spoken but not
government of England was done using French while Latin
was the language of the Church and of legal records. During this
the English language grew simpler in grammar and slowly began to
many new words from French and Latin. Today that new language is
In France and in the French-speaking English
developed. The old heroic poems were soon overshadowed by “romances”
which stories of knights’ heroic deeds of “chivalry”
gave equal importance to their “courtesy.” Romances
the court of King Arthur with its Round Table
developed, first in verse thanks to Chretien de Troyes,
prose. The great love story of Tristan and Iseult was
into a huge prose romance clearly designed to entertain rich
with much spare time. Love
thus became as important a theme as heroism, and more interesting
because it led to intense self-analysis and reflection on the tension
between passion and one's social obligations.
new experience of "romantic love" (courtly love)
developed in the poems written by the troubadors in
13th century English society saw some vital developments. Early in
century King John lost the trust of the barons (most powerful
his poor rule. In 1215, they and the merchants of London joined to
force the king to sign an agreement guaranteeing their rights and
freedom, Magna Carta. This document became a powerful
the limitations of the English monarch in later centuries and has
celebrated in the United States as the origin of the ideals of equality
By limiting and defining the power of the king, as well as by
together landowners and city merchants, it played a major role in
development of the English system of government. This was in
to the day in 1170 when King Henry II was so sure
his power that he sent knights to murder the Archbishop of
Canterbury, Thomas Becket, who had challenged what he felt
rights. He was wrong, as it happened, and the Church brought him
John might have tried a come-back but died the next year. Hie son
III was only 9 and grew up under the control of the nobles. When
became fully king he began to spend much money financing the
wars and enjoying himself. In 1258, the earl of Leicester, Simon
Montfort, led a revolt. The nobles elected a council, called
(discussion meeting) which took control of the nation's finances,
derived from taxes paid by the merchants. In 1265, the king and
allied nobles defeated Simon de Montfort and killed him. Henry
The new king, Edward I, saw that most of his father's income came
from dues paid by the nobility but from taxes,
paid by people involved in business in the cities. Legally, taxes
only be demanded if those taxed agreed, there was no traditional
obligation for them to give the king money. The earlier Council
composed of lords. In 1275, Edward summoned a parliament that
include representatives of the "commons" -- "gentry"
knights from the rural areas) and city merchants. This became the
Commons and its mixed composition made it unique in Europe.
the start, it was agreed that all laws (statutes) and taxes
had to be agreed by the two houses of parliament (lords and
that the king could not make or change laws or levy taxes
During the 12th and 13th centuries, cities
expanded; a free class of rich merchants began to develop there, universities
were founded in Paris, Bologna, Oxford and Cambridge,
much changed. Great "Gothic"
cathedrals were built across Europe. Philosophers learned
from the Arabs and translated the works of Aristotle
into Latin. The logic and interest in distinguishing between
they learned from him gave birth to the systematic theology known
the later 13th century, the members of the high classes in England
were speaking English as their first language, although
could also speak and read French. In the late 13th and
14th centuries in Italy, Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)
that his native Italian was as capable as Latin of expressing deep
emotions and thoughts, in the Divine Comedy, especially.
The 14th century
for a full account of the 14th century from my book)
(Click here for my
page of Medieval links)
From about 1350, two other Italians were
his task: Petrarch and Boccaccio. Dante
took the love lyrics that had first been composed by the
southern France (Provence) and applied their conventions in
about the lady he was devoted to, Beatrice, in his Vita
Nuova. Petrarch is commonly known as the “Father
Christian Humanism,” the founder of the Italian
a poet writing (like Dante) in Italian, he composed his Canzoniere
to celebrate a woman named Laura.
Like Beatrice, Laura died in her youth and the devotion of both
is idealistic, even mystical. In addition to writing long narrative
poems that Chaucer adapted in his Troilus and Criseyde
the “Knight’s Tale,” Boccaccio gave renaissance Europe a
stories about the fall of great men, De Casibus,
established the almost senseless fall of a great man from
ruin as the essence of tragedy.
The 14th century was a turbulent century for England
In 1327 King Edward II was forced by Parliament to abdicate for
to rule effectively. He was murdered in prison soon after. His
son became Edward III who in 1338 launched a military campaign
France, the start of what is know as the Hundred Years' War.
The claim was that the king of England was the legal king of
The main reason for the war was in fact a need to provide the
of England with opportunities for plunder and ransom. In 1346, the
English army, armed with longbows, defeated the French at Crecy,
many of the leading noblemen.
In 1347-8 the whole of Europe fell victim to the Black Death,
which killed between 30 and 50% of the population, leaving some
villages completely empty. It is only amazing that society
function during such a terrible plague.
Edward III's eldest son, the Black Prince, was a ferocious
fighter who had won major battles at Bordeaux and Poitiers in
but he died suddenly in 1376, and Edward III died in1377. The new
was the son of the Black Prince, Richard II, but he was
10. He ruled with great difficulty, opposed fiercely by his uncle
Thomas, duke of Gloucester. Richard's only glorious moment
when he confronted the rebel army of peasants during the Peasants'
1381, aged only 14. Richard wanted peace with France, so he
French princess in 1396, though she was only 8. Thomas of
hostile to peace, prepared to depose Richard so Richard ordered
murder. Also involved in this plot was Richard's cousin, Henry,
John of Gaunt, who was sent into exile. On hearing of the death of
father, fearing to lose all his property, Henry raised an army,
England and deposed Richard. He was murdered in prison
after. Henry IV had to confront a number of revolts led by other
His son Henry V returned to France and won a famous battle
in 1415. He too wed a French princess and it was agreed their son
should be king of both England and France. But Henry died when
was only 6 months old and the ensuing struggle for power led to
the Roses. Meanwhile, Joan of Arc helped give new
courage to the French and England was driven out of France.
for a full account of Petrarch, Boccaccio and Chaucer from my book)
(Click here for my Chaucer-related
Chaucer was born in London in 1343 or
died in 1400. His family was a merchant family but he grew up in
royal court and spent his life in the king’s service. He knew Latin,
French and Italian.
Having twice been sent to Italy, he was able to bring back books
3 great Italian writers and translated (adapted) some of what he
in them. He also translated Boethius’ Consolation of
Philosophy from Latin. His adaptation of Boccaccio’s Filocolo
as Troilus and Crisseyde. Once that was completed,
began to compose the Canterbury Tales, presented as
collection of very disparate stories of varying kinds related
the framework of a pilgrimage to Canterbury. A similar
“frame” is faound in Boccaccio’s Decameron but it
sure that Chaucer knew that work directly. However, Chaucer never
completed the Canterbury Tales, which remained unfinished
Far more than Boccaccio, Chaucer gave life to
people of his “frame,” the pilgrims he introduces in the “General
The skill with which he portrays people of differing social
both secular and religious, has made this the most popular part of
The pilgrims’ portraits are often inspired by conventional ideas
the kind of people in various activities found in Chaucer’s time.
doctor loves gold, the friar likes money and young girls, but
poor people, the monk enjoys the expensive sport of hunting, while
miller steals corn. By contrast, the clerk (student), parson, the
plowman, and in a sense the knight seem almost over-idealized. At
same time, each pilgrim is described with traits that mark them
The start of the General Prologue to the Canterbury
in modernized spelling:
1: When that April with his showers soft
2: The drought of March has pierced to the root,
3: And bathed every vein in such liquor
4: Of which vertue engendred is the flower;
5: When Zephirus eek with his sweet breath
6: Inspired hath in every holt and heath
7: The tender crops, and the young sun
8: Hath in the Ram his half course run,
9: And small fowls make melody,
10: That sleep all the night with open eye
11: (So pricks them Nature in their corages);
12: Then long folk to go on pilgrimages,
13: And palmers for to seek strange strands,
14: To far-off hallows, couth in sundry lands;
15: And specially from every shires end
16: Of England to Canterbury they wend,
17: The holy blissful Martyr for to seek,
18: That them has holpen when that they were sick.
for a full account of the English 15th century, as well as the
renaissance, from my book)
(Click here for my Renaissance-related
After Chaucer, literature continued to be
but there is little that can be read with much pleasure today. In
royal court, courtiers liked to write poetry to display their
and emotional skills. All over Europe, Petrarch’s Canzoniere
led to an explosion of love poetry, mostly in the form of “complaints”
a man expresses frustration with his “cruel lady.” He loves a
woman who does not return his love, or who refuses to remain
“Unrequited love” became the oddly popular subject of thousands of
poems, often written in the sonnet form that Petrarch and
Italian imitators made so popular.
In England, the mid-15th century was a time of
social conflict as different branches of the royal family, mostly
divided between the dukes of York and Lancaster, fought for the
in the Wars of the Roses. In 1485, Henry Tudor
defeated Richard III (the last Plantagenet ruler) and became
VII. A few years before this, in the mid-1470s, William
Caxton brought printing to London. Gutenberg
had first introduced printing to Europe in the 1450s, printing the
Latin Bible. The books that Caxton printed and sold were almost
entirely medieval romances and included the works of Chaucer.
The 16th century
(Click here for a full account of the
English renaissance, including More's Utopia, from my book)
The “Northern Renaissance” came to England with a visit by
Dutchman Erasmus just before 1500 and led to a new stress
put on education in the Latin classics as the best
for the leading citizens in the increasingly prosperous towns; “grammar
schools” were founded for that purpose. Erasmus’s closest
England was Thomas More, who wrote his Utopia
for him. Thomas More rose to be Lord Chancellor but he opposed the
when he wanted to separate the English Church from the universal
Catholic Church under the Pope, so he was executed as a
traitor. He is a Catholic saint.
Henry VII died in 1509 and his son, Henry
the Reformation in England by separating the English
Church from the control of Rome (in order to be free to divorce
his Spanish wife because she seemed unable to give him a son) and
abolishing all the monasteries
order to steal their land and wealth. A more idealistic kind of Protestantism
arose across Europe, led by Luther, Zwingli, Calvin
in Germany and Swizterland. Between 1548 when Henry died and 1558,
England was first drawn towards Protestantism by those ruling in
name of the child Edward VI (Henry’s only son despite his
marriages) but when he died aged 17, in 1553, his older
tried to bring back Catholicism. By this time, western Europe was
divided politically and culturally between the Catholic
South and the
Protestant North. While the discovery of the New World
by Christopher Columbus in 1492 and its subsequent
exploitation brought Spain
and Portugal immense wealth, the merchant cities of north Germany
the Baltic were in fact far more dynamic. The English merchants
affinity for the conservative Catholicism of the south and were
delighted when “bloody” Mary died in 1558, after marrying
king of Spain, and her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth
the last Tudor monarch.
a full account of the events of Elizabeth's reign, from my book)
a full account of the works of Edmund Spenser, from my book)
a full account of the development of fiction in Europe and the
works of Sir Philip Sidney, from my
a full account of the development of drama in England before
Shakespeare, from my book)
a full account of the poetry written later in Elizabeth's
Elizabeth was only 25 when she
became Queen, she reigned until 1603 and left the memory
as a time of national prosperity, full of a new patriotism. Many
that God had a special plan for Protestant England. The greatest
came in 1588 when Catholic Spain sent a large fleet, the “Armada,” to conquer England. Thanks
the skill of the English sailors, and a sudden violent storm, the
Armada was defeated.
a full account of the life and works of Shakespeare, from
(Click here for my Shakespeare
page, with summaries of many plays)
Shakespeare was born in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Little is known of his life before he arrived in London and in
1590 joined the world of the theatre, perhaps first as an actor,
then as a writer of plays.
1) Early Chronicle Histories 1590-3
King John (perhaps before 1590)
The First "Tetralogy":
1 Henry VI
2 Henry VI
3 Henry VI
Richard III (tragedy)
2) Early Classical works 1590-4
Titus Andronicus (tragedy)
Venus and Adonis (poem published 1593)
The Rape of Lucrece (poem published 1594)
3) Early Italian Comedies 1590-5
The Taming of the Shrew
The Comedy of Errors
Love's Labours Lost
Two Gentlemen of Verona
4) Early Romances 1594-6
Romeo and Juliet (tragedy)
A Midsummer Night's Dream
The Merchant of Venice
The Sonnets (poems)
5) The Second "Tetralogy" 1596-8
Richard II (tragedy)
Henry IV Part I
Henry IV Part II
6) Comedies 1598-1604
Much Ado About Nothing
As You Like It
The Merry Wives of Windsor
Follwed by the "problem comedies":
All's Well That Ends Well (1602-4)
Measure For Measure (1604)
7) Tragedies 1600-8
Julius Caesar (1600)
Troilus and Cressida (1602)
King Lear (1605)
Antony and Cleopatra (1606)
Timon of Athens (1608)
8) The Late Romances 1608-11
The Winter's Tale
Shakespeare retired to his home town in about 1611 and died in
only 52 years old.
From the Sonnets
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self that seals up all in rest.
In me thou seest the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the deathbed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.
The Earlier 17th Century
a full account of the events of 17th-century history, from
(Click here for my
When Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, her distant
King James VI of Scotland was called south to inherit the
His family name was Stuart. His son Charles duly
followed him when he died in 1625. Both kings believed
monarchs they had absolute God-given rights. They tried to
ignore the old English constitutional law that obliged the king to
“in Parliament”. According to several centuries of
king could impose taxes, make new laws, or raise an
without the consent of Parliament, which included an elected
Commons as well as the House of Lords.
As a result, the Stuarts lost the affection of their subjects and
court became an extravagant private spectacle. In 1603, the king’s
service still offered many possible jobs for ambitious young men
but within a few years that changed and modern, business-oriented
of society began to take over among the citizens of London.
a full account of the life and works of John Donne, from my book)
Born in 1572 in London, John Donne lost
father when he was 4 and his mother was obliged to remarry
once. She was the grandaughter of Sir Thomas More’s
and two of her brothers were Catholic priests.
After the Pope declared in 1570 that Elizabeth was not the
queen of England, Catholics were suspected of being potential
priests were seen as agents of an enemy power. Donne grew up in
Catholic milieu, where people struggled to remain faithful to
Church while showing themselves to be loyal subjects of
queen. After the Armada in 1588, this became even more
Donne’s father had been a highly respected
his first step-father was a well-known medical doctor. He grew up
to become a powerful and respected citizen too, but he soon
that being a Catholic was by now a very serious obstacle. Since
family had no land, no wealth, he turned to the Inns of Court
school) in London where rich young men and poor but ambitious
mingled and useful connections could be made. Like many of his
fellow-students, Donne enjoyed plays, entertainments, and he
his verbal talents by composing poems as a way of making others
for a full account of the life and works of Ben Jonson,
from my book)
Donne was born within a year of Ben Jonson,
and both wrote poetry that turns away from the mannered, rather
old-fashioned styles of the Elizabethan age. Donne was precocious,
his sensual, Ovidian Elegies and epigrams as well as other poems
almost certainly written in the 1590s, not long after
sonnets. Yet they sound very different. Donne follows and develops
use of “conceits” that was admired all over Europe,
in Italy. The “conceit” is an artificial image
that demands thought,
that is unexpected and causes the reader to pause for reflection
provoking an admiring response when its aptness is recognized.
complicated use of such images inspired the Restoration writer and
critic John Dryden (1631 - 1700) to write in his essay Discourse
Original and Progress of Satire (1693): "he
affects the metaphysics
. . . and perplexes the minds of the fair sex with nice
philosophy, when he should engage their hearts, and entertain them
the softness of love." Later, Samuel Johnson (1709 -
developed Dryden's ideas in his life of Abraham Cowley (1618 -
Lives of the Poets (1779):
The metaphysical poets were
of learning, and to show their learning was their whole
unluckily resolving to show it in rhyme, instead of writing
only wrote verses, and very often such verses as stood the trial
finger better than of the ear; for the modulation was so
they were only found to be verses by counting the syllables. (.
.) Their thoughts are often new, but seldom natural; they
obvious, but neither are they just; and the reader, far from
that he missed them, wonders more frequently by what
industry they were ever found. But wit, abstracted from its
upon the hearer, may be more rigorously and philosophically
as a kind of discordia concors; a combination of dissimilar
discovery of occult resemblances in things apparently unlike. Of
thus defined, they have more than enough. The most heterogeneous
are yoked by violence together, nature and art are ransacked for
illustrations, comparisons, and allusions; their learning
and their subtlety surprises; but the reader commonly thinks his
improvement dearly bought, and, though he sometimes admires, is
These quotations are the source of the idea that there was a
"school" (group) of "Metaphysical Poets" led by Donne. It is
mistaken idea, but certainly several poets of the earlier 17th
used rather "baroque" images to introduce a new energy into
their poetry. They were much admired by Ezra Pound and T.
Eliot in the 1920s, as they formulated their vision of Modernism,
which poetry should be difficult.
Donne probably wrote his poems for a closed circle of
high-class young men. It is impossible to know when any given poem
written. Some of his poems are conventionally libertine, declaring
faithfulness in love is wrong. Some are anti-feminist, insisting
women are always unfaithful. Others are wooing poems, urging the
to accept a sexual relationship. A few are intensely positive in
affirmation of ecstatic mutual love. There is no way of telling
“sincere” or “personal” any poem was. They were not published
in printed form until 1633, after Donne’s death in 1631,
it is clear that he valued them and had prepared a collection for
By 1600, Donne had got a very promising job in
household of a very powerful lord, Sir Thomas Egerton. But early
1601 he secretly married Anne More, the young niece of
Egerton, who was living in the house. He was socially inferior,
only 17 while he was nearing 30. He lost his job and the trust of
employer, though he kept the affection of some of his friends who
helped him financially. Later Donne became a famous churchman
preacher, and was Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral
in London from 1621 until he died in 1631. He wrote religious
which betray considerable emotional strain and express doubts
salvation, doubts which the poem strives to overcome.
The Sun Rising
1. Busy old fool, unruly Sun,
2. Why dost thou thus
3. Through windows, and through curtains call on
4. Must to thy motions lovers seasons run?
5. Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
6. Late schoolboys, and sour prentices,
7. Go tell Court-huntsmen, that the King will
8. Call country ants to harvest offices;
9. Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clime,
10. Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags
11. Thy beams, so reverend, and strong
12. Why shouldst thou think?
13. I could eclipse and cloud them-with a wink,
14. But that I would not lose her sight so long:
15. If her eyes have not blinded thine,
16. Look, and tomorrow late, tell me,
17. Whether both the India's of spice and Mine
18. Be where thou leftst them, or lie here with
19. Ask for those Kings whom thou saw'st
20. And thou shalt hear, All here in one bed
21. She is all States, and all Princes, I,
22. Nothing else is.
23. Princes do but play us; compar'd to this,
24. All honor's mimic, all wealth alchemy.
25. Thou sun art half as happy as we,
26. In that the world's contracted thus;
27. Thine age askes ease, and since thy duties
28. To warm the world, that's done in warming
29. Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
30. This bed thy center is, these walls, thy
A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
1. As virtuous men pass mildly away,
2. And whisper to their souls to go,
3. Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
4. The breath goes now, and some say, No;
5. So let us melt, and make no noise,
6. No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move,
7. 'Twere profanation of our joys
8. To tell the laity our love.
9. Moving of th'earth brings harms and fears,
10. Men reckon what it did and meant;
11. But trepidation of the spheres,
12. Though greater far, is innocent.
13. Dull sublunary lovers' love
14. (Whose soul is sense) cannot admit
15. Absence, because it doth remove T
16. hose things which elemented it.
17. But we, by a love so much refined
18. That our selves know not what it is,
19. Inter-assured of the mind,
20. Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.
21. Our two souls therefore, which are one,
22. Though I must go, endure not yet
23. A breach, but an expansion,
24. Like gold to airy thinness beat.
25. If they be two, they are so
26. As stiff twin compasses are two;
27. Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show
28. To move, but doth, if th'other do.
29. And though it in the centre sit,
30. Yet when the other far doth roam,
31. It leans and hearkens after it,
32. And grows erect, as that comes home.
33. Such wilt thou be to me, who must
34. Like th'other foot, obliquely run;
35. Thy firmness makes my circle just,
36. And makes me end where I begun.
Batter My Heart, Three-Person'd God
1. Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you
2. As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to
3. That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and
4. Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me
5. I, like an usurp'd town to'another due,
6. Labor to'admit you, but oh, to no end;
7. Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
8. But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.
9. Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov'd
10. But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
11. Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
12. Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
13. Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
14. Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
The starting point of John Donne's Meditation 17 in his Devotions
(1624), written after he had recovered from a serious
the experience of hearing the church bell ring to announce that
in the neighborhood is dying. The sick man wonders for a moment if
bell is not ringing for him. From there Donne passes to a
characteristically unexpected image of Heaven as a library:
Perchance he for whom this bell tolls
may be so ill as that he knows
not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much
than I am, as that they who are about me and see my state may
caused it to toll for me, and I know not that!
The church is catholic, universal, so are all
actions; all that she
does belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action
me, for that child is thereby connected to that Head which is my
too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member. And
buries a man, that action concerns me: all mankind is of one
is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is, not torn out
book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter
so translated. God employs several translators; some pieces are
translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by
God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up
scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall
to one another. (....) No man is an island,
of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the
If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less,as well
as if a
promontory were,as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of
were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved
mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell
tolls for thee. (....)
for a full account of the drama of the Jacobean and Caroline
(Click here for a
full account of 17th-century lyric poets from Herbert to
George Herbert (1593 - 1633)
Twenty years younger than John Donne, Herbert spent much of his
the university of Cambridge. His mother and elder brother were
to John Donne than he was. A devout Christian, Herbert did not
priest until 1630, but from 1626 he was responsible for a parish
Huntingdonshire. It was not far from Little Gidding, where
Nicholas Ferrar and his brothers with their families had recently
established a new kind of pious community, not unlike a monastery,
regular prayers, community service, and study. The community
the support of the king, who visited it (he was a pious and
moral-living man). In April 1630, Herbert became
(parish priest) of Bemerton, a small rural village near Salisbury.
was ordained priest in September 1630 and served humbly the simple
people of that remote village until he died of tuberculosis in
1633. Herbert often visited Little
Gidding and was extremely
close to its founder. Just before he died, he sent the manuscript
his poems to Nicholas Ferrar, asking him to decide whether to
them or burn them.
On receiving the manuscript containing Herbert's poems, Ferrar
them with deep emotion and immediately had them published.
formed a small book entitled The Temple. He is
considered to be the first truly "Anglican" poet; some of
poems were later turned into hymns.
When God at first made man,
Having a glass of blessings standing by,
"Let us," said he, "pour on him all we can;
Let the world's riches, which dispersed lie,
Contract into a span."
So strength first made a way;
Then beauty flow'd, then wisdom, honour, pleasure;
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that alone of all his treasure,
Rest in the bottom lay.
"For if I should," said he,
"Bestow this jewel also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts instead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature:
So both should losers be.
"Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness;
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to my
Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lack'd anything.
A guest, I answer'd, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.
The later 17th Century: Civil War, Interregnum, Restoration,
King Charles, after becoming king in 1625, soon
provoked great anger in his subjects.
In England he tried to rule without Parliament, raising money by
means than regular taxes. In Scotland, he tried to impose a more
Catholic form of worship that was unacceptable to the strictly
Protestant (Presbyterian) Scots. When the Scots rose in rebellion
1638, he needed an army and was forced to summon
demanded a radical change in his way of ruling; they decided that
army should be controlled by them, and not be subject to the king.
1642, civil war broke out between Parliamentarians
and Royalists (Cavaliers and Roundheads).
of the dispute was religious; The Parliamentarian army came under
command of Oliver Cromwell,
a devout Protestant from East Anglia and a military genius. Soon
Royalists were defeated (there were only a few real battles) and
king was imprisoned. Parliament abolished the monarchy, and
House of Lords,
changed the system of church government to the Calvinist,
form, rejecting the Catholic system of bishops and priests.
people still supported the king, and threatened rebellion to
him, a group of radicals decided he should
be executed and staged a summary trial. King Charles I was
in Whitehall in
January 1649, the first modern revolution.
The period during which there was no king in England came to be
later as the Interregnum. The new system of government,
as the Commonwealth (translating the Latin Res
saw intense debate about the best form
of government, usually religious and based on texts from the
no agreement was reached and Oliver Cromwell as Lord
with even more absolute powers than the old king had, since he did
need to call Parliament. He died suddenly in 1658, with nothing
for the future, and a group of leading citizens decided that there
would have to be a return to the old systems with king, lord, and
bishops. Charles’ son returned from exile in France as Charles
in 1660 England experienced the “Restoration.”
Charles II was a very sensitive
and he became a popular monarch, especially by refusing to leave
during the Great Plague of 1665 (the last great outbreak
plague) and by helping to fight the Great
Fire which destroyed 80% of London in 1666. He had
children, but none by his wife, so
when he died in 1685 his brother James became king. Since
citizens of London especially had been increasingly alarmed by the
Catholic sympathies of the court; the years of exile in
doubt partly to blame, and the support the Catholic Church gave to
most absolute forms of monarchy when England had learned
debate and had fought the Civil War to protect the rights of
Parliament. Where Charles was obviously pro-Catholic but
outside the Church, although his wife was Catholic, his brother
was a practising Catholic and
when he became king it was clear that he wished to challenge the
settlement, by which the Church of England was the one national
By 1688, the public opposition to James was so intense
broke and he fled from England without abdicating. This is known
Glorious (bloodless) Revoution. His sister Mary was
a Protestant, wed to the ruler of the Netherlands, William of
the two were invited to become joint rulers of Great
Britain. In 1689 the Bill of Rights gave legal form to the
succession and declared clearly that the monarch could be deposed
legally by Parliament if the contract between monarch and
clearly broken. This marks the beginning of modern Britain’s
“constitutional monarchy.” James’s subsequent arrival
Ireland in an attempt to
regain the crown in 1689, and the support he received there from
native, Catholic population, prompted William of Orange to
Protestant domination there in a violent repression in 1690
after the Battle of the Boyne. The memory of those events
underlies the recent Troubles in Northern Ireland.
for a full account of the life and works of John Milton,
from my book)
Milton was born in London in1608 and died in 1674. Milton's first
poem, "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity" (often called "The
Ode") was composed for Christmas 1629, when he had just turned
twenty-one. For Milton, it seems to have marked his birth as a
poet. He was at Cambridge then and probably wrote the parallel
"L'Allegro" and "Il Penseroso" while still at
in 1631. In
all these poems, he is writing poetry about the possible ways in
poetry (or what we know as "literature") may be written and
society. The poems are full of contrasts between sounds and
outwardness and inwardness, pleasure and thoughtfulness, day and
In each poem, Milton can be felt posing the question of his future
career, but without finding any clear reply. While he was waiting
his future course to become clear, he left Cambridge in 1632 and
to live at his father's country house at Horton in
There he continued to read intensively for another six years.
In 1637 Milton wrote the elegy Lycidas in memory
who had also been a student at Cambridge and who died when the
was going to Ireland on struck a rock and sank. This poem was
in a collection of tributes to King in 1638. It is not sure that
and Milton were close friends; the poem mentions that King wrote
and was preparing to become a minister (pastor) in the church.
the poem seems to dwell on the possibility of combining poetry
public service of God, which was Milton's great concern.
1637 to 1639
Milton travelled in Europe, meeting other noted humanists such as
Galileo. Hearing of the approaching conflicts of the Civil
returned home. From that moment the only poems he wrote for many
were a few sonnets, and occasional poems in Latin or Italian. All
energies went into writing polemical pamphlets.
After the execution of Charles I, Milton
tracts in favour of a republican form of society and became the Latin
to the new Council of State. His skills in writing Latin made
him invaluable for correspondence with the rulers of Europe who
to know how a king could be executed. Many of his writings were so
powerfully radical that they were condemned and burnt in France.
mid-1640s, Milton realized that his sight was growing weak, in
part at least because of his endless reading. By 1652 he was
blind. The Commonwealth's collapse meant the failure of the
religious dream he had worked for. He was arrested at the
but the poet Andrew Marvell was able to secure his
his life was devoted to the composition of the three great works:
Lost (1667 & 1674), Paradise Regained,
and Samson Agonistes (1671). In 1673 there
appeared a second edition of his Poems.
The first lines of Paradise Lost
Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of EDEN, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
Sing Heav'nly Muse, that on the secret top
Of OREB, or of SINAI, didst inspire
That Shepherd, who first taught the chosen Seed,
In the Beginning how the Heav'ns and Earth
Rose out of CHAOS: Or if SION Hill
Delight thee more, and SILOA'S Brook that flow'd
Fast by the Oracle of God; I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventrous Song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th' AONIAN Mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime.
And chiefly Thou O Spirit, that dost prefer
Before all Temples th' upright heart and pure,
Instruct me, for Thou know'st; Thou from the first
Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread
Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss
And mad'st it pregnant: What in me is dark
Illumine, what is low raise and support;
That to the highth of this great Argument
I may assert th' Eternal Providence,
And justifie the wayes of God to men.
Say first, for Heav'n hides nothing from thy view
Nor the deep Tract of Hell, say first what cause
Mov'd our Grand Parents in that happy State,
Favour'd of Heav'n so highly, to fall off
From their Creator, and transgress his Will
For one restraint, Lords of the World besides?
Who first seduc'd them to that fowl revolt?
Th' infernal Serpent; he it was, whose guile
Stird up with Envy and Revenge, deceiv'd
The Mother of Mankinde, what time his Pride
Had cast him out from Heav'n, with all his Host
Of Rebel Angels, by whose aid aspiring
To set himself in Glory above his Peers,
He trusted to have equal'd the most High,
If he oppos'd; and with ambitious aim
Against the Throne and Monarchy of God
Rais'd impious War in Heav'n and Battel proud
With vain attempt.
The 18th century
(Click here for my 18th-20th century
In Restoration London, the court was not very important. Wealthy
began to meet in coffee houses, where they did business
reports of the latest news. The wealthy were now involved
for profit, although with their new wealth they tended to buy
estates and titles. The “wit” with which young men like
to impress powerful courtiers a century before was now applied in
conversation to impress one’s colleagues. The dominant tone was satire
because almost every aspect of traditional society had become
and uncertain, while there was much corruption.
The name “Augustan Age” given to the early 18th century
sense of new beginnings and increased prosperity that marked the
years of the Roman Empire, (Augustus was the first Roman
emperor) although England very precisely had no
Augustus ruling it with dictatorial powers. Instead it had a new Horace
(great Augustan poet of satire) in Alexander Pope. His
reflects the intense tensions that were
at work in him and the society of his time, between tradition and
innovation. In Parliament these tensions were shown in the
between “Tories” and “Whigs” as political “parties”
One element of conflict was the difference between “town”
“country.” The older nobility owned land in the
and lived as gentry
without needing much money; the newly rich and dynamic class
the towns and cities. Their money was invested to make more money.
values of the Tory countryside were conservative,
nostalgic for the
past, royalist and Anglican. The Whigs represented
radical new ways
of urban capitalism, many were “non-conformist” (Presbyterian),
rather upstart and forward-looking.
The disappearance of the court as a focus of power and the
importance of the House of Commons, led to a massive
power of “public opinion” and this in turn was reflected by
increasing public debate of every issue and policy. The growth of
influence of the press went hand in had with a realization
journalism was not always reponsible, that the “news” reported was
always true. Many of the Augustan concerns sprang from a sense
truth was becoming the victim of modern finance. Their desire was
therefore to educate people through their writings to
wisely, so that they could distinguish the folly and falsehood of
modern society from what was of real value.
The Augustans were people of sharp intelligence who
had been deeply influenced by the developments
philosophy of the
previous 100 years, beginning with Galileo, Montaigne and
Francis Bacon was followed by Thomas Hobbes
(author of Leviathan) and
the extremes of Hobbes’s materialism provoked the work of John
and George Berkeley. This latter, born in Ireland, was
Augustans. At the same time, science (known as natural
philosophy) was developing, with Isaac Newton
the crowning glory. His Principia Mathematica was
published in 1687,
the Opticks in 1704, and his message of the universal
sustaining the universe underlies the optimism of the 18th
Rationalism and Enlightenment.
Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
Pope’s family was Catholic and as a result were
obliged to live outside of London after the events of 1688. He had
tutor but mostly studied alone. He spent much of his adult life in
Twickenham, up the Thames from London. In his childhood he
disease which left him stunted, deformed and hunch-backed,
head grew to the normal size and his face was of striking beauty.
double handicap of Catholicism and physical deformity meant that
cruelly treated in many ways and he came to value immensely the
who gave him their friendship. His closest companion in youth was
Jonathan Swift, who then went to Ireland and later wrote “Gulliver’s
Pope’s talents as a poet were accompanied by a sharp desire to chastise
folly. He made his money by translating Homer into
dignified “heroic couplets” (the most popular kind of verse since
Denham and Dryden); he made his enemies in many ways, and wrote
to vindicate himself. The tone of his poems is always calm,
detached, but the satire is sharp and sometimes extreme.
In his youth, Pope established his reputation
his Essay on Criticism (1711) and The Rape of the Lock
(a mock heroic poem on a stolen lock of hair). After the Homer
translations were done, the Illiad in 1720, the Odyssey
in 1726, he edited Shakespeare. In later years, following Horace,
wrote a number of epistles; An Essay on Man
(1733-4) is a philosophical poem in four epistles, which were
separately. The first three were anonymous, and critics habitually
hostile to Pope acclaimed them, only to be made to look foolish
the last was published with the poet’s name.
From Epistle 2
Know, then, thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of mankind is man.
Placed on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise, and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the stoic's pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest;
In doubt to deem himself a god, or beast;
In doubt his mind or body to prefer;
Born but to die, and reasoning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little, or too much:
Chaos of thought and passion, all confused;
Still by himself abused, or disabused;
Created half to rise, and half to fall;
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;
Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurled:
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!
The four Moral Essays (1731-5) include an Epistle Of
knowledge and Characters of Men and the Epistle on Women.
At the same time he published a number of splendid, free
of the Satires of Horace, transposing them to contemporary
London. The Dunciad is perhaps his fiercest satire, a
mock-epic that expanded until its final form was published in
Sensibility before Romanticism
Pope and the other Augustans sometimes seem
intellectual and skeptical; yet their sense of irony,
of the contradictions that co-exist within the apparent
classicism, underlie the birth of the novel and its
least as far as Jane Austen. At the same time, Pope was strongly
interested in landscape gardening, the expoitation of the
within the artificial, and in this he was not alone. The Augustan
was marked by a growing interest in the “picturesque” that
to develop into a taste for the “Gothic” which begins to be
the mid-18th century’s taste for medieval ruins. Before
among the earliest novels we find a number of “Gothic novels”
the middle ages or in medieval buildings.
Nature in itself had been part of
literature mainly in pastoral poetry. The first poem to
nature from a new, often Newtonian, perspective was James
Seasons (1726-30). Here we begin to find a new sense
of the “sublime”
evocation of storms. At the same time as Pope was writing in a
satirical, often acid tone about the corruptions of urban society,
Thomson (who was born and educated in Scotland) was offering
completely un-ironic picture of the appearance of the
countryside through the different seasons, seen reflecting
his diction is as
artificial as that of Pope and later romantics turned against him.
Seasons remained immensely popular and long continued to be
In art, the English painters of the
century produced a vast number of portraits,
the wealth of the upper classes. Sir Joshua Reynolds and John
Gainsborough were the most famous portrait painters. The
carcicatures of William Hogarth were also originally
before being copied as cheap engravings.
Thomas Gray (1716-1771) lived a very
a young man he was at Eton with Horace Walpole, who later
became one of the first
admirers of “the Gothic” and the author of The Castle
Otranto (1764), the first Gothic novel. Gray
1742 and began to write poetry. His small number of works include
Elegy printed below (1751), by far the most popular and for
centuries one of the most popular poems in English. He then wrote
Poesy and The Bard, both much more intense and “romantic”
greater sense of the numinous and the sublime. He
the Lake District and Scotland in search of sublime landscpaes and
Thomas Gray : Elegy written in a Country Churchyard
1. The Curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
2. The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea,
3. The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
4. And leaves the world to darkness and to me.
5. Now fades the glimmering landscape on the
6. And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
7. Save where the beetle wheels his droning
8. And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds;
9. Save that from yonder ivy-mantled
10. The moping owl does to the moon complain
11. Of such as, wand'ring near her secret bow'r,
12. Molest her ancient solitary reign.
13. Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree's
14. Where heaves the turf in many a mould'ring
15. Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
16. The rude Forefathers of the hamlet sleep.
17. The breezy call of incense-breathing Morn,
18. The swallow twitt'ring from the straw-built
19. The cock's shrill clarion, or the echoing
20. No more shall rouse them from their lowly
21. For them no more the blazing hearth shall
22. Or busy housewife ply her evening care:
23. No children run to lisp their sire's return,
24. Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share.
25. Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield,
26. Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has
27. How jocund did they drive their team afield!
28. How bow'd the woods beneath their sturdy
29. Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
30. Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
31. Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
32. The short and simple annals of the poor.
33. The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow'r,
34. And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er
35. Awaits alike th' inevitable hour:
36. The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
37. Nor you, ye Proud, impute to These the
38. If Memory o'er their Tomb no Trophies raise,
39. Where through the long-drawn aisle and
40. The pealing anthem swells the note of
41. Can storied urn or animated bust
42. Back to its mansion call the fleeting
43. Can Honour's voice provoke the silent dust,
44. Or Flatt'ry soothe the dull cold ear of
45. Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
46. Some heart once pregnant with celestial
47. Hands, that the rod of empire might have
48. Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre.
49. But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page
50. Rich with the spoils of time did ne'er
51. Chill Penury repress'd their noble rage,
52. And froze the genial current of the soul.
53. Full many a gem of purest ray serene
54. The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
55. Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
56. And waste its sweetness on the desert air.
(. . . . . . . )
for a full account of the development of the English novel,
from my book)
(Those bolded remain popular today)
Samuel Richardson (1689-1761) 1740 Pamela; 1748 Clarissa
: The History of a Young Lady; 1749 Sir Charles Grandison
Henry Fielding (1707-1754) 1742 Joseph Andrews; 1743
Wild the Great; 1749 Tom Jones; 1751 Amelia
Tobias Smollett (1721-1771) 1748 Roderick Random; 1751
Pickle; 1771 The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker;
Laurence Sterne (1713-1768) 1760 The Life and Opinions
Tristram Shandy; 1768 Sentimental Journey
Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774) 1766 The Vicar of Wakefield
Henry Mackenzie (1745-1831) 1771 The Man of Feeling
Horace Walpole (1717-1797) 1765 The
Frances Burney 1752-1840) 1778 Evelina; 1782 Cecilia; 1796
Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823) 1794 The Mysteries of Udolpho;
1797 The Italian
"Monk" Lewis (1775-1818) 1796 The Monk
William Godwin (1756-1836) 1794 Caleb Williams
William Beckford (1760-1844) 1786 The Caliph Vathek
(Click here for my 18th-20th century
Revolution and Romanticism
The 18th century was marked by competition
England and France, and England won. As a
control of the parts of Canada and India where
had previously held power. It
is almost not worth noting that in 1714 Queen Anne died,
the Stuart family. Laws had already been passed that ensured
next ruler would be from Germany. The ruling family of Hanover
Protestant and related by marriage to the Stuarts. The new king, George
I, could not speak English but it did not really matter; he
power. Instead, he asked the Whigs to form a government
some sympathy for the Stuarts in exile) and Robert Walpole
first real "Prime Minister," a position he held for 20
war with France ended in 1763, Britain was already becoming an
industrial power and the new colonies, including
Indies, where plantations were worked by slaves
shipped from West Africa, were
a major market. The press grew, daily newspapers
to be published,
and they encouraged political debate. Free speech was encouraged
victory of John Wilkes against government attempts at
The British colonies in North America expanded
in 1700 to 2.5 million in 1770. They were not
represented in Parliament, yet they were expected to pay taxes.
protested: no taxation without representation! In 1773,
Boston threw imported tea into the port rather than
tax on it, and
the “Boston Tea-party” marks one beginning of the War
which lasted from 1775 until the total defeat of the
recognized in 1783. The war was fought in the name of democracy
freedom; it was supported in England by “radicals”
wanted the same
ideals to be put into practice in Britain. The main radical
were Edmund Burke and Tom Paine. Drafted by Thomas
Jefferson in 1776, the Declaration of
expresses the ideals of the newly emerging United States,
the Constitution is the supreme law of the United States
America. It was adopted in its original form on September 17, 1787,
the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and
later ratified by conventions in each state.
The great social changes in 18th-century
began with the enclosure
(privatisation) of land and the resulting expulsion of the
villagers who had traditionally farmed the “common land”
taken by the rich gentry. The upper class were rich because they
also the leaders of trade and manufacturing. There was a huge
difference between rich and poor. The large numbers of landless
moved toward the cities just as factories were
invented to replace the home-based "cottage indutries." At
time coal was
replacing wood as fuel, iron and steel were becoming basic
materials, and the
steam engine was perfected, making a
pumping motion turn fly-wheels to drive machines.
Revolution” transformed English society, as great cities
full of wretched housing which quickly became “slums.” The
(as they were later called) provided the workforce for a manufacturing
industry that quickly found markets at home and abroad, as the
class grew in size. The main products were cloth in wool
cotton, knives and swords made of steel.
Several influences came together at the same
revolutionise Britain's industry: money, labour, a greater demand
power, and better transport. By the end of the eighteenth
century, some families had made huge private fortunes.
banks helped put this money to use. By the early eighteenth
had already been invented for basic jobs. They could make large
quantities of simple goods quickly and cheaply so that "mass
production" became possible for the first time. Each machine
out one simple process, which introduced the idea of "division
labour" among workers. This was to become an important part
Increased iron production made it
to manufacture new machinery for other industries. No one saw this
clearly than John Wilkinson,
a man with a total belief in iron. He built the largest ironworks
the country. He built the world's first iron bridge, over the
Severn, in 1779. He saw the first iron boats made. He built an
chapel for the new Methodist religious sect, and was himself
an iron coffin. Wilkinson was also quick to see the value of new
inventions. When James Watt made a greatly improved steam
in 1769, Wilkinson improved it further by making parts of the
more accurately with his special skills in ironworking. But in
Watt produced an engine with a turning motion, made of
steel. It was a vital development because people were now
longer dependent on natural power.
One invention led to another, and increased
production in one area led to increased production in others.
basic materials of the industrial revolution were cotton
which were popular abroad. In the middle of the century other
were buying British uniforms, equipment and weapons for their
To meet this increased demand, better methods of production had to
found, and new machinery was invented which replaced handwork.
Soon Britain was not only exporting cloth to
It was also importing raw cotton from its colonies
and exporting finished cotton cloth to sell to those same
social effects of the industrial revolution were enormous. Workers
tried to join together to protect themselves against powerful
employers. They wanted fair wages and reasonable
which to work. But the government quickly banned these
as the workers' societies were known. Riots occurred, led by the
unemployed who had been replaced in factories by machines. In 1799
of these rioters, known as Luddites, started to break up the
which had put them out of work. The government supported the
owners, and made the breaking of machinery punishable by death.
government was afraid of a revolution like the one in France.
Society and religion
Britain avoided revolution partly because of a
religious movement. The new movement which met the needs of the
industrial working class was led by a remarkable man called John
He was an Anglican priest who travelled around the country
and teaching. For fifty-three years John Wesley travelled 224,000
on horseback, preaching at every village he came to. Sometimes he
preached in three different villages in one day. Very soon others
joined in his work. John Wesley visited the new villages and
towns which had no parish church. John Wesley's "Methodism"
above all a personal and emotional form of religion. It was
in small groups, or "chapels", all over the country. At a time
Church of England itself showed little interest in the social and
spiritual needs of the growing population, Methodism was able to
ordinary people a sense of purpose and dignity. The Church was
of this powerful new movement which it could not control, and in
end Wesley was forced to leave the Church of England and start a
He carefully avoided politics, and taught
be hardworking and honest. As a result of his teaching, people
many of the injustices of the times without complaint. Some became
wealthy through working hard and saving their money. As an old
Wesley sadly noted how hard work led to wealth, and wealth to
that this threatened to destroy his work. "Although the form of
religion remains," he wrote, "the spirit is swiftly vanishing
However, Wesley probably saved Britain from revolution. He
brought many people back to Christianity. The Methodists were not
Other Christians also joined what became known
"the evangelical revival", which was a return to a simple faith
on the Bible. Some, especially the Quakers, became well
for social concern. One of the best known was Elizabeth Fry, who
public the terrible conditions in the prisons, and starred
work for reform. It was also a small group of Christians who were
first to act against the evils of the slave trade,
from which Britain was making huge sums of money. Slaves did not
to live long. Almost 20 per cent died on the voyage. Most of the
died young from cruel treatment in the West Indies.
The first success against slavery came when a
ruled that "no man could be a slave in Britain",
and freed a slave who had landed in Bristol. This victory gave a
and unexpected meaning to the words of the national song, "Britons
never shall be slaves." In fact, just as Britain had taken a lead
slavery and the slave trade, it also took the lead internationally
ending them. The slave trade was abolished by law in 1807.
it took until 1833 for slavery itself to be abolished in all
Others, also mainly Christians, tried to limit
cruelty of employers who forced children
to work long hours. In 1802, as a result of their efforts,
passed the first Factory Act, limiting child labour to twelve
each day. In 1819 a new law forbade the employment of children
the age of nine. Neither of these two Acts were obeyed everywhere,
they were the early examples of government action to protect the
against the powerful.
The French Revolution
In France, too, there was also
social unrest and
instability caused by differences of wealth but somehow, unlike in
Britain, no compromise was found. In
Britain, the House of Commons represented the interests of
small landowners (gentry) and the new “middle class"
and merchants. In France there was no such representative
power was kept by aristocratic and royal elites to which even the
wealthy had little access. As a result, the French Revolution
fuelled by discontent among both lower and middle classes.
The symbolic date of July 14, 1789, marks the day on which
citizens of Paris broke the gates of the Bastille prison.
It was a small tower in eastern Paris in which members of the
could imprison anyone they wished for an indefinite period. There
no appeal, no right to a trial, no system of habeas corpus,
right which had been guaranteed in England since Magna Carta in
The early months of the French Revolution were full of hope and
enthusiasm, as the slogan “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”
with memories of the democratic vision of the American Revolution,
which had itself looked back to the English Civil War. A republic
proclaimed in September 1792 and King Louis XVI was executed the
year. Popular sentiments radicalized the Revolution significantly,
culminating in the brutal Terror from 1793 until 1794.
the fall of Robespierre
and the Jacobins, the Directory assumed control of the French
1795 and held power until 1799, when it was replaced by the
under Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 –1821).
The French Revolution was seen as a grave threat by
many in England, conscious of how fragile the social balances
Some welcomed it enthusiastically as a prophetic event heralding a
radically new world. Among them was William Blake (1757 - 1827),
one of the greatest
of English poets and a visionary, as well as a
painter and printmaker. Largely
unrecognized during his lifetime, Blake's work is today considered
seminal and significant in the history of both poetry and the
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?
And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon those clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark satanic mills?
Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.
The Sick Rose (Songs
O rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night,
In the howling storm,
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy,
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
The Lamb (Songs of Innocence)
Little lamb, who made thee?
Does thou know who made thee,
Gave thee life, and bid thee feed
By the stream and o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
Little lamb, who made thee?
Does thou know who made thee?
Little lamb, I’ll tell thee;
Little lamb, I’ll tell thee:
He is called by thy name,
For He calls Himself a Lamb.
He is meek, and He is mild,
He became a little child.
I a child, and thou a lamb,
We are called by His name.
Little lamb, God bless thee!
Little lamb, God bless thee!
The Tiger (Songs of Experience)
Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?
And what shoulder and what art
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And, when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand and what dread feet?
What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did He smile His work to see?
Did He who made the lamb make thee?
Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
William Wordsworth (1770 - 1850)
Born in 1770, Wordsworth lost both parents in
childhood. He grew up in the Lake District, attended
Univeristy, and in 1790-2 spent much of his time in revolutionary
France. At this time he was filled with revolutionary enthusiasm
soon the early idealism of the revolutionaries was
Terror, in which thousands of innocent people were
end to Wordsworth’s political radicalism. In 1795, Wordsworth and
sister Dorothy went to live near Samuel Taylor
The two poets developed a close relationship and in 1789 they
Lyrical Ballads, a collection of poems mostly by
in which the works of the two were not distinguished. The first
is from this volume, which marks the beginning of “Romanticism”
England. In 1799, the three moved back to the Lake District
in Dove Cottage, Grasmere. Wordsworth wrote much that was
included in a
new edition of Lyrical Ballads (1800) which also included
Preface written by Wordsworth using many ideas of
philosophical of the two. Later, Coleridge and Wordsworth
strongly and Coleridge criticized Wordsworth in his Biographia
Literaria (1817). Wordsworth’s major work was almost
published in the Poems in Two Volumes (1807) although the
version of his great autobiographical poem The Prelude was
published after he died in 1850.
I wandered lonely as a cloud
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
The English Romantic poet John Keats was born on October 31, 1795,
London. The oldest of four children, he lost both his parents at a
young age. When
Keats was fifteen, his guardian withdrew him from school,
to be apprentice with an apothecary-surgeon and study medicine
in a London
hospital. In 1816 Keats became a licensed apothecary, but he never
practiced his profession, deciding instead to write poetry.
Around this time, Keats met Leigh Hunt, an influential
Examiner, who published his sonnets "On First Looking into
Homer" and "O Solitude." Hunt also introduced Keats to a circle of
literary men, including the poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and
Wordsworth. The group's influence enabled Keats to see his
volume, Poems by John Keats, published in 1817.
Shelley, who was fond
of Keats, had advised him to develop a more substantial body of
before publishing it. Keats, who was not as fond of Shelley, did
follow his advice. Endymion, a four-thousand-line
romance based on the Greek myth of the same name, appeared the
Keats spent the summer of 1818 on a walking tour in Northern
and Scotland, returning home to care for his brother, Tom, who
While nursing his brother, Keats met and fell in love with a woman
named Fanny Brawne. Writing some of his finest poetry
1818 and 1819, Keats mainly worked on "Hyperion," a
blank-verse epic of the Greek creation myth. He stopped
"Hyperion" upon the death of his brother, after completing
small portion, but in late 1819 he returned to the piece and
as "The Fall of Hyperion" (unpublished until 1856). That same
Keats contracted tuberculosis, and by the following
that death was already upon him, referring to the present as his
In July 1820, he published his third and best volume of poetry, Lamia,
Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems.
The three title poems, dealing with mythical and legendary themes
ancient, medieval, and Renaissance times, are rich in imagery and
phrasing. The volume also contains the unfinished "Hyperion," and
poems considered among the finest in the English language, "Ode
Grecian Urn," "Ode on Melancholy," and "Ode to a
Nightingale." The book
received enthusiastic praise from Hunt, Shelley, Charles Lamb, and
others, but by that time he had reached an advanced stage of his
disease and was too ill to be encouraged. Under his doctor's
seek a warm climate for the winter, Keats went to Rome with his
the painter Joseph Severn. He died there on February 23, 1821, at
age of twenty-five, and was buried in the Protestant cemetery.
On First Looking into Chapman's Homer
Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star'd at the Pacific — and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise —
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
(Those writers bolded remain popular today)
Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849) 1801 Belinda; 1800 Castle
1809 The Absentee; 1817 Ormond
Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866) 1816 Headlong Hall; 1818
Nightmare Abbey; 1831 Crotchet Castle
Jane Austen (1775-1817) Sense and Sensibility
published 1811); Pride and Prejudice (1796-7:1813); Northanger
(1798:1818); Mansfield Park (1812:1814); Emma (1814:1816);
Walter Scott (1771-1832): 1814 Waverley; 1815 Guy Mannering;
The Antiquary; 1816 The Black Dwarf, Old Mortality; 1818 Heart of
Midlothian; 1818 Rob Roy; 1819 The Bride of Lammermore, The Legend
Montrose; 1820 Ivanhoe; 1820 The Monastery; 1820 The Abbot; 1821
Kennilworth; 1822 The Pirate; 1822 The Fortunes of Nigel; 1822
of the Peak; 1823 Quentin Durward; 1824 St Ronan's Well; 1824
Redgauntlet; 1825 The Betrothed, The Talisman; 1826 Woodstock;
Chronicles of the Canongate; 1828 The Fair Maid of Perth; 1829
Geierstein; 1832 Count Robert of Paris, Castle Dangerous.
Mary Shelley (1797-1851): 1818 Frankenstein or the
(Click here for my 18th-20th century
The French Revolution had created fear all over
Europe. The British government was so afraid that revolution would
spread to Britain that it imprisoned radical leaders. As an
Britain was in less danger, and as a result was slower than other
European states to make war on the French Republic. But in 1793
went to war after France had invaded the Low Countries (today,
and Holland). One by one the European countries were defeated by Napoleon,
forced to ally themselves with him. Most of Europe fell under
Britain decided to fight France at sea because
had a stronger navy, and because its own survival depended on
of its trade routes. British policy was to damage French trade by
preventing French ships, including their navy, from moving freely
and out of French seaports. The commander of the British fleet, Admiral
Nelson, won brilliant victories over the French navy, near
the coast of Egypt, at Copenhagen, and finally near Spain, at Trafalgar
in 1805, where he destroyed the French—Spanish fleet. Nelson was
himself killed at Trafalgar, but became one of Britain's greatest
national heroes. His words to the fleet before the battle of
"England expects that every man will do his duty," have remained a
reminder of patriotic duty in time of national danger.
In the same year as Trafalgar, in 1805, a
army landed in Portugal to fight the French. This army, with its
Portuguese and Spanish allies, was eventually commanded by Wellington,
who had fought in India. Like Nelson he quickly proved to be a
great commander. After several victories against the French in
invaded France. Napoleon, weakened by his disastrous 1812
of Russia, during which nearly 500,000 soldiers died in the
Moscow, surrendered in 1814 and was exiled to the Italian
island of Elba. But the following year he escaped and
(in 100 days) assembled an army in France. Wellington,
timely help of the Prussian army, finally defeated Napoleon at Waterloo
in Belgium in June 1815. He was exiled to the remote
island of St. Helena, where he died. He is buried in the
of Les Invalides, in Paris.
The early 19th century
The population of Britain in 1815 was 13 million; by 1871 it had
doubled. By 1914 it was over 40 million. In 1815, with Napoleon
for ever in St. Helena and France impoverished in every way,
too was in crisis, with 300,000 soldiers and sailors
and looking for work. Imported corn was cheap but the landowners
imposed a protectionist policy, the Corn Law, so the price
bread rose, Everything else followed while wages remained low.
with no work, no money and no homes were forced into dreadful
workhouses where families were divided; everywhere crime rates
there were occasional large riots.
Masses moved into the industrial cities -- Birmingham, Sheffield,
Anchester, Glasgow and Leeds soon doubled in size. In 1820, London
counted 1.25 million people. The governing classes feared
uprisings. The Tories wanted simply to use force to control the
The Whigs advocated social transformation, "Reform." The
focus for reform was the House of Commons and the electoral
Tories thought Parliament should represent the owners of property;
radicals, inspired by the American and French revolutions, said it
should represent the people as a whole.
The Whigs were sympathetic to the radical approach and in 1832 a
Bill was passed. This changed the electoral system, increasing the
number of urban constituencies electing MPs as well as widening
qualification for being a voter. It was a symbolic beginning of an
ongoing development that took over 100 years.
In 1824 it became legal for worker to organize unions,
both to negociate better wages and to prevent unfair competition.
1834, 6 farm workers in Tolpuddle (Dorset) were imprisoned for
such a union. They became known as the "Tolpuddle Martyrs"
widespread demonstrations forced the government to free them and
the right of workers to form labor unions.
In 1829, Sir Robert Peel established a police force in
to deal with crime; London's police are still known as "Bobbies"
after his name. In 1838, workers joined with radicals to demand
more radical reform through a People's Charter.
Many of these Chartists' idealistic demands were ultimately met,
only much later: the universal right to vote (for women, too),
voting in elections, payment for MPs . . . The workers' movement
helped by the introduction in 1840 of a national postal
system, allowing anyone to mail a letter anywhere for one
Payment was indicated by a stamp stuck to the letter. The Penny
Black was the world's first postage stamp.
The same Sir Robert Peel then abolished the old Corn Law, which
made food so expensive. The farming gentry were angry, the rich
industrialists were happy since workers had less reason to demand
higher wages once food was cheaper.
A symbolic event happened in 1834, when the Palace of Westminster caught
entire complex, home to the two houses of Parliament since the
ages, was destroyed. Only Westminster Hall survived. The
Commons had originally been St. Stephen's Chapel
and the seating in today's House of Commons still follows the way
medieval seats in a chapel face one another. New, modern Houses of
Parliament had to be built and they were designed by Pugin
the style of the Gothic Revival. In painting, John Constable and William Turner made landscapes
popular. Later in the century, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
transformed British art.
(Click here for my
18th-20th century related links)
The Victorian Era
The results of the late 18th-century
and early 19th-century Industrial Revolution, largely
perfection of the steam engine and improved methods of iron- and
steel-production, led to ever larger industrial cities in
central and northern
England. After the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo
a century of virtual peace. The growth of the “professional”
class, the improved standard-of-living of the working class,
the spread of basic education to almost everyone meant
became an almost universal habit.
became queen in 1837, on the death of her uncle, William
when she was only 18
and she only died in 1901. During her reign, Britain
its colonies into the British Empire, and consolidated
its influence over huge areas of the world. The construction of
railway across England at the start of her reign brought
areas within easy reach of London.
The first full scale working railway steam locomotive was
in 1804 by Richard Trevithick, an English engineer born in
This used high pressure steam to drive the engine. On 21 February
the world's first railway journey took place as Trevithick's
steam locomotive hauled a train along the tramway of the
ironworks, in South Wales. In 1814 George Stephenson,
by the early locomotives of Trevithick and others, persuaded the
manager of the Killingworth colliery where he worked to allow him
build a steam-powered machine. He built the Blücher, one of
first successful locomotives. Stephenson played a pivotal role in
development and widespread adoption of the steam locomotive. His
designs considerably improved on the work of the earlier pioneers.
1825 he built the Locomotion for the Stockton and
Railway, north east England, which was the first public steam
in the world.
The success of the Stockton and Darlington encouraged the rich
investors of the rapidly industrialising North West of England to
embark upon a project to link the rich cotton manufacturing town
Manchester with the thriving port of Liverpool. The Liverpool and
Manchester Railway was the first modern railway, in that
the goods and passenger
traffic was operated by scheduled or timetabled locomotive hauled
trains. A widely reported competition was held in 1829, to find
most suitable steam engine to haul the trains. A number of
were entered, the winner was Stephenson's Rocket.
The promoters were mainly interested in goods traffic, but after
line opened on 15 September 1830, they found to their amazement
passenger traffic was just as remunerative. The success of the
Liverpool and Manchester railway influenced the development of
elsewhere in Britain and abroad. The Liverpool and Manchester line
still a short one (56 km), linking two towns within an English
The world's first trunk line can be said to be the Grand Junction
Railway, opening in 1837, and linking a mid point on the Liverpool
Manchester Railway with Birmingham, by way of Crewe, Stafford, and
By the 1850s, many steam-powered railways had reached the fringes
built-up London. But the new lines were not permitted to demolish
enough property to penetrate the City or the West End, so
had to disembark at Paddington, Euston, Kings Cross, Fenchurch
Charing Cross, Waterloo or Victoria and then make their own way
hackney carriage or on foot into the centre, thereby massively
increasing congestion in the city. A railway was planned to run
the ground to connect several of these separate railway terminals,
this became the world's first "Metro." The Metropolitan Railway
Metropolitan District Railway were the first two underground
railways to be built in London. These two companies formed
basis of what would later become known as the London
network by creating the Circle Line. The underground railway
opened to the public on 10 January 1863. In its first few months
operation, an average of 26,500 passengers used the line every
Queen Victoria's husband (the Prince Consort) was a German
prince, Albert, with progressive ideas. He encouraged the
organizers of a "Great Exhibition of the Industries of All
Nations" that was held in 1851 in a specially
a great hall of iron and glass, In London. Because of the cheap
offered by railways, thousands came to visit it from all over
100,000 or more in one day. It was the first world trade fair, and
especially it gave visitors a glimpse of the cultures of the
countries forming the British Empire. The railway
system around London gave rise to the suburbs from which
could "commute" to work each day by train. London spread
immensely. One major problem remained -- hygiene. Most
water came from shallow wells that were easily polluted by
sewage from primitive toilets; as a result, thousands of
regularly died of typhoid and cholera,
including Prince Albert in 1861. Finally the connection was
piped water and modern systems of sewage disposal were
Ruskin and Morris
As standards of living improved, people began to be aware of the ugliness
that indutrialization had provoked. They felt that they had been dehumanized.
the furniture and textiles produced in factories seemed lacking in
style. The Gothic revival
from earlier in the century paved the way for a new vision of an
architecture and an attitude to work that would be both humane and
harmonious. The past, from being a ‘dark ages’ became a source of
inspiration and even nostalgia. Venice, particularly the remains
medieval, Gothic Venice, was one of the fundamental sources of
inspiration for John Ruskin (1819-1900), who visited it eleven
Ruskin was an art critic and social thinker, also remembered as a
and artist. And he was the main inspiration for the founders of
Socialism and the Labor Party, as well as of most aspects of the
Victorian Gothic Revival in architecture and the almost worldwide
Crafts Movement that derived from it.
He praised the Gothic style for what he saw as its reverence for nature
and natural forms; the free, unfettered expression of artisans
constructing and decorating buildings; and for the organic
he posited between worker and guild, worker and community, worker
natural environment, and between worker and God. Ruskin believed
division of labour to be the main cause of the unhappiness of the
Ruskin argued that the rich had never been so generous in the
the poor's hatred of the rich was at its greatest point. This was
because the poor were now unsatisfied by monotonous work that used
as a tool, instead of a person. His main writings are The
Venice and Unto
Where Ruskin wrote, William Morris (1834 – 1896) acted. He was a textile
artist, writer, socialist associated with the Pre-Raphaelite
Brotherhood and the English Arts and Crafts Movement. Morris wrote
published poetry, fiction, and translations of ancient and
texts throughout his life. He was an important figure in the
of socialism in Britain, founding the Socialist League in 1884,
breaking with the movement over goals and methods by the end of
decade. He devoted much of the rest of his life to the Kelmscott
which he founded in 1891, dedicated to transforming the printed
into a thing of beauty similar to the medieval manuscript.
Both of these extraordinary men, and those around them in the
Pre-Raphaelites, the Guild of St George, the Christian Socialists,
found the source of their vision in a quality of life, of humanity
beauty, that they recognized in the middle ages and felt was
their own time. Ruskin wrote in Unto This Last (1860),
is no wealth but life, life, including all its powers of love, of
of admiration. That country is richest which nourishes the
number of noble and happy human beings; that man is richest who,
perfected the functions of his own life to the utmost, has also
widest helpful influence, both personal, and by means of his
possessions, over the lives of others.” Ruskin’s youthful
the beauty of the arts of the midle ages was enough to open his
the ugliness and ecological dangers of industrialization.
of his most famous essays is entitled On the Nature of
Function of the Workman in Art.
He and Morris found in the medieval, the Gothic, a direct,
inspiration for their social, artistic and human vision in the so
different, industrialized 19th century.
Electoral reform continued, with secret voting
introduced in 1872, and by 1884 most men over 21 were entitled to
The Whigs had by now changed their name into the Liberal
Party. while the Tories were officially known as the Conservative
Party; both parties developed into nationwide social
with local branches
in every town organizing events among their supporters. The number
MPs increased to over 650 and slowly the House of Lords lost its
The working class was still weak, but the growth of Co-operative
(where the shoppers were the share-holders / owners, receiving
dividends from profits) prepared the way for other advances. The
workers in each particular skilled labour joined the national trade
union representing thier particular job; in 1868 the Trades
was inaugurated, and soon began to work for the election of
representatives of the working class as MPs. In the 1870s, wages
lowered in many factories and this provoked the unions to turn to
as the ultimate means of action. The British working class did not
the whole try to impose change by force or revolution; instead, it
always looked for democratic ways of gaining influence in
to effect social change by legal methods in a relative consensus.
Across the world, imperialistic Britain was involved in a variety
conflicts. In China, the two (very shameful) Opium Wars
(1840-1843 and 1856-1860) were intended to break Chinese
the smuggling of opium from India, itself a measure intended to
China for its unequal trading policies and force it to open its
markets. China was totally defeated in both wars, and was forced
grant the western powers unequal treaties. By contrast, a war in Afghanistan
designed to prevent Russia from moving its sphere of influence
toward India was a disaster for Britain. In 1854, fearing that
would take control of Turkey, Britain launched the Crimean War
which was widely covered by the British newspapers. The
corruption of the officers, the sufferings of the soldiers and the
courage of Florence Nightingale and her fellow nurses in
military hospitals were all covered in great detail for the first
In India, the Indian Mutiny of
1857 was a revolt by Indian soldiers in the British army was used
local rulers as an attempt to force the British out of India; the
British response was extremely violent and the cruelty of the
prepared the way for the Indian independence movement of the 20th
Meanwhile, with the growth of the population people from Britain
encouraged to emigrate and start a new life in the Dominions,
Australia, and New Zealand, where the settlers were soon
given self-government, the Queen remaining the titular head of
South Africa enjoyed similar status although it had a far larger
population as well as a very substantial number of Dutch settlers
Apart from England, which was flourishing, the people in the other
parts of the United Kingdom were far less happy. In Wales,
industry grew around the coal-mining
area to the south around Cardiff and Swansea and the workers there
expressed their identity by joining the Baptist and other
Non-conformist chapels rather than the state church, and
radical political stance. The rural population remained backward
retained the use of the Welsh language. In Scotland the
living in the Highlands,
where there had been much violence in the 18th century, were
their land by new landowners wishing to raise either sheep or deer
hunting by the elite).
The worst was in Ireland, where the Protestants
(descendants either of English settlers from centuries back or of
Scottish settlers introduced in the 18th century) felt a need for
English protection against the native Irish Catholics. As part of
United Kingdom, the Irish elected MPs to Westminster and since
freedom-seeking nationalists elected Catholics when possible. But
were extremely poor, having been deprived of their land in the
century when Catholics were not recognized as landowners. The
diet of the poor was potatoes but in 1845, 1846, and 1847 a
destroyed the potato harvest, leaving millions with nothing to
There was enough corn in Ireland, but the poor had no money and
ruling elite did nothing to help relieve the famine. The
England also remained inactive. In those 3 years 1.5 million
died of starvation and at least a million emigrated either to the
mainland or to the United States (many dying on the long journey).
the following decades Ireland continued to lose population, some 5
million settling in the United States in that period. Before the
there had been 8 million people, even today there are less 5
Along with industrialization went the development of modern
The single most significant name must be that of Charles
work On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection
introduced the notions of evolution of life's diversity and
natural selection by the "survival of the fittest." His other most
noted title, The Descent of Man (1871) dealt with the
human culture among other topics. The work of geologists had
established the immense age of the earth and thus of the universe;
Darwin's theory of evolution was quickly accepted by the general
public. Accepting natural selection as the main mechanism of
took longer and the debate over the role of chance in evolution
open. (See the very complete account in Wikipedia)
Between 1875 and 1914 the condition of the poor in most of Britain
greatly improved as prices fell by 40 per cent and real wages
Life at home was made more comfortable. Most homes now had gas
heating and lighting. As a result of falling prices and increased
wages, poor families could eat better food, including meat, fresh
(brought from the countryside by train) and vegetables. This
improved the old diet of white bread and beer.
In 1870 and 1891 two Education Acts were passed. As a result of
all children had to go to school up to the age of thirteen, where
were taught reading, writing and arithmetic. The later 19th
the foundation of new ("red-brick") universities with a
focus on science and technology. With growing prosperity,
sports (soccer, rugby and cricket) became popular among the
class. The literature of the 19th century grows out of the
poetry and novels of the Romantic period but is marked by a
seriousness of moral purpose. The culture of the Victorian
too cast a topic to be covered here. By the end of the century,
was already being challenged by the new industrial might of
(Those writers bolded remain
William Makepeace Thakery (1811-1863): 1847 Vanity Fair;
Henry Esmond; 1848 Pendennis
Charles Dickens (1812-1870): 1835 Sketches by
Pickwick Papers; 1837 Oliver Twist; 1838 Nicholas Nickleby; 1840
Barnaby Rudge, The Old Curiosity Shop; 1843 Martin Chuzzlewit, A
Christmas Carol; 1844 The Chimes; 1845 The Cricket on the Hearth;
The Battle of Life; 1847 The Haunted Man, Dombey and Son; 1849
Copperfield; 1852 Bleak House; 1854 Hard Times; 1857 Little
1859 A Tale of Two Cities; 1861 The Uncommercial Traveller; 1860
Expectations; 1864 Our Mutual Friend; 1870 The Mystery of Edwin
Anthony Trollope (1815-1882)-wrote 60 novels- 1855 The
1857 Barchester Towers; 1861 Framley Parsonage; 1864 The
House at Allington; 1867 The Last Chronicles of Barset; 1869
Charlotte Bronte (1816-1855) 1847 Jane Eyre; 1849
Emily Bronte (1818-1848) Wuthering Heights.
Mary Ann Evans - George Eliot (1819-1881): 1857 Mr
Story; 1859 Adam Bede; 1860 The Mill on the Floss; 1861
Marner; 1863 Romola; 1866 Felix Holt; 1871 Middlemarch; 1876
Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881); 1844 Coningsby; 1845 Sybil;
Mrs. Gaskell (1810-1865): 1853 Cranford; 1855 North and
1863 Sylvia’s Lovers; 1865 Cousin Phillis.
Lewis Carroll (1832-1898) Alice's Adventures in
Wonderland; Alice Through the Looking Glass; The Hunting of the
Wilkie Collins (1824-1889) The Dead Secret, 1860 The Woman
White; 1868 The Moonstone;
Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) 1871 Desperate Remedies;
Greenwood Tree; 1873 A pair of Blue Eyes; 1874 Far from the
Crowd; 1878 The Return of the Native; 1880 The Trumpet Major; 1886
Mayor of Casterbridge; 1891 Tess of the D’Urbervilles; 1896 Jude
Obscure; 1897 The Well-Beloved;
George Meredith (1829-1909) 1859 The Ordeal of Richard
1861 Evan Harrington; The Adventures of Harry Richmond; 1865 Rhoda
Fleing; 1867 Vittoria; 1879 The Egoist; 1885 Diana of the
1891 One of our Conquerors; 1895 Lord Ormont and his Aminta; The
Henry James (1843-1916) born in New York. 1875 A
Pilgrim; 1876 Roderick Hudson; 1881 Washington Square, The
a Lady; 1877 The American; 1878 The Europeans; 1879 Daisy Miller;
The Bostonians; The Princess Casamassima: 1897 The Spoils of
1898 What Maisie Knew; 1898 The Turn of the Screw; 1902 The Wings
the Dove; 1903 The Ambassadors; 1904 The Golden Bowl;.
Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89)
After becoming a Catholic at Oxford in
the influence of John Henry Newman, Hopkins decided to
in 1868. He had already written some poems but felt that writing
was not suitable for someone intending to become a priest. In 1876
returned to poetry-writing and many of his best poems were written
1877 while he was preparing to be ordained a priest. He
the poor areas of Liverpool in 1880 a great challenge. In 1884 he
sent to Dublin as professor of Greek and Latin at
He fell into deep depression, and wrote some very dark sonnets.
passed and he was able to write some more positive poems before
suddenly of typhoid. In his lifetime he published almost nothing.
friend, the poet Robert Bridges, preserved his papers and
was only in 1918 that he
finally published a collection of Hopkins’ poems. He had not been
English public could accept such “oddity”!
THE world is charged with the grandeur of
It will flame out, like
from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness,
the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his
Generations have trod, have trod, have
And all is seared with trade;
bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and
man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest
deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black
Oh, morning, at the brown
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast
with ah! bright wings.
The Windhover: To
I CAUGHT this morning morning's minion,
dom of daylight's dauphin,
dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level
him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on
As a skate's heel sweeps
a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My
Stirred for a bird,--the achieve of; the
mastery of the thing!
Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air,
pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that
from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my
No wonder of it: shéer
plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and
Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)
Hardy was born in Dorchester, in the county of
Dorset, and that region, which he called “Wessex” dominates his
fiction. He first published a series of novels that were
attacked by critics for their pessimism. After Tess of the
D’Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895) he
fiction and for the rest of his life published only poetry. The
of his wife in 1912 provoked some very powerful poetry, as he
to come to terms with the end of their very difficult
his lifetime, his poetry was not widely admired but the plain
rhythmic subtlety he cultivated have been very important models
British poets of the generations following T. S Eliot.
The Darkling Thrush
1 I leant upon a coppice gate
2 When Frost was
3 And Winter's dregs made desolate
4 The weakening
5 The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
6 Like strings of
7 And all mankind that haunted nigh
8 Had sought their
9 The land's sharp features seemed to be
10 The Century's corpse
11 His crypt the cloudy canopy,
12 The wind his death-lament.
13 The ancient pulse of germ and birth
14 Was shrunken hard and dry,
15 And every spirit upon earth
16 Seemed fervourless as I.
17 At once a voice arose among
18 The bleak twigs overhead
19 In a full-hearted evensong
20 Of joy illimited;
21 An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
22 In blast-beruffled plume,
23 Had chosen thus to fling his soul
24 Upon the growing gloom.
25 So little cause for carolings
26 Of such ecstatic sound
27 Was written on terrestrial things
28 Afar or nigh around,
29 That I could think there trembled through
30 His happy good-night air
31 Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
32 And I was unaware.
Some Twentieth-Century Novels
Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1936) The Jungle Book (1894); Kim
H. G. Wells (1866 – 1946) The Time Machine (1895); The
Man (1897); The War of the Worlds (1898); The First Men in the
(1901); The Shape of Things to Come (1933)
E. M. Forster (1879 – 1970) Where Angels Fear to Tread
A Room with a View (1907); Howard’s End (1910); A Passage to India
Virginia Woolf (1882 – 1941) Mrs. Dalloway (1925); To the
Lighthouse (1927); Orlando (1928); The Waves (1931).
D. H. Lawrence (1885 – 1930) Sons and Lovers (1913); The
(1915); Women in Love (1920); The Plumed Serpent (1926); Lady
Chatterly’s Lover (1928).
James Joyce (1892 – 1941)
Dubliners (1914); A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Ulysses (1922); Finnegan’s Wake (1939).
The 20th Century
(Click here for my
century related links)
At the beginning of the twentieth century
people did not, of course, realise that they were living at the
an age. There was still a general belief in the "liberal idea",
the nation could achieve steady economic and social improvement as
as democracy without revolution. Things for Britain could only get
better and better. In 1909 Labour Exchanges were opened, where
without work could look for jobs. Two years later all working
were made to pay for "national insurance". It was another new idea
those unable to earn money through sickness or unemployment would
helped by the state. The New Liberals had begun to establish what
became the "welfare state". By doing so, they made important
the free capitalism of the nineteenth century.
Government, said the Liberals, had a duty to protect the weak
the strong. In 1911 another important political event occurred.
battle of wills between the two Houses produced a crisis when the
Liberals tried to introduce a new budget in 1909 which was
increase the taxes paid by the rich, particularly the large
The Lords turned down the new budget. The new king, George V, put
end to the crisis by warning that he would create enough new
lords to give the Liberals a majority. The Lords gave in. One
the dispute was that taxation was increasingly seen as a social
as well as an economic one.
The 20th century was a period of
warfare, latent or actual. It began with the Boer War
between the British and the farmers of Dutch origin for control of
major parts of South Africa (1899-1902).
The First World War (1914-1918) was a terrible experience,
with hundreds of thousands of British soldiers, mostly from
neightborhoods of the industrial cities, dying wretchedly in the
Flanders (northern France and southern Belgium). In all 750, 000 British soldiers died, 2.5 million
An equally large number of French and German soldiers died.
Germany nearly defeated the Allies, Britain
and France, in the first few weeks of war in 1914. It had better
trained soldiers, better equipment and a clear plan of attack. The
French army and the small British force were fortunate to hold
German army at the River Marne, deep inside France. Four
of bitter fighting followed, both armies living and fighting in
had dug to protect their men. Apart from the Crimean War,
this was Britain's first European war for a century, and the
was quite unprepared for the terrible destructive power of modern
weapons. In addition, poison gas
was used with terrible effect. At Passchendaele, the following
the British army advanced five miles at the cost of another
dead and wounded. Modern artillery and machine guns
completely changed the nature of war. The invention of the tank
and its use on the battlefield to break through the enemy trenches
1917 could have changed the course of the war.
In the Middle East the British fought against Turkish
troops in Iraq and in Palestine, and at, Gallipoli, on the
There, too, there were many casualties, but many of them were
sickness and heat. It was not until 1917 that the British were
able to drive back the Turks. Somehow the government had to
the people that in spite of such disastrous results the war was
worth fighting. The nation was told that it was defending the weak
(Belgium) against the strong (Germany), and that it was fighting
democracy and freedom. German submarines managed to sink 40 per
Britain's merchant fleet and at one point brought Britain to
weeks of starvation. When Russia, following the Bolshevik
of 1917, made peace with Germany, the German generals hoped for
against the Allies. But German submarine attacks on neutral
drew America into the war against Germany. The arrival of
American troops in France ended Germany's hopes, and it
surrendered in November
Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)
"My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the
The poet Wilfred Owen, one of approximately 9,000,000 fatalities
World War I, was killed in action on the Sambre
Canal just seven days before the Armistice on November 4, 1918. He
caught in a German machine gun blast and killed. He was
Teaching in continental Europe in 1915,
visited a hospital and became acquainted with many of the war's
wounded. Deeply affected by these visits, the 22 year-old young
decided to enlist in the British Army. Owen described his decision
enlist in September, 1915: "I came out in order to help these
boys--directly by leading them as well as an officer can;
by watching their sufferings that I may speak of them as well as a
pleader can. I have done the first." Owen was injured in March
sent home; he was fit for duty in August, 1918, and returned to
front where he was killed shortly afterwards. The bells were
November 11, 1918, in Shrewsbury, England, to celebrate the
when the doorbell rang at his parent's home, bringing them the
informing them their son was dead.
Anthem for Doomed Youth
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
-Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,-
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Eliot felt ill at ease
United States. In 1914 he first met Ezra Pound, who advised him to
in England. In 1915, he published ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred
which then formed the basis for his first volume of poetry in
that year he also began to work for Lloyds Bank.
From: The Love Song of J.
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question . . .
Oh, do not ask, "What is it?"
Let us go and make our visit.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
In 1922 his great poem, ‘The Waste Land’ (much revised by Ezra
was published in the first issue of Eliot’s literary quarterly The
The opening lines of 'The Waste
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm' aus Litauen, echt
And when we were children, staying at the archduke's,
My cousin's, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
In 1925 he left the bank and started to work as a director of the
literary publisher Faber and Faber. In 1927 he became a British
and a member of the Church of England. He considered that this was
logical fulfilment of his spiritual pilgrimage, but many of his
admirers, especially in the United States, felt that he had
them by adopting a religious faith (Christianity) for which they
no affection. Eliot’s greatest explicitly Christian poetry
‘Ash Wednesday’ and culminates in the poems of Four Quartets
Eliot also wrote a number of poetic dramas, of which the most
may be Murder in the Cathedral (1935). His critical writings
equally important; he coined the term “dissociation of
1921 to express the way in which he felt the modern age to be
from earlier ages, until the 17th century. He also coined the term
“objective correlative” and launched the modern admiration for the
As it entered the 20th century, British society continued the
developments begun in the 19th. Social welfare provisions
introduced by the "New Liberal" government eager to earn
support: free school meals came in 1907, an old age
scheme in 1908; state-run employment exchanges for people
seeking information about available jobs opened in 1909; in 1911 national
insurance payments were introduced, to provide funding for
to those who were sick or unemployed. In 1911 the House of
(dominated by Conservatives) caused a crisis when it tried to
Liberal government bill to increase taxation of the rich. The king
himself intervened, the government passed the Parliament Act,
and the House of Lords found itself deprived of almost all its
Also in 1911, MPs began to receive a salary
instead of it being assumed that they would have private means. In
29 Labor Party MPs had been elected, working-class men who
money. In 1918 the right to vote at elections was given to all men
21, and (at last!) to some women. The number of voters was
this. In 1924, the Labour Party (founded by the TUC in
won the majority in Parliament and formed its first government.
vote was given to women in part because during the war they had
replaced men in every kind of occupation, and proved that their
supposed "weakness" and "inferiority" were nonsense.
The Irish had for long campaigned for self-government.
The Protestant Irish nationalist Charles Parnell had
Irish Party campaigning for home rule
and in the 1885 elections 86 of its members were elected to
Westminster. The Liberals were sympathetic but the Conservatives
refused to accept the idea. The main problem lay in the northern
regions, the only part where Protestants were in the majority.
realized that most of the Irish population was Catholic and
to start a civil war if Ireland was given its own government. When
came in 1914, the Irish were asked to wait for peace to come, and
as British soldiers. At Easter 1916, a group of fiery
radical Irish nationalists staged a small armed uprising,
taking control of the main post office in Dublin. The British put
down with great violence, then executed all the leaders,
many moderate Irish. Elections were held in 1918, where Irish
Republicans were elected everywhere except in the north (Ulster).
elected did not go to London, but formed an Irish parliament
Dublin. They established a separate army, the Irish Republican
whose members started a guerrilla campaign against the British. In
1921, London agreed to independence ('home rule') for the southern
part, with Ulster
still part of the United Kingdom. The British king would still be
titular head of state. Radical republicans fought against this. In
1937, the southern portion (Eire) was declared an
republic. In 1969, the situation in Ulster degenrated, social
resentments turned into violence and a small civil war developed
between militia of the two opposing sides, with the British army
in the middle. The situation only reached apparent reconciliation
The Second World War
prior to the Second World War saw Germany systematically
after being humiliated and brought to economic disaster by the
conditions of the Treaty of Versailles. In 1935-6 Italy
waged a colonial war against Ethiopia, and from 1936 - 9 Spain
was torn apart by a civil war in which Republicans
(liberals, socialists and communists) fought against the Nationalists
(royalists, Catholics, fascists). The "Axis" (Germany and Italy)
supported the Nationalists while many idealists from across Europe
fought on the Republican side. The Nationalists won, and General
became dictator of Spain until his death in 1975. In many ways
a rehearsal for the Second World War, with the introduction of a
form of warfare in which civilian populations were bombed
from the air, illustrated by the 1937 raid on the Basque town of Guernica
made famous by the painting by Picasso.
The rise of the National Socialists (Nazis) in
the leadership of Adolf Hitler led to the outbreak of war
1939, when the German army invaded Poland.
Britain had been fiercely pacifist after the horrors of the First
War, so was not prepared. Germany quickly took control of most of
western Europe In 1940, England under the leadership of Winston
Churchill, was expecting an invasion after the intense
aerial battles in May (the Battle of Britain). Instead,
attacked the Soviet Union,
with which it had signed a non-aggression treaty. That cost them
war. After the United States entered the conflict in December 1941
(with the attack by Japan on Pearl
Harbor) preparations began for the Normandy landings
of June 1944. Fighting in Europe stopped in May 1945, after a race
take control of Germany led to the Russians having control of the
eastern regions, the British and Americans with the Free French
occupied the western portion. For the rest of the 20th century,
world was dominated by the Cold War. The Korean War
the last intense conflict in which the British army was involved.
end of the Cold War with the break-up of the Soviet Union
reunification of Germany, together with the establishment
European Union, mark the beginning of a new stage in
The Welfare State
After the end of the Second World War in 1945, a Labour government
elected in 1946 and it introduced the Welfare State, with
Service providing free health care for all. National
Assistance ensured payments for the old, the unemployed etc.
the Labour Party undertook a radical policy of nationalization
-- the Bank of England, power and transport were all brought under
The end of the Empire
The post-war period saw the end of the British Empire. India
independence in 1947, with the new state of Pakistan being created
Moslems who felt unsafe in Hindu-dominated India. Britain
Palestine and the state of Israel was established. Then one by one
independence was granted to the other colonies. Instead,
invited to join a free-trade association known as the Commonwealth.
Immigration to Britain
In the 1950s and 1960s, many young people from the West Indies,
African colonies, as well as India and Pakistan, were encouraged
come to Britain to provide cheap labour in the industrial cities.
Commonwealth immigration, made up largely of economic migrants,
from 3,000 per year in 1953 to 46,800 in 1956 and 136,400 in 1961.
British industry declined rapidly, and many social problems
when Britain found itself a radically changed country, with a
significant number of its unempoloyed population having different
cultures, languages and faiths. The challenge of living in a
multi-cultural country is now widely recognized. In the 1970s, an
average of 72,000 immigrants were settling in the UK every year
the Commonwealth; this decreased in the 1980s and early 1990s to
54,000 per year, only to rise again to around 97,000 by 1999. The
number of Commonwealth immigrants since 1962 is estimated at
million. Since 2000 the majority of new citizens have come from
(32%) and Asia (40%), the largest three groups being people from
Pakistan, India and Somalia. Around half of the British Caribbean
community originate from Jamaica. In 2001 the Black Caribbean
numbered 565,876 and the total Black population was 1.2 million or
of the population. 2004 estimates show that the British Asian
is 2,799,700. Over 40,000 Koreans live in Britain.
The new politics
Few of the problems of the 1980s were entirely
However, many people blamed them on the new Conservative
government, and in particular, Britain's first woman Prime
Thatcher had been elected in 1979 because she promised a new
for Britain. This basic change in British politics caused a major
crisis for the Labour Party. Margaret Thatcher had
to power calling on the nation for hard work, patriotism and
She was not, however, a typical Conservative, for she wanted free
at home and abroad, individual enterprise and less government
protection or interference. She wanted more "law and order" but
good deal less willing to undertake the social reform for which
nineteenth-century Liberals were noted. By the beginning of 1982
Conservative government had become deeply unpopular in the
However, by her firm leadership during the Falklands War Thatcher
of the nation, and was confidently able to
call an election in 1983. As expected, Thatcher was returned to
with a clear majority of 144 seats in the 650-seat Parliament. It
the greatest Conservative victory for forty years.
Thatcher had promised to stop Britain's decline, but
by 1983 she had not succeeded. Industrial production since 1979
fallen by 10 per cent, and manufacturing production by 17 per
1983, for the first time since the industrial revolution, Britain
become a net importer of manufactured goods. There was a clear
shift towards service industries. Unemployment had risen
1.25 million in 1979 to over 3 million. Thatcher could claim she
begun to return nationalised industries to the private sector,
had gone even further than she had promised. By 1987
telecommunications, gas, British Airways, British Aerospace and
Shipbuilders had all been put into private ownership The
serious accusation against the Thatcher government by the middle
1980s was that it had created a more unequal society, a
of "two nations", one wealthy, and the other poor. According
these critics, the divide cut across the nation in a number of
The number of very poor, who received only a very small amount of
government help, increased from twelve million in 1979 to over
million by 1983. In the meantime, reductions in income tax
higher income earners.
The division was also geographical, between prosperous suburban
areas, and neglected inner city areas of decay. More
importantly, people saw a divide between the north and south
of the country. Ninety-four per cent of the jobs lost since 1979
been north of a line running from the Wash, on the east coast, to
Bristol channel in the west. The black community also felt
separated from richer Britain. Most blacks lived in the poor inner
areas, not the richer suburbs, and unemployment among blacks by
was twice as high as among the white population. In spite of these
problems, Thatcher's Conservative Party was still more popular
other single party in 1987. There were other reasons why the
Conservative Party, with only 43 per cent of the national vote,
1987 election brought some comfort, however, to two
groups. In 1983 only nineteen (3 per cent) of the 650 members of
Parliament had been women, almost the lowest proportion in
western Europe. In 1987 this figure more than doubled to forty-one
women MPs (6.5 per cent), a figure which suggested that the
parties realised that without more women representatives they
lose votes. Blacks and Asians, too, gained four seats, the largest
number they had ever had in Parliament, although like women they
remained seriously underrepresented.
Britain has more living symbols of its past than
countries. It still has a royal family and a small nobility.
capital, cities and countryside boast many ancient buildings,
castles, cathedrals, and the “stately homes” of the nobility.
year there are historical ceremonies,
for example the State Opening of Parliament, the Lord Mayor’s
the meeting of the Knights of the Garter at Windsor each St
Day. It is easy to think these symbols are a true representation
past. Britain's real history, however, is about the whole people
Britain, and what has shaped them as a society. This means, for
example, that the recent story of black and Asian immigration to
Britain is as much a part of Britain's "heritage" as its stately
Indeed more so, since the immigrant community's contribution to
national life lies mainly in the future.
When looking at Britain today, it is important to
remember the great benefits from the past. No other country has so
a history of political order, going back almost without
interruption to the Norman Conquest. Few other countries have
such long periods of economic and social wellbeing. It is also
important, however, to remember the less successful aspects of the
past. For example, why did the political views of the
seventeenth-century Levellers or nineteenth-century Chartists,
today seem so reasonable, take so long to be accepted? Why did the
women's struggle to play a fuller part in national life occur so
and why was it then so difficult and painful? Why is there still a
feeling of division between the north and south of Britain? Is
which in many ways has been a leader in parliamentary democracy,
that position of leadership today, and if so, why?
The questions are almost endless, and the answers
are neither obvious nor easy. Yet it is the continued discussion
reinterpretation of the past which makes a study of Britain's
of value to its present and its future.