Updated February 25, 2023
The Reason, rationality, satire, nature and heroic couplet characterizes the Age of Pope (1700-1750) and names after Alexander Pope, the prolific poet of the time. It is a fact that literature reflects society of the age and 18th century is no exception in that sense. Precisely, the political & social changes exhibiting the supremacy of good sense, rationality, patriotism, sanity and balance left an imperishable mark on the literature of the Age of Pope.
The Age of pope also takes name of the Age of Augustan and is integral to the Neo-Classical Age. The term “The Augustan Age” was first used by the great poet Goldsmith to designate the early 18th century i.e. the time of his predecessors. Goldsmith observed that the writers of this period tried to imitate the characteristics of the Virgil, Horace, Cicero and other writers of the age of Augustus Caesar in Rome.
During Age of pope we have the works of highest order in prose, poetry and drama. On a broader note, works of this age is essentially work of classical Age. And, the reason lies in the fact, that the writers of pope age too followed the set principles and rules. Essentially, you can find them adopting the qualities such as restraint, simplicity dignity serenity, repose and reason.
Characteristics of the Age of Pope
The literature of the Age of Pope bore the hallmark of intelligence, of wit and of fancy, not a literature of emotion, passion, or creative energy. The main literary characteristics of the age of Pope are as below:
The Predominance of Prose
The 18th century was essentially an age of prose and reason. It was so dominant the form that even the poetry of this period had the qualities of prose. Since the poetry and prose of this age were characterized by terseness (brevity), neatness, condensation and elegance, this age has been considered as the Age of Prose.
Matthew Arnold goes to the extent of saying that Dryden and Pope are not the classics of our poetry but they are classics of our prose. The whole of the 18th century prose marks two distinct two categories: (a) The prose of the Age of Pope (1700-1744) and (b) The Prose of the Age of Transition (1745-1798).
The Prose of the Age of Pope is basically the history of the growth of the periodical literature. Daniel Defoe, Richard Steele, Addison, Goldsmith and Jonathan Swift are the four great writers of the periodical essays in the 18th century.
Similarly, during the period of Transition, prose saw immense enrichment by the contributions of a host of writers. Dr. Samuel Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith and Horace Walpole are the prominent writers of that age. Dr. Samuel Johnson was the most important among them.
The Age of Reason and Good Sense
The Augustan Age is also called the Age of Reason and Good Sense because it was based on the good sense ideal of the French critic Boileau. It was the Age of Understanding and Enlightenment.
The supremacy of the reason was well established and a general belief in the advancement of human mind was upheld. It is called the Age of Pope because Pope was the representative poet of this period. He reflected the qualities of the new school in the most perfect form.
The religious and philosophical thoughts of the Age are worth considering. People believed in respectability and design and formality. People hated enthusiasm, mystery, peacefulness and religious broodings. This outlook was rational and this outlook on life was critical.
The poets of this age repressed all emotions and enthusiasm. Wit took precedence of imagination. Inspiration was lost in technical skill. “Formality”, Correctness” and Elegance of Expression” had the upper hand as compared to simplicity, emotionalism and enthusiasm. In fact, the whole literature was marked by coldness and want of feelings.
Influence of French Literature
You can see the literature of this age having an influence of French Literature. We clearly see the stress being not on the originality of the idea, but upon the value of the form. Expression was more important than the thought. Accuracy and correctness were the watchwords of the literature of this age.
The Age of Pope Followed Nature
One important characteristics of the age was the belief that literature must follow nature. Pope was a great advocate of it but this nature was not the ‘nature’ of Wordsworth. It was, in fact human nature. The aim of the writers was to copy man and manners and not to describe flowers and the change of seasons.
The literature of the period was concerned with the exhibition of views of society. Precisely, it aimed to interpret the society. “The Rape of the Lock” by Pope is a fine example of this exhibition. However, an important fact to note is that the literature of this period portrayed the life of town.
The Age of Satire
This period saw an immense growth in the field of satire. In fact, during entire neo-classical Satire was an important form of prose. The love for satire came to the surface and the cold worldliness of Augustan life found its expression in polished wit and satire. To be more precise, these satire of the period did not assault sin, it rather attacked dullness and personal enemies.
Heroic Couplet and the Poetic Diction as Tools of the Writers
The writers of this age were against anything romantic. The lucidity of the language was least. It became figurative and obscure. As regards poetry, the heroic couplet became the lone way of expression. Hence, the correctness and precision suppressed spontaneity and imagination.
The language of the poetry became gaudy, artificial, stilled, rational and intellectual. The major literary figures of the age are Defoe, Addison, Steele, Jonathan Swift, Pope, Henry Fielding, Smollett and Lawrence Sterne.
In this way, this Age of Prose or Reason developed a distinctive character. The changes and innovations, with certain limitations marked a new beginning in literature and the contributions of this period are of immense importance for literary evolution of English.
The Age of Pope in Conclusion
Some experts suggest that Age of Pope was part of larger and concurrent Augustan Age while, others hold both as concurrent and co-terminating. However, in any case Age of Pope and Augustan age integral to broader Neo Classical Age that spanned over 1660 to 1798. and major literary elements of Neo classical seems present in all these period segments.
Restoration Age (1660-1700), the Augustan Age (1700-1750) and the Johnson Age (1750-1798) are the three period segments of Neoclassical era. The Alexander Pope was the prominent poet of Augustan Age. Hence, it takes after the name: The Age of Pope. Romantic age seems to have born towards the end of Age of Johnson with advent of Shakespeare and other political events such as French and American revolutions