Eighteenth Century English Literature

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Chapter III: Eighteenth Century English Literature

(18th century)

The 17th century was one of the most stormy periods of English history. The growing contradictions between the new class, the bourgeoisie, and the old forces of feudalism brought about the English Bourgeois Revolution in the 1640s. As a result of the revolution the king was dethroned and beheaded and England was proclaimed a republic. Though very soon monarchy was restored, the position of the bourgeoisie had changed.

The 18th century saw Great Britain rapidly growing into a capitalist country. It was an age of intensive industrial development. New mills and manufactures appeared one after another. Small towns grew into large cities. The industrial revolution began: new machinery was invented that turned Britain into the first capitalist power of the world. While in France the bourgeoisie was just beginning its struggle against feudalism, the English bourgeoisie had already become one of the ruling classes.

The 18th century was also remarkable for the development of science and culture. Isaac Newton's discoveries in the field of physics, Adam Smith’s economic theories, the philosophical ideas of Hobbes, Locke and others enriched the materialistic thought and implanted in people's minds belief in great powers of man's intellect. It was in this period that English painting began to develop too: portraiture reached its peak in the works of William Hogarth, Joshua Reynolds as well as Thomas Gainsborough, who was equally good at landscape and portrait painting.

In spite of the progress of industry and culture in England, the majority of the English people were still very ignorant. That is why one of the most important problems that faced the country was the problem of education.

The 17th and 18th centuries are known in the history of European culture as the period of Enlightenment. The Enlighteners defended the interests of...
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