By Christine Gerrard
This broad-ranging spouse offers readers a radical grounding in either the historical past and the substance of eighteenth-century poetry in all its wealthy type.
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Extra info for A Companion to Eighteenth-Century Poetry
It was the job of poets both to join in a massed chorus that sang of the virtues of a nation peaceful at home and powerful abroad, and to act as guardians of the social fabric of the nation by intervening in public debates and by warning against political–economic and moral failures. Poets thus emphasized their ethical claims to comment on weighty public matters, and sought, in their contribution to public discussion, to assure for themselves a vocational importance. They became denominators of “Progress” – of Poesy, of the Muses, of Scientific and Technological developments, of Commerce, of Empire – and a great many of them contributed to Whiggish notions of the growing political and cultural power of Britain.
Now shall leave their Woods, And half thy Forests rush into my Floods, Bear Britain’s Thunder, and her Cross display, To the bright Regions of the rising Day; Tempt Icy Seas, where scarce the Waters roll, Where clearer Flames glow round the frozen Pole; Or under Southern Skies exalt their Sails, Led by new Stars, and born by Spicy Gales! For me the Balm shall bleed, and Amber flow, The Coral redden, and the Ruby glow, The Pearly Shell its lucid Globe infold, And Phoebus warm the ripening Ore to Gold.
In the shifting political sands of the post-Walpole era, it became increasingly difficult for poets to make assertive public gestures. Although, as Dustin Griffin has shown, none of the mid-eighteenth-century poets – Gray, Collins, Akenside, Goldsmith – could be described as “apolitical,” all expressed an ambivalence about conventional expressions of patriotic emotion, epitomized by Goldsmith’s definition of himself as “half a patriot” (Griffin 2002: 206). The major political event of the 1740s – the so-called Forty-Five, the Jacobite uprising whose bloody defeat at Culloden effectively ended all hopes for a Stuart restoration – proved, at least for poets, more problematic than any previous military conflict of the first half of the century.