English literature during the Bourgeois Revolution
The English Civil War 1642-1651 was caused by many unpopular political decisions of Charles I executed in 1649 by Oliver Cromwell, who made a Republic and became Lord Protector.
Charles II, the son of Charles I, established the monarchy in England in 1660.
The English Bourgeois Revolution may be divided into three periods:
1 The Eve of the Revolution (1642);
2. The Civil War (1642-1649);
3. The Formation of the Commonwealth and the Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell which lasted until his death in 1660.
During the last years of Elisabeth's reign Parliament began to be very powerful. In summer 1642 King Charles I raised his army at Nottingham, and a Civil War began between the Royalists (the Supporters of the King) and the Puritans (Protestants who felt that the English Church had too many Catholic trappings). The Puritans were often called the Roundheads, because they cut their hair very close to the head to distinguish themselves from the Royalists. Puritanism was a fanatical movement. Its purpose was to purify the Church of England of all Roman Catholic influence. They banned organs in churches and simplified all church rituals. Moreover, the Puritans killed the priests as the mediators between Man and God. Their fanaticism made them close all the theatres as the centres of disorder and immorality. The Puritans wore black hats and clothes and condemned amusement as a sinful waste of time. Some left to start new lives abroad. The Pilgrim Fathers, who set sail in the "Mayflower" in 1620, headed for North America.
The closing of the theatres meant that no important drama was produced. The language of drama was poetry. Instead of poetry the political prose came into being. Meanwhile, the political struggle involved broad masses of the population. Not only the crown and parliamentary armies fought over a range of religious, constitutional and economic issues. The population divided into Royalists and Roundheads. Political literature appeared: there were leaflets and pamphlets. Leaflets reported the events, and pamphlets explained the events to the population. Journalism came to start. The proceedings of the sessions of Parliament were printed in "Diurnals" (journals in Old French). The "Diurnals" contained the daily information of the proceedings. Periodical political press sprang up. The most famous among the Roundheads' generals was Oliver Cromwell who managed to destroy the King's army. Cromwell was the first great modern revolutionary leader, the creator of the "New Model Army”. A staunch supporter of Charles I was Richard Lovelace (1618-1658), a successor of Ben Jonson, William Shakespeare's close friend. He wrote short and graceful verse and spent all his money in support of the king. In 1642 Richard Lovelace was put into prison for his appeal to free the monarch Charles I. Charles I was sentenced to death, and in 1649 he was beheaded. King Charles I's trial and execution marked a victory for Parliament. England was proclaimed a Commonwealth (a Republic). England was a semi-democratic republic. The House of Commons ruled the country till 1653 when Oliver Cromwell replaced the king. Royalist Scotland and Ireland were then forced into a short-lived "commonwealth" with England and Wales. As a result of British military power its international prestige increased. But neither Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell nor his son and successor Richard could devise a workable alternative to monarchic rule.
A real fighter of the Revolution in England was ^ a distinguished publicist of that time. He fought for equal rights for all people. He proclaimed the idea of a democratic Republic that should be based on a free agreement between the population and the government. Most of his works were written in the Tower. His pamphlet "The Agreement of the People” appeared in 1647. But the greatest of all publicists during the Puritan Revolution was John Milton. His works and pamphlets gave theoretical foundation to the struggle of the bourgeoisie against the monarchy. Milton became the main ideologist of that time.
John Milton (1608-1674)
John Milton was born in London in 1608 and educated at Christ's College, Cambridge.
It would be reasonable to divide Milton's literary activity into three groups:
1. The first short poems written at Horton (After leaving the University Milton settled in Horton, Buckinghamshire, 1632-1637);
2. Prose: "History of Britain" (1646);
3. The greatest epic poems: “Paradise Lost" (1667), "Paradise Regained" (1671).
John Milton was a great Puritan poet and pamphleteer. His life was closely connected with the Bourgeois Revolution, the short-lived Commonwealth and the restoration of English Monarchy.
Milton's father was both competent and fortunate. Music was his passion. He was a talented composer and received wide recognition in Protestant circles. He recognized his son's exceptional abilities early and sent him to an excellent day school. Milton's school days were happy. He blossomed in the atmosphere of love and music.
His difficulties started at Christ's College, Cambridge. The difficulties were not of an intellectual character. They were caused by the medieval traditions of drinking encouraged at the college. Some people nicknamed John Milton "The Lady”, because he never had the strength to drink off a bottle.
Milton’s graduation from Cambridge took place in 1629. Hе received his Master's Degree in 1632. After that he retired to Horton, his father’s estate in Buckinghamshire. He spent there, in Horton, six years of intensive study of modern and ancient history, maths, art, music and poetry. In Horton his first short poems appeared.
In 1642, when he was 35, he rode into the country to collect a family debt of £500 from a royalist, near Oxford, but returned a month later without the money. Instead of the money he brought a bride of seventeen, Mary Powell. From the very beginning the marriage was an unhappy one. His young wife went to her family estate and refused to return. Milton was shocked. He was in despair, because his moral principles were against the very idea of casual love-making. The idea of a good marriage proved his high respect for woman as an intellectual companion and comrade, rather than as merely a housekeeper and childbearer. These ideas were expressed in his work “The Doctrine and Discipliпе of Divorce". But Milton had to accept his wife back in 1645 when Mary's Royalist family decided to appeal to their Puritan son-in-law. In 1652 Mary died. There was no joy in their marriage. More than that, by that time Milton was totally blind. The death of his wife didn’t upset Milton much. Since 1646 he had been working on his “History of Britain", and when in 1656 Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector, Milton considered his dictatorship a progressive one. In the same year Milton married 28-year-old Catherine Woodcock. They were very devoted to each other, but in 1658 she died with her infant daughter. But again, Milton was not too much upset because another death, the death of Oliver Cromwell, was more important for him. The loss was terrible. On his death in 1658 Oliver Cromwell was succeeded by his son Richard. The country, however, decided that it would be reasonable to live under the rule of a king, but not under a protectorship. The restoration of Monarchy was only a matter of months. Finally, Charles II was brought back from exile to rule the country. The Monarchy was restored in 1660, but Parliament remained strong.
Almost alone Milton raised his voice boldly against the restoration of Monarchy. He spoke out in a published letter to general Monk. Then he wrote an open letter to a new Parliament. A politician and literary man ^ (1621-1678) played a great role in Milton's life. His influence in Parliament protected Milton. Marvell welcomed Restoration, although he was disillusioned with the disorder of the new court.
In 1660 the Monarchy was restored, with Charles I's elder son becoming King Charles II, and the search continued for a mutually-satisfactory balance of power between crown and Parliament. Charles II was called the "Merry Monarch", and his court became a centre of cultural vitality.
When Charles II became King, the change in English literature was almost as great as the change in government. For one thing, the theatres opened again, and new dramatists, therefore, appeared. The plays were written in heroic couplets, the men were brave and the women were beautiful. The public consisted mainly of the court and the wealthy. Moreover, the actors themselves were fashionably dressed. Even women were allowed to play in the performances. They appeared on the stage in their modern clothes. The stage itself changed the shape: a "picture-frame" form replaced the stage that came forward towards where the audience was. The plots of the plays centred around love and money. Everything and everybody protested against the strict rule of Puritanism. Unlike Ben Jonson's moral plays, these Restoration Comedies were cynical. A handsome young man became the hero of the play and was identified with the males in the public. William Congreve (1670-1729) was the master of the "Comedies of Manners" in which he described the manners of the Age: "Love for Love" and "The Way of the World”.
In 1660 the Royal Society, the oldest British scientific society, was founded. Among its earliest members were the diarist ^ , the architect Christopher Wren, and the physicist Isaac Newton, whose theory of gravitation brought a new coherence to the universe.
Milton became unpopular. He was arrested. The estate of £2000 was confiscated.
The rest of his story is a great one. Until 1663 his household consisted of three daughters, the two elder of whom had been brought up by Mary Powell's Royalist mother. Milton had to depend on them because of his blindness and poverty. The youngest daughter, Deborah, born in 1650 or 1651, had remained at Milton's home during his second brief marriage in 1656-1658. There were several close friends who visited him from time to time. Among them was his doctor who introduced a young woman of 24 to Milton. In 1663 they married.
That was the period when Milton wrote his great epic poem "Paradise Lost", based on the story of Adam and Eve and their failure to keep God's commands. Milton dictated his poem because of his blindness. It was planned in ten books, but it was written in twelve. The plot centres round Adam and Eve, Satan and his rebel-angels, God, three guardian angels: Raphael, Gabriel and Michael. The background is the whole Universe, including Heaven and Hell.
The revolutionary spirit is shown in Satan who revolts against God, and is driven away from Heaven with the rebel-angels. They fall into Hell where "No light, but rather darkness visible, ... and rest can never dwell, hope never comes". Though banished from Heaven, Satan is glad to have got freedom. Satan possesses human features. He is a rebel. God personifies Monarchy, Satan is determined to go on with the war against God. Milton's Adam and Eve are full of energy. They love each other and are ready to meet whatever the earth has in store for them. God banishes them from Paradise to the newly created world where they are to face a life of toil and woe. Milton's sympathies are with them.
"Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven”.
“The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven”.
The second great epic poem "Paradise Regained” was published in 1671. This story is more severe. It is devoted to the description of Christ's temptations in the desert. Much in this book is taken from Milton's youthful ambitions.
Milton wrote of life because he loved it enough to fight for it; he fought for freedom. Milton died in 1674, leaving all his property to the wife who spoke with warm affection of her talented husband.
In 1660's the biographies and diaries became a form of literature. Some of them were written as a record of the main events of the day. The Great Plague (1665) killed more than 70,000 of the total population of London. The Great Fire (1666) destroyed 13 000 houses, 87 churches and St Paul's Cathedral. The fire was blazing for five days and two-thirds of the population of London became homeless. Some people believed that both events, the plague and the fire, were the work of God angered by the killing of Charles I and the Civil War. All the rest thought that the fire was started by the Catholics to put an end to the plague.
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