Art, so brilliant in the Seventeenth Century, underwent an eclipse in the Eighteenth. Painting, sculpture, and architecture were in a state of decay. Art seemed as though exhausted, and became second-rate, while society, which had acquired wealth, sought for and encouraged it more than ever. It failed through imitation, and was less earnest because society itself had become more frivolous, and, reacting upon art, made it the expression of social life. An age of transition the close of the movement commenced in the Fifteenth Century, the starting point of a new revolution the Eighteenth Century lived on the past, while preparing for the future, enjoyed the advantages already acquired and dreamed of greater; it still struggled in the midst of confusion produced by the conflict of modern ideas with the shackles of the Middle Ages.
It was an age of discussion, of argument, not of sentiment. Now art lives by sentiment. Skeptical or indifferent toward religious questions, the Eighteenth Century was no longer inspired by Christianity; middle class and worldly, it had lost the inspiration of nature; dry, mocking, and frivolous, it had not, even in spite of its humanitarian theories, the inspiration of the heart.
The English at length profited by the lessons of the Italian and Flemish artists. In the Eighteenth Century they had, if not a school, at least some celebrated artists. William Hogarth (1697-1764), excellent as a painter of contemporary manners, and as a moralist in art; Reynolds (1723-1792), supreme in portraiture, and not less distinguished as a writer on art, is considered the first great English painter. Gainsborough (1727-1788), great as a portrait painter, was especially the founder of the English school of landscape painting, of which he is among the best representatives. Germany, sterile since Albert Dürer produced Denney (1685-1747).
Art was developed on the Continent of Europe mainly in the department of music, at a time when other arts had fallen into a state of degeneracy and decay. Modern music owes its origin to religion and the Church, Pope Gregory the Great, about A. D. 1600, being the great musical reformer to whom a system of ecclesiastical chanting is due. Aretino, an Italian Benedictine monk of the Eleventh Century, is said to have invented the present musical notation by means of points distributed upon lines and spaces, and to have taken the names of the notes Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, etc from the first syllables of words in. an old Latin hymn. Successive improvements came from ingenious minds such as the descant (or combination of sounds of unequal lengths, two or more sounds succeeding one, while one equal to them all in length was sustained), afterward called (in the Fourteenth Century) counterpoint, with its many artistic developments. In the Sixteenth Century the Italian master, Palestrina, who died in 1594, proved himself to be the greatest composer the world had yet seen. It was he who, at a critical time, saved music from destruction in the hands of the theorists (who had divorced sound from sense), and showed that the art was worthy of the closest union with the inspirations of the poet. He produced three masses, one of which remains to this day a model of musical composition. The Italians were at this period the chief masters and interpreters of the art throughout Europe, except in England, which had a great school of her own, headed by Orlando Gibbons. The Eighteenth Century, during which the harpsichord became the pianoforte, saw Germany rise to the highest place, which she has since retained, in every department of the musical art, except singing. There Italy, producing the most beautiful alto and tenor voices, has kept the supremacy. German genius has so developed instrumental music, and given to its forms such extent and variety, that a new world has been thereby opened to musical Europe. Germany owes much, however, to her Southern rival. Much of the sweetness found, united with native strength, in the works of the best German composers, is due to their study of the Italian masters.
To Gluck (1714-1784), the great German composer, opera is indebted for its splendor and dramatic perfection. The first opera which he wrote was an improvement on the existing style. His fame soon became European, and in 1746 he went to London, where he met Handel, but soon afterward made his home at Vienna, and continued to write operas with great success. His “Orpheus and Eurydice,” first performed in 1762, was a triumph of freshness and pathos. His “Iphigenia in Aulis,” “Armida,” and “Iphigenia in Tauris” written for the Royal Opera of Paris, end a series of works which were a source of inspiration to those great masters, Cherubini, Mozart, and Beethoven. The compositions of John Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), chiefly religious, consisted of cantatas and motets, with many pieces for the piano and organ. They have a truly grand and original inspiration. His own eleven sons were all distinguished musicians.
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) was a very prolific composer of symphonies for full orchestra, chamber music, and opera. His beautiful oratorio, the “Creation,” was produced in Vienna in March, 1799, and was at once successful.
The soul of John Wolfgang Mozart (1756-1792) was filled with music, and his precocity was wonderful. In his fifth year he wrote a concerto for the harpsichord, in perfect accordance with musical rules and of great difficulty. In his tenth year he had become famous all over Europe as a player on the harpsichord, and could execute the most difficult music at sight. At twelve years of age he led, in presence of the Imperial Court at Vienna, the performance of a mass from his own pen. In his fourteenth year he composed his first opera, “Mithridates,” continued to pour forth masses, serenades, and symphonies, and settled at Vienna in 1780. His “Figaro” appeared in 1787, at Prague; then, shortly afterward, his immortal “Don Giovanni,” his “Cosi Fan Tutte” in 1790, “Il Flauto Magico” in 1791, and the “Clemenza di Tito” and “Requiem” in 1792, the year of his death. His instrumental music symphonies, quartettes, concertos for the piano, sonatas, and masses is beautiful beyond the reach of praise. The works of this con-summate poet in musical expression charm alike the mere lover of melody and the accomplished musician; there was nothing he did not know and display in the resources of his art, and for richness, purity, ease, and depth all that belongs to perfection in the best and highest kind he remains, as he was esteemed by the best judges of his own day, the Raphael of the musical world.
Another precocious genius was George Frederick Handel (1684-1759), who wrote operas soon after the age of twenty. He then studied in Italy, and settled in England in 1710. His anthems and organ fugues would alone have given him lasting fame. In his oratorios Handel is supreme, the choruses being unequaled for sublimity. Among the chief of these works, produced between 1731 and 1753, are “Israel in Egypt,” the “Messiah,” “Samson,” and “Judas Maccabaeus.” Of his other compositions, the “Acis and Galatea,” and the Dettingen “Te Deum” (written to celebrate the victory of Dettingen in 1743), are famous. His style in general shows boldness, strength, spirit, and invention of the highest order.
England and Germany were unequal to the task of reviving art, exhausted, as it was, in France, in Flanders, in Holland, as well as in Italy and Spain. But they had an important share in the scientific and literary movement, the most honorable characteristic of the Eighteenth Century, and the first step toward future progress.
A family of savants, settled in Switzerland, but originally of Antwerp, had, in the Eighteenth Century, continued the mathematical work begun in the previous century ; these were the Bernoullis, who devoted them-selves to the most abstruse calculations. England boasts of many distinguished mathematicians. Germany is particularly honored by Euler (1707-1783), who, although born at Basle, lived at St. Petersburg and Berlin. He wrote for a Princess of Anhalt-Dessau, “Letters Upon Some Subjects of Physics and Philosophy,” which brought science within the range of all. He formulated the integral calculus, the inverse of the differential calculus. The small Republic of Geneva, afterward a literary center, had also its savants, among others Gabriel Cramer, author of an “Introduction to the Analysis of Curved Lines in Algebra,” and the Trembleys, a family of savants like the Bernoullis.
France produced brilliant mathematicians. D’Alembert, deserted as a child by his parents, was gifted with such extraordinary facility for calculations that at twenty-four he was a member of the Academy of Science. He wrote a “Treatise Upon the Integral Calculus,” a “Treatise on the Equilibrium and Movement of Fluids.” He also took part in all the great astronomical works.
French, German, and English were seized with the noble emulation, all striving to formulate with precision the laws of astronomy that had been dimly seen during the preceding century. In England, James Bradley (1692-1762), by the observation of a slight movement of the stars, was led to explain it by the nutation of the earth’s axis, combined with that of the light of the stars. He thus discovered the cause of the aberration of light, and at the same time proved the truth of the systems of Copernicus and Galileo.
Instruments for observation were then perfected, and William Herschel, (1738-1822), born at Hanover, first introduced reflecting telescopes. Herschel, who settled in England himself in 1774, constructed a reflecting telescope, with which he observed Saturn’s rings and Jupiter’s satellites. He afterward discovered the planet Uranus, thus further extending for us the limits of the celestial world.
But one name stands out above all others : it is that of Laplace (1749-1827), who resumed Newton’s calculations. He explained the movements of the stars, the inequalities of the planets, and formulated, with regard to Jupiter’s satellites, two theorems, known by the name of the Laws of Laplace. The, penetrating genius of Newton had been baffled by certain variations, which to him seemed inexplicable. He thought that the world’s system at certain times required the intervention of the Creator, to restore its equilibrium. Laplace solved the problem of the acceleration of the mean motion of the moon, discovered the inequality in the motions of Jupiter and Saturn, and framed the true theory of Jupiter’s satellites. His chief works arc the “Mécanique Céleste” a book almost worthy of ranking with Newton’s “Principia” and his “Système du Monde,” a résumé of all mod-ern astronomy, written in the finest scientific language.
The physical sciences, which had been backward until then, now seemed, by their activity, anxious to regain lost time. Experiments with the thermometer, commenced in the Seventeenth Century, were continued into the Eighteenth by Fahrenheit (1686-1736), then by Reaumur, and by the Swede, Celsius, who perfected the centigrade thermometer in 1742. Toward the end of the century the brothers Montgolfier made (1783) their first_ experiments with air balloons in Annonay, before the States of the Province of Vivarais. Man essayed to take possession of the air; but although the science of air balloons has since made some progress, he has not yet succeeded.
Man then learned to discipline the forces of nature in a wonderful way. An ironmonger and a glazier from Dartmouth, Devonshire (Newcomen and Cowley), taking advantage of the discoveries made in the preceding century with regard to steam, constructed engines furnished with boilers, in which the steam was formed, and with them succeeded in pumping mines. But although this first attempt was of the greatest importance, it cannot be compared to the labors of James Watt (1736-1819). This poor workman, an artisan of a town in Scotland, invented some improvements that almost formed the modern steam engine. Instead of condensing the steam in the same cylinder in which it worked the piston, he conducted it into a separate receptacle, where it returned to liquid. This was the condenser. He also invented the system by which steam acts upon both sides of the piston, and found means to transmit two successive movements to the beam of the machine, resulting from the raising and lowering of the piston. Finally, by the use of the crank, he transformed the reciprocating movement of the propeller of the machine into a rotary movement.
A French engineer, Joseph Cugnot, constructed, in 1770, some steam carriages, which, although unserviceable, were the first attempts at locomotives. In America, Oliver Evans, the inventor of the high-pressure machine, built, in 1790, some steam carriages that traveled on the usual roads. This was a complete revolution, the importance of which was little suspected.
In the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries men first suspected the existence of electricity. Hauksbee, an Englishman, succeeded, in 1709, in constructing an electric machine, by replacing the sulphur machine of Otto de Guericke by a glass globe rubbed by the hand. Stephen Gray and Wheeler, also Englishmen, continued (1729) these experiments in electricity, and discovered that there were conducting and nonconducting substances. At Leyden, in Holland, Munschenbroek, while electrifying water in a phial, accidentally placed one hand upon the metallic conductor which led the electricity from the machine into the water; he instantly felt so violent a shock in the arms and chest that he thought he was killed. This accident led to the invention of the Leyden jar (1745).
In America, Franklin, at first printer and publisher, natural philosopher, statesman, and diplomatist, a universal genius, by his daily experiment with a kite which he launched into the air near Philadelphia, during a storm (1752), established the identity of electricity and lightning. The principle of the lightning rod was found. Franklin erected the first at Philadelphia in 1760, but time was still required before this protective invention, enthusiastically adopted in America, was used in England in 1762, and it was not used in France before 1782. Sir W. Snow Harris applied it to ships in 1830.
Galvani (1737-1798) a professor at Bologna, was led by experiments upon frogs, to affirm the existence of an electricity which he believed to be distinct from atmospheric electricity, and which he called animal electricity, but which is now called dynamic electricity (1789). Volta (1745-1827), disputing Galvani’s theories, placed on the contrary, the source of electricity in metals, while the Bolognese professor placed it in the bodies of animals. He constructed (1799) with pieces of copper or silver joined to pieces of zinc, yet separated by pieces of cardboard soaked in salt water, a pile which accumulated electricity at each extremity or pole, at the one positive electricity, at the other negative electricity. This pile formed a current, and its power was destined to produce marvels that daily became more astonishing.
Chemistry really appeared in the Eighteenth Century, with Priestly, Scheele, and Lavoisier. The Englishman, Priestley (1733-1804), experimented in nearly every science, made numerous experiments upon the gases, and investigated particularly the properties of carbonic acid gas, oxygen, azote, oxide, of carbon, and carburetted hydrogen. Scheele (1742-1786), who was born in Stralsund, but lived in Sweden, made new discoveries about oxygen and the analysis of the air, discovered chlorine, arsenic acid, Prussian blue, prussic acid, oxalic acid, etc. In France, Lavoisier (1743-1794) solved the composition of the atmosphere, decomposed and recomposed water. In 1783 he made some admirable experiments before Louis XVI, and several savants; he really founded the school of modern chemistry. Berthollet, Fourcroy, Cavendish, Lavoisier’s disciples, continued his labors; Guyton de Morveau of Dijon, Berthollet of Annecy, Fourcroy, born in Paris, by their instruction, aided greatly in diffusing a taste for chemistry. In England, Cavendish distinguished himself by his experiments upon hydrogen, nitric acid, etc. To these names must be added the Irishman, Kirwan, and the German, Goettling, whose labors contributed to the genesis of the science destined to displace alchemy.
The natural sciences were defined, enriched by careful observations, and at last reduced to accurate classification. Buffon (1707-1788), an elegant writer as well as an illustrious student, deserves to be called father of natural history, and by his clear, interesting style has added greatly to men’s knowledge of and taste for that science. Daubenton studied animals anatomically and was the first to reconstruct fossil animals. Linnaeus (1707-1778), of Sweden, formed an ingenious botanical classification, which was in use for a long time.
The progress of natural sciences added greatly to the advance of medicine, which, freed in the preceding century from the yoke of routine, made fresh steps forward with the Frenchmen, Bordeau (1722-1776) and Barthez
(1734-1806). In Paris, the Royal Society of Medicine was founded in 1778. In Italy, Vallisneri (1661-1730) was both naturalist and doctor; Spallanzani (1729-1799) an anatomist, made important observations upon the circulation of the blood, the digestion, etc. Morgagni (1682-1771) inaugurated pathological anatomy. In England Cheselden ( 1688-1752), a surgeon, attempted the first operation upon cataract, and restored sight to one that was born blind. Lastly, Jenner (1749-1823) remarked that inoculation with cowpox preserved from smallpox, that formidable scourge which, until then, no one had been able to combat. The highest ambition began to be devoted to the relief of suffering humanity. The Abbé de l’Épée, following the principles taught in Spain by the Benedictine, Pedro Ponce (1520-1584) and improved by Juan P. Bonet (162o ), enabled the deaf and dumb to share in life’s duties and pleasures, by substituting the movements of the hands for the sounds of the voice, and by creating a visible alphabet which replaced the ears by the eyes. On the other hand, for those who were deprived of sight, Valentine Haüy, brother to the mineralogist, invented an alphabet in relief, and replaced the lost sense by the sense of touch, developed to marvelous accuracy and delicacy. Lastly, Doctor Pinel, protesting against the barbarous methods of treating the insane, who were, at that time, kept in chains, treated them as invalids, who could be cured, or at least relieved, by kindness and attentive care. These are three great conquests of civilization, victorious over the infirmities of nature.
Tragedy was attempted by the genius of Voltaire, a man of universal genius, poet, philosopher, and historian, whose name alone symbolizes the epoch. Voltaire filled the Eighteenth Century with his life and works. In taste a disciple of the writers of the preceding century, an admirer of the ancients, whom he really never understood, he trod the road opened by Corneille and Racine; while a residence beyond the Channel had introduced him to Shakespeare. But Voltaire made his tragedies a medium of political, of philosophical, and even of anti-Christian propaganda. His ruling passion was a hatred of fanaticism and superstition, which unhappily led him to assail with virulent wit and bitter sarcasms the Christianity which, rightly interpreted and practiced, has nothing to excite the enemity of keen intellects and philanthropic hearts, but should secure their support and esteem. His writing is full of wit, vivacity, gayety, ease, and grace of style, and Voltaire may be accounted one of the greatest men of letters that ever lived. Prose was his proper weapon. He wielded it as no one else had done before him, and moulded to the image of his intellect. He is the true father of modern French, clear, unambiguous, pleasant without pretension, noble without heaviness, grave without pedantry, lively without vulgarity. He applied this animated style to history, and gave admirable models of narrative in “Charles XII,” and the “Century of Louis XIV.” History in his hands was lacking in earnestness, but he appreciated it as an art. But Voltaire was philosopher and philanthropist above all not a philosopher in the scientific, nor a philanthropist in the religious sense. His philosophy consisted in subjecting everything to the examination of reason, to argument, to a search for truth. His philanthropy consisted in hatred of intolerance of all kinds; he thus put an end to the persecution of Protestants in France, though he had no sympathy with their doctrine. He chiefly constituted himself the defender of the generous ideas of humanity, of tolerance and justice, and his influence, like his popularity, was immense, increasing with his age and the diffusion of his ideas.
The other political writers were largely responsible for the state of public thought that led to the Revolution. Perhaps the deepest thinker of the age was Montesquieu (16891755), who passed twenty years in writing a single work, the “Spirit of the Laws,” which analyzed the different forms of government and the various legislations which had succeeded and combated each other in the world. Montesquieu admired the English government more than any other and proposed to adopt it as a model. His work dealt a severe blow to the theory of absolute monarchy in France.
More popular than Montesquieu and hence more effective as a cause of the changes about to occur, were the writings of Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). A vagabond at an early age he had led a life of extraordinary adventure and change. In his writings Rousseau attacked the accepted civilization of his age. He praised the life of “the noble savage,” took feeling as the rule of conduct and rejecting the claims of dull duty, bade men and women follow their own hearts’ promptings. Yet his own fine feeling did not prevent him from sending all his children (five in succession, born of an ignorant maid-servant) to the Foundling Hospital, to be reared by the charity of strangers. His sentimental novel the “Nouvelle Héloïse” shocked sound morality, but his political treatise, the famous ”Contrat Social,” has been credited with a powerful influence on the course taken by the French Revolution. In this work the sovereignty of the people is asserted. Men are bidden to draw up their own articles of religion, “not as dogmas, but as sentiments of sociability,” with banishment for those who should decline to accept them, and death for such as, after acceptance, should violate them. After all sorts of troubles, conflicts with the authorities at Paris, Geneva, and Berne, visits to Prussia and England, ill-behavior of his own, and ill-treatment by false friends, this strange compound of philanthropy and vice, sentiment and spleen, enthusiasm, eccentricity, vanity, and perverseness, died of apoplexy near Paris.
These three men were aided in the work by others who belonged to the group known as the “Encyclopédistes.” They were more or less concerned in the production of the “French Encyclopédie,” a work which appeared between 1751 and 1765, intended as a free review of all knowledge, produced by men who were in no field of it slaves to authority. It was projected and edited by Diderot. D’Alembert, who had charge of its mathematical department, wrote the famous Preliminary Discourse to the work. The historical importance of the Encyclopédie arises from the free spirit of inquiry and criticism that marked its general tone and philosophy in religious and political matters. It appeared in an age when men’s minds were stir-ring with new thoughts, and every existing opinion and institution was eagerly brought to the bar of judges who cared nothing for mere assertion and authority. The writers gained a very extensive and powerful influence over the political and religious sentiment of the age, and were at once the consequence and the cause of a new epoch in their Nation’s life. While they assailed the dogmas and the system of Christianity “with a rancor and an unfairness disgraceful to men who called themselves philosophers,” yet the sort of Christianity which they saw around them in France at the middle of the Eighteenth Century was not, in general, such as could inspire any one with respect. This it was which lent strength to the blows of men who, in the cause of justice and mercy, came between the powerful and the oppressed, and, in their pamphlets and satirical poems, attacked the gross abuses which prevailed “religious persecution, judicial torture, arbitrary imprisonment, the unnecessary multiplication of capital punishments, the delay and chicanery of tribunals, the exactions of farmers of the revenue.” The assailants of the faith were encountered by the church, not with effective argument, but with the feeble resources of a petty persecution burning of books, pronouncing of censures methods that could irritate but not destroy. At last unbelief became necessary to the character of an accomplished and intellectual man, and the new doctrines spread from France abroad, welcomed by Frederick the Great of Prussia, by Catharine of Russia, and by Joseph of Austria, and carrying heresy into Italy, Portugal, and Spain. The Encyclopédistes thus did much to further the revolutionary spirit which was to be carried hereafter by armed hosts into nearly every quarter of Europe.
But a new science was now rising, destined eventually to overthrow the sentimental and unpractical political philosophy of the school of Rousseau and the Encyclopédistes. This was political economy. Toward the end of Louis XIV’s reign, Vauban and Bois-Guillebert had directed their attention toward the financial and commercial organization of the State. Vauban had displeased the King, and affected public opinion by his book on the “dime royale” (the royal tithes). Bois-Guillelbert, a Royal Intendant, had protested against the abuses of the protective system and the tyranny of the internal taxation. But the real founders of political economy belong to the Eighteenth Century Gournay and Smith. Gournay’s (1712-1759) axiom was the celebrated motto applied to the Manchester school, “Laisser faire, laisser aller,” that is to say : everybody has a right to make what he likes, and how he likes, to sell every kind of merchandise at the price that suits him best to any purchaser he can find. The theory of the Scotchman Adam Smith, who lived for some time in France, and was the comrade of the Encyclopédistes, was more general and more just. In his eyes wealth consisted in labor. He demanded liberty for labor. A visit to a pin manufactory taught him another principle, the division of labor. He was also the first to establish the law of supply and demand upon the rise and fall of prices.
Lesage (1660-1747), in his amusing book of “Gil Blas,” took up the picaresque or realistic style “Gil Blas” is perhaps the best description of the life of another country ever written by a foreigner. Spaniards long refused to believe that the tale had not been stolen from one of themselves. Bernardin de Saint-Pierre (1737-1814) has also survived with his charming idyll of “Paul and Virginia,” which seemed already inspired by the truer sentiments of the succeeding century, and acquired an immense popularity, not in France alone, but in all neighboring countries. Voltaire aimed chiefly at satire in his novels.
The impulse given to literature in England in the Seventeenth Century continued. The appearance of periodical publications, the essayists, the press, has been one of the results of the Revolution of 1688. Daniel Defoe (1663-1731), the first of the political essayists or pamphleteers, but better known as the author of “Robinson Crusoe,” commenced in Newgate Prison the publication of the “Review,” which appeared three times a week, and which he edited without assistance during nine years. Richard Steele (1671-1729) then published the “Tatler” (1709) and the “Spectator” (1711), of which Addison was the chief editor, and which was considered the hest among those periodicals. Joseph Addison (1672-1719), inferior as a poet, but noticeable as a critic, nourished on the study of the ancients, was above all an amiable, pleasant moralist, striving to extend the love of virtue. His polished and elegant style is, how-ever, a little tedious.
Daniel Defoe (1663-1731), who created the review, also brought the novel into fashion, by fictions to which he gave an air of complete veracity. He captivated his readers by the apparent truthfulness of his narrations, and the “Adventures of Robinson Crusoe” are still popular all over the world. Samuel Richardson (1689-1761), in his novels followed rather the example in style, but not in morals, of the French school. His novels are written for women, Fielding’s for men. Fielding did not shrink from painting vice, and in knowledge of human nature and sheer strength as a writer, stands high above his contemporaries. Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774) touched all hearts by the natural pathos and grace of the “Vicar of Wakefield.” As a poet, and also in comedy, he was above any of his contemporaries. Very different was the harsh, bitter genius of Swift (1667-1745), the most powerful prose writer of his day; his “Gulliver’s Travels,” like his other works, is a keen satire on human nature and human life. Laurence Sterne (1713-1768), an eccentric humorist, is at his best in “Tristram Shandy.” In his “Sentimental Journey” he introduced into England the shallow sentimentalism of the School of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre.
Poetry was still classical with Pope (1688-1744), whose personal deformity affected his whole character. At twenty years of age he published his “Essay upon Criticism”; then, exercising the variety of his wit in satire, he sought to reanimate philosophy in his moral epistles, above all in the “Essay on Man.” An admirer and translator of the ancients, particularly of Homer, Pope attained remarkable elegance in style; his works are a reflection of the great French literary Century. Pope became the chief of a school. Amongst his disciples Young (1681-1765) had, curiously, a far greater influence and vogue abroad than in England. His “Night Thoughts” consist of sorrowful meditations on the nothingness of life. Gray and Collins are far superior as classical poets. Thomson had more passion, and, in the “Seasons” he, first of the poets, sang the epic of nature; with him began the descriptive school. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) is also named among the poets, but he was only a versifier. He succeeded better in criticism and wrote in a more sonorous and studied prose than anyone before him. He was the acknowledged master of his day; but is now best known by the memoirs of his faithful observer and admirer, Boswell.
English poetry, at that time somewhat cold and formal, found life and truth to nature in the pious William Cowper (1731-1800), the precursor of a real Renaissance. Enthusiastic in his love of nature, Cowper painted it without affection, obeying only his inspiration and the intense sensitiveness of his own personality. Robert Burns (1759-1796), the son of a poor Scotch farmer, reached without effort the true lyrical note. He is the greatest poet Scotland has produced. He is the first true song writer in Great Britain since the Elizabethan age. George Crabbe (1755-1832) prolonged his career into the Nineteenth Century. He was both a preacher and a realistic poet. Chatterton (1752-1770), “the marvelous boy,” published some fictitious English poems of the Fifteenth Century, an imitation of the ancient ballads, and by an energy and literary inspiration unparalleled in one so young, gave promise of great achievements, the accomplishment of which was prevented by his untimely end. Macpherson (1738-1796) counted upon the growing taste for the past with marvelous skill and audacity. He forged a long poem, “Fingal,” purporting to be a prose translation from the work of a Celtic bard, Ossian, and by his skillful imitation deceived the public, which believed in the genuineness of the work. The poem must be closely studied before the fraud can be detected. This grandiose work, how-ever, had a great success and exercised considerable influence. Weary of the regular beauties of Latin and Greek, the English and French were seized with admiration for the songs of the Celts. It led finally to the regular study of the wild warlike poetry of the Northern countries.
English philosophy, more serious than French philosophy, followed out to their extreme consequences the doctrines of Locke. Berkeley (1684-1753) denied the reality of all sensuous experience. David Hume (1711-1776) denied the reality of all mental or spiritual experiences. His doctrines alarmed one of his fellow-countrymen, Thomas Reid (1710-1796), who recognized the existence of certain powers in the mind anterior to experience, and the reaction that he directed against the empiricism of Locke’s disciples was continued by his pupil, Dugald Stewart, and by T. Brown.*
The philosopher Hume was also a historian, endeavoring to imitate Livy by the clearness of his narration, but skeptical and prejudiced; in him, the philosopher injured the historian. William Robertson (1721-1793), on the contrary, a heavier and more conscientious writer, formed himself on the Greek historians. The scholarly Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), greatest of writers of history, was the author of ” The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, a masterpiece hardly superseded by modern works, but impressed with the prejudices of the century, and hostile to Christianity. We must not omit, in this short summary of the literary activity of the English, some reference to the orators, who recall the glory of ancient Athens and Rome.
A government by debate such as the English Government demands of necessity political eloquence. The House of Commons, and afterward the House of Lords, reëchoed with the powerful voice of William Pitt (17o8-1778), afterward Lord Chatham, whose speeches are placed among the classics. The Irishman Burke (1729-1797), defender of the American colonies, appeared when Pitt was nearly dying. “It was,” said Macaulay, “a splendid sunset, and a splendid dawn.” But Burke had too much fire, too much impetuosity, and his eloquence, more philosophical but less practical, full as a torrent, flowed forth in floods of invective metaphor, and dazzling imagery to almost empty benches. Fox (1749-1806), no less ardent, no less impetuous, had far greater power in political debate. Sheridan (1751-1816) gained renown by his showy eloquence, and the second William Pitt (1759-1806), who inherited his father’s oratorical power as well as his patriotism, ruled the House of Commons by his ardent speeches, his progressive arguments, his demonstrations, which impressed his hearers by the arrangement of the whole rather than by brilliancy of detail. As a politician he was far in advance of his time, but was hampered by ill health, and by the prejudices of the King and of his own party.
Civilization in the Eighteenth Century had made no such progress that Germany was able, in her turn, to boast of a literature. German genius, aroused by Luther, had required another century fully before it awakened. The language which the great Reformer had, as it were, molded into form, by his translation of the Bible, had not yet been adopted for literary work. Leibnitz had thought and written in Latin. In the Eighteenth Century the German language was used by two critics and professors, who borrowed the system of reviews from the English. It was also used for scholarly and philological works by Heyne ( 1729-1812) on “Virgil,” and by August Wolf (1759-1824) on “Homer,” for history by Ludwig von Schloezer (1737-1789), and the Swiss Johann von Müller (1752-1809), who wrote a fine history of his native land. Lessing (1729-1781), born in Saxony, acquired a great reputation as a critic and author by his collections of “Letters on Contemporary Literature,” and his “Hamburgische Dramaturgie,” the best criticism upon the theater which had appeared in the Eighteenth Century. It was he who unfolded to his countrymen the beauty, vigor, and originality of Shakespeare, and he and Winckelmann brought back the spirit of art and poetry to the genuine and simple taste of the Greeks. Lessing was thus successful in the great aim of his criticism that of destroying in his country the influence of French literature, which at that time debased the German, and robbed it of all original power. His “Laocoon” was a calm, philosophical composition a discussion on the general principles of art, an aesthetic work. Lessing opposed the ancients to the moderns. The scholar Winckelmann aided still further, the diffusion of a taste for antiquity by works on art; he published the “Letters on the Discoveries of Herculaneum” and a “History of Art Amongst the Ancients.”
German poetry made a fresh attempt with De Haller (1708-1777), who sang of the Alps, then with Gessner (1730-1787), the author of some sentimental idyls, and of a narrative poem, “The Death of Abel.” It brought forth also Klopstock (1724-1803), who created for his countrymen a new, strong, free, and genuinely poetic language. He is one of the greatest lyrical writers, and has been called the Pindar of modern poetry. His chief work is “The Messiah.” His ardent patriotism appears in the Odes called forth by the French Revolution. The German tongue and music is also the theme of his musical verse.
Greatest of German poets was John Wolfgang Goethe, the most illustrious of German writers. A universal genius, poet and scholar, critic and artist, in love equally with nature and the ideal, versed in science and philosophy, matter-of-fact observer and dreamer, lover of the past and of the present, Goethe was already in advance of the Eighteenth Century, to which only half of his life belonged. Following by turns the ancient Greek poets, and the morbid sentimentality of the French, his excitable nature was early devoted to various forms of art and all objects of intellectual interest in science, religion, literature, law, and morals. His famous romance, the “Sorrows of Werther,” appeared in 1774, his plays “Iphigenia” in 1787, “Egmont” in 1788, and “Tasso” in 1790. They were received with delight and astonishment by the German people. His great work the dramatic poem “Dr. Faust” belongs, in its successive forms, to Goethe’s whole maturity of life. It is a real world poem, containing the author’s views on the problems of existence; embodying all that is highest and deepest, most touching and most beautiful, in man’s life upon earth. In 1794 began his friendship with Schiller, which continued a close intimacy till the latter’s death in 1805. The result was beneficial to both; Goethe felt his youth renewed, as he said, and became active again in literature, and Schiller’s dramatic genius produced at this period most of his masterpieces for the stage of the court theater at Weimar, of which Goethe was director. Goethe’s novel “Wilhelm Meister,” was published in 1794-96, and he wrote at this time some of his finest ballads. “Hermann and Dorothea,” a narrative poem in hexameters, appeared in 1797. Napoleon and Goethe met, with expressions of reciprocal admiration, during the congress at Erfurt in 18o8. In 1811 the great German’s Autobiography was published, and at the very close of his long life, in 1831, comes the second part of the Faust much inferior to the first, but rich in beauty of poetical expression. The characteristic of Goethe’s genius is its wonderful versatility, ranging over all branches of poetry, and cultivating with success botany and other scientific subjects. In literature he liad the plastic imagination of an ancient Greek, the glowing fancy of the East, the melodic ear of an Italian, the feeling of a true German.
Goethe is the ideal of the man of letters, bent on the improvement of his intellectual and imaginative powers to the utmost extent. Unmoved by the deeper religious and political passions of his day, he strove to live in a lofty mental sphere, a region of supreme art far above all these. He is the greatest German poet, and one of the few of all time. Schiller was Goethe’s friend. Less devoted to art but not less poetical, he was also one of the principal partisans and leaders of the literary revolution. He excelled in the drama and in history, which he looked upon as an art. His great play, “Wallenstein,” is known to English readers by Coleridge’s fine translation. “William Tell” is his best tragedy; “Maria Stuart” and the “Maid of Orleans” are among his chief dramatic works.
Economic interests had benefited by the mental impulse produced by literature and the progress of science. Men studied commerce as well as politics, and the Eighteenth Century revealed the power of credit. Among the ancients slaves manufactured all the articles required. If capital were wanted it could only be obtained by submitting to the exactions of the usurer. Among moderns the liberty of the workman has considerably developed industry, and it lias been still more aided by the facility of credit. In the Middle Ages this new system faintly dawned in the letters of exchange, whose invention is traced to the Jews. Paper already played the part of money. The discovery of America threw an immense quantity of specie into, circulation, and increased commercial relations. Voyages became more frequent, bills of exchange, trading bills, and notes to order became general. Banks were established which advanced loans to merchants upon securities of value. The first real bank was that of Barcelona in 1401. The Bank of Stockholm (1668) was the first to issue bank notes. The banks of Amsterdam and Hamburg were in the Seventeenth Century remarkable for their large business. The Bank of England dates from 1694. It was the first to undertake to cash the bills of exchange before they came due, retaining a commission proportioned to the time that was yet to elapse what we are now so familiar with as discount. But if all these banks aided business, they did not yet constitute real credit.
The extension of commerce followed hard on that of geographical discovery. The discoveries of the Sixteenth Century had been continued in the Seventeenth, when America had completely. revealed her extent and internal wealth. The Dutch had discovered a portion of the innumerable islands which stud the Pacific Ocean, and which were to form a fifth part of the world, Oceania. They also sighted the vast territory which they called New Holland, but which passed to the English and was called Australia.
It was chiefly in the Eighteenth Century that the English and French navigators explored Oceania. Dampier, in 1688-90, visited the northwest coast of Australia, and discovered New Britain. Wallis, Carteret, Bougainville, and afterward the famous Captain Cook, revealed the existence of numerous archipelagoes. Cook sighted New Zealand, discovered New Caledonia, the Society Islands, the Friendly and the Sandwich Islands. He crossed the Antarctic Polar Circle three times. Afterward his course was followed by Laperouse, d’Entrecasteaux, Vancouver, and others. The Dane Behring left his name to the strait which bounds the eastern extremity of Asia. The entire globe was thus traced upon maps that became more and more exact, and man learned the utmost limits of his domain.
The merchants advanced closely behind the explorers, and European commerce extended speedily and-continuously. England reaped the fruits of the Act of Navigation and of a policy which had been almost exclusively directed toward the conquest of the seas. In 1703, by the Methuen treaty, she had opened Portugal for herself, and inundated the country with her merchandise, thus killing the native industry. Spain even, although jealous of her colonial monopolies, con-ceded to England the monopoly of the slave trade, and the right of annually sending one ship to Porto Bello laden with merchandise, a ship there was no need to replace, for her cargo was continually resupplied. It was a floating depot. The Austrian War of Succession, and the Seven Years’ War caused the decadence of the French navy. England threw herself upon the French colonies, which were badly protected, and commenced to establish that immense Empire in Hindustan which Dupleix had dreamed of securing for France.
She seized Canada and her maritime commerce, which, in 1700, amounted to 330,000 tons, rose in 1770 to 760,000 tons.
The English, to supply their trade, developed their industry and exported Norwich cloths, Dublin and Exeter Linen, cotton stuffs from Manchester, and ironmongery from Leeds. The invention of mechanical looms for spinning wool (1767-1787), and the application of Watt’s steam engine (1769-1775), gave a new impulse to industry, and produced the rapid advance which has not paused since that time. England, who supplied Europe with exotic productions, intended also to furnish her with manufactured goods. She endeavored to become the sole manufacturer and the sole merchant. England failed in her attempted monopoly, and her own colonies were the first to turn against her.
From the Fifteenth Century modern States retained the old principle that their colonies, daughters of the mother country, should trade only with her. The colonies were regarded merely as an easy market from whence to procure exotic produce, and an outlet for the industry of the mother country. The colonies could receive the goods they required from her alone, and certain industries were even prohibited to them. If the Indian companies prospered it was in spite of the active opposition of the English manufacturers, who protested against the importation of the beautiful silken and cotton materials sent from India. The colonies and distant trade were considered to be simply a source of raw materials, of productions foreign to the temperate zone. Industrial labor must remain the privilege of Europe. In a word, the consequence was to drain, not to enrich, the colonies.
Holland, who had fallen from her past greatness, chiefly devoted herself to profiting by the advantages which her still immense trade secured to her. She had fought against England during the American War, for she was more interested than any of the other powers in maintaining the rights of neutrals and the freedom of the seas. This war was, however, of no advantage to her, and England had a fresh opportunity of weakening a navy which inconvenienced her. Holland, however, remained a colonial power of the first order.
The other northern powers, Sweden and Denmark, had also renounced ambition and retired to their peninsulas, with the exception of Denmark, who still possessed Norway. They almost exclusively devoted themselves to their internal development, to industry and commerce.
In contrast to the ancient civilization which had become immovable in the circle of the Roman Empire, modern civilization carried with it a germ of life, which stimulated it to expand in an ever-increasing circle. It now advanced in Europe toward the North and East.
Slowly at first, under the German Emperors, the march forward had conducted Christianity and Latin civilization from the banks of the Elbe to the shores of the Oder and the marshes of the Spree, to the Vistula, then to the Niemen; whilst Greek civilization and Christianity penetrated through the valley of the Dnieper to the center of the vast plains of Eastern Europe. The Slav family, which had for a long time bent beneath the weight of invasions, raised itself and entered the arena with its rare physical vigor, its open intelligence, its suppleness, its numbers and strength.
Frederick II in Germany, as intelligent in administration as in war, devoted himself to the development of agriculture, industry, and commerce. He had to contend against a barren soil and a total ignorance of husbandry. In Upper Silesia he established colonies of Germans and foreigners, giving to each colonist his house, stable, barn, garden, and twelve to twenty acres of land, beside some cattle. When Prussia took her share of Poland, thousands of Polish families were transported into the sparsely inhabited districts of Pomerania. Berlin, with a population of only 6,000 inhabitants in the Seventeenth Century, owed, during the reign of the great Elector, her first manufactures to the French refugees, who were received there after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Frederick II raised the city from the ruins to which the Seven Years’ War had reduced it, and rendered it one of the most important cities in Germany, even while he retained its military appearance as its dominant characteristic. This great opponent of French politics appreciated the genius, literature, and art of France, and the patron of Voltaire supplied Berlin not only with barracks, but with colleges and academies. From that time a taste for science accompanied a taste for war, and they contributed in an almost equal degree to the prodigious success of Prussia.
There was little improvement in the condition of the people. Their progress had gone so far that they knew of their misery, but they were unable to relieve it. Justice was blind except to the giver of bribes. Nobles were privileged to commit crime, but for the smallest offenses the wretched masses were sentenced to capital punishment by laws which they had no share in making. Commerce was fettered by ridiculous laws. The poor were kept poor and the rich grew richer. The masses groaned and suffered, but greedily drank in the doctrines preached by those who were the pets of the monarchs at whom their thrusts were aimed. Perhaps the writers themselves did not dream of the havoc that would follow the doctrines they preached. The writers pre-pared the way for the men of blood. The people, weighed down by oppressive tyranny, thirsting for freedom, took the only means they knew of securing it. And the storm broke. It broke in France first, not only because there the contrasts were perhaps the greatest, but because there the writings of the political theorists were most read.