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Home » » What is Classical age? The age of prose and reason - literaturemini
 The Classical Age is rightly considered to be the age of prose and reason. The literary ideals of this period are more suited to the development of prose than poetry. The scrupulous searching for perfection in the matter of style and expression and appeal to the intellect or reason rather than emotion or passion were the main literary ideals. In this respect, Matthew Arnold says, "Our age of prose and reason......our excellent and indispensable 18h century. Actually, the prose of the Classical Period is a continuation of the prose of Dryden and the Restoration Period.The spread of science and the spirit of commonsense account for the development of prose. The influence of France is also responsible for the growth of intimate and vigorous prose of the time . The prose of the age was used to express the intelligence and merits.  Addison Steele, Defoe, Swift and Dr. Samuel Johnson are the famous prose writers. They have made the prose a more conscious and refined art. They foreshadow the ear of modern prose.

the classical age

In the history of English literature, the names of Joseph Addison and Sir Richard Steele always go together. Because they were two friends. In 1711, they started a daily called The  spectator. This daily was a very popular and exercised a great .  influence on the reading public. Addison soon became the dominating spirit behind the paper. He wrote 274 essays out of a total of 555. His genius is best illustrated in the pages of the journal. In this respect, Courthope, his biographer, says "Addison may be said to have almost created and wholly perfected English prose as an instrument for the excretion of social thought." The essays of Addison are frankly didactic in spirit and purpose. They were written to reform the contemporary manners and morals. In this regard. Addison himself says. "I have brought philosophy out of the closet and libraries, schools and colleges to dwell at tea tables and coffeehouses"  His essays are on an endless variety of subjects and manners.Story, allegory, character-sketches are found plentifully in them. 

Both Aiddison and Steele have formed an imaginary club named The Specitator Club". There are many members of his club. Sir Roger de Coverley is one of the main members of the club. He is an imaginary eccentric country-knight. He is created by Steele and fully developed by Addison. He is the leading figure in The Coverley Papers which is a collection of essays relating to Sir Roger. The essays published in this book contain the raw materials of the novel. There is no doubt that they pave the path for the English novel. In other words, they foreshadow the English novel. lt is also said that if the essays are collected systematically they can form an excellent domestic novel. In style, Addison is great. He is different from Bacon, Milton and Hooker in this respect. Because their prose was ornate, rich in colour and eloquence. But the essays published in The Tatler and The Spectator are simple, limpid, clear, flexible and full of conversational ease. They are never obscure. They have a curious air of modernity. Dr. Johnson has praised the prose style of Addison. Generally, Steele is compared with Addison. He brings to the work a wide esperience of life, broad sympathies and genial humour. His pathos is more attractive and humane. Like Addison his syle is spontaneous, fresh and colloquial.

Daniel Defoe is one of the famous prose writers in the Classical Age. He has also composed some pamphlets. He is better known as the author of the famous Robinson Crusoe which is a pioneer work in novel writing. His imagination is realistic. He gives life and reality to his fictions by means of vivid details. The atmosphere of illusion is gripping. His interest in contemporary life is unbounded. This accounts for the wonderful variety of situations and characters make up his fictional work. His prose style is unpolished but vigorous.It has a colloquial vocabulary which makes it ideal for his purpose of narrative

Jonathan Swift is perhaps the greatest writer of the  Classical Age by the force of his genius. Concern for art or form is not his main concern. He carries the rational criticism of contemporary life to the dangerous point of misanthropy. His life itself was a tragic one for various reasons. This left its impression on his literary works. His first great work is the  Battle of Books. The book deals with the academic controversy of modern versus ancient writers. It is in an allegorical setting. The handling is vigorous and illuminating. The fable of the bee and spider at the end is quite interesting. A Tale of a Tub is one of the fiercest satires in the English language. It is a savage attack on the churches. Its irony is deadly. Its cynicism is oppressive. Its style has a sustained vigour, peace and colorfulness.Gulliver's Travels is the most popular work of Swift. Its narrative quality is in the manner of Robinson Crusoe. It has also allegorical significance. But it is regarded as one of the most interesting story books for the children and the adult. The prose style of Swift is simple, vigorous and straight forward. So Swift is still a living influence.

Other prose writers of the classical age are john arbuthnot, Lord Bolinghroke, George Barkley, Lady Mary Montague and the Earl of Shaftsbury. They have wntten many important prose writings. Thus we can say with the voice of Arnold that the 18h century is pre-eminently an age of prose and reason. In his Study of Poetry", he examines the poetry of the 18th century with special reference to the poetry of Dryden and Pope. He does not regard them as poetical classics, In his view, they are great classics of prose and not of poetry. He also establishes the point that Dryden is the father of modern  English prose. His prose is the prose which we can put to everyday use. It is immensely superior to the prose of Milton. After the Restoration, there was an urgent need of a fit prose. Such type of prose would be fit for the common purpose of life. Pope has writen some poetical essays. He successfully employs heroic couplet in his poems. Dryden is his poetic father in this respect. Their poetry is regarded as the builders of an age of prose and reason. 

Thus Arnold is right in regarding the 18th century as indispensable. He is also right in calling it an age of prose and reason. The Classical Age was the age that reason and good sense were exalted of the expense of emotion and imagination. This emphasis on reason was necessary to correct the fantastic excesses of the Metaphysical and other poets. It resulted in unprecedented developments in the fields of science and philosophy. It will not be an exaggeration if we call this period as the period of reason and satire.


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