:''For the period of Latin literature for which the English style is named, see Augustan literature (ancient Rome).''
Augustan literature (sometimes referred to misleadingly as Georgian literature) is a style of English literature produced during the reigns of Queen Anne, King George I, and George II in the first half of the 18th century and ending in the 1740s with the deaths of Pope and Swift (1744 and 1745, respectively). It is a literary epoch that featured the rapid development of the novel, an explosion in satire, the mutation of drama from political satire into melodrama, and an evolution toward poetry of personal exploration. In philosophy, it was an age increasingly dominated by empiricism, while in the writings of political-economy it marked the evolution of mercantilism as a formal philosophy, the development of capitalism, and the triumph of trade.
The chronological boundary points of the era are generally vague, largely since the label's origin in contemporary 18th century criticism has made it a shorthand designation for a somewhat nebulous age of satire. The new Augustan period exhibited exceptionally bold political writings in all genres, with the satires of the age marked by an arch, ironic pose, full of nuance, and a superficial air of dignified calm that hid sharp criticisms beneath. While the period is generally known for its adoption of highly regulated and stylized literary forms, some of the concerns of writers of this period – with the emotions, folk, and a self-conscious model of authorship – foreshadowed the preoccupations of the later Romantic era. In general, philosophy, politics, and literature underwent a turn away from older courtly concerns towards something closer to a modern sensibility.
Alexander Pope, who had been imitating Horace, wrote an ''Epistle to Augustus'' that was in fact addressed to George II and seemingly endorsed the notion of his age being like that of Augustus, when poetry became more mannered, political and satirical than in the era of Julius Caesar.〔Thornton 275)〕 Later, Voltaire and Oliver Goldsmith (in his ''History of Literature'' in 1764) used the term "Augustan" to refer to the literature of the 1720s and '30s.〔Newman and Brown 32〕 Outside poetry, however, the Augustan era is generally known by other names. Partially because of the rise of empiricism and partially due to the self-conscious naming of the age in terms of ancient Rome, two rather imprecise labels have been affixed to the age. One is that it is the age of neoclassicism; the other is that it is the Age of Reason. While neoclassical criticism from France was imported to English letters, the English had abandoned their strictures in all but name by the 1720s. Critics disagree over the applicability of the concept of "the Enlightenment" to the literary history of this period. Donald Greene argued forcefully that the age should rather be known as "The Age of Exuberance," while T. H. White made a case for "The Age of Scandal". More recently, Roy Porter put forward the notion of a distinctively "English Enlightenment" to characterize the intellectual climate of the period.〔Porter〕
One of the most critical elements of the 18th century was the increasing availability of printed material, both for readers and authors. Books fell in price dramatically, and used books were sold at Bartholomew Fair and other fairs. Additionally, a brisk trade in chapbooks and broadsheets carried London trends and information out to the farthest reaches of the kingdom. This was only furthered with the establishment of periodicals, including ''The Gentleman's Magazine'' and the ''London Magazine''. Not only, therefore, were people in York aware of the happenings of Parliament and the court, but people in London were more aware than before of the happenings of York. Furthermore, in this age before copyright, pirate editions were commonplace, especially in areas without frequent contact with London. Pirate editions thereby encouraged booksellers to increase their shipments to outlying centres like Dublin, which increased, again, awareness across the whole realm. This was compounded by the end of the Press Restriction Act in 1693, which allowed for provincial printing presses to be established, creating a printing structure that was no longer under government control. (Clair 158-176)
All types of literature were spread quickly in all directions. Newspapers not only began, but they multiplied. Furthermore, the newspapers were immediately compromised, as the political factions created their own newspapers, planted stories, and bribed journalists. Leading clerics had their sermon collections printed, and these were top selling books. Since dissenting, Establishment, and Independent divines were in print, the constant movement of these works helped defuse any one region's religious homogeneity and fostered emergent latitudinarianism. Periodicals were exceedingly popular, and the art of essay writing was at nearly its apex. Furthermore, the happenings of the Royal Society were published regularly, and these events were digested and explained or celebrated in more popular presses. The latest books of scholarship had "keys" and "indexes" and "digests" made of them that could popularize, summarize, and explain them to a wide audience. The cross-index, now commonplace, was a novelty in the 18th century, and several persons created indexes for older books of learning, allowing anyone to find what an author had to say about a given topic at a moment's notice. Books of etiquette, of correspondence, and of moral instruction and hygiene multiplied. Economics began as a serious discipline, but it did so in the form of numerous "projects" for solving England's (and Ireland's, and Scotland's) ills. Sermon collections, dissertations on religious controversy, and prophecies, both new and old and explained, cropped up in endless variety. In short, readers in the 18th century were overwhelmed by competing voices. True and false sat side by side on the shelves, and anyone could be a published author, just as anyone could quickly pretend to be a scholar by using indexes and digests (Clair 45, 158-187).
The positive side of the explosion in information was that the 18th century was markedly more generally educated than the centuries before. Education was less confined to the upper classes than it had been in prior centuries, and consequently contributions to science, philosophy, economics, and literature came from all parts of the newly United Kingdom. It was the first time when literacy and a library were all that stood between a person and education. It was an age of "enlightenment" in the sense that the insistence and drive for reasonable explanations of nature and mankind was a rage. It was an "age of reason" in that it was an age that accepted clear, rational methods as superior to tradition. However, there was a dark side to such literacy as well, a dark side which authors of the 18th century felt at every turn, and that was that nonsense and insanity were also getting more adherents than ever before. Charlatans and mountebanks were fooling more, just as sages were educating more, and alluring and lurid apocalypses vied with sober philosophy on the shelves. As with the world-wide web in the 21st century, the democratization of publishing meant that older systems for determining value and uniformity of view were both in shambles. Thus, it was increasingly difficult to trust books in the 18th century, because books were increasingly easy to make and buy.
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