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and cumbrous sentences condensed themselves into the quick reasoning and terse easy phrases of ordinary conversation. Its tone lost the pedantry of the scholar, the brutality of the controversialist, and aimed at being unpretentious, polite, urbane. The writer aimed at teaching, but at teaching in pleasant and familiar ways; he strove to make evil unreasonable and ridiculous; to shame men by wit and irony out of grossness and bad manners; to draw the world to piety and virtue by teaching piety and virtue themselves to smile. And the change of subject was as remarkable as the change of form. Letters found a new interest in the scenes and characters of the common life around them, in the chat of the coffee-house, the loungers of the Mall, the humours of the street, the pathos of the fireside. Every one has felt the change that passed in this way over our literature ; but we commonly talk as if the change had been a change in the writers of the time, as if the intelligence which produces books had suddenly taken of itself a new form, as if men like Addison had conceived the Essay and their readers had adapted themselves to this new mode of writing. The truth lies precisely the other way. In no department of human life does the law of supply and demand operate so powerfully as in literature. Writers and readers are not two different classes of men : both are products of the same social and mental conditions : and the thoughts of the one will be commonly of the same order and kind as the thoughts of the other. Even in the form which a
writer gives to his thought, there will be the same compelling pressure from the world about him ; he will unconsciously comply with what he feels to be the needs of his readers ; he will write so as best to be read. And thus it is that if we seek a key to this great literary change of the Age of the Revolution, we must look for it not in the writers of the Revolution so much as in the public for whom they wrote.
I restrict myself here, however, to a single feature of this change. “As a bashful and not forward boy,' says the novelist Richardson, 'I was an early favourite with all the young women of taste and reading in the neighbourhood. Half-a-dozen of them, when met to work with their needles, used, when they got a book they liked and thought I should, to borrow me to read to them, the mothers sometimes with them, and both mothers and daughters used to be pleased with the observations they put me on making. The close of this bit of boyish autobiography is amusingly characteristic; and there are still, I trust, readers of Richardson to whom this little group of Englishwomen, ‘met to work with their needles,' may have its interest, as the first of a series of such groups which gathered round the honest printer throughout his life, and out of which, half-a-century later, the one great imaginative achievement of the age of the Georges, the story of Clarissa, was to spring. But it is not for Richardson's sake, or for Clarissa's, that I quote it here. I quote it because it is one of the earliest instances that I can recall of the social revolu
tion of which I spoke, in its influence on letters. Till now English letters had almost exclusively addressed themselves to men. As books had been written by men, so—it was assumed-they would be read by men ; and not only was this true of the philosophical and theological works of the time, but even its more popular literature, the novelettes—for instance-of Greene and his fellow-Elizabethans, bear on the face of them that they were written to amuse not women but men.
The most popular branch of letters, in fact, the drama, so exclusively addressed itself to male ears that up to the Restoration no woman filled even a woman's part on the boards, nor could a decent woman appear in a theatre without a mask. Even the great uprooting of every political, social, and religious belief in the Civil Wars left this conception of literature almost untouched. The social position of woman indeed profited little by the Great Rebellion. If she appeared as a preacher among the earlier Quakers, no feature of the Quaker movement gave greater scandal among Englishmen at large ; and Milton's cry for Divorce was founded not on any notion of woman's equality, but on the most arrogant assertion ever made of her inferiority to man. It is a remarkable fact that amidst the countless schemes of political reform which the age produced, schemes of every possible order of novelty and extravagance, I do not remember a single one which proposed that even the least share of political power should be given to women. And yet it is from the time
of the Great Rebellion that the change in woman's position really dates. The new dignity given to her by the self-restraint which Puritanism imposed on human life, by the spiritual rank which she shared equally with husband or son as one of the elect of God, by the deepening and concentration of the affections within the circle of the home, which was one of the results of its withdrawal of the 'godly' from the general converse and amusements of the outer world, told quickly on the social position of
And it told as quickly on her relations to literature. It is now that, shyly and sporadically, and sometimes under odd forms, we hear of women as writers ; of the Duchess of Newcastle, of Aphra Behn, of Mrs. Hutchinson. And it is now for the first time that we hear of women, not exceptional women such as Lady Jane Grey, but common English mothers and English maidens, as furnishing a new world of readers. In groups such as Richardson sketches for us literature finds a new world opening before it, a world not of men only but of women, of wives and daughters as well as husbands and sons, a world not of the street or the study but of the home.
It is in this new relation of writers to the world of women that we find the key to the Essayists. It was because these little circles of mothers and girls were quickened by a new curiosity, by a new interest in the world about them, because readers of this new sort were eager to read, that we find ourselves in
presence of a new literature, of a literature more really popular than England had ever seen, a literature not only of the street, the pulpit, the tavern, and the stage, but which had penetrated within the very precincts of the home. Steele has the merit of having been the first to feel the new intellectual cravings of his day and to furnish what proved to be the means of meeting them. His ‘Tatler' was a periodical of pamphlet form, in which news was to be varied by short essays of criticism and gossip. But his grasp of the new literature was a feeble grasp. His sense of the fitting form for it, of its fitting tone, of the range and choice of its subjects, were alike inadequate. He seized indeed by a happy instinct on letter-writing and conversation as the two moulds to which the Essay must adapt itself; he seized with the same happy instinct on humour as the pervading temper of his work and on 'manners' as its destined sphere. But his notion of manners' was limited not only to the external aspects of life and society, but to those aspects as they present themselves in towns ; while his humour remained pert and superficial. The 'Tatler,' however, had hardly been started when it was taken in hand by a greater than Steele. It was raised,' as he frankly confessed, 'to a greater thing than I intended,' by the co-operation of Joseph Addison. As men smiled over the humours of Tom Folio and the Political Upholsterer, over the proceed. ings of the Court of Honour or the Adventures of a Shilling, they recognized the promise of a deeper