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THE NEW AGE

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Previous Page  ...that when England was arrayed in hostile camps we have on the one hand the cavalier literature of persiflage and on the other the lofty strain of Milton.

After each of these times of activity there has followed, in literature as in national life, a period of depression, sometimes, but not always, succeeded by a fresh revival. For Athens, after the glory of the drama and of history had passed, there still remained the glory of philosophy and of oratory. In Spain, the eclipse of romance was permanent. In France, the great age of Louis XIV passes into the lower phase of the Encyclopedia, only to revive again in the marvellous burst of political life in which she led, and of literature in which she shared with, the rest of Europe. In England, the many-sided activity of the Elizabethans changes into the factional spirit of Cavalier and Roundhead, and that again sinks with the debasement of the court and of society into the ribaldry and license of the Restoration drama.

The same spectacle of rise and fall meets the eye when we turn to the great age of the French Revolution and compare it with the period immediately after its force was spent. No one can doubt that the Revolution was for Europe in general, both in national life and in literature, a time of heightened energy and productiveness. For more than twenty years the sword was hardly ever sheathed, and the whole Continent shook with the tramp of armies. It is true, war in itself is not productive; but De Tocqueville's L'Ancien Regime shows that the political ideas which set the armies in motion were eminently fertile. And who can doubt that in literature the thirty years or so during which "the gospel of Jean Jacques" swayed the thought of Europe were among the most productive in the history of the world? But when we look a generation forward, we see once more innumerable evidences of decline. War is exhausting; and in 1815 the nations found themselves the richer by a prisoner whom they feared even in captivity, and the poorer by hundreds of thousands of lives, by countless millions of money, and by multitudes of shattered hopes. For however clear it might be to De Tocqueville that the ideas of the Revolution were still ...Next Page




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