Monday, December 27, 2010

Restoration Prose

The Restoration age was an important juncture in the development of English prose. Broadly speaking, it was the period when English prose moved from antiquity to modernity. Matthew Arnold observes in this connexion : "The Restoration marks the real -moment of birth of our modern prose...English prose after the Restoration breaks with the times preceding it, finds the true law of prose and becomes modern; becomes in spite of superficial differences the style of our own day." Louis I. Bredvold avers that "Dryden and his contemporaries created modern English prose".
The prose before the Restoration is characterised by prolixity, involvedness, complexity, and diffuseness; but the prose after the Restoration has the modern qualities of clarity, precision, and simplicity. With the Restoration English prose moves speedily towards being strictly functional. It retrenches all unnecessary ornamentation and starts the job of doing without fuss the task which it is ordained to perform.
The Transition:
The linguistic change in the Restoration age went hand in hand with the social change. With the stability in society came the stability in language. This period saw the transition from the turbulence of antiquity to the stability and balance of the new times. This transition was the sum-total of many complex forces. So was the transition in English prose from the fluidity, complexity, and '"quaintness" of writers like Burton and Browne to the clarity, conciseness, perspecuity, and "modernity" of writers like Dryden, Banyan, Halifax, and others. Dryden was the writer to set the tone with his racy, masculine, and forceful prose, and the change was completed by the prose-writers of the age-ef Queen Anne, like Addison and Swift.
Critical Interest:
What is also of interest to note is that in the Restoration age critical interest in prose was shown for the first time in the history of English literature. Critical interest in poetry dates from a much earlier period, but such interest in prose is visible only in this period. Before this period the rules of English grammar and syntax were in a state of fluidity .'In the Restoration period the need of stabilising the English language in general and prose in particular was voiced by many eminent writers like Dryden and Thomas Sprat. They expressed the desire to clarify and fix the language once and for all so-as to obviate the possibility of undue licence on account of the fluidity of the rules of grammar and syntax. To this end some prominent writers even went so far as to propose the establishment of an academy of language on the Ihes of the French Academy. For example, Drydfen wrote in the Dedication to The Rival Ladies (1664): "I am sorry that (speaking so noble a language as we do) we have not a more certain measure of it as they have in France where they have an Academy erected for the purpose." However, this proposed Academy was destined to have no existence apart from the one on paper even though in 1664 a committee was nominated by the Royal Society to take steps for the stabilisation of the English language. But what is noteworthy here is the interest taken in it during the period in question as also the desire expressed by quite a few writers for fixing the English language which occasioned it.
Another factor which compels our attention is the critical interest shown by some writers of the age in English prose style. For the first time in history we find men of letters discussing what is and what is not good prose style. Their new interest starts with Hobbes and the Royal Society. After that we find most prose writers expressing themselves in passing and sometimes at some length on this subject. The consensus of their opinion seems to be in favour of clarity, simplicity, and utility and against pedantry, affectation, rusticity, turgidity alike. Sprat in his History of the Royal Society (1667) wrote how the Society asked' 'from all their members, a close, naked, natural way of speaking: positive expressions, clear senses a native easiness, bringing all things as near the mathematical plainness as they can end. preferring the language of artisans, countrymen and merchants before that of wits and scholars." John Hughes in his essay Of Style (1698) gave as "the best direction...a diligent and careful persual of the most correct writers of the language in their various kinds, with the conversation of people of fashion that speak well and without affection." Later still we find Addison, Defoe, and Swift-to name only a few-writing on this very topic. In fact, there were very tew prose writers in the post-Restoration period who did not say something as to .how English should be written, or written better.
The transition from antiquity to modernity to which English prose found itself subjected in the Restoration age was, broadly speaking, a movement towards its "de-Latinisation." The English prose before the Restoration was highly Latinised both in diction (choice of words) and syntax (structure of the sentence). There was a comparatively high proportion of words of Latin origin as distinct from those of Anglo-Saxon derivation. The sentence-structure was after the Latin practice. The prose of Caroline writers like Browne and Milton, for instance, is highly Latinised in diction and syntaxThis Latinisation results in complexity of style. Further, the pre-Restoration prose writers had an exceeding fondness for Latin quotations (which were usually, printed in italics). The most prolific quoter was Burton, the author of The Anatomy of Melancholy. To make confusion worse confounded, the ppE-Restoration writers were used to employing a very large number of parentheses. The Latinise.d syntax (to be more specific, the kind employed by the R&man orator Cicero) meant very often the prolongation of a sentence with the help of an unwieldy number of subordinate clauses though not unoften with a sense of balance and rhetorical organisation. As in Milton and Browne the distinction between the sentence and the paragraph often altogether disappeared, for sentences went like the river Alph in Coleridge's KublaKhan.
The de-Latinisation of English prose'around and after the Restoration meant the simplification and modernisation of English prose as regards both its diction and syntax. It also implied the bringing nearer of the written language to the spoken language. The tendency to use plethoric Latin quotations as also parentheses came to be discouraged and, in general, English prose took a great leap forward from antiquity to modernity.
Let us now discuss some of the important factors which caused, attended, or conditioned this remarkable change.
The Royal Society:
The first of them, and an important one, was the establishment of the Royal Society for the promotion of experimental science. It was Charles II who granted the charter to the Society in 1662, thus extending to it royal patronage and blessing. It became a "fashion" with courtiers to dabble in experimental science and even to have private laboratories of their own. The Royal Society did some very useful work, and the names of such genuine scientists as Boyle were associated with it. However it had a pretty promiscuous membership. Such persons as Dryden, Glanville-Charles II's chaplain-the divine Isaac Barrow, and the future bishops Seth Ward and John Wilkins were also its members. The establishment of the Royal Society and the progress of experimental science to which it gave rise were important factors in effecting the transition in-English prose from antiquity to simplicity and modernity. The language used by scientists to describe their experiments must need be clear, unimpassioned, and almost mathematical in plainness. There is no place in it for words and expressions which bear extra scientific, say, moral, religious, or sensuous connotations. The numerous volumes which appeared under the title of The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society did much-to pave the way for scientific, matter-of-fact prose. The society itself, as Sprat tells us, was "most solicitous" about retrenching all, "extravagance" of expression and there "has been a constant resolution to reject .all amplifications, digressions, all swellings of style, to return back to the primitive purity and shortness when men delivered so many things almost in an equal number of words." The plain language used and recommended by members of the Royal Society which had connections with the intellectual elite of the age, naturally had much influence upon contemporary men of letters. So the establishment of the Royal Society was a momentous step for promoting the use of direct and clear language free from conceits and stylistic gewgaws.
From science to sermons is indeed a far cry. But the divines of the age did as good work as the scientists for the simplification of English prose. The age is known for the great sermons written during it. South. Barrow, arKl Archbishop Tillotson dissociated themselves from the old style and couched their sermons in an effective and simple English capable of being understood and appreciated by common people. In this way they kept pace with the scientists. They did not treat their hearers as passive recipients or as empty buckets to be pumped into, but rational and critical persons. Nor did they have a taste for pedantry and affectation. Tillotson played a major role in effecting the change in English prose. Dryden, one of the greatest masters of English prose, professed to have learned his style chiefly from Tillotson. During the Augustan age, religion was still, in A. R. Humphrey's words, "a continuing concern of life" even though it had been dislodged from its former| pedestal of glory. The change in the style of the clergy was bound to have some impact on that of the secular writers too.
Restoration Comedy:
Restoration comedy, too, contributed towards the establishment of modern prose. The Restoration comedy writers replaced verse with prose as their medium. Admittedly, they did not so much simplify English prose as added to it that delicacy, finesse, and elegance hitherto missing in it. Courthope, referring to the part played by the Restoration comedy writers observes in Joseph Addison (E.M.L.):
"...our gratitude is due to the Caroline dramatists who may justly claim to be founders of the social prose style in English literature. Before them English prose had been employed no doubt with music and majesty by many writers but the style of these-is scarcely representative : they had used the language for their own elevated purposes without, however, attempting to give it that balanced fineness and subtlety which make it a fitting instrument for conveying ihe complex ideas of an. advanced stage of society.
Dryden, Wycherley, and their followers, impelled by the taste of the court to study the French language, brought to English composition a nicer standard of logic and a more choice selection of language while the necessity of pleasing their audiences with brilliant dialogue made them careful to give their sentences that well-poised structure which Addison afterwards carried to perfection in the Spectator."
Even if one may entirely agree with Court hope regarding the importance of the Caroline dramatists, it will have to be admitted that these dramatists made the cultivation of good English a contemporary vogue and almost one of the standards of good breeding and "politeness". The new prose of Restoration drama might not have had the subtle harmonies of the prose of Sir Thomas Browne or the Latinised sweep of that of Hooker's, but it had certainly much more of brilliance and culture and "modernity." Notwithstanding its occasional lapse into verbal quibbles and rather unsavoury, salacious, innuendoes, it was a plastic enough vehicle for various kinds of thoughts and feelings, and entirely capable of fulfilling the needs of expression of a more complex and advanced society. The prose of the Augustan writers is more akin to this prose than this prose is to the prose of the early seventeenth century.
Last, but not least, was the modernising influence exerted on English prose by the "popularisation" of literature towards the end of the seventeenth century. The unprecedented expansion of the circle of readers was much responsible for the simplification and stabilisation of English prose. In the post-Restoration age writing became, for the first time in history, a lucrative profession. Dryden, the most prominent literary figure of the age, depended for his livelihood entirely on writing. There was an unprecedented-spurt in party pamphleteering to form and guide public opinion on the issues of the everyday life. These pamphlets were obviously addressed to the general public and were therefore couched in a simple and clear prose so as to be easily comprehensible to them. In the general public many writers found their new patrons. Formerly they had depended on the bounty of rich patrons even for the publication of their works. But now the printed word could sell and many merchants and manufacturers of books appeared on the scene. The language employed by the writers with an eye on the common people was, naturally enough, simple and clear. The social sense of the public was a novelty for the writer and it was a very important factor responsible for the simplification of English prose. The prospect of general rather than individual reception deterred the writer from indulging in his private whims and fancies and directed him to employ the idiom of the common reader.
Add to the "popularisation" of literature the development of journalism in the post-Restoration period. Though the first periodical essay (The Taller) and the first daily (The Couranf) appeared in the beginning of the eighteenth century, yet even in the period under consideration there is evidence of a hectic journalistic activity. The names of Ned Ward, Roger D. Estrange and many other lesser writers are associated with post-Restoration journalism. They catered for the common people and naturally expressed themselves in a simple and easily comprehensible language. In short, on account of the "popularisation" of literature and the emergence of journalism in the post-Restoration age, English prose grew much clearer, simpler, more easily intelligible and therefore "modern".

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