18th Century and Restoration

Danna D'Esopo and Mostafa Darghous

Regional and Political Developments

Over the course of the 18th century, the population in England doubled, setting them at about 10 million people. Most of the growth was in London, which grew by half a million people due to a flood of immigrants both regional, with Scotland and Ireland, and international, with Germany, Poland, Africa, and the Caribbean. A lot of woman (over half of the city’s population) sought employment in domestic jobs; therefore city conditions, like sanitation, and medicine began to improve the quality of life, decreasing the death rate. The rural areas switched from subsistence farming to business and demands due to an increase in city populations.

Charles II was restored to the throne in 1661. He believed in ruling in conjunction with Parliament, but after a plan to assassinate the king, he had no heir; a sharp divide stemmed between the Successionists, who supported Charles and his brother, and the Exclusionists, who supported, James, Duke of Monmouth. So Charles dissolved the Parliament. During this time, these two groups of differing ideologies led to the first two political groups in this region; the Successionists, who supported Parliament, grew into the Whigs and the Exclusionists, who supported the monarchy, developed into the Tories. James came to the throne but had to flee to France due to William of Orange’s march on London (known as the Glorious or Bloodless Revolution of 1688), so Parliament jointly crowned King William III and Queen Mary II. This change in power restored the Protestant monarchy. The creation of a Bill of Rights restored the Parliament and limited the power of the crown. After their rule a Tory government takes over with Mary’s sister Anne; during this time England won many victories that brought the empire to North America as well as gave them control over slave trade from Africa, the Carribean, and Spanish America. After Anne’s rule the Whigs took control of Parliament and with the second half of the nineteenth century brought the rule of the first three Hanoverian kings.

Another aspect of this time is that the term “British” expands because various acts bring territories under this label. The 1707 Act of Union brings in Scotland, the Treaty of Utretcht brings in the Hudson Bay Territory, Acadia, and Newfoundland (east Canada area), and the 1763 Treaty of Paris gains Britain the remaining people of Canada and some people in India. During this time, England also gets Grenada, France’s American territory.

The establishment of Parliament allows religious debates  to transform into political debate. The main religious debate is between Anglican Church, Nonconformists, the descendants of Puritans, and the “papists”.


Intellectual and Social Developments

Due to the growth of empiricism (i.e. knowledge derived from sense-experience) and other factors, this time period sees an immense growth in scientific knowledge and activity. Overall, the population’s mindset changed to rational thinking and belief that truth could be found through observation, experimentation, and human experience. The first scientific group, the Royal Society of London for the Improving of Natural Knowledge, was founded to spread scientific findings and developments. People started keeping records during this time, leading to diarists like Samuel Pepys– pronounced like “peeps”. It is because of people like him that we have such detailed accounts of the society at this time. Along with the increase in recorded observations, this time housed many of the scientists that students learn about in elementary school– like Sir Isaac Newton, who developed our theories for gravity, celestial mechanics, and optics; Robert Boyle, who discovered that pressure and volume are inversely proportional; and Benjamin Franklin, who discovered that lightning is an electrical charge.

Science and religion often clashed in this time period. An idea during this time was that God interfered less with human life than they thought he had previously. John Locke’s writings and ideas are a good example of this; a good example of this is his concept of “tabula rasa”–that the mind is blank and birth, and acquires knowledge only through sense experience. In response to these secular trends, the evangelical movement known as Methodism arises in poorer areas and new industrial villages.

We see the rise of the Industrial Revolution in this time period. In 1698, Thomas Savery invents the steam engine, and James Watts invents a condenser (that condenses vapor); these inventions among others spark the Industrial Revolution. Many new jobs were created; however, many of these jobs were very dangerous for the workers, such as mining jobs for coal. Also, factories were modified to produce items quicker; thus supply & demand both increase.

The Bank of England is established in the year 1694; money loaning, which used to be looked at with disapproval, transitions into a respectable activity. People came to be more interested in money than in land. Also, the means of transportation improve, toll gates and the canal system are established. Time keeping becomes an exact science.

In addition to the rise of the financial and industrial sectors, we also see a rise in the social and leisure sectors among the middle class. Women begin to have large roles in public society. Concerts, plays, lectures and debates, balls, and exhibitions become much more welcoming for women. Cities begin to be structured in octagonal patterns to accommodate shopping and other activities. We also see a transition from Elizabethan Theaters (which were very large and would be attended by people of most classes), to Restoration Playhouses (which were very small and exclusive to wealthy folk). The role of women in theater rises in this time period. Women start to play female roles and began to write the plays. Tragedies were quite popular during this time. We also see the opera come to England from Italy.

In this period, the “average educated individual” changes. Both males and females of all classes were expected to be educated. However, women would be either tutored or sent to boarding school, and the higher education that was expected of men was not recommended for them.

Literary Developments

Writing production increases greatly in this time, as well as the demand for periodicals. Periodicals and anthologies serve as a forum for female writers. Censorship comes back during the Restoration, but collapses with the 1965 Licensing Act. Coffeehouses and libraries become come places for writers to convene, and writing and publishing become a viable avenue for people to get famous and wealthy. The “Copyright” concept is developed. This concept is particularly important because we see copyright all over our society today. For instance, Youtubers get in trouble for using copyrighted music or film clips in their videos, every book that is published has the copyright logo printed on the publishing details page; in fact, even during the creation of this book the creators had to determine copyright licensing.

Other literary developments that happened in this period include a rise in the study of medieval literature, the translation of classic works into English (such as Homer, Horace, Virgil, etc.), and a popular discussion on “true art” (with the help of Greek and Roman works). We see also the popularity of satire, blank verse, Georgic poems, and novel genres such as realistic novels, epistolary novels, courtship novels, and Gothic novels. Finally, the development of print leads to slower changes in the English language; grammar is established, and dictionaries are written. The development of print even leads to a change that we see today in the way we speak. Instead of saying “changed” ike “change-ed”, “ed” being sounded out like the name Ed, we say “changed” like “chang’d”, essentially ignoring the “e” when we enunciate.

Since writing because such a large part of 18th century culture, it is important to know the major authors of the period. Authors that are still popular today include Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe and Jonathan Swift, the author of Gulliver’s Travels. Other major authors include Aphra Behn (an important female playwright and poet), Alexander Pope, and the important Enlightenment writers, such as John Locke.


Introduction to Literary History and Interpretation Copyright © by Danna D'Esopo and Mostafa Darghous. All Rights Reserved.

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