This section provides an overview of English literature from its beginnings around 449 A.D. to around 1900. The more recent period will be covered in a separate section.

Literature, in its widest sense, includes every written record of the activity of man, but only the more or less permanent writings are usually classed as literature. The highest forms of printed or written works which are included in this classification are distinguished by vigor of expression and elevation of thought. (See Literature, American Literature, and the subhead Literature under Arabia, Canada, England, France, Germany, etc.)

Periods English Literature

Anglo-Saxon, 449-1350. (See Anglo-Saxon.)

  1. Poetry—Most noted example, Beowulf (q. v.).
  2. Prose—Most noted example, Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (918).
  3. Good Qualities—Seriousness, Dignity, Rugged strength.
  4. Defects—Limited range of subject-matter, Lack of humor, Fatalistic, Too prevailingly melancholy and gloomy.
  5. 3229

(With the Norman invasion, in 1066, were brought the Norman literature of chivalric adventure, romantic love, and courtly worship. The Norman language became the spoken tongue. By 1350 the good qualities of the manner, form, and matter of the Norman literature and the Saxon literature were rapidly blending in the productions of the English authors, who were using a language formed by the coalescing of the Anglo-Saxon and the Norman. This resulting language was ready to be formed into modern English by the master hand of Chaucer.)

Chaucerian, 1350-1400.

Chief Writers :

  1. Chaucer.
  2. Gower.
  3. Langland.
  4. Wycliffe.

(See articles treating of these authors for particulars, relative to the writers and their works.)

Dark, or Barren, 1400-1550.

Chief Writers :
  1. Tyndale.
  2. Wyatt.
  3. Surrey.

(A time of disturbance and unrest comparatively barren of good literatures The period is noted for its ballads. See Ballad.)

Elizabethan, or Golden, 1550-1625.

Chief Writers :
  1. Sidney.
  2. Bacon.
  3. Spenser.
  4. Marlowe.
  5. Shakespeare.
  6. Jonson.
  7. Hooker.
(In this epoch we have the culmination of the development of the Gothic or Romantic drama, which had been progressing since 1100. From that time to Shakespeare the following phases developed : Miracle Plays; Mysteries ; Mask ; Comedy; Tragedy, which see. The epoch was characterized by boundless aspiration, originality of view and manner, freedom from restraint, a broad and generous sympathy with and interest in all life, in the past, as well as the future, a similar feeling for the supernatural and mysterious. The epoch is first in the scope and splendor of its literature.)

Puritan, 1625-1660.

Chief Writers :
  1. Milton.
  2. Bunyan.
  3. Herrick.

(In this period the ideals of life were noble but austere. Milton, the chief writer, lacked the breadth and scope of the greatest of the Elizabethans, their humor, spontaneity, and comprehensive knowledge of normal human life, but he remains unsurpassed in the dignity, harmony, and sublimity of his poetry and his standards of life.)

Restoration, 1660-1700.

Chief Writers:
  1. Waller.
  2. Dryden.
  3. Locke.
  4. Jeremy Taylor.

(A marked change now appeared in the form and subject-matter of literature. The masterpieces are didactic and satiric. A dislike of nature, enthusiasm, and passion was prevalent. The heroic couplet meter, the so-called rocking horse, became the most popular poetic form.)

Classical, 1700-1740.

Chief Writers :
  1. Swift.
  2. Addison.
  3. Pope.
(This epoch was a culmination of the standards introduced in the preceding epoch. Form became preeminent and matter was made subordinate in importance. The emotional field was ignored and literature became cold, formal, artificial, and insincere.)

Johnsonian, 1740-1780.

Chief Writers :

  1. Johnson.
  2. Goldsmith.
  3. Gray.
  4. Defoe.
  5. Richardson.
  6. Fielding.
  7. Gibbon.
  8. Burke.
  9. Boswell.
  10. Hume

(There was a gradual falling away from the ideals of the classical period during this era. The novel began to supplant the drama as the most popular form of literature. The emotional field once more was drawn upon and imaginative freedom again gradually appeared in English literature, the yielding classical standards being replaced by those of romanticism.)

Revolution, 1780-1837.

Chief Writers :
  1. Lamb.
  2. Cowper.
  3. Wordsworth.
  4. Southey.
  5. Coleridge.
  6. Burns.
  7. Scott.
  8. Byron.
  9. Shelley.
  10. Keats.
  11. De Quincey.
  12. Austen.

(The works of the authors of this period have great beauty of form and are intensely individual, emotional, and sincere. In the breadth of their interest in and love for all life and nature, the writers of this era surpass those of all preceding epochs. We have here the high tide of lyric poetry and the period is second only to the Elizabethan Age in the beauty and excellence of its literature. The age was especially noted for possessing the supreme lyric genius, Shelley, the greatest interpreter of nature, Wordsworth, the greatest historical novelist, Scott, and the best interpreter of simple, everyday character, Jane Austen. Poetry and the novel were the chief forms.)

Victorian, 1837-1900

Chief Writers:

  1. Darwin.
  2. Tyndall.
  3. Huxley.
  4. Spencer.
  5. Macaulay.
  6. Carlyle.
  7. Ruskin.
  8. Arnold.
  9. Dickens.
  10. Thackeray.
  11. George Eliot.
  12. Browning.
  13. Mrs. Browning.
  14. Tennyson.

(This period is sometimes called the Cosmic Epoch on account of its orderliness and its regard for scientific law in everything. In its study of human life it is the most comprehensive of all, though it is too much perplexed with its failure to read life's mysteries, to have the joyous loving interest in it of the Elizabethans, or to be content with the sentimental and visionary fancies about it of the Revolution writers. Its books are zealous with purpose; the regard for law makes its literature beautiful in form without artificiality. The literature is emotional and ardent, but sensible and moderate. Beauty and truth are its leading aims. It is essentially an era of prose, in the breadth and excellence of which it ranks first. Though mainly a scientific period with some classical tendencies, the romantic characteristics of the Revolutionary epoch prevail. The novel is the most popular form.)

C. American Literature, Its Periods (84).

Colonial Period, 1607-1775.

Chief Writers :
  1. Winthrop.
  2. Mather, Cotton.
  3. Franklin.
  4. Eliot, John.
  5. Edwards, Jonathan.

Revolutionary Period, 1775-1815s

Chief Writers :
  1. Jefferson.
  2. Hamilton.
  3. Barlow, Joel.
  4. Paine, Thomas.
  5. Dwight.
  6. Brown, Charles B. (86).

Transcendental Period, 1815-1840.

Chief Writers :
  1. Irving.
  2. Cooper.
  3. Bryant.
  4. Poe.
  5. Hawthorne.
  6. Emerson.
  7. Alcott.
  8. Thoreau.

Recent Period, 1840-1900

Chief Writers :
  1. Longfellow.
  2. Holmes.
  3. Whittier.
  4. Stowe.
  5. Prescott.
  6. Hoist.
  7. Bancroft.
  8. Motley.
  9. Schurz.
  10. Beecher.
  11. Howells.
  12. Clemens.
  13. Ade.
  14. Wilcox.
  15. Parkman.
  16. Riley.
  17. Cable.
  18. Roosevelt.

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