The eighteenth century saw unprecedented growth of literature and the arts in Europe and America. Britain during this time period also enjoyed prolonged periods of civil peace that stood in sharp contrast to the bloody and protracted civil and international conflicts that lasted throughout the 17th century. Furthermore, as the rising middle classes increasingly sought both education and leisure entertainment, the marketplace for artistic production swelled dramatically. One of the most critical elements of the 18th century was the increasing availability of printed material, both for readers and authors. The period was markedly more generally educated than the centuries before. Education was less confined to the upper classes than it had
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These philosophers variously attacked spiritual and scientific authority, dogmatism, intolerance, censorship, and economic and social restraints. They considered the state the proper and rational instrument of progress. A rational and scientific approach to religious, social, political, and economic issues promoted a secular view of the world and a general sense of progress and perfectibility.
18th century English poetry was political, satirical, and marked by the central philosophical problem of whether the individual or society took precedence as the subject of verse. Both the form and content of Augustan verse typically emphasize rationality, coherence, restraint, discipline, and logic. Augustan poets use traditional forms to explore clearly defined “general truths”: their subject was frequently “Man” and “Nature” and their poetry a demonstration of the orderly and logical arrangement of the universe and the place of “Man” and “Nature” within it. For the Augustans, “Nature” was not a wild, untamed force. It was instead a logical and understandable hierarchy. It thus made manifest the orderliness of the universe and the omnipotence of God. The Augustans found in “Nature” infinite hierarchal systems, all of which reflected the general order of the universe. The rational reader, Augustan poetry argues, can learn important lessons by