Home  »  Volume IX: English FROM STEELE AND ADDISON TO POPE AND SWIFT  »  § 1. English Society under the First Two Georges

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

IX. Memoir-Writers, 1715–60

§ 1. English Society under the First Two Georges

UNDER the first two Georges, English society became consolidated into what Disraeli, with his accustomed iridescence, described as a “Venetian oligarchy.” Placemen in, and patriots out of, office flit across the scene. The big county interests of the aristocracy rule, subject to occasional correction from the growing power of finance or the expiring growls of the city mob, and Walpole and Pelham, or their inferiors, pull the strings. The nation, hoping eternally to see corruption extinguished and a new era of virtue and public spirit inaugurated, is, again and again, disappointed. Placemen and patriots cross over, and the game begins anew. But, behind the chief actors in the comedy, may be perceived a slowly gathering knot of observers and note-takers, the chroniclers and memoir-writers of the period. They offer us a unique and fascinating picture of the privileged classes who then presided over the fortunes of the country; and they open a new chapter in literary history. Through them, the eighteenth century is self-portrayed with a vivid insight and picturesqueness probably unrivalled, save in the parallel descriptions of French society from 1648 to 1789.