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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

III. Political and Ecclesiastical Satire

§ 1. Causes of the New Development of Satirical Literature on Political Subjects in the Period following the Restoration

IN the period following on the restoration of Charles II, satirical poetry on political subjects took permanent root in England. It is true that there had already been satires, like those of Cleiveland and the cavalier ballad-writers, written on behalf of one faction in the state against its rival, as well as lampoons upon some foreign enemy; but these had been sporadic, and have the appearance of being not so much concerted attacks as outbursts of irritation or grumblings of the governed about their rulers. Now, however, came the beginnings of an organised, continuous depreciation of each party by the other side, with a definite end in view, that is, to exclude rival politicians from power by discrediting them in public opinion. After the king’s return, there became perceptible certain features of English life, political, social and literary, which specially favoured a new development of satiric literature. In politics, we have the slow integration of two parties within the constitution. Cavalier and puritan had held mutually irreconcilable views on fundamental questions, and were prepared to proceed to extremities to uphold them. It was otherwise with their successors, who were slow in becoming completely antagonistic, and were then so nearly balanced in resources and so afraid of civil war as to form the habit of toleration in fact, if not in theory. When consistent anglicans and ci-devant presbyterians divided between them the Long Parliament of Charles II, their differences arose chiefly on matters of practical policy on which the vanquished could afford to await better times. Concerning the position of monarch and church, there was no real dispute. But there were divergences as to what measures of immediate import should be taken by the monarch and as to what extent of conformity was expedient in the church; and the actions of the restoration government were sufficiently coherent to permit of its supporters and opponents coalescing among themselves, and, in the sequel, forming the court and the country parties. A process which, at first, was very gradual, furnished forth the two combatants in a perennial duel.

At the same time, new social conditions came into being with the increased preponderance of London in the national life, and with the new and strictly urban habits which Londoners were forming. Town and country were becoming more differentiated than they had ever been before: and the townsmen, among whom we may include many members of the aristocracy who spent part of the year in London, composed an apt audience for the new kind of literary political warfare. Coffee-house and park gave an atmosphere where satire could flourish, while the increased facility of communication both altered the tastes of the country gentry by bringing them to town and maintained their allegiance to the supremacy of London by allowing the steady transmission of news-letters and pamphlets from the capital to the provinces.

Lastly, the revolution in literary ideals was peculiarly suitable for satire. Here, at least, in invective on men and things, there was ample scope for a reasoned perspicuous line, dealing with life as it was known, and for the strongly knit couplet, which simulated wit, even when not possessing it, and which was eminently well adapted for sharp, hard practicalities.