The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 18. The Novel and the Theatre
The transfer of Fielding’s literary activity from drama to novel suggests another potent factor in the decline of the drama. To the forces of Italian opera, pantomime, burlesque, balladopera, farce and spectacle, whose constant inroads had grievously thinned the ranks of regular drama, was now added a more dangerous, if more subtle, rival off the boards. Robinson Crusoe (1719–20) and Gulliver’s Travels (1726–7) had already fired the fancy of English readers. With Richardson’s Pamela (1740), the English novel began its great period of literary dominance. It is not an accidental coincidence that the middle of the eighteenth century is marked by poverty in dramatic composition as well as by the strenuous advance of the novel. Nevertheless, two powerful forces helped to sustain the vitality of the theatre. Provided with a strong repertory of stock plays, the genius of actors was able to triumph even over the mediocrity of contemporary drama. It was the age of the player, not of the playwright. The period of which we speak is the era of Garrick.