Can you bear one more post about Crisis of the European Mind, 1680-1715? I promise it is the last. Spending so much time writing about it has helped the broad picture congeal for me if not the details.
While we had Reason taking over society at large from Church to morality and civil society, what was literature and art doing? Hazard notes that in spite of Pope and a few others across Europe, the period is not known for its poetry. The problem was that Reason tried to take over poetry too. Instead of poetry that searched the soul and tried to eff the ineffable, it was determined that the imagination was suspicious and must be controlled by Reason and poetry should serve only as a vehicle for ideas, preferably about geometry. As Jean Le Clerc declared,
When you begin reading a piece of poetry, remember you are reading the work of a purveyor of lies, whose aim is to feed us on chimaeras, or on truths so twisted and distorted that we are hard put to it ti disentangle fact from fiction.
And the theatre, well, the theatre should be a school. English comedy had become so very naughty, it was time it got back to teaching good morals. Jeremy Collier had a conniption which gave rise to “an alliance between the Puritanic spirit and pseudo-classic morality.” There was no more room for the likes of Richard Steele, so comedy, according to Hazard, decided that since it could no longer do what it loved it was best to die.
But all was not lost. The period turned out to be an age for prose. The Spectator was so very popular and extolled the delights of the imagination. Suddenly, with a bleak world devoid of mystery, fairy tales became popular. Between 1704-1711, Antoine Galland brought out his translation of the Arabian Nights with great success.
Travel to far off places was also becoming more common and upon their return these adventurous souls would publish their tales of all the strange things they did and saw. Their books started to include drawings too — animals, Chinese pagodas, wondrous plants. People could not get enough.
It was also during this period that opera came into its own. It was decried as an insult to human intelligence and, while pleasing to the eye and ear, revolting to reason. Imagine singing everything from start to finish, declarations of love, dying words, speeches, messages, orders, secrets. It was absurd. And because it was absurd is precisely why it caught on.
At this time art also became increasingly concerned with the Beautiful and the Sublime and these things came from the heart, not the head. Art did not mean reason, art meant passion.
Reason tried to conquer sentiment but sentiment refused to be defeated. Thank goodness!