English Literature: 1600-1700 Authors

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Samuel Rutherford
Scottish Presbyterian pastor, theologian and author, and one of the Scottish Commissioners to the Westminster Assembly. He has been described as the Prince of Letter Writers. His political book “Lex, Rex” was written in response to John Maxwell’s “Sacro-Sanctum Regus Majestas” and presented a theory of limited government and constitutionalism that raised him to merited eminence as a philosophical thinker.
John Milton
Wrote at a time of religious flux and political upheaval, and is best known for his epic poem “Paradise Lost” (1667), written in blank verse. His poetry and prose reflect deep personal convictions, a passion for freedom and self-determination, and the urgent issues and political turbulence of his day. Writing in English, Latin, Greek, and Italian, he achieved international renown within his lifetime, and his celebrated “Areopagitica” (1644)—written in condemnation of pre-publication censorship—is among history’s most influential and impassioned defenses of free speech and freedom of the press.
Richard Crashaw
English poet, styled “the divine,” and known as one of the central figures associated with the Metaphysical poets in 17th Century English literature. His poetry is firmly within the Metaphysical tradition. Though his oeuvre is considered of uneven quality and among the weakest examples of the genre, his work is said to be marked by a focus toward “love with the smaller graces of life and the profounder truths of religion, while he seems forever preoccupied with the secret architecture of things.”
Richard Baxter
Dean Stanley called him “the chief of English Protestant Schoolmen.” After some false starts, he made his reputation by his ministry at Kidderminster, and at around the same time began a long and prolific career as theological writer. His “Breviate of the Life of Mrs Margaret Baxter” records the virtues of his wife and tenderness which otherwise might not have been known.
Henry Vaughan
Welsh author, physician and metaphysical poet. He took his literary inspiration from his native environment and chose the descriptive name “Silurist,” derived from his homage to the Silures, the Celtic tribe of pre-Roman south Wales which strongly resisted the Romans.
Dorothy Osborne
After refusing a long string of impressive suitors put forth by her family, in 1654 she married Sir William Temple, a man with whom she had carried on a lengthy clandestine courtship that was largely epistolary in nature. It is for her letters to him, which were witty, progressive and socially illuminating, that she is remembered.
John Bunyan
Christian writer and preacher. He is the author of the most famous published Christian allegory. In addition to this, he wrote nearly sixty titles, many of them expanded sermons.
John Dryden
Poet, literary critic, translator, and playwright who was made Poet Laureate in 1668. He is seen as dominating the literary life of Restoration England to such a point that the period came to be known in literary circles as the Age of Dryden.
Daniel Defoe
English trader, writer, journalist, pamphleteer, and spy. He is notable for being one of the earliest proponents of the novel, as he helped to popularize the form in Britain and is among the founders of the English novel. A prolific and versatile writer, he wrote more than 500 books, pamphlets, and journals on various topics (including politics, crime, religion, marriage, psychology and the supernatural). He was also a pioneer of economic journalism.
Matthew Prior
Known as a contributor to The Examiner. When the Queen died and the Whigs regained power, he was impeached and kept in close custody for two years (1715-1717). During this imprisonment, maintaining his cheerful philosophy, he wrote his longest humorous poem, “Alma”; or, “The Progress of the Mind.”
Jonathan Swift
Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer (first for the Whigs, then for the Tories), poet and cleric who became Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. He was part of the inner circle of the Tory government, and recorded his experience and thoughts during this time in a series of letters to Esther Johnson, collected and published after his death as “A Journal to Stella.”
John Gay
English poet and dramatist and member of the Scriblerus Club.
Alexander Pope
Poet famous for his satire and use of the heroic couplet. “The Dunciad” was a dangerous moral essay and, though published anonymously, its authorship was not in doubt. Because of numerous threats, he would never go for a walk without the company of his Great Dane, Bounce, and a pair of loaded pistols in his pocket.
James Thomson
Scottish poet and playwright, known for his masterpiece “The Seasons” and the lyrics of “Rule, Britannia!”.
Samuel Johnson
Made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer. He was a devout Anglican and committed Tory. His odd gestures and nervous tics were disconcerting to some on first meeting him.
Thomas Gray
Poet, letter-writer, classical scholar and professor at Cambridge University. He is widely known for his “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” (1751). He was a brilliant bookworm, a quiet, abstracted, dreaming scholar, often afraid of the shadows of his own fame. He came to be known as one of the “Graveyard poets” of the late 18th century, along with Oliver Goldsmith, William Cowper, and Christopher Smart. He perhaps knew these men, sharing ideas about death, mortality, and the finality and sublimity of death.
Oliver Goldsmith
Irish novelist, playwright and poet, best known for his novel “The Vicar of Wakefield” (1766), pastoral poem “The Deserted Village” (1770), and plays. He is thought to have written the classic children’s tale “The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes,” the source of the phrase “goody two-shoes.”
William Cowper
English poet and hymnodist. One of the most popular poets of his time, he changed the direction of 18th century nature poetry by writing of everyday life and scenes of the English countryside. Although after being institutionalized for insanity in the period 1763-65, he found refuge in a fervent evangelical Christianity, the inspiration behind his much-loved hymns, he often experienced doubt and after a dream in 1773 believed that he was doomed to eternal damnation.
James Boswell
Lawyer, diarist, and author born in Edinburgh, Scotland. He is best known for the intimate biography he wrote of one of his contemporaries, Samuel Johnson. His surname has passed into the English language as a term for a constant companion and observer, especially one who records those observations in print.
William Blake
A seminal figure in the history of the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age. His prophetic poetry has been said to form “what is in proportion to its merits the least read body of poetry in the English language.” Considered mad by contemporaries for his idiosyncratic views, he is held in high regard by later critics for his expressiveness and creativity, and for the philosophical and mystical undercurrents within his work. Reverent of the Bible but hostile to the Church of England (indeed, to all forms of organized religion), he was influenced by the ideals and ambitions of the French and American Revolutions. Though later he rejected many of these political beliefs, he maintained an amiable relationship with the political activist Thomas Paine. The singularity of his work makes him difficult to classify.
Robert Burns
Scottish poet and lyricist. He is widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland and is celebrated worldwide. He also wrote in standard English, and in these writings his political or civil commentary is often at its bluntest. He is regarded as a pioneer of the Romantic movement, and after his death he became a great source of inspiration to the founders of both liberalism and socialism, and a cultural icon for Scots around the world. His style is marked by spontaneity, directness, and sincerity, and ranges from the tender intensity of some of his lyrics through humour. The strong emotional highs and lows associated with many of his poems have led some to suggest that he suffered from manic depression.
William Lisle Bowles
Published “Fourteen Sonnets” to high praise. His longer poems published are not of a very high standard, though all are distinguished by purity of imagination, cultured and graceful diction, and great tenderness of feeling.
William Wordsworth
English poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with the 1798 joint publication “Lyrical Ballads.” His magnum opus is generally considered to be “The Prelude,” a semiautobiographical poem of his early years which he revised and expanded a number of times. It was posthumously titled and published, prior to which it was generally known as “the poem to Coleridge.” He was Britain’s Poet Laureate from 1843 until his death in 1850.
Sir Walter Scott
Although primarily remembered for his extensive literary works and his political engagement, he was an advocate, judge and legal administrator by profession, and throughout his career combined his writing and editing work with his daily occupation as Clerk of Session and Sheriff-Depute of Selkirkshire. The first English-language author to have a truly international career in his lifetime.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
English poet, literary critic and philosopher who, with his friend William Wordsworth, was a founder of the Romantic Movement in England and a member of the Lake Poets. His critical work, especially on Shakespeare, was highly influential, and he helped introduce German idealist philosophy to English-speaking culture. He coined many familiar words and phrases, including the celebrated suspension of disbelief. He was a major influence on Emerson and American transcendentalism. Throughout his adult life, he suffered from crippling bouts of anxiety and depression; it has been speculated by some that he suffered from bipolar disorder, a condition not identified during his lifetime.
Robert Southey
One of the Lake Poets, and Poet Laureate for 30 years from 1813 to his death. He was also a prolific letter writer, literary scholar, essay writer, historian and biographer. Biographies include: John Bunyan, John Wesley, William Cowper, Oliver Cromwell and Horatio Nelson.
Charles Lamb
Both he and his sister Mary suffered a period of mental illness. He spent six weeks in a mental facility during 1795, at the time while he was already making his name as a poet. His sister, in a bout of acute mania, killed her own mother with a kitchen knife. He used a large part of his relatively meagre income to keep his beloved sister in a private “madhouse” in Islington.
Walter Savage Landor
His best known works were the prose “Imaginary Conversations,” and the poem “Rose Aylmer,” but the critical acclaim he received from contemporary poets and reviewers was not matched by public popularity. As remarkable as his work was, it was equalled by his rumbustious character and lively temperament.
Jane Austen
Lived her entire life as part of a close-knit family located on the lower fringes of the English landed gentry. She was educated primarily by her father and older brothers as well as through her own reading. The steadfast support of her family was critical to her development as a professional writer. Her works critique the novels of sensibility of the second half of the 18th century and are part of the transition to 19th-century realism. Her plots, though fundamentally comic, highlight the dependence of women on marriage to secure social standing and economic security. Her works, though usually popular, were first published anonymously and brought her little personal fame and only a few positive reviews during her lifetime.
Leigh Hunt
Worked as a writer and editor for The Examiner, the Reflector, and the Indicator. In 1816 he made a mark in English literature with the publication of “Story of Rimini,” based on the tragic episode of Francesca da Rimini told in Dante’s Inferno. The poem is an optimistic narrative which runs contrary to the tragic nature of its subject. His flippancy and familiarity, often degenerating into the ludicrous, made him a target for ridicule and parody.
Thomas Love Peacock
English novelist, poet, and official of the East India Company. He was a close friend of Percy Bysshe Shelley and they influenced each other’s work. He wrote satirical novels, each with the same basic setting — characters at a table discussing and criticizing the philosophical opinions of the day. He has no plot, little human interest, and no consistent delineation of character. His personages are mere puppets, or, at best, incarnations of abstract qualities such as grace or beauty, but beautifully depicted.
Thomas De Quincey
English essayist best known for his “Confessions of an English Opium-Eater” (1821). Many scholars suggest that in publishing this work he inaugurated the tradition of addiction literature in the West.
Baron George Gordon Byron
Poet and leading figure in the Romantic movement. Often described as the most flamboyant and notorious of the major Romantics, he was celebrated in life for aristocratic excesses, including huge debts, numerous love affairs with both sexes, rumours of a scandalous incestuous liaison with his half-sister, and self-imposed exile.
Percy Bysshe Shelley
One of the major English Romantic poets. A radical in his poetry as well as his political and social views, he did not achieve fame during his lifetime, but recognition for his poetry grew steadily following his death. He was a key member of a close circle of visionary poets and writers that included Lord Byron; Leigh Hunt; Thomas Love Peacock; and his own second wife, Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein.
John Keats
English Romantic poet, one of the main figures of the second generation of Romantic poets along with Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, despite his work having been in publication for only four years before his death. Although his poems were not generally well received by critics during his life, his reputation grew after his death, so that by the end of the 19th century he had become one of the most beloved English poets. His poetry is characterized by sensual imagery, most notably in his series of odes.
Thomas Carlyle
Scottish philosopher, satirical writer, essayist, historian and teacher during the Victorian era. He called economics “the dismal science,” wrote articles for the Edinburgh Encyclopedia, and became a controversial social commentator. His combination of religious temperament with loss of faith in traditional Christianity made his work appealing to many Victorians who grappled with scientific and political changes that threatened the traditional social order. He brought a trenchant style to his social and political criticism, and a complex literary style to works such as “The French Revolution: A History” (1837).
Mary Shelley
English novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer, and travel writer who also edited and promoted the works of her husband, Romantic poet and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley.
Categories: English Literature