The period from the accession of Charles I in 1625 to the Revolution of 1688 was filled with a mighty struggle over the question whether king or Commons should be supreme in England. On this question the English people were divided into two main parties. On one side were the Royalists, or Cavaliers, who upheld the monarch with his theory of the divine right of kings, on the other were the Puritans, or Independents, who stood for the rights of the individual man and for the liberties of Parliament and people. The literature of the age is extremely diverse in character, and is sadly lacking in the unity, the joyousness, the splendid enthusiasm of Elizabethan prose and poetry.
The puritans were never a majority in England. But, it was changed in the Civil War in 1642, which ended in puritan victory. The result of the War, England was for a brief period a commonwealth, disciplined at home and respected abroad, through the genius and vigor and tyranny of Oliver Cromwell. When Cromwell died (1658) there was no man in England strong enough to take his place, and two years later “Prince Charlie,” who had long been an exile, was recalled to the throne as Charles II of England.
The Famous Writer in Puritan Period
The greatest writer of the period was John Milton (1608-1674). He is famous in literature for his early or Horton poems, which are Elizabethan in spirit; for his controversial prose works, which reflect the strife of the age; for his epic of Paradise Lost, and for his tragedy of Samson.
Another notable Puritan, or rather Independent, writer was John Bunyan (1608-1674), whose works reflect the religious ferment of the seventeenth century. His chief works are Grace Abounding, a kind of spiritual biography, and The Pilgrim’s Progress, an allegory of the Christian life which has been more widely read than any other English book.
The chief writer of the Restoration period was John Dryden (1631-1700), a professional author, who often catered to the coarser tastes of the age. There is no single work by which he is gratefully remembered. He is noted for his political satires, for his vigorous use of the heroic couplet, for his modern prose style, and for his literary criticisms.
Among the numerous minor poets of the period, Robert Herrick and George Herbert are especially noteworthy. A few miscellaneous prose works are the Religio Medici of Thomas Browne, The Compleat Angler of Isaac Walton, and the diaries of Pepys and Evelyn.