English literature

 The 18th century

 Publication of political literature

 The expiry of the Licensing Act in 1695 halted state censorship of the press. During the
next 20 years there were to be 10 general elections. These two factors combined to
 produce an enormous growth in the publication of political literature. Senior politicians,
 especially Robert Harley, saw the potential importance of the pamphleteer in wooing
 the support of a wavering electorate, and numberless hack writers produced copy for
 the presses. Richer talents also played their part. Harley, for instance, instigated
 Daniel Defoe's industrious work on the Review (1704-13), which consisted, in essence,
 of a regular political essay defending, if often by indirection, current governmental
 policy. He also secured Jonathan Swift's polemical skills for contributions to The
 Examiner (1710-11). Swift's most ambitious intervention in the paper war, again
 overseen by Harley, was The Conduct of the Allies (1711), a devastatingly lucid
 argument against any further prolongation of the War of the Spanish Succession.
 Writers like Defoe and Swift did not confine themselves to straightforward discursive
 techniques in their pamphleteering but experimented deftly with mock forms and
 invented personae to carry the attack home. According to contemporary testimony,
 Defoe's Shortest-Way with the Dissenters (1702) so brilliantly sustained its
 impersonation of a High Church extremist, its alleged narrator, that it was at first
 mistaken for the real thing. This avalanche of political writing whetted the
 contemporary appetite for reading matter generally and, in the increasing
 sophistication of its ironic and fictional maneuvers, assisted in preparing the way for
 the astonishing growth in popularity of narrative fiction during the subsequent

 Political journalism

 After Defoe's Review the great innovation in periodical journalism came with the
 achievements of Richard Steele and Joseph Addison in The Tatler (1709-11) and then
 The Spectator (1711-12). In a familiar, easily approachable style they tackled a great
 range of topics, from politics to fashion, from aesthetics to the development of
 commerce. They aligned themselves with those who wished to see a purification of
 manners after the laxity of the Restoration and wrote extensively, with descriptive and
 reformative intent, about social and family relations. Their political allegiances were
 Whig, and in their creation of Sir Roger de Coverley they painted a wry portrait of the
 landed Tory squire as likable, possessed of good qualities, but feckless and
 anachronistic. Contrariwise, they spoke admiringly of the positive and honourable
 virtues bred by a healthy, and expansionist, mercantile community. Addison, the more
 original of the two, was an adventurous literary critic who encouraged esteem for the
 ballad through his enthusiastic account of Chevy-Chase, wrote a thoughtful and
 probing examen of Paradise Lost, and hymned the pleasures of the imagination in a
 series of papers deeply influential on 18th-century thought. The success with which
 Addison and Steele established the periodical essay as a prestigious form can be
 judged by the fact that they were to have more than 300 imitators before the end of
 the century. The awareness of their society and curiosity about the way it was
 developing, which they encouraged in their eager and diverse readership, left its mark
 on much subsequent writing.