THE AUGUSTAN AGE
A new balance was found between the parliament and the monarchy. In this period journalism born and became important because middle-class people became interested in literature, art, social problems and political life. They also wanted to be informed and to discuss events, so coffee houses were introduced. They were one of the most significant trait of London's social life, and their number spread during the commonwealth. Coffee houses were associated with news, gossip and provided entertainment . With the beginning of a postal system at the end of the 17th century, they took on a new role as circulation center: they served as a box number for advertisers in the newspaper and as meeting point for the most important companies. Coffee houses created an atmosphere in which contacts between different social classes were possible, as seen as they were open to a large number of people and were less exclusive that clubs.
The middle class was the dominant class and was made of traders, merchants, bankers and was growing in power and prestige: mercantilism was the economic theory that trade increases wealth. The policy brought about an inequal distribution of wealth, money and property; they were contrasted by poverty and the filth of the slums (a very poor area of the city) that caused illnesses problems and diseases.
Journalism: manuscripts and newsletters began to circulate in the 17th century. When some periodical pamphlets (thin book containing information) like Corantos (or Weekly News) began to be published as newsletter, followed by others until 1665, when the form was used by Sheet and called it folio, the Oxford Gazette and the London Gazette. Everything was subject to censorship, and the Licensing Act (1662) was passed to prevent the publication of heretic works. It lasted until 1694, when parliament refused to renew the act, and forms of punishment (pillory, imprisonment) were maintained for pamphlets and works published against the monarchy, parliament or church.
The abolition of censorship helped the improving of many newspapers and Journalism. When political debates were carried on by anonymous pamphlets, the language was sometimes violent. For the freedom of the press, many men of letters started to write for newspapers and helped the change of language. The first important periodical (a magazine published every week/month) was the Review, started 1704 by Daniel Defoe (author of Robinson Crusoe); he wrote mainly political articles about home and foreign affairs. The Examiner, published in 1710 and conducted by Irish Jonathan Swift (author of Gulliver's Travels) contained a lot of satirical work. The Rambler, published between 1750-1752 and the Idler published between 1758-1760, contributed by Samuel Johnson. The Spectator and The Tatler were started by Richard Steele, who cooperated with Addison.
In 1750 the Wesley brothers (John and Charles) founded the Methodist Church (a Christian Protestant Church based on living by method and rule, that broke away from the Church of England in 1791, after John's death). The middle class was afraid of a change since they wanted to maintain their privileges.
The ascension of individual freedom, important in the Augustan society, was mirrored in novels (most important genre during the period). It led to a re-valuation of love and sex and a transformation in relationships. The social role of women and their position changed: they became more and more independent and started a process of emancipation (during that time, women outnumbered men). It was difficult finding a husband, the wish of self-assertion increased prostitution and the number of women who started to work grew quickly. Women were underpaid though, victims of a rising capitalism. The ones who occupied a higher level on the social ladder and were educated had more leisure for themselves, they had a lot of middle class servants and started reading books. Their increasing presence among the reading public inspired writers a lot of novels and new subjects.
The main feature at the time was realism (the sort of events described had to be realistic, so the reader had to get the impression he was reading something true, that mirrored real life, so readers could impersonate themselves in the main characters), and it led to a predominance of novels over poetry. Essays and novels were important because merchants were supposed to travel and could find all the information they needed there, and they were really practical. The language had to be very simple, ordered, polish and elegant; clear and precise, simple enough to be understood by readers: it was a way of spreading and popularizing culture. The content became very important, and new models were looked for and found among classical masters such as Horace, Ovid, Virgil and Tibullus.