The literature of the Augustan Age was characterized by a variety of genres, which reflected the economic and the intellectual progress of the period.
But there was a limited distribution of literacy caused by:
- Few school; the attendance at these schools was too short and irregular. Children left school when they were six or seven to start work in factories or in fields.
- The high price of books;
- Little privacy; houses were overcrowded and there was not enough light to read even during the day.
However, libraries stoked all types of literature and acquired great importance. Women of the upper classes had more time and they read more.
The most important kinds of reading was novel and journalism.
The largest category of book published in the 18th century, was religious. Puritan morality played an important role in the life of many middle-class readers.
In the field of criticism Samuel Johnson was the best of his contemporaries; his greatest achievement is The Dictionary of the English language where is evident neo-classic love for order and precision. This work excluded technical or vulgar words, but admitted many scientific expressions, particularly medical and botanical.
The poet’s function was to provide social poetry. To say models of behavior presented in a classical pattern. Poetry didn’t express personal emotions or dissents of the poet.
Satire and mock-heroic verse were still the favorite techniques for criticism and moral concern.
Horace Ars Poetica influenced Augustan poets in their search for perfection and in their rejection of everyday language.
Poetic diction were:
- Standard phrases and periphrases to refer to ordinary things
- Use of apostrophe, inversion and personification
- Latinizing words and constructions.
There was a development of sentimental comedy, a type of play dealing with everyday problems of family and marriage in a very simply language. Bur, only of the end of Augustan Age, the playwrights Oliver Goldsmith and Richard Sheridan began to react against the excessive sentimentality in plays. They have moved away from the canons of the Comedy of Manners, but kept the use of the comedy of witty dialogue and created comic situations and ridiculous characters to amuse.
It was born from the interest of the middle class people in literature, art, social problems and political life. People also wanted to be informed and to discuss evens or personages of the day.
The Tatler ame out three times a week until 1711 and its article were written in conversational style.