The eighteenth century in England is also called Classical Age or Augustan Age. As the writers of the eighteenth century in England tried to follow the simple and noble methods of ancient writers, they began to be called Classical writers. The reign of Augustus is called the Classical Age of Rome. The abundance of quality work forced this age to be called Age of Augustus as well. The eighteenth century writers in England followed the ancient classical writers only in their external performance, sublimity and grandeur, that is why their classicism is called Pseudo-Classicism. The term Augustus was chosen by the writers of the eighteenth century themselves, who saw in Pope, Addison, Swift, Johnson and Burke the modern parallels to Horace, Virgil, Cicero and other brilliant writers who made Roman literature famous during the reign of Emperor Augustus.
The eighteenth century is also called the Age of Reason or the Age of Good Sense. Every man in this age had a right to state according to his own knowledge and observation, despite of following the rules chalked out by the ancestors. He could stand on his own legs and be guided in the conduct of his affairs by the light of his own reason. Poetry became polished, witty and artificial but it lacked the fine feelings, enthusiasm and poetic glow of Elizabethan age.There was no earnestness of puritan age. In fact, it became more interested in portrayal of actual life and distrusted inspiration and imagination. As the eighteenth century is a long period, it can be divided into, The Age of Pope, the Age of Johnson, and The Romantic Age.
THE AGE OF POPE
It was the Classical school of poetry, which dominated the Age of Pope. Pope was the dominating figure on that period. The poets of this period are deficient on the side of emotion and imagination. Dominated by intellect, the poetry of this age is commonly didactic and satirical, poetry of argument and criticism, of politics and personalities. In the poetry of this age, form became more important than substance. This love of superficial polish, great emphasis on the imitation of ancient writers, lost touch with the real life of the people. Despite Pope, Mathew Prior, John Gay, Edward Young, Thomas Parnell are the prominent names of this age.
THE AGE OF JOHNSON
Most of the poets belonging to the Age of Johnson may be termed as the precursors of the Romantic Revival. That is why the Age of Johnson is also called the Age of Transition in English literature. The greatest protagonist during this period was Dr. Johnson himself, and he was supported by Goldsmith. Their creative work imbued with classical spirit. The other poets who broke from the classical tradition and followed the new Romantic trends include James Thomson, Thomas Gray, William Collins, James Macpherson, William Blake, Robert Burns, William Cowper, and George Crabbe.
THE ROMANTIC AGE
The artificial formal style, which insisted on town life, was rejected by this school. Simplicity and naturalness of diction were the initial traits of romantic poetry. Heroic couplet was substituted with blank verse or shorter lyrical measures. Free flow of imagination and unrestrained expression of emotions replaced dry intellectualism. This new trend emancipated the poet from the autocracy of literary rules and conventions. Such changing ideas were quite in keeping with the political scenario, where French revolution and struggle for an independent united states were in full swing. Poets of this age liberated themselves from the age-old conventions in poetry, like the average person who struggled against social and economical domination and tyranny. William Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey and Scott belong to the first romantic generation. They sang about the emotions and feelings, which were shared by the majority of their fellow citizens.
The victorious struggle with France left England impoverished. There was a lot of turmoil and perturbation among the rank and file which were suppressed by those who were in power. In such an atmosphere of repression, the young romantic poets attacked the established social order, and then the second generation of romantic writers came with Byron, Shelley, Keats, Leigh Hunt, Hazlitt, and others.