The Zeitgeist, the Spirit of the Age in literary history, always calls for an eminent name as a convenient label: the Age of Dryden, of Johnson. A writer who gives the period he lived in his name must have been an acknowledged authority in his own time, a conspicuous leader in his style and opinions—which cuts out Dante, or Shakespeare. But what name can be attached to the period 1700-1740? Pope and Swift are the first names that come to mind. In retrospect it was just as much the age of Defoe, but he was despised in his time as a hack pamphleteer. And Congreve, as brilliantly gifted as any of the three, gave up with the appearance of The Way of the World and retired into a thirty-year silence.

Pope and Swift were in many ways temperamental opposites. Swift was a hypochondriac, naturally endowed with health and vigor, but with a morbid hatred and disgust for the fleshly functions: a man too who lived in...

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