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a long digression in which he pictures the innocence and happiness of the mythological age. He even follows the classical poets in picturing his own as the Iron Age:

But now those white, unblemished manners, whence
The fabling poets took their Golden Age,

And found no more amid these iron times,
These dregs of life!

This may be considered as purely imitative. But in Summer where he describes the luxuriant vegetation and excellent fruits of the Torrid Zone in such a way as to remind one immediately of the Elegies of Propertius, there seems to be something more than bare imitation. The connection of this nature description with the Golden Age would have been scarcely less obvious had he failed to add the three lines:

Witness, thou best Anana, thou the pride
Of vegetable life, beyond whate'er
The poets imaged in the Golden Age.

Many other instances of classical influence might be cited, but it need only be noted in this connection that while Pope and his school barely strip the surface-peelings of form and words, Thomson reads between the lines and behind them, and transmits the feelings and underlying sentiments which form the basis of the universal appeal of the Golden Age.

The next step for Thomson is all but inevitable. Realizing that the conditions of the mythical Golden Age are to be found in the country districts of his own shire he transfers the Golden Age from the remote past to the present and now it exists in the country alongside the Iron Age in the city. This new Golden Age, the ideal life in the country, is often endowed with the natural bounties, and always with the psychological elements of the mythical Golden Age. From this time forward poets find the Golden Age wherever conditions are conducive to happiness, quiet, undisturbed meditation, and freedom of imagination. Such conditions exist only in the country: -

This is the life which those who fret in guilt,

And guilty cities never knew; the life

Led by primeval ages, uncorrupt,

When angels dwelt, and God himself, with man.

Call this the "literature of escape," the "return to nature," or what you will, its basis in the fabulous Golden Age is not to be denied. Add to Thomson's idealization of the simplicity and purity of country life as contrasted with the corruption and degradation of city life, his humanitarianism - the emphasis upon the mercy, kindness, and humaneness of man, which also comes from the Golden Age-and you have Rousseauism thirty years before Rousseau. While Thomson connects with the Queen Anne poets just treated in his imitation of the classical Golden Age, he goes beyond them and anticipates later writers in his humanitarianism and his identification of the characteristics of the mythical Golden Age with the nature of his own day.

There were many lesser poets who treated Golden Age material from something like Thomson's point of view, but they were largely influenced by the prevailing spirit of the time. Akenside's Golden Age is only an imitation, and the naturepraise of Somerville and Armstrong is largely utilitarian. The new attitude towards nature and the Golden Age, and the new spirit in poetry were only trying their wings for later flights.


Thomson took a forward step when he revealed the wonderful possibilities of an English rural retreat by endowing the scene with all the attributes of the fabled Golden Age. The contrast between this life and that in the city or in the midst of society was only generally drawn. The personal quality was added by Thomas Warton. In the Pleasures of Melancholy he contrasts the artificiality of court life with the happiness of romantic solitude and, like his predecessors, advocates the life in the country for all who would be truly happy, but, unlike them, wishes such an existence for himself. When old age comes upon him he would fly from the world and live in quiet seclusion. The retreat which he describes has all the characteristics of the Golden Age of the ancient poets. There is a lowly cottage situated in a beautiful valley enclosed by dark-branching trees; a murmuring river flows through the valley, and on its banks grow all kinds of fruit-bearing trees. Here would he

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spend the last days of his life apart from the world, enjoying all the blessing of the fabled Golden Age.

Like Thomson, Warton transferred the characteristics of the ancient Golden Age to a rural spot in England. This place is so idealized in the mind of the poet that it becomes for him a retreat from the world, either real or fancied, and furnishes the balm for all life's woes. The general treatment of a general subject has now become individual and personal. The poet actually applies to his own life the conditions which others had only talked about.

The Visions of Nathaniel Cotton exhibit a true appreciation of natural beauty and advocate the country life for health and happiness. In Vision III Cotton pictures the retreat where he would spend his old age. It is almost identical with that described by Warton; there are the verdant hills, the winding river, and the "humble cottage thatched with straw." Into this rural retreat he would flee from the scenes of life's labor and find a Golden Age of quiet meditation. It is a purely personal longing and the satisfaction derived will be personal.

James Grainger, in his Ode on Solitude, handles the same material in very similar fashion.

An interesting treatment of the personal application of Golden Age material is to be found in the Deserted Village. Goldsmith, reckless, dissipated vagrant though he was, had always before him the thought of a peaceful old age in the simplicity and innocence of the pastoral village of Lissoy. Looking back with a perspective of many misspent years he clothed his childhood with a halo of happiness and ideality. This has a psychological parallel, if not its psychological basis, in the Golden Age of the classical poets. The personal appeal for the protection of a sheltered retreat in old age, the desire to flee the world and live in quiet solitude, is unmistakable in Goldsmith's poem.


It is a commonplace that each poet thought himself to be living in the Iron Age. All the writers realized that society was imperfect, and those who longed for perfect happiness found it only in contemplating an ideal existence. The ancient poets

went in imagination to a condition at the very beginning of time, and called it the Golden Age. The poets just treated went in imagination and in person to a rural scene of quiet seclusion, patterned after the ancients' Golden Age, and there found an antidote for a mind and soul poisoned by too much contact with a diseased society. But there were other poets who saw redemption for society as a whole by returning to primitive conditions, to the condition of man at the beginning of the world, to man in a state of nature. With these writers the personal element is secondary, but the object is the same in any case. The return to nature, whether for the individual or the race, is simply a return to natural conditions; in other words, to the Golden Age.

Joseph Warton's Enthusiast is filled with Golden Age material. The familiar contrast between the country and the city is emphasized. If man is happiest away from the institutions of society and civilization, as is the unlearned rustic, then the supreme happiness is to be found in conditions farthest removed from civilization; that is, in savagery. Such is Warton's point of view. He conceives the American Indian to be living in the nearest possible approximation to the conditions of the mythological Golden Age. Since that age was in the very morning of time there could have been nothing for man's use that was not the direct gift of the Creator. The Indian lives in "natural" conditions as did the people in the age of Cronus, and is therefore supremely happy.

In the Enthusiast Warton dreams of the "Isles of Innocence" where happiness and quiet sit enthroned as in the fabled Golden Age. There the Indian wanders in idleness through the groves with nothing to do but pick the ripe fruits as they hang on the branches about him. He is far from slavery, "cursed power,' and the other ills of civilized society, and consequently is happy and peaceful. The cure for these ills is in the return to natural conditions.

The use of Golden Age material by James Beattie is strikingly parallel to that by Joseph Warton. He imitates the ancient classical poets in portraying the mythological Golden Age, believes his own time to be the Iron Age, advocates the return to

nature, and looks to America to find the conditions of the Golden Age.

In the Ode to Peace, Beattie laments that he is living in the terrible Iron Age with its war, murder, and rapine. Since the mythical Golden Age was succeeded by the Iron Age and sacred Peace took flight from its sometime home, it has found no resting place among civilized men. But the poet looks wistfully across the waters to the land of promise-America-and wonders if, there where the Indian roves through primeval shades, tasting the sweet pleasures of uncorrupted nature, Peace has not taken up its abode. He considers the condition of the savage as nearest nature and therefore nearest the Golden Age. This conception of the return to nature set forth by the poets became a very powerful force in the hands of the prose writers who preached the "state of nature" as a social, religious, and political doctrine during the last part of the century.


The Golden Age idea came into English poetry of the eighteenth century as one of many phases of classic verse to be copied and imitated. It is closely connected with nature and the early imitations failed to convey anything of its spirit because the poets had little appreciation of nature. It is significant that the first treatment of the material which has anything of warmth and color in it is by the first nature-poet of the century. While Thomson transferred the Golden Age attributes to English nature, the poets who followed him went still farther in recreating for themselves the whole atmosphere of the mythical Golden Age. To the identification with English nature was added the conception of a secret retreat wherein the individual might find rest and quiet, and this was expanded into the thought of a corrupt society made perfect by a return to the conditions of nature. By the last quarter of the century these various phases had become so generally diffused that it is impossible longer to trace them with certainty. They are inextricably bound up with the great Romantic movement, they are taking practical shape in Pantisocratic schemes, and they are to be found on the pages of nearly every poet. The freedom and fa

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