The Restoration Age was an important era in the development of English prose. It was the period when English prose moved from antiquity to modernity. The prose before the Restoration Age is characterised by word-excess, complexity etc.
But prose in and after the Restoration Age has the modern qualities of clarity, precision and simplicity. With the development of Restoration Age, English prose moves speedily towards being strictly functional. It cuts down all unnecessary ornamentation.
With the social change, linguistic change in the Restoration Age also went hand in hand. With the stability in society, came the stability in language. The period saw a transition from the turbulence of antiquity to stability and balance of the new times. The transition was the sum-total of many complex forces.
Critical interest in Restoration Prose was shown for the first time in the History of English Literature. Although critical interest in the poetry was popular from a much earlier period, such interest in prose is visible only in this period.
Before this, the rules of English Grammar and syntax were dynamic. In Restoration Age, the need for stabilising the English language was voiced by many eminent writers like Dryden. They expressed the desire to clarify and fix language once and for all.
We find, for the first time in history, writers discussing what is good and what is not. Their new interest starts with Hobbes and the Royal Society.
English prose written in Restoration Age favours clarity, simplicity and utility against ornamentation, affection, turgidity etc. One of the best examples is Sprat’s History of the Royal Society.
The transition from antiquity to modernity in English prose in Restoration Age was a movement towards its “de-Latinisation”. English prose before the Restoration Age was highly Latinised, both in diction (choice of words) and syntax (structure of the sentence).
This Latinisation results in the complexity of style. The de-Latinisation of English prose around after the Restoration Age meant the simplification and modernisation of English prose.
It also implied the bringing nearer of written language to the spoken language. In general, we can say that English prose took a great leap forward from antiquity to modernity.
Factors Responsible for Change
The Royal Society
The most important of the factors for the development of Restoration prose was the establishment of the Royal Society in 1662 A.D. for the promotion of experimental science. It was Charles-II, who granted the establishing of the Society.
Courtiers were allowed to have even private laboratories of their own. Establishment of Royal Society gave rise to important factors that changed English prose from antiquity to modernity.
The language used by scientists to describe their experiments needed to be clear, unimpassioned and almost mathematical.
The plain language was used and recommended by the members of the Royal Society had much influence upon contemporary men of letters. As a consequence, simplicity in language was adopted by most of the eminent writers of the age.
The divines of the age also did as good work as the scientists for the simplicity of the prose. The age is known for the great sermons written during it.
Divines apart themselves from the old style and expressed their sermons ineffective and simple English capable of being understood and appreciated by the common people.
They didn’t treat their hearers as empty buckets to be pumped into nor did they have a taste for the ornamentation and affection. Tillotson played a major role in affecting the change in English prose.
Dryden, one of the greatest masters of English prose, expressed that he had learnt the style chiefly from Tillotson.
Modernisation by Popularisation of Literature
Last but not least, was the modernising influence exerted on English prose by the popularisation of the Literature towards the end of 17th The expansion of the circle of readers as much responsible for the simplification and stabilisation of English prose. The language employed by the writers, with an eye on common people was naturally simple and clear enough.
Restoration Prose Writers
With the exception of the works of Dryden and Bunyan, the prose work of the Restoration Age is of little moment.
Dryden’s prose is almost entirely devoted to literary criticism and Bunyan’s contribution shows the development of “prose allegory”. The remaining prose writers deal with political, historical, theological and other miscellaneous subjects.
- JOHN DRYDEN: He is the representative writer of the Restoration Age. His important work is An Essay of Dramatic Poesie. He was also a great critic of the age
- JOHN BUNYAN: He is the only rival of Dryden in the Restoration Age. He wrote mainly allegories. His important works are The Pilgrim’s Progress, The Holy War etc.
- SIR WILLIAM TEMPLE: He wrote little but grand. His chief works are Letters, Memoirs, Miscellanea
Through the prose writings of Restoration, Age is not great in bulk. It shows a profound change in style. In Dryden’s time, prose acquires a general utility and permanence; it is smoothened and straightened, simplified and harmonised. It is that period when prose acquires modernity from antiquity.