English Poetry Timeline and Chronology
English Literature Timeline and Chronology
World Literature Timeline and Chronology
This is a timeline of English poetry and literature, from the earliest Celtic
works to the present day. All dates are AD or CE (current era) unless otherwise
specified. Some dates are approximations or "educated guesses." Considerable
information was extracted from wiki and other public web pages (we do not claim
everything here to be stunningly original).
"The Phases of English Poetry" is our most compressed outline; it quickly covers
the evolution of English poetry from Prehistoric, to Celtic, to Anglo-Roman, to Anglo-Saxon, to Anglo-Norman, and so forth.
The following sections go into more detail, covering each major
period from Prehistoric to Postmodernism. Please note that we
do not use the terms "England" and "English" in our timelines prior to the arrival
of the Angles who gave the island its name ("England"="Angle-Land").
Related pages: Free Verse Timeline
The Phases of English Poetry or a Brief History of English Poetry (the main periods are underlined;
the major poets' names are bolded)
For worldwide events, some much earlier, please refer to the following
9200 BC The end of the last glacial period in Britain, which may have been
unpopulated or very lightly populated at the time.
8000 BC Britain's climate warms and birch woodlands spread rapidly. Mesolithic
humans occupy the island, but sparsely.
5600 BC Rising seas separate Britain from the European mainland; thus
the natives' language and culture will evolve separately.
4500 BC There is evidence of farming in Britain, along with the development of
large earthwork barrows for burials and rituals.
3838 BC Earth's oldest known causeway, a timber trackway
called the Post Track, is created from ash planks in the Somerset
3700 BC A causewayed enclosure called the Neath Barrow is created 2 1/2 miles
northwest of Stonehenge.
3000 BC The first smaller henges are dug out at Stonehenge, but native
Britons remain prehistoric, lacking any writing.
2500 BC The larger hengessarsens and bluestonesare
erected at Stonehenge.
2200 BC Britain enters the Bronze Age; by 1600 BC there will be a lively trade
in exported British tin.
1268 BC This is Robert Graves' date for the Celtic
Song of Amergin, but dating oral works of the Prehistoric Period
750 BC Britain enters the Iron Age. Around this time most natives speak Brythonic, a Celtic tongue, as reflected in place names.
325 BC Pytheas of Massalia, a Greek explorer, is the first writer to mention
Britain, where people lived in thatched huts and ate plain fare.
57 BC Refugees from Gaul (France) called the Belgae (Belgians) arrive, fleeing
the Romans, who are also on their way to Britain ...
55 BC Julius Caesar invades Britain; the Anglo-Roman Period (55 BC-410 AD)
makes Latin the language of rulers, clergy and scholars.
51 BC Julius Caesar in his Gallic War mentions that Celtic Druids
studied poetry and committed "great numbers of verses" to memory.
43 AD The Roman Emperor Claudius invades and conquers Britain;
Londinium (London) is founded; native poetry remains oral.
122 Hadrian visits Britain; construction of Hadrian's
Wall begins; elites study Latin, the language of church, state and commerce.
350 The earliest Irish writings are anonymous Ogham
inscriptions on stone memorials dating to the fourth century.
410 Visigoths sack Rome; the Roman legions depart Britain, leading to the Anglo-Saxon or Old English Period (410-1066).
449 Anglo-Saxons invade England, which will take its name from the Angles as
the lingo becomes more Germanic.
450 The Undley bracteate contains the most ancient Old English runic
inscription, possibly about a "reward to a relative."
500 Birth of Gildas, the first native writer we know by name
(although he was born in Scotland and wrote in Latin).
597 Sent by Pope Gregory with 40 missionaries, Augustine founds the English
Church, then becomes Archbishop of Canterbury in 601.
658 Caedmon's Hymn, the oldest
known English poem, marks the beginning of English poetry (although it was
still largely Germanic).
680 Possible early date for the composition of the epic poem Beowulf, a
masterpiece of Old English (Anglo-Saxon) poetry.
731 A scholar known as the Venerable Bede writes The
Ecclesiastical History of the English People in Latin;
871 King Alfred the Great defeats
the Danes and becomes the first king of a united England. He was also a scholar, writer and translator.
890 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is "the single most important source
for the history" of Anglo-Saxon England;
950 The Exeter Book has two feminist poems, Wulf and Eadwacer and The Wife's Lament, the first rhymed poem,
1000 Now skruketh rose and lylie flour is
an early English
love poem; also a possible date for the Nowell Codex.
1066 William the Conqueror invades and rules; the Norman Conquest begins the Anglo-Norman or Middle English Period (1066-1340).
1086 King William commissions the Domesday Book, written in Latin, to
catalog his English holdings.
1096 Teaching begins at Oxford. French and Latin are the primary
languages of rulers, clergy, scholars and fashionable poets.
1200 How Long the Night ("Myrie it is while sumer ylast") is a stellar rhyming poem of the Middle
English period; also the first Ballads.
1215 The Magna Carta, drafted in French, forces King John to grant
liberties and rights to Englishmen in return for taxation.
1260 Early rhyming poems:
Sumer is icumen in,
Fowles in the Frith,
am of Irlaunde,
Now Goeth Sun Under Wood,
1340 Birth of Geoffrey Chaucer, the first major vernacular English poet;
thus begins the Late Middle English Period (1340-1503).
1350 An "alliterative revival" is led by the Gawain poet with Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Patience,
1362 The Statute of Pleading replaces French with English as the language of
law; English is used in Parliament for the first time.
1370 William Langland writes Piers Plowman.
1384 John Wycliffe publishes his English translation of the Bible. English replaces Latin as the main language in schools (except at Oxford
1399 Henry IV is the first English-speaking monarch since before the Norman
1430 A "haunting riddle-chant" is I Have a Yong Suster, an anonymous Medieval English
1455 The Guttenberg Bible is the first book printed with moveable
type. Printed books will lead to an explosion of knowledge.
1476 William Caxton prints Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, the first book
published in England with moveable
1485 The Tudor Period (1457-1603) ends the Middle Ages; English finally rules
in Henry VII's court; England speaks English everywhere, at long last!
1503 Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard
will introduce the sonnet,
iambic pentameter and blank verse, beginning the
English Renaissance (1503-1558).
1517 Martin Luther publishes his 95 theses against the Roman Catholic Church,
kick-starting the Protestant Reformation.
1532 The English Reformation (1532-1649)
has poets at war: some support the Pope, others the crown.
1552 Birth of Edmund Spenser, the
creator of the modern English style of poetry: "fluid, limpid, translucent and graceful."
1558 The Elizabethan Period (1558-1603) sees major work by Spenser,
Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Philip Sidney, Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe, William
1572 Birth of John Donne, the major poet of the
Metaphysical Period (1572-1695); others were
George Herbert, Henry Vaughn, Andrew Marvell, Richard Crashaw.
1579 Edmund Spenser's Shepheardes Calender has been called "the first
work of the English literary Renaissance."
1591 Birth of Robert Herrick, first poet of the
Cavalier Period (1591-1674); others included Richard
Lovelace, Sir John Suckling, Thomas Carew.
1603 The Jacobean/Caroline/Interregnum/Restoration Period (1603-1690) sees the
King James Bible, Shakespeare's later plays, Milton's major works.
1608 John Milton is born; John Donne writes his Holy Sonnets;
Shakespeare's sonnets and plays Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, etc.
1611 The King James Bible is published in still-readable English with early English free verse such
as the poetic Song of Solomon.
1620 The Pilgrims set sail for America in the Mayflower. Harold Bloom has called Tom O'Bedlam's Song
"all but High Romantic vision."
1623 Publication of Shakespeare's First Folio. Ben Jonson
and his "tribe" are on the rise: Herrick, Lovelace,
Suckling, Carew, Edmund Waller, et al.
1649 King Charles I is found guilty of treason, then executed. Oliver Cromwell
becomes England's Lord Protector and Regent in 1653. Milton lauds Cromwell.
1658 Cromwell's death throws England into chaos; Milton works on his
masterpiece Paradise Lost.
1690 The Augustan Period (1690-1756) is marked by the
sophisticated work of Alexander Pope, John Dryden and Dr. Samuel Johnson.
1742 Thomas Gray begins writing his masterpiece, Elegy Written in
a Country Churchyard, a major work of early English
1752 Birth of Thomas Chatterton,
called the "marvellous Boy" by
William Wordsworth and also praised by Samuel Taylor
1757 William Blake heads the English Romantic Period (1757-1837)
with Wordsworth, Coleridge, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats.
1759 Birth of the Romantic poet
generally considered to be the greatest Scottish poet.
1776 Americans declare independence with words written in
ringing iambic pentameter by Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these
truths to be self-evident ..."
1798 Lyrical Ballads, written by Wordsworth with contributions by Coleridge, becomes the foundational text of the
English Romantic Movement.
1819 Keats publishes Ode to a Grecian Urn and Ode
to a Nightingale. Byron publishes Don Juan. Birth of
the American Romantic poet Walt Whitman.
1830 Alfred Tennyson publishes his Poems, Chiefly Lyrical.
Emily Dickinson, widely considered to be the greatest female
American poet, is born.
1836 Ralph Waldo Emerson founds the Transcendental Club, which includes Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Bronson Alcott, Louisa May Alcott.
1837 The Victorian Period (1837-1901) is led by Tennyson, Matthew Arnold, Gerard Manley Hopkins, John Clare, Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
1846 Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning get married: they become poetry's
first "super couple" a century before Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes.
1848 The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (1848-1882) is founded by Dante Gabriel Rossetti; aligned poets include Christina Rossetti, Algernon Charles Swinburne.
1855 Walt Whitman publishes Leaves of Grass, a landmark work of
Early Modernism (1855-1901) that rocks the Victorians to their whalebone corsets!
1865 The Civil War ends. Slavery is abolished. Abraham Lincoln is assassinated. Whitman publishes his elegy for
Lincoln, When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd.
1867 Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach has been called a masterpiece of Early Modernism.
1871 Birth of Stephen Crane. He would write poems and prose in a minimalist or
"spare" style that would influence modernist writers like Ernest Hemingway and
1888 T. S. Eliot, a major Modernist poet
and critic, is born. Columbia Records, the first major
American record label, is founded. The first classical
music recording, of Handel.
1890 Fin-de-siθcle (1890-1900) poets influenced by the French symbolists include W. B. Yeats, Ernest Dowson, Lionel Johnson, Arthur Symons, Oscar Wilde and Swinburne.
1895 Scott Joplin publishes ragtime. Buddy Bolden creates the countermelody of jazz. The
world will soon be awash in poems set to music: pop, rock, country,
1901 The Edwardian/Georgian Period (1901-1936) is brief but fecund with Thomas Hardy, A. E. Housman, Wilfred Owen,
Rupert Brooke and Edward Thomas.
1909 Two T. E. Hulme poems begin the modernist movement called Imagism (1909-1919); its leading poets and critics would be
Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot.
1919 The Harlem Renaissance (1919-1940) was led by Langston Hughes,
Countee Cullen, Claude McKay and James Weldon Jones. Paul Dunbar was a major
1920 The Neo-Romantics (1920-Present) include Hart Crane, Dylan Thomas,
Kevin N. Roberts, Michael Pendragon, Carmen Willcox, Mary Rae and Michael R.
1922 The Fugitives (1922-1925) aka Agrarians were led by John Crowe Ransom,
Robert Penn Warren, Allen Tate, Merrill Moore, Donald Davidson and Randall
1943 The Beats (1940-Present) include Allen Ginsberg, Gary
Snyder, Gregory Corso, William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Thomas Raine Crowe and Jack Foley.
1950 The San Francisco Renaissance Poets (1950-Present) include Kenneth
Rexroth, Madeline Gleason, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer and Robin Blaser.
1950 The Confessionals (1950-1977) included Robert Lowell, Sylvia
Plath, Anne Sexton, John Berryman, W. D. Snodgrass, Sharon Olds and
1950 The New York School (1950-Present) includes John Ashbery, Frank O'Hara,
Kenneth Koch, Barbara Guest and James Schuyler.
1950 Charles Olson calls Pound and other Imagists "inferior predecessors" and creates a new school of poetry, Projectivism
1985 The New Formalists (1985-Present) include Richard Wilbur, Anthony Hecht,
Dana Gioia, X. J. Kennedy, Richard Moore, Rhina Espaillat, R. S. Gwynn, A. E.
Stallings, Jared Carter.
1901 Other leading voices of Modernism and Postmodernism (1901-Present)
include Conrad Aiken, Maya Angelou, W. H. Auden, Elizabeth Bishop, Louise Bogan, e. e. cummings, Robert Frost, Robinson Jeffers, Seamus Heaney, Philip Larkin, D. H. Lawrence, Robert Lowell, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Wallace Stevens,
Richard Wilbur and William Carlos Williams. We would also include outstanding singer-songwriters
like Leonard Cohen, Sam Cooke,
Bob Dylan, Eminem, Woody Guthrie, Michael Jackson, Carole King, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, Willie Nelson, Prince, Smokey Robinson, Pete Seeger, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen
and Hank Williams Sr. There are many other very worthy names, so anyone who says that poetry is "dead" or "dying" is obviously just not listening!
Other labels applied to poets and/or poetry in modern times include: Language
Poets, Deep Image, Cubism, Surrealism, Futurism, Expressionism, Orphism, Purism, Dadism, Constructivism,
Objectivism and other -isms too numerous (and obscure) to name!
Now begins a more comprehensive history of human art, with a focus on the
origins and development of English poetry ...
Prehistoric or Pre-History Art (all dates are BCE)
2,500,000 BC Homo Habilis
("Handy Man") may be the first human ancestor to create stone tools; thus begins the Early Stone Age and
the Lower Paleolithic Era.
1,700,000 BC Oldowan obsidian artifacts discovered at Melka Kunture (Ethiopia)
suggest "tool kits" were being used and pre-planning was involved.
1,500,000 Homo Erectus is the first human ancestor to control fire.
500,000 The first wooden huts, discovered at sites near Chichibu, Japan.
400,000 Four wooden spears with tapered points, discovered at Schφningen,
Germany by Hartmut Thieme.
300,000 The first fossil evidence of Homo Sapiens coincides with
ochre works at Olorgesailie, Kenya, where ochre is still used
for burials, adornment and art.
168,000 Humans begin to wear clothing, but nothing too stylish yet ... the
emergence of clothing and intentional burials
mark the Middle Paleolithic Era.
133,000 Neanderthals had fashion sense, as jewelry made from eagle
talons has been discovered at a Neanderthal cave near Krapina, Croatia.
108,000 Beads made from Nassarius
snail shells, found at Israel's Skhul cave, are the first known human jewelry.
We are finally catching up to Neanderthals!
71,000 The earliest known drawing, made with a red ocher "crayon," is found at Blombos,
South Africa. The drawing looks like a #hashtag!
68,000 Stones with crosshatch markings found at Blombos may be the first abstract or symbolic art. The Middle
Paleolithic Era concludes with modern human behavior.
50,000 The "great leap forward" includes abstract/symbolic thinking,
long-term planning, cooperative labor, trade, music, elaborate graves,
fishing and blade technology.
40,000 Paleolithic flutes made from
bones and mammoth ivory are the oldest
musical instruments. Increasing organization and advancing art mark the Upper
39,000 The Altamira Cave cave paintings, near El Castillo, Spain, may be the
earth's oldest paintings and the earliest carbon-dated examples of human figurative
38,000 The Lφwenmensch figurine, aka the Lion Man of the Hohlenstein
Stadel, and the Venus of Hohle Fels may be the oldest statues. Cave
paintings in Borneo.
29,000 The earliest evidence of a human settlement at the Mladec caves (in the
modern-day Czech Republic).
26,000 The earliest known pottery was used not as crockery, but for art: the Venus of Dolnν
Věstonice, Moravia (in the modern-day Czech Republic).
21,000 Evidence of the seeding, cultivation and grinding of grains at the
Ohalo II settlement in Israel mark the dawn of human agriculture.
21,000 Stone, bone, and wood artifacts found in the Meadowcroft Rockshelter
(Pennsylvania) are the earliest evidence of human activity in North America.
10,000 The first non-cave permanent human settlements evolve into ancient
cities like Jericho and Byblos; the emergence of full-scale agriculture
and domesticated animals pave the way for more advanced art forms to come ...
If we think of history as "man and his story," it
requires words to know what our ancestors were thinking and saying. Before
writing appears, we can only speculate about human beliefs and thoughts. But
with the first extant work of literature, the Epic of Gilgamesh (circa 2100
BCE), we know much about the people of that time. We know, for instance, their
beliefs about death, the possibility of an afterlife, virtue, morality, etc.
Pre-English Art from the Dawn of History (all dates are BCE)
9200 BC The end of the last glacial period in Britain, which may have been
unpopulated or very lightly populated at the time.
8000 Britain's climate warms and birch woodlands spread rapidly. Mesolithic
humans occupy the island, but sparsely.
5600 Rising seas separate Britain from the European mainland; thus
the natives' language and culture will evolve separately.
5000 The inventions of the wheel, kiln, smelting (tin, lead and copper) and
set the stage for the coming Bronze Age with poetry and other forms
4600 Predynastic Egyptians create dirt mounds to cover their dead; these would
evolve into mastabas ("mud benches") and eventually into pyramids.
4500 There is evidence of farming in Britain, along with the development of
large earthwork barrows for burials and rituals.
3838 Earth's oldest known causeway, a timber trackway
called the Post Track, is created from ash planks in the Somerset
3800 Symbols on Gerzean (Egyptian) pottery have been compared to later
hieroglyphics, although the connection is disputed.
3700 A causewayed enclosure called the Neath Barrow is created 2 1/2 miles
northwest of Stonehenge.
3500 The Stone Age winds down; the Bronze Age revs up with metal tools and
weapons; nations form; proto-cuneiform writing develops in Sumer (Iraq);
thus begins what we call "history."
3300 Egyptians create double-reed musical instruments, lyres, cosmetics,
glazed ceramic beads, linen, sails, iron works, masonry, even the first board game (Senet).
3250 The Kish Tablet may be the oldest extant example of Sumerian
proto-cuneiform (i.e., pictographic) writing. The oldest Egyptian hieroglyphics
date to around this time.
3200 The first Pharaoh of a unified Upper and Lower Egypt is Menes (perhaps
also known as Narmer). Egyptians mass-produce mud bricks to build their cities.
3000 Sumerian temple hymns and laments; Egyptian pyramid and
coffin texts (early epigrams); invention of paper (papyrus); the first smaller henges
are dug out locally at Stonehenge.
2880 This is Will Durant's date for the work of the first
known philosopher, the Egyptian vizier Ptahhotep, author of The Maxims of
2780 The Egyptian polymath Imhotep has
been called the original architect, engineer and physician; he designed the first
pyramid, got promoted to a god, and was worshipped by a
2700 The Egyptian physician Merit-Ptah appears to be the first woman named in
the fields of medicine and science. Her portrait appears in a
Valley of Kings tomb.
2690 A Seth-Peribsen tomb seal has the first known complete
sentence: "The golden one of Ombos has unified the two realms for his son, the
king of Lower and Upper Egypt, Peribsen."
2500 Major work
takes place on Stonehenge and the Great Sphinx of Giza. Lyres discovered in the tombs of the royal family
of Ur (a lyric was originally a poem sung or chanted to the strumming of a
lyre). The Sumerian Kesh Temple Hymn and Instructions of uruppak
may be the earth's oldest surviving literature. Thus we may consider
2500 BC as the approximate beginning point of literature and songwriting.
Enheduanna, daughter of King Saragon the Great,
may be the first named poet in
human history, for prayers and hymns such as
The Exaltation of Inanna.
2200 Britain enters the Bronze Age; by 1600 BC there will be a lively trade
in exported British tin.
2100 The Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh appears to be the earth's oldest
extant major poem and the first great work of literature.
2000 The earth's oldest love poem may be the Sumerian
Love Song of Shu-Sin. Early Minoan culture on Crete. The first
libraries in Egypt. Abraham of Ur becomes a monotheist.
1800 The Babylonian/Akkadian Enuma Elis, Atra-Hasis and Eridu
1600 The Egyptian Book of the Dead. The Rigveda, a collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns, may be the
oldest religious text still in use today.
1400 A Hurrian Cult Song from Ancient Ugarit (aka Hurrian Hymn 6) has the first
musical score and the oldest
playable melody. The first written legal codes are those of Hammurabi.
1200 The Bronze Age evolves into the Iron Age. Iron artifacts dating to
this time have been found in Anatolia (Turkey), Egypt, Jordan,
Sumer (Iraq) and Greece.
1268 This is Robert Graves' date for the Celtic
Song of Amergin, but dating oral works of the Prehistoric Period
seems iffy to us.
1100 The Tale of Two Brothers and The Story of Wenamun (Egypt);
Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda (Sanskrit/Indian);
Avesta of Zoroastrianism (Avestan/Persian).
1021 Murasaki Shikibu, a Japanese noblewoman and lady-in-waiting, writes the
first known novel, Tale of Genji.
Native American poetry such as Mayan and Aztec; early
Oriental poetry; possible birth date for Homer, author of the epic poems Odyssey and
Iliad; the Iron Age begins.
900 I Ching manual of divination (China); the Brahmanas and
early Upanishads (Sanskrit/Indian).
750 Birth of Hesiod; Celts
reach Britain; Hebrew proverbs; oldest Chinese poems in the
Shi Jing; Lycurgus of Sparta; first Olympic games; Rome is founded;
Nineveh's library has 22,000 clay tablets.
668 One of the most ancient extant poems was found in the oldest surviving
royal library, that of Ashurbanipal (668-630). The poem is a still viable
Neo-Assyrian spell to make a colicky baby sleep: "Belch like a drunkard, snort
like a baby gazelle, until your mother comes, strokes you, and picks you up."
600 Possible date for the Bible's poetic book of Job. The births of Archilochus (680), Solon (640), Sappho
of Lesbos (630) from whom we derive our terms "lesbian" and "sapphic," Aesop (620), Lao-tse (604), Anacreon (582), Buddha (563), Confucius (551),
Aeschylus (525), Pindar (522). The pinnacle of ancient Greek poetry was reached
between the 7th and 4th centuries B.C. This "poetic movement was part of the
greatest cultural and intellectual community in world history. The Greeks
developed nearly all of the classic forms that formed the underpinnings of later
literature, drama, music and poetry, including the ode, epic, lyric, tragedy,
and comedy. As Greek works became disseminated through the Western world, they
created the basis for modern literature."
500 Possible date for the Bible's
Song of Solomon and the Sanskrit epics
Ramayana and Mahabharata. The births of Pericles (500), Sophocles
(497), Euripides (484), Socrates (470), Plato (428), Aristotle (384), Saint
Augustine of Hippo (354) the first writer of an autobiography.
484 Aeschylus wins first prize for tragedy at the City Dionysia in
Athens. Sophocles wins in 468, Euripides in 441, Aristophanes in 425. Talk about
100 The births of Cicero (106), Julius Caesar (100), Lucretius (99), Cato the Younger (95), Catullus (84), Virgil (70), Horace (65),
Plutarch (47), Ovid
(43), Martial (43), Lucan (39), Paul of Tarsus (5), Seneca the Younger (4).
The Celtic Period (?-1 BC)
The Celtic period begins in the distant past and extends to the Roman
invasions of Britain that began under Julius Caesar in 55 BC. The most famous
poem of this period is the
Song of Amergin,
although it is not at all certain when or where the poem was composed, or who
composed it. The poem has been ascribed to Amergin, a Milesian Druid
who allegedly settled in Ireland, perhaps many centuries before the Romans
arrived. The "Song of Amergin" appears in the Leabhar Gabhala
("Book of Invasions"). As Douglas Hyde notes in The Story of Early Gaelic Literature:
"The three short pieces of verse ascribed to Amergin are certainly very ancient
and very strange. But as the whole story of the Milesian Invasion is shrouded in
mystery and is quite possibly a rationalized account of early Irish mythology,
no faith can be placed in the alleged date or genuineness of Amergin's verses."
Britain's ancient Druids did not have a written language, but they were
Julius Caesar left the following description of the Druids in Book VI of his
Gallic Wars: "A large number of young men flock to them for training and
hold them in high honour ... It is said that they commit to memory immense
amounts of poetry. And so some of them continue their studies for twenty years.
They consider it improper to entrust their studies to writing ... "
1268 BC The
Song of Amergin remains a mystery. It was written by an unknown
poet at an unknown time at an unknown location and may (or may not) be related
invasion of Ireland by ancient Celts. The date given here was
furnished by Robert Graves, who translated the Song of Amergin in his
influential book The White Goddess (1948). Graves opined that English poetic
education should, really, begin not with Canterbury Tales, not with the
Odyssey, not even with Genesis, but with the Song of
Amergin. However, the ultra-early date seems iffy to us. The native language of the Celtic
Britons has given us relatively few English words, such as: beak, brat, bog,
clan, clout, crock, dad, dam, doe, knob, nook, etc. (other Celtic words would be passed
on via borrowings from Scottish, Irish and Welsh).
325 Pytheas of Massalia, a Greek explorer, is the first writer to mention
Britain, where people lived in thatched cottages and ate plain fare.
200 According to Julius Caesar, Celts began migrating to Britain during the
second century BC. That creates a gap of around 1,000 years between his and
Robert Graves' accounts. At this time the Romans know the islanders as Britons and the
island as Britannia.
106 The birth of Marcus Tullius Cicero (c. 106-43 BC), one of Rome's greatest
orators and prose stylists, commonly known as Cicero. Cicero's influence was "so
immense that the subsequent history of prose, not only in Latin but in European
languages up to the 19th century, was said to be either a reaction against or a
return to his style."
100 The birth of Gaius Julius Caesar (c. 100-44 BC), a writer of note in
addition to his other more famous accomplishments.
99 The birth of the Roman poet and philosopher Titus Lucretius Carus (c. 99-55
BC), commonly known as Lucretius. Lucretius would influence physics,
psychology, empiricism, Epicureanism, Christian humanism, and postulate the
existence of atoms.
84 The birth of the Roman poet Gaius Valerius Catullus (c. 84-54 BC). Catullus
would not only influence poets of his era like Ovid, Horace and Virgil, but also
English Caviler poets of the distant future like Ben Jonson, Richard Lovelace, Robert
Herrick, Thomas Carew, Thomas Campion and Sir John Suckling. Catullus is best
known today for erotic love poems he wrote to a woman he called Lesbia. Catullus is
also known for rude, sometimes obscene, invectives he hurled at prominent
figures of his day, such as Julius Caesar and Cicero.
82 The birth of Vercingetorix (c. 82-46 BC), the son of Celtillus the Avernian,
and the leader of the Gallic (French) tribes against the Roman legions of Julius
Caesar. When Vercingetorix and his Celts failed to defeat the Romans, France
would become a launching point for the Romans to invade Britain (see the entries
for 55 BC, 34 BC and 43 AD).
80 Around this time silver and bronze coins are being used in southeast
England. Latin inscriptions suggest Rome's growing
influence on the region.
70 The birth of the Roman poet Publius Vergilius Maro (70-19 BC), commonly
known as Vergil or Virgil. Virgil is generally considered to be Rome's greatest
poet, and his Aeneid has been called Rome's national epic poem.
Poets influenced by Virgil include Dante, most prominently, but also major
English poets like Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spenser, Christopher Marlowe,
William Shakespeare, John Milton and John Dryden.
65 The birth of the Roman poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65-8 BC), commonly
known as Horace. English poets influenced by Horace include Andrew Marvell, Dr.
Samuel Johnson, Alexander Pope, William Wordsworth and Robert Frost.
60 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the first comprehensive history of the Anglo-Saxons,
was initially composed during
the reign of King Alfred the Great. Its first entry is dated 60 BC
and describes what happened quite accurately, saying that Gaius Julius crushed
the Britons but was unable to establish any empire there. And the date was
correct to within five years.
57 Refugees from Gaul (France) called the Belgae (Belgians) arrive, fleeing
the Romans, who are also on their way to Britain ...
55 Julius Caesar invades Britain,
creating a Roman beachhead on the coast of Kent. At this time the primary language of
the native Britons is a Celtic dialect known as Brittonic. The Britons had no
form of writing, so in that sense they remained prehistoric and
their poetry was oral. The
following year, 54 BC, Julius Caesar invades again,
this time using diplomacy to bring Britain within the Roman sphere of influence,
but conquering no territory and leaving no Roman troops behind. However, Latin
would become the language of business, commerce and politics.
English words of Latin origin include: antenna, capitulate, criminal, decimal,
embrace, equestrian, etc. According to research done by AskOxford, around 33% of English words have Latin/Greeks roots, so the Roman influence has been far-reaching.
51 Julius Caesar in his Gallic War mentions that Celtic Druids
studied poetry and committed a "great number of verses" to memory.
43 The birth of the Roman poet Ovid (43 BC-18 AD). A collection of witty erotic love poems, Amores,
would bring Ovid
success while still in his twenties.
He is best known today for his poetic collection of around 250 myths,
Metamorphoses. His characters include Orpheus, Proserpina, Philomela,
Pygmalion, Medea, Heracles, Daedelus and Achilles. Ovid would be an important
influence on early English poets such as Geoffrey Chaucer and John Gower, and
through them, on other poets to follow. For instance, several
of Shakespeare's plays, including Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's
Dream, Titus Andronicus, The Tempest and The Comedy of Errors,
were influenced by Ovid. Other writers influenced by Ovid include Dante,
Petrarch, Alexander Pushkin, James Joyce, Bob Dylan and Anne Rice.
37 Virgil's reputation is established by his Eclogues.
34 Caesar Augustus plans invasions of Britain in 34 BC, 27 BC and 25 BC, but
apparently finds more important or pressing things to do. Diplomacy and trade
continue, but Rome has its eye set on conquest (see the entry for 43 AD).
23 The first three books of Horace's elegant Odes are published.
16 A collection of witty erotic love poems, Amores, brings Ovid
success while still in his twenties.
Romano-British Period (1 AD-449 AD)
The Roman conquest of Britain began in AD 43, during the reign of Claudius. Following the subjugation of native Britons, a distinctive
Romano-British culture emerged under a provincial government, which, despite
steadily extending its territorial control northwards, was never able to subdue
Caledonia (Scotland). The Romans demarcated the approximate northern border of Britannia
with Hadrian's Wall, which was started in 122 and completed around 128. Rome
eventually divided Britannia into two provinces, Britannia Superior and Britannia Inferior.
Some time after 305, Britannia was further divided and made an imperial
diocese. During the later period of the Roman occupation, Britannia was
subject to barbarian invasions. By the end of the
Romano-British period, Roman rule was apparently seen as more of a liability
than a bonus by the natives.
43 Claudius invades Britain and Roman rule is
established. The Roman city of Londinium (London) is established. Battles continue in Wales and other outposts.
The Scottish Picts are never
fully conquered, eventually requiring the construction of Hadrian's Wall (see the entry for 122).
Romanization is greatest in the southeast, including London, where many people speak both Brittonic
and vulgar Latin, which eventually morphs into British Latin. In the British highlands, there is less Romanization. In the Midlands,
things are more in the middle, language-wise. The
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records the Roman invasion quite accurately, saying it took place in 46 AD.
50 The Bloomberg Tablets are the oldest known examples of writing in
Britain. They were created from 50-80 in Roman London and consist of 405 wooden
tablets with cursive Latin writing scratched into beeswax. (The ingenious
tablets could be erased and reused by melting the wax!) ABCs written on one
tablet suggest that a school may have existed in London soon after the Roman
conquest. Another tablet contains the first written reference to the city's
name. This is also the date of the oldest coins discovered in the Roman city of
56 The birth of Tacitus (c. 56-120), whose Latin histories would be a primary source of
info about the early Britons. Tacitus favorably
contrasted the liberty of Britons with the tyranny and corruption of the
60 Romans will construct a temple in Bath some time between 60-70 and over an
extended period of time will create an elaborate complex of public baths there.
This is an approximate date for the death of King Prasutagus of the
Celtic Iceni tribe. His widow, Queen Boudicca, is flogged and their daughters
raped. This leads to the Iceni revolting
under the leadership of Boudicca. She raises 100,000 troops, then defeats and
destroys most of Legion IX, so that the Roman procurator Catus Decianus flees to
Gaul. She then marches on and destroys Londinium, Colchester and St. Albans. The crisis causes
Roman emperor Nero to consider withdrawing Roman legions from Britain.
However, Suetonius manages to win the Battle of Watling Street
despite being outnumbered, after which Boudicca either kills herself or dies. Her name appears to
derive from the feminine adjective boudīkā ("victorious"), which is in turn is
derived from the Celtic noun boudā ("victory"). Queen Victoria
with Boudicca because their names had similar meanings. Boudicca has appeared as
a character in
poems, plays, songs and novels by notable artists such as Alfred Tennyson,
William Cowper, Enya, John Fletcher and Francis Beaumont. She also inspired the DC Comics superhero Boodikka.
100 The Vindolanda Tablets date to around this time. These were thin,
post-card-sized tablets made from birch, alder and oak. The text was cursive
Latin, handwritten in ink. One tablet, an invitation to a birthday party thrown
around 100, may contain the oldest surviving handwriting in Latin by a woman.
Other tablets confirm that there was a high degree of literacy in the Roman army
and that Roman soldiers wore underpants! The Bath Curse Tablets may
also date to around this time. These 130 tablets curse thieves in colloquial
Latin, British Latin, and (possibly) in an as-yet-undeciphered British Celtic
language. However, there is no scholarly consensus on the latter. Nor is there a
consensus on dating the tablets, other than to the second to fourth centuries.
122 The Roman Emperor Hadrian visits Britain. Construction of Hadrian's Wall
begins; it will be substantially finished by 128.
127 Juvenal writes his Satires, which will influence English writers
like Dr. Samuel Johnson.
160 At its height the Roman province of Britannia spans three-quarters of the
island, leaving only the northernmost extremes beyond Roman control.
181 The stoic Meditations of Marcus Aurelius are published
posthumously. He would influence English writers like John Stuart Mill and
208 Emperor Septimius Severus and his son Caracalla lead an expedition against the Caledonii
(Scottish Picts). Severus dies at York. Caracalla, now emperor, abandons the lands north of
Hadrian's Wall and returns to Rome.
350 The earliest Irish writings are anonymous Ogham
inscriptions on stone memorials dating to the fourth century.
368 Attacks by Picts and Saxons force the Romans to abandon Hadrian's Wall.
383 Magnus Maximus launches a
bid for imperial power. He
rules Gaul and Britain as Augustus. This is the last date for
evidence of a major Roman military presence in Britain.
400 Saint Augustine of Hippo writes his Confessions. This is
not the Saint Augustine who will
lay the foundations of Roman Catholicism in Britain and become the first
Archbishop of Canterbury (see the entry for 597).
405 Saint Jerome finishes his translation of the Latin Vulgate Bible. Some of
Jerome's translation errors would end up in English translations such as the
King James Bible.
407 Constantine rallies the remaining Roman troops in Britain, leads them
across the Channel into Gaul, and establishes himself as
Emperor. Romano-Britons, having
suffered early Saxon raids, soon expel
410 Rome is sacked by the Visigoths under King Alaric. The vaunted Roman Empire is
replies to a request by Romano-Britons for assistance with the Rescript of
Honorius, which instructs them to see to their own defense. Thus begins what has
been called the "sub-Roman" phase of Britain's history.
430 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports:
"This year Patricius [Saint Patrick] was sent ... to preach baptism to the
Scots." Patrick's Confessio ("Confession"), written in Latin, survives.
444 The Huns unite under Attila, who sets his sights on Rome.
452 Attila the Hun invades Italy. Attila meets with
Roman envoys who include Bishop Leo I; they persuade him not to attack the
city. Attila dies the following
455 The Vandals sack Rome, capturing Sicily and Sardinia.
476 The year 476 is generally considered to be the official end of the Western
Roman Empire, and the beginning of the Early Medieval Period or "Dark Ages."
However the idea that things became "dark" after the fall of Rome may
been literary criticism! Centuries after the fact, Petrarch would opine that
post-fall literature was "dark" compared to the "light" of classical literature.
According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, when Rome declined to
protect Britons from the Picts, they appealed to the Angles for assistance.
So the Roman withdrawal from Britain may have led directly to the Anglo-Saxon
takeover of the island.
Our top ten early medieval era poets: Amergin, Caedmon, Bede, Cynewulf, King Alfred the Great, Deor, Ono no Komachi, Omar Khayyαm, the authors of Beowulf and Wulf and Eadwacer (the latter in all likelihood a female poet)
Anglo-Saxon or Old English Period (441-1066)
Only four Anglo-Saxon poets are known by name with any degree of
certainty: Caedmon, Bede, Cynewulf and King Alfred the
Anglo-Saxon era begins with the withdrawal of Roman troops from England, and
ends with the Norman conquest of England by William the Conqueror in 1066. Anglo-Saxon poems include
Caedmon's Hymn, Bede's Death Song and
anonymous works like Wulf and
Eadwacer and Beowulf. All extant Anglo-Saxon poems are, to some
degree, alliterative, and usually accentual, having four
strong stresses per line with any number of weaker stresses. Meter and rhyme in
English poetry developed later. Anglo-Saxon poets were known as scops, from the Old English
scop, cognate with Old High German scoph "poetry, sport, jest" and
Old Norse skop "railing, mockery" as in "scoff." It has been said that
Celtic kings feared the satires of poets, so the ability of the ancient scops to
scoff must have been formidable indeed!
But who, exactly, were the Anglo-Saxons?
According to Procopius, generally considered to be the last major historian of
the ancient Western world, England was settled by the Britons, Angles and
Frisians, each with their own kings. The English language is most closely
related to Frisian, a West Germanic language.
Bede, the father of English history, said the Anglo-Saxons came from three
tribes: the Angles, Saxons and Jutes. The Angles were from Angeln, in northern
Germany; the Saxons were from Lower Saxony, also in northern Germany; and the
Jutes were from Jutland, in Denmark. According to Bede, the Angles settled in
East Anglia, the Saxons in southern England, and the Jutes in Kent and the Isle
While the historians don't agree on every detail, it seems safe to say that some
time after Rome completely turned its back on Britain in the year 410, there was a takeover of large parts of England by Germanic tribes
that included the Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Frisians. This takeover would
influence the development of the English language. English words of Anglo-Saxon
origin include: abide, babble, care, dare, ear, etc. They represent around 25%
of English words. Around this time native, Greco-Roman and Germanic-Scandinavian
words and grammar are beginning to merge into the language we call "Old English"
and "Anglo-Saxon English."
But it didn't happen overnight. Over a period of several hundred years the
British isles would host a number of other languages, mostly Celtic language
derivatives such as Old Brittonic, Brythonic, Breton, Welsh in Wales, Pictish
and Goidelic (Scottish Gaelic) in Scotland,
Gaelic in Ireland, Medieval Cornish in Cornwall, Manx on the Isle of Man and Cumbric in Cumbria. The
more prevalent non-Celtic languages would include Old Norse in Scandinavian
settlements and the Dane Law territories, and Latin and Greek among the
The four main dialects of Old English would be Kentish, Mercian, Northumbrian
and West Saxon, each named after the region from which it originated.
The Gallic Chronicle of 452 mentions the Anglo-Saxon takeover of
Britain. It records this for the year 441: "The British provinces, which to this
time had suffered various defeats and misfortunes, are reduced to Saxon rule."
449 According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle,
the brothers Hengist and Horsa―described as descendents of Woden (Odin)―were
invited by Vortigern to assist him in fighting the Picts. The
brothers were victorious and sent a message back to Germany that there
were easy pickings to be had. They raised an army of Angles, Saxons and Jutes
that won battles and claimed land, with Hengist eventually becoming the King of Kent.
The Chronicle says that the people of Essex, Sussex and
Wessex descend from the Old Saxons; that the people of East Anglia and Mercia
descend from the Angles; and that the people of Kent and the Isle of Wight
descend from the Jutes.
450 The Undley Bracteate contains the most ancient Old English runic
inscription, possibly about a "reward to a relative." Albert Baugh has
suggested 450 as the beginning point of the Old English language.
477 The birth of Boethius (477-524) in Rome. His Consolation of
Philosophy, called a "golden volume" by Edward Gibbon, would greatly influence
early English poets like John Gower and
500 The birth of Gildas (c. 500-570), perhaps the first notable English writer we
know by name (although he was born in Scotland and wrote in Latin). He was known
as Gildas Sapiens ("Gildas the Wise"). Gildas is best known for his
De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, a polemic "which recounts the sub-Roman
history of Britain, and which is the only substantial source for history of this
period written by a near-contemporary." Gildas has also been credited with the
hymn Lorica ("Breastplate"), a prayer for deliverance from evil.
521 The birth of Saint Columba (521597), who founded an important abbey on Iona
and has been credited with three surviving medieval Latin hymns. He was born
Colmcille ("Church Dove") in Gartan, northern Ireland. Or perhaps he adopted or
was assigned the name later.
530 The birth of Dallαn Forgaill, a blind Irish poet who is said to have
written Amhra Coluim
Cille in archaic Old Irish, in honor of Saint Columba. He is also credited
with writing Rop Tϊ Mo Baile ("Be Thou My Vision").
537 The Battle of Camlan has been suggested as the one where King Arthur
570 The birth of Mohammed, author of the Koran.
597 Pope Gregory makes Saint Augustine a missionary to England, where he
founds the English Church, baptizes Ethelbert of Kent, the first English king to convert
to Christianity, then becomes the
first Archbishop of Canterbury (see the entry for 601).
600 Possible date for early Irish saga literature. Around this time much of
the main island is speaking Anglo-Saxon English.
601 Saint Augustine founds Christ Church of Canterbury, restores a Roman
church building as his cathedral, and becomes the
first Archbishop of Canterbury after being formally given jurisdiction over
Britain by Pope Gregory. Augustine would be known as the "Apostle to the
620 Vikings begin invasions of Ireland and will eventually take much of it over.
627 The birth of Adomnαn (c. 627704), whose Vita
Columbae ("Life of Columba") is the first biography written in Britain.
634 The monastery at Lindisfarne is founded by Saint Aidan. Also the birth of Cuthbert, who would become Bishop of
Lindisfarne (see the entry for 685).
639 The birth of Aldhelm (c. 639-709), an Anglo-Saxon aristocrat, scholar,
abbot and bishop who composed "enigmas" or riddles in Latin. If he
wrote poems in English, they have been lost.
650 Up to this point, we have been following the evolution of what has
been called Prehistoric Old English or Primitive Old English because there has
been no writing in English of which we are aware. But that is about to change
with the emergence of the first published Anglo-Saxon poet, Cζdmon, and the
first Anglo-Saxon epic poem and major work of literature, Beowulf.
We will call the next stage Early Old English, and it will take us to around the
founds the first English monastery, Whitby Abbey. Hilda is considered
to be a patron saint of learning and culture due to her
patronage of Cζdmon (see the entry for 658).
658 Caedmon's Hymn, the first
extant English poem,
beginning of English poetry. According to the Venerable
Bede, Caedmon was an illiterate herdsman of the Whitby monastery who was given
the gift of poetic composition by an angel.
664 During the Synod of Whitby, the Whitby Abbey aligns with the Roman Catholic
Church. This heralds a decline of the Celtic Church in England. Because the church was a center of education
and literacy, this would have a major impact on the evolution of English
literature and poetry.
673 The birth of Bede (c. 672-735), the great English scholar who came to be
known as the Venerable Bede and the "Father of English History."
680 Possible date for the composition of the epic Anglo-Saxon poem
Beowulf and the shorter poem Widsith, the Far
685 Saint Cuthbert becomes Bishop of Lindisfarne. An anonymous life of Cuthbert
written at Lindisfarne may be the oldest extant English historical
writing. Written just after or possibly contemporarily with Adomnαn's Vita
Columbae, the Vita Sancti Cuthberti (c. 699705) is the earliest
700 Cynewulf pens and signs four Anglo-Saxon poems: Christ II, Elene, The Fates of
the Apostles and Juliana. Runic extracts from The Dream of the
Rood, the first dream poem in the English language, are carved on the Ruthwell Cross, establishing the poem's
antiquity. The Franks Casket has similar poetic runic inscriptions. Tochmarc Ιtaνne ("The Wooing of Ιtaνn/Ιadaoin") is an early text of the
Irish Mythological Cycle featuring characters from the Ulster Cycle of Kings
that is preserved in the Lebor na hUidre (c. 1106)
Yellow Book of Lecan (c. 1401). It has been cited as a possible source for the Middle English
Sir Orfeo. Anglo-Saxon biblical paraphrases such as Genesis, Exodus, Daniel
and the poem Judith. The Old English Latin Alphabet may have begun
to evolve around this time and would be used from the 8th to 12th centuries.
This alphabet lacked the letters J, K, Q and Z.
709 Stephen of Ripon authors Vita Sancti Wilfrithi ("Life of Saint Wilfrid").
731 The Venerable Bede writes The
Ecclesiastical History of the English People in Latin.
735 Bede's death and his Death Song. The birth of Alcuin of
York (735-804), aka Ealhwine, Alcuinus, Albinus and Flaccus. At the
invitation of Charlemagne, he became a leading scholar and teacher at the
Carolingian court. He was made Abbot of Tours in 796. "The most learned man anywhere to be found", according to Einhard's
Life of Charlemagne (c. 817-833), he is considered to be among the most
important architects of the Carolingian Renaissance.
757 Offa becomes King of Mercia. During his reign he extends Mercian
supremacy over most of southern England. Many historians consider Offa
to have been the most powerful Anglo-Saxon king before Alfred the Great.
However, apparently unable to conquer
Wales, Offa constructed a gigantic defensive earthwork between Mercia and Wales. Offa's Dyke has been described as "the
largest and most recent great construction of the preliterate inhabitants of
Britain," comparable in scope to
770 Approximate date for the composition of Waldere, an epic
Anglo-Saxon poem about Walther (Walter of Aquitaine) and Hildegund fleeing from
Attila the Hun.
771 The birth of Egbert of Wessex (c. 771-839), who may have been the
first king of a somewhat united England. The birth of Nennius, the suggested author of the Historia Brittonum, which presents King Arthur as a historical figure.
Charlemagne inherits the Frankish crown.
778 An attack on Charlemagne's army at the pass of Roncesvalles
in the Pyrenees inspires the Chanson de Roland ("Song of
787 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle mentions the first Viking attacks, which began
against the northeast English seacoast.
789 Egbert is forced into exile in France by King Offa of Mercia and King
Beorhtric of Wessex.
793 Vikings attack Lindisfarne. Primarily Danes, the Vikings would add many words to the
796 The death of King Offa ends Mercian domination of England.
800 Pope Leo III crowns Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor of the West.
A possible later date for the composition of Beowulf.
802 The death of King Beorhtric of Wessex. Egbert returns from exile and takes the throne of Wessex.
814 The death of Charlemagne will have a profound impact on England, due to
Viking raids that will result in Normandy being ceded to the Norsemen. It is
from Normandy that the Norsemen/Normans will attack and defeat England under
William the Conqueror.
820 Viking raids on Francia begin shortly after Charlemagne's death. The
Viking sail up the Seine with 13 ships but retreat when confronted. They will
eventually return to attack and sack Paris (see the entry for 1845).
825 King Ebert of Wessex wins a major victory over Beornwulf of Mercia at the
Battle of Ellendun. His son Ζthelwulf then "drove Baldred, the king of Kent,
north over the Thames." As a result "the men of Kent, Essex, Surrey and Sussex"
all submitted to Wessex.
826 Beornwulf of Mercia attacks East Anglia, but loses the battle and his life. The West Saxons now
have the upper hand.
829 King Egbert of Wessex invades and defeats Mercia, driving its king Wiglaf into exile.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle described Egbert as a
bretwalda, meaning "wide-ruler" or "Britain-ruler." Thus Egbert may have been the first king of a united Anglo-Saxon England.
If so, his reign
was brief, as Wiglaf would re-take the throne of Mercia in 830.
830 Ono no Komachi
will write tanka (also known as waka), a traditional form of Japanese lyric
poetry that, along with haiku, will influence English modernists like Ezra Pound and
T. S. Eliot.
842 Vikings raid London, Rochester, and Southampton.
845 Vikings under the Norse chieftain Reginherus (possibly Ragnar Lothbrok)
attack and sack Paris with 120 ships, earning 7,000 pounds of gold and silver in
tribute from Charles the Bald. This was the first known instance of a "Danegeld"
payment and would set the stage for more and greater larceny (see the entry at
850 Vikings overwinter in England for the first time, on the island of Thanet,
853 Viking invaders take over Ireland.
849 The birth of King Alfred the Great (c. 849-899), a writer
and translator of note, as well as one of England's greatest kings (as
his appellation suggests). Alfred was one of the first known writers of English
prose. Probably due in large part to Alfred's influence, his Early West Saxon
dialect became the standard form of English, or the "King's/Queen's English."
861 Vikings discover Iceland.
865 A coalition of Vikings called "The Great Heathen Army" invades England and
conquers large parts of the island, including Northumbria.
871 Alfred defeats the Danes at the Battle of Ashdown. Later in the year his
brother King Ethelred dies and Alfred becomes King Alfred of Wessex.
874 Iceland is settled by Norsemen.
878 King Alfred the Great defeats the Vikings at the Battle of Edington.
Danelaw is established, dividing Britain into an Anglo-Saxon south and Danish
885 Vikings under Hrolf the Ganger (aka Rollo) besiege Paris with 700 ships,
demanding tribute from Charles the Fat, who obliges (see the entry at 911).
886 King Alfred the Great reoccupies London and
begins to restore it.
891 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is the first comprehensive attempt at an English
history. It has been called "the single most important source for the history of
England in Anglo-Saxon times."
895 King Alfred the Great defeats and captures a Danish fleet. Around this
time, a Welsh monk named Asser writes the Life
of King Alfred. This biography provides far more information about Alfred than is known about any other
early English ruler.
899 The death of Alfred the Great. Edward the Elder takes the title "King of
Angles and Saxons." With the death of Alfred the Great, we now enter
into the Late Old English phase of the language, which will end abruptly with
the Norman Conquest in 1066.
900 Deor, an Anglo-Saxon scop, composes
911 Charles the Simple grants the Viking chieftain Rollo his daughter's hand
in marriage and the duchy of Normandy. In return Rollo becomes the king's
champion and warlord. The Norsemen will become known as
the Normans and later invade England during the Norman Conquest, under William the Conqueror.
924 King Athelstan the Glorious reigns; he takes the title "King of all Britain" after
defeating an alliance of Scots, Celts, Danes and Vikings.
937 King Athelstan's victory at Brunanburh is celebrated by a
poem in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
950 Four early Anglo-Saxon poetry manuscripts: Junius, the Vercelli Book,
the Exeter Book and Beowulf. A possible first extant English poem written by a woman is
Wulf and Eadwacer; another contender is
The Wife's Lament.
Other notable poems include The Seafarer, The
Wanderer, The Husband's Message, The Phoenix, Widsith and The Ruin.
In addition to longer poems,
the Exeter Book contains
Advent Lyrics and
riddles and kennings.
Kennings were metaphorical expressions such
as "whale-path" for the sea.
Also, the Icelandic Eddas.
There is a monastic revival under Dunstan, Aethelwold and Aelfric.
955 The birth of Ζlfric of Eynsham (c. 955-1010), an English abbot and
prolific writer of hagiography, homilies and
biblical commentaries who is also known as Ζlfric
the Grammarian (Alfricus Grammaticus), Ζlfric of Cerne, and Ζlfric the Homilist. Aelfric has been described as
"the most humane of men" and "full of religious doubt." His
writing has been described as "rhythmical prose" that was similar to
alliterative poetry, but looser. He provided a preface for the Old English
Hexateuch (the first five books of the Bible plus the book of Joshua) and
may have served as its editor. Due in part to his influence, the
"Winchester standard" or "Late West Saxon" version of the English language
became accepted as the "classical" form of Old English. Important poems like
Beowulf and Judith, although they were apparently not composed in
"Winchester standard English," would be written down and passed down that way.
970 The birth of Byrhtferth of Ramsey (c. 970-1020), a priest and monk who
wrote several histories and an early scientific textbook, Enchiridion
("Manual"), composed in Latin and Old English. He was a student of the scholar
Abbo of Fleury.
971 The Blickling Homilies are Anglo-Saxon prose texts.
975 St. Aethelwold's Regularis Concordia is the earliest evidence of
dramatic activity in England.
978 King Ethelred the Unready reigns; he loses battles with the Danes, pays
Danegeld (tribute) and eventually flees to Normandy.
985 Eric the Red begins the Scandinavian colonization of
Greenland. His son Leif Ericsson would discover North America and winter in
Canada around the year 1000, almost 500 years before Columbus.
990 The Wessex Gospels are the first Old English translations of the
four gospels not taken from Latin. They were
translated into the West Saxon dialect of Old English from the received Greek
991 The Battle of Maldon, a poem about a battle in which the Danes win and the English pay
Danegeld. Losing is getting expensive!
1000 Now skruketh rose and lylie flour is
an early English
love poem. A possible date for the Nowell Codex. The first known limerick ("The lion is wondrous strong") appears in
France. A possible date for the first Easter and Christmas plays. The
Anglo-Saxon Gospels and Aelfric's Sermons.
1013 The English continue to lose battles to the Danes. On Christmas Day, Sweyn Forkbeard
becomes King of England. He dies five months after assuming the throne, which is
claimed by his son Cnut.
1028 The birth of William of Normandy, also known as the Bastard and
the Conqueror. He was of Norse stock, the descendant of Vikings. King Cnut
(Canute the Great) rules Denmark, Norway, England and parts of Sweden.
1031 The Book of Life was an earthly prequel to the heavenly
Day of Judgment.
1035 The death of King Cnut leads to the the loss of Danish influence when his
son Harthacnut, reigning as Cnut III, is "forsaken [by the English] because he
was too long in Denmark." Harold Harefoot becomes regent, then assumes the
throne of England in 1037. When Harefoot dies in 1040, Cnut III reclaims the
English throne, but dies in 1042.
1040 Macbeth kills Duncan at the battle at Elgin and rules as King of Scots.
Shakespeare would write one of his most famous plays about the goings-on.
1042 King Edward the Confessor reigns as king of all England. His major
building campaign is the construction of Westminster Abbey, the first Norman
Romanesque church to be built in England. He allegedly promises the English throne to William of Normandy, his first cousin, but later reneges. Edward was the last king of the House of Wessex
and the only English king to be canonized (made a saint). A dispute over
the English crown after his death led to the Norman Conquest of England
(see the entry for 1066).
1048 The birth of Omar Khayyαm, a Persian polymath, scholar,
mathematician, astronomer, philosopher and poet who is widely considered to be
one of the most influential thinkers of the Middle Ages. Eight centuries later,
Edward FitzGerald (180983) would make Khayyαm famous in the West with his
wonderful translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar
1054 The Great Schism of the Roman Catholic Church.
1060 The Arundel Psalter was an Anglo-Saxon
1065 The birth of Saint Godric, a hermit said to have written
poems and songs. Reginald of Durham (?-1190) recorded four songs by St. Godric:
the oldest English songs for which the music
1066 Edward the Confessor dies and Harold Godwinson inherits his
throne. William the Conqueror defeats King Harold at the Battle of Hastings,
becoming King William I of England; this Norman Conquest of England marks the end of the Anglo-Saxon
and Late Old
English periods. French and Latin now rule over lowly English! At this time the
Norman conquerors of England speak Old Norman or Old French. English words of
Norman/French origin include: attorney, case, court, judge, justice, parliament, etc.
They represent around 28% of English words. Thus the three major invasions of
England provided around 87% of the evolving language's words. The
Norse/Norman/French influence on the English language will be profound as it
prepares for a comeback with Geoffrey Chaucer in the 1300s.
1067 Construction of the Tower of London begins. It would unfortunately house
some of England's leading poets and see some of them lose their heads.
Our top ten poets of the Middle English Period: Wace, Layamon, Walter Map,
Thomas of Britain, Guillaume de Lorris, John Gower, William Langland, the
Archpoet, Francesco Petrarch, Dante Alighieri
The Anglo-Norman or Early Middle English Period (1066-1332)
During the Anglo-Norman era the English people and their language were
subjugated to their conquerors, who favored Latin and French. English bishops
were replaced by Norman bishops who had no use for a primitive language they
couldn't understand. Latin became the "language of all serious writing." English
was a language for rural hayseeds! But the
conquerors were overcome linguistically by Geoffrey Chaucer, who by 1362 was
writing poetry in a mostly-understandable version of "our" English. We will call this language
Early Middle English.
It had a largely Anglo-Saxon vocabulary, with Norse and other borrowings. Chaucer wrote in
what might be called the "London dialect" of this evolving language. We have glimpses of this language
surviving poems and songs such as
How Long the Night
("Myrie it is while sumer
Sumer is icumen in.
1068 The chansons de geste ("songs of heroic deeds"), performed by
professional minstrels in castles and manors, celebrated the exploits of
Charlemagne―the greatest of French kings―and his paladins. The
earliest works in this genre appear to be the Chanson de Guillaume
("The Song of William"), Chanson de Roland ("The Song of Roland") and
Gormont et Isembart. The first half of the Chanson de Guillaume
may date from the eleventh century; Gormont et Isembart may date from
as early as 1068; while The Song
of Roland probably dates from after 1086. Here is a brief take on
how the Provencal Troubadours emerged and evolved: "Like a
giant iron cloud, the popes of the Holy Roman Empire the purveyors of the
Middle Ages clamped down and extinguished creative and artistic expression.
However, as the 11th century reached its midpoint, a group of troubadour
musicians in southern France began to sing and write striking lyrics. They were
influenced by the Arabic civilization and its leading denizens, Omar
Khayyam and Rumi, inspired by Latin and Greek poets,
and guided by Christian precepts. Three concepts stood above all others: the
spiritualization of passion, imagery, and secret love. With a gift for rhythm,
meter, and form, the musicians and poets created a masterful style by the 13th
century. The Provencal troubadours began as court singer-poets, among them
William X, Duke of Aquitaine, Eleanor Aquitaine, and King Richard I of England.
They practiced the art, but its undisputed masters were Bertrand de Born, Arnaud
Daniel, Guillame de Machant, Christine di Pisan, and Marie de France. During
their heyday, these and other poets routinely traveled to communities to deliver
poems, news, songs, and dramatic sketches in their masterful lyrical styles.
Among those deeply influenced were Dante Alighieri,
Francesco Petrarch, and Geoffrey Chaucer. Forms like
the sestina, rondeau, triolet, canso, and ballata originated with the Provencal
1085 The birth of Orderic Vitalis (1075c. 1142), an English historian and
Benedictine monk who wrote a chronicle of 11th- and
12th-century Anglo-Norman England. He called himself Angligena ("English-born"). Thus we see the "Angle" in
1086 William I orders extensive surveys of his English holdings, recorded in
the Domesday Book (written in Latin), and notifies the Pope that England owes no allegiance to Rome, the
first of many British rifts with the Vatican. This is a possible date for The
Song of Roland.
1095 The First Crusade. The birth of William of Malmesbury, who has been called
"the foremost historian of the 12th century." Wolstan, the Bishop of
Worchester, is deposed with the complaint that he is an "English idiot" who
"cannot speak French."
1096 There is evidence of teaching at Oxford, which would become home to the
first English university (see the entry at 1117). French and Latin remain the primary
languages of rulers, clergy, scholars and fashionable poets.
1100 Henry I reigns. Layamon writes Brut, a 32,000-line poem composed
in Middle English that shows a strong Anglo-Saxon influence and contains the
first known reference to King Arthur in English. Here is an example of Layamon's
gift for imagery: "Now he stands on a hill overlooking the Avon, seeing steel
fishes girded with swords in the stream, their swimming days done, their scales
a-gleam like gold-plated shields, their fish-spines floating like wooden
spears." (Loose translation by Michael R. Burch.) Thus nearly a thousand years
ago, an English poet was dabbling in surrealism, describing dead warriors who
were both men and fish. Also, in an interesting synchronicity, the birth of
Geoffrey of Monmouth (c. 1100-1155), a Welsh cleric and one of the major figures
in the development of British historiography and tales
of King Arthur. Geoffrey is best known for his Latin chronicle De gestis Britonum or Historia regum Britanniae ("History of the Kings of Britain"). Earlier
tales in the Welsh Mabinogion survive (but are probably oral tales
older than the manuscripts). The Play of Saint Catherine is the first
known English miracle play. Icelandic sagas such as Grettirsaga and Volsungsaga.
Possible date for the older books of the Nowell Codex, which is
actually comprised of two codices. The first codex contains Alfred the Great's
translations of Aristotle's Soliloquies, a translation of the
Gospel of Nicodemus, the prose manuscript Solomon and Saturn, and
a fragment of The Life of Saint Quentin. The second codex contains a
unique copy of Beowulf, along with a translation of the biblical book
of Judith, plus The Life of Saint Christopher, Wonders of
the East and Letters of Alexander to Aristotle.
1110 The birth of Wace, perhaps Robert of Wace, a Norman poet and author of
Roman de Brut and Roman de Rou.
1117 The first English university, Oxford, is founded. It has
a "growth spurt" when King Henry II bans English students from attending the
University of Paris (see the entry for 1167).
1120 The birth of John of Salisbury (c. 1120-1180) aka as
Johannes Parvus ("John the Little"), an English author,
diplomat and bishop of Chartres. He was born of Anglo-Saxon
stock but has been described as "one of the best
Latinists of his age" and an "ornament of his age." Around this time the troubadours of Provence introduce the art of courtly love and chivalry. Eadmer
writes The Life of Anselm.
1130 Possible date for the birth of the Archpoet. Besides having the coolest pen
name ever, not much is known definitively about the Archpoet. Based on the poem
"His Confession," this heretical
medieval Latin poet may be responsible, to some degree, for our modern
conception of the wandering vagabond poet and rogue scholar.
1133 The birth of Henry II. He was highly literate: it was said that his hands
always contained either a bow or a book. However, he remained a Norman with
large landholdings in France, and it is doubtful that he spoke English.
1140 The birth of Bertran de Born, one of the
major Occitan troubadours.
1146 Gerald of Wales (c. 1146-c. 1223) was a Welsh-Norman deacon and historian
who wrote in Latin. As a royal clerk to the king and two archbishops, he
travelled widely and wrote extensively. He admired the poetry of his Welsh
people and made an early reference to alliteration: "In their rhymed songs and
set speeches they are so subtle and ingenious that they produce, in their native
tongue, ornaments of wonderful and exquisite invention both in the words and the
They make use of alliteration in preference to all other ornaments
of rhetoric, and that particular kind which joins by consonancy the first
letters or syllables of words."
1150 The first extant text written in Middle English may be a sermon given by Ralph
dEscures, Archbishop of Canterbury. His homily begins Se godspellere Lucas
sζgπ on ώyssen godspelle ("The evangelist Luke says in this gospel"). Word
order is identical to present-day English, and remains so across much of the
text. Around this time a monk named Orm or Ormin ("Worm") introduces a
revolutionary new meter to English poetry, or he at least provides the first extant
example. Orm wrote the Ormulum, a
long religious verse homily composed in Middle English. It is one of the first
English poems to employ ballad meter (also known as common meter or common measure). The
only other poem from this era to employ such meter is the Poema Morale,
written by an unknown author. The Ormulum also demonstrates what would
be called Received Standard English, two centuries before Chaucer (Burchfield).
The Ormulum has been very helpful to linguists because Orm was
meticulous about spelling words so they could be pronounced properly. Thus we
have a good idea how words were being pronounced in the 12th century, thanks to
an industrious bookworm!
1154 Henry II is the first Plantagenet king. Eleanor of Aquitaine becomes
Queen Consort of England. The Plantagenets were
Normans with large land holdings in France, including Normandy, Anjou, Gascony
and Aquitaine. Henry II spent more time in Europe than England during his
reign. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is updated for the last time in 1154.
1155 Wace's Anglo-Norman Roman de Brut is presented by Wace to
Eleanor of Aquitaine.
1160 Walter Map, an Anglo-Latin poet, is writing poems. Thomas of Britain's
Anglo-Norman Tristan. Chrιtien de Troyes and other French authors
turn the stories of Arthur and his knights into romances of courtly love.
1167 Henry II bans English students from attending the University of Paris
(apparently due to his dispute with Thomas Beckett).
The ban leads to a "growth spurt" at
Oxford, when English scholars head home.
1170 Henry II has Thomas Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury, assassinated.
Approximate birth of the English poet Thomas d'Angleterre (1170-?), author of
1172 Wace's Anglo-Norman Roman de Rou.
1180 Joseph Iscan, also known as Joseph of Exeter, was a twelfth-century Latin
poet from Exeter who has been called an "ornament of his age."
1188 Gerald of Wales is the first known foreign lecturer at Oxford University.
1189 Richard I, aka Richard Cur de Lion ("Richard the Lionheart") reigns; he
joins the Third Crusade while his brother John acts as regent. Like his father Henry
II, the young Richard I will be more absent than present in England.
1193 The first Anglo-French war, from 1193 to 1199. England's series of wars
with France may have contributed to the rise of English and the decline of
French in England's halls of power, but whatever the cause(s), it would take
1199 King John reigns after Richard I dies in France.
How Long the Night
("Myrie it is while sumer
is one of the great early rhyming poems of the Middle
English period; it remains largely understandable to modern readers. The
oldest known English ballad is Judas, probably composed sometime during the
13th century. The terms "ballad" and "ballet" have the same root:
dance or "the cadence
of consenting feet."
Ballads were originally written to accompany dances: think
of two-stepping to a reel at a hoe-down. At this point English poetry is
becoming more song-like, with meter and rhyme. Its primary purpose is
entertainment. Many poets―if not most―are minstrels who perform for money or food and drink.
But the early ballads are notable for their "fierce realism" mixed with eerie
supernatural elements. English folk music has existed at least since the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons.
The Venerable Bede's story of the cowherd-turned-ecclesiastical-musician
Cζdmon indicates that it was normal at feasts to
pass around the harp and sing "vain and idle songs." Ballads composed
between 1200 and 1700 include: Sir Patrick Spens, Edward, Lord Randal, Bonny Barbara Allan, The Wife of Usher's
Well, The Unquiet Grave, The Three Ravens, The Douglas Tragedy, Mary Hamilton,
The Bitter Withy, Lamkin, The Twa Sisters, Thomas The
Rhymer, Chevy Chase, The Cherry-tree Carol, and
various Robin Hood ballads.
1204 King John loses Normandy to France, perhaps making his father prophetic
when he nicknamed his son "Lackland."
1207 Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī
(12071273), was a Persian Sunni Muslim poet, jurist, Islamic
scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic. Rumi has been described as the "most popular poet" and the "best-selling poet" in the United States.
1208 The University of Cambridge is founded when violence between Oxford
townspeople and students makes another campus seem like a good idea.
1215 The Magna Carta forces
King John to grant liberties and rights to English nobles in return for taxation
(although the document was drafted in French).
1216 Henry III reigns.
1219 The birth of Roger Bacon (c. 12191292), the Doctor Mirabilis ("wondrous doctor"). He
was an English philosopher and Franciscan friar who placed considerable emphasis
on the study of nature through empirical methods or the modern scientific method.
Bacon's linguistic work has been heralded for its early exposition of a
universal grammar. He became a master at Oxford, lecturing on Aristotle, then
taught at the University of Paris. Bacon's major work, the Opus Majus ("Greater Work"), was written in Medieval Latin and sent to Pope Clement IV
in Rome in 1267 at the pope's request.
1225 The birth of Saint Thomas Aquinas.
1230 Guillaume de Lorris writes Roman de la Rose. The
Sicilian School of poetry emerges: "Emboldened by the passionate poetics of
the Provencal troubadours, a small group of Sicilian poets in the court of
Frederick II turned verses of heartfelt love into the first spiritual heartbeat
of the Renaissance and the ancestral work that would explode in England during
the Elizabethan and Shakespearean eras ... As the
14th century dawned, the Sicilian poets canzones, balladas and sonnets came to
the attention of Dante and Petrarch, who
spread them throughout Bologna, Florence, and other emerging literary centers."
1250 Nicholas of Guildford writes The Owl and the Nightingale, one of
the first comic poems in the English language and a form of the "verse contest"
or conflictus that was popular with medieval Latin poets. Bevis of
Hampton and King Horn are early English romances about "the Matter
1258 Henry III mixes English with French in governmental proclamations; the
English language is making a comeback but it will be a gradual process.
Sumer is icumen in came with a musical score and instructions
for singing it in rounds, although the instructions were written in Latin!
Considered a rondel because it is "round" or cyclical in form, it is one of the oldest
lyrics that can
still be sung to its original melody. Other early rhyming poems that may predate the first major
English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, include
Fowles in the Frith,
am of Irlaunde ("I am of Ireland"),
Now Goeth Sun Under Wood,
Pity Mary, Ubi Sunt Qui Ante Nos Fuerunt? ("Where are now those
who lived before us?") and Alison. While Germanic, French and
Latin influences remain, the robust English language is coming into its own and
is about to claim primacy.
1263 Balliol College is founded at Oxford.
1265 The birth of Dante Alighieri (1265-1321). Dante is generally considered to be one of the
world's greatest poets, comparable to Homer and Shakespeare. Simon de Montfort summons the first
directly-elected English Parliament.
1266 The birth of the Scotsman John Duns or Johannes Duns, better known as
Duns Scotus (c. 1266-1308) and Doctor Subtilis (Subtle Doctor). He is
considered to be one of the three most important Western philosopher-theologians
of the High Middle Ages, along with Thomas Aquinas and William of Ockham. Due to
his appellation, he is believed to have been born in Duns, Berwickshire,
1272 Edward I ("Longshanks") reigns, and is crowned upon his return from the
Ninth Crusade (the last major crusade).
1275 Jean de Meun extends Roman de la Rose. The approximate birth of
Robert Mannying (Manning), aka Robert de Brunne, who would write Middle English
poetry in rhymed tetrameter couplets fifty years before Chaucer and Gower. Dante claims to have
met Beatrice Portinari at age nine, and to have immediately fallen in love with
her. She would become the focal point of his poetry. It was in her honor that
Dante created the dolce stil nuovo
("sweet new style") of courtly love poetry. Marco Polo
enters the service of Kublai Khan.
1277 Roger Bacon is exiled for heresy.
1287 The birth of Richard de Bury (1287-1345), also known as Richard Aungerville
or Aungervyle, near Bury St. Edmunds; he was an English priest, bishop, teacher,
writer and bibliophile. A patron of learning and one of the first English
collectors of books, he is chiefly remembered for his Philobiblon, one
of the earliest books to discuss librarianship. A descendent of
Normans, he wrote in Latin.
1290 The birth of Robert Holcot, an important contributor to English semantics.
His Book of Wisdom has been proposed as a prime literary source for
Chaucer's Nun's Priest's Tale. The love of Dante's life, Beatrice, dies
at age 24.
1291 Duns Scotus is ordained to the priesthood.
1292 Dante's Vita Nuova ("New Life") explores his love for Beatrice,
which appears to have been unrequited.
1295 The "Model Parliament" is England's first representative parliament
(i.e., giving ordinary citizens a voice in their government).
1296 Edward I defeats the Scots, seizes the throne, and removes the
Stone of Scone to Westminster.
1300 Dame Sirith is the earliest English fabliau. Guy
of Warwick and Bevis of Hampton are early English romances. Cursor Mundi
(Latin for "Runner of the World"), an anonymous Middle-English historical and
religious poem of nearly 30,000 lines, is written around this time. The poem
summarizes the history of the world as described in the Christian Bible and
other sources. It will be extremely popular in its time. Dante is made Prior of
Florence, a position of extreme power. Also, the approximate birth of the English poet,
anchorite/hermit and mystic Richard
Rolle de Hampole. Rolle began writing poetry in Latin but progressed to English
rhymed iambics and thus may have been a transitional poet, since traditional
Old English poetry had been alliterative and unrhymed. Rolle was also an early
translator of the Bible into English, particularly seven penitential psalms. He
also left a paraphrase of the Book of Job, a Lord's Prayer, The Fire of Love,
The Melody of Love, The Form of Living and (possibly) The Pricke of
Conscience. A "flourishing cult" would
center around Rolle after his death and during the 14th and 15th centuries his
writings would be read more than Chaucer's. These lines from Rolle's poem "What
Is Heaven?" remain understandable 700 years later: "And ther is bright somer
ever to se, / And there is nevere wynter in that countrie." However, it is not certain that everything attributed to Rolle was written by
him and has passed down to us without alterations. According to records, Duns
Scotus appears to have been at Oxford by 1300. Around this time he composes
Ordinatio (also known as the Opus oxoniense), a revised version of
lectures he gave as a bachelor at Oxford on the Sentences of Peter
1302 Dante falls out of favor and is banished from Florence. He ironically writes an
essay in Latin about the need for vernacular Italian! Duns Scotus is lecturing
at the University of Paris, but gets expelled for siding with Pope Boniface VIII
in a dispute with King Philip IV of France over the taxation of church property.
1304 The birth of Francesco Petrarch, the creator of
the sonnet ("little song"). Petrarch would be a major influence on
early modern English poets like Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard. They, in
turn, would influence other poets, including Shakespeare.
1305 William Wallace is executed for treason.
1306 Robert Bruce is crowned King of Scotland; Edward I dies on his way north
to invade Scotland.
1307 Edward II reigns. Dante begins his Divina Commedia ("Divine Comedy").
1308 The death of Duns Scotus.
1314 Robert Bruce defeats Edward II; the lyrics Alysoun and Lenten ys
come with love to toune.
1317 Dante's Inferno.
1320 The Birth of John Wyclif or Wycliffe, aka Doctor Evangelicus. He would be an
important translator of the Bible into English. Wycliffe has been
called "England's first European mind." Around this time Richard Rolle
returns home from Oxford "intending to become a hermit."
1321 The death of Dante.
1325 The Luttrell
Psalter. Approximate births of the English poets John Gower and William Langland.
Gower was one of the first poets to create an "English
style." The great Persian poet Hafez/Hafiz is born around this time in Shiraz, Iran.
1327 Edward III reigns. Robert Holcot complains that there is no
place in England where children can study the English language!
1328 The Scots win independence from England.
1330 Sir Orfeo is an anonymous Middle English narrative poem.
The story mixes the Greek myth of Orpheus with Celtic folklore.
1332 English replaces French in the British Parliament and courts, heralding the
end of the Anglo-Norman era. From this point forward the most important English
poets―Chaucer, Gower, Langland, Skelton, Dunbar, et al―will write in some form
of native English, or in multiple languages. For instance, Gower wrote in
English, French and Latin.
1337 The beginning of the Hundred Years War between England and France.
1338 Robert Manning's Chronicle of England.
Our top ten poets of the Late Medieval Period: Robert Henryson, Thomas Hoccleve, John Lydgate, William Langland, the Gawain/Pearl poet, John Gower,
John Skelton, Charles D'Orleans, William Dunbar, Geoffrey Chaucer
Late Medieval or Chaucerian Period (1340-1486)
Chaucer made the English vernacular popular in much the same way that
Dante and Martin Luther made the Italian and German
vernaculars popular. But English poetry was to shape-shift yet again with the
appearance of Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, both born in the first decade of
the sixteenth century.
1340 The birth of Geoffrey Chaucer (approximate).
before Shakespeare, Chaucer would create unforgettable characters like
the Wife of Bath, the Miller and the Pardoner. These are the first "developed"
literary characters in English literature. John Dryden called Chaucer the
"father of English poetry."
1341 Petrarch is crowned Poet Laureate in Rome.
1342 The birth of Julian of Norwich (1342-1416), an English anchorite, mystic
and writer whose visions would influence T. S. Eliot's masterpiece "Four Quartets." She would become the
English language's first published female writer (see the entry for 1395). Around this time the mystical book The Cloud of Unknowing is written
by an unknown author.
1348 The Black Death kills one-third of the population of England; the
Chronicle of the Black Death records the horror.
1349 Richard Rolle
dies on Michaelmas, a victim of the Black Death.
1350 Boccaccio's Decameron. Around this time there is an
"Alliterative Revival" in England, with the Gawain/Pearl poet and others
employing the methods of the Anglo-Saxon scops, perhaps in a deliberate "turning
away" from the French/Latin verses favored by Norman kings and lords. Alliterative Revival
poems include Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Patience,
1356 Edward III's eldest son, the Black Prince, is
victorious in France; England now controls most of southwest France.
1357 Geoffrey Chaucer becomes a page to Elizabeth de Burgh, the Countess of Ulster. Chaucer's future wife, Philippa
Pan, is also a member of the household.
1359 Chaucer fights in the Hundred Years' War
against France, serving with Prince Lionel, the Count of Ulster. Chaucer attends the wedding of
John of Gaunt to Blanche of Lancaster; thus he appears to have been well
1360 Chaucer is captured, held hostage, then ransomed for sixteen pounds (a
handsome sum in those days). King Edward III contributes to his ransom. John
Wycliffe is described as a "master of Balliol" at Oxford.
1362 Chaucer is writing poems in English; Parliament is opened with a speech
in English for the first time; The Statute of Pleading replaces French with
English as the language of law.
The first known version (or "A-text") of William Langland's The Vision of Piers Plowman,
"the first major literary work to be written in the English language since the
Norman conquest." It is an alliterative, allegorical dream poem unlike other
English poem to date. For a time, Langland―known as "Long Will" because of his
height―lives within a few hundred yards of Chaucer, in London. Langland has been
called England's first reformer poet. Piers Plowman was one of the most
popular poems of its time.
1367 Chaucer becomes
a member of the royal court, as a valet to King Edward III. The birth of Richard
II, who would encourage the poet John Gower to write in English.
1368 Chaucer's The Book of the Duchess memorializes the death of John
of Gaunt's wife, Blanche of Lancaster. This was Chaucer's first major poem was written in
the then-new English style of rhyming octosyllabic couplets. Chaucer would go on
to employ iambic pentameter, the preferred meter of Shakespeare, in other poems,
including his Canterbury Tales.
1369 The birth of the English poet Thomas Hoccleve, an early confessional poet
and one of the first English poets to leave manuscripts written in his own
hand. He is the first English poet to speak of himself as himself in his poems.
1370 The birth of the English poet John Lydgate, a penner of devotional
poems; he was one of the earliest English poets known to have worn spectacles.
1372 John Barbour, a Scottish poet, begins writing The Bruce, a verse
chronicle of 13,000 lines in rhymed couplets. Barbour is considered to be the
father of Scottish poetry, holding a position similar to Chaucer's in English
poetry. Meanwhile, Chaucer is commissioned to establish a seaport
for Genoese trade and travels to Italy.
1373 Julian of Norwich is very near death on May 8, 1373. The local curate
comes to administer last rites. Julian then has sixteen visions, which she
later records in the first book by an Englishwoman (see the entry for 1395).
Julian's visions convince her that God's love is unconditional and that God does not condemn human beings. In one of her visions she
hears God tell her that "All shall be well and all manner of things shall be
1374 The death of Petrarch. Chaucer completes The Book of the Duchess.
John of Gaunt returns from France and takes control of the British government
when Edward III shows signs of senility. Chaucer and
his wife are given annuities by John of Gaunt.
1376 The first record of the York mystery plays; these were English verse
plays acted out on pageant wagons with moveable stages. The suspected but
unknown author of a number of the plays has been dubbed "The York Realist" and
is believed to have been an influence on John Wycliffe (who mentioned them) and
William Shakespeare, among others. Edward III and the Black Prince die within a year of each other. John
Gower's Mirour de l'Omme or Speculum Meditantis, written in
French. John Wycliffe's Civil Dominion calls for church reforms.
1377 Richard II reigns at age eleven. Chaucer travels to Flanders and France
on king's business; he is also involved in negotiations for Richard's marriage.
John Wycliffe is brought before William Courtenay, the Bishop of London,
on charges of heresy on February 19, 1377. Street riots on Wycliffe's behalf end
the trial. That May a bull is sent by Pope Gregory XI in which he
Wycliffe's theses are dangerous to Church and State. Like Martin Luther but a
century earlier, Wycliffe claimed the Bible is the only authority for Christians
and he accused the Roman Catholic Church of theological errors and corruption.
1378 The "Western Schism" results in three different popes being elected
1379 Chaucer begins The House of Fame, written in rhyming
1380 The Pope charges John Wycliffe with heresy.
1381 Watt Tyler and the poet John Ball lead the Peasants' Revolt in response to
poll taxes and march on London. John Gower would write a long poem in Latin,
Vox Clamantis, about the revolt. John Wycliffe adds to his heresies by
publicly denying transubstantiation.
1382 Richard II promises to repeal the poll taxes, but returning rebels are
executed; John Wycliffe translates the Bible into English, introducing
over 1,000 new words into the language. Chaucer composes the Parlement
1384 John Wycliffe publishes his English translation of the Bible. Wycliffe suffers a stroke during mass and dies; his writings
would help establish the basis of Puritanism.
1385 Chaucer completes Troilus and Criseyde, his long poem about ancient Troy; it has been called "the first modern
novel" although it was written in rhyming verse. It appears to be the first
major English poem written in iambic pentameter. Chaucer dedicated the
poem to "moral Gower." According to John Trevisa,
by 1385 English schoolchildren are being taught English grammar thanks to the
efforts of John Cornwall (or John of Cornwall) and his protιgι Richard Pencriche. English
replaces Latin as the main language in schools (except Oxford and Cambridge
1386 Chaucer becomes a Member of Parliament. He also begins
work on The Legend of Good Women, a poem completed between 1386 and
1388. St. Erkenwald is an alliterative poem that has been ascribed to
the Gawain/Pearl poet. John Gower, well into his fifties or early sixties,
begins to write his first poem in English around this time, the Confessio
Amantis ("Lover's Confession"), after Richard II, the boy king, asks him to write "some newe thing." Gower writes the poem in rhyming iambic
tetrameter couplets, as Chaucer had done previously. Gower has been described as
Poet Laureate to Richard II and Henry IV although there was no such official position at the time.
1387 Chaucer begins work on his masterpiece The Canterbury Tales,
the first major work of still-largely-readable English literature. The meter is
primarily iambic pentameter, with variations. The predominate rhyme scheme is
"rhyme royal" or rhymed couplets: AA BB CC etc.
1388 Scots defeat Henry Hotspur at the Battle of Otterburn. John Purvey
completes the Bible translation he worked on with John
Wycliffe. Juliana Berners (1388-?) is the first English woman verse writer whose
name and work we know today. She was a prioress who wrote
about hawking, hunting and fishing.
1389 John of Gaunt returns from a campaign in Spain and Chaucer is appointed
Clerk of the King's Works. He is
responsible for construction at Westminster, the Tower of London, and various
castles and manors.
1390 The first English cookbook, the Forme of Cury ("Form of
Cookery"). John Gower completes his Confessio
Amantis. It would be the first English language
poem to be translated into continental languages.
1391 Chaucer is appointed deputy forester of the Royal Forest at North
1394 Charles D'Orleans (1394-1465), a grandson of Charles V of France, is born; a master
of the ballade and rondeau, he would write poetry in French and
1395 Julian of Norwich's Revelations of Divine Love is the first
book in the English language by a female author.
1399 John of Gaunt dies. Richard II is deposed by his cousin Henry
Bolingbroke, the son of John of Gaunt. Bolingbroke becomes King Henry IV.
Richard II dies in captivity. Henry's mother was Blanche of Lancaster, to whose
memory Chaucer had written The Book of the Duchess. Henry IV increases Chaucer's annuity to
a hefty forty pounds. Henry IV was the first British monarch since the Norman
Conquest whose mother tongue was English rather than French. John Gower writes his second English language poem, "In
Praise of Peace," for Henry IV. William Langland writes "Richard the Redeles"
(i.e, "Richard without Counsel") then vanishes forever. Or did another poet,
whose name remains unknown, imitate Langland's alliterative style?
1400 A more standardized version of English called Chancery English is used by
scribes for documentary purposes; it evolved over time from the London dialect
and this is an approximate date for it becoming more widespread. The alliterative Morte Arthure ("Death of Arthur").
The Castle of Perseverance has been dated
to the early 15th century.
Chaucer's death leaves his Canterbury Tales unfinished. Chaucer is the first
poet to be buried in the "Poet's Corner" of Westminster Abbey.
1401 Owain Glyndwr leads a Welsh revolt against English rule. John Purvey is accused of heresy and
1403 Sir Henry Percy, aka Sir Harry Hotspur, is slain at the
Battle of Shrewsbury.
Hotspur would become one of Shakespeare's best-known characters.
1406 James I of Scotland possibly writes The Kingis
1408 The death of Sir John Gower, one of England's first three great poets, along
with Langland and Chaucer. Chaucer and Gower were the first two major English poets who wrote in the new
"sweet style," employing iambic meter and rhyme. Langland continued to rely on the older Anglo-Saxon
poetry techniques. Today Chaucer is considered the greatest poet of the three,
while Langland and Gower are not read nearly as much.
1409 The Pope orders John Wycliffe's books to be burned.
1412 John Lydgate's Troy Book.
1413 King Henry V reigns. A Lancastrian monarch, Henry V favors language
standardization and promotes the use of English in public, at official
gatherings, and in official documentation. "After the reign of Henry V, the
status of the French language in England drastically diminished (Corrie)." This may be duelargely or in partto
the fact that England and France were at war at the time.
1415 Henry V attacks France in order to win back English territories
previously lost there; he captures Harfleur and wins the major battle of Agincourt. One reason for the
victory is the English longbow. Jan Hus, a Wycliffe supporter, refuses to recant
and is burned at the stake. Charles D'Orleans is found under a stack of corpses
at Agincourt and is held for ransom by the English. D'Orleans and his
brother would learn the English language as prisoners by reading Chaucer's
1420 John Lydgate's The Siege of Thebes.
1422 Henry VI reigns as King of England and France, but is only eight months
old, so regents are appointed. The birth of the English writer, translator and book
printer William Caxton (1422-1491).
1425 The birth of the Scottish poet Robert Henryson (1425-1508). Henryson
has been called the greatest of the Scottish makars (poets) and was lauded by William Dunbar in his poem Lament for the Makaris.
He has also been called "among the few great fabulists" in English literature.
1426 John Lydgate's The Pilgrimage of the Life of Man, a translation
of Guillaume de Deguileville's Pθleringe.
1428 The Council of Constance orders Wycliffe's bones to be dug up, burned,
then "chucked into the river Swift."
1429 Joan of Arc, a French peasant girl, begins her campaign to drive
the English from France, with considerable success.
1430 A "haunting riddle-chant" from this era is
I Have a Yong Suster. A similar haunting poem is the
Corpus Christi Carol. Also, The Ballad of Chevy Chase may have
been composed around this time. Sir Philip Sidney said it moved his heart "more
than with a trumpet."
1431 Joan of Arc is burned at the stake as a witch; Henry VI is crowned King
of France in Paris.
1440 Eton College is founded. Duke Humphrey donates a library of 600 books to
Oxford. The birth
of Henry the Minstrel, aka Blind Harry, a Scottish poet. Charles D'Orleans is
finally freed at age 46. He marries Mary of Cleves, age 14. After his return to
France, he would focus on the rondel.
1450 The great vowel shift begins around this time: before the GVS the word
"sheep" was pronounced "shape." Robin Hood and the Monk is one of the earliest
popular ballads. It has been dated to around 1450. A similar
ballad is Robin Hood and the Potter. Both poems are called "Child
ballads" because they appeared in a book of ballads published by Francis
James Child in
1882. The birth of Bernard Andrι of Toulouse (1450-1522), a blind French poet
who would be appointed Poet Laureate by Henry VII. French remains the language
of the elites.
1453 England loses all its French possession except Calais and the Channel
Islands, ending the Hundred Years' War; the Wars of the Roses begin almost
immediately, with the houses of York and Lancaster pitted violently against each
1455 The Guttenberg Bible
is the first book printed with moveable
type. Printed books will lead to an explosion of knowledge.
1460 Henry VI is captured by Yorkists but is freed by an army raised by his
wife Margaret. Francois Villon, a
guest of Charles D'Orleans at Blois, writes a poem to celebrate the birth of his
daughter Marie, named after her mother Marie of Cleves. The approximate births of the poets
John Skelton (1463?-1529) and William Dunbar (1460?-1520?).
Dunbar would become the first great Scottish poet. Sir Walter Scott called
Dunbar "unrivalled" by any other Scottish poet. Skelton has been called the
major Tudor poet and the first modern English poet: the first one we can read
without a glossary. Erasmus called Skelton "the one light and glory of British
letters." But some critics accused Skelton of being a "rude rhymer" who lacked
"decorum" and spoke with the "most familiar phraseology" of the "common people."
On the other hand, Skelton may have been way
ahead of his time, since that's what the great Romantic poets to come would do.
Robert Graves opined that Skelton enriched the vocabulary of the English
language more than any other poet, "even Chaucer." Skelton has been described as
a "renegade humanist" who sometimes sounded like another poetic renegade,
1461 Henry VI and Margaret are defeated and flee to Scotland. Edward, the son of
Richard of York, declares himself King Edward IV. Francois Villon, recently
released from prison, writes his Ballad of the Ladies of Times Past.
1462 Robert Henryson earns a degree in canon law from the
University of Glasgow. His collection of animal fables has been called a
masterpiece of medieval literature. Marie of Cleves bears Charles D'Orleans a
son, the future Louis XII of France.
1464 Henry VI is captured and brought to the Tower of London.
1465 Charles D'Orleans dies at age 70.
1469 Edward IV is defeated and flees to Flanders; Henry VI is restored to the
throne; Thomas Mallory's Le Morte D'Arthur ("The Death of Arthur").
1471 Edward IV returns to England and defeats Margaret's army. Henry VI is
stabbed to death in the Tower of London. William Caxton visits Cologne, sees a
printing press at work, and the prosperous merchant decides to become a book printer.
1473 While in Bruges or Ghent, William Caxton prints the first typeset English book, his
own translation of the History of Troy.
Caxton would also publish the first book by an Englishwoman,
The Moral Proverbs of Christine de Pisan.
The birth of Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543).
1474 The birth of Gavin Douglas (1474?-1522), a Scottish poet.
1475 The birth of Stephen Hawes (1475?-1530?), an English scholar and poet.
1476 William Caxton sets up a press in almonry of the Westminster Abbey
Church and prints the first book produced in England with moveable type: Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
Prior to the publication of Caxton's books, reading and writing had been largely
confined to monastic centers and elites who could afford expensive
hand-produced manuscripts. Thanks to Caxton and other book publishers, reading and writing were about to spread,
resulting in an explosion of knowledge that would be an important factor in the
later rise of democracies around the world.
1477 William Caxton publishes Sayings of the Philosophers in a
translation by Earl Rivers. The oldest surviving Valentine's letter in the English language
was written by Margery Brews to her fiancι John Paston in February 1477.
1478 The birth of Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), author of Utopia.
1480 Robert Henryson's Fables of Aesop. William Caxton translates
Ovid's Metamorphoses but only a single original manuscript survives.
1481 William Caxton publishes his translation of Reynard the Fox.
1483 Edward IV dies; his son Edward V reigns briefly but is declared
illegitimate and is probably murdered in the Tower of London; Richard III
declares himself king; William Caxton prints John Gower's Confessio Amantis
("Lover's Confession") and Caxton's translation of Jacobus da Varagine's Golden Legend, which
may contain the oldest Bible verses printed in English.
1484 William Caxton prints Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde and
House of Fame, plus his own
translation of Aesop's Fables. In all, nearly a third of the 90+ books
published by Caxton were his own translations. The success of his translations
has been credited with helping promote the Chancery English he employed to the
status of a standard dialect throughout England.
1485 William Caxton publishes Thomas Mallory's Le Morte D'Arthur
("The Death of Arthur"). Henry Tudor lands in Wales, where he defeats and kills Richard III in the
last major battle of the Wars of the Roses; Henry Tudor becomes
King Henry VII. Thus begins the Tudor Period, which marks the
end of the Middle Ages in England. English finally rules
in Henry VII's court!
1486 Henry VII marries Elizabeth of York, uniting the houses of Lancaster and
York and cementing the Tudor dynasty. It is believed that Juliana Berners may
have contributed "advice literature" to The Book of St. Albans.
Our top ten Tudor/Elizabethan poets: George Chapman, Sir Walter Ralegh, Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe, Henry Howard,
Sir Philip Sidney,
Sir Thomas Wyatt,
John Donne, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare
Early Modern English: the English Renaissance and the Tudor and Elizabethan Periods (1486-1618)
The Tudor era saw the introduction of the sonnet and blank verse, both
composed in iambic pentameter. The innovations of Thomas Wyatt and Henry
Howard mark the beginning of modern English poetry. This era ended with the
deaths of Queen Elizabeth I and William
Shakespeare in the first decade of the
seventeenth century. Here's a brief recap of what happened during the
Elizabethan Period: "By the time the Italian Renaissance waned, its greatest
poetic exports the ballad and the sonnet found their way to England through
Sir Thomas Wyatt. He introduced the forms to a countryside
attuned to lyrical and narrative poetry by the great Geoffrey Chaucer, whose
experiences with latter Provencal poets influenced the style credited with
modernizing English literature. Sonnets swept through late 16th and early 17th
century England, primarily through the works of Wyatt,
Sir Philip Sydney, Edmund Spenser, and William Shakespeare.
Spenser and Shakespeare took the Petrarchan form that Wyatt introduced to the
literary landscape and added their individual touches, forming the three
principal sonnet styles: Petrarchan, Spenserian, and Shakespearean."
1490 The birth of Sir Thomas Elyot/Eliot (1490-1546), an English diplomat and
scholar who would produce an early Latin-English dictionary.
1491 The birth of Henry Tudor (Henry VIII). John Skelton would tutor
the young Duke of York. The death of William Caxton, whom Skelton had assisted
with his translation of Virgil. Caxton's publishing work would be carried
on by his foreman Wynkyn de Worde, who would go on to publish at least 640 books. There is a plaque at Poet's Corner in
Westminster Abbey that reads: "Near this place William Caxton set up the first
printing press in England." Yes, and the first book he published in England was
by the first major English poet to write in English and the first to be buried at Poet's
Corner: Geoffrey Chaucer.
1492 Columbus discovers the Americas. William Dunbar accompanies an embassy to Denmark and
France. Thomas More enters Oxford, where he becomes proficient in Greek and
Latin. Henry Wyatt, the soon-to-be-father of Thomas Wyatt, purchases Allington
Castle in Kent.
1493 John Skelton is Poet Laureate of Oxford, Cambridge and the University of
Louvain. His was the only laureateship awarded by Cambridge.
1494 The birth of William Tyndale. Thomas More leaves Oxford to study law at
New Inn, one of the Inns of Chancery.
1495 Wynkyn de Worde publishes a collection of Robin Hood ballads.
1496 Thomas More becomes a law student at Lincoln's Inn, one of the Inns of
1497 John Cabot discovers Newfoundland.
1498 John Skelton's satire of court life, The Bowge of Courte, is published by Wynkyn de Worde.
Skelton is successively ordained sub-deacon, deacon and priest, but he
apparently had a mistress and would confess on his deathbed to having a wife and
"several children." Skelton's The Boke of Phyllyp Sparowe
(better known today as Phillip Sparrow) may have been
written around this time, or at least some time before 1508, when it was disparaged by
Alexander Barclay in The Ship of Fools.
1500 Everyman is an allegorical drama, translated from the Dutch.
1502 Thomas More is called to the bar. He considers becoming a monk, but
decides against it. He does, however, wear a hair shirt and engages in
1503 The birth of Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542), a
courtier/soldier/gentleman and perhaps the first modern English poet, the first
major English lyric poet, and the primary leader of the English Renaissance.
Patricia Thomson called Wyatt the "Father of English Poetry." Wyatt employed
more than seventy different stanza forms, many of his own invention. He also
"imported" terza rima and ottava rima from Italy. We agree
with the estimation that Wyatt was a greater poet than his peers
Henry Howard and Sir Philip Sidney. Wyatt avoided the "aureate style" of lesser
poets who followed (or simply imitated) Petrarch. Wyatt remains more vital and
more "native" in his best poems. We can still hear the older accentual verse in
his meter. He resists being read to the tick-tock of a metronome. The birth of the English poet John Leland/Layland (1503-1552); Leland would write a book of elegies to Wyatt. William
Dunbar's poems The Thrissill and the Rois and
Sweet Rose of Virtue.
By this time Dunbar is attached to the court of King James IV of Scotland.
Richard Arnold's Chronicle includes the ballad "The Nut Brown Maid."
1504 Leonardo Da Vinci paints the Mona Lisa. Michelangelo finishes
his masterpiece David. Thomas More is elected to Parliament.
1506 The birth of the English poet Thomas Vaux (1506-1556), better known as
Lord Vaux and Baron Vaux. He was a Knight of the Bath and a member of the House
1508 Michelangelo begins to paint the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel. William Dunbar's The Dance of the Sevin Deidly Synnis, The Goldyn
Lament for the Makaris and The Tretis of the Tua Mariit Wemen.
Several of Dunbar's poems were included in the first books to be printed in
Scotland, now known as the the Chepman and Myllar Prints. Poems by John
Lydgate and Robert Henryson were also included.
1509 Henry Tudor marries Catherine of Aragon and reigns as King Henry VIII.
Sir Henry Wyatt is made a knight of the Bath at Henry's coronation and is
appointed to the new privy council.
1510 William Dunbar's pension was a handsome eighty pounds, so he was evidently
held in high regard by Scotland's King James IV.
1512 Thomas More may have begun work on his History of King Richard III
around this time. The biography, published in Latin and English versions, is
more notable for literary skill than historical accuracy and is believed to have
influenced Shakespeare's play Richard III.
1513 The birth of James V of Scotland, a poet credited with
writing The Gaberlunzie Man and The Jolly Beggar.
1513 John Skelton is appointed Poet Laureate to Henry VIII, although this is
not an official post. Gavin Douglas, a
Scottish poet, in his Eneados translates Virgil's Aeneid into
Douglas's translation is almost twice as long as
Virgil's original poem!
1514 Thomas More is appointed a Privy Counselor to Henry VIII, meaning that he
had become one of the king's closest advisers.
1515 Thomas Wolsey is made a cardinal by Pope Leo X, giving him precedence
over all English clergy. However, some clerics are preparing to mutiny. William
Tyndale, despite being a student of theology, a subdeacon and possessing a
Master of Arts, is not allowed to read the Bible! He will risk his life to
change that. Thomas Wyatt attends St. John's College, Cambridge, the chief
center of humanistic learning at the time.
1516 Thomas More's Utopia, written in Latin, is published by Erasmus.
By creating an imaginary land where things are very different from the "real
world," More broke new literary ground (or re-broke ground first tilled by Plato
in his Republic). One might call Utopia fantasy, science
fiction, alternate reality, philosophical fiction, philosophy, or a bit of each.
Later works influenced by Utopia include Candide by Voltaire,
New Atlantis by Francis Bacon, Erewhon by Samuel Butler,
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift, Robinson Crusoe by Daniel
Defoe, Island by Aldous Huxley, Anthem by Ayn Rand, and
1984 by George Orwell. Some future writers would have much darker visions
than More's. When the visions are bright the genre is called "utopian" and when
the visions are dark the genre is call "dystopian." The birth of
Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey and first cousin of Anne
Boleyn. Howard has been called the first English poet "thoroughly in the
humanist tradition." He would be the first poet to employ blank verse and along
with Thomas Wyatt he would introduce the sonnet to England. It was Howard who
invented the Shakespearean sonnet, not the Bard of Avon! Thomas Wyatt is presented
at court at age thirteen. John Skelton writes his play Magnificence.
1517 Martin Luther, a professor of moral theology at Wittenberg, publishes his 95 theses against the Roman Catholic Church,
kick-starting the Protestant Reformation, which would have tremendous
implications for England.
1518 Henry VIII, although better known today for beheading his wives, is a musician and
composer who creates a royal songbook.
1519 John Skelton, the "renegade humanist," attacks the powerful Cardinal Wolsey
in Collyn Clout. Wolsey would send Skelton to prison for his
1521 Lutheran writings are circulating in England. Pope Leo X declares King Henry VIII the Fidei Defensor or
"Defender of the Faith," in honor of Henry's Assertio Septem Sacramentorum
("Defense of the Seven
Sacraments"), which was written in Latin with the help of Thomas More and dedicated to Leo X.
But another heretic is about to follow in Luther's footsteps; William Tyndale
tells a clergyman: "I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spares my
life, ere many years, I will cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of
the Scriptures than thou dost!" John Skelton
composes his masterpiece, Speke Parrot ("Speak Parrot"). Sir
Thomas More is knighted and is made under-treasurer of the Exchequer. Thomas
Wyatt the Younger is born around this time.
1522 John Skelton's A Ballade of the Scottysshe Kynge may be the
first printed English ballad.
1523 Martin Luther had attacked Henry VIII in print, calling him a "pig, dolt,
and liar" in response to Henry's Assertio (see the entry for 1521). In
response Sir Thomas More writes Responsio ad Lutherum, in which he
calls Luther an "ape," "drunkard" and "lousy little friar" among other epithets.
More is elected Speaker of the House of Commons.
1524 The birth of the English poet Thomas Tusser (1524-1528). A farmer, he
wrote instructional poems on farming, housekeeping and gardening.
1525 William Tyndale is working on his English translation of the New
Testament, possibly in Wittenberg (where Martin Luther started the Protestant
1526 Lord Chancellor Cardinal Thomas Wolsey orders the burning of Protestant
books. Thomas Wyatt travels to Italy on an embassy to the Pope, and returns with a passion for the sonnets
of Petrarch; he begins to translate Petrarch and Horace into
English. Captured by Spanish troops, Wyatt manages to escape.
1527 Henry VIII seeks the Pope's permission to divorce
Catherine of Aragon but is refused, leading to Henry's
subsequent "divorce" from the Roman Catholic Church. Cardinal Wolsey
fails to persuade the Pope to grant the divorce and that will lead to his
personal downfall and arrest on charges of treason in 1529.
1528 Thomas Wyatt is appointed marshal of Calais. Sir Thomas More publishes a
religious polemic, A Dialogue Concerning Heresies, which insists the
Catholic Church is the one true church and affirms the validity of its
authority, traditions and practices. This puts him on a collision course with
his king, who has other ideas ...
1529 Henry VIII declares himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England.
The "Reformation Parliament" passes legislation that will lead to the English
Reformation. Cardinal Wolsey is stripped of his office and property, accused of
treason, and ordered to report to London. He dies on the way. Sir Thomas More
replaces Wolsey as Lord Chancellor, but More considers the Pope to be the head
of the true church and will soon find himself at odds with his king. The death of John Skelton, who was buried at Westminster. Robert
Graves opined that Skelton enriched the English vocabulary more than any poet
before (Chaucer) or since (Shakespeare). Skelton is remembered for his humanism,
his "Skeltonics" (rhymed poems written in irregular meter), his "flytings"
(exchanges of poetic insults), his parodies, and his jests.
1530 The short lyric Westron Wynde ("Western Wind") appears in a partbook. The birth of the English poet,
soldier and courtier George Gascoigne (1530-1577).
Gascoigne's Supposes may be the first English prose comedy; he has been
called "the best-known writer of his day" and was known for his plain style of
1531 William Tyndale publishes An Answer unto Sir Thomas More's Dialogue in
response to More's A Dialogue Concerning Heresies. More responds with a
half-million words: the Confutation of Tyndale's Answer!
1532 Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey, marries the Earl of Oxford's daughter.
The English Reformation (1532-1649)
will find poets at war with each other: some with words, others with swords. Sir
Thomas More resigns as Lord Chancellor and continues to refuse to sign an Oath
of Supremacy acknowledging the king as the Supreme Head of the English Church.
1533 Henry VIII marries Anne Boleyn in defiance of Rome and Pope Clement
VII excommunicates the English king. Sir Thomas More refuses to attend the new
Queen's coronation. Thomas Wyatt is chief ewer at the new queen's coronation. But are Wyatt and Boleyn lovers?
Wyatt's famous sonnet Whoso List to Hunt
may have been written with Boleyn in mind. And in Wyatt's love poems he called his mistress Anna. Queen Elizabeth I is born; she would write
and translate poems.
The birth of Michel de Montaigne, a French nobleman who would establish the essay as an important and influential literary genre.
1534 Around this time, Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard introduce the English sonnet, modeled after the Petrarchan sonnet. Howard creates the form
known as the Shakespearean sonnet. Wyatt introduces terza rima, ottava rima and poulter's measure to English poetry.
Sir Thomas More refuses to sign the Oath of Succession confirming Anne's role as
queen and the rights of her children to succession.
1535 Sir Thomas More is arrested on charges of treason and confined to the
Tower of London, where he writes the devotional Dialogue of Comfort against
Tribulation. More is tried by judges who include members of Anne Boleyn's
family. The jury takes only fifteen minutes to convict him. More is executed by
decapitation. Thomas Cromwell is made Vicar-General and
begins to seize the Roman Catholic Church's assets. The first complete English
translation of the Bible is created by Miles Coverdale. It is believed
that Sir Thomas Wyatt was knighted in 1535 or 1536, perhaps at Easter.
1536 Anne Boleyn is beheaded; Henry VIII marries his third wife, Jane Seymour.
Sir Thomas Wyatt, imprisoned in the Tower of London for his alleged affair with
Boleyn, may have written
Whoso List to Hunt and They Flee
from Me around this time. William Tyndale is convicted of heresy, strangled to death, then burned at the stake in Antwerp.
The birth of the English poet, dramatist and statesman Thomas Sackville
(1536-1608), the Earl of Dorset. Sir Thomas Eliot publishes The Castell of
Helth, a popular treatise on medicine that "speedily went through seventeen
1537 Jane Seymour dies giving birth to Prince Edward, later Edward VI.
Sir Thomas Wyatt, back in favor with the crown, is appointed ambassador to Spain. Henry
Howard develops blank verse in his translation of the Aeneid. Half a
century later, Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare would employ blank
verse in their most famous plays.
1538 The first dictionary produced in Britain may have been The dictionary
of syr Thomas Eliot knyght, a bilingual Latin-English dictionary published
in several editions during the sixteenth century. It has been called "the
earliest comprehensive dictionary of the language." It was edited and enlarged
in 1548 by Thomas Cooper, Bishop of Winchester, who called it Bibliotheca
Eliotae. It formed the basis of Cooper's Thesaurus linguae Romanae et
1539 The Prayer Book Rebellion occurs when Catholics object to
the imposition of teachings of the Protestant Reformation. Sir Thomas Wyatt returns
from Spain when his father dies, then resumes his former post at Calais.
1540 Henry VIII marries his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, but the
marriage is annulled and Henry
marries his fifth wife, Catherine Howard. Sir Thomas Elyot publishes The
Defence of Good Women, a eulogy of Anne of Cleves disguised as a biography
of Queen Zenobia of Palmyra. Thomas Cromwell is executed for
1542 Catherine Howard is executed for treason. James V of Scotland dies and is
succeeded by his six-day-old daughter Mary (later, Mary Queen of Scots). Sir
Thomas Wyatt dies.
1543 Henry VIII marries Catherine Parr, his sixth and last
1545 The approximate birth of Isabella Whitney (1545?-1573?), the first
Englishwoman to publish her verses. The future queen Elizabeth I completes her
translations of Psalm 13 and the meditations of Margaret of Navarre. Henry
Howard is given command of Boulogne.
1546 Henry Howard is arrested and charged with high treason for conspiring
against the succession of Edward VI.
1547 Henry Howard is beheaded on the order of Henry VIII, who dies the same
year. Thomas Nashe would fictionalize Howard in The Unfortunate Traveller.
Thomas Warton called Howard the first classical English poet. King Edward VI reigns at age nine, but is sickly. The birth in Castile of Miguel Cervantes, the writer of the first modern
novel, Don Quixote; it remains one of the very best
works of popular fiction.
1548 Elizabeth I publishes her translation of Margaret of Navarre, A Godly
Meditation of the Christian Soul. She also translates the second
chorus of Seneca's Hercules Oetaeus, sections of Boethius's De
Consolatione philosophiae (The Consolation of Philosophy), lines 1-178 of
Horace's Ars Poetica, and Plutarch's On Curiosity. The
translations from Boethius and Horace survive in her own hand.
1549 The Anglican Book of Common Prayer was the first prayer book to
include the complete forms of service for daily and Sunday worship in English. Its
editing and publication were supervised by Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of
1550 John Skelton's poem Hereafter foloweth the Boke of Phyllyp Sparowe,
better known today as Philip Sparrow. Skelton's poem Hereafter foloweth a
title boke called Colyn Cloute, better known as Colin Clout. Pierre de Ronsard publishes the first four books of his Odes.
The birth of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), who has been
suggested as the "real" Shakespeare by a number of "Oxfordians."
A possible date for the ballad The Battle of Otterburn.
1552 The births of Walter Ralegh (1552?-1618) and Edmund Spenser
(1552?-1599). Sir Walter Ralegh (often spelled "Raleigh") was an English poet,
historian, courtier, soldier, admiral, politician, governor, explorer and
adventurer who has been credited (perhaps incorrectly) with introducing tobacco to the Old World. Edmund Spenser was
(perhaps) the first great English Romantic poet and the creator of a Spenserian
tradition that includes Milton, Blake, Burns, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Swinburne,
Tennyson, Longfellow, Hardy, et al. Spenser has been called the creator of the
modern English style of poetry: "fluid, limpid, translucent and graceful." He
was considered to be the "Prince of Poets" in his day and has been called the
"poets' poet" in ours. He has also been called the "first and most
perfect representative of humanism in English poetry." Spenser speaks as an
individual; he is introspective; his allegories are autobiographical (about
himself); he is a Platonist, an idealist. These things make him the first
English Romantic poet, the forefather of Shelley and Keats. Ralegh and Spenser would meet, become friends and join
poetic forces around 1580.
1553 Edward VI dies; his will appoints Lady Jane Grey as his
successor; his sister Mary deposes her and reigns as Mary I.
1554 Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger leads a revolt to depose Mary I, who was
Catholic and considering a marriage to the Catholic Philip of Spain; the revolt
is crushed and Wyatt and Lady Jane Grey are executed. Mary's sister Elizabeth is
sent to the Tower of London where she writes the poem On Fortune and
Injustice. Mary marries Philip of Spain. The births of the
English poets Philip Sidney (1554-1586), John Lyly (1554?-1606) and Fulke Greville
1555 "Bloody Mary" begins her brutal persecution of Protestants; she has 283
religious dissenters killed, most of them burned at the stake, including the
Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. The birth of Lancelot Andrewes
(1555-1626), who would be the chief editor of the King James Bible.
1557 Henry Howard's translation of the Aeneid is published. Tottel's Miscellany, perhaps the first modern English poetry
anthology, includes poems by Howard and the elder
Elizabethans preferred Howard's sweeter strains to Wyatt's "dark words and
broken meters." A good indication of this preference is the original title of
Tottel's anthology: Songes and sonettes, written by the ryght honorable
Lorde Henry Haward late Earle of Surrey, and others. But today Wyatt is
generally considered to be the greater and more original poet. The birth of the English poet
1558 Mary I dies childless; Queen Elizabeth I reigns; thus begins the
Elizabethan Period. Protestant reforms are reinstituted, but Elizabeth is
not as bloody as her sister Mary. The birth of the English playwright Thomas Kyd,
author of The
Spanish Tragedie and perhaps the most influential English playwright before
Marlowe and Shakespeare. Kyd may have written an ur-Hamlet
that preceded Shakespeare's famous play.
1559 The birth of the English poet George Chapman, who would author more than
twenty plays and translate Homer. Chapman has been suggested as the "rival poet"
mentioned by Shakespeare in his work.
1560 The birth of
Sir John Harington (1560-1612), an English poet and
inventor of the flush toilet!
1561 The birth of the English poet Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke
(1561-1621), translator of the Psalms, the first notable female English poet
with a literary reputation,
and the sister of Sir Philip Sidney. John Aubrey called her "the greatest
patroness of wit and learning of any lady in her time." The birth of the English poet Robert Southwell, best known for his poem
The Burning Babe. The birth of Francis Bacon, whose extensive writings covered
philosophy, science, ethics, history, law and politics. Thomas Norton and Thomas
Sackville author the first English play written in blank verse, Gorboduc.
1562 The birth of the English poet and historian Samuel Daniel (1562-1619). George Gascoigne marries
Elizabeth Breton, the mother of the poet Nicholas Breton.
1563 John Foxes The Book of Martyrs
is published. The births of the English poets John Dowland (1563-1626) and Michael Drayton
1564 The births of the English poets and playwrights Christopher Marlowe and
William Shakespeare. The birth of Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). Philip
Sidney and Fulke Greville enter Shrewsbury School on the same day.
1565 Sir Walter Raleigh brings potatoes and tobacco back from
the New World.
1566 Isabella Whitney's Sweet Nosegay is the first volume of verses
published by an Englishwoman. It would be followed by her The Copy of a Letter.
George Gascoigne's Supposes may be the first English prose comedy; it
was used by Shakespeare as a source for The Taming of the Shrew. Thomas
Cooper's Latin-English Thesaurus linguae Romanae et Britannicae.
1567 The births of the English poets Thomas Nashe (1567-1601?) and
(1567-1620), the latter a lutanist remembered for
melodious poems like When to Her Lute Corinna Sings and There Is a
Garden in Her Face. The first purpose-built London playhouse is the Red
Lion. The owner of the
Red Lion, John Brayne, would later collaborate with John Burbage on a more
successful theater (see the entry for 1576).
1568 Mary, Queen of Scots, flees to England and is imprisoned by Elizabeth.
1569 At age sixteen, Edmund Spenser has two
translations of French poems published at the beginning of an anti-Catholic
prose tract, A Theatre for Voluptuous Worldlings. Spenser enrolls
at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge. Walter Ralegh enlists with the Huguenots in France. The birth of the English poets
Sir John Davies (1569-1626) and Emilia Lanyer
(1569-1645), who has been proposed as Shakespeare's mistress.
1572 The births of the major English poets John Donne and Ben Jonson.
Donne may have been the best English writer of erotic poetry in his youth, and
the best writer of religious poetry in his maturity. Jonson has been called "the
most versatile writer in the history of English poetry" because
he wrote poems,
song lyrics, plays, sonnets, odes, masques, epistles, elegies and satires. He
has been called the first poet laureate (although the official position was
created later) and he was also one of the first important
English literary critics. His epitaph in Westminster Abbey reads "O rare Benn
Johnson." Like Shakespeare, Jonson was the son of a commoner; his father died
before he was born and his stepfather was a bricklayer. Walter Ralegh is an undergraduate at Oxford, but does not get
a degree there.
1573 George Gascoigne's A Discourse of the Adventures of Master FJ is
an account of courtly sexual intrigue and one of the earliest English prose
fictions. Thomas Nashe and his family move to West Harling, near Thetford.
1575 George Gascoigne's Certayne Notes of Instruction concerning the
making of verse or ryme in English is the first essay on the composition of
English metrical poetry. Queen Elizabeth I asks Mary Sidney to join her royal
1576 The "Wakefield Master" writes mystery plays with
biblical and pastoral themes. The
first major English playhouse is built in Shoreditch, just outside London, by the actor James Burbage.
It is such an original concept at the time that the building is called The
Richard Burbage, the son of James
Burbage, will be the leading actor in Shakespeare's plays.
1577 The birth of the English poet Robert Burton (1577-1640). The death of
George Gascoigne, the best-known writer of his day. Mary Sidney marries Henry
Herbert, the second Earl of Pembroke.
1578 The birth of the English playwright John Webster. Philip Sidney writes a
masque in Elizabeth's honor and begins work on his Old Arcadia,
the most popular English prose narrative of its period. Sidney and Fulke
Greville both attend Elizabeth's court.
1579 Edmund Spenser's Shepheardes Calender
has been called "the first
work of the English literary Renaissance."
It helped establish the new style of English poetry and was
dedicated to Philip Sidney, who around the same time published his Defence of Poetry or An Apologie for Poetrie.
Sidney was thus one of the first major English
literary critics. Sidney and Spenser formed a literary club, the Areopagus,
which may have been England's first poetry society. The birth of the English
playwright John Fletcher, who would collaborate with Shakespeare on his last two
plays, then succeed him as the playwright for the King's Men. The birth of
Thomas Morton (1579-1647), an early American colonist who wrote about Native
Americans behaving much better than English settlers. Samuel Daniel is admitted
to Magdalen Hall, Oxford, where he studies poetry and philosophy. By his own
account, Daniel would be encouraged and taught by Mary Herbert, the Countess of
Pembroke. That presumably happened after he became tutor to her son, Lord
1580 Edmund Spenser moves to Ireland, where he will meet and become friends with Walter
Ralegh. The birth of the English playwright Thomas Middleton.
1581 Thomas Nashe enters St. John's College, Cambridge, as a sizar. Thomas
Campion enters Peterhouse, Cambridge as a "gentleman pensioner."
1582 William Shakespeare marries Anne Hathaway who is three months pregnant. Philip Sidney is knighted. Around this time
Queen Elizabeth I writes the poem "On Monsieur's Departure." Richard
Mulcasters Elementarie is a candidate for the first English
dictionary, but it was more of a word list because it lacked definitions.
1583 Sir Philip Sidney marries the daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham. John
Donne enters Oxford at age eleven.
1584 Walter Ralegh founds the first American colony, names it Virginia after
Elizabeth I (the "Virgin Queen"), and is knighted. However, Ralegh did not visit
the colony himself, preferring to search for El Dorado (the fabled city of gold)
in South America. Christopher Marlowe
completes his play
Tamburlaine. With a BA and MA from Cambridge, Marlowe is the first of the
"university wits" to employ blank verse.
1585 James VI of Scotland writes Essays of a Prentice in the Arte of
Poesie, citing the poems of Alexander Montgomerie.
1586 Chidiock Tichborne is hanged, castrated, and disemboweled for treason;
the elegy he wrote himself while awaiting death in the Tower of London
is known as Tichborne's Elegy. The birth of the English playwright
John Ford. The Star Chamber attempts to end the printing of subversive ballads. Edmund Spenser
is awarded an estate of 3,000 acres in Ireland and the ruined castle of
Kilcolman; there he writes
Astrophel as an elegy for Sir Philip Sidney, who died at age 32 of wounds
received at Zatuphen in the Netherlands. Thomas Campion leaves Cambridge without
a degree and enters Gray's Inn, London, to study law. John Donne enters
Cambridge but will not receive degrees from either Oxford or Cambridge because
he refuses to take the Oath of Supremacy. Thomas Nashe earns a degree from St.
John's College, Cambridge.
1587 Mary, Queen of Scots, is executed at Fotheringhay Castle on charges of
Sir Walter Ralegh is appointed captain of the Queen's guard. The birth of the English poet
Lady Mary Wroth; she was born Mary Sidney and was the niece of Sir Philip Sidney
and Mary Sidney Herbert. Christopher Marlowe's
Tamburlaine and perhaps Dido, Queen of Carthage are first performed. According to Harold Bloom, thus
begins the "richest eighty years of poetry in English" with Marlowe,
Shakespeare, Spenser, Ralegh, Donne, Jonson, Herrick, Carew, Lovelace, Marvell, Herbert, Crashaw,
Vaughan and Milton all writing and/or being published within that period. (We,
however, would suggest 1880-1960 with Whitman, Dickinson, Longfellow, Tennyson,
both Brownings, Hardy, Hopkins, Housman, Yeats, Dowson, both Cranes, Frost, Sandburg,
Stevens, Lawrence, Pound, Wylie,
Jeffers, Eliot, Aiken, MacLeish,
Millay, Owen, cummings, Bogan,
Hughes, Auden, Bishop, Lowell,
Larkin, Plath, et al!)
1588 A Spanish Armada of 130 ships is defeated by bad
weather and the English fleet; the
resulting English dominance of the seas greatly enhances the prospects of the
British Empire. Christopher Marlowe writes Doctor Faustus. The birth of Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), author of
Leviathan. Hobbes would advance the ideas of natural equality of all men and representative government based on the consent of the governed.
Thomas Campion appears as "Melancholy" in a masque. Ben Jonson leaves
school to become a bricklayer, apprenticed to his stepfather. He had studied
under William Camden at Westminster School and possibly at Cambridge. Jonson
later volunteered to fight under Francis Vere in Flanders. He would return from
military duty to work as an actor and playwright, but the dates of these events
are not known precisely. We do know that he married in 1594.
1589 William Shakespeare's first play may have been The Two Gentlemen of
Verona. Sir Walter Ralegh visits Edmund Spenser, takes an interest in
his poetry, and helps him publish the first three books of
The Faerie Queene
the following year in London, where Spenser meets Elizabeth I with Ralegh's help.
At the same time Ralegh presents Elizabeth with his own Ocean's Love to
Cynthia. Samuel Taylor Coleridge opined that "The whole of the Faerie Queene is
an almost continued instance of beauty."
1590 Shakespeare's plays The Taming of the Shrew, Henry VI, Titus
Andronicus, Richard III, Edward III, The Comedy of Errors, Love's Labor Lost,
and Romeo and Juliet may have been written around 1590-1594.
Edmund Spenser's Mother
Hubberd's Tale is a forerunner of Mother Goose publications to come, but it's
also a political satire that gets him in hot water. However, Elizabeth I grants Spenser a pension of
50 pounds, more than she granted any other poet. Elizabeth has a
starring role in The Faerie Queene as Gloriana. Michael
Drayton publishes his first book, The Harmony of the Church, a volume
of spiritual poems dedicated to Lady Devereux.
1591 Sir Philip Sidney's Astrophel and Stella, published six years
after his death, is the first major sonnet
sequence in the English language; Thomas Campion has his first poems published anonymously as "Content"
in an appendage. John Donne studies law at Thaives Inn and is writing satires, elegies,
songs and sonnets. The birth of the English Cavalier poet Robert Herrick, whom
Swinburne would call "the greatest song writer ever born of English
Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Kyd share lodgings in London.
1592 Shakespeare is called an "upstart
crow" by Robert Greene. Sir Walter Ralegh gets Elizabeth Throckmorton, the
queen's maid of honor, pregnant. He marries her secretly and earns the queen's
displeasure, spending time in the Tower of London. Christopher Marlowe's play
The Jew of Malta is performed. Francis Bacon's poem "The World" is
circulated among friends, John Donne among them. Donne kept a copy of the poem
until he died. Donne studies law at Lincoln's Inn. The birth of the English
aristocrat, politician, soldier, poet and playwright William Cavendish
(1592-1676), the first Duke of Newcastle. He would marry Margaret Cavendish,
also a poet and playwright (see the entry for 1623). The birth of the English
poets Henry King (1592-1669) and Francis Quarles (1592-1644). Thomas Nashe writes
Strange News and Summer's Last Will and Testament. Nashe also
writes a prose satire, Pierce Penniless. Samuel Daniel publishes a cycle
of sonnets to "Delia" (an anagram for "Ideal"). The poems are dedicated to
"The Right Honourable Lady Mary Countess of Pembroke."
1593 Christopher Marlowe is murdered at age 29.
The birth of the
English metaphysical poet George Herbert, known primarily for his
religious/devotional poetry, in Wales. His family was wealthy and
well-connected. His father was a justice of the peace and MP, his mother a
patron to John Donne and other poets. His eldest brother Edward Herbert was made
Baron Herbert of Cherbury. Sir Walter Ralegh is released from the Tower of London and
becomes a member of Parliament. John Donne's brother Harry dies in prison after
after being arrested for giving sanctuary to a proscribed Catholic priest.
Donne's book of poems Satires is written around this time. The birth of
Izaak Walton, who would write short biographies, including Donne's, which would
be collected as Walton's Lives. He also wrote The Compleat Angler, an
illustrated book of poems and prose about fishing. The publication of Claudius
Hollybands Dictionarie French and English. Thomas Nashe is
briefly interred in Newgate Prison. Michael Drayton publishes Idea: The
Shepherd's Garland, a collection of nine pastorals.
1594 Richard Burbage assembles a group of actors called the Lord Chamberlain's
Men: members of the troupe include his son Richard Burbage and
William Shakespeare. Edmund Spenser
writes Epithalamion and the
Amoretti sonnets for his
bride-to-be, Elizabeth Boyle. Thomas Nashe's prose romance novel The Unfortunate
Traveller. Spenser creates the Spenserian sonnet. Ben Jonson marries; his first two children die young and he writes
them poignant elegies. George Chapman's poem The Shadow of Night and a companion
piece are his first publications. Samuel Daniel publishes
an edition of Delia and Rosamond which includes his tragedy
Cleopatra, written in heroic couplets with choral interludes. Michael
Drayton publishes Idea's Mirror, a sonnet cycle. Sir John Davies
publishes his poem Orchestra.
1595 Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream. George Chapman's
poem Ovid's Banquet of Sense. Chapman also begins to publish plays. Thomas Campion has his first poems
published under his own name, in Latin. Campion has been called second only to
Thomas More as a Latin epigrammatist. Robert Southwell, a Jesuit priest and
missionary, is convicted of treason, hanged, drawn and quartered. Samuel Daniel
publishes The First Four Books of the Civil Wars, a poem about the Wars
of the Roses.
1596 Shakespeare's plays King John and The Merchant of Venice.
The birth of the English poet James Shirley, best known for his poem
Dirge ("The glories of our blood and state / Are shadows, not
substantial things ..."). The birth of the English Cavalier poet Thomas Carew,
a writer of sensuous love poems. Sir Walter Ralegh serves the crown as a rear
admiral. John Donne joins a naval expedition against Cadiz, Spain. Edmund Spenser publishes
Prothalamion, a nuptial song he wrote for the double marriage of the
daughters of the Earl of Worchester. Samuel Taylor Coleridge praised "the
swanlike movements of his exquisite
1597 Shakespeare's plays Henry IV and The Merry Wives of Windsor.
Francis Bacon's Essays; John Dowland's The First Booke of
Songes or Ayres; George Chapman's translation of Homer's Illiad;
Edmund Spenser publishes another installment of The Faerie Queen. Ben
Jonson becomes a performer and playwright at the Rose Theater and is imprisoned for his part in The Isle of Dogs, a seditious play.
John Donne joins an expedition to the Azores, where he writes "The Calm."
Thomas Nashe co-writes the play The Isle of Dogs with Ben Jonson.
1598 Shakespeare's plays Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing.
The Lord Chamberlain's Men dismantle the Theatre and use
its beams to construct the Globe. Edmund Shakespeare is a partner in the Globe along
with his famous brother. The Globe had the best theater, the best actors, the
best plays and the best playwright. William Shakespeare owns 12.5% of the
action. Shakespeare acts in Ben Jonson's play Every Man In His Humor at
the Globe. It is Jonson's first great success. Shakespeare's "sugared
sonnets" are mentioned by Francis Meres. Edmund Spenser's
castle at Kilcolman is burned by Irish forces opposed to English dominance;
according to Jonson, one of Spenser's children perished in the blaze. During a
duel, Jonson kills a fellow actor with a rapier and narrowly escapes the gallows.
He was branded on the thumb as a murderer. George Chapman
publishes his translation of Homer's Iliad and writes a
continuation of Christopher Marlowe's unfinished poem Hero and Leander.
Upon his return to England, John Donne is appointed private secretary to Sir
Thomas Egerton, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. The publication of John
Florio's Italian-English dictionary Worlde of Wordes.
1599 Shakespeare's plays Julius Caesar, As You Like It and
Twelfth Night. Two of Shakespeare's sonnets are
published by William Jaggard. Christopher Marlowe's
The Passionate Shepherd to his Love is answered by Sir Walter Ralegh's
The Nymph's Reply. Marlowe's translations of Ovid are burned publicly as
A copy of Mary Sidney Herbert's completed Psalter (translation of the
Psalms) was prepared for Queen Elizabeth I in anticipation of a royal visit to
the Herbert residence at Wilton, but Elizabeth canceled her planned visit. This
work is usually referred to as "The Sidney Psalms" or "The Sidney-Pembroke
Psalter" and is regarded as an important influence on the development of English
religious lyric poetry in the late 16th and early 17th century. Wilton House was
described as a "paradise" for poets and poets who became members of the Wilton
Circle include Samuel Daniel, Sir John Davies, Michael Drayton, Ben Jonson and
Edmund Spenser. George Herbert studies under Lancelot Andrewes,
then dean of Westminster and a translator of the King James Bible. Ben Jonson
follows up his successful play Every Man In His Humor with a sequel,
Every Man Out of His Humor. Samuel Daniel publishes Poetical Essays.
Daniel may have been offered a "vague" position as Poet Laureate, but may have
resigned it in favor of Ben Jonson. Edmund Spenser dies and is buried next to Chaucer at
Westminster Abbey. At the time of his death Spenser was "widely recognized as
the most important living English poet." Sir John Davies publishes Nosce
Teipsum ("Know Thyself") and finds favor with the queen. Davies addresses
Hymns of Astraea to Elizabeth I.
1600 The East India Company is founded; Thomas Nashe's best-known poem Litany in
Time of Plague has the moving refrain "Lord, have mercy on us!"
George Chapman is arrested for debt, a serious charge in those days. Sir Walter
Ralegh serves as governor of the English Channel island of Jersey and shores up
1601 The first performance of Shakespeare's play Hamlet. Thomas Campion's
first Book of Ayres (airs, or songs). Thomas Nashe dies of the Plague in London.
John Donne becomes an MP for Brackley and sits in Queen Elizabeth's last
parliament. But Donne he secretly marries Lady Egerton's niece, Anne More, and
is thrown into Fleet Prison by her unhappy uncle, Sir Thomas Egerton. Donne is
dismissed from his post, and for the next decade will struggle to support his
growing family. Donne later summed up the experience: "John Donne, Anne Donne,
1602 Thomas Campion's Observations in the Art of English Poesie
favors quantitative meter over traditional English poetic meter (primarily
iambic) and rhyme. Samuel Daniel has the first folio of collected works by a
living English poet, but it was probably not published until after Queen
Elizabeth's death in 1603. The published folio will include his prose essay
Defence of Ryme, which defends rhyme against Campion's Observations.
Daniel's subtitle states: "Wherein is demonstratiuely proued, that Ryme is the
fittest harmonie of words that comportes with our Language."
1603 Shakespeare's play Measure for Measure. The death of Queen Elizabeth I; James VI of Scotland becomes King James I of
England, Scotland, and Ireland; thus begins the Jacobean Period. Ben
Jonson writes a masque, The Satyr, for the Stuart royal court. Jonson's
play Sejanus His Fall is performed at court, but is later accused of
"popery and treason." Jonson is questioned but not jailed (although he would be
on other occasions). Sir Walter Ralegh is sent to the Tower of
London again, this time on charges of treason. He would spend thirteen years in
the Tower, only to be beheaded. The birth of Roger Williams in London; he would
be an early American advocate of freedom of religion. Samuel Daniel's Defense of Rhyme.
1604 Shakespeare is granted a coat of arms. Othello is first
performed and includes one of the earliest English limericks. James I becomes a
patron of Shakespeare's acting company and marries Mary Sidney to Sir
Robert Wroth, making her Lady Mary Wroth. Robert Cawdrey, a schoolmaster,
produces Table Alphabeticall, the first monolingual English dictionary.
Cawdrey makes use of wordlists published earlier in educational texts, such as
Richard Mulcasters Elementarie (1582) and Edmund Cootes English Schoole-maister (1596).
However, his dictionary is of limited usefulness because it contains only 2,543
words along with very brief (often single-word) definitions.
1605 Shakespeare's plays King Lear and Macbeth. The birth of the English poet Sir
Thomas Browne (1605-1682). Thomas Campion earns a degree from the
University of Caen and works as a doctor. Ben Jonson is back in jail again, this
time with George Chapman, after they expressed ant-Scottish sentiments in the
play they co-authored, Eastward Ho. Samuel Daniel publishes Certain
1606 Ben Jonson's comedy Volpone is a success and will become his
best-known play. The birth of the English poet
William Davenant (1606-1668). John Donne contemplates suicide and writes
Biathanotos, a justification of suicide.
1607 John Donne's Song, The Sunne Rising and The
Cannonization are written around this time. The birth of the English poet
Edmund Waller, who would perfect the heroic couplet and be admired by other
poets for his music and refinement. John Dryden said: "Mr. Waller reformed our
numbers [meter]." Robert Herrick is apprenticed as a goldsmith to a rich uncle. The
birth of John Harvard (1607-1638), who would found Harvard University. The first
permanent American settlement by English colonists is established at Jamestown.
1608 The birth of the English poet John Milton (1608-1674), considered
by many to be second only to Shakespeare. John Donne
reluctantly allows his Anniversaries to be printed. His poems are ill-received by Ben
Jonson and others. Francis Quarles enters Christ's College, Cambridge.
1609 Shakespeare publishes his Sonnets. The birth of the English Cavalier
poet Sir John Suckling. George Herbert attends Trinity College, Cambridge.
1610 Galileo claims the earth moves around the sun.
John Donne writes two anti-Catholic polemics and earns the favor of King James
I. Shakespeare employs limerick meter in Stephanos drinking song in The
Tempest. Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale is one of his last major
plays. Ben Jonson has another successful play, The Alchemist. Thomas Campion's A New Way of Making Four Parts in Counterpoint.
1611 The King James Bible is published in still-readable English;
it contains some of the oldest and best free verse in the
English language, such as the Song of Solomon.
Emilia Lanyer's words attributed to Eve have been called "the first clear
glimmer of English feminism in verse."
1612 Heretics are burned at the stake in England for the last time. Anne
Dudley Bradstreet, America's first published poet, is born in Northamptonshire,
England into a prominent Puritan family. Cotton Mather described her father,
Thomas Dudley, as a "devourer of books." The Dudleys had a well-stocked library
and would help found Harvard University in 1636. Growing up, the young Anne
Dudley read "Vergil, Plutarch, Livy, Pliny, Suetonius, Homer, Hesiod, Ovid,
Seneca, and Thucydides" in addition to English poets and the Geneva Bible. As
Anne Bradstreet she would influence and/or inspire poets to come, such as Martha
Wadsworth Brewster and John Berryman. Did she write the first American feminist
poem of note (see the entry for 1643). Ben Jonson completes
his first book of Epigrams. John Webster's play The Duchess of Malfi.
Samuel Daniel publishes a prose History of England.
1613 The Globe Theatre burns during a performance of Shakespeare's late play Henry
VIII, which may have been co-written with
John Fletcher. Shakespeare may have also collaborated with Fletcher on
The Two Noble Kinsmen. The birth of the English metaphysical poet
Richard Crashaw (c. 1613-1649). Thomas Campion's Songs of Mourning lament the
death of Prince Henry. Robert Herrick enters St. John's College to study law.
takes his BA and becomes a minor fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge. He also writes two elegies for Prince Henry.
1614 Sir Walter Ralegh's History of the World was composed while
he was imprisoned in the Tower of London on charges of treason.
1616 The death of William Shakespeare. Ben Jonson's "first folio" or Works
On My First Son and Song: To Celia ("Drink to me only with thin
eyes"). Jonson receives a substantial royal pension, for which he has been
called the first Poet Laureate. Jonson travels to Scotland on foot to meet William Drummond (and
allegedly drinks his wine cellar dry!). George Chapman's complete translations
of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey
are published. Chapman "made Homer integral to English literature."
John Donne reluctantly enters the ministry under pressure from James I and is
appointed a Royal Chaplain. He quickly becomes a star preacher of his day.
George Herbert receives his MA. John Bullokar's An English Expositor is
a dictionary of "strange words." It is the second monolingual English dictionary
and it draws upon and expands the first, Robert Cawdrey's Table
Alphabeticall, doubling the number of words included. It would appear in at
least sixteen editions and revisions over the next 150 years.
Our top poets of the Cavalier/Reformation/Restoration Period: George Herbert,
Margaret Cavendish, Anne Bradstreet, James Shirley,
Sir John Suckling, Richard Lovelace, Thomas Carew, Edmund Waller, Robert
Herrick, Ben Jonson, John Donne, John Milton
Poets at War with Each Other: The Cavaliers, the
Reformation and the Restoration (1617-1677)
The Cavalier Period is marked by poets who praised the virtues of war,
honor, chivalry, duty, monarchs, God, church and faith. The Cavalier poets are
sometimes called the "tribe of Ben" or the "sons of Ben" because of their
admiration for Ben Jonson. Cavaliers like Richard Lovelace and Reformers like Milton were often at war with each other―not only
with their pens, but by casting their lots with opposing armies. Milton stands out as the first great Romantic anti-establishment
poet: a powerful voice of dissent against the status quo. While he
claimed to "justify the ways of God to man," as William Blake pointed out
Milton actually spoke for the rebellious angels, and made Romantic heroes of
Satan, Adam and Eve. Many of the great poets to come would also be dissenters:
William Blake, Robert Burns, William Wordsworth, Lord
Byron, et al.
1617 Sir Walter Ralegh is released from the Tower of London and sets sail in
search of El Dorado again. Anne Donne dies in childbirth. The birth of the English Cavalier poet Richard Lovelace
(1618-1657), described as the "Adonis" of King Charles' court,
"one of the heart-throbs of seventeenth century literature" and "the most
amiable and beautiful person that ever eye beheld." He has also been called
the "last of the knight-poets." Lovelace was many things: solider, courtier,
dashing ladies' man, romantic poet, scholar, musician, and lover and patron of
the arts. His father, Sir William Lovelace, had considerable holdings in Kent.
1618 Sir Walter Ralegh fails in his last expedition to find El Dorado and upon
his return to England is executed on trumped-up charges of treason. He may have
written his great
poem The Lie while incarcerated in the Tower of London, awaiting death after all he had done for England and
its rulers. The Lie
put Ralegh at odds with the Cavalier poets who wrote after him. His severed head
was embalmed and given to his wife, Lady Ralegh. Three decades later it would be
reunited with his body in its grave. The birth of the
English poet Abraham Cowley. At age ten, John Milton is already a
poet, according to John Aubrey. Edmund Waller enters Eton. John Donne writes his Holy Sonnets.
George Herbert is elected major fellow and Reader in Rhetoric at Cambridge.
1619 Michael Drayton publishes his best-known poem, Sonnet LVI
from Idea ("Since there's no help, come let us kiss and part ...").
Ben Jonson receives an honorary MA from Christ Church, Oxford. The death of
Samuel Daniel. Encyclopζdia Britannica says of Daniel: "His style is
full, easy and stately, without being very animated or splendid; it is content
with level flights."
1620 The Pilgrims set sail for America in the Mayflower; they land at Cape Cod
and found the New Plymouth colony. Thomas Campion dies; his poetry would be
largely forgotten until 1889. Robert Herrick earns an MA from Cambridge.
Edmund Waller enters King's College. George Herbert is elected public orator at
Cambridge. Harold Bloom has called Tom
O'Bedlam's Song "the most magnificent Anonymous poem in the language."
1621 A scandalous book, The Countess of Montgomerys Urania
by Lady Mary Wroth, is the first extant prose romance by an Englishwoman. Edmund Waller
MP at age 16 and soon earns acclaim as a master orator. Clarendon said Waller spoke "upon all occasions with great sharpness and
freedom." John Donne is made dean of St. Paul's. Sir Fulke Greville is
made Baron Brooke. The birth of the English metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell
(1621-1678), best known
today for his famous carpe diem ("seize the day") poem To His Coy
Mistress. He was the son of a low church clergyman, also named Andrew
Marvell. The death of Mary Sidney Herbert.
1622 The birth of the Welsh metaphysical poet Henry Vaughan
(c. 1622-1695) and his twin brother Thomas. Henry Vaughan, called "the most rapt
English devotional poet," would be influenced by the devotional poems of George
Herbert. The first news report publication, Corantos, deals most
with foreign affairs. It was also called the Courante and Weekly
News. Thomas Morton spends three months on an exploratory trip to
America, then back in England in early 1623 complains of the intolerance
of certain elements of the Puritan community. The Puritans would invent the most
fiendish punishments for minor crimes and non-crimes: public floggings, cropping
ears, boring holes in tongues with hot irons, hanging "witches," etc.
1623 Shakespeare's First Folio, a
collection of his plays, is published by a syndicate. Ben Jonson had a financial stake
in the folio and writes an elegy for Shakespeare (one of poetry's early
The birth of the English
poet and playwright Margaret Lucas Cavendish (1623-1673), the Duchess of Newcastle. She would marry
William Cavendish (1592-1676), the first Duke of Newcastle, also a poet
and playwright. John Donne becomes seriously ill, writes his
Devotions anticipating death, but survives another eight years. At age
15 a precocious John Milton is paraphrasing Psalms in English verse. Henry
Cockerams English Dictionary is the third monolingual English
dictionary and the first to call itself a "dictionary." But like the first two
English dictionaries it is not complete and focuses on "difficult" words.
Cockeram copied many of his definitions from Robert Cawdrey's terse Table
Alphabeticall. But the Oxford English Dictionary attributes 600
words to Cockeram's dictionary, so he did add quite a bit himself.
1624 George Herbert is made MP for Montgomeryshire, Wales. In the area of
present-day Quincy, Massachusetts, Thomas Morton begins to trade with Native
Americans whose culture he is said to have admired as far more "civilized and
humanitarian" than that of his "intolerant European neighbours."
1625 Robert Herrick makes his first mark as a poet with verses on the death of
James I. Edmund Waller's most famous poem, Song: Go, Lovely Rose,
will be circulated privately for around 20 years before being published in 1645. John Milton
enters Christ's College, Cambridge. An early poem about America is Rev. William
Morrell's Nova Anglia ("New England").
1626 While studying at Cambridge, John Milton publishes his
Epitaph on the admirable Dramatick Poet, W. Shakespeare. Milton has been
described as "a beautiful youth with long locks" whose complexion was "exceeding
faire." So fair, in fact, that he was called "the Lady of Christ's College." At
the time, Milton was writing poems in Latin, in "the manner of Ovid and
Horace." The birth of John Aubrey (1626-1697), the author of Brief Lives, a
collection of sometimes-gossipy biographies of figures such as Francis Bacon,
Sir Walter Ralegh, Ben Jonson and William Shakespeare. Thomas Morton helps
create an "almost Utopian" settlement in Massachusetts called Merrymount. The
colonists were given considerable freedom and "a certain degree of integration
into the local Algonquian culture was attempted." A large Maypole was set up and
everyone was invited to have fundrinking, dancing and
(possibly) having sex. This enraged the Puritans, who sent the Plymouth
militia under Myles Standish to take the town, cut down the Maypole and arrest
Morton, who was banished to a deserted island (where he would probably have
starved were it not for mainland natives who provided him with food). A possible
date for Richard Crashaw's Psalme 23.
1627 Robert Herrick is appointed chaplain to the Duke of Buckingham, then is
made Dean Prior of Devon
after Buckingham's death. John Donne preaches the
funeral sermon for George Herbert's mother, who had been his patron.
1628 Ben Jonson is appointed City Chronologer of London. The birth of the English poet and writer John Bunyan,
best known for his allegorical novel Pilgrim's Progress.
Sixteen-year-old Anne Dudley marries Simon Bradstreet, an older Cambridge man who has
been working for her father, Thomas Dudley. The Dudleys are involved in forming
the Massachusetts Bay Company, with the goal of creating a Puritan colony in
North America. The first settlement is created at Salem.
1629 John Milton composes his first important poem, On the Morning of Christ's Nativity,
while still a student at Cambridge. After earning his BA, Milton stays on at
Cambridge to work on his MA. Richard Lovelace and Richard Crashaw both attend
the Charterhouse school. Thomas Dudley is named deputy governor of the
1630 Thomas Carew, a Cavalier poet, is made a "server" or taster-in-ordinary
to the King. Sir John Suckling, also a Cavalier poet, is knighted. Around this
time, Suckling is credited with inventing cribbage. He was said to have been the most
skilled card player and bowler in England. George Herbert is
ordained a priest at Salisbury Cathedral. Roger Williams and his wife
emigrate to America aboard the
Lyon. Anne Bradstreet and her family
emigrate to America on the Arbella as part of the Winthrop Fleet. John
Winthrop, the leader of the mission and the colony's first governor, regaled the
colonists with his speech A Modell of Christian Charity and his vision of a
"city on a hill." However, Puritan "charity" toward Native Americans would be
very hard to discern, since Winthrop considered it legal to take their land
because they hadn't "subdued" it to his satisfaction. Winthrop would later criticize Anne Bradstreet for writing poetry, opining that
men's minds are "stronger." The pioneering Dudleys and Bradstreets
will help to found
Boston. They will also live in Salem, Charlestown, Ipswich, Newtowne (Cambridge)
and North Andover.
1631 Richard Lovelace is sworn in as a Gentleman Wayter Extraordinary to the King,
around age fourteen. His "adolescent" comedy The Scholars was played
"with applause." The birth of the English poet John Dryden (1631-1700), who
has been called "the father of English criticism." Edmund Waller
marries Ann Banks. Waller is brought
before the Star Chamber, but being a wealthy man, he is able to pay a large fine
and remain free. John Donne writes his own funeral sermon, Death's Duel,
and his last great poem, Hymne to God, My God, in My Sicknesse, then
dies the same year. Michael Drayton dies and is buried at the Poet's Corner of
Westminster Abbey, with memorial lines attributed to Ben Jonson. John Milton
completes L'Allegro and Il Penseroso. One of the first known
poems about America is The Legend of Captain Jones, by the Welsh
clergyman David Lloyd. It's a bawdy parody of Captain John Smith's
autobiography. Another is Verses on the Puritan Settlement in
written by an unknown author. Richard Crashaw enters Pembroke Hall,
1632 The birth of the English poet Katherine Philips (1632-1664); she was
called "the matchless Orinda" by John Dryden. John Milton receives his
MA. Anne Bradstreet has her first child in Newtowne (now Cambridge,
Massachusetts). Thomas Dudley erects a palisade around Newtowne at his own
expense. Now preaching in Plymouth, Roger Williams objects to Native American
land being taken without legitimate purchases. Was that perhaps a reason the palisade
was needed in Newtowne?
1633 George Herbert dies of consumption and his poems are published posthumously
a year later by his friend Nicholas Ferrar. The poems include Redemption, Virtue, The Collar, The Pulley
and the title poem The
Temple. Charles I would read The Temple for
consolation while awaiting execution. The Temple would sell 20,000
copies within a few years. Some of
Herbert's lyrics would be to set to music by John Wesley. Andrew Marvell enters Trinity College, Cambridge at
age twelve as a subsizar (quasi-servant). Ben Jonson's comedic play A Tale
of a Tub. Richard Crashaw publishes Epigrammatum Sacrorum Liber ("A
Book of Sacred Epigrams").
1634 Richard Lovelace enters Gloucester Hall, Oxford and has his MA by age
eighteen. Comus is John Milton's
longest poem to date, a masque with over 1,000 lines
that has been described as "the last Elizabethan poem." George Chapman dies and Inigo
Jones provides his monument. Thomas Dudley is elected governor of the
Massachusetts colony; the first stabs at representative government (taxation
with representation) take place around this time. Roger Williams becomes the
acting pastor at the Salem church. But he is soon in hot water for defending
Native American rights and other "heresies." Francis Quarles publishes
his best-known work, the Emblems.
1636 Anne Bradstreet's father and husband are instrumental in the founding of
the first American university,
Harvard. The Harvard community would later dedicate a gate memorializing
Anne Bradstreet as America's first published poet. Harvard's Dudley Hall is named
after the Dudley family, as is the town of Dudley, Massachusetts. Roger Williams
flees arrest and travels 55 miles through a blizzard, until he is taken in by
friendly natives. The following spring, Williams establishes a new settlement at
Providence, Rhode Island, where "liberty of conscience" rules and the government
is limited to civil matters (i.e., separation of church and state) via majority
votes (democracy). Williams also managed to maintain peace with Native Americans
for 40 years. Here's poem that expresses his opinions about equality and
Boast not proud English, of thy birth & blood;
Thy brother Indian is by birth as Good.
Of one blood God made Him, and Thee and All,
As wise, as fair, as strong, as personal.
But Puritans would exerted pressure to destroy both Rhode Island and their
Native American allies, the Narragansetts. Their object was to put an end to the
"heretical" settlements in Rhode Island. In response, Williams would travel to
England to secure a charter for the Rhode Island colony in 1644.
1637 John Milton writes Lycidias for a fellow student-poet who
drowned, Edward King. It has been called the "finest elegy in the language." Andrew Marvell's first
published poems are Latin and Greek verses on the death of Princess Anne. The birth of the English poet Thomas Traherne (1637-1674), a
priest know for his religious poetry. King Charles I authorizes a revised Anglican Booke of Common Prayer.
The prayer book causes riots in Scotland which will lead to the Bishop's War of 1639 and the Puritan
Revolution of 1645. In the end Charles lost his crown, and his head. Ben
Jonson dies and is buried at Westminster Abbey; at the time his only English
peers are Chaucer and Spenser (Shakespeare not yet being acknowledged as
Shakespeare). Jonson's funeral was attended by "all or the greatest part of the
nobility then in town." Thomas Morton becomes a celebrity with the
publication of his three-volume New English Canaan, based on the notes
of his legal campaign against the Puritans. Morton produced "an inspired
denunciation of Puritan government in the colonies and their policy of land
enclosure and near genocide of the Native population, who were described as a
far nobler culture." Morton's The New English Canaan has been described
as "an important work of early American environmental writing."
1638 Sir John Suckling's poem Song: Why so pale and wan, fond lover?
Richard Lovelace's first published poem is an elegy for Princess Katherine.
Charles I prepares for war with the Scots but he's strapped for cash. John Milton travels to Italy. Andrew Marvell
obtains his BA from Trinity College, Cambridge, and briefly converts to Roman
Catholicism. It is believed that Henry Vaughan and his twin brother Thomas
entered Jesus College, Oxford, around this time. John Clarke establishes the
First Baptist Church in Newport, Rhode Island. He and Roger Williams are
considered to be the founders of the Baptist denomination.
1639 Charles I raises an army of 20,000 troops and invades Scotland in an
attempt to impose his will (and prayer book) on the Scots. John Milton returns from the continent when the Bishops' Wars
in Scotland threaten
civil war in England. He begins to write prose tracts in praise of "the divine and
admirable spirit of Wyclif" and in service of the
and Parliamentarians. Meanwhile, Richard Lovelace is fighting on the
opposite side for the king, under Lord Goring. His experience inspires one of
his most famous poems, To Lucasta, Going to the Warres, and the tragedy
The Soldier. Sir John Suckling and Thomas Carew also side with Charles I in Scotland.
Simon Bradstreet is granted land in Salem, Massachusetts.
1640 The Bay Psalm Book is the first book printed in North
America. Thomas Carew's poems A Song, Rapture and To My Inconstant Mistress
are published in his collected Poems. The birth of the English poet Aphra
Behn (1640-1689). She would become England's first female professional writer. Charles I calls the first Parliament in eleven
years, but quickly dismisses the "Short Parliament" when it begins to
air grievances and questions his
request for funds to fight the Scots. Because he is losing battles and land to
the Scots, Charles then calls the
"Long Parliament" but it abolishes the King's Star Chamber and imprisons the
unpopular Earl of Stafford. Things are heating up. John Milton is appointed Secretary for the Foreign
Tongues, an official position in the English government handling diplomatic
correspondence. He receives a salary and lodgings at Scotland Yard. Thomas
Dudley serves a second term as governor of the Massachusetts colony; during this
term the Massachusetts Body of Liberties contains provisions that will end up in
the Bill of Rights. However, Dudley has been accused of being intolerant of
religions other than Puritanism, going as far as to burn books and support the
banishment of Anne Hutchinson. In fact, he participated in Hutchinson's
1641 Richard Lovelace leads a group of men who seize and destroy a petition
for the abolition of Episcopal rule, which had been signed by 15,000 people.
Lovelace tears up the petition himself, in a meeting at Maidstone, Kent. Sir
John Suckling is implicated in the First Army Plot to free the Earl of Stafford
from the Tower of London and bring French troops to the King's aid. Suckling
flees to France, is found guilty of high treason in his absence, then
dies shortly thereafter. Between 1641 and 1660, John Milton "produced at least
eighteen major prose works on behalf of the Puritan rebellion, supporting its
cause, vilifying its enemies." Andrew Marvell is ejected from Cambridge
without an advanced degree for
non-performance of his college duties. The first domestic news publication is
Diurnalls, followed by Weekly Accounts, Mercuries and
Intelligencers. Young Margaret Lucas (later Cavendish) and her royalist
family are attacked by anti-royalist Puritans and will flee to the court of
Charles I in Oxford.
1642 Andrew Marvell spend much of the English Civil War period traveling
abroad. The birth of the great English scientist, astronomer, physicist,
mathematician and philosopher Isaac Newton, on Christmas Day. Galileo Galilei
dies under house arrest by the Roman Catholic inquisition for saying the
sun is the center of the solar system. Edward Taylor (c. 1642-1729), one of the better early American poets, is born in
Sketchley, England. None of his poems would be published in his lifetime; they
discovered in the Yale University library and published in 1939. His poetry has
been described as "American Metaphysical" and "Colonial Baroque." The English
Civil War officially begins when Charles I raises the royal standard
against anti-Royalists in Nottingham. Richard
Lovelace presents the House of Commons with a pro-Royalist petition which was
supposed to have been burned. Lovelace is imprisoned and writes one of his
finest lyrics, To Althea, from Prison. English theaters are closed by
the Puritans at the outbreak of the Civil War, a mere 66 years after the opening
of The Theater in 1576. The Globe would never re-open and would be pulled down
in 1644-1645 to make room for tenements. John Milton marries a sixteen-year-old
Roman Catholic girl.
1643 Edmund Waller is arrested in a royalist scheme against
Parliament known as "Waller's Plot." To save his life, Waller recants. He is hit with an enormous fine, sent to the Tower of London
for a year and a half, then
banished. Once again his wealth may have saved him, since two of his
fellow conspirators were executed. Roger Williams publishes A Key into the
Language of America, a book that corrected misconceptions about Native
Americans. The book "quickly became a bestseller and provided Williams with a
large and favorable reputation." Anne Bradstreet writes "In Honor of that
High and Mighty Princess Queen Elizabeth of Happy Memory," in which she "praises
the Queen as a paragon of female prowess" while "chiding men for trivializing
women." Bradstreet "refers to the Queen's outstanding leadership and historical
prominence" while "underscoring her own dislike of patriarchal arrogance." Was
it the first American feminist poem of note?
1644 The birth of the great Japanese haiku master,
Matsuo Bashō. Haiku would have a
tremendous influence on English modernists like Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot; they
prized its conciseness, imagery and lack of ornamentation. After the Stationers'
Company attempts to censor Milton's Judgment of Martin Bucer, he
publishes the impassioned tract Areopagitica in support of a free
press. (But Milton would become a censor himself, under Cromwell.) While serving
as maid of honor to Queen Henrietta Maria, who is living in exile in France,
Margaret Lucas meets William Cavendish, also in exile, and they marry. Roger
Williams obtains a charter for the Rhone Island colony. "Freedom of conscience
was again proclaimed, and the colony became a safe haven for people who were
persecuted for their beliefs, including Baptists, Quakers, and Jews." John
Dryden enters Westminster School as a King's Scholar.
1645 Edmund Waller's poems Song: Go, Lovely Rose and On a Girdle are published in his Poems
(in three editions) while he is living in exile. Several of his poems
were set to music by Henry Lawes. John Milton's poems L'Allegro, Il Penseroso, On Shakespeare
and How Soon Hath Time are published. Richard Lovelace rejoins the king in Oxford.
Under the influence of Puritans like Oliver Cromwell, Parliament bans
Christmas celebrations, including caroling.
1646 John Milton's first volume of Poems is published, with work in
Greek, Latin, Italian and English. Richard Crashaw's On the Baptized Ethiopian is one of the first
English poems to express the idea of racial equality. A collection of
Sir John Suckling's poems is published posthumously as Fragmenta aurea.
True pioneers, Anne Bradstreet and her husband help found North Andover,
1647 Robert Herrick is evicted by the parliamentarians from his vicarage for refusing to sign the
"Solemn League and Covenant," a pro-reformation agreement. The birth of
the English poet John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (1647-1680). His father Henry,
Viscount Wilmot, was a Royalist general and dashing war hero credited with hiding Charles I
in an oak tree after the disastrous battle of Worcester, then engineering his
escape to the continent. The younger Wilmot, a famous (or infamous) rake, would write
censored poems about masturbation, premature ejaculation and other taboo subjects.
Andrew Marvell called Wilmot "the best English satirist." Charles I attempts to escape from captivity on the Isle of Wight.
Anne Bradstreet's brother-in-law, the Rev. John Woodbridge, sails to England
with her poetry manuscript, which he will have published in 1650.
1648 Robert Herrick's poems Delight in Disorder; To Daffodils; Upon Julia's
Clothes and To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time are published in
Hesperides with a dedication to the Prince of Wales. Richard Lovelace is
imprisoned for the second time, due to his support of the British monarchy;
by the following year he has published his first volume of poems, Lucasta,
which includes To Lucasta, Going to the Warres; To Althea, from
and To Amaratha, That She Would Dishevel Her Hair.
Around this time Andrew Marvell publishes poems addressed to Lord Francis
Villiers, Lord Hastings and Richard Lovelace.
1649 Charles I is found guilty of high treason by the Rump Parliament, is
sentenced to death, then executed by beheading. John Milton writes a
tract which defends the right of the people to hold their rulers accountable. He
then publishes an explicit defense of the regicide, becoming a composer of
"official propaganda." Cromwell leads his army to Ireland. John Dryden
publishes his first notable poem, Upon the Death of Lord Hastings,
written around age eighteen for a schoolmate who died from smallpox. The death
of Richard Crashaw.
1650 Anne Bradstreet's The Vanity of All Worldly Things is perhaps the
first notable poem by an American poet; her book The Tenth Muse Lately
Sprung Up in America made her the first female writer published both in England
and the New World. Henry Vaughn's poems
Regeneration and The Retreat are published in Silex
Scintillans ("Sparks from the Flint"). John Dryden enters Trinity
College, Cambridge. Cromwell returns from
Ireland and Andrew Marvell writes one of his best-known poems, Horatian Ode
upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland, to commemorate the occasion. Marvell joins the Fairfax household as
a tutor to Lord Fairfax's daughter Mary. There he writes charming poems about
Nun Appleton House and its grounds. It is probably around this time that Marvell
wrote To His Coy Mistress. A possible date for the ballad Childe
1651 John Milton goes completely blind. One of his
secretaries is Andrew Marvell. Milton's daughters also function as his
scribes (perhaps the first female scribes in the English record.) Around this time Milton probably writes his
famous sonnet On His Blindness ("When I consider how my light is spent
..."). Edmund Waller is allowed to return to England by the Rump Parliament.
Cromwell defeats the Scotts, ending the Royalist campaigns.
1652 John Milton publishes a defense of the English people in Latin. He also
publishes a sonnet dedicated to Oliver Cromwell ("Cromwell, our chief of men
..."). It was Milton's only Shakespearean sonnet. Henry Vaughan publishes
The Mount of Olives, a book of prose devotions.
1653 Oliver Cromwell is made England's Lord Protector and Regent.
Marvell tutors Cromwell's ward, William Dutton, and writes poems in praise of
Cromwell. Margaret Cavendish's Poems and Fancies and Philosophicall Fancies are
1654 John Dryden graduates at the top of his Cambridge class.
1655 Roger Williams is elected president of the Rhode Island colony.
1655 Henry Vaughan's Silex Scintillans is expanded. Edmund Waller
publishes A Panegyric to my Lord Protector and is made a Commissioner
for Trade a month or two later.
1656 Richard Lovelace composes The Triumph of Philamore and Amoret
for the marriage of Charles Cotton the younger; it has been called Lovelace's
last outstanding poem. Margaret Cavendish publishes her autobiographical memoir A
True Relation of my Birth, Breeding, and Life. Thomas Blount's Glossographia is
another "difficult words" dictionary with some 9,000 words and fuller
definitions and etymologies than its predecessors.
1657 Richard Lovelace dies in London. Andrew Marvell takes a government job as
Latin Secretary; John Milton had recommended him for the position. John Aubrey wrote of Marvell:
"For Latin verses there was no man could come into competition with him."
1658 Oliver Cromwell's death throws England back into chaos. As the republic
begins to disintegrate, Milton continues to write treatises in favor of a
non-monarchial government. Milton begins work on his masterpiece,
perhaps using aspects of the English Civil War and its primary figures for
Edward Phillips New World of English Words is yet another English
dictionary that focuses on difficult words and terms, many of them borrowed from
earlier dictionaries. The word count rises to 11,000 in the first edition, then
to 17,000, then to 38,000 when enlarged by John Kersey in 1706.
1659 John Dryden publishes Heroic Stanzas, a eulogy on Cromwell's
death which is "cautious and prudent in its emotional display." Four Quakers, including a woman, Mary Dyer, were hanged in Boston between
1659 and 1661 for returning to the city to express
their beliefs. Andrew Marvell becomes MP for Hull. Richard Lovelace's
translations of Catullus are more literal and
faithful to the original poems than those of prior translators like Campion and
Carew. James Shirley's The Glories of Our Blood and State; Sir John
Suckling's Out Upon It! John Wilmot enters Wadham College, Oxford.
1660 Samuel Pepys begins his famous diary on January 1, 1660. It would be
an auspicious year. King Charles II is handed the British crown and throne in the
Restoration. John Milton
goes into hiding for his life, then is briefly jailed
after copies of his books are burned by the Hangman of London.
is fined and pardoned
in December; Andrew Marvell helps secure his release. Marvell protests in Parliament that Milton's jail fees (£150)
are excessive. Marvell would campaign for religious toleration. Edmund Waller writes To the King, upon his Majesty's Happy Return. When
Charles asked Waller to explain why this new piece was inferior to Waller's
eulogy for Cromwell, the poet smartly replied: "Sir, we poets never succeed so
well in writing truth as in fiction!" John Dryden celebrates the
Restoration with Astraea Redux. William and Margaret Cavendish are
able to return to court; then soon retire to their Welbeck estate. She resumes
her writing career and will be called "Mad Madge" in some circles because of her
eccentricities and the fact that she was a woman writing under her own name in a
man's world. John Dryden, Charles Lamb and Virginia Woolf would be more
complimentary of her work. The birth of the first English novelist, Daniel Defoe
(1660-1731). Defoe also wrote satirical verse.
1661 The birth of the English poet Annie Kingsmill (1661-1720), later
Annie Finch, Countess of Winchilsea. Her father was Sir William Kingsmill. Edmund Waller rejoins the
House of Commons as MP for Hastings. Waller would support religious toleration,
make 180 speeches, and serve on 209 parliamentary committees. Charles II sends John Wilmot on a
three-year grand tour of France and Italy, and gives him a £500 annual pension,
in gratitude for the service of his father Henry Wilmot (see the entry for
1662 Richard Herrick is restored to his vicarage at Dean Prior.
John Dryden is elected into the Royal Society. Milton's sonnet to Sir Henry Vane is published; Vane is executed for defending
the sovereignty of Parliament. Massachusetts minister Michael Wigglesworth outlines the doctrines of
Puritanism in his epic poem "The Day of Doom." Snapped up and memorized by
17th-century colonists, the fiery work is widely considered America's first
bestseller. Margaret Cavendish publishes a collection of Plays and a
collection of Orations.
1663 John Milton marries for the third and last time. His new wife is
24, less than half his age. (Milton's daughters object, but are overruled.)
John Aubrey's Monumenta Britannica would be written "over some thirty
years between about 1663 and 1693." It would include
information about early English monuments at Stonehenge and Avebury, Roman
towns, hillforts, castles, the evolution of English architecture, etc.
1664 John Milton completes Paradise Lost. The birth of the English poet Matthew Prior.
John Dryden publishes his first play, The Wild Gallant. Margaret Cavendish publishes a collection of Philosophical Letters. Aphra Behn returns to England
after eighteen years abroad; she marries a merchant. Edmund Waller's play
Pompey the Great. John Wilmot returns to England and becomes visible at
court. Katherine Philips dies at 32 of smallpox.
1665 John Milton and his wife move to a cottage in Buckinghamshire to
avoid the plague. While King Charles II is holding court in Oxford to avoid the
plague, the first newspaper is published: the Oxford Gazette. When
Charles returns to London the following year, he takes the newspaper with him,
where it becomes the London Gazette (which is still being
published today). But ballads outnumber all other forms
of publication. John Wilmot incurs the displeasure of Charles II
and spends three weeks in the Tower after abducting the lovely heiress
Elizabeth Malet against the wishes of her family, who considered him too poor
for a marriage. Wilmot attempts to redeem himself by joining the navy; he
becomes a war hero like his famous father. Aphra Behn's husband dies,
perhaps during the plague of 1665.
1666 Although John Milton had completed Paradise
Lost by 1664, publication was delayed by a paper shortage caused by the
Second Anglo-Dutch War, the Great Plague (during which over eighty London
printers died), and the Great Fire of London of 1666, which destroyed many of
the city's presses. Book and ballad prices skyrocket due to the law of supply
and demand. One of the houses destroyed in the fire is Milton's
father's house on Bread Street. Thomas Vaughan, the twin brother of poet Henry
Vaughan, dies of mercury poisoning in an alchemical experiment. Aphra Behn, now a widow, works as a spy for King Charles II in
Antwerp but is never properly paid. This is the first documented report we have of her activities.
Everything about her prior life seems shrouded in mystery: "Her code name is
said to have been Astrea, a name under which she later published many of her
writings." Anne Bradstreet's house is destroyed by fire. Most of her
personal library, said to have numbered around 9,000 books, was lost in the
fire. Margaret Cavendish's prose Blazing World has been described as
early science fiction. John Wilmot, in and out of favor, is made a gentleman of
the king's bedchamber.
1667 John Milton's masterpiece Paradise Lost
is published in ten books. Because Milton had
gone blind, he dictated the epic-length poem to his wife and daughters. John Dryden is said
to have remarked: "This man cuts us all out, and the ancients too." Milton's
agreement with printer Samuel Simmons is the earliest author's contract
preserved (Lindenbaum). Dryden's Song ("Ah,
fading joy ...") from the play The Indian Emperor is published.
Dryden's Annus Mirabilis, a modern epic in pentameter quatrains,
establishes him as the preeminent poet of his generation and will
be crucial to his attaining the posts of Poet Laureate (1668) and
Historiographer Royal (1670). The birth
of the Anglo-Irish poet Jonathan Swift (1667-1745). Swift was born in Dublin, but "he
insisted on his Englishness." He has been called the greatest prose
satirist in the English language and is less well known for his poetry today.
Swift's mother, Abigail Herrick, was related to Robert Herrick. The Swift family
was also related to John Dryden, Sir Walter Ralegh, Francis Godwin and Sir
William Davenant. John Wilmot again
elopes with Elizabeth Malet, this time successfully, and they marry.
Back in the favor of Charles II, Wilmot is given special permission to
join the House of Lords despite being underage. Wilmot has an affair with the
notorious actress Nell Gwyn, who later becomes a paramour of the king. Margaret
Cavendish is the first woman to attend a meeting of the Royal Society of London.
1668 Edward Taylor emigrates to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, where he enrolls at Harvard College to
study to become a minister. Taylor is the only major American poet to have written in the metaphysical
style. John Dryden is made the first British Poet Laureate by Charles II.
Aphra Behn is sent to a debtor's prison and vows never to return; she becomes a
writer to make money and avoid prison. Margaret Cavendish publishes a second
collection of plays. A number of her plays, including The Convent of
Pleasure, were staged after her death.
1669 John Milton's Accidence Commenced Grammar is
1670 John Milton's portrait is painted in pastels, then engraved, by
William Faithorne. Milton's History of Britain is published, with the
Faithorne engraving as a frontispiece. Aphra Behn becomes the first
Englishwoman to make a living by writing; her first play The Forc'd Marriage
premiers. The birth of the English poet and playwright William Congreve
(1670-1729). John Dryden is made Historiographer Royal. John Wilmot may have
written the notorious play Sodom around this time ... if he wrote it.
1671 After Aphra Behn's third play flops at
the box office, she disappears from the public record for three years. (It has
been suggested that she returned to spying!) John Milton's Paradise Regained and Samson
Agonistes are published. Edward Taylor becomes a pastor and physician in
Westfield, Massachusetts, where he remains until his death 58 years later.
1672 Anne Bradstreet dies. Her revolutionary Tenth Muse will be
republished in 1678 as Several Poems, with corrections and additional
poems such as "Contemplations" and "The Flesh and the Spirit." John Milton publishes Art of Logic.
1673 John Milton's poems Methought I Saw and When I Consider How My Light Is Spent
are published in his revised Poems. John Dryden's most famous play,
Marriage ΰ la Mode.
1674 Robert Herrick dies at age 83, the last Cavalier and perhaps
England's most musical poet, having written around 2,500 poems.
John Milton dies shortly after overseeing the publication of the second edition
of Paradise Lost, which includes commendatory poems by "S.B." and Andrew
1675 A Satire Against Mankind is one of the few poems
published by John Wilmot during his life. Wilmot is appointed keeper of
Woodstock Park, where he later claimed to have been drunk for five years
running. Since he died in 1680 at age 33, apparently he was drunk the last five
years of his short life.
1676 Elisha Coles publishes his English Dictionary. While like
its predecessors this was another "difficult words"
dictionary, Coles did includ a wider variety of material, including regional and
Our top ten poets of the Augustan Period: Edward Taylor, Christopher
Smart, Aphra Behn, William Collins, Andrew Marvell, John Dryden, Alexander Pope,
Dr. Samuel Johnson, Edmund Waller, Thomas Gray
Modern English: The Augustan or Metaphysical Period (1678-1749)
At this point it seems safe to say that Early Modern English has been
replaced by Modern English. The "great vowel shift" that made Chaucer difficult
to scan is long over. While Shakespeare can be hard to understand in places, we
can read the better writers from this point forward with little or no trouble,
unless they have chosen to be intentionally obscure. Dictionaries will help
establish standardized meanings and spellings for words. The basic rules of
grammar have been set.
The English Augustan period derives its name from the Roman Augustan period,
which has been called the "Golden Age" of
classical Roman poetry. The English Augustans modeled their verse after that of Roman
Augustans like Virgil, Horace and Propertius. The term also applies because
George I saw himself as a modern Augustus. But we may question whether there was
more Augustan veneer than substance, more Augustan gold plating than actual
gold. For instance, in his commentary on pastoral poetry, Alexander Pope said:
"We are not to describe our shepherds as shepherds at this day really are, but
as they may be conceived then to have been, when the best of men followed the
employment." But the majority of the better poets to come, led by the Romantics
and early modernists, would take the opposite approach by seeking to describe the world
and human beings honestly, as they really are, warts and all. There is a huge
chasm, for example, between Pope's Essay on Man and Sylvia Plath's
confessional poems. Plath seems not only more honest, but more deeply insightful about human
nature, particularly her own. Thomas Gray, perhaps the major contrary figure of
the Augustan period, seems like an early Romantic in his best-known poem, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. Gray didn't mythologize ancient shepherds who
probably weren't all angelic heroes; instead he sympathized with the very
difficult lives of the common folk he lived and moved among. Thus Gray seems more substantive while Dryden and Pope seem more ornate.
We feel for Gray's villagers while Pope's glorified shepherds fail to
touch us at all. And while Dryden and Pope may have
approached what has been described as "technical perfection" in their heroic
couplets, the modernizing world did not lend itself to such tidiness or the
gilded certainties frequently being expressed. The
Delphi Oracle proclaimed Socrates the wisest man in ancient Greece because he
alone understood how little he actually understood. Thus Socrates was more
likely to question than to preach. Alas, the Oracle may not have
complimented Augustan poets who seemed too sure of themselves, too
quick to wrap things up when immense questions remained, too easily satisfied
with couplets clicking comfortably into place.
The English Augustans may also have over-valued wit, urbanity and extravagant
"conceits." A. E. Housman considered the period to have been a "dry spell" in
English poetry. Housman, a brutally direct and honest poet, did
not think highly of what may be called "the age of Dryden, Pope and the wits."
In one of his lectures Housman said: "There is also such a thing as sham poetry,
a counterfeit deliberately manufactured and offered as a substitute. In English
the great historical example is certain verse produced abundantly and applauded
by high and low in what for literary purposes is loosely called the eighteenth
century: not a hundred years accidentally begun and ended by chronology, but a
longer period which is a unity and a reality; the period lying between Samson
Agonistes in 1671 and the Lyrical Ballads in 1798 [i.e., the
beginning of the English Romantic period], and including as an integral part and
indeed as its most potent influence the mature work of Dryden." The poetry
produced during this long dry spell was, according to Housman, "at once pompous
and poverty-stricken." And in Housman's estimation "Pope had less of the poetic
gift than Dryden."
Housman found the fount of true modern poetry in William Blake: "For me the most
poetical of all poets is Blake. I find his lyrical note as beautiful as
Shakespeare's and more beautiful than anyone else's; and I call him more
poetical than Shakespeare, even though Shakespeare has so much more poetry,
because poetry in him preponderates more than in Shakespeare over everything
else, and instead of being confounded in a great river can be drunk pure from a
slender channel of its own. Shakespeare is rich in thought, and his meaning has
power of itself to move us, even if the poetry were not there: Blake's meaning
is often unimportant or virtually non-existent, so that we can listen with all
our hearing to his celestial tune."
William Blake agreed with Housman about Dryden and Pope: "I do not condemn
Pope or Dryden because they did not understand imagination, but because they did
not understand verse."
We believe there are at least two valid major criticisms of Augustan poetry in
general, although there are some pleasant exceptions. First, all too often the
poems are unmoving; they leave us cold; there is something missing at the center
that makes poetry poetry. Second, and again all too often, the poets are trying
to sell us faded ideas dressed up with shimmering ribbons and bows. Was there
ever a "Golden Age" in which ancient shepherds were as pure as doves and as
happy as larks? Surely not, but even if they existed they are too remote to
matter to us now. But some of Alexander Pope's early poems were more intimate,
and feel more like poetry to us: "Ode to Solitude" and "Eloisa to Abelard," for
instance. So we might disagree with Housman that Pope lacked the poetic gift and
theorize that he may have directed his gifts toward things many modern readers
have little or no interest in, such as pastorals, poetic sermons and long
didactic verse essays.
Here's a recap of the Metaphysical Period: "A century after the
height of the Elizabethan era, a subtler, provocative lyric poetry movement
crept through an English literary countryside that sought greater depth in its
verse. The metaphysical poets defined and compared their subjects through
nature, philosophy, love, and musings about the hereafter a great departure
from the primarily religious poetry that had immediately followed the wane of
the Elizabethan era. Poets shared an interest in metaphysical subjects and
practiced similar means of investigating them. Beginning with John Dryden, the
metaphysical movement was a loosely woven string of poetic works that continued
through the often-bellicose 18th century, and concluded when William
Blake bridged the gap between metaphysical and romantic poetry. The
poets sought to minimize their place within the poem and to look beyond the
obvious a style that greatly informed American transcendentalism and the
Romantics who followed. Among the greatest adherents were Samuel Cowley,
John Donne, George Herbert, Andrew Marvell, Abraham Cowley, Henry
Vaughan, George Chapman, Edward Herbert, and Katherine Philips." (We question whether the metaphysical movement began with Dryden;
more likely it began with John Donne, who was born roughly 60 years
before Dryden. Even in his early erotic poems, Donne indulged in "conceits" such
as comparing the exploration of his lover's body to explorers discovering America. Donne
strikes us as the first, best and most prominent of the metaphysical poets.)
1678 Anne Bradstreet has the first book of verse published in Boston,
posthumously. Her widower became governor of Salem during the famous (or
infamous) witch trials. John Dryden's play All For Love is a reworking
of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra.
Andrew Marvell dies.
1679 Simon Bradstreet becomes governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. John Dryden's Song ("Can life be a blessing ...") from his
play Troilus and Cressida is published. The birth of Thomas Parnell
(1679-1718), an Anglo-Irish poet and clergyman who has been called one of the
"graveyard poets" along with Thomas Gray and Edward Young, among others.
1680 John Wilmot dies at age 33, possibly from venereal disease after
a life of debauchery.
1681 Andrew Marvell's To His Coy Mistress, his best-known
poem, is published in Miscellaneous Poems three years after his death.
However, his Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland was removed from all
but one copy and would not be included until a reprinting in 1776.
John Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel: a Poem is published. It has been
called "the first of our great political satires."
1682 John Dryden's satirical poem Mac Flecknoe is published. Jonathan
Swift enters Dublin University. Edward Taylor's Preparatory Meditations (16821725) will not be
discovered and published until 1937. His complete poems will not be published
1683 The death of Roger Williams. The birth of the English poet Edward Young
(or Yonge), best-remembered for his
melancholic Night-Thoughts. First published in 1742 and later illustrated by
William Blake in 1797, Night Thoughts
would become "one of the most frequently-printed poems of the eighteenth
century." Its success was "enormous." It has been said that if Young did not invent "melancholy and moonlight" in
literature "he did much to spread the fashionable taste for them."
As a result, he has been suggested as the first Romantic poet, and as a
major influence on Romantics to follow. Some German critics preferred
Young's work to Milton's; Dr. Samuel Johnson praised Young's satires; the young Goethe told his sister in 1766 that he
was learning English from Young and Milton; in his autobiography Goethe said
that Young's influence had created the atmosphere in which there was such a
universal response to his seminal Romantic work The Sorrows of Young Werther.
Young's name soon became a battle-cry for the young men of the "Sturm und Drang"
movement. Young himself reinforced his reputation as a pioneer of romanticism by
precept as well as by example; in 1759, at the age of 76, he published a piece
of critical prose titled Conjectures on Original Composition, which put
forward the vital doctrine of the superiority of "genius," of innate originality
being more valuable than classic indoctrination or imitation, and suggested that
modern writers might dare to rival or even surpass the "ancients" of Greece and
Rome. The Conjectures was a declaration of independence against the
tyranny of classicism and was at once acclaimed as such becoming a milestone in
the history of English and European literary criticism. It was immediately
translated into German at Leipzig and at Hamburg and was widely and favorably
reviewed. The cult of genius exactly suited the ideas of the Sturm und Drang
movement and gave a new impetus to the cult of Young. (Excerpted from Harold
Forster's "Some uncollected authors XLV: Edward Young in translation I").
1684 Annie Kingsmill marries the courtier Heneage Finch, becoming Annie
Finch. During the 1685 coronation of James II, Heneage Finch would carry the
canopy of the Queen, Mary of Modena, who had specifically requested his service.
Annie Finch writes A Letter to Dafnis for her husband, to "celebrate
their relationship and ardent intimacy."
1685 The birth of the English poet, playwright and parodist John Gay (1685-1732). Edmund Waller
publishes Divine Poems.
1686 The final poems of Edmund Waller are published, although his collected
poems will be published posthumously in 1690. The birth of the Scottish poet
Allan Ramsay (1686-1758). Ramsay was also a playwright, publisher, librarian,
and impresario of early Enlightenment Edinburgh. Ramsay may have created the
first circulating library in Britain when he opened a bookstore and began
1687 Edmund Waller dies. He had been "a peacemaker and mediator both in his
poems and in politics." Gosse credits Waller with being the first to make
writing in the "serried couplet" the habit and the fashion. His poem "Go, Lovely
Rose" remains one on the loveliest love poems in the English language.
1688 The birth of the English poet Alexander Pope (1688-1784). Pope, described
as a "delicate precocious boy," suffered from Pott's disease, which stunted his
growth and left him with a severe hunchback and nearly an invalid. Aphra Behn
takes up writing fiction with Oroonoko, a book based on her early life
experiences. Jonathan Swift becomes secretary to Sir William Temple.
1689 Aphra Behn dies. During her life she wrote 19 plays and was second only
to John Dryden as a playwright in the 1670s and 1680s. The birth of the English poet
Mary Wortley (better known as Lady Mary Wortley Montagu). Denied a classical
education because of her sex, she was educated at home and taught herself Latin
in her father's library. Thomas Shadwell is appointed the second British Poet
Laureate, succeeding John Dryden.
1692 Simon Bradstreet, the widower of Anne Bradstreet, speaks out against the
"witch" hysteria that led to the Salem Witch Trials. Their son John Bradstreet
would be accused of being a witch, after a dog barked at him and ran away. The
dog was hanged as a witch, but he escaped to New York. Another son, Dudley
Bradstreet, and his wife, a second Anne Bradstreet, would be accused of being
witches after he refused to issue warrants for the arrests of witches in his
position of Justice of the Peace for Andover. Jonathan Swift receives his MA
from Hart Hall, Oxford. Nahum Tate is appointed the third
British Poet Laureate.
1694 Jonathan Swift takes holy orders and is appointed to the prebend of
Kilroot, but is apparently unhappy and doesn't last long there. The birth of the highly influential French writer and philosopher
Voltaire. His name
at birth is Francois-Marie Arouet (see the entry for 1717 regarding his name
change). He would be a major figure of the Enlightenment, and one of the world's
most influential thinkers, writers and troublemakers! He was also
hyper-prolific. Voltaire wrote more than 50 plays, dozens of treatises on
science, politics and philosophy, and several books of history on everything
from the Russian Empire to the French Parliament. Along the way, he also managed
to squeeze in heaps of verse and a voluminous correspondence amounting to some
20,000 letters to friends and contemporaries. Voltaire supposedly kept up his
prodigious output by spending up to 18 hours per day writing or dictating to
secretaries, often while still in bed. He may have also been fueled by epic
amounts of caffeine: according to some sources, he drank as many as 40 cups a
1695 The death of Henry Vaughan. Was he the last important English language
poet to express certainty about his Christian faith? If so, it seems odd that he
did not produce a major poem over the last forty years of his life.
1696 Jonathan Swift returns to the service of Sir William Temple. Swift helped
prepare Temple's memoirs and correspondence for publication.
1697 William Congreve's play The Mourning Bride inspired two
now-famous misquotations. "Music has charms to soothe a savage breast" is often
misquoted as "Music soothes the savage beast." And
the lines "Heaven has no rage, like love to hatred turned, / Nor hell a fury,
like a woman scorned" is usually paraphrased as "Hell hath no
fury like a woman scorned." John Dryden publishes his ode Alexander's
Feast and his translation The Works of Virgil.
1699 Jonathan Swift becomes vicar of Laracor and later dean of St. Patrick's,
Dublin. However, he considered life in Ireland to be exile. The birth of the
Scottish poet Robert Blair (1699-1746), best known for his blank verse poem
The Grave. Blair's poem has been credited with helping to create the
"graveyard school of poetry," which has in turn been credited with influencing
English Romantics like William Blake (who would later provide illustrations for
The Grave). The birth of John
Dyer (1699-1757), a Welsh painter and poet whose best-known poem is Grongar
1700 This is a rough beginning time for American negro spirituals. Around the turn of
the century, a precocious twelve-year-old Alexander Pope
publishes Ode to Solitude and is introduced to John Dryden. Dryden
publishes his last major work, Fables Ancient and Modern, with his
translations of Homer, Ovid, Chaucer and Boccaccio. Dryden dies and
is buried at the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey. The birth of the Scottish poet
James Thomson (1700-1748). At one time Thomson was incredibly popular: his poems
"were to be found in every inn and cottage," like the Bible. But his
fame did not last. His one immortal poem is "Rule
Britannia," but most people who remember the lyric have forgotten who wrote it.
And many of Thomson's early poems were lost because he had a habit of burning them
each New Year's Day!
1701 Jonathan Swift writes what has been called his first significant poem,
Harris's Petition, at age 34. He also anonymously published the political
pamphlet A Discourse on the Contests and Dissentions in Athens and Rome. Annie Finch publishes The Spleen
1702 Jonathan Swift receives his Doctor of Divinity degree from Trinity
College, Dublin. John Kersey's New English Dictionary is the first
English dictionary to focus on words in common use, rather than on difficult
words. Kersey expands the word count to 35,000.
1704 Jonathan Swift publishes his first major prose parody, A Tale of a Tub,
which satirizes the Christian religion and its sects. Swift also publishes a
shorter prose satire, The Battle of the Books.
1707 England and Scotland are―finally!―officially united as the Kingdom of
Great Britain. At this time Ireland is not included. John Gay publishes Wine.
1709 Alexander Pope's Pastorals. The birth of the
English poet, novelist, biographer, editor, critic and creator of the first major English dictionary,
(1709-1784), the son of a bookseller.
Sir Richard Steele publishes the Tatler, a literary and society
1710 Around age 20, Mary Wortley translates the Enchiridion of the
Greek stoic philosopher Epictetus from Latin and sends a copy to Bishop Gilbert
Brunet with a long letter defending women's rights to formal education. Jonathan
Swift becomes editor of The Examiner.
1711 Joseph Addison and Sir Richard Steele publish the Spectator, a
daily publication. John Gay and Alexander Pope meet and become friends. Pope's long
didactic poem An Essay on Criticism is published.
1712 Alexander Pope's Messiah and his long mock-heroic poem The Rape of the Lock.
Pope, Swift and Gay are now friends. Gay begins contributing to Sir Richard
Steel's Guardian. The birth of the French philosopher and
early Romantic, Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), who believed in the value of the
individual and his/her capacity for good. Mary Wortley, despite her initial
resistance to marriage and after prolonged negotiations with her father and
future husband, elopes with Edward Wortley Montagu. One of Lady Montagu's
earliest poems describes women's unhappiness in marriage and their
potential for adultery: "In part to blame she is, who has been try'd; / Too near
he has approach'd, who is deny'd."
1713 John Gay's first major poem, Rural Sports. Alexander Pope's
Windsor Forest is published to acclaim. Pope begins work on his translation
of Homer's Iliad. Gay, Pope,
Jonathan Swift, Thomas Parnell and John Arbuthnot
form the core of the Martinus Scriblerus Club. Lady Mary Wortley
Montagu writes a critique of Joseph Addison's Cato; Addison made
several of the changes she recommended; he would publish her the following year.
Annie Finch publishes Miscellany Poems, on Several Occasions.
1714 The death of Queen Anne leads to the Jacobite Rising in 1715. The birth of the English poet William Shenstone (1714-1763). Lady Mary
Wortley Montagu's first published writing appears in Addison's Spectator,
under the pseudonym "Lady President." John Gay publishes The
1715 Alexander Pope's The Temple of Fame is modeled on Chaucer's
House of Fame. Pope begins publishing his
translation of Homer's Iliad in yearly installments. Nicholas Rowe is
appointed the fourth British Poet Laureate.
1716 The birth of the English poet Thomas Gray (1716-1771), the son of a
Cornhill scrivener. Gray is
generally regarded as the foremost English-language poet of the mid-18th century
He would influence Gothic and Romantic poets to come. The birth of the English
poet Richard West (1716-1742), a friend of Gray's. Lady
Mary Wortley Montagu becomes friends with Alexander Pope and John Gay; they
write a group of "court eclogues" that describe and mock immorality and
upper-class rituals such as card playing in the court of George I. Three of
Montagu's eclogues were published in Court Poems. Later in the year
Montagu traveled with her husband to Constantinople, where he was to be the
English ambassador to Turkey. While traveling, Montagu began writing her
best-known work, the Turkish Embassy Letters (published in 1763).
John Gay publishes Trivia.
1717 Franηois-Marie Arouet is sent to the Bastille for writing scandalous poems (not the
last time he will land in hot water for speaking his mind). While in prison or
soon thereafter he adopts the name "Voltaire." He never explains what the name
means. One theory is "volunteer." According to a family tradition, he was known as le petit volontaire ("determined
little thing") as a child, and he may have resurrected a variant of that nickname. The
name also has connotations of energy, speed and daring. But it was just one of
178 pen names that Arouet employed during his long, eventful and storied career.
Voltaire argued for religious tolerance and freedom of thought. He
campaigned to eradicate priestly and aristo-monarchical authority, and he
supported a constitutional monarchy that would protect the people's rights.
Unfortunately, these views would not prove popular with church and state!
1718 Alexander Pope makes a handsome living from his translations of Homer and
is able to buy a villa with a grotto and gardens in Twickenham. Laurence Eusden
is appointed the fifth British Poet Laureate (and the youngest, at age 30).
1719 Isaac Watts publishes Our God, Our Help (in Ages Past), a hymn
still being sung today. Daniel Defoe's The Life and Strange
Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe has been called the first English
novel. Allan Ramsay publishes Scots Songs.
1720 Lady Mary Wortley Montagu wrote "mine" in her copy of Alexander
Pope's Eloisa to Abelard (she apparently thought a couplet of hers had been
stolen). The death of Annie Finch.
1721 The birth of the English poet William Collins (1721-1759) on Christmas
day; he was the son of a hatmaker. "His lyrical odes adhered to Neoclassical
forms but were Romantic in theme and feeling. Though his literary career was
brief and his output slender, he is considered one of the finest English lyric
poets of the 18th century." The
earliest poem attributed to the "graveyard" school of poets is Thomas Parnell's
A Night-Piece on Death. Nathaniel Bailey's An Universal
Etymological English Dictionary "gave English a one-volume reference
dictionary of some 40,000 entries that was strong on bookish and technical
vocabulary, weak in definition and semantic coverage, up-to-date in spelling,
and provided the accepted etymologies of its day. It was the standard dictionary
of the 18th century and was gradually updated and
enlarged to some 50,000 entries through successive editions and reprintings to
the 28th and last edition in 1800."
1722 The births of the English poets Mary Leapor (1722-1746) and Christopher Smart
(1722-1771), also know as Kit Smart, Kitty Smart and Jack Smart. Donald Davie
called Smart "the greatest English poet between Pope and Wordsworth."
1724 Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, in her "Epistle from Mrs. Y[onge] to Her
Husband," lashes out against a
the patriarchal legal system and what she sees as women's enslavement in
marriage: "Defrauded Servants are from Service free, / A wounded Slave regains
his Liberty. / For Wives ill us'd no remedy remains, / To daily Racks condemn'd,
and to eternal Chains." Her poem "The Lady's Resolve" appears in Plain
Dealer. She writes about a young woman being sexually abused and perhaps
murdered by her husband in "Written ex tempore on the Death of Mrs. Bowes"
(published in Weekly Journal or Saturday's-Post).
1725 Edward Taylor retires with a library of 200 books, remarkable in his day.
His poetry, however, would remain undiscovered until the 1930s, and still
remains unknown to most readers. Alexander Pope publishes his
six-volume edition of Shakespeare's works, but is criticized for deleting lines
and rewriting others. Pope also publishes his translation of Homer's Odyssey
and is "almost as much of a literary
factory" as Dr. Samuel Johnson. Thomas Gray attends Eton College, which
later inspires one of his most famous poems. Gray becomes friends with Horace
Walpole, the son of England's prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole.
1726 Christopher Smart writes a poem at age four to a girl three times his
age, asking her to have pity on "poor Kitty." James Thomson publishes Winter, the first of his poetry books on
the seasons. John Dyer's Grongar Hill, published in a miscellany, has
been called an early work of English romanticism, as have Thomson's Winter
and other seasonal poems. Voltaire is sent to the Bastille again, this time for planning a duel. He
is released when he agrees to leave France for England. Let the English deal
with the troublemaker! (But he was just getting warmed up.) While living in
exile, Voltaire meets the English poets Alexander Pope, John Gay,
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Jonathan Swift. Voltaire was strongly influenced by
the work of Isaac Newton and may have attended his funeral. He was one of the
sources of the famous story about the falling apple and the concept of gravity.
Voltaire's work would be instrumental in bringing about general acceptance of
Newton's optical and gravitational theories in France. Jonathan Swift's
Gulliver's Travels is published; it's an immediate hit. Allan Ramsay may
have created the first circulating library in Britain when he opened a bookstore
and began renting books.
1727 John Gay's popular Fables, written for Prince William and later illustrated by William Blake,
would eventually run though fifty editions.
1728 The birth of the Anglo-English poet/novelist/playwright Oliver Goldsmith
(c. 1728-1774). The birth of Thomas Warton (1728-1790), a poet, critic, literary
historian and future Poet Laureate of England. A child
prodigy, Warton produced a translation of a Martial poem at age nine and wrote his most
famous poem, "The Pleasures of Melancholy," at age seventeen. He is one of the "graveyard poets," along with Thomas Gray, Oliver Goldsmith,
William Cowper, Thomas Parnell, Robert Blair and Edward Young. The "graveyard
poets" are often recognized as precursors of the Gothic and Romantic literary
movements. John Gay's The Beggar's Opera with an an "unheard-of" eighty
performances has been called the most popular play of the 18th century; it was suggested to Gay by Jonathan Swift. The earliest version of Alexander Pope's
The Dunciad is published, with the principal "dunce" being Lewis Theobald,
who had criticized liberties taken by Pope and errors in his editing
of Shakespeare. Theobald would even dare to publish a more correct edition in
1734! But fortunately for Theobald, Pope later became even more irked with Poet
Laureate Colly Cibber and made him the main dunce in his 1743 version of The
Dunciad. Samuel Johnson enters Pembroke College, Oxford. Johnson translates
Alexander Pope's Messiah into Latin in two days. Johnson would leave
Oxford without a degree, due to financial difficulties, but would be awarded an
honorary degree in 1755 for his literary accomplishments.
1729 The birth of Thomas Percy (1729-1811), a collector and publisher of
ballads also known as Bishop Percy. The birth of the Anglo-Irish statesman and
philosopher Edmund Burke (1729-97) in Dublin, where he will be educated at
Trinity College. The death of Edward Taylor. Voltaire returns to France and quickly figures out how to beat the French
lottery system by working with mathematician Charles Marie de La Condamine and
others. The scheme leaves Voltaire rich, with a windfall of nearly half a
million francs, setting him up for life and allowing him to devote himself
entirely to his literary career. Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal is
1730 James Thomson's georgic poems Winter, Spring,
Summer and Fall are published together as Seasons. He
continued to expand the poems, which in their final version amounted to around
5,500 lines. Although he was Scottish, Thomson employed the King's English
and wrote Miltonic blank verse. In its day, Seasons was comparable in
circulation to The Pilgrim's Progress and Paradise Lost.
A German translation of Thomson's collected Seasons would provide the
lyrics for Haydn's oratorio The Seasons. The birth of the English
scholar/critic Thomas Tyrwhitt (1730-1786). Nathaniel Bailey's Dictionarium
Britannicum is another "difficult words" dictionary with a new emphasis on
scientific and industrial terms. Colley Cibber is appointed the sixth
British Poet Laureate.
1731 The birth of the English poet William Cowper (1731-1800). Cowper
wrote some of the best-known hymns in the English language. He has been called a forerunner of Romantic poetry, with his "hand on the
latch." Jonathan Swift writes Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift, his own
obituary; it would be published in 1739. John Gay becomes Handel's librettist for Acis and Galatea and
1732 Richard West attends Eton where he forms a "quadruple alliance" of
friendship with with Thomas Gray, Horace Walpole and Thomas Ashton. West was
known among them as Favonius. He was "tall and slim, of a pale and meagre look
and complexion," and was "then reckoned a more brilliant genius than Gray." John Gay dies and is buried in Westminster Abbey. Ben Franklin first publishes Poor Richard's Almanac.
1733 Samuel Johnson publishes A Voyage to Abyssinia. Alexander Pope's poem An Essay on Man may be too long and
too didactic for many modern readers. Pope also publishes his
Imitations of Horace. Voltaire publishes
Letters Concerning the English Nation, now called Philosophical
Letters. It is seen as an attack on the French system of government and is
rapidly suppressed. The book is publicly burned and banned. Voltaire flees Paris
to the French countryside. He shacks up with Ιmilie du Chβtelet, a married
mother of three with whom he was to have an
affair for 16 years. To avoid arrest, Voltaire took refuge at her husband's
chβteau at Cirey-sur-Blaise, on the borders of Champagne and Lorraine. Voltaire
paid for the building's renovation and Ιmilie's husband, the Marquis du Chβtelet,
sometimes stayed at the chβteau with his wife and her lover. The unusual
relationship had a significant intellectual element. Voltaire and the Marquise
collected over 21,000 books, an enormous number for the time. Together, they
studied these books and performed experiments in the natural sciences, which
included an attempt to determine the nature of fire. Voltaire and the Marquise
also analyzed the Bible and concluded that much of its content was dubious. Lady
Mary Wortley Montagu joins forces with Lord Hervey to produce VERSES
Address'd to the IMITATOR of the FIRST SATIRE of the Second Book of Horace,
which "many critics consider the best satire of [Alexander] Pope written at that
time." Montagu continues to write poems in which she compares a woman's role in
marriage to slavery.
1734 Alexander Pope's poem Impromptu is dedicated to "Lady
Winchelsea" (the poet Annie Finch); it disparages female poets as "Sapphos."
Her poem The Answer suggests that he "shock the sex no more"
and points out that women "rule the world" because men are "slaves to ev'ry
tempting face"! Thomas Gray attends Peterhouse College, Cambridge. Gray writes his
first extant poem, Lines Spoken by John Dennis at the Devil Tavern, and
sends a copy to Horace Walpole. Lady Mary
Wortley Montagu accuses Jonathan Swift of impotence in a satirical poem!
1735 Samuel Johnson, 25, marries a well-to-do widow who is 21 years older and opens a private school
the next year; one of his
pupils, David Garrick, would become a famous actor. Horace Walpole joins Thomas
Gray at Cambridge. Richard West matriculates from Christ Church, Oxford, at age
nineteen. The death of John Arbuthnot.
1736 The birth of the Scottish poet James Macpherson
His work would influence major figures of Romanticism like Goethe and Walter
Scott. Macpherson was the first Scottish poet to gain an international
reputation; he did so primarily by passing off poems he wrote as
"translations" of an ancient Gaelic poet he invented, "Ossain."
While Macpherson has been accused of being a "forger," if he actually wrote the
poems how can that be forgery? At the worst, it seems he can only be accused of
misrepresentation. Voltaire begins correspondence with Frederick the Great, then Crown
Prince of Prussia. Thomas Gray's "Hymeneal" on the marriage of the Prince of Wales is published in the Cambridge
1737 Samuel Johnson and David Garrick move to London. Johnson finds employment
with Edward Cave of the Gentleman's Magazine and is able to bring his
wife to London. Around this time Johnson befriends the poet Richard Savage.
1738 Samuel Johnson publishes his long poem London, a verse satire in
imitation of Juvenal, and begins work on his tragedy Irene. Thomas Gray leaves Cambridge without a degree.
1739 Thomas Gray and Horace Walpole visit France and Italy together, on a
two-year Grand Tour during which they winter with Horace Mann.
Christopher Smart is admitted to Pembroke College, Cambridge as a sizar. A book titled Woman not Inferior to Man is published by an
unknown author; it has been attributed to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.
1740 Around this time a teen-aged George Washington pens anguished
love poems; one laments: "Ah!
Woe's me that I should love and conceal,/ Long have I wish'd, but never dare
reveal." Samuel Richardson's sentimental novel Pamela; or, Virtue
Rewarded has been deemed an influence on English Romanticism and the
evolution of the novel in English. The birth of James Boswell, (1740-1795), who would write a famous
biography of Samuel Johnson. James Thomson writes the lyrics of "Rule
Britannia" as part of a masque, Alfred, which he wrote in collaboration with
David Mallet. The masque was performed at the country home of Frederick, Prince
of Wales, who awarded Thomson a pension of £100 per annum.
1741 Thomas Gray and Horace Walpole have a falling-out, and Gray returns to
England. It will be years before they reconcile. Gray becomes a professor at Cambridge
and begins writing his only tragedy, Agrippina. William Cowper attends Westminster School, where he
becomes adept at Latin composition, including verse.
1742 Thomas Gray at age 25 completes his first important poems, including Ode on the
Spring, Ode to Adversity and Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton
College, and begins writing his masterpiece,
Elegy Written in
a Country Churchyard. He would not complete it until 1750. Gray's famous
elegy may have been inspired by the death of his friend and fellow poet Richard
West in 1742. They were the same age, both being born in 1716.
While at Oxford, William Collins publishes the Persian Eclogues.
1743 Voltaire is
sent to Frederick the Great's court by the French government as an envoy/spy. On a visit to Paris the same year, Voltaire finds a new love
interesthis niece, Marie Louise Mignot. He did live in interesting times, or
perhaps he made them interesting. Thomas Gray earns a Bachelor of Law
Degree and makes his permanent residence at Cambridge, where he is close to
Thomas Warton. The publication of Robert Blair's blank verse poem The Grave,
which has been credited with helping to create the "graveyard school of poetry."
William Collins graduates from Magdalen College, Oxford.
1744 The early limerick "Hickory Dickory Dock" appears in Tom Thumb's Pretty
Songbook. William Collins publishes Epistle: Addrest to Sir Thomas
Hanmer on his Edition of Shakespeares Works, containing "Dirge in
Cymbeline." Alexander Pope dies.
1745 Voltaire is appointed Royal Historiographer of France. Jonathan Swift
dies. Oliver Goldsmith enters Trinity College, Dublin, but neglects his studies
and ends up at the bottom of his class. Thomas Gray reconciles with Horace
1746 Samuel Johnson contracts to produce his landmark Dictionary of the
English Language. Christopher Smart earns his MA. William
Collins' Odes on Several Descriptive and Allegoric Subjects includes
"Ode to Evening" and "Ode to Fear." The former displays marked similarities to
Gray's famous Elegy, such as: "Now air is hushed, save where the weak-ey'd
bat / With short shrill shriek flits by on leathern wing, / Or where the beetle
winds / His small but sullen horn."
1747 Samuel Johnson's poem Prologue Spoken by Mr. Garrick.
Thomas Gray's Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College is published. Christopher
Smart, a spendthrift, is arrested for debts to his tailor. The birth of the
Welsh poet Edward Williams (1747-1826), better known by his bardic name Iolo
Morganwg. "His Romantic image of Wales and its past had a far-reaching effect on
the way in which the Welsh envisaged their own national identity during the
1748 Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, "after years of her poems being
sneaked into print a few at a time, without her knowledge of their publication"
was "outraged to discover that they had been sloppily edited and some of them
attributed to others when they appeared in Dodsley's Collection of Poems by
Several Hands." James Thomson writes his last major poem, The
Castle of Indolence. The poem was written in Spenserian stanzas and would influence Romantic poets to come, such
as William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, John Keats and another Scottish poet, Robert
Burns. Thomson dies later the same year.
1749 Samuel Johnson's long poem The Vanity of Human Wishes
is perhaps the last major work of the Augustans. T. S. Eliot regarded it as the
most accomplished satire in the English language. William Collins writes Ode on the Popular Superstitions
of the Highlands of Scotland, which "anticipates many of the attitudes and
interests of the Romantic poets." The birth of Johann Wolfgang
von Goethe, the great German poet who helped spark the coming
Romantic era of literature. The birth of
Charlotte Turner Smith (1749-1806), a
now-neglected English poet
and novelist who
once had her foot "firmly in the door" of Romanticism. She has been called the
"first substantial" female English poet after Mary Sidney. (Lady Montagu might
beg to disagree!) In his Poetical Works, William
Wordsworth remembered Smith as "a lady to whom English verse is under greater
obligations than are likely to be either acknowledged or remembered." Samuel
Taylor Coleridge and others credited her with revitalizing the English sonnet.
Sir Walter Scott said that in her landscapes she preserved "the truth and
precision of a painter." Such painterly landscapes would become a hallmark of
Romantic poetry and prose.
Our top ten poets of the Romantic Era:
Charlotte Turner Smith,
John Clare, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, John Keats, Percy Bysshe
Shelley, William Wordsworth, Robert Burns, William Blake
The Romantic Era (1750-1824)
"Romanticism was arguably the largest artistic movement of the late 1700s.
Its influence was felt across continents and through every artistic discipline
into the mid-nineteenth century, and many of its values and beliefs can still be
seen in contemporary poetry."
The Romantic Movement brought a sea change to the world of art, poetry,
literature and other creative endeavors. The writers and artists of the Romantic
Movement emphasized the individual, the personal, the subjective, the
imaginative, the spontaneous, the emotional, the passionate, the natural
(including appreciating and protecting the environment), the spiritual (as
opposed to dogmatic religion), the visionary, and the
transcendental. They sought to capture the Sublime, whether in the form of
ecstasy or terror. The Romantics broke away from Augustan
adornment and decorum, the "cultural authority of classical Rome" and the "dominance of the Renaissance
tradition." The most popular Romantics
with the English book-buying public were Walter Scot and Lord Byron. Poets like William Blake and John Clare were lightly
read in their day; their reputations would be established later.
Perhaps the single greatest change brought about by Romanticism was the
development of distinctive human voicesof individual
artists speaking for directly for themselves without "masks" in the form of
idyllic shepherds and other archetypes. We really don't know what Homer and
Shakespeare thought about the characters they created. But we know Romantic
poets like William Blake and Robert Burns quite intimately, if we take the time
to read them, because they spoke for themselves. They became the central
characters in their poetry.
Here is a
recap of the Romantic Era: "The third of England's 'big three' movements
completed a three-century period during which the British Isles took the Western
poetic mantle from Italy and molded the forms, styles, and poems that fill
school classrooms to this day. The Romantic period, or Romanticism, is regarded
as one of the greatest and most illustrious movements in literary history, which
is all the more amazing considering that it primarily consisted of just six [or seven]
poets and lasted approximately 25 years from William Blake's rise in the late
1790s to Lord Byron's death in 1824. The Romantics felt that the relationships
we build with nature and others defines our lives. In between, the group of
poets lived as mighty flames of poetic production who were extinguished well
before their time. The core group included Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel
Taylor Coleridge, and a magnificent trio of friends: Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe
Shelley, and John Keats."
We would add the great Scottish poet Robert
Burns to the "Big Six," making it a "Big Seven." Other
English language Romantics who deserve particular mention include Thomas Chatterton,
John Clare, William Cowper, Thomas Gray, Felicia Dorothea Hemans, Edgar Allan
Poe, Mary Robinson, Sir Walter Scott, Charlotte Turner Smith
and Robert Southey. Other English language poets who shared strong similarities
with the Romantics include Emily Bronte, Hart Crane, e. e. cummings, Emily
Dickinson, Ernest Dowson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thomas Hardy, Gerard Manley
Hopkins, Langston Hughes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Herman Melville, John
Milton, Wilfred Owen, Sylvia Plath, Kevin N. Roberts, Dante Gabriel Rossetti,
Edmund Spenser, Wallace Stevens, Algernon Charles Swinburne, Alfred Tennyson,
Dylan Thomas, Walt Whitman and William Butler Yeats. Major Romantic poets of
other languages include Charles Baudelaire (French), Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
(German), Heinrich Heine (German), Friedrich Hφlderlin (German), Victor Hugo
(French), Giacomo Leopardi (Italian), Pablo Neruda (Chilean), Novalis (German),
Alexander Pushkin (Russian), Rainer Maria Rilke (French/German), Friedrich
Schiller (German) and Rabindranath Tagore (Bengali).
1750 The French Romantic philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau becomes famous for his Discourse on the Arts and Sciences. Rousseau is a deist, a free thinker and a heretic. Another heretic,
Voltaire, moves to Prussia and becomes a salaried member of Frederick the Great's court. Samuel Johnson produces the Rambler, a periodical similar to the Spectator and
Tatler. A new edition of Edward Young's melancholic Night-Thoughts
is published; it would become a major influence on Romantics
such as William Blake and Goethe. Thomas Gray completes his masterpiece, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, one of the most perfect longer poems in the English language, if not the
most perfect. The poem breaks away from the prevailing English classical model
in important ways: (1) it follows no classical model; (2) it is set in a rural
village far from London and royal courts; (3) the speaker is solitary,
expressing his own judgment; (4) the poem validates the value of Everyman, a major Romantic theme.
Gray's poem may well be the first great work of English Romanticism. In any
case, it became the most celebrated and reprinted poem of
its era, and rightly so. And it has been called "probably still today the
best-known and best-loved poem in English."
1751 Denis Diderot's Encyclopaedia is published between 1751 and 1772
(in 17 volumes of text and 11 volumes of engravings). Diderot began work on the Encyclopaedia in
1746. It occupied more than twenty years of his life. Many of the contributors
were radical thinkers who embodied the ideals of reason and enlightenment that
led to the revolution in France. The Encyclopaedia was compiled and
written under constant threat of censorship and surveillance. During his
editorship Diderot was arrested and imprisoned for three months. Its motivating
principles were freedom of thought and criticism of authority, and it was
written in a language intended for everyone's understanding. Engels wrote of
him, "If ever anybody dedicated his whole life to the enthusiasm for truth and
justice...it was Diderot." Important contributors included Diderot, Voltaire,
Rousseau, Montesquieu and Louis de Jaucourt. Thomas Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard
is published by Richard Dodsley and becomes a "literary sensation." Christopher Smart
publishes as "Mrs. Mary Midnight" in the literary magazine The Midwife.
1752 The birth of the English poet
Thomas Chatterton, called the "marvellous
by William Wordsworth in his poem "Resolution and Independence." Wordsworth named Chatterton one of his primary influences
even though Chatterton died at age seventeen. John Keats called Chatterton the
"purest writer in the English language." Samuel Taylor Coleridge worked on his
"Monody on the Death of Chatterton" for over forty
years; it was his
first published poem at age thirteen and he was still revising it toward the end
of his career. Chatterton has been called the first
Encyclopζdia Britannica called Chatterton the "chief poet of the
18th-century Gothic literary revival, England's youngest writer of mature verse,
and precursor of the Romantic Movement." Voltaire has a falling-out with Frederick the Great, leaves his court, then is
detained by Frederick's agents for three weeks over the return of a poetry book!
Voltaire publishes Micromιgas, perhaps the earliest science fiction
short story about space travel. The birth of Philip Freneau; his poetry would
express sympathy for Native Americans.
1753 Phillis Wheatley, the first notable African-American poet, is born
somewhere in Africa, perhaps in Senegal.
1754 Voltaire is banned from France by Louis XV, and he is unwelcome in
Germany, so he takes up residence in Geneva, Switzerland. However, he has a
falling-out with Calvinists over his plays, and he buys a large estate in Ferney
in 1758, where he will spend most of the remaining 20 years of his life (still
stirring up trouble for the state- and religious-minded). The birth of the English
poet George Crabbe (1754-1832). Lord Byron described Crabbe
as "nature's sternest painter, yet the best." Thomas Gray completes The Progress of Poesy.
1755 Charlotte Turner, age six, attends school in Chichester and studies
with the painter George Smith. Rousseau has a significant article on political economy published
in Diderot's landmark Encyclopιdie. Samuel Johnson publishes
A Dictionary of the English Language and is awarded an honorary MA
degree by Oxford, but is still not Dr. Johnson at
this time. According to Walter Jackson Bate, Samuel Johnson's Dictionary
"easily ranks as one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship, and
probably the greatest ever performed by one individual who laboured under
anything like the disadvantages in a comparable length of time." Boswell opined
that "The world contemplated with wonder so stupendous a work achieved by one
man, while other countries had thought such undertakings fit only for whole
academies." The first edition word count was 42,733.
1756 Oliver Goldsmith begins to practice medicine in London and becomes Dr.
Goldsmith. Like Christopher Smart, he seems to have spent more money on clothes
than he could afford. But as a writer he earns the friendship, admiration and
patronage of Samuel Johnson. Goldsmith also knew Horace Walpole, who called
him an "inspired idiot." Goldsmith was said to have planned to emigrate to
America, but failed because he missed his ship! Around age six or
seven Charlotte Turner begins to compose poems and submits some of them to the Lady's
Magazine, which did not print them.
1757 The birth of the English romantic poet, artist, engraver, philosopher,
mystic and visionary William Blake
(1757-1827), the son of a haberdasher. Blake was perhaps the greatest of the
English Romantic poets and one of England's greatest visual artists and engravers
to boot. He was one of the first writers to fiercely criticize the dehumanizing
influence of the industrial revolution on human cities and societies. Blake was also a mystic who claimed to see angels and saints on a daily
basis. Thomas Gray completes The Bard. Gray is offered the position of
Poet Laureate but declines it and William Whitehead is appointed the seventh
British Poet Laureate. Christopher Smart is confined to a
mental asylum, St. Luke's Hospital for Lunatics. Edmund Burke's
Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the
Beautiful would influence the Romantics. According to Burke, "the Beautiful
is that which is well-formed and aesthetically pleasing, whereas the Sublime is
that which has the power to compel and destroy us." Burke's term "Sublime"
included both ecstasy and terror. The pursuit of the Sublime would mark the
transition from the Neoclassical to the Romantic era. For some Romantics, the
pursuit of the Sublime would become something akin to the quest for the Holy
1758 Scottish poet James Macpherson, age 22, publishes The Highlander,
an epic poem in six cantos. The birth of Mary Darby Robinson (1758-1800), an English poet, dramatist,
novelist, actress and celebrity. During her lifetime she was known as "the
English Sappho." Samuel Taylor Coleridge called her "a woman of undoubted
genius." In addition to poems, she wrote eight novels, three plays, feminist
treatises, and an autobiography. "Robinson was an ardent feminist and staunch
supporter of the rights of women, convictions she displayed by living separately
from her husband and having numerous affairs." Voltaire completes his most famous work and wickedest satire, Candide,
or Optimism. Published in 1759, it lampoons the ideas that "this is the
best of all possible worlds," that "things work out for the best" and that "God
is in control." Voltaire treated the orthodox Christian faith like a very leaky
pail, as would notable Romantic and Modernist poets to come. Samuel Johnson
begins to publish a weekly series, The Idler.
1759 Robert Burnes (1759-1796) is born in Alloway, Scotland to a
self-educated, poverty-stricken tenant famer, William Burnes, and his wife Agnes
(nee Brown), the daughter of a tenant farmer. Robert Burnes would overcome a
hardscrabble existence to become world-famous as
Robert Burns is now generally considered to be the
greatest Scottish poet and is notable for his "lucid pathos." However,
Burns is considered more than just a great poet in Scotland. In a 2009 poll,
Scottish Television (STV) viewers voted him "the Greatest Ever Scot." It may be
proposed that Robert Burns and Thomas Chatterton became Romantic pioneers by
emancipating themselves from exhausted Augustan sophistication and decorum, via
a "visceral" return to the roots of their respective languages: Scots-English
and Anglo-Saxon English. The birth of Mary Wollstonecraft
(1759-1797), an English writer, philosopher and early advocate of women's
rights. She is best known for A Vindication of the Rights of Women. The
birth of the German poet and playwright Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805), who
would influence both German and English Romanticism. Lawrence Sterne publishes
his popular novel Tristram Shandy. The first song known to have been
written by a native-born American is "My Days Have Been So Wondrous Free" by
Francis Hopkinson (who also designed the first American flag and was a signer of
the Declaration of Independence). Samuel Johnson publishes his novella
Rasselas. The death of William Collins.
1760 The beginning of the Industrial Revolution, a significant influence on
the artists and writers of the Romantic Movement. The first publication of
Mother Goose's Melodies includes limericks like "Hickory Dickory
Dock." Christopher Smart probably writes "Jubilate Agno" around this
time while confined to a mental asylum; it's an early free
verse poem about his cat Jeoffry. Smart probably writes "A Song to David" around this time. Jupiter Hammon's "An Evening Thought: Salvation by
Christ with Penetential Cries" is the first work published by an
African-American slave. Oliver Goldsmith writes his most famous poem, "The Deserted
Village," after watching the demolition of an ancient village. In
Goldsmith's meditation on a "bold peasantry" through landscape "we have arrived
at the very frontier of Romanticism." But Goldsmith did not embrace blank verse
and metrical experiments as Romantics to come would, so perhaps he was a
"advance scout" of sorts.
1761 Rousseau's novel Julie, or the New Heloise is published. It
contains rhapsodic descriptions of nature and becomes an immense success. At age
four William Blake begins to have visions: he sees God; he sees angels in a
tree; he sees the prophet Ezekiel.
1762 The birth of the English poet and critic William Lisle Bowles
(1762-1850). Samuel Johnson receives a royal pension. Rousseau's Emile, or on Education is published. Because it
denies original sin and divine revelation, both Catholic and Protestant
authorities take offense. In The Social Contract, Rousseau writes: "Christianity
preaches only servitude and dependence. Its spirit is so favorable to tyranny
that it always profits by such a regime. True Christians are made to be slaves,
and they know it and do not much mind: this short life counts for too little in
their eyes." The Ossian poems of the Scottish poet James Macpherson have been
cited as early Romantic work, and influenced Goethe and Walter Scott, and
perhaps William Blake as well. Macpherson's Fingal "was speedily
translated into many European languages, and its appreciation of natural beauty
and treatment of the ancient legend have been credited, more than any single
work, with bringing about the Romantic movement in European, and especially in
German literature." The death of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.
Montagu's daughter, Lady Bute, destroyed Montagu's diaries, but "there is still
a considerable amount of primary material relating to her career." Montagu's Letters
and Works were published in 1837. Montagu's octogenarian granddaughter Lady
Louisa Stuart contributed (anonymously) an introductory essay
called "Biographical Anecdotes of Lady M. W. Montagu," in which Stuart was
obviously troubled by her grandmother's focus on sexual intrigues and did not
see her "Account of the Court of George I at his Accession" as history. However,
Montagu's historical observations prove quite accurate when put in context. A.
M. Juster has called Montagu "the best female poet in English until the 19th
century." Other candidates include the anonymous authors of "Wulf and Eadwacer"
and "The Wife's Lament" (both c. 990), Anne Askew (1521-1546), Queen Elizabeth I
(1533-1603), Isabella Whitney (c. 1545-1573), Mary Sidney (1568-1621), Mary
Wroth (c. 1587-1651), Anne Bradstreet (c 1612-1672), Margaret Cavendish
(1623-1673), Katherine Phillips (1632-1664), Aphra Behn (c. 1640-1689), Annie
Finch (1661-1720), Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762), Mary Leapor
(1722-1746), Anna Laetitia Barbauld (1743-1825), Hannah Moore (1745-1833),
Charlotte Turner Smith (1749-1806), Phyllis Wheatley (1753-1784), Helen Maria Williams
(1761-1827), Joanna Baillie (1762-1851), Mary Tighe (1772-1810), Felicia
Dorothea Hemans (1793-1835), Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861), Emily
Bronte (1818-1848) and Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
1763 Christopher Smart is released from the mental
asylum where he had spent more than half a decade. Around this time another
important poet of the period, William Cowper, is institutionalized for insanity. James Boswell
meets Samuel Johnson in a London bookstore and will later write a famous
biography about him. Around the tender age of ten, Thomas Chatterton
writes his first poem, On the Last Epiphany, or Christ Coming to
Judgment. It appeared in Felix Farley's Bristol Journal on Jan. 8,
1763. Another early poem The Churchwarden and the Apparition, A Fable also appears in
the Bristol Journal. At age eleven Chatterton also writes a hymn.
1764 Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto has been called an early
Romantic work and the first gothic novel, due to its combining of horror and
romance. The birth of the English writer Ann Radcliffe
(1764-1823), perhaps the most famous of the pioneering gothic novelists. For
John Keats she was "Mother Radcliffe" and for Walter Scott "the first poetess of
romantic fiction." Thomas Chatterton,
another author with gothic leanings, around age eleven writes Apostate
Will, Sly Dick and I've Let My Yard and Sold My Clay. The Literary
Club is formed; members will include Joseph Banks, Thomas Boswell, Edmund Burke,
Charles Burney, Charles James Fox, David Garrick, Edward Gibbon, Oliver
Goldsmith, Samuel Johnson, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Adam
Smith, and William Windham.
1765 Oliver Goldsmith publishes his Essays and his popular novel The Vicar of Wakefield
the following year. Two important works appear in London printings that galvanize interest in
the ancient ballads: James MacPhersons The Works of Ossian, the Son
of Fingala combined two-volume edition of his earlier published fragments
and epic poetryand Thomas Percys Reliques of Ancient English Poetry.
Charlotte Turner's father marries her off at age fifteen to the violent and
profligate Benjamin Smith; forty years later she
will accuse her father of having turned her into a "legal prostitute."
Samuel Johnson receives an honorary doctorate from Trinity College, Dublin. He
is finally Dr. Johnson. His long-delayed edition of Shakespeare is
published as The Plays of William Shakespeare, in Eight Volumes.
1767 William Blake's parents send him to Henry Pars Drawing School around age
ten; he would go on to become a master engraver. Around the same time,
Thomas Chatterton becomes a scrivener (clerk) to a Bristol attorney. By age
fifteen, if not earlier, Chatterton was writing poems in an antique style and
language, pretending to have "found" the work of a 15th century monk named
Thomas Rowley. But when his employer catches Chatterton writing poetry, he tears
it up! The birth of the German poet and critic August Wilhelm Schlegel
(1767-1845), a leading figure within early German Romanticism along with his
brother Friedrich Schlegel (1772-1869). August Schlegel would translate works of
Shakespeare and the Bhagavad Gita into German.
1768 Thomas Gray's collected Poems are published.
1769 Most of Thomas Chatterton's so-called Rowley poems are completed by 1769. Now sixteen, Chatterton offers some of his Rowley poems to Horace
Walpole, who declines to help the struggling young poet. Chatterton
writes a bitter satirical poem in reply, To Horace Walpole. (Walpole
would later say of Chatterton: "I do not believe there ever existed so masterly
a genius.") Chatterton is fired by the lawyer he works for, and moves to London
hoping to earn a living as a writer. Chatterton's Rowley poem Elinoure and
Juga is published by Town and Country Magazine (May 1769) pp
273-74. The poem was probably written when Chatterton was around age eleven or
twelve, as it is believed to be the first, or among the first, of his Rowley
compositions. Despite his youth, over a period of four months Chatterton appears
in eleven of the principal publications then in circulation: the Middlesex
Journal, the Court and City Journal, the Political Register,
the London Museum, Town and Country, the Christian,
the Universal, the Gospel, the London, the Lady's,
and the Freeholder's magazines. But some of the publishers either don't
pay him, or are tardy, and he is slowly starving to death, too proud to accept
offers of meals from his landlady. Thomas Gray completes Ode for Music.
1770 Oliver Goldsmith's most famous poem "The
Deserted Village" is published. The birth of the English Romantic poet William Wordsworth
(1770-1850), the first and foremost of the Lake Poets. Herbert Read opined that
no poet is as rich in "music and magic" as Wordsworth. Thomas Chatterton commits suicide by drinking arsenic in a rented
room in Holborn at age seventeen.
Of all the Romantic poets who died young, he was the first and the youngest. Chatterton would
later be mentioned and/or commemorated by some of the most famous Romantic poets:
William Blake, Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley
and Walter Scott. Keats dedicated "Endymion" to his memory. Robert Southey
edited Chatterton's posthumous collection of poems. Dante Gabriel Rossetti
called him "the absolutely miraculous Chatterton" and declared him to be "as
great as any English poet whatever." Thomas Warton said that Chatterton was "a
prodigy of genius, and would have proved the first of English poets had he
reached a maturer age." Dr. Samuel Johnson said of Chatterton, "This is the most
extraordinary young man that has encountered my knowledge." Edmond Malone
declared him to be "the greatest genius that England has produced since the days
of Shakespeare." Samuel Taylor Coleridge said that his friend Wordsworth
was only able to determine two "native" or "born" poets: Chatterton and Robert
Burns. (It would eventually be determined that many of Chatterton's
poems were "reverse forgeries." He wrote the poems himself, in an antique
language, then pretended to have "found" the work of an ancient monk named
But then Chatterton was not a "forger" because his poems were his own original
compositions! It would also be determined that James Macpherson had done the same thing
pretending to have "found" poems written by an ancient bard called Ossian.
Later, William Henry Ireland would claim to have "found" poems written by
1771 The birth of the Scottish romantic poet and novelist Walter Scott
(1771-1832), who has been called "the greatest single influence on fiction in
the 19th century." Thomas Gray dies, is buried in the Stoke Poges church
graveyard of his famous Elegy, and will have a monument erected at Poet's Corner in
Westminster Abbey in 1978, close to those of two poets he greatly
admired, John Milton and Edmund Spenser. The unlucky Christopher Smart ends up
confined again, this time in debtor's prison, where he dies. The birth of
Dorothy Woodworth (1771-1885), the sister of William Wordsworth and a writer in
her own right.
1772 The birth of the English Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge
One of the Lake Poets and a close friend of William Wordsworth, he would also be a major literary critic. Around age sixteen, William Blake
engraves Joseph of Arimathea, a work that articulates many of the principles
and influences from which he would draw inspiration for the rest of his life.
George Crabbe wins a poetry contest on the subject of hope sponsored by a lady's
1773 Phillis Wheatley's Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral is the first book of poetry by an
Afro-American slave; her poetry was praised by George Washington and John
Hancock. Mary Darby, age fifteen, meets the actor David Garrick and is persuaded
to act and sing. Oliver
Goldsmith's popular play She Stoops to Conquer is first performed.
Robert Burns, who has been mostly home-schooled by his father, writes his first poem around age 15,
while working on his father's farm.
Burns gets his start as a "romantic" poet and enterprising ladies' man by writing love poems to Nelly Kilpatrick.
The first once we know about is "O once I lov'd (a bonnie lass)."
1774 The birth of the English Romantic poet Robert Southey (1774-1843), one of the Lake
Poets and a future English Poet Laureate. Southey was also a prolific
biographer, letter writer, literary scholar, translator, essayist and historian. William Cowper's Lines Written
During a Period of Insanity. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe publishes
The Sorrows of Young Werther, perhaps the first major work of
German Romanticism; it has also been called the first "best-seller" and made
Goethe a celebrity at age 24. The death of Oliver Goldsmith. Mary Darby marries
Thomas Robinson, becoming Mary Robinson. Later that year the newlyweds and their
just-born baby end up King's Bench debtors' prison.
1775 British troops sing "Yankee Doodle" to mock American colonists; the
colonists defiantly adopt the song as their own. Robert Burns writes two songs
for Peggy Thompson: "Now Westlin' Winds" and "I Dream'd I Lay." The birth of the
novelist Jane Austen (1775-1817), author of Mansfield Park, Persuasion,
Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Emma. The birth of
the English poet Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864). Landor would combine Romantic
enthusiasms and sentiments with "the most classical pen of his day."
His guides among the ancient poets included Sappho, Ovid and Catullus. Landor has been called a
"poet's poet" and his work was admired by Ezra Pound, William
Wordsworth, W. B. Yeats and Robert
Frost, among others. Thomas
Tyrwhitt publishes an edition of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in which he
"solves the riddle" of pronouncing the feminine "e" in Chaucer's verse.
Dr. Samuel Johnson receives a second honorary doctorate: this one from his alma mater,
Oxford. George Crabbe self-publishes his long poem Inebriety, then
claims to be ashamed of most of it. Mary Robinson publishes Poems.
1776 The American colonies defiantly declare independence with words
written in ringing iambic pentameter by Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin: "We
hold these truths to be self-evident ..." Mary Robinson is out of
debtors' prison and plays Juliet at Drury Lane Theatre.
1777 Thomas Tyrwhitt presses for the publication of the "Thomas Rowley" poems,
but eventually concludes that they were actually the original work of Thomas
Chatterton. Dr. Samuel Johnson begins work on his Lives of the Poets.
1778 Rousseau dies. Voltaire returns from exile to receive honor in Paris,
in the form of the adoration of the masses, then also dies. The birth of William
Hazlitt (1778-1830), perhaps the foremost literary critic of his day, and a
friend of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. At age six, Coleridge
has read Belisarius (a Roman general), Robinson Crusoe, Philip
Quarll and Arabian Nights. Mary Robinson appears
in a musical farce of her own writing, The Lucky Escape.
1779 William Blake is admitted to the Royal Academy Schools and studies art
under Sir Joshua Reynolds (although Blake had very little positive to say about
Reynolds or his aesthetic theories). Blake meets Thomas Stothard and John
Flaxman, forming, in Akroyds phrase, "a little club or community of shared
interests. They were all sons of London tradesmen, all in love with the gothic
past, all reading Chatterton and Ossian with profound interest." Robert
Burns writes four songs for Alison Begbie, but she rejects his offers of
marriage. William Cowper
has become friends with John Newton, the former slave ship captain who wrote the
hymn "Amazing Grace." Newton encourages Cowper and he writes hymns published in
the Olney Hymns. Two of Cowper's most famous hymns, still being sung
today, are the ones that begin "There is a fountain filled with blood" and "Oh!
for a closer walk with God." Mary Robinson, age 21, plays Perdita in
The Winter's Tale and catches the eye of the 17-year-old Prince of Wales
(the future King George IV); he offers her 20,000 pounds to become his mistress!
It would be a short and scandalous affair, covered by paparazzi who call her "Perdita."
1781 Edmund Burke helps George Crabbe publish his long poem The Library.
Burke helps Crabbe secure employment as a chaplain. Robert Burns becomes a
1782 Rousseau's Confessions (published posthumously). George
Washington defeats Cornwallis at Yorktown and the American colonies are
independent at last.
1783 Blake's first collection of poems, Poetical Sketches, is published
with the help
of John Flaxman. George Crabbe's first major work and popular poem,
The Village. Walter Scott
enters the University of Edinburgh at age twelve, meets the blind poet Thomas Blacklock, and is introduced by the older poet to the Ossian poems of James
Macpherson. Charlotte Turner Smith writes Elegiac Sonnets while in
debtors' prison with her husband. The book's financial success
allows her buy back her family's freedom. Her sonnets would eventually appear in
nine editions, fill two volumes, and help create a revival of
interest in the English sonnet. All her writing would
be published under her own name, "a daring decision" for a woman at the time.
Walter Savage Landor becomes a boarder at Rugby School, where he excells in
Latin translation and composition and "rebelliousness." (He would be expelled at
age fifteen for insubordination.)
1784 Phillis Wheatley dies. Dr. Samuel Johnson dies and is buried at the
Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey. William Blake composes the unfinished An
Island in the Moon. Robert Burnes becomes Robert Burns when his family
changes the spelling of its last name. He meets Jean Armour, his future wife. Charlotte Turner Smith's husband Benjamin
Smith flees to France to escape his creditors. She joins him in France, begins
translating French works into English, and is able to help him return to
England the following year.
1785 The birth of the English poet Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866). The birth
of the English essayist and journalist Thomas de Quincey (1785-1859), who would
be associated with the Lake Poets. Robert Burns has an affair with Margaret
Campbell (aka "Highland Mary"), another affair with Jean Armour, who will soon
be pregnant with twins, and a child out of wedlock by his mother's servant
Elizabeth Paton. Burns writes "To a Mouse." Thomas Warton is appointed
the fourth British Poet Laureate.
1786 Robert Burns has the poems "To a Mouse," "To a Louse," "A Winter Night" and "To a
Mountain Daisy" published in Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect.
Some of the poems, such as "Holy Willie's Prayer" and "The Holy Fair," mock
Scottish Calvinism and the clergy. Burns experiences immediate success and is
soon widely known as a poet in Scotland. The book sells out in a month. Burns
abandons his plan to emigrate to Jamaica and instead travels to Edinburgh to
pursue publication of a second edition of his poems. He enters into a "form of
wedlock" with Jean Armour, who bears him twins, but her father does not approve
and faints at the thought of her marrying the heretical Burns! Mary Campbell
dies giving birth to Burns's child. William Cowper begins his translation of
Homer's epic poems into blank verse. William Wordsworth writes his first poem
around age sixteen.
1787 William Wordsworth has a sonnet published in The European Magazine.
He enters St. John's College, Cambridge, but does not distinguish himself.
Charlotte Turner Smith leaves her husband, because "his temper had been so
capricious and often so cruel" that her "life was not safe." She
would turn to writing novels to support her twelve children, two of whom did not
survive to adulthood. William Blake's beloved brother Robert Blake dies. Blake
would describe watching his brother's spirit rise through the ceiling, "clapping
its hand for joy." Robert Burns has a second edition of his poems published
in Edinburgh. This edition makes him famous in England and internationally. He
meets James Johnson and agrees to contribute songs to the Scots Musical
Museum. Burns would travel around Scotland collection "airs" and end up
contributing around a third of the 600 songs published by 1803. Burns has
another child, this time by May Cameron.
1788 Charlotte Turner Smith publishes her first novel, Emmeline, and
it's a success, quickly selling 1,500 copies. She would publish nine more novels
over the next ten years. Smith challenged the norms of the
women's fiction of her day by incorporating political commentary, "narratives of
female desire" and "tales of females suffering despotism" (as she had
herself). Smith's life experiences prompted her to argue for legal reforms that
would grant women more rights, and she made the case for such reforms through
her novels, which were largely autobiographical. Smith's groundbreaking
work contributed to the development of the novel of sensibility and
Gothic fiction. Smith's novels were satirized by Jane Austen in Northanger
Abbey, but Austen has been accused of emulating Smith. Noah Webster publishes The American Spelling Book. The birth of the English romantic poet George Gordon, Lord Byron
(1788-1824), the son of Captain "Mad Jack" Byron and Catherine Gordon. Goethe
called Byron "undoubtedly the greatest genius of our century." Byron
would invent the Byronic hero, patterned after himself. Unfortunately, he had a
Calvinist nanny who filled him with forebodings of hell and damnation. William
Blake invents the stereotype or infernal method of creating illuminated
books, which requires him to learn to write backwards. He publishes All
Religions Are One and There Is No Natural Religion. Blake can now publish his own illuminated books without
bowing to the prejudices of the day. And because he kept all his copper plates,
his books have been preserved to this day. William Cowper writes his poem "The
Negro's Complaint," which will be quoted by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the
days of the American Civil Rights Movement. Robert Burns writes "Auld Lang Syne"
as a poem, then sets it the music of a traditional Scottish folk tune. It has become one of the most popular songs in the English language.
Burns is officially married to Jean Armour and she bears him twin daughters.
Burns has another daughter with serving maid Jenny Clow. Burns moves to a farm
1789 The start of the French Revolution and the storming of the Bastille. The upheavals in France will greatly
influence the artists and writers of the Romantic Movement. William Blake's
Songs of Innocence is published; the poems include "The Lamb," "Holy
Thursday" and "The Little Black Boy." Blake illustrates and
engraves every page himself. Blake was unique among Christian poets in that he
located innocence in the individual's childhood, rather than in the human race's
childhood (i.e., Adam and Eve). Blake also publishes The Book of Thel.
Robert Burns begins to work as an excise officer. The birth of the American novelist James Fenimore Cooper (17891851), whose
historical romances of frontier and Indian life such as The Last of the
Mohicans would help create a unique form of American literature.
1790 Samuel Taylor Coleridge's first published poem, at age 18, is "Monody on
the Death of Thomas Chatterton." Coleridge said that he wrote the initial lines
at age thirteen; he worked on the poem over a period of nearly fifty years,
revising it at least six times. The final version was published just before his
death in 1834. Robert Burns writes his satirical
masterpiece Tam O' Shanter. Around this time Walter Scott begins
collecting ballads. Henry James Pye is appointed the ninth British Poet
1791 Charlotte Turner Smith becomes involved with English radicals; she writes
an epistolary novel, Desmond, whose protagonist supports the French
Revolution and contends that England should be reformed as well. Mary Robinson
publishes Poems by Mary Robinson. The subscription list of 600 is
headed by her old flame, His Royal Highness, George, Prince of Wales. Robert Burns
writes "Ae Fond Kiss" and publishes Tam O' Shanter. Burns has another
out-of-wedlock child with barmaid Anna Park and an in-wedlock child with his
wife. Thomas Paine's Rights
of Man. Voltaire's remains are
brought to Paris for entombment in the Pantheon; the procession is attended by a
million people. William Wordsworth earns a BA from St. John's College,
Cambridge. Samuel Taylor Coleridge enters Jesus College, Cambridge; he does not
complete his degree. Captain "Mad Jack" Byron dies of consumption (tuberculosis)
in France after abandoning his family; in his will he declares his
three-year-old son financially responsible for his debts! Thomas Boswell's Life
of Samuel Johnson, LL.D is published.
1792 Robert Burns becomes a member of the Royal Company of Archers. Burns
publishes the abolitionist song "The Slave's Lament" along with a number of
popular songs. From 1792 till his death in 1796, Burns would publish songs that
helped make him justly famous: "Ae Fond Kiss," "Auld Lang Syne," "A Red, Red
Rose," "Mary Morison," "Highland Mary," "Duncan Gray," "John Anderson, My Jo,"
"Scots Wha Hae Wi' Wallace Bled," "A Man's a Man for A' That," "Ye Banks and
Braes o' Bonie Doon" and "Green Grow the Rashes, O." The birth of the English romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley
(1792-1822); his father, Sir Timothy Shelley, was a baronet and MP.
Robert Graves described Shelley as a "volatile creature of air and fire." Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women. In an
interesting synchronicity, Percy Bysshe Shelley would marry Mary
Wollstonecraft's daughter, who would become famous as Mary
Shelley for writing the gothic horror novel Frankenstein. Mary Robinson
publishes a Gothic novel Vancenza; or The Dangers of Credulity. The
books were "sold out by lunch time on the first day and five more editions
quickly followed, making it one of the top-selling novels in the latter part of
the eighteenth century." Robert Southey enters Balliol College, Oxford, but
will not earn a degree there. Apparently his main activities were swimming and
1793 The French Terror; Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette are executed. Charlotte Turner Smith publishes a book of poems, The Emigrants.
She also publishes a novel, The Old Manor House, that is set during the
American Revolutionary War and allows her to discuss democratic reform. Robert Burns publishes his Select Collection of Scottish Airs.
William Wordsworth publishes "An Evening Walk" and "Descriptive Sketches." The births of the English
Romantic poets John Clare (1793-1864) and Felicia Dorothea Hemans
Browne (1793-1835). Clare's biographer Jonathan Bate called him "the greatest labouring-class poet that
England has ever produced. No one has ever written more powerfully of nature, of
a rural childhood, and of the alienated and unstable self." Although Clare was
best known in the past for being a rough-hewn "peasant poet" who was deemed
"mad" and confined to an
insane asylum, he has more recently been proposed as a major poet. In any case,
there can be no doubt that he wrote a number of remarkable poems. Clare was born
into a peasant family in the small English village of Helpston to "virtually
illiterate" parents. Felicia Hemans
was a child prodigy who had a book of poems published at age fourteen. She
earned the interest of Percy Bysshe Shelley, who corresponded with her, and
poetic tributes from William Wordsworth and Walter Savage Landor. Landor enters
Trinity College, Oxford, where he is known as a "mad Jacobin" because he was
"taken with ideas of French republicanism." (In his second year Landor
would be suspended for shooting at a student's windows during prayers. He did
not return to Oxford, quarreled with his father and went to live in London,
where he entered into private study of French, Italian, and Greek.) William Blake
denounces the subjugation of women and defends their right to complete fulfilment in his Visions of the Daughters of Albion.
Blake also publishes America, a Prophecy, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and The Gates
of Paradise. Samuel Taylor Coleridge has poems published in the Morning Chronicle. The birth of the English poet John Anster (17931867), best
known for his translations of parts of Goethe's Faust.
1794 The birth of William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878), one of the first
notable "home-grown" American poets, in a log cabin near Cummington,
Massachussets. Bryant would be the first American poet to make a point of his
American-ness, helping to set the stage for poets to come like Walt Whitman. He
helped create an American brand of Romanticism that consciously sought
independence from its English and Continental peers. William Blake's Songs of Experience is published; the poems include "The
Sick Rose," "London" and "The Tyger." According
to the Chicago Tribune, Blake's "The
Tyger" is the most anthologized poem in the English language.
Blake also publishes Europe, a Prophecy. The most famous of these images, that of an ancient man
kneeling down from a red orb, measuring the abyss below him with a compass, is
called the "Ancient of Days." It was inspired by a vision that allegedly hovered before Blake
at the top of his staircase in Lambeth. Blake also publishes The First Book
of Urizen. Samuel Taylor Coleridge meets Robert
Southey. Southey publishes his first collection of poems. Coleridge begins taking
opium for a toothache.
1795 Charlotte Turner Smith begins to publish children's books with Rural
Walks. The births of the English romantic poet John Keats
(1795-1821) and the Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881). William
Wordsworth meets Samuel Taylor Coleridge; neighbors in Somerset, they would
become friends and collaborators. Coleridge and Robert Southey marry sisters:
Sara and Edith Fricker. A third sister, Mary Fricker, would marry a third poet,
Robert Lovell. Coleridge writes his first mature poem, "The Eolian Harp." Walter Savage Landor publishes his first book,
The Poems of Walter Savage Landor, at age twenty, then suppresses it because of its "simplistic and
fashionable political enthusiasms." William Blake publishes The Book of
Los, The Song of Los and The Book of Ahania. Ann Radcliffe publishes her popular
The Mysteries of Udolpho, which has been called "the archetypal Gothic
novel." The birth of the English physician and writer John William Polidori
(1795-1821), who will become Lord Byron's personal doctor and create the vampire
genre of fantasy fiction with his short story The Vampyre.
1796 Robert Burns dies in Dumfries at age 37; his youngest son is born to his
wife on the day of his funeral and she is thus unable to attend. It is believed
that Burns had fourteen children by six mothers, with his wife bearing nine of
them. Burns would be honored with a white marble bust at Poet's
Corner in Westminster Abbey, close to Shakespeare's monument. James Macpherson,
the next-most-famous Scottish poet of the century,
dies and is also interred at Westminster Abbey. According to Charles
Fraser-Mackintosh, the "forger" of the Ossian poems bought the right to be
buried in Westminster Abbey! Walter Scott, who had met Burns in person as a
boy, begins to publish his poetry and soon becomes famous for it. Walter Savage
Landor meets Rose Aylmer in Swansea; one of his most famous poems, a touching
elegy, would bear her name as its title. Samuel Taylor
Coleridge publishes his first poetry collection, Poems on Various Subjects,
which includes four poems by Charles Lamb and a sonnet collaboration with Robert
Southey. Southey's epic poem Joan of Arc is published. Southey also
writes one of the earliest anti-war poems, After Blenheim Coleridge
publishes a periodical with Universalist leanings, The Watchman.
1797 Robert Southey's poem "Winter" is published along with his
poetry collection Poems. Samuel Taylor Coleridge writes
his best-known poems: "The Rime of the Ancient
Mariner," "Kubla Khan," "Frost at Midnight" and "Christabel." While Coleridge is writing "Kubla
Khan," a poem that came to him in an opium dream, a "person from Porlock" shows up,
interrupts the poet, and the poem is never completed. And yet it becomes one of the
most famous poems in the English language! The birth of the English novelist
Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (1797-1851). She would be the future wife of the
Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and write the "scientific Gothic" novel Frankenstein.
The death of the Scottish poet James Macpherson.
1798 Lyrical Ballads, written primarily by William
Wordsworth with four contributions by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, is published. This book becomes the foundational text
of the English Romantic Movement. The longest poem included is Coleridge's dark
gothic ballad "The Rime of the Ancient
Mariner." It would become the most popular poem in the book and inspire other poems in a similar vein.
The climatic poem is Wordsworth's blank verse poem "Tintern Abbey." Coleridge meets William Hazlitt. Charlotte Turner
Smith publishes her last and most radical novel, The Young Philosopher.
Its protagonist leaves Britain for America, because there is no hope for a
reform in Britain. Walter Savage Landor publishes Gebir: A Poem in Seven
1799 Charlotte Turner Smith's play What Is She? Mary Robinson's A
Letter to the Women of England, on the Injustice of Mental Subordination. After touring Europe with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William
and Dorothy Wordsworth set up house at the Dove Cottage in England's Lake
District. Robert Southey lived nearby, and the poets would collectively be known
as the "Lake Poets." In 1799 Southey and Coleridge are involved in
early experiments with nitrous oxide (laughing gas) conducted by the Cornish scientist Humphry Davy. William Wordsworth begins work on his
autobiographical poem The Prelude, which has been called his "poem to
Coleridge." Byron's uncle, the "Wicked Lord" William Byron, dies.
Ten-year-old George Gordon Byron becomes the sixth Baron Byron. The family is
instantly elevated from poverty to nobility. The newly-appointed young baron and
his mother move from Aberdeen to the Newstead Abbey in England.
1800 The deaths of William Cowper and Mary Robinson. William Wordsworth writes "Michael."
Samuel Taylor Coleridge becomes a houseguest of the Wordsworths. William Blake
moves to Felpham, where he teaches himself Hebrew, Greek, Latin and Italian.
Blake begins work on Milton.
1801 Byron enters Harrow, a boys' boarding school in Middlesex. Walter Savage
Landor publishes a "hoax pamphlet" of nine short poems, Poems from the
Arabic and Persian, purporting them to be based on French translations when
they were actually his originals. The birth of
William Barnes (1801-1866), an English poet, priest and philologist. Mary
Robinson's memoirs are published posthumously as Memoirs of the Late Mrs.
Robinson, Written by Herself, With Some Posthumous Pieces.
1802 Samuel Taylor Coleridge writes his last major poem at age thirty:
"Dejection: an Ode." William Wordsworth begins writing his ode "Intimations of
Immortality" around this time. It has been described as a "tour de force" and
may be his best work. Sir Walter Scott publishes a nationalist collection of ballads, Minstrelsy
of the Scottish Border. Walter Savage Landor goes to France, sees Napoleon,
and retracts his former praise of the tyrant. In Bath, where he moves in
fashionable circles, Landor meets and falls in love with Jane Sophia Swift, the
"Ianthe" of a good number of his love poems.
1803 The Louisiana Purchase means the United States is suddenly a
LOT bigger. Ralph Waldo Emerson
(1803-1882), an influential American poet and philosopher, is
born. He would be a mentor to Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman. The
Napoleonic Wars begin when Great Britain declares war on France. Charlotte
Turner Smith becomes so destitute and ill that she can barely hold a pen; she
sells her books to pay off her debts, but lives in fear that she will be sent
back to debtor's prison for the remaining balance of twenty pounds! While home
for the summer holiday, Byron falls in love with his cousin Mary Chaworth. He
refuses to return to Harrow and withdraws for a few months to be closer to her.
The birth of the English poet Thomas Lovell Beddoes (1803-1849), author of
Death's Jest Book and called the "prince of the morticians" by Ezra Pound.
Robert Southey edits the complete works of Thomas Chatterton.
1804 The birth of Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881), a future Prime Minister of
England and author of socio-political novels. The birth of Nathaniel Hawthorne
(1804-1864), an American writer of darkly romantic novels and short stories. William Blake begins work on
Jerusalem. Blake is accused of high treason after
giving a soldier a hard time, but is acquitted. Lewis and Clark explore
uncharted areas of the American West, writing and sketching as they go. Percy
Bysshe Shelley enrolls at Eton College, where he is soon know as "Mad Shelley"
and is subjected to extreme bullying ("mob torment")
for his eccentric ways. His classmates called these incidents "Shelley baits."
1805 Sir Walter Scott's long narrative poem The Lay of the Last Minstrel made him
famous initially, although he is more famous today as a novelist. Poems
written by Lord Byron at age 14 are published in Fugitive Pieces, but
the book is recalled and burned because some of the poems are too "hot,"
especially the poem "To Mary." Byron enters Trinity College,
Cambridge. He is instantly popular, spending more time socializing, drinking,
gambling and spending money than studying. But he is crushed to learn that his
first love, Mary Chaworth, has married someone else. John Clare, son of a poor
farm laborer, leaves the Glinton Church school at age twelve; he will work as a
farm laborer, as a potboy in a public house, as a gardener, as a lime burner, as
a soldier, and even travel with gypsies. Malnutrition as a child may have
accounted for his small stature (five-foot) and health problems. Clare was
inspired to write his first poem, "The Morning Walk," after reading James
1806 Lord Byron republishes Fugitive Pieces privately as Poems on
Various Occasions, then in a public printing as Hours of Idleness.
The book is savaged by the
Edinburgh Review. The birth of the English poet Elizabeth Barrett (1806-1861), who would
marry the poet Robert Browning and become better known as Elizabeth Barrett
Browning. The birth of the English philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). The
death of Charlotte Turner Smith. Her Beachy Head and Other Poems would
be published posthumously in 1807. Stuart Curran, the editor of Smith's poems,
called her "the first poet in England whom in retrospect we would call
Romantic." She helped shape the "patterns of thought and conventions of style"
for the period, and William Wordsworth admired and was influenced by her
Romantic poetry. She has also been credited with the revitalization of the
English sonnet, with helping to develop "painterly prose," and with influencing
the development of gothic fiction, the novel of sensibility and modern blank
1807 Thomas Moore's Irish Melodies. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
notable American poet who would rival Alfred Tennyson in fame and popularity, is born.
For Europeans of that era, "American poetry was Longfellow." Charlotte
Turner Smith's major poem, Beachy Head, is published posthumously.
George Crabbe publishes The Parrish Register.
1808 Walter Scott publishes his epic poem Marmion. William Blake puts on his own art exhibition but is too far ahead of his
time and only sells one painting. People on the street near his home whisper,
There goes the man who talks to spirits and angels! Byron receives his degree
from Cambridge. Shortly after, he fathers his first illegitimate child with one
of the maids at Newstead Abbey. He provides an annual stipend for the mother and
child. Walter Savage Landor meets Robert Southey in Bristol and they become
friends. Southey writes Letters from England under the pseudonym Don
Manuel Alvarez Espriella, which allows him to offer a touring foreigner's
opinions of England. Southey is critical of the disparity between the England's
haves and have-nots; he argues for a change in tax policies that would foster
1809 The birth of the English poet Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892). The
birth of Edgar Allan Poe
(1809-1849), then simply Edgar Poe. His mother and father were both actors. Poe
would become a famous
American writer, editor, literary critic and romantic poet. He would also be a major influence on French
romantics and modernists, such as Charles Baudelaire. Poe would be America's
first important "theorist of verse" and the first to declare independence from
"our British grandmamma." He would argue against didacticism
and allegory in poetry, and would favor shorter poems over extended verse
narratives. In his essays Poe would attempt to both define poetry (for example:
"a wild effort to reach the beauty above") and explain how it should be
composed. Poe would prize feeling in poetry over intellect. Lord Byron responds to his
critics with his scathing satire English Bards and Scots Reviewers. Thomas de
Quincey becomes friends with William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge,
moves to the Lake District, and will live for ten years in the Dove Cottage that
had housed Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy until they required larger
1810 Walter Scott publishes his popular book of poems The Lady of the Lake.
Franz Shubert and Beethoven would later set Scott's lyrics to music. The birth
of the English social novelist Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865). William Wordsworth
and Samuel Taylor Coleridge become estranged over Coleridge's opium addiction.
Coleridge begins his acclaimed lectures on Shakespeare. Byron leaves England, swims the Hellespont, and begins composing the first two
cantos of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. Percy Bysshe Shelley enters
University College, Oxford. He is indifferent toward his studies and barely
attends class. Legend has it that he only attends one lecture while at Oxford.
Instead he reads 16 hours per day, writes subversive poetry and publishes his
first novel, the Gothic and atheistic Zastrozzi. George Crabbe publishes The Borough.
A precocious Elizabeth Barrett is writing poems at age four.
1811 The birth of the English novelist William Makepeace Thackeray
(1811-1863), author of Vanity Fair and Barry Lyndon. The
latter was turned into a movie that won four Oscars, directed and produced by
Stanley Kubrick. Byron returns to England depressed and broke. Byron's mother
Catherine Gordon dies. He soon receives a letter informing him that a former
lover, John Edleston, died of consumption while Byron was traveling in Europe.
Byron is grief-stricken. Percy Bysshe Shelley is expelled from Oxford after he
publishes and distributes his essay The Necessity of Atheism. His baronet
father is furious. It is believed that William Cullen Bryant began working on
his famous poem "Thanatopsis" around age thirteen. The Greek title means
"meditation on death" and it was a very mature poem for a young poet to have
written regardless of his exact age.
1812 The United States and Great Britain fight the War of 1812. Edgar Poe is orphaned at age three.
He is taken in by John and Frances Allan, from whom he receives
his middle name, but they never formally adopt him. Byron publishes Books I and II of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. Byron said that
he "awoke one morning and found myself famous," outselling Jane Austen
and George Crabbe. Crabbe publishes Tales, which has been called his
masterpiece. Byron appears before the House of Lords to give his
first speech as a member of Parliament. His mistresses include Lady Caroline
Lamb and the Countess of Oxford. John Clare writes his poem "The Mores."
(Clare, who spent time in a madhouse, would later claim to be Byron!) The birth of Charles
Dickens (1812-1870), the greatest novelist of the Victorian era (and one of the
greatest of any era). Dickens was "the first great writer to tackle the
essentially modern problem of the discontents of an urban civilization."
The birth of the English poet Robert Browning (1812-1889). Browning is best
known today for his dramatic monologues. His future wife, Elizabeth Barrett,
writes her first poems at age six. Walter Savage Landor publishes his tragedy
1813 Walter Scott is offered the position of England's Poet Laureate. He
declines and his friend Robert Southey becomes the tenth British Poet Laureate (a
position he will hold for 30 years until his death in 1843). Percy Bysshe Shelley publishes
Queen Mab, a youthful work of political protest. Byron publishes The
Giaour, so popular it went through eight issues within a year. Byron's
half-sister Augusta Leigh arrives in London to stay with him while her husband
and three children holiday elsewhere. She and Byron grow extremely close,
beginning what some believe was an incestuous relationship, but evidence is
lacking. Byron also publishes
The Bride of Abydos, The Corsair and other verse adventures. Jane Austen publishes
Pride and Prejudice. The Irish poet Thomas Moore writes the popular song
"The Last Rose of Summer" which appears in his Irish Melodies.
1814 Lord Byron's poem "She Walks in Beauty (Like the
Night)" is published. Byron's half-sister Augusta Leigh gives birth to
a daughter named Elizabeth Medora Leigh. It is widely speculated that Byron is
the father. Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin meets and marries Percy Bysshe Shelley.
John Keats writes his first extant poem, "An Imitation of Spenser," at age 19.
Walter Scott begins to write novels anonymously, publishing Waverly, and has been called the father
of the historical novel. After witnessing the British bombardment of Fort
McHenry during the War of 1812, Maryland attorney Francis Scott Key writes the
poem "Defence of Fort M'Henry," which is later set to the melody of an English
drinking song, and becomes the U.S. national anthem! Walter Savage Landor leaves
England for eighteen years, and will spend much of his time in Italy. Samuel Taylor
Coleridge begins work on Biographia Literaria. Alfred Tennyson is
"moved to verse" at age five.
1815 Napoleon escapes from Elba and raises an army, but loses at Waterloo and
surrenders. This marks the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Byron publishes his poem The
Corsair. The semi-autobiographical poem is a bestseller. Byron marries an
heiress. The birth of Ada
Lovelace, also known as Ada Byron; the only legitimate child of Lord Byron, she
the future Countess of Lovelace. She has been deemed the first computer
programmer and software developer because she formulated the first algorithm for
Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine (which is generally considered to be the
first mechanical computer). The computer language Ada was named after her. Ada
Lovelance was an advocate of what she called "poetical science." Babbage called
her "Lady Fairy" and the "Enchantress of Numbers." The birth
of the English novelist Anthony Trollope (1815-1882). Percy Bysshe Shelley
begins work on Alastor: or the Spirit of Solitude. Shelley also works
on his poem "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" around this time. William Cullen
Bryant is admitted to the bar and begins practicing law in Plainfield,
Massachusetts. Bryant writes his most-anthologized poem, "To a Waterfowl,"
in December 1815, after seeing a solitary bird on the horizon while walking the
seven miles from his house in Cummington to his Plainfield law office.
1816 Samuel Taylor Coleridge publishes his poems
"Kubla Khan" and "Christabel." Walter Scott heads a team which rediscovers the
lost Regalia (Crown Jewels) of Scotland in Edinburgh Castle. The Prince Regent
rewards him with a baronetcy and he becomes Sir Walter Scott! Samuel Taylor Coleridge finally
publishes his poem "Kubla Khan" in its original, unfinished form. Drat that
person from Porlock! The birth of the English novelist Charlotte Bronte
(1816-1855). John Keats has his first published poem, "O Solitude," and writes "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer."
Lord Byron publishes Darkness, The Siege of Corinth and Parisina. John William Polidori becomes Lord Byron's personal physician and accompanies
him when he moves to Europe.
With his finances a wreck and his reputation shattered following Annabella's
accusations of abuse and incest, Byron quits England for good. He arrives in Geneva
and summers with his new lover, an
Englishwoman named Claire Clairmont, and her half-sister and brother-in-law,
Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley. The Shelleys and Byron become friends. At Byron's
suggestion, they agree to write ghost stories. Mary Shelley writes
the story that will become her famous Gothic novel Frankenstein.
Polidori borrows a character created by Byron, Augustus Darvell, and later
writes a short story, The Vampyre, which be the first modern vampire
story in English. Thus it was a very fruitful night, if a spooky one!
1817 William Cullen Bryant's poem "Thanatopsis" is published by the
North American Review. Sir Walter Scott publishes
the historical novel Rob Roy. New Orleans designates "Congo Square" as
an official site for slave music and dance. Was this a step toward the blues and
jazz? Claire Clairmont gives birth to Byron's daughter, Clara Allegra. Desperate
for cash, Byron sells Newstead Abbey and publishes the poem Manfred.
Percy Bysshe Shelley writes The Revolt of Islam. With Shelley's help,
John Keats publishes his first book of poems. At age eight, Alfred Tennyson
"covered two sided of a slate with Thomsonian blank verse in praise of flowers."
The birth of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), an American essayist, poet,
philosopher and abolitionist.
1818 The long poem Endymion by John Keats is published, as is the
famous sonnet "Ozymandias" by his friend Percy Bysshe Shelley. Shelley
also publishes his translation of Plato's Symposium and begins work on
his Prometheus Unbound. The novel Frankenstein by
his wife Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is a landmark Gothic/Romantic work, but also an early
work of science fiction, with electricity being harnessed to create life.
William Cullen Bryant's "To a Waterfowl" is published and it becomes
his most popular poem. The birth of the English novelist Emily Bronte (1818-1848), the
second of three Bronte sisters who all became notable writers. At age 65,
William Blake begins work on his illustrations of the biblical Book of Job.
Byron publishes Beppo. Elizabeth Barrett begins writing an epic Homeric
poem at age twelve, the epic Battle of Marathon.
It will be published in 1820 by her affluent father.
1819 John Keats publishes his most famous poems including "To Autumn," "Ode to a Grecian Urn," "Ode
to Psyche," "Ode on Melancholy" and "Ode to
a Nightingale." Most of Keats' best poetry was written in an
amazing single year spanning from September 1818 to September 1819. During this
period he falls in love with Isabella Jones, then Fanny Brawe, perhaps writing
"Bright Star" for the former, then revising it for the latter. Percy Bysshe
Shelley writes The Mask of Anarchy, which has been called the first
call to nonviolent resistance. Gandhi's belief in passive resistance was
inspired and influenced by Shelley's poem, and Gandhi would often quote it to
"vast audiences." Lord Byron begins
an affair with the married Countess Teresa Guiccioli and moves in with her in
Ravenna. He publishes the first two cantos of his major work, Don Juan. Sir
Walter Scott publishes his most famous historical novel, Ivanhoe, and
is paid "unprecedented sums" for his writing.
William Hazlitt's The English Comic
Writers. The birth of
Walt Whitman (1819-1892), an American romantic poet and the first great
free verse poet of the English language. The birth of the English artist and art critic John Ruskin
(1819-1900). The births of the English poet Arthur Hugh Clough (1819-1861) and the
English novelists George Eliot (1819-1880) and Charles Kingsley
(1819-1875). Also the birth of Queen Victoria. At age ten, Alfred Tennyson is
writing "hundreds and hundreds of lines in regular Popeian metre."
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, age thirteen, publishes his first poem in the
Portland Gazette, a four-stanza poem called "The Battle of Lovell's Pond."
The birth of Herman Melville (1819-1891), an American poet, novelist and short
story writer. John William Polidori's short story The Vampyre is
published without his permission and is mistakenly attributed to Lord Byron!
American romantic Gothic literature makes and early appearance with Washington
Irving's Rip Van Winkle, followed by The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
the next year. Robert Southey writes Journal of a Tour in Scotland in 1819.
1820 Percy Bysshe Shelley's poems "To a Skylark," "Ode to the West Wind" and
the longer Prometheus Unbound are published. Prometheus Unbound
is one of the earliest literary works to advance the idea of nonviolent
resistance. Victor Hugo is
publishing poems, and becomes a major figure of French Romanticism. William
Blake moves to No. 3 Fountain Court, his last earthly residence. The young
Charles Dickens works a few blocks away and its possible they saw one another
on the street. They would both be instrumental in bringing the plight of young
children forced to work as virtual slaves to the English public's attention. We
may be able to attribute child labor laws to their joint influence. In a BBC
poll of the hundred greatest Britons of all time, Blake was 38th and Dickens
41st. What a small world! Blake ranks above all English poets other than
Shakespeare and above all English painters and other visual artists. That's not
bad for an eccentric genius who developed a way to publish his own illuminated
books, rather than conform to the silly prejudices of his day. The birth of the
English novelist Anne Bronte (1820-1849). Byron becomes involved in the
Carbonari movement, an Italian revolution against Austrian rule. John Clare's Poems
Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery is published by John Taylor of Taylor
& Hessey, the firm that had published John Keats. (Clare would criticize Keats
for portraying nature according to his imagination, rather than according to
reality.) Rural Life was a success, selling three thousand copies in
four editions within a year. This success brought Clare recognition; he visited
London, where he attended plays and dinner parties, "hobnobbing with literary
luminaries." Elizabeth Barrett's epic poem Battle of Marathon is
published privately by her affluent father.
1821 John Clare's The Village Minstrel, and Other Poems is published.
It sells "respectably" and is generally well-received. John Keats dies at age twenty-five; Percy Bysshe Shelley writes the long
poem Adonias as a tribute to him. Shelley also writes Hellas
and his Defence
of Poetry, a "quintessential Romantic document." Thomas de
Quincey publishes his best-known work, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater,
which may have "inaugurated the tradition of addiction literature in the West."
William Cullen Bryant begins writing "The Ages," a panoramic history in verse of
human progress up to the establishment of the United States. "The Ages" and a
revised "Thanatopsis" are included in Bryant's Poems, published the
same year. Charles Baudelaire is born in Paris; he would translate poems by
Edgar Allan Poe into French.
1822 Allegra Byron dies of fever at the
convent in Italy where Lord Byron has placed her. Leigh Hunt moves to Byrons
house, where they collaborate on the journal The Liberal with input
from Percy Bysshe Shelley. Shelley drowns in a boating accident at age thirty,
on his boat the
Don Juan, with a
book of Keats's poems in his pocket. Byron, Hunt and Edward John Trelawny
preside over his cremation on the shore. The birth of the English poet and critic Matthew Arnold
(1822-1888), most famous today for his masterpiece of early modernism, the poem
"Dover Beach." Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, age fifteen, enters Bowdoin College,
where he meets and befriends Nathaniel Hawthorne.
1823 Edgar Allan Poe is writing love poems to woo girls at age fourteen; when
his love poems fail, he writes laments. Poe attends the academy of William Burke
and does well at athletics. The poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (aka "'The Night Before
Christmas") is published anonymously in a small-town New York paper (authorship
is widely attributed to Manhattan classics professor Clement Moore), and helps
shape our image of Santa Claus as a round-bellied merry fellow who smokes a
pipe, descends chimneys, and travels in a reindeer-drawn sleigh. The birth of
the English poet Coventry Patmore (1823-1896). After publishing the remaining
cantos of Don Juan, Byron sails to Greece to assist the Greeks in
their revolution against Turkish rule.
1824 Edgar Allan Poe, around age fifteen and inspired by the "slenderly
graceful figure" of his friend Robert Stannard's mother, writes his famous
poem "To Helen." It has been called "one of the most beautiful poems
in the language." Lord Byron arrives in Greece, ready to fight for Greek independence from
the Ottoman Empire. Byron spends £4,000 of his own money to refit the Greek
fleet, then gives "unruly Souliots" some £6,000 pounds more. Byron sells his
Rochdale Manor in Scotland to raise more money for the cause. Wars of
independence are expensive! But he dies at age thirty-six, due to complications
related to a fever (and perhaps the subsequent bloodletting), before he can
attack anyone. His memoirs, which he intended for publication after his death,
are burned by a group of his friends. Huge crowds in England line up to view his coffin, but he is not
allowed to be buried at Westminster Abbey because of his "questionable
morality." Never mind the "morals" of the licentious kings and bishops buried
there! But all ends well, thanks to English schoolchildren, who, 145 years after
the great poet's death, raised enough money for a Poets' Corner memorial, in
1969. Beethoven's Ninth Symphony premieres, receiving five standing ovations.
The famous composer had gone deaf and wrote his most famous symphony without
being able to hear it.
Thomas Carlyle translates Goethe's Wilhelm Meister into English.
The birth of Wilkie Collins (1824-1829), an English master of the mystery story
or "sensation novel." There is an attempt to publish the poetry of
Robert Browning, then age twelve. He would later destroy the manuscript,
1825 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow has published around forty poems before
graduating from Bowdoin College in 1825. William Hazlitt's book of literary criticism, The Spirit of the Age,
is published. William Cullen Bryant gives up the practice of rural law to become
editor of the New York Review. He would go on to become editor-in-chief
and co-owner of the New York Evening Post. From this influential
position Bryant would become "one of the most liberal voices of the century" and
a champion of liberal causes. Bryant opposed slavery, advocated free trade and
trade unionism, supported the rights of religious minorities and emigrants, and
helped establish Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Rose and
Zephyr" is 19-year-old Elizabeth Barrett's first published poem in public
circles; it appears in the Literary Gazette.
1826 Edgar Allan Poe enters, then drops out of the University of Virginia,
after boozing, gambling and fighting with his foster-father John Allan over
finances. James Fenimore Cooper's popular
novel The Last of the Mohicans is published. The birth of Stephen C. Foster, who has been called the "father of American
music." Ironically, he had never seen the South at the time he wrote "Old Folks at Home" (also
known as "Sewanee River"), and "My Old Kentucky Home." He only visited the South
one time, in 1852, and that was on a riverboat cruise on his honeymoon (which
may not have left much time for sightseeing!). James Fenimore Cooper writes
The Last of the Mohicans. William Blake begins working on watercolors and
engravings for Dante's Divine Comedy.
1827 Edgar Allan Poe, strapped for money, enlists in the army under an assumed
name. Poe's first poetry collection, Tamerlane and Other Poems,
is published at age eighteen but is credited only to "a Bostonian." William Blake dies;
he would be honored with a bronze bust at Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey. Robert Tatham is reputed to have inherited most of Blake's manuscripts and papers and
to have destroyed work that was too erotic or heretical for his tastes. But
thankfully Blake kept all his copper plates, so his major works have been
preserved and protected from sabotage! Alfred Tennyson has his first poems
published, at age 17. Jane Webb (later Jane C. Louden) writes The Mummy.
John Clare publishes The Shepherd's Calendar. At age eighteen, Alfred
Tennyson has poems published in Poems By Two Brothers with his elder
brother Charles Tennyson Turner; the introduction says that the poems were
written from age fifteen to eighteen. Alfred Tennyson enters Cambridge and joins
a secret society called the Cambridge Apostles. He meets and becomes friends
with the poet Arthur Henry Hallam (1811-1833) who would die young and inspire
Tennyson's elegy In Memoriam A.H.H.
1828 Construction of the first American railroad, the B&O, begins. Noah Webster publishes The American Dictionary of the English
Language. It adds 12,000 words not in Dr. Johnson's landmark dictionary. The birth of the English poet, painter, illustrator and translator Dante Gabriel Rossetti
(1828-1882), the elder brother of the poet Christina Rossetti. The birth of the
English poet George Meredith (1828-1909). The birth of the French writer Jules
Verne, who has been called a father of the science fiction novel. William
Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge are reconciled and tour the Rhineland
together. The birth of Alexander Gilchrist (1828-1861), author of Life of
William Blake with his wife Anne Gilchrist (1818-1885). She also wrote
A Woman's Estimate of Walt Whitman. Edgar Allan Poe does well in the army
and is promoted to sergeant major. Matthew Arnold's father, Thomas Arnold, is
appointed headmaster of Rugby School.
1829 Edgar Allan Poe temporarily reconciles with his father, who sponsors him
as an officer cadet at West Point. Poe publishes his second book, Al Aaraaf,
Tamerlane and Minor Poems. Through essays like "Signs of the Times" in the Edinburgh Review,
Thomas Carlyle emerges as "the dominant social thinker of early Victorian
England." Carlyle pointed out the "gulf between the rich and poor" and called
for a hero capable of "galvanizing society and forcibly moving history
forward." Tennyson wins a prize at Cambridge for his long undergraduate prize
poem "Timbuctoo." Henry Wadsworth Longfellow becomes a professor at
Bowdoin College, where he is also the librarian and writes his own textbooks!
1830 Alfred Tennyson publishes "The Kraken,"
"Mariana," "Claribel" and "The Lotus Eaters" in Poems Chiefly Lyrical,
which receives "hostile attention." However, Leigh Hunt compared Tennyson's
verse to that of Keats. Walt Whitman, age eleven, drops out of school but never stops reading.
Edgar Allan Poe has a falling-out with his father and gets himself purposely
court-martialed. The birth of the American poet Emily
Dickinson (1830-1866). Christina Rossetti (1830-1894), an English poet, is
born; her father, sister and two brothers were all writers, so she came from a
very literate family.
Edgar Allan Poe is court-martialed and expelled from West Point. He moves to
New York and publishes his third book, Poems. Poe will be one of the
first Americans to try to make a living by writing alone. "My Country 'Tis of Thee" (also known as: "America") was first sung at Park
Street Church in Boston. The words were written by Samuel Francis Smith and set
to the tune of "God Save the King." Edgar Allan Poe's Poems:
Second Edition is published at age 22.
1832 John Clare's poem "Remembrances" is published. William Cullen
Bryant achieves recognition as America's leading poet when his expanded Poems is
published in the U.S. and in Britain with the assistance of Washington Irving.
Bryant is the first American poet to earn "relatively uncondescending"
recognition overseas. Sir Walter Scott dies. The death of George Crabbe.
1833 Alfred Tennyson publishes Poems. Arthur Henry
Hallam dies in Vienna, and Tennyson will publish little for the next nine years.
However, one of Tennyson's best and strongest poems, "Ulysses," is composed
shortly after Hallam's death. Henry David Thoreau enters Harvard. Elizabeth
Barrett anonymously publishes Prometheus Bound, her translation of the
Greek playwright Aeschylus.
1834 The British Empire abolishes slavery. The birth of the English poet, novelist and translator William Morris
(1834-1896). The death of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Charles Dickens attacks the 1834 Poor Law with his novel Oliver Twist.
1835 John Clare publishes The Rural Muse. It would be his last major
poetry collection published during his lifetime. Edgar Allan Poe is now writing
prose, with some success. Poe's The Unparalled
Adventure of One Hans Pfaall is an early example of science fiction about a
balloon trip to the moon. Poe may thus be called a father of science fiction and
he has been called a "strong influence" on Jules Verne and Hugo Gernsback.
Poe win a contest with "Manuscript Found in a Bottle," marries his cousin
Virginia, who at thirteen is half his age, and becomes the editor of Southern Literary Messenger. "Amazing Grace" is published to the tune of "New Britain" in William Walker's The Southern Harmony
(this is the version most often sung today).
Our top ten poets of the Victorian Era: Anne Reeve Aldrich, Oscar Wilde, Ralph
Waldo Emerson, Matthew Arnold, Edgar Allan Poe, Elizabeth Barrett Browning,
Robert Browning, Alfred Tennyson, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman
The Victorian Era, American Transcendentalism and Pre-Modernism (1836-1901)
This is an interesting period because poets like Tennyson and Longfellow were
writing in a more traditional style, while poets like Whitman and Dickinson were
beginning to "make it new" (to borrow a phrase from Ezra Pound). Whitman,
Dickinson and Mark Twain would help free American poetry and literature from
what had been largely mimicry of European voices. Popular songs typically
consist of rhyming poems set to music; increasingly English and American poetry will be delivered via
1836 Charles Dickens has success with the serial publication of The
Pickwick Papers. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow becomes a professor at Harvard.
Matthew Arnold enters Winchester College. Ralph Waldo Emerson
publishes his first essay, "Nature," anonymously. In his essay, Emerson
lays the foundations of Transcendentalism in the idea that God or the Divine
suffuses nature. In his subsequent speech The American Scholar,
delivered at Harvard the following year, Emerson would call for
American intellectual and literary independence, urging American writers to develop their own
independent style, rather than imitating European writers. Emerson would be the
first American writer to be "successfully exported." James Russell Lowell,
who was a student at Harvard at the time, called it "an event without former
parallel on our literary annals." Emerson would eventually "discover" Walt
Whitman, who at this time had just taken a job as a schoolteacher, despite
having dropped out of school at age eleven. Emerson would go on to help found
the Transcendental Club, whose members would include Amos Bronson Alcott, Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret
Fuller, Orestes Brownson, William Ellery Channing, Sophia Peabody and her
husband Nathaniel Hawthorne. American Transcendentalism combines elements of
English and German Romanticism, German idealism, Bostonian Unitarianism, Hindu
texts such as the Upanishads, the skepticism of David Hume, and the
transcendental philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Core principles include
self-reliance, personal freedom, idealism, concern for nature, and the value of
the individual conscience and intellectual reason.
While the Transcendental movement can be described as an American outgrowth of
English Romanticism, the major Transcendentalists differed with some of the
major Romantics by embracing, or at least not opposing, the empiricism of
science. Transcendentalism has been called "the first notable American
1837 Queen Victoria takes the throne of the United Kingdom, leading to what
has become known as tame and staid Victorianism. Matthew Arnold returns to Rugby
School where he will study directly under his father, the headmaster, in
1838. During his years at Rugby, Arnold won school prizes for English essay
writing, and Latin and English poetry. His poem,"Alaric at Rome" was printed at
Rugby. The birth of the English
Romantic poet, playwright, novelist and critic Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909), who has been
described as "decadent" and "indecent," but also as a master of meter and
mellifluous rhyme. He was the son of Admiral Charles Henry Swinburne and Lady
Jane Henrietta. Charles Dickens publishes
Oliver Twist. John Clare enters High Beach, a mental asylum; one of his
delusions is that he is Lord Byron and he rewrites some of Byron's poems. (Clare
biographer William Howard considered "Child Harold" to be "unmistakably Clare's
most original work.") Robert Southey publishes "Three Bears" (the
original Goldilocks story). Henry Wadsworth Longfellow begins his
Harvard lectures. Henry David Thoreau graduates from Harvard, begins teaching,
then quits a public school job after only a few weeks to avoid
administering corporal punishment. Thoreau begins his famous personal journal
and meets Ralph Waldo Emerson around this
time. Nathaniel Hawthorne publishes Twice-Told Tales. Robert Southey
communicates with Charlotte Bronte about her poems. Elizabeth Barrett and
her family move to 50 Wimpole Street in London. She bursts a blood vessel and
begins a long period of invalidism.
1838 Elizabeth Barrett publishes The Seraphim and Other Poems in her
own name (at last!). The book is favorably reviewed and sells well, marking the
start of a successful literary career.
1839 The invention of photography. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's first book of poems, Voices of the Night,
is published, as is his first novel, Hyperion: a Romance. The birth of
the notable English skeptic and critic Walter Pater (1839-1894). Edgar Allan Poe
writes The Fall of the House of Usher. Poe's first volume of short
stories, Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, is published. Robert
Southey, now a widower, marries the poet Caroline Anne Bowles. Herman Melville
has his first publication at age 20, the essay "Fragments from a Writing Desk."
Melville signs aboard the merchant ship St. Lawrence as a "boy" (a green hand)
and sails from New York to Liverpool and back.
1840 The birth of the English poet and novelist Thomas Hardy (1840-1928).
Margaret Fuller, said to be the best-read person in New England, male or female,
becomes the first editor of The Dial, a transcendentalist journal. Henry David Thoreau's first essay is published in The Dial, with the
encouragement of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Thoreau would also have a number of poems
published by The Dial. Herman Melville embarks on his first
whaling vessel at age 21. American music as we think of it today probably
started in the 1840s with the Hutchison Family Singers, who wrote their own
songs and incorporated elements such as falsetto, "mountain melody" and close
four-part harmonies into a distinctively American brand of popular music. They
were not only the first American pop stars (as in popular music), but with their
pro-equality protest songs they paved the way for singer-songwriters to come
like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell. Around the same
time, the influence of African-American music on popular music would become profound, through composers like Stephen Foster
and performers like The Christy Minstrels.
1841 Herman Melville sets sail aboard the whaler Acushnet. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow publishes Ballads and Other Poems. Edgar Allan Poe invents the
modern detective story with The Murders in the Rue Morgue. Henry David
Thoreau moves into the house of Ralph Waldo Emerson, where he serves as a
children's tutor, editorial assistant, repairman and gardener. At this time
Thoreau considers himself primarily a poet, but over time he would find prose
more useful for his purposes. Emerson publishes
Essays: First Series. Dante Gabriel
Rossetti enters Henry Sass's Drawing Accademy. Nathaniel Hawthorne joins a
transcendentalist utopian community at Brook Farm. John Clare leaves the High
Beach asylum and walks 90 miles home, where he refuses to accept that his first
love, Mary Joyce, is no longer alive, or that he never married her or had
children with her. After five months, Clare was committed to the Northampton
General Lunatic Asylum, where he would write one of his most famous poems, "I
Am!" Clare would spend his last 23 years at the Northampton Asylum, under
the "humane regime" of Dr. Thomas
Octavius Prichard, who encouraged him to write. Matthew Arnold wins an open
scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford, where he is close to the poet Arthur
1842 Robert Browning's Dramatic Lyrics include "My Last Duchess."
Elizabeth Barrett's poem "The Cry of the Children," published in Blackwoods,
has been credited with leading to child labor reforms. Christina Rossetti begins to record the dates of her poems at age twelve. Alfred Tennyson publishes a revised version of
Poems which includes "Ulysses,"
"Locksley Hall" and "Morte d'Arthur." These poems cement his reputation as the greatest of the Victorian poets. (Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman seem more modern than
Victorian.) After meetings with Charles Dickens and other writers, Henry
Wadsworth Longfellow publishes a volume of anti-slavery poems, Poems on
Slavery. He allows the poems to be distributed for free by abolitionists.
Poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier felt Poems on Slavery had
been an important service to the Liberty movement and asked whether Longfellow
would be a candidate for Congress on the Liberty Party ticket. Our friends
think they could throw for thee one thousand more votes than any other man.
Longfellow declined the proposal. Herman Melville jumps ship in the Marquesas
Islands for unclear reasons and repairs into mountains to avoid capture. Melville then boards
another whaler, the Lucy Ann, participates in a
mutiny, and is briefly jailed in Tahiti. Melville escapes and spends a month as
an "omoo" or beachcomber and island rover. One of his books would be titled
1843 Edgar Allan Poe wins $100 for his short story The Gold Bug.
Poe also publishes The Tell-Tale Heart. The birth of the
American novelist Henry James (1843-1916). When his friend Robert Southey dies,
William Wordsworth becomes the eleventh British Poet Laureate. The Christy Minstrels form; they perform in blackface and are very popular.
Herman Melville ends up in Hawaii and joins the US Navy as an ordinary seaman.
Matthew Arnold's poem "Cromwell" wins the Newdigate prize and he graduates from
Oxford with honors. Manley Hopkins, the father of Gerard Manley Hopkins,
publishes The Philosopher's Stone and Other Poems.
1844 Edgar Allan Poe writes The Purloined Letter and The Balloon
Hoax. The birth of the English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889). Hopkins is notable for his eclectic style and use
of "sprung rhythm," which would influence poets like Dylan Thomas,
David Jones and Geoffrey Hill. Hopkins would become
known to the world only after his poems were published posthumously in 1918 by his friend
Poet Laureate Robert Bridges. The birth of Robert Bridges (1844-1930). Robert
Browning and Elizabeth Barrett begin to correspond. Henry
Wadsworth Longfellow publishes The Waif.
1845 Edgar Allan Poe writes and publishes his most famous poem, "The Raven."
It becomes a "popular sensation" and makes Poe a household name. Henry
David Thoreau moves into a small house on the banks of Walden Pond, with the
goal of "simple living." Robert Browning meets Elizabeth
Barrett and professes his love for her the next day. She begins to work on a
series of love poems, Sonnets from the Portuguese, incorporating his
pet name for her, "the Portuguese." Dante Gabriel Rossetti enters the Antique School of the Royal Accademy.
Matthew Arnold is elected Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford.
1846 Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning secretly marry at St.
Marylebone Church in London: they would become English poetry's first "super
couple." They move to Florence and her health improves. Herman Melville publishes
Typhee, a romanticized account of his life among "cannibal" Polynesians; it
becomes an "overnight bestseller." Emily Bronte, Charlotte Bronte and Anne Bronte publish a joint
collection of poems under the pseudonyms "Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell." It
sells a whopping two copies the first year. They would do better as novelists.
Walter Savage Landor publishes the first volume of Hellenics. Edgar
Allan Poe writes an essay "The Philosophy of Composition" in which he explains
how he wrote "The Raven" and other poems. Adolphe Sax invents the saxophone.
1847 Tennyson publishes The Princess: A Medley containing poems such
as "Tears, Idle Tears." Longfellow publishes
Evangeline. Emily Bronte publishers her dark gothic
masterpiece Wuthering Heights. Her sister Charlotte Bronte publishes
Jane Eyre under the pseudonym "Currer Bell." Edgar Allan
Poe's wife Virginia dies and he becomes increasingly unstable. Herman Melville
publishes Omoo, once again romanticizing his adventures among
novel becomes his second bestseller. Walter Savage Landor publishes a second
volume of Hellenics. The birth of Thomas Edison: recorded music and
movies are fast approaching.
1848 Walt Whitman loses his editing job because he opposes slavery. He returns
to New York, where he founds an antislavery newspaper, the Weekly
Freeman. The paper's offices are burned after the first issue is published.
For the next six years, Whitman works as a freelance journalist. Dante Gabriel Rossetti leaves the Royal Accademy to study under
Ford Madox Brown. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood is founded by Dante Gabriel
Rossetti, William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais; aligned poets and
artists would include William Michael Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, William
Morris, Algernon Charles Swinburne, Edward Bourne-Jones and Ford Maddox Brown. The German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
publish The Communist Manifesto. Edgar Allan Poe's
"Eureka: A Prose Poem" posits a singularity (a "primordial particle") that produces the Big
Bang (a theory that didn't achieve mainstream acceptance until more than a
century later, in the 1960s). Poe
also predicts an expanding universe and black holes. Poe publishes his poem
"Ulalume," which has been called a masterpiece. He also writes "The Poetic
Principle" in which he calls a long poem a contradiction in terms because a
long poem cannot keep up the excitement that makes poetry poetry. Henry
David Thoreau delivers a lecture on civil disobedience, a concept that would
appeal to Leo Tolstoy, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela, among
others. Emily Bronte dies
prematurely at age 30, shortly after the death of her brother Branwell. Walter
Savage Landor publishes The Italics. Herman Melville publishes
1849 Henry David Thoreau publishes his essay Civil
Disobedience. One of his influences was Percy Bysshe Shelley's Masque
of Anarchy. Thoreau self-publishes A Week
on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. Edgar Allan Poe is found "delirious" on the streets of
Baltimore; he dies shortly thereafter. Poe was a pioneer of the "art for art's
sake" movement, the symbolist movement, modernism as an outgrowth of
romanticism, science fiction, the detective story,
and the psychological thriller. In France he would be considered the
great American poet and the touchstone of symbolism. Anne Bronte dies prematurely at age 29. Stephen Foster publishes "Oh!
Susanna." Herman Melville publishes Redburn. Matthew Arnold
publishes his first book of poetry, The Strayed Reveller. Algernon
Charles Swinburne enters Eton College, where he begins writing poetry.
1850 The birth of Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894). William Wordsworth dies.
His widow publishes The Prelude (his "poem to
Coleridge") posthumously. Matthew Arnold publishes his "Memorial Verses"
for Wordswoth in Fraser's Magazine. Elizabeth Barrett Browning publishes Sonnets from the Portuguese,
which she dedicates to her husband Robert Browning, and is mentioned as the
leading candidate to succeed Wordsworth as Poet Laureate in the literary
journal The Athenaeum. Alfred Tennyson publishes his masterpiece In Memoriam A.H.H.
and is made the twelfth British Poet Laureate.
T. S. Eliot opined that in Maud and In Memoriam, Tennyson
displayed "the greatest lyrical resourcefulness that a poet has ever shown."
Dante Gabriel Rossetti publishes his best-known
poem, "The Blessed Damozel" in the Germ. Charles Dickens attacks the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
over the painting Christ in the House of His Parents by John Everett
Millais; Dickens considers Mary to be ugly and thus the painting blasphemous! Nathaniel Hawthorne publishes his
novel The Scarlett Letter; it becomes a best-seller and is one of the
first mass-produced American books. Hawthorne meets
Herman Melville and they become friends. Herman Melville publishes
White-Jacket and writes to a friend that he is "half way" done with
1851 Stephen Foster writes "Old Folks at Home." The Christy Minstrels pay
Foster $15,000 for exclusive rights to the song. Herman Melville publishes
Moby-Dick, which he dedicates to Nathaniel Hawthorne. But the
novel is a flop in its day. Hawthorne publishes The House of the Seven
Gables and it becomes a best-seller. Matthew Arnold becomes a school
inspector, then marries Frances Lucy.
1852 Alfred Tennyson's son is born and is named Hallam after his friend and
fellow poet. Matthew Arnold publishes his second volume of poems, Empedocles
on Etna, and Other Poems. Charles Dickens publishes his novel Bleak House.
1853 The Christy Minstrels perform "Yellow Rose of Texas" and publish it in a
songbook. Matthew Arnold publishes Poems: A New Edition, which includes
"The Scholar Gipsy."
1854 Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade" is the most
famous occasional poem by a Poet Laureate. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow receives
so much fan mail he says "all my unanswered letters hang upon me like an evil
conscience." Charles Dickens
publishes Hard Times, his "baldest and sharpest" work. The
birth of Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), an Anglo-Irish poet, playwright, novelist, wit
and "quintessential aesthete." Henry David Thoreau publishes his
best-known work, Walden; or, Life in the Woods. Robert Frost later wrote: "In one book ... he
surpasses everything we have had in America." Walt Whitman meets Ralph
Waldo Emerson for the first time. Matthew Arnold publishes Poems: Second
Series, which includes "Balder Dead." Gerard Manley Hopkins is
sent to board at Highgate School at age ten. At Highgate the young Hopkins will
meet Richard Watson Dixon and Philip Stanhope Worsley, a future winner of the
1855 Walt Whitman self-publishes his revolutionary book of free verse poems,
Leaves of Grass. Ralph Waldo Emerson sends Whitman a letter praising
the book and congratulating him on "the beginning of a great career."
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow publishes Song of Hiawatha. Charlotte Bronte
dies at age 39, the last of the three Bronte sisters.
1856 Walt Whitman publishes the second edition of Leaves of Grass,
with 32 new poems. He also reprints Emerson's congratulatory letter without
permission, angering the elder poet. The birth of the Anglo-Irish writer and playwright George Bernard Shaw
(1856-1950). Dante Gabriel Rossetti begins painting femme fatales,
using models such as Elizabeth Siddal, Fanny Cornforth and Jane Morris (the wife
of his friend William Morris). Algernon Charles Swinburne enters Balliol
College, Oxford, but he does not receive a degree. At Oxford he meets Dante
Gabriel Rossetti and William Morris. Thomas Hardy's first extant poem is "Domicilium,"
written at age seventeen.
1857 The Philological Society of London begins to study the collection of
"unregistered words" into a new dictionary of English. Oxford University Press
will agree to finance the project in 1879. The first
part or fascicle of the New English Dictionary, covering AAnt, will be
published in 1884. The last fascicle of the NED will be published 44 years
later, in 1928. The entire project will have taken 71 years from conception to
completion. The completed dictionary will consist of twelve
volumes and contain 15,487 pages, defining 414,825 words. In 1933 a reprint
(with a one-volume supplement) will be issued as the Oxford English
Dictionary (OED). Herman Melville publishes the longest poem in American literature, Clarel.
Melville alos publishes his last novel, The Confidence-Man. The verse novel Aurora Leigh
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning sells well and will be
called "the greatest poem in the English language" by John Ruskin. The birth of
the novelist Joseph Conrad (1857-1924).
The Atlantic Monthly, known today as The Atlantic, is founded by Henry Wadsworth
Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Greenleaf Whittier
and James Russell Lowell.
"They did not set out to exclude women from the gathering," but Harriet Beecher
Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, boycotted the dinner when she
learned that alcohol would be served! The Atlantic would go on to
publish some of America's best-known literary and political names, including
Nathaniel Hawthorne, Frederick Douglass, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, Helen
Keller, W. E. B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain,
Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and JFK. Matthew
Arnold is elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford.
1859 The popular song "Dixie" was ironically written by
Daniel Decatur Emmett, a Northerner from Ohio. Charles Dickens publishes A Tale of Two Cities. Charles Darwin publishes
On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection,
intensifying what has been called the "Victorian crisis of faith." George
Eliot's novel Adam Bede. Alfred Tennyson publishes
Idylls of the King. The birth of the English classical scholar and poet A. E. Housman
(1859-1936). Housman had been described as being a classical poet with a
Romantic temperament. Two of his siblings would also become prominent writers: Clemence
Housman and Laurence Housman. The Edgar Allan Poe poem "Annabel Lee" is set to music by E. F. Falconnet. Henry David Thoreau composes and delivers an influential speech, "A
Plea for Captain John Brown," after the Harper's Ferry raid. Algernon
Charles Swinburne is rusticated (suspended) by Oxford for supporting the
attempted assassination of Napoleon III by Felice Orsini.
1860 William Cullen Bryant helps arrange and acts as
master of ceremonies at the Cooper Union speech that is pivotal in
Abraham Lincoln winning the Republican nomination and becoming president. Charles Dickens publishes Great Expectations. George Eliot
publishes The Mill on the Floss. While studying the poetry of John
Keats, sixteen-year-old Gerard Manley Hopkins writes his first
extant poem, "The Escorial." Elizabeth Barrett Browning publishes Poems
Before Congress, a collection of political poems.
1861 The Confederates attack Fort Sumter, starting the Civil War.
Julia Ward Howe writes the poem "Battle Hymn of the Republic" to the music of "John
Brown's Body." Walt Whitman moves to Washington D.C. and works as a nurse
in military hospitals. Jules Verne works on his first science fiction
novel, Five Weeks in a Balloon. Matthew Arnold publishes On
Translating Homer. The death of Arthur Hugh Clough. Arnold would write
Thyrsis in his honor. Elizabeth Barrett Browning dies in
Florence, in her husband's arms. Robert Browning said that she died "smilingly,
happily, and with a face like a girl's ... Her last word was ... ''Beautiful!"
1862 Emily Dickinson's "Safe in their Alabaster Chambers" is published; hers
is one of the first and most unique voices of early modernism. Christina Rossetti's
The Goblin Market and Other Poems is published. George Meredith's
sonnet sequence Modern Love is published. Henry David Thoreau dies. His
essays Walking and Wild Apples are published posthumously the same year. His
Poems of Nature would be published in 1895 and his Collected Poems
in 1943. Other posthumous publications include The Correspondence of Henry
David Thoreau (1958) and Thoreau's Literary Notebook (1964).
Posthumous publication of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Last Poems,
including "De Profundis." Algernon Charles Swinburne has written "Hymn
to Proserpine" and "Laus Veneris" because he recites them to William Bell Scott
on a seaside excursion. Thomas Hardy, studying to be an architect, enrolls at
King's College London.
1863 Samuel Langhorne Clemens uses the penname "Mark Twain" for the first
time. Although better known as a novelist and humorist, Twain would write more
than 120 poems during his storied career. Twain was called the "father of American literature" by William Faulkner.
Gerard Manley Hopkins studies the classics at Oxford, where he meets the poet
Robert Bridges; they would become lifelong friends. Bridges, a future Poet
Laureate, would publish Hopkins' poetry after his death. Walter Savage Landor
publishes Heroic Idyls, which includes Latin poems.
Jules Verne writes the early science fiction novel Journey to the Center of
the Earth. The deaths of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Walter Savage Landor. John Clare dies at the asylum where he
spent his last 23 years. His remains were returned to Helpston for burial in St
Botolph's churchyard. On his birthday, children at the John Clare School parade
through the village and place their "midsummer cushions" around Clare's
gravestone, which bears the inscriptions "To the Memory of John Clare The
Northamptonshire Peasant Poet" and "A Poet is Born not Made" in honour of the
area's most famous resident. The nearby John Clare
Cottage is open to the public. Henry David Thoreau publishes Excursions.
Gerard Manley Hopkins meets Christina Rossetti, one of his influences.
1865 The Civil War ends when the Confederate states surrender. Slavery is abolished by the Thirteenth
Amendment. Abraham Lincoln is assassinated. Walt Whitman publishes his elegy for Lincoln, "When lilacs last
in the dooryard bloom'd." Whitman's boss at the Department of the
Interior fires him because of the supposedly obscene content of Leaves of
Henry David Thoreau publishes Cape Cod and Letters to Various
Persons. Algernon Charles Swinburne achieves his first literary success with Atalanta
Gerard Manley Hopkins meets Digby Mackworth Dolben, a "Christian Uranian," at
Oxford, and there seems to have been a strong erotic connection on Hopkins'
Jules Verne writes the first outer space adventure novel, From the Earth to
the Moon. The birth of the English journalist, poet, short-story writer and
novelist Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) in Bombay, India. The birth of the great Irish poet William Butler
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow publishes his translation of Dante, The Divine
Comedy, just in time for Dante's 600th birthday! One of the first ten
copies is rushed to Italy! The birth of Emma Orczy (1865-1947), better known as
Baroness Orczy. She was a Hungarian-born British novelist and playwright who is
best-known for her Scarlet Pimpernel play and novels. The play, first
staged in 1905, ran four years in London and broke many stage records. That
theatrical success generated huge sales for the novels. Orczy introduced the
hero with a secret identity who has a penchant for disguise, uses a signature
weapon or power, out-thinks and outwits his adversaries, and has a "calling
card" that identifies him. Long before Batman, Superman and Zorro, there was the
Scarlet Pimpernel. Matthew Arnold publishes Essays in Criticism: First
1866 A. E. Housman begins writing poetry at age eight. The birth of the American poet and novelist
Anne Reeve Aldrich.
Her books include The Rose of Flame (1889),
Feet of Love (1890), Nadine and Other Poems (1893), A Village Ophelia and Other
Stories (1899) and Songs about Life, Love, and Death (1892). She
has been called an American Sappho. Whitman and his friend William D. O'Connor
publish The Good Gray Poet, a defense of Whitman in the wake of his
being fired from his government post. Fisk University, a black college, is founded in
Nashville, Tennessee. Algernon Charles Swinburne's Poems and Ballads
brought him instant notoriety because of his "indecent" themes. Walter Pater
tutors Gerard Manley Hopkins. Hopkins writes his most ascetic poem, "The Habit
of Perfection," then gives up writing poetry for Lent! John Henry Newman
receives Hopkins into the Roman Catholic Church and takes a particular interest
in him. Hopkins develops his ideas of "inscape" and "instress." Matthew Arnold publishes
Thyrsis, his tribute to Arthur Hugh Clough. The birth of H. G. Wells (1866-1946), an English writer
called the father of the science fiction novel, along with Jules
Verne. Herman Melville, strongly opposed to slavery, publishes a book of poems,
Battle Pieces. Henry David Thoreau publishes A Yankee in
1867 Matthew Arnold's poem "Dover Beach" has been called a masterpiece of
Early Modernism; it employs irregular rhyme and form and exhibits a crisis of faith in both God and mankind. Digby
Mackworth Dolben drowns. His death inspires a number of poems by Gerard Manley
Hopkins. The birth of the English poet Ernest Dowson (1867-1900), who would
influence William Butler Yeats and T. S. Eliot. The birth of the English writer Arnold Bennett (1867-1931), who sometimes wrote "potboiling
fiction" and became "unusually wealthy for a writer." The birth
of Scott Joplin, the African-American pianist and composer known as the "King of
Ragtime." Slave Songs of the United States, the earliest collection of
African-American spirituals, is published. Thomas Hardy finishes his first
novel, The Poor Man and the Lady, but is advised by his mentor and
friend George Meredith not to publish it because it would be too politically
controversial and might damage Hardy's ability to publish in the future.
1868 Robert Browning's The Ring and the Book has been called the
climax of his poetic career.
Gerard Manley Hopkins elects to become a
Jesuit, makes a "bonfire" of his poems, and gives up poetry for seven years.
1869 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow receives an honorary degree from Cambridge and
visits with Queen Victoria. The birth of the American poet Edward Arlington
Robinson (1869-1935), who would win three Pulitzer Prizes and be nominated for
the Nobel Prize in Literature four times. On his mother's side he was descended
from Anne Bradstreet. The birth of the English poet
Charlotte Mew (1869-1928). Her poetry would be admired by Thomas Hardy, who
called her the best female poet of her day, and by Virginia Woolf, who called
her "quite unlike anyone else." Mew never married, cut her hair short, and often
dressed like a male dandy. The birth of the American poet Edgar Lee Masters
(1869-1950), the author of fifty books who is best known for his poetry
collection of epitaphs, Spoon River Anthology. Matthew Arnold publishes his collection of essays on
social criticism, Culture and Anarchy.
1870 Charles Dickens dies with his Mystery of Edwin Drood unfinished, and is
buried at the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey. The birth of J.
M. Synge (1871-1909), the author of the play The Playboy of the Western
World. Jules Verne writes Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, a
science fiction novel about a submarine and its pilot, Captain Nemo. The birth
of Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953), an Anglo-French writer, poet and historian.
1871 Lewis Carroll's surrealistic Through the Looking Glass. George
Eliot's Middlemarch. The birth of the
American poet and novelist Stephen Crane (1871-1900). Crane was an early
modernist, minimalist and realist who would influence Ernest Hemingway. The Fisk Jubilee Singers are formed. Algernon Charles
Swinburne's Songs Before Sunrise. Thomas Hardy's novel Desperate
Remedies is published anonymously.
1872 While reading Duns Scotus, Gerard Manley Hopkins decides that poetry and
religion need not conflict. He writes "Duns Scotus's Oxford" and begins to write
"some verses" for church occasions. He also sketches and writes music. Thomas
Hardy's novel Under The Greenwood Tree is published anonymously.
1873 Walter Pater publishes Studies in the History of the Renaissance.
Oscar Wilde said the book "has had such a strange influence over my life,"
while Arthur Symons called it "the most beautiful book
of prose in our literature." Robert Bridges publishes his first collection
of poems. Matthew Arnold publishes Literature and Dogma. Jules Verne writes Around the World in Eighty Days.
Thomas Hardy's serialized novel A Pair of Blue Eyes
introduces the "cliffhanger" when one of the protagonists
is left literally hanging off a cliff!
1874 Robert Frost and Gertrude Stein, American
poets, are born, as is G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936), an English journalist, novelist,
poet, critic and Christian apologist. Jules Verne writes The Mysterious Island, which
brings back the mysterious Captain Nemo. The success of Thomas Hardy's novel
Far from the Madding Crowd allows him to retire from architecture to write
1875 Gerard Manley Hopkins begins writing poetry his long poem "The
Wreck of the Deutschland." The birth of the German Romantic poet Rainer
Maria Rilke (1875-1926). Stephen Crane is writing at age four.
1876 George Eliot publishes Daniel Deronda. The popular poem and song
"Grandfather's Clock" is published by Henry Clay Work. The lyrics to the hymn
"Beulah Land" are written by Edgar Page Stites
1877 A. E. Housman wins an open scholarship to St. John's College, Oxford. Gerard Manley Hopkins writes a collection of sonnets, God's Grandeur.
The title poem would become one of his most famous.
1878 Carl Sandburg, an American poet, is born. Henry James's novel The
Europeans. William Cullen Bryant dies at age 84 after tripping over a
podium in Central Park (a park he had helped create). Algernon Charles
Swinburne's Poems and Ballads Second Series. Thomas Hardy's novel
Return of the Native.
1879 Wallace Stevens, an American poet, is born. E. M.
Forster, an English novelist, is born. "Uncloudy Day," also known as "Unclouded
Day," is a gospel song written by Josiah Kelley Alwood.
1880 Ten years after the death of Charles Dickens, George Eliot dies. Thus the
High Victorian era lapses into the Late Victorian. The birth of the English poet
and playwright Alfred Noyes (1880-1958). Noyes would be the most popular poet of
his day, due to traditional poems like "The Highwayman."
1881 Oscar Wilde's poems are published; he and Whitman were among the first
gay poets to "come out of the closet" publicly. Tony Pastor, a former
circus ringleader, invents what we now call vaudeville by creating
family-friendly acts for his New York theaters. However, vaudeville
acts would often be less "polite" than what Pastor had envisioned.
Henry James's novel A Portrait of a Lady.
1882 The birth of the Irish poet, playwright and novelist James Joyce
(1882-1941). Henry Wadsworth Longfellow dies, comparable to Tennyson in fame,
popularity, influence and book sales. Longfellow was the first American poet to
have a bust at Poet's Corner. Francis James Child publishes a book of 305 popular ballads as The
English and Scottish Popular Ballads. The ballads included are often called
the "Child ballads." Some probably date back to the 13th century. The
older ballads may include The Battle of Otterburn and Childe Waters. The
birth of the English writer Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) and the English painter and writer Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957). The death of
Ralph Waldo Emerson. William Butler Yeats writes his first known poems around
age seventeen. Algernon Charles Swinburne's epic poem Tristram of Lyonesse.
1883 Alfred Tennyson accepts a peerage, becoming Lord Alfred Tennyson, as he
is known today (or Alfred, Lord Tennyson). He
was the first British subject to be made a lord for his writing. William Carlos Williams, an American poet, is born. Robert Louis
Stevenson's novel Treasure Island.
1884 Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn takes a strong stand against
racism and slavery. Huck says he would rather go to hell then turn in his friend
Jim, the escaped slave. Gerard Manley Hopkins becomes a professor of Greek and
Latin at University College Dublin. It is here that he will write his "terrible
sonnets" such as "Carrion Comfort" and "I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark, not
1885 Ezra Pound, an American poet and critic, is born. William Butler Yeats's
first poems are published in the Dublin University Review.
1886 H. D. (Hilda Doolittle), an American poet, is born. Robert Louis Stevenson's novels Kidnapped
and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Joseph Conrad
applies for British nationality and is accepted. Thomas Hardy's novel The
Mayor of Casterbridge. Ernest Dowson enters Queen's College, Oxford, but
does not earn a degree. Rudyard Kipling publishes his first collection of verse,
1886 The birth of the English poet Elizabeth Bridges Daryush (1886-1977). She
was the daughter of Robert Bridges. Daryush is best known for her work in
syllabic meter, of which "Still-Life" may be the best example.
1888 T. S. Eliot (1888-1965), an American poet, is born. Columbia Records, the first major
American record label, is founded. The first classical
music recording, of Handel. Rudyard Kipling publishes his first collection of
prose stories, Plain Tales from the Hills. The death of Matthew Arnold and
the posthumous publication of his Essays
in Criticism: Second Series.
1889 William Butler Yeats publishes The Wanderings of Oisin and Other
Poems. Yeats meets and falls in love with the
lovely Irish nationalist and revolutionary Maude Gonne. Robert Browning dies and is buried next to
Alfred Tennyson at the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey. Gerard Manley Hopkins
dies, virtually unknown as a poet, of typhoid fever. His friend Robert Bridges
would publish his poetry in 1918. George Bernard Shaw's Fabian
Essays. Algernon Charles Swinburne's
Poems and Ballads Third Series. Rudyard Kipling meets Mark Twain by
knocking on his door without an invitation. Twain later wrote of their meeting:
"Between us, we cover all knowledge; he covers all that can be known and I cover
1890 Emily Dickinson's poems are published posthumously. Fin-de-siθcle (1890-1900) poets who took notes from the French symbolists
include William Butler Yeats, Ernest Dowson, Lionel Johnson,
Arthur Symons, Oscar Wilde and Charles Algernon Swinburne. Yeats co-founds the Rhymer's Club and is admitted into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
William James publishes Principles of Psychology, a book that would
influence the Modernists. Edward Arlington Robinson enters Harvard as a special
student and has "Ballade of the Ship" published by The Harvard Advocate
within a fortnight. The posthumous Poems by Matthew Arnold. The birth
of the English poet and artist Isaac Rosenberg (1890-1918), one of the great
anti-war poets. His parents were Lithuanian Jewish immigrants and he grew up in
poverty in Stepny, in London's East End.
1891 William Butler Yeats proposes to Maude Gonne, but is rejected. Ernest
Dowson meets Adelaide Foltinowicz, who inspires his best-known poem, "Non
Sum Qualis Eram Bonae sub Regno Cynarae," popularly known by its refrain "I
have been faithful to thee, Cynara, in my fashion." Oscar
Wilde's novella A Picture of Dorian Gray. William Morris writes the
"utopian romance" novel News from Nowhere. Herman Melville
dies with Billy Budd completed but unpublished. The novel would be
discovered in a breadbox in 1919 and published in 1924. Thomas Hardy's novel
Tess of the D'Urbervilles attracts criticism for its sympathetic portrayal
of a "fallen woman" and is initially refused publication. Stephen Crane has his
first publications in the Tribune.
1892 Rudyard Kipling publishes Barrack-Room
Ballads, his first major success, and begins to write the tales that will become The Jungle Book.
(The poems had international appeal and impact; for instance, the great German
poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht would read Barrack-Room
Ballads and draw inspiration from Kipling for his own ballads and the plays
Galy Gay and In the Jungle.) Walt Whitman prepares the final edition of Leaves of Grass, known as
the "Deathbed Edition." Whitman dies at age 72, one of the greatest and most influential
poets of all time. Lord Alfred Tennyson also dies at age 83, the greatest of the
Victorian poets and the longest-tenured British Poet Laureate, at 42 years.
Kipling is offered the position, but turns it down. A.
E. Housman accepts the professorship of Latin at University College London. "Harlem Rag" by the pianist Tommy Turpin is the first known
ragtime composition. The birth of the American poet and playwright Edna St.
Vincent Millay (1892-1850). Ernest Dowson contributes to The Books of the
Rhymers' Club (1892 and 1894).
1893 The birth of the great English war (or anti-war) poet Wilfred Owen
(1893-1918). Stephen Crane self-publishes Maggie: A Girl of the Streets,
generally considered to be the first work of American literary Naturalism. William Butler Yeats publishes The Rose and The Celtic Twilight.
The birth of the English poet, literary critic and rhetorician I. A. Richards
(1893-1979), whose books The Principles of Literary
Criticism and Practical Criticism would provide the
foundations of the New Criticism.
1894 The birth of E. E. Cummings (1894-1962), an American poet, painter,
essayist, author, and playwright. (Due to his eclectic employment of capital
letters, his name is frequently rendered as e. e. cummings.) William Butler Yeats has an
affair with Olivia Shakespear. Rudyard Kipling publishes The Jungle Book.
The popular song "I've Been Working on the Railroad" is published.
Rainer Maria Rilke publishes his first collection of poems, Leben und Lieder
("Life and Songs").
1895 By his own account, A. E. Housman's most prolific period was the first
five months of 1895. He ascribed his heightened productivity to "physical
conditions" perhaps explained by this excerpt from one of his poems published
the following year: "fire and ice within me fight beneath the suffocating
night." Katharine Lee Bates' poem "America the Beautiful" will
later be set to music by Samuel A. Ward. Scott Joplin publishes two ragtime
compositions. Cornetist Buddy Bolden forms a band; he has been credited with the
countermelody of jazz. Oscar Wilde's play The
Importance of Being Earnest. H. G. Wells writes the early science fiction
novel The Time Machine. Thomas Hardy's novel Jude the Obscure
is met by a strong negative response from the Victorian public because of its
controversial treatment of sex, religion and marriage. Stephen Crane's novel
The Red Badge of Courage and his collection of free verse poems The
1896 A. E. Housman's A Shropshire Lad is published and it brings him
immediate recognition as a poet. Housman subsidized the book, which sold well and remains in print to this day. Housman
said that his main influences were "Shakespeare's songs, the
Scottish Border ballads, and Heine." Gay and an atheist, Housman
was one of the strongest voices of early modernism. Ernest Dowson publishes
Verses. The introduction of radio
technology. The birth of the English poet Edmund Blunden (1896-1974), best known
as a war poet. William Butler Yeats attends his first sιance and is introduced to
Lady Gregory, who becomes his patron. Thomas Hardy's last novel, Jude the
Obscure, is considered "shocking" and he turns to poetry for the last 30
years of his life. H. G. Wells writes The Island of Dr. Moreau. Edwin
Arlington Robinson self-publishes his first book, The Torrent and the Night
Before. Alfred Austin is appointed the thirteenth British Poet Laureate.
1897 Stephen Crane's autobiographical The Open Boat. John Philip Sousa composes "Stars and Stripes Forever" and more than 100
popular marches; composers Scott Joplin, James Scott, and Joseph Lamb establish
and popularize ragtime, giving birth to America's popular music industry. Jimmie
Rogers, known as the "father of country music," is born. H. G.
Wells writes the early science fiction novel The Invisible Man. Edwin
Arlington Robinson publishes Children of the Night. Ernest Dowson's
one-act verse play, The Pierrot of the Minute. Rudyard Kipling
publishes Captains Corageous.
1898 Alfred Noyes enters Exeter College, Oxford. Thomas Hardy's Wessex Poems. Oscar Wilde's long poem The Ballad of
Reading Gaol. H. G. Wells writes The War of the Worlds. The birth
of the German poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956); among his many
accomplishments he would write the hit song "Mack the Knife."
1899 Ernest Dowson's Decorations: in Verse and Prose. Dowson would be
a major influence on T. S. Eliot, and thus on modernism. Dowson is also the
first writer to mention "soccer." Dowson also
translated Les Liaisons Dangereuses into English. Hart Crane, an American
poet, is born. The death of Stephen Crane. Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" is published and becomes the
first ragtime hit with over 100,000 copies sold. Duke Ellington is born.
William Butler Yeats and his patron Lady Gregory are founders of the Irish Literary
Theatre. Rudyard Kipling begins work on Just So Stories. Joseph
Conrad writes Heart of Darkness, which will inspire the movie Apocalypse Now.
1900 William Butler Yeats publishes The Shadowy Waters. Yvor Winters
is born. Joseph Conrad writes Lord Jim. Thomas Hardy pens "The
Darkling Thrush" and dates it December 31, 1900, which he considers to be the
last day of the old century. Queen Victoria died a few days later, marking the
end of the Victorian Era. The publication of Stephen Crane's second poetry
collection, War Is Kind. The death of Stephen Crane at age 28. Sigmund Freud publishes
Interpretation of Dreams,
which would become an important influence on the Modernists. "Lift Ev'ry
Voice and Sing" is written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson and later set to music by his
brother John Rosamond Johnson in 1905. Charles Albert Tindley pens lyrics
that will eventually become the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome."
Our top ten poets of Early Modernism: James Joyce, William Carlos Williams,
Vachel Lindsay, Carl Sandburg, Ernest Dowson, Algernon Charles Swinburne, Ezra
Pound, Thomas Hardy, A. E. Housman, William Butler Yeats
Early Modernism and the Edwardian Period (1901-1910)
Thomas Hardy has been called "the first essentially twentieth-century poet"
because he was an atheist familiar with Einstein and Darwin who wrote poems
stripped of superstition and dogma.
1901 Approximate beginning time for American country music and jazz.
Sears, Roebuck and Co. is selling record players to the public, setting the
stage for the coming explosion of record sales. Charles Booth's performance
of J. Bodewalt Lange's "Creole Blues" is recorded for the new Victor label. This is
the first acoustic recording of ragtime to be made commercially available. Laura Riding is born.
Rudyard Kipling publishes Kim. King Edward VII assumes the British throne,
beginning the Edwardian Period.
1902 Thomas Hardy publishes Poems of the Past and Present. Alfred
Noyes publishes The Loom of Years but fails to graduate from Oxford
when he meets with his publisher during finals! His book is praised by W. B.
Yeats and George Meredith, however. Hilda Doolittle, aka H.D., meets and
befriends Ezra Pound. Ogden Nash is born, synchronistically, in the same year as
the earliest-published American limerick, which appeared in 1902 in the
Princeton Tiger: This is the popular limerick that starts "There once was a
man from Nantucket." E. E. Cummings begins writing poems on a daily basis
at age eight. Victor Records issues the first known recording of
black music, "Camp Meeting Shouts." Pianist Jelly Roll Morton claims
to have invented jazz this year. Buddy Bolden is another candidate, as he
creates a fusion of blues and ragtime. Henry James publishes The
Wings of the Dove. Rainer Maria Rilke meets the sculptor Rodin and will
become his personal secretary. Rudyard Kipling publishes Just So Stories.
Edwin Arlington Robinson publishes a verse novel,
1903 Wilbur and Orville Wright fly the first airplane at Kitty Hawk.
Alfred Noyes publishes The Flower of Old Japan. William Butler Yeats
publishes In the Seven Woods. Countee Cullen, an American poet, is
born. W. C. Handy sees a bluesman playing a guitar with a knife (the first
"pick"?). A plaque bearing the sonnet "The New Colossus" by Manhattan
socialite Emma Lazarus is mounted inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty,
greeting newcomers with the lines, "Give me your tired, your poor, / Your
huddled masses yearning to breathe free." George Bernard Shaw's play
Man and Superman. Henry James publishes
The Ambassadors. Samuel Butler's posthumous novel
The Way of All Flesh "attacked all the major doctrines of his day."
1904 Thomas Hardy's The Dynasts. Christina Rossetti's Poetical
Works. Algernon Charles Swinburne's A Channel Passage and Other Poems.
Carl Sandburg's In Restless Ecstasy. Pablo Neruda, the great Chilean
poet, is born. Henry James publishes The Golden Bowl.
1905 Albert Einstein presents his Special Theory of Relativity. Time
and space were no longer infinite or absolute; everything was suddenly relative. Vachel Lindsay
peddles his poems on the street, makes 13 cents, and is ecstatic. Ernest
Dowson's The Poems of Ernest Dowson. Oscar Wilde's De Profundis
(posthumous). Paul Laurence Dunbar's Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow.
George Bernard Shaw's play Major Barbara. Baroness Orczy's play The
Scarlet Pimpernel runs four years in London and breaks many stage records.
Orczy introduced the hero with a secret identity. Long before Batman, Superman
and Zorro, there was the Scarlet Pimpernel!
1906 Alfred Noyes's "The Highwayman" is published in Blackwood's
Magazine; it would be named one of Britain's favorite poems in a 1995 BBC
poll. Noyes also publishes the first volume of Drake, a 200-page blank
verse epic about Sir Francis Drake. The birth of the English poet and novelist
T. H. White (1906-1964) and the English poet and literary critic William Empson
(1906-1984). Thomas Hardy publishes The Dynasts II.
1907 James Joyce's first published book is a poetry collection, Chamber Music. Sara Teasdale's Sonnets to Duse
and Other Poems. W. H. Auden, an English poet, is born. Buddy Bolden
is committed to a mental institution without having ever recorded any music. The
first wireless broadcast of classical music is produced in New York. Rudyard
Kipling becomes the first English language writer to win a Nobel Prize for
Literature, and the youngest at age 42. Ezra Pound is forced to leave a teaching
position at Wabash College after offering a stranded chorus girl tea and his
bed. Rainer Maria Rilke translates Elizabeth Barrett-Browning's Sonnets from
the Portuguese into German.
1908 Ezra Pound leaves America
for London. Pound's A Lume Spento, a collection of poems he later
called "stale cream puffs." Pound, a transplanted American, is considered by
many to be the father of English modernism. William Butler Yeats publishes The Collected Works in Verse and
Prose. Yeats and Maude Gonne finally consummate their
relationship in Paris, but the relationship does not last. Thomas Hardy publishes The Dynasts III.
Alfred Noyes publishes the second volume of Drake. Theodore Roethke,
an American poet, is born. Alcohol is banned in North Carolina and Georgia,
1909 Two poems published by T. E Hulme are considered to be the beginning of
the early modernist movement called Imagism. Hulme forms the Secession Club with
F. S. Flint and other poets. Ezra Pound soon joins the club. The poets discuss
free verse and employing the methods of Oriental verse forms such as haiku and
tanka. Pound publishes Personae and Exultations. Pound meets William
Butler Yeats; Pound becomes Yeats's secretary. William Carlos
Williams publishes Poems. Joseph Conrad completes The Secret Sharer. Robert Peary reaches the North Pole.
The death of Algernon Charles Swinburne.
1910 Rudyard Kipling writes his most famous poem and a suitable one to end the
Edwardian period, "If." A. E. Housman delivers his lecture on
Swinburne (it would be published in 1969). Ford Madox Ford publishes Poems from
London. Charles Olson, an American poet, is born. The NAACP is founded.
Mark Twain dies. E. M. Forster's novel Howard's End. Marie Curie isolates radium. King George V assumes the British
throne, beginning the Georgian Period. Virginia Woolf writes
that "in or about December 1910, human character changed." The change became
known as "modernism" (one aspect of modernism is that the
"complexity of modern urban life must be reflected in literary form.")
Our top ten Modernist poets: E. E. Cummings, Edna St. Vincent Millay, D. H.
Lawrence, Louise Bogan, Dylan Thomas, T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Hart Crane, Wilfred Owen, Wallace Stevens
The Georgian Period (1910-1936), World War I and the Modernists
1911 Georgian poets include Edmund Blunden, Rupert Brooke, G. K. Chesterton, W. H. Davies,
John Drinkwater, Robert Graves, D. H.
Lawrence, Walter de la Mare, John Masefield, Harold Monro, Wilfred Owen,
Isaac Rosenberg, Siegfried Sassoon, James Stephens, Edward Thomas, Vita Sackville-West. Wilhelm Apollinaris de
Kostrowitzky, who writes under the pen name "Guillaume Apollinaire," is
suspected in the theft of the Mona Lisa from The Louvre museum in Paris and is
imprisoned for six days. Ezra Pound's Canzoni is published in London.
Irving Berlin completes his first hit, "Alexander's Ragtime Band."
Alfred Noyes publishes his only full-length play, Sherwood. It would be
reissued in 1926 as Robin Hood. The birth of the American playwright Tennessee Williams.
A. E. Housman takes the Kennedy Professorship of
Latin at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he will remain for the rest of his
life. Housman would gain renown for his editions of the Roman poets Juvenal,
Lucan, and Manilius. Isaac Rosenberg studies art at the Slade School of Fine Art
1912 Harriet Munroe founds the literary journal Poetry, influenced by
Ezra Pound as a foreign editor. Pound, H.D. and Richard Aldington work out the
principles of Imagist poetry. The first Imagist poems and essays
appear in Poetry. Ironically "modernism" involved
retreats to the past: Pound looked back to Confucius; T. S. Eliot to Dante; James
Joyce to Homer; Lawrence to primitive tribes. The Titanic sinks, inspiring Thomas Hardy's "The Convergence of
the Twain." Rudyard Kipling publishes his Collected Poems. Walter de la
Mare publishes The Listeners and Other Poems. Robinson Jeffers
publishes Flagons and Apples. Edna St. Vincent Millay publishes
Renascence. Elinor Wylie publishes Incidental Numbers. Northrop
Frye is born. The "father of the blues," pianist W. C. Handy, publishes
"Memphis Blues" and helps inaugurate a new style based on rural black
folk music. Isaac Rosenberg publishes his first poetry collection, a pamphlet of
ten poems, Night and Day.
1913 Ezra Pound's manifesto and
anthology Des Imagistes. Notable imagist poets include Pound, Hulme, F. S. Flint, H. D.,
Aldington, Amy Lowell and
James Joyce. Harold
Monro founds the Poetry Bookshop in London, where Ezra Pound and Robert Frost
will eventually meet. Wallace Stevens and his wife, Elsie, rent a New York City
apartment from sculptor Adolph Weinman, who makes a bust of Elsie; her image
later is used on the artist's 1916-1945 Mercury dime design. Rabindranath Tagore
is awarded the Nobel prize in literature. Alfred Noyes publishes a long anti-war
poem, The Wine Press, and lectures on disarmament and wold peace in the
United States. D. H. Lawrence publishes Love
Poems and Others. The word "jazz" first appears in print. Igor
Stravinsky's avant-garde musical composition and ballet The Rite of Spring
nearly causes a riot! Robert
Bridges is appointed the fourteenth British Poet Laureate. Ezra Pound becomes dissatisfied with the work of other Imagists and founds a new movement called Vorticism (1913-1918); it did not take off with the public.
"Danny Boy" is a ballad written by English songwriter Frederic Weatherly that
was set to the Irish tune of the "Londonderry Air."
1914 Great Britain enters World War I by declaring war on Germany. Famous war
poets would include Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon, Isaac Rosenberg, Edmund
Blunden and Wilfred Owen. Blunden publishes Poems 1913 and 1914. The Panama
Canal opens to commercial traffic. Ezra Pound marries English artist Dorothy Shakespear at St Mary Abbots
church, Kensington, London. T. S. Eliot meets Pound for the first time, in
London. Pound is particularly taken with Eliot's poem "The Love Song of J.
Alfred Prufrock" and writes that Eliot "actually trained and modernized himself
on his own." Pound and Eliot would become leading voices of English modernism. Edward Thomas makes the English railway journey which inspires his poem
"Adlestrop" en route to meet Robert Frost. BLAST, a short-lived literary magazine of
the Vorticist movement, is founded with the publication of the first of its
total of two editions, edited by Wyndham Lewis in collaboration with Pound. J. R. R. Tolkien writes a poem
about Eδrendil, the first appearance of his mythopoeic Middle-earth legendarium
that will, in time, spawn the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Robert Frost publishes North of Boston. Wallace Stevens has
his first major publication, "Phases" in Poetry at age 35. Carl
Sandburg publishes "Chicago" in Poetry. William Butler Yeats
publishes Responsibilities. James Joyce publishes Dubliners, a
collection of short stories. Alfred Noyes begins teaching at Princeton despite
not having graduated from Oxford! Dylan Thomas, Randall Jarrell
and John Berryman are born. W.C. Handy writes "St. Louis Blues." Isaac
Rosenberg exhibits paintings at the Whitechapel Gallery. His portraits have been
called "powerful" and his style "bold."
1915 The last issue of Blast includes the first poems of T. S. Eliot
to be published in England. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is published with the
help of Ezra Pound by Poetry. Pound completes
the first section of his Cantos. Virginia Woolf publishes her first novel,
The Voyage Out. Herbert Read publishes Songs of Chaos.
John McCrea publishes "In Flanders Fields." Edgar Lee Masters publishes
Spoon River Anthology. Isaac Rosenberg publishes his second poetry
collection, Youth. But driven by poverty, Rosenberg enlists and enters
a war he opposes. E. E. Cummings graduates magna cum laude
from Harvard. Billie Holliday, an African-American singer, is
born. Franz Kafka publishes his surrealist short novel Metamorphosis. Einstein publishes his general theory of relativity.
James Joyce writes his only play, Exiles.
1916 Thomas Hardy's Selected Poems. D. H. Lawrence's Amores.
Edward Thomas's first published poetry collection, Six Poems, under the
pseudonym Edward Eastway. William Butler Yeats's "Easter, 1916." Yeats
also writes one of his loveliest poems, "The Wild Swans at Coole" at the Coole
Park estate of his patron Lady Gregory. Robert Frost's
Mountain Interval, includes his famous poem "The Road Not Taken,"
written about Edward Thomas. Carl Sandburg publishes Chicago Poems,
including his best-known poem, "Chicago." James Joyce publishes his
autobiographical novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. W. H. Davies publishes Selected
Poems. John Ciardi, an American poet, is born. The Bolshevik Revolution in
Russia will have worldwide repercussions. George Bernard Shaw's popular play
Pygmalion. The very first reported blues show was in 1916, on Ashley Street
in Jacksonville; the performer was Ma Rainey. E. E. Cummings receives
a Master of Arts degree from Harvard. Isaac Rosenberg publishes Moses: A
Play. Charlotte Mew publishes The Farmer's
Bride, which includes the eerie title poem. Edwin Arlington Robinson has
his first major success with his poetry collection The Man Against the Sky.
Isaac Rosenberg is sent to the western front in France. Poetry Magazine
publishes two of his war poems: "Break of Day in the Trenches" and "Marching."
1917 The U.S. enters World War I and begins to dominate international affairs.
More than 200,000 black men will serve in the U.S. armed forces in segregated
units; they can fight and die for their country, but are not equal citizens.
When William Butler Yeats proposes to Maude Gonne and is rejected yet again, he
then proposes to her daughter Iseult Gonne, and is also rejected! Edward
Arlington Robinson publishes Merlin. Isaac Rosenberg writes "Dead Man's
Dump" during a period in which he is delivering barbed wire to the front.
1918 Wilfred Owen writes his graphic anti-war poem, "Dulce et Decorum Est." He
dies just one week before the armistice that ends WWI. Tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins
tours with blues singer Mamie Smith and begins to develop a unique style of
playing. The black singer, actor, and civil rights activist Paul Robeson
graduates first in his class from Rutgers University. Robert Bridges publishes
the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Alfred Noyes is named a
Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his work as a reporter for the
International News Service during the war. Isaac Rosenberg dies in battle and is
buried in a mass grave. In 1926 he would be given an individual gravestone with
the words "Buried near this spot" and "Artist and Poet." His war poems would
finally be published in 1937, as The Collected Poems of Isaac Rosenberg, thanks
to editors Gordon Bottomley and Denys Harding. In the book's introduction,
Siegfried Sasson called Rosenberg's poetry "biblical and prophetic."
James Joyce's novel Ulysses is serialized in The Little Review.
1919 George Gershwin's first and biggest hit song is "Swanee." It is introduced by
the singer Al Jolson, famous for performing in blackface. The
Original Dixieland Jass Band performs in London. The Harlem Renaissance (1919-1940) was led by Langston Hughes,
Countee Cullen, Claude McKay and James Weldon Jones. Paul Dunbar was a major
influence. Physicist Ernest Rutherford, known as the father of nuclear physics,
discovers a way to split atoms.
1920 Edna St. Vincent Millay's "First
Fig." Jazz is made popular by musicians like Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll
Morton. The first
blues record is recorded on Valentine's Day (February 14, 1920) when Mamie
Smith, a black vaudeville performer, cuts "Crazy Blues." The records sells
"phenomenally" well and record companies are soon "beating the bushes for any
black woman who can sing." Women's suffrage is adopted in the U.S.
1921 Elizabeth Bridges publishes Sonnets from Hafez and other Verses. Adolf Hitler is elected leader of the Nazi Party in Germany.
1922 T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land (perhaps the major poem of English modernism).
James Joyce publishes Ulysses (perhaps the major novel of English modernism). Edward Arlington Robinson wins the first Pulitzer
Prize for Poetry. The jazz pianist William "Count" Basie makes his first
recordings. The first commercial recordings of what was considered country music
were "Arkansas Traveler" and "Turkey in the Straw" by fiddlers Henry Gilliland &
A.C. (Eck) Robertson on June 30, 1922 at the office of Victor Records in New
York. They were Confederate veterans playing "hillbilly music."
William Butler Yeats becomes a senator of the Irish Free State. The British
Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is founded. E. E. Cummings publishes his novel
The Enormous Room about his experiences in France, where he was held
in a French military detention camp for expressing anti-war views. F.
Scott Fitzgerald praised the book, saying: "Of all the work by young men who
have sprung up since 1920 one book survivesThe Enormous Room by e e
cummings." Rainer Maria Rilke completes the Duino Elegies and
Sonnets to Orpheus. These are considered to be Rilke's masterpieces. A. E.
Housman publishes Last Poems. James Joyce's novel Ulysses is
published in Paris.
1923 Wallace Stevens's Harmonium. William Carlos Williams's "The Red
Wheelbarrow." E. E. Cummings' poetry collection Tulips and Chimneys is
marked by his eclectic grammar, punctuation, capitalization, typography and
syntax. It includes poems like "in Just-" and "the Cambridge ladies who live in
furnished souls." William Butler Yeats is awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Edna St. Vincent Millay wins the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Bessie Smith and Ma
Rainey, the defining performers of classic blues, make their recording debuts.
Ralph Peer of Okeh records the hillbilly music of Fiddlin' John Carson in an
empty loft in Atlanta. Hiram King "Hank" Williams is born in Olive, Alabama. He
will become country music's greatest icon and most imitated performer.
1924 The birth of the American writer and social critic James Baldwin
(1924-1987). Robert Frost wins the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Robinson Jeffers'
poem "Shine, Perishing Republic." E. M. Forster writes his best-known
novel, A Passage to India.
1925 E. E. Cummings publishes XLI Poems. Amy Lowell wins the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In Nashville the Grand Ole Opry begins radio broadcasts,
bringing country and western music to the masses. Blind Lemon Jefferson is first
recorded; he will become the dominant blues figure of the late 1920s and the
first star of folk blues. Virginia Woolf publishes Mrs.
Dalloway. Franz Kafka publishes The Trial. William Butler Yeats
publishes A Vision. William Empson wins a scholarship to Magdalene
College, Cambridge, where he will study under I. A. Richards. However, Empson
will be expelled after condoms are found in his possessions!
1926 The birth of the American poet Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997). Langston Hughes'
"The Weary Blues."
Columbia Records acquires Okeh Records, adding jazz and blues artists like Louis
Armstrong and Clarence Williams to a roster that already included Bessie Smith.
The death of Rainer Maria Rilke.
1927 Show Boat becomes the first hugely popular American musical
comedy. Jimmie Rogers, the "father of country music," appears on a radio station
for the first time. Rogers then records "Blue
Yodel," better known as "T for Texas" and is catapulted to stardom. The Carter
family, a country music group, makes its first recordings. They would
employ a black man to find "black" tunes for them to use. It would be the
convergence of black music and country music that would eventually "fuse" into
rock and roll in the hands of artists like Elvis Presley. Virginia Woolf
publishes her novel To the Lighthouse. Wyndham Lewis's play
The Wild Body. The death of Charlotte Mew, who committed suicide by
drinking Lysol disinfectant. Edward Arlington Robinson publishes Launcelot
and Tristram (a best-seller). James Joyce publishes his second poetry
collection, Poems Penyeach.
1928 Edward Arlington Robinson wins his third Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
Virginia Woolf publishes her gender-bending novel Orlando. D. H.
Lawrence publishes Lady Chatterley's Lover in Italy; the racy book is
called obscene. Edmund Blunden publishes Undertones of War about his
experiences as a soldier. Thomas Hardy dies and is buried at the Poet's Corner of
Westminster Abbey. The first complete edition of the Oxford English Dictionary is
published. The entire project has taken 71 years (see the entry for 1857).
William Empson's first villanelle is published in the Cambridge Review.
Empson "almost single-handedly smuggled the villanelle into serious
twentieth-century poetry." Bertolt Brecht writes the German lyrics to the song
"Mack the Knife" for his Threepenny Opera; the song will be a
blockbuster hit for Bobby Darin in 1959.
1929 The Great Depression cripples the American economy, hurting the sales of
books, phonographs and records. Virginia Woolf publishes her
book-length essay A Room of One's Own. William Faulkner publishes
The Sound and the Fury. Ernest Hemingway publishes A Farewell to Arms.
Charlotte Mew's The Rambling Sailor is published posthumously. T. H.
White publishes a book of poems, Loved Helen.
1930 Hart Crane's The Bridge. Conrad Aiken wins the Pulitzer Prize
for Poetry. The Welsh poet Dylan Thomas writes his first poem around age 15.
Many of his most famous poems were written as a teenager. T. S. Eliot publishes
"Ash Wednesday." William Empson publishes his best-known book of
literary criticism, Seven Types of Ambiguity. After marrying Ali Akbar
Daryush, Elizabeth Bridges publishes Verses and subsequent books as
Elizabeth Daryush. John Masefield is appointed the fifteenth British Poet
1931 E. E. Cummings writes the great modernist anti-war poem "i sing of Olaf
glad and big."
1932 The birth of the English poet Geoffrey Hill (1932-2016), the son of a
1933 A. E. Housman gives a lecture, "The Name and Nature of Poetry", in which
he argues that poetry should appeal to the emotions rather than to the
intellect and condemns the "difficult" poetry of the Metaphysicals. Archibald MacLeish wins the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.
1934 Adolf Hitler becomes dictator of Germany.
1936 Debut of the electric guitar; the dawn of the rock 'n' roll age.
Legendary Delta bluesman Robert Johnson begins his short recording career.
The death of A. E. Housman; his More Poems is released posthumously. Rudyard Kipling dies and is buried at the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey.
King George V dies, ending the Georgian Period.
World War II, the Cold War, Modernism and Postmodernism (1937-Present)
1937 Robert Frost wins his third Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Joseph Auslander
is appointed the first American Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
1938 T. H. White publishes The Sword in the Stone, the first book in
The Once and Future King series.
1939 Great Britain enters World War II. During the war, pocket-sized
collections of poems by writers including Percy Bysshe Shelley, Henry Wadsworth
Longfellow, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge are distributed to soldiers for comfort
and inspiration. (Wilfred Owen was presumably not included.) William Butler
Yeats dies at age 73. W. H. Auden
elegy "In Memory of W. B. Yeats." A. E. Housman's Complete Poems
are published posthumously. James Joyce publishes the novel Finnegans Wake.
1940 Alfred Noyes writes a science fiction novel, The Last Man, which
introduces the "doomsday weapon."
1941 T. S. Eliot's "Four Quartets." The debut of FM radio stations.
Alan Lomax records McKinley Morganfield, better known as Muddy Waters, at
Stovall's Farm in Mississippi. The death of James Joyce.
1942 Wallace Stevens's "Of Modern Poetry." Alfred Noyes writes The Edge of
the Abyss. George Orwell reviews the book, which is believed to have
influenced his novel 1984. The first award of a gold
record for a million-selling hit goes to Glenn Miller for "Chatanooga
1943 Robert Frost wins his fourth Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Allen Tate is
appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress. Allen Ginsberg graduates
from the high school where he fell under the spell of Walt Whitman's poetry.
1944 Stephen Vincent Benet wins his second Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Robert
Penn Warren is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress. Tennessee
Williams has a hit play with The Glass Menagerie.
1945 The end of World War II. Louise Bogan is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
Allen Ginsberg joins the Merchant Marine in order to pay his tuition at pricey
Columbia University. At Columbia, Ginsberg meets other writers who will
eventually become known as the Beats, including Lucien Carr, Neal Cassady, Jack
Kerouac and William S. Burroughs.
1946 Elizabeth Bishop's "The Fish." Dylan Thomas's "Fern Hill." Herman Hesse,
a German poet, wins the Nobel Prize for Literature. Karl Shapiro is appointed
Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress. The Irving Berlin musical Annie
Get Your Gun is huge hit. Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup records "That's
1947 Robert Lowell wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry and is appointed Poet
Laureate to the Library of Congress. Bluesman T-Bone Walker plays electric
guitar on "Call it Stormy Monday." Muddy Waters
makes his first Chicago recordings, beginning his tenure as the dominant figure
in the Chicago blues and a key link between the Mississippi Delta and the urban
styles. Tennessee Williams has another hit play with A Streetcar Named
Desire, which becomes a major motion picture starring Marlon Brando and
1948 T. S. Eliot wins the Nobel Prize for Literature. W. H. Auden wins the
Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Leonie Adams is appointed Poet Laureate to the
Library of Congress. Columbia Records introduces the LP ("long playing") vinyl
record, or "album." Allen Ginsberg has his "auditory vision" of William Blake;
Ginsberg would become the foremost Beat poet.
1949 Elizabeth Bishop is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
Hank Williams Sr. makes his debut on the Grand Ole Opry. Jerry Wexler, a Billboard
editor, coins the term "rhythm and blues" as a substitute for the
older term "race records."
1950 Nat King Cole hits the charts with "Mona Lisa." Little Richard is an
electric star. Conrad Aiken is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of
Congress. Geoffrey Hill enters Keble College, Oxford.
1951 Carl Sandburg wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Cleveland disc jockey
Alan Freed uses the term "rock 'n' roll" to promote R&B to white
1952 Dylan Thomas's famous villanelle for his dying father, "Do Not Go Gentle
into That Good Night." William Carlos Williams is appointed Poet Laureate to the
Library of Congress. Kitty Wells has the first No. 1 Billboard country hit for a solo female
artist. She was also the first female singer to sell a million records. Sam Phillips
founds Sun Records. B.B. King has his first R&B hit with "Three O'Clock Blues."
1953 Archibald MacLeish wins his second Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. John F.
Kennedy marries Jacqueline Lee Bouvier and the American Camelot has its royal
1954 Bill Haley and the Comets have (perhaps) the first rock smash with "Rock Around the
Clock." Elvis Presley records his first commercial record, a cover of the
Arthur Crudup song "That's
All Right, Mama," at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. Theodore Roethke wins the
Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Wallace Stevens' Collected Poems.
1955 Black artists. sometimes employing racy lyrics, begin to hit the pop
charts: Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Sam
Cooke, the Platters. Chuck Berry's "Maybellene." Buddy Holley watches Elvis
perform in Lubbock, Texas, and begins to perform in a similar rockabilly style.
Decca Records soon signs Holley, but misspells his last name "Holly." Later the
same year, the renamed Holly opens for Elvis and Bill Haley. Wallace Stevens
wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" is a precursor
of rap and modern performance poetry. Louise Bogan wins the Bollingen award.
Tennessee Williams has another hit play with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,
which becomes a major motion picture starring Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor.
1956 Elizabeth Bishop wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Randall Jarrell is
appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress. Elvis tops the pop charts
with "Heartbreak Hotel," "Don't Be Cruel," "Hound Dog" and "Love Me Tender."
Elvis "the Pelvis" performs "Hound Dog" on the Milton Berle TV show, gyrating
his hips and causing girls in the audience to scream and swoon. Black artists have mainstream hits,
including Nat King Cole, Fats Domino and
1957 San Francisco book publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti is arrested for
publishing Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl." The landmark obscenity trial
will lead to the end of U.S. government censorship. Richard Wilbur wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Elvis is "All Shook
Up" and doing the "Jailhouse Rock." Rockabilly star Buddy Holly and the
Crickets hit the charts with "That'll Be the Day."
1958 Robert Penn Warren wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Robert Frost is
appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress. Buddy Holly
appears on the Ed Sullivan show. Boris Pasternak, a Russian poet, wins the Nobel
Prize for Literature. Ezra Pound's indictment for treason is dismissed. The
Bollingen Prize is awarded to e. e. cummings. Billboard magazine introduces its Hot 100 chart. Ricky Nelson's "Poor Little Fool" is the first No. 1 record.
The death of Alfred Noyes. The birth of the American poet Michael R. Burch, who
would grow up listening to the Noyes poem "The Highwayman." The Fleetwood Mac
music video "Everywhere" would be based on "The Highwayman."
Geoffrey Hill publishes his first poetry collection, For the Unfallen.
1959 Stanley Kunitz wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Richard Eberhart is
appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress. Berry Gordy Jr. founds the
Motown record label; its future stars will include the
Miracles, Supremes, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. Tennessee Williams has a hit
play with Sweet Bird of Youth.
1960 W. D. Snodgrass wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Sam Cooke scores big
with "Chain Gang." Muddy Waters performs at the Newport Jazz Festival.
1961 Louis Untermeyer is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
William Empson publishes Milton's God, in which he opines that Milton
struggled "to make his God appear less wicked" then he was in the Bible. The Motown record label has its first number one hit with "Please Mr. Postman"
by the girl group The Marvelettes. Roy Orbison has an operatic pop hit with
"Cryin'." Ben E. King scores with "Stand By Me" and "Spanish Harlem." Country
music singer Patsy Cline becomes a mainstream star.
1962 Bob Zimmerman changes his name to Bob Dylan, taking his new last name
from the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas's first. James Brown records "Live At The Apollo." Browns
drummer Clayton Fillyau introduces a sound now known as the break beat, which
would later inspire the b-boy movement, and rap. Ray Charles tops the charts
with "I Can't Stop Lovin' You." Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons hit the high
notes on "Sherry." Sylvia Plath's tormented poem "Daddy." Robert Hayden's
regretful poem "Those
Winter Sundays." The death of e. e. cummings, the second-most-read poet of
his era, after Robert Frost, and second to none in originality.
1963 William Carlos Williams wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Howard
Nemerov is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress. Bob Dylan becomes
famous for protest songs like "Blowin' in the Wind."
1964 Reed Whittemore is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
The Beatles top the American charts for the first time with "I Want To Hold Your
Hand" and Beatlemania has begun. The Beatles appear on the Ed
Sullivan show with an estimated audience of 73 million. The British invasion also includes the Animals
with "House of the Rising Sun" and the Kinks with "You Really Got Me." Other
popular British invasion groups include the Rolling Stones, the Who and Herman's
Hermits. Ironically, the "invasion" largely consists of white English rockers
importing American blues classics and emulations! The death of T. H. White.
1965 Stephen Spender is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
Jim Morrison and The Doors begin to perform, taking their name from poet William
Blake's "Doors of Perception." The bad boys of rock'n'roll, the Rolling Stones,
score with "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." Bob Dylan has a major hit with "Like
a Rolling Stone" and goes electric at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival (receiving
boos from the audience and producers). Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Clay) recites one of his first
rhymes before defeating Sonny Liston for the heavyweight boxing title. Elizabeth
Bishop's poem "The Armadillo." James Brown is the "godfather of soul."
1966 James Dickey is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress. The
Beatles, Monkees, Beach Boys, Supremes, Rolling Stones, Petula Clark and Frank
and Nancy Sinatra somehow manage to coexist on the popular charts.
1967 Anne Sexton wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Lulu, Englebert
Humperdink, the Sinatras, the Doors and the Rolling Stones incongruously top the
charts. Dolly Parton begins singing on the Porter Wagoner show. The
birth of Kurt Cobain.
1968 Cecil Day-Lewis is appointed the sixteenth
British Poet Laureate. At a campaign stop in Indianapolis it falls to democratic presidential
candidate Sen. Robert F. Kennedy to deliver news of Martin Luther King's
assassination to a largely black crowd. In his spontaneous eulogy from the back
of a flatbed truck, Kennedy quotes his "favorite poet" Aeschylus. William Jay Smith is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
Cream, the Beatles, Bobby Goldsboro, Herb Alpert, Jeanie C. Riley and Richard
Harris top the schizophrenic Billboard charts.
Jimi Hendrix is becoming a guitar legend and pioneer of psychedelic rock.
1969 Woodstock features folk and rock poets like Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, John
Fogerty, Sly Stone, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Crosby, Stills and Nash.
1970 William Stafford is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
The Moody Blues, ELO and Pink Floyd invent "art rock."
1971 Geoffrey Hill publishes Mercian Hymns. Josephine Jacobsen is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
John Lennon releases his Imagine album with its utopian title song.
Pablo Neruda, a Chilean poet, wins the Nobel Prize for Literature. Andrew Lloyd
Webber's hit musical Jesus Christ, Superstar.
1972 John Betjeman is appointed the seventeenth British Poet Laureate. The earliest "rap" events are held in the Bronx.
1973 Great Britain joins the European Union. Daniel Hoffman is appointed Poet
Laureate to the Library of Congress. An estimated one billion viewers watch
Elvis Presley's Aloha from
Hawaii concert on TV. American Graffiti is the first major movie about rock
1974 Robert Lowell wins his second Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Stanley Kunitz
is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress. The debut of disco music.
1975 Queen releases the single "Bohemian Rhapsody" which features surreal,
Bruce Springsteen is the reigning rock poet with "Born to Run."
Patti Smith pioneers punk music with "Horses."
1976 Robert Hayden is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
Elizabeth Bishop's villanelle "One Art." James Merrill's book The Changing Light at Sandover.
1977 The movie Saturday Night Fever popularizes disco and makes the
Bee Gees major stars. Elvis Presley dies. T. H. White's final episode of The
Once and Future King series, The Book of Merlyn, is published
1978 William Meredith is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
Sony introduces the Walkman. The debut of hip-hop music and
1979 The Sugarhill Gangs "Rapper's Delight" is released; it becomes the first rap/hip-hop
song/poem to reach the Billboard's Top 40. Robert Penn Warren wins his second
Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
1980 Blondie has the first white rap/hip-hop hit with "Rapture." T.
H. White's posthumous collection of poems, A Joy Proposed.
1981 Maxine Kumin is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
debuts with innovative music videos.
1982 Sylvia Plath wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
Anthony Hecht is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress. Michael
Jackson's Thriller becomes the biggest-selling album
of all time. The Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats, based on poems
written by T. S. Eliot, becomes the longest-running Broadway musical
of all time. Nineteen-year-old Occidental College student Barack Obama
publishes his poem, "Pop," in the school's literary magazine.
1983 Compact discs begin to replace vinyl records. Madonna has her first
hits with "Holiday," "Borderline" and "Lucky Star." Michael
Jackson wows the MTV world with his first public moonwalk during a live
performance of "Billie Jean."
1984 Ted Hughes is appointed the eighteenth
British Poet Laureate. Reed Whittemore is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress for
the second time, on an interim basis. Robert Fitzgerald is later appointed Poet
Laureate. Marvin Gaye, who wrote "Father, father, there's no need to
escalate" is shot and killed by his father, a preacher. Prince wins an Oscar
for the score to "Purple Rain." Madonna becomes a pop star with "Like a Virgin."
1985 Gwendolyn Brooks is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
Freddy Mercury and Queen steal the show at Live Aid.
1986 President Ronald Reagan borrows lines from the James Magee Jr. poem
"High Flight" in his Oval Office address to comfort a grieving nation following
the Challenger disaster, saying the crew had "slipped the surly bonds of Earth
to touch the face of God." Robert Penn Warren is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress
for the second time.
1987 Joseph Brodsky wins the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Richard Wilbur is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
1988 Howard Nemerov is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress for
the second time. Michael Jackson buys a ranch and calls it
1989 Richard Wilbur wins his second Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
1990 Octavio Paz, a Mexican poet, wins the Nobel Prize for Literature. Mark
Strand is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
1991 Nirvana's first single, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," makes grunge
cool. Freddie Mercury dies from complications of AIDS.
1992 Derek Walcott wins the Nobel Prize for Literature. Mona Van Duyn is
appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
1993 Maya Angelou, the great-granddaughter of a slave, becomes the
second poet to read at a presidential inauguration when she delivers "On the
Pulse of Morning" at Bill Clinton's swearing-in. Rita Dove is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress. The
Who's rock opera Tommy debuts on Broadway. Kurt Cobain and Nirvana have
an epic moment on MTV Unplugged.
1995 Seamus Heaney, an Irish poet, wins the Nobel Prize for Literature; Philip
Levine wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Robert
Hass is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
1996 Rap poet Eminem releases his debut album, Infinite.
1997 Robert Pinksy is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
Elton John sings "Candle In The Wind" with revised lyrics for the funeral of
Princess Diana in Westminster Abby; it quickly becomes the all-time global
1999 Andrew Motion is appointed the nineteenth British Poet Laureate. Gunter Grass, a German poet, wins the Nobel Prize for Literature.
2000 Stanley Kunitz is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress for
the second time. The Internet begins to transform music, poetry and art. The
movie O Brother, Where Art Thou rekindles an interest in bluegrass
music with the hit "Man of Constant Sorrow."
2001 Following the September 11th attacks, poems are pinned to
makeshift memorials and circulate on the internet.
"In times of crisis it's interesting that people don't turn to the novel or say,
"We should all go out to a movie," Billy Collins
told The New York Times after the tragedy. "It's always poetry." Billy Collins is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
Apple releases the iPod, a portable MP3 player.
2003 Louise Gluck is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
introduces its iTunes online store.
2004 Ted Kooser is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress. Freddie
Mercury and Queen steal the show at Live Aid.
2005 Ted Kooser wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
2006 Donald Hall is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
2007 Charles Simic is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
2008 Kay Ryan is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
2009 Carol Ann Duffy is appointed the twentieth
British Poet Laureate. (The twentieth time is the charm, as Duffy is the first
Poet Laureate to be a woman, gay and a Scot!) W. S. Merwin wins his second Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Michael Jackson dies in the middle of his comeback tour.
2010 The Pulitzer Prize for poetry is awarded to Versed by Rae
Armantrout. W. S. Merwin is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
Geoffrey Hill is appointed Professor of Poetry at Oxford.
2011 The Pulitzer Prize for poetry is awarded to Kay Ryan. Philip Levine is
appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
2012 The Pulitzer Prize for poetry is awarded to Tracy K. Smith for Life
on Mars. Natasha Trethewey is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of
2013 Sir Geoffrey Hill is knighted for his services to literature. The Pulitzer Prize for poetry is awarded to Sharon Olds for Stag's
2014 The Pulitzer Prize for poetry is awarded to Vijay Seshadri for 3
Sections. Charles Wright is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of
2015 The Pulitzer Prize for poetry is awarded to Gregory Pardlo for
2016 Bob Dylan wins the Nobel Prize for Literature. Great Britain leaves the European Union in a movement known as "Brexit."
Donald Trump is elected president of the United States in a shocking upset.
2017 Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs, buys a majority stake
in The Atlantic.
2019 Simon Armitage is appointed the 21st British Poet Laureate.
And who can guess what the future will hold? ...
Primary Sources: Wikipedia and other public web pages; Lives of the Poets
by Michael Schmidt (a book we enthusiastically recommend to poetry lovers and
scholars); Phases of English Poetry by Herbert Read; The Oxford
Illustrated History of English Literature; The Norton Anthology of
Poetry; The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry.
Related Pages in Chronological Order:
Song of Amergin,
Bede's Death Song,
Wulf and Eadwacer,
The Wife's Lament,
Anglo-Saxon Riddles and Kennings,
How Long the Night,
Sumer is Icumen in,
Fowles in the Frith,
Ich am of Irlaunde,
Tom O'Bedlam's Song,
Now Goeth Sun Under Wood,
Sweet Rose of Virtue,
Lament for the Makaris
Other Related Pages:
Writing in the English Language