Writing in the 18th century, as is still common today, was based largely on the current
social and political issues. The idea of writing novels had not yet been realized, so
most of the inspirations for poets and essayists alike, were taken directly from politics,
social happenings, or even religious topics. The 18th century was unique however
because of the changing views and ensuing turmoil created by a changing workforce
and employment style. England was on the verge of the Industrial Revolution. The
revolution had many positive effects, but with every change comes a negative effect as
well. While the concept of work and means of production were completely reinvented,
the poor common peasant lost his farm and small earnings because he could no longer
compete with the much larger and more efficient factory. He was then forced to be
employed by the factory in order to support his family. This transition was seen by
poets as a new topic of issue that could be discussed and analyzed in their writings.
While most authors began to scorn the rich industrial plant owners and the entire
wealthy society, a few remained faithful and devoted to the peasant, by continuing to
write about his struggle in life.
Thomas Gray is one such poet who stayed to true to his form. Despite the
current economical situation, he continued to write about peasant life. His work
depicting such ideology is titled “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.” His elegy
describes a poor potter’s field where the bones of many tired souls rest. Gray depicts
the men who are buried there as having great skill and craft for their particular trade.
These peasants were very important to the economic cycle of every day, as all
peasants are. They may not have contributed very largely as the nobles had, but their
contributions, as moderate as they were, had a positive effect on the rest of society.
For this reason Gray says that the lower class should not be looked down upon or even
mistreated by the upper class. The peasants work just as hard and probably harder
than the nobles to earn a living. The peasants difficulty is that they were never given a
chance financially and had no possible means to make their way into the upper class.
Gray spoke of how death is the greatest equalizer of all. No man can escape death, be
he rich or poor. Everyone is equal as humans, upon death.
Robert Burns, like Gray, refused to alter his writings and maintained his focus on
the lower-class. One of Robert Burns’ most noted works, “The Cotter’s Saturday
Night,” not only displayed life as a poor farmer but portrayed the poor as something
much better. Burns showed how farmers and peasants alike viewed the importance of
family values and the ideas of a close family bond. He spoke of the characteristics that
should be important in life, unlike the vain worries of the wealthy. The affluent didn’t
care about morals or love and respect; they were concerned about the appearance and
ability to perform in public. Burns achieves his goal, by telling his audience how
important one very simple and plain meal is to a peasant family due to the work and
strain that went into providing for it. At the same time, a large concern of the well off, is
who they will be associating with at their large dinner feast.
These writing are unique because they honor the poor and not the wealthy. It
was not until after the Romantic period began that writers began to use heavy satire to
mock the upper class lifestyle. The common practice of simply extolling support and
praise to the working man soon gave way to the more common custom of mocking and
ridiculing the upper-class way of life. No too long after the concept of the novel was
formed, and writers now had a medium where they could allow their imagination to do
the work, rather than making light of a social issue. The literary world would soon be
changed forever.