Like most people I like to read a good book, especially on a rainy day. Some of the best titles were written in the 18th century. For me, the 18th century produced some of the finest literature anywhere, except of course, Shakespeare.
Books like Gulliver's travels, and Robinson Crusoe, two outstanding English books of the early 1700s, were written for grown-ups. However, children claimed the stories as their own.
In England, publisher John Newberry began to put out a large number of books for children. The first of them was 'A Little Pretty Pocket-Book' (1744). Two of Newberry's most famous books are 'The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes' and 'Mother Goose's Melody'.
His Mother Goose book was the first collection of Mother Goose rhymes in English.
Most of you have known about and have enjoyed these books. Now, let us look at the authors who wrote them.
Jonathan Swift, John Newberry, and Daniel Defoe advanced literature and writing prose during this era, all were quite influential.
Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) is perhaps one of the greatest prose writers of all time. Although born in Ireland, Swift always said that he was an Englishman. His defense of the Irish people against the tyranny of the English government, however, was whole-hearted. As much as he may have disliked Ireland, he disliked injustice and tyranny more.
In a bitter pamphlet, 'A Modest Proposal' (1729), he ironically suggested that the Irish babies be specially fattened for profitable sale as meat, since the English were eating the Irish people anyhow, by heavy taxation.
Swift's masterpiece is 'Gulliver's Travels' (1726). It is a satire on human folly and stupidity.
Swift said that he wrote it to vex the world rather than to divert it.
Most people, however, are so delightfully entertained by the tiny Lilliputians and by the huge Brobdingnagians that they do not bother much with Swift's bitter satire on human pettiness or crudity.
No one has ever written English prose with greater sharpness and economy than Swift. His literary style has all the 18th-century virtues at their best.
Most people think of Daniel Defoe (1661? -1731) only as the author of 'Robinson Crusoe' (1719); but when Defoe wrote that novel, he had already lived a life full enough for three ordinary mortals.
Defoe was first a journalist, with an eye for a news story. Single-handedly he produced a newspaper, The Review (1704-13), which was an important ancestor of modern newspapers.
The list of Defoe's writings runs to more than 400 titles. In all of them, articles and books, is the kind of writing that Defoe recommended to others a "plain and homely style." Even the great novels of his last years, 'Moll Flanders' (1722) and 'Robinson Crusoe', read like a modern reporter's account of events.
John Newberry (1713-1767).
The first bookseller and publisher to make a specialty of children's books was John Newberry.
Over his shop in St. Paul's Churchyard, in London, England, was the sign Juvenile Library. An advertisement in the London Chronicle for December 1765 stated:
"On the first of January, being New Year's Day, Mr. Newberry intends to publish the following important volumes, bound and gilt, and hereby invites all his little friends who are good to call for them at the Bible and Sun in St. Paul's Churchyard, but those who are naughty to have none."
Today many children know the name John Newberry because of the Newberry Medal. The medal is awarded annually to the book selected by a committee of children's librarians as the best book for children published during the year.
There are two other authors of note, which I have selected, for you here.
This man is the author of Rasselas, which is a history of the Prince of Abyssinia. This web site is edited by Frank Lynch.
A philosopher and political theorist, Kant wrote Fundamental Principles Of The Metaphysic Of Morals. This is a translation by Thomas Kingsmill Abbott.
Read this short biography of perhaps the best known author of the 18th century. This is on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy website.
Portions of this article were excerpted from Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia Copyright ©; 1993, 1994 Compton's NewMedia, Inc