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Neoclassicism is defined as the return to the ideals of the arts of the Greeks and Romans. English Neoclassicism flourished in the literature of England from the end of the 1600s (seventeenth century) through the 1700s (the eighteenth century). Prominent English literary neoclassicisits were Alexander Pope, Samuel Johnson, Jonathan Swift and John Dryden. Neoclassicism is characterized by reason, intellect, form and an acceptance of the limited imperfect nature of man: order and logic (reason); wit and intellect; and an emphasis on form, later rejected by the Romantics, that superseded the Renaissance emphasis on content and ingenuity.
Some elements of neoclassicism are found in Alexander Pope's An Essay on Man (1733-1734). Pope emphasizes that knowledge is limited and is mankind's perfection: Mankind is set in an order and rank of things in the natural world and knows not the particular ends and relations of Nature' parts. Further, striving for ever greater knowledge, like Dr. Faustus, causes added misery. Pope admonishes against unreasonable remonstrance with Providence, which has ordered things in the Universe, and cautions against desiring to be morally perfect like the angels while desiring bodily excitations of the beasts. Pope asserts that the universe demonstrates a gradation between sensual and mental faculties and admonishes sense, thought, reflection and reason. He ends by advocating complete submission to Providence for the present and the future.
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