This period extends from 1660, the year Charles II was restored to the throne, until about 1789. The prevailing characteristic of the literature of the Renaissance had been its reliance on poetic inspiration or what today might be called imagination. The inspired conceptions of Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Milton, the true originality of Spenser, and the daring poetic style of Donne all support this generalization. Furthermore, although nearly all these poets had been far more bound by formal and stylistic conventions than modern poets are, they had developed a large variety of forms and of rich or exuberant styles into which individual poetic expression might fit. In the succeeding period, however, writers reacted against both the imaginative flights and the ornate or startling styles and forms of the previous era. The quality of the later age is suggested by its writers admiration for Ben Jonson and his disciples; the transparent and apparently effortless poetic medium of the school of Ben, along with its emphasis on good taste, moderation, and the Greek and Latin classics as models, appealed profoundly to the new generation.
Thus, the restoration of Charles II ushered in a literature characterized by reason, moderation, good taste, deft management, and simplicity. The historical parallel between the early imperialism of Rome and the restored English monarchy, both of which had replaced republican institutions, was not lost on the ruling and learned classes. Their appreciation of the literature of the time of the Roman emperor Augustus led to a widespread acceptance of the new English literature and encouraged a grandeur of tone in the poetry of the period, the later phase of which is often referred to as Augustan. In addition, the ideals of impartial investigation and scientific experimentation promulgated by the newly founded Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge (established in 1662) were influential in the development of clear and simple prose as an instrument of rational communication.
Finally, the great philosophical and political treatises of the time emphasize rationalism. Even in the earlier 17th century, Francis Bacon had moved in this direction by advocating reasoning and scientific investigation in Advancement of Learning (1605) and The New Atlantis (1627). Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), by John Locke, is the product of a belief in experience as the exclusive basis of knowledge, a view pushed to its logical extreme in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748) by David Hume. Locke himself continued to profess faith in divine revelation, but this residual belief was weakened among the similarly rationalist Deists, who tended to base religion on what reason could find in the world God had created around humans.
In political thought, the arbitrary acceptance of the monarchs divine right to rule (a conception popular in the Renaissance) had so nearly succumbed to skeptical criticism that ...