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European literature of the 18th century refers to literature (poetry, drama, satire, and novels) produced in Europe during this period. The 18th century saw the development of the modern novel as literary genre, in fact many candidates for the first novel in English date from this period, of which Daniel Defoe's 1719 Robinson Crusoe is probably the best known. Subgenres of the novel during the 18th century were the epistolary novel, the sentimental novel, histories, the gothic novel and the libertine novel.
The 18th century in Europe was The Age of Enlightenment and literature explored themes of social upheaval, reversals of personal status, political satire, geographical exploration and the comparison between the supposed natural state of man and the supposed civilized state of man. Edmund Burke, in his A Vindication of Natural Society (2000), says: "The Fabrick of Superstition has in this our Age and Nation received much ruder Shocks than it had ever felt before; and through the Chinks and Breaches of our Prison, we see such Glimmerings of Light, and feel such refreshing Airs of Liberty, as daily raise our Ardor for more."research by Shema Leon Patrick
In 1700, William Congreve's play The Way of the World premiered. Although unsuccessful at the time, The Way of the World is a good example of the sophistication of theatrical thinking during this period, with complex subplots and characters intended as ironic parodies of common stereotypes.
In 1703, Nicholas Rowe's domestic drama The Fair Penitent, an adaptation of Massinger and Field's Fatal Dowry, appeared; it would later be pronounced by Dr Johnson to be one of the most pleasing tragedies in the language. Also in 1703 Sir Richard Steele's comedy The Tender Husband achieved some success.
In 1704, Jonathan Swift (Irish satirist) published A Tale of a Tub and The Battle of the Books  and John Dennis published his Grounds of Criticism in Poetry. The Battle of the Books begins with a reference to the use of a glass (which, in those days, would mean either a mirror or a magnifying glass) as a comparison to the use of satire. Swift is, in this, very much the child of his age, thinking in terms of science and satire at one and the same time. Swift often patterned his satire after Juvenal, the classical satirist. He was one of the first English novelists and also a political campaigner. His satirical writing springs from a body of liberal thought which produced not only books but also political pamphlets for public distribution. Swift's writing represents the new, the different and the modern attempting to change the world by parodying the ancient and incumbent. The Battle of the Books is a short writing which demonstrates his position very neatly.
In 1707, Henry Fielding was born (22 April) and his sister Sarah Fielding was born 3 years later on 8 November 1710. In 1711, Alexander Pope began a career in literature with the publishing of his An Essay on Criticism. In 1712, French philosophical writer Jean Jacques Rousseau born 28 June and his countryman Denis Diderot was born the following year 1713 on 5 October. Also in 1712 Pope published The Rape of the Lock and in 1713 Windsor Forest.
In 1708, Simon Ockley publishes an English translation of Ibn Tufail's Hayy ibn Yaqdhan, a 12th-century philosophical novel, as The Improvement of Human Reason: Exhibited in the Life of Hai Ebn Yokdhan. This was the first English translation directly from the Arabic original.
Samuel Johnson was born on 18 September 1709 in Lichfield, Staffordshire, England.
Horace Walpole was born on 24 September 1717.
Alexander Smith was a biographer who authored A Complete History of the Lives and Robberies of the Most Notorious Highwaymen (1719) which includes heavily fictionalised accounts of English criminals from the medieval period to the eighteenth century.
In 1728, John Gay wrote The Beggar's Opera which has increased in fame ever since. The Beggar's Opera began a new style in Opera, the "ballad opera" which brings the operatic form down to a more popular level and precedes the genre of comic operettas. Also in 1728 came the publication of Cyclopaedia, or, A Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences (folio, 2 vols.), an encyclopedia by Ephraim Chambers. The Cyclopaedia was one of the first general encyclopedias to be produced in English and was the main model for Diderot's Encyclopédie (published in France between 1751 and 1766).
In 1729, Jonathan Swift published A Modest Proposal, a satirical suggestion that Irish families should sell their children as food. Swift was, at this time, fully involved in political campaigning for the Irish.
In 1731, George Lillo's play The London Merchant was a success at the Theatre-Royal in Drury Lane. It was a new kind of play, a domestic tragedy, which approximates to what later came to be called a melodrama.
In 1738, London, a poem in imitation of Juvenal’s Third Satire, by Samuel Johnson is published. Like so many poets of the 18th century Johnson sought to breathe new life into his favorite classical author Juvenal.
1770 April 7: William Wordsworth is born.
1776 The United States Declaration of Independence is created and ratified.
1779–1781 Samuel Johnson writes and publishes Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets. This compilation contains mini-biographies of 52 influential poets (most of whom lived in the 18th century) along with critical appraisals of their works. most notable are Alexander Pope, John Dryden, John Milton, Jonathan Swift, and Joseph Addison.
1783 Washington Irving was born.
On 13 December 1784 Samuel Johnson died.
1786 Robert Burns published Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. The mood of literature was swinging toward more interest in diverse ethnicity. Beaumarchais' The Marriage of Figaro (Le Nozze di Figaro) was adapted into a comic opera composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, with libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte.
1789 The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, one of the first slave narratives to have been widely read in historical times, is published. James Fenimore Cooper is born on September 15 in the United States.
1792 Percy Bysshe Shelley was born (August 4).
1796 Thomas Chandler Haliburton was born.
From 1704 to 1717, Antoine Galland published the first European translation of the One Thousand and One Nights (also known as The Arabian Nights in English). His version of the tales appeared in twelve volumes and exerted a huge influence on subsequent European literature and attitudes to the Islamic world. Galland's translation of the Nights was immensely popular throughout Europe, and later versions of the Nights were written by Galland's publisher using Galland's name without his consent.
In 1707, playwright Carlo Goldoni was born.
In 1729, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing was born.
In 1731, Manon Lescaut ,a French novel by the Abbé Prévost that narrates the love affairs of an unmarried couple and inaugurates one of the most common themes of the literature of the time: the sentimental story, taking into account for the first time the female point of view and not only the courtship and the conquest or the failure of man.
1743 Gavrila Derzhavin is born.
1752, Micromégas, a satirical short story by Voltaire, features space travellers visiting earth. It is one of the first stories to feature several elements of what will later become known as science fiction. Its publication at this time is also indicative of the trend toward scientific thinking that characterizes the Enlightenment.
1767 September 8: August Wilhelm von Schlegel is born.
1772 March 10: Karl Wilhelm Friedrich von Schlegel is born.
1774 Goethe wrote The Sorrows of Young Werther, a novel which approximately marks the beginning of the Romanticism movement in the arts and philosophy. A transition thus began, from the critical, science inspired, enlightenment writing to the romantic yearning for forces beyond the mundane and for foreign times and places to inspire the soul with passion and mystery.
1784 Denis Diderot died 31 July. Voltaire, Rousseau and Diderot have all died within a period of a few years and French philosophy had thus lost three of its greatest enlightened free thinkers. Rousseau's thinking on the nobility of life in the wilds, facing nature as a naked savage still had great force to influence the next generation as the romantic movement gained momentum. Beaumarchais wrote The Marriage of Figaro. Maria and Harriet Falconar publish Poems on Slavery. The anti-slavery movement was growing in power and many poems and pamphlets were published on the subject.
1791 Dream of the Red Chamber is published for the first time in movable type format.