Outline of Age of Reason or Enlightenment

Some call it the Age of Enlightenment. This post covers the 1700s, except the French Revolution (see next post) and reviews history, philosophy and Christianity, literature, and art and architecture.

This post has a Conclusion section at the end, which puts demands on the Western world.

If you’re in a hurry, use the ctrl-f search to find your keyword!

Please click on the corresponding post Timeline of the Age of Reason or Enlightenment for additional and reorganized information.

Let’s get started.


I. Introduction

A. Timeframe:

1. 1715: Death of Louis XIV

2. 1775: Beginning of American Revolutionary War

Genealogical Table

Philippe Erlanger, Louis XIV, trans. Stephen Cox (New York: Praeger, 1965, 1970)

II. France

A. Louis XV (r. 1715-1774)

1. Identity

a. Great-grandson of Louis XIV

b. Five years old, so duke of Orleans was Regent from 1715-20

2. Duke of Orleans (regent 1715-20)

a. He is a gambler, so he turns over economy to John Law (1621-1729) Scottish mathematician and fellow gambler

b. He wishes to improve France’s economy, so increases paper money supply with a Bank in Paris

c. Organizes a monopoly: Mississippi Company for trading privileges with French colony of Louisiana in N. America

d. Miss. Co. takes over French national debt and encourages investors

e. Stock rises handsomely in 1719, investors exchange shares for paper money, and then for gold, but not enough gold; selling of gold halted and brought disgrace on gov’t

B. Parlements (parliaments)

1. Renewed authority

a. In a political miscalculation duke of Orleans wishes to draw in nobility into decision-making process; under pressure from nobility

2. Nobles assert their right

a. Nobles domesticated under Louis XIV, so weak

b. But they still did not surrender their ancient ambition their influence over the monarchy

3. Structure

a. Councils could not legislate but approve or disapprove of royal laws

C. Cardinal Fleury (1653-1743)

1. Chief Minister in 1726 to death

2. Policies

a. New industries were established

b. roads and bridges were built

3. France enters war between Austria and Prussia

4. He did not train Louis XV to rule effectively

Genealogical Table


Alvin Redman, House of Hanover (New York: Coward McCann, 1960)

III. Great Britain

A. Hanoverian Dynasty

1. Act of Settlement (1701)

a. If Queen Anne does not have an heir or she outlived them, then protestant from German must take over

b. She outlived them

2. George I (r. 1714-1727)

a. Tories support Stuart pretender James Edward (1688-1766), son of James II, but he loses war in 1715

b. Whigs support strong monarchy, but wish for control of Parliament, commercial interests, prosperity of landowners

c. Under the circumstance that Tories supported James Edward, George I (r. 1714-27) supports Whigs

B. Robert Walpole (1676-1745)

1. Rise to power

a. Financial scandal of South Sea Co., similar to Mississippi Bubble

b. Investors sell after stocks rise in 1720

c. Walpole intros measure in Parliament to honor national debt

d. Thus he proves an effective minister, so George I gives full confidence to him

2. Maintaining Power

a. He was not elected by majority in House of Commons, but stayed in power with personal support of kings, (e.g., George II [r. 1727-1760], patronage for friends, and handling House of Commons

3. Policy

a. “Quieta non movere” or “let sleeping dogs lie”

b. He pursued peace abroad and supported status quo at home

C. Structure of Parliament

1. Representation

a. Each county sent two members

b. But if each of the powerful families agreed on candidates, then there was no contest

c. Most members elected from a variety of units called boroughs;

d. Most had few electors: a local municipal corporation or council of only a dozen members might have the right to elect a member

2. Property owners

a. This system meant the nobles and other rich controlled gov’t

b. Represented interests (merchant, colonies, landed), not a district

c. To diminish royal interests, they employed their own friends and allies as local bureaucrats, judges, military commanders, and tax collectors

3. Efficiency

a. All Britons paid taxes; virtually no exemptions

b. Bank of England (est. 1693) meant credit market secure

D. Freedom

1. Popular pressure

a. Excise tax (like a sales tax) was to be increased by Walpole

b. But pressure from Tories, press, public platform, and streets force Walpole to rescind proposal

2. Freedom of press and association

a. See excise tax

3. No large standing armies

E. Prosperity

1. Agriculture becomes productive

2. Foreign Trade from New England to India

3. Navy is stronger to protect trade

4. Model for later Continentals

IV. The Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions

A. New Crops and New Methods

1. This challenges old peasant ways, so life is unstable for them

2. Jethro Tull (1674-1741)

a. Iron plow and plant wheat by a drill, rather than casting

3. Charles “Turnip” Townsend (1674-1738)

a. Learns how to cultivate sandy soil from Dutch

b. Crop rotation, using wheat, turnips, barley, and clover; the bold crops restored nutrients to soil and provided fodder for animals

4. Robert Bakewell (1725-1795)

a. New methods in animal breeding that produced more and better animals, and more milk and meat

b. The old way of leaving field fallow

5.  Ideas Spread Slowly to Continent

B. Industrial Revolution

1. Consumption

a. Seemingly unlimited demand for supplies, such as clothing of all kinds, buttons, toys, china, furniture, rugs, kitchen utensils, candlesticks, brassware, silverware, pewterware, watches, jewelry, soap, beer, wines, and foodstuffs

b. English and Continentals have more disposable income for reasons unclear (improved agriculture? domestic trade?)

c. Entrepreneurs advertized and sold wares with salesmen

2. Textile Production

a. Originates in country, not city

b. Peasant family was the basic unit of production in winter months

c. Agents of textile merchants took unfinished products to homes of peasants, who spun it into thread

d. Agent then took thread to another peasant who wove it into finished product

e. Merchant sold wares; this happened all over Europe

f. But, consumer demand creates bottlenecks

g. So machines, such as Spinning Jenny (home managed) and The Water Frame (water powered that took machines away from homes), come to the foreground

3. Steam engine

a. Advanced model patented by James Watt at Univ. of Glasgow, Scotland, in 1769

b. Used to pump water from mines and for running cotton mills, and eventually transportation

American Revolution

Please click on the corresponding post Timeline of the Age of Reason for additional and reorganized information.

I. Background

II. Declaration of Independence (1776)

III. War of Independence (1775-1783)

IV. Constitution in Force (1789)

V. Second Great Awakening (1790s-early 1800s)


I. Philosophes (Philosophers)

A. Who They Are

1. Only a few professors

2. Publicists, critics, playwrights, essayists, storytellers, editors

3. International movement and family, quarrelsome but united

B. Formative Influence

1. Newton (1642-1727)

a. Rational universe

2. John Locke (1632-1704)

See Outline of John Locke’s Theory of Knowledge

a. Political liberalism

3. Stability of English government

a. Tolerance of religions except Unitarians and Catholics, and even they not generally persecuted

b. Comparative freedom of press and speech

c. Monarchy limited and parliament has political sovereignty

d. Courts protect citizens from arbitrary acts of gov’t

e. Small army

4. Reaction to Strict Orthodoxy

Church Reaction to Strict Orthodoxy

(And to Scientific and Enlightenment Thought)

Please click on the corresponding post Timeline of the Age of Reason for additional and reorganized information.

I. Spiritualist Option

A. George Fox (1624-1691)

II. Pietist Option

A. German Pietism

B. Moravians

C. John Wesley (1703-1791)

III. First Great Awakening(s) (1725-1760)

A. Jonathan Edwards

B. George Whitefield (1714-1770)


I. Description of Enlightenment Literature

A. Patronage

1. Freedom

a. Philosophes got subsidized by liberals in lower-level nobility and wealthy bourgeoisie

b. Encyclopedia of Diderot subsidized and protected politically by a member of royalty

c. Voltaire got rich in a business venture in India, lost it, but traveled to royal courts to write history and chronicles

2. Salon

a. French phenomenon

b. Women preside and support intellectuals

B. Man

1. Reason vs. Passion

a. In all regions, capacity to reason is constant

b. “Savage” culture is not corrupted, so may be more pure than Europe

c. Passions can take over, but ruin will come

d. Reason must take priority if life is to be balanced and peaceful

C. Renaissance Tradition

1.  Reason

2.  Classical literature

II. Enlightenment Literature in England

A. Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)

1. Life

a. Moves around a lot in early years: three places as gentleman farmer; then suburb of London; Wales; back to London suburb (1763-1777)

b. She is companion to Mrs. Dawson of Bath (1778-1780)

c. Mother dies after Mary takes care of her (1782)

d. Her sister Eliza, marries Meredith Bishop 1782); he is abusive; she seems deranged during childbirth, but Mary gets her to separate from him; no custody of child who dies in one year (1784)

e. Mary, sister, and Fanny Blood (soul mate) opens school

f. Fanny marries, soon pregnant, dies with baby in Mary’s arms (1785)

g. Goes to Portugal, returns, closes school in financial trouble (1786)

h. Governess to Viscount Kingsborough in Ireland (1786-87)

i. Responds to Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) with Vindication of the Rights of Man (2nd. ed. in 1791)

j. Vindication of Rights of Woman (1792)

k. Leaves for Paris in 1792 and meets Gilbert Imlay; registered as his wife to get protection during Revolution, but not married; Fanny Imlay born (1794)

l. He returns to London, and she attempts suicide, left alone (1795)

m. Both in London, he is with an actress, she attempts suicide again, but rescued (1795)

n. She meets Wm. Godwin, a radical philosopher; marry in 1797

o. Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (Shelley) born in 1797

p. Mary the elder dies in 1797, 11 days later, of childbed fever

2. Works

a. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)

B. Alexander Pope (1688-1744)

1. Life

a. B. in London of Rom. Cath. parents; barred from formal education because of his faith and ill health (Pott’s disease, spinal tuberculosis)

b. Settles outside London, remaining there for rest of his life

c. Translates Iliad in heroic couplets (1720), and very lucrative, in heroic couplets; Odyssey follows (1720-1725; 1725-26)

2. Works

a. Essay on Man (1733-34)

Please click on the corresponding post Timeline of the Age of Reason for additional and reorganized information.

II. Enlightenment Literature in France

A. François-Marie Arouet (Voltaire) (1694-1778)

1. Life

a. Son of a lawyer; educated at Jesuit College, making lifelong friends with young dukes and marquises

b. Takes the name Voltaire after successful tragedy Oedipe (1718)

c. Imprisoned unjustly twice in Bastille and   exiled to England (1726-28)

d. Lettres philosophiques burned publicly in  Paris (1734)

e. Retired with mistress Emilie to her husband’s estate at Cirey until her death (1749); there, wrote study of Newton, plays, and begins correspondence with Frederick of Prussia

f. With intervention of Mme. of Pompadour, he is in French court at Versailles as royal historiographer, gentleman of bedchamber to Louis XV, and made member of French Academy

g. 1750-53, stays at court of Frederick of Prussia, but left after a quarrel, but late resumed correspondence

h. Amasses fortune by shrewd investments and moneylending to rich, buys Les Delices near Geneva and estate of Ferney across Swiss border (1758)

i. He lives luxuriously; visited by eminent men and women of Europe

j. Leaves Ferney for Paris (1778), where he dies

2. Works

a. Candide (1759)

B. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)

1. Life

a. B. in Geneva, son of watchmaker; leaves Geneva 1728), wandering through SE France and N. Italy, working as servant, music teacher, tutor, returning often to visit patroness later mistress Louise Eleonore de Warens (Mamma)

b. Goes to Paris (1742), publishes Dissertation on French Music (1743); serves as ambassador’s secretary; lifelong liaison with Therese LeVasseur, a commoner, having five children, putting them in orphanage shortly after birth

c. Novel La Nouvelle Heloise (1761) and Emile (1762), The Social Contract (1762), the latter two provoking official censorship;

d. Forced to wander around (1762-79) from one country to another

e. In England, he writes Confessions (1766-67)

2. Works (Please click on the corresponding post Timeline of the Age of Reason for additional and reorganized information.)

a. Confessions (1765-70; publ. 1781-88)

C. Denis Diderot (1713-1784)

1. Life

a. B. in Langres, Haute-Marne, of bourgeois family, father a cutler; educated by Jesuits

b. 1732 M.A. from U of Paris; supports himself as writer, studying languages and science

c. 1743 Marries Antoinette Champion; Angélique reaches adulthood of their several children; she marries in 1772

d. Catherine the Great of Russia subsidizes Encyclopédie

e. Dies in Paris

2. Works

a. Encyclopédie (1751-1752)

Please click on the corresponding post Timeline of the Age of Revolutions and Reactions for additional and reorganized information.

Art and Architecture

I. Rococo

A. Introduction

1. More intimate scale than Baroque

2. Frivolous subjects and themes

3. Centered in Paris after the nobles were no longer tied to Louis XIV’s Versailles

4. Embraced by aristocracy in Germany, Italy and Austria

5. And by Roman Catholics

6. England and its Protestant middle class reject it

B. Paintings

1. Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721)

a. Fêtes galantes, or aristocratic entertainments

b. Departure from Cythera (classical theme, but legendary island of Venus is island of live; small moment [not drama of Baroque] whether romantic, erotic or sentimental)

c. The Sign for Gersaint’s Shop (Louis XIV is being crated in left– old order is leaving, and new middle class can be buyers; class is important

2. François Boucher (1703-1770)

a. Unabashed sexuality; official painter for Louis XV in 1765

b. Nude on Sofa (Louis’ many mistresses; purpose was only erotic)

3. Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-Lebrun (1755-1842)

a. Serves as court painter for Marie-Antoinette

b. Marie Antoinette and Her Children

4. Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806)

a. Playful themes of flirtation and pursuit in a frivolous, timeless world

b. The Swing

C.  Interiors

1. Rocaille

a. Fanciful stucco ornaments in the shapes of ribbons, leaves, stems, flowers, interlaces, arabesques

b. Illusion with mirrors

2. Hall of Mirrors at Versailles Palace, France

3. Salon de la Princess

4. Kaisarsaal, the Residenz

II. The English Response

A. Introduction

1. Protestant middle class rejects this rococo

B. William Hogarth (1697-1764)

a. The Countess’ Levée or Morning Party (Countess is planning an affair; small black child servant points to horned creature)

III. Neoclassicism

A. Challenge of Neoclassicism

1. Excavations

a. In Pompeii and Herculaneum

2. James Stuart and Nicholas Revett publish The Antiquities of Athens (1762)

3. Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768) publishes History of Art (1764), distinguishing Greek sculpture from Roman

B. Paintings

1. Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825)

a. The Oath of the Horatii

b. The Death of Socrates

C. Neoclassical Architecture

1. Robert Adam (1728-1792)

a. Scottish

b. Kenwood House (appeals to sober-minded middle class)

c. Library Kenwood House

2. Jacques-Germain Soufflot (1713-1780)

a. The Pantheon

D.  Support

1.  Writing

a.  Emergence of print culture

b.  Writings can sustain some, not all

2.  Patrons

a.  Curious aristocrats

3.  Growing middle class

a.  Spokesmen for growing middle class

b.  Not for the little people

c.  Marx comes later

E.  Purpose

1.  Cultivate, enlighten, and ennoble the human race

2.  Preceptors of mankind (Diderot)

3.  Preachers of reasonableness, humanity, secularism

F.  Religion

1.  Premise

a.  Christianity was wrong, science was right

2.  Purpose

a.  Cut away superstition and stay with core

b.  Criticism was an act of aggression, systematic, disciplined aggression

c.  Destruction because they must clear the ground to build

3.  Deism

a.  A God who wound the universe up like a clock and left it alone

G.  Politics

1.  Charles-Louis de Seconat, Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755) Spirit of Laws (1748)

a.  Depends on variables, such as size, population, religion, economy

b.  For France, monarchial gov’t tempered and limited by various sets of intermediary institutions, e.g. parlements for legislation, legal power in courts, king has executive power

2.  Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78), Social Contract (1762)

a.  Radical, direct democracy

H.  Progress

1.  Status of writers

a.  Grows internationally

2.  Wars

a.  Scourge of international wars becomes more remote

3.  Medicine

a.  Possibility for better health and longer life

4.  Religion

a.  Even religious intellectuals, hostile to the philosophers, ridicule superstition and deplored fanaticism

b.  They extol humanitarianism, and admire science (Swift, Pope, Johnson)

5.  Nonage

a.  “The inability to use one’s own understanding without another’s guidance” (Kant, “What Is Enlightenment?”)

b.  Emergence from self-imposed nonage


I.  Background

A.  Society

1.  Hierarchy

a.  Well defined code of behavior socially, but privately hypocritical

b.  Individualism is not assumed, but a person belongs to a class or community or guild or neighborhood

c.  Society itself assumes subordination

2.  Convention and authority

a.  “Agreed upon system of behavior declared appropriate for specific situations”

b.  Social guides proliferated in 18th cent.

B.  Politics

1.  Absolutism

a.  In France

2.  Constitutional monarchy

a.  In England, but ruling class can still wreak havoc

b.  John Locke is on ships with William and Mary when they are installed (1689)

C.  Nature

1.  Rational

a.  Inherent order of things, even physical

b.  Nature is systematic and rational

2.  Scientific investigation

a.  Man can and should study it, but be careful, for man is limited:  “The proper study for man is Mankind” (Pope, Essay 2.1)

b.  Reason cannot apprehend all of it

D.  Classical literature

1.  Conformist

a.  Attitude in Neo-classical authors is submissive and conformist, whereas Romantics will imitate classical forms but not be bound by it

b.  Tame pleasure with lyrical, inflated language, making experience stable

c.  Literary artists align themselves with authority of classical forms

E.  Question Authority

1.  Reason

a.  Reason and the “enlightened” age requires intellectuals to question political authority

b.  Satirists cannot seem idiosyncratic, so at first they conform to classical forms, but authors take them a step further

2.  Politics

a.  Political status quo is threatened

b.  Rousseau was a radical democrat

c.  Jonathan Swift questioned English Parliament’s policies in Ireland

d.  Some were conformist or wanted a constitutional monarchy

e.  Ruling class can fight back with persecution and arrest

1) Voltaire is arrested for 18 months or two years

3.  Philosophy

a.  Voltaire questioned Leibniz’s philosophy that this is the best of all possible worlds, so any evil in it is the shortsightedness of limited man

b.  Continues reaction against Medieval dogmatism that the Renaissance and Baroque thinkers started

F.  Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)

1.  Life

a.  B. in Dublin, but of English stock

b.  A distant cousin of John Dryden

c.  Kilkenny School (1663-82) and Trinity College, Dublin (B.A. 1686); he was censured for offences against discipline, and rec’d degree with special dispensation

d.  He served as secretary to Sir Wm. Temple, Whig envoy to Netherlands and arranged marriage between Wm and Mary (1689), based in Moor Park, Surrey

e.  He meets Esther Johnson (Stella), and their relationship remains obscure, though a marriage may have existed between them

f.  Leaves for Ireland (1693); ordained as Anglican deacon (1694) and priest (1695)

g.  In 1700 Vicar of Laracor, Agher, and Rathbeggan (County Meath), traveling frequently to London

h.  First involved with Whigs, then with Tories

i.  Dean of St. Patrick’s in Dublin, a rich post, as reward for service to the Tory admin.

j.  Joins Scriblerius Club (1714), object of which was to ridicule all false tastes in learning

k.  In 1708 meets Esther Vanhomrigh (Vanummery), who follows him to Dublin and dies poss. because he rejects her in 1723

l.  Writes on deplorable conditions in Ireland, though he suffers probably from Ménière’s disease

m. He remained the Patriot Dean until his 70th year, when his health fails and suffers paralytic stroke

2.  Works

a.  A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children    of Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and in Making Them Beneficial to the Public (1729)

G.  Novel in England

1.  Middle class

a.  England is a world power, so wealth trickles down to this class

b.  So the novels are read by the middle classes

c.  Therefore, the heroes are of this class or lower

2.  Realism

a.  Scientific Age:  Time and space is tamed or reasoned out in 1600s and early 1700s

b.  Therefore, novels project realism in time and space

3.  Individualism

a.  The individual from the middle classes is making himself heard

b.  This is just now begun; not fully developed in the Age of Reason

c.  Characters are not heroic as in classical literature

H.  Henry Fielding (1707-1754)

1.  Life

a.  B. near Glastonbury, Somerset; cousin of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu; mother dies in 1718, and he is sent to Eton

b.  Attended Eton (1719-25/6); continues study at Leiden U. (1728-29); between 1729-37 he writes 25 dramas; 1736 manages New Theatre

c.  Licensing Act (1737) ended his career as  dramatist bec. he goaded Walpole with satire

d.  Studies law (1737-40) and worked rest of his life as barrister and magistrate

e.  1734 marries Charlotte Cradock, who died after ten happy years

f.  1747 marries Charlotte’s servant

g.  1749 becomes Justice of Peace for Westminster and later for all Middlesex

h.  Tom Jones has immediate success

i.  1754 Travels to Portugal for his health, but dies in Lisbon within two month

2.  Works

a.  The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling (1749)


The 1700s is the century when our nation was born, when we grew out of the 1600s, fought for our independence, and wrote up the Constitution. Christianity and the Age of Enlightenment merged to project us into the future. The Age of Enlightenment also led to the French Revolution, which proclaimed the rights of man and his liberty..

Come on, Western world! Wake up! Recover your good past, like your original biblical Christian faith, rather than empty religion, and move past your bad past!

Timeline of the Age of Revolutions and Reactions

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