Terry Eagleton is a British literary theorist, critic and public intellectual. “The Rise of English” is one of his critical essays in which he has depicted the significance of literature because of the crisis of modern civilization. From the very outset of the modern sense of literature, modern civilization started to suffer from different types of crisis.
The first and foremost crisis of modern civilization we get in the essay “The Rise of English” is the failure of religion in the mid-Victorian period. Religion and science became rivals for each other and the twin impacts of science and social change made religion unreliable at the bottom. The Victorian ruling class was worried because it is universally accepted that religion is an effective form for ideological control. Like all successful ideologies, it works much less by explicit concepts than by image, symbol, habit, ritual and mythology. To save the nation from this crisis English literature came forward and showed its success too.
Terry Eagleton has cited that modern “England is sick” that was commented by George Gordon, who was an early professor of English Literature at oxford, in his inaugural lecture. The churches were failed and social remedies were slow. English literature has now triple function to delight, instruct and save us. Thus, English is constructed as a subject to carry away the burden from the Victorian period onwards. According to Eagleton, Matthew Arnold is here the key figure because he recognizes the urgent social need.
“It is of itself a serious calamity for a nation that its tone of feeling and grandeur of spirit should be lowered or dulled”
Another traceable crisis of modern civilization is political bigotry and ideological extremism. Getting rid of the crisis, literature is the potent antidote as we know that it deals with universal human values rather than the historical civil wars, oppression of women or the dispossession of the English peasantry. And, certainly literature helps to promote sympathy and fellow feeling among al classes.
Bourgeois or conservative civilization is acute in the habits of thought and feeling of modern civilization. People are very much self-centered and not at all cooperative to each other. They pursue knowledge for their moral riches but their educational pursuit must be called a scanty education. According to a study of English Literature written in 1891, people need political culture and instruction so that they can perform their duties as citizens.
According to Eageton, literature from Arnold onwards is enemy of ideological dogma that seems irrelevant when we read the writing of Dante, Milton and Pope and of course Shakespeare. He also suggests that if anyone wants to get ideas about the evil of imperialism, he needs to travel Africa but his demand can be fulfilled without going to Africa if he reads Conrad or Kipling. Thus literature is the preacher of light, knowledge and morality.
In termination, it is transparent that The Rise of English that means the development of English literature has been smooth because of the acute problem of modern civilization as it meets the demand of the time in time of crisis.