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London, S.W.



Mind of the Century

Reprinted fyoui " The Daily Chronicle"





[All rights rcsei'ved.']






By Lionel Johnson .




By William Archer

. 14


By Arthur Waugh .



By Henry W. Nevinson .

• 34


By G. C. Ashton Jonson



By Joseph Pennell

• SI


By J. A. NiCKLiN



By Major Martin Hume

. 69


By Rev. A. W. Hutton



By W. F. Alexander

• 83


By J. A. Hobson



By Francis Storr

. 98


By Prof. W. A. Tilden



By Dr. H. J. Campbell .

. 114

Natural Science.

By Edward Clodd


Applied Science.

By W. A. Price .

• 133



[ The folloiuing leading article upon this scries appeared in the
'"'Daily Chronicle " of December 31, 1900]

The articles have necessarily been written on broad
and general lines, so as to show only the tendencies of
human effort and production within the century, and
as far as possible to group together the various leaders
of thought whose influence has been most widely felt.
It has naturally been impossible to cover the whole
field, and, for one thing, as Englishmen we have
devoted most attention to the progress of mind in
our own islands. Many names also, which some
would have liked to see mentioned, and which
probably deserved mention, have inevitably been
omitted ; and we are still too close to the last
quarter-century, we are still too much entangled in
the confusion of its interests, to distinguish with
accuracy the true importance of its several currents.
This is especially true of artistic work of all kinds,
whether of literature or music or " the arts." On
such things we know from old experience that it
is very rare for contemporaries to give a just decision.
But still we think that we have in this series taken
up and traced all the chief lines of human endeavour
since the century began ; and if it is supposed that
we have dwelt too exclusively on the progress of
thought in England, we have at least the satisfaction


of knowing that in all departments of thought, with
but one or two exceptions, Englishmen have been
among the foremost leaders, even where they have
not actually led the world.

On the whole we cannot doubt that, whether at
home or abroad, the century has been intellectually
one of the greatest in history. Poets have shown
a new imaginativeness and daring, combined with
strange melody and beauty of form ; they have been
possessed by a deeper seriousness, a nearness to
nature, and a sincerity which rejects all that is
artificial and secondhand. Dramatists have no doubt
fallen short of the supreme standard reached by
Athens and Elizabethan London, but the growth
of the theatre as a whole since the century's
beginning has been marked by the same freshness
and sincerity as the poetry. The novel is one of
the century's most characteristic productions, and in
all its various forms it has reached a higher level
than ever before. The essay is not new, but its
influence was never greater, and it has been used
by many masters of noble style and thought. Artistic
criticism has shown a breadth and delicacy of per-
ception for which even the Greeks were only
preparing the way, while philology as a critical
science has been created anew. It is perhaps in
music that the chief artistic triumph of the century
lies ; for the art of sounds has entered upon an
undiscovered world of expression, and has touched
depths of emotion before unreached and perhaps
unsuspected. In the plastic arts, to be sure, in-
cluding architecture and the decorative work of
common life, we are utterly defeated, not only by
Athens, but by Egypt and the ancient East, as
well as by all the chief nations of mediaeval Europe
and by some later periods in our own country. But
still within the century's limits we have seen painting
express a more poetic and deeper insight into nature,


and artists have represented ancient themes and
permanent human emotions under new conceptions
of colour and design. The highest examples of art
have been thrown open for every one to see, and
the end of the century is marked by a revived beauty
in architecture as well as in some kinds of handicraft
and household stuff of expensive simplicity. Under
the influence of philosophy and biology, history has
so much changed since the beginning of the century
as to be hardly the same science ; or rather what was
then considered history is now only a small plot in
an immensely extended field of investigation.

Travellers have left hardly any district of the world
unexplored. The poles have almost come within
sight ; the Nile has yielded its secret, and the centres
of great continents are added to the knowledge and
sometimes to the habitation of civilised men. Both
in theology and philosophy the problems of thought
are now of deeper import and wider scope ; the
essentials are clearer and no less absorbing, while
much tradition and ignorance have fallen away, so
that perplexities which afflicted our forefathers have
found a solution or ceased to trouble. Economics
may almost be called a new science, as history is
new, and of late it has shown a humane and
considerate tendency which brings it into close
connection with ethics. Education, as far as most
Englishmen are concerned, may almost be said to
belong to this century alone ; while, throughout the
world, the method of developing a child's mind
instead of filling it has changed the system of
teaching. The whole conception of chemistry and
medicine has been revolutionised by such discoveries
as the atomic theory, the conservation of energy,
bacteriology in its widest developments, anaesthetics,
and theories of sanitation. But it is in natural science
that the century has made its greatest progress.
Hereafter it will be known as the century of


Evolution, and the aspect of nature rather vaguely
expressed by that word has touched and influenced
every other department of thought, except perhaps
the pure mathematics which lie beyond change.
The spectroscope, embryology, the theory of pro-
toplasm, have opened up new conceptions of the
vastness of the universe as well as of the minuteness
of life and the slow antiquity of its development.
Finally, by the application of science man has created
the railway, the steamship, and the telegraph in
many forms. He has bridged seas and tunnelled
through the barriers of mountains. He has forged
bolts to burst at a range of several miles, and has
brought the lightning to shine in the rooms of his
house. " Many things are strange," said the Greek
poet, "but none so strange as man." During this
century he has been at his strangest, and has dis-
played his most characteristic energy.

We think the retrospect of a hundred years may
well fill us with hope. An incalculable amount
remains to be done, and the problems of life are
continually shifting. Much that is horrible is left,
much hideousness of spirit and of life's surroundings ;
much brutality, oppression and injustice ; much
insensate vulgarity and indifference to the thoughts
or misery of others ; much greed for possession, many
false distinctions of class, not only through the
difference of rich and poor, but through the much
more serious difference of educated and ignorant.
But still, on the whole, we have received from the
century a heritage of hope, which we may con-
fidently pass on to the coming age, believing that
as we stand in front of the race of a century ago,
they too of a century hence will stand in front of
us. " We bid you hope," said Goethe, and there is no
finer message to be drawn from history. But if
among the multifarious lines of this century's thought
we were to search for one common quality that has


inspired and characterised tliem all, we should perhaps
find it in courage. Not only have individual artists
and thinkers dared to follow their star through good
and evil, but in this age man has shaken off a very
large amount, not of reverence, but of fear. Our
watchword has been Carlyle's " Fear nothing but
fear." Man has had the courage to pursue reason
wherever she might lead. He has dared to see
things for himself and with his own eyes. He has
refused to rest satisfied with any secondhand rule,
opinion, or authority, and by his courageous resolve
to launch out into unknown waters he has discovered
regions of thought, of beauty, and activity, which are
different from what he left behind, but in the end are
seen to be no less fair and full of interests more




The poets of the nineteenth century did well. That,
I am convinced, will be the verdict of the centuries
to come ; also that, while scarcely one of the nations
did not shine in respect of poetry, France and
England excelled the rest. An age filled with
tendencies and interests not commonly accounted
poetical, an age of industrialism and exact science,
has produced a body of poetry marked by nothing
more notably than by its imaginativeness, its aesthetic
daring, its limitless dreaming, its technical variety
and skill. The nineteenth century has in poetry risen
above the mainly placid levels of the eighteenth ;
the famous " returns " to nature and romanticism and
idealism, which the close of that century saw begun
in England, France, and Germany, have remained in
undiminished force as the chief springs and motives
of poetry. And, though it is possible to group the
poets of the passing century in schools and lines of
succession, it has been an age of intense individuality
in art, rich in personalities, and a very various dis-
tinction. But two features have been prominent, both
separately and in conjunction. The poets of the
century have been, in the Aristotelian sense,
philosophic poets ; and they have been cunning


craftsmen. It could not with truth be said of the
poets of the last century that we turn to them for
the deepest expression of its thought ; it would be
very largely true to say it of our own. It could
not be claimed that the poetic craftsmanship of the
last century, careful and perfect in its kind as it could
be, was rich and various ; our own has borne many
an " inventor of harmonies," from whose standard it
should be impossible for poetry to recede. A third,
but less important feature of the age in poetry is its
multifariousness of range ; its dramatic reach, its
romantic scope ; the names of Hugo and Leconte de
Lisle, of Browning and Morris, conjure up a world of
imaginative pageantry, vast realms new-found for
poetry. It might be urged, without excess of
paradox, that for purposes of literary, as also of
political, survey, the nineteenth century began with
the last quarter of the eighteenth. The fame of many
nineteenth-century poets was firmly established, or
deserved to be, in the eighteenth. Germany of the
nineteenth century has produced no poet greater than
Goethe, England none greater than Wordsworth.
Since their appearance, it may be said of poetry, plids
ca cha7tge plus dest la nicnie chose. The deepening of
imaginative thought, the emancipation of poetry from
outworn conventions the care for beauty, the lyrical
impulse, the wider scope which distinguish the best
poetry of the century, came to the birth before the
dawn of 1 80 1 ; the dawn of 1901 bids us look back
over many combinations and variations of them, but
it opens upon no new birth of poetry, no change in
its essentials.

Poetry has been a power during these last hundred
years ; it has both expressed and excited their vague
unrest, their despairs and hopes, their lookings back-
ward and their lookings forward. Fletcher of Saltoun,
in his famous saying, probably confined himself to
poetry of the simplest orders, immediately moving ;


but the highest poetry of the century, the most
intellectual and ideal, has furnished many minds
with a kind of religion, and served them as Words-
worth served Mill. It is certainly untrue to say that
the poets of the century have in the main written
with a " purpose," a propagandist impulse or inten-
tion ; but it were equally untrue to say that they
have been " idle singers of an empty day." The
poetry of the age most remote in seeming from the
age's character and aspect, poetry often of an almost
antiquarian kind, given over to some resuscitation of
paganism, or to some graceful dalliance with the ways
and thoughts of a past generation and age, testifies in
an especial manner to the spirit of the century, so
ardent, so troubled, so in need of solace. And there
have been poets such, in England, as Mrs. Browning
and Clough, and Kingsley and Dobell, whose work
has a tense vibration and strain, an almost too faithful
echo of the age's aching thoughts and wonders.
Though there has been a welcome plenty of poets
light and fanciful and playful, the nineteenth century
has not been one in which poetry has been an elegant
accomplishment, a pretty trifle, a polite amusement.
The aerial Shelley would convert the world by his
melody, by spiritual reason garbed in beauty. Baude-
laire, sesthete of aesthetes, sings sermons ; most poetry
of the expiring age rings true to some deep convic-
tions in the hearts and minds of its makers. But so
diverse, so variegated have been those spiritual and
aesthetic attitudes towards life and art, that it is not
possible to trace a methodical development in the
history of the age's poets. Common to all of them is
a passion for poetry, an immense reverence for it, a
profound feeling for its dignity, its capacity, its high
rank among the possible expressions of humanity. It
may well be that we, children of the nineteenth
century, deceive ourselves, and worship what future
ages will discard and ignore ; and yet, at heart, we


feel secure in our judgment that the nineteenth
century is, in kind if not in degree, a great poetic age,
even as the Periclean and Elizabethan.

If we start from Wordsworth and Hugo, we
find them but the first of a goodly poetic line in
England and France. Coleridge, Landor, Byron,
Shelley, Keats, Tennyson, Browning, Mrs. Browning,
Arnold, Rossetti, Morris, Patmore : it is no meagre
list of poets gone " where Homer and where Orpheus
are," and where a host of admirable lesser contem-
poraries keep them company. France, from Hugo
to Verlaine, boasts a line at least equal to the
English, and, in Hugo, the chief writer of the century.
Almost all its greater poetry has the note of the
ideal, of imaginative and speculative passion ; even
the poets of whom Gautier is the type, whose aim is
to create nothing but a lyric loveliness, have expressed
through poetry a pronounced view of life, and, in
the sensitiveness of their artistic consciences, have
attained to something of a " high seriousness." The
century has seen many forms of reaction from the
ways of its predecessor, the scBCulum rationalisticum ^
and its poetry has been among the foremost. It has
taught us to look upon nature with new eyes, found
fresh means of escape from materialism, bidden us
comprehend the soul of past ages, quickened our
insight and research into the soul of man, made both
optimism and pessimism more profound, liberated
verse from its chains, sung to a larger music in a
richer tongue, insisted upon the mystery of things,
restored the spirit of romance, extended its provinces
upon every side, and become a spiritual power. The
voice of Wordsworth, when "in the spirit," is as
authoritative as the voice of Darwin, and since his
day, to quote Coleridge, poets have learned to
" spread the tone, the atmosphere, and with it the
depth and height of the ideal world, around forms,
incidents, and situations, of which, for the common


view, custom had bedimmed all the lustre, had dried
up the sparkle and the dewdrops." Even such things
as the sombre negations of Leopardi or the bright
impieties of Heine have upon them this recovered
freshness and sincerity. And in depth of passion,
the poets have excelled : Byron, the least perfect of
great poets, taught romantic loves and hate to all
Europe and influenced poetry from Moscow to
Madrid. Even more than music and painting,
poetry has been the fine flower of the age's art ;
and, though the world may contain to-day but few
poets, or none, of the first rank, there is no sign that
poetry is entering upon a period of bankruptcy or
decay. Signs of change there are, and the twentieth
century may well see " things unattempted yet " in
the province of poetry : but such signs are slight.

In nothing has the poetry of the last hundred
years shown itself more profusely, even prodigally,
fertile than in its interpretation of nature. The
great elemental human passions vary little from age
to age in their essentials, however widely in their
internal circumstances and expressions ; it is other-
wise with the relations, not of man to man, but of
man to nature. Pantheism, dangerous enough as an
intellectual faith, has seemed the necessary attitude
of the century's poets toward the visible world in all
its manifestations : enraptured converse with the
anima mu7tdi. Our poets have left no silences, no
inarticulateness, in nature. " Arbres de la foret, vous
connaissez mon ame ! " cries Hugo, and almost all
his fellow poets have known like intercourse and
friendship, with a various intimacy of feeling felt by
scarcely a poet of antiquity, save Virgil and Lucretius.
Upon the technical side, the century's poets have
been vastly inventive, introducing countless novelties
in construction and rhythm ; not always without
detriment to established laws of their art. The
almost universal revulsion from the classic or the


academic has produced, in America, for example,
that magnificent anomaly, Walt Whitman, and in
France a defiance of poetic conventions, beside which
the innovations of Romanticists and Parnassians
seem timid. Contrasted with the poetry of the last
century, for the most part so orderly and unenter-
prising, the poetry of this is bewildering in its
diversities of matter and form : an " Augustan " age
of "correctness" scarcely seems to be at hand, but
it may have to come. It would be hard to say what
kind of poetry has been most successful during these
hundred years of its assiduous cultivation ; probably
the lyric, if a wide scope of application be extended
to the word. It has been an emotional age, full
of ferment and agitation, and the " subtle-souled
psychologists " of poetry have proved themselves
in touch with it. The lyric, the idyll, the swift
dramatic study, have been more in favour than works
of prolonged elaboration. Such works have certainly
not been wanting, but they seem less characteristic of
the century, which in this matter has tended more
and more towards the conviction of Poe, and inclined
to value most highly the verse which is a brief flight
of music.

It is noticeable that the lands of the ancient civili-
sation have still no rivals in the production of great
poetry : the British Colonies and the United States
can point to no poet of the first order, and to less
than a score of eminent merit. In Europe, Scan-
dinavian poetry has won its way to the world's ear,
and Ireland has, almost for the first time, added an
admirable contribution to the sum of English verse.
I do not profess to explain why, of the two countries,
Italy and Germany, which have experienced most
change in the body politic and the conditions of
life at large, Italy has been poetically fertile, while
Germany has not. The unification of the German
States produced no second Aufkldrung, But the


spirit of art always " moves in a mysterious way, its
wonders to perform," and, though essentially rational,
is seldom wholly explicable. And for that reason
prophecy about the future of poetry is idle, and even
criticism about the past must be but an approxima-
tion to the truth. As to the present, it is with just
pride that England can claim to see the century pass
into the past, if with less poetic glory than adorned
its birth, yet, in that regard, not unworthily. Italy,
with her veteran Carducci, excepted, no other nation,
to my imperfect knowledge, can name equals to Mr.
Swinburne, Mr. Meredith, Mr. de Vere: none possesses
poets of younger generations more promising than
ours ; in none is the average level of aim and accom-
plishment higher. One prophecy at least is not rash :
poetry may often be in abeyance, but it will never
die. Once it was thought that physical science,
the pressure of material cares, discovery in its many
forms, would prove fatal to poetry ; it has not been
so. Such influences as these have made poetry here,
have failed to affect it there, have killed it nowhere.
" It is dangerous to differ in religion from the saints,
in poetry from the poets " : even the Gradgrinds of
the world, the hard utilitarians, recognise uneasily a
sacrosanctitude in poetry, its source in "an ampler
ether, a diviner air." The nineteenth century has
done homage to poetry. In the case of all its greatest
poets, it has been obedient to Dante's words, "Onorate
I'altissimo poeta ! " Consoling, heartening, uplifting,

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Online LibraryEngland) Daily Chronicle (LondonThe mind of the century : [essays] reprinted from the Daily chronicle → online text (page 1 of 11)