Wilfrid Richmond.

The Americana: a universal reference library, comprising the arts ..., Volume 10 online

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tive charms, Charles Lamb, the genial king
among such literary artificers, did not survive
beyond 1834; Hazlitt died in 1830, and although
De Quincey and Leigh Hunt lived more than 20
years longer, their best work was done in the
pre- Victorian Epoch.

But there is no genuine philosophic ground
for detaching the work of these heroes from
that of their successors. The writers of emi-
nence, who have exclusive right to the epithet
Nineteenth Century or Victorian, prove after
allowance has been made for individual idiosyn-
crasies which in great literature count for much,
to belong in spirit to the age of their immediate
predecessors. They sought expression for their
thought in forms not essentially different from
those to which their predecessors devoted their
energies, and their thought showed no new de-
parture. It still breathed that faith in the dig-
nity of mankind, in its inalienable right of ra-
tional liberty and in the greatness of the human
destiny which was the outcome of the French
Revolutionary spirit, at the same time as it paid
respectful homage to surviving tradition of the
great art and literature of a more distant past.

Tennyson (1809-92) who shares with Robert
Browning (1812*89) the first place in the poetry
of Victorian England, is nearly at all points
Wordsworth's successor. Like Wordsworth he
was in sympathy, through his prime, with the
political and philosophic enlightenment of his
era. It was this which he sought to interpret
in his verse. He was a careful observer and a
sympathetic expositor of inanimate nature. He
had Wordsworth's command of poetic diction
mid melody, and also, it is to be admitted,
Wordsworth's tendency to bathos and common-
place, in spite of his keen ear and sense of form.
Browning — the twin-peak with Tennyson in the
range of Victorian poetry — * presents a stronger
individuality. He is less closely allied to the
writers who flourished in his early youth. But
in many of his most striking characteristics, — in
the subtlety of his power of psychological analy-
sis, in his robust optimism, in the universality
and activity of his interest in current life and
literature, in his predilection for study of past
history and biography, and even in his indiffer-
ence to the graces of form which degenerated
with him at times into a barbarous grotesque-
ness — in one or other of these regards Brown-
ing betrayed kinship with Coleridge, Byron,
Landor and Scott.

Third in the list of those Victorian writers
Of the imagination, whose lives wholly belonged
to the 19th century, stands Matthew Arnold
(182^88). As a poet Arnold marched under
the banners of Wordsworth and Shelley; as a
critic in prose he was at some points more
subtle and less sympathetic, and at other points
clearer-eyed and less prejudiced than Lamb or
Hazlitt. But the distinctions between Arnold
and the earlier essayists of the century are due
not so much to difference of epoch or of innate
temperament. They are attributable rather to
the idiosyncrasies that come of accidental di-
vergences in youthful training and environment.
Arnold's native heritage of genius bore an aca-
demic impress owing to his association with



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Rugby, a great public school of which his father
was a distinguished headmaster, and with Ox-
ford, the University whose traditions and tem-
per he permanently assimilated as a young man.
Had Lamb and Hazlitt enjoyed Arnold's youth-
ful experiences, their style and sentiment are
likely to have worn Arnold's colors. They were
at one with each other in their ultimate concep-
tion that the aesthetic sense was the sense best
worth developing in human life and thought.

The three poets whose genius first blossomed
midway through Queen Victoria's reign, Dante
Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), William Morris
(1834-1896) and Algernon Charles Swinburne
(b. 1837), all to some extent inherited and de-
veloped the tradition of Keats. Rossetti and
Morris were painters as well as poets. The
former was a leader of the pre-Raphaelite move-
ment, which sought to reproduce in art the
simple beauty which distinguished pictorial effort
of the early middle ages. As poets, Rossetti
and his friend Morris sought their affinity in
the sphere of mediaeval romance, whence both
Keats and Sir Walter Scott had drawn with
differing motives much inspiration. Rossetti
was almost as great a master of the sonnet as
his teachers Wordsworth and Keats, and he and
Mr. Swinburne improved on Keats's and Tenny-
son's aptitude to suggest in metre new and
subtle harmonies of music. Swinburne, at the
opening of his career, seemed to graft on the
sensuous influences of Keats the voluptuous
temper of Byron. He cherished the wild aspira-
tions which were bred of the French Revolution.
The poetry of Mr. Swinburne's youth ranks
among the century's literary glories. He alone
of his poetic school still survives. But his late
work has hardly sustained the promise of his
rebellious early years. The unimaginative spirit
of the second half of the century would seem to
have discouraged and repressed his poetic de-
velopment.

The seventh great master of Victorian litera-
ture, whose work in spite of the varied aim may
best be classed with literary products of the
imagination, was John Ruskin (1819-1900), who
in that field survived all masters of his gen-
eration, save Mr. Swinburne. Ruskin has, like
Rossetti and his friends, some claim to be num-
bered with the disciples of Keats. He devoted
himself to expounding an aesthetic philosophy,
the germ of which is discernible in Keats's
poetry. He gave a very wide interpretation to
the attributes of beauty, which he identified with
excellence in every kind of human endeavor.
In his voluminous writings he sought to define
the place that beauty and its manifestation in art
ought to fill in human economy. His clarity of
style, imaginative insight, and assertive person-
ality invested all his literary work with fascina-
tion. But he owes his chief importance in the
history of 19th century thought and literature to
his masterly interpretation, analysis and applica-
tion of the aesthetic principles which underlie
the most characteristic achievements of the great
writers belonging to the generation that pre-
ceded or was coincident with the date of his
own birth.

Fiction and Drama. — In fiction it might ap-
pear as if the spirit which colored manifesta-
tions in the early years of the century perished
before the later or even the middle years were



reached. The centre of gravity may seem at any
rate to have shifted somewhat violently between
the dates of ( Sense and Sensibility,* < Waverley >
and * Vivian Grey* on the one hand, and of
* David Copperfield,' <Adam Bede ) or < Vanity
Fair* on the other. Still wider may seem the
interval between ^Romola,* < Esmond, > and
<Barnaby Rudge,* and < Harry Richmond,*
*Jude the Obscure,* and <Dr. Jekyll and Mr.
Hyde.* But all the masterly fiction of the cen-
tury aims, through different avenues, at a like
goal. It seeks the exact, the vivid, the sympa-
thetic and for the most part the optimistic rep-
resentation in narrative of the complexities and
perplexities of human life and feeling. Whether
the novelist rear his structure on historical re-
search or on autobiographical experience, on
careful observation of contemporary society, or
on imaginative speculation into human poten-
tialities, his success is due to his power of com-
bining in his chronicle artistic presentment of
facts of experience with sane and practical in-
terpretation of thought and impulse.

None of the great novelists of the 19th cen-
tury failed at one or other perjod of their
careers to emulate Sir Walter Scott's method of
seeking in history material through which to
work out their ambitions. Scott concentrated
on the historical novel a mass of learning and
a wealth of intuition which no successor in-
herited. But the spirit which animated his
achievements in the art of fiction lived, albeit
in attenuated condition, in the labors of Charles
Dickens (1812-70) and William Makepeace
Thackeray (1811-63), of George EKot (1819-
80) and Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94).
Thackeray reached the highest point of his
career as an artist in fiction when he produced
i Esmond,* a story of the time of Queen Anne.
Dickens in ( The Tale of Two Cities* and in
<Barnaby Rudge* brought all the vigor of his
genius to vivify historic episodes of the century
preceding his own. George Eliot proved herself
more scholarly and more laborious, and there-
fore less successful than Dickens or Thackeray,
when she sought in Romola to evolve a romance
out of the history of the Florentine reformation.
Robert Louis Stevenson, master of the most
picturesque style among novelists since Laurence
Sterne, made his most sustained bid for reputa-
tion by pursuing in the chronicles of Scotland
the historical trail. The same category em-
braces the most notable work of lesser lumi-
naries like Bulwer-Lytton, Charles Kingsley and
Charles Reade, with each of whose names an
historical novel of eminence has to be associated.

Not that the novel of current experience
failed to flourish in increasing luxuriance as
the years of the century grew. The cultivation
of fiction, which reflected the foibles and aspira-
tions of contemporary society, absorbed through-
out the epoch literary genius of the most varied
and conflicting types. The most conspicuous
laborers in this field of endeavor were, during
the early years, Jane Austen and Disraeli, while
their successors included Charlotte Bronte,
Dickens, Thackeray, Trollope and Charles Reade
during the middle years of the century and
George Meredith and Thomas Hardy during the
last years. The century's yield of fiction in all
its forms far exceeded in quality and quantity
that of any earlier epoch. The stream was con*



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GREAT BRITAIN— THE TREND OP THOUGHT AND LITERATURE



tinuously replenished and it maintained till near
the end a level approximating to that of the
first days. But even in fiction the creative
energy failed in intensity as the epoch closed.

The drama was the only field of imaginative
literature in which England of the 19th century
failed to secure conspicuous and lasting
triumphs. The standard of excellence which
Shakespeare set in the 16th and early 17th cen-
turies was not likely to be reached again. But
the dramatic productions of the 19th century
proved of smaller value than the efforts of the
17th or 18th century, which, despite their in*
feriority to Shakespearean drama, maintained a
level of permanent interest No writer of
comedy in the 19th century is comparable with
Sheridan, not any writer of tragedies with Dry*
den or Otway. Writers like Browning and Mr.
Swinburne, who devoted poetic genius to tragic
or romantic drama, never acquired mastery of
the true dramatic temper which belongs to the
art of the theatre. They proved themselves
capable of fine poetic declamation and were
skilled in the use of poetic language, but their
efforts resulted in the production of dramatic
literature for the study rather than of drama for
the stage. Bulwer-Lytton, Sheridan Knowles,
Tom Taylor and T. W. Robertson are the only
English playwrights of the early or central years
of the 19th century any portion of whose work
lived after its original production in the theatre.
Taylor and Knowles essayed romantic drama.
Lytton and the rest won their chief fame in the
comedy of manners. But immortality was de-
nied them. None of these men courted with any
effect the muse of tragedy. Such plays of theirs
in the vein of comedy or romance as retained
their vogue in a succeeding generation quickly
lost the savor of freshness and seemed to
breathe in a very short space of time an anti-
quated or a faded atmosphere. Their fame soon
flickered. A chief cause of the failure of drama
to attract during the 19th century any substan-
tial or efficient part of the literary genius of the
era doubtless lay in the competing claims of the
novel. The growing complexity of life and
thought rendered it increasingly difficult to give,
in the brief and graphic terms of drama, per-
manently satisfying expression to the complexity
of current aspiration and speculation. The art
of fiction is freer of conventional restrictions than
dramatic art, and gives fuller scope to endeavor,
which seeks to interpret variegated experience
and manifold human effort

Carlyle and Macaulay. — The 18th century
not only won its literary triumphs by virtue of
the exercise of the imagination in poetry and
romance. Throughout the century history and
criticism, in which the imagination plays a more
limited part, were flourishing conspicuously.
Henry Hallam (1777-1859) produced between
1818 and 1837 three solid historical works, which
anticipated many of the characteristics of the
new historical school in England. They were
for the most part genuine studies of original au-
thorities and although they betrayed a whig
political bias were conscientious endeavors to
present the facts fairly. A robust common
sense atoned for the lack of sympathetic im-
agination or broad philosophical temper. But
Hallam's labors stand apart and lay for the most
part outside the main contemporary currents of



intellectual effort The two representative
practicers of the arts of history and criticism in
the 19th century — Carlyle and Macaulay — were
possessed of far greater literary genius than
Hallam and exerted a wider influence. Both
were long lived. Their work was well begun
before Queen Victoria commenced to reign; it
continued long after. Carlyle was born five
years before the end of the 18th century and
died in 1881. Macaulay was born in the first
year of the last century and died in 1859.

Carlyle is one of the most distinctive figures
in the whole range of literary activity in the
19th century with which hi9 life was almost co-
terminous. He was thoroughly imbued with the
large ideas of man's social perfectibility to which
the leaders of the French Revolution gave ex-
pression in their cry for liberty and fraternity.
But he was at the same time a potent and cen-
sorious foe of many of the social tendencies
which the French Revolution set in motion. He
warned his contemporaries of the dangers in-
separable from the levelling spirit of a demo*
cratic age, with a greater practical effect than
any man of letters has compassed before by dint
of mere passive penmanship. To Carlyle's es*
says and lectures may in part be attributed that
definite recognition of the limitations inherent
in a purely democratic ideal, to which, in the
earlier decades of the century, the eyes of the
mass of Englishmen seemed closed.

Carlyle's finest literary work was done in the
fields of history. He toiled complatningry in
the dry-as-dust repositories of historical learn-
ing, but he did not take so wide a view of the
historian's fiction as the greatest of the British
historians, Gibbon, nor were his researches so
exhaustive or so multifarious as the more recent
scientific standard of historical investigation
prescribes. But by force of a rare imaginative
insight into human action and character, Carlyle
recalled to life a series of episodes of the past,
with a truth and realism which no poet or novel-
ist, working with unlimited right and power of
invention, has excelled in pith and moment
Carlyle's c French Revolution > (1837) and por-
tions of his Frederick the Great > (1858-65)
set before the reader historic episodes with
something of the dramatic intensity of the his-
torical plays of Shakespeare.

At the same time as Carlyle was working out
his destiny, Macaulay was also making masterly
contributions* of not altogether dissimilar cali-
bre, to the literature of the century. Macaulay's
knowledge of books and records was as great as
Carlyle's, if not greater, but his historical
achievement remains on a lower plane. He pos-
sessed far less imaginative intuition. His men-
tal horizon was limited by temporary conditions
of current political conflict His conception of
historic fact was colored by partisan preposses-
sions, which, viewed in relation to the great
destinies of the human race, seem puny, and in a
historian, tend to unveracity. Carlyle and even
Gibbon had strong prejudices, but their native
sentiment was cast in a larger mould. Their
preconceptions left the historical spirit in the
main uncloudefL

In style Carlyle and Macaulay were as the
poles asunder. The spasmodic irregularity of
the one has nothing in common with the dis-
ciplined orderliness of the other. Macaulay's



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GREAT BRITAIN— THE TREND OP THOUGHT AND LITERATURfe



influence on the English prose style of the cen-
tury has been far greater and on the whole more
beneficial than Carlyle's. Carlyle's style was a
bow of Ulysses, which none but himself could
bend. In other hands it became an implement
of burlesque. Macaulay's style which was less
impracticable, inherited and developed many of
the best features of the prose of the 18th cen-
tury. It was mainly characterized by a direct-
ness and an emphasis which often grew into
brilliant and stirring eloquence, although it in-
clined at times to monotonous rigidity, and at
times to declamatory violence. It proved a dan-
gerous style for purposes of servile imitation.
The habit of insistent emphasis is apt to degen-
erate among the incompetent into bombast. At
the same time the discreet and intelligent as-
similation of Macaulay's prose tends to clearness
and point without appreciable sacrifice of grace.
Toward the end of the century a passing reac-
tion set in against the metallic clearness of
Macaulay's diction, and efforts were made to in-
vest English prose with a subtle elegance and
cloudy preciosity to which it was not naturally
adapted. The most remarkable of such filigree
workers in prose was Walter Pater (1839-04).
Another conscious artist in prose was Robert
Louis Stevenson but he was endowed with a
fertile imaginative power which preserved his
style from the vices of pedantry and kept its
lucidity intact. Pater devoted himself to aesthetic
criticism which he clothed in a delicate and
ornate verbal garb. Pater often achieved beau-
tiful effects. But the methods were inseparable
from affectations and conceits, which often ren-
der his prose difficult to read with understand-
ing. The irresistible vogue of Macaulay's prose
style ordained that none should be widely ac-
ceptable which failed at any point in per-
spicuity. John Ruskin, whose aesthetic criticism
covered a wider field than Pater's, proved, too,
that perspicuity in English prose was not incom-
patible with artistic beauty and pliancy. Affected
prose consequently met with small encourage-
ment; it was cherished by coteries and did not
color the broad currents of the century's litera-
ture.

The Scientific Tendency.— The trend of Eng-
lish literature and thought was profoundly
affected by the scientific and philosophic spirit
of inquiry which received a triumphant impulse
from the publication of Charles Darwin's
Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selec-
tion > in 1859, and from the inception of Herbert
Spencer's System of Synthetic Philosophy, > in
1862. The earlier literary work of the utilita-
rians, Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), David
Ricardo (1772-1823), James Mill (1773-1836),
and above all, John Stuart Mill (1806-73), onfy
indirectly touched the imaginative temper of the
times. The topics which the utilitarians handled
were practical matters of social and political
reform, some of which had been suggested by
the French Revolutionary movement. ^ The
larger conceptions of man's physical or spiritual
destiny were for the most part overlooked.
The statute book of the realm between 1840 and
1874 reflected the economic principles which
the Mills and their disciples disseminated, but
neither the great poetry nor indeed the great
fiction, bore, in any appreciable degree, trace of
the reforming activities or enthusiasm of the



utilitarians. Dickens occasionally expanded in
his novels the practical suggestions of the utili-
tarians, but it was elsewhere, it was in the
literary presentation of universal features of
human nature, that he rendered his most
memorable service to literature. The scientific
and philosophic movement gathered its greatest
force in the years which followed the revelations
of Darwin and Spencer. Then at length the
scientific spirit spread to the nation's literature
and affected the matter as well as the manner.
On prose style it exerted an immediate influence.
It insisted with a greater force than Macaulay's
example commanded on perspicuity as the main
virtue of expression, and effectually discounte-
nanced whatever was subtle, obscure or deliber-
ately affected. One scientific writer, Thomas
Henry Huxley, who championed and developed
the Darwinian doctrine, lived on till 1895. Hux-
ley was gifted with an exceptional clarity of
thought and expression, and his range of in-
terest in current affairs secured for his writings
a wide general audience. Huxley's labors may
be regarded as an efficient agent in the national
development of plain-speaking prose.

As far as the new scientific spirit affected
pure literature, it may be said to have exerted
a hampering effect on imaginative effort Both
George Eliot and Tennyson in their later work
showed proclivities to philosophic or scientific
speculation, which encumbered their imaginative
deliverances with scientific terminology. Till the
end of the epoch scientific or philosophic specu-
lation inclined to divide the allegiance of men
who were endowed with poetic genius and to
dissipate their energies. William Morris, whose
poetic gifts enabled him to conquer rich fields
of pure romance, devoted most of the energy of
his late life to developing theories of social re-
generation which had their root in current scien-
tific and philosophic inquiry.

Not that the scientific tendencies of the cen-
tury went forward without check. Religion at
times called literature to her aid in order to rally
her forces for conflict with science. A specially
vigorous attempt was made in religious circles
by the Oxford movement, of which John Henry
Newman (1801-90) was the chief literary leader,
to stem at the outset the tide of the scientific
advance. Newman was a great man of letters
whose imaginative powers were combined with
great delicacy of style in both poetry and prose.
He made contributions of lasting value to the
literature of the century. But his reactionary
efforts failed to restrain the scientific and phil-
osophic impulse of his era, if they did not by
their open defiance of scientific progress con-
solidate the champions of free scientific specula-
tion, and accelerate their victorious march.
An endeavor to effect, on more pacific lines, a
compromise between ^ the opposing forces of
science and of the imaginative sentiment of
religion was made by leaders of another school
of thought which was known as the Broad-
Church. That school of thought had no greater
sympathy with Newman's unbending conserva-
tism than with the revolutionary independence
of scientific and philosophic inquiry. The Broad
Church leaders, Frederick D. Maurice ^ and
Charles Kingsley, were ready and voluminous
writers. But their theological or philosophic
position war logically unsound, and they failed



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permanently to affect the trend of contemporary
thought, which finally accepted the scientific
away beyond risk of relapse.

It was in the field of history, of att departments
oi literature, that the scientific spirit most reso-
lutely planted its standard. Workers in history
grew in number as the century dosed. But
only ojfe English historian of the period de-
liberately persisted in the literary tradition,
which Carlyle and Macaulay had dignified.
James Anthony Froude, who died in 1894, alone
practiced history as a branch of great literature.
In his historical work he gave free play lo a
natural gift of style and a sense of the* pic-
turesque. He treated accuracy of detail or
judicial impartiality as comparatively of small
account For the time being, Froude is the
last representative of the great literary school
of historians.

It was in the middle of the century that the
scientific spirit invaded the province of history



Online LibraryWilfrid RichmondThe Americana: a universal reference library, comprising the arts ..., Volume 10 → online text (page 45 of 185)