ENGLISH LITERATURE IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
A Brief Outline
English literature is remarkable both for high artistic achievement and for
variety. The greatest literary movement of its earlier period was that of
romanticism. It was born in the atmosphere of the violent economic and
political turmoil that marked the last decades of the 18th and the first
decades of the 19th century. The outburst of political activity brought on by
the Great French Revolution of 1789, the bitter wars with Napoleon's
Great distress was caused by large landowners enclosing millions of acres of land for their own purposes and thus dispossessing labourers who were reduced either to slaving on the fields of their masters or to migrating in search of the means to support themselves by working 12Ч14 hours a day for wages notoriously below subsistence level. The labouring poor, in town and country alike, suffered the utmost misery from underpayment and overwork and from crowding in hugely overpopulated industrial areas.
Misery resulted in blind outbreaks against machinery, which, the workers beнlieved, did their work leaving themselves to unemployment and their families to slow starvation. Meanwhile "the rights of labour were not yet recognised, there were no trade unions ... the majority of country-people could not read or write; the good old discipline of Father Stick and his children Cat-O'-Nine-Tails, Rope's End, Strap, Birch, Ferule, and Cane was wholesomely maintained; landlords, manufacturers and employers of all kinds did what they pleased with their own ... Elections were carried by open bribery ... the Church was intolerant, the Universities narrow and prejudiced."
The situation was
not any better when the long wished for peace was at last ushered in by the
victory over Napoleon's army at
Meanwhile the wealthy ruling classes were frightened by what they called the excesses of the French Revolution and by the growing spirit of discontent at home. They were ever ready to see rebellion in any attempt of the workers to better their lot. They invariably voted for a conservative government at home and supported all its blundering attempts to suppress revolt: "The leaders of reaction reigned suнpreme ... filled with dread of the revolution they seemed to think that the only funcнtion of government was the maintenance of order and the suppression of rebellion."
This, briefly, was
the background of the English romantic movement. Its principal stimuli were on
the one hand profound dissatisfaction with the atmosphere of reaction that
seemed to have set in for good after the hope and fervour of the French
Revolution was quenched in the blood of wars and numerous uprisings. The state
of things in
On the other hand, romantic writers were violently stirred by the suffering of which they were the daily unwilling witnesses. They were anxious to find a way of redressing the cruel social wrongs and hoped to do so by their writings, byword or deed. A feature that all romantics had in common was a belief in literature being a sort of mission to be carried out in the teeth of all difficulties, with the view of bringing aid or, presumably, salvation to mankind.
In using the term
"romantic" no effort is made here to treat all the romantics of
As distinct from
the romantic writers of
The first English poet to be fully aware of the dilemmas of the age of great bourgeois revolutions was William Blake. His poetry has been discussed in the first volume of the present series (An Anthology of English Literature, XVIII) where he chronologically belongs, but as a forerunner of romanticism in the 19th century he must also be mentioned here, Blake's violent revulsion from rationalism, his repeatedly proclaimed belief in intuition and inspiration as the only paths to true wisdom, his idealistic and mystic conceptions of humanity and its mysterious ways were then quite original. Similar ideas were later taken up by many poets who did not know of his work, as in his own life-time he published but one of his books of poetry. The rest of his numerous lyrics and epics never reached the public of his days. In his portrayal of a gigantic world in the Prophetic Lays Blake precedes the Byron of Cain and Heaven and Earth, the Shelley of Prometheus Unbound.
disappointed in the downfall of the French Revolution, for reasons that were
personal as well as public, Blake never wavered in his devotion to the cause of
freedom, in his hatred of oppression and inequality. In this he difнfered from
his younger contemporaries William
Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor
Coleridge. Both began as warm admirers of the Revolution, so much so that
Wordsнworth even travelled to
resolved to withdraw from the evils of big industrial, cities and to devote
themselves to seeking truth and beauty in the quiet of country-life, in the
grandeur and purity of nature, among unsophisticated and uncorrupted countryнfolk.
They dreamed of creating art that would be true to the best that is in man and
help to bring it out by sheer force of poetry. Living in the Lake country of
Together they composed and published a small volume of poems entitled Lyriнcal Ballads to which Coleridge contributed the gruesome tale of the Ancient Mariner and four more lyrics. The bulk of the volume was supplied by Wordsworth. He called his ballads lyrical, because theft interest did not lie in subject-matter and plot but in mood and treatment, in making one feeling modify and transform all other feelings and all the persons and events described. That treatment was what Wordsнworth and Coleridge termed imaginative. By imagination they meant the most essential faculty of a poet, the one that enables him to modify all images, to give unity to variety and see all things in one.1 "This power ... reveals itself in the balance or reconcilement of opposite or discordant qualities; of sameness with difference; of the general with the concrete; the idea with the image; the individual with the representative; the sense of novelty and freshness with old and familiar objects; a more than usual state of emotion with more than usual order..."
Thus the poetic imagination is a power of paramount importance to the creative artist. It is this power that helps Wordsworth to find beauty and significance in the simplest things pertaining to nature Ч in the song of the cuckoo, in the unнadorned beauty of an early spring afternoon. In his assertion of man versus society, of religion versus rationalism, of heart versus intellect, of nature versus civilisation -Wordsworth was a romantic Ч no less so than Coleridge with his passionate interest in mystical experience and the supernatural. The latter is, for Coleridge, a symbol of the complexity of human life, its painful contradictions, its dark and unfathomнable aspects. Thus, the tragic Odyssey of the Ancient Mariner, his fantastic adventures in the seas of everlasting ice and eternal tropics, his encounter with the spectreship and miraculous salvation are all symbols of states of mind, of crime, punнishment and expiation through repentance, prayer and love.
In their later years, after the bulk of their work was done, both poets became, increasingly conservative in their religious and political views and more rigid in their moral attitudes. The political evolution of the two poets was closely paralleled by a mutual friend of theirs, Robert Southey. His talent, at its best in simple balнlads, was decidedly inferior to both Wordsworth's and Coleridge's. If he is at all remembered now it is chiefly for his lifelong intimacy with them. As time went on Southey came to voice the official opinion of the Tory government.
The greatest romantic poet of the elder generation was Walter Scott. Though personally friendly to the Lakists, he never quite shared their literary tastes and affinities. The author of a number of stylised imitations of old English and Scottish ballads and original epic poems dealing with the feudal past of his native Scotland, it is as a novelist and discoverer of a new province of writing that Walter Scott won his world renown. His claim to a high rank among the romantics mainly depends on his profound sense of history. He was one of the first to realise the dialectical nature of the relationship between individual and public life, of the interdependence of great historical characters and popular movements and interests; with unerring acumen did he trace individual and social psychology, no less than the influence of social facts and circumstances upon the actions of the rulers and the ruled. His novels struck the reader (and still do so) with their epic quality, with his analysis of "the forces that go to make a situation and lead individuals to act as they do." "Scott's "romanticism," Kettle proceeds to say, "lies in his rejection of the 18th cenнtury polite tradition and his attempt to write of and for far broader sections of the people." His art was steeped in folklore, in ancient balladry, in the robust realism of Fielding and Smollett, in the grandeur of Shakespeare's historical chronicles. While drawing largely on a vast store of book-learning and previous literary expeнrience he inaugurated a new era in the history of the English novel.
Among the romantic poets of the younger generation Scott preferred Byron. They were drawn together by mutual admiration, personal and artistic alike, by╗ their concept of literature as having a straight message to give humanity, and teach it a moral and political lesson. Like Scott, Byron had a distinct feeling of the moveнment of History, of unceasing development, of huge forces shaping human lives.
however, who shared the
Byron's romanticism was coloured by grief at sight of the corrupting and debasing influence of reaction and absolute power Ч and hopes of future regeneraнtion; by adherence to the ideals of the great men of the age of Reason Ч and a sense that their theories were too single-minded, too facile to cope with the tragic conнflicts of his own time. Yet never did Byron go so far as the elder poets in his negation of the theories of the Enlightenment, and only questioned the possibility of putting them soon into practice. Neither did he agree with the senior romantics' disparнagement of classicism, one of the leading literary styles of the Age of Enlightenment. He broke most of its rules, but to the last he proclaimed it as the only path to truth, virtue and poetical excellence. Classicism was to Byron, along with the ethical and political concepts of the Enlightenment, an ideal that he vainly endeavoured to live up to himself and induce others to follow.
Like all the romantics, Byron was very versatile in his literary work. In poetry he tried every possible genre, most unclassically "destroying the proper divisions and barriers between them. He created lyric and epic poems (shot through and through with lyrical feeling), dramas, both classical and romantic, political satires, verse tales, and, in prose, specimens of flaming oratory and fine epistolary art, as in his letters and journals.
Byron's hatred of social injustice, of every type of oppression, his indignation at the suffering inflicted by man upon man, his sense of the conflicting wishes, interests and passions tearing the world asunder, the intensity of his satirical gift along with an ardent belief in self-sacrifice and heroism as the only way to pull mankind out of all its troubles, the great philosophic questions he raised though never gave a final answer to, making his reader follow him in his daring search for truth only to realise the impossibility of elementary dogmatic reading of the world's riddles Ч all this makes of Byron the most forceful embodiment of that spirit of criticism, doubt and rebellion that characterises the romantic period of literature.
Shelley was the
only romantic to realise that liberty could not be won without the enthusiasm
of the working men of
was, not unlike Coleridge's, strongly influenced by contempoнrary idealistic
thought and by his early assimilation of the philosophy of Plato, the great
idealist of ancient
Shelley was romantic in his resolute break with literary tradition, in creating new imagery and rhythms, in drawing the inner world of man as part of the infinity of the Universe. His poetic style is highly metaphorical, often symbolical, in an effort to render daring visions of great catastrophes and great victories, of a glorious future for mankind. The complexity and novelty of his imagery were so much ahead of his time that he was understood by very few readers. In this he was akin to his younger contemporary John Keats, whose poetry was a powerful embodiment of the romantic idea of freedom, love and beauty as opposed to the vulgarity and prosiness of bourgeois civilisation.
Like Shelley, Keats lived in a poetic world of his own imagination, but though he hated tyranny and oppression, both of Church and Government, he seldom let his politics interfere with his poetry. His ambition was to influence men solely by the power of beauty, not by a direct appeal to their views. Keats's often repeated speculations on beauty as the true source of happiness and moral freedom no less than the subject-matter of his poems dealing with mythological or medieval themes, his detachment from the burning issues of the day resulted in his poetry being inнterpreted as, the expression of a kind of aestheticism. It was only about a hundred years after his death that his work came to be understood as part of the humanitarian romantic protest against the sordidness of contemporary society, against the shallow-ness and triviality of accepted art. "I find there is no worthy pursuit but the idea of doing some good for the world," Keats wrote in one of his letters, "there is but one way for me Ч the way lies through application, study and thought." У...I am never alone without rejoicing that there is such a thing as death Ч without placing my ultimate in the glory of dying for a great human purpose."
Shelley and Keats
were not recognised in their own times. They were considered inferior not only
to Byron and Scott but also to a far lesser poet, Thomas Moore, the author of
the musical and intensely emotional Irish Melodies bearing upon the
national misfortunes of oppressed
The prose of
English romanticism is to be studied in the works of the essayists Thomas De Quincey, Charles Lamb, William
Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt. While differing in politics, religion and philosophy,
all of them in their various ways contributed towards the birth and growth of
the lyrical romantic essay whose main function was neither informative nor
objectively descriptive but rather a subjective revelation of the authors'
state of mind, their attitudes and idiosyncrasies. Emotional and imaginative
interpretation of facts (and not facts for their own sake) was the chief purнpose
of the romantic essayists. Thomas De Quincey, a warm admirer and close assoнciate
essayists formed a more or less close group of friends doing joint work in
publishing and writing for critical and non-conformist literary periodicals. In
their ardent championship of radical political change (thence the term
"radicals" as opposed to the leading parliamentary parties Ч Tories
and Whigs, after 1832 Ч Conservatives and Liberals respectively), in their
romantic theory of poetry as defying universally accepted social, ethical and
aesthetical standards Lamb, Hazlitt and Hunt were the immediate allies and, in
a way, the mentors and instructors of John Keats. All of them were stigmatized
by Tory reviewers as the Cockney (a Cockney is strictly speaking anybody living
in the heart of
The essays of the Cockneys, and those of De Quincey, constituted what the critics called the "prose form of English romanticism". At the same time along with the high flowering of romantic poetry and prose the older traditions of realism were never discontinued. With George Crabbe in poetry, with Fanny Burney, Maria Edgeworth and Jane Austen in prose, realism steadfastly stood its ground. Crabbe's narrative poems, "the annals of the poor" as he justly called them, gave a memorable presentation of the degradation of country folk under the stress of want and dreary hard work.
With the lady-novelists mentioned above literature moved in more fashionable circles. Of these the art of Jane Austen is the most consummate and therefore repreнsentative. Through the very narrow social milieu (land-owners, gentry, country clergy) that constitutes the theme of her novels, Jane Austen succeeded in bringing home the essence of the social relationships of her time. With unfailing accuracy does she draw a small world possessed by a yearning for money and high social standнing, and deprived of either, wish or capacity for using other criteria in their judgeнment over men and women but those of fortune and rank.
With a touch at once delicate and sure Austen introduces a vast variety of charнacters whose mentality is more or less distorted by false moral and social standards. Her irony and humour are omniscient and ever at the service of her keen critical insight, of her shrewd utterly unsentimental comprehension of the motives underнlying the actions and feelings of a vain, selfish and mercenary society. It is the few persons who are comparatively unscathed by these shallow and ugly motives that Austen makes her heroines. Almost none of them are just born wise and virtuous. The most convincing of them are those who like Emma Woodhouse or Anne Elliott have to pass through a moral ordeal before they find that the only thing that really matters is the true worth of man and woman, his or her gift for disinterested affecнtion, loyalty and generosity.
ethics are high and strict but they are never obtruded upon the reader. Her
methods are mostly indirect. The authorial voice is disguised by objecнtive
presentation of dialogue, inner monologue (reported speech), as well as of the characters'
actions and reactions. The "inimitable Jane" is warmly admired and
much studied in twentieth century
Although Austen stands aloof from the romantic trends of her own time and mocks some of their more obvious and salient characteristics, although she is a folнlower of 18th century realistic traditions, yet her artistic detachment and her disнpassionate survey of her contemporaries could only have been born out of the same critical and humanitarian spirit and the same historicism that gave birth to the romantic movement.
A sort of reduced and imitative romanticism is to be detected in the work of Edward Bulwer Lytton. He modelled his early works on Byron's and Scott's and later on the realistic novels of the 'forties and 'fifties. Hardly ever original, Bulwer Lytton was a true and refined mirror of succeeding literary and philosophical fashions.
Towards the end of the 1820's the conclusion of the industrial revolution along with its natural implications Ч the rise of a powerful manufacturing and trading class and at the same time the radical agitation for political change Ч culminated in the Parliamentary reform of 1832. It was carried in the teeth of a stout opposiнtion on the part of the Tory party. Its effect was a far better representation of the middle class in Parliament. The lower classes, however, were still kept out of Parнliament by a high property qualification for members.
The political victory of the bourgeoisie brought no relief to the working class and eventually considerably weakened its condition. Newly gained political power enabled employers to introduce new methods of exploitation. Thus, with a view of enlarging the number of workers at mills and factories and reducing the number of the poor who obtained relief within their parishes and were under no immediate necessity to sell their labour to mill-owners new Poor Laws were passed by Parliaнment. According to these relief was granted to the poor only in special workhouses where they were subjected to harsh treatment, practically little better than in prison, andа wereа madeаа to work for their food.
The disappointment of the working class in reform, and acute social distress led to the organised movement known under the name of Chartism. The oppressed classes demanded a further and more democratic reform of Parliament. They enterнtained the hope that adequately represented, they could radically improve their own condition. Chartist agitation, mass meetings, strikes and uprisings went on, intermittently, for more than ten years, from the later thirties all through the "hungry forties".
The movement subsided after anа improvementа in economic conditionа and after the English bourgeoisie wisely decided to avoid revolution by conceding the most urgent demands of the Chartists.
Chartism had important literary results in the development of popular poetry. Not only did the Chartists revive the revolutionary poems of Byron and Shelley (whose Song to the Men of England became a Chartist marching-song) but within a short time a new poetry sprang up voicing the aspiration of those who had as yet not succeeded in making themselves heard. Besides a considerable amount of anonyнmous songs and poems, there were poets of distinction among the organised fighters for workers' rights. Of these Gerald Massey, Thomas Cooper, William James Linton and especially Ernest Jones probably ranked highest. A militant spirit of resistance, sarcasm and irony, pathos and rhetorics, strong rhythms and sonorous rhymes go together to give the Chartist poetry a peculiar vigour. The Chartists also wrote a few good novels (Ernest Jones, Thomas Martin Wheeler) and published some literary criticism devoted to those they looked upon as the early prophets of revolution. The work of Chartist poets was deliberately neglected by bourgeois scholars; the Chartist periodicals (e. g., The Northern Star) wherein most of that work was published have long been out of print and have been properly studied only in this country.
The Chartists' passionate concern for the cause of the suffering English people inspired poets who were not in any direct way associated with Chartism. Elizabeth Barrett Browning's much anthologized Cry of Children, Thomas Hood's no less famous Song of the Shirt and The Bridge of Sighs plead for human kindness and altruism, for sympathy with the hardships of the poor.
аIt was in the period of political strife, when social problems came to the fore and revealed their prosaic, material nature, that new trends were born in literature. Preoccupation with public life, a sense of the paramount importance of things social, of the necessity of looking into the way things are and to describe them faithfully so as to redress or at least palliate the evils of a cruel industrial system were the forces that stimulated the growth of realism. Romanticism now seemed too abstract, too aloof, too much relying upon symbolic or fantastic presentation of actuality. It had done its work and played its role; the time had come when the mysterious powers ruling the new era that the romantics had anticipated stood much more clearly revealed. A direct and straightforward consideration of everyday life became an imperative necessity. At first realistic prose took the shape of short essays, more objective, informative and descriptive than the romantic essay had been, and yet certainly bearing some affinities with it. Nor was this the only debt mid-nineteenth century realism owed to its romantic predecessors. Without their shattering social criticism (even if couched in somewhat abstract terms and imagery), without their repudiation of classicist regulations of literature, without their minute attenнtion to the individual and particular, without their psychological discoveries and insight into the inner life of man, realism could not have come into being.
The greatest realist of England Charles Dickens certainly learned much from romantic writers. In his early essays the influence of the London essays of Charles Lamb and Leigh Hunt can easily be traced, though Dickens is more true to the typical detail, to social fact, to objective observation of the habits and customs of the poor inhabitants of Europe's richest capital.
In each of his earlier novels written in the thirties Dickens devoted his efforts to striking at some obvious social evil and helping to remove it. In the Pickwick Papers, e.g., he laughed to scorn the clumsy comedy of Parliamentary elections, of the English court of law and the iniquities of London's prisons (a subject he was later to take up on a much wider scale in Bleak House). In Oliver Twist he treated the burning issues of the day Ч the horrors of workhouses and of crime; in Nicholas Nickleby Ч the conditions of Yorkshire boarding schools, etc.
In these early novels it is plain that Dickens was yet quite hopeful about the future of his country and confidently looked forward to happier days. The wrongs he stigmatized are but episodes in his novels and do not become central in their plotting. The 'forties were a sort of transitional period in his career. Towards the end he emerged as a mature artist with such fine generalisations of the mental attiнtudes of the bourgeois as in Dombey and Son and in the partly autobiographical David Copperfield.
Dickens's greatest masterpieces, the sad and wise novels of the fifties, differed from his earlier ventures in scope and structure.
In Little Dorrit and in Bleak House the novelist's satire rises above the parнticular and incidental and is transformed into a sweeping indictment of the whole system, of the very foundations English society rests-upon. In Bleak House the English law is no longer an episode as in the Pickwick Papers but dominates the whole strucнture of the epic; so does the criticism of government in Little Dorrit when compared with similar pieces of criticism in the earlier novels. Social satire does not exist apart from the plot (as, say, in Oliver Twist) but permeates the whole atmosphere of the novel, shapes the plot and the relationship between the characters, major and minor alike. A sense of tragic unity underlies the vast concept of these books. But by the end of the 'fifties Dickens's inspiration had very nearly exhausted itself. Despite some very fine pages of description and character-drawing his last novels lack the rich humour and fancy of his earlier works.
Dickens is not remarkable for circumstantial motivation of his heroes' actions. But he excels in the art of catching their more obvious social characteristics and giving them an infinite variety of individual shapes and forms that were joyously acclaimed as recognisable and memorable types. To the end of his days Dickens liked no literary compliments better than that or the other reader's admission he or she had known somebody who was the spit of one of the novelist's characters.
Through grotesque and comical exaggeration the fundamental realism of Dickнens's viewpoint was everywhere apparent. The author's own attitude stands clearly, revealed. He hates every species of oppression and injustice, every vestige of fraudulent misrepresentation and hypocrisy, every sight of man's cruelty to man, and loves all who suffer and still do not lose heart and keep on doing their best by all around them. Dickens's love of humanity and his penetrative portrayal of what is best and noblest about it, no less than of its foibles, his persistent championнship of the inherent goodness of common man ever opposed to the stiffness and class egoism of the higher classes make him a central figure in the democratic literature of England.
His stature can be properly appreciated when his work is compared to that of such minor writers as Charles Kingsley, the author of popular novels on the conнdition and dramatic struggle of the Chartist workers (Yeast, Alton Locke). Dickens's works contain a wider view of man and his problems, a broader and more humane outlook and the art of hitting off types that alternately set all England laughing and sobbing. He also compares well with his friend Wilkie Collins, the author of famous semi-detective, semi-social novels such as The Woman in White, No Name, The Moonstone, etc. Though Dickens, too, introduced elements of the detective story into his later work he always submitted the suspense and thrill of the plot to the message of his novel. With Collins specific detective interest often came first.
Dickens's closest follower and admirer was Elizabeth Gaskell. In his turn he was delighted with her books and published them in the literary magazines that he directed. Mary Barton, a simple and artless story of the misery and stout resistance of English Chartist workers appealed to Dickens both for its strict veracity and for its sentimental and idealistic sermon of love as the only remedy in a society endanнgered by the cancer of economic egoism and cynical indifference. Quite different in style and treatment is the gay comedy of provincial life in the country-town of Cranford. Gaskell's humour is delicate, sensitive, and gently ridicules the petty snobbery and prejudices of superannuated middle-class ladies. Her latest books deal with serious problems of domestic life and are fine studies of the mentality of women. Mrs. Gaskell is also the author of a subtle biography of three lady-writers of her own time, the sisters Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte, all of whom died of consumption when still young. Anne was the least remarkable of the three; Charlotte won the greatest recognition, but it was Emily whose talent both for poetry and prose was the most powerful and original. Her only novel Wuthering Heights was published posthumously and is an extraordinary blend of Byronic romantic individualism and realistic motivation. The tragedy of two lovers torn asunder by difference in pecuniary and social standing and complicated by ambition and vanity is drawn against a perfectly real world of sordid poverty and greed. The withering influence of trampled love distorts the characters both of hero and heroine, turning the one into a demonic sadist and the other into a capricious spoiled woman. The drama of love and death gains in intensity by being rendered through the eyes of a casual observer and a minor character, Ч an old servant, only indirectly particiнpating in the events she narrates. The bleak colouring of the story is heightнened by the natural background Ч vast moors, wind-blown hills and stone-grey skies. A note of mysticism also rings in the novel, indicative of Emily Bronte's religious feeling and her interest in the irrational aspects of life.
Emily died at the age of thirty, and Charlotte survived her but for a few years. Her art had more obvious ties with ordinary life and easier reached the audience Ч and a wider one, at that. The most popular by far was Jane Eyre, the story of a poor governess who by sheer force of personality won a decisive victory in the fierce battle she had to fight for love and happiness. The dark Byronic nature of Jane's "demon lover", the gruesome mystery of his house, the final catastrophe are all depicted in the stark melodramatic tones peculiar to the late 18th century Gothic novel. But borrowed romantic and preromantic motifs are developed along with entirely origiнnal realistic delineation of the radical injustice of a life dominated by all that is not essential, as money and high connections, and leaving out and crushing all that is fundamental Ч true moral worth, loyalty and intellect.
Bronte's horror-struck realisation of the inhumanity of the relationship between employers and employed appears to the greatest advantage in Shirley where scenes introducing starving workers who break the machinery that threatens to supplant their labour mingle with a fine social and psychological analysis of the plight of /Women in a men-ruled world. In all of Charlotte Bronte's novels there is a note ofа true, unconventional passion (and a penetrative analysis of that passion) that shocked the hypocritical morality of the Victorian bourgeoisie ("Victorian" was a much used Ч and abused Ч term denoting the self-satisfied priggish and smug mentality of the upper and middle classes during the greater part of the reign of Queen Victoнria Ч 1837Ч1901).
Charlotte Bronte was in some ways a disciple of Dickens's greatest rival, Wilнliam Makepeace Thackeray. He set out courageously to teach the English a harsh lesson in self-appraisal. He let them see themselves with severely critical eyes, and not through the rose-coloured glasses of complacency. A parallel has often been drawn between Dickens and Thackeray, sometimes to the advantage of the one, sometimes of the other. They are, indeed, very different in outlook and artistic method, in education and background.
The essential thing they have in common, however, is their fundamental honesty in carrying out what they conceive to be their moral obligation towards their fellow-men. They both saw themselves as in duty bound to tell their readers the unpalatable truth about the social wrongs wringing the body of society, about its narrow and shallow standards, about the hypocritical greed and ruthlessness of the higher classes. Thackeray mostly used the weapon of sharp irony; in describing the vices of the very high he hardly ever had recourse to Dickens's grotesque exaggeration, to his humourous presentation of variously coloured and comically individualised figures. Thackeray was an excellent caricaturist (he illustrated some of his own works), but his caricatures are less particularised and more generalised than Dickens's. The latter was obviously quite judicious in rejecting Thackeray's offer to supply pictures to the Pickwick Papers Ч their ways were too different. This was distinctly felt by both writers. Thackeray thought that Dickens was too much given to melodrama and pathos, that his characters were too often angels or devils, with very few links between them. Thackeray's literary apprenticeship was as long and painstaking as Dickens's had been short and brilliant. Like Dickens, he went to school to eighteenth century masters, especially Fielding (Dickens's favourite was Smollett), but unlike Dickens, he was also influenced by European writers. Balzac's Human Comedy, in particular, taught him the device of introducнing the same characters in different novels and thus giving them time for growth and development.
Of Thackeray's earlier work the most important was, probably, a collection of sketches entitled The Book of Snobs. He derived the word "snob" from students* slang and it is through him that it acquired first a national and then an internationнal significance. Thackeray's definition of it was that "a snob is one who meanly looks up to things mean". A snob fawns upon his social superiors and is contemptuнously haughty to inferiors. A snob, finally, is one who has no criteria to judge of others but the degree of their wealth and rank. Having classified the snobs of England according to their profession and social standing, having made it clear that at court, church, shops, universities and in the walks of art snobs were ever essentially the same, Thackeray was ready to write his greatest work Vanity Fair. The title was an allusion, quite familiar in those days, to the city of London which had been described as Vanity Fair in the famous 17th century religious allegory of John Bunyan (The Pilgrim's Progress, 1678). By referring thus to the heart of England Thackeray also played on the inevitable association with the book of the Bible called Ecclesiastes whose memorable and often reiterated words are: All is vanity, sayeth the Preacher.
The novel follows the fates of two middle-class girls. One of them, Amelia Sedley, the daughter of a wealthy merchant, goes down in the world as her father is ruined in the course of the French wars. By the end of the book she is restored to respectaнbility by a second marriage and a timely legacy. The other, Rebecca or Becky Sharp, is a clever adventuress, a genteel 19th century Moll Flanders. The ups and downs of her career and final defeat are handled with ironical scorn, lashing not so much at Becky's tireless ruses and stratagems as at the society that encourages her and makes it possible for her to win many victories before she has to accept her downfall. With Thackeray neither of the two heroines is painted in black and white. He has a sort of amused sympathy with the vicissitudes of Becky's life and much pity and little respect for Amelia's sentimental silliness.
His main subject is the false heartless ways and the resourceful hypocrisy of society, the silent misery of simple souls. Thackeray satirises the victims of inequalнity and snobbishness. The story of a gifted young man very nearly corrupted by the world of fashion and saved at the eleventh hour from disgrace and crime is told in The History of Pendennis. Its sequel The Newcomes, a chronicle of a few generations of a rich upper middle-class family, is narrated by a sadder and wiser Pendennis, now firm on the path of virtue, authorship and domestic felicity. Thackeray's hisнtorical novels, particularly Henry Esmond where the action is laid at the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th century, are realistic books that do not treat history as the story of kings, generals and courtiers but as the history of a whole people, with an eye to culture, literature, morality and general condition of the nation. Wars are not described as glamorous, heroic and worthy of enthusiastic admiration. They are drawn in all the ugliness of hatred, of atrocities inflicted in cold blood and resulting in unheard-of suffering for thousands upon thousands of innocent people. Thackeray distinctly says he cares nothing for big wigs, but only for the small fry. A historical novel, he maintained, should content itself with findнing out how great events affect ordinary people (in Vanity Fair, too, he had described the battle of Waterloo only in so far as it wrecked the life of his heroine).
The staunch realism of Dickens and Thackeray, of Gaskell and the Bronte-sisters did a great deal to explain their times and to explode the myth of Victorian prosperity that bourgeois historians like ╥. ┬. Macaulay had done their best to perнpetuate.
By the 'fifties and 'sixties the worst period in the evolution of classical capiнtalism in England was over. This is not to say, however, that progress was as uniнversal as official opinion had it. The condition of the working-men was still preнcarious, a hand-to-mouth existence being the lot of the majority, with only the minority of qualified workers finding themselves comparatively well off. Two more parliamentary reforms were needed before the labouring classes were at all represented in the House of Commons. English industry and trade and English finance were the most powerful in the world and the bourgeoisie was cautious enough to see to it that the economic status of those who made them rich should not sink to the starvation wages of the 1840's. But the disproportion between the situation of the classes was more glaring than ever. It was in the fifties that Dickens wrote the books that were most seriously critical of the whole order of things: it was in the fifties that scientists and scholars began to question religious dogmas and ready-made ethical formulae. The rapid development of natural sciences (geology, biology, embryology, psychology), Darwin's epoch-making Origin of Species undermined the current beнliefs and paved the ground to scepticism and non-conformism. The advanced men of the '60's and 70's called themselves free-thinkers. They rebelled against the narrow bourgeois ideology, they mocked the new spirit of militant national pride growing along with England's colonial expansion, they were full of concern for a new and efficient rationalisation of public and private life.
In philosophy they supported rather mechanistic materialistic ideas; they drew crude parallels between biological and social processes; they preached a new moralнity whose foundation no longer was religious but utilitarian, i. e. the concept of "the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people". (This concept was, howнever, given an entirely bourgeois interpretation, since the "greatest happiness" implied uninterrupted development of capitalist production.) The most important ideologist of this new trend was Herbert Spencer. He endeavoured to create an all-embracing system of sociology, philosophy and psychology and to take care that it should rest only on positive knowledge and facts and disregard all abstract speculation (Posiнtivism is the name frequently given to that school of thought Ч a term borrowed from the French philosophy of Auguste Comte who exercised a great influence on his later English colleagues).
Positivist ways of thinking left a profound impression on the work of George Eliot. A lady of great learning, she was deeply read in European philosophy and in the latest critical writings. She early stood up against orthodox religiosity. She admired and translated Feuerbach, was friendly with Herbert Spencer and other scholars and scientists of his group. On the one hand, positive philosophy was of some use in giving theoretical support to Eliot's notions both of society and of its ideas; on the other hand, it narrowed her vision and scope and frequently led to the writer's incorporating her doctrines in novels, generally to the letters' detriment. George Eliot was a social novelist and one who took her duties to her readers seriously. She lacked Dickens's sense of the dramatic contrast between rich and poor, she was rather inclined to accept them in a positivist spirit, as something that should be taken for granted and only subjected to cautious reform. There is no defiнance, no open rebellion in her books. And yet their true and honest tale of the drab monotony and injustice of life, of the daily crime of indifference of man to man is in its way enough to make her readers realise a great many things they had preнviously left unnoticed.
In writing, as Eliot mostly did, about humble country folk, and setting them far higher than their "elders and betters", the novelist added her mite towards educating public opinion and securing the democratic rights of those she glorified in her books, as Adam Bede, the joiner, or Silas Marner, the weaver (Dickens himself, fine as his popular characters were, did not call his novels Samuel Welter or Mark Tapley, but the Pickwick Papers and Martin Chuzzlewit. Whatever he did, the hero had to be a gentleman).
Eliot's best known novel is The Mill on the Floss. Largely autobiographical, it is a searching analysis of the heroine's inner life, of the forces that joined to make her an outcast in the petty-bourgeois community she belonged to. The novelist's portrayal of the selfishness and callousness of self-satisfied mediocrity has a lasting value. This is also true of George Eliot's most ambitious book Middlemarch Чa bold endeavour of taking the whole of a typical English provincial town for her subject and depicting its representative figures so as to achieve a sort of a cross-section of the most important elements of the prevalent social psychology, of the influence of environment and heredity on the shaping of the individual mind. The political problems of England are treated in Felix Holt the Radical, an early specimen of what later in the 20th century came to be called "a novel of ideas". In some of Eliot's novels (partly even in The Mill on the Floss) the discussion of intellectual problems and the too obvious embodiment of abstract ideas into characters proves detrimental to art and testifies to the unwholesome influence of preconceived phiнlosophical notions.
This criticism also applies to the work of George Meredith, a poet and novelist whose books marked an important stage in the development of the psychological novel in the late 19th century. His art is complex, being an imperfect blend of subtle psychologism shot through and through by the critical and scientific tendнencies of the period and of a somewhat laboured and over-ornamented impressionism in style and language. A consistent upholder of evolution as the central law domiнnating nature no less than society, Meredith regarded the destiny of man as followнing and illustrating universal laws. His first novel of importance, The Ordeal of Richard Feverel, considers life as a painful process of gradual maturing of intellect and emotion, the hero's natural development being thwarted by the artificial and snobbish system of education introduced by his aristocratic father. Interference with natural law has disastrous consequences for the life and happiness of Richard and those he holds dear. The prejudices and narrow-minded arrogance of the priviнleged is ironically laid bare in Meredith's best known novel The Egoist. A scientiнfically refined psychological interpretation of Sir Willoughby Patterne's feelings exposes to ridicule and scorn his upper class belief in his own impeccability and in the absolute moral value of his own judgement. The contrast between the immenнsity of pretension and the actual lack of anything to justify it is at once comical and instructive.
By making the egoist Willoughby undergo a humiliating defeat at the hands of an inexperienced girl, strong-minded enough to defend the right to dispose of her own self in love and marriage, Meredith mocks the overweening pride of the upper class and lets the reader see it in its true proportions. A radical in his political views, he traced with warm sympathy the thorny progress of a rebel against a false and hollow society in Beauchamp's Career.
Meredith's over-elaborate and sometimes wayward style with his resolute preнference for the rarely used word and quaint metaphor made it next to impossible for him to please the general reader. Subsequent generations have, so far, not reversed the judgment of the writer's own contemporaries. The somewhat heavy intellectuнality, the abstract philosophising Meredith often indulges in demanding a strain and an effort on the readers' part that only the literary minority are prepared to make. The majority decidedly preferred to skip the pages of Wilkie Collins's sensational thrillers and Anthony Trollope's circumstantial comfortable tales of provincial life with commonplace people doing commonplace things and arriving at a timely happy end. Trollope's were the most gifted and true-to-life of numerous Victorian bestнsellers.
The greatest contributor to the literature whose principal purpose was to divert and amuse the reader was Arthur Conan Doyle. His stories of the adventures of the master detective Sherlock Holmes fascinated England, and the name of the hero became a household word.
Meanwhile the more serious literary work of the period was affected by modern schools of thought. The ideas of positive philosophy also found their way into poetry where, however, they curiously and variously combined with elements of the romantic tradition, never quite extinct in England until the close of the century. In this sense the art of Tennyson can be called transitional, in its endeavour to blend roнmantic soaring above the commonplace and a romantic treatment of the commonнplace Ч with problems strictly belonging to the epoch and necessarily touched with its prose. In his first poetical ventures Tennyson excells in word-painting, in melody and euphony. His themes are frequently borrowed from an idealised past (comprisнing medieval England and classical antiquity) and from present-day scenes. In his poem The Princess, for example, a fantastic setting is used to inculcate modern ideas of female emancipation and learning.
Tennyson is at his best in lyrical poetry, ever fresh with spontaneous feeling, with admiration and understanding of everything that is lovely in the life of nature and the heart. Unfortunately, Tennyson early began to entertain the belief that his was the task of teaching his own generation, and those to follow, a new outlook, a new lesson of morality, and the didactic purpose he set to himself, mostly rather specifically Victorian, took a great deal away from the immediate charm of his lyrical impulse. Thus, the beautiful lyrics collected in In Memoriam are rather heavily overlaid with platitudes of modern moral philosophy. In the poem of Maud there is an abrupt, poetically and logically uncalled for transition from a violent curse of the modern Money-God, from glorification of true love as the only thing untainted in a world of vulgar material interests Ч on to jubilant praise of war and conquest in the final section of the poem.
In Tennyson's Idylls of the King the romance of the Middle Ages centered upon the legendary King Arthur and his Round Table is packed till bursting point with purely modern moralising, with intellectual problems peculiarly midnineteenth century. It has been aptly remarked by one of the contemporary reviewers that to associate these with the life of a rude age produces the same effect as to combine a man's head, a horse's neck, a woman's body, and a fish's tail. King Arthur is less of a true knight than a modern gentleman whose wildest deeds of daring are done on the Exchange and whose most deadly quarrels are settled in the Court of Queen's Bench.
Tennyson's musical and pictorial art is sufficient for lyrics, most remembered for imaginative symbolic descriptions of states of mind, and sometimes also for his popular idylls Ч studies of simple hearts in the Wordsworthian tradition, Ч but it hardly ever sees him through his longer poems necessitating a wider and more philosophical thinking.
Tennyson's importance for the poetry of his age was, for most of later 19th and 20th century critics, eclipsed by that of Browning. Endowed with a robust intellect and a solid education he was abreast of the advanced liberal thought of his time. His interest in moral and political problems, in the freedom of peoples and individuals, in passions and ideas characteristic of past and present lent a bright open-eyed vitality as well as a breadth and depth to his artistic vision that Tennyson manifestly lacks. While certainly not a rebel from the main body of Victorian beliefs Browning questioned enough of their assumptions to hold an individualistic attitude that proved his intellectual courage.
From modern biological theories Browning drew knowledge that helped him to attempt a detailed psychological motivation of his characters' emotions. From this point of view two of his greater works are of the keenest interest. One is his early dramatic poem of Paracelsus, a 17th century Faust, bent on discovering the secret spring of all knowledge and becoming a benefactor of mankind. The other is one of his final achievements, the poem of The Ring and the Book. The same event, the dastardly murder of a 17-year-old woman by her highly connected husband is the subject of twelve long narratives, analysing the complex motives and reactions of all the participants, witnesses, and judges of the drama. Browning's most memoнrable contribution is probably his dramatic lyrics, a large number of various monoнlogues that the poet puts on the lips of characters belonging each to a different epoch, country, class, culture, religion. The art of speaking for an astounding variety of dramatic characters and making their speech sound psychologically true, has won universal admiration. Browning's style struck the readers with its vigorous indeнpendence of all set models and the rich complexity of vocabulary and imagery. While criticising his age from the standpoint of humane and democratic ideals, Browning nevertheless was a man of his own time and shared its social optimism.
Towards the mid-seventies and more markedly so towards the 'eighties a crisis of Victorian England began to make itself felt. There were the first warning symptoms of decay in English economics; there was a general move towards political reaction; a wave of chauvinistic imperialism rose high; British colonial power was greater than ever, Queen Victoria was proclaimed empress of India, and the grandeur of the British Empire became the key-phrase to official ideology. At the same time a steady resistance to the nationalistic and aggressive policy of the ruling classes rapidly gained in scope and intensity. That resistance was stimulated by the nonconнformist free thought of the previous period and by pessimistic trends of "fin de siecle" Philosophic systems, such as that of the German scholar Schopenhauer.а He had written his famous and controversial book The World as Will and Idea as early as 1819 but it only became important by the end of the century.
The beginning of the crisis of Victorianism, of the decay of the English countryнside is reflected in the bleakly pessimistic novels of Thomas Hardy. The narrow village-world he depicts acts as a sort of microcosm through which an insight is obtained into the deepening gloom of the century's last decades.
Hardy's first book of indisputable artistic worth is The Return of the Native where, like Eliot in Middlemarch, he introduces a kind of collective hero in Egdon Heath, a small out of the way place inhabited by poor wood-cutters and poorer farmers. According to Hardy, it is precisely among common villagers devoting themselves to a severe struggle for existence that genuine and spontaneous passions still live, as distinct from the artificial sophistications that pass for feeling among city ladies and gentlemen, if is in these God-forsaken villages, Hardy claims, that dramas of truly Sophoclean grandeur are enacted.
Clashes of wills, beliefs, personalities, dramas of love and death form the subject-matter of most of Hardy's novels. Those of his characters that adapt themselves well to their surroundings, that become part of their nature and scenery mostly do well and make good; those that rebel against them in one way or another are generнally destroyed or made hopelessly miserable. Sometimes these rebels, these unclassed ones who attempt to rise above their own sphere succeed in ruining those who - under any other circumstances were made for a simple and healthy life, a life full of such work as is consistent with nature's ways and benefit. This is what occurs in Woodlanders where the lives of such true children of nature as Giles Winterbourne and Marthey South are wrecked by weaklings who have severed their ties with their native land.аааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааа ааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааааа
In the novels Hardy wrote in his later years (Tess of the d`Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure) his favourite characters fight a losing battle against the cruel social law that is ever ready to do down those who by birth and education do not belong to the privileged classes. The inhumanity of society causes the tragic death of Hardy's most attractive heroine Tess; Jude is thoroughly beaten in his quest for inner freedom, for knowledge, for unconventional love. "Happiness," Hardy sadly remarked, "is but an episode in the general drama of pain." In his novels Hardy also displayed some affinities with the scientific thought of his time Ч ideas of evolution, of biological necessity and struggle for existence go together with someнwhat mystical notions of fate blindly ruling the destiny of men and women and often taking the shape of tragic irony.
After the hue and cry raised by critics and official opinion about the dreary pessimism of Jude the Obscure Hardy gave up novels and devoted himself to poetry which he had been steadily writing since his youth but hardly ever publishing. It varies much in nature and form, including philosophical lyrics, popular ballads and songs.
Hardy's poetry has certain parallels with that of James Thomson, a philosophнical poet in violent revolt against Victorian moral and religious assumptions. His symbolic poem The City of Dreadful Night is a ghastly vision of contemporary London and the "life-in-death" existence of its inhabitants.
The stark pessimism of the last decades was strongest in the works of George Gissing. He emphasised his wish to go on where Dickens had left off. "I mean to bring home to people the ghastly condition (material, mental, and moral) of our poor classes, to show the hideous injustice of our whole system of society, to give light on the plan of altering it..." In his first novel Workers in the Dawn Gissing may be said to have stuck to this program, for he exposed the sordid realities underнlying capitalist civilisation and discussed social reform. But quite early in his career he gave up all idea of altering the world. He became increasingly hostile to socialism and to the working class (Demos). Gissing's descriptions are naturalistic and convey a feeling of deadly disgust with all aspects of physical degradation. He never succeeds in creating convincing flesh and blood characters of "low" life and hardly ever rises to see their essential humanity.
On the whole, English naturalism as represented by Gissing, Arthur Morrison and, partly, George Moore was derivative. It is easily traced to French influence, and it never assumed the stature and the originality it had in France. This is not to say that it had no raison d'etre in England where it was stimulated by the great progress of science and consequent desire to explore the interdependence ofаа physiology, psychology and sociology, to give a scientific explanation of man and society.
If the novel was an immediate answer to the relentless demands of time, the answer given by poetry was more complex and indirect. Part of it seemed utterly divorced from the problems of the age. In 1848 Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Holman Hunt and John Millais organised an exhibition of their pictures, all of them signed with the letters P. R. B. Чwhich stood for Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. This implied that the artists were of the opinion that the decay of art had started ever since Raphael, who, they proclaimed, had already been formal and uninspired.а They called for a return to early Italian Pre-Raphaelite art (Botticelli) where religious inspiration had led to true and pure beauty. They lovingly painted pictures on religious subjects and on subjects borrowed from romantic poets, as for example, Keats. Their criticism of the soulless mechanical modernity assumed a purely aesthetic form; it deliberately refused to seek for universal accept ion and appealed to a small and sophisticated minority.
Nevertheless, whatever the limitations of the creed of the Pre-Raphaelites, their pictures and poetry were a protest against the prosperous bourgeois and against the emptiness of official academic art. It was this protest that the well-known critic and writer John Ruskin welcomed in his famous pamphlet Pre-Raphaelitism. He praised the young painters for their earnestness of purpose, for their lofty perception of the artist's message to his public. Yet his own concepts were much more profound and radical. In studying art Ruskin came to the bitter conclusion that its mission could not be fulfilled unless it helped to make life more beautiful. Now in an age of industrial capitalism with all the inevitable hideousness it brings in its wake art proved incapable of carrying out its main function, because most people were too miserable and too uneducated to enjoy it. Therefore it is the business of the artist not only to create beauty but to enable common people to feel that beauty. This is how Ruskin came to think of the artist's duty in social terms. He preached his sermon of love and mutual kindness to both higher and lower classes, naively entreating them to fight the evils of capitalism together.
These ideas of Ruskin's were also largely influenced by his senior contemporary Thomas Carlyle, writer, historian and essayist, one of the first to utter a sweeping denunciation of the victorious English bourgeoisie. Carlyle, according to Marx, was strong in his hatred of capitalism and in his understanding of all the suffering it stood for but wrong-headed in his apotheosis of medieval old times as an everнlasting model of social and moral perfection. Ruskin was at one with him in hisа abhorrence of the annihilating effect of industrialisation upon the natural development of the majority of people, but his attention was focused on what was needed to regenerate men so that their hearts should be open to the further vivifying influence of art.
Ruskin's political and economic ideas were naive (as for instance in The Political Economy of Arty or Unto This Last), but his keen sense of the fundamental wrongness of bourgeois civilisation and passionate belief in the uplifting and restorative power of art had a far-reaching effect appreciated even outside England, as for instance by L. N. Tolstoy. The aesthetic works of Ruskin were widely and anxiously read, ail the more so as his prose was lucid and pure and easy to follow- His worship of art led his followers to two different conclusions. One of them amounted to developнing Ruskin's cult of beauty into a doctrine of the supremacy of art Ч to the exclusion of most other principles and interests. The other was focused on the social aspect of Ruskin's theories. Its upholders came to think of beauty mostly in the terms of its moral and social value. Ruskin had voiced his indignant protest against the higher classes monopolising art and thus making it effete and anaemic.
William Morris, his disciple, went further than that. He began by being an enthusiastic Pre-Raphaelite painter; he proceeded to write poems on subjects borrowed from Classical myth and medieval folklore and, seeing that poetry was helpless to relieve the dreary ugliness of Victorian England, he started as decorator and artistic designer with the view of bringing some beauty into everyday life. Unfortunately, the lovely wall-paper, carpets, stained glass he produced, using nothing but the simplest looms, were so expensive that only the very rich could afford to buy them. And of course the readers of Morris's poetry were not numerous either. It was in his desperate attempt to make art serve the majority of the people that Morris adopted the ideas of socialism as the only system that could provide for the happiness of the greatest number of men and women. This occurred at the beginning of the 'eighties when the protest of working-class and socialist agitation grew in power, as the crisis of "classical" capitalism had begun to make itself felt in more ways than one. Morris subsidised and contributed to several socialist papers, became an active member of the Socialist League and wrote poetry intended to inspire and to enlighten the working men of England so as to make them turn their minds to socialism. The Chants for Socialists, The Poems by the Way, the verse narrative of The Pilgrims of Hope called for freedom, justice and repeal of the selfish laws of capitalism.
Morris's dreams of the universal happiness to be realised after a world-wide victory of socialism were embodied in his prose tales A Dream of John Ball and News from Nowhere. The land of the future as Morris sees it, must primarily be beauнtiful, but in contradistinction to Ruskin, Morris perfectly realised that the way to the land of bliss did not lie through harmony and reconciliation of classes but through clashes between them. He was but the most talented, versatile and best known of a fairly large number of revolutionary poets of the 'eighties (Henry Salt, James Joynes and others).
The other literary group also supporting the doctrines of Ruskin drew mostly on their weaker aspects. Thus, with Dante Gabriel Rossetti the concept of the supreme influence of art became mystically religious. His poetry is overelaborate, refined and heavily ornate. The beauty of its imagery is marred by mannerisms, some of which are repetitive, and all of which are particularly obvious in comparison with the sources from which he draws his inspiration Ч the poetry of Dante, Blake, Keats, and the popular ballad (as in Sister Helen). With Rossetti poetry moves into a sphere that can hardly be accessible to anybody outside a small artistic elite. It seems safe to say that Rossetti's greatest achievement lay in painting: his insistence on simplicity, on spirituality, his concentration on the inner instead of the outward life were a fine display of indignation at official routine and mediocrity.
Rossetti exercised a powerful influence upon Algernon Charles Swinburne who besides went to school to French poets (Hugo, Baudelaire} and painters (Manet). His early poems, like the art of the Pre-Raphaelites, were an aesthetic protest against the pompous formality of Victorian art and poetry. Swinburne's frank eroticism shocked the critics who raised a terrible outcry against the immorality of the author. For some time Swinburne was carried away by the Italian movement for liberation (Risorgimento) and celebrated the cause of freedom in his masterpiece, a-collection of poems called Songs before Sunrise. But he soon gave up politics and went heart and soul into a practical and theoretical defence of the idea of the supremacy of art, which, he maintained, should have no purpose but beauty. Swinburne's poems and tragedies were generally brilliant specimens of excellent technique, as far as word-painting and musical effects were concerned. Their virtuosity is extraordinary but they are singularly void of true depth, Ч in thought and feeling alike.
In his later years Swinburne unexpectedly reconciled his republicanism and his sympathy with freedom Ч with the most respectful admiration of Queen Victoнria, of British colonial policy and even of the imperialist Boer War.
The formalistic aesthetic note that rang in the poetry, prose and critical essays of Swinburne was still more clearly pronounced in the work of Walter Pater. A disнciple of John Ruskin, he resolutely detached the latter's cult of beauty from moral and social purpose. He says: "Let us understand by poetry all literary production which attains the power of giving pleasure by its form as distinct from its matter." Aestheticism goes hand in hand with extreme subjectivism and agnosticism in the whole of Pater's literary output. In his history of Renaissance painters, in the colнlection of critical essays Appreciations Pater definitely says he does not see his way to any manner of objective interpretation. A critic can only answer one question: "What is this song or picture to me?" This reduces the function of a critic to an impresнsionistic description of his own sensations in connection with art. Impressionism also characterises Pater's fiction (Marius the Epicurean).
Pater profoundly worked on the literary theory of the poet and critic Arthur Symons, of the painter and prose writer Audrey Beardsley and even more so on that of Oscar Wilde, who in the words of a later historian, "pushed his master's sober and academic doctrine to an excessive and cynical display". Not only did he support Pater's idea on the divorce between art and morality Ч he went so far as to maintain that perfect art was perfectly consistent with perfect immorality. This is the subject of the essay Pen, Pencil and Poison. In his own art, however (fairy-tales, plays, novels, poetry), Wilde was very often a moralist. In The Happy Prince and Other Stories] in his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, in dramas like The Ideal Husband the moral is that of altruism, kindness and honesty. This contradiction between theory and practice is partly the result of Wilde's desire to shock bourgeois public opinion, to take Mrs. Grundy's breath away with the sharpness of his paradoxes. These were really Wilde's way of protest against the vulgarity and flatness of offiнcial ways of thinking. Paradoxes find their way into all his dramas and novels alike and are mostly a simple and effective argument against the pretentious futility of received opinion. Wilde's work was certainly not so immoral as Wilde's theory proclaimed. Thus, in The Picture of Dorian Gray, despite the emphatic statement of the preface, the conclusion the author arrives at is that immorality mars beauty Ч at least in a society that is not yet ready to give full scope to persons who seek for ' unfettered expression of their ego, regardless of other people's sentiments. Wilde's most passionate plea for humanity is his Ballad of Reading Gaol.
A similar,а though essentiallyа different conflict between theoretical indifferнence to all moral purpose in art and practical preoccupation with moral problems ,аа is obviousа inа allа the writings ofа Robert Louis Stevenson. His art has curious affinities with very nearly all of the most important aspects of contemporary literaнture. To begin with, it has tangible associations with the aesthetic school whose "art for art" precepts Stevenson often repeats; he is next closely associated with the novel of adventure that flourished in the last decades of the century, the difference being ' that with Stevenson narrative is also psychological, written in a style that is a model of purity, simplicity and descriptive felicity; this brings Stevenson into close contact with the psychological novel, dominated by the influence of French translations of Dostoeysky's books. Stevenson, finally, is the bearer of romantic traditions in English literature.а His poetry was stimulated by Coleridge's and Wordsworth's , interpretation of folklore, by the latter's exploration of a child's mentality; some of his novels are historical, after the manner of Scott (e.g., ааKidnapped). Stevenson's poetry with his little readers, with their range of interest and vision. Stevenson's later novels are dramatic and they considerably gain in depth and subtlety. His is a tranнsitional and mixed art that has all the charm of profound sincerity, of anxious searchнing for truth and beauty.
The refinement of the aesthetic school, no less than the pessimistic tendencies of later 19th century social thought, were criticised as decadent and effete by poets like William Henley and Rudyard Kipling. The latter alternately adopted a natuнralistic and imitative pseudo-romantic technique. An enthusiastic supporter of the British Empire whose mission, Kipling believed, was to be a saviour of all nations, Kipling glorified simple men of action, builders of the Empire, sacrificing health, wealth and their very lives for what they felt to be their patriotic duty. They form the subject matter of Kipling's poetry (as in Barrack Room Ballads or The Seven Seas) and of his prose (as in Soldiers Three). As Kipling mostly describes common men Ч soldiers, sailors, mechanics and petty colonial servants Ч his descriptions of their self-sacrifice and heroic endeavour generally do not strike us as false. It is only when Kipling lauds the great men of the Empire and the White Man's burнden that he departs from truth and art simultaneously.
Kipling's novel The Light That Failed is the story of a painter who discovers his vocation in painting scenes of war, colonial war, in all its naked ugliness and cruelty and yet conveying the feeling that all suffering is worth while for the sake of Britain's greatness.
Kipling is at his best in works for children where reactionary politics interfere least with his narrative and descriptive art. He was also a great master of the short story, of striking description, particularly of Indian scenery.
The political and moral values Kipling stood for were not palatable to his more advanced and sensitive contemporaries. Their spokesman was the poet and critic Matthew Arnold. The all-embracing criticism of Victorian civilisation voiced in his essays found numerous admirers. He endeavoured to make his poetry severely classical so as to strike a contrast to the shoddy sentimentality that was so much in vogue with the general public.
Disgust with the
spirit of Victorianism culminated in Samuel
Butler's The Way of All Flesh. The author, a scholar and scientist,
was at one and the same time profoundly influenced by the new biological
theories, by the discoveries of
Butler's style conforms as little to received notions as his ideas. It is concise, terse, dry and ironical; it entirely dispenses with the sentimental vocabulary of emotion and with rhetorical flourishes. The author dissects and analyses, he mocks the fashionable stylistic tags and is careful to appeal to reason and logic rather than to feeling and imagination. His very imagery (frequently derived from the author's biological studies) is more informative and businesslike than emotional and suggestive. The quiet, subdued matter-of-factness of his tone makes his indictнment of contemporary bourgeois ways of thinking all the more formidable.
Butler was wise not to have published in his own life-time a book that would certainly have made him the butt of savage critical attacks. It therefore was brought to public attention posthumously and constitutes one of the stimulating influences in the history of the advanced novel in the first decades of the 20th century.
The new flowering of critical and social realism associated with the names of Shaw, Galsworthy, Wells, Conrad, Bennett, though inaugurated in the later years of the 19th century, belongs rather to the 20th and will, accordingly, be treated in the last volume of the present series.