English Literature Of The 19th Century:
Reviewers, Magazinists And Minor Poets Of The First Period
Women Writers Of The First Period
Summary Of The Pre-victorian Literature
Second Or Early Victorian Period—1837-1870
Earle Lytton Bulwer
Captain Frederick Marryat
Read More Articles About: English Literature Of The 19th Century
Summary Of The Pre-victorian Literature
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
In the first third of the Nineteenth Century, England underwent one of its periodic revolutions in thought, politics, and literature. The system of reaction and repression which prevailed during the wars with Napoleon and for some time after his downfall gave way under the influence of free discussion to a liberal tendency which was first strikingly manifested in the political sphere in the Parliamentary Reform of 1832, abolishing many rotten boroughs and admitting new cities to representation. Corresponding with this movement, and helping to produce it, was the literary revolution, whose conspicuous features have already been indicated and are here rehearsed.
1. Independent literary criticism, inaugurated by the "Edinburgh Review," gave a new impulse to literature, which was increased by the larger opportunity granted to writers by the establishment of "Blackwood's" and other monthly magazines.
2. The rise of romantic poetry, for which the republication of old ballads had prepared the way, was first exemplified in Sir Walter Scott's picturesque metrical tales, whose success swept away the artificial barriers of classical poetry. These tales were objective presentations of historical or semi-historical scenes, leading captive the imagination before the critical faculties were roused to per-form their supposed duty.
3. Byron adopted this narrative style, but charged it with his own powerful personality and passion. He thus added the subjective element, which brought the poetry home to the hearts of his readers.
4. Wordsworth scornfully rejected Pope's limitation of the nature and diction of poetry. His defense of simple language and common incidents as proper for poetry, though his practice carried this to an undue extreme, was necessary to overcome the formalism which had stifled the imagination.
5. Wordsworth elevated the idea of poetry by making its highest aim to be the recognition of the Divinity in nature and the soul of man. His dedication of his life to this purpose was an inspiring example to his own and future generations.
6. The revival of genuine lyrical poetry is the strongest proof of the profound change in English nature. As in the Elizabethan age this lyrical outburst was manifested in a great variety of metres.
7. Prose style underwent a similar enlargement, resulting in quaint and elaborate effects, as in Lamb, De Quincey, Wilson, and others.
8. This period is grandly characterized by the rise of the historical romance, in which Sir Walter Scott was the unrivaled leader. To him is due in large measure the wide revival of interest in the Middle Ages, and the consequent restoration of mediaevalism in art and religion. As high artistic blendings of historic fact with a gorgeous imagination, the works of "the Wizard of the North" stand alone, in spite of all attempts to rival their charm. It is noteworthy that Scott's long concealment of his authorship of "Waverley" was partly owing to the belief that such work was unworthy of his professional dignity, and that it required his phenomenal success to raise the novel to fair recognition as a legitimate branch of literature.
9. It is of interest to observe that in the early years of this century, when cultured women were restrained by rigid notions of their proper sphere from venturing into print, a few women poets were encouraged by words of praise from the greatest writers, and that the women novelists were admitted to have improved upon the extravagant romancings of the end of the Eighteenth Century. These beginners were the harbingers of the great crowd of women who have conferred honor on the reign of Victoria by their achievements in literature.