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
Earle Lytton Bulwer
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The novel is the leading element in the literature of Victoria's reign. It had been prominent from the beginning of the century, but now, by its ever-increasing quantity and its higher artistic excellence, it commanded attention and admiration from reluctant critics. A writer who attained eminence in this field 3s early as the third decade maintained his place by successive efforts for half a century. He is commonly known as Bulwer, his full name being Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer, changed afterward, on succeeding to his mother's estate, to Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, and finally, on his admission to the peerage in 1866, to Baron Lytton. He was born in 1805, his father being General Bulwer, and was educated at Cambridge, where he won the Chancellor's prize for a poem. Even earlier he had published some juvenile poems. His first romance, "Falkland" (1827), was in the fantastic German style, but his fame began with "Pelham" (1828), in which he brought his gentleman-hero in contact with all the varieties of English life, from the man of fashion to the retiring scholar, and from the reckless rogue to the bustling statesman. The story, written in his twenty-third year, displayed not only vivacity of intellect, but maturity of judgment. Other novels speedily followed "The Disowned" (1828), "Devereux" (1829), "Paul Clifford" (183o), a melodramatic chronicle of a highwayman, and "Eugene Aram" (1832), a revelation of the steps by which a fine moral nature may sink to brutal crime. Then the brilliant author turned to historical romance, and in "The Last Days of Pompeii" (1834) gave a vivid picture of life under the Roman Empire, and the struggle of Christianity with Paganism. In "Rienzi" (1835) he described the attempt to restore the ancient republic in medieval Rome. His Spanish romances, "Leila" and "Calderon," were less popular. When the author returned to English ground in "Ernest Maltravers" and its sequel "Alice," he was censured for the low moral tone of his treatment of social problems. From the first critics had satirized his melodramatic scenes and ridiculed his highly rhetorical style, but these very faults probably contributed to his marked success with the public.
Literature by no means absorbed Bulwer's energy. He was active in politics, favoring social and parliamentary reforms, and in the House of Commons, from 1831 to 1841, supported the Whig policy. He was on friendly terms with the leading Radicals, and accepted some of their ideas, but his professed aim was to elevate the masses to better education, courteous manners and an aristocratic sense of honor.
In 1838 he turned his attention from novels to the drama, and with the aid of the tragedian Macready, produced three plays which still hold the stage "The Lady of Lyons," "Richelieu" and "Money." His later dramatic attempts were unsuccessful. New novels followed, among them being the mystical "Night and Morning" (1841), and "The Last of the Barons" (1843), an effective historical romance of Warwick, the King-maker. Then the indefatigable writer turned to poetry and executed fine translations from Schiller; a satire, "The New Timon," which provoked a reply from Tennyson, and a romantic epic, "King Arthur." The last-named, on which he staked his reputation as a poet, fell flat. It was written in stanzas of six lines; the story, characters and incidents seemed feeble and ineffective. In 1848 the dauntless author published anonymously in "Blackwood's Magazine" a new form of story, "The Caxtons." It was really an admirable adaptation of Sterne's style to new circumstances, and captivated the public before the authorship was avowed. Of the same kind were "My Novel" (1853) and "What Will He Do With It?" (1858). In these he treated again the varieties of English life, but showed perhaps a less hopeful spirit.
When Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton returned to Parliament, in 1852, he took sides with the Conservatives, having been opposed to the repeal of the corn-laws. For some years he was busy with official duties. In "A Strange Story" (1862) advantage was taken of popular interest in Spiritualism to present a melodramatic romance. His later stories were published anonymously and won success by their merits. "The Coming Race" was a predictive display of the new condition of mankind when women should be the rulers and electricity should give increased control over nature. In "The Parisians" and "Kenelm Chillingly" the effects of modern ideas on French and English society respectively were strikingly contrasted. The veteran author died in 1873, leaving unfinished another historical romance, "Pausanias the Spartan."
From the outset of his career Bulwer was a studious critic, as well as a prolific writer. He formed theories of his art and laid down general rules which he endeavored to observe, but in minor matters he was careless, and he made the great error of describing the thoughts and feelings of his characters instead of making them reveal themselves in speech. The lasting wonder is that his works put forth in extreme old age showed no diminution of inventiveness or disposition to repeat his earlier ideas. Besides his novels, poems and dramas, he wrote many essays and disquisitions, full of well-digested learning and sage philosophy.
The chief misfortune of his life was his disagreement with his wife, a high-spirited Irish woman, who carried the quarrel into public in every possible way, while he manfully bore all in silence.