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The Study Of Literature
English Literature Of The 19th Century:
 Mrs. E. B. Browning

 Minor Poets

 Thomas Hood

 Owen Meredith

 Historical Literature Of The Early Victorian Period

 Henry Thomas Buckle

 Henry Hallam

 Sir Archibald Alison

 Henry Hart Milman

 John Lingard

 Read More Articles About: English Literature Of The 19th Century

Historical Literature Of The Early Victorian Period

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

The literature of the Nineteenth Century has been distinguished by large and valuable additions to history. The tremendous upheaval of the French Revolution compelled men to consider from new points of view the foundations of government, and led them not only to examine more closely the process of the construction of the existing state of society, but to compare with it the remains of former civilizations. From consideration of dynasties and family compacts of sovereigns they turned to the condition and welfare of the people. "History is philosophy teaching by examples," said Bolingbroke early in the Eighteenth Century. Historians were stimulated by the later events of the same century to draw from the records of the past the proper lessons for the conduct of the present. The people were coming to assert their power and needed to be instructed in what direction to do so. After a time enlightened governments began to admit the people to their confidence ; they opened the treasuries of their archives, and arranged state papers for consultation by students.

The reviews and other periodical literature furnished new opportunities for historical writers to gratify the desire of the public for information on the past as well as the present. Historians could thus make essay of their powers and trial of the public taste. Many authors who were chiefly devoted to other departments of literature not only made such occasional contributions to history, but wrote one or more volumes. Sir Walter Scott, besides his "Life of Napoleon," retold and vivified the annals of his country in his delightful "Tales of a Grandfather." Southey prepared an elaborate "History of Brazil." His "History of the Peninsular War," though well written, was eclipsed by the more brilliant work on the same subject by the enthusiastic warrior, Sir William Napier (1786-186o), which has been pronounced "the finest military history in the English language." Dickens, in the midst of his labors as editor and novelist, found time to write a "Child's History of England." G. P. R. James compiled histories of Charlemagne and Louis XIV, which are now esteemed more highly than his novels. But attention is here given only to the great writers who have in this age reconstructed the history of the past and erected enduring monuments.

It is singular that the history of ancient Greece, told admirably in its own language by Herodotus, Thucydides and Xenophon, should in recent times have become a favorite field of exercise for historians. William Mitford (1744-1827) was the first to give zest to the study of antiquity by infusing into it his hatred of democracy. His "History of Greece" (1784-1818) is vigorously written, but is often inaccurate. It is remarkable that there should have been two restatements of that history from the Liberal side, one by Bishop Connop Thirlwall (1797-1875), which began to appear in 1835, and the other, still more radical, by George Grote (1794-1871) who was a banker and member of Parliament. Though he had not attended a university, Grote displayed accurate scholarship and gave new life to the old texts of the Greek authors. He is an ardent pleader for the Athenian democracy, and even for the sophists and demagogues. Thirlwall's "History" is more dignified and judicial in tone, but never attained the same degree of popularity.

The early history of Rome also attracted the attention of investigators as needing reconstruction on account of its fabulous character. The German scholar Niebuhr had shown the improbability of the traditions which had long been accepted, and had endeavored to extract what-ever truth was concealed in them. Dr. Thomas Arnold (1795-1842), the great schoolmaster of Rugby, followed in his footsteps and retold the "History of Rome" from its foundation to the time of Hannibal. Still further valuable labor was confidently expected from him when he was made professor of modern history at Oxford, but after delivering one course of lectures, he died suddenly. Charles Merivale (1808-1894), dean of Ely, afterward undertook in his "History of the Romans Under the Empire" to bridge the gap between the end of Arnold's and the beginning of Gibbon's great history. He also prepared for the "Students' Series" a smaller "General History of Rome."

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