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The Study Of Literature
English Literature Of The 19th Century:
 Third Or Later Victorian Period

 William Ewart Gladstone

 John Morley

 Historical Literature Of The Later Victorian Period

 Edward Augustus Freeman

 James Anthony Froude

 Sir Henry Sumner Maine

 William Edward Hartpole Lecky

 James Bryce

 John Addington Symonds

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

Third Or Later Victorian Period

( Originally Published Early 1900's )


The period from 186o to 187o was the heyday of Liberalism and Reform. A willing ear was lent to all who had proposals for the welfare of mankind. So complete was the tendency in popular sentiment that the astute Disraeli, always awake to the stirring of the social breezes, persuaded the reluctant Tories to adopt Parliamentary reform extending popular suffrage, and thus take the "leap in the dark" "shooting Niagara," as Carlyle vigorously phrased it. Liberalism won new political victories, including the disestablishment of the Irish Church and the Educational Reform of 1870. It looked steadily ahead for new triumphs.

Literature reflected this spirit of hopeful confidence. Perodical literature put forth new ventures as at the be-ginning of the Century. Writers abounded, and newcomers were eagerly welcomed. The public listened readily to new claimants for its regard, whether their subject was society or philosophy, science or religion, the times before the flood or the topics of to-day. In this era of free discussion a new tendency sprang up alongside of the prevalent, progressive, hopeful spirit. The doctrine of Evolution, put forth scientifically by Darwin, and extended philosophically by Herbert Spencer, was at first stoutly opposed, after a time cautiously admitted as a possible or probable theory, and still later almost universally affirmed. So far reaching was this theory that as soon as it was fairly considered it had its- effect not only on natural science but on history, the record of human development. It had its effect on religion, on ethics, on poetry, on essays, on fiction, on social life, on politics. New publications and new writers rose to advocate and apply it in every direction. For many it removed the firm basis of past beliefs and led to doubt and pessimism. Some it turned to study of remote races and times. It gave importance to hitherto neglected customs and superstitions and roused curiosity respecting savage tribes.

That period inaugurated a new era of travel and exploration. The Suez Canal opened a new route between east and west. Darkest Africa was brought to light. Japan was opened to Western civilization. Every great nation had its expedition to make a dash for the North Pole. In every part of the world there was running to and fro and knowledge was increased. All this activity was reflected in the pages of literature. It gave new theories to the journalist, to the light essayist, to the sober statistician, to the thoughtful philosopher, and to the soaring poet. It was the germ of imperial expansion, which was soon to prevail in Great Britain, and has, to the astonishment of all, taken firm hold on the American mind to-day.

During this period writers have come more than ever to look to the people for remuneration of their services of instruction, entertainment, moral and intellectual uplifting. The immense circulation of newspapers and periodicals has caused a demand for the labors of talented writers which has proved more remunerative than the gifts of sovereigns and noble patrons in former centuries. Nor has this reward been carelessly, or unwisely distributed. Compare the list of the poets laureate of England from Ben Jonson to Alfred Austin with the leading names on the catalogues of publishers of to-day. The pensions bestowed by the British government to-day are regulated by the Prime Minister, who is guided by the enlightened criticism of the press. The literary pension list of the past sixty years is a roll of honor, every one borne on it has done something to elevate, instruct or entertain his fellowmen.

It is not because Queen Victoria has had any special interest in literature or has given marked encouragement to authors that this period bears her name. She has published some books of personal interest, and she has en-listed the services of a graceful writer in behalf of her husband's memory. But her name is stamped on this literature as her effigy is stamped on the coins of the realm, because she is, in her station, the accepted embodiment of the unity of the empire. During the early part of this period she maintained a seclusion, perhaps too strict, out of respect for her consort's memory. Later she has occasionally discharged the public functions belonging to her exalted place. At all times she has borne well the "fierce white light which beats upon a throne." But it has belonged to a mightier power to direct the varying course of English literature.

The reviews, which did much to stimulate and elevate literature at the opening of the Century, had fallen into the background toward its close. The "Edinburgh," "Quarterly," and "Westminster" are still issued regularly and contain able articles, but they no longer exert the power and command the obedience which once they did. Of the monthlies, "Blackwood's" still holds its own, maintains the same political views, and furnishes reading of the same quality as of yore. "Fraser's," which for a time was edited by Froude, and had brilliant success, declined from its prestige under his successor. It was bought by Longman, who, finding it difficult to restore its fortunes, changed it in 1882 to "Longman's Magazine," lowered its price, and sought to please less critical readers. "Macmillan's Magazine" continues to be marked by the fine style and correct taste which characterized it at the start.

A new impulse was given to periodical literature by the establishment of the "Fortnightly Review" in 1865. The popular monthlies, seeking to reach all classes of readers, had tabooed politics and accepted only comparatively light literature. But there was a large number of thoughtful persons who wished for careful statement and sober discussion of the questions of religion and politics constantly brought forward. The "Fortnightly," intended for this class, seemed to take the "Revue des Deux Mondes" for its model. It was edited at first by George H. Lewes, and afterwards by John Morley, but in 1882 passed into the charge of T. H. S. Escott, and again in 1887 to that of Frank Harris. At first, as its name indicated, it was published every second week, but afterward became a monthly without change of name. It was Liberal in politics, but on other questions it solicited contributions from leading thinkers without regard to their special views. Yet as a fact, it favored agnosticism by giving prominence to its advocates.

This agnostic bias of the "Fortnightly" led to the establishment of the "Contemporary Review" in 1866. It had the same general features, was Liberal in politics, but Christian in tone. It was edited at first by Dean Alford, but in 187o passed to James Knowles. In 1877 the latter being denied by the publishers the freedom which he deemed essential to the welfare of the Review, left it and founded the "Nineteenth Century," which also proved successful. These three Reviews still flourish, and furnish to their readers discussion of all important questions by able writers. The names of the contributions are in nearly every case given. In 1883 the "National Review" was established to support the Conservative cause. It is edited by W. J. Courthope, editor of a "History of English Poetry," and Alfred Austin, whom Lord Salisbury appointed poet laureate in 1895.

The large number of periodicals has enabled writers to reach the public more easily than in former times. Not only the famous, who are solicited by editors, but the beginners find their means of communication. Many works of value, apart from fiction, have been first published, in whole or in part, in periodicals. Most authors of acknowledged merit have been frequent contributors and some, as Morley and Fronde, to say nothing of Dick-ens and Thackeray, have been editors.

In the last quarter of the Century English fiction underwent still another change. Analysis of character was still regarded as the highest aim of literary art, and writers, great and small, worked to this end. But when the magazines were lowered in price and appeal was made to a wider circle, it was found necessary by the editors and other caterers to public taste to furnish more amusing and exciting material. In French the short story had been cultivated and brought to an exquisite perfection. Certain English writers adopted this form, and it proved - acceptable. But for the longer novel, which was still indispensable both in book form and as a serial in magazines, something else was necessary. This was found in a return to the romantic style, and even to the historical romance of Scott, which had become obsolete. R. D. Blackmore was one of the leaders in the experiment with his "Lorna Doone." Others followed with strange tales of foreign lands.

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