English Literature Of The 19th Century:
Richard Doddridge Blackmore
Sir Walter Besant
Robert Louis Stevenson
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( Originally Published Early 1900's )
A singular fate has overtaken William Hurrell Mallock. It is his misfortune to be almost entirely excluded from serious consideration, not by the future, but by the very success of his first book. The jest of his satire was so piquant that he can hardly afterward be regarded as in earnest. He is a nephew of the historian Froude and was born in Devonshire in 1849. He was educated at Oxford and won the Newdigate prize by his poem. "The Isthmus of Suez." His satrical ability was shown in "The New Republic" (1876), a modern dialogue in imitation of Plato's "Republic." The speakers represent, under thin disguises, the leaders of modern thought Matthew Arnold, Huxley, Tyndall, Ruskin, and others. They severally propose to dismiss from their New Republic imagination, poetry, superstition, religious belief, serious convictions, the middle classes, but are driven out in confusion when Mr. Herbert (Ruskin) banishes the upper classes as well. The parody on the style of thought and writing of the speakers is perfect, and the success of the skit was complete. The author followed it up by "The New Paul and Virginia; or, Positivism on an Island" (1878), but this had little effect. Mallock then turned to serious writing, and discussed "Is Life Worth Living," in which the emptiness of this life, if there be no future, is forcibly presented. His numerous essays on social topics have been collected in several volumes, among them being "Property, Progress, and Poverty (1884), and "Classes and Masses; or, Wealth and Wages" (1896). He is a strong reactionary, seeking to go back to mediaevalism in social organization and religious belief. But into all his writing a bitter mixture of doubt and mockery is infused. Mallock has also published some sentimental romances which receive but little attention.
Among the writers noted for elegance and even daintiness of style, Walter Pater (1839-1894) holds the chief place, though he wrote but little. He was educated at Oxford and became a Fellow of Brasenose College. To him the chief object of life was to extract the utmost of pleasure from living in a refined way, especially from education and art. The study of Greek pervaded Pater's life and writings. Nor was his first book, "Studies in the History of the Renaissance" (1873), untrue to this principle, since it had reference to the revival of Greek culture in modern society. This next, "Marius the Epicurean" (1885), is a story of ancient Rome in the time of Marcus Aurelius, when the Stoic philosophy dominated the higher classes, and Paganism and Christianity touched and blended. An important character is the celebrated Apuleius, to whom Pater shows favor. In "Imaginary Portraits" (1887) and "Appreciations" (189o) the style is not so perfect as in his former works. At his best his style is less exuberant than Ruskin's, more finished and exquisite, never overloaded with ornament. It aims at well modulated harmony, and excels in the construction of paragraphs to this end.
In modern times there have been a few writers who won fame by giving such accurate descriptions of nature as attested their loving feeling for it, and drew others to share, at least while reading, this love. Such was Gilbert White, of Selborne, in the last Century, and such is John Burroughs in our own time and country. The only recent English .representative of this class, which may be called nature-essayists, was Richard Jefferies, whose life was cut off before he knew his fame. The son of a farmer, he was born near Swindon, in Wiltshire, in 1848. Self-educated, he began writing for local newspapers at eighteen, and in 1877 went to London to engage in journalism. His first book was "The Gamekeeper at Home" (1878). This was followed by "The Amateur Poacher" (1879), "Hodge and His Master" (188o), "Round About a Great Estate" (188o), and "Life of the Fields" (1884). These were highly praised by observant critics for both matter and style. They are breezy books, which make men and boys fond of out-of-door rural life. The author wrote also some novels, which were of little value. For several years he was an invalid and, brooding on his troubles, he became a mystical pessimist. His "Story of My Heart" (1883) was a remarkable autobiographic sketch, which was hardly heard by the public till after his death, in August, 1887. A strange fame then set in and gave value to his writings, which had before but slight appreciation by the public.