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THE LITERATURE OF THE VICTORIAN ERA

by Hugh Walker (1910)

12

Previous Page  ...circumstances of the mass of readers, is not a matter for un-mingled satisfaction.

Probably, however, the most serious danger arises from the absurd disproportion which may frequently be noticed between the quality of the work done and the magnitude of the reward reaped. Carlyle, the foremost man of letters of his time, was fain at forty-five to earn by lecturing, a task he loathed, the money necessary to make ends meet and to save himself from exile. Had he not possessed a private fortune Darwin could never have devoted himself to science. Browning for many years made nothing by his writings, and Matthew Arnold throughout his life made very little. Although Tennyson became the most popular poet of his day, he was compelled for ten years to suspend relations with Emily Sellwood, because he could not afford to marry. So low at the beginning of the period was the repute of poetry, the finest flower of literature, that Murray, the most liberal and the most enterprising of publishers, made it his rule "to refuse all original works of this kind (1)." Chateaubriand, a few years later, declared the only popular English poet to be "a political verse-writer, who was a working blacksmith"; and in 1841 John Sterling wrote to Emerson that there was not one man then living whose verse would pay the expense of publication. Sterling was wrong: then, or soon afterwards, Martin Tupper was drawing from 500 to 800 a year for Proverbial Philosophy, and the price which the English public ultimately paid to the author of this "inspired wisdom" was something like 10,000. Unfortunately there is no sign of improvement. The author of a new Proverbial Philosophy is as likely now as he was sixty years ago to receive 10,000, and the author of a new Paracelsus to receive nothing whatsoever. It is just as likely now as it was then that a new Richard Feverel will be neglected, and a new Heir of Redclyffe hailed as one of the greatest books ever written.

All the revolution in thought which we associate with the name of Darwin hangs upon the chance that the man who wrought it possessed a private fortune! Nothing else is required to prove how clamant is the need to reduce the present chaos to order. ...Next Page

1 Smiles's Memoir of John Murray, ii. 374.




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