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THE LITERATURE OF THE VICTORIAN ERA

by Hugh Walker (1910)

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Previous Page  ...of faculties and of needs. Questions such as these form the substance not merely of systematic political philosophy, but of the work of "seers" like Carlyle and of poets like Tennyson.

But if literature has relations with politics, it has relations still more intimate and vital with the conceptions which underlie religion and philosophy. In order to understand the Victorian age we must ask here again what are the points of resemblance and of difference between it and the preceding generation; which of the fundamental ideas of religion and philosophy lived on into it; which of them were rejected, reversed, changed or developed.

In respect of religion, the relation of the Victorian age to the era of the Revolution is extremely interesting and curious. On a superficial view, it presents an aspect wholly different from that presented by politics; more closely considered, it is seen to be explainable by the same principles. The science of politics lends itself to compromise. Hence the extreme views inherited from the previous age blend and run together in a kind of amalgam which partakes of the character of both. But compromise is far less easy in ideas than it is in practical life; experience teaches rather that the tendency of a purely logical development is always towards extremes. On this principle we can explain what at first sight is so puzzling - the co-existence throughout the Victorian era of a powerful school of rationalism, the inheritor of the deistic spirit of the eighteenth century, with that Catholic reaction which manifested itself early in the nineteenth century, and whose influence is not yet exhausted.

The opposition of these two schools gives its supreme interest to the English literature of the nineteenth century; all else will be found in the long run to be subordinate. It is not the only case in history in which such an opposition has existed, nor is it the only case in which momentous questions have depended upon the result of the conflict. The most profoundly thoughtful of the recent historians of Greece has been struck with just such a contrast and conflict in the latter part of the sixth century B.C., and has depicted it in a few masterly paragraphs. Having told the story of the great struggle against the Persian monarchy, he proceeds: " We have now to see how another danger was ...Next Page




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