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THE NEW AGE

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Previous Page  ...men of different generations. They were, sometimes in spite of themselves, children of the Revolution, and the ideas of the Revolution were fermenting in their minds.

When we look onwards once more some fifty years we see the old order changing; it is only faith, or else a glance at the productions of still more recent days, that assures us it is "giving place to new." It is plain that in the third decade of the nineteenth century the impulse given by, or at least associated with, the French Revolution rapidly failed. Whether it would have done so with such speed had the younger men survived, cannot be determined. But Keats died in 1821, Shelley in the following year, and Byron in 1824. The elder men had for the most part already done their work, and, except Wordsworth and Landor, they did not very long survive their younger contemporaries. So far as it is possible to fix a date, we may say that the period ends with the year 1832, the year of the death of Scott at Abbotsford, of Goethe in Germany and of Cuvier in France, the year after the death of Hegel, whose thought so profoundly influenced the nineteenth century.

The years 1825 to 1840 show a comparatively meagre list of memorable works. In the writings of the younger generation we have only a partial counterpoise to the loss caused by failing powers and thinning ranks among their elders. We can see in it numerous beginnings and rich promise, but the actual performance is poor beside that of the preceding fifteen years, which includes all that matters of Byron, the best of Scott's prose, and Miss Austen's, and all of Shelley and Keats, together with much of Coleridge and Wordsworth. But the true significance of the years after 1825 will be missed unless we bear in mind that they were the seed-time of all the rich literature of the early and intermediate Victorian era. By the greatness of that literature we must estimate the importance of the years in which it was germinating.

It is interesting to notice that the men who in England governed thought during the second quarter of the nineteenth century, conceived of their social and political relations with the immediate past as largely negative. The French Revolution ...Next Page




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