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THE LITERATURE OF THE VICTORIAN ERA

by Hugh Walker (1910)

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Previous Page  ...seemed to them to have failed. Some of them, like Carlyle, would have refused to characterise it as a failure absolute; but to others, like Tennyson, there appeared to have flowed little or nothing but evil from "the red fool-fury of the Seine,"-a phrase evoked, it is true, by a later revolutionary movement, but still descriptive, to its author's mind, of the earlier and greater one. In this respect England stood in contrast to the country of the Revolution itself, where faith in it and in its principles had been transmitted, almost as a religious cult, through all political changes. "He must take care not to touch my Revolution," is the phrase attributed to Thiers when he heard that Taine was engaged on the Origines de la France contemporaine; and the historian who quotes it adds: "By the expression 'my Revolution' the aged statesman did not refer to his own history of the change of things with which, as a youth, he won a front place in the brilliant literary group of the Restoration. He was giving expression to the sentiment cherished to the period of his death by most Frenchmen excepting the fanatics of Legitimism, that the Revolution was a sacred manifestation which might be diversely interpreted, but never profoundly assailed (1)."

There was a time when in England too the Revolution appeared to some a "sacred manifestation"; and their feeling can be traced momentarily in the verse of Coleridge and Wordsworth, permanently in that of Shelley, and in the political philosophy of his father-in-law Godwin. To others it seemed much more like a manifestation of diabolic power; and this view found unrestrained expression in the later writings of Burke, while it gave a tone to the work of Scott, and imparted a deeper meaning to that revived interest in mediaeval history which he did so much to excite. But on all, on its opponents as well as on its advocates, the Revolution acted as a tremendous impulsive force. The intense political and military activity of the time seems to find an echo in the swing and the rush and the vigour which characterise the literature produced during those years. But before the close of the first quarter of the century all this was changed. There were not many who would have taken, with Burke, the diabolic ...Next Page

1 Bodley's France, i. 83.




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