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THE NEW AGE

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Previous Page  ...view of the Revolution; there were still fewer who would have accepted it as a " sacred manifestation." It had become a subject for study and criticism. The great victory which freed England from danger made it easier for the conservative side to take a moderate and dispassionate view, while reflection on the "fatal Saturnalia" of France chastened and sobered those who had at one time maintained that even a French invasion was a thing to be hoped for rather than to be dreaded. The fierce energy of opposition on the one side and the fervour of hope on the other were alike gone. If the Revolution had produced fruit, it was certainly not the fruit which enthusiasts had expected. What was immediately visible was the wreck of the ancien regime; and the task before men was to construct a new world out of the ruins of the old, not, as they had hoped, by the wave of an enchanter's wand, but by slow and painful toil. Hence, as has been said, the mental attitude of men towards the past was negative. The events of the preceding generation showed what was no longer possible in politics and society; it remained to discover what was possible.

But after two generations more we can see that while the outward failure of the Revolution was complete, its real failure was only partial. Modern democracy, a political development of absorbing interest because it is unexampled in history, had already taken its rise in America; but in Europe the movement towards it has been profoundly influenced by the French Revolution. What has been, and what is likely to be, the effect of this democratic movement upon literature? Few questions can be propounded that are better worth investigating. The supreme political interest of the nineteenth century is the picture it presents of an ever-widening harmony between order and freedom. The chief steps in this progress are clearly marked - in England, in the successive reform bills, in Catholic Emancipation, in the abolition of the Corn Laws, and in the various constructive measures which in later days have helped to humanise the lives of the industrial multitudes. Of special importance from the literary point of view was the enfranchisement of the press; for the abolition of the paper tax and of the stamp duty upon ...Next Page




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