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THE VICTORIANS

It is still customary in smart quarters to discuss the Victorian era with a sneer, as if it were a period quite beneath the consideration of an emancipated and sophisticated generation like our own. A period of shocking taste and of anemic and conventional thinking and living. It must be confessed that in large measure this was true of the great middle class of the day. It was a period when bad taste ran riot in architecture, interior decoration and dress, a period of cupolas, mansard roofs and fretwork, of hair furniture, antimacassars, dried flowers and Venus de Milos with clocks in their stomachs, of hoop skirts, frills and bustles, of tight lacing and much fainting, of lap dogs and lovers wooing on their knees, a period which prided itself on its “diligence in business,” its large families, its correct thinking, and its smug piety. But the distinguished literary men of the period were not so. Carlyle, Ruskin, Newman, Arnold, all these men spent their lives in the effort to emancipate their generation, and such poets as Browning, Rossetti, Morris, and Swinburne were exalting beauty and passion against the neglect or protests of society at large.

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) felt these modern influences, though not quite in their full force. He was a Cambridge man, was elected to a Fellowship, was called to the bar in 1826 but never took seriously to the law as a profession. He became in 1830 a member of Parliament. His great knowledge, and especially his amazing command of historical illustration, enabled him often to clinch his argument when abstract discussion would have failed. Although he had but a small share of the highest faculty of the orator, the power to sway the passions of his audience, he had in a high degree the power to interest the intellect.

Macaulay's love for letters was the passion of his life. In his essays and history he achieved a popularity which has rarely been equalled. As a writer of prose, he had grievous defects, he had strong prejudices, he had the born advocate's gift, he was too ready to come to a crisp conclusion on a very complex question or a many-sided character. With all his faults, his prose observed a very high standard of classical English. It has an almost unique power of bringing the picture that the writer saw, the argument that he thought, the sentiment that he felt, before the reader's eyes, mind, and feeling. It is perhaps the clearest style in English. To quote a recent critic, Hugh Walker, from

. a contrast of the two outstanding prose writers of the period : “In several respects Macaulay is the natural antithesis to Carlyle: to some extent they may even be regarded as complementary. We may correct ihe excess of the one by the opposite excess of the other. Macaulay was an optimist, Carlyle a pessimist; Macaulay was the panegyrist of his own time, Carlyle was its merciless critic; Macaulay devoutly believed all the formulas of the Whig creed, and had great faith in Reform Bills and improvements in parliamentary machinery, Carlyle accepted no formulas whatsoever, and set small store by any reforms that were merely parliamentary; Macaulay was orthodox in his literary tastes and methods, Carlyle was revolutionary and scornful of rule. The contrast applies equally to their personal history and character. Macaulay was sunny, genial, and healthy; Carlyle dyspeptic, irascible,“ 'gey ill to deal wi.' The truth lay between

’ them."

Whistler has given all of Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) in his bleak portrait. A head scarred and furrowed by the spiritual torrents that flowed over it, the searing acid of life that bit its paths into his soul. A countenance stark and craggy, like nothing else so much as the mountain that Browning lays bare in Saul :

Have ye seen when Spring's arrowy summons goes right to the aim,
And some mountain, the last to withdraw her, that held (he alone
While the vale laughed in freedom and flowers) on a broad bust of stone
A year's snow bound about for a breastplate, · leaves grasp of the sheet?
Fold on fold all at once it crowds thunderously down to his feet,
And there fronts you, stark, black, but alive yet, your mountain of old,
With his rents, the successive bequeathings of ages untold:
Yea, each harm got in fighting your battles, each furrow and scar
Of his head thrust 'twixt you and the tempest all hail, there they are !”

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Carlyle was tormented by demons in body and in spirit. The demon of dyspepsia, like a rat “gnawing at the pit of his stomach”; the demon of poverty; the demon of doubt and materialism, - until, after three weeks of total sleeplessness,” he vanquished that demon forever and stood up in the full majesty of spiritual assertion, the "Everlasting Yea" of Sartor Resartus; the demon of nerves, that allowed him to compose only in an agony of solitary writhing and to fortress himself in a sound-proof room, which even the crowing of “demon fowls” could not penetrate. More tormenting still the abject state of society, a backsliding and low-living generation, vain and cowardly, craven, selfish, and nerveless in endeavor, to whom, "a wild seer, shaggy, unkemp, like a baptist living on locusts and wild honey,” he came preaching the gospel of work and earnest living

Though he forsook the Calvinistic theology of his parents, he retained its spirit. He had no faith in aristocracy, in bourgeoism, or in democracy as such, faith only in the individual man who resolves to be and to do. Like to his Border ancestors, “pithy, bitter-speaking bodies and awfu' fighters,” he smoked infinite tobacco and writhed through his volumes, in English gnarled, twisted, grotesque. Seeking ever the essential facts, the real forces, the living spirit, he saw no salvation for society save in “the prophet who reveals and the hero who acts.

That he lived to be eighty-six is in part a tribute to his Scotch ancestry, in part to a spirit

strong in will To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

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It is seldom that a man runs counter to longstanding national traditions and the deepest convictions of his fellow-countrymen and yet retains a lasting place in their regard. Such a man, however, was John Henry, Cardinal Newman (1801-1890). In January, 1864, Newman was a very general object of distrust; by December of that same year he had completely disarmed the suspicions of society and gained its lasting esteem. This was accomplished through the publication of his unique A pologia pro Vita Sua (A pology for His Life).

Newman had graduated from Oxford in 1820 at the age of nineteen; in 1822 he had won a fellowship at Oriel College, "the acknowledged centre of Oxford intellectualism''; in 1828 he had been made vicar of St. Mary's, the university church, and for many years had been the pulpit idol of the Oxford undergraduates; from 1833 to 1844 he had been the leader of the so-called Oxford movement, a catholic movement in the Anglican communion to restore the doctrine and authority of the early Church; in 1845, after a searching spiritual struggle he had left the English communion and joined the Roman Catholic; from 1845 to 1864 he had been a distinguished priest and an eloquent exponent of the Church of his adoption, an object of suspicion to those outside it. Then in 1864 Charles Kingsley, an ungenerous opponent, remarked in print that “Truth for its own sake had never been a virtue with the Roman clergy, Father Newman informs us that it need not, and on the whole ought not to be.” This challenge of his honesty provoked the Apology, in which, at much cost to native modesty, Newman gave the spiritual history of his life. It was impossible to read this book, simple and frank to a degree, and doubt the sincerity and spiritual nobility of the author.

Newman's withdrawal from the English communion was a very serious blow, and his acceptance of the Roman Catholic Church was of incalculable influence in the social emancipation of its adherents.

In 1854 Newman went to Dublin as rector of a newly-established Catholic university. In this connection he delivered the lectures which constitute the Idea of a University, still the ablest exposition and defence of a liberal education and of its relation to professional training.

In 1879 the Cardinalate was conferred upon Newman, a fitting recognition of his services, the appointment giving satisfaction even to those who were out of sympathy with the Roman Church.

One who studies the fine portrait by Miss Emmeline Deane can appreciate the observation of a contemporary that “There was something majestic, and at the same time delicate and shrinking, about the beautiful pale presence as about the intellectual character of the greatest of the English Cardinals."

At the age of eighteen, when most college students are struggling with the difficulties of freshman composition, John Ruskin (1819-1900) was master of the most brilliant prose style that any English writer has as yet achieved. At twenty-four he had published the first volume of Modern Painters, and all cultivated England was reading what he had to say about light, color, chiaroscuro, open sky, and clouds, a refinement of observation that no other writer upon art had approached. He himself attributes his mastery of prose and his powers of observation to the severe regimen which his mother, a rigid Calvinist, had forced upon him from his earliest days. “I had Sir Walter Scott's novels, and the Iliad (Pope's translation) for my only reading when I was a child, on week-days; on Sundays their effect was tempered by Robinson Crusoe and the Pilgrim's Progress. . . . Walter Scott and Pope's Homer were reading of my

. own election, but my mother forced me, by steady daily toil, to learn long chapters of the Bible by heart; as well as to read it every syllable through, aloud, hard names and all, from Genesis to the Apocalypse, about once a year: and to that discipline — patient, accurate, and resolute I owe, not only a knowledge of the book, which I find occasionally serviceable, but much of my general power of taking pains, and the best part of my taste in literature.” Again, "I had a bunch of keys to play with, as long as I was capable only of pleasure in what glittered and jingled; as I grew older, I had a cart, and a ball; and when I was five or six years old, two boxes of well-cut wooden bricks. . . . But the carpet, and what patterns I could find in bed-covers, dresses, or wall-papers to be examined, were my chief resources.” Mrs. Ruskin intended thus to make an evangelical clergyman of her son ; what she actually produced was a critic of most unusual powers of observation.

This ability to see things was further heightened by the annual driving tours with his parents, — his father, a wine merchant, thus combining pleasure and business, which acquainted him with the landscapes and galleries of England and subsequently of Europe.

By 1859, when he was firmly established as the foremost esthetic teacher of his day, he had come to feel, as Morris afterwards came to feel, that there could be no great art in England unless the social life were purified. He consequently turned to social economy and thereafter devoted much of his writing and the greater part of his considerable fortune to social reform: “The beginning of art is in getting our country clean, and our

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people beautiful”; “That country is the richest which nourishes the greatest number of noble and happy human beings.'

In our day, as in his, there is the sharpest divergence of opinion as to the soundness of his ideas, both in the realm of art and of economics, but all recognize the earnestness of his efforts to enrich life.

When the writer was an undergraduate some twenty odd years ago, he was required to study Huxley's Physiology of the Senses. The instructor did not compel us to learn the text word for word but he did insist that we reproduce it orally with absolute accuracy and without the omission of a single detail. We soon discovered that the easiest way out was to memorize the text verbatim. The writer can no longer give an exposition of the structure of the eye or ear, but he has retained a lasting impression of the value of accuracy and economy in the use of words. In an autobiographical sketch that Huxley wrote to escape the inaccuracies of encyclopaedic biographers, he playfully laments that he was not endowed with eloquence: “I remember hearing a traditional account of the manner in which I lost the chance of an endowment of great practical value. The windows of my mother's room were open, in consequence of the unusual warmth of the weather. For the same reason, probably, a neighboring beehive had swarmed, and the new colony, pitching on the window-sill, was making its way into the room when the horrified nurse shut down the sash. If that well-meaning woman had only abstained from her ill-timed interference, the swarm might have settled on my lips, and I should have been endowed with that mellifluous eloquence which, in this country, leads far more surely than worth, capacity, or honest work, to the highest places in Church and State. But the opportunity was lost, and I have been obliged to content myself through life with saying what I mean in the plainest of plain language, than which, I suppose, there is no habit more ruinous to a man's prospects of advancement.” But this “plain language" is a model of scientific English.

Fortune knocked at Huxley's door, when in 1846, the year after completing his medical education, he was appointed surgeon to H. M. S. Rattlesnake on her voyage to survey the Torres Straits, the channel between New Guinea and Australia. This gave him an opportunity for what he wanted, biological research, and he employed his four years in the southern hemisphere to such advantage that he shortly became an acknowledged authority, with a post as lecturer on natural history in the School of Science of London and naturalist to the Geographical Survey. When the controversy was raging hottest over the Darwinian theory, Huxley came to the assistance of his eminent friend and fought spiritedly by his side. He was "grave, black-browed, and fiercely earnest,” an antagonist to be feared.

In the field of educational theory, Huxley, with his frank sense of reality and measured utterance, was as able an exponent of scientific education as the more brilliant and facile Arnold of the traditional education. The truth probably lay somewhere between the two.

Every reader of Tom Brown's School Days at Rugby remembers the head master, Dr. Thomas Arnold, the great leader whom the boys regarded with mingled awe, admiration and affection. Dr. Arnold was the father of Matthew Arnold, (1822-1888) the poet and essayist. It is not too much to say that he was the chief factor in determining the character and the ideals of his son. Matthew Arnold's letters testify to the abiding reality of his father's influence, and Rugby Chapel, written fifteen years after his father's death, a poem freighted with poignant heart-hunger, is one of the noblest and most touching tributes that a son ever paid to a parent.

The Hebraic and the Greek ideals of life were finely harmonized in Dr. Arnold, and Matthew Arnold's constant endeavor was to inculcate these ideals in the national mind, to exalt equally righteousness and a passion for beauty and truth in a country which, as he felt, was sinking deeper and deeper into bourgeois mediocrity and confounding greatness with material achievement.

In 1883, when in his sixty-first year, Arnold visited America and delivered the lectures which are included in the selections. Supercilious and condescending in manner, committed to the notion that distinguished manners are impossible .apart from an aristocracy and an established church, and rather inflexible, withal, he was neither designed to understand America nor to capture it. He was impressed by the general though superficial — interest in public matters, the vivacity of the people, their freedom from convention, and their kindliness, but in the main he found them common and uninteresting, - in short, Philistines. Our fellow-countrymen, in turn, regarded him with much curiosity, and he amused them quite as much as the newspaper critiques amused him. “A Detroit newspaper compared me, as I stooped now and then to look at my manuscript on a music stool, to an elderly bird pecking at grapes on a trellis’ – that is the style of thing.” In a Chicago newspaper, “He has harsh features, supercilious manners, parts his hair down the middle, wears a single eye-glass and ill-fitting clothes."

In his educational theories Arnold was the foremost champion of the cultural education, as Huxley of the scientific. At times they crossed swords. Thus when Huxley, with the finesse of a gentleman, alluded to Arnold and his followers as “the Levites of culture,” Arnold, with equal urbanity, replied that the poor humanist was sometimes apt to regard the scientists as its Nebuchadnezzars.

Arnold's spring of poetry played out rather early, possibly because after thirty-five he failed to draw often enough upon it. But the poetry that he did write is choice. Much of it is characterized by a very refined melancholy which sprang from his sense of the feverishness and triviality of man's ephemeral living as compared with the largeness and tranquility of nature. Consequently many of his lyrics take one out under the stars, and breathe the largeness and coolness of night.

Tennyson was the last of the great bards. When he died there was none who could wear his laurels. He was all poet, and if in later years he came to fame and some commodiousness of life, his whole young manhood was spare and bleak in dedication to his hard trade.

At fourteen he carved on a rock “Byron is dead.” At forty-one he had written In Memoriam, received the laureateship, and was at last able to marry the lady whom his narrow circumstances had long kept from him. His finest work had already been done: The Lady of Shalott, Enone, The Lotos-Eaters had all appeared in the volume published late in 1832, and in the edition of his poems published in 1842 had appeared Morte D'Arthur and Ulysses. The Idylls of the King hold chief place in the production of the second half of his life.

Tennyson wrought with utmost patience and care for detail and the creation of beauty. He was a most minute observer of the English countryside and an ardent student of classical literature. To appreciate him fully calls for more feeling for both of these than the average reader can be counted on to possess. There is more light a light of suffusing loveliness — in him than there is of leading. His preoccupation with moral conduct, the refined conventionalities, which to many modern readers appears amazingly intrusive in the Idylls of the King, is characteristic of his time rather than of the leaders of thought in any time. Much of the sweet luxuriance of his earlier poems he later pruned away, but whoever to-day dismisses him as too prettily insipid will be wholly in this fashion. It should be remembered however, that, though he lack much that this poet or that may possess, he has a perfection of melody which few or none can equal. The Northern Farmer is a corrective to a view of Tennyson as wholly given over to bookishness and the detailed observation of English flora and fauna. He was an athlete of heroic mould, “Hercules as well as Apollo,” and to the last, in fluttering blue cloak, stalked the windy cliffs of the Isle of Wight in all weathers. Gravely and serenely he faced the theological, scientific, and social problems of his day and found amidst them and above them a place for perfect song.

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