Victorian Age

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Victorian Age

Not all 19th-century writers were attracted to the novel. Walter Savage Landor, besides writing one or two unforgettable lyrics, poured out his views of the past and present in a series of literary dialogues, Imaginary Conversations. Charles Lamb became an accomplished essayist in the Addisonian style, while William Hazlitt was a more penetrating essayist and critic. Thomas De Quincey, a victim of the opium habit, published Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821), an account of his lonely youth and of the sublime dreams and appalling nightmares that had haunted his existence.

Thomas Carlyle is an example of the Victorian historian, both at his best and at his worst. A prejudiced theorist and an inveterate sermonist, he developed a half-biblical, half-Germanic style. He made his mark with Sartor Resartus (1833-35), in which he proclaimed his personal despair but enunciated a gospel of the "Everlasting Yea." He then embarked on The French Revolution (1837), in which he exercised his dramatic talents to the full, although his historical conclusions were often strangely biased. His later studies, Cromwell and Frederick the Great, are sadly ponderous and ill-digested works.

Thomas Babington Macaulay, on the other hand, strove to make history simple and pleasant reading. He believed in modern progress, the supremacy of Whig ideals, and the virtues of parliamentary government. His History of England, which reached an enormous public, reflected a temperate optimism that possessed a strong appeal for the cultivated middle classes.

John Ruskin, one of the most eloquent of the Victorian prophets, combined a passionate interest in art with a no less passionate determination to reform society. His first book, Modern P...

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...he Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins remained almost completely unknown until the second decade of the 20th century. He broke with the traditions of the past both in his vocabulary and in his peculiar rhythmic methods. Like a modern poet he sought to rarify and condense rather than diffuse and explicate his meaning. Although a deeply religious man, he was always tormented by doubt, and the background of many of his poems is "the Dark Night of the Soul."

French literature was now exerting an important influence upon English literary circles. Ernest Dowson and Arthur Symons were both followers of the "pote maudit" Paul Verlaine. Oscar Wilde, who was almost as much at home in Paris as in London, preached the gospel of aestheticism, which he had absorbed from Walter Pater. Of Wilde's fashionable comedies, the most brilliant was The Importance of Being Earnest (1895).
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