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A History of Nineteenth Century Literature (1780-1

Other chief critics and essayists


The

result of this combined opportunity and stimulus in so many forms has been that almost the whole of the critical work of the latter part of the century has passed through periodicals--that, except as regards Mr. Ruskin, a writer always indocile to editing, every one who will shortly be mentioned in this chapter has either won his spurs or exercised them in this kind, and that of the others, mentioned in other chapters and in connection with other subjects, a very small proportion can be said to have been entirely disdainful of periodical publication. At the very middle of the century, and later, the older Quarterlies were supported by men like John Wilson Croker, a survival of their first generation Nassau W. Senior, and Abraham Hayward, the last a famous talker and "diner-out." Other chief critics and essayists, besides Kingsley and Froude, were George Brimley, Librarian of Trinity College, Cambridge; Henry Lancaster, a Balliol man and a Scotch barrister; and Walter Bagehot, a banker, and not a member of either University. Brimley has left us what is perhaps the best appreciation of Tennyson in the time between the days when that poet was flouted or doubted by the usual critic, and those when he was accepted as a matter of course or cavilled at as a matter of paradox; and Lancaster occupies pretty much the same position with regard to Thackeray. It is not so easy to single out any particular and distinguishing critical effort of Bagehot's, who wrote on all subjects, from Lombard
Street to Tennyson, and from the _Coup d'Etat_ (which he saw) to Browning. But his distinction of the poetical art of Wordsworth and that of these other poets as "pure, ornate, and grotesque" will suffice to show his standpoint, which was a sort of middle place between the classical and the Romantic. Bagehot wrote well, and possessed a most keen intelligence. Also to be classed here are Dr. John Brown of Edinburgh, the very agreeable author of _Horae Subsecivae_, and James Hannay, a brilliant journalist, a novelist of some merit and an essayist of more, and author of _A Course of English Literature_ which, though a little popular and desultory, is full of sense and stimulus.

Most popular of all at the time was Sir Arthur Helps (1813-75), a country gentleman of some means and of the usual education, who took to a mixed life of official and literary work, did some useful work in regard to Spanish-American history, but acquired most popularity by a series of dialogues, mostly occupied by ethical and aesthetic criticism, called _Friends in Council_. This contains plenty of knowledge of books, touches of wit and humour, a satisfactory standard of morals and manners, a certain effort at philosophy, but suffers from the limitations of its date. In different ways enough--for he was as quiet as the other was showy--Helps was the counterpart of Kinglake, as exhibiting a certain stage in the progress of English culture during the middle of the century--a stage in which the Briton was considerably more alive to foreign things than he had been, had enlarged his sphere in many ways, and was at least striving to be cosmopolitan, but had lost insular strength without acquiring Continental suppleness.


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