In Glenarvon,The Last Man and Venetia the literary power of Byron and Shelley is translated into political power, and the paradoxical effect is to depoliticize the poets that the novels commemorate. It is a paradox that depends on a single manoeuvre: the poets are displaced from their own historical period, and the effect is to dissociate the poets from the one event that makes their politics intelligible. There is, then, a certain appropriateness in the publication of Venetia, the latest written of these novels, in 1837, the same year that Carlyle published the three volumes of his The French Revolution, because Carlyle's history confronted his readers with a vivid account of precisely the events that Disraeli seems most anxious to exclude from his novel.
It is eccentric of Disraeli to have transformed Byron and Shelley into eighteenth-century gentlemen, but it was at least a representative eccentricity. After the success of Pelham in 1828, Edward Bulwer turned back to the eighteenth century to provide the setting for The Disowned and Devereux (1829), Paul Clifford (1830), and Eugene Aram (1832). Nostalgia for a bygone age is, perhaps, too common amongst novelists then and since to require comment, but it may be that in these years it answered a more pressing need. By turning back to the eighteenth century, the novelists quietly asserted their continuity with the past. Carlyle's history is important in its emphatic denial of any such comforting notion, but it is also exceptional. This becomes clear enough if it is compared with the most representative of Victorian histories, Macaulay's History of England, the first two volumes of which were published in 1849, though it remained unfinished in 1859 when Macaulay died. In fact, Carlyle's History can be read as a pre-emptive satire on Macaulay's. 1