The Last Romantics
The Last Romantics
In the troubled waters of nineteenth-century thought two main currents can be discerned, the one scientific, positivist and radical, the other antiquarian, traditional, conservative. In England, though opposed, they were not harshly antagonistic. On the whole they contrived to live pretty comfortably together, and there were many bridges between the two territories -- participation in a common literary renaissance and a common code of practical ethics. Nineteenth-century England is notorious for having reform bills instead of revolutions, and there is little of the ferocious Continental antagonism between clericals and anti-clericals, liberals and reactionaries. Hazlitt the Radical abused Scott the Tory, but could still admire Scott the picaresque novelist. The agnostics gave up the traditional religious sanctions, but maintained on the whole the traditional moral scheme. Probably the central religious movement of the age is the broad-church syncretism of F. D. Maurice and Tennyson, in which so many incompatibles were reconciled. The only intransigents were the early Oxford reformers, for they were the only people who maintained absolute and immutable standards. But later they too settled down to something more like the English compromise. Often the two currents of thought met and mingled in the same person. Gladstone remained both a High Churchman and a liberal, and retained the friendship of both Manning and John Bright. More strikingly, and with greater difficulty, Lord Acton remained both a liberal and a Roman Catholic. And George Eliot passed her personal life among the philosophic radicals, yet became the great novelist of the traditional sanctities of pastoral England.
The rival mythologies of the romantic age, the myth of the past and the myth of the future, come to a similar accommodation. History is very generally used as a support for contem-