THE VICTORIAN NOON-TIME

THE notion of a century we owe, it seems, to religious controvertists of the Reformation time, who found it a convenient framework within which to set the results of their researches into the history of the Early Church. The word gradually found its way into secular speech, but not until the eighteenth century was some way advanced did its inhabitants commonly think of it by number. The nineteenth, which began with a hot debate, renewed in 1900, as to which was its opening year, was from the first very conscious of its standing in the scale of time. Looking back, we may think of it as coming to birth, in literature with Lyrical Ballads 1798, in economic science with Malthus's Principle of Population of the same year and, politically, with the Union in 1800. If we consider how much of English thought was absorbed, in the next hundred years, by the successive stages of the Romantic movement, by the rights and wrongs of Ireland and the pressure of population on subsistence, we must acknowledge that, for once, history had consented to raise the curtain with a truly dramatic flourish.

But the rapid extinction or slow waning of the earlier lights-- Byron, Shelley, and Keats; Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Scott-- sets a bar of twilight across the years about 1830; and the accident of a long reign, beginning shortly afterwards, has given an illusory show of unity to a tract of time in which men and manners changed more swiftly than at any other epoch of our history. The ferment of the thirties produced a literature which in twenty years had attained almost classic rank. Young men in 1850, reading with the proper avidity of youth, could have found most of their tastes, and most of their curiosities, satisfied by masterpieces published, since their birth, by men who had been pointed out to them in the streets. To watch Mr Macaulay threading his way through the Piccadilly traffic, book in hand: to see Mr Dickens running up the steps of the Athenæum: to recognize the Laureate by his cloak and Mr Carlyle by his shawl, were the peculiar joys of that time. The stonecutter by the Tiber, chipping out 'Carmen

-133-

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Victorian Essays
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction 1
  • Victorian Centenary 13
  • The Age of Tennyson 46
  • Eyes and No Eyes 70
  • Thackeray 74
  • Mr and Mrs Dickens 79
  • The Schoolman in Downing Street1the Two Mr Gladstones, by G. T. Garratt. 82
  • Mr Gladstone 90
  • The Happy Family 110
  • The Greatest Victorian 116
  • The Mercian Sibyl 129
  • The Victorian Noon-Time 133
  • Sophist and Swashbuckler 142
  • The Faith of The Grandfathers 146
  • Tempus Actum 153
  • B. A. Kohnfeldt 158
  • Katherine Stanley And John Russell 162
  • Maitland 173
  • Topsy 178
  • The New Cortegiano 183
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