T HE Victorian age was a time of extraordinarily rapid change and of often heady confidence in the seemingly inexorable progress of civilization, but also of bewilderment and anxiety as traditional social and religious faiths and structures were displaced. It was also an age of impressive achievements in poetry, even though many Victorians believed that the most striking characteristics of their age rendered it peculiarly unpoetical. As England achieved ever greater wealth and international power, as railroads and telegraph wires crisscrossed England and the Empire spread around the world, and as science and technology produced ever new wonders, few doubted the overall benefits of progress and advanced civilization, but such progress itself seemed antithetical to poetry. At the start of the Victorian period Thomas Babington Macaulay, a poet himself as well as one of the age's most tireless celebrants of material advance, offered the increasingly common argument that "as civilization advances, poetry almost necessarily declines."
Not only did knowledge seem to limit the range of imagination, but as scientific and historical discoveries began to undermine traditional religious faith, knowledge paradoxically produced uncertainty in the form of religious doubt--a "damnèd vacillating state," as Tennyson called it, that was considered utterly incompatible with inherited Romantic notions of the poet as an inspired seer, and as a moral teacher and guide. Religious doubt was in part produced by new scientific discoveries and discourses that incontrovertibly disproved the Biblical account of creation. Discoveries in geology, especially, disproved the