In a changing world Victorians sought individuals to admire and examples to venerate. The very principles that animated their society elevated the Great Man, variously defined. Democracy allowed individuals to distinguish themselves through talent, intellect, or virtue. Self-help shaped inspiring portraits of excellence. The gospel of work fashioned individuals of exceptional accomplishment. Progress held the promise of human perfectibility. At the same time, Darwinism, technology, urbanization, irreligion all challenged ideas and realities that a hundred years before had seemed certain or sacred. Even the "solid-looking material world," the very focus of the advertisers efforts, could prove to be "at bottom . . . Nothing," little more than a "shadow." 1 The advertiser might easily appear to be vendor of "the temporary and the trivial." He attempted, therefore, to associate himself with aspirations that were lofty and substantial. Accordingly, many advertisers identified their own heroes, able men (or women), figures worthy of admiration and esteem.
The advertisers' efforts to offer commercial heroes were part of a broad western heroic tradition initially prescribed by Aristotle. Aristotle's hero possessed extraordinary powers, dignity, and soul. He was larger than life, above the common level. He was an idealization, better and more virtuous than ordinary men. Nonetheless, he betrayed some mortal qualities and especially was marred by a tragic flaw. During the Romantic period a