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brought many face to face with the deepest questions of belief. These new theories and discoveries did not affect the student of science alone, they became a general topic of study or discussion; they stirred old doubts, they brought again to men's lips the old question:
"Ah me, ah me, whence are we or what are we?
3. The Growth of the British Empire. — Lastly, in trying to understand some of the chief characteristics of the Victorian era, we must not forget the growth of England's power and influence, in regions far beyond the geographical limits of the British Isles. The growth of the British Empire has been a great fact in the history of England, as the growth of the Roman Empire was in the history of Rome. Since the middle of the eighteenth century this widening of the sphere of English influence has been particularly marked. “The two great wars against Revolutionary and Napoleonic France brought back to England a colonial supremacy wider than that ever dreamed of by Pitt,” and the Victorian era saw this colonial supremacy not merely maintained but materially increased. A terrible mutiny of the natives in India against the English in 1857 was stamped out; and in the years that followed, the British power was more firmly established than ever, and the extent of English territory in the East was increased. The English in the scattered settlements in Australia built up, with marvelous vigor and enterprise, a great and wealthy state. In the year before the Queen's death, these flourishing colonies were federated under the name of the Australian Commonweatlh. In Africa, , we find, under different conditions, the same spectacle
of England's widening power, until, at the close of the Queen's reign, the war with the Boers enlarged still further the boundaries of the British Empire.
The Era in Literature. — The excitement, doubt, and controversy that marked this era of unrest found an utterance in Victorian literature and did much to give it a distinctive character. In reading many of the great writers of the time we feel that England has grown older, sadder, more heavily laden with the weight of world-wide responsibilities and heavy cares.
The poetry of the time is filled with perplexity, trouble, and many complainings. Many of the novel writers, not content with telling a story for the story's sake, as Scott was, set themselves to reform abuses through fiction, or attempted to solve some of the social or religious questions that tormented their time. The childlike joyousness of Chaucer's England, the young energy of Shakespeare's, the shallow flippancy of Pope's, all these had passed, to be succeeded by the England of Arnold's magnificent and melancholy lines:
"The weary Titan, with deaf
Ears and labour-dimmed eyes.
Bearing on shoulders immense,
The New Writers. From about 1832 new writers began to present and interpret those changes which were transforming the life and thought of England. The time was a particularly favorable one for a fresh inspiration. Keats, Shelley, and Byron, the three youthful predecessors of Tennyson, all died between
1821 and 1824. Scott, the master of romance, and Crabbe, the poet of the poor, died in 1832; Coleridge and Lamb two years later. Wordsworth, indeed, lived on to the middle of the century, but by 1832 his best work was done. On the whole there was a pause in the higher literature of England, as though the genius of the nation were gathering strength for a new effort.
Then the teachers of the new age appeared in quick succession, taking up the work their great predecessors had just laid down. Carlyle began his literary career in 1824, the year of Byron's death; Macaulay, in 1825; Elizabeth Barrett (afterward Mrs. Browning) published a book of youthful verse in 1826, while some juvenile verses by Tennyson appeared in 1827. The definite beginning of Tennyson's career as a poet, however, dates from the publication of his Poems, Chiefly Lyrical, in 1830, and within ten years from that date, Robert Browning, Dickens, Thackeray, and Ruskin had begun their work. As we study these representative writers of the Victorian age, viewing them so far as we can in their relation to the time, the meaning of that age, and the effect of its changes and problems on literature, will become more clear.
THOMAS BABINGTON MACAULAY
At the beginning of the Victorian era, England seemed to be entering upon a period of material progress and political reform. The practical and hopeful elements in the life of this time, its confidence in the triumphs of machinery and in the rule of the majority, are represented in Thomas Babington Macaulay, one of the most brilliant and influential writers of his age.
Macaulay was born in 1800 at Rothley Temple, Leicestershire, but a great part of his childhood was spent in Clapham, a suburb of London on the south side of the Thames. His father, Zachary Macaulay, a man of high character and comfortable fortune, was a prominent opponent of the slave-trade. From a child Macaulay showed a marked love for books. He was, indeed, a born man-of-letters. Before he was eight he was an historian and a poet, the compiler of a Compendium of Universal History, and the author of a romantic poem, The Battle of Cheviot. From the first he was an insatiable reader, storing up year by year in his marvelous memory that fund of information which he was to use with such effect in after years. His nurse said, “he talked quite like printed books," and his command of language greatly amused his elders. When he was about four, some hot coffee was spilled on him while out visiting with his father. In answer to the compassionate inquiry of his hostess he replied: “Thank you, madam, the agony is abated.” At Clapham,
he had a little plot of ground at the back of the house, marked out as his own by a row of oyster-shells, which a maid one day threw away as rubbish. He went straight to the drawing-room, where his mother was entertaining some visitors, walked into the circle, and said, very solemnly, ‘Cursed be Sally: for it is written, cursed is he that removeth his neighbour's landmark.'
In 1818 Macaulay entered Trinity College, Cambridge, where he distinguished himself by his brilliancy and readiness in conversation and in the college debates. He also won a prize for an essay on William III, a foretaste of his future success as an historian. After leaving Cambridge, Macaulay studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1826. In the meantime his
father, absorbed in the struggle against the slavetrade, had lost money. Macaulay, who was the eldest son, not only thereupon provided for himself but became the main support of the family. He was hard-working, capable, and practical, and from the first his efforts were rewarded with a well-deserved success. Indeed, Macaulay's conduct at this time shows us a very lovable side of his character. He did more than assume a heavy responsibility, he carried through all that he undertook with cheerfulness and courage, working with that buoyant self-confidence which so often commands success.
Entrance into Literature. While he was still at Cambridge, Macaulay had been one of the contributors to Knight's Quarterly. Charles Knight, the founder and editor of this magazine, was prominent among those who were trying to bring literature within the reach of the people, a work in which Macaulay was afterwards to play an important part. Several of Macaulay's early poems — the Battle of Ivry among the number — first appeared in this journal, as well as some of his less important ventures in prose.
But, creditable as some of these productions were, Macaulay's extraordinary popularity as a writer really began with his essay on Milton, which appeared in the Edinburgh Review in 1825. This essay attracted immediate attention. Readers were captivated by the novelty, clearness, and vigor of its style; the new writer was overwhelmed with invitations from persons of distinction, and, like Byron, woke up to find himself famous. The editor too was quick to recognize the worth of his new contributor, and from this time Macaulay began a regular connection with the Edinburgh which lasted for many years.