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ture it is different. No Elizabethan prose-writer, not Bacon, nor Hooker, nor Raleigh, equals Ruskin in his command of English prose as an instrument of expression for almost every need; nor do the great prose-writers of any other period, — Addison, Swift, Burke, De Quincey, or Lamb, each admirable in his own way, attain to Ruskin's more comprehensive and varied excellence. Not only does Victorian prose at its best challenge comparison with that of any previous period in the literature; since the days of Addison prose has steadily broadened in range and grown in importance. During this time democracy and popular education were raising up a great host of readers, and these readers, comparatively indifferent to poetry, demanded prose. The enormous
of printed matter of every description, and of almost every grade of merit, newspapers, periodicals, pamphlets, books of many kinds, grew in response to this demand. We can speak here of only a few of the most prominent and representative writers, but we must not forget that there were many authors during this time equally, or hardly less, worthy of study. Thus John HENRY NEWMAN (1801-1890), or CARDINAL NEWMAN, as he is usually called, stands with Carlyle and Ruskin as one of the best prose-writers of his time. As Newman's absorbing interest was in theology and in questions of religious doctrine, he wrote almost entirely on religious topics. So while the influence of his writings was very great in certain directions, it was less wide-spread than that of some of his contemporaries, who wrote on less abstruse and difficult subjects. Newman's characteristic merit as a prose-writer is, that he was able to convey the thought, or create the desired impression, in a wonderfully clear, natural, and effective
way. Easy as this may seem, it is in reality the perfection of art. In reading Newman, we do not forget the idea in our admiration of the beauty of the language; we are not distracted by any sense of effort on the author's part, not irritated by any obvious peculiarities of manner. Newman shows no desire to make us admire him merely because he can say a thing in an eloquent or brilliant way; he is not thinking of himself but of his subject: and for him that style is the best which expresses his meaning most perfectly.
Victorian prose is remarkable for its variety and breadth of interest. In sharp contrast to Cardinal Newman, who seems more like some medieval saint than a modern thinker, were the scientists, men like CHARLES DARWIN (1809-1882) and THOMAS HUXLEY (1825–1895), whose writings stirred the thought and disturbed the religious belief of their time. Then there were scholars, historians, and critics of literature, and an ever increasing multitude of story-writers and novelists. In two departments of prose-writing the Victorian age was especially remarkable. It probably surpassed any other period of English literature in the number and average excellence of its historical writers, and (as we shall see shortly) it was even more remarkable for its contributions to the art of fiction. One writer, who gained distinction both in poetry and prose, must be considered before we pass on to the Victorian novel. This writer, Matthew Arnold, was not only a poet and the foremost literary critic of his day, he was also a critic of contemporary England, and like Carlyle and Ruskin he faced and strove to remedy, although after a different fashion, the social difficulties of his time.
(1822–1888) Matthew Arnold was born in 1822, at Laleham, a small town in the valley of the Thames above London. He came of a scholarly family and grew up in an atmosphere of books and culture. His father, Dr. Thomas Arnold, known to all readers of Tom Brown's School-Days as the Head-master at Rugby, was a sound classical scholar and the author of a History of Rome. His brother, Thomas Arnold, the younger, became an author and teacher; while his niece, MRS. HUMPHRY WARD (Mary A. Arnold), holds a high place among the novelists of our own time. Carlyle's father built bridges, Ruskin's father was an active and successful merchant, but Arnold, born into very different surroundings, belonged to a family in which books and the making of them filled a large place. Besides the early influence of a religious and cultured home, Arnold was regularly and carefully educated. At thirteen he went to Winchester, the oldest and one of the best of the great public schools; two years later he entered Rugby, then under the stimulating rule of his father, the most famous schoolmaster in England. After four years at Rugby, he gained a scholarship and entered Balliol College, Oxford. There was much in the spirit and historic associations of Oxford that appealed profoundly to Arnold's poetic and scholarly nature, and stirred in him an intense love and loyalty. In after years, the thought of Oxford had power to arouse him to an unusual enthusiasm; and in his famous tribute to her he leaves his cool, assured manner, his tone of condescension, lightened by cynicism, and his style has a warmth and tenderness which in his prose is
“ Beautiful City! so venerable, so lovely, so unravaged by the fierce intellectual life of our century, so serene:
“There are our young barbarians, all at play!'
And yet steeped in sentiment as she lies, spreading her gardens to the moonlight, and whispering from
her towers the last enchantments of the Middle Age, who will deny that Oxford, by her ineffable charm, keeps ever calling us nearer to the true goal of all of us, to the ideal, to perfection, to beauty, in a word, which is only truth seen from another side?'
We can learn much of Arnold himself, as well as of Oxford, from this beautiful passage. Many things in that restless and prosperous age of science and democracy perplexed his mind or offended his taste; and Oxford, the “home of lost causes, and forsaken beliefs,"
unravaged” by the fierce intellectual life about her, seemed to Arnold the last stronghold of the old ideals. There beauty and the old culture fought the age-long battle against the commonplace vulgarity of the unenlightened without the walls. And there were other things in Oxford, besides the charm of the place, and the inspiration of its past, which strongly affected Arnold. He made congenial and brilliant friends; he listened to the impressive sermons of Newman as the great preacher stood “in the dim afternoon light” in the pulpit at St. Mary's. He heard, too, other voices in the air,” the voice of Goethe, Carlyle, and Emerson, of the teachers who spoke through books. Happy is the man, he wrote forty years later, who in his youth hears such voices.
Arnold graduated in 1845. He had been highly educated according to the most approved methods, and both by inheritance and by careful training he belonged to the cultured few. Was anything lacking? If so, it was something that Shakespeare, Bunyan, and Burns (none of them scholars, as Arnold was) learned in a bigger and a far rougher school.
After leaving Oxford, Arnold taught for a time at Rugby. In 1847 he became private secretary to Lord Lansdowne, a prominent statesman, and in 1851 he was made Inspector of Schools. Arnold held this office for thirty-five years, and nothing in his life was finer than the faithfulness and zeal with which he performed its exacting duties. He had a deep interest in education, and great faith in the saving and uplifting power of books, and, as school inspector, he gave his time and strength freely to educational questions, and did not shrink from routine tasks which often must have been wearisome drudgery.