Page:Some aspects of the Victorian age.djvu/15

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11
THE VICTORIAN AGE

Victorians of the premature cutting off, by public neglect or critical vituperation, of some 'inheritor of unfulfilled renown'—such as was the actual case of Chatterton, or the legendary case of Keats.

Of the imaginative writers of the Victorian Age, the Poets and the Novelists, it would be impossible to say too much, and difficult to say anything that has not been better said before. If we want to measure the sum of our total indebtedness to them, we have only to try and realize how much the thoughts and the modes of speech of the average man, throughout the English-speaking world, have been and are unconsciously coloured by their creations and inventions. Great as were Browning and Tennyson, it is the Novelists rather than the Poets who have left the deepest imprint on popular imagination and popular speech. It may be true that none of them had Scott's width of range, or Jane Austen's fine, sure touch; but with the names that I have already enumerated on our lips we may safely challenge the world to produce any other epoch in which this form of creative art has displayed the same exuberance of wealth and variety. Macaulay had a weakness, which, perhaps, we may say here he carried with him from Cambridge, for arranging the subjects of his admiration—great men, great books, great cities, great pictures, great poems and histories—in an imaginary order of merit. He says, for example, somewhere in his letters, that he puts Cicero (of whom he was a devoted and life-long reader) 'at the head of the minds of the second order': not quite a Wrangler (as it were), but a good Senior Optime. It used to be a favourite critical exercise among less eminent Victorians than