Page:Some aspects of the Victorian age.djvu/9

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THE VICTORIAN AGE

of the Victorian Age, is the almost paradoxical incongruity between what may be broadly termed its outward and its inward life. To the theorists (if there are any left), as to the conditions which favour the efflorescence of creative genius, it presents one of the most baffling of problems. It was an era when England was ruled by the middle class, who lived and moved, for the most part—and quite contentedly—in unpicturesque and uninspiring surroundings. Even the 'growing pains' of what we call democracy were hardly beginning to be felt. The 'red fool-fury of the Seine', at which Tennyson scoffed, was regarded as a thing only fit for foreigners. The country (except for the Crimean War) was at peace with all Europe; and the Victorians, though not so insular in their habits of mind and feeling as they are sometimes represented, and warmed from time to time with a genuine sympathy for what one of their great orators once described as 'nationalities rightly struggling to be free', were not a race of knights errant. They concentrated their main efforts upon the improvement of the mechanism of industry and communication, and upon the attainment of the commercial and financial primacy of the world. It is not fair to say that they were wholly wrapped up in Materialism, and the pursuit of wealth and comfort. But it took a great deal to make them realize—as, thanks to Lord Shaftesbury and his free-lance allies, Carlyle and Dickens, they came to realize—that they might be paying too high a price for capturing the markets of the world in a system of production which crippled and stunted and decimated the women and children of the country. They continued to the end