VICTORIAN PROSE WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO JOHN RUSKIN, THOMAS CARLYLE, MATTHEW ARNOLD AND NEWMAN



Victorian prose , though chronologically coterminous with and sometimes even overlapping the era of Romantic prose , marks a distinct break both thematically and stylistically . The change is less of conscious purpose than of the difference in temperament and intellectual interests . The familiar essay , with its highly personal , often whimsical , flaunting of the writers tastes , prejudices and idiosyncrasies  -- the hall mark of the Romantic gave way to a distinctively Victorian willingness to engage in moral and intellectual debate . Yet this Victorian prose whose chronological period extended from the accession of queen Victoria in 1837 to the level of the century heed not be peremptorily dismissed as being one of doubt darkness and revitalization on account of its relative impersonality . Not only was it a period of ‘god’s plenty’ but also of amazing the notice diversity and astonishing intellectual passion . Rightly does David Daiches comment : ‘ Carlyle and Mill represented in some degree the extremes between which Victorian though moved , the former transcendental idiosyncratic , authoritarian , the latter empirical , reasonable , democratic'. Victorian prose was of such diversity as to include the critical writings of Ruskin and Arnold , the social and historical writings of Carlyle and Macaulay , the religious writings of Newman and keble , and the philosophical essays of Mill and Spencer.

John Ruskin (1819 – 1900) who was initially an aestheticism and historian of art after wands became primarily a economist and a reformer . [ But there was no interruption of continuity , for the course of evolution from his first dominant interest to his second was consistent .] In his Modern Painters (1843), trealise on aesthetics , his attention was focused upon the ideas conveyed by art . A systematic writer , he formulated the five categories of power , Imitation , Truth , Beauty and Relation .[Religion is the basis of the aesthetic which he expounds the moral perception of beauty is contrasted with the sensuous , The mind must confront Beauty with reverent contemplation (theorize) because through Beauty the attributes of god are revealed . This is very close to Carlyle's teachings that the visible universe is the living garment of god ‘]

The purpose of Ruskin's next book , the Seven Lamps of Architecture , was to moral feeling were the magic powers by which all good architecture had been produced ‘. The Stones of Venice is devoted to the theme of the full flowering of the Bygantine and Gothic architecture , and the subsequent  decline in morals , life and art . The central chapter on ‘ The Nature of Gothic’ became the Bible of the new aesthetic school other well – Known chapters are on the ‘grand style ‘ and on the ‘ pathetic Fallacy’. Unto this Last ,the truest , rightest , most serviceable of all his books (as Ruskin afterwards described it ) appeared in 1860 . This is a series of papers on political economy . Ruskin , following over and earlyle , revolted against the classical school of mercantile economics which posterlated ‘ economic man’ with out the social and moral elements in human nature . Without derying men opportunities for self – development , Ruskin urged that government should regulate and limit freedom of competition . Unto This Last was a telling influence on the last decades of the century . But what concerns the critic is the burning sense of wrong and the militant social consequence which he evinced .The prose style of Ruskin is varied Modern Painters is fancous for descriptive passages of glorious colouring and elaborate candence coexisting with minute fidelity in verbal renderings of paintings and natural scenery .

Thomas Carlyle (1795 – 1881) was , in temperament , manner and in tensibly of conviction , more closely akin to the Hebrew prophets that to any counselor of the people of his own day . His concern in all his prose writings was to recue society from materialism , greed , inresponsibility , uncontrolled competition and industrial chaos . He value of history , in his estimate , lay in the lessons of the past which are applicable to the present . He believed that a right interpretation of the present through the past would throw a been of light into the darkness of the future . Thus he combined the functions of the historian , social reformer , and prophet and he based them upon a transcendental metaphysics Dissatisfied , like his fellow romanticists with the science of Newton , the epistemology of lose , the skepticism of Hunre , and ethics of the utilitarian , he turned to his own intentions . His individual philosophy found substance in German romantic philosophy . Sartor Rasartus is the most eloquent and elaborate statement of Carlyle's transcendent Philosophy . This essay on the ‘ clothes philosophy ‘ enunciates that Language is the clothing of Thought , the Body the vestment of the Soul the entire universe the ‘Living garment of god ‘ women upon the roaring loom of Time. Although these ideas were not unfamiliar ,the fantastic style in which these ideas were not unfamiliar , the fantastic style in which these ideas were conveyed – the Germanic locutions , the vast range of allusions , the bold colloquialisms , the rhetorical flights , the closeness of the ridiculous end the sublime – bewildered the English public .




His Heroes and Hero Worship (1841) goes back to historical personal and treats of the hero as ‘divinity’, as the gods of verse mythology .History , in his famous phrase ,’is the essence of innumerable biographies ‘ [ The Hebrew concept of the divinely appointed Messiah , the platonic concept of the philosopher – kind , and the plutarchian concept of the law – giver were all combined with Carlyle's own individual concept of genius . The hero is distinguished from the common theory by his awareness of the divine Idea of the world . Such a hero may be a man of action of thought – god , prophet , priest , poet , king , man of letters . He includes in his list Mohammed the prophet , the poets wanted and Shakespeare , the priests Luther and Knox , the men of letters such as Johnson , Rousseau and Burns , and the ‘Kings’ Cromwell and Napoleon .  Carlyle's literary essays declare the critics function to be the interpretation of the poets revelation of the Divine Idea . His essay Burns books upon the poet as revealing the Divine Idea by means of a form apprehensive to the senses . His Johnson is the text of hero worship , and his Goethe works is a rhapsody an Goethe . Carlyle ‘s  French Revolution marks a wholly new method of writing history . He was less a scholar with rigorous facts than a moralist and an interpreter of human history and human destiny .



There were brilliant essayists on religion such as keble , Pusey and Newman . Newman (1801 – 1890), the greatest of the essayists involved in the famous ‘oxford Movement’ wrote of the necessity of the Roman catholic religion in the last few essays in the Tracts for the Times . He spoke of the need for resisting the corrupt secularism which was threatening all spiritual values . His Apologia provilasuo was designed to justify his conversion , and his Idea of a university discusses intellectual culture as something desirable apart from religious and moral culture . His style was generally urbane and suave , though he was capable of brilliant rhetorical flourisness .

Victorian prose also included scientific writings such as those of Darwin and Huxley . Darwin became famous for essays on the origin of Special by means of Natural Selection in which he propounded the theory that in the competitive struggle for existence , creatures possessing advantageous mutations would be favoured . The ‘ fittest would survine . In contrast to Darwin , T.H. Huxley possessed gifts of style which could popularize by lucid and readily intelligible presentation , as in on a piece of chalk . His Man’s place in Nature applies Darwin’s theory explicitly to ‘the Human Animal’ But he also made the profound social observation that the organism can adopt itself to environment not by altering itself but by modifying the environment .
Philosophical essays , particularly those of J.S. mill and Herbert Spencer , too , he set come within the gamut of literary essays . Although influenced by the utilitarianism philosophy of Bentham , in his utilitarianism  he set forth views which differed from Bentham’s ethical hedonism in its distinction between the various kinds of pleasure . But Mill’s lasting fame rests on the long essays on liberty in which he makes the ringing assertion that ‘genius can only breathe freely in an atmosphere of freedom ‘ Spencer's Synthetic philosophy is an exact expression of Victorian liberalism . He attempted a reconciliation of science and religion in the common meeting ground of reverent contemplation of the unknowable and Absolute First cause . His style is dry and technical , but it is always precise , sometimes fervent , and on occasion of a lofty dignity . 
Perhaps no discussions of Victorian prose is complete without that of Arnold . If the spiritual void of modern life had been the theme of his poetry , in prose his effort was to give shape to his ‘aspiration towards a rugged and renewed human society ‘. The famous volume of Essays in criticism represents  a reaction romanticism and from the earlier insular standers of literary whole according to Arnold . In this sense ‘poetry as the criticism of life ‘ . Poetry must assume the function of religion to bind life into a criticism . In culture and Anarchy he coined the terms Barbarians , philistines and populace for the three classes of society – aristocracy , the middle class , and the lower classes . His other essays include god and the Bible , Democracy , and Literature and science. Thus , the thematic and stylistic range of Victorian prose extends from the poetic raptures of Carlyle to the scientific jargon of Darwin , and from the exquisite imaginative discourses of Ruskin to the precise political judgements of Mill .

Ref: 1. History of English Literature- Albert, 
      2. The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature
      3. Microsoft Students’ Encarta

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