The literature of the Victorian Age is remarkable for the variety of prose; it produced two great poets, Tennyson and Browning. The literature of this age reflected its interests and problems and therefore, it came very close to the daily life.

The literary tendency of this age is quite ethical in spirit. And therefore all the writers, poets, essayists, and novelists of this age seemed to be moral teachers at heart. Science and discovery also influenced the age which presented truth as the sole object of human endeavor. The age is often considered as materialistic, but the literature is an attack on materialism.

What To Read?

Tennyson, like Chaucer, he was a national poet. Everyone would enjoy reading Tennyson because of his thought and his melody of expression, as it happens in The Lotus Eaters

Music that gentlier on the spirit lies
Than tired eyelids upon tired eyes.

Tennyson’s concept of faith and immortality is well expressed in In Memoriam

Browning, the optimism of his poetry, his creed as it expressed in Rabbi Ben Ezra is worth reading. If you read Fra Lippo Lippi or Andrea del Sarto, you will know what dramatic monologues are:

Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for?

Dickens’s experiences in life are reflected in his novels. David Copperfield is in this respect shares some autobiographical elements. You can read and make brief analysis of Tale of Two Cities with its plot, characters, and style.

You can read “Henry Esmond” to know Thackeray’s realism. You can also compare it with Ivanhoe as a historical novel. He deals with satire in his writing and has got great skills of critical writer.

George Eliot
If you read Silas Marner, you will learn that George Eliot’s ethical teaching is at the centre in this novel. Her moral teaching is always convincing.

Carlyle is often called prophet and censor. You can read his Essay on Burns, about the Scotch poet, and you will learn his idea of criticism. He is interested in Burns and for his power of lyrical expressions. Also read “Heroes and Hero Worship” to know his idea of history. Sartor Resartus reflects his some of experiences of his own life.

Macaulay’s historical knowledge serves in writing his literary essays. You can read History of England. Also read his essays on Milton and Addison.

The elements of Victorian life are reflected in Arnold’s poetry. There is coldness and sadness in his verses. In Sohrab and Rustum, he makes use of classical elements. His poetry and prose both are remarkable.

Ruskin is often considered as “the prophet of modern society”. His first two lectures in Sesame and Lilies give his views on wealth, books, education, labor, woman’s sphere, and human society.

Coffee house is similar to our modern clubs. It was the place where the remarkable persons from all walks of life used to come. They were literary genius and used to discuss problems regarding society, politics, education and more. It promoted the literary awareness in general.

The better activities in politics led to a huge addition to the number of political clubs and coffee houses. In his The Tatles, Steel remarks that the activities of his new journal would be based upon the clubs. The all kinds of accounts related to Gallantry, Pleasure as well as Entertainment came under the articles of White’s Chocolate-House. Poetry fell under Will’s Coffee-House, Learning under the title of Grecian, and Foreign as well as Domestic News came from Taint James’ Coffee-House. These coffee-houses became so much popular that they became the ‘learning-houses’ for literary business.

Hydriotaphia or Urn Burial is a Treatise written by Sir T. Browne and published (with the ‘Garden of Cyrus’s) in 1658. Browne studied medicine and practiced as a doctor for the rest of his life. He was untouched by the tumult of his time. His works, though produced during the Civil War, show full tranquility.

Browne’s first book Religio Medici is a confession of Christian faith. It includes two beautiful prayers in verse hued with fancy and deep erudition.

Hydriotaphia or Urn Burial (1658) is a profoundly moving and meditative essay on death and funeral customs. Browne got the inspiration from the discovery of some ancient sepulchral urns in Norfolk that prompted him to write it. The author does not give us the outer description of these urns but there is a train of meditation on oblivion after man’s life – that is death – on earth. Furthermore, he considers the various ways of disposal of the dead recorded in history and practiced in Britain. They were urns, funeral ceremonies, and immortality or annihilation. In reality, it has an array of charming reflections on the mutability of mocking-time and the futility of immortality.

In this book, Browne’s imagination deepens the probing descriptions of burial modes. It has richly composed diction which harmonizes with elevated and fragile mystical thoughts. There is Latinized monody, incapable of throwing out of times its musical qualities. There are huge sweep of though; teste: the closing chapter that climaxes the thought is superb. It shows the perishable quality of all earthly memorials, from urn to pyramid – in perpetuating the memory of man. It also points out that the monuments are inferior compared to noble deeds.

The tone of Urn Burial is meditative and mystical. It contains forty or fifty pages of the most beautiful English ever written and probably the greatest piece of sustained eloquence in prose.

The essay as a literary form had been invented by Montaigne soon before Bacon adopted it, but it is the essays alone which gave Bacon his fame in the world of literature.    The essays of Bacon normally fall into three great principles;

  1. Man in relation to the World and Society;
  2. Man in relation to himself;
  3. Man in relation to his Maker and Unseen World.

Most of Bacon’s essays fall in the first category. The first category consists of ‘empire’, ‘Great Place’, ‘Plantation’, ‘Gardens’, ‘Parents and Children’ etc. The second one comprises essays on ‘Wisdom’, ‘Ambition’, ‘Revenge’, ‘Adversity’, ‘Honor and Reputation’ etc. The third group consists of ‘Death’, ‘Atheism’, ‘Superstition’, ‘Prophecies’, ‘Unity in Religion’ etc.

Bacon, the Father of the English Essay:

It was Bacon who had written essays first in the language of England. Bacon is also considered as the first of the aphoristic writers of the English essay. His English is always tense and packed with thought. For example, the first line of his essay Of Revenge: “Revenge is a wild kind of justice”. This is one of the aphoristic remarks that decorate every page of this book of Bacon. Each sentence can be expressed into a paragraph and even into an essay.

Bacon’s Style in his Essays:

The sentences of Bacon’s essays are short. He is in the habit of quoting often from Latin authors. Bacon is considered to be the most learned man of the Elizabethan age.

Bacon made use of simile and metaphor. They are introspective and telling. Here are some of them:

  • Man fear death, as children fear to go in the dark;
  • Suspicions are amongst thoughts what bats are amongst birds: they fly best by twilight.
  • The way of the fortune is like the milken way in the sky;
  • Beauty is as summer fruits which are easy to corrupt and cannot last; …
  • Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested…

Bacon acknowledged the Renaissance idea that it is life on earth that is important and that all studies have to be directed to improving that life. This is exactly what his essays do.