« AnteriorContinuar »
to languish, the genius of Romance revived, and associated itself in a multitude of subtle forms with the growing spirit of Liberty and Democracy. The subject is a large one, and I have not been able to treat it otherwise than in outline ; but, now that these essays have been collected, I trust it may appear that I have been animated by the spirit of a student rather than of an advocate, and that, according to my lights, I have endeavoured to trace accurately the course of the great conflict of opinion visible in the sphere of taste since the French Revolution. At the same time, I do not for a moment imagine that the account here given of the Liberal and Romantic movement in our literature is wholly dispassionate. The men of genius who played the most prominent part in it lived too near to our own times, and are associated too closely with our own feelings and prejudices, to be judged like Greek and Roman authors, and I can well believe that the impartial reader may detect a bias in my judgments of which I am myself unconscious. If, however, he be inclined to complain that the tribute paid in these essays to the great romantic poets of the present century is short of what justice demands, I would ask him to remember that he is required by Liberal critics to believe that · Dryden and Pope are not classics of our poetry. When two writers who have exercised so powerful an influence on the growth of English metrical literature are thus stripped of their laurels by the stroke of a pen, and without any intelligible reason being assigned, it is perhaps not wonderful that those who reverence and admire them as poets should scrutinise closely the claims of the new deities in whose honour they are deposed.
Numerous symptoms, such as the controversy between Mr. Arnold and Mr. Swinburne respecting the merits of Byron and Shelley,' show that we have not yet emerged from the party struggle that divided the critical world in the beginning of the century. The relative position in the history of English literature that will finally be assigned to the great poets of the present century, has still to be determined by the free conflict of opinion ; and, as I have said in my introductory paper, I pretend simply to describe the Liberal Movement from a Conservative point of view. The description itself may be false or inadequate : but I venture to think it cannot be put aside as unworthy of examination.
1 See Mr. Swinburne's essays on ' Byron and Wordsworth' in the Nineteenth Century for April and May 1884.