History of Literature, Fhilosophy and Religions



A Brief History of Western Literature
Introduction Western Literature
The Foundations of Western Literature
The Bible
Classical  Literature
The Middle Ages and the Renaissance
The 17-18th Century
The 18-19th Century 




THE 18-19th CENTURY 





see also texts:


BAUDELAIRE  CHARLES "The Flowers of Evil"

BLAKE  WILLIAM "Songs of Innocence", "Songs of Experience"

BROWNING  ELIZABETH "Sonnets from the Portuguese"


CARROLL  LEWIS "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland"


FREUD  SIGMUND "The Interpretation of Dreams"


GRIMM BROTHERS "Grimms Fairy Tales"

KEATS JOHN "The Eve of St. Agnes"

LERMONTOV MIKHAIL "Death of the Poet", "The demon", "Mtsyri"

LONGFELLOW HENRY "The Song of Hiawatha"

NIETZSCHE FRIEDRICH "Thus Spake Zarathustra"

РОЕ EDGAR ALLAN "Ligea", "The Raven"

PUSHKIN ALEXANDER "Eugene Onegin", "The Bronze Horseman"

SHELLEY MARY "Frankenstein"

SHELLEY PERCY BYSSHE "Prometheus Unbound"

WHITMAN WALT "Leaves of Grass. Song of Myself"

WILDE OSCAR "The Ballad of Reading Gaol", "The Paradox of Oscar Wilde"

 WORDSWORTH WILLIAM "The Prelude" Book Fist

see also illustrations:

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe "Faust"

 (Illustrations by Eugene Delacroix and Harry Clarke)

Edgar Allain Poe
(illustrations by Gustave Dore and Harry Clarke)

Pre-Raphaelite illustrations for  Moxon's Tennyson

Alfred Tennyson "Idylls of the King"

(illustrations by G. Dore)

Oscar Wilde "Salome" (Illustrations by Beardsley)

Lewis Carroll "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland"

  Illustrations by  John Tenniel

see also  EXPLORATION (in Russian):

Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin "Yevgeny Onegin"



The preoccupations of any age tend to produce contrary reactions in a succeeding one, and the Romantic movement was an especially fierce reaction to the Enlightenment. As a literary movement, it embodied a dramatic change in prevailing habits of thinking and feeling. The Romantic poets looked inward, placing unprecedented importance on their own personal emotions, while at the same time finding exaltation in the beauties of Nature, especially in spectacular scenery. Broadly speaking, they were against the classical, the conservative and the moderate, and in favour of liberty, both political and individual, the imagination and the exotic.


Caspar David Friedrich
The Wanderer above the Sea of Fog




Like all literary movements, the Romantic movement encompassed many different tendencies and cannot easily be tied down by time or by place. It extended roughly from the last third of the 18th century to the middle of the 19th, and aspects of it are evident in every region of Western civilization. However, Rousseau, such an important influence on Romanticism, belongs to the previous generation; earlier poets such as Gray and Cowper show some Romantic elements, as do some who were active after 1850. Many writers who were at work within the Romantic period - Jane Austen for example - cannot be called Romantics, and some who do fall into that category acquired their 'Romantic' image as much from their lives and personal circumstances as from their published writings.


Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


   Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

see also:

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


 (Illustrations by

Eugene Delacroix and

Harry Clarke)





An early example of the Romantic revival was the Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) movement of the 1770s, a time of great literary excitement in Germany. It was inspired by the idealism of Rousseau and its leading influence was Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744—1803), philosopher and critic, whose followers included the young Goethe and Schiller. They rebelled against literary conventions, demanded poetry of strong passions, and exalted the original genius, notably Shakespeare.
The most famous work of this movement was The Sorrows of Young Werther, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), the greatest figure in German literature and a "universal man", whose work ranged over philosophy, science, music and art. This early work, in the form of an epistolary novel, and partly autobiographical, tells of a sensitive young artist, hopelessly in love with an unattainable girl, who ultimately commits suicide. It had an electric effect on Europe, becoming, something of a cult (Wertherism). Goethe was later much embarrassed by this work.
Goethe, who spent most of his life at the court of Weimar, Germain's leading centre of culture, soon outgrew the Sturm und Drang movement and, after visits to Italy, turned towards Classicism. He collaborated closely with Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1854), the great dramatist and lyric poet, in a 'golden age' of German literature (roughly 179O-1830), which integrated German Romanticism with the ancient classical tradition. Through the advocacy of Carlyle, who portrayed him as 'the Wisest of Our Time', Goethe had an important influence on many Victorian writers. He is probably best known for his novels, and especially for his two-part drama Faust, which he began about 1770 and did not finish until shortly before his death. In the meantime, he had made great contributions to practically every field of human experience.

Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein
Goethe in the Roman Campagna


Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

born Aug. 28, 1749, Frankfurt am Main [Germany]
died March 22, 1832, Weimar, Saxe-Weimar

German poet, novelist, playwright, andnatural philospoher, the greatest figure of the German Romantic period and of German literature as a whole.

One of the giants of world literature, Goethe was perhaps the last European to attempt the mastery and many-sidedness of the great Renaissance personalities: critic, journalist, painter, theatre manager, statesman, educationalist, natural philosopher. The bulk and diversity of his output is in itself phenomenal: his writings on science alone fill about 14 volumes. In the lyric vein he displayeda command of a unique variety of theme and style; in fiction he ranged from fairy tales, which have proved a quarry for psychoanalysts, through the poetic concentration of his shorter novels and Novellen (novellas) to the “open,” symbolic form of Wilhelm Meister; in the theatre, from historical, political, or psychological plays in prose through blank-verse drama to his Faust , one of the masterpieces of modern literature. He achieved in his 82 years a wisdom often termed Olympian, even inhuman; yet almost to the end he retained a willingness to let himself be shaken to his foundations by love or sorrow. He disciplined himself to a routine that might armour him against chaos; yet he never lost the power of producing magical short lyrics in which the mystery of living,loving, and thinking was distilled into sheer transparency.

And at the last there was granted him a gift, uncanny even to himself, of tapping at will the springs of creativity in order to complete the work he had carried with him for 60 years. When, a few months before his death, he sealed his Faust, he bequeathed it with ironic resignation to the critics of posterity to discover its imperfections. Its final couplet, “Das Ewig-Weibliche/Zieht uns hinan” (“Eternal Womanhead/Leads us on high”), epitomizes his own feeling about the central polarity of human existence: woman was to him at once man's energizer and his civilizer, source of creative life and focus of the highest endeavours of both mind and spirit.

There was in Goethe a natural, if not always painless, swing between poles of existence often thought to be mutually exclusive and an innate commitment to change and process.And, in the last letter he was to write, he rounded off what has sometimes been called his greatest work, his life, by setting the seal of his approval on a mode of growth that sees the art of living as the intensification of inborn talents through a judicious surrender to the natural rhythm of opposing tendencies.

Early life and influences

Goethe came of middle-class stock, the Bürgertum that he never ceased to praise as a breeding ground of the finest culture. His father, Johann Kaspar Goethe, was of north German extraction. A retired lawyer, he was able to lead a life of cultured leisure, travelling in Italy and amassing a well-stocked library and picture gallery in his handsomely furnished house. Goethe's mother, Katharine Elisabeth Textor, was the daughter of a Bürgermeister (mayor) of Frankfurt; she opened up to her son valued connections with the patriciate of the free city. Thus even in his heredity Goethe unites those opposing tendencies that have always prevailed in German lands: the intellectual and moral rigour of the north and the easygoing artistic sensuousness of the south. Of eight children, only Wolfgang, the firstborn, and his sister, Cornelia, survived.

In his autobiography, Dichtung und Wahrheit (“Poetry and Truth”), Goethe left an unforgettable picture of a happy childhood. Here are set out with acute psychological insight the emotional complexities of his bond with Cornelia, which found expression in numerous portrayals of the brother–sister relationship in his works; his passionate attachment to a barmaid, Gretchen, which foreshadowed the rejection pattern of many of his loves; the broadening of outlook that came with French occupation during the Seven Years' War; the coronation of Joseph II in the Frankfurt Römer, with its indelible impressions of medieval pageantry;and the fervent religiosity of Pietistic circles, which led him to declaim F.G. Klopstock's Messias (“Messiah”) as a kind of Lenten exercise, to write a prose epic on Joseph and a poem on Christ's descent into hell. The French army had brought itsown troupe of actors, and their performances intensified a passion for the stage, first kindled in him by his grandmother's gift of a puppet theatre, and inspired a lifelong devotion to Racine. A love of things English was fostered by friendship with a young clothier from Leeds (Goethe's paternal grandfather was a fashionable tailor) with whom Cornelia, seeing herself as the heroine of a Richardsonian novel, fell hopelessly in love. Wolfgang's reaction was the inception of a novel in letters, a kind of linguistic exercise in which four brothers correspond in different languages.

In October 1765 Goethe was sent to study law at his father'sold University of Leipzig, though he himself would have preferred to read classics in the newly founded university at Göttingen, where English influence prevailed. In Leipzig, or “little Paris” as he calls it in Faust, by contrast, a world of elegance and fashion made the young provincial feel like a fish out of water. The Frenchifying influence of the critic J.C. Gottsched still dominated the theatre and provided a repertory of the best plays of contemporary Europe. But C.F. Gellert, poet and author of fables and hymns, now in the heyday of his fame, presented the new sensibility of Edward Young, Laurence Sterne, and Samuel Richardson. Goethe praised Gellert's lectures as “the foundation of German moral culture” and learned from them invaluable lessons in epistolary style and in social conduct. Gellert's literary influence was reinforced by the robust elegance and ironic sagacity of the novels, tales, and epics of C.M. Wieland. Wieland's work was brought to Goethe's notice by A.F. Oeser, a friend and teacher of the archaeologist and art historian J.J. Winckelmann, who profoundly influenced European fashions in art. From Oeser, Goethe learned a loveof Greek art and two things that stood him in good stead all his life: to use his eyes and to master the craft of whatever he undertook. A visit to Dresden, “the Florence of the north,” as the poet and critic J.G. Herder called it, opened his eyes to the splendours of Rococo architecture as well as classical statuary. Nor was music neglected in his education; a new 18th-century concert society, under the direction of the musician and composer J.A. Hiller, provided splendid performances, which became world famous as the Gewandhaus concerts.

The literary harvest of Goethe's Leipzig period manifested itself in a songbook written in the prevailing Rococo mode—songs praising love and wine in the manner of the Greek poet Anacreon. Appropriately titled Das Leipziger Liederbuch (The Leipzig Song Book), it was ostensibly inspired by the daughter of the wine merchant at whose tavern he took his midday meal. But neither his 1766–67 poems Das Buch Annette (“The Book Annette”; as he called her in Rococo fashion) nor the Neue Lieder (“New Songs”) of 1769 made any pretense of real passion. Yet it was in connection with these literary trifles that he subsequently made the famous and much abused statement that all his works were “fragments of a great confession.” The same note is struck in two plays written in alexandrine verse (a 12-syllable iambic line borrowed from the French), Die Launedes Verliebten (“The Mood of the Beloved”) and a more sombre farce, Die Mitschuldigen (“The Accomplices”), which foreshadows the psychological preoccupations of later works. From then on, Rococo was one element in Goethe's repertoire, to be drawn on as occasion demanded. It was to reappear in the setting of Torquato Tasso and Die Wahlverwandtschaften (Elected Affinities); he was to pay tribute to its charm in Anakreons Grab (“Anacreon's Grave”; 1806) and amalgamate it with Eastern influence in enchanting poems of the West-östlicher Divan (“Divan of East and West”).

Works of the storm and stress period

Goethe's stay in Leipzig was cut short by severe illness, andby the autumn of 1768 he was back home. A long convalescence fostered introspection and religious mysticism. He played with alchemy, astrology, and occult philosophy, all of which left their mark on Faust. On his recovery it was decided that he should pursue legal studies in Strassburg as a first stage on the way to Paris and the Grand Tour (never actually completed). His stay there proved a turning point for his whole life and work. In this German capital of a French province, he experienced a reaction against the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Leipzig and under the impact of the great cathedral proclaimed his conversion to the Gothic German ideal. More decisive still was the influence of J.G. Herder, who spent the winter of 1770–71 there undergoing treatment for his eyes. From him Goethe learned the role played by touch, the haptic sense, in the growth of the mind; a new view of the artist as a creator fashioning forms expressive of feeling; a new theoryof poetry as the original and most vital language of man; the virtues of a new style, that of the Volkslied (folk song) and the poetry of “primitive” peoples as enshrined in the Bible, the epics of Homer, and the poems attributed (falsely) to Ossian, a 3rd-century Celtic poet. It is this new sense of felt immediacy, and of the plasticity of his linguistic medium, that informs the lyrics Goethe wrote to one of his early loves, Friederike Brion, the pastor's daughter of Sesenheim. They mark the beginning of a new epoch in the German lyric. Such poems as “Mailied” (“May Song”) and “Willkommen und Abschied” (“Welcome and Farewell”) are still the most popular, though not the greatest, of his Lieder. The latter, especially in its revised form of 1790, touchingly expresses the guilt he felt that this time he himself had the role of deserter and rejecter, and the whole idyll as recounted in Dichtung und Wahrheit reveals that cross-fertilization of life and literature that he increasingly saw as a potent factor in human development.

If, as Herder maintained, energy was one of the marks of poetry, it was clearly in the passions acted out on the stage that it could find its most vital expression. And where more vital than in the colossal figures of the “Gothic Shakespeare”? In writing the Geschichte Gottfriedens von Berlichingen mit der eisernen Hand dramatisiert (1771; “TheDramatized History of Gottfried von Berlichingen of the Iron Hand”), Goethe was deliberately vying with Shakespeare. For the real Götz, who died two years before Shakespeare was born, was near enough in time to represent that bustling spacious 16th century, the animal vitality of which contrasted so forcibly with the straitlaced affectations of Goethe's own day. With the publication in 1773 of Götz von Berlichingen , a radically tautened version of that “History,” the Shakespeare cult was launched, and the Sturm und Drang(storm and stress) movement was provided with its first major work of genius. The manifesto of the movement, heralded by Goethe's enthusiastic Rede zum Schakespears Tag (“Conversation from Shakespeare's Day”), had appeared after Goethe's return to Frankfurt in August 1771. “Von deutscher Art und Kunst” (“Concerning German Natureand Art”), as it was called, contained a defense of German nationality by the historian J.M. Möser, two essays by Herder championing Ossian and Shakespeare, and a rhapsody on Gothic architecture by Goethe.

Though ostensibly in practice as a lawyer, the young poet now found himself caught up in a whirl of literary and social duties—helping to edit the Frankfurter Gelehrte Anzeigen (“Frankfurt Scholarly Reviews”), for instance—and it was to break loose from this that he left for Wetzlar, seat of the supreme court of the Empire. But again literature won the day over law, and an impassioned yet self-ironic ode in free verse, “Wandrers Sturmlied” (“Wanderer's Storm Song”), is testimony both to a recently inspired admiration for Pindar, the greatest lyric poet of ancient Greece, and to a hesitant certainty that he himself might be destined for greatness. And in Wetzlar he experienced a new passion, this time for a girl safely out of reach from the start, Charlotte Buff. Her betrothed, Johann Christian Kestner, showed great understanding until, as it seemed to him, he found the affair exposed to public gaze in Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of Young Werther; 1774).

But much besides the Wetzlar experience had gone into the making of this novel: Herder's scathing comments on his young pupil's lack of formal- and self-mastery; the recent indictment by G.E. Lessing of the Neoplatonic doctrine of artistic creation in Emilia Galotti; a passing attraction to Maximiliane, the daughter of the German novelist Sophie von La Roche, who probably endowed his heroine with her black eyes. And it was only when Kestner reported the suicide of a Wetzlar acquaintance who had killed himself out of hopeless love that all this was precipitated into a plot. If Werther took the world by storm it was because, in Thomas Carlyle's words, it gave expression to “the nameless unrest and longing discontent which was then agitating every bosom.” But this first novel is no sentimental tearjerker. Nor is disappointed love its real theme. It is rather what the 18th century called Enthusiasm: the fatal effects of a predilectionfor absolutes, whether in love, art, society, or the realm of thought. The mind that conceived its symmetry, wove its intricate linguistic patterns, and handled the subtle differentiation of hero and narrator was moved by a formal as well as a personal passion. Even the title has been trivialized in translation: Sorrows (instead of “Sufferings”) obscures the allusion to the Passion of Christ and individualizes what Goethe himself thought of as a “general confession,” in a tradition going back to St. Augustine.

Besides Werther and Götz, the period 1771–75 saw the appearance of a number of magnificent hymns—lyrical or dramatic, according to whether the influence of Pindar or Shakespeare prevailed—“Cäsar,” “Mahomets Gesang” (“Mahomet's Singing”), “Der Ewige Jude” (“The Eternal Jew”), “Prometheus,” “Sokrates,” “Satyros,” “Der Wandrer” (“The Wanderer”); the inception of Egmont and Faust (this so-called Urfaust, or “original” version of Faust, was discovered by a lucky chance in 1887); the completion of Clavigo , a play of more “regular” form on a theme of the French playwright Beaumarchais, and of Stella (1775), with its conciliatory ending of a mariage à trois, subsequently conventionalized into tragedy. Two operettas, Erwin und Elmire and Claudine von Villa Bella, reflect a return to the elegance of Rococo inspired by Goethe's betrothal to Lili Schönemann, daughter of a rich banker, who moved in fashionable circles that were soon to prove unbearably restrictive to the young Stürmer und Dränger. From the conflicts of this love he took refuge, as so often, in nature; and in a poem written on the lake of Zürich, “Auf dem See” (“On the Lake”), created the first of those many short lyrics in which language of radiant simplicity is made the vehicle of inexhaustible significance. With his departure for Weimar in November 1775, the engagement was allowed to lapse.

The mature years at Weimar

Going to Weimar was the major turning point of Goethe's life. He went on a visit to the reigning duke, Charles Augustus. It remained his home—despite Napoleon's invitation to Paris—until his death there on March 22, 1832. From now on, mastery of life became his chief concern; and Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship ; 1824), the title he eventually gave his next novel (1795–96), suggests the long apprenticeship such mastery involves. He served his own in the innumerable and ever increasing official duties the young duke heaped on his willing shoulders until, as indispensable minister of the little state, he was inspecting mines, superintending irrigation schemes, and even organizing the issue of uniforms to its tiny army.

He served his apprenticeship, too, in his passionate devotionto the wife of a court official, Charlotte von Stein. For the first time he found himself in love with a woman who could also meet him on the intellectual plane. From the 1,500 or so letters he wrote her we can see her become the guiding principle of his life, teaching him the graces of society, dominating the details of his daily existence, engaging his imagination and desire, yet insisting on a relation governed by decorum and conventional virtue. She would be his sister and nothing more, and the sublimation she increasingly enforced on him, though irksome, could inspire the almost psychoanalytical probings of “Warum gabst du uns die tiefen Blicke?” (“Why did you give us the deep glances?”), the tortures of Orestes and their assuagement by Iphigenie, the delicate one-act play, Die Geschwister (“Brother and Sister”; 1776), and such well-loved lyrics as “An den Mond” (“To the Moon”), “Der Becher” (“The Cup”), “Jägers Abendlied” (“Hunter's Evening Song”), “Seefahrt” (“Sea Journey”), and the two exquisite “Wandrers Nachtlieder” (“Wanderer's Night Songs”).

In these and other poems of this period—“Grenzen der Menschheit” (“Limits of Mankind”), “Gesang der Geister über den Wassern” (“Singing of the Spirits over the Water”), “Das Göttliche” (“The Divine”), “Harzreise im Winter” (“Journey in the Harz Mountains in Winter”), “Ilmenau”—nature has ceased to be a mere reflection of man's moods and has become something existing in its own right, a setting for an idea or a force indifferent, even hostile to him. This new “objectivity” is in tune with Goethe's growing scientific preoccupations. Yet such is his versatility that he could, when he chose, revert to the temper of “Der König in Thule” (“The King in Thule”; written in 1774) and compose ballads such as “Erlkönig” (“King of the Elves”) or “Der Fischer” (“The Fisherman”), in which nature bears the projection of unconscious forces; while a number of Singspiele, or musical plays, betoken his readiness and ability to provide light entertainment for the court. Der Triumph der Empfindsamkeit (“The Triumph of Sensibility”) even satirizes the sensibility his own Werther had helped to foster.

But neither the cares of state nor those of a frustrating love affair were conducive to the peace and leisure required to complete works of such magnitude as Egmont, Faust, Tasso, and Iphigenie (a prose version of this last was sufficiently advanced to be put on before the court in 1779 with Goethe himself in the role of Orestes). And in September 1786, in dramatic secrecy and with the haste of one pursued, he set out on his long-postponed Italian journey. This flight was at once a death and a rebirth. And it was in these terms that he wrote of it in his letters. He sought the renewal of himself, both as man and artist, and so deliberately cut himself off from his emotional, literary, and cultural past, scorning the “Gothic follies” he had once acclaimed, rejecting Juliet's tomb in Verona in favour of the Greek steles in the museum, finding delight in Palladio's churches rather than in San Marco or the doge's palace, devoting barely three hours to Florence, and ignoring completely the medieval glories of Assisi for the sake of its temple of Minerva, feverishly bent on arriving in Rome, “capital of the ancient world,” but seeing even that as a prelude to Magna Graecia, to the temples of Paestum, and the revelation of classical grandeurin Sicily, “key to the whole,” a prelude to the world of Homer, which he recaptured in a glorious dramatic fragment, Nausikaa (1787). And just as he sought and found the Urmensch, or archetypal man, in the forms of Greek antiquity, so in these landscapes there came to his mind the extension of this idea to plants as well. In his literary work these pursuits led to the creation of beings who are individual manifestations but of a clearly discernible type; tothemes that are universal and timeless but treated in a highly differentiated way; to the measured cadences of verse that are yet vibrant with personal passion.

This new conception of form is apparent in the revision of the four plays he had taken with him to Italy. Faust, Ein Fragment (“Faust, a Fragment”), published in 1790, is quite clearly, by its excisions as well as its additions, a step in the direction of the stupendous cultural symbol the play would eventually become rather than any attempt to weld into dramatic unity the sharply individualized episodes of the original version, the Urfaust. Egmont, though not actually cast into verse, is raised to the level of poetic drama not by virtue of its frequent iambic rhythms but by a thickening of the verbal texture, so that when music finally takes over it seems the inevitable culmination of a gradual convergence and sudden contraction of themes rather than the “salto mortale (i.e., somersault) into the world of opera” Schiller was to dub it. By such means, the personal and the political aspects of the problem become completely interfused—Egmont and his beloved Klärchen, the most lovable characters Goethe ever created, are embodiments of an inner freedom that is a heightened form of the easygoing independence of the Netherlands people—and what had started as a dramatic portrayal of a daemonic individual is transformed into a tragedy of the very idea of freedom, of its fate in a world ruled not just by calculation or intrigue but by unpredictable conjunctures of persons and events.

In Torquato Tasso such linguistic density is carried to lengths possible only in verse. Goethe spoke of having expended a positively “unlawful care” on it. But this is not inappropriate to a play about a poet, an artist whose mediumis the ordinary vehicle of communication between men. The tragic conflict here arises from misunderstandings about the various modes of language, and the temperamental clashes are presented as concomitants of this rather than as the prime focus of interest (though there is enough psychology to justify the description by the French writer Mme de Staël of Goethe as “le Racine de l'Allemagne”). The slightness of the outward action in Torquato Tasso has been much criticized, but it can be justified in a study of the “poetical character” per se—a creature for whom “any little vexation grows in five minutes into a theme for Sophocles.” By placing him in a society that, far from being indifferent or hostile, cherishes him and values his work, Goethe has thrown into sharpest relief the incurable “discrepancy” between poet and world, and this rift is not healed by Tasso'sdiscovery that even the extremes of anguish can be transmuted into imperishable verse.

But it was perhaps Iphigenie auf Tauris (1787) that benefitted most from his encounter with classical antiquity. And yet Schiller was right in calling it “astonishingly modern and un-Greek.” Like Tasso, it too treats of the problems of communication: of the unforeseeable power of words once they are released into the world; of the double face of language, which conceals as much as it reveals; of truth, whose opposite is not just an outright lie but the withholding of self. But it treats, too, of man's power to free himself from his myths by recognizing them as projections of his own unconscious, of his power to break the chain of events that seems to determine his present (symbolized in the monotonously regular crime sequence of the race of Tantalus) by a reorientation of outlook. The conciliatory ending, which Euripides contrived by the sudden appearanceof the goddess Athena, here comes with the apparent suddenness of new insight: the words of the oracle are susceptible to a different interpretation. In its synthesis of Greek and Christian values, its elevation of the physical to the spiritual through the identification of Iphigenie with the divine sister, Diana, this play represents the highest achievement of 18th-century humanism.

The chief lyrical product of the Italian journey was the Römische Elegien (“Roman Elegies”; written 1788–89). In their plastic beauty and unabashed sensuality, their blending of erotic tenderness with an enhanced sense of our cultural heritage, these pagan, highly civilized poems are unique in any modern language. Had they been written in themetre of Byron's Don Juan, Goethe acknowledged, they might easily have been offensive; but the classical distichs (couplets) lend them that veil of aesthetic distance that reveals even as it shrouds. The true begetter of these elegies was not some passing Roman amour but Christiane Vulpius, daughter of a humble official, whom Goethe had taken into heart and home soon after his return from Italy in April 1788. Christiane bore him several children; but it was not until 1806, when life and property were threatened by the French invasion, that the nonconformist eventually conformed and in grateful recognition of its indissoluble bonds regularized their union in the eyes of society.

His first Italian journey finally brought home to Goethe that,for all his interest and talent, he was not destined to be a painter. Despite diligent practice with his artist friends in Rome, he was never able to master this medium to the point at which it became expressive of his deepest feeling, and with rare exceptions his numerous drawings have no more than the charm of a sensitive amateur. But his abiding preoccupation with the visual arts left an indelible mark on his literary as well as his scientific work and gave added precision to his many critical and aesthetic essays. And it was on this first visit to Italy, too, that he finally reached the decision that he must shed his administrative duties and devote himself henceforth to his true vocation of literature and science.

A return visit to Italy in 1790 brought nothing but disappointment, and a restlessness aggravated by the revolutionary events in the outer world. The Epigramme. Venedig 1790. (“Venetian Epigrams of 1790”) reflect something of this discontent. In 1792 Goethe accompanied his duke on the disastrous campaign into France, was present at the battle of Valmy, and wrote up his experiences in two still very readable war books, Campagne in Frankreich 1792 and Belagerung von Mainz (“Siege of Mainz”). His liberal-conservative attitudes found expression in Reineke Fuchs (“Reynard the Fox”), a recasting of the Low German satire, the Unterhaltungen deutscher Ausgewanderten (“Conversations of German Emigrants”), and three plays. Der Gross-Cophta, Die Aufgeregten (“The Agitated”), and Der Bürgergeneral (“The Citizen General”), which, though artistically unsuccessful, are of interest in being among the few examples of political literature produced by German poets. But it was only as the French Revolution receded that he was able to transmute its overwhelming actuality into timeless poetry. It still forms the background of his Homeric treatment of the refugee problem, Hermann und Dorothea (1797). It fills the whole canvas of Die Natürliche Tochter (“The Natural Daughter”; 1804). Planned as a trilogy but never completed, this was Goethe's final reckoning with the greatest event of his time. Beneath the coolness of its formalperfection there stirs a profound concern with revolutionary phenomena, with the role of death and destruction in the perpetuation of social and cultural, no less than of natural, forms of life.

Schiller and the classical ideal

The human and spiritual isolation in which Goethe found himself on his return from Italy was unexpectedly relieved by the development of a friendship with Schiller. His acceptance of a formal invitation to contribute to a new journal, Die Horen (1795–97; “The Horae”), called forth Schiller's now-famous letter of August 23, 1794, in which, with marvelous insight, he summed up Goethe's whole existence. Here, it seemed to him, was the very embodiment of the naive poet—but consciously naive, moving from feeling to reflection and then transforming reflection back into feeling, concepts of the mind back into percepts of the senses. It was this conscious assent to a mode of thinking different from Schiller's own more abstractive reflection thatmade possible their immensely fruitful partnership, and the four volumes of their daily correspondence offer not only an invaluable commentary on the ideals and achievements of the greatest period of German literature but astonishing insight into the processes of artistic creation. Some of the works Goethe produced during the next few years are embodiments of their classical ideal. Hermann und Dorothea, one of the best loved, is his attempt to “produce a Greece from within.” In it he claimed to have “separated the purely human from the dross.” The characters are types—except forthe hero and heroine, they have no proper names, and even theirs are symbolic—and like those of the Odyssey they vindicate peace and home and the domestic virtues. Yet, as always in Goethe's works, these are shown as never secure for long, as constantly in need of being fostered by man's efforts to be human and humane. In the Helena act of Faust, Part II, in which the meeting and mating of Faust and Helen ofTroy marks the synthesis of paganism and Christianity, of Greece and Germany, he captured the Greek spirit so successfully that competent critics hold that if translated into Attic Greek it might well pass for a lost fragment of the Athenian stage.

A never completed epic, Achilleis, is his last attempt to “be a Greek after his own fashion.” Other works of this period are in tune with Schiller's growing conviction that the only future for literature in a world that increasingly clamoured for the naturalistic and the tendentious lay in a hermetic closing of the poetic world by a frank introduction of symbolic devices. Wilhelm Meisters Theatralische Sendung (“Wilhelm Meister'sTheatrical Mission”; a manuscript of this version turned up in1910) is now widened to a vocation for life, a theme dear to the heart of Schiller, who had himself just completed a treatise Über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen in einer Reihe von Briefen (1795; “On the Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters”) and wholly in tune with their joint conviction that art, though not the handmaid of either truth or morality, has nevertheless its own peculiar part to play in making better men and better citizens. Fictional realism is now blended with abstraction; characterization, however psychologically acute, subordinated to an overall poetic significance; and the presence in a novel of contemporary society of such mysteriously compelling figures as the Harper and Mignon seems to justify Goethe's claim that his novel is “thoroughly symbolic.”

It was Schiller, too, who turned his thoughts to the continuation of Faust and discerned the difficulties involved in reconciling this “barbarous composition” with their classical ideal, in blending the evident seriousness of its “idea” with that element of “play” that was the prerequisite of the art of the future. By his insistence on such problems, he inspired the fictional framework of Faust's “Prelude on the Stage” no less than the philosophical framework of the “Prologue in Heaven.” If, in spite of such indications, the world insisted on reading Faust, Part I (1808) as a love story, which stamped its author as a Romantic, it was because at this stage the almost unbearable pathos of the Gretchen tragedy had not yet found its place in the wider tragedy of Western man.

Goethe and Schiller blamed the failure of the journals in which they strove to propagate their ideals of art and literature (Goethe's Propyläen, 1798–1800, was a quasi-successor to Schiller's Horen) on the indifference of anuncultivated public and vented their disappointment in Xenien, approximately 400 mordant distichs in the manner of Martial. A more positive reply to their detractors was a wonderful harvest of ballads. Goethe's own—“Der Schatzgräber” (“The Treasure Digger”), “Die Braut von Korinth” (“The Bride from Corinth”), “Der Zauberlehrling” (“The Sorcerer's Apprentice”)—differ from his earlier ones in that man rather than nature now holds sway. The “white” magic of reflection is consciously, even ironically, introduced. And in the ballad, with its blend of lyric, epic, and dramatic elements, Goethe now discerned the Urei, or archetypal form, of poetry by analogy with the Urpflanze (archetypal plants) he had discovered in the vegetable world.

Goethe's relation to the Romantics

With Schiller's death in 1805, Goethe felt he had lost “the half of his existence,” and he wrote a magnificent tribute to his great friend in Epilog zu Schillers Glocke (“Epilogue to Schiller's Bells”). His intellectual loneliness was eased in some measure by his relations to the new school of Romantics then flourishing in Jena, for they had much in common. Friedrich von Schlegel had begun his career with a book extolling Greek culture and gone on to praise the Orientas the summit of Romantic thought and poetry. His brother Wilhelm's absorption in form and metre was after Goethe's own heart, and he could not be indifferent to their enthusiastic praise of Wilhelm Meister or to Novalis' description of him as “the viceregent of poetry upon earth.” In Bettina Brentano, daughter of his old love, Maximiliane von La Roche, he found an ardent response to both his genius and his humanity, and her Briefwechsel Goethes mit einem Kinde (1835; “Goethe's Correspondence with a Child”) remains one of the most readable books in German literature, whatever doubts may be cast on its reliability. Though Goethe decried the Romantics as “forced talents,” amateurishly oblivious of the virtues of form, though he deplored their catholicizing tendencies, their uncritical addiction to all things medieval, their attempts to blur the literary genres and confuse the boundaries between art and life, he yet remained open to many of their enthusiasms, even letting himself be moved to a renewed interest in Gothic architecture. And in Die Wahlverwandtschaften (1809) he drew heavily for his thematic material upon their preoccupation with “the night-side of nature,” with the animal, magnetic affinities that attract human beings to each other, as elements are attracted in the chemical world.

But this novel offers no support at all for a superstitious surrender to forces natural or supernatural, for a subhuman abdication of moral responsibility. Catastrophe follows inexorably upon the arbitrary interpretation of signs and portents; the heroine enters upon a path of renunciation thatbrings her near sainthood; marriage may be presented with ruthless realism as “a synthesis of impossibilities,” but it remains nevertheless “the beginning and end of all civilization.” The Romantics were here taught a lesson of social behaviour—and of artistic form. The narrative is conducted with a serene impartiality, and all the classical values of plasticity, restraint, and symmetry are brought to bear on a subject that is sensational to the point of improbability.

By their translations—Romanticism is translation, Clemens Brentano declared—the Romantics were opening up the literary treasures of the world, and Weltliteratur was to become one of Goethe's most treasured concepts. Its aim was, as he put it, to advance civilization by encouraging mutual understanding and respect—whether through translation or criticism (his own attempts to interpret Serbianpoetry to the Germans is an excellent example of this latter) or through the blending of different literary traditions. Two great ballads, “Der Gott und die Bajadere” (“God and the Dancing Girl”) and “Paria” (“Outcast”), and two exquisite cycles, the late and lesser known Chinesisch-Deutsche Jahres- und Tageszeiten (“Chinese-German Hours and Seasons”; 1830) and the West-östlicher Divan (1819), are hisown outstanding attempts to marry East with West. This latter is a book of love in all its aspects—tender, playful, sensuous, ironic, wise, and wanton—all of it irradiated by that quality of Geist—of intellect, spirit, wit—which he discerned as “the predominant passion” of Persian poetry. His living muse this time, Marianne, the young wife of his friend von Willemer, was perhaps the most completely satisfying of all his loves, so attuned to him in spirit that she could even take a hand in the creation of some of these poems.

The last decade

But the world vision of the aging poet did not only find expression in a silent communing with the past. In his last years, Goethe found himself a world figure, and little Weimar became a Mecca that drew a constant stream of pilgrims from both the Old World and the New. Reports of his stiffness and reserve in the face of almost daily invasions are far outweighed by the testimony of those to whom he showed warmth, understanding, an insatiable curiosity aboutwhat was going on in the outside world, and an abiding openness to the present and the future. This is nowhere moreapparent than in Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre (1821–29; “Wilhelm Meister's Travels”), with its commitment to social and technological progress (what he would most like to see before he died, Goethe once said, was the completion of thePanama and Suez canals), to a type of education better adapted to modern specialization than the old humanistic studies, to a world no longer centred wholly in Europe—a major “complication” of his plot is a resettlement plan for emigrants in the land of the future (“Amerika, du hast es besser!” [“America, you are better off!”]). Wilhelm Meister points the truth that mastery of life is not conferred at the end of the “apprentice years” and henceforth an inalienable possession, but a ceaseless wandering in which the goal turns out to be the way, and the way the goal.

At first sight the subtitle, Die Entsagenden (“The Renunciants”), seems curiously at odds with such purposefulunrest. But renunciation for Goethe implies no passive resignation to the status quo. It is a growing acceptance of the limits imposed by life itself, limits arising from the nature of space and time and from the conflict of interests and potentialities. The apparent formlessness of the novel reflects the duality of its title. It meanders, its narrative interspersed with tales, anecdotes, episodes and maxims, having but the loosest connection with the plot but a formal, if often subterranean, connection with the poetic significance. These interpolations, like the increasingly symbolic characters, display the whole spectrum of human modes of renunciation. The “whole man” is here representednot by any single individual but by a constellation of many, and the informing principle is the spatial one of configuration rather than the temporal one of succession.

Faust, too, is often decried as formless, though the climate ofcriticism is now more propitious to the discovery of its “law.”The array of lyric, epic, dramatic, operatic, and balletic elements, of almost every known metre, from doggerel through terza rima (an Italian form of iambic verse consisting of stanzas of three lines) to six-foot trimeter (a line of verse consisting of three measures), of styles ranging from Greek tragedy through medieval mystery, baroque allegory, Renaissance masque, commedia dell'arte, and the “temerities of the English stage,” to something akin to the modern revue, all suggest a deliberate attempt to make these various forms a vehicle of cultural comment rather than any failure to create a coherent form of his own. And thecontent with which Goethe invests his forms bears this out. He draws on an immense variety of cultural material—theological, mythological, philosophical, political, economic, scientific, aesthetic, musical, literary—for the more realistic Part I no less than for the more symbolic Part II(first published posthumously in 1832): if Faust's wooing of Helena in the “Classic-Romantic Phantasmagoria” (as the first publication of the scene in 1827 called it) is accomplished by teaching her the unfamiliar delights of rhymed verse, his seduction of Gretchen is firmly set in the long tradition of erotic mysticism going back to the Song of Solomon. The Faust myth is here made the medium of a profoundly serious but highly ironic commentary on our cultural heritage, presented not as historical pageant—Faust's “progress” from his 18th- to 16th-century beginnings back through the Middle Ages and classical antiquity to the origins of life, and beyond that to the “Mothers,” timeless source of all forms of being, annuls the historical time sequence—but as a drama of the diverse potentialities that coexist in Western civilization.

This Faust, unlike his creator, is the very type of Western man, with two souls warring within his breast and a restlesslyinquiring spirit. To the 19th century his ceaseless striving seemed a good thing in itself. To a generation shocked into doubts about progress and the value of action, the disastrous consequences of his attempts to experience “the weal and woe of all mankind” (the libido sciendi of Marlowe'sFaustus is here but briefly indulged and as swiftly transcended) loom larger than the quotable “message” of any of the speeches, and his ultimate “salvation” becomes correspondingly suspect. Yet the love that bears his mortal remains to “higher spheres” does not mitigate the ironic defeat of his highest mortal endeavour. If the seal of approval is set on a spirit that has eluded Mephisto's every effort to lull him into sloth, the evil into which it led him is notcondoned. It needs the combined intercession of human wisdom and human suffering, human innocence and human experience, before compassionate verdict is passed on the erring and straying of this soul “in ferment.” Indeed, none of Goethe's conciliatory endings, except that of Iphigenie, really removes the sting of tragedy. Critics have tended to excuse or deplore them by reference to his own konziliante Natur (his “conciliatory nature”). But at least as relevant is his preoccupation with the form of Greek trilogies and tetralogies and his unorthodox interpretation of Aristotle's catharsis as an effect only likely to be produced in the spectator if there is a corresponding element of “reconciliation” in the structure of the play itself. The apotheosis of the hero, whether Faust's, Egmont's, or Ottilie'sin the Wahlverwandtschaften, is always set in a context reminiscent of a theophany and of the ritual origins of tragedy.

Nor can his interest in the cathartic effect of music be ignored. Unlike the German Romantic poet Novalis, for whommusic was “the key to the universe,” Goethe was profoundly aware of its dual nature and as suspicious as Plato of its orgiastic power. As in every art he looked for the taming of the Dionysiac by the Apolline, nowhere more movingly symbolized than by the taming of the lion through the piping of the little child in his Novelle of 1828, a theme he had already discussed with Schiller as far back as 1797. And increasingly he turned to music for assuagement of his own suffering. His Trilogie der Leidenschaft (“Trilogy of Passion”; 1823–27) is at once the lyrical precipitate of an oldman's anguished love for a girl of 18 and a tribute to the cathartic effect of this “heavenly art,” which restores to life even as it soothes. His Zauberflöte, Zweiter Teil is a tribute to his favourite Mozart's Magic Flute: Mozart would, he thought, have been the ideal composer for Faust. And one of the comforts of his later years was an intimate friendship with the composer K.F. Zelter, whose most brilliant pupil, the young Mendelssohn, afforded him hours of musical delight and deepened his musical understanding—though he never succeeded in reconciling him to the daemonic aspects of Beethoven's music.

By common consent, Faust is one of the supreme, if as yet unclassified, achievements of literature. But there were moments when Goethe rated his scientific work higher than all his poetry. His predilection for his Farbenlehre (“Theory of Colour”; 1805–10) has something of the love of a parent for a problem child, and nothing is easier than for the physicist to pick holes in his systematic attempt to prove Newton wrong, or for the psychologist to find the cause of hisstubbornness in his sense of mathematical inadequacy or in his neurotic attachment to the doctrine that light is one and indivisible and never to be explained by any theory of particles. On the other hand, the usefulness of the Psycho-Physiological Section, together with his study Entoptische Farben (“Entoptic Images”), is generally acknowledged, while the Historical Section is something of a pioneer work in the writing of the history of science. His work in botany and biology is less controversial. His Metamorphose der Pflanzen (“Attempt to Explain the Metamorphosis of Plants”; 1790) is a model of presentation, and the drawings in it are a botanist's delight. His main thesis, that all the parts of the plant are modifications of a type-leaf, has met with a measure of acceptance, though his categorical neglect of the root is regarded as an unscientific exclusion of a possible area of relevance. His hypothesis of atype-plant, by contrast, commands no interest among orthodox botanists today. His discovery in 1784, arrived at independently even if he was not the first to make it, of a recognizable os intermaxillare (the premaxilla of modern anatomists) in the human species was yet another result of his sustained quest for unity and continuity in nature and caused Darwin to hail him as a forerunner.

But what makes for the continuing interest of Goethe's science is not his discoveries: he could not always claim priority for them at the time, nor was he in the least interested in doing so. It is his insight into his methods of arriving at them. Few have been as aware of the mental processes involved in the study of natural phenomena; few have been more alive to the hazards that beset the scientist,at every level, from sheer observation to the construction of a theory; and few have been more conscious of the unwittingtheorizing involved in even the simplest act of perception. And no one has argued more convincingly that the only way of coping with this inescapable involvement of the observer in the phenomena to be observed is to let “knowledge of self” develop with “knowledge of world.”

Such scrupulous awareness of his own mental operations was, of course, of paramount importance in morphology, the science Goethe founded and named. Morphology, as he understood it, was the systematic study of formation and transformation—whether of rocks, clouds, colours, plants, animals, or the cultural phenomena of human society—as these present themselves to sentient experience. He did not propose it as a substitute for the quantitative sciences, which break down forms as we know them and by converting them into mathematical terms ensure a measure of prediction and control. He was not, contrary to common belief, opposed to analysis—one of his favourite maxims was that analysis and synthesis must alternate as naturally as breathing in and breathing out—and his only objection to physics was its increasing tendency to claim monopoly of understanding. What he was aiming at was rather a humanizing supplement, an understanding of nature in all itsqualitative manifestations; and one of his most impassionedpleas is for a concert of all the sciences, a cooperation of all types of method and mind.

This impulse, to find a scientific as well as an aesthetic corrective to the inevitably esoteric tendencies of specialization, is nowhere more apparent than in his two elegies on plant and animal metamorphosis in which he tries to present to imagination and feeling what has been understood by the mind. They eventually took their place in a cycle of philosophical poems entitled Gott und Welt (“God and World”). Though no orthodox believer, Goethe was by no means the pure pagan the 19th-century critics liked to imagine. Spinoza's pantheism certainly struck a sympatheticchord, for the Deist idea of a God who, having created the world, then left it to revolve, was repugnant to him. But he was and remained a grateful heir of the Christian tradition—bibelfest, rooted in the Bible—as his language constantly proclaims. And it was from this centre that he extended sympathetic understanding to all other religions, seeking their common ground without destroying their individual excellences, seeing them as different manifestations of an Ur, or archetypal, religion and thus giving expression, in this field as elsewhere, to the essentially morphological temper of his mind. “Panentheism” has been proposed as a more exact term for his belief in a divinity at once immanent and transcendent, and he rebuked those who tried to confine him to one mode of thought by saying that as poet he was polytheist, as scientist pantheist, and that when, as a moral being, he had need of a personal God, “that too had been taken care of.” This was one of the meanings he attached to the biblical text: “In my father's house are many mansions.”


A day will come, Carlyle predicted in a letter to Ralph Waldo Emerson, when “you will find that this sunny-looking courtly Goethe held veiled in him a Prophetic sorrow deep as Dante's.” And since World War II there have been many attempts to replace the image of the serene optimist by that of the tortured skeptic. The one is as inadequate as the other—as inadequate as T.S. Eliot's conclusion that he was sage rather than poet—though this is perhaps inevitable when a writer is such a master of his own medium that even his prose proves resistant to translation. Even his Werther knew that the realities of existence are rarely to be grasped by Either-Or. And the reality of Goethe himself certainly eludes any such attempt. If he was a skeptic, and he often was, he was a hopeful skeptic. He looked deep into the abyss, but he deliberately emphasized life and light. He livedlife to the full at every level, but never to the detriment of the civilized virtues. He remained closely in touch with the richness of his unconscious mind, but he shed on it the light of reflection without destroying the spontaneity of its processes. He was, as befits a son of the Enlightenment, wholly committed to the adventure of science; but he stood in awe and reverence before the mystery of the universe. Goethe nowhere formulated a system of thought. He was asimpatient of the sterilities of logic chopping as of the inflations of metaphysics, though he acknowledged his indebtedness to many philosophers, including Kant. But here again he was not to be confined. Truth for him lay not in compromise but in the embracing of opposites. And this is expressed in the form of his Maximen (“maxims”), which, together with his Gespräche (“conversations”), contain the sum of his wisdom. As with proverbs, one can always find among them a twin that expresses the complementary opposite. And they have something of the banality of proverbs too. But it is, as André Gide observed, “une banalitésupérieure.” What makes it “superior” is that the thought hasbeen felt and lived and that the formulation betrays this. Andfor all his specialized talents, there was a kind of “superior banality” about Goethe's life. If he himself felt it was “symbolic” and worth presenting as such in a series of autobiographical writings, it was not from arrogance but from a realization that he was an extraordinarily ordinary man in whom ordinary men might see themselves reflected. Not an ascetic, a mystic, a saint, or a recluse, not a Don Juan or a poet's poet but one who to the best of his ability had tried to achieve the highest form of l'homme moyen sensuel—which is perhaps what Napoleon sensed when aftertheir meeting in Erfurt he uttered his famous “Voilà un homme!”

Elizabeth M. Wilkinson




Both German philosophy and the English Romantics had a powerful effect on a group of American intellectuals who, in the late 1830s, gathered at the house of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803—82) in Concord, Massachusetts. Emerson's essay Nature (1836) explained the basis of Transcendentalism, a mystical, semi-religious concept that encompassed social and economic ideas, as well as religion and philosophy. Along with self-reliance and self-knowledge, reverence for Nature was fundamental: "Nature is the incarnation of thought", said Emerson, who became a national sage in America like Goethe or Emerson's friend, Carlyle.
Some of the Transcendentalists attempted to put their ideas into practice at the Brook Farm Institute, where philosophical discussion alternated with manual labour. European influences notwithstanding, Emerson advocated the independence of American culture: "We have listened too long to the courtly muses of Europe", he proclaimed in a lecture at Harvard. His essays and poems were published in The Dial, the organ of the Transcendental Club, which he edited.



Henry David Thoreau


Besides Emerson himself, the most interesting and popular of the Transcendentalists was Henry David Thoreau (1817-62). Though some of his poems appeared in The Dial, he published only two books during his lifetime and depended for income on various jobs, ranging from teacher to pencil-maker. It took him, he said, six weeks to earn enough for a year's existence. His first book was A Week on the Concord and Merrimack River (1849). His masterpiece, though little noticed at the time, was Walden, or Life in the Woods (1854), the result of two years spent living in a hut he built himself on Walden Pond. Describing his experiments in self-sufficient living, the local wild life and his visitors, it also expresses his sensitivity to the pre-colonial past and, with forceful clarity, his antagonism to the materialism of the modern age.
In his, often neglected, essay "Civil Disobedience" (1849), Thoreau claims the right of individuals to refuse to pay taxes on grounds of conscience. This belief, like his enactment of an Emersonian life-style at Walden, was also put into practice — his objections to the Mexican-American War and to slavery having earned him a spell in prison. Thoreau was not recognized as a literary genius, philosopher and expert naturalist until British admirers publicized his ideas towards the end of the century. His views on civil disobedience were later adopted by Gandhi, and he is now seen as a forerunner of the Green movement.


"I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow
of life ... to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to
its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, win
then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it,
and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were
sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to
give a true account of it in my next excursion."

Thoreau, "Where I lived, and what I lived for".






William Blake

William Blake


see also:

The Bible illustrations by  

William Blak

see also:

Dante "The Divine Comedy"

Illustrations by W. Blake)


Romantic English poets, who were not of course so called in their own time, fall largely into two distinct generations. Although there was no 'school' of poets in either generation, there was often close co-operation and friendship, for instance between Wordsworth and Coleridge in the first generation and, in a rather different way, Byron and Shelley in the second. But one image of the typical Romantic, as posterity saw him, was the solitary dreamer, the eccentric - and egocentric - artist, vitally concerned with his own mind and his own soul, sturdily resistant to authority and social convention, and oblivious to tradition, who stands apart from his fellows and from the world. Someone,
in short, like William Blake.



As a poet, a painter and an engraver, William Blake (1757-1827), was a highly individual genius, so strange and so uncompromising that some people thought him insane, though Wordsworth is said to have remarked that Blake's madness was more interesting than the sanity of other poets. Later generations have-seen him as a prophet, inspired by a hatred of the materialism of the 18th century; as a liberator who, for all his loathing of social injustice and oppression, saw farther, something even beyond Good and Evil; as a mystic at odds with contemporary religion, who aspired to build a new Jerusalem 'in England's green and pleasant land'.
Son of a well-to-do London tradesman, Blake had no formal education but was taught by his mother and himself, learning Greek and Hebrew among other languages, and acquiring a special fascination with legend and the Middle Ages. He became an engraver and, as a student at the Royal Academy, he met painters and intellectuals, some of whom financed the publication of his Poetical Sketches in 1783. His radical sympathies later brought him into friendly contact with revolutionary sympathisers such as William Godwin and Tom Paine, who influenced his antipathy to conventional Christianity and authority. He was poor all his life, though not quite as isolated from the world, nor as deliberately perverse, as legend suggests. When he died he was buried in a pauper's grave — but he left no debts.


The collection Songs of Innocence was published, together with the poet's own illustrations, in 1789. Here Blake is at his simplest and gentlest, and, for most readers, probably his most approachable. The poems are largely about childhood, some written in a deliberately child-like manner, although the declamations of the prophet can already be heard. Blake's early mysticism and love of emblems are apparent in The Book of Tirel of the same year, again with his illustrations. The Songs of Innocence were reissued in 1794, together with the grimmer Songs of Experience which balance the adult world of corruption and oppression against that of the innocent child, expressing with extraordinary economy Blake's highly original ideas about the connection between good and evil and his doctrine of 'contraries' - angels as devils, energy against reason.
These ideas are also active in Blake's chief work in prose, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, which consists of a series of aphorisms that overturned conventional ideas of morality. In The Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1793), America: A Prophecy (1793), and several subsequent works, Blake introduced his own mythology: Urizen, the repressive moral authority, and Ore, the archetypal rebel (like the poet himself), and other personifications, of 'body', 'passion', 'spirit', etc. These 'prophetic books' arc extremely obscure and inaccessible to ordinary readers without scholarly commentary. Blake employs what amounts to a secret language, the symbolism of which has only recently been fully worked out by devoted scholars.


Blake was born within two years of Robert Burns and three years of the Suffolk poet George Crabbe (1754-1832). In spite of some common themes, a more disparate trio would be hard to imagine. Crabbe, Jane Austen's favourite poet, was a realist. He used the heroic couplet of Pope and he wrote of the ordinary experiences of rural life, without romance. His strong points in The Village (1783) and The Parish Register (1807) are his sincerity and his grimly observant eye. In spite of a very 'Romantic' addiction to opium (acquired through unwise medical advice), he knew little or nothing of the forces that manipulated the imagination of Blake, yet he is a rewarding poet who in his own day was considerably the more popular. One of his tales in The Borough (1810) concerns the tormented fisherman Peter Grimes, the subject of Benjamin Britten's well-known opera (1945 .




The idea of the Romantic hero as a beautiful young man of turbulent emotions, passionate, devoted to liberty, widely travelled, and destined for a premature death was personified in the leading members of the second generation of English Romantic poets, Byron, Keats and Shelley. All of them, but Byron especially, have become almost as famous for their lives, loves and letters as for their poetry.




George Gordon, 6th Lord Byron (1788-1824) inherited Newstead Abbey, but little money, and gained a reputation as a wild young man at Cambridge. His earliest poems were highly sensual, and he destroyed most copies. He responded to early criticism with sharp satire, attacking Scott and the Lake poets, though he later recanted. After a long tour of the Mediterranean, vividly described in letters, he wrote the first two cantos of Cbilde Harold's Pilgrimage (1812), the wanderings of a young man in various settings, partly autobiographical, which made him famous. As a handsome young aristocrat, he was also fashionable, until the break-up of his unsuitable marriage (1815) turned public opinion against him.
He left England for ever in 1816, stayed in Switzerland with the Shelleys while writing the third canto of Cbilde Harold and had a daughter by Mary Shelley's sister. In the next two years he produced some of his best work, including Manfred and the first cantos of Don juan. He was now a famous figure throughout Europe: a character in Goethe's Faust is based on him. He was closely involved with the Italian nationalist movement until 1821, when he threw himself into the cause of Greek independence. He died in Greece, his heart being buried in Athens.
In his public quarrel with Southey, Byron gave Romanticism a new and more combative image. Literary critics now rank him just below the great poets, and regard Don Juan, an 'epic satire' (16 cantos, but unfinished, in ottava rima) as his masterpiece.


George Gordon, 6th Lord Byron

born January 22, 1788, London, England
died April 19, 1824, Missolonghi,Greece

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

byname Lord Byron English Romantic poet and satirist whose poetry and personality captured the imagination of Europe. Renowned as the “gloomy egoist” of his autobiographical poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812–18) in the 19th century, he is now more generallyesteemed for the satiric realism of Don Juan (1819–24).

Life and career

Byron was the son of the handsome and profligate Captain John “Mad Jack” Byron and his second wife, Catherine Gordon, a Scots heiress. After her husband had squandered most of her fortune, Mrs. Byron took her infant son to Aberdeen, Scotland, where they lived in lodgings on a meagre income; the captain died in France in 1791. George Gordon Byron had been born with a clubfoot and early developed an extreme sensitivity to his lameness. In 1798, at age 10, he unexpectedly inherited the title and estates of his great-uncle William, the 5th Baron Byron. His mother proudly took him to England, where the boy fell in love with the ghostly halls and spacious ruins of Newstead Abbey, which had been presented to the Byrons by Henry VIII. Afterliving at Newstead for a while, Byron was sent to school in London, and in 1801 he went to Harrow, one of England's most prestigious schools. In 1803 he fell in love with his distant cousin, Mary Chaworth, who was older and already engaged, and when she rejected him she became the symbolfor Byron of idealized and unattainable love. He probably met Augusta Byron, his half sister from his father's first marriage, that same year.

In 1805 Byron entered Trinity College, Cambridge, where he piled up debts at an alarming rate and indulged in the conventional vices of undergraduates there. The signs of his incipient sexual ambivalence became more pronounced in what he later described as “a violent, though pure, love and passion” for a young chorister, John Edleston. Despite Byron's strong attachment to boys, often idealized as in the case of Edleston, his attachment to women throughout his life is sufficient indication of the strength of his heterosexual drive. In 1806 Byron had his early poems privately printed in a volume entitled Fugitive Pieces, and that same year he formed at Trinity what was to be a close, lifelong friendship with John Cam Hobhouse, who stirred his interest in liberal Whiggism.

Byron's first published volume of poetry, Hours of Idleness, appeared in 1807. A sarcastic critique of the book in The Edinburgh Review provoked his retaliation in 1809 with a couplet satire, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, in which he attacked the contemporary literary scene. This work gained him his first recognition.

On reaching his majority in 1809, Byron took his seat in the House of Lords, and then embarked with Hobhouse on a grand tour. They sailed to Lisbon, crossed Spain, and proceeded by Gibraltar and Malta to Greece, where they ventured inland to Ioánnina and to Tepelene in Albania. In Greece Byron began Childe Harolde's Pilgrimage , which he continued in Athens. In March 1810 he sailed with Hobhouse for Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey), visited the site of Troy, and swam the Hellespont (present-day Dardanelles) in imitation of Leander. Byron's sojourn in Greece made a lasting impression on him. The Greeks' free and open frankness contrasted strongly with English reserve and hypocrisy and served to broaden his views of men and manners. He delighted in the sunshine and the moral tolerance of the people.

Byron arrived back in London in July 1811, and his mother died before he could reach her at Newstead. In February 1812 he made his first speech in the House of Lords, a humanitarian plea opposing harsh Tory measures against riotous Nottingham weavers. At the beginning of March, the first two cantos of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage were publishedby John Murray, and Byron “woke to find himself famous.” The poem describes the travels and reflections of a young man who, disillusioned with a life of pleasure and revelry, looks for distraction in foreign lands. Besides furnishing a travelogue of Byron's own wanderings through the Mediterranean, the first two cantos express the melancholy and disillusionment felt by a generation weary of the wars of the post-Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras. In the poem Byron reflects upon the vanity of ambition, the transitory nature of pleasure, and the futility of the search for perfection in the course of a “pilgrimage” through Portugal, Spain, Albania, and Greece. In the wake of Childe Harold's enormous popularity, Byron was lionized in Whig society. The handsome poet was swept into a liaison with the passionate and eccentric Lady Caroline Lamb, and the scandal of an elopement was barely prevented by his friend Hobhouse. She was succeeded as his lover by Lady Oxford, who encouraged Byron's radicalism.

During the summer of 1813, Byron apparently entered into intimate relations with his half sister Augusta, now married to Colonel George Leigh. He then carried on a flirtation with Lady Frances Webster as a diversion from this dangerous liaison. The agitations of these two love affairs and the sense of mingled guilt and exultation they aroused in Byron are reflected in the series of gloomy and remorseful Oriental verse tales he wrote at this time: The Giaour (1813); The Bride of Abydos (1813); The Corsair (1814), which sold 10,000 copies on the day of publication; and Lara (1814).

Seeking to escape his love affairs in marriage, Byron proposed in September 1814 to Anne Isabella (Annabella) Milbanke. The marriage took place in January 1815, and Lady Byron gave birth to a daughter, Augusta Ada, in December 1815. From the start the marriage was doomed by the gulf between Byron and his unimaginative and humorless wife; and in January 1816 Annabella left Byron to live with her parents, amid swirling rumours centring on his relations with Augusta Leigh and his bisexuality. The couple obtained a legal separation. Wounded by the general moral indignation directed at him, Byron went abroad in April 1816, never to return to England.

Byron sailed up the Rhine River into Switzerland and settledat Geneva, near Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Godwin, whohad eloped, and Godwin's stepdaughter by a second marriage, Claire Clairmont, with whom Byron had begun an affair in England. In Geneva he wrote the third canto of Childe Harold (1816), which follows Harold from Belgium up the Rhine River to Switzerland. It memorably evokes the historical associations of each place Harold visits, giving pictures of the Battle of Waterloo (whose site Byron visited),of Napoleon and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and of the Swiss mountains and lakes, in verse that expresses both the most aspiring and most melancholy moods. A visit to the Bernese Oberland provided the scenery for the Faustian poetic dramaManfred (1817), whose protagonist reflects Byron's own brooding sense of guilt and the wider frustrations of the Romantic spirit doomed by the reflection that man is “half dust, half deity, alike unfit to sink or soar.”

At the end of the summer the Shelley party left for England, where Claire gave birth to Byron's illegitimate daughter Allegra in January 1817. In October Byron and Hobhouse departed for Italy. They stopped in Venice, where Byron enjoyed the relaxed customs and morals of the Italians and carried on a love affair with Marianna Segati, his landlord's wife. In May he joined Hobhouse in Rome, gathering impressions that he recorded in a fourth canto of Childe Harold (1818). He also wrote Beppo, a poem in ottava rima that satirically contrasts Italian with English manners in the story of a Venetian menage-à-trois. Back in Venice, Margarita Cogni, a baker's wife, replaced Segati as his mistress, and his descriptions of the vagaries of this “gentle tigress” are among the most entertaining passages in his letters describing life in Italy. The sale of Newstead Abbey in the autumn of 1818 for £94,500 cleared Byron of his debts, which had risen to £34,000, and left him with a generous income.

In the light, mock-heroic style of Beppo Byron found the form in which he would write his greatest poem, Don Juan , a satire in the form of a picaresque verse tale. The first two cantos of Don Juan were begun in 1818 and published in July 1819. Byron transformed the legendary libertine Don Juan into an unsophisticated, innocent young man who, though hedelightedly succumbs to the beautiful women who pursue him, remains a rational norm against which to view the absurdities and irrationalities of the world. Upon being sent abroad by his mother from his native Sevilla (Seville), Juan survives a shipwreck en route and is cast up on a Greek island, whence he is sold into slavery in Constantinople. He escapes to the Russian army, participates gallantly in the Russians' siege of Ismail, and is sent to St. Petersburg, wherehe wins the favour of the empress Catherine the Great and issent by her on a diplomatic mission to England. The poem's story, however, remains merely a peg on which Byron could hang a witty and satirical social commentary. His most consistent targets are, first, the hypocrisy and cant underlying various social and sexual conventions, and, second, the vain ambitions and pretenses of poets, lovers, generals, rulers, and humanity in general. Don Juan remains unfinished; Byron completed 16 cantos and had begun the 17th before his own illness and death. In Don Juan he was able to free himself from the excessive melancholy of ChildeHarold and reveal other sides of his character and personality—his satiric wit and his unique view of the comic rather than the tragic discrepancy between reality and appearance.

Shelley and other visitors in 1818 found Byron grown fat, with hair long and turning gray, looking older than his years, and sunk in sexual promiscuity. But a chance meeting with Countess Teresa Gamba Guiccioli, who was only 19 years old and married to a man nearly three times her age, reenergized Byron and changed the course of his life. Byron followed her to Ravenna, and she later accompanied him back to Venice. Byron returned to Ravenna in January 1820 as Teresa's cavalier servente (gentleman-in-waiting) and won the friendship of her father and brother, Counts Ruggero and Pietro Gamba, who initiated him into the secret society of the Carbonari and its revolutionary aims to free Italy from Austrian rule. In Ravenna Byron wrote The Prophecy of Dante; cantos III, IV, and V of Don Juan; the poetic dramas Marino Faliero, Sardanapalus, The Two Foscari, and Cain (all published in 1821); and a satire on the poet Robert Southey, The Vision of Judgment , which contains a devastating parody of that poet laureate's fulsome eulogy of King George III.

Byron arrived in Pisa in November 1821, having followed Teresa and the Counts Gamba there after the latter had beenexpelled from Ravenna for taking part in an abortive uprising. He left his daughter Allegra, who had been sent to him by her mother, to be educated in a convent near Ravenna, where she died the following April. In Pisa Byron again became associated with Shelley, and in early summer of 1822 Byron went to Leghorn (Livorno), where he rented a villa not far from the sea. There in July the poet and essayist Leigh Hunt arrived from England to help Shelley and Byron edit a radical journal, The Liberal. Byron returned to Pisa and housed Hunt and his family in his villa. Despite the drowning of Shelley on July 8, the periodical went forward, and its first number contained The Vision of Judgment. At the end of September Byron moved to Genoa, where Teresa's family had found asylum.

Byron's interest in the periodical gradually waned, but he continued to support Hunt and to give manuscripts to The Liberal. After a quarrel with his publisher, John Murray, Byron gave all his later work, including cantos VI to XVI of Don Juan (1823–24), to Leigh Hunt's brother John, publisher of The Liberal.

By this time Byron was in search of new adventure. In April 1823 he agreed to act as agent of the London Committee, which had been formed to aid the Greeks in their struggle for independence from the Turks. In July 1823 Byron left Genoa for Cephalonia. He sent £4,000 of his own money to prepare the Greek fleet for sea service and then sailed for Missolonghi on December 29 to join Prince Aléxandros Mavrokordátos, leader of the forces in western Greece.

Byron made efforts to unite the various Greek factions and took personal command of a brigade of Souliot soldiers, reputedly the bravest of the Greeks. But a serious illness in February 1824 weakened him, and in April he contracted the fever from which he died at Missolonghi on April 19. Deeply mourned, he became a symbol of disinterested patriotism and a Greek national hero. His body was brought back to England and, refused burial in Westminster Abbey, was placed in the family vault near Newstead. Ironically, 145 years after his death, a memorial to Byron was finally placed on the floor of the Abbey.


Lord Byron's writings are more patently autobiographic thaneven those of his fellow self-revealing Romantics. Upon close examination, however, the paradox of his complex character can be resolved into understandable elements. Byron early became aware of reality's imperfections, but the skepticism and cynicism bred of his disillusionment coexisted with a lifelong propensity to seek ideal perfection in all of life's experiences. Consequently, he alternated between deep-seated melancholy and humorous mockery in his reaction to the disparity between real life and his unattainable ideals. The melancholy of Childe Harold and the satiric realism of Don Juan are thus two sides of the samecoin: the former runs the gamut of the moods of Romantic despair in reaction to life's imperfections, while the latter exhibits the humorous irony attending the unmasking of the hypocritical facade of reality.

Byron was initially diverted from his satiric-realistic bent bythe success of Childe Harold. He followed this up with the Oriental tales, which reflected the gloomy moods of self-analysis and disenchantment of his years of fame. In Manfred and the third and fourth cantos of Childe Harold he projected the brooding remorse and despair that followed the debacle of his ambitions and love affairs in England. But gradually the relaxed and freer life in Italy opened up again the satiric vein, and he found his forte in the mock-heroic style of Italian verse satire. The ottava rima form, which Byron used in Beppo and Don Juan, was easily adaptable to the digressive commentary, and its final couplet was ideally suited to the deflation of sentimental pretensions:

Alas! for Juan and Haidée! they were
So loving and so lovely—till then never,
Excepting our first parents, such a pair
Had run the risk of being damn'd for ever;
And Haidée, being devout as well as fair
Had, doubtless, heard about the Stygian river,
And hell and purgatory—but forgot
Just in the very crisis she should not.

Byron's plays are not as highly regarded as his poetry. He provided Manfred, Cain, and the historical dramas with characters whose exalted rhetoric is replete with Byronic philosophy and self-confession, but these plays are truly successful only insofar as their protagonists reflect aspects of Byron's own personality.

Byron was a superb letter writer, conversational, witty, and relaxed, and the 20th-century publication of many previously unknown letters has further enhanced his literary reputation. Whether dealing with love or poetry, he cuts through to the heart of the matter with admirable incisiveness, and his apt and amusing turns of phrase make even his business letters fascinating.

Byron showed only that facet of his many-sided nature that was most congenial to each of his friends. To Hobhouse he was the facetious companion, humorous, cynical, and realistic, while to Edleston, and to most women, he could be tender, melancholy, and idealistic. But this weakness was also Byron's strength. His chameleon-like character was engendered not by hypocrisy but by sympathy and adaptability, for the side he showed was a real if only partial revelation of his true self. And this mobility of character permitted him to savour and to record the mood and thought of the moment with a sensitivity denied to those tied to the conventions of consistency.

Leslie A. Marchand



Percy Bysshe Shelley



More radical than Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792—1822) regarded poetry and politics as one. Called 'Mad Shelley' at Eton, he was expelled from Oxford for his public espousal of atheism. Eloping with 16-year-old Harriet Westbrook lost him his family inheritance, and his ultra-democratic views attracted the attention of the secret service. William Godwin, the anarchistic philosopher, was for a time his mentor and in 1814 he eloped with Mary, Godwin's daughter by the feminist pioneer Mary Wollstonecraft. He married her after Harriet's suicide in 1816.
Always a wanderer, Shelley spent the summer of 1816 at Lake Geneva with Byron and from 1818 lived in Italy. There he entered his poetically most creative period: the dramas Prometheus Unbound and The Cenci; the great political poem 'The Mask of Anarchy', inspired by the Peterloo Massacre; and some of his most famous short poems, such as the 'Ode to the West Wind' (written in a few hours), 'To a Skylark', 'The Cloud' and Adonais an elegy for Keats (1821). In 1822 Shelley was drowned in a boating accident at La Spezia.
Shelley is regarded as one of the finest lyric poets in the language, though for a time he was comparatively little read. His high reputation among critics today arises largely from his revolutionary thoughts and ideas, which studies have shown to be wider-ranging, more profound, also more ambiguous, than Shelley's contemporaries realized.

Shelley's funeral.
Byron wrote of the "extraordinary effect such a funeral pile has,
on a desolate shore, with mountains in the background and the sea before...
All of Shelley was consumed, except his heart, which...
is now preserved in spirits of wine".





John Keats



The popular image of John Keats (1795-1821) as the ultra-sensitive, tormented, young Romantic artist 'half in love with easeful Death', applies, if at all, to his last, death-threatened years. At school he was remembered for his love of sports before his appetite for reading. Keats is, with Wordsworth, the most popular of the English Romantics, and one or two of his odes ('To Autumn', 'On a Grecian Urn', 'To Psyche', 'To a Nightingale') are as famous as any English poetry outside Shakespeare. He came from a poor, devoted family that was riven by tuberculosis, and trained, but never practised, as a surgeon.
His early work, including the sonnet 'On First Looking into Chapman's Homer' (1816), received little attention, while his letters, now a major reason for his fame, were not published until after his death. At Hampstead in 1817 he wrote his most ambitious work so far, Endymion, in friendly rivalry with Shelley, currently working on a comparable work {The Revolt of Islam). Despite mutual admiration, Keats kept his distance from Shelley's more powerful personality.
Hyperion (begun in 1818) reflected Kcats's travels in the north and west, although mainly written in Hampstead, where he had fallen in love with Fanny Brawne. There followed 'The Eve of St Agnes', a wonderful montage of Romantic medievalism; his finest odes; the sonnet on 'Fame'; and the ballad 'La Belle Dame Sans Merci'. By early 1820 he was seriously ill with tuberculosis. He went to Italy. avoiding Shelley's circle at Pisa, in a bid for recovery, but died in Rome. His reputation rose steadilv after his death and has never declined.






Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin


Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin
 by Vasily Tropinin



see  EXPLORATION (in Russian):
Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin "Yevgeny Onegin"

Commentary on Aleksandr Pushkin's Eugene Onegin (Vladimir Nabokov, Juri Lotman)


Vladimir Nabokov

(born April 22, 1899, St. Petersburg, Russia-died July 2, 1977, Montreux, Switz.) Russian-born U.S novelist and critic. Born to an aristocratic family, he had an English-speaking governess. He published two collections of verse before leaving Russia in 1919 for Cambridge University, but by 1925 he had turned to prose as his main genre. During 1919–40 he lived in England, Germany, and France. His life before he moved to the U.S. in 1940 is recalled in his superb autobiography, Speak, Memory (1951). Beginning with King, Queen, Knave (1928), his writing began to feature intricate stylistic devices. His novels are principally concerned with the problem of art itself, presented in various disguises, as in Invitation to a Beheading (1938). Parody is frequent in The Gift (1937–38) and later works. His novels written in English include the notorious and greatly admired best-seller Lolita (1955), which brought him wealth and international fame; Pale Fire (1962); and Ada (1969). His critical works include a monumental translation of and commentary on Aleksandr Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, (1964).

Juri Lotman


Russian-Estonian semiotician, aesthetician, and culture historian, founder of the Moscow-Tartu School in the 1960s. Lotman's early studies on literature drew largely on the tradition of formalist structuralism. Later Lotman expanded his structural-semiotic approach to the study of different culture systems.


Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin

1799, Moscow, Russia
died Jan. 29 [Feb. 10], 1837, St. Petersburg

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Russian poet, novelist, dramatist, and short-story writer; he has often been considered his country's greatest poet and the founder of modern Russian literature.

The early years.

Pushkin's father came of an old boyar family; his mother was a granddaughter of Abram Hannibal, who, according to family tradition, was an Abyssinian princeling bought as a slave at Constantinople (Istanbul) and adopted by Peter the Great, whose comrade in arms he became. Pushkin immortalized him in an unfinished historical novel, Arap Petra Velikogo (1827; The Negro of Peter the Great). Like many aristocratic families in early 19th-century Russia, Pushkin's parents adopted French culture, and he and his brother and sister learned to talk and to read in French. They were left much to the care of their maternal grandmother, who told Aleksandr, especially, stories of his ancestors in Russian. From Arina Rodionovna Yakovleva, his old nurse, a freed serf (immortalized as Tatyana's nurse in Yevgeny Onegin), he heard Russian folktales. During summers at his grandmother's estate near Moscow he talked to the peasantsand spent hours alone, living in the dream world of a precocious, imaginative child. He read widely in his father's library and gained stimulus from the literary guests who came to the house.

In 1811 Pushkin entered the newly founded Imperial Lyceum at Tsarskoye Selo (later renamed Pushkin) and while there began his literary career with the publication (1814, in Vestnik Evropy, “The Messenger of Europe”) of his verse epistle “To My Friend, the Poet.” In his early verse, he followed the style of his older contemporaries, the Romantic poets K.N. Batyushkov and V.A. Zhukovsky, and of the French 17th- and 18th-century poets, especially the Vicomte de Parny.

While at the Lyceum he also began his first completed major work, the romantic poem Ruslan i Lyudmila (1820; Ruslan and Ludmila ), written in the style of the narrative poems of Ludovico Ariosto and Voltaire but with an old Russian settingand making use of Russian folklore. Ruslan, modeled on the traditional Russian epic hero, encounters various adventuresbefore rescuing his bride, Ludmila, daughter of Vladimir, grand prince of Kiev, who, on her wedding night, has been kidnapped by the evil magician Chernomor. The poem flouted accepted rules and genres and was violently attacked by both of the established literary schools of the day, Classicism and Sentimentalism. It brought Pushkin fame, however, and Zhukovsky presented his portrait to the poet with the inscription “To the victorious pupil from the defeated master.”

St. Petersburg.

In 1817 Pushkin accepted a post in the foreign office at St. Petersburg, where he was elected to Arzamás, an exclusive literary circle founded by his uncle's friends. Pushkin also joined the Green Lamp association, which, though founded (in 1818) for discussion of literature and history, became a clandestine branch of a secret society, the Union of Welfare. In his political verses and epigrams, widely circulated in manuscript, he made himself the spokesman for the ideas and aspirations of those who were to take part in the Decembrist rising of 1825, the unsuccessful culmination of a Russian revolutionary movement in its earliest stage.

Exile in the south.

For these political poems, Pushkin was banished from St. Petersburg in May 1820 to a remote southern province. Sent first to Yekaterinoslav (now Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine), he wasthere taken ill and, while convalescing, traveled in the northern Caucasus and later to the Crimea with General Rayevski, a hero of 1812, and his family. The impressions he gained provided material for his “southern cycle” of romantic narrative poems: Kavkazsky plennik (1820–21; The Prisoner of the Caucasus), Bratya razboyniki (1821–22; The Robber Brothers), and Bakhchisaraysky fontan (1823; The Fountain of Bakhchisaray).

Although this cycle of poems confirmed the reputation of theauthor of Ruslan and Ludmila and Pushkin was hailed as theleading Russian poet of the day and as the leader of the romantic, liberty-loving generation of the 1820s, he himself was not satisfied with it. In May 1823 he started work on his central masterpiece, the novel in verse Yevgeny Onegin (1833), on which he continued to work intermittently until 1831. In it he returned to the idea of presenting a typical figure of his own age but in a wider setting and by means of new artistic methods and techniques.

Yevgeny Onegin unfolds a panoramic picture of Russian life. The characters it depicts and immortalizes—Onegin, the disenchanted skeptic; Lensky, the romantic, freedom-loving poet; and Tatyana, the heroine, a profoundly affectionate study of Russian womanhood: a “precious ideal,” in the poet's own words—are typically Russian and are shown in relationship to the social and environmental forces by which they are molded. Although formally the work resembles Lord Byron's Don Juan, Pushkin rejects Byron's subjective, romanticized treatment in favour of objective description and shows his hero not in exotic surroundings but at the heart of a Russian way of life. Thus, the action begins at St. Petersburg, continues on a provincial estate, then switches to Moscow, and finally returns to St. Petersburg.

Pushkin had meanwhile been transferred first to Kishinyov (1820–23; now Chişinău, Moldova) and then to Odessa (1823–24). His bitterness at continued exile is expressed in letters to his friends—the first of a collection of correspondence that became an outstanding and enduring monument of Russian prose. At Kishinyov, a remote outpost in Moldavia, he devoted much time to writing, though he alsoplunged into the life of a society engaged in amorous intrigue, hard drinking, gaming, and violence. At Odessa he fell passionately in love with the wife of his superior, Count Vorontsov, governor-general of the province. He fought several duels, and eventually the count asked for his discharge. Pushkin, in a letter to a friend intercepted by the police, had stated that he was now taking “lessons in pure atheism.” This finally led to his being again exiled to his mother's estate of Mikhaylovskoye, near Pskov, at the other end of Russia.

At Mikhaylovskoye.

Although the two years at Mikhaylovskoye were unhappy for Pushkin, they were to prove one of his most productive periods. Alone and isolated, he embarked on a close study of Russian history; he came to know the peasants on the estateand interested himself in noting folktales and songs. During this period the specifically Russian features of his poetry became steadily more marked. His ballad “Zhenikh” (1825; “The Bridegroom”), for instance, is based on motifs from Russian folklore; and its simple, swift-moving style, quite different from the brilliant extravagance of Ruslan and Ludmila or the romantic, melodious music of the “southern” poems, emphasizes its stark tragedy.

In 1824 he published Tsygany (The Gypsies), begun earlier as part of the “southern cycle.” At Mikhaylovskoye, too, he wrote the provincial chapters of Yevgeny Onegin; the poem Graf Nulin (1827; “Count Nulin”), based on the life of the rural gentry; and, finally, one of his major works, the historical tragedy Boris Godunov (1831).

The latter marks a break with the Neoclassicism of the French theatre and is constructed on the “folk-principles” of William Shakespeare's plays, especially the histories and tragedies, plays written “for the people” in the widest sense and thus universal in their appeal. Written just before the Decembrist rising, it treats the burning question of the relations between the ruling classes, headed by the tsar, andthe masses; it is the moral and political significance of the latter, “the judgment of the people,” that Pushkin emphasizes. Set in Russia in a period of political and social chaos on the brink of the 17th century, its theme is the tragic guilt and inexorable fate of a great hero—Boris Godunov, son-in-law of Malyuta Skuratov, a favourite of Ivan the Terrible, and here presented as the murderer of Ivan's little son, Dmitri. The development of the action on two planes, one political and historical, the other psychological, is masterly and is set against a background of turbulent eventsand ruthless ambitions. The play owes much to Pushkin's reading of early Russian annals and chronicles, as well as to Shakespeare, who, as Pushkin said, was his master in bold, free treatment of character, simplicity, and truth to nature. Although lacking the heightened, poetic passion of Shakespeare's tragedies, Boris excels in the “convincingness of situation and naturalness of dialogue” atwhich Pushkin aimed, sometimes using conversational prose, sometimes a five-foot iambic line of great flexibility. The character of the pretender, the false Dmitri, is subtly andsympathetically drawn; and the power of the people, who eventually bring him to the throne, is so greatly emphasized that the play's publication was delayed by censorship. Pushkin's ability to create psychological and dramatic unity, despite the episodic construction, and to heighten the dramatic tension by economy of language, detail, and characterization make this outstanding play a revolutionary event in the history of Russian drama.

Return from exile.

After the suppression of the Decembrist uprising of 1825, thenew tsar Nicholas I, aware of Pushkin's immense popularity and knowing that he had taken no part in the Decembrist “conspiracy,” allowed him to return to Moscow in the autumnof 1826. During a long conversation between them, the tsar met the poet's complaints about censorship with a promise that in the future he himself would be Pushkin's censor and told him of his plans to introduce several pressing reforms from above and, in particular, to prepare the way for liberation of the serfs. The collapse of the rising had been a grievous experience for Pushkin, whose heart was wholly with the “guilty” Decembrists, five of whom had been executed, while others were exiled to forced labour in Siberia.

Pushkin saw, however, that without the support of the people, the struggle against autocracy was doomed. He considered that the only possible way of achieving essential reforms was from above, “on the tsar's initiative,” as he had written in “Derevnya.” This is the reason for his persistent interest in the age of reforms at the beginning of the 18th century and in the figure of Peter the Great, the “tsar-educator,” whose example he held up to the present tsar in the poem “Stansy” (1826; “Stanzas”), in The Negro of Peter the Great, in the historical poem Poltava (1829), and in the poem Medny vsadnik (1837; The Bronze Horseman ).

In The Bronze Horseman, Pushkin poses the problem of the “little man” whose happiness is destroyed by the great leader in pursuit of ambition. He does this by telling a “story of St. Petersburg” set against the background of the flood of 1824, when the river took its revenge against Peter I's achievement in building the city. The poem describes how the “little hero,” Yevgeny, driven mad by the drowning of his sweetheart, wanders through the streets. Seeing the bronze statue of Peter I seated on a rearing horse and realizing that the tsar, seen triumphing over the waves, is the cause of his grief, Yevgeny threatens him and, in a climax of growing horror, is pursued through the streets by the “Bronze Horseman.” The poem's descriptive and emotional powers give it an unforgettable impact and make it one of the greatest in Russian literature.

After returning from exile, Pushkin found himself in an awkward and invidious position. The tsar's censorship proved to be even more exacting than that of the official censors, and his personal freedom was curtailed. Not only was he put under secret observation by the police but he was openly supervised by its chief, Count Benckendorf. Moreover, his works of this period met with little comprehension from the critics, and even some of his friendsaccused him of apostasy, forcing him to justify his political position in the poem “Druzyam” (1828; “To My Friends”). The anguish of his spiritual isolation at this time is reflected in a cycle of poems about the poet and the mob (1827–30) and in the unfinished Yegipetskiye nochi (1835; Egyptian Nights).

Yet it was during this period that Pushkin's genius came to its fullest flowering. His art acquired new dimensions, and almost every one of the works written between 1829 and 1836 opened a new chapter in the history of Russian literature. He spent the autumn of 1830 at his family's Nizhny Novgorod estate, Boldino, and these months are the most remarkable in the whole of his artistic career. During them he wrote the four so-called “little tragedies”—Skupoy rytsar (1836; The Covetous Knight), Motsart i Salyeri (1831; Mozart and Salieri), Kamenny gost (1839; The Stone Guest), and Pir vo vremya chumy (1832; Feast in Time of the Plague)—the five short prose tales collected as Povesti pokoynogo Ivana Petrovicha Bel ki na (1831; Tales of the Late Ivan Petrovich Belkin); the comic poem of everyday lower-class life Domik v Kolomne (1833; “A Small House in Kolomna”); and many lyrics in widely differing styles, as wellas several critical and polemical articles, rough drafts, and sketches.

Among Pushkin's most characteristic features were his wide knowledge of world literature, as seen in his interest in such English writers as William Shakespeare, Lord Byron, Sir Walter Scott, and the Lake poets; his “universal sensibility”; and his ability to re-create the spirit of different races at different historical epochs without ever losing his own individuality. This is particularly marked in the “little tragedies,” which are concerned with an analysis of the “evilpassions” and, like the short story Pikovaya Dama (1834; The Queen of Spades), exerted a direct influence on the subject matter and techniques of the novels of Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Last years.

In 1831 Pushkin married Natalya Nikolayevna Goncharova and settled in St. Petersburg. Once more he took up government service and was commissioned to write a history of Peter the Great. Three years later he received the rank of Kammerjunker (gentleman of the emperor's bedchamber), partly because the tsar wished Natalya to have the entrée to court functions. The social life at court, which he was now obliged to lead and which his wife enjoyed,was ill-suited to creative work, but he stubbornly continued to write. Without abandoning poetry altogether, he turned increasingly to prose. Alongside the theme of Peter the Great, the motif of a popular peasant rising acquired growingimportance in his work, as is shown by the unfinished satirical Istoriya sela Goryukhina (1837; The History of the Village of Goryukhino), the unfinished novel Dubrovsky (1841), Stseny iz rytsarskikh vremen (1837; Scenes from the Age of Chivalry), and finally, the most important of his prose works, the historical novel of the Pugachov Rebellion, Ka pi tan ska ya dochka (1836; The Captain's Daughter), which hadbeen preceded by a historical study of the rebellion, Istoriya Pugachova (1834; “A History of Pugachov”).

Meanwhile, both in his domestic affairs and in his official duties, his life was becoming more intolerable. In court circles he was regarded with mounting suspicion and resentment, and his repeated petitions to be allowed to resign his post, retire to the country, and devote himself entirely to literature were all rejected. Finally, in 1837, Pushkin was mortally wounded defending his wife's honour in a duel forced on him by influential enemies.


Pushkin's use of the Russian language is astonishing in its simplicity and profundity and formed the basis of the style ofnovelists Ivan Turgenev, Ivan Goncharov, and Leo Tolstoy. His novel in verse, Yevgeny Onegin, was the first Russian work to take contemporary society as its subject and pointedthe way to the Russian realistic novel of the mid-19th century. Even during his lifetime Pushkin's importance as a great national poet had been recognized by Nikolay Vasilyevich Gogol, his successor and pupil, and it was his younger contemporary, the great Russian critic Vissarion Grigoryevich Belinsky, who produced the fullest and deepestcritical study of Pushkin's work, which still retains much of its relevance. To the later classical writers of the 19th century, Pushkin, the creator of the Russian literary language, stood as the cornerstone of Russian literature, in Maksim Gorky's words, “the beginning of beginnings.” Pushkin has thus become an inseparable part of the literaryworld of the Russian people. He also exerted a profound influence on other aspects of Russian culture, most notably in opera.

Pushkin's work—with its nobility of conception and its emphasis on civic responsibility (shown in his command to the poet-prophet to “fire the hearts of men with his words”), its life-affirming vigour, and its confidence in the triumph of reason over prejudice, of human charity over slavery and oppression—has struck an echo all over the world. Translated into all the major languages, his works are regarded both as expressing most completely Russian national consciousness and as transcending national barriers.

Dimitry Dimitriyevich Blagoy




Walter Scott



The historical novel, meaning one dealing with a time before the author's birth, was not invented by Sir Walter Scott. An early example was the Comtesse de La Fayette's La Princesse de Cleves and many 18th century Gothic novels were set in earlier times. Castle Rackrent (1800) by the Irish writer Maria Edgeworth, a pioneer of both the historical and the regional novel, was acknowledged as an influence by Scott, always a man to pay his debts. Still, Waverley (1814) first made the historical novel widely popular and established it permanently, not only in Britain, but throughout Europe.



So far, the revisionists have hardly dented Scott's reputation as one of the most attractive and honourable people ever to publish a work of fiction. In his day he was hugely popular, but now he is little read. He trained at Edinburgh University as a lawyer, and acquired a profound knowledge of country folk and legends, travelling on horseback around Scotland on legal business. He was a poet first, and became famous after The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805), the first of several verse romances. The most notable are The Lady of the Lake and Marmion (1808), about the Battle of Flodden. Scott's industry and output amazed even his contemporaries, for he was also involved with a vast range of other literary work and public duties. One of his idiosyncrasies, only puritans would call it a fault, was a tendency to spend magnificent Borders estate of Abbotsford. Later, the failure of publishing companies with which he was involved brought him to the edge of bankruptcy. His journal, covering this fraught period, makes moving reading. (One result, benefitting all writers, was that Scott's need for cash, backed by his ability to command huge sales, induced larger payments from publishers.) Yet visitors to Abbotsford gained an impression of a lairdly if not leisurely existence, as if novel writing was a pastime undertaken on idle evenings. Such was Scott's output that it was suggested he must have written many of his novels much earlier, and merely produced them from a drawer on demand. Except for Waverley, started and abandoned several years before it was published, this was true only in the sense that much of Scott's material had long been stored away m his mind. Overwork was responsible for serious physical ailments in 1817-19,
and the frenetic activity of his last years, when he might have taken refuge in bankruptcy, but honourably insisted on working to pay his debts, led to his final illness and death. All creditors were paid in full.


The success of Waverley, which sold out four editions in its first year, turned Scott permanently from poetry to fiction. It was published anonymously: all Scott's later novels bore the phrase, 'by the author of Waverley', and he did not publicly admit authorship until 1827. It concerns a young, romantic army officer at the time of the rebellion of 1745 who is attracted to the Jacobite cause. The novels thereafter came thick (literally, for they are immensely long) and fast. The majority, and on the whole the best (Old Mortality, The Heart of Midlothian, Rob Roy, Red Gauntlet), were also set in the Scotland of the recent past. Those set in the Middle Ages (Ivanhoe, The Talisman) lack some of the vigour and conviction of the Scottish novels, although Kenilworth, set in 16th—17th century England, and Quentin Durward, set in 15th-century France, albeit with many Scottish characters, have been especially popular.
Scott's most obvious contribution to the development of the novel was the addition of background. Fielding and Jane Austen created characters within a restricted environment, but Scott presents a great social panorama, with picturesque details drawn from his unrivalled knowledge and fertile imagination as well as fine descriptions of landscape and nature (ironically, a factor that probably alienates the impatient modern reader). In his rich array of characters, Scott surpasses Dickens, though, like Dickens, it may be said against him that psychologically, his characters are relatively superficial, their feelings and motives simple.
Scott was by nature perhaps too easy-going to deal with real tragedy, or with spiritual agony, and religion meant little to him. It has often been pointed out that his picture of the Middle Ages virtually omits the period's most powerful social institution, the Church. Modern historians can also criticize Scott on facts, but for good or ill, the popular - not to say romantic and superficial - image of Scottish history, perhaps even in Scotland, derives more from Scott than from the output of the historians. That mantle has, it seems, been inherited by Hollywood, which in turn colours our idea of Scott. He was certainly a great story teller, but he was also a serious writer with a deep concern for historv and society.

O Caldeonia! stern and wild,
Meet nurse for a poetic child!
Land of brown heath and shaggy wood,
Land of the mountain and the flood,
Land of my sires! what mortal hand
Can e'er untie the filial band
That knits me to thy rugged strand!

Scott, The Lady of the Lake (1810), Canto VI.


Partly as result of the upheavals of the French Revolution, and partly because Classicism was more strongly entrenched, the Romantic movement arrived later in France. It was influenced by England and Germany, although its father figure was Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand (1768-1848), whose Genius of Christianity (1802) was a major influence in the revival of religion in post-revolutionary France, and its most provocative leader was the novelist Victor Hugo.



The outstanding poets in France were less central to the Romantic movement than their equivalents in England. Alphonse de Lamartine (1790—1869) established his reputation with his lyrical and deeply personal Meditations poetiquc (1820). The most popular of the French Romantic poets, he not only wrote poetry, but also extensively on history, politics (he was a leading political figure), biography, travel and memoirs. Like Vigny, he had an English wife, wrote a poetic tribute to Byron, and was widely translated into English from the 1820s.
The best poems of Alfred de Vigny (1797-1863) were published after his death. Vigny's Romanticism is pessimistic and stoical: he described his work as an 'epic of disillusionment', but retained his faith in the 'unconquerable' human mind. Unusually for a Romantic poet, he was a professional soldier for over a decade and his Servitude et grandeur militaires (1835) still finds a place in the knapsack of intellectually inclined soldiers (Vigny's reflections on the military life are wittily discussed in Anthony Powell's novel The Valley of Bones, 1964).
The lover of George Sand before her liaison with Chopin, Alfred de Musset (1810-57) made his mark with a translation of De Quincey's Confessions. His most famous poems, 'Les Nuits' (1835-37) and 'Le Souvenir' (1841) deal with the familiar Romantic theme of love denied. He is probably best known for his plays, in which humour and parody are more evident; in general, his work is suffused with that contemporary melancholy called mal du siecle.



Charles Baudelaire



One of the most significant influences on modern poetry, Charles Baudelaire (1821-67) was associated with the Parnassians, a group of poets in reaction against Romanticism, whose aims were formal perfection, restraint ('Classical' virtues), and objectivity. His great work is Les Fleurs dn mal (The Flowers of Fwil, 1857), a collection of a hundred poems in various different metres, technically brilliant, in which the poet seeks to find beauty and order in a world that is often hideous, cruel — and boring. Baudelaire was arrested and six of the poems were banned as offensive to public morals, but the last edition, published just after his death, contains about fifty more poems, and the work is regarded as one of the greatest treasures of French literature. Today Baudelaire is rated highly as a critic, notably on art (painting and poetry were often closely linked in France). His prose includes commentary on De Quincey and descriptions of his own experiences with opium and hashish, and he was the French translator of Edgar Allan Poe.



Arthur Rimbaud


Paul Verlaine


Around the spectacularly intense revolutionary Arthur Rimbaud (1854-91), forerunner of Symbolism and Surrealism, legends cluster like flies around a carcass. From an early age he-was in full revolt against every orthodox authority. His most famous poem, 'Le Bateau ivre' (The Drunken Boat), which exalts the quest for some unknown reality (the key to Rimbaud's alienated existence), was written aged 17 and he abandoned poetry altogether at 19. His finest works are the prose poems of Illuminations (1886) and A Season in Hell (1873), experimental products of his efforts to acquire the wisdom of a seer through 'disori-entation of the senses'. For a troubled period in the early 1870s, he was the lover of Paul Verlaine (1844-96). He became a wanderer and spent his latter years as a trader deep in Africa. Verlaine was a tormented, unstable character, one of the Parnassians and generally regarded as a Symbolist (though he rejected the label), who served a prison term (1873—74) for shooting and wounding Rimbaud in a quarrel. Reconverted to Catholicism, he wrote some of the finest religious poetry of any age, as well as some of the most musical and original lyrics of the century — especially in the early Fetes galantes (1869) and Romances sans paroles (1874). He was a popular lecturer in England in 1875.



Edouard Manet
Portrait of Stephane Mallarme

Stephane Mallarme
(1842-98), another of the founders of modern European poetry, was the outstanding master of Symbolism, the movement which, reacting against the objectivity of Realism and Naturalism, stressed the importance of suggestion and reverie and found subtle relations between sound, sense and colour. Alallarme's 'L'Aprcs-midi d'un faune' (1876) is a key Symbolist work. The preoccupations of the Symbolists led to obscurity, and Mallarme's 'Un coup de des jamais n'abolira le hasard' (1897), which employed ingenious typographical devices to suggest music, has been called the most difficult poem in the French language.




Edgar Allan Poe

see also:

Edgar Allain Poe

(illustrations by

Gustave Dore
and Harry Clarke)


Edgar Allan Poe

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

born Jan. 19, 1809, Boston, Mass., U.S.
died Oct. 7, 1849, Baltimore, Md.

American short-story writer, poet, critic, and editor who is famous for his cultivation of mystery and the macabre. His tale “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841) initiated the modern detective story, and the atmosphere in his tales of horror is unrivaled in American fiction. His “The Raven” (1845) numbers among the best-known poems in the national literature.


Poe was the son of the English-born actress Elizabeth ArnoldPoe and David Poe, Jr., an actor from Baltimore. After his mother died in Richmond, Va., in 1811, he was taken into the home of John Allan, a Richmond merchant (presumably his godfather), and of his childless wife. He was later taken to Scotland and England (1815–20), where he was given a classical education that was continued in Richmond. For 11 months in 1826 he attended the University of Virginia, but his gambling losses at the university so incensed his guardian that he refused to let him continue, and Poe returned to Richmond to find his sweetheart, (Sarah) Elmira Royster, engaged. He went to Boston, where in 1827 he published a pamphlet of youthful Byronic poems, Tamerlane, and Other Poems. Poverty forced him to join the army under the name of Edgar A. Perry, but on the death of Poe's foster mother, John Allan purchased his release from the army and helped in getting him an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Before going, Poe published a new volume at Baltimore, Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems (1829). He successfully sought expulsion from the academy, where he was absent from all drills and classes for a week. He proceeded to New York City and brought out a volume of Poems, containing several masterpieces, some showing the influence of John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He then returned to Baltimore, where he began to write stories. In 1833 his “MS. Found in a Bottle” won $50 from a Baltimore weekly, and by 1835 he was in Richmond as editor of the Southern Literary Messenger. There he made a name as a critical reviewer and married his young cousin Virginia Clemm, who was only 13. Poe seems to have been an affectionate husband and son-in-law.

Poe was dismissed from his job in Richmond, apparently for drinking, and went to New York City. Drinking was in fact to be the bane of his life. To talk well in a large company he needed a slight stimulant, but a glass of sherry might start him on a spree; and, although he rarely succumbed to intoxication, he was often seen in public when he did. This gave rise to the conjecture that Poe was a drug addict, but according to medical testimony he had a brain lesion. While in New York City in 1838 he published a long prose narrative, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, combining (as so often in his tales) much factual material with the wildest fancies. Itis considered one inspiration of Herman Melville's Moby Dick. In 1839 he became coeditor of Burton's Gentleman's Magazine in Philadelphia. There a contract for a monthly feature stimulated him to write “William Wilson” and “The Fall of the House of Usher,” stories of supernatural horror. The latter contains a study of a neurotic now known to have been an acquaintance of Poe, not Poe himself.

Later in 1839 his Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque appeared (dated 1840). He resigned from Burton's about June 1840 but returned in 1841 to edit its successor, Graham's La dy's and Gentleman's Magazine, in which he printed the first detective story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” In 1843 his “The Gold Bug” won a prize of $100 from the Philadelphia Dollar Newspaper, which gave him great publicity. In 1844 he returned to New York, wrote the “Balloon Hoax” for the Sun, and became subeditor of the New York Mirror under N.P. Willis, thereafter a lifelong friend. In the New York Mirror of Jan. 29, 1845, appeared, from advance sheets of the American Review, his most famous poem, “The Raven,” which gave him national fame at once. Poe then became editor of the Broadway Journal, a short-lived weekly, in which he republished most of his short stories, in 1845. During this last year the now forgotten poet Frances Sargent Locke Osgood pursued Poe. Virginia did notobject, but “Fanny's” indiscreet writings about her literary love caused great scandal. His The Raven and Other Poems and a selection of his Tales came out in 1845, and in 1846 Poe moved to a cottage at Fordham (now part of New York City), where he wrote for Godey's Lady's Book (May–October 1846) “Literati of New York”—gossipy sketches on personalities of the day, which led to a libel suit.

His wife, Virginia, died in January 1847. The following year Poe went to Providence, R.I., to woo Sarah Helen Whitman, a poet. There was a brief engagement. Poe had close but platonic entanglements with Annie Richmond and with SarahAnna Lewis, who helped him financially. He composed poetic tributes to all of them. In 1848 he also published the lecture “Eureka,” a transcendental “explanation” of the universe, which has been hailed as a masterpiece by some critics and as nonsense by others. In 1849 he went south, hada wild spree in Philadelphia, but got safely to Richmond, where he finally became engaged to Elmira Royster, by then the widowed Mrs. Shelton, and spent a happy summer with only one or two relapses. He enjoyed the companionship of childhood friends and an unromantic friendship with a youngpoet, Susan Archer Talley.

Poe had some forebodings of death when he left Richmond for Baltimore late in September. There, after toasting a lady at her birthday party, he began to drink heavily. The indulgence proved fatal, for Poe had a weak heart. He was buried in Westminster Presbyterian churchyard in Baltimore.


Poe's work owes much to the concern of Romanticism with the occult and the satanic. It owes much also to his own feverish dreams, to which he applied a rare faculty of shaping plausible fabrics out of impalpable materials. With an air of objectivity and spontaneity, his productions are closely dependent on his own powers of imagination and an elaborate technique. His keen and sound judgment as appraiser of contemporary literature, his idealism and musical gift as a poet, his dramatic art as a storyteller, considerably appreciated in his lifetime, secured him a prominent place among universally known men of letters.

The outstanding fact in Poe's character is a strange duality. The wide divergence of contemporary judgments on the manseems almost to point to the coexistence of two persons in him. With those he loved he was gentle and devoted. Others, who were the butt of his sharp criticism, found him irritable and self-centred and went so far as to accuse him of lack of principle. Was it, it has been asked, a double of the man rising from harrowing nightmares or from the haggard inner vision of dark crimes or from appalling graveyard fantasies that loomed in Poe's unstable being?

Much of Poe's best work is concerned with terror and sadness, but in ordinary circumstances the poet was a pleasant companion. He talked brilliantly, chiefly of literature, and read his own poetry and that of others in a voice of surpassing beauty. He admired Shakespeare and Alexander Pope. He had a sense of humour, apologizing to a visitor for not keep ing a pet raven. If the mind of Poe is considered, the duality is still more striking. On one side, he was an idealist and a visionary. His yearning for the ideal was both of the heart and of the imagination. His sensitiveness to the beauty and sweetness of women inspired his most touching lyrics (“To Helen,” “Annabel Lee,”“Eulalie,” “To One in Paradise”) and the full-toned prose hymns to beauty and love in “Ligeia” and “Eleonora.” In “Israfel” his imagination carried him away from the material world into a dreamland. This Pythian mood was especially characteristic of the later years of his life.

More generally, in such verses as “The Valley of Unrest,” “Lenore,” “The Raven,” “For Annie,” and “Ulalume” and in his prose tales his familiar mode of evasion from the universe of common experience was through eerie thoughts,impulses, or fears. From these materials he drew the startling effects of his tales of death (“The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” “The Premature Burial,” “The Oval Portrait,” “Shadow”), his tales of wickedness and crime (“Berenice,” “The Black Cat,” “William Wilson,” “Imp of the Perverse,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Tell-Tale Heart”), his tales of survival after dissolution (“Ligeia,” “Morella,” “Metzengerstein”), and his tales of fatality (“The Assignation,” “The Man of the Crowd”). Even when he does not hurl his characters into the clutch of mysterious forces oronto the untrodden paths of the beyond, he uses the anguishof imminent death as the means of causing the nerves to quiver (“The Pit and the Pendulum”), and his grotesque invention deals with corpses and decay in an uncanny play with the aftermath of death.

On the other side, Poe is conspicuous for a close observation of minute details, as in the long narratives and in many of the descriptions that introduce the tales or constitute their settings. Closely connected with this is his power of ratiocination. He prided himself on his logic and carefully handled this real accomplishment so as to impress the public with his possessing still more of it than he had; hence the would-be feats of thought reading, problem unravelling, and cryptography that he attributed to his Legrand and Dupin. This suggested to him the analytical tales, which created the detective story, and his science fiction tales.

The same duality is evinced in his art. He was capable of writing angelic or weird poetry, with a supreme sense of rhythm and word appeal, or prose of sumptuous beauty and suggestiveness, with the apparent abandon of compelling inspiration; yet he would write down a problem of morbid psychology or the outlines of an unrelenting plot in a hard and dry style. In Poe's masterpieces the double contents of his temper, of his mind, and of his art are fused into a oneness of tone, structure, and movement, the more effective, perhaps, as it is compounded of various elements.

As a critic, Poe laid great stress upon correctness of language, metre, and structure. He formulated rules for the short story, in which he sought for the ancient unities: i.e., the short story should relate a complete action and take place within one day in one place. To these unities he added that of mood or effect. He was not extreme in these views, however. He praised longer works and sometimes thought allegories and morals admirable if not crudely presented. Poe admired originality, often in work very different from hisown, and was sometimes an unexpectedly generous critic of decidedly minor writers.

Poe's genius was early recognized abroad. No one did more to persuade the world and, in the long run, the United States, of Poe's greatness than the French poets Charles Baudelaire and Stéphane Mallarmé. Indeed his role in Frenchliterature was that of a poetic master model and guide to criticism. French Symbolism relied on his “Philosophy of Composition,” borrowed from his imagery, and used his examples to generate the modern theory of “pure poetry.”

Charles Cestre

Thomas Ollive Mabbott

Jacques Barzun





The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded in 1848 by Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, the Rossetti brothers and others, a group of painters. They were in revolt against contemporary artistic standards as typified by the Royal Academy, and determined to revert to the principles prevailing before the High Renaissance, as represented by Raphael. Encouraged by Ruskin, the Brotherhood existed as a close-knit group only for a few years. Broadly, Pre-Raphaelitism carried on the Romantic tradition. Its preoccupations included the study of nature in close detail, sound technique, and an inclination towards mystical (often medieval) subjects, influencing a number of later artists and writers.


The Rossettis' father was a political refugee from Naples, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-82), though born in London, grew up in an Italian household. Famous in his own day as a painter, he is the author of some of the most musical sonnets in English. As a student he knew Holman Hunt and Millais, and was one of the founders and leading representatives of the P.R.B. Like his painting, his early poetry was closely detailed, symbolic, concerned with remote subjects and often included archaic usage. Eroticism was another Pre-Raphaelite characteristic, and Rossetti married what the Pre-Raphaelites called a 'stunner', Elizabeth Siddal, in 1860. She died of an overdose of laudanum two years later, possibly encouraging the morbid strain in Rossetti's later work. His Poems of 1870 included works he had buried with Elizabeth, but later recovered. Some of his most attractive work, besides his translations of Dante and other Italian poets, appeared a year later in Ballads and Sonnets, but by that time he was in terminal decline due to drugs and incipient paranoia.
His younger brother William was another founder member of the PRB and editor of their journal, The Gem. He wrote profusely on literary subjects and worked for nearly fifty years for the Internal Revenue service.
Their sister Christina (1830-94) was a poet who is now widely regarded as being more gifted than her brothers. She was deeply religious and physically frail, an invalid in her later years. Probably her most famous work is Goblin Market (1862), a vigorous, enigmatically symbolic fairy tale, highly original in technique. A love of verbal and metrical experiment is characteristic of her work, which included many religious poems. Of these the most admired is the sonnet sequence "Monna Innominata" (1881), which dwells on the superiority of divine love over human love, a conviction which seems to have influenced her private life.


Of all the people associated with the Pre-Raphaelites, William Morris (1834-96) was the greatest. However, he is remembered primarily in politics as a profound influence on British socialism, and in design as the leading light of the Arts and Crafts movement. His abilities were prodigious, his influence was - still is -enormous. His doctor explained his death as the result of being William Morris, having done more work than ten normal men. He was a copious writer, but his poetry, highly regarded in his day, is now seldom read. Probably his most famous literary work is his novel News from Nowhere (1890), a critique of contemporary society subsumed in a portrait of a communist, non-materialist Utopia.


When D. G. Rossetti was viciously attacked by Robert Buchanan in 'The Fleshlv School of Poetry', he was defended by Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909), always ready for a literary fight. Swinburne was a prolific poet, immensely gifted, but often criticized for lack of depth - a safe judgment on someone who published so much. He first hit the headlines with his Poems and Ballads (1866), which, rebellious and perverse, might have been designed to irritate the bourgeoisie ('libidinous laureate of a pack of satyrs' fumed the critic John Morley). Swinburne, a 'Decadent' before his time, was certainly a shock after Tennyson. By 1879 he was a serious alcoholic, but was taken over by Theodore Watts-Dunton, who installed him in his house in Putney and reformed him. Surprisingly, Swinburne's muse survived this new regime, and he continued to publish his flamboyant poetry and criticism for another thirty years. He was a splendid scourge of prudes and pedants, and an invigorating influence on literature with his outspoken, if often wrong-headed, criticism.





The two giants of the later 19th century were Browning and, especially, Tennyson. In spite of periods of fierce critical antagonism, their reputation remains high today. The Romantics were either dead or poetically played out by the 1830s, and Browning and Tennyson represented a change, though not a particularly sudden or dramatic one. Romantics such as Byron were essentially popular poets, whose poetry was 'easy'. Although Tennyson, the only poet to become a peer, was hugely popular, both he and Browning moved on a somewhat higher plane. They nevertheless succeeded in maintaining a large audience for poetry in an age in which the novel had become the most popular form of literature.





Robert Browning



Robert Browning (1812-89) is almost equally famous for his partnership with Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806—61), who was initially the more popular poet. Although she had published previous collections, Elizabeth became famous with her Poems of 1844. At that time, illness, neurosis and a dominant father had reduced her to housebound hypochondria, but her work attracted Browning, who made contact. Romance followed and they eloped in 1846, settling in Italy. The 1850 edition of her Poems included 'Sonnets from the Portuguese', love poems written to her husband before their marriage. They have proved her most enduring work.
Although both were abundantly blessed with the gift of poetic imagination, the Brownings were otherwise dissimilar poets. Browning came to poetry very early, rejecting any other occupation, but his early work, some of it almost impenetrable, attracted little and generally unfavourable notice. He only became famous after his wife's death with The Ring and the Book (1863), 21,000 lines of narrative blank verse about a terrible crime in 17th-century Rome. At a stroke, he became England's most celebrated poet after Tennyson, and his previously published work, notably Men and Women (1855), became immensely popular. In fact, nearly all Robert's best work was done during the course of his fifteen years of marriage, not the least of Elizabeth's contributions to English literature. Technical gifts apart, his greatest gift, in the opinion of many critics, was his intense curiosity. He enjoyed probing a problem, however complex, which largely explains a degree of obscurity in his work. He was also typically Victorian in the massive volume of his output, much of which seems today to be unduly verbose, but few writers excel him in capturing - often in dialogue - the atmosphere of an earlier age.





Alfred Tennyson

see also:

Alfred Tennyson "Idylls of the King"

(illustrations by G. Dore)

Pre-Raphaelite illustrations for 




What Gladstone was to Victorian politics, the tall and handsome, in later life shaggy-bearded Alfred Tennyson (1809-92) was to Victorian letters — the 'Grand Old Man', Poet Laureate for nearly half a century. He came from the large and doom-laden family of a Lincolnshire rector. It was something of a relief to escape to Cambridge University, where he became a devoted friend of an able contemporary, Arthur Hallam, and published two volumes of poetry that included 'The Lotos-Eaters' and 'The Lady of Shalott'. Hallam's death in 1833 was a terrible blow, which eventually produced In Memoriam (1850), perhaps the poet's most studied work and an extraordinary tribute which immortalized its subject.
Meanwhile, Tennyson's poems had made him famous, but not content. Twice during the 1840s he suffered near breakdowns, but his marriage to a devoted wife in 1850 brought him comparative peace and happiness. It also, coin-cidentally or not, marked the end of his period of creative genius. He was never to lose his almost unparalleled verbal artistry, and some of his most popular poems were written late in life, but his passion and originality faded after Maud, published in 1855, which he regarded as his greatest work, 'a little Hamlet, the history of a morbid, poetic soul, under the blighting influence of a recklessly speculative age'. In suiting the metre to the hero's mood, it is a fine example of Tennyson's extraordinary virtuosity, though it is not always readily comprehensible.
Poet Laureate from 1850, and one of the best in what tends to be a poetically uninspiring office, Tennyson, by nature extremely shy, became increasingly a public man. Popular fame accrued through poems such as his 'Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington', 'Charge of the Light Brigade' — one of the most famous in the language — and, more substantially, The Idylls of the King (1859-69), his most ambitious work, a retelling of Arthurian legend which he had started in 1833, returning to it in 1855. The first four (of twelve) books sold 10,000 copies within six weeks of publication in 1859.
It is Tennyson's earlier work, his more melancholy, pessimistic phase, that is most highly regarded by the majority of modern critics. 'His imagination responded most deeply to the doubtful and dismaying' (Christopher Ricks', but one of the great rewards of reading Tennyson is his visually perceptive descriptions of the world, especially the world of nature, which raise the question whether Tennyson was not a kind of Romantic after all.



With blackest moss the flower-pots
Were thickly crusted, one and all:
The rusted nails fell from the knots
That held the pear to the gable-wall.
The broken sheds look'd sad and strange;
Unlifted was the clinking latch;
Weeded and worn the ancient thatch
Upon the lonely moated grange . . .

Tennyson, 'Mariana' (1830).


A contemporary caricature of the author of The Idylls of the King. Tennyson did not marry until 1850, perhaps fearing the 'black blood1 of his family of depressives, epileptics and alcoholics.




Oscar Wilde

see also:

Oscar Wilde "Salome"

 (illustrations by


The last decade of the 19th century, when the great Victorian poets had passed from the scene, was a period not of great literature but of great literary interest. In English poetry, the dominant influences were French - Rimbaud and Verlaine - and there was a prevailing preoccupation with the notion of end-of-the-century decadence, with the poet as a doomed figure ('decadent' poets and artists certainly tended to die young: Ernest Dowson at 33, Lionel Johnson at 35, the illustrator Aubrey Beardsley at 26, Oscar Wilde at 46).




The aesthetic movement derived largely from the Pre-Raphaehtes, and aroused some mockery in less refined circles for its exaggerated preference for antique ideals of beauty and affectations of speech and dress, which were motivated to some extent by the now customary desire to shake up the bourgeoisie. On a more serious level, as explained by one of its progenitors, the much-renowned critic Walter Pater (1839-94), it was concerned with 'not the fruit of experience, but experience itself . . . for ever curiously testing new opinions and courting impressions, and never acquiescing in a facile orthodoxy'. Among artists, the current phrase, again originating with Pater though current earlier in France, was 'art for art's sake' (l'art pour l'art), the idea that art was not and should not be in any way 'useful' and, as Wilde put it, 'never expresses anything but itself. As with the Pre-Raphaelities, there were strong bonds between artists and writers, who co-operated in the pages of The Yelloiv Book and the Savoy magazine, while Wilde and Whistler famously exchanged quips in the Cafe Royal.


A few years before his death Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) told the young Andre Gide that he-had put his talent into his works and his genius into his life. No one would question his genius, and his literary reputation is now higher than it was once, but the impression remains that his cherished memory is due more to his persona than his writing. Born in Dublin (like Shaw), he was the son of a prominent physician and an egotistical poet who called herself Speranza. After Trinity College, he went to Oxford, where he won the Newdigate Prize for English verse. His journalism and his flamboyant espousal of the aesthetic movement and 'art for art's sake' made him a public figure. He shocked the Americans too, on a lecture tour, with his velvet breeches and silk stockings, not to mention his statement to the New York Customs, that he had 'nothing to declare except my genius'. He was satisfyingly guyed by Gilbert and Sullivan in Patience, and got married in 1884 to a pretty and tolerant young woman who gave him two sons. Their London home became a social centre of the avant-garde.
In 1892, none too soon, Wilde finally achieved popular fame with his play Lady Windermere's ban, a witty and edgy social comedy. He followed it with A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1895) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). Wilde's reputation depends largely on his last play, one of the most brilliant comedies in the British theatre, a cornucopia of briskly witty dialogue enhanced by brilliant characterization, especially of the minor characters - Lady Bracknell, Miss Prism, Canon Chasuble — and a deft if superficial plot. At the height of his success, Wilde became involved in a sexual scandal as a result of his association with Lord Alfred Douglas, son of the crude and reactionary Marquess of Queensberry. Convicted of homosexual practices, he was sentenced to two years in prison. Afterwards, ruined in every sense, he went to Paris, wrote 'The Ballad of Reading Gaol' (1898) and died two years later. 'Neither in literature nor in life was tragedy his natural element', wrote Peter Quennell. 'His role was not to plumb the depths of feeling, but to flicker delicately across the surface.' Besides Salome, the basis of Richard Strauss's opera, and other plays, his writings included a novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), The Happy Prince (1888), fairy stories for his children, and The Soul of Man Under Socialism, a plea for artistic and individual freedom, provoked by a lecture by G. B. Shaw.


The 1890s was also the decade in which French farce reached its peak, in the concoctions of Georges Feydeau (1862-1921). Unlike the stock characters and improvisation of the commedia dell'arte tradition, the type of farce of which Feydeau was the supreme exponent (in Hotel Paradiso, The Lady From Maxim's and others) depended on careful plotting and elaborate, precise staging, with minimal characterization (since it would hold up the breakneck action). The subject matter was invariably domestic life and extramarital escapades, with misunderstandings, mistaken identities, etc., all resolved with remarkable ingenuity.



Duchess of Berwick: Do you know,
Mr Hopper, dear Agatha and I are so
much interested in Australia. It must
be so pretty with all the dear little
kangaroos flying about.

Wilde, Lady Windermere's Fan, Acts II, III.


Oscar Wilde

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

born , Oct. 16, 1854, Dublin, Ire.
died Nov. 30, 1900, Paris, Fr.

Irish wit, poet, and dramatist whose reputation rests on his comic masterpieces Lady Windermere's Fan (1892) and The Importance of BeingEarnest (1895). He was a spokesman for the late 19th-century Aesthetic movement in England, whichadvocated art for art's sake; and he was the object of celebrated civil and criminal suits involving homosexuality and ending in his imprisonment (1895–97).

Wilde was born of professional and literary parents. His father, Sir William Wilde, was Ireland's leading ear and eye surgeon, who also published books on archaeology, folklore, and the satirist Jonathan Swift; his mother was a revolutionary poet and an authority on Celtic myth and folklore.

After attending Portora Royal School, Enniskillen (1864–71), Wilde went, on successive scholarships, to Trinity College, Dublin (1871–74), and Magdalen College, Oxford (1874–78), which awarded him a degree with honours. During these four years, he distinguished himself not only as a classical scholar, a poseur, and a wit but also as a poet by winning the coveted Newdigate Prize in 1878 with a long poem, Ravenna.He was deeply impressed by the teachings of the English writers John Ruskin and Walter Pater on the central importance of art in life and particularly by the latter's stresson the aesthetic intensity by which life should be lived. Like many in his generation, Wilde was determined to follow Pater's urging “to burn always with [a] hard, gemlike flame.” But Wilde also delighted in affecting an aesthetic pose; this, combined with rooms at Oxford decorated with objets d'art, resulted in his famous remark: “Oh, would that I could live up to my blue china!”

In the early 1880s, when Aestheticism was the rage and despair of literary London, Wilde established himself in social and artistic circles by his wit and flamboyance. Soon the periodical Punch made him the satiric object of its antagonism to the Aesthetes for what was considered their unmasculine devotion to art; and in their comic opera Patience, Gilbert and Sullivan based the character Bunthorne, a “fleshly poet,” partly on Wilde. Wishing to reinforce the association, Wilde published, at his own expense, Poems (1881), which echoed, too faithfully, his discipleship to the poets Algernon Swinburne, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and John Keats. Eager for further acclaim, Wilde agreed to lecture in the United States and Canada in 1882, announcing on his arrival in New York City that he had “nothing to declare but his genius.” Despite widespread hostility in the press to his languid poses and aesthetic costume of velvet jacket, knee breeches, and black silk stockings, Wilde for 12 months exhorted the Americans to love beauty and art; then he returned to Great Britain to lecture on his impressions of America.

In 1884 Wilde married Constance Lloyd, daughter of a prominent Irish barrister; two children, Cyril and Vyvyan, were born, in 1885 and 1886. Meanwhile, Wilde was a reviewer for the Pall Mall Gazette and then became editor of Woman's World (1887–89). During this period of apprenticeship as a writer, he published The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888), which reveals his gift for romantic allegory in the form of the fairy tale.

In the final decade of his life, Wilde wrote and published nearly all of his major work. In his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (published in Lippincott's Magazine, 1890, and inbook form, revised and expanded by six chapters, 1891), Wilde combined the supernatural elements of the Gothic novel with the unspeakable sins of French decadent fiction. Critics charged immorality despite Dorian's self-destruction;Wilde, however, insisted on the amoral nature of art regardless of an apparently moral ending. Intentions (1891), consisting of previously published essays, restated his aesthetic attitude toward art by borrowing ideas from the French poets Théophile Gautier and Charles Baudelaire and the American painter James McNeill Whistler. In the same year, two volumes of stories and fairy tales also appeared, testifying to his extraordinary creative inventiveness: Lord Arthur Savile's Crime, and Other Stories and A House of Pomegranates.

But Wilde's greatest successes were his society comedies. Within the conventions of the French “well-made play” (with its social intrigues and artificial devices to resolve conflict), he employed his paradoxical, epigrammatic wit to create a form of comedy new to the 19th-century English theatre. His first success, Lady Windermere's Fan, demonstrated that thiswit could revitalize the rusty machinery of French drama. In the same year, rehearsals of his macabre play Salomé, written in French and designed, as he said, to make his audience shudder by its depiction of unnatural passion, werehalted by the censor because it contained biblical characters. It was published in 1893, and an English translation appeared in 1894 with Aubrey Beardsley's celebrated illustrations.

A second society comedy, A Woman of No Importance (produced 1893), convinced the critic William Archer that Wilde's plays “must be taken on the very highest plane of modern English drama.” In rapid succession, Wilde's final plays, An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest, were produced early in 1895. In the latter, his greatest achievement, the conventional elements of farce are transformed into satiric epigrams—seemingly trivial but mercilessly exposing Victorian hypocrisies.



I suppose society is wonderfully delightful. To be in it ismerely a bore. But to be out of it simply a tragedy.
I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.
All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his.
I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy.



In many of his works, exposure of a secret sin or indiscretion and consequent disgrace is a central design. If life imitated art, as Wilde insisted in his essay “The Decay of Lying” (1889), he was himself approximating the pattern in his reckless pursuit of pleasure. In addition, his close friendship with Lord Alfred Douglas, whom he had met in 1891, infuriated the Marquess of Queensberry, Douglas' father. Accused, finally, by the marquess of being a sodomite, Wilde, urged by Douglas, sued for criminal libel. Wilde's case collapsed, however, when the evidence went against him, and he dropped the suit. Urged to flee to France by his friends, Wilde refused, unable to believe that his world was at an end. He was arrested and ordered to stand trial.

Wilde testified brilliantly, but the jury failed to reach a verdict. In the retrial he was found guilty and sentenced, in May 1895, to two years at hard labour. Most of his sentence was served at Reading Gaol, where he wrote a long letter to Douglas (published in 1905 in a drastically cut version as De Profundis) filled with recriminations against the younger man for encouraging him in dissipation and distracting him from his work.

In May 1897 Wilde was released, a bankrupt, and immediately went to France, hoping to regenerate himself asa writer. His only remaining work, however, was The Ballad ofReading Gaol (1898), revealing his concern for inhumane prison conditions. Despite constant money problems he maintained, as George Bernard Shaw said, “an unconquerable gaiety of soul” that sustained him, and he was visited by such loyal friends as Max Beerbohm and Robert Ross, later his literary executor; he was also reunited with Douglas. He died suddenly of acute meningitis brought on by an ear infection. In his semiconscious final moments, he was received into the Roman Catholic church, which he had long admired.

Karl Beckson





Lewis Carroll

see also:

John Tenniel

illustrations from  

Lewis Carroll

"Alice's Adventures

in Wonderland


Lewis Carroll

(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

born Jan. 27, 1832, Daresbury, Cheshire, Eng.
died Jan. 14, 1898, Guildford, Surrey

pseudonym of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson English logician, mathematician, photographer, and novelist, especially remembered for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass (1871). His poem The Hunting of the Snark (1876) is nonsense literature of the highest order.

Dodgson was the eldest son and third child in a family of seven girls and four boys born to Frances Jane Lutwidge, the wife of the Rev. Charles Dodgson. He was born in the old parsonage at Daresbury. His father was perpetual curate there from 1827 until 1843, when he became rector of Croft in Yorkshire—a post he held for the rest of his life (though later he became also archdeacon of Richmond and a canon of Ripon cathedral).

The Dodgson children, living as they did in an isolated country village, had few friends outside the family but, like many other families in similar circumstances, found little difficulty in entertaining themselves. Charles from the first showed a great aptitude for inventing games to amuse them. With the move to Croft when he was 12 came the beginning of the “Rectory Magazines,” manuscript compilations to which all the family were supposed to contribute. In fact, Charles wrote nearly all of those that survive, beginning withUseful and Instructive Poetry (1845; published 1954) and following with The Rectory Magazine (c. 1850, mostly unpublished), The Rectory Umbrella (1850–53), and Mischmasch (1853–62; published with The Rectory Umbrella in 1932).

Meanwhile, young Dodgson attended Richmond School, Yorkshire (1844–45), and then proceeded to Rugby School (1846–50). He disliked his four years at public school, principally because of his innate shyness, although he was also subjected to a certain amount of bullying; he also endured several illnesses, one of which left him deaf in one ear. After Rugby he spent a further year being tutored by his father, during which time he matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford (May 23, 1850). He went into residence as an undergraduate there on Jan. 24, 1851.

Dodgson excelled in his mathematical and classical studies in 1852; on the strength of his performance in examinations, he was nominated to a studentship (called a scholarship in other colleges). In 1854 he gained a first in mathematical Finals—coming out at the head of the class—and proceeded to a bachelor of arts degree in December of the same year. He was made a “Master of the House” and a senior student (called a fellow in other colleges) the following year and was appointed lecturer in mathematics (the equivalent of today'stutor), a post he resigned in 1881. He held his studentship until the end of his life.

As was the case with all fellowships at that time, the studentship at Christ Church was dependent upon his remaining unmarried, and, by the terms of this particular endowment, proceeding to holy orders. Dodgson was ordained a deacon in the Church of England on Dec. 22, 1861.Had he gone on to become a priest he could have married and would then have been appointed to a parish by the college. But he felt himself unsuited for parish work and, though he considered the possibility of marriage, decided that he was perfectly content to remain a bachelor.

Dodgson's association with children grew naturally enough out of his position as an eldest son with eight younger brothers and sisters. He also suffered from a bad stammer (which he never wholly overcame, although he was able to preach with considerable success in later life) and, like manyothers who suffer from the disability, found that he was able to speak naturally and easily to children. It is therefore not surprising that he should begin to entertain the children of Henry George Liddell, dean of Christ Church. Alice Liddell and her sisters Lorina and Edith were not, of course, the first of Dodgson's child friends. They had been preceded or were overlapped by the children of the writer George Macdonald, the sons of the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and various otherchance acquaintances. But the Liddell children undoubtedly held an especially high place in his affections—partly because they were the only children in Christ Church, since only heads of houses were free both to marry and to continuein residence.

Properly chaperoned by their governess, Miss Prickett (nicknamed “Pricks”—“one of the thorny kind,” and so the prototype of the Red Queen in Through the Looking-Glass), the three little girls paid many visits to the young mathematics lecturer in his college rooms. As Alice remembered in 1932, they


used to sit on the big sofa on each side of him, while he told us stories, illustrating them by pencil or ink drawings as he went along . . . . He seemed to have an endless store of these fantastical tales, which he made up as he told them, drawing busily on a large sheet of paper all the time. They were not always entirely new. Sometimes they were new versions of old stories; sometimes they started on the old basis, but grew into new tales owing to the frequent interruptions which opened up fresh and undreamed-of possibilities.


On July 4, 1862, Dodgson and his friend Robinson Duckworth, fellow of Trinity, rowed the three children up the Thames from Oxford to Godstow, picnicked on the bank, and returnedto Christ Church late in the evening: “On which occasion,” wrote Dodgson in his diary, “I told them the fairy-tale of Alice's Adventures Underground, which I undertook to write out for Alice.” Much of the story was based on a picnic a couple of weeks earlier when they had all been caught in the rain; for some reason, this inspired Dodgson to tell so much better a story than usual that both Duckworth and Alice noticed the difference, and Alice went so far as to cry, when they parted at the door of the deanery, “Oh, Mr. Dodgson, I wish you would write out Alice's adventures for me!”
Dodgson himself recollected in 1887


how, in a desperate attempt to strike out some new lineof fairy-lore, I had sent my heroine straight down a rabbit-hole, to begin with, without the least idea what was to happen afterwards.


Dodgson was able to write down the story more or less as told and added to it several extra adventures that had been told on other occasions. He illustrated it with his own crude but distinctive drawings and gave the finished product to Alice Liddell, with no thought of hearing of it again. But the novelist Henry Kingsley, while visiting the deanery, chanced to pick it up from the drawing-room table, read it, and urged Mrs. Liddell to persuade the author to publish it. Dodgson, honestly surprised, consulted his friend George Macdonald, author of some of the best children's stories of the period. Macdonald took it home to be read to his children, and his son Greville, aged six, declared that he “wished there were 60,000 volumes of it.”

Accordingly, Dodgson revised it for publication. He cut out the more particular references to the previous picnic (they may be found in the facsimile of the original manuscript, later published by him as Alice's Adventures Underground in 1886) and added some additional stories, told to the Liddellsat other times, to make up a volume of the desired length. At Duckworth's suggestion he got an introduction to John Tenniel, the Punch magazine cartoonist, whom he commissioned to make illustrations to his specification. The book was published as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in 1865. (The first edition was withdrawn because of bad printing, and only about 21 copies survive—one of the rare books of the 19th century—and the reprint was ready for publication by Christmas of the same year, though dated 1866.)

The book was a slow but steadily increasing success, and by the following year Dodgson was already considering a sequel to it, based on further stories told to the Liddells. The result was Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (dated 1872; actually published December 1871), a work as good as, or better than, its predecessor.

By the time of Dodgson's death, Alice (taking the two volumes as a single artistic triumph) had become the most popular children's book in England: by the time of his centenary in 1932 it was one of the most popular and perhaps the most famous in the world.

There is no answer to the mystery of Alice's success. Many explanations have been suggested, but, like the Mad Hatter's riddle (“The riddle, as originally invented, had no answer at all”), they are no more than afterthoughts. The book is not an allegory; it has no hidden meaning or message, either religious, political, or psychological, as some have tried to prove; and its only undertones are some touches of gentle satire—on education for the children's special benefit and on familiar university types, whom the Liddells may or may not have recognized. Various attempts have been made to solve the “riddle of Lewis Carroll” himself; these include the efforts to prove that his friendships with little girls were some sort of subconscious substitute for a married life, that he showed symptoms of jealousy when his favourites came to tell him that they were engaged to be married, that he contemplated marriage with some of them—notably with Alice Liddell. But there is little orno evidence to back up such theorizing. He in fact dropped the acquaintance of Alice Liddell when she was 12, as he did with most of his young friends. In the case of the Liddells, hisfriendship with the younger children, Rhoda and Violet, was cut short at the time of his skits on some of Dean Liddell's Christ Church “reforms.” For besides children's stories, Dodgson also produced humorous pamphlets on university affairs, which still make good reading. The best of these werecollected by him as Notes by an Oxford Chiel (1874).

Besides writing for them, Dodgson is also to be remembered as a fine photographer of children and of adults as well (notable portraits of the actress Ellen Terry, the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the poet-painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and many others survive and have been often reproduced). Dodgson had an early ambition to be an artist: failing in this, he turned to photography. He photographed children in every possible costume and situation, finally making nude studies of them. But in 1880 Dodgson abandoned his hobby altogether, feeling that it was taking up too much time that might be better spent. Suggestions that this sudden decision was reached because of an impurity of motive for his nude studies have been made, but again without any evidence.

Before he had told the original tale of Alice's Adventures, Dodgson had, in fact, published a number of humorous items in verse and prose and a few inferior serious poems. The earliest of these appeared anonymously, but in March 1856 apoem called “Solitude” was published over the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. Dodgson arrived at this pen name by taking his own names Charles Lutwidge, translating them into Latin as Carolus Ludovicus, then reversing and retranslating them into English. He used the name afterward for all his nonacademic works. As Charles L. Dodgson, he was the author of a fair number of books on mathematics, none of enduring importance, although Euclid and His Modern Rivals (1879) is of some historical interest.

His humorous and other verses were collected in 1869 as Phantasmagoria and Other Poems and later separated (with additions) as Rhyme? and Reason? (1883) and Three Sunsets and Other Poems (published posthumously, 1898). The 1883 volume also contained The Hunting of the Snark, a narrative nonsense poem that is rivalled only by the best of Edward Lear.

Later in life, Dodgson had attempted a return to the Alice vein but only produced Sylvie and Bruno (1889) and its second volume, Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (1893), which has been described aptly as “one of the most interesting failures in English literature.” This elaborate combination of fairy-tale, social novel, and collection of ethical discussions is unduly neglected and ridiculed. It presents the truest available portrait of the man. Alice, the perfect creation of the logical and mathematical mind applied to the pure and unadulterated amusement of children, was struck out of him as if by chance; while making full use of his specialized knowledge, it transcends his weaknesses and remains unique.

Roger Lancelyn Green


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