Nineteenth Century Prose

With the arrival of romanticism, the nineteenth century prose reached a new stage and became for the first time a literary norm of its own. The essay of this time became highly personal and often whimsical. They also contained the wanderings of the writer’s tastes and likes and dislikes. In this way, we notice the growth of familiar essays which represented another aspect of the romantic exploration of personality.

Samuel Butler

He is a great Victorian satirist. His famous work Erewhon is a satire on the Victorian concept of morality, religion, duty and social ideas. His attacks on the manners and customs of English people of the Victorian period, in particular, were orthodox and very much conventional in their belief.

He does this by presenting an imaginary country which is cut off from the world by high mountains. He describes strange manners, things and ideas of this imaginary land and its people. If the people of Erewhon are sick, ugly or so, they are thought to be criminals and are taken to prison. If somebody commits a crime, he is sent to the hospital for the treatment instead of in the prison for punishment. Machines are not allowed there because they are thought to be dangerous. Butler aims to satirize the contemporary society and its foolish ideas through such unusual descriptions.

William Hazlitt

He is more vigorous and less mannered essayist than Lamb. He was a plain speaker who brought to the English Essay a new kind of life and commitment. The range of subjects of his essays is greater than Lamb. He develops a fast-moving, hard-hitting prose, which is called literary-colloquial English. His major work was literary criticism. He wrote Characters of Shakespeare’s plays, Lectures on the English poets, English Comic Writers and so on.

Thomas De Quincey

De Quincey was a manner less and angry person, but he was a good prose writer. His autobiographical essay Confessions of an English Opium Eater made him famous. The essay tells the story and the dream of his early life. He also describes how he began to take opium to reduce his pain and anxiety. He could write essays both in plain and ornamented language according to the subject of the essay. He has written many essays on various subjects. His Reminiscences of the English Lake Poets contain some good chapters on Wordsworth and Coleridge.

Thomas Carlyle

He was a selfish and unenthusiastic personality who hardly listened to others. His style was forceful and violent. His guiding aims in his life were truth, work and courage. One of his famous works is Sartor Resartus [The Tailor Repaired]. The first part of it deals with his Clothe Philosophy that all human arrangements are like clothes and do not last long. The second part is an autobiography of Carlyle himself.

Charles Robert Darwin & Alfred Russell Wallace

Darwin’s popularity as a prose writer was mainly because of his scientific writing, which was the result of his long, continuous study and enquiries. After twenty years of his hard study he wrote his famous book The Origin of Species which contains facts about the nature and surroundings of plants and animals. Alfred Russell Wallace wrote an essay about natural selection and sent it to Darwin. Both of these great men shared the same ideas at the same time. The most important book of Darwin is The Descent of Man. It deals with the origin of the human race. But Wallace did not agree with the ideas expressed in this work.

John Ruskin

He was a student of art so his prose work is mainly concerned with art. He argued that morality was very essential quality of a good painter. In Modern Painters he appreciated the paintings of some modern artist like Turner. He supported the Gothic style of architecture in The Seven Lamps of Architecture. He felt very angry when the industrial development ruined the natural beauty of the countryside. The beauty that he desired has been described in his works in a rich ornamented language of the Bible. Some of his later works are related with economics and education.