Clare and Cobbett

Andrew Sanders

Peacock’s long life extended well into the Victorian period, in marked contrast to many of those whom he had satirized in his first six novels. Largely because the three major poets of the younger generation — Byron, Shelley, and Keats — were dead by the late 1820, or because the work of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Scott markedly declined in quality and imaginative energy as the writers grew older, it has often proved difficult to determine precise literary continuities and influences from the first to the second third of the century, and convenient therefore to cite the beginnings of new careers (notably those of Carlyle, Dickens, and Tennyson) as evidence of a fresh literary sensibility in the 1830s. Victorian preoccupations seem to supersede rather than to accentuate the concerns of the 1820s. A systematic argument over the nature of the gradualist parliamentary and social reform replaced an active involvement with, or a distaste for, revolutionary politics (though the disruptive fact of the French Revolution continued to haunt all Victorian political thinking). Relative constitutional stability at home served to enhance the reputation of a temperate monarchy against the foreign principles of republicanism and absolutism. The question of growing classconsciousness, and the acute divisions between the rich and the poor, loomed larger than the ideal of a society purged of a semi-feudal landed aristocracy. Social and cultural commentators from the time of Hazlitt onwards tended to agree that the nineteenth century was a period marked by radical readjustment and that the French Revolution and its immediate consequences had forced on Europe changes in sensibility and belief as significant as those of the sixteenth-century Reformation. The present seemed as marked off from the century that preceded it as absolutely as the Protestant Reformers drew distinctions between their own times and Catholic ages of darkness. The major difference lay in a clear distinction between the evangelical confidence of earlier Protestants and the deep-seated doubts and scruples which infect so many nineteenth-century thinkers. The new century was also witness to unprecedented shifts in social and technological experience, most notably the rapid acceleration of industrialization and urbanization, which seemed to many to demand fresh insights into human morality andrenewed incentives to human action