The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

III. Critical and Miscellaneous Prose

§ 2. John Doran

The critics of the Victorian age inherited from Lamb, Coleridge, Hazlitt and Carlyle a tradition which was certainly more wholesome than that which had prevailed in the days of Gifford and Jeffrey; and, thanks to this tradition, criticism grew decidedly more urbane. The oldest of this group by many years was Abraham Hayward, who is now, perhaps, best known as author of The Art of Dining, a volume made up, like much of Hayward’s work, of contributions to periodicals written long before their separate publication. But Hayward began with work of a widely different sort—a very good prose translation of Faust; and he never abandoned his interest in Goethe. Near the end of his life, he himself published a volume on the poet whom he had begun by translating. He was interested in other foreign writers also, and contributed to The Edinburgh Review articles on the countess Hahn-Hahn and on Stendhal, at a time when these authors were hardly known in England. Hayward could draw a good biographical sketch or build up a very readable article out of anecdotes, just as he made his reputation in society from the same materials; and his articles on contemporaries, such as those on Sydney Smith and Samuel Rogers, are valuable for their personal reminiscences. He could also construct an ingenious argument, as in his More about Junius. But, for critical principles, we search his works in vain. Somewhat akin to Hayward in his love of anecdote, though inferior to him, was John Doran, the pleasant author of Knights and their Days and Their Majesties’ Servants. The latter contains much information, but seems to have no clear end in view, and has little depth of scholarship.

Doran’s reputation among contemporaries is evidence that the level of criticism about the middle of the nineteenth century was low. It was, however, soon to be raised. Ruskin, who, incidentally, is a critic of literature as well as of painting, published his first volume of real weight in 1843. The Germ, the organ of the pre-Raphaelites, appeared in 1850. And Matthew Arnold’s earliest critical essay was prefixed to his Poems of 1853. That stirring of the spirit which their appearance indicated was shown, also, in the critical work of George Brimley, whose feeble health, resulting in an early death, alone prevented him from winning a great name. His most notable criticism, and the only one to which he affixed his name, was the essay on Tennyson which appeared in Cambridge Essays in 1855. Though he is less than just to Tennyson’s Poems of 1830, holding that they “scarcely reach the altitudes of common sense,” and condemning the “perverse, unreal treatment” in the poems inscribed with the names of women, yet, with perfect comprehension, he traces the evolution of Tennyson’s art from 1830 to 1842. While none of the other essays can rank with that on Tennyson, they are generally right in tone and substance.