Home  »  Volume XIV: English THE VICTORIAN AGE Part Two The Nineteenth Century, III  »  § 24. W. B. Rands; Sir Arthur Helps; W. R. Greg

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

§ 24. W. B. Rands; Sir Arthur Helps; W. R. Greg

Stevenson has been called the laureate of the nursery, but the title has also been claimed for William Brighty Rands; and it seems more justly to belong to the elder writer. Certainly, Rands preceded Stevenson, and the latter has nothing finer than Rands’s “Great, wide, beautiful, wonderful World.” From 1864 onwards, in Lilliput Levee, Lilliput Revels, Lilliput Lectures and Lilliput Legends, in verse and in prose, Rands was second only to Lewis Carroll and Juliana Horatia Ewing in the production of those books about childhood and for childhood, which are among the most striking features of recent English literature. He wrote, and wrote well, for adults as well as for children. His essays, Tangled Talk, are, it is true, disappointing; but his Chaucer’s England, though not a work of profound learning, is a very interesting book; and his Henry Holbeach, Student in Life and Philosophy, proves that he was a thinker as well as a skilful writer. The uncertainty of the judgment of contemporaries is vividly illustrated by the fact that his striking book passed almost unnoticed and remains unknown except to students, while Sir Arthur Helps’s commonplace Friends in Council, which is also the work of a “student in life and philosophy,” won for its author a high place among writers of the second grade. Helps attempted history, the drama and prose fiction, as well as the dialogue on social questions by which he won his fame. His histories are treated elsewhere. His dramas are forgotten. His Realmah resembles the works of Disraeli in that it is partly political, but it is not, like them, a document of historical significance. His Brevia, a collection of short essays and aphorisms, makes conspicuous that lack of substance which is evident in Friends in Council. This charge cannot be brought against the thought of William Rathbone Greg, whose Creed of Christendom, in spite of its sympathetic moderation, in 1851 fluttered the dove-cots of orthodoxy. Enigmas of Life, fully twenty years later, testified to his permanent interest in the ultimate problems of existence. The expression is sometimes striking, but the principal charm of the book arises from the atmosphere of sincerity which pervades it. Greg was a philosophical politician, as well as a philosophical student of religion; and, in Rocks A head and Mistaken Aims and attainable Ideals of the Artizan Classes, and in a number of essays, he showed himself to be by no means easy in mind as to the tendency of the times. Like Bagehot, he saw that democracy was inevitable, and, like Bagehot, he felt that the problem how to give the masses their due share of power without making them all-powerful was still unsolved.