The Victorian search in literary criticism, as in matters religious and social, was a search for compromise, for the golden mean. And in this they were helped by certain influences which flowed in from abroad. English literary criticism has always been fertilized and given new life and vitality by continental influences.

The Italian influence during the Renaissance, the French during the Neo-classical era, and the German during the Romantic, all bear witness to the truth of this statement. The materialistic and positivist philosophy of Saint Simon and August Comte, with its stress on facts and the reality of the physical world, reinforced the teaching of science and undermine the romantic and idealistic forces.

This trend towards realism and matter effeteness which we witness in Victorian criticism was further supported and strengthened by the critical methods of two French critics, Taine and Sainte Beuve. Both these critics emphasized the importance of the historical and biographical context for assessing a work of art.

According to Taine the race, the millet and the moment determine a writer’s work and so they must be studied thoroughly for right understanding and appreciation. This method appealed to Arnold and other Victorian critics, it was a sort of compromise between romantic license and neo-classic rigidity.


The critic will not be free to judge in an off-hand manner. He would have to study and take pains in order to know the man and his social environment. But he would not be hampered and limited by any rigid rules. Having acquired the necessary knowledge, he would have ample freedom to proceed in his own way. Lawlessness and caprice would be put down, but individual freedom would not be suppressed.