It is in the Victorian age (1840-1900) that the field is most bewildering. It is true, as Frederick Harrison says, that "this Victorian age has no Shakespeare or Milton, no Bacon or Hume, no Fielding or Scott—no supreme master in poetry, philosophy, or romance whose work is incorporated with the thought of the world, who is destined to form an epoch, to endure for centuries." 11 The genius of the period is more scientific than literary, yet we would be helpless if we had not already eliminated from our discussion everything but the works and writers of pure literature. The output of books has been so tremendous that it would be impossible to analyze the influences which have made them. There are in this Victorian period at least twelve great English writers who must be known, whose work affects the current of English literature. Many other names would need mention in any full history or any minute study; but it is not harsh judgment to say that the main current of literature would be the same without them. A few of these lesser names will come to mind, and in the calling of them one realizes the influence, even on them, of the English Bible. Anthony Trollope wrote sixty volumes, the titles of most of which are now popularly unknown. He told George Eliot that it was not brains that explained his writing so much, but rather wax which he put in the seat of his chair, which held him down to his daily stint of work. He could boast, and it was worth the boasting, that he had never written a line which a pure woman could not read without a blush. His whole Framley Parsonage series abounds in Bible references and allusions. So Charlotte Bronte is in English literature, and Jane Eyre does prove what she was meant to prove, that a commonplace person can be made the heroine of a novel; but on all Charlotte Bronte's work is the mark of the rectory in which she grew up. So Thomas Grey has left his "Elegy" and his "Hymn to Adversity," and some other writing which most of us have forgotten or never knew. Then there are Maria Edgeworth and Jane Austen. We may even remember that Macaulay thought Jane Austen could be compared with Shakespeare, as, of course, she can be, since any one can be; but neither of these good women has strongly affected the literary current. Many others could be named, but English literature would be substantially the same without them; and, though all might show Biblical influence, they would not illustrate what we are trying to discover. So we come, without apology to the unnamed, to the twelve, without whom English literature would be different. This is the list in the order of the alphabet: Matthew Arnold, Robert Browning (Mrs. Browning being grouped as one with him), Carlyle, Dickens, George Eliot, Charles Kingsley, Macaulay, Ruskin, Robert Louis Stevenson, Swinburne, Tennyson, and Thackeray.
First, the style of the King James version has influenced English literature markedly. Professor Gardiner opens one of his essays with the dictum that "in all study of English literature, if there be any one axiom which may be accepted without question, it is that the ultimate standard of English prose style is set by the King James version of the Bible." 2 You almost measure the strength of writing by its agreement with the predominant traits of this version. Carlyle's weakest works are those that lose the honest simplicity of its style in a forced turgidity and affected roughness. His Heroes and Hero Worship or his French Revolution shows his distinctive style, and yet shows the influence of this simpler style, while his Frederick the Great is almost impossible because he has given full play to his broken and disconnected sentences. On the other hand, Macaulay fails us most in his striving for effect, making nice balance of sentences, straining his "either-or," or his "while-one-was-doing-this-the-other-was-doing-that." Then his sentences grow involved, and his paragraphs lengthen, and he swings away from the style of the King James version. "One can say that if any writing departs very far from the characteristics of the English Bible it is not good English writing."
Macaulay's essay on Bacon (1914 edition) | Open Library
Essays by Macaulay in the Edinburgh Review published between 1832 and 1839 on Horace Walpole, the War of Spanish Succession, William Pitt, Sir James Mackintosh, Lord Bacon, and Gladstone.