The 19th Century

Painting by Benjamin West (1806)

Has an age ever seemed more remote from its immediate successor than the nineteenth century seems to us? The characters of Dickens, for all their vividness, might just as well have been crafted on some distant planet. The prose of the period, read under the harsh light of contemporary expression, could have come from Cicero’s Rome. Or, again, consider Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar, signaling from his flagship, “England expects that every man will do his duty,” and repeating over and over, as he lay dying, “Thank God I have done my duty.” To the modern ear such words have an ancient ring and call up something deep in the recesses of history.