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

XIII. Lesser Novelists

§ 3. Historical romances

Lytton next turned his attention to the historical novel; his Devereux (1829) uses up more of the material (some had already been put into Pelham) gathered in his study of the politician Bolingbroke. The Last Days of Pompeii (1834) differs from Lytton’s chief historical romances in taking for its main interest a natural, instead of a social, convulsion, and in introducing, by the nature of the case, characters entirely invented. It established in public favour the romance of classical days, which Lockhart had attempted in Valerius (1821); at the close of his life, Lytton returned to the type in his Pausanias the Spartan, published in 1876. In Rienzi (1835), The Last of the Barons (1843) and Harold (1848), he works upon a consistent theory; abandoning the practice of Scott, he elects as his central figure a person of the highest historical importance; his aims are, first, to give a just delineation in action and motive of this character; secondly, to build up, with all the records at hand, a picture of the age in its major and minor concerns; thirdly, to bring to light the deeper-lying causes—personal, social, political—of the events of the period, a period in which the closing stages of an old, and the opening stages of a new, civilisation are in conflict. His skill in divining the forces at work in complex phases of society, and in concocting illustrative scenes, almost nullified by the intolerable diction of Rienzi and the facile imaginativeness of Harold, is best seen in The Last of the Barons; though, even in this last case, the comparison with Quentin Durward or Notre Dame is fatal. His distinction between Scott’s “picturesque” and his own “intellectual” procedure has in it a dangerous note of presumption.