Friday, December 18, 2015

The Most Influential Books of the 19th Century

The Most Influential Books of the 19th Century, article in the Pacific Monthly 1900

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Several eminent gentlemen have been telling the Outlook what books, in their opinion, most influenced the last century, says The Bookseller, Newsdealer and Stationer. The greatness of a book is difficult to gauge, It so often has so little to do with a book's influence. "Uncle Tom's Cabin" is an excellent case in point. Thanks to the subject and the time, its influence was such that Lincoln could greet Mrs. Stowe with the words: "Is this the little woman that made the big war?" Its effect was great, and it remains not a great book. With their selection, then, confined to greatness of influence, the gentlemen addressed themselves to their task.

Mr. Brice doubts whether any book In this century, except Darwin's "Origin of Species," has had so great an influence as was exercised in the eighteenth century by the '"Esprit des Lois," the "Contract Social," "The Wealth of Nations" and the "Kritik der reinen Vernunft." He finds some difficulty in naming ten books, because some of the greatest thinkers and writers who have done most to mold the minds of their contemporaries have done so by their writings as a whole, and not by any single book. Bryce's ten most influential books are:

Darwin's "Origin of Species."
Goethe's "Faust."
Hegel's "History of Philosophy."
Wordsworth's "Excursion."
Mazinni's "Duties of Man."
Carl Marx's "Das Kapital."
DeMaistre's "Le Pape."
De Tocqueville's "Democracy in America."
Malthus's "Population."
Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables."

De Maistre's works have almost been forgotten, but his book "Le Pape," Mr. Bryce considers, should be included, for it played an important part in its time in propagating a set of views which have had much currency in Italy, as well as in France, and have contributed to the Catholic reaction in England also. Familiarity has also in the case of De Tocqueville been unpropitious to his fame. So much of his "Democracy" has passed into our common thought that we are apt to forget how much we owe to it. It is curious Mr. Bryce should have ignored Lyell's "Principles of Geology,"
which has a profound effect both popularly and on scientific thought, indeed, did more than any other book to prepare the way for the "Origin of Species."

Dr. Fairbairn prefers Wordsworth's "Lyrical Ballads" to his 'excursion." They stand, he says, for the whole poetical development of the century. Scott's "Waverly," he thinks, should certainly have a place, for it has the great distinction of not simply being a factor in literature, but in religion. In religion Dr. Fairbairn believes that Strauss's "Life of Jesus" is an easy first. It has been the most hated book of the century, and owes its influence more to what it compelled to be done than what it did.

Darwin's "Origin of Species" is unanimously recognized as the most important publication of the century. Goethe's "Faust" is also generally recognized as claiming the second place. Among poets, Wordsworth and Tennyson alone claim high rank. Byron appears to have been forgotten. Scott, Victor Hugo, Tolstoi and Mrs. Stowe are the novelists who are adjudged to have exercised most influence upon their day and generation. Emerson, Hegel, Carlyle, Ruskin and Herbert Spencer are also placed in the foremost rank. The following list shows, In the order of their importance, the books selected as having indelibly stamped their mark upon the life of the nineteenth century:

"Darwin's "Origin of Species."
Goethe's "Faust."
Emerson's Essays.
Wordsworth's Poems.
Carlyle's "Sartr Resartus."
Mrs. Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin."
Hegel's "Logic."
Tennyson's "In Memoriam."
Scott's "Waverley."
Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables."
Ruskin's "Modern Painters."
Comte's "Social Philosophy."
Herbert Spencer's "Synthetic Philosophy."
Strauss's "Life of Jesus."

The list is remarkable for the way it misrepresents the century. The locomotive, the telegraph, the dynamo and dynamite are not so much as hinted at in it. It is a thought to make booksellers pause, this that the men who make the real progress of the world do not, with rare exception, make books.

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