Features September 2006
The rise & fall of the intellectual
Intellectuals endangered, men of letters extinct?
In his landmark study The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters (1969), John Gross sketched out the lives and careers of the various writers who shaped literary opinion in England from the late eighteenth century through the Victorian era and into modern times. Gross was mainly concerned with the critics, reviewers, and editors who came into their own during the nineteenth century by bringing art and literature under the purview of critical judgment. In many ways, the vocation of critic and reviewer emerged in tandem with the rise of literature itself as a subject of public consumption, entertainment, and instruction.
The “man of letters,” as Gross understands him, is one who lives by writing and makes a living by doing so—that is, a professional writer, albeit one with literary interests. Though he is mainly concerned with the journalists and critics of the era, he does not slight major writers like Carlyle, Mill,...
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