« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
ing the heart of an Eton boy." Ellesmere a raison: Dunsford cannot compete with Milverton in this line of things.
Sometimes Milverton criticises his own metaphors. As where, showing that all things are so connected together, that, in matters of study, a man who knows one subject well, cannot, if he would, fail to have acquired much besides, he continues: "And that man will not be likely to keep fewer pearls who has a string to put them on, than he who picks them up and throws them together without method." This, however, he observes, is a very poor metaphor to represent the matter-for what he would aim at producing, not merely holds together what is gained, but has vitality in itself, is always growing.
As the Friends in Council saunter together through the close lanes near Worth Ashton, Milverton compares a hedge they are passing, bedight with fern, and wild strawberry, and foxglove, to a picture of human life-beautiful and complete in its bold variety, whereas men would have one sturdy quickset of the same height and color-both in their fellow-men and in their hedges. "Now we are off upon our similitudes," exclaims Ellesmere, in his best be-wigged and gowned "Sir, I object" manner. "I thought it soon would be so. My dear fellow, cannot you look at a bit of nature and enjoy it for yourself without troubling yourself about resemblances, and bringing in men on all occasions ?" Milverton replies, that he does not look out for resemblances: they at once occur to him. Within a few minutes of his learned friend's rebuke, it is pleasant to find the learned friend himself, when arguing that there is more friendship at the little boy time of life than at any other, falling into metaphoric diction, and saying: "They are then evenly-formed creatures, like bricks, which can be laid close to one another. The grown-up man is like a fortress, angular-shaped, with a moat round it, standing alone." Who is it that is now involved in metaphors? Lucy asks.
drop off behind. "Very Horatian these similes !" is the classical Dunsford's comment; for Dunsford's turn to criticise has come: thus does the whirligig of time bring round his revenges. A certain familiar humor, as in this paraphrase of post equitem sedet atra Cura, distinguishes many of the similes introduced in these volumes. There are perhaps as many of them quaint and homely as graceful and refined. Those who grumble that everything in life is not turned out as neat as a Long-Acre carriage, are taught that Nature herself, with her vague and flowing ways, cannot at all fit in with a rightangled person, and that as there are other precise angular creatures, it is to be expected, in the collisions of Society, that these sharp-edged persons should wound each other terribly. A man vexed by disproportionate care for little things, who accordingly finds many more causes of offence than other men, and each offence more bitter than others find it, is said to have "a garment embroidered with hooks, which catches at everything that passes by." It is Dunsford's opinion, in contempt of the booksellers' puffing system, that good books, "if there are such things, should be sought after, and not poked in the faces of purchasers like Jews' penknives at coach doors." People in authority, says Ellesmere, are as fearful of attacking any social evil as men are of cutting down old trees about their housesthough he owns there is always something to be said for the old trees. (Milverton, by-the-by, cannot resist the temptation to improve the simile; and remarks that it would be mostly better, though, to cut them down at once, and begin to plant something at the proper distance from their houses.) Virtuous people, who having been carefully tended and carefully brought up, plume themselves on their virtue, are reminded, that the dainty vase which is kept under a glass case in a drawing-room, should not be too proud of remaining without a flaw, considering its great advantages. Those who cherish the delusion that reading and writing alone. will do for the education of the poor, that with the copy-book and rule of three their education may finish, are assured, that you might as well prepare for a liberal hospitality by a good apparatus for roasting and boiling, but never putting on any viands, so that the kitchen machinery went on grinding unceasingly, with no
Ellesmere, again, is talking of the benefits of travelling, and affirms that Horace may say what he likes about care laying hold of the tow-rope of a steamer, or sitting behind the horseman like his master's coat strapped round a groom; but a judicious traveller cuts the tow-rope or undoes the buckle, and care is obliged to
contentment to the appetites of the hun- | itself to it ;" his thought being rather of gry. Compassionately regarding the fig- what he is saying, than of how he is saytrees against the wall of an English garing it-so that matter takes precedence of den, and feeling how disgusted they must manner, and assimilates it to itself, pro be at the climate which needs such a po- re natâ. "Hence he is as various as his sition for them, Milverton muses, how- themes, and always new and peculiar." ever, that the same thing is only what Sometimes he may be "crude and hard," the greatest men have had to endure, to occasionally a little difficult of construction live in an uncongenial clime, and to bring (to very light infantry readers); but takforth fruit with painful culture, and under ing him for all in all, he justifies the panemost adverse circumstances; so you gyric that has been passed upon himmust not complain, he says," "though you that he contrives, namely, to interest you are nailed up against the wall.” in every thing he says; so that whether you differ from him, or agree with him, he equally interests and fascinates your attention. "It is like listening to a person speaking with one of those melodious voices that melt into your heart. You love to hear him speak even if you dissent from every word he utters." What a thing for the essay, in its day of decline and cold obstruction, the rise and progress of such an Essay-writer as this!
But of the space at our command, an inordinate measure has been bestowed on tropes and similitudes. As to the author's style in general, it is that of one "qui voudrait produire dans son style la tranquillité modeste et hardie de ses pensées." It has been remarked that, properly speaking, he has no formula that can be said to constitute a style: it "everywhere drops upon the subject like drapery, and shapes
From the North British Review.
FIELDING AND THACKERAY.*
LET us set out by entering our protest | amiable persons are sometimes stupid, at against the ignorance or hypocrisy which is at the base of the main complaint brought against Mr. Thackeray, by some who have not been indisposed to concede to him the possession of the most brilliant abilities. There has been a loud cry raised, (and in the name of religion too!) that this writer represents men and women as worse than they are; that the majority of his dramatis persona are mean, or malicious, or stupid, or vain, or have two or more of these and other disqualifications together; that absolutely admirable characters are not to be discovered in his social world; that his very good people are few and far between; and that his
least to a degree that would prevent their shining at a London dinner-party. Does not the accusation, put plainly, confute itself, and turn to the credit of the accused for clear-sightedness? For our parts, we should rather be disposed to charge Mr. Thackeray with the opposite error, were we not convinced that a novelist who should represent the world with its average amount of malice, stupidity, meanness and vanity, would be absolutely unreadable. Let the reader take a glance, first over the score or so of portraits in the "Newcomes," and then over the score or so of his own acquaintance-including, of course, himself, and let him candidly say whether, the numbers presupposed equal, he knows as many worthy people as Mr. Pendennis, in his editorial capacity pretends to depict. course, we are assuming, though this is, perhaps, unfair, that our reader knows
his own friends and himself, as intimately his discreditable characters have an unas he is allowed to become acquainted happy trick of claiming kindred with us. with that "most respectable family," the Without desiring to undervalue the great Newcomes, and those who are associated ability of Mr. Dickens, it must be allowed, with it. This, however, being premised, for example, that his bad people have the we certainly should judge him happy, if, unreal though convenient quality of selfamong his peculiar score, he can find isolation from the tolerable part of humatches for the great-minded gentleman, manity-to which, of course, every reader Colonel Newcome; the high and sweet belongs. We cut them with a perfect lady, the Countess of Florac; the (consid- conscience; we cannot even exchange a ering the disadvantages of her bringing nod with such unmistakeably disreputable up) remarkably right-minded Miss Ethel; persons. But the three writers above the frank and honorable boy Clive; the mentioned are more profound in their ethhonest and independent, and withal amiable nology. They display to the conscience Miss Honeyman; the immaculate matron, of the "most respectable persons," the Mrs. Laura; the unpretentious wife-and- links by which they are more than bloodhome-loving member of parliament, her relatives of the most unknowable scounhusband; the meek man of genius, J. J., drels. Again, the good people in Mr. not to speak of others of less significant, Thackeray's writings are apt to displease or a more mixed quality, as F. Bayham, us, strange as this may seem, for the very Sherrick, George Barnes, Lady Walham, same reason. The heroes and heroines of De Florac, Lord Kew, Miss Cann, and less veracious writers permit themselves half-a-dozen others, who are "all right at to be admired at a distance, and without heart," as the cant and very questionable insisting that we shall be like them, for phrase goes. Against this galaxy of ex- the very sufficient reason that this is imcellence, what have we of the utterly possible. But Mr. Thackeray's good peoabominable to put in the scale? Only ple affront us with a display of our own Barnes Newcome, Mrs. Mackenzie, Mrs. possibilities. If we are not as good as Hobson Newcome, and Lady Kew, all of they are, we ought to be, and we know whom, except the last, let it be allowed, it; and we are obliged to blush at mean(for it is true,) are extremely common ness, malice, vanity, and folly, which characters, though we have not, common- others, so clearly sharing the same humanly, the means of becoming so thoroughly ity with ourselves, have abandoned, or reand philosophically acquainted with them fused to take up with. Furthermore, beas in these instances. Why do we go on tween perfect heroes and heroines, and calling ourselves "miserable sinners" on imperfect readers, the distance is not meaSundays, if we are to abuse Mr. Thacke- surable; and, as all mathematicians know, ray on week-days for making out many of the relations between infinity and zero are us to be somewhat less than saints? The remarkable, and by beginners in algebra plain fact is, that Mr. Thackeray is de- these entities, (or nonentities) are apt to cried for exactly that quality which con- be confounded. But between imperfect stitutes his originality, namely, his faith-readers and much less imperfect Colonels fulness to some important point, or points Newcome and Countesses de Florac, the of truth, hitherto denied or disregarded. distance is perfectly intelligible, and not, We are all, nominally, orthodox on the by any slight of conscience, to be confused point of human imperfection in the ab- with nullity. stract, but now that Mr. Thackeray insists on proving in detail, that there is really some substantial verity in the charge, he meets with a most heretical roar of disapprobation. He is the Athanasius of the doctrine of human peccability.
This subject, the farther it is examined, brings the greater credit to our client. Other writers have represented the world in as evil a light, but few have done the work with such conscience-convicting truth. Mr. Thackeray makes a third with Shakespeare and Fielding in this, that all
These qualities of Mr. Thackeray's recent writings, while they scandalize large classes, confer upon his books an inexpressible attraction and value for those who really believe in original sin and human imperfectibility. If Mr. Thackeray wrote only half as well as he does, many people who now criticise, would be wholesale admirers of his works. He is not half-cracked, which is unfortunate for his reputation with those who judge of genius by the fracture. He has a feeling of the responsibility of possessing intellectual
power, or, at all events, he acts as if he had, (which is all that concerns us,) and neglects no means of making it efficient and productive. His business is to paint the world, and for that purpose he goes to look at it, and does not wish Nature out of the way, as Fuseli did, in order that his egotistical fancy may have unimpeded play; and his successive works bear that unmistakable badge of conscientious workmanship, successive improvement.
Mr. Thackeray's peculiar "style" reaches perfection in the "Newcomes." We say his peculiar style, because, in that exquisite novel "Esmond," he has proved himself capable of assuming a style, which, though throughout sustained and faultless, is evidently not that which pleases him best, however much it may be preferred by many of his readers, and those, perhaps, the best worth pleasing. The chief fault of his ordinary and own style is also the fault of Fielding's; namely, a habit of winking the eye, as it were, at the reader, as he goes on. We suppose that most readers like this, as those are generally popular favorites who do it. For our parts, we could well dispense with the compliment to ourselves supposed to be implied, for the sake of the gain to the novelist's dignity. With the single drawback, however, of this defect, Mr. Thackeray's present style is a marvel of completeness and culture; and, to appreciate it properly, the degrees through which this writer has passed in attaining it should be examined. Mr. Thackeray was a "crack writer" fifteen years ago. It is exactly fifteen years ago that there appeared in the "Times" newspaper an article on Fielding, which is too marked in its manner, and in its anticipation of the views expressed in the "Lectures on the English Humorists," for there to be a moment's doubt as to the authorship. The "Times" literary articles are always in the most striking style that can be had for money. But let the reader, who has easy access to a file of that newspaper, compare the article in question (September 3, 1840) with the "Lecture on Fielding in the English Humorists." There is exactly the same order of views and intellectual merit in both, but there is nearly as much difference between the two styles as there is between smoke and flame.
The difference between Fielding and Thackeray, in respect of that breadth of handling in which it has been complained
that the latter is inferior to the former, is a difference mainly of the times lived in and depicted by these writers. Does any one suppose that Fielding would have dared to describe a Squire Western, or a Lady Bellaston, for the edification of subscribers to modern circulating libraries? Could the respective virtues and failings of a Joseph Andrews and a Tom Jones have been set forth, in a time when the lips of novelist and dramatist are absolutely locked, with regard to that which still exercises, as it ever did, and ever must, the chief moral energies of almost all men, during many, and those the most dramatic years of their lives? We do not complain of this refinement of modern speech, though we doubt whether it goes much deeper. On the contrary, we heartily wish the reform were thorough than it is, and that men should never rise, even from their talk over their wine, with the flavor in their mouths and minds of a phrase, or a sentiment which ought to make them blush to "join the ladies." Reforms often advance from superficial to profound, and a pure tongue is a laudable hypocrisy, if it be nothing better. Art, it is true, has hitherto been a sufferer by the improvement. That it will not be so in the long run, we are con vinced: for every thing that really betters life must better that which is its representative: but life, as we have said, is not as yet, probably, very substantially better in this respect; and the novelist and dramatist are meanwhile under the unhappy necessity of representing a society which dares not, and ought not to dare, to seem no better than it is. The breadth of treatment which is thus impossible for the modern novelist, is substituted in Mr. Thackeray's works by a subtlety of hand. ling which is almost equally admirable, and which would scarcely be compatible with the strength of light and shade we find in Fielding. Mr. Thackeray is as much the originator of this kind of writing as Fielding was of the other; and if there are numerous little indications of reverence and imitation of the latter in the works of the former, the two writers, in their main characteristics, are absolute opposites, although, as we have said, that opposition is probably no more than the natural reflection, by two first-rate minds, of the opposite social character of their times. We are all of us disciples of that school of the new science of moral anato
my, of which Mr. Thackeray is the master; | evidence of immortality which we cannot and it is emphatically true of him, as of resist, and the tears, perhaps, come by all other great writers, that he is only way of unconscious protest against the "outrunning the age in the direction ordinary baseness of our mortal lives. which it is spontaneously taking."
There is nothing more easy or unprofitable than running "parallels," as they are called, when there is little or no parallelism in the case. The only important point of similarity between Thackeray and Fielding is soon stated and done with; and it consists in what we may regard as the unquestionable fact, that these writers are the two greatest painters of human nature, as it actually is, that we have ever had, Shakespeare alone excepted. It does not necessarily follow that they are the two greatest novelists; because a good many things besides a profound knowledge of, and power of rendering, human nature, go to the making of a first-rate novel. Yet we should hesitate before we placed any works higher than "Amelia" and "Esmond" in the ranks of general novelesque perfection.
Since there are probably few of our readers who are unacquainted with the "Newcomes," we will assume such acquaintance in the few remarks we are about to make concerning the details of this book.
It contains more than one illustration of a truth which we have long felt, but which does not seem to be commonly recognized, that, great as Mr. Thackeray is as a satirist, he is still greater as a serious writer. In our opinion, he never rose so high as in "Esmond," in which the satirrist, for a time, became the grave historian. There are examples of high and pure pathos in the "Newcomes" which are scarcely surpassed elsewhere: the whole character of Colonel Newcome has an epic dignity about it, and all his history, after his loss of fortune, especially his retirement as the Grey-friars pensioner, is as full as it can be of that noble pathos which consists in the display of an humble and heroic superiority to worldly ill. Aristophanes was right in laughing at Euripides for trying to evoke tears by the mere fact of suffering. There is, in truth, no pathos in that by itself. It may even be ridiculous, as the "base, self-pitying tears" of Thersites. But, we can scarcely tell why, there is always something in true nobility of character which makes the tears "rise in the heart and gather to the eyes" of those who merit to behold it. It is an
Of the various illustrations which this work affords of those of the writer's merits which are universally admitted we have not spoken, and do not intend to speak, our purpose being mainly at present to do justice to him in particulars in which justice has been hitherto generally refused. His view of the characters of women is one of these points. It is constantly said of his female characters, that when they are amusing and agreeable they are worthless, and that when they are good they are stupid. Mrs. Laura and Ethel are contradictions of this charge, unless indeed it is stupid not to talk epigrams, and not to despise religion. For Mrs. Laura we profess an unbounded esteem and affection, and think that we cannot give her higher praise than that of saying she reminds us of Fielding's "Amelia," whom we agree with Mr. Thackeray in regarding as the loveliest female character ever described in prose or verse. Ethel, too, though vastly, less attractive than Mrs. Laura, is neither stupid nor bad. Mr. Thackeray is almost the only modern writer who has understood that the secret of describing the character of a true woman is to do it by negatives. When we have read all about Laura Bell, afterwards Mrs. Pendennis, what do we know about her except that she illustrates that sweet and golden medium, that moderation in all things, which is the great charm of the feminine nature, and which makes its highest positive praise that which is the principal thing predicated of her in the Bible, namely, discretion. "A fair woman without discretion, is a jewel of gold in a swine's snout."-"Teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands." No positive and partial excellencies can compensate in the woman for the absence of this beautiful want of character, which Pope, in his moral and physical incapacity to appreciate woman, complained of; and few have ever felt this negative loveliness more strongly than Mr. Thackeray.
In a novel so certain as the "Newcomes" of becoming a classic, we must not neglect to point out two faults which