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character less. The author designedly neglects a hundred delicate shades which he might have discovered and shown to us. The character, less complete, is less lifelike; the interest, less concentrated, is less lively. Turned away from it instead of brought back to it, our eyes wander and forget it; instead of being absorbed, we are ab sent in mind. And, what is worse, we end by experiencing some degree of weariness. We judge these sermons true, but repeated till we are sick of them, we fancy ourselves listening to college lectures, or handbooks for the use of young priests. We find similar things in books with gilt edges and pictured covers, given as Christmas presents to children. Are we much rejoiced to learn that marriages for the sake of money or rank have their inconveniency, that in the absence of a friend we readily speak evil of him, that a son often afflicts his mother by his irregu larities, that selfishness is an ugly fault? All this is true; but it is too true. We listen in order to hear new things. These old moralities, though useful and well spoken, smack of the paid pedant, so common in England, the clergyman in the white tie, standing bolt upright in his room, and droning, for three hundred a year, daily admonition to the young gentlemen whom parents have sent to his educational hothouse.
having various directions and magni- | warnings, is lost to art. Summoned to tudes. About their justice or injustice reflect on our faults, we know the he troubles himself little. He introduces them in characters, conceives the dominant quality, perceives the traces which this leaves on the others, marks the discordant or harmonious influences of temperament, of education, of occupation, and labors to manifest the invisible world of inward inclinations and dispositions by the visible world of outward words and actions. To this is his labor reduced. Whatever these bents are, he cares little. A genuine painter sees with pleasure a well-shaped arm and vigorous muscles, even if they be employed in knocking down a man. A genuine novelist enjoys the contemplation of the greatness of a harmful sentiment, or the organized mechanism of a pernicious character. He has sympathy with talent, because it is the only faculty which exactly copies nature: occupied in experiencing the emotions of his personages, he only dreams of marking their vigor, kind, and mutual action. He represents them to us as they are, whole, not blaming, not punishing, not mutilating them; he transfers them to us intact and separate, and leaves to us the right of judging if we desire it. His whole effort is to make them visible, to unravel the types darkened and altered by the accidents and imperfections of real life, to set in relief grand human passions, to be shaken by the greatness of the beings whom he animates, to raise us out of ourselves by This regular presence of a moral the force of his creations. We recog-intention spoils the novel as well as nize art in this creative power, impartial and universal as nature, freer and more potent than nature, taking up the rough-drawn or disfigured work of its rival in order to correct its faults and give effect to its conceptions.
All is changed by the intervention of satire; and more particularly, the part of the author. When in an ordinary novel he speaks in his own name, it is to explain a sentiment or mark the cause of a faculty; in a satirical novel it is to give us moral advice. It has been seen to how many lessons Thack eray subjects us. That they are good ones no one disputes; but at least they take the place of useful explanations. A third of a volume, being occupied by
the novelist. It must be confessed, a volume of Thackeray has the cruel misfortune of recalling the novels of Miss Edgeworth or the stories of Canon Schmidt. Here is one which shows us Pendennis proud, extravagant, hairbrained, lazy, shamefully plucked at his examination; whilst his companions, less intellectual but more studious, take high places in honors or pass with decent credit. This edifying contrast does not warn us; we do n wish to go back to school; we shut the book, and recommend it like medicine, to our little cousin. Other puerilities, iess shocking, end in wearying us just as much. We do not like the prolonged con. trast between good Colonel Newcome
at a sermon.
Let us console ourselves: the characters suffer as much as we; the author spoils them in preaching to us; they, like us, are sacrificed to satire. He does not animate beings, he lets puppets act. He only combines their actions to make them ridiculous, odious or disappointing. After a few scenes we recognize the spring, and thenceforth we are always foreseeing when it is going to act. This foresight deprives the character of half its truth, and the reader of half his illusion. Perfect fooleries, complete mischances, unmitigated wickednesses, are rare things. The events and feelings of real life are not so arranged as to make such calculated contrasts and such clever combinations. Nature does not invent these dramatic effects: we soon see that we are before the foot-lights in front of bedizened actors, whose words are written for them, and their gestures arranged.
and his wicked relatives. The Colonel | intelligible. He gives her the educa gives money and cakes to every child, tion of a prostitute, a "husband as money and shawls to all his cousins, depraved as a prison full of galley money and kind words to all the ser- slaves," luxurious habits, recklessness, vants; and these people only answer prodigality, womanly nerves, a pretty him with coldness and coarseness. It woman's dislikes, an artist's rapture. is clear, from the first page, that the Thus born and bred, her corruption is author would persuade us to be affable, natural. She needs elegance as she needs and we kick against the too matter-of-air. She takes it no matter whence course invitation; we don't want to be remorselessly as we drink water from scolded in a novel; we are in a bad the first stream. She is not worse humor with this invasion of pedagogy. than her profession, she has all i We wanted to go to the theatre; we innate and acquired excuses, of mood have been taken in by the outside bill,tradition, circumstances, necessity; she and we growl sotto voce, to find ourselves has all its powers, abandon, charms, mad gayety, alternations of triviality and elegance, sudden audacity, comical devices, magnificence and success. She is perfect of her kind, like a proud and dangerous horse, which we admire while we fear it. Balzac delights to paint her only for the sake of his picture. He dresses her, lays on for her her patches, arranges her garments, trembles before her dancinggirl's motions. He details her gestures with as much pleasure and truth as if he were her waiting-woman. His artistic curiosity is fed on the least traits of character and manners. After a violent scene, he pauses at moment, and shows her idle, stretched on her couch like a cat, yawning and basking in the sun. Like a physiologist, he knows that the nerves of the beast of prey are softened, and that it only ceases to bound in order to sleep. But what bounds! She dazzles, fasci nates; she defends herself successively against three proved accusations, refutes evidence, alternately humiliates and glorifies herself, rails, adores, demonstrates, changing a score of times her voice, her ideas, ricks, and all this in one quarter of an hour. An old shopkeeper, proc、ted against emotions by trade and avarice, trem bles at her speech: "She sets her feet on my heart, crushes me, stuns me. Ah, what a woman! When she looks cold at me it is worse than a stomach. ache... How she tripped down the steps, making them bright with her looks!" Everywhere passion, for e atrocity, conceal the ugliness and cor ruption. Attacked in her fortune by a respectable woman, Mad. Marneffe gets up an incomparable comedy, play
To bring before our mind exactly this alteration of truth and art, we must compare two characters step by step. There is a personage, unanímous.y recognized as Thackeray's masterpiece, Becky Sharp, an intriguante and a bad character, but a superior and well mannered woman. Let as compare her to a similar personage of Balzac in les Parents pauvres, Valéri: Marneffe. The difference of the two works will exhibit the difference of the two literatures. As the English excel as moralists and satirists, so the French excel as artists and novel writ
Balzac loves his Valérie ; this is why he explains and magnifies her. He does not labor to make her odious, but
ed with a great poet's eloquence and exaltation, and broken suddenly by the burst of laughter and coarse triviality of a porter's daughter on the stage. Style and action are raised to the height of an epic. "When the words 'Hulot and two hundred thousand francs' were mentioned, Valérie gave a passing look from between her two long eyelids, like the glare of a cannon through its smoke." A little further, aught in the act by one of her lovers, Brazilian, and quite capable of kill ing her, she blenched for an instant; but recovering the same moment, she checked her tears. "She came to him and looked so fiercely that her eyes glittered like daggers." Danger roused and inspired her, and her excited nerves propel genius and courage to her brain. To complete the picture of this impetuous nature, superior and unstable, Balzac at the last moment makes her repent. To proportion her fortune to her vice, he leads her triumphantly through the ruin, death, or despair of twenty people, and shatters her in the supreme moment by a fall as terrible as her success.
ladies of indisputable correctness and gentility will condemn the action as immodest; but, you see, poor dear Rebecca had all this work to do herself. If a person is too poor to keep a ser vant, though ever so elegant, he must sweep his own rooms: if a dear girl has no dear mamma to settle matters with the young man, she must do it for herself."* Whilst Becky was a gover ness at Sir Pitt Crawley's, she gains the friendship of her pupils, by reading to them the tales of Crébillon the younger, and of Voltaire. She writes to her friend Amelia: "The rector's wife paid me a score of compliments about the progress my pupils made, and thought, no doubt, to touch my heart-poor, simple, country soul ! as if I cared a fig about my pupils." This phrase is an imprudence hardly natura? in so careful a person, and the author adds it gratuitously to her part, to make it odious. A little further Rebecca is grossly adulatory and mean to old Miss Crawley; and her pompous periods, manifestly false, instead of exciting admiration raise disgust. She is selfish and lying to her husband, Before such passion and logic, what and knowing that he is on the field of is Becky Sharp? A calculating plotter, battle, busies herself only in getting tocool in temperament, full of common gether a little purse. Thackeray desense, an ex-governess, having parsi- signedly dwells on the contrast: the monious habits, a genuine woman of heavy dragoon "went through the business, always proper, always active, various items of his little catalogue of unsexed, void of the voluptuous soft-effects, striving to see how they might ness and diabolical transport which can give brilliancy to her character and charm to her profession. She is not a prostitute, but a petticoated and heartless barrister. Nothing is more fit to inspire aversion. The author loses no opportunity of expressing his own; through two-thirds of the book he pursues her with sarcasms and misfortunes; he puts only false words, perfilious actions, revolting sentiments in ker mouth. From her coming on the age, at the age of seventeen, treated with rare kindness by a simple-minded family, she lies from morning to nightand by coarse expedients tries to fish there for a husband. The better to crush her, Thackeray himself sets forth all this baseness, these lies and indecencies. Rebecca ever so gentle pressed the hand of fat Joseph: "It was an advance, and as such, perhaps, some
be turned into money for his wife's benefit, in case any accident should befall him." Faithful to his plan of economy, the captain dressed himself in his oldest and shabbiest uniform" to get killed in :
"And this famous dandy of Windsor at i Hyde Park went off on his campaign with something like a prayer on the lips for the woman he was leaving. He took her up from the ground, and held her in his arms for a mis ute, tight pressed against his strong beating heart. His face was purple and his eyes dim, And as he put her down and left her.... not to give way to unavailing sentimentality on Rebecca, as we have said, wisely determined her husband's departure. What a fright
1 seem,' she said, examining herself in the So she divested herself of this pink raiment glass, and how pale this pink makes one look." then she put her bouquet of the ball inte a glass of water, and went to led, and slept very comfortably.” ‡
Vanity Fair, ch. iv.
Ibid. ch. xi.
more useful, has become less true and beautiful.
Suppose that a happy chance lays aside these causes of weakness, and keeps open these sources of talent. Amongst all these transformed novels appears a single genuine one, elevated, touching, simple, original, the history of Henry Esmond. Thackeray has not written a less popular nor a more beautiful story.
This book comprises the fictitious memoirs of Colonel Esmond, a contem
From these examples judge of the rest. Thackeray's whole business is to degrade Rebecca Sharp. He convicts her of being harsh to her son, robbing tradesmen, deceiving everybody. And after all, he makes her a dupe; whatever she does, comes to nothing. Compromised by the advanees which she has lavished on foolish Joseph, she momentarily expects an offer of marriage. A letter comes, announcing that he has gone to Scotland, and presents his compliments to Miss Rebecca. Three months later, she secretly marries Captain Rawdon, a poor dolt. Sir Pitt Crawley, Raw-porary of Queen Anne, who, after a don's father, throws himself at her feet, with four thousand a year, and offers her his hand. In her consternation she weeps despairingly. "Married, married, married already!" is her cry; and it is enough to pierce sensitive souls. Later, she tries to win her sister-in-law by passing for a good mother. "Why do you kiss me here?" asks her son; 66 you never kiss me at home." The consequence is complete discredit; once more she is lost. The Marquis of Steyne, her lover, presents her to society, loads her with jewels, bank-notes, and has her husband appointed to some island in the East. The husband enters at the wrong moment, knocks my lord down, restores the diamonds, and drives her away. Wandering on the Continent, she tries five or six times to grow rich and appear honest. Always, at the moment of success, accident brings her to the ground. Thackeray sports with her, as a child with a cockchafer, letting her hoist herself painfully to the top of the ladder, in order to pluck her down by the foot and make her tumble dis- On the other hand, the long reflec. gracefully. He ends by dragging her tions, which seem vulgar and out of place through taverns and greenrooms, and under the pen of the writer, become pointing his finger at her from a dis- natural and interesting in the mouth tance, as a gamester, a drunkard, is un- of the chief character in this novel willing to touch her further. Or the Esmond is an old man, writing or last page he installs her vulgarly in a his children, and remarking upon his smal fortune, plundered by doubtful experience. He has a right to juuge devices, and leaves her in bad odor, life; his maxims are suitable to his uselessly hypocritical, abandoned to years: having passed into sketches of the shadiest society. Beneath this manners, they lose their pedantic air storm of irony and contempt, the we hear them complacently, and per heroine is dwarfed, illusion is weaken-ceive, as we turn the page, the calm ed, interest diminished, art attenuated, and sad smile which has dictated them. poetry disappears, and the character, With the reflections we endure the
troubled life in Europe, retired with his wife to Virginia, and became a planter there. Esmond speaks; and the necessity of adapting the tone t the character suppresses the satirical style, the reiterated irony, the bitter sarcasm, the scenes contrived to ridicule folly, the events combined to crush vice. Thenceforth we enter the real world; we let illusion guide us, we rejoice in a varied spectacle, easily unfolded, without moral intention. We are no more harassed by personal advice; we remain in our place, calm, sure, no actor's finger pointed at us to warn us at an interesting moment that the piece is played on our account, and to do us good. At the same time, and unconsciously, we are at ease. Quitting bitter satire, pure narration charms us; we take rest from hating. We are like an army surgeon, who, after a day of fights and manoeuvres, sits on a hillock and beholds the motion in the camp, the procession of carriages, and the distant horizon softened by the sombre tints of evening.
details. Elsewhere, the minute de- | in imitating successfully the style of scriptions appear frequently puerile; ancient Greece. The style of Esmond we blamed the author for dwelling, has the calmness, the exactness, the with the preciseness of an English simplicity, the solidity of the classics painter, on school adventures, coach Our m dern temerities, our prodigal scenes, inn episodes; we thought that imagery our jostled figures, our habit this intense studiousness, unable to of gestic ilation, our striving for effect, grasp lofty themes of art, was com- all our bad literary customs have dis pelled to stoop to microscopical ob- appeared. Thackeray must have gone servations and photographic details. back to the primitive sense of words, Here every thing is changed. A writer discovered their forgotten shades of of memoirs has a right to record his meaning, recomposed an obliterated childish impressions. His distant rec-state of intellect and a lost species of ollections, mutilated remnants of a ideas, to make his copy approach so forgotten life, have a peculiar charm; closely to the original. The imaginawe accompany him back to infancy. A tion of Dickens himself would have I atin lesson, a soldier's march, a ride failed in this. To attempt and accompLehind some one, become important lish this, needed all the sagacity, calmevents embellished by distance; we ness, and power of knowledge and enjoy his peaceful and familiar pleas- meditation. ure, and feel with him a vast sweetness in seeing once more, with so much ease and in so clear a light, the wellknown phantoms of the past. Minute detail adds to the interest in adding to the naturalness. Stories of campaign life, random opinions on the books and events of the time, a hundred petty scenes, a thousand petty facts, manífestly useless, are on that very account illusory. We forget the author, we listen to the old Colonel, we find ourselves carried back a hundred years, and we have the extreme pleasure, so uncommon, of believing in what we read.
Whilst the subject obviates the faults, or turns them into virtues, it offers for these virtues the very finest theme. A powerful reflection has decomposed and reproduced the manners of the time with a most astonishing fidelity. Thackeray knows Swift, Steele, Addison, St. John, Marlborough, as well as the most attentive and learned historian. He depicts their habits, household, conversation, like Walter Scott himself; and, what Walter Scott could not do, he imitates their style so that we are deceived by it; and many of their authentic phrases, inwoven with the text cannot be distinguished from it. This perfect imitation is not limited to a few select scenes, but pervades the whole volume. Colonel Esmond writes as people wrote in the year 1700. The feat, I was going to say the genius, is as great as the attempt of Paul Louis Courier,
But the masterpiece of the work is the character of Esmond. Thackeray has endowed him with that tender kindliness, almost feminine, which he everywhere extols above all other hu man virtues, and that self-mastery which is the effect of habitual reflection. These are the finest qualities of his psychological armory; each by its contrast increases the value of the other. We see a hero, but original and new, English in his cool resolution, modelled by the delicacy and sensibility of his heart.
Henry Esmond is a poor child, the supposed bastard of Lord Castlewood, brought up by his heirs. In the opening chapter we are touched by the modulated and noble emotion which we retain to the end of the work. Lady Castlewood, on her first visit to the castle, comes to him in the "book-room or yellow gallery; " being informed by the house-keeper who the little boy is, she blushes and walks back; the next instant, touched by remorse, she re turns:
in her eyes, she took his hand again, placing