Infomotions, Inc.Masters of the English Novel A Study of Principles and Personalities / Burton, Richard, 1861-1940



Author: Burton, Richard, 1861-1940
Title: Masters of the English Novel A Study of Principles and Personalities
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): fiction; novel; richardson; thackeray; dickens; novelist; romance; eighteenth century
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Title: Masters of the English Novel
       A Study Of Principles And Personalities

Author: Richard Burton

Release Date: June 25, 2004 [EBook #12736]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII

*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK MASTERS OF THE ENGLISH NOVEL ***





MASTERS OF THE ENGLISH NOVEL:

A STUDY OF PRINCIPLES AND PERSONALITIES

BY RICHARD BURTON




PREFACE

The principle of inclusion in this book is the traditional one
which assumes that criticism is only safe when it deals with
authors who are dead. In proportion as we approach the living
or, worse, speak of those still on earth, the proper perspective
is lost and the dangers of contemporary judgment incurred. The
light-minded might add, that the dead cannot strike back; to
pass judgment upon them is not only more critical but safer.

Sometimes, however, the distinction between the living and the
dead is an invidious one. Three authors hereinafter studied are
examples: Meredith, Hardy and Stevenson. Hardy alone is now in
the land of the living, Meredith having but just passed away.
Yet to omit the former, while including the other two, is
obviously arbitrary, since his work in fiction is as truly done
as if he, like them, rested from his literary labors and the
gravestone chronicled his day of death. For reasons best known
to himself, Mr. Hardy seems to have chosen verse for the final
expression of his personality. It is more than a decade since he
published a novel. So far as age goes, he is the senior of
Stevenson: "Desperate Remedies" appeared when the latter was a
stripling at the University of Edinburgh. Hardy is therefore
included in the survey. I am fully aware that to strive to
measure the accomplishment of those practically contemporary,
whether it be Meredith and Hardy or James and Howells, is but
more or less intelligent guess-work. Nevertheless, it is
pleasant employ, the more interesting, perhaps, to the critic
and his readers because an element of uncertainty creeps into
what is said. If the critic runs the risk of Je suis, J'y reste,
he gets his reward in the thrill of prophecy; and should he turn
out a false prophet, he is consoled by the reflection that it
will place him in a large and enjoyable company.

Throughout the discussion it has been the intention to keep
steadily before the reader the two main ways of looking at life
in fiction, which have led to the so-called realistic and
romantic movements. No fear of repetition in the study of the
respective novelists has kept me from illustrating from many
points of view and taking advantage of the opportunity offered
by each author, the distinction thus set up. For back of all
stale jugglery of terms, lies a very real and permanent
difference. The words denote different types of mind as well as
of art: and express also a changed interpretation of the world
of men, resulting from the social and intellectual revolution
since 1750.

No apology would appear to be necessary for Chapter Seven, which
devotes sufficient space to the French influence to show how it
affected the realistic tendency of all modern novel-making.
The Scandinavian lands, Germany, Italy, England and Spain,
all have felt the leadership of France in this regard and hence
any attempt to sketch the history of the Novel on English soil,
would ignore causes, that did not acknowledge the Gallic debt.

It may also be remarked that the method employed in the
following pages necessarily excludes many figures of no slight
importance in the evolution of English fiction. There are books
a-plenty dealing with these secondary personalities, often
significant as links in the chain and worthy of study were the
purpose to present the complete history of the Novel. By
centering upon indubitable masters, the principles illustrated
both by the lesser and larger writers will, it is hoped, be
brought home with equal if not greater force.




CONTENTS

   I.  FICTION AND THE NOVEL
  II.  EIGHTEENTH CENTURY BEGINNINGS:  RICHARDSON
 III.  EIGHTEENTH CENTURY BEGINNINGS:  FIELDING
  IV.  DEVELOPMENTS:  SMOLLETT, STERNE AND OTHERS
   V.  REALISM:  JAKE AUSTEN
  VI.  MODERN ROMANTICISM: SCOTT
 VII.  FRENCH INFLUENCE
VIII.  DICKENS
  IX.  THACKERAY
   X.  GEORGE ELIOT
  XI.  TROLLOPE AND OTHERS
 XII.  HARDY AND MEREDITH
XIII.  STEVENSON
 XIV.  THE AMERICAN CONTRIBUTION




CHAPTER I


FICTION AND THE NOVEL

All the world loves a story as it does a lover. It is small
wonder then that stories have been told since man walked erect
and long before transmitted records. Fiction, a conveniently
broad term to cover all manner of story-telling, is a hoary
thing and within historical limits we can but get a glimpse of
its activity. Because it is so diverse a thing, it may be
regarded in various ways: as a literary form, a social
manifestation, a comment upon life. Main emphasis in this book
is placed upon its recent development on English soil under the
more restrictive name of Novel; and it is the intention, in
tracing the work of representative novel writers, to show how
the Novel has become in some sort a special modern mode of
expression and of opinion, truly reflective of the Zeitgeist.

The social and human element in a literary phenomenon is what
gives general interest and includes it as part of the
culturgeschichte of a people. This interest is as far removed
from that of the literary specialist taken up with questions of
morphology and method, as it is from the unthinking rapture of
the boarding-school Miss who finds a current book "perfectly
lovely," and skips intrepidly to the last page to see how it is
coming out. Thoughtful people are coming to feel that fiction is
only frivolous when the reader brings a frivolous mind or makes
a frivolous choice. While it will always be legitimate to turn
to fiction for innocent amusement, since the peculiar property
of all art is to give pleasure, the day has been reached when it
is recognized as part of our culture to read good fiction, to
realize the value and importance of the Novel in modern
education; and conversely, to reprimand the older, narrow notion
that the habit means self-indulgence and a waste of time. Nor
can we close our eyes to the tyrannous domination of fiction
to-day, for good or bad. It has worn seven-league boots of progress
the past generation. So early as 1862, Sainte-Beuve declared in
conversation: "Everything is being gradually merged into the
novel. There is such a vast scope and the form lends itself to
everything." Prophetic words, more than fulfilled since they
were spoken.

Of the three main ways of story-telling, by the epic poem, the
drama and prose fiction, the epic seems to be the oldest;
poetry, indeed, being the natural form of expression among
primitive peoples.

The comparative study of literature shows that so far as written
records go, we may not surely ascribe precedence in time either
to fiction or the drama. The testimony varies in different
nations. But if the name fiction be allowed for a Biblical
narrative like the Book of Ruth, which in the sense of
imaginative and literary handling of historical material it
certainly is, the great antiquity of the form may be conceded.
Long before the written or printed word, we may safely say,
stories were recited in Oriental deserts, yarns were spun as
ships heaved over the seas, and sagas spoken beside hearth fires
far in the frozen north. Prose narratives, epic in theme or of
more local import, were handed down from father to son,
transmitted from family to family, through the exercise of a
faculty of memory that now, in a day when labor-saving devices
have almost atrophied its use, seems well nigh miraculous. Prose
story-telling, which allows of ample description, elbow room for
digression, indefinite extension and variation from the original
kernel of plot, lends itself admirably to the imaginative needs
of humanity early or late.

With the English race, fiction began to take con-structural
shape and definiteness of purpose in Elizabethan days. Up to the
sixteenth century the tales were either told in verse, in the
epic form of Beowulf or in the shrunken epic of a thirteenth
century ballad like "King Horn"; in the verse narratives of
Chaucer or the poetic musings of Spenser. Or else they were a
portion of that prose romance of chivalry which was vastly
cultivated in the middle ages, especially in France and Spain,
and of which we have a doughty exemplar in the Morte D'Arthur,
which dates nearly a century before Shakspere's day. Loose
construction and no attempt to deal with the close eye of
observation, characterize these earlier romances, which were in
the main conglomerates of story using the double appeal of love
and war.

But at a time when the drama was paramount in popularity, when
the young Shakspere was writing his early comedies, fiction,
which was in the fulness of time to conquer the play form as a
popular vehicle of story-telling, began to rear its head. The
loosely constructed, rambling prose romances of Lyly of
euphuistic fame, the prose pastorals of Lodge from which model
Shakspere made his forest drama, "As You Like It," the
picaresque, harum-scarum story of adventure, "Jack Wilton," the
prototype of later books like "Gil Blas" and "Robinson Crusoe,"--these
were the early attempts to give prose narration a closer knitting,
a more organic form.

But all such tentative striving was only preparation; fiction in
the sense of more or less formless prose narration, was written
for about two centuries without the production of what may be
called the

Novel in the modern meaning of the word. The broader name
fiction may properly be applied, since, as we shall see, all
novels are fiction, but all fiction is by no means Novels. The
whole development of the Novel, indeed, is embraced within
little more than a century and a half; from the middle of the
eighteenth century to the present time. The term Novel is more
definite, more specific than the fiction out of which it
evolved; therefore, we must ask ourselves wherein lies the
essential difference. Light is thrown by the early use of the
word in critical reference in English. In reading the following
from Steele's "Tender Husband," we are made to realize that the
stark meaning of the term implies something new: social
interest, a sense of social solidarity: "Our amours can't
furnish out a Romance; they'll make a very pretty Novel."

This clearly marks a distinction: it gives a hint as to the
departure made by Richardson in 1742, when he published
"Pamela." It is not strictly the earliest discrimination between
the Novel and the older romance; for the dramatist Congreve at
the close of the seventeenth century shows his knowledge of the
distinction. And, indeed, there are hints of it in Elizabethan
criticism of such early attempts as those of Lyly, Nast, Lodge
and others. Moreover, the student of criticism as it deals with
the Novel must also expect to meet with a later confusion of
nomenclature; the word being loosely applied to any type of
prose fiction in contrast with the short story or tale. But
here, at an early date, the severance is plainly indicated
between the study of contemporary society and the elder romance
of heroism, supernaturalism, and improbability. It is a
difference not so much of theme as of view-point, method and
intention.

For underlying this attempt to come closer to humanity through
the medium of a form of fiction, is to be detected an added
interest in personality for its own sake. During the eighteenth
century, commonly described as the Teacup Times, an age of
powder and patches, of etiquette, epigram and surface polish,
there developed a keener sense of the value of the individual,
of the sanctity of the ego, a faint prelude to the note that was
to become so resonant in the nineteenth century, sounding
through all the activities of man. Various manifestations in the
civilization of Queen Anne and the first Georges illustrate the
new tendency.

One such is the coffee house, prototype of the bewildering club
life of our own day. The eighteenth century coffee house, where
the men of fashion and affairs foregathered to exchange social
news over their glasses, was an organization naturally fostering
altruism; at least, it tended to cultivate a feeling for social
relations.

Again, the birth of the newspaper with the Spectator Papers in
the early years of the century, is another such sign of the
times: the newspaper being one of the great social bonds of
humanity, for good or bad, linking man to man, race to race in
the common, well-nigh instantaneous nexus of sympathy. The
influence of the press at the time of a San Francisco or Messina
horror is apparent to all; but its effect in furnishing the
psychology of a business panic is perhaps no less potent though
not so obvious. When Addison and Steele began their genial
conversations thrice a week with their fellow citizens, they
little dreamed of the power they set a-going in the world; for
here was the genesis of modern journalism. And whatever its
abuses and degradations, the fourth estate is certainly one of
the very few widely operative educational forces to-day, and has
played an important part in spreading the idea of the
brotherhood of man.

That the essay and its branch form, the character sketch, both
found in the Spectator Papers, were contributory to the Novel's
development, is sure. The essay set a new model for easy,
colloquial speech: just the manner for fiction which was to
report the accent of contemporary society in its average of
utterance. And the sketch, seen in its delightful efflorescence
in the Sir Roger De Coverly papers series by Addison, is fiction
in a sense: differing therefrom in its slighter framework, and
the aim of the writer, which first of all is the delicate
delineation of personality, not plot and the study of the social
complex. There is the absence of plot which is the natural
outcome of such lack of story interest. A wide survey of the
English essay from its inception with Bacon in the early
seventeenth century will impress the inquirer with its fluid
nature and natural outflow into full-fledged fiction. The essay
has a way, as Taine says, of turning "spontaneously to fiction
and portraiture." And as it is difficult, in the light of
evolution, to put the finger on the line separating man from the
lower order of animal life, so is it difficult sometimes to say
just where the essay stops and the Novel begins. There is
perhaps no hard-and-fast line.

Consider Dr. Holmes' "Autocrat of the Breakfast Table," for
example; is it essay or fiction? There is a definite though
slender story interest and idea, yet since the framework of
story is really for the purpose of hanging thereon the genial
essayist's dissertations on life, we may decide that the book is
primarily essay, the most charmingly personal, egoistic of
literary forms. The essay "slightly dramatized," Mr. Howells
happily characterizes it. This form then must be reckoned with
in the eighteenth century and borne in mind as contributory all
along in the subsequent development, as we try to get a clear
idea of the qualities which demark and limit the Novel.

Again, the theater was an institution doing its share to knit
social feeling; as indeed it had been in Elizabethan days:
offering a place where many might be moved by the one thought,
the one emotion, personal variations being merged in what is now
called mob psychology, a function for centuries also exercised
by the Church. Nor should the function of the playhouse as a
visiting-place be overlooked.

So too the Novel came to express most inclusively among the
literary forms this more vivid realization of meum and tuum; the
worth of me and my intricate and inevitable relations to you,
both of us caught in the coils of that organism dubbed society,
and willingly, with no Rousseau-like desire to escape and set up
for individualists. The Novel in its treatment of personality
began to teach that the stone thrown into the water makes
circles to the uttermost bounds of the lake; that the little
rift within the lute makes the whole music mute; that we are all
members of the one body. This germinal principle was at root a
profoundly true and noble one; it serves to distinguish modern
fiction philosophically from all that is earlier, and it led the
late Sidney Lanier, in the well-known book on this subject, to
base the entire development upon the working out of the idea of
personality. The Novel seems to have been the special literary
instrument in the eighteenth century for the propagation of
altruism; here lies its deepest significance. It was a baptism
which promised great things for the lusty young form.

We are now ready for a fair working definition of the modern
Novel. It means a study of contemporary society with an implied
sympathetic interest, and, it may be added, with special
reference to love as a motor force, simply because love it is
which binds together human beings in their social relations.

This aim sets off the Novel in contrast with past fiction which
exhibits a free admixture of myth and marvel, of creatures
human, demi-human and supernatural, with all time or no time for
the enactment of its events. The modern story puts its note of
emphasis upon character that is contemporary and average; and
thus makes a democratic appeal against that older appeal which,
dealing with exceptional personages--kings, leaders, allegorical
abstractions--is naturally aristocratic.

There was something, it would appear, in the English genius
which favored a form of literature--or modification of an
existing form--allowing for a more truthful representation of
society, a criticism (in the Arnoldian sense) of the passing
show. The elder romance finds its romantic effect, as a rule, in
the unusual, the strange and abnormal aspects of life, not so
much seen of the eye as imagined of the mind or fancy. Hence,
romance is historically contrasted with reality, with many
unfortunate results when we come to its modern applications. The
issue has been a Babel-like mixture of terms.

Or when the bizarre or supernatural was not the basis of appeal,
it was found in the sickly and absurd treatment of the amatory
passion, quite as far removed from the every-day experience of
normal human nature. It was this kind of literature, with the
French La Calprenede as its high priest, which my Lord
Chesterfield had in mind when he wrote to his son under date of
1752, Old Style: "It is most astonishing that there ever could
have been a people idle enough to write such endless heaps of
the same stuff. It was, however, the occupation of thousands in
the last century; and is still the private though disavowed
amusement of young girls and sentimental ladies." The chief
trait of these earlier fictions, besides their mawkishness, is
their almost incredible long-windedness; they have the long
breath, as the French say; and it may be confessed that the
great, pioneer eighteenth century novels, foremost those of
Richardson, possess a leisureliness of movement which is an
inheritance of the romantic past when men, both fiction writers
and readers, seem to have Time; they look back to Lyly, and
forward (since history repeats itself here), to Henry James. The
condensed, breathless fiction of a Kipling is the more logical
evolution.

Certainly, the English were innovators in this field, exercising
a direct and potent influence upon foreign fiction, especially
that of France and Germany; it is not too much to say, that the
novels of Richardson and Fielding, pioneers, founders of the
English Novel, offered Europe a type. If one reads the French
fictionists before Richardson--Madame de La Fayette, Le Sage,
Prevost and Rousseau--one speedily discovers that they did not
write novels in the modern sense; the last named took a cue from
Richardson, to be sure, in his handling of sentiment, but
remained an essayist, nevertheless. And the greater Goethe also
felt and acknowledged the Englishman's example. Testimonies from
the story-makers of other lands are frequent to the effect upon
them of these English pioneers of fiction. It will be seen from
this brief statement of the kind of fiction essayed by the
founders of the Novel, that their tendency was towards what has
come to be called "realism" in modern fiction literature. One
uses this sadly overworked term with a certain sinking of the
heart, yet it seems unavoidable. The very fact that the words
"realism" and "romance" have become so hackneyed in critical
parlance, makes it sure that they indicate a genuine
distinction. As the Novel has developed, ramified and taken on a
hundred guises of manifestation, and as criticism has striven to
keep pace with such a growth, it is not strange that a confusion
of nomenclature should have arisen. But underneath whatever
misunderstandings, the original distinction is clear enough and
useful to make: the modern Novel in its beginning did introduce
a more truthful representation of human life than had obtained
in the romantic fiction deriving from the medieval stories. The
term "realism" as first applied was suitably descriptive; it is
only with the subsequent evolution that so simple a word has
taken on subtler shades and esoteric implications.

It may be roundly asserted that from the first the English Novel
has stood for truth; that it has grown on the whole more
truthful with each generation, as our conception of truth in
literature has been widened and become a nobler one. The
obligation of literature to report life has been felt with
increasing sensitiveness. In the particulars of appearance,
speech, setting and action the characters of English fiction to-day
produce a semblance of life which adds tenfold to its power.
To compare the dialogue of modern masters like Hardy, Stevenson,
Kipling and Howells with the best of the earlier writers serves
to bring the assertion home; the difference is immense; it is
the difference between the idiom of life and the false-literary
tone of imitations of life which, with all their merits, are
still self-conscious and inapt And as the earlier idiom was
imperfect, so was the psychology; the study of motives in
relation to action has grown steadily broader, more penetrating;
the rich complexity of human beings has been recognized more and
more, where of old the simple assumption that all mankind falls
into the two great contrasted groups of the good and the bad,
was quite sufficient. And, as a natural outcome of such an easy-going
philosophy, the study of life was rudimentary and partial; you
could always tell how the villain would jump and were
comfortable in the assurance that the curtain should ring down
upon "and so they were married and lived happily ever
afterwards."

In contrast, to-day human nature is depicted in the Novel as a
curious compound of contradictory impulses and passions, and
instead of the clear-cut separation of the sheep and the goats,
we look forth upon a vast, indiscriminate horde of humanity
whose color, broadly surveyed, seems a very neutral
gray,--neither deep black nor shining white. The white-robed saint
is banished along with the devil incarnate; those who respect their
art would relegate such crudities to Bowery melodrama. And while
we may allow an excess of zeal in this matter, even a confusion
of values, there can be no question that an added dignity has
come to the Novel in these latter days, because it has striven
with so much seriousness of purpose to depict life in a more
interpretative way. It has seized for a motto the Veritas nos
liberavit of the ancient philosopher. The elementary psychology
of the past has been transferred to the stage drama, justifying
Mr. Shaw's description of it as "the last sanctuary of
unreality." And even in the theater, the truth demanded in
fiction for more than a century, is fast finding a place, and
play-making, sensitive to the new desire, is changing in this
respect before our eyes.

However, with the good has come evil too. In the modern seeking
for so-called truth, the nuda veritas has in some hands become
shameless as well,--a fact amply illustrated in the following
treatment of principles and personalities.

The Novel in the hands of these eighteenth century writers also
struck a note of the democratic,--a note that has sounded ever
louder until the present day, when fiction is by far the most
democratic of the literary forms (unless we now must include the
drama in such a designation). The democratic ideal has become at
once an instinct, a principle and a fashion. Richardson in his
"Pamela" did a revolutionary thing in making a kitchen wench his
heroine; English fiction had previously assumed that for its
polite audience only the fortunes of Algernon and Angelina could
be followed decorously and give fit pleasure. His innovation,
symptomatic of the time, by no means pleased an aristocratic
on-looker like Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who wrote to a friend:
"The confounding of all ranks and making a jest of order has
long been growing in England; and I perceive by the books you
sent me, has made a very considerable progress. The heroes and
heroines of the age are cobblers and kitchen wenches. Perhaps
you will say, I should not take my ideas of the manners of the
times from such trifling authors; but it is more truly to be
found among them, than from any historian; as they write merely
to get money, they always fall into the notions that are most
acceptable to the present taste. It has long been the endeavor
of our English writers to represent people of quality as the
vilest and silliest part of the nation, being (generally) very
low-born themselves"--a quotation deliciously commingled of
prejudice and worldly wisdom.

But Richardson, who began his career by writing amatory epistles
for serving maids, realized (and showed his genius thereby),
that if the hard fortunes and eventful triumph of the humble
Pamela could but be sympathetically portrayed, the interest on
the part of his aristocratic audience was certain to follow,--as
the sequel proved.

He knew that because Pamela was a human being she might
therefore be made interesting; he adopted, albeit unconsciously,
the Terentian motto that nothing human should be alien from the
interests of his readers. And as the Novel developed, this
interest not only increased in intensity, but ever spread until
it depicted with truth and sympathy all sorts and conditions of
men. The typical novelist to-day prefers to leave the beaten
highway and go into the by-ways for his characters; his interest
is with the humble of the earth, the outcast and alien, the
under dog in the social struggle. It has become well-nigh a
fashion, a fad, to deal with these picturesque and once
unexploited elements of the human passion-play.

This interest does not stop even at man; influenced by modern
conceptions of life, it overleaps the line of old supposed to be
impassable, and now includes the lower order of living things:
animals have come into their own and a Kipling or a London gives
us the psychology of brutekind as it has never been drawn
before--from the view-point of the animal himself. Our little
brothers of the air, the forest and the field are depicted in
such wise that the world returns to a feeling which swelled the
heart of St. Francis centuries ago, as he looked upon the birds
he loved and thus addressed them:

"And he entered the field and began to preach to the birds which
were on the ground; and suddenly those which were in the trees
came to him and as many as there were they all stood quietly
until Saint Francis had done preaching; and even then they did
not depart until such time as he had given them his blessing;
and St. Francis, moving among them, touched them with his cape,
but not one moved."

It is because this modern form of fiction upon which we fix the
name Novel to indicate its new features has seized the idea of
personality, has stood for truth and grown ever more democratic,
that it has attained to the immense power which marks it at the
present time. It is justified by historical facts; it has become
that literary form most closely revealing the contours of life,
most expressive of its average experience, most sympathetic to
its heart-throb. The thought should prevent us from regarding it
as merely the syllabub of the literary feast, a kind of after-dinner
condiment. It is not necessary to assume the total
depravity of current taste, in order to account for the tyranny
of this latest-born child of fiction. In the study of individual
writers and developing schools and tendencies, it will be well
to keep in mind these underlying principles of growth:
personality, truth and democracy; a conception sure to provide
the story-maker with a new function, a new ideal. The
distinguished French critic Brunetiere has said: "The novelist
in reality is nothing more than a witness whose evidence should
rival that of the historian in precision and trustworthiness. We
look to him to teach us literally to see. We read his novels
merely with a view to finding out in them those aspects of
existence which escape us, owing to the very hurry and stir of
life, an attitude we express by saying that for a novel to be
recognized as such, it must offer an historical or documentary
value, a value precise and determined, particular and local, and
as well, a general and lasting psychologic value or
significance."

It may be added, that while in the middle eighteenth century the
novel-writing was tentative and hardly more than an avocation,
at the end of the nineteenth, it had become a fine art and a
profession. It did not occur to Richardson, serious-minded man
that he was, that he was formulating a new art canon for
fiction. Indeed, the English author takes himself less and less
seriously as we go back in time. It was bad form to be literary
when Voltaire visited Congreve and found a fine gentleman where
he sought a writer of genius: complaining therefore that fine
gentlemen came cheap in Paris; what he wished to see was the
creator of the great comedies. In the same fashion, we find
Horace Walpole, who dabbled in letters all his days and made it
really his chief interest, systematically underrating the
professional writers of his day, to laud a brilliant amateur who
like himself desired the plaudits of the game without obeying
its exact rules. He looked askance at the fiction-makers
Richardson and Fielding, because they did not move in the polite
circles frequented by himself.

The same key is struck by lively Fanny Burney in reporting a
meeting with a languishing lady of fashion who had perpetrated a
piece of fiction with the alarming title of "The Mausoleum of
Julia": "My sister intends, said Lady Say and Sele, to print her
Mausoleum, just for her own friends and acquaintances."

"Yes? said Lady Hawke, I have never printed yet."

And a little later, the same spirit is exhibited by Jane Austen
when Madame de Sevigne sought her: Miss Austen suppressed the
story-maker, wishing to be taken first of all for what she was:
a country gentlewoman of unexceptionable connections. Even
Walter Scott and Byron plainly exhibit this dislike to be
reckoned as paid writers, men whose support came by the pen. In
short, literary professionalism reflected on gentility. We have
changed all that with a vengeance and can hardly understand the
earlier sentiment; but this change of attitude has carried with
it inevitably the artistic advancement of modern fiction. For if
anything is certain it is that only professional skill can be
relied upon to perfect an art form. The amateur may possess
gift, even genius; but we must look to the professional for
technique.

One other influence, hardly less effective in molding the Novel
than those already touched upon, is found in the increasing
importance of woman as a central) factor in society; indeed,
holding the key to the social situation. The drama of our time,
in so frequently making woman the protagonist of the piece,
testifies, as does fiction, to this significant fact: woman, in
the social and economic readjustment that has come to her, or
better, which she is still undergoing, has become so much more
dominant in her social relations, that any form of literature
truthfully mirroring the society of the modern world must regard
her as of potent efficiency. And this is so quite apart from the
consideration that women make up to-day the novelist's largest
audience, and that, moreover, the woman writer of fiction is in
numbers and popularity a rival of men.

It would scarcely be too much to see a unifying principle in the
evolution of the modern Novel, in the fact that the first
example in the literature was Pamela, the study of a woman,
while in representative latter-day studies like "Tess of the
D'Urbervilles," "The House of Mirth," "Trilby" and "The Testing
of Diana Mallory" we again have studies of women; the purpose
alike in time past or present being to fix the attention upon a
human being whose fate is sensitively, subtly operative for good
or ill upon a society at large. It is no accident then, that
woman is so often the central figure of fiction: it means more
than that, love being the solar passion of the race, she
naturally is involved. Rather does it mean fiction's recognition
of her as the creature of the social biologist, exercising her
ancient function amidst all the changes and shifting ideas of
successive generations. Whatever her superficial changes under
the urge of the time-spirit, Woman, to a thoughtful eye, sits
like the Sphinx above the drifting sands, silent, secret,
powerful and obscure, bent only on her great purposive errand
whose end is the bringing forth of that Overman who shall rule
the world. With her immense biologic mission, seemingly at war
with her individual career, and destructive apparently of that
emancipation which is the present dream of her champions, what a
type, what a motive this for fiction, and in what a manifold and
stimulating way is the Novel awakening to its high privilege to
deal with such material. In this view, having these wider
implications in mind, the role of woman in fiction, so far from
waning, is but just begun.

This survey of historical facts and marshaling of a few
important principles has prepared us, it may be hoped, for a
clearer comprehension of the developmental details that follow.
It is a complex growth, but one vastly interesting and, after
all, explained by a few, great substructural principles: the
belief in personality, democratic feeling, a love for truth in
art, and a realization of the power of modern Woman. The Novel is
thus an expression and epitome of the society which gave it
birth.




CHAPTER II


EIGHTEENTH CENTURY BEGINNINGS: RICHARDSON

There is some significance in the fact that Samuel Richardson,
founder of the modern novel, was so squarely a middle-class
citizen of London town. Since the form, he founded was, as we
have seen, democratic in its original motive and subsequent
development, it was fitting that the first shaper of the form
should have sympathies not too exclusively aristocratic: should
have been willing to draw upon the backstairs history of the
servants' hall for his first heroine.

To be sure, Mr. Richardson had the not uncommon failing of the
humble-born: he desired above all, and attempted too much, to
depict the manners of the great; he had naive aristocratical
leanings which account for his uncertain tread when he would
move with ease among the boudoirs of Mayfair. Nevertheless, in
the honest heart of him, as his earliest novel forever proves,
he felt for the woes of those social underlings who, as we have
long since learned, have their microcosm faithfully reflecting
the greater world they serve, and he did his best work in that
intimate portrayal of the feminine heart, which is not of a
class but typically human; he knew Clarissa Harlowe quite as
well as he did Pamela; both were of interest because they were
women. That acute contemporary, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu,
severely reprimands Richardson for his vulgar lapses in painting
polite society and the high life he so imperfectly knew; yet in
the very breath that she condemns "Clarissa Harlowe" as "most
miserable stuff," confesses that "she was such an old fool as to
weep over" it "like any milkmaid of sixteen over the ballad of
the Lady's Fall"--the handsomest kind of a compliment under the
circumstances. And with the same charming inconsistency, she
declares on the appearance of "Sir Charles Grandison" that she
heartily despises Richardson, yet eagerly reads him--"nay, sobs
over his works in the most scandalous manner."

Richardson was the son of a carpenter and himself a respected
printer, who by cannily marrying the daughter of the man to whom
he was apprenticed, and by diligence in his vocation, rose to
prosperity, so that by 1754 he became Master of The Stationers'
Company and King's Printer, doing besides an excellent printing
business.

As a boy he had relieved the dumb anguish of serving maids by
the penning of their love letters; he seemed to have a knack at
this vicarious manner of love-making and when in the full
maturity of fifty years, certain London publishers requested him
to write for them a narrative which might stand as a model
letter writer from which country readers should know the right
tone, his early practice stood him in good stead. Using the
epistolary form into which he was to throw all his fiction, he
produced "Pamela," the first novel of analysis, in contrast with
the tale of adventure, of the English tongue. It is worth
remarking that Richardson wrote this story at an age when many
novelists have well-nigh completed their work; even as Defoe
published his masterpiece, "Robinson Crusoe," at fifty-eight.
But such forms as drama and fiction are the very ones where ripe
maturity, a long and varied experience with the world and a
trained hand in the technique of the craft, go for their full
value. A study of the chronology of novel-making will show that
more acknowledged masterpieces were written after forty than
before. Beside the eighteenth century examples one places George
Eliot, who wrote no fiction until she had nearly reached the
alleged dead-line of mental activity: Browning with his greatest
poem, "The Ring and the Book," published in his forty-eighth
year; Du Maurier turning to fiction at sixty, and De Morgan
still later. Fame came to Richardson then late in life, and
never man enjoyed it more. Ladies with literary leanings (and
the kind is independent of periods) used to drop into his place
beyond Temple Bar--for he was a bookseller as well as printer,
and printed and sold his own wares--to finger his volumes and
have a chat about poor Pamela or the naughty Lovelace or
impeccable Grandison. For how, in sooth, could they keep away or
avoid talking shop when they were bursting with the books just
read?

And much, too, did Richardson enjoy the prosperity his stories,
as well as other ventures, brought him, so that he might move
out Hammersmith way where William Mortis and Cobden Sanderson
have lived in our day, and have a fine house wherein to receive
those same lady callers, who came in increasing flocks to his
impromptu court where sat the prim, cherub-faced, elderly little
printer. It is all very quaint, like a Watteau painting or a bit
of Dresden china, as we look back upon it through the time-mists
of a century and a half.

In spite of its slow movement, the monotony of the letter form
and the terribly utilitarian nature of its morals, "Pamela" has
the essentials of interesting fiction; its heroine is placed in
a plausible situation, she is herself life-like and her
struggles are narrated with a sympathetic insight into the human
heart--or better, the female heart. The gist of a plot so simple
can be stated in few words: Mr. B., the son of a lady who has
benefited Pamela Andrews, a serving maid, tries to conquer her
virtue while she resists all his attempts--including an
abduction, Richardson's favorite device--and as a reward of her
chastity, he condescends to marry her, to her very great
gratitude and delight. The English Novel started out with a
flourish of trumpets as to its moral purpose; latter-day
criticism may take sides for or against the novel-with-a-purpose,
but that Richardson justified his fiction writing upon
moral grounds and upon those alone is shown in the descriptive
title-page of the tale, too prolix to be often recalled and a
good sample in its long-windedness of the past compared with the
terse brevity of the present in this matter: "Published in order
to cultivate the principles of virtue and religion in the mind
of youth of both sexes"; the author of "Sanford and Merton" has
here his literary progenitor. The sub-title, "or Virtue
Rewarded," also indicates the homiletic nature of the book. And
since the one valid criticism against all didactic aims in
story-telling is that it is dull, Richardson, it will be
appreciated, ran a mighty risk. But this he was able to escape
because of the genuine human interest of his tales and the skill
he displayed with psychologic analysis rather than the march of
events. The close-knit, organic development of the best of our
modern fiction is lacking; leisurely and lax seems the movement.
Modern editions of "Pamela" and "Clarissa Harlowe" are in the
way of vigorous cutting for purposes of condensation. Scott
seems swift and brief when set beside Richardson Yet the slow
convolutions and involutions serve to acquaint us intimately
with the characters; dwelling with them longer, we come to know
them better.

It is a fault in the construction of the story that instead of
making Pamela's successful marriage the natural climax and close
of the work, the author effects it long before the novel is
finished and then tries to hold the interest by telling of the
honeymoon trip in Italy, her cool reception by her husband's
family, involving various subterfuges and difficulties, and the
gradual moral reform she was able to bring about in her spouse.
It must be conceded to him that some capital scenes are the
result of this post-hymeneal treatment; that, to illustrate,
where the haughty sister of Pamela's husband calls on the woman
she believes to be her husband's mistress. Yet there is an
effect of anti-climax; the main excitement--getting Pamela
honestly wedded--is over. But we must not forget the moral
purpose: Mr. B.'s spiritual regeneration has to be portrayed
before our very eyes, he must be changed from a rake into a
model husband; and with Richardson, that means plenty of elbow-room.
There is, too, something prophetic in this giving of ample
space to post-marital life; it paves the way for much latter-day
probing of the marriage misery.

The picture of Mr. B. and Pamela's attitude towards him is full
of irony for the modern reader; here is a man who does all in
his power to ruin her and, finding her adamant, at last decides
to do the next best thing--secure her by marriage. And instead
of valuing him accordingly, Pamela, with a kind of spaniel-like
fawning, accepts his august hand. It must be confessed that with
Pamela (that is, with Richardson), virtue is a market commodity
for sale to the highest bidder, and this scene of barter and
sale is an all-unconscious revelation of the low standard of sex
ethics which obtained at the time. The suggestion by Sidney
Lanier that the sub-title should be: "or Vice Rewarded," "since
the rascal Mr. B. it is who gets the prize rather than Pamela,"
has its pertinency from our later and more enlightened view. But
such was the eighteenth century. The exposure of an earlier time
is one of the benefits of literature, always a sort of ethical
barometer of an age--all the more trustworthy in reporting
spiritual ideals because it has no intention of doing so.

That Richardson succeeds in making Mr. B. tolerable, not to say
likable, is a proof of his power; that the reader really grows
fond of his heroine--especially perhaps in her daughterly
devotion to her humble family--speaks volumes for his grasp of
human nature and helps us to understand the effect of the story
upon contemporaneous readers. That effect was indeed remarkable.
Lady Mary, to quote her again, testifies that the book "met with
very extraordinary (and I think undeserved) success. It has been
translated into French and Italian; it was all the fashion at
Paris and Versailles and is still the joy of the chambermaids of
all nations." Again she writes, "it has been translated into
more languages than any modern performances I ever heard of." A
French dramatic version of it under the same title appeared
three years after the publication of the novel and a little
later Voltaire in his "Nanine" used the same motif. Lady Mary's
reference to chambermaids is significant; it points to the new
sympathy on the part of the novelist and the consequent new
audience which the modern Novel was to command; literally, all
classes and conditions of mankind were to become its patrons;
and as one result, the author, gaining his hundreds of thousands
of readers, was to free himself forever of the aristocratic
Patron, at whose door once on a time, he very humbly and
hungrily knelt for favor. To-day, the Patron is hydra-headed;
demos rules in literature as in life.

The sentimentality of this pioneer novel which now seems
old-fashioned and even absurd, expressed Queen Anne's day.
"Sensibility," as it was called, was a favorite idea in letters,
much affected, and later a kind of cult. A generation after
Pamela, in Mackenzie's "Man of Feeling," weeping is unrestrained
in English fiction; the hero of that lachrymose tale incurred
all the dangers of influenza because of his inveterate tendency
toward damp emotional effects; he was perpetually dissolving in
"showers of tears." In fact, our novelists down to the memory of
living man gave way to their feelings with far more abandon than
is true of the present repressive period. One who reads Dickens'
"Nicholas Nickleby" with this in mind, will perhaps be surprised
to find how often the hero frankly indulges his grief; he cries
with a freedom that suggests a trait inherited from his mother
of moist memory. No doubt, there was abuse of this "sensibility"
in earlier fiction: but Richardson was comparatively innocuous
in his practice, and Coleridge, having the whole sentimental
tendency in view, seems rather too severe when he declared that
"all the evil achieved by Hobbes and the whole school of
materialists will appear inconsiderable if it be compared with
the mischief effected and occasioned by the sentimental
philosophy of Sterne and his numerous imitators." The same
tendency had its vogue on both the English and French stage--the
Comedie larmoyante of the latter being vastly affected in London
and receiving in the next generation the good-natured satiric
shafts of Goldsmith. It may be possible that at the present
time, when the stoicism of the Red Indian in inhibiting
expression seems to be an Anglo-Saxon ideal, we have reacted too
far from the gush and the fervor of our forefathers. In any
case, to Richardson belongs whatever of merit there may be in
first sounding the new sentimental note.

Pope declared that "Pamela," was as good as twenty sermons--an
innocently malignant remark, to be sure, which cuts both ways!
And plump, placid Mr. Richardson established warm epistolary
relations with many excellent if too emotional ladies, who
opened a correspondence with him concerning the conductment of
this and the following novels and strove to deflect the course
thereof to soothe their lacerated feelings. What novelist to-day
would not appreciate an audience that would take him _au grand
serieux_ in this fashion! What higher compliment than for your
correspondent--and a lady at that--to state that in the way of
ministering to her personal comfort, Pamela must marry and
Clarissa must not die! Richardson carried on a voluminous
letter-writing in life even as in literature, and the curled
darlings of latter-day letters may well look to their laurels in
recalling him, A certain Mme. Belfair, for example, desires to
look upon the author of those wonderful tales, yet modestly
shrinks from being seen herself. She therefore implores that he
will walk at an hour named in St. James Park--and this is the
novelist's reply:

     I go through the Park once or twice a week to my little
     retirement; but I will for a week together be in it, every day
     three or four hours, till you tell me you have seen a person who
     answers to this description, namely, short--rather plump--fair
     wig, lightish cloth coat, all black besides; one hand generally
     in his bosom, the other a cane in it, which he leans upon under
     the skirts of his coat; ... looking directly fore-right as
     passers-by would imagine, but observing all that stirs on either
     hand of him; hardly ever turning back; of a light brown
     complexion, smoothish faced and ruddy cheeked, looking about
     sixty-five; a regular, even pace, a gray eye, sometimes lively--very
     lively if he have hope of seeing a lady whom he loves and
     honors!


Such innocent philandering is delicious; there is a flavor to it
that presages the "Personals" in a New York newspaper. "Was ever
lady in such humor wooed?" or shall we say it is the novelist,
not the lady, who is besieged!

"Pamela" ran through five editions within a year of its
appearance, which was a conspicuous success in the days of an
audience so limited when compared with the vast reading public
of later times. The smug little bookseller must have been
greatly pleased by the good fortune attending his first venture
into a new field, especially since he essayed it so late in life
and almost by accident. His motive had been in a sense
practical; for his publishers had requested him to write a book
"on the useful concerns of life"--and that he had done so, he
might have learned any Sunday in church, for divines did not
hesitate to say a kind word from the pulpit about so
unexceptionable a work.

One of the things Richardson had triumphantly demonstrated by
his first story was that a very slight texture of plot can
suffice for a long, not to say too long, piece of fiction, if
only a free hand be given the story-teller in the way of
depicting the intuitions and emotions of human beings; dealing
with their mind states rather than, or quite as much as, their
actions. This was the modern note, and very speedily was the
lesson learned; the time was apt for it. From 1742, the date of
"Pamela," to 1765 is but a quarter century; yet within those
narrow time-limits the English Novel, through the labors of
Richardson and Fielding, Smollett, Sterne and Goldsmith, can be
said to have had its birth and growth to a lusty manhood and to
have defined once and for all the mold of this new and potent
form of prose art. By 1773 a critic speaks of the "novel-writing
age"; and a dozen years later, in 1785, novels are so common
that we hear of the press "groaning beneath their weight,"--which
sounds like the twentieth century. And it was all started
by the little printer; to him the praise. He received it in full
measure; here and there, of course, a dissident voice was heard,
one, that of Fielding, to be very vocal later; but mostly they
were drowned in the chorus of adulation. Richardson had done a
new thing and reaped an immediate reward; and--as seldom
happens, with quick recognition--it was to be a permanent reward
as well, for he changed the history of English literature.

One would have expected him to produce another novel post-haste,
following up his maiden victory before it could be forgotten,
after the modern manner. But those were leisured days and it was
half a dozen years before "Clarissa Harlowe" was given to the
public. Richardson had begun by taking a heroine out of low
life; he now drew one from genteel middle class life; as he was
in "Sir Charles Grandison," the third and last of his fictions,
to depict a hero in the upper class life of England. In Clarissa
again, plot was secondary, analysis, sentiment, the exhibition
of the female heart under stress of sorrow, this was everything.
Clarissa's hand is sought by an unattractive suitor; she rebels--a
social crime in the eighteenth century; whereat, her whole
family turn against her--father, mother, sister, brothers,
uncles and aunts--and, wooed by Lovelace, a dashing rake who is
in love with her according to his lights, but by no means
intends honorable matrimony, she flies with him in a chariot and
four, to find herself in a most anomalous position, and so dies
broken-hearted; to be followed in her fate by Lovelace, who is
represented as a man whose loose principles are in conflict with
a nature which is far from being utterly bad. The narrative is
mainly developed through letters exchanged between Clarissa and
her friend, Miss Howe. There can hardly be a more striking
testimony to the leisure enjoyed by the eighteenth-century than
that society was not bored by a story the length of which seems
almost interminable to the reader to-day. The slow movement is
sufficient to preclude its present prosperity. It is safe to say
that Richardson is but little read now; read much less than his
great contemporary, Fielding. And apparently it is his bulk
rather than his want of human interest or his antiquated manner
that explains the fact. The instinct to-day is against fiction
that is slow and tortuous in its onward course; at least so it
seemed until Mr. De Morgan returned in his delightful volumes to
the method of the past. Those are pertinent words of the
distinguished Spanish novelist, Valdes: "An author who wishes to
be read not only in his life, but after his death (and the
author who does not wish this should lay aside his pen), cannot
shut his eyes, when unblinded by vanity, to the fact that not
only is it necessary to be interesting to save himself from
oblivion, but the story must not be a very long one. The world
contains so many great and beautiful works that it requires a
long life to read them all. To ask the public, always anxious
for novelty, to read a production of inordinate length, when so
many others are demanding attention, seems to me useless and
ridiculous, ... The most noteworthy instance of what I say is
seen in the celebrated English novelist, Richardson, who, in
spite of his admirable genius and exquisite sensibility and
perspicuity, added to the fact of his being the father of the
modern Novel, is scarcely read nowadays, at least in Latin
countries. Given the indisputable beauties of his works, this
can only be due to their extreme length. And the proof of this,
that in France and Spain, to encourage the taste for them, the
most interesting parts have been extracted and published in
editions and compendiums."

This is suggestive, coming from one who speaks by the book. Who,
in truth, reads epics now--save in the enforced study of school
and college? Will not Browning's larger works--like "The Ring
and the Book"--suffer disastrously with the passing of time
because of a lack of continence, of a failure to realize that
since life is short, art should not be too long? It may be, too,
that Richardson, newly handling the sentiment which during the
following generation was to become such a marked trait of
imaginative letters, revelled in it to an extent unpalatable to
our taste; "rubbing our noses," as Leslie Stephen puts it, "in
all her (Clarissa's) agony,"--the tendency to overdo a new
thing, not to be resisted in his case. But with all concessions
to length and sentimentality, criticism from that day to this
has been at one in agreeing that here is not only Richardson's
best book but a truly great Novel. Certainly one who patiently
submits to a ruminant reading of the story, will find that when
at last the long-deferred climax is reached and the awed and
penitent Lovelace describes the death-bed moments of the girl he
has ruined, the scene has a great moving power. Allowing for
differences of taste and time, the vogue of the Novel in
Richardson's day can easily be understood, and through all the
stiffness, the stilted effect of manner and speech, and the
stifling conventions of the entourage, a sweet and charming
young woman in very piteous distress emerges to live in
affectionate memory. After all, no poor ideal of womanhood is
pictured in Clarissa. She is one of the heroines who are
unforgettable, dear. Mr. Howells, with his stern insistence on
truth in characterization, declares that she is "as freshly
modern as any girl of yesterday or to-morrow. 'Clarissa
Harlowe,' in spite of her eighteenth century costume and
keeping, remains a masterpiece in the portraiture of that
ever-womanly which is of all times and places."

Lovelace, too, whose name has become a synonym for the fine
gentleman betrayer, is drawn in a way to make him sympathetic
and creditable; he is far from being a stock figure of villainy.
And the minor figures are often enjoyable; the friendship of
Clarissa with Miss Howe, a young woman of excellent good sense
and seemingly quite devoid of the ultra-sentiment of her time,
preludes that between Diana and her "Tony" in Meredith's great
novel. As a general picture of the society of the period, the
book is full of illuminations and sidelights; of course, the
whole action is set on a stage that bespeaks Richardson's
narrow, middle class morality, his worship of rank, his belief
that worldly goods are the reward of well-doing.

As for the contemporaneous public, it wept and praised and went
with fevered blood because of this fiction. We have heard how
women of sentiment in London town welcomed the book and the
opportunity it offered for unrestrained tears. But it was the
same abroad; as Ike Marvel has it, Rousseau and Diderot over in
France, philosophers as they professed to be, "blubbered their
admiring thanks for 'Clarissa Harlowe."' Similarly, at a later
day we find caustic critics like Jeffrey and Macaulay writing to
Dickens to tell how they had cried over the death of Little
Nell--a scene the critical to-day are likely to stigmatize as
one of the few examples of pathos overdone to be found in the
works of that master. It is scarcely too much to say that the
outcome of no novel in the English tongue was watched with such
bated breath as was that of "Clarissa Harlowe" while the eight
successive books were being issued.

Richardson chose to bask for another half dozen years in the
fame of his second novel, before turning in 1754 to his final
attempt, "Sir Charles Grandison," wherein it was his purpose to
depict the perfect pattern of a gentleman, "armed at all points"
of social and moral behavior. We must bear in mind that when
"Clarissa" was published he was sixty years of age and to be
pardoned if he did not emulate so many novel-makers of these
brisker mercantile times and turn off a story or so a year.

By common confession, this is the poorest of his three fictions.
In the first place, we are asked to move more steadily in the
aristocratic atmosphere where the novelist did not breathe to
best advantage. Again, Richardson was an adept in drawing women
rather than men and hence was self-doomed in electing a
masculine protagonist. He is also off his proper ground in
laying part of the action in Italy.

His beau ideal, Grandison, turns out the most impossible prig in
English literature. He is as insufferable as that later prig,
Meredith's Sir Willoughby in "The Egotist," with the difference
that the author does not know it, and that you do not believe in
him for a moment; whereas Meredith's creation is appallingly
true, a sort of simulacrum of us all. The best of the story is
in its portrayal of womankind; in particular, Sir Charles' two
loves, the English Harriet Byron and the Italian Clementina, the
last of whom is enamored of him, but separated by religious
differences. Both are alive and though suffering in the reader's
estimation because of their devotion to such a stick as
Grandison, nevertheless touch our interest to the quick. The
scene in which Grandison returns to Italy to see Clementina,
whose reason, it is feared, is threatened because of her grief
over his loss, is genuinely effective and affecting.

The mellifluous sentimentality, too, of the novelist seems to
come to a climax in this book; justifying Taine's satiric remark
that "these phrases should be accompanied by a mandolin." The
moral tag is infallibly supplied, as in all Richardson's tales--though
perhaps here with an effect of crescendo. We are still
long years from that conception of art which holds that a
beautiful thing may be allowed to speak for itself and need not
be moraled down our throats like a physician's prescription. Yet
Fielding had already, as we shall see, struck a wholesome note
of satiric fun. The plot is slight and centers in an abduction
which, by the time it is used in the third novel, begins to pall
as a device and to suggest paucity of invention. The novel has
the prime merit of brevity; it is much shorter than "Clarissa
Harlowe," but long enough, in all conscience, Harriet being
blessed with the gift of gab, like all Richardson's heroines.
"She follows the maxim of Clarissa," says Lady Mary with telling
humor, "of declaring all she thinks to all the people she sees
without reflecting that in this mortal state of imperfection,
fig-leaves are as necessary for our minds as our bodies." It is
significant that this brilliant contemporary is very hard on
Richardson's characterization of women in this volume (which she
says "sinks horribly"), whereas never a word has she to say in
condemnation of the hero, who to the present critical eye seems
the biggest blot on the performance. How can we join the chorus
of praise led by Harriet, now her ladyship and his loving
spouse, when it chants: "But could he be otherwise than the best
of husbands who was the most dutiful of sons, who is the most
affectionate of brothers, the most faithful of friends, who is
good upon principle in every relation in life?" Lady Mary is
also extremely severe on the novelist's attempt to paint Italy;
when he talks of it, says she, "it is plain he is no better
acquainted with it than he is with the Kingdom of Mancomingo."
It is probable tat Richardson could not say more for his Italian
knowledge than did old Roger Ascham of Archery fame, when he
declared: "I was once in Italy, but I thank God my stay there
was only nine days." "Sir Charles Grandison" has also the
substantial advantage of ending well: that is, if to marry Sir
Charles can be so regarded, and certainly Harriet deemed it
desirable.

It is pleasant to think of Richardson, now well into the
sixties, amiable, plump and prosperous, surrounded for the
remainder of his days--he was to die seven years later at the
ripe age of seventy-five--by a bevy of admiring women, who,
whether literary or merely human, gave this particular author
that warm and convincing proof of popularity which, to most, is
worth a good deal of chilly posthumous fame which a man is not
there to enjoy. Looking at his work retrospectively, one sees
that it must always have authority, even if it fall deadly dull
upon our ears to-day; for nothing can take away from him the
distinction of originating that kind of fiction which, now well
along towards its second century of existence, is still popular
and powerful. Richardson had no model; he shaped a form for
himself. Fielding, a greater genius, threw his fiction into a
mold cast by earlier writers; moreover, he received his direct
impulse away from the drama and towards the novel from
Richardson himself.

The author of "Pamela" demonstrated once and for all the
interest that lies in a sympathetic and truthful representation
of character in contrast with that interest in incident for its
own sake which means the subordination of character, so that the
persons become mere subsidiary counters in the game. And he
exhibited such a knowledge of the subtler phases of the nooks
and crannies of woman's heart, as to be hailed as past-master
down to the present day by a whole school of analysts and
psychologues; for may it not be said that it is the popular
distinction of the nineteenth century fiction to place woman in
the pivotal position in that social complex which it is the
business of the Novel to represent? Do not our fiction and drama
to-day--the drama a belated ally of the Novel in this and other
regards--find in the delineation of the eternal feminine under
new conditions of our time, its chief, its most significant
motif? If so, a special gratitude is due the placid little Mr.
Richardson with his Pamelas, Clarissas and Harriets. He found
fiction unwritten so far as the chronicles of contemporary
society were concerned, and left it in such shape that it was
recognized as the natural quarry of all who would paint manners;
a field to be worked by Jane Austen, Dickens and Thackeray,
Trollope and George Eliot, and a modern army of latter and
lesser students of life. His faults were in part merely a
reflection of his time; its low-pitched morality, its etiquette
which often seems so absurd. Partly it was his own, too; for he
utterly lacked humor (save where unconscious) and never grasped
the great truth, that in literary art the half is often more
than the whole; The Terentian ne quid nimis had evidently not
been taken to heart by Samuel Richardson, Esquire, of
Hammersmith, author of "Clarissa Harlowe" in eight volumes, and
Printer to the Queen. Again and again one of Clarissa's bursts
of emotion under the tantalizing treatment of her seducer loses
its effect because another burst succeeds before we (and she)
have recovered from the first one. He strives to give us the
broken rhythm of life (therein showing his affinity with the
latter day realists) instead of that higher and harder thing--the
more perfect rhythm of art; not so much the truth (which
cannot be literally given) as that seeming-true which is the aim
and object of the artistic representation. Hence the necessity
of what Brunetiere calls in an admirable phrase, the true
function of the novel--"to be an abridged representation of
life." Construction in the modern sense Richardson had not
studied, naturally enough, and was innocent of the fineness of
method and the sure-handed touches of later technique. And there
is a kind of drawing-room atmosphere in his books, a lack of
ozone which makes Fielding with all his open-air coarseness a
relief. But judged in the setting of his time, this writer did a
wonderful thing not only as the Father of the Modern Novel but
one of the few authors in the whole range of fiction who holds
his conspicuous place amid shifting literary modes and fashions,
because he built upon the surest of all foundations--the social
instinct, and the human heart.

If the use of the realistic method alone denoted the Novel,
Defoe, not Richardson, might be called its begetter. "Robinson
Crusoe," more than twenty years before "Pamela," would occupy
the primate position, to say nothing of Swift's "Gulliver's
Travels," antedating Richardson's first story by some fifteen
years. Certainly the observational method, the love of detail,
the grave narrative of imagined fact (if the bull be permitted)
are in this earlier book in full force. But "Robinson Crusoe" is
not a rival because it does not study man-in-society; never was
a story that depended less upon this kind of interest. The
position of Crusoe on his desert isle is so eminently unsocial
that he welcomes the black man Friday and quivers at the human
quality in the famed footprints in the sand. As for Swift's chef
d'oeuvre, it is a fairy-tale with a grimly realistic manner and
a savage satiric intention. To speak of either of these fictions
as novels is an example of the prevalent careless nomenclature.
Between them and "Pamela" there yawns a chasm. Moreover,
"Crusoe" is a frankly picaresque tale belonging to the elder
line of romantic fiction, where incident and action and all the
thrilling haps of Adventure-land furnish the basis of appeal
rather than character analysis or a study of social relations.
The personality of Crusoe is not advanced a whit by his
wonderful experiences; he is done entirely from the outside.

Richardson, therefore, marks the beginning of the modern form.
But that the objection to Defoe as the true and only begetter of
the Novel lies in his failure, in his greatest story, to center
the interest in man as part of the social order and as human
soul, is shown by the fact that his less known, but remarkable,
story "Moll Flanders," picaresque as it is and depicting the
life of a female criminal, has yet considerable character study
and gets no small part of its appeal for a present-day reader
from the minute description of the fall and final reform of the
degenerate woman. It is comparatively crude in characterization,
but psychological value is not entirely lacking. However, with
Richardson it is almost all. It was of the nature of his genius
to make psychology paramount: just there is found his modernity.
Defoe and Swift may be said to have added some slight interest
in analysis pointing towards the psychologic method, which was
to find full expression in Samuel Richardson.




CHAPTER III


EIGHTEENTH CENTURY BEGINNINGS: FIELDING

It is interesting to ask if Henry Fielding, barrister,
journalist, tinker of plays and man-about-town, would ever have
turned novelist, had it not been for Richardson, his
predecessor. So slight, so seemingly accidental, are the
incidents which make or mar careers and change the course of
literary history. Certain it is that the immediate cause of
Fielding's first story was the effect upon him of the fortunes
of the virtuous Pamela. A satirist and humorist where Richardson
was a somewhat solemn sentimentalist, Fielding was quick to see
the weakness, and--more important,--the opportunity for
caricature, in such a tale, whose folk harangued about morality
and whose avowed motive was a kind of hard-surfaced, carefully
calculated honor, for sale to the highest bidder. It was easy to
recognize that Pamela was not only good but goody-goody. So
Fielding, being thirty-five years of age and of uncertain
income--he had before he was thirty squandered his mother's
estate,--turned himself, two years after "Pamela" had appeared,
to a new field and concocted the story known to the world of
letters as: "The Adventures of Joseph Andrews and His Friend
Abraham Adams."

This Joseph purports to be the brother of Pamela (though the
denouement reveals him as more gently born) and is as virtuous
in his character of serving-man as the sister herself; indeed,
he outvirtues her. Fielding waggishly exhibits him in the full
exercise of a highly-starched decorum rebuffing the amatory
attempts of sundry ladies whose assault upon the citadel of his
honor is analogous to that of Mr. B.,--who naturally becomes
Squire Booby in Fielding's hands--upon the long suffering
Pamela. Thus, Lady Booby, in whose employ Joseph is footman,
after an invitation to him to kiss her which has been gently but
firmly refused, bursts out with: "Can a boy, a stripling, have
the confidence to talk of his virtue?"

"Madam," says Joseph, "that boy is the brother of Pamela and
would be ashamed that the chastity of his family, which is
preserved in her, should be stained in him."

The chance for fun is palpable here. But something unexpected
happened: what was begun as burlesque, almost horse-play, began
to pass from the key of shallow, lively satire, broadening and
deepening into a finer tone of truth. In a few chapters, by the
time the writer had got such an inimitable personage as Parson
Adams before the reader, it was seen that the book was to be
more than a jeu d'esprit: rather, the work of a master of
characterization. In short, Joseph Andrews started out
ostensibly to poke good-natured ridicule at sentimental Mr.
Richardson: it ended by furnishing contemporary London and all
subsequent readers with a notable example of the novel of
mingled character and incident, entertaining alike for its
lively episodes and its broadly genial delineation of types of
the time. And so he soon had the town laughing with him at his
broad comedy.

In every respect Fielding made a sharp contrast with Richardson.
He was gentle-born, distinguished and fashionable in his
connections: the son of younger sons, impecunious, generous, of
strong often unregulated passions,--what the world calls a good
fellow, a man's man--albeit his affairs with the fair sex were
numerous. He knew high society when he choose to depict it: his
education compared with Richardson's was liberal and he based
his style of fiction upon models which the past supplied,
whereas Richardson had no models, blazed his own trail.
Fielding's literary ancestry looks back to "Gil Blas" and "Don
Quixote," and in English to "Robinson Crusoe." In other words,
his type, however much he departs from it, is the picturesque
story of adventure. He announced, in fact, on his title-page
that he wrote "in imitation of the manner of Cervantes."

Again, his was a genius for comedy, where Richardson, as we have
seen, was a psychologist. The cleansing effect of wholesome
laughter and an outdoor gust of hale west wind is offered by
him, and with it go the rude, coarse things to be found in
Nature who is nevertheless in her influence so salutary, so
necessary, in truth, to our intellectual and moral health. Here
then was a sort of fiction at many removes from the slow,
analytic studies of Richardson: buoyant, objective, giving far
more play to action and incident, uniting in most agreeable
proportions the twin interests of character and event. The very
title of this first book is significant. We are invited to be
present at a delineation of two men,--but these men are
displayed in a series of adventures. Unquestionably, the
psychology is simpler, cruder, more elementary than that of
Richardson. Dr. Johnson, who much preferred the author of
"Pamela" to the author of "Tom Jones" and said so in the
hammer-and-tongs style for which he is famous, declared to Bozzy
that "there is all the difference in the world between characters
of nature and characters of manners: and there is the difference
between the characters of Fielding and those of Richardson.
Characters of manners are very entertaining; but they are to be
understood by a more superficial observer than characters of
nature, where a man must dive into the recesses of the human
heart."

And although we may share Boswell's feeling that Johnson
estimated the compositions of Richardson too highly and that he
had an unreasonable prejudice against Fielding--since he was a
man of magnificent biases--yet we may grant that the critic-god
made a sound distinction here, that Fielding's method is
inevitably more external and shallow than that of an analyst
proper like Richardson; no doubt to the great joy of many weary
folk who go to novels for the rest and refreshment they give,
rather than for their thought-evoking value.

The contrast between these novelists is maintained, too, in the
matter of style: Fielding walks with the easy undress of a
gentleman: Richardson sits somewhat stiff and pragmatical,
carefully arrayed in full-bottomed wig, and knee breeches,
delivering a lecture from his garden chair. Fielding is a master
of that colloquial manner afterwards handled with such success
by Thackeray: a manner "good alike for grave or gay," and making
this early fiction-maker enjoyable. Quite apart from our relish
of his vivid portrayals of life, we like his wayside chatting.
For another difference: there is no moral motto or announcement:
the lesson takes care of itself. What unity there is of
construction, is found in the fact that certain characters, more
or less related, are seen to walk centrally through the
narrative: there is little or no plot development in the modern
sense and the method (the method of the type) is frankly
episodic.

In view of what the Novel was to become in the nineteenth
century, Richardson's way was more modern, and did more to set a
seal upon fiction than Fielding's: the Novel to-day is first of
all psychologic and serious. And the assertion is safe that all
the later development derives from these two kinds written by
the two greatest of the eighteenth century pioneers, Richardson
and Fielding: on the one hand, character study as a motive, on
the other the portrayal of personality surrounded by the
external factors of life. The wise combination of the two, gives
us that tangle of motive, act and circumstance which makes up
human existence.

With regard to the morals of the story, a word may here be said,
having all Fielding's fiction in mind. Of the suggestive
prurience of much modern novelism, whether French or French-derived,
he, Fielding, is quite free: he deals with the sensual
relations with a frank acknowledgment of their physical basis.
The truth is, the eighteenth century, whether in England or
elsewhere, was on a lower plane in this respect than our own
time. Fielding, therefore, while he does no affront to essential
decency, does offend our taste, our refinement, in dealing with
this aspect of life. We have in a true sense become more
civilized since 1750: the ape and tiger of Tennyson's poem have
receded somewhat in human nature during the last century and a
half. The plea that since Fielding was a realist depicting
society as it was in his day, his license is legitimate, whereas
Richardson was giving a sort of sentimentalized stained-glass
picture of it not as it was but, in his opinion, should be,--is
a specious one; it is well that in literature, faithful
reflector of the ideals of the race, the beast should be allowed
to die (as Mr. Howells, himself a staunch realist, has said),
simply because it is slowly dying in life itself. Fielding's
novels in unexpurgated form are not for household reading to-day:
the fact may not be a reflection upon him, but it is surely
one to congratulate ourselves upon, since it testifies to social
evolution. However, for those whose experience of life is
sufficiently broad and tolerant, these novels hold no harm:
there is a tonic quality to them.--Even bowdlerization is not to
be despised with such an author, when it makes him suitable for
the hands of those who otherwise might receive injury from the
contact. The critic-sneer at such an idea forgets that good art
comes out of sound morality as well as out of sound esthetics.
It is pleasant to hear a critic of such standing as Brunetiere
in his "L'Art et Morale" speak with spiritual clarity upon this
subject, so often turned aside with the shrug of impatient
scorn.

The episodic character of the story was to be the manner of
Fielding in all his fiction. There are detached bits of
narrative, stories within stories--witness that dealing with the
high comedy figures of Leonora and Bellamine--and the novelist
does not bother his head if only he can get his main characters
in motion,--on the road, in a tavern or kitchen brawl, astride a
horse for a cross-country dash after the hounds. Charles
Dickens, whose models were of the eighteenth century, made
similar use of the episode in his early work, as readers of
"Pickwick" may see for themselves.

The first novel was received with acclaim and stirred up a
pretty literary quarrel, for Richardson and his admiring clique
would have been more than human had they not taken umbrage at so
obvious a satire. Recriminations were hot and many.

Mr. Andrew Lang should give us in a dialogue between dead
authors, a meeting in Hades between the two; it would be worth
any climatic risk to be present and hear what was said; Lady
Mary, who may once more be put on the witness-stand, tells how,
being in residence in Italy, and a box of light literature from
England having arrived at ten o'clock of the night, she could
not but open it and "falling upon Fielding's works, was fool
enough to sit up all night reading. I think "Joseph Andrews"
better than his Foundling"--the reference being, of course, to
"Tom Jones"; a judgment not jumping with that of posterity,
which has declared the other to be his masterpiece; yet not an
opinion to be despised, coming from one of the keenest
intellects of the time. Lady Mary, whose cousin Fielding was,
had a clear eye alike for his literary merits and personal
foibles and faults, but heartily liked him and acted as his
literary mentor in his earlier days; his maiden play was
dedicated to her and her interest in him was more than passing.

The Bohemian barrister and literary hack who had made a love-match
half a dozen years before and now had a wife and several
children to care for, must have been vastly encouraged by the
favorable reception of his first essay into fiction; at last, he
had found the kind of literature congenial to his talents and
likely to secure suitable renown: his metier as an artist of
letters was discovered, as we might now choose to express it; he
would hardly have taken himself so seriously. It was natural
that he should publish the next year a three volume collection
of his miscellany, which contained his second novel, "Mr.
Jonathan Wild The Great," distinctly the least liked of his four
stories, because of its bitter irony, its almost savage tone,
the gloom which surrounds the theme, a powerful, full-length
portrayal of a famous thief-taker of the period, from his birth
to his bad end on a Newgate gallows. Mr. Wild is a sort of
foreglimpse of the Sherlock Holmes-Raffles of our own day.

Fielding's wife died this year and it may be that sorrow for her
fatal illness was the subjective cause of the tone of this
gruesomely attractive piece of fiction; but there is some reason
for believing it to be an earlier work than "Joseph Andrews"; it
belongs to a more primitive type of story-making, because of its
sensational features: its dependence for interest upon the seamy
side of aspects of life exhibited like magic lantern slides with
little connection, but spectacular effects. The satire of the
book is directed at that immoral confusion between greatness and
goodness, the rascally Jonathan being pictured in grave mock-heroics
as in every way worthy--and the sardonic force at times
almost suggests the pen of Dean Swift.

But such work was but a prelude to what was to follow. When the
world thinks of Henry Fielding it thinks of "Tom Jones," it is
almost as if he had written naught else. "The History of Tom
Jones, A Foundling" appeared six years after "Jonathan Wild,"
the intermediate time (aside from the novel itself) being
consumed in editing journals and officiating as a Justice of
the Peace: the last a role it is a little difficult, in the
theater phrase, to see him in. He was two and forty when the
book was published: but as he had been at work upon it for a
long while (he speaks of the thousands of hours he had been
toiling over it), it may be ascribed to that period of a man's
growth when he is passing intellectually from youth to early
maturity; everything considered, perhaps the best productive
period. His health had already begun to break: and he was by no
means free of the harassments of debt. Although successful in
his former attempt at fiction, novel writing was but an aside
with him, after all; he had not during the previous six years
given regular time and attention to literary composition, as a
modern story-maker would have done under the stimulus of like
encouragement. The eighteenth century audience, it must be borne
in mind, was not large enough nor sufficiently eager for an
attractive new form of literature, to justify a man of many
trades like Fielding in devoting his days steadily to the
writing of fiction. There is to the last an effect of the gifted
amateur about him; Taine tells the anecdote of his refusal to
trouble himself to change a scene in one of his plays, which
Garrick begged him to do: "Let them find it out," he said,
referring to the audience. And when the scene was hissed, he
said to the disconsolate player: "I did not: give them credit
for it: they have found it out, have they?" In other words, he
was knowing to his own poor art, content if only it escaped the
public eye. This is some removes from the agonizing over a
phrase of a Flaubert.

Like the preceding story, "Tom Jones" has its center of plot in
a life history of the foundling who grows into a young manhood
that is full of high spirits and escapades: likable always, even
if, judged by the straight-laced standards of Richardson, one
may not approve. Jones loves Sophia Western, daughter of a
typical three-bottle, hunting squire: of course he prefers the
little cad Blifil, with his money and position, where poor Tom
has neither: equally of course Sophia (whom the reader heartily
likes, in spite of her name) prefers the handsome Jones with his
blooming complexion and many amatory adventures. And, since we
are in the simple-minded days of fiction when it was the
business of the sensible novelist to make us happy at the close,
the low-born lover, assisted by Squire Allworthy, who is a deus
ex machina a trifle too good for human nature's daily food, gets
his girl (in imitation of Joseph Andrews) and is shown to be
close kin to Allworthy--tra-la-la, tra-la-lee, it is all
charmingly simple and easy! The beginners of the English novel
had only a few little tricks in their box in the way of incident
and are for the most part innocent of plot in the Wilkie Collins
sense of the word. The opinion of Coleridge that the "Oedipus
Tyrannus," "The Alchemist" and "Tom Jones" are "the three most
perfect plots ever planned" is a curious comment upon his
conception of fiction, since few stories have been more plotless
than Fielding's best book. The fact is, biographical fiction
like this is to be judged by itself, it has its own laws of
technique.

The glory of "Tom Jones" is in its episodes, its crowded canvas,
the unfailing verve and variety of its action: in the fine open-air
atmosphere of the scenes, the sense of the stir of life they
convey: most of all, in an indescribable manliness or humanness
which bespeaks the true comic force--something of that same
comic view that one detects in Shakspere and Moliere and
Cervantes. It means an open-eyed acceptance of life, a
realization of its seriousness yet with the will to take it with
a smile: a large tolerancy which forbids the view conventional
or parochial or aristocratic--in brief, the view limited. There
is this in the book, along with much psychology so superficial
as to seem childish, and much interpretation that makes us feel
that the higher possibilities of men and women are not as yet
even dreamed of. In this novel, Fielding makes fuller use than
he had before of the essay link: the chapters introductory to
the successive books,--and in them, a born essayist, as your
master of style is pretty sure to be, he discourses in the
wisest and wittiest way on topics literary, philosophical or
social, having naught to do with the story in hand, it may be,
but highly welcome for its own sake. This manner of pausing by
the way for general talk about the world in terms of Me has been
used since by Thackeray, with delightful results: but has now
become old-fashioned, because we conceive it to be the
novelist's business to stick close to his story and not obtrude
his personality at all. Thackeray displeases a critic like Mr.
James by his postscript harangues about himself as Showman,
putting his puppets into the box and shutting up his booth:
fiction is too serious a matter to be treated so lightly by its
makers--to say nothing of the audience: it is more, much more
than mere fooling and show-business. But to go back to the
eighteenth century is to realize that the novel is being newly
shaped, that neither novelist nor novel-reader is yet awake to
the higher conception of the genre. So we wax lenient and are
glad enough to get these resting-places of chat and charm from
Fielding: it may not be war, but it is nevertheless magnificent.

Fielding in this fiction is remarkable for his keen observation
of every-day life and character, the average existence in town
and country of mankind high and low: he is a truthful reporter,
the verisimilitude of the picture is part of its attraction. It
is not too much to say that, pictorially, he is the first great
English realist of the Novel. For broad comedy presentation he
is unsurpassed: as well as for satiric gravity of comment and
illustration. It may be questioned, however, whether when he
strives to depict the deeper phases of human relations he is so
much at home or anything like so happy. There is no more
critical test of a novelist than his handling of the love
passion. Fielding essays in "Tom Jones" to show the love between
two very likable flesh-and-blood young folk: the many mishaps of
the twain being but an embroidery upon the accepted fact that
the course of true love never did run smooth. There is a certain
scene which gives us an interview between Jones and Sophia,
following on a stormy one between father and daughter, during
which the Squire has struck his child to the ground and left her
there with blood and tears streaming down her face. Her
disobedience in not accepting the addresses of the unspeakable
Blifil is the cause of the somewhat drastic parental treatment.
Jones has assured the Squire that he can make Sophia see the
error of her ways and has thus secured a moment with her. He
finds her just risen from the ground, in the sorry plight
already described. Then follows this dialogue:

     'O, my Sophia, what means this dreadful sight?'

     She looked softly at him for a moment before she spoke, and
     then said:

     'Mr. Jones, for Heaven's sake, how came you here? Leave me,
     I beseech you, this moment.'

     'Do not,' says he, 'impose so harsh a command upon me. My
     heart bleeds faster than those lips. O Sophia, how easily
     could I drain my veins to preserve one drop of that dear
     blood.'

     'I have too many obligations to you already,' answered she,
     'for sure you meant them such.'

     Here she looked at him tenderly almost a minute, and then
     bursting into an agony, cried:

     'Oh, Mr. Jones, why did you save my life? My death would
     have been happier for us both.'

     'Happy for us both!' cried he. 'Could racks or wheels kill
     me so painfully as Sophia's--I cannot bear the dreadful
     sound. Do I live but for her?'

     Both his voice and look were full of irrepressible
     tenderness when he spoke these words; and at the same time
     he laid gently hold on her hand, which she did not withdraw
     from him; to say the truth, she hardly knew what she did or
     suffered. A few moments now passed in silence between these
     lovers, while his eyes were eagerly fixed on Sophia, and
     hers declining toward the ground; at last she recovered
     strength enough to desire him again to leave her, for that
     her certain ruin would be the consequence of their being
     found together; adding:

     'Oh, Mr. Jones, you know not, you know not what hath passed
     this cruel afternoon.'

     'I know all, my Sophia,' answered he; 'your cruel father
     hath told me all, and he himself hath sent me hither to
     you.'

     'My father sent you to me!' replied she: 'sure you dream!'

     'Would to Heaven,' cried he, 'it was but a dream. Oh!
     Sophia, your father hath sent me to you, to be an advocate
     for my odious rival, to solicit you in his favor. I took
     any means to get access to you. O, speak to me, Sophia!
     Comfort my bleeding heart. Sure no one ever loved, ever
     doted, like me. Do not unkindly withhold this dear, this
     soft, this gentle hand--one moment perhaps tears you
     forever from me. Nothing less than this cruel occasion
     could, I believe, have ever conquered the respect and love
     with which you have inspired me.'

     She stood a moment silent, and covered with confusion;
     then, lifting up her eyes gently towards him, she cried:

     'What would Mr. Jones have me say?'


We would seem to have here a writer not quite in his native
element. He intends to interest us in a serious situation.
Sophia is on the whole natural and winning, although one may
stop to imagine what kind of an agony is that which allows of so
mathematical a division of time as is implied in the statement
that she looked at her lover--tenderly, too, forsooth!--"almost
a minute." The mood of mathematics and the mood of emotion, each
excellent in itself, do not go together in life as they do in
eighteenth century fiction. But in the general impression she
makes, Sophia, let us concede, is sweet and realizable. But
Jones, whom we have long before this scene come to know and be
fond of--Jones is here a prig, a bore, a dummy. Sir Charles
Grandison in all his woodenness is not arrayed like one of
these. Consider the situation further: Sophia is in grief; she
has blood and tears on her face--what would any lover,--nay, any
respectable young man do in the premises? Surely, stanch her
wounds, dry her eyes, comfort her with a homely necessary
handkerchief. But not so Jones: he is not a real man but a
melodramatic lay-figure, playing to the gallery as he spouts
speeches about the purely metaphoric bleeding of his heart,
oblivious of the disfigurement of his sweetheart's visage from
real blood. He insults her by addressing her in the third
person, mouths sentiments about his "odious rival" (a phrase
with a superb Bowery smack to it!) and in general so disports
himself as to make an effect upon the reader of complete
unreality. This was no real scene to Fielding himself: why then
should it be true: it has neither the accent nor the motion of
life. The novelist is being "literary," is not warm to his work
at all. When we turn from this attempt to the best love scenes
in modern hands, the difference is world-wide. And this
unreality--which violates the splendid credibility of the hero
in dozens of other scenes in the book,--is all the worse coming
from a writer who expressly announces his intention to destroy
the prevalent conventional hero of fiction and set up something
better in his place. Whereas Tom in the quoted scene is nothing
if not conventional and drawn in the stock tradition of mawkish
heroics. The plain truth is that with Fielding love is an
appetite rather than a sentiment and he is only completely at
ease when painting its rollicking, coarse and passional aspects.

In its unanalytic method and loose construction this Novel,
compared with Richardson, is a throw-back to a more primitive
pattern, as we saw was the case with Fielding's first fiction.
But in another important characteristic of the modern Novel it
surpasses anything that had earlier appeared: I refer to the way
it puts before the reader a great variety of human beings, so
that a sense of teeming existence is given, a genuine imitation
of the spatial complexity of life, if not of its depths. It is
this effect, afterwards conveyed in fuller measure by Balzac, by
Dickens, by Victor Hugo and by Tolstoy, that gives us the
feeling that we are in the presence of a master of men, whatever
his limitations of period or personality.

How delightful are the subsidiary characters in the book! One
such is Partridge, the unsophisticated schoolmaster who, when he
attends the theater with Tom and hears Garrick play "Hamlet,"
thinks but poorly of the player because he only does what
anybody would do under the circumstances! All-worthy and Blifil
one may object to, each in his kind, for being conventionally
good and bad, but in numerous male characters in less important
roles there is compensation: the gypsy episode, for example, is
full of raciness and relish. And what a gallery of women we get
in the story: Mrs. Honour the maid, and Miss Western (who in
some sort suggests Mrs. Nickleby), Mrs. Miller, Lady Bellaston,
Mrs. Waters and other light-of-loves and dames of folly, whose
dubious doings are carried off with such high good humor that we
are inclined to overlook their misdeeds. There is a Chaucerian
freshness about it all: at times comes the wish that such talent
were used in a better cause. A suitable sub-title for the story,
would be: Or Life in The Tavern, so large a share do Inns have
in its unfolding. Fielding would have yielded hearty assent to
Dr. Johnson's dictum that a good inn stood for man's highest
felicity here below: he relished the wayside comforts of cup and
bed and company which they afford.

"Tom Jones" quickly crossed the seas, was admired in foreign
lands. I possess a manuscript letter of Heine's dated from Mainz
in 1830, requesting a friend to send him this novel: the German
poet represents, in the request, the literary class which has
always lauded Fielding's finest effort, while the wayfaring man
who picks it up, also finds it to his liking. Thus it secures
and is safe in a double audience. Yet we must return to the
thought that such a work is strictly less significant in the
evolution of the modern Novel, because of its form, its
reversion to type, than the model established by a man like
Richardson, who is so much more restricted in gift.

Fielding's fourth and final story, "Amelia," was given to the
world two years later, and but three years before his premature
death at Lisbon at the age of forty-nine--worn out by irregular
living and the vicissitudes of a career which had been checkered
indeed. He did strenuous work as a Justice these last years and
carried on an efficacious campaign against criminals: but the
lights were dimming, the play was nearly over. The pure gust of
life which runs rampant and riotous in the pages of "Tom Jones"
is tempered in "Amelia" by a quieter, sadder tone and a more
philosophic vision. It is in this way a less characteristic
work, for it was of Fielding's nature to be instantly responsive
to good cheer and the creature comforts of life. When she got
the news of his death, Lady Mary wrote of him: "His happy
constitution (even when he had, with great pains, half
demolished it) made him forget everything when he was before a
venison pastry or over a flask of champagne; and I am persuaded
he has known more happy moments than any prince upon earth. His
natural spirits gave him rapture with his cook-maid and
cheerfulness in a garret." Here is a kit-kat showing the man
indeed: all his fiction may be read in the light of it. The main
interest in "Amelia" is found in its autobiographical flavor,
for the story, in describing the fortunes--or rather
misfortunes--of Captain Booth and his wife, drew, it is pretty
certain, upon Fielding's own traits and to some extent upon the
incidents of his earlier life. The scenes where the Captain sets
up for a country gentleman with his horses and hounds and
speedily runs through his patrimony, is a transcript of his own
experience: and Amelia herself is a sort of memorial to his
well-beloved first wife (he had married for a second his honest,
good-hearted kitchen-maid), who out of affection must have
endured so much in daily contact with such a character as that
of her charming husband. In the novel, Mrs. Booth always
forgives, even as the Captain ever goes wrong. There would be
something sad in such a clear-eyed comprehension of one's own
weakness, if we felt compelled to accept the theory that he was
here drawing his own likeness; which must not be pushed too far,
for the Captain is one thing Fielding never was--to wit, stupid.
There is in the book much realism of scene and incident; but its
lack of animal spirits has always militated against the
popularity of "Amelia"; in fact, it is accurate to say that
Fielding's contemporary public, and the reading world ever
since, has confined its interest in his work to "Joseph Andrews"
and "Tom Jones."

The pathos of his ending, dying in Portugal whither he had gone
on a vain quest for health, and his companionable qualities
whether as man or author, can but make him a more winsome figure
to us than proper little Mr. Richardson; and possibly this
feeling has affected the comparative estimates of the two
writers. One responds readily to the sentiment of Austin
Dobson's fine poem on Fielding:

"Beneath the green Estrella trees,
No artist merely, but a man
Wrought on our noblest island-plan,
Sleeps with the alien Portuguese."

And in the same way we are sympathetic with Thackeray in the
lecture on the English humorists: "Such a brave and gentle
heart, such an intrepid and courageous spirit, I love to
recognize in the manly, the English Harry Fielding." Imagine any
later critic calling Richardson "Sam!" It is inconceivable.

       *       *       *       *       *

Such then were the two men who founded the English Novel, and
such their work. Unlike in many respects, both as personalities
and literary makers, they were, after all, alike in this: they
showed the feasibility of making the life of contemporary
society interesting in prose fiction. That was their great
common triumph and it remains the keynote of all the subsequent
development in fiction. They accomplished this, each in his own
way: Richardson by sensibility often degenerating into
sentimentality, and by analysis--the subjective method; Fielding
by satire and humor (often coarse, sometimes bitter) and the
wide envisagement of action and scene--the method objective.
Richardson exhibits a somewhat straitened propriety and a narrow
didactic tradesman's morality, with which we are now out of
sympathy. Fielding, on the contrary, with the abuse of his good
gift for tolerant painting of seamy human nature, gives way
often to an indulgence of the lower instincts of mankind which,
though faithfully reflecting his age, are none the less
unpleasant to modern taste. Both are men of genius, Fielding's
being the larger and more universal: nothing but genius could
have done such original things as were achieved by the two.
Nevertheless, set beside the great masters of fiction who were
to come, and who will be reviewed in these pages, they are seen
to have been excelled in art and at least equaled in gift and
power. So much we may properly claim for the marvelous growth
and ultimate degree of perfection attained by the best novel-makers
of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It remains now
to show what part was played in the eighteenth century
development by certain other novelists, who, while not of the
supreme importance of these two leaders, yet each and all
contributed to the shaping of the new fiction and did their
share in leaving it at the century's end a perfected instrument,
to be handled by a finished artist like Jane Austen. We must
take some cognizance, in special, of writers like Smollett and
Sterne and Goldsmith--potent names, evoking some of the
pleasantest memories open to one who browses in the rich meadow
lands of English literature.




CHAPTER IV


DEVELOPMENTS; SMOLLETT, STERNE AND OTHERS

The popularity of Richardson and Fielding showed itself in a
hearty public welcome: and also in that sincerest form of
flattery, imitation. Many authors began to write the new
fiction. Where once a definite demand is recognized in
literature, the supply, more or less machine-made, is sure to
follow.

In the short quarter of a century between "Pamela" and "The
Vicar of Wakefield," the Novel got its growth, passed out of
leading strings into what may fairly be called independence and
maturity: and by the time Goldsmith's charming little classic
was written, the shelves were comfortably filled with novels
recent or current, giving contemporary literature quite the air
so familiar to-day. Only a little later, we find the Gentleman's
Magazine, a trustworthy reporter of such matters, speaking of
"this novel-writing age." The words were written in 1773, a
generation after Richardson had begun the form. Still more
striking testimony, so far back as 1755, when Richardson's
maiden story was but a dozen years old, a writer in "The
Connoisseur" is facetiously proposing to establish a factory for
the fashioning of novels, with one, a master workman, to furnish
plots and subordinates to fill in the details--an anticipation
of the famous literary menage of Dumas pere.

Although there was, under these conditions, inevitable imitation
of the new model, there was a deeper reason for the rapid
development. The time was ripe for this kind of fiction: it was
in the air, as we have already tried to suggest. Hence, other
fiction-makers began to experiment with the form, this being
especially true of Smollett. Out of many novelists, feeble or
truly called, a few of the most important must be mentioned.


I

The Scotch-born Tobias Smollett published his first fiction,
"Roderick Random," eight years after "Pamela" had appeared, and
the year before "Tom Jones"; it was exactly contemporaneous with
"Clarissa Harlowe," A strict contemporary, then, with Richardson
and Fielding, he was also the ablest novelist aside from them, a
man whose work was most influential in the later development. It
is not unusual to dismiss him in a sentence as a coarser
Fielding. The characterization hits nearer the bull's eye than
is the rule with such sayings, and more vulgar than the greater
writer he certainly is, brutal where Fielding is vigorous: and
he exhibits and exaggerates the latter's tendencies to the
picaresque, the burlesque and the episodic. His fiction is of
the elder school in its loose fiber, its external method of
dealing with incident and character. There is little or nothing
in Smollett of the firm-knit texture and subjective analysis of
the moderns. Thus the resemblances are superficial, the
differences deeper-going and palpable. Smollett is often
violent, Fielding never: there is an impression of
cosmopolitanism in the former--a wider survey of life, if only
on the surface, is given in his books. By birth, Smollett was of
the gentry; but by the time he was twenty he had seen service as
Surgeon's Mate in the British navy, and his after career as Tory
Editor, at times in prison, literary man and traveler who
visited many lands and finally, like Fielding, died abroad in
Italy, was checkered enough to give him material and to spare
for the changeful bustle, so rife with action and excitement, of
his four principal stories. Like the American Cooper, he drew
upon his own experiences for his picture of the navy; and like a
later American, Dr. Holmes, was a physician who could speak by
the card of that side of life.

Far more closely than Fielding he followed the "Gil Blas" model,
depending for interest primarily upon adventures by the way,
moving accidents by flood and field. He declares, in fact, his
intention to use Le Sage as a literary father and he translated
"Gil Blas." In striking contrast, too, with Fielding is the
interpretation of life one gets from his books; with the author
of "Tom Jones" we feel, what we do in greater degree with
Shakespeare and Balzac, that the personality of the fiction-maker
is healthily merged in his characters, in the picture of
life. But in the case of Dr. Smollett, there is a strongly
individual satiric bias: less of that largeness which sees the
world from an unimplicated coign of vantage, whence the open-eyed,
wise-minded spectator finds it a comedy breeding laughter
under thoughtful brows. We seem to be getting not so much scenes
of life as an author's setting of the scene for his own private
reasons. Such is at least the occasional effect of Smollett.
Also is there more of bitterness, of savagery in him: and where
Fielding was broad and racily frank in his handling of delicate
themes, this fellow is indecent with a kind of hardness and
brazenness which are amazing. The difference between plain-speaking
and unclean speaking could hardly be better
illustrated. It should be added, in justice, that even Smollett
is rarely impure with the alluring saliency of certain modern
fiction.

In the first story, "The Adventures of Roderick Random" (the
cumbrous full titles of earlier fiction are for apparent reasons
frequently curtailed in the present treatment), published when
the author was twenty-seven, he avails himself of a residence of
some years in Jamaica to depict life in that quarter of the
world at a time when the local color had the charm of novelty.
The story is often credited with being autobiographic, as a
novelist's first book is likely to be; since, by popular belief,
there is one story in all of us, namely, our own. Its
description of the hero's hard knocks does, indeed, suggest the
fate of a man so stormily quarrelsome throughout his days: for
this red-headed Scot, this "hack of genius," as Henley
picturesquely calls him, was naturally a fighting man and,
whether as man or author, attacks or repels sharply: there is
nothing uncertain in the effect he makes. His loud vigor is as
pronounced as that of a later Scot like Carlyle; yet he stated
long afterward that the likeness between himself and Roderick
was slight and superficial. The fact that the tale is written in
the first person also helps the autobiographic theory: that
method of story-making always lends a certain credence to the
narrative. The scenes shift from western Scotland to the streets
of London, thence to the West Indies: and the interest (the
remark applies to all Smollett's work) lies in just three
things--adventure, diversity of character, and the realistic
picture of contemporary life--especially that of the navy on a
day when, if Smollett is within hailing distance of the facts,
it was terribly corrupt. Too much credit can hardly be given him
for first using, so effectively too, the professional sea-life
of his country: a motive so richly productive since through
Marryat down to Dana, Herman Melville, Clark Russell and many
other favorite writers, both British and American. In Smollett's
hands, it is a strange muddle of religion, farce and smut, but
set forth with a vivid particularity and a gusto f high spirits
which carry the reader along, willy-nilly. Such a book might be
described by the advertisement of an old inn: "Here is
entertainment for man and beast." As to characterization, if a
genius for it means the creation of figures which linger in the
familiar memory of mankind, Smollett must perforce be granted
the faculty; here in his first book are Tom Bowling and Strap--to
name two--the one (like Richardson's Lovelace) naming a type:
the other standing for the country innocent, the meek fidus
Achates, both as good as anything of the same class in Fielding.
The Welsh mate, Mr. Morgan, for another of the sailor sort, is
also excellent. The judgment may be eccentric, but for myself
the character parts in Smollett's dramas seem for variety and
vividness often superior to those of Fielding. The humor at its
best is very telling. The portraits, or caricatures, of living
folk added to the story's immediate vogue, but injure it as a
permanent contribution to fiction.

A fair idea of the nature of the attractions offered (and at the
same time a clear indication of the sort of fiction manufactured
by the doughty doctor) may be gleaned from the following
precis--Smollett's own--of Chapter XXXVIII: "I get up and crawl
into a barn where I am in danger of perishing through the fear of
the country people. Their inhumanity. I am succored by a reputed
witch. Her story. Her advice. She recommends me as a valet to a
single lady whose character she explains." This promises pretty
fair reading: of course, we wish to read on and to learn more of
that single lady and the hero's relation to her. Such a motive,
which might be called, "The Mistakes of a Night," with details
too crude and physical to allow of discussion, is often
overworked by Smollett (as, in truth, it is by Fielding, to
modern taste): the eighteenth century had not yet given up the
call of the Beast in its fiction--an element of bawdry was still
welcome in the print offered reputable folk.

The style of Smollett in his first fiction, and in general, has
marked dramatic flavor: his is a gift of forthright phrase, a
plain, vernacular smack characterizes his diction. To go back to
him now is to be surprised perhaps at the racy vigor of so
faulty a writer and novelist. A page or so of Smollett, after a
course in present-day popular fiction, reads very much like a
piece of literature. In this respect, he seems full of flavor,
distinctly of the major breed: there is an effect of passing
from attenuated parlor tricks into the open, when you take him
up. Here, you can but feel, is a masculine man of letters, even
if it is his fate to play second fiddle to Fielding.

Smollett's initial story was a pronounced success with the
public--and he aired an arrogant joy and pooh-poohed
insignificant rivals like Fielding. His hand was against every
man's when it came to the question of literary prowess; and like
many authors before and since, one of his first acts upon the
kind reception of "Roderick Random," was to get published his
worthless blank-verse tragedy, "The Regicide," which, refused by
Garrick, had till then languished in manuscript and was an ugly
duckling beloved of its maker. Then came Novel number two, "The
Adventures of Peregrine Pickle," three years after the first: an
unequal book, best at its beginning and end, full of violence,
not on the whole such good art-work as the earlier fiction, yet
very fine in spots and containing such additional sea-dogs as
Commodore Trunnion and Lieutenant Hatchway, whose presence makes
one forgive much. The original preface contained a scurrilous
reference to Fielding, against whom he printed a diatribe in a
pamphlet dated the next year. The hero of the story, a handsome
ne'er-do-well who has money and position to start the world
with, encounters plenty of adventure in England and out of it,
by land and sea. There is an episodic book, "Memoirs, supposed
to be written by a lady of quality," and really giving the
checkered career of Lady Vane, a fast gentlewoman of the time,
done for pay at her request, which is illustrative of the loose
state of fictional art in its unrelated, lugged-in character:
and as well of eighteenth century morals in its drastic details.
We have seen that Fielding was frankly episodic in handling a
story; Smollett goes him one better: as may most notoriously be
seen also in the unmentionable Miss Williams' story in "Roderick
Random"--in fact, throughout his novels. Pickle, to put it
mildly, is not an admirable young man. An author's conception of
his hero is always in some sort a give-away: it expresses his
ideals; that Smollett's are sufficiently low-pitched, may be
seen here. Plainly, to, he likes Peregrine, and not so much
excuses his failings as overlooks them entirely.

After a two years' interval came "The Adventures of Ferdinand,
Count Fathom," which was not liked by his contemporaries and is
now seen to be definitely the poorest of the quartette. It is
enough to say of it that Fathom is an unmitigable scoundrel and
the story, mixed romance and melodrama, offers the reader dust
and ashes instead of good red blood. It lacks the comic verve of
Smollett's typical fiction and manipulates virtue and vice in
the cut-and-dried style of the penny-dreadful. Even its attempts
at the sensational leave the modern reader, bred on such
heavenly fare as is proffered by Stevenson and others,
indifferent-cold.

It is a pleasure to turn from it to what is generally conceded
to be the best novel he wrote, as it is his last: "The
Expedition of Humphrey Clinker," which appeared nearly twenty
years later, when the author was fifty years old. "The
Adventures of Sir Launcelot Graves," written in prison a decade
earlier, and a poor satire in the vein of Cervantes, can be
ignored, it falls so much below Smollett's main fiction. He had
gone for his health's sake to Italy and wrote "Humphrey Clinker"
at Leghorn, completing it only within a few weeks of his death.
For years he had been degenerating as a writer, his physical
condition was of the worst: it looked as if his life was quite
over. Yet, by a sort of leaping-up of the creative flame out of
the dying embers of the hearth, he wrought his masterpiece.

It was thrown into letter form, Richardson's framework, and has
all of Smollett's earlier power of characterization and brusque
wit, together with a more genial, mellower tone, that of an
older man not soured but ripened by the years. Some of its main
scenes are enacted in his native Scotland and possibly this
meant strength for another Scot, as it did for Sir Walter and
Stevenson. The kinder interpretation of humanity in itself makes
the novel better reading to later taste; so much can not
honestly be said for its plain speaking, for as Henley says in
language which sounds as if it were borrowed from the writer he
is describing, "the stinks and nastinesses are done with
peculiar gusto." The idea of the story, as usual a pivot around
which to revolve a series of adventures, is to narrate how a
certain bachelor, country gentleman, Matthew Bramble, a malade
imaginaire, yet good-hearted and capable of big laughter--"the
most risible misanthrope ever met with," as he is limned by one
of the persons of the story--travels in England, Wales and
Scotland in pursuit of health, taking with him his family, of
whom the main members include his sister, Tabitha (and her maid,
Jenkins), and his nephew, not overlooking the dog, Chowder.
Clinker, who names the book, is a subsidiary character, merely a
servant in Bramble's establishment. The crotchety Bramble and
his acidulous sister, who is a forerunner of Mrs. Malaprop in
the unreliability of her spelling, and Lieutenant Lishmahago,
who has been complimented as the first successful Scotchman in
fiction--all these are sketched with a verity and in a vein of
genuine comic invention which have made them remembered.
Violence, rage, filth--Smollett's besetting sins--are forgotten
or forgiven in a book which has so much of the flavor and
movement of life, The author's medical lore is made good use of
in the humorous descriptions of poor Bramble's ailments.
Incidentally, the story defends the Scotch against the English
in such a pronounced way that Walpole calls it a "part novel";
and there is, moreover, a pleasant love story interwoven with
the comedy and burlesque. One feels in leaving this fiction that
with all allowance for his defects, there is more danger of
undervaluing the author's powers and place in the modern Novel
than the reverse.

Fielding and Smollett together set the pace for the Novel of
blended incident and character: both were, as sturdy realists,
reactionary from the sentimental analysis of Richardson and
express an instinct contrary to the self-conscious pathos of a
Sterne or the idyllic romanticism of a Goldsmith. Both were
directly of influence upon the Novel's growth in the nineteenth
century: Fielding especially upon Thackeray, Smollett upon
Dickens. If Smollett had served the cause in no other way than
in his strong effect upon the author of "The Pickwick Papers,"
he would deserve well of all critics: how the little Copperfield
delighted in that scant collection of books on his father's
bookshelf, where were "Roderick Random," "Peregrine Pickle" and
"Humphrey Clinker," along with "Tom Jones," "The Vicar of
Wakefield," "Gil Blas" and "Robinson Crusoe"--"a glorious host,"
says he, "to keep me company. They kept alive my fancy and my
hope of something beyond that time and place." And of Smollett's
characters, who seem to have charmed him more than Fielding's,
he declares: "I have seen Tom Pipes go clambering up the
church-steeple: I have watched Strap with the knapsack on his back
stopping to rest himself upon the wicket gate: and I know that
Commodore Trunnion held that Club with Mr. Pickle in the parlor
of our little village ale house." Children are shrewd critics,
in their way, and what an embryo Charles Dickens likes in
fiction is not to be slighted. But as we have seen, Smollett can
base his claims to our sufferance not by indirection through
Dickens, but upon his worth; many besides the later and greater
novelist have a liking for this racy writer of adventure, and
creator of English types, who was recognized by Walter Scott as
of kin to the great in fiction.


II

In the fast-developing fiction of the late eighteenth century,
the possible ramifications of the Novel from the parent tree of
Richardson enriched it with the work of Sterne, Swift and
Goldsmith. They added imaginative narratives of one sort or
another, which increased the content of the form by famous
things and exercised some influence in shaping it. The remark
has in mind "Tristram Shandy," "Gulliver's Travels" and "The
Vicar of Wakefield." And yet, no one of the three was a Novel in
the sense in which the evolution of the word has been traced,
nor yet are the authors strictly novelists.

Laurence Sterne, at once man of the world and clergyman, with
Rabelais as a model, and himself a master of prose, possessing
command of humor and pathos, skilled in character sketch and
essay-philosophy, is not a novelist at all. His aim Is not to
depict the traits or events of contemporary society, but to put
forth the views of the Reverend Laurence Sterne, Yorkshire
parson, with many a quaint turn and whimsical situation under a
thin disguise of story-form. Of his two books, "Tristram Shandy"
and "The Sentimental Journey," unquestionable classics, both, in
their field, there is no thought of plot or growth or objective
realization: the former is a delightful tour de force in which a
born essayist deals with the imaginary fortunes of a person he
makes as interesting before his birth as after it, and in
passing, sketches some characters dear to posterity: first and
foremost, Uncle Toby and Corporal Trim. It is all pure play of
wit, fancy and wisdom, beneath the comic mask--a very frolic of
the mind. In the second book the framework is that of the
travel-sketch and the treatment more objective: a fact which,
along with its dubious propriety, may account for its greater
popularity. But much of the charm comes, as before, from the
writer's touch, his gift of style and ability to unloose in the
essay manner a unique individuality.

In his life Sterne, like Swift, exhibited most un-clerical
traits of worldliness and in his work there is the refined,
suggestive indelicacy, not to say indecency, which we are in the
habit nowadays of charging against the French, and which is so
much worse than the bluff, outspoken coarseness of a Fielding or
a Smollett. At times the line between Sterne and Charles Lamb is
not so easy to draw in that, from first to last, the elder is an
essayist and humorist, while the younger has so much of the
eighteenth century in his feeling and manner. In these modern
times, when so many essayists appear in the guise of fiction-makers,
we can see that Sterne is really the leader of the
tribe: and it is not hard to show how neither he nor they are
novelists divinely called. They (and he) may be great, but it is
another greatness. The point is strikingly illustrated by the
statement that Sterne was eight years publishing the various
parts of "Tristram Shandy," and a man of forty-six when he began
to do so. Bona fide novels are not thus written. Constructively,
the work is a mad farrago; but the end quite justifies the
means. Thus, while his place in letters is assured, and the
touch of the cad in him (Goldsmith called him "the blackguard
parson") should never blind us to his prime merits, his
significance for our particular study--the study of the modern
Novel in its development--is comparatively slight. Like all
essayists of rank he left memorable passages: the world never
tires of "God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb," and pays it
the high compliment of ascribing it to holy writ: nor will the
scene where the recording angel blots out Uncle Toby's generous
oath with a tear, fade from the mind; nor that of the same
kindly gentleman letting go the big fly which has, to his
discomfiture, been buzzing about his nose at dinner: "'Go,' says
he, lifting up the latch and opening his hand as he spoke to let
it escape. 'Go, poor devil, get thee gone, why should I hurt
thee? The world surely is wide enough to hold both thee and
me'"--a touch so modern as to make Sterne seem a century later
than Fielding. These are among the precious places of
literature. This eighteenth century divine has in advance of his
day the subtler sensibility which was to grow so strong in later
fiction: and if he be sentimental too, he gives us a
sentimentality unlike the solemn article of Richardson, because
of its French grace and its relief of delicious humor.


III

Swift chronologically precedes Sterne, for in 1726, shortly
after "Robinson Crusoe" and a good fifteen years before
"Pamela," he gave the world that unique lucubration, "Gulliver's
Travels," allegory, satire and fairy story all in one. It is
certainly anything but a novel. One of the giants of English
letters, doing many things and exhibiting a sardonic personality
that seems to peer through all his work, Swift's contribution to
the coming Novel was above all the use of a certain grave,
realistic manner of treating the impossible: a service, however,
shared with Defoe. He gives us in a matter-of-fact chronicle
style the marvelous happenings of Gulliver in Lilliputian land
or in that of the Brobdingnagians. He and Defoe are to be
regarded as pioneers who suggested to the literary world, just
before the Novel's advent, that the attraction of a new form and
a new method, the exploitation of the truth that, "The proper
study of mankind is man," could not (and should not) kill the
love of romance, for the good and sufficient reason that romance
meant imagination, illusion, charm, poetry. And in due season,
after the long innings enjoyed by realism with its triumphs of
analysis and superfaithful transcriptions of the average life of
man, we shall behold the change of mood which welcomes back the
older appeal of fiction.


IV

It was the enlargement of this sense of romance which Oliver
Goldsmith gave his time in that masterpiece in small, "The Vicar
of Wakefield": his special contribution to the plastic
variations connected with the growing pains of the Novel.
Whether regarded as poet, essayist, dramatist or story-maker,
Dr. Goldsmith is one of the best-loved figures of English
letters, as Swift is one of the most terrible. And these lovable
qualities are nowhere more conspicuous than in the idyllic
sketch of the country clergyman and his family. Romance it
deserves to be called, because of the delicate idealization in
the setting and in the portrayal of the Vicar himself--a man who
not only preached God's love, "but first he followed it
himself." And yet the book--which, by the bye, was published in
1766 just as the last parts of "Tristram Shandy" were appearing
in print--offers a good example of the way in which the more
romantic depiction of life, in the hands of a master, inevitably
blends with realistic details, even with a winning truthfulness
of effect. Some of the romantic charm of "The Vicar of
Wakefield," we must remember, inheres in its sympathetic
reproduction of vanished manners, etiquette and social grace; a
sweet old-time grace, a fragrance out of the past, emanates from
the memory of it if read half a lifetime ago. An elder age is
rehabilitated for us by its pages, even as it is by the canvases
of Romney and Sir Joshua. And with this more obvious romanticism
goes the deeper romanticism that comes from the interpretation
of humanity, which assumes it to be kindly and gentle and noble
in the main. Life, made up of good and evil as it is, is,
nevertheless, seen through this affectionate time-haze, worth
the living. Whatever their individual traits, an air of country
peace and innocence hovers over the Primrose household: the
father and mother, the girls, Olivia and Sophia, and the two
sons, George and Moses, they all seem equally generous,
credulous and good. We feel that the author is living up to a
announcement in the opening chapter which of itself is a sort of
promise of the idealized treatment of poor human nature. But
into this pretty and perfect scene of domestic felicity come
trouble and disgrace: the serpent creeps into the unsullied
nest, the villain, Thorn-hill, ruins Olivia, their house burns,
and the softhearted, honorable father is haled to prison. There
is no blinking the darker side of mortal experience. And the
prison scenes, with their noble teaching with regard to penal
punishment, showing Goldsmith far in advance of his age, add
still further to the shadows. Yet the idealization is there,
like an atmosphere, and through it all, shining and serene, is
Dr. Primrose to draw the eye to the eternal good. We smile
mayhap at his simplicity but note at the same time that his
psychology is sound: the influence of his sermonizing upon the
jailbirds is true to experience often since tested. Nor are
satiric side-strokes in the realistic vein wanting--as in the
drawing of such a high lady of quality as Miss Carolina
Wilhelmina Amelia Skeggs--the very name sending our thoughts
forward to Thackeray. In the final analysis it will be found
that what makes the work a romance is its power to quicken the
sense of the attraction, the beauty of simple goodness through
the portrait of a noble man whose environment is such as best to
bring out his qualities. Dr. Primrose is humanity, if not
actual, potential: he can be, if he never was. A helpful
comparison might be instituted between Goldsmith's country
clergyman and Balzac's country doctor in the novel of that name;
another notable attempt at the idealization of a typical man of
one of the professions. It would bring out the difference
between the late eighteenth and the middle nineteenth centuries,
as well as that between a great novelist, Balzac, and a great
English writer, Goldsmith, who yet is not a novelist at all. It
should detract no whit from one's delight in such a work as "The
Vicar of Wakefield" to acknowledge that its aim is not to depict
society as it then existed, but to give a pleasurable abstract
of human nature for the purpose of reconciling us through art
with life, when lived so sanely, simply and sweetly as by
Primrose of gentle memory. Seldom has the divine quality of the
forgiveness of sins been portrayed with more salutary effect
than in the scene where the erring and errant Olivia is taken
back to the heart of her father--just as the hard-headed
landlady would drive her forth with the words:

     "'Out I say! Pack out this moment! tramp, thou impudent
     strumpet, or I'll give thee a mark that won't be better for
     this three months. What! you trumpery, to come and take up
     an honest house without cross or coin to bless yourself
     with! Come along, I say.'

     "I flew to her rescue while the woman was dragging her along
     by her hair, and I caught the dear forlorn wretch in my
     arms. 'Welcome, anyway welcome, my dearest lost one, my
     treasure, to your poor old father's bosom. Though the
     vicious forsake thee, there is yet one in the world who
     will never forsake thee; though thou hadst ten thousand
     crimes to answer for, he will forget them all!'"


Set beside this father the fathers of Clarissa and Sophia
Western, and you have the difference between the romance and
realism that express opposite moods; the mood that shows the
average and the mood that shows the best. For portraiture, then,
rather than plot, for felicity of manner and sweetness of
interpretation we praise such a work;--qualities no less
precious though not so distinctively appertaining to the Novel.

It may be added, for a minor point, that the Novel type as
already developed had assumed a conventional length which would
preclude "The Vicar of Wakefield" from its category, making it a
sketch or novelette. The fiction-makers rapidly came to realize
that for their particular purpose--to portray a complicated
piece of contemporary life--more leisurely movement and hence
greater space are necessary to the best result. To-day any
fiction under fifty thousand words would hardly be called a
novel in the proper sense,--except in publishers'
advertisements. Goldsmith's story does not exceed such limits.

Therefore, although we may like it all the more because it is a
romantic sketch rather than a novel proper, we must grant that
its share in the eighteenth century shaping of the form is but
ancillary. The fact that the book upon its appearance awakened
no such interest as waited upon the fiction of Richardson or
Fielding a few years before, may be taken to mean that the taste
was still towards the more photographic portrayals of average
contemporary humanity. Several editions, to be sure, were issued
the year of its publication, but without much financial success,
and contemporary criticism found little remarkable in this
permanent contribution to English literature. Later, it was
beloved both of the elect and the general. Goethe's testimony to
the strong and wholesome effect of the book upon him in his
formative period, is remembered. Dear old Dr. Johnson too
believed in the story, for, summoned to Goldsmith's lodging by
his friend's piteous appeal for help, he sends a guinea in
advance and on arrival there, finds his colleague in high choler
because, forsooth, his landlady has arrested him for his rent:
whereupon Goldsmith (who had already expended part of the guinea
in a bottle of Madeira) displays a manuscript,--"a novel ready
for the press," as we read in Boswell; and Johnson--"I looked
into it and saw its merit," says he--goes out and sells it for
sixty pounds, whereupon Goldsmith paid off his obligation, and
with his mercurial Irish nature had a happy evening, no doubt,
with his chosen cronies! It is a sordid, humorous-tragic Grub
Street beginning for one of the little immortals of letters--so
many of which, alack! have a similar birth.

Certain other authors less distinguished than these, produced
fiction of various kinds which also had some influence in the
development, and further illustrate the tendency of the Novel to
become a pliable medium for literary expression; a sort of net
wherein divers fish might be caught. Dr. Johnson, essayist,
critic, coffee-house dictator, published the same year that
Sterne's "Tristram Shandy" began to appear, his "Rasselas,
Prince of Abyssinia"; a stately elegiac on the vanity of human
pleasures, in which the Prince leaves his idyllic home and goes
into the world to test its shams, only to return to his kingdom
with the sad knowledge that it is the better part of wisdom in
this vale of tears to prepare for heaven. Of course this is
fiction only in seeming and by courtesy, almost as far removed
from the Novel as the same author's mammoth dictionary or Lives
of the Poets. It has Richardson's method of moralizing, while
lacking that writer's power of studying humanity in its social
relations. The sturdy genius of Dr. Johnson lay in quite other
directions.

Richardson's sentimentality, too, was carried on by MacKenzie in
his "Man of Feeling" already mentioned as the favorite
tear-begetter of its time, the novel which made the most prolonged
attack upon the lachrymosal gland. But it is only fair to this
author to add that there was a welcome note of philanthropy in
his story--in spite of its mawkishness; his appeal for the under
dog in great cities is a forecast of the humanitarianism to
become rampant in later fiction.

Again, the seriousness which has always, in one guise or the
other, underlain English fiction, soon crystalized in the
contemporary eighteenth century novelists into an attempt to
preach this or that by propaganda in story-form. William Godwin,
whose relations as father-in-law to Shelley gives him a not
altogether agreeable place in our memory, was a leader in this
tendency with several fictions, the best known and most readable
being "Caleb Williams": radical ideas, social, political and
religious, were mooted by half a dozen earnest-souled authors
whose works are now regarded as links in the chain of
development--missing links for most readers of fiction, since
their literary quality is small. In later days, this kind of
production was to be called purpose fiction and condemned or
applauded according to individual taste and the esthetic and
vital value of the book. When the moralizing overpowered all
else, we get a book like that friend of childhood, "Sanford and
Merton," which Thomas Day perpetrated in the year of grace 1783.
Few properly reared boys of a generation ago escaped this
literary indiscretion: its Sunday School solemnity, its
distribution of life's prizes according to the strictest moral
tests, had a sort of bogey fascination; it was much in vogue
long after Day's time, indeed down to within our own memories.
Perhaps it is still read and relished in innocent corners of the
earth.. In any case it is one of the outcomes of the movement
just touched upon.

At present, being more ennuye in our tastes for fiction than
were our forefathers, and the pretence of piety being less a
convention, we incline to insist more firmly that the pill at
least be sugar-coated,--if indeed we submit to physic at all.

There was also a tendency during the second half of the
eighteenth century--very likely only half serious and hardly
more than a literary fad--toward the romance of mystery and
horror. Horace Walpole, the last man on earth from whom one
would expect the romantic and sentimental, produced in his
"Castle of Otranto" such a book; and Mrs. Radcliffe's "The
Mystery of Udolpho" (standing for numerous others) manipulated
the stage machinery of this pseudo-romantic revival and
reaction; moonlit castles, medieval accessories, weird sounds
and lights at the dread midnight hour,--an attack upon the
reader's nerves rather than his sensibilities, much the sort of
paraphernalia employed with a more spiritual purpose and effect
in our own day by the dramatist, Maeterlinck. Beckford's
"Vathek" and Lewis' "The Monk" are variations upon this theme,
which for a while was very popular and is decidedly to be seen
in the work of the first novelist upon American soil, Charles
Brockden Brown, whose somber "Wieland," read with the Radcliffe
school in mind, will reveal its probable parentage. We have seen
how the movement was happily satirized by its natural enemy,
Jane Austen. Few more enjoyable things can be quoted than this
conversation from "Northanger Abbey" between two typical young
ladies of the time:--

     'But, my dearest Catherine, what have you been doing with
     yourself all this morning? Have you gone on with Udolpho?'

     'Yes, I have been reading it ever since I woke; and I am
     got to the black veil.'

     'Are you, indeed? How delightful! Oh! I would not tell you
     what is behind the black veil for the world! Are you not
     wild to know?'

     'Oh! yes, quite; what can it be? But do not tell me; I
     would not be told upon any account. I know it must be a
     skeleton; I am sure it is Laurentina's skeleton. Oh! I am
     delighted with the book! I should like to spend my whole
     life in reading it, I assure you; if it had not been to
     meet you, I would not have come away from it for all the
     world.'

     'Dear creature! how much I am obliged to you; and when you
     have finished Udolpho, we will read the Italian together;
     and I have made out a list of ten or twelve more of the
     same kind for you.'

     'Have you, indeed! How glad I am! What are they all?'

     'I will read you their names directly; here they are in my
     pocket-book. "Castle of Wolfenbach," "Clermont,"
     "Mysterious Warnings," "Necromancer of the Black Forest,"
     "Midnight Bell," "Orphan of the Rhine," and "Horrid Mysteries."
     Those will last us some time.'

     'Yes; pretty well; but are they all horrid? Are you sure
     they are all horrid?'

     'Yes, quite sure; for a particular friend of mine, a Miss
     Andrews, a sweet girl, one of the sweetest creatures in the
     world, has read every one of them.'


After all, human nature is constant, independent of time; and
fashions social, mental, literary, return like fashions in
feminine headgear! Two club women were coming from a city play
house after hearing a particularly lugubrious drama of Ibsen's,
and one was overheard exclaiming to the other: "O isn't Ibsen
just lovely! He does so take the hope out of life!"

Yet the tendency of eighteenth century fiction, with its
handling of the bizarre and sensational, its use of occult
effects of the Past and Present, was but an eddy in a current
which was setting strong and steadily toward the realistic
portrayal of contemporary society.

One other tendency, expressive of a lighter mood, an attempt to
represent society a la mode, is also to be noted during this
half century so crowded with interesting manifestations of a new
spirit; and they who wrote it were mostly women. It is a
remarkable fact that for the fifty years between Sterne and
Scott, the leading novelists were of that sex, four of whom at
least, Burney, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Austen, were of
importance. Of this group the lively Fanny Burney is the
prophet; she is the first woman novelist of rank. Her "Evelina,"
with its somewhat starched gentility and simpering sensibility,
was once a book to conjure with; it fluttered the literary
dovecotes in a way not so easy to comprehend to-day. Yet Dr.
Johnson loved his "little Burney" and greatly admired her work,
and there are entertaining and without question accurate
pictures of the fashionable London at the time of the American
Revolution drawn by an observer of the inner circle, in her
"Evelina" and "Cecilia"; one treasures them for their fresh
spirit and lively humor, nor looks in them for the more serious
elements of good fiction. She contributes, modestly, to that
fiction to which we go for human documents. No one who has been
admitted to the privileges of Miss Burney's Diary can fail to
feel that a woman who commands such idiom is easily an adept in
the realistic dialogue of the novel. Here, even more than in her
own novels or those of Richardson and Fielding, we hear the
exact syllable and intonation of contemporary speech. "Mr.
Cholmondeley is a clergyman," she writes, "nothing shining
either in person or manners but rather somewhat grim in the
first and glum in the last." And again: "Our confab was
interrupted by the entrance of Mr. King," or yet again: "The
joke is, the people speak as if they were afraid of me, instead
of my being afraid of them.... Next morning, Mrs. Thrale asked
me if I did not want to see Mrs. Montagu? I truly said I should
be the most insensible of animals not to like to see our sex's
glory." It is hard to realize that this was penned in the
neighborhood of one hundred and fifty years ago, so modern is
its sound.

A great writer, with a wider scope and a more incisive satire,
is Maria Edgeworth, whose books take us over into the nineteenth
century. The lighter, more frivolous aspects of English high
society are admirably portrayed in her "Belinda" and eight or
ten other tales: and she makes a still stronger claim to
permanent remembrance in such studies of Irish types, whether in
England or on the native soil, as "The Absentee" and "Castle
Rackrent." I venture the statement that even the jaded novel
reader of to-day will find on a perusal of either of these
capital stories that Miss Edgeworth makes literature, and that a
pleasure not a penance is in store. She first in English fiction
exploited the better-class Irishman at home and her scenes have
historic value. Some years later, Susan Ferrier, who enjoyed the
friendship of Scott, wrote under the stimulus of Maria
Edgeworth's example a series of clever studies of Scotch life,
dashed with decided humor and done with true observation.

These women, with their quick eye and facile ability to report
what they saw, and also their ease of manner which of itself
seems like a social gift, were but the prelude to the work so
varied, gifted and vastly influential, which the sex was to do
in the modern Novel; so that, at present, in an open field and
no favors given, they are honorable rivals of men, securing
their full share of public favor. And the English Novel, written
by so many tentatively during these fifty years when the form
was a-shaping, culminates at the turn of the century in two
contrasted authors compared with whom all that went before seems
but preparatory; one a man, the other a woman, who together
express and illustrate most conveniently for this study the main
movements of modern fiction,--romance and realism,--the instinct
for truth and the instinct for beauty; not necessarily an
antagonism, as we shall have ample occasion to see, since truth,
rightly defined, is only "beauty seen from another side." It
hardly needs to add that these two novelists are Jane Austen and
Walter Scott.




CHAPTER V


REALISM: JANE AUSTEN

It has been said that Miss Austen came nearer to showing life as
it is,--the life she knew and chose to depict,--than any other
novelist of English race. In other words, she is a princess
among the truth-tellers. Whether or not this claim can be
substantiated, it is sure that, writing practically half a
century after Richardson and Fielding, she far surpassed those
pioneers in the exquisite and easy verisimilitude of her art.
Nay, we can go further and say that nobody has reproduced life
with a more faithful accuracy, that yet was not photography
because it gave the pleasure proper to art, than this same Jane
Austen, spinster, well-born and well-bred: in her own phrase, an
"elegant female" of the English past. Scott's famous remark can
not be too often quoted: "That young lady had a talent for
describing the movements and feelings of characters of ordinary
life, which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with."

If you look on the map at the small Southern county of
Hampshire, you will see that the town of Steventon lies hard by
Selborne, another name which the naturalist White has made
pleasant to the ear. Throughout her forty-two years of life--she
was born the year of American revolution and died shortly after
Scott had begun his Waverley series--she was a country-woman in
the best sense: a clergyman's daughter identified with her
neighborhood, dignified and private in her manner of existence,
her one sensational outing being a four years' residence in the
fashionable watering-place of Bath, where Beau Nash once reigned
supreme and in our day, Beaucaire has been made to rebuke Lady
Mary Carlisle for her cold patrician pride. Quiet she lived and
died, nor was she reckoned great in letters by her
contemporaries. She wrote on her lap with others in the room,
refused to take herself seriously and in no respect was like the
authoress who is kodaked at the writing-desk and chronicled in
her movements by land and sea. She was not the least bit
"literary." Fanny Burney, who had talent to Jane Austen's
genius, was in a blaze of social recognition, a petted darling
of the town, where the other walked in rural ways and unnoted of
the world, wrote novels that were to make literary history. Such
are the revenges of the whirligig, Time.

Austen's indestructible reputation is founded on half a dozen
pieces of fiction: the best, and best known, "Sense and
Sensibility" and "Pride and Prejudice," although "Mansfield
Park," "Emma," "Northanger Abbey" and "Persuasion" (in order of
publication but not of actual composition) are all of importance
to the understanding and enjoyment of her, and her evenness of
performance, on the whole, is remarkable. The earlier three of
these books were written by Miss Austen when a young woman In
the twenties, but published much later, and were anonymous--an
indication of her tendency to take her authorship as an aside.
Two of them appeared posthumously. Curiously, "Northanger
Abbey," that capital hit at the Radcliffe romanticism, and first
written of her stories, was disposed of to a publisher when the
writer was but three and twenty, yet was not printed until she
had passed away nearly twenty years later,--a sufficient proof
of her unpopularity from the mercantile point of view.

Here is one of the paradoxes of literature: this gentlewoman
dabbling in a seemingly amateur fashion in letters, turns out to
be the ablest novelist of her sex and race, one of the very few
great craftsmen, one may say, since art is no respector of sex.
Jane Austen is the best example in the whole range of English
literature of the wisdom of knowing your limitations and
cultivating your own special plot of ground. She offers a
permanent rebuke to those who (because of youth or a failure to
grasp the meaning of life) fancy that the only thing worth while
lies on the other side of the Pyrenees; when all the while at
one's own back-door blooms the miracle. She had a clear-eyed
comprehension of her own restrictions; and possessed that power
of self-criticism which some truly great authors lack. She has
herself given us the aptest comment ever made on her books:
speaking of the "little bit of ivory two inches wide on which
she worked with a brush so fine as to produce little effect
after much labor";--a judgment hardly fair as to the interest
she arouses, but nevertheless absolutely descriptive of the plus
and minus of her gift.

Miss Austen knew the genteel life of the upper middle class
Hampshire folk, "the Squirearchy and the upper professional
class," as Professor Saintsbury expresses it, down to the
ground--knew it as a sympathetic onlooker slightly detached (she
never married), yet not coldly aloof but a part of it as devoted
sister and maiden aunt, and friend-in-general to the community.
She could do two things which John Ruskin so often lauded as
both rare and difficult: see straight and then report
accurately; a literary Pre-Raphaelite, be it noted, before the
term was coined. It not only came natural to her to tell the
truth about average humanity as she saw it; she could not be
deflected from her calling. Winning no general recognition
during her life-time, she was not subjected to the temptations
of the popular novelist; but she had her chance to go wrong, for
it is recorded how that the Librarian to King George the Third,
an absurd creature yclept Clark, informed the authoress that his
Highness admired her works, and suggested that in view of the
fact that Prince Leonard was to marry the Princess Charlotte,
Miss Austen should indite "An historical romance illustrative of
the august house of Coburg." To which, Miss Jane, with a humor
and good-sense quite in character (and, it may be feared, not
appreciated by the recipient): "I could not sit down to write a
serious romance under any other motive than amusement to save my
life; and if it were indispensable for me to keep it up, and
never relax into laughter at myself and other people, I am sure
I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter. No, I
must keep to my own style and go on in my own way."

There is scarce a clearer proof of genius than this ability to
strike out a path and keep to it: in striking contrast with the
weak wobbling so often shown in the desire to follow literary
fashion or be complaisant before the suggestion of the merchants
of letters.

All her novels are prophetic of what was long to rule, in their
slight framework of fable; the handling of the scenes by the
way, the characterization, the natural dialogue, the
vraisemblance of setting, the witty irony of observation, these
are the elements of interest. Jane Austen's plots are mere
tempests in tea-pots; yet she does not go to the extreme of the
plotless fiction of the present. She has a story to tell, as
Trollope would say, and knows how to tell it in such a way as to
subtract from it every ounce of value. There is a clear kernel
of idea in each and every one of her tales. Thus, in "Sense and
Sensibility," we meet two sisters who stand for the
characteristics contrasted in the title, and in the fortunes of
Mariane, whose flighty romanticism is cured so that she makes a
sensible marriage after learning the villainy of her earlier
lover and finding that foolish sentimentalism may well give way
to the informing experiences of life,--the thesis, satirically
conveyed though with more subtlety than in the earlier
"Northanger Abbey," proclaims the folly of young-girl
sentimentality and hysteria. In "Pride and Prejudice," ranked by
many as her masterpiece, Darcy, with his foolish hauteur, his
self-consciousness of superior birth, is temporarily blind to
the worth of Elizabeth, who, on her part, does not see the good
in him through her sensitiveness to his patronizing attitude; as
the course of development brings them together in a happy union,
the lesson of toleration, of mutual comprehension, sinks into
the mind. The reader realizes the pettiness of the worldly
wisdom which blocks the way of joy. As we have said, "Northanger
Abbey" speaks a wise word against the abuse of emotionalism; it
tells of the experiences of a flighty Miss, bred on the
"Mysteries of Udolpho" style of literature, during a visit to a
country house where she imagined all the medieval romanticism
incident to that school of fiction,--aided and abetted by such
innocuous helps as a storm without and a lonesome chamber within
doors. Of the later stories, "Mansfield Park" asks us to
remember what it is to be poor and reared among rich relations;
"Emma" displays a reverse misery: the rich young woman whose
character is exposed to the adulations and shams incident upon
her position; while in "Persuasion," there is yet another idea
expressed by and through another type of girl; she who has
fallen into the habit of allowing herself to be over-ridden and
used by friends and family.--There is something all but
Shaksperian in that story's illustration of "the uncertainty of
all human events and calculations," as she herself expresses it:
Anne Eliot's radical victory is a moral triumph yet a warning
withal. And in each book, the lesson has been conveyed with the
unobtrusive indirection of fine art; the story is ever first, we
are getting fiction not lectures. These novels adorn truth; they
show what literature can effect by the method of much-in-little.

There is nothing sensational in incident or complication: as
with Richardson, an elopement is the highest stretch of external
excitement Miss Austen vouchsafes. Yet all is drawn so
beautifully to scale, as in such a scene as that of the quarrel
and estrangement of Elizabeth and Darcy in "Pride and
Prejudice," that the effect is greater than in the case of many
a misused opportunity where the events are earth-shaking in
import. The situation means so much to the participants, that
the reader becomes sympathetically involved. After all,
importance in fiction is exactly like importance in life;
important to whom? the philosopher asks. The relativity of
things human is a wholesome theory for the artist to bear in
mind. Even as the most terrific cataclysm on this third planet
from the sun in a minor system, makes not a ripple upon Mars, so
the most infinitesimal occurrence in eighteenth century
Hampshire may seem of account,--if only a master draws the
picture.

Not alone by making her characters thoroughly alive and
interesting does Miss Austen effect this result: but by her way
of telling the tale as well; by a preponderance of dialogue
along with clear portraiture she actually gets an effect that is
dramatic. Scenes from her books are staged even to the present
day. She found this manner of dialogue with comparative
parsimony of description and narration, to be her true method as
she grew as a fiction-maker: the early unpublished story
"Susan," and the first draught of "Sense and Sensibility," had
the epistolary form of Richardson, the more undramatic nature of
which is self-evident. As for characterization itself, she is
with the few: she has added famous specimens--men and women
both--to the natural history of fiction. To think of but one
book, "Pride and Prejudice," what an inimitable study of a
foolish woman is Mrs. Bennett! Who has drawn the insufferable
patroness more vividly than in a Lady Catherine de Bourgh! And
is not the sycophant clergyman hit off to the life in Mr.
Collins! Looking to the stories as a group, are not her
heroines, with Anne Eliot perhaps at their head, wonderful for
quiet attraction and truth, for distinctness, charm and variety?
Her personages are all observed; she had the admirable good
sense not to go beyond her last. She had every opportunity to
see the county squire, the baronet puffed up with a sense of his
own importance, the rattle and rake of her day, the tuft hunter,
the gentleman scholar, and the retired admiral (her two brothers
had that rank)--and she wisely decided to exhibit these and
other types familiar to her locality and class, instead of
drawing on her imagination or trying to extend by guess-work her
social purview. Her women in general, whether satiric and
unpleasant like Mrs. Norris in "Mansfield Park" or full of
winning qualities like Catherine Moreland and Anne Eliot, are
drawn with a sureness of hand, an insight, a complete
comprehension that cannot be over-praised. Jane Austen's
heroines are not only superior to her heroes (some of whom do
not get off scot-free from the charge of priggishness) but they
excel the female characterization of all English novelists save
only two or three,--one of them being Hardy. Her characters were
so real to herself, that she made statements about them to her
family as if they were actual,--a habit which reminds of Balzac.

The particular angle from which she looked on life was the
satirical: therefore, her danger is exaggeration, caricature.
Yet she yielded surprisingly little, and her reputation for
faithful transcripts from reality, can not now be assailed. Her
detached, whimsical attitude of scrutinizing the little cross-section
of life she has in hand, is of the very essence of her
charm: hers is that wit which is the humor of the mind:
something for inward smiling, though the features may not
change. Her comedy has in this way the unerring thrust and the
amused tolerance of a Moliere whom her admirer Macaulay should
have named rather than Shakspere when wishing to compliment her
by a comparison; with her manner of representation and her view
of life in mind, one reverts to Meredith's acute description of
the spirit that inheres in true comedy. "That slim, feasting
smile, shaped like the longbow, was once a big round satyr's
laugh, that flung up the brows like a fortress lifted by
gunpowder. The laugh will come again, but it will be of the
order of the smile, finely tempered, showing sunlight of the
mind, mental richness rather than noisy enormity. Its common
aspect is one of unsolicitous observation, as if surveying a
full field and having leisure to dart on its chosen morsels,
without any flattering eagerness. Men's future upon earth does
not attract it; their honesty and shapeliness in the present
does; and whenever they were out of proportion, overthrown,
affected, pretentious, bombastical, hypocritical, pedantic,
fantastically delicate; whenever it sees them self-deceived or
hoodwinked, given to run riot in idolatries, drifting into
vanities, congregating in absurdities, planning shortsightedly,
plotting dementedly; whenever they are at variance with their
professions, and violate the unwritten but perceptible laws
binding them in consideration one to another; whenever they
offend sound reason, fair justice; are false in humility or
mined with conceit, individually or in the bulk--the Spirit
overhead will look humanly malign and cast an oblique light on
them, followed by volleys of silvery laughter. That is the Comic
Spirit."

If the "silvery laughter" betimes sounds a bit sharp and thinly
feminine, what would you have? Even genius must be subject to
the defect of its quality. Still, it must be confessed that this
attitude of the artist observer is broken in upon a little in
the later novels, beginning with "Mansfield Park," by a growing
tendency to moral on the time, a tendency that points ominously
to didacticism. There is something of the difference in Jane
Austen between early and late, that we shall afterwards meet in
that other great woman novelist, George Eliot. One might push
the point too far, but it is fair to make it.

We may also inquire--trying to see the thing freshly, with
independence, and to get away from the mere handing-on of a
traditional opinion--if Jane Austen's character-drawing, so far-famed
for its truth, does not at times o'erstep the modesty of
Nature. Goldwin Smith, in his biography of her, is quite right
in pointing out that she unquestionably overdraws her types: Mr.
Collins is at moments almost a reminder of Uriah Heap for oily
submissiveness: Sir Walter Eliot's conceit goes so far he seems
a theory more than a man, a "humor" in the Ben Jonson sense. So,
too, the valetudinarianism of Mr. Wood-house, like that of
Smollett's Bramble, is something strained; so is Lady de
Bourgh's pride and General Tilney's tyranny. Critics are fond of
violent contrasts and to set over against one another authors so
unlike, for example, as Miss Austen and Dickens is a favorite
occupation. Also is it convenient to put a tag on every author:
a mask reading realist, romanticist, psychologue, sensation-monger,
or some such designation, and then hold him to the name.
Thus, in the case of Austen it is a temptation to call her the
greatest truth-teller among novelists, and so leave her. But, as
a matter of fact, great as realist and artist as she was, she
does not hesitate at that heightening of effect which insures
clearer seeing, longer remembering and a keener pleasure.
Perhaps she is in the broad view all the better artist because
of this: a thought sadly forgotten by the extreme veritists of
our day. It is the business of art to improve upon Nature.

Again the reader of Jane Austen must expect to find her with the
limitation of her time and place: it is, frankly, a dreadfully
contracted view of the world she represents, just for the reason
that it is the view of her Hampshire gentry in the day of the
third George. The ideals seem low, narrow; they lack air and
light. Woman's only role is marriage; female propriety chokes
originality; money talks, family places individuals, and the
estimate of sex-relations is intricately involved with these
eidola. There is little sense of the higher and broader issues:
the spiritual restrictions are as definite as the social and
geographical: the insularity is magnificent. It all makes you
think of Tennyson's lines:

"They take the rustic cackle of their burg
For the great wave that echoes round the world!"


Hence, one of the bye-products of Miss Austen's books is their
revelation of hide-bound class-distinction, the not seldom ugly
parochialism--the utilitarian aims of a circle of highly
respectable English country folk during the closing years of the
eighteenth century. The opening sentence of her masterpiece
reads: "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man
in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."
Needless to say that "universally" here is applicable to a tiny
area of earth observed by a most charming spinster, at a certain
period of society now fast fading into a dim past. But the
sentence might serve fairly well as a motto for all her work:
every plot she conceived is firm-based upon this as a major
premise, and the particular feminine deduction from those words
may be found in the following taken from another work,
"Mansfield Park": "Being now in her twenty-first year, Maria
Bertram was beginning to think marriage a duty; and as a
marriage with Mr. Rushford would give her the enjoyment of a
larger income than her father's, as well as insure her the house
in town, which was now a prime object, it became by the same
rule of moral obligation, her evident duty to marry Mr. Rushford
if she could." The egocentric worldliness of this is superb. The
author, it may be granted, has a certain playful satire in her
manner here and elsewhere, when setting forth such views: yet it
seems to be fair to her to say that, taking her fiction as a
whole, she contentedly accepts this order of things and builds
upon it. She and her world exhibit not only worldliness but that
"other-worldliness" which is equally self-centered and
materialistic. Jane Austen is a highly enjoyable mondaine. To
compare her gamut with that of George Eliot or George Meredith
is to appreciate how much has happened since in social and
individual evolution. The wide social sympathy that throbs in
modern fiction is hardly born.

In spite, too, of the thorough good breeding of this woman
writer, the primness even of her outlook upon the world, there
is plain speaking in her books, even touches of coarseness that
are but the echo of the rankness which abounds in the
Fielding-Smollett school. Happily, it is a faint one.

Granting the slightness of her plots and their family likeness,
warm praise is due for the skill with which they are conducted;
they are neatly articulated, the climactic effect is, as a rule,
beautifully graduated and sure in its final force: the multitude
of littles which go to make up the story are, upon examination,
seen to be not irrelevant but members of the one body, working
together towards a common end. It is a puzzling question how
this firm art was secured: since technique does not mean so much
a gift from heaven as the taking of forethought, the self-conscious
skill of a practitioner. Miss Austen, setting down her
thoughts of an evening in a copybook in her lap, interrupted by
conversations and at the beck and call of household duties, does
not seem as one who was acquiring the mastery of a difficult
art-form. But the wind bloweth where it listeth--and the
evidences of skill are there; we can but chronicle the fact, and
welcome the result.

She was old-fashioned in her adherence to the "pleasant ending";
realist though she was, she could not go to the lengths either
of theme or interpretation in the portrayal of life which later
novelists have so sturdily ventured. It is easy to understand
that with her avowed dislike of tragedy, living in a time when
it was regarded as the business of fiction to be amusing--when,
in short, it was not fashionable to be disagreeable, as it has
since become--Jane Austen should have preferred to round out her
stories with a "curtain" that sends the audience home content.
She treats this desire in herself with a gentle cynicism which,
read to-day, detracts somewhat perhaps from the verity of her
pictures. She steps out from the picture at the close of her
book to say a word in proper person. Thus, in "Mansfield Park,"
in bringing Fanny Price into the arms of her early lover,
Edmund, she says: "I purposely abstain from dates on this
occasion, that every one may be at liberty to fix their own,
aware that the cure of unconquerable passions and the transfer
of unchanging attachments must vary much as to time in different
people. I only entreat everybody to believe that exactly at the
time when it was quite natural that it should be so, and not a
week earlier, Edmund did cease to care about Miss Crawford and
became as anxious to marry Fanny as Fanny herself could desire."

But it cannot be urged against her that it was her habit to
effect these agreeable conclusions to her social histories by
tampering with probability or violently wresting events from
their proper sequence. Life is neither comedy nor tragedy--it is
tragi-comedy, or, if you prefer the graver emphasis, comi-tragedy.
Miss Austen, truth-lover, has as good a right to leave
her lovers at the juncture when we see them happily mated, as at
those more grievous junctures so much affected by later fiction.
Both representations may be true or false in effect, according
as the fictionist throws emphasis and manages light-and-shade. A
final page whereon all is couleur de rose has, no doubt, an
artificial look to us now: a writer of Miss Austen's school or
her kind of genius for reporting fact, could not have finished
her fictions in just the same way. There is no blame properly,
since the phenomenon has to do with the growth of human thought,
the change of ideals reflected in literature.

For one more point: Miss Austen only knew, or anyhow, only cared
to write, one sort of Novel--the love story. With her, a young
man and woman (or two couples having similar relations) are
interested in each other and after various complications arising
from their personal characteristics, from family interference or
other criss-cross of events, misplacement of affection being a
trump card, are united in the end. The formula is of primitive
simplicity. The wonder is that so much of involvement and
genuine human interest can be got out of such scant use of the
possible permutations of plot. It is all in the way it is done.

Love stories are still written in profusion, and we imagine that
so compelling a motive for fiction will still be vital (in some
one of its innumerable phases) in the twenty-fifth century. Yet
it is true that novelists now point with pride to the work of
the last generation of their art, in that it has so often made
sex love subsidiary to other appeals, or even eliminated it
altogether from their books. Some even boast of the fact that
not a woman is to be found in the pages of their latest
creation. Nearly one hundred years ago, Defoe showed the
possibility (if you happen to have genius) of making a powerful
story without the introduction of the eternal feminine: Crusoe
could not declare with Cyrano de Bergerac:

"Je vous dois d'avoir eu tout au moins, une amie;
Grace a vous, une robe a passe dans ma vie."


It is but natural that, immensely powerful as it is, such a
motive should have been over-worked: the gamut of variations has
been run from love licit to love illicit, and love degenerate
and abnormal to no-love-at-all. But any publisher will assure
you that still "love conquers all"; and in the early nineteenth
century any novelist who did not write tales of amatory interest
was a fool: the time was not ripe to consider an extension of
the theme nor a shifted point of view. For the earlier
story-tellers, in the language of Browning's lyric,

"Love is best."


Jane Austen's diction--or better, her style, which is more than
diction--in writing her series of social studies, affords a fine
example of the adaptation of means to end. Given the work to be
accomplished, the tools are perfect instruments for the purpose.
The student of English style in its evolution must marvel at the
idiom of Austen, so strangely modern is it, so little has time
been able to make it passe. From her first book, her manner
seems to be easy, adequate, unforced, with nothing about it
self-conscious or gauche. In the development of some great
writers the change from unsureness and vulgarity to the mastery
of mature years can be traced: Dickens is one such. But nothing
of the sort can be found in Austen. She has in "Northanger
Abbey" and "Pride and Prejudice"--early works--a power in
idiomatic English which enables her reader to see her thought
through its limpid medium of language, giving, it may be, as
little attention to the form of expression as a man uninstructed
in the niceties of a woman's dress gives to those details which
none the less in their totality produce on him a most formidable
effect. Miss Austen's is not the style of startling tricks: nor
has she the flashing felicities of a Stevenson which lead one to
return to a passage for re-gustation. Her manner rarely if ever
takes the attention from her matter. But her words and their
marshaling (always bearing in her mind her unambitious purpose)
make as fit a garment for her thought as was ever devised upon
English looms. If this is style, then Jane Austen possesses it,
as have very few of the race. There is just a touch of the
archaic in it, enough to give a quaintness that has charm
without being precious in the French sense; hers are breeding
and dignity without distance or stiffness. Now and again the
life-likeness is accentuated by a sort of undress which goes to
the verge of the slip-shod--as if a gentlewoman should not be
too particular, lest she seem professional; the sort of liberty
with the starched proprieties of English which Thackeray later
took with such delightful results. Of her style as a whole,
then, we may say that it is good literature for the very reason
that it is not literary; neither mannered nor mincing nor
affectedly plain. The style is the woman--and the woman wrote as
a lady should who is portraying genteel society; very much as
she would talk--with the difference the artist will always make
between life and its expression in letters.

Miss Austen's place was won slowly but surely, unlike those
authors whose works spring into instantaneous popularity, to be
forgotten with equal promptness, or others who like Mrs. Stowe
write a book which, for historical reasons, gains immediate
vogue and yet retains a certain reputation. The author of "Pride
and Prejudice" gains in position with the passing of the years.
She is one of the select company of English writers who after a
century are really read, really of more than historical
significance. New and attractive editions of her books are
frequent: she not only holds critical regard (and to criticism
her importance is permanent) but is read by an appreciable
number of the lovers of sound literature; read far more
generally, we feel sure, than Disraeli or Bulwer or Charles
Kingsley, who are so much nearer our own day and who filled so
large a place in their respective times. Compared with them,
Jane Austen appears a serene classic. When all is said, the
test, the supreme test, is to be read: that means that an author
is vitally alive, not dead on the shelves of a library where he
has been placed out of deference to the literary Mrs. Grundy.
Lessing felt this when he wrote his brilliant quatrain:

Wer wird nicht einen Klopstock loben,
Doch wird ihn jeder lesen? Nein!
Wir wollen weniger erhoben
Und fleissiger gelesen sein,


So was the century which was to be conspicuous for its
development of fiction that should portray the social relations
of contemporary life with fine and ever-increasing truth, most
happily inaugurated by a woman who founded its traditions and
was a wonderful example of its method. She is the literary
godmother of Trollope and Howells, and of all other novelists
since who prefer to the most spectacular uses of the imagination
the unsensational chronicling of life.




CHAPTER VI


MODERN ROMANTICISM: SCOTT

The year after the appearance of "Pride and Prejudice" there
began to be published in England a series of anonymous
historical stories to which the name of Waverley Novels came to
be affixed, the title of the first volume. It was not until the
writer had produced for more than a decade a splendid list of
fictions familiar to all lovers of literature, that his name--by
that time guessed by many and admitted to some--was publicly
announced as that of Walter Scott--a man who, before he had
printed a single romance, had won more than national importance
by a succession of narrative poems beginning with "The Lay of
the Last Minstrel."

Few careers, personal and professional, in letters, are more
stimulating and attractive than that of Scott. His life was
winsome, his work of that large and noble order that implies a
worthy personality behind it. Scott, the man, as he is portrayed
in Lockhart's Life and the ever-delightful Letters, is as
suitable an object of admiration as Scott the author of "Guy
Mannering" and "Old Mortality." And when we reflect that by the
might of his genius he set his seal on the historical romance,
that the modern romance derives from Scott, and that, moreover,
in spite of the remarkable achievements in this order of fiction
during almost a century, he remains not only its founder but its
chief ornament, his contribution to modern fiction begins to be
appreciated.

The characteristics of the Novel proper as a specific kind of
fiction have been already indicated and illustrated in this
study: we have seen that it is a picture of real life in a
setting of to-day: the romance, which is Scott's business, is
distinguished from this in its use of past time and historic
personages, its heightening of effect by the introducing of the
exceptional in scene and character, its general higher color in
the conductment of the narrative: and above all, its emphasis
upon the larger, nobler, more inspiring aspects of humanity.
This, be it understood, is the romance of modern times, not the
elder romance which was irresponsible in its picture of life,
falsely idealistic. When Sir Walter began his fiction, the trend
of the English Novel inheriting the method and purpose of
Richardson, was away from the romantic in this sense. The
analysis given has, it may be hoped, made this plain. It was by
the sheer force of his creative gift, therefore, that Scott set
the fashion for the romance in fiction: aided though he
doubtless was by the general romanticism introduced by the
greater English poets and expressive of the movement in
literature towards freedom, which followed the French
Revolution. That Scott at this time gave the fiction an impulse
not in the central flow of development is shown in the fact of
its rapid decadence after he passed away. While the romance is
thus a different thing from the Novel, modern fiction is close
woven of the two strands of realism and romance, and a
comprehensive study must have both in mind. Even authors like
Dickens, Thackeray and Eliot, who are to be regarded as stalwart
realists, could not avoid a single sally each into romance, with
"A Tale of Two Cities," "Henry Osmond" and "Romola"; and on the
other hand, romanticists like Hawthorne and Stevenson have used
the methods and manner of the realist, giving their loftiest
flights the most solid groundwork of psychologic reality. It
must always be borne in mind that there is a romantic way of
dealing with fact: that a novel of contemporary society which
implies its more exceptional possibilities and gives due regard
to the symbol behind every so-called fact, can be, in a good
sense, romantic. Surely, that is a more acceptable use of the
realistic formula which, by the exercise of an imaginative grasp
of history, makes alive and veritable for us some hitherto
unrealized person or by-gone epoch. Scott is thus a romanticist
because he gave the romantic implications of reality: and is a
novelist in that broader, better definition of the word which
admits it to be the novelist's business to portray social
humanity, past or present, by means of a unified, progressive
prose narrative. Scott, although he takes advantage of the
romancer's privilege of a free use of the historic past, the
presentation of its heroic episodes and spectacular events, is a
novelist, after all, because he deals with the recognizably
human, not with the grotesque, supernatural, impossible. He
imparts a vivid sense of the social interrelations, for the most
part in a medieval environment, but in any case in an
environment which one recognizes as controlled by human laws;
not the brain-freak of a pseudo-idealist. Scott's Novels, judged
broadly, make an impression of unity, movement and climax. To
put it tersely: he painted manners, interpreted character in an
historic setting and furnished story for story's sake. Nor was
his genius helpless without the historic prop. Certain of his
major successes are hardly historical narratives at all; the
scene of "Guy Mannering," for example, and of "The Antiquary,"
is laid in a time but little before that which was known
personally to the romancer in his young manhood.

It will be seen in this theory of realism and romance that so
far from antagonists are the story of truth and the story of
poetry, they merely stand for diverging preferences in handling
material. Nobody has stated this distinction better than
America's greatest romancer, Nathaniel Hawthorne. Having "The
House of the Seven Gables" in mind, he says:

     When a writer calls his work a romance, it need hardly be
     observed that he wishes to claim a certain latitude both as
     to its fashion and material, which he would not have felt
     himself entitled to assume, had he professed to be writing
     a novel. The latter form of composition is presumed to aim
     at a very minute fidelity, not only to the possible, but to
     the probable and ordinary course of man's experience. The
     former, while as a work of art it must rigidly subject
     itself to laws and while it sins unpardonably so far as it
     may swerve aside from the truth of the human heart, has
     fairly a right to present that truth under circumstances to
     a great extent of the author's own choosing or creation. If
     he think fit, also, he may so manage his atmospherical
     medium as to bring out or mellow the lights and deepen and
     enrich the shadows of the picture. He will be wise, no
     doubt, to make a very moderate use of the privileges here
     stated, and, especially, to mingle the marvelous rather as
     a slight, delicate and evanescent flavor than as any
     portion of the actual substance of the dish offered to the
     public. The point of view in which this tale comes under
     the romantic definition lies in the attempt to connect a
     by-gone time with the very present that is flitting away
     from us. It is a legend, prolonging itself from an epoch
     now gray in the distance, down into our own broad daylight,
     and bringing along with it some of its legendary mist,
     which the reader may either disregard or allow it to float
     almost imperceptibly about the characters and events for
     the sake of a picturesque effect. The narrative, it may be,
     is woven of so humble a texture, as to require this
     advantage and at the same time to render it the more
     difficult of attainment.


These words may be taken as the modern announcement of Romance,
as distinguished from that of elder times.

The many romantic Novels written by Scott can be separated into
two groups, marked by a cleavage of time: the year being 1819,
the date of the publication of "Ivanhoe." In the earlier group,
containing the fiction which appeared during the five years from
1814 to 1819, we find world-welcomed masterpieces which are an
expression of the unforced first fruits of his genius: the three
series of "Tales of My Landlord," "Guy Mannering," "Rob Roy,"
"The Heart of Midlothian" and "Old Mortality," to mention the
most conspicuous. To the second division belong stories equally
well known, many of them impressive: "The Monastery,"
"Kenilworth," "Quentin Durward," and "Red Gauntlet" among them,
but as a whole marking a falling off of power as increasing
years and killing cares made what was at first hardly more than
a sportive effort, a burden under which a man, at last broken,
staggered toward the desired goal. There is no manlier, more
gallant spectacle offered in the annals of literature than this
of Walter Scott, silent partner in a publishing house and ruined
by its failure after he has set up country gentleman and
gratified his expensive taste for baronial life, as he buckles
to, and for weary years strives to pay off by the product of his
pen the obligations incurred; his executors were able to clear
his estate of debt. It was an immense drudgery (with all
allowance for its moments of creative joy) accomplished with
high spirits and a kind of French gayety. Nor, though the best
quality of the work was injured towards the end of the long
task, and Scott died too soon at sixty-one, was the born
raconteur in him choked by this grim necessity of grind. There
have been in modern fiction a few masters, and but a few, who
were natural improvisatori: conspicuous among them are Dumas the
elder and Walter Scott. Such writers pour forth from a very
spring of effortless power invention after invention, born of
the impulse of a rich imagination, a mind stored with bountiful
material for such shaping, and a nature soaked with the
humanities. They are great lovers of life, great personalities,
gifted, resourceful, unstinted in their giving, ever with
something of the boy in them, the careless prodigals of
literature. Often it seems as if they toiled not to acquire the
craft of the writer, nor do they lose time over the labor of the
file. To the end, they seem in a way like glorious amateurs.
They are at the antipodes of those careful craftsmen with whom
all is forethought, plan and revision. Scott, fired by a period,
a character or scene, commonly sat down without seeing his way
through and wrote currente calamo, letting creation take care of
its own. The description of him by a contemporary is familiar
where he was observed at a window, reeling off the manuscript
sheets of his first romance.

     Since we sat down I have been watching that confounded
     hand--it fascinates my eye. It never stops--page after page
     is finished and thrown on the heap of manuscript, and still
     it goes on unwearied--and so it will be until candles are
     brought in, and God knows how long after that. It is the
     same every night.


The great merits of such a nature and the method that is its
outcome should not blind us to its dangers, some of which Scott
did not escape. Schoolboys to-day are able to point out defects
in his style, glibly talking of loosely-built sentences,
redundancies, diffuseness, or what not. He seems long-winded to
the rising generation, and it may be said in their defense that
there are Novels of Scott which if cut down one-third would be
improved. Critics, too, speak of his anachronisms, his huddled
endings, the stiffness of his young gentleman heroes, his
apparent indifference to the laws of good construction; as well
as of his Tory limitations, the ponderosity of his manner and
the unmodernness of his outlook on the world along with the
simple superficiality of his psychology. All this may cheerfully
be granted, and yet the Scott lover will stoutly maintain that
the spirit and the truth are here, that the Waverley books
possess the great elements of fiction-making: not without reason
did they charm Europe as well as the English-speaking lands for
twenty years. The Scott romances will always be mentioned, with
the work of Burns, Carlyle and Stevenson, when Scotland's
contribution to English letters is under discussion; his
position is fortified as he recedes into the past, which so soon
engulfs lesser men. And it is because he was one of the world's
natural storytellers: his career is an impressive object-lesson
for those who would elevate technique above all else.

He produced romances which dealt with English history centuries
before his own day, or with periods near his time: Scotch
romances of like kind which had to do with the historic past of
his native land: romances of humbler life and less stately
entourage, the scenes of which were laid nearer, sometimes
almost within his own day. He was, in instances, notably
successful in all these kinds, but perhaps most of all in the
stories falling in the two categories last-named: which, like
"Old Mortality," have the full flavor of Scotch soil.

The nature of the Novels he was to produce became evident with
the first of them all, "Waverley." Here is a border tale which
narrates the adventures of a scion of that house among the loyal
Highlanders temporarily a rebel to the reigning English
sovereign and a recruit in the interests of the young pretender:
his fortunes, in love and war, and his eventual reinstatement in
the King's service and happiness with the woman of his choice.
While it might be too sweeping to say that there was in this
first romance (which has never ranked with his best) the whole
secret of the Scott historical story, it is true that the book
is typical, that here as in the long line of brilliantly
envisaged chronicle histories that followed, some of them far
superior to this initial attempt, are to be found the
characteristic method and charm of Sir Walter. Here, as
elsewhere, the reader is offered picturesque color, ever varied
scenes, striking situations, salient characters and a certain
nobility both of theme and manner that comes from the accustomed
representation of life in which large issues of family and state
are involved--the whole merged in a mood of fealty and love. You
constantly feel in Scott that life "means intensely and means
good." A certain amount of lovable partisanship and prejudice
goes with the view, not un-welcomely; there is also some
carelessness as to the minute details of fact. But the effect of
truth, both in character and setting, is overwhelming. Scott has
vivified English and Scotch history more than all the history
books: he saw it himself--so we see it. One of the reasons his
work rings true--whereas Mrs. Radcliffe's adventure tales seem
fictitious as well as feeble--is because it is the natural
outcome of his life: all his interest, his liking, his belief
went into the Novels. When he sat down at the mature age of
forty-three to make fiction, there was behind him the large part
of a lifetime of unconscious preparation for what he had to do:
for years he had been steeped in the folk-lore and legend of his
native country; its local history had been his hobby; he had not
only read its humbler literature but wandered widely among its
people, absorbed its language and its life, felt "the very pulse
of the machine." Hence he differed toto caelo from an
archeologist turned romancer like the German Ebers: being rather
a genial traveler who, after telling tales of his experiences by
word of mouth at the tavern hearth, sets them down upon paper
for better preservation. He had been no less student than
pedestrian in the field; lame as he was, he had footed his way
to many a tall memorial of a hoary past, and when still hardly
more than a boy, burrowed among the manuscripts of the
Advocates' Library in Edinburgh, making himself an able
antiquary at a time when most youth are idling or philandering.
Moreover, he was himself the son of a border chief and knew
minstrelsy almost at his nurse's knee: and the lilt of a ballad
was always like wine to his heart. It makes you think of Sir
Philip Sidney's splendid testimony to such an influence: "I
never heard the old song of Percy and Douglas that I found not
my heart moved more than with a trumpet."

All this could not but tell; the incidents in a book like
"Waverley" are unforced: the advance of the story closely
imitates Life in its ever-shifting succession of events: the
reader soon learns to trust the author's faculty of invention.
Plot, story-interest, is it not the backbone of romantic
fiction? And Scott, though perchance he may not conduct it so
swiftly as pleases the modern taste, may be relied on to furnish
it.

In the earlier period up to "Ivanhoe," that famous sortie into
English history, belong such masterpieces as "Guy Mannering,"
"Old Mortality," "Heart of Midlothian," "The Bride of
Lammermoor," and "Rob Roy"; a list which, had he produced
nothing else would have sufficed to place him high among the
makers of romance. It is not the intention to analyze these
great books one by one--a task more fit for a volume than a
chapter; but to bring out those qualities of his work which are
responsible for his place in fiction and influence in the Novel
of the nineteenth century.

No story of this group--nor of his career as a writer--has won
more plaudits than "The Heart of Midlothian." Indeed, were the
reader forced to the unpleasant necessity of choosing out of the
thirty stories which Scott left the world the one most deserving
of the prize, possibly the choice would fall on that superb
portrayal of Scotch life--although other fine Novels of the
quintet named would have their loyal friends. To study the
peerlessly pathetic tale of Effie and Jeanie Deans is to see
Scott at his representative best and note the headmarks of his
genius: it is safe to say that he who finds nothing in it can
never care for its author.

The first thing to notice in this novel of the ancient Edinburgh
Tolbooth, this romance of faithful sisterhood, is its essential
Scotch fiber. The fact affects the whole work. It becomes
thereby simpler, homelier, more vernacular: it is a story that
is a native emanation. The groundwork of plot too is simple,
vital: and moreover, founded on a true incident. Effie, the
younger of two sisters, is betrayed; concerning her betrayer
there is mystery: she is supposed to commit child-murder to hide
her shame: a crime then punishable by death. The story deals
with her trial, condemnation and final pardon and happy marriage
with her lover through the noble mediation of Jeanie, her elder
sister.

In the presentation of an earlier period in Scotland, the
opening of the eighteenth century, when all punitive measures
were primitive and the lawless social elements seethed with
restless discontent, Scott had a fine chance: and at the very
opening, in describing the violent putting to death of Captain
Porteous, he skilfully prepares the way for the general picture
to be given. Then, as the story progresses, to the supreme
sacrificial effort of Jeanie in behalf of her erring sister's
life, gradually, stroke upon stroke, the period with its
religious schisms, its political passions and strong family
ties, is so illuminated that while the interest is centered upon
the Deans and their homely yet tragic history, Scotch life in an
earlier century is envisaged broadly, truthfully, in a way never
to grow pale in memory. Cameraman or King's man, God-fearing
peasant, lawless ruffian or Tory gentleman, the characters are
so marshaled that without sides being taken by the writer, one
feels the complexity of the period: and its uncivil wildness is
dramatically conveyed as a central fact in the Tolbooth with its
grim concomitants of gallows and gaping crowd of sightseers and
malcontents.

Scott's feeling for dramatic situation is illustrated in several
scenes that stand out in high relief after a hundred details
have been forgotten: one such is the trial scene in which Effie
implores her sister to save her by a lie, and Jeanie in agony
refuses; the whole management of it is impressively pictorial.
Another is that where Jeanie, on the road to London, is detained
by the little band of gypsy-thieves and passes the night with
Madge Wildfire in the barn: it is a scene Scott much relishes
and makes his reader enjoy. And yet another, and greater, is
that meeting with Queen Caroline and Lady Suffolk when the
humble Scotch girl is conducted by the Duke of Argyll to the
country house and in the garden beseeches pardon for her sister
Effie. It is intensely picturesque, real with many homely
touches which add to the truth without cheapening the effect of
royalty. The gradual working out of the excellent plot of this
romance to a conclusion pleasing to the reader is a favorable
specimen of this romancer's method in story-telling. There is
disproportion in the movement: it is slow in the first part,
drawing together in texture and gaining in speed during its
closing portion. Scott does not hesitate here, as so often, to
interrupt the story in order to interpolate historical
information, instead of interweaving it atmospherically with the
tale itself. When Jeanie is to have her interview with the Duke
of Argyll, certain preliminary pages must be devoted to a sketch
of his career. A master of plot and construction to-day would
have made the same story, so telling in motive, so vibrant with
human interest, more effective, so far as its conductment is
concerned. Scott in his fiction felt it as part of his duty to
furnish chronicle-history, very much as Shakspere seems to have
done in his so-called chronicle-history plays; whereas at
present the skilled artist feels no such responsibility. It may
be questioned if the book's famous scenes--the attempted
breaking into the Tolbooth, or the visit of Jeanie to the Queen--would
not have gained greatly from a dramatic point of view had
they been more condensed; they are badly languaged, looking to
this result, not swift enough for the best effects of drama,
whereas conception and framework are highly dramatic. In a word,
if more carefully written, fuller justice would have been done
the superb theme.

The characters that crowd the novel (as, in truth, they teem
throughout the great romances) testify to his range and grasp:
the Dean family, naturally, in the center. The pious, sturdy
Cameronian father and the two clearly contrasted sisters:
Butler, the clergyman lover; the saddle-maker, Saddletree, for
an amusing, long-winded bore; the quaint Laird Dumbledikes; the
soldiers of fortune, George Wilson and his mate; that other
soldier, Porteous; the gang of evildoers with Madge in the van--a
wonderful creation, she, only surpassed by the better known
Meg--the high personages clustered about the Queen: loquacious
Mrs. Glass, the Dean's kinswoman--one has to go back to Chaucer
or Shakspere for a companion picture so firmly painted in and
composed on such a generous scale.

Contention arises in a discussion of a mortal so good as Jeanie:
it would hardly be in the artistic temper of our time to draw a
peasant girl so well-nigh superhuman in her traits; Balzac's
"Eugenie Grandet" (the book appeared only fifteen years later),
is much nearer our time in its conception of the possibilities
of human nature: Eugenie does not strain credence, while
Jeanie's pious tone at times seems out of character, if not out
of humanity. The striking contrast with Effie is in a way to her
advantage: the weaker damsel appears more natural, more like
flesh and blood. But the final scene when, after fleeing with
her high-born lover, she returns to her simple sister as a wife
in a higher grade of society and the sister agrees that their
ways henceforth must be apart--that scene for truth and power is
one of the master-strokes. The reader finds that Jeanie Deans
somehow grows steadily in his belief and affection: quietly but
surely, a sense of her comeliness, her truthful love, her quaint
touch of Scotch canniness, her daughterly duteousness and her
stanch principle intensifies until it is a pang to bid her
farewell, and the mind harks back to her with a fond
recollection. Take her for all in all, Jeanie Deans ranks high
in Scott's female portraiture: with Meg Merillies in her own
station, and with Lucy Ashton and Di Vernon among those of
higher social place. In her class she is perhaps unparalleled in
all his fiction. The whole treatment of Effie's irregular love
is a fine example of Scott's kindly tolerance (tempered to a
certain extent by the social convention of his time) in dealing
with the sins of human beings. He is plainly glad to leave Effie
an honestly married woman with the right to look forward to
happy, useful years. The story breeds generous thoughts on the
theme of young womanhood: it handled the problem neither from
the superior altitude of the conventional moralist nor the cold
aloofness of the latter-day realist--Flaubert's attitude in
"Madame Bovary."

"A big, imperfect, noble Novel," the thoughtful reader concludes
as he closes it, and thinking back to an earlier impression,
finds that time has not loosened its hold.

And to repeat the previous statement: what is true of this is
true of all Scott's romances. The theme varies, the setting with
its wealth of local color may change, the period or party differ
with the demands of fact. Scotch and English history are widely
invoked: now it is the time of the Georges, now of the Stuarts,
now Elizabethan, again back to the Crusades. Scott, in fact,
ranges from Rufus the Red to the year 1800, and many are the
complications he considers within that ample sweep. It would be
untrue to say that his plots imitate each other or lack in
invention: we have seen that invention is one of his virtues.
Nevertheless, the motives are few when disencumbered of their
stately historical trappings: hunger, ambition, love, hate,
patriotism, religion, the primary passions and bosom interests
of mankind are those he depicts, because they are universal. It
is his gift for giving them a particular dress in romance after
romance which makes the result so often satisfactory, even
splendid. Yet, despite the range of time and grasp of Life's
essentials, there is in Scott's interpretation of humanity a
certain lack which one feels in comparing him with the finest
modern masters: with a Meredith, a Turgeneff or a Balzac. It is
a difference not only of viewpoint but of synthetic
comprehension and philosophic penetration. It means that he
mirrored a day less complex, less subtle and thoughtful. This
may be dwelt upon and illustrated a little in some further
considerations on his main qualities.

Scott, like the earlier novelists in general, was content to
depict character from without rather than from within: to
display it through act and scene instead of by the probing
analysis so characteristically modern. This meant inevitable
limitations in dealing with an historical character or time. A
high-church Tory himself, a frank Jacobite in his leanings--Taine
declared he had a feudal mind--he naturally so composed a
picture as to reflect this predilection, making effects of
picturesqueness accordingly. The idea given of Mary Queen of
Scots from "The Abbot" is one example of what is meant; that of
Prince Charley in "Waverley" is another. In a sense, however,
the stories are all the better for this obvious bias. Where a
masculine imagination moved by warm affection seizes on an
historic figure the result is sure to be vivid, at least; and
let it be repeated that Scott has in this way re-created history
for the many. He shows a sound artistic instinct in his handling
of historic personages relative to those imaginary: rarely
letting them occupy the center of interest, but giving that
place to the creatures of his fancy, thereby avoiding the
hampering restriction of a too close following of fact. The
manipulation of Richard Coeur de Lion in "Ivanhoe" is
instructive with this in mind.

While the lights and shadows of human life are duly blended in
his romances, Scott had a preference for the delineation of the
gentle, the grand (or grandiose), the noble and the beautiful:
loving the medieval, desiring to reproduce the age of chivalry,
he was naturally aristocratic in taste, as in intellect, though
democratic by the dictates of a thoroughly good heart. He liked
a pleasant ending--or, at least, believed in mitigating tragedy
by a checker of sunlight at the close. He had little use for the
degenerate types of mankind: certainly none for degeneracy for
its own sake, or because of a kind of scientific interest in its
workings. Nor did he conceive of the mission of fiction as being
primarily instructional: nor set too high a value on a novel as
a lesson in life--although at times (read the moral tag to "The
Heart of Midlothian") he speaks in quite the preacher's tone of
the improvement to be got from the teaching of the tale. Critics
to-day are, I think, inclined to place undue emphasis upon what
they regard as Scott's failure to take the moral obligations of
fiction seriously: they confuse his preaching and his practice.
Whatever he declared in his letters or Journal, the novels
themselves, read in the light of current methods, certainly
leave an old-fashioned taste on the palate, because of their
moralizings and avowments of didactic purpose. The advantages
and disadvantages of this general attitude can be easily
understood: the loss in philosophic grasp is made up in
healthiness of tone and pleasantness of appeal. One recognizes
such an author as, above all, human and hearty. The reserves and
delicacies of Anglo-Saxon fiction are here, of course, in full
force: and a doctored view of the Middle Ages is the result, as
it is in Tennyson's "Idylls of the King." A sufficient answer is
that it is not Scott's business to set us right as to
medievalism, but rather to use it for the imaginative purposes
of pleasure. The frank intrusion of the author himself into the
body of the page o in the way of footnotes is also disturbing,
judged by our later standards: but was carried on with much
charm by Thackeray in the mid-century, to reappear at its end in
the pages of Du Maurier.

In the more technical qualifications of the story-maker's art,
Scott compensated in the more masculine virtues for what he
lacked in the feminine. Possessing less of finesse, subtlety and
painstaking than some who were to come, he excelled in sweep,
movement and variety, as well as in a kind of largeness of
effect: "the big bow-wow business," to use his own humorously
descriptive phrase when he was comparing himself with Jane
Austen, to his own disadvantage. And it is these very qualities
that endear him to the general and keep his memories green;
making "Ivanhoe" and "Kenilworth" still useful for school
texts--unhappy fate! Still, this means that he always had a story to
tell and told it with the flow and fervor and the instinctive
coherence of the story-teller born, not made.

When the fortunes of his fictive folk were settled, this
novelist, always more interested in characters than in the plot
which must conduct them, often loses interest and his books end
more or less lamely, or with obvious conventionality. Anything
to close it up, you feel. But of action and incident, scenes
that live and situations with stage value, one of Scott's
typical fictions has enough to furnish the stock in trade for
life of many later-day romanticists who feebly follow in his
wake. He has a special skill in connecting the comparatively
small private involvement, which is the kernel of a story, with
important public matters, so that they seem part of the larger
movements or historic occurrences of the world. Dignity and body
are gained for the tale thereby.

In the all-important matter of characterization, Scott yields
the palm to very few modern masters. Merely to think of the
range, variety and actuality of his creations is to feel the
blood move quicker. From figures of historic and regal
importance--Richard, Elizabeth, Mary--to the pure coinage of
imagination--Dandy Dinmont, Dugald Dalgetty, Dominie Sampson,
Rebecca, Lucy, Di Vernon and Jeanie--how the names begin to
throng and what a motley yet welcome company is assembled in the
assizes where this romancer sits to mete out fate to those
within the wide bailiwick of his imagination! This central gift
he possessed with the princes of story-making. It is also
probable that of the imaginative writers of English speech,
nobody but Shakspere and Dickens--and Dickens alone among fellow
fiction-makers--has enriched the workaday world with so many
people, men and women, whose speech, doings and fates are
familiar and matter for common reference. And this is the gift
of gifts. It is sometimes said that Scott's heroes and heroines
(especially, perhaps, the former) are lay figures, not
convincing, vital creations. There is a touch of truth in it.
His striking and successful figures are not walking gentlemen
and leading ladies. When, for example, you recall "Guy
Mannering," you do not think of the young gentleman of that
name, but of Meg Merillies as she stands in the night in high
relief on a bank, weather-beaten of face and wild of dress,
hurling her anathema: "Ride your ways, Ellangowan!" In
characters rather of humble pathos like Jeanie Deans or of
eccentric humor like Dominie Sampson, Scott is at his best. He
confessed to mis-liking his heroes and only warming up to full
creative activity over his more unconventional types: border
chiefs, buccaneers, freebooters and smugglers. "My rogue always,
in spite of me, turns out my hero," is his whimsical complaint.

But this does not apply in full force to his women. Di Vernon--who
does not recall that scene where from horseback in the
moonlight she bends to her lover, parting from him with the
words: "Farewell, Frank, forever! There is a gulf between us--a
gulf of absolute perdition. Where we go, you must not follow;
what we do, you must not share in--farewell, be happy!" That is
the very accent of Romance, in its true and proper setting: not
to be staled by time nor custom.

Nor will it do to claim that he succeeds with his Deans and
fails with women of regal type: his Marys and Elizabeth Tudors.
In such portrayals it seems to me he is pre-eminently fine: one
cannot understand the critics who see in such creations mere
stock figures supplied by history not breathed upon with the
breath of life. Scott had a definite talent for the stage-setting
of royalty: that is one of the reasons for the
popularity of "Kenilworth." It is, however, a true
discrimination which finds more of life and variety in Scott's
principal women than in his men of like position. But his Rob
Roys, Hatteraicks and Dalgettys justify all praise and help to
explain that title of Wizard of the North which he won and wore.

In nothing is Scott stronger than in his environments, his
devices for atmosphere. This he largely secures by means of
description and with his wealth of material, does not hesitate
to take his time in building up his effects. Perhaps the most
common criticism of him heard to-day refers to his slow
movement. Superabundance of matter is accompanied by prolixity
of style, with a result of breeding impatience in the reader,
particularly the young. Boys and girls at present do not offer
Scott the unreserved affection once his own, because he now
seems an author upon whom to exercise the gentle art of
skipping. Enough has been said as to Scott's lack of modern
economy of means. It is not necessary to declare that this
juvenile reluctance to his leisurely manner stands for total
depravity. The young reader of the present time (to say nothing
of the reader more mature) is trained to swifter methods, and
demands them. At the same time, it needs to be asserted that
much of the impressiveness of Scott would be lost were his
method and manner other than they are: nor will it do harm to
remind ourselves that we all are in danger of losing our power
of sustained and consecutive attention in relation to
literature, because of the scrap-book tendency of so much modern
reading. On the center-table, cheap magazines; on the stage,
vaudeville--these are habits that sap the ability for slow,
ruminative pleasure in the arts. Luckily, they are not the only
modern manifestation, else were we in a parlous state, indeed!
The trouble with Scott, then, may be resolved in part into a
trouble with the modern folk who read him.

When one undertakes the thankless task of analyzing coldly and
critically the style of Scott, the faults are plain enough. He
constantly uses two adjectives or three in parallel construction
where one would do the work better. The construction of his
sentences loses largely the pleasing variation of a richly
articulated system by careless punctuation and a tendency to
make parallel clauses where subordinate relations should be
expressed. The unnecessary copula stars his pages. Although his
manner in narration rises with his subject and he may be justly
called a picturesque and forceful writer, he is seldom a
distinguished one. One does not turn to him for the inevitable
word or phrase, or for those that startle by reason of felicity
and fitness. These strictures apply to his descriptive and
narrative parts, not to the dialogue: for there, albeit sins of
diffuseness and verbosity are to be noted--and these are
modified by the genial humanity they embody--he is one of the
great masters. His use of the Scotch dialect adds indefinitely
to his attraction and native smack: racy humor, sly wit, canny
logic, heartful sympathy--all are conveyed by the folk medium.
All subsequent users of the people-speech pay toll to Walter
Scott. Small courtesy should be extended to those who complain
that these idioms make hard reading. Never does Scott give us
dialect for its own sake, but always for the sake of a closer
revelation of the human heart--dialect's one justification.

At its worst, Scott's style may fairly be called ponderous,
loose, monotonous: at its finest, the adequate instrument of a
natural story-teller who is most at home when, emerging from his
longueur, he writes of grand things in the grand manner.

Thus, Sir Walter Scott defined the Romance for modern fiction,
gave it the authority of his genius and extended the gamut of
the Novel by showing that the method of the realist, the
awakening of interest in the actualities of familiar character
and life, could be more broadly applied. He opposed the realist
in no true sense: but indicated how, without a lapse of art or
return to outworn machinery, justice might yet be done to the
more stirring, large, heroic aspects of the world of men: a
world which exists and clamors to be expressed: a world which
readers of healthy taste are perennially interested in, nay,
sooner or later, demand to be shown. His fiction, whether we
award it the somewhat grudging recognition of Carlyle or with
Ruskin regard its maker as the one great novelist of English
race, must be deemed a precious legacy, one of literature's most
honorable ornaments--especially desirable in a day so apparently
plain and utilitarian as our own, eschewing ornament and
perchance for that reason needing it all the more.




CHAPTER VII


FRENCH INFLUENCE

In the first third of the nineteenth century English fiction
stood at the parting of the ways. Should it follow Scott and the
romance, or Jane Austen and the Novel of everyday life? Should
it adopt that form of story-making which puts stress on action
and plot and is objective in its method, roaming all lands and
times for its material; or, dealing with the familiar average of
contemporary society, should it emphasize character analysis and
choose the subjective realm of psychology for its peculiar
domain? The pen dropped from the stricken hand of Scott in 1832;
in that year a young parliamentary reporter in London was
already writing certain lively, closely observed sketches of the
town, and four years later they were to be collected and
published under the title of "Sketches by Boz," while the next
year that incomparable extravaganza, "The Pickwick Papers," was
to go to an eager public. English fiction had decided: the Novel
was to conquer the romance for nearly a century. It was a
victory which to the present day has been a dominant influence
in story-making; establishing a tendency which, until Stevenson
a few years since, with the gaiety of the inveterate boy, cried
up Romance once more, bade fair to sweep all before it.

Before tracing this vigorous development of the Novel of Reality
with Dickens, Thackeray and Eliot (to name three great leaders),
it is important to get an idea of the growth on French soil
which was so deeply influential upon English as well as upon
other modern fiction. Nothing is more certain in literary
evolution than the fact that the French Novel in the nineteenth
century has molded and defined modern fiction, thus repaying an
earlier debt owed the English pioneers, Richardson and Fielding.
English fiction of our own generation may be described as a
native variation on a French model: in fact, the fictionists of
Europe and the English-speaking lands, with whatever
divergencies personal or national, have derived in large measure
from the Gaul the technique, the point of view and the choice of
theme which characterizes the French Novel from Stendhal to
Balzac, from Zola to Guy de Maupassant.


I

The name of Henri Beyle, known to literature under the sobriquet
of Stendhal, has a meaning in the development of the modern type
of fiction out of proportion to the intrinsic value of his
stories.

He was, of course, far surpassed by mightier followers like
Balzac, Flaubert and Zola; yet his significance lies in the very
fact that they were followers. His is all the merit pertaining
to the feat of introducing the Novel of psychic analysis: of
that persistent and increasingly unpleasant bearing-down upon
the darker facts of personality. Hence his "Rouge et Noir,"
dated 1830 and typical of his aim and method, is in a sense an
epoch-making book.

Balzac was at the same time producing the earlier studies to
culminate in that Human Comedy which was to stand as the chief
accomplishment of his nation in the literature of fiction. But
Stendhal, sixteen years older, began to print first and to him
falls the glory of innovation. Balzac gives full praise to his
predecessor in his essay on Beyle, and his letters contain
frequent references to the debt he owed that curious bundle of
fatuities, inconsistencies and brilliancies, the author of "The
Chartreuse de Parme." Later, Zola calls him "the father of us
all," meaning of the naturalistic school of which Zola himself
was High Priest. Beyle's business was the analysis of soul
states: an occupation familiar enough in these times of Hardy,
Meredith and Henry James. He held several posts of importance
under Napoleon, worshiped that leader, loved Italy as his
birthplace, loved England too, and tried to show in his novels
the result of the inactive Restoration upon a generation trained
by Napoleon to action, violence, ambition and passion.

Read to-day, "Le Rouge et Noir," which it is sufficient to
consider for our purposes, seems somewhat slow in movement,
struggling in construction, meticulous in manner. At times, its
interminability recalls "Clarissa Harlowe," but it possesses the
traits' which were to mark the coming school of novel-writing in
France and hence in the modern world: to wit, freedom in dealing
with love in its irregular relation, the tendency towards
tragedy, and that subtlety of handling which makes the main
interest to depend upon motive and thought rather than upon the
external action itself. "Thus conscience doth make cowards of us
all,"--that might be the motto. The young quasi-hero is Julian,
an ambitious worldling of no family, and his use of the Church
as a means of promotion, his amours with several women and his
death because of his love for one of them, are traced with a
kind of tortuous revelation of the inner workings of the human
heart which in its way declares genius in the writer: and which
certainly makes a work disillusioning of human nature. Its more
external aspect of a study of the politic Church and State, of
the rivalry between the reds and the blacks of the state
religion, is entirely secondary to this greater purpose and
result: here, for the first time at full length, a writer shows
the possibility of that realistic portrayal sternly carried
through, no matter how destructive of romantic preconceptions of
men and women. It is the method of Richardson flowering in a
time of greater freedom and more cynical questioning of the
gods.


II

But giving Stendhal his full mint and cummin of praise, he yet
was but the forerunner of a mightier man. Undoubtedly, he
prepared the soil and was a necessary link in the chain of
development wherewith fiction was to forge itself an unbreakable
sequence of strength. Balzac was to put out his lesser light, as
indeed the refulgence of his genius was to overshine all French
fiction, before and since. It would be an exaggeration to say
that the major English novelists of the middle nineteenth
century were consciously disciples of Balzac--for something
greater even than he moved them; the spirit of the Time. But it
is quite within bounds to say that of all modern fiction he is
the leader and shaper. Without him, his greatest native
follower, Zola, is inconceivable. He gathers up into himself and
expresses at its fullest all that was latent in the striking
modern growth whose banner-cry was Truth, and whose method was
that of the social scientist. Here was a man who, early in his
career, for the first time in the history of the Novel,
deliberately planned to constitute himself the social historian
of his epoch and race: and who, in upwards of a hundred
remarkable pieces of fiction in Novel form executed that plan in
such fulness that his completed work stands not only as a
monument of industry, but as perhaps the most inspiring example
of literary synthesis in the history of letters. In bigness of
conception and of construction--let alone the way in which the
work was performed--the Human Comedy is awe-begetting; it drives
one to Shakspere for like largeness of scale. Such a
performance, ordered and directed to a foreseen end, is unique
in literature.

As Balzac thus gave birth, with a fiery fecundity of invention,
to book after book of the long list of Novels that make up his
story of life, there took shape in his mind a definite
intention: to become the Secretary of an Age of which he
declared society to be the historian. He wished to exhibit man
in his species as he was to be seen in the France of the
novelist's era, just as a naturalist aims to study beast-kind,
segregating them into classes for zoological investigation.
Later, Balzac's great successor (as we shall see) applied this
analogy with more rigid insistence upon the scientific method
which should obtain in all literary study. The survey proposed
covered a period of about half a century and included the
Republic, the Empire and the Restoration: it ranged through all
classes and conditions of men with no appearance of prejudice,
preference or parti-pris (this is one of the marvels of Balzac),
thus gaining the immense advantage of an apparently complete and
catholic comprehension of the human show. Of all modern
novelists, Balzac is the one whose work seems like life instead
of an opinion of life; he has the objectivity of Shakspere. Even
a Tolstoy set beside him seems limited.

This idea of a plan was not crystallized into the famous title
given to his collective works--La Comedie Humaine--until 1842,
when but eight years of life remained to him. But four years
earlier it had been mentioned in a letter, and when Balzac was
only a little over thirty, at a time when his better-known books
were just beginning to appear, he had signified his sense of an
inclusive scheme by giving such a running title to a group of
his stories as the familiar "Scenes from Private Life"--to
which, in due course, were added other designations for the
various parts of the great plan. The encyclopedic survey was
never fully completed, but enough was done to justify all the
laudation that belongs to a Herculean task and the exploitation
of an almost incredible amount of human data. As for finishing
the work, the failure hardly detracts from its value or affects
its place in literature. Neither Spenser's "Faery Queen" nor
Wordsworth's "The Excursion" was completed, and, per contra, it
were as well for Browning if "The Ring and the Book" had not
been. In all such cases of so-called incompletion, one
recognizes Hercules from the feet. Had this mighty story-teller
and student of humanity carried out his full intention there
would have been nearly 150 pieces of fiction; of the plan-on-paper
he actually completed ninety-seven, two-thirds of the
whole, and enough to illustrate the conception. And it must be
remembered that Balzac died at fifty. One result of the
incompletion, as Brunetiere has pointed out, is to give
disproportionate treatment to certain phases of life, to the
military, for instance, for which Balzac has twenty-four stories
on his list, whereas only two, "The Chouans" and "A Passion in
the Desert," were executed. But surely, sufficient was done,
looking to the comedy as a whole, to force us to describe the
execution as well as the conception as gigantic. Had the work
been more mechanically pushed to its end for the exact plan's
sake, the perfection of scheme might have been attained at the
expense of vitality and inspiration. Ninety-seven pieces of
fiction, the majority of them elaborate novels, the whole
involving several thousand characters, would be impressive in
any case, but when they come from an author who marvelously
reproduces his time and country, creating his scenes in a way to
afford us a sense of the complexity of life--its depth and
height, its beauty, terror and mystery--we can but hail him as
Master.

And in spite of the range and variety in Balzac's unique
product, it has an effect of unity based upon a sense of social
solidarity. He conceives it his duty to present the unity of
society in his day, whatever its apparent class and other
divergencies. He would show that men and women are members of
the one body social, interacting upon each other in manifold
relations and so producing the dramas of earth; each story plays
its part in this general aim, illustrating the social laws and
reactions, even as the human beings themselves play their parts
in the world. In this way Balzac's Human Comedy is an organism,
however much it may fall short of symmetry and completion.

In the outline of the plan we find him separating his studies
into three groups or classes: The Studies of Manners, the
Philosophical Studies, and the Analytic Studies. In the first
division were placed the related groups of scenes of Private
life, Provincial life, Parisian life, Political life, Military
life and Country life. It was his desire, as he says in a letter
to Madame Hanska, to have the group of studies of Manners
"represent all social effects"; in the philosophic studies the
causes of those effects: the one exhibits individualities
typified, the other, types individualized: and in the Analytic
Studies he searches for the principles. "Manners are the
performance; the causes are the wings and the machinery. The
principles--they are the author.... Thus man, society and
humanity will be described, judged, analyzed without repetition
and in a work which will be, as it were, 'The Thousand and One
Nights' of the west."

The scheme thus categorically laid down sounds rather dry and
formal, nor is it too easy to understand. But all trouble
vanishes when once the Human Comedy itself, in any example of
it, is taken up; you launch upon the great swollen tide of life
and are carried irresistibly along.

It is plain that with an author of Balzac's productive powers,
any attempt to convey an idea of his quality must perforce
confine itself to a few representative specimens. A few of them,
rightly chosen, give a fair notion of his general
interpretation. What then are some illustrative creations?

In the case of most novelists, although of first rank, it is not
as a rule difficult to define their class and name their
tendency: their temperaments and beliefs are so-and-so, and they
readily fall under the designation of realist or romanticist,
pessimist, or optimist, student of character or maker of plots.
This is, in a sense, impossible with Balzac. The more he be
read, the harder to detect his bias: he seems, one is almost
tempted to say, more like a natural force than a human mind.
Persons read two or three--perhaps half a dozen of his books--and
then prate glibly of his dark view, his predilection for the
base in mankind; when fifty fictions have been assimilated, it
will be realized that but a phase of Balzac had been seen.

When the passion of creation, the birth-throes of a novel were
on him, he became so immersed in the aspect of life he was
depicting that he saw, felt, knew naught else: externally this
obsession was expressed by his way of life and work while the
story was growing under his hand: his recluse habits, his
monkish abstention from worldly indulgences, the abnormal night
hours of activity, the loss of flesh, so that the robust man who
went into the guarded chamber came out at the end of six weeks
the shadow of himself.

As a consequence of the consecration to the particular task (as
if it embraced the one view of existence), the reader perhaps
experiences a shock of surprise in passing from "The Country
Doctor" to "Pere Goriot." But the former is just as truly part
of his interpretation as the latter. A dozen fictions can be
drawn from the body of his production which portray humanity in
its more beautiful, idealistic manifestations. Books like "The
Country Doctor" and "Eugenic Grandet" are not alone in the list.
And how beautiful both are! "The Country Doctor" has all the
idyllic charm of setting which a poetic interpretation of life
in a rural community can give. Not alone Nature, but human
nature is hymned. The kindly old physician, whose model is the
great Physician himself, is like Chaucer's good parson, an
unforgettable vision of the higher potentialities of the race.
Such a novel deserves to be called quite as truly romance and
prose poem, save that Balzac's vraisemblance, his gift for
photographic detail and the contemporaneousness of the setting,
make it modern. And thus with "Eugenie Grandet" the same method
applied in "The Country Doctor" to the study of a noble
profession in a rural atmosphere, is here used for the portrait
of a good woman whose entourage is again that of simple, natural
conditions. There is more of light and shade in the revelation
of character because Eugenie's father, the miser--a masterly
sketch--furnishes a dark background for her radiant personality.
But the same effect is produced, that of throwing into bold
relief the sweet, noble, high and pure in our common humanity.
And in this case it is a girl of humble station far removed from
the shams and shameful passions of the town. The conventional
contrast would be to present in another novel some woman of the
city as foul as this daughter of Grandet is fair. Not so Balzac.
He is too broad an observer of humanity, and as artist too much
the master for such cheap effects of chiaroscuro. In "The
Duchess De Langeais" e sets his central character amidst the
frivolities of fashion and behold, yet another beautiful type of
the sex! As Richardson drew his Pamela and Clarissa, so Balzac
his Eugenie and the Duchess: and let us not refrain from
carrying out the comparison, and add, how feeble seems the
Englishman in creation when one thinks of the half a hundred
other female figures, good and bad, high and low, distinctly
etched upon the memory by the mordant pen of the Frenchman!

Then if we turn to that great tragedy of family, "Pere Goriot,"
the change is complete. Now are we plunged into an atmosphere of
greed, jealousy, uncleanliness and hate, all steeped in the
bourgeois street air of Paris. In this tale of thankless
daughters and their piteous old father, all the hideousness
possible to the ties of kin is uncovered to our frightened yet
fascinated eye. The plot holds us in a vise; to recall Madame
Vautrin's boarding house is to shudder at the sights and smells!
Compare it with Dickens' Mrs. Todgers, and once and for all you
have the difference between the Anglo-Saxon and Celtic genius.

Suppose, now, the purpose be to reveal not a group or community,
but one human soul, a woman's this time: read "A Woman of
Thirty" and see how the novelist,--for the first time--and one
is inclined to add, for all time,--has pierced through the
integuments and reached the very quick of psychologic exposure.
It is often said that he has created the type of young-old, or
old-young woman: meaning that before him, novelists overlooked
the fact that a woman of this age, maturer in experience and
still ripe in physical charms, is really of intense social
attraction, richly worth study. But this is because Balzac knows
that all souls are interesting, if only we go beneath the
surface. The only work of modern fiction which seems to me so
nakedly to lay open the recesses of the human spirit as does "A
Woman of Thirty" is Meredith's "The Egoist"; and, of course,
master against master, Balzac is easily the superior, since the
English author's wonderful book is so mannered and grotesque.
Utter sympathy is shown in these studies of femininity, whether
the subject be a harlot, a saint or a patrician of the Grande
Monde.

If the quest be for the handling of mankind en masse, with big
effects of dark and light: broad brush-work on a canvas suited
to heroical, even epic, themes,--a sort of fiction the later
Zola was to excel in--Balzac will not fail us. His work here is
as noteworthy as it is in the fine detailed manner of his most
realistical modern studies--or in the searching analysis of the
human spirit. "The Chouans" may stand for this class: it has all
the fire, the color, the elan that emanate from the army and the
call of country. We have flashed before us one of those
reactionary movements, after the French Revolution, which take
on a magic romanticism because they culminate in the name of
Napoleon. While one reads, one thinks war, breathes war--it is
the only life for the moment. Just ahead a step, one feels, is
the "imminent deadly breach"; the social or business or Bohemian
doings of later Paris are as if they did not exist. And this
particular novel will achieve such a result with the reader,
even although it is not by any means one of Balzac's supreme
achievements, being in truth, a little aside from his metier,
since it is historical and suggests in spots the manner of
Scott. But this power of envisaging war (which will be farther
realized if such slighter works as "A Dark Affair" and "An
Episode Under the Terror" be also perused), is only a single
manifestation of a general gift. Suppose there is desired a
picture very common in our present civilization--most common it
may be in America,--that of the country boy going up to the city
to become--what? Perhaps a captain of commerce, or a leader of
fashion: perhaps a great writer or artist; or a politician who
shall rule the capitol. It is a venture packed full of realistic
experience but equally full of romance, drama, poetry--of an
epic suggestiveness. In two such volumes as "A Great Provincial
Man in Paris" and "Lost Illusions," all this, with its dire
chances of evil as well as its roseate promise of success, has
been wonderfully expressed. So cogently modern a motive had
never been so used before.

Sometimes in a brace of books Balzac shows us the front and
back-side of some certain section of life: as in "Cousin Pons"
and "Cousine Bette."--The corner of Paris where artists,
courtesans and poor students most do congregate, where Art
capitalized is a sacred word, and the odd estrays of humanity,
picturesque, humorous, and tragic, display all the chances of
mankind,--this he paints so that we do not so much look on as
move amidst the throng. In the first-named novel, assuredly a
very great book, the figure of the quaint old connoisseur is one
of fiction's superlative successes: to know him is to love him
in all his weakness. In the second book, Bette is a female
vampire and the story around her as terrible as the other is
heart-warming and sweet. And you know that both are true, true
as they would not have been apart: "helpless each without the
other."

Again, how much of the gambling activities of modern business
are emblazoned in another of the acknowledged masterpieces,
"Caesar Birotteau." We can see in it the prototype of much that
comes later in French fiction: Daudet's "Risler Aine et Froment
Jeune" and Zola's "L'Argent," to name but two. Such a story sums
up the practical, material side of a reign or an epoch.

Nor should it be forgotten that this close student of human
nature, whose work appears so often severely mundane, and most
strong when its roots go down into the earth, sometimes seeming
to prefer the rankness and slime of human growths,--can on
occasion soar into the empyrean, into the mystic region of
dreams and ideals and all manner of subtle imaginings. Witness
such fiction as "The Magic Skin," "Seraphita," and "The Quest of
the Absolute." It is hard to believe that the author of such
creations is he of "Pere Goriot" or "Cousine Bette." But it is
Balzac's wisdom to see that such pictures are quite as truly
part of the Human Comedy: because they represent man giving play
to his soul--exercising his highest faculties. Nor does the
realistic novelist in such efforts have the air of one who has
left his true business in order to disport himself for once in
an alien element. On the contrary, he seems absolutely at home:
for the time, this is his only affair, his natural interest.

And so with illustrations practically inexhaustible, which the
long list prodigally offers. But the scope and variety have been
already suggested; the best rule with Balzac is, each one to his
taste, always remembering that in a writer so catholic, there is
a peculiar advantage in an extended study. Nor can from twenty
to twenty-five of his best books be read without a growing
conviction that here is a man of genius who has done a unique
thing.

It is usual to refer to Balzac as the first great realist of the
French, indeed, of modern fiction. Strictly, he is not the first
in France, as we have seen, since Beyle preceded him; nor in
modern fiction, for Jane Austen, so admirably an artist of
verity, came a generation before. But, as always when a
compelling literary force appears, Balzac without any question
dominates in the first half of the nineteenth century: more than
this, he sets the mold of the type which marks the second half.
In fact, the modern Novel means Balzac's recipe. English
fiction, along with that of Europe, shares this influence. We
shall see in dealing with Dickens how definitely the English
writer adopted the Balzac method as suited to the era and
sympathetic to Dickens' own nature.

As to the accuracy with which he gave a representation of
contemporary life--thus deserving the name realist--considerable
may be said in the way of qualification. Much of it applies with
similar force to Zola, later to be hailed as a king among modern
realists in the naturalistic extreme to which he pushed the
movement. Balzac, through his remarkable instinct for detail and
particularity, did introduce into nineteenth century fiction an
effect of greater truth in the depiction of life. Nobody perhaps
had--nobody has since--presented mis-en-scene as did he. He
builds up an impression by hundreds of strokes, each seemingly
insignificant, but adding to a totality that becomes impressive.
Moreover, again and again in his psychologic analysis there are
home-thrusts which bring the blood to the face of any honest
person. His detail is thus quite as much subjective as external.
It were a great mistake to regard Balzac as merely a writer who
photographed things outside in the world; he is intensely
interested in the things within--and if objectivity meant
realism exclusively, he would be no realist at all.

But farther than this; with all his care for minute touches and
his broad and painstaking observation, it is not so much life,
after all, as a vision of life which he gives. This contradicts
what was said early in the present chapter: but the two
statements stand for the change likely to come to any student of
Balzac: his objective personality at last resolves itself into a
vividly personal interpretation. His breadth blinds one for a
while, that is all. Hence Balzac may be called an incurable
romantic, an impressionist, as much as realist. Like all first-class
art, his gives us the seeming-true for our better
instruction. He said in the Preface to "Pere Goriot" that the
novelist should not only depict the world as it is, but "a
possibly better world." He has done so. The most untrue thing in
a novel may be the fact lifted over unchanged from life? Truth
is not only stranger than fiction, but great fiction is truer
than truth. Balzac understood this, remembered it in his heart.
He is too big as man and artist to be confined within the narrow
realistic formula. While, as we have seen, he does not take
sides on moral issues, nor allow himself to be a special pleader
for this or that view, his work strikes a moral balance in that
it shows universal humanity--not humanity tranced in
metaphysics, or pathologic in analysis, or enmeshed in
sensualism. In this sense, Balzac is a great realist. There is
no danger of any novelist--any painter of life--doing harm, if
he but gives us the whole. It is the story-teller who rolls some
prurient morsel under his tongue who has the taint in him: he
who, to sell his books, panders to the degraded instincts of his
audience. Had Balzac been asked point-blank what he deemed the
moral duty of the novelist, he would probably have disclaimed
any other responsibility than that of doing good work, of
representing things as they are. But this matters not, if only a
writer's nature be large and vigorous enough to report of
humanity in a trustworthy way. Balzac was much too well endowed
in mind and soul and had touched life far too widely, not to
look forth upon it with full comprehension of its spiritual
meaning.

In spite, too, of his alleged realism, he believed that the duty
of the social historian was more than to give a statement of
present conditions--the social documents of the moment,--variable
as they might be for purposes of deduction. He insisted
that the coming,--perhaps seemingly impossible things, should be
prophesied;--those future ameliorations, whether individual or
collective, which keep hope alive in the human breast. Let me
again quote those words, extraordinary as coming from the man
who is called arch-realist of his day: "The novelist should
depict the world not alone as it is, but a possibly better
world." In the very novel where he said it ("Pere Goriot") he
may seem to have violated the principle: but taking his fiction
in its whole extent, he has acted upon it, the pronunciamento
exemplifies his practice.

Balzac's work has a Shaksperian universality, because it is so
distinctly French,--a familiar paradox in literature. He was
French in his feeling for the social unit, in his keen
receptivity to ideas, in his belief in Church and State as the
social organisms through which man could best work out his
salvation. We find him teaching that humanity, in terms of
Gallic temperament, and in time limits between the Revolution
and the Second Republic, is on the whole best served by living
under a constitutional monarchy and in vital touch with Mother
Church,--that form of religion which is a racial inheritance
from the Past. In a sense, then, he was a man with the
limitations of his place and time, as, in truth, was Shakspere.
But the study of literature instructs us that it is exactly
those who most vitally grasp and voice their own land and
period, who are apt to give a comprehensive view of humanity at
large; to present man sub specie aeternitatis. This is so
because, thoroughly to present any particular part of mankind,
is to portray all mankind. It is all tarred by the same stick,
after all. It is only in the superficials that unlikenesses lie.

Balzac was intensely modern. Had he lived today, he might have
been foremost in championing the separation of Church and State
and looked on serenely at the sequestration of the religious
houses. But writing his main fiction from 1830 to 1850, his
attitude was an enlightened one, that of a thoughtful patriot.

His influence upon nineteenth century English fiction was both
direct and indirect. It was direct in its effect upon several of
the major novelists, as will be noted in studying them; the
indirect influence is perhaps still more important, because it
was so all-pervasive, like an emanation that expressed the Time.
It became impossible, after Balzac had lived and wrought, for
any artist who took his art seriously to write fiction as if the
great Frenchman had not come first. He set his seal upon that
form of literature, as Ibsen, a generation later, was to set his
seal upon the drama, revolutionizing its technique. To the
student therefore he is a factor of potent power in explaining
the modern fictional development. Nor should he be a negligible
quantity to the cultivated reader seeking to come genially into
acquaintance with the best that European letters has
accomplished. While upon the lover of the Novel as a form of
literature--which means the mass of all readers to-day--Balzac
cannot fail to exercise a personal fascination.--Life widens
before us at his touch, and that glamour which is the
imperishable gift of great art, returns again as one turns the
pages of the little library of yellow books which contain the
Human Comedy.

Balzac died in 1850, when in the prime of his powers. Seven
years later was published the "Madame Bovary" of Flaubert, one
of the most remarkable novels of the nineteenth century and the
most unrelenting depiction of the devolution of a woman's soul
in all fiction: certainly it deserved that description up to the
hour of its appearance, if not now, when so much has been done
in the realm of female pathology. Flaubert is the most
noteworthy intermediate figure between Balzac and Zola. He seems
personally of our own day, for, living to be an old man, he was
friend and fellow-worker with the brothers Goncourt (whom we
associate with Zola) and extended a fatherly hand to the young
Maupassant at the beginning of the latter's career,--so
brilliant, brief, tragic. The influence of this one novel
(overlooking that of "Salambo," in its way also of influence in
the modern growth) has been especially great upon a kind of
fiction most characteristic of the present generation: in which,
in fact, it has assumed a "bad preeminence." I mean the Novel of
sexual relations in their irregular aspects. The stormy artist
of the Goncourt dinners has much to answer for, if we regard him
only as the creator of such a creature as Madame Bovary. Many
later books were to surpass this in license, in coarseness, or
in the effect of evoking a libidinous taste; but none in its
unrelenting gloom, the cold detachment of the artist-scientist
obsessed with the idea of truthfully reflecting certain sinister
facets of the many-faced gem called life! It is hardly too much
to say, in the light of the facts, that "Madame Bovary" was
epochal. It paved the way for Zola. It justified a new aim for
the modern fiction of so-called unflinching realism. The saddest
thing about the book is its lack of pity, of love. Emma Bovary
is a weak woman, not a bad woman; she goes downhill through the
force of circumstances coupled with a want of backbone. And she
is not responsible for her flabby moral muscles. Behind the
story is an absolutely fatalistic philosophy; given a certain
environment, any woman (especially if assisted a bit by her
ancestors) will go to hell,--such seems the lesson. Now there is
nothing just like this in Balzac, We hear in it a new note, the
latter-day note of quiescence, and despair. And if we compare
Flaubert's indifference to his heroine's fate with the
tenderness of Dumas fils, or of Daudet, or the English Reade and
Dickens--we shall realize that we have here a mixture of a
personal and a coming general interpretation: Flaubert having by
nature a kind of aloof determinism, yet feeling, like the first
puffs of a cold chilling wind, the oncoming of an age of Doubt.


III.

These three French writers then, Stendhal, Balzac and Flaubert,
molded the Novel before 1860 into such a shape as to make it
plastic to the hand of Zola a decade later. Zola's influence
upon our present generation of English fiction has been great,
as it has upon all novel-making since 1870. Before explaining
this further, it will be best to return to the study of the
mid-century English novelists who were too early to be affected
by him to any perceptible degree.




CHAPTER VIII


DICKENS

By the year 1850, in England, the so-called Novel of realism had
conquered. Scott in an earlier generation had by his wonderful
gift made the romance fashionable. But, as we said, it was the
romance with a difference: the romance with its feet firmly
planted on mother-earth, not ballooning in cloudland; the
romance depicting men and women of the past but yet men and
women, not creatures existing only in the fancy of the romance-maker.
In short, Scott, romancer though he was, helped modern
realism along, because he handled his material more truthfully
than it had been handled before. And his great contemporary,
Jane Austen, with her strict adherence to the present and to her
own locale, threw all her influence in the same direction,
justifying Mr. Howell's assertion that she leads all English
novelists in that same truthful handling.

Moreover, that occult but imperative thing, the spirit of the
Time, was on the side of Realism: and all bend to its dictation.
Then, in the mid-century, Dickens and Thackeray, with George
Eliot a little later on their heels, and Trollope too, came to
give a deeper set to the current which was to flow in similar
channels for the remainder of the period. In brief, this is the
story, whatever modifications of the main current are to be
noted: the work of Bulwer and Disraeli, of Reade, Kingsley and
Collins.

A decade before Thackeray got a general hearing Dickens had fame
and mighty influence. It was in the eighteen thirties that the
self-made son of an impecunious navy clerk, who did not live in
vain since he sat for a portrait of Micawber and the father of
the Marshalsea, turned from journalism to that higher reporting
which means the fiction of manners and humors. All the gods had
prepared him for his destiny. Sympathy he had for the poor, the
oppressed, the physically and morally unfit, for he had suffered
in his own person, or in his imagination, for them all. His gift
of observation had been sharpened in the grim school of
necessity: he had learned to write by writing under the pressure
of newspaper needs. And he had in his blood, while still hardly
more than a lad, a feeling for idiomatic English which, so far
as it was not a boon straight from heaven, had been fostered
when the very young Charles had battened, as we saw, upon the
eighteenth century worthies.

It is now generally acknowledged that Dickens is not a temporary
phenomenon in Victorian letters, but a very solid major fact in
the native literature, too large a creative force to be
circumscribed by a generation. Looked back upon across the gap
of time, he looms up all the more impressively because the years
have removed the clutter about the base of the statue. The
temporary loss of critical regard (a loss affecting his hold on
the general reading public little, if any) has given way to an
almost violent critical reaction in his favor. We are widening
the esthetic canvas to admit of the test of life, and are coming
to realize that, obsessed for a time by the attraction of that
lower truth which makes so much of external realities, realism
lost sight of the larger demands of art which include selection,
adaptation, and that enlargement of effect marking the
distinction between art and so-called reality. No critic is now
timid about saying a good word for the author of "Pickwick" and
"Copperfield." A few years ago it was otherwise. Present-day
critics such as Henley, Lang, and Chesterton have assured the
luke-warm that there is room in English literature for both
Thackeray and Dickens.

That Dickens began to write fiction as a very young journalist
was in some ways in his favor; in other ways, to the detriment
of his work. It meant an early start on a career of over thirty
years. It meant writing under pressure with the spontaneity and
reality which usually result. It also meant the bold grappling
with the technique of a great art, learning to make novels by
making them. Again, one truly inspired to fiction is lucky to
have a novitiate in youth. So far the advantages.

On the other hand, the faults due to inexperience, lack of
education, uncertainty of aim, haste and carelessness and other
foes of perfection, will probably be in evidence when a writer
who has scarcely attained to man's estate essays fiction.
Dickens' early work has thus the merits and demerits of his
personal history. A popular and able parliamentary reporter,
with sympathetic knowledge of London and the smaller towns where
his duties took him, possessed of a marvelous memory which
photographed for him the boyish impressions of places like
Chatham and Rochester, he began with sketches of that life
interspersed with more fanciful tales which drew upon his
imagination and at times passed the melodramatic border-line.
When these collected pieces were published under the familiar
title "Sketches by Boz," it is not too much to say that the
Dickens of the "Pickwick Papers" (which was to appear next year)
was revealed. Certainly, the main qualities of a great master of
the Comic were in these pages; so, in truth, was the master of
both tears and smiles. But not at full-length: the writer had
not yet found his occasion;--the man needs the occasion, even as
it awaits the man. And so, hard upon the Boz book, followed, as
it were by an accident, the world-famous "Adventures of Mr.
Pickwick." By accident, I say, because the promising young
author was asked to furnish the letter-press for a series of
comic sporting pictures by the noted artist, Seymour;
whereupon--doubtless to the astonishment of all concerned, the
pictures became quite secondary to the reading matter and the Wellers
soon set all England talking and laughing over their inimitable
sayings. Here in a loosely connected series of sketches the main
unity of which was the personality of Mr. Pickwick and his club,
its method that of the episodic adventure story of "Gil Blas"
lineage, its purpose frankly to amuse at all costs, a new
creative power in English literature gave the world over three
hundred characters in some sixty odd scenes: intensely English,
intensely human, and still, after the lapse of three quarters of
a century, keenly enjoyable.

In a sense, all Dickens' qualities are to be found in "The
Pickwick Papers," as they have come to be called for brevity's
sake. But the assertion is misleading, if it be taken to mean
that in the fifteen books of fiction which Dickens was to
produce, he added nothing, failed to grow in his art or to widen
and deepen in his hold upon life. So far is this from the truth,
that one who only knows Charles Dickens in this first great book
of fun, knows a phase of him, not the whole man: more, hardly
knows the novelist at all. He was to become, and to remain, not
only a great humorist, but a great novelist as well: and
"Pickwick" is not, by definition, a Novel at all. Hence, the
next book the following year, "Oliver Twist," was important as
answering the question: Was the brilliant new writer to turn out
very novelist, able to invent, handle and lead to due end a
tangled representation of social life?

Before replying, one rather important matter may be adverted to,
concerning the Dickens introduced to the world by "Pickwick":
his astonishing power in the evocation of human beings, whom we
affectionately remember, whose words are treasured, whose fates
are followed with a sort of sense of personal responsibility. If
the creation of differentiated types of humanity who persist in
living in the imagination be the cardinal gift of the fiction
writer, then this one is easily the leading novelist of the
race. Putting aside for the moment the question of his
caricaturing tendency, one fact confronts us, hardly to be
explained away: we can close our eyes and see Micawber, Mrs.
Gamp, Pegotty, Dick Swiveller, the Artful Dodger, Joe Gargery,
Tootles, Captain Cutter, and a hundred more, and their sayings,
quaint and dear, are like household companions. And this is true
in equal measure of no other story-maker who has used English
speech--it may be doubted if it is true to like degree of
Shakspere himself.

In the quick-following stories, "Oliver Twist" and "Nicholas
Nickleby," the author passed from episode and comic
characterization to what were in some sort Novels: the fiction
of organism, growth and climax.

His wealth of character creation was continued and even
broadened. But there was more here: an attempt to play the game
of Novel-making. It may be granted that when Dickens wrote these
early books (as a young man in the twenties), he had not yet
mastered many of the difficulties of the art of fiction. There
is loose construction in both: the melodrama of "Oliver Twist"
blends but imperfectly with the serious and sentimental part of
the narrative, which is less attractive. So, too, in "Nickleby,"
there is an effect at times of thin ice where the plot is
secondary to the episodic scenes and characters by the way. Yet
in both Novels there is a story and a good one: we get the
spectacle of genius learning its lesson,--experimenting in a
form. And as those other early books, differing totally from
each other too, "Old Curiosity Shop," and "Barnaby Rudge," were
produced, and in turn were succeeded by a series of great novels
representing the writer's young prime,--I mean "Martin
Chuzzlewit," "Dombey and Son" and "David Copperfield,"--it was
plain that the hand of Dickens was becoming subdued to the
element it worked in. Not only was there a good fable, as
before, but it was managed with increasing mastery, while the
general adumbration of life gained in solidity, truth and rich
human quality. In brief, by the time "Copperfield," the story
most often referred to as his best work, was reached, Dickens
was an artist. He wrought in that fiction in such a fashion as
to make the most of the particular class of Novel it
represented: to wit, the first-person autobiographic picture of
life. Given its purpose, it could hardly have been better done.
It surely bears favorable comparison, for architecture, with
Thackeray's "Vanity Fair," a work in the same genre, though
lacking the autobiographic method. This is quite aside from its
remarkable range of character-portrayal, its humor, pathos and
vraisemblance, its feeling for situation, its sonorous eloquence
in massed effects.

By the time he had reached mid-career, then, Charles Dickens had
made himself a skilled, resourceful story-teller, while his
unique qualities of visualization and interpretation had
strengthened. This point is worth emphasis, since there are
those who contend that "The Pickwick Papers" is his most
characteristic performance. Such a judgment is absurd, It
overlooks the grave beauty of the picture of Chesney Wold in
Bleak House; the splendid harmony of the Yarmouth storm in
"Copperfield"; the fine melodrama of the chapter in "Chuzzlewit"
where the guilty Jonas takes his haggard life; the magnificent
portraiture of the Father of the Marshalsea in "Little Dorrit":
the spiritual exaltation in vivid stage terms of Carton's death;
the exquisite April-day blend of tenderness and fun in limning
the young life of a Marchioness, a little Dombey and a tiny Tim.
To call Dickens a comic writer and stop there, is to try to pour
a river into a pint pot; for a sort of ebullient boy-like spirit
of fun, the high jinks of literature, we go to "Pickwick"; for
the light and shade of life to "Copperfield"; for the structural
excellencies of fiction to later masterpieces like "The Tale of
Two Cities" and "Great Expectations."

Just here a serious objection often brought against Dickens may
be considered: his alleged tendency to caricature. Does Dickens
make his characters other than what life itself shows, and if
so, is he wrong in so doing?

His severest critics assume the second if the first be but
granted. Life--meaning the exact reproduction of reality--is
their fetish. Now, it must be granted that Dickens does make his
creatures talk as their prototypes do not in life. Nobody would
for a moment assert that Mrs. Gamp, Pecksniff and Micawber could
be literally duplicated from the actual world. But is not
Dickens within his rights as artist in so changing the features
of life as to increase our pleasure? That is the nub of the
whole matter. The artist of fiction should not aim at exact
photography, for it is impossible; no fiction-maker since time
began has placed on the printed pages half the irrelevance and
foolishness or one-fifth the filth which are in life itself.
Reasons of art and ethics forbid. The aim, therefore, should
rather be at an effect of life through selection and re-shaping.
And I believe Dickens is true to this requirement. We hear less
now than formerly of his crazy exaggerations: we are beginning
to realize that perhaps he saw types that were there, which we
would overlook if they were under our very eyes: we feel the
wisdom of Chesterton's remarks that Dickens' characters will
live forever because they never lived at all! We suffered from
the myopia of realism. Zola desired above all things to tell the
truth by representing humanity as porcine, since he saw it that
way: he failed in his own purpose, because decency checked him:
his art is not photographic (according to his proud boast) but
has an almost Japanese convention of restraint in its
suppression of facts. Had Sarah Gamp been allowed by Dickens to
speak as she would speak in life, she would have been
unspeakably repugnant, never cherished as a permanently
laughable, even lovable figure of fiction. Dickens was a master
of omissions as well as of those enlargments which made him
carry over the foot lights. Mrs. Gamp is a monumental study of
the coarse woman rogue: her creator makes us hate the sin and
tolerate the sinner. Nor is that other masterly portrait of the
woman rascal--Thackeray's Becky Sharp--an example of strict
photography; she is great in seeming true, but she is not life.

So much, then, for the charge of caricature: it is all a matter
of degree. It all depends upon the definition of art, and upon
the effect made upon the world by the characters themselves. If
they live in loving memory, they must, in the large sense, be
true. Thus we come back to the previous statement: Dickens'
people live--are known by their words and in their ways all over
the civilized world. No collection of mere grotesques could ever
bring this to pass. Prick any typical creation of Dickens and it
runs blood, not sawdust. And just in proportion as we travel,
observe broadly and form the habit of a more penetrating and
sympathetic study of mankind, shall we believe in these
emanations of genius. Occasionally, under the urge and
surplusage of his comic force, he went too far and made a Quilp:
but the vast majority even of his drolls are as credible as they
are dear.

That he showed inequality as he wrought at the many books which
filled the years between "Pickwick" and the unfinished "Mystery
of Edwin Drood," may also be granted. Also may it be confessed
that within the bounds of one book there are the extremes of
good and bad. It is peculiar to Dickens that often in the very
novel we perchance feel called upon to condemn most, occurs a
scene or character as memorably great as anything he left the
world. Thus, we may regard "Old Curiosity Shop," once so
beloved, as a failure when viewed as a whole; and yet find Dick
Swiveller and the Marchioness at their immortal game as
unforgettable as Mrs. Battle engaged in the same pleasant
employment. Nor because other parts of "Little Dorrit" seem thin
and artificial, would we forego the description of the debtor's
prison. And our belief that the presentation of the labor-capital
problem in "Hard Times" is hasty and shallow, does not
prevent a recognition of the opening sketch of the circus troop
as displaying its author at his happiest of humorous
observation. There are thus always redeeming things in the
stories of this most unequal man of genius. Seven books there
are, novels in form, which are indubitable masterpieces: "Martin
Chuzzlewit," "Dombey and Son," "David Copperfield," "Bleak
House," "A Tale of Two Cities," "Great Expectations" and "Our
Mutual Friend." These, were all the others withdrawn, would give
ample evidence of creative power: they have the largeness,
variety and inventive verve which only are to be found in the
major novelists. Has indeed the same number of equal weight and
quality been given forth by any other English writer?

Another proof that the power of Dickens was not dependent
exclusively upon the comic, is his production of "A Tale of Two
Cities." It is sometimes referred to as uncharacteristic because
it lacks almost entirely his usual gallery of comics: but it is
triumphantly a success in a different field. The author says he
wished for the nonce to make a straight adventure tale with
characters secondary. He did it in a manner which has always
made the romance a favorite, and compels us to include this
dramatic study of the French Revolution among the choicest of
his creations. Its period and scene have never--save by Carlyle--been
so brilliantly illuminated. Dickens was brooding on this
story at a time when, wretchedly unhappy, he was approaching the
crisis of a separation from his wife: the fact may help to
explain its failure to draw on that seemingly inexhaustible
fountain of bubbling fun so familiar in his work. But even
subtract humor and Dickens exhibits the master-hand in a fiction
markedly of another than his wonted kind. This Novel--or
romance, as it should properly be called--reminds us of a
quality in Dickens which has been spoken of in the way of
derogation: his theatrical tendency. When one declares an author
to be dramatic, a compliment is intended. But when he is called
theatric, censure is implied. Dickens, always possessed of a
strong sense of the dramatic and using it to immense advantage,
now and again goes further and becomes theatric: that is, he
suggests the manipulating of effects with artifice and the
intention of providing sensational and scenic results at the
expense of proportion and truth. A word on this is advisable.

Those familiar with the man and his works are aware how close he
always stood to the playhouse and its product. He loved it from
early youth, all but went on the stage professionally, knew its
people as have few of the writing craft, was a fine amateur
actor himself, wrote for the stage, helped to dramatize his
novels and gave delightful studies of theatrical life in his
books. Shall we ever forget Mr. Crummles and his family? He had
an instinctive feeling for what was scenic and effective in the
stage sense. When he appeared as a reader of his own works, he
was an impersonator; and noticeably careful to have the stage
accessories exactly right. And when all this, natural and
acquired, was applied to fiction, it could not but be of
influence. As a result, Dickens sometimes forced the note,
favored the lurid, exaggerated his comic effects. To put it in
another way, this theater manner of his now and then injured the
literature he made. But that is only one side of the matter: it
also helped him greatly and where he went too far, he was simply
abusing a precious gift. To speak of Dickens' violent
theatricality as if it expressed his whole being, is like
describing the wart on Cromwell's face as if it were his set of
features. Remove from Dickens his dramatic power, and the
memorable master would be no more: he would vanish into dim air.
We may be thankful--in view of what it produced--that he
possessed even in excess this sense of the scenic value of
character and situation: it is not a disqualification but a
virtue, and not Dickens alone but Dumas, Hugo and Scott were
great largely because of it.

In the praise naturally enough bestowed upon a great
autobiographical Novel like "David Copperfield," the fine art of
a late work like "Great Expectations" has been overlooked or at
least minimized. If we are to consider skilful construction
along with the other desirable qualities of the novelist, this
noble work has hardly had justice done it: moreover, everything
considered,--story value, construction, characters, atmosphere,
adequacy of style, climactic interest, and impressive lesson, I
should name "Great Expectations," published when the author was
fifty, as his most perfect book, if not the greatest of Charles
Dickens' novels. The opinion is unconventional: but as Dickens
is studied more as artist progressively skilful in his craft, I
cannot but believe this particular story will receive increasing
recognition. In the matter of sheer manipulation of material, it
is much superior to the book that followed it two years later,
the last complete novel: "Our Mutual Friend." It is rather
curious that this story, which was in his day and has steadily
remained a favorite with readers, has with equal persistency
been severely handled by the critics. What has insured its
popularity? Probably its vigor and variety of characterization,
its melodramatic tinge, the teeming world of dramatic contrasts
it opens, its bait to our sense of mystery. It has a power very
typical of the author and one of the reasons for Dickens' hold
upon his audience. It is a power also exhibited markedly in such
other fictions as "Dombey and Son," "Martin Chuzzlewit" and
"Bleak House." I refer to the impression conveyed by such
stories that life is a vast, tumultuous, vari-colored play of
counter-motives and counter-characters, full of chance,
surprise, change and bitter sweet: a thing of mystery, terror,
pity and joy. It has its masks of respectability, its frauds of
place, its beauty blossoming in the mud, its high and low of
luck, its infinite possibilities betwixt heaven and hell. The
effect of this upon the sensitive reader is to enlarge his
sympathetic feeling for humanity: life becomes a big, awful,
dear phantasmagoria in such hands. It seems not like a flat
surface, but a thing of length, breadth, height and depth, which
it has been a privilege to enter. Dickens' fine gift--aside from
that of character creation--is found in this ability to convey
an impression of puissant life. He himself had this feeling and
he got it into his books: he had, in a happier sense, the joy of
life of Ibsen, the life force of Nietzsche. From only a few of
the world's great writers does one receive this sense of life,
the many-sided spectacle; Cervantes, Hugo, Tolstoy, Sienkiewicz,
it is men like they that do this for us.

Another side of Dickens' literary activity is shown in his
Christmas stories, which it may be truly said are as well
beloved as anything he gave the world in the Novel form. This is
assuredly so of the "Christmas Carol," "The Chimes" and "The
Cricket on the Hearth." This last is on a par with the other two
in view of its double life in a book and on the boards of the
theater. The fragrance of Home, of the homely kindness and
tenderness of the human heart, is in them, especially in the
Carol, which is the best tale of its kind in the tongue and
likely to remain so. It permanently altered the feeling of the
race for Christmas. Irving preceded him in the use of the
Christmas motive, but Dickens made it forever his own. By a
master's magic evocation, the great festival shines brighter,
beckons more lovingly than it did of old. Thackeray felt this
when he declared that such a story was "a public benefit." Such
literature lies aside from our main pursuit, that of the Novel,
but is mentioned because it is the best example possible, the
most direct, simple expression of that essential kindness, that
practical Christianity which is at the bottom of Dickens'
influence. It is bonhomie and something more. It is not Dickens
the reformer, as we get him when he satirizes Dotheboys hall, or
the Circumlocution Office or the Chancery Court: but Dickens as
Mr. Greatheart, one with all that is good, tender, sweet and
true. Tiny Tim's thousand-times quoted saying is the
quintessence, the motto for it all and the writer speaks in and
through the lad when he says: "God bless us, every one." When an
author gets that honest unction into his work, and also has the
gift of observation and can report what he sees, he is likely to
contribute to the literature of his land. With a sneer of the
cultivated intellect, we may call it elementary: but to the
heart, such a view of life is royally right.

This thought of Dickens' moral obligation in his work and his
instinctive attitude towards his audience, leads to one more
point: a main reason for this Victorian novelist's strong hold
on the affections of mankind is to be found in the warm personal
relation he establishes with the reader. The relationship
implies obligation on the part of the author, a vital bond
between the two, a recognition of a steady, not a chance,
association. There goes with it, too, an assumption that the
author believes in and cares much for his characters, and asks
the reader for the same faith. This personal relation of author
to reader and of both to the imagined characters, has gone out
of fashion in fiction-making: in this respect, Dickens (and most
of his contemporaries) seem now old-fashioned. The present
realist creed would keep the novelist away and out of sight both
of his fictive creations and his audience; it being his business
to pull the strings to make his puppets dance--up to heaven or
down to hell, whatever does it matter to the scientist-novelist?
Tolstoy's novel "Resurrection" is as a subject much more
disagreeable than Flaubert's "Madame Bovary"; but it is
beautiful where the other is horrible, because it palpitates
with a Christ-like sympathy for an erring woman, while the
French author cares not a button whether his character is lost
or not. The healthy-minded public (which can be trusted in
heart, if not in head) will instinctively choose that treatment
of life in a piece of fiction which shows the author kindly
cooperative with fate and brotherly in his position towards his
host of readers. That is the reason Dickens holds his own and is
extremely likely to gain in the future, while spectacular
reputations based on all the virtues save love, continue to die
the death. What M. Anatole France once said of Zola, applies to
the whole school of the aloof and unloving: "There is in man an
infinite need of loving which renders him divine. M. Zola does
not know it.... The holiness of tears is at the bottom of all
religions. Misfortune would suffice to render man august to man.
M. Zola does not know it."

Charles Dickens does know these truths and they get into his
work and that work, therefore, gets not so much into the minds
as into the souls of his fellow-man. When we recite the sayings
which identify his classic creations: when we express ourselves
in a Pickwickian sense, wait for something to turn up with Mr.
Micawber, drop into poetry with Silas Wegg, move on with little
Joe, feel 'umble after the manner of Uriah Heap, are willin'
with Barkis, make a note of, in company with Captain Cuttle, or
conclude with Mr. Weller, Senior, that it is the part of wisdom
to beware of "widders," we may observe that what binds us to
this motley crowd of creatures is not their grotesquerie but
their common humanity, their likeness to ourselves, the mighty
flood-tide of tolerant human sympathy on which they are floated
into the safe haven of our hearts. With delightful
understanding, Charles Dudley Warner writes: "After all, there
is something about a boy I like." Dickens, using the phrasing
for a wider application, might have said: "After all, there is
something about men and women I like!" It was thus no accident
that he elected to write of the lower middle classes; choosing
to depict the misery of the poor, their unfair treatment in
institutions; to depict also the unease of criminals, the
crushed state of all underlings--whether the child in education
or that grown-up evil child, the malefactor in prison. He was a
spokesman of the people, a democratic pleader for justice and
sympathy. He drew the proletariat preferably, not because he was
a proletariat but because he was a brother-man and the fact had
been overlooked. He drew thousands of these suppressed humans,
and they were of varied types and fortunes: but he loved them as
though they were one, and made the world love them too: and love
their maker. The deep significance of Dickens, perhaps his
deepest, is in the social note that swells loud and insistent
through his fiction. He was a pioneer in the democratic sympathy
which was to become so marked feature in the Novel in the late
nineteenth century: and which, as we have already seen, is from
the first a distinctive trait of the modern fiction, one of the
explanations of its existence.




CHAPTER IX


THACKERAY

The habit of those who appraise the relative worth of Dickens
and Thackeray to fall into hostile camps, swearing by one, and
at the other, has its amusing side but is to be deprecated as
irrational. Why should it be necessary to miss appreciation of
the creator of "Vanity Fair" because one happens to like "David
Copperfield"? Surely, our literary tastes or standards should be
broad enough to admit into pleasurable companionship both those
great early Victorian novelists.

Yet, on second thought, there would appear to be some reason for
the fact that ardent lovers of Thackeray are rarely devotees of
the mighty Charles--or vice versa. There is something mutually
exclusive in the attitude of the two, their different
interpretation of life. Unlike in birth, environment, education
and all that is summed up in the magic word personality, their
reaction to life, as a scientist would say, was so opposite that
a reader naturally drawn to one, is quite apt to be repelled by
(or at least, cold to) the other. If you make a wide canvass
among booklovers, it will be found that this is just what
happens. Rarely does a stanch supporter of Dickens show a more
than Laodicean temper towards Thackeray; and for rabid
Thackerians, Dickens too often spells disgust. It is a rare and
enjoyable experience to meet with a mind so catholic as to
welcome both. The backbone of the trouble is personal, in the
natures of the two authors. But I think it is worth while to say
that part of the explanation may be found in the fact that
Thackeray began fiction ten years later than his rival and was
in a deeper sense than was Dickens a voice of the later century.
This means much, because with each decade between 1830 and 1860,
English thought was moving fast toward that scientific faith,
that disillusionment and that spirit of grim truth which
culminated in the work of the final quarter of the century.
Thackeray was impelled more than was Dickens by the spirit of
the times to speak the truth in his delineations of contemporary
mankind: and this operated to make him a satirist, at times a
savage one. The modern thing in Dickens--and he had it--was the
humanitarian sympathy for the submerged tenth; the modern thing
in Thackeray, however, was his fearlessness in uncovering the
conventional shams of polite society. The idols that Dickens
smashed (and never was a bolder iconoclast) were to be seen of
all men: but Thackeray's were less tangible, more subtle, part
and parcel of his own class. In this sense, and I believe
because he began his major novel-writing about 1850, whereas the
other began fifteen years before, Thackeray is more modern, more
of our own time, than his great co-mate in fiction. When we
consider the question of their respective interpretations of
Life it is but fair to bear in mind this historical
consideration, although it would be an error to make too much of
it. Of course, in judging Thackeray and trying to give him a
place in English fiction, he must stand or fall, like any other
writer, by two things: his art, and his message. Was the first
fine, the other sane and valuable--those are the twin tests.

A somewhat significant fact of their literary history may be
mentioned, before an attempt is made to appreciate Thackeray's
novels. For some years after Dickens' death, which, it will be
remembered, occurred six years after Thackeray's, the latter
gained in critical recognition while Dickens slowly lost. There
can be little question of this. Lionized and lauded as was the
man of Gadshill, promptly admitted to Westminster Abbey, it came
to pass in time that, in a course on modern English literature
offered at an old and famous New England college, his name was
not deemed worthy of even a reference. Some critics of repute
have scarce been able to take Dickens seriously: for those who
have steadily had the temerity to care for him, their patronage
has been vocal. This marks an astonishing shift of opinion from
that current in 1870. Thackeray, gaining in proportion, has been
hailed as an exquisite artist, one of the few truly great and
permanent English figures not only of fiction but of letters.
But in the most recent years, again a change has come: the
pendulum has swung back, as it always does when an excessive
movement carries it too far beyond the plumb line. Dickens has
found valiant, critical defenders; he has risen fast in
thoughtful so well as popular estimation (although with the
public he has scarcely fluctuated in favor) until he now enjoys
a sort of resurrection of popularity. What is the cause of this
to-and-fro of judgment? The main explanation is to be found in
the changing literary ideals from 1850 to 1900. When Dickens was
active, literature, broadly speaking, was estimated not
exclusively as art, but as human product, an influence in the
world. With the coming of the new canon, which it is convenient
to dub by the catch-phrase, Art for Art's Sake, a man's
production began to be tested more definitely by the technique
he possessed, the skilled way in which he performed his task.
Did he play the game well? That was the first question. Often it
was the first and last. If he did, his subject-matter, and his
particular vision of Life, were pretty much his own affair. And
this modern touchstone, applied to the writings of our two
authors, favored Thackeray. Simple, old-fashioned readers
inclined to give Dickens the preference over him because the
former's interpretation of humanity was, they averred, kindlier
and more wholesome. Thackeray was cynical, said they; Dickens
humanitarian; but the later critical mood rebounded from
Dickens, since he preached, was frankly didactic, insisted on
his mission of doing good--and so failed in his art. Now,
however, that the l'art pour art shibboleth has been sadly
overworked and is felt to be passing or obsolete, the world
critical is reverting to that broader view which demands that
the maker of literature shall be both man and artist: as a
result, Dickens gains in proportion. This explanation makes it
likely that, looking to the future, while Thackeray may not
lose, Dickens is sure to be more and more appreciated. A return
to a saner and truer criterion will be general and the confines
of a too narrow estheticism be understood: or, better yet, the
esthetic will be so defined as to admit of wider application.
The Gissings and Chestertons of the time to come will insist
even more strenuously than those of ours that while we may have
improved upon Dickens' technique--and every schoolboy can tinker
his faults--we shall do exceedingly well if we duplicate his
genius once in a generation. And they will add that Thackeray,
another man of genius, had also his malaises of art, was
likewise a man with the mortal failings implied in the word. For
it cannot now be denied that just as Dickens' faults have been
exaggerated, Thackeray's have been overlooked.

Thackeray might lose sadly in the years to come could it be
demonstrated that, as some would have it, he deserved the title
of cynic. Here is the most mooted point in Thackeray
appreciation: it interests thousands where the nice questions
concerning the novelist's art claim the attention of students
alone. What can be said with regard to it? It will help just
here to think of the man behind the work. No sensible human
being, it would appear, can become aware of the life and
personality of Thackeray without concluding that he was an
essentially kind-hearted, even soft-hearted man. He was keenly
sensitive to praise and blame, most affectionate and constant
with his friends, generous and impulsive in his instincts,
loving in his family, simple and humble in his spiritual nature,
however questioning in his intellect. That is a fair summary of
Thackeray as revealed in his daily walk--in his letters, acts
and thoughts. Nothing could be sweeter and more kindly than the
mass of his writings in this regard, pace "The Book of Snobs"--even
in such a mood the satire is for the most part unbitter.
The reminiscential essays continually strike a tender note that
vibrates with human feeling and such memorials as the paper he
wrote on the deaths of Irving and Macaulay represent a frequent
vein. Thackeray's friends are almost a unit in this testimony:
Edward Fitzgerald, indeed--"dear old Fitz," as Tennyson loved to
call him--declares in a letter to somebody that he hears
Thackeray is spoiled: meaning that his social success was too
much for him. It is true that after the fame of "Vanity Fair,"
its author was a habitue of the best drawing-rooms, much sought
after, and enjoying it hugely. But to read his letter to Mrs.
Brookfield after the return home from such frivolities is to
feel that the real man is untouched. Why Thackeray, with such a
nature, developed a satirical bent and became a critic of the
foibles of fashion and later of the social faults of humanity,
is not so easy perhaps to say--unless we beg the question by
declaring it to be his nature. When he began his major fiction
at the age of thirty-seven he had seen much more of the seamy
side of existence than had Dickens when he set up for author.
Thackeray had lost a fortune, traveled, played Bohemian, tried
various employments, failed in a business venture--in short, was
an experienced man of the world with eyes wide open to what is
light, mean, shifty and vague in the sublunary show. "The Book
of Snobs" is the typical early document expressing the
subacidulous tendency of his power: "Vanity Fair" is the full-length
statement of it in maturity. Yet judging his life by and
large (in contrast with his work) up to the day of his sudden
death, putting in evidence all the testimony from many sources,
it may be asserted with considerable confidence that William
Makepeace Thackeray, whatever we find him to be in his works,
gave the general impression personally of being a genial, kind
and thoroughly sound-hearted man. We may, therefore, look at the
work itself, to extract from it such evidence as it offers,
remembering that, when all is said, the deepest part of a man,
his true quality, is always to be discovered in his writings.

First a word on the books secondary to the four great novels. It
is necessary at the start in studying him to realize that
Thackeray for years before he wrote novels was an essayist, who,
when he came to make fiction introduced into it the essay touch
and point of view. The essay manner makes his larger fiction
delightful, is one of its chief charms and characteristics. And
contrariwise, the looseness of construction, the lack of careful
architecture in Thackeray's stories, look to the same fact.

It can not justly be said of these earlier and minor writings
that, taken as a whole, they reveal a cynic. They contain many
thrusts at the foolishness and knavery of society, especially
that genteel portion of it with which the writer, by birth,
education and experience, was familiar. When Thackeray, in the
thirties, turned to newspaper writing, he did so for practical
reasons: he needed money, and he used such talents as were his
as a writer, knowing that the chances were better than in art,
which he had before pursued. It was natural that he should have
turned to account his social experiences, which gave him a power
not possessed by the run of literary hacks, and which had been
to some extent disillusioning, but had by no means soured him.
Broadly viewed, the tone of these first writings was genial, the
light and shade of human nature--in its average, as it is seen
in the world--was properly represented. In fact, often, as in
"The Great Hoggarty Diamond," the style is almost that of
burlesque, at moments, of horse-play: and there are too touches
of beautiful young-man pathos. Such a work is anything rather
than tart or worldly. There are scenes in that enjoyable story
that read more like Dickens than the Thackeray of "Vanity Fair."
The same remark applies, though in a different way, to the
"Yellowplush Papers." An early work like "Barry Lyndon," unique
among the productions of the young writer, expresses the deeper
aspect of his tendency to depict the unpleasant with satiric
force, to make clear-cut pictures of rascals, male and female.
Yet in this historical study, the eighteenth century setting
relieves the effect and one does not feel that the author is
speaking with that direct earnestness one encounters in
"Pendennis" and "The Newcomes." The many essays, of which the
"Roundabout Papers" are a type, exhibit almost exclusively the
sunnier and more attractive side of Thackeray's genius. Here and
there, in the minor fiction of this experimental period, there
are premonitions of he more drastic treatment of later years:
but the dominant mood is quite other. One who read the essays
alone, with no knowledge of the fiction, would be astonished at
a charge of cynicism brought against the author.

And so we come to the major fiction: "Vanity Fair," "Pendennis,"
"The Newcomes," and "Esmond." Of "The Adventures of Philip" a
later word may be said. "The Virginians" is a comparatively
unimportant pendant to that great historical picture, "Henry
Esmond." The quartet practically composes the fundamental
contribution of Thackeray to the world of fiction, containing as
it does all his characteristic traits. Some of them have been
pointed out, time out of mind: others, often claimed, are either
wanting or their virtue has been much exaggerated.

Of the merits incontestable, first and foremost may be mentioned
the color and motion of Life which spread like an atmosphere
over this fiction. By his inimitable idiom, his knowledge of the
polite world, and his equal knowledge of the average human being
irrespective of class or condition, Thackeray was able to make
his chronicle appear the very truth. Moreover, for a second
great merit, he was able, quite without meretricious appeals, to
make that truth interesting. You follow the fortunes of the folk
in a typical Thackeray novel as you would follow a similar group
in actual life. They interest because they are real--or seem to
be, which, for the purposes of art, is the same thing. To read
is not so much to look from an outside place at a fictive
representation of existence as to be participant in such a piece
of life--to feel as if you were living the story. Only masters
accomplish this, and it is, it may be added, the specialty of
modern masters.

For another shining merit: much of wisdom assimilated by the
author in the course of his days is given forth with pungent
power and in piquant garb in the pages of these books: the
reader relishes the happy statements of an experience profounder
than his own, yet tallying in essentials: Thackeray's remarks
seem to gather up into final shape the scattered oracles of the
years. Gratitude goes out to an author who can thus condense and
refine one's own inarticulate conclusions. The mental palate is
tickled by this, while the taste is titillated by the grace and
fitness of the style.

Yet in connection with this quality is a habit which already
makes Thackeray seem of an older time--a trifle archaic in
technique. I refer to the intrusion of the author into the story
in first-personal comment and criticism. This is tabooed by the
present-day realist canons. It weakens the illusion, say the
artists of our own day, this entrance of an actual personality
upon the stage of the imagined scene. Thackeray is guilty of
this lovable sin to a greater degree than is Dickens, and it may
be added here that, while the latter has so often been called
preacher in contrast with Thackeray the artist, as a matter of
fact, Thackeray moralizes in the fashion described fully as
much: the difference being that he does it with lighter touch
and with less strenuosity and obvious seriousness: is more
consistently amusing in the act of instruction.

Thackeray again has less story to tell than his greatest
contemporary and never gained a sure hand in construction, with
the possible exception of his one success in plot, "Henry
Esmond." Nothing is more apparent than the loose texture of
"Vanity Fair," where two stories centering in the antithetic
women, Becky and Amelia, are held together chronicle fashion,
not in the nexus of an organism of close weave. But this very
looseness, where there is such superlative power of
characterization with plenty of invention in incident, adds to
the verisimilitude and attraction of the book. The impression of
life is all the more vivid, because of the lack of proportioned
progress to a climax. The story conducts itself and ends much as
does life: people come in and out and when Finis is written, we
feel we may see them again--as indeed often happens, for
Thackeray used the pleasant device of re-introducing favorite
characters such as Pendennis, Warrington and the descendants
thereof, and it adds distinctly to the reality of the ensemble.

"Vanity Fair" has most often been given precedence over the
other novels of contemporary life: but for individual scenes and
strength of character drawing both "Pendennis" and "The
Newcomes" set up vigorous claims. If there be no single triumph
in female portraiture like Becky Sharp, Ethel New-come (on the
side of virtue) is a far finer woman than the somewhat insipid
Amelia: and no personage in the Mayfair book is more successful
and beloved than Major Pendennis or Colonel Newcome. Also, the
atmosphere of these two pictures seems mellower, less sharp,
while as organic structures they are both superior to "Vanity
Fair." Perhaps the supremacy of the last-named is due most of
all to the fact that a wonderfully drawn evil character has more
fascination than a noble one of workmanship as fine. Or is it
that such a type calls forth the novelist's powers to the full?
If so, it were, in a manner, a reproach. But it is more
important to say that all three books are delightfully authentic
studies of upper-class society in England as Thackeray knew it:
the social range is comparatively restricted, for even the
rascals are shabby-genteel. But the exposure of human nature
(which depends upon keen observation within a prescribed
boundary) is wide and deep: a story-teller can penetrate just as
far into the arcana of the human spirit if he confine himself to
a class as if he surveyed all mankind. But mental limitations
result: the point of view is that of the gentleman-class: the
ideas of the personal relation to one's self, one's fellow men
and one's Maker are those natural to a person of that station.
The charming poem which the author set as Finis to "Dr. Birch
and His Young Friends," with its concluding lines, is an
unconscious expression of the form in which he conceived human
duty. The "And so, please God, a gentleman," was the cardinal
clause in his creed and all his work proves it. It is wiser to
be thankful that a man of genius was at hand to voice the view,
than to cavil at its narrow outook. In literature, in-look is
quite as important. Thackeray drew what he felt and saw, and
like Jane Austen, is to be understood within his limitations.
Nor did he ever forget that, because pleasure-giving was the
object of his art, it was his duty so to present life as to make
it somehow attractive, worth while. The point is worth urging,
for not a little nonsense has been written concerning the
absolute veracity of Thackeray's pictures: as if he sacrificed
all pleasurableness to the modern Moloch, truth. Neither he nor
any other great novelist reproduces Life verbatim et literatim.
Trollope, in his somewhat unsatisfactory biography of his fellow
fictionist, very rightly puts his finger on a certain scene in
"Vanity Fair" in which Sir Pitt Crawley figures, which departs
widely from reality. The traditional comparison between the two
novelists, which represents Dickens as ever caricaturing,
Thackeray as the photographer, is coming to be recognized as
foolish.

It is all merely a question of degree, as has been said. It
being the artist's business to show a few of the symbols of life
out of the vast amount of raw material offered, he differs in
the main from his brother artist in the symbols he selects. No
one of them presents everything--if he did, he were no artist.
Thackeray approaches nearer than Dickens, it is true, to the
average appearances of life; but is no more a literal copyist
than the creator of Mrs. Gamp. He was rather one of art's most
capable exemplars in the arduous employment of seeming-true.

It must be added that his technique was more careless than an
artist of anything like his caliber would have permitted himself
to-day. The audience was less critical: not only has the art of
fiction been evolved into a finer finish, but gradually the
court of judgment made up of a select reading public, has come
to decide with much more of professional knowledge. Thus,
technique in fiction is expected and given. So much of gain
there has been, in spite of all the vulgarization of taste which
has followed in the wake of cheap magazines and newspapers. In
"Vanity Fair," for example, there are blemishes which a careful
revision would never have suffered to remain: the same is true
of most of Thackeray's books. Like Dickens, Thackeray was
exposed to all the danger of the Twenty Parts method of
publication. He began his stories without seeing the end; in one
of them he is humorously plaintive over the trouble of making
this manner of fiction. While "Vanity Fair" is, of course,
written in the impersonal third person, at least one passage is
put into the mouth of a character in the book: an extraordinary
slip for such a novelist.

But peccadilloes such as these, which it is well to realize in
view of the absurd claims to artistic impeccability for
Thackeray made by rash admirers, melt away into nothing when one
recalls Rawdon Crawley's horsewhipping of the Marquis; George
Osborn's departure for battle, Colonel Newcome's death, or the
incomparable scene where Lady Castlewood welcomes home the
wandering Esmond; that "rapture of reconciliation"! It is by
such things that great novelists live, and it may be doubted if
their errors are ever counted against them, if only they can
create in this fashion.

In speaking of Thackeray's unskilful construction the reference
is to architectonics; in the power of particular scenes it is
hard to name his superior. He has both the pictorial and the
dramatic sense. The care with which "Esmond" was planned and
executed suggests too that, had he taken his art more seriously
and given needed time to each of the great books, he might have
become one of the masters in that prime excellence of the craft,
the excellence of proportion, progress and climax. He never
quite brought himself to adopt the regular modern method of
scenario. "Philip," his last full length fiction, may be cited
as proof.

Yet it may be that he would have given increased attention to
construction had he lived a long life. It is worth noting that
when the unfinished "Denis Duval" dropt from a hand made inert
by death, the general plan, wherefrom an idea of its
architecture could be got, was among his effects.

To say a word now of Thackeray's style. There is practical
unanimity of opinion as to this. Thackeray had the effect of
writing like a cultivated gentleman not self-consciously making
literature. He was tolerant of colloquial concessions that never
lapsed into vulgarity; even his slips and slovenlinesses are
those of the well-bred. To pass from him back to Richardson is
to realize how stiffly correct is the latter. Thackeray has
flexibility, music, vernacular felicity and a deceptive ease. He
had, too, the flashing strokes, the inspirational sallies which
characterize the style of writers like Lamb, Stevenson and
Meredith. Fitness, balance, breeding and harmony are his chief
qualities. To say that he never sinned or nodded would be to
deny that he was human. He cut his cloth to fit the desired
garment and is a modern English master of prose designed to
reproduce the habit and accent of the polite society of his age.
In his hortatory asides and didactic moralizings with their
thees and thous and yeas, he is still the fine essayist, like
Fielding in his eighteenth century prefatory exordiums. And here
is undoubtedly one of his strongest appeals to the world of
readers, whether or no it makes him less perfect a fictionist.
The diction of a Thackeray is one of the honorable national
assets of his race.

Thackeray's men and women talk as they might be expected to talk
in life; each in his own idiom, class and idiosyncrasy. And in
the descriptions which furnish atmosphere, in which his
creatures may live and breathe and have their being, the hand of
the artist of words is equally revealed. Both for dialogue and
narration the gift is valid, at times superb. It would be going
too far to say that if Thackeray had exercised the care in
revision bestowed by later reputable authors, his style might
not have been improved: beyond question it would have been, in
the narrow sense. But the correction of trifling mistakes is one
thing, a change in pattern another. The retouching, although
satisfying grammar here and there, might have dimmed the
vernacular value of his speech.

But what of Thackeray's view, his vision of things? Does he bear
down unduly upon poor imperfect humanity? and what was his
purpose in satire? If he is unfair in the representation his
place among the great should suffer; since the truly great
observer of life does general justice to humankind in his
harmonious portrayal.

We have already spoken of Thackeray's sensitive nature as
revealed through all available means: he conveys the impression
of a suppressed sentimentalist, even in his satire. And this
establishes a presumption that the same man is to be discovered
in the novels, the work being an unconscious revelation of the
worker. The characteristic books are of satirical bent, that
must be granted: Thackeray's purpose, avowed and implicit in the
stories, is that of a Juvenal castigating with a smiling mouth
the evils of society. With keen eye he sees the weaknesses
incident to place and power, to the affectations of fashion or
the corruptions of the world, the flesh and the devil. Nobody of
commonsense will deny that here is a welcome service if
performed with skill and fair-mindedness in the interests of
truth. The only query would be: Is the picture undistorted? If
Thackeray's studies leave a bad taste in the mouth, if their
effect is depressing, if one feels as a result that there is
neither virtue nor magnanimity in woman, and that man is
incapable of honor, bravery, justice and tenderness--then the
novelist may be called cynic. He is not a wholesome writer,
however acceptable for art or admirable for genius. Nor will the
mass of mankind believe in and love him.

Naturally we are here on ground where the personal equation
influences judgment. There can never be complete agreement. Some
readers, and excellent people they are, will always be offended
by what they never tire of calling the worldly tone of
Thackeray; to others, he will be as lovable in his view of life
as he is amusing. Speaking, then, merely for myself, it seems to
me that for mature folk who have had some experience with
humanity, Thackeray is a charming companion whose heart is as
sound as his pen is incisive. The very young as a rule are not
ready for him and (so far as my observation goes) do not much
care for him. That his intention was to help the cause of
kindness, truth and justice in the world is apparent. It is late
in the day to defend his way of crying up the good by a frank
exhibition of the evil. Good and bad are never confused by him,
and Taine was right in calling him above all a moralist. But
being by instinct a realist too, he gave vent to his passion for
truth-telling so far as he dared, in a day when it was far less
fashionable to do this than it now is. A remark in the preface
to "Pendennis" is full of suggestion: "Since the author of 'Tom
Jones' was buried, no writer of fiction among us has been
permitted to depict to his utmost power a Man. We must drape him
and give him a certain conventional simper. Society will not
tolerate the Natural in our Art."

It will not do to say (as is often said) that Thackeray could
not draw an admirable or perfect woman. If he did not leave us a
perfect one, it was perhaps for the reason alleged to have been
given by Mr. Howells when he was charged with the same
misdemeanor: he was waiting for the Lord to do it first! But
Thackeray does no injustice to the sex: if Amelia be stupid
(which is matter of debate), Helen Warrington is not, but rather
a very noble creature built on a large plan: whatever the small
blemishes of Lady Castlewood she is indelible in memory for
character and charm. And so with others not a few. Becky and
Beatrix are merely the reverse of the picture. And there is a
similar balance in the delineation of men: Colonel Newcome over
against Captain Costigan, and many a couple more. Thackeray does
not fall into the mistake of making his spotted characters all-black.
Who does not find something likable in the Fotheringay
and in the Campaigner? Even a Barry Lyndon has the redeeming
quality of courage. And surely we adore Beatrix, with all her
faults. Major Pendennis is a thoroughgoing old worldling, but it
is impossible not to feel a species of fondness for him. Jos.
Sedley is very much an ass, but one's smile at him is full of
tolerance. Yes, the worst of them all, the immortal Becky (who
was so plainly liked by her maker) awakens sympathy in the
reader when routed in her fortunes, black-leg though she be. She
cared for her husband, after her fashion, and she plays the game
of Bad Luck in a way far from despicable. Nor is that easy-going,
commonplace scoundrel, Rawdon, with his dog-like devotion
to the same Becky, denied his touch of higher humanity. Behind
all these is a large tolerance, an intellectual breadth, a
spiritual comprehension that is merciful to the sinner, while
never condoning the sin. Thackeray is therefore more than story-teller
or fine writer: a sane observer of the Human Comedy; a
satirist in the broad sense, devoting himself to revealing
society to itself and for its instruction. It is easy to use
negations: to say he did not know nor sympathize with the middle
class nor the lower and outcast classes as did Dickens; that his
interest was in peccadilloes and sins, not in courageous
virtues: and that he judged the world from a club window. But
this gets us nowhere and is aside from the critic's chief
business: which is that of an appreciative explanation of his
abiding power and charm. This has now been essayed. Thackeray
was too great as man and artist not to know that it was his
function to present life in such wise that while a pleasure of
recognition should follow the delineation, another and higher
pleasure should also result: the surprising pleasure of beauty.
"Fiction," he declared, "has no business to exist, unless it be
more beautiful than reality," And again: "The first quality of
an artist is to have a large heart." With which revelatory
utterances may be placed part of the noble sentence closing "The
Book of Snobs": "If fun is good, truth is better still, and love
best of all." To read him with open mind is to feel assured that
his works, taken in their entirety, reflect these humane
sentiments. It is a pity, therefore, for any reader of the best
fiction, through intense appreciation of Dickens or for any
other reason, to cut himself off from such an enlightening
student of humanity and master of imaginative literature.




CHAPTER X


GEORGE ELIOT

George Eliot began fiction a decade later than Thackeray, but
seems more than a decade nearer to us. With her the full pulse
of modern realism is felt a-throbbing. There is no more of the
ye's and thous with which, when he would make an exordium,
Thackeray addressed the world--a fashion long since laid aside.
Eliot drew much nearer to the truth, the quiet, homely verity of
her scenes is a closer approximation to life, realizes life more
vitally than the most veracious page of "Vanity Fair." Not that
the great woman novelist made the mistake of a slavish imitation
of the actual: that capital, lively scene in the early part of
"The Mill on the Floss," where Mrs. Tulliver's connections make
known to us their delightsome personalities, is not a mere
transcript from life; and all the better for that. Nevertheless,
the critic can easily discover a difference between Thackeray
and Eliot in this regard, and the ten years between them (as we
saw in the case of Dickens and Thackeray) are partly
responsible: technique and ideal in literary art were changing
fast. George Eliot was a truer realist. She took more seriously
her aim of interpreting life, and had a higher conception of her
artistic mission. Dickens in his beautiful tribute to Thackeray
on the latter's death, speaks of the failure of the author of
"Pendennis" to take his mission, his genius, seriously: there
was justice in the remark. Yet we heard from the preface to
"Pendennis" that Thackeray had the desire to depict a typical
man of society with the faithful frankness of a Fielding, and
since him, Thackeray states, never again used. But the
novelist's hearers were not prepared, the time was not yet ripe,
and the novelist himself lacked the courage, though he had the
clear vision. With Eliot, we reach the psychologic moment: that
deepest truth, the truth of character, exhibited in its
mainsprings of impulse and thought, came with her into English
fiction as it had never before appeared. It would hardly be
overstatement to say that modern psychology in the complete
sense as method and interest begins in the Novel with Eliot. For
there is a radical difference, not only between the Novel which
exploits plot and that which exploits character: but also
between that which sees character in terms of life and that
which sees it in terms of soul. Eliot's fiction does the latter:
life to her means character building, and has its meaning only
as an arena for spiritual struggle. Success or failure means but
this: have I grown in my higher nature, has my existence shown
on the whole an upward tendency?

If so, well and good. If not, whatever of place or power may be
mine, I am among the world's failures, having missed the goal.
This view, steadily to be encountered in all her fiction, gives
it the grave quality, the deep undertone and, be it confessed,
at times the almost Methodistic manner, which mark this woman's
worth in its weakness and its notable strength. In her early
days, long before she made fiction, she was morbidly religious;
she became in the fulness of time one of the intellectually
emancipated. Yet, emotionally, spiritually, she remained to the
end an intensely religious person. Conduct, aspiration,
communion of souls, these were to her always the realities. If
Thackeray's motto was Be good, and Dickens', Do good, Eliot's
might be expressed as: Make me good! Consider for a moment and
you will see that these phrases stand successively for a
convention, an action and an aspiration.

The life of Mary Ann Evans falls for critical purposes into
three well-defined divisions: the early days of country life
with home and family and school; her career as a savant; and the
later years, when she performed her service as story-teller.
Unquestionably, the first period was most important in
influencing her genius. It was in the home days at Griff, the
school days at Nuneaton nearby, that those deepest, most
permanent impressions were absorbed which are given out in the
finest of her fictions. Hence came the primal inspiration which
produced her best. And it is because she drew most generously
upon her younger life in her earlier works that it is they which
are most likely to survive the shocks of Time.

The experiences of Eliot's childhood, youth and young womanhood
were those which taught her the bottom facts about middle-class
country life in the mid-century, and in a mid-county of England;
Shakspere's county of Warwick. Those experiences gave her such
sympathetic comprehension of the human case in that environment
that she became its chronicler, as Dickens had become the
chronicler of the lower middle-class of the cities. Unerringly,
she generalized from the microcosm of Warwickshire to the life
of the world and guessed the universal human heart. With utmost
sympathy, joined with a nice power of scrutiny, she saw and
understood the character-types of the village, when there was a
village life which has since passed away: the yeoman, the small
farmer, the operative in the mill, the peasant, the squire and
the parson, the petty tradesman, the man of the professions: the
worker with his hands at many crafts.

She matured through travel, books and social contact, her
knowledge was greatly extended: she came to be, in a sense, a
cultured woman of the world, a learned person. Her later books
reflected this; they depict the so-called higher strata of
English society as in "Middlemarch," or, as in "Romola," give an
historical picture of another time in a foreign land. The woman
who was gracious hostess at those famous Sunday afternoons at
the Priory seems to have little likeness to the frail, shy,
country girl in Griff--seems, too, far more important; yet it
may be doubted whether all this later work reveals such mastery
of the human heart or comes from such an imperative source of
expression as do the earlier novels, "Adam Bede" and "The Mill
on the Floss." For human nature is one and the same in Griff or
London or Florence, as all the amplitude of the sky is mirrored
in the dewdrop. And although Eliot became in later life a more
accurate reporter of the intellectual unrest of her day, and had
probed deeper into the mystery and the burden of this
unintelligible world, great novels are not necessarily made in
that way and the majority of those who love her cleave to the
less burdened, more unforced expression of her power.

In those early days, moreover, her attitude towards life was
established: it meant a wish to improve the "complaining
millions of men." Love went hand in hand with understanding. It
may well be that the somberly grave view of humanity and of the
universe at large which came to be hers, although strengthened
by the positivistic trend of her mature studies, was generated
in her sickly youth and a reaction from the narrow theologic
thought with which she was then surrounded. Always frail--subject
through life to distressing illness--it would not be
fair to ask of this woman an optimism of the Mark Tapley stripe.
In part, the grave outlook was physical, temperamental: but also
it was an expression of a swiftly approaching mood of the late
nineteenth century. And the beginning can be traced back to the
autumn evenings in the big farmhouse at Griff when, as a mere
child, she wrestled or prayed with what she called her sick
soul. That stern, upright farmer father of hers seems the
dominant factor in her make-up, although the iron of her blood
was tempered by the livelier, more mundane qualities of her
sprightly mother, towards whom we look for the source of the
daughter's superb gift of humor. Whatever the component parts of
father and mother in her, and however large that personal
variation which is genius, of this we may be comfortably sure:
the deepest in the books, whether regarded as presentation of
life or as interpretation, came from the early Warwickshire
years.

Gradually came that mental eclaircissement which produced the
editor, the magazinist, the translator of Strauss. The
friendship with the Brays more than any one thing marks the
external cause of this awakening: but it was latent, this
response to the world of thought and of scholarship, and certain
to be called out sooner or later. Our chief interest in it is
due to the query how much it ministered to her coming career as
creative author of fiction.

George Eliot at this period looked perilously like a Blue
Stocking. The range and variety of her reading and the severely
intellectual nature of her pursuits justify the assertion. Was
this well for the novelist?

The reply might be a paradox: yes and no. This learning imparted
to Eliot's works a breadth of vision that is tonic and wins the
respect of the judicious. It helps her to escape from that bane
of the woman novelist--excessive sentiment without intellectual
orientation. But, on the other hand, there are times when she
appears to be writing a polemic, not a novel: when the tone
becomes didactic, the movement heavy--when the work seems
self-conscious and over-intellectualized. Nor can it be denied
that this tendency grew on Eliot, to the injury of her latest work.
There is a simple kind of exhortation in the "Clerical Scenes,"
but it disappears in the earliest novels, only to reappear in
stories like "Daniel Deronda." Any and all culture that comes to
a large, original nature (and such was Eliot's) should be for
the good of the literary product: learning in the narrower, more
technical sense, is perhaps likely to do harm. Here and there
there is a reminder of the critic-reviewer in her fiction.

George Eliot's intellectual development during her last years
widened her work and strengthened her comprehensive grasp of
life. She gained in interpretation thereby. There will, however,
always be those who hold that it would have been better for her
reputation had she written nothing after "Middlemarch," or even
after "Felix Holt." Those who object on principle to her
agnosticism, would also add that the negative nature of her
philosophy, her lack of what is called definite religious
convictions, had its share in injuring materially her maturest
fiction. The vitality or charm of a novel, however, is not
necessarily impaired because the author holds such views. It is
more pertinent to take the books as they are, in chronologic
order, to point out so far as possible their particular merits.

And first, the "Scenes from Clerical Life." It is interesting to
the student of this novelist that her writing of fiction was
suggested to her by Lewes, and that she tried her hand at a tale
when she was not far from forty years old. The question will
intrude: would a genuine fiction-maker need to be thus prodded
by a friend, and refrain from any independent attempt up to a
period so late? Yet it will not do to answer glibly in the
negative. Too many examples of late beginning and fine fiction
as a consequence are furnished by English literature to make
denial safe. We have seen Defoe and Richardson and a number of
later novelists breaking the rules--if any such exist. No one
can now read the "Clerical Scenes" without discovering in them
qualities of head and heart which, when allowed an enlarged
canvas and backed by a sure technique, could be counted on to
make worthy fiction. The quiet village life glows softly under
the sympathetic touch of a true painter.

A recent reading of this first book showed more clearly than
ever the unequalness of merit in the three stories, their strong
didactic bent, and the charmingly faithful observation which for
the present-day reader is their greatest attraction. The first
and simplest, "The Sad Fortunes of the Rev. Amos Barton," is by
far the best. The poorest is the second, "Mr. Gilfil's Love
Story," which has touches of conventional melodrama in a
framework reminiscent of earlier fictionists like Disraeli.
"Janet's Repentance," with its fine central character of the
unhappy wedded wife, is strong, sincere, appealing; and much of
the local color admirable. But--perhaps because there is more
attempt at story-telling, more plot--the narrative falls below
the beautiful, quiet chronicle of the days of Amos: an exquisite
portrayal of an average man who yet stands for humanity's best.
The tale is significant as a prelude to Eliot's coming work,
containing, in the seed, those qualities which were to make her
noteworthy. Perusing the volume to-day, we can hardly say that
it appears an epoch-making production in fiction, the
declaration of a new talent in modern literature. But much has
happened in fiction during the half century since 1857, and we
are not in a position to judge the feeling of those who then
began to follow the fortunes of the Reverend Amos.

But it is not difficult for the twentieth century reader, even
if blase, to understand that "Adam Bede," published when its
author was forty, aroused a furore of admiration: it still holds
general attention, and many whose opinion is worth having,
regard it with respect, affection, even enthusiasm.

The broader canvas was exactly what the novelist needed to show
her power of characterization, her ability to build up her
picture by countless little touches guided by the most
unflinching faith in detail and given vibrancy by the sympathy
which in all George Eliot's fiction is like the air you breathe.
Then, too, as an appeal to the general, there is more of story
interest, although neither here nor in any story to follow, does
plot come first with a writer whose chief interest is always
character, and its development. The autobiographic note deepens
and gives at once verity and intensity to the novel; here, as in
"The Mill on the Floss" which was to follow the next year, Eliot
first gave free play to that emotional seizure of her own past
to which reference has been made. The homely material of the
first novel was but part of its strength. Readers who had been
offered the flash-romantic fiction of Disraeli and Bulwer,
turned with refreshment to the placid annals of a village where,
none the less, the human heart in its follies and frailties and
nobilities, is laid bare. The skill with which the leisurely
moving story rises to its vivid moments of climactic interest--the
duel in the wood, Hetty's flight, the death of Adam's
father--is marked and points plainly to the advance, through
study and practice, of the novelist since the "Clerical Scenes";
constructive excellencies do not come by instinct. "Adam Bede"
is preeminently a book of belief, written not so much in ink as
in red blood, and in that psychic fluid that means the author's
spiritual nature. She herself declared, "I love it very much,"
and it reveals the fact on every page. Aside from its
indubitable worth as a picture of English middle-class country
life in an earlier nineteenth century than we know--the easy-going
days before electricity--it has its highest claim to our
regard as a reading in life, not conveyed by word of mouth
didactically, but carried in scene and character. The author's
tenderness over Hetty, without even sentimentalizing her as, for
example, Dumas sentimentalizes his Camille, suggests the mood of
the whole narrative: a large-minded, large-hearted comprehension
of humankind, an insistence on spiritual tests, yet with the
will to tell the truth and present impartially the darkest
shadows. It is because George Eliot's people are compounded with
beautiful naturalness of good and bad--not hopelessly bad with
Hetty, nor hopelessly good with Adam--that we understand them
and love them. Here is an element of her effectiveness. Even her
Dinah walks with her feet firmly planted upon the earth, though
her mystic vision may be skyward.

With "Adam Bede" she came into her own. The "Clerical Scenes"
had won critical plaudits: Dickens, in 1857 long settled in his
seat of public idolatry, wrote the unknown author a letter of
appreciation, so warm-hearted, so generous, that it is hard to
resist the pleasure of quoting it: it is interesting to remark
that in despite the masculine pen-name, he attributed the work
to a woman. But the public had not responded. With "Adam Bede"
this was changed; the book gained speedy popularity, the author
even meeting with that mixed compliment, a bogus claimant to its
authorship. And so, greatly encouraged, and stimulated to do her
best, she produced "The Mill on the Floss," a novel, which, if
not her finest, will always be placed high on her list of
representative fiction.

This time the story as such was stronger, there was more
substance and variety because of the greater number of
characters and their freer interplay upon each other. Most
important of all, when we look beyond the immediate reception by
the public to its more permanent position, the work is decidedly
more thoroughgoing in its psychology: it goes to the very core
of personality, where the earlier book was in some instances
satisfied with sketch-work. In "Adam Bede" the freshness comes
from the treatment rather than the theme. The framework, a
seduction story, is old enough--old as human nature and
pre-literary story-telling. But in "The Mill on the Floss" we
have the history of two intertwined lives, contrasted types from
within the confines of family life, bound by kin-love yet
separated by temperament. It is the deepest, truest of tragedy
and we see that just this particular study of humanity had not
been accomplished so exhaustively before in all the annals of
fiction. As it happened, everything conspired to make the author
at her best when she was writing this novel: as her letters
show, her health was, for her, good: we have noted the stimulus
derived from the reception of "Adam Bede"--which was as wine to
her soul. Then--a fact which should never be forgotten--the tale
is carried through logically and expresses, with neither
paltering nor evasion, George Eliot's sense of life's tragedy.
In the other book, on the contrary, a touch of the fictitious
was introduced by Lewes; Dinah and Adam were united to make at
the end a mitigation of the painfulness of Hetty's downfall.
Lewes may have been right in looking to the contemporary
audience, but never again did Eliot yield to that form of the
literary lie, the pleasant ending. She certainly did not in "The
Mill on the Floss": an element of its strength is its truth. The
book, broadly considered, moves slow, with dramatic accelerando
at cumulative moments; it is the kind of narrative where this
method is allowable without artistic sin. Another great
excellence is the superb insight into the nature of childhood,
boy and girl; if Maggie is drawn with the more penetrating
sympathy, Tom is finely observed: if the author never rebukes
his limitations, she states them and, as it were, lifts hands to
heaven to cry like a Greek chorus: "See these mortals love yet
clash! Behold, how havoc comes! Eheu! this mortal case!"

With humanity still pulling at her heart-strings, and conceiving
fiction which offered more value of plot than before, George
Eliot wrote the charming romance "Silas Marner," novelette in
form, modern romance in its just mingling of truth and
idealization: a work published the next year. She interrupted
"Romola" to do it, which is suggestive as indicating absorption
by the theme. This story offers a delightful blend of homely
realism with poetic symbolism. The miser is wooed from his
sordid love of gold by the golden glint of a little girl's hair:
as love creeps into his starved heart, heartless greed goes out
forever: before a soulless machine, he becomes a man. It is the
world-old, still potent thought that the good can drive out the
bad: a spiritual allegory in a series of vivid pictures carrying
the wholesomest and highest of lessons. The artistic and
didactic are here in happy union. And as nowhere else in her
work (unless exception be made in the case of "Romola") she sees
a truth in terms of drama. To read the story is to feel its
stage value: it is no surprise to know that several
dramatizations of the book have been made. Aside from its
central motive, the studies of homely village life, as well as
of polite society, are in Eliot's best manner: the humor of
Dolly Winthrop is of as excellent vintage as the humor of Mrs.
Poyser in "Adam Bede," yet with the necessary differentiation.
The typical deep sympathy for common humanity--just average
folks--permeates the handling. Moreover, while the romance has a
happy issue, as a romance should according to Stevenson, if it
possibly can, it does not differ in its view of life from so
fatalistic a book as "The Mill on the Floss"; for circumstances
change Silas; if the child Eppie had not come he might have
remained a miser. It was not his will alone that revolutionized
his life; what some would call luck was at work there. In "Silas
Marner" the teaching is of a piece with that of all her
representative work.

But when we reach "Romola" there is a change, debatable ground
is entered upon at once. Hitherto, the story-teller has mastered
the preacher, although an ever more earnest soul has been
expressing itself about Life. Now we enter the region of more
self-conscious literary art, of planned work and study, and
confront the possibility of flagging invention. Also, we leave
the solid ground of contemporary themes and find the realist
with her hang for truth, essaying an historical setting, an
entirely new and foreign motive. Eliot had already proved her
right to depict certain aspects of her own English life. To
strive to exercise the same powers on a theme like "Romola" was
a venturesome step. We have seen how Dickens and Thackeray
essayed romance at least once with ringing success; now the
third major mid-century novelist was to try the same thing.

It may be conceded at the start that in one important respect
this Florentine story of Savonarola and his day is entirely
typical: it puts clearly before us in a medieval romantic mis-en
scene, the problem of a soul: the slow, subtle, awful
degeneration of the man Tito, with its foil in the noble figure
of the girl Romola. The central personality psychologically is
that of the wily Greek-Italian, and Eliot never probed deeper
into the labyrinths of the perturbed human spirit than in this
remarkable analysis. The reader, too, remembers gratefully, with
a catch of the breath, the great scenes, two of which are the
execution of Savonarola, and the final confrontation of Tito by
his adoptive father, with its Greek-like sense of tragic doom.
The same reader stands aghast before the labor which must lie
behind such a work and often comes to him a sudden, vital sense
of fifteenth century Florence, then, as never since, the Lily of
the Arno: so cunningly and with such felicity are innumerable
details individualized, massed and blended. And yet, somehow it
all seems a splendid experiment, a worthy performance rather
than a spontaneous and successful creative endeavor: this, in
comparison with the fiction that came before. The author seems a
little over-burdened by the tremendousness of her material.
Whether it is because the Savonarola episode is not thoroughly
synthetized with the Tito-Romola part: or that the central theme
is of itself fundamentally unpleasant--or again, that from the
nature of the romance, head-work had largely to supplant that
genial draught upon the springs of childhood which gave us "Adam
Bede" and "The Mill on the Floss";--or once more, whether the
crowded canvas injures the unity of the design, be these as they
may, "Romola" strikes one as great in spots and as conveying a
noble though somber truth, but does not carry us off our feet.
That is the blunt truth about it, major work as it is, with only
half a dozen of its kind to equal it in all English literature.
It falls distinctly behind both "A Tale of Two Cities" and
"Esmond." It is a book to admire, to praise in many particulars,
to be impressed by: but not quite to treasure as one treasures
the story of the Tullivers. It was written by George Eliot,
famous novelist, who with that anxious, morbid conscience of
hers, had to live up to her reputation, and who received $50,000
for the work, even to-day a large sum for a piece of fiction. It
was not written by a woman irresistibly impelled to self-expression,
seized with the passionate desire to paint Life. It
is, in a sense, her first professional feat and performance.

Meanwhile, she was getting on in life: we saw that she was seven
and thirty when she wrote the "Clerical Scenes": it was almost a
decade later when "Felix Holt, Radical" appeared, and she was
nearing fifty. I believe it to be helpful to draw a line between
all her fiction before and after "Felix Holt," placing that book
somewhat uncertainly on the dividing line. The four earlier
novels stand for a period when there is a strong, or at least
sufficient story interest, the proper amount of objectification:
to the second division belong "Middlemarch" and "Daniel
Deronda," where we feel that problem comes first and story
second. In the intermediate novel, "Felix Holt," its excellent
story places it with the first books, but its increased didactic
tendency with the latest stories. Why has "Felix Holt" been
treated by the critics, as a rule, as of comparatively minor
value? It is very interesting, contains true characterization,
much of picturesque and dramatic worth; it abounds in enjoyable
first-hand observation of a period by-gone yet near enough to
have been cognizant to the writer. Her favorite types, too, are
in it. Holt, a study of the advanced workman of his day, is
another Bede, mutatis mutandis, and quite as truly realized.
Both Mr. Lyon and his daughter are capitally drawn and the
motive of the novel--to teach Felix that he can be quite as true
to his cause if he be less rough and eccentric in dress and
deportment, is a good one handled with success. To which may be
added that the encircling theme of Mrs. Transome's mystery,
grips the attention from the start and there is pleasure when it
is seen to involve Esther, leading her to make a choice which
reveals that she has awakened to a truer valuation of life--and
of Felix. With all these things in its favor, why has
appreciation been so scant?

Is it not that continually in the narrative you lose its broader
human interest because of the narrower political and social
questions that are raised? They are vital questions, but still,
more specific, technical, of the time. Nor is their weaving into
the more permanent theme altogether skilful: you feel like
exclaiming to the novelist: "O, let Kingsley handle chartism,
but do you stick to your last--love and its criss-cross, family
sin and its outcome, character changed as life comes to be more
vitally realized." George Eliot in this fine story falls into
this mistake, as does Mrs. Humphry Ward in her well-remembered
"Robert Elsmere," and as she has again in the novel which
happens to be her latest as these words are written, "Marriage a
la Mode." The thesis has a way of sticking out obtrusively in
such efforts.

Many readers may not feel this in "Felix Holt," which, whatever
its shortcomings, remains an extremely able and interesting
novel, often underestimated. Still, I imagine a genuine
distinction has been made with regard to it.

The difference is more definitely felt in "Middlemarch," not
infrequently called Eliot's masterpiece. It appeared five years
later and the author was over fifty when the book was published
serially during 1871 and 1872. Nearly four years were spent in
the work of composition: for it the sum of $60,000 was paid.

"Middlemarch," which resembles Thackeray's "Vanity Fair" in
telling two stories not closely related, seems less a Novel than
a chronicle-history of two families. It is important to remember
that its two parts were conceived as independent; their welding,
to call it such, was an afterthought. The tempo again, suiting
the style of fiction, is leisurely: character study, character
contrast, is the principal aim. More definitely, the marriage
problem, illustrated by Dorothea's experience with Casaubon, and
that of Lydgate with Rosamond, is what the writer places before
us. Marriage is chosen simply because it is the modern spiritual
battleground, a condition for the trying-out of souls. The
greatness of the work lies in its breadth (subjective more than
objective), its panoramic view of English country life of the
refined type, its rich garner of wisdom concerning human motive
and action. We have seen in earlier studies that its type, the
chronicle of events as they affect character, is a legitimate
one: a successful genus in English-speaking fiction in hands
like those of Thackeray, Eliot and Howells. It is one accepted
kind, a distinct, often able, sympathetic kind of fiction of our
race: its worth as a social document (to use the convenient term
once more) is likely to be high. It lacks the close-knit plot,
the feeling for stage effect, the swift progression and the
sense of completed action which another and more favored sort of
Novel exhibits. Yet it may have as much chance of permanence in
the hands of a master. The proper question, then, seems to be
whether it most fitly expresses the genius of an author.

Perhaps there will never be general agreement as to this in the
case of "Middlemarch." The book is drawn from wells of
experience not so deep in Eliot's nature as those which went to
the making of "Adam Bede" and "The Mill on the Floss," It is
life with which the author became familiar in London and about
the world during her later literary days. She knows it well, and
paints it with her usual noble insistence upon truth. But she
knows it with her brain; whereas, she knows "The Mill on the
Floss" with her blood. There is surely that difference. Hence,
the latter work has, it would seem, a better chance for long
life; for, without losing the author's characteristic
interpretation, it has more story-value, is richer in humor
(that alleviating ingredient of all fiction) and is a better
work of art. It shows George Eliot absorbed in story-telling:
"Middlemarch" is George Eliot using a slight framework of story
for the sake of talking about life and illustrating by
character. Those who call it her masterpiece are not judging it
primarily as art-work: any more than those who call Whitman the
greatest American poet are judging him as artist. While it seems
necessary to make this distinction, it is quite as necessary to
bear down on the attraction of the character-drawing. That is a
truly wonderful portrait of the unconsciously selfish scholar in
Casaubon. Dorothea's noble naturalness, Will Ladislaw's fiery
truth, the verity of Rosamond's bovine mediocrity, the fine
reality of Lydgate's situation, so portentous in its demand upon
the moral nature--all this, and more than this, is admirable and
authoritative. The predominant thought in closing such a study
is that of the tremendous complexity of human fate, influenced
as it is by heredity, environment and the personal equation, and
not without melioristic hope, if we but live up to our best. The
tone is grave, but not hopeless. The quiet, hesitant movement
helps the sense of this slow sureness in the working of the
social law:

"Though the mills of God grind slowly,
Yet they grind exceeding small."


In her final novel, "Daniel Deronda," between which and
"Middlemarch" there were six years, so that it was published
when the author was nearly sixty years old, we have another
large canvas upon which, in great detail and with admirable
variety, is displayed a composition that does not aim at
complete unity--or at any rate, does not accomplish it, for the
motive is double: to present the Jew so that Judenhetze may be
diminished: and to exhibit the spiritual evolution through a
succession of emotional experiences of the girl Gwendolen. This
phase of the story offers an instructive parallel with
Meredith's "Diana of the Crossways." If the Jew theme had been
made secondary artistically to the Gwendolen study, the novel
would have secured a greater degree of constructive success; but
there's the rub. Now it seems the main issue; again, Gwendolen
holds the center of the stage. The result is a suspicion of
patchwork; nor is this changed by the fact that both parts are
brilliantly done--to which consideration may be added the well-known
antipathy of many Gentile readers to any treatment of the
Jew in fiction, if an explanation be sought of the relative
slighting of a very noble book.

For it has virtues, many and large. Its spirit is broad,
tolerant, wide and loving. In no previous Eliot fiction are
there finer single effects: no one is likely to forget the scene
in which Gwendolen and Harcourt come to a rupture; or the scene
of Deronda's dismissal. And in the way of character portrayal,
nothing is keener and truer than the heroine of this book, whose
unawakened, seemingly light, nature is chastened and deepened as
she slowly learns the meaning of life. The lesson is sound and
salutary: it is set forth so vividly as to be immensely
impressive. Mordecai, against the background necessary to show
him, is sketched with splendid power. And the percentage of
quotable sayings, sword-thrusts, many of them, into the vitals
of life, is as high perhaps as in any other of the Novels,
unless it be "Middlemarch." Nevertheless those who point to
"Deronda" as illustrating the novelist's decadence--although
they use too harsh a word--have some right on their side. For,
viewed as story, it is not so successful as the books of the
first half of George Eliot's career. It all depends whether a
vital problem Novel is given preference over a Novel which does
not obtrude message, if it have any at all. And if fiction be a
fine art, it must be confessed that this latter sort is
superior. But we have perfect liberty to admire the elevation,
earnestness and skill en detail that denote such a work. Nay, we
may go further and say that the woman who wrote it is greater
than she who wrote "The Mill on the Floss."

With a backward glance now at the list, it may be said in
summary that the earlier fiction constitutes George Eliot's most
authoritative contribution to English novel-making, since the
thinking about life so characteristic of her is kept within the
bounds of good story-telling. And the compensation for this
artistic loss in her later fiction is found in its wider
intellectual outlook, its deeper sympathy, the more profound
humanity of the message.

But what of her philosophy? She was not a pessimist, since the
pessimist is one who despairs of human virtue and regards the
world as paralyzing the will nobly to achieve. She was, rather,
a meliorist who hoped for better things, though tardy to come;
who believed, in her own pungent phrase, "in the slow contagion
of good." Of human happiness she did in one of her latest moods
despair: going so far in a dark moment as to declare that the
only ideal left her was duty. In a way, she grew sadder as she
grew older. By intellect she was a positivist who has given up
any definite hope of personal immortality--save that which by a
metaphor is applied to one's influence upon the life of the
world here upon earth. And in her own career, by her
unconventional union with Lewes, she made a questionable choice
of action, though from the highest motives; a choice which I
believe rasped her sensitive soul because of the way it was
regarded by many whom she respected and whose good opinion she
coveted. But she remained splendidly wholesome and inspiring in
her fiction, because she clung to her faith in spiritual
self-development, tested all life by the test of duty, felt the
pathos and the preciousness of inconspicuous lives, and devoted
herself through a most exceptional career to loving service for
others. She was therefore not only a novelist of genius, but a
profoundly good woman. She had an ample practical credo for
living and will always be, for those who read with their mind
and soul as well as their eyes, anything but a depressing
writer. For them, on the contrary, she will be a tonic force, a
seer using fiction as a means to an end--and that end the
betterment of mankind.




CHAPTER XI


TROLLOPE AND OTHERS

Five or six writers of fiction, none of whom has attained a
position like that of the three great Victorians already
considered, yet all of whom loomed large in their day, have met
with unequal treatment at the hands of time: Bulwer Lytton,
Disraeli, Reade, Trollope, Kingsley. And the Brontes might well
be added to the list. The men are mentioned in the order of
their birth; yet it seems more natural to place Trollope last,
not at all because he lived to 1882, while Kingsley died seven
years earlier. Reade lived two years after Trollope, but seems
chronologically far before him as a novelist. In the same way,
Disraeli and Bulwer Lytton, as we now look back upon them,
appear to be figures of another age; though the former lived to
within a few years of Trollope, and the latter died but two
years before Kingsley. Of course, the reason that Disraeli
impresses us as antiquated where Trollope looks thoroughly
modern, is because the latter is nearest our own day in method,
temper and aim. And this is the main reason why he has best
survived the shocks of time and is seen to be the most
significant figure of an able and interesting group. Before he
is examined, something may be said of the others.

In a measure, the great reputation enjoyed by the remaining
writers was secured in divisions of literature other than
fiction; or derived from activities not literary at all. Thus
Beaconsfield was Premier, Bulwer was noted as poet and
dramatist, and eminent in diplomacy; Kingsley a leader in Church
and State. They were men with many irons in the fire: naturally,
it took some years to separate their literary importance pure
and simple from the other accomplishments that swelled their
fame. Reade stood somewhat more definitely for literature; and
Trollope, although his living was gained for years as a public
servant, set his all of reputation on the single throw of
letters. He is Anthony Trollope, Novelist, or he is nothing.


I

Thinking of Disraeli as a maker of stories, one reads of his
immense vogue about the middle of the last century and reflects
sagely upon the change of literary fashions. The magic is gone
for the reader now. Such claim as he can still make is most
favorably estimated by "Coningsby," "Sybil" and "Tancred," all
published within four years, and constituting a trilogy of books
in which the follies of polite society and the intimacies of
politics are portrayed with fertility and facility. The earlier
"Henrietta Temple" and "Venetia," however fervid in feeling and
valuable for the delineation of contemporary character, are not
so characteristic. Nor are the novels of his last years,
"Lothair" and "Endymion," in any way better than those of his
younger days. That the political trilogy have still a certain
value as studies of the time is beyond argument. Also, they have
wit, invention and a richly pictorial sense for setting,
together with flamboyant attraction of style and a solid
substratum of thought. One recognizes often that an athletic
mind is at play in them. But they do not now take hold, whatever
they once did; an air of the false-literary is over them, it is
not easy to read them as true transcripts from life. To get a
full sense of this, turn to literally contemporaneous books like
Dickens' "David Copperfield" and "Hard Times"; compared with
such, Disraeli and all his world seem clever pastiche. Personal
taste may modify this statement: it can hardly reverse it. It
would be futile to explain the difference by saying that
Disraeli was some eight years before Dickens or that he dealt
with another and higher class of society. The difference goes
deeper: it is due to the fact that one writer was writing in the
spirit of the age with his face to the future and so giving a
creative representation of its life; whereas the other was
painting its manners and only half in earnest: playing with
literature, in sooth. A man like Dickens is married to his art;
Disraeli indulges in a temporary liaison with letters. There is,
too, in the Lothair-Endymion kind of literature a fatal
resemblance to the older sentimental and grandiose fiction of
the eighteenth century: an effect of plush and padding, an
atmosphere of patchouli and sachet powder. It has the limitation
that fashion ever sets; it is boudoir novel-writing: cabinet
literature in both the social and political sense. As Agnes
Repplier has it: "Lothair is beloved by the female aristocracy
of Great Britain; and mysterious ladies, whose lofty souls stoop
to no conventionalities, die happy with his kisses on their
lips." It would be going too far perhaps to say that this type
never existed in life, for Richardson seems to have had a model
in mind in drawing Grandison; but it hardly survives in letters,
unless we include "St. Elmo" and "Under Two Flags" in that
denomination.

To sum it all up: For most of us Disraeli has become hard
reading. This is not to say that he cannot still be read with
profit as one who gives us insight concerning his day; but his
gorgeous pictures and personages have faded woefully, where
Trollope's are as bright as ever; and the latter is right when
he said that Lord Beaconsfield's creatures "have a flavor of
paint and unreality."


II

Bulwer Lytton has likewise lost ground greatly: but read to-day
he has much more to offer. In him, too, may be seen an
imperfectly blent mixture of by-gone sentimentality and modern
truth: yet whether in the romance of historic setting, "The Last
Days of Pompeii," or in the satiric study of realism, like "My
Novel," Bulwer is much nearer to us, and holds out vital
literature for our appreciation. It is easy to name faults both
in romance and realism of his making: but the important thing to
acknowledge is that he still appeals, can be read with a certain
pleasure. His most mature work, moreover, bears testimony to the
coming creed of fiction, as Disraeli's never does. There are
moments with Bulwer when he almost seems a fellow of Meredith's.
I recall with amusement the classroom remark of a college
professor to the effect that "My Novel" was the greatest fiction
in English literature. While the freshmen to whom this was
addressed did not appreciate the generous erraticism of the
judgment, even now one of them sees that, coming as it did from
a clergyman of genial culture, a true lover of literature and
one to inspire that love in others--even in freshmen!--it could
hardly have been spoken concerning a mere man-milliner of
letters. Bulwer produced too much and in too many kinds to do
his best in all--or in any one. But most of us sooner or later
have been in thrall to "Kenelm Chillingly" or thrilled to that
masterly horror story, "The House and the Brain." There is
pinchbeck with the gold, but the shining true metal is there.


III

To pass to Kingsley, is like turning from the world to the
kingdom of God: all is religious fervor, humanitarian purpose.
Here again the activity is multiple but the dominant spirit is
that of militant Christianity. Outside of the Novel, Kingsley
has left in "Water Babies" a book deserving the name of modern
classic, unless the phrase be a contradiction in terms. "Alton
Locke," read to-day, is felt to be too much the tract to bear
favorable comparison with Eliot's "Felix Holt"; but it has
literary power and noble sincerity. Kingsley is one of the first
to feel the ground-swell of social democracy which was to sweep
later fiction on its mighty tide. "Westward Ho!" is a sterling
historical romance, one of the more successful books in a select
list which embraces "The Cloister and the Hearth," "Lorna
Doone," and "John Inglesant." "Hypatia," examined
dispassionately, may be described as an historical romance with
elements of greatness rather than a great historical romance.
But it shed its glamour over our youth and there is affectionate
dread in the thought of a more critical re-reading.

In truth, Kingsley, viewed in all his literary work, stands out
as an athlete of the intellect and the emotions, doing much and
doing it remarkably well--a power for righteousness in his day
and generation, but for this very reason less a professional
novelist of assured standing. His gifted, erratic brother Henry,
in the striking series of stories dealing prevailingly with the
Australian life he so well knew, makes a stronger impression of
singleness of power and may last longer, one suspects, than the
better-known, more successful Charles, whose significance for
the later generation is, as we have hinted, in his sensitiveness
to the new spirit of social revolt,--an isolated voice where
there is now full chorus.


IV

An even more virile figure and one to whom the attribution of
genius need not be grudged, is the strong, pugnacious, eminently
picturesque Charles Reade. It is a temptation to say that but
for his use of a method and a technique hopelessly old-fashioned,
he might claim close fellowship for gift and influence with
Dickens. But he lacked art as it is now understood: balance,
restraint, the impersonal view were not his. He is a glorious
but imperfect phenomenon, back there in the middle century.
He worked in a way deserving of the descriptive phrase once
applied to Macaulay--"a steam engine in breeches;" he put
enough belief and heart into his fiction to float any literary
vessel upon the treacherous waters of fame. He had, of the more
specific qualities of a novelist, racy idiom, power in creating
character and a remarkable gift for plot and dramatic scene.
His frankly melodramatic novels like "A Terrible Temptation"
are among the best of their kind, and in "The Cloister and
the Hearth" he performed the major literary feat of
reconstructing, with the large imagination and humanity
which obliterate any effect of archeology and worked-up
background, a period long past. And what reader of English
fiction does not harbor more than kindly sentiments for those
very different yet equally lovable women, Christie Johnstone and
Peg Woffington? To run over his contributions thus is to feel
the heart grow warm towards the sturdy story-teller. Reade also
played a part, as did Kingsley, in the movement for recognition
of the socially unfit and those unfairly treated. "Put Yourself
in His Place," with its early word on the readjustment of labor
troubles, is typical of much that he strove to do. Superb
partisan that he was, it is probable that had he cared less for
polemics and more for his art, he would have secured a safer
position in the annals of fiction. He can always be taken up and
enjoyed for his earnest conviction or his story for the story's
sake, even if on more critical evaluations he comes out not so
well as men of lesser caliber.


V

The writer of the group who has consistently gained ground and
has come to be generally recognized as a great artist, a force
in English fiction both for influence and pleasure-giving power,
is Anthony Trollope. He is vital to-day and strengthening his
hold upon the readers of fiction. The quiet, cultivated folk in
whose good opinion lies the destiny of really worthy literature,
are, as a rule, friendly to Trollope; not seldom they are
devoted to him. Such people peruse him in an enjoyably
ruminative way at their meals, or read him in the neglige of
retirement. He is that cosy, enviable thing, a bedside author.
He is above all a story-teller for the middle-aged and it is his
good fortune to be able to sit and wait for us at that half-way
house,--since we all arrive. Of course, to say this is to
acknowledge his limitations. He does not appeal strongly to the
young, though he never forgets to tell a love story; but he is
too placid, matter-of-fact, unromantic for them. But if he do
not shake us with lyric passion, he is always interesting and he
wears uncommonly well. That his popularity is extending is
testified to by new editions and publishers' hullabaloo over his
work.

Such a fate is deserved by him, for Trollope is one of the most
consummate masters of that commonplace which has become the
modern fashion--and fascination. He has a wonderful power in the
realism which means getting close to the fact and the average
without making them uninteresting. So, naturally, as realism has
gained he has gained. No one except Jane Austen has surpassed
him in this power of truthful portrayal, and he has the
advantage of being practically of our own day. He insisted that
fiction should be objective, and refused to intrude himself into
the story, showing himself in this respect a better artist than
Thackeray, whom he much admired but frankly criticized. He was
unwilling to pause and harangue his audience in rotund voice
after the manner of Dickens, First among modern novelists,
Trollope stands invisible behind his characters, and this, as we
have seen, was to become one of the articles of the modern creed
of fiction. He affords us that peculiar pleasure which is
derived from seeing in a book what we instantly recognize as
familiar to us in life. Just why the pleasure, may be left to
the psychologists; but it is of indisputable charm, and Trollope
possesses it. We may talk wisely and at length of his
commonplaceness, lack of spice, philistinism; he can be counted
on to amuse us. He lived valiantly up to his own injunction: "Of
all the needs a book has, the chief need is that it is
readable." A simple test, this, but a terrible one that has
slain its thousands. No nineteenth century maker of stories is
safer in the matter of keeping the attention. If the book can be
easily laid down, it is always agreeable to take it up again.

Trollope set out in the most systematic way to produce a series
of novels illustrating certain sections of England, certain
types of English society; steadily, for a life-time, with the
artisan's skilful hand, he labored at the craft. He is the very
antithesis of the erraticisms and irregularities of genius. He
went to his daily stint of work, by night and day, on sea or
land, exactly as the merchant goes to his office, the mechanic
to his shop. He wrote with a watch before him, two hundred and
fifty words to fifteen minutes. But he had the most unusual
faculty of direct, unprejudiced, clear observation; he trained
himself to set down what he saw and to remember it. And he also
had the constructive ability to shape and carry on his story so
as to create the effect of growth, along with an equally
valuable power of sympathetic characterization, so that you know
and understand his folk. Add to this a style perfectly accordant
with the unobtrusive harmony of the picture, and the main
elements of Trollope's appeal have been enumerated. Yet has he
not been entirely explained. His art--meaning the skilled
handling of his material--can hardly be praised too much; it is
so easy to underestimate because it is so unshowy. Few had a
nicer sense of scale and tone; he gets his effects often because
of this harmony of adjustment. For one example, "The Warden" is
a relatively short piece of fiction which opens the famous
Chronicles of Barset series. Its interest culminates in the
going of the Reverend Septimus Harding to London from his quiet
country home, in order to prevent a young couple from marrying.
The whole situation is tiny, a mere corner flurry. But so
admirably has the climax been prepared, so organic is it to all
that went before in the way of preparation, that the result is
positively thrilling: a wonderful example of the principle of
key and relation.

Or again, in that scene which is a favorite with all Trollope's
readers, where the arrogant Mrs. Proudie is rebuked by the gaunt
Mr. Crawley, the effect of his famous "Peace, woman!" is
tremendous only because it is a dash of vivid red in a
composition where the general color scheme is low and subdued.

In view of this faculty, it will not do to regard Trollope as a
kind of mechanic who began one novel the day he finished another
and often carried on two or three at the same time, like a
juggler with his balls, with no conception of them as artistic
wholes. He says himself that he began a piece of fiction with no
full plan. But, with his very obvious skill prodigally proved
from his work, we may beg leave to take all such statements in a
qualified sense: for the kind of fiction he aimed at he surely
developed a technique not only adequate but of very unusual
excellence.

Trollope was a voluminous writer: he gives in his delightful
autobiography the list of his own works and it numbers upwards
of sixty titles, of which over forty are fiction. His capacity
for writing, judged by mere bulk, appears to have been
inherited; for his mother, turning authoress at fifty years of
age, produced no less than one hundred and fourteen volumes!
There is inferior work, and plenty of it, among the sum-total of
his activity, but two series, amounting to about twenty books,
include the fiction upon which his fame so solidly rests: the
Cathedral series and the Parliamentary series. In the former,
choosing the southern-western counties of Wiltshire and Hants as
Hardy chose Wessex for his peculiar venue, he described the
clerical life of his land as it had never been described before,
showing the type as made up of men like unto other men,
unromantic, often this-worldly and smug, yet varying the type,
making room for such an idealist as Crawley as well as for sleek
bishops and ecclesiastical wire-pullers. Neither his young women
nor his holy men are overdrawn a jot: they have the continence
of Nature. But they are not cynically presented. You like them
and take pleasure in their society; they are so beautifully
true! The inspiration of these studies came to him as he walked
under the shadow of Salisbury Cathedral; and one is never far
away from the influence of the cathedral class. The life is the
worldy-godly life of that microcosm, a small, genteel,
conventional urban society; in sharp contrast with the life
depicted by Hardy in the same part of the land,--but like
another world, because his portraiture finds its subjects among
peasant-folk and yeoman--the true primitive types whose speech
is slow and their roots deep down in the soil.

The realism of Trollope was not confined to the mere
reproduction of externals; he gave the illusion of character,
without departing from what can be verified by what men know.
His photographs were largely imaginary, as all artistic work
must be; he constructed his stories out of his own mind. But all
is based on what may be called a splendidly reasoned and
reasonable experience with Life. His especial service was thus
to instruct us about English society, without tedium, within a
domain which was voluntarily selected for his own. In this he
was also a pioneer in that local fiction which is a geographical
effect of realism. And to help him in this setting down of what
he believed to be true of humanity, was a style so lucid and
simple as perfectly to serve his purpose. For unobtrusive ease,
idiomatic naturalness and that familiarity which escapes
vulgarity and retains a quiet distinction, no one has excelled
him. It is one reason why we feel an intimate knowledge of his
characters. Mr. Howells declares it is Trollope who is most like
Austen "in simple honesty and instinctive truth, as
unphilosophized as the light of common day"--though he goes on
to deplore that he too often preferred to be "like the
caricaturist Thackeray"--a somewhat hard saying. It is a
particular comfort to read such a writer when intensely personal
psychology is the order of the day and neither style nor
interpretation in fiction is simple.

If Trollope can be said to be derivative at all, it is Thackeray
who most influenced him. He avows his admiration, wrote the
other's life, and deemed him one who advanced truth-telling in
the Novel. Yet, as was stated, he did not altogether approve of
the Master, thinking his satire too steady a view instead of an
occasional weapon. Indeed his strictures in the biography have
at times a cool, almost hostile sound. He may or may not have
taken a hint from Thackeray on the re-introduction of characters
in other books--a pleasant device long antedating the nineteenth
century, since one finds it in Lyly's "Euphues." Trollope also
disliked Dickens' habit of exaggeration (as he thought it) even
when it was used in the interests of reform, and satirized the
tendency in the person of Mr. Popular Sentiment in "The Warden."

The more one studies Trollope and the farther he recedes into
the past, the firmer grows the conviction that he is a very
distinctive figure of Victorian fiction, a pioneer who led the
way and was to be followed by a horde of secondary realistic
novelists who could imitate his methods but not reproduce his
pleasant effect.


VI

The Brontes, coming when they did, before 1850, are a curious
study. Realism was growing daily and destined to be the fashion
of the literary to-morrow. But "Jane Eyre" is the product of
Charlotte Bronte's isolation, her morbidly introspective nature,
her painful sense of personal duty, the inextinguishable romance
that was hers as the leal descendant of a race of Irish story-tellers.
She looked up to and worshipped Thackeray, but produced
fiction that was like something from another world. She and her
sisters, especially Emily, whose vivid "Wuthering Heights" has
all the effect of a visitant from a remote planet, are strangely
unrelated to the general course of the nineteenth century. They
seem born out of time; they would have left a more lasting
impress upon English fiction had they come before--or after.
There are unquestionable qualities of realism in "Jane Eyre,"
but it is romantic to the core, sentimental, melodramatic.
Rochester is an elder St. Elmo--hardly truer as a human being;
Jane's sacrificial worship goes back to the eighteenth century;
and that famous mad-woman's shriek in the night is a moment to
be boasted of on the Bowery. And this was her most typical book,
that which gave her fame. The others, "Villette" and the rest,
are more truly representative of the realistic trend of the day,
but withal though interesting, less characteristic, less liked.
In proportion as she is romantic is she remembered. The streak
of genius in these gifted women must not blind us to the
isolation, the unrelated nature of their work to the main course
of the Novel. They are exceptions to the rule.


VII

This group then of novelists, sinking all individual
differences, marks the progress of the method of realism over
the romance. Scarcely one is conspicuous for achievement in the
latter, while almost all of them did yeoman service in the
former. In some cases--those of Disraeli and Bulwer--the
transition is seen where their earlier and later work is
contrasted; with a writer like Trollope, the newer method
completely triumphs. Even in so confirmed a romance-maker as
Wilkie Collins, to whom plot was everything and whose cunning of
hand in this is notorious, there is a concession to the new
ideal of Truth. He was touched by his time in the matter of
naturalness of dialogue, though not of event. Wildly improbable
and wooden as his themes may now seem, their manner is
realistic, realism of speech, in fact, being an element in his
effectivism. Even the author of "The Moonstone" is scotched by
the spirit of the age, and in the preface to "Armsdale" declares
for a greater freedom of theme--one of the first announcements
of that desire for an extension of the subject-matter which was
in the next generation to bring such a change.

It seems just to represent all these secondary novelists as
subsidiary to Dickens, Thackeray and Eliot. Fascinating isolated
figures like Borrow, who will always be cherished by the few,
are perforce passed by. We are trying to keep both quality and
influence in mind, with the desire to show the writers not by
themselves alone but as part of a stream of tendency which has
made the English Novel the distinct form it is to-day. Even a
resounding genius, in this view, may have less meaning than an
apparent plodder like Trollope, who, as time goes by, is seen
more clearly to be one of the shaping forces in the development
of a literary form.




CHAPTER XII


HARDY AND MEREDITH

We have seen in chapter seventh, how the influence of Balzac
introduced to modern fiction that extension of subject and that
preference for the external fact widely productive of change in
the novel-making of the continent and of English-speaking lands.
As the year 1830 was given significance by him, so, a generation
later, the year 1870 was given significance by Zola. England,
like other lands cultivating the Novel, felt the influence.
Balzac brought to fiction a greater franchise of theme: Zola
taught it to regard a human being--individual or collectively
social--as primarily animal: that is, he explains action on this
hypothesis. And as an inevitable consequence, realism passed to
the so-called naturalism. Zola believed in this view as a theory
and his practice, not always consistent with it, was
sufficiently so in the famous Rougon-Macquart series of novels
begun the year of the Franco-Prussian war, to establish it as a
method, and a school of fiction. Naturalism, linking hands with
l'art pour art--"a fine phrase is a moral action--there is no
other morality in literature," cried Zola--became a banner-cry,
with "the flesh is all" its chief article of belief. No study of
the growth of English fiction can ignore this typical modern
movement, however unpleasant it may be to follow it. The baser
and more brutal phases of the Novel continental and insular look
to this derivation. Zola's remarkable pronunciamento "The
Experimental Novel," proves how honestly he espoused the
doctrine of the realist, how blind he is to its partial view.
His attempt to subject the art of fiction to the exact laws of
science, is an illustration of the influence of scientific
thought upon a mind not broadly cultured, though of unusual
native quality. Realism of the modern kind--the kind for which
Zola stands--is the result in a form of literature of the
necessary intellectual unrest following on the abandonment of
older religious ideals. Science had forced men to give up
certain theological conceptions; death, immorality, God, Man,--these
were all differently understood, and a period of
readjustment, doubt and negation, of misery and despair, was the
natural issue. Man, being naturally religious, was sure sooner
or later to secure a new and more hopeful faith: it was a matter
of spiritual self-preservation. But realism in letters, for the
moment, before a new theory had been formulated, was a kind of
pis aller by which literature could be produced and attention
given to the tangible things of this earth, many of them not
before thoroughly exploited; the things of the mind, of the
Spirit, were certain to be exploited later, when a broader creed
should come. The new romanticism and idealism of our day marks
this return. Zola's theory is now seen to be wrong, and there
has followed a violent reaction from the realistic tenets, even
in Paris, its citadel. But for some years, it held tyrannous
sway and its leader was a man of genius, his work distinctive,
remarkable; at its best, great,--in spite of, rather than
because of, his principles. It was in the later Trilogy of the
cities that, using a broader formula, he came into full
expression of what was in him; during the last years of his life
he was moving, both as man and artist, in the right direction.
Yet naturally it was novels like "Nana" and "L'Assomoir" that
gave him his vogue; and their obsession with the fleshly gave
them for the moment a strange distinction: for years their
author was regarded as the founder of a school and its most
formidable exponent. He wielded an influence that rarely falls
to a maker of stories. And although realism in its extreme
manifestations no longer holds exclusive sway, Zola's impulse is
still at work in the modern Novel. Historically, his name will
always be of interest.


I

Thomas Hardy is a realist in a sense true of no English novelist
of anything like equal rank preceding him: his literary
genealogy is French, for his "Jude The Obscure" has no English
prototype, except the earlier work of George Moore, whose
inspiration is even more definitely Paris. To study Hardy's
development for a period of about twenty-five years from "Under
the Greenwood Tree" to "Jude," is to review, as they are
expressed in the work of one great English novelist, the
literary ideals before and after Zola. Few will cavil at the
inclusion in our study of a living author like Hardy. His work
ranks with the most influential of our time; so much may be seen
already. His writing of fiction, moreover, or at least of
Novels, seems to be finished. And like Meredith, he is a man of
genius and, strictly speaking, a finer artist than the elder
author. For quality, then, and significance of accomplishment,
Hardy may well be examined with the masters whose record is
rounded out by death. He offers a fine example of the logic of
modern realism, as it has been applied by a first-class mind to
the art of fiction. In Meredith, on the contrary, is shown a
sort of synthesis of the realistic and poetic-philosophic
interpretation. Hardy is for this reason easier to understand
and explain; Meredith refuses classification.

The elements of strength in Thomas Hardy can be made out
clearly; they are not elusive. Wisely, he has chosen to do a
very definite thing and, with rare perseverance and skill, he
has done it. He selected as setting the south-western part of
England--Wessex, is the ancient name he gave it--that embraces
Somersetshire and contiguous counties, because he felt that the
types of humanity and the view of life he wished to show could
best be thrown out against the primitive background. Certain
elemental truths about men and women, he believed, lost sight of
in the kaleidoscopic attritions of the town, might there be
clearly seen. The choice of locale was thus part of an attitude
toward life. That attitude or view may be described fairly well
as one of philosophic fatalism.

It has not the cold removedness of the stoic: it has pity in it,
even love. But it is deeply sad, sometimes bitter. In Hardy's
presentation of Nature (a remark applying to some extent to a
younger novelist who shows his influence, Phillpotts), she is
displayed as an ironic expression, with even malignant moods, of
a supreme cosmic indifference to the petty fate of that
animalcule, man. And this, in spite of a curious power she
possesses of consoling him and of charming him by blandishments
that cheat the loneliness of his soul. There is no purer example
of tragedy in modern literature than Mr. Hardy's strongest, most
mature stories. A mind deeply serious and honest, interprets the
human case in this wise and conceives that the underlying
pitilessness can most graphically be conveyed in a setting like
that of Egdon Heath, where the great silent forces of Nature
somberly interblend with the forces set in motion by the human
will, both futile to produce happiness. Even the attempt to be
virtuous fails in "Jude": as the attempt to be happy does in
"Tess." That sardonic, final thought in the last-named book will
not out of our ears: Fate had played its last little jest with
poor Tess.

But there are mitigations, many and welcome. Hardy has the most
delightful humor. His peasants and simple middle-class folk are
as distinctive and enjoyable as anything since Shakspere. He
also has a more sophisticated, cutting humor--tipped with irony
and tart to the taste--which he uses in those stories or scenes
where urbanites mingle with his country folk. But his humorous
triumphs are bucolic. And for another source of keenest
pleasure, there is his style, ennobling all his work. Whether
for the plastic manipulation of dialogue or the eloquencies and
exactitudes of description, he is emphatically a master. His
mind, pagan in its bent, is splendidly broad in its
comprehension of the arcana of Nature and that of a poet
sensitive to all the witchery of a world which at core is
inscrutably dark and mysterious. He knows, none better, of the
comfort to be got even from the sad when its beauty is made
palpitating. No one before him, not Meredith himself, has so
interfused Nature with man as to bring out the thought of man's
ancient origin in the earth, his birth-ties, and her claims on
his allegiance. This gives a rare savor to his handling of what
with most novelists is often mere background. Egdon Heath was
mentioned; the setting in "The Return of the Native" is not
background in the usual sense; that mighty stretch of moorland
is almost like the central actor of the drama, so potent is its
influence upon the fate of the other characters. So with "The
Woodlanders" and still other stories. Take away this subtle and
vital relation of man to Nature, and the whole organism
collapses. Environment with Hardy is atmosphere, influence,
often fate itself. Being a scientist in the cast of his
intellect, although by temperament a poet, he believes in
environment as the shaping power conceived of by Taine and Zola.
It is this use of Nature as a power upon people of deep, strong,
simple character, showing the sweep of forces far more potent
than the conventions of the polite world, which distinguishes
Hardy's fiction. Fate with him being so largely that impersonal
thing, environment; allied with temperament (for which he is not
responsible), and with opportunity--another element of luck--it
follows logically that man is the sport of the gods. Hardy is
unable, like other determinists, to escape the dilemma of free-will
versus predestination, and that other crux, the imputation
of personality to the workings of so-called natural laws. Indeed
curiously, in his gigantic poem-cycle, "the Dynasts," the
culmination of his life-work, he seems to hint at a plan of the
universe which may be beneficial.

To name another quality that gives distinction to Hardy's work:
his fiction is notably well-built, and he is a resourceful
technician. Often, the way he seizes a plot and gives it
proportionate progress to an end that is inevitable, exhibits a
well-nigh perfect art. Hardy's novels, for architectural
excellence, are really wonderful and will richly repay careful
study in this respect. It has been suggested that because his
original profession was that of an architect, his constructive
ability may have been carried over to another craft. This may be
fantastic; but the fact remains that for the handling of
material in such a manner as to eliminate the unnecessary, and
move steadily toward the climax, while ever imitating though not
reproducing, the unartificial gait of life, Hardy has no
superior in English fiction and very few beyond it. These
ameliorations of humor and pity, these virtues of style and
architectural handling make the reading of Thomas Hardy a
literary experience, and very far from an undiluted course in
Pessimism. A sane, vigorous, masculine mind is at work in all
his fiction up to its very latest. Yet it were idle to deny the
main trend of his teaching. It will be well to trace with some
care the change which has crept gradually over his view of the
world. As his development of thought is studied in the
successive novels he produced between 1871 and 1898, it may
appear that there is little fundamental change in outlook: the
tragic note, and the dark theory of existence, explicit in
"Tess" and "Jude," is more or less implicit in "Desperate
Remedies." But change there is, to be found in the deepening of
the feeling, the pushing of a theory to its logical extreme.
This opening tale, read in the light of what he was to do,
strikes one as un-Hardy-like in its rather complex plot, with
its melodramatic tinge of incident.

The second book, "Under the Greenwood Tree," is a blithe, bright
woodland comedy and it would have been convenient for a cut-and-dried
theory of Hardy's growth from lightness to gravity, had it
come first. It is, rather, a happy interlude, hardly
representative of his main interest, save for its clear-cut
characterizations of country life and its idyllic flavor. The
novel that trod on its heels, "A Pair of Blue Eyes," maugre its
innocently Delia Cruscan title,--it sounds like a typical effort
of "The Duchess,"--has the tragic end which light-minded readers
have come to dread in this author. He showed his hand thus
comparatively early and henceforth was to have the courage of
his convictions in depicting human fate as he saw it--not as the
reader wished it.

In considering the books that subsequently appeared, to
strengthen Hardy's place with those who know fine fiction, they
are seen to have his genuine hall-mark, just in proportion as
they are Wessex through and through: in the interplay of
character and environment there, we get his deepest expression
as artist and interpreter. The really great novels are "Far From
the Madding Crowd," "The Return of the Native," "The Mayor of
Casterbridge" and "Tess of the D'Urbervilles": when he shifts
the scene to London, as in "The Hand of Ethelberta" or
introduces sophisticated types as in the dull "Laodicean," it
means comparative failure. Mother soil (he is by birth a
Dorchester man and lives there still) gives him idiosyncrasy,
flavor, strength. That the best, most representative work of
Hardy is to be seen in two novels of his middle career, "Far
From the Madding Crowd" and "The Return of the Native" rather
than in the later stories, "Tess" and "Jude," can be
established, I think, purely on the ground of art, without
dragging cheap charges of immorality into the discussion. In the
last analysis, questions of art always become a question of
ethics: the separation is arbitrary and unnatural. That "Tess"
is the book into which the author has most intensely put his
mature belief, may be true: it is quiveringly alive, vital as
only that is which comes from the deeps of a man's being. But
Hardy is so much a special pleader for Tess, that the argument
suffers and a grave fault is apparent when the story's climax is
studied. There is an intrusion of what seems like factitious
melodrama instead of that tissue of events which one expects
from a stern necessitarian. Tess need not be a murderess;
therefore, the work should not so conclude, for this is an
author whose merit is that his effects of character are causal.
He is fatalistic, yes; but in general he royally disdains the
cheap tricks of plot whereby excitement is furnished at the
expense of credulity and verisimilitude. In Tess's end, there s
a suspicion of sensation for its own sake--a suggestion of
savage joy in shocking sensibilities. Of course, the result is
most powerful; but the superior power of the novel is not here
so much as in its splendid sympathy and truth. He has made this
woman's life-history deeply affecting and is right in claiming
that she is a pure soul, judged by intention.

The heart feels that she is sinned against rather than sinning
and in the spectacle of her fall finds food for thought "too
deep for tears." At the same time, it should not be forgotten
that Tess's piteous plight,--the fact that fate has proved too
strong for a soul so high in its capacity for unselfish and
noble love,--is based upon Hardy's assumption that she could not
help it. Here, as elsewhere in his philosophy, you must accept
his premise, or call Tess (whom you may still love) morally
weak. It is this reservation which will lead many to place the
book, as a work of art, and notwithstanding its noble
proportions and compelling power, below such a masterpiece as
"The Return of the Native." That it is on the whole a sane and
wholesome work, however, may be affirmed by one who finds
Hardy's last novel "Jude the Obscure" neither. For there is a
profound difference between two such creations. In the former,
there is a piquant sense of the pathos and the awesomeness of
life, but not of its unrelieved ugliness and disgust; an
impression which is received from the latter. Not only is "Jude"
"a tragedy of unfulfilled aim" as the author calls it; so is
"Tess"; but it fills the reader with a kind of sullen rage to be
an eye-witness of the foul and brutal: he is asked to see a
drama develop beside a pig-sty. It is therefore, intensely
unesthetic which, if true, is a word of condemnation for any
work of art. It is deficient in poetry, in the broad sense;
that, rather than frankness of treatment, is the trouble with
it.

And intellectually, it would seem to be the result of a bad
quarter of an hour of the author: a megrim of the soul. Elements
of greatness it has; a fine motive, too; to display the
impossibilities for evolution on the part of an aspiring soul
hampered by circumstances and weak where most humanity is Weak,
in the exercise of sex-passion. A not dissimilar theme as it is
worked out by Daudet in "Le Petite Chose" is beautiful in its
pathos; in "Jude" there is something shuddering about the
arbitrary piling-up of horror; the modesty of nature is
overstept; it is not a truly proportioned view of life, one
feels; if life were really so bad as that, no one would be
willing to live it, much less exhibit the cheerfulness which is
characteristic of the majority of human beings. It is a fair
guess that in the end it will be called the artistic mistake of
a novelist of genius. Its harsh reception by critics in England
and America was referred to by the author privately as an
example of the "crass Philistinism" of criticism in those lands:
Mr. Hardy felt that on the continent alone was the book
understood, appreciated. I imagine, however, that whatever the
limitations of the Anglo-Saxon view, it comes close to the
ultimate decision to be passed upon this work.

One of the striking things about these Novels is the sense that
they convey of the largeness of life. The action moves on a
narrow stage set with the austere simplicity of the
Elizabethans; the personages are extremely commonplace, the
incidents in the main small and unexciting. Yet the
tremendousness of human fate is constantly implied and brought
home in the most impressive way. This is because all have
spiritual value; if the survey be not wide, it sinks deep to the
psychic center; and what matters vision that circles the globe,
if it lacks grasp, penetration, uplift? These, Hardy has. When
one calls his peasants Shaksperian, one is trying to express the
strength and savor, the rich earthy quality like fresh loam that
pertains to these quaint figures, so evidently observed on the
ground, and lovingly lifted over into literature. Their speech
bewrays them and is an index of their slow, shrewd minds.

Nor is his serious characterization less fine and representative
than his humorous; especially his women. It is puzzling to say
whether Hardy's comic men, or his subtly drawn, sympathetically
visualized women are to be named first in his praise: for power
in both, and for the handling of nature, he will be long
remembered. Bathsheba, Eustacia, Tess and the rest, they take
hold on the very heart-strings and are known as we know our very
own. It is not that they are good or bad,--generally they are
both; it is that they are beautifully, terribly human. They
mostly lack the pettiness that so often fatally limits their sex
and quite as much, they lack the veneer that obscures the broad
lines of character. And it is natural to add, while thinking of
Hardy's women, that, unlike almost all the Victorian novelists,
he has insisted frankly, but in the main without offense, on
woman's involvement with sex-passion; he finds that love, in a
Wessex setting, has wider range than has been awarded it in
previous study of sex relations. And he has not hesitated to
depict its rootage in the flesh; not overlooking its rise in the
spirit to noblest heights. And it is this un-Anglo-Saxon-like
comprehension of feminine humanity that makes him so fair to the
sinning woman who trusts to her ruin or proves what is called
weak because of the generous movement of her blood. No one can
despise faithful-hearted Fannie Robin, dragging herself to the
poorhouse along Casterbridge highway; that scene, which bites
itself upon the memory, is fairly bathed in an immense,
understanding pity. Although Hardy has thus used the freedom of
France in treatment, he has, unlike so much of the Gallic
realism, remained an idealist in never denying the soul of love
while speaking more truthfully concerning its body than the
fiction-makers before him. There is no finer handling of sex-love
with due regard to its dual nature,--love that grows in
earth yet flowers until it looks into heaven--than Marty's oft-quoted
beautiful speech at her lover's grave; and Hardy's belief
rings again in the defense of that good fellowship--that
camaraderie--which can grow into "the only love which is as
strong as death--beside which the passion usually so-called by
the name is evanescent as steam." A glimpse like that of Hardy's
mind separates him at once from Maupassant's view of the world.
The traditions of English fiction, which he has insisted on
disturbing, have, after all, been strong to direct his work, as
they have that of all the writers born into the speech and
nourished on its racial ideals.

Another reason for giving the stories of the middle period, such
as "The Return of the Native," preference over those that are
later, lies in the fact that the former have no definite,
aggressive theme; whereas "Tess" announces an intention on the
title page, "Jude," in a foreword. Whatever view of life may be
expressed in "The Mayor of Casterbridge," for example, is
imbedded, as it should be, in the course of the story. This
tendency towards didacticism is a common thing in the cases of
modern writers of fiction; it spoiled a great novelist in the
case of Tolstoy, with compensatory gains in another direction;
of those of English stock, one thinks of Eliot, Howells, Mrs.
Ward and many another. But however natural this may be in an age
like ours, the art of the literary product is, as a rule,
injured by the habit of using fiction as a jumping-board for
theory. In some instances, dullness has resulted. Eliot has not
escaped scot-free. With Hardy, he is, to my taste, never dull.
Repellent as "Jude" may be, it is never that. But a hardness of
manner and an unpleasant bias are more than likely to follow
this aim, to the fiction's detriment.

It is a great temptation to deflect from the purpose of this
work in order to discuss Hardy's short stories, for a master in
this kind he is. A sketch like "The Three Strangers" is as truly
a masterpiece as Stevenson's "A Lodging for The Night." It must
suffice to say of his work in the tale that it enables the
author to give further assurance of his power of atmospheric
handling, his stippling in of a character by a few strokes, his
skill in dramatic scene, his knowledge of Wessex types, and
especially, his subdued but permeating pessimism. There is
nothing in his writings more quietly, deeply hopeless than most
of the tales in the collection "Life's Little Ironies." One
shrinks away from the truth and terror of them while lured by
their charm. The short stories increase one's admiration for the
artist, but the full, more virile message conies from the
Novels. It is matter for regret that "Jude the Obscure," unless
the signs fail, is to be his last testament in fiction. For such
a man to cease from fiction at scarce sixty can but be deplored.
The remark takes on added pertinency because the novelist has
essayed in lieu of fiction the poetic drama, a form in which he
has less ease and authority.

Coming when he did and feeling in its full measure the tidal
wave from France, Hardy was compelled both by inward and outward
pressure to see life un-romantically, so far as the human fate
is concerned: but always a poet at heart (he began with verse),
he found a vent for that side of his being in Nature, in great
cosmic realities, in the stormy, passionate heart of humanity,
so infinite in its aspirations, so doughty in its heroisms, so
pathetic in its doom. There is something noble always in the
tragic largeness of Hardy's best fiction. His grim determinism
is softened by lyric airs; and even when man is most lonesome,
he is consoled by contact with "the pure, eternal course of
things"; whose august flow comforts Arnold. Because of his art,
the representative character of his thought, reflecting in
prose, as does Matthew Arnold in verse, the deeper
thought-currents of the time; and because too of the personal
quality which for lack of a better word one still must call genius,
Thomas Hardy is sure to hold his place in the English fiction of
the closing years of the nineteenth century and is to-day the
most distinguished living novelist using that speech and one of
the few to be recognized and honored abroad. No writer of
fiction between 1875 and 1900 has more definitely had a strong
influence upon the English Novel as to content, scope and choice
of subject. If his convictions have led him to excess, they will
be forgiven and forgotten in the light of the serene mastery
shed by the half dozen great works he has contributed to English
literature.


II

Once in a while--a century or so, maybe,--comes an artist who
refuses to be classified. Rules fail to explain him: he makes
new rules in the end. He seems too big for any formula. He
impresses by the might of his personality, teaching the world
what it should have known before, that the personal is the life-blood
of all and any art. Some such effect is made upon the
critic by George Meredith, who so recently has closed his eyes
to the shows of earth. One can find in him almost all the
tendencies of English fiction. He is realist and romanticist,
frank lover of the flesh, lofty idealist, impressionist and
judge, philosopher, dramatist, essayist, master of the comic and
above all, Poet. Eloquence, finesse, strength and sweetness, the
limpid and the cryptic, are his in turn: he puts on when he
will, like a defensive armor, a style to frighten all but the
elect. And they who persist and discover the secret, swear that
it is more than worth the pains. Perhaps the lesson of it all is
that a first-class writer, creative and distinctive, is a
phenomenon transcending school, movement or period. George
Meredith is not, if we weigh words, the greatest English
novelist to-day--for both Hardy and Stevenson are his superiors
as artists; but he is the greatest man who has written fiction.

Although he was alive but yesterday, the novel frequently
awarded first position among his works, "The Ordeal of Richard
Feverel," was published a good half century ago. Go back to it,
get its meaning, then read the latest fiction he wrote--(he
ceased to produce fiction more than a decade before his death)
and you appear to be in contact with the same personality in the
substantials of story-making and of life-view. The only notable
change is to be found in the final group of three stories, "One
of Our Conquerors," "Lord Ormont and His Aminta" and "The
Amazing Marriage." The note of social protest is louder here,
the revolt against conventions more pronounced. Otherwise, the
author of "Feverel" is the author of "The Amazing Marriage."
Much has occurred in the Novel during the forty years between
the two works: realism has traveled to an extreme, neo-idealism
come by way of reaction, romanticism bloomed again, the Novel of
ingenious construction, the Novel of humanitarian meaning, the
Novel of thesis and problem and the Novel that foretells the
future like an astrologer, all these types and yet others have
been practised; but Meredith has kept tranquilly on the tenor of
his large way, uninfluenced, except as he has expressed all
these complexities in his own work. He is in literary evolution,
a sport. Critics who have tried to show how his predecessors and
contemporaries have influenced him, have come out lamely from
the attempt. He has been sensitive not to individual writers,
but to that imponderable yet potent thing, the time-tendency in
literature. He throws back to much in the past, while in the van
of modern thought. What, to illustrate, could be more of the
present intellectually than his remarkable sonnet-sequence,
"Modern Love"? And are not his women, as a type, the noblest
example of the New Woman of our day--socially, economically,
intellectually emancipated, without losing their distinctive
feminine quality? And yet, in "The Shaving of Shagpat," an early
work, we go back t the Arabian Nights for a model. The satiric
romance, "Harry Richmond," often reminds of the leisured episode
method of the eighteenth century; and while reading the unique
"Evan Harrington" we think at times of Aristophanes.

Nor is much light thrown on Meredith's path in turning to his
personal history. Little is known of this author's ancestry and
education; his environment has been so simple, his life in its
exteriors so uneventful, that we return to the work itself with
the feeling that the key to the secret room must be here if
anywhere. It is known that he was educated in youth in Germany,
which is interesting in reference to the problem of his style.
And there is more to be said concerning his parentage than the
smug propriety of print has revealed while he lived. We know,
too, that his marriage with the daughter of Thomas Love Peacock
proved unhappy, and that for many years he has resided, almost a
recluse, with his daughter, in the idyllic retirement of Surrey.
The privacy of Boxhill has been respected; next to never has
Meredith spoken in any public way and seldom visited London.
When he was, at Tennyson's death, made the President of the
British Society of Authors, the honor sought the man. The rest
is silence; what has appeared since his death has been of too
conflicting a nature for credence. We await a trustworthy
biography.

The appeal then must be to the books themselves. Exclusive of
short story, sketch and tale, they include a dozen novels of
generous girth--for Meredith is old-fashioned in his demand for
elbow-room. They are preeminently novels of character and more
than any novelist of the day the view of the world embodied in
them is that of the intellect. This does not mean that they are
wanting in emotional force or interest: merely, that in George
Meredith's fiction men and women live the life of thought as it
is acted upon by practical issues. Character seen in action is
always his prepossession; plot is naught save as it exhibits
this. The souls of men and women are his quarry, and the test of
a civilization the degree in which it has developed the mind for
an enlightened control over the emotions and the bodily
appetites. Neither does this mean, as with Henry James, the
disappearance of plot: a healthy objectivity of narrative
framework is preserved; if anything the earlier
books--"Feverel," "Evan Harrington," "Rhoda Fleming" and the duo
"Sandra Belloni" and "Vittoria"--have more of story interest
than the later novels. Meredith has never feared the use of the
episode, in this suggesting the older methods of Fielding and
Smollett. Yet the episodic in his hands has ever its use for
psychologic envisagement. Love, too, plays a large role in his
fiction; indeed, in the wider platonic sense, it is constantly
present, although he is the last man to be called a writer of
love-stories. And no man has permitted himself greater freedom
in stepping outside the story in order to explain his meaning,
comment upon character and scene, rhapsodize upon Life, or
directly harangue the reader. And this broad marginal
reservation of space, however much it is deplored in viewing his
work as novel-making, adds a peculiar tonic and is a
characteristic we could ill spare. It brings us back to the
feeling that he is a great man using the fiction form for
purposes broader than that of telling a story.

Because of this ample personal testimony in his books it should
be easy to state his Lebensanschauung, unless the opacity of his
manner blocks the way or he indulges in self-contradiction in
the manner of a Nietzsche. Such is not the case. What is the
philosophy unfolded in his representative books?

It will be convenient to choose a few of those typical for
illustration. The essence of Meredith is to be discovered in
such works as "The Ordeal of Richard Feverel," "Evan
Harrington," "Harry Richmond," "The Egoist," "Diana of the
Crossways." If you know these, you understand him. "Lord Ormont
and his Aminta" might well be added because of its teaching; but
the others will serve, with the understanding that so many-sided
a writer has in other works given further noble proof of his
powers. If I allowed personal preference to be my sole guide,
"Rhoda Fleming" would be prominent in the list; and many place
"Beauchamp's Career" high, if not first among his works;--a
novel teeming with his views, particularly valuable for its
treatment of English politics and certainly containing some of
his most striking characterization, in particular, one of his
noblest women. Still, those named will fairly reflect the
novelist and speak for all.

"Richard Feverel," which had been preceded by a book of poems,
the fantasia "The Shaving of Shagpat" and an historical
novelette "Farina," was the first book that announced the
arrival of a great novelist. It is at once a romance of the
modern type, a love-story and a problem book; the tri-statement
makes it Meredithian. It deals with the tragic union of Richard
and Lucy, in a setting that shifts from sheer idyllic, through
worldly and realistic to a culmination of dramatic grief. It
contains, in measure heaped up and running over, the poetry, the
comedy and the philosophy, the sense of Life's riddle, for which
the author is renowned. But its intellectual appeal of theme--aside
from the incidental wisdom that stars its pages--is found
in the study of the problem of education. Richard's father would
shape his career according to a preconceived idea based on
parental love and guided by an anxious, fussy consulting of the
oracles. The attempt to stretch the son upon a pedagogic
procustean bed fails disastrously, wrecking his own happiness,
and that of his sweet girl-wife. Love is stronger than aught
else and we are offered the spectacle of ruined lives hovered
over by the best intentions. The hovel is an illustration of the
author's general teaching that a human being must have
reasonable liberty of action for self-development. The heart
must be allowed fair-play, though its guidance by the intellect
is desirable.

It has been objected that this moving romance ends in
unnecessary tragedy; that the catastrophe is not inevitable. But
it may be doubted if the mistake of Sir Austin Feverel could be
so clearly indicated had not the chance bullet of the duel
killed the young wife when reconciliation with her husband
appeared probable. But a book so vital in spirit, with such
lyric interludes, lofty heights of wisdom, homeric humor,
dramatic moments and profound emotions, can well afford lapses
from perfect form, awkwardnesses of art. There are places where
philosophy checks movement or manner obscures thought; but one
overlooks all such, remembering Richard and Lucy meeting by the
river; Richard's lonesome night walk when he learns he is a
father; the marvelous parting from Bella Mount; father and son
confronted with Richard's separation from the girl-wife; the
final piteous passing of Lucy. These are among the great moments
of English fiction.

One gets a sense of Meredith's resources of breadth and variety
next in taking up "Evan Harrington." Here is a satiric character
sketch where before was romance; for broad comedy in the older
and larger sense it has no peer among modern novels. The purpose
is plain: to show the evolution of a young middle-class
Englishman, a tailor's son, through worldly experience with
polite society into true democracy. After the disillusionment of
"high life," after much yeasty juvenile foolishness and false
ideals, Evan comes back to his father's shop with his lesson
learned: it is possible (in modern England) to be both tailor
and gentleman.

In placing this picture before the spectator, an incomparable
view of genteel society with contrasted touches of low life is
offered. For pure comedy that is of the midriff as well as of
the brain, the inn scene with the astonishing Raikes as central
figure is unsurpassed in all Meredith, and only Dickens has done
the like. And to correspond in the fashionable world, there is
Harrington's sister, the Countess de Saldar, who is only second
to Becky Sharp for saliency and delight. Some find these comic
figures overdrawn, even impossible; but they stand the test
applied to Dickens: they abide in affectionate memory, vivid
evocations made for our lasting joy. As with "Feverel," the book
is a piece of life first, a lesson second; but the underlying
thesis is present, not to the injury of one who reads for
story's sake.

An extraordinary further example of resourcefulness, with a
complete change of key, is "The Adventures of Harry Richmond."
The ostensible business of the book is to depict the growth from
boyhood to manhood and through sundry experiences of love, with
the resulting effect upon his character, of the young man whose
name gives it title. It may be noted that a favorite task with
Meredith is this, to trace the development of a personality from
immaturity to a maturity gained by the hard knocks of the
master-educator, Love. But the figure really dominant is not
Harry nor any one of his sweethearts, but that of his father,
Roy Richmond. I must believe that English fiction offers nothing
more original than he. He is an indescribable compound of
brilliant swashbuckler, splendid gentleman and winning
Goodheart. Barry Lyndon, Tarascon, Don Quixote and Septimus go
into his making--and yet he is not explained;--an absolute
original. The scene where, in a German park on an occasion of
great pomp, he impersonates the statue of a Prince, is one of
the author's triumphs--never less delightful at a re-reading.

But has this amazing creation a meaning, or is Roy merely one of
the results of the sportive play of a man of genius? He is
something more, we feel, when, at the end of the romance, he
gives his life for the woman who has so faithfully loved him and
believed in his royal pretensions. He perishes in a fire,
because in saving her he would not save himself. It is as if the
author said: "Behold, a man by nature histrionic and Bohemian,
and do not make the mistake to think him incapable of nobility.
Romantic in his faults, so too he is romantic in his virtues."
"And back of this kindly treatment of the lovable rascal (who
was so ideal a father to the little Richmond!) does there not
lurk the thought that the pseudo-romantic attitude toward Life
is full of danger--in truth, out of the question in modern
society?"

"The Egoist" has long been a test volume with Meredithians. If
you like it you are of the cult; if not, merely an amateur. It
is inevitable to quote Stevenson who, when he had read it
several times, declared that at the sixth reading he would begin
to realize its greatness. Stevenson was a doughty admirer of
Meredith, finding the elder "the only man of genius of my
acquaintance," and regarding "Rhoda Fleming" as a book to send
one back to Shakspere.

That "The Egoist" is typical--in a sense, most typical of the
fictions,--is very true. That, on the other hand, it is
Meredith's best novel may be boldly denied, since it is hardly a
novel at all. It is a wonderful analytic study of the core of
self that is in humanity, Willoughby, incarnation of a
self-centeredness glossed over to others and to himself by fine
gentleman manners and instincts, is revealed stroke after stroke
until, in the supreme test of his alliance with Clara Middleton,
he is flayed alive for the reader's benefit. In this power of
exposure, by the subtlest, most unrelenting analysis, of the
very penetralia of the human soul it has no counterpart; beside
it, most of the psychology of fiction seems child's play. And
the truth of it is overwhelming. No wonder Stevenson speaks of
its "serviceable exposure of myself." Every honest man who reads
it, winces at its infallible touching of a moral sore-spot. The
inescapable ego in us all was never before portrayed by such a
master.

But because it is a study that lacks the breadth, variety,
movement and objectivity of the Novel proper, "The Egoist" is
for the confirmed Meredith lover, not for the beginner: to take
it first is perchance to go no further. Readers have been lost
to him by this course. The immense gain in depth and delicacy
acquired by English fiction since Richardson is well illustrated
by a comparison of the latter's "Sir Charles Grandison" with
Meredith's "The Egoist." One is a portrait for the time, the
other for all time. Both, superficially viewed, are the same
type: a male paragon before whom a bevy of women burn incense.
But O the difference! Grandison is serious to his author, while
Meredith, in skinning Willoughby alive like another Marsyas, is
once and for all making the worship of the ego hateful.

It is interesting that "Diana of the Crossways" was the book
first to attract American readers. It has some of the author's
eccentricities at their worst. But it was in one respect an
excellent choice: the heroine is thoroughly representative of
the author and of the age; possibly this country is sympathetic
to her for the reason that she seems indigenous. Diana furnishes
a text for a dissertation on Meredith's limning of the sex, and
of his conception of the mental relation of the sexes. She is a
modern woman, not so much that she is superior in goodness to
the ideal of woman established in the mid-Victorian period by
Thackeray and Dickens, as that she is bigger and broader. She is
the result of the process of social readjustment. Her story is
that of a woman soul experiencing a succession of unions and
through them learning the higher love. First, the marriage de
convenance of an unawakened girl; then, a marriage wherein
admiration, ambition and flattered pride play their parts;
finally, the marriage with Redbourne, a union based on tried
friendship, comradeship, respect, warming into passion that,
like the sudden up-leap of flame on the altar, lifts the spirit
onto ideal heights. Diana is an imperfect, sinning, aspiring,
splendid creature. And in the narrative that surrounds her, we
get Meredith's theory of the place of intellect in woman, and in
the development of society. He has an intense conviction that
the human mind should be so trained that woman can never fall
back upon so-called instinct; he ruthlessly attacks her
"intuition," so often lauded and made to cover a multitude of
sins. When he remarks that she will be the last thing to be
civilized by man, the satire is directed against man rather than
against woman herself, since it is man who desires to keep her a
creature of the so-called intuitions. A mighty champion of the
sex, he never tires telling it that intellectual training is the
sure way to all the equalities. This conviction makes him a
stalwart enemy of sentimentalism, which is so fiercely satirized
in "Sandra Belloni" in the persons of the Pole family. His works
abound in passages in which this view is displayed, flashed
before the reader in diamond-like epigram and aphorism. Not that
he despises the emotions: those who know him thoroughly will
recognize the absurdity of such a charge. Only he insists that
they be regulated and used aright by the master, brain. The
mishaps of his women come usually from the haphazard abeyance of
feeling or from an unthinking bowing down to the arbitrary
dictations of society. This insistence upon the application of
reason (the reasoning process dictated by an age of science) to
social situations, has led this writer to advise the setting
aside of the marriage bond in certain circumstances. In both
"Lord Ormont and his Aminta" and "One of our Conquerors" he
advocates a greater freedom in this relation, to anticipate what
time may bring to pass. It is enough here to say that this
extreme view does not represent Meredith's best fiction nor his
most fruitful period of production.

Perhaps the most original thing about Meredith as a novelist is
the daring way in which he has made an alliance between romance
and the intellect which was supposed, in an older conception, to
be its archenemy. He gives to Romance, that creature of the
emotions, the corrective and tonic of the intellect "To preserve
Romance," he declares, "we must be inside the heads of our
people as well as the hearts ... in days of a growing activity
of the head." Let us say once again that Romance means a certain
use of material as the result of an attitude toward Life; this
attitude may be temporary, a mood; or steady, a conviction. It
is the latter with George Meredith; and be it understood, his
material is always realistic, it is his interpretation that is
superbly idealistic. The occasional crabbedness of his manner
and his fiery admiration for Italy are not the only points in
which he reminds one of Browning. He is one with him in his
belief in soul, his conception of life is an arena for its
trying-out; one with him also in the robust acceptance of earth
and earth's worth, evil and all, for enjoyment and as salutary
experience. This is no fanciful parallel between Meredith and a
man who has been called (with their peculiarities of style in
mind) the Meredith of Poetry, as Meredith has been called the
Browning of Prose.

Thus, back of whatever may be the external story--the Italian
struggle for unity in "Vittoria," English radicalism in
"Beauchamp's Career," a seduction melodrama in "Rhoda Fleming"--there
is always with Meredith a steady interpretation of life, a
principle of belief. It is his crowning distinction that he can
make an intellectual appeal quite aside from the particular
story he is telling;--and it is also apparent that this is his
most vulnerable point as novelist. We get more from him just
because he shoots beyond the fiction target. He is that rare
thing in English novel-making, a notable thinker. Of all
nineteenth century novelists he leads for intellectual
stimulation. With fifty faults of manner and matter, irritating,
even outrageous in his eccentricities, he can at his best
startle with a brilliance that is alone of its kind. It is
because we hail him as philosopher, wit and poet that he fails
comparatively as artist. He shows throughout his work a sublime
carelessness of workmanship on the structural side of his craft;
but in those essentials, dialogue, character and scene, he rises
to the peaks of his profession.

Probably more readers are offended by his mannerisms of style
than by any other defect; and they are undeniable. The opening
chapter of "Diana" is a hard thing to get by; the same may be
said of the similar chapter in "Beauchamp's Career." In "One of
our Conquerors," early and late, the manner is such as to lose
for him even tried adherents. Is the trouble one of thought or
expression? And is it honest or an affectation? Meredith in some
books--and in all books more or less--adopts a strangely
indirect, over-elaborated, far-fetched and fantastic style,
which those who love him are fain to deplore. The author's
learning gets in his way and leads him into recondite allusions;
besides this, he has that quality of mind which is stimulated
into finding analogies on every side, so that image is piled on
image and side-paths of thought open up in the heat of this
mental activity. Part of the difficulty arises from surplusage
of imagination. Sometimes it is used in the service of comment
(often satirical); again in a kind of Greek chorus to the drama,
greatly to its injury; or in pure description, where it is
hardly less offensive. Thus in "The Egoist" we read: "Willoughby
shadowed a deep droop on the bend of his neck before Clara," and
reflection shows that all this absurdly acrobatic phrase means
is that the hero bowed to the lady. An utterly simple occurrence
and thus described! It is all the more strange and aggravating
in that it comes from a man who on hundreds of occasions writes
English as pungent, sonorous and sweet as any writer in the
history of the native literature. This is true both of dialogue
and narrative. He is the most quotable of authors; his Pilgrim's
Scrip is stuffed full of precious sayings, expressing many moods
of emotion and interpreting the world under its varied aspects
of romance, beauty, wit and drama. "Strength is the brute form
of truth." There is a French conciseness in such a sentence and
immense mental suggestiveness. Both his scenic and character
phrasing are memorable, as where the dyspeptic philosopher in
"Feverel" is described after dinner as "languidly twinkling
stomachic contentment." And what a scene is that where Master
Gammon replies to Mrs. Sumfit's anxious query concerning his
lingering at table with appetite apparently unappeasable:

     "'When do you think you will have done, Master Gammon?'

     "'When I feels my buttons, Ma'am.'"


Or hear John Thrasher in "Harry Richmond" dilate on Language:

     'There's cockney, and there's country, and there's school.
     Mix the three, strain and throw away the sediment. Now
     yon's my view.'


Has any philologist said all that could be said, so succinctly?
His lyric outbursts in the face of Nature or better yet, where
as in the moonlight meeting of the lovers at Wllming Weir in
"Sandra Belloni," nature is interspersed with human passion in a
glorious union of music, picture and impassioned sentiment,--these
await the pleasure of the enthralled seeker in every book.
To encounter such passages (perhaps in a mood of protest over
some almost insufferable defect) is to find the reward rich
indeed. Let the cause of obscurity be what it may, we need not
doubt that with Meredith style is the man, a perfectly honest
way of expressing his personality. It is not impossible that his
unconventional education and the early influence of German upon
him, may come into the consideration. But in the main his
peculiarity is congenital.

Meredith lacked self-criticism as a writer. But it is quite
inaccurate to speak of obscure thought: it is language, the
medium, which makes the trouble when there is any. His thought,
allowing for the fantasticality of his humor in certain moods,
is never muddled or unorganized: it is sane, consistent and
worthy of attention. To say this, is still to regret the
stylistic vagaries.

One other defect must be mentioned: the characters talk like
Meredith, instead of in their own persons. This is not true
uniformly, of course, but it does mar the truth of his
presentation. Young girls show wit and wisdom quite out of
keeping; those in humble life--a bargeman, perhaps, or a
prize-fighter--speak as they would not in reality. Illusion is by
so much disturbed. It would appear in such cases that the thinker
temporarily dominated the creative artist.

When all is said, pro and con, there remains a towering
personality; a writer of unique quality; a man so stimulating
and surprising as he is, that we almost prefer him to the
perfect artist he never could be. No English maker of novels can
give us a fuller sense of life, a keener realization of the
dignity of man. It is natural to wish for more than we have--to
desire that Meredith had possessed the power of complete control
of his material and himself, had revised his work to better
advantage. But perhaps it is more commonsensible to be thankful
for him as he is.

As to influence, it would seem modest to assert that Meredith is
as bracingly wholesome morally as he is intellectually
stimulating. In a private letter to a friend who was praising
his finest book, he whimsically mourns the fact that he must
write for a living and hence feel like disowning so many of his
children when in cold blood he scrutinizes his offspring. The
letter in its entirety (it is unpublished) is proof, were any
needed, that he had a high artistic ideal which kept him nobly
dissatisfied with his endeavor. There is in him neither pose nor
complacent self-satisfaction. To an American, whom he was
bidding good-by at his own gate, he said: "If I had my books to
do over again, I should try harder to make sure their influence
was good." His aims, ethical and artistic, throughout his work,
can be relied upon as high and noble. His faults are as honest
as he himself, the inherent defects of his genius. No writer of
our day stands more sturdily for the idea that, whereas art is
precious, personality is more precious still; without which art
is a tinkling cymbal and with which even a defective art can
conquer Time, like a garment not all-seemly, that yet cannot
hide an heroic figure.




CHAPTER XIII


STEVENSON

It is too early yet to be sure that Robert Louis Stevenson will
make a more cogent appeal for a place in English letters as a
writer of fiction than as an essayist. But had he never written
essays likely to rank him with the few masters of that
delightful fireside form, he would still have an indisputable
claim as novelist. The claim in fact is a double one; it is
founded, first, on his art and power as a maker of romance, but
also upon his historical service to English fiction, as the man
most instrumental in purifying the muddy current of realism in
the late nineteenth century by a wholesome infusion,--the
romantic view of life. It is already easier to estimate his
importance and get the significance of his work than it was when
he died in 1894--stricken down on the piazza of his house at
Vailima, a Scotchman doomed to fall in a far-away, alien place.

We are better able now to separate that personal charm felt from
direct contact with the man, which almost hypnotized those who
knew him, from the more abiding charm which is in his writings:
the revelation of a character the most attractive of his
generation. Rarely, if ever before, have the qualities of
artistry and fraternal fellowship been united in a man of
letters to such a degree; most often they are found apart, the
gods choosing to award their favors less lavishly.

Because of this union of art and life, Stevenson's romances
killed two birds with one stone; boys loved his
adventuresomeness, the wholesome sensationalism of his stories
with something doing on every page, while amateurs of art
responded to his felicity of phrase, his finished technique, the
exhibition of craftsmanship conquering difficulty and danger.
Artist, lover of life, insistent truth-teller, Calvinist,
Bohemian, believer in joy, all these cohabit in his hooks. In
early masterpieces like "Treasure Island" and "The Wrecker" it
is the lover of life who conducts us, telling the story for
story's sake:

"My mistress still the open road
And the bright eyes of danger."


Such is the goddess that beckons on. The creed implicit in such
work deems that life is stirring and worth while, and that it is
a weakness to repine and waste time, to be too subjective when
so much on earth is objectively alluring. This is only a part of
Stevenson, of course, but it was that phase of him vastly liked
of the public and doubtless doing most to give him vogue.

But in later work like "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" we get quite
another thing: the skilled story-maker is still giving us
thrilling fiction, to be sure, but here it is the Scotchman of
acute conscience, writing a spiritual allegory with the healthy
instinct which insists that the lesson shall be dramatized. So,
too, in a late fiction like "Ebb Tide," apparently as picaresque
and harum-scarum as "Treasure Island," it is nevertheless the
moralist who is at work beneath the brilliantly picturesque
surface of the narrative, contrasting types subtly, showing the
gradings in moral disintegration. In the past-mastership of the
finest Scotch novels, "Kidnapped" and its sequel "David
Balfour," "The Master of Ballantrae" and the beautiful torso,
"Weir of Hermiston," we get the psychologic romance, which means
a shift of interest;--character comes first, story is secondary
to it. Here is the maturest Stevenson, the fiction most
expressive of his genius, and naturally the inspiration is
native, he looks back, as he so often did in his poetry, to the
distant gray little island which was Motherland to him, home of
his youth and of his kindred, the earth where he was fain to lie
when his time came. Stevenson, to the end, could always return
to sheer story, as in "St. Ives," but in doing so, is a little
below his best: that kind did not call on his complete powers:
in such fiction deep did not answer unto deep.

In 1883, when "Treasure Island" appeared, the public was gasping
for the oxygen that a story with outdoor movement and action
could supply: there was enough and to spare of invertebrate
subtleties, strained metaphysics and coarse naturalistic
studies. A sublimated dime novel like "Treasure Island" came at
the psychologic moment; the year before "The New Arabian Nights"
had offered the same sort of pabulum, but had been practically
overlooked. Readers were only too glad to turn from people with
a past to people of the past, or to people of the present whose
ways were ways of pleasantness. Stevenson substituted a lively,
normal interest in life for plotlessness and a surfeit of the
flesh. The public rose to the bait as the trout to a
particularly inviting fly. Once more reverting to the good old
appeal of Scott--incident, action and derring-do--he added the
attraction of his personal touch, and what was so gallantly
preferred was greedily grasped.

Although, as has been said, Stevenson passed from the primitive
romance of the Shilling Shocker to the romance of character, his
interest in character study was keen from the first: the most
plot-cunning and external of his yarns have that illuminative
exposure of human beings--in flashes at least--which mark him
off from the bluff, robust manner of a Dumas and lend an
attraction far greater than that of mere tangle of events. This
gets fullest expression in the Scotch romances.

"The Master of Ballantrae," for one illustration; the interplay
of motive and act as it affects a group of human beings is so
conducted that plot becomes a mere framework, within which we
are permitted to see a typical tragedy of kinship. This receives
curious corroboration in the fact that when, towards the close
of the story, the scene shifts to America and the main motive--the
unfolding of the fraternal fortunes of the tragic brothers,
is made minor to a series of gruesome adventures (however
entertaining and well done) the reader, even if uncritical, has
an uneasy sense of disharmony: and rightly, since the strict
character romance has changed to the romance of action.

It has been stated that the finer qualities of Stevenson are
called out by the psychological romance on native soil. He did
some brilliant and engaging work of foreign setting and motive.
"The Island Nights' Entertainments" is as good in its way as the
earlier "New Arabian Nights"--far superior to it, indeed, for
finesse and the deft command of exotic material. Judged as art,
"The Bottle Imp" and "The Beach of Falesa" are among the
triumphs of ethnic interpretation, let alone their more external
charms of story. And another masterpiece of foreign setting, "A
Lodging for The Night," is further proof of Stevenson's ability
to use other than Scotch motives for the materials of his art.
"Ebb-Tide," again, grim as it is, must always be singled out as
a marvel of tone and proportion, yet seems born out of an
existence utterly removed as to conditions and incentives from
the land of his birth. But when, in his own words:

"The tropics vanish, and meseems that I,
From Halkerside, from topmost Allermuir,
Or steep Caerketton, dreaming gaze again."

then, as if vitalized by mother-earth, Stevenson shows a
breadth, a vigor, a racy idiosyncrasy, that best justify a
comparison with Scott. It means a quality that is easier felt
than expressed; of the very warp and woof of his work. If the
elder novelist seems greater in scope, spontaneity and
substance, the younger surpasses him in the elegancies and
niceties of his art. And it is only a just recognition of the
difference of Time as well as of personality to say that the
psychology of Stevenson is far more profound and searching. Nor
may it be denied that Sir Walter nods, that there are flat,
uninteresting stretches in his heroic panorama, while of
Stevenson at the worst, we may confidently assert that he is
never tedious. He fails in the comparison if anywhere in
largeness of personality, not in the perfectness of the art of
his fiction. In the technical demands of his profession he is
never wanting. He always has a story to tell, tells it with the
skill which means constructive development and a sense of
situation; he creates characters who live, interest and do not
easily fade from memory: he has exceptional power in so filling
in backgrounds as to produce the illusion of atmosphere; and
finally, he has, whether in dialogue or description, a
wonderfully supple instrument of expression. If the style of his
essays is at times mannered, the charge can not be made against
his representative fiction: "Prince Otto" stands alone in this
respect, and that captivating, comparatively early romance,
confessedly written under the influence of Meredith, is a
delicious literary experiment rather than a deeply-felt piece of
life. Perhaps the central gift of all is that for character--is
it, in truth, not the central gift for any weaver of fiction? So
we thought in studying Dickens. Stevenson's creations wear the
habit of life, yet with more than life's grace of carriage; they
are seen picturesquely without, but also psychologically within.
In a marvelous portrayal like that of John Silver in "Treasure
Island" the result is a composite of what we see and what we
shudderingly guess: eye and mind are satisfied alike. Even in a
mere sketch, such as that of the blind beggar at the opening of
the same romance, with the tap-tap of his stick to announce his
coming, we get a remarkable example of effect secured by an
economy of details; that tap-tapping gets on your nerves, you
never forget it. It seems like the memory of a childhood terror
on the novelist's part. Throughout his fiction this chemic union
of fact and the higher fact that is of the imagination marks his
work. The smell of the heather is in our nostrils as we watch
Allan's flight, and looking on at the fight in the round-house,
there is a physical impression of the stuffiness of the place;
you smell as well as see it. Or for quite another key, take the
night duel in "The Master of Ballantrae." You cannot think of it
without feeling the bite of the bleak air; once more the twinkle
of the candles makes the scene flicker before you ere it vanish
into memory-land. Again, how you know that sea-coast site in the
opening of "The Pavilion on the Links"--shiver at the "sly
innuendoes of the place"! Think how much the map in "Treasure
Island" adds to the credibility of the thing. It is the
believableness of Stevenson's atmospheres that prepare the
reader for any marvels enacted in them. Gross, present-day,
matter-of-fact London makes Dr. Jekyll and his worser half of
flesh-and-blood credence. Few novelists of any race have beaten
this wandering Scot in the power of representing character and
envisaging it: and there can hardly be successful
characterization without this allied power of creating
atmosphere.

Nothing is falser than to find him imitative in his
representative work. There may be a suspicion of made-to-order
journalism in "The Black Arrow," and the exception of "Prince
Otto," which none the less we love for its gallant spirit and
smiling grace, has been noted. But of the Scotch romances
nothing farther from the truth could be said. They stand or fall
by themselves: they have no model--save that of sound art and a
normal conception of human life. Rarely does this man fall below
his own high level or fail to set his private remarque upon his
labor. It is in a way unfortunate that Stevenson, early in his
career, so frankly confessed to practising for his craft by the
use of the best models: it has led to the silly
misinterpretation which sees in all his literary effort nothing
but the skilful echo. Such judgments remind us that criticism,
which is intended to be a picture of another, is in reality a
picture of oneself. In his lehrjahre Stevenson "slogged at his
trade," beyond peradventure; but no man came to be more
individually and independently himself.

It has been spoken against him, too, that he could not draw
women: here again he is quoted in his own despite and we see the
possible disadvantage of a great writer's correspondence being
given to the world--though not for more worlds than one would we
miss the Letters. It is quite true that he is chary of
petticoats in his earlier work: but when he reached "David
Balfour" he drew an entrancing heroine; and the contrasted types
of young girl and middle-aged woman in "Weir of Hermiston" offer
eloquent testimonial to his increasing power in depicting the
Eternal Feminine. At the same time, it may be acknowledged that
the gallery of female portraits is not like Scott's for number
and variety, nor like Thackeray's for distinction and
charm--thick-hung with a delightful company whose eyes laugh level
with our own, or, above us on the wall, look down with a starry
challenge to our souls. But those whom Stevenson has hung there
are not to be coldly recalled.

Stevenson's work offers itself remarkably as a test for the
thought that all worthily modern romanticism must not lack in
reality, in true observation, for success in its most daring
flights. Gone forever is that abuse of the romantic which
substitutes effective lying for the vision which sees broadly
enough to find beauty. The latter-day realist will be found in
the end to have permanently contributed this, a welcome legacy
to our time, after its excesses and absurdities are forgotten.
Realism has taught romanticism to tell the truth, if it would
succeed. Stevenson is splendidly real, he loves to visualize
fact, to be true both to the appearances of things and the
thoughts of the mind. He is aware that life is more than food--that
it is a subjective state quite as much as an objective
reality. He refers to himself more than once, half humorously,
as a fellow whose forte lay in transcribing what was before him,
to be seen and felt, tasted and heard. This extremely modern
denotement was a marked feature of his genius, often overlooked.
He had a desire to know all manner of men; he had the noble
curiosity of Montaigne; this it was, along with his human
sympathy, that led him to rough it in emigrant voyages and
railroad trips across the plains. It was this characteristic,
unless I err, the lack of which in "Prince Otto" gives it a
certain rococo air: he was consciously fooling in it, and felt
the need of a solidly mundane footing. Truth to human nature in
general, and that lesser truth which means accurate photography--his
books give us both; the modern novelist, even a romancer
like Stevenson, is not permitted to slight a landscape, an idiom
nor a point of psychology: this one is never untrue to the
trust. There is in the very nature of his language a proof of
his strong hunger for the actual, the verifiable. No man of his
generation has quite such a grip on the vernacular: his speech
rejoices to disport itself in root flavors; the only younger
writer who equals him in this relish for reality of expression
is Kipling. Further back it reminds of Defoe or Swift, at their
best, Stevenson cannot abide the stock phrases with which most
of us make shift to express our thoughts instead of using first-hand
effects. There is, with all its music and suavity,
something of the masculinity of the Old English in the following
brief descriptive passage from "Ebb-Tide":

     There was little or no morning bank. A brightening came in
     the East; then a wash of some ineffable, faint, nameless
     hue between crimson and silver; and then coals of fire.
     These glimmered awhile on the sea line, and seemed to
     brighten and darken and spread out; and still the night and
     the stars reigned undisturbed. It was as though a spark
     should catch and glow and creep along the foot of some
     heavy and almost incombustible wall-hanging, and the room
     itself be scarce menaced. Yet a little after, and the whole
     East glowed with gold and scarlet, and the hollow of heaven
     was filled with the daylight. The isle--the undiscovered,
     the scarce believed in--now lay before them and close
     aboard; and Herrick thought that never in his dreams had he
     beheld anything more strange and delicate.


Stevenson's similes, instead of illustrating concrete things by
others less concrete, often reverse the process, as in the
following: "The isle at this hour, with its smooth floor of
sand, the pillared roof overhead and the pendant illumination of
the lamps, wore an air of unreality, like a deserted theater or
a public garden at midnight." Every image gets its foothold in
some tap-root of reality.

The place of Robert Louis Stevenson is not explained by
emphasizing the perfection of his technique. Artist he is, but
more: a vigorous modern mind with a definite and enheartening
view of things, a philosophy at once broad and convincing. He is
a psychologist intensely interested in the great questions--which,
of course, means the moral questions. Read the quaint
Fable in which two of the characters in "Treasure Island" hold
converse upon themselves, the story in which they participate
and the author who made them. It is as if Stevenson stood aside
a moment from the proper objectivity of the fictionist, to tell
us in his own person that all his story-making was but an
allegory of life, its joy, its mystery, its duty, its triumph
and its doom. Although he is too much the artist to intrude
philosophic comments upon human fate into his fiction, after the
fashion of Thackeray or Meredith, the comment is there, implicit
in his fiction, even as it is explicit in his essays, which are
for this reason a sort of complement of his fiction: a sort of
philosophical marginal note upon the stories. Stevenson was that
type of modern mind which, no longer finding it possible to hold
fast by the older, complacent cock-sureness with regard to the
theologian's heaven, is still unshaken in its conviction that
life is beneficent, the obligation of duty imperative, the
meaning of existence spiritual. Puzzlingly protean in his
expressional moods (his conversations in especial), he was
constant in this intellectual, or temperamental, attitude:
"Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him," represents his
feeling, and the strongest poem he ever wrote, "If This Were
Faith," voices his deepest conviction. Meanwhile, the
superficies of life offered a hundred consolations, a hundred
pleasures, and Stevenson would have his fellowmen enjoy them in
innocence, in kindness and good cheer. In fine, as a thinker he
was a modernized Calvinist; as an artist he saw life in terms of
action and pleasure, and by perfecting himself in the art of
communicating his view of life, he was able, in a term of years
all too short, to leave a series of books which, as we settle
down to them in the twentieth century, and try to judge them as
literature, have all the semblance of fine art. In any case,
they will have been influential in the shaping of English
fiction and will be referred to with respect by future
historians of literature. It is hard to believe that the
desiccation of Time will so dry them that they will not always
exhale a rich fragrance of personality, and tremble with a
convincing movement of life.




CHAPTER XIV


THE AMERICAN CONTRIBUTION


I

To exclude the living, as we must, in an estimate of the
American contribution to the development we have been tracing,
is especially unjust. Yet the principle must be applied. The
injustice lies in the fact that an important part of the
contribution falls on the hither side of 1870 and has to do with
authors still active. The modern realistic movement in English
fiction has been affected to some degree by the work, has
responded to the influence of the two Americans, Howells and
James. What has been accomplished during the last forty years
has been largely under their leadership. Mr. Howells, true to
his own definition, has practised the more truthful handling of
material in depicting chosen aspects of the native life. Mr.
James, becoming more interested in British types, has, after a
great deal of analysis of his own countrymen, passed by the
bridge of the international Novel to a complete absorption in
transatlantic studies, making his peculiar application of the
realistic formula to the inner life of the spirit: a curious
compound, a cosmopolitan Puritan, an urbane student of souls.
His share in the British product is perhaps appreciable; but
from the native point of view, at least, it would seem as if his
earlier work were, and would remain, most representative both
because of its motives and methods. Early or late, he has beyond
question pointed out the way to many followers in the
psychologic path: his influence, perhaps less obvious than
Howells', is none the less undisputable. The development in the
hands of writers younger than these veterans has been rich,
varied, often noteworthy in quality. But of all this it is too
soon to speak.

With regard to the fictional evolution on American soil, it is
clear that four great writers, excluding the living, separate
themselves from the crowd: Irving, Cooper, Poe and Hawthorne.
Moreover, two of these, Irving and Poe, are not novelists at
all, but masters of the sketch or short story. It will be best,
however, for our purpose to give them all some attention, for
whatever the form of fiction they used, they are all influential
in the development of the Novel.

Other authors of single great books may occur to the student,
perhaps clamoring for admission to a company so select. Yet he
is likely always to come back and draw a dividing line here.
Bret Harte, for instance, is dead, and in the short story of
western flavor he was a pioneer of mark, the founder of a genre:
probably no other writer is so significant in his field. But
here again, although he essayed full-length fiction, it was not
his forte. So, too, were it not that Mark Twain still cheers the
land of the living with his wise fun, there would be for the
critic the question, is he a novelist, humorist or essayist. Is
"Roughing It" more typical of his genius than "Tom Sawyer" or
"Huckleberry Finn"? How shall we characterize "Puddin' Head
Wilson"? Under what category shall we place "A Yankee at the
Court of King Arthur" and "Joan of Arc"? The query reminds us
once more that literature means personality as well as literary
forms and that personality is more important than are they. And
again we turn away regretfully (remembering that this is an
attempt to study not fiction in all its manifestations, but the
Novel) from the charming short stories--little classics in their
kind--bequeathed by Aldrich, and are almost sorry that our
judgment demands that we place him first as a poet. We think,
too, of that book so unique in influence, "Uncle Tom's Cabin,"
nor forget that, besides producing it, Mrs. Stowe, in such a
work as "Old Town Folks," started the long line of studies of
New England rustic life which, not confined to that section,
have become so welcome a phase of later American art in fiction.
Among younger authors called untimely from their labors, it is
hard to resist the temptation to linger over such a figure as
that of Frank Norris, whose vital way of handling realistic
material with epic breath in his unfinished trilogy, gave so
great promise for his future.

It may be conceded that nothing is more worth mention in
American fiction of the past generation than the extraordinary
cultivation of the short-story, which Mr. Brander Matthews
dignifies and unifies by a hyphen, in order to express his
conviction that it is an essentially new art form, to study
which is a fascinating quest, but aside from our main intention.


II

Having due regard then for perspective, and trying not to
confuse historical importance with the more vital interest which
implies permanent claims, it seems pretty safe to come back to
Irving and Poe, to Cooper and Hawthorne. Even as in the sketch
and tale Irving stands alone with such a masterpiece as "The
Legend of Sleepy Hollow"; and Poe equally by himself with his
tales of psychological horror and mystery, so in longer fiction,
Cooper and Hawthorne have made as distinct contributions in the
domain of Romance. Their service is as definite for the day of
the Romantic spirit, as is that of Howells and James for the
modern day of realism so-called. It is not hard to see that
Irving even in his fiction is essentially an essayist; that with
him story was not the main thing, but that atmosphere, character
and style were,--the personal comment upon life. One reads a
sketch like "The Stout Gentleman," in every way a typical work,
for anything but incident or plot. The Hudson River idyls, it
may be granted, have somewhat more of story interest, but Irving
seized them, ready-made for his use, because of their value for
the picturesque evocation of the Past. He always showed a keen
sense of the pictorial and dramatic in legend and history, as
the "Alhambra" witnesses quite as truly as the sketches.
"Bracebridge Hall" and "The Sketch Book," whatever of the
fictional they may contain, are the work of the essayist
primarily, and Washington Irving will always, in a critical
view, be described as a master of the English essay. No other
maker of American literature affords so good an example of the
inter-colation of essay and fiction: he recalls the organic
relation between the Sir Roger de Coverley Papers and the
eighteenth century Novel proper of a generation later.

His service to all later writers of fiction was large in that he
taught them the use of promising native material that awaited
the story-maker. His own use of it, the Hudson, the environs of
Manhattan, was of course romantic, in the main. When in an
occasional story he is unpleasant in detail or tragic in trend
he seems less characteristic--so definitely was he a
romanticist, seeking beauty and wishing to throw over life the
kindly glamour of imaginative art. It is worth noting, however,
that he looked forward rather than back, towards the coming
realism, not to the incurable pseudo-romanticism of the late
eighteenth century, in his instinct to base his happenings upon
the bedrock of truth--the external truth of scene and character
and the inner truth of human psychology.

Admirably a modern artist in this respect, his
old-fashionedness, so often dilated upon, can easily be overstated.
He not only left charming work in the tale, but helped others
who came after to use their tools, furthering their art by the
study of a good model.

Nothing was more inevitable then that Cooper when he began
fiction in mid-manhood should have written the romance: it was
the dominant form in England because of Scott. But that he
should have realized the unused resources of America and
produced a long series of adventure stories, taking a pioneer as
his hero and illustrating the western life of settlement in his
career, the settlement that was to reclaim a wilderness for a
mighty civilization--that was a thing less to be expected, a
truly epic achievement. The Leather Stocking Series was in the
strictest sense an original performance--the significance of
Fenimore Cooper is not likely to be exaggerated; it is quite
independent of the question of his present hold upon mature
readers, his faults of technique and the truth of his pictures.
To have grasped such an opportunity and so to have used it as to
become a great man-of-letters at a time when literature was more
a private employ than the interest of the general--surely it
indicates genuine personality, and has the mark of creative
power. To which we may add, that Cooper is still vital in his
appeal, as the statistics of our public libraries show.

Moreover, incorrigible romancer that he was, he is a man of the
nineteenth century, as was Irving, in the way he instinctively
chose near-at-hand native material: he knew the Mohawk Valley by
long residence; he knew the Indian and the trapper there; and he
depicted these types in a setting that was to him the most
familiar thing in the world. In fact, we have in him an
illustration of the modern writer who knows he must found his
message firmly upon reality. For both Leather-stocking and
Chingachgook are true in the broad sense, albeit the white
trapper's dialect may be uncertain and the red man exhibit a
dignity that seems Roman rather than aboriginal. The Daniel
Boone of history must have had, we feel, the nobler qualities of
Bumpo; how otherwise did he do what it was his destiny to do? In
the same way, the Indian of Cooper is the red man in his
pristine home before the day of fire-water and Agency methods.
It may be that what to us to-day seems a too glorified picture
is nearer the fact than we are in a position easily to realize.
Cooper worked in the older method of primary colors, of vivid,
even violent contrasts: his was not the school of subtleties.
His women, for example, strike us as somewhat mechanical; there
is a sameness about them that means the failure to
differentiate: the Ibsenian psychology of the sex was still to
come. But this does not alter the obvious excellencies of the
work. Cooper carried his romanticism in presenting the heroic
aspects of the life he knew best into other fields where he
walked with hardly less success: the revolutionary story
illustrated by "The Spy," and the sea-tale of which a fine
example is "The Pilot." He had a sure instinct for those
elements of fiction which make for romance, and the change of
time and place affects him only in so far as it affects his
familiarity with his materials. His experience in the United
States Navy gave him a sure hand in the sea novels: and in a
book like "The Spy" he was near enough to the scenes and
characters to be studies practically contemporary. He had the
born romanticist's natural affection for the appeal of the past
and the stock elements can be counted upon in all his best
fiction: salient personalities, the march of events, exciting
situations, and ever that arch-romantic lure, the one trick up
the sleeve to pique anticipation. Hence, in spite of
descriptions that seem over-long, a heavy-footed manner that
lacks suppleness and variety, and undeniable carelessness of
construction, he is still loved of the young and seen to be a
natural raconteur, an improviser of the Dumas-Scott lineage and,
even tested by the later tests, a noble writer of romance, a man
whom Balzac and Goethe read with admiration: unquestionably
influential outside his own land in that romantic mood of
expression which, during the first half of the nineteenth
century, was so widespread and fruitful.


III

It is the plainer with every year that Poe's contribution to
American fiction, and indeed to that of the nineteenth century,
ignoring national boundaries, stands by itself. Whatever his
sources--and no writer appears to derive less from the past--he
practically created on native soil the tale of fantasy,
sensational plot, and morbid impressionism. His cold aloofness,
his lack of spiritual import, unfitted him perhaps for the
broader work of the novelist who would present humanity in its
three dimensions with the light and shade belonging to Life
itself. Confining himself to the tale which he believed could be
more artistic because it was briefer and so the natural mold for
a mono-mood, he had the genius so to handle color, music and
suggestion in an atmosphere intense in its subjectivity, that
confessed masterpieces were the issue. Whether in the objective
detail of "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," with its subtle
illusion of realism, or in the nuances and delicatest tonality
of "Ligeia," he has left specimens of the different degrees of
romance which have not been surpassed, conquering in all but
that highest style of romantic writing where the romance lies in
an emphasis upon the noblest traits of mankind. He is, it is not
too much to say, well-nigh as important to the growth of modern
fiction outside the Novel form as he is to that of poetry,
though possibly less unique on his prose side. His fascination
is that of art and intellect: his material and the mastery
wherewith he handles it conjoin to make his particular brand of
magic. While some one story of Hoffman or Bulwer Lytton or
Stevenson may be preferred, no one author of our time has
produced an equal number of successes in the same key. It is
instructive to compare him with Hawthorne because of a
superficial resemblance with an underlying fundamental
distinction. One phase of the Concord romancer's art results in
stories which seem perhaps as somber, strange and morbid as
those of Poe: "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment," "Rapacinni's
Daughter," "The Birth Mark." They stand, of course, for but one
side of his power, of which "The Great Stone Face" and "The Snow
Image" are the brighter and sweeter. Thus Hawthorne's is a
broader and more diversified accomplishment in the form of the
tale. But the likeness has to do with subject-matter, not with
the spirit of the work. The gloomiest of Hawthorne's short
stories are spiritually sound and sweet: Poe's, on the contrary,
might be described as unmoral; they seem written by one
disdaining all the touchstones of life, living in a land of
eyrie where there is no moral law. He would no more than Lamb
indict his very dreams. In the case of Hawthorne there is
allegorical meaning, the lesson is never far to seek: a basis of
common spiritual responsibility is always below one's feet. And
this is quite as true of the long romances as of the tales. The
result is that there is spiritual tonic in Hawthorne's fiction,
while something almost miasmatic rises from Poe, dropping a kind
of veil between us and the salutary realities of existence. If
Poe be fully as gifted, he is, for this reason, less sanely
endowed. It may be conceded that he is not always as
shudderingly sardonic and removed from human sympathy as in "The
Cask of Amontillado" or "The Black Cat"; yet it is no
exaggeration to affirm that he is nowhere more typical, more
himself. On the contrary, in a tale like "The Birth Mark," what
were otherwise the horror and ultra-realism of it, is tempered
by and merged in the suggestion that no man shall with impunity
tamper with Nature nor set the delight of the eyes above the
treasures of the soul. The poor wife dies, because her husband
cares more to remove a slight physical defect than he does for
her health and life. So it cannot be said of the somber work in
the tale of these two sons of genius that,

"A common grayness silvers everything,"

since the gifts are so differently exercised and the artistic
product of totally dissimilar texture. Moreover, Poe is quite
incapable of the lovely naivete of "The Snow Image," or the
sun-kissed atmosphere of the wonder-book. Humor, except in the
satiric vein, is hardly more germane to the genius of Hawthorne
than to that of Poe; its occasional exercise is seldom if ever
happy.

Although most literary comparisons are futile because of the
disparateness of the things compared, the present one seems
legitimate in the cases of Poe and Hawthorne, superficially so
alike in their short-story work.


IV

In the romances in which he is, by common consent, our greatest
practitioner, to be placed first indeed of all who have written
fiction of whatever kind on American soil, Hawthorne never
forsakes--subtle, spiritual, elusive, even intangible as he may
seem--the firm underfooting of mother earth. His themes are
richly human, his psychologic truth (the most modern note of
realism) unerring in its accuracy and insight. As part of his
romantic endowment, he prefers to place plot and personages in
the dim backward of Time, gaining thus in perspective and
ampleness of atmosphere. He has told us as much in the preface
to "The House of The Seven Gables," that wonderful study in
subdued tone-colors. That pronunciamento of a great artist (from
which in an earlier chapter quotation has been made) should not
be overlooked by one who essays to get a hint of his secret. He
is always exclusively engaged with questions of conscience and
character; like George Meredith, his only interest is in soul-growth.
This is as true in the "Marble Faun" with its thought of
the value of sin in the spiritual life, or in "The Blithedale
Romance," wherein poor Zenobia learns how infinitely hard it is
for a woman to oppose the laws of society, as it is in the more
obvious lesson of "The Scarlet Letter." In this respect the four
romances are all of a piece: they testify to their spiritual
parentage. "The Scarlet Letter," if the greatest, is only so for
the reason that the theme is deepest, most fundamental, and the
by-gone New England setting most sympathetic to the author's
loving interest. Plainly an allegory, it yet escapes the danger
of becoming therefore poor fiction, by being first of all a
study of veritable men and women, not lay-figures to carry out
an argument. The eyes of the imagination can always see Esther
Prynne and Dimmesdale, honest but weak man of God, the evil
Chillingworth and little Pearl who is all child, unearthly
though she be, a symbol at once of lost innocence and a hope of
renewed purity. No pale abstractions these; no folk in fiction
are more believed in: they are of our own kindred with whom we
suffer or fondly rejoice. In a story so metaphysical as "The
House of The Seven Gables," full justice to which has hardly
been done (it was Hawthorne's favorite), while the background
offered by the historic old mansion is of intention low-toned
and dim, there is no obscurity, though plenty of innuendo and
suggestion. The romance is a noble specimen of that use of the
vague which never falls into the confusion of indeterminate
ideas. The theme is startlingly clear: a sin is shown working
through generations and only to find expiation in the fresh
health of the younger descendants: life built on a lie must
totter to its fall. And the shell of all this spiritual
seething--the gabled Salem house--may at last be purified and
renovated for a posterity which, because it is not paralyzed by
the dark past, can also start anew with hope and health, while
every room of the old home is swept through and cleansed by the
wholesome winds of heaven.

Forgetting for a moment the immense spiritual meaning of this
noble quartet of romances, and regarding them as works of art in
the straiter sense, they are felt to be practically blameless
examples of the principle of adapting means to a desired end. As
befits the nature of the themes, the movement in each case is
slow, pregnant with significance, cumulative in effect, the
tempo of each in exquisite accord with the particular motive:
compared with "The Scarlet Letter," "The House of The Seven
Gables" moves somewhat more quickly, a slight increase to suit
the action: it is swiftest of all in "The Blithedale Romance,"
with its greater objectivity of action and interest, its more
mundane air: while there is a cunning unevenness in the two
parts of "The Marble Faun," as is right for a romance which
first presents a tragic situation (as external climax) and then
shows in retarded progress that inward drama of the soul more
momentous than any outer scene or situation can possibly be.
After Donatello's deed of death, because what follows is
psychologically the most important part of the book, the speed
slackens accordingly. Quiet, too, and unsensational as Hawthorne
seems, he possessed a marked dramatic power. His denouements are
overwhelming in grip and scenic value: the stage effect of the
scaffold scene in "The Scarlet Letter," the murder scene in the
"Marble Faun," the tragic close of Zenobia's career in "The
Blithedale Romance," such scenes are never arbitrary and
detached; they are tonal, led up to by all that goes before. The
remark applies equally to that awful picture in "The House of
The Seven Gables," where the Judge sits dead in his chair and
the minutes are ticked off by a seemingly sentient clock. An
element in this tonality is naturally Hawthorne's style: it is
the best illustration American literature affords of excellence
of pattern in contrast with the "purple patch" manner of writing
so popular in modern diction.

Congruity, the subjection of the parts to the whole, and to the
end in view--the doctrine of key--Hawthorne illustrates all
this. If we do not mark passages and delectate over phrases, we
receive an exquisite sense of harmony--and harmony is the last
word of style. It is this power which helps to make him a great
man-of-letters, as well as a master of romance. One can imagine
him neither making haste to furnish "copy" nor pausing by the
way for ornament's sake. He knew that the only proper decoration
was an integral efflorescence of structure. He looked beyond to
the fabric's design: a man decently poor in this world's gear,
he was more concerned with good work than with gain. Of such are
art's kingdom of heaven.

Are there flaws in the weaving? They are small indeed. His
didacticism is more in evidence in the tales than in the
romances, where the fuller body allows the writer to be more
objective: still, judged by present-day standards, there are
times when he is too obviously the preacher to please modern
taste. In "The Great Stone Face," for instance, it were better,
one feels, if the moral had been more veiled, more subtly
implied. As to this, it is well to remember that criticism
changes its canons with the years and that Hawthorne simply
adapted himself (unconsciously, as a spokesman of his day) to
contemporaneous standards. His audience was less averse from the
principle that the artist should on no account usurp the
pulpit's function. If the artist-preacher had a golden mouth, it
was enough. This has perhaps always been the attitude of the
mass of mankind.

A defect less easy to condone is this author's attempts at
humor. They are for the most part lumbering and forced: you feel
the effort. Hawthorne lacked the easy manipulation of this gift
and his instinct served him aright when he avoided it, as most
often he did. A few of the short stories are conceived in the
vein of burlesque, and such it is a kindness not to name. They
give pain to any who love and revere so mighty a spirit. In the
occasional use of humor in the romances, too, he does not always
escape just condemnation: as where Judge Pincheon is described
taking a walk on a snowy morning down the village street, his
visage wreathed in such spacious smiles that the snow on either
side of his progress melts before the rays.

For some the style of Hawthorne may now be felt to possess a
certain artificiality: the price paid for that effect of
stateliness demanded by the theme and suggestive also of the
fact that the words were written over half a century ago. In
these days of photographic realism of word and idiom, our
conception of what is fit in diction has suffered a sea-change.
Our ear is adjusted to another tune. Admirable as have been the
gains in broadening the native resources of speech by the
introduction of old English elements, the eighteenth century and
the early years of the nineteenth can still teach us, and it is
not beyond credence that the eventual modern ideal of speech may
react to an equilibrium of mingled native and foreign-fetched
words. In such an event a writer like Hawthorne will be
confirmed in his mastery.

Remarkable, indeed, and latest in time has been the romantic
reaction from the extremes of realistic presentation: it has
given the United States, even as it has England, some sterling
fiction. This we can see, though it is a phenomenon too recent
to offer clear deductions as yet. What appears to be the main
difference between it and the romantic inheritance from Scott
and Hawthorne? One, if not the chief divergence, would seem to
be the inevitable degeneration which comes from haste,
mercantile pressure, imitation and lack of commanding authority.
There is plenty of technique, comparatively little personality.
Yet it may be unfair to the present to make the comparison, for
the incompetents buzz in our ears, while time has mercifully
stilled the bogus romances of G.P.R. James, et id omne genus.

But allowing for all distortion of time, a creative figure like
that of Hawthorne still towers, serene and alone, above the
little troublings of later days, and like his own Stone Face,
reflects the sun and the storm, bespeaking the greater things of
the human spirit.


THE END





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