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Title: Studies in Early Victorian Literature
Author: Harrison, Frederic, 1831-1923
Language: English
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Edward Arnold
London ------ New York
37 Bedford Street ------ 70 Fifth Avenue
All rights reserved


The following essays appeared in the _Forum_ of New York, and
simultaneously in London, during the years 1894-95.  They have been
carefully revised and partly re-written, after due consideration of
various suggestions and criticisms both in England and in America.  The
aim of the writer was to attempt a mature estimate of the permanent
influence and artistic achievement of some of the principal prose
writers in the earlier half of the reign of our Queen.  The work of
living authors has not been touched upon, nor any book of poetry,
philosophy, or science.




That which in England is conveniently described as the Victorian Age of
literature has a character of its own, at once brilliant, diverse, and
complex.  It is an age peculiarly difficult to label in a phrase; but
its copious and versatile gifts will make it memorable in the history
of modern civilisation.  The Victorian Age, it is true, has no
Shakespeare or Milton, no Bacon or Hume, no Fielding or Scott--no
supreme master in poetry, philosophy, or romance, whose work is
incorporated with the thought of the world, who is destined to form
epochs and to endure for centuries.  Its genius is more scientific than
literary, more historical than dramatic, greater in discovery than in
abstract thought.

In lyric poetry and in romance our age has names second only to the
greatest; its researches into nature and history are at least equal to
those of any previous epoch; and, if it has not many great
philosophers, it has developed the latest, most arduous, most important
of all the sciences.  This is the age of Sociology: its central
achievement has been the revelation of social laws.  This social aspect
of thought colours the poetry, the romance, the literature, the art,
and the philosophy of the Victorian Age.  Literature has been the
gainer thereby in originality and in force.  It has been the loser in
symmetry, in dignity, in grace.

The Victorian Age is a convenient term in English literature to
describe the period from 1837 to 1895: not that we assign any
sacramental efficacy to a reign, or assume that the Queen has given any
special impulse to the writers of her time.  Neither reigns, nor years,
nor centuries, nor any arbitrary measure of time in the gradual
evolution of thought can be exactly applied, or have any formative
influence.  A period of so many years, having some well-known name by
which it can be labelled, is a mere artifice of classification.  And of
course an Englishman will not venture to include in his survey the
American writers, or to bring them within his national era.  The date,
1837, is an arbitrary point, and a purely English point.  Yet it is
curious how different a colour may be seen in the main current of the
English literature produced before and after that year.  In the year of
the Queen's accession to the throne, the great writers of the early
part of this century were either dead or silent.  Scott, Byron,
Shelley, Keats, Coleridge, Lamb, Sheridan, Hazlitt, Mackintosh, Crabbe,
and Cobbett, were gone.  There were still living in 1837, Wordsworth,
Southey, Campbell, Moore, Jeffrey, Sydney Smith, De Quincey, Miss
Edgeworth, Miss Mitford, Leigh Hunt, Brougham, Samuel Rogers:--living,
it is true, but they had all produced their important work at some
earlier date.  Carlyle, Dickens, Thackeray, Macaulay, Tennyson,
Browning, had begun to write, but were not generally known.  The
principal English authors who belong equally to the Georgian and to the
Victorian Age are Landor, Bulwer, Disraeli, Hallam, and Milman, and
they are not quite in the very first rank in either age.  It is a
significant fact that the reign of the Queen has produced, with
trifling exceptions, the whole work of Tennyson, the Brownings,
Thackeray, Dickens, the Brontës, George Eliot, Kingsley, Trollope,
Spencer, Mill, Darwin, Ruskin, Grote, Macaulay, Freeman, Froude, Lecky,
Milman, Green, Maine, Matthew Arnold, Symonds, Rossetti, Swinburne,
Morris, John Morley, to say nothing of younger men who are still in
their prime and promise.

Widely as these differ among themselves, they have characters which
differentiate them from all men of the eighteenth century, and also
from the men of the era of Goethe and Scott.  Can we imagine _Sartor
Resartus_ being published in the age of Johnson, or _In Memoriam_ in
that of Byron?  How different a land is the Italy which Ruskin sees
from the Italy that Rogers knew!  What a new world is that of the
Brontës and George Eliot beside that which was painted by Miss
Edgeworth and Miss Austen!  In what things would Southey and John
Morley agree, except about books and pure English?  Place Burke _On the
Sublime and Beautiful_ beside Ruskin's _Modern Painters_; compare the
_Stones of Venice_ with Eustace's _Classical Tour_; compare Carlyle's
_French Revolution_ with Gibbon's _Decline and Fall_; compare the _Book
of Snobs_ with Addison's _Spectator_; contrast _The Ring and the Book_
with Gray's _Elegy_ or Cowper's _Task_.  What wholly different types,
ideas, aims!  The age of Pope and Addison, of Johnson and Gibbon, clung
to symmetry, "the grand air," the "best models"; it cared much more for
books than for social reforms, and in the world of letters a classical
manner was valued far more than originality of ideas.  And when we come
to a later age, what an irrepressible and stormy imagination do we
find!  Byron, Shelley, Scott, Coleridge, Campbell, Southey, Landor,
revelled in romance and colour, in battle and phantasmagoria, in
tragedy, mystery, and legend.  They boiled over with excitement, and
their visions were full of fight.  The roar and fire of the great
revolutionary struggle filled men's brains with fierce and strange

Our Victorian Age is as different from the Virgilian and Ciceronian
style of the age of Gray and Johnson, as it is from the resounding
torrent which was poured forth by Byron and Scott.  The social
earnestness of our time colours our literature, and almost distorts our
literature; while, on the other hand, our practical and scientific
genius scorns the melodramatic imagery with which our grandfathers were
delighted.  Gibbon would have smiled a cruel epigram, if he had been
expected to thrust a Latter-Day Pamphlet on the social question into
one of his chapters on the Fall of Rome.  But Carlyle's _French
Revolution_ is as much political rhapsody and invective as it is
history.  Dickens made a series of novels serve as onslaughts on
various social abuses; and George Eliot's heart is ever with Darwin,
Spencer, and Comte, as much as it is with Miss Austen.  Ruskin would
sacrifice all the pictures in the world, if society would transform
itself into a Brotherhood of St. George.  Tennyson has tried to put the
dilemmas of theological controversy into lyric poetry, and Psychology
is now to be studied, not in metaphysical ethics, but in popular
novels.  The aim of the modern historian is to compile a _Times_
newspaper of events which happened three or four, eight or ten
centuries ago.  The aim of the modern philosopher is to tabulate
mountains of research, and to prune away with agnostic _non possumus_
the ancient oracles of hypothesis and imagination.

Our literature to-day has many characteristics: but its central note is
the dominant influence of Sociology--enthusiasm for social truths as an
instrument of social reform.  It is scientific, subjective,
introspective, historical, archaeological:--full of vitality,
versatility, and diligence:--intensely personal, defiant of all law, of
standards, of convention:--laborious, exact, but often indifferent to
grace, symmetry, or colour:--it is learned, critical, cultured:--with
all its ambition and its fine feeling, it is unsympathetic to the
highest forms of the imagination, and quite alien to the drama of

It would be a difficult problem in social dynamics to fix anything like
a true date for this change in the tone of literature, and to trace it
back to its real social causes.  The historian of English literature
will perhaps take the death of Walter Scott, in 1832, as a typical
date.  By a curious coincidence, Goethe died in the same year.  Two
years later Coleridge and Lamb died.  Within a few years more most of
those who belonged to the era of Byron, Shelley, Scott, and Sheridan
were departed or had sung their last effective note.  The exceptions
were Wordsworth and his immediate Lakist followers, Landor and Bulwer,
of whom the latter two continued to produce.  The death of Scott
happened in the year of the Reform Act of 1832; and here we reach a
political and social cause of the great change.  The reformed
democratic Parliament of 1832 was itself the reaction after the furious
upheaval caused by the Revolution of 1789, and it heralded the social
and legislative revolution of the last sixty years.  It was the era
when the steam-power and railway system was founded, and the vast
industrial development which went with it.  The last sixty years have
witnessed a profound material revolution in English life; and the
reaction on our literature has been deep and wide.

The most obvious and superficial change in literature is the extreme
diversity of its form.  There is no standard now, no conventional type,
no good "model."  It is an age of "Go-as-you-please," and of _tous les
genres sont bons, surtout le genre ennuyeux_.  In almost any age of
English literature, or indeed of any other literature, an experienced
critic can detect the tone of the epoch at once in prose or verse.
There is in them an unmistakeable _Zeit-Geist_ in phraseology and form.
The Elizabethan drama, essay, or philosophy could not be mistaken for
the drama, essay, or philosophy of the Restoration; the heroic couplet
reigned from Dryden to Byron; Ciceronian diction reigned from Addison
to Burke; and then the Quarterlies, with Southey, Lamb, Scott, De
Quincey, Coleridge, Sydney Smith, and Leigh Hunt, introduced a simpler,
easier tone of the well-bred _causeur_, as free from classical
mannerism as it was free from subtle mechanism or epigrammatic
brilliance.  Down to about the death of Scott and Coleridge, almost any
page of English prose or verse could be certainly attributed to its
proper generation by the mark of its style alone.

The Victorian literature presents a dozen styles, every man speaking
out what is in him, in the phrases he likes best.  Our _Zeit-Geist_
flashes all across the heavens at once.  Let us place a page from
_Sartor Resartus_ beside a page from Macaulay's _History of England_,
or either beside a page from Arnold's _Literature and Dogma_ or one
from the _Stones of Venice_.  Here are four typical styles in prose,
each of which has been much admired and imitated; yet they differ as
widely as Shelley from Ovid, or Tennyson from Pope.  Again, for verse,
contrast _Paracelsus_ with _The Princess_--poems written about the same
time by friends and colleagues.  Compare a poem of William Morris with
one by Lewis Morris.  Compare Swinburne's _Songs and Sonnets_ with
Matthew Arnold's _Obermann_; Rudyard Kipling's _Ballads_ with _The
Light of Asia_.  Have they any common standard of form, any type of
metre?  The purists doubt as to the style of Carlyle as a "model," but
no one denies that the _French Revolution_ and _Hero-Worship_, at least
in certain passages, display a mastery over language as splendid as
anything in our prose literature.  Exactly the same might be said also
of _Esmond_, and again of _Silas Marner_, and again of the _Seven Lamps
of Architecture_.  Yet all of these differ as widely as one style can
differ from another.  _Fifine at the Fair_, and _The Angel in the
House_, have each fervent admirers.  No! there is no recognised "model"
either in verse or in prose.

In truth, we have now both in prose and in verse strongly-contrasted
types, each of which commands admiration and following.  Both in prose
and verse we have one type which has carried subtle finish and a purism
studied almost to the point of "preciousness," alongside of another
type which crowds its effects without regard to tone and harmony, and
by its side a third type which trots along breathless in its
shirt-sleeves.  Tennyson's _In Memoriam_ has that exquisite polish of
workmanship which we find in such poets as Virgil, Racine, and
Milton--that perfection of phrase which we cannot conceive the poet
capable of improving by any labour.  Put aside for the moment any
question about the ideas, inspiration, or power of the poem as a whole,
and consider that, in all those hundreds of stanzas, there is hardly
one line that is either careless, prosaic, or harsh, not a single false
note, nothing commonplace, nothing over-coloured, but uniform harmony
of phrase.  This perfection of phrasing is not always to be found even
in the greatest poets, for Aeschylus and Dante at times strike a fierce
discord, and Shakespeare, Calderon, and Goethe sometimes pass into rank
extravaganza.  But this scholarly and measured speech has impressed
itself on the poetry of our time--insomuch, that the Tennysonian cycle
of minor poets has a higher standard of grace, precision, and subtlety
of phrase than the second rank of any modern literature:--a standard
which puts to shame the rugosities of strong men like Dryden, Burns,
and Byron.  There is plenty of mannerism in this school of our minor
poetry, but no one can call it either slovenly or harsh.

The friend, contemporary, almost the rival of Tennyson, one whom some
think endowed by nature with even stronger genius, on the other hand,
struck notes of discord harsher, louder, and more frequent than any
poet since Elizabethan times.  Whatever we hold about the insight and
imagination of Browning, no one can doubt that he often chose to be
uncouth, crabbed, grotesque, and even clownish, when the humour was on
him.  There are high precedents for genius choosing its own instrument
and making its own music.  But, whatever were Browning's latent powers
of melody, his method when he chose to play upon the gong, or the
ancient instrument of marrow-bone and cleavers, was the exact
antithesis of Tennyson's; and he set on edge the teeth of those who
love the exquisite cadences of _In Memoriam_ and _Maud_.  Browning has
left deep influence, if not a school.  The younger Lytton, George
Meredith, Buchanan, here and there Swinburne and William Morris, seem
to break loose from the graceful harmony which the Tennysonians affect,
and to plunge headlong into the obscure, the uncouth, the ghastly, and
the lurid.  No one denies originality and power in many of these
pieces: but they are flat blasphemy against the pellucid melody of the
Tennysonian idyll.  Our poetry seems to be under two contrary spells:
it is enthralled at one time by the ravishing symmetry of Mozart; at
another time it yearns for the crashing discords that thunder along the
march of the Valkyrie through the air.

As in poetry, so in prose.  We find in our best prose of to-day an
extraordinary mastery over pure, nervous, imaginative language; and all
this, alongside here of a riotous extravagance, and there, of a crude
and garrulous commonplace.  Thackeray's best chapters, say in _Vanity
Fair_, _Esmond_, the _Humourists_, contain an almost perfect prose
style--a style as nervous as that of Swift, as easy as that of
Goldsmith, as graceful as that of Addison, as rich as that of Gibbon or
Burke.  No English romances have been clothed in a language so chaste
and scholarly--not even Fielding's.  Certainly not the Waverley series;
for Scott, as we know, rehearsed his glowing chronicles of the past
with the somewhat conventional verbosity of the _improvisatore_ who
recites but will not pause to write.  George Eliot relates her story
with an art even more cultivated than that of Thackeray--though,
doubtless, with an over-elaborated self-consciousness, and perceptible
suggestions of the laboratory of the student.  Trollope tells his
artless tales in perfectly pure, natural, and most articulate prose,
the language of a man of the world telling a good story well.  And a
dozen living novelists are masters of a style of extreme ease and grace.

Side by side with this chastened English prose, we have men of genius
who have fallen into evil habits.  Bulwer, who knew better, would quite
revel in a stagey bombast; Dickens, with his pathos and his humour, was
capable of sinking into a theatrical mannerism and cockney vulgarities
of wretched taste; Disraeli, with all his wit and _savoir faire_, has
printed some rank fustian, and much slip-slop gossip; and George
Meredith at times can be as jerky and mysterious as a prose Browning.
Charlotte Brontë and Kingsley could both descend to blue fire and
demoniac incoherences.  Macaulay is brilliant and emphatic, but we
weary at last of his everlasting _staccato_ on the trumpet; and even
the magnificent symphonies of Ruskin at his best will end sometimes in
a sort of _coda_ of fantasias which suggest limelights and coloured
lenses.  Carlyle, if not the greatest prose master of our age, must be
held to be, by virtue of his original genius and mass of stroke, the
literary dictator of Victorian prose.  And, though we all know how
wantonly he often misused his mighty gift, though no one now would
venture to imitate him even at a distance, and though Matthew Arnold
was ever taking up his parable--"Flee Carlylese as the very Devil!"--we
are sliding into Carlylese unconsciously from time to time, and even
_Culture_ itself fell into the trap in the very act of warning others.

Side by side with such chastened literary art as that of Thackeray and
George Eliot, Matthew Arnold and John Morley, Lecky and Froude, Maine
and Symonds, side by side with a Carlylese tendency to extravagance,
slang, and caricature, we find another vein in English prose--the flat,
ungainly, nerveless style of mere scientific research.  What lumps of
raw fact are flung at our heads!  What interminable gritty collops of
learning have we to munch!  Through what tangles of uninteresting
phenomena are we not dragged in the name of Research, Truth, and the
higher Philosophy!  Mr. Mill and Mr. Spencer, Mr. Bain and Mr.
Sidgwick, have taught our age very much; but no one of them was ever
seen to smile; and it is not easy to recall in their voluminous works a
single irradiating image or one monumental phrase.

There are eminent historians to-day who disdain the luminous style of
Hume and Robertson, and yet deride the colour and fire of Gibbon.
Grote poured forth the precious contents of his portentous notebooks
with as little care for rhythm and as little sense of proportion as a
German professor.  Freeman and Gardiner have evidently trained
themselves in the same school of elaborate learning, till they would
appear to count the graceful English of Froude, Lecky, and Green as
hardly becoming the dignity of history.  It would seem as if the charge
which some of our historians are most anxious to avoid is the charge of
being "readable," and of keeping to themselves any fact that they know.

The men who are rather pleased than pained to hear themselves called by
the barbarous term of "scientists" seem to think that it matters
nothing how ill-digested be their book, or how commonplace be their
language.  They are accustomed to lecture to students in the laboratory
in their shirt-sleeves with their hands in their pockets; and they
believe that immortality may be achieved if they can pile up enough
facts and manufacture an adequate number of monographs.  And they do
this, in the teeth of excellent examples to the contrary.  Huxley and
Tyndall have given their brethren in science fine examples of a pure,
vigorous, and well-knit style.  Yet, how many of them are still quite
content to go rumbling along with an interminable rigmarole of dry
"memoirs."  Our ponderous biographies of third-rate people tend to
become mere bags of letters and waste-paper baskets.  And all this with
such consummate models before us, and so very high a standard of
general cultivation.  We have had in this age men who write an English
as pure and powerful as any in the whole range of our literature; we
have tens of thousands of men and women who write a perfectly correct
and intelligent prose.  And yet out of a million books, we find so very
few which even aim at being works of art in the sense that _Tom Jones_
is a work of art, and the _Decline and Fall_ is a work of art.

It is, no doubt, this preponderance of the practical, scientific, and
social energies which has checked in our Victorian Age the highest
imaginative and dramatic genius.  With all its achievements in lyric
and psychologic poetry, it has hardly attempted to scale the empyrean
of song.  In the seventy-six years that have passed since Shelley
conceived his _Prometheus_, as he sat gazing over the sombre ruins of
the Campagna, no one has ever ventured into that seventh heaven of
invention.  Since the _School for Scandal_ (1777) no English drama has
been produced which has anything like the same hold on the stage.  For
more than sixty years the English stage has not known one consummate
actor.  Though men of real genius have in these sixty years laboured at
the higher drama, they have hardly achieved even such measures of
success as fell to Byron and Shelley with _Manfred_ and the _Cenci_.
With all its lyric and psychologic power, with all its energy and its
learning, the Victorian Age has not quite equalled the age of Goethe.
It is as if its scientific spirit checked the supreme imagination: as
if its social earnestness produced a distaste for merely dramatic

One of the most striking facts about our modern literature is the
preponderance of the "subjective" over the "objective."  The interest
in external events, as the subject of imaginative work, quite pales
before the interest in analysis of mental and moral impulse.
Wordsworth, Coleridge, Jane Austen, have completely dominated our age,
and have displaced the epic and legendary themes of Scott, Byron,
Campbell, and Southey.  _The Two Voices_, _In Memoriam_, _The Ring and
the Book_, _Silas Marner_, _Vanity Fair_, _Bleak House_, dissect brain
and heart, but do not make their prime motive in any thrilling history.
The crisis of modern romance goes on in the conscience, not in the
outside world.  Hence the enormous multiplication of the psychologic
novel, a form of art which the eighteenth century would have viewed
with wonder and perplexity.  The curious part of this is the striking
abatement of taste for the historical romance, in spite of the immense
extension of historical study and archaeological revival.  We know far
more about the past, both within and without, than did our fathers; and
we are always seeking to realise to ourselves the habits, ideas,
aspect, the very clothes and furniture of ages of old, which we study
with sympathetic zeal and in the minutest detail.  Yet the historical
romance appears only at intervals.  _Harold_ and _Esmond_ are both more
than forty years old, _Romola_ more than thirty years old.  They are
none of them quite unqualified successes; and no later historical
romance has approached these three in power and interest.  Why is it,
that, in an age pre-eminently historical, in an age so redundant of
novels, the historical novel is out of fashion?  Partly, no doubt, our
romancers shun comparison with the mighty Wizard of the North; partly,
the analytic genius of our time so greatly exceeds its synthetic
genius; and mainly, the range of our historical learning inclines us to
restore the past by exact scholarship and not by fiction without
authority.  George Eliot was so anxious to have her local colour
accurate that she ended by becoming somewhat fatiguing.  Some day, no
doubt, the genius of romance will return to this inexhaustible field
with enthusiasm equal to Scott's, with a knowledge far more accurate
than his, and a spirit quite purged from political and social bias.

From the death of Scott in 1832 until 1894 are sixty-two years; and if
we divide this period into equal parts at the year 1863 (it was the
year of Thackeray's death), we shall be struck with the fact that the
purely literary product of the first period of thirty-one years
(1832-1863) is superior to the purely literary product of the second
period of thirty-one years (1863-1894).  The former period gives us all
that was best of Tennyson, the Brownings, Carlyle, Thackeray, Dickens,
Bulwer, the Brontës, Mrs. Gaskell, Trollope, George Eliot, Kingsley,
Disraeli, Dr. Arnold, Thirlwall, Grote, Hallam, Milman, Macaulay, Mill,
Froude, Layard, Kinglake, Ruskin.  The second period gave us in the
main, Darwin, Spencer, Huxley, G. H. Lewes, Maine, Leslie Stephen, John
Morley, Matthew Arnold, Lecky, Freeman, Stubbs, Bryce, Green, Gardiner,
Symonds, Rossetti, Morris, Swinburne.  Poetry, romance, the critical,
imaginative, and pictorial power, dominate the former period:
philosophy, science, politics, history are the real inspiration of the
latter period.

The era since the death of Scott is essentially a scientific age, a
sociologic age; and this is peculiarly visible in the second half of
this era of sixty-two years.  About the middle of the period we see how
the scientific and sociologic interest begins to over-shadow, if not to
oust, the literary, poetic, and romantic interest.  Darwin's _Origin of
Species_ was published in 1859; and its effect on thought became marked
within the next few years.  In 1862, Herbert Spencer commenced to issue
his great encyclopaedic work, _Synthetic Philosophy_, still, we trust,
to be completed after more than thirty years of devoted toil.  Darwin's
later books appeared about the same period, as did a large body of
scientific works in popular form by Huxley, Tyndall, Wallace, Lewes,
Lubbock, Tylor, and Clifford.  It is only needful here to refer to such
scientific works as directly reacted on general literature.  About the
same time the later speculations of Comte began to attract public
attention in England, and the _Positive Polity_ was translated in 1875.
Between the years 1860-1875, there grew up in England an absorbing
interest in Social Philosophy, and a conviction that the idea of
invariable law offered a solution of the progress of society.
Evolution as an idea was in the air, and it was applied to Man as much
as to Nature.  It is no part of our present purpose to trace its growth
from the scientific aspect.  It is enough to note how it acted and
reacted on general literature.

Poetry began to hover round the problem of Evolution.  It wrapped it in
mystery, denounced it with fine indignation, and took it for the text
of some rather prosaic homilies.  Criticism fell into the prevailing
theory: so did history, and even romance.  Philosophy and Science are
not the best foster-mothers of Poetry and Romance.  Philosophy and
Science grew more solemn than ever; and Poetry and Romance lost
something of their wilder fancy and their light heart.  Literature grew
less spontaneous, more correct, more learned, and, it may be, more
absorbed in its practical purpose of modifying social life.

The old notion of literature being a business apart from affairs, of
men of letters being an order, of an absorption in books being ample
work for a life--all this is far from the rule.  At least twenty
members of the present and late Governments have been copious writers;
Mr. Gladstone and at least three or four of his late colleagues are
quite in the front rank of living authors--nay, several of them began
their career as literary men.  It would be difficult to name an
important writer of the Victorian Age who has not at times flung
himself with ardour into the great social, political, or religious
battles of his time.  Thackeray, Trollope, Green, Symonds, are possible
exceptions--examples of bookmen who passed their lives with books, and
who never wrote to promote "a cause."  But all the rest have entered on
the "burning questions" of their age, and most of them with the main
part of their force.  As a consequence "learning," as it was understood
by Casaubon, Scaliger, Bentley, Johnson, and Gibbon, as it was
understood by Littré, Döllinger, and Mommsen, may be said to have
disappeared in England.  Cardinal Newman, Mark Pattison, Dr. Pusey,
were said to be very learned, but it was a kind of learning which kept
very much to itself.  For good or for evil, our literature is now
absorbed in the urgent social problem, and is become but an instrument
in the vast field of Sociology--the science of Society.

This predominance of Sociology, the restless rapidity of modern life,
the omnipresence of material activity, fully account for the special
character of modern literature.  Literature is no longer "bookish"--but
practical, social, propagandist.  It is full of life--but it is a
dispersive, analytic, erratic form of vitality.  It has a most
fastidious taste in form--but it often flings the critical spirit aside
in its passion for doing, in its ardour to convince and to inspire.  It
is industrious, full of learning and research--but it regards its
learning as an instrument of influence, not as an end of thought.  It
can work up a poem or an essay, as carefully as Mieris or Breughel
polished a cabinet picture--and it can "tear a passion to tatters," or
tumble its note-books into a volume all in a heap.  It has no
"standard," no "model," no "best writer"--and yet it has a curious
faculty for reviving every known form and imitating any style.  It is
intensely historical, but so accurately historical that it is afraid to
throw the least colour of imagination around its history.  It has
consummate poetic feeling, and copious poetic gifts--but it has now no
single poet of the first rank.  It has infinite romantic resources, and
an army of skilful novelists--and yet it has no single living writer
worthy to be named beside the great romancers of the nineteenth century.

This rich, many-sided, strenuous literature, which will place the name
of Victoria higher than that of Elizabeth in the history of our
language, would form a splendid subject hereafter for some one of our
descendants who was equal to the task of treating our Victorian
literature as a whole.  In the meantime, it may be worth while for the
men and women of to-day, who are full of all the excellent work around
us, to be reminded of the good things produced now nearly sixty years
ago.  As one who can remember much that was given to the world in a
former generation, I shall endeavour in these little sketches to mark
some of the characteristics of the best writers in the early Victorian
Age, confining myself for the present to prose literature of the
imaginative kind.

It is now some time since the country of Shakespeare and of Milton has
been without its poet laureate, and to the non-poetical world the
absence of that court functionary is hardly perceptible.  Nay, the
question has begun to arise, If there is to be a laureate in poetry,
why not a laureate also in prose romance?  And if there were a laureate
in prose romance, whom should we choose?

The same phenomenon meets us in the realm of prose fiction as in
poetry: that we have vast quantities of thoughtful work produced, an
army of cultivated workers, a great demand, an equally great supply, a
very high average of merit--and yet so little of the very first rank.
For the first time in the present century, English literature is
without a single living novelist of world-wide reputation.  The
nineteenth century opened with _Castle Rackrent_ and the admirably
original tales of Maria Edgeworth.  Jane Austen followed in the same
field.  And since _Waverley_ appeared, in 1814, we have had a
succession of fine romances in unbroken line.  Fenimore Cooper's work
is nearly contemporary with the best of Scott's.  At Sir Walter's death
Bulwer-Lytton was in full career.  And Lytton, Disraeli, Hawthorne, the
Brontës, Dickens, Thackeray, and Trollope were all at their best nearly
together.  During the last twenty years or so of this splendid period
they had been joined by George Eliot; and of the whole band Anthony
Trollope was the survivor.  With him our language lost the last of
those companions of the fireside in mansion and cottage whose names are
household words, whose books are in every hand, where the English
tongue is heard.

We need not engage in any critical estimate of these writers: we are
but too well aware of their failures and defects.  Lytton indited not a
little bombast, Dickens had his incurable mannerisms, and Thackeray his
conventional cynicisms.  There are passages in George Eliot's romances
which read like sticky bits from a lecture on comparative
palaeontology; and Disraeli, who for fifty years threw off most
readable tales in the intervals of politics, seems always to be
laughing at the public behind his mask.  Yet the good sense of mankind
remembers the best and forgets the worst, even if the worst be
four-fifths of the whole.

The place of genius is decided by its inimitable hits, and its misses
evermore drop out of memory as time goes on.  The world loves its
bright spirits for what they give it, and it does not score their blots
like an examiner marking a student's paper.  Thus the men and women of
the first rank still hold the field in the million homes where English
tales are a source of happiness; and it would be perverse to maintain
that any living men have reached that level.  We can see no trace that
Pickwick or Emma, Natty Bumppo or Uncas, are losing their hold on the
imagination of men and women, any more than Jeanie Deans and the
Antiquary.  _Oliver Twist_, the _Last Days of Pompeii_, _Vanity Fair_,
_Jane Eyre_, have more readers than ever.  And I find the Last
Chronicle of _Barset_, _Lothair_, and _Silas Marner_ as fresh as they
were a quarter of a century ago.

We all admit that there are delightful writers still.  I am not about
to decry our living romancers, and certainly not to criticise them.  If
any man choose to maintain that there is more poetry in Tess than in
the entire _Barsetshire_ series, that Dickens could not have bettered
the _Two Drummer Boys_ of Rudyard Kipling, that _Treasure Island_ has a
realism as vivid as _Robinson Crusoe_, that Mrs. Wood's _Village
Tragedy_ may rank with _Silas Marner_, that Howells and Besant, Ouida
and Rhoda Broughton, Henry James and Mrs. Burnett, are as good reading
as we need, that Bret Harte has struck a line as original as that of
Dickens, and that George Meredith has an eye for character which
reminds us not seldom of Thackeray and Fielding--I do not dispute it.
I am no one-book man or one-style man, but enjoy what is good in all.
But I am thinking of the settled judgment and the visible practice of
the vast English-speaking and English-reading world.  And judging by
that test, we cannot shut our eyes to this, that we have no living
romancer who has yet achieved that world-wide place of being read and
welcomed in every home where the language is heard or known.  George
Meredith has been a prolific writer for thirty years and Stevenson for
twenty years; but their most ardent admirers, among whom I would be
counted, can hardly claim for them a triumph so great.

We come, then, to this, that for the first time during this whole
century now ending, English literature can count no living novelist
whom the world, and not merely the esoteric circle of cultured
Englishmen, consents to stamp with the mark of accepted fame.  One is
too eccentric, obscure, and subtle, another too local and equal, a
third too sketchy, this one too unreal, that one far too real, too
obvious, too prosaic, to win and to hold the great public by their
spell.  Critics praise them, friends utter rhapsodies, good judges
enjoy them--but their fame is partial, local, sectional, compared to
the fame of Scott, Dickens, or Thackeray.

What is the cause?  I do not hesitate to say it is that we have
over-trained our taste, we are overdone with criticism, we are too
systematically drilled, there is far too much moderate literature and
far too fastidious a standard in literature.  Everyone is afraid to let
himself go, to offend the conventions, or to raise a sneer.  It is the
inevitable result of uniformity in education and discipline in mental
training.  Millions can write good grammar, easy and accurate
sentences, and imitate the best examples of the age.  Education has
been driven at high pressure into literary lines, and a monotonous
correctness in literary taste has been erected into a moral code.  Tens
of thousands of us can put the finger on a bit of exaggeration, or a
false light in the local colour, or a slip in perfect realism.  The
result is a photographic accuracy of detail, a barren monotony of
commonplace, and the cramping of real inventive genius.  It is the
penalty of giving ourselves up to mechanical culture.

If another Dickens were to break out to-morrow with the riotous
tomfoolery of Pickwick at the trial, or of Weller and Stiggins, a
thousand lucid criticisms would denounce it as vulgar balderdash.
Glaucus and Nydia at Pompeii would be called melodramatic rant.  The
_House of the Seven Gables_ would be rejected by a sixpenny magazine,
and _Jane Eyre_ would not rise above a common "shocker."  Hence the
enormous growth of the _Kodak_ school of romance--the snap-shots at
everyday realism with a hand camera.  We know how it is done.  A woman
of forty, stout, plain, and dull, sits in an ordinary parlour at a
tea-table, near an angular girl with a bad squint.  "Some tea?" said
Mary, touching the pot.  "I don't mind," replied Jane in a careless
tone; "I am rather tired and it is a dull day."  "It is," said Mary, as
her lack-lustre eyes glanced at the murky sky without.  "Another cup?"
And so the modern _romance_ dribbles on hour by hour, chapter by
chapter, volume by volume, recording, as in a phonograph, the minute
commonplace of the average man and woman in perfectly real but entirely
common situations.  To this dead level of correctness literary purism
has brought romance.  The reaction against the photographic style, on
the other hand, leads to spasmodic efforts to arouse the jaded interest
by forced sensationalism, physiological bestialities, and a crude form
of the hobgoblin and bogey business.

In all the ages of great productive work there were intense
individuality, great freedom, and plenty of failures.  _Tom Jones_
delighted the town which was satiated with gross absurdities, some of
them, alas! from the pen of Fielding himself.  Shakespeare wrote
happily before criticism had invented the canons of the drama, and Sir
Walter's stories had no reviews to expose his historical blunders.  In
the great romance age which began to decline some forty years ago,
there was not a tithe of such good average work as we get now;
criticism had not become a fine art; every one was free to like what he
pleased, and preposterous stuff was written and enjoyed.  Of course it
cannot be good to like preposterous stuff, and an educated taste ought
to improve literature.  But it is almost a worse thing when general
culture produces an artificial monotony, when people are taught what
they ought to like, when to violate the canons of taste is far worse
than to laugh at the Ten Commandments.

With a very high average of fairly good work, an immense mass of such
work, and an elaborate code of criticism, the production of brilliant
and inimitable successes is usually arrested in every field.  Having
thousands of graceful verse-writers, we have no great poet; in a
torrent of skilful fiction, we have no great novelist; with many
charming painters, who hardly seem to have a fault, we have no great
artist; with _mises-en-scène_, make-up costumes, and accessories for
our plays such as the world never saw before, we have no great actor;
and with ten thousand thoughtful writers, we have not a single genius
of the first rank.  Elaborate culture casts chill looks on original
ideas.  Genius itself is made to feel the crudeness and extravagance of
its first efforts and retires with shame to take a lower place.  We are
all so fastidious about form and have got such fixed regulation views
about form, we are so correct, so much like one another, such good boys
and girls, that the eccentricities and idiosyncrasies of the inventive
spirit are taught from childhood to control themselves and to conform
to the decorum of good society.  A highly organised code of culture may
give us good manners, but it is the death of genius.

There are other things which check the flow of a really original
literature, though perhaps a high average culture and a mechanical
system of education may be the most potent.  Violent political
struggles check it: an absorption in material interests checks it:
uniformity of habits, a general love of comfort, conscious
self-criticism, make it dull and turbid.  Now our age is marked by all
of these.  From the age of Voltaire, Diderot, and Rousseau, the French
genius produced almost no imaginative work of really European
importance until it somewhat revived again with Chateaubriand in the
present century.  Nor in England can we count anything of a like kind
from the death of Goldsmith until we reach Scott, Byron, and Wordsworth
after an interval of forty years.  In the United States the great eras
of imaginative production have been those which were free from
political and military struggles.

The case of France is indeed conclusive proof how suddenly political
turmoil kills imaginative work.  French literature, which during the
greater part of the eighteenth century had shown amazing activity,
suddenly seems arrested with Rousseau; and in the latter years of the
eighteenth century there is absolutely nothing of even moderate quality
in the field of art.  The same is true of England for the last thirty
years of the same century.  Shakespeare's dramas were not produced till
his country had victoriously passed through the death-struggle of the
religious wars in the sixteenth century.  The civil war of the Puritans
arrested poetry, so that for nearly thirty years the muse of Milton
himself withdrew into her solitary cell.  Dryden carried on the torch
for a time.  But prose literature did not revive in England until the
Hanoverian settlement.  Political ferment kills literature: prolonged
war kills it: social agitation unnerves it; and still more the uneasy
sense of being on the verge of great and unknown change.

Take our Queen's reign of now some fifty-eight years (1837-1895) and
divide it in half at the year 1866.  It is plain that by far the
greater part of the "Victorian" literature was produced in the former
half and quite the inferior part of it was produced in the latter half.
By the year 1866 we had already got all, or all that was best, of
Tennyson, Browning, Carlyle, Ruskin, Lytton, Thackeray, Dickens,
Trollope, George Eliot, Disraeli, Kingsley, and others who lived after
that date.  In 1865 Lord Palmerston died, and with him died the old
Parliamentary era.  In the same year died Abraham Lincoln in the great
crisis of the reconstruction of the American Constitution.  We attach
no peculiar importance to that date.  But it is certain that both
English and American people have been in this last twenty-nine years
absorbed in constitutional agitations which go deep down into our
social system.  We in England have passed from one constitutional
struggle to another, and we are now in the most acute stage of all this
period.  Parliamentary reform, continental changes, colonial wars,
military preparations, Home Rule, have absorbed the public mind and
stunned it with cataracts of stormy debate.  We are all politicians,
all party-men now.

There is upon us also, both in England and in America, a social ferment
that goes deeper than any mere constitutional struggle.  It is the
vague, profound, multiform, and mysterious upheaval that is loosely
called Socialism--not Socialism in any definite formula, but the
universal yearning of the millions for power, consideration, material
improvement, and social equality.  The very vagueness, universality,
and unbounded scope of the claim they make constitute its power.  All
orders and classes are concerned in it: all minds of whatever type are
affected by it: every political, social, or industrial axiom has to be
reconsidered in the light of it: it appeals to all men and it enters
into life at every corner and pore.  We are like men under the glamour
of some great change impending.  The spell of a new order holds us
undecided and expectant.  There is something in the air, and that
something is a vague and indescribable sense that a new time is coming.
Men felt it in France, and indeed all over Europe, from 1780 till 1790.
It was an uncertain and rather pleasing state of expectancy.  It did
not check activity, nor enjoyment, nor science.  But it diverted the
profounder minds from the higher forms of imaginative work.

There is no reason to assume that Socialism or the ideals of Socialism
are at all hostile to literature or even imaginative poetry, provided
they are not too close, not actually causing direct agitation.  But
when men are debating bills in heated meetings, they do not often see
these questions in the halo of romance.  Rousseau's _Héloïse_ and
Goldsmith's _Vicar of Wakefield_ were quite a generation before the
Revolution, at a time when franchise and agrarian politics had hardly
begun.  The poetry and the romance of a great social reformation are
never visible to men in the midst of it, who are ready to tear each
other's eyes out in the name of Eight-Hours Bills and Land
Nationalisation.  When men have got to this stage they want lighter
matter to amuse them at home; but they can hardly appreciate, even if
they could find, the loftier flights of social romance.  Sam Weller
to-day has joined a union, and reads his Henry George.  Rawdon Crawley
of our own generation is a mere drunken ruffian, only fit to point the
moral in a lecture on the drink traffic.  And Becky Sharp is voted to
be a stupid libel on the social destiny of the modern school "marm."

The great advance in the material comfort and uniformity of life and
manners dries up the very sources of prose romance, even more than it
ruins poetry.  The poet is by nature an isolated spirit dwelling in an
ideal world of his own.  But the prose novelist draws life as he sees
it in the concrete from intimate knowledge of real men and women.  How
intensely did Fielding, Scott, Dickens, Thackeray, Miss Austen, Miss
Edgeworth know by experience the characters they drew!  A romance
cannot be constructed out of the novelist's inner consciousness as
_Paradise Lost_, Shelley's _Prometheus_, and Wordsworth's _Excursion_
were constructed.  Even Scott becomes grave and melodramatic when he
peoples his stage with those whose like he never saw.  But how vastly
more romantic was the Scotland of Scott than is the Scotland of
Stevenson!  The Vicar of Wakefield and Squire Western are not to be
found in an age that is busy with railways and telegraphs and the
_Review of Reviews_.  Pickwick and Oliver Twist have been improved off
the face of the earth by cheap newspapers and sanitary reform.  The fun
has gone out of Vanity Fair, and the House of the Seven Gables is an
hotel with seven hundred beds.

Comfort, electric light, railway sleeping-cars, and equality are
excellent things, but they are the death of romance.  The essence of
romance is variety, contrast, individuality, the eccentric, the
unconventional.  Level up society, put nineteen out of every twenty on
fairly equal terms, popularise literature, and turn the Ten
Commandments into a code of decorum, and you cut up by the roots all
romantic types of life.  The England of Fielding and the Scotland of
Scott were breezy, boisterous, disorderly, picturesque, and jolly
worlds, where gay and hot spirits got into mischief and played mad
pranks as, in the words of the old song, "They powlered up and down a
bit and had a rattling day."  Laws, police, total abstinence, general
education, and weak digestions have put an end to pranks, as we are all
proud to say.  The result is that Romance, finding little of romance in
the real world, has taken two different lines in the desperate effort
to amuse us somehow.  The virtuous line is the phonographic
reproduction of everyday life in ordinary situations.  The disreputable
line is Zolaesque bestiality, and forced, unreal, unlovely, and
hysterical sensationalism.

It cannot be more than a paradox to pretend that _fin de siècle_ has
anything to do with it.  But it is a curious coincidence how the last
decade of modern centuries seems to die down in creative fertility.
The hundred millions who speak our English tongue have now no accepted
living master of the first rank, either in verse or in prose.  In 1793
there was not one in all Europe.  In 1693, though Dryden lingered in
his decline, it was one of the most barren moments in English
literature.  And so in 1593, though the _Faery Queen_ was just printed,
and Shakespeare had begun to write, there were nothing but the first
streaks which herald the dawn.  But this is obviously a mere
coincidence; nor can an artificial division of time affect the rise or
fall of genius.  It may be that, in these latter days, when our age is
the victim of self-conscious introspection, the close of a century
which has shown such energy may affect us in some unconscious way.
Perhaps there is a vague impression that the world is about to turn
over a new page in the mighty ledger of mankind, that it is now too
late to do much with the nineteenth century, and that we will make a
new start with the twentieth.

The world is growing less interesting, less mysterious, less manifold,
at any rate to the outer eye.  The _mise-en-scène_ of external life is
less rich in colour and in contrast.  Magnificence, squalor, oddity,
historic survivals, and picturesque personalities grow rarer year by
year.  Everybody writes a grammatical letter in conventional style,
wears the clothes in fashion, and conforms to the courtesies of life.
It is right, good, and wise: but a little dull.  It is the lady-like
age, the epoch of the dress-coat, of the prize lad and the girl of the
period.  Mr. Charles Pearson, in his remarkable forecast of _National
Life and Character_, warned us how the universal levelling of modern
democracy must end in a certain monotony and a lowered vitality.  We
live longer, but in quiet, comfortable, orderly ways.  This is not at
all injurious to morality, politics, industry, science, philosophy, or
religion.  It is not necessarily injurious to poetry, at least of the
lower flight.  But it is adverse to high art.  And it is asphyxiating
to romance.

The novelist must draw from the living model and he must address the
people of his own age.  He cannot write for posterity, nor can he live
in a day-dream world of his own.  The poet is often lost to his own
contemporaries.  It may need two or three, five or six, generations to
reveal him, as Shakespeare, Milton, Shelley, and Wordsworth may remind
us.  But the novelist must live in his generation, be of it most
intensely, and if he is to delight at all, like the actor, he must
delight his own age.  What sons of their own time were Fielding, Scott,
Dickens, Thackeray, Trollope: how intensely did they drink with both
hands from the cup of life.  George Eliot, George Meredith, Louis
Stevenson, Howells, James, look on life from a private box.  We see
their kid gloves and their opera-glass and we know that nothing could
ever take them on to the stage and ruffle it with the world of the day,
like men of the world who mean to taste life.  There is no known
instance of a great novelist who lived obscure in a solitary retreat or
who became famous only after the lapse of many generations.

It is the lady-like age: and so it is the age of ladies' novels.  Women
have it all their own way now in romance.  They carry off all the
prizes, just as girl students do in the studios of Paris.  Up to a
certain point, within their own limits, they are supreme.  Half the
modern romance, and many people think the better half, is written by
women.  That is perfectly natural, an obvious result of modern society.
The romance to which our age best lends itself is the romance of
ordinary society, with delicate shades of character and feeling in
place of furious passion or picturesque incident.  Women are by nature
and training more subtle observers of these social _nuances_ and
refined waverings of the heart than any others but men of rare genius.
The field is a small and home-like area, the requirements are mainly
those of graceful intuition, the tone must be pure, lady-like, subdued.
In this sphere it is plain that women have a marked superiority; it is
the sphere in which Jane Austen is the yet unapproached queen.  But we
may look for more Jane Austens, and on wider fields with a yet deeper
insight into far grander characters.  The social romance of the future
is the true poetic function of women.  It is their own realm, in which
they will doubtless achieve yet unimagined triumphs.  Men, revolting
from this polite and monotonous world, are trying desperate expedients.
But they are all wrong; the age is against it.  Try to get out of
modern democratic uniformity and decorum and you may as well try to get
out of your skin.  Mr. Stevenson was driven to playing at Robinson
Crusoe in the Pacific, and Mr. Rudyard Kipling once seemed bent on
dying in a tussle with Fuzzy-Wuzzy in the Soudan.  But it is no good.
A dirty savage is no longer a romantic being.  And as to the romance of
the wigwam, it reminds me of the Jews who keep the Feast of Tabernacles
by putting up some boughs in a back yard.

Let us have no nonsense, no topsy-turvy straining after new effects,
which is so wearisome to those who love the racy naturalism of Parson
Adams and Edie Ochiltree.  But let us have no pessimism also.  The age
is against the romance of colour, movement, passion, and jollity.  But
it is full of the romance of subtle and decorous psychology.  It is not
the highest art: it is indeed a very limited art.  But it is true art:
wholesome, sound, and cheerful.  The world does not exist in order to
supply brilliant literature; and the march of democratic equality and
of decorous social uniformity is too certain a thing, in one sense too
blessed a thing, to be denied or to be denounced.  An age of colour,
movement, variety, and romantic beauty will come again one day, we know
not how.  There will be then a romance of passion and incident, of
strenuous ambition and mad merriment.  But not to-day nor to-morrow.
Let us accept what the dregs of the nineteenth century can give us,
without murmuring and repining for what it cannot give and should not
seek to give.

In this little series of studies, I shall make no attempt to estimate
the later literature of the Victorian Age, nor will I at all refer to
any living writer.  Nor shall I deal with social and moral philosophy,
poetry, art, or religion.  I propose to look back, from our present
point of view, on the literature, in the narrower sense of the term,
produced in the earlier part of the Queen's reign.



It is now for about half a century that the world has had all that is
most masterly in the work of Thomas Carlyle.  And a time has arrived
when we may very fairly seek to weigh the sum total of influence which
he left on his own and on subsequent generations.  We are now far
enough off, neither to be dazzled by his eloquence nor irritated by his
eccentricities.  The men whom he derided and who shook their heads at
him are gone: fresh problems, new hopes, other heroes and prophets whom
he knew not, have arisen.  Our world is in no sense his world.  And it
has become a very fair question to ask--What is the residuum of
permanent effect from these great books of his, which have been
permeating English thought for half a century and more?

It is a rare honour for any writer--at least for one who is neither
poet nor novelist--to have his productions live beyond two generations,
and to continue to be a great literary force, when fifty years have
altered all the conditions in which he wrote and the purposes and ideas
which he treated.  It cannot be said that Carlyle's effective influence
is less now than it was a generation ago.  It has lived through the
Utilitarian and Evolution movements and has not been extinguished by
them.  And Thomas Carlyle bids fair to enter into that sacred band
whose names outlive their own century and give some special tone to
their national literature.

The survival of certain books and names from generation to generation
does not depend on merit alone.  Boswell's _Life of Johnson_ is
immortal: though we do not rank "Bozzy" as a hero or a genius.  Hume's
_History of England_ is a classic: though it can hardly be said to be
an adequate account of our country.  Few books have ever exercised so
amazing an influence as Rousseau's _Social Contract_; yet the loosest
mind of to-day can perceive its sophistry.  Burke's diatribes on the
French Revolution affected the history of Europe; though no one denies
that they were inspired by passion and deformed by panic.  Hobbes has
very few readers to-day; but the _Leviathan_ may last as long as More's
_Utopia_, which has hardly more readers in our age.  Books which exert
a paramount influence over their contemporaries may die down and be
known only in the history of literature.  And books, again, of very
moderate value, written by men of one-sided intellect or founded on
somewhat shallow theories, may, by virtue of some special quality, or
as embodying some potent idea, attain to a permanent place in the world
of letters.  Many a great book ceases very early to command readers:
and many books continue to be read although they are far from great.

The first question that arises is this:--Do the chief works of Carlyle
belong to that class of books which attain an enduring and increasing
power, or to that class which effect great things for one or two
generations and then become practically obsolete?  It would not be safe
to put his masterpieces in any exclusive sense into either of these
categories; but we may infer that they will ultimately tend to the
second class rather than the first.  Books which attain to an enduring
and increasing power are such books as the _Ethics_, the _Politics_,
and the _Republic_, the _Thoughts_ of Marcus Aurelius and of
Vauvenargues, the _Essays_ of Bacon and of Hume, Plutarch's _Lives_ and
Gibbon's _Rome_.  In these we have a mass of pregnant and ever-fertile
thought in a form that is perennially luminous and inspiring.  It can
hardly be said that even the masterpieces of Carlyle--no! not the
_Revolution_, _Cromwell_, or the _Heroes_--reach this point of immortal
wisdom clothed with consummate art.  The "personal equation" of
Teufelsdröckhian humour, its whimsies, and conundrums, its wild
outbursts of hate and scorn, not a few false judgments, and perverse
likes and dislikes--all this is too common and too glaring in the
Carlylean cycle, to permit its master to pass into the portals where
dwell the wise, serene, just, and immortal spirits.  Not of such is the
Kingdom of the literary Immortals.

On the other hand, if these masterpieces of sixty years ago are not
quite amongst the great books of the world, it would be preposterous to
regard them as obsolete, or such as now interest only the historian of
literature.  They are read to-day practically as much as ever, and are
certain to be read for a generation or two to come.  But they are not
read to-day with the passionate delight in the wonderful originality,
nor have they the commanding authority they seemed to possess for the
faithful disciples of the forties and the fifties.  Nor can any one
suppose that the next century will continue to read them, except with
an open and unbiassed mind, and a willingness to admit that even here
there is much dead wood, gross error, and pitiable exaggeration.  When
we begin to read in that spirit, however splendid be the imagination,
and however keen the logic, we are no longer under the spell of a
master: we are reading a memorable book, with a primary desire to learn
how former generations looked upon things.

Thomas Carlyle, like all other voluminous writers, wrote very much that
cannot be called equal to his best: and it cannot be denied that the
inferior pieces hold a rather large proportion of the whole.  Nothing
is less fatal to true criticism than the popular habit of blindly
overvaluing the inferior work of men of genius, unless it be the habit
of undervaluing them by looking at their worst instead of at their
best.  Great men are to be judged by their highest; and it is not of
very great consequence if this highest forms a moderate part of the
total product.  Now, what are the masterpieces of Thomas Carlyle?  In
the order of their production they are _Sartor Resartus_, 1831; _French
Revolution_, 1837; _Hero-Worship_, 1840; _Past and Present_, 1843;
_Cromwell_, 1845.  We need not be alarmed if this list forms but a
third of the thirty volumes (not including translations); and if it
omits such potent outbursts as _Chartism_, 1839; and _Latter-Day
Pamphlets_, 1850; or such a wonderful piece of history as _Friedrich
the Second_, 1858-1865.  _Chartism_ and the _Latter-Day Pamphlets_ are
full of eloquence, insight, indignation, and pity, and they exerted a
great and wholesome effect on the generation whom they smote as with
the rebuke and warning of a prophet.  But, as we look back on them
after forty or fifty years of experience, we find in them too much of
passionate exaggeration, at times a ferocious wrong-headedness, and
everywhere so little practical guidance or fruitful suggestion, that we
cannot reckon these magnificent Jeremiads as permanent masterpieces.

As to _Friedrich_, it is not a book at all, but an encyclopaedia of
German biographies in the latter half of the eighteenth century.  Who
reads every word of these ten volumes?  Who cares to know how big was
the belly of some court chamberlain, or who were the lovers of some
unendurable Frau?  What a welter of dull garbage!  In what dust-heaps
dost thou not smother us, Teufelsdröckh!  O, Thomas, Thomas, what
Titania has bewitched thee with the head of Dryasdust on thy noble
shoulders?  Compare _Friedrich_ with _Cromwell_.  In the Life of the
Puritan hero we have a great purpose, a prolonged homily, a magnificent
appeal against an unjust sentence passed two hundred years before by
ignorance, bigotry, and passion.  The literary interest never
overpowers the social and political, the moral and the religious
purpose.  Twenty years later, when he takes up the German _Friedrich_,
the literary interest overpowers the historical.  Half of the ten
volumes of _Friedrich_ are taken up with tiresome anecdotes about the
ordinary appendages of a German court.  Even the true greatness of
Frederick--his organisation of a model civil administration--is
completely obscured in the deluge of court gossip and _Potsdamiana_.
_Friedrich_ is a wonderful work, highly valuable to the student, a
memorable result of Teufelsdröckhian industry and humour--but it is not
a masterpiece: judged by the standard of Carlyle's own masterpieces, it
is really a failure.  _Cromwell_ is the life of a hero and a statesman;
_Friedrich_ consists of miscellaneous memoirs of the court and camp of
the greatest of modern rulers.

On the whole, we may count the _Cromwell_ as the greatest of Carlyle's
effective products.  With his own right hand, alone and by a single
stroke, he completely reversed the judgment of the English nation about
their greatest man.  The whole weight of Church, monarchy, aristocracy,
fashion, literature, and wit had for two centuries combined to falsify
history and distort the character of the noblest of English statesmen.
And a simple man of letters, by one book, at once and for ever reversed
this sentence, silenced the allied forces of calumny and rancour, and
placed Oliver for all future time as the greatest hero of the
Protestant movement.  There are few examples in the history of
literature of so great and so sudden a triumph of truth and justice.
At the same time, it is well to remember that the _Cromwell_ is not a
literary masterpiece, in the sense of being an organic work of high
art.  It is not the "Life" of Cromwell: it was not so designed, and was
never so worked out.  It is his "Letters and Speeches," illustrated by
notes.  A work so planned cannot possibly be a work of art, or a
perfect piece of biography.  The constant passage from text to
commentary, from small print to large, from Oliver's Puritan
sermonising to Carlyle's Sartorian eccentricities, destroys the
artistic harmony of the book as an organic work of art.  The "Life" of
Cromwell was in fact never written by Carlyle; and has yet to be
written.  Never yet was such splendid material for a "Life" prepared by
a great historian.

_Sartor Resartus_ (1831), the earliest of his greater works, is
unquestionably the most original, the most characteristic, the deepest
and most lyrical of his productions.  Here is the Sage of
Craigenputtock at his best, at his grimmest, and, we must add, in his
most incoherent mood.  To make men think, to rouse men out of the
slough of the conventional, the sensual, the mechanical, to make men
feel, by sheer force of poetry, pathos, and humour, the religious
mystery of life and the "wretchlessness of unclean living"--(as our
Church article hath it)--nothing could be more trumpet-tongued than
_Sartor_.  The Gospel according to Teufelsdröckh is, however, a
somewhat Apocalyptic dispensation, and few there be who can "rehearse
the articles of his belief" with anything like precision.  Another and
a more serious difficulty is this.  How many a "general reader"
steadily reads through _Sartor_ from cover to cover?  And of such, how
many entirely understand the inner Philosophy of Clothes, and follow
all the allusions, quips, and nicknames of Sartorian subjectivity.  It
would be a fine subject for some Self-Improvement Circle of readers to
write examination papers upon questions as to the exact meaning of all
the inward musings of Teufelsdröckh.  The first class of successful
candidates, one fears, would be small.  A book--not of science or of
pure philosophy, or any technical art whatever--but a book addressed to
the general reader, and designed for the education of the public, and
which can be intelligently digested and assimilated by so very few of
the public, can hardly be counted as an unqualified success.  And the
adepts who have mastered the inwardness of _Sartor_ are rare and few.

The _French Revolution_, however, is far more distinctly a work of art
than _Cromwell_, and far more accessible to the great public than
_Sartor_.  Indeed the _French Revolution_ is usually, and very
properly, spoken of and thought of, as a prose poem, if prose poem
there can be.  It has the essential character of an epic, short of
rhythm and versification.  Its "argument" and its "books"; its
contrasts and "episodes"; its grouping of characters and
_dénoûment_--are as carefully elaborated as the _Gerusalemme_ of Tasso,
or the _Aeneid_ of Virgil.  And it produces on the mind the effect of a
poem with an epic or dramatic plot.  It is only a reader thoroughly at
home in the history of the time, who can resist the poet's spell when,
at the end of Part III., Book VII., he is told that the Revolution is
"ended," and the curtain falls.  As a matter of real history, this is
an arbitrary invention.  For the street fight on the day named in the
Revolutionary Calendar--13 _Vendémiaire, An 4_ (5th October 1795), is
merely a casual point in a long movement, at which the poet finds it
artistic to stop.  But the French Revolution does not stop there, nor
did the "Whiff of Grapeshot" end it in any but an arbitrary sense.
When the poet tells us that, upon Napoleon's defeating the sections
around the Convention, "the hour had come and the Man," and that the
thing called the French Revolution was thereby "blown into space,"
nothing more silly, mendacious, and "phantasmic" was ever stated by
sober historian.  The Convention was itself the living embodiment and
product of the Revolution, and Bonaparte's smart feat in protecting it,
increased its authority and confidence.  If Carlyle's _French
Revolution_ be trusted as real history, it lands us in as futile a _non
sequitur_ as ever historian committed.

Viewed as an historical poem, the _French Revolution_ is a splendid
creation.  Its passion, energy, colour, and vast prodigality of
ineffaceable pictures place it undoubtedly at the head of all the
pictorial histories of modern times.  And the dramatic rapidity of its
action, and the inexhaustible contrasts of its scenes and
tableaux--things which so fatally pervert its truthfulness as authentic
history--immensely heighten the effect of the poem on the reader's
mind.  Not that Carlyle was capable of deliberately manufacturing an
historical romance in the mendacious way of Thiers and Lamartine.  But,
having resolved to cast the cataclysm of 1789 and the few years before
and after it into a dramatic poem, he inevitably, and no doubt
unconsciously, treated certain incidents and certain men with a poet's
license or with a distorted vision.  This too is more apparent toward
the close of his work, when he begins to show signs of fatigue and
exhaustion.  Nay, it is to be feared that we are still suffering from
the outrage committed on Victorian literature by Mr. Mill's incendiary
housemaid.  We may yet note marks of arson in the restored volume.  At
the same time, there are large parts of his work which are as true
historically as they are poetically brilliant.  Part I.--"The
Bastille"--is almost perfect.  The whole description of Versailles, its
court, and government, of the effervescence of Paris--from the death of
Louis XV. to the capture of Versailles--is both powerful and true.
Part II.--"The Constitution"--is the weakest part of the whole from the
point of view of accurate history.  And Part III.--"The Terror"--is
only trustworthy in separate pictures and episodes, however splendid
its dramatic power.

It would need an essay, or rather a volume, on the French Revolution to
enumerate all the wrong judgments and fallacies of Carlyle's book, if
we bring it to the bar of sober and authentic history.  First and
foremost comes his fundamental misconception that the Revolution was an
anarchical outburst against corruption and oppression, instead of
being, as it was, the systematic foundation of a new order of society.
Again, he takes it to be a purely French, local, and political
movement, instead of seeing that it was an European, social, spiritual
movement toward a more humane civilisation.  And next, he regards the
Revolution as taking place in the six years between the taking of the
Bastille and the defeat of the Sections by Bonaparte; whereas the
Revolution was preparing from the time of Louis XIV., and is not yet
ended in the time of President Faure.  Next to the capital mistake of
misconceiving the entire character and result of the Revolution, comes
the insolence which treats the public men of France during a whole
generation as mere subjects for ribaldry and caricature.  From this
uniform mockery, Mirabeau and Bonaparte, two of the least worthy of
them, are almost alone exempted.  This is a blunder in art, as well as
a moral and historical offence.  Men like Gondorcet, Danton, Hoche,
Carnot, not to name a score of other old Conventionels, soldiers, and
leaders were pure, enlightened, and valorous patriots--with a breadth
of soul and social sympathies and hopes that tower far above the
insular prejudices and Hebrew traditions of a Scotch Cameronian
_littérateur_--poet, genius, and moralist though he also was himself.

But though the _French Revolution_ is not to be accepted as
historical authority, it is profoundly stimulating and instructive,
when we look on it as a lyrical apologue.  It is an historical
phantasmagoria--which, though hardly more literally true than
Aristophanes' _Knights_ or _Clouds_, may almost be placed beside these
immortal satires for its imagination, wisdom, and insight.  The
personages and the events of the French Revolution in fact succeeded
each other with such startling rapidity and such bewildering variety,
that it is difficult for any but the most patient student to keep the
men and the phases steadily before the eye without confusion and in
distinct form.  This Carlyle has done far better than any other
historian of the period, perhaps even better than any historian
whatever.  That so many Englishmen are more familiar with the scenes
and the men and women of the French Revolution than they are with the
scenes and the men and women of their own history, is very largely the
work of Carlyle.  And as to the vices and weakness of the Old Régime,
the electric contagion of the people of Paris, the indomitable
elasticity of the French spirit, the magnetic power of the French
genius, the famous _furia francese_, and the terrible rage into which
it can be lashed--all this Carlyle has told with a truth and insight
that has not been surpassed by any modern historian.

It being then clearly understood that Carlyle did not leave us the
trustworthy history of the French Revolution, in the way in which
Thucydides gave us the authentic annals of the Peloponnesian war, or
Caesar the official despatches of the Conquest of Gaul, we must
willingly admit that Carlyle's history is one of the most fruitful
products of the nineteenth century.  No one else certainly has written
the authentic story of the French Revolution at large, or of more than
certain aspects and incidents of it.  In spite of misconceptions, and
such mistaken estimates as those of Mirabeau and Bonaparte, such
insolent mockery of good and able men, such ridiculous caricatures as
that of the "Feast of Pikes" and the trial of the King, such ribald
horse-play as "Grilled Herrings" and "Lion Sprawling," in spite of
blots and blunders in every chapter--the _French Revolution_ is
destined to live long and to stand forth to posterity as the typical
work of the master.  It cannot be said to have done such work as the
_Cromwell_; for it is far less true and sound as history, and it is
only one out of scores of interpreters of the Revolution, whereas in
the Cromwell Carlyle worked single-handed.  But being far more organic,
far more imaginative, indeed more powerful than the _Cromwell_ in
literary art, the _French Revolution_--produced, we may remember,
exactly in the middle of the author's life--will remain the enduring
monument of Carlyle's great spirit and splendid brain.

The book entitled _Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History_
(1840), to give it its full and original title, comes next in order of
time, and perhaps of abiding value.  It is a book rather difficult for
us now to estimate after more than half a century, for so very much has
been done in the interval to build upon these foundations, to enlarge
our knowledge of these very heroes, and the estimates of Carlyle in the
first half of this century are for the most part so completely the
commonplaces of the English-speaking world at the close of the century,
that when we open the _Heroes_ again it is apt to seem obvious,
_connu_, the emphatic assertion of a truism that no one disputes.  How
infinitely better do we now, in 1895, know Dante and Shakespeare,
Cromwell and Napoleon, than did our grandfathers in 1840!  Who,
nowadays, imagines Mahomet to have been an impostor, or Burns to have
been a mere tipsy song-writer?  What a copious literature has the last
half-century given us on Dante, on Islam and its spirit, on Rousseau,
on Burns, on the English and the French revolutions!  But in 1840 the
true nature of these men was very faintly understood.  Few people but
soldiers had the least chance of being called "heroes," and the "heroic
in history" was certainly not thought to include either poets,
preachers, or men of letters.  _Heroes and Hero-Worship_, like the
_Cromwell_, has, in fact, done its work so completely that we find it a
little too familiar to need any constant reading or careful study.

To judge fairly all that Carlyle effected by his book on Heroes we must
put ourselves at the point of view of the time when it was written, the
days of Wellington and Melbourne, Brougham and Macaulay, Southey and
Coleridge.  None of these men understood the heroic in Norse mythology,
or the grandeur of Oliver Cromwell, or the supreme importance of the
_Divina Commedia_ as the embodiment of Catholic Feudalism.  All this
Carlyle felt as no Englishman before him had felt, and told us in a
voice which has since been accepted as conclusive.  How far deeper is
the view of Carlyle about some familiar personality like Johnson than
is that of Macaulay, how much farther does Carlyle see into the
Shakesperean firmament than even Coleridge!  How far better does he
understand Rousseau and Burns than did Southey, laureate and critic as
he was hailed in his time.  The book is a collection of Lectures, and
we now know how entirely Carlyle loathed that kind of utterance, how
much he felt the restraints and limits it involved.  And for that
reason, the book is the simplest and most easily legible of his works,
with the least of his mannerism and the largest concessions to the
written language of sublunary mortals.  Nearly all the judgments he
passes are not only sound, but now almost universally accepted.  To
deal with the heroic in history, he needed, as he said, six months
rather than six days.  It was intended, he told his hearers, "to break
ground," to clear up misunderstandings.  It has done this: and a rich
crop has resulted from his ploughshare.

Nothing but a few sketches could be compressed into six hours.  But it
is curious how many things seem omitted in this survey of the heroic.
At the age of forty-five Carlyle had not recognised Friedrich at all,
for he does not figure in the "Hero as King."  Napoleon takes his
place, though Bonaparte was a "hero" only in the bad sense of hero
which Carlyle was seeking to explode.  It is well that, since he
finished the _French Revolution_, Carlyle seems to have found out that
Bonaparte "parted with Reality," and had become a charlatan, a sham.
Still for all that, he remains "our last great man."  Mazzini was
present at the delivery of these lectures: and when he had listened to
this last, he went up to Carlyle and told him that he had undone his
Hero-Worship and had fallen from the truth; and from that hour Mazzini
would hold no terms with the gospel of One-Man.  To make Hero-Worship
close with the installation of Napoleon as "our last great man," was to
expose the inherent weakness of the Sartorian creed--that humanity
exists for the sake of its great men.  The other strange delusion is
the entire omission from the "Hero as Priest" of any Catholic hero.
Not only are St. Bernard, and St. Francis, Becket and Lanfranc--all the
martyrs and missionaries of Catholicism--consigned to oblivion:--but
not a word is said of Alfred, Godfrey, St. Louis, St. Ferdinand, and
St. Stephen.  In a single volume there must be selection of types.  But
the whole idea of Hero-Worship was perverted in a plan which had no
room for a single Catholic chief or priest.

This perverse exaggeration of Puritan religion, and the still more
unjust hatred of Catholic religion, unfortunately runs through all
Carlyle's work, and perhaps nowhere breaks out in so repulsive a form
as in the piece called "Jesuitism" (1850), in the _Latter-Day
Pamphlets_ (No.  VIII.).  Discarding the creed, the practice, and the
language of Puritanism, Carlyle still retained its narrowness, its
self-righteousness, its intolerance, and its savagery.  The moralist,
to whom John Knox was a hero, but St. Bernard was not, but only a
follower of the "three-hatted Papa," and an apostle of "Pig's-wash,"
was hardly the man to exhaust the heroic in history.  In the "Hero as
Man-of-Letters," Carlyle was at home.  If ever pure letters produced a
hero, the sage of Chelsea was one.  With Johnson, with Rousseau, he is
perfectly rational, and the mass of literature which has accumulated
round the names of these two, only tends to confirm the essential
justice of Carlyle's estimate.  Nor need we dispute his estimate of the
vigour and manliness of Burns.  It is only when Carlyle describes him
as "the most gifted British soul" in the eighteenth century--the
century of Hume, Adam Smith, Fielding, and Burke--that we begin to
smile.  Burns was a noble-hearted fellow, as well as a born poet.  But
perhaps the whole cycle of Sartorian extravaganza contains no saying so
futile as the complaint, that the British nation in the great war with
France entrusted their destinies to a phantasmic Pitt, instead of to
"the Thunder-god, Robert Burns."  Napoleon would no doubt have welcomed
such a change of ministry.  It is incoherences of this sort which undo
so much of the splendid service that Carlyle gave to his age.

But we are not willing to let the defects of Carlyle's philosophy drive
out of mind the permanent and beautiful things in his literary work.
_Past and Present_ (1843) is certainly a success--a happy and true
thought, full of originality, worked out with art and power.  The idea
of embedding a living and pathetic picture of monastic life in the
twelfth century, and a minute study of the labours of enlightened
churchmen in the early struggles of civilisation--the idea of embedding
this tale, as if it were the remains of some disinterred saint, in the
midst of a series of essays on the vices and weaknesses of modern
society--was a highly original and instructive device, only to be
worked to success by a master.  And the master brought it to a
delightful success.  In all his writings of thirty volumes there are
few pages more attractive than the story of Jocelin of Brakelond, Abbot
Hugo, Abbot Samson, and the festival of St. Edmund, which all pass away
as in a vision leaving "a mutilated black ruin amidst green
expanses"--as we so often see in our England to-day after the trampling
of seven centuries over the graves of the early monks.

And then, when the preacher passes suddenly from the twelfth century to
the nineteenth, from toiling and ascetic monks to cotton spinners and
platform orators--the effect is electric--as though some old
Benedictine rose from the dead and began to preach in the crowded
streets of a city of factories.  Have we yet, after fifty years of this
time of tepid hankering after Socialism and Theophilanthropic
experiments, got much farther than Thomas Carlyle in his preaching in
Book IV. on "Aristocracies," "Captains of Industry," "The Landed," "The
Gifted"?  What truth, what force in the aphorism:--"To predict the
Future, to manage the Present, would not be so impossible, had not the
Past been so sacrilegiously mishandled; effaced, and what is worse,
defaced!"--"Of all Bibles, the frightfulest to disbelieve in is this
'Bible of Universal History'"--"The Leaders of Industry, if Industry is
ever to be led, are virtually the Captains of the World."  What new
meaning that phrase has acquired in these fifty years!  "Men of letters
may become a 'chivalry,' an actual instead of a virtual Priesthood."
Well! not men of letters exactly: but perhaps philosophers, with an
adequate moral and scientific training.  Here, as so often, Carlyle
just missed a grand truth to which his insight and nobility of soul had
led him, through his perverse inability to accept any systematic
philosophy, and through his habit to listen to the whispering of his
own heart as if it were equivalent to scientific certainty.  But the
whole book, _Past and Present_, is a splendid piece and has done much
to mould the thought of our time.  It would impress us much more than
it does, were it not already become the very basis of all sincere
thought about social problems and the future conditions of industry.

Of the _Cromwell's Letters and Speeches_ (1845) we have already spoken,
as the greatest of our author's effective products, inasmuch as it
produced the most definite practical result in moulding opinion, and a
result of the highest importance.  But it is not, as we have seen, a
work of art, or even an organic work at all, and it cannot compare in
literary charm with some other of the author's works.  We do not turn
to the _Cromwell_ again and again, as we do to the _French Revolution_,
or to _Sartor_, which we can take up from time to time as we do a poem
or a romance.  Many of the great books of the world are not read and
re-read by the public, just as none but special students continually
resort to the _Novum Organum_, or the _Wealth of Nations_.  For similar
reasons, the _Cromwell_ will never be a favourite book with the next
century, as it cannot be said to have been with ours.  It has done its
work with masterly power; and its work will endure.  And some day
perhaps, from out these materials, and those collected by Mr. Gardiner,
and by [Transcriber's note: next two words transliterated from Greek]
_oi peri_ Gardiner, a _Life of Cromwell_ may be finally composed.

It is true that Carlyle's determination to force Oliver upon us as
perfect saint and infallible hero is irritating and sometimes
laughable; it is true that his zeal to be-dwarf every one but Cromwell
himself is unjust and untrue; and the depreciation of every man who
declines to play into Oliver's hands is too often manifest.  But, on
the whole, the judgments are so sound, the supporting authorities are
so overwhelming, the work of verification is so thorough, so
scrupulous, so perfectly borne out by all subsequent research--that the
future will no doubt look on the _Cromwell_, not only as the most
extraordinary, but the most satisfactory and effective of all Carlyle's
work; although for the reasons stated, it can never have the largest
measure of his literary charm or possess the full afflatus of his
poetic and mystical genius.

By the time that _Cromwell_ was published, Thomas Carlyle was turned of
fifty, and had produced nearly two-thirds of his total work.  It may be
doubted if any later book will be permanently counted amongst his
masterpieces.  _Friedrich_, for reasons set forth, was an attempt in
late life to repeat the feat of the _Cromwell_: it was a much less
urgent task: and it was not so well performed.  The _Latter-Day
Pamphlets_ (1850) do not add much that is new to _Past and Present_
(1843) or to _Sartor_ (1831); and little of what they add is either
needful or true.  The world had been fully enlightened about Wind-bags,
Shams, the approach to Tophet, Stump-orators, Palaver-Parliaments,
Phantasm-Captains, and the rest of the Sartorian puppet-pantomime.
There was a profound truth in all of these invectives, warnings, and
prophecies.  But the prophet's voice at last got so shrieky and
monotonous, that instead of warning and inspiring a second generation,
these terrific maledictions began to pall upon a practical world.  An
ardent admirer of the prophet has said that, when he first heard
Carlyle speak face to face, he could hardly resist the impression that
he was listening to an actor personating the Sage of Chelsea, and
mimicking the stock phrases of the _Latter-Day Pamphlets_.  Certainly
no man of sense can find any serious guidance on any definite social
problem from these "Pamphlets" of his morbid decline.  Carlyle at last
sat eating his heart out, like Napoleon on St. Helena.  His true
friends will hasten to throw such a decent covering as Japhet and Shem
threw around Noah, over the latest melancholy outbursts about Negroes,
Reformers, Jamaica massacres, and the anticipated conflagration of
Paris by the Germans.  It is pitiful indeed to find in "the collected
and revised works," thirty-six volumes, the drivel of his Pro-Slavery
advocacy, and of ill-conditioned snarling at honest men labouring to
reform ancient abuses.

It is perilous for any man, however consummate be his genius, to place
himself on a solitary rock apart from all living men and defiant of all
before him, as the sole source of truth out of his own inner
consciousness.  It is fatal to any man, however noble his own spirit,
to look upon this earth as "one fuliginous dust-heap," and the whole
human race as a mere herd of swine rushing violently down a steep place
into the sea.  Nor can the guidance of mankind be with safety entrusted
to one who for eighty-six years insisted on remaining by his own
hearth-stone a mere omnivorous reader and omnigenous writer of books.
Carlyle was a true and pure "man of letters," looking at things and
speaking to men, alone in his study, through the medium of printed
paper.  All that a "man of letters," of great genius and lofty spirit,
could do by consuming and producing mere printed paper, he did.  And as
the "supreme man of letters" of his time he will ever be honoured and
long continue to be read.  He deliberately cultivated a form of speech
which made him unreadable to all except English-speaking readers, and
intelligible only to a select and cultivated body even amongst them.
He wrote in what, for practical purposes, is a local, or rather
personal, dialect.  And thus he deprived himself of that world-wide and
European influence which belongs to such men as Hume, Gibbon, Scott,
Byron--even to Macaulay, Tennyson, Dickens, Ruskin, and Spencer.  But
his name will stand beside theirs in the history of British thought in
the nineteenth century; and a devoted band of chosen readers, wherever
the Anglo-Saxon tongue is heard, will for generations to come continue
to drink inspiration from the two or three masterpieces of the
Annandale peasant-poet.



Macaulay, who counted his years of life by those of this century, may
fairly claim to have had the greatest body of readers, and to be the
most admired prose-writer of the Victorian Age.  It is now some seventy
years since his first brilliant essay on "Milton" took the world by
storm.  It is half a century since that fascinating series of _Essays_
was closed, and little short of that time since his famous _History_
appeared.  The editions of it in England and in America are counted by
thousands; it has six translations into German, and translations into
ten other European languages.  It made him rich, famous, and a peer.
Has it given him a foremost place in English literature?

Here is a case where the judgment of the public and the judgment of
experts is in striking contrast.  The readers both of the Old and of
the New World continue to give the most practical evidence that they
love his books.  Macaulay is a rare example of a writer all of whose
works are almost equally popular, and believed by many to be equally
good.  _Essays, Lays, History, Lives_--all are read by millions: as
critic, poet, historian, biographer, Macaulay has achieved world-wide
renown.  And yet some of our best critics deny him either fine taste,
or subtlety, or delicate discrimination, catholic sympathies, or serene
judgment.  They say he is always more declaimer than thinker--more
advocate than judge.  The poets deny that the _Lays_ are poetry at all.
The modern school of scientific historians declare that the _History_
is a splendid failure, and it proves how rotten was the theory on which
it is constructed.  The purists in style shake their heads over his
everlasting antitheses, the mannerism of violent phrases and the
perpetual abuse of paradox.  His most indulgent friends admit the force
of these defects, which they usually speak of as his "limitations" or
his "methods."  Here, indeed, is an opportunity for one of those
long-drawn antitheses of which Macaulay was so great a master.  How he
would himself have revelled in the paradox--"that books which were
household words with every cow-boy in Nevada, and every Baboo in
Bengal, were condemned by men of culture as the work of a Philistine
and a mannerist"; "how ballads which were the delight of every child
were ridiculed by critics as rhetorical jingles that would hardly win a
prize in a public school"; "how the most famous of all modern reviewers
scarcely gave us one example of delicate appreciation or subtle
analysis"; how it comes about "that the most elaborate of modern
histories does not contain an idea above the commonplaces of a
crammer's textbook"--and so forth, in the true Black-and-White style
which is so clear and so familiar.  But let us beware of applying to
Macaulay himself that tone of exaggeration and laborious antithesis
which he so often applied to others.  Boswell, he says, was immortal,
"_because_ he was a dunce, a parasite, and a coxcomb."  It would be a
feeble parody to retort that Macaulay became a great literary power
"because he had no philosophy, little subtlety, and a heavy hand."  For
my part, I am slow to believe that the judgment of the whole
English-speaking race, a judgment maintained over more than half a
century, can be altogether wrong; and the writer who has given such
delight, has influenced so many writers, and has taught so much to so
many persons, can hardly have been a shallow mannerist, or an
ungovernable partisan.  No one denies that Macaulay had a prodigious
knowledge of books; that in literary fecundity and in varied
improvisation he has rarely been surpassed; that his good sense is
unfailing, his spirit manly, just, and generous; and lastly, that his
command over language had unequalled qualities of precision, energy,
and brilliance.  These are all very great and sterling qualities.  And
it is right to acknowledge them with no unstinted honour--even whilst
we are fully conscious of the profound shortcomings and limitations
that accompanied but did not destroy them.

In a previous paper we discussed the permanent contribution to English
literature of Thomas Carlyle; and it is curious to note how complete a
contrast these two famous writers present.  Carlyle was a simple,
self-taught, recluse man of letters: Macaulay was legislator, cabinet
minister, orator, politician, peer--a pet of society, a famous talker,
and member of numerous academies.  Carlyle was poor, despondent,
morbid, and cynical: Macaulay was rich, optimist, overflowing with
health, high spirits, and good nature.  The one hardly ever knew what
the world called success: the other hardly ever knew failure.  Carlyle
had in him the elements that make the poet, the prophet, the apostle,
the social philosopher.  In Macaulay these were singularly wanting; he
was the man of affairs, the busy politician, the rhetorician, the
eulogist of society as it is, the believer in material progress, in the
ultimate triumph of all that is practical and commonplace, and in the
final discomfiture of all that is visionary and Utopian.  The
Teufelsdröckhian dialect is obscure even to its select students: the
Macaulay sentence is plain as that of Swift himself.  Carlyle's gospel
is full of passion, novelty, suggestion, theory, and social problems.
Macaulay turned his back on social problems and disdained any kind of
gospel.  He had no mission to tell the world how bad it is; on the
contrary, he was never wearied with his proofs that it ought to be well
satisfied with its lot and its vast superiority in all things to its

The great public, wherever English books penetrate, from the White Sea
to Australia, from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean, loves the
brilliant, manly, downright optimist; the critics and the philosophers
care more for the moody and prophetic pessimist.  But this does not
decide the matter; and it does not follow that either public or critic
has the whole truth.  If books were written only in the dialect, and
with the apocalyptic spirit of _Sartor_, it is certain that millions
would cease to read books, and could gain little from books if they
did.  And if the only books were such "purple patches" of history as
Macaulay left us, with their hard and fast divisions of men into sheep
and goats, and minute biographies of fops, pedants, and grandees,
narrated in the same resonant, rhetorical, unsympathetic, and falsely
emphatic style--this generation would have a very patchwork idea of
past ages and a narrow sense of the resources of our English language.
There is room for both literary schools, and we need teachers of many
kinds.  We must not ask of any kind more than they can give.  Macaulay
has led millions who read no one else, or who never read before, to
know something of the past, and to enjoy reading.  He will have done
them serious harm if he has persuaded them that this is the best that
can be done in historical literature, or that this is the way in which
the English language can be most fitly used.  Let us be thankful for
his energy, learning, brilliance.  He is no priest, philosopher, or
master.  Let us delight in him as a fireside companion.

In one thing all agree--critics, public, friends, and opponents.
Macaulay's was a life of purity, honour, courage, generosity,
affection, and manly perseverance, almost without a stain or a defect.
His life, it was true, was singularly fortunate, and he had but few
trials, and no formidable obstacles.  He was bred up in the comfortable
egoism of the opulent middle classes; the religion of comfort,
_laisser-faire_, and social order was infused into his bones.  But, so
far as his traditions and temper would permit, his life was as
honourable, as unsullied, and as generous, as ever was that of any man
who lived in the fierce light that beats upon the famous.  We know his
nature and his career as well as we know any man's; and we find it on
every side wholesome, just, and right.  He has been fortunate in his
biographers, and amply criticised by the best judges.  His nephew, Sir
George Trevelyan, has written his life at length in a fine book.  Dean
Milman and Mark Pattison have given us vignettes; Cotter Morison has
adorned the _Men of Letters_ series with a delightful and sympathetic
sketch; and John Morley and Leslie Stephen have weighed his work in the
balance with judicial acumen and temperate firmness.  There is but one
voice in all this company.  It was a fine, generous, honourable, and
sterling nature.  His books deserve their vast popularity and may long
continue to maintain it.  But Macaulay must not be judged amongst
philosophers--nor even amongst the real masters of the English
language.  And, unless duly corrected, he may lead historical students
astray and his imitators into an obtrusive mannerism.

Let us take a famous passage from one of his most famous essays,
written in the zenith of his powers after his return from India, at the
age of forty--an essay on a grand subject which never ceased to
fascinate his imagination, composed with all his amazing resources of
memory and his dazzling mastery of colour.  It is the third paragraph
of his well-known review of Von Ranke's _History of the Popes_.  The
passage is familiar to all readers, and some of its phrases are
household words.  It is rather long as well as trite; but it contains
in a single page such a profusion of historical suggestion; it is so
vigorous, so characteristic of Macaulay in all his undoubted resources
as in all his mannerism and limitations; it is so essentially true, and
yet so thoroughly obvious; it is so grand in form, and yet so meagre in
philosophic logic, that it may be worth while to analyse it in detail;
and for that purpose it must be set forth, even though it convey to
most readers little more than a sonorous truism.

There is not, and there never was on this earth, a work of human policy
so well deserving of examination as the Roman Catholic Church.  The
history of that Church joins together the two great ages of human
civilisation.  No other institution is left standing which carries the
mind back to the times when the smoke of sacrifice rose from the
Pantheon, and when camelopards and tigers bounded in the Flavian
amphitheatre.  The proudest royal houses are but of yesterday when
compared with the line of the Supreme Pontiffs.  That line we trace
back in unbroken series, from the Pope who crowned Napoleon in the
nineteenth century to the Pope who crowned Pepin in the eighth; and far
beyond Pepin the august dynasty extends, till it is lost in the
twilight of fable.  The republic of Venice came next in antiquity.  But
the republic of Venice was modern when compared with the Papacy; and
the republic of Venice is gone, and the Papacy remains.  The Papacy
remains, not in decay, not a mere antique, but full of life and
youthful vigour.  The Catholic Church is still sending forth, to the
farthest ends of the world, missionaries as zealous as those who landed
in Kent with Augustin, and still confronting hostile kings with the
same spirit with which she confronted Attila.  The number of her
children is greater than in any former age.  Her acquisitions in the
New World have more than compensated her for what she has lost in the
Old.  Her spiritual ascendancy extends over the vast countries which
lie between the plains of the Missouri and Cape Horn, countries which,
a century hence, may not improbably contain a population as large as
that which now inhabits Europe.  The members of her communion are
certainly not fewer than a hundred and fifty millions; and it will be
difficult to show that all the other Christian sects united amount to a
hundred and twenty millions.  Nor do we see any sign which indicates
that the term of her long dominion is approaching.  She saw the
commencement of all the governments and of all the ecclesiastical
establishments that now exist in the world; and we feel no assurance
that she is not destined to see the end of them all.  She was great and
respected before the Saxon had set foot on Britain, before the Frank
had crossed the Rhine, when Grecian eloquence still flourished in
Antioch, when idols were still worshipped in the temple of Mecca.  And
she may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveller from New
Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a
broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul's.

Here we have Macaulay in all his strength and all his limitations.  The
passage contains in the main a solid truth--a truth which was very
little accepted in England in the year 1840--a truth of vast import and
very needful to assert.  And this truth is clothed in such pomp of
illustration, and is hammered into the mind with such accumulated
blows; it is so clear, so hard, so coruscating with images, that it is
impossible to escape its effect.  The paragraph is one never to be
forgotten, and not easy to be refuted or qualified.  No intelligent
tiro in history can read that page without being set a-thinking,
without feeling that he has a formidable problem to solve.  Tens of
thousands of young minds must have had that deeply-coloured picture of
Rome visibly before them in many a Protestant home in England and in
America.  Now, all this is a very great merit.  To have posed a great
historical problem, at a time when it was very faintly grasped, and to
have sent it ringing across the English-speaking world in such a form
that he who runs may read--nay, he who rides, he who sails, he who
watches sheep or stock _must_ read--this is a real and signal service
conferred on literature and on thought.  Compare this solid sense with
Carlyle's ribaldry about "the three-hatted Papa," "pig's wash,"
"servants of the Devil," "this accursed nightmare," and the rest of his
execrations--and we see the difference between the sane judgment of the
man of the world and the prejudices of intolerant fanaticism.

But, unfortunately, Macaulay, having stated in majestic antitheses his
problem of "the unchangeable Church," makes no attempt to provide us
with a solution.  This splendid eulogium is not meant to convert us to
Catholicism--very far from it.  Macaulay was no Catholic, and had only
a sort of literary admiration for the Papacy.  As Mr. Cotter Morison
has shown, he leaves the problem just where he found it, and such
theories as he offers are not quite trustworthy.  He does not suggest
that the Catholic Church is permanent because it possesses truth: but,
rather, because men's ideas of truth are a matter of idiosyncrasy or
digestion.  The whole essay is not a very safe guide to the history of
Protestantism or of Catholicism, though it is full of brilliant points
and sensible assertions.  And in the end our essayist, the rebel from
his Puritan traditions, and the close ally of sceptical Gallios, after
forty pages of learned _pros_ and _cons_, declares that he will not say
more for fear of "exciting angry feelings."  He rather sneers at
Protestant fervour: he declaims grand sentences about Catholic fervour.
He will not declare for either of them; and it does not seem to matter
much in the long run for which men declare, provided they can be kept
well in hand by saving common-sense.  In the meantime the topic is a
mine of paradox to the picturesque historian.  This is not philosophy,
it is not history, but it is full of a certain rich literary seed.

The passage, though a truism to all thoughtful men, was a striking
novelty to English Protestants fifty years ago.  But it will hardly
bear a close scrutiny of these sweeping, sharp-edged, "cock-sure"
dogmas of which it is composed.  The exact propositions it contains may
be singly accurate; but as to the most enduring "work of human policy,"
it is fair to remember that the Civil Law of Rome has a continuous
history of at least twenty-four centuries; that the Roman Empire from
Augustus to the last Constantine in New Rome endured for fifteen
centuries; and from Augustus to the last Hapsburg it endured for
eighteen centuries.  There is a certain ambiguity between the way in
which Macaulay alternates between the Papacy and the Christian Church,
which are not at all the same thing.  The Papacy, as a European or
cosmical institution, can hardly be said to have more than twelve
centuries of continuous history on the stage of the world.  The
religion and institutions of Confucius and of Buddha have twice that
epoch; and the religion and institutions of Moses have thirty
centuries; and the Califate in some form or other is nearly coeval with
the Papacy.  The judicious eulogist has guarded himself against denying
in words any of these facts; but a cool survey of universal history
will somewhat blunt the edge of Macaulay's trenchant phrases.  After
all, we must admit that the passage as a whole, apart from the
superlatives, is substantially true, and contains a most valuable and
very striking thought.

Passing from the thought to the form of this famous passage, with what
a wealth of illustration is it enforced, with what telling contrasts,
with what gorgeous associations!  How vivid the images, how stately the
personages, who are called up to heighten the lights of the tableau of
the Vatican!  Ancient and modern civilisation are joined by it; it
recalls the Pantheon and the Colosseum; it gave sanction to the Empire
of Charlemagne and to that of Napoleon, it inspired Augustin, and
confronted Attila; Venice is a mere modern foundation; the Church is
older than Hengist and Horsa, Clovis, or Mahomet; yet it stretches over
the Atlantic continent from Missouri to Cape Horn, and still goes on
conquering and to conquer.  And the climax of this kaleidoscopic
"symphony in purple and gold"--the New Zealander sketching the ruins of
St. Paul's from a broken arch of London Bridge--has become a proverb,
and is repeated daily by men who never heard of Macaulay, much less of
Von Ranke, and is an inimitable bit of picturesque colouring.  It is
very telling, nobly hyperbolic, no man can misunderstand it, or forget
it.  The most practised hand will not find it easy to "go one better
than" Macaulay in a swingeing trope.  It is a fascinating literary
artifice, and it has fascinated many to their ruin.  In feebler hands,
it degenerates into what in London journalistic slang is known as
"telegraphese."  A pocket encyclopaedia and a copious store of
adjectives have enabled many a youth to roar out brilliant articles "as
gently as a sucking dove."  But all men of power have their imitators,
and are open to parody and spurious coining.  Now, Macaulay, however
brilliant and kaleidoscopic, is always using his own vast reading, his
own warm imagination, his unfailing fecundity, and his sterling good

Turn to the style of the passage--it is perfectly pellucid in meaning,
rings on the ear like the crack of a rifle, is sonorous, rich, and
swift.  One can fancy the whole passage spoken by an orator; indeed it
is difficult to resist the illusion that it was "declaimed" before it
was written.  We catch the oratorial tags and devices, the repeated
phrase, the incessant antithesis, the alternate rise and fall of
eloquent speech.  It is declamation--fine declamation--but we miss the
musical undertones, the subtle involutions, the unexpected bursts, and
mysterious cadences of really great written prose.  The term "the
Republic of Venice" is repeated three times in three lines: the term
"the Papacy" is repeated three times in two lines.  Any other writer
would substitute a simple "it" for most of these; and it is difficult
to see how the paragraph would lose.  The orator aids his hearers by
constant repetition of the same term; the writer avoids this lest he
prove monotonous.  The short sentences of four or five words interposed
to break the torrent--the repetition of the same words--the see-saw of
black and white, old and young, base and pure--all these are the
stock-in-trade of the rhetorician, not of the master of written prose.
Now, Macaulay was a rhetorician, a consummate rhetorician, who wrote
powerful invectives or panegyrics in massive rhetoric which differed
from speeches mainly in their very close fibre, in their chiselled
phrasing, and above all in their dazzling profusion of literary
illustration.  If it was oratory, it was the oratory of a speaker of
enormous reading, inexhaustible memory, and consummate skill with words.

There is nothing at all exceptional about this passage which has been
chosen for analysis.  It is a fair and typical piece of Macaulay's best
style.  Indeed his method is so uniform and so mechanical that any page
of his writing exhibits the same force and the same defects as any
other.  Take one of the most famous of his scenes, the trial of Warren
Hastings, toward the end of that elaborate essay, written in 1841.
Every one knows the gorgeous and sonorous description of Westminster
Hall, beginning--"The place was worthy of such a trial."  In the next
sentence the word "hall" recurs five times, and the relative "which"
occurs three times, and is not related to the same noun.  Ten sentences
in succession open with the pronoun "there."  It is a perfect galaxy of
varied colour, pomp, and illustration; but the effect is somewhat
artificial, and the whole scene smells of the court upholsterer.  The
"just sentence of Bacon" pairs off with "the just absolution of
Somers"; the "greatest painter" sits beside the "greatest scholar of
the age"; ladies have "lips more persuasive than those of Fox"; there,
too, is "the beautiful mother of a beautiful race."  And in the midst
of these long-drawn superlatives and glittering contrasts come in short
martial phrases, as brief and sharp as a drill-sergeant's word of
command.  "Neither military nor civil pomp was wanting"--"The avenues
were lined with grenadiers"--"The streets were kept clear by cavalry."
No man can forget these short, hard decisive sentences.

The artificial structure of his paragraphs grew upon Macaulay with age.
His _History of England_ opens with a paragraph of four sentences.
Each of these begins with "I purpose," "I shall"; and the last sentence
of the four has ten clauses each beginning with "how."  The next
paragraph has four successive sentences beginning "It will be
seen"--and the last sentence has again three clauses each beginning
with "how."  The fourth paragraph contains the word "I" four times in
as many lines.  This method of composition has its own merits.  The
repetition of words and phrases helps the perception and prevents the
possibility of misunderstanding.  Where effects are simply enumerated,
the monotony of form is logically correct.  Every successive sentence
heralded by a repeated "how," or "there," or "I," adjusts itself into
its proper line without an effort of thought on the reader's part.  It
is not graceful; it is pompous, and distinctly rhetorical.  But it is
eminently clear, emphatic, orderly, and easy to follow or to remember.
Hence it is unpleasing to the finely-attuned ear, and is counted
somewhat vulgar by the trained lover of style, whilst it is immensely
popular with those who read but little, and is able to give them as
much pleasure as it gives instruction.

The famous passage about Westminster Hall, written in 1841, may be
compared with the equally known passage on the Chapel in the Tower
which occurs in the fifth chapter of the _History_, written in 1848.
It begins as all lovers of English remember--"In truth there is no
sadder spot on the earth than this little cemetery."  The passage
continues with "there" and "thither" repeated eight times; it bristles
with contrasts, graces and horrors, antithesis, climax, and sonorous
heraldries.  "Such was the dust with which the dust of Monmouth
mingled."  It is a fine paragraph, which has impressed and delighted
millions.  But it is, after all, rather facile moralising; its
rhetorical artifice has been imitated with success in many a prize
essay and not a few tall-talking journals.  How much more pathos is
there in a stanza from Gray's _Elegy_, or a sentence from Carlyle's
_Bastille_, or Burke's _French Revolution_!

The habit of false emphasis and the love of superlatives is a far worse
defect, and no one has attempted to clear Macaulay of the charge.  It
runs through every page he wrote, from his essay on Milton, with which
he astonished the town at the age of twenty-five, down to the close of
his _History_ wherein we read that James II. valued Lord Perth as
"author of the last improvements on the thumb-screw."  Indeed no more
glaring example of Macaulay's _megalomania_ or taste for exaggeration
can be found than the famous piece in the _Milton_ on the Restoration
of Charles II.

Then came those days, never to be recalled without a blush, the days of
servitude without loyalty and sensuality without love, of dwarfish
talents and gigantic vices, the paradise of cold hearts and narrow
minds, the golden age of the coward, the bigot, and the slave.  The
king cringed to his rival that he might trample on his people, sank
into a viceroy of France, and pocketed, with complacent infamy, her
degrading insults, and her more degrading gold.  The caresses of
harlots and the jests of buffoons regulated the policy of the State.
The government had just ability enough to deceive and just religion
enough to persecute.  The principles of liberty were the scoff of every
grinning courtier, and the Anathema Maranatha of every fawning dean.
In every high place, worship was paid to Charles and James, Belial and
Moloch; and England propitiated these obscene and cruel idols with the
blood of her best and bravest children.  Crime succeeded to crime, and
disgrace to disgrace, till the race, accursed of God and man, was a
second time driven forth, to wander on the face of the earth, and to be
a by-word and a shaking of the head to the nations.

This is vigorous invective, in the style of Cicero against Catiline, or
Junius attacking a duke; it is brilliant rhetoric and scathing satire.
At bottom it has substantial truth, if the attention is fixed on
Whitehall and the scandalous chronicle of its frequenters.  It differs
also from much in Macaulay's invectives in being the genuine hot-headed
passion of an ardent reformer only twenty-five years old.  It is
substantially true as a picture of the Court at the Restoration:
but in form how extravagant, even of that!  Charles II. is Belial;
James is Moloch; and Charles is _propitiated_ by the blood of
Englishmen!--Charles, easy, courteous, good-natured, profligate
Charles.  And all this of the age of the _Paradise Lost_ and the
_Morning Hymn_, of Jeremy Taylor, Izaak Walton, Locke, Newton, and
Wren!  Watch Macaulay banging on his antithetic drum--"servitude
without loyalty and sensuality without love"--"dwarfish talents and
gigantic vices"--"ability enough to deceive"--"religion enough to
persecute."  Every phrase is a superlative; every word has its
contrast; every sentence has its climax.  And withal let us admit that
it is tremendously powerful, that no one who ever read it can forget
it, and few even who have read it fail to be tinged with its fury and
contempt.  And, though a tissue of superlatives, it bears a solid
truth, and has turned to just thoughts many a young spirit prone to be
fascinated by Charles's good-nature, and impressed with the halo of the
divine consecration of kings.

But the savage sarcasms which are tolerable in a passionate young
reformer smarting under the follies of George IV., are a serious defect
in a grave historian, when used indiscriminately of men and women in
every age and under every condition.  In his _Machiavelli_, Macaulay
hints that the best histories are perhaps "those in which a little of
fictitious narrative is judiciously employed."  "Much," he says, "is
gained in effect."  It is to be feared that this youthful indiscretion
was never wholly purged out of him.  Boswell, we know, was "a dunce, a
parasite, and a coxcomb"--_and therefore_ immortal.  He was one of "the
smallest men that ever lived," of "the meanest and feeblest intellect,"
"servile," "shallow," "a bigot and a sot," and so forth--and yet, "a
great writer, _because_ he was a great fool."  We all know what is
meant; and there is a substratum of truth in this; but it is tearing a
paradox to tatters.  How differently has Carlyle dealt with poor dear
Bozzy!  Croker's _Boswell's Johnson_ "is as bad as bad can be," full of
"monstrous blunders"--(he had put 1761 for 1766) "gross mistakes"--"for
which a schoolboy would be flogged."  Southey is "utterly destitute of
the power of discerning truth from falsehood."  He prints a joke which
"is enough to make us ashamed of our species."  Robert Montgomery pours
out "a roaring cataract of nonsense."  One of his tropes is "the worst
similitude in the world."  And yet Macaulay can rebuke Johnson for "big
words wasted on little things"!

Neither Cicero, Milton, Swift, nor Junius ever dealt in more furious
words than Macaulay, who had not the excuse of controversy or passion.
Frederick William of Prussia was "the most execrable of fiends, a cross
between Moloch and Puck"; "his palace was hell"; compared with the
Prince, afterwards Frederick the Great, "Oliver Twist in the workhouse,
and Smike at Dotheboys Hall were petted children."  It would be
difficult for Mark Twain to beat that.  "The follies and vices of King
John _were the salvation_ of England."  Cranmer was peculiarly fitted
to organise the Church of England by being "unscrupulous, indifferent,
a coward, and a time-server."  James I. was given to "stammering,
slobbering, shedding unmanly tears," alternating between the buffoon
and the pedagogue.  James II. "amused himself with hearing Covenanters
shriek"; he was "a libertine, singularly slow and narrow in
understanding, obstinate, harsh, and unforgiving."  The country
gentleman of that age talked like "the most ignorant clown"; his wife
and daughter were in taste "below a stillroom maid of the present day."
The chaplain was a mere servant, and was expected to marry a servant
girl whose character had been blown upon.

But it ought to be remembered that all of these descriptions are
substantially true.  Macaulay's pictures of the Stuarts, of Cromwell,
of the Restoration and its courtiers, of Milton, of William III., are
all faithful and just; Boswell _was_ often absurd; Southey _was_
shallow; Montgomery _was_ an impostor; Frederick William _did_ treat
his son brutally; the country squire and the parson two centuries ago
were much rougher people than they are to-day.  And if Macaulay had
simply told us this in measured language of this kind, he would have
failed in beating his lesson into the mind.  Not only was "a little of
fictitious narrative judiciously employed," but not a little of
picturesque exaggeration and redundant superlatives.  Carlyle is an
even worse offender in this line.  Did he not call Macaulay himself
"squat, low-browed, commonplace"--"a poor creature, with his dictionary
literature and his saloon arrogance"--"no vision in him"--"will neither
see nor do any great thing"?[1]  Ruskin, Freeman, Froude, and others
have been tempted to deal in gross superlatives.  But with all these it
has been under the stimulus of violent indignation.  With Macaulay the
superlatives pour out as his native vernacular without heat or wrath,
as a mere rhetorician's trick, as the favourite tones of a great
colourist.  And though the trick, like all literary tricks, grows upon
the artist, and becomes singularly offensive to the man of taste, it
must always be remembered that, with Macaulay, the praise or blame is
usually just and true; he is very rarely grossly unfair and wrong, as
Carlyle so often is; and if Macaulay resorts too often to the
superlative degree, he is usually entitled to use the comparative
degree of the same adjective.

The style, with all its defects, has had a solid success and has done
great things.  By clothing his historical judgments and his critical
reflections in these cutting and sonorous periods, he has forced them
on the attention of a vast body of readers wherever English is read at
all, and on millions who have neither time nor attainments for any
regular studies of their own.  How many men has Macaulay succeeded in
reaching, to whom all other history and criticism is a closed book, or
a book in an unknown tongue!  If he were a sciolist or a wrong-headed
fanatic, this would be a serious evil.  But, as he is substantially
right in his judgments, brimful of saving common-sense and generous
feeling, and profoundly well read in his own periods and his favourite
literature, Macaulay has conferred most memorable services on the
readers of English throughout the world.  He stands between philosophic
historians and the public very much as journals and periodicals stand
between the masses and great libraries.  Macaulay is a glorified
journalist and reviewer, who brings the matured results of scholars to
the man in the street in a form that he can remember and enjoy, when he
could not make use of a merely learned book.  He performs the office of
the ballad-maker or story-teller in an age before books were known or
were common.  And it is largely due to his influence that the best
journals and periodicals of our day are written in a style so clear, so
direct, so resonant.  We need not imitate his mannerism; we may all
learn to be outspoken, lucid, and brisk.

It is the very perfection of his qualities in rousing the interest of
the great public which has drawn down on Macaulay the grave rebukes of
so many fine judges of the higher historical literature.  Cotter
Morison, Mark Pattison, Leslie Stephen, and John Morley all agree that
his style has none of the subtler charms of the noblest prose, that his
conception of history is radically unsound, that, in fact, it broke
down by its own unwieldy proportions.  Mr. Morison has very justly
remarked that if the _History of England_ had ever been completed on
the same scale for the whole of the period as originally designed, it
would have run to fifty volumes, and would have occupied in composition
one hundred and fifty years.  As it is, the eight duodecimo volumes
give us the events of sixteen years, from 1685 to 1701; so that the
history of England from Alfred would require five hundred similar
volumes.  Now, Gibbon's eight octavo volumes give us the history of the
world for thirteen centuries; that is to say, Gibbon has recounted the
history of a century in nearly the same space that Macaulay records the
history of a year.  There cannot be a doubt that Gibbon's _Decline and
Fall_ is immeasurably superior to Macaulay's fragment, in thought, in
imagination, in form, in all the qualities of permanent history; it
stands on a far higher plane; it will long outlast and overshadow it.
Compared with this, Macaulay's delightful and brilliant pictures are
mere glorified journalism.

Macaulay, who was no braggart, has put it on record that his conception
of history was more just than that of Hume, Robertson, Voltaire, and
Gibbon.  It is perfectly true that his conception was different from
theirs, his execution was different, and he does not address the same
class of readers.  But his conception of history was not just; it was a
mistake.  His leading idea was to make history a true romance.  He has
accomplished this; and he has given us _a historical novel drawn from
authentic documents_.  This is, no doubt, a very useful thing to do, a
most interesting book to read; it is very pleasant literature, and has
a certain teaching of its own to a certain order of readers.  But it is
not history.  It sacrifices the breadth of view, the organic life, the
philosophy, the grand continuity of human society.  It must be a
sectional picture of a very limited period in a selected area; it can
give us only the external; it inevitably tends to trivial detail and to
amusing personalities; it necessarily blinds us to the slow sequence of
the ages.  Besides this, it explains none of the deeper causes of
movement; for, to make a picture, the artist must give us the visible
and the obvious.  History, in its highest sense, is the record of the
evolution of humanity, in whole or in part.  To compose an historical
novel from documents is to put this object aside.  History, said
Macaulay in his _Hallam_, "is a compound of poetry and philosophy." But
in practice, he substituted word-painting for poetry, and anecdote for
philosophy.  His own delightful and popular _History of England_ is a
compound of historical romance and biographical memoir.

Macaulay's strong point was in narrative, and in narrative he has been
surpassed by hardly any historian and even by few novelists.  Scott and
Victor Hugo have hardly a scene more stirring than Macaulay's death of
Charles II., Monmouth's rebellion, the flight of James II., the trial
of Titus Gates, the inner life of William III.  This is a very great
quality which has deservedly made him popular.  And if Macaulay had
less philosophy than almost any historian of the smallest pretension,
he has a skill in narration which places him in a fair line with the
greatest.  Unfortunately, this superb genius for narration has rarely
been devoted to the grander events and the noblest chiefs in history.
Even his hero William III. hardly lives in his canvas with such a
glowing light as Charles II., Monmouth, and Jeffreys.  The expulsion of
James II. was a very poor affair if compared with the story of Charles
I. and the Parliament.  If Macaulay had painted for us the Council
Chamber of Cromwell as he has painted the Whitehall of Charles II.; if
he had described the battle of Naseby as well as he has pictured the
fight of Sedgemoor; if he had narrated the campaigns of Marlborough as
brilliantly as he has told that which ended at the Boyne--how much
should we have had!

But it could not be.  His own conception of history made this
impossible.  It is well said that he planned his history "on the scale
of an ordnance map."  He did what a German professor does when he tries
to fathom English society by studying the _Times_ newspaper day by day.
The enormous mass of detail, the infinitesimal minuteness of view, beat
him.  As he complained about Samuel Johnson, he runs into "big words
about little things."  Charles's mistress, her pug-dog, the page-boy
who tended the dog, nay, the boy's putative father, occupy the
foreground: and the poet, the statesman, and the hero retire into the
middle distance or the background.  What would we not have given to
have had Macaulay's _History of England_ continued down to his own
time, the wars of Marlborough, the reign of Anne, the poets, wits,
romancers, inventors, reformers, and heroes of the eighteenth century,
the careers of Walpole,  Chatham, Pitt, Burke, Fox, Nelson, Wellington,
Brougham, Bentham, and Canning--the formation of the British
Empire--the great revolutionary struggle in Europe!  The one thought
which dims our enjoyment of this fascinating collection of memoirs, and
these veracious historical romances, is the sense of what we might have
had, if their author had been a great historian as well as a
magnificent literary artist.

[1] Froude's _Carlyle_, i. 192.



In the blaze of the political reputation of the Earl of Beaconsfield we
are too apt to overlook the literary claims of Benjamin Disraeli.  But
many of those who have small sympathy with his career as a statesman
find a keen relish in certain of his writings; and it is hardly a
paradox to augur that in a few generations more the former chief of the
new Tory Democracy may have become a tradition, whilst certain of his
social satires may continue to be widely read.  Bolingbroke, Swift,
Sheridan, and Macaulay live in English literature, but are little
remembered as politicians; and Burke, the philosopher, grows larger in
power over our thoughts, as Burke, the party orator, becomes less and
less by time.  We do not talk of Viscount St. Albans, the learned
Chancellor: we speak only of Bacon, the brilliant writer, the potent
thinker.  And so perhaps in the next century, we shall hear less of
Lord Beaconsfield, the Imperial Prime Minister: but Benjamin Disraeli's
pictures of English society and the British Parliament may still amuse
and instruct our descendants.

It is true that the permanent parts of his twenty works may prove to be
small.  Pictures, vignettes, sketches, epigrams will survive rather
than elaborate works of art; these gems of wit and fancy will have to
be picked out of a mass of rubbish; and they will be enjoyed for their
vivacious originality and Voltairean pungency, not as masterpieces or
complete creations.  That Disraeli wrote much stuff is true enough.
But so did Fielding, so did Swift, and Defoe, and Goldsmith.  Writers
are to be judged by their best; and it does not matter so very much if
that best is little in bulk.  Disraeli's social and political satires
have a peculiar and rare flavour of their own, charged with an insight
and a vein of wit such as no other man perhaps in this century has
touched--so that, even though they be thrown off in sketches and
sometimes in mere _jeux d'esprit_, they bring him into the company of
Swift, Voltaire, and Montesquieu.  He is certainly inferior to all
these mighty satirists both in wit and passion, and also in definite
purpose.  But he has touches of their lightning-flash irradiating
contemporary society.  And it seems a pity that the famous _Men of
Letters_ series which admits (and rightly admits) Hawthorne and De
Quincey, could find no room for the author of _Ixion in Heaven_, _The
Infernal Marriage_, _Coningsby_, and _Lothair_.

Disraeli's literary reputation has suffered much in England by the
unfortunate circumstance of his having been the leader of a political
party.  As the chief of a powerful party which he transformed with
amazing audacity, as the victorious destroyer of the old Whig oligarchy
and the founder of the new Tory democracy, as a man of Jewish birth and
alien race, as a man to whom satire was the normal weapon and bombastic
affectation a deliberate expedient for dazzling the weak--Disraeli,
even in his writings, has been exposed in England to a bitter system of
disparagement which blinds partisans to their real literary merit.  His
political opponents, and they are many and savage, can see little to
admire in his strange romances: his political worshippers and
followers, who took him seriously as a great statesman, are not fond of
imagining their hero as an airy satirist.  His romances as well as his
satires are wholly unlike anything English; and though he had brilliant
literary powers, he never acquired any serious literary education.
Much as he had read, he had no learning, and no systematic knowledge of
any kind.  He was never, strictly speaking, even an accurate master of
literary English.  He would slip, as it were, unconsciously, into
foreign idioms and obsolete words.  In America, where his name arouses
no political prejudice, he is better judged.  To the Englishman, at
least to the pedant, he is still a somewhat elaborate jest.

Let us put aside every bias of political sympathy and anything that we
know or suspect of the nature of the man, and we may find in the
writer, Benjamin Disraeli, certain very rare qualities which justify
his immense popularity in America, and which ought to maintain it in
England.  In his preface to _Lothair_ (October 1870), he proudly said
that it had been "more extensively read both by the people of the
United Kingdom and the United States than any work that has appeared
for the last half century."  This singular popularity must have a
ground.  Disraeli, in truth, belongs to that very small group of real
political satirists of whom Swift is the type.  He is not the equal of
the terrible Dean; but it may be doubted if any Englishman since Swift
has had the same power of presenting vivid pictures and decisive
criticisms of the political and social organism of his times.  It is
this Aristophanic gift which Swift had.  Voltaire, Montesquieu,
Rabelais, Diderot, Heine, Beaumarchais had it.  Carlyle had it for
other ages, and in a historic spirit.  There have been far greater
satirists, men like Fielding and Thackeray, who have drawn far more
powerful pictures of particular characters, foibles, or social
maladies.  But since Swift we have had no Englishman who could give us
a vivid and amusing picture of our political life, as laid bare to the
eye of a consummate political genius.

It must be admitted that, with all the rare qualities of Disraeli's
literary work, he hardly ever took it quite seriously, or except as an
interlude and with some ulterior aim.  In his early pieces he simply
sought to startle the town and to show what a wonderfully clever young
fellow had descended upon it.  In his later books, such as _Coningsby_,
_Sybil_, and _Tancred_, he wished to propound a new party programme.
_Lothair_ was a picture of British society, partly indulgent and
sympathetic, partly caustic or contemptuous, but presented all through
with a vein of _persiflage_, mockery, and extravaganza.  All this was
amusing and original; but every one of these things is fatal to
sustained and serious art.  If an active politician seeks to galvanise
a new party by a series of novels, the romances cannot be works of
literary art.  If a young man wants only to advertise his own
smartness, he will not produce a beautiful thing.  And if a statesman
out of office wishes to amuse himself by alternate banter and laudation
of the very society which he has led and which looks to him as its
inspiration, the result will be infinitely entertaining, but not a
great work of art.  Disraeli therefore with literary gifts of a very
high order never used them in the way in which a true artist works, and
only resorted to them as a means of gaining some practical and even
material end.

But, if Disraeli's ambition led him to political and social triumphs,
for which he sacrificed artistic success and literary honours, we ought
not to be blind to the rare qualities which are squandered in his
books.  He did not produce immortal romances--he knew nothing of an
ingenious plot, or a striking situation, or a creative character--but
he did give us inimitable political satires and some delicious social
pantomimes; and he presented these with an original wit in which the
French excel, which is very rare indeed in England.  Ask not of
Disraeli more than he professes to give you, judge him by his own
standard, and he will still furnish you with delightful reading, with
suggestive and original thoughts.  He is usually inclined to make game
of his reader, his subject, and even of himself; but he lets you see
that he never forgets this, and never attempts to conceal it.  He is
seldom dull, never sardonic or cruel, and always clean, healthy, and
decent.  His heroines are ideal fairy queens, his heroes are all
visionary and chivalrous nincompoops; and even, though we know that
much of it is whimsical banter and nonsensical fancy, there is an air
of refined extravaganza in these books which may continue to give them
a lasting charm.

The short juvenile drolleries of his restless youth are the least
defective as works of art; and, being brief and simple _jeux d'esprit_
of a rare order, they are entirely successful and infinitely amusing.
_Ixion in Heaven_, _The Infernal Marriage_, and _Popanilla_, are
astonishing products of a lad of twenty-three, who knew nothing of
English society, and who had had neither regular education nor social
opportunities.  They have been compared with the social satirettes of
Lucian, Swift, and Voltaire.  It is true they have not the fine touch
and exquisite polish of the witty Greek of Samosata, nor the subtle
irony of Voltaire and Montesquieu, nor the profound grasp of the Dean.
But they are full of wit, observation, sparkle, and fun.  The style is
careless and even incorrect, but it is full of point and life.  The
effects are rather stagey, and the smartness somewhat strained--that
is, if these boyish trifles are compared with _Candide_ and the
_Lettres Persanes_.  As pictures of English society, court, and manners
in 1827 painted in fantastic apologues, they are most ingenious, and
may be read again and again.  The _Infernal Marriage_, in the vein of
the _Dialogues of the Dead_, is the most successful.  _Ixion_ is rather
broader, simpler, and much more slight, but is full of boisterous fun.
_Popanilla_, a more elaborate satire in direct imitation of _Gulliver's
Travels_, is neither so vivacious nor so easy as the smaller pieces,
but it is full of wit and insight.  Nothing could give a raw Hebrew lad
the sustained imagination and passion of Jonathan Swift; but there are
few other masters of social satire with whom the young genius of
twenty-three can be compared.  These three satires, which together do
not fill 200 pages, are read and re-read by busy and learned men after
nearly seventy years have passed.  And that is in itself a striking
proof of their originality and force.

It is not fair to one who wrote under the conditions of Benjamin
Disraeli to take any account of his inferior work: we must judge him at
his best.  He avowedly wrote many pot-boilers merely for money; he
began to write simply to make the world talk about him, and he hardly
cared what the world might say; and he not seldom wrote rank bombast in
open contempt for his reader, apparently as if he had made a bet to
ascertain how much stuff the British public would swallow.  _Vivian
Grey_ is a lump of impudence; _The Young Duke_ is a lump of
affectation; _Alroy_ is ambitious balderdash.  They all have passages
and epigrams of curious brilliancy and trenchant observation; they have
wit, fancy, and life scattered up and down their pages.  But they are
no longer read, nor do they deserve to be read.  _Contarini Fleming_,
_Henrietta Temple_, _Venetia_, are full of sentiment, and occasionally
touch a poetic vein.  They had ardent admirers once, even amongst
competent judges.  They may still be read, and they have scenes,
descriptions, and detached thoughts of real charm, and almost of true
beauty.  They are not, in any sense, works of art; they are ill
constructed, full of the mawkish gush of the Byronic fever, and never
were really sincere and genuine products of heart and brain.  They were
show exercises in the Byronic mode.  And, though we may still take them
up for an hour for the occasional flashes of genius and wit they
retain, no one believes that they can add much permanent glory to the
name of Benjamin Disraeli.

Apart from the three early burlesques of which we have spoken--trifles
indeed and crude enough, but trifles that sparkle with penetration and
wit--the books on which Disraeli's reputation alone can be founded are
_Coningsby_, _Sybil_, and _Lothair_.  These all contain many striking
epigrams, ingenious theories, original suggestions, vivacious
caricatures, and even creative reflections, mixed, it must be admitted,
with not a little transparent nonsense.  But they are all so charged
with bright invention, keen criticism, quaint paradox, they are so
entirely unlike anything else in our recent literature, and they
pierce, in a Voltairean way, so deeply to the roots of our social and
political fabric, that they may long continue to be read.  In the
various prefaces, and especially in the general preface to _Lothair_
(of October 1870), Disraeli has fully explained the origin and aim of
these and his other works.  It is written, as usual, with his tongue in
his cheek, in that vein of semi-bombastic paradox which was designed to
mystify the simple and to amuse the acuter reader.  But there is an
inner seriousness in it all; and, as it has a certain correspondence
with his public career and achievements, it must be taken as
substantially true.  _Coningsby_ (1844) and _Sybil_ (1845) were written
in the vigour of manhood and the early days of his political ambition,
with an avowed purpose of founding a new party in Parliament.  It must
be admitted that they did to some extent effect their purpose--not
immediately or directly, and only as part of their author's schemes.
But the Primrose League and the New Tory Democracy of our day bear
witness to the vitality of the movement which, fifty years ago,
Disraeli propounded to a puzzled world.  _Lothair_ (1870) came
twenty-five years later--when he had outlived his illusions; and in
more artistic and more mellow tones he painted the weaknesses of a
society that he had failed to inspire, but which it gratified his pride
to command.

"_Coningsby_, _Sybil_, and _Tancred_," says he, in his grandiose way,
"form a real Trilogy."  "The derivation and character of political
parties,"--he goes on to explain--"was the subject of _Coningsby_."
"The condition of the people which had been the consequence of
them"--was the subject of _Sybil_.  "The duties of the Church as a main
remedial agency" and "the race who had been the founders of
Christianity" [although, surely, friend Benjamin, if we are to believe
the Gospels, the murderers and persecutors of Christ and His
Apostles]--were the subjects of _Tancred_ (1847).  _Tancred_, though it
has some highly amusing scenes, may be dismissed at once.  Disraeli
fought for the Chosen Race, their endowments and achievements, with
wonderful courage and ingenuity.  It was perhaps the cause which he had
most deeply at heart, from its intimate relation to his own superb
ambition and pride.  But it has made no real way, nor has it made any
converts, unless we count _Daniel Deronda_ as amongst them.
Thackeray's "Codlingsby" has almost extinguished "Sidonia."  And the
strange phantasmagoria of the Anglican Church, revivified by the
traditions of Judaism, and ascending to the throne of St. Peter, is
perhaps the most stupendous joke which even Disraeli had ever dared to
perpetrate.  In the preface to _Lothair_ we read:--

The tradition of the Anglican Church was powerful.  Resting on the
Church of Jerusalem, modified by the divine school of Galilee, it would
have found that rock of truth which Providence, by the instrumentality
of the Semitic race, had promised to St. Peter.

Whatever this jargon may mean, the public has allowed it to fall flat.
It seems to suggest that the Archbishop of Canterbury, by resuming the
tradition of Caiaphas, as "modified" by the Sermon on the Mount, might
oust the Pope of Rome as was foretold by the Divine young Jewish
reformer when he called the fishermen of Galilee.  It is difficult to
believe that Disraeli himself was serious in all this.  In the last
scene, as Tancred is proposing to the lovely Jewess, their privacy is
disturbed by a crowd of retainers around the papa and mamma of the
young heir.  The last lines of _Tancred_ are these:--"The Duke and
Duchess of Bellamont had arrived at Jerusalem."  This is hardly the way
in which to preach a New Gospel to a sceptical and pampered generation.

But, if the regeneration of the Church of England by a re-Judaising
process and by return to the Targum of the Pharisees has proved
abortive, it must be admitted that, from the political point of view,
the conception announced in the "trilogy," and rhapsodically
illustrated in _Tancred_--the conception of the Anglican Church
reviving its political ascendancy and developing "the most efficient
means of the renovation of the national spirit"--has not proved quite
abortive.  It shows astonishing prescience to have seen fifty years ago
that the Church of England might yet become a considerable political
power, and could be converted, by a revival of Mediaeval traditions,
into a potent instrument of the New Tory Democracy.  Whatever we may
think about the strengthening of the Established Church from the point
of view of intellectual solidity or influence with the nation, it can
hardly be doubted that in the fifty years that have passed since the
date of the "trilogy," the Church as a body has rallied to one party in
the State, and has proved a potent ally of militant Imperialism and
Tory Democracy.  Lord Beaconsfield lived to witness that great
transformation in the Church of the High and Dry Pluralists and the
Simeonite parsons, which he had himself so powerfully organised in
Parliament, in society, and on the platform.  His successor to-day can
count on no ally so sure and loyal as the Church.  But it was a
wonderful inspiration for a young man fifty years ago to perceive that
this could be done--and to see the way in which it might be done.

_Coningsby_ and _Sybil_ at any rate were active forces in the formation
of a definite political programme.  And this was a programme which in
Parliament and in the country their author himself had created,
organised, and led to victory.  It cannot be denied that they largely
contributed to this result.  And thus these books have this very
remarkable and almost unique character.  It would be very difficult to
mention anything like a romance in any age or country which had ever
effected a direct political result or created a new party.  _Don
Quixote_ is said to have annihilated chivalry; _Tartuffe_ dealt a blow
at the pretensions of the Church; and the _Marriage of Figaro_ at those
of the old _noblesse_.  It is possible that _Bleak House_ gave some
impulse to law reform, and _Vanity Fair_ has relieved us of a good deal
of snobbery.  But no novel before or since ever created a political
party and provided them with a new programme.  _Coningsby_ and _Sybil_
really did this; and it may be doubted if it could have been done in
any other way.  "Imagination, in the government of nations" (we are
told in the preface to _Lothair_) "is a quality not less important than
reason."  Its author trusts much "to a popular sentiment which rested
on a heroic tradition and which was sustained by the high spirit of a
free aristocracy."

Now this is a kind of party programme which it was almost impossible to
propound on the platform or in Parliament.  These imaginative and
somewhat Utopian schemes of "changing back the oligarchy into a
generous aristocracy round a real throne," of "infusing life and
vigour into the Church as the trainer of the nation," of recalling
the popular sympathies "to the principles of loyalty and religious
reverence"--these were exactly the kind of new ideas which it would be
difficult to expound in the House of Commons or in a towns-meeting.  In
the preface to _Coningsby_ the author tells us that, after reflection,
the form of fiction seemed to be the best method of influencing
opinion.  These books then present us with the unique example of an
ambitious statesman resorting to romance as his means of reorganising a
political party.

There is another side to this feature which is also unique and
curiously full of interest.  These romances are the only instances in
which any statesman of the first rank, who for years was the ruling
spirit of a great empire, has thrown his political conceptions and
schemes into an imaginative form.  And these books, from _Vivian Grey_
(1825) to _Endymion_ (1880), extend over fifty-five years; some being
published before his political career seemed able to begin, some in the
midst of it, and the later books after it was ended.  In the
grandiloquent style of the autobiographical prefaces, we may say that
they recall to us the _Meditations_ of Marcus Aurelius, the _Political
Testament_ of Richelieu, and the _Conversations_ of Napoleon at St.

In judging these remarkable works, we ought to remember that they are
not primarily romances at all, that they do not compete with genuine
romances, and they ought to be read for the qualities they have, not
for those in which they fail.  They are in part autobiographical
sketches, meditations on society, historical disquisitions, and
political manifestoes.  They are the productions of a statesman aiming
at a practical effect, not of a man of letters creating a work of
imaginative art.  The creative form is quite subsidiary and
subordinate.  It would be unreasonable to expect in them elaborate
drawing of character, complex plot, or subtle types of contemporary
life.  Their aim is to paint the actual political world, to trace its
origin, and to idealise its possible development.  And this is done,
not by an outside man of letters, but by the very man who had conquered
a front place in this political world, and who had more or less
realised his ideal development.  They are almost the only pictures of
the inner parliamentary life we have; and they are painted by an artist
who was first and foremost a great parliamentary power, of consummate
experience and insight.  If the artistic skill were altogether absent,
we should not read them at all, as nobody reads Lord Russell's dramas
or the poems of Frederick the Great.  But the art, though unequal and
faulty, is full of vigour, originality, and suggestion.  Taken as a
whole, they are quite unique.

_Coningsby; or, the New Generation_, was the earliest and in some ways
the best of the trilogy.  It is still highly diverting as a novel, and,
as we see to-day, was charged with potent ideas and searching
criticism.  It was far more real and effective as a romance than
anything Disraeli had previously written.  There are scenes and
characters in the story which will live in English literature.
Thackeray could hardly have created more living portraits than "Rigby,"
"Tadpole," and "Taper," or "Lord Monmouth."  These are characters which
are household words with us like "Lord Steyne" and "Rawdon Crawley."
The social pictures are as realistic as those of Trollope, and now and
then as bright as those of Thackeray.  The love-making is tender,
pretty, and not nearly so mawkish as that of "Henrietta Temple" and
"Venetia."  There is plenty of wit, epigram, squib, and _bon mot_.
There is almost none of that rhodomontade which pervades the other
romances, except as to "Sidonia" and the supremacy of the Hebrew
race--a topic on which Benjamin himself was hardly sane.  _Coningsby_,
as a novel, is sacrificed to its being a party manifesto and a
political programme first and foremost.  But as a novel it is good.  It
is the only book of Disraeli's in which we hardly ever suspect that he
is merely trying to fool us.  It is not so gay and fantastic as
_Lothair_.  But, being far more real and serious, it is perhaps the
best of Disraeli's novels.

As a political manifesto, Coningsby has been an astonishing success.
The grand idea of Disraeli's life was to struggle against what he
called the "Venetian Constitution," imposed and maintained by the "Whig
Oligarchy."  As Radical, as Tory, as novelist, as statesman, his ruling
idea was "to dish the Whigs," in Lord Derby's historic phrase.  And he
did "dish the Whigs."  The old Whigs have disappeared from English
politics.  They have either amalgamated with the Tories, become
Unionist Conservatives, henchmen of Lord Salisbury, or else have become
Gladstonians and Radicals.  The so-called Whigs of 1895, if any
politicians so call themselves, are far more Tory than the Whigs of
1844, and the Tories of 1895 are far more democratic than the Whigs of
1844.  This complete transformation is very largely due to Disraeli

Strictly speaking, Disraeli has eliminated from our political arena
both "Whig" and "Tory," as understood in the old language of our party
history.  And the first sketch of the new policy was flung upon an
astonished public in _Coningsby_, just fifty years ago.  No doubt, the
arduous task of educating the Conservative Party into the new faith of
Tory Democracy was not effected by _Coningsby_ alone.  But it may be
doubted if Mr. Disraeli would have accomplished it by his speeches
without his writings.  As a sketch of the inner life of the
parliamentary system of fifty years ago, _Coningsby_ is perfect and has
never been approached.  Both Thackeray and Trollope have painted
Parliament and public life so far as it could be seen from a London
club.  But Disraeli has painted it as it was known to a man who threw
his whole life into it, and who was himself a consummate parliamentary

_Sybil; or, the Two Nations_, the second of the trilogy (1845), was
devoted, he tells us, "to the condition of the people," that dismal
result of the "Venetian Constitution" and of the "Whig Oligarchy" which
he had denounced in _Coningsby_.  _Sybil_ was perhaps the most
genuinely serious of all Disraeli's romances; and in many ways it was
the most powerful.  Disraeli himself was a man of sympathetic and
imaginative nature who really felt for the suffering and oppressed.  He
was tender-hearted as a man, however sardonic as a politician.  He had
seen and felt the condition of the people in 1844.  It was a time of
cruel suffering which also stirred the spirits of Carlyle, Mill,
Cobden, and Bright.  It led to the new Radicalism of which Mr.
Gladstone and Mr. John Morley are eminent types.  But the genius of
Disraeli saw that it might also become the foundation of a new Toryism;
and _Sybil_ was the first public manifesto of the new departure.  The
political history of the last fifty years is evidence of his insight
that, to recover their political ascendancy, a Conservative Party must
take in hand "the condition of the people," under the leadership of "a
generous aristocracy," and in alliance with a renovated Church.  These
are the ideas of _Sybil_, though in the novel they are adumbrated in a
dim and fantastic way.  As a romance, _Sybil_ is certainly inferior to
_Coningsby_.  As a political manifesto, it has had an almost greater
success, and the movement that it launched is far from exhausted even
yet.  One of Disraeli's comrades in the new programme of 1844-5 was a
member of the last Conservative cabinet.  And when we consider all the
phases of Tory Democracy, Socialistic Toryism, and the current type of
Christian Socialism, we may come to regard the ideas propounded in
_Sybil_ as not quite so visionary as they appeared to the Whigs,
Radicals, Free Traders, and Benthamites of fifty years ago.

In _Lothair_, which did not appear until twenty-five years after
_Sybil_, we find an altered and more mellow tone, as of a man who was
playing with his own puppets, and had no longer any startling theories
to propound or political objects to win.  For this reason it is in some
ways the most complete and artistic of Disraeli's romances.  The plot
is not suspended by historical disquisitions on the origin of the Whig
oligarchy, by pictures of the House of Commons that must weary those
who know nothing about it, and by enthusiastic appeals to the younger
aristocracy to rouse itself and take in hand the condition of the
people.  In 1870, Mr. Disraeli had little hope of realising his earlier
visions, and he did not write _Lothair_ to preach a political creed.
The tale is that he avowed three motives, the first to occupy his mind
on his fall from power, the second to make a large sum which he much
needed, and the third to paint the manners of the highest order of rank
and wealth, of which he alone amongst novelists had intimate knowledge.
That is exactly what we see in _Lothair_.  It is airy, fantastic, pure,
graceful, and extravagant.  The whole thing goes to bright music, like
a comic opera of Gilbert and Sullivan.  There is life and movement; but
it is a scenic and burlesque life.  There is wit, criticism, and
caricature;, but it does not cut deep, and it is neither hot nor
fierce.  There is some pleasant tom-foolery; but at a comic opera we
enjoy this graceful nonsense.  We see in every page the trace of a
powerful mind; but it is a mind laughing at its own creatures, at
itself, at us.  _Lothair_ would be a work of art, if it were explicitly
presented as a burlesque, such as was _The Infernal Marriage_, or if we
did not know that it was written to pass the time by one who had ruled
this great empire for years, and who within a few years more was
destined to rule it again.  It was a fanciful and almost sympathetic
satire on the selfish fatuity of the noble, wealthy, and governing
orders of British society.  But then the author of this burlesque was
himself about to ask these orders to admit him to their select ranks,
and to enthrone him as their acknowledged chief.

As the rancour of party feeling that has gathered round the personality
of Beaconsfield subsides, and as time brings new proofs of the sagacity
of the judgments with which Benjamin Disraeli analysed the political
traditions of British society, we may look for a fresh growth of the
popularity of the trilogy and _Lothair_.  England will one day be as
just, as America has always been, to one of our wittiest writers.  He
will one day be formally admitted into the ranks of the Men of Letters.
He has hitherto been kept outside, in a sense, partly by his being a
prominent statesman and party chief, partly by his incurable tone of
mind with its Semitic and non-English ways, partly by his strange
incapacity to acquire the _nuances_ of pure literary English.  No
English writer of such literary genius slips so often into vulgarisms,
solecisms, archaisms, and mere slip-shod gossip.  But these are after
all quite minor defects.  His books, even his worst books, abound in
epigrams, pictures, characters, and scenes of rare wit.  His painting
of parliamentary life in England has neither equal nor rival.  And his
reflections on English society and politics reveal the insight of vast
experience and profound genius.



The literary career of William Makepeace Thackeray has not a few
special features of its own that it is interesting to note at once.  Of
all the more eminent writers of the Victorian Age, his life was the
shortest: he died in 1863 at the age of fifty-two, the age of
Shakespeare.  His literary career of twenty-six years was shorter than
that of Carlyle, of Macaulay, Disraeli, Dickens, Trollope, George
Eliot, Froude, or Ruskin.  It opened with the reign of the Queen,
almost in the very year of _Pickwick_, whose author stood beside his
grave and lived and wrote for some years more.  But these twenty-six
years of Thackeray's era of production were full of wonderful activity,
and have left us as many volumes of rich and varied genius.  And the
most striking feature of all is this--that in these twenty-six full
volumes in so many modes, prose, verse, romance, parody, burlesque,
essay, biography, criticism, there are hardly more than one or two
which can be put aside as worthless and as utter failures; very few
fail in his consummate mastery of style; few can be said to be irksome
to read, to re-read, and to linger over in the reading.

This mastery over style--a style at once simple, pure, nervous,
flexible, pathetic, and graceful--places Thackeray amongst the very
greatest masters of English prose, and undoubtedly as the most certain
and faultless of all the prose writers of the Victorian Age.  Without
saying that he has ever reached quite to the level of some lyrical and
apocalyptic descants that we may find in Carlyle and in Ruskin,
Thackeray has never fallen into the faults of violence and turgidity
which their warmest admirers are bound to confess in many a passage
from these our two prose-poets.  Carlyle is often grotesque; Macaulay
can be pompous; Disraeli, Bulwer, Dickens, are often slovenly and
sometimes bombastic; George Eliot is sometimes pedantic, and Ruskin has
been stirred into hysterics.  But Thackeray's English, from the first
page of his first volume to the last page of his twenty-sixth volume,
is natural, scholarly, pure, incisive, and yet gracefully and easily
modulated--the language of an English gentleman of culture, wit,
knowledge of the world, and consummate ease and self-possession.  It is
the direct and trenchant language of Swift: but more graceful, more
flexible, more courteous.

And what is a truly striking fact about Thackeray's mastery of style is
this--that it was perfectly formed from the beginning; that it hardly
ever varied, or developed, or waned in the whole course of his literary
career; that his first venture as a very young man is as finished and
as ripe as his very latest piece, when he died almost in the act of
writing the words--"_and his heart throbbed, with an exquisite bliss_."
This prodigious precocity in style, such uniform perfection of exact
composition, are perhaps without parallel in English literature.  At
the age of twenty-six Thackeray wrote _The History of Samuel Titmarsh_
and the _Great Hoggarty Diamond_.  It was produced under very
melancholy conditions, in the most unfavourable form of publication,
and it was mangled by editorial necessities.  And yet it can still be
read and re-read as one of Thackeray's masterpieces, trifling and
curtailed as it is (for it may be printed in one hundred pages); it is
as full of wit, humour, scathing insight, and fine pathos in the midst
of burlesque, as is _Vanity Fair_ itself.  It is already Thackeray in
all his strength, with his "Snobs," his "Nobs," his fierce satire, and
his exquisite style.

Modern romance has no purer, more pathetic, or simpler page than the
tale of the death of poor Samuel Titmarsh's first child.  Though it is,
as it deserves to be, a household word, the passage must be quoted here
as a specimen of faultless and beautiful style.

It was not, however, destined that she and her child should inhabit
that little garret.  We were to leave our lodgings on Monday morning;
but on Saturday evening the child was seized with convulsions, and all
Sunday the mother watched and prayed for it: but it pleased God to take
the innocent infant from us, and on Sunday, at midnight, it lay a
corpse in its mother's bosom.  Amen.  We have other children, happy and
well, now round about us, and from the father's heart the memory of
this little thing has almost faded; but I do believe that every day of
her life the mother thinks of her first-born that was with her for so
short a while: many and many a time she has taken her daughters to the
grave, in Saint Bride's, where he lies buried; and she wears still at
her neck a little, little lock of gold hair, which she took from the
head of the infant as he lay smiling in his coffin.  It has happened to
me to forget the child's birthday, but to her never; and often in the
midst of common talk, comes something that shows she is thinking of the
child still,--some simple allusion that is to me inexpressibly

Could words simpler, purer, more touching be found to paint a terrible,
albeit very common sorrow!  Not a needless epithet, not a false note,
not a touch over-wrought!  And this is the writing of an unknown,
untried youth!

This exquisitely simple, easy, idiomatic, and nervous style marks all
Thackeray's work for his twenty-six years of activity, and is equally
perfect for whatever purpose it is used, and in whatever key he may
choose to compose.  It naturally culminates in _Vanity Fair_, written
just in the middle of his literary career.  Here not a word is wasted:
the profoundest impressions are made by a quiet sentence or a dozen
plain words that neither Swift nor Defoe could have surpassed.  I know
nothing in English literature more powerful than those last lines of
the thirty-second chapter of _Vanity Fair_.  For thirty-two chapters we
have been following the loves, sorrows, and anxieties of Amelia Sedley
and George Osborne.  For four chapters the story has pictured the scene
in Brussels on the eve of Waterloo.  The women and non-combatants are
trembling with excitement, anxiety, fear; the men are in the field,
whilst the cannon roar all day in the distance--Amelia half distracted
with love, jealousy, and foreboding.  And the wild alternations of
hope, terror, grief, and agony are suddenly closed in the last
paragraph of Chapter XXXII.

No more firing was heard at Brussels--the pursuit rolled miles away.
Darkness came down on the field and city: and Amelia was praying for
George, who was lying on his face, dead, with a bullet through his

Take all the great critical scenes in the book, and note how simple,
and yet how full of pathos and of power, is the language in which they
are described.  There is the last parting of George and Amelia as the
bugle rings to arms.

George came in and looked at her again, entering still more softly.  By
the pale night-lamp he could see her sweet, pale face--the purple
eyelids were fringed and closed, and one round arm, smooth and white,
lay outside of the coverlet.  Good God! how pure she was; how gentle,
how tender, and how friendless! and he, how selfish, brutal, and black
with crime!  Heart-stained and shame-stricken, he stood at the bed's
foot, and looked at the sleeping girl.  How dared he--who was he, to
pray for one so spotless!  God bless her!  God bless her!  He came to
the bed-side, and looked at the hand, the little soft hand, lying
asleep; and he bent over the pillow noiselessly towards the gentle pale

The whole tragedy of their lives is given in miniature in this touching
scene; and yet how natural and commonplace are all the effects of which
it is composed, how few and simple the words which describe such love
and such remorse.  It is hard to judge in _Vanity Fair_ which are the
more perfect in style, the pathetic and tragic scenes or those which
are charged with humour and epigram.

And the scene after George's marriage, when old Osborne burns his will
and erases his son's name from the family Bible--and the scene when
Osborne receives his son's last letter--"Osborne trembled long before
the letter from his dead son"--"His father could not see the kiss
George had placed on the superscription of his letter.  Mr. Osborne
dropped it with the bitterest, deadliest pang of balked affection and
revenge.  His son was still beloved and unforgiven."  And the scene of
"the widow and mother," when young Georgy is born, and the wonderful
scene when Sir Pitt proposes marriage to the little green-eyed
governess and she is scared into confessing her great secret, and the
most famous scene of all, when Rawdon Crawley is released from the
sponging-house and finds Lord Steyne with Rebecca alone.  It is but a
single page.  The words spoken are short, brief, plain--not five
sentences pass--"I am innocent," said she--"Make way, let me pass,"
cried My Lord--"You lie, you coward and villain!" said Rawdon.  There
is in all fiction no single scene more vivid, more true, more burnt
into the memory, more tragic.  And with what noble simplicity, with
what incisive reticence, with what subtle anatomy of the human heart,
is it recorded.

_Vanity Fair_ was written, it is true, under the strain of serial
publication, haste, and anxiety, but it is perhaps, even in style, the
most truly complete.  The wonderful variety, elasticity, and freshness
of the dialogue, the wit of the common scenes, the terrible power of
the tragic scenes, the perfection of the _mise-en-scène_--the rattle,
the fun, the glitter of the Fair, are sustained from end to end, from
the first words of the ineffable Miss Pinkerton to the _Vanitas
Vanitatum_ when the showman shuts up his puppets in their box.  There
is not in all _Vanity Fair_ a single dull page that we skip, not a bit
of padding, no rigmarole of explanation whilst the action stands still.
Of what other fiction can this be said?  Richardson and even Fielding
have their _longueurs_.  Miss Austen is too prone to linger over the
tea-table beyond all human patience.  And even Scott's descriptions of
his loved hills grow sometimes unreadable, especially when they are
told in a flaccid and slovenly style.  But _Vanity Fair_ is kept up
with inexhaustible life and invention, with a style which, for purity
and polish, was beyond the reach of Fielding, Richardson, or Scott.

_Esmond_ was composed with even greater care than _Vanity Fair_, and in
the matter of style is usually taken to be Thackeray's greatest
masterpiece.  Its language is a miracle of art.  But it is avowedly a
_tour de force_--an effort to reproduce an entire book in the form and
speech of a century and a half preceding.  As a _tour de force_ it is
wonderful; but in so long a book the effort becomes at last too
visible, and undoubtedly it somewhat cramps the freedom of the author's
genius.  Thackeray was not a born historical romancist, as were Scott
and Dumas; nor was he a born historian at all.  And when he undertook
to produce an elaborate romance in the form and with the colouring of a
past age, like George Eliot, he becomes rather too learned, too
conscientious, too rigidly full of his authorities; and if as an
historian he enters into rivalry with Macaulay, he somewhat loses his
cunning as a novelist.  Thackeray's force lay in the comedy of manners.
In the comedy of manners we have nothing but _Tom Jones_ to compare
with _Vanity Fair_.  And though Thackeray is not equal to the "prose
Homer of human nature," he wrote an English even finer and more racy.

In _Esmond_ we are constantly pausing to admire the wonderful ingenuity
and exquisite grace of the style, studying the language quite apart
from the story; and we feel, as we do when we read Milton's Latin poems
or Swinburne's French sonnets, that it is a surprising imitation of the
original.  But at the same time _Esmond_ contains some of the noblest
passages that Thackeray ever wrote, scenes and chapters which in form
have no superior in English literature.  That sixth chapter of the
second book, in the cathedral, when Henry Esmond returns to his
mistress on the 29th of December, on his birthday.  "Here she was
weeping and happy.  She took his hand in both hers; he felt her tears.
It was a rapture of reconciliation"--"so for a few moments Esmond's
beloved mistress came to him and blessed him."  To my mind, there is
nothing in English fiction which has been set forth in language of such
exquisite purity and pathos.

_Esmond_, too, which may be said to be one prolonged parody of the
great Queen-Anne essayists, contains that most perfect of all parodies
in the English language--"The paper out of the _Spectator_"--in chapter
third of the third book.  It is of course not a "parody" in the proper
sense, for it has no element of satire or burlesque, and imitates not
the foibles but the merits of the original, with an absolute illusion.
The 341st number of the _Spectator_, dated Tuesday, April 1, 1712, is
so absolutely like Dick Steele at his best, that Addison himself would
have been deceived by it.  Steele hardly ever wrote anything so bright
and amusing.  It is not a "parody": it is a forgery; but a forgery
which required for its execution the most consummate mastery over all
the subtleties and mysteries of style.

In parody of every kind, from the most admiring imitation down to the
most boisterous burlesque, Thackeray stands at the head of all other
imitators.  The _Rejected Addresses_ of James and Horace Smith (1812)
is usually regarded as the masterpiece in this art; and Scott
good-humouredly said that he could have mistaken the death of
Higginbottom for his own verses.  But Thackeray's _Novels by Eminent
Hands_ are superior even to the _Rejected Addresses_.  _Codlingsby_,
the parody of Disraeli's _Coningsby_, may be taken as the most
effective parody in our language: intensely droll in itself, it
reproduces the absurdities, the affectations, the oriental imagination
of Disraeli with inimitable wit.  Those ten pages of irrepressible
fooling are enough to destroy Disraeli's reputation as a serious
romancer.  No doubt they have unfairly reacted so as to dim our sense
of Disraeli's real genius as a writer.  When we know _Codlingsby_ by
heart, as every one with a sense of humour must do, it is impossible
for us to keep our countenance when we take up the palaver about
Sidonia and the Chosen Race.  The _Novels by Eminent Hands_ are all
good: they are much more than parodies; they are real criticism, sound,
wise, genial, and instructive.  Nor are they in the least unfair.  If
the balderdash and cheap erudition of Bulwer and Disraeli are covered
with inextinguishable mirth, no one is offended by the pleasant
imitations of Lever, James, and Fenimore Cooper.

All the burlesques are good, and will bear continual re-reading; but
the masterpiece of all is _Rebecca and Rowena_, the continuation in
burlesque of _Ivanhoe_.  It is one of the mysteries of literature that
we can enjoy both, that the warmest admirers of Scott's glorious
genius, and even those who delight in _Ivanhoe_, can find the keenest
relish in _Rebecca and Rowena_, which is simply the great romance of
chivalry turned inside out.  But Thackeray's immortal burlesque has
something of the quality of Cervantes' _Don Quixote_--that we love the
knight whilst we laugh, and feel the deep pathos of human nature and
the beauty of goodness and love even in the midst of the wildest fun.
And this fine quality runs through all the comic pieces, ballads,
burlesques, pantomimes, and sketches.  What genial fun in the _Rose and
the Ring_, in _Little Billee_, in _Mrs. Perkins' Ball_, in the _Sketch
Book_, in _Yellowplush_.  It is only the very greatest masters who can
produce extravaganzas, puerile tomfooleries, drolleries to delight
children, and catchpenny songs, of such a kind that mature and
cultivated students can laugh over them for the fiftieth time and read
them till they are household words.  This is the supreme merit of _Don
Quixote_, of _Scapin_, of _Gulliver_, of _Robinson Crusoe_.  And this
quality of immortal truth and wit we find in _Rebecca and Rowena_, in
the _Rose and the Ring_, in _Little Billee_, in _Codlingsby_, and
_Yellowplush_.  The burlesques have that Aristophanic touch of beauty,
pathos, and wisdom mingled with the wildest pantomime.

A striking example of Thackeray's unrivalled powers of imitation may be
seen in the letters which are freely scattered about his works.  No one
before or since ever wrote such wonderfully happy illustrations of the
epistolary style of boy or girl, old maid or illiterate man.  There
never were such letters as those of George Osborne in _Vanity
Fair_--that letter from school describing the fight between Cuff and
Figs is a masterpiece--the letters of Becky, of Rawdon, of Amelia--all
are perfect reproductions of the writer, as are scores of letters
scattered up and down the twenty-six volumes.  Nor must we omit, as
part of the style, the author's own illustrations.  They are really
part of the book; they assist us to understand the characters; they are
a very important portion of the writer's method.  None of our great
writers ever had this double instrument: and Thackeray has used it with
consummate effect.  The sketches in _Vanity Fair_ and in _Punch_,
especially the minor thumb-nail drolleries, are delightful--true
caricatures--real portraits of character.  It is true they are ill
drawn, often impossible, crude, and almost childish in their
incorrectness and artlessness.  But they have in them the soul of a
great caricaturist.  They have the Hogarthian touch of a great comic

One is tempted to enlarge at length on the merits of Thackeray's style,
because it is in his mastery over all the resources of the English
language that he surpasses contemporary prose writers.  And it is a
mastery which is equally shown in every form of composition.  There is
a famous bit of Byron's about Sheridan to the effect that he had
written the best comedy, made the finest speech, and invented the
drollest farce in the English language.  And it is hardly extravagant
to say of Thackeray that, of all the Englishmen of this century, he has
written the best comedy of manners, the best extravaganza, the best
burlesque, the best parody, and the best comic song.  And to this some
of his admirers would add--the best lectures, and the best critical
essays.  It is of course true that he has never reached or attempted to
reach the gorgeous rhapsodies of De Quincey or the dithyrambic melodies
of Ruskin.  But these heaven-born Pegasi cannot be harnessed to the
working vehicles of our streets.  The marvel of Thackeray's command
over language is this--that it is unfailing in prose or in verse, in
pathos or in terror, in tragedy or in burlesque, in narrative, in
repartee, or in drollery: and that it never waxes or flags in force and
precision throughout twenty-six full volumes.

Of Thackeray's style--a style that has every quality in perfection:
simplicity, clearness, ease, force, elasticity, and grace--it is
difficult to speak but in terms of unstinted admiration.  When we deal
with the substance and effective value of his great books we see that,
although Thackeray holds his own with the best writers of this century,
he cannot be said to hold the same manifest crown of supremacy.  One of
his strongest claims is the vast quantity and variety of his best work,
and the singularly small proportion of inferior work.  Fielding himself
wrote pitiful trash when he became, as he said, a mere "hackney
writer"; Richardson's _Grandison_ overcomes most readers; Scott at last
broke down; Carlyle, Disraeli, Dickens, and Ruskin have written many
things which "we do not turn over by day and turn over by night," to
put it as gently as one can.  But Thackeray is hardly ever below
himself in form, and rarely is he below himself in substance.
_Pendennis_ is certainly much inferior to _Vanity Fair_, and _Philip_
is much inferior to _Pendennis_.  _The Virginians_ is far behind
_Esmond_.  But of the more important books not one can be called in any
sense a failure unless it be _Lovel the Widower_, and _The Adventures
of Philip_.

Thackeray's masterpiece beyond question is _Vanity Fair_--which as a
comedy of the manners of contemporary life is quite the greatest
achievement in English literature since _Tom Jones_.  It has not the
consummate plot of _Tom Jones_; it has not the breadth, the
Shakespearean jollity, the genial humanity of the great "prose Homer";
it has no such beautiful character as Sophia Western.  It is not the
overflowing of a warm, genial, sociable soul, such as that of Henry
Fielding.  But _Vanity Fair_ may be put beside _Tom Jones_ for variety
of character, intense reality, ingenuity of incident, and profusion of
wit, humour, and invention.  It is even better written than _Tom
Jones_; has more pathos and more tragedy; and is happily free from the
nauseous blots into which Harry Fielding was betrayed by the taste of
his age.  It is hard to say what scene in _Vanity Fair_, what part,
what character, rests longest in the memory.  Is it the home of the
Sedleys and the Osbornes, is it Queen's Crawley, or the incidents at
Brussels, or at Gaunt House:--is it George Osborne, or Jos, or Miss
Crawley, the Major or the Colonel,--is it Lord Steyne or Rebecca?  All
are excellent, all seem perfect in truth, in consistency, in contrast.

The great triumph of _Vanity Fair_--the great triumph of modern
fiction--is Becky Sharp: a character which will ever stand in the very
foremost rank of English literature, if not with Falstaff and Shylock,
then with Squire Western, Uncle Toby, Mr. Primrose, Jonathan Oldbuck,
and Sam Weller.  There is no character in the whole range of literature
which has been worked out with more elaborate completeness.  She is
drawn from girlhood to old age, under every conceivable condition, and
is brought face to face with all kinds of persons and trials.  In all
circumstances Becky is true to herself; her ingenuity, her wit, her
selfishness, her audacity, her cunning, her clear, cool, alert brain,
even her common sense, her spirit of justice, when she herself is not
concerned, and her good-nature, when it could cost her nothing--all
this is unfailing, inimitable, never to be forgotten.  Some good people
cry out that she is so wicked.  Of course she is wicked: so were Iago
and Blifil.  The only question is, if she be real?  Most certainly she
is, as real as anything in the whole range of fiction, as real as
Tartuffe, or Gil Blas, Wilhelm Meister, or Rob Roy.  No one doubts that
Becky Sharps exist: unhappily they are not even very uncommon.  And
Thackeray has drawn one typical example of such bad women with an
anatomical precision that makes us shudder.

And if Becky Sharp be the masterpiece of Thackeray's art amongst the
characters, the scene of her husband's encounter with her paramour is
the masterpiece of all the scenes in _Vanity Fair_, and has no
superior, hardly any equal, in modern fiction.  Becky, Rawdon Crawley,
and Lord Steyne--all are inimitably true, all are powerful, all are
fearful in their agony and rage.  The uprising of the poor rake almost
into dignity and heroism, and his wife's outburst of admiration at his
vengeance, are strokes of really Shakespearean insight.  It was with
justice that Thackeray himself felt pride in that touch.  "_She stood
there trembling before him.  She admired her husband, strong, brave,
victorious_."  It is these touches of clear sight in Becky, her respect
for Dobbin, her kindliness to Amelia apart from her own schemes, which
make us feel an interest in Becky, loathsome as she is.  She is always
a woman, and not an inhuman monster, however bad a woman, cruel,
heartless, and false.

There remains always the perpetual problem if _Vanity Fair_ be a
cynic's view of life, the sardonic grin of a misanthrope gloating over
the trickery and meanness of mankind.  It is well to remember how many
are the scenes of tenderness and pathos in _Vanity Fair_, how
powerfully told, how deeply they haunt the memory and sink into the
heart.  The school life of Dobbin, the ruin of old Sedley and the
despair of Amelia, the last parting of Amelia and George, Osborne
revoking his will, Sedley broken down, Rawdon in the sponging-house,
the birth and boyhood of Georgy Osborne, the end of old Sedley, the end
of old Osborne, are as pathetic and humane as anything in our
literature.  Mature men, who study fiction with a critical spirit and a
cool head, admit that the only passages in English romance that they
can never read again without faltering, without a dim eye and a
quavering voice, are these scenes of pain and sorrow in _Vanity Fair_.
The death of old Sedley, nursed by his daughter, is a typical
piece--perfect in simplicity, in truth, in pathos.

One night when she stole into his room, she found him awake, when the
broken old man made his confession.  "O, Emmy, I've been thinking we
were very unkind and unjust to you," he said, and put out his cold and
feeble hand to her.  She knelt down and prayed by his bed-side, as he
did too, having still hold of her hand.  When our turn comes, friend,
may we have such company in our prayers.

And this is the arch-cynic and misanthrope, grinning at all that is
loveable and tender!

It is too often forgotten that _Vanity Fair_ is not intended to be
simply the world: it is society, it is fashion, the market where
mammon-worship, folly, and dissipation display and barter their wares.
Thackeray wrote many other books, and has given us many worthy
characters.  Dobbin, Warrington, Colonel Newcome, Ethel Newcome, Henry
Esmond are generous, brave, just, and true.  Neither _Esmond_, nor _The
Newcomes_, nor _The Virginians_ are in any sense the work of a
misanthrope.  And where Thackeray speaks in his own person, in the
lectures on the _English Humourists_, he is brimful of all that is
genial, frank, lenient, and good-hearted.  What we know of the man, who
loved his friends and was loved by them, and who in all his critical
and personal sketches showed himself a kindly, courteous, and
considerate gentleman, inclines us to repel this charge of cynicism.
We will not brand him as a mere satirist, and a cruel mocker at human
virtue and goodness.

This is, however, not the whole of the truth.  The consent of mankind,
and especially the consent of women, is too manifest.  There is
something ungenial, there is a bitter taste left when we have enjoyed
these books, especially as we lay down _Vanity Fair_.  It is a long
comedy of roguery, meanness, selfishness, intrigue, and affectation.
Rakes, ruffians, bullies, parasites, fortune-hunters, adventurers,
women who sell themselves, and men who cheat and cringe, pass before us
in one incessant procession, crushing the weak, and making fools of the
good.  Such, says our author, is the way of Vanity Fair--which we are
warned to loathe and to shun.  Be it so:--but it cannot be denied that
the rakes, ruffians, and adventurers fill too large a canvas, are too
conspicuous, too triumphant, too interesting.  They are more
interesting than the weak and the good whom they crush under foot: they
are drawn with a more glowing brush, they are far more splendidly
endowed.  They have better heads, stronger wills, richer natures than
the good and kind ones who are their butts.  Dobbin, as the author
himself tells us, "is a spooney."  Amelia, as he says also, "is a
little fool."  Peggy O'Dowd, dear old goody, is the laughing-stock of
the regiment, though she is also its grandmother.  _Vanity Fair_ has
here and there some virtuous and generous characters.  But we are made
to laugh at every one of them to their very faces.  And the evil and
the selfish characters bully them, mock them, thrust them aside at
every page--and they do so because they are more the stuff of which men
and women of any mark are made.

There are evil characters in Shakespeare, in Fielding, in Goldsmith, in
Scott: we find ruffians, rakes, traitors, and parasites.  But they are
not paramount, not universal, not unqualified.  Iago is utterly
overshadowed by Othello, Blifil by Alworthy, Tom Jones by Sophia
Western, Squire Thornhill by Dr. Primrose, the reprobate Staunton by
the good angel Jeanie Deans.  Shakespeare, Fielding, Goethe, Scott draw
noble and generous natures quite as well as they paint the evil
natures: indeed they paint them better; they enjoy the painting of them
more; they make us enjoy them more.  Take this test: if we run over the
characters of Shakespeare or of Scott we have to reflect before we find
the villains.  If we run over the characters in Thackeray, it is an
effort of memory to recall the generous and the fine natures.
Thackeray has given us some loveable and affectionate men and women;
but they all have qualities which lower them and tend to make them
either tiresome or ridiculous.  Henry Esmond is a high-minded and
almost heroic gentleman, but he is glum, a regular kill-joy, and, as
his author admitted, something of a prig.  Colonel Newcome is a noble
true-hearted soldier; but he is made too good for this world and
somewhat too innocent, too transparently a child of nature.
Warrington, with all his sense and honesty, is rough; Pendennis is a
bit of a puppy; Clive Newcome is not much of a hero; and as for Dobbin
he is almost intended to be a butt.

A more serious defect is a dearth in Thackeray of women to love and to
honour.  Shakespeare has given us a gallery of noble women; Fielding
has drawn the adorable Sophia Western; Scott has his Jeanie Deans.  But
though Thackeray has given us over and over again living pictures of
women of power, intellect, wit, charm, they are all marred by atrocious
selfishness, cruelty, ambition, like Becky Sharp, Beatrix Esmond, and
Lady Kew; or else they have some weakness, silliness, or narrowness
which prevents us from at once loving and respecting them.  Amelia is
rather a poor thing and decidedly silly; we do not really admire Laura
Pendennis; the Little Sister is somewhat colourless; Ethel Newcome runs
great risk of being a spoilt beauty; and about Lady Castlewood, with
all her love and devotion, there hangs a certain sinister and unnatural
taint, which the world cannot forgive, and perhaps ought not to
forgive.  The sum of all this is, that in all these twenty-six volumes
and hundreds of men and women portrayed, there is not one man or one
woman having at once a noble character, perfect generosity, powerful
mind, and loveable nature; not one man or one woman of tender heart and
perfect honour, but has some trait that tends to make him or her either
laughable or tedious.  It is not so with the supreme masters of the
human heart.  And the world does not condone this, and it is right in
not condoning it.

But to say this, is not to condemn Thackeray as a cynic.  With these
many scenes of exquisite tenderness and pathos, with men and women of
such loving hearts and devoted spirits, with the profusion of gay,
kindly, childlike love of innocent fun, that we find all through
Thackeray's work, he does not belong to the order of the Jonathan
Swifts, the Balzacs, the Zolas, the gruesome anatomists of human vice
and meanness.  On the other hand he does not belong to the order of the
Shakespeares, Goethes, and Scotts, to whom human virtue and dignity
always remain in the end the supreme forces of human life.  Thackeray,
with a fine and sympathetic soul, had a creative imagination that was
far stronger on the darker and fouler sides of life than it was on the
brighter and pure side of life.  He saw the bright and pure side: he
loved it, he felt with it, he made us love it.  But his artistic genius
worked with more free and consummate zest when he painted the dark and
the foul.  His creative imagination fell short of the true equipoise,
of that just vision of _chiaroscuro_, which we find in the greatest
masters of the human heart.  This limitation of his genius has been
visited upon Thackeray with a heavy hand.  And such as it is, he must
bear it.

The place of Thackeray in English literature will always be determined
by his _Vanity Fair_: which will be read, we may confidently predict,
as long as _Tom Jones_, _Clarissa_, _Tristram Shandy_, _The Antiquary_,
and _Pickwick_.  But all the best of his pieces, even the smaller _jeux
d'esprit_, may be read with delight again and again by young and old.
And of the best are--_Esmond_, _The Newcomes_, _Barry Lyndon_, the
_Book of Snobs_, the _Hoggarty Diamond_, some of the _Burlesques_ and
_Christmas Books_, and the _English Humourists_.  Of these, _Esmond_
has every quality of a great book, except its artificial form, its
excessive elaboration of historical colouring, and its unsavoury plot.
Beatrix Esmond is almost as wonderful a creation as Becky Sharp;
though, if formed on a grander mould, she has less fascination than
that incorrigible minx.  The _Newcomes_, if in some ways the most
genial of the longer pieces, is plainly without the power of _Vanity
Fair_.  And if _Barry Lyndon_ has this power, it is an awful picture of
cruelty and meanness.  The _Book of Snobs_ and the _Hoggarty Diamond_
were each a kind of prelude to _Vanity Fair_, and both contain some of
its essential marks of pathos and of power.  It is indeed strange to us
now to remember that both of these books, written with such finished
mastery of hand and full of such passages of wit and insight, could
have been published for years before the world had recognised that it
had a new and consummate writer before it.  The _Book of Snobs_ indeed
may truly be said to have seriously improved the public opinion of the
age, and to have given a death-blow to many odious forms of sycophancy
and affectation which passed unrebuked in England fifty years ago.  And
the _Burlesque Romances_ and the _English Humourists_ have certainly
assisted in forming the public taste and in promoting a sound criticism
of our standard fiction.

Charlotte Brontë dedicated her _Jane Eyre_, in 1847, to William
Makepeace Thackeray, as "the first social regenerator of the day."
Such language, though interesting as coming from a girl of singular
genius and sincerity, however ignorant of real life, was excessive.
But we may truly assert that he has enriched our literature with some
classical masterpieces in the comedy of contemporary manners.



It is a fearsome thing to venture to say anything now about Charles
Dickens, whom we have all loved, enjoyed, and laughed over: whose tales
are household words in every home where the English tongue is heard,
whose characters are our own school-friends, the sentiment of our
youthful memories, our boon-companions and our early attachments.  To
view him in any critical light is a task as risky as it would be to
discuss the permanent value of some fashionable amusement, a favourite
actor, a popular beverage, or a famous horse.  Millions and millions of
old and young love Charles Dickens, know his personages by heart, play
at games with his incidents and names, and from the bottom of their
souls believe that there never was such fun, and that there never will
be conceived again such inimitable beings, as they find in his
ever-fresh and ever-varied pages.  This is by itself a very high title
to honour: perhaps it is the chief jewel in the crown that rests on the
head of Charles Dickens.  I am myself one of these devotees, of these
lovers, of these slaves of his: or at least I can remember that I have
been.  To have stirred this pure and natural humanity, this force of
sympathy, in such countless millions is a great triumph.  Men and women
to-day do not want any criticism of Charles Dickens, any talk about him
at all.  They enjoy him as he is: they examine one another in his
books: they gossip on by the hour about his innumerable characters, his
never-to-be-forgotten waggeries and fancies.

No account of early Victorian literature can omit the name of Charles
Dickens from the famous writers of the time.  How could we avoid notice
of one whose first immortal tale coincides with the accession of our
Queen, and who for thirty-three successive years continued to pour out
a long stream of books that still delight the English-speaking world?
When we begin to talk about the permanent place in English literature
of eminent writers, one of the first definite problems is presented by
Charles Dickens.  And it is one of the most obscure of such problems;
because, more than almost any writer of our age, Charles Dickens has
his own accustomed nook at every fireside: he is a familiar friend, a
welcome guest; we remember the glance of his eye; we have held his
hand, as it were, in our own.  The children brighten up as his step is
heard; the chairs are drawn round the hearth, and a fresh glow is given
to the room.  We do not criticise one whom we love, nor do we suffer
others to do so.  And there is perhaps a wider sympathy with Charles
Dickens as a person than with any other writer of our time.  For this
reason there has been hardly any serious criticism or estimate of
Dickens as a great artist, apart from some peevish and sectional
disparagement of his genius, which has been too much tinged with
academic pedantry and the bias of aristocratic temper or political

I am free to confess that I am in no mood to pretend making up my mind
for any impartial estimate of Charles Dickens as an abiding power in
English literature.  The "personal equation" is in my own case somewhat
too strong to leave me with a perfectly "dry light" in the matter.  I
will make a clean breast of it at once by saying, that I can remember
reading some of the most famous of these books in their green covers,
month by month, as they came out in parts, when I was myself a child or
"in my 'teens."  That period included the first ten of the main works
from _Pickwick_ down to _David Copperfield_.  With _Bleak House_, which
I read as a student of philosophy at Oxford beginning to be familiar
with Aristotelian canons, I felt my enjoyment mellowed by a somewhat
more measured judgment.  From that time onward Charles Dickens threw
himself into a great variety of undertakings and many diverse kinds of
publication.  His _Hard Times_, _Little Dorrit_, _Our Mutual Friend_,
_Great Expectations_, _Tale of Two Cities_, were never to me anything
like the wonder and delight that I found in Oliver Twist, Nickleby, and
Copperfield.  And as to the short tales and the later pieces down to
_Edwin Drood_, I never find myself turning back to them; the very
memory of the story is fading away; and I fail to recall the characters
and names.  A mature judgment will decide that the series after _David
Copperfield_, written when the author was thirty-eight, was not equal
to the series of the thirteen years preceding.  Charles Dickens will
always be remembered by _Pickwick_, _Oliver Twist_, _Nickleby_, and
_Copperfield_.  And though these tales will long continue to delight
both old and young, learned and unlearned alike, they are most to be
envied who read him when young, and they are most to be pitied who read
him with a critical spirit.  May that be far from us, as we take up our
_Pickwick_ and talk over the autobiographic pathos of _David

This vivid sympathy with the man is made stronger in my own case in
that, from my own boyhood till his death, I was continually seeing him,
was frequently his neighbour both in London and the seaside, knew some
of his friends, and heard much about him and about his work.  Though I
never spoke to him, there were times when I saw him almost daily; I
heard him speak and read in public; and his favourite haunts in London
and the country have been familiar to me from my boyhood.  And thus, as
I read again my _Pickwick_, and _Nickleby_, and _Copperfield_, there
come back to me many personal and local memories of my own.  The
personality of Charles Dickens was, even to his distant readers, vivid
and intense; and hence it is much more so to those who have known his
person.  I am thus an ardent Pickwickian myself; and anything I say
about our immortal Founder must be understood in a Pickwickian sense.

Charles Dickens was before all things a great humourist--doubtless the
greatest of this century; for, though we may find in Scott a more truly
Shakespearean humour of the highest order, the humour of Dickens is so
varied, so paramount, so inexhaustible, that he stands forth in our
memory as the humourist of the age.  Swift, Fielding, Hogarth, Sterne,
and Goldsmith, in the last century, reached at times a more enduring
level of humour without caricature; but the gift has been more rarely
imparted to their successors in the age of steam.  Now, we shall never
get an adequate definition of that imponderable term--humour--a term
which, perhaps, was invented to be the eternal theme of budding
essayists.  We need not be quite as liberal in our interpretation of
humour as was Thackeray in opening his _English Humourists_; for he
declared that its business was to awaken and direct our love, our pity,
our kindness, our scorn for imposture, our tenderness for the weak, to
comment on the actions and passions of life, to be the week-day
preacher--and much more to that effect.  But it may serve our immediate
purpose to say with Samuel Johnson that humour is "grotesque imagery";
and "grotesque" is "distorted of figure; unnatural."  That is to say,
humour is an effort of the imagination presenting human nature with
some element of distortion or disproportion which instantly kindles
mirth.  It must be imaginative; it must touch the bed-rock of human
nature; it must arouse merriment and not anger or scorn.  In this fine
and most rare gift Charles Dickens abounded to overflowing; and this
humour poured in perfect cataracts of "grotesque imagery" over every
phase of life of the poor and the lower middle classes of his time, in
London and a few of its suburbs and neighbouring parts.

This in itself is a great title to honour; it is his main work, his
noblest title.  His sphere was wide, but not at all general; it was
strictly limited to the range of his own indefatigable observations.
He hardly ever drew a character or painted a scene, even of the most
subordinate kind, which he had not studied from the life with minute
care, and whenever he did for a moment wander out of his limits, he
made an egregious failure.  But this task of his, to cast the sunshine
of pathos and of genial mirth over the humblest, dullest, and most
uninviting of our fellow-creatures, was a great social mission to which
his whole genius was devoted.  No waif and stray was so repulsive, no
drudge was so mean, no criminal was so atrocious, but what Charles
Dickens could feel for him some ray of sympathy, or extract some
pathetic mirth out of his abject state.  And Dickens does not look on
the mean and the vile as do Balzac and Zola, that is, from without,
like the detective or the surgeon.  He sees things more or less from
their point of view: he feels with the Marchioness: he himself as a
child was once a Smike: he cannot help liking the fun of the Artful
Dodger: he has been a good friend to Barkis: he likes Traddles: he
loves Joe: poor Nancy ends her vile life in heroism: and even his brute
of a dog worships Bill Sikes.

Here lies the secret of his power over such countless millions of
readers.  He not only paints a vast range of ordinary humanity and
suffering or wearied humanity, but he speaks for it and lives in it
himself, and throws a halo of imagination over it, and brings home to
the great mass of average readers a new sense of sympathy and gaiety.
This humane kinship with the vulgar and the common, this magic which
strikes poetry out of the dust of the streets, and discovers traces of
beauty and joy in the most monotonous of lives, is, in the true and
best sense of the term, Christ-like, with a message and gospel of hope.
Thackeray must have had Charles Dickens in his mind when he wrote: "The
humourous writer professes to awaken and direct your love, your pity,
your kindness--your scorn for untruth, pretension, imposture--your
tenderness for the weak, the poor, the oppressed, the unhappy."
Charles Dickens, of all writers of our age, assuredly did this in every
work of his pen, for thirty-three years of incessant production.  It is
his great title to honour; and a novelist can desire no higher title
than this.

There is another quality in which Charles Dickens is supreme--in
purity.  Here is a writer who is realistic, if ever any writer was, in
the sense of having closely observed the lowest strata of city life,
who has drawn the most miserable outcasts, the most abandoned men and
women in the dregs of society, who has invented many dreadful scenes of
passion, lust, seduction, and debauchery; and yet in forty works and
more you will not find a page which a mother need withhold from her
grown daughter.  As Thackeray wrote of his friend:--"I am grateful for
the innocent laughter and the sweet and unsullied page which the author
of _David Copperfield_ gives to my children."  We need not formulate
any dogma or rule on such a topic, nor is it essential that all books
should be written _virginibus puerisque_; but it is certain that every
word of Charles Dickens was so written, even when he set himself (as he
sometimes did) to describe animal natures and the vilest of their sex.
Dickens is a realist in that he probes the gloomiest recesses and faces
the most disheartening problems of life: he is an idealist in that he
never presents us the common or the vile with mere commonplace or
repulsiveness, and without some ray of humane and genial charm to which
ordinary eyes are blind.  Dickens, then, was above all things a
humourist, an inexhaustible humourist, to whom the humblest forms of
daily life wore a certain sunny air of genial mirth; but the question
remains if he was a humourist of the highest order: was he a poet, a
creator of abiding imaginative types?  Old Johnson's definition of
humour as "grotesque imagery," and "grotesque" as meaning some
distortion in figure, may not be adequate as a description of humour,
but it well describes the essential feature of Charles Dickens.  His
infallible instrument is caricature--which strictly means an
"overload," as Johnson says, "an exaggerated resemblance."  Caricature
is a likeness having some comical exaggeration or distortion.  Now,
caricature is a legitimate and potent instrument of humour, which great
masters have used with consummate effect.  Leonardo da Vinci, Michael
Angelo, Rembrandt, Hogarth, use it; but only at times, and in a
subsidiary way.  Rabelais, Swift, Fielding, use this weapon not
unfrequently; Shakespeare very sparingly; Goldsmith and Scott, I think,
almost never.  Caricature, the essence of which is exaggeration of some
selected feature, distortion of figure, disproportion of some part, is
a potent resource, but one to which the greater masters resort rarely
and with much moderation.

Now with Charles Dickens caricature--that comical exaggeration of a
particular feature, distortion of some part beyond nature--is not only
the essence of his humour, but it is the universal and ever-present
source of his mirth.  It would not be true to say that, exaggeration is
the sole form of humour that he uses, but there is hardly a character
of his to which it is not applied, nor a scene of which it is not the
pervading "motive."  Some feature, some oddity, some temperament is
seized, dwelt upon, played with, and turned inside out, with incessant
repetition and unwearied energy.  Every character, except the walking
gentleman and the walking lady, the insipid lover, or the colourless
friend, have some feature thrust out of proportion, magnified beyond
nature.  Sam Weller never speaks without his anecdote, Uriah is always
"'umble," Barkis is always "willin'," Mark Tapley is always "jolly,"
Dombey is always solemn, and Toots is invariably idiotic.  It is no
doubt natural that Barnaby's Raven should always want tea, whatever
happens, for the poor bird has but a limited vocabulary.  But one does
not see why articulate and sane persons like Captain Cuttle, Pecksniff,
and Micawber should repeat the same phrases under every condition and
to all persons.  This, no doubt, is the essence of farce: it may be
irresistibly droll as farce, but it does not rise beyond farce.  And at
last even the most enthusiastic Pickwickian wearies of such monotony of

Now, the keynote of caricature being the distortion of nature, it
inevitably follows that humourous exaggeration is unnatural, however
droll; and, where it is the main source of the drollery, the picture as
a whole ceases to be within the bounds of nature.  But the great
masters of the human heart invariably remain true to nature: not merely
true to a selected feature, but to the natural form as a whole.
Falstaff, in his wildest humour, speaks and acts as such a man really
might speak and act.  He has no catch-phrase on which he harps, as if
he were a talking-machine wound up to emit a dozen sounds.  Parson
Adams speaks and acts as such a being might do in nature.  The comic
characters of Goldsmith, Scott, or Thackeray do not outrun and defy
nature, nor does their drollery depend on any special and abnormal
feature, much less on any stock phrase which they use as a label.  The
illustrations of Cruikshank and Phiz are delightfully droll, and often
caricatures of a high order.  But being caricatures, they overload and
exaggerate nature, and indeed are always, in one sense, impossible in
nature.  The grins, the grimaces, the contortions, the dwarfs, the
idiots, the monstrosities of these wonderful sketches could not be
found in human beings constructed on any known anatomy.  And Dickens's
own characters have the same element of unnatural distortion.  It is
possible that these familiar caricatures have even done harm to his
reputation.  His creations are of a higher order of art and are more
distinctly spontaneous and original.  But the grotesque sketches with
which he almost uniformly presented his books accentuate the element of
caricature on which he relied; and often add an unnatural extravagance
beyond that extravagance which was the essence of his own method.

The consequence is that everything in Dickens is "in the excess," as
Aristotle would say, and not "in the mean."  Whether it is Tony Weller,
or "the Shepherd," or the Fat Boy, Hugh or the Raven, Toots or
Traddles, Micawber or Skimpole, Gamp or Mantalini--all are overloaded
in the sense that they exceed nature, and are more or less extravagant.
They are wonderful and delightful caricatures, but they are impossible
in fact.  The similes are hyperbolic; the names are grotesque; the
incidents partake of harlequinade, and the speeches of roaring farce.
It is often wildly droll, but it is rather the drollery of the stage
than of the book.  The characters are never possible in fact; they are
not, and are not meant to be, nature; they are always and everywhere
comic distortions of nature.  Goldsmith's Dr. Primrose tells us that he
chose his wife for the same qualities for which she chose her wedding
gown.  That is humour, but it is also pure, literal, exact truth to
nature.  David Copperfield's little wife is called a lap-dog, acts like
a lap-dog, and dies like a lap-dog; the lap-dog simile is so much
overdone that we are glad to get rid of her, and instead of weeping
with Copperfield, we feel disposed to call him a ninny.

Nothing is more wonderful in Dickens than his exuberance of animal
spirits, that inexhaustible fountain of life and gaiety, in which he
equals Scott and far surpasses any other modern.  The intensity of the
man, his electric activity, his spasmodic nervous power, quite dazzle
and stun us.  But this restless gaiety too often grows fatiguing, as
the rollicking fun begins to pall upon us, as the jokes ring hollow,
and the wit gets stale by incessant reiteration.  We know how much in
real life we get to hate the joker who does not know when to stop, who
repeats his jests, and forces the laugh when it does not flow freely.
Something of the kind the most devoted of Dickens's readers feel when
they take in too much at one time.  None but the very greatest can
maintain for long one incessant outpour of drollery, much less of
extravagance.  Aristophanes could do it; Shakespeare could do it; so
could Cervantes; and so, too, Rabelais.  But then, the wildest
extravagance of these men is so rich, so varied, so charged with
insight and thought, and, in the case of Rabelais, so resplendent with
learning and suggestion, that we never feel satiety and the cruel sense
that the painted mask on the stage is grinning at us, whilst the actor
behind it is weary and sad.  When one who is not amongst the very
greatest pours forth the same inextinguishable laughter in the same
key, repeating the same tricks, and multiplying kindred oddities,
people of cultivation enjoy it heartily once, twice, it may be a dozen
times, but at last they make way for the young bloods who can go
thirty-seven times to see "Charley's Aunt."

A good deal has been said about Dickens's want of reading; and his
enthusiastic biographer very fairly answers that Charles Dickens's book
was the great book of life, of which he was an indefatigable student.
When other men were at school and at college, he was gathering up a
vast experience of the hard world, and when his brother writers were
poring over big volumes in their libraries, he was pacing up and down
London and its suburbs with inexhaustible energy, drinking in oddities,
idiosyncrasies, and wayside incidents at every pore.  It is quite true:
London is a microcosm, an endless and bottomless Babylon; which,
perhaps, no man has ever known so well as did Charles Dickens.  This
was his library: here he gathered that vast encyclopaedia of human
nature, which some are inclined to call "cockney," but if it be,
"Cockayne" must be a very large country indeed.  Still, the fact
remains, that of book-learning of any kind Dickens remained, to the end
of his days, perhaps more utterly innocent than any other famous
English writer since Shakespeare.  His biographer labours to prove that
he had read Fielding and Smollett, _Don Quixote_ and _Gil Blas_, _The
Spectator_, and _Robinson Crusoe_.  Perhaps he had, like most men who
have learned to read.  But, no doubt, this utter severance from books,
which we feel in his tales, will ultimately tell against their

This rigid abstinence from books, which Dickens practised on system,
had another reaction that we notice in his style.  Not only do we feel
in reading his novels that we have no reason to assume that he had ever
read anything except a few popular romances, but we note that he can
hardly be said to have a formed literary style of his own.  Dickens had
mannerisms, but hardly a style.  In some ways, this is a good thing:
much less can he be said to have a bad style.  It is simply no style.
He knows nothing of the crisp, modulated, balanced, and reserved
mastery of phrase and sentence which marks Thackeray.  Nor is it the
easy simplicity of _Robinson Crusoe_ and the _Vicar of Wakefield_.  The
tale spins along, and the incidents rattle on with the volubility of a
good story-teller who warms up as he goes, but who never stops to think
of his sentences and phrases.  He often gets verbose, rings the changes
on a point which he sees to have caught his hearers; he plays with a
fancy out of measure, and turns his jest inside out and over and over,
like a fine comic actor when the house is in a roar.  His language is
free, perfectly clear, often redundant, sometimes grandiloquent, and
usually addressed more to the pit than to the boxes.  And he is a
little prone to slide, even in his own proper person, into those formal
courtesies and obsolete compliments which forty years ago survived
amongst the superior orders of bagmen and managing clerks.

There is an old topic of discussion whether Dickens could invent an
organic and powerful plot, and carry out an elaborate scheme with
perfect skill.  It is certain that he has never done so, and it can
hardly be said that he has ever essayed it.  The serial form in parts,
wherein almost all his stories were cast, requiring each number of
three chapters to be "assorted," like sugar-plums, with grave and gay,
so as to tell just enough but not too much, made a highly-wrought
scheme almost impossible.  It is plain that Charles Dickens had nothing
of that epical gift which gave us _Tom Jones_ and _Ivanhoe_.  Perhaps
the persistent use of the serial form shows that he felt no interest in
that supreme art of an immense drama duly unfolded to a prepared end.
In _Pickwick_ there neither was, nor could there be, any organic plot.
In _Oliver Twist_, in _Barnaby Rudge_, in _Dombey_, in _Bleak House_,
in the _Tale of Two Cities_, there are indications of his possessing
this power, and in certain parts of these tales we seem to be in the
presence of a great master of epical narration.  But the power is not
sustained; and it must be confessed that in none of these tales is
there a complete and equal scheme.  In most of the other books,
especially in those after _Bleak House_, the plot is so artless, so
_décousu_, so confused, that even practised readers of Dickens fail to
keep it clear in their mind.  The serial form, where a leading
character wanders about to various places, and meets a succession of
quaint parties, seems to be that which suited his genius and which he
himself most entirely enjoyed.

In contrast with the Pickwickian method of comic rambles in search of
human "curios," Dickens introduced some darker effects and persons of a
more or less sensational kind.  Some of these are as powerful as
anything in modern fiction; and Fagin and Bill Sikes, Smike and Poor
Jo, the Gordon riots and the storms at sea, may stand beside some
tableaux of Victor Hugo for lurid power and intense realism.  But it
was only at times and during the first half of his career that Dickens
could keep clear of melodrama and somewhat stagey blue fire.  And at
times his blue fire was of a very cheap kind.  Rosa Dartle and Carker,
Steerforth and Blandois, Quilp and Uriah Heep, have a melancholy
glitter of the footlights over them.  We cannot see what the villains
want, except to look villainous, and we fail to make out where is the
danger to the innocent victims.  We find the villain of the piece
frantically struggling to get some paper, or to get hold of some boy or
girl.  But as the scene is in London in the nineteenth century, and not
in Naples in the fifteenth century, we cannot see who is in real
danger, or why, or of what.  And with all this, Dickens was not
incapable of bathos, or tragedy suddenly exploding in farce.  The end
of Krook by spontaneous combustion is such a case; but a worse case is
the death of Dora, Copperfield's baby wife, along with that of the
lap-dog, Jip.  This is one of those unforgotten, unpardonable,
egregious blunders in art, in feeling, even in decency, which must
finally exclude Charles Dickens from the rank of the true immortals.

But his books will long be read for his wonderful successes, and his
weaker pieces will entirely be laid aside as are the failures of so
many great men, the rubbish of Fielding, of Goldsmith, of Defoe; which
do nothing now to dim the glory of _Tom Jones_, _The Vicar of
Wakefield_, and _Robinson Crusoe_.  The glory of Charles Dickens will
always be in his _Pickwick_, his first, his best, his inimitable
triumph.  It is true that it is a novel without a plot, without
beginning, middle, or end, with much more of caricature than of
character, with some extravagant tom-foolery, and plenty of vulgarity.
But its originality, its irrepressible drolleries, its substantial
human nature, and its intense vitality, place it quite in a class by
itself.  We can no more group it, or test it by any canon of criticism,
than we could group or define _Pantagruel_ or _Faust_.  There are some
works of genius which seem to transcend all criticism, of which the
very extravagances and incoherences increase the charm.  And _Pickwick_
ought to live with _Gil Blas_ and _Tristram Shandy_.  In a deeper vein,
the tragic scenes in _Oliver Twist_ and in _Barnaby Rudge_ must long
hold their ground, for they can be read and re-read in youth, in
manhood, in old age.  The story of Dotheboys Hall, the Yarmouth
memories of Copperfield, Little Nell, Mrs. Gamp, Micawber, Toots,
Captain Cuttle, Pecksniff, and many more will long continue to delight
the youth of the English-speaking races.  But few writers are
remembered so keenly by certain characters, certain scenes, incidental
whimsies, and so little for entire novels treated strictly as works of
art.  There is no reason whatever for pretending that all these scores
of tales are at all to be compared with the best of them, or that the
invention of some inimitable scenes and characters is enough to make a
supreme and faultless artist.  The young and the uncritical make too
much of Charles Dickens, when they fail to distinguish between his best
and his worst.  Their fastidious seniors make too little of him, when
they note his many shortcomings and fail to see that in certain
elements of humour he has no equal and no rival.  If we mean Charles
Dickens to live we must fix our eye on these supreme gifts alone.



They who are still youthful in the nineties can hardly understand the
thrill which went through us all in the forties upon the appearance of
_Jane Eyre_, on the discovery of a new genius and a new style.  The
reputation of most later writers grew by degrees and by repeated
impressions of good work.  Trollope, George Eliot, Stevenson, George
Meredith, did not conquer the interest of the larger public until after
many books and by gradual widening of the judgment of experts.  But
little Charlotte Brontë, who published but three tales in six years and
who died at the age of thirty-eight, bounded into immediate fame--a
fame that after nearly fifty years we do not even now find to have been

And then, there was such personal interest in the writer's self, in her
intense individuality, in her strong character; there was so much
sympathy with her hard and lonely life; there was such pathos in her
family history and the tragedy which threw gloom over her whole life,
and cut it off in youth after a few months of happiness.  To have lived
in poverty, in a remote and wild moorland, almost friendless and in
continual struggle against sickness, to have been motherless since the
age of five, to have lost four sisters and a brother before she was
more than thirty-three, to have been sole survivor of a large
household, to have passed a life of continual weakness, toil, and
suffering--and then to be cut off after nine months of marriage,--all
this touched the sympathies of the world as the private life of few
writers touches them.  And then the shock of her sudden death came upon
us as a personal sorrow.  Such genius, such courage, such perseverance,
such promise--and yet but three books in all, published at intervals of
two and of four years!  There was meaning in the somewhat unusual form
in which Mrs. Gaskell opens her _Life of Charlotte Brontë_, setting out
verbatim in her first chapter the seven memorial inscriptions to the
buried family in Haworth Church, and placing on the title-page a
vignette of Haworth churchyard with its white tombstones.  Charlotte
Brontë was a kind of prosaic, most demure and orthodox Shelley in the
Victorian literature--with visible genius, an intense personality,
unquenchable fire, an early and tragic death.  And all this passion in
a little prim, shy, delicate, proud Puritan girl!

To this sympathy our great writer, whom she herself called "the first
social regenerator of the day," did full justice in that beautiful
little piece which he wrote in the _Cornhill Magazine_ upon her death
and which is the last of the _Roundabout Papers_ in the twenty-second
volume of Thackeray's collected works.  It is called _The Last Sketch_:
it is so eloquent, so true, so sympathetic that it deserves to be
remembered, and yet after forty years it is too seldom read.

Of the multitude that have read her books, who has not known and
deplored the tragedy of her family, her own most sad and untimely fate?
Which of her readers has not become her friend?  Who that has known her
books has not admired the artist's noble English, the burning love of
truth, the bravery, the simplicity, the indignation at wrong, the eager
sympathy, the pious love and reverence, the passionate honour, so to
speak, of the woman?  What a story is that of that family of poets in
their solitude yonder on the gloomy northern moors!

He goes on to deplore that "the heart newly awakened to love and
happiness, and throbbing with maternal hope, had ceased to beat."  He
speaks of her "trembling little frame, the little hand, the great
honest eyes."  He speaks of his recollections of her in society, of
"the impetuous honesty" which seemed the character of the woman--

I fancied an austere little Joan of Arc marching in upon us, and
rebuking our easy lives, our easy morals.  She gave me the impression
of being a very pure, and lofty, and high-minded person.  A great and
holy reverence of right and truth seemed to be with her always.  Such,
in our brief interview, she appeared to me.  As one thinks of that life
so noble, so lonely,--of that passion for truth--of those nights and
nights of eager study, swarming fancies, invention, depression,
elation, prayer; as one reads the necessarily incomplete, though most
touching and admirable history of the heart that throbbed in this one
little frame--of this one amongst the myriads of souls that have lived
and died on this great earth--this great earth?--this little speck in
the infinite universe of God--with what wonder do we think of to-day,
with what awe await to-morrow, when that which is now but darkly seen
shall be clear!

It is quite natural and right that Thackeray, Mrs. Gaskell, indeed all
who have spoken of the author of _Jane Eyre_, should insist primarily
on the personality of Charlotte Brontë.  It is this intense personality
which is the distinctive note of her books.  They are not so much tales
as imaginary autobiographies.  They are not objective presentations of
men and women in the world.  They are subjective sketches of a Brontë
under various conditions, and of the few men and women who occasionally
cross the narrow circle of the Brontë world.  Of the three stories she
published, two are autobiographies, and the third is a fancy portrait
of her sister Emily.  Charlotte Brontë is herself Jane Eyre and Lucy
Snowe, and Emily Brontë is Shirley Keeldar.  So in _The Professor_, her
earliest but posthumous tale, Frances Henri again is simply a little
Swiss Brontë.  That story also is told as an autobiography, but, though
the narrator is supposed to be one William Crimsworth, it is a woman
who speaks, sees, and dreams all through the book.  The four tales,
which together were the work of eight years, are all variations upon a
Brontë and the two Brontë worlds in Yorkshire and Belgium.  It is most
significant (but quite natural) that Mrs. Gaskell in her _Life of
Charlotte Brontë_ devotes more than half her book to the story of the
family before the publication of _Jane Eyre_.  The four tales are not
so much romances as artistic and imaginative autobiographies.

To say this is by no means to detract from their rare value.  The
romances of adventure, of incident, of intrigue, of character, of
society, or of humour, depend on a great variety of observation and a
multiplicity of contrasts.  There is not much of Walter Scott, as a
man, in _Ivanhoe_ or of Alexander Dumas in the _Trois Mousquetaires_;
and Dickens, Thackeray, Trollope, Bulwer, Miss Edgeworth, Stevenson,
and Meredith--even Miss Austen and George Eliot--seek to paint men and
women whom they conceive and whom we may see and know, and not
themselves and their own home circle.  But Charlotte Brontë told us her
own life, her own feelings, sufferings, pride, joy, and ambition.  She
bared for us her own inner soul, and all that it had known and desired,
and this she did with a noble, pure, simple, but intense truth.  There
was neither egoism, nor monotony, nor commonplace in it.  It was all
coloured with native imagination and a sense of true art.  There is
ample room in Art for these subjective idealisations of even the
narrowest world.  Shelley's lyrics are intensely self-centred, but no
one can find in them either realism or egoism.  The field in prose is
far more limited, and the risk of becoming tedious and morbid is
greater.  But a true artist can now and then in prose produce most
precious portraits of self and glowing autobiographic fantasies of a
noble kind.

And Charlotte Brontë was a true artist.  She was also more than this; a
brave, sincere, high-minded woman, with a soul, as the great moralist
saw, "of impetuous honesty."  She was not seduced, or even moved, by
her sudden fame.  She put aside the prospect of success, money, and
social distinction as things which revolted her.  She was quite right.
With all her genius it was strictly and narrowly limited; she was
ignorant of the world to a degree immeasurably below that of any other
known writer of fiction; her world was incredibly scanty and barren.
She had to spin everything out of her own brain in that cold, still,
gruesome Haworth parsonage.  It was impossible for any genius to paint
a world of which it was as ignorant as a child.  Hence, in eight years
she only completed four tales for publication.  And she did right.
With her strict limits both of brain and of experience she could not go
further.  Perhaps, as it was, she did more than was needed.  _Shirley_
and _Villette_, with all their fine scenes, are interesting now mainly
because Charlotte Brontë wrote them, and because they throw light upon
her brain and nature.  _The Professor_ is entirely so, and has hardly
any other quality.  We need not groan that we have no more than we have
from her pen.  _Jane Eyre_ would suffice for many reputations and alone
will live.

In considering the gifted Brontë family, it is really Charlotte alone
who finally concerns us.  Emily Brontë was a wild, original, and
striking creature, but her one book is a kind of prose _Kubla Khan_--a
nightmare of the superheated imagination.  Anne Brontë always seems but
a pale reflection of the family.  In any other family she might be
interesting--just as "Barrel Mirabeau" was the good boy and fool of the
Mirabeau family, though in another family he would have been the genius
and the profligate.  And so, the poems of the whole three are
interesting as psychologic studies, but have hardly a single stanza
that can be called poetry at all.  It is significant, but hardly
paradoxical, that Charlotte's verses are the worst of the three.  How
many born writers of musical prose have persisted in manufacturing
verse of a curiously dull and unmelodious quality!  The absolute
masters of prose and of verse in equal perfection hardly exceed
Shakespeare and Shelley, Goethe and Hugo.  And Charlotte Brontë is an
eminent example of a strong imagination working with freedom in prose,
but which began by using the instrument of verse, and used it in a
manner that never rose for an instant above mediocrity.

Of the Brontës it is Charlotte only who concerns us, and of Charlotte's
work it is _Jane Eyre_ only that can be called a masterpiece.  To call
it a masterpiece, as Thackeray did, is not to deny its manifold and
manifest shortcomings.  It is a very small corner of the world that it
gives, and that world is seen by a single acute observer from without.
The plain little governess dominates the whole book and fills every
page.  Everything and every one appear, not as we see them and know
them in the world, but as they look to a keen-eyed girl who had hardly
ever left her native village.  Had the whole book been cast into the
form of impersonal narration, this limitation, this huge ignorance of
life, this amateur's attempt to construct a romance by the light of
nature instead of observation and study of persons, would have been a
failure.  As the autobiography of Jane Eyre--let us say at once of
Charlotte Brontë--it is consummate art.  It produces the illusion we
feel in reading _Robinson Crusoe_.  In the whole range of modern
fiction there are few characters whom we feel that we know so
intimately as we do Jane Eyre.  She is as intensely familiar to us as
Becky Sharp or Parson Adams.  Much more than this.  Not only do we feel
an intimate knowledge of Jane Eyre, but we see every one by the eyes of
Jane Eyre only.  Edward Rochester has not a few touches of the
melodramatic villain; and no man would ever draw a man with such
conventional and Byronic extravagances.  If Edward Rochester had been
described in impersonal narrative with all his brutalities, his stage
villain frowns, and his Grand Turk whims, it would have spoiled the
book.  But Edward Rochester, the "master" of the little governess, as
seen by the eyes of a passionate, romantic, but utterly unsophisticated
girl, is a powerful character; and all the inconsistencies, the
affectation, the savageries we might detect in him, become the natural
love-dream of a most imaginative and most ignorant young woman.

A consummate master of style has spoken, we have just seen, of the
"noble English" that Charlotte Brontë wrote.  It is true that she never
reached the exquisite ease, culture, and raciness of Thackeray's
English.  She lapsed now and then into provincial solecisms; she
"named" facts as well as persons; girls talk of a "beautiful man"; nor
did she know anything of the scientific elaboration of George Eliot or
the subtle grace of Stevenson.  But the style is of high quality and
conscientious finish--terse, pure, picturesque, and sound.  Like
everything she did, it was most scrupulously honest--the result of a
sincere and vivid soul, resolved to utter what it had most at heart in
the clearest tone.  Very few writers of romance have ever been masters
of a style so effective, so nervous, so capable of rising into floods
of melody and pathos.  There is a fine passage of the kind in one of
her least-known books, the earliest indeed of all, which no publisher
could be found in her lifetime to print.  The "Professor" has just
proposed, has been accepted, and goes home to bed half-crazy and
fasting.  A sudden reaction falls on his over-wrought nerves.

A horror of great darkness fell upon me; I felt my chamber invaded by
one I had known formerly, but had thought for ever departed.  I was
temporarily a prey to hypochondria.  She had been my acquaintance, nay,
my guest, once before in boyhood; I had entertained her at bed and
board for a year; for that space of time I had her to myself in secret;
she lay with me, she ate with me, she walked out with me, showing me
nooks in woods, hollows in hills, where we could sit together, and
where she could drop her drear veil over me, and so hide sky and sun,
grass and green tree; taking me entirely to her death-cold bosom, and
holding me with arms of bone.  What tales she would tell me at such
hours!  What songs she would recite in my ears!  How she would
discourse to me of her own country--the grave--and again and again
promise to conduct me there ere long; and drawing me to the very brink
of a black, sullen river, show me, on the other side, shores unequal
with mound, monument, and tablet, standing up in a glimmer more hoary
than moonlight.  "Necropolis!" she would whisper, pointing to the pale
piles, and add, "It contains a mansion prepared for you."

Finely imagined--finely said!  It has the ring and weird mystery of De
Quincey.  There are phrases that Thackeray would not have used, such as
jar on the ear and betray an immature taste.  "Necropolis" is a strange
affectation when "City of the Dead" was at hand; and "pointing to the
pale piles" is a hideous alliteration.  But in spite of such
immaturities (and the writer never saw the text in type) the passage
shows wonderful power of language and sense of music in prose.  How
fine is the sentence, "taking me to her death-cold bosom, and holding
me with arms of bone," and that of the tombstones, "in a glimmer more
hoary than moonlight" Coleridge might have used such a phrase in the
_Ancient Mariner_ or in _Christabel_.  Yet these were the thoughts and
the words of a lonely girl of thirty as she watched the dreary
churchyard at Haworth from the windows of its unlovely parsonage.

This vivid power of painting in words is specially called forth by the
look of nature and the scenes she describes.  Charlotte Brontë had, in
the highest degree, that which Ruskin has called the "pathetic
fallacy," the eye which beholds nature coloured by the light of the
inner soul.  In this quality she really reaches the level of fine
poetry.  Her intense sympathy with her native moors and glens is akin
to that of Wordsworth.  She almost never attempts to describe any
scenery with which she is not deeply familiar.  But how wonderfully she
catches the tone of her own moorland, skies, storm-winds, secluded hall
or cottage!

The charm of the hour lay in its approaching dimness, in the
low-gliding and pale-beaming sun.  I was a mile from Thornfield, in a
lane noted for wild roses in summer, for nuts and blackberries in
autumn, and even now possessing a few coral treasures in hips and haws,
but whose best winter delight lay in its utter solitude and leafless
repose.  If a breath of air stirred, it made no sound here; for there
was not a holly, not an evergreen to rustle, and the stripped hawthorn
and hazel bushes were as still as the white worn stones which
causewayed the middle of the path.  Far and wide, on each side, there
were only fields, where no cattle now browsed; and the little brown
birds, which stirred occasionally in the hedge, looked like single
russet leaves that had forgotten to drop. . . .  From my seat I could
look down on Thornfield: the gray and battlemented hall was the
principal object in the vale below me; its woods and dark rookery rose
against the west.  I lingered till the sun went down amongst the trees,
and sank crimson and clear behind them.

How admirable is this icy hush of nature in breathless expectation of
the first coming of the master of Thornfield--of the master of Jane
herself.  And yet, how simple in phrase, how pure, how Wordsworthian in
its sympathy with earth even in her most bare and sober hues!  And then
that storm which ushers in the story of the Vampyre woman tearing
Jane's wedding veil at her bedside, when "the clouds drifted from pole
to pole, fast following, mass on mass."  And as Jane watches the
shivered chestnut-tree, "black and riven, the trunk, split down the
centre, gasped ghastly"--a strange but powerful alliteration.  "The
moon appeared momentarily in that part of the sky which filled the
fissure; her disk was blood-red and half overcast; she seemed to throw
on me one bewildered, dreary glance, and buried herself again instantly
in the deep drift of cloud."  An admirable overture to that terrific
scene of the mad wife's visit to the rival's bed.

Charlotte Brontë is great in clouds, like a prose Shelley.  We all
recall that mysterious storm in which _Villette_ darkly closes, and
with it the expected bridegroom of Lucy Snowe--

The wind takes its autumn moan; but--he is coming.  The skies hang full
and dark--a rack sails from the west; the clouds cast themselves into
strange forms--arches and broad radiations; there rise resplendent
mornings--glorious, royal, purple as monarch in his state; the heavens
are one flame; so wild are they, they rival battle at its thickest--so
bloody, they shame Victory in her pride. . . .  When the sun returned
his light was night to some!

And into that night Lucy's master, lover, husband has for ever passed.

This sympathy with nature, and this power to invest it with feeling for
the human drama of which it is the scene, lifts little Charlotte Brontë
into the company of the poets.  No one, however, can enter into all the
art of her landscapes unless he knows those Yorkshire moors, the
straggling upland villages, bare, cold, gray, uncanny, with low,
unlovely stone buildings, and stern church towers and graveyards,
varied with brawling brooks and wooded glens, and here and there a grim
manor-house that had seen war.  It is so often that the dwellers in the
least picturesque and smiling countries are found to love their native
country best and to invest it with the most enduring art.  And the
pilgrims to Haworth Parsonage have in times past been as ardent as
those who flock to Grasmere or to Abbotsford.

_Jane Eyre_ is full of this "pathetic fallacy," or aspect of nature
dyed in the human emotions of which it is the mute witness.  The storm
in the garden at night when Rochester first offers marriage to his
little governess, and they return to the house drenched in rain and
melted with joy, is a fine example of this power.  From first to last,
the correspondence between the local scene and the human drama is a
distinctive mark in _Jane Eyre_.

If I were asked to choose that scene in the whole tale which impresses
itself most on my memory, I should turn to the thirty-sixth chapter
when Jane comes back to have a look at Thornfield Hall, peeps on the
battlemented mansion which she had loved so well, and is struck dumb to
find it burnt out to a mere skeleton--"I looked with timorous joy
toward a stately house: I saw a blackened ruin."  The suddenness of
this shock, its unexpected and yet natural catastrophe, its mysterious
imagery of the loves of Edward Rochester and Jane Eyre, and the intense
sympathy which earth, wood, rookery, and ruin seem to feel for the
girl's eagerness, amazement, and horror, have always seemed to me to
reach the highest note of art in romance.  It is now forty-seven years
since I first read that piece; and in all these years I have found no
single scene in later fiction which is so vividly and indelibly burnt
into the memory as is this.  The whole of this chapter, and what
follows it, is intensely real and true.  And the very dénoûment of the
tale itself--that inevitable bathos into which the romance so often
dribbles out its last inglorious breath--has a manliness and sincerity
of its own: "the sky is no longer a blank to him--the earth no longer a

The famous scene in the twenty-sixth chapter with the interrupted
marriage, when Rochester drags the whole bridal party into the den of
his maniacal wife, the wild struggle with the mad woman, the despair of
Jane--all this is as powerful as anything whatever in English fiction.
It is even a masterpiece of ingenious construction and dramatic action.
It is difficult to form a cool estimate of a piece so intense, so
vivid, and so artful in its mechanism.  The whole incident is conceived
with the most perfect reality; the plot is original, startling, and yet
not wholly extravagant.  But it must be confessed that the plot is not
worked out in details in a faultless way.  It is undoubtedly in
substance "sensational," and has been called the parent of modern
sensationalism.  Edward Rochester acts as a Rochester might; but he too
often talks like the "wicked baronet" of low melodrama.  The execution
is not always quite equal to the conception.  The affiance of Jane and
Edward Rochester, their attempted marriage, the wild temptation of
Jane, her fierce rebuff of the tempter, his despair and remorse, her
agony and flight--all are consummate in conception, marred here and
there as they are in details by the blue fire and conventional
imprecations of the stage.

The concluding chapters of the book, when Jane finally rejects St. John
Rivers and goes back to Thornfield and to her "master," are all indeed
excellent.  St. John is not successful as a character; but he serves to
produce the crisis and to be foil to Rochester.  St. John, it is true,
is not a real being: like Rochester, he is a type of man as he affects
the brain and heart of a highly sensitive and imaginative girl.
Objectively speaking, as men living and acting in a practical world,
St. John and Rochester are both in some degree caricatures of men; and,
if the narrative were a cold story calmly composed by a certain Miss
Brontë to amuse us, we could not avoid the sense of unreality in the
men.  But the intensity of the vision, the realism of every scene, the
fierce yet self-governed passion of Jane herself, pouring out, as in a
secret diary, her agonies of love, of scorn, of pride, of
abandonment,--all this produces an illusion on us: we are no longer
reading a novel of society, but we are admitted to the wild musings of
a girl's soul; and, though she makes out her first lover to be a
generous brute and her second lover to be a devout machine, we feel it
quite natural that Jane, with her pride and her heart of fire and her
romantic brain, should so in her diary describe them.

St. John Rivers, if we take him coolly outside of Jane's portrait
gallery, is little more than a puppet.  We never seem to get nearer to
his own mind and heart, and his conduct and language are hardly
compatible with the noble attributes with which he is said to be
adorned.  A man of such refined culture, of such high intelligence, of
such social distinction and experience, of such angelic character, does
not treat women with studied insolence and diabolical cynicism.  That a
girl, half maddened by disappointed love, should romantically come to
erect his image into that of a sort of diabolic angel, is natural
enough, and her conduct when she leaves Moor House is right and true,
though we cannot say as much for Rivers' words.  But the impression of
the whole scene is right.

In the same way, Edward Rochester, if we take him simply as a cultured
and travelled country gentleman, who was a magnate and great _parti_ in
his county, is barely within the range of possibility.  As St. John
Rivers is a walking contradictory of a diabolic saint, so Edward
Rochester is a violent specimen of the heroic ruffian.  In Emily
Brontë's gruesome phantasmagoria of _Wuthering Heights_ there is a
ruffian named Heathcliff; and, whatever be his brutalities and
imprecations, we always feel in reading it that _Wuthering Heights_ is
merely a grisly dream, not a novel at all.  Edward Rochester has
something of the Heathcliff too.  But Rochester is a man of the best
English society, courted by wealth and rank, a man of cultivated
tastes, of wide experience and refined habits, and lastly of most
generous and heroic impulses--and yet such a man swears at his people
like a horse-dealer, teases and bullies his little governess, treats
his adopted child like a dog, almost kicks his brother-in-law in his
rages, plays shocking tricks with his governess at night, offers her
marriage, and attempts to commit bigamy in his own parish with his
living wife still under the same roof!  That a man of Rochester's
resource, experience, and forethought, should keep his maniac wife in
his own ancestral home where he is entertaining the county families and
courting a neighbouring peer's sister, and that, after the maniac had
often attempted murder and arson--all this is beyond the range of
probabilities.  And yet the story could not go on without it.  And so,
Edward Rochester, man of the world as he is, risks his life, his home,
and everything and every one dear to him in order that his little
governess, Jane Eyre, should have the materials for inditing a
thrilling autobiography.  It cannot be denied that this is the very
essence of "sensationalism," which means a succession of thrilling
surprises constructed out of situations that are practically impossible.

Nor, alas! can we deny that there are ugly bits of real coarseness in
_Jane Eyre_.  It is true that most of them are the effects of that
portentous ignorance of the world and of civilised society which the
solitary dreamer of Haworth Parsonage had no means of removing.  The
fine ladies, the lords and soldiers in the drawing-room at Thornfield
are described with inimitable life, but they are described as they
appeared to the lady's-maids, not to each other or to the world.
Charlotte Brontë perhaps did not know that an elegant girl of rank does
not in a friend's house address her host's footman before his guests in
these words--"Cease that chatter, blockhead! and do my bidding."  Nor
does a gentleman speak to his governess of the same lady whom he is
thought to be about to marry in these terms--"She is a rare one, is she
not, Jane?  A strapper--a real strapper, Jane: big, brown, and buxom."
But all these things are rather the result of pure ignorance.
Charlotte Brontë, when she wrote her first book, had hardly ever seen
any Englishmen but a few curates, the villagers, and her degraded
brother, with rare glimpses of lower middle-class homes.  But Jane
Eyre's own doings and sayings are hardly the effect of mere ignorance.
Her nocturnal adventures with her "master" are given with delightful
_naïveté_; her consenting to hear out her "master's" story of his
foreign amours is not pleasant.  Her two avowals to Edward
Rochester--one before he had declared his love for her, and the other
on her return to him--are certainly somewhat frank.  Jane Eyre in truth
does all but propose marriage twice to Edward Rochester; and she is the
first to avow her love, even when she believed he was about to marry
another woman.  It is indeed wrung from her; it is human nature; it is
a splendid encounter of passion; and if it be bold in the little woman,
it is redeemed by her noble defiance of his tainted suit, and her
desperate flight from her married lover.

But Jane Eyre's ignorances and simplicities, the improbabilities of her
men, the violence of the plot, the weird romance about her own life,
are all made acceptable to us by being shown to us only through the
secret visions of a passionate and romantic girl.  As the autobiography
of a brave and original woman, who bares to us her whole heart without
reserve and without fear, _Jane Eyre_ stands forth as a great book of
the nineteenth century.  It stands just in the middle of the century,
when men were still under the spell of Byron, Shelley, Coleridge, and
Wordsworth, and yet it is not wholly alien to the methods of our latest

It is true that a purely subjective work in prose romance, an
autobiographic revelation of a sensitive heart, is not the highest and
certainly not the widest art.  Scott and Thackeray--even Jane Austen
and Maria Edgeworth--paint the world, or part of the world, as it is,
crowded with men and women of various characters.  Charlotte Brontë
painted not the world, hardly a corner of the world, but the very soul
of one proud and loving girl.  That is enough: we need ask no more.  It
was done with consummate power.  We feel that we know her life, from
ill-used childhood to her proud matronhood; we know her home, her
school, her professional duties, her loves and hates, her agonies and
her joys, with that intense familiarity and certainty of vision with
which our own personal memories are graven on our brain.  With all its
faults, its narrowness of range, its occasional extravagances, _Jane
Eyre_ will long be remembered as one of the most creative influences of
the Victorian literature, one of the most poetic pieces of English
romance, and among the most vivid masterpieces in the rare order of
literary "Confessions."



In this series of papers I have been trying to note some of the more
definite literary forces which tended to mould English opinion during the
epoch of the present Queen.  I can remember the issue of nearly all the
greater products of the Victorian writers, or at least the heyday of
their early fame.  I do not speak of any living writer, and confine
myself to the writers of our country.  Much less do I permit myself to
speak of those living lights of literature from whom we may yet receive
work even surpassing that of those who are gone.  My aim has been not so
much to weigh each writer in the delicate balance of mere literary merit,
but rather, from the point of view of the historian of ideas and of
manners, to record the successive influences which, in the last fifty
years or so, have moulded or reflected English opinion through printed
books, be they of the dogmatic or of the imaginative order.  In so doing,
I have to speak of writers whose vogue is passing away with the present
generation, or those of whom we must admit very grave defects and
feebleness.  Some of them may be little cared for to-day; though they
have a place in the evolution of British society and thought.

Charles Kingsley has such a place--not by reason of any supreme work or
any very rare quality of his own, but by virtue of his versatility, his
_verve_, his fecundity, his irrepressible gift of breaking out in some
new line, his strong and reckless sympathy, and above all by real
literary brilliance.  Where he failed to impress, to teach, to
inspire--almost even though he stirred men to anger or laughter--Charles
Kingsley for a generation continued to interest the public, to scatter
amongst them ideas or problems; he made many people think, and gave many
people delight.  He woke them up in all sorts of ways, about all sorts of
things.  He wrote lyrics, songs, dramas, romances, sermons, Platonic
dialogues, newspaper articles, children's fairy books, scientific
manuals, philosophical essays, lectures, extravaganzas, and theological
polemics.  Hardly any of these were quite in the first rank, and some of
them were thin, flashy, and almost silly.  But most of them had the
saving gift of getting home to the interests, ideas, and tastes of the
great public, and he made them think even when he was very wrong himself.
Such activity, such keenness, such command of literary resources, has to
be reckoned with in a man of warm feeling and generous impulses; and
thus, if Charles Kingsley is no longer with very many either prophet or
master, he was a literary influence of at least the second rank in his
own generation.

This would not be enough to make a permanent reputation if it stood
alone; but there were moments in which he bounded into the first rank.
It would hardly be safe to call Kingsley a poet of great pretension,
although there are passages in _The Saint's Tragedy_ and in the _Ballads_
of real power; but he has written songs which, as songs for the voice,
have hardly been surpassed by Tennyson himself.  _The Sands of Dee_ and
_The Three Fishers_, if not poetry of quite perfect kind, have that
incommunicable and indescribable element of the _cantabile_ which fits
them to the wail of a sympathetic voice perhaps even better than any
songs of the most finished poetry.  A true song must be simple, familiar,
musically suggestive of a single touching idea, and nothing more.  And
this is just the mysterious quality of these songs and the source of
their immense popularity.  Again, without pretending that Kingsley is a
great novelist, there are scenes, especially descriptive scenes, in
_Hypatia_, in _Westward Ho!_ which belong to the very highest order of
literary painting, and have hardly any superior in the romances of our
era.  No romances, except Thackeray's, have the same glow of style in
such profusion and variety; and Thackeray himself was no such poet of
natural beauty as Charles Kingsley--a poet, be it remembered, who by
sheer force of imagination could realise for us landscapes and climates
of which he himself had no sort of experience.  Even Scott himself has
hardly done this with so vivid a brush.

Kingsley was a striking example of that which is so characteristic of
recent English literature--its strong, practical, social, ethical, or
theological bent.  It is in marked contrast with French literature.  Our
writers are always using their literary gifts to preach, to teach, to
promulgate a new social or religious movement, to reform somebody or
something to illustrate a new doctrine.  From first to last, Carlyle
regarded himself even more as preacher than as artist: so does his
follower, Mr. Ruskin.  Macaulay seemed to write history in order to prove
the immeasurable superiority of the Whig to the Tory; and Froude and
Freeman write history to enforce their own moral.  Disraeli's novels were
the programme of a party and the defence of a cause; and even Dickens and
Thackeray plant their knives deep into the social abuses of their time.
Charles Kingsley was not professed novelist, nor professed man of
letters.  He was novelist, poet, essayist, and historian, almost by
accident, or with ulterior aims.  Essentially, he was a moralist, a
preacher, a socialist, a reformer, and a theologian.

To begin with his poetry, and he himself began his literary career with
verses at the age of sixteen, he began to write poetry almost as a child,
and some of his earlier verses are his best.  If Kingsley, with all his
literary gifts, was never quite in the first rank in anything, he came
nearest to being a poet of mark.  Some of his ballads almost touch the
high-water mark of true ballad poetry, with its abrupt fierce blows of
tragedy and pathos, its simple touches of primitive rude speech, its
reserve of force, its unspoken mysteries.  At any rate, Kingsley's best
ballads have no superior in the ballads of the Victorian era in lilt, in
massiveness of stroke, in strange unexpected turns.  _The Weird Lady_ is
an astonishing piece for a lad of twenty-one--it begins with, "The
swevens came up round Harold the Earl, Like motes in the sunnès
beam"--and it ends with the stanza:

  A white dove out of the coffin flew;
    Earl Harold's mouth it kist;
  He fell on his face, wherever he stood;
  And the white dove carried his soul to God
    Or ever the bearers wist.

That little piece is surely a bit of pure and rare ballad poetry.

A _New Forest Ballad_ is also good, it ends thus--

  They dug three graves in Lyndhurst yard;
    They dug them side by side;
  Two yeomen lie there, and a maiden fair,
    A widow and never a bride.

So too is the _Outlaw_, whose last request is this:--

  And when I'm taen and hangit, mither,
      a brittling o' my deer,
  Ye'll no leave your bairn to the corbie craws,
      to dangle in the air;
  But ye'll send up my twa douce brethren,
      and ye'll steal me fra the tree,
  And bury me up on the brown, brown muirs,
      where I aye loved to be.

The famous ballad in _Yeast_ might have been a great success if Kingsley
would have limited it to five stanzas instead of twenty.  What a ring
there is in the opening lines--

  The merry brown hares came leaping
    Over the crest of the hill--

If he could only have been satisfied with the first five stanzas what a
ballad it would have been!--If only he had closed it with the verse--

  She thought of the dark plantation
    And the hares, and her husband's blood,
  And the voice of her indignation
    Rose up to the throne of God.

That was enough for a ballad, but not for a political novel.  The other
fifteen stanzas were required for his story; they may be vigorous
rhetoric, impressive moralising, but they are too argumentative and too
rhetorical to be ballad poetry.  It is curious how much of Kingsley's
work, both poetry and prose, is inspired by his love of sport and his
indignation at game laws!

His songs, spoiled as they are to our ears by poor music and too often
maudlin voices, are as good songs and as fitted for singing as any in our
time.  _The Sands of Dee_, hacknied and vulgarised as it is by the
banalities of the drawing-room, is really (to use a hacknied and
vulgarised phrase) a "haunting" piece of song; and though Ruskin may
pronounce "the cruel crawling foam" to be a false use of the pathetic
fallacy, the song, for what it professes to be, is certainly a thing to
live.  I have always felt more kindly toward the East wind since
Kingsley's _Welcome, wild North-Easter_!; and his Church Hymns such
as--_Who will say the world is dying?_ and _The Day of the Lord is at
hand, at hand!_--are far above the level even of the better modern hymns.

We have not yet touched upon Kingsley's longest and most ambitious
poem--_The Saint's Tragedy_.  With all its merits and beauties it is a
mistake.  It was avowedly a controversial diatribe against the celibacy
and priestcraft of Romanism, and was originally designed to be in prose.
That is not a safe basis for a dramatic poem, and the poem suffers from
the fact that it is in great part a theological pamphlet.  It would have
made a most interesting historical novel as a mediaeval pendant to
_Hypatia_; but it is not a great lyrical drama.  As we have had no great
lyrical drama at all since _Manfred_ and _The Cenci_, that is not much in
its dispraise.  There are powerful passages, much poetic grace in the
piece; but the four thousand lines of this elaborate polemical poem
rather weary us, and a perfervid appeal to the Protestantism and
uxoriousness of Britons should have been cast into other moulds.

The long poem of _Andromeda_ almost succeeds in that impossible feat--the
revival of the hexameter in English.  It may be a hard saying to the
countrymen of Longfellow, but the truth is that the hexameter is a
metrical monster in our English speech.  The paucity of easy dactyls and
the absence of all true spondees in English words, the preponderance of
consonants over vowels, the want of inflected forms, and other
peculiarities in our language--make the hexameter incapable of
transplantation; and this magnificent metre loses with us all its
majesty, its ease, its beauty.  The very line can hardly be printed on an
ordinary page, for the immense number of letters in each English verse
causes an unsightly doubling of the lines, chokes the voice, and wearies
the ear.  In the hexameter line of Homer there are usually about thirty
letters, of which only twelve are consonants; in the English hexameter
there are often sixty letters, of which nearly forty are consonants.  And
the Homeric hexameter will have six words where the English hexameter has
twelve or fourteen.[1]  Yet having set himself this utterly hopeless and
thankless task, to write English hexameter, Kingsley produced some five
hundred lines of _Andromeda_, which in rhythm, ease, rapidity, and
metrical correctness are quite amongst the best in the language.  It is
very rare to meet with any English hexameter which in rhythm, stress, and
prosody is perfectly accurate.  _Andromeda_ contains many such lines, as
for example:

  Violet, asphodel, ivy, and vine-leaves, roses and lilies--
  Nereid, siren, and triton, and dolphin, and arrowy fishes.

These lines are true hexameters, chiefly because they consist of Latin
and Greek words; and they have little more than forty letters, of which
barely more than half are consonants.  They would be almost pure
hexameters, if in lieu of the long a[a-macron]nd, we could put
e[e-breve]t, or _te_ [tau epsilon].  And there are only three Saxon words
in the two lines.  But hexameters consisting of purely English words,
especially of Anglo-Saxon words, halt and stammer like a schoolboy's
exercise.  The attempt of Kingsley in _Andromeda_ is most ingenious and
most instructive.

I have dwelt so much upon Kingsley's poetry because, though he was hardly
a "minor poet,"--an order which now boasts sixty members--he wrote a few
short pieces which came wonderfully near being a great success.  And
again, it is the imaginative element in all his work, the creative fire
and the vivid life which he threw into his prose as much as his verse,
into his controversies as much as into his fictions, that gave them their
popularity and their savour.  Nearly every one of Kingsley's imaginative
works was polemical, full of controversy, theological, political, social,
and racial; and this alone prevented them from being great works.
Interesting works they are; full of vigour, beauty, and ardent
conception; and it is wonderful that so much art and fancy could be
thrown into what is in substance polemical pamphleteering.

Of them all _Hypatia_ is the best known and the best conceived.
_Hypatia_ was written in 1853 in the prime of his manhood and was on the
face of it a controversial work.  Its sub-title was--_New Foes with an
Old Face_,--its preface elaborates the moral and spiritual ideas that it
teaches, the very titles of the chapters bear biblical phrases and
classical moralising as their style.  I should be sorry to guarantee the
accuracy of the local colouring and the detail of its elaborate history;
but the life, realism, and pictorial brilliancy of the scenes give it a
power which is rare indeed in an historical novel.  It has not the great
and full knowledge of _Romola_, much less the consummate style and
setting of _Esmond_; but it has a vividness, a rapidity, a definiteness
which completely enthral the imagination and stamp its scenes on the
memory.  It is that rare thing, an historical romance which does not
drag.  It is not one of those romances of which we fail to understand the
incidents, and often forget what it is that the personages are struggling
so fiercely to obtain.  No one who has read _Hypatia_ in early life will
fail to remember its chief scenes or its leading characters, if he lives
to old age.  After forty years this romance has been cast into a drama
and placed upon the London stage, and it is frequently the subject of
some vigorous pictures.

In any estimate of _Hypatia_ as a romance, it is right to consider the
curious tangle of difficulties which Kingsley crowded into his task.  It
was to be a realistic historical novel dated in an age of which the
public knew nothing, set in a country of which the author had no
experience, but which many of us know under wholly altered conditions.
It was to carry on controversies as to the older and the later types of
Christianity, as to Polytheism, Judaism, and Monotheism; it was to
confute Romanism, Scepticism, and German metaphysics; it was to denounce
celibacy and monasticism, to glorify muscular Christianity, to give
glowing pictures of Greek sensuousness and Roman rascality, and finally
to secure the apotheosis of Scandinavian heroism.  And in spite of these
incongruous and incompatible aims, the story still remains a vivid and
fascinating tale.  That makes it a real _tour de force_.  It is true that
it has many of the faults of Bulwer, a certain staginess, melodramatic
soliloquies, careless incongruities, crude sensationalism--but withal, it
has some of the merits of Bulwer at his best, in _The Last Days of
Pompeii_, _Riensi_, _The Last of the Barons_,--the play of human passion
and adventure, intensity of reproduction however inaccurate in detail; it
has "go," intelligibility, memorability.  The characters interest us, the
scenes amuse us, the pictures are not forgotten.  The stately beauty of
Hypatia, the seductive fascination of Pelagia, the childlike nature of
Philammon, the subtle cynicism of Raphael Aben-Ezra, the mighty audacity
of the Goths, the fanaticism of Cyril, and the strange clash of three
elements of civilisation,--Graeco-Roman, Christian, Teutonic--give us
definite impressions, leave a permanent imprint on our thoughts.  There
are  extravagances, theatricalities, impossibilities enough.  The Gothic
princes comport themselves like British seamen ashore in Suez or Bombay;
Raphael talks like young Lancelot Smith in _Yeast_; Hypatia is a Greek
Argemone; and Bishop Synesius is merely an African fifth-century Charles
Kingsley, what Sydney Smith called a "squarson," or compound of squire
and parson.  Still, after all--bating grandiloquences and incongruities
and "errors excepted," _Hypatia_ lives, moves, and speaks to us; and, in
the matter of vitality and interest, is amongst the very few successes in
historical romance in the whole Victorian literature.

_West-ward Ho!_ shares with _Hypatia_ the merit of being a successful
historical romance.  It is free from many of the faults of _Hypatia_, it
is more mature, more carefully written.  It is not laden with the
difficulties of _Hypatia_; it is only in part an historical romance at
all; the English scenery is placed in a country which Kingsley knew
perfectly and from boyhood; and the only controversy involved was the
interminable debate about Jesuit mendacity and Romanist priestcraft.  So
that, if _Westward Ho!_ does not present us with the weaknesses and the
dilemmas of _Hypatia_, on the other hand it is not so brilliant or so
rich with interest.  But it has real and lasting qualities.  The Devon
coast scenery which Kingsley knew and loved, the West Indian and tropical
scenery, which he loved but did not know, are both painted with wonderful
force of imaginative colour.  When one recalls all that Kingsley has done
in the landscape of romance,--Alexandria and the desert of the Nile, West
Indian jungles and rivers, Bideford Bay, his own heaths in _Yeast_, the
fever-dens of London in _Alton Locke_,--one is almost inclined to rank
him in this single gift of description as first of all the novelists
since Scott.  Compared with the brilliancy and variety of Kingsley's
pictures of country, Bulwer's and Disraeli's are conventional; even those
of Dickens are but local; Thackeray and Trollope have no interest in
landscape at all; George Eliot's keen interest is not so spontaneous as
Kingsley's, and Charlotte Brontë's wonderful gift is strictly limited to
the narrow field of her own experience.  But Kingsley, as a landscape
painter, can image to us other continents and many zones, and he carries
us to distant climates with astonishing force of reality.

_Two Years Ago_ has some vigorous scenes, but it has neither the merits
nor the defects of Kingsley in historical romance.  Its scene is too near
for his fine imagination to work poetically, and it is too much of a
sermon and pamphlet to be worth a second, or a third reading; and as to
_Hereward the Wake_, I must confess to not having been able to complete
even a first reading, and that after sundry trials.  Of Kingsley's
remaining fanciful pieces it is enough to say that _The Heroes_ still
remains, after forty years, the child's introduction to Greek mythology,
and is still the best book of its class.  When we compare it with another
attempt by a romancer of genius, and set it beside the sticky dulness of
_The Tanglewood Tales_, it looks like a group of real Tanagra figurines
placed beside a painted plaster cast.  Kingsley's _Heroes_, in spite of
the inevitable sermon addressed in the preface to all good boys and
girls, has the real simplicity of Greek art, and the demi-gods tell their
myths in noble and pure English.  _The Water Babies_ is an immortal bit
of fun, which will be read in the next century with _Gulliver_ and _The
Ring and the Rose_, long after we have all forgotten the nonsensical
whims about science and the conventional pulpit moralising which Kingsley
scattered broadcast into everything he said or wrote.

We have as yet said nothing about that which was Kingsley's most
characteristic and effective work--his political fictions.  These were
the pieces by which his fame was first achieved, and no doubt they are
the works which gave him his chief influence on his generation.  But, for
that very reason, they suffered most of all his writings as works of art.
_Yeast_ is a book very difficult to classify.  It is not exactly a novel,
it is more than a _Dialogue_, it is too romantic for a sermon, it is too
imaginative for a pamphlet, it is too full of action for a political and
social treatise.  Incongruous as it is, it is interesting and effective,
and contains some of Kingsley's best work.  It has some of his most
striking verses, some of his finest pictures of scenery, many of his most
eloquent thoughts, all his solid ideas, the passion of his youth, and the
first glow of his enthusiasm.  It was written before he was thirty,
before he thought himself to be a philosopher, before he professed to be
entrusted with a direct message from God.  Its title--_Yeast_--suggests
that it is a ferment thrown into the compound mass of current political,
social, and religious ideas, to make them work and issue in some new
combination.  Kingsley himself was a kind of ferment.  His mind was
itself destined to cause a violent chemical reaction in the torpid fluids
into which it was projected.  His early and most amorphous work of
_Yeast_ did this with singular vigour, in a fresh and reckless way, with
rare literary and poetic skill.

If I spoke my whole mind, I should count _Yeast_ as Kingsley's typical
prose work.  It is full of anomalies, full of fallacies, raising
difficulties it fails to solve, crying out upon maladies and sores for
which it quite omits to offer a remedy.  But that is Kingsley all over.
He was a mass of over-excited nerves and ill-ordered ideas, much more
poet than philosopher, more sympathetic than lucid, full of passionate
indignation, recklessly self-confident, cynically disdainful of
consistency, patience, good sense.  He had the Rousseau temperament, with
its furious eloquence, its blind sympathies and antipathies, its splendid
sophistries.  _Yeast_ was plainly the Christian reverse of the Carlyle
image and superscription, as read in _Sartor_ and _Past and Present_.
Kingsley was always profoundly influenced by Frederick D. Maurice, who
was a kind of spiritual Carlyle, without the genius or the learning of
the mighty _Sartor_, with a fine gift of sympathy instead of sarcasm,
with a genuine neo-Christian devoutness in lieu of an old-Hebrew
Goetheism.  Kingsley had some of Carlyle's passion, of his eloquence, of
his power to strike fire out of stones.  And so, just because _Yeast_ was
so disjointed as a composition, so desultory in thought, so splendidly
defiant of all the conventions of literature and all the ten commandments
of British society in 1849, I am inclined to rank it as Kingsley's
typical performance in prose.  It is more a work of art than _Alton
Locke_, for it is much shorter, less akin to journalism, less spasmodic,
and more full of poetry.  _Yeast_ deals with the country--which Kingsley
knew better and loved more than he did the town.  It deals with real,
permanent, deep social evils, and it paints no fancy portrait of the
labourer, the squire, the poacher, or the village parson.  Kingsley there
speaks of what he knew, and he describes that which he felt with the soul
of a poet.  The hunting scenes in Yeast, the river vignettes, the village
revel, are exquisite pieces of painting.  And the difficulties overcome
in the book are extreme.  To fuse together a Platonic Dialogue and a
Carlyle latter-day pamphlet, and to mould this compound into a rural
romance in the style of _Silas Marner_, heightened with extracts from
University Pulpit sermons, with some ringing ballads, and political
diatribes in the vein of Cobbett's appeals to the People--this was to
show wonderful literary versatility and animation.  And, after forty-five
years, _Yeast_ can be read and re-read still!

_Alton Locke_ was no doubt more popular, more passionately in earnest,
more definite and intelligible than _Yeast_; and if I fail to hold it
quite as the equal of _Yeast_ in literary merit, it is because these very
qualities necessarily impair it as a work of art.  It was written, we
well know, under violent excitement and by a terrible strain on the
neuropathic organism of the poet-preacher.  It is undoubtedly spasmodic,
crude, and disorderly.  A generation which has grown fastidious on the
consummate finish of _Esmond_, _Romola_, and _Treasure Island_, is a
little critical of the hasty outpourings of spirit which satisfied our
fathers in the forties, after the manner of _Sybil_, the _Last of the
Barons_, or _Barnaby Rudge_.  The Tennysonian modulation of phrase had
not yet been popularised in prose, and spasmodic soliloquies and
melodramatic eloquence did not offend men so cruelly as they offend us

As Yeast was inspired by Sartor Resartus, so _Alton Locke_ was inspired
by Carlyle's _French Revolution_.  The effect of Carlyle upon Kingsley is
plain enough throughout, down to the day when Carlyle led Kingsley to
approve the judicial murder of negroes in Jamaica.  Kingsley himself
tells us, by the mouth of Alton Locke (chap. ix.), "I know no book,
always excepting Milton, which at once so quickened and exalted my
poetical view of man and his history, as that great prose poem, _the
single epic of modern days_, Thomas Carlyle's _French Revolution_."
Kingsley's three masters were--in poetry, Tennyson; in social philosophy,
Carlyle; in things moral and spiritual, Frederick D. Maurice.  He had far
more of genius than had Maurice; he was a much more passionate reformer
than Tennyson; he was far more genial and social than Carlyle.  Not that
he imitated any of the three.  _Yeast_ is not at all copied from Sartor,
either in form or in thought; nor is _Alton Locke_ in any sense imitated
from the _French Revolution_.  It is inspired by it; but _Yeast_ and
_Alton Locke_ are entirely original, and were native outbursts from
Kingsley's own fierce imagination and intense human sympathy.

And in many ways they were amongst the most powerful influences over the
thought of the young of the last generation.  In the early fifties we
were not so fastidious in the matter of style and composition as we have
now become.  Furious eloquence and somewhat melodramatic incongruities
did not shock us so much, if we found them to come from a really glowing
imagination and from genuine inspiration, albeit somewhat unpruned and
ill-ordered.  Now Kingsley "let himself go," in the way of Byron,
Disraeli, Bulwer, and Dickens, who not seldom poured out their
conceptions in what we now hold to be spasmodic form.  It is possible
that the genteeler taste of our age may prevent the young of to-day from
caring for _Alton Locke_.  But I can assure them that five-and-forty
years ago that book had a great effect and came home to the heart of
many.  And the effect was permanent and creative.  We may see to-day in
England widespread results of that potent social movement which was
called Christian Socialism, a movement of which Kingsley was neither the
founder nor the chief leader, but of which his early books were the main
popular exponents, and to which they gave a definiteness and a key which
the movement itself sadly lacked.

I was not of an age to take part in that movement, but in after years at
the Working Men's College, which grew out of it, I gained a personal
knowledge of what was one of the most striking movements of our time.
Nowadays, when leading statesmen assure us "we are all Socialists now,"
when the demands of the old "Chartists" are Liberal common form, when
trades-unionism, co-operation, and state-aided benefits are largely
supported by politicians, churchmen, journals, and writers, it is
difficult for us now to conceive the bitter opposition which assailed the
small band of reformers who, five-and-forty years ago, spoke up for these
reforms.  Of that small band, who stood alone amongst the literary,
academic, and ecclesiastical class, Charles Kingsley was the most
outspoken, the most eloquent, and assuredly the most effective.  I do not
say the wisest, the most consistent, or the most staunch; nor need we
here discuss the strength or the weakness of the Christian Socialist
reform.  When we remember how widely this vague initiative has spread and
developed, when we read again _Alton Locke_ and _Yeast_, and note how
much has been practically done in forty years to redress or mitigate the
abuses against which these books uttered the first burning protest, we
may form some estimate of all that the present generation of Englishmen
owes to Charles Kingsley and his friends.

I have dwelt last and most seriously upon Kingsley's earliest books,
because they were in many respects his most powerful, his typical works.
As he grew in years, he did not develop.  He improved for a time in
literary form, but his excitable nerve-system, his impulsive imagination,
drove him into tasks for which he had no gift, and where he floated
hither and thither without sure guide.  From the time of his official
success, that is, for the last fifteen years of his life, he produced
nothing worthy of himself, and much that was manifest book-making--the
mere outpouring of the professional preacher and story-teller.  Of his
historical and philosophical work I shall not speak at all.  His shallow
Cambridge Inaugural Lecture, given by him as Professor of History, was
torn to pieces in the _Westminster Review_ (vol. xix. p. 305, April
1861), it is said, by a brother Professor of History.  Much less need we
speak of his miserable duel with Cardinal Newman, wherein he was so
shamefully worsted.  For fifteen years he poured out lectures, sermons,
tales, travels, poems, dialogues, children's books, and historical,
philosophical, theological, social, scientific, and sanitary essays--but
the Charles Kingsley of _Yeast_, of _Alton Locke_, of _Hypatia_, of
_Westward Ho!_ of the Ballads and Poems, we never knew again.  He burnt
out his fiery spirit at last, at the age of fifty-five, in a series of
restless enterprises, and a vehement outpouring of miscellaneous

Charles Kingsley was a man of genius, half poet, half controversialist.
The two elements did not blend altogether well.  His poetic passion
carried away his reason and often confused his logic.  His argumentative
vehemence too often marred his fine imagination.  Thus his _Saint's
Tragedy_ is partly a satire on Romanism, and his ballad in _Yeast_ is
mainly a radical pamphlet.  Hardly one of his books is without a
controversial preface, controversial titles, chapters, or passages on
questions of theology, churches, races, politics, or society.  Indeed,
excepting some of his poems, and some of his popular or children's books
(but not even all of these), all his works are of a controversial kind.
Whatever he did he did with heart, and this was at once his merit and his
weakness.  Before all things, he was a preacher, a priest of the English
Church, a Christian minister.  He was, indeed, a liberal priest,
sometimes even too free and easy.  He brings in the sacred name perhaps
more often than any other writer, and he does so not always in a devout
way.  He seemed at last to use the word "God" as if it were an expletive
or mere intensive like a Greek _ge_ [gamma epsilon], meaning "very much"
or "very good," as where he so oddly calls the North-East wind "the wind
of God."  And he betrays a most unclerical interest in physical torture
and physical voluptuousness (_Hypatia_, _The Saint's Tragedy_, _Saint
Maura_, _Westward Ho!_), though it is true that his real nature is both
eminently manly and pure.

As we have done all through these estimates of great writers, we have to
take the great writer at his best and forget his worst.  It is a
melancholy reflection that we so often find a man of genius working
himself out to an unworthy close, it is too often feared, in the thirst
of success and even the attraction of gain.  But at his best Charles
Kingsley left some fine and abiding influences behind him, and achieved
some brilliant things.  Would that we always had men of his dauntless
spirit, of his restless energy, of his burning sympathy, of his keen
imagination!  He reminds us somewhat of his own Bishop Synesius, as
described in _Hypatia_ (chap. xxi.), who "was one of those many-sided,
volatile, restless men, who taste joy and sorrow, if not deeply or
permanently, yet abundantly and passionately"--"He lived . . . in a
whirlwind of good deeds, meddling and toiling for the mere pleasure of
action; and as soon as there was nothing to be done, which, till lately,
had happened seldom enough with him, paid the penalty for past excitement
in fits of melancholy.  A man of magniloquent and flowery style, not
without a vein of self-conceit; yet withal of overflowing kindliness,
racy humour, and unflinching courage, both physical and moral; with a
very clear practical faculty, and a very muddy speculative one"--and so
on.  Charles Kingsley must have been thinking of his own tastes when he
drew the portrait of the "squire-bishop."  But he did more than the
Bishop of Cyrene, and was himself a compound of squire-parson-poet.  And
in all three characters he showed some of the best sides of each.

[1] Amongst other difficulties it may be observed that such words as
"and," "is," "are," "the," "who," "his," "its," "have," "been"--words
without which few English sentences can be constructed--do not form the
short syllables of a true dactyl.



Some of our younger friends who read the name which heads this essay
may incline to think that it ought to be very short indeed, nay, be
limited to a single remark; and, like the famous chapter on the snakes
in Iceland, it should simply run--that Anthony Trollope has no place at
all in Victorian literature.  We did not think so in England in the
fifties, the sixties, and the seventies, in the heyday of Victorian
romance; and I do not think we ought to pass that judgment now in this
last quinquennium of our century.  I shall have to put our friend
Anthony in a very moderate and prosaic rank; I shall not conceal my
sense of his modest claims and conspicuous faults, of his prolixity,
his limited sphere, his commonplace.  But in view of the enormous
popularity he once enjoyed, of the space he filled for a whole
generation, I cannot altogether omit him from these studies of the
Victorian writers.

I have, too, a personal reason for including him in the series.  I knew
him well, knew his subjects, and his stage.  I have seen him at work at
the "Megatherium Club," chatted with him at the "Universe," dined with
him at George Eliot's, and even met him in the hunting-field.  I was
familiar with the political personages and crises which he describes;
and much of the local colouring in which his romances were framed was
for years the local colouring that I daily saw around me.  Most of the
famous writers of whom I have been speaking in this series (with the
exception of Charlotte Brontë) I have often seen and heard speak in
public and in private, but I cannot be said to have known them as
friends.  But Anthony Trollope I knew well.  I knew the world in which
he lived, I saw the scenes, the characters, the life he paints, day by
day in the same clubs, in the same rooms, and under the same conditions
as he saw them.  To re-read some of his best stories, as I have just
done, is to me like looking through a photographic album of my
acquaintances, companions, and familiar reminiscences of some thirty
years ago.  I can hear the loud voice, the honest laugh, see the keen
eyes of our old friend as I turn to the admirable vignette portrait in
his posthumous _Autobiography_, and I can almost hear him tell the
anecdotes recounted in that pleasant book.

Does the present generation know that frank and amusing book--one of
the most brisk and manly autobiographies in our language?  Of course it
is garrulous, egoistical, self-complacent in a way.  When a famous
writer, at the close of a long career of varied activity, takes up his
pen to tell us how he has lived, and how his books were written, and
what he has loved, seen, suffered, and striven for--it is his business
to be garrulous; we want him to talk about himself, and to give us such
peeps into his own heart and brain as he chooses to unlock.  That is
what an "autobiography" means.  And never did man do this in a more
hearty, manly, good-tempered spirit, with more good sense, with more
modest _bonhomie_, with a more genial egoism.  He has been an enormous
worker; he is proud of his industry.  He has fought his way under cruel
hardships to wealth and fame: and he is well satisfied with his
success.  He has had millions of readers; he has been well paid; he has
had good friends; he has enjoyed life.  He is happy in telling us how
he did it.  He does not overrate himself.  He believes some of his work
is good: at least it is honest, pure, sound work which has pleased
millions of readers.  Much of his work he knows to be poor stuff, and
he says so at once.  He makes no pretence to genius; he does not claim
to be a hero; he has no rare qualities--or none but industry and
courage--and he has met with no peculiar sufferings and no cruel and
undeserved rebuffs.  He has his own ideas about literary work--you may
think them commonplace, mechanical, mercenary ideas--but that is a true
picture of Anthony Trollope; of his strong, manly, pure mind, of his
clear head, of his average moral sense: a good fellow, a warm friend, a
brave soul, a genial companion.

With all his artless self-complacency in his own success, Trollope took
a very modest estimate of his own powers.  I remember a characteristic
discussion about their modes of writing between Trollope and George
Eliot at a little dinner party in her house.[1]  "Why!" said Anthony,
"I sit down every morning at 5.30 with my watch on my desk, and for
three hours I regularly produce 250 words every quarter of an hour."
George Eliot positively quivered with horror at the thought--she who
could write only when she felt in the vein, who wrote, re-wrote, and
destroyed her manuscript two or three times, and as often as not sat at
her table without writing at all.  "There are days and days together,"
she groaned out, "when I cannot write a line."  "Yes!" said Trollope,
"with imaginative work like yours that is quite natural; but with my
mechanical stuff it's a sheer matter of industry.  It's not the head
that does it--it's the cobbler's wax on the seat and the sticking to my
chair!"  In his _Autobiography_ he has elaborately explained this
process--how he wrote day by day, including Sundays, whatever his
duties, his amusements, or the place; measuring out every page,
counting the words, and exacting the given quantity hour by hour.  He
wrote continuously 2500 words in each day, and at times more than
25,000 words in a week.  He wrote whilst engaged in severe professional
drudgery, whilst hunting thrice a week, and in the whirl of London
society.  He wrote in railway trains, on a sea voyage, and in a town
club room.  Whether he was on a journey, or pressed with office
reports, or visiting friends, he wrote just the same.  _Dr. Thorne_ was
written whilst he was very sea-sick in a gale at sea, or was
negotiating a treaty with Nubar Pasha; and the day after finishing _Dr.
Thorne_ he began _The Bertrams_.  It is one of the most amazing, and
one of the most comical, records of literary activity we have.  No one
can suppose that work of a very high class can be so produced at all.
Nor does Trollope pretend that it is of a high class.  He says it is
honest work, the best he could do.

He takes a strange pleasure in recounting these feats of literary
productiveness.  He poses as the champion of the age in quantity and
rapidity.  This lightning novelist could produce a volume in two or
three weeks; and thus he could easily turn out three novels of three
volumes each in a year.  He gives us an exact list of sixty works
produced in about thirty-five years, and a total of about 70,000 pounds
as the earnings of some twenty-four years.  He insists that he never
neglected his Post-Office work, but was an invaluable and energetic
public servant; he insists that, much as he enjoyed his literary
profits, he was never misled by the desire of money; and he insists
that he could have done no better work if he had written much less, or
if he had given more time to each book.  In all this he does not
convince us.  He certainly showed transcendent force of will, of nerve,
and of endurance.  "It's dogged as does it!" says Giles Hoggett to Mr.
Crawley, in _The Last Chronicle of Barset_; and if "dogged" could make
a great novelist, Anthony Trollope was pre-eminently "dogged."  But a
great novelist needs other gifts.  And to tell us that he would not
have done better work if his whole life had been given to his work, if
every book, every chapter of every book, were the fruit of ample
meditation and repeated revision, if he had never written with any
thought of profit, never written but what he could not contain hidden
within him--this is to tell us palpable nonsense.

Trollope's sixty works no doubt exceed the product of any Englishman of
our age; but they fall short of the product of Dumas, George Sand, and
Scribe.  And, though but a small part of the sixty works can be called
good, the inferior work is not discreditable: it is free from
affectation, extravagance, nastiness, or balderdash.  It never sinks
into such tawdry stuff as Bulwer, Disraeli, and even Dickens, could
indite in their worst moods.  Trollope is never bombastic, or
sensational, or prurient, or grotesque.  Even at his worst, he writes
pure, bright, graceful English; he tells us about wholesome men and
women in a manly tone, and if he becomes dull, he is neither ridiculous
nor odious.  He is very often dull: or rather utterly commonplace.  It
is the fashion with the present generation to assert that he is never
anything but commonplace; but this is the judgment of a perverted
taste.  His besetting danger is certainly the commonplace.  It is true
that he is almost never dramatic, or powerful, or original.  His plots
are of obvious and simple construction; his characters are neither new,
nor subtle, nor powerful; and his field is strictly limited to special
aspects of the higher English society in town and country.  But in his
very best work, he has risen above commonplace and has painted certain
types of English men and women with much grace and consummate truth.

One of Trollope's strong points and one source of his popularity was a
command over plain English almost perfect for his own limited purpose.
It is limpid, flexible, and melodious.  It never rises into eloquence,
poetry, or power; but it is always easy, clear, simple, and vigorous.
Trollope was not capable of the sustained mastery over style that we
find in _Esmond_, nor had he the wit, passion, and pathos at
Thackeray's command.  But of all contemporaries he comes nearest to
Thackeray in easy conversations and in quiet narration of incidents and
motives.  Sometimes, but very rarely, Trollope is vulgar--for good old
Anthony had a coarse vein: it was in the family:--but as a rule his
language is conspicuous for its ease, simplicity, and unity of tone.
This was one good result of his enormous rapidity of execution.  His
books read from cover to cover, as if they were spoken in one sitting
by an _improvisatore_ in one and the same mood, who never hesitated an
instant for a word, and who never failed to seize the word he wanted.
This ease and mastery over speech was the fruit of prodigious practice
and industry both in office work and in literary work.  It is a mastery
which conceals itself, and appears to the reader the easiest thing in
the world.  How few out of many millions have studied that subtle
mechanism of ear and thought which created the melodious ripple of
these fluent and pellucid words.

His work has one special quality that has not been sufficiently
noticed.  It has the most wonderful unity of texture and a perfect
harmony of tone.  From the first line to the last, there is never a
sentence or a passage which strikes a discordant note; we are never
worried by a spasmodic phrase, nor bored by fine writing that fails to
"come off."  Nor is there ever a paragraph which we need to read over
again, or a phrase that looks obscure, artificial, or enigmatic.  This
can hardly be said of any other novelist of this century, except of
Jane Austen, for even Thackeray himself is now and then artificial in
_Esmond_, and the vulgarity of _Yellowplush_ at last becomes fatiguing.
Now Trollope reproduces for us that simplicity, unity, and ease of Jane
Austen, whose facile grace flows on like the sprightly talk of a
charming woman, mistress of herself and sure of her hearers.  This
uniform ease, of course, goes with the absence of all the greatest
qualities of style; absence of any passion, poetry, mystery, or
subtlety.  He never rises, it is true, to the level of the great
masters of language.  But, for the ordinary incidents of life amongst
well-bred and well-to-do men and women of the world, the form of
Trollope's tales is almost as well adapted as the form of Jane Austen.

In absolute realism of spoken words Trollope has hardly any equal.  His
characters utter quite literally the same words, and no more, that such
persons utter in actual life.  The characters, it is true, are the
average men and women we meet in the educated world, and the
situations, motives, and feelings described are seldom above or below
the ordinary incidents of modern life.  But within this very limited
range of incident, and for this very common average of person and
character, the conversations are photographic or stenographic
reproductions of actual speech.  His letters, especially his young
ladies' letters, are singularly real, life-like, and characteristic.
We have long got rid of the artificial eloquence and the studied
witticisms of the older school.  Richardson, Fielding, Goldsmith, and
Scott put into the mouths of their heroes and heroines elaborate
speeches, poetry, eloquence, and epigrams which are no more like real
speech than the allocutions of kings and queens in Shakespeare are like
natural talk.  That has long been discarded.  Jane Austen and Thackeray
make their men and women discourse as men and women do.  But perhaps
with Thackeray, the talk is too racy, too brilliant, too rich with wit,
humour, and character, to be quite literally truthful.  Now, Trollope,
taking a far lower and simpler line, makes his characters talk with
literal truth to nature.

This photographic realism of conversation is common enough now: but it
has too often the defects of photography; it is bleared, coarse, and
ill-favoured.  As we all know, in the new realism a young woman and her
lover talk thus: "Old gal! why so glum?" said he--"It's my luck!" says
she, and flings her straw hat on the floor.  That is the new
photographic style, but it does not please us of an older generation.
Now Trollope makes his people utter such phrases as the characters he
presents to us actually use in real life--or rather such phrases as
they did use thirty years ago.  And yet, although he hardly ever rises
into eloquence, wit, brilliancy, or sinks into any form of talk either
unnaturally tall, or unnaturally low,--still, the conversations are
just sufficiently pointed, humorous, or characteristic, to amuse the
reader and develop the speaker's character.  Trollope in this exactly
hits the happy mean.  Like Mr. Woodhouse's gruel, his conversations are
"thin--but not so very thin."  He never attempts grandiloquence; but
then he never sinks into the fashionable bathos of--"Sugar in your tea,
dear?"--"Another lump, if you please,"--nor does he fall into the
fashionable realism of--"Dry up, old man!"  No!  Trollope's characters
speaks with literal nature; and yet with enough of point, humour,
vigour, to make it pleasant reading.

We may at once confess to his faults and limitations.  They are plain
enough, constant, and quite incapable of defence.  Out of his sixty
works, I should be sorry to pick more than ten as being worth a second
reading, or twenty which are worth a first reading.  Nor amongst the
good books could I count any of the last ten years.  The range of
characters is limited to the clergy and professional men of a cathedral
city, to the county families and the respectabilities of a quiet
village, to the life of clubs, public offices, and Parliament in
London, and to the ways of "society" as it existed in England in the
third quarter of the present century.  The plots are neither new nor
ingenious; the incidents are rarely more than commonplace; the
characters are seldom very powerful, or original, or complex.  There
are very few "psychologic problems," very few dramatic situations, very
few revelations of a new world and unfamiliar natures.  There are some
natural scenes in Ireland; now and then a cook-maid, a farmer, a
labourer, or a clerk, come on the stage and play their short parts with
faultless demeanour.  But otherwise, the entire company appear in the
frock-coats and crinolines of the period, and every scene is played in
silk hats, bonnets, and regulation evening toilette.

But within this limited range of life, this uniformity of "genteel
comedy," Trollope has not seldom given us pieces of inimitable
truthfulness and curious delicacy of observation.  The dignitaries of
the cathedral close, the sporting squires, the county magnates, the
country doctors, and the rectory home, are drawn with a precision, a
refinement, an absolute fidelity that only Jane Austen could compass.
There is no caricature, no burlesque, nothing improbable or
over-wrought.  The bishop, the dean, the warden, the curate, the
apothecary, the duke, the master of fox-hounds, the bishop's wife, the
archdeacon's lady, the vicar's daughter, the governess, the
undergraduate--all are perfectly true to nature.  So, too, are the men
in the clubs in London, the chiefs, subordinates, and clerks in the
public offices, the ministers and members of Parliament, the leaders,
and rank and file of London "society."  They never utter a sentence
which is not exactly what such men and women do utter; they do and they
think nothing but what such men and women think and do in real life.
Their habits, conversation, dress, and interests are photographically
accurate, to the point of illusion.  It is not high art--but it is art.
The field is a narrow one; the actors are ordinary.  But the skill,
grace, and humour with which the scenes are caught, and the absolute
illusion of truthfulness, redeem it from the commonplace.

The stage of Trollope's drama is not a wide one, but it is far wider
than that of Jane Austen.  His plots and incidents are sufficiently
trite and ordinary, but they are dramatic and original, if contrasted
with those of _Emma_ or _Mansfield Park_.  No one will compare little
Jane's delicate palfrey with Anthony's big-boned hunter; nor would any
one commit the bad taste of treating these quadrupeds as if they were
entered for a race; but a narrow stage and familiar incidents are not
necessarily fatal to true art.  If Trollope had done nothing more than
paint ordinary English society with photographic accuracy of detail, it
would not be a great performance.  But he has done more than this.  In
the Barsetshire series, at any rate, he has risen to a point of drawing
characters with a very subtle insight and delicate intuition.  The
warden, the bishop, Mrs. Proudie, Dr. Thorne, Mary Thorne, Lily Dale,
Lady Arabella, and, above all, Mr. Crawley, are characters definitely
conceived, profoundly mastered, and truly portrayed.  Trollope
evidently judged Crawley to be his greatest creation, and the _Last
Chronicle of Barset_ to be his principal achievement.  In this he was
doubtless right.  There are real characters also in the two _Phineas
Finn_ tales.  Chiltern, Finn, Glencora Palliser, Laura Kennedy, and
Marie Goesler, are subtly conceived and truly worked out.  This is
enough to make a decent reputation, however flat be the interminable
pot-boilers that precede and follow them.

The list of Trollope's real successes is not very long.  The six tales
of the Barsetshire cycle, _The Warden_, _Barchester Towers_, _Doctor
Thorne_, _Framley Parsonage_, _The Small House at Allington_, _The Last
Chronicle of Barset_, are unquestionably his main achievements; and of
these either _Doctor Thorne_ or _The Last Chronicle_ is the best.  The
Crawley story is undoubtedly the finest thing Trollope ever did; but
for myself, I enjoy the unity, completeness, and masterly scheme of
_Doctor Thorne_, and I like Mary Thorne better than any of Trollope's
women.  If, to the six Barset tales, we add _Orley Farm_, _The
Claverings_, the two _Phineas Finns_, and the _Eustace Diamonds_, we
shall include, perhaps, more than posterity will ever trouble itself
about, and almost exactly one-fifth of the novels he left behind.  The
ten or twelve of Trollope's best will continue to be read, and will, in
a future generation, no doubt, regain not a little of their early
vogue.  This will be due, in part, to their own inherent merit as
graceful, truthful, subtle observation of contemporary types, clothed
in a style of transparent ease.  Partly, it will be due to this: that
these tales will reproduce for the future certain phases of life in the
nineteenth century in England with minute fidelity and the most literal

This is no doubt the cause of the revulsion of opinion by which in some
English circles Trollope has suffered of late.  If there are fashions,
habits, and tastes which the rising generation is certain to despise,
it is such as were current in the youth of their own parents about
thirty or forty years before them.  The collars, the bonnets, the
furniture, the etiquette, the books of that age always seem to the
young to be the last word of all that is awkward and "bad form,"
although in two or three generations these very modes regain a certain
quaint charm.  And for the moment poor Anthony represents to the
emancipated youth of our time all that was "banal" and prosy some
thirty years ago.  The taste of our youth sets hard for a new heaven,
or at least a new earth, and if not that, it may be a new hell.  Novels
or poems without conundrums, without psychologic problems, with no
sexual theorems to solve, with no unique idiosyncrasies to fathom,
without anything unnatural, or sickening, without hospital
nastinesses,--are all, we are assured, unworthy the notice of the youth
of either sex who are really up to date.  In the style of the new
pornographic and clinical school of art, the sayings and doings of
wholesome men and women who live in drawing-rooms and regularly dress
before dinner are "beastly rot," and fit for no one but children and
old maids.

But we conservatives of an older school are grateful to Anthony that he
produced for the last generation an immense collection of pleasant
tales without a single foul spot or unclean incident.  It was his boast
that he had never written a line which a pure woman could not read
without a blush.  This is no doubt one of the grounds on which he is so
often denounced as _passé_.  His tales, of course, are full of love,
and the love is not always discreet or virtuous.  There are cases of
guilty love, of mad love, of ungoverned and unreasoning passion.  But
there is not an impure or prurient passage in the whole library of
tales.  Much more than this: in the centre of almost every tale, we are
taken to the heart of a spotless, loving, refined, brave English girl.
In nothing does Anthony Trollope delight more than when he unveils to
us the secret thoughts of a noble-hearted maiden who loves strongly but
who has a spirit as strong as her love, a clear brain and a pure will.
In nothing is he more successful; nowhere is he more subtle, more true,
more interesting.  In this fine gift, he surpasses all his
contemporaries, and almost all other English novelists.  Mary Thorne,
Lily Dale, Lucy Roberts--I would almost add, Martha Dunstable--may not
be heroines of romance, and are certainly not great creations.  But
they are pure, right-minded, delicate, brave women; and it does one
good to be admitted to the sacred confessional of their hearts.

It must be admitted that they are "young ladies," nurtured in the
conventional refinement of the last generation, high-bred, and trained
in the jealous sensitiveness of what was thought to be "maiden modesty"
thirty or forty years ago.  That is their misfortune to-day; it is now
rather silly to be a "young lady" at all, and the old-fashioned "maiden
modesty" of their mothers and grandmothers is become positively
ridiculous.  Young women of the present date, we are assured in the
language of our gilded youth, have to be either "jolly girls" or
"crocks"; and Mary Thorne and Lily Dale are certainly not "jolly
girls."  Their trials and agonies are not different from those which
may happen in any ordinary family, and the problems they have to solve
are those which may await any girl at any time.  But the subtle touches
with which we are admitted to their meditations, the delicate weighing
of competing counsels and motives, the living pulses of heart and
brain, and the essential soundness and reality of the mental and moral
crisis--are all told with an art that may be beneath that of Jane
Austen, but which certainly is akin to hers, and has the same quality
of pure and simple human nature.  Pure and simple human nature is, for
the moment, out of fashion as the subject of modern romance.  But it
remains a curious problem how the boisterous, brawny, thick-skinned
lump of manhood whom we knew as Anthony Trollope ever came to conceive
so many delicate and sensitive country maidens, and to see so deeply
and so truly into the heart of their maiden meditations.

Trollope is equally successful with some other social problems and
characters of unstable equilibrium.  They are none of them very
profound or exalted studies in psychology; but they are truthful,
natural, and ingenious; and it needed a sure and delicate hand to make
them interesting and life-like.  The feeble, solemn, timid, vacillating
bishop, driven to distraction by some clerical scandal in his tea-cup
of a diocese; the pompous ecclesiastic with wounded dignity and family
quarrels; the over-sensitive priest whose conscience is more acute than
his brain; the weak, generous, cowardly owner of an embarrassed estate;
the honest and impulsive youth placed between love and duty; the loving
girl who will not sacrifice dignity to love; the public official who is
torn between conscience and self-interest; the man in a great position
who does not know his own mind; the man with honest principles who is
tempted above his strength by love, ambition, or ruin--all of these
live in the pages of Trollope with perfect truth to nature and reality
of movement.  It would be too much to say that any of them are masterly
creations, unless it be Crawley and the Proudies, but they are
absolutely truthful, real, living portraits.  The situations are not
very striking, but then they are perfectly natural.  And the characters
never say or do a thing which oversteps by a hair's-breadth the
probable and natural conduct of such persons.

All this is now said to be commonplace, goody-goody, and Philistine.
There are no female acrobats, burglars, gutter-urchins, crapulous
prostitutes, no pathological anatomy of diseased bodies and carious
souls, hardly a single case of adultery in all Trollope.  But they who
can exist without these stimulants may find pleasant reading yet in his
best work.  _The Last Chronicle of Barset_ is a really good tale which
deserves to live, and the whole Crawley episode rises to the level of
fine imaginative work.  _Doctor Thorne_ is a sound, pleasant, ingenious
story from beginning to end.  It has perhaps the best plot of all
Trollope's books, and, singularly enough, it is the only plot which he
admits not to be his own.  I count Mary Thorne as his best woman and
Doctor Thorne as one of his best men.  The unity of _Doctor Thorne_ is
very striking and ingenious.  The stage is crowded: there are nearly a
score of well-marked characters and five distinct households; but the
whole series works into the same plot; the scene is constantly varied,
and yet there is no double plot or separate companies.  Thus, though
the whole story revolves round the fortunes of a single family, the
interest and the movement never flag for a page.  The machinery is very
simple; the characters are of average strength and merit; the incidents
and issues are ordinary enough.  And the general effect is wholesome,
manly, womanly, refined, and true to nature.

The episcopal and capitular group of ecclesiastics round the Cathedral
of Barchester is Trollope's main creation, and is destined to endure
for some time.  It is all in its way inimitably true and subtly
graduated from bishop to dean, from dean to canon, and so on through
the whole chapter down to the verger and the porter.  The relations of
these dignitaries to each other, the relation of their woman-kind to
each other, the relation of the clerical world to the town world and to
the county world, their conventional etiquette, their jealousies, their
feuds, their scandals, and their entertainments, are all marked with
admirable truth and a refined touch.  The relation of the village
respectabilities to the county families, the relation of the county
families to the great ducal magnate, are all given with curious
precision and subtle discrimination.  When _The Warden_ appeared just
forty years ago, I happened to be a pupil in the chambers of the late
Sir Henry Maine, then a famous critic of the _Saturday Review_; and I
well remember his interest and delight in welcoming a new writer, from
whom he thought so much might be expected.  The relations of London
"Society" to the parliamentary and ministerial world as described in
Trollope's later books are all treated with entire mastery.  It is this
thorough knowledge of the organism of English society which specially
distinguishes Trollope.  It is a quality in which Thackeray alone is
his equal; and Thackeray himself has drawn no complex social organism
with such consummate completeness as Trollope's Barchester Close.  It
is of course purely English, locally true to England only.  But it is,
as Nathaniel Hawthorne said, "solid and substantial," "as real as if it
were a great lump out of the earth,"--"just as English as a beefsteak."

What makes all that so strange is this, that when he began to write
novels, Trollope had far less experience than have most cultivated men
of cathedral closes, rectories, and county families.  He had never been
to a college, and till past middle life he never had access to the
higher grades of English society.  He never at any time, and certainly
not when the Barchester cycle began, had any footing whatever in
clerical circles, and but little intimate acquaintance with young
ladies of birth and refinement in country homes.  He never was much
thrown with the young bloods of the army, of the universities, or of
Parliament.  He rarely consorted with dukes or county magnates, and he
never lived in the centre of the political world.  Yet this rough,
self-taught busy Post-Office surveyor in Ireland, perpetually
travelling about the country on the inspections of his duty, managed to
see to the very marrow of the prelates of a cathedral, to the inner
histories of the duke's castle and the squire's home, into the secret
musings of the rector's daughter, and into the tangled web of
parliamentary intrigue.  He did all this with a perfectly sure and
subtle touch, which was often, it is true, somewhat tame, and is never
perhaps of any very great brilliance, but which was almost faultlessly
true, never extravagant, never unreal.  And, to add to the wonder, you
might meet him for an hour; and, however much you might like his bluff,
hearty, resonant personality, you would have said he was the last man
to have any delicate sympathy with bishops, dukes, or young ladies.

His insight into parliamentary life was surprisingly accurate and deep.
He had not the genius of Disraeli, but his pictures are utterly free
from caricature or distortion of any kind.  In his photographic
portraiture of the British Parliament he surpassed all his
contemporaries; and inasmuch as such studies can only have a local and
sectional interest, they have probably injured his popularity and his
art.  His conduct of legal intricacies and the ways of lawyers is
singularly correct; and the long and elaborate trial scene in _Phineas
Redux_ is a masterpiece of natural and faithful descriptions of an Old
Bailey criminal trial in which "society" happens to be involved.  Yet
of courts of law, as of bishops' palaces, rectory firesides, the
lobbies of Parliament, and ducal "house parties," Trollope could have
known almost nothing except as an occasional and outside observer.  The
life of London clubs, the habits and _personnel_ of a public office,
the hunting-field, and the social hierarchy and ten commandments
observed in a country town--these things Trollope knew to the minutest
shade, and he has described them with wonderful truth and zest.

There was a truly pathetic drollery in his violent passion for certain
enjoyments--hunting, whist, and the smoking-room of his club.  I cannot
forget the comical rage which he felt at Professor Freeman's attack on
fox-hunting.  I am not a sporting man myself; and, though I may look on
fox-hunting as one of the less deadly sins involved in "sport," I know
nothing about it.  But it chanced that as a young man I had been
charged with the duty of escorting a certain young lady to a "meet" of
fox-hounds in Essex.  A fox was found; but what happened I hardly
remember; save this, that, in the middle of a hot burst, I found myself
alongside of Anthony Trollope, who was shouting and roaring out
"What!--what are you doing here?"  And he was never tired of holding me
up to the scorn of the "Universe" club as a deserter from the
principles of Professor Freeman and John Morley.  I had taken no part
in the controversy, but it gave him huge delight to have detected such
backsliding in one of the school he detested.  Like other sporting men
who imagine that their love of "sport" is a love of nature, when it is
merely a pleasure in physical exercise, Trollope cared little for the
poetic aspect of nature.  His books, like Thackeray's, hardly contain a
single fine picture of the country, of the sea, of mountains, or of
rivers.  Compared with Fielding, Scott, Charlotte Brontë, Dickens,
George Eliot, he is a man blind to the loveliness of nature.  To him,
as to other fox-hunters, the country was good or bad as it promised or
did not promise a good "run."  Though Trollope was a great traveller,
he rarely uses his experiences in a novel, whereas Scott, Thackeray,
Dickens, Bulwer, George Eliot fill their pages with foreign adventures
and scenes of travel.  His hard riding as an overgrown heavy-weight,
his systematic whist playing, his loud talk, his burly ubiquity and
irrepressible energy in everything--formed one of the marvels of the
last generation.  And that such a colossus of blood and bone should
spend his mornings, before we were out of bed, in analysing the
hypersensitive conscience of an archdeacon, the secret confidences
whispered between a prudent mamma and a love-lorn young lady, or the
subtle meanderings of Marie Goesler's heart--this was a real
psychologic problem.

There can be no doubt that this constitutional vehemence of his, this
hypertrophy of blood and muscle, injured his work and dimmed his
reputation.  Much of his work he ought to have burnt.  His classical
studies are worthless, his _Life of Thackeray_ and his _Travels_ are
mere book-making.  His novels, even the best, are revised and printed
with scandalous haste.  He speaks of a "_toga virile_" and of "_the
husband of his bosom_," for wife; and there are misprints in every
paragraph.  When, in his _Autobiography_, he let the public into the
story of his method, of his mechanical writing so many words per hour,
of his beginning a new tale the day after he finished the last, of his
having no particular plot, and hardly thinking about a plot, and all
the little trade secrets of his factory, the public felt some disgust
and was almost inclined to think it had been cheated out of its 70,000

Anthony Trollope was not a fraud, nor even a mere tradesman.  His
reputation may perhaps partially revive, and some of his best work may
be read in the next century.  His best work will of course be a mere
residuum of his sixty books, as is the best of nearly all prolific
writers.  I am inclined to think the permanent survival may be limited
to the _Barchester_ cycle, with _Orley Farm_ and the two _Phineas
Finns_.  In any case, his books will hereafter bear a certain
historical interest, as the best record of actual manners in the higher
English society between 1855 and 1875.  That value nothing can take
away, however dull, _connu_, and out of date the books may now seem to
our new youth.  It is a curious problem why our new youth persists in
filling its stomach with the poorest trash that is "new"--_i.e._
published in 1895, whilst it will not look at a book that is "old
"--_i.e._ published in 1865, though both are equally unknown to the
young reader.  If our new youth ever could bring itself to take up a
book having 1865 on its title-page, it might find in the best of
Anthony Trollope much subtle observation, many manly and womanly
natures, unfailing purity of tone, and wholesome enjoyment.

[1] This anecdote has been doubted, on the ground that such rapid
composition is impossible.  But Trollope in his _Autobiography_ asserts
this fact, exactly as he told George Eliot, except that the first half
hour was occupied by re-reading the work of the previous day.  The
average morning's work was thus 2500 words, written in two and a half



It will be the duty of the more serious criticism of another generation
in some degree to revive the reputation of George Eliot as an abiding
literary force--a reputation which the taste of the hour is rather
disposed to reduce.  Five-and-twenty years ago the tendency was towards
excessive praise: many judges, of trained literary insight, proclaimed
her as the greatest genius of the age, one of the brightest stars of
English literature, nay, said some of them, quite losing control of
their speech--a modern Shakespeare, and so forth.  Some cooler heads
looked grave, but none save the inveterate cynics ventured to mock; and
the great public, as usual, thought it best to follow the lead of so
many men and so many women of the higher culture.  The inevitable
reaction ensued: when, not only were the grave shortcomings of George
Eliot ruthlessly condemned, but her noble aim and superb qualities were
blindly ignored.

The taste in popular romance sways hither and thither in sudden
revulsion, like the taste in hats or in frocks, or the verdict of
manhood suffrage.  This or that type becomes suddenly the rage, this or
that mannerism is voted an offence, as quickly as fashion runs after a
new tint, or boycotts an obsolete sleeve.  Journalism and all the other
forces of the hour stimulate these caprices and carry away the masses
by their volubility and noise.  It is the business of serious
criticism, keeping a cooler head, to correct these fervid impulses of
the day--whilst excited audiences in the amphitheatre raise or depress
the fatal thumb, awarding life or death to the combatants in the great

The business of criticism is to _judge_--to judge upon the whole
evidence, after hearing counsel on both sides with equal attention,
after weighing every shred of argument and every word that any witness
has to offer, and after patient study of every aspect of the case, to
deliver a complete and reasoned estimate of the whole matter at issue.
The true critic is not a mere juryman, who has nothing to do but to
pronounce a bare verdict of "guilty" or "not guilty."  He is a judge of
the supreme court of equity, who may find, in some intricate story
unravelled at his bar, a dozen errors in law and as many mistakes of
fact, and yet may give substantial relief or may decree onerous
penalties.  It is easy enough to detect faulty, easy enough to insist
on merits: the thing wanted to guide the public is the cool,
compensated, equitable judgment that is not seduced by any conspicuous
charm, and is not irritated by any incorrigible defect, but which,
missing no point of merit and none of failure, finally and resolutely
strikes the just balance.

This just balance, with all its intricate adjustments of compensation
and equivalence, is peculiarly needed in the case of George Eliot, and
at the same time is unusually difficult.  George Eliot was most
conspicuous as an artist, as a worker in the sphere of imagination and
creation.  At the same time, she had very rare powers and a really
unusual learning quite outside of imaginative art.  And these
reflective powers and such stores of knowledge are often antagonistic
to creative art, and undoubtedly were so not seldom with her.  If
Aristotle himself had written a dull psychological tragedy, we might
read it for his sake, but we should not forgive him, and we ought not
to forgive him.  And if Shakespeare himself had written the _Novum
Organum_ or the _Principia_, we should not have had _Hamlet_ and _Lear_
as we now know them.  There is no compensation between philosophy and
poetry.  No profundity, no learning, can give beauty to verses which
lack the divine fire.  If George Eliot's fame has to be based solely on
her great powers and endowments, her art would not be worth much.
However, it is not so: she was an artist, with true artistic gifts.
Her philosophic power and her scientific attainments often ennoble
these gifts: yet it is too often evident that they seriously mar and
embarrass them.

Turn it the other way.  Until nearly the age of forty, George Eliot was
known only as a critical and philosophical writer.  And in reading, in
logical acumen, and in breadth of view, she was the equal of the first
minds of her time.  But no one of her contemporaries, eminent in
philosophy and science, approached her, however remotely, in artistic
gifts; and no one of them even attempted to invest ethical and social
ideas with high imagination and beautiful ideals.  Thus, George Eliot
was of a far higher mental plane than any contemporary who has used
imaginative prose as an art, and she was also a far greater artist than
any contemporary philosopher.  It is quite certain that learning and
wisdom may be lodged in the same brain with the highest poetry, as
Lucretius, Virgil, Dante, Milton, and Goethe may prove.  And men of
original power have not seldom used imaginative art with signal success
to convey the ideas with which they were charged; for this has been
done by Cervantes, Rabelais, Swift, Rousseau, Byron, Shelley, and

It is therefore legitimate and natural that a powerful and teeming mind
should resort to art as its medium, and also that an artist of high
aims should be a systematic thinker and an omnivorous student.  The
combination is very rare and success is singularly difficult.  To fail
in art is to lose all and to end in utter failure.  And to carry
ethical purpose and erudition into art is indeed a perilous
undertaking, wherein but one or two of the greatest have wholly
succeeded.  The problem with George Eliot is to judge how far she has
succeeded in the all but impossible task.  That her success is far from
complete is but too obvious.  That she has had many incidental
successes is also obvious.  Her work is not sufficiently spontaneous,
not easy or simple, not buoyant enough.  But it has great nobility,
rare distinction.  It may not live as perfect art; but it should not
perish as ambitious failures perish.

If George Eliot were not a writer of romance, she was nothing at all in
the front ranks of Victorian literature.  With all her powers of mind,
her mastery of language, her immense stores of knowledge and supreme
culture, she gave to the world nothing of great mark, acknowledged and
known as hers, except her famous romances; for, as we shall presently
see, we cannot count any of the poems as of great mark.  But, as a
writer of romance, George Eliot differs essentially and for the worse
from all the other great writers of romance in her own or preceding
generations.  Most certainly she was not a born romancer; she had no
spontaneous gift of telling stories, no irrepressible genius that way.
Now all the great romancers have been born to it, as Robinson Crusoe
was born to the sea, or as Turner was born to paint.  Though Scott
published novels late, he had begun _Waverley_ at thirty-four; his
earlier works are romantic ballads and metrical romances; and from
boyhood, at home and abroad, he was ever filled with some tale of
adventure and character.  Jane Austen and Maria Edgeworth "lisped" in
novelettes, as Pope said he "lisped in numbers."  Though Charlotte
Brontë published so little, she wrote stories incessantly from
childhood.  Lytton, Dickens, Thackeray, Trollope, invented tales as
part of their daily lives, and from the earliest age.  But George Eliot
was thirty-nine when her first tales were published, and she was forty
before she was known to the public as a novelist at all.  And so little
was novel-writing her natural gift, that her most intimate friends
never suspected her power, nor did she herself altogether enjoy the
exercise of her art.  To the last her periods of mental gestation were
long, painful, and unhopeful.  Parturition was a dangerous crisis, and
the long-expected infant was reared with misgivings and a superfluity
of coddling.  The romances of George Eliot came like some _enfant de
miracle_, born late in the mother's life, at the cost of infinite pain,
much anxiety, and amidst the wondering trepidation of expectant circles
of friends.

Even in her best books we never quite get over the sense of almost
painful elaboration, of a powerful mind having rich gifts striving to
produce some rare music with an unfamiliar and uncongenial instrument.
It reminds us of Beethoven evolving his majestic sonatas on an untuned
and dilapidated old piano, the defects of which he could not himself
hear.  The conventional critic in _The Vicar of Wakefield_ is told to
say that "the picture would have been better if the artist had taken
more pains."  With George Eliot too often we are made to feel that the
picture would have been, at any rate, more enjoyable if the artist had
taken less pains.  To study her more ambitious tales is like an attempt
to master some new system of psychology.  The metaphysical power, the
originality of conception, the long brooding over anomalies and
objections--these are all there: but the rapid improvisation and easy
invention are not there.  Such qualities would indeed be wholly out of
place in philosophy, but they are the essence of romance.  In romance
we want to feel that the piece is only brought to an end by time and
our human powers of listening; that there is "plenty more where these
come from"; that the story-teller enjoys telling stories for their own
sake, and would go on with the tales, though the audience were reduced
to a child, an idiot, and a deaf man.

This explains the paradox that the most popular, and most certainly the
most praised of George Eliot's works, are the simpler and the shorter.
Every one enjoys the _Scenes of Clerical Life_, short stories of a
hundred pages each, with simple plots and a few characters in everyday
life.  I have no doubt myself that _Silas Marner_ comes nearer to being
a great success than any of the more elaborate books.  Yet _Silas
Marner_ is about one-fifth part of the length of _Middlemarch_; and its
plot, _mise-en-scène_, and incidents are simplicity itself.  There is
no science, no book-learning, and but few ethical problems in it from
beginning to end; and it all goes in one small volume, for the tale
concerns but the neighbours of one quiet village.  Yet the quaint and
idyllic charm of the piece, the perfection of tone and keeping, the
harmony of the landscape, the pure, deep humanity of it, all make it a
true and exquisite work of high art.

Modern English (and I am one of those who hold that the best modern
English is as good as any in our literature) has few pieces of
description more gem-like in its crystalline facets than the opening
chapter that tells of the pale, uncanny weaver of Raveloe in his stone
cottage by the deserted pit.  Some of us can remember such house
weavers in such lonesome cottages on the Northern moors, and have heard
the unfamiliar rattle of the loom in a half-ruinous homestead.  How
perfect is that vignette of Raveloe--"a village where many of the old
echoes lingered, undrowned by new voices"--with its "strange lingering
echoes of the old demon-worship among the grey-haired peasantry"!  The
entire picture of the village and its village life a hundred years ago,
is finished with the musical and reserved note of poetry, such as we
are taught to love in Wordsworth and Tennyson.  And for quiet humour
modern literature has few happier scenes than the fireside at the
"Rainbow," with Macey and Winthrop, the butcher and the farrier, over
their pipes and their hot potations, and the quarrel about "seeing
ghos'es," about smelling them!

Within this most graceful and refined picture of rural life there is a
dominant ethical motive which she herself describes as its aim, "to set
in a strong light the remedial influences of pure, natural, human
relations."  This aim is perfectly worked out: it is a right and
healthy conception, not too subtle, not too common:--to put it in
simpler words than hers, it is how a lonely, crabbed, ill-used old man
is humanised by the love of a faithful and affectionate child.  The
form is poetic: the moral is both just and noble: the characters are
living, and the story is original, natural, and dramatic.  The only
thing, indeed, which _Silas Marner_ wants to make it a really great
romance is more ease, more rapidity, more "go."  The melody runs so
uniformly in minor keys, the sense of care, meditation, and
introspection is so apparent in every line, the amount of serious
thought lavished by the writer and required of the reader is so
continuous, that we are not carried away, we are not excited, inspired,
and thrilled as we are by _Jane Eyre_ or _Esmond_.  We enjoy a
beautiful book with a fine moral, set in exquisite prose, with
consummate literary resources, full of fine thoughts, true, ennobling
thoughts, and with no weak side at all, unless it be the sense of being
over-wrought, like a picture which has been stippled over in every

A clever French woman said of George Eliot's conversation--_elle
s'écoute quand elle parle_!  Just so, as we read on we seem to see how
she held up each sentence into the light as it fell from her pen,
scrutinised it to see if some rarer phrase might not be compacted, some
subtler thought excogitated.  Of all the more important tales, _Silas
Marner_ is that wherein we least feel this excessive thoughtfulness.
And thus it is the best.  Perhaps other born romancers would have
thrown into it more life, energy, jollity, or passion.  Thackeray would
have made the weaver a serio-comic hermit: Dickens would have made
Eppie a sentimental angel; Charlotte Brontë would have curdled our
blood; Trollope might have made more of Nancy's courting.  But no one
of them could have given us a more lofty lesson "of the remedial
influences of pure, natural, human relations."  The only doubt is,
whether a novel is the medium for such lessons.  On this, opinions are,
and will remain, divided.  The lesson and the art ought both to be

When we ask for a romance fully developed and more than a graceful
vignette, _Adam Bede_ must be regarded as the principal, and with the
wider public it is always the typical, work of George Eliot.  She said
herself that it seemed to her "impossible that she should ever write
anything so good and true again":--and herein she was no doubt right.
It is the only one of her works in prose or verse which we feel to be
inevitable, spontaneous, written out of the abundance of enjoyment and
experience.  It is of all her books the heartiest, the wittiest, the
most cheerful, or rather the least desponding.  In that book it may be
that she exhausted herself and her own resources of observation as an
eye-witness.  She wrote fine things in other veins, in different
scenes, and she conceived other characters and new situations.  But for
all practical purposes _Adam Bede_ was the typical romance, which
everything she had thought or known impelled her to write, in which she
told the best of what she had seen and the most important of what she
had to say.  Had she never written anything but _Adam Bede_, she would
have had a special place of her own in English romance:--and I am not
sure that anything else which she produced very materially raised,
enlarged, or qualified that place.

_The Mill on the Floss_ must always be very interesting to all who knew
George Eliot and loved her work, if for no other reason, for its
autobiographic and personal touches and its revelation of yearnings and
misgivings hardly suspected in life.  There are scenes and minor
characters in it which hold their own against _Adam Bede_, but as a
whole it is not so strong or so rich in colour, and it can hardly be
said to occupy new ground.  It has not the pathos of _Amos Barton_, nor
the exquisite style of _Silas Marner_, nor the breadth and constructive
merit of _Adam Bede_.  And except to the chosen band of Eliotists, it
is not likely to retain any permanent popularity.  It is a book to
study for those who have special interest in George Eliot as woman, as
teacher, and as artist--but for my own part I find it rather a book to
reflect upon than a book to read and to re-read.

With respect to _Romola_, though we must all agree with Mr. Oscar
Browning that it is "replete with learning," "weighed with knowledge in
every page," exquisite in art, and so forth, it is really impossible to
call it with him "the best historical novel ever written."  Even in
exact reproduction of another age, it cannot compare with _Esmond_, and
how immeasurably as romance is it beneath the fire and movement of a
dozen historical romances that one could name!  The beauty of the
Florentine pictures, the enormous care, thought, and reading, lavished
on the story, the variety of literary resource--all make it a most
memorable work, a work almost _sui generis_, a book which every student
of Italy, every lover of Florence must mark, learn, and inwardly
digest.  But to call it a complete success is to go too far.  The task
was too great.  To frame in a complex background of historical
erudition an ethical problem of even greater complexity and
subtlety--this was a task which might have sorely tried even greater
powers than hers--a task in which Goethe and Scott might have
succeeded, but which Goethe and Scott were too truly the born artists
to attempt without ample care, and too busy with many things to devote
to it the required labour.

_Romola_ is certainly a wonderful monument of literary accomplishments;
but it remains a _tour de force_, too elaborate, too laboured, too
intricate, too erudite.  As the French say, it has _trop de choses_, it
is too long, too full, over-costumed, too studiously mounted on the
stage.  We sometimes see nowadays "a Shakespearean revival," with
scenery studied by eminent artists on the spot, costumes
archaeologically accurate, real armour, "properties" from famous
collections, a _mise-en-scène_ of lavish splendour and indefatigable
research--and then we ask, how can "Hamlet" or "Lear" live up to such
learning, and why is "Romeo" such a melancholy devil?  Few men enjoyed
the earlier portions of _Romola_ more than I did.  _Italianissimo_ and
_Florentissimo_ as I was, it was an intense treat.  But, though I have
read and re-read _Romola_ from time to time, it has always been in
sections.  I have never read it straight through at one time; and to
this hour, I am not quite clear about all the ramifications of the plot
and the various cross-purposes of the persons.  Could any one say this
about _Quentin Durward_ or _Ivanhoe_, or of the _Last Days of Pompeii_,
or of _Esmond_ or even of _Hypatia_ or _Westward Ho!_

_Romola_, we know, tried its author most cruelly in composition, nor
need we wonder at this.  "I began it,", she said, "a young woman--I
finished it an old woman."  "It ploughed into her," said her husband,
"more than any of her other books."  And, in my opinion, it marks the
decline of her genius.  I cannot count any of the later books as equal
to her earlier works.  Her great period of production reaches at most
over the six years 1858-1863 (aetat. 39-45), in which she produced
_Scenes of Clerical Life_ (1858), _Adam Bede_ (1859), _The Mill on the
Floss_ (1860), _Silas Marner_ (1861), and _Romola_ (1863).  If we
measure by strict success in the highest art, this period should not be
extended beyond the four years which closed with _Silas Marner_.
_Romola_ is an ambitious, beautiful, altogether noble essay to fly
skyward like Icarus, whose ingenious mechanism was melted by the
sunlight in mid-career.  And I cannot count any of the later pieces,
prose or verse, as anything but inferior to _Romola_.  They have great
beauties, fine passages, subtle characters, and high conceptions--but
they are the artificial products of a brain that showed symptoms of
exhaustion, of a great writer who was striving after impossible tasks
without freedom and without enjoyment.

I cannot at all agree with those admirers of George Eliot's genius who
believe that it grew continuously in power, who even assure us that it
reached its zenith in _Daniel Deronda_.  What can they mean?  _Daniel
Deronda_, as usual, shows brilliant literary skill in many passages,
and its insight into modern Hebraism is a psychological problem.  But
with all its merits and even beauties, _Daniel Deronda_ has the fatal
defect of unpleasant characters who are neither beautiful nor
interesting, terrible situations which bore rather than terrify us, a
plot which is at once preposterous and wearisome.  As to
_Middlemarch_--George Eliot's longest, most crowded, and ethically most
elaborated romance--with all its subtlety, its humour, its variety, and
its sardonic insight into provincial Philistinism, it becomes at last
tedious and disagreeable by reason of the interminable maunderings of
tedious men and women, and the slow and reiterated dissection of
disagreeable anatomies.  At this moment I cannot, after twenty years,
recall the indefinite, lingering plot, or the precise relations to each
other of the curiously uninteresting families, who talk scandal and
fuss about in Middlemarch town.

In _Felix Holt_ I was naturally much interested, having read it in
manuscript, and advised upon the point of law, as appears from her
published letters in the _Life_ by J. Cross.  There are two or three
lines--the lawyers' "opinion on the case"--which she asked me to
sketch; and I remember telling her when she inserted these lines in the
book, that I should always be able to say that I had written at least a
sentence which was embodied in English literature.  _Felix Holt_
contains some fine characters and scenes, but it cannot be regarded as
equal to _Adam Bede_ and _Silas Marner_.  We will not speak of
_Theophrastus Such_, 1879, written just before her death.  It was the
work of a woman physically and intellectually exhausted.  I feel a
certain guilty sense of disappointment when I think of the book, for I
possibly had some hand in causing it to be written.  I had sent her a
long letter pointing out that our literature, with all its wealth of
achievement in every known sphere, was still deficient in one form of
composition in which the French stood paramount and alone.  That was
what they called _Pensées_--moral and philosophical reflections in the
form of epigrams or rather aphorisms.  I thought, and I still think,
that this form of composition was peculiarly suited to her genius, at
least in her prime.  It was not in her prime when she painfully evolved
the sour affectations set forth in _Theophrastus_.

A word or two must be said about the _Poems_.  They have poetic
subjects, ideas, similes: they are full of poetic yearning, crowded
with poetic imagery; they have everything poetry needs, except poetry.
They have not the poet's hall-mark.  They are imitation poems, like the
forged "ancient masters" they concoct at Florence, or the Tanagra
statuettes they make in Germany.  With all her consummate literary
gifts and tastes, George Eliot never managed to write a poem, and never
could be brought to see that the verses she wrote were not poems.  It
was an exaggeration of the defect that mars her prose; and her verses
throw great light on her prose.  They are over-laboured; the conception
overpowers the form; they are too intensely anxious to be recognised as
poems.  We see not so much poetic passion, as a passionate yearning
after poetic passion.  We have--not the inevitable, incalculable,
inimitable phrase of real poetry--but the slowly distilled, calculated,
and imitated effort to reach the spontaneous.

It is melancholy indeed to have to admit this, after such labour, such
noble conceptions, such mastery over language: but it is the truth.
And it explains much of kindred failure in her prose work.  Great
imagination, noble conceptions, mastery over language can do much, but
they cannot make a poet.  Nothing can, but being a poet.  Nor can these
gifts make a great romancer or poet in prose.  Nothing can, but being
born to romance, being a prose poet.  As the Gospel has it--"Which of
you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?"  George
Eliot had not sufficiently meditated on this scripture.  She too often
supposed that by taking thought--by enormous pains, profound thought,
by putting this thought in exquisite and noble words--she might produce
an immortal romance, an immortal poem.

And yet let us never forget that the _Spanish Gypsy_ is a very grand
conception, that it has some noble scenes, and here and there some
stately lines--even some beautiful passages, could we forget the
artificial alliteration and the tuneless discords to which the poet's
ear seems utterly insensible.  The opening lines seem to promise well
and have much of mellow thought, in spite of five hissing sibilants in
the very first verse--

[Transcriber's note: In the original book, the letters in the poem
fragments under discussion were bolded.  Here, they are delineated with
slashes (/).]

  'Ti/s/ the warm /S/outh, where Europe /s/pread/s/ her land/s/.
  Like fretted leaflets, breathing on the deep:

And then comes in the fourth line an awful cacophony of
alliteration--and an alliteration in "c."

  A /C/alm earth-goddess /c/rowned with /c/orn and vines.

Then we have a really pretty but artificial line--an alliteration in

  On the /M/id Sea that /m/oans with /m/e/m/ories.

The seventh line again is an alliteration of alternate "p" and "d."

  /P/ant /d/umbly /p/assionate with /d/reams of youth.

The tenth line is an excruciating alliteration in sibilants.

  /F/eed/s/ the /f/amed /s/tream that water/s/ Andalu/s/.

But it must be admitted that the next line is graceful--

  And loiters, amorous of the fragrant air.

The whole introduction of some 400 lines is full of beautiful images,
fine thoughts, and striking phrases, but it is crowded, artificial,
brocaded to excess with _trop de choses_; and it suddenly breaks into
drama, with dialogue in person.  This alternation of dramatic form and
dialogue with epical narrative, interlarding the tragedy in parts with
portentously long explanatory comment, is perhaps the most unlucky
novelty which was ever attempted in verse.  What would one say if even
fine passages out of Wordsworth's _Excursion_ had been accidentally
bound up between the pages of Shakespeare's _Hamlet_?

But it is needless to enlarge on all the metrical and poetic defects of
this medley of nearly 10,000 lines, with its lip-twisting,
ear-torturing lyrics--(was there ever such a cacophony as--

  O the sweet sweet prime
  Of the past spring-time!)--

with its strange alternations of action and narration, its soliloquies
of 150 unbroken lines, and all its other incongruities.  The important
point is, that it has a really grand scheme, that the characters of
Zarca and of Fedalma are lofty, impressive, and nobly dramatic, that
the whole poem is, in conception, a work of power and true imagination.
Just as Kingsley, who had far greater poetic faculty than George Eliot,
mistook in making the _Saint's Tragedy_ a drama, when he might have
made it a grand historical romance, so George Eliot made a cruel
mistake in writing the _Spanish Gypsy_ as a poem, when she might have
written it as an historical romance--a romance, it may be, much
superior to _Romola_, as the subject and the conception were on grander

It is to me a truly melancholy duty to have to admit that so much in
the noble conceptions and rich thought of George Eliot was not a
complete success in ultimate execution--and that, in great measure,
because the conception and aim were so great and the execution so
profoundly conscientious.  I knew her well, I was amongst those who had
the deepest regard for her mental power and her moral insight.  I
always recognised her as one of the best and most cultured minds of her
time.  I had great faith in her judgment, and could respect her courage
even when I repudiated her opinions.  But I never was one of those who
exaggerated her gifts as an artist.  I never could count anything later
than _Silas Marner_ as a complete and unqualified masterpiece.  One may
have the imaginative power shown by Michael Angelo in his Sistine
Chapel, or his Medicean tombs, and yet, if one is not complete master
of the brush and the chisel, no imagination, no thought, will produce a
masterpiece in fresco or in marble.  George Eliot was a most thoughtful
artist, but she was more of a thinker than an artist; she was always
more the artist when she was least the thinker; and when she conceived
a work of art in her sublimest aspirations (as notably in _The Spanish
Gypsy_), she almost makes us doubt if she were an artist at all.

She was an artist; and the younger generations will make an
unpardonable error if they fail to do justice to the permanent survival
of her best and earliest work.  They will also be guilty of
unpardonable blindness if they fail to note how completely she stands
above all her contemporary rivals in romance, by thought, by knowledge,
by nobility of aim.  She raised the whole art of romance into a higher
plane of thought, of culture, and of philosophic grasp.  And when she
failed, it was often by reason of the nobility of her aim itself, of
the volume of her own learning, of the intensity of her own standard of
perfection.  Her passages in prose are studied with the care that men
usually bestow on a sonnet; her accessories and landscapes are patient
and conscientious transcripts of actual spots of country and town; her
drama is a problem of ethical teaching, subtly elaborated, and minutely
probed.  In these high aims and difficult ambitions, she not seldom
failed, or achieved a somewhat academic and qualified success.  But the
task was not seldom such that even to have fallen short of complete
success was a far from ignoble triumph.

She raised the whole art of romance to a higher plane, I say; and,
although in this ambitious aim she too often sacrificed freshness,
ease, and simplicity, the weight of the limits she imposed on herself
must fairly be counted in the balance.  Romance had never before in
England been written with such a sense of responsibility, with such
eager subtlety of form, and with such high ethical purpose.  The sense
of responsibility wearies many readers, and at last crushed the writer;
the form became "precious," and at last pedantic; and the ethical
purpose was sometimes more visible than the ethical life.  In the
French drama Corneille had great conceptions, noble types of character,
stately verse, and tragic situations; but English readers too often
find him mannered, artificial, dull.  Corneille, I freely admit, is not
Shakespeare: I greatly prefer Shakespeare; but I prefer Corneille to
Ibsen.  We have plenty of Ibsenites to-day, and rather a plethora than
a dearth of ignoble creatures in squalid situations who expose to us
their mean lives with considerable truth to nature.  In such an age, it
is just as well that the lessons of _Adam Bede_, _Romola_, Fedalma and
Zarca, should not be quite forgotten.

The art of romance, in the widest and loftiest sense of the term, is
even yet in its infancy.  Ancient literature, mediaeval literature,
knew nothing of it.  Nor indeed did modern literature entirely conceive
it in all its fulness until the days of Le Sage, Richardson, Fielding,
and Goldsmith.  Nay, we may say that its power was not quite revealed
before Scott, Goethe, Manzoni, Jane Austen, Balzac, Thackeray, Dickens,
and George Sand.  Its subtlety, its flexibility, its capacity for
analytic research, its variety of range, and facility for reaching all
hearts and all minds--all this is simply incalculable.  And we may be
sure that the star of romance has not yet reached its zenith.  It is
the art of the future--and an art wherein women are quite as likely to
reign as men.  It would be treason to Art to pretend that George Eliot
came near to such perfection.  But she had certain qualities that none
of her predecessors had quite possessed, and she strove for an ideal
which may one day become something more than a dream--a dream that as
yet eludes and escapes from the mind as it struggles to grasp it and to
fix it.

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